We started the Bolivian leg of our little bicycle oddessy on Friday, leaving the border town of Villazon and heading norht towards the salt flats of Uyuni. We were pretty excited as we’d heard lots of reports of the state of Bolivian road conditions, food availability and road safety, ranging from positive to downright depressing, and were dying to find out for ourselves.
2Km outside Villazon, and the depressing reports of the Bolivian roads turned out to be correct when the asphalt road abruptly turned into a wide dusty track. We’d decided to stick with our thin slick road tyres until we knew what the roads were like so we weren’t exactly kitted out correctly. The “roads” should probably be called tracks as it gives a fairer idea of the dusty gravely scratch across the landscape that we followed for 95km.
The map showed regular towns every 20km(ish) so we were carrying minimal food and water. At the first stop at 25km where the map showed a town called Shagnasti we found a few deserted mudbrick cabins, and new sign proudly declaring some civil engineering project courtesy of Evo Morales. No shop, no restaurant, no petrol or station. Apart from a wisened old women tending to a heard of goats, no signs of life. We also discovered that the constant jarring of the rutted roads had dislodged some our kit from the trailers and we’d left our bottles of emergency water somewhere down the road behind us.
We pressed on regardless and stopped at the next town, sheltering briefly from a thunderstorm in a new school after an search for food and water only turned up a bottle of Sprite. At the 40km mark the road descended, and deteriorated, usually we crave downhills, but with heavily laden trailers and the washboard effect of the ruts our speed was little more than it was on the flat.
At four o’clock we manged to buy some emapanadas and humitas from an old woman wearing a bowler hat, so we stopped for a quick lunch. We still had 40km to cover. As the road wound up and down through mudbricked villages, over hillsides, and across rivers the sun progessed across the sky and began to drop behind the red hills to our left. At six thirty we still had 20km to do, and it was getting dusky so we donned our head torches and pressed on. Soon total darkness fell. We followed the dusty beam of light from our head torches and tried to avoid the rocks that had fallen from the precipitous rocky slopes bordering the road.
Our progress was little faster than a walking pace, and we had to stop regularly to avoid the careening trucks and buses. We were tired and grumpy, and the communication of “truck behind”, “big rock to the left” etc was, to put it mildly, curt. One revolutionary who will remain nameless, was heard loudly cursing her skinny tyres and the rocky roads in the darkenss : )
Eventually at ten o’clock we arrived at our destination, dog tired and caked from head to toe in mud and dust, and literally pounced on the first hostel we passed.
We’re off again tomorrow after refuelling, changing tyres and stocking up on food today, and will hopefully make it to the mining town of Atocha, and then, inshallah, to our next landmark the salt flats of Uyuni in time for my birthday on Tuesday : )