We mostly crossed Bolivia by bus. After having lost our time by searching a way on asphalted roads, after having been the witnesses of the dangerous bolivian driving, we finally decided to get the Uyuni Salt Flats by local transports. Crowded from the trunk to the roof, running at speed on earth roads, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, the motorized mastodon suddenly stopped its way because of the explosion of one of its wheels. We got Salinas de Garci Mendoza, the village at the desert’s gates, at 3 am. Our only solution was to camp for few hours under the kiosk of the village square. And that’s what we did.
The rest of the story is by Brompton.
At the beginning, there is a thin layer of salt on a blend of sand and earth. We sink. In the best case, we lose our balance, out of breath, in the absence of speed. We have to push.
After many endless kilometers, we can distinguish, more forward, a change of state : a white stripe on the ground that brings the promise to get back on track soon.
Indeed, the ground is getting harder and we are entering in a new area that looks like ice floe but with a very good grip ! Few minutes later, we have to face big stones of salt pasted to the ground. So, the only way is to circumvent. After few kilometers of slow slalom, but happy to ride back our Bromptons, we arrive then on a new challenge.
The ground is made of huge plaques that raises, overlaps, pointing to the sky, hit and deviate themselves like wide teeth into a too small jaw. Their thickness is about few centimeters but their strength is infinite. Here, we realize this layer is as strong as stone. We have to be careful. We could fall at any time. And, for anything in the world, we didn’t want to experience a scratch on salt.
After several kilometers, the mineral jungle is reducing. The tangle calms down. The plaques find their places. They interweave, complement each other. Soon, the eye only see a huge consistent white area covered with an hexagonal fishnet. This is the main (and beautiful) aspect of the salt flat. The tender crusts we drive on at every meter crush under our wheels in an enjoyable cracking.
Although there is no doubt that it slows us down a little bit, we move very well and we start, for the first time, to enjoy the ride.
The ambient brightness and the absence of obstacles disturbs our senses. We have a look around us. The coast looks very close but it’s yet at many hours of ride behind us. In front of us, a dazzling white as far as the eye can see. The basis of the mountains turns round and seems to be floating above the horizon. The most distant look like pebbles in levitation. In some places, the heat draws some oscillating stretches of water. We are really in a desert and the mirages accompanies us.
The perspective cancels. It’s dizzying, stunning. A deafening silence. We lose our grounding. This new feeling is delirious. So, at this time, we remember these scenes in movies where the protagonist explores his own dream or the one of someone else. And now we realize that everything can happen. From this time, we become the actors of this dream we do with open eyes. We are the heroes of an initiatory story full of many obstacles to overcome one after the other.
The sail on the sea of salt lasted calmly for many hours at the rate of the tremors of the salt crusts crushing under our small wheels. We are more and more far from the surrounding mountains that start to be erased by the earth rotundity. Pushed by an emerging wind, some light clouds come to hang to the top of the mountains, giving them a ghostly appearance. We take strength and speed. Le wind as well. After one hour, its speed had quadrupled ours. The sun, already touching the volcano, was dealing its last rays. Once our infinite shadows melted with the color of the desert instantly darkened, the light and the heat started to fall precipitously. We have to quickly pitch the tent. And the 110 km/h of wind constitute from now a great problem.
We spend a lot of time to fight against this crazy wind. Undoubtedly, the wind tries to turn our tent into a parachute in order to have enough strength to tear it away from our hands and make it disappear in this infinite space. After a hard battle, we manage to set it and chisel every tent peg, until the last one, il this steely ground.
The nose against the wind, we found the good orientation for the ship. Under shelter, the crew waits for the end of the storm.
Next morning, the sun is already warm where we open our eyes. The wind totally disappeared during the night. No proof remains outside of what was happening few hours ago. Except the large amount of tent pegs, deeply planted into the ground that seemed to be trying to hold it from inside with an infinite strength.
We get back on saddle. Everything seems to be fine to cycle well. Let’s take advantage, experience taught us it won’t last. The sun at its zenith indicates us the time to have lunch. The water reserves are definitely low. Il remains only 2 liters for cooking and drinking until the end of the day, and even tomorrow if any problem. We preciously keep the water of the pasta. In case of emergency, we can drink eat.
Ironically, water is not so far. The ground, now full of holes reveals ground dark water in the soil, just here, under our wheels. Suspicious, we discover how, for many kilometers, we were riding onto a tiny layer of salt posed on an undefined amount of water. We calmly and slowly launch our heavy machines on this ground that doesn’t sounds safer than crossing a frozen lake on stilts. But little by little, realizing, once more, the extreme robustness of our salty concrete – remaining however as far from the holes as possible – we take speed. On the far, we already distinguish a new aspect.
Another battlefield of crusts forming small mountains chains, impossible to cross with the bikes.
We circumvent it, by the valleys, made of salt and sand. Thirsty, snatched by the sand, this last step uses our last strength. The sun warms up our backs spreading an orange light on our last kilometers. The shore seems so close. Tiny cars moving slow, static silhouettes, dark cubes. Behind us, the last rays of the sun scratch on the crusts. In front of us, our shadow is infinite. Little by little, its shade meets the one of the ground settled and blackened by civilization. The road appears. We are arrived. We got it !