It was finally time to go ride on the Bolivian salt flats! Although it is rain season and part of the salt flats are covered with water, we had heard from people on the road that a bit further out it is dry and firm. And so we left our heavy luggage at the hostel and took off with unburdened bikes for a day of epic riding!
About halfway out of town Rich managed to ride over an enormous nail that went into his tire and out on the side. Needless to say we made a first stop, pulled his tire off and replaced the tube with my spare. By chance an American dude that Sam had met on his boat from Panama to Colombia walked by and stayed to chat for a bit.
After this slight delay we went on our way back north a few kilometers before turning off the highway towards the salt flats. The initial gravel road was extremely bumpy and full of potholes from all the tours shuttling tourists to the flats, and once we got to the edge of salt the water covering it looked really deep. We decided to do a loop to the south along the rim to where the water looked less deep and quickly ran into a fairly stable but slippery mud field. We decided to move on through and skidded and mud sprayed our way to the salt again where it was only covered by about a centimeter of water. The surface got really firm here though and we drove on out on the massive white endless plains.
The water slowly disappeared and we drove on in different formations on the big flat foreverness faster and faster, loosing all sense of speed. We took aim for the small dot in the horizon that slowly grew to be a round building and the Dakar Bolivia monument. We zoomed in among scattered groups of tourists and parked for some photos in front of the beduin monument. We got help to get some nice group pictures from the other tourists and they in turn could pose with our bikes for some nice pictures.
We walked around and looked at the little store before taking off again into the whiteness, where we basically picked a direction and just took off at full speed. After riding for about ten fifteen minutes we stopped to take more pictures. Here some of the group decided to let go of all of their earthly burdens and rode around free in body and spirit for a bit.
When we were done fooling around me Drew and Lise decided to drive back to wash our bikes, which were now caked with salt all over the engine and exhaust and god knows where. Sam and Rich went off further into the saltiness and we said to meet up at the car wash.
As we went out of the desert I followed Drew who led us straight through the deep part of the drenched area right to the main entrance. He made it through and so did I, but the water was so deep where I went that my bike died as I rolled out of the water. Lise with her lowered bike almost didn’t make it through and her bike died too, from getting salty water into the engine somehow.
So we rolled up beside another group of adventure bikers who just had arrived, and they nervously asked us how to get through the water. They had fancy bikes, a couple of KTM:s and was probably worried about ruining their expensive bikes. We told them to go around the water the same way we got in and they took off.
Now to mine and Lise’s bike. I had left all my tools in the hostel as I wanted to travel light, so Drew went off back to get them while me and Lise waited by the bike.
After about 15 minutes we tried to start our bikes and they actually fired up! As they did we were joined by Sam and Rich who finally came back. Together we watched as the KTM adventurers slid around in the mud with the heaviest one stuck somewhere in the middle. Lise started riding back towards Uyuni while the rest of us rode back into the mud to see if we could help out. Once out in the chocolate mousse like mud we helped the Australian KTM rider out, rode around for fun for a bit doing huge drifts in the brown slippery mess before driving back to Uyuni for a much needed washing.
We met up with Drew and Lise at the washing place where we used a pressure washer to try to pry off as much salt as possible before using a bucket and a brush to rub off the rest. The salt really was stuck everywhere and we spent almost as long time cleaning the bikes as riding the salt flats, plashing and disassembling the bikes to get into all the little crevices where the salt was hiding.
Once done my bike didn’t want to start up, probably more water in the engine, and my battery ran out before I could flush it out. Misery… After disassembling my bike and checking carburetor and spark plug I finally took Lise’s battery and put in my bike, got it started and put the battery back in Lise’s bike. I then sent them all back to the hostel to park Lise’s bike, take the battery out again and drive it back to me so I could drive my bike to the hostel. Quite the operation, but it ended up a success! And we were lucky enough that we had a little bike shop next to the hostel, where the nice shop owner offered to charge my battery for free!
Now to cleaning the clothes and boots, air filters and electric systems. When all was done and fairly clean we were all really done and fairly dirty after a long long but spectacular day. It definitely was one of the high lights of this trip! But with all the aftermath I think doing it once is enough…