The Climb to Potosi, Spanish lessons in Sucre, and Valentines Date on the Salar de Uyuni

After bidding farewell to Billy in La Paz, it was eight miles uphill on a highway. Not exactly the ideal start to our cycle to Potosi after almost three weeks off the bikes, but the gradient was not too steep and it only took us one and a half hours to reach the top.

Our first day back on the road was more straightforward from then on. However, the main road only had a very small hard shoulder with bollards – one of which knocked off my front pannier – and large stones which made it difficult to get out of the way of the traffic. We even had to jump off the road when a bus decided to overtake a lorry and almost run us over! After that brush with disaster we decided to stay off the road as much as possible. It was made a lot easier by the fact that the Bolivian Government are in the process of building a two lane dual carriage way to Oruro – biggest bicycle lane we have ever been on.

It wasn’t long before we reached Ororu (3 days) and checked into a nice hotel before making our way to a private sauna for the bargain price of £1.50. Feeling clean and refreshed, the next day on the bikes was probably the most productive of the trip. We averaged 19 mph over the course of the day, mainly thanks to a horrible storm pushing us from behind along the flat straight road. First time on this trip we thanked the strong wind!! After 55 miles the storm finally did catch up with us, however,  we just managed to reach a building before the heavens opened. We were happy just for some shelter, but to our surprise it was a hot springs! Another opportunity to soak our muscles was too good to pass up, especially at the bargain price of 80p. (Olivia’s comment: Questionably the best day of the trip!)

We squeezed in another seven miles after the storm had passed bringing our total up to 62 miles (100km) for the day. We then settled down in a beautiful, secluded spot off the road. I learned a couple of things about Olivia that day: 1) when she shouts ‘pump up the jam’ she wants you to go faster 2) she describes the filling in Oreo’s as ‘sweet gooey goodness’ or words to that effect.

After such a great day cycling, we wrongly assumed the rest of the way to Potosi would be a breeze. The elevation chart only showed a few bumps in the road. Those bumps turned out to be long, steep climbs. Long climbs combined with wind (pushing us back this time), rain, hail and lightning storms turned the next three days into a tough stretch. Several times we couldn’t find shelter and had to cycle on in the elements. (Olivia’s comment: that was also when SImon learned that if we wait five hours after breakfast to have lunch, I get a little bit grumpy.) When the lightning was especially threatening, we were thankfully able to find shelter close to the road in some abandoned houses. A final 800 meter climb (over 10 miles) up to Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world, and seven days straight on the bike meant we had no qualms about taking the next day off and treating ourselves. We stumbled into best restaurant in town and devoured a juicy steak dinner, which was certainly well deserved. Next up a short two day cycle to the Capital of Bolivia.

Getting to and leaving the city of Potosi was uphill both ways. Thankfully, as soon as we made it out of the city centre and back on the main road, it was a downhill day! Only a bit of wind on the plateau slowed us down, but we made it to another descent. As we picked up speed, the stray dogs started jumping out from the side of the highway and chasing us. We were going too fast to be bothered, but they seemed especially vicious. After the descent, when we were going a little slower, another angry dog intercepted us. I stopped and he lunged to bite me. Luckily, I raised my foot (bike still attached thanks to my clip-less pedals) just in time and he only bit the side of my shoe. Then owner then came out to shoo him away. Needless to say, I haven’t looked at the dogs here the same way since! (Simons comment: I can vouch for that. Every time Olivia sees dogs she now looks on them with suspicsion and a little fear – instead of her usual “awh what a cute puppy”)

We ended up breaking our daily trip distance record (68 miles) that day and found a nicely secluded campsite right before the road started to climb. The next day – uphill day – had a rough start. Simon and I had a very serious argument about the amount of butter that should be added to our scrambled eggs (Simons comment: for the record I wanted more Olivia wanted less). Just goes to show how the stress of life on the road can get to you! We proceeded to cycle in a grumpy silence for two hours, even when I got my first ever flat tire. First of the trip and of my life. At first he just tossed me the tool bag to figure it out myself, but eventually lent me a hand in the essence of time (Simons comment: I gave Olivia the bag – admittedly threw it- and said when you get stuck let me know and I will help. I didn’t just leave her stranded to fix the flat all by herself!). A break in the shade and some time to talk it out resolved the issue – thankfully, because my tire went flat again later that day. Uphill day took us almost as long as downhill day with half the distance, but we finally made it into Sucre and booked the first hostel we saw – “CasaArte”. Oven, check. Fridge, check. Hot, powerful shower, check! We were in heaven.  Sucre is a beautiful city full of white-washed, colonial-style buildings and lots of great restaurants. We stayed there for a week taking Spanish lessons and cooking a variety of dishes we don’t get on the road. Chilli, burritos, nachos, tostados – sensing a theme?

Sidenote! During the week, we took the time to set up a Donate page (see tab above or click here). 100% of the money raised goes to the charity RESULTS UK. Please consider making a charitable donation. Even $1 can go a long way.

It was also in Sucre we decided to take a bus to our next destination, for a variety of reasons. 1. We would have to go back through Potosi to get to Uyuni and we had already cycled that road. 2. We are starting to feel a time pressure to get to Patagonia in Southern Chile before it gets to cold. 3. Billy e-mailed and was going to be in Uyuni, so we thought it would be good to intercept him.
SImon and I suffered “buser’s remorse” as we looked out the window and watched the beautiful views, long downhills and the last of the smooth pavement we would see in Bolivia. At least it made it excited to get on our bikes in Uyuni, despite the dirt roads.

On Valentines Day, we took a leisurely 20 mile cycle into the Salar de Uyuni, largest dried salt lake in the world. It’s actually flooded this time of year or we would cycle across to camp on the island in the middle, but we enjoyed the scenery and exploring the nearby salt hotels. We booked into the budget salt hotel in Colchani – $5 per person – and only admired the $100 versions. We did splurge for Valentines Day dinner at the “Salt Palace” after luckily exchanging Simon’s £10 note with the only other tourists in Colchani – two very friendly argentinians who were hitchhiking across South America.

We cycled back to our hotel that night by the light of the full moon – great day! We didn’t end up hearing from Billy, though. We later received  an e-mail from him that he arrived in Uyuni 24 hours after we left. Catch up Billy! We left Uyuni loaded with supplies and heading into some of the most challenging cycling of our trip.

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