01 Oct Bolivia Pt. 2
Days 486 – 489 –
The road to Torotoro took longer than expected with many detours through creek beds because of endless construction work on already bad road. Before leaving Cochabamaba, Becky awkwardly asked a man waiting to buy gas if she could use his ID number to fill up the jerry cans. He happily helped, and they filled us up without fuss, negotiating or overcharging. As awkward as was to ask people on the street for their ID so we could buy gas, it seemed the easiest way. We did feel a bit like teenagers hanging outside a grocery store asking adults to buy us beer.
On the drive over, a grouchy policeman got angry that we tried to show him only a copy of Mark’s drivers license and hassled us more than normal. We had been using a laminated copy the whole trip on advice from other overlanders that once they have your real documents, they hold on to them and have leverage to ask for bribes. Finally in over a year in Latin America, we got asked for a bribe. The supposed infraction was attempting to use a fake license. But Becky argued and argued with the cop in pidgin Spanish, being the “angry wife”. She showed him but refused to let him touch Mark’s actual license, which he found annoying. Eventually he let us leave without paying anything, but kept the “fake” license, probably putting it on his wall.
When we finally arrived in Torotoro we searched around for a campground, got turned around and when we finally arrived, no one was answering the buzzer. We had to call out for someone to help us, which they happily did once they heard us. We had found that no one answers the door buzzers here, but shouting usually brings someone around.
The next morning at the tourist office we quickly found a few others travelers wanting to make a group to explore the national park nearby. Our first stop was to see some solidified footprints of Cretaceous period dinosaurs . We were not quite as impressed as we thought we would be by the footprints, and they looked basically just like holes in the rock, and required quite a bit of imagination.
The 5 hour tour was overall a bit underwhelming, but unfortunately it was the only way to see the park.
The next day we tried to take a direct route to the next stop of Sucre, rather than backtracking around through the construction and police stops we’d come through. We’d heard it was possible last year, and though the road had been closed in June, it had supposedly reopened in July. It was September and we couldn’t find out any other news on the road, so we decided to give it a go.
The road through the first few villages was very intense and beautiful with an amazing landscape. The area has some spectacular geologic scenery where you can see very clearly the earth’s layers being pressed up.
After about 3 hours into the route, a bridge led into the side of cliff. No warnings that the road was closed, no signs indicating it was closed, no signs of road work, nothing. The road just ended in mass of rock and rubble. We drove through the riverbed for a while, half looking for another route and half just for fun, and then we turned around and headed the entire way back to Torotoro. We didn’t really want to stay in town so we kept pressing forward, eventually arriving in the evening at the parking lot by the market in a small mining town. We watched the night shift men head into the mines, and the day shifters head home. After the trucks stopped driving by, it was actually a pretty quiet spot.
In the morning we started making our way the long way towards Sucre. We ended up in a surprisingly cute and pleasant town called Aquielle, where we spent the afternoon strolling through the town. We slept in our truck in a hotel parking lot.
Days 490 – 492
After our most successful gas fill up (a jerry can and a tank top off for very cheap with minimal negotiations), we arrived in Sucre. We had hoped to camp at the only campground in town, and were disappointed to find out that a couple of giant million dollar Unimogs were taking up all of the available space. It’s funny how we always see Unimogs (giant dump truck size RV like vehicles that are self-sufficient and can supposedly go anywhere) taking up space in the cheap and/or urban campgrounds. We have never see one out in the world, not on the road, not off the beaten path, never. But we’ve been denied space in countless cities because of them.
We ventured across town to our second choice which was a hotel with a parking lot for the same price as the campground. After getting settled, we toured the small city on foot and dropped off our laundry at place near by. A parade started in the street as we came back and we enjoyed watching it for a little while. It was just a few marching bands, no floats or anything. Later, when the parade just didn’t stop, we realized it was a holiday weekend. The endless marching bands went right down our street from 11 am to 2 am, each day we were there. It was so loud that we could not hear each other in the hotel room, and by the third night with minimal sleep (we stayed because we kept thinking it couldn’t possibly go another night), we were basically losing our minds. It was too bad, because the pleasantly warm climate in Sucre was so perfect after being on the Altiplano for so long. But the endless trumpets and tubas, which played the same song over and over really got to us. On the third morning we left as fast as we could, still hearing trumpets in our dreams.
Days 493 – 495
After an easy day of driving, we arrived in Uyuni, found a campsite and had time to walk around the famous train cemetery in the late afternoon. It’s basically just a place in the desert where the city has been discarding their old trains for years. Some of them were partially buried they’d been there so long, and most heavily graffitied.
The next morning we stopped by the local market on our way to the salt flats. The Salar was cooler than we had expected – a vast evaporated lake with a hard crust of salt left behind, as far as the eye can see.
We drove 30 miles over the salt to the famous cactus island, had lunch on a picnic table made of salt, and then went out in search of a more remote island to camp on. The islands are just masses of dirt and rock in the middle of the salt. We had to be careful driving near them because where the salt meets the ground is a lot softer and it’s possible to get stuck. We easily found a pretty secluded island about 10 miles east of the main island. We carefully picked our spot to enter the island, walking and testing the salt near the island, and we set up camp on the little beach. We hiked around our private island and had fun taking some photos in the salt.
The next day we woke to what looks like a winter wonderland, though it’s still just salt. We drove across the salt flats for miles and miles, no lanes, no roads, to the volcano overlooking it. We parked at the bottom and did a short but steep hike to the mirador where you could see to the crater. We also got an epic view from above of the massive salt flats. One thing that really shocked us, even after reading all about it, was how huge the salt flats are. We easily drove 180 miles on pure salt during our three days on the flats, the random islands playing tricks on our eyes. After the volcano we headed back to our previous island and camped another cold night. It almost felt like home.
After driving on so much salt, the truck really needed a bath. We took him to the first car wash off the salt flats. It was early still, so there wasn’t much of wait. The truck got put up on a ramp and got washed with a very powerful pressure washer. Unfortunately, he’d never been sprayed in that angle before from below, and the water leaked into the truck bed from in-between the shell and the side of the truck. What a mess! Most of our bedding was wet, as was the entire bed of the truck! We pulled into a little hostel and Uyuni with a nice sunny court yard. Uyuni is very cold, but the sun is very powerful. We laid out all our wet gear in the sun, and took out all of the contents of the truck to dry it out. All of this while also preparing to leave on the Lagunas Route the following morning (four days of groceries and gas while we drive across a 16,000 ft beautiful and remote crossing to Chile). It was an unexpected busy afternoon, but we managed to get everything done, dry, and put back together in time to finally have a hot shower (such a rare treat in this country) and go out for a pizza dinner.
As we walked back from dinner, we couldn’t help but laugh/cry at our awful luck that there was a parade on our street, just in front of our hostel. We had horrible flashbacks to our zero sleep 3 nights in Sucre and hoped so hard that it didn’t last all night. But. No. It did. Music blared into our room all night from the street. We laid in bed in the dark and stared at the ceiling, not even speaking it was so frustrating. Does anyone in this country ever sleep?