Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Salar de Unuyi

Day 105 (January 29, 2013)
Potosi, Bolivia to Unuyi, Bolivia
Day's Ride: 170 Miles

No map today as the internet is horrible here and I can't get on Google Maps.

We struck out from Potosi today for the relatively short ride to the town of Unuyi which is perched on the edge of the largest salt flat in the world, the Salar de Unuyi.

We had planned on staying in Potosi for the morning to take a tour of the famous mines, but decided that we more interested in getting to the Salar. On the way out of town I stopped an changed my oil at a small motorcycle shop. No mess this time, and they even took the old oil from me; how they dispose of it is anyone's guess.

Riding out of Potosi, the taillings from the mine had formed a huge strangely colored hill alongside the road. It stretched for nearly a mile along the road.

We were soon back on the Altiplano and the evidence of the presence of livestock was everywhere.

Eventually we came across a massive meadow that was totally covered by the tiny little black, brown, and white specks of Llamas and Alpacas. It reminded me of a ranch back in the states.

Eventually I saw this sign and wondered if I somehow hadn't crossed over into Africa:

After a few short hours of riding, we popped out above the Salar on a low hill. If you look closely above the bike, you can see the salt flats stretching out to the horizon.

We rolled down into Unuyi and had lunch at a pizza joint which ironically served the largest and best hamburger that I've had on this trip.

After lunch we found a hotel, stashed our gear, and went about making preparations for riding on the Salar and doing the desert crossing into Chile. I went off in search of a motorcycle shop to see if I could find some dirt tires. Mike had already purchased a set of knobbies in Lima, so he went in search of a "llanteria" (tire shop) to see if they could help him put his tires on.

I eventually found the bike shop and purchased a cheap Chinese made knobby rear tire for $50. I then hunted down a llanteria and had them do a vulcanized patch on the tube that I had pinched outside of Cusco before putting on my new dirt tire. I chose to only buy a rear tire for a few reason:

First, my front tire still has a bit of tread and I feel that it will do okay in the dirt.

Second, my Pirrelli Scorpions still have about 3,000 miles left in them and I don't want to discard them which means I have to carry them. So, instead of carrying two extra tires, I'll only have to carry one.

I'm going to call this configuration the "Skullet". Bald in the front, long in the back. With this setup I'll have plenty of traction and zero control. Just the way I like it: fast and out of control!

After swapping out my tire, I went back to the Hotel and swapped out my front sprocket for my smaller 14 tooth version to provide a little more low end for the dirt riding.

Eventually mike showed up with his new tires on and we headed out to see the Salar.

Normally the Salar is a huge barren expanse of crusted salt that stretches to the horizon. People generally jump up on the Salar and ride all the way across then down into Chile. Unfortunately, it's currently the rainy season and the Salar is flooded.

Still, we figured that we should at least go and see it. As we approached the main entrance, we began to see large piles of salt.

Mike ventured off the main road into what appeared to be a relatively dry portion of the flats. I got a little excited with my new tire and lower gearing and decided to get a little squirrelly. Unfortunately, what I thought was dry crusted sand ended up being foot thick mud. Trying to do a counterbalanced turn at 40 mph into the mud doesn't work so well....

This stuff was especially nasty. It had a thick, viscous clay like consistency and set up like concrete in a matter of seconds. It also had the added bonus of containing loads of corrosive salt. I spent about 15 min trying to clean it out of my chain and rear tire.

After cleaning everything up, we got back on the road and headed for the main entrance. As we came upon the Salar, I was totally blown away by the beauty of the scene.

Since it's rainy season, hundreds of square miles of the Salar are covered in a shallow salt lake which can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet deep. The raised road bed lead out into the Salar, which was at this point a shallow lake. About a quarter of a mile out into the water, the road bed disappeared and the water stretched out to the horizon. There were several land cruisers full of Japanese tourists at the end of the road waiting for the sunset.

We rode out into the water a little ways beyond the tourists and just sat on our bikes and surveyed the scene. There were several vehicles further out into the water; the water and the light created strange apparitions and the vehicles and people appeared to be floating on the surface of same vast, tranquil sea.

As the sun began to go down, Mike and I began to take pictures....

The last few minutes of the sunset were beautiful beyond words. I had one of the Japanese tourists snap a picture of Mike and I on our bikes. This is an Adventure Rider Sunset.....

I was lucky to get a few amazing shots of the last few minutes of light....

I just don't think I possess words potent enough to describe how beautiful, surreal, and incredible the whole experience was, so I won't even try.

We rode back to Unuyi in the dark, blasting down the dirt track at 55mph with our headlights barely illuminating the path and the last vestiges of light fading in the darkness.

Upon reaching the Hotel, I spent about an hour splashing water all over my bike trying unsuccessfully to wash off the mud and salt. Eventually I gave up, threw a bunch of oil on my chain, and decided to go hunt down the car wash in the morning.

Today Mike and I are going to be making preparations to do the crossing through the desert into Chile. I'm not sure when we will leave, but I probably will be off the grid for a few days as we have about 300 miles of fairly intense desert roads and tracks to cross before we reach proper civilization. If anyone is interested in seeing where we are, just click on the link to my blog and check out my SPOT tracker website.



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