South America Blog Posts

Week 12 – Solo Bikepacking Bolivia. Leaving Uyuni & a new route through the Amazon

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, Huong and I will be travelling separately from now on. Huong won’t be cycling and instead she will travel north to Peru and volunteer on a farm for a while. This means that I will be cycling through South America alone. To start my new solo journey, I moved into the Casa de Cyclistas in Uyuni. A Casa de Cyclistas is like a hostel, but is especially for cyclists. There are a lot of these places throughout South America, but there is only one in Bolivia. Luckily it’s in Uyuni, the city that I have been staying in. Its a very basic form of accommodation, just a room with no bed, a shared bathroom and kitchen. But there is no set fee for each night. Instead you pay a voluntary donation for your stay. It was an awesome experience and I am looking forward to visiting more of them as I continue north.

The Cycling Community

The best part of staying there was meeting some other bicycle travellers. When I first moved into the Casa de Cyclistas, there was one other cyclist there. His name is Yuri and he was cycling south after starting in Peru, he is collecting footage for a travel documentary. After I had been there a couple of days, a group of French cyclists arrived. They were also heading south but had started in the United States. It was awesome to meet other cyclists, I have been in South America for 12 weeks already and these were the first cyclists I have met. This is probably my own fault for starting in the south of the continent during winter. I am really looking forward to meeting more of the community as I continue north.

New route and bike adjustments

Yuri actually suggested that I take the route that he had just completed. The route was through the edge of the Amazon, in Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. I’ll leave La Paz, taking the road of death down to the edge of the Amazon. Then up through the Bolivian Amazon to the Brazilian border. I’ll only be in Brazil for a short time before crossing the border into the Peruvian Amazon. The route is over 2000km long and looks like it will be really awesome. The only issue is that my bike has narrow road tyres, not fat off-road tyres. So while I was in the Casa de Cyclistas I took the opportunity to change my back tyre, taking one from Huong’s bike before she sold it. I haven’t managed to get a replacement front tyre yet. Hopefully I can find one before I leave La Paz. But first I need to cycle 550km from Uyuni to La Paz to start this route.

South America Blog Posts

Week 11 – Bikepacking Bolivia. Entering Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni

This we left Chile and crossed the border into Bolivia. The 48th country I have visited so far. The road from Calama over the border to Uyuni, takes you through some unbelievably beautiful landscapes. The road climbs high into the mountains, passing small villages and huge, snow capped mountains. The border was easy enough to cross. But we weren’t asked for any of the documents that we thought we would need. We just filled in a customs declaration form and got our passports stamped with our new visa. We read that we should have our vaccination certificates, health insurance and an onward ticket to leave Bolivia. We weren’t asked for any of these things. So we got back on the bus and continued through to Uyuni.

Arriving in Uyuni

The driver took a strange route to Uyuni. Instead of staying on the highway, he turned onto a side road that went through the desert. I have no idea why he did this, but the views were great. When we arrived in Uyuni I cut our packing boxes open and rebuilt the bikes in the street. Uyuni is not a nice town. It’s a desert town with nothing to really see or do except go to the Salt flats. We spent a day or so getting everything ready, washing laundry, stocking up of food and water, then we were set.

Camping in the Salar de Uyuni

Uyuni is located high in the mountains of Bolivia. The salar (salt flat) is the largest in the world, over 100,000 square kilometers. During the day time, the sun shines and it is quite warm. But at night time the temperature drops below freezing. We packed our bike and headed into the salar. We cycled out of town and onto the salt flat, cycling into the emptiness until we found a spot that we thought would work well. We set up the tent and cooked some food. It was a windy day, so even the sun shining down on us didn’t do much to increase the temperature. Our main reason to camp in the salar was to see the night sky. Being in a desert and high in the mountains, the night sky is so clear that it is one of the best places in the world to see the stars. This is why there are so many observatories in this region of the world.

A night below freezing

We rested in the tent until around 9 pm. This was half way between the sunset at 6pm and the moonrise at midnight. I got out of the tent and set up my camera. The temperature was below minus 5 and the cold wind blowing across the salar made it even more uncomfortable. I had to get my sleeping bag and wrap it around myself to give a little bit of protection. But each time I took a picture, I just wanted to take another to see if I could capture the sky better than before. It was a horrible situation to be in, but with the beauty of the sky above, it wasn’t too hard to forget the cold. In the morning, all the water bottles were frozen. We made some breakfast, waited until we were warm in the sun and then cycled back into town. Uyuni is a magical place, even if the town isn’t so nice. I would definitely recommend visiting this unique place if you ever get the chance. This is the last part of the trip that Huong will join me for. Starting next week we will be heading on our different routes to experience South America. I have an adventurous route planned to take me from Bolivia to Peru. But I will explain more about that next week.