Boat to Bolivia

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According to Martin Stephenson, you can’t catch a Boat to Bolivia. We cycled through the land border on a peninsula jutting out into the beautiful and serene Lake Titicaca. Our last days on the bike for a while. We had decided to take a break from cycling, we had criss-crossed the Andes for almost 4 months and had a lot planned before Christmas. To enjoy these last months of the year it made sense to take a bus through Bolivia, but not before taking a boat to the mainland, a boat to Bolivia.

Copacabana was our last stop on two wheels. Simon met up with us there, as did the cycling brothers Seth and Parker and Belinda and Roland, a lovely couple making their way south on a tandem (http://www.cyclingwithsally.com/) and volunteering for the Salvation Army on the way. Our plan was to celebrate birthdays, Nessa’s in La Paz and Seth’s in Copacabana, visit the Salar d’Uyuni, Bolivia’s incredible salt desert and the region south to the Chilean border and finally get back on our bikes on the border with Argentina. Simon planned to leave us after La Paz and explore the mountains closer to Cusco. It felt good to have a break.

Copacabana was a great first experience of Bolivia. It sits on the shore of Lake Titicaca and is a stepping off point for Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the world according to Inca legend. A good spot to begin our holidays and share some beers with friends we had met on the road. Six cyclists, two friends and a couple of crates of beer ensured that Seth had a birthday to remember,

It was a bit strange to be getting a bus, checking out the road as we went along and realizing that we were missing a really beautiful cycle. Still though, we arrived in La Paz the day before Nessa’s birthday and had a chance to enjoy this hectic city with people endlessly milling about the streets. Birthdays are to be celebrated and enjoyed to the fullest. We did just that. An afternoon of champagne and strawberries followed by dinner at one of La Paz’s best restaurants and a jazz club to finish. Nessa was smiling all day!

La Paz was a city where a lot of cyclists congregated before heading off at different times and different routes. We have only met a handful along the way before this  but ended up having a last dinner with nine cyclists around the table and a farewell to Simon.

Thanks Simon, it was so special for us that you came out for a few weeks, so good to connect with home again, what a great time we had. And between now and Christmas we will be meeting many more friends, Niamh in Rio, Carolina and Tiago in Brazil and Carolina’s family in Buenas Aires, Derek for 5 weeks on a bike and Hannah cycling too. You started it all, safe trip home my friend.

The highlight of our time in Bolivia has to be the Uyuni Salt desert and the national park further south. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful place, salt deserts, colourful mountains, geysers, hot  springs, flamingos in deep blue, red and green salt encrusted lakes. And a train cemetery!

We were on the gringo trail. This involves buses and hopping from place to place, transient and not feeling, not touching, not living a country and knowing its ways. We have no idea how people do this all the time. A 12 hour overnight bus from La Paz brought us to Uyuni, the starting point of the salt desert and multi-day tours that bring you through this beautiful corner of the world. Cycling certainly makes you independent and the thought of 3 days on a guided tour was a bit daunting. There would be 7 people and we hoped we would all get on. There are so many companies offering what is essentially the same tour, 2 nights in the deserts, sand and salt, and three days in a 4WD covering a lot of ground through incredible scenery. On the morning of the tour we got a pleasant surprise. Ella, an English girl we had met back in Copacabana had booked the same trip.And four Israeli  lads made up the seven.

Covering 10000 square kms, the salt desert is blindingly white, flat as a pancake and is all that remains of what was once a vast lake. Now tourists brave freezing night time temperatures and fierce daytime gales as they make there way through this land of vivid colour. Once off the desert the tour continues south west towards the Chilean border. Although we spent a lot of time in the jeep, it was never boring. Such landscapes inspire dreams. As a group we bonded and had a lot of laughs during the few days.

On the last morning we were had an early start, a cold breakfast and got to an area of geysers and hot springs by 7am. A perfect way to enjoy the early morning sun and soak up some heat. The deserts are as inhospitable as they are beautiful. I even had to wear a hat in the thermal waters! We arrived at the Chilean border and said goodbye to Ella who was heading towards Atacama and then settled in for a long drive back to Uyuni.

Bolivia has been great, a well deserved rest for us and a chance to experience another way of journeying through this vast continent. We really couldn’t wait to get back on our bikes though, and with just another bus to the border we were getting excited. Argentina was so close, we had been looking forward to getting there for such a long time.

Argentina is the country we will finish in. At Ushuaia, the southernmost town of South America. But before that happens we will travel across the continent and through the south of Brazil, then Uruguay’s Atlantic coast before Buenos Aires for Christmas and New year.

 

There is a helpful sign at the border letting you know how far Ushuaia is. It is the same as the distance from Amsterdam to Afganistan. And that’s the direct route! It is great to have made it this far and to think of the great times we still have ahead.

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