Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Pisiga town is a hectic land crossing between Chile and Bolivia and has that border town feel that everyone wants to be somewhere else. And rightly so. Trucks, more trucks and squalid little hotel rooms and to put not too fine a point on it, it just pongs a bit. Bolivia has taken to insisting on all manner of document for entry (in theory at least), for accommodation, insurance, COVID inoculation etc. In reality while the immigration building is only slightly organised chaos, the officials are only interested in ticking a minimum number of boxes and a few documents and a grin appears to do the trick. Once through the queues, stamped and out on the Bolivian side of the building currency exchange booths and fried chicken stands line the street and one can exchange the tens of thousands of Chilean pesos for a much more manageable currency of Bolivianos. Life is suddenly cheaper and more easily calculable. Best to regroup after the bureaucratic trial of the morning, stock up on sugar-wafer things and get ready for the salt plain crossing. The jail cell (below) was my accommodation for the night.

A vast expanses of flat salt is a wonderful sight. These plains are just as compelling as they were the first time I rode them in 2012. Salar de Coipasa sits to the north, near where I cross the border from Chile is huge. Its larger sister to the south is the largest salt plain on earth. In the middle of the Coipasa salt lies a ‘land-island’ and the village of Coipasa and there I meet the lady who hosted my stay ten years ago, Mrs Pronto Castro (pictured below). Such a lovely lady, she and her husband have some small rooms in a courtyard that many bike riders seem to find. A$5 and a comfortable bed for the night. Then it is off to the salt for the time-honoured tradition of nude-bike-riding on salt plains

Between the salars my gambling to find a track through a barrier of foothills that never existed turns out to just waste a morning of riding and I somehow eventually find the main route again and head towards the small town of Salinas which leads to a rather large volcano Tunupa which dominates the landscape for some miles. At the edge of the salar I find a ‘salt hotel room hidden away for some reason that robustly defies explanation.

A lovely little tailwind and some friendly 4WD tracks makes the ride across Salar de Ayuni from Coquesa to the western edge near Uyuni a lot easier than it could have been. So there are a few days of pizza, coffee and beer in the tourist and railway town of Uyuni.

WARNING: The video this time has a health warning: Not to be shown to the faint of heart nor any who get excited too easily! It may be too attractive for some viewers. Is it art? Is it pornography? You be the judge!

Ruta Andina in Chile

Oh the humanity! Sensing an opportunity for immortality, Buff3y unpacks the bike and sets off up the A-135 desert road near the Peruvian border up towards the village of Putre (a 3,700 metre climb). Two days of climbing up this ugly little road and he is down to the last four litres of water and only 1,800 metres of climb with little or no prospect of getting any more water until over 3,000 metres (perhaps) and 50km more climbing. Discretion being the better part of valor, he turns back and resorts to the main highway, the truck heavy 110km route up to the village of Putre. Not a terribly auspicious start to the trip. Climbing is torture on trip-start legs and lungs gasping for air so I stay in Putre for a few days to recover my wits and try to acclimate.

The ‘Ruta Andina‘ starts in far northern Chile at the Peruvian border. It heads southwards skirting along the Chilean side of the border with Bolivia, at the elevation of the aliplano (3,500 metres) towards the Atacama desert. Along the way it takes a keen young adventure cyclist through some magnificent scenery dotted with lines of volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and dirt, lots of dirt.

Buff3y the Hardcore adventure cyclist joins the Ruta Andina at the Lago Chungara and heads south off onto the dirt track writing yet another exciting chapter in the epic that is Buff3y’s cycling adventures.

Churning over the washboards and sinking into the sand that passes for road in these parts of South America, for the first time in a long time. Testing the camping set up in a long abandoned stone mill house replete with the grinding stones, which sits not far off the smoldering volcano Guallatiri. This camp site is just across from a free flowing river so is the perfect camping spot.

The Salar de Surire is nothing in scale compared to its more famous salt plain cousins just over the Bolivia border but it is a pretty place none-the-less. Having the required number of flamingos and alpacas the track takes a wide curve around the salar mostly to avoid the salt extraction works on the western side. A pleasant feature of the area is a wonderful hot spring with rich fragrant sulfuric fumes fresh from the bowels of the earth. This is a national park and at the police check point I’m told that camping is not allowed, yet on arrival at the hot spring (Termas de Polloquere) there are some Dutch motorbike travelers camping so what the hell. Soaking in the piping hot water is just heavenly on tired legs.

Some lovely camping spots along the way and a few huts to set camp near to shelter from the afternoon wind blasts. Similarly Buff3y blasts his way towards the end of this section of the route and a decision as to whether to continue down the Andina on the Chile side towards Atacama and San Pedro de Atacama, or head across into Bolivia and ride the big salt plains (a nostalgic return after ten years). Nostalgia wins the day and it is off to the border to see if I can negotiate the intricacies of Bolivian border control requirements.

The border town of Colchane has the compulsory kilometre long line of trucks waiting to get across and on to La Paz in Bolivia. Buff3y wrestles through the immigration and emerges a couple of hours later stamped and officially in Bolivia once more.

There have been some requests for some Colombian backing music to the video productions to remind us all of the joys of bicycling in the Americas. Enjoy.

Off down the Ruta Andina

No time for fancy writing now! Today Buff3y ,the Hardcore Adventure Cyclist is off down the Ruta Andina from Lake Changara in far northern Chile. This route runs along the Chile Bolivia border along the Altiplano to Colchane. I will be back on line with fascinating pictures of the bike and me and food etc shortly.