16,500 miles in and we are sat at a lonely border crossing looking to enter country number 14. We have ridden on dirt, sand, rocky trails and beautiful tarmac. We have fallen off countless times and had to pay off officials in a couple of countries too.. Yet, Bolivia was going to take things up a notch. The roads are notorious, petrol is rarely sold to foreigners and the police are known to give travellers a hard time. Add in over 16,000ft in altitude and we were staring at our biggest challenge of the trip so far- Or so we thought anyway.
The border crossing that we chose sits on Lake Titicaca and judging by it’s setup, it rarely sees a lot of traffic. Tom had to wake the Bolivian official from his Sunday afternoon nap to get our passports stamped. (Which by the way are starting to look quite colourful with entry and exit stamps inked in). The border had a piece of rope pulled across the road to prevent unlawful entry. Once the sleepy official was happy with our paperwork he hobbled from his bedroom, I mean office, and lifted the tatty rope. Welcome to Bolivia.
We spent the night on Lake Titicaca in a hostel and enjoyed a wonderfully hot shower (not something we were expecting). The Internet was pretty good too, as was the road to the hostel. Lorna was attacked by the resident Alpaca but otherwise Bolivia was hardly living up to its reputation. If anything it felt a little more civilised than our previous nights in Peru.
We were left wondering what the hype was about as we left the following morning on tarmac roads that would take us straight to the capital La Paz. 20miles in and things were starting to be more like we expected. It started with our ferry crossing over the lake. Ferry is a loose term given the standard and appearance of this short service taking passengers, motorbikes and even coaches across the 900metres stretch of water. It was a miracle that the boat floated before it was loaded!
Over the water and on towards La Paz we entered the not so desirable city of El Alto. It was a strange place that had some of the worst roads we had seen on the trip so far. The main route through the city had been dug up more times than the M6 motorway but it had never been put back into a usable state. Tonnes of rubble and rubbish littered the streets as normal life seemed to go on around this horrible mess. There were no road signs and our GPS gave up too- after 90minutes we were back where we had started!
Whilst we were in civilisation (Well sort of) we decided to get fuel before we entered the High Plains. This was another challenge thanks to a very strange policy in Bolivia. Not all Fuel stations will sell to foreigners. However, if you are indeed lucky enough to get served, you can expect to pay twice the amount for a litre than if you were a local. We had read this previously but it still takes some getting used too!
After four attempts we were fully fuelled and heading South (Our favourite direction). The scenery was incredible and as the sunset on the Bolivian desert as we wild camped in a fantastic spot amongst weathered rock formations and flamingos on the lake. The beauty of the place was overwhelming and the colours changed by the minute as the sun set. By midnight we were freezing in our tent- it was at this point Tom remembered that we were at 3800metres in altitude and it was time for us to put our thermals on.
Next stop in Bolivia was the desert town of Uyuni. This dusty town is famous for being the main town on the Solar De Uyuni, or Bolivain Salt flats. It is also home to the famous train cemetery and hosts the Dakar rally regulary too. All in all, a pretty cool place to hang out for a few days. Here we met up with Spencer and Cathi- a couple of cool adventurers, part of the way through filming a new TV series. Spencer has previously circumnavigated Africa on the same bike that was now taking himself and his camera women/wife Cathi, around South America. They had been stuck in Uyuni for 21 days awaiting parts for the bike. We liked the place a lot but have no idea how they remained sane, stuck there for so long!
The company was good fun and we explored the train cemetery and enjoyed listening to Spencer and Cathi’s adventures. It was also interesting to learn how the TV scene operated and works for adventurers wishing to get onto the small screen. Our second day saw us ride onto the world famous salt flats and play around with our camera for a couple of hours. It was a wonderful experience to ride somewhere so alien to us, and just with a compass to guide us! Nearly 200 miles later and we were back in Uyuni and Tom was scrubbing the baked on salt off the bike- which took a long time!
One last night with Spencer and Cathi before we headed towards Chile and the Atacama. The route was set to be the most challenging yet with the dreaded sand making up most of the way. We had been warned about the state of the road several times so we left early and we left prepared for a hard time of it. Comfortable with the expectation that it may be a slow and tiring route.
The road was tough but not nearly as tough as we had expected, whilst the scenery just got better and better. We saw no other traffic or people for over 150miles and we felt like we were real adventurers! We passed flamingos and Llamas, wild rock formations and all manner of bird life flying over our heads. We were in the wilderness and we were loving every minute of it. At times the road turned to sand from loose dirt and then to mud. It was corrugated and pot-holed but passable. Tom took his time and as we approached the border with Chile he was triumphant not to have dropped the bike given the terrain we had covered. Little did he realise that the roads in Chile would become even tougher at times..