When I returned to the Casa de Ciclistas it had been invaded by French, Swiss and Belgians. All very nice people I’m sure, but the lingua franca was no longer English and I found myself drowning in a sea of French chatter. Even the one other English guy was fluent in French. It was time to leave.
I made a short trip down to Viacha where I met up with Philipp. From there we would travel south to cycle Bolivia’s famous salt flats but not before we spent a day recuperating and sorting our lives out. One particularly greasy meal later and we were both struck down with a mild case of food poisoning, making our ride south windy in more ways than one (I’ve rarely met a cyclist that hasn’t had some kind of stomach issues while in Bolivia). The route was one to forget: a flat, straight, busy highway that passed through ugly little towns with names like Sica Sica and Vila Vila and was surrounded by dull, unchanging pampa. We stayed in horrible little hotels and every time we stopped for a break silver-toothed Bolivian men would pester us with the same old questions – one dead-eyed goblin of a man making dick jokes about the respective girth of our tyres. It was a relief when we finally pulled into Oruro.
Cycling through the salars I went through an array of emotions: from awe and jubilation, to frustration and downright anger. Those first morning hours roaming through the empty, otherworldly expanse I shall never forget. There wasn’t a person for miles and all we could hear was the sound of our tyres cutting through the pristine silence. Well, that and the sound of me whooping and hollering as I chased llamas through the boundless white. This initial ecstasy wore off and was replaced by a quiet wonderment at the sheer size of the thing. You can cycle for miles and miles in any direction and nothing changes. It’s like you haven’t moved at all.
And therein lies the cause of the frustration.
Even the most spectacular of scenery becomes boring if you stare at it for long enough, and over the course of those 4 days cycling through the salars at times I was begging for the great salt lakes to end. I didn’t help matters by proposing we take a shortcut to the shore of Coipaisa to save time. While my plan started off well enough, the quality of the surface gradually worsened and we had no choice but to push for the last 12km through thick, muddy salt mush. Suffice to say much swearing was involved.
Tunes: Elvis Presley – Greatest Hits, Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life, Wilco – Schmilco, The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past
Reads: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt, Killing Floor – Lee Child, At Home – Bill Bryson, One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Sosdkfhksdfabf