The ride from Uyuni was supposed to be cruisy sort of ride to the Argentinian border, but it was 5 very tough days in the saddle. Dust storms, howling wind, washboard roads and rollercoaster hills....
The wind did howl, the wind did moan
Leaving Uyuni we followed the edge of the salar with a light wind at our backs. However, it just kept blowing, gaining in strength as we headed south. The road was in bad shape (corrugations and sandy sections) so we opted for the tracks alongside, hitting over 30kph on the flat. But after 30kms the wind turned into a maelstrom and we had to hide behind some roadside tombs to eat a quick lunch, dust whipping around us, not hearing anything but the howling wind. Later I heard a prophetic Nick Cave and PJ Harvey singing "The wind did howl, the wind did moan".
Very little traffic on this road, but the wind, dust and sand was our nemesis today. Gusts of about 80kph - tailwind and crosswind. Poor Jude was knocked off her bike 3 times. I had plenty of ballast on deck (water and food) to stay upright. The dust storm blew around us all afternoon- visibility at times was down to 2 metres. I lost Jude for about an hour, but she emerged out of the wind and sand, covered in dust and grime. The wind blew the sand off the dunes into our ears, eyes and even down our pants. Jude´s bum was rubbed raw from the sandpaper effect.
We had to push our bikes through sand dunes which had encroached onto the road from the dust storm. Here is a photo of the dust storm before it increased in intensity. I didn´t want to open my camera up in the maelstrom.
At about 5 in the afternoon we left the flat country and climbed into some interesting eroded landscape.
We made it to Atocha in the dark with our headtorches lighting the way through a spooky canyon. We didn´t have the energy or courage to get under a cold shower (it was very cold in this wild west town) so we had 2 hamburgers and beers and climbed into tiny beds in our dusty clothes. 105 kms on a bad dirt road, with a 500m elevation gain - one of our hardest and longest days. I clocked up almost 8 hours in the saddle, but Judy did a spectacular 9 hours and 44 minutes!! I wanted her to ride around the dark deserted railway station for 16 minutes to achieve the perfect 10, but she impolitely declined. (Tim S, this would be a true Audax moment wouldn´t it).
Next morning we scrubbed the dust out of all orifices and got back on our bikes. Climbing out of Atocha the imposing volcano Cerro Chloroque with it´s pyramidal face.
The road to Tupiza snaking its way high over the Cordillera de Chichas. It climbed and dipped over the rugged range for 70kms with elevations between 3900-4250 metres.
The road south. In the distance a truck is sending up dust as it heads down into one of the dessicated barren valleys. Very litle traffic- just the odd bus and 4WD.
The gradients in Bolivia are similar to southern Ecuador - bloody steep. Over the Cordillera de Chichas the road climbed and fell into narrow dry valleys - over 100kms and about 13 of these rollercoaster dips, mostly at 10-13 degree gradients. Here is one such descent with a sign warning of the sudden fall (double click on the photo to see the angle indicated on the sign).
Some of the road followed a high ridge with spectacular vistas to the south.
Then the big drop into the Tupiza valley began - from 4200m to 3250m.
Cacti and red rock country. Coming into the Tupiza valley the landscape changed dramatically. This is Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid country - nearby they held up their last cache of money and were ambushed and gunned down by the Bolivian constabulary.
A side gorge into the Tupiza river.
Eroded rocks near Salo.
El Pirongo, named after the Argentinian vernacular for `penis´.
A bicycle shop in Tupiza. I love the Connondale slogan.
We found a nice friendly hospedaje in town, Hospedaje Central and enjoyed warm showers, beer, wine and good food.
More red rock country outside Tupiza.
The road from Tupiza to Villazon is being upgraded and traffic is forced into the river- quite deep for bicycles. Luckily, I hadn´t bothered cleaning the bikes in Tupiza.
Another stretch of bicycle wading - check out Jude navigating the deep waters on the right.
A narrow canyon and tunnel. Jude emerges from the dark rock as a truck waits.
Jude among some beautifully-coloured landscape and interesting clouds.
Send in the Clouds
Lenticular cloud formations sweeping across the sky.
At our campsite beside the railway we had this spectacular light show in the sky.
Cacti and red sky
Our campsite between Tupiza and Villazon. I had my cycling boots drying on the tracks when I train came hooting around the corner. Just managed to save them. Phew!
More silhouette cacti, more blood-red sky.