Eyes Wide Shut; cycling on the Salar.

Uyuni – Isla Incahuasi – Llica – Chalacallo – Coipasa – Sabaya

Cycling atop the salt crust of the Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni – and the more petite but perfectly formed Salar de Coipasa – is an undisputed highlight of many a South America journey. It’s a ride that takes four days, in our case segmented with the cacophony of a typically spirited and drunken festival in the midway settlement of Llica.

As the largest salt flat in the world, this is an otherworldly experience in the truest sense of the word. My prevailing memories: Squinting into the blinding, sparkly midday light. Feeling crispy skin crinkle ever so dry. Pitching camp on a bleached white canvas. Seasoning dinner with the ground I’m sitting on. Awakening in the morning to a glow of lavender light.

And above all, closing my eyes, and just riding…

If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on my Instagram feed too. 

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The dichotomy of Bolivia: a midday festival in Llica.

No one seemed to know quite when it started, or indeed how long it might go on for. Three days, five days, even two weeks; these were all time frames bandied around with habitual Latin American ambiguity. ‘It will end tomorrow,’ said one lady. ‘It has to. We need to sleep…

We trawled through streets thick with vendors in search of a place to stay. We dodged the brass band that circled the town discordantly. Then we settled on the best we could find: a barebones room on the main square, right beside the very heartbeat of the action. Outside, drunks supported each other, or brawled a moment later. Kids in traditional costumes danced. Elderly women sat gossiping, unflinching and impervious to the cold. And the music blasted on.

Come nightfall, a crescendo of thunderous beats emitted from the sports hall up the road. The acoustics resonated through the very fabric of the town. This came as little surprise, given the sound system: a set of speakers stacked, literally, two story’s high. Music permeated our room like it was playing next door. 3am. 4am. 5am. It was still going strong well into the early hours, as was the mc who showed no signs of losing either voice or enthusiasm.

Coming morning we pedalled on, tyres scrunching over beer tops, chicaning through the last men standing… back towards the peace and inner calm that prevailed in the Salar de Coipasa.

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Challacollo, en route to Coipasa.

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Salar de Coipasa

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6 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Shut; cycling on the Salar.

  1. Jeff New York Lon

    Hi Cass
    I sort of feel that you are in another universe looking at the landscape pictures you posted .The last one in the first group reminded me of Rollie Free 1948 Bonneville salt flats on a Vincent Black shadow he broke the record in that position with just a pair of swimming trunks and a skid lid tennis shoes.

    Best Jeff

    Reply
  2. Big Dummy Daddy

    Congratulations on your cover story in the latest Bicycle Times, Cass! I’m at the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Pittsburgh and opened the swag bag to find the BT issue emblazoned with a familiar story. Terrific photos and writing as usual.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Cheers for that Andy – can’t wait to see it! Back in NM imminently, so more family adventures in the pipeline…

      Reply

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