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…
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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.
Challacollo, en route to Coipasa.
Salar de Coipasa