Uyuni to La Paz

More adventures including two poorly Corrs and a ride across the salt flats

Guess salt hotel do you think we stayed in??

15th Aug

Summary – A short ride to Conchini

A leisurely morning with breakfast and shopping for food and water
We cycled the short flat route from Uyuni to Conchani and Had a mooch around the market and tried to find a room for the night, the three hostels in town ranged from dorms to rooms that are likely to be disturbed all night by the tourist throughput to one that was still a building site.

We cycled right to the edge of the salt flats to a hostel whose walls, tables and beds were all made from salt bricks, the floors throughout were also loose salt. Very novel and only £4 each.
There was another hotel across the road which charged €125 a night, Net popped over to make use of the toilets and WiFi

Ginette – there are times I wish I was rich and this was definitely one of them. The hotel was plush, the toilets had doors that locked and flushing systems and it was warm. Our hostel was novel but it was a building site, with intermittent lighting, no electrics and freezing cold.  But at £4 a night a bargain.

Whilst we waited for dinner, I taught the host’s son how to play the ukele.

Ginette – I heard the host’s older son telling the Italian what was on offer for dinner,  I interpretted rice, eggs, chips and salad and promptly asked the host if we could have dinner too.  You can imagine my face when after a long wait dinner turned out to be a few greesy chips, salad and llama!! I asked the Italian if I had understood the menu and he smiled and said he was a little surprised by the llama and lack of eggs and rice. Just as well I wasn’t hungry.

We were joined by another cycle tourer from Italy so had a pleasant evening chatting but we all still hit the sack by 9pm.

Ginette – the cyclist looked exhausted, he had an upset stomach which is not uncommon in Bolivia, perhaps it is the altitude.

It was freezing in the bed at first, we slept fully dressed. In the early hours though I was far to hot under all the heavy blankets.

Ginette – it was good to be back on the bike, it was a short ride which made it enjoyable, the new saddle seems to be doing the trick.

Summary – Salt flat cycling

It was a cold start, the salt flats retain no heat and are known to go to minus 20 degrees, but when we set off fully wrapped up it was a barmy 6 degrees.

It was weird cycling over the white flat surface, it looked like snow and ice and at first your mind warned you that it was going to be slippery, but it’s not.

The cycle to the Isle of Incahuasi was only 48 miles but it was a hard ride. The surface was not smooth all the time and the salt has formed large hexagonal Chrystal shapes sometimes very pronounced making the ride like cycling over cobbles.

There was no real clear route so we kept close to the vehicle tracks while following the Garmin
We thought we would get in with plenty of time to mess around taking fancy photos but we didn’t get there till just before sunset. We set up camp, hidden between the large cacti and took a short wander around the island.  There were lots of tourists on the island, the majority had been transported by jeep or bus and did not stay on the island overnight. I think there were only about 20 people on the island overnight so it was really quiet but very bright from the full moon. The tourists arrived again early the following morning to watch the sun rise.

Ginette has issues with her breathing today, we are after all cycling at 12,000 feet


Summary – Ginette hospitalised and Gary rescued by ambulance.

Not too cold last night so slept well even with Ginette’s bum seeking me out for warmth again.
We had a little mouch around the islands tourist centre but as we didn’t bother paying the islands fee we didn’t go up the hill. Before we set off again we were set upon by a class of Bolivian school kids so they could have there photos taken with us.

We only had 25 miles to cycle across the salt flats but Ginette was struggling. We had to stop a lot for her to get her heart and breathing back to normal.

Then things took a turn for the worse and Ginette was violently sick several times, we were approx 8 miles from the town of Tania at the edge of the salt flat but Ginette was in no fit state to cycle anywhere. I pitched the tent (with no pegs as I couldn’t get them in the salt) so Net could try to rest and shelter from the blazing sun.

Ginette – I felt so rough, I almost passed out several times, I couldn’t breathe properly and felt really queazy. Being sick brought some relieve but I felt drained, shivery and scared. I thought I had altitude sickness but I was later informed this was not the case.

Gary – I managed to wave down the first Land Rover that passed after approx 2 hours and after seeing how poorly Ginette was (she was busy being sick at the time) the German family insisted that the driver take Ginette to the town which was another 10 miles away.

Ginette – the taxi driver dropped me into the village hospital but with no explanation as to why I was there. The staff tried to ascertain what was wrong with me but I didn’t have the spanish words to describe how I felt.  So I mimed being sick, they took my blood pressure which was low   to the point they thought their equipment was broken, it was funny watching them test the equipment on each other.  I obviously looked dehydrated and they gave me a formula to drink which I instantly threw back up. By this stage I had the shivers and felt very tearful. They put me on a bed covered me with blankets and gave me some oxgygen to regulate my breathing and inserted a saline drip to replace the fluids I had lost.  The care I was provided was excellent I had several nurses and doctors attended me and even had a skype call with an english doctor. I thought all of this over the top and I kept trying to explain that I had altitude sickness and that I would be OK with some rest but they wanted to make sure I was OK. At one point they wanted to transfer me to the main hospital but I insisted I wait for Gary.  After several attempts I was able to explain he was still on the salt flats with the bikes.

So I was left with two bikes a tent to put down and a German family now stranded on the salt flats waiting for their driver to return.
I packed away and decided to walk the 10 miles with both loaded bikes. I had the option to leave one of the bikes and come back for it but first gave the walking with both bikes a go. It’s not easy pushing to laden bikes.
After about 2 miles an ambulance came up to me and loaded both bikes and me and took me to Ginette, who had been admitted into the towns hospital.

She was loaded with oxygen through her nose and a saline drip intravenously in her arm, she looked cherry red which was a far better colour than the pale face she had on the salt flats.

One of the male nurses escorted me to a hostal pushing Nets bike for me, when we arrived there were a family of cycle tourers at the hostel, a Frenchman his Japanese wife and there 4 year old daughter.

After I had changed we all headed to the small hospital as the nurse had found these other cyclists could speak Spanish and English so were bought along as translators.

So we all piled into Ginette’s little room, making it very cosy discussing her issues. It must of being weird for Ginette even in her poorly condition to have so many people around discussing her health including her bowl movements.

When the saline drip had passed through Ginette she was allowed to come back with me, she was a bit better but obviously no were near well.
The bill for all this was 32 Bol, £3.20

Ginette – by the time Gary had been picked up I felt so much better. I had stopped vomitting and felt toasty warm although internally I was still a little shivery.  The doctors concluded I was dehydrated and had a stomach upset. They adviced me to return in the morning for a check up before moving on. 

Before we knew I was really ill Gary made use of the time taking perspective photo’s unfortunately all I could do was sit in the chair and smile occassionally.


Summary – Climbed volcano

Ginette seemed a bit better but was still weak, we spent the day resting in the town Tahua.

However my version of rest is slightly different so I opted to walk up the Volcano Tanupa.  There was a gravel vehicle track to follow all the way but it was hard and slow work, if I tried to push to hard I had no air in my lungs so slowly did it.

Up at the crater there was a colony of mammals which looked like Rabbits but had the tail of a Fox. They hopped around like rabbits but also stood on their hind legs and gave a short cry of warning.

At the crater I left the track and rock hopped up one of the ridges so I could get a better view across the salt flats.

The way down was much quicker as I had no oxygen issues.
Net has been wisely resting and reading, I don’t think she will be strong enough for tomorrow’s rough road so we are hoping we can hitch hike with the bikes to the next large town and possible tarmac roads.

Ginette – I rested all day, even walking to the outside toilet left me breathless.  I had been constipated for several days but the doctors gave me a pessary and it seemed to do the trick.


Another separation

Ginette is still weak, I tried to get a lift in the jeep that had stopped overnight at the hostel, he was going the other way but he had good English and found out for us that a bus leaves at 3 pm to go to Oruro.

Ginette stayed to catch the bus and as I was feeling strong I set off by bike, it is upsetting leaving each over especially as she was so poorly only 2 days ago.

The previous day we had though we may be able to hitch a lift but in the 3 hours it took me to cycle the tough stretch I only had 2 cars pass me and only one would have been able to take the bikes, he passed me just as I was approaching the paved section at Salinas De Garci Mendoza.

The ride out of Tahau to Salinas De Garci Mendoza was a tough stretch of 25 miles of dirt track. The terrain ranged from washboard, Rocky and sandy, the sandy but had me pushing the bike for a little while. Once at Salinas De Garci Mendoza the road was tarmac and mostly flat so I made good headway.

I had long stretches of desert like terrain with mountains in the far distance, but there were also a few craters near the road, they looked like volcano craters but with the mountain .

I met 6 other touring cyclists 2 of which weee from London. The salt flats are a popular place for the cyclists to head. The others were Italians taking a 3 week trip so they have only just set off.

Ginette – I had a long and uncomfortable day. I still felt very weak and I had now developed diarhorrea.  Before leaving the hostal I took an imodiom and a local stomach tablet. I had no idea how long the bus would take to Oruro but as it was a local bus I knew it would not have a toilet.  I set off at 1.30 to make sure I was on time and in the right place. The locals were lovely several stopped to talk with me, one even offered me his toilet. My Spanish is very limited but I was able to express I was catching the bus becuase I had a bad stomach. The bus arrived at 3pm and dropped off several passengers,  I went to get on the bus but was informed it would return at 4pm (at least I hoped that was what she said). I sat back in the village square and waited, and waited, fortunately a few more passengers arrived and I was able to relax. Not too much though becuase by this stage my stomach was cramping and I was wondering whether getting on the bus was a good option at all. I decided to take more tablets and hope for the best.  The bus eventually returned and took 6 hours to reach Oruro, stopping regularly to drop off oil and food to remote villages. With about 2 hours to go, I was clenching my bum cheeks and decided more tablets were necessary.  At 10.00pm I was dropped off with my bike on a dark street in Oruro, I had no accommodation booked and very little local money. To add to my dilemma my Iphone screen was broken and would not allow me to access I asked the driver for the closest hotel and headed in that direction. Fortunately within 10 minutes of walking  I found at ATM and a hotel which had a private bathroom (yayyyy), a shower and a comfortable bed.


Two poorly bunnies

Gary – It got very cold in the early hours, I couldn’t be bothered to get any of my body parts out of the sleeping bag to put on extra clothes so just huddled up to keep warm.
My water bottles where like slush puppies half ice and water.
I had a puncture to fix mid morning.
The ride back to the main road was good tarmac and only a few hills, I stopped at a roadside leanto for a dinner of rice potatoes and beef.

At the junction to the main road I had a chat (neither of us could speak in a language we could understand) with an old shepherd lady, she was very friendly and animated so I gave her some of my food.
Once on the main road there were more towns with shops etc so I stocked back up with water.

By 4.30 I was feeling decidedly queasy, I took a tum tum and pushed on another 10 miles so as to make it possible to finish tomorrow.

Pitching the tent when your queasy is not a pleasant task, hopefully this will pass soon

Ginette – I woke feeling much better and managed a small breakfast. In true Ginette fashion I then relocated to a cheaper hostal and chilled for the day. I was still very breathless and looked up altitude sickness, I definitely don’t have that but Dr Google suggests I may be anemic. This seems very likely and would explain why I’ve felt lethargic and breathless. I also have several other symptoms listed by Dr G.  Fresh vegetables have been in short supply and as I don’t eat meat my iron levels are probably very low. Once i have some energy I will seek out some dried fruit and may even have a blood test.

20th Aug

A bad night and a poorly Gary

So a really cold night made worse by the shivers going through my body and the amount of times I had to get out of the to evacuate each end.

It took me ages to do everything this morning as I was so weary.
Once packed I stayed by the roadside for 10 minutes hitchhiking but no takers. I decided to cycle the 10 miles to the next town, hoping I could get a lift from there.
I had to stop several times, it was a flat easy stretch but didn’t feel like it to my body.
Luckily in the town was a police check with barriers across the road, I managed to
get a lift straight away, he dropped me in Uruno for 30 bols (£3)

Spent the rest of the day resting and being Loved back to health by Net

Ginette – Gary contacted me early this morning to tell me he’d had a really bad night and that he would try and get a bus/lift.  it was clear he had the same bug as me so I fully appreciated how awful he was feeling. Once he arrived at the hostal I gave him lots of TLC and a little space to recuperate. 

21st August 

Tourist day 

We’re both still in recovery mode so spent the day exploring Oruno, there’s not a lot to see to be honest. Old buildings mixed with new, some statues and more protests. Bolivia will be electing a new president in Nov,  whereever we have been in Bolivia there have been strong politcal campaigning especially for Evo who if elected will be one of the longest acting presidents in the history of South America.  In a recent referendum Bolivians voted that he should not be able to stand as a candidate but where there’s a will there’s a way.

One of the protests we saw was in regards to the right to work, there’s so much inequality in Bolivia with lots of marginalised groups. My limited Spanish is helping me to understand some of the placards but I need to continue practicing to have a conversation with the protestors.  We saw a number of homeless families on the streets from Venezuela begging for food and money. Bolivia is a very poor country and as we have experienced in other areas the rural areas are affected the worse. Some of the towns we have passed through have very little food resources, poor buildings and little to no sanitation.

To end on a positive note, the people in Oruro were inquisitive and friendly, it felt safe and welcoming to tourists. We enjoyed our tourist day, watching familes in the parks, walking through the markets and visting the tourist sights. One of the highlights of the day was watching a train come through the market. Market stall holders had set up their wares on the train line and as the train approached they simply packed up, moved off the line and as the train passed through they returned to the line.

Thursday 22nd August 

transit day to La Paz

We have now moved on to La Paz, Gary’s stomach is still playing up and he had a very difficult bus ride from Oruro to La Paz.  To help our recovery I had booked an apartment but on arrival in La Paz we were initially shown a small studio apartment. I quickly realised that I was on the mend because rather than accepting the room I set about arranging a better room. Gary on the other hand was exhausted and would have happily stayed anywhere as long as he had quick access to a toilet. Fortunately I was able to relocate us in the same building to a much bigger room. Gary’s sister contacted us to arrange a face time conversation and for the first time ever we asked to take a rain cheque. We are both on the mend but emotionally and physically drained and don’t want family members to worry unduly about us.  We will be spending at least 4 days in La Paz, we’ll be taking it easy and will only move on once we are feeling 100%. We’re both looking forward to the next stage of our trip which includes a cycle ride to Lake Titicaca and then on to Peru.




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