(103) Bolivia bound
I had been in Santiago for several weeks and It had felt so much like home because of the amazing family I was staying with. I knew it was time to leave and I also knew I would miss them all so much. I had been made part of their family and shown so much love and will never forget it but knew moving on would be hard. Trying to fit everything into my panniers was the next challenge and it wasn’t going to be easy. The thought of having company north was settling and they were all the right people for the job and felt very lucky to have their support. xxx
Monday 23rd March
The day had finally come to leave. I hadn’t slept that well and for the first time for ages and being awake I got up at 8.30am catching Rafael before he headed off to work. I joined Andrea for breakfast and started to go through my kit which I had done so many times. I seemed to have so much stuff. Tent, Thermarest, sleeping bag, clothes, first aid kit, stove and pots, waterproofs, netbook, tools, spares, chargers, cameras and enough maps to get me through to Mexico. Add in to that a large food bag and I was loaded. Having to be a bit hard on what to take and leaving a few things I would have liked I knew I had to get it all up every hill. The one thing I had been trying to get done was post a blog which was about the time I spent at home. I knew it would be hard but it wasn’t the best time to look back on with so much happening that wasn’t very pleasant. I knew I needed to write it as it is a way of me accepting what has happened and for people to maybe have an idea what it’s like to lose someone so close and so amazing.
I broke it up with finishing off a few jobs on my bike and taking kit around to the pickup. I felt bad for not spending more time with Andrea and Sofia as it was my last day but I needed to finish the last few things. I did get my jobs done and posted the blog all be it not as I had hoped. The guys turned up ready to go and we loaded the truck. I didn’t want to say goodbye again and it was something I had done to much off lately. I felt sad leaving and still can’t believe how incredible this family is and how well they have treated me.
I will miss them so much and so will I miss there home that they made mine. I jumped in the front with Emaunal and Gabriel got in the back with Rocio. We started the long journey north and went via Rafael’s and my first camp spot to pick up a piece of my stool I had lost. We left around 6.30pm and it took with stops 5 and a half hours to reach La Serena. I couldn’t believe it took so long when we had cycled it in what felt like a few days.
I spotted a few places where we had camped during our ride and was hit with waves sadness but I knew it was going to be hard and that the hardest bit was yet to come. We arrived late in the town and found a cabin for us all.
we were all shattered and so found a bed each and passed out and try and get some rest for the next long leg north tomorrow.
Tuesday 24th March
Hearing voices at 8am I got up just as Emanuel called me. We were soon ready to go and drove to have breakfast. not feeling hungry I waited at the truck while the others went to get food. We had heard about thunderstorms in Santiago and Copiapo where we were heading and couldn’t believe it had got so bad.
Some old Inca Art on the side of a hill as we headed north
The road north of la Serena was just as hilly as the South but it was all starting to look a lot more bleak. We made good progress and reached Copiapo by 1pm to meet Julio and a few of his family.
They had put on a lovely meal and was a great change from the car. We stayed for a while listening to Julio tell his stories at high speed and were given the chance to grab a shower. We set off around four for Antofagasta which was still along way to the north.
We made our way through the numerous road works that were there to create a new highway which was good but with the bits that weren’t completed it slowed us.As we followed the coast along we stopped at a beach for a swim. This would be the last chance I would have to swim in the Pacific for a long time and now was a good time to do it.
The sea was cold but not as bad as the south and felt great to swim.
The rock formations were stunning as we headed north
The view as the sun set over the desert and out to the ocean
With still had a long way to go we set off and soon day turned to night and with it the fog came down slowing us further. We stopped a couple times for a stretch and got out into a bitterly cold wind. It was now raining lightly and I asked if we were going the right way. We were meant to be in the desert and it was raining and cold. I did know we were going the right way but it did seen weird. As we drove north passing the numerous wind farms with their blades momentarily visible as the flashing red lights reflected off the surface of the blades we finally saw the orange glow of Antofagasta. We arrived around midnight and spent the next hour searching for somewhere to stay. With so many places full we finally found a camp sight that we could rest. Being the only place we could find it would have to do but it was horrible. The situation next to the beach was beautiful but it was dirty. The place smelt of pee and I had to move my tent to where I knew it would clean and added to this there was a party going on 50 metres away with a lot of screaming and shouting. With everything else closed or full we didn’t have an option and just tried our best to get some rest. It did stop around 3am when we all finally got to sleep ready for our next leg to Calama where we would meet Rafael.
Wednesday 25th March
As The night went on and the noise died away the rain started. It got heavier and heavier and with the ground being so hard the water was bouncing up under the flysheet and getting me wet. With a few well placed bags it stopped the water and woke to a wet and cloudy day.
This was a town that hardly ever saw rain being in the Atacama region and yet here we were in a heavy down pour. Emanuel and Ricio went off to buy pastic bags to keep our things dry in the back while Gabriel and I made ourselves a shelter, played on the trampoline and made an Alsatian dog more comfy out of the rain.
This chap was quite happy with his accommodation we had given him but he wasn’t keen to share
Emanuel came back with bags and news the the town was going mad. The rain had not only knocked out the power to the town and to the north of Chile but also the phone and internet as well.
It felt strange leaving a flooded desert town that never sees rain
With all the roads flooded mainly because there is no drainage as it never rains, we made our way out of town passing abandoned vehicles and took the road north east to Calama. As we made our way out of town we could see the rivers already bursting their banks and Gabriel said as we head further into the desert the drier it would become.
Gabriel showing off the sign written car
we stopped on the way in a small town to buy dinner to see on the news that the river in Copiapo had burst its banks and that Chañarel a small town on the coast that we had driven through had been totally washed away.
We couldn’t believe the news about the town we had only just passed through
We couldn’t believe it and especially as we were in a desert. We continued north east along the highway and stopped at some old mines that had once been used for the extraction of a mineral used in the production of gunpowder.
After the discovery of a new way of making it these mines were abandoned and left as they were. As we looked around we could see massive storm fronts crossing the desert towards us and so we got in the truck and continued on towards Calama and the storm.
With the storm approaching and having already rained heavily in the mountains the roads were starting to flood. we stuck behind a truck so we could judge the depth of the the water as we made our way through each one almost being pushed off the highway by the strong current that was crossing the road.
With the thick mud being sprayed up on to the windscreen obscuring any vision it was getting pretty wild.
One of the many mining trains making it through the floods
Mounds of waste known as cake from the mines
We finally reached the town of Sierra Gorda 60 km from Calama and a road block. we were told the road ahead was flooded, all planes were canceled and there was no way through. We pulled over in town and managed to contact Rafael who was due to fly in a little later and didn’t know anything about it. he made a few calls and rang back saying the planes hadn’t been cancelled and to see if the road was really blocked but to turn back if it got bad.
We headed on towards Calama to see vehicles coming the the other way which gave us more confidence knowing that they had made it through. we came across a few floods but was nothing compared to what we had been through and finally we reached town with many of the streets flooded. Once again we went in search of a place to stay which took ages but with some perseverance we found a nice cabin and set about sorting our things.
Emanuel and Ricio went in to pick up Rafael and supplies and came back a couple hours later with Rafael looking very relieved to be here. He told us that his plane had tried 3 times to land in the strong winds and had finally landed on the third attempt. He then handed us a newspaper showing flooding and lightning storms in the north and massive bush fires in the south burning thousands protected 1000 year old trees in a national park we had ridden through.
Chile suffers earth quakes and volcano eruptions on a regular bases but floods and fires at either end of the country was just another problem Chile has to cope with and they still keep smiling
It was incredible what was happening and we didn’t even know if we could make the border as it was at around 3,600 metres and there being a serious threat of heavy snow fall and the chance of the border being closed. All we could do now was to eat relax and watch a movie and be glad we were all here safe and hope for the best tomorrow.
Thursday 26th march
We all got up around 8.30am and packed our things. Today we were heading for the Bolivian border which I had mixed emotions about.
Getting ready to leave
We saw this dog who looked pretty fed up with the rain
Being with friends was helping so much and giving me chance to take my mind off of what was a head. We left town filling up on fuel on the way and asked about the border. We asked about the pass at the fuel station and a truck drivers said it was clear. The scenery was amazing and would have been the road Joe and lizzie took when they rode through almost a year ago.
Support crew ready to go
The Andes rising up from the lower plateau
The Volcano behind me is this big!!
This was next to one of the police checkpoints
Every volcano was covered in snow and made us wonder as we climbed weather we would reach the snow line.
One of the many Volcanos on the way
We slowly climbed passing salt pans and volcanos and slowly weaves our way to the border.
Climbing away from the salar towards the border
The road soon turns to salt as we crossed the next salar
We were checked out in no time and made our way to Bolivia. We reached the border town of Ollague and stamped into Bolivia but then we had to get the car in. We had to wait for around an hour for the vehicle to be let through, It was important to get the correct stamps here as they could seize the vehicle if they hadn’t.
Ollague border control
The high border railway station
Once through we turned right and headed towards Villa Alota which would have been where we would have cycled. The road to villa Alota was in great condition weaving In-between the rocky valley until we reached the outskirts of the village then we turned right and took the road south for Villa Mar. It was about 25 miles of packed sand road with several river crossings. As we got closer to the village no one spoke, I couldn’t believe I was back here but knew I was doing the right thing. I directed Rafael with the GPS and reach the point where the split in to 3. We took the road to the right but looking at the GPS it was more to the left so we took the middle road and again it was more to the left. We finally took the left road and as the distance dropped we reached a small monument exactly where Sharon was hit. We stopped and all got out the car, it felt strange to be back here. somewhere that was imprinted on my brain. A place I could remember every single detail a lot of which I wish I could erase. We stood in silence and looked at the small clay brick monument that had been built here.
To be honest it was a relief to know someone had put some love and care into building it and to decorate with flowers and place a wooden cross. I felt numb and just looked around at the ground, one of the first things I noticed was Sharon’s marmite water bottle top. It hit me hard and the memories flooded back, it was hard to think I had lost Sharon almost a year ago and that I would never see her again. I held myself together and thought of what I had to do. I had the box of letters in the car and we needed to dig a hole. We grabbed the picks and shovels and set about digging a hole. Everyone was amazing and a massive support at a place if left alone I would have struggled. We took it in turns to dig and after a while we had made a deep hole.
The butterfly box for Sharon
We added a couple more letters and screwed a plague on the front of the box then placed it in the hole with rose petals from my aunt.
We stood around the hole looking at the box, I wanted to say something meaningful but my voice wouldn’t work and only a few choked words came out. What could I say, I had lost the most precious thing I had ever had and failed to look after. It had been such an adventure that we both loved so much and yet here I was having to think of something to say that would make things better but nothing would nothing would make it better, nothing would bring her back and that was hard. We all felt the same but none of us really knew what to say, we opened a Patagonian beer that we used to drink together in the south and made a toast to Sharon, leaving some for her a long with some tea bags and filled the hole. We placed some stones on top and stood in silence. It was a massive step in my life to get to this point and say goodbye but it wasn’t easy. I knew it wasn’t forever as I never want to let her go, or forget all the things we had done together, all the amazing things she had done, the lives she had changed and people she had influenced but this was a point for me to try and live again.
With the temperature dropping Rafael pulled the truck round and we pitched the tents next to the monument. It felt strange and surreal watching the sun set exactly 11 months to the day in the same place, watching the same stars come out and feel the same cold wind that’s bites through as It did when I lay next to Sharon whilst waiting for the police. We sat and cooked tea to warm us up but Sharon was in everyone’s minds and no one really said much. We all missed her so much and yet she was gone. My wife and best friend and I had to deal with it.
Friday 27th March
It was a restless night for everyone with Gabriel being sick. I wasn’t to bad but the thought of sleeping next to where I had lost Sharon was hard. It was freezing and I could only just keep warm. I got up in the night to the call of nature to see an uninterrupted star filled sky. It was incredible but hard to know Sharon wasn’t here to see it. It may sound odd wanting to camp here but it was my way of being there for her one last time. Knowing that someone had built a small monument seemed to settle me and know that even here Sharon was thought of. It started to get light but no one was moving until the sun warmed our tents. Once it did the difference was amazing. Hearing voices I packed my things and placed them outside the tent. The whole fly sheet was covered in frost confirming it wasn’t just me being soft. It was so lovely sat around having breakfast with everyone knowing they were all there for support.
I still find it hard Sharon lost her life on such a straight road
Rocio went to take pictures of lama and Emaunal said we could make the monument look a little better. I didn’t really know what was lucky to leave or take but he made a lovely job. I wrote on the wooden cross and we checked it was secure. Rafeal told me he had a saw for me to cut my bike stand but being a hack saw I used my Swiss Army knife. Within two minutes I had taken a big gouge out if my thumb and I was bleeding every where.
With a wet wipe and insulation tape we were all ready to go. I asked if I could have a minute so they all went up the road to wait. I sat talking to Sharon with broken words. This was so hard and unreal the fact I was cycling away on my own when it should have been the two of us. I got on my bike and turned the GPS on but it wouldn’t work. I turned it off then on but it wouldn’t load. I rode up to the others and told them the problem and they all had a go but to no avail. A brand new GPS that wouldn’t work.
The red rock continued for miles up the wide valley
We rode on following the road to villa Alota trying to pick the best line. It wasn’t a great road but we made progress. We stopped at what looked like an old settlement before riding on to have lunch.
There were huge sandstone rocks that covered the valley to our left and spotted a good place to have lunch. I was feeling shattered carrying full panniers even though we had a truck I knew I needed it to make me strong. It was an incredible spot but with a cold breeze.
We must have been there for over an hour before we set off for the last bit of climbing before the descent to villa Alota. It was great to crest the hill and start the nice long descent to the valley below. I almost lost the front of the bike after hitting sand then shoving the saddle into my backside which was so painful while Rafael nearly lost control of his bike further down the hill.
We stopped near the bottom where everyone was waiting to take five and take in the scenery. It was now a couple miles to the junction where the road improved but with the strong wind blowing from the north west we were going to hit the pass with a headwind.
With about 1 and a half hours of riding left we started the gentle climb. It undulated as we climbed but with the wind it was slow going. Rafael was a head most of the climb as I began to fade more and more. We climbed back up to a little over 4000 metres and called it a day. We were knackered and stopping didn’t come at a better time. With the tents up and everyone choosing what they wanted to eat we sat around preparing our meals and enjoying each other’s company. They were a perfect bunch and couldn’t have wished for better company.
Saturday 28th March
We all managed to get a light sleep in before the sun started to rise. Waiting until it lit the tent I made myself as cosy as I could. We all slowly got up and had breakfast and would be the last one we had together. Gabriel decided he would ride today being the first time he had ridden at altitude. He set off while I put some more air in my tyres only to find my thumb starting to bleed everywhere.
It took a while until I was sorted and set off towards the pass. It was great going to start with and Gabriel was flying.
We rode over what we thought was the summit to see another ahead. We rode towards that to see another ahead. In the end we had a steep climb and a fairly level top with a hill continuing to what we then thought was the summit. It was 1pm by now and Emanuel and the others were waiting ahead.
Emanuel showing what happens to sealed pots of food at altitude
Ready to set off again
By this point Gabriel was really struggling so was a good place to stop. The wind was blowing hard so we positioned the truck against some rocks and had dinner in the shelter. We were feeling tired from the climbing and knew we had more to come. We took about an hour may be a bit longer before we set off again. Gabriel decided to call it a day and to be honest the thought of a nice warm drive at that point was appealing.
Rafael and I set off over the summit and on to the next trying to keep going so they didn’t miss there window for crossing back into Chile. With the last main climb out the way we knew we had a couple short ones but it should be easier. As we approached the last short climb we saw a cyclist ahead coming from the South. We pushed on to try and intercept him and shore enough we were introducing each other. His name was Ben from Halifax and was also heading for Alaska.
First there were two and then there were six
He mention a couple others he had been cycling with when 3 French cyclists appeared from the same road. We chatted for a bit but being pushed for time we set off with the others to the top. I chatted with Ben while the others dropped back and after about 5 km he said he was turning off to the north. I asked about the French and he said he wasn’t with them and had only met them a few minutes before he met us. I felt a little gutted I didn’t spend more time with them but as we were all heading to the same place I’m sure we would see each other again. I headed off towards the border and where Rafael was waiting.
We had a few moments with a slight tail wind but most of the time we were being battered from the side.
Rafael staying out of the way of the dust from the truck
It was hard going even on a good road with the old car or truck covering us in a cloud of dust. We reached the top of the last incline and started the amazing descent between 2 volcanos down to a salar. We had to be careful as the strong wind was pushing us across the road. As we approached Ollague we had seen little to no vehicles until we reached the bottom where we then had truck after truck coming towards us. We went on the wrong side to avoid the dust cloud and to there credit they knew exactly why. The last few miles to the border was so hard. Seeing where we had to get to and only making slow progress seemed to take forever. We finally reached the pickup with Rocio, Gabriel and Emaunal waiting.
The best support crew ever
I was shattered and so was Rafael. Needing to sort out the GPS SD cards as mine was playing up then forgetting where I had put them was a nightmare as they are so small. With the one I had causing problems Emaunal offered his hoping that would solve the problem. I loaded the food bag on my bike which now looked and confirmed I had far to much stuff then added some water I was ready. I couldn’t believe I had to say goodbye after spending some of the most amazing weeks with the most amazing family. The fact they wanted to come up and spend this time with me after driving so far was incredible and I will never forget it. They told me I needed to go first so we said our goodbyes for now and I set off feeling so sad they had to go. I tried to wave as long as I could but with the strong tail wind and what felt like a bike weighing 3 tons over pot holes I had to watch where I was going.
It wasn’t long before they were out if sight and I was on my own. I was tired and wanted to rest but with this tailwind it was a good chance to make up some miles after fighting it for the last 2 days. I was making good progress but with the sun now setting I had to look for somewhere to camp. I covered around 15 miles in the last hour but with the road getting worse I pulled off the road and pitched the tent. I was shattered and it took a lot to get the order of jobs right and get the kettle on for tea and food. The surroundings were stunning and I counted 15 volcanos and most of which had snow Capps. It was such a shame I had no one to share it with.
Sunday 29th March
After falling into a deep sleep I woke at 5am uncomfortable and tired. I tried to sleep but just kept turning over annoyed. As the sun started to come up I fell asleep which I wasn’t to worried about.
I got up around 9.30 and made a few notes from the night before to save my head torch. Not having a great deal of water I made a coffee and ate half a packet of biscuits. The scenery was amazing so not in a rush I tried to pack my things a bit better and loaded the bike. Noticing I had a slow puncture I pumped it up and pushed my bike back on the road. According to my route sheet the road should improve after the first 10 miles but it got worse with short steep climbs through deep corrugations it was tough and slow going.
It’s hard to show how deep the corrugations were and how hard they were to ride over
Wandering at a couple points if I was on the right road seeing as it should have been a good surface I rode on until I dropped down onto the the salar. It was 2.30pm by now and I was still not at San Juan so I stopped half way along the road propped my bike and lay down in its shade.
Using my bike for shade was my only option out on the road
The sun was so intense I needed half an hour out of it to recover while eating some ham and cheese to substitute dinner and try to re-hydrate without getting to low on water. I set off again still on bad roads and reached the top of a short climb and then dropped down to another salar. I spotted a road sign which gave me a better idea of where I was and so with 10 miles to go I pumped my back tyre up again and dug deep. I was knackered hungry and needed water.
I turned a final bend to see the small town at the end if the road. Although it seemed to take ages the road improved making the final few miles enjoyable. I turned off into the quiet town and found a tiny shop. With fresh water, eggs,cookies and coke I was sorted. I lay in the shade to rest and put some sugar back in me and checked the route out. It had taken someone else 6 hours of riding time to get to the next place and I had already taken almost 2 hours longer to ride due to the road so instead of hanging around and with it being only being 4.30pm I set off on what should have been washboard only to find it was amazing. I soon covered the next 7 miles to a junction and with a great road surface rode another 10miles to Julica a disused railway station.There were a few rocky sections which didn’t take long to get over
Arriving in Julica which was a lot busier then I thought it would be
With the extra energy in my system I pushed on and soon came to a huge salar that was split by the road running down through the middle. It was stunning with volcanos as a back drop I just absorbed it as I rode along. With a few rough bits I got closer to the abandoned town to see there were quite a lot if people there. Not sure what they do here I’ll never know but they all seemed nice and I was happy I had covered the last 17 miles in an hour and a half. Needing to find a nice spot to camp I continued on and rode just out of town. I continued on about a mile and spotted a dip in the road from a seasonal river. It was perfect. Just below the horizon out of sight and with it pretty much dark I had to pull my finger out and get my jobs done. The tent was soon up loaded and I was washed with the only thing left was to cook rice with fried salami and fried eggs. Yes at last something tasty. To prepare me for a good day tomorrow. Once I’ve fixed my puncture.
Monday 30th March
The wind battered the tent but it wasn’t cold. In fact it was the warmest night I’d had in the tent. I woke at 8 but tried to get a bit more sleep and got up just after 9. It was going to be a slow start with needing to make breakfast and then using the water from the eggs to find the puncture in my back wheel and also get kit out needed to fix the puncture and clean the oil from the chain and hub that had leaked out the seals. By the time everything was done packed away and loaded it was 11.20. A bit later then I had hoped but it should be an easyish as I was 18 miles further on then I had planned. I joined the road and apart from the odd sand pit or corrugation the road was amazing. Just before I reached Rio Grande I passed our 21,000 mile mark which I shouldn’t have been alone knowing Sharon could have been here.
Saw these strange houses on the way into town
With the roads being so quiet it still doesn’t make sense and the thought of celebrating a mile stone that she would have reached easily was difficult. As I took 5 minutes I noticed my front rack had come lose from my repair. Trying to work out what I could use I spotted my go pro bracket. It was perfect and soon I was sailing down the road and into town.
I stopped at the shop to pick up a couple bits and left out of town towards the railway line. We had heard that following the railway line was not only direct but was a great route. I thought I would give it ago and was good at first until the salar became soft. It was hard peddling as I sank into the soft mud and made slow progress. I thought it might be a bit bad at the edge so kept going. In the end I pushed my bike up on to the tracks and rode along the hard earth centre.
I kept looking behind to check for trains and slowly made my way east. It was slow and hard work. From time to time I would walk down the embankment to check the surface and sometimes it would seem ok but as soon as I started peddling I would sink. I went back on the track to try and run the wheels on the rails. This worked for a bit but would drop off and would take a lot to get it back on. At one point I looked behind and took a double take and quickly pulled my bike off the tracks as a tiny train something you would see at fair grounds wizzed past.
Every time there was a bridge I would roll my bike along the rails being careful not to let it drop off but all the time worried I wasn’t watching what was ahead or behind. Going back and forth pushing through the pan or pushing on the track was taking forever. Worried I didn’t have a huge amount of water I skipped dinner and kept pushing on. With this stretch lasting 20 miles and already having pushed 5 I was starting to wish I hadn’t come this way.
I finally reached a bit that was rideable and started to make progress which lasted for about 3 miles and I was back to pushing. I finally reached the bridge where I would ride on the north side but being such a big bridge it was important to check for trains. As I looked back I could see something far off in the distance. It was a train, I waited about 10 – 15 minutes and although I could have easily crossed the bridge I was glad I waited.
After assessing the length of the bridge I decided to wait for the train
There didn’t look much room for a bike and a train on the bridge
Once I got on it it was slow and tricky and having the thought of a train coming I didn’t want that pressure. Once across I checked the north side and it looked terrible. I continued on the South side riding parts and pushing others. As the South side got worse I tried the north side. It looked like freshly laid concrete hard and flat but it was more like freshly laid wet concrete.
If only it was hard
I swopped back and forth sometimes on the tracks sometimes north sometimes South but it was so slow and tiring. I tried pushing my bike further out into the pan but with no real difference I headed diagonally back to the tracks. I crossed what looked like a dry river bed to find the bike sank deep in the mud. It took all my strength to get it out and so looked for another place. When I tried again it was worse. I sank almost to my knees in thick soft sticky mud and so did my bike.
This was just the start
Again I pulled and heaved until she was out. I was covered and the bike was caked in it. I had planned to get within a couple miles of town and camp but I was covered from head to toe and I needed to get it off. As night fell I could see the lights of Vinto glowing far off in the distance. I pushed my bike for another 2 hours until the side of the track became wide enough to ride.
It looked like it went on forever
This was perfect apart from the odd sand trap but I was getting closer. With 3 miles to go I could see a car off to my right which meant it had to be a road. I left the track as it was getting to hard and pushed my bike another mile across the salar to a road. I finally reached the road and pushed my bike onto the hard surface, it was amazing to be on a road, a hard service that allowed you to glide with little effort even with a few corrugations. I reached the town at 9.30pm knacker, dirty and hungry.
At last the town
The next problem was there was very little in the way of places to stay. In fact I would say there was none After a kind couple informed me. They did however offer me somewhere to wash then some where to cook and if I was happy sleeping on the kitchen floor a bed for the night. It was perfect and although I was so tired I knew I had to eat and wash. The owner was lovely and spoke a little English which helped, showing me an outside tap with water that still had a little warmth from the day, A small shed with a toilet where I could wash and a Kitchen where I could cook an warm myself.
home sweet home
It had turned out to be a good end to a really really tough day and I wasn’t far from Uyuni.
Waking up on the kitchen floor after sleeping well I knew I would need to get up as the owner wanted to head off around 8-9am. I laid in as long as I could and got up and sorted out my things. I opened the door to check my bike to be greeted by the most beautiful dog that was more like a cuddly toy then a dog.
He was so fluffy and friendly
It was so excited and friendly I wanted to pop him in my panniers but knew I wouldn’t get very far as it was the owners dog. The owner came in while I had the kettle on and we sat together drinking our morning cupper. Once breakfast was out the way I asked for a brush to clean the worst of the salty mud off my bike. Once almost shiny I said my thanks and headed off this time on the road to Uyuni. I could have followed the salar but after being told it was as soft as the last one I crossed I didn’t want to do that again. There was cold wind blowing from the west but the road was good out to the junction and felt great to be making progress. With such a long straight road out to the junction It did feel like I would ever get there. Once at the junction I turned left and rode the 20 miles on the flat tarmac towards the town. It was great going with no problems and made it to the outskirts by 11.30am. I spotted the train graveyard off to the left that I had been told about and headed in to take a look. It was amazing to see so many old steam trains no longer in action and with some cut up it was interesting to see how they were built.
Once I had spent some time looking around I headed into town and started to look for somewhere to stay. It was strange to be back knowing how my life had changed and how the town hadn’t. It was strange how life just went on what ever had happened before and how I had been left in this weird void for so long. I returned to the hotel I had stayed at before but it felt different. The people weren’t so friendly and I felt alien. I was shown a room that was fine and went for food and to buy a new SIM card. With a few jobs to I headed out to buy some bits to fix my bike and headed back to wash my clothes and get any chores out the way. As it got late I went to eat and found a quiet restaurant to eat. It felt strange being there on my own and after a while I got chatting to a girl from New Zealand. As we chatted she told me how she had lost her mum a couple years ago. We talked about her and then I mentioned the reason why I was in Uyuni. It was a really hard conversation but in a way it was good for both of us as it wasn’t something either of us wanted to advertise. The only reason why she had come to the restaurant was to get a hot chocolate or a coffee and with the restaurant not having either In a moment of weakness I handed her my whole pot of Cadburys hot Chocolate!! I know what was I thinking it was chocolate and I love chocolate and infant someone said if I had a six pack each one would say Cadburys on it but you know what it felt good and I’ll never regret it. I headed to bed around 10pm and as soon as I got into bed I knew my sheets weren’t clean. I tried to resist but it was no good they just stank of smoke. I asked for some clean sheets and after a bit of a stand off I was given some. This was great for the first half an hour until the smell of the smoke bleached through from the layers of blankets that lay on top. In the end with it being so late I took all the blankets off lay my Thermarest on the bed and climbed into my sleeping bag. I was finding it so hard to breath and I knew it was the room that was doing it. I had to change tomorrow if I was going to get through this and get some sleep.
Wednesday 1st April
After a terrible nights sleep with the whole bed stinking of smoke and finding it hard to breath I knew I couldn’t stay. I got up around 8.30am having not really slept and packed my bags which you would think was fairly straight forward but when we ever had a day off pretty much everything is taken out cleaned or taken out to find something else. I had to be out by 11am which I timed pretty much to the second and went in search of Yang who I had been in touch with over the last few weeks. We had arranged to meet in Uyuni and I hadn’t told the others he was there as I wanted it to be a surprise. After about half an hour of asking I finally found his hostel which was lovely and found Yang waiting in his room in the corner. It was so great to see him and just to sit and enjoy a couple beers with a good old friend. We spent the day together chatting catching up on our trips and old times we had spent riding in Africa.
With time on our hands waiting for Jules, Andy and Sara to arrive it gave us chance to sort through and wash our kit. With wanting to clean his bike Yang set about with the hose and even washed my bike at the same time. I was however shattered after my slog across the salar so we took it easy eating the local food and chilling out back at the hostel. It had been a good day and was time for me to get a proper nights sleep.
Thursday 2nd April
We spent the day looking around town, eating and trying to restore the lost energy from my ride. It was really great just relaxing and catching up and getting fat. I knew it was the only time I would have to enjoy good food as once the guys arrive we would have little chance once we were back on the road to find somewhere proper to eat.
Enjoying some fresh fish
As the day came to an end we picked up some tea and headed back to the hostel and picked up a couple beers on the way excited I would see my friends in a couple days. Still tired I headed to bed determined to try and get some jobs done before the guys arrived.
Friday 3rd April
I woke around 8am and set to work. I was already way behind on our blog and couldn’t believe I was still so far behind. I did manage to get one almost completed only needing internet for a couple hours to get things done. I did end up spending ages on the computer but today was the day to get it done as tomorrow I had the guys arriving and wanted to have it free for them. I joined yang for dinner and so headed back to our favourite cheap restaurant that was £1.50 each.
Today the soup was horrible although the meat tasted ok which made up for it. We went back and I spent another few hours sorting out an extra blog I had wanted to do. I was almost catching up with myself but knew I never would completely. After my eyes going even more square Yang and I headed out to the old train yard to watch the sunset. It was an interesting place with tons of history all locked up in those old steam engines. We met up with another cyclist Elliot who was a keen guitar player and singer and was actually pretty good. Once the sun had set and the full moon was well and truly up we headed back to town and went for dinner. This time the meal was really tasty and at £1.80 it was a bargain. We headed back and still with some things to do on the laptop I went to the Internet cafe to try and download some photos that Rafael had sent me. Annoyingly I had somehow lost the last ten days of photos in Santiago that were on my SLR. Not quite sure what happened but did have a couple from my little camera it should be enough to complete the blog. Once back I joined Yang for a beer and headed to bed. Tomorrow was a big day and the arrival of Jules, Andy and Sara and I couldn’t wait..
Travelling back to Bolivia was something I knew I had to do even before I left almost one year ago. I always knew it was going to be hard but also knew I needed to do it to come to terms with losing Sharon so fast. However hard it was to face I also knew that nothing I did or said would ever bring Sharon back and all I had left was the memories of the time we had together and what we had learnt from each other.We both knew life was so short and even shorter for so many because of the cruel hand that had been dealt what ever the circumstances.Having Rafael,Emanuel, Gabriel and Rocio come with me to Bolivia was incredible and to see a monument built in memory of Sharon was somehow settling.
Having time on my own to ride to Uyuni after leaving Rafael was good for me and gave me chance to settle and try and focus on what was ahead. I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park but I knew it was something I had to do.
Having Julian Andrew and Sara joining me made me excited and focused and wanted to try and make it a really enjoyable experience that they wouldn’t forget and send them home tired enough so everyone they knew didn’t think I had it was easy 🙂 but only time would tell.
Thanks for reading xxxxx