Friday, September 16, 2016

The Lagunas Route

The bikes are heavily packed, ready for a multiple day adventure. We only just start riding out of Uyuni when we see a familiar car: The Nowhere Men, who we have come across many times in Peru have caught up with us. We talk for a while and Azure, upon hearing that the guys are looking for a fuel canister, happily donates her “barrel” to their good cause. It is noon when we finally ride out of town. 

Soon we are riding on dirt and we make one more stop at the last gas station we'll see for several hundred kilometers. Although there is nobody else there, the attendant is adamant that Azure rides her bike up to the pump from the correct direction. Are you kidding me!?! “Ok, stay calm”, I hear through the Sena. She rides her bike around and parks behind David’s, and once she's convinced that her kickstand will stay put on the downward slope, she begins to get off... but rather than stay planted on it's kickstand, the heavily-top-loaded Transalp follows her and winds up on top of her, nicking David's fender on the way down, thereby smashing her windscreen to pieces. Fortunately, David’s bike is ok. I give the man a look. “Are you happy now?” I am angry with the guy and Azure is feeling really bad for her bike and seems to be in a lot of pain herself since the Transalp landed on top of her on the concrete. Not the right mindset to start the Lagunas Route later on. But we fill up with some of the filthiest gas we have ever seen, have some lunch and get on our way.
A shattered world. What was left of Azure's windscreen. Let's hope we don't get too much wind from the front.
The landscape is barren but it is beautiful in its own way. We are just starting to enjoy the day again when David points at Azure’s front tire. It’s flat! It's her first time getting a flat while riding and we're all a little perplexed that she didn't notice it. We are not even on the Laguna’s Route and we already have a flat. David and I do a record job at changing the tube while 4x4’s race by, their tires throwing rocks in our direction. Finally, with enough excitement for one day under our belt already, we make it to our turn off. We deflate our tires and take one last deep breath before starting our 350km battle with the sand. The stories we've heard from David and other riders have ensured our blood is already pumping.
Nothing but starting a ride and having a flat before you even get to the tough part.
Tires deflated, all fueled up and ready to go! Bring on the sand!
Our worries are swept away as we're distracted by the beauty that surrounds us, and we mentally settle in to riding the loose sand and endless stretches of corrugations. We get to an intersection and we have no clue where to go. David has heard of this rock formation but he is not sure where it is exactly. We choose the track bending off to the right and soon plow our way past a small laguna with flamingos heading towards a red rock formation looming on the horizon.
This may just look like a lot of sand and some bushes but it is magical to ride here.

Especially when this is on the side of the road.
What does your feminine instinct say Azure, left or right?

The instinct (or David's GPS) said right and it took us through deep loose sand towards a moon-like rock formation in the distance.
From afar, the road appears to end at the red fortress of rocks but some bad weather seems to be closing in so we keep riding in search of a shelter from the storm. When we get closer, the road winds through the rock formation and we find a magical place, which we unanimously decide to call home for the night.
As we get closer to the rocks it looks more and more like a fortress.

Azure comes in a little bit later after striking up a conversation with the local flamingos.

"If you guys build me a table I'll cook dinner"! Deal on! Brought to you by Hepco&Becker, complete with faucet and sink! :)

Rio de Janeiro, Check!
My life does not get any better than this!
It takes a special girl to get out here in the middle of nowhere and share the warmth of a campfire.
We truly enjoy our new happy place and even consider staying for another day. But after climbing the rock formations by foot and bike and after filling up our tanks with “#%*#”, we get on the track again. Azure is much more confident today and even though the going is tough, the beautifully colored landscapes and cloud formations put a big smile on our faces. 
The alarm sounds off early this morning... and does not stop!
Our new favorite campsite!              
Get down here David! Yes, he is up there with his bike.

I can't believe we actually put this stuff in our tanks... Yes, we tried filtering it, but the filter didn't appear to capture anything... Oh Bolivia.
Another day in paradise.
Shortly after crossing through a town that has erected a toll-gate, we begin to climb up a steep mountain pass. The Twin has no trouble with the altitude but the Transalp refuses to go any further. With David's expertise, we check the air filter and the sparkplugs. The sparkplugs look terrible and we replace the 3 plugs that we can access easily. The air filter is absolutely choked with dirt and dust. How is it possible that I have not checked this for such a long time and let this happen? After a little roadside TLC we try to start the bike again. She starts right up and sounds a hell of a lot better. Completely exhausted because of the altitude, we get back on our bikes and ride up the pass. Have I mentioned how stunning this place is?!? WOW!

If ever you get a chance to ride with David... Try to keep him with you for as long as you can...;) Not only is he an all-around great guy, but you won't find someone with a better attitude towards flats and breakdowns and the other "bumps" of overland travel. Nevermind that he's a whiz mechanically. Thanks for your help buddy!
David's "2 cents" were definitely worth more than that.
Azure and I are both rolling our Sena cameras all the time yet somehow we managed to miss this little spill!
Azure 1 - David 1 - Roel 0
When we get to Laguna Colorado, one of the highlights of the Lagunas Route, the smiles literally get washed away when the clouds open up and lightning streaks across the sky. The “red” laguna is not even visible. It is cold and we feel miserable so we start looking for a place to camp. Not far from the laguna we come across a canyon. We consider the risks of flash flooding for a while but with no other place to hide from the winds we ride in and find a nice flat spot atop a rock and settle in for the night. 

Epic landscape, but no fun riding through this kind of weather.
The next morning we sit on the rock, sipping coffee and soaking up the sun while we watch our gear dry. David says; “Life does not suck!" And he is right. How blessed are we to be out here, doing what we love best, all by ourselves, enjoying nature. With a blue sky over our heads we backtrack to Laguna Colorado and even though, because of the season, it does not show its red color, there is a pink hue on the horizon formed by thousands of flamingos foraging in the water.
The sun brought out this beautiful smile after being miserable and cold all night.
After a night of rain the weather is looking promising this morning.
This little canyon turned out to be the perfect hide-out for the night.
What a magical place!
Just when you are enjoying peace in the middle of nowhere, two of those damned bikers show up! ;)
We leave the laguna behind us and start riding to a customs checkpoint. We want to check our bikes out of Bolivia here since the border crossing we’ll take further south tends to be unmanned and David had encountered a problem with this during his last ride through the Lagunas Route. We wait a few hours for the official to come back from lunch. When he finally shows up he makes quick work of our papers and informs us the migration office will be closed until 4 PM tomorrow due to elections. Great! Oh well, it just means we have to spend some more time in this little peace of heaven. 
No words can describe...
The best 180 I ever made. Somehow I lost a Gobi in the process... Damn that was a slippery road.
Azure 1 - David 1 - Roel 1
As you can see, waiting 2 hours for the border official at a border that we are not really checking out at was a highlight of my experience on the Lagunas Route.
This "homeless guy" had made himself comfortable outside the customs office. ;)
Don't you know it is dangerous to stop in the middle of the road on top of a hill?!?
Ok, I get it. What a view!
In a small settlement, we find a natural hot spring. It does not take long before we are out of our gear and enjoying the warm water. We buy some more water so we don’t have to ration it while we wait for the officials to open the border the next day. As the sun starts to set we ride past “Dali’s Rocks”. They look completely out of place in the sandy desert-like landscape. The colors of the mountains change every minute with the setting sun and we are beside ourselves when we find an old animal pen made out of rocks in which we can set up our tents and enjoy the spectacle, with a little shelter from the raging wind.
 A nice hot spring is all you need after a couple of days on the Laguna's Route.
Dali's Rocks in the distance.
This definitely is my kind of art!
And we get to camp in the painting.
The morning is filled with making coffee and bannock bread. We have time to kill so why not. For my first attempt, it turned out pretty well. We wish our supplies allowed us to stay longer and explore more of this amazing region but we have to make our way back to civilization. We ride around Laguna Verde, a green lake with a majestic Volcano in the background, before we head for the border crossing just down the road. 
Bannock bread for breakfast. A big thank you to my brother for giving me this recipe 7 years ago!
A good place to stitch some gloves.
We might as well be riding through some African desert here.
How the vicunas manage to live out here is still a riddle to me.
We kept the best for last. Welcome to Laguna Verde!
What a ride to get here! But it was worth every country and every kilometer.
Ever seen a horizontal rainbow before?
The last miles of dirt, dust and corrugations!
The border official upon seeing the map: "You guys have got to be crazy"!
Welcome to Chile!
The officials love what we are doing and in seconds our passports are stamped out and we are about to be on our way when Azure realizes her tire has gone completely flat, again. We quickly change the tube in the shade of the building and head for the border and pavement, Azure leading the way. After days of loose sand and corrugations we share our excitement over our Sena intercoms. It has been an unforgettable ride. We are both thankful to have been here with our bikes and with one of our best friends. On the top of a hill we see a road sign. Almost there! We survived the Laguna’s Route! With only 400 feet of dusty dirt to go I’m just chatting it up over the intercom when I hear Azure yell: “Wooaaah, Auw”!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Girl On Fire Begging For Gas.

Loaded with gasoline from Peru we ride into a gas station where we agreed to meet with David again. We want to keep the good gas for when the going gets rough down South so we line up to fill our almost empty tanks. “No we don’t sell to foreigners but the next gas station will”. We had heard about this and were sort of mentally prepared for it. So we ride to the next gas station. Nope! The next one and the next one... With every station we get more desperate and we try to talk to the attendants. Some of them say they can’t handle the paperwork, some of them just don’t want to help. 
No we don't help foreigners. And can't you see we are too busy drinking Pepsi...
We are really too busy but do try the next gas station down the road!
In short: Bolivian Law mandates that foreigners pay 3 times the amount a local pays for gas in Bolivia. Although this is painful it is not a problem. The problem is that they need a computer to do the math for them and to print a receipt for the people with foreign license plates. Most stations don’t have a computer. Add to that the “enormous amount of work involved” and you end up running out of gas. We tell them we will pay the amount which we will calculate for them and that we don’t need the receipt. They point at the cameras above and tell us the police keep an eye on them. This whole problem started with the people of neighboring countries coming over the border to buy up all their fuel and so Bolivia took these measures to solve the problem. What had been a warm welcome to Bolivia is completely wiped out within a matter of miles. If you rely on the availability of gas it really takes away the fun of traveling if they just won’t sell you any.
5 Liters! No more!...
After 10 or so stations, we are on a stretch of road between small villages. We haven't even seen a station to ask at for a while and Azure runs out of gas. We use one of the precious "good" bottles of spare fuel and continue to a small settlement where there is no gas station. All three of us go door to door asking where to find gas until Azure finds a lady who will sell us 5 liters of gas "but NO more!." She gives Azure 5 liters out of a big drum. Azure pleads with her for more. OK, but NO MORE. Another 5 liters. Azure begs again and we get another 5 liters before she takes our money and closes her door. We just can’t wrap our brains around it! Why do you people not want to make some money? 
Just when it all gets to be too much, you ride past this beautiful scene.
This is the other side of the road and we have snow capped mountains ahead of us.
And flamingos always put a smile on our faces!
We continue with the fuel we have and still enjoy our ride. At least the pavement is immaculate! We find another gas station and the guys are willing to fill us up for the foreigner rate but without the paperwork. This simply means the money will disappear in their pockets but hey, we have full tanks! It seems that further away from the big cities there are fewer cameras and less control by the police so it’s easier for us to fill up. 
Successfully dodging the downpours so far...
We make it to Oruro and since we have not gotten any compulsory insurance in La Paz, we try our luck here. The rate of the insurance depends on the chance of getting an accident. This chance is simply smaller in rural areas with less traffic. However the offices are still open they can’t help us because their system shuts down at 4.30PM so we have to come back the next day. With dark clouds gathering over our heads we find a cheap hotel and settle in for the night. Just before we ride in to the hotel lobby, the skies open up. Absolutely soaked we ride in. The downpour is so bad, the water comes through the ceiling and waterfalls come down the walls of the lobby. But our room is dry so no worries.
This friendly guy asked us if we needed help with directions. Always nice in a big city!
The next day we go back to the office and figure out that we can only get the compulsory insurance for a year. It is a significant amount of money and we decide not to buy it. We could have bought third party insurance but this does not seem to be the same as the compulsory insurance. Screw this. Let’s get out of here. We just have to hope that we don’t run into a police checkpoint. 
When the "Friendly Giant" showed up to help hang the traffic light...
Along the road we had purchased a 10 Gallon container for gas. With a helpful taxi driver we try to get some gas for the normal price by having him fill up the container. I check out the progress from afar. “The container is too big and he is not allowed to fill it”, the taxi driver tells me upon his return. Oh well. The driver feels bad for us and does not charge me for our little fuel run.
We leave Oruro, which is actually a very nice town with very nice and helpful people, and gun it South. The road is perfect and the scenery keeps surprising us. At another gas station the fill up is remarkably easy. Azure takes a look at iOverlander (an app used by overland travelers to mark points of interest, hotels, etc.) and notices a post about a police checkpoint just down the road. They check paperwork… Evasive maneuvers are made through town where we get strange looks from the locals. Riding over a soccer pitch we make it back to the main road about a 1000 feet past the checkpoint that has a barrier over the road. With big smiles on our faces we ride towards a dark cloud on the horizon. 
This guy had run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. It is hard to get for us but I couldn't really say I did not have any... so we topped him up and we were all on our way. :)

That moment when Azure's bike got hit by lightning and shrunk into a 150cc dirt bike.
...or just another guy that ran out of gas.
We manage to dodge the rain for a while but just before we make it to the salt flats of Uyuni the dust gets rinsed off our suits and bikes.  The rain does not bother us but we are worried about the conditions of the Salar. 

The moment of truth... will it be wet? Or dry?
After we ride down a bumpy dirt road we make it to the Salar and our fears become reality. The biggest salt flat in the world looks like a giant mirror. It is very beautiful but we cannot ride further. We could but we don’t want to do that to our bikes who have taken us so far around the world. David, who had loved riding on the dry salt on his previous Bolivian adventure, is as disappointed as we are. He would have loved to do it again and to show us around on this massive playground. 
Not a good sign.
and no further...
Although beautiful, this is not what we hoped for.
The bikes even looked disappointed.
David is not giving up yet. There has got to be a way in!
But No!
We ride into Uyuni and after checking out some of the Dakar monuments we ride to a train graveyard where we set up camp for the night. The next morning I set up the breakfast bar on an old carriage and we entertain a steady stream of tourists. The Japanese are thrilled to see their old Honda’s get around the world. 

Perfect place for camping!
From a conductors perspective, it looks good too!
The famous breakfast bar... this time on a train carriage.
The best thing about traveling with David: Give him an egg sandwich and he starts working on your bike! What were you doing here anyway?

Back in town we settle in to a hotel with safe parking to do some work on the computers and the bikes. Azure completes her set of sand eating Karoo’s and I look for some mirrors for her bike. We also buy an extra tire tube as a preparation for the Lagunas Route. We are thinking about heading out there tomorrow but something is not sitting well for Azure and I. We want to see the Salar. We don’t want to ride the bikes in the saltwater so we start looking for a tour. It’s something we strongly dislike but it’s our only option. We decide on a sunset tour the next day. 

I have to admit it looks more like a support vehicle than a Dakar rally bike here.
David kindly offered to help Azure change her tire. Cheers Mate!

He is almost breaking a sweat!
Azure does not cease to surprise me. Why not do some yoga while working on your bike? The "3 Lever Tire Change Pose"
She looks like a beast with the new Metzeler Karoo 3. Bring on the sand!
Although it hurts not to be riding here, the 4x4 tour is absolutely spectacular. Words cannot express how vast this place is. It would have been nicer on the bikes but the mirroring effects of the water are out of this world, especially during sunset. We are thankful for being in this special part of the world during this season and we are thrilled about what’s next! 

The floating mountains of Uyuni.
The one "funny picture" that came out right somehow perfectly sums up our relationship. ;) I'm going to get in trouble for this caption!!
A very pretty sight but we would have loved it to be with just 2 bikes in it.
When the sun sets the magic happens.
Perfect reflections.
When you feel you walk into a painting. Can you print this one for me mom!?! :)
The Girl On Fire!
What a truly magical place. We'll be back here one day in the dry season.