Uyuni, Bolivia to Copacabana, Bolivia


Before we headed off on our South American adventure, Kristen and I took a few weeks of “emergency Spanish” from a tutor in San Antonio. Our teacher, Gabby, was Bolivian and was absolutely convinced that we would love her country above all others. 

I don’t want to play favorites but the extreme nature of Bolivia has certainly left a lasting impression...

After our time at the Salar, we headed through the dusty town of Uyuni to finally go through immigration (and to get chased by a frightening horde of street dogs that desperately wanted to get in the sidecar with Kristen).

One of the only redeeming things about the town itself was a huge market in the center of town.

After fueling up we headed out of town and towards the sky-high city of Potosí. 


An interesting side-note about buying fuel in Bolivia: the gasoline in the country is subsidized by the government to make it more affordable for Bolivians. This means fuel is cheap. In the past, Chile, Peru and Argentina picked up on this and began crossing their borders just to buy gas. In response, Bolivia passed a law stating that foreigners have to pay a different price - about 3 times as much. However, in order for gas stations to sell fuel to foreigners, they have to fill out some paperwork with the government, many have chosen or are unwilling to go through this process. Thus, not all stations will sell gas to foreigners. A few times while riding in Bolivia, I was initially turned down. But by invoking the time honored tradition of greasing palms (or bribing to the layman), gas was put in our BMW. The things a few pesos will do... 


Just outside of Uyuni, we hit pavement for the first time in a week, though it was fleeting...


Over the next several hours, we drove through a myriad of construction sites as they were in the middle of paving the entire path from Uyuni to Potosí. One day, it will really be smooth.

We wound our way upwards towards one of the highest cities in the world.

The going was beautiful, but SLOW. Lots and lots of curves and a ton of distractions. Lots of animals that seemed to have no regard for traffic:

And lots of people herding the aforementioned animals across the road.

We eventually made it to Potosí (elevation 13,500 feet!) but found it to be a real armpit of a town. I know this may be crude, but it legitimately smelled like fart. The whole place. Fart and exhaust. I know that’s juvenile, but it’s accurate. We decided to move on through town and headed directly towards Sucre. (Sorry to those from Potosí - San Antonio, TX is not exactly a gem to most people either).

After struggling a bit with the hills (we came to one street that we literally couldn’t climb, Sucre is a bit like San Francisco) we finally came to a nice hotel near the center of town with off-street parking. As we pulled BigBoi into the garage, the sun set behind the white washed buildings. We immediately crumbled into bed.


Sucre is quite the place. The entire city is a World Heritage Site and we can see why. It’s gorgeous. It has a ton of historical buildings including a stunning array of churches. The fountains stream cafe con leche. And it just feels how a S. American colonial town should feel. We were happy to indulge in its touristy wonder...


Aside from all the attractions, the perfect weather, the hot showers (finally), the traditional Bolivian food, and the weaving museum that completely entranced Kristen, we were visiting Sucre during some sort of “kids weekend”. Block after block was closed to allow a race:

And the parks were filled with bouncy houses, fair food, and rides.






The Sucrean Eifel Tower is way more magnificent than its brother in France.



After a couple of days in Sucre, we mournfully decided to head towards the Bolivian capital of La Paz.

During the couple of days that it took to get to La Paz, the beautiful scenery was once again dotted with obstacles:


We had no idea of the majesty of the mountainous regions of Bolivia.

Just as we were in reach of La Paz, our luck with the law ran out. In our research of how things work in South America, we knew this would eventually happen and so we were ready for it. For no reason at all, we were pulled over by a cop on the side of the road. He asked for my papers and I obliged. He asked for Kristen’s papers and she obliged. He asked for BigBoi’s papers and he obliged. It was only then that we came to the rub...



...we were then informed that we had commited a traffic violation. At first it was a speed issue. Then it had something to do with the bike’s papers. Then it had something to do with me. As the conversation went on, both Kristen and I began to gradually “lose” our ability to speak Spanish. It was when the officer told us that we could either go to a town 200 miles away and pay our 250 pesos fine -or- pay him 100 pesos now and go on our way that we completely stopped speaking Spanish. Suddenly our Texas accents weighed down our speech and we made it as incredibly awkward as possible. The officer called his two buddies over and for about half an hour, we danced. Finally bored, he gave me my driver’s license back (rule #1: never give over your real license, just use a copy) and let us go on our way. Huzzah!

For our efforts, we were gifted the wonderful La Paz area traffic:

We rolled into town and found that inside the actual downtown, other than the psychotic bus and taxi drivers, it really wasn’t all that bad. Seriously, I don't really know what all the fuss is about. We plopped down for a few days to enjoy La Paz.

The highlight was definitely the market. I bought a small guitar called a charango as the craftsman completed the final steps as we watched. For $30. Amazing. Other highlights: the dancing zebras hired to encourage drivers to actually stop at traffic lights and the llama fetuses for sale at the witches market (Mercado de las Brujas). Wild.

For our final bit of time in Bolivia, we headed to Copacabana and the famed Lake Titicaca.


And finally to the sleepy town of Copacabana:

It really is a nice little town. The tourists seem to flock to the bars by the water - I think they're missing the best parts.

While wandering the narrow streets, we were informed that every weekend in front of the cathedral, travelers had their vehicles blessed by priests. This was something that we couldn’t resist. We decided it was worth the dizzyingly long line:


You have no idea how long Kristen has been waiting for a reason to adorn our rig in flowers:


It was actually great fun to be smashed in tight quarters with other Bolivians who were all curious about our motorcycle. Most of the time, we try to avoid long conversations on the road about BigBoi, but we finally had the time to converse. Too bad our Spanish stinks...

After being blessed by the priest (we'’re not Catholic but prayers for safety are always welcomed) we headed onwards to the border and our fourth country - Peru.

One last story about the picture below. Kristen took it of this friendly chap who wanted to sit on the bike while I was trying to get us through the border. What she didn't know is that they had taken me into a back room and worked on me for an hour to try and get a couple of bribes out of me. I was told my papers were out of order, my bike was too big, etc. I finally gave in and paid what little I had in my wallet and we were finally given access to Peru. Fun!

Next up: corruption abounds in Peru.

Salar de Uyuni


The Salar de Uyuni is an exceptionally strange place. It is the largest salt flat in the world at over 4,000 square miles and is unbelievably flat. We were told that across the entire Salar, the altitude does not vary more than a meter! Salt is obviously harvested, but perhaps even more importantly to Bolivia’s economic future, the area is home to almost half of the world’s lithium reserves; an estimated 9.5 million tons. 

We left the humble town of Uyuni and made our way down several miles of washboarding as 4x4s flew by. After coming through one last settlement where we were forced to pay 2 Bolivianos to a “Police Officer” at a “check point”, we arrived at one of the entrances to the salt flats. Before we entered, however, we decided to run through a couple of the salt hotels that line the Salar.

Seeing as salt is the most economic choice for building materials, these hotels are literally constructed of salt blocks. We decided to splurge (how often can you stay in a place made of salt?) and stay at the Luna Salada Hotel. We came to find that we were one of two couples in the entire place.

After dropping our stuff off and lounging a bit, we headed down to experience the Salar. The edge is guarded by a load of sand:

The Salar has a pretty serious seasonal change. For part of the year, a shallow layer of water covers the entire area; we were there during the dry, winter season and only the worn edges had a few puddles.

Riding along the Salar is a very surreal experience. There are no obstacles and very few visual points of reference. It feels a bit like flying...

We, of course, had to take the unusual opportunity for the photos that everyone takes here...

For awhile, we just rode the bike around and I can honestly say that it was unlike anything I've ever experienced.
We floated along somewhere between the deep blues of the sky and the colorless ground and for just a moment, I closed my eyes as we raced across the empty landscape. The wind gently rushed past my ears. The engine whirred pleasantly. And the light, perhaps especially because my eyes were closed, filled every last bit of my being. For just a moment, my mind matched the void that is the Salar de Uyuni and for the first time, I truly understood what it is to be enveloped in shadowless peace.


I opened my eyes upon Kristen, a wonderfully content smile spread across her face, and I once again felt the warmth of unhindered blessing that I am not meant to understand, only to receive.

Before I could even suggest it, Kristen asked to ride the bike as the salt flats are an amazing place to learn. I’'m so proud.

While we waited for the magic hour to arrive, we chipped a little salt to take back to Meda, Kristen’s mom who is a bit of a salt fanatic...

...rode around some more...

...played a little uke...

...and generally jacked around.

After playing around for most of the day, the time came and the Salar became a living canvas.

Although we had previously spoken of camping out on the Salar, our suspicions were confirmed when the sun went down. It fell way below freezing and I was glad we had a hotel to go back to. 


All in all, if you have the chance to go ride out on the Salar, do it. I know everyone that comes down here does it, but it's honestly worth it. It's the closest I'll ever come to flying on a motorcycle.