Days: 321 (12 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 60,697.86 kilometres (37,700.53 miles)
Our trip out to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), got off to a slow start.
We were waiting for Kurt and Iris to arrive (they were keen on a hostel change, so were coming to see if there was room in ours), only they were running late.
Turns out that they’d emailed us to alert us to the fact, only the internet wasn’t working at the time leaving us none the wiser!
We decided to go for a wander in search of them, finding them only minutes away from the hostel, complete with a new companion Omar, a Mexican who was to join on us on our excursion.
The next phase was to go and collect our Swedish friends, Johan and Maddy, only Maddy was still feeling unwell (she’d struggled with altitude sickness on our journey through the Salar de Uyuni), so wasn’t going to join us.
Johan was still keen, so we left Maddy to rest and found ourselves a reasonably priced shop that would rent us bicycles for the day (well in truth, the hire period was six hours).
We gave them a quick test run up and down the street, grabbed some cheese, bread rolls and shaved ham (the first decent looking ham we’d seen since leaving home) and got underway.
The bikes were quite new and had incredibly sensitive air brakes, so we decided to avoid using the front brakes to avoid hurling ourselves over the handlebars, and only feather the rear brakes when needed.
It was a pretty cruisy ride out of town, a lone hill causing a few to dismount, but otherwise the road was reasonably flat, or at times, even slightly downhill.
The hardest thing to regulate was our body temperatures, as with a coat on it was too hot, but in a t-shirt, the feeble Sun was hardly strong enough to counteract the chill breeze.
We lagged behind a little, and not surprisingly as this was Sarah’s first time on a bike since our trip to Vietnam three years ago!
A brief halt to apply some sunscreen left us further behind, but our riding companions were patient as after all, we were in no great rush.
It was crazy when we first spotted the seemingly snow-capped mountains in the distance, although the relatively mild temperatures should have been a dead giveaway that it wasn’t.
When we spotted white patches on the ground nearby, we had our first confirmation that it was indeed salt that we were looking at, an impressive sight all the same.
There was a park office where we paid our entrance fee, grabbed a map, then continued on our way, although progress did slow a little (not by much) as the road began to get a little rougher.
Down a fairly steep hill (which brought thoughts of dread for the return journey), and we were at our first stop, a fact we were only aware of thanks to the small hut and bike racks present.
A short stroll across a dry riverbed followed, before we were exploring a narrow canyon, two canine companions in tow (a pair of dogs had followed us all the way from town).
We marveled at the crystal like walls of this shadowed gorge, and continued our way along its often narrow, sandy path.
Soon the sky was lost as our explorations took us underground, and so like a posse of troglodytes, we soldiered on (suddenly fully understanding why the young lady near our bikes asked if we had a torch… we didn’t).
Still, we found our way through, Johan and I up front leading the way thanks to a combination of gentle shuffling, feeling the terrain with our hands, and I giving us the odd glimpse ahead through the use of my camera.
Emerging once more into the now almost blinding sunlight, we realised why Kurt had found our underground exploration just that little bit harder, as he’d unwittingly traversed the entire cave with his sunglasses still on his face!
It was a pretty surreal, rough, white place we were in, the perfect extension to our Salar de Uyuni salt experience.
As trio of other bikers arrived, we departed, our canine friends initially opting to try their luck with these new humans, before suddenly appearing alongside us once again.
Ahead of us was a long, long hill, and after riding as much of it as we could, there was not one amongst us that didn’t find the need to walk their bike at least part of the way (and most walked it the whole way)…
The next section was a combination of level (albeit rough) road, interspersed with downhill sections that we appreciated at the time, but in truth had us all quite worried for the return journey.
It was easy to take our mind off such future problems however with a quick glance at our surroundings!
The road was steadily deteriorating, but eventually we came to a point known as Las Tres Marias (the Three Marias), and with the road ahead blocked, we decided it would make the perfect place for us to lunch on whatever foods we’d brought along (in our case, those bread rolls with that delicious ham and cheese).
Mindful of the need to get back to town in time to return the bikes, Kurt, Iris and Omar all began the slow ride back whilst Johan, Sarah and myself (in hindsight stupidly) opted to explore a track we’d spotted nearby.
This was horrendous, and it wasn’t all that long before we too abandoned that pursuit, and began our own slow crawl back towards town… that is until Johan and I decided to go climbing to check out the views whilst Sarah opted to keep going.
It was in our (Johan and my own opinions), ten to fifteen minutes well spent, even if we did risk life and limb scrambling up a rocky slope to get there!
To the surprise of us all, the much feared hills we’d need to climb proved far easier for all than we’d expected, so the only incident to report occurred when Sarah’s handle bars were bent, forcing her to walk the last couple of hills (Kurt had it long fixed before Johan or myself caught up).
Hot, we made it back to town with an hour to spare, so after returning all of the bikes, we all felt it was well and truly now beer o’clock…
* Our six hour bike hire cost us $3,000.00 Bolivianos per person and included helmets and gear in case of punctures.
* Entrance into the Valle de la Luna cost us $2,500.00 bolivianos each as we arrived in the morning (the price goes up in the afternoon for all the sunset tour groups).