The ride from Potosi to Salar de Uyuni was supposed to be a short one, except somehow I drove around the Potosi mine in the wrong direction towards cowboy-land Tupiza, and it took seventy broke-back kilometers to figure this out (road-signs are rarer in Bolivia than right directions). As the road was paved, it didn’t occur to me that I was going the wrong way as there couldn’t possibly be more than one paved road in Bolivia!
Uyuni is a dusty adobe apocalypse, set around an ugly Plaza de Ames with a sweltering hot and freezing cold climate that splits rocks in half. It has a spaghetti bolognese backpacker scene and is chocked with Toyota Hilux jeeps that have seen more abuse than a Colombian palate. This ugly, hellish Modernity set in a spectacular but inhospitable location is a new-world theme that I am accustomed (and maybe the Saudis could build a two hundred story building here, one more story closer to civilisation, or its end).
There is not much to do in Uyuni except sit on plastic tables, drink plastic beer and plan an escape. After just one plastic night I jumped on the moto and rode a dusty thirty kilometers to Salar de Uyuni, an enormous salt lake, a couple of hundred kilometers in diameter complete with cactus islands, salt hotels, and tessellated pentagonals all the way to the horizon.
When first entering the lake I was worried that the surface would crack, and I fall into a big hole (and find a Japanese salary man there). But the lake’s surface was rock solid and, in fact, it was the best road surface I had encountered in Bolivia. Numerous old jeep tracks cross the lake heading towards the ‘islands’ or further afield to southernmost Bolivia. After a few kilometers of following the jeep tracks, I set a GPS coordinate then headed towards the shimmering horizon at a speed I wasn’t aware the 125cc moto could achieve.
At about eighty kilometers into the void, I climbed on the seat, imagined that I was flying the Tardis whilst singing Village People’s YMCA at the top of my voice (lucky I was alone). The lake just went on-and-on and occasionally I would stop and just sit there, in the middle of no-where, but feeling like I was somewhere very, very special. This was perhaps the most fun I have had without lube, ever.
On the horizon, I spotted an island, probably inhabited by aliens, so I set the Tardis for its time zone. But what appeared to be in the same galaxy was a lot further than I thought and it was almost sunset by the time that I reached ‘cactus island.’ The island was in fact inhabited by aliens, but of a different type, by spaghetti-eating travelers, fueled by carbohydrates and lubricated by plastic beer. I asked one for a cigarette in a foreign tongue, thanked the creature, then set off towards the GPS coordinate. As the sun went down, the shadows made the tessellated pentagons appear as though they were leaping from the lakes surface, making it difficult to ride in 2D. I had ridden for more than a light-year before I reached the GPS coordinate, then back to Uyuni as it got dark.
In Uyuni, I met some rough-looking bikers with huge Dakar bikes waiting for Godot and some spare parts from Modernity. Sitting on plastic tables and drinking plastic beer, I explained to them in a sort of all-knowing high-school teacher tone that it isn’t size that matters, but what you do with it that counts.