We crossed over into Bolivia, clearly disturbing the border officials who had to pause watching TV shows to deal with us, the only folks apparently crossing this border. We entered via Lake Titikaka and spent a few days at Copacabana, parked on the lake.
From there a ferry would take us closer to La Paz, a city set in a moon like landscape and spilling over a valley. As usual we started our exploration by running errands, a good way to see various parts of the city. Like other large cities of Columbia and Ecuador, La Paz boosted a brand new cable car system, connecting the poor neighbourhoods (and rich) to the city center. Once the weather got cool enough we left Ella in the car and rode around in the cable cars.
Our curiosity of the famous death road, not far from La Paz took us to a small town of Coroico. It was by pure accident that we ended up on this road as we meandered up the hill towards town. Suddenly the traffic switched sides and the left side became the right side. Originally this was done as the loaded trucks from Amazona headed to La Paz and were safer driving on the inside of the mountain. We quickly adjusted our driving etiquette as the oncoming traffic honked encouragingly.
Time seemed to slip away quickly and having a month long visa it was time to head South. This long stretch of road going to Potosi held a few scattered villages, one town and the rest was hills scattered with alpaca, sheep and quinoa.
Potosi at 4060m was a good place to acclimatize for the salt flats and Routa de Laguna. It would have also been an interesting town to see except our eyes were glued to the ground trying to avoid stepping in poop. We also needed to get papers for Ella to enter Chile, this would take two days of visiting the vet and the government’s agricultural office, where we spent a total of 6 hours. We now had ten days to get into Chile before the papers validity expired.
After Bolivia’s city tours, it was time to head to the highly anticipated Salar de Uyuni and Routa de Laguna or the Southwest Circuit. For months we exchanged GPS coordinates, discussed water and fuel needs for this 7 day long trek into Bolivia’s wild West. Finally ready, we had an extra 70 liters of water, 40 liters of extra fuel and a newly built water storage pipe on the roof. We demolished a massive pizza and headed into the Salar de Uyuni, where we spent 2 nights parked next to what once used to be an island back when this was a lake.
Much of our time was spent between 3700 to 4500 m altitude, which meant intense sun and cold evening temperatures, We did our very best to keep warm. Wearing a full set of clothes to bed, with two sheets, two blankets and two sleeping bags, was not quite enough. We warmed rocks in the fire, wrapped them up in towels and brought them into bed. We waited until the morning sun defrosted our windows before we emerged from the van.
The week in Bolivia’s southwest circuit provided little to no civilization and a lot of nothingness. So when a fellow overlander had a busted ball joint in his van, no one left until a make shift rubber boot was crafted from a tire found lying around. When this two hour expedition was over, everyone was happy to hit the road again. But it was one of those days, and in an hour the same van got a flat tire. Luckily we hit a snow patch, so while some patched the tire, others chucked snowballs at each other. We were not on the road again for long before another van died at an altitude of 4900m. The diesel it appears froze with the cold and the altitude. More inventive solutions of purring hot tea and stuffing a jacket on the front, to cover the air and heat up the engine helped, but it had to be repeated many times.
It felt a bit like treeplanting, entering civilization after a week of bush life (minus the bush part), but we were more than happy to feel Chile’s warmer temperatures, find a shower and get the dust out of everything.