Thursday, February 27, 2014

February 24, 2014, Uyuni, Bolivia to Ollague, Chile

Our route from Uyuni to Bolivia according to the maps is on two highways which sounds straight forward. Once again, within an hour of leaving Uyuni the road turns to wash board and more sand. Very little to see other than scrub, rocks and sand, some wild burros, llamas, sheep and their herders, guanaco and a lone flamingo.

We reach San Juan at noon and after discovering there is no place to eat we pull out the M&M peanuts and have a quick bite before proceeding. At this point we are expecting to see road signs indicating the direction to Chile, in the end we never did see a sign for Chile nor did we see a sign indicating what highway we were traveling. After riding for an hour we are unsure of our direction and we return to San Juan where 3 people give us directions on a path into the desert. After 10 minutes we return to San Juan as the path may lead to Ollague but we can't ride the sand. We come upon a family of three with their motorcycle broke down on the side of the road and stop to assist them.

Repaired and ready to go, the chain had come off the rear sprocket and was jammed onto the axle tensioner. Not sure how long they were working on the problem but he was frustrated. I just put the transmission in neutral and pulled the chain backwards to get it off the tensioner and back onto the sprocket.
 They tell us to go to San Pedro which is an hour away, when we get to San Pedro we are told the road to Chile is towards San Juan. Half way back to San Juan we stop and ask a truck driver for directions and he actually has a picture of the turnoff on his cell phone. We find the turnoff this time, it's about 4 pm and the road is carved out of the desert sand and mountain rock. We come upon a very elderly man and Diana is unable to understand anything he says. I see a woman tending a herd of sheep and walk half a kilometer and come back to the bike and Diana more confused than when I left. We debate about the different paths that may lead to Chile and decide to continue until we finally see a glimmering roof of a building in the distance. When we arrive we see four girls aged 2 to 8 running for the house and returning with mother. Diana and mom get talking, the hands are pointing, the arms a waving and finally a map is drawn in the dirt. I pick up parts of the conversation but am unsure of when to turn etc. Before leaving I open the pannier so as give the girls pencils that have Canada flags painted on them. They immediately spot the 2 bags of M&M peanuts and think they are getting candy. I feel really bad about not giving them the candy but also knew that would be our supper if we couldn't find our way through to Chile. In the end they were all delighted with the pencils and the older girls had the 2 year old saying Canada repeatedly before we departed. I'm sure they talked about us for the remainder of the day.
The mothers directions and estimate of time to reach the train tracks was fairly accurate. Once we reached the tracks the GPS was able to tell me we were 30 kilometers (as the crow flies) away from Chile. We finally see the border and are so relieved to make it with an hour to spare before the border closes for the day at 8pm. This was absolutely our most disconcerting day of our entire adventure (so far). 
Anyone know what this crop is?  (see answer at bottom of page)
After doing some research on this route I have found blogs where guys have crossed the salt flats trying to find Chile and ended up riding the railroad tracks to get there because they couldn't find the road.

We find a hostel, the elderly owner makes a dinner for us, huge bowls of chicken soup and a cold salad plate of potatoes and vegetables which are certainly better than a small bag of M&M's and freezing overnight at 3600 meters above sea level  (which seemed like it could very well happen).
After spending the night in Ollague we are off to Calama, Chile for two nights before heading south to Santiago, a journey of 3 to 4 days.
Salt gets dried in piles before getting trucked out to markets.
The Atacama Desert in Chile, looks like a moonscape with virtually no vegetation.
(The crop pictured earlier is Quinoa and grows in sandy desert area's)

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