I was back on my bike, just two days after my wedding – ready to restart my journey. This time I had Alex by my side to explore La Paz. When we got to the Peru-Bolivia border, Pankaj presented the visa he had applied for while in Lima. Alex did not need a visa and the two of them went through the border easily. My visa was on arrival and the number of papers and documents they asked for was truly mind-boggling! They even asked to see my bank statement (definitely a first for the many borders I have crossed in 9 months), yellow fever vaccination (thankfully I had that with me) and a hotel booking.
I returned to Peru and found an Internet café, where I booked a room at some random hotel, just so that I could fulfil the required documentation. With my stack of documents, bike documents, a visa form, a couple of photographs and payment of 666 Bolivian boliviano (local currency), I finally got the visa and entered Bolivia after an ordeal that stretched over 4 hours! From the border, we rode to La Paz, which is the capital city of Bolivia. The city takes a bit of getting used. It is a very big city with chaotic traffic and crazy slopes as it sits atop a mountain. It took us about 40km on the road to finally get to the city centre.
My next task was to find a decent parking spot for the bike on the narrow roads. It felt like a déjà vu to the time I was trying to find parking space in Cusco (Peru). When I was running around the streets of Cusco to find a space for my bike, a random guy on the street stopped me and enquired if I needed a mechanic. I told him I actually needed parking. He looked at me and asked me from where I was riding. When he heard “India”, he was amazed and generously offered me a parking space at his house. The guy turned out to be a police officer and spoke good English. I couldn’t have been more grateful to him.
It has been proven over and over again in the past eight months that we can always find a solution to every problem. I started walking the streets of La Paz and tried to locate hostels that did not have any steps. It was an opportunity for us to wheel our bikes right inside and not park them on the streets. Finally after a bit of searching, I located one and they even agreed to let us park our bikes inside. We desperately needed that room after a very long day.
After a quick shower, we were ready to head out for dinner. Like I mentioned earlier too, La Paz is a bit of a mixed bag – neither modern nor historical, heavy traffic on narrow roads and restaurants with very limited options. The only silver lining was that the costs were much more affordable than most other capital cities. We chose to eat at a restaurant that looked good near the hotel – a strange place full of antiques and bric-a-brac ranging from bikes to phones, sewing machines, trophies, maps and much more.
As Alex had to fly back to India and return to work, we decided to save time by taking a bus to visit Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s world famous salt flats; instead of doing the journey on bike. The overnight journey was definitely not the easiest one, but we finally made it to Uyuni from where we hired a car for $100 to take us there.
The scenery was worth the eight-hour bus journey. It was unique and compared to many places that we have visited so far, this place stood out. Salt as far as the eye could see and an island (actually a hill) on which cacti grows in abundance. We took some really fantastic photographs and even visited a hotel where everything was made from salt! It was a great day and we took a flight back to La Paz the same evening.
The next day, Alex left for London and thereafter to Delhi. Pankaj and I continued our ride to Salar de Uyuni – this time on our bikes to explore the territory. The roads were good and we made it early to Salar and enjoyed the sunset there! We encountered a few sand storms on the way to Uyuni, where the winds were crazy and visibility was almost nil due to the sand storms. We didn’t dare open the visors of our helmets! It was definitely a new experience for us to encounter a sand storm during the ride.
Filling petrol in Bolivia was annoying as they have different rates for local vehicles and for international number plates. It is evident every petrol pump operator is desperate to earn an extra buck. They record the sale as a local number plate sale and charge you international rates. We soon mastered the skill of bargaining with no bills – where we (the pump operators and us) shared the benefits. Despite that, it was a harrowing experience to bargain for petrol, where we had to visit several petrol pumps for refilling on multiple occasions.
Pankaj took the night bus to La Paz, to get his visa for Argentina. I stayed back at Uyuni, where I utilised the time in hand to catch up with my blogs, notes and maps. As soon as Pankaj returned to Uyuni, we geared up to start our ride towards our 22nd country – Argentina.