I'm laying in a cheap hotel bed in Oruro, Bolivia right now. Argentina is playing Bosnia-Herzegovina on the tinny, rattly TV suspended from the ceiling in the corner of the room, and there are two empty M&M wrappers in bed next to me. There's a half-empty can of lager on the nightstand to my right, and the fluorescent light above me is dim and buzzing. My bike's leaning against the wall opposite the foot of this bed, and a weeks' worth of rations are spread out beneath its well-worn wheels.
The water is hot, though, and the pressure with which it jets forth from the showerhead is more than adequate. That's a rare tandem in most of Bolivia, so I'm content.
Tomorrow I'll set off for Sabaya - a small town set squarely into the desolate desert that makes up most of western Bolivia. According to Google Maps, it's only 194km (about 125 miles) to Sabaya, but the driving directions call for more than 6 hours of travel. Why? Well, I haven't experienced it firsthand yet, but Bolivian roads (highways, even!) are infamous for devolving into sand and dirt tracks without warning, leaving their first-time travelers perplexed and yearning for any semblance of pavement. I've read that I should expect roughly half of this distance to Sabaya to be washboardy sand. Fun stuff!
Honestly, though, I'm quite excited for these next two weeks or so. I haven't biked through such an isolated part of the world since I biked the Dalton Highway nearly a year ago. It makes me nervous, but the good kind of nervous.
Once I'm through Sabaya, I'll find myself crossing two of the biggest salt flats in the world: the Salars de Uyuni and Coipasa. There are no formal roads for this 200+ mile stretch; I'll be following jeep tracks and crossing open desert on my bike.
The Salar de Uyuni in particular has been on my mind since well before this trip began. I've not only imagined the Salar as a highlight of this trip; it's something I've wanted to cross off my life bucket-list for years. It's the biggest salt flat in the world, and it's the subject of some of the most breathtaking photos I've ever seen. Additionally, its reflective properties - including its remarkable flatness (less than 1 meter of elevation variation over nearly 11,000 sq. km.) - are such that orbiting satellites use it as a mirror to calibrate their distance-measuring instruments. Plus, its one of the world's largest breeding grounds for pink flamingos. I'm stoked.
Of course, the biggest danger with looking forward to something this much is that it won't live up to my expectations, but I'm not too worried for now. I'll deliver a verdict from the other side.
I'm going to go grab a quick bite to eat at a good ol' chicken spot down the street, but I'll be back later this evening to put some more words to this digital paper. Bye for now.