Velosophics

RIDING ACROSS THE LARGEST SALT LAKE IN THE WORLD

A week ago we left La Paz. We are heading south and crossing through the interior of the Bolivian altiplano. Suddenly it lies in front of us: Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt lake in the world. We are standing on the last stony hill and are overwhelmed by the sight of the vast amounts of salt ahead of us. Over 10,000 square kilometres of blinding white swallow up the horizon. We had been speculating what it would be like to ride on top of a salty crust and now it is finally happening. Off into a surreal world! The experiences we share in the following days are without comparison. We’re faced with not only an altitude of over 3,600 metres but also a trail that will take us eleven days through unbelievable amounts of salt, deserted lagoons and a surreal desert landscape. The trail starts in the Southwest of Bolivia and ends right behind the Chilean border in San Pedro de Atacama.

The salt beneath our wheels cracks and makes funny noises. We try to avoid SUV tracks so we are not disturbed in our solitude. Luckily, it is easy to detect SUVs from a distance. To us, they appear like busy little ants. The area is incredibly quiet and peaceful, the air is crisp and dry. At night we are tucked in by a star-filled sky and the world is shut out with a white glow that looms on the edges of the hori- zon. We are speechless. The first two days on salty ground were pure indulgence. From then on 400 kilometres of piercing emptiness, without any sign of vegetation, roll out in front of us in addition to an increase of altitude to 5,000 metres, a temperature drop to minus 20° Celsius and scarcely a base camp in sight. It truly pushes the limits of our stamina, our equipment and our overall strength as a team. But we are prepared: we carry with us supplies that weigh no less than 25 kilograms and treat the forces of nature with great reverence. Day after day we go through extremes. We are constantly torn between agony and joy, between struggle and fascination, while again and again we reach our limits like neither of us has ever experienced before. Desperately, we push and pull our bicycles weighing 65 kilos through sand for hours on end. We scream our words through the wind and are infuriated when- ever we try to pitch our tents – the wind gusts are simply too strong.
 

Also, the water freezes to ice if you do not keep it warm with your body heat, plastic parts break apart and sand starts settling in our air pumps so we are no longer able to inflate our punctured tires. Despite all of our troubles, we do not despair because we feel blessed to be able to explore the exquisite natural phenomena this unique environment has to offer. We discover hundreds of pink flamingos crowded in breathtaking lagoons, and we pass by pulsating springs, impressive volcanic chains, and hot springs where we sneak in for a nocturnal bath. The colours we see cannot be described in words. After nine days we reach the Migraciòn. We leave Bolivia behind and step on to Chilean ground. The border officials are perplexed and ask: “Last week, we had the strongest winds of the year and you arrive by bicycle?” They couldn’t believe it but yes, we did. We went through the strongest winds of our lives. A few kilometres behind the border we suddenly stumble upon a tarred road. It is the very first after five weeks on gravel and dirt roads. Instantly, we’re filled with a childish joy and, blissfully, we fall to the ground. In 2012 and 2013, Lena Kleine-Kalmer and Hardy Handel crossed parts of Europe and Latin America with Supernova for a good cause. They tour the world to collect funds for the World Bicycle Relief which provides people in developing countries with bicycles. Find out more about their story and their project on: www.velosophics.de 

Text: Lena Kleine-Kalmer | Pictures: Hardy Handel