Dust, Rain, and Snow. To Tupiza

After three days the blockade of Uyuni suddenly ended at around 6pm on Saturday evening. I’m not certain what, if any, resolution was achieved but I am certain that the increasingly peckish inhabitants were not entirely unhappy to see the back of it. The first indication that things were returning to normal was when I heard some trucks moving in town. I raced off to the market to pick up some fresh bread, fruit, and vegetables to find that almost the entire town had had the same idea. As such leaving town on Sunday morning was no problem at all; the difficulty came later in the mountains to the south.

Dust storm. Leaving Uyuni.

The weather forecast had been for a fresh northwest wind with a few scattered rain and snow showers. Sure enough I left Uyuni under a heavy overcast with spots of sleet and a fresh wind at my back. The wind soon freshened to gale force and great curtains of dust swept across the landscape reducing visibility to a few hundred meters or less at times. The wind was fabulous; I made the first 90km or so in just three hours. I normally find main roads exceedingly dull, however just for once I did rather enjoy the novelty of some relatively high speed riding, fat dirt tyres humming loudly on the asphalt. The road was quiet too, just a few vehicles per hour.

Occasionally the dust lifted to reveal the surrounding desert. The road is quite new.

The afternoon was a little different. The flat, desert plains gave way to a dark, starkly barren mountain range, and the weather worsened beyond that which was forecast. As a series of cruelly steep climbs took me back up to around 4300m / 14,100ft, the gale brought with it heavy rain and then heavy, wet snow driving in great sheets across the black rock landscape. My plan had been to find a spot to camp at somewhere around 120-130km, and as the weather worsened I initially started looking out for some ruined buildings or even a bridge or abandoned mine to provide some additional shelter for the night.

The town of Atocha sits 90km south of Uyuni. I stopped to replenish water supplies. It is a bleak place. News of the lifting of the blockade in Uyuni had not yet filtered this far south. There are no further photos of the ride, the weather became too nasty to want to stop and get my camera out.

As the afternoon wore on however, and I cursed my way up relentless climb after relentless climb, it became apparent that camping brought with it a very real risk of waking up to a few feet of snow and being trapped by impossible roads should the storm not abate overnight. With that in mind I kept going, and going, eventually arriving, with thoroughly empty legs, in Tupiza after 190km just as it was getting dark. It has been a while since I had to dig that deep on two-wheels and it took a fair bit of effort to drive my monster-truck of a machine that distance in one day so I’ve been feeling somewhat knackered the last couple of days. Happily Tupiza is a wonderful spot to spend some time, and at just 2850m / 9350 ft it is the lowest I’ve been since May. Situated in a red rock valley, it is a prosperous, colourful little town; the temperatures are lovely, the trees are green and full of birds, and there is even proper green grass in the shady plaza, a world away from the austerity of the altiplano. It is with a degree of reluctance I think that I will drag myself back up to the border with Argentina at 3442m / 11,293ft tomorrow. Still, just another 700km or so and then I must leave the Andes and the desert behind and start making my way east across the lesser, but much greener, sierras of Argentina towards friends and, eventually, the end of this little jaunt.

A spot of Tupiza street photography follows.

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