Ride the Bolivian salt flats

Experience biking freedom like nowhere else on the Salar de Uyuni, South America

My eyes flicker as we approach a mysterious white mass of landscape. It’s something my mind simply cannot seem to process as we ride off the end of the dusty dirt road onto the Salar de Uyuni. My subconscious is racing through its memory bank, working to comprehend the ground before me. It’s brilliant white, almost smooth, but rugged. My mind instantly references snow and my body tenses, bracing for the imminent slip.

But wait. It’s not ice, this is the salt flats. Yet despite this realisation I’m fighting to reassure myself that my Triumph Tiger’s tyres are going to grip this alien surface. Before we edge further into the flats, which are nearly completely dry in the intense sunshine, I simply have to stop and feel it for myself…

Swinging off the bike, I expect to slip in the snow-like material beneath my feet, but I quickly recalibrate my brain. The grip is incredible and the soles of my boots bite the ground. The surface is not like snow or sand – it’s firm despite its appearance. I remount and push forwards, with a new appreciation of how solid the Tiger feels beneath me.

Now my mind can focus on what’s around us – which is quite simply nothing! Like being at sea on a calm day, apart from the odd dot on the horizon you’re completely alone. We progress onto the 4085 square mile flats (100 times larger Bonneville in the United States), and quickly lose perspective of space and time. Distances and speeds become flattened by the lack of reference points in the landscape. But we’re building confidence now, speed is up and we’re weaving around, darting playfully with each other and the support truck.

Between May and October the salt flats are completely dry in the middle with a crunchy crust estimated to be one metre in depth. Formed 30,000 to 42,000 years ago, the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, Lake Minchin, which dried up leaving behind a couple of seasonal puddles and several salt pans, including Salar de Uyuni. There’s a lengthy dry season, but visit in January when the plain experiences an average rainfall of 80cm, and you’ll be faced with a mirror-like water base.

In May the dried plain makes for a pretty solid but smooth ride, but you soon realise that there are slushy areas which require you to push your weight back and float through with the front wheel light, like you would on sand. Then there’s the random 1-2 foot bore holes, which need to be tackled at speed to prevent the bike from nose-diving into them.

With a lunch reservation to meet, we push on hard. It really must be one of the only places on Earth where you can pin the throttle at 93mph (any faster and the tough terrain sent the bike into a rather uncomfortable wobble) and stay there for well over an hour, eyes locked to the medium size mountain on the horizon – our only bearing for direction.

Flags are planted by the worldwide visitors to the flats. If your flag isn’t there feel free to leave one

We’d been told we had a table for lunch so as we approach the Isla Incahuasi, a submerged historic volcano peak lined with gigantic cacti believed to be over 1000 years old, I was rather surprised to see our tour leader Andy ride straight past. I couldn’t see anything else for miles ahead and my belly was rumbling, please let it be a mistake. He pulls up to a random 4×4 and after a few rapid exchanges with the driver, switches off his bike. Why are we stopping? But then I spot it. Right there, in the middle of nothingness is a fully laid out table. Beers, salad and a huge array of meats. Did I just land in heaven? Talk about private dining, I’d pick this over a restaurant any day.

Lunch was laid out in the nothingness

Bellies full, we jump back on the bikes and set off into the infinity pool of nothingness. Weaving and twisting, our bikes dancing as we glide towards to the shadowed outline of volcano Tunupa and our hotel for the night, Tayka de Sal. Turning off-course and away from our fellow riders, I decide to take on a challenge; over lunch our tour leader talked of a rider who rode for a minute with his eyes closed, and, well, let’s just say I’m competitive… With guidance from my husband over my intercom, I take the plunge, heart racing. It was 3.6 miles later when I opened my eyes – five minutes riding blind! And on that note, we accelerated off to our destination and began a climb of volcano Tunupa. What a place. It really is like riding on Mars, and I never knew nothingness could be so much fun!

The monument was built to mark the plain’s involvement with the Dakar rally

Novo Adventures run a 10-day tour to Bolivia, including the Salar de Uyuni, and all profits go to charities that support addiction recovery. A fully supported tour costs £4000 and includes, a guide, lodging, food, rental of a Tiger 800 and fuel. You will stay deep in the jungle, stay on the edge of the world’s largest salt flats, and ride in one of the most diverse countries in the world. www.NovoAdventures.com

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