But as Tim and I found ourselves immobile in the town of Uyuni, we knew that if we didn't get our bike running before they had to leave, we would not want to do such a challenging road by ourselves with a questionable motorcycle. Our plans and dreams of riding the Lagunas Route were now falling apart.
So the pressure was on for Tim to fix the bike, and he needed to do it by 11:00 AM the next day, which was checkout time for the Haks and the latest possible moment before they had to leave.
Salt is not just corrosive to metals, but electricity also speeds up its corrosive powers, making it erode anything electrical as well. With a big bike like ours, most of its functions are run through the motorcycle's CPU, and that means that nearly everything, from the tire pressure gauge to the suspension, are electronically controlled. Though we washed the bike again and again, salt could've gotten anywhere, and eaten away at any electrical component.
So only two hours before the Haks were supposed to leave, Tim and I were running around town, trying to find a tiny electrical resistor to bypass the kickstand sensor. And after wandering around for an hour and a half, we had just a half hour left when we finally found it! Tim ran back to the hotel where the bike was, he and Brendon installed it, and it worked! We were stressed, exhausted, but ecstatic.
With truly no time to spare, at least we had a functioning bike once again, and could finally go with the Haks on the Lagunas Route! We packed up, got gas, wolfed down some food, and with big smiles, we headed out to conquer one of the worst roads in Bolivia.
And then we saw our first laguna: a clear shallow body of water filled with flamingoes. And this is part of the reason why people come out here on these horrible roads, to see the threatened Chilean flamingoes in all their soft-pink glory. When these massive birds “graze" for plankton with their bills upside-down in the water, they make this pleasant clucking and chirping sound to each other. And when they fly with neck and spindly legs outstretched, flapping those pink and black wings, they look more elegant than I ever thought a flamingo could. It was very special to see such wild and precious animals right in front of me.
What's more, we'd read that every night, the water that the flamingoes stand in freezes over (it's very cold up there, and this time of year is summer!). And then in the morning they're stuck until it thaws and they can move around again. For me, it felt like a very bizarre new planet up there in the far-flung reaches of Bolivia.
After successfully navigating through another bout of ruts and rocks in a narrow ravine, we bumped our way along windswept valleys of sand between colorful mountains. The terrain became more and more desert-like the further south we went, and we passed lagoon after lagoon, which were like pockets of pink and blue life amidst the reds and grays of the rocky wilds.
That night we camped in an isolated canyon near Laguna Colorada, and though the temperatures were icy cold at night, this camp spot was like a paradise for me. I love reddened deserts of sand, silence, and stars, and I found the canyon to be glittered at night in some of the most impressive star-scapes I've ever seen.
But as we were in the middle of nowhere, and this was the last day on the Haks' visa for Bolivia, there was nothing else to do but just keep going. At a very slow pace, of course. And without front brakes.
Kira and I looked at each other, both faces red from sunburn and with flaky skin, and I noticed that bits of moisture around our watery eyes and running noses had dried into white crusts. We looked like we had just been through the pits of hell, and certainly did not belong in this clean room of new things. And I said through lips so chapped they hurt to move, “After four months of being in Peru and Bolivia, if this is what Chile's like, I don't know if I can handle all this niceness."
And as they threatened to handcuff Brendon for trying to smuggle pyrotechnics over the border, I realized that we had done something illegal, and that this was bad. Thankfully, the police officer did not seem excited to arrest Brendon, and as we all pleaded that we had no idea about the laws and were just lowly miserable travelers with no gas and broken-down bikes and salt still seeped into our clothes with nothing else to eat but day-old rice, they tore up the sparklers and said, “We'll pretend these never existed." Thank God!
But as we left the custom's office and rounded a turn in the road, the sun broke out from the clouds to reveal an illuminated valley below us where San Pedro de Atacama was. And as if the light and warmth were guiding the way, we coasted down the perfect pavement, not even hitting the gas, picking up speed with the dive. The engine could've even been off. And after countless ear pops and 6,700 feet of descent in elevation (2,000 meters), we arrived in San Pedro elated that we had somehow made it through the Lagunas Route.
And what's next? We're not sure, maybe the desert canyons of northern Argentina? But whatever it is, we'll keep the stories, pictures, and videos coming.
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