Back down in the village, the old narrow streets of the center are bustling with activity. Occasional(?) drum and pan flute bands and marching bands play short tunes on repeat after repeat as they march through the streets. They walk a route along the 14 images of Jesus’ passion to the central square in front of the church. It is the day before Easter. It is certainly not a pleasure for the ears and when the first thick drops fall from the sky, Paul and I decide to go to our overnight stay. When we arrive, the lady of the house is covering our bikes with a piece of plastic and has hung up our cycling clothes in the garage. For time reasons, I had only set up the tent earlier this afternoon but not yet furnished it. While we are taking our mats, sleeping bags and more out of the bags, the rain starts in full force. Our hostess comes to offer us thick blankets under an umbrella and possibly a plastic sheet for the tent. However, our sleeping bags and tent are fine. Except for the groundsheet! Soon everything on the ground in the tent is soaked, with the result that the next morning we put out all our belongings in the garden until the morning sun has dried them.

In two days we cycle to the next city, Tupiza. When we inquire about the bus times and prices for a trip to Uyuni, it turns out that a bus is about to leave for a small price. “You take care of the bikes and I’ll get food!” I say to Paul and run off towards the stalls. When I return a few minutes later with some white and fried rolls and a roll of cookies, Paul has almost already got our bikes in there. I quickly buy two cups of orange juice filled to the brim from a seller next to the bus and a minute later we are driving. As I walk to our seats I feel someone gently squeezing my bare calf. I look over and see an old lady without teeth, grinning with sparkling eyes. ‘What a cute granny’, I think. When the bus stops for lunch an hour later, the grandmother comes and sits next to me on a bench. We chat a bit. She is 90 years old, she confesses, after first trying to convince me she is 100. Every now and then she continues to pinch the skin of my bare leg and then bursts into toothless laughter. She thinks it’s funny that I’m sitting here in my shorts. According to her, way too cold at this altitude! We compare our hands (hers are tiny and wrinkled) and she says my skin here is turning as black as my cycling shorts. We are an attraction for other travellers who have nothing else to do during this stopover. 90 years old, going out alone on the bus and being able to have so much fun making your own jokes… an example.

Because of my recurring knee pain, we have to make choices; what do we cycle and what do we ‘skip’? We would like to cycle over the Salar de Uyuni. We have already seen so many great photos of it and heard good stories about it from other cyclists. While Paul works on his blog in the hotel room, I walk through the market in the city. Everything is for sale there and it is pleasantly busy. In Argentina we did most of our shopping in shops. ‘Tienda, kiosko, supermercardo, negocio, almacen’, all names for roughly the same type of local shops. However, this is the place to be it seems! I return with the ingredients for a garlic soup (which turns out to be a fiasco) and a bar of chocolate (which tastes like sugar with a hint of cacao). I ask at a tour agency about the current state of the Salar de Uyuni. During the rainy season it is often covered by a layer of water. It does not soak into the soil but must evaporate over time. It’s just after the rainy season… can we go there yet? I have to give Paul the bad news: there is still a large layer of water on the salt. There are dry stretches, but it is impossible to cross the plain by bicycle at this time. Not to mention how harmful such a saltwater spray would be for our bicycles.

We’re a bit bummed about it. The next day at the end of the afternoon we decide to cycle to the salt flats without luggage. It is a beautiful sight and we take some pictures. All around us we see tourists on tour driving through the lakes in jeeps. That can’t be good for those cars… The sun sets bright red in the salt and in the dark we cycle the flat 22 kilometers back to our hotel. I check about seven pizzerias on the central square. We’d really like to have a pizza in the hotel room. But they are all too expensive for our taste. Not surprising, because it is a tourist hotspot here and everything is designed accordingly. Only Westerners sit at the tables with their phones and laptops on the table. We cycle a few streets back where we had previously spotted the busy local eateries. Chicken, chicken and more chicken! Then just chicken, just this once? I ask for a leg. On the rare occasions that I do eat meat, I prefer it to have a bone, so the animal and body part remain recognisable. We actually enjoy it quite a bit and look at each other with a smile. We are both happy that we have a partner who would rather sit here on a plastic chair at a local place than among the other tourists in a ‘fancy’ restaurant.

We have now made an appointment with the lady at the WorkAway address. We can go there in three days and it is a 140km bike ride to her location, more downhill than up. Every morning when we get on our bikes I experience it again. “It’s so WONDERFUL to be back on the bike!” I keep saying to Paul. I also enjoy crawling into our own house, our tent, again in the evening. The first evening in the yard of a small farm with some pigs and a gang of puppies. The second evening with a view of the ‘Puente Sucre’, an oversized suspension bridge to a small village on the other side of the river.

And now we are in Yotala, sanding, painting, carpenting and in the afternoons resting and sometimes playing a game. Both Saturdays we visited the city of Sucre where we admired the beautiful colonial city center and especially enjoyed the bustle and the many scents and colours on the large market. In a few days our time here will be over. We are both looking forward to getting back on our bikes. How that will go with the knee remains to be seen, but in any case we want and will be on the road again! To start towards Cochabamba. That just sounds fun, rhythmic and colourful. Whether that is the case and how we get there, you will read in the next blog!

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