Bolivia – the world’s biggest salt lake and clutch issues

Written by Sebastian on July 18th, 2012. Posted in Allgemein

Sebastian: So, we arrive at the border between Chile and Bolivia and our minds are overloaded – too nice was what we were allowed to see during the last 10 days. This time the border crossing takes some time: first we are waiting at the wrong place and then the guy who should give us the last stamp has to go to the toilet… either the toilet was really far away or the guy had a bad stomach – it takes around 20 minutes for him to return. But, no problems, the border opens its doors for us and we enter Bolivia! The road and the fascinating views do not change at first. We are driving on a wide sand/dirt road and the wind is almost blowing us off the bikes… Feeling a bit too save I almost loose control at one moment where I drive with around 80-90km/h into a slope of deep sand, wobbling around for around 50 meters waiting to crash any moment…

Thanks god, the bike decided to stay stable and upright, me not having anything to say anymore in this moment. The first hours on the road are still breathtaking, being surrounded by volcanoes, mountains, canyons and crazy stone formations. My first thought was that a giant kid must have played with huge lego bricks and forgot to put them away when it’s dad called him it to have dinner! After a while though, the landscape flattens out a bit and our brains finally get a rest from all the optical stimulus. We arrive at night in Uyundi and are quite lucky to find a Hotel where we can park our bikes in the restaurant next to it: It turned horrible cold at night so we are happy that this time the shower offers its best to us: strong, hot water! After that we decide to have dinner with some Brazilian bikers that we had just met on the street and, and, and… yes end up drunk after stopping in a nice bar… what a surprise you might think – for us it wasn’t ;).

After two days hanging around in Uyundi we decide to check out the famous Salar before continuing direction East. Normally this is a place to stay for a couple of days – you can visit an island in the middle of the salar, sleep over in a hotel built out of salt and just spend a whole day taking pictures on the salt lake. But this year the rainy season was long and we learn that big parts of the lake are still wet which makes it impossible to ride along with our bikes – they just don’t like salt and we think we better respect that :). When we head back to Uyuni I suddenly loose Martin: It is a first timer, it has never happened before. Driving around for 5 minutes not finding him, I decide to go and have the little salt that we got on the bikes washed off. When this is done I drive first to the hotel where we stayed then to the gas station where we filled our tanks just before leaving and there I find him again and he too already had his bike washed! Seems as if we have the same way of thinking already :D.

This same day we drive from Uyuni until Potosi, a mining city. After a short bit the road changes to perfect curvy concrete and stays like that all day long. Also kilometer by kilometer we leave the desert behind us and see trees and plants again. We can also feel how the air turns humid and that flies and mosquitoes are back in business around here – constantly hitting my faces (I like to drive with the helmet open). Potosi is nothing special and the next day we go on. The perfect asphalt now changes to gravel and dirt again and after a short time we know already that we will not be able to make the 350 kilometers that we had planned for this day. We have to stop in Padilla, a smaller village and are not unhappy to have arrived before sunset – it’s the first time in the last 5-6 driving days.

The next day our target is clear – we want to reach Camiri, our last stop before finally crossing the border with Paraguay. The road is beautiful but time consuming to drive on. It’s still dirt road but the curves got extremely tight as we drive up and down various mountains or alongside rivers in the valleys between them. At this moment it already really turned hot and humid and the sight has changed to jungle like forests. And if that was not enough, we are officially just driving on La Ruta del Che! We are full of fascination even though quite exhausted from a long day.


On the way to Camiri we drive down some elbow curves and stop at this knee-deep muddy section... While trying to get past the bus Martin destroys his clutch...Only around 25 kilometers before hitting a nice asphalt road then it happens – the unpredictable but yet again soooo logical technical problem hits us in our faces. In a curve that one could easily use for mud fights between beautiful ladies Martin works hard on his clutch to get through the sticky and slippery underground. He obviously overdoes it as we realize just minutes later when his engine power just doesn’t get transferred to the back wheel anymore… after a couple of kilometers trying to still advance we decide to pull Martins bike with my bike. So now we have the action that I was waiting for more than 35.000 km :D. Its night already, we have around 20 km dirt road and 30 km asphalt left before we reach Camiri. And if that wasn’t enough, on the way we stop to help some guys which have to fix 4 (!) holes in only one tube of their motorcycle :)). In the end the pulling works well and we arrive save at 11.00 pm in one of the nicer hotels – we need some luxury and especially internet now!

So, we handled this situation without further problems and figure out what to do now: We get in touch with Philipp, our favorite mechanic from KTM Malaysia and soon know what we have to do: find new clutch discs… First thought is – shit, no way will get this in Bolivia! Second thought – lets give it a try and third thought is – YESSSSSSS, in Santa Cruz, just 300 km from Camiri they have them on stock!!! Couldn’t have more luck than that we think not knowing what was expecting us as we decide to have the bike repaired in Santa Cruz…


Fernando and Marcello take right away care of the bike, as they don't have any oil, they fly it in from la Paz, arriving the same afternoon...The next week turns out to be a good practice for stay cool, stay patient, stay positive… Martin left to Santa Cruz with the bike on a truck and I stayed in Camiri since we are quite sure that fixing the bike will not take much time. The first day Martin lets me know, that they are going to fix it. At night he tells me that when he wanted to leave the sides stand was somehow broken so they will have to fix it the next day. When the side stand had been fixed and Martin wanted to leave suddenly the starting motor didn’t work anymore and when they fixed the starting motor and wanted to start the engine they figured out that the „imobilizer“ had been activated which means that nothing works anymore… and what is the funniest thing about it – you can only deactivate it with a special „Master key“ this key being in… yeeees, guess it, guess it… in Vienna of course! So this is the moment where we decide that I will come to join Martin in Santa Cruz, since now it is sure that we will not leave the next day, as we had liked to think for the whole last week.

A KTM flying high :-)Martins girlfriend Eva takes care of sending us the key and from DHL we get the feedback that it should be delivered within only 3 to 4 days. We think that’s great and use the following days to work on our blog and to visit a motocross race on a track in Santa Cruz. What we didn’t expect was that in the end it took 9 days for the key to arrive – having been send through almost as many countries as we have traveled so far… not really amazing for an expensive express delivery but we can’t change it anyhow. The only thing that counts at this moment is that in the end the bike starts after having be reset with the key – something that we didn’t even expect to happen anymore! So we are ready to roll again and that’s what we do from this moment on.

Our first trip after the never ending 3 weeks in Santa Cruz leads back to Camiri, where we left Martins luggage in the meanwhile and then towards the border with Paraguay. The rest of the day we hardly get off the bike. Our goal is to make up some of the lost time and so we don’t stop driving until we reach the border. Of course our timing is bad as usual so we arrive there at night 🙂 Let us tell you more about arriving in Paraguay in our next article!