We had heard many stories about the ‘Ruta De Las Lagunas’ (The Route through the Lake region) to Uyuni and the massive salt flat. The route is legendary for both its beauty, spectacular scenery, multi-coloured lakes and otherworldly landscapes, as well as for its ruthlessness, extremely high altitude and terrible, sandy, corrugated ‘roads’ which can easily lead into the nothingness. Before taking our final decision to cross through it, we had almost been completely discouraged by many “close to death” experiences we had read on the internet, narrated by various travelers. We finally survived only to write this text(!) and make some things clear, according to our point of view! Apparently, some of the stories are ridiculously exaggerated, some of them true and some others depend on the traveler’s perspective, physical condition and previous experience.
Let’s take things from the beginning:
1) “There is no petrol” – Well, to be clear, there are no fuel stations for a distance of about 400kms, but having a jerry-can with you, will be definitely enough – depending on the consumption. Additionally to this, you can easily buy petrol from one of the dozens of 4×4 tour drivers who always carry extra fuel with them.
2) “There is no food or water” – Of course there is. You can find freshly cooked meals, snacks, water, refreshments, wine etc. There are stores selling snacks and water at some of the places the 4x4s usually stop (at the entrance to the National Park, next to the thermal springs etc). There is freshly cooked food along with water, refreshments, even wine at the shelters around the Lake Colorada or Lake Hendionda. It’s highly impossible to starve!
3) “There is no place to stay” – Nonsense! There are definitely places to stay. There are shelters around Lake Hedionda, Lake Colorada and there are probably some more places to stay that we are not aware of. Even if one shelter is full with tourists from the 4×4 tours, you’ll find a bed in the next one. You can even pitch your tent if you’re not that sensitive to freezing cold…but that depends on each traveler! (the cost for a bed and meal – soup, spaghetti, hot beverage&cookies, breakfast the next morning – is totally affordable (50BOB, around 6.5€).
4) “There are no people, therefore, no help” – Lies! Remember the corrugation of the roads? It’s due to the hundreds of vehicles! The National Park is filled with 4x4s carrying tourists everyday through the notorious Route. There is at least one passing 4×4 in an emergency. Even during the rainy season (when there are fewer tours), it’s not common at all that no-one will pass.
5) “Deep sand everywhere” – No, at least not everywhere and not that deep for sure. In no case will you dive into deep sand, but there are places where it can be annoying and needs attention. However, it won’t last for long and it’s nothing crazy. Experience and concentration are needed, but you’re not taking part in Rally Dakar! Also, bear in mind that a small vespa managed not to fall even once!
6) “You can get lost” – Of course you can get lost if you’ll try to navigate yourself by sniffing the air! Again, it needs some concentration not to lose the trails which can be tricky sometimes, but don’t forget that you can simply use your GPS (we use the OsmAnd on our smartphones and it was enough). Unless you do something heroically stupid, you can correct your mistake by following some of the tracks you’ll see on the soil and you’ll soon find your way. Most of these tracks are made by the drivers who try to avoid the corrugations on the main trail (Keep in mind that Stergios used the GPS only to make sure he was on the right path).
7) “High altitude is unbearable” – Under specific circumstances, this may be true but still, you can predict and prevent the worse. First of all, be aware of the potential consequences of high altitude so to be prepared. Give yourself some time to adjust. Follow the appropriate dietary rules – no alcohol, no spicy meals, no red meat – and listen carefully to your body. You can even take Diamox pills, after consulting your doctor. Of course, the constant feeling of exhaustion every time you put effort in something, can’t be avoided and some people get sick, but this is something that can’t be 100% predicted or prevented.
Of course, we also have to make clear that the motorcycle looses significant amount of power on an altitude this high and our poor 200cc Vespa probably couldn’t have made it fully loaded and with both of us on its back. So, Stergios was carrying only the necessary with him: tent, sleeping-bag, clothes, some food supplies (only snacks), 4 liters of water, 10 liters of extra fuel – while I had taken the rest of our luggage with me on the 4×4.
To sum up, after we ‘miraculously’ survived the “Ruta de las Lagunas”, we came to this conclusion: Never hesitate to try something your gut is telling you to try! Think and act reasonably and don’t take everything you read on the internet as a universal truth! There are many people who try to convince us (and themselves) that they are unique and heroic and no normal people can do what they did…rubbish! No-one knows you better than yourself…