About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard the two BRAVO's; the first boat a Kelly Peterson 46 with homeport in Seattle, Washington. The second is a new Boreal 52, launched in February 2020. We headed south in 2010, and have been voyaging in one form or another since. Cheers, Adam and Cindi

"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The salty crew gets SALTIER in Uyuni, Bolivia

A day after our Death Road ride, we hopped a bus from La Paz to Uyuni, a small town in south central Bolivia famous for its proximity to the Salar, the worlds largest salt flats.  At 10,582 sq. km. (4,086 sq mi), the Salar is over 25 times the size of the Bonneville salt flats in the U.S.  Tours go out from over 40 services in Uyuni to check out the Salar and surrounding areas.

We picked one agency, pretty much at random, after hearing that they're all about the same.  With 6 people plus driver packed in each Toyota Land Cruiser, we headed out on a 3 day/2 night 4wd expedition to check out the sights.  All the rigs are identical, and basically beat to shit.  Ours had over 200,000 miles on the odometer, ALL off road. 

We started out with a big bubble on the side wall of a rear tire.  The driver said "no problema"!  This is before heading out for 3 days of constant gnarly 4 wheeling.  Amazing.  The driver was wrong.....

The first stop was a train cemetary, where old, 1920's salt transport trains have been left to rot away.  But they're pretty well preserved in the dry, high altiplano air. 

We next hit the Salar.  At an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft), and incredibly flat (the elevation varies by only 1 meter over the entire surface, and is used to calibrate satellite altimeters), it seemed to extend forever to the horizon, much like driving on an enormous snowfield.  Locals were harvesting salt in small drying piles.  They make approx 50 cents per kilo.  The salt is also estimated to contain 50-70% of the worlds lithium reserves.  It is being extracted in small operations, but happily the Bolivian government has blocked any large mining operations.

Obviously, at a price of .50 per kilo for salt, and with no other sources of income readily apparent, the villages on and surrounding the salar are extremely poor, some of the bleakest we'd seen in Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America.  Those who can find an angle do benefit from salar tourism, but otherwise, they live and work as they have for generations, harvesting and selling the salt through cooperatives.

Local soccer field
Buildings are all built of rock and salt blocks.  Even a small restaurant we stopped at was totally built of salt, including the furniture.

Salt sanitation is a big deal!!

The salar is also home to several "islands", some with buildings and people living there.  We visited one to hike around and check out the amazing cactus, many over 1000 years old, before driving on over the salt.

As the afternoon of the first day turned to evening, things got a bit wierd.  Even though we were on a paid "tour", it became clear that our driver had no clue where we were supposed to stay for the night, and there weren't a whole lot of options.  We stopped at 3 small hotels on the salar shore, driving nearly an hour between the first and third, all with the same result....no room.  Actually the third had room....it was closed!!!  And it was now dark.  Not good. 

But our driver disappeared into the little village and found the owner, who was happy to open up for us.  And it was a sweet little collection of sleeping huts surrounding a kitchen/dining room.  Score!!!  We settled in for the night on our mattress set on a salt platform.  Our driver brought our food and propane tank into the kitchen, where the owner of the place cooked our dinner.  All good.  4 or 5 thick alpaca blankets kept us warm.

After loading the truck the next morning, we had breakfast and were on the "road" by 6:30.  Actually there are no real roads in this area.  Driving is all over the high desert, sometimes following tracks, sometimes just winging it.  And all the time our tire bubble grew larger.  Not good.

Waiting for another tire change.  Pretty safe, only 3 trains per week...
Finally our driver decided to change the tire.  Out comes the spare, and the swap made.  Uh oh.  No air in the spare.  And we're in the middle of the desert.  We're talking real desert.  Not good at all.  And we didn't change the tire before we started, why???  OK, back with the bubble tire, and we're off again.  Finally after a few hours more of rock and desert driving, we found another tour Land Cruiser with a compressor to borrow.  We pumped up the spare, changed again, and were off, now with a good tire.  Cool!!!

Actually, we came to find out that ALL of the rigs out here typically had their hoods up or were up on jacks nearly every day.  Desert driving takes its toll, and theres obviously no real maintenance done to the vehicles.  You just fix things as they break, and hope for the best.  As the saying goes...."Ya pays yer money and ya take yer chances..."  No one has a compass, a gps, or even a friggin' flashlight!!!

We spent this second day cruising the desert, stopping at a series of lagunas, or lakes, to check out the nesting areas of hundreds of flamingos.  This was amazing to see, so many in one area.  The rock formations, too, were extraordinary.

A prize if you can tell us what this sign means.  We don't have a clue!

Smoking volcano marks the Bolivia-Chile border

Park is closed....
 We were making our way toward a large national park at the southern end of Bolivia.  Unfortunately when we arrived, we found that a rumored strike had in fact been called that day, and we were not allowed entry into the park.  The drivers of the assembling tour trucks had a pow wow, and we took off into the evening dusk, following one other truck.

The others all took the main trail, but our boy decided to take a shortcut through the mountains.  Not sure why, but it proved to be a bad move.  We, along with the other rig, got quickly lost on the myriad of tracks through the desert.  Finally we seemed to be going in the right general direction, in the gathering darkness, as the other truck started to slow down dramatically.  Seemed he had both carbuerator and transmission problems.  The air cleaner was removed and cleaned of its thick dust, but it didn't make a whole lot of difference.

We finally reached a main track, and limped our way into a tiny town at around 9:30.  Our driver had been driving for around 15 hours, including changing 3 tires.  A tough days work.  And we just lucked out when we found a guest house with 4 or 5 other rigs in front.  They had room for us, just barely.  But again, all good, and we fell asleep easily.  I'm sure our driver was asleep before he hit the pillow.

Trucks lick their wounds after a punishing day of driving

Bolivia - Chile border
The third day we really had no plans, since the portion of the tour in the national park was called off.  First we had to drop one of our passengers at the Chilean border, so she could catch a bus into Chile.  This took a confusing couple of hours, and we weren't alone, as we showed up at the desert border outpost with around a dozen other tour trucks.  As the buses showed up, we dropped her off (with her surfboard!!!), and we were on the road again, making our way back to Uyuni across the Salar.

Waiting for bus at the Chilean border

All in all it was a really interesting three days.  A  bit cramped, and a lot of driving hours, but we saw some amazing remote parts of Bolivia.  For those thinking of doing the trip, don't agonize over which guide company to go with.  They're all the same, as far as we could tell.  The trucks are all in lousy shape, and a lot depends on keeping a good sense of humor as you break down across the vast Bolivian altiplano desert.  Enjoy!!!

Next up:  Off to Argentina.....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Most Dangerous Road in the World

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"El Camino de la Muerte"....."The Road of Death".....For some macabre reason, riding the Death Road on mountain bikes called out to the Bravo duo.  This road, long famous through TV documentaries and countless internet articles, leads from near La Paz to Coroico, an amazing 56 km piece of rutted, gnarly gravel highway(???).  In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the "world's most dangerous road".  Up until a new bypass road was opened in 2006, buses and trucks traveled the route daily.  One estimate is that 200-300 travelers used to be killed yearly along the road, or one vehicle every two weeks.

Since the opening of the bypass, some local truck traffic still travels the road, but today most of the traffic seems to be of the two-wheeled, bike variety.  Though the death toll has dropped dramatically with the opening of the new road, an estimated 20 cyclists have died on the ride since the first rider made the descent about 12 years ago.  What is the attraction of riding about 40 miles down a mountainside, with the knowledge of the 600m cliff at your left for nearly the whole time???  Well, for one thing, the scenery, when you dare to look up, is absolutely breathtaking.  With views down the valley appearing out of the mist, it really does require concentration to avoid possibly deadly distractions.  But much like bungee jumping, motorcycle racing, or skydiving, it's mostly perhaps just an adrenalin producing whacky sport with an undeniable draw to a certain subset of the population.     I guess the Bravo team lives with one foot in that subset!!!

Many bike tour companies offer the ride, and we signed up with Vertigo Biking.  Great choice.  The guides were professional and safe, while keeping a great sense of humor for the whole 12 hour day.  The bikes were fully suspended hydraulic disc Haro's, and we wore full protective gear.  With 14 riders + guides, drivers, and team mechanic, it was a big group.  Big, but a whole lot of fun.  Riders on our group were from the US, France, Netherlands, South Africa, England, Canada, and Australia, and all had a great time.

Backboaards on support wagons got our attention

The ride itself is about 67 km, and drops 3500m (11,480')   We started at a high pass at around 4700m / 15,420'.  The first stretch was about 17 km on pavement, before reaching the actual dirt Death Road, which would be the remainder of the 5 hour ride.  Although paved, this first part was spectacular as it wound its way down from the high peaks.  Passing a couple of antinarcotics police checkpoints, though, we were all nervously ready to get on the dirt.

Cindi in fine form staying near the head of the pack

The clouds came in as we reached the start of the dirt track, and as we started down along the top of the cliff, the mist and fog shroud was surreal, if a bit unnerving.  Although we couldn't see the drop, we always knew it was there.  The constant crosses and memorials of earlier travelers who didn't make the passage was a sobering reminder of the danger of a fall.

Cross marks the spot where a rider went over the edge 3 years ago

We took frequent stops for the mechanic to adjust brakes, and check out the views which kept getting better as we dropped elevation.  Absolutely amazing.  As the gang got more comfortable on the bikes the speed increased.  Happily on our ride we didn't encounter any oncoming traffic.  A guide was always at the front of the pack just in case.  And the 2 vans were at the back, with first aid equipment (including back boards and cliff rescue gear).

Sign said bikes to the left, so vehicles hug the cliff...Uhhhhh....I think NOT!!!

After crossing streams, rocky stretches, and washouts, at last we were down. Down in the jungle. The temperature change as we dropped over 11,000 ft was amazing. We hit a little hotel/restaurant for lunch, beers, and a swim in a pool before heading back to La Paz. A fun day on the Death Road was had by all.....