EASY BY SLOW
One value of the slow way we travel is, after staying in the small, out of the way places that are often pretty bad, a good Hotel is like paradise. If we stayed only in 5 Star places we wouldn’t or couldn’t really appreciate them. As Kalil Gibran said in his wonderful book, The Prophet, “You can’t truly know joy until you’ve known sorrow and you can’t truly know sorrow until you’ve known joy”. Some of the places where we’ve stayed have been pretty sorrowful.
Jujuy, Argentina to Copacabana, Bolivia
Ridin’ The High One!
Bolivia is the second poorest country in the Americas. Bolivia is also one of the most interesting countries we’ve visited. The people are shy and many don’t like to have their picture taken. Once past the camera and first few moments, they are also very warm and friendly. One friend put it this way, “Bolivians are naïve, most are poor and live a simple life”.
So, come climb and cross the Bolivian Altiplano, the high plateau. Our journey takes us up and over 14,288 feet (4338 Meters) at one point. The highest mountain in the continental USA, Mt. Whitney, is 14,474 feet. The air is thin and our breathing labored everyday. The Altiplano averages 12,500 feet (3810 Meters) in altitude. Meet Doctor Raphael, the Cycling Doctor and Doctor Miguel, he makes Hotel Calls!
Push through a river then find an Angel in the Darkness, Enjoy Carnival Bolivian style, Witness our first taste of Pancakes and Maple Syrup in 2 ½ years, Then, visit Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable lake, 12,500 feet (3810 Meters) above sea level. We survive cold weather once again, that goes with the altitude territory, and live to tell the story and love the experience.
January 4, 2005
Last Day at Low Altitude
Mammy and Pappy’s Birthdays
Yes, this would be my parent’s birthdays. Born two years apart on the same day. They would be 89 and 87. If you remember we cycled through the area where my Dad spent his young years in South Dakota back in July 2002. Mom was born in Oklahoma just a few years after they changed the name to Indian Territory. You know the story, shuffled from their Home Lands then they discovered oil on the land that would be forever theirs. End of Indian Territory!
Breakfast down then Cat took the package of CDs with pictures to mail to Wally. The Correo clerk told her she had to see the Aduana, Customs Officer. She walked into a questionable neighborhood only to find that the Aduana wasn’t required? Perhaps it has to do with the weight of the package? Perhaps we’ll never know?
She found a Pharmacia and ordered my heart flippy floppy pills. They said they’d have them by 8:00 tonight. She visited several Banks looking for Evita coins. We were given change sometime back and one of the coins was an Evita, 2 Peso. Quite a nice, silverish looking coin with Evita's profile on the heads side. We thought they would make nice gifts for our family. A busy afternoon for The Cat, she even found time for a haircut.
Hot and running late, we took Taxi to Mario’s Bicicletteria, a bargain at 1 Peso. (33 Cents) He hadn’t finished and asked us to come back at 7:00 PM. Searching for Mini CDs, we stopped at a Department store. Amazing, they had some no names, I put one in the camera and tried it out on the clerk, Fernando. It worked, we bought five.
After a warm workout walking back, we picnicked in the room. Cat spent the afternoon repacking then sitting in front of the Internet Computer. I did what I do, the journal. Late afternoon we relaxed and watched our favorite sit-coms. .
Another Taxi, this one charged us 1 Peso 50 Centavos, a 1/3 increase? Cat questioned but the guy just shrugged. They run without meters, maybe they can charge what they think the traffic will bare. Not worth the hassle but Cat feels that he was just taking advantage of a couple of Gringos. I do the math, 50 Centavos is 16 ½ cents, US.
Mario was just putting the finishing touches on the bike. He didn’t replace the freewheel. The only one he had or could find had a different ratio. I looked at it and decided to go with what I’ve got. We mounted up rode the busy streets back to Hotel Jujuy Palace. Cat’s bike has a clatter as she pedals and it skips gears. She wanted to go back, I felt that we could figure it out on our own.
I spent an hour playing with the rear derailleur, got my hands dirty and accomplished nothing. Cat walked back to the Pharmacia only to hear that they don’t and won’t have the pills. My prescribed dosage is 10 mg, the smallest they could find was 100, too large to cut.
Dinner down, lamb stew for Cat and I had Lamb Anana, Pineapple Lamb. Both were very tasty.
A little more TV then bed and dreams of climbing to the clouds.
January 5, 2005
Jujuy to Tumbaya
1,240 Meters (4,067 feet ) climbing to 2,094 Meters (6 868 feet)
An 854 meter, 2,801 feet climb
Let The Ascent to Bolivia Begin!
Finished loading the bags on the bikes after breakfast. They are in the garage out back and it’s hot in there. We were covered with sweat when we pushed out into the hot sun at 10:00 AM.
Cat was clattering along and I had seriously low air pressure in my rear tire. A cyclist that we had been playing tortoise and hare with pulled up and wanted to help. He indicated that we would have to turn back to find air. We hate that so, I wobbled and Cat clattered, onward.
Cat caught sight of a “Gomeria” (Tire Shop) across the grassy median. Pushing across then struggling up a dirt and rock path we crossed and Nicholas put 65 pounds in each tire. His family stood and watched with pride as he applied his expertise. When we asked how much he smiled and said, “Nada”, nothing.
Nicholas indicated that we could go down this side of the road and get back to Ruta 9. It is now a constant pull, upward. The side road took a turn to the left, away from the Camino. After a half-kilometer we turned back, we were going in the wrong direction.
The Cycling Doctor
Back on track we backtracked then crossed the grassy median again and rode toward the clouds. Sweating and breathing hard we pulled into a small town and found a Kioske. As we pulled up to try again to fix Cat’s bike when a guy on a strange looking recumbent bicycle rode up. He had on a hot looking long sleeve shirt and a cap covering his ears on under his helmet. He asked the problem, I told him that we’d had the chains replaced and I thought Cat’s had a frozen link.
Ralph or Rafael as he’s known in Spanish, is a Doctor. He sat on the ground, pedaled the chain backwards and found the sticking link. He took the chain in his hands and worked it back and forth, up and down. So, he not only cures people, he can cure bicycles, too. His recumbent is homemade, a friend welded the frame to his specification then he added the components. The strange looking hat and long sleeves are protection from the scorching sun. He has obviously had some sunspots removed, his face is blotchy as though he recently had the “pre C scrub”.
Dr. Ralph works at several outlying Clinics and rides his bike to work. We asked about a Kioske, he pointed up the road. Hand shakes and he rode on. We found the Kioske and had just taken a seat at a table when he rode up. He joined us and we bought soft drinks to celebrate Cat’s chain cure. Ralph’s a wonderful person, he told us of his incarceration during the dirty wars. He also told us that he earns only 1,000 Pesos a month working the Clinics and another 1,000 in private practice. Geez, a Doctor only makes 2,000 Pesos, about $665 US, per month. The socialist system is the price he pays but he says he and his family have a good life. He also almost apologized, saying that if he had known of us earlier we could have stayed with them.
As we talked a young guy rode up with bags and spare tires on the back of his bike. He, Javier, is 21 years old and cycling alone on what Dr. Ralph called the most difficult ride in Argentina. The found a piece of paper and Dr. Ralph drew a map of the route showing water sources and altitudes exceeding 4,000 meters. The road is all dirt once he leaves Ruta 9. How does Dr. Ralph no the route so well? He's ridden it annually for the past 20 years. We sat, sipped and chatted. Javier has a little English but we all depended on Dr. Ralph to translate. He changed into his scrubs as we prepared to leave.
Onward, accompanied by Javier. Dr. Ralph told us that the climb would get steeper but we should have a good tail wind. He was right on both points. The three of us climbed, up then back and forth on switchbacks, into the afternoon sun. Some of the trucks were barely able to go faster than our slow pace. On one switchback a couple had pulled over and raised the hood. Signs warning, “Controle La Temperatura” didn’t help one couple. They had the hood up and a cloud of steam was erupting from under it. One of the signs had been altered, I had to have a picture, forgive me, please.
The top of that steep stretch crossed a bridge. We’ve become a threesome, Javier wants to tag along until he reaches his turn off at Tilcara. This is his first day on the road, he’s as tired as we. Our plan to stop here at Volcan dissipated like the steam from the car had. The girl at Tourist Info told us that the Hotel here had closed. It’s another 9 Ks to Tumbaya where she assured us we’d find a room.
Though tired, we rolled right along thanks to the flat and at times slight down slant of the road. Tumbaya is very small but they do have a Hosteria. Javier led the way through the Pueblo Calles and to the Hotel. It’s small but has a Café. The bad news, they have a reservation for their last room but will let us have it if the people fail to show by 6:00 PM. We enjoyed a beer and halting, two-language conversation. Javier is going to camp and has learned that there’s place just down the road.
At 6:10 we finally asked and the woman took Cat to see the room. It is okay but she indicated that we’d have to wait until 7:00? Another beer then at 7:00 they refused to let us move in? We’d heard of a Casa Familia, the woman told Javier that the owners weren’t there? Javier led us in that direction then asked a Policeman. He learned that the same family that owns the Hosteria owned the Casa?
As we rode past I again asked if they would rent the room. The woman shook her head negatively. We couldn’t figure out what we’d said or done but they’d definitely decided against us. Maybe we smell of sweat from the climb?
So, we’ll camp. Javier led us to a wire fenced, open field. We pushed into the yard of the house and he did the talking. The woman seemed to be giving us our second cold shoulder of the evening. At last she allowed us to go over under some trees and pitch our tents. Javier told us that she said others had camped and not paid. When we asked how much she wanted he said, “We pay whatever we wish”?
Tents set, we began the process of cooking. Javier volunteered a bag of Pasta. He also had a sausage and two packets of tomato sauce. We cooked on our stove. The sausage was a great learning experience for us. Javier took one glass of wine then shifted to a soft drink. A package of pasta was short of feeding the 3 of us. Javier did a good job of cooking. He said that his family thinks he’s crazy for wanting to camp.
Just before we closed up for the evening he said we should pay the woman tonight. A brief discussion and we offered 5 Pesos, he thought it was plenty. He took it to here and reported back that she was very happy. Geez, she’d almost turned us away for only $1.65 US.
We took a few bugs but really enjoyed talking with Javier. His English skills are improving with every word spoken. Our Spanish got a small boost, too.
Early to bed, 9:00 PM.
January 6, 2005
Tumbaya to Tilcara
2094 Meters to 2461, 6,868 to 8,073 feet
Breakfast, we had cereal and banana. Javier only eats a couple of apples in the morning. Then the joy of camping, it took us almost 1½ hours to tear down and pack up. Don’t misunderstand, when you must camp it’s way better than sleeping on the ground. And, our equipment is very good. Our early awakening had us on the road by 8:50 AM.
It’s cooler today and the tail wind began soon after we set off. Just a kilometer down he road we entered the Quebrada de Humahuaca. A canyon lined on both sides with fantastic mountains, a real treat for Geologists and neophytes like the 3 of us. The colors are striking, we shot a ton of pictures.
Again, Javier led the way through the historic streets of Miamara. As he asked about a café a guy, Hector began trying to speak English with us. He’s studying in a Tourismo Program. When we passed a small shop the clerk, Jose, rushed out and asked where we’re going. Hector told him of our journey then he ran back inside and reappeared carrying a pennant, a “recuerdo" of Miamara. Hector led us to a small café. Javier and I had Milenessa sandwiches, Cat went for the Empanadas. The stark little place filled with talkative locals as we ate. They stared but asked not. As we pushed the bikes back to the sidewalk a small band of drums and flutes passed led by dancing children. More Enero Tilcareno.
The remainder of today’s ride was only 6 Ks of rolling little hills. We were in the streets of Tilcara by 2:30 PM. Javier followed the “Camping:” signs we sought out Hotel Tourismo Tilcara. They argued a bit then gave in and let us park the bikes in our room. The place is old and a little run down. It is centrally located, an easy walk to the Plaza. The shower was great.
9a012 Andrea 9a013 Kilroy was Here
A walk around town led to the discovery that there’s only 1 Internet Café with 3 machines. A lineup of hungry Internet users forced us to delay checking our e-mails until tomorrow. The Plaza is full of booths, crafts and local foods. I stopped to look at some baubles and the guy in the booth spoke good English. His group of Artisanos call themselves “Wichi Crafts. They’re trying to preserve the Culture of Indigenous Peoples of Northern Argentina. He gave me a paper describing the different figures in local lore. Pancha Mama is Mother Nature. I tried to by 2 pendants for us but he only had one and it was silver. He says they are made of stone and wood too but he has none. Alas, a new quest.
There is a local phenomenon going on here, too. They call it Enero Tilcareno here, too. Young people parade around town to the sounds of flutes and drums. The first time we saw it we thought it was just one group but then, another and another came dancing past.
Javier was strolling the Square too. We walked together for a while. He has a date for dinner with some fellow campers. There is a pretty interesting Museum of Art on the main street and another group of dancing kids followed by a band passed as we enjoyed the art. Their music added to the ambiance.
Cat bought two flat bread tortillas that they were cooking on the corner. Retreating to the room we enjoyed reviewing our photos, a glass of wine, tortillas and queso de cabra. (Goat Cheese)
We dined at the Parrilla just across the street. The place feels like a mountain resort, logs and rough wood chairs and tables. They offer a mixed grill. A lot of meat and sausage, YUM.
January 7, 2005
Tilcara to Humamuaca
2461 Meters to 2936, 8073 to 9631 Feet
Javier met us for coffee at 8:30 AM. It took an hour to eat the bread and drink coffee then get the bikes from the room to the street. A steady but not steep up greeted us. The morning is full of sun and the wind started to push us a bit by 11:00.
The Quebrada de Humahuaca is Mother Nature’s palette. The mountains are full of colors, from golds and browns to reds and greens. She has done an outstanding job of carving and coloring.
Climbing, we unceremoniously crossed the Tropic of Capricorn then met two cyclists, Lilliana and Monica coming downhill. As we talked a group of guys came past at breakneck speed. They hooted and hollered but didn’t slow their pace a bit. Both girls have been sick and headachy from the altitude. This downhill run seems to be a popular way to see the Quebrada.
Two gals, Lillian and Monica from Buenos Aires, are doing what seems to be a popular ride. They started at La Quiaca, 3445 meters or about 11,300 feet above sea level. Both suffered some altitude sickness, headaches and shortness of breath. After a short chat they turned and rolled downward, we boarded our bikes and continued our hard fought progress.
Lunch in the tiny Pueblo Uquia. There’s a wonderful Hostal on the edge of the Plaza. We thought it was closed and were about to walk away when a worker across the street yelled out for us to ring the bell. I did and a girl came running. She had us park the bikes in a shaded garage area. The place is furnished and feels like a wonderful B&B. The owner served us Uquia Tamales, slightly different from the Mexican variety we know and love. Also, a plate of procuitto of Llama with Goat Cheese. The meat tastes unique yet not unlike the Italian ham. We took our time and relished the atmosphere and good food.
It’s only 10 Ks into Humahuaca but still a steady climb. All of us are now feeling the effects of altitude. Shortness of breath as well as off and on slight headaches. The streets of cobblestone aren’t great for cycling but they blend well with the buildings of stone and adobe.
We went looking for Hotel Tourismo Humahuaca, Javier set off to find a campsite. The Hotel was a huge disappointment. The rooms old and dirty looking. They didn’t even have TVs? They did tell Cat that the only place that has TVs is Hosteria Camino de Inca. (The Inca Highway) It’s across the bridge over the Rio Grande, the river that divides the town. Surprise, it’s really nice. They had a ground floor room and allowed us to park the bikes inside. The room is spacious and well decorated. The TV is local channels only but some of our favorite shows are English with Spanish subtitles.
Invigorating showers then walked across to the campground looking for Javier. There are a surprising number of girls, camping in pairs. Lots of young people setting up tents and cooking on barbeques. The downside, the dirt is fine dust and the wind plays havoc with it, sending swirling clouds between the tents. No Javier, not even a tent that looks like his.
Back across the bridge and into the streets of Humahuaca, we passed by an interesting building. A girl was swinging in a hammock surrounded by flowers and plants. Cat was curious and stepped inside. There in the first room to the right was Javier. He had looked at the campground and decided that he needed rest. He admits to fatigue and he looks tired. He told us that he was cooking there. We left him to his own devises and walked back to Camino de Inca for dinner.
The food was surprisingly good. The service painfully slow. We met a couple from Chile. They’re here on vacation. Both work at the World’s largest open pit copper mine there.
The altitude has us struggling to get deep breaths. My Mother had emphysema, now I no how it must have felt. Our heart rates are slightly pronounced but the shortness of breath makes getting to sleep difficult.
January 8, 2005
Acclimating to the Altitude
After a restless night the pounding of a hammer awakened us. The Chilean couple is locked inside their room. The husband had to climb out the window and get help. They finally pounded and pried it open but not before he used a ladder to get back in and hand their luggage out. Needless to say they were a little upset. They loaded their car and roared away.
A couple we sat near last night came in and stopped at our table. Enrique and Sylvia are from Buenos Aires. They both speak English, his is very good. He lived in Palo Alto for 6 years, studying Philosophy of History and later teaching at Stanford. He was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Sylvia’s is a Psychologist. They own a Paint Store and Interior Design Studio. We have several things in common. Like me, he has been married several times. He and Sylvia have been married for 21 years. They have a slightly larger age difference than Cat and I. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, to Kibo Hut, ending there with the same altitude sickness symptoms that stopped us. He did climb Aconcagua and was the oldest person to reach the top back then. All in all really nice people. We enjoyed the so-so breakfast laced with interesting conversation. They are off for the mountains by bus to see Iruya, a small Pueblo carved from the side of the mountain at 4,000 meters. (13,200 feet)
Cat went in search of a Lavanderia. The quest was running out of steam when she stopped at The Pension where Javier is staying. The owner told her that there is no laundry in town but she had her girls do it for only 6 Pesos. Javier is headed off, up the hill for a test ride to over 4,000 meters. So, our friends are all going up while we do chores.
My chore of course is the journal. Cat’s took her throughout the narrow streets of Humahuaca. Backpackers and tourists were out in numbers. Locals lined the walkways and square playing music and selling hats, rugs, jewelry, pan flutes and other goodies. Amidst the entertainment she found Gatorade, Mineral Water, salami and toothpaste.
Back in the room, she quickly unloaded the supplies, I shut down the computer and we rushed back into the square to witness the appearance of San Francisco Solano. We got there and got a good vantage point to see the door open at the strike of 12:00
o’clock. Once again San Fran emerged at high noon and gave his Benediction as he has for many years. Tourists and locals alike applauded when the figure slipped back behind his door.
Lunch, a fine goat stew for me and Pizza for Cat. Back to the room, I concentrated on loading pictures to CDs for Javier and Dr. Ralph. Cat wrote in her journal pages and watched a tearjerker movie.
Late afternoon, back across the bridge and into town to deliver the CDs to Javier. We also dug out the broken AutoShifter to give to Dr. Ralph. He was so interested in our bikes and will probably have it on his recumbent in days. It works fine, we just lost a screw from one of the little gears. Javier is packing and preparing for his ride on the toughest route in Argentina. He joined us for a drink. We sat at a table on the street, in the sun. The cool breeze took most of the heat from its rays.
The 3 of us enjoyed a wonderful Llama stew, Cat and I indulged in a bottle of Torontes Chardonnay. Paulo and Dolores added to the ambiance, playing guitars and singing. A great night, another sad parting. Javier is almost like family now, we worry about the difficulty he faces this next week. Hugs all around, cheek kisses with Cat then he disappeared down the moonlit street.
We crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande and back Hotel Camino del Inca. Enrique and Sylvia were having dinner when we stopped for our key. A short conversation because they were as tired as we, the altitude got us all.
No TV, just to bed and to sleep.
January 9, 2005
Another Day of Acclimatizing
Breakfast with Enrique and Sylvia, he certainly is and interesting guy. We learned that he is also a part time actor, appearing in theater, movies and most recently in a Coca Cola commercial. The hurried off to Jujuy to meet with some fabric people, I sauntered back to the computer. Cat went walking, got our clean laundry and a roasted chicken. An in room picnic, movies all afternoon and dinner here at the Hotel.
Though we feel better and have had no headaches, we are still short of breath. The slightest exertion has us gulping for air. Funny we seem to be okay when we cycle but just walking or packing has us gasping.
Gladys, the young desk clerk/waitress and niece of the owner let us play our Acadiana CD on their system in the dining room. Pasta to the familiar strains of Cajun and Zydeco. More TV then bed.
Almost forgot, there is a quiet German guy staying here. He’s been here since we arrived. Today he donned a very skimpy bathing suit and sat in the sun most of the afternoon. We decided he must be working in Humahuaca, surely no one would come here just to sunbath in the dangerous high altitude rays?
January 10, 2005
Humahuaca to Tres Cruces
2936 to 3780 Meters (9630 to 12,398 Feet)
Up and Over 4198 Meters (13,770 Feet)
Cat’s Brother Jeff’s Birthday
Up early and bikes packed then off to breakfast. We were on the road by 8:00 AM. A quick stop, I held the bikes while Cat dashed across the street and got fresh bread from the bakery. I confirmed the direction with a Policeman as I waited. He pointed up the hill, we pedaled upward.
Steep, huffing and puffing then pushing. The air is cool to cold, Cat wore her jacket and raincoat. With a slight tailwind we climbed and cycled adjacent to the old, deteriorating railroad tracks. It disappeared as we began a steep 3 K climb. A local guy pulled past and ahead then he had to push his unladened bike. We three pushed then at the summit, he squatted to rest. As we passed we saw that he was breathing as heavily as we. I pulled the camera out and took a picture then he protested and wanted Pesositos. (Little Pesos) I protested that and we pushed on. He past us again then turned off onto a rocky road that looked like it went nowhere. He did wish us “Suerte”, good luck, as he passed.
Though the road levels some and we could ride, it’s still up then ups and downs. Leaning the bikes on a sign, we sat on the leeward side and ate our lunch near a 3-house pueblo called Azul Pampa. A group walked past and called out hellos. When we finished we caught them and asked where they were going. They are day hiking with Ignacio, a local guide, to Cueva de Inca. Teresa and her boy friend are from Spain. Mariano is from Buenos Aires. As we talked a couple, Gustavo and Cristina rode up. They are doing the famous downhill run all the way from La Quiaca to their hometown of Cordoba.
Our summit conference was short of the summit. Ignacio told us that Azul lies at 3,900 meters. Gustavo assured us that we still have a long pull to the summit but it won’t be too steep. In fact it was a beautiful mountain ride through the colorful canyon. The summit, 4,198 meters, is also the turn off to Iruya, the town Enrique and Sylvia visited. Two Argentinean girls with backpacks were hitchhiking there. So few cars pass, it may be a while before they catch a ride? Though a little breathless and Cat had a momentary dizzy spell yet we felt amazing well. Well, our legs are fatigued so we’re looking forward to the downhill run ahead.
The sun finally shone through the clouds as we rolled. The colorful mountains with sedimentary patterns are spectacular. A woman with her herd of Llama caught our attention. As I shot my picture a van pulled up and tourists inundated her and the herd.
We rolled past the Tres Cruces sign and up to the Military Check Point. Good news the Guard told us that there is a Hotel here. He even pointed and told us to go two blocks then right one. Down the main street and it’s obvious this is a Military town. Down and around then up to the door of the building with the faded “Hotel” sign. I rang the bell, pounded on the door and finally a lady came to the window and let us know that the place is cerrado, closed. She pointed back toward the main street.
Stumped, we cruised up and down then asked a military guy, Leonardo, and he came to our rescue. After pointing he decided to lead us. As we walked he told us that he’s a musician, plays the Accordion. I tried to tell him about our band, Acadiana but couldn’t get through the language barrier. His last name sounds Polish. I asked and he said, “No, Ukrainian”. Again, I tried to make conversation about the recent elections there. Not sure it got through?
Leonardo walked with us to a little Restaurante then asked us to wait. He went inside then re-immerged with a woman. Yes, they do have a room to let. Funny they have only the Restaurante signboard sitting on the sidewalk and a couple of soft drink signs above the door. The room is just barely large enough for the bikes and us. They have a shower but warm water won’t be available for an hour. The room cost is 15 pesos per person including breakfast. They charge an extra 3 pesos for the shower. We sipped a glass of wine then decided to just take a “spit” bath.
Dinner was really quite nice. Steak, eggs and boiled potatoes. We had the place to ourselves. The daughter served us and worked hard to find an English language TV program but failed. We were tucked into bed in our little lair by 9:00 PM.
Oh, the Restaurante and our little room are located on Calle J. F. Kennedy. Interesting, eh?
January 11, 2005
Tres Cruces to Abra Pampas
3780 to 3484 Meters (12,398 to 11,428 Feet)
The thin air and small sagging beds left us with a pretty sleepless night. Both seemed to wake up often and have a hard time getting back to sleep. At 6:30 AM we were startled into the day by the sounds of a man coughing, harking and spitting. The husband was up, chopping wood then firing up the kitchen stove. We loaded the bags back on the bikes then went into the restaurante. He, the husband was serving. The coffee was little more than hot milk with a tinge of beige. It was another of those bread and water beginnings.
Out the door, onto J. F. Kennedy Street and up toward the highway by 8:30 AM. Past the Guard Shack, a snappy salute from the young guy there then up. Not steep, not a long pull then over the crest and down, down, down. Gradual down that turned to a rapid roll. Thousands of Llama pasturing on both sides of the road.
We covered the 29 Ks at breakneck speed and were in Abra Pampas by 10:00 AM. A stop at the Tourist Office which was actually a travel company trying to sell tours. The girl did give Cat a list of the 3 possible places to stay. We had seen a billboard on Caesarito but couldn’t find it. A tour of the streets of town and we stopped at one of the places on the list. Pretty basic so we moved on. The Traffic Policeman made us stop going the wrong way on a one way. He did point out the direction to Caesarito.
The room is okay but up. They assured us that they would be safe in the courtyard. We took the room then rode back down the street to the service station at the North end of town. They have Internet but it failed to connect to AO for us.
Back to Caesarito, we carried the essential bags to the room and locked the bikes and bags under the stair well. Lunch, at the connected Restaurant. As we ate we caught a news flash of floods in California. They showed a hillside collapsing and we knew immediately that it was La Conchita, a small community just 15 miles north of our home. The worst, 10 people died there.
One station on the tiny TV in our room had an English language movie. I dozed through part, Cat watched 2 full films. Dinner down, pretty good chicken and fries.
January 12, 2005
Abra Pampas to La Quiaca
3484 to 3445 meters (11,428 to 11,279 feet)
Caesarito is a family operation. Last night the Mom told us that we could have omelets this morning. It was the Son’s duty time this morning and he knew nothing of Omelets. Son showed up with 2 fried eggs and set the plate in front of me. A struggle then he finally got the point that Cat wanted eggs, too. Okay, back to the kitchen, we shared the two eggs then he popped back in with two more. Moments later Mom showed up with two very dry, thin omelets. Cat tried to reason with them but they didn’t get it. We accepted all and ate. The orange juice we almost begged for arrived just as we finished the eggs. I usually only like juice with the eggs but took this as a final sugar pump to get us to La Quiaca. The coffee was pretty good.
The ride, as you can see by the slight drop in Meters, was a treat. The weather added to the delight. Bright and sunny and still, not a whisper of wind. The road is lined with small farms and adobe farmhouse. Very photogenic. And, Llamas, thousands of them. At one point we slowed and watched a huge flock be driven across the road.
By 1:30 we’d come almost 50 Ks and our stomachs were calling out for food. Pumahuasi is a dirt colored, adobe homes and buildings pueblo. The Mom at Caesarito had packed sandwiches for us so we sought shade, leaned the bikes and settled down on the curb. Barely two bites into our lunch, a couple rode up, coming down from La Quiaca. Arjou and Martine, from Holland are heading down, into Argentina. They’re here, cycling, for 3 ½ months. They have cycled the most dangerous road in the world. You take a bus up, over 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) then a fast run down on a narrow road with sheer drop offs of as much as 1,000 meters. A very handsome couple, Arjou is a Biologist and Martine a social worker and Exercise Trainer. They both look in fantastic physical condition. They sat and had their lunch as we talked. They did tell us that they took buses for much of the distance in Bolivia because the roads were so bad. That didn’t set to well with Cat, she’s been reading some of the same reports.
After goodbyes Arjou and Martine coasted on down toward Abra Pampas and we turned upward and into the wind. The ride was a little more difficult. The level we’d enjoyed rose up a bit toward Bolivia and the wind tried to hold us back.
Rolling into La Quiaca we pulled up at the Tourist Office. The woman was helpful with a map and info regarding Hotels. She confirmed the LP Guide Book’s assessment that the best place to stay was Hotel de Tourismo. She marked the map and pointed up the hill.
There is a sign nearby that required a photo. It reads “Ushuaia 5171 Kilometers”. Two couples from Buenos Aires, Guillerto, Rita, Eduardo and Duete were taking pics and agreed to take one for us. We did the same sort of kiss picture that we had done in Ushuaia. I did note that the sign there says La Quiaca 5121 Ks, a 50 Kilometer discrepancy?
A simple ride and we were lifting the bikes up two levels of stairs and pushing them inside. The staff didn’t like having the bikes inside and refused to allow them in our room. The end result was rolling them down another set of steps and into a conference room. We got our clothing bags off and I locked the bikes and remaining bags together then we carried the others up to our room. If this is the best Hotel we would hate to be staying at one of the lesser. They had advertised Internet in the Lobby but couldn’t produce. They did point our several nearby.
Once again, we failed to be able to enter our e-mail site. We can enter the AOL site but when we go to e-mail it tells us that our screen name and password didn’t match. It has matched for almost 10 years? Thus we began our quest to straighten out the problem. The AOL web site has only an toll free in the US (800) telephone number. You would think that the problem could be solved on the Internet since AOL is one of the largest Internet/e-mail servers? So, we found a Telecabina and called Base Camp Charlie to see if he could get a local telephone number. (The toll free 800 numbers are impossible to call from here.)
Dinner turned out to be the best thing at the Hotel. We had steak and it was great!
January 13, 2005
A Frustrating Day With AOL in Villazon
After the so-so included breakfast I spent time setting up our computer while Cat walked the village. She came upon hundreds of local people in native dress carrying bags and parcels from this side to the Bolivian side of the border. Probably cheaper to hand carry the goods than pay the border tariff if you drive the truck across? The line, like overburdened ants, ran across, dropped the parcel and ran back to get another.
The change in the look of people is sudden. We love the little hats many women wear. Also the colorful cloth they use to carry things on their backs. They are almost as unique as the Masaai Warriors in Africa. Cat had the camera and got some really good shots of them as well as old men and babies.
Lunch in a local’s only place, soup and Milanese sandwiches were good. Better than the food, the people watching. It’s all locals, dressed and acting uniquely, and enjoying time to gossip as they ate.
The rest of our afternoon was spent in total frustration trying to retrieve our e-mail messages. The local number that we had to pay to call ended up being the service center in India. The people there tried hard to give us instructions. Finally a manager, a nice but also frustrated woman gave us advice that was worthwhile. She said, open an e-mail account with Yahoo, they’re free, then send your questions to the Customer Service Center so that they can communicate with you.
What a stroke of luck, we entered “WorldRiders2” and immediately had a new e-mail center. After feeling our way around the site for a few minutes we were able send to AOL and get a message off to our families. The new site is so simple that it dulled some of our frustration with AOL. However, we know that there are 132 messages trapped with AOL.
Dinner down, again. Cat had a subtitled movie going on the big screen but locals flooded the room and took over, changing it to an Argentinean/Bolivian soccer game.
Our very small screen TV in the room did have a movie in English for us. Both had drooping eyelids by the time the movie ended.
January 14, 2005
Getting Ready to Get Ready in Villazon
Breakfast then off to the Internet Shop. AOL is still a dead end. The Customer Service Center recommended several websites to turn to for help. They all end up being like disk scan companies and they charge a lot of money to help, generally in cases where the user has forgotten their Password or Screen Name. So, decision time, we e-mailed our Website Wizard, Wally and asked him to send out a message to our list of friends. The new e-mail at Yahoo has a lot of advantages beyond the name.
As we walked to the Internet Café we found lots of interesting photo opportunities. The same women Cat caught on camera yesterday are now lined up and loading up. Different day, different truck but same old heavy packages. They take the bags from a truck, check in with a lady then hustle off to the border, across the bridge.
Cat packaged up items to mail home and headed off to the Aduana. They required the things be boxed. Another quest for a box, then back. The process took more than 2 hours. I sat in front of our computer screen, placing pictures in the Mendoza to Jujuy segment of our journal.
Lunch on the bed, leftovers from dinner, steak and pasta. Cat went back to the Internet, I continued my work on the pictures.
Dinner down, again. We met a guy, Peter, who is a retired schoolteacher from Canada. His new avocation is travel, he does guiding for a British company. He’s currently on a fact-finding mission as much for himself as for the travel company. We traded stories of travel. He loved our story of passing through his hometown, Montreal. His wife is also an educator. She isn’t retired but home working. They e-mail and call each other daily. She joins him whenever she has time off.
Cat was tired so headed for bed. I stayed and talked with Peter for another hour.
January 15, 2005
La Quiaca to Villazon
Into Bolivia !
Peter joined us and we three chatted about travel, how it’s affected our lives. We three agree that the world would be a better place if more of us traveled and learned more about Pacha Mama and he children.
Bags packed and down, we loaded the bikes near the doorway. Lots of nice people stopped and wished us well. Down the steps and off toward the our 42nd country, Bolivia. This may be one of our easiest border crossings? No hassles, no moneychangers in our faces? No threatening looking characters and nobody tried to get into our pockets? The short line moved quickly into the Immigration Office. Cat took my Passport, I watched the bikes. They accepted her, stamped both and we were in Bolivia. Even a moneychanger made it easy to convert Argentinean Pesos to Bolivianos.
The one-way street is a pull up. We pedaled, dodged cars and made our way to the Plaza. The Hotel Plaza, aptly named, was easy to find. No it’s not a 3 star but not bad. We got a room with view of the Plaza, private bath and comphy bed for only 200 Bolivianos. The exchange rate US Dollars to Bolivianos it about 8 to 1. That makes the cost of our room a whapping $25. The Desk Clerk even cleared a spot in luggage storage and we shackled the bikes to a broken video game.
Starving by now we made a beeline for the little restaurant next door. Another sticker shock, the daily menu that included an appetizer, soup, chicken and potatoes, even flan for dessert, all for 16 Bs. Great food and only $2.00 for both of us. Yes, we’re going to like this place, Bolivia.
For me, a little siesta while Cat hit the Internet. At 5:00 PM we walked down the main street, back toward the border. It’s lined with hundreds of little shops facing the crowded sidewalk. Out front of each little shop are people sitting, surrounded by merchandise of all description. These people are industrious. We see few beggars, most are too busy trying to sell some little trinket or piece of clothing.
Dinner at the Chinese Restaurant. The sign says that they’re open 24 hours, everyday. An early meal, compared to the usual deal in Argentina. The staff, owners we think, are not Chinese. Bolivian Sweet and Sour Pork, Chicken Chop Suey and Chicken Veggies. Not very authentic Chinese but wonderful Bolivian style food with a Chinese flavor.
It was a jog in pouring rain, getting back across the street to the Hotel. Early to bed.
January 16, 2005
Villazon to Suipacha
In honor of Dr. Ralph, Cat’s begun to call the road ahead the “The Dreaded Dead Dinger Dirt”. Dinner had been so good that we retraced our steps to the Chinese place for American Breakfast. Eggs, juice and pretty bad, Chinese/Bolivian coffee.
Concrete at first, bumpy concrete then dirt. The dreaded dirt Cat had envisioned turned out to be hard packed, with little or no loose gravel or rocks. Oh, there were hills, a couple of pushers but in general a good road on our first day on the Altiplano. The morning cold had us dressed out in leggings and long sleeves. The sun ate the clouds away and it warmed but we stayed with them.
Rolling prairie, not the flat we thought we’d find here. Llamas, lots of llamas all along the road otherwise not much to see. We stopped for lunch, sandwiches made fresh this morning at the Chinese Restaurant. The grass was short and dry, comfortable to sit on as we ate, soaked up sunshine and waved to the few passing cars and trucks.
Parts of the road showed the signs of last nights rain. We passed through several small Pueblos. One called Mojo called for a song but we couldn’t remember the words to “I got my Mojo working”. In another we tried to find more water but the little store had little to offer and no water. As I stood guard a little local guy sidled up and tried to talk with me. He had a cheek full of Coca and green teeth to match. Our friendly conversation ended with his request for Monetito, little money.
Came A Knockn'
It was up and push out of town then a long sweeping downhill. The only thing that slowed us, in fact stopped us were passing trucks and busses. Whether coming or going they put up a cloud of dust that lingers for several minutes. When we see one approaching we cover down and cover our eyes and mouths.
Alexis and Maria came toward us stirring up a pretty good cloud on their motorcycle. They passed, waved then doubled back. They’re from Columbia and their plan is to ride to Bariloche the across to Buenos Aires. They’ll shop the bike home from there. They’re covered with mud, came flying down a hill and into a creek that cross the road. He said that they almost lost it but held and only suffered muddy clothing. They urge us to come cycle in Columbia and assure us that it’s safe. Cat has her doubts.
It was getting into late afternoon, we said our goodbyes and rode on. In short time we came upon the Pueblo Suipacha. The Church dominated the view, the village is slightly off the Camino. A hotly contested Soccer game just breaking up. Kids were streaming into the little Plaza to drink from a faucet bid. We found a spot to lean the bikes and Cat went for beers at the local market. Sitting in the sin and sipping our suds we were a curious sight for the locals. I walked across the square and asked a couple of guys working on a tractor where we could camp. They chatted between themselves then both pointed to the Plaza. “It’s safe” I asked in my best Spanish? They were very insistent, even said things I understood like “small village” and “good people”.
So, we set the tent to the surprise and joy of most of the kids in town. Even after we had it set the kids still clambered around and peeked through the netting. I threw the rain fly over the top for privacy, they got the hint and slowly drifted away.
When we set the little cook stove out and Cat began cooking a few of them drifted back. They had a lengthy, animated discussion about the stove. Even got down on their hands and knees to look under it and watch the fire. As we pulled the cooked rice with salmon off and into the tent they politely departed. Each had to stop at the flap and say, “Buenos Noches”.
I was so sleepy that my head almost dropped into the dish, several times. The clanging of the off tone church bell called people to Mass at 8:00 PM. Food finished and things put away, we were in our sleeping bags and I was dozing when the clanging called the faithful to the 9:00 o’ clock Mass.
January 17, 2005
Suipacha to Tupiza
Our quiet sleep was interrupted at 2:30 AM. A party was getting noisy and loud music spilled out of the bar down the street. By 3:00, closing time we assumed, the revelers were in the street and continuing the party. As these events a often do, this one split into several groups. One marched down the street singing and pounding on a drum. Another shouted and seemed to be arguing. A third, two men and a woman, came to the bench in the Plaza near us and began to argue. Hard to tell what the problem they were trying to solve was but the woman kept calling one of them “Caballero”, gentleman. All the excitement aroused a little fear in me. I found the empty beer bottle, our headlight and Swiss Army Knife. I was prepared for battle. Cat was amazingly calm and kept assuring me that we were safe.
Reflecting Back to The Chief Crazy Horse
As I lay silently, worrying about how we would defend ourselves if necessary a memory of Chief Crazy Horse flooded my thinking. A very Sioux looking Native American guy asked about our plans. When I told him that we wanted to cross Pine Ridge, the nearby Reservation he became insistent that we not go there. “There’s no place for you to sleep”, he said. “We’ll camp, we have the equipment” I responded. “No, it’s not safe” he retorted. “Wait a minute”, said I, “The people there are good people, aren’t they”? He put his hand on my arm, looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, they are all good people but alcohol and drugs make good people do bad things”.
Cat confidently dropped back off to sleep, I clutched the beer bottle and knife until the last of the arguments and singing ended.
Up at the crack of dawn and the gallery of kids were already there, watching. Both washed our faces at the faucet then I began the search for a toilet. The girl at the store pointed off across the Plaza. I rounded the corner of the Church and walked down the dirt street. I’d given up on the Public Bano and decided to go near a fence there when I spotted a tiny mud hut. Sure enough, it was had hole in the ground and smelled real bad. I had to duck inside, the roof was only about 4 feet high. No details beyond this but suffice it to say, the only good thing about the experience was privacy.
A quick breakfast of cereal and banana then we pulled down our city center campsite. Several kids played and watched, 4 adults came and sat on a bench to watch the spectacle. Nice people, we exchanged a few words and they were pretty excited to hear that we were going “Todo el Mundo en Bicicletas”.
The sun shone bright as we exited Suipacha. We did stop and take a picture of the sign at the entrance that says something about the conflict raging here in Bolivia. Apparently the President privatized the gas and water services and now the new companies are raising the prices. We’ve seen news of it on TV.
The road surface worsened with each turn of the cranks. The scenery on the other hand, improved to picturesque. Hues of red, blues, purples and pinks intertwined in the cliffs. Unfortunately the loose stones and powdery dirt left us standing in a shower of small rocks and a tick cloud of dust at every truck or car passing. We began stopping, pulling our shirts up over our noses and waiting for the dust to settle. It was hilly, too. We had to push several times.
Our map tells us that the total distance from Villazon to Tupiza is 116 Ks. The signs along the road told us that we covered 68 yesterday so we know we’re in for almost 50 0f this dust and toil.
The road surface did improve a little and much of it was down so we began to make pretty good time. Somehow, the distance shrank? The last sign we saw told us that we’d come 91 Ks then shortly we passed a Tupiza sign? It was still 3 or 4 Ks to the bridge that crossed the Tupiza River. This strange disappearing kilometers thing didn’t bother us at all. In fact we were quite happy with the quick turn of events.
Once over the bridge and across the Railroad tracks, the streets of town became cobbled, bumpy but better than dusty. A guy pulled up in a Tour Company truck and began pitching a Hotel. It was the one we had chosen from our LP Guide Book so we let him lead. Good thing, the streets wind around and he knew where he was going, probably saved us a half hour.
We were in front of the Hotel at 1:00 PM. There was a little confrontation when we arrived, the sign said Hotel Torre and we had told him we wanted the Roca Colorado. Of course we thought we’d been duped but several gathered round and finally a young boy seated on the step found enough English to let us know that the name has just been changed. He is quite a character, even asked to ride Cat’s bike. I helped him up and he made a valiant attempt, almost crashed into a parked car.
The room is just okay but it does have a private toilet unlike our accommodations last night. With the necessary bags off loaded the nice lady led us down the street to a garage where the bikes will rest for the night. Nice as the entire staff was, they didn’t offer to help tote the bags up the 3 flights. Yes, we do have a TV but local channels, only.
The Loss of Blacky
A sad note, we had trouble keeping a 1½ liter bottle of water on the bike so I put it in one of the water bottle cages and strapped “Blacky”, out favorite tall water bottle, onto the bags. Somehow, somewhere it fell off and neither of us noticed. Blacky has been on board since we began this Odyssey.
Hungry, we walked down the street and into “El Garage” Restaurante. Definitely a favorite among tourists. Only one local and she must not have been in the no? The guy serving was slower than molasses in winter and the food was less than so-so. A slow-slow Internet Café consumed much of the rest of the afternoon.
A Train Ride to Uyuni?
A walk to the Train Station to get tickets was equally disappointing. They let us inside the terminal then the brusque clerk pointed and told us to sit. In a few minutes a guy in camouflage uniform came in and told us to leave. Were they trying to shut us out? We rose up in mild anger and that brought the clerk and his two henchmen to attention. So, once we began to understand it was simple, today’s train was sold out. Since we wanted the day train tomorrow that was no problem. Well, no problem until we understood that they have discontinued the day train. With that in mind we left the station. Our motives were two fold, to get beyond this terrible road and to enjoy the scenery as the little train huffed and puffed over the tall mountains.
No Train, Let’s Take a 4WD
After a brief discussion we walked to the Bus Station. The road climbs from 3,000 meters to over 4,000 just out of town. We see no reason to push for 2 days, up and over. And, the dirt and rock continue all the way to Uyuni. So, off to the Bus Station. After a confusing half hour of searching we found a place that runs 4WDs over the top. The lady was pretty nice, she sold us tickets for seats 1 and 2. That is the passenger seat and the center consol, up front. There are two bench seats in the back. She said that they sell 12 tickets but may not fill up. If not we can stretch out in the back. We told her about the bikes and 14 bags, she said, no problem.
The Return of Peter
While pecking away at the Internet we found Peter, the fellow we’d met in La Quiaca, sitting a couple of machines down the line. He’s staying at Hotel Torre, too. So, we decided to have dinner together.
After a glass of wine and relaxation in the room, we joined him and went out in search of food. The search led us to 3 places, the young boy who sits at the doorway of Hotel Torre joined us as we walked down the street. Peter has sort of adopted him. He tagged along and Peter flipped him a couple of coins as we entered the Restaurante California. Peter warned us that they would be packed and service would be slow. It’s a favorite of the Back Packing set. A slow night we guessed? Seated and served quickly I enjoyed a steak and Cat had Lasagna.
Peter leaves in the morning on a 4-day circuit cruise via 4WD to 3 stops then the Salar de Uyuni. The three of us shared red wine then walked back to Torre. A little TV but we had a hard time keeping our eyes open, a long, tiring day.
January 18, 2005
Tupiza to Uyuni
183 Kilometers in 7 Passenger 4WD with 12 People
Met Peter for breakfast, his tour will include Lago Colorado, Lago Verde, a Volcano and Salar del Uyuni. Though he’s quite a character, he’s as well traveled and as full of stories as we. We almost hated to bid him adieu.
Bags down to the lobby, we got the bikes and loaded under the interested and watchful eye of the staff. They may be the owners? They recommended a Hotel in La Paz that they say also belongs to family. They’re trying hard to get the name change into the next Lonely Planet. They asked us to send and e-mail of recommendation. We took a photo of them out front.
Our ride leaves at 10:30, we have time so rode to the Plaza and got a couple of pics there, too. Not as picturesque as Salta but nice for a small Pueblo. At a corner restaurant we spotted a bike with bags. Another Road Warrior, Peter is from Austria. He is a man of few words and even fewer English words. His bags, bike and personal demeanor tell us that he’s a rugged individualist and has been on the road for a long time.
Then, down the bumpy cobblestone streets and into the Station. The nice woman wasn’t so nice this morning. She charged us an extra 50 Bolivianos for the bikes and bags. I tried to argue but she just pointed to a sign on the wall and held out her hand. Reluctantly, I gave in. Then, just outside the door another woman asked for more money, 3 Bs each? I argued then watched as even the locals paid up. It must be Bus Station fee? We mumbled and grumbled, feeling like Gringos being picked on. Then we did the math, the extra for the bags was only $6.25 and the other less than 75 cents for both of us. This high finance is tough to figure.
As I hoisted the bags and bikes up to the driver another cyclist rolled up. Matias is from Buenos Aires and will set off tomorrow up and over the hill we’re avoiding. Nice young guy, we wished we’d met him earlier or had more time but the driver was cramming people in and preparing to go. Oh, another interesting revelation, the Toyota will have 12 on board and they have also filled another. So much for stretching out. The vehicle is built to carry 7 and now has 12. The roof is stacked high with luggage, including our bikes and bags.
Though we’re jammed into the front with the driver we were glad the woman had made that seating arrangement. The folks I the back are packed in like sardines. As we exited Tupiza the driver leaned on the horn but an old lady either didn’t or couldn’t hear. He hit the brakes and the rear passengers crushed down on each other. The lady hit the side of the Toyota but was brushed aside. She just staggered on across the street.
The road was bad leaving town, we even forded a shallow river. Then, as we began to climb it went from bad to worse. Another side trip up a dry, sandy riverbed then, up, up, up. The scenery is gorgeous, the climb unbelievable. The loose dirt and rock road winds up and passing trucks send up a spew of dust that hangs for several minutes. It clings to the hillside and at times it’s a huge drop off. The driver seems to pull to the left and we feel like he may misjudge and send us rolling end over end.
After 2 hours of bumps and grinds we pulled up at a little café. Nothing looked good to us so we chose to stick with our crackers and cookies. A young couple we met yesterday at El Garage, Ryan and Jayne were there, they are riding in another of the jeeps. As Ryan and I stood talking a guy from our Toyota walked to a few feet away and sat down, hard on the dirt. Then he began to retch and vomit. The scene was terrible but was destined to get worse. As he spewed a dog sauntered over, surveyed the scene then began lapping it up. Ryan and I couldn’t take it, we had to turn away. It must have been awful for the guy.
The locals got rice and some kind of meat to go. Also, they had drinks in plastic bags tied around a straw. The driver told us we’d stop again at 2:00 PM. The road continued to wind upward then down and into a muddy riverbed. The sick guy hung out the window and continued to be purge. We knew that we’d made the right decision, even though this ride is rough it would have taken us at least two days to push up and over the 4,000 meters and another to push through the mud.
Atocha is the halfway point of this day’s journey. For 20 Ks before town we were in mud, a riverbed of mud. The Pueblo clings to a cliff above the river. Main street is a sting of colorful buildings. The driver pulled in, parked midst the 20 or so other jeeps and told us that we had 30 minutes to find food and use the Banos. They unloaded the top, bikes first in order to get baggage for passengers stopping here. I stood the guard as Cat sought food. Her quest was fruitless. We ended up running to the public toilets then grabbing some more cookies and 4 containers of yogurt.
The sick Argentinean asked for a drink of our water. He needed, Cat handed him the bottle. He then asked if Cat would trade seats with him. Water was one thing, sitting in the bullpen and being pitched around with the pack was too much to give. He told us that he was suffering from altitude sickness.
We did find 4 energy bars that we gulped down as the Toyota lurched down the riverbed. I carefully opened my yogurt then sloshed it down the front of my shirt and pants. The driver witnessed my plight out of the corner of his eye. He pulled a dirty rag from under the seat. It was way better than sitting and soaking.
6 ½ Hours in a Jeep, 6 ½ days Cycling?
The drive in the mud continued, the Toyota slipped and slid but pulled through. Then, up a steep rocky road and onto the Altiplano. The road leveled and the surface hardened. The driver picked up speed and we were in the streets of Uyuni by 5:00 PM. It was great to get back on solid ground, out of the lurching Toyota. We felt like we had sea legs as the guy handed the bikes down.
The Tourist Info Office was closed, we spotted a group of Tourists at a Restaurant. A French couple seated outside offered us a seat at their table and their room at a Hostel. They only rented it to rest, they came in this morning and are leaving in half an hour. What a nice gesture but, we want something more than the Hostel offers. Another group suggested Hotel Kutimuy and pointed down the street. The Guide, John, is from Wales. They are in a truck and usually camp but are relaxing tonight. As we talked Ryan and Jayne walked up. They promised to save us a seat, we cycled to the Hotel. Our room is at the top of the stairs and has no outside windows. The bikes will be parked in a baggage room. We washed our faces and hands then walked back to the restaurant. Starving, we ordered steak and Pizza then chatted with the Truck People, Ryan and Jayne.
The waiter is very nice but his service is not. Maybe a language problem? My steak must have been Llama, it was so tough I had to chew then spit out most of it.
A Match Made in Backpacker’s Heaven
Both Ryan and Jayne are on Around the World Airline tickets. They met in Southeast Asia. She had a boy friend but the relationship was shaky. The next time they ran into each other they decided to travel together. Both of their 1-year tickets have expired but they extended and are continuing. Jayne’s from England and Ryan is Canadian. They seem to fit like gloves. A match made in Backpacker’s heaven? A very nice couple a very nice couple of young people out seeing the world.
A great ending to a long tough day.
January 19, 2005
Planning to See the Salar
The Hotel was bustling with action when we went down for breakfast. The Truck Group, Exodus Tours, is leaving, their trip began in Alaska and they’ll end up at Ushuaia in 4 weeks. They have a beautiful sunny morning to set off in. We set off to explore Uyuni. As we walked a French couple, Frederick and Laurence, spotted the maps on our jackets and asked if we were cycling. They’ve been riding their bikes here and there for almost 2 ½ years in an around the world pattern. Like others we’ve met they started this final leg of their journey in Alaska, in late fall. They too have stories of cold and snow. They’re shoe stringing and proud of it, working hard to find the least expensive way to see this wonderful world. They rode across the Salar getting here but admit it wasn’t easy. Their story about the wear and tear on their equipment, the 80 Ks without being able to sit to rest and the look of their shoes convinced us that we don’t want to cycle across. We made a date to dine together, tonight.
So, with our no cycling on the Salar plan we set off to find a ride across. One Tour Agency offered to take us for 150. When I pulled out 150 Bolivianos the girl asked if this was a deposit? “What, we thought you said 150”? Big misunderstanding, they were talking US Dollars. No deal! A stop at an Airline office, Aero Sur. They have a wonderful poster of a DC3 flying over the Salar de Uyuni. Asked and they agreed to take us out to the Museo de Salar then back to Colchani and help us find a place to stay. Aldo and his wife Lidia sounded completely confident and the price, 300 Bs or $37.50 US for the day. Simon will drive and says that he knows El Salar very well. E bought and scheduled to meet at the Hotel at 9:30 in the morning.
For me, another day at our keyboard. Cat hit the Internet and found 140 messages waiting for her attendance. As I typed I kept an eye open for interesting sights on the street below our window. Merchants, buyers, locals, cyclists, anything of interest. As I said before, these people are the most interesting we’ve encountered since Masaai Mara in Africa.
As agreed, we met Frederick and Laurence near the clock tower and walked together to last night’s restaurant. As we entered Ryan and Jayne passed and bid us goodbye. They’re moving on in the morning. This is really the place of tourists.
We, the 4 intrepid cycle tourists, enjoyed an evening of “Tales of the Trail”. There is no greater joy than sharing stories with those who have been there and done that. Frederick and Laurence have chosen a life style similar to that of our friends, Tim and Cindie. They live on little, camp a lot, cycle hard and enjoy the hardships. They have 5 months to get to Ushuaia before their time and money run short. Cat say’s, “They’re tough”!
As we walked together toward our Hotel we promised to keep in touch via Internet and meet again somewhere, sometime. It was 11:30 by the time we pulled the covers back on our tiny bed.
January 20, 2005
Uyuni to Colchani Via Jeep
Simon was a little early but we were ready, we’d packed and moved the bikes to the lobby before breakfast. It’s cool, almost cold and overcast. A few drops of rain were threatening to ruin Market Day. The vendors began setting at 6:30 AM and were the reason we were set to go early. The street is now full of booths packed with everything from fruit to nuts and then some. Cat took a quick walk and bought Saltenos, they’re like empanadas but stuffed with veggies instead of meat. A bargain at 8 for 8 Bolivianos. (8 for $1.00) She also grabbed bread, cheese and bottled water. She has us prepared to camp tonight, just in case the Colchani Hostal doesn’t materialize.
Meanwhile, Simon and I loaded the bags and bikes into and on the 4WD. By the time Cat got back we were ready to roll. It’s 30 Ks to Colchani. Simon pulled up in front of the Hotel de Salar, Playa Blanca and went in to see if we could stay tonight. The place is completely constructed of salt. We took a look inside and loved the place. Simon reserved a room and assured us that the lady would cook dinner. Things are falling into place, nicely.
Salar de Uyuni
The Lago is an eerie sight. Building, other jeeps, trucks and buses in the distance seem to be suspended in space. The entire surface is covered with water at this time of the year. We’d thought we’d get some pictures riding on dry salt but if we do ride it’ll be in water thick with salt. The Museo de Salar, the old Salt Hotel lies directly ahead and looks like it is floating. We pulled up there, used the restrooms then did take the bikes off the roof, load the bags and do a Hollywood photo shoot. Simone did the camera work, we feel he did a great job, what do you think?
The sunlight is so intense that we have to shade our eyes even though we are wearing sunglasses. On the way back the 4WDs coming toward us plowed through the water like boats. Our deal with Simone was to explore and cruise the Salar until 5:00 PM however, it was only 1:00 and we’d seen it all. No need for us quick studies to just drive around. So, we went to Hotel de Sal, unloaded and paid Simone. As he drove away we put the bags on the bikes then pushed them inside and into our room.
There is a kid, about 4 years old, who Cat calls a real hell raiser. He calls himself “Van Dam”, the karate champ. This guy is the Karate Kid. He pushes and the other kids and punches at anything that moves, including us. He’s really cute but his actions aren’t. With the bikes in the room we learned that our great price of 100 Bolivianos, about $12.25, though it includes dinner and breakfast it doesn’t include hot water. Oh, and the toilet has to be flushed with a bucket of water. I lay back and snoozed, Cat estimated our mileage to Cuzco and read about things between here and there.
I woke up and went out to check the weather. It was blustery and large raindrops were hanging in the cold air. AS I pushed the door open a guy with bags on his bike rode past. I ran out and shouted. It’s Matias, remember, the guy we talked with in Tupiza as we lifted our bikes up on the 4WD? He and Peter, the Austrian, had cycled up, out of Tupiza. It took them 2 days to reach the summit. Then down into the riverbed and Matias gave it up. His bike is covered with thick mud. He said that they pushed for hours before a jeep came along. He waved them down, Peter refused to give up. They dropped him in Uyuni and he immediately caught another ride that just dropped him off, here.
He wanted to find a cheap Hotel but confirmed with a guy standing nearby that this is the only Hotel. It’s more than he wants to spend. He is thinking of camping but eyeing the dark, cloudy sky. He rode back to the service station to hose down his bike.
We watched through the window as he struggled in the cold wind. He came back and made a deal to stay. He was as intrigued as we with the construction. He even licked the wall to confirm that the blocks are truly salt. We chatted a little, he stowed his bike and asked me to take a picture of him with his bike in the room. Cat spent the rest of the afternoon under the covers, resting and reading.
Matias decided to spend the little extra and join us for dinner rather than cook. The bench and table are both made of salt and cold to sit on. Soup, the first course, Soup, was great. Then, the main course, rice, fried eggs, French fries and tomato. Matias went to the kitchen and asked if there would be meat. Even we understood the “NO” that rang out from the woman’s lips.
Matias is determined to ride the Salar tomorrow. It’s his dream. He’s chosen a tough row to hoe and my Mother used to say. Alone, in water all day long, in the cold. It’s an 80 K ride, we wished him well. We have our own cross to bear, as they say. It’s at least 80 Ks of dirt and rock for us.
Dinner and small talk ended at 8:00 PM. Nothing else to do, we all headed for the salt beds.
Cat read in the description of this place in our Lonely Planet. The description was “The Hotel of Salt where they treat you like dirt”. Actually the gal, Van Dam’s Mom was pretty nice but shy due to language difficulties.
January 21, 2005
Colchani to Rio Mulato
OUR MOST DIFFICULT AND TRYING DAY
Matias was up early and almost out the door when we stepped out our door for breakfast. We wished him well, he’ll need it. A lonely day, 80 Ks in salt water. Dry but still cold, we dressed in our thermal tops, shorts and leggings. Breakfast was bread, margarine and coffee. Not much and not good.
Simone told us that the road would be plano, flat. We passed by the toll cable and the guys waved us through. As we left the Pueblo two women were herding Llamas toward us. I stopped and pulled the camera out but the one nearest began to yell and lope toward us. I took one picture as she advanced then raised the camera for a second. She was close, I caught her in action, and she was angry and demanding money. I tried to explain that I just wanted a picture of Llamas but she continued to rant then grabbed the map case and began pulling at it. I held up two fingers and said, “Paz y Amor”, peace and love. She stared up at me then took a step back. Surprise, she had a baby in the bundle on her back. I mounted and rode away as she stood staring.
The road is soft dirt and rock or mud. Mud puddles accented by washboard surface. It was a struggle that became even more difficult as the plano began to pitch up and down. Three cars and two trucks passed, we found a shelter from the gathering wind and hunkered down for lunch. Saltenas, bread, cheese and the stick of salami we’ve carried since Humahuaca.
Onward, under thickening clouds with lightening off in the distance. We cycled steadily until after 5:00 PM then stopped at a farm and asked if we could camp. The woman was nice but we were having communication problems. She leaned on the adobe fence as we discussed where to set up. I asked how many kilometers to Rio Mulato and she surprised us, “Cinco kilometers”? Only 5 kilometers, we cold easily ride that. Cat was skeptical, she figured it was more like 20? We decided to move on.
Now the lightening was flashing down, closer and closer and the ensuing thunder was beginning to roll around us. A truck came from behind and we waved it down. The driver told us that Rio Mulato is still 20 Ks. Quite disheartening, so we asked for a ride. Yes, he jumped down from the cab and told us to take the bags off and throw them up to the dozen or so guys in the back. No, we hated the idea fearing that they could just get our bags aboard and drive away. After a discussion about how to lift them over the 12-foot high sideboards we told them we would continue to cycle.
Now we were in the middle of nowhere and still 2 hours or more from Rio. We began looking for any sheltered spot off the road to camp. Ahead, the truck had stopped. We approached cautiously and found the driver underneath, foxing something. They all waved and called out encouragement as we passed. Onward, I wanted to get beyond their visual before stopping. It was a push up two steep hills with no good possibilities for a campsite. Topping our, we stopped a car coming toward us. The guy told us that it’s only 7 Ks to Rio and all downhill. We can make it!
He was right about the down, thank goodness, but the distance was way wrong. Once again our truck friends pulled past. The driver told us that it was still 10 Ks to town. The sun was setting and the clouds brought early darkness. Then came the rain, drizzle at first then it began to pour then came the hail. Now, the lightening was nearby and the thunder almost deafening. Lights ahead heartened us until we got near enough to see that it was our friends in the truck and two others. They were trying to upright a crashed truck lying on its side. We rode over the cables and onward in the darkness.
Bike Down in the River!
The rain and hail pelted down, we hated to stop but needed lights. Mine worked fine, Cat’s wouldn’t fire up? She had to follow me and try not to hit too many hoes or puddles. Thinking that it couldn’t get worse, we came to a river. The road seemed to break off in both directions. It looked too deep to go straight ahead so we angled off to the right. The flow of water widened and looked a little more shallow so I pushed in. Cat wanted to follow but I yelled out for her to wait until I cross. Losing one bike to the water would be terrible, both would be a disaster. The water roe as I pushed, It was over my boots then almost up to my knees. I found the far bank but couldn’t get footing. Struggling, I lost it and the back bags went down into the muddy stream.
I couldn’t lift it so left it there and went back to help Cat. She pushed from the back, I from the handlebars. At the mud bank we both struggle, slipped and slid but finally with complete exertion, got it up and over. Then back to my poor drowning steed. It’s heavier and the rush of water made it tough to lift upright. Both of us were completely fatigued but continued with the struggle. Finally I got the front wheel up, we rested then boosted the rear up. The bike fell over but, it was up out of the water.
Now we had to make our way back toward where we thought the road should be. It was so dark that our little light didn’t penetrate. All the lights in Rio Mulato are out and it’s pitch black. Then, our friends in the truck came to waters edge and forded. We waved frantically and they pulled to a stop then told us to walk in front, in the lights of the truck. Beginning to pass dark little houses, the driver honked and pulled past almost knocking me down.
Eloy, An Angel in the Darkness
Cat was beyond weepy when we spotted a candle in the window of a small house. We pushed to it and she was calling out for help when a guy rode up on a bicycle. He was getting soaked, we tried to ask for the Hotel but he insisted that we follow to his Casita. It was the next place. he unlocked the door and pushed his bike inside. We hesitated because ours are loaded with mud. He motioned to come in.
Cat had the shakes, the guy, Eloy, went out the door and come back with an armload of blankets. We got cat seated and wrapped in them then he got another for me. He too wrapped up, we all three sat and shivered. It wasn’t until we settled in that we realized that Eloy has only one arm and one leg. How did he ride the bike?
He has a little propane burner, we got our pots out and I made soup by candlelight. . The three of us sat and sipped the hot spot of nourishment and tried to talk. He is 31 years old and was in a train accident 5 years ago. What a positive attitude, he lost his right arm and left leg yet manages on his own, even works with the Pueblo Bus system.
Ustedes Dormir in Mi Cama!
It’s 11:00 PM and we’re tired, bone tired from the physical and mental exertion as well as the hour. I asked again about the Hotel and Eloy made it clear, in Spanish, that we would sleep in his bed tonight. We objected but he said that he ahs another room in the back. Too tired to argue and not anxious to go back out in the pouring rain, we thanked him, hugged him and took the candle into his bedroom. Rather than sleep in his bedding we pulled the sleeping bags out and lay them atop his covers. They were so toasty, almost too warm. We drifted off midst dreams of warmer places.
January 22, 2005
Rio Mulato to Challapata
100 Kilometers, 4 Hours on a Local Bus
(25 Ks, 15-Miles Per Hour)
Up early, we wanted, no needed to get into our things, sort out the wet and clean up the bikes. Eloy who had joked that he had to go to work at 5:30 AM came in at 7:00. Surprisingly, none of the sensitive things like cameras or the computer had taken water. They all felt dry and worked, hallelujah! Even our clothing, in fact everything except Cat’s notebook escaped unharmed. It was only slightly damp, we discovered a hole in the bag it was riding in.
The 3 of us walked to the Hotel, which is also the only restaurant in town. The street is still a sea of mud but the power is back on and the sun is shining. Trying to order we heard the tour leader of a German group speak in English as they entered. He was kind enough to help us order and confirm that we should be back here at 2:00 PM for a ride to Challapata. Eloy ordered his breakfast then had to hobble next door to meet a bus. His eggs were cold by the time he returned.
A couple came in and took the table next to us. Tony, from Ireland and Claire from San Francisco, have been traveling in a 4WD for 17 months. We moved to their table and traded travel stories. They’ve come down much of the route we hope to cycle and had lots of stories, some good some no so. They did mention that they are thinking of moving to Buenos Aires. Of course we suggested that they explore Mendoza before making their decision. Tony confirmed, again, with the Restaurant Manager that we should be here by 2:00 to catch the bus to Challapata.
We 3 walked back to Eloy’s and set about opening bags and checking our equipment.
All bags emptied, Cat and Eloy hosed them down then we hung them up to dry. Eloy took pride and pains in washing the mud off the bikes. He loves bikes, he has two but now can only ride the one set for his prosthesis. Once the bikes were clean and drying he brought out pictures, the before and after accident series. He was in the Military and had photos of his Martial Arts training and a Certificate showing that he’d won a competition. Also, pics of him racing on his bicycle. He was very athletic, maybe that’s what makes him work so hard at being independent? He lives alone, cooks for himself, even has a garden in the back yard.
What About a Toilet?
Funny, I asked him last night about a toilet. He has none. When I asked where he goes he opened the door, pointed into the black night full of rain and said, “Libre”, it’s free, go anywhere. So, once during the night I stepped out the door and went in the dark and rain. This morning I told him I needed to go, again. He led me around the side of this little house and pointed to a spot. Later, he went to work while we finished cleaning the bikes and his floor. I had the extreme need to go, #2. I went to the back yard, found a quiet corner, dug a hole and did my duty then covered it. Sort of like a cat, right Cat?
Back To The Scene Of The Disaster
Wanting to see the river and shoreline in daylight, Cat and I walked while Eloy rode his bike back. The water has receded but is still running pretty high. The proof being that a 4WD was stuck in the middle with water running above the door line. The place looks a lot less threatening in the light of day. Eloy pointed out the Railroad bridge and said how, if we’d known, we could have pushed upstream and crossed there.
Back at his casita, we loaded the bikes then all rode back to the Hotel for lunch. We leaned the bikes and Eloy went to his desk to check a bus in our out. As we stood, waiting for him to join us for lunch the Restaurant Manager came out and made it clear that the bus Eloy was working with was the only bus to Challapata until 11:00 PM, tonight. We pushed the bikes over and questioned Eloy. Yes, it was true, if we wanted to go today it was now or never. We got the feeling that Eloy knew but wanted us to stay. He really is a wonderful person but we want to get to a Hotel and get some real rest.
Once Again, Eloy To The Rescue!
As soon as he knew that we really wanted to go, Eloy took charge of the situation. The bus was ready to pull out but he stopped it. I unloaded the bags and pitched them up to the guy on top then handed up the bikes. Eloy took Cat in and helped her get tickets. When we boarded the only two seats available were above the wheel well. I didn’t think my legs would fit. Again, Eloy pulled through, he asked the guy seated in the next row to change with us. He did so without a complaint. We stood I the aisle and hugged, long close hugs. I slipped 100 Bolivianos into Eloy’s hand. He shook his head but I just closed my hand around his and hugged him again. We called him Eloy, our Angel.
The bus seats were full then a stream of people, most of them women with those wonderful little hats sitting on top of their heads, came aboard, through their backpack bags on the floor and sat on them. Crammed beyond capacity, the old bus lurched and we were off. Eloy banged on the bus below our window then stood waving as we pulled away. Our hearts are full of love for this guy, he has little but is willing to give and share freely.
Our fellow passengers stared at us then drifted off into conversation. A little later little plastic bags of green leaves started coming out of secret pockets in dresses and pants. Soon most had a ball in their cheeks then the conversations really got lively. One gal up front seemed to have lots to say and what she said made the others laugh. Titters flittered throughout the old bus as it lurched along.
Eloy hade been right about the road, too. It was full of huge mud puddles, some as wide as the road itself. Then there were the rivers, 4 of them. Each was more than 2 feet deep at the crossing. As we neared a town where our map says the road makes a turn the river widened and the current swirled angrily. We stared out the window, looking for a bridge but there was none. Then, the driver gunned the engine and headed straight for the torrent. There were some iron beams marking the route, he steered directly into the water and followed them. It must have been 3 feet deep, or more. I felt the same sort of fear that I had known in Nepal when we rode elephant back across a swollen river. Neither the elephant nor the bus rolled over in their respective rivers but the thoughts of drowning or being crushed were the same.
After one particularly rough crossing when the driver had to hold his foot to the floor he pulled up and his assistant opened the engine cover to let off a little steam. The passengers took the stop as a cue to step out and relieve themselves. Easy for the men, they just walk out onto the altiplano, face the mountains in the distance and go. Now we saw the versatility of the women’s full skirts and layers of slips. They sort of lift up then squat down and the skirts cover them. When they rise up the only evidence is a little puddle. In a way they remind us of ballerinas, the skirts like tutus, have a graceful look even as they perform this act of necessity.
It was hot in the cramped bus and there was a battle about whether to keep the only working window open or not. The two older gals across the aisle from us would yell out and the boy would close it then a guy across would squawk and he’d push it back. The joy dispensed from the little bags began to wear off and soon most of the leaf chewers were sleeping.
The bus pulled through the narrow, busy street of Challapata and into a Bus Station area. It was teaming with people, visions of our bad experience made us very wary. Cat stood the guard on our accumulating pile of bags as the boys handed them down and I dropped them near her. The crowd did gather around and stare but they kept their distance. A couple of boys touched the tires to feel the pressure. One even picked up one of our helmets. He immediately sat it down when Cat asked him to. There was no threat, only well-wishers as we pushed past them once the bikes were loaded.
No Room In The Inns
Down the street and into the busy square, it’s market day and the place is alive with sellers and buyers. The women are as colorful as the goods they sell. Everything from electronics to coca leaves. We pushed around and found a Pension. I stood the guard while Cat checked. Completely booked, the gal pointed down the street. I watched people and our things while Cat went searching. Three more places and three more “No Vacancies”. Each sent her in another direction. She came back and we pushed down the street away from the square. Again, no room but they too sent us on, to the lower square. There we found Residential Virgen del Carmen. They did have a place. It was ground floor and we could take the bikes inside. The downside, a shared toilet and shower. The shower is the type that Claire had called “Suicide Shower” because it’s electrically heated, 220 volts and water, a dangerous combination. And, in this one you have to straddle the toilet while showering. So, we showered and even though the water is a trickle it was hot and felt great to wash the dirt and mud of Rio Mulato off.
With only a package of cookies split between us on our bus ride, we were starving. The Hotel Clerk suggested a Pollo Roti just at the corner. Chicken and chips sounded good and not having to go searching sounded great. They had a big screen TV playing a video of Jon Claude Van Dam. The sound shook the tiny place, the actors lips moved slightly differently from the Spanish that spewed from their mouths. We thought of our little buddy back at the Hotel de Sal.
The food, roasted chicken, rice and fries, was good and ample. Even the local beer tasted okay once we got past the foam. Then, even though we had been told that the meal would be 6 Bolivianos the gal told us ours was 12, each? After watching others pay 6 we objected. The gal got very huffy and spit Spanish at us in a torrent too tough for us to understand. She even refused to serve us a second beer? We stood our ground then she brought a chicken leg out and indicated that 6 Bs was for a leg or thigh. I asked how they cut the breast but this only made her more angry sounding. She began talking to the crowd then a drunk guy stepped inside and sort of stood tall like he wanted to challenge me? We gave in, grumbled as we paid and swore we’d never be back.
When our friend at the Hotel asked how dinner was we told him the story. He dispatched his son to take us back and straighten the mess out. The boy stood as tall as his 4’ 9” allowed but the gal there really talked down to him. He was sullen as we walked back to the safety of Virgen del Carmen. (The amount is only $3.00 more than we should have paid but it’s the principle of the thing. They call it GRINGO prices.
The bed was ours by 9:00 PM and it didn’t take long to hit slumber land. It’s been a long, tough couple of days.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Living Like Locals in Challapata
The Aymara, Quechua and Memories of Africa
Early up, I had my first shave in 3 days then set off on a quest for bananas. There were no Fruta Mercados nearby, I took a van cab back to the Main Square. Funny how this evokes memories of Africa. They cram people in just the same and the price for the ride is only 2 Bs or about 25 cents, similar to Africa. The vans are a little better maintained here but the theory of the “One Mores”, always room for one more, is definitely the same. I found bananas and juice after a short search then took a real taxi back. A splurge, at 3 Bs or 38 cents. There is more than just a price and taxi similarity here. The women in their outfits with the little derby hat perched on top their heads, and the colorful outfits of both men and women remind us of the different tribes or families of Africans, too. Especially the Masaai with their colorful blankets. A lot of the people here are herdsmen, like Africans. Yes, this culture is as unique and interesting as any of the people and places we visited in Africa. These Indigenous People, the Aymara and Quechua and their earlier struggle with European Colonization also runs in a pattern similar to that of Africa.
Cat has made a deal with Luis, the son of the Manager, to have our laundry done. He volunteered to hand wash the mud and sweat out of them for only 3 Bs, less than 50 cents. We paid him 5 Bs and he was ecstatic. (about 65 cents) He went right to work on the second floor balcony, scrubbing and wringing. Soon he had decorated the covered courtyard with our colorful cloths.
Wanting a local experience, we taxied back to the Plaza after eating our bananas. Another real quest that took us completely around the Square again. No one has coffee, well no one until a nice lady in a little booth beckoned. She had cups of hot, sweet stuff that resembled coffee and a deep fried bread that was sweet and delicious. Sitting at the tiny, dirty table and watching other come and go was almost like getting a floor show for the same low price as breakfast. We loaded up on a second cup, second fried bread and another half hour of people watching.
Another quest, this time for an Internet Café. They have no such thing here in Challapata. After following several leads and finding the remains of what was an Internet shop now defunct, we gave up the search. I went back to the room and our computer, Cat taxied back to the main square. She walked and enjoyed feeling a part of the culture and their market day. Even witnessed an event at the Church, men with armfuls of flowers led a procession down the steps and away? Could they be going to the cemetery or a wedding? She did find a bike shop and purchase 3 water bottles to replace the one I lost and the two that have finally worn out. They’ve developed holes that spray us in the face every time we take a drink.
Seeing the women in their traditional skirts with layers of slips made us wonder why they are all so stout. Cat walked and watched as they sat in their booths, sipping soup thick with cornstarch or eating meat heavy with fat. She walked the same rows of booths and saw the same women eating ice cream cones or handfuls of colored cereal like it was popcorn. In fact, they are constantly snacking.
Wanting local faire, Cat finally settled on Saltenos, the dough with veggies inside. They seem safe, there are other great looking things but the fear of African Guff Guff held her back. She brought them back to the room with soft drinks. Too cold to sit inside, we moved to a sunny spot under our drying laundry.
Another quest, for Cat, a store to store search for wine. They have very little local wines but she did find a bottle of Chilean that we’ve had before. Then a problem, the store couldn’t change her 100 Boliviano bill? The wine is 35 Bs but they didn’t have the difference? She had to walk up and down the street until a friendly Pharmacist agreed to break it for her.
Dinner around the corner and down the street. The husband had told Cat earlier that they would be serving dinner. The wife is pretty direct, they have only fried chicken and chips, more African memories. We settled in, watched the locals and ate. Oh, they had no wine but had no problem with us bringing our own. Dinner only 15 Bs, about $1.95 for the both of us.
Virgen del Carmen and sleep by 9:00 PM.
January 24, 2005
Challapata to Machacamara
With the bikes packed and ready to go before 8:00, we asked Luis, son of the desk clerk, for a place to find breakfast. His choice was down the street but had no coffee, only soup. We walked and explored and found a woman on the sidewalk with coffee and fried bread. Too cold to sit at her rickety table so we took the coffee and bread across the street, into the sun. It wasn’t as good as that of yesterday but not bad. We were on the road by 8:35 AM.
Luis pointed and told us to go straight. It was straight into dirt, rocks and mud. Cat began to fret that we might be stuck in the mud, again. Then a corner, a nice man directed us and we were soon on the highway and headed out of Challapata.
The highway is not only paved, it even has a marked bike lane. There are few cyclists and those who come p from behind seem to want to race with us. They’re all winners, we are semi trucks they’re hot rods. The buses, trucks and cars gave us plenty of room as they passed. They also gave us encouraging honks, waves and shouts. We took a cookie break, sat on the shoulder and enjoyed a rest after two hours.
The terrain is flat the road is climbing slightly. At noon we stopped in a tiny Pueblo, Pazna, hoping for a bowl of soup but no luck, no restaurant. The people in a little store sent us down the road to Los Banos, The Baths. It’s a thermal spa of sorts, sort of dirty looking water in small pools, in small private rooms. A family from Buenos Aires pulled in and took advantage of the therapy. The Dad told us that they have family in La Paz and are headed there for a visit. They had no food but did we did buy soft drinks then sat out front of the interesting looking building and ate our left over Saltenas.
Moving along, we were still hoping for that bowl of soup. Poopo, the next town was off the road to the left. It’s a mining town and the scars of years of work blanket the hillsides. The creek is gray with mine tailings, the scene reminded us of Wallace Idaho, a place my family lived when my Dad was a miner. The smell of the smelter and the look all bare similarity. We passed on Poopo but pulled over and ate a couple more cookies.
The wind was picking up and of course blowing in our faces. We began to tire and struggle. 15 more Ks and we were in Machacamara. A young guy on bike told us that there is a Hospedaje and pointed the way. Another group of old guys sitting and talking confirmed. The place they pointed toward was a restaurante. Asking, the woman there told us that they did have rooms. Ours is large, a double room, she gave us it because we asked about keeping the bikes inside with us. We think it was some of the kids room because a girl came out carrying an armload of clothing then back to make the bed.
In the restaurant, we leaned the bikes while the girl made up the room. There are 3 people in the place, drinking beer and watching music DVDs. A couple of young boys were chasing each other around and occasionally dousing each other with big squirt guns or water balloons. (This is our first glimpse of Carnaval and won’t be our last. Splashing water seems to the way many celebrate.) Lorna, the Mom, make up some fried egg sandwiches which we enjoyed with a beer.
Cat wrote in her journal, I cat napped.
Dinner, cordero, (lamb) fries and beer, yes they have no wine in Machacamara. The lamb was tasty, what little meat there was on the bones. The boy who had been in battle with water guns put on a DVD, Men in Black but it was dubbed in Spanish.
The bed sagged badly and it was cold but we had lots of heavy blankets. There is no bath or shower and the toilet is a trip across the courtyard.
January 25, 2005
Machacamara to Oruro
Our nightly visits to the toilet were a little challenging, it rained and we had to dash across the dark courtyard to the smelly little room.
Breakfast, more of the good egg sandwiches washed down with coffee this morning. The total cost, for room, lunch, dinner and breakfast, 107 Bs or about $13.50 US.
We cycled away in a light drizzle and moderate headwind. The road still had the marked path and the surface is quite good. Again, we are on a gradual upgrade. There are a lot of buses on the road this morning. The outskirts of Oruro are Industrial and not very pleasant looking. Then we came upon an obstacle, hundreds of trucks parked side by side along the road. Part of the ongoing Nation wide protest against the Privatization of Gasoline and the higher prices that it’s produced.
The center of Oruro is small cobblestone, one-way streets. Not without a certain amount of charm, it’s tough to ride with the thick traffic and impossible to push on the tiny sidewalks. At last, the central plaza. As we pulled up to seek the Tourist Office a guy, Roberto, came up with a large video camera on his shoulder. He did a little interview but was disappointed that we knew so little of Carnaval and the big celebration here in Oruro. He was quick with the questions and again disappointed that we spoke so little Spanish. He did bring back memories of Willy-O on the Radio in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He too was a one man show, handling the camera, mic and asking the questions.
There are rows of bleachers lining the streets, as they prepare for Carnaval. Still 10 days away but the excitement is building. He told us that they practice the parade without costumes starting next week. Pretty interesting phenomenon, the same Catholic basis as Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Live it up then give it up for Lent on the day before Ash Wednesday.
The nice fellow who, like Roberto, couldn’t believe that we didn’t speak better Spanish, directed us toward the only 4 Star Hotel in town, the Villa Real San Felipe. Unfortunately it’s up a steep hill and several blocks from the center. Not an easy trip, up and on cobblestones. Sorry at first that we pushed up to it, the staff and nice room made up for the lack of location. A young guy greeted us and spoke great English. Sure that he was our host, he pointed out features of the Hotel that made a difference like unlimited Internet access and a refrigerator in the room. Then, he excused himself and disappeared. Apparently he’s a former employee just here visiting friends.
Hungry, we walked back to the Plaza, found hamburgers and an Internet Café. Reading and writing took up most of the rest of the afternoon. Oh, we did find a nice little wine store and splurge on a bottle of Bolivian Grand Premier Chardonnay. 80m Bs, almost $10.00 US. The usual cost of lesser wines here is around 24 Bs or $3,00, when we can find it.
The shower is another definite value here, strong pressure and plenty of hot. Cracker, cheese and a TV Movie, this is livin’.
Dinner at La Cabana as recommended in the Lonely Planet. Steaks were very good, the wine wasn’t. Maybe we spoiled ourselves with the really nice Chardonnay?
Back to our nice little lair and another movie. A late to bed night.
January 26, 2005
A Day In Oruro
Up late to a nice little included breakfast. The staff took our soggy boots to the rooftop to dry in the sun. We got most of our cloths ready then grabbed a cab to the center. The laundry that the Tourist Office had recommended was a Dry Cleaners. The nice lady there gave us the bad news, no Lavanderia in Oruro.
After searching for an hour through the crowded Market and Central streets we gave in and had lunch. Saltenas at another guide book recommended place. Pretty darned good.
Back at Hotel San Felipe, we stuffed our grimy, muddy clothing into our bike bags. I worked on the Photos and Journal while Cat did her journal and watched Sit-coms.
Dinner at a place recommended by the Hotel staff. A short walk there and a nice bottle of wine with our Lamb dish for 2. The meat was chewy but full of flavor. The potatoes and veggies were great. The place is upscale and filled in with influential looking folks.
Another movie, another late night for me, Cat dozed off during.
January 27, 2005
Oruro to Caracolles
Knowing that our ride is a short one today, we dawdled over breakfast and enjoyed meeting David, Dean of the Catholic University in La Paz. He invited us to call on him if we need anything during our time there.
It was after 10:00 AM by the time we got the bikes out. I changed a broken spoke on the sidewalk then we rolled down into town at 10:30. Getting out of Oruro was easier than getting in. The road is flat and though the traffic is heavy they are mindful of us.
9s019 Birthday Street 9s020 Micro
People are busy all along the road, cleaning up old posters off buildings and painting curbing and light poles. There is a huge miners hat at the west entry into town. It was covered with workers, painting and cleaning. This Carnaval thing has a good affect.
The road is flat and fast, we were in Caracolles in less than 3 hours. A busy bus stop restaurant drew us in for lunch. The place was packed, we leaned the bikes outside and waited for a table near the window. The bikes were a curiosity to many. Several kids looked at the maps but didn’t bother anything. Men would stand and discuss the design or our LandRiders, the number of water bottles and the tires. The only time they touched them was as they talked about the tires. Each had to press to feel the high pressure. Many gave us thumbs ups or hand clasps to show their enthusiasm for cycling and our effort.
A couple of people recommended an Alojamiento, the best in town. Another told us of a place nearby. Checking the closest, it was pretty minimal and the toilet was awful. We rode on back only to find that there was no one there. A boy at the store next door told us that the owners were in Oruro but would be back, soon. A young guy, Alberto, rode up on a bike and confirmed. He knows the people and says they went shopping but will be back about 5:00 PM. Nice guy, he has worked as a guide and speaks some English. As we talked the wind came up the sky darkened and it began to rain. Alberto left us for shelter across the street. We huddled under the eves until lightening began to strike nearby, the thunder crashed then hail as big as marbles began to pelt us.
The young boy at the market invited us inside and got chairs. We sat shivering until 5:00 PM then decided to go back to the first place we’d seen. With the bikes stashed inside the room had little room left for us. No shower, we just put another layer of cloths on and went up front for dinner. Several rooms are filled with Road Workers most of them were in the restaurant. Wondering what to order we looked around and found that everyone had the same plate, Chicken, fries, rice and soup. The manager is a nice guy, he got our order but when it was delivered we felt like the chicken was too small. He helped us order two additional legs.
It was only 8:30 when we got back to the room. Nothing to do to wile away the hours so it was early to bed.
January 28, 2005
Caracolles to Patacamara
Breakfast at 7:00 AM and the room was already full of guys in their orange overhauls. They all had meat, rice and fries. We asked and the nice guy was able to get us fried egg sandwiches. The workers had priority so it took a while to cook our special order. Then, the bill. The room, dinner and breakfast cost 64 Bs or about $8.00.
The road starts with an up then a continuous series of ups and downs. This is altiplano, the scenery is boring to say the least. A cookie stop after 2 hours cycling then we past the Road Crew we’d been living with since last night. They waved and shouted out encouragement. They’re painting the white line along our bicycle trail on the shoulder. With a little help from friendly wind we made great time and stopped for lunch with 60 Ks under our wheels. A quick stop for lunch at a roadside place. The restaurant is upstairs, we had to leave the bike downstairs but a couple of little kids volunteered to watch them. No menu, we got to sample of their daily fare. Soup, beef and rice with a little salad. Not bad and a great value at only $1.25 for both.
The couple, Javier and Sofia, who own the restaurant were interested in us and wanted to know where we’re going. As I paid the bill I noticed a picture of a couple on their wedding day. Under the photo it said, Julio and Eteleina, Achacachi, 28 Enero, 1960. I asked and Javier told us that it is his Mother and Father on their wedding day. They were surprised when I noted that today is Mom and Dad’s 45th anniversary. I told them about our Daughter Lori who was born today, 42 years ago. I’m not sure they got that part of the conversation?
With only 21 Ks to go, the road took a downhill turn. As we flew along a guy called out, he was working on a flat tire on his motorcycle. He needed a tire pump but ours is too small. Roberto is from Brazil. He and two other friends are on a circular ride into Argentina, through Bolivia, Peru and back to Brazil. We left him, he was sure that his friends will come back for him and they have a pump.
Moving along, we met Roberto’s friends and waive them over and told them where they’d find him. Patacamara is a one street town and as it turns out, a one Hotel town, too. It was 4:00 PM when we finally resolved ourselves to that fact and took a room at the Hotel Santa Elenita. It’s a simple room but the bikes fit inside and we have a shower. Well, a suicide shower as Claire had called them. Direct wired to 220 Volt that dares you to reach out, touch it and find eternity.
A relaxing beer in the Hotel Bar, they have no wine in Patacamara. The Brazilian Motorcyclists came in, at least tow of them, Roberto has a bad case of Altitude Sickness. His buddies, Ramiro and Xentra sat and talked with us for a few minutes. That is, Ramiro talked, Xentro speaks no English. He is quite different from the Roberto and Ramiro. Almost looks like a Hells Angel. Ramiro told us how they met when Xentro’s motorcycle broke down in their hometown. He stayed with them while repairing and they began to plan this trip. While we talked Xentra took great joy in describing, to the waitress, how Roberto was back in the room, throwing up. Ramiro took the advice of the waitress and grabbed a handful of crackers for Roberto.
The shower was a disaster, it sprays all over the room and we fear trying to adjust or even touch it. During our showers it began to pour rain and it poured through the roof adding to the puddle the shower was creating. Well, it was wet and hot.
For dinner we chose to walk down the street to a Chicken Rotisserie place. There are two side by side, we chose the warmer one. The chicken and fries were greasy but tasty. We had an hor d’ouvere, a hotdog with fries and cheese while they prepared the main course. Cat was disgusted with the thought but tasted and then ate her fair share.
We were tucked into bed, listening to the rain beat down on the plastic roof, by 9:15 PM.
January 29, 2005
Patacamaya to La Paz
101 TOUGH Kilometers
Awoke early to a bright and sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky. Tried to get breakfast at the Hotel but there was no one around. The girl told us that they would be open at 7:00 and it’s now 7:00 AM. We couldn’t even get inside. The gate was unlocked so we went out onto the highway. People were stirring and beginning their day. A little place across the street, Copacabana was open so we crossed. A little rough around the edges but they made a great egg sandwich.
The bikes loaded and we pushed off through the gate at 8:00 AM. Once out of town, the day was a beauty. We’re in a valley with green farm fields on both sides with towering mountains as backdrops. The road began to pitch up and down, little ups at first then stiffer, steeper as we rode. We had to walk a couple of them.
Jimmy & Carrie
A nice looking Hotel in the middle of nowhere drew us in. they offer no food? So, we bought cokes and cookies then sat and ate on the steps. A couple of young boys began to talk with us, asking for money. We made a little joke of it and playfully told them, “no”. They didn’t give up easily.
Moving onward 45 Ks and we found nothing, no stores or restaurants. We ate food from our bags, cheese, tuna and bread while sitting roadside.
Cat was beginning to tire. Another stop, at a small shop for cookies then another climb and we could see El Alto, the town above La Paz. It was an ask, ask, ask trying to find an Alojamiento. We both felt too tired to climb what we thought was a big hill ahead. Both of us envisioned switchbacks and pushing. El Alto is a new town. Just 10 years there was little here and now it’s home to more than a million.
We did witness a Carnaval Parade. I started taking pictures from afar with the telephoto. It ran out of Memory Stick space so I leaned the bikes, Cat stood the guard and I took the other camera up close to the crowd. An interesting custom and the participants are less camera shy than others on the street.
The first Alojamiento we found was on the 3rd floor. Shops at ground floor then up and a bar with loud music on the second. The Hotel took on a look of “House of Prostitution”. The beds are unmade and the blankets look dirty. I asked the guy how late the music would play and he said, “Todo el noche”. (All night) Cat rested and watched the bikes while I explored 2 more of the same. We decided to try to move onward, a woman had told us that there is a nice place near the airport. A guy at a Service Station told us the Airport is just 5 more kilometers.
It’s now 5:30 PM and the rush hour traffic is thick. There are hundreds of Taxi Vans with guys hanging out the side window touting their price and destination. The drivers are very aggressive. They give no quarters, they seem to aim at us rather than give us room. I finally tired of the game and stepped right in front of one and held up my arm in front of his windshield. He smiled, pressed forward until my hand was on the glass then smiled and waved us across. It’s like a game for them?
Another Service Station, and a surprise, the big climb we’ve been expecting is Plano, flat with only a slight incline and now we’re only 3 Ks from the downhill run into La Paz. So tired yet so close, we decided that we had to go for it. Nearing the Toll Gate, we got our first glimpse of the city. It is 400 meters below El Alto in a valley with houses and buildings clinging to its walls. Pretty exciting, we cycled past the Pay Booths and the Police waived to us. A sign makes it clear, “No Biciclettas”, we stopped and looked back at the Police but they seemed to ignore us. Onward, downward, it’s a 12-kilometer run in gathering dusk.
The road is bumpy, the air cold and the traffic remains tough. Horns honk warnings as they careen downward and at times dangerously close to us. Hectic and anxious is how Cat describes it. A Traffic Control car pulled up and the driver shouted something, waved his arm as if to say, “Follow us”, then pulled off the main road up an off ramp. A moment of indecision then we ignored him and sailed on down the highway. They couldn’t back up so we felt safe from ticket or arrest.
All the vans and buses have their lights on now. The street lights are glowing and buildings ate lighting up. Traffic is jammed, grid-locked. It makes riding a little easier for us except when there is a move or opening. They all try to press into tiny openings. I spotted a Policeman trying to direct them and pulled up to ask where we can find a Hotel. He looked at us then pointed toward a nearby green building and said, “Hotel Presidente”.
We decided that we were taking it, no matter what. A one block push to the doors and we were in the lap of luxury. It’s a 5 Star, the nice Desk Clerk, Antonio, welcomed us and gave us a suite so that we could have the bikes in the room. The best news, all this opulence and its only $60.00 US per night. We are at home, for the next few days.
The hot, powerful flow in the shower felt wonderful on our tired, stiff and sore bodies. Then, up to the top floor and a view of the twinkling lights of La Paz. The waiters wear tuxedos, the menu is vast. We chose Pasta with veggies and a Bolivian white wine for dinner at 9:00. This is heaven.
The other bonus, we have CNN as well as some 80 other channels. Larry King’s show was all about Johnny Carson tonight. He has gone on to that big Tonight Show in the sky.
January 30, 2005
Feels Like We’ve Been Hit By a Truck
Sleep, deep-deep sleep. We awoke feeling as if we’d both been hit by trucks. Stiff and sore but another hot, steamy, shower helped.
Our First Pancakes and Maple Syrup in 2 Years!
The 5 Star, included breakfast is fantastic. All the usual buffet fare accompanied by eggs cooked to order then the piece de resistance, pancakes and real maple syrup. We haven’t had pancakes in more than 2 years. Another 5-Star feature, unlimited Internet access. We spent 2 hours sorting and answering messages.
Our list of things to do has grown to an almost unmanageable size. Organizing needed things to buy and things to do along with CNN news took up the balance of the morning. Lazy, we just took the elevator down to the lower restaurant. Cat has been dreaming of Mexican Food and they have Fajitas. I took advantage of their broad spread of local and International food at the buffet. We’re really living it up.
Our afternoon was spent on or near the bed. I did work up some of our new photos and Cat read about places and things to do and see in Peru. It was very relaxing and we needed to relax.
Dinner in the downstairs restaurant, casual and pretty good.
Larry King Live is a continuation of coverage of the Iraqi Elections. The only thing we see positive is that there were only 20 or so people killed. Perhaps because the US Military and the emerging Iraqi National Guard and Police forces had locked down the country for a week before the day of polling?
January 31, 2005
Slowly Healing, Not Enough Air
Another gorging on pancakes and maple syrup then Cat bundled up our dirty cloths, which is basically all our cloths, and walked to a Lavanderia. Up a steep hill that had her huffing and puffing. I lounged and without even moving I huffed and puffed.
Cat’s rounds also included a stop at the Tourist Office and a grocery store. She returned with a map and info about places to stop and stay along our route to the Peruvian border and food for a lunch picnic.
We walked, took a few pictures and searched for a map of Peru. None of the bookstores had one but they all sent us onward to another. Funny you can sense a tension between Bolivia and Peru when asking for a map.
I went back to lounging on the bed, Cat picked up our clean clothing. Dinner down, again. Delicious quesadillas then Lamb for me and Lake Titicaca Trout for Cat.
Larry King was all about the Michael Jackson trial. He is accused of child molesting. The most interesting of the circus atmosphere, for us, is that it’s being held in Santa Maria, just 70 miles from our hometown.
February 1, 2005
Giving in, Getting a Doctor
A night of gasping, I just couldn’t seem to get a deep breath. Restless, tossing and turning, I decided that I should try to see a Doctor. Down for breakfast at 8:00, the same good fare plus new friends. Alan and Barb are from England, they were seated near the window. We introduced ourselves when we went to watched prisoners being led toward the Hall of Justice. They’ve been to Machu Picchu and loved it. They are world travelers and are in awe of our effort.
This Doctor Makes Hotel Calls
On the way out we stopped at the front desk and asked Antonio if he knows a Doctor. He made a call then told us to go wait in the room and a Doctor would be here at 10:00 AM. Sure enough, Dr. Miguel knocked on the door and began a fairly thorough examination. He asked and I had to confess that I’d had pain in my little finger and the one next to it. He listened to my heart, then left and came back in a couple of minutes with a tank of oxygen. He had me take a half pill of the Metaprolol. I usually take ¼ daily at night. He wants me to take ½ pill morning and one at night until we get out of this altitude. Then, he left again and returned with a portable EKG machine.
Hooked up, he ran two strips and pronounced me “Heart Healthy”. So his prescription was, rest and take oxygen every 20 minutes. Oh, the big problem, my blood pressure measured 165 over 95. By the time he had finished the EKG it was down to almost a normal 120 over 80. The rest of my day was spent on the bed.
Cat arranged for soup from room service and we ate in. She had Saltenas. Dr. Miguel came back to check up on me at 3:00 PM. Another check of the blood pressure and he was satisfied that I had experienced Altitude Sickness. What a nice guy, and his charge, $50 US to the Room Call and call back. The oxygen cost an additional $12.00.
Cat spent her afternoon on the Internet. She was able, finally, to get the AO Account cancelled. We had dinner downstairs, again. Good food, no wine for me, Doctors orders. I had a very bland piece of trout, Cat has scallops.
We were both sleeping before Larry King even hit the airwaves.
February 2, 2005
Alan Barb from England
Alex and Beno Arrive
Met Alan and Barb at breakfast again. Really a nice couple. Decided to meet them for a drink tonight upstairs.
Our next task, a trip to the US Embassy. We registered and inquired about my missing Social Security checks. We had checked in Buenos Aires and they are supposed to be checking. Remember, they thought I had earned in 2002? Well, the nice lady, Cecilia, listened, took copies and told us that she’d try to get them to contact us via e-mail.
Pictures for our Angel, Eloy
Our first objective, to find a shop that can print the photos we have on CD. After a couple of places that only sent us on to another, we found the right place. Surprise, it is pretty inexpensive to have prints made. We chose several of the pics of him helping us with the bikes. We know that he will love them, he has his two stacks of before and after accident photos and these will join them. They even did larger than usual prints.
The trip was also a walking and shooting pictures opportunity. Downtown La Paz is an amazing sting or high-rise buildings. All shapes and sizes from modern looking glass exterior to architecturally angular and of course the solid as a rock, concrete monoliths. The sidewalks are abuzz with small merchants selling items of every description. Hundreds of shoeshine boys with their faces covered, looking like bank robbers, call out as we pass, wanting to shine our boots. Curious, we asked why the boys wear the ski masks and were told that they do it for anonymity. Shining shoes is one of the lowliest job and they don’t want to be seen. Funny, they can cover their faces but the black polish ingrained deeply into their hands has to be a dead giveaway, with or without the mask.
We bought supplies and picnicked in the room. Avocado, goat cheese and chicken sandwiches. A new dose of the same old CNN news and rest complimented the fare.
A LandRider Video Shoot
LandRider, the manufacturer of our bikes, has arranged for a guy, Alejandro, from Chile to meet us. We’ve agreed to do another interview for their Infomercial. The bikes are holding up great so it’s easy to say good things about them. We’re not paid but they do provide parts and backup advice when we need it.
Alex called then came to our room with a couple of spare shifters, free wheels. He found 15 Mini CDs for our camera and refused to accept re-imbursement. And, best of all, his wife found a map of Peru and sent it along, too. Cat said, “It’s just like Christmas.”
What a nice guy. He was born in Cuba. His family moved to the States when the Revolution began to affect life there. He and his wife lived in New York for 2 years and loved it but decided it wasn’t a very good place to raise a family. They moved to Maryland and he worked with the company that now owns LandRider. His wife, Veronica, is originally from Chile, they wanted their 2 kids to experience life there. She was offered a position with a company in Chile. They mead the room, he continues to work with LandRider, from afar.
He has a friend, Beno, along as an assistant, they were up at 4:00 AM to catch the plane this morning. Tired, they’ll rest and meet with us later.
Alan and Barb stopped by our room. I had volunteered to take the pictures off their camera, their Memory Stick is full. We had a great time chatting as I copied the pictures onto CDs for them. They are traveling and escaping British weather here in South America. They’ve been to Iguasu, Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu. We were anxious to here their stories of Peru. They will leave tomorrow and be tested by a 24 hour travel day to the Caribbean. We spent 2 hours sharing experiences and pictures.
Dinner in the upstairs, upscale restaurant. Alan and Barb had eaten a sandwich, he’s not feeling well. Cat gave him our 10 day course of Cipro, it sounds like he has a bacterial infection. I had Lake Titicaca Trout, Cat went for the pasta. Alan and Barb insisted on sending a bottle of win to the table and had a drink with us. What nice folks.
Back in our room, we listened with great interest to President Bush deliver his “State of the Union” address. He wants to change, privatize in a way, the Social Security program. None of the changes would affect us but they will affect the kids. I don’t think that investing in the Stock Market is that great an idea? Why not put the current fund or part of it into the Market now rather than sitting on it? He spent a little time on Iraq, touting the election, avoiding talk of the ongoing violence. He is going to take another big dip from his budget to continue to fund his 3 week war that has gotten out of hand.
February 3, 2005
Bikes to a Bike Doctor
After a restless night I decided that I should have another hit of Oxygen. Antonio sent up a fresh tank and I spent 30 minutes on it. Actually felt pretty good after the session. Amazing how lack of air affects us. Cat has been breathless but not to the point that it interferes with her sleep.
Alex and Beno (Bernard) were already at breakfast and asked us to join them. Alex outlined their plans for the Video Shoot and asked us to be ready to spend time with them, tomorrow and the next day. They’ve arranged for a van to take us and the bikes out to Tiwanaku, an important Archeological site about 80 Ks from La Paz. One of the advantages of Hotel Presidente is the view from above. We stood on the 15th floor, looking for sites of interest. They’ll probably settle on the Cathedral San Francisco, just across the street.
Looking for the lay of the land, Alex hired a car and guide to give us a La Paz tour. We asked to tag along since we’re part of the cast. The best of it, for us was an overview. The driver took us up to the rim of the valley. The view of the city is spectacular. Amazing, the rim is 500 meters, 1,650 feet above the city. You feel almost like a passenger in an airplane on final approach.
I spent part of the afternoon on our keyboard playing journal catch up. Cat made a trip to Burger King for lunch things and we ate in our room. She made a Postal run and found it fairly easy. They did make a drug inspection then the normal Aduana and finally a long line and the mail window to send things home and the pictures to Eloy.
Alex helped us find a Bicycle Shop and Taxi that would handle the bikes. Moses, the driver seemed to know the shop. We stacked the bikes on his roof top rack. It was a good thing that Alex was along, he had to guide Moses, even ask people along the street where the bike shop was located. He also spoke with the owner/mechanic and told him what we needed done. Things like cleaning them up, truing the wheels and checking the brakes.
Cat, in the mean time, found some new contact lenses. She uses disposable soft lenses. Often she wears them longer than recommended and was getting worried about finding replacements. There are several places that have them here but the prices vary greatly. She finally bought the low bidder then discovered that they didn’t differentiate the curvature. The gal assured her that they would work. (Just a footnote to say that they do work but at times they will fall our of her eye.)
About 5:00 PM we met Alex and Beno on the 15th, with the bikes and did some interviews. They determined that the lighting was waning so we cut the session shot. Alex did decide to shoot us on the street in front of the Cathedral from a window here, tomorrow.
Dinner down, we both ordered pork, it was delicious. Larry King interviewed the NEW Donald Rumsfeld. He still has a pretty hawkish attitude as far as I’m concerned.
February 4, 2005
A Taping Session at Tiwanaku
Another toss and turn night. Not so much breathless as struggling with a dry, sore throat. We decided that it may be from the oxygen?
Up early for breakfast, we sat at the table nest to the guys and chatted about the plan of the day. Our van arrived and we loaded, bags inside and bikes atop. Tiwanaku is about 80 Ks south west of La Paz. As we rode up the hill, the same one we cycled down last week, we made a decision not to cycle back up. In fact, Alex suggested using Simon again, he’ll call him tonight and set it up. This steep 12 Ks would take 3 to 4 hours for us to push up!
On the way our driver suggested that we stop at an overlook. It was just a view of the altiplano but we needed a break.
The driver accompanied Alex and Beno into the Parque Headquarters. I suggested that they tell them we are shooting video for National TV in the US. They came back shaking their heads, the Staff had refused us access with the bikes. Well they’re pretty proud of this site. The Aymara began to drift in from Peru about 3,500 years ago. They established Tiwanaku as about 1,500 years ago and it became a political and religious center for the next 500 years.
So, the next best thing to taping in the Parque, they drove around to the side gate and gave the guard a little money. He turned his back while we stood next to the stone wall and talked about our trip and the LandRiders. The wind and noise of other tourists gave them a pretty tough time. They did get some pretty good shots of us riding in the streets of the Pueblo.
I began feeling tired and almost sick, with cold and flu like symptoms. I needed food, we cut the session short and headed toward a restaurant. A bowl if soup and a cup of Coca Mate for me. It wasn’t a cure all but I did feel slightly better. They started talking about one more session but I really didn’t feel up to it.
We went back to the Parque, and entered through the front gate. The driver stayed with the van and watched out things. The walls, statues and a subterranean Temple were interesting. There is a rock that was used as a loud speaker. A hole through it that flares out and when you talk or yell through it the sound projects all the way across the complex. I began feeling worse. Cat and I went back to the van, I lay the seats down and relaxed. The guys spent quite a lot of time exploring. I snoozed.
It rained as we drove back to La Paz. That ended the prospects of an in town shoot this afternoon and I was glad. Once we had the bikes and bags inside I went right to the bed. Cat spent her afternoon working her way through the crowded streets, looking and shopping. She picked up a roasted chicken and we ate in the room. Pretty good and for me, better than going out.
I went right back to sleep, Cat watched TV. An interview Snoop Dog who is accused of rape then one with a girl who had her face destroyed in an accident. How they rebuilt it with surgeries and the difficulty of coming back. It didn’t bother my sleep, I needed it.
February 5, 2005
Final Taping, Dinner With Alex & Beno
I awoke feeling rested and better. Still a lingering bronchial wheeze and hacking cough but better. Breakfast with the boys then up again to the 15th for morning light and more interviews. We took a break at 1:00 PM. Cat and I lunched in room, left over chicken.
The streets below our window are full of revelers, it’s the first day of Carnaval weekend. Most of the celebrants are young kids. They get great joy from squirting water or throwing balloons full of it at each other. The street is blocked to cars, Cat walked to the market for Gatorade and water. She took a few hits of water and white foam from spray cans in the hubbub. Loaded with water and food, she taxied back.
At best afternoon light Alex stationed himself at an open window on the 15th floor. We took the bikes down and he shot footage of us riding back and forth in front of Iglesia San Francisco. He came down and we did a few scenes riding through the Plaza and some cobblestone streets.
As we returned to Presidente a guy on a bus reached out and grabbed at my helmet. Not knowing whether he was playing or serious, I slammed on the brakes and tried to grab his arm. Cat was hit again with a spry of water. Alex agreed to meet us later and let us see the video he’s shot.
Back in the room, we relaxed and watched TV. The boys were out on a last minute shopping spree, looking for souvenirs for their families. Alex called at 7:30 but we were too close to dinner to set up and see the footage.
The met us for dinner. It was a nice way to end a couple of days with new friends.
Sunday, February 6, 2005
La Paz to Huatajata
17 Ks in Moses Taxi then 70 Kilometers on the Bikes
Last breakfast with Alex and Beno. Moses pulled up and waited out front while we got the bikes and bags out to the sidewalk. His trunk was half full of liters of soda pop. He tried to adjust but our load was just too much. I began to think that we might have to call for a van when he said, “Dos Minutes, I be back”, then he drove away.
We stood and talked with Alex and Beno, beginning our goodbyes. Parting is always such sweet sorrow. Moses returned with an empty trunk and we loaded his little car to the gills. Bikes aboard, we then did the hugs and promises to see each other again, somewhere, sometime then crammed in with the bags and were off. The little car struggled upward, we were again amazed with the view of La Paz.
Moses drove through El Alto and the nightmare traffic then we chose a quiet spot to unload. He wanted us to take another picture of him but the cameras both needed either a Memory Stick or battery. It was almost as emotional parting with him, he seems to have adopted us.
The neighbors were curious, one guy came out the gate we had the bikes leaning against, only to stand and stare then abruptly retreat back in. Loaded, we found ourselves cycling on a terrible dirt/mud road. I peddled hard and watched in the mirror as Cat rode through the deep water and mud like a trooper. Traffic pinned us to edge and worst of the road surface. If this is what the road will be like all day it’s gonna be a long one.
Fortunately we found pavement within 2 Ks and were on our way. The route is fairly flat, the air cool and the sky cloudy. At 1:00 PM we stopped and took shelter behind a concrete road sign. Bread, ham and cheese from our wonderful breakfast buffet then we pulled out our rain gear as the drops began to splatter in the puddles.
Exciting in the cool atmosphere, we can now see Lake Titicaca. In the distance at first then closer as we rode toward Huarina. The reeds extend out into the water and are being harvested. The lake is as brilliant and blue as we have heard and seen in pictures.
Onward, in drizzle and cold. Approaching Huarina, we decided that we should find the Hotel our LP says they have here. We’re cold and wet but hate to stop short. A guy at the turnoff told Cat that the Hotel was some 10 Ks further down the road. He said the entire area is called Huarina. So, into the wind and rain.
Rounding a curve we caught a tailwind and the sun broke through. The Huarina Hotel sits off the road, we could see that the parking lot was full. A moment of decision, we moved on toward Huatajata. Another 10 Ks and we found Hotel Inca Utama. I sat in the sun with the bikes while Cat checked the place out. She was disappointed, the room is simple and the price is high. So disappointed that she walked up the road to a nice looking building. It was a Hotel but under re-construction. The rooms were only 80 Bs ($10) but the condition was terrible. We took the Inca Utama deal.
It is on the shore of Titicaca but the price is the same as Hotel Presidente and the room isn’t even comparable. Awe well, life on the road. Twin beds, no TV so we just lay back and relaxed after a good, hot shower.
The Desk Clerk had told us that we got the last available room. The restaurant was empty when we arrived. A seat near the window with great view of the lake, I even slipped out a door and took pictures. There is a Reed Boat moored nearby. It may be the best picture I’ve taken in some time.
No wine for me, I have sworn off at least for now because of altitude. We had Titicaca Trucha with veggies and papas. (Trout, vegetables and potatoes.) A few people did begin to trickle in as we headed for our room and bed.
February 7, 2005
Huatajata to San Pedro
Cool and cloudy but dry this morning. Debbie and Harvey from New York City are touring Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. We talked stories of the red and blue States. They have been to Cuba and can because he’s a Doctor. They confirmed that the current Regime in DC does fine citizens who fail to get approval to visit Cuba. We thought it was $750 each, they say it is now $7,500. Whew!
There is a replica Indigenous Peoples village here. We walked around, took a few pictures then met Dimitrios. He’s a Master Reed Boat builder and has participated in the construction and sailing of several World Voyages. He sailed with a German group down the Tigres River in 1978. The final country they lay anchor in was at war. They burned the boat, terrible event but great pictures. He will travel to Australia this September. His assistant, Herman, pulled a book off the shelf and told us that they built the boat used in an Around the World journey, for a California couple.
It was after 10:00 AM before we pushed up the drive and out onto the Camino. It follows the lakeshore and is a constant series of ups and downs. Not real steep but tough at this altitude. A couple of guys from Brazil, Marcos and Faviano, pulled past on Motorcycles then pulled up. They were curious, they’re on a trip that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Peru then back to Brazil. They call their trip “Expedicao ao Inca, Machu Picchu, 2005”. It’s always fun to talk with other travelers.
The Camino soon took a turn for the up. Eventually we had to push and the pushing took at least an hour or more. Lots of breathing stops. The summit is at 4,100 meters or almost 13,500 feet. It took most of our energy to get there. We could see the road dropping all the way down to lake level. The ride down was a brake burner. We stopped above the twin Pueblos, San Pablo and San Pedro that face each other across a channel of water. The Ferries that ply the Estrecho de Tiquina take one bus or two cars per trip. As we prepared to board a French couple asked about our trip. They are on an around the world, 1 year journey. Their bus began to pull out, they ran away before we could get their names. Our hope is that they’ll send us an e-mail and reconnect.
Heart Says Yes!"
Bolivia, Reclaim Your Exit to the Sea
There is a monument here that speaks of the past loss of land to Chile in 1833. The issue still bubbles around 150 years later. Lonely Planet says that the Government uses the issue, even now, to unite the people and deflect scrutiny. Actually if you read the statement on the bottom in the photo, it says, “Bolivia, Reclaim Your Exit to the Sea”.
Our boat was rough, old planks with big spaces between them. We shared the ride with a Taxi and a Pickup truck. The cost, 6 Bolivianos or about 75 cents. Well worth it just for the adventure and thrill.
On shore we found a small café and enjoyed a bowl of hot soup. As we sipped a father and son, Thomas and Calvin stopped to check out the bikes. Thomas spoke English so we enjoyed a chat. He ahs been here for 10 years, both he and his wife are Project Consultants in Cochabamba. It’s 2:00 and we’ve decided to pull up for the day. We’re just too tired to face the next 4,100-meter climb this afternoon. Thomas took it upon himself to seek lodging for us. He thought that we might be able to stay on the Military Base.
We’d given up on him and were ready to go looking when he and Calvin returned. No luck at the Military Base, they have over 400 troops there and all beds are taken. He did find that there are 2 Alojamientos but one is also fully booked. He feels that the other is pretty minimal but our only option. He even walked up to show me the place. It’s as he said, just a room with 2 beds, a toilet down stairs and no bath. But, it’s the only game in town. I told him to tell the gal that we’d take it.
It’s a big push up a rocky walkway. The family that owns a small grocery stand owns the place. The daughter walked with us as we struggled. The spot for parking our bikes that she’d shown Thomas was not a good option. She opened a different door near the gate. It was tough to get up and into but it worked. She even let us secure it with our bikes lock. There were 3 small boys playing with water balloons, still celebrating.
I found an electrical outlet, plugged in and typed journal pages. Cat perused the map and book, preparing for our entry into Peru. The room began to cool down and at 5:00 PM we put our sweat pants on over our cycling pants.
Back to the same restaurant we had the soup in, for dinner. After a short search we decided that it was the best even though they have no running water. Fish for Cat, chick for Pat, chips for both. We were the only customers. The boats run until 8:00 but traffic was down to only a few cars and one bus. Darkness and cold began to set in. We walked to a sign proclaiming “Internet” but the sign was all they had, no computers.
Back at our cell block, we were in bed before the last boat put in to dock. Though the toilet is down, under the stairs, they left a little blue plastic pot at the door. I told Cat is was there to save her the trip. She said, “Gross”.
February 8, 2005
San Pedro to Copacabana
Rain, pounding down, brought us out of good, deep sleep. It rained a lot during the night and did make the pee pot look pretty good to Cat. I took the long, steep walk a couple of times. We put every bit of available clothing on and set of in a drizzle, looking for breakfast. No one on the streets, the boats were waiting patiently for customers. Another quick reconnoiter and we ended up at our favorite restaurant. The coffee was bad the egg sandwiches good.
Setting off by pushing in the drizzle, it let up but the hill didn’t. Three young guys walking toward us walked right up in front of me. I pushed the bike right up on the most aggressive ones toes. He backed down and got friendly. Onward and upward, it was another hour push to the summit. Long and slow, from lakeside to mountains. At one point as we stood breathing heavily a local guy pulled up, tried to have a conversation that was difficult because of our lack of Spanish and air. He gave up, mounted up and rode away, we continued to huff and puff.
The value of up is view. We were treated to another panorama of Titicaca. As always, another value is, according to Newton, what goes up must come down. The down was as sweeping as the coastline. Stopped to take a picture, a boy, Roberto, tending an Alpaca, came running to us asking for money. I did our usual, “No dinero” routine but when I opened the handlebar bag to put the camera away he saw candy. I had thrown a couple of pieces in to ease my sore throat. Of course I gave him one then he pointed and said something about his sister. Of course he got the other piece, too.
By now the sun was shining brightly and Copa lay below us, a vision of beauty and hoped for luxury. We need baths and good food. The final 3 Ks are down and into the cobblestone streets of a very picturesque Pueblo. The Plaza was filled with merry makers, Carnaval is in full swing. Plenty of drinking, music and dancing. We rolled down the main and into the Courtyard of a Hostal. They had patio seating, food and the music of a Bolivian trio. We had to have an umbrella for shade as we ate our burgers.
9d029 9q037 9q038
We’d stopped at the favored Hotel of Lonely Planet only to find it closed. The guy there recommended Hotel Rosario. Cat made a feeble attempt to find a place near the center while I finished my burger. Nothing very nice so she walked all the way to Rosario. She loved it. It’s right on the lake shore and the rooms are great. We pushed up the cobblestone hill then down a steep rock road and into Hotel Rosario del Lago.
They had us put the bikes in what was at one time a tourist shop. By the time we got the bags off and upstairs and bikes locked it was time for dinner. Fantastic Titicaca trout lasagna and nice Bolivian wine. A couple of girls from Switzerland sat near us and told us they’d seen us doing the video taping at Tiwanaku. The little travel conversation was our desert. That along with the sunset on the lake. A guy, Todd, from New Orleans introduced himself, he lives and works here in Bolivia in the oil industry.
We checked e-mails on the included computer then hit the sack. Hill climbing and shortness of breath had taken its toll.
February 9, 2005
Carnaval in Copacabana
Another rainy day wakeup but this time the toilet is right here in the room. Breakfast is pretty good, mango, banana, papaya, scrambled eggs and pancakes. The only problem, no maple syrup. I had to settle for jam. Todd and family came in but were sort of standoffish. We didn’t even exchange e-mail addresses.
We set off in search of the Lavanderia. The one mentioned in Lonely Planet is closed and has been for some time. Headed toward the tourist office, Cat stopped gal and asked if she knew where we could have laundry done. She talked with a taxi driver then turned to us and said, “I do it”! So, we followed Marie to her house, she opened the door, took a little scale off the wall and weighed the bag of cycling cloths. “Okay, all 10 Bolivianos”. We had a deal.
The sun was now chewing it’s way through the clouds. We followed the sound of music to the main Plaza. There, in front of the beautiful Cathedral Copacabana the street was full of musicians and dancers. A real photo fest for us. Carnaval here means more than water balloons. These guys know how to party. They dance and play and drink beer and it’s only 10:30 AM.
The Cathedral is a wonderful white, bright, almost Moorish looking building. Though like most Catholic Churches, they do have an interesting Capilla de Velas, Chapel of Candles. The graffiti on the walls was as interesting as the candles. We quested for CDs and again each shop sent us to another. Finally we found some but they were loose, no covers. So, we’ll have to make do.
I went back to work on the pictures of this leg of our journey. I want to have them in the mail before we leave here. Cat went after the laundry, had a confrontation with a couple of young girls about the price, they asked for 25 Bs. Cat handed them 10, tried to explain that our deal with Marie was 10, then took the wet cloths off the line. They had to use a broom handle to get our socks off the roof. Then, she thanked them and walked away. Well 10 Bs is a bargain, only $1.25, but not as great as we thought since the cloths are still soggy wet.
Fernando, the wonderful Manager of Rosario, took the cloths and had them rung out and hung out. Dinner, Fernando was waiting tables. He told us that one of his staff didn’t make it so he had to cover. He likes waiting tables, a chance to practice English as there was a group here from England. We listened to the group leader talk. They’re going to visit the Island in the morning. We asked if we could join them and she said she’d talk with us later. Later, the answer was no. She fears that if one on the tour complained she could lose her job.
We talked and understood her problem. She, Keri, is a nice gal from Vancouver, British Colombia. Her group that we thought were all English is a mix of Brits and US citizens.
By the way, dinner was excellent, Cat had a wok chicken dish, I stuck with steak.
The TV is pretty slim here. We watched a subtitled movie then slept in the soft, warm sheets. Life is GOOD.
Ridin’The High One
If you’re one of our friends that enjoy keeping track of our mileage, here it is. The distance between Jujuy to Copacabana is 966 Kilometers or 599 Miles. Add that to our previous total and we’ve cycled 27,172 Kilometers, 17,281 Miles. A lot of Pacha Mama under our wheels.
So, there you have it. Some tough times, some great times. We’re pretty tired of Altitude but we still have a ways to go in it in Peru. Hope you’ll join us next time when we visit The Floating Islands and Machu Picchu.