Archive for the '12 Bolivia 2007' Category

Wind, salt and sand

Posted by on Dec 30 2007 | 12 Bolivia 2007, 13 Chile 07/ 08, English

Further we must go

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La Paz, or better the “casa de ciclista” from Linda and Roul there, was the perfect spot for Chan to turn four. He got a real birthday party with kids to play, cake, ice cream and gifts. Chan was sad to leave that place, but once we got our package with spare parts for the trailer out of customs, it was time to ride further south. We wanted to reach the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat, before it got water on its surface. The rainy season had just begun and usually is wetter in the North than the South, so we might just be lucky.

Roul drove us up through the worsed part of the city and so we only had to climb up to the rim for 9km. Once back on top it was pretty flat all the way to Oruro with only one longer climb.

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It took us four days to cover those 230km. There was much wind and we got into another tempest with hail. Whenever kids saw us coming, they would run to the roadside, kneel down and hold up their caps or ask for “regalos” (gifts).

We were worried about the weather. Every day we could obsereve rain and thunderstorms all around us. Was there water already on the Salar or was it still dry and crossable? We asked people on our way south and the answer was always the same: “El Salar? Seco es! No hay lluvia, no hay agua.” Neverthless, when we got to Huari, the end of the paved road, we looked for a ride in a truck. We knew that the gravel road to Salinas, at the edge of the Salar, was exceptionally bad: sandy with horrible washboard. After hours of waiting, a truck finally gave us a ride for some 70km, a bit passed Quillacas.

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This was better than nothing. In the dark they let us off and we put up our tent Chan waited in the trailer. At this hour we were all too exhausted to be cooking, so we ate some carrot and cucumber sandwiches and went to bed. Chan slept within seconds. Next morning we had some different visitors: Llamas were grasing around the tent curiously coming closer and when I lifted one backpack out of the vestibule, a small white skorpion fled away and under the tent floor.

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Riding wasn’t much fun for the next two days, but we had an aim: to reach the Salar in dry condition. We couldn’t turn around anymore now. Around us was dry desert pampa with no other vegetation than stringy grass and thorn bushes. We saw some owels flying away and vicuñas and for the first time emus from very far, a huge bird that runs on its two legs instead of flying.

Another night in the tent and anoter thunderstorm with hail and hard rain went by. Then another day of riding and pushing over a sandy washboard dirt track.

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After 20km riding one day, we expected to get a glimpse of Salinas any moment.

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But instead Flo stopped and pointed to the trailer. I couldn’t see at first, but finally I realised that the two wheels were in a weird angle to the trailer and then I was appalled: “The axis!”, I screamed, “oh no, what should we do now?” Well, Chan and I waited by the broken trailer while Flo rode off to get motorised help from Salinas. The trailer with its broken axis couldn’t be moved otherwise anymore. It was two more kilometers to Salinas, luckily no more, and Flo found a pickup and its owner quickly who came to get us. Lucky too there was a mechanic in the village who could fix our trailer for a horrenduous prise and only for the next day. It would have been the perfect day to head out onto the Salar with blue skies and no clouds at all, but we had to spend the day in Salinas, waiting.

Salar de Uyuni

There were clouds on the horizon, but above us the sky was blue and so we rolled off with a fixed axis on the trailer. Our route was beautiful. At first the path was still sandy and bumpy, but then we entered the hard pampa at the edge of the salt flat, which was very smooth to ride on.

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The view of vulcano Tunapa was great and we were happy to be so close to entering onto this huge salt flat. Then the road went back onto mainland for about 10km and we were stuck in sand again.

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When we passed a village, a herd of llamas was close by and one of them came galloping towards us. It almost ran Flo over. I was behind and stopped to let it go by, but it came straight for me. I wanted to move, but Flo called: “Stop, don’t move, this is perfect for a picture!” But this llama was a bit too intrusive for me and I quickly pushed my bike to Flo’s side. He was still fumbling with his camera which the llama found very interesting and put his head into everything.

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For me it was too much as it pushed me into Florian and tried to climb on me. I screamed and let go of my bike. Luckily Flo could grip it, so it didn’t fall to the ground. The llama now thought it to be a funny game to chase me and while we ran rounds around Florian, the trailer and the bikes, Flo ordered us to stop and calm down. He said: “Rebekka, get onto your bike and ride off!” “I can’t, he will follow me!”, I screamed back. But somehow I managed to take my bike and take flight, while Flo got a hold onto the llamas throat and told him to get to his senses. When this didn’t work he took his dog stick and finally the llama ran away.

Shortly after this we got to another village, where we were told was an easier access to the salt flat, than from the official ramp at Jirira. They said, like this we wouldn’t have to climb over a pass on a rocky path but could rather ride around it. Nobody had told us though, that this side of the Salar was the wettest. It was a grandious feeling to be at last on this huge, flat, white land of salt!

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We had made it! After only a few minutes riding we were covered in salt and looked like bike riding snowmen. We passed the salt blocks where they harvest salt and looked for the island we were told we needed to pass.

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The way around was much further than we had believed it to be from people’s descriptions. The clouds from this morning were suddenly very close and we started to hurry. In our backs the thunder was growling. A tempest on the salt flat was the least we wanted to experience. So we hurried foreward and finally could make out the ramp to Jirira. The black clouds passed by our side and when we reached the only hospedaje and store in the otherwise empty village, the sun was back smiling at us. Luckily there was water. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our bikes and shirts which were stiff from the salt.

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The light was dim, when we woke up early next morning. The sky was coverd with clouds. Flo went to ask the hotel owner for advice. He told us to ride out onto the Salar, that they would have rain that night for sure, but that it was very rare to get thunderstorms on the Salar. We should try and make the 100km to the other side in one day.

The ride on the sea of salt was a bit relaxter this time, for the sun burned most of the clouds away and the salt surface got nicer and dryer the further we rode.

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But then it started to drizzle a little and the sun was hiding again. We were hurrying once more. By lunch time we reached isla de pescado, where jeep load after jeep load of tourists arrived.

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We asked the local drivers about the weather and salt conditions and the southern end of the Salar. Of course they can’t predict the weather, but they adviced us to stay on the island for the night if we couldn’t make it off the Salar that same day, because there was a big chance of getting rained on that night. For the Salar that could mean getting a layer of 2-5cm of water in which we wouldn’t want to be camping. On the island was a beautiful path through cacti and from its top we had a panoramic view of the whole salt lake.

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We stayed in a hut, the bikes ready to go for early next morning. It had just gotten dark, when the raindrops started their rhytmic music on the roof. Shortly after our room was lit in white light and dark again. The growling thunder added his part to the tune.

Blue skies and no clouds at all awaited us in the morning as well as a Salar turned into a lake. Flo went to check the depth of the water and found it to be only about 2-3cm deep Should we ride out or not? We had already decided to go to Uyuni in the east instead of San Juan on the southern end. In the south we would have more sandy washboard paths that by now had probably turned into mudholes.

The day was so beautiful that we started to ride. It was pretty eerie because we couldn’t really make out the depth of the water and it just looked like we were riding through a huge lake.

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Also it was very hard to see the tracks of the jeeps we had to follow in order of not getting lost. There were no landmarks by which to know the directions. After about 5km the surface got dryer and was finally completely dry and easy to ride on.

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Now we started to really feel the intensity of the sun, reflecting on the big white. 70km it was to the ramp at Colchani. About 3km before getting back onto land, the Salar became very wet and this time soft and muddy as well because they were harvesting salt right around the ramp. I was very upset because we got wet and salty feet so close before getting off the Salar. It is so shortly sighted not to leave a dam for the cars and busses crossing the salt flat. But then we were off it and very happy. We finally crossed the Salar de Uyuni ourselves and just in time!

Colchani was a miserable little village and there was no place to stay besides some star hotels at the edge of the salt. It was mid afternoon and we decided to keep going for the remaining 25km to Uyuni on gravel and sand.

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No more rain, no more plants

We wanted to take the train to Chile.

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The roads leading there are really bad and with all that rain probably almost unpassable for us. But aparently the train to Chile consists of only one wagon and you can’t take luggage on it. So we were told at the train station. We could show up at 3am, just before the train’s departure and talk to the conductor, for he would maybe let us on, we were told too. Instead of getting up in the middle of the night, not knowing, if we would get a ride or not, we prefered to take the bus. There we got space for all our bikes and we knew we had a seat.

Chile doesn’t allow bolivian busses to enter their country and Bolivia doesn’t allow chilenian busses to enter their country. Everybody has to get off in the noman’s land zone between the two countries and switch busses. We just unloaded our bikes and rode to the chilenian boarder post ourselves, while the other passengers had to wait for their bus. Chilenian immigration can take 2-4 hours if you’re in a bus. It took half an hour for us. But we didn’t know, that we couldn’t bring honey into Chile. We are sure that the immigration officer is enjoying it now himself.

Even if it was only midday, it had been a long day for us and we decided to stay in Ollague, the border village. We also had to stock up on water and food for the next three days on gravel, washboard and sand in the Atacama desert, aparently the world’s dryest place.

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For 200km there was no vegetation at all, not even cacti. We were surrounded by smoking vulcanoes and boulder.

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We passed another salt flat, had to climb a hill, but there was no place to hide from the sun and no place to rest in the shade. Our tent we put up in a recess of the boulder to be sheltered a little bit and hidden from the road. The next day we reached a campamiento by noon and found a store there, where we could fill up our water from the tap. The store had a few rolls of cookies and crackers, three bottles of coca cola, two cans of tuna, one can of cream and two cans of peaches. We bought coke, crackers, the cream and a can of peaches. From here the road was supposed to be better. It was only true for the next 7km, where it was sealed with salt. Then we were back on sand and a strong head wind added to the strains. We made it 50km through the desert before we set up camp in a gravel pit.

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Now the road was sealed again, downhill mostly and we enjoyed a nice tail wind for about 20km. We wanted to reach Calama and ride 100km that day. Our lunch break we took in Chiu Chiu an oasis with the first green vegetation in Chile. From here we had headwind for the remaining 30km which took us 5 hours! But we were in Calama now, it was hot and one day before Christmas. We checked into a hotel for one night. They were closed for Christmas. Next morning we went to look for another one and had quite some trouble finding one that stayed open. Then we went to the supermarket to buy food for our next leg of the journey, again through the Atacama desert for 300km, over 4800m and with no water or food along the way. The store was overflowing with people There were no empty carts. People were trying to get one by catching people finished with their shopping, following them to their cars to be able to get a hand on the cart.  Finally after about 15 minutes, we were lucky as well and could start our shopping.

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It must have been about two hours later, when we got ourselves an ice cream and sat down exhausted in the supermarket’s own cafeteria, before standing in line for check out.

We are now in San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis two day rides east of Calama. Here we want to relax for a day or two and take a jeep tour to the wonderland of geysirs before heading out into that lonely 300km part of way into Argentina.

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Two more wheels

Posted by on Dec 02 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, 12 Bolivia 2007, English

Not always easy

So we made it through Peru, the most challenging country so far on our journey. Challening in different ways, so for example due to the rapid climate changes from tropical heat and humidity to freezing cold temperatures at the high passes within a days ride or two. Some of the roads were really bad and we had to push the bikes somethimes for hours over riverbed like paths. And finally we never felt very comfortable with the majority of the people we met along the way. They seemed to have a different understanding of private space touching Chan and our bikes whenever we stopped. 20 to 30 kids and adults would gather around us immediatly, starring at us and touching our things. Especially mothers would then start to criticize the way Chan was dressed: too cold or too hot. They would then try to convince us, that Chan couldn’t breath in his trailer or that he was hungry or needed a drink, when he was perfectly fine. Somethimes kids were running after us, catching up and pulling on the trailer or the bikes backwards.

All these unpleasant experiences don’t however overshadow that we also met amazingly hospitable and friendly people and although warned many times about robberies, never had an incident nor felt at the slightest threatened.

Machu Pichu at least

After two weeks staying in Cusco beeing sick one after the other, we finally managed to organize our trip to Machu Pichu, the “lost city of the Incas”. Since it costs an incredible amount of money to get there and another fortune to see the ruins, we didn’t want to spend another awful lot of money for the bus up a steep hill (500m up) to the entrance of the ruins. Instead we got up at 4am and took a nice one hour hike up to the gate.

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Chan wasn’t ready to hike yet, sleepy he was sitting in the ergo carrier on my back half way up, then Flo took him over and I got our backpack with food, water and spare clothing for Chan instead.

At the gate we weren’t allowed in with our bigger than 20l pack (A person is allowed to take a 20l backpack into the site.), the guardian wasn’t discussing at all, we had to go to a woman apparently in charge of storing backpacks. But as soon as we entered her office, she yelled at us that we wouldn’t respect rules and that she wasn’t talking to us anymore, hardly even looking at us. Now we were really angry, yelling something not very nice back. Outside we took some stuff out of the backpack, then tied it together as small as possible and went back to the gate. I was carrying the now small backback and Flo was carrying Chan and a plastic bag. The guardian wanted to protest again, but Flo told him angrily that the 20l bag per person was applying to us as well and we walked through the gate. The guardian called into our backs, that we weren’t allowed to put the plastic bag back into our backpack once on site.

The first few moments in Machu Pichu we couldn’t enjoy because of our frustration. But when we had climbed up to a point where we could overlook the whole scene our anger cooled off.

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Machu Pichu wasn’t showing its full beauty. Misteriously parts of the ruins were hidden behind mist and passing clouds. After a while observing this wonderous spectacle we started our hike up Wayna Pichu, the steep mountain at the far side towards the river valley.

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We enjoyed a beautiful hike with not too many tourists, the sun was burning mist and clouds away and the site started filling up with people, brought up the mountain bus load by bus load. What an amazing view we enjoyed from the top of Wayna Pichu. Not only were there more ruins, but we could oversee the whole site of Machu Pichu as well as getting a full panorama of snowcapped  peaks in the distance.

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We left Machu Pichu arround noon, when most of the visitors arrived and crowded the place. The hike down to Aguas Calientes was pleasant but towards the end got quite painfull for our leg muscles not used to walk almost exclusvely steps for eight hours!

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Back in Cusco I could hardly walk anymore. Chan helped me getting around and said: “Mama, you are really, really old!” No wonder, my walking style was the one of a 90 year old woman! We had to stay four more days in our hostal, only then I was able to walk and bike almost normally again with not too much pain.

When the rains beginn

It was sunny and nice warm when we left Cusco with two more wheels than usual. Attached to my bike with the follow-me tandem hitch is now Chan’s own bike.

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He had been asking for his own bike for a while now and we thought it would make a good birthday present. Our little guy is already 4 and ready to get onto his own two wheels! After the first few km pedaling himself, he exclamed that we could get rid of his trailer because he had his own bike now.

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Since then however, he has discovered that the trailer is still a good thing to have for napping, eating and playing and to be sheltered from wind, rain and hail! We got enough of that in the coming days climbing onto the altiplano and crossing this high plateau along lake Titicaca.

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On the first few days we could always escape the rain by arriving at a hospedaje mid afternoon, but the day we got over the last high pass for a while (4338m) we were caught in a terrible thunder storm. The night hadn’t been the most relaxing. We could stay in a centro de salud in a patient room. In there as well was a gaz stove with pots containing left overs. The beds we were advised not to use because sick people had been lying on them. When Flo carried our panniers inside, he found the smell in the room quite unpleasant and looked arround for its cause. He came out with a plastic box, in it was a lambs skull, the dried flesh still sticking to it was reeking. The whole thing looked disgusting to us although Chan was quite interested in it. After a few minutes the doctor came looking for it and she carried the box under her arm as one would books. In the morning we had a flea in our tent, which we had put up inside the room to sleep in. Flo was up with the first rays of the sun and quickly we packed our bikes to get out of there. Breakfast we ate a few kilometers further in fresh air. By midday clouds were rolling in, not unusual for the season, but we wanted to continue riding for some 40km more, since it didn’t look too serious.

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But only maybe 10 minutes after we had left it started to rain very suddenly and with the rain lightening hit right next to us. It was too dangerous to step from the bikes to put on our rain gear. On the bikes we were safe from the lightening because of the rubber tires.

I was terribly afraid. The rain had turned into hail now, whipping our faces hard. Our hands were hurting beeing freezing cold but the storm didn’t let us go. In fact, there were new storms approaching whenever we thought the worsed was over. The road was in some places covered with a 3-5cm thick layer of hail. Then there was an incredible loud thunder and at the same time I felt an electric shock passing through my left arm. Lightening stroke into the electric powerline paralleling the road and a branch of it had hit me. I screamed out horrified. Flo tried to calm me down but I was panicking and yelled at him to go faster. For about one hour we were caught in the terrible tempest then finally the hail turned back into rain and the time between lightening and thunders got longer. Then the rain subsided. There was a hut next to the road where “arroz con pollo” was sold. Flo went to ask for hot tea. We finally got jackets and rain gear out and tried to warm up our trembling bodies. We still had to go for another 15km to reach a town with hospedajes. The rain was getting stronger again and completely soaked we checked into a more expensive hotel because they had promised us hot water immediately. An hour later there was still no hot water. When we came back from dinner there was still no hot water. Only in the mornig the water was hot but by then we didn’ t need it anymore and we refused to pay the full prize of our room.

On the Altiplano at least

We were riding long days. The altiplano was quite flat as its name suggests, and we were ready for a new country. We wanted to get into Bolivia after three not so easy months in Peru. Every mid afternoon we could observe different storms around us, somethimes getting caught by them, somethimes beeing able to escape.

The winds were slowing us quite a bit coming from the sides or the front, never from the back. The landscape wasn’t as stunning as we had expected it from the description of other cyclists, but for the most part this must be due to the dull weather.

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On one of the worst paved roads so far, covered with holes and patches, busy with minibusses, big tourist busses, trucks and taxis whizzing by close, honking loudly, we got our first glimpse of marvelous lake Titicaca. This first sight was grandious. Passed Puno the road was much quieter and we were riding now directly on the shore of the highest navigatable lake.

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A day before we reached Copacabana in Bolivia, Sekiji, a japanese cyclist we had already met in Cusco, caught up to us. What we had been riding in six long days, he had done in three!

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That day we were riding together mostly and he was taking lots of pictures. The border crossing was very smooth and mid afternoon we entered into our 12th country since Canada or our 16th since Switzerland.

Copacabana is a nice little town nestled in a small bay at the shore of lake Titicaca. It is growing only for tourists, a small copy of Cusco.

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We stayed three days to celebrate my birthday and visit Isla del Sol, the sacred birthplace of the Incas.

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Restaurants are popping up like mushrooms in Copacabana, but many of the owners can’t cook, but they have on their menu whatever a tourist heart desires like lasagne, pizza, risotto, etc. We ordered a salad and a lasagne. The salad was fine, not much that can be done wrong there. When the lasagne was served we couldn’t believe our eyes: It was a normal flat white plate, on it three sheets of pasta covered with maggi soup (chemical instant mix). Well we went to another restaurant for a second dinner. Chan had had a blast with a waiter in another place two days ago, so we went there and ordered a pizza and some desert to satisfy our still hungry stomachs while Chan took off with the waiter again “to work”. He was carrying dirty dishes to the kitchen, brining the menu to tables and finally the bill as well! As his first salary the waiter gave him a piece of lemon pie.

It was now 150km to Bolivias biggest city La Paz. We rode it in two days.

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On the second day we rode through densely populated areas for about 20km before the centre. La Paz lies in a canyon spilling over its rim into El Alto because there is no more room in the canyon. It is filled with houses and houses.

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It was an incredible site, when we arrived at the rim and slowly rolled down into this sea of buildings, cars and people.

We are staying in a “casa de cyclista” in a huge house with a beautiful garden. Sekiji had contacetd Linda and Roul and asked if we could stay with them as well. Now we are here with Sekiji and a brithish cycling couple. Linda and Roul have grand children and therefore a room full of toys in which we are staying – paradise for Chan!

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We will be staying for a few days, waiting for a packet with spare parts clearing customs.

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