Salta, Back on the Bike and Off the Altiplano

world's largest empty swimming pool - James set up camp in the middle

world’s largest empty swimming pool – James set up camp in the middle

After over six weeks of living in high altitude day and night, we left our bush camp and headed down into our first campground at Yala which lies at just 1400 meters of elevation. Our day map profile looked like a big drop downhill that should be fast for all cycling but it was somewhat deceiving because in actuality it was a slow winding downhill that was accompanied by a strong headwind. The cycling was hard and long. All were rewarded by a very pleasant well appointed municipal campground that actually had hot showers and a good little restaurant with wi-fi . We have learned to appreciate the little things in life. Sleep came early this night. Robert, our lead driver, asked about using my bike for the ride into Salta the next day. His lady friend Maria is leaving us after Salta – Robert has the day off to cycle with her. Pedals are changed out and the seat lowered for Maria. I will be riding on the truck with Rob, co-owner of Bike Dreams who will fill in for Robert, and Ellen, our cook. The cyclists are off the next morning early. They are biking on a beautiful paved tree lined lane that winds into and through the city. We take the truck on a big highway around Salta and into the south side of the city to the municipal campgrounds. After a few swings through the maze of winding streets and avenues we enter the campground and head for the far end. Here is a place where the world has stood still since the 60’s but the decay has not. I’m looking at the largest pool I’ve ever seen. It’s enormous. Judging from the small grasses growing through many of the cracks, there hasn’t been water in this thing since not many years after it was built. There is what must have once been a hotel facing this empty facade just down from our end of the grounds, and beyond us a building housing banos and showers. It was locked when we arrived – from my point of view once I entered, it should have stayed locked. All buildings and camping fixtures such as the concrete tables and benches seemed to be of the same vintage as the pool and one-time hotel. There was no conversation in our vehicle. Rob backed the truck into the shade – we started unloading all the gear. I took my tent and looked for a spot. There was garbage everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Bottles, cans, paper, food wastes, yuck and more. Rob grabbed some garbage bags and we started in picking it all up. This night we are having a barbecue here for the eight people leaving us and the one new arrival, Lettie, a trauma psychoanalyst from Holland. We need to turn this horrendous place into a party somehow. In time we have a full dumpster and hopes that we can overlook the decay. The cyclists began appearing in camp, some grumbles start but cold beer and open wine bottles tempered the complaints. Robert started the charcoal and got the meat on the grill – cooking smoke and liquor along with dance music on the truck speakers and the party was on! It was a great way to say goodbye to our friends and re-live our shared experiences. Eating, dancing and drinking our way through the evening – every time someone tried to turn the music down to a livable level, Lucho was there to crank it back up. He comes alive with the music. Shortly after we had cleaned up the area, a double decker bus arrived and out poured a group of chattering, bouncing, giggling moms and daughters. They quickly filled up many of the tables and benches. A certain level of cacophony became a constant in the neighborhood. The bus freight was also unloaded and the big vehicle disappeared. Rob went over to chat and was assured that they would be gone by five but we soon discovered that the bus had a mechanical problem and they had to wait till it was repaired. The group was on a holiday together – their destination was still five hours away. We spent the whole evening with them in our midst – it was great. They loved to dance and the young girls couldn’t get enough photos with the blue eyed gringos. A new bus arrived some time after one in the morning – when I awoke they were all gone. The party was a big success – we now had two additional days to enjoy Salta, just a short cab ride from our campsite.

Today (16th October) I got back on the bike for the first trim since my shoulder separation. The last few days I put my sling in the tent and tried life without it. No real problems so I took off this morning for a 96k ride on pavement with no big hills. A good day to give it a go. Trees have once again become a part or our environment since we dropped down from the altiplano. The first trees that stood out were some large very green willows, then we noticed a type of European poplar and soon the whole landscape was filled with trees. A big change from our days of Cerro de Pasco and Huarascan national park. In Salta I saw trees that I haven’t seen since a little oasis town in Namibia – the Jacaranda tree with beautiful lavender lilac like blooms filling the green spaces with color. We were traveling through a valley bordered on both sides by soft flowing mountain ridges. In the early stages of the ride there were a lot of planted fields and small orchards that gave way later in the morning to rolling wooded hills. It was a beautiful morning on the bicycle. Experience has taught me that the afternoon will bring hot temperatures (in the mid 40’s C) and often times headwinds as we move south so I move right along to try to reach camp early in the day. Lunch was at 60K and I didn’t dawdle – off as soon as the sandwich was gone. Ten K’s later and the heat was on. A dry sharp hot wind seemed to be rising off the pavement and sucking the moisture out of me. I drank as often and much aa I could while I moved along. Then I heard a shout from some of my mates sitting in a little restaurant in La Vina so I pulled over to join Barry, Rien, and a couple of others for a soft drink. A bottle of Fanta slid down my throat about as fast as it could then I grabbed another bottle of water and was off for the last 13K’s of hot hot headwind. I don’t do well in the heat.

Shoulder was fine.

Some of you might have seen the rankings of cyclists on the Bike Dreams web site. This Andes Trail ride is a race for all who are interested. My roommate before JR arrived in Cusco, James, is a very strong skilled cyclist who is far ahead in the rankings. Several other cyclists will race on certain days (stages) to try to get a stage win. Most of the cyclists here are not racing (including me) – we stop often for photos, a cafe, a party of locals along the roadway or any other opportunity to enjoy our environment. I found myself in 8th place through much of Ecuador and Peru not because of my abilities or because I was racing but merely because I did
not miss any days to sickness. I made up for that later in Peru and again with my shoulder injury. If you miss a racing day you are penalized 12 hours. That penalty adds up quickly if you do get very ill. There are only about 20 of us doing the whole distance from Quito to Ushuaia – very few race but those who do really enjoy the competition.

Argentina hlight and the ride in and out of la paz the low point for me. that trip into the valley was just too crazy busy with competing traffic for any cyclist to have to contend with. then came my biking accident with the dislocated shoulder. the silver lining there was the full realization of what a team we have become. The care and concern of all my new friends here was so rewarding. I can’t say enough. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and now the largest of them all, Argentina. we will be here for some time. I look forward also to our two detours into Chile to ride among glaciers and mountains and seacoast. Right now I look forward to just getting back on the bike. I have had a good prognosis from my good friend Dr. John Wood with which our team doctor Annelot readily concurs with. In consultation with orthopedist Dr.Joel Zamzow, John has indicated that I have about two weeks with exercises that he has sent me, care to avoid re-injury and continued use of a sling before I get on the bike but I should be just fine for the rest of the trip. I plan on getting back after our rest stop in Salta. We will lose eight of our cyclists there as they head for their respective homes. A sad day for us but we plan on a big barbecue to celebrate our time with them. Dave, a record mixer and producer from England; Theo, a staff member at a psychological hospital and his wife Toos, a university research scientist from Holland; Patrick, our youngest member who is re-inventing his career when he gets back to Holland; Mario, who joined us in Cusco and is returning to Holland; Elizabeth, who is heading back to her career in the health industry in Australia; i have become such good with these people. a little erosion in the landscape can be unsightly but a lot of erosion can be spectacular. that’s what we’ve had the last few days. i described some of it in my last post as resembling canyon lands in utah but without the people a popular park brings. today we drove the first 100 some k’s in land that more resembled eastern colorado but then were rewarded the last 15k’s with rugged canyons, multi—colored eroded buttes and soft mountain tops, volcano remnants and remarkable layered slopes. the cyclists had 120k’s of paved road but very little climbing and beautiful blue skies. despite a limited campsite, there were smiles all around as they pedaled in off the pavement. i miss the biking and the closeness it brings you to the people and the landscape. i feel the same about getting into my sea kayak. you feel almost a part of the liquid you’re paddling through – no longer looking down at it but truly immersed. yet i will make the most of my time on the truck. i also really enjoy rob, maria and ellen’s company. when we leave salta in a few days we will be almost entirely in bush camps and campgrounds for the remainder of this trip. internet service for me to continue this blog will be even more sporadic but i will post as often as possible. thank you all for continuing to follow along – it’s inspirational for me. tomorrow we leave the altiplano. it’s held us between 3200 and 4300 meters in elevation for more than 6 weeks. i look forward to sleeping better, digesting easier, and staying warmer. it’s been a beautiful landscape, though, that i’ll not forget. saturday – october 11

Argentina, we are here. crossed a busy border two days ago, since I am now traveling on the lead truck with our driver Robert from barcelona, his friend Maria who is here visiting him until we reach Salta, and our cook Ellen, I got to experience the process of getting one of our Bike Dream trucks across the border. a large tourist bus had arrived just before us – they were making all of the passengers bring their personal luggage with them through both the exit process from Bolivia and also the entry process into Argentina. It was a very slow line we found ourselves in and a hot sun to add to our impatience. We finally all walked away with exit and entry stamped passports then waited while Robert presented the large packet of paperwork covering both the vehicle and bike dreams work permits in Argentina. It really didn’t take too long – the authorities opened a couple of the sliding doors on the truck but we didn’t have to pull out any of the contents. while we waited we found we could walk freely between the two countries without question. I think you could actually just walk across without anyone questioning anything. as an American citizen it was required that I have a $160 reciprocity receipt with me – it’s good for 10 years. Canadians and Australians also have to have them. I had previously had one in 2004 but was expired now.

Now we are in the land of Malbec wines, toronado steaks and gauchos. Looking at my route map, this moment had seemed such a distant goal at the end of July. Bolivia has been a pleasant surprise. very friendly people, quiet roads to cycle, beautiful countryside, and good but simple food. the salar de uyuni was definitely a highlight and the ride in and out of La Paz the low point for me. That trip into the valley was just too crazy busy with competing traffic for any cyclist to have to contend with. then came my biking accident with the dislocated shoulder. The silver lining there was the full realization of what a team we have become. The care and concern of all my new friends here was so rewarding. I can’t say enough. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and now the largest of them all, Argentina. we will be here for some time. I look forward also to our two detours into Chile to ride among glaciers and mountains and seacoast. Right now I look forward to just getting back on the bike.

I have had a good prognosis from my good friend Dr. John Wood with which our team doctor Annelot readily concurs with. In consultation with orthopedist Dr.Joel Zamzow, John has indicated that I have about two weeks with exercises that he has sent me, care to avoid re-injury and continued use of a sling before I get on the bike but I should be just fine for the rest of the trip. I plan on getting back after our rest stop in Salta. We will lose eight of our cyclists there as they head for their respective homes. A sad day for us but we plan on a big barbecue to celebrate our time with them. Dave, a record mixer and producer from England; Theo, a staff member at a psychological hospital and his wife Toos, a university research scientist from Holland; Patrick, our youngest member who is re-inventing his career when he gets back to Holland; Mario, who joined us in Cusco and is returning to Holland; Elizabeth, who is heading back to her career in the health industry in Australia; and Hardy II who joined us in Cusco and is continuing his solo trip he started in Brazil by biking to Buenos Aires and then on home to Germany.
i have become such good with these people.

A little erosion in the landscape can be unsightly but a lot of erosion can be spectacular. That’s what we’ve had the last few days. I described some of it in my last post as resembling canyon lands in utah but without the people a popular park brings.  Today we drove the first 100 some k’s in land that more resembled eastern colorado but then were rewarded the last 15k’s with rugged canyons, multi—colored eroded buttes and soft mountain tops, volcano remnants and remarkable layered slopes. The cyclists had 120k’s of paved road but very little climbing and beautiful blue skies. Despite a limited campsite, there were smiles all around as they pedaled in off the pavement. I miss the biking and the closeness it brings you to the people and the landscape.  I feel the same about getting into my sea kayak. you feel almost a part of the liquid you’re paddling through – no longer looking down at it but truly immersed. yet I will make the most of my time on the truck. I also really enjoy Rob, Maria and Ellen’s company. When we leave Salta in a few days we will be almost entirely in bush camps and campgrounds for the remainder of this trip. Internet service for me to continue this blog will be even more sporadic but i will post as often as possible. Thank you all for continuing to follow along – it’s inspirational for me.

Tomorrow we leave the altiplano. It’s held us between 3200 and 4300 meters in elevation for more than 6 weeks. I look forward to sleeping better, digesting easier, and staying warmer. It’s been a beautiful landscape, though, that i’ll not forget.

saturday – october 11

Flying Leap into the Truck

after leaving the salar de uyuni and a day of rest in a great little hotel and restaurant in uyuni, we headed off further into the wild back country of bolivia with a bush camp and small town hostel scheduled before a rest day in tupiza. we had two full days of unpaved rough corrugated roads and trails. 109k and 102k’s respectively, with quite a bit of climbing on the second day. rough, it turned out to be. constant bumping, jangling, rattling and vibrating to your core. we found ourselves forever moving across the roads and trails and into the ditches just looking for a quieter place to move our bodies and bikes forward. as i struggled along our basic road i noticed a couple of cyclists had moved down about a 10 foot rocky slope to what appeared to be some smoother surface below. i followed suit and slid and bumped my way along the short descent when suddenly the front wheel impacted an unseen small ditch at the bottom of the slope. that impact sent me flying over the handlebars and onto the rocky surface where my rolled shoulder collided in an unforgiving manner. my first reaction was to grab that shoulder and move to get up – i found it not possible. of all the falls and spills i’ve taken i’ve always been able to shake it off and scramble back up in some manner. this time my body just wouldn’t allow it. i was soon surrounded by concerned cycling friends. all trying to help me up either physically or with their encouragement. i just wanted to lay there. i’m told i fainted a couple of times and their efforts evolved into getting help. my friend Barry hopped on his bike and sped off to find our bike dreams truck with driver walter and group doctor annelot aboard. kristin and hilde, two norwegian sister nurses and fellow cyclists assisted me in the meantime. the truck arrived and it become clear that my falling blood pressure was going to make it difficult to get me up into the high unstepped seating portion of our work horse truck. then an suv driven by a kind bolivian stopped and offered to help. he patiently waited while annelot , kristin and hilde got me slowly to an upright position so helping hands could get me into the vehicle. the local bolivian man knew the way to the hospital and our bike dreams truck followed close behind. they took me into the emergency room and we awaited a doctor’s assessment. all things take time and my time in that room was no exception. i have no complaints though. these people are busy. i got down to the X-ray room for a couple of photos (in a wheelchair!) and back to the little room. the bolivian x-ray technician came in and confirmed to annelot that i had dislocated the shoulder socket then asked us to await the doctors confirmation. some time later we had that confirmation but also with the info that no one there could re-locate the shoulder and they wanted to send me in the ambulance to potosi, 3 hours in the wrong direction. they gave me a shot of something in the top of my behind. annelot had also given me a couple of pain
pills with kristin trying to relax me and every so often telling me to breathe. what was going through my mind was how could this spill on my shoulder possibly make me so helpless – where was all this pain coming from and why was i such a baby about it. annelot asked me if i was willing to let her try to reset it. YES. easy answer. so kristin and annelid took charge of the room. kristin found some morphine and prepared a shot. walter made a sling to hold me with and annelid moved my arm into position then asked if i was ready. you bet. she pulled while walter held and kristin comforted. POP. what a beautiful sound. the absence of pain.

my accident was very disappointing. i want to be on the bike, seeing the countryside close up and spending the time with my fellow cyclists. however, i feel so fortunate to have had annelot, kristin, walter and my fellow cyclists there to get me through it.  so lucky.   the choice i have now was whether i wanted to take a bus ahead and wait in a hotel or ride in the truck and spend the time with my fellow cyclists in bush camps and hostels. it was an easy choice. i also took the opportunity to offer the use of my bike to our beloved lucho, our bike dreams mechanic and former peruvian cycling champion. he always tells me how much he admires my bike. yesterday he changed out the pedals for his shoes, lowered the seat and off lucho flew. my bike has never gone so fast.  made me happy.
yesterday i rode with robert, his girlfriend maria and ellen our cook in the lead bike dreams truck. hannie, married to marius, rode as far as the half-way point at lunch then biked the second half. hannie and marius have cycled so many places in the world i can’t begin to recount them. marius is a head and neck surgeon in holland – they have three grown children.
hannie and i marveled at the scenery – at one point she said to me “this reminds me of a park we cycled in america. you know, where it looks like giant footprints.” “canyonland” i replied. “yes” she replied. as the truck bumped and bounced its way through tight curves, ascents and descents, steep drops and dust swirls along this rough single track we held on to anything we could.  we are still at a high elevation here as we have been for better than six weeks so we weren’t too surprised to see vicunas along the hillsides.  robert has a busy schedule when we arrive at our next stop so there can be no photo stops – the scenery is fantastic. i miss most of it as far as photos are concerned since we are bouncing so much and moving through it all rapidly . occasionally i try through the window but i don’t have high hopes for the results. i’ll post what i can but i hope you realize that its much more than i have captured.

i’m sure you noticed the absence of caps – just too hard with just one hand.

Gracious Bolivian Hosts, Rain, and the Otherworldly Salar de Uyuni

After leaving La Paz we headed for the back country roads of Bolivia.  We have been on the altiplano since the southern part of Peru – finding ourselves between 3600 and 4400 meters of altitude.  This area is the second largest high plain next to Tibet.  It reminds me of Mongolia with the rolling sweeping plains and “hills” rolling up higher than the rugged mountains of Colorado.  It’s easy to forget the altitude since we tend to equate high elevation with ranges of mountain peaks rather than these softer mounded hills.  The vegetation is largely tufted grass and lichen with tiny wildflowers which are hard to pick out since the summer growing season hasn’t begun here yet.  Quinoa grows well here and we have seen some furrowed grounds awaiting the rainy season.  What does thrive on this boundless plain are all the llamas, alpacas and occasional vicunas.  They are everywhere.  Hundreds. Thousands.  The llama and alpacas are domesticated – one passes herders with small flocks of perhaps a hundred mixed animals and of course the ever-present rock wall pens where the animals can be gathered for shearing and also brought into for protection.  I remember my first sight of llamas in Ecuador and the excitement and flurry of camera clicks.  Now I pedal past with the camera remaining lodged in my cycling jersey pocket.  We pedaled flat pavement with tail wind on our route to Orura – a large city on our way to the Meteor Crater and then on to the Salar de Uyuni.  Orura is a city of 420,000 which was founded in 1606 as a silver mining center.  When the silver was depleted tin took its place.  Now the city is best known for its Carnival which is the largest cultural event in Bolivia and is recognized as a Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001.  I enjoyed a good meal in this city but no Carnival and lots of traffic for a bicycle.  On we went to our next bush camp at A Andamarca, a good 110K cycle on new pavement and ending with rough backroad to the small village.  We find ourselves biking on a newly paved uncompleted highway, having it all to ourselves.  This is the home area of Evo Morales, the popular peasant president of Bolivia and consequently the region is finding itself the happy recipient of Evo’s largesse – at whatever level a poor country like Bolivia can produce.  There is very little traffic on this side of Orura anyway, but what there is is on the older highway and we gringo bikers are on the brand new road.  Feeling pretty special.

For the last two Bike Dreams trips here in Bolivia, in 2010 and 2012, the riders had a total of 5 minutes of rain.  We have found the wet season 5 weeks early and have been beset by tremendous thunder and lightning storms with heavy rains and big winds besetting us in the afternoons.  We biked into our bush camp with this kind of weather pattern making the prospect of setting up tents and bush kitchen facilities a little bleak.  Rob and Maria in our lead truck pulled into A Andamarca while we bikers were still on the trail and asked the locals if there was any space we could use for cooking and eating.  This, like all villages in this rugged region, is a very poor town.  Some of the little villages we pedal through are deserted.  The people of A Andamarca welcomed us with open arms.  Of course they had never heard of Bike Dreams nor had any idea why any grown people might want to bicycle to their town.  Yet the answer was a very gracious, “you are most welcome to whatever we have here.”  We got our tents up in the rocky ground surrounding the basic school/community building while the kitchen was being set up inside – the rain came with a fury and the winds whipped our tents.  Some of our late arrivals set up sleeping quarters on the floors inside.  We enjoyed a great meal in dry quarters and felt so lucky.  The storm at this altitude is also very chilly.  Hypothermic weather.  All the village leaders asked of us is that we come to their church that evening at 8 so they could show us of what they are most proud.  We all gathered in our rain gear and headed through the small square to the rugged, ancient appearing church building with its adjacent tower.  The tower happens to be the highest structure in all of Bolivia.  The church and tower date back to 1623 when the Spanish arrived in this part of this country.  It looks as old as it is at this time.  The interior murals had long ago fallen into decay and been repainted white.  The exterior walls were mud plastered decaying brick.  The gilded  baroque figurines and moldings were intact and impressive but incomplete due to the ravages of time and lack of funds.  We listened as the two elders gave us the story of their most prized possession, this ancient church building, and their dreams of restoring it as a tourist attraction.  May the hopes and dreams of these gracious people remain ever strong.  May the reality of their remote location and the impossibility of funding in a country too poor to care for the health and vitality of their people as it is never dim their spirits.  It was with these mixed emotions that we departed this church and the two kind hearted leaders and crawled into our tents.

Our next bush camp location was at the Meteor Crater about 110Ks away.  We were scheduled to bike an off road trail but because of all the rain, there was concern about getting the trucks through that route with our getting them badly stuck.  So the options we cyclists were given were to ride the off road trail with no support or lunch, or take the paved road about 60K to an off road route of another 60K to the camp.  Our trip leader Wilbert was not sure of the distance of the paved route.  About half of the  cyclists took the paved route and the others followed Wilbert on the unpaved.  As it turned out the unpaved road was really a very good surface and the paved portion of the other route was actually 95Ks not 60 and still left 60ks to pedal to camp.  Of course I was on the 155K route and it was a very long day.  With the thunder, lightning and rains all around us we were lucky to avoid them all day, but when we hit camp lightning was all around us.  I hurried to get my tent up with rain pounding my little cycling rain top and soaking the rest of me.  As I was trying to get in the last two pegs to firm it up the wind suddenly appeared and swept into a fury – of course I had the little one- center pole tent facing the wrong direction and it flattened the poor thing before I could even say “damn it” through my chattering teeth.  Seeing my dilemma, my buddy JR came running over and suggested we pick it up and set it upright again behind a wall on the other side of the school building.  Again, the local villagers were allowing us to use their school house for our kitchen and dining room.  We both took and end and got the tent upright in a better location but we shivering puppies when we finally got into shelter.  After such a huge day of cycling I had little resistance to the wet and cold.  Rob, our driver, kindly handed me his down jacket so I could get my shivering under control.  A half hour later I had dry clothes back on and everything in my tent.  Again, we felt so fortunate to be treated so well by the local folks.  I had no energy (or light) to walk over to the Meteor Crater to see this phenomenon.

We have all been looking forward to getting to the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat.  We were happy to leave the Meteor Crater and start our 78K off road trip through the countryside to Tahua located on the edge of the Salar.  The journey proved to be a very rugged series of roads and trails which took us past several villages, only one of which seemed to have any life and that one no center or store.  There was one old church standing that would be interesting to know its past story but that was not available to us passing through its deserted cobblestones.  We were now climbing at times as our route took us around a volcano and then back down to the salt flat edge at about 3700 meters elevation.  The countryside was beautiful – one could also see the snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Real, some of which are over 6000 meters.  The volcano peak was surrounded by dark rain clouds and mist all day as we bounced and jolted our way on this rocky rough terrain hoping our bodies would somehow retain there former shape when we could get off of our bikes in Tahua.  Up and up we rode till finally there it was!   Incredible.  The horizon below with the exception of a few mountains and islands was flat white as far as you could see.  The Salar de Uyuni.  Such a unique and bizarre sight.  Out came our cameras  and the five of us riding first down to Tahua wished we could capture truly on digital what our eyes could see so vividly.  Down we rumbled into the town and hung out while Rob and Maria again arranged for cooking and eating facilities, this time in a warehouse.  The green area that Bike Dreams had previously used for camping was now being used for agriculture so we waited in the town square till a new solution could be found.  We ended up camping on the edge of the salt flat itself.  There was no moisture whatsoever on the bottom of tent floors with the terrain we were parked on.  Had a great meal in the warehouse and no rain this evening.

Morning came and we finally got on our bikes and off on our cycling journey across 102K of salt crust on the largest of all the salt flats in the world.  It dwarfs the Bonneville salt flats in Utah.  The crust itself is a few meters thick and the terrain is so flat that there is a variation of only one meter over the entire area of the Salar which is 10,500 square kilometers.  Below the crust is a pool of brine which also holds about 60 percent of the world’s lithium.  Of course, we’re not thinking about all that – we are having a ball cycling on this huge solid remarkably surface of salt.  You can just fly.  Cars and buses can be seen taking tourists out to an island about 40K’s out where will have lunch.  Then we take a sharp left and head for our home for the night, a salt hotel on the other edge of this part of the Salar.  It was a day of play.  Photographs abound.  We all have to be very aware of the sun and the reflective nature of the salt surface.  I cover every part of me that I can and slather sun screen on the rest.  I end up cycling with Joost, Patrick, Michelle, and sometimes Lucho in the afternoon.  We have fun with trick photographs which I hope to share with you either on this blog or the next.  What a day.  The sun starts to wear us out with about 15-20K’s left and we cycle in tired but happy at the salt hotel.  This is a very basic lodging but its uniqueness make it a welcome place for us to stay. It is built entirely out of cut blocks of salt, including the furniture and beds – the floor is all loose salt.  We are all in early and happy so out come the beers – I get a bottle of wine for JR, Joost, Michelle and myself.  Two more bottles and a few hours later we still haven’t eaten since Ellen and crew are also enjoying a few spirits.  It was a late night to bed (10) for us cyclists but a great day of a fantastic part of this world.

Heading out onto the Salar

Heading out onto the Salar

Lunch on the Salar

Lunch on the Salar

Cactus on island near lunch on the Salar

Cactus on island near lunch on the Salar

Lucho and I celebrating

Lucho and I celebrating

Joost, Michelle and JR celebrating inside salt hotel

Joost, Michelle and JR celebrating inside salt hotel

Volcano on route to Salar

Volcano on route to Salar

Buck and bike havin fun

Buck and bike havin fun

Futbol in La Paz Stadium

Robert, Maria and Hardy - Rien just missed the photo

Robert, Maria and Hardy – Rien just missed the photo

bannered sections seated behind us

bannered sections seated behind us

IMG_1072Yesterday Hardy organized a taxi trip to the Sunday futbol match at the Estadio Rafael Mendoza Castellon which was located about 40 minutes away by taxi with good traffic.  Traffic in La Paz can be a real challenge but if any mode of transportation is going to get you there quickly it is the aggressive macho taxi driver.  They generally have one hand attached to the horn and the other to the wheel.  In their minds they always have the right of way and one way streets can be traveled in either direction as long as the coast is relatively clear.  There is no freeway system with clear exit and entry ramps – we’re talking city streets with traffic often merging from several different direction and pedestrians crossing in any manner that they dare.  Taxi drivers in general do not recognize pedestrians as having any right of movement.  Bikes may be even lower on their list.  We’re leaving the bikes behind today and joining the top dog of city streets in his own workplace, his 4 passenger cab..  It does seem odd that when you hop,  in these drivers resemble normal people and generally seem very polite and helpful, but that impression is quickly dispelled once you move back into traffic and they again display characteristics that force you to cringe and sometimes just close your eyes.  We needed two taxis since there were eight of us, and asked both drivers if they could try to stay together so we would be able to find each other upon arrival.  Mission accomplished.  We arrived safe and at least physically sound at the stadium.

The Stadium as about half the size of the one we attended in Cuenca earlier in our trip.  This one holds about 5000 people and the atmosphere outside somewhat resembled the old Viking’s Met in Bloomington in that there was every kind of meat and barbecue fired up as well as drinks and a variety of snacks available.  Of course, at a much smaller scale than the 40,000 capacity of the American game and a lot less emphasis on beer salesman.   These attendees are more family oriented and definitely into their home team, the Tigres.  There are yellow and black jerseys , hats and pennants on most everyone.  Several of us bought futbol jerseys and hats – then purchased our tickets through a webbed steel fence from people sitting on tables on the inner side.  Their form of security I guess.  You push your money through a gap in the fence and he shoves the tickets back in the same manner.  We wandered into the oval stadium and looked for the most rabid fans to join on the concrete seats.  There is no upper level seating so all seats are exposed to whatever the weather  can bring.  The stadium is mostly surrounded by high rock columns and spheres which make a great visual backdrop.  Hardy leads us around the stadium where we sit in different places testing our environment –  there is no assigned seating.  We are looking for the loudest most rabid fans so we also can really get into the game.  Seats along the middle are the most coveted but tend to be quieter.  After a few fits and starts we settle into seats near the band and the bannered cheering section.  The first half starts slowly, although the Tigres do donate play, they just don’t seem to be hustling enough to make successful attacks.  I sit next to Rien and just below Hardy so I can learn from these two who have played and been fans all their lives in Holland and Germany respectfully.  Offsides is a particularly difficult concept as there is no additional line on the field as in hockey to dictate it but it is quite clear to these two.  Just about every referees call gets our section up screaming and complaining – a bad pass by one of the home team players is not easily forgiven.  There is also constant singing by the bannered cheering section just above us and a lot of jumping up and down and hollering all around.  I’m sure my  Spanish language virgin ears have been attacked on all sides by swear words I can only pick up by their intensity whenever the Tigres give the ball up to the opposition,  At halftime the score is still 0-0 despite several chances.  During the second half the Tigres come out with new intensity.  They completely dominate play and only inspired effort by the Nacionales goalkeeper is keeping the game tied.  The Potosi team is called the Nacionales but are not the Bolivian “national” team.  It is just their team nickname.  Finally on some nifty passing in front the the goal, the local team grabs the lead.  The crowd around us goes crazy and we too are inspired to jump and shout.  The Nacionales backs seem to be broken and they don’t seem to have any answer for the Tigres advances except what their goalie’s quickness can provide.  It is not long before the second ball enters the goal mouth and again the crowd explodes.  The game is no longer a contest – light rain is now falling.  The poncho and umbrella vendors have become everyone’s favorites – Hardy needs to buy one as he forgot his rain gear.  The rest of us don ours and with just a few minutes left wait for the final score to become official.  We are a long way from the exit – it’s too late now to try to sneak out through the crowd so we just wait as the people file along toward the exit.  There are only a couple of exits  – you must just patiently shuffle your way along despite the increasing downpour.  Forty minutes later we were outside once again , looking for Terry and JR who had stayed near our original entry point near mid-field.  We wait and look through the crowd at our agreed meeting place for the two other gringos but can’t seem to find them.  Eventually the steady rain leads us to find taxis and a trip once aging through the crazy city street traffic to our hotel near the bottom of the city.

It was a great day of futbol for us – the level didn’tt seem as high as the two teams we watched in Cuenca but the spirit of the people in the stadium made that a moot point.  It is that spirit of the effort and loyalty of the fans,  and the resultant emotional  expression that makes this day exciting for gringos.

Bolivia

Waterfront in Copacacbana

Waterfront in Copacacbana

View along shore of Lake Titicaca beyond Copacabana

View along shore of Lake Titicaca beyond Copacabana

IMG_1579

cyclists on barge

cyclists on barge

partyers enjoying themselves along our route

partyers enjoying themselves along our route

cyclists enjoying lunch during break - overlooking ferry on Lake Titicaca

cyclists enjoying lunch during break – overlooking ferry on Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca borders both Peru and Bolivia – after our stop in Puno to visit the reed islands we continued our bike trip around this impressive body of water.  We were all a little apprehensive as to how long the border crossing would take but were surprised at the ease.  Our timing was good, there were no lines and getting our exit stamps from Peru was a breeze as was the entry into Bolivia.  A lot of goods pass from Bolivia to Peru because of Bolivia’s poorer economy thus cheaper goods.  We watched as cartons of eggs piled high on carts were manually moved through the Peruvian checkpoint past us from the Bolivian side – trucks with various goods moved along as well.  There must have been an advantage to taking these eggs across in this manner and then loading them onto trucks across the line.  Very little traffic other than commercial goods and little from Peru at all.  I watched as the Immigration official thumbed through my passport.  All US citizens require a visa – a process that took a while before my trip.  90 days is standard for your stay- mine will be 16.  Not sure what he was looking for but after a few looks at a computer screen and glances out the window he decided “what the Hell, might as well stamp this thing.”  It all seemed so arbitrary.  Off we went to what I thought would be a wild border town similar to our experiences across the Peruvian border.  The traffic had been a little crazy on the Peruvian side leading up to our crossing – where they were going I don’t know because there was no traffic on our ride across that imaginary line now.   The wild and crazy border town was anything but – Copacabana is a waterfront town with about 6000 people and a flotilla of boats moored in front as well as along the wharfs.  Very quiet, it’s now the off season.  We were greeted by restaurants running at about half speed.  They had large menus but very few items were available.   I spent the day sitting on a stump bench along the beach front chatting with friends.  Relaxing.  No noise.  No traffic.  No pressure to do anything;  The lake is at 3800 meters and the next days ride took us up to 4300 then slowly back down as we followed the shoreline.  That will be our elevation parameters for the 3 week stay on the altiplano of Bolivia.  Cold nights, slow digestion and a few problems sleeping are facing us during this time. The 120K trip from Copacabana  to our next hotel along the lake however, was one of the most beautiful of our entire trip.  Once we reached our climbing level above the water, we were treated to magnificent views, little traffic, and a gentle cruise that allowed one to just take it all in.  The ride reminded me so much of our shoreline on the north shore of Lake Superior.  Titicaca is also large enough for water landscapes that don’t include the other side.  The twists and turns of the roadway kept the view fresh and the islands and peninsulas were spectacular.  Of course, we don’t have any Incan terraces in our landscape on the north shore – there were, however, some impressive pines along this shore.  The sun was pleasant, the wind nonexistent and the temps cool enough to keep the sweat away.  We were just cruising.  Lunch break brought us to an overlook of the ferries transporting goods across the narrow isthmus below.  We were headed to one just a couple of K’s from lunch.  As we approached the ticket office I think we all thought we were destined to an experience on the passenger ferry.  No.  An even better experience awaited us as we were shown to a barge with a bus already loaded aboard.  We all moved ourselves and our bikes onto the heavy wooden low floating scow as the two young men pushed us off with wooden poles and started the 25 horsepower outboard which somehow pushed us across the water.  It was pretty cool.  About a 15 minute ride but more than a little interesting.  The bus drove off the barge and we pedaled away off to our hotel destination for the night.  Cost per cyclist – 5 Bolivianos which translates to around 80 cents US. The following day we had 140 K’s to ride on our way to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world at about 4000 meters depending on where you measured it.  We traveled along what became a busier and busier highway up to around 4100 meters.    Our ride included views of the Cordilllera Real.  White-capped mountains that include peaks over 6000 meters.  Real mountains.  About 25K from La Paz the traffic began to become crazier and crazier.  The constant road construction along the stretch did little to improve the situation.  Nor did the diesel smoke and the trucks, buses and cars ever changing lanes and blowing their horns.  On our bikes, this quagmire required our constant attention.  A dangerous ride for cyclists.  I rode in a group of 7 cyclists and was very happy to have our more conspicuous appearance than being solo coming into town.  Nearing the city we took an underpass to a 10K crazy drop into this swarming city of more than 2 million people crunched into a relatively narrow valley.  Wow.  I was so happy to finally get navigated to our hotel.  The streets are very narrow here in the center of town yet are packed with people moving every which way and others sitting with various wares to sell at every curb.  It’s a loud and wild experience just moving along with the flow as best you can.  Found I needed a nap upon arrival – more just an escape from all the hubbub around me.  Give me back Copacabana and the quiet lakefront. Today Terry had scheduled a trip to the Death Road.  A google search will give you some idea of just why this roadway has been designated as one of the most dangerous roads in the world.  A few years ago they built a new road and now the Death Road has little traffic but does have cyclists touring along the 55K down hill portion.  These touring cyclists are carefully monitored by guides to keep them as safe as possible.  The road is gravel and rough.  There are cars and buses lying below and crosses above honoring the dead over the years.  There are drops of thousands of feet.  The ride itself takes about 4 hours on a cycle.  You don’t go fast.  About 22 of our group opted to take this ride including myself, however, when I awoke early this morning I decided to give myself the day instead.  Since we are being picked up at 8 am and don’t get back until 8 pm it just seemed to much.  We have 7 straight cycling days when we leave La Paz – tough long days.  I felt better off with a free day to myself.  I will try to post photos from other cyclists later, however.  I am going to take in a soccer match tomorrow at the Stadium here in La Paz with Hardy and whoever else opts to go. We have now left Peru – a country that greeted us with stark bare deserts and a police escort when we came in from Ecuador.  Trash-lined roadways and loud raucous villages and towns.  Then she showed us the beautiful Andes and friendly small villages, the llama, alpacas and vicunas; the high mountain shepherds and high mountain passes.  What I will remember most about Peru are the gracious friendly people.  A small village watching our truck get forced into a muddy ditch by other traffic, then coming over as a group and engineering it out of that quagmire.  All with ropes and many hands.  Laughing and singing the whole time.  Unselfish.  Wonderful people.  I might also remember the penetrating cold of our climb up to Cerro de Pasco, an ugly mining town with a hotel with an interior temperature of 4 C where i never got warm in the slightest. Another night the same in our next town, Junin.  Elevations of up to 4887 meters is not easy cycling.  Nor comfortable.  However, the views and the impressions of the people living there make it all worth it.

Lake Titicaca and Floating Reed Islands

Uros women working at their crafts on Lake Titicaca

Uros women working at their crafts on Lake Titicaca

Gringo tourist boat complete with gringo cyclists - I was in Mercedes Benz boat

Gringo tourist boat complete with gringo cyclists – I was in Mercedes Benz boat

Today we arrived in Puno, Peru after a couple of bush camps.  We are now on the altiplano and will be so for another 3 weeks or better.  For those of you who slept through your world geography in high school, the altiplano is a high plateau.  This area covers much of Bolivia and the last portion of Peru that we are now cycling through.  Lake Titcaca is at 3800 meters elevation and much of the altiplano is similar.  Tomorrow we will climb out of Puno and head to Copacabana, Bolivia.  I believe that to be another crazy border town but I will be better equipped to describe it during our rest day there.  We left our bush camp early today so all who wanted to could have the opportunity to tour the Lake Titicaca reed islands and homes.  One of our cyclists, Michelle, took it upon herself to organize a tour after we arrived and 22 cyclists climbed into a bus which took us to a  tour boat which led us through the totora  reeds of this large bay in the largest lake in South America.  The bay has a average depth of 9 meters and is well protected from waves and storms by the very same reeds which the Uros tribe uses here to build their islands, their homes, their furniture and their boats.  they have been utilizing this abundant resource for centuries.  The island homes have been their defense against invaders and their base for fishing and harvesting ducks and other sea birds.  All 22 of us easily fit into our tour boat and the guide was a native to the area, living on a floating island just a short distance from the one that we pulled into.  Tourism is now a large part of the income of the 600 or so Uros who still reside on the islands in this vicinity.  The islands themselves are created by using a dense mat of reed roots all connected together and anchored to a specific area.  This base is about a meter and a half thick.  Another meter of reeds are crisscrossed over the top of the base – that is where the reed homes and walking areas are created.  If the reed base was not anchored, the residents could wake up and find themselves in Bolivia.   These people fish for small fish about the size of smelt or ciscoes.  They are then dried for food.  We saw a duck which had also been dried.  Doesn’t look all that appealing but no refrigeration needed either.  The reed boats consist of the original version which was a very simple double ended design and oared swiftly through the protected waters.  The larger version, the Mercedes Benz of the Uros boat world is a catamaran shaped reed boat which actually has plastic bottles which help it carry more of a load.  Nothing like being practical.  The original boats last only about 6 months before needing to be replaced.  The reed islands themselves need to be replaced every 18 months or so as they rot from the bottom up.  It’s a labor intensive approach to housing in that sense but the relatively new concept of tourism makes it profitable enough to continue the lifestyle.  The children have primary and grade school on an island but move to land for their further education in the equivalent of high school.

The women on the raft island homes spend a fair amount

Mercedes Benz of island boats on Lake Titicaca

Mercedes Benz of island boats on Lake Titicaca

Utos woman in front of home on reed island

Utos woman in front of home on reed island

of their time with beautiful textile designs which they sell both in Puno and also to the tourist visitors such as us.  They have managed to keep the whole tourist process on their home islands simple and basic.  There is none of the craziness of Agua Calientes  – the island people themselves are your hosts and very gracious hosts,  We all enjoyed our experience here and appreciated the simple humble manner in which we were welcomed.

The large part of Lake Titicaca is much deeper – it contains trout and kingfish which were imported and also larger native fish.  The deepest part of the lake is around 200 meters or so if I heard our guide correctly.  There are no reed boats on this part of the lake as it is too exposed to the elements but they are also found in other bays.  There are also some beautiful natural islands  including the ones named after the Sun and the Moon located on the Bolivian side of the lake.

We will have two more days of riding after our rest day in Copacabana  before reaching the capital of Bolivia, La Paz.  My Aussie friend, Terry, has organized a ride on the Death Road just outside of La Paz.  If you google you will find some spectacular photos of this crazily exposed roadway which once was the main route of travel for vehicles of all sizes.  Hence, the term Death Road.  Now a new route has been established and this former Death Road is only used as a tourist experience.  We will cycle down it.

I’ll try to post a few photos here but internet is poor so they may have to come later.