December 2013
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Month December 2013

Cafayate

A minor but secondary effect of being ‘not at home’ for the holidays is making sure you can find places to stay and food to eat when most things are shut down. In tourist places this is easy, but I couldn’t hang around waiting for the infrastructure of travel to resume, so we headed south to Cafayate. It’s the start of Ruta 40 if you come into it from Salta.

Ruta 40 is, for travellers, one of the legendary roads.

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5121 km’s long down the remote and lonely eastern Andes from Bolivia to Ushuaia, you don’t ride it continuously or you’d miss spectacular diversions into Chile, but some do and they get huge points for being stubborn in a not-so-bad way. We have a plan and it includes Chile.

Although mostly paved, it’s famous for having 100’s of miles long sections of ripio, which is small diameter, deep loose round gravel that doesn’t work so well on a moto. And if you’re caught in the rain you can be looking at  miles of slick mud. Crashing spectacularly on Ruta cuarenta and getting good crash-site photos is a tradition. Gas stations (or any services) are infrequent and running out is always an issue, no matter how much you’re carrying. The Rotopaxes are full and I can ride 260+ miles between top-ups.

Rather than spoil the many crazynesses of this mythic route, we’ll blog them as they come, depending on where and how we go.

The day’s track
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The novelty of Argentina’s relative sophistication hasn’t worn off and even the smallest towns feels maybe a bit too comfortable. We haven’t seen motos in any quantity in a few countries but there are plenty here
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Into some hills
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Alongside a muddy river. They’re all muddy
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These escarpments for miles
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And past a huge cave in a mountainside called Giganta del Diablo, the Devil’s throat, not to be confused with the waterfalls of the same name
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Into Cafayate
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After finding a place for Lucinda we took shelter while it rained for an hour and went back to explore. A very pretty village
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Relax in the shade, grape vines overhead. It’s easy to be content here for an hour or two
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It’s wine country. $7 to $10 a gallon
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Acacia in bloom everywhere
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A perfect place to be for New Year’s. Around 10 there was a pageant. Check out the video to the left (click, click to enlarge, click the HD button). Great music, inspired all around. Dogs are a part of the Latin family. Sometimes they’re a problem for the rider (more on this another time) but they always have ‘rights’ that North American dogs don’t have, like being able to wander around the stage during the New Year’s pageant.

Salta

Christmas and my birthday were spent mostly alone. Last year I flew home and when I arrived back in the US afterwards I felt like I’d cheated on my journey.

So this year I hunkered down alone and hoped I was making good decisions. I received kind invitations and watched with interest as other riders gathered together in good places in various countries. Or flew home.

Being solo out here is, for me, living in a reality I had not imagined. The routine is packing and unpacking the duffel, riding the bike, buying gas, eating and sleeping. Everything else in the world can and does take any shape and happen at any time. The intensity of everything changing, all the time, is at first exhilarating, then after a while the adrenalin matures into something else with a more comfortable buzz and strength and whatever the new chemical is it becomes an addiction, a new expectation and requirement.

Calender routine, the time of the day, days of the week, holidays, even Christmas become meaningless unless they affect the ride, outside of the importance of some days to family.

However the rest of the world seems to be plugged and locked into the silently ticking grid still, so family presents from La Paz made it to Vancouver by December 19th, which was a relief.

My birthday followed two days later. It wasn’t a milestone of any sort, and if it had been I wouldn’t have cared. Years past or remaining don’t matter either, only the season immediately ahead is important.

There are important things to think about, and for me the only way to think about them is alone. In the same way as the best way to feel the impact of a radically changing environment and the players in it, to feel the risks and make the constant decisions, is also alone.

I don’t think we’re supposed to be alone though. I’m seeing some evidence of that, but more on that another time, and only as an observation.

Saludos
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two days to Salta

The two-day track. Short rides because the border was epic
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And now the really good news, we’ve been loosing elevation fast over the last three days. I think its been about a month over 10,000′ and much of that over 12,000′. Day one
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Day two, down to about 4000′
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The elevation high was 16,000′ back in Peru. The worst experience was being tired after walking around too long at that elevation and having difficulty sleeping well.

A fine way to start out of Tupiza
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As I cashed up in town (just a bit, border and exchange coming up) there was another bike in the main square. Out of the bank comes a German, Wolfgang. Whoa, two riders in one week, both Germans (as I’ve mentioned before, the majority of riders are Canadian, German and Aussie, in that order. But this may be just my experience.) We chat and are both going south. He’s under pressure to get further south than I have to today, Christmas eve is tomorrow and he has friends in Tucuman waiting for him. He’s lived in Argentina. But he’s got business at the bank, so I say I’ll get a start on the border and hopefully see him there.

Two hours later I’m outside Villazon, the border town and stop to get a pic of the usual truck washing station, this time by a river
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Then into the town
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Through downtown
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To complete madness. It’s Dec 23rd and everyone is trying to cross, both ways. I hadn’t expected it to be this bad
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First, by accident, Bolivian aduana to clear Lucinda, I’d made a mistake and gotten into the wrong of two parallel line-ups. This turned out to save me time later. The door on the left
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Then across the street to Bolivian immigration. The line up here was two hours long but an immigration official showed me how to jump close to the front, so only an hour
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People stressing out. Me – I can wait, I’m armed to the teeth with the correct paperwork and don’t expect problems. Everyone else seems to be having problem, specially the families. I wait behind one mother who can’t fill out the paperwork, she can’t read or write and is very unhappy as someone walks her through it. It’s super hot – 100F and there’s no usual water merchant
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Then Wolfgang shows up right here. He walks up to where I am and by some brilliant manuever manages to get in the line beside me without getting a knife between his ribs. Very lucky. I go through first, get cleared out then just to the left get cleared in to Argentina and head off to Argentine aduana, back over the other side again, door to the right
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This is no fun. I’m now 3 hours into it and the Argentine aduana chief doesn’t like my Guatemalan title. He’s not looking to be a jerk, he just can’t figure out why I would ride down from Vancouver with a Canadian bike then turn it into a Guatemalan bike later. It’s a very long story and I go through it with him slowly, twice. It takes forever.

Then, for the first time ever, I have to unpack Lucinda and shove everything through an X-ray van. Wolfgang’s bike on the left
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Then we’re done. 4 hours for me, 3 for Wolfgang. Photo opp
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We’re dying of thirst and head into Argentina looking for water past beautiful hills
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For maybe 30 miles
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Following a railway line
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We stop in a small town, get cold drinks and he tells me a few rider things about Argentina. Yes, the paranoia can be backed off just a bit. Yes, the Argentines are a friendly bunch. He gives me a final warning though – always keep your eyes open. No surprises. We say our goodbyes.

Further down the road, fields of huge cactuses
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Nearby, an old village
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Further south we speed up, trying to get ahead of the rain in the hills to our left
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We do, and pass the Tropic of Capricorn, my ‘sign’. I take it as a good omen.
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Shortly, we arrive in Tilcara. I walk around for a few minutes, slightly shocked. Unfortunately I had photo blackout and don’t take any pics, this has happened before when my priorities in the moment change, so you’ll have to wait for the next example of what I see and feel. It’s completely different from anything I’ve seen in a year. The people look somewhat European. The structures are modern. People look middle class. I haven’t seen anything like it in so long I’m slightly exhilarated. Off I go to the hotel, where a group of guys and I talk bikes for 20 minutes and I settle in to the awesome Posada de Luz. I’m spoiling myself in celebration. I sit up talking to the owner, Luz (which means light) for hours. Funny, Lucinda’s name comes from the Greek goddess Lucine, the giver of light.

A fabulous view from my room
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The next morning I set off down the same valley I’ve followed since the border. remembering I don’t have picture of Tilcara I stop and take this. It’s in the trees there somewhere
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Down the valley
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Thistle in bloom by the road
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As we get close to Jujuy the landscape changes dramatically. It becomes fertile lowland and very green
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Past Jujuy its lush and hot
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Lakes in the distance everywhere. It’s paradise
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We get onto Ruta 9 in the countryside and immediately we’re on a section of road that looks like this
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So I guess you’ve noticed. The road is only about 8 feet wide and there’s a stripe down the middle, kind of indicating two lanes of traffic. But this can’t be, it’s hilariously narrow, like a footpath. So I expect it to widen after this little bit of local humor. But it doesn’t widen, and we’re headed into hills
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OK, now, we’ve never been in a road like this ever, so we’d better think about traffic. Into the forest
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We get a glimpse of the road behind us, a fairytale
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It becomes like a rainforest
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And then it is a rainforest. The huge trees are covered in bromeliads and orchids not in bloom. Incredible
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Super-dense
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And the whole time we’re riding this 8 foot paved footpath. It does crazy things to your head as you try to determine the right speed. Normal speed has you zipping through the twisties with no room for error. It’s a blast, if a little insane.

A section
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It keeps it up for nearly 50 miles, by which time I’m tired from concentrating, the corners have been crazy small too, sometimes so tight you wonder how you got through. This is definitely one of the best paved roads I’ve ever done.

It eventually flattens out and we’re beside a lake
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Interesting birds
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Can you believe this
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Then approaching Salta, we’re on this big highway, and overhead are these completely high-tech green signs and I go into a kind of shock again. I’m not sure if we saw these in Mexico or not, but definitely not in any major city since. Nothing in a year. It’s like rolling into Vancouver. Check this sign out. Whoa, fancy
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So now I’m smiling like a fool, even though I know this level of technology might  be very short-lived given where I’m headed, maybe only one week, but we’re enjoying it, just like it’s Christmas or something.

Then later into big city of Salta, just before the rain
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two days to Tupiza

Tupiza, Bolivia, is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were finally killed. We’re headed there coincidentally on our way out of Bolivia. The new goal is to spend Christmas at lower altitude in the warmth and we’re headed for Argentina, instead of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

The two-day track
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Back to Potosi, since we’re going to miss Sucre we should see something else semi-properly. We rush to get there in time to visit the Spanish, later the Bolivian, coin museum. Potosi is the site of a mountain of silver, Cerro Rico, the biggest ever discovered, commandeered by the Spanish in 1556.
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As a result the town became the wealthiest and biggest city, briefly, in the world. I’ve had an interest in the trail of Spanish destruction since learning more about what happened in what is now Guatemala. I had, like anyone else, some knowledge of the main stories of Spanish conquest, but it’s the lesser known that surprise the most. So here’s another horror story: 8 million people died, or rather were killed, mining Cerro Rico. The Spanish ran out of Bolivians so they imported blacks. They kept them down the mines for 4 months at a time, in the darkness. No surface visits. They usually died on the second shift.

The Potosi museum is where the silver was smelted, ingots were poured and either shipped back to Spain or converted to coins. Here, for example is where ingots were squished into plate thin enough to be stamped into coins
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Here’s a more modern version. Bolivian coins were made here until the 50’s. Now they’re made at the Royal Canadian Mint, unsurprisingly.
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Here’s a strongbox. One key turns 12 locks. This was placed inside a church, the poor were encouraged to place put coins in the slots, and when full the box was shipped back to Spain. In corporate terms this is accessory revenue.
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Also a room full of mummies, which is always fun
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Outside the streets were flooded again…
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Off to Tupiza. Morning rains as we set off through the mountains
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Through an oasis town
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Onto a concrete road
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That started and stopped
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At one point we could see the view of the road ahead. Magical
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A couple of hours of fantastic riding later we were running beside a river canyon
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Very beautiful. Small farms
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And many ruins

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At one point we could ride down to the edge
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Sections were calving off
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Behind where this pic was taken from was the most extraordinary cactus. I later learned this is an uncommon sight
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A close-up of the flowers
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A great situation
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Lucinda hamming it up while we’re stopped
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A little further along, a village. On the right hand side of the street people were being loaded into trucks
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Walked around the market while Lucinda drew her usual crowd
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I bought a silver ring for my collection from the guy on the left. Presents for the girls one day
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A great little village in the middle of nowhere
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A couple of hours later we were back into red sandstone
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And into the town of Tupiza
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The crazy welcoming statue
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Mystery resolved as we passed and he said Holy shit, what a beautiful bike!
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Downtown is another famous biker hotel/hostel, the Mitru. Riders coming through Bolivia to Argentina set up for the border here. Very friendly and a courtyard just for bikes. But of course I’m the only one around as usual
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Butch and Sundance were killed somwhere in this town by heavily armed Bolivian troops. They claim to know where but apparently that’s bogus. But the truth seems to be that Sundance was injured, Butch realized the game was up so shot him, then himself.

Uyuni

The day’s track
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The elevation profile
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Out of Potosi nice and early to beat the queue at the gas stations. A few minutes late. Not refused again, good.
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I stop out of town because I see pigs in the river, huh. I didn’t know they did that.
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There’s a path up and a few piglets race up to see Lucinda
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Here they come
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They admire her 12″ of clearance and walk underneath
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They do a lap and come and check the gringo out
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After that fun we head off to the most desolate town in South America, Uyuni. We’ve got 150 miles of hills before the plains of the altiplano
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We pass the last town
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And through more sandstone canyons
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The rains have just started. The river beds indicate how much water is to follow soon
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Great formations
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Narrow canyons
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And wide
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A few last windowless homes
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Beautiful streams
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Fields of 20′ boulders
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Soon, that wonderful desolate yet welcoming feel
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Then, amazingly a high green plain, actually two connected plains, miles long and covered in thousands of llama
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Towards the southern valley end it gets even greener
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To the outlet, which means it’s downhill a bit to the gigantic Salar plain from here. This is an extraordinary place. High-altitude yet green. The detail around you is pin sharp, the visibility endless. It’s very cold
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Later, down about a 1000′ we come across a valley of cactus in flower. They’re big, up to 20′
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The flowers
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Ground cactuses in flower too. Yellow
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And orange
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Thorn trees
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Also in bloom
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Through another sandstone valley, filled with huge clumps of grass
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Out onto another plain, this time with the graceful vicuna
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Vast and magnificent
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And a Raoulia in bloom, how about that

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Then, after another 50 miles or so we cross a ridge and below us is Uyuni, which you can make out to the left close to the horizon
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And soon we’re there. It’s exactly as I thought it would be
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Downtown
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I had an agenda. I have to see how much water is on the famed Salar de Uyuni. Stephan had said the day before the rains have started properly. So I race a bit imprudently down the notoriously difficult road (sand) another 20 miles to see. Sure enough, it’s a lake
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Another, with piles of mined salt. Also, 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are in the Salar
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And because it’s one of the world’s extraordinary features, a third
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The Salar is the world’s biggest salt flat. It’s 10,500 square k’s at 12,000′ elevation. It’s used to calibrate the world’s satellites. It has so many extraordinary features books have been written about it. I’m here, after three days of riding to see if a) it can be crossed and b) if there are any riders around about to cross it to the Lagunas. It’s the entry point. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, but am not willing to do it solo or if it’s raining. It’s 250 miles of sand and it’s the first route after the Salar and I’m not going to tempt the Gods with so far to go in the grand plan. A decision I’ve been mulling over for a month. But I can easily be back soonish.

So it was a long shot because I don’t know any riders behind me in Bolivia. They seem to be holed up in Cusco for Christmas. Despite the Salar problem (riding the salt water trashes the wiring and anything aluminum) I decide to cruise around town and hang out for a couple of days to see if anyone is here or shows up. I’ll talk to the 4X4 drivers and get the story on the weather.

I have a plan to return here up the coast from Santiago (since that’s a place I have to be twice in the plan) at the end of the rainy season and when I can organize timing it to ride with another bike. But there are a number of reasons I may not. We’ll see.

The next two riders behind me are skipping Bolivia altogether. One pair has gone down the coast and entered Chile already, which I slightly envy.

Hey, but let’s cheer up because we’re here at least. What a crazy place, the end of the world almost. I can get a tour out on the Salar on a 4×4 but decide not to for two reasons: 1) I want to ride out onto it one day on Lucinda, maybe soon, and 2) I didn’t come all this way solo to sit in a truck with 5 strangers for a day.

The next morning we go off to see the famous train graveyard about a mile out of town. Once there was a railway that crossed the plain, but no more. It’s very cool
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Very strange
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Lucinda’s wearing a funny hat. Christmas soon I guess
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Another
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Saludos
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to Uyuni 2

The day’s track
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Still high
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Sometimes it’s nice to fill up with gas when you arrive so you have a clean getaway the next day. Sometimes, when you don’t know where you’re staying and the town looks lousy you don’t have time for it. So this morning it’s off for gas in the funniest place in South America to do this – Bolivia. Into a muddy line-up we go
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We don’t get turned down. There’s about a 20% chance of this. The rest of the time you just pay about a 150% premium over the pump price. They’re supposed to fill out an invoice when they sell to a non-native, but occasionally they don’t and the attendant just pockets the premium. No biggee. And we’re off
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If you have any concerns about your future health, don’t ride a moto around South America. Sometimes you get stuck behind multiple smoky trucks, like today. I seem to have developed a strange sense of humor because day-starts in Bolivia make me laugh
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Into the country. Trucks and cars get charged a toll even if it’s a goat track. They also serve as a check-point for police who keep very busy looking into the back of trucks. We’ve only been stopped once and that was just for a bike chat
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The road south is very different from the previous day. It’s habitable. Not that that’s a requisite, but the previous day was just grey
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We passed over an enormous flood plain
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Where this fellow was fishing stuff out of the river and putting them on tarps to dry. No idea what it was but he was getting lots of it
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After a couple of hours we were beside the huge Lago Poopo. Evo Morales was born here and went to high school back in Oruro
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We were pleased to see vicuna
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Stopped for lunch at a pretty and very quiet small town
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No roadside offerings on this track, so we do the fruit-and-juice thing here
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I think I’ve arrived in paradise. Really well stocked. And as usual the presentation is fantastic. After a hard morning you just want to dive in.
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Back on the road we pass another of these small buildings. They’re outside most small towns south of La Paz. I should stop and look closer
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A school and church. Very pretty
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Back onto the high plains for another 100 miles
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Into the hills, as the elevation profile above shows. Cattle high up
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A small alpine flower, no more than 5mm across
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It turns into a beautiful ride through valleys
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And then a funny thing – coming the other way is a solo rider. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen anyone and by the looks of things he can’t either because we stop, pull the maps out and de-brief each other on what’s ahead of each other for an hour
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He’s Stephan from Germany on a 6 week tour of Bolivia and Peru. He’s come from the Salar and has bad news for me (although not wholly), but not for him – he’s made it through the Lagunas route but the rains have started down there. He’s a very experienced long distance rider. More on this tomorrow.

Back onto very green plains. Plenty of llama, no vicuna. Raining further down
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Now getting serious. The winds pick up and we ride through the storm for a while
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On the other side of the hills it’s better
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They’ve got the whole engine out of this bus. A very good chance it’ll be back in and running by the end of the day. They’re really really good at this
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As we top out the hills become red sandstone
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Dogs and sheep
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Farmland, old and new
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Through a terrific canyon
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And into Potosi. The picture shows mining tailings because that’s what Potosi is all about and has been for hundreds of years.

A video of riding into the town to the left (click, enlarge, click HD). A tour of what was once for a moment the biggest and wealthiest town in the world (really, Potosi), lots of Bolivians, a statue of a local famous futbol player and Lucinda wisely backing off a shoving match with a couple of punks in a rice-rocket at the end.
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to Uyuni 1

Riding out of La Paz was an adventure. You have to be on your ‘A-game’ anywhere in Peru or Bolivia. In the city or out in the country, it’s all the same: a day rarely goes by when you don’t have something happen to think about. For example, in the country the trucks overtake whether you’re coming the other way or not. Motos have zero rights anywhere south of Equador. The motos have for the most part disappeared off the roads. My friend Alvaro says people think they’re too dangerous. This makes no sense to me given how dangerous everything else is, like the roads. We’ve long ago had to forget what seems to be the way life logically should be and accept the way things are out of pretty Vancouver or wherever without complaint, except to other riders, which often makes up the bulk of our f-bomb-laced emails to each other.

It hasn’t been a good while for riders south of Panama. There have been four accidents, one expensive bike stolen, a couple of quits and one guy (Toni, who I met in Belize) who was attacked by two guys with machetes (and escaped). Lucinda and I realize we need a bit of luck to keep this up for the length of the plan. It’s normal to worry about harm to the bike, you just can’t worry about harm to yourself from wherever it may come from or you’re prey. There are much harder places elsewhere in the world than South America. But we won’t talk about that in case Lucinda overhears.

The day’s track
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We’re still above 12,000 feet
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Anyway, no stopping for pics until we’re long out of the city. The road’s under construction to Oruro and there seem to be an unusual amount of checkpoints and toll booths
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Road diversions constantly, which slowed progress
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Pass through small towns
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And across cold empty plains
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Hills here and there, rain on and off
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Past a crash or two
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About twenty miles from our destination there’s a big Unimog and a Dutch couple tell me the road is not passable for the last 10 miles, so I back-track and find another way in. I get a nice photo of them but they don’t want any pictures of themselves or their huge truck on the internet

Stop at the outskirts of town and get bearings
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Into Oruro. This is on the bad-places list but the diversions have slowed us down so don’t have a choice but stay. Anyone following – don’t stop
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Ride around until we find a safe place for Lucinda
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A lot of dogs in Oruro. But there are a lot everywhere south of Colombia. A friend said the other day that they seem to get meaner the further south you get and an Aussie I met in Caraz says he was constantly being attacked. They roam the streets in packs going through the garbage. It may be Lucinda’s size, but we haven’t had problems other than being chased 4 or 5 times a day
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I normally would have lumped this lousy day in with others, it doesn’t deserve a post, but the next day was almost the opposite so decided to keep them separate.

Saludos
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La Paz 2

La Paz isn’t on any rider’s ‘nice’ list. I spent 12 days there, including Yungas Road. As you may know it has a population of 2.3M, is at an average of about 12,000 feet and is chaos. The feeling you get after a week is that, despite everything that would indicate the contrary, what’s going on is all pretty simple – more later. I was in this least desirable (or so I initially thought) of places to decompress because a good friend flew in to visit.

Here’s Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales
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I’ve been reading about him. He’s Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He’s a fascinating and mostly effective leader and you get the feeling the Bolivians are lucky to have him, given the economic fundamentals. Although from a socialist background he’s pragmatic enough to weigh issues individually and the result is contradictory at times, but has that back-of-the-envelope common-sense style to it that’s rare, indicates strong support, and is quite appealing, despite strongly anti-Western moves and alignment with notorious baddies. The word on the street is that he’s mostly honest. Although his cabinet is said to be corrupt to the core, they know a good thing for Bolivia when they see it and let him have his sometimes very odd ways. He’s supposed to be a shoe-in at next year’s election. It’s easy to like many of the things you hear on the street about the guy, despite the normal blood-streaked Latin bio. For more, the Wiki is a good quick scan.

This is his office, the lower building on the left, off the main square. The boxes are Christmas decoration. Each box has a virtue, like moderation, patience or modesty labelled on it. I walked by them one at a time, looking for one for me, but no luck
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A few ceremonial guards at the front door. Very different from the Latin America we know and love P1000491

This is deceptive. Bolivia is dangerous and La Paz very. This is El Alto, the poorest neighbourhood, with the best view P1000509

It melds into the valley rim beautifully
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In the city, just as everyone knows, this is the daily reality
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Which is why La Paz is famous. I took days of photographs of all this. La Paz is a now a monstrous village and market and on this level hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Now some completely random stuff

A flash flood through the city. Not uncommon at this time of year. The graffiti has deteriorated gradually since Colombia
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An anti-American poster exhibition. Bolivia is hosting the world poster-art conference P1000499

There’s futbol, the great equalizer, no better illustrated than only a table away here
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The Valle de Luna. If you’ve been to Alberta you can skip this
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Llama fetuses and stuff at the Witches market, of course. Called witches because the Spanish labelled them that for selling mostly superstitious objects and herbs. You buy a llama fetus to bury in the ground before starting construction on a new home or building. This is standard practice still
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One of the things I bought to ship back to Vancouver for Christmas got blocked by DHL in La Paz. I’d bought various concoctions, powders that you put in your shoes, or the shoes of someone else to create a materialoutcome. If you want to come into some money you put some of the correct concoction in your shoes, or if you want a girl to fall in love with you, you put another type in hers. There are some pretty interesting things you can get people to do. This apparently mostly works great and has done for hundreds of years. The packaging however by the looks of things could be designed in India
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There was an emotional scene playing itself out Latin style in a small square
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They’re not a lot of young hipsters in La Paz, it sometimes looks more like a million thugs, but this otherwise together-looking young guy was crying his eyes out after being dumped. He was all snotty and tears were dripping off his nose. You could hear his cries of anguish from across the square, and he kept it up for all the time we walked the area, about 30 minutes. My friend said not to worry, she was just testing him and he was doing fine. So I felt OK about taking a picture.

It seems that other than at the very high-end most clothes are bought on the street
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Copyright infringement is a joke in La Paz. Without any exaggeration they just don’t care and nearly everything has a borrowed logo. North Face, Mountain Hardware, Columbia, it’s all made here in sweatshops that I’m told are run by resident Koreans. Even perfect looking Oakleys for $10, which must be made offshore because of tooling costs, for a more global knock-off market. The thing that surprised me was the quality of the hangtags. I understand how easy it is to knock-off a fabric piece but it seems unnecessary to come up with high quality print. They had ARC hangtags that were faultless on stuff the company doesn’t even make, like cheesy sun hats. Or maybe they do, haha

You could maybe walk ten miles of this in a morning and never come up for air
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Except around the food. The vegetables are beautiful. The Andes are where the potato comes from and you can buy countless varieties on the street. These beautiful potatoes are buried in snow then sun bleached and dehydrated
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We’re long out of Central America, where Tilapia is the dominant fish choice, now it’s all about trucha, trout, which has about 90% of the fish market and is dirt cheap P1000652

The vegetable and fruit markets had plenty of space
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It seems every nook and cranny is taken up. This flower market was in a pit
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Tradition aside, the most common street delicacy is jello and whipped cream which you see eaten everywhere
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There are gondola towers being built-in an effort to get some of the (all privately owned) buses and vans off the streets. There’s apparently some tension about this and the countless owner/drivers won’t go down without a fight
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And everywhere Coca leaves P1000532
You can buy various derivatives but the leaves are the thing. Mis amigos de Cochabamba told me to take a large pinch and chew it slowly with a piece of chewing gum. This works great. But for altitude the best thing, or at least the best way to do serious quantity is to drink mate de coca, Coca tea. You can buy it everywhere in the markets and for altitude issues, like tiredness, it’s a must. And La Paz has the world’s only (so I hear) cocaine bar, called Ruta 36. The government tolerates it provided it moves every three weeks. Catching up with its current location is basic street knowledge and now part of a new La Paz tradition. And the highest quality cocaine in all of South America is made in the local prison, which is downtown. San Pedro prison is self-governed. You have to buy your own room, or if you’re a decent businessman, small condo. It’s of course a completely primitive system and ultraviolent. If you’re a good futbol player you’re made, as they have private teams and players are bought and sold. It’s life and death to survive as you can imagine.

There’s no zona rosa, a safe-zone, to hang out in which I guess is why it’s not on many people’s to-do list. Our hotel was smack in the middle of the jungle. According to the news, the violence attached to petty crime against tourists is going from bad to worse. I asked locals about this and they deny it however. But we got comfortable here fairly fast, there’s no very strong anti-gringo atmosphere, and there wasn’t in Peru either. Despite that, tourists are thin on the ground. Not a lot of cultural tours are possible around the city – La Paz isn’t like that. In fact, unlike any other large city we’ve been in Latin America, a museum tour could be, and was, done in minutes. And you read that most of the historic architecture has been torn down. It doesn’t seen to matter or be missed, there doesn’t seem to be the time or inclination for introspection. But remnants of the past are here and there. San Francisco church
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But for the full impact of a powerful village/city that initially feels like anarchy, there’s been nothing even close so far in Latin America and I would be very sorry to not come back one day. This post is too brief and superficial but we’re behind.

Saludos
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