Thursday, 23 June 2011
It would be a big mistake to imagine that the Andes Altiplano (High Plains)was comparable to a table top onto which one could climb. In reality the plains are protected by big mountain passes over which one has to grind in the lean air. From an altitude of 2 500 metres at Cochabamba I climbed over 4 distinct high passes, descending again after each pass before climbing even higher over the next. The highest point on the road was at 4 500 metres before descending to the Altiplano at around 4 000 metres. There is no accommodation in these mountains, and I camped a couple of times at high altitude. On the second night after leaving Cochabamba I was camping on a ledge at 4 000 metres (I was hidden from the road, but some of the local tribal people spotted me from a path high above - no problem, as they waved and greeted me politely in Spanish). Those mountains are very desolate, and one of the few animals which can survive there are llama´s - the farmers herd the llama´s on the steep slopes with the use of ¨sheep-dogs¨. As I often do in the absence of any fixed object, I propped the bike up out of the dust and locked it to my tent for the night. At that altitude it became quite cold in the night, so I dressed appropriately and crawled down into the sleeping bag. During the night Old Saartjie blew over onto the tent, and with bike theft in mind I tried to jump into action with pepper spray and fish knife at the ready. However, with all that protection against the cold I got myself into such a tangle that I was fortunate not to cause myself any grevious bodily harm! (I wonder about that incident, as the bike was leaning away from the tent and there was only a light breeze). Later at the miserable dusty Altiplano junction town of Caracolle I stayed in an appropriately miserable room - the door could not even be closed properly from outside. During the night I had to trot to the equally miserable filthy downstairs toilet on regular occasions due to a stomach problem, and one of my fellow "inmates" stole my old, dirty, broken 2Oceans Marathon T-shirt from where it was hanging close to the door. Things get stolen for re-sale and not personal use, and the Nike sponsors logo on the sleeve must have been a deciding factor. However, upon closer examination the thief was unhappy with his catch, because I later recovered the stolen shirt from the hook behind the toilet door. Due to the thin air at altitude I often went into Oxygen Debt, and had to stop to hyperventilate until my head cleared and some strength returned to my legs. I reached Calamarca village early in the day on my way to La Paz, but I was so exhausted that I decided to see if they had any accommodation. Upon enquiry at the roadside I was informed that there was indeed a hotel up the hill at the plaza, opposite the historic cathedral (they even told me how much a room would cost). Well, when I got up there I found no such accommodation, and a ¨Man Of the Cloth¨(the Padre of the Cathedral complex) allowed me to camp out in one of the empty school-rooms. I was pleased about that as there was a fairly strong icy wind blowing on the plains - there was even a toilet in the back yard, with lots of guinea pigs charging about (I imagine the Padre knabs a fat one every week for his Sunday lunch). And then it was the final stretch to La Paz, at 3 600 metres the highest capital city around. At first I didn´t think much of the place, as I had to battle it out with taxi´s and busses through the dusty and dirty outlying El Alto. But when I did spot the city, it was an absolutely amazing sight. There was no prior warning, suddenly the earth fell away in front of me and there lay this spectacular city with the centre on the deep valley floor and buildings hugging the impossibly steep valley walls- with Mt Illimani in the background. Later, looking for cheap accommodation up and down the steep cobbled streets of the backpacker area, I was directed to a touring cyclists haven (Casa De Cyclistas), where at one point there were eight bicycles clogging the small place. It was also great to swap stories with the other cyclists, and just to have a normal conversation again for the first time since I left Leana in Rio De Janeiro 2 months ago. La Paz is a good place to acclimatise as it is situated at a slightly lower altitude than the surrounding area, and I´ve been here for a few days already. So, tomorrow I´ll move on again. Daily distances cycled since Cochabamba have been:- Parotan Camp 69 km; Pongo Camp 40 km; Caracolle 90 km; Patacamaya 91 km; Calamarca 46 km; and La Paz 65 km. Total in South America is 12 397 km, and total cycled since the start of this jouney is 78 884 km.
Monday, 13 June 2011
Feeling rather miserable after the theft of my photo´s, I made a hasty exit from Santa Cruz, heading West towards the Eastern slopes of the Andes (The Cordillera Oriental). I had a choice of 2 roads, and after consulting bus drivers at the terminal I took the Northern route (first I spoke to a group of taxi drivers at a pavement cafe, but at 9am they were too drunk to give decent directions). Although the road was busy, it was quite flat for the first few hundred kilometres. I stayed in some interesting places, and the simple rooms which I found there were dirt-cheap. Then the road tilted upwards towards the Altiplano (High Planes of Western Bolivia), and in less than 100 km I battled my way up from 300 m to 3 700 m. The road was supposedly paved, but it was in poor condition with gravel sections as well as cobblestones in places. At the end of climbing day 1 I was at around 2000 m and looking for a place to camp. I found a small roadside restaurant and upon enquiry I discovered that they had some rooms upstairs, as well as a hot shower (all for less than 3 Dollars). The following night I was up on the plains at Colomi, and from 3 700 m the road plummeted into a large dusty valley where I reached the city of Cochabamba more than 1000 m lower, 40 km later. At altitude the climate of the plains is rather desolate compared to the tropical atmosphere of the region down below. That lowland region is known for its variety of fruit (I bought tangerines and bananas a number of times at the roadside), as well as for production of coca (which they dry in front of their houses the same way they do cloves in Indonesia). The rural people live in stilted wooden houses (like in Laos), and they wash cars and clothes and themselves in the rivers (like in Africa). The women seem to have been cut from a square block of material and dress in pleated knee-length skirts and wear their hair in 2 long braids (the 2 in picture are actually quite skinny). The men are all scrawny and have a bulge of coca-leaf in their cheek. Up on the plains around Colomi the people have a smaller build, their houses are mostly made of mud bricks, and they have a somewhat Chinese look about them (in fact the landlady at the dump where I stayed in Colomi would not look at all out of place in parts of South-Western China). Cochabamba, where I am now, is the 3rd largest city in Bolivia, it is an interesting crazy town, but I have mixed feelings about the place. I arrived on Thursday afternoon and immediately went to the immigration office to extend my visa. I found there that they still follow a tedious paper trail, and I was instructed to fetch my visa on the Friday. On the Friday I discovered that some official had not yet signed my application, so I had to come back on Monday (this afternoon, and I hope it is ready). I also heard that about a month ago USA cyclists Eric and Amaya had booked into the same hotel where I´m staying, and while unpacking Eric had his fully laden bike stolen from the hotel courtyard (and I´m miserable over the loss of some photo´s!). Now I´m taking no chances, and I´ve not only locked my bike in my room but I´ve also chained it to the furniture. One of the things that I did get done here was to acquire a pair of reading glasses - now I look like somebody´s grandfather (the poor blighter), so perhaps it´s time for a shave again. If my visa is ready this afternoon then I´ll be climbing out of this valley again tomorrow, back up to the Altiplano where the air is thin and dry and cold. Daily distances cycled since my last post have been:- Buena Vista 109 km; Entre Rios 107 km; Chimore 73 km; Villa Tunari 37 km; Migalitu 64 km; Colomi 51 km; and Cochabamba 58 km. The total distance cycled in South America since November 2010 is 11 996 km. The total distance cycled on this journey so far is 78 483 km.
Friday, 3 June 2011
Let me first explain why there are no pictures with this report. As I mentioned in the previous post, there was a problem with a virus on my camera memory card - which I eventually had sorted out today. Subsequently, while I was out of my (locked) room, the camera card together with 2 other storage cards disappeared from the room - all the thousands of pics I´d taken in South America gone! Anyway, let me start where I left off last time. At the Bolivian border I got a nasty surprise, I had to pay 50 US Dollars for a 30-day visa. At least Bolivia is a lot cheaper than Brasil, and I found a crumby room where I lay for a couple of days trying to recover from flu. When I eventually got on the road, I found it to be a pleasantly quiet newly-paved road (and mostly quite flat compared to the previous month´s roller-coaster). There was only one section about 200 km before the city of Santa Cruz where construction was still in progress. So I´ve been in Santa Cruz for a couple of days, resting and trying to recover from the flu which I´ve been unable to shake off. So far Bolivia seems to be rather out of place in South America - it reminds me a lot of certain African countries, or even some of the poorer East Asian places such as Laos. I´ll leave here tomorrow morning, heading for the big hills of the Andes once more. Needless to say, I´m very disappointed at the loss of all those photo´s. I did report the incident to the tourist police, but I doubt if that will do any good (the language gap was a problem, they didn´t even have a vehicle and would need to take a taxi to the hotel and investigate). Daily distances cycled since my last report have been:- Quijarro 11 km; El Carmen 108 km; Robore 143 km; Chochis 46 km; San Jose De Chiquitos 97 km; Tintas bush camp 130 km; Pailon 99 km; and Santa Cruz 69 km. The total distance cycled so far in South America is 11 497 km. The total so far on this trip is 77 984 km.