A Travellerspoint blog

La Paz to the Salt Hotel on Salar De Uyuni

Crossing the Bolivian Altiplano Part 1

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30th September – La Paz to Lahuachaca 136 km / 938 climbing

Sunday morning departure from downtown La Paz.

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Today began with a 400m climb, as we had to dig ourselves back out of La Paz, which at 3600m is lower than the altiplano. It wasn’t a special day on the bike, with the scenery just being flat altiplano with distant rolling hills. The traffic, particularly busses were very inconsiderate and some seemed to be trying to run me off the road. With no traffic on the other side, there’s no reason they can’t give you a wide berth. It turns out everyone else had issues with busses. Are they on a silly schedule?
Snowballs from heaven? The memorable part of today was a snowball shower after lunch. I’ve seen plenty of snow falling, but this was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t snowflakes, hail, or sleet, but actually marble-sized fluffy snowballs. They smashed when they hit the road, or my bike, but when they hit me, they stuck and I looked like I’d been paintballed with snowballs. It was a most unusual ‘shower’. A few kilometres later it was over and a few more kilometres on, the road was completely dry and it didn’t take long for me to be too.
Tonight we’re staying in an unusual place. It’s called a ‘hostal’ and we’re staying in thatched rooms with dome rooves. Some people are camping as there aren’t enough beds.

What a dry place to live. Very harsh existence.

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Late in the afternoon, with perfect light, 8 of us visited some ancient tombs near Lahuachaca. They date to pre-Inca, meaning they’re more than 500 years old. The amazing thing is the way we could just walk around them and explore. This is not a tourist area and there were no fences or other things to inhibit us. Built of mud and straw, with bones still inside some of them, it’s testament to the lack of rain here that they’re still standing. I hadn’t taken any photos today, but made up for it around these tombs. Enjoy.

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The hostal cooked for us. ‘Dessert’ was chopped apple and banana in a plastic cup filled with water. Different! I hope the water is safe? Lee’s birthday cake followed and made for a real dessert.

1st October Lahuachaca to Oruruo – 99km

Today I cracked 4000 km! That’s more than a third of the 11000 km of this journey. I’ve been amazed at how my fitness has improved and the riding that I’ve accomplished so far. Much more to go, and we’ve seen some beautiful things and had some special moments so far, and I’m excited about what we’ll see over the next 7000 km. Time flies – that’s 2 months of 4 and a half months on the bike.

Smokey truck! Old motor and incomplete combustion combine at this altitude.

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The altiplano continues. No landscape photos, as it’s the same as yesterday although the traffic today was much better. I rode with Wilbert the 60km until lunch. We rode side by side at slightly faster pace than I’d normally maintain, but not so fast I had to tell him to slow down. We chatted about stuff and got to know each other better. As the owner of Bike Dreams, I took the chance to tell him what I thought about his business. It’s all good! He’s passionate and has assembled a great team of equally passionate staff/crew who all put the customer first. It’s a pleasure to be involved with a professional and passionate organisation. Here's Wilbert.

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Lunch today was memorable. As we passed through the village just before it, there was a procession heading out of town. Didier had set up the lunch truck directly opposite the destination of the tree-planting ceremony. All we had to do was wait for them to arrive and that they did. There were all sorts of placards, flags and banners as well as many people carrying a tree to plant. I’d got ahead of myself mouthing off about the irony of the bloke who lit a fire before they got there. It’s the middle of the day, it’s not even cold and why burn wood at a tree-planting ceremony. Turns out they used it as part of the ceremony by throwing things onto it, including a dried llama foetus. (So they don’t only use them in new houses.) VIPs then took turns walking around it splashing alcohol on the ground as an offering to Pachamama/Mother Earth. Music and dancing ensued and we were made to feel welcome with things being offered to others, such as coca leaves and food, being offered to us gringos standing around too. It was wonderful to see their culture in action in a real way, not as a tourist show somewhere.

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Enjoying our saltenas. They're the Bolivian version of a pastie or empanada.

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Check out the ring around the sun.

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They highway is being doubled in size to 2 lanes each way, so there is a parallel new road under construction, but the Bike Dreams guys say it has looked this way, unfinished but getting there, for 4 years! 200km of roadworks from La Paz to Oruru, with barely a piece of machinery or workers to be seen. No wonder it’s taking so long. Quite a comparison to Peru, where they were throwing masses of resources at the 100km project we passed. You know that will get finished and soon.
It was only 40km until Oruro and it was nice and flat. The directions said, ‘roundabout with metal helmet’. I’m not sure what I expected.

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This man was one of many, all different, located on the road island as you came into town.

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I finished the 99km today in 3 hours 45 minutes. I went for an afternoon walk with a couple of others and found these crazy signs near the markets.

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All this hard work required a cold beer and I tried a new one, a stout from Pacena. Very good. I always like to try all the different beers. How else do I know the good ones?

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Dinner was group of 8 guys, as all the girls had gone out together for a ‘girls night out’. I had Filet Mignon. It’s become a bit of game to see how much they can vary. This one was okay, but was rib-eye, not fillet.

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2nd October Oruro to bushcamp – 148km / 416m climbing

Today was always going to be a long slog, but the way it turned out couldn’t have been better. Perfect weather accompanied more desolate, flat and dry altiplano as scenery. We started as a group as always, but by the edge of town, 9 of us found ourselves together. It was a really good team and not only did we adjust our speed so that everyone could keep up, we took 3km turns being the one in front. We cracked along at an average speed of 27 kph, so the 80 km to lunch took us 3 hours. Only 68 km to go. We’d left lunch at different times, but 4 of us ended up together after 20km or so and we stuck together the rest of the day, slowing down if necessary so that the slowest one could keep up. I didn’t mind – I go to take it easy and he got the benefit of the group. We picked up a couple more with 20 km to go and the 6 of us rode together as 3 x 2, playing ‘I spy’ to pass the kilometres. ‘S’ for subsistence farmers? I did the 148 km in exactly 6 hours. Although there was ‘timing’ day, none of our people today are racers or care about time, so it was really nice to see people riding as a team and looking out for others. I think if there was no timing for the whole trip there might be a different atmosphere. Non-timing days are the best, as the speeders slow down and stop for photos and drink stops instead of racing.
These last few days you could look out over the altiplano at any given moment and see willy-willies/dust devils twisting and swirling across the dusty landscape.

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Tonight we’re camping amongst some half-built houses. Apparently they were in the same state two years ago. We used one as a kitchen and another as a dining room. Luxury!

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Jaap, one of our two cooks. We do get well fed.
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3rd October Bus Crash – Meteorite Crater 83 km / 483m climbing

Today was tougher than I’d expected. I saw the distance and after yesterday’s ride, went ‘Woo! Hoo!’ That would be fair if both days were bitumen. After the first 20km, today was not. The name of our campsite – bus crash – is literal and as we left, we passed a big cross for those that died, and the rusting shell of a bus.

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The scenery is getting more varied and therefore, more interesting. The gravel road varied from atrocious to the best ever. Best ever? It might have been gravel, but it was actually prepared ready to be black-topped. Let me share with you my thoughts on Bolivian road building.

BOLIVIAN ROAD BUILDING.

Method One – The Political Road - as seen on our way out of La Paz.
Promise to build a 200km highway from La Paz to Oruro, if you get elected.
Get elected and carve out all 200km at once and line it with promotional billboards with pictures of you on it.
Make sure you use only enough manpower and machinery so that so that just enough gets done so that when you are up for re-election 4 years later you can now promise to COMPLETE the highway.
Black top it in random sections for no apparent reason. Make sure that every patch is a different mix of aggregate so that when they join together. Say that this is not incompetence but a safety measure so that one day, when you eventually open the highway, drivers don’t fall asleep because you keep changing the road surface. Do not open any stage of the 200km until the WHOLE road is complete. Make people keep using the old road and detours.
Knowing that voters have short memories and will not hold it against you for taking 8 years to do a 2 year job, finally open the highway as a big media moment and they will vote for you.

BOLIVIAN ROAD BUILDING.

Method two- the incompetent road – as seen elsewhere.
Step one - Spend a lot of money carving out a new road.
Step two - Grade it and compact it to perfection, ready for the black top.
Take so long to get around to putting the black top on that locals get sick of the dodgy, dusty detour and start using the new road.
Once cars have added corrugations and pot holes and a few storms have done their bit, finally get around to putting tar and aggregate on top.
Wonder why your new roads are full of corrugations and pot holes.
One year later. Carve out large sections and replace. No one wants a highway that doesn’t look like it’s been maintained.
Five years later, the road is dysfunctional. Wonder why it hasn’t reached its projected lifespan.
Start at step 2 and repeat and you have full employment of a road-building workforce.
Wonder why you are one of the poorest countries in the world and why when you spend the same money as your neighbours on your roads, yours are a disgrace and theirs are fantastic.

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Remote and tiny villages.

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I changed my tyres this afternoon and found a big thorn in the tyre I was about to put on. This explains the mysterious puncture I had when I last changed my tyres. The green slime in my tubes had prevented a puncture. Woo! Hoo! That is what I wanted. We’ve got dodgy unsealed road riding for awhile now, so time to change tyres. Today was a challenge. I fell off the bike because I couldn’t unclip my foot from the pedal in time. The reason was 15 cm deep dust like talcum powder but it made my landing like snow, just very dusty. I enjoyed my flannel bath tonight more than usual.

Tonight’s bush camp is next to a meteorite crater, near the village of Jayu Quta. How random is that? A meteorite crater. About 1 km across, it’s deep enough to expose the water table; however, being a ‘closed lake’ it’s incredibly salty. Around the rim, are many rocks that are black and scorched. The animals you can see are llamas.

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I didn't know that Earth was a binary star system.

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Sunset over the crater.

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An enterprising local has set up a rickety viewpoint tower and has a ‘snacks touristico’ shop. After answering the usual 20 questions about who we were and what we are up to, I asked, ‘Do you sell beer?’ He didn’t, but I said if he did, he’d make good sales and if possible, cold is better. He said ‘Sure.’ and an hour later there were cold beers for sale. Not our average bush camp. With 30 thirsty people in the group, we cleaned him out, but he restocked from the local village 5 minutes away. Heck! We weren’t going to walk there! I love the basic economics going on with supply rising to meet demand. No liquor licence and other red tape. He made some money, we got to support the local economy (That’s the only reason I bought my beer!), and we had a cold beer surprise! Bush camp? Sure, I’m in a tent tonight, and the water bottle on my bike will freeze solid, but having dinner in a room under a roof feels like extravagant bush camping. I was on dishes duty tonight and it was indoors. SO much better than some nights that have been so cold and we’ve been outside. It was -6 degrees tonight.

Here's my tent.

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Even dinner had a crater them with the gravy in a crater of mash!
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Richard is apologising for losing the llama and is introducing a replacement.

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The family who let us use their buildings, and sold us beer!

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4th October Meteorite Crater to Tahua on the edge of Salar De Uyuni - 73km / 509m climbing

I got up before dawn to photograph the sunrise striking the walls of the meteorite crater. Magic!

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People from the village came to see us off and also wanted a group photo.

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This little girl must have a long walk to school.

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Bushcamp to bushcamp and a rough track all day. This is the Andes Trail and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The ‘road’ was full of nut-numbing corrugations, and the ball busting bumps made it hard work, but it was so much fun. It took 4.5 hours to cover the distance.

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Each day since leaving La Paz the scenery has got better and today was beautiful. We’re still on the altiplano, but there were many mountains and hills around us today, rather than the wide expanse of flat that we’ve had. We even had an active volcano – the 5400m Tunapa – as our ever-present companion. We headed south towards it’s north face, then skirted it’s western slopes and tonight we’re camped on it’s south side. Each side had a different coloured top. It features in many of my photos today.

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Lunch was in the plaza of the village Salinas with an old church facing it.

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We rode together in the afternoon, stopping each time there was a junction in the track we were following to let everyone catch up and regroup before setting off again. It’s a barely-used track that connects a few isolated little villages and rocks, sand and powder-like dust were all part of the fun. This is what I signed up for – mountain biking in the Andes. I did take a few photos, as is my style, so I'll share them here.

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The volcano in the background.

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Tired but happy cyclist.

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Even the tiniest of towns had a church. Here are a couple.

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We’ve ended up on the north shore of Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia’s giant salt lake. The lake is in front of us and the simmering volcano is behind us. At over 10 000 square kilometres, it is the largest salt flat in the world. It has a crust of rock salt sitting on top of a brine solution.

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Girl power. These are our female continent of riders.

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Our volcanic companion. You can see it smoking.

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Salar De Uyuni salt flat.

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Sunset volcano.

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5th October Tahua across the Salar De Uyuni salt lake to the Salt Hotel – 104 km / dead flat!! 0 metres climbing

What a cold night! The night before was -6 and I was warm in my tent and bed. Last night was much colder as I woke up cold during the night. Any liquid left outside was solid.
It wasn’t any warmer out on the salt lake either as despite the clear blue sky and blazing sun, it was really cold. The salt beneath you was cold and gave off no warmth.

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I started with a jacket on as it was cold, even in the full sun.

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Today was incredible and like nothing on the trip so far, but I think we all thought that today was going to be much easier than it was. We were expecting 100 km of a white highway with no traffic or hills. The 40 km to lunch was particularly hard. It wasn’t as flat as it looked from a distance but was actually hexagonal rock salt ‘cobblestones’ about a metre across with a 5cm deep gap between the slabs. The rock salt slab made a crunching sound as the crystals got crushed beneath our wheels. The texture varied from flat and okay, to bone-jarring flagstones. I’d left my tyres soft since yesterday and within a short time, everyone who’d just pumped their tyres hard for the white highway had stopped to let some air out. I'm wearing a red t-shirt today which really stands out against the white salt.

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We set off south to an island. It’s such a big lake that it was over the horizon and we couldn’t see it to begin with. Lunch at the island was cold, like the whole day. What an interesting island. It’s small, less than 1 sq km, but it’s covered in giant cacti. Absolutely huge! Twice my height and too thick to put your arms around and hug. (You’d have to be thick to hug a cactus wouldn’t you?) Here are some photos. Look for the llamas.

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This door is made of cactus wood. That's right, they're so big they grow a wooden stem to support themselves.

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This afternoon was easier as there was a ‘road’ to follow. It’s a well-worn path made by vehicles, so although not always flat, it was smoother than crunching a new path like this morning. It was just a long 65 km slog across a white featureless landscape. You couldn’t see your destination as it was over the curve of the Earth.

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Just when I was enjoying having the road and the 10000 sq. km of the world’s largest salt flat to myself, it all changed with cars flying at me at close to 200kph. Even with my red t-shirt against the salt I didn’t want to be a bonnet mascot, so as I saw each rally car approach, I’d move a few metres off the ‘road’ as they passed. In total there were about 20 Bolivian rally cars doing a time trial across the salt flats. Fortunately I made it to the Salt Hotel just before the cars made their return journey.

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It took me 5 hours to ride the 104 km today which was much slower than I’d expected. Salt Hotel? 7km from the ‘shore’ is a building made of salt blocks cut from Salar De Uyuni. It also contains some salt carvings and the furniture is also made of salt blocks. There is plumbing, but no water; light switches but no power. It will be an interesting night.

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We spent the late afternoon basking in the sunlight and drinking beer. It’s a tough life.

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Susanna and Michelle.
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Good-bye and good night volcano.

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A candle-lit dinner was on a salt block table with salt chairs. The floor is covered with salt, so I guess they don’t mop it. Some cheeky person asked for some salt for their food and got given a plate of what looked suspiciously like floor sweepings!

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We did our daily llama moment after dinner and I got it again. This time it was for playing chicken with rally cars on the salt flat.
My bed tonight is also made of salt blocks. See the salt block walls?

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Today marks my half-way point time wise (but not quite for distance). It’s 2.5 months gone and the same still to go. We’ve seen so much already and I’ve had many memorable experiences. Doing this trip is the fulfilment of an 8 year dream and I’m loving it. The only bad thing is that I’m missing Erin, my family and friends, but it’s not possible to do this trip whilst staying at home. It’s frustrating when you have a sick father and you can’t visit him in hospital. I really miss you Erin, but I’ll be home before Christmas, and we all know how quickly that arrives. I’m really looking forward to our island holidays next year and finalising plans for our wedding in November 2013. Honeymoon? It’s a big world, so we don’t lack for choices. Have I told you lately that I love you?

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Posted by TheWandera 06:32 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Loving La Paz

A couple of rest days in the world's highest capital city.

28th September – Rest day in La Paz

Before I'd even walked 20 metres, I'd bought pineapple from this lady with a trolley full.

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I had lunch at a little restaurant of the type that does the set menu lunch for about $2. I don’t care about the price, it’s more about trying the foods that locals eat every day. It’s hit and miss, but that’s part of the fun. The soup was a hit, but my main was a miss – my fault. When the waiter asked for my choice of the 3 mains, I only understood one word – baca/beef, so I ordered that. It was really tender and then I realised why – it was beef, but it was liver. I sat there and thought ‘damn!’. Why couldn’t it have been heart? I love heart.

My little game/mission this afternoon, to add structure to my wandering was to visit all 12 Catholic churches shown on my La Paz city map. Strange for an atheist to be visiting churches, but why not? I wandered past many things that I wouldn’t have found otherwise and I had an interesting afternoon. I really like La Paz. How’s this for random? I was still hungry from my half lunch and what did I find, but a restaurant called Anticucho Mania. Anticucho is heart when it’s food. (Otherwise heart in Spanish is corizon.) I couldn’t believe my luck as I’d thought only an hour before I’d like some beef heart and here was a place specialising in it. I enjoyed a plate of beef heart and potato for $1. Maybe I could do a heart-themed restaurant in Perth? Maybe not!

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I continued my church-hunting and found the main plaza opposite the government buildings. People feed the pigeons here, so there are thousands.

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I stopped at the nearby National Art Gallery and enjoyed some time there. The modest entrance fee was more than worth it as they had some beautiful pieces by Bolivian artists.

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My church hunting? I took a photo of each church and if they were open, I went inside. Here are the 12 churches of central La Paz in the order I visited them. I’ll share one favourite photo of each and the other great things in this city that I photographed as The Wandera wandered. I'll begin with some market photos taken on my way to the first church.

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Bolivia has these great Dodge busses.

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San Pedro church

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Maria Auxillodora

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San Juan de Dios

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Electrician's nightmare?

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San Agustin

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El Carmen

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Catedral Metropolitana

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La Paz street. Notice the houses all the way up the sides of the bowl that is La Paz.

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Santo Domingo

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These bored police were manning a ready-to-go road block. There are protesting miners in town at the moment and this is the main road to the palace.

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San Francisco

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More mannequins! Sexy ones this time!

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San Sebastian

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La Recoleta

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Rosario - as seen from my hotel room window!

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What a great afternoon in a fun city. I found some amazing things.
Tonight I bought a hat from the sombreria/hatmaker ('Milliner' if you’re pedantic!) across from the hotel. I’m happy with my purchase as he hand makes them to order. Someone nicknamed me Mal Capone with it on!

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For dinner the same 4 partners in crime returned to the same restaurant, with one extra person.

Here's the cathederal all lit up on our way out.

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We got straight into the draught beer and I had llama again, but this time it was llama parmigana! Say that quickly after a few beers. We didn’t realise how late it was or that we were the last ones there, until they turned the lights on and gave us the bill. Bolivia is ridiculously cheap for what we had.
With it being a Friday night in La Paz, and us with a rest day tomorrow, 4 of us kicked on to a bar full of locals. Wow! Time warp back as to what’s considered acceptable music and décor, but my round of king brown beers cost less than $10, so that too was a flashback! Time for the next bar and it was after midnight and I was on the hunt for somewhere showing the AFL grand final. Several bars and beers later and it was time to call it a night and I still hadn’t found my footy! We did enjoy some street food in the form of BBQ chicken heart skewers. You now know they’re called anticucho. MMmm! Two different hearts in the one day, if you count 2am Sat as part of Friday.

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29th September – Another rest day in La Paz

This afternoon I went exploring again, wearing my new hat. Passing a party shop on the corner next to the hotel, I purchased a smurf and stuck him on top and went for my afternoon wandering the streets of La Paz.

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Lunch first and another lucky dip almuerzo/lunch set menu. This soup was not so good, but the BBQ chorizo main was delicious. Dessert was a small block of dark Bolivian chocolate from a street vendor. I had a good walk around town and the silly smurf on my head got smiles and I could smile back. Children grabbed their mum’s legs and called out ‘Mira! Mira! / Look! Look!’ I even got some policemen to smile. Now that’s a challenge.

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Big bags of confetti.

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A Bolivian lady selling Brazil nuts. Of course I bought some. I love them.

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This lady just sold shoelaces. Yep! Shoelaces and nothing else!

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The city was full of life, with the proper businesses closed, like any city centre, but lots of street vendors and people out enjoying a lovely afternoon in La Paz. It was warm in the sun, but the air temp was only 13 degrees. By 3pm I’d made it to the far end of town to the start point of the double decker topless tour bus for a city tour. It was an interesting way to spend the next 90 minutes. Crazy safety issues as the bus brushed low-hanging wires that passed right over your head. Don’t stand up! Under tunnels and bridges, the concrete was also only centimetres above my head! It was a good way to see the city, revisiting many things I’d seen already, but also discovering more. Maybe I should do this FIRST next time?

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Tonight we had a group dinner at a restaurant to farewell Kees, who’s decided to return home early to Holland as he’s homesick and not been well because of it. He had planned to do the whole journey.

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Tim, the Aussie farmer who only joined us in Cusco, has also had to bail as he has farm issues that need resolving. My dinner was a disaster. The menu said conejo/rabbit, so I ordered it. What I got was cuy/guinea pig which I really didn’t want again. At least it was more meaty than the one a few weeks ago. Is it naughty to make a finger puppet with the head of your food?

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We wandered back through the witch’s market and a few of the group who hadn’t seen the dried llama foetuses had the chance to do so.

I’ve really liked La Paz, which means ‘the peace’ though I’m not sure that you’d describe it as peaceful, as people like to set off ‘bang’ crackers at any random time of day. At first I thought they were gunshots. It’s been safe and fun. I’m not sure why the DFAT website warns of violent crime when you can safely walk the streets at night and all the vendors from the day have their stock just under a tarpaulin overnight and no one steals it. Bet you couldn’t do that in New York or London.

Posted by TheWandera 09:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Copacabana to La Paz

We cross the altiplano with Lake Titicaca as our companion.

25th September – Rest day in Copacabana.

What a nice sunrise!

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The weather today is magic. Sunny and warm. I began my morning walking the streets to see what I could find. An urgent call of nature had me patronising this café and I ended up staying for an hour and having a toastie and mango lassie as well. So relaxing sitting the sun like a lizard.

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These school children came past and they were all singing.

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This is the 'main street' and 'wharf' of Copacabana. Very chilled out.

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I had Lake Titicaca ‘trucha/trout’ for lunch which they farm in the lake. With its size and orange colour and taste, I’m sure it was what we’d call salmon.

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I went and visited the catederal. It was huge. I like this view of the town, through the stained glass.

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This afternoon I went sailing on the lake. With the constant gentle breeze I thought it would be perfect, and it was, almost. Ilka, my Finlandian roommate bravely came along. He can’t swim and had never been sailing.The rental boat was more like a row boat – it had oars and rowlocks – with a homemade mast and stays. It had no keel and a dodgy rudder. We took a beer to enjoy whilst out on the water, but whilst fun, it was not that relaxing. I needed both hands to control it and it didn’t sail like a normal boat. We went out a fair way and then returned safely. It was a good experience and much better than sitting indoors staring at their computers like some people did.

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I’d been recommended the trout lasagne, but when I tried to order it, I was told, ‘Sorry we have no trout.’ Okay? So please tell me what things on the menu you DO have before I make another choice. I had Fillet Mignon. This was a good one. The restaurant had live music in the form of a guy with a guitar destroying Beetles songs and he even did a bad version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. That's my laptop as the hotel wifi was useless.

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Copacabana is a very laid back town and it was the perfect place for a ‘rest day’. Here's our hotel by the waterfront, and the sunset view from my room.

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26th September Copacabana to Hotel Titicaca 76 km / 846m climbing

If I had to describe today in one word it would be – cold. With overcast skies stealing our warming sun, there’s no escaping the cold at this altitude. I was back on the bike, but today was (relatively) nice and easy with ever-present views of Lake Titicaca, the biggest and highest lake in South America. It’s so big it looks like an ocean. Here is our good-bye view of Copacabana as we climbe away.

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The lake is at 3800m and the ride began with a 400m climb up to 4200m where we meandered through the rolling mountains near the lake before descending back to lake level for our barge crossing.

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It took us 3 barges to cross the 500m gap to continue our journey towards La Paz. One barge each for our 8 tonne fire trucks and one barge with 25 cyclists and their bikes. Can you believe they run on a 40 horsepower outboard? We were all rugged up because as I said at the start, today was cold.

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How's this sign. These students are running across the road. Why? Because they don't have 40 kph school zones in South America. It might also explain why there are no fat kids here. They have to be nimble and quick to get across the road!

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The ride to our stop at Hotel Titicaca continued to follow the lakeshore. The hotel is lakeside, in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure why they built it here as we’re the only guests, but it’s a nice place, so we get to benefit. We set up our soup and salad station at the back of the hotel by the lake and the sun made a timely reappearance.

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We had a lovely afternoon sitting outside drinking beer, watching the lake and trying to photograph llamas. There was also a playground begging to be played on. A tall UFO slide got a try, as did the giant hamster wheel. One day I’ll grow up, maybe?

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Water llamas?

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Who said, 'Life isn't all beer and skittles.'?

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With no WiFi, and alcohol for sale in the hotel bar, tonight was lovely and sociable. We all had pre-dinner drinks in front of a nice big fire and then dinner together that the hotel catered.

27th September Hotel Titicaca to La Paz 80 km / 408 m

What a beautiful start to today. I woke while it was still dark and there was a glimmer of light in the mountains, so I dressed up as I knew it was freezing cold outside and I went and spent an hour photographing an amazing sunrise over Lake Titicaca. It was a really special time with just me, my camer and Mother Nature showing off by setting the sky on fire. WOW!

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Today was sunny again and with the strength of the sun at this altitude, it was warm again.
On this morning’s ride, we said good-bye to Lake Titicaca and we won’t see it again. I got into a big group of 16 riders and we rode together, taking turns in the front, until lunch.

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Lunch was a hoot. We had to wait until everyone was in because we were going to ride into La Paz together. Richard had set up a ping pong table, so I gave that a crack. I love the bread here in Bolivia. It’s like ciabatta.

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This little girl and her grandma were hitching and the truck gave them a lift. She was shy at first, but then we got her out to join us.

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We did ride mostly as a big bunch from lunch onwards. None of us wanted to lose Wilbert as he knew the way through the city to our hotel. We stopped to take in the amazing city views from the cusp of the bowl that is La Paz. What a city! Buildings go right up the sides of the mountains. There were dark grey storm clouds around and I could see rain.

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We now began what our maps called ‘dangerous downhill’ into La Paz. The last two Bike Dreams trips have resulted in someone going to hospital from an accident on this downhill. Having ridden it, I can see why. Adrenaline rush, but not in a fun way. It’s steep so you’re going fast – about 60 kph, but you’re trying to read the bumpy road for potholes, bumps and other hazards. Add the traffic that’s swirling around you on what is a 3 lane highway and you start to get the picture. Storm clouds were gathering and at one point it got really windy and freezing cold and I was sure that the next thing was going to be a downpour. It didn’t until we had all arrived at the bottom safely. Actually, the only hospitalisations on this trip have been for sickness and not accidents. I’m happy for everyone that it’s been a safe trip.

I explored the streets nearby the hotel and found a whole street of peluquerias/hairdressers. It was about to rain, so I grabbed a needed haircut while it did. On further exploring of La Paz, I found that many of the streets are like this, with lots of the same thing on the one street. Another one near our hotel is all party shops selling confetti, fireworks, costumes and giant bags of confetti. I also walked along a street known as the ‘witch’s market’, with shops selling items used in traditional superstitious medicines and ceremonies. The thing that you would notice first is the dried llama foetuses. WTF? I’m told that Bolivians use them as a good luck charm by burying them under the foundation of a new house. I can’t see that one taking off as a new fad in Oz!

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I went out with 3 others for dinner at a place that was quite flash. It was expensive for Bolivians, who were the main customers, but not for us. I had a beautiful llama steak. Cooked medium-rare, it was tender and delicious.

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We also raided their cake cabinet. After drinking the different bottled beers on the menu, we discovered that they had it on tap. Bring it on! We had a good night and gave it a nudge, but hey, it’s a rest day tomorrow and La Paz will be my next blog.

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Posted by TheWandera 19:40 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Cusco to Copacabana

Good-bye Peru - hello Bolivia.

21st September – Cusco to bushcamp at Racqui Ruins - 122km / 1088m climbing

Even leaving today was a drama. The street outside the hotel is only wide enough for one car and our trucks only just fit. Then there is a half-metre footpath on each side. The police had been booked to block the street at the top, so that we could load the trucks and not be holding anyone up who came down the street behind them. No police, so the hotel owner did the honours. All good until a couple of cars told her where to go and drove down anyway and then got all narky when our trucks were blocking the road. (Like she didn’t try to warn them?) Loading 2 trucks with baggage, food, bikes and sundries for 30 people in such a confined space, is not a 5 minute job. Things got heated and we left on our bikes. Then as the trucks went to move, the police did arrive, and wanted to see our driver’s licences. This infuriated the motorists behind even more, but they blamed the ‘gringoes’, not the police, who were now the obstruction! Here's us in the hotel open plaza before leaving and then a photo of us on the street out the front.

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Our ride began with a lap of the Plaza De Armas, just because we could, before heading out of town. This was not particularly pleasant with inconsiderate traffic and drain grates right across the road with the bars lined up just to trap cyclists! You had to stop, pick your bike up and carry it over, with a beeping car behind like it’s my fault the Peruvians haven’t worked out to put the grills the other way, or better still a cross pattern. Developing countries could short-cut their development by taking a look at what the rest of the world does for things instead of trying to figure it out yourself. I passed through a village called Urcos, which had a tiny plaza with a nice big statue. This other one was on top of a building.
After lunch, I passed through a town called Occobamba. How cool is that for a name? It’s a shame we didn’t stay there as it just sounds like a party. I reckon if you chuck ‘bamba’ on the end of any place it makes it more party-like. How much better would Fremantle be if we called it Freobamba. Where are you going tonight? Freobamba! What a party!

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Inca ruins on the way.
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A 400 year old church. I went inside, but wasn't allowed to take a photo.
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Lunch was next to a river with school groups swimming in it's fast-flowing waters. No nanny state, Darwinism is alive and well in Peru.
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It was a long ride, but I was going well. At about where I thought the camp should be, I couldn’t see it, so rather than blunder on, I stopped and asked a local, in Spanish, where the Racqui Ruins were. He replied in perfect English, they’re just around that next bend in the road, on your left and they were. I had a good ride and did it in 5 hours 20 minutes. All of today was at over 3000m and tonight we’re sleeping at 3500.
We’re camped on a field, but we’re sharing it with sheep and cows. I had a curious calf wander over whilst putting up my tent, so I moved it a few metres away, out of reach of her 5 metre rope to which she was tethered.

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The evening light was beautiful, so I grabbed my camera and went to the ruins, which were ‘just there’. They are Inca buildings and walls. Look at the ladders they made to get up them. After a quick look around, a few of us had an unexpected beer outside a little shop there. As we did, we saw a steady procession of animals being led through the little plaza to be put away for the night. By the time I got back to camp, there were no animals left out, only the cow pats to dodge!

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Dinner was a delicious Pesto pasta with chicken and fresh asparagus and broccoli, perfectly cooked.

22nd September – Racqui Ruins to bushcamp at Pucara – Only 159km / 1228m climbing

There must have been a heavy dew – not to be confused with a fat Orthodox in Israel – last night as this morning everything was icy at first, and then as the sun rose, wet. My bike was covered in frost, which came alive with twinkling when I stood the bike up and the sun’s rays melted it.
Today was a challenging day. Check out the profile for today. This will be the last time for a couple of weeks that I'll be below 3800m.

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A consistent climb up to 4338m and then steadily down to 3850 over the next 100km. At the pass, there were heaps of locals selling junk to tourists. Why? This is the main road between the two tourist points of Cusco and Puno and this is the highest point, so all the buses stop for a photo and the sellers are waiting. It was a scenic lunch stop with a glacier hanging of a mountain in the background. We became the tourist attraction though as the lunch truck was set up there. So here you have a bunch of cyclists, a big red truck with lunch laid out, and people kept wandering over to ask what we were up to and took photos. Very funny.

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After lunch was a long slog. I did like the match of music, as I was looking at little houses and wondering what a tough existence it is up this high, the song that came on was Halogen’s ‘Building on the Edge of the Sky’.

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I really do wonder how people survive here. Very little grows, either cultivated or wild. There are no trees for fuel or warmth and everything is overgrazed as people try to keep a few animals. I feel really sorry for them. Cows, pigs and sheep get tethered for the day and have to find food from an overgrazed 10m diameter circle. No water or protection from the elements and nothing to eat.

I had a laugh at a horse I saw running towards me, near the road, with a funny gait. As we passed, I realised why. The owner had hobbled it by tying it’s front legs together so it couldn’t run away, apparently. The horse had worked out a 3 legged run and was hoofing it. It looked like a couple of kids in the 3 legged race. I do see some random things!

Here’s Tim riding past a tricycle loaded with cow pats. Collecting cow pats? Now that’s a crappy job. If Tibet is anything to go by, they’ll dry them out and burn them for fuel. I guess when someone here says they make a $hit fire, they really mean it.

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At the 130km mark, with only 30km to go we were getting tired, so we had an Inca Cola stop. Inca Cola – fuel for cyclists. There were 3 of us who’d ridden together for the last hour or so at about 30kph as it had been either flat or slightly downhill, so I cheered them up by saying, ‘If we keep this speed up, we’ll do the last 30km of today in an hour.’ WOW! What a change mountains can bring. In the short time it took to drink our bottles, a dust storm whipped up.

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Strong winds just ‘arrived’ and my idea of 30 kph turned out to apply to our head/crosswind and I could only manage half my anticipated 30 kph and it took me two hours to get to camp. All the time I had a storm front with rain hovering over the hills in the direction the wind was coming from, so I expected to get wet too, but it did not eventuate. Our group of 5 from the drink stop spread out quickly with the wind. Maybe it was my practice cycling home from work into a strong southerly, but I coped with it more than the others, who fell behind. I got in after 7.5 hours for the 159km. I was doing so much better until the headwind!

We’ve had a constant police presence since leaving Cusco. Sometimes they’ll follow the last cyclists and at other times, they’ll go on a bit ahead and wait for us to come through. They check out our camp and know where we are. Each area’s local police are under instruction from Lima to make sure we have a safe journey. How they action that varies from overt to unnoticeable.
Camp tonight was the usual alcohol-free day and dinner was the usual delicious delights. A very flavoursome bangers, mash and vegies. An early night for all.
After such a long day on the bike, I’ve renamed tonight’s campsite 'Sorebamba'.

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23rd September - Sorebamba to Puno 111km / 474m climbing

How cold was it this morning? I left a full water bottle on my bike next to my tent and this morning it wasn’t just slushy, it was frozen solid. I however, had a lovely warm sleep in my tent inside my down sleeping bag.

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After yesterday, today seemed a doddle. It was nice and flat and never went below 3800m, until the end when I climbed up to 4000m, just before dropping down into Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca (Pronounced titty-car-car) also at 3800m. We began as a full group peloton and rode at a nice pace. That was until at about 15 km when Wilbert turned off to explore a possible new route and a couple of heroes hijacked it and raised the speed from sensible to stupid and tried to drag everyone along. There was no timing today, but some people still have an ego and have to prove they’re the best. They’d gain more respect if they went a little slower and let everyone be part of the team. They could ride slowly (for them) and have a nice day and so could everyone else. Don’t you hate people who have to tell you what time they got into camp, (and by insinuation, how much better than you they are) even when you don’t ask or care. I stop to take photos, chat to locals, have an Inca Cola, or just pause at an amazing vista and take in the view. I want to experience this journey, not be first to the camp each night. Each to their own.

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I left them to it and dropped off the back of the pack, put on some music and did my own thing and had a lovely day. We’ve done our climbing to get ourselves up onto the Andean Altiplano and now it’s very high, but not the up and down peaks and valleys that we had a couple of weeks ago.
Negotiating the city of Juliaca was a challenge. The highway just hits right into the middle of the city and you have to fight your way through city-centre traffic until a nice highway resumes on the other side. Why wouldn’t you build a by-pass and make life better for people in Juliaca not having all the Puno traffic and better for Puno traffic not having to go through the city. The road is new, so they had their chance. Beside the double lane freeway leaving Juliaca was a wide hard shoulder, but it had a sign with a bicycle inside a red circle with a line through it and the words ‘No bicicletas’. I thought if all Peruvians can ignore the frequent sign, ‘No overtaking’ and make my life difficult, I’m going to ignore this sign and make my life a little easier. Actually a lot easier. This was the road I needed to get to Puno.

The 50 km of road between Juliaca was the most disgusting I’ve seen. Throughout Peru, people litter everywhere, but this was unbelievable. Piles of rubbish lined the road and blew across the fields. Not just any rubbish, there were black bags bursting out with entrails from people’s slaughtering. What a stink. How do civilized people live like this? Their dogs rummage through this and then return to their houses. They rubbish the rivers they wash in and $hit in their streams and wonder why they have health problems. Peru might be beautiful, but the way Peruvians treat their country is not. I don't need to take photos for you to know what a roadside rubbish dump looks like.

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Puno is the Peruvian tourist town of Lake Titicaca, which at 3820m ASL lays claim to the ‘highest navigable lake in the world’. It’s massive and could be a sea. There are ships on it and two countries share it – Bolivia and Peru.

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After a shower and the soup and fruit salad that Bike Dreams put on after every ride, I went for a walk to the lake. Most of the group went on a tour to the Uros reed island people. I did it 8 years ago and seeing a human zoo once was enough. (I’m told the government makes it worth their while to stay there because it’s such a tourist attraction. Add that to what they make from selling souvenirs to tourists and they’re not poor.) Down by the pier I saw an old part hiding behind a fence with a gap in it, so I used the gap. After getting some photos of old machinery and buildings using the afternoon light, I was chased out. The first photo is an old English-made steam crane.

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Maybe it was the Peru Coast Guard vessels they were touchy about? Don’t you love it? A Peruvian navy on Lake Titicaca.

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Hey! They even need a lighthouse!

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I'm not sure if these are giant Froot Loops breakfast cereal or a colouring-hit snack!

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I love the name of this shop. Silly pun. Right up my alley.

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24th September - Puno, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia 145 km / 723 climbing

Another big day. At the end of today, I’ll have ridden 540 km and climbed 3507m in just 4 days! Sorry Erin, I’ve had to use my love handles as fuel tanks to get through these long days on the bike.

One of our trucks had been parked on the street mid-afternoon yesterday while the crew went and bought food while we were still riding to Puno. The cab got broken into and Richard the driver had his bag stolen, but they didn’t find the lap-top stash. I think the police in Puno are in for a hiding from on high and they showed up in force this morning to make sure we packed and left safely.

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Even the big-wigs must have been told to get out from behind their desks and get on down to the Julio Cesar Hotel. Speaking of which, how’s this photo from their brochure promoting an elevator. WOW! Something funny is that this photo has 5 people in it, including a big person, yet the lift has a sign in it ‘Max 4 persons.’ Maybe she broke it? Hmmm.

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Lake Titicaca was my constant companion today as I rode along it’s shores with it on my left. Despite such a large body of water nearby, the people living here are doing it tough with dry crop-less fields of overgrazed grass on which they were herding their small flock of hungry animals. For a ‘flat’ ride at 3800m, there was a surprising number of annoying hills. Just enough to make me even more tired. The scenery was spectacular, so let me share some photos with you.

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This lady was spinning wool? whilst watching her flock.
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Random interesting moment this afternoon. I stopped to change my music and have a muesli bar. I greeted the people in earshot, as I do, and then noticed what was happening. A girl of about 7 was delivering a lamb as her mother and toddler sister looked on. She then picked up the wet lamb and moved it a few metres away to make the mother get up and walk over and start licking her clean. Here’s a child with an intimate knowledge of where her dinner comes from. Such a difference from people in ‘western countries’ with supermarkets which help create such a disconnect to the food world around them. You can see the three of them watching mum lick her newborn lamb clean.

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And a couple more photos from my afternoon.

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The border crossings from Peru to Bolivia were straightforward and I had to take this photo, having made the same photo when I was here in 2004. The same sign is on the toilet!

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Colin and Graeme inside Bolivia with the Copacabana sign behind them.
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Good-bye Peru! Hello Bolivia!

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It was only 8 km from the border to Copacabana, but I’m really stuffed. I’ve now ridden 540 km in 4 days and all but the first 40 km has been over 3800m altitude. It’s been awesome as always, and a challenge that I’ve risen to, but I am really tired and looking forward to our rest day in Copacabana tomorrow.
I think we’ve scored the best room in the hotel. It’s a suite with room to swing more than just a cat. Here is a photo of the sunset view of Lake Titicaca taken from my window.

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If you thought Copacabana sounded familiar, there is a famous beach in Rio De Janeiro by the same name. Susanna, our native Spanish-speaking interpreter (and Wilbert, the owner'sowes her existence to this fact. Many years ago, her Dutch mum booked a trip to Copacabana, but went to Peru instead of Brazil. It was whilst in Peru that she met her husband, Susanna’s dad.

Closing thoughts on Peru.

I think when the Spanish colonials came here, they named it Perro because of all the dogs. By the time they’d got back to Spain it had become Peru and it stuck. Perro is ‘dog’ in Spanish and would be an apt name for this country, given the number of dogs on street as you ride. I hate the attack ones, but you can never guess which ones it will be. I’m glad I’ve had my rabies jabs.

Peru is a beautiful country, but they don’t respect the beauty. The Peruvians throw rubbish everywhere. Streams and rivers are treated as rubbish disposal systems. The sides of the road are covered with rubbish. You know you are coming to a town before you see the ‘zona urbana’ or ‘Welcome to ….’ Signs because of the piles of rubbish dumped beside the road on the edge of town.

The police in Peru seem well-dressed and pleasant, but they don’t do any active traffic policing other than setting up roadblocks to check for licences. I never saw a speed trap or RBT and as a result, people speed with impunity and drive like idiots. I’d rather see less licence checking and more busting people for driving on the wrong side of double yellow lines as they come around a blind corner. I think this is the most ignored sign in Peru - NO OVERTAKING!!!

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In most parts of the world, people growing simple crops and keeping a few animals is called subsistence farming. I call it something else here in Peru. If your house and farm are perched on a mountainside and you wake up one morning to find there’s been a llama avalanche or a catastrophic collapse of your crop of cabbages you’re living on the edge in a different way – this is subsidence farming.

Silly products? Kraps crackers. Fanny products – choose Fanny jam, juicy Fanny pineapple rings or tins of Fanny tuna.

Food? I’ve loved the food in Peru. The variety, freshness and tastiness of the food in Peru has been a pleasure. I’m told that people travel from elsewhere in SA to go to cooking schools in Peru. I can see why.

Posted by TheWandera 19:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco and Machu Picchu

Rest days exploring Inca sites and cities.

075__1024x768_.jpg==18th September - Cusco to Machu Piccchu via the Sacred Valley==

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We stopped at a place with llamas and alpacas which also had people weaving traditional patterns with the wool. Touristy but nice.

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Wow! What a change in 8 years! I did this ‘tour’ in 2004, including a stop in a town called Pisac. Back then it was actually a market town and you were the observer as Peruvians bought and sold fresh produce amongst themselves. You took a few pics, maybe bought some fruit, and went on your way. Now, the ‘market town’ of Pisac is just a tourist trap. The bus drops you off and you wander stall after stall selling tourist crap. The central square is still there, but the local buyers and sellers have been squeezed out. I guess there’s more money selling t-shirts to tourists than potatoes to Peruvians. One benefit is that there was a cafe with real espresso machine. MMmm! Cappuccino.

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Funny though is that the empanada maker with their wood-fired oven is still there, cranking out tasty treats for tourists now instead of locals.

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I wandered off and found a juice place far away from the tourists and had a nice little Spanish conversation with the juicemaker. The juices were local prices too. Here's where mum keeps her child safe whilst making juices. A fruit box!

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By now it was lunch and we went to a place for a tourist buffet. Everything was nice though.
Next we went to the Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo. Blocking the valley, and using stones quarried 6km away, it is an impressive site. How they made such massive stones interlock so perfectly puzzles archaeologists to this day. They’re not even sure how they moved them around. We know from toys of theirs that the Incas had wheels, but there’s no indication they used them in an engineering capacity. With such crazy mountain terrain, it’s no wonder they never found a practical use for wheels. Here are some photos of Ollantaytambo.

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Inca ceramics?

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Today has been so touristy for us. Stuck on a bus with a guide waffling stuff I could not hear between the rattling window and the engine noise, there were times I saw a lovely photo, but alas, unlike my bike, I couldn’t take a photo. It felt strange to be in a vehicle and I realised it was the first time I’d been in a motor vehicle since I rode in the truck when I was sick after Huaraz. Everywhere we’ve stopped has been souvenir central and it’s so unlike the rest of Peru we’ve been riding through.
We caught the train to Machu Picchu from Ollyantambo. I got lucky with my window seat on the river side. The rushing river is a constant companion to the train line as mountain cliffs soar skywards. Such amazing scenery makes this one of the world’s great train journeys. The PA announced that ‘the Peru Rail staff are at your disposal’, so I did the Peruvian thing and threw one out of the window!
Waiting for the train.
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Paul and I on the train.

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This sign at the start point brought back memories from 2004 when I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

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The town below Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes, literally meaning ‘hot water’ and it is such a tourist town with spruikers in English everywhere and over-priced everything. I’m glad we’re only here one night. With narrow fake wood tiled passage ways and a room with fake wood tiled low ceilings, and the mustiest room yet, it’s like I’m in a ship’s cabin. We had a briefing at 7pm and met our guide for tomorrow. We have an early start. Check out the design on the bedspread.

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Dinner was a group of us at the restaurant next door. We played Jenga while waiting for our food. I said to the guys, ‘Should we be worried how long the food will take if they have to provide games so that we don’t notice?’ Unfortunately I was right. It was forgettable food at an unforgettable price. They even added a ‘service charge’ of 30 soles. We told them we were paying the menu prices and the tip we had included, but it was not 30 soles. They pushed back and we told them to go rip-off some gullible Americans, but we’ve been in Peru for a month and never had a ‘service charge’ added. They backed down.

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19th September - Day at Machu Picchu

Very early start. Breakfast was at 5:00 am and we were down waiting for a bus at 6:00. Unfortunately, they’ve worked out they can charge $9 for a 20 minute bus ride, but haven’t worked out how to put on enough buses to meet demand. The queue went around the block and took 45 minutes. Arriving up at Machu Picchu with our guide, another queue awaited. This time to get in. Apparently an expensive ticket is not enough, so let’s add a needless layer of bureaucracy and make you show your passport too. Let’s then have a barcode on your ticket that doesn’t work and they have to do it by hand! Peru’s ability to cope does not appear to have kept pace with the number of people visiting.
Looking around at the throngs of people visiting, it’s obvious that although Machu Picchu is on many people’s ‘bucket list’ of things to do before they die, many leave it until the last minute. Judging by the accents, there are many older Americans (USA) here. Funny too were the Asian tourists with aerosol oxygen cans sticking out of their packs in case they need it. Although precariously perched, MP isn’t high at only 2430m.

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Our tour of MP was a disappointment. Compared to the guide we had in 2004, this guy was an amateur who tried to cover it up by pretending he had all the answers, when even scientists know very little about why it was built and occupied. My original guide was well-educated and told us all the known ‘facts’ and then a bunch of theories to fill in the gaps and told us to take out pick. This guy just made stuff up. I had to laugh when he took us into one room and told us what they used it for, like he knew, and how important it was. Then he showed us handles on the stones that had been used to place them there and then they get ground off. I asked him if it was so important, why didn’t they bother to finish it and smooth off the stones. No answer. In the same room, all of 5 metres across he showed us an ‘Inca telephone’. He talked into one of the niches and asked someone on the other side if they could hear him. No, but they could if they just turned around and faced each other. You hardly need a ‘whispering wall’ when you’re close enough to just talk! Told you he was a clown. Here he is talking to us.

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After the tour, most of us were going to climb Huanya Picchu. There are no toilets to be found anywhere – modern technology hasn’t caught up with Peru – so we had a long walk all the way out of the front gate, then had to queue again and show our passports to get back in. They really don’t think things through.
The climb up Huanya Picchu is near vertical and I’m also carrying my day pack with clothes etc from the overnight stay. You even have to crawl through a cave to reach the top. It’s challenging, but worth it. Huanya Picchu is the pinnacle you can see here in the background. The view from the top is one of the best natural views in the world. It has 360 degree views with the rock falling away on all sides straight down to the valley below. Spending a bunch of time on top is a far more special place than MP. Clusters of half a dozen orange butterflies would swirl around, showing that they’re better fliers than you think. Unbelievably, the Incas built retaining walls, terraces for crops, steps and buildings up here on this pinnacle. Now that’s impressive. They believe it was a watchtower and with the views up the valleys that makes sense. Here are a few photos of the hike up and from the top.

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If you’re thinking about going to Machu Picchu, definitely go, but if you have the energy and time, get there by the Inca Trail 3 day hike. Such a difference as it becomes a pilgrimage, rather than just getting off a bus and you’re there. Along the hike you see other sites and it all makes sense. Consider. I'll leave you with a few more photos taken as I walked back through MP after climbing the peak.

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I caught the bus back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, where I had a couple of hours before our 4pm train back to Cusco. Starving, as I hadn’t eaten since my early breakfast, so settled in for a pizza and two bottles of beer. Only 2 bottles? Yep! I should add that they’re 1.1 litres each! Adrian and Tam joined me too and we sat al fresco. The restaurant tried the ‘service charge’ scam too, but again I told them where they could put that.

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Random Peruvian girl.

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Gotta love safety here in Peru. Notice this building in Aguas Calientes with a wall just - MISSING!

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After a long day, we caught the train back to Cusco.

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20th September – Rest day in Cusco

We’re staying at Hotel Ninos and they do the best breakfast. Homemade bread and yoghurt. So good.
The place to begin any exploration of Cusco would have to be the central Plaza De Armas, so I headed there. It’s not far from our hotel. On the way, at a small plaza just off the main one, were hundreds of small children gathering, all dressed in different costumes. I asked and was told it’s the first day of school for them, so every school gets their kids to dress up and represent their school. They looked very excited. I wandered further and by the time I got back to the Plaza De Armas, it was filling up with colourful smiling children doing a full lap of their city plaza. Great spectacle. I found a museum and spent some time in there. When I came out, I could still hear the parade, so went back and saw more. Very festive.

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The central Plaza De Armas in Cusco is fantastic. Big and spacious, it's a lovely place to be.

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With sore calf muscles from all the climbing yesterday, how could I refuse the offer of a massage? Not only was it the cheapest one I’ve had, it was also the best, with them noticing the tightness in my calves and spending more time there. $12 for an hour? I’m not complaining.
I grabbed some lunch – only $2.40 for soup and main – in a local place I sniffed out hiding amongst the tourist rip-off restaurants. After some gift shopping, I returned to my hotel to write a couple of postcards before heading back into town. This time I headed up behind the cathedral. Narrow cobbled streets with only a 50cm ‘footpath’ on each side should not have cars zooming along them, even if it is one way. Why not make ones like this car-free?

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I came upon an impressive Inca stone wall. Most people think that the Incas built all their walls with no mortar and no gaps; however most of their walls were like anyone else’s, a bit rough and made with mortar. This wall was one of their special mortarless walls, usually reserved for temples, palaces or other special places. As I touched it, taking in over 500 years of history some clown calls out, ‘Don’t touch.’ Give some people a shirt and a badge and they get a power rush. I reassured him that people have been walking this alley for five centuries and touching the solid granite as they pleased, with no harm done and they’re likely to be here for another 500 years. Drop a piece of granite on your hand and see which is tougher!

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A few of us went out to dinner together. The group got smaller when 8 of us declared we didn’t want to eat at Paddy’s Irish Bar, as we can do that at home. Good call, as my dinner of quinoa risotto with llama fillets was delicious.

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Most then headed to Paddy’s to join the others, but I headed to bed. We have a big day on the bike tomorrow. Walking back a different way, I did pass an interesting arch. It looked much older than the 1836 the nearby plaque indicated.

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Tomorrow it's back on the bikes for 4 days tough riding.

Posted by TheWandera 07:25 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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