While i'm getting my life back together, please look at a fine selection of my photos:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bolivia II: Cochabamba-Sucre-Potosi-Uyuni-Laguna route to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

Since a few days i'm in Argentina, the land of wine, steaks and tango. Where people actually use their turn signals and behave civilized in traffic, have insane long siesta's and are hooked on maté (thea).

Bolivia, as i experienced, is a coutry where riding days are always longer than expected, where i managed to ride through rain and dark more than once to get where i wanted. And tires preferably go flat when you're already running out of daylight. I saw a fair bit of the of the country going from La Paz to Cochabamba, straigh down to Sucre continued to Potosi, back to La Paz, straight south to Uyuni to cross the Salar de Uyuni and took the infamous lagunaroute to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Hardest ride so far, for me and the bike. At this point there's little i don't know about fixing tires. I also learned how to change broken spokes and that m10 engine mount bolts can actually brake.

I stayed in north Chile briefly, rode 700km through the Atacama desert area just to see the famous 'Mano del Desierto', probable the most useless thing i did so far.  Experienced Chilean biker hospitality (Thanks Jorge and Nelson!!!) in Antofagasta and got out of there asap. USD 1.50 for a liter of gas! Expensive food and lodging too. Not sure if i want to go back there.

All my Bolivia pics can be seen in the Bolivia Photoalbum. But below a few with some comments, as usual:

Cohabamba to Sucre.

Cochabamba. A really charming town, relatively untouched by by tourists. A bunch of nice coffeeshops and restaurant with a bohemian vibe like Café Paris at the plaza of some of the places on Calle 25 de Mayo (towards the end) make it a good place to chill.

En route from Cochabamba to Sucre. One of those mistakes which turned out to be brilliant. 300km, 1/3 paved, 1/3 cobblestone 1/3th dirt. What more can you wish for in a days ride?

The road started from La Paz as good tarmac,  after which it turned to an antique cobblestone road, which turned to gravel/sand/rocky before turning to the last stretch of twisty tarmac up the mountains to Sucre. This last part would be enjoyable if it wasn't for the rain and the inevitable end of daylight.

Here i just fixed my rear tire. Not a puncture, but an old patch came of. Aparantly glue deteriorates with time (replace it every half year!). The patch would come of another time later on on my way to La Paz to pick up a package from holland, which resulted in a very rainy last few hours in dark to get there.

Dusty and dark air. Not very promising. And clueless about how much more dirt i had to go.  A good example of a secundary road in Bolivia.

Road following river = corners.

Last stretch was quite enjoyable, till rain started pooring down.....

...which was at the last 20km or so bit to Sucre: Wet tarmac uphill. Beautiful, slippery. And because i had a long tiesome day i couldn't really appreciate it.

My first experience with Sucre was a cold, wet and dark one. The more I was supprised the next day: all sunny and warm i took a stroll through the center.

It wasn't that bad actually!

Pleasant central plaza.

Market with jummy fruits and veggies.

Hostel life = Good Life. Group of good people, home cooking and plenty of alcoholic fluids.
Life on the road isn't that bad. See why i don't want to go home yet?

Hung out with this bunch in Sucre and Potosi. Every now and than you meet people you connect with more than average.

Next stop Potosi. The highest city in the world at 4100m. Only one reason to go there: to experience the horrible circumtences the miners work in. Dressed in helmet and plastic I visited one of the many mines. There's nothing funny about it, but it's definetly impressive.

Chemical plant where minerals are separated from the ore. Nasty chemical fumes dominated the scene. Little protection for the people who work there.

Even the dogs are covered in dust from the mines...

Mine entrance. Narrow, and the further you go in, the narrower and hotter and dustier it gets. To go from one level to the next, we had to crawl down through narrow caves. At an altitude well above 4100m not a little effort. Like pumping up a tire on 4500m altitude...

On the way back you have to crawl up which is even more intensive. At some point, the lack of oxygen, fysical effort, confinement in narrow space and dust almost made me panic. Not my forté, those mines.

I promised myself to be happy with whatever job i get when i return, knowing how bad it is here.

One of the miners rattling by on a car full of ore.

The entrance is free, but tourists are expected to bring presents for these guys. Soda, cocaleaves, dynamite, or a local 90% alcoholic drink (!). Literally tastes like spiritus.

Mining god Tio. The miners believe in God above ground, in Tio when under. Tio, lucky guy, gets offers every day. Cocaleaves, sigarettes and alcohol. Cheery fella. The conquistadores invented this god to oppress the indigenous people working the mines. To date this believe is still strong. Every now and then a lama is butchered and it's blood splashed against the mine entrance.

Before i did the tour i saw The Devils Miner, a movie about children working in the mines. Touching.

On my way from Challapata to Uyuni.

Aargh!! I was pretty sure the map indicated 'primary road'!?!

Shortest route from  La Paz to Uyuni ends with 200km road under construction between Challapata and Uyuni.

Passed some small dusty villages. Cool to get somewhere were kids are still curious about foreigners.

Further down the road. At this point i wondered if it really was a good idea to take the shortest route. Via Potosi was twice as long, but probably easier!

But, as usuel, the views and satisfaction afterawards made it all worth it. And again, rolled into Uyuni just before dark. Again.

Outside Uyuni is a train cemetary, or rather, a random collection of very old trains.  Apparantly the metal used in these old trains is unsuitable for recycling and they just put them out in the desert.

Very photogenetic in late afternoon sunlight.

One more.

Salar de Uyuni. Can't think of a reason to go there. There's not much to see. Oh wait! That's exactly why you should go there!

This picture, i hope, illustrates how insanely wide and vast it is out there. 

I traveled this part of Bolivia with Graham, a British bloke doing the same thing. We took a whole afternoon to make all sorts of funny pictures. Apparently a must when you're here. More of that here.

Just before entering San Juan, end of day 1.
After the easy crossing of the Salar, it gets hairy.

Following the laguna route it is a beautiful hell really. Sceneries are breathtaking, and so are the 'roads'. The latter in a negative sence. Washbordes, loose sand, rocks, and a combination thereof. Worst riding on my whole trip.

The 550km from Uyuni to San Pedro the atacama took us three full days. We opted for savety and arranged fuel and food dropoffs to the hostels we stayed in along the route. You can do without that, trying to buy food and gas from locals or organised jeep tours, but that is pretty uncertain.

This part of my trip finally made my bike falling apart. Damage done by the insane fibrations caused by washbord surface: Cockpit assembly is held together with iron wire, tie-raps and expoxy glue. And engine mount bolt broke off  (!). Used up all my three spare spokes. Dropped my bike at 5km/h in sand and on of my panniers landed on a rock and has a hole in it. These panniers are really not made for dropping them. Besides that, due to metal fatigue one pannier starts to rip apart.  And they are totally not dust/watertight anymore. Should have spend a bit more money on those. It is all fixable though. The real important thing, the engine of my TTR keeps suprising me. It goes and it goes and it goes. Kickstart is really not a problem, its even better on high altitudes. Grahams f650 dakar for example doesn't like high altitudes and we (i actually...) had to push it several cold mornings to get it going. I blame the 15W50 oil for it, make sure you have 10W40. For fuel efficiency i would take a fuel injeced bike the next time though. I didn't bothered to adjust my jetting and on high altitudes in 1st and 2nd gear stuff the fuel economy drops to SUV levels. Fuel Injection adjusts, so there's not much change in fuel economy or powerloss at altitudes. And Graham's Dakar really proves bulletprove. Doesn't use an drop of oil after 65000km, no broken rims, spokes etc. So a cheap bike in the long run is more expensive it seems.

Anyway. More pics!

Uhm... What did the sign say again?

Another laguna. With Birds this time. Beautiful.

End of day 2. Running out of daylight.
The longest stretch was between San Juan and Laguna Colorada. About 225km. We had to wait for the fuel and food dropoff so we couldn't leave before 10am. This proved to be too late, this picture is taken 25km before Laguna Colorado. It would take us an hour in dark on these roads to get there. Fierce cold wind. camping on this altitude is not an option, it freezing!

Day 3. Another beautiful laguna.

This kind of scenery for a few days. Breathtaking.

I did cursed the bad 'road' surface more than once, and had constant fear of parts falling off.

Last look over our shoulder towards beautiful Bolivia, crossing into Chile to San Pedro de Atacama.

We made it! I don't have the words to describe how i felt when we reached tarmac.

Thats it. Done with Bolivia. For me the toughest country to travel, but also the one with the most amazing scenery. It should be a breeze from here on...or should it? We'll see.

From Grahams video footage i put a short compilation about how it is to ride overthere on youtube. Hope you get an idea:

salar and laguna route video