Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Segment 47: La Paz, Bolivia to Salinas de Garcia Mendoza, Bolivia (November 12 - 26, 2011)

the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, seen on a billboard while leaving La Paz.  The first indigenous president of Bolivia, he is known for socialist leanings. 

not everyone is happy with Evo

on the way to Oruro, we witnessed a growing moon

this is a somewhat typical Bolivian highway-side town

long stretches of flat riding, seems like a dream after so much climbing and dropping for so many months

getting closer to Oruro

roadside vicuñas, camelid relatives of llamas and alpacas, but not domesticated

the outskirts of Oruro

Oruro as seen from some cliffs above the city

wild sunset above Oruro

The sign says: "Long live Oruro and its general strike!".  Yes, we had the dismal luck to be in Oruro during a 72 hour-plus general strike.  This is particular to Bolivia it seems... its called "paro", and local communities do this as political statements.   Everything shuts down, all roads are blockaded, the streets are empty,and you can barely find enough food to eat.  A cyclist's nightmare, really.

demonic painting seen in Oruro's main church

Oruro returns to life after the strike, thankfully, as we have to buy various provisions for the long desert stretches ahead of us...

... buying coca leaves, known to remove effects of altitude sickness, fatigue, and hunger...

buying grain alcohol (stove fuel) in bulk.  Apparently Bolivians just drink this stuff.

we discovered this armadillo-back chirongo (!) while guitar shopping in Oruro

this would tax anyone's problem solving abilities.  How to get all this onto a bicycle?

fresh-squeezed orange juice vendor

Tom and Jeff ready for battle
the route we would follow from Oruro to Salinas

ominous omen leaving Oruro, there is a dead dog in this pile of garbage.  Bolivia seems to have its fair share of scenes like this one.

hitting the open road again, with an absurdly heavy bike

...shortly out of Oruro we ran into flamingoes...

of course the flamingoes only add to the surreal nature of this journey

... surely one of the best parts of cycling in Bolivia is its abundance of abandoned houses, leaving you to wonder where everyone went (answer: mass migration to cities, which explains their hygienic problems and overall chaos).   These "casas abandonadas" make for great camping, with windbreaks and often walls and roofs as well.  This one came with firewood in the yard, too.

... our digs for an evening and a morning...

...Toledo, which should be a decent town, but instead resembles a ghost town...

this sign, at the entrance to a nearby village, reads: "Warning: all thieves will be burned!" 

a hailstorm forced us off the road at this ghost town, whose only inhabitant seemed to be this guy (turns out a few people do live here)

... we didnt realize at this moment that this would be the last green we would see for about a month

... some roadside llamas...

mixed paved/dirt riding towards the cordillera

an enormous herd of llamas backed by snowy peaks

arrvied at Huachacalla, but everything is closed (Sunday).  This is typical of Bolivia: either you cycle hours upon hours thinking you will arrive somewhere with some kind of service (lunch, shop, shade, etc.) but more often than not its a ghost town, or a populated town that is deserted and closed up anyway.

friendly local in Huachacalla

a local man in Huachacalla told us we could sleep in his "casa abandonada" up the hill, so we arrived here in late afternoon and spent the night.

... this cat witnessed some serious guitar playing from the window...

this is Sajama, highest peak in Bolivia at 6500m-plus

great wide-open landscapes here

more llamas

Sabaya, our last hope for supplies before hitting the salares (salt flats)
of course, ghost townish as ever.  We do however, manage to find bread, water, and some vegetables (turnips and carrots) in Sabaya, as well as bananas (like gold out here)

llamas on the highway

now on dirt, surface of fate for the next several weeks (along with sand)... this is our first view of the Salar de Coipasa

Villa Vitalina as seen from the salt flats

this is truly extraordinary riding, on the surface of bedded pure salt, meters and meters deep everywhere the eye can see

locals gathering salt to sell

on the way to Coipasa village, we ran into deep sand, not the only time we will be seeing this

curious kids in Coipasa

amazing salt crystal formations on the Salar de Coipasa

 ... we found a cave just at dusk not far from Coipasa village and made ourselves at home...

sunrise above the salar

the cave seen from the salar

 riding on in the morning... goal to be off the salar before the sun is too high (we failed)

you gotta try this to believe it

not all smooth-grooving here.  These rough salt crystals made for slow going and delayed our progess

also, wet salt made for tricky navigation

Jeff's bottom bracket area while exiting the salar

 ... arrived in Tauca, by now no surprise that its a ghost town as well, Tom collapses...

actually, Tauca does have a few residents, and they grow lots of quinoa in the lands about

getting water in Luca

 ... some nice riding here on the way to Salinas...

 ... cactus blooming, with Salinas in the background below...

we did a lot of resting in Salinas during our two-night stay at the Hostal Ecológico, highly recommended.

 this guy, the young son of the owners, would run to the kitchen and bring us back french fries, unbeknownst to his mother.  An angel of sorts, hungry cyclist's best friend.  We made sure he got his share of candy for these good deeds.

Jeff's sorry bottom lip after the reflective UV on the salar had fried us a few days back


Hal9000 said...

The instrument is called Charango :)


Doug Steury said...

great pics; what an incredible journey!

Chris said...

Jeff and Tom, your great guys! I am getting in nostalgy looking at you pictures. I often made the same experiences as e.g. on the Salar de Coipasa which was so wet to ride. Thanks for all the good documentation.
Swiss Chris on the recumbent, we met in the casa ciclista in chilean patagonia. I think it was called Mañuales