Tuesday, January 29, 2013

La Paz, Bolivia

Day 102 (January 25, 2013)
La Paz, Boliva
Day's Ride: 0 Miles

I took out my pass for a lazy day today and didn't really do too much save for update the ride report, patch my spare rear tube, apply stickers to my boxes, and drink beer.

I did manage to go to a Honda shop and buy some oil for my upcoming oil change. While I was there I asked for a recommendation for a good "llanteria" (tire shop). I was sent over to Teo's, which was housed in a small shack on a back alley. Teo hooked me up and did a vulcanized patch on the big hole that resulted from the metal share that I picked up outside of Cusco.

Beings that it only cost a dollar, I figured that this would result in a higher quality patch than anything I could do myself.

During the taxi ride back to the hostel, somebody started honking at my cabby and he exploded in a verbal barage.

"The people here are animals! I swear, it's like driving in hell!"

This was all in Spanish and it had me dying laughing. His tirade continued for a good five minutes before eventually petering out.

I spent the rest of the day vegging out and drinking beer. Tomorrow we ride the death road!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Peru to Bolivia, Crooked Cops, and Lake Titicaca

Day 101 (January 24, 2013)
Pucara, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia
Day's Ride: 248 Miles

Waking up early after nearly 10 hours of sleep, I climbed the nearby hill to get a better view of our campsite.

We really lucked out when we found that campsite. I walked back down to the tents just as everyone else was starting to get up.

We fired up the stoves again and started boiling water for instant coffee and porridge.

Bowls were on short supply, so we improvised.

After striking camp, we got back on the road and made it to the next gas station. Leaving the gas station, Corey, Mike, and I were all flagged down by a bunch of cops in a Hilux Surf. I smelled trouble, and sure enough, they demanded to see our insurance.

Normally this wouldn't be an issue; however, I had not bought insurance at the Peruvian border. Assuming that the Peruvian insurance wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on, I had just showed my American insurance to the border officials and kept on riding. Corey was in the same boat. Mike, however, had purchased the Peruvian insurance and the cops let him go with no issues.

Corey and I were now left with the unenviable prospect of trying to convince the police that our insurance cards from Canada and the USA were valid in Peru. Instead of playing the dumb gringo this time, I tried to explain everything very clearly in Spanish. As the discussion wore on, it became obvious that we were about to reach an impasse with the cops. They weren't satisfied with our story about having "international coverage" through our insurance and I knew that they couldn't sell us insurance on the spot. After a while, one of them started asking me how much my camera cost and I started to smell a bribe coming on.

In a last ditch effort to get away without paying, I decided to change the subject and play the friendly gringo. I asked one of the cops if he liked the Berreta 92 that he was carrying. He said that it was a good pistol and I told him that I had the same one at home in the States. This spawned a discussion on the merits of various pistols and before long the cops demeanors had changed. Before long one of them asked if I had served in the Army. I sensed an opportunity to appeal to the "Brothers in Arms" theme and told them about my time in the Marines and in Afghanistan.

After we went down that path, everything got better. Before long they were smiling and joking and after a few minutes they let us leave. I asked them if I could take their picture with the bikes, but they politely refused, saying that they needed to protect their identifies. Still, I managed to sneak a photo in while they weren't looking.

Back on the road, we headed south for Lake Titicaca and the Peru-Bolivia border. The first views of Lake Titicaca came soon:

As I rode along the lake shore, I noticed several teams of locals weaving ropes along side the rode. I went to take a picture and the local lady pulled her hat down to cover her face. Apparently they aren't too fond of pictures.

Eventually Mike and I reached a little turnoff overlooking the lake and stopped to get a few pictures.

After the Canadians caught up, we continued pushing for the border. We elected to take the border crossing at Yunguyo which involves crossing the border onto a peninsula in the lake, then taking a ferry to the mainland side of Bolivia. There is another border crossing that skirts the lake, but we figured it would be a little more fun to ride a boat.

The border crossing proved to be muy tranquilo. Once again I was surprised at the contrast between Central American borders and South American Borders. We were in and out of the Peruvian offices in about 10 minutes.

Crossing over to the Bolivian side, I saw an interesting sign for the pay toilets:

Just in case you can't make it out, there is a bird wearing a trench coat with a slight vapor trail coming out of his behind. Where do they come up with this stuff?

Getting into Boliva required slightly longer than getting out of Peru, thanks in part to the $135 tourist visa that Americans are required to purchase before entering. Apparently there is some bad blood between Bolivia and the States, especially after they declined to continue participating in the Coca eradication program that the US was pushing. Furthermore, we apparently charge Bolivians a substantial fee to get into the States, so I guess we had it coming. Still, it's a pain in the ass, especially when I watched the Canadians waltzing into the country without paying a dime.

The final process for getting into Bolivia required us to obtain signatures from the Cops. Before handing us our papers back, the police officer launched into a big, rambling, incoherent speech. It soon became apparent that he was asking for a "donation" so that he could re-paint his office. Obviously a thinly veiled attempt at bribery, I couldn't help but chuckle. We eventually told him that we were poor gringos and could not afford to give out any donations. We half considered waling across the street and buying him a can of paint at the hardware store, just for laughs.

Leaving the border, we rode the final 40 kilometers to the ferry crossing.

The ferries consisted of large wooden rafts powered by tiny outboard motors. It was quite amazing just how many vehicles they could cram on these things. We saw one take on a full size steam roller. Incredible.

All in all, the ferry ride cost 15 Bolivianos apiece. It was worth it though, at least to just have an interesting story.

Turning the bike around on the raft in order to disembark proved challenging. Especially Mike's massive BMW.

After disembarking, Mike and I said goodbye to the Canadians who were planning on camping that night and made tracks for La Paz.

Riding the sun down into the scrambled outlying barrios of La Paz proved to be an interesting experience. The choking diesel fumes and swirling dust, the cinder block structures, the bumper to bumper minibus traffic, the native women in their bowler hats and brightly colored skirts, the occasional electric blue flash of an arc welder, and the reek of burning trash and decomposing dead animals all combined into a beautiful cacophony typical of Latin Americana.

Pausing just above the main city at a mirador (viewpoint), we snapped a few pictures of the city in the growing twilight.

We made it to Hostal Maya Inn just after dark, only to find that they were full! However, they were able to store our bikes in their garage and take a reservation for the following night. After a few minutes of searching, we found a nearby hotel and crashed.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flat Tires and Stealth Camping

Day 100 (January 24, 2013)
Cusco, Peru to
Day's Ride: 173 Miles

Returning to Cusco, we met up with Kurt and Corey (the two Canadians) and their friend John. John had done this trip about eight years ago and left his bike, totally disassembled, in Venezuela. On a whim, he decided to fly down to Venezuela, put his bike back together, and ride with Kurt and Corey to Chile. He's riding a 1970's BMW R90GS that constantly leaks oil and gasoline and needs to be push started every morning to get running. The needle on one of his carburetors is messed up for some reason, and he has to regulate the flow of gasoline to his engine by slowly adjusting the fuel petcocks as he rides. He's got some crazy stories.

Along with Mike, the three Canadians, and myself, we also managed to pick up an Argentinian named Alfonso on a BMW 650GS. So, now we were all leaving Cusco in a massive ADV MC with six riders.

Our plan was to reach Puno on Lake Titicaca and spend the night there. Unfortunately, a scant eight miles outside of town, disaster struck!

Riding over a patch of dirt in the road, I felt my rear tire lose traction. I assumed I was just sliding on the dirt and gravel; however, after it kept sliding around, I looked down and realized that I had a flat.

I pulled into a school parking lot and took off the wheel. Once again, the enduro stand that I made in Huaraz saved the day.

A quick examination revealed the culprit:

It appeared to be just a random shard of metal that I had picked up in the middle of the road. What are the chances? I got down to business and had the tube changed out in twenty minutes. I then went to air it back up and realized that I had pinched the new tube!

So I then had to pull the new tube out, patch it, and re-install it. What should have only taken 20 minutes ended up taking about an hour and a half. Luckily, the whole gang of riders pitched in and helped out. Mike and John even went down the street, bought bread and canned tuna, and came back and made sandwiches for everyone. Meanwhile, Alfonso helped entertain some of the kids who had come out to watch.

Finally, with the new patched tube installed and inflated, we got back on the road. I had already ridden this stretch of road on the way into Cusco from Arequipa, but it was nice to ride it at a more leisurely pace without getting rained on constantly.

Riding in a group of six people over long distances is actually pretty challenging. Everyone has their own pace and their own riding style. Still, we managed to make it work. I enjoyed letting someone else take lead for a change. I was also able to sit back and enjoy some of the sights that I had missed on the way in.

Due to the late start and the flat, by 4:00 PM we were still 100 miles short of Puno. We made the decision to eat a good dinner at a restaurant and then hunt down a place to camp.

The owner of the resteraunt told us of some Incan ruins near a small village down the road where we might be able to camp. After dinner, we rode down to the ruins and found that they were actually in the village and would probably not afford a suitable camp site. On the way in I had noticed a dirt road leading up into the hills away from the village; with the ruins out of the question, I decided to do a short recon and see if there wasn't a good spot to hide out and camp in the hills.

The road ended up being mostly eroded, overgrown with grass, and struin with baseball sized rocks. Still, about a half mile outside of the village, I found a small grassy field surrounded by a low rockwall and nestled between two small hills. It was the perfect campsite, hidden, quiet, and free!

I rode back down and told the others and we all headed back up into the hills. I was a little worried that John's bike wouldn't make it, but he managed to plough up the hill and through a gap in the rock wall with ease. Those old BMW's run forever.

We set up camp in the dark, and then got out the stoves and made Yerba Matte and hot Chocolate.

This was the first time I had practiced stealth camping on this trip. Usually, I have set up my tent in developed campgrounds or in the backyard at a Hostel. It was a nice change of pace and even nicer with five other riders to hang out with. Without any ride report to write, it was an early night: in the sleeping bag by eight!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Escape From Machu Picchu

Day 99 (January 22, 2013)
Santa Theressa, Peru to Cusco, Peru
Day's Ride: 145 Miles

We got on the train this morning at 6:30 AM and rode back to Hidrolectrica where we took a "collectiva" (minibus group taxi) back to Santa Theressa and picked up our bikes from the Hostel. Angel, the owner, was a cool guy and he wanted a picture with us before we left, so I obliged.

The road out was significantly more wet and muddy than it had been on the way in, and my tires were sliding all over the place.

The conditions made for great pictures and it was a treat to get to ride that amazing road again.

Coming back up towards the pass, the weather remained relatively overcast; however, there was little to no rain and fog was significantly less intense than it had been on the way in.

The run off from the previous night's storm was raging in the creeks and rivers. In several spots it appeared that the engineers who had constructed the road had decided to forgo culverts or bridges and just make small concrete fordsl adding a little bit of extra fun to an already amazing road.

As the road neared the top of the pass, the clouds began to part enough to allow visions of the glacier clad mountains surrounding the pass.

I stopped to get some close ups of the glaciers.....

A little bit below the top of the pass I came across a minibus full of tourists on mountain bikes who were preparing to descend the pass with a guide.

I stopped and chatted with the minibus driver. He asked me a bunch of questions about my bike and told me that he had an XR400. We conversed for a while and he asked me if I was from Argentina. I laughed and told him that I was a gringo from the states. This is actually the third time this has happened. Apparently my Spanish is either so good or my accent so strange, that I'm being mistaken for an Argentinian. I've also been mistaken for a Brazilian once, go figure. While we were talking, I got a good picture of the bike with the mountains in the background

Mike showed up a few minutes later and we got some more pictures.

We continued on up to the top of the pass and were in for a real treat: snow!

As I approached the top, I noticed two girls who had stationed themselves alongside the road. As I approached they began hurling snowballs at me; I made a quick U-turn and went back to stand beneath their withering hale of fire for the sake of photography. As I was snapping pictures, one of their projectiles hit me right in the head. I suppose it was a good thing I was wearing a helmet!

I soon left the snow and decended down some amazing switchbacks. Just look at all of these turns:

After descending a few thousand feet through cloud forest and past Incan ruins on a beautiful road, I arrived in Ollantaytambo and stopped for lunch in the town square.

I ate a couple of ham sandwichs and had a few cups of coffee before Mike showed up and we got ready to leave. Before I got on my bike I considered all of the rough riding that I had done over the past few days and decided to give it a quick look-over to make sure nothing had broken. Unfortunately my instincts proved correct and I found that the bolt that holds the muffler to the frame had loosened up and fell out. It seems like I can't go more than a few days without some minor bike problem popping up. I guess that's what I get for pushing the bike to the limit every day.

I busted out my tools and found that I didn't have any extra bolts that were long enough to replace the missing one. I resorted to the MacGyver solution and just bound it back together with a few zip ties and some bailing wire.

I flew down the Sacred Valley and covered the remaining miles to Cusco quickly. I parked my bike at the hostel and immediately took a taxi to the hardware store and found a new bolt to hold the exhaust together. With that minor emergency taken care of, I stripped off the side panels and luggage and gave the bike a thorough examination for any other problems that may have developed while I was riding like a hooligan in the dirt.

Fortunately, everything else seemed to be okay. I'm very surprised that the subframe hasn't cracked yet. With the amount of weight I'm carrying and the way I ride on dirt roads and trails, I should have broken that thing a long time ago.

For dinner, I went out and had a plate of "La Causa" (The Cause). A Peruvian told me that this dish originates from back in the day when Chile and Peru were at war. The Peruvian government was too poor to buy bullets for it's soldiers, so the women of Lima would make this dish and then go out in the streets and sell it to help raise money to buy bullets for their men. This was "The Cause" that the dish takes it's name for. It's quite tasty and only costs 3 Soles ($1.50) a plate.

That's it for today. It was a solid, if somewhat muddy, day of riding. Tomorrow I'm going to start heading towards Lake Titicaca and then on to Bolivia. The Death Road and the Salar de Uny aren't far off now...