On difficult roads



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Uyuni - near Quehua 11.08.02 75.10 km

When I had mail'ed the last letter last night, I hurried to the Cactus to hear if one still could have something to eat? I could, and I ordered a llama steak like the day before. Wonderful. Just as I sit eating a girl comes from above and stops at my table looking expectant at me. I usually don't have the effect on women that they stop to look at me. I look like a questionmark I guess, and say "What is it?" thinking I might have some gravy in the beard. It's the norweigian from the days tour. I'm a little embarrased, but my excuse is that she's no longer hidden her hair in a cap and is dressed otherwise (what I am certainly not). But this is not the first time. Of of the french guys with whom I exchanged some words in Toconao, and who was going to climb vulcans, was later on the train to Uyuni. I don't recognize him either until he asks if I've been to Toconao? And the two girls in the street in Calama say "Hello!" "Oh, you speak a bit english?", I answer. "Don't you recognize us", they say maybe in spanish - from Paranal? Oh yes, actually I do, one of them inherited from Argentine. But I excuse myself that it's much easier to recognize an old fool on a bike.

I leave at 9.20 a.m. and I already know the road to Colchani, even not on bike. It's a boring piece, I've feared that all the way to La Paz would be like this, but that's not the case. But I think I've done 45 km before something is happening. I arrive to a village and ask some boys what it's called? Chita, they say and we look at the map and talk a bit. They think Chita is half the way to Rio Mulatos, which is the first town with shopping and sleeping possibilities. Once more I wonder who to believe, what people say or the map. Several has independently claimed that the road goes straight at Rio Mulatos, and it doesn't according to the map.
But I'll find out in the morning. After Chita the road crosses some hills and I enter a new valley and not one of those of 20 km. No, this is just about 5 km. I cross one riverbed after the other. There isn't much streaming water but the road goes into deep potholes I have to find my way around.


I had to drag the bike on sandy parts Llamas with no earmarks, wild?


It goes on like this for long, new valleys, new rivers. It very desserted. One spot with a few houses there's a lady by the road. I salute her, but I don't think she salutes back. A little later comes a bus in the other direction and as I cross a hill a moment later I see two men standing surrounded by luggage, they've apparently been dropped by the bus. They don't seem to get moving, but maybe someone will come to fetch them? Still a little later I'm overtaken by a boy on a bike. Where the hell did he come from? And where is he going?
Well, where I've stopped I think the only inhabitants, besides the llamas which I hope will stay calm for the night because I'm sleeping on one of their paths, some animals digging holes in the ground. I think it to be some rabbit like one called a 'viscuna'? A little while ago one of them said funny sounds and banged its tail to the ground.

The river I had to pass before Rio Mulatos

Near Quehua - After Rio Mulatos 12.08.02 68.54 km
Another touching day which had a happy ending. It's a new trip I've started. At new conditions. The road is the master, and it's not big, but suits my level for the time being.In Rio Mulatos should be shopping and maybe even lodging possibility, but I don't expect it to be that far, so I and want to get on. In something which I think is called a publicito,a very small village, I talk to a young man. When I ask how far it is to Rio Mulatos, he answers like they do here, that it's 1˝ hours. But that's of course by bus? No, it's on bike.And here are a lot of bike tracks, so someone must be biking, even as far as Rio Mulatos. He might have gone to school there and biked both ways? To my question on how manylive in the "village", he answers: 3 families!
It's more like 2˝ hours because of my luggage and the road is terrible the last piece, but in the end I stand next to Rio Mulatos, not the town, but the river. The guy from Switzerlandtold me I had to cross a river, but I thought he ment those smaller ones of which I've passed 3-4. This one is of another size, maybe 20 m across and it looks deep. A man with his son,who is chasing a pig across, shouts about something up the river. I walk there to have a look. There are stone to step on so you can get across without having wet feet, but it's deep and I cannot carry the bike there. I go back to do the only thing I can do: off with the boots and socks and up above the knees with my trousers before I wade out to estimate how deep and how much current. It's better than expected.
First I cross with my boots and the one front pannier that would go into the water and then back to fetch the rest. Only the other front pannier goes a bit into the water. The man holds my bike while I dry my feet and get my boots on. So far, so good. The town is in two stores. At the bottom is the railway and some houses with shops (that are called 'pension'), a restaurant and at the other side a health center and schools. Above a slope are all the living houses and the church. And a huge parabol antenna. It's a modern village?
I shop what I can get, which it most except nescafé. I talk to some boys and in a second I'm surrounded by children. They look all over my bike and I offer cookies, it's always nice to have friends. Then I decide to eat lunch here. I put the bike outside and enters to order. They're hard to understand here, but there aree eggs with what I order and potatoes. I'll give it a try.
After me comes a man with sunglasses to also have lunch. It isn't 5 minutes before I go to fetch my diary. There I realize that my watch is gone. I have it on the handlebar, and I didn't take it with me this time, I didn't even bring the handlebar bag!. I did consider it, but decided that I had already friendds here, and it's a village!
I could cry. Most of all I consider how to manage without a watch. Not to mention all the features it had. But it's got to be somewhere? This isn't the size of Copiapo! An old woman with some bags and packages sits outside. I ask her if she's seen anything? No, she's been sleeping, she claims and have the looks so I do not believe her at all. I call for the staff in the restaurant and now a couple of people start discussing and also asks the old woman, who repeats she's been sleeping.
When I was on my way there and even when I was inside, a lot of youngsters in school uniforms pass, so it's a possibility it's one of them. So I go to the school. By a mistake I eneter the primary school to explain my situation to 4 persons, which I think are the headmaster, two teachers and the porter. They quickly get engaged and when I talk about all the children with the blue blouses, which had passed, they acompany me to the 'collegio' and explain the case to the headmaster. After some clearing up questions he thinks we have to go through the classes to ask questions. In the first class nobody knows nothing, but I think this headmaster knows his pupils all too well. Before we enter the next class, he says, that it might be a good idea, if I'd give 10 BOB to he, that could solve the case, and that's perfectly allright with me. We enter and before he's ended his questions someone is fiddling his bag and shortly after he must reluctantly open it, and what comes up from inside? My watch! I ask who's deserved the reward and hands him the bill and to avoid crying of relief I tap him so heavily on his shoulder, that he almost falls to the ground to common laughter.
Who's beaten who later, each other, by the headmaster, by dad? or whatever I'm happily unaware of, but I thank all, that has participated. I think I shake hands with the porter 5 times, before I get on.
Not so long after I have to cross another river of the same size as before. Same procedure except that this time there's noone to hold my bike.

After Rio Mulatos - Huari 13.08.02 66.87 km
It's been the best night in Bolivia so far. I'm awake at 2 a.m. and lie tossing and turning for a while but then I sleep all night through until 6.10 a.m. where the light gets on. Now it's time for coffee. Maybe I can reach Challapata today and maybe they'll have nescafé? If not this is the last cup before Oruro.
Now at 10 a.m. I've only done 12 km. These dust or sand roads are hardly passable and this morning is real bad. I have to drag the bike many times. The most positive about the road is that it's SURE to change, for better or for worse.
10.40. It's the hardest road physically I've been doing since Uyuni, no in the whole trip, if we subtract hard climbs. Sand, sand and sand. I have just passed more houses than for long and a village, which seemed totally empty. They've probably sat behind the curtains watching the lunatic. I've seen plowed areas for crops, I think maize.
It's winter and my clothing is as follows: t-shirt, shirt, woolen vest and my HH fleece jacket. Until this day a scarf too. None of you readers have been able to hear my coughing these last days, that's good I think. I'd been grounded immidiately. Met with a 4WD today. The railway is the villages lifeline, which I more or less have been following since Uyuni. From time to time narrow traces cross the 'pampas'. Most of them are llama traces but from time to time cycletracks are seen. That's the way of moving for villagers. Bike and train.
Now I'm getting closer to a bigger village, which must be in the map? Est. Savaruyo? That was right. But I had to cross another river first, wider than the others but not as deep. A train officer confirms that the road to Challapata is straight ahead, and to my question about how many hours, (I've learned it now) he thinks 1˝ hours by car. That will be around 5 for me I suggest and he conforms that too, but when I later see how good the road is, I think it won't hold, but anything near Challapata will do nicely. From there the road ought to be asphalt to Oruro and further on. I buy what I need in a little shop by an old lady. There's no sign with 'pension'. I learn to buy bananas in bolivianos. You can't have 2 bananas. For 1 BOB you have 5.
Since Savaruyo the road has turn into washboards of changing depth. The speed is unchanged 11 km/h. The road is long, straight and boring. After having only been surrounded by this white green lichen for some time, the road now is surrounded by hard tufts of a stabbing grass. I've met with one more car, but that's because the trucks go an alternate route. Late yesterday the road suddenly divided. (There are no signposts). Luckily a man on a bike came towards me at the same time and he told me that both roads led to Ororu. A truck that came in that moment took the right one which went more straight across the hillside, I didn't want to do that. Besides I'm dependent of shopping possibilities.
The road turns unbearable. The worst washboard I've seen till now, and it continues forever towards the foot of some mountains. What makes me go on? There is just one answer. That's the only thing that will get me out of this nightmare.

One of very few brown villagesr Surprising sanddunes

3.40 a.m. Now I know vaguely where I am. There are no villages in the map and those I pass have no signs, and what should I use it for? But I've just crossed a river Rio Negro Vinto, so, when I have unfolded the map, I can see how far it is to Challapata.
It was far unfortunately. 40 km? I didn't think the road could get worse, but I was wrong. The nightmare continues. Rocks make the bike bump, jump, skid, and there are no suitable sites for camping near. It's too crowdy for me. So on I go. At 5 p.m. I catch sight of a village, that not seems so small. At the same time comes one of these old men, that I've seen so many of, towards me on bike. I greet him and get ready for a question and he stops. If there's alojamiento in, I think I say the name of the village? Yes, definitely. That was the best news, I could have hoped for. No camping in this area.
I roll into the village Huari and the main street shows covered with these 6 edged flagstones I know so well. They had them in Uyuni too. I find 2 alojamientos opposite each other and choose the one which also bears a sign: restaurant. As usual the rooms are in the yard the back. I have to enter the rotten staircase to have a look at the room myself, the old mans legs won't bear him that far. 15 BOB. A good offer.
When I've banged away most of the dust from my luggage and placed it in the room and locked my bike in the yard, I go to look at the town, which was only a village in the map. This must be called a 'ciudad', a town. There's a plaza and many cobbled streets, even some of them are also used by sheep and cows. I sit in the plaza for some time. A digital box, the one that shows the time and the temperature. Yes, Huari is a modern town. When the sun is gone I walk back to lay down for a moment. I'm totally exhausted and nearly fall asleep, but I have this written.

Huari - Pazńa 14.08.02 56.94 km
I'm uses to waking up a little past 6, when the light comes on. I don't have to think about that. The young couple who's part of the family buisness, live next door and start shouting at 5.30 a.m. Why the hell do they have to get up  that early, they don't do nothing but fight. At 6 o'clock the trucks start honking for passengers. Not once, but three times with pauses, so we all know. Then a rooster crows. Now at 6.25 a.m. a sirene of some kind howls. All dogs and roosters are getting at it now. I am in a town in Bolivia!
I can't have breakfast in the lodge, so it's just getting on. I find after seeking for some time a shop which sells marmelade and eat breakfast on a bench in the outskirts of town. It's just opposite the 'collegio', so before I continue, I have to talk to a lot of students, who when they're the most clever can say "What's your name?", even they claim to be tought english in school. But that's how it is.
The new road to Challapata is almost finished, but unfortunately just almost, so I have to go for a diversion for Challapata, constructed for this reason. It's really terrible, I have to do the art of cycling, but the thought of just 20 km ahead I'll find asphalt can bring me through all this morning. After only 15 km I reach Challapata ( the map is misleading as usual) and after having passed a police block station I am now after 17,5 km on the finest asphalt with shoulders and all. This road goes flat all the way to the horizon, and luckily there's just a kind of breeze, but it's against. It's not exiting but a change after all so I'm quite happy. I havn't been on the biggest gear wheel many times since Chile, but now I give it a try. At 17 km/h my legs die, but they get better after a while. This will be tha fastest I guess?

At last.... asphalt again The bike needs cleaning

Then it happens. It had to sometime. I meet other cyclists. Two germans going the other direction. Two other that they didn't know at the beginning, but who they've been going with later, show up in a moment. A european meeting in a  bolivian road. I tell how the road has been, but they've already decided to take the bus from Challapata to Uyuni. One of them never got his luggage in La Paz, so they have no tent. The others lost a camera somewhere in Peru.
We've all got our stories. They tell me the road looks like this for the next 300 km. It's just the quality of the road they mention, becausse shortly after the road goes in between some low mountains, a nice landscape. Unfortunately it's head wind. They tell that there's a hotel in Pazńa, andd that Poopo, I'm going to, is not at the road and is a mining town and probably hasn't got lodging. That makes me change plans. The thought of a shower and time to clean the bike makes me stop in Pazńa. There's a police control, the officer don't know of any hotel, but there is something down the corner.
I end up at some private landlord in the most primitive lodge you can imagine. It's a small house in the yard, where I rent one room for 10 BOB. I find it too much, but considering I realize it's not much worser than in Huari. The toilet is the same type, no water, this is in the open and the water tap is in the middle of the yard, all kind of waste is lying around, but there's water in the tap. Yesterday there wasn't when I needed it.
Just when I entered town the wheather behaved strangely. It seemed to start raining, lots of dark clouds and the hell of a wind. They'd completely disappeared, it was just the threat. Now I've removed most of the dust from the bike, cleaned the chain as much as possible without a chain divider and cleaning stuff and oiled it. I bought onions and carrots, so I'm going to cook some strange canned meat I bought in Uyuni.
I've solved the problem with the missing hotel. It's near some 'Thermas' that the germans recommended. It's just outside of town, so why nobody could tell I don't understand.
The room has bricks in the floor, but only one bed. Considering the prize and the standard I think I could wish for a table so I go I say I miss a table, 'una mesa pequena'. Quires una mesita? Si! And in no time I have a suitable table, with a table clooth that is not quite clean.
There are shops in almost all corners. You can only tell by the open door. They all sell the same, no not quite. I feel for cookies, but when I have explained what's it all about in the last shop, he says I have to go to Oruro to get it. I hope to go there tomorrow. I bought ˝ l of bolivian beer, it's gonna be a feast?
I exaggerated but onion, carrot and orange juice helped the canned meat to glide down. The rest is put outside for the dog. Bolivian beer can't be recommended. It's too fizzy and - doesn't taste good. Even there's someone resembling a viking king on the etikette. I havn't seen bolivians with long white beard and a gown anyway.

Pazńa - Oruro 15.08.02 90.18 km
I start off early. At 9 a.m. I've already done 16 km. The road keeps going straight at the horizon, but to the right the green brown waving mountains tell me I'm advancing. To the left is the never ending plain where the low watered Poopo lake stretches.
I crawl across some minor hills and look ahead on new mountains now to both sides. There're remnants of snow on the south side of the mountains to the right. On both sides of the road these small brown houses of sun dries clay with straw roofs spread out alone or in groups.At one spot a new roof of corrugated iron flashes in the sun and even from a distance you can see that the doors probably have locks. Now I know how Bolivia smells. A characteristic smell that's everywhere and this morning I realized what it is, when I was taken over by a bus, which exhausted a colossal black cloud backwards. A cloud that kept hanging for 5 minutes. It's the sweet smell of some strange diesel that has become synonomous to Bolivia to me.
Then it's as the landscape spreads out. The mountains to the write draws back. The mountain lumps to the other side get smaller and ahead it's like they disappears. At the same time the vegetation disappears quite abrupt. In the distance I see the jagged shape of trees in the horizon, there has to be a river. According to the map it has to be Machacamarca, there are still 20 km left. No it shows to be less. I feel for a break, there aren't many natural resting spots here. Inside of town I'm surrounded by men, that want to hear the usual. They're impressed a bit when they hear I've done 2500 km.
When I go on after having shaken hands with 8-10 of them, the road makes a giant turn to cross the river and after having passed a hill I can see Oruro somewhere ahead. It's another 25 km but the town is clearly seen, it's windows and rooftops that reflect the sun and draw a shape of the city, that seems to reach the top of the mountain. The head wind has raised, but now I take it easy. In 2˝ hours it will be 4 p.m., that's a fine time.

3.30 p.m. I sit in my armchair in Hotel Lipton. Private shower with hot water, TV, armchair, double bed for 40 BOB. I had from Lonely Planet counted on 50, so it's fine. I'm pretty crushed. If I lay down I'll fall asleep. Have to go and find a 'cajero automatico' to cash some money, I can pay for the room still.

It's 7 p.m. and I'm sitting satisfied with myself. I've just been drinking two cups of tea and eating two cookies, to keep me from starving, until I go out to eat at 8 p.m. Even the hotel is in the outskirts it wasn't THAT far to the center. I was a bit confused, because they don't have name on all street corners, actually only on few, so you have to remember in which you are. But suddenly I saw ENTEL's (telephone company) main building and there was the tourist info, as it was supposed to, with a lady, who spoke both english and german. Now I've got a map of the city. I've cashed money and found an internet café. The rest is just for fun.