Welcome to Bolivia!
We have nice roads here:
But as universal equation says: the beauty of scenery is inversely
proportional to the roads leading there. It's 99% true!
See the panoramas for proof of sci-fi landscapes, environment, volcanos, lakes, colours... NB! If you still don't know, you can click to enlarge each panorama (those wide pictures with bizarre corners) in a new window, depending on the web browser you may have to click again on the image in the new window to see it in full size - then scroll the image horizontally - it gives you a feeling as if you were there yourself looking around the place)
(Bolivian border post @ 4600 meters above sea level)
(views from the road)
(Bolivian altiplano in sunset - bizarre nature formed of the bushes by one-directional winds)
(Cracks in the volcanic ground)
Typical roads in South-Bolivia.
That's the best part of the road.
And we had to ride over 500 miles in those conditions.
But guess what...
...I got altitude sickness.
We climbed too quickly from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) to Bolivia. From 2500m to 4500m in less than a 2 hours. And then headed up to over 5000 meters where Bolivian aduana (customs) was. There I got a knockout blow and, I almost fainted...
Thankfully there was a chemical plant in the middle of nowhere aside the Bolivian customs where a doctor re-animated me with oxigen:
This could have ended with my death if we had not been lucky to have a doctor here with necessary equipment at hand in that very moment. Most of the South-Bolivia is just an empty land with nothing and nobody to help you.
Kariina said the colour of my skin in the face changed visibly from gray to normal again under the oxigen mask. After some time there + loads of medicine I got on to my feet again and we could head on. Doctor strongly advised to get to lower grounds as soon as possible, but it was impossible here - everything nearby is well over 4000 meters over sea level on the altiplano
It was geting dark and we had to find a place to shelter, the best spot we found was at 4500m over the sea level and we pitched the tent. Kariina had to do everything, since my condition was worsening again and I didn't have any force at all - I could barely ride bike. In the night it dropped -2C below freezing temperature, we didn't get any sleep, I constantly went out the tent to vomit, in fact I could barely walk and stand up and felt like I was about to die. But still, the freezing night sky above me (while vomiting, I was constantly staring at the sky) was just stunning, mind-blowing! It's the thing that made me slightly better and after few bad situations and bad signs on my collapsing health, while couple of times we were just one move away to start our sattelite-telephone and call for an emergency evacuation - I decided to test my survivability and I was alive in the morning, maybe just 1-2 hours of sleep.
In the morning the same trick - Kariina had to do everything, pack the tent and stuff on the bike while I layed on the ground, shaking from cold and vomiting. When done, Kariina helped to get me on the bike (which I barely could do) and we could ride on. Kariina could ride our heavy bike as an emergency, but NEVER in those (rather off-)road conditions here. So I had to pilot us on to the safer-lower grounds myself.
And the road ahead was yet again nasty.
We had 2 serious falls, and to lift up fully loaded bike over 4500 meters above sea level...?
In my extremely poor physical condition at the time I had I could never do it, I couldn't even lift 400cc bike there, and even together with Kariina we had to remove some luggage to get the bike up again.
You just have no strenght over 4000m. And after every small physical move you do, you breathe like hell to get that little oxygen that's available in the air.
After all odds we managed to ride to Uyuni
, the biggest place on our way - with medicine etc available, and we could heal a bit there. Kariina got fever too, so she also didn't fully get away from altitude sickness.
Till we get better after few days in the (cold hotel room's) bed in Uyuni.
Nice was to have Uyuni festival happening at the same time:
From Uyuni there was a good chance to visit Uyuni's train-boneyard nearby. Trains that once were for transporting salts and stuff from the mines all the way to Antofagasta (now Chile) that once was Bolivia and their access to the Pacific.
Train for sale, needs a very good mechanic:
And even physicists have been here, marked an important spacetime equation with Einsten tensor.
Soaked into the ground in time.
Train bone-yard panoramas (click to enlarge):
And from there one of our highlights - the Uyuni Salt Lake
(Salar de Uyuni). Above the 3650 meters lied an eye-blindingly white flat wonder covered with thin layer of water making it hard to understand if you're in earth or heaven! We've finally seen it!
(click to enlarge the pic)
And panoramas from Salar de Uyuni (click to enlarge)
And as you already probably guessed - 100% pure salt soaked with water + motorcycle do not mix well:
We had to wash the bike immediatly after, so it wouldn't eat the whole bike alive.
From Uyuni we headed to Potosí, on the same Bolivian non-existant dirt roads. But then again, like I already said: the beauty of scenery is inversely proportional to the quality of the roads, take a look yourself (click to enlarge the panoramas):
Road to Potosí.
The easiest river crossing:
Our lunch time directly aside the road.
Bushes in the valleys were the height of a man.
And muddy villages.
Till we made it to Potosí - the World's highest city! (4060m) Used to be the richest city in South-America during the "silver-days".
Cathedral of Potosí.
And there is no heating in the hotels in Potosí (except the highest-end ones that are way out of our budget), but fortunately 5 blankets in the beds are a standard to keep you barely warm during the night:
But why the city has grown so big in this extreme height is the Cerro Rico mountain aside it - once filled with silver, that when taken out given the richness to the city and the area:
Over 8 million
people, mostly slaves (indigenous South-Americas and imported from Africa) have died inside this mountain for the silver!
And still today, while most of mine resources are depleted the miners' communities still dig and in in-humane conditions. Around 45 people still die per year in the mines. Mostly accidents and collapsing shafts, because the equipment and techniques used in the mines are still old-school and out-dated.
We decided to visit inside the mines too.
Got a guide and proper equipment:
And went over a mile inside the Cerro Rico mountain:
One of the higher shafts with rails, normally you had to walk with your knees and hands in the tight shafts.
Our guide revealing the good and bad inside the mountain.
The drillers working - no protective glasses, no face mask - just silly conditions they have to work in! It's so hard work to drill, that they aren't allowed to work over 2 hours per day. Those young men's health (drillers are normally between 16-20 year olds) is ruined soon... Normally within 10 years time.
And inside the mines, throughout all the ages in Cerro Rico - the miners worship their devil every day, to bring luck and better mining:
That's a 60-70 year old devil, still every day covered with coca-leaves, cigarettes, bottles with water etc:
A good viewing to get the sense of the reality of Cerro Rico Potosi mine is the multi award-winning "Devil's miners"
we headed to Sucre
that wasn't anything special, returned and headed to the capital of Bolivia La Paz
, the highest capital city in the World, with Mt. Illimani shining in the background (click to enlarge the pic):
Road to La Paz was another idyllic landscape experience on the "Roof of The World" - the altiplano (click to enlarge each pic):
(We camped wild at 4200m)
And till we had a good view to La Paz (also click to enlarge the panorama):
La Paz center:
The city and the streets are placed on a steep and curvy mountain sides:
And dense traffic (with exhaust, clutch and break-smells everywhere):
And with overheating engine, burning breaks and clutch we managed to get into a hotel and our trusty horse could take a rest:
And get out ourselves to try the coca products (coca is the culture of bolivia in translation):
There was some coca fair going on at the time arrived, loads of stuff and people going on the streets:
Coca goes yum-yum for the indigenous.
And without coca it would be hard to work as an electrician on the La Paz's streets!
Didn't really recover in La Paz, but it was time to move to lake Titicaca:
To cross the lake we had to ride onto one of those huge things made out of rotten wood and powered with 5hp engine:
But it turns out they can even (barely, almost sinking) deliver buses and lorries over:
Lake Titicaca panorama:
And we sheltered in Copacabana's hostel with nice wiew:
I wasn't still allright, so stayed there 2 nights in hope things get better.
Copacabana has a very interesting cathedral (click to enlarge the panorama):
Inside all made of gold and precious stuff:
That's it folks. For now. Bolivia has been like a hallucination for me - with bad health, headache, vomiting and such, it rewarded me with stunning natural beauty and oddness of local people. A rare combination of extreme emotions overall really giving me a feeling like I'm on another planet.
Next post will be about Perú. Meanwhile here in Peru, my health got so bad again and we had to go to hospital, after X-rays and blood tests it turned out I have a bronchitis. Now I'm again sick in the bed. Probably the discovered bronchitis was the deeper cause of my never ending health problems here in altiplano's heights and hopefully things get better soon, especially when we go to lower grounds.
Will keep you updated.
Good night, Margus