|01-15-2008, 12:49 PM||#1|
Joined: Jun 2005
Location: Aptos, California
Dirtbikes & Death Roads, 2200 Miles in Bolivia
The morning sun was revealing spectacular cloudscapes over the
We had been flying all night and were almost to
We had been planning this trip for months—selecting the country, fine-tuning the itinerary, and arranging childcare at home for our two young children. Initially, I had wanted to ride in
At almost 12,000 feet above sea level,
The route from the airport had us dropping down from the edge of the crater, into the city below. View of
Our hotel in
View from our hotel:
After a quick breakfast and short nap at the hotel, we met Maurice for a stroll through the city and a relaxing lunch at an excellent restaurant, La Comedie.
Ben and I on the way to lunch:
We were also joined by Marc, one of the four Belgians who would be riding with us on this trip. After lunch, Ben and I decided to visit a few museums and to wander through the market areas.
The streets were pretty crowded with cars.
There are also numerous minibuses, each with a “caller” who continually yells out the location and price from the side of the minibus. If you want to ride, you give a wave and hop aboard.
We visited the Museo Tiwanaku, which has some interesting artifacts from the excavations at Tiwanaku, as well as few mummies. Here I am at the entrance:
The museum was quite small and only had a handful of visitors. While in the museum, we were approached by two girls who were interviewing people for a school project. Since Ben and I have been studying Spanish at our local community college for a year and a half, we were able to converse with the girls, and answer their questions (where were we from, how long were we staying in La Paz, etc.). At the end, one of the girls asked me if I would be her “madrina” (sponsor) because she wanted to come to the
We continued walking through the streets of
More views of
We had to walk up the hills a bit:
After a long trek, we finally found the museum--but it was closed! We took a picture anyway to show that we at least had made it there:
The shoeshine boys were everywhere, wearing ski-masks to hide their faces:
Ben in front of the Iglesias de
A house that shows its history in the stonework at the base:
That evening, we met the rest of the riders in our group and had a delicious dinner together. Here we are, from left to right: Kathy, Ben, Gérald, William, Marc, Olivier and Maurice.
DAY 1: LA PAZ TO JANKO MARCA AND SAJAMA
This morning we traveled to Maurice’s home in the Zona Sud (Southern Zone) of
Many of the buildings in
Maurice and Rene (on top) loading the chase truck:
The gang: Top Row: Rene (our fast and funny chase truck driver), David (our wonderfully upbeat #2 guide), Hugo (our exceptional mechanic), Marc, me, Ben, Gérald. Bottom Row: William, Maurice (our knowledgeable and extremely gracious #1 guide) and Olivier.
We then headed up, up, and up, out of
Our ultimate destination today was the base of Volcán Sajama, the highest mountain in
The town where we parted ways:
A note about Bolivian roads: while there are some paved 2-lane roads connecting the few large cities together, the vast majority of roads are dirt, and street signs are practically nonexistent. The roads often branch off in various directions, and it is very easy to get lost. Even with written directions, navigation can be quite challenging. Also, there are many rivers that do not have any bridges. We had to cross one of those rivers on the way to Maribel’s village. Unfortunately, the rainy season started in early November this year, instead of late December, and when we arrived at the river crossing, it was veeeerrrrrrry wide. The water was only several feet deep, however, and the local people had a flat-bottomed boat that several men would pull across the river. On the other side we could see the boat waiting for a herd of sheep to finish crossing a field and board the boat. We waited, and waited. The sheep were not in a hurry. Ben and I were scoping out what looked like a possible path for us to ride across on our bikes. Ben decided to test things out, but he soon became embedded in a stretch of gooey sucking mud that tried to swallow his rear tire.
Rene lent a hand in the rescue.
After we had successfully extracted Ben’s bike from the muck, a local man came out of one of the few houses by the side of the river and told us that the boat that was slowly crossing the river with the sheep would be too small for the bikes and chase truck and that we needed to go further down the river to one of the bigger boats. So off we went.
One of the bigger boats:
After we loaded the vehicles onto a boat, backing the bikes carefully down onto narrow planks, we relaxed a bit.
Here I am with Maurice and Rene. And yes, the boatmen pulled us all the way across that wide river!
Some shots of the boatmen pulling us along the bank, to get around the sand/mud bars in the middle of the river:
We finally arrived at Maribel’s village, 3 hours late. Maurice said that the concept of time was a bit more fluid in
Me, with Maribel and her mother.
The crowd around us:
Then Maribel’s family dressed us in gifts of traditional clothing—with a warm sweater and hat for Ben, and a beautiful purple skirt, sweater and hat (not yet on my head) for me:
They also gave us small glasses of brown beer to drink and instructed us on the local custom of first pouring a small amount on the ground as an offering of thanks. I only took a couple of small sips—my head was already swirling from the excitement around me, and I wanted my mind to be stay as clear as possible. Then the band started playing again, and we were pulled outside the gazebo to dance around the plaza.
(Does this skirt make my . . . ?)
Ben was quite the ladies’ man:
My heavy motorcycle boots were not the best dancing shoes, and as we started our second loop around the large plaza, I was wondering how long my stamina would last. But Maribel and I were joking with one another, and there was plenty of laughter to carry me through.
Afterwards, Maribel’s teacher provided us with a grand tour of the school. Earlier this year, in preparation for our visit, we had asked the school if there was anything special that they needed as a gift. Here is the entrance to the school, with the new gate that we provided; Maribel’s teacher is on my right.
The school was very impressive. The buildings were well-maintained, and the students had planted some trees (a rarity in the altiplano area) in the courtyard. We visited Maribel’s classroom and admired all of the wonderful schoolwork that was displayed on the walls.
The school recently built a small comideria (cafeteria) in which the mothers and fathers volunteer each school day to cook hot lunches for the students. Here are some of the items in the comideria storeroom; I thought the lamb’s head was very interesting:
The school is also in the process of building a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, carrots and many other types of vegetables and fruits for the children. There was a lot of community support, and pride, in the school and the achievements of the students. There was even an upper-level school for the older children and adults, which served a number of the surrounding villages. We could see that the monthly sponsorship funds (connected to many of the children) were being put to good use and were really making a difference in people’s lives here. After the school tour, we walked to Maribel’s house. Here I am with Maribel’s parents inside of their modest home:
We were then treated to a meal of quinoa soup and lamb. Quinoa is a nutritious grain that is grown on the altiplano; Maribel had explained to me previously in one of her letters that quinoa soup was her favorite food. During the meal, Maribel’s mother ran into the house and urgently requested a knife, explaining that one of their cows had eaten something that had caused its stomach to swell up, requiring emergency action in order to save the cow’s life. She ran back a few minutes later, frantically asking for another knife because the first one was too dull. There didn’t appear to be any other knives available, so Maurice handed over his multipurpose tool. Maribel’s mother was able to cut the cow’s stomach open, clean it out, and then sew the cow back together. The village leaders, as well as the leaders of the local sponsorship program, were crowded into Maribel’s small one-room house. While we were eating, we were introduced to each one. We learned that the village leaders are selected each year and are responsible for running the village as well as resolving disputes and doling out punishment to community members who break the rules.
After eating, we thanked everyone profusely for such an incredible welcome and heartwarming hospitality, and we explained that we still had many more miles to travel before we reached
We continued onward to
After nightfall, our pace slowed down due to the road conditions. The moon had not risen, and the blackness was immense all around us. At one point, there was a huge gap in the road from a washout that was not noticeable until the last moment—I registered the gap in my brain, increased the accelerator, held my breath to see if my tires would clear the gap, gave up a prayer of thanks when both wheels were on the other side, and stopped for a moment to let my heart settle back to its normal rhythm.
We finally reached the asphalt of the two-lane highway. Maurice explained that we had 35 miles of highway before our turnoff to
We finally reached our turnoff. I was shivering uncontrollably, so I had Ben put a chemical body warmer on my upper back—ahhhhhh, I should have done that 25 miles ago! The rest of the ride to
Photo of our hostel at sunset, taken by Gérald earlier in the day:
[DAYS 2-12 TO BE CONTINUED BELOW]
"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm!"
Around the World, One Journey at a Time
RockyRoads screwed with this post 01-26-2008 at 02:08 PM
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