Days 546 - 553: Cacti and Thunder Storms

Potosi to Villazon, Bolivia 360 km
October 22 - October 28, 2013

It seems we have zoomed through Bolivia, but this feels good after our very long journey through Peru.  On this stretch in Bolivia we realized that we are at the point of our trip when we are starting to have lasts...  Leaving Potosi (which already sits at 4100m), we had what where likely our last two passes over 4000 m... gruelling as these high altitude passes are, there is something about the crisp and thin air at the top, that we will miss.  We spent most of this stretch riding between 2700 and 3600 m, through expansive deserts, and the more than occasional thunderstorm!

Bolivia: Part Two

Potosi - Tupiza 260 km (four days)

After a couple days off in Potosi, to rest up, eat up and clean up...we headed off for our final stretch in Bolivia.  As I mentioned above, we had a couple high passes as we exited Potosi.  During which we had the opportunity to see (at a very slow pace), the extensive mining operations around the city.  In the past the main mineral extracted was silver, but now it is mostly tin.  The conditions of the mines are reportedly very harsh... and they sure looked it even from the outside.  After our final pass we descended rapidly, and then a little more slowly into a dry valley, and alongside a dry riverbed.   After 3pm, I was starting to feel really tired so we decided to stop in the village of Tuctapari.   We asked around about a place to camp, and found a very welcoming and very clean health centre.  The young doctor that ran the place even offered us beds in the infirmary because there were not any patients.... We opted for our tent, there was something a little weird about sleeping in an infirmary.   We were both really impressed with the level of cleanliness of the clinic and the grounds, it may have been the cleanest place we have seen in all of Bolivia...and this was clearly owed entirely to the pride that the young doctor took in maintaining it.  We felt lucky to stay there.   We also had the company of many local school children for the evening, who were particularly interested in all of the details of our families.

In the morning we took off early continuing a slow descent through the dry valley.  We then had a few steep ups and downs, and a little heat as we descended to close to 2600 m.  Our day ended in the village of Tumusla...again it was an early end to the day, but as we rapidly descended into the village we saw ahead the 400 m climb out of the valley.   By the time we reached the valley bed it was over 30 degrees celcius (hotter than it has been for awhile) and we couldn´t quite bring ourselves to tackle the climb.  It turned out to be a nice evening spent in lovely, and very green town plaza.  A few locals came by to chat, telling us that Tumusla was the site of a very important battle in 1825, that resulted in independance from Spain. These days, they told us, not many people live in the village as most have immigrated to bigger cities or even to Argentina for work.

When we woke up it was a little cooler, and we felt re-energized and ready for a day of climbing.  We had the first big hill to tackle, and then it seemed to be climb after climb all day long.  Some of the grades were quite steep, reminding us of our days in Guatemala.  We arrived in the town of Cotagaita late afternoon and stopped for lunch....only to discover that no bread was to be found mid-day....It now seems this might be somewhat of a theme.  Giant crackers did the trick.  From Cotagaita it was a long and generally gradual climb up about 1000 m.  We carried on another 10 or 15  km to the town of Cozan, and decided to call it a day.  We ended up camping in the highschool yard, and had a bit of company from what must have been the coolest kids in town... piercings and super cool hairstyles.  They were intrigued by our bikes and took turns posing for photos with our bikes, the best part was that they loved the helmets...and putting it on was in intregral part of the photo!  We had a quiet night....early to bed, as is our general camping routine...

We woke up to discover that we were locked in the schoolyard...luckily we had all we needed to make breakfast.  As we were cooking a man unlocked the schoolyard and came to talk to us, informing us that he was in charge of the schoolgrounds and it was private property.  We told him that we had received permission from the school director the night before to camp, this satisfied him and he wished us a good journey.... it was a little curious that he was in charge of the school grounds and only noticed us about 12 hours after we arrived.... but, oh well.  We were climbing most of the day, luckily it was a gradual grade and we had a tailwind for the most part.  We were making good progress and had a quick lunch break on the side of the road, as we were eating we noticed dark clouds circling.  Over the past few days there seemed to be dark clouds all around, but we had never gotten any rain, so we didn´t think too much of it.  But, when we started to bike again it started to rain...really rain, heavy drops with a little hail for good measure.  We put on our rain gear....and less than two minutes later Glenn got a flat!  It was raining and hailing so hard that we could not change it right away, but there were small breaks in the rain so eventually Glenn got the flat fixed.  The rain and hail was accompanied by some uncomfortably close lightening bolts.  So, as soon as the flat was fixed we pedalled fast...   We continued to be surrounded by thunder and lightening until we reached the pass as 3600 m, and then we descended rapidly into the town of Tupiza and sunny skies.   We eventually found a cheap place to stay, owing in large part to running into a French couple on a tandem bike who pointed us in the right direction.  That night we drank beer in the warm climate of Tupiza.

We spent a rest day in Tupiza, where we were surprised to find an excellent bike shop and where I finally got my front hub replaced!  And as a bonus the excellent mechanic did an amazing job adjusting my gears.   Unfortunately Glenn spent a good part of the day washing most of his cloths, as a container that we had used to carry extra gasoline (for our stove) leaked, resulting in a seriously stinky situation.

Tupiza - Villazon 100 km (one and a half days)

We had budgeted two days for the ride to Villazon (and the Argentinian border), and we were glad that we did as we ended up having a big climb and some more lightening!  The ride out of the Tupiza was lovely, meandering through a red rock canyon alongside a river.  But, after about 30 km we began to climb...luckily we knew it was coming, but we didn´t know just how steep it would be.  By the end we were having serious flashbacks of Guatemala!   But we huffed and puffed, and made it up as we always end up doing.  By this time it was afternoon, and it seemed that the familiar old rain clouds were rolling in.   Just as the lightening and thunder began we saw a turn off to the ´historic town of Moraya´, and made the quick decision to turn off and look for a place to camp.  As we pedalled down the dirt track the rain really started and we were riding fast to find some shelter.  Once again just as it started to rain, Glenn got another flat! There was a quick dip into a dry river bed and a steep climb up the other side... at the bottom of the dip Glenn heard a big poof... and his tire was flat... a big thorn was the culprit.  Luckily we were close to the big old church and we took shelter in the entranceway.   Glenn decided that it was time to switch to his spare tire...only to discover that the wire beading had been damaged by carrying it in a figure eight for so many months, making the tire unusable.  Luckily, I have a spare that was undamaged, so he was able to use it.   Lesson learned, do not fold an unfoldable tire.   After recovering from the tire grief, we set up camp and made some supper.  We had a few visitors in the evening, mostly older folks who had grown up in Moraya, but worked most of thier lives elsewhere and now were back visiting.  They all told us about the historical significance of the town, mainly that there had been another important battle.  One woman also told us that there are rumored to be tunnels from the church to various parts of the town... and that some of them have gold in them, but that no one has ever found them.  It was early to bed yet again, and it was a very peaceful night.

The next day we finished our ride to Villazon, it was not too challenging, just some rolling hills.  We also had a nice tailwind making progress fast.  We will spend the night here and gather some supplies before heading into Argentina tomorrow!   One important task is to take out some US dollars from the bank machine here (that normally dispense local and US currency).  We have heard that there is somewhat of a dual exchange rate in Argentina, and if you have US dollars you can get almost twice as much as if you have other currency, or if you take Argentinian pesos from the bank machine...

Even though we are entering Argentina, the country of our final destination Tierra del Fuego....We still have about five months and somewhere around 6000 km to go (Argentina is really big!), so the adventure goes on!