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Old 03-18-2011, 02:46 AM   #856
Jammin OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockin Rollin View Post
Hey Jammin! Hello from Canada.
Just discovered your report , looks like you have info on a lot of the same terrain I want to cover next year. Thanks for reporting.
I want to review the report & will be reading along from here.
Buene Seurte, Vaya con Dios mi Amigo EH!
Hey Roland, yup, lots of info for future travelers. Don't hesitate to ask any specific questions (will reply eventually).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockin Rollin View Post
Hi Jay,
Could you have departed in Dakar & if so why not? Just asking for interest?
I like the idea of Rio to Dakar.
Grimaldi usually allows passengers with vehicles to get on/off at Buenos Aires and then get on/off at various ports in Europe (Hamburg, Tilbury UK, Antwerp, Le Havre FR). In 2010 they started allowing passengers to get down with vehicles in Dakar, I guess due to consistent demand, but they stopped that option in January of this year because the paperwork with customs was too complicated in Dakar if the bike did not come as cargo (shipped in a container), cause they're not used to dealing with private vehicles rolling off a ship. So, Grimaldi changed their rules and said no more getting down in Dakar (which screwed up my plans).

Quote:
Originally Posted by fastlane1 View Post
Hi Jay,
A year ago today you started this thread. CONGRATULATIONS on your great achievement so far. I've been following along and have made your Chicken Curry and enjoyed the adventure.

I'm always amazed at the quality of your blogs,web site and updates - truly a professional presentation and very well organised - and all from the back of a bike.

I notice that you are currently about 3 months behind your weather tracking schedule you set yourself on page 1. That could put you in S.Africa in winter (Winter = dry and frosty in Jo'burg // VERY WET and WINDY in Capetown). There is a huge dualsport community in S.A. so you will be in good hands.

A very different African adventure awaits you - where posted speed limits are treated as a suggestion, and road signs are often used as target practice and are full of bullet holes and there is no wrong side of the road.
Security in Africa is also a big issue - I may be stating the obvious here but your senses need to be constantly tuned to ALERT mode.

Drive safely and have your wits about you!! Thanks for taking us all along!!!! Here's wishing you the best for the next years installment - we'll all be following your epic trip closely.
Hey fastlane1, thanks for following along. Yeah, was thinking about that on the ship, that one year ago, I didn't know how things would work out and with some effort, things are relatively going according to plan.
Thanks for the compliments. I try my best to keep the quality up on this thread and keep the updates as current as possible, but im missing that satellite data connection.
Yes, lots of thinking about what to do about the route in Africa now that I'm going to be hitting the rainy season head on in west and central Africa. Sounds like most of it is paved, so I shouldn't get stuck anywhere, but from Nigeria to Cameroon is still an unknown. I think I might have to skip going along the coast in West Africa and stay in the Sahel a bit more to avoid the rains. That means skipping Ghana, Togo, Benin and going from Burkina Faso into Niger down into Nigeria. Once I get to the southern hemisphere in Gabon, the seasons change and I'll have a bit of the dry season to enjoy. I'm planning to get to Namibia/SA around Sept/Oct.

I figure driving in Africa is going to be a bit more crazy than LatAm, but can't be all that bad. I knew this past year thru LatAm would be good practice in everyway for this coming year thru Africa. Since I left Chicago, I've been on Alert mode, haha. Even here in Europe, you never know, especially with a bike that attracts attention.

Will definitely meet up with the DS crew down in SA.
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Old 03-18-2011, 06:55 AM   #857
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crashmaster View Post
Have you figured out a route through north Africa yet? Would be an interesting time to go through, if you can get through.
Greetings from Guyana!
The route thru North Africa is: enter at Morocco from Spain, down thru Western Sahara, across Mauritania into Senegal and Dakar. Then start heading east into Mali, up to Timbuktu, then down a bit to Burkina Faso. If the rains aren't an issue, it would have been down to Ghana, across Togo, Benin, Nigeria into Cameroon. But since I'll be hitting the rains from May onwards, I think I'll stay on the border of the Sahara, the Sahel as long as I can, that means from Burkina going east into Niger and then entering Nigeria from the north, cutting down to the south, taking a ferry into Cameroon. There's an awesome road from Nigeria into Cameroon, all mud thru the jungle and is supposed to be epic in the dry and hell in the wet (like the TransAm). Might have to skip this :(
From Cameroon, then I'll be on target for the weather, especially when I cross back into the southern hemisphere where the seasons switch and there'll be a dry season in the middle of the year as I get into Gabon. From there, into Congo-Brazaville, across a small bit of DRC into Angola, then all is good when I enter Namibia. Plan for Southern Africa not sure yet. I hope I dont have to rush, since I'm a few months behind...
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlbertaStrom View Post
You've covered so many miles, it's been an amazing journey so far Jay and so much more to go.
Got my T-Shirt in the mail today!
Thanks for sharing your adventure.
Dave
Thanks for supporting with the t-shirt, Dave. Spare a thought for sanDRina, she's a trooper. We got down from the ship, 3 weeks of no movement and then the next day did almost 600 miles across Europe
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adv Grifter View Post
Couldn't make pay pal work on the T shirt site ... no way to contact the t-shirt company.
Bye Bye ... it punted me off after I gave all personal info including Pay Pal account and password. Nice.
Sorry to hear that Grifter. The t-shirt company has a phone number you can call to place an order. I'll pm it to you.
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Old 03-18-2011, 07:13 AM   #858
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Quote:
Originally Posted by badguy View Post
Welcome back to dry land!
I finally finished reading through the American part of the trip and you've done an amazing job keeping things documented and sharing your experiences. THANK YOU! I look forward to reading more about your take on things.
Good luck, Jay!
-Mike
Thanks, Mike. I still have about 2 months of southern SoutAm to post. Enjoy...

Quote:
Originally Posted by NordTwin View Post
Welcome in Europe!
After his trip over the ocean Jay arrived yesterday in Hamburg.
We picked him up, support him with new tires and after a short night
he start´s his trip to Paris - Madrid and Africa!
Mike
for the NordTwins
Mike, thank you so much for picking me up and helping me out with the tires. The guys at NordTwin.de Rock!
Jens ordered the tires for me and helped me mount them.
And thanks for the nice photos.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom-Traveller View Post
Hi Jay
you arrived ..... a very warm WELCOME to Europe
Very nice that paperwork in Hamburg was easy and not a big hassle
the weather is not too bad, hope you enjoy the ride south
@ Mike from Nord Twins .... well done
Have fun and happy trails
Thomas
Hey Thomas, yes, I'm finally on your continent. And I could use all the warm welcomes to cold Europe. Hopefully it warms up a bit by the time I get my Moroccon visa and continue south.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chinalee View Post
So cool
thank you

Quote:
Originally Posted by WilderRider View Post
Thanks for the video. That is beautiful stuff. That deep sand looked like it really would suck.
Thx, yup, that deep sand was brutal but it sure was a memorable experience. Would I go back again, yes, but not with such a loaded bike
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:24 AM   #859
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Argentina, Part 1: The Northeast into Buenos Aires

November 10 - 20, 2010

Argentina and Chile form the bottom half of South America and I was saving them for the southern summer, as the latitudes stretch all the way to Antartica in the south, but I still wanted to visit southern Bolivia first before heading south to Patagonia. I thought I could get across Paraguay and enter Bolivia that way, but the visa for Paraguay was going to take two weeks to process. And besides all the wrangles with the paperwork, I was still trying to get a replacement jet needle for sanDRina's carburetor. My mechanic friend in Chicago, Gus had sourced the parts but they couldn't be shipped to Brazil in time as my visa there was expiring, so I had them sent to Buenos Aires. At the same time, a friend-of-a-friend was flying from Chicago to Buenos Aires, so I arranged for a care package of miscellaneous items to be sent through him. And for the past few months I have been trying to arrange for a place to pick up a replacement set of Happy Trail panniers that the company from Idaho wanted to replace free of charge but customs in Brazil and other countries proved too big a headache. So, everything was converging on Buenos Aires and I headed there first, before turning north for Bolivia.


Exiting Brazil and entering Argentina.


Where there's a bridge across a border, all through South America, I've seen the two countries paint their half of the bridge in the national flag colors.


Welcome to Argentina... and there's duty free shopping to tempt all the traveling Brazilians.


My route through northern Argentina. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.


Interesting to see a sign board indicating the route to cut all the way across Argentina for entering Chile. I guess it's a commercial route to connect the two oceans and it wasn't so surprising after seeing the number of Brazilian travelers crossing at Paso de Jama.


Puerto Iguazu is the small town at the border supporting the tourists who come for the Argentine side of the falls. It also has a gleaming gas station where I happily filled sanDRina's tank with cheaper petrol, costing on average 4.20 Argentine Pesos for a liter (US$4/gal) and this would be for pure petrol with no ethanol. The bike ran fine all through Brazil, after tweaking the air/fuel mixture (as ethanol burns leaner) and now the settings were back to as they were before Brazil.


The Argentine 100 Peso note, equal to about US $25. Argentina went through its own economic collapse in the earning 2000s and the government had to lobe off a couple zeros to control hyperinflation. Things have been steadily progressing since then and they breathed a collective sigh of relief when the global financial crisis in 2008 didn't affect their fragile economy. The stickler about getting money from ATMs in Argentina (and Chile, as well) is that they all charge $4 ($5 in Chile) per transaction, besides your own bank fees, so I tried to take out the maximum possible each time I had to visit one. In all the other countries, so far, I've managed to find a local bank that didn't charge ATM fees and I only had to pay the 1% that my local bank in Chicago charges (I went with a small Credit Union, instead of a regular bank, since their ATM fees are lower). And since cash now costs 1% more, I use a Capital One credit card where ever possible since they don't charge any foreign transaction fees (the only major card that does this) and I've had no issues with fraudulent transactions or holds on my card.


An overview of Iguazu Falls at the entrance to the park. Most of the falls is on the Argentine side and the main attraction is getting to the Garganta del Diablo (the devil's throat) at the top end of the falls. The local legend (there's always a human story to explain stunning natural phenomena) goes with the tale of two illegitimate lovers running away from her father and he strikes the ground with his staff, resulting in the earth giving way and obstructing the escape of the lovers and now a rock at the base is said to harbor their spirit. Humans get by and succeed in this world by making sense of what they see and experience. Today, with this aerial shot, we can see how the water is slowly cutting at the rock but for older humans, to explain what they saw must've been difficult.


Taking the park train through the Iguazu National Park, which, besides the falls, also protects a huge swathe of rain forest.


Riding through a cloud of yellow butterflies.


An Iguazu Iguana in the undergrowth, getting some sun.


The mighty Garganta del Diablo. The rock steps down where the force of the water is greatest and this concentrates the flows to make an impressive downward eruption of water.


The lookout platform gets you to be right across the Garganta del Diablo and you can see water jumping up from the force it's flowing with and with the heavy mist and afternoon sun, a rainbow forms.


A bird flying past the thundering walls of water. I wonder what that does to its hearing and sight being completely taken over by the roar and the foam of water speeding down to rest with gravity again.


No, I'm not downloading data via a satellite link to my laptop (I wish), but I'm actually uploading the GPS maps for Argentina from the pc to the Garmin 60Cx (I forgot to do this before). Free gps maps are available for most of South America and this has made getting around quite easy.


After a full day of seeing rushing water (in two different languages), I headed south along Rio Parana to Posadas. The visor of the Arai XD dual-sport helmet coming in handy while riding into the sun. It draws unwanted attention for its cool looks, I think because of its use in role-playing video games like Halo (was never a gamer myself, preferring real-world thrills compared to virtual ones) but the benefits of the sun visor comes in handy all the time. It reduces the amount of light falling on your face and that cuts down on fatigue.


I was riding into the night but with Argentina being a safe country, there wasn't too much to worry about, besides the usual animal danger.


The government building in downtown Posadas, a small city in Argentina's north east, resembling the pink palace in Buenos Aires.


A riverboat moored on the shores of the Rio Parana with Paraguay on the other bank.


I stayed with Federico and his family, thru CouchSurfing and I was quickly put to use in preparing my chicken curry for them. He's a biologist at the local university and moved here from Corrientes to research frogs. It can seem like an insignificant topic to outsiders, but the changing health of a frog population might be an indicator to changes in the big picture of climate, since they're highly sensitive. We had good discussions about science and particularly how scientific papers get published in various magazines. His English was pretty good, but I asked them to speak only in Spanish as I had to switch the language in my brain from Portuguese to Spanish. I was replying in Portuguese for the first few days in Argentina and it took a good two weeks before Spanish was coming naturally again.


From Posadas, I headed west across Corrientes to Resistencia in the Chaco, then down south to Santa Fe and into Buenos Aires. It's flat country up here in the northeast and audio books were plugged in to help the time go by, along with refreshing Spanish with my Michel Thomas language tapes.


Stopping for the night in Resistencia, a city on the edges of the Argentine Chaco, a dry land extending into Paraguay and Bolivia.


The city is a bit run down but it's cheered up with numerous sculptures placed around the city.


A gateway to your imagination?


A horse and buggy cart tearing through the streets. My first impression of Argentina was that things were a bit run down, but that was ok, as long as it worked. A lot more older cars were still in use and that added a bit of character, along with the continued use of horse carts.


A moto sculpture in a park indicating how moto-crazy most Argentines are.


A fancy garbage-holder. In most of South America, I noted how instead of sealed garbage containers on the streets, to prevent dogs and other animals from getting into the garbage, it's raised up above the ground waiting to be picked up.


Catching a performance by an indigenous group from the Chaco.


I stayed with Javier for the night, thru CS. He's a network administrator at the local university and shared with me lots of good music.


One could make an interesting photo book of all the different things that speed bumps are called around the world. Here, it's referred to as a donkey's butt.


Sunflower fields on the way down to Santa Fe.


But most of the 550 km journey had bland scenery like this of dry fields.


Happy to see motorcycles don't have to pay tolls in Argentina, but I soon realized this changes from toll booth to toll booth with everyone having to pay in Buenos Aires.


Stopping for the night in Santa Fe, a pleasant city along the Parana River.


I spent the night at Martin's (left) thru CS and we met up with Javier from Spain, a teacher who was traveling for a few weeks around Argentina. Martin works at a nearby hostel and is in the music business.


One last break before heading into the dense traffic of Buenos Aires.


Stopping by Santiago's house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires to collect the care package he brought for me from Chicago. The most important thing he brought was a new bracket for my GoPro helmet camera, which broke in Brazil and was limiting the amount of filming that I did.


I stayed with Maru (on my right) in Palermo, a trendy, yuppie part of the city and I prepared a dinner for a small couchsurfing gathering at her place.


My week in BsAs was chock full of chores to get done and I knew I would be spending more time here later at the end of my trip and would see more of the touristic side of the city then. Waiting patiently for hours at the main post office in order to collect the new panniers that Happy Trails sent. I contacted them after the welds started to split (months ago in Ecuador) and they wanted to send me a replacement set. It just so happened that sanDRina got dropped a few times after that with the panniers getting a lot of abuse, so a new set of boxes would be much appreciated. The customs duty is pretty steep in Argentina, coming out to 50% the value of the items including the cost to ship it (which I don't understand). I contacted Javier at Dakar Motors, who agreed to buy my old set of panniers and this helped offset the duty on the new set.


Parking in downtown BsAs, along with the other motos. sanDRina almost blends in, but the huge profile with the panniers gives her away. I went to visit the Grimaldi office to initiate the booking for the Trans-Atlantic voyage towards Africa.


Santiago also received the carburetor parts that were sent from Gus through my sister. The new jet needle at the correct length, compared to the old one at a shorter length. I broke the tip when trying to fix a broken throttle cable and as a result, sanDRina was running rich since then until this new needle goes in. The profile of the needle affects the air/fuel mixture in the intake of the engine and I tried to find a replacement part in São Paulo, but no luck. At last, sanDRina would be running smooth, after the major overhaul done to her recently.


Argentina's renowned beef steaks. A small juicy cut like this at a roadside stall in the city goes for P12 (US$3). Besides the steak, I love the olive-oil based dressings known as chimichuri, a mix of cilantro, spices, tomatoes. No one knows for sure where the word 'chimichuri' comes from but someone at a roadside stall told me that it comes from when the British were briefly here and since they already loved curry from India, they said it was a portmanteau from 'give-me-the-curry' when they ate their steaks, presumably. Sounds good to me. If you say it fast enough, I guess you could get there or pass it through some Chinese-whispers.


This is where the steak was cooked-up, in a neighborhood away from the glam of Palermo.


Another admin chore I had to take care of was getting a second visa for my second visit to Bolivia from here, to see the Salar de Uyuni. They wouldn't cooperate in Rio, saying I could only get it at the border, but that's hardly a sure thing for me.


Along with twenty and thirty year old Fords and Chevys, there's a lot of classic BMWs and Mercs around BsAs. This handsome 320i was parked in front of Maru's place. I had a 92 325i, which started my appreciation for German engineering.


Cordero Fuguenio, lamb grilled like it's done in Tierra del Fuego.


For dinner one of the nights, Maru took us to a neighborhood establishment, an old-time pizzeria.


You could say it's the Italian influence, but pizza culture is ubiquitous. Besides a variety of tasty classic pizzas, they had this one made of garbanzo (chick-pea, channa) flour, almost like a pancake. I miss food made of garbanzo, which is common in India.


I couldn't get the fine tuning set on the carb, so Javier at Dakar Motos helped out. He and his wife, Sandra have been running a motorcycle shop in Buenos Aires for numerous years and are well-known in the motorcycling community for being a helping hand to overland travelers through the years. They organize shipping bikes in and out of Argentina and whatever else overland travelers need. There are also a few cheap beds in one corner of the shop.


I spent a few nights there as I was fine-tuning sanDRina and I cooked up a meal for Gus and I. He's a Canadian, traveling on a BMW F650 and has been invovled in a wide-array of occupations. He's looking into moving into the lake district of Argentina.


Taking the city metro train into downtown, as the bike shop is in the suburbs.

All though I didn't see any of the sights that Buenos Aires is known for, I got a good look at working life in this mega city and that's what traveling is all about, experiencing someone else's culture.

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Trip Website: JamminGlobal.com
Current Ride Report: Global South | Past Trips: CDR '09, Alaska '08, Mexico '07 | YouTube Videos
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Old 03-18-2011, 04:01 PM   #860
Jammin OP
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Argentina, Part 2: Across the Central Region

November 21 - 28, 2010

With all my trip chores and bike maintenance done, it was time to begin a big loop around the southern half of South America. From Buenos Aires, I headed for southern Bolivia and then would turn south for Patagonia and return to Buenos Aires. I lined up people to stay with through CouchSurfing all through Argentina until I got to Bolivia.


300 kms north of the capital is Rosario, considered the second city of Argentina, feeling like a smaller Buenos Aires.


A pleasant city to walk around, it's also the birthplace of Che Guevara.


The Monumento Nacional a al Bandera, the national monument to the flag of Argentina and it's not hard to see why blue and white are the primary colors of this big-sky country.


An eternal flame in the plaza.


I spent two days with Gabriel and his family. He's a linguist and is currently studying German. We had some good discussions on Anglo-Saxon grammar compared to Latin-based languages. His mother shared some stories about how more and more farmland is being devoted to soybean production due to its increased demand around the world, but ignoring the damage this crop does to the land.


Heading west across concreted dual-lane divided freeway to Cordoba, 420 kms (260 mi) away.


The flat farmland, part of the economic belt that runs across the central band of the country is punctuated by aesthetically-placed tall trees.


The culture of yerba maté is widely associated with Argentina and Uruguay and its importance shows through with dedicated hot water dispensers at all petrol stations.


I had planned to stay with a girl named Rosario in Cordoba but she had to make a last minute trip to BA, so her friend Marco here said he'd take care of me.


Soon after arriving, we headed down to a park by the river.


Marco said he comes out here to play instruments in the open.


This xylophone produced warm, rich tones that sounded just right for dusk with flowing water and lots of greenery.


I'm telling you, there's nothing more relaxing than playing a harmonic, wooden instrument on the banks of a river after a long days ride.


The next day, we had a look around the city. A canal yearning to be filled.


There was a strike by the taxi driver's association and they blocked traffic into the city center.


But it was such a nice day to walk around. This is the main cathedral and it's a mix of different styles. The older, brick parts are from when this was a Jesuit church. They were a group of missionaries that pre-dated the Spanish colonialists, forcibly converting the indigenous to Christianity.


At the Museo de la Memoria, which pays homage to the victims of the Guerra Sucia (Dirty Way), the military government's campaign in the late 70s and early 80s against civil dissent.


About 30,000 Argentines are said to have 'disappeared' in a program the dictator, General Jorge Videla called El Proceso (or the Process of National Reorganization) where anyone talking bad about the military was questioned and most likely tortured and killed. As expected, young, educated liberals were the primary target, also because they were the primary constituents of a revolutionary guerrilla group called the Montoneros who were against foreign businesses in their country and the elites in power.


A wide array of human rights abuses were conducted in the name of justice and the museum conveyed the message through photographs and graphic art.


Surpassing what happened in Argentina, the art had something to say to all purporters of human rights abuses.


Since humans first discovered their ability to manipulate other beings, the quest for absolute power has yet to be quenched. I think universal access to the internet and its democratization of information will lead our population into an era where power-tripping by individuals over others will be seen as something in our barbaric past.


The museum is set in a former detention, torture facility and the walls of cells still hold the scratched messages of detainees.


It was a period in their history that Argentine's today say set their development behind their more successful neighbors of Chile and Brazil, who also endured military dictatorships during the same period, but with outcomes leading to strong economic growth, as opposed to the collapse of the Argentine economy in the early 2000s.


The Dirty War finally ended with the humiliation of the military after their failed attempt of trying to take back the Falkland Islands from the British in the early 80s.


Emerging back into the sunshine, there's plenty to be happy about in Argentina today.


Cordoba's center is quite pleasant and people-watching all the more interesting with the generally good-looking populace, aided by the buzz of the large student population.


We met up with a bunch of Marco's friends who had planned an assado for the afternoon. Walking by a gomeria, which is a tire-repair place in Argentina (goma referring to rubber, which comes from 'gum'). This highlights the uniqueness of Argentina's Spanish, which is markedly different from the other Hispanic countries, being influenced by the large Italian influx in its early days. In pronunciation, one big difference is how the double 'L' is sounded, where it has a 'y' sound in most other countries, it takes on a 'shay' sound here.


An assado (barbeque) is an essential part of Argentine culture and the primary way to celebrate for any occasion.


Through my travels, I noted how every self-respecting Argentine male had to know how to start a fire and get the coals ready for grilling the meat. The place for the assado was always a simple flat brick surface, which a grill was placed on.


A big part of an assado is socializing and drinking maté while the coals get ready. Yerba is the dried leaf that is primarily grown in Paraguay and surrounding areas and drinking it as a tea has been part of the culture since the early days. It has a slightly bitter taste, which I enjoy. And the significant thing about maté (the act of drinking yerba) is sharing it with friends and passing the maté gourd around. In western cultures, drinking out of the same metal straw as strangers might be seen as unhygienic, but there's no real harm and actually, being exposed to foreign bacteria helps keep your immune system strong.


Yerba maté and meat on a grill. This concisely sums up Argentina's gastronomy.


Along with chunks of beef and sausage, there was a slight nod to vegetables. It was interesting what they did with the bell peppers, cracking an egg into its cavity.


Most of the Spanish was too rapid for me to follow, especially with their distinct accent, so I kept myself busy by trying to capture their emotions.


I followed the gist of the conversation, ranging from heavy political discussion to the usual college life topics.


When the meat was ready, everyone pounced on it and wolfed down.


To wash the meat down, this is the alcoholic drink of choice in this area, Fernet. It's tastes like cough-syrup (admit it, everyone liked the taste of it as kids) and it's always mixed with a cola drink.


And the meat vanished just like that with the conversation resuming and carrying on into the late afternoon.


I had to leave and thanked them for sharing this most intimaté of Argentine experiences with me.


The terrain starts getting hilly from Cordoba and I was told to check out the mountains in the surrounding area, from the lakeside town of Villa Carlos Paz. After a few days there, I turned north towards Bolivia. There's concrete freeway heading to Villa Carlos Paz from Cordoba, being the weekend getaway for the city-dwellers, but there's also a nice route through the surrounding hills.


Taking in the sunset over Lago San Roque and looking towards Carlos Paz on the southern shores.


I stayed with Facundo (center) and along with his father and brother, they run a small hotel in town. He was intrigued by the idea of CouchSurfing and they have a room set aside for surfers.


For dinner, you guessed it, another assado (that's two assados in one day). They were also doing the same thing with the eggs in the bell peppers with a huge chunk of ribs grilling behind them.


A post on HorizonsUnlimited informed me of a route up into the mountains and I went on a day ride to check it out.


This was the first off-road riding since the end of the TransAmazonica and I was eager to see how the suspension tune up in São Paulo would affect sanDRina's handling.


It was a nice route, with hard-packed mud roads and felt good to gain some elevation again since descending the Andes in the Bolivian Yungas.


The route was devoid of traffic and passed through small farms and villages.


It felt good to be standing on the pegs and letting sanDRina dance as we turned through bends in the road.


The suspension felt more responsive and I was confident in taking her through the demanding Lagunas Route through southwest Bolivia, my next destination.


It was good to put her through her paces and on the tarmac back down the valley, the transmission was singing through the gears and with most of my load left behind at Facu's place, it was enjoyable to have a lively and responsive bike.


A few kilometers from town, this man waived me down and said he had misjudged and run out of fuel and needed about half a liter. I knew carrying around the oil tanker that is the Aqualine Safari 40 liter (10.7 gal) tank would come in handy. He offered to pay but I told him to pay it forward as I was doing after all the help I've received on my travels.


That evening, instead of another assado, Facu asked if I could prepare my chicken curry. And to put an Argentine twist to it, I prepared it in the assado area over coals and used a 'discko', which is a large metal dish used for making lamb stews. Having a strong fire with a thick pot (spreading the heat evenly) and being outdoors, this was the most fun curry I've prepared.


We ate on the patio and some of their friends were invited. A few of the elder guests were a bit hesistant about spicy Indian curries but were pleasanty surprised where their mouths weren't on fire, and yet they could taste the spices.


My best chicken curry to date. I think the smoke from the coals added to the flavour as well as the essence from the discko.


From there, I headed north towards Tucuman, which was a good 617 kms (383 mi) away on flat terrain.


Passing by a salt flat on Ruta 60, the Salinas Grandes, which is different from the same-named salar near Jujuy. There wasn't much to see and public entry wasn't encouraged.


I was getting used to seeing old and beaten-up trucks around Argentina, but this classic Land Cruiser pickup truck takes the cake. Missing a headlight, bumper and maybe brakes, as well, but kudos for keeping it going. They don't make them like they used to. Petrol stations were not hard to come by in these remote areas and were usually at intersections of highways and I could use my credit card at most of them. All of them also provided free drinking water and the public water is safe to drink in Argentina. I wasn't even running it through my filter and had no problems. It's also a good way to introduce a light dose of the local germs to your body, so that the antibodies can prepare for a real attack when it happens.


I stayed with Sebastian and Martin in Tucuman and we gathered at a friend's place for some beers and conversation.


It carried on late into the night and by now, I was aware of the skewed daily schedule of Argentines, where lunch is had at about 3 pm and then dinner at about 11 pm or midnight, so I snacked before arriving. Their friend, Alejandro had driven from Mexico back to here in a VW van, so we compared some of our experiences.


Over endless bottles of Norte lager, the conversation drifted from transcending left and right with regard to politics, to expected questions about India and they were impressed with my Spanish and ability to converse such topics in their language. By now, Spanish was back in the forefront of my brain, with Portuguese banished to the memory banks.


Instead of a boring taxi ride across town, Seba and I went two-up on his bicycle. It was rough, but memorable. At one intersection, we saw a dog get hit by a passing truck and then its limp body was repeatedly hit by a succession of cars. Quite a graphic image. We went out, in between traffic, and moved the carcass to the pavement. Seba is a history teacher and has back-packed all over Latin America. He noted that Tucuman's importance was that it was the place where Argentine independence was declared in 1816.


The next day was Sunday, and Martin prepared an assado at his mother's place. The dark sausage is a pork's blood and rice sausage. Tasty, but loaded with cholesterol.


Group shot after stuffing ourselves. Martin is on the right, holding up his pet beagle. He's an environmental engineer, working for a wind turbine company and travels to Costa Rica often. We had some good discussions regarding sustainable development and the recent UN climaté conferences, which directly affect his work. His girlfriend is Irena, in red, and the other couple are French architecture exchange students.
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Old 03-19-2011, 04:59 AM   #861
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Argentina, Part 3: Colorful Hues of Salta and Jujuy

November 29 - December 2, 2010

From Tucuman, the Andes are close by and I took a scenic route through the mountains to head north to Salta and onwards to Jujuy. Northwest Argentina is famed for its colorful landscapes and wine culture. I took in the Quebrada de Cafayate and Humahuaca before exiting at Aguas Blancas.


There was a road block as I exited Tucuman, heading to Tafi del Valle. As is common during motorcycle travel, it's always worth it to pull up and ask if you can pass since their grudge is probably with the government and they want to hinder commercial traffic, so I passed by on the shoulder. The atmosphere was quite festive with locals gathering and police slowing down traffic.


The road climbed up through steamy sub-tropical jungles and the narrow path added to the excitement. sanDRina was feeling quite chirpy.


Ummm, Ok. End of the World? So, this is where it is. I guess I don't need to go to Ushuaia then.


The world carried on and the twisties were sublime.


I passed the pleasant-looking town of Tafi del Valle, situated in a valley and being the weekend getaway for Tucuman residents. The road climbed past 2,000 m (6,560 ft) and turned to dirt near the summit.


The moist farmland was exhaling clouds as the bright morning sun shone down.


The road peaked near 3,050 m (10,000 ft) and the terrain resembled the altiplano.


The difference in climate from one side of the mountain to the other was quite evident, being dry with cactus here and lush and wet on the other side, the effect of a rain shadow.


Heading down to take Ruta 40 north to Cafayate (pronounced ka-fa-jah-tay). I would come back this way after my loop through Bolivia.


Having some empanadas (turnovers) for lunch in Cafayate.


Besides wineyards, the town is known for the Quebrada de Cafayate (meaning canyon).


It's a picturesque canyon with dramatic natural sculptures in the wind-carved sandstone of its geology. Here you can see some ventanas (windows).


The ride was picturesque and a marked difference after thousands of kilometers of flat land riding.


The route passing thru a gate of sandstone.


A wide-angle shot showing the scenery of the Sierra de Carahuasi, the backdrop for this stunning landscape.


El Obelisco, a tower of stone carved by the hands of the wind.


Flowing curves in the face of a hill, looking like successive strokes in a painting.


The varied colors of the under-lying sandstone being exposed after the wind peeled back the covering.


Passing by monumental structures of compressed sand, eroding at different rates based on their composition at formation.


The elevation was about 1,600 m (5,250 ft) and the sights were enchanting along the whole route.


One of the marked attractions along the route, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's throat), a narrow, enclosed canyon with the sedimentary layers clearly visible. It was about 80 m (260 ft) tall and was probably carved by water. You can tell how god-fearing the populace is (was) with the association of the devil to scary-looking natural phenomena.


A nice ride with very little traffic.


Broad valleys being opened up by sediment-rich rivers, acting like sand-paper against the mountain's face.


A panorama of a beautiful valley showing the exposed sedimentary layers and low shrub, characteristic of the canyon.


A shot of a typical petrol station in Argentina. The national petrol company is YPF and they have stations in almost every town and are well-placed around the country. Petrol is called 'nafta' here. I think the word comes from naphthalene, rather than the North American Free Trade Agreement. Super XXI is the petrol I used and it's rated at 95 octane. Sometimes, a Normal was available, mainly where farm equipment was nearby, but that's rated at 85 octane and with the lowest acceptable being 87 for my bike, I stayed with the 95. The stations were well-kept and usually had a fancy convenience store attached.


The central plaza of Salta, a city growing in popularity for its good looks and agreeable climate.


A statue of José de San Martín in the central Plaza 9 de Julio (date of independence from Spain). He was the principle freedom fighter for Argentina, Chile and Peru and carries the same significance of Simon Bolivar in the northern Hispanic countries of South America.


I stayed with Noah and his wife Leigh, who recently moved here from New York City. Their daughter, Lila, is already bilingual and is trying to get Noah enthusiastic about this game she learned to play in school. He's a mathematician and consults over the internet.


Buying groceries in the local market in preparation for a chicken curry that night. Noah was impressed that I was traveling with fennel (jeera in India) and referred to me as "The man who travels with fennel." Would make a good book title, eh.


Picking up some dried fruits and nuts for the next leg of the journey to Santa Cruz in Bolivia.


Leigh and her big labrador, Mani, saying good-bye. She consults in the social media world and both her and Noah are setting up an educational project at the local university and plan to be here for a few years, before moving on to another location. She's traveled extensively and is now a CouchSurfing Nomadic Ambassador, fostering growth of the community where ever she is.


From Salta, heading north to Jujuy, there's a narrow, twisty piece of road, Ruta 9, which is well-known in the motorcycling community.


There's a newer, faster, toll road to get to Jujuy and that's a good thing, because all truck and most car traffic takes the new route, leaving this well-maintained stretch of twisty pavement to bikers.


Passing by the Campo Alegre Reservoir with its sluice gates open.


The route is very narrow and feels like a single lane road. However, the narrower lanes are just perfect for motorcycles and this is what roads would look like if only motorcycles existed.


Some bends are so tight, it's one way traffic taking turns. I got behind a bunch of bikers and it felt like a local day ride.


A distance board in Jujuy indicating the major mountain pass between northern Argentina and Chile, Paso de Jama, which I would be taking after my loop of Bolivia.


I was planning to spend the night in Jujuy and would be taking another route to the border, so I went for an afternoon loop through the Quebrada de Humahuaca.


It's a long canyon with varied colors of stones and minerals showing through on the barren hillsides.


The seven-colored rock of Pumamarca. Different layers of exposed minerals giving the hillside its colorful appearance.


The colors continue around the valley that this quaint village sits in, at the intersection to the road heading to Paso de Jama.


A wide-angle view of all the colored rocks from Pumamarca.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


Heading towards Paso de Jama for the salt flats over the summit.


The whole route is lined with dramatic landscapes. Wind and water sculpting the sandstone.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


Crossing the summit at 4,170 m (13,677 ft). Getting a taste for the high-altitudes in the near future in Bolivia.


From the summit looking west towards the altiplano down there and a slight glimpse of the reflection from the white salar past the mountain ridges. The route twisted its way down and with no traffic, it was a fun ride.


Road sign informing you of continued joy on sinuous roads with steep grades.


Salt production at the Salinas Grandes of Jujuy.


This salar (salt flat) is much smaller than the Salar de Uyuni just north in Bolivia, but still providing views worthy of a visit.


Ojos de la Sal (eyes of the salt), which are small openings in the hard crust showing the brine solution that lurks underneath.


Heading back up the pass and seeing colored mountains at every turn.


The terrain is harsh at this altitude but I caught sight of a few grazing antelopes.


Distance board at the summit.


Heading east back to Ruta 9 and descending down the mountain with fun switch-backs.


Back in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and noticing different colors with the afternoon sun against these hoodoo-like structures, where the softer sand has eroded quicker than the sturdier parts of the rock, leaving behind a structure of columns.


The longer wavelengths of sunlight and the hindrance of clouds painting enigmatic shapes in the already interesting hillsides of this colorful canyon.


Finishing up a fun loop from Jujuy through an interesting array of geological masterpieces. Give Nature time and space and she will create a feast for the eyes.


Sharing my curry with Julieta and Hernan in Jujuy. He runs an internet hosting service from home and she works at a school in town. They moved here from the busier side of Argentina to slow things down and enjoy the simpler things in life.


From northern Argentina, there are three borders with Bolivia and in order to make it to Tarija in one day, I took the flat route east towards Aguas Blancas.


The temps were getting hot as the geography moved away from the Andes and towards the dry Chaco.


My tour of Northern Argentina was complete and while there weren't too many attractive sights to see along the way, frequently staying with locals allowed me an insight into the culture with numerous assados and liters of maté consumed. I felt secure and comfortable in Argentina and was looking forward to my second trip in the near future as I headed south to Patagonia. Now, the attraction of southern Bolivia lay ahead.
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Jammin screwed with this post 03-19-2011 at 05:17 AM
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Old 03-19-2011, 02:05 PM   #862
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Originally Posted by Jammin View Post

Grimaldi usually allows passengers with vehicles to get on/off at Buenos Aires and then get on/off at various ports in Europe (Hamburg, Tilbury UK, Antwerp, Le Havre FR). In 2010 they started allowing passengers to get down with vehicles in Dakar, I guess due to consistent demand, but they stopped that option in January of this year because the paperwork with customs was too complicated in Dakar if the bike did not come as cargo (shipped in a container), cause they're not used to dealing with private vehicles rolling off a ship. So, Grimaldi changed their rules and said no more getting down in Dakar (which screwed up my plans).
Wow, it seems that me and my friend are resposible for this, we used Grimaldi last november with 2 bikes and disembarked at Dakar port, but found grimaldi was incompetent to help us with the paperwork there. After many hours we just drove out of the port without paying import taxes (which we didn't have to pay in the first place), so grimaldi made a claim of 40000 euro per bike against us in Senegal.
We had no choice but to avoid all checkpoints and cross the border to Mali illegally.
This is where we crossedhttp://www.youtube.com/user/tony1612...44/JSt1bMoywhQ

I sorry for screwing up your plans.
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Old 03-20-2011, 03:32 AM   #863
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Wow, it seems that me and my friend are resposible for this, we used Grimaldi last november with 2 bikes and disembarked at Dakar port, but found grimaldi was incompetent to help us with the paperwork there. After many hours we just drove out of the port without paying import taxes (which we didn't have to pay in the first place), so grimaldi made a claim of 40000 euro per bike against us in Senegal.
We had no choice but to avoid all checkpoints and cross the border to Mali illegally.
This is where we crossedhttp://www.youtube.com/user/tony1612...44/JSt1bMoywhQ

I sorry for screwing up your plans.
Ahh, it was you crazy Europeans!! lol Thx for screwing up a sweet, short, cheap TransAtlantic crossing for all future bikers

Yeah, the grimaldi crew also did not give us any info on how to pass thru customs in Hamburg, so I understand.
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Old 03-20-2011, 04:23 AM   #864
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Bolivia II, Part 1: Tarija to Villamontes and Santa Cruz

December 2 - 10, 2010

I was back in Bolivia to see parts of this geologic marvel of a country that I missed on my first visit when I came down from the north in July. I was on a tight schedule of sorts for Brazil, so I had to skip a tour of southwestern Bolivia after I had my first major breakdown and had to turn north for the Amazon. It all works out well in the end, because I got to see much more of this country on this second visit.

It was also a relief to be back in a less developed country for a change after the expenses of Brazil and Argentina. Bolivia is an Andean nation and not that rich compared to its neighbors, but neither is it poor. It just seems to keep chugging along and it's a highlight on travelers' maps for the amazing landscape the Andes put on and the warm locals they encounter.

I headed up to the big city of Santa Cruz to refresh sanDRina before the rough off-road riding through the southwest. From there, I took the newly developed Ruta del Che, a remote trail following the last days of Che Guevara and getting to Sucre. After dipping down to Tupiza, the geologic fun started heading to Uyuni and its Salar. After playing in the bizarre landscape, the experience turned up a notch on the remote, high-altitude crossing via the Lagunas Route to northern Chile, the highlight of my ride thru South America.


Efficient border crossing at Aguas Blancas (Arg) and Bermejo (Bol). Customs for both countries is in the same building, but immigration is in different buildings. Rather than fast and hard rules for each country, it seems the requirements at a border match what both countries are asking for there. Argentina is now in the habit of asking to see some sort of international motorcycle insurance and therefore, Bolivia also asks to see it when you cross here.


Cheerfully painted bridge across the border in each country's flag colors.


Bolivian immigration once you cross onto Bolivian soil. Being from a strange country to them, like India, always takes more time since they have to dig up the rules book and see what the agreement is between each country, regarding how many days you are allowed to stay.


A mini sign-post forest, making it tricky to figure out which way to go.


My route through southern Bolivia. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.


The border crossing took about an hour and I still had enough light to do the 190 kms (120 mi) to Tarija, the big city in the south, where I had a contact to stay with.


The paved road was very twisty and in excellent condition, making for a fun ride.


Tunnels - never stops to be a source of joy on a ride.


The road was quite empty, except for the occasional hoofed traffic as ranchers move their cattle from winter to summer grazing areas.


After the flat riding in Argentina earlier in the day, this was a welcome sight; carpets of green covered mountains with a twisting road up its side.


As I got near Tarija, the vegetation dried up, but the elevation kept up, making this an ideal wine-growing region.


Tarija has almost a Mediterranean feel to it with date palms covering the central plaza. I took out some local currency and met up with Patricia, a cousin of Alfonso, my friend in La Paz.


The next day, I headed east on the scenic Ruta 11 to Villamontes, 250 kms (155 mi) away.


The route was paved initially and I took in the dry landscape.


It soon turned into a small dirt road as it wound its way down the eastern flanks of the Andes.


Stone-fenced pens on the dry hillsides.


The road was in good condition, being hard-packed gravel with a fine layer of sand on top.


They were paving sections of it in the middle, where the route was accessible to large machines.


But large parts of it winded tightly along the contours of the hills.


sanDRina's paint scheme blending in nicely with the natural colors.


The route was especially enjoyable when it went through tight canyons where the steep sides and tall trees made you feel small.


The route opening up near Entre Rios as it passed along the carved cliffs of this dried river bed.


Now, that's what you call a hole-in-the-wall kinda place. I didn't want to stop in the busy square of Entre Rios for lunch, to be surrounded by onlookers, so I scoured the surrounding streets and found this open door with a table and chair ready for patrons.


It was a restaurant, but felt more like eating in the owner's house, especially with the lack of other patrons.


Getting the full Bolivian Almuerzo (set lunch), which starts with a soup loaded with carbs and some meat (and french fries in this one)...


With the secundo (second course, main course) being some friend chicken with pasta, fries and some salad. All for 10 Bolivianos (US$1.45).


I usually avoid a heavy lunch while riding since it makes me sleepy in the mid-afternoon (when all the blood has rushed down to help digest the meal), but no worries on a dirt road as I discovered while riding the TransAmazonica. My attention is much more piqued while riding dirt than pavement, since the loose surface can quickly lead to a tip over and this increased use of brain power keeps my attention going the whole day (supplanted with appropriate music, of course).


The only downside of this route is the regular truck traffic and the ensuing dust clouds that you must ride through. A helmet with a face shield being invaluable as you swim back into clean air.


When there was no oncoming traffic, it was a true joy to be riding the pegs on a well-maintained dirt road through captivating landscape.


But, the trucks are always there. This is the principle route across southern Bolivia and traffic coming from Paraguay and the chaco of Argentina have to take this route to access Tarija and points westward of there.


This was also the end of the dry season, with the last rains falling months before, so the surface was pulverized into fine sand in places. I was glad I made it back to Bolivia before the summer rainy season started and made many of these roads impassable. I'll take choking dust over soups of mud any day.


It was getting into late afternoon and the vivid colors were coming through stronger.


The narrowness of the route was dictated by huge boulders in places and dirt-lovers can rest assured this whole route wont be paved anytime soon.


Darkening clouds changing the hues across the landscape.


The on-going twists in the road kept the excitement up as the sun faded and I still had an hour to reach Villamontes.


The universal 'pavement ends' sign.


The dirt route resembling the dried river bed that it followed.


A panorama of about 170 degrees of a bend in a dried river bed. This whole area was just yearning for the first rains to fall.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


An enjoyable ride through southern Bolivia from Tarija to Villamontes.


I spent the night in Villamontes, which is not much more than the first border town in southeastern Bolivia. I had a good breakfast at this lady's stall before setting off to Santa Cruz.


The culture of empanadas carrying over across the border as the cheap, street food. A fried puff with meat inside and an assortment of condiments (pickled vegetables, hot sauces, etc).


From Villamontes, you can head east to the border crossing at Ibibobo into Paraguay's Chaco.


A distance board indicating the 500-odd kms to Santa Cruz.


It was a flat ride on the well-maintained pavement with a few undulating hills and lots of greenery.


But the temperature picked up as the Andes dropped back to the west and the sun shone strong.


Alfonso (from La Paz) contacted his friend Oscar in Santa Cruz to help me get some bike maintenance done. He and his son, Miguel are gear heads, as well, but of the 4x4 kind, doing rallies in a modified Range Rover. We're having a Sunday meal with his mother at a country-style restaurant.


Steak, a-la milanesa style (breaded and fried) with rice and salad.


The shady central plaza of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the most populous city in Bolivia (all though La Paz and its neighboring cities seem more crowded). This city has been in the news recently after discoveries of huge natural gas reserves nearby and their continued demand for autonomy from the rest of Bolivia. The population has been more right-leaning than Evo Morales' left-leaning La Paz and the Andean side of Bolivia. Their desire to move away from federal Bolivia shows through with the locals considering themselves more Brazilian than Bolivian and the climate seems to agree with that, as well.


The large Jesuit-styled cathedral with a weekend crafts market in its shadows.


The brick face towers over the central plaza, but I was told most people are only religious here for ceremonial reasons and more easily bow down to El Dinero than hesus.


The government house proudly displaying the green and white flag of a hoped autonomous Santa Cruz rather than Morales' multi-colored flag. I thought seeking autonomy was still in the discussion stages, but with the local government touting it, they must be serious about their demands. The northern states (where I passed through heading to the Amazon) were also seeking autonomy since they feel the federal government in La Paz doesn't do enough for them and this all works against Morale's drive to centralize things around the capital. While I initially supported the voice of indigenous people finally gaining stature in this country, it now appears he's heading for single-party autocracy rather than a true multi-party democracy. Power corrupts all.


Getting a plate of various rice and corn dough grilled snacks.


And then it was down to the business of preparing sanDRina for the extended off-road riding coming up. I waited till I got to Bolivia to replace some big-ticket items on the bike since everything is much cheaper here compared to the neighboring countries. I found the tires I needed at Becar Motos, a well-known shop in the motorcycling community. In Bolivia, if you buy something from a shop, you can usually mount it or have it serviced there for free. I bought a rear Pirelli MT-60, which is a 50/50 tire and a cheaper set of Kenda tires; a rear K270 (another 50/50) and a more aggressive K257D for the sandy Lagunas Route. I wanted to make sure that I could make it back to Buenos Aires without needing to buy tires in expensive Patagonia.


I also found some high quality DID chains and I mounted one and kept one as a spare. They were not the preferred cross-ring style, but o-ring nonetheless and it would be much better than the Iris chain that I mounted in Sao Luis, Brazil that stretched and formed kinks in its links within just 13,000 kms (8,125 mi), which is around half the life of a good quality chain. Iris is a brand from Spain and I would not recommend it, as other riders concur. It's easily available all through Latin America but lasts much shorter than quality Japanese chains. This is Gert here throwing in a helping hand.


I contacted Gert through the HorizonsUnlimited communities page and he informed me of Becar Motos and introduced me to drinking a beer Santa Cruz-style, where you mix some Fanta with the lager. He's from the Netherlands and ended up here after a bike trip down the Americas and now has setup a few businesses.


Changing engine oil and as explained, you only have to pay for the new oil and they change it for free. However, since I don't like to let anyone else put a tool on sanDRina (unless I highly trust them), I did the oil change myself, but they provided everything I needed, including some diesel to clean the reusable Scotts stainless-steel mesh oil filter.


Getting a spare key made from an original Suzuki blank for B50 (US$7). My old key was the original that came with the bike and it was 12 years old and slightly smoothed over. The new key felt crisp in the ignition.


Stocking up on dried fruits and nuts. I like dehydrated prunes since they have a lot of fiber and help keep up healthy bowel movements, which can become constrained while camping in rough places. And usually when I'm riding off-road through remote places, I don't stop for lunch and instead just snack on prunes and walnuts through the day.


One major item I wanted to repair while in Bolivia was my primary riding gloves. The Teknic Speedstar summer gloves have served me well but after about three years of use, the stitches in the fingers were coming loose and I knew I could have them repaired in good ol' Bolivia, compared to Brazil or Argentina.


But even here, I was surprised at the number of cobblers that refused to repair them because it was going to be a complicated job.


The cobbler had to slide the gloves onto a thin enough support to get the stitches to stick between the new leather cover and the older kangaroo hide.


I also finally got the chance to make a new windshield, after breaking the earlier one as I left Bolivia for Brazil. Having the experience of making the original shield in Chicago, I knew what materials and tools were needed. We sourced some tinted Lexan and found an autobody shop that had a heat gun to put the bends in the Lexan.


Molding the shield with a mini flame-thrower for the final adjustments on the headlight cowl. It's small enough not to block too much air in hot climates and would provide adequate protection from the winds in Patagonia.
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Old 03-20-2011, 07:31 AM   #865
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Bolivia II, Part 2: Ruta del Che Guevara

December 11 - 14, 2010

With sanDRina all ready for the Lagunas Route, I still had some things to source in Sucre, namely a down sleeping bag. But between here and there was the Ruta del Che, some beautiful off-road riding through small towns and villages that played host to the final days of Che Guevara.


With Santa Cruz being at the foothills of the eastern flank of the Andes, the mountainous terrain started soon after leaving the city.


Only an hour after leaving, my rear tire went flat. The patches on my heavy duty tube were leaking and it was time to part with it. I had ridden the whole trip, all the way from Chicago on that tube and kept patching it as punctures happened. However, the problem with heavy duty tubes is that they do get punctured from sharp objects and when they do, they are hard to repair perfectly due to the different compound of rubber that they are made from compared to standard tubes. I gave the tube to a local kid who was watching and put in a new standard duty tube that made it all the way back to Buenos Aires and beyond without a puncture.


Stopping for the night in Samaipata, a small town just 120 kms (75 mi) from Santa Cruz.


You know you're close to Santa Cruz when there's a sculpture to autonomy in the central plaza.


The town is on the gringo trail with restaurants serving western food, but I headed to the market and the eataries at the back for a plate of chicken and rice for B10.


As I was walking back to my hotel, I saw this lady talking to the pig that was tied underneath the truck. Maybe she was giving it words of encouragement? It's the biggest town in the area and locals from the surrounding hills were selling produce from their farms.


A pleasant hotel for B40.


From Samaipata, there's a turnoff heading south to the town of Vallegrande, the start and center of the Ruta del Che.


This part of the route was recently paved, but I was told the rest of the route was off-road and the rain clouds ahead didn't bode well for the mud roads.


The central plaza of Vallegrande, a small town that was placed on the world map due to the events surrounding the death of Che Guevara.


I would say it's a typical small Bolivian mountain town with some development here and there, but life chugging along without too much change.


Having a snack in the central market of a papaya smoothie and some fried bread.


A sign asking residents to vote no on a referendum against autonomy from the central government.


And now the story of Che Guevara's final days. If his politics bother you, skip ahead, but if you respect his contribution to revolutionary movements around the world, read on.


A mural to Che at the Hospital Nuestra Señora de Malta, where his corpse was brought to display to the world. The Argentine doctor felt revolution was the only answer to the poverty he witnessed is his travels around Latin America. One of his journeys was on an old Norton 500 motorcycle in 1951 and was successfully captured in the movie "The Motorcycle Diaries." After assisting and becoming a central force in the Cuban revolution, he desired to assist revolutions around the world. But much to his chargin, he did not find willing revolutionaries and some consider his life to have ended in failure. Regardless, he achieved a lot in only 39 years on this planet.


A letter Che wrote to his five children meant to be read after his death.


After an unsuccessful attempt to assist the revolution in the Congo, he embarked on his next project, where he felt Bolivia was ripe to ignite the revolutions around Latin America that had yet to happen. It is not sure exactly why, but he chose the remote Camiri mountains of southeast Bolivia to train a guerrilla force to fight the Bolivian Army. Many things worked against him: he underestimated the revolutionary desire of the local people, who were poor but not really discontent and the strength of the Bolivian Army was greater than he expected as they were being assisted by the CIA to counter this enemy of the USA. After being encircled in a canyon and wounded in battle, Che surrendered, only to be executed on orders of the Bolivian president to avoid a lengthy trial. This all happened in La Higuera, a small village about 125 kms away, so the body was flown to Vallegrande and the world's press was invited to witness the death of Che.


His body was placed across these two shallow laundry basins and then photos were taken to prove his death to the world. They showed him off like a wild animal that had just been slaughtered.


How foolish the authorities were to think that killing him would keep his story quiet, instead the opposite happened and he became an instant martyr to revolutionary causes around the world and generations of rebels, becoming a symbol of counterculture across time and societies.


Fans and followers have visited this little laundry house over the nearly four decades since his death to communicate their support and worship. His famous slogan "hasta la victoria siempre" (until victory, always).


The tour around Vallegrande is done through the municipal's tourism office and this is the only way to get access to all the sites. It costs about B90 and lasts about 2 hours. The guide was informative and speaks only Spanish.


Besides Che, there are memorials to the other guerrillas that fought and died there.


A poem and a mural at the cemetary.


A memorial to Tania, an ex-Stasi (East German secret service) agent, who was placed in Bolivia to assist Che is also purported to have worked for the KGB and unwittingly lead the Bolivian authorities to Che's whereabouts. Guevara was instrumental in developing the Soviet-Cuban relationship and with the US embargoes, this was an economic lifeline to them. He was also behind the plan that brought the Soviet nuclear missiles onto Cuban soil leading the world unwittingly to the brink of nuclear war in 1962 and he felt the backing down of the USSR and giving victory to the Americans was a betrayl to the Cuban cause and thereafter dismissed the Soviet Union as much as he did of the USA. He was also getting more friendly with Chinese communism, much to the irritation of Castro and the USSR. So, maybe all these events suggest that the Soviet Union also wanted him brought down.


At the entrance to the mausoleum for Che.


After the drama of showing Che's corpse to the world, the Bolivian government made the story bigger by hiding his body and not telling anyone where it was. They thought his corpse would be dug up and made into a worship site. Ironically, that is exactly what happened after a lot of fuss. In 1995, a retired general revealed that the bodies were hastily burried near the airstrip in Vallegrande and a search was carried out for the corpses. They were found in 1997 and the remains were taken to Cuba to be given proper honors and this mausoleum was built on top of that site.


Bringing the body of Che back to Cuba came at a good time for Fidel Castro as he needed something to keep up the revolutionary spirit on his island. Castro's Cuba obviously benefited enormously from Guevara's influence. Castro admired Che's intellect as he made literacy a top priority, which the country is benefiting from today, but the two men also disagreed on many things during their partnership, such as Che's dogmatism and strict adherence to ideology.


Inside the mausoleum with the grave stones of the seven men that were found to be hastily buried here in 1967, only to be rediscovered 30 years later.


With the man that put the word of revolutionaries into action and met his expected fate, albeit much sooner than anyone thought. His presence is so endearing today because he was not a simple thug touting Marxist principles, but is seen as a deep intellectual who was searching for the correct way for humans to live. Instead of aimlessly asking what the purpose of life should be, he went out and created the life he thought should exist on this planet. History will look on these type of figures and state their ideals were ahead of their time, but actually, progressive thinkers of every era are the ones who create the stories that are later told in history.


There are various photos on the walls of the mausoleum and if you've seen the movie, you'll remember this raft that was made by the lepers in Peru and named the Mambo-Tango, since Che wasn't a good dancer and couldn't discern between the sounds of tango and mambo.


After the tour, our guide, Mauricio said there was a party that night and we were welcome to join (I was with two Colombians from Bogota who were traveling around Bolivia). Bolivian street party in full swing.


What's a street party without some fresh street food? This lady was frying up some meats and potato.


The patron saint who the party was in honor of, but I don't think most people cared. It was an occasion to get together and celebrate.


The musicians were strumming out the Andino wino music and were chewing huge wads of coca leaves in between swigs of the local alcohol, chicha cochabambina, a fermented corn drink.


A nice night out in the streets of Vallegrande with Mauricio and the owner of the place that threw the party.


Getting some breakfast the next morning at the mercado.


A hearty soup with some meat and potatoes.


It was going to be a long day's ride, so I stocked up on the calories with an api drink, which is made from corn, lemon and cinnamon. I like its viscous, grainy texture and being served warm makes it enjoyable for the body. And who doesn't like a purple drink.


Enticing chickens in the meat section. You have to generally walk past this section to get to the 'food court' of a market.


Chunks of red meat from grass-fed cows.


My comfortable hotel in the centro for B25. I usually ask for a shared room and most of the time, there's no other guests.


From Vallegrande, external donor organizations have provided the information for self-guided tours in the area following Che's story. They did this as a way to encourage tourism in the area. Even if it wasn't for all the Che story in the area, this route is quite an adventure. Luckily the rains from the previous day didn't make the mud roads impassable.


The day was overcast and it got very chilly as the route climbed up and over a mountain ridge.


Trademark Bolivian roads, cut into the side of steep mountains with no guard rails and...


...epic views. You know you're gaining elevation when you're higher than the clouds. The route summited at 2,817 m (9,240 ft).


Looking back at the way I came, winding up the mountainside.


The route is well-signed with indicators pointing the way to La Higuera.


On the other side of the summit, things cleared up and the temps rose as the elevation dropped. Heading down into a valley...


...to La Higuera, the small village, which played witness to the death of Che Guevara. On October 7, 1967, around 2,000 soldiers from the Bolivian Army surrounded Che and his fighters after their position was betrayed and Che surrendered with gunshots through his leg. Not expecting to capture Che alive, there was confusion in the Bolivian government about what to do with him. The US wanted him extradited to Panama to face a lengthy trial but for unclear reasons, the Bolivian President René Barrientos ordered him killed. On October 9, Mario Terán was chosen to carry out the execution. He was a sargeant with a personal grudge against Guevara as his band of fighters had killed friends of Mario's in an earlier gun fight. A witness to the execution said that Mario was hesitant to carry out the act, fully aware of who he was murdering but Che said, "I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!" This bust stands outside the schoolhouse where the above drama played out. It translates to 'Your example lights the way. A new dawn.'


The French intellectual Régis Debray spent some time with Guevara and his guerrillas in the jungles of Bolivia and relayed that Che sensed his end was near and was 'resigned to die in the knowledge that his death would be a sort of renaissance' to freedom fighters around the world.


The cause that speaks to me about Che was his desire to raise the consciousness in every individual about how they should live based on moral principles and this will only be achieved through introspection. Alas, overcoming human nature's follies has been every revolutionaries greatest struggle. His legend will live on as an icon of rebellion. And to illustrate how commercial his image has become, there's a hotel in his name, serving tea and coffee to the left.


Hearing that there was a bridge across the Rio Grande down in the valley with a place to camp, I headed out there instead of staying in town.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


The road steadily dropped down to the valley.


There wasn't any other traffic and the road was well-maintained, making for a stress-free ride.


Looking down on the route as it snaked across the colorful geology. Note the black hill with its yellow razor-back spine.


Crossing the Santa Rosa Bridge and...


...finding a nice place to camp down for the night. A lady was living in the brick house and was responsible for preparing meals for the once daily bus that passed through here.


The views were wonderful from the high perch above the broad bed of the Rio Grande, a major tributary of the Amazon.


The broad river being funneled through a narrow slit in the rocks, which it cut for itself.


The area is remote with the next major town of Villa Serrano being 75 kms (47 mi) away or heading back about a 100 kms (62 mi) to Vallegrande and the imposition of this new concrete bridge felt out of place amongst all this natural shaping of the land.


The winds were strong in this valley and it was carrying the top layer of water faster than the rest of it could naturally flow. Tracks along the sandy shore.


A panoramic view of the Rio Grande river at its lowest point at the end of the dry season from the Santa Rosa Bridge. Alfonso told me the rains were late this year, as it's becoming more expected with climate change. While that's not good for the natural world, it made riding through this area at this time of year possible.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


The strong winds kicking up a dust storm further up the valley.


And just in case, you've been warned: no fishing with explosives. Crazy construction crews.


Camped across from me was this couple from Sucre, Hugo and Miriam, who were on their yearly ten day camping trip of this area in their Mitsubishi Pajero. They were boiling rice and invited me for dinner.


Capturing some beautiful light from the setting sun, shining the path I would follow the next day to Villa Serrano.


Their primary meal was rice with condensed milk with fried and baked breads. We talked and exchanged traveler's stories and Hugo wanted to practice his English, having a few kids in the US.


I liked his lantern idea where a coffee can was cut in such a way to reflect out the light from one candle, creating a more luminous atmosphere than was possible with the same candle out in the open. This also protected the flame from the strong winds. He was very much a do-it-yourselfer, regarding living on the road, but they yearned for a more spacious, proper camper van.


I anchored sanDRina to a nearby tree with one of my Wunderlich luggage straps to keep her from falling down in the night from the heavy winds and who knows if it would have worked, but that's all I could do.


Heading along the western side of the Rio Grande valley on my way up to Villa Serrano.


The Rio Grande must be really grande at the end of the rainy season, spanning the entire river bed.


The route passed through a different kind of geology from that of the previous day on the other side of the valley.


An interesting looking tree that looks like two or more trees are joined near the base.


A wide-angle view of the route and the terrain it was heading through.


The temps were rising faster than I was gaining elevation and I took breaks in the shade.


Passing through 2,100 m (7,000 ft) marked a change in the flora with pine trees taking over.


Pulling into the small, mountain village of Villa Serrano where the only petrol was sold out of barrels at a 20% markup from the fixed price. However, a proper petrol station was only another 100 kms (62 mi) away.


As a stage before paving with asphalt, sections of the route were cobble-stoned and this makes for a vibration-induced ride on motorcycles.


A hairpin turn as the road dropped down into a valley.


At least the cobble stones allowed you to know with a bit more certainty the condition of the road around a bend, so if you could get over the vibrations, it wasn't an undesirable surface.


While the new road is being extended from Tarabuco, the route still follows the old tight route through a narrow canyon. Elevation was around 2,730 m (8,955 ft).


And a high-pressure natural gas pipeline follows the road, reminding me in miniature of the Dawson Highway and its companion in the Alaska Pipeline.


There were very few inhabitants along the route but a few farmers were out ploughing the land and tending to their livestock in his arid environment.


A wide-angle view of the valley the road dipped down and quickly crossed before climbing up the other side.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


I got used to the vibrations from the cobble stones (even with reduced tire pressures), but sanDRina showed some fatigue and a part of the luggage frame cracked where there was a heavy tool tube dangling from.


Putting air pressure back in the tires upon reaching pavement in Tarabuco. It took longer than usual for the little air compressor to get the job done with the thin air at 3,050 m (10,000 ft).


Riding into Sucre and that concludes the Ruta del Che, an amazing route through remote southeastern Bolivia with a dash of modern revolutionary human history thrown in with buckets of much longer geologic history.

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Old 03-20-2011, 11:20 AM   #866
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Bolivia II, Part 3: Sucre thru Tupiza to Atocha

December 15 - 18, 2010

I spent a few days in Sucre, getting acclimatized and making final preparations for the Lagunas Route.


A prominent statue at the center of revolutionary leader Antonio José de Sucre, whom the city is named after. He was a Venezuelan general and the right-hand man of Simón Bolívar, who together orchestrated the liberation of the Spanish colonies from here north. Sucre won the final battle in Ayacucho and thus liberated Alto Peru, which was later renamed as Bolivia, in honor of Simón Bolívar.


The government house, showcasing Sucre's colonial architecture. The city was founded in 1538 and features heavily in Bolivian history, being its capital initially and later relinquishing the title to La Paz, but still holding onto the seat of the judiciary, while the legislative and executive branches moved to the new capital.


Nearing on almost half a millenia of continued inhabitation, it's amazing that so much of its colonial past has been preserved. The city has sprawled out into the nearby mountains, but the center still retains much of its architectural glory, typified by whitewashed buildings.


After welding up a small crack in my pannier frame (from the cobble-stoned road), I figured this was a good place to finally fix my shortened side stand. I had cut off an inch of it before the trip since it appeared too long with the weight of all the luggage. However, I later realized that cranking up the compression of the rear spring was the correct way to compensate for the heavy load and this in turn raised the rear of the bike, making it precarious to park with the shortened side stand. I made a temporary fix in São Paulo by adding a few extension bolts but here I could correct it properly.


The welder spliced in an inch of steel tube and did a good job. All for B40 (US$6).


Having a huge bowl of fruit salad for lunch, for B6 in the central market. This was a common sight in most Bolivian cities; stalls selling fresh fruit juices and salads with yogurt and granola.


At night, the lit-up whitewashed buildings glow in all their grandeur.


The street markets come alive at night as people are heading home.


Eating at the mercado is usually the cheapest option but this is also primarily a daytime activity. Strolling around the center, looking for a cheap place to eat at night, I was directed to a back entrance of the central market to the Comedor Nocturno (night food court), that runs after the market usually shuts down from 3 pm to midnight.


The comedor consists of numerous stalls with each table run by a different family.


And they're all jousting to get your business, but it's hard to pick a table when they're all serving the same items at the same price, so just sit down anywhere. This is the typical meal, lomitos, consisting of a piece of fried beef served on rice and french fries with a fried egg on top with fried plantains and a nominal salad, all for B10. It's tasty, but oh so greasy.


And the tables come with pickled vegetables, which I added to supplant the salad. There were onions, sweet peppers and even radishes. Plus, Bolivia understands hot sauce and it's widely available where food is served, usually homemade and very spicy.


At the mercado campesino (street market for the normal folk) stitching up my five year old toiletry bag, which was bursting at the seams and was held up with staples for the longest time. I figured this was the last stop to get things repaired before I entered Chile and Argentina. I also managed to find a real goose down sleeping bag for around US$30, as I would need that for the cold nights at high altitude on the salar and into the Lagunas Route.


Spending a few days at Hotel Pachamama, which was recommended by other bike travelers. A bed could be had for B40 a night with courtyard parking for the bike, hot showers and prime location between the center and the mercado campesino. As Sucre is located at around 2,800 m (9,200 ft), it was a good place to acclimatize to the elevation and walking the hills around town was a good way to introduce my blood to the reduced oxygen up here. I also adjusted sanDRina's air/fuel mixture in the carburetor by reducing the flow of fuel to get the combustion mixture as close to stoichiometric as possible (14.7 molecules of oxygen for 1 molecule of hydrocarbons).


Heading out from Sucre, the road climbs steadily up to Potosi.


A taste of the geological wonders from here on. Flat sedimentary layers pushed almost vertical as the South American plate steadily crashes into the Nazca and Pacific plates.


Cerro Rico and the world's highest city of Potosi at 4,070 m (13,350 ft). The discovery of huge quantities of silver in 1545 made this the richest city in Latin America by the 19th century and this location alone bank-rolled the entire Spanish empire for nearly two centuries. Millions of indigenous people and African slaves were forced into the bone-chilling mines to create wealth for the colonial powers. Most of the towns I passed through in northern Argentina were setup along the supply route to Potosi from the port at Buenos Aires. Just think, if it wasn't for the discovery of exploitable natural resources, where would the colonial powers be today?


From Potosi, I headed south to Tupiza on word that the route from Tupiza to Uyuni should not be missed.


There was some good off-road riding but this was mostly a construction detour as the route is being paved.


The route snaking through a valley. I gained and dropped elevation throughout the day and not yet being fully acclimatized, I got a serious headache by late afternoon, similar to my first experience with huge variations in elevation in getting to Quito.


I found a room in Cotagaita, a town halfway to Tupiza, popped a few paracetamol, applied some tiger balm and slept it off.


It was all good in the morning and I had some typical breakfast of a salty soup with some meat and potatoes, which are considered by the locals as a good source of energy, maybe cause the potato might have been the only source of energy for long periods in their history.


There were some interesting sights on the ride to Tupiza, but most of it was shrouded in construction dust.


Following a rural Land Cruiser ambulance on a stretch of freshly-laid tarmac with colorful mountains ahead.


Having some tasty Salteñas for lunch in Tupiza. These are a form of empanadas and are very tasty. An Argentine couple from Salta was exiled to Bolivia where they started selling these emapandas and the craze soon spread around the country. While in Tupiza, I also picked up a bunch of altitude sickness pills (10 for B35, $5) from a local pharmacy, because I could not afford any more headaches in the rough terrain coming up.


From Tupiza, I turned north towards Uyuni and stayed the night at Atocha.


I was told this route was full of geologic marvels and was not disappointed. Vertical sedimentary layers.


Twisted and contorted layers of rock.


There was farmland in some valleys, but the route was mostly quite remote.


With hardly any traffic, it was an enjoyable ride.


A huge obelisk of stone right by the road. With more people around, I could see this sculpture being worshiped for fertility due to its uncanny phallic resemblance.


As I gained elevation, the terrain became more arid and cactus took over from the shrubs.


Taking a break at 3,800 m (12,465 ft) and noting the path as it slowly made its way along this sparse mountain ridge.


I was heading to that little volcano you see in the distance.


Yup, it was thaaat steep. Coming down after summitting near 4,050 m (13,300 ft).


There's something to appreciate in a route following the natural curves of the land, rather than a straight path being bulldozed in the name of efficiency.


This route is known in the motorcycling community for its frequent arroyo crossings, which are dried river beds for most of the year and swell up in the short rainy season, which was supposed to begin right about now, but was delayed. A flash flood could be coming and that cow would have no idea.


A wide-angle view showing the prominent landmark of that volcano, which was visible for most of the route in this big sky landscape. The clouds feel close enough to touch.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


Domesticated llamas were the only visible wildlife.


A landform, plying its way through time under the open sky.


I stopped in this little village after seeing the public water pump and this man jumped on top and happily put some energy down the pump to bring up the water.


I'm sure it was a pure and clean source, coming from deep underground, but just in case, I ran it through my LifeSaver filter, which I've been doing for most of my trip and have avoided spending money on bottled water.


A panorama taking in the route and the ever-present volcano.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


The old route crossing over the muddy arroyo before Atocha.


But, I played it safe and took the newer route through the hills to...


...arrive in Atocha, a small mountain town halfway to Uyuni.


The brightly colored buildings were a stark contrast to the surrounding natural hues. I got a room there for B20.


The bus station and airport all in one place. I guess when the wind picks up, you could just unbolt it from the tower and lift off.


Dinner at the mercado of a warming soup and meat and potatoes with rice. Even if the main dishes stay the same throughout this area, the hot sauce varies.
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Old 03-20-2011, 02:29 PM   #867
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Bolivia II, Part 4: Salar de Uyuni

December 19 - 20, 2010

The one place I really wanted to experience in South America was the Salar de Uyuni and thus I made a big detour from southern Brazil to come back to Bolivia before heading south. The timing didn't work out on the first attempt when I came down from the north and I told myself I had to return before leaving this continent. Expectations were high and they were surpassed.


I had a good sleep in Atocha, about a 100 kms (62 mi) south of Uyuni and was excited for today as it was finally the day I would get to experience the Salar de Uyuni. Having a typical breakfast at the mercado of a big glass of api and some fried bread.


The interesting geology started right outside town. Note the change in the color of the road as I crossed from one mountain to another.


Rocks of varying colors on display on this mountainside.


The assortment of colors splashed on the landscape were a feast for the eyes.


It makes one wonder how a stone pillar like this can remain standing on a steep hill where the wind blows with sand grains in it.


The route followed this currently dried river bed, but as you can see, there are tracks running right through it.


And here's who's making them: Land Cruiser 4x4s plying the route between Uyuni and Tupiza. It's probably a faster route, but with a higher chance of encountering muddy crossings.


Entering a canyon of rock towers.


The first Red Bull that I've taken on this trip. In the US, I was a firm believer in this energy drink and always kept a few handy for those situations where continued attention was needed while riding, like towards the end of a long day. I was carrying this sole can all the way from Chicago and not needing it in the past ten months, I felt it was time to get rid of it and drank it. I really didn't need it but I was planning to camp out on the Salar tonight and expected temperatures to drop below freezing, where this can would have burst.


Some tame llamas crossing the corrugated road.


A cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.


This was a remote area and here was this woman walking to the next town with her children.


30 kms left to Uyuni.


Better than the Red Bull, I resorted to the local stimulant of coca leaves to abate any altitude sickness. The leaves have to be masticated for about 30 minutes first, then the alkaline (ash) agent has to be added, which releases the alkaloids in the leaves. I didn't feel any rush, but just didn't get tired.


The town of Uyuni slowing coming into view on the horizon. It lies in the middle of a flat expanse and is the hub for tourists heading out into the salar and on the lagunas route via 4x4s.


Zero marker for the route from Tupiza to Uyuni. I filled up petrol and topped up my water supplies and headed north.


From Uyuni, I headed 20 kms north to the town of Colchani on a heavily corrugated (washboard) road.


At Colchani, the routes heading into the salar begin. The salar proper begins about 5 kms west of town. Being a salt flat, salt production is expected and all salt workers on the salar belong to a cooperative at Colchani.


As you ride towards the salar, a broadening band of white grows across the horizon. In the foreground: an abandoned building made with salt bricks.


After heading down a few wrong tracks, I was finally on the right track heading to the middle of the salar. It was a bit confusing, since there's no actual road and multiple tracks head off across the salar. I had GPS maps of the area, but you have to move a certain distance to see if you're heading in the right direction. The building on the horizon is the salt hotel.


Flags of the world at the only salt hotel on the salar.


The original salt hotel, which was constructed with bricks cut from the crust of the salar, due to a lack of building supplies at the time and later its construction became a novelty and an attraction in its own right. New salt hotels are banned on the salar itself, but exist on the periphery.


The confusion of tracks heading out from the salt hotel to Isla Incahuasi. A track starting just a few degrees off can lead you away from the center and to one of the exits. You can generally ride whichever direction you want, but with the rainy season already begun, I was told to be wary of mud off the established tracks.


And Ojo de la Sal (eye of the salt), an opening in the crust, reminding you that it's not solid ground that you're riding on. The crust ranges from about a few centimeters to a few meters thick, covering a lake of brine about 20 m (66 ft) deep. The brine is a solution containing relatively large amounts of different salts: sodium, potassium, lithium and magnesium. And of those, lithium is the economic gold mine, since Bolivia contains about 50% of the known reserves on this planet. This rare substance is growing in demand due to its use in lithium-ion batteries that power all laptops and most electronics today. Heading down the direction of electric cars, the demand for lithium is bound to sky rocket and foreign companies are already trying to establish ways of extracting this precious mineral but Evo Morales is taking a cautionary approach to ensure the local population benefits directly.


Riding on the salar is a strange and unique experience. Firstly, the surface is rock hard, almost like concrete and on a well-used path like this, the granules of salt have been pushed aside, making for a smooth ride at high speeds. Secondly, the pentagonal and hexagonal patterns in the crust buzzing underneath you make it the most beautiful surface you've ridden on, even having a hypnotizing effect at the right frequency. Thirdly, the lack of any nearby visual reference points make judging distances or speed difficult. That blip on the horizon is Isla Incahuasi, about 30 kms (19 mi) away, which doesn't seem to get bigger until you get right up to it.


Arriving at Isla Incahuasi at the center of the salar. It's an island in this sea of salt, but is actually the tip of an old volcano that got engulfed when the salar formed about 12,000 years ago. This whole area is part of the Altiplano, a low-relief, high-altitude plateau sandwiched between two primary ridges of the Andes, the Cordillera Occidental to the west and the Cordillera Oriental to the east, making this the widest part of the Andes mountain range.


It's been theorized that when the Andes rose (due to tectonic deformation), prior weaknesses in the Earth's crust and other factors allowed the altiplano to form. After it formed, there was a massive lake called Ballivián or Michin across the whole altiplano and as it slowly dried, it left behind Lake Titicaca in the north, Lake Poopó further south near Oruro and two salt lakes, Coipasa and Uyuni. The altiplano is an endorheic zone, meaning rain water doesn't drain to the sea and the minerals that washed down from the mountains collected as salt in these lakes and their concentrations slowly built up over the ages into the salars of today.


Not having any nearby visual reference points makes playing with perspective a fun thing to do on the salar. I really am standing on sanDRina as look, my tiny shadow is one with the bike's...


She gets a kiss for being such an awesome travel companion.


Jumping off the front fender for a dive into the salt lake.


The island is visited by numerous Land Cruisers and can look like a parking lot during the day, but they all go away as the sun dips down. The island itself is a protected area and stepping foot on it requires you to pay B15, which allows you to hike to the top for good views and provides access to bathrooms and a fresh water supply. There are also some hotel rooms, but I was looking forward to camping out. Next to me, Yoshi from Japan pulled up here on his bicycle. He is cycling around the world and has just come down from Vancouver and is heading east across the planet. It's always reassuring for your sanity to meet someone crazier than you.


The surface of the salar is quite rough and can cut skin if you scrape against it. However, the entire 10,582 sq km (4,086 sq mi) of it doesn't vary by more than one meter, which is all the more remarkable considering its altitude of 3,656 m (11,995 ft). This truly is a special place on this planet and hopefully it doesn't change much when lithium mining picks up and the brine is drained. Due to its extreme geologic flatness and high reflectivity (being white), it's been a good place to calibrate the altimeters of earth observation satellites. The flatness has been attributed to the annual flooding of the salar as the water levels any changes in the topography. During the rainy season, Lake Titicaca overflows into Lake Poopó and it in turn floods the salars of Coipasa and Uyuni. It's not advisable to ride a metal machine through a salt lake but the views are supposed to be fantastic with the whole surface acting like a giant mirror.


After setting up camp, Yoshi and I hiked up to the top to enjoy the sunset. The uniqueness of this place grows with every step. We're in the middle of a salt falt on an old volcano covered in cactii.


Some of them are quite large, sprouting flowers.


The shadow of Isla Incahuasi growing towards the east as the full moon rises over the track heading to Uyuni.


Looking north with tracks heading to Jirere and Volcan Tunupa, a prominent feature on the horizon, which is active. The volcano has importance in local Aymara legends (her tears for a runaway lover volcano mixing with milk created the salar) and they prefer this place to be called Salar de Tunupa rather than Uyuni, which isn't even on the salar.


The sun setting over the Salar de Uyuni and with that, the winds picked up and the temperature plummeted. It's quite comfortable during the day time, but without El Sol, it's a different place.


Looking south to the route I would take tomorrow.


Sunset on Isla Incahuasi, surrounded with seas of dried salt. What a way to end an epic day...


I was hoping I could time my trip to the salar with a new moon for the expected super clear night sky, but alas, I was two weeks out of sync with our lunar neighbor and would have a bright moon for the next few nights. Oh well, that is a natural phenomena to enjoy in itself.


A natural bridge in the rocks of Isla Incahuasi.


Strangely enough (but I guess not surprising anymore), there are two resident llamas on the island. What're they doing in the middle of a salt desert on an island of cactii?


I guess, anything they want. They were running about and playing on the salar like it was their backyard and just then, the skies turned purple briefly with two llamas dancing on salt.


Getting ready for a chilly night. It's summer now but I was still expecting it to get very cold, dropping way below freezing and thus I put my sleeping bag liner inside my summer sleeping bag and put that inside the newly acquired down sleeping bag. In addition, I wore quite a few layers including wool socks, neck gaitor and fleece beanie (winter cap).


After some dinner of ramen with tuna, which we ate outside, but did so quickly as the cold wind was sucking out warmth away, we tucked in for the night. However, around 11pm, the wind suddenly stopped and after a quick peek outside and seeing the brilliance of the full moon on the salar, I took this picture with my old Konica Minolta 5D SLR, which is a 3 minute exposure. You can see the rocks that I laid against the tent wall to seal it to the ground as my tent is primarily for hot weather and the roof doesn't seal to the floor.


Getting up at 6 am for sunrise from the top of Incahuasi. The temperature didn't drop as low as I was expecting and I was actually a bit warm.


The darkness of night peeling back to the returning Sun.


The moment of daybreak. The winds were howling and quickly died down as if bowing down to the mighty heating power of this parent sun.


The strange coral-like structures that the island is made of. A relic from the days when this volcano was engulfed by the ancient lakes of the Pleistocene era.


Enjoying the effects of the new sun on the cactus island.


Dried salt after going through a heavily-rutted area that was filled with saline solution near the entrance to the salar as I looked for the correct track. I scrapped off most of it.


Saying good-bye to Yoshi. He was heading to Uyuni and onwards to Potosi. Before setting off on his travels, he worked at a Toyota factory back in their home city of Nagoya and is actually a motorcyclist more than a bicyclist and is a part of various moto clubs. He's built a cafe racer from an old Yamaha RD400. He actually wanted to travel by motorcycle (of course), but his worries about finding enough spare parts and the cost of maintaining a bike led him one step further down the minimalist path to pedal power. He actually said he didn't enjoy pedaling for so many days in a row and I chuckled as I reminded him of the three years that lay ahead for him. You can only second-guess yourself, so much. I see the appeal of traveling by bicycle, not burning any fossil fuels, but you obviously need a lot more time to cover the same distance. After probing me about the maintenance I had done to sanDRina and happy to see such an old bike performing so hardily, I planted the seed in this bicyclist to come back to the motorcyclist world.


He had given me his diary to write something in there for him to read later and forgot the book as he took off. I got ready and went after him and was impressed to see he had done 7 kms in 30 minutes. It was a strange experience searching for a moving object on the horizon in this blinding landscape. He was on a parallel track and as I veered towards him, I could see his wheels turning, but it didn't look like he was moving. He was happy to have his diary back as all his thoughts from the past few months have been captured in it.


I turned south and looked for the exit that all the tracks pointed to. Knobby tires are not needed on the salt and I wore them down by riding fast on the rough surface. But, they would be much appreciated on the terrain coming up.


Woot! to an awesome experience on the Salar de Uyuni. It might be getting more touristy all the time, but that doesn't take away from why this place is so impressive.


A glamour shot of sanDRina on the brilliant salar.
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Old 03-21-2011, 01:13 AM   #868
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Video from Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni

Here's a trippy video from my ride across the Salar de Uyuni. Enjoy...

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Old 03-21-2011, 06:20 AM   #869
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Bolivia II, Part 5: The Lagunas Route | San Juan to Laguna Cañapa

December 20 - 22, 2010

With the tourist attraction of the salar done with, it was time to get down to business and begin the infamous Lagunas Route (or Ruta de las Joyas Alto Andinas) through remote southwestern Bolivia across a lone, sandy, rutted track heading to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I was dreaming and dreading of this route for the longest time. It was challenging to the best of off-road riders and I knew my skill level wasn't up to par, yet I was throwing myself in on the belief that I could make it through.


The tracks in the southern end of the Salar de Uyuni all funnel down to this exit that joins the route heading to the town of San Juan.


The rainy season around Uyuni had started and I was lucky to come here during a short dry spell. There is a lot of mud around the edges and previous riders have gotten stuck.


The heavy washboard (corrugations) started right away and I turned off the complaining department and just told myself to enjoy whatever comes in the next 500 kms (310 mi) to San Pedro de Atacama.


It was reassuring to see these sturdy guanacos in this high-altitude desert.


Just to add to the strangeness of the experience, I passed by a a basketball court as the route went through a small village. I also saw a number of them on the Tupiza to Uyuni stretch and remember seeing a USAID and EU donor organization signs. External aid felt basketball courts would be considered development.


Back on the track, which got better in places, but the corrugation was ever present and that too, the surface was covered in loose sand. A storm was brewing towards the east and I hoped Yoshi, on his bicycle, wouldn't be affected.


The route followed what seemed like a coastline, but the bed of perhaps the crust of the dried lake was at the same level now.


I had GPS waypoints, but no auto-routing (sacrebleu), so it was reassuring to see a sign for San Juan as the GPS was only capable of drawing a straight vector between my current position and the destination.


The route went through some deep sand just before getting to San Juan and my energy was sapped after bouncing in and out of deep corrugations and plowing through the sand.


Arriving in the remote town of San Juan with empty, sandy streets and two open stores. The town is 110 kms (68 mi) from Incahuasi. This kid was glad to get some new company and kicked his ball over to me and we got into a volley for a few minutes, until his father opened up...


...the last reliable petrol stop until San Pedro de Atacama. The Su Almacen Amiga (your friendly store) has basic supplies and petrol at B6/liter (US$3.32/gal), which is 60% over the nationally fixed price, but still way cheaper than petrol in Chile.


I topped up the 40 liter (10.7 gal) tank and along with enough petrol, I was carrying about 7 liters of water and enough food for about 5 dinners with oatmeal for breakfasts and the nuts and dried fruits for lunch.


I was too beat to camp and the only open lodging was this salt hotel for B30/night. It was circular with rooms on the perimeter and the sandy floor made for a hushed atmosphere.


The beds and all furniture were constructed from blocks of salt and I was impressed with the place. It felt luxurious compared to the places I had stayed at the previous few nights. Hotels along the route are mainly setup to provide lodging for the Land Cruiser tour groups, so food isn't provided, which was fine since I was carrying my own food. Highlighting the scarcity of water here, a cold shower cost another B8.


Heading out the next morning towards Ollague and I think this is the track. It doesn't really matter here, as you basically head towards a general direction on whatever path you want. I figured the Salar de Chiguana was on the other side of this mound.


Tonny Strulovic catching up to me on his KTM640 Adventure. He's on a two-month whirlwind trip from Bogota down to Ushuaia and back. I was put in touch with him through Reginaldo (from Curitiba) and met up with him in Uyuni. He had already decided to do this route with one of the tour groups, where the Land Cruisers carry your panniers and luggage and provide petrol, food and lodging for about US$120, which is not a bad deal, considering the route. However, you have to be on a strict schedule as the tour groups do the route in three days, getting up at 4 am some days and I wanted to take it more easy and have the choice of where to camp each night. Tonny took off into the distance and I would catch up with him in San Pedro.


A train from Uyuni heading to Ollague, on the border with Chile, across the Salar de Chiguana, under the shadow of Volcan Coyumichi.


As the 4x4 tracks across the salar slowly pointed towards the railroad tracks, I realized I had to cross them, as I saw the 4x4s doing. It's not easy on a heavily loaded bike and I piled up some stones to act like ramps over the rails. I'm not sure if there's a proper crossing at some point further west or not, but this sure adds to the excitement.


This salar was more muddy and brown compared to Uyuni and I think the rains bring out the dirt in the salt. Like this, there are many salars in the area, but all much smaller than the expanse of Uyuni. I stood for awhile under this volcano's gaze and understood why ancient knowledge would have deified these landforms. However, their destructive power still commands respect, even in today's world of more certain geologic knowledge.


Parallel tracks creating ruts in the mud with the cone-shaped Volcan Chiguana on the left.


Where the mud has been cleared (like in the tracks), you can see the surface of the salar. From here, that's the last of riding on salars and the route starts climbing. We're heading to the right of Volcan Coyumichi.


The route turned sandy as we started climbing.


Looking back at the way I came across the Salar de Chiguana with Volcan Luxsar looming over.


Corrugated, sandy tracks heading towards Volcan Coyumichi.


It was steep in places and you can't stop, but just have to power on over to the top.


Besides the individual overlanders, the only other vehicles are from the numerous tour groups that ply the route with trusty old Toyota Land Cruisers. Being a gear head, it was good to see them being used in such tough terrain, as their image is that of a luxury SUV in the US. I got passed by between 10 and 30 jeeps a day, which makes it feel like a busy road at times. Some were nice and stopped to make sure everything was ok and asked if I had enough water. But others were quite rude and just bahn-stormed by, without giving much clearance. Their fast speed is the primary reason for such deep corrugations along this whole route.


I took frequent breaks and continued chewing coca leaves during this whole route, along with taking the altitude-sickness tablets and had no more headaches.


The surface was loose and where the sand had been swept away, loose rocks came through.


Reaching the top of this pass and getting a glimpse of the route as it headed towards the volcano alley.


But before the next break, there were more rocks to negotiate. I had aired down the tires to 12 psi in the front and 18 in the back.


The elevation quickly climbed from around 3,600 m (11,811 ft) on the salars up to 4,200 m (13,780 ft) and would stay up here and go even higher from here on. The destination for today was Laguna Cañapa, which was 22 kms away as the crow flies, but more like 32 kms as the bike crawls.


Volcan Coyumichi, standing at 5,850 m (19,200 ft), whose sides looked like an easy climb from here, but I knew that distant slopes are deceptive to the human eye.


Looking south towards Volcan Callejon.


A super-wide panorama of about 270 degrees taking in the snow-capped volcano-studded landscape, starting with Coyumichi on the left, Inti Pasto in the distance with Callejon to its right and finishing up with the active Volcan Ollague, sitting on the border with Chile and which you can ride up the sides of.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


I realized this 4x4 track is a shortcut from Salar de Chiguana over the Coyumichi pass and joins the bigger highway coming down from Ollague. So, there must be a proper railroad crossing if you continue across the salar to Ollague.


The track joins highway 701, heading from Ollague to San Cristobal and back up to Uyuni, for a short while. This is also the way to enter the Lagunas Route in the rainy season, when the salars are flooded. The track splits off and continues south under Volcan Inti Pasto.


Snow-capped Volcan Inti Pasto, without its cone, meaning it blew up sometime recently (geologically-speaking).


Heading up a rocky track down the alley of volcanoes.


A clear view of Volcan Callejon. It can't be overstated how clear the air is at this altitude. With most of us living near sea level, we've gotten used to a haze in the skies (either from pollution or just water vapor from the seas) and the clarity of the sky is stunning for us low-dwellers.


Evidence of the rainy season beginning and dark clouds were looming further south.


I turned the corner and arrived at Laguna Cañapa, the first of the lagunas on this epic route.


Flamingoes munching away on krill-like food and algae that grows well in these saline lakes.


There were about three-different types of flamingoes in the lagoon and most of them had their head under water, constantly nourishing on the algae. The peet-moss at the edge of lagoon was soft and mushy and smelt of decaying organic matter.


I arrived around 2 pm and upon seeing this rain front moving west across the route, I decided to camp here and take it easy. The weather would probably be better in the morning.


It was a spectacular place to camp, at 4,150 m (13,616 ft) next to a salt lagoon and under a snow-capped volcano. All the hardships of the route were worth it for experiences like this.


I setup my shelter and got the cover on sanDRina just as the first few drops fell. I tucked in to escape the cold and the wind and laid down to relax by listening to an audiobook from Arthur C. Clarke. It was his first novel, The City and the Stars and its futuristic setting of a global desert landscape seemed quite appropriate. I got up around 4 pm and noted not much rain had fallen, even as the rain clouds passed over head, but the cold winds were still present.


It was interesting to see the changing colors of this stunning landscape.


The moment after the sun dipped out of view with the glowing sky reflecting on Laguna Cañapa. The fact that I was the only human being for miles around in this remote mountain landscape, surrounded by such breath-taking beauty made me feel one with Nature as opposed to being lonely and seeking human companionship.


The flamingoes standing in the golden water. It's amazing to think how they survive the cold as they don't leave for the night, but are ever-present in the lagoon.


Being comfortable (having water, food, shelter and means of mobility) in a remote setting can nurture the impression that instead of seeing Nature as an enemy to do battle with, it is the essence that we come from. I don't believe in supernatural forces, only natural ones.


Laguna Cañapa, the most remarkable place that I've camped at.


There were some abandoned rock and mud structures nearby and I found a corner to escape from the wind and get some water boiling for ramen noodles.


I bought this can of tuna in Santa Cruz, at an elevation of about 400 m (1,300 ft) and didn't think twice before piercing its top at 4,150 m (13,616 ft). The pressure difference resulted in a spray of tuna juice. It wasn't that bad, but now the smell was on my sleeping bag and other pieces of gear.


A pretty hearty dinner of ramen noodles and tuna steak.


Waking up for sunrise and noting the frost on the tarp. I was pleased with how warm the Catoma Twist kept me, even though it's not a sealed tent.


A wide angle view of Laguna Cañapa as the sun's rays slowly come over the horizon. The full moon was just about setting in the west.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


Sturdy flamingoes plying the lagoon for tasty bacteria.


There wasn't much movement among the birds, but I was ready when this chap was cleared for take-off.


He generated enough lift to appear like he was running on the water's surface.


And just as it looked like he was about to rotate and lift off, he aborted and came back into the lagoon to hang with some other friends on this side.


I think this is the definition for 'steel blue'.


The risen sun now warming up all the flamingoes and the landscape.


The bike cover protecting sanDRina from the frost.
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Old 03-21-2011, 08:03 AM   #870
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Bolivia II, Part 6: The Lagunas Route | Laguna Honda to Laguna Colorado

December 22 - 23, 2010

Continuing the Lagunas Route through southwest Bolivia from Laguna Hedionda through the Arbol de Piedra to Laguna Colorado.


A few kilometers south of Cañapa is Laguna Hedionda, another endorheic salty lagoon with its own colony of flamingoes. It soon becomes apparent why this desert route is called the Lagunas Route.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


An info board at the next lagoon down, Laguna Honda with the official name of this route: Ruta de la Joyas Alto Andinas (Route of the Jewels in the High Andes), but in the overlander's community, it's simply referred to as the Lagunas Route.


Laguna Honda, collecting and concentrating the salts as they wash down from the surrounding volcanoes. The white around the edges is the salt of potassium chloride, which feeds the algae and in turn the flamingoes.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


After that series of lagoons, it's a sandy desert till Laguna Colorado, about 80 kms (50 mi) away.


The winds are constant as evident in this dust funnel.


Besides the few volcanic peaks in the distance, the landscape is flat, making this big sky country.


The surface of this whole area is loosely-held rocks of varying sizes, ranging from sand grains to boulders and the tracks follow what appears to be the best option around the landforms.


Because I could see landmarks from far away, I got the feeling of being a small perturbation in this giant landscape.


The Land Cruisers make tracks where ever they want and you just pick one that's heading in the general direction.


Using Oakley ski goggles with the Arai XD. The orange tint kept the glare out but let in enough contrast to make out the variations in the sandy track.


Going around this hillside and slowing gaining elevation.


Looking back at all the sandy tracks that climbed up to...


...this narrow mountain pass.


The pass opened up to this canyon and the route kept climbing.


Instead of reaching a summit, it was a high plateau at...


...4,637 m (15,216 ft).


Take your pick of sandy tracks across this small valley.


No other colors for hours on end except the browns and reds of the earth and the blue and white of the sky.


After climbing a bit more to the top of this ridge, the track descended quickly into the valley up ahead. Vicuñas roam this desert. How does such a big wild animal survive up here?


The deep sand was wearing me out and I took frequent breaks to relieve the tension in the shoulders.


Around the corner is some remote lodging at the Tayk Hotel, in the middle of a sea of sand. It's probably part of the lodging network for the Land Cruiser tour groups, as no one else comes this way.


From there, the tracks all head up this huge valley.


If it wasn't for the blue sky, you would think you're on Mars with the red landscape, persistent winds and chilling temperature all adding to the feeling.


Riding on sturdy rocks was a relief from the loose sand everywhere else.


The temps are cold, but the sun is beating down strong.


In what really feels like the middle of nowhere, there's a welcome sign to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.


The route was actually graded in many places within the national reserve. The Arbol de Piedra is near the cone-shaped volcano on the left with Laguna Colorado to the right of it.


The Arbol de Piedra, a famous tree-shaped boulder sculpted by the sand-laden winds that are constantly blowing in this area.


It's an inhospitable place to hang around with fierce winds blowing and picking up the loose sand and pelting them against everything in their path. But, surprisingly, there were two park employees taking cover behind that stone in the background and they offered to take my picture.


From the Arbol de Peidra, it's only 15 kms (9 mi) to Laguna Colorado.


However, it's covered in the deepest sand of the whole route. I know the theory of what it takes to ride sand - lots of speed to get the tires up and surfing across the sand. But, the equally strong, but less glamorous brother of speed is braking with a high chance of dropping the bike if the rider is inexperienced in such conditions. And I told myself I would not drop the bike on this route, so I resorted to slowly plowing my way through the sand with feet down, providing support. It's not ideal, but gets the job done.


It took me 2 1/2 hours to do these 15 kms and I think 10 minutes just to negotiate this turn.


The first traffic sign since Uyuni requesting all traffic to head straight and make a right at the orange sand up ahead.


Just to spite the sign-makers, I took the diagonal short-cut. It was either deep sand and washboard or deep sand and rocks.


It probably wasn't any faster, but at least the rocks added some variety to the image of just sand that was by now burned onto my retinas.


The options were either go straight and join the principle route with washboard or continue on the big rocks. Catching a glimpse of Laguna Colorado off to the right, the entity of me and the bike took the shortest route to our destination.


Back on the principle route of deep sand and huge corrugations. The diminishing daylight evident as the sand berms were casting their shadows into the troughs of the corrugations. I tired to improve things by dropping the air pressures even lower to 8 psi in the front and 15 in the back.


The road got better as Laguna Colorado came into sight and it tested my ability and right wrist to keep the throttle steady to ensure a safe arrival.


I made it! That was the toughest ride, yet. The route now passed through the gated portion of the national reserve, which runs from Laguna Colorado to Laguna Verde, near the Chilean border to the south and requires an entrance payment of B150 (US$21).


There are a few buildings here making up Camp Ende, where I found some lodging for B30 and I heard from other riders that you can find petrol here, as well.


Now, that's a rewarding view after a tough day's ride. Sunset over Laguna Colorado.


They didn't serve food at this basic hotel, but as I experienced on the ride, so far, some Land Cruiser crews feel sympathetic towards the lone bikers they meet on the Lagunas Route. Perhaps cause they understand how tough the ride is and since they carry their own food, they offered me some left over dinner, which was a feast and a great way to end an epic day.


The basic rooms, which were comfortable enough and warm. There were no showers but I splashed some water at the sink.


In the morning, I hiked up a small hill to get a view of Laguna Colorado, the largest of the lagoons on the route.


Flamingoes standing around in the shallow lagoon, munching away on algae.


When not busy eating, they stand still. I wonder if they can see their image in the mirror of the lake's surface?


Since this is at the end of the dry season, the water levels are low, revealing salt bars across the lagoon.


The red algae that Laguna Colorado is known for.
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