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Trans-Continental Mambo

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by lildrling, Nov 2, 2013.

  1. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-05-15:

    We said adios to Lima and left all of its upscale Miraflores delights, and depressing grey skies (no sun the entire time we were there!) and hit the road.

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    Saint Hazmat - a shrine at a gas station.

    Our next stop was Huacachina, a desert oasis just outside of Ica. The ride from Lima was more blowing, coastal desert underneath overcast skies. For about 45 minutes we had some sun just outside of Pisco and it was glorious after almost a week without. Pisco, by the way, is home to the fortified wine beverage pisco.

    The garbage problem grows more and more evident when there isn't much to hide the litter. The wide open desert plains allow garbage artifacts of all sizes to blow around freely. It's pretty gross. And the smell in some areas is even more disheartening.

    Nevertheless, the desert is a pretty amazing place. As the Pan-American Highway curved away from the coast and more inland, the sand dunes grew more impressive as did the expanses of nothingness.

    The dunes surrounding Huacachina rose from the ground into sight immediately as we passed through Ica. The road looped up and over and revealed the tiny town, a true oasis in the middle of the desert. In Colonial times, the wealthy used to flock to Huacachina to swim in the sulphuric waters of the lagoon, as it was believed that they had healing powers. Nowadays the sulphur water is gone but the lagoon remains (with water pumped in to replenish heavy usage by local private wells, I believe) surrounded by Colonial homes that now house hotels and restaurants. With a population of 106 (I'm not sure that I believe that as I didn't see more than one residence in town), the town relies on tourism for its economy. And we were happy to help out.

    Adam had passed through Huacachina with his new friend Leo, four years ago. They had only spent one night there before moving on. What a shame. Although small, and a Sunday, Huacachina turned out to be one of the gems of our entire trip.

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    Some cool buggies. Who needs buggies when you have DRs?

    It was recommended that we stay at Hospedaje Claudia, as per Leo (we got connections, baby!), and we got a good rate for name dropping. The room was one of the nicest we have stayed in; very clean and comfortable, with a balcony and a bathtub! There was also an amazing swimming pool that was clean (!) and very refreshing to take the edge off the afternoon heat.

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    Jenn enjoying a refreshing swim. Yes, that is a large dune behind here.

    Did I mention that there was sun!?! Not the first day, but on our second day the sun was out and in full force. That morning was spent doing bike maintenance. Adam's front brakes were in need of some attention, as were my rear brakes, as they both seem to be sticking a bit and needed to have the pads changed again. We also gave the other brakes some attention by giving them a bit of a cleaning. Oh how I long for the luxury of my Dad's garage - a workspace free of sand and blowing dirt with work surfaces (opposed to working on the ground), and the availability of rags, water, and various cleaning solvents. Doing bike maintenance on the road is a bit tricky. The bikes are filthy and could really use a tear down to clean up just about every part. We also cleaned out the air filters as we were about to enter back into the Andes and clean filters at altitude means better performance for the bike in the thinner air.

    Just as we were about to set off for lunch, we met a couple who looked familiar to Adam (well, she did). It turned out that she used to DJ at Sneaky Dee's in Toronto, where Adam used to be a regular in his earlier years. Tanya and Steve were just down for a week (on their way to Rio but neglected to secure visas for their trip, so had to pick somewhere else to go on a whim). He bought us a couple of rounds of beer while we talked about mutual people we knew and our trip, which revealed that Steve used to date a friend of a good friend of Adam. The people that you meet, eh?

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    Adam crossing the peak of a dune.

    In the early days of trip planning I had decided that once we got to Peru I was going to try sandboarding. The dunes surrounding Huacachina are well-known for buggy rides and sandboarding. The perfect place to give it a go. Once the sun wasn't so high in the sky (hanging out on dunes in midday sun=not such a bright idea), we grabbed some boards and headed off for a leisurely hike up the dunes. Those suckers are harder to traverse than they look. One step forward, half a slide back.

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    Jenn sure looks like she knows what she is doing...

    We managed to summit the dune that faced our hotel to see that the dunes stretched as far as we could see into the distance. We also had a great view of Ica and the mountains behind. But it was time to try the sandboards. Since we hadn't rented boots and bindings, the safest way for us to go down was toboggan style. With much excitement, I sat down on the board, pushed myself off and . . . stopped. A little more push and nothing. The board was just not going anywhere. I tried lying down on my stomach and even stood on the board, but the thing would not glide on its own. Then we remembered the candle. This is what we were to wax the board with. So we rubbed the candle on the bottom of the board, gave it another try, and success! For about twenty or thirty feet then we were swamped again.

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    Poser!

    Things improved once we found some smaller dunes with softer sand. Then we were really flying. But the sun was going down and walking up those dunes was tiring, so we only got a few runs in before heading back down for a cold beer and to shake the sand out of our shorts.

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    Looking down into Huacachina.

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    One of Adam's best "selfies".

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    The oasis.

    In the morning we continued south to Nazca, stopping off at the observation tower at the side of the highway to see the Nazca Lines. We were only able to see two or three of the figures but it was a worthwhile two Soles each to spend for a peek. From where we stood it looked like cars had been driving over the lines (tire tracks crisscrossing the desert) and that the highway had been built directly through (over?) the figures. The best way to view the lines is from an airplane and there certainly was no shortage of them circling overhead. It wasn't within our budget to splurge for a flight and I somewhat question the reliability of the planes and pilots, so small observation tower it was.

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    The town of Nazca was a further 30 KM but a good place to settle down for the night. I believe that this was one of those 'don't wander around at night' sort of places but I found it to be quite a nice town, with lots of shops and restaurants, and of course, some sort of festival happening with a stage set up in the middle of the street. I think we found the most expensive restaurant in town, though, with a personal sized pizza costing us almost $10. It was puny and disappointing, and the restaurant couldn't make change for us. This continues to boggle my mind. We have run across this in so many instances where a shop or a restaurant cannot make change for a 'larger' bill. Understandable when you slip them a 100 Soles at a small food cart or first thing in the morning, but at the end of the day and you can't provide change?? Nobody seems to carry a float, and I don't understand how they can run a business that way - especially at an establishment positioning themselves as a tourist joint. Anyway, enough of my rant.

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    Jenn on the tower at the Nazca Lines.

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    Some of the figures at Nazca. They are better seen from a plane.

    Our hotel turned out to be a hidden gem amongst a sea of expensive places. If there happens to be a tourist attraction within x number of kilometers, the closes town is definitely trying to profit off of it. Hostal Las Tinajas, at 45 solas a night (about $15) was a bargain. With a big secure parking lot, a clean room, private bath, and plenty of space and light, it suited our purposes just fine. Plus they let us use their washing facilities and hang our clothes out to dry on their rooftop.

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    Tasty but small and overpriced.

    Unfortunately our night was fraught with anxiety. Ok, my anxiety at now facing the Andes mountains again. Back in Ecuador when we attempted to ride up a few volcanoes, I got my ass kicked. It was riding that could barely be called riding on my behalf and way beyond my abilities. I fell a lot and even injured my arm. It was a hard blow to my confidence level and I spent the remainder of my time riding in the mountains fraught with fear, anxiety, and feeling that injury or death was around every corner.

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    From there we decided to take a break from the mountains and headed for the coast for a number of weeks of smooth, flat road riding. It wasn't until we decided on a side trip to Huaraz that I would go back into the mountains. I was terrified. And we even chose the Canon del Pato to do it - a gravel road snaking up the mountains with switchbacks and tunnels galore. Fortunately, this trip, although challenging, was met without incidence, and was a boost to my confidence. Cresting our highest point (4085 m) coming out of Huaraz was a thrill, but somehow the thought of ascending into Cusco filled me with terror and doubt. Even though the road was paved, other peoples' accounts of the road haunted my mind, and I couldn't push their words out of my mind. Resigned to the fact that my ultimate destruction lay before me, I went to bed exhausted and late after spending the night worrying.

    In the morning, things weren't much better, but we packed up and went off in search of breakfast before starting our day's ride. On the way to Cusco there are a few stops, and chose Puquio as our end destination, 150kms away. It would be a short day but we didn't know how I would handle the ride or how long it would take. It took three hours, which is pretty typical. Underneath bright sunshine and blue skies, we climbed our way to over 4300 meters. The desert mountains took us past the Cerro Blanco, the world's tallest sand dune, around switchbacks, up and down, and through high altitude grasslands where we saw large herds of vicuna grazing and skittishly crossing the road in front of us.

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    A stop at around 4550 meters (just under 15,000 feet). DRs are running great. At this altitude we have removed the air box covers and have no problem getting over 100km an hour. Standard jetting. 14 tooth drive sprockets.

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    Jenn monitoring her flock. (Its best to start small).

    We arrived at Puquio at 2 p.m. which is usually a little early for us to stop for the day, but since the next town was about four hours away we didn't want to arrive there in the dark, and set off to find a hotel. Puquio is a cute little town (not touristy!) with lots of churches, a bustling main square, and lots of happy children, and one of the friendliest places we stopped to date. As the only tourists in the village , we were a bit of an attraction. We were approached by a group of girls who wanted our autographs, who then brought more friends to get our autographs. Note that we were on foot, with no indication that we were on bikes.

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    "Celebrities" solely because "we ain't from around here"? Imagine the response if they saw Jenn riding a motorcycle!

    I think one of them might have wet her pants a little when I started dolling out stickers, patches, and temporary tattoos. It was very cute and very flattering. In return they gifted us with their autographs signed on a box lid. Everybody that we passed greeted us with a hello, and we never felt unsafe roaming the streets. Although there wasn't much in the way of excitement, Puquio had a market filled with modern clothes and lots of shoes. We had lunch there of fried river trout, and chicken soup complete with chicken's feet (claws removed).

    Our hostal had parking (yay!) and a number of cages housing rabbits and cuy (guinea pigs). As much as I would like to believe that these were pets, they were most likely future meals. Our room was ok, clean, but the staff were really skimpy with their 'extras' - the room was clearly set up for one person and when we asked for a second towel we were given something no bigger than a hand towel. When we requested a second pillow for the bed, it was delivered with a bit of scorn, I believe.

    [​IMG] Destined for the pot, or at least the barbie.

    The room had a tiny window in the upper left corner of the room giving it somewhat of a cell quality (which was also covered in a thin layer of frost in the morning), but the hot water was f**king amazing even if it came out of a nozzles that looked like Barbie's dream house (pink and plastic). The mattress on the bed was also wrapped in a plastic ground sheet, which is usually done to avoid bed bugs, and not so you don't have to get up in the night to pee.

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    What this photo doesn't portray is that just across the road, there is a woman wielding a whip approaching Adam who is obliviously "harassing" her flock of cameloids with his camera.

    The next day's ride was a 300km haul from Puquio to Abancay through more amazing scenery. More winding mountain roads took us to our highest point of the trip at 4550 meters. At this height we were more comfortable using our heated gear (jackets and gloves) since the temperature dropped below 10 degrees. High altitude lakes dotted the landscape with sunshiney diamonds glittering on the surface. I was pretty excited to see large herds of llama in the grasslands, as well as more vicuna and some alpaca. They were skittish creatures who often wandered out into the road, and one of the only times I have seen an animal crossing sign with actual animals crossing at it.

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    Vicuñas. A type of cameloid considered to be a wild relative to the llama.

    We breezed into Abancay to discover it was another city built into the side of the mountain with steep road grades and plenty of one-way streets to keep things interesting. We knew that the most upscale hotel in town offered parking, but they were unfortunately full (and pricey). They recommended the Imperial Hotel down the street that also had parking. I somewhat think that rather than tell me that I was too dirty for the hotel, the receptionist thought she would tell me that they were full. It worked out for the best, anyway, since the rate was significantly cheaper than the Hotel Turista, and it was more than adequate for us. Almost fancy, I would say, with another amazing hot water shower and super comfortable beds.

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    Horay!

    The morning was somewhat relaxed as we were not too far from Cusco, but that, my friends, is for another blog day.

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    Snowy mountain top.

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    Related galleries can be found here:


    #41
  2. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    We write on 2014-05-30 (part 1 of 2):

    We are presently in Copacabana, Bolivia which is just over the border from Peru. This is the real Copacabana - the beach in Brazil, which has a famous song written about it, borrowed its name from this picturesque pueblo on the shores of the grand Lake Titicaca.

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    View from hostel.

    We arrived at Hostel Suma Sumawi yesterday afternoon. We are presently enjoying a couple of cervezas just a stones throw from the blue waters of Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. While Copacabana does have a "gringo alley", we are basically by ourselves here being the only guests (off season?) with an occasional visit by some dogs, or passer-bys, but we both agree that the gentle waves of Titicaca with the cool breeze and warm sun is reminiscent of "cottage country" back home. The price is right too, at USD$4 a night, one might expect a much higher price for this ambiance, but being a moderate walk outside of town, we don't have to share our beachfront (too cold to swim!) with those opting to stay right inside of town.

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    Lots of room for bikes, trucks and camping.

    Admittedly, the digs are not perfect. No locks on the room. Electrically heated showers, well, doesn't seem to heat. Electrical socket is a bit dodgy, and the room is a bit cool at night - but we have decent sleeping bags so we slept very comfortably. And oh yes, the "manager" brought Jenn a little welcome gift last night - a toilet seat.

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    Beautiful.

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    All things said and done, it is a decent enough place and, while it is a bit of a walk for food (but not beer), it is certainly convenient for overlanders with ample parking and tent sites. While we aren't going to be stupid about things, we aren't too concerned about things going missing - unless one of the cats decides to use said thing as a play thing.

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    Fetal llamas, anyone?

    One of the main attractions here is the Isla del Sol but we are going to pass on it. We don't really feel like spending 4 hours round trip on a boat to be ushered around for brief looks at various ruins. We wonder if those offer such trips, such as our hostel host, are surprised when people pass up the main attractions in the area? We, however, just want to take it easy right now, get some handwash laundry done, enjoy the peace and quiet (!), take care of some internet-ing and do some planning.

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    Beyond this gate lays Bolivia.

    We crossed the border from Peru to Bolivia yesterday and it was probably the easiest one to date. This is in distinct juxtaposition to that of, say, Costa Rica to Panama (uggh). While we did have to wait a little while since we arrived at the Bolivian customs during lunch hour, the process took under an hour if we subtract the minor wait. No fuss. No muss. No money spent except of a couple of photocopies. Ten minutes later we were in Copacabana.

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    At Bolivian customs. Anybody else find the cartoon depictions distasteful?

    Prior to Copacabana, we stayed in Puno, Peru. We expected this to be a quick stop over but were pleasantly surprised (relatively speaking) and stayed for a day including taking a boat tour of the Uros islands which are made from totora reeds.

    With Adam having briefly visited Puno four years ago, but deciding not to stay, it was a pleasant surprise to both of us. From the outskirts, Puno looks dingy, very brown and most of its building are not finishes. A common feature in Peru is to not "finish" your building thus reportedly not having to pay taxes, but Puno seemed to be far worse than most other places and almost all buildings displayed a "birds nest" of steel rebar sticking out of the top. This time, however, we came prepared with several hostel locations, including one which was reported on another motorcycle traveller's blog as accepting bikes.

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    What else are hotel lobbies for?

    Without much fanfare we found the central "Plaza de Armas" and then the Tumi Inn. We removed our luggage, and wheeled our bikes into the lobby and were provided with a room close by, rather the the original one we were shown, which was upstairs. We found the place to be pretty comfortable, had decent hot water (mostly) and periods of decent internet - oh, and free coca tea in the lobby which reportedly helps with the altitude.

    Upon arrival, we realized that we were out for our walk well before sundown. This is not normal for us. And this is in despite of the fact that we spent some time jumping Adam's bike that morning having failed to "bump start" it down the big hill from Leo's (note: Garmin Montana GPS draws current when in mount despite being off, Zumo 550 does not) as well as riding some 400km over the Peruvian Altoplano.

    We found a very decent bakery (for later) and found ourselves eating quite good "promotional" pizza. (Note to the service industry of Peru: please do not act surprised when we customers walk in an order your "special", as posted on your window, and turn away your more expensive menu items). While this seems to be a common theme for Peru, upon further inspection, every other person in the room had order the very affordable "personal" pizza, so it seems that, again, it is as if we are viewed with a $-sign tattoo smack dab on the middle of our foreheads, as we didn't see the waitress trying to "up sell" the other guests. Ah well.

    Despite the above statement, both of us felt rather relieved to be in Puno. It is not that we didn't enjoy Cusco, our prior stop, but the amount of pushy people pushing their goods and services becomes tiring very quickly. More on this later.

    The morning following our arrival, we had a nice coffee and what we know as quiche at a local bakery and headed down to shore of Lake Titicaca. The shoreline was interesting in that many ducks could be seen paddling around in the thick, green algae which covered much of the shore line. Along with various clown and duck face novelty pedal boats, it was almost reminiscent of "mini-put" golf. Just lots of green, but the ducks don't seem to mind it. The only really negative here, is again, Peru's garbage problem. There are simply too many plastic bottles floating around. That said, also to be seen were many "tourist" boats amongst slender, put prevalent reeds. Our main interest in coming down to the harbour was to jump on a quick tour out to the Islas del Uros.

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    Algae never looked so good!

    The Uros are a people who have been living for centuries on "artificial" islands made from totora reeds. While we were initial a little skeptical (so many tourist traps, too little time), it was one of the most interesting things we have seen to date. For a nominal fee of S/10 for the boat ride plus S/5 for and entry fee (plus a surprise S/7 late for an additional "ferry"), we boarding a small ferry and headed out to Titicaca (Approx 2.5:1 Soles to USD). Shortly enough we found ourselves passing through areas which almost reminded us of rocky areas found amongst the lakes of Ontario, and eventually we found ourselves passing through a corridor in the reeds amongst blue billed ducks and various other birds. In the distance we could make out what seemed to rows of small shacks and before long we found ourselves passing various building structures made from reeds.

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    Landing at Uros. Floating reed islands.

    In short order, we were "docked" against a floating mat of reeds with various colourfully dressed women welcoming us. Surely they do this day in and day out, but it only felt half contrived. Realistically, we were doing "tourist things" so the authenticity of the little adventure would be somewhat "watered down". We debarked, cautiously creeped around on the reed surface as it sunk under foot - a very weird sensation - and sat on what could almost be logs around a campfire made of bundled reads. (Believe us when we say - no campfires allowed!). One of the guys from the boat, while seemingly the captain's apprentice, was also the tour guide, but only in Spanish. With the help of some "props" he started to give an explanation of this strange totora reed town. What we all sat around resembled a rectangular bale of hay back home (with a bit of rot on the bottom), but was actually a piece of the artificially created island that we were siting on. Essentially, a base of reads is made and ten keep together with series of ropes and stakes and then further reeds placed on top in different direction to create sort of cross-hatched pattern to make to maintain its integrity. As the base decays in the water, more reeds are added. Reportedly, the Uros people who are accepting tourists, are finding it harder and harder to find the time to keep their islands in good repair as apparently the task is on-going.

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    An Uro homestead.

    The guide went further on to explain that the "islands" were somewhat portable. Apparently the island's existence relates to the Uros people hiding out from the ruling Incas in times long past. Using one of the props, a rusty hand saw, our guide also made an attempt at cracking some humour. Apparently if you have a row with your neighbours, or generally find them annoying, you can simply whip out as saw and de-neighbour yourself. And they say "tall fences make good neighbours". Our would-be stand-up comedian also made a crack pertaining to geo-politics with something to the effect of how it is important to keep your island stake to the lake floor less you might find yourself requiring a Bolivian passport. Bolivia shares approximately half of Lake Titicaca with Peru, and yes, landlocked Bolivia does have a naval force.

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    Looking down into the Totora reed floating island.

    The tour went on to be divided into groups and we were invited into a woman's house. It was constructed of reeds, and being about 9x9 feet, it housed herself, her husband and three kids. Some bathrooms in Canada are the same size. It seems that this visit was mostly so that she could hock her crafts, but this largely seemed fair, all things concerned. Jenn ended up picking up an alpaca wool hat. We agree that we feel better about buying it from her, rather than one of the many tourist stalls since it was hand made by her and the money would go right back to her family.

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    Cosy digs - sleeps five, six in a pinch.

    This particular island wasn't particularly large - think a suburban backyard back home - and we soon found ourselves paying S/7 for a 5 minute ride on a ride a reed boat pushed by a motor boat over to the "capital island". This island was somewhat bigger and contained bathrooms (we couldn't figure out were the pipes coming from the toilets led but it didn't seem to smell), a couple of restaurants, what seemed to be a very small fish hatchery, and some plots were chickens were being raised. We had a good look around, passed up various offers for trout based meals and drank a couple of carbonated beverages making sure we packed the bottles out with us. The whole experience was hard to explain in that, by the end of it, we were sitting in a small restaurant commenting how we had almost forgotten that we were essentially sitting on what is almost a very large hay bale floating in Titicaca.

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    Guest lodging.

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    Panoramic - much smaller than it appears.

    Eventually it was time to leave and once the guys got the boat working again, we were off back through the read channels and back to the mainland. We had a quick look around a market, passed up some food stalls with where various woman literately sounded like seagulls trying to persuade people to come in to their stalls, and eventually sat down for one of the worst meals of our trips so far - some really poor Chifa.

    Some time later we decided to compensate our terrible lunch with some very nice cakes and cappuccinos for our dinner. While we had previously been led to believe that Colombia was the pastry and bakery capital of South America, Peru has really given Colombia a run for its money. Peru may well have come out the leader as far as baked good are concerned. In either case, the cakes of Peru and Colombia are much, much more impressive looking (sorry, we haven't tasted them all) than those back home, and frankly, Canadian bakers have some homework to do.

    (See next post for part 2 of 2)
    #42
  3. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Continued on 2014-05-30 (part 2 of 2):

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    On the way in to Cusco.

    Prior to Puno, we spent a good amount of time in and around Cusco, the capital of the Incan world. We arrived in Cusco on a sunny afternoon under "heavy traffic". The fun of driving in Cusco was emphasized by road closures, and narrow one-way streets, as well as being constructed out of cobblestones, and on steep hillsides. Even though we had the address of our gracious host, Leo, we had a bit of trouble finding his office, and so we had to make a phone call from the Plaza de Armas to request that he come to meet us.

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    Soon after Adam placed the call, a well-dressed Leo, came dashing across the plaza, suit jacket blowing in the breeze, to greet us and give us directions to his place where we would be crashing for the duration of our stay in Cusco. We were a little surprised to see that there was no garage or pathway to an outside storage area, but we wheeled the bikes in through the front door and into Leo's living room. Oddly enough they didn't seem too out of place in his bachelor pad. Our steeds found their temporary home next to Leo's Kawasaki KLR650 "C" model in what might be a dining room if not occupied by motorcycles.

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    One DR and a KLR.

    As per usual, we had arrived at our destination without food in our bellies. Fortunately there were a lot of options for food. Unfortunately we were soon to discover that the prices at most places were jacked through the roof in order to bleed the most tourist money from the pockets of gringos, as possible. We also were unable to walk down the street without being harassed by every single vendor who wanted to sell us souvenirs, massages, invite us into their restaurant, or pose for a photo with a baby llama for a cost. Their relentlessness quickly became tiresome. Really.

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    Like...isn't this the stone on the Cusqueña beer bottle?

    Walking around the city, it was quite the place with amazing architecture. Many of the current buildings had been built on Inca rock foundations, and even the churches had been constructed from stones pilfered by the Spanish from Incan structures. It was a very beautiful city, although much like Costa Rica, Cusco had jumped on the tourist band wagon, and everything had a cost attached to it. It wasn't even possible to visit the main cathedrals in the square, just of a couple of photos, without paying a relatively steep admission fee.

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    One of the main reasons for visiting Cusco was to make the "trek" to Machu Picchu, a place that Jenn had wanted to visit for many years. Adam had visited it in 2010. A visit to Machu Picchu entails either taking a train or walking as there are no roads that go all the way there. While many backpackers opt for the long trek through the "Inca Trail" starting from Ollantaybambo, the more common way to get to Machu Picchu is to take a train either from Ollantaybambo (shorter), or Cusco (longer), to Aguas Calientes (now called Machu Picchu Pueblo) and then take a short, but relatively expensive, bus ride up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.

    The train to Aguas Calientes is very expensive for what it is and fortunately (there are caveats here), the "budget traveller" can opt for to get to Aguas Calientes by a different means. This involves taking a long bus ride (or your own transportation) to the "back door" of Machu Picchu, which is an area known as Hidro-Electrica which is basically a hydro electric and mining compound. From here you then walk 2-3 hours along some railway tracks to Aguas Calientes and then the remaining process of getting to Machu Picchu is the same as if you took the train.

    We ended up choosing a budget tour package for USD$125/pp which included transportation, two nights in Aguas Calientes, entry to Machu Picchu, but not the bus from AC to MP. We did not opt to take our bikes via the back route as Adam was fighting a persistent head cold (this started in Nazca and remnants exist as of writing) , and Jenn was a little leery about the "death road" (single lane, steep gorges) portion of the journey although it would have been a nice ride. We suspect that our budget trip was about half of the cost of the train option and we may well have paid more if we tried to do this a-la-carte in terms of transportation, hostels, etc.

    And so on the day of our tour we were up bright and early and headed out to meet our bus. We were the last passengers to be picked up out of fifteen, and shuffled our way onto the bus, which drove around the block and parked where we then proceeded to shuffle passengers around between other buses, for the next half hour. We couldn't help but notice the difference in the tourist buses, and that we seemed to have been put on the 'ghetto' bus. Our hunch was correct (maybe the "for sale" sign should have tipped us off), as two and half hours into our drive the bus broke down due to a seizure of a brake caliper, yup, we are going to need that, especially on the "death road" section. Our driver didn't have a cell phone, so we were lucky that another tour bus pulled over so that our driver could make a call and organize a replacement. We were told that we would be waiting "20 minutes" for a replacement which we knew to be laughable. Two and a half hours later, the replacement came, and relatively speaking, it was a step up in terms of comfort compared to the original bus.

    Fortunately, the day was nice and sunny, and the spot where we broke down, although it appeared to frequently be used as a toilet pit-stop by the amount of toilet paper strewn about, was quite picturesque with snow-covered mountains in the distance.

    Once the replacement bus showed up we all piled on and were back on our way. At 5:15pm we rolled into Santa Theresa for lunch. Better late than never, although the matron of the restaurant didn't seem to be too happy to be preparing lunch so late for 15 bus passengers. Despite that, she managed to whip up a shriveled burger patty ("he shoots, he scores...", some rice, and salad to feed us starving touristas, and we were back on the road. Our "orientation" with respects of, oh any details concerning our tour, was supposed to take place at this time. It didn't.

    After "lunch", we headed off to the "death road" section of the road. We use the term "road" here quite loosely, since the pavement ended in Santa Maria, which is before Santa Teresa, and what we were travelling on was a dirt and gravel single-lane that clung desperately to the side of the mountains with sheer drop-offs of hundreds of meters down to a raging river. At times we bounced across slick water crossings from mountain run-off, and where it was too deep there were rickety uneven wooden bridges that we somehow managed to drive over without toppling down the mountainside.

    From time to time we would come face-to-face with an oncoming vehicle and one of us would have to back up until there was a bit of space to inch over to let the other one pass. (Would it have been safer to just have taken our motorcycles?) While we were waiting at a roadblock for a large piece of hydro equipment to maneuver its way up a particularly tight switchback, one of the Brits on the bus dubbed our journey "Cheap Bastard Tours", as he stared down a steep crevasse, in light of the condition of the road and the fact that our driver was rocketing along in an effort to make up time. It is a name that stuck at the tour continued.

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    Pop!

    Just when we though the end was in sight, we heard a pop and a hissing sound, and sure enough, the bus had suffered a blow-out in one of the rear tires. Thankfully there was a spare (note that we did not see a spare in the original bus when we were poking around at the brake problem), and it was even inflated, and the driver was able to change the tire out in about 15 minutes. Adam is pretty sure that he found the culprit which was an almost arrow head shaped piece of gravel sticking up right on the tight track. As darkness fell, we reached Hidro-electrica, our destination for the motorized portion of our trip. We all (or most) knew that we would be partaking in a 2-3 hour hike along the rail tracks into Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo, but none of us though that we would be doing it all in the dark.

    With some vague hand gestures that doubled for directions, we set off into the night along the tracks that would lead us to the town. Our trek also involved hiking up a steep hill and one wrong turn, but thankfully we had enough flashlights (and Android phones with "the Torch app") to be able to see hazards along the way, namely numerous train bridges that crossed rocky river crossings. We were somewhat surprised that the driver seemed unconcerned that he was sending a bunch of tourists off into the dark without even asking if we had lights, as doing the walk completely in the dark would have been quite challenging and would have probably resulted in a few injuries. On second thought, it would probably be impassable and outright dangerous.

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    Who has a flashlight?

    If one thing was evident, our cheapness really brought us together. As a group, there wasn't a lot of common language being spoken (English, Spanish, German), but we managed to help each other out so that we all got there in one piece. While the rest of the landscape was shrouded in dark, the stars were quite amazing, filling the sky. Since we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there wasn't any light pollution to drown them out, and we even got to see the Southern Cross. Beautiful.

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    Into the unknown.

    Some of the main obstacles include bridges, including a rather large metal bridge which Adam volunteered to lead the crossing which included some minor heart palpitations as the metal below foot creaked, banged and buckled. And of course, one of the small rail maintenance vehicles stealthily gave us small heart attacks during the process. Luckily all the rail dogs were friendly and we didn't run into any snakes. We don't know if snakes are present, but come on, this is jungle.

    About halfway through the walk, we were teasing a slender dreadlocked British fellow about whether his suitcase was actually a mini-martini bar with shaker and all. We guess that poor old Craig wasn't informed that the Cheap Bastards tour involved a sizable walk as he was sporting a full backpack and a carry-on suitcase - ouch.

    Finally, we hobbled into town like a bunch of zombies coming out of the night and into Aguas Calientes. Without much direction, we think only one of the girls in our group was told to meet at the central square, we ambled into the middle of town where we stood looking quite lost. We had no names, no contacts (except the cell number of the woman who sold us the tour), and no idea where we were staying. It wasn't long before a small Peruvian man approached us and started dividing up the group. Despite us all being on the same bus, we had all booked with different tour operators, and would all be staying at different hostels.

    Our Hostal - Hostal Sayacmarca - was conveniently located near the central square, and the river. We didn't mind staying in the basic hostel as the room was adequate enough for a few nights, however the attitude of the staff was off-putting and rude. When we entered the room we found no towels, soap, or toilet paper. After a long walk through the dark, a bathroom break was in dire need. We were given (i.e. reluctantly and almost thrown) towels and soap, but were informed that there was no toilet paper nor would there be none provided. We suppose that we should have been thankful enough that there was a toilet seat. So, out we went to buy toilet paper which could be had just down the street. Apparently our Cheap Bastards tour hooked us up with a Cheap (and lazy) Bastard hostel. And Lazy Sayacmarca who couldn't be bothered to go four doors for TP.

    Dinner was included in our C.B. Tour, so we rallied with a few others from our hostel at a restaurant across the street for food and information about what to expect for Machu Picchu the following morning. It was almost 10pm by the time we ate dinner, and we would have to be up at 5am the next morning to meet our guide with our tickets. Needless to say, it was not as early a night as we would have liked (Adam was really, really hoping to get a good sleep to help shake off his cold), but it was off to bed shortly after returning to the room, and after a quick shower with a bathroom, which was host to a handful of slugs.

    Morning came rather quickly and brought with it the sound of pouring rain. Perfect. A day at Machu Picchu in the pouring rain. But up we got, and after some initial confusion about meeting our guide, we boarded the bus (USD$19 each/return) and began the 20 minute drive up the hill to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, this is what everyone else was doing and when we arrived at the main gates is was chaos and confusion as tourists scrambled to find their guides amongst large crowds of people waiting to get inside. The popular belief is to arrive early at the site to beat the crowds. The only real possible way of doing this is by either staying at the on-site uber-expensive hotel, or to get up really earlier and make the walk up thus beating the bus traffic. In hindsight, we should have ditched the guided component of the tour, gone on our own time, and even waited out the rain for day or two at an additional cost.

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    Machu Picchu - the water must go somewhere.

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    Water, water everywhere.

    The rain continued despite our guide's insistence that it would clear up if we thought positively. We had about half an hour of dry weather, at which point we were able to pull out the good camera and take a few shots before the rain started again, which relentlessly soaking us. On the bright side, we did get a good first hand demonstration of the amazing Incan irrigation system. We had a two hour guided tour of some of the highlights of Machu Picchu, and truthfully the stonework was quite a feat of engineering. Contrary to what some believe, Machu Picchu was not built by aliens (i.e. that Ancient Aliens show hosted by the guy who looks like an heirloom chicken), and all of their feats can be explained rationally. The cloudy weather made for some amazing vistas in the mountains, but did make it hard to see the full view of Machu Picchu.

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    Machu Picchu with the splendor of Wayna Picchu in the background, a classic shot.

    Taking a break, we huddled with many other tourists underneath the sun umbrellas near the snack bar and enjoyed a $4 cup of moderately drinkable coffee in an effort to warm up. The rain did not stop, and eventually the wind picked up making things a bit chilly. We decided that Jenn's Machu Picchu dream, that being taking photos of wonderful mountainous backdrops, wasn't going to happen and we headed for the bus. Apparently everyone else had had the same idea and we spent the next 45 minutes waiting in line to board a bus to take us back down to town.

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    One of the best shots we could get :(

    In Jenn's words: "Machu Picchu was bit of a disappointment. I don't blame the Peruvians for profiting off of their cultural heritage but it was a bit ridiculous. It was very crowded with long line-ups, and at times it was difficult to hear our guide over the other guides who were leading other tours nearby. Security guards enforcing rules at the strangest times (i.e. going against the wooden arrow signs in flat parts but not batting an eye at people descending steep stairs in the rain in the wrong direction which could lead to dangerous falls). Large price tags on food and drinks. It all seemed at bit circus-like. I was hoping for a mystical experience, but it was more like a Disney experience. I am happy that I went, but probably wouldn't go again."

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    Trying to be inventive with the remaining dry clothes - vest as skirt?

    Back at Aguas Calientes we went off in search of hot beverages and soup to warm us up - which we found away from the main strip - followed by a hot shower and straight into bed for a nap (and to warm up since almost all of our clothes were wet). We later dawned our wet clothes and went is search of food. While Aguas Calientes is not without its charm, and has certain beauty amongst its mountainous backdrop, the tourist component of it is as bad, or worse than the historical center of Cusco. While there are some variants, including boutique and expensive bars, most of the food options are "cookie cutter" and the wait staff are uber-"in your face". We spent a bit of time theorizing as to how so many restaurants can offer the same thing (and stay in business?). The most likely hypothesis is that as soon as one restaurant decides to differentiate itself from the other by offering a "unique" item, the whole row pilfers the idea - and so the process goes endless repeating itself. How else can any restaurant specialize on 20 to 30 items? That said, dinner was had for sustenance and was nothing special - surprise, surprise.

    The following morning we were abruptly disturbed by a "nicky nicky nine door" wake-up call at 8:20am. Signs all around the hostel stated that check-out was at 9am, and we have never stayed anywhere that felt it necessary to bang on their guests' doors 40 minutes before check out to make sure that they were awake and getting ready to leave. Ten minutes later there was a second banging on the door, as the cleaning woman urgently yelled that she needed to clean the floors and make up the room. Jenn opened the door to tell her that she could clean the room at nine after we had checked out, pointing to the sign on the wall, just in case she had missed it. She seemed confused.

    After breakfast and a hot chocolate, we started our hike back to the Hydro-electrica to meet our bus. It was nice to see what we had previously missed in the dark - including a that rather tall steel bridge which would lead to instant death of one fell off - as we walked back along the tracks that ran alongside a picturesque river and through the mountains. It was a pleasant hike and one of the highlights of the entire tour. After two hours we reached the station, reunited with our group, and boarded the bus back to Cusco. Adam also "vetted" the parking location at Hidro-Electrica. Indeed, as the internet reports go, there is a guy who lives across the bridge close to the mine who will watch your 4x4 or motorcycle while you walk up to Aguas Calientes.

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    Looking down out our rail bridge.

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    Not nearly as scary in daylight.

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    For more details, call....(Hidro-electrica).

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    Park your bike here (Hidro-electrica).

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    WTF?

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    Again, WTF?

    The scenery on the drive back was outstanding with cloudy vistas, sunsets over mountain tops, and snow covered mountainsides and the driver took the death road far more conservatively, even pulling over to take his cell phone calls. We eventually reached Cusco in the dark and the temperature difference between Cusco and that of Aguas Calientes was pronounced. At more than 1000 meters higher, Jenn couldn't seem to warm up. No wonder souvenir stands selling sweaters, hats, and mittens are so popular.

    We took the next day to sort out last minute (minor) souvenir shopping and errands with the expectation that we would be leaving the following day, Monday. To celebrate our last night in Cusco we went to Norton's Pub, our adopted local bar, for a final pint. Norton's is fairly well-known throughout the motorcycle travel community as a must-stop in Cusco. They serve Zenith beer on tap, a local brew featuring a Blonde, an America Pale Ale, a Brown Ale, and a Porter. And they are pretty good, too.

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    Zenith Pale Ale.

    Norton Rat's Pub was opened by ex-pat, Jeff Powers, who rode down on his Norton from Alaska and opened the bar. Sadly, Jeff passed away in a motorcycle accident in November of last year, but leaves behind a great place for people to congregate. There are two books full of signatures by motorcycle travellers from all over the world, some of whom we know personally (i.e. Tyson and Ted, and the Duvals), and some of whom have gained celebrity status in the community. It was great to read their stories, and to add our own alongside. Nortons, not surprisingly, was our meet up point when we again rain into our friends Sheldon and Ewa, new friends David and Sam, and backpacker Esteban from Chile heading to the World Cup.

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    Tyson and Ted's entry at Norton's.

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    Carol and Ken Duval.

    While we were waiting for Leo to come and join us, Jenn started to feel a little nauseated, and head-achy. By the time Leo arrived, not even 15 minutes later, Jenn was having hot-cold flashes, and felt very dizzy. Before she knew it, she was melting to the floor in unconsciousness. She had fainted. Oddly enough, Jenn reports that she could still hear everything around her - people talking, background noises - and feel Adam and Leo holding her hands. She came to fairly quickly, to everyone's relief, finding herself lying on the dirty bar floor. Eventually she was able to sit up, and later sit on a chair Jenn, having lost all colour in her face, was now officially the "milkiest" person that Leo had ever seen, and he took to calling her "lechera" for the rest of our stay.

    Needless to say we didn't leave the next day. We rested and eventually took a trip to a nearby clinic to get Jenn checked out. It was pretty nice clinic and we were able to talk with a doctor who spoke some English. She asked Jenn routine questions, took her heart rate, blood pressure, etc. They also performed an EKG to check her heart for anomalies. All tests came back normal, and it probably came down to a combination of dehydration, stress, and altitude. The doctor sent Jenn away with some prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds and muscle relaxants, and recommendations for drinking more water and relaxation . The drugs didn't seem to be apropos given that we were getting on motorcycles. A side effect of the trip to the clinic is that we got to spend some time in Cusco outside of "tourist hell" and ate our breakfast/lunch at a "normal" eatery and did find reprieve with not being pestered.

    We left Cusco the next day. Although it was quite the place, it was full to the brim with tourists. It was the most touristy place that we had been to in our seven months of travel, and was quite tiring to be around so much activity. So many people trying to sell just about anything that they could, from tours to hats to weed to massages. It was a constant barrage of sell, sell, sell, complete with inflated price tags. Restaurants would post specials on their exterior menu boards to lure customers inside, only to then be presented with menus that did not have the same prices or features.

    People were constantly in our faces trying to sell every little trinket imaginable, without much recollection that we had just turned them down a few minutes ago. Even at the most inconvenient times there were people there ready to shine your shoes (Keens sandals? Converse?), or ask if you wanted to take their picture, or try to sell you a keychain even at the most inappropriate of times. They were relentless, and we were happy to leave that circus behind.

    Perhaps the most annoying aspect of all of this was the fact that we passing through the same areas, wearing the same things (day after day) and the same people were hocking the same wares or services to us time and time again. Adam eventually was even having some fun with them, including gesturing to give the "massage girl" a shoulder massage "si! only 20 Soles", or playing with the Chola ladies who repeatedly requested to have their photos taken with their alpacas for nominal fee - he would put his arm around Jenn, put on a smile, and put his hand out saying "photo, photo, only 4 Soles".

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    On the way to Puno.

    After 10 days it was time to move on. With no further fainting episodes, we packed up the bikes and headed to Puno, about 400 kilometers away towards the Bolivian border.

    We would like to formally acknowledge and thank Leo his genoristy for having put us up for the duration of our stay. Leo literally gave us his bed (we moved it down stairs) and slept on a mattress on the floor upstairs.

    Finally, we would like to call attention to the drivers of Peru. Not all of them, but enough to make an impression. At one point in time we thought that the drivers in Mexico were pretty bad. From our experience, they were. They were exceptional tail-gaters. Passing the torch to Colombia, riding in the Colombian Andes had more than its share of "special moments". The clincher in Colombia is that while people are behave in homicidal ways, at some level it seems that it can be explained. For example, passing during blind corners is foolish and dangerous, not only to the driver but to others around. At some level though, the poor choices in judgement can almost be explained by the fact that if one is in a hurry, one might take chances when there are no safe alternatives, say, an hour at a time.

    Peru, on the other hand, is an exception. Of course, it is a generalization, and perhaps it only takes "a few bad apples to spoil the lot" but riding a motorcycle in Peru takes enhanced focus and more care than other countries. The reason that we say this that we experienced more than a couple of drivers who displayed absolutely callousness in their driving habits with utter disrespect to others on the road. We are not talking about being rude, or slightly dangerous, but senseless actions which, without our own increased attention to the road and our own instigation of collision avoidance, could easily have led to our deaths. A specific repeated example is that when a driver decides to pass he or she will rarely reverse this decision.

    We are not talking about, for example, a scenario were one transport truck is passing another and the action has gone beyond the point of no return. Or that the driver takes chance at an opportune time when few exist. We are talking about straight stretches of desert highway were one vehicle begins to pass the one in front of it, and one or both of us repeatedly flash our (bright) LED auxiliary lights to warn of the danger (as is common in Latin America), and then the encroaching vehicle will sometimes flash us back as if to "tell us off" and continue on in our lane ignore our flashing while we have already instigated "panic" braking and searching for a safe section of shoulder (if any) to scrub of some (meager) speed. We understand that Peruvians are not very accustomed to larger motorcycles and those that travel at highway speeds. That said, this statement is mostly true across Latin America in entirety. Yet, Peru is the only country in which we have repeatedly almost been unapologetically forced off of the road into a stretch of desert or into field solely because the driver seemingly "just didn't care".

    From reading this, you might assume that the "average Peruvian" was super-impatient, high strung, and a heart attack in the making. The contradiction here is that, generally speaking, Peru has been one of the more laid back countries with regards to pleasantries in the street and obtaining services. For example, eating a meal in a Peruvian restaurant is more drawn out than most other countries we have visited and people just take their time. Yet, you then take the same person, even in the smallest of towns, and put them behind the wheel and the tailgating and honking involved would make the most time pressured businessman in Manhattan cringe. Perhaps Peruvians were never meant to drive. That is all we will say on the matter. Any foul language which might aptly have been present here has already been released in the privacy of our helmets.

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    A driving school in Peru? Must be a front for something else.

    Oh ya. Peru. You have a real garbage problem. You might want to clean up your act. You have delicious food, though. Perhaps the best of our trip so far.

    Galleries can be found here:

    #43
  4. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-06-07 (Part 1/2):

    Hello from Sucre, Bolivia, the constitutional capital of Bolivia. With any respect, we just arrived at this relatively low altitude (2,800 meters) and haven't been this low since Aguas Calientes, Peru. The weather here is nice and summery :) I now have head cold - my first since Guatemala :(

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    Dry riverbed scenery.

    We arrived here from Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world at 4095 meters above sea level! Yep, it's pretty high. Thankfully we have spent a number of weeks at altitude so we aren't being effected too badly by the sky-highness of it all. Admittedly, walking up hills is a little challenging, but otherwise, we are doing alright.

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    Overlooking Titicaca.

    After a few days in Copacabana by the shores of Lake Titicaca, and a really great pizza dinner, we headed out in the direction of La Paz. Instead of staying in La Paz we decided to head to an overland hotel in Mallasa, about 15 minutes outside of the city. The Oberland Hotel was praised by the guys at Life Remotely as being overlander friendly and offering good facilities, so it sounded like a winner to us.

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    Hotel Oberland

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    Front view.

    On our way to Mallasa, we decided to take a spin through the city of La Paz (so we could say that we had been there), but a couple of confusing roads, one way streets that weren't so on our GPSes, and and crowded marketplaces with suicidal pedestrians, and we were on the by-pass skirting around the city and heading straight for Mallasa and the comfort of the hotel. Or rather the comfort of our camp site.

    The Oberland Hotel (and Mallasa) was located in a very scenic part of Bolivia with landscape that resembled the moon or Mars (there is in fact a popular tourist destination there called Valle de la Luna - Valley of the Moon). The bizarre rock formations surrounding the town are a result of mountain erosion creating natural spires of clay. It made for a very beautiful rest stop.

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    Cafeteria.

    Once we found the hotel, we joined the other overlanders who were already there, and set up camp. Our little tent was trumped by the giant overlanding vehicle campers, our neighbours. As promised, the bathrooms were glorious compared to what we were used to in Copacabana - toilet seats, toilet paper, and lights! We were also promised hot water in the showers but that was somewhat of a thin promise - good when it was good, but turning cold very suddenly. Since it was somewhat of a resort, there was also a spa area with a sauna, jacuzzi, and indoor swimming pool. All included with the price of residence. Hooray! Some time in the steam and hot water was just what the doctor was ordering for us and we were looking forward to soaking and sweating our tired muscles.

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    There really is a sauna.

    As per the staff's request we needed to give a few hours notice prior to using the spa facilities, as they had to warm the stuff up. Although a little funny, it was somewhat understandable as the hotel wasn't very busy (off-season? poor economy?) and it is costly to maintain heat/electricity/gas when the facilities are not being used. After our required 'warm up' time, we donned our bathing suits and got ready for our sauna and jacuzzi. The jacuzzi wasn't very warm so we went to check on the sauna. While warm, it certainly wasn't hot by normal sauna standards. Regardless, we sat down on the wooden seats and waited to get our sweat on. It happened, but was less than satisfying. And the jacuzzi? Forget about it.

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    And swimming pool.

    The nights in Mallasa were a bit chilly but our tent was quite cozy once we were snuggled up inside of our sleeping bags. On our third night there we finally decided to have a fire - the fireplace (like and Argentine asado) was more for cooking but we thought would be quite adequate for keeping warm. The firewood was delivered to our campsite and Adam built a great fire - his highest campfire to date - despite a lack of kindling and less oxygen at that altitude.

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    Nice fire in the cold evening.

    It was a relaxing four days in Mallasa of not doing too much, aside from a ride into La Paz, which Adam described as combination of the Toronto's DVP and Park Road, and Fraggle Rock. A very accurate description. Oh ya, the trip into La Paz was to buy Adam a new (cheap) sleeping pad since his Big Agnes sleeping pad (our second) is failing. Our stay was mostly preoccupied with resting, finding cheap places to eat (chicken!), and hanging out with an ever-rotating group of overland travellers.

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    Endless parades in Bolivia, this time Oruro.

    From Mallasa, we continued south to Oruro. Although not really on our radar as a place with many attractions, Oruro turned out to be quite a nice place. Some people have described it as being not 'very happy', but we found it to be quite the contrary. The only thing that turned us off was trying to find a place to stay downtown with parking. The ride there took approximately four hours and finding a hotel took another three. What a pain in the ass. We checked out a few areas and decided that we wanted to stay close by the market.

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    Securing parking several level of door deep.

    We circled and circled and circled, branching out to the area around the bus station, then coming back to the market area where we finally settled on a place nearby, that sort of looked like a dive, called Residencial Vergara. It was sort of a dive but the owners were very happy to have us staying in their establishment. They were all smiles and welcoming us and our bikes in with open arms. The parking was very secure (through two sets of locked doors, in a courtyard), and the hot water in their shower worked very well. It was enough to overlook the fact that the room had quite a lot of water damage and had a bit of a funky smell. It was dated and we think it's hay day was some time in the 1960s, but it was cute and charming. They also had a very friendly sheepdog and two very cute (and very vocal!) kittens.

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    Seating area outside of our room. Showing its age.

    On our way to find dinner, we came across a parade. They sure do love their parades down here! We believe that it was another school parade as many children from all ages were represented. We aren't too sure who the parade was for, since there weren't many people watching it, and far more people participating in it.

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    Markets, markets, markets.

    The market turned out to be quite the scene, bustling and busy with throngs of people out and about. We were surprised to see it so busy at night! Anything that anyone could ever possible want was available at the market that seemed to sprawl on forever. Jeans, socks, underwear, toiletries, souvenirs, hardware items, storage bins, flowers, beauty products were all present and ready to be purchased. Adam even found a Dakar Rally toque for $2.

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    Adam adds: An aside - the lead up to World Cup in Brazil should be full tilt. In Bolivia, however, you wouldn't know it was on. There is, however, a constant barrage of Dakar Rally imagery. It wouldn't be a lie to say that one in every five or ten vehicles displays Dakar imagery. Coming from North America where most people don't know what the Dakar Rally is, it is almost surreal to see its popularity here. That said, both Potosí and Oruro hosted Dakar routes in 2014 so it isn't really surprising that these communities are excited by its presence.

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    Fetal llamas, and other "natural remedies".

    There was even a 'witches market' featuring incense, fetal llamas, dried birds, skeletons of many types of small animals, herbs, and various amulets. It was pretty interesting and we stopped to ask a woman at her booth some of the meanings of the various items that she had for sale. She wasn't too friendly or forthcoming with her answers and when we asked her if we could take a picture of her booth she named her fee of 10 Bolivianos. Apparently even in Oruro they have caught wind of the Cusco-ian ways. Sigh. We ended up giving her five, and taking a few shots before moving on to friendlier territory.

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    On the way to Potosí.

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    Challapata: a direct, but sandy route to Uyuni.

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    The next day it was a seven hour ride to Potosí. The landscape between Oruro and Potosí was ever-changing. Golden fields, sparkling lakes, and snow-dusted mountains lead the way. We also saw many herds of llama grazing on the altiplano. Our road changed from flat and straight to curving and undulating as we ascended another 200-300 meters to our current height. It also got very windy and quite cold. Heated gear was on the books for the day's ride, and we were both very happy to have the option to plug ourselves in (heated jackets).

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    Getting gas in Bolivia is a chore.

    When we arrived in Potosí we were treated to yet another city built into the steep mountainsides. Our GPSes decided that the best way to get us where we were going was to go straight up the steepest hills. After Adam tried one out and claimed that it was the steepest hill that he had ever ridden up, we decided to look for a more chill route to the top.

    It was surprisingly easy to find a hotel with parking, and soon we were out to explore fabulous Potosí. It's roads are designed somewhat like a maze and we can never figure out in which direction we are pointing. It's all good though, since around each corner is something cool to see - colonial architecture, pedestrian malls, old stone churches, markets. It's a wonder for the senses.

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    Night scenery.

    One of the main reasons for being in Potosí is to visit the silver mine, Cerro Rico. Although technically the mine has been mostly depleted of its silver, they still mine zinc and other minerals. We booked our tour and then headed off to the Casa de la Moneda, the mint. Although no longer in use, the mint in Potosi was once the most important producer of silver coins in the world.

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    As we waited for our guided tour to begin we were invited to browse the upper levels of the building that housed a photography exhibit, a collection of textiles, and a gallery of mannequins dressed in traditional dress from various cultures. The building itself was beautiful, in excellent condition, and lovingly restored. Our guide took us through the process of how silver coins were produced, from the very first days of production until the mint closed. The machines were in excellent condition and all remained operational, although not used any longer. The tour was educational and informative and well worth the price of admission.

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    To be continued...
    #44
  5. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam continues on 2014-06-07 (Part 2/2):

    During my previous trip I had missed Potosí as I had headed straight from Challapata to Uyuni which involved a fairly challenging ride of mostly gravel and sandy piste. Besides the fact that I don’t think Jenn would appreciate this ride, I had regretted to visiting Potosí, which is a more common route to salt flats Uyuni.

    Roughly knowing where we might find accommodations in Potosí, we started following our GPSs only to find that the suggested route was blocked by corrugated metal barriers, presumably for some sort of reconstruction, or road work. Our first attempt at a diversion involved me riding up a rather steep grade. Now, Jenn does not particularly like riding up steep roads, partially at the thought of having to stop and start again, but also because of a (legitimate) fear of intersections where she feels that she won’t have enough control to crest the grade, and stop in time and risk being plowed down.

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    More construction.

    For me, I am generally feel confident enough in these scenarios, and feel that I can crest safely. In this cases, this hill was steep. It was probably a 40 degree grade and quite long and being at about 4000 metres above sea lever, and with our air box covers removed, my fully loaded bike was being tested. I suspect that I would have had a little probably getting started again if I had to stop. Nearing the crest, it actually got a little steeper - I don’t think I would be lying if I said 45 degrees - and my front wheel took some air as I strategically, if not slightly frantically, attempted to determine if I was clear of traffic. I was clear of traffic, but had another small stretch of further grade to go up before I “summited”, so I turned around and went back to Jenn with the welcome news that we would find another route. Potosí was a big enough place. Surely, not everyone was forced to take this route.

    We ended up just “winging it” and found a route with a gradual grade into the main part of town where the plazas and hotels are to be found. Without to much fanfare, we found a hotel (Hotel San Antonio) which had ample parking and it was suggested that we put our bikes inside the main doors of their building. We had a good walk around, eventually grabbed some food and headed back to our room for calls back home, and so forth. The next morning we were off to book our tour of the Cerra Rico mine tour.

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    Jenn and (passable) Joe.

    We woke bright and early, ate the included breakfast (two rolls and passable coffee), and headed towards the main plaza to find a tour operator. We stumbled across several and just decided to go talk to one. While I have been interested in checking out a mine in Potosí for quite some time - call it four years - at the same time, I just wanted a taste and spending hours below ground wasn’t important to me. Jenn, on the other hand was a little apprehensive due to safety concerns and claustrophobia. As we starting posing questions to the lady, she dropped her price from BS/80 to BS/70 without any prompting. Having discussed the details, seeing that she only had one other guest booked for the afternoon, her tour seemed like a good bet so we signed up for 2pm.

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    Such a dramatic sign.

    Why the interest in the mines of Potosí? While Potosí is a shadow of its former self, it was once a very important city with huge importance to the Spanish colonial empire. At around 4000m above see level, Potosí is one of the highest bonafide cities in the world. At almost a 1/4 million people, if you use a metric of, say, 100,000 people to define what a “large city” is (versus a town) Potosí was only recently surpassed by El Alto, a suburb of La Paz, Bolivia, as being the world highest city.

    Over ten percent of the population of Potosí work directly in the mines of Cerro Rico - we are told that there are 13,000 active miners most, if not all, are mine independently as part of mining collectives, as oppose to state or corporate ventures. Once upon a time, Cerro Rico was the richest mountain in the world providing the Spanish monarchy with vast amounts of wealth, including Potosí being the most active and most important coin minting location in the world. Indeed, long before the US dollar was the “standard”, world commerce was based the the “Real”, or the silver currency of the Spanish empire. While minting facilities also existed in other colonies such as Mexico and Peru, Potosí was the most important and the only constantly operated site.

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    Making coins the old, old, old way.

    In fact, it is even theorized that the peso or dollar sign relates to the the mint of Potosí. Coins from different mints would have abbreviate names to denote where they were produced. For example, M for Mexico and P for Peru. Coins minted in Potosí would have a overlay of the letters of PTSI. If you remove the P and T, what remains is $. While other theories exist for the originals $ both with a single and double stroke, the PTSI theory is certainly interesting.

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    Look closely for PTSI symbol at 8 o'clock - just before "R" in REPUBLICA.

    I make it sound like I have some background knowledge on currency and coins. No. It is a combination of some basic internet research plus an excellent visit to the Casa de Moneda, the second iteration of two great mints in Potosí. While I knew Potosí was an important place - the most wealthy city in the Americas, or perhaps even in the world - I hadn’t been privy to its relationship to finance in the colonial period. Basically, once up on a time, and years before the dominance of the US dollar, the Spanish Real ran the show. While the Spanish minted coins in various locations, the most important location was that of which is the Casa de Moneda in Potosí. This is now a now a museum.

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    Some examples.

    We showed up at the Casa de Moneda and decided to buy our tickets not really knowing what to expect - perhaps a quick walk through before lunch and our mine tour. As it turns out, a tour is only possible with a guide, and it was well worth it. Our tour started out in a sort of estate room housing some very interesting painting painted by indigenous painters but in what seems to be the contemporary European style. These were largely documentation of the important people of the time, as well as a means of drawing indigenous people into Christianity. One very interesting observation was that the painters where not very familiar with horses since they are not indigenous to the Americas and originally came with the Spanish - llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, only back then. Portraits of horses had humanoid faces which is said to be attributed to the fact that said painters were not very familiar with the faces of horses.

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    Such sorrow not normally seen in the face of a horse.

    The remainder of the tour dealt more specifically with smelting and production of coins. Jenn and I were both admittedly a little overwhelmed by it all. We are not history buffs but to be in a place with this much history is quite incredible. The process of creating coins from basic hand cutting and hand stamping with die and hammer, and later by mechanical means including presses designed by none other than the great Leonardo De Vinci, was extremely interesting and we felt like we were really tasting a bit of history.

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    Early mechanization. These are the only remaining examples from the Spanish colonial era. These have been preserved in Potosí's, cool, dry climate - the rest have rotten way in time.

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    And below, the power source.

    As time went on, simpler means were replaced by mechanized means, firstly via mules (and possibly African slaves), and then steam technology acquired from Philadelphia, USA, and eventually electric power. By 1825 with Bolivia’s independence from Spain, Bolivia was no longer producing currency for Spain. By the mid 20th century, Potosí was no longer an important minter and in the present day and age, the Bolivianos in my pocket are made in countries such as Chile, and ironically, Canada, with paper banknotes being produced in Switzerland, I believe.

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    Smelting.

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    Complex lock box.

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    Precisions scales.

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    Early coin press designed by Leonardo Da Vinci.

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    Electric era.

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    Don't get your fingers caught!

    Following our tour we scarfed down some lunch, and eventually made it over to our tour office to find quite a number of people waiting for our tour. We boarded the bus and arrived at what looked to be someone’s residence where we debarked, passed through their walled “garden” and went into a back room where we could see various articles of clothing fit for miners.

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    We were instructed to sit down, at which point we were assigned rubber boots, pants and shirts to cover our clean clothing, and miners’ hard hats including LED lights with battery packs on a belt around our waists. We were also given basic backpacks which were intended to carry our “gifts” for the miners. It is my understanding that the multiple tour operators offer tours into the mines do not have to pay any sort of entry fee since the mountain is basically public property, but the miners appreciate small gifts for posing for photographs, etc.

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    At the market.

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    Dyn-o-mite!

    We boarded the bus again, and headed up the mountain road passing flocks of llamas which we believed at the time to be off to market. Arriving near the entrance of the mine, we disembarked again. As mentioned, when we signed up, our group was only three. By the time we were at the mouth of the mine, there were about ten of us, while two plus a guide composed another group, which was not obvious to us.

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    Without much further instruction, Jose (our guide) was off into the mine followed by various people including two small children. Jenn and I were amongst the last to enter the mine. During this period, one girl from another group (which was confusing to us), decide she had enough after only a minute or so. Admittedly, the roof of the tunnel was low and I was definitely ducking. Shortly after this, Jenn started to feel uncomfortable and panicky and she agreed that she would exit and I would continue on.

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    I don’t blame her. It is a tight squeeze, amongst other things that might be on her mind including the presence of asbestos, collapses, etc. These mines are in no way, shape, or form, tourist oriented - you are simply touring in an active, working mine with men hauling ore out manually on rail and using explosives. During our small delay our group got way ahead of me. They were “trucking” to start with, and the delay with Jenn as well as me being last to start with meant I was left behind. I gave a little thought as to whether I could catch up - I went in a little further and, seeing one fork in the road, which ended up being a dead end, I decide that I had no idea what I might be getting myself into and headed back to fresh air.

    I found Jenn outside, as well as the girl from the other group who was also uncomfortable with the mine. At this point I was feeling pretty pissed. Jenn was feeling bad in that her decision to bow out most likely caused the delay which got me left behind, but at the same time, there seemed to be little order here. Having spoken with the other girl, who was from Ecuador and well spoke in English, she agreed that with our group being so big, there should have been a second guide following up the tour. In any rate, for all our guide knew, I could have fallen down a whole or been laying somewhere with an injury for the duration of the tour as there didn’t seem to be any checks or balances.

    We eventually got talking with this Ecuadorian girl (we didn’t catch her name) and discussing Ecuador, our various travels in South America, and so forth and before long, we were being accosted by a very, very drunk miner. At first, he had waved us down asking if we wanted to be guided in the mine. I initially agreed as I was sure he could find our group, until he almost face planted himself into a parked car. He was’t drunk, but DRUNK. We spent about the next half an hour trying to get him to disappear despite his related questions about where we were from, why we weren’t going into the mine, and so on and so forth.

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    Señor Borracho.

    By this point, I was just happy that he wasn’t getting overly aggressive with the females, and that he eventually went away. His replacement didn’t stick around too long, either. The Ecuadorian girl told us that when she was decided to bale on the tour, she almost stuck it out as she knew - as a lone female - she would have to “stick it out” outside the mine on a Friday afternoon for at least an hour. Which would be worse?

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    By this time, I had mostly settled down in terms of being disappointed assuming that I could argue my case and come back in the morning. As the sun set, and with things really cooling off, our group emerged. Shortly after this, Jose was questioning us as to “what happened”? I basically said” “What happened? The group left without me, and despite me calling down the tunnel, I was left behind.”. He immediately asked me if I wanted to go in the mine. I inquired about the morning, at he said that it was not possible because it was a “special day”. I looked at Jenn. She looked at me. I handed her most of the cash in my wallet and the hotel key and we agreed to meet back at the room.

    At this point I was already cold, my oversized rubber boots were damp and not helping what seems to be tendinitis of my Achilles tendon, and I was getting fairly hungry. It was now or never, though. Almost dusk, we headed into the mine. Jose, with a mouth full of coca leaves and being perhaps a foot shorter than me, flew through the mine passage. I kept up as best I could, ankle deep in water for a time. Given that Potosí is about 4000 meters above sea level, the Cerro Rico can only be higher than this, and even though we have been at altitude for weeks at this point, the air in the mine was even thinner than what I was used to and I was working hard to keep up. The dust mask we purchased at the miners’ market wasn’t helping the matter either and I was starting to feel a little panicky, as in “I have had enough”, but once I wasn’t constantly ducking 4 foot passage ways I was feeling a little better.

    Still out of breath, we ran into a pair of miners who were pushing bags of ore out of the tunnel in a mini-rail system by hand. They were tired. They weren’t faking it. No sooner than collecting my thoughts, Jose, blurted out: “Help them! Help them. Push it”. Still mostly out of breath, I jump beside one of the guys are starting to push the cart - you know the ones you see in old western movies - and boy was it heavy. The cart was being pushed up hill and must have weight hundreds of kilograms. I don’t think that I assisted for more than a couple of meters with my boots sliding in the mud. All that I can say that these guys are super tough, and live a hard life. As part of the agreement, I gave them the two litre bottle of Coke and took a few photos.

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    We continued on. We found a fork in the road and Jose was surprised to find no miners at this location which was definitely some sort of junction point due to existence of various objects, as well as various pages of girly mags being posted to the walls. We continued down a corridor, and then down a hole in the floor on a strangely angled wooden ladder. A little later, with a shake of hands, I met “Ruben”, who was hoisting bags of ore up from a another hole in the mine's floor with a hand winch, which were fed to him by his father some 15 or 20 feet below. Again, Jose told me told “help him”, so I jumped on the other side of the winch and attempted to assist.

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    [​IMG] Making the mine a little more like home?

    I felt pretty stupid because I knew that if I gave it full effort with both hands, my good camera which was tethered around my neck would have been smacking into the equipment and likely be damaged. I assisted with another load, at which time I was instructed to provide a gift. I inquired whether alcohol or cigarettes were preferred and eventual left both. Jose said something to the effect of the cigarettes not being “good” - so why did you even suggest them when we were at the market - a bit more guidance please. Evidently, I don’t know what time Ruben and Papa started work, but being around 6pm, they would be working to midnight.

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    Señor Ruben.

    We left the area and headed up the ladder again. During the duration of the tour, we repeatedly had to stand at the edges of the tracks against the walls. If an unladen cart wouldn't have severely damaged ones toes, a fully laden one certainly would have. Again, this is a tour of a mine - not a mine set up for tours.

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    El Tio.

    We passed various other workers and eventually ended up at the “shrine” of El Tio. Ah, El Tio. I have heard of him from other reports, and seen his photos. Dedicated readers: you do know how this tale started - I was rather angry that I had basically missed my tour. Now, I found myself relaxing with Jose and Tio, alone. This probably would not be the same experience if I was amongst a large tour group. Jose, who seemed to mostly be on the move during this tour, having worked five years in the mine, and then having to be late for his dinner to run me through my solo tour, I get it. But at this point, Jose seemed to relax. He (almost) snuggled up against El Tio and started his offerings.

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    El Tio is basically a devil effigy. He is sort of goat-like with eyes of marbles, and is basically the lord “lord of the underworld” - being the mine. Miners offer him gifts of coca leaves, alcohol and cigarette in “exchange” for offering protection, and working with “Pachamama”, basically “Mother Earth”, to bring up more wealth from the miners.

    Our time with El Tio was interesting. Jose provided him with some coca leaves, and then some alcohol, having poured a little on the ground, and then gulping the remaining cap full for himself. And then one for me, with a little for El Tio. Jose had asked me if I had a lighter. I am pretty sure that it was to put a cigarette in the mouth of El Tio and actually lit it. Soot around Tio's mouth and on his nose indicates that this was common practice. Jose asked me if I wanted a photo with El Tio, so I snuggled up against him and posed for the shot. I must admit, that the El Tio aspect of the tour was most interesting, if not grounding. While I am not a religious man, there was something a little different about this experience. It is hard to explain.

    Jenn and I have visited many beautiful churches during our travels with all sorts of effigies. That said, all of these have been distant, some how protected from prying hands and mostly pristine. El Tio was something else in that he was a little dirty, covered in various vices (and party streamers), and had been directly man handled and revered. These mines are dirty, caustic and dangerous. Miners die young (40) due to damage lungs from silica and asbestos. For the most part, when I visit churches the effigies seem to me to be ornate pieces of art (not a bad thing, in their own right), but I could almost feel the connection the miners have with El Tio, and El Tio almost really felt like a third presence in this little cavern. He was a little scary looking but I wasn’t scared of him. What is scary is the mines.

    Eventually, Jose and I exited the mine. We were in a little further in than it felt going in, but probably nothing in comparison with the hundreds of tunnels through the mountain, and I was just a mere visitor. We reached fresh air and darkness overlooked the bright lights of Potosí. We then started our way down Cerro Rico on foot with the aim of catching a bus down.

    I was admittedly annoyed at Jose earlier on, but he redeemed himself. By this time his wife was repeatedly calling him on his phone ("You are late for dinner!"), and he probably could have had just sent me back to the tour office for a refund instead of taking me on a private tour. In the time it took to exit the mine and catch a bus down to the office, we probably talked for about 45 minutes about numerous topics anywhere from life in our respective countries, to family, travel, life in the mine, and so on and so forth. I think that Jose looked at me a little differently when I explained to him that we were travelling by motorcycles and often did not take the tourist route.

    Being an ex-miner and moving into the world of running tours in the mine, I suspect that his exposure to “gringos” is mostly backpacker types and he indicated that he appreciated that we were open to mostly “full exposure” - and not always staying in touristic place and eating touristic things. I even discussed with him my feelings around the mine tour in that there is a “contradiction” here. Relatively wealthy “tourists” paying a little money to for a quick observation of what the miners do. I mean, do the miners really want to be tripping over “us” when they are trying to get a day (and half) of work in? Yet, how else can you actually get a glimpse of what is going on in there? A little bit of an understanding? I posed the question as to whether miners object to the tours and Jose’s answer was that there are a few who just don’t want tourists around, but most of them don’t mind the situation if they get a little something out of it - hence the gifts.

    My end thoughts of the tour is, that I am glad that it was as “rough” as it was. I wince when I say this, as I could barely breath, let alone push the cart, or assist with the winch - my life is anything but rough, certainly not physically, compared to the life of these miners. Their life is rough.

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    That said, the point that I am making is that I appreciated that the tour wasn’t “whitewashed”, special barriers and ropes were not put in place and, realistically, there was minor risk involved. Jenn couldn’t manage the tunnels. I assumed that I could - I ride motorcycles, sleep in snow caves, and scuba dive with sharks - and felt like I couldn’t for a bit. I know that I have pushed Jenn (with best intentions) during many aspects of our trip - for example, where she assumes that she doesn’t have enough riding skills, but I see more in her. That said, basically when I had my whinge of panic, I said to myself something to the effect of “you don’t get to push Jenn, and then turn around a back out of this without giving it full effort”.

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    One further thing to note, while miners to not generally work on Saturdays, and definitely not on Sundays, this doesn’t pertain to the reason as to why I couldn’t get another tour on Saturday. This Saturday was a special sacrificial day when llamas are sacrificed to Tio. If you read the Wikipedia article on the matter, you will read that a llama is sacrificed. Jose explained to me that twelve llamas would be sacrificed at the mouth of the specific mine we entered.

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    There are hundreds of mines and many more Tios. As mentioned earlier, we saw numerous llamas on the way to Cerro Rico which we believed to either being sold, or off to slaughter. We were partially correct. Jose explained to me on the way down that these dozens and dozens of llamas where all to be slaughter the next day - Saturday - to El Tio. Their meat would be consumed but their bones would be sacrificially buried at the foot of the mines. While we did not attend, I accept it as a privilege and honour that we were invited to attend this ceremony on the Saturday.

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    View from the mine.

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    And finally dinner for just over $1 each.

    Gallery links can be found here:

    #45
  6. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-07-17:

    After Adam's tour of the mine, we felt that our time in Potosí had been sufficiently completed and it was time to set our sights on a new place.

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    Sucre is known as "the white city" due to the high number of white colonial buildings. Although it is the third largest city in Bolivia, most of hub of activity is located within five compact city blocks. This is, of course, where we stayed. Our intention was to camp, in an effort to save some money, and to be outside enjoying the warmer weather. At 2810 meters, we hadn't been at this low of an altitude since the ascent into the Peruvian Andes from Nasca. With an average daily temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, we were looking forward to warming up a bit.

    It was a short ride from Potosí to Sucre, about three hours, through golden fields and on roads that wound down and around mountainsides. We could feel the temperature heating up, and peeled layers off as we neared Sucre.

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    Pleasant Sucre.

    When we arrived at the camping site, located within the city, we were unhappily surprised to find out that they no longer hosted campers, or bikers - who aren't in cars or trucks. Or maybe it was a miscommunication that they didn't understand that we had our own tent, but it was apparent that we wouldn't be staying there. The man of the house was very friendly though and recommended a place around the corner that accepted motorcycle travellers, called Wasi Masi Hospedaje.

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    View into the hostel.

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    Sucre on fire. Some sort of transportation strike.

    It was a little more than what we wanted to spend (140 Bolivianos - about $23 per night), but we ended up with an apartment-style room with a big, bright, airy room with a balcony, private bathroom, and our own kitchen. A good deal, I think. Especially since, almost immediately upon arrival I started to feel sinusy-throaty and abruptly came down with a rather bad head cold.

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    Time for an oil change.

    The next two days were spent entirely in bed: sleeping and resting. It was no fun, especially in such a beautiful city, with so much to see. Adam was a real trooper and stayed by my side to fetch me juice, cook my lunch, and generally be supportive in my misery. On day three I couldn't take it any longer and went out for a walk, late afternoon, to the store. Needless to say, I felt miserable, dizzy and congested, and couldn't wait to get back to bed.

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    As chance would have it, there were a few other motorcycle travellers in town, as well. Two Moto Kiwis (Andi & Ellen from New Zealand) are well-known to us from the motorcycle travelling forums, as they started their journey out on two Suzuki DR650s as well, and we had been following their adventures for some time. Adam sent them a message and soon we were making plans to join them for dinner. Despite feeling still sick, we wandering on over to their hostel, where Ellen had prepared salad and dumplings/pies for us. We sat outside and talked bikes, and recounted some trip tales for each other, until it was too cold and we were all tired.

    Our original plan was to leave the next day, but I ended up staying in bed for most of the day again, aside from a trip to the pharmacy to get some cold medicine. After four days, I had had it. Not to mention we were now on a schedule to make it Buenos Aires by the end of June in order to get help from Dakar Motos to ship our bikes back to North America before they closed for vacation for three weeks in July. No more lying in bed for me. We had to get back on the road. (Yes, our trip is coming to an end shortly, as funds are running low, and Jenn is aching for a hot bath.) If everything goes to plan, we will fly the bikes and ourselves from Buenos Aires during the first week of July. Our current plan is to fly into Miami, since it's cheaper, and we want to have a bit of a vacation before heading back home to find jobs, an apartment, and rejoin all other aspects of normalcy. From Florida we will take a leisurely route home.

    In a desperate plea, the pharmacist gave me some amazing anti-mucous medicine that worked almost instantaneously once taken. It didn't cure my cold, but it made it so that I could be upright and out of bed for longer than a few minutes.

    And so the next morning we got up, had breakfast, and packed up the bikes to leave Sucre, and head south towards Uyuni. However, once we were mostly packed we were approached by a frantic owner who told us that we couldn't leave because there was a city wide protest happening and all the roads from Sucre were blockaded. One of the previous days in Sucre we came across a large protest happening in the main plaza - hundreds of people chanting and burning things. It wasn't like the protests back home where we wave out little placards and march in the street. She then told us that the blockades could be very violent with people throwing stones. Our Two Moto Kiwi friends even told us about a blockade in Puno, Peru that they went through and were whipped by a guy with a long horse whip. It didn't sound like my idea of fun, but Adam wasn't going to take anyone else's opinion as fact (given that someone else suggested that we wouldn't have problems), and in the end we decided that we would check it out for ourselves. As I mentioned, one more day in Sucre, would mean one less day somewhere else, and being on a bit of a time crunch we would have to make the time up somewhere.

    We headed out of town. With every corner turned, I expected there to be an angry mob armed with large stones and burning everything in sight. But as we neared the edge of town and passed through smaller suburbs, and smaller towns, nothing materialized. No disruptions, no upheaval, just everyday happening. But just when we thought we were in the clear, we came across a number of cars and one truck parked sideways across the road. As we approached, the people waved at us and greeted us and told us that the blockade was just now clearing up. Hooray! But then we noticed that there was a large puddle underneath Adam's bike. Gasoline. Apparently the clear gas line we were using from the petcock to the in-line fuel filter split wide open, spraying gas all over his leg and the road. He turned off his petcock, pulled over, and started looking through our collection of spares for replacement tubing. Which we had. And cut to the proper size. It was an easy fix. And by the time we were repaired, the blockade was gone and we were on our way again.

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    Gas was spraying out like a leaky garden hose - yikes!

    But not too far. As around the corner was a long line-up of trucks leading up to a right messy constipation of people and semis and a barricade made of cactus, sticks, and rocks. We approached the guys at the barricade and asked if we could pass. They didn't seem to bothered by it, even making jokes with Adam, and cleared the way for us to pass. About 20 feet down the road was a truck parked sideways across the road. We couldn't get by. There was a narrow shoulder on one side marred with thick thorn bushes, a deep trench on the other side which we considered but was blocked by a woman making a fire in it, or a road that followed a dry riverbed if we doubled back and went off in search of it.

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    Road block.

    After a few minutes of pondering, Adam went off in search of the riverbed road, and I waited by the truck for his report. He was only gone a few minutes before the driver of the truck showed up and offered to move it for me. He started it up, and pulled it back a few inches so that I could pass. Adam was nowhere in sight and once I had gone by the driver pulled back into his previous position. In my mind, I pictured Adam showing back up on the other side of the truck while I was now on the clear and free side. I waited. And waited. And then I heard Adam on the communicator, and he appeared in front of me. Apparently the riverbed road was a little hairy but took one clear around the blockade. Finally both clear of the obstacle we were back on the road and on our way to Potosi/Uyuni once again.

    We had originally planned to do a big push and make it to Uyuni, but we didn't even get to Potosí until 3 p.m. which meant that we wouldn't be arriving in Uyuni until well after dark and in the freezing cold. Plus, after being in bed for 4-5 days with a head cold, I was feeling pretty tired, cold, and worn out from the day's ride, albeit short, but eventful. We decided to stop, again, in Potosí. In lieu of a better alternative we went back to the Hotel San Antonio where we had stayed during our previous visit.

    This time, instead of opting for the 200 Bolivianos-private bath room, we decided that we could save some money by getting the room with shared bath for one night. At 120 Bolivianos, it was way over-priced. About $20 (which doesn't seem like a lot for North America, but for Bolivia it's quite pricey), we got a cell-like room, cold and dark (except at night with the streetlight shining through the only window), and barely enough room to squeeze past each other. The shared bathroom was an atrocity - 'dirty' doesn't even begin to describe the state of it. The toilets, of which there were two stalls, were smelly and filthy. I cannot understand why every single toilet bowl that I have encountered in Bolivia is coated with someone's explosive shit stains. Every. Single. One. It's like Wal-Mart gone wild. I should be thankful that there were toilet seats, but only one stall had toilet paper in it, which went missing by later that evening. The showers, while I am assured that they were equipped with steaming hot water (as tested by Adam) were littered with everyone's leftover shampoo packets, soap wrappers, and hair. The water in the sink was colder than most ice cubes from the freezer. While there was hot water in the shower, I would never know because after the sun went down, it was so cold outside (no, the bathrooms were not sealed off from the outside) there was no way what I was getting naked and wet. Twenty dollars? No way. But for one night, I sucked up my anger and fear of poor hygiene, and slept it out. Oh, and by the way Bolivia - you might want to institute the practice of providing soap in your bathrooms - rubbing cold water on one's hand after using the bathroom does little to prevent communicable diseases.

    In the morning, we were off, despite more promises of road blocks. Apparently we are in the off-season for tourism in Bolivia, also known as protest season by the locals. Since the tourists largely dry up now, they are more free to have protests and block up the roads. It's a little backwards, since June and July are the driest months here in Bolivia, which I would think would attract more crowds, but they are also the coldest months, so I guess it is somewhat understandable.

    It was a little sad leaving both of these great cities - Sucre and Potosi, as both were beautiful and had a lot to offer. They each had an element of down-to-earthedness that I really enjoyed, and no pressure sales tactics. In comparison to Cusco, for example, that has many of the same elements - great churches and museums - we were not pressured to buy tours or lured into restaurants. Beautiful and very laidback. They were two of my favourite stops on this trip.

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    The ride from Potosi to Uyuni was great and one of the best rides of the trip so far. We took very few photos which is somewhat of a shame (don't get me started on the pain that is photographing while piloting your own bike), but what a great road! Long curves, fast straight-aways, and virtually no traffic. I'm not sure if people were still afraid of potential roadblocks, but it was virtually deserted. The llamas crossing the road were more frequent than any vehicular traffic that we encountered. It was a beautiful sunny day, warm enough (although heated gear was still necessary), and we made it to Uyuni in about four hours with no roadblocks.

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    Potosí to Uyuni.

    There were times that I didn't think that I would make it here. So many times that I wanted to give in and go home, abandoning places and things that I had wanted to see, but coming around the mountain to the view of the Salar was breathtaking. Although I don't want to put too much pressure on the experience (we all remember what happened at Macchu Picchu), I am happy that I stuck it out and made it here.

    Rolling into town, I was less than impressed. It was dusty and dingy looking with most buildings looking like they had seen better days. In searching for a hotel, we first checked out the Life Remotely site, which didn't really impress us so we moved on. We checked out places that were upwards of $60 per night, and eventually stopped at Hotel Avenida, which we had circled past many times before stopping. Turned out that it is where Adam stayed four years ago and we were sold. The room we were given was large with private bath for $20. We had been warned that the nights were pretty cold in Uyuni and definitely our first night was pretty cold - lying in bed wearing long underwear and toques.

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    We took a short walking tour of the town at night and discovered that, like most towns and cities in Latin America, that it really comes to life after the sun goes down. People galore were out (mind you it was a Friday night, and a Monday or Tuesday might be a bit different), food carts cooking in full swing, shops open, bars with blaring music. The personality of a place really shines at night. We walked through the main square and through various markets before having a drink at the Extreme Fun Bar. Since it was happy hour, the drink that I ordered came in a rather suggestive mug, which was a little embarrassing but once said drink started to be consumed it was really OK. A fun but risque and a bit on the wild side (I really wasn't expecting my drink to be served in a penis mug with condensed milk dripping from the head, especially in Bolivia). But go with the flow, and you have more fun, right? Anyway...

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    Day two had us heading out in search of adventure. After a pretty chilly night we woke up to -4 degrees Celsius on the bikes' thermometers. Brrrr! It seems we can't go out here without putting on multiple layers of clothing, but in all fairness it's probably payback from flaunting the hot temperatures of Mexico and Central America to our friends and family back home while they were all stuck in the midst of winter. Thankfully the breakfast place had their fireplace going full tilt while we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of eggs, cheese, toast (more real toast!), coffee, and a banana smoothie. After we had filled our bellies and warmed up as much as possible, it was a short bit of bike maintenance and a bit of preparation for our quest for the Salar de Uyuni.

    If you don't know, Uyuni's biggest draw is the Salar, located right outside its doorstep. The Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat and can be seen from outer space. It's surface is incredibly smooth, and is comprised of a thick salt crust layer covering a brine that is very rich in lithium - in fact it contains 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves. The town of Uyuni is a result, mainly, from the mining community and was once a major transportation hub for trains hauling minerals to the Pacific Coast. Now it is home to a pretty impressive train cemetery where locomotives were abandoned when the minerals were depleted in the 1940s.

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    Our first stop was the Train Cemetery, but when we arrived it was teeming with tourists so we decided to head to the Salar and come back later in the evening when the trains would (hopefully) be devoid of visitors (while it looked fun, it is hard to take good photos when others are using the trains as their personal jungle gyms). Access to the main road to the Salar is from a small town called Colchani, about twenty kilometers north of Uyuni along a corrugated dirt and gravel road with some slippery sand patches thrown in for good measure. Since I am not an overly skilled off-roader, those twenty kilometers took far longer than they should have and I was a little rattled by the time we reached the Salar. Anything that resembled a road was pretty rough with ample potholes. But there was the Salar... I had expected it to be like all accounts and photos - gleaming white in the bright sunshine, but instead it was rather brown. A thin layer of sand covered the entire Salar as a result of a sandstorm that had occurred in the area a few weeks back. I wasn't about to let this be another 'Macchu Picchu' moment - it was quite a feat to have ridden my motorcycle to this place that I had wanted to visit for many years.

    [​IMG] Sandy stuff.

    [​IMG] Got salt?!?

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    It took a bit of getting used to to not think of the white surface as ice but rather salt, and eventually we were skirting across the flat surface at 100 (or 130 for Adam) kilometers an hour in pursuance of some of the islands that dot the landscape. We stopped a few times to add warmer layers (it was pretty cold - bike thermometers were reading 9 degrees), but reached Incahuasi Island in about an hour. It was dry and covered in giant cactus. And tourists. After a bathroom break and quite a bit of time playing around with photos (but not the fun "playing with perspective" photos since there was a little too much brown - we circled the island then headed back to 'shore'.

    [​IMG] Salt blocks on the Salar

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    The sun was starting to set and our shadows were growing longer as we headed back to Uyuni along the sandbox road. We made a quick stop at the car wash to rinse some of the salt off of our bikes (as you know, salt is not good for vehicles, and bikes tend to have more alloys and other materials that are more easily damaged than cars), then a quick stop to fill up on gas, and then back out to the train cemetery.

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    Indeed, everyone had left for the night aside from a group of men standing around their car, and a couple making out in another car parked some ways away. We were the only people there to see the trains but the rapidly setting sun meant that our time would be short. I managed to get a few shots in before losing the light completely and came back to Adam who was strapping his Roto Pack water tank to the back of his bike. Apparently the mount had come loose, and the tank had been hanging from his lock. We would have to look at that later.[​IMG]

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    When we arrived back at the hotel, Adam suggested that we take one more day to do some bike repairs and maintenance, and purchase the last of our alpaca souvenirs before heading south to Argentina. The road that leaves Uyuni to the Argentinian border is 208 kilometers of dirt, gravel, and sand. It was promised to be a challenging ride. A chunk of the next day involved carefully repairing Adam's Roto-pax mount which re-assembled with lots of Lock-tite to prevent a similar issue, and then searching town for make-shift "spacers" to repair Adam's Pro-Moto Billet luggage rack which had somehow lost two mounting bolts. More Lock-tite. In addition, in preparation for the Uyuni to Tupiza ride, we remount our Happy Trails SU racks with a fresh coat of Lock-tite on the mounting bolts, as well as on the mounting bolts for our panniers, not without issue, but that is a story for another day.

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    Get'er done!

    I will end here. Tune in next time for accounts of our Uyuni to Tupiza ride and our Argentine border crossing.

    Sucre photos found here.

    Uyuni photos found here.
    #46
  7. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on June 18, 2014 from Salta, Argentina:

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    Our decision to go to Uyuni meant that our route was decided for us- along a 200 kilometer dirt road that stretched its way along altiplano south to Tupiza in the direction of the Argentinian border. There is a paved road that goes south to Argentina but it's inaccessible from Uyuni and one would have to drive north to Potosí (where we have been twice already during our trip) then start heading south. Since we didn't want to ride all the way back to Potosí, we decided to take the dirt road. After all, it was only two hundred kilometers. How long could it really take?

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    Various reports from other riders who had recently ridden the road told us that we could expect it to take anywhere from seven to ten hours to traverse the entire length. Even Google maps wasn't on our side when it reported seven and a half hours. In comparison, driving all the way back up to Potosí, then down past Uyuni to Tupiza on the paved road would only take six hours. It was also said that the road was in pretty bad condition with drifting sand and rough corrugation. As I am not the biggest off-roading fan (even though technically this was a road), this didn't sound like too much of a promising day for me. Adam, on the other hand, was stoked. He had ridden this road four years ago and really enjoyed it, so couldn't wait to show me.

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    On the day of departure we were up bright and early, had a hearty breakfast, packed up the bikes, and headed out along the road. From the very first moment we left Uyuni, there was no pavement to be seen. The road was dirt, covered in loose gravel and stretched off straight, straight, straight, as far as the eye could see. The tires slipping around as they tried to find traction was a bit unnerving but I tried to recall what I had learned from Clinton's off-roading school, all those years ago. I knew that it was normal for the bike to slide around a bit as it searched for grip on the road, so I accepted the squirly feeling as normal and we proceeded on.

    [​IMG] Skirting around some icy patches.

    Not too long into our journey, we came across our first water crossing where a truck had become stuck. At first it was a little unclear as to why the truck couldn't cross, as there was a paved section through the river. Upon further inspection, we discovered that the concrete was covered in ice and the truck was most likely unable to get any traction. We waited a few minutes to see if the driver was going to attempt to finish the crossing before Adam rode both bikes past the truck on a narrow bit of the concrete, which was also covered in ice, and we were back on our way. This was good news as Adam was growing tired of Señor boozy breath, a pissed drunk passer by who had been pestering him, and "urging him on", on slurry like.

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    The scenery all around us was pretty amazing. Large, flat areas of nothing extending as far as the eye could see. We passed by numerous herds of llama wandering across the road way with seemingly little fear of humans, as they didn't scatter like previous herds when we approached. The colours of the land were pretty cool too, as the sand changed from grey to red to beige and back again. There were even spots of green. Hills began to show and those same colours were reflected there too, like a painter's palette. We also saw an Andean fox that was very dog-like in its movements and colours (German Shepherd like), but with a huge bushy tail.

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    Foxy!

    There was a bit of excitement when Adam's right pannier fell clean off of his bike. The harsh vibrations of the road were enough to loosen up both of the screw-in handles, thus shaking the pannier completely free of the rack, leaving it lying in a trail of dust. It was a bit surprising since we decided to use a bit of Lock-Tight on the screws in anticipation of this very thing. Adam circled back and picked up the pannier and re-affixed it to the bike, where it stayed for the rest of the ride.

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    So much for Lock-Tite. Hmmm. Surely I musn't have tightened it enough.

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    A few hours into the ride we reached a dune area where a sign warned us that there would be sand on the road for the next 100 meters. It soon became apparent that the dunes had taken over the road and where road might have once been were just two tire tracks where other cars had previously gone through. Neither of us had had a lot of experience riding through sand but knew that it involved keeping steady throttle while holding the handlebars straight (or something like that).

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    We had already ridden through a few patches of sand, and hadn't had too many problems, so off we went. Or should I say, off I went? I bravely plowed into the sand and was doing quite well until the track that I was in sunk into a big of an angle and I sunk sideways, dropping the bike and myself onto the ground. The nice thing about falling into the sand at a slow speed, is that the sand was soft and very warm from the hot sun. It would have been nice to have pulled out a book and spent hours lying in it. Once Adam had confirmed that I was alright, he pulled out the camera and started taking photos of me standing beside my fallen bike. Isn't that what a good riding buddy does?

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    Needless to say, the sand didn't end there. There were a few more deep patches which we made through without incident, but it was hard work. We were both tired and sweaty after paddling our way through the stuff, and were tempted to strip off a few layers but since we were still up at quite an altitude, and both knew that it probably wasn't wise.

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    We passed through areas with amazing rock formations before heading into the mountains. Mountains? I was not promised mountains. At first, it was like a little game, as I slowly weaved my way down steep grades covered in loose gravel and sand, then up and around ridiculous switchbacks, as we went over high mountain passes. There was very little traffic, which made the riding a little easier, but at hour six, I began to feel very worn-out. With still many hours left of riding, I was beginning to feel exhausted, and cold as the sun was beginning to set. Just when I thought that I couldn't go on, we crossed the highest pass and began to descend into a valley. The temperature started to increase. The hills were covered in cactus. It started to look like Arizona. And we went down, down, down into the valley that would eventually lead us to Tupiza. While the road had flattened out, the corrugation kicked into high gear and it seemed like (to borrow a line from Ewan MacGregor in Long Way Down) "we were systematically shaking our bikes to pieces".

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    Approximately 20 kilometers outside of our destination, we went through an area known at the Magic Canyon. It was very much like Moab in Utah with giant impressive red rock formations, river canyons, and a dipping and weaving road. It was one of the my most favourite places, to date. Unfortunately, we got there as the sun was setting and wanted to get to Tupiza before it got too dark so we didn't stop. The road had taken us 8.5 hours to ride. Not terrible but a grueling 8.5 hours it was. I am pretty proud of my accomplishments but would never ride this road again. There were some really great parts including the river crossings, the scenery, and the wildlife, but it was so incredibly exhausting and a test of my endurance.

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    Can you spot Jenn?

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    Tupiza shone like a beacon as our first glimpse of the town came into view. We hadn't done any research as to where to stay in Tupiza so we cruised into town with only Adam's vague recollection of the town being somewhat "cowboy" with a very John Wayne feeling to it. This turned out to be not accurate at all. Tupiza was more like San Gil, a small town that we had stayed in in Colombia. Cute, quaint, and down to earth. The first hotels that we stopped at were pretty expensive (about $60), but we eventually found one for BS 110 (less than $20) (Hostal Horizonte Colorado) that would allow us to park our bikes in their lobby. The staff promised us wi-fi and hot water in the shower.

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    Bzzzz. That's one "invigorating" shower.

    Our room was pretty average and we were unable to connect to the internet at all. There didn't appear to be working wifi in the hotel. Adam went to complain and the woman at the desk, after trying to connect, as well, told Adam to check again in half an hour. Three hours later there was still no internet. Adam went to complain again, and miraculously, internet appeared.

    The shower had some real issues. With an "instant heat" sort of shower head, it is sometimes necessary to flip the breaker on prior to use. In this case, turning on the tap, water started to shoot out the top of the shower head complete with sparks as some sort of electrical circuitry in the head popped and fizzled. I didn't think it was the best idea to have a shower in this environment so I carefully reached over to the knob to shut the water off, and got an electrical shock. It was back to the front desk to complain again. This time, they gave us a key to the neighbouring room that had a fully functioning shower, so that we could use that bathroom.

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    After our eventful evening, we were up and on our way after breakfast for the last leg of Bolivia. The ride was quite enjoyable, paved, and twisty through a river canyon, over desert hills, and through a mountain tunnel. As we neared the border, though, the temperature started to fall again and soon we had jacked up the heat in our electrically heated jackets.

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    Go, Jenn, go.

    The border crossing into Argentina was one of the worst ones of the entire trip. We had heard that it could take a while to get across (5 hours, on some accounts!) but were pretty optimistic after we received our Bolivia exit stamp and cancelled our vehicle permits within half an hour of our arrival. Our entry stamp into Argentina also didn't take too long, but the official requested a whole lot of documents, comparatively, asking to see our driver's licenses, vehicle permits, passports, tourist cards, and reciprocity fee receipts. Obtaining the vehicle permit for Argentina was the real pain of the process. We were directed to an office where a number of people were waiting with giant bags of shopping, and large objects that they had purchased on the Bolivia side. After waiting in line for an hour or so, and having asked one official whether we were at the correct office ("sí"), another official then told us that we were waiting in the wrong line and directed to an office across the street.

    When we went inside, we were 'greeted' by a man behind a desk who was reading the newspaper, and who didn't seem to know what we were talking about when we requested our vehicle permits. So we went back across the street to ask the official which office, again. She escorted us into the same office, where the same man promptly folded up his newspaper and set to work typing up our permits. Soon another official came in with a group of drivers, and started to help the first man with our permits. Once Adam's permit had been finished we were shuffled to the next desk so that official #2 could use the computer that official #1 had been using. When this happened both official #1 and the female official left the office, leaving us with one permit for one bike with many typos. After about half an hour of standing there, official #2 asked us what else we needed to which we replied that we still needed the permit for my bike and that the permit for Adam's bike was incorrect. He didn't really seem to care, and eventually the female official returned to complete the process, with three more corrections to Adam's permit.

    She then instructed us to move the bikes near to the aduana (customs) tables, so that the bikes could be examined (i.e. searched) before proceeding into Argentina. I wasn't surprised that this was going to happen but was growing a little impatient by this point after all the waiting. I was already convinced that the people in the office couldn't actually read. Or type. Or understand a spoken language. And now we had to wait for our bikes to be searched. And wait we did.

    As I said, I wasn't too surprised that they wanted to search the bikes, since there was a steady stream of cross-border shoppers coming from Bolivia with large bundle bags of goods, and the Argentinian government wasn't going to miss out on taxes on so much missed out consumerism.

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    So we waited. And waited. And waited. Female official was nowhere to be seen. We went back into both offices to find out where she went, and still couldn't find her. After what seemed like hours, I went to another official to ask what was happening, if they needed to search the bikes, and if we could go. I must have been pretty frazzled and scary, because he seemed a little shocked that we were still there, and told us that we could go. As we were gearing up and getting on the bikes, a police officer approached us to ask if we had been searched by aduana, and in my impatient Spanish I told her where to go. No, not really. But at this point, I would have loved to. I pointed in the general direction of aduana and tried to say that we were told to go. She didn't believe me, and went off to find the agent. Luckily he confirmed and we were on our way. After four hours. Four hours at the border. Four hours mostly waiting on the whims of border officials who certainly didn't seem to busy processing other people. One of the longest and most complicated crossings yet.
    #47
  8. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on June 24, 2014 from Buenos Aires, Argentina:

    After crossing into Argentina, I was surprised at how flat it was. Adam reminded me that we were still up in the altiplano at over 3000 meters above sea level, and it was somewhat premature to expect immediate change as soon as crossing over the border. It was still pretty cold and windy, as well, and by the time we reached Tilcara, we were pretty wind-blown, tired, and hungry. It was a small town, although a bit high-end and touristy, with a history steeped in archaeology, and another town claiming to be The Cradle of Humanity.

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    Hosteria Inti Tampu. Affordable (at least in the off-season) and very nice.

    Fancy hotels and upscale restaurants lined the streets and we were pretty skeptical about finding a place to stay within our budget. We ended up at Hosteria Inti Tampu, a place a few minutes walk outside of the main town area, with large grounds and ample parking. Our room was one of the nicest of the trip and a really great bargain at AR 200 (USD$20). We requested a matrimonial room and got a 2-bedroom, 5-bed (1 double, 2 sets of bunks) room with kitchenette and private bath. There was even hot water in the sink and a bidet. The shower had hot water, and we were also provided with soap and 2 towels each! There was even a heater in the room. I felt like we were at the Ritz, and I didn't ever want to leave.

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    Neopolitana. Delicious.

    Dinner was at Restaurant Azul. Simple but fantastic. We had Napolitano for two. Basically it was a beef milenesa, a breaded piece of thin beef, pan-fried (basically, a schnitzel) topped with a layer of tomato sauce, thinly sliced ham, and melted cheese, with herbs and spices. It was served over bed of delicious french fries with two fried eggs on top. It was delicious and filling, and about $8 for us both to eat.

    The town was quaint and nice and I wanted to stay longer but our schedule didn't really afford us for too many stopovers. After our extended stay in Sucre, we were on a tighter time frame to make it to Buenos Aires in time for the bikes to be shipped. The owners of Dakar Motors, Sandra and Javier, were slated to go on vacation on July 6th and instead of waiting another three weeks for them to return, we wanted to catch them before they departed. Our experience of Tilcara was at night, but not such a bad thing, since our experience in Latin America is that most of the activity happens at night.

    After a quick breakfast in our room we were off in the morning towards Jujuy to get insurance for the bikes. It was easier than we thought despite bad coordinates in the GPS, and some cold rain on the highway. For about USD$8 each we were able to insure the bikes for one month, and continue the ride with the secure knowledge that we wouldn't be hassled by the police if they should choose to pull us over and request proof of insurance. While insurance is required in Argentina, and probably enforced, the process is not made easy - with no easy way to buy it remotely, or at or near the border.

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    Stuffing the bike through the corridor.

    Salto was a bustling city with plenty of places to stay but none with parking. Scratch that. None within our budget with parking. There were many upscale places, multiple storey luxury hotels that didn't really suit our needs. We eventually ended up at Hostel Andino that proved to be an interesting challenge for our parking needs. While they didn't have a parking lot or courtyard, the guy on staff was more than willing to help us maneuver the bikes in through a narrow doorway, down a hallway, and through an even narrower doorway into the common living room area of the establishment. It was so close that Adam measured the width of the bikes, not once, but twice with a makeshift measuring unit (USB cable). We have been making it a point to research a few places to stay ahead of time, but Salto was an exception since we weren't sure as to where we would be getting our insurance.

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    We have stayed at better places for USD$22.

    Once inside (having removed our cases and a door) the place was a bit of a disappointment, but with so much effort getting the bikes inside, we were sort of trapped in our decision. It was also pretty cheap. While our room was big and on the main floor, it smelled pretty musty and wasn't really very clean. Insect corpses on the floor turned out to be dead wasps, to soon be joined by one or two live ones that crawled in through the ceiling vent in the bathroom. Sometimes, as I have discovered, it's better to not have the bathroom in your room. The bed wasn't made, and while there was warm water in the sink and I was assured that there was in the shower, as well, I decided to skip the shower for the evening. For those of you who know me, a bathroom has to be pretty bad for me to skip my evening cleansing ritual. This one was just that bad. On an interesting note, the toilet was one of those German style jobs with the two compartments - one for the examination of waste, and the other to where it is washed away. But it was also quite chipped, rusty, and stained. A total ten on the 'ick' scale.

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    Somehow we got a photo of this church in daylight.

    As per our previous stop, our tour of Salta was also done at night. It was a very nice, and happening city with beautiful architecture. A large portion of the central area was reserved for pedestrian malls (peatonales) and they were packed with people out shopping and eating. A specialty of the area is popcorn drizzled with honey and there were many carts (that smelled delicious) selling freshly popped corn. They were also big on hot dogs, but instead of being inventive and serving them over french fries, chicken, or on pizza, they were served in a regular old bun as "pancho", or "super pancho". (Where is your imagination?)

    We ate dinner at a pizza restaurant on the main square where we watched some of the World Cup game between Cameroon and Croatia. While Bolivia and Peru were still milking the benefits of having the 2014 edition of the Dakar race, which was seemingly the new national past-time, Argentina had long since moved on to World Cup fever. We were hard-pressed to find one shred of evidence that the Dakar Rally even went through here, in contrast to Bolivia and Peru where t-shirts are still for sale and almost every car and establishment had a Dakar sticker in the window. Giant television screens in the main square were crowded with spectators watching the game.

    After a poor sleep it was off for a long day of riding under grey skies and heavy mist. Not to mention cold. We were headed for Tucuman, a large city a number hours south. Along our route, we officially said goodbye to the Andes mountains, and reached sea level once again. After travelling with the mountains for more than four months (since Colombia) it was both sad and happy all at the same time for me to watch them disappear in my rear view mirrors. I can remember feelings of apprehension about riding amongst these mountains, and how scared I was of switchbacks and steep grades. At times I am still a little nervous, but feel that my riding has come a long way since those (old) days. I felt sad to think that our journey was almost over, but also felt happy as we were now on the road home. It had been a long trip, and as I watched the Andes grow smaller and smaller, I was feeling conflicted about it ending.

    As we neared Tucuman, we decided that neither of us particularly wanted to stay in a giant city, and stopped at Termas de Rio Hondo, a small city known for its thermal waters that are said to have healing properties. They also had a very nice promenade along the river, and an Autodrome, which hosted the MotoGP race this past April. It wasn't difficult finding a hotel, as many of them had cocheras (parking lot), and we easily found one with our bikes parked right outside of our door. We also had to change some US dollars for Argentine pesos, which proved to be a bit more of a challenge but eventually were able to do so at one of the casinos in town. It took a few tries since the exchanger wouldn't take any bills that were folded, torn, or had any marks (what-so-ever).

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    A friendly pup.

    Our hotel, Hotel Candela, was on the main drag, and across from one of the town's many parks. The room was big and very clean, and even had a bathtub. The clincher, and the feature that made me want to move into the hotel, was the thermal waters that were pumped into the bath water. Oh. Yes. There was even a heater in the room, not that we needed it too badly since we were now out of the mountains, but turned it on anyway just for the novelty of it all. People in town were very cold (it was winter after all!) dressed in sweaters and jackets, but we were relishing the warmer temperatures and sometimes went out in just a t-shirt.

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    Our most expensive dinner in Latin America. USD$27. We got "burned" in not realizing that a salad and papas were not included in the sign that cost our attention.

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    Taking advantage of inexpensive but very acceptable wine.

    We decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Argentina is well-known for its grilled meat, mainly beef, and signs in restaurants all over town advertised their special prices for parrillada for two. Parrillada, loosely translated, means barbeque or grill. It's a variety of meats served on a sizzling hot grill kept warm by embers. We splurged and also got a bottle of wine (about $3.50). When our grill arrived, indeed it included beef ribs, blood sausage, chicken, czo, beef kidney, and something that we suspect was pancreas (although we still aren't totally sure about that one). It was pretty darn tasty though, those sweetbreads and offal innards.

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    That is lamb in the back ground. There were many upscale restaurants similar to this.

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    Or a more simple version of "chivito".

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    Alfajores are a confectionery that very loosely resemble a "Wagon Wheel" back home but filled with dulce de leche and/or other tasty things and coated with real chocolate.

    The capper of the evening was the bath. The tub was so deep that sitting inside of it only allowed my head to peak over the edge. It was square, lined with tile, and felt very Roman. The water that spouted out of the tap was hot and fast, and made me feel all tingly and very relaxed. Since the faucet was so high up on the wall, I was able to sit underneath the water as it poured out, and let it pound away some of the tension from my neck and shoulders. An hour and a half later, I still didn't want to get out. Maybe it also had something to do with the wine. At any rate, it was a pretty amazing bath.

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    Believe us. This was a treat. No need for fancy jets or bubbles.

    When the next morning came, I was tempted to try to convince Adam to stay another day, but unfortunately that 'working-on-someone-else's-schedule' thing was getting in the way. It was sad to say goodbye to Hotel Candela and their amazing staff and bathtub and heater and comfortable and clean surroundings, but we packed up and headed out for a seven hour ride along a very straight, flat, and windy road through the middle of Argentina. Much of the scenery resembled Ontario in early November (bare trees, somewhat brown, and damp), then changed to desert scrubland, before starting to grow greener. We stopped for lunch at a gas station where they had a buffet that was priced by weight, complete with table service. Adam picked out an array of salads and pastas including ravioli, and some sort of creamy crepe thing which is the Argentine version of cannelloni. In his words - Argentine gas station food is way better than most food served at a company picnic. I had to agree.

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    At the gas stations back home you get a hot dog or chips, or if you are lucky, a travel center with McDonalds and the like. Cannelloni, ravioli, salads. Mmmm.

    As we got closer to Cordoba, our destination for the day, the landscape grew greener and the sun came out (yay!). Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina, and pretty nice, as well. Our hostel (Tango International Hostel) was located close to the main square, and in an area with lots of bars and restaurants. There was a bit of confusion about getting the bikes inside (some staff were ok with it, some were not), and eventually we got the doors open and the bikes parked inside. It was clearly a garage with sloped sidewalk and doors wide enough to get a car inside, but, as we were informed the next morning, the area was usually filled to the brim with luggage as a storage space for backpackers who had checked out but needed to store their bags until it was time to leave. Despite the fact that this area was 'normally full' there were only a few bags inside, so I wasn't really sure what the problem was. Except for maybe a poor attitude, on the behalf of some.

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    Our room was located behind reception, right next to a bathroom. It was very loud. And since quiet hours didn't start until 1 a.m. we were in for a long night of loud music, and louder conversation. There also seemed to be a high concentration of people congregated in hallways making it somewhat difficult to move around the space. Since we weren't in the room for too long - arrived at night, unpacked, then went out for food, then bed - it wasn't terrible, but more of an annoyance. Tango turned out to be a party hostel, while lacking in beer pong, it wasn't quite what we expected. And with a policy of "no outside drinks please - we sell drinks for cheap", it is surprising to see what people are willing to pay for booze to keep the party going. At USD$5 for a glass of wine or mixed drink, sorry Tango, is a complete rip off as you can buy a very drinkable bottle of wine in Argentina for under USD$3, or a bottle of whiskey or the popular Fernet for about the same.

    One thing that we will also note here in the event that other motorcycle travellers are reading this is that we spoke with one of the staff directly about the hesitance to let us park our bikes here. We chose to stay at Tango since other motorcyclists had spoken positively of it, and that it was "motorcycle friendly". We explained this to a staff member who describe the hostel as "everyone who works here is a manager", and she was a little surprised to hear that motorcycle forums note Tango as having parking. She made it a point that "they welcome motorcyclists", but that they would prefer it if the motorcycles were park several blocks away at an affordable, secure parking spot. We have since updated our forum sources that led us to Tango. Basically, if you are "stuck", it is better than nothing, but otherwise they are a loud "party hostel" with nearby parking.

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    Jenn "enjoying" a substandard Choripan.

    Cordoba was also quite nice, but very large, and a little difficult to get around. Thankfully we had a map and managed to find our way around to see a few squares and some impressive churches. We sampled what could the city's main food craze: cpan. From what I can tell, it is basically a czo sausage on a bun. Czo in Argentina isn't like czo in Mexico, but more like sausage in Colombia. It's not spicy, but rather fatty and greasy. We had a "loaded" cpan that came with a variety of sauces, and served alonside 'lluvias de papas' (a rain of potatoes) - strips of potato chips - like Hickory Sticks (without smoke flavour) back home. It was a little disappointing, but then we did get them from a fast food stand that was part of a video store. I can imagine it would have been quite tasty had it been made with higher quality sausage with better sauces, but no such luck at this food stall. Of note, in accordance with the rampant Latin America plagiarism, the photo of their double burger looked strikingly like McDonald' Big Mac, and the other like a Burger King cheeseburger. We thought we might order one just to see the difference, but then realized that we would have to eat it if we ordered it, and decided to pass.

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    We truly wonder what this burger would look like had we ordered it.

    Hands down, Argentina has the best pastries out of all the places we have traveled (sorry Colombia, you are not longer king). In Salta we had some dulce de leche horns - light flaky pastry filled with dulce de leche and drizzled with white and dark chocolate in a sticky glaze. In Termas de Rio Hondo we had alfajores - dulce de leche sandwiched in between two soft crumbly cookies and dipped in dark chocolate. In Cordoba, we had more dulce de leche horns. None has fallen short.

    The next morning we were off again, continuing south on our road to Buenos Aires. We have become quite the late risers, and are having a bit of trouble adjusting to the time change, even if only an hour. It was only an hour forward from Bolivia, but we found that we were sleeping in more. Many of the rooms were very dark in the morning and we had no concept of time, often finding that it was close to ten by the time we were waking up. It made for some very late starts in the morning.

    The road looked very much like highway 404 in Ontario or the route into Peterborough along highway 35. Even the landscape along continued to look like Ontario in late fall or parts of the USA - flat with lots of farmland. It felt closer to home than any other point of the trip. There was a serious lack of roadside stops, and gas stations, bathrooms, and food options were still scarce despite being in a country that looked so much like the highways that were were used to.

    We stopped for lunch in a small town off the highway called Marcos Juarez where we found a diner attached to a gas station where we ordered ravioli. It was served with a large piece of stewed beef in a tomato sauce, then doused in cream sauce and served over the pasta. We also had cappuccinos. The game between Argentina and Iran was on the televisions, and we could have heard a pin drop. It also explained why there was no traffic on the road, since everyone was at their nearest TV. In contrast, when Argentina scored the game-winning goal, you couldn't have heard a bomb go off, for the celebrating.

    Rosario was also a beautiful city with many tree-line streets. We had a few problems finding a place to stay and after circling city blocks over and over again and not finding an affordable place, a place with parking, or places that just didn't happen to be there, we decided to go for a hostel with a parking lot down the street. We had GPS co-ordinates for a place that was referenced on Horizons Unlimited but this place was out of business, and we updated the source accordingly. At AR150 per person, it was our cheapest option (about $15 per person, with the exchange). However, when Adam went to check out prices for the parking lot, they were charging $15 per bike for the night, making the entire night's stay close to $60. No longer affordable - and not at all convenient - and not particularly secure, so we were off to find somewhere else, in the dark.

    We headed off in an entirely new direction of the city, and after a few more places that just didn't seem to be there, we ended up outside of Hotel Viena. It looked pretty fancy but we gave it a try. Luckily, it was within our budget, had (very secure) parking, and was cheaper than the hostel that we were just at (about AR 420 - $42) and included a decent breakfast.

    The room was a little rough in places, but it was warm (about 26 degrees in the lobby! which was funny because it was still in the high teens outside), clean, and easy. They had an elevator so we didn't have to lug our bags around, and very hot water in the shower. There was also a window and a ceiling fan which came in handy to cool the room down.

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    Silly gringo (accidentally) wears his Peru t-shirt to a Peruvian fusion restaurant. And then orders not typical Argentine food.

    We had dinner at a Peruvian restaurant on the corner, which was quite fancy looking. It was very clean, with wine glasses on the tables, tablecloths, and nice atmosphere. This was quite a difference from eating in Bolivia where you seemingly eat for sustenance, whereas Argentina was much more of an eating-for-enjoyment environment. We ordered a pizza and a milanesa sandwich, thinking that the pizza would be a single serving, as per our experience. When it arrived, however, it was big enough for two, and we had ended up with a large amount of food. We couldn't eat it all, for the first time in a long time.

    In the morning, we woke to find a puddle of gas under my bike. As mentioned a few posts back, Adam had an issue in Bolivia amidst striking workers where some clear plastic fuel hose began spraying gas out of the side of his bike. While we are not sure of the brand, it was supposed to be of high quality. Similarly to our carburetor o-rings, we have been "watching" this issue since it seems that degrading parts have been failing within days or weeks of each other. Luckily the hotel manager wasn't upset by our puddle of gas and noted that his garage had good ventilation. We promptly removed all of the clear fuel line and replaced it with some that we had picked up in Bolivia.

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    We woke to find a gas leak under Jenn's bike.

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    This fuel line was supposed to be high quality. Not sure what happened here, but we replaced the remaining sections on the spot.
    #48
  9. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    The last 300 kilometers to Buenos Aires, was exciting and emotional. It was hard to believe that we were so close to our final South American destination. The road started to get more congested with traffic and peajes (toll booths) became more frequent. A special note about the drivers here - Adam had warned me about the Porteños (people in and around Buenos Aires) and their interesting style of driving. Mainly, the highway had a posted speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour, but they seemed to treat it more like what we know about the autobahn in Germany, which is to drive as fast as humanly possible. They were very aggressive and behaved in a "totally pissed" manner off if anyone should get in their way. I came to believe that many cars just didn't come equipped with brakes. On the other hand the truck drivers (big rigs, or 'semis') were quite polite. They were limited to 80 kilometers per hour on the highway, and most of them seemed to be observing the limit. They drove in the slow lane and were categorically the best truck drivers we had seen the entire trip (the worst being in the USA and Colombia). During our whole time in Argentina, we had zero incidents with truck drivers doing stupid things.

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    And finally, Buenos Aires…

    The traffic and bad driving only got worse as we entered the city center, but we kept to the right hand lane, and made it to the hostel without incident, despite the lines in the road being mere suggestions of where one should drive. Kilca Hostel is hostel with some decent reviews from motorcycle travellers with ample parking and a generally relaxed environment (and affordable). When we arrived, however, we were told that there were no private rooms available and only dorms. We decided to check out one other that reportedly had parking but it turned out not to be there any longer.

    We circled back to Kilca and were greeted by another staff member who then told us that they did not accept walk-ins and we couldn't stay unless we had a on-line reservation. Since we didn't have one we figured that we were out of luck. Frustrated and stranded in an (relatively) expensive city, we started aimlessly driving. Adam suggested that we find some internet and and do something more targeted than just "riding around". We eventually found a Starbucks with a place to stop the bikes outside and we went inside to use their internet. And grab a cappuccino and a snack. Funnily enough it was pretty easy to make an online reservation for Kilca, for a double none-the-less, and we received a confirmation code almost immediately. So it was back to Kilca.

    This time we were allowed in, but it turned out that the double room was occupied - whoops. We were ready to set up our tent (already having received permission from Gido, the manager over the phone) in their courtyard (despite dorms being available) until a private room became available. In the end the room which was to become our home for the next week or so became available. We moved into the room with two beds on the ground floor and two in a loft (storage!). The room also had that 'stranger' smell that I have come to know, that kind of smell that says that many people have slept and breathed all over the room. This is not really what I envisioned for our last accommodation stop in South America, but I suppose we all can't stay at the Hilton. This was especially the case since we were soon to find out that we would be staying in Buenos Aires for up to two weeks.

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    Ample parking a Hostel Kilca.

    Adam later had a chat with Gido, the manager, and we was a little surprised to hear about this incident as he welcomes bikers. He chocked this up to a misunderstanding with his staff, and in fact, had been in touch with Grant Johnson at zons Unlimited attempt to drum up some business as a "moto friendly" establishment in one of South Americas main hubs for motorcyclists.

    On Monday, we met with Sandra and Javier, the owners of Dakar Motors, a famous stop for motorcycle travellers. Dakar Motors is well know to be able to arrange shipping of motorcycles to anywhere pretty much anywhere that you want to go. They also offer a few bunks for road weary travellers. We had employed their services to help us get our bikes from B.A. to Miami. The shop is located in Florida, a suburb of B.A., and about 30 minutes outside of downtown. Sandra and Javier were very friendly and welcoming, and seemed to know their stuff. Sandra had the paperwork all ready for us to fill out, and gave us very clear instructions on where to drop the bikes off and how to prep them for shipping. It was a trip down memory lane for Adam who had stayed there almost 4 years ago to the day. It turned out that the soonest the bikes could fly would be Monday, one week away.

    After business was taken care of, and Javier and Adam finished calling each other old, we sat down for some coffee and to look at their guestbooks, that had been signed by many travellers over the years. It seems that just about everyone in the motorcycle circle know Ken and Carol-Ann Duval! We talked for a few hours and then we headed back to the city. We seemed to be doing a lot of riding at night, and arrived back at the hostel in the dark. But, it seemed as though rush hour actually chilled the drivers out a bit, and it felt far less suicidal heading back.

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    About $5 including the wine.

    The restaurant where we wanted to eat was closed. Having eaten there the night before and had steak, fries, and czo. While the czo was a bit greasy, but the steak and fries were great. We also had a 1/2 litre of red wine for $1.50. It was good value (USD$5 for the steak and fries), and we decided to eat there again. The food is pretty amazing in Argentina, and I suspect that we will gain back all of the weight that we lost over the past eight months, by being here for two weeks. Ravioli and pasta is abound, as are cream sauces, red meat, wine, and desserts. It's a foodie's paradise and a dieter's nightmare. I just like to eat, so it's pretty good.

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    24x7 “street meat”.

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    There is a strip with lots of these places - probably popular with taxi drivers as they are 24x7.

    Exchanging money has been a bit of adventure. The Argentinian peso has seen quite a bit of action in recent times, somewhat of a roller coaster. The current exchange rate is somewhere around 8 to 1 (US), but there is also "blue dollars" which can be had at most money exchangers and will give a better rate, usually somewhere between 11 - 12 to 1. It makes one's stay in Argentina a little bit more affordable. We have exchanged money in almost all the cities that we have stayed in - opting to change as needed, since any left overs will become souvenirs, since most exchangers outside of the country won't touch the stuff.

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    Random ornate BA architecture.

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    Attractive building, and it happens to be a Starbucks.

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    In Tilcara, Adam exchanged money at a native craft store, where the owner examined each bill one by one using a blacklight. At Termas de Rio Hondo the only place that we could find to change money was at the casino. These people wouldn't take anything but the most pristine bills, so we had to sort them weeding out any with folds, tears, writing, or the tiniest of stamps In Córdoba, Adam went into a money exchanger who "fished" with a rope through the floor US dollars. Essentially, the envelope of dollars was sent down on the rope, and after a few minutes, an envelope of pesos would emerge. It seemed very "shady" for something that we would later learn to be very common, and freely available, in downtown Buenos Aires.

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    If it is not beef, it is probably either pasta, or both. Or pizza.

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    Our local bakery. Sooooo much tasty stuff!

    Our time spent in Argentina was mostly spent eating their amazing food and pastries. Argentinians know pasta, cream sauces, cheese, and meat. They also do a dulce de leche pastry like no one else. We had been treated to asado, a few days prior which was prepared by Gido and was quite possibly some of the best meat we had eaten, accompanied by a green salad, and lots of red wine. I think we both gained back any weight that we may have lost over the past eight months, by being in Buenos Aires for two weeks. Our hostel was somewhat like being in the Twilight Zone. It had a strange (in a good way), comfortable, little vibe, with a small cast of odd characters who didn't seem to have much in common but meshed together very well. World Cup soccer was on the television 24-7, no matter who was playing.

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    Simple but effective.

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    Enjoying our asado lunch prepared by Gido of Kilca Hostel.

    Our cast included a variety of volunteers who worked at the hostel (and stayed for free) - Nestor, "Spike", and "The French Girl" (Julie), our host Gido, and a handful of guests: Pascal (Austrialian-Swiss who had escaped Sydney to watch the World Cup), Tio Charlie and his son Karel (Bolivians in town to pickup a new prosthetic leg for his father), and a few other rotating characters. Our time at the hostel was spent gathered around the television watching futbol, drinking beer and wine, and eating more great food. It was a very comfortable and laid-back environment with guests staying weeks and weeks (if not months). It was a little sad when it came time for us to leave such a genuine, fun-loving, and open group of people. It was very interesting to be amongst a group who got along well despite coming from such different backgrounds, and reason for being there: medical, futbol, backpacking, working to pay for university, (and us).

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    Looks like a church but it is a personal shrine.

    My head cold came back in full force with an added bonus of chest congestion that I tried to ignore in order to see some of the city. It mostly worked, but at times, not so much. We did go to see the Cemeterio de la Recoleta, a famous cemetery where Argentina's rich and famous lay in death. It is also the burial site of Eva 'Evita' Perón. The cemetery was a fascinating place made up of above ground tombs, with many being bigger than a small bachelor pad. I was a little taken aback to see many in disrepair with broken glass in the doors, and interiors that had been vandalized or caved in by neglect. In some instances, coffins were broken open and the smell of human decay was overwhelming. No, we didn't see any bodies, but we sure could smell them.

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    The world morns the loss of me.

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    Obviously another great loss.

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    Some people settle for a little box in the ground.

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    Massive. We have seen many dwellings housing more living people with less space.

    At first the experience of the place was awe at its beauty, then a kind of morbid humour in the garishness of it all. There was a certain pompous indulgence to the whole thing. Despite the obvious spectacle of it all, it was somewhat confusing as to why a dead person would need such a monument to their lives. In any cemetery, the grave site is really meant for the living to commemorate their deceased loved ones, so unless the family or friends are still visiting (which many were not, judging by the layers of visible dust), it becomes somewhat of a space waster. In any case, it was fascinating and a really great place to visit. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Evita's tomb was very minimalistic and subdued. It was very difficult to find as it lacked any statues, angels, weeping cherubs, ornate wreaths, high crosses, and ornate statues of the deceased.

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    And even the angels mourn my final demise.



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    “And when I am gone, I wan’t my crypt to resemble my office.” (‘Door is always open’ policy?)

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    I also want to be "buried" in my office.

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    Vandals.

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    Yes. Those are urns with their contents spilled out. I guess the family haven't come to visit in a while.

    Adam adds:

    While we had planned to bring our bikes to the airport on June 27th (a Friday), a possible customs strike moved this date back to June 30th (a Monday). The process was mostly simple and straight forward with Sandra at Dakar Motos preparing a well documented step-by-step handout. As expected, there was a good amount of running around, including making multiple trips to the money changer to change the dollars we withdrew in Bolivia. Due to the use of the "dolar blue" system, as well as having slightly smaller bikes (Suzuki DR650 versus Kawasaki KLR650), and removing our front wheels, the over all cost was only fractionally more expensive that when Adam sent his bike in 2010 - but for two bikes! If my memory serves me, I spent USD$1,900 in 2010 to ship the KLR back (but to Toronto, not Miami). This time it was roughly ARG$25,000. If we were receiving 10:1 for peso to dollars this would have been reasonable, but we were getting more like 11.5:1 which was even better. It is hard to calculate this accurately as the Canadian to US rates have no doubt fluctuated since 2010, and we took ATM exchanged rates in Sucre, Bolivia.

    The trip to the airport was straight forward, and mostly organized, and putting our bikes on their sides to remove the front wheels was much easier than expected. The whole process at the airport took less than three hours. I had guestimated that it would take an hour per bike. That it was, plus time to wrap the bikes in plastic. Because we are using clear tanks, we were asked to removed all of the fuel, rather than leave a couple of liters, which is common. So, exiting Argentina was easy. We wish we could say the same about entering the US, but that is a story for a different day.


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    Tearing down the bikes.

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    In a few days it will feel like Christmas.

    Photos can be found here:

    #49
  10. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-07-10 (Part 1 of 2):

    We have returned to North America via Miami and are currently sweating profusely with a couple of cold beers in hand. We arrived here on Wednesday July 2nd in the afternoon after a rather eventful flight on Copa Airlines from Buenos Aires. In an effort to save money, our flight had three plane changes and two stopovers (one in Panama City, and one in Nassau, Bahamas). It was a pretty good deal at just over $1000 per ticket and saved us quite a bit of money even if it involved more than 16 hours of travel time and 5 hours of layovers. Our first leg was a red-eye departing close to 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning, so we arrived at the airport on Tuesday night and boarded the plane.

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    Air freight is based on "volumetric weight", the end result being, if you can lower the bike by removing the front wheel, it wheel be cheaper to ship.

    As somewhat of a nervous flier, I had taken copious amounts of Dramamine in order to sleep through as much of the flight as possible, so it was through groggy eyes that I realized that we were sitting on the tarmac for longer than expected. The flight attendants started to come around and distribute drinks and snacks. Not really a good sign. In the end, our flight had been delayed for two hours due to heavy fog. Something that I didn't really understand since Buenos Aires airport was located in a known fog area, and somehow flights are still booked under the pretense of being able to take off on time. When we eventually took off, it was 2:30 a.m.

    It wasn't really a big deal except that our connecting flight from Panama City to Nassau was at 7:30 a.m. after an hour and a half layover. It was fair to say that we missed the second flight before even taking off from the first one. I slept most of the way, but also managed to take advantage of the in-seat monitors that showed movies, television shows, or allowed one to play some simple games (Sodoku, Bejeweled, Bowling, etc.). Breakfast the next morning was a barely edible mess of soggy potato cubes underneath a blanket of scrambled 'eggs' in some sort of red sauce. We also got a yogurt, a roll, a browning fruit cup, and a drink.

    [​IMG] This Jimmy Buffet guy gets around! Of note, a can of Panamá beer from the supermarket costs $0.59. You would think that you might be able to pick up an ice cold can of beer to quench that tropical thirst at a huge markup of, say, $2.50 per can. Nope. That 59 cent can has $4 to $5 tacked on to it and you have to take it to cafeteria seating. If I am not mistaken, this makes Toronto's Pearson International Airport somewhat affordable, all things considered.

    It was not, by any standards, a culinary experience that one would want to savour, so I wolfed it down as fast as possible in order to squash the feelings of hunger. Our landing was uneventful but roused a round of applause from the passengers. We were met at the gate by a Copa agent who helped us arrange a new flight, since ours had left an hour and a half prior. Luckily we were booked onto a plane that would be flying directly to Miami rather than making a stopover in Nassau. On the plane, Adam had been questioned (pretty much chastised) by the steward as to why we took that strange roundabout route, to which he replied that it was much cheaper (about $600 cheaper) to take the diversion to Nassau rather than fly directly.

    The agent also arranged for our bags to be transferred to the new flight rather than us having to pick them up and take them to the new gate. Even though the flight was pretty full, we were able to get two seats together in the emergency exit row, which typically has more leg room. As usual, it was mass chaos when it came time to board. The Panama City airport, while touting itself as being The Hub of the Americas, leaves some things to be desired in terms of its organization and security procedures. Even though we had just gotten off an airplane we were forced to go through an additional screening process where our carry-on bags were searched and passengers had to go through the metal detector. We were also not allowed to take water into the waiting area (I'm pretty sure this has something to do with airlines being in bed with bottled water companies). I remembered this from my previous trips going to Miami and still can't figure it out.

    Their security officers (it seems only on this particular flight) still continue to be anal retentive about how they conduct their jobs and unable to think for themselves. For instance, all electronics were to be removed from carry-on baggage and placed into a tray to go through the scanner. We removed our laptops and cell phones, but security didn't want to see our GPS units, Kindle devices, or our cameras, all of which are obviously electronics. They also didn't seem to be concerned about the liquids that I was carrying over quantities of 100 ml (the standard allowable size). They must have been using an out-of-date manual. I can understand being accountable to one's training and going by the book, but when obvious discrepancies are being made, one would think to question methods. [Adam adds: logic dictates that these screenings are either strictly a for show (theatrical) and don't accomplish what they are supposed to, or people aren't doing their job properly - either way it doesn't leave are warm feeling. If you are really concerned about searching computers and electronics for explosives, and the like, you don't get to arbitrary pick and choose what are likely candidates.]

    After the cattle wrangling methods employed to get passengers on the place, and having our passports checked by one single employee, we arrived at our seats where we found other people sitting in them. After much deliberation and a bit of arguing, the seat thieves, whose argument was that they wanted to sit there and decided that it would be OK even though their tickets said otherwise, were moved to seats across the aisle and we were able to sit down. A short time later our names were called over the intercom, requesting that we return to the front of the plane. What now?? Apparently our seats had been resold to a rather large man who needed two seats and extra space, and we were being bumped to different seats.

    I could only imagine the worst until we were shown to two seats in business class. We are unsure whether the staff took pity on us after first being delayed so long on the first leg and then had to deal with seat stealers, but the upgrade was very much appreciated, and I have vowed to never fly economy ever again. Pillow and blankets awaited us on our seats, and steward came around almost immediately to take our drink orders. As our drinks were being prepared, headsets were passed out for the movie which turned out to be the Lego Movie, which wasn't my first choice but turned out to be somewhat enjoyable (everything is awesome!). We were then asked if we wanted chicken or salmon for lunch, and brought a hot towel.

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    A far cry from the scrambled eggs served over soggy seemingly day old fries of the earlier leg.

    Our drinks were delivered in classy glass glasses (versus economy plastic) with a small bowl of mixed, warmed snacks (pretzels, sesame sticks, and almonds). Our first course arrived on a platter lined with a navy blue cloth napkin with a salad, a warm roll with butter, and a slice of fainá with warm olive oil for dipping. With drinks refills on their way, our main course was served. The chicken was a chicken curry served with rice and a small dish of 'butter chicken tomato gravy'; Adam's salmon was in a cream sauce and served with pasta. Dessert arrived shortly: vanilla ice cream with choice of topping and a liqueur, if desired. Since I desired, I had a glass of Bailey's, and it wasn't a little Dixie cup of Bailey's, it was a tall liqueur glass, served on the rocks. With as many refills as we wanted. I'm telling you, business class is the way to go. Stuffed and happy, we rode out the last 30 minutes of the flight in a food coma.

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    Sir? Can I offer you another beer?

    After disembarking the airplane, we were put into a queue for immigration to check our passports. Although a short line, this also took ages as the immigration officers took their time scanning peoples' fingerprints and took their photographs. When it was our turn, our passports were stamped for the very first time ever entering the United States. We were given six months in the USA at which time we would need to have our passports stamped at the USA-Canada border when we entered back into our own country. The officer then wished us well and told us to be careful driving in Miami as there were always plenty of accidents involving motorcycles. I wondered if she had ever been to Lima.

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    Nice! Definitely makes of for being missed on the refreshment service (i.e. simple cup of water) on the first leg.

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    "Clase EJECUTIVA". After all, we are the "executive officers" of Trans-Contintental Mambo.

    We picked up our luggage (be warned that the cost of a luggage cart in Miami is now $5), and went to arrange a meeting point with Aldo, our host at Sun Tan Villa, where we would be staying for a few days. After some initial confusion, we eventually met up and were whisked off to Hialeah, a barrio of Miami, where we had booked a tent for a couple of days. Primarily Cuban in nature, Hialeah was a pleasant transition back to North America. For us, the familiar sights of empanadas for sale, comida cafeterias, and signs in Spanish was a smoother way to ease back into our familiar territory. What hit us upon exiting the airport was the heat. Miami was very warm, hot I might even say, and very humid. I was not prepared for the drastic transition, and frankly had forgotten what 'hot' actually felt like.

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    Life under the mango trees of Hialeah, a barrio in Miami.

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    And the "normalcy" of hens and the occasional bay of a rooster.

    Once at Aldo's place, we were shown to our tent (he has five tents, two rooms, and a cottage up for grabs), a large, 3-season, 6-person tent complete with fan, battery powered lantern, and inflatable mattress with sheets and pillows. It was very clean, very spacious, and very comfortable. I shall never camp without an extension cord running a fan into my tent, from now on. The rustic style honeymoon showers had great hot water, and the toilet (picture a fancy outhouse with flush toilet) was great. Since his establishment was still pretty new, the wood still smelled like wood, giving it a cabin feel.

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    We didn't have much time to rest, just to make a quick call before we rushed off to the grocery store for beer and mosquito repellent (there were a lot of mosquitoes due to the heavy rainfall and Aldo's lush yard). A check of my email showed that my bike had arrived in Miami and was ready for pick up. Our second day in North America had already been planned and although I was prepared for it being an all-day event, I really didn't think that it would take that long to spring our bikes from cargo. Little did I know...

    The next morning we were up bright and early (it got pretty hot in the tent, pretty early on), had breakfast of organic chicken eggs from Aldo's very own chickens, and chocolate chip pancakes. His property was also covered in mango trees that were dropping from the branches like rain water off leaves. The fruit was ripe and juicy and right at our fingertips, literally. Well, more-so at our feet. Anyway, enough about the mangoes...

    (To be continued)
    #50
  11. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-07-10 (Part 2 of 2):

    We arrived at the Aerolineas Argentina's cargo handling facility with air waybills in hand and waited to pick up our bikes only to find out that there was a hold on them, put in place by customs. A visit to the customs office revealed that there was missing paperwork referring to clearance from the EPA stating that the bikes conformed to USA emissions standards. Even though Adam told the supervisor that the very same bikes were sold in the USA, we had to provide them with proof that they conformed to EPA standards before the hold could be removed. Apparently this paperwork was supposed to have been done on the sending end of the shipment. They sent us back to the airline office so that they could help us complete this simple task.

    Back at the cargo handling office, nobody had ever seen this paperwork before and directed us upstairs to the airline office. They had also never seen this paperwork before and we all headed back downstairs to the handling office where it was decided that we needed a broker to help us fill out the paperwork in order to release the bikes into our custody. The airline agent (Ray) made a few phone calls and eventually gave us a drive over to the brokerage office that they normally use - Alpha Brokers.

    The agents at Alpha had also never seen this paperwork and had never dealt with a case like this before but were up to the challenge and willing to give it a go. After much debate using unknown terms to us, we were sent with Sergio (the owner's son, and employee) back to the customs office to try to reason with them. They discussed bringing the bikes in on a "T.I.B." but apparently the T.I.B. could not be cancelled at the Canadian border and the brokerage agency would be stuck with double the duty on the cost of the bikes - which didn't really make much sense to me since the bikes were purchased in Canada and didn't really have any duty to pay. It also made me rethink the temporary import processes in place throughout Latin America and I have to say that the USA had over-complicated the whole thing. Yes, filling our manual paperwork can be a pain, but at the end of the process, I was given a piece of paper that allowed temporary import for a few months and sent on my way. It all seemed so very simple as I was standing in the customs office for the second time that day.

    There was also confusion on some of the custom agents' behalves when they seemed surprised that our vehicles had not obtained temporary import status when we crossed into the USA from Canada in October of 2013. Obviously someone who had never left their own country by vehicle, otherwise he would have known that this is not standard procedure and that nobody would drive across the border if that was the case - no Buffalo shoppers, no snow-birds - Canadians just wouldn't come.

    Anyway, we were sent away, back to the brokerage office to fill our the paperwork that allowed temporary import of a Canadian vehicle, a process that was supposed to take about an hour, according to the customs supervisor. This, however, was not the case, and after a phone call to the EPA we found out that the approval would take 10 days to obtain. Going in another direction, the EPA agent suggested that we import the bikes as being a Canadian equivalent vehicle to a USA mode (which would have been the obvious choice had the customs officer not already checked off the box he 'believed' to be correct - basically an all out exception based on temporary import). According to the EPA paperwork all we needed to do that was get a letter from a Suzuki manufacturer confirming that the same model was also sold in the USA (which differed from Customs original statement). Suzuki (USA) was not helpful, however the Canadian branch of Suzuki was absolutely willing to send a letter, by paper to our home address in Beaverton, Ontario which would take no less than several business days (it was a Friday). Back to the drawing board.

    Although it was clearly marked on the EPA paperwork, we decided to print out a few screen captures from the USA Suzuki website showing the DR650 as being an available model in the USA, and take those back to customs with all of our paperwork. This time they accepted this as proof, although I am still not sure how it was so much different than Adam telling them this fact the first time we were there, and nothing that a smart phone or internet connection could have done. The hold was removed and the bikes were released. Sergio then drove us back to the cargo handling office, and after cutting us two company cheques in the amount of $50 each for the 'terminal fee', we presented the waybills, signed more paperwork and were allowed access to the bikes. It was 3 p.m.

    The bikes were delivered to us one-by-one so that we could assemble them. The only real minor issue was that half of the tools that we needed to put the bikes back together were stored on my bike. So we had to make do with what we had, tightening loose bolts only after my bike was delivered to us. It didn't take too long to reassemble the bikes after unwrapping them from their freshness seal. We reconnected the batteries, put the mirrors and headlight cowls back on, put the front wheel back on, and put some air in the tires just before our Stop-And-Go air compressor died - actually, it did not really finished the job but provided us with a minimal amount. After making friends with the cargo guys, we wheeled the bikes outside, put a little gas in the tanks, suited up, and headed off to the nearest gas station. We are happy to report that there was no damage sustained to the bikes or our gear during the flight.

    [​IMG] And finally our DR650s are released to us after the our customs broker repeatedly butted heads with the rhinoceroses at US Customs who would not let them into the country due to EPA violations. After repeated trips to the Customs office, head rhinoceros finally accepted that the "Canadian version" of the DR650 was no more of a threat to the clean of of the USA than the "US version". One of the agents on a bigger power trip had the audacity to accuse of us "not properly importing" the motorcycles into the USA in the first place when we were in transit to Mexico. Remember this cross-border Canadian shoppers: you need to fill out the proper EPA paperwork before you drive your Mazda down to Buffalo! Or what you are doing is out of line!

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    One down, one to go. Yes, Crocs and flip flops are acceptable on our side of the big yellow line (we assume).

    We have both been a little screwed up by the time change. From Buenos Aires to Panama City we came through a time change two hours ahead, then from Panama to Miami we went back one hour. Plus it is also summer here in Miami versus winter in the south, so it doesn't get dark in Miami until 9 p.m. whereas it was dark in Buenos Aires at 5 p.m. We go to bed late-ish and are up early with the sun. It will take a bit of time to adjust, but we will get there. As a result of extended daylight hours, dinners have been somewhat non-existent - pizza at 11pm; cheese and crackers at 10pm - it's somewhat all over the board. Funnily enough, "beer o'clock" seems to come at the same time every day.

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    Life at Aldo's.

    Our third day, and incidentally July 4th (Independence day in the US), in Miami brought a spontaneous trip to the famous South Beach. I had been there once before, many years ago, but didn't swim. This trip was a beat-the-heat trip and swimming was definitely on the menu. Unfortunately I also had scheduled a Skype call back to Toronto with an art therapy group that I will be volunteering with in August for early afternoon. I was assured that WIFI was prevalent and readily available on South Beach and that I would have no problems dialing in. So we packed up our bags and headed out in Aldo's truck towards the Metrorail, and Miami's extensive transit system. We were soon to find out that while tracks and transit routes were prevalent, the actual vehicles to take you places were not so prevalent and the system was also operating on a Sunday schedule.

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    Hialeah has a very "Latin" feel to it.

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    Typical fruit truck. Note that lack of mangoes in the tree above.

    It took over two and half hours, but we eventually reached the beach. It looked pretty much as I had remembered it, only with the addition of World Cup flags, which was nice since I had been experiencing World Cup withdrawal since leaving Buenos Aires. And I'm not even a big soccer fan. Beautiful, barely dressed people were everywhere, wandering around just to be seen. People dined at sidewalk cafes, bars, and restaurants with giant fishbowl drinks. The beach was crowded but it wasn't difficult to find a spot to park our towels. The ocean was turquoise, clear, and very warm, like a bathtub (certainly warmer than the jacuzzi at Oberland Hotel in La Paz, Bolivia), and it was nice to be back in the salt water.

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    A South Beach selfie.

    WIFI was available just about everywhere although the challenge became finding a place quiet enough to make a call. Unfortunately, when I dialed in to the meeting from Pinkberry's (a frozen yogurt cafe), who assured us that their WIFI was "so good" that it was "available way up the street". I was unable to make a clear call and repeated attempts lead to the same result even though a number of Skype test calls were clear. Eventually we moved locations to the Starbuck's down the street without any improvement.

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    We went back to the beach for another swim, and a bit more time in the sun, before packing up and going to find food. Aldo took us to La Sanwicherie where we ordered expensive sandwiches, but they were pretty tasty and very fresh. I ordered the French Riviera salad (I hadn't had a salad in ages!) with bread on the side and was not disappointed. I have missed vegetables so very much!!

    Transit on the way back was even more horrendous than the way to the beach and Adam and I ended up skipping the fireworks in the park in favour of returning back to Sun Tan Villa for a shower and some beers while we watched fireworks from the roof of Aldo's house. It was our own little subdued 4th of July celebration, but one that was made even better by other people letting off their own fireworks to augment the large display happening further away.

    Our third day brought much rain to Miami and tons of thunder and lightening to go with it. Everyone staying with Aldo went their separate ways to various malls across the city. Adam and I hit the thrift stores for some new clothes, and a nearby auto store to pick up some supplies for bike maintenance the next day (our bikes were due for an oil change, a chain cleaning, and Adam's bike needed some investigative work done on his carburetor and valves). Then it was time to say goodbye to Aldo and head out of Miami. After spending a bit more time there, it was quite a pretty city with lots to see. Although most places were accessible by transit, don't let that fool you - you won't be getting there any time soon.

    Our first day back on the bikes, we set out under blue skies with heavy clouds forming in the distance and rumbling of thunder to keep us more than a bit nervous about the ride. The road to the Keys heads south to the end of the mainland, over a series of bridges that pass over the small islands that make up the Florida Keys. Neither of us wanted to be out riding in the thunderstorm, especially one with forking lightening, which seems to be the normal variety down here. It also happened to be hurricane season and while we were warned by the customs agent at the airport that it wasn't a smart time to travel down to the Keys, locals all insisted that it was fine and if there was to be a hurricane that there would be enough advanced warning that it wouldn't be a problem. Even in the USA we can't seem to avoid extreme weather issues. If it's not volcanoes erupting, it's hurricanes...

    As were we nearing the last kilometers of road on the mainland, forked lightening started to increase and it was imminent that we were going to get wet by the day's storm. I suggested that we pull over so that I could put my rain cover on my tank bag and while we were in the Shell station parking lot, the skies opened up and heavy rain started to flood the streets. We pulled underneath the covered area to wait it out. After roughly 15 minutes we were back out and on our way. As we headed south the temperature started to increase, and the colours of the houses started to grow more pastel. The more tropical the location, the more pastel your house needs to be.

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    Cuban sandwich.

    We stopped for a bite of food at a Cuban cafe serving sandwiches then continued our way over bridges spanning the Atlantic Ocean over the Gulf of Mexico. Upon reaching Key West, we headed straight to the Southernmost point marker to have our photos taken with the bikes at this monumental marker, before heading back to Boyd's Campground on neighbouring Stock Island.

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    Camping at Boyds on Stock Island. To add insult to injury, being the Monday night after the July 4th weekend, they soaked as for additional money for the privilege. The surroundings are nice, but it was SOOO hot at the dead of a breezeless night we might have even considered a dorm at Key West hostal we found out about later.

    My parents had stayed here a few years back and had good things to say about it. It also happened to be one of the only camping options on or near Key West, and one of the cheapest options for accommodations in the area. Having arrived on the Monday following a long weekend, holiday pricing was still in effect and we were gouged an unbelievable $67 for a campsite without hookup. We did not opt for a waterfront site, as it was $15 more (plus taxes), but our inland site was actually only about 30 feet away from the water, and with no one in the sites directly across from us, it was almost like having a waterfront site anyway. This, by the way, if memory serves correctly, was the second most expensive accommodations we have paid during our entire trip - and we provided the accommodations (our tent)

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    And we bull our way into the famous Key West "southern most" shot with a 10 minute line-up of tourists outside of the frame. Only 90 miles to La Habana, Cuba. As Canadians this isn't such a big deal to us, Adam having been to Havana on a day trip, and Cuba many times for dive vacations including once with Jenn.

    With the swimming pool calling our names, we set up our tent and headed off to the pool to cool off. The heated pool wasn't incredibly refreshing but tropical tunes were broadcasting over the speakers, and the palm trees surrounding the pool area really set the scene for a bit of a tropical min-break. After a quick dip it was time for some food. It was suggested that we go to Hogfish Bar & Grill for the "best fish sandwich in the Keys". Although it was a bit pricier (most expensive meal to date) than what we normally go for (albeit that most places outside of Latin America would be more expensive), we both ordered the hogfish sandwich and two domestic beers. The sandwich arrived smothered in Swiss cheese, onions, and mushrooms on Cuban bread accompanied by crispy french fries. It did not disappoint. Never having tasted hogfish before, it was light and flaky and a little sweet and another very tasty morsel from the sea.

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    Very tasty but pricey for a sandwich. We even asked the waitress whether this would have fed one or two, and were told that "we better get two". Note to selves: back in the land where the term "sated" means to be fully "stuffed". Advice to our non-North American friends: one meal often feeds two, and you can always order something else of you are still hungry.

    Contrary to the suggestions of the waitress, one sandwich and fries would probably have been just enough for two. Our first night was the worst sleep of the entire trip, hands down. Contrary to many reports from people who have stayed at Boyd's, the night was not windy, but rather very still and very hot. In an effort to generate some sort of breeze, we slept with with only the bug portion of out tent (no fly), and ended up sleeping with the mesh doors open in order to direct what slight breeze there was at our sweaty bodies. Mostly, we only achieved a mosquito feeding frenzy while tossing and turning, both stuck with sweat to our sleeping pads for most of the night.

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    For our only full day in Key West, we spent the afternoon wandering the Duval Street and surrounding attractions, including the Key West Cemetery which is supposedly known for the funny sayings on the headstones, and for the blend of cultures and influences on burial customs. The cemetery has a pretty interesting history, having been erected after a hurricane in 1846 washed many bodies from a coastal cemetery inland. Honestly, it looked like a regular old rundown cemetery with a mixture of above ground and below ground graves. As for the funny sayings, we didn't really see any, and left after about half an hour. After all, we did have an appointment with Happy Hour. Note to self: sometimes travel guides overstate the interest and importance of places.

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    Kelly's.

    Since it wasn't quite time for cheap drinks, we wandered down Duval in search of food (which we found in pizza - about the only 'cheap' thing), then down to Mallory Square (a small market, and home to the Shipwreck Museum), and then to a couple of bars. On our way to the Green Parrot we walked past a bar and grill that also brewed their own beers, called Kelly's. Their sign advertised that they had $2 draft on their house brews, and $3.50 margaritas. I was hooked and we went inside. It turned out to be the best of the Happy Hours that we found, and stayed for a while drinking and snacking on a sort of Cajun fusions tostada. After an hour, we left in search of other Happy Hours, stopping by Captain Tony's (no Happy Hour specials) and The Green Parrot (only crummy domestic beer specials). Before long we were back at Kelly's for another margarita, more beer, and some nachos. It helped that the bar was almost directly across the street from the bus stop. After some $5 souvenir shopping, and a good margarita buzz, we boarded the bus and headed back to Boyd's.

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    Mmmm. $10 for one small drink and two burnt pizza slices.

    Unfortunately, after only one day, our Key West vacation was over. I could have stayed in Key West forever, I think. It had a great vibe - very island and laidback but not indifferent. A party zone without the juvenile irresponsibility of it all. Colourful clothing, flip flops, souvenirs, great bars, lots of food, and pastel buildings. A really great place to return to.

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    Local restaurant. Strange mix of Cuban and American foods. "hashbrown" pucks and "processed cheese"on Cuban style omelet. To be fair, they had a number of lunch items listed on the board which looked pretty deeply rooted in Latino culture. Note to self when traveling in USA: always ask whether "cheese" means cheese or processed cheese.

    After a great day with no rain, we capped it off with a nighttime swim and a couple of beers before heading off to bed. The temperature had dropped by a few degrees from the previous night and we were able to sleep with the tent doors zipped up, although it was still quite hot. The morning heat woke us up and we were off back to Miami with hot sunshine and turquoise water taking us there. When we arrived at the mainland, however, the weather was a different story. In almost the exact same spot as when we departed the mainland of Florida, we were greeted by a torrential thunderstorm with forking lightening and sheeting rain. Unlike previous rainstorms, this one was relentless and we were soaked when we arrived back at Suntan Villa.

    Aldo and Kira were very happy and surprised to see us back, but invited us in and told us that they had space for us to stay. Hooray! We checked in to our old tent, then waited for the rain to stop before heading to the grocery store to our regular check-out girl (who swiped her discount card for us). It was just like coming home.

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    Calle Ocho.

    We decided to stay in Miami one more day to visit Little Havana. The next morning we all piled into Aldo's truck, six of us, and headed out to Little Havana. Although it wasn't quite what I expected, it was a nice area full of flavour and some colourful things to see, including the famous six-foot tall roosters along Calle Ocho. We watched the domino players in Gomez Park, and wandered down the Cuban Memorial Boulevard where we saw the Bay of Pigs Memorial and the giant ceiba tree that is a popular spot for ritual sacrifices by people from the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. Its above-ground roots were littered with bones (chicken, I hope), small unknown burlap bundles, ashes, and candles.

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    Aldo treats us to Cafe Cubano, which is apparently all it takes to maintain the use of the restaurant's customer parking space for the next several hours.

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    Kira, who doesn't smoke, adopts the "go big or go home" methodology.

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    Another one of Aldo's guests "enjoying" a draw off of a hand rolled cigar.

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    We will have to come again, as the flavours are in rotation.

    Of the utmost importance was a stop at the Azucar ice cream factory that served up artisan flavours that were almost too good. I had the Cuban Rum Cake which was a mixture of vanilla ice cream, large chunks of rum-soaked cake, and walnuts. It was fair to say that while eating the delicious and booze-infused frozen delight I had slipped into a happy, happy place. A definite recommend, if you should find yourself in Little Havana.

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    From Little Havana we decided to take a quick spin through an affluent area to see former home of Sylvester Stallone and Madonna's rumoured current home. We pulled up outside of the home-thought-to-be-Madonna's. The gate was open. Kira decided that since the gate was open that she was going to go inside. Despite a number of security cameras and a speaker box, she was able to just wander in. We all watched in awe as she waltzed up the driveway and in through the inner gate. We could see her poking around the windows and then disappeared. After a while when she didn't return, I decided to follow her in, calling her name just in case someone confronted me about being on private property. Adam came with me, and when we found Kira she said that there didn't seem to be anyone around.

    We noticed that there was an open gate leading to a next door property with a beautiful swimming pool. Kira when through first and noticed a gardener on the opposite side of the yard. She approached the gardener and asked him if Madonna lived there. The gardener then took us to the front door where the owner met us and asked us very curtly what we wanted. Like dopes, we asked him if Madonna lived there. He said no, then reminded us that we were on private property. I told him that his gates were all wide open, to which he explained was for the gardener to access both his properties. I apologized for disturbing him, then noticed that he was wearing a Toronto Blue Jays golf shirt and told him that was where we were from. He didn't really seem to care, and turned around and left his property.

    Although I would like to think that we had just met some Cuban business big-wig with some sort of notoriety, it seemed as though we had only succeeded in disturbing some rich annoyed big-wig, and we were lucky that he didn't call the police.

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    After our skirt with crime, we headed to Biscayne Bay to see the Cape Florida Light at Bill Baggs Cape State Park. The lighthouse is the oldest standing building in Miami-Dade and has an interesting history, having played a part in the Underground Railroad in Florida. It was a nice site, complete with a rebuild of the lighthouse keeper's cottage on the aqua shores of the Atlantic.


    Tonight marks our last night in Miami, and it has been a treat, a very pretty city with so much to do, see, and experience. Key West has become one of my favourite travel destinations. It also signifies the beginning of our journey north to home. I am saddened to think about it being the beginning of the end of an incredible journey, but am excited to see how I will integrate the things that I have learned into life back in Ontario.
    #51