Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Salta. Christmas 2012.

We haven't exactly been slumming it over Christmas whilst staying in Salta. Salta itself is second only to the capital, and to miy mind deservedly so.

And The Del Vino hotel majors in local wines; we have been working our way through the bottles of torrentes, a local speciality.

Hope you have all had a very festive time - see you in 2013.




Monday, 24 December 2012

KIDNAPPED! 21.12.12

We have been Kidnapped, or been made subject to Extraordinary Rendition.

Yesterday we continued to drop down this massive alley following the Rio Grande, and went to bed in a historic hacienda complete with 70' veranda overlooking the beautiful garden.

Overnight we were made the subject of Extraordinary Rendition. The fancy term for being kidnapped.

This morning we woke up in England.


I am not kidding, the landscape, the vegetation, even the weather - it rained all day - was English.

I realise that will garner little sympathy from the waterlogged UK residents, but for us it was rather a shock. We rode through land which could have been taken from just outside Devizes, or the New Forest, even the Quantocks at one stage.

It freaked me out.

The fact it was raining probably meant I did not feel homesick at all. If anything, quite the opposite.


Still falling..... 20.12.12

On the 18th I wrote that we were 'falling off' the alti plano. Two days later and we are still falling off it. Although we will only lose some 2500mts overall, the trick is that the gradient is just steep enough to let you cruise along at between 20k and 30kph, but shallow enough to prolong the ride. Es perfecto!

As we are ahead os schedule to reach Salta, where we will spend a few days over Christmas, we are just taking our time and enjoying the scenery, which since entering Argentina has also risen quite a few notches. Es benito!



Thursday, 20 December 2012

Music. 19.12.12

Sam from Topsham asks;

"Dave,what music are you listening to on your trip?"

That's a good question, Sam.

Although I only very occasionally listen to my iPod, there are times when it just seems the right thing to do. The most recent occasion was on the Salar, when I did what any Englishman would do; brew a cuppa and take it out to lie down on the salt plain, looking up at the stars. For a time I enjoyed the total silence and unadulterated night sky. Then I slipped on the tiny plastic blimps that pass as earphones these days, and listened to.....

What can I say? We are all Children Of Our Time.

(Editor; what he has not admitted to is that the other track that features highly when a chill-out sound is required is Sailing by Christopher Cross. Not as cool as Floyd but one that always hits the right spot).


Falling off the alti plano. 18.12.12

Today we 'fell off' the alti plano - but only as far as 3000mts. Since 8th November we have been at 3,500mts or much higher. I think being on the alti plano will be similar to banging your head with a tin tray for an hour; not until you stop will you really know what it was like. Only once we leave it properly will we be able to know what it was really like.

Already there are some obvious changes with just this simple altitude change; the colour green reappears on the colour palette; although the sun is hot, it is not tattoo removal hot; trees return to the scene, when the wind blows you are not mindful that it will become a sandstorm or other major disruption to your travel plans.

It is as though the alti plano was anti-lanscape, like anti-matter.

I have a new found respect for mountaineers who climb at high elevation without oxygen - it must be tough up there. But can anyone explain this? Whilst a sprint up some steps will still leave me - if not exactly gasping - reaching for breath, biking up a 3000' climb causes no issues in the breathing department? I have read similar comments from other bikers, so it is not just us two. Perhaps it would be easier if mountaineers cycled up Everest rather than walked?


Wild camping. 17.12.12

Thus far when we wild camp we have had an unsettling experience. Beetles which appear to live in the earth, and which are dormant when we set up camp, become active and munch away at the soil during the night. Munch, munch, munch. The unsettling aspect is that this occurs only inches away from where our heads lie - they are directly under, well, us.

You would not think they would make much noise, but oh yes they darn well do. One night it even induced zombie-killer dreams in my head.

This morning Sarah confessed that she has taken to bashing the ground, just like the fairground game.

I am afraid to say I will also adopt this methodology. I do not like zombie-killer dreams.

Before anyone gets sentimental about the beetles, they are about an inch long. And every time we lift the tent there are loads scampering around. They don't scare easily.
(Editor; do not worry, no beetles were harmed in the preparation of this post. We think).




Argentina! 16.12.12

The Argentinian border came and went without issue.

And entering Argentina means.....

Toilets that work. With paper as well.

Water from the tap that you can drink.

Food that tastes interesting. And does not consist solely of chicken and 'pseudo' rice. ( I am covinced Bolivians fashioned their rice out of chalk).

Hot water systems.

Tarmac roads!

Road signs and other cursory information to assist the traveller.

People over 5' tall.

Showers that don't flow over bare mains wiring.

Although this may sound as though we did not enjoy Bolivia, that is very far from the case. It is just that we appreciate the differences.



Adios Bolivia. 16.12.12

Today we leave Bolivia. Our brief glimpse of the country as we have passed from its northern to southern borders through the high country has revealed many things. Bolivia is where;

The people are very friendly, La Paz is a vibrant city, the air is thin, the alti plano is edgy, the roads are terrible, the tarmac is rare, the weather unnerving, the Salar is so uniquely beautiful, the traditional bands perform 'with enthusiasm', the children and dogs are always playful, the indigenous Aramaya are clearly present and oh so very short, the hats are amusing, the markets good fun, the food is cheap, the food is often 'limited', the rural schools are everywhere (but invariably empty - perhaps the saddest thing of all), El Presidente's image is omnipresent, politics is in the air and sprayed on the walls.

Bolivia is where the world, which for so long and for so many has changed little, is now beginning to change - towards what remains to be seen.




Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Atocha. 14.12.12

Today we reached the town of Atocha. I love this town for several reasons, but two of them are;

1. South from here we will have tarmac! All the way to Argentina and beyond. It will be like a magic carpet. Hoorah!

2. You have to love a town who makes the effort to mount a small airplane in the town square. (Editor; Sarah repeatedly asked 'why is that so good?' I simply do not understand the question....)


Sunday, 16 December 2012

A sandstorm, Christopher, & the village Cerdas. 12.12.12

We had to bunker in as a sandstorm blew through the altiplano landscape. And I mean blew. Trouble was there was nowhere to stay in this tiny village. But looking around we found some builders who let us put up our tent up in the shell of a small building. I was going to write 'any port in a storm' but it was rather cosy.

In the morning this wee fellow, Christopher, decided to help me pack up. He was great, and quickly learnt how the different buckles and fastenings worked on my bags. Considering that after 18years Sarah is still unable to fasten a toe- strap I thought he did very well indeed. As I rode away I could not help but wonder what lay in his future.



On leaving the Salar. 11.12.12

Biking off the Salar we headed south towards the town of Uyuni and some much needed comforts in the form of the Tonito Hotel.

Don't let the hotel sign fool you, this place was the most 'western' we had experienced since arriving in Bolivia. Sat inside at the rear pizza restaurant you could forget that you were in South America at all. Sometimes you just need a little bit of 'Gringo-land' as we call it, but that quickly pails after a couple of days though.

The Tonito Hotel, down by the barracks. Highly recommended.

The biking to the Salar had been tough, the dirt roads terrible for cyclists, and inspite of having been outside since last June the increased altitude met I picked up some sunburn. I learnt not to underestimate altitude.

I also cleaned the bikes fully, before setting off once again. Crossing some shallow fords we came to a stop 40k from town, as the road south to Argentina was impassable due to flooding. It would remain so for 24hrs. But we could carry our bikes and gear 75' across the 'shallow' part to the railway line which was above water, drag our bikes through 3' of sticky mud over the ties and rejoin the washboard road once again. Oh the joys of travelling, and so much for cleaning the bikes.

One of the shallow fords which became Sarah's favourite. Not.

Don't forget, this is one of the main roads south to Argentina.

You could be mistaken for thinking they do not want any visitors.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Incase you thought I was joking.....

.....about Bolivian showers, see below.


International flags.

In a field of international flags, St. Piran's takes pride of place in the foreground.



There are drawbacks....

.........to cycling across the Salar. Namely, the salt. No surprise there then.

(Editor: two days later he removed the salt, completly stripping the bikes and regreasing every nut and bolt and fixing. The following day they were completely encrusted with mud, as the main road to Argentina was closed due to flooding. They had to wade through several river fords and divert to using a 'mud-bath' of a railway line for a few hundred yards. That will teach him).

The Salar de Uyuni is offically claimed for Cornwall on 10th December 2012.

(Mineral rights included. It holds 50-70% of the worlds lithium resources).

If you wonder how hard the surface is, my knife wouldn't pierce it for the slight flagpole.

I had to use the corkscrew. Also, the flag is completely stiff due to being encrusted with salt; I bent it into shape.


More from the Salar de Uyuni.

Sarah at the northern access point onto the Salar, near Vulvan Thunupa.
"Are you sure?"

Sunset And Sunrise.


Friday, 14 December 2012

Salar de Uyuni.

Sarah on the Salar.

'Big, white and flat' do not really do it justice.
The Isle Inchahussi is the coral island we stayed at overnight. Outstanding.

In the distance is Vulcan Thunupa at 5400mts.
A 36' high cactus is not forgotten easily.

1964; Disney Productions R&D meeting 09.12.12

Walt: Todd, I understand you have a new idea for a theme park. Ok, you've got 2 minutes to pitch it to me.

Todd: Thank Mr. Disney. First off we create the worlds largest high-altitude plain - it looks like ice, but its made out of over 4000 square miles of salt!

W: How do we do that?

T : There is this Chinese company who can make and install it the in 7 months, guaranteed.

W: OK, and where does it go, and what will that cost?

T : Its cheap, because we put it in South Americas poorest country, Bolivia. They are looking for the investment.

W: And what is the draw for people?

T: It will be so unusual that will be a draw in itself. Plus we put a small island in the middle which they can visit, but only by four wheel drive. And we make the island out of coral.

W: OK, that' s sounding more interesting. You said high-altitude; how high is it?

T: The best location is at 3660mts. And all round there will be 5000mts-plus volcanos, complete with snow-tipped tops.

W: But what else is going to draw people there? You know how people bore so quickly these days.

T: I've found this Korean family firm who have hundreds of cacti that are up to 1200years old and 12mts high. They've agreed a price to install them all over the island. That will beat Paramount Studios in to a cocked hat.

And if that is not enough in the rainy season the salt plain will form great lakes over the surface, at first only an inch or so deep so still allowing visitors to get there. It will be like a giant mirror.

W: Any last ideas to win me over?

T: I have thought of that. I know you love cycling. So although no one can stay overnight on the island, the exception would be if you cycle there. That should keep it very special.

W: Let me summarise. We have the worlds largest salt plain, at over 3,600mts , surrounded by volcanos, with a small island in the middle made of coral, with 1000year old cacti growing to over 36' tall, and the only people who can stay there overnight are cyclists?

Todd, that all sounds fine and dandy, but you overlook one thing.

T: What is that, sir?

W: It already exists. It is called the Salar de Uyuni in Bolvia.


The road to Salinas de Garcia Mendoza. 08.12.12

We were effectively cycling down a one-way route towards the Salar de Uyuni. Due to the start of the wet season (Editor; good timing...?) we could not be sure we could actually cross the Salar. There had been torrential downpours every afternoon like clockwork.

However, we looked at each other and both knew; there was no way we were travelling back along that road, not by bike, bus, minivan or taxi. Of a 100k ride, there were 60k of the worst washboard I have have biked along. The only way back would be to fly out, which did not seem a very practical option. We were committed to crossing the Salar; but we could not be sure we would get away with it. The Salar could well be flooded out.