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November 04, 2006

Photos from the abyss...

So this isn't really a blog entry - but it is an means to let you know that I've finally fixed the photos page and posted a whole bunch of new photos. There are 6 new sets of photos! And I have 5 more to post!!

One note of caution - please use the navigation bar a the top of the main site to get to the photos page or use this link...

http://www.steady-as-she-goes.com/photos2

I am currently on the island of Chiloe in Chile waiting for a ferry (which is now a day delayed) to take me back to the mainland and the Carreterra Austral. I have ridden one day on Chiloe and hike a good 10 miles another (for fun). I'm itching to get riding again. This will be my last bit of solititude of the trip - there are no other cyclists that I know of, David has returned home and my friends have all gone their separate ways. But I will do what I can and enjoy to beauty of the road and think about the present and the future and maybe even the past.

I know that there are so many other stories to convey to you all, but not tonight. Tonight I sleep and listen to the waves lapping outside my window as the tide rises in the night.

September 03, 2006

New Photos and a Brief (I think) Update

Hello all. I have not gotten my massive, descriptive blog entry ready for posting but I though that I'd fill you in on a little bit of what I've been doing.

Two sets of new photos posted

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Having given up riding for Bolivia due to altitude I decided to take some side trips. The Salar de Uyuni was a fantastic journey into the largest salt lake in the world. During the dry season, which is now, there is no water on it, but that is a good thing as we got three flat tires. Imagine how that would be in a few centimeters of water. Just last week they had a snowstorm out there with people being left at the border without food, jeeps turning over, and drivers not being able to see where they are going. I'm glad I went the week before!!

I left my gear in Uyuni and went light for about a week and traveled to Sucre which is just a wonderful city to hang out in. I saw the dinosaur footprints that were discovered at at cement factroy and are the largest collection of footprints of different species in the world. Are you noticing a trend here? Largest, highest - Bolivia has a lot of very cool things but the Bolivian people are very, very poor - at least most of them.

After chilling in Sucre for a few days I retraced my steps and visited Potosi. I have to admit that I was museumed out but did go on a tour of the mines - which is one of the main attractions in Potosi. It was a little weird seeing these men push three quarter ton carts filled with ore through the mines. They do this 10 times a day over a distance of 3 km to and from the drop off point. The conditions aren't very safe either - ladders go up and down all over the place with only a "watch the hole" to warn you. I went becasue my grandfather was a coal miner. Well, I also went because I wanted to.

The bumpy ride back to Uyuni was delayed by a day by a nationwide traffic strike so I ate my way through the day with a nice English couple, John and Lucy. It was fun. The ride back to Uyuni was pretty miserable without the nice Frenchman and his family to talk with so I amused myself by watching a woman from Buenos Aires harass the Amayran woman sitting in the aisle. The woman in the aisle was leaning on the woman on the seat which would have annoyed me too, but I probably would have grunted and made gestures and asked her to move a little bit. This woman, who even speaks Spanish, just kept shoving her packpack into the woman. It was really quite sad and I periodically glared at the woman in the seat. Wimpy, I know. Sitting in the aisles is illegal too.

The I arrived back in Uyuni, which at that point didn't have any power due, most likely, to the high winds blowing over a pole somewhere, bought a train ticket for a 2:30am (!!!) train and settled down at the Minuteman restaurant (run by a fellow American and a wonderful place to get delicious pizza, cookies, cakes and to have some good company for a few hours). While there I met Catherine (from Copacabana), Emma and a few others and we traded Salar stories and kept each other awake while waiting for the train. When the Minuteman closed we headed to the dark station to wait out the next three hours. I think we all fell asleep with out heads on the table. Emma ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor.

The train ride to the border had some great views (when I finally woke up at about 6:30 when they turned the tv on at high volumn). Once we arrived at the border town of Villazon, I collected my crap off of the train - yet again the bike made it safely and Emma and I headed to the border of Bolivia and Argentina. We breezed through leaving Bolivia, but it took 3.5 hours to get into Argentina. We could not figure out why, but we think that the immigrations guards took a siesta. The border is supposed to be open all day, but I guess you are not going to hassle an immigrations officer. When I finally got to the window I was laughing as I though that they, like all other immigrations officials here, felt the need to cram another stamp onto the only two pages with stamps on it (they actually didn't) but the official was very creepy and made fun of me laughing. Whatever. I'm in Argentina now with 90 days.

There is an immediately different feel in La Quiaca - the building are made of brick and concrete, there are stores with things in them, the bread is different, breakfast is crackers and jam, dinner is really after 8pm.

My first two days of riding have been great. I am now in a little town called Humahuaca after riding about 82km downhill, but against the wind for much of the afternoon. I found the internet cafe, uploaded pictures, did a little update and now my friend, I am going to drink a well deserved beer!

Take care.

August 26, 2006

I love Bolivia

So last you heard I was in Puno, Peru cycling along with Sarah & Richard the couple from England.

Puno however, for me, wasn't the best of places. The English couple decided that they really wanted to go it alone, which was the right decision for them and for me - sometimes everyone can be a nice person but the goals and speeds are just different. I visited the floating islands of Uros which were very close to just being a big floating tourist trap. I really only went becasue it was part of the day package to Isle Taquile. I had read about Isle Taquile in a tale of traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia and the idea of the island intrigued me, but when I finally go there myself, maybe 30 years after this man went on his journey, it too was quite touristy. There was a "festival" going on when we got there but there didn't seem to be any locals watching it which made me a little wary as to whome the festival was for - us or them. The only really saving grace to the whole trip out on Lake Titicaca (which has been a background dream of mine for years evern since I saw Michael Palin suffering from sorroche while out on the lake) was that the tour company, Allways Tours, gave a little cultural lecture at each location. That infomation helped us to attempt to understand how these cultures had been and how they were changing in the world today. Fortunately, though I had read to take my own food, because they did the tourist trap thing and tried to get you to order a higher priced lunch on the island which, from the looks of it (and the comments), wasn't nearly up to snuff.

So that was Puno. Oh wait, Puno was also where I grossly embarassed myself by accusing the hotel staff of stealing 60 soles and my document pouch. What a mistake that was. Early in the morning before the trip on the lake I had hidden it away and apparently forgot that I did so when I returned. I wrote an apology in Spanish and eveything, but that doesn't make the accusation go away and the embarassment lessen. Next time I will either check my stuff into the caja fuerte (which is often just a drawer at the front desk) or just be more careful.

The ride along Lake Titicaca was pretty amazing and the best thing was seeing the Bolivian mountains in the distance while leaving the town of Juli. The churches in this town were supposed to be great so I lugged my bike up the hill off of the Panamerican and checked them out, but lo and behold, two were closed, one was only ok, and I just didn't have the energy to deal with the fourth. But seeing the mountains in the distance with the lake in the forefront was just amazing. My pictures don't do it justice. The next town, Pomata, did however have a very impressive church. It is made out of the local red sandstone and is completely carved inside and outside. The outside has lots of little gargoyles (can I just say there are two very loud competing radios being played here right now) and the inside has a lot of ornate rosettas and the like. Everything is carved. Pretty impressive.

The Bolivian border was a breeze and the guard even gave me a nod when I asked to photograpy the monument at the border. All the guide books say that you are not supposed to take any picutres, but I asked so it was ok. The Peruvian side was a breeze, just an exit stamp which they all have to put on the same page over other stamps that are there. However, at the Bolivian side there were some issues, although not serious ones. The nice boder cops really liked my bike and asked the dreaded question "How much did it cost?" I really hate that question because all that is going through people's head is "How much could I get for this if I had it" At least that is what I think they are thinking, but who really knows and I'm not going to ask them why. They also only gave me a 30 day visa, but based on my revised travel plans (busing and training not cycling) 30 days was sufficient. There was an American guy there making trouble at the border right before I got there with my papers and he was making things worse for himself by telling the Man Behind the Desk that "You are not a nice person" and "I need consulate help" and "Does anyone here speak English" I tried to feel sorry for him, but I just couldn't with the attitude he was taking on.

Anyway, I got to Copacabana and was fortunate enough to get a room at La Cupula, a hotel I had been hearing about for ages. I didn't get one of the primo rooms as those of us traveling sola rarely get, but I got a nice room and it had HEATING!!! and the bathroom, while shared, had a hot shower. The best part about the place was the restaurant. It was a pleasure to head over there for dinner of fresh fish (I had fish both nights) and a beer. Although the evenings always started out sola, I was always joined by groups of people. The first night by a group of Australians and the second by an English sola woman traveler. I also met an very nice Argentinean guy named Luigi who had taken some amazing photographs in Bolivia, specifically, Isla del Sol and Maragua. It was a pleasant evening of good food and interesting company. I like that about traveling - there are so many types of people traveling and you inevitably find people with whom you have things in common with - and they are never who you expect.

Isla del Sol, which is traditionally visited from Copacabana, is another 3 hour boat ride on Lago Titicaca. I have to say that I enjoyed this visit far more than the visit to Isle Taquile mostly becuase you had the opportunity to walk the length of entire island. This activity takes about 3 hours and you have lots of time by yourself to just kick back, exercise, and breath some fresh air for once. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I wish that I had made the decision to stay overnight (which is always an option on these tours - you can always spent the night somewhere or customize your trip to do stuff that isn't advertised). I returned to Copacabana pleasantly tired, looking forward to a fish dinner at La Cupula and reviatalized ready to hit the town, La Paz.

La Paz - what a crazy, crazy city. The bus ride from Copacabana was my first in awhile and things went smoothly in a Bolivian fashion. I was to take the 2pm bus and then changed it to the 10am bus as I had nothing else to do in Copacabana except read and drink beer (which wasn't a good idea at 9 in the morning) so I checked out of my hotel and headed down to the bus street. While I was waiting for the following bus with my HUGE bag stuffed with panniers and the bike, the driver of the bus who, of course, was on top of the bus, called for my bike. Surprised, I looked up and figured why not. There was room on the 9am bus (which was leaving at more like 10am) so I went for it and after the bike was tied (securly!) to the very top of the bus and my luggage was stashed next to the driver I headed to the back of the bus to a pleaseant seat with a slit cushion, but fortunately no one else next to me for a short while. We headed out of Copacabana towards La Paz on a very nice three hour journey. I have to say that I am glad that I did not ride the journey. The first day would have been pretty but very difficult due to a big hill of 4000m complete with water crossing where one ferry took the buses (that was weird) and another for 1B took the passangers. The next day on bike would have been not very fun due to the increased population and the existance of El Alto. It was a lot more comforting to go through that area in a bus rather than on bike, alone. I don't think it would have been a problem, but better safe than sorry.

Arriving to La Paz is an amazing sight. If the weather is right you see this incredible mountain range, the Royal Range, in the distance and then look down from El Alto into this massive basin of humanity. There are buildings on sheer cliffs, buildings everywhere The drivers are crazy and the streets are like San Francisco only steeper. There are no discernable traffic laws and cars and trucks are always coming within inches of each other. If you can drive there, you can drive everywhere. I got into my hotel (which I actually made a reservation for) and took an investigatory walk around my immediate neighborhood. It turns out that I was right near the famed "witch's market" (Ouruo has a much better, much less touristic one, I think) and while I didn't go through it at that point, I did discover the place to buy morning bread.

Cities in South America provide travelers access to the comforts of home as there are always some sort of bar or restaurant that caters to foreigners and are usually run by ex-pat foreigners themselves. Cities are a time to regroup and a time to learn about what is going on in the world outside of traveling. I spent my evenings at Oliver's Travels "the 5th most popular bar in La Paz" eating fish and chips which were a welcome break from rice, rice, rice, potatos, potatos, and tiny pieces of unidentifiable meats. La Paz also has microbrewed beer which Peru cannot, for all it's tourism, boast. Let's hear it for Bolivia!!

The good dirt on Bolivia will come next: A bike ride down "The World's Most Dangerous Road", Nayjama restaurant in Ourou, the Salar de Uyuni, and wonderful, warm Sucre.

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