For the last few months Bren and I have been talking about the rainy season in South America. We have had the notion of trying to beat it since October and expected it to greet us at Machu Picchu but somehow, we managed our trek through the Inca Ruins in dry weather, even sunshine. It was miraculous. All of the literature about hiking the trail at this time of year is filled with stories of the trails closing due to heavy rains. Having this goal to get to Machu Picchu was threaded with a sense of foreboding that our plans could be thwarted by bloody rain. And we are not just talking about the kind of rain that gets you wet, but the kind of rain that wrecks roads and prevents all chances of riding. We feel like we have been pretty lucky.
Riding down through the Amazon and continuously back up again to altitude, we have been talking with locals about, of course, the weather. It’s a very popular conversation topic. And even with our level of Spanish we understand that this part of the world is experiencing some serious changes in weather patterns. Obviously it has worked out for us with a delayed rainy season, but with drastic results for local farmers and their produce. So while in the eyes of many skeptics (Aussie Prime Ministers for example) climate change is just a figment of our imaginations, it certainly is an actual event over here. And even people who don’t have TV’s or read newspapers know about this thing called ‘climate change’. The effects are real.
But now that it is January, the rainy season has finally caught up with us. And it’s a tricky beast to gauge. Some days we wake to ominous grey clouds and thunder that can magically blow away and give us 50km of sunny riding. But other days, the rain sets in and doesn’t let up. And our tent has suddenly turned into a sponge so it has made for some pretty soggy camping, especially inside the tent. Less than ideal.
In dry weather, it is easy to judge the conditions of the roads, but with huge volumes of rain dumping down, potholes are quickly hidden and converted into tandem bike sized lakes. Impossible to see but very easy to ride in to. It’s never good. Especially in hectic traffic with buses and mini vans desperate to get in front of you at any cost. Adrenalin has never pumped so furiously at such low speed riding. Riding into La Paz Bolivia was some seriously scary 20kms of city riding in the pouring rain, dodging traffic and navigating the pot holes. Luckily we had our 2 British cycling mates with us- Claire & Adam – so in banding together we survived mostly unscathed. And they managed to capture our dive into a large pot hole on go pro. Stand by for that clip in the next video.
Bumping into Claire & Adam again in Puno, we spent 4 days riding together to Lake Titicaca and crossing the border into Bolivia as a team. It’s been great to have company and share perspectives on all we see. Not to mention camp meals!
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest fresh water lake with a surface elevation of 3,812m above sea level. It spans the borders of Peru and Bolivia, but I have to say, Bolivia got the best half.
Our 1st views of Titicaca were arriving into the town of Puno in Peru and it was disappointing, to say the least. It is a huge lake with an equally huge reputation but our first sighting revealed huge expanses of algae littered with piles of rubbish. Not the picturesque vision we expected at all. But crossing the Bolivian border and riding to Copacabana (Barry Manilow has never sounded better) the scenery around the Lake was utterly breathtaking. It’s hard to believe it’s the same lake. Bolivia definitely got the best deal there. Rolling mountains with towns tucked into the valleys dotted around the winding roads. We were fortunate to get an incredible day of sunshine and the blue of the lake was stunning.
It’s been a very emotional time and I still cannot believe we have made it to Bolivia. This time last year we were in Mexico; country #3. And now we have cycled into country #15. There have absolutely been times when I didn’t think we’d make it. Well, when I didn’t think that I would make it. And when I was pretty certain that Falkor wouldn’t make it. Let’s face it, we all had those thoughts.
But with our newly installed SRAM mechanical brakes, we are feeling a stopping power like never before. To be able to rely on our brakes again is such a wonderful sensation. I believe it is called relief. And oh what a feeling! It’s like riding a different bike now that we have resolved that wee problem! As for the rear wheel? History tells us it is better not to mention such things at this point and so we continue to ride with all fingers crossed on that one.
And so here we are. Riding around the Bolivian side of Titicaca with me all sniffing and choked up. We have made it so far and already, we are so close to the end of this journey. I can’t help but feeling proud of us. Ever since I was a little girl I have often viewed my life in a weird 3rd perspective way, as if I am watching a movie about someone else. And this journey has been so wild that it has enhanced that feeling infinitely. How could it possibly be lil ole me having made it this far? Someone without much physical coordination, no fitness and a tone of fears. It just blows my mind to acknowledge we really have made it this far. It’s gonna be pretty strange when we arrive back in Oz. How will our minds adjust?
Since arriving in Cusco we have been riding what is called the ‘Alta Plano’, which pretty much means the ‘high flat plains’ around 3,800m above sea level. It’s awesome cos we are more or less riding along the top of the Andes and have been able to ride some big days again, making 80-90km before 2pm. It’s a crazy contrast from only riding 30-40km in a day over 8 hours of climbing.
Brendon tells me that the hardest climbs are now behind us. I am reluctant to subscribe completely to this belief as it sounds just too good to be true. Sure there are a few more climbs to come, but apparently nothing like what we have just ridden. Do you believe it? Being constantly on this Alta Plano is a weird feeling. You don’t feel as though you are at altitude until you race up a flight of stairs and find yourself breathless after only 10 steps. The UV rays are really strong and within minutes your neck is stinging and sunburned. I am constantly with my Carmex at the ready and the altitude is really harsh on your skin. We are turning into leathery cycling creatures.
We reckon we will spend 12 days riding across Bolivia to the border of Argentina, and with this tricky cold wet weather, we are expecting some solid riding and to blast straight through. One of our original goals was to ride across the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, but the heavy rain will have flood the normally flat and dry salt desert. So sadly, we have had to put that riding mission on the back burner for another journey, and as we get closer, we will investigate a tour out there in a 4×4.
So currently? We are in the infamous Casa De Ciclista in La Paz Bolivia. We are spending 3 days off the bike here, relaxing with the Brits – Claire & Adam – and Aussie cycling duo Ben & Tina (who we first met in Nicaragua back in April, then Panama & have since chased rumours of their whereabouts throughout Peru). Having all spent Christmas together in Cusco, its very cool hanging out together again, this time in Bolivia. Again, with the eating and drinking. And as Ben & Tina finish their cycle journey here, we even have an excuse for it all!
This could be the last blog for a while as we have been told the internet in Boliva is worse than in Peru. So stay tuned folks, by the time we write the next blog, we will have ridden our 19,000th km and could be in Argentina!
Have you seen this crazy awesomeness!
Thanks to you all for your fantastic involvement, TotallyTandem was recognized in December as one of the top fundraisers for World Bicycle Relief. We are so humbled by all of your generosity and are stunned by what we have been able to achieve with your support. Working to achieve this fundraising goal has really shown us that limits really are all just self imposed boundaries and that by working together, anything really is possible.
Check out some more of our pics from the road;
Well done! You made it all the way to the bottom! You rock!