I realized the other day that we kinda look a bit like homeless people. All of our clothes brandish their own tales of the distance we have travelled.
We don’t carry much clothing on this trip but still in our minds have two distinct classes of clothing; our ‘good things’ and our cycling gear. It came to me with sudden alarm that we are the only people able to make this distinction.
‘Good things’ are by definition the garments that we don’t wear cycling. We consider them clean, even though they have been worn more often than washed. While donning my ‘good top’ recently it became suddenly clear that apparel in both piles is pocked with holes, smatters of grease and is generally pretty battered by over use & sun exposure. And now items in the ‘good things’ category have secretly started to liaise between both classifications. The lines have become very blurred indeed.
When we hiked to Machu Picchu, I didn’t think twice about wearing my cycling leggings under my adidas shorts and my long sleeve cycling shirt to protect me from the bugs and sun on the trail. It’s gear for getting sweaty and very practical for the occasion I thought. But then we started to meet other hikers, people whose clothes actually smelled like laundry soap, people that definitely considered their appearance in the mirror before they set off and people who even brought make-up with them to adjust their sweaty brows before their photos at the top. It was then that I started to wonder what I must look like to them. And hell, what we must smell like. I loved walking behind the soapy cleanliness of these spotless wonders, but started to feel very concerned for those stuck behind us. When we arrived at the top of Wayner Picchu, I looked as though someone had thrown a bucket of water over me while I was poking an electric socket. It didn’t occur to me consider my appearance until I was surrounded by those clearly used to socialization. It makes me wonder what life after the bike trip will be like. Will we be able to adjust to normal hygienic standards again?
Like sniffing everything. I know it’s not OK to smell a pair of socks that you have already worn, but I have only just come to understand how often and how much we engage in such habits. The other day I even heard myself say out loud that I would probably not get to wash my ‘good trousers’ again until Argentina when the weather would be warm enough to wear my ‘good shorts’ while doing the laundry. And even as I type this and wish it otherwise, with a resigned acceptance I know it probably is true. But I don’t care. I mean what is the point really? You wash something and it’s clean for 2 minutes before its dirty again. May as well just be at one with the dirt and wipe it all over yourself I say.
When we first started the journey, our ‘good clothes’ were reserved for meetings with new friends and actually represented a kind of ‘effort’ on our part. Now though, the only effort apparent is a flimsy mist of body spray that helplessly attempts to cling to the sheen of dust & grime. Yup, we look and smell like homeless people most of the time.
Having spent most of January riding through Bolivia with British cyclists Adam & Claire, our conversations have revolved around what will be needed from us upon ‘re-entry’. As their trip will also end in Chile, Adam confessed that he was too embarrassed to wear his ‘good shoes’ on the plane for fear of the odour that will consume the cabin. I was simply stunned at the notion of even pondering this. It never crossed my mind that this was a situation to consider but have now vowed to find a cheap pair of karate shoes to make the flight bearable for my fellow passengers. I cant believe we will be on that plane in just 5 weeks. There must be so many other things I need to think through.
But in the mean time, there is still 1 month left of this journey. Some people don’t even take that amount of time off in one year! The time is flying but even as we clock up these final 1500 kilometres, there is still so much to ride and love about this journey. Despite the smells.
We rode as a team of 4 from La Paz to Uyuni over 8 days straight cycling. A distance of around 600km. Riding across the high & flat terrain of the Alti Plano (altitudes around 3800m) we got some incredible views of huge storms rolling in for miles around us. It can be spectacular in itself and we are getting better at timing when to don our wet weather gear and when it is time to seek refuge. But still, it’s tough going. Strong head winds, deluges of rain that soak us in seconds and hail storms that spring from nowhere and bite ferociously. And of course those pesky dogs, also with the attempts at ferocious biting and also springing from nowhere. Thankfully, that tally is still in our favour, despite some terrifyingly close calls.
We were able to make some bigger days with new roads being constructed and enjoyed cycling 4 abreast on fresh Tarmac that was still closed to vehicles. It was like a giant bike path, clear of obstacles and delightfully smooth. Waving to cars and trucks that bumped along through the mud and pot holes below us on the dreadfully dilapidated old road, we felt like kings and were able to cover some serious ground in North and central Bolivia.
And riding with the Pommes has been great fun. Chatting on the road, cycle dancing together to the tunes pumping from our mini sound system and sharing camp sites & meals. And let’s be honest, at the end of the day it really is all about food. Cyclists are keen snackers and every hour we all stop to dive into the panniers for the next treat.
We are all experts at ‘hotel camping’, meaning we set up our stoves inside our tiny cheap rooms and cook up a storm. Always starting with a round of pop corn and of course, tea. Camping was limited in Bolivia due to the now absorbent nature of our tent and serious rain fall. But sometimes we managed to convince some nice folk to let us camp under an outdoor sheltered area and did our best to fend off the drips in the night. Although still usually waking to soggy sleeping bags and a mini river flowing between our mats.
It was always a huge goal for us to make it to Uyuni to ride across the salt flats; the biggest and highest salt flats in the world. But as our journey south started to consume the months, it became apparent that our arrival in central Bolivia would coincide perfectly with the rainy season. Arriving on the edge of the desert in Colchani and seeing the water levels at over 10cm high, it was obvious that riding across at this time of year was simply impossible. The reports of salt damage to ones bike from riding across in the dry season is enough to make you think twice. All that salty water would have made a meal of Falkor in no time. Not to mention how difficult it would be to actually ride. So we made a visit to the edge of the water, ditched our shoes and waded out there on foot.
And what a transformation to see it underwater. The salt is so white and the day was so still that the reflections mirrored the illusion that we were suspended in the clouds. Truly magical. So while the rainy season ensured we couldn’t ride across, it was still an absolute spectacle to visit. And the seed is now firmly planted to revisit this natural wonder in a more forgiving cycling season, with our goal stronger than ever to cross the expanse by peddle power.
From Uyuni, we made it our mission to blast through the final leg of Bolivia and headed to Argentina for warmer weather, red meat and wine. Calculating it would take between 4 to 5 days, we put our legs to work and kept dreaming of lying beneath the grape vines while chewing on a steak.
There is a lot to be said of the way our minds function when we harbour expectations. Despite the map questing and all the elevation charts we revised daily, we had no idea what was ahead of us. And as we imagined a swift blast through, our final days in Bolivia turned into some seriously hard days in the desert, and it all came as quite the surprise. Construction of the new road ceased in Uyuni and beyond it lay unmaintained roads of deep sand, gravel, and long stretches of washboard. One minute we were riding through a barren desert, the next up huge mountains and then down through steep valleys. It was the most regularly changing landscape we have seen with new worlds presenting themselves every 20km or so. Mixed with hectic head-winds, sudden down pours, close landing lightening bolts and hail storms and there were some pretty intense conditions. It was difficult, overwhelming and completely stunning all at the same time.
Thank goodness we had the company of the Pommes and together we made it through despite 4 more broken spokes and a series of punctures and more side wall blow outs. We have been through more than 10 tires both on front and on the rear – all 20 have failed due to side-wall blow outs. Such joy!
From the reports we received we expected Bolivia to be cheaper, but really found everything to be about the same the same price and quality as Peru. We were also told to expect the food to be less tasty but discovered the joy of SALTENAS, Bolivias version of a pasty. We can sniff them out a mile away and now buy them by the dozen. They are simply awesome and are an excellent distraction to our dreamings of Aussie sausage rolls. Honestly, I can’t wait to get my laughing gear around one of those.
It was funny being in a new country after having spent over 3 months in Peru. It felt like we were there for a lot longer. In fact, it’s the country we spent the 2nd most amount of time in with Mexico winning at 4 months and USA coming in 3rd with exactly 3 months. You get used to the people and their expressions, the way things are done, converting currency and the cost of stuff. It always amazes me how so much can change by crossing a thin border line.
I wonder if you traveled to these places and spent only a few days in each if they would all seem the same? Because we are at the mercy of each country by being on the road all day, we notice all the differences as they absolutely effect us. Sadly though, it seems the lack of respect for others on the road is similar in Bolivia as it is in Peru. It’s nice when you can get off the main road and away from all the serious commuter traffic. Bus & mini van drivers in particular do not give much time to considering the lives of others and we have had more than our fair share of bloody close calls, with Bolivia topping the charts within just the first week. We are aware of the risks we take as cycle tourers and do everything in our power to minimize those risks. It’s really frustrating when others don’t realise that and practically go out of their way to put you in danger.
But on the most part, the people are very kind and welcoming and all the good experiences quickly fade the bad ones away. Our last 2 weeks in Bolivia were filled with gorgeous unexpected sights and were mostly free of traffic related incidents.
With fresh skepticism of the conditions of Bolivian road surfaces, we allowed ourselves 2 days to ride the 90 km from Tupiza to the border town of Villazon. Leaving around 7:30am, the surprise sealed road saw us coasting easily to the border in a day, crossing into Argentina on January 31st.
As internet connections in Bolivia were patchy and unreliable, it was difficult to update the blog. We are hoping that in the next fortnight when we arrive in San Juan, we can get online again and update the blog from Argentina, which is where we are now. Country number 16!
In the mean time, there are some pretty major celebrations to sing about.
First of all, we made our fund raising target for World Bicycle relief!
What an incredible sight for us to see those numbers the day we left La Paz! It’s unbelievable. Truly, unbelievable. To know that all of you guys have supported us all of the way and to have achieved this result together, it’s just amazing. Having never done any fund raising before we are overwhelmed by the generosity of all of our supporters. It is impossible to explain how it feels to be a part of something so big. And something that effects so many people. We are only just now starting to realise what we have been able to achieve by working together with our network to reach for the same goal. What great changes we can effect when we all believe in the same dreams. It’s simply wonderful.
Being that words can’t say enough – we tried to capture our gratitude in this video. It also cant convey the gratitude and joy in our hearts, but have a watch anyway to see us try and express it here
And another huge unbelievable achievement, we rode our 20,000th kilometer!
Honestly, it’s too much to comprehend. Really? We have seriously ridden 20,000 kilometers? Nah, it seems impossible that we have covered this distance with nothing more than pedal power. I am absolutely shocked. Of course, what was not so shocking was that as we were watching the odometer for those numbers to tick over, a great gust of air escaped the front tire and the side wall blew out.
The odometer read 19,999 and Brendon’s face said a lot more. But you have to laugh right. Everytime we get a puncture or a spoke breaks we pray that it will be the last one, but of course, it’s just not ever gonna be that way. With another 1500km to get us to Santiago, it’s anyone’s guess how many more opportunities we will get have to ponder the journey while sitting on the side of the road.
See our latest video of the 2nd part of Peru by clicking here
And of course, more piccies from the journey to here….;