Arriving in Buenos Aires

Long before we ever left on this journey, I would sit at home now and then letting my imagination run wild with all kinds of what-if scenarios.  Sitting on the couch dreaming up how to get to Argentina on a motorcycle seemed like an immense undertaking back before we were crossing borders.  The thought of stepping out and completely exposing yourself to the unknown can make you feel equally as frightened as elated.

All through the planning process, there had been a goal, a final destination, and that was the city of Buenos Aires.  Pulling into town was a day I dreamed of.  Somewhere in my elaborate thoughts were ticker tape parades, photo shoots, shaking hands with people on the street, kissing babies, and fine cigars and wine to celebrate the accomplishment.  It’s easy to dream this stuff up while sitting on your couch at home, but reality tells a different story.

Unrelated photo:  Rufio liked making major adjustments to the camera settings before snapping a picture.  Luckily he captured the sun apocalypse in Zacatecas, Mexico…

The ride into Buenos Aires was a rainy and cold one, but my thoughts that day weren’t concerned with the weather at all.  These were the last miles of what turned out to be a 6 month journey, and my mind was busy contemplating the ride.  It took awhile to adjust to life on the road in otherworldly places, but for the past few months, life on the road in otherworldly places had become my norm.  Waking up every day to something completely new is a lively experience.  Going home to something else was certainly on my mind.

Unrelated photo: Machu Picchu, it’s as cool as it looks. 

As I arrived in Buenos Aires, traffic through the city was intense.  A whole lot of people live in Buenos Aires, and they drive like nuts.  I began looking for a hotel downtown, but everything I found was either too expensive, full, or didn’t have parking for the bike.  I got the bright idea to drive to the outskirts of town to find a hotel which turned out to be a big mistake.  Buenos Aires is absolutely massive.  I kept moving south instead of backtracking north, rode for hours through tolls and cold rain, and still never got out of town.

At some point, I turned around and headed back to the downtown area.  Night had fallen, and I decided to spring for a pricey room in the city.  As I arrived back in the downtown area, I accidentally took the wrong exit ramp on the highway toward the bad end of town.  As luck would have it, this was the point when after 14,500 miles my trusted steed finally decided to break down.  As the bike began to sputter, I thought it had run out of gas.  I was able to coast it into a gas station before my machine finally died.  Further inspection revealed my problems clearly were electrical.  When the lights don’t work, putting more gas in the tank won’t fix the problem.  Besides, I could hear gas swishing around in the tank…more than enough fuel to get me to a hotel.

Unrelated photo:  The road….somewhere in Ecuador

I couldn’t believe it, just a few short miles from warm, dry hotels in the city, and I was stuck.  I was exhausted, soaked from riding in the rain, and a bit out of sorts as I realized my options were quite limited.  As I toiled with the bike trying to make something work, a couple guys standing around chatting took an interest in my work on the bike.  They were a couple truck drivers fresh off their shift at the nearby shipping dock.  Had they not been hanging around at that gas station the night my bike broke down, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of there.

When it was clear the bike was going nowhere, one of the guys offered to call a buddy with a tow truck.  The tow truck driver, who happened to be violently ill, seemed very reluctant to pick me up at all.  It took a very high agreed-upon tow price (by Argentina standards) before he would give me and the bike a lift into town.  As luck would have it, the tow truck driver’s wife knew some English and accompanied her husband for the ride.  She used her English-speaking abilities to tell me how with money from my tow, she’d be able to take her children to some Disney-on-Ice show they so badly wanted to see.  I nodded and smiled as she told me this, but inside I was just relieved that I wouldn’t be risking my life sleeping at the gas station.  For what wasn’t more than a $40 buck tow, they probably saved my life.

Unrelated photo:  Bike maintenance in Colombia with a Poker beer.

When I was searching for hotels earlier in the day, I came across one called Axel Hotels.  For some reason I remembered the name, and remembered that it had vacancies.  When I was asking about rates and room availability earlier in the day, I found it odd that all the guys working there had their shirts only half buttoned.  But, I’d always heard that Buenos Aires had a “European flair” so I didn’t think anything of it.  After the bike was secured for the night in a garage a couple blocks away, I set out to find the Axel Hotel because I knew it had a vacancy.

My internet searches have revealed that Axel Hotels no longer operate the Buenos Aires location, but fortunately photos are still available on Google.  Here it is, The Axel Hotel, Buenos Aires

They still had vacancies, so I booked a room.  I dragged my ass upstairs embarrassed of my coal miner appearance in such an exceptionally clean hotel.  It wasn’t until I got to my room and read some of the hotel literature describing it as “hetero-friendly” that I realized what type of hotel I was in.  While showering under their phallic shower head (photo below) never left me feeling so dirty, I’ll have to admit I’ve never slept on softer sheets.

With the chaos of the day behind me, I spent some time standing on the balcony of my hotel room listening to the rain, the sound of the city, and absorbing where on earth I was.  What a journey it had been, but I made it…I was in Buenos Aires!!!

Almost to Buenos Aires

The pace of most of the trip usually was to stop in a city for 2 nights or so before packing up and moving on.  I had planned to travel for 5 months in total, but by the time I crossed into Argentina, the 5 month mark had already been passed.  Having gone well over the allotted time for traveling, low on travel budget money, and exhausted from 5+ months on the road,  I was making miles day after day in Argentina with just one extended stopover in Cordoba.

Paula, whom I met back in Colombia, was from Cordoba, Argentina.  She told me to stop by should my travels take me through Cordoba, so I dropped in to say hello.  I visited with Paula, her mother, and her sister.  They fixed me lunch and taught me all the nuances of sipping mate (pronounced maaaatay, it’s the national beverage of Argentina).  A tea-like drink, Argentinians take their mate very seriously.  Google “mate etiquette” sometime if you want a crash course in how to drink the stuff.

We tried several times to get a decent picture, but the lighting was terrible.  Paula kept insisting we get another picture, and by picture #3, mom and sister had about enough.  I was enjoying the company and had just been fed lunch, so smiling was about the only thing I felt like doing.  Here’s pic #3:

Paula’s father was also kind enough to spend his Sunday afternoon driving us around the city to show me the sights.  Beyond the city limits, he took us to a real nice lake west of Cordoba that locals use for weekend retreats.  I don’t think he’d met many, if any, Americans in his time, and he didn’t know any English.  My communication with dad was possible mostly through Paula’s translation.  He was ready to have a serious discussion about politics, but lucky for me it never happened due to the communication barrier.

Unrelated photo:  Cutting the grass in Salento, Colombia

From Cordoba, it was southward to Pilar, another small town between big cities.  In Pilar I found the most luxurious of small roadside hotels.  A bus stop adjacent to the hotel was the only logical explanation for such a nice facility in a small, rural town.  Nevertheless, it was clean, cheap and the heater in the room not only kept me warm and comfortable, it dried my sink-washed clothing rather quickly.

That evening, I trekked across the street to a sausage shop with hopes of finding a beer.  Successfully cleaning your clothes in a hotel sink always calls for celebration, so a beer was in order.  Argentina has an unparalleled love for meat, and small meat stores are in abundance.  It was in this little store where a very memorable experience occurred.

On my way to the cooler, I passed this guy who was sweeping the floor in the shop.

Meet Edgardo.  He said something to me as I passed him in the store, but since I didn’t understand his Spanish, I gave no response.  It was when I was fumbling trough speaking with the cashier to purchase the beer when they both realized I was a foreigner and not just some snobby guy ignoring the guy sweeping the shop.  I told them I was from the US, and the conversation went on from there.  Mostly in my broken Spanish, but Edgardo also called his wife to the store for translation assistance.  She had taken some English classes, and helped with the communication.  I went in for a quick beer, spent two or three hours in the store talking about anything and everything, and walked out with a few new friends.

Unrelated photo:  Somewhere in Peru, dogs lining up to chase me down the road

More Argentina

I’d better finish the account of this trip, the memories are starting to fade.  So where was I anyway???? Oh, I remember now, freezing my behind off in Argentina.  Due to my lack of picture taking for the last segment of the trip, I’ll interspurse random photos taken throughout the trip.  Too much reading is boring…I know.

The bidet in the hotel on my first night’s stay in Argentina gave me the feeling I’d re-entered an entirely developed country.   When I woke in the morning, daylight revealed the hotel was completely exposed with no walls guarding the facility or the parking lot.  We don’t live behind walls in the United States, but much of the world does.  It’s counterintuitive, but I find the absence of walls provide me with the greatest sense of confidence and security.  There were 11 countries visited on this trip.  Some border crossings were a seamless transition demarcated only by a stamp in the passport. Others allowed entry into a different world.  The transition from Bolivia to Argentina provided passage into a country resembling my own more than any other country visited on this trip.  Although I’d continue to ride in winter for the rest of this journey, the harshness of Bolivia was behind me.  Now I was enjoying the convenience of nice cafes and wifi in almost any Argentinian gas station I stopped at.

Out of place photo #1:  Guatemalan chicken bus.  I’d put these things up against a US military tank

During the course of the trip, typically we’d stop in bigger cities and find a hotel.  Argentina’s rampant inflation was making things rather expensive in every major city I visited, so rather than staying in the city, I found hotels in between the big cities. Staying in hotels off the side of the highway in small, rural towns ended up being a fun change of pace. Lots of good conversations with random people in these situations.

Out of place photo #2:  Nicaraguan funeral procession. A black casket is hoisted high at the front of the crowd.

Meeting the people of Argentina was a great experience.  They had an energy unlike any other on this trip.  The best I’m able to describe Argentinians is like the character Poppie on the old sitcom Seinfeld.  Any given issue would set off Poppie until he got to a point where he’d pee his pants.  Once the pressure was relieved, he’d come back to a reasonable temperament.  In my opinion, a lot of Argentinians are like this, and it seems to manifest itself in a distrust of governments, and a desire to go on strike at any given moment.  That said, they probably had more pride in their country than any other group I’d seen.  Take the passion of Tango, and apply it to all facets of life…this is the composition of an Argentinian.

Out of place photo #3:  Best warning I’ve ever seen on a pack of smokes.  Bogota, Colombia.

 

Bolivia into Argentina

My arrival in Tupiza, Bolivia occurred later in the evening.  Entering the city involved crossing one of two one-lane bridges spanning over a small river.  I of course picked the bridge that was blocked by protesters at 10:00PM.  A Toyota Land Cruiser I followed onto the bridge was the first to get stopped and plead his case for crossing.  Being one of the longest days of riding on the trip, I just parked the bike on the side of the bridge thinking I’d rest my weary body shooting the shit with the protesters for awhile.  I pulled off the helmet, and greeted the protesters the the utmost respect hoping they might let me through after I rested there awhile.

Turned out they had no intent to slow me down at all.  An older gentlemen with no teeth approached me, and told me to wait just a couple minutes until they made their stand against the guy in the Land Cruiser.  Once the guy in the Land Cruiser backed off the bridge and drove away, the protesters lifted the rope and let me pass.  I was actually a little upset that I didn’t get a long break.

Found a nice little hotel in the darkness.  The girl working the hotel desk gave me a key to a gated parking lot across the street from the hotel where I could park the bike.  She told me not to let the guard dog get out.  That made me a little nervous going in there in the first place, but the guard dog turned out to be a little puppy that was far more afraid of me than I of it.

The next morning I ate a hearty breakfast at one of several restaurants in town.  I sat at a table next to some French tourists.  For some reason, Bolivia attracts French tourists.  I think I saw more French tourists in Bolivia than anywhere else on the trip.

After breakfast, I packed up, took my chances with the guard dog once again, and pressed on toward Argentina.

Final miles in Bolivia

Before long, I arrived at the Bolivia/Argentina border.  It was hard to believe this would be the final border crossing of the trip.  Turned out to be one of the more time consuming crossings of the entire trip due to some confusion with Argentinian customs employees.  No shenanigans though.

So long Bolivia. Your ridiculously high altitude will not be missed. I’m an oxygen lover.

Hello Argentina

First sign with kilometerage to Buenos Aires.  Just 1,219 miles to go!

My planned destination for the day was the city of Salta, Argentina, but the mileage was absolutely impossible to make in one day.  That last rough day on the road in Bolivia must have made me stupid while planning my route the night before.  The Argentinian road was smooth and straight though, allowing me to cover a considerable distance.

The day was a bit chilly for riding, and things really started getting cold as the sun descended.  Just before dusk, I stopped on the side of the road to add a layer of clothing.  While looking back in the direction I had just traversed, I saw a sign telling me I was standing on the Tropic of Capricorn.  Figured an accidental stop at the Tropic of Capricorn was worth getting the camera out for a picture.

I pressed on in the cold looking for any hotel I could find.  The first small city I drove through reminded me of Gatlainburg, Tennessee.  I must have checked 8 different hotels, but they were all booked up, or just too expensive.  The next small city I stopped at was more along the lines of Aspen, Colorado.  I didn’t even bother to ask for prices at the hotels, I could tell they were too expensive just driving by.  Eventually, I stumbled into a roadside hotel that was nice, and while expensive, didn’t break the bank.  I was also really excited that it had a bidet.  So excited that I even took a picture.  

Turned out that bidet’s are really common in Argentina, but for that one bathroom photographing moment in time, it was really a novel experience.

The last bits of Bolivia

If I said the word ‘sand’, what types of thoughts does that elicit in you?  Thinking about the beach already, aren’t you.  Sipping a Corona, listening to the waves crash in, drunk on oxygen filling your lungs, sitting there with your girl, both of your toes buried deep in the warm sand.  Normally when I think of sand, that’s what I think of too.

But in southwest Bolivia, sand takes on a different meaning.  It became an obstacle by which a motorbike wheel must be navigated through. It was to be done with no Corona, alone, and while unable to breathe in a frigidity that only 13,000 feet above sea level provides.  Bolivia, you have such a beauty and a harshness with nothing in between.  I don’t know how else to describe you.

Southwest Bolivia has a national park called the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.  It certainly looks beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.  Flamingos inhabiting it’s lagoons, natural rock sculptures and picturesque mountains making up the landscape.  I’ve heard it’s impressive.  That said, I’ve also heard that the road that goes through it is very sandy.  This was such a shame, as I have no experience riding motorbikes through sand.  I’d tried to find other people that may be riding through the area, but with no luck.  If I was going to do it, I’d have to do it alone.

The road through the national park reaches altitudes up around 15,000 feet. This seemed a bad place to learn to ride in sand, so I decided against it.  This decision was tough, but was justified by me, to myself, as my reason to come back.  Doing it alone would be too dangerous.  I’m not superman, and dropping this heavy bike on my leg could be a real disaster.  I made the decision against it, and that was final.  But as I sit here three months later and write this, I regret this decision wholeheartedly.

Leaving Uyuni, there were two gravel roads out of town.  They were just a stone’s throw from one of Uyuni’s three gas stations.  I stood there staring at them from the gas pump while a guy at the station filled up my tank and spare gas can.  It truly was a crossroads.  One went to Chile by means of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, the other to the southern Bolivian town of Tupiza.  Both paths trailed off into the distance much further than than the eye could see.  I wanted to see the national reserve, but instead I took what I thought would be the safe route.

The road through the national reserve to Chile was sandy, I had a lot of good information about that road.  But, I really had no idea what condition the road to Tupiza was in.  My determination that it would be easier and safer was based on looking at a map.  This route was denoted on the map as being the same quality as the nicely paved road that I took from Potosi into Uyuni.  Boy was the map wrong.  This route turned out to have patches of sand strewn throughout it, the longest and muddiest river crossing of the entire trip, and endless miles of washboard bumps in the road, the vibration of which can literally knock your vision out of whack!

The road started out easy enough though, an occasional small sandy patch here and there.  The endless washboard surface was really the only tough thing to deal with.

But about an hour or so after the crossroads, I ran into a sandy patch that took me down.  I must have been asleep at the handlebars, because it was marked with red flags that didn’t catch my attention.

These red flags should have been a red flag

I had the helmet camera operating on the time lapse feature at the time snapping a shot every couple seconds.  So, I can’t forget about this fall.

Here’s a shot of my head on it’s way to the ground.

We were both just vertical a minute ago.  

Falling over in the middle of nowhere really gets the adrenaline pumping.  But even with all the adrenaline going, I didn’t have the strength to pick up the bike by myself at this altitude.  It’s absolutely amazing the way the high altitudes zap your strength.  Fortunately, there were three road workers sitting on the side of the road.  They came over to help me pick it up.

Funny how help shows up when you need it…even when you’re in the middle of nowhere.  Things work out, they always do…you really start to believe it after taking a trip like this.

So we got the machine upright.

Thanks for the help buddy

The bike started back up, so off I went.  There were more sandy patches that were far longer and far worse than this one, but I’d learned my lesson from the fall.  I was on high alert from that point on, spotting the sandy sections well in advance of hitting them, and taking great caution to pass through.  There was an inordinate amount of cursing going on in the helmet, as this road couldn’t have been much worse than the road through the national reserve that I had wanted so badly to take.  When I approached a river crossing that was certainly the deepest, muddiest river crossing of the trip, I nearly blew my lid.  I didn’t stop to find the best place to cross or even to turn on the camera.  Just picked a line, gunned the throttle, and powered though with anger.  Now that I’m sitting at home writing this, it’s easy to say that I should have turned back to Uyuni, spent the night, and taken the road to Chile the next day.  But at the time I was squirreling the bike through that muddy river bed, backtracking didn’t seem like the right thing to do.  Life on the road was wearing me out, and I wanted to go home.

So I rode on and on, admiring the Bolivian countryside

And on and on

Just me and my shadow

Parts of the countryside here had quite a unique look.  Sometimes I was pretty sure a teradactyl was going to swoop down, grab me with its talons, and eat me for dinner.

It was well into the night before I arrived in Tupiza.  The lingering sunset I saw while riding on this road was one of the most interesting I’ve seen in all my life.  There were horizontal layers of white, green and purple.  I really should have stopped for pictures with the good camera, but I didn’t.  The washboard surface continued to be relentless, even as darkness fell around me.  As I got closer to the city of Tupiza, I also had dogs chasing me again.  I never saw any of them in the darkness, but I could hear them barking at my ankles as I rode along.

There’s a few days on this trip I’ll never forget.  This particular day tested me, and will always be burned vividly into my memory.

Uyuni, Bolivia

Half the reason I went on this trip was to see the largest salt flat in the world.  It’s located in Uyuni, Bolivia, and it was definitely on the list.  Please Wikipedia, tell us more:

Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is located in the Potosi and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. The large area, clear skies and the exceptional flatness of the surface make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. Salar de Uyuni is also a climatological transitional zone, for towering tropical cumulus congestus and cumulus incus clouds that form in the eastern part of the massive salt flat during the summer, cannot permeate beyond the salt flat’s considerably more arid western edges, near the Chilean border and the Atacama Desert.

Is it just me, or is this the neatest thing on earth?  My god, I’m a dork.  Who cares, pulling into town was exciting….really exciting.

The big white nothingness on the right just below the horizon is the Salar

Just like all the Bolivian cities before it, my expectations were completely wrong.  Thinking Uyuni would be a unique tourist town, it turned out to be desolate town with a certain look of abandonment to it.  Had there been any nearby vegetation, there would have been tumbleweeds blowing down the streets.  Instead it was just salty dust blowing around, and rabid dogs chasing me down the street.  And it was damn cold….have I complained about the cold weather in Bolivia lately.

Right after pulling into town, I accidentally found the train graveyard Uyuni is known to have, so pictures were taken

After visiting the train graveyard, I went looking for gasoline but the only station I found had already sold out for the day. Didn’t have enough gas in the tank to drive out to the Salar, so I just found a hotel instead.  Figured I’d find gas in the morning, go out on the Salar, and maybe even camp in the cold.  Instead, a third bout of stomach troubles would plague me here.  Fortunately this was the last round of stomach problems of this trip.

Fast forward a couple days later, it was off to the Salar.  Filled up on gas in the morning before riding 15 miles down a washboard grooved road.  It took a few tries to find a solid track out to the Salar from the main road, but I managed to find one which got me out to the salt flat so as to avoid paying to get through the main entrance.  There were some spots where the bike wanted to sink into the ground, so you’ve got to use some caution.  But once you’re on the nice, smooth, almost crispy salt flat, you can just hit the throttle and go as fast as you’d like.

Been waiting quite awhile to get here

 

Moving South through Bolivia

Only stayed in La Paz for one night even though I planned to stay there longer.  I was impressed with how modern parts of the city were.  I really had no idea what to expect, but my expectations were low.  They shouldn’t have been.  Big cities everywhere have any amenity you’re willing to pay for.  I should have already learned that by now.  I wasn’t too sad about leaving La Paz early though. I’d been breathing thin air for quite awhile, and was ready for warmer weather.  Denser air would eventually come in Argentina, but warm weather didn’t arrive til I got home.

From La Paz, it was south to a town called Oruro.  There’s no reason to go to Oruro unless you have to, but mileage-wise it’s a good stopping point after La Paz.  I found a cheap hotel without heat for the night.  Lack of heat in buildings is not uncommon in Bolivia.  Coincidentally, the people of Bolivia (and Peru for that matter) are excellent makers of heavy blankets that will keep you warm in the coldest of temperatures.  And when I say heavy, I mean they weigh a lot.  Laying in bed at night, you feel like you’re in the dentist’s chair getting x-rays with the lead blanket smothering you.

And while Oruro didn’t have much worth mentioning, I was able to find a new gas can in the local market.  This was a big deal as I had been looking to pick up a gas can ever since Ecuador.  People in hardware stores look at you like you have two heads when you ask them for a gas can.  Gas cans get classified as a ‘plastic goods’ item in South America.  They’re not something you’d find in a hardware store.  You have to find someone selling all sorts of pastic buckets, containers and the like to have a chance of finding a gas can.  They don’t even sell gas cans at stores that sell chainsaws and weed-eaters….I checked.

Did I mention it’s cold in Bolivia? The 60 mph wind chill you have to endure while riding doesn’t help either.

The cold weather required frequent stops to warm up.  While stopping you can do things like….. take pictures of an occasional lake

Take pictures of passing trucks

Everybody waves

Photos of yourself and llamas is another option

One thing you need to learn quickly while traveling the Bolivian altiplano is this…HEED ALL LLAMA CROSSING SIGNS!

These animals are all over 

After Oruro, I traveled to the city of Potosi which is a little more touristy.  Potosi is also one of the highest cities in the world at 13,420 ft.  It has silver mines to tour, but I didn’t do anything touristy.  I found a cheap hotel with heat in Potosi, and I think I stayed there three nights.  I’d been on the road 5 months at this point.  The length of time on the road, the cold, and the lack of oxygen were definitely starting to wear on me at this point

I was also considering riding some really high altitude, desolate roads in southwest Bolivia, and was researching whether they were too dangerous to do alone.  I had been able to contact a couple other guys motorcycling through Bolivia, and was hoping they were headed to southwest Bolivia as well.

Copacabana to La Paz, Bolivia

So after Pieterjan and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, I set off to ride a short 100 miles to La Paz, Bolivia.  Ever since I arrived in the high mountains of Southern Peru, there’s been no need to get started early in the morning anymore.  Being south of the equator, seasons are reversed which means it’s the middle of winter here for most of South America.  Couple that with high altitudes, and you end up with some freezing cold nights and mornings.  Fortunately the sun almost always comes out during the day, and it warms the air into the 50′s or 60’s Fahrenheit.

This would be the last bit of riding I’d do along the banks of Lake Titicaca.  Set in front of snowcapped mountains, the lake took on a different look in Bolivia that was far more scenic than in Peru.  And after stopping on several occasions along the banks of this mighty body of water, I can attest that the best way to look at Lake Titicaca is from a distance.  You couldn’t pay me to drink a thimble full of unfiltered water straight from this pond.

Views were really pretty.  The pictures just don’t do it justice.

On my way to La Paz, not only did I get to drive alongside the lake, but I got to cross a section of it as well.  If you had never learned to swim, you’d think twice before boarding one of the ferries that take you across Lake Titicaca.  These flatboats constructed of rotten wood and powered by 10hp Evinrudes looked like they were constructed 75 years ago.  The ferry’s movement with every little wave inspired no confidence.  In fact, I’d say the hull of the boat I was riding on had more flex than a bodybuilding competition.

Fortunately the car in front of me had just been blessed at the church back in Copacabana, so I knew I’d make it to the other side alive.

Here’s the ferry captain pushing us away from the shore with a big pole.  Nice guy who was more than helpful when I had to back my bike off the ferry, but I doubt he’s ever heard of lifejackets.  Shortly after this picture was taken, he spent 15 minutes getting the boat’s motor started.

Proper footing was very important. I didn’t want to get wet falling into the lower deck of the vessel.  

After the boat ride, it was 70 miles or so before I arrived in La Paz.  But before getting lost in the city, I had my first experience purchasing…or attempting to purchase…Bolivian gasoline.

Bolivia has three prices for gas.  The first is the price for nationals which is by far the cheapest of the three.  The second price is about three times the price of the first, and is levied on any individual driving a vehicle without Bolivian plates.  The third price is only for non-nationals, and is somewhere between what nationals pay and what non-nationals are supposed to pay.  Price #3 is always negotiated with the guy or gal pumping the gas.  They ring up the sale based on the price for nationals, and the pumper gets the difference between the price you pay and the cost for nationals.  Assuming you were smart enough to negotiate a price lower than the price for non-nationals, you pocket difference between the cost for non-nationals and the price you paid the pumper.

The real problem turned out to be honest gas pumpers.  They’re required to fill out additional paperwork when ringing up a sale to a non-national.  More often than not, they refused to sell me gas because they were too lazy to fill out the additional paperwork.  So many times in Bolivia, I was denied gasoline even though I was willing to pay the full price non-national are obligated to pay.

But I eventually made it to La Paz, and I even pulled into town with a full tank of gas.  La Paz sits at an elevation of 12,000 ft which is 600 ft below Copacabana.  It sure was nice to breathe easier.

La Paz.  A city way down in a bowl, surrounded by mountains.

I spent a good deal of time lost and looking for a hotel in La Paz.  When I was stopped on the side of the road looking at maps, a  motorcyclist stopped, asked where I was going, and led me to the hotel I was looking for.  It made my day.

Leaving Peru

After I left my family in Pisac, it was back to Puno to spend another cold night on the shore of Lake Titicaca.  The following day, I set out to cross the border from Peru into Bolivia.  Took a road along Lake Titicaca on a crisp and cool day.  Here’s a couple more pics of Lake Titicaca in Peru.

When I visit another country, I play by the rules…usually.  And for the most part, considering Central and South American rules are liberally bent in any direction that suits your fancy, following the rules has been pretty easy.

When I arrived in Peru, I knew that purchasing insurance was mandatory, and I even went to several offices to purchase a policy.  However, I’d only found agents willing to sell 1 year insurance policies which is 9 months longer than my tourist visa allowed me to stay in the country.  I didn’t think that was a fair deal, and eventually I just forgot about purchasing the insurance policy altogether.  Besides, wrecks are settled on the side of the road anyway, and insurance policy or not, the foreigner is always responsible for the accident even if it’s not his fault.  A few Benjamin Franklin’s will go much further in that situation than a piece of paper showing you purchased Peruvian insurance.

And for thousands of miles ridden in Peru, forgetting to purchase an insurance policy wasn’t a problem…except for the last couple feet of pavement before crossing into Bolivia.  The first step in checking out of Peru is a police inspection.  I sat down in front of the border cop at his desk and first thing he asked for was my insurance.  Even though I understood everything he said, I did my best to pretend like I only spoke English and had no clue what he was asking for.  ’No insurance is a violation of the law’ he told me while smacking his fist down on the desk.  ’There are fines for violating the law in Peru’ he continued.

Playing dumb wasn’t working, so from there I tried the old paperwork shuffle.  Spent about 15 minutes or so going through all my papers, and handing them one by one to the cop to see if he’d accept one.  Just like pretending to only speak English, this approach wasn’t working either.  As I was fumbling through papers, he sat there as calmly as could be reading a magazine.  It was clear he was just going to sit there and wait me out until I produced the insurance documents.

I finally just said that I don’t have any insurance and he jumped away from his magazine like someone hit him in the behind with an electric cattle prodding device.  ’For $100 Soles (Peruvian currency) I can do a little work on the computer, stamp the paperwork, and send you on your way’ he told me.  I only had $80 Soles left in my pocket to pay the “fine” which he gladly accepted.  After putting the proper stamps on everything, he shook my hand (the handshake was awkward), and wished me well on my journey.  For some reason though the money I paid for the fine was deposited into his left front pocket, and I suspect Peru has no record of the money received.

The guy walking into the green building is working hard to make sure people driving in Peru purchase insurance.  I don’t have a picture of his face, but he looked like a young Walter Matthou.

The rest of the border crossing was straightforward.  The guys in the Bolivian office were upbeat, funny, and professional all at the same time.  It was a nice change after my recent dealings with the Peruvian authorities.

From the border it was just a few short miles to Copacabana, Bolivia where I found a $7 USD hotel room for the night.  Also met another biker staying in the same hotel.  Pieterjan, from Belgium, was headed north to Colombia after purchasing a bike in Santiago, Chile.  We had a couple beers that evening and also grabbed breakfast the next morning. It’s always good to get advice about the road ahead from a traveler headed in the opposite direction.

Pieterjan with a hand full of Bolivianos (Bolivian currency) after trading some Dollars

Copacabana was alright.  It’s hard to get a good feel for a city when  you’re only there for an evening, but it was alright.  It was a much smaller city than I thought it would be.

Streets of Copacabana

Lake Titicaca at the end of the street

Gigantic church in the town square at Copacabana.  People bring their vehicles to the front of the church to be blessed which is supposed to improve the safety of the vehicle.  Proper vehicle maintenance might be a better option, but I guess whatever you can afford will work.

A shot of Copacabana in the distance as I was riding out of town.