bolivia

The Four-Point Restroom

The power had been shut down for the night.  In the darkened hall, my hand slid along the second-floor wall, guiding me around the corner to the men’s bathroom.  I took a look out the window into pitch-blackness and uncountable stars above.  Somewhere below, our bikes sat in the freezing dirt under laundry lines with some chickens and an old rusty truck.  Orion hung upside down in the sky to my northern eyes.  We were just inside the border of Chile, at Colchane.  The morning would be here soon enough and volcanoes would emerge outside this same window.  We would descend the western slope of the Andes, touch the northern edge of the Atacama Desert, and end up on the coast.

I was looking forward to seeing this region, and dropping down to a reasonable elevation after existing so long at altitudes above 3,500 meters (~11,500’).  We had been cold and short-changed on oxygen for many weeks, and it would be good to warm up a little and breathe normally again.

In the morning, we pulled on our cold-weather layers and started across the dry western Andes.  The road rose and fell between high volcanic peaks in shades of red, brown, and black, with only a thin covering of brush and sparse grass to betray the traces of water found here.  Our goal was to make the Chilean coastal city of Iquique, which took us on a descending route southwest to the ocean.  Curving around peak after peak, we were like tiny insects on bikes, weaving between gigantic pylons.  Once through the cone maze of the Andes, we started down a long valley and then emerged from the mountains onto a long slope high above the desert floor ahead.  The broad apron of rocky debris that we descended, spewed from the high Andes, merged with others to the north and south, forming a broad slope continuing to the west.  There was nothing on this gradual ramp of rock and gravel save for an occasional concrete marker, the rusted wreckage of cars and machinery, and the road itself.  All else had been left behind, leaving us with nothing but the mineral world, no animal, no vegetable, just two tiny travelers and what we carried across this dry, earth-tone planar world.  The landscape simplified into rock, sand, and air, and the view seemed vertically cropped or compressed, leaving the eye with only the horizon to rove in search of something, anything new.  The temperature rose rapidly as we descended, and by the time we leveled out the sun and heat had us longing for cool air.  Once again by changing our elevation we had simply traded one extreme for another.

We were on the northern skirt of the desert.  I had studied my geography before we got into this area.  Considered the driest desert in the world, there are places in the core of El Desierto de Atacama, still well to the south of us yet, that have seen no rain since record keeping began in 1570.  No rain at all in over 440 years.  NASA is using this area to test instruments on the Mars landers for water and biological activity, and they turn up neither here.  If you hold an orange or red filter up to your eye, no surprise – there you are on the red planet.  And it was hot.

As we neared the coastal mountains, we came alongside a small hill, and a sign pointed out El Gigante de Atacama, a huge petroglyph of a man, etched out onto the hillside very much in the same manner as the Nazca lines.  Surface rocks had been scraped aside, exposing the lighter sand underneath to draw a shape in the earth.  It turns out that this is the largest petroglyph of a man-figure in the world, at 119 meters (390’) tall.  The lines extending from his head are indicative of the seasonal positions of the moon.

We turned southward toward a town with fuel and ATMs, to refill both our tanks and wallets.  Having spent so much time in poorer countries, where just being able to buy gas was a relief, we were in for a huge surprise when, once we had milked a bank ATM of Chilean pesos, we found the Promised Land: gasoline in three different grades, a mini-mart with air-conditioning and two more functional ATMs, and every snack and drink imaginable.  The restrooms were out of another world: toilet seats, hot water, soap, and paper towels – “…a four-point restroom!”  For months we’d been happy with restrooms scoring one point or two.  We grabbed some sandwiches and sodas, and sat there laughing in the cool air, overwhelmed by the sudden abundance afforded by being back in a strong economy.  It was like the US again, and the higher prices did nothing to dispel the illusion.

After our indulgence of cash, fuel, and food, it was time to head just a little farther west to Iquique.  The land forms a kind of shelf as you approach the ocean, and the highways drop down to the coast through gaps or gulches that funnel you downwards to sea level.  The wind off the ocean is channeled through these gaps, and we were blasted by the rushing headwind until we turned north along the huge dune-like slope that runs parallel to the beach.  A long grade took us down, down, down to the ocean in one smooth grade.  The air forms a powerful updraft along the slope, creating a never-ending slide of air for hang-gliders and parasailers to play on, extending for miles and miles above the city.  The last 1,000 meters down into Iquique was taken in one long unbroken grade along the face of the mountain that rose up from the Pacific.

As we rolled to a stop at the first light, Jalene’s bike died, and that was the last we would ever hear from her battery.  We push started the bike, got it running long enough to find our hostel, and parked the bikes for the night.  Once again, when we were in need, a new friend appeared.  A taxi driver that had grown up there knew where to find batteries for motorcycles, and after trying two or three places, we zeroed in on a shop with a standard lead-acid unit for about $44 USD.  As luck would have it, Jay’s battery chose a tax-free zone to puke out in.  Turns out the Chilean government recognizes that it’s hard enough living in the extreme desert here, and has helped folks out with a little tax relief in the far north and south of the country.

On the way to find a battery, our driver pointed to the many wooden buildings in Iquique made from “Oregon pine” (Douglas fir).  In the early 1900’s, ships carrying products from Chile northward would return with lumber from the U.S. west coast, traded for a good profit in this desert isolation.  Many streets were lined with older wood-sided buildings, the paint peeling away, giving it the same look as some of the coastal towns back home in the northwestern U.S.   And as you’ll see in many port towns, there were some pretty salty characters in the area of our hostel, but didn’t pay much notice.  Later, a taxi driver commented that we were staying in the most crime-ridden section of town.  The folks we were seeing on the street did seem poor, yes, but the signs of vice and alcohol were appearing again.  Jalene and I hadn’t seen much of this since Bogota and other really big cities. I didn’t feel any threatening atmosphere here, but I was aware that people just a little more desperate for money might be watching us.

We enjoyed a couple of nights in Iquique to relax just a bit.  Rolling out of town, we decided to push the easy button and stopped at the first McDonalds we’d seen in ages, kind of a cultural reverse adventure.  Inside, we received a surprise, as we found nothing appealing for a breakfast menu, and settled for the same meager fare we’d been having for breakfast for months -- white bread, white cheese, sliced ham, coffee, and tea.  No egg or sausage McMuffins here!  We didn’t survey any other McDonalds on the trip, before this or after, so I have no idea what we’d find in a big capital city.

But we’d come on this trip to see other worlds, so we left the golden arches behind and took off down the coast of Chile, looking for something new.  As usual, it didn’t take very long to find it.

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Take a look at more photos HERE.

The Surprise Box

The thing that kept popping into my skull as we rode through Bolivia was the movie about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It’s still pretty rough here, with long views often containing little to suggest the modern age.  Imagining a journey by horse or train through Bolivia and Argentina over 100 years ago sure does generate respect for those that lived here.

As for us, we saddled up our modern mules and headed out of Sucre after a fantastic time checking out fossil dinosaur tracks, relaxing in the Plaza, and buying new tires for the bikes.  We decided on a route to take us through Cochabamba to the northwest, and so we pointed the bikes that way, and bounded through valleys and over ridges, following the two-lane road.  The rock in many places has a distinct sheen or polish to it, and the layers presented themselves not on edge, but flat, as though you could read them were they printed with text.  A giant could reach out and peel back another page on which to read the fossils lettering, and the road seemed to travel up the gutter of an open book.

Halfway to Cochabamba, the road swung to the northwest and began to climb higher into pine-covered ridges.  As we rose, the temperature dropped and we stopped to put on layers at some road construction.  My Dad is an engineer, and so it was with some surprise that I observed quite a lot of ups and down to the decking of the newly built concrete bridge over a deep chasm, and I knew it was wrong.  Looking back after crossing, it was quite out of true, visible to the unaided eye.  Instead of a smooth, level deck, it had definite rises and falls between the sections.  I had to wonder how this happened, and how long the bridge will last.  I so wish I’d taken a photo – how did I miss that one?

The weather was looking ominous ahead, and kept getting colder.  We considered finding a place off the road to wild camp.  The area has a high desert feel to it, with open pines and sparse grasses and brush underneath.  But we eventually worked our way through the dark clouds, and found ourselves in sunshine again on a drying road.  Blue sky after rain has the power to pick up our spirits like nothing else, and with our newfound energy we made Cochabamba and found a place to stay.  Typically, when we are the hungriest, there is a delay, and sure enough, the owner/manager was not there.   Long story short, we finally had the bikes parked and were shown to our room about 90 minutes later.  We walked to where we were told we could find food, but no dice, and we went looking on our own.   At the meltdown point, we settled in at a decent polleria, and ordered another dinner of chicken, rice, or fries.  Monotonous, yes, but it’s reasonably good, deep-fried, fast, and safe (I always like it, anyway).  The morning brought another day of mountain riding to Oruro, where, after looking around, we pushed the easy button and headed for Hotel Sucre, where we’d stayed before on our way down from La Paz.

But in the mountains between Cochabamba and Oruro, we twisted and turned as the road followed the contours around the ends of ridges, and followed side canyons in a typical route to cross an Andean range.  The road this day offered us a few interesting and unsettling events.  First to mind is when we came around a curve going steeply uphill and encountered a tractor-trailer flatbed, loaded with guardrail sections, entirely upside down and blocking the road.  It seemed to have just happened within the last few minutes, as the leaking diesel fuel had only run down the road about 10 meters, and the deep gouges in the asphalt above it were fresh and white, tracing curving arcs far uphill above the wreck.  The cab was intact though badly damaged, as a result of a long slide along the pavement downhill.  I assumed the driver was either inside still, or had crawled out okay.  Either way, the people along the road were simply standing there, so what urgency there had been was now over.  We crawled by it, and I decided a photo would be in poor taste.

Observation number two had to do with the dogs down here.  I’d noticed in Bolivia, and other countries such as Peru, that dogs tended to be seen sitting or lying at regular intervals along the roads.  For months I thought that some of them must be herding dogs with unseen llama or sheep herds nearby.  Today that theory went, quite literally, out the window.  We were following a bus up the mountain, looking for a passing opportunity.  A bunch of garbage came flying out the bus window, and the nearby ditch dog grabbed it, quick as lightning.  And that’s when the whole ecology of roadside feral dogs came into focus with a question: Is the frequency of the dogs along the road directly related to the frequency that cars and buses that come by? (and throw garbage out the windows).  Thinking of other roads in Central America, Colombia, and Peru, and now watching closely in Bolivia, the observations strongly suggest that the dogs control as much road length as they need to have enough to eat.  Busy roads, more garbage thrown, smaller territory needed, more dogs per given length of roadway.  With less traffic, there is less food, more competition, larger territories.  Observations over subsequent days showed that the pattern held.  I can’t prove it but it sure seems plausible, and I wonder if someone might be able to fashion a project of it.  It would need to take into account the size of the dogs, quality of the food, and many other factors I could think of.

We came down out of the mountains and back onto the Altiplano again, descending into Oruro.  I’d been commenting to Jalene for an hour or so about how often I could smell the brakes and clutches on the trucks climbing by or descending.  But as we slowed for an intersection, I smelled it again more strongly, with no trucks nearby.

It’s not a good feeling to be in the middle of Bolivia and watch a puff of smoke come up from under your instrument panel.  Every time we stopped, I saw another puff, and they seemed to be coming from the back of the headlight.  This was confirmed when I jerked my burned fingers out with melted rubber on them.  The headlight connector was overheating and melting, so I unplugged it and we rode to the hotel.  In the gloom of the underground cochera, or parking area, I peeled the insulation away and found the ground wire nearly worn through after being lightly rubbed by the clutch cable at every turn.  With most of the copper strands broken, resistance rose steadily, and the wire was now hot enough to melt the plastic connector and rubber cover.  Surprisingly, after wandering around and asking, I found an auto-electric shop in town that sold me the exact H4 connector, complete with wire pigtails, and I was able to quickly replace the connector for about 3 bucks.  A zip-tie solved the rubbing problem, and I had a headlight again, with no more smoke.  A quick look at Jalene’s bike showed the same issue developing, so I treated her clutch cable to a zip-tie, followed by a new H4 connector a few days later.

With the smoke now banished, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to head across toward Chile and enter a new country.  We were taking a route across the flat, dry terrain on a path that would brush the northern edge of the Salar de Coipasa, another big salt flat of Bolivia.  The road is paved all the way to Chile, which was a surprise, but there were many desvios, or detours, where a bridge was still being finished, or had yet to be installed, and we often were turned down off the road into the softer sand and dust where we crossed a dry arroyo and then climbed back up onto the roadway.  We would sometimes climb over low ridges or cross broad flat areas or open basins, steadily working our way south and west.  In the afternoon, we could look out onto the salar, which on its northern shore has hundreds of little black rock islands poking through the white of the salt crust.  Again, in this open, broad land, with it’s volcanoes developing as we moved further west, I was again strongly reminded of horses and trains, cavalries, mines, mules, and rusty iron.  Finally, late in the afternoon we came to Pisiga, and crossed into Chile with little drama.  Just a kilometer on the Chilean side, we elected to give in to the cold wind, and found a hostel that served us dinner and lock up the bikes.  We had no Chilean money, and had luckily decided to fill the bikes just before crossing, so our tanks were full.  The hostel took Bolivian pesos, and so, with quite empty pockets, we only had to make it to a town with an ATM to get some Chilean pesos.  We fell heavily asleep in the cold high altitude, and in the middle of the night, with the power shut down over the whole town, the stars put on an incredible show out the bathroom window.  Tomorrow we would transition down off the Altiplano into the northern Atacama Desert, and learn why they used this area to test the Mars landers.

Bolivia turned out to be an incredible, beautiful place, but we had to work at it to reveal it.  Along the north coast of Chile, an Argentine fellow on a Yamaha rolled up, and we learned he was on his way to Bolivia for the fifth time.  He agreed it was a bit more work, but fairly shouted with excitement “Bolivia is such a surprise box!” and that captures it perfectly.  Buying gas turned out to be mostly a non-issue, but supplies in general are just a little harder to find here, and selection is something to forget for the while.  Bolivia is a land where, if you find what you need you are happy.  This ain’t the land of WalMart, that’s for sure, and we were quite happy with that.

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More photos HERE.

Time Travel

Read on to understand how something in this photo is 65 million years old.

We reversed course out of Uyuni and headed back up the road toward the mountain town of Potosi, where we had been three days before.  This time, rather than finding a cold and rainy city, we came through in the sun, though it still wasn’t very warm.  Jalene and I fueled up at the usual foreigner price, which I don’t much mind as long as they sell us gasoline.

About buying fuel in Bolivia:  Bolivia imposes a tax on gasoline for all foreign-plated vehicles.  For Bolivian-plated vehicles, the fuel costs about 3.8 Bolivianos per liter today, about $0.55 USD.  For all foreign plates, it’s about 8.6 Bolivianos per liter with the tax (about $1.25).  The trouble is that the government regards this as two separate items – the sale of the gas and the collection of the tax.  As such, they require that the fuel vendor fill out two receipts, and this must be done on official receipt books, by hand.  It’s a hassle and takes time.  There are cameras at the stations recording the plates and activities, as well.  Thus it’s no surprise to pull into a busy station in the middle of a city and have them simply say “No” and take the next customer in line, refusing to sell to foreigners.  After a few experiences like this, we always chose stations at the outskirts where they weren’t so busy, pulling up and saying “sin factura” (without receipt) when we requested gas.  Generally at these quieter places, they would always sell you the gas, often at the foreign price, but often for much less, pocketing the premium.  Several times we bought at local prices.  I really didn’t mind if the person pumping my gas was skimming some money (they generally needed it!), as long they would sell me the gas.  Only twice did a vendor go through the whole drill of the official receipt books.  For us moto-overlanders, it is no big deal, but having to go to three different stations, or having a local buy it for you using your jug, as some do, is no fun.

About the fuel itself:  Install a GOOD fuel filter on your bike.  Bolivian gas is of questionable octane ratings – I was told as low as 84 at times, and is often full of rust and sediment.  While the bikes seem to run fine on anything we dump into them, my fuel jug looked like it had been used for river water after one station outside La Paz.  With modern fuel injection, make sure you have adequate filtration capability for your bike.  Our F650 BMWs have the fuel injection pressure regulator and the fuel filter combined into one unit, and they cost $170 in the US.  You don’t want to be replacing those!  Ask about a high-pressure inline filter at the auto-parts store and put it in yourself. 

I also strongly recommend one of Guglatech’s in-tank bag filters.  It filters the fuel as the bike is being filled, and you can get them in very small mesh.  Looking like a sock, it hangs inside the tank from the filler neck, so your fuel pump is protected as well.  I installed a 10-micron filter in each bike, and they have lasted the entire trip.  They are easy to install, just replace the fuel filler neck with the new one containing the filter.  They are very durable, with tough fabric inside to protect the filter membrane – we have had attendant’s try to jam the fuel nozzle through them many, many times and they are unfazed by this abuse.  The volume is such that they don’t slow down the fill rate, and they hold all the sediment and rust particles easily.  The very fine particles are trapped in the thick layers of the filter membrane, which gradually turn grey over time, but ours have not stopped flowing fuel.  I will install a Guglatech filter in every bike I own from now on.

Okay, enough tech talk.  On our way up to Potosi again, we noted that all the snow we had seen on the ground three days before was completely gone.  It’s September here, and summer is on the way to Bolivia.  We bathed in the “heat” and enjoyed the dry roads, going straight through town on firm dirt, where we had been in the mud coming in just a few days before.  Heaven.  We fueled up, had a soda and snacks, and just barely avoided the cops as they rolled into the station in response to the domestic violence eruption.  As I write this, people all over the USA are participating in the Women’s March, and so it’s with a heavy heart that I remember the sight of a Bolivian woman getting thrown to the ground at the gas station, presumably by an angry boyfriend or husband, but at least the cops rolled in to intervene, but maybe just to fill up.  I wonder how much justice was served in this instance.  This was a time when I had to check myself, limiting my actions to making it very apparent that the foreigner on the bike was watching everything.  It slowed things down a bit, and 10 seconds later the cops pulled in.  Impulse told me to wade right in, but with Jalene there, my first priority had to be to keep both of us safe.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do.  I try not to second-guess myself too much in these instances.  We made it out safe, and the police saw what was going on.  We got the hell out of there.

Taking a break for a snack, at our self-created "rest area" on the road in Bolivia.

We had a beautiful ride to Sucre that afternoon.  Like many roads in South America, this one is not long as the crow flies, but it can take a long time traversing the twisty road through the mountains.   The path takes you eastward and descends about 1,000 meters (3,300’), then turns north across the Rio Pilcomayo and along a valley up to Sucre.  Along the way, we dropped down into a mostly dry riverbed to get off the road and make some sandwiches for lunch.  Further on, we came upon the old Puente Sucre masonry suspension bridge that now serves pedestrians, and the deck lies at a significant cross-tilt, but the locals were still striding across, seeming not to notice.  Founded in 1538, this old city is the Constitutional Capitol of Bolivia, though the actual governing is now mainly done from La Paz.  Many argue that Sucre was the site where the initial independence movement against Spain began.  While we always love the beautiful historical buildings and parks of towns like Sucre, we really came to see what our friends Mindy and Taylor discovered – dinosaurs.  Or, more specifically, fossil dinosaur tracks.

In a limestone quarry in Sucre is a wall 1,500 meters (5,000’) long and about 100 meters (330’) tall, and it is covered with over 5,000 fossil dinosaur tracks.  The footprints of eight species cover it, mostly saurapods and therapods, and the longest continuous set of fossilized tracks yet found crosses that wall.  Originally the shore of a large, shallow lake, the prints were preserved as diatoms formed layers of limestone over the top of them, and as the Andes rose, the layers were turned vertically.  The limestone was of high quality for use in concrete, and so a large concrete and cement works operated a pit here for years, digging first down and then sideways, before running into a section of lower quality rock, unsuitable for making cement or concrete with.  They stopped digging, and as the crumbly rock wall eroded away, the mudstone layers with the fossilized tracks began to be revealed.  Today most of it is exposed, and the race is on to protect the soft mudstone from erosion by water movement, and damage from plants, whose seeds lodge in the flakey, friable rock face and start to grow.  The Bolivians are working hard to gain UNESCO Heritage protection for the site, and with it will come much needed money to seal the face of the rock as well as the ground surface behind it, to protect it from groundwater penetration.  Work has begun, but it will take a huge effort to save this incredible resource.  Parque Cretacico is an educational park, headquartered on the opposite side of the quarry, where one can see the whole wall, and learn about the animals from life-sized models.  Standing under the largest, it’s easy to understand how it pressed so deeply into the mud of the shoreline.  I was pleased that they kept things focused on education, and didn’t turn it into a theme park environment.  In the afternoon, a guide took us right down to the base of the wall, and we could walk anywhere as long as we did not touch!  This was the amazing part, as we could see evidence of layer after layer of tracks recorded here.  You could examine the texture of the shoreline sand and the ripples, and imagine the shallow water moving over the beach.  Some of the tracks meandered across the wall, some up and down.  They ranged from small three-toed tracks the size of your hand, to monstrous circular tracks a meter (3’) across and 10-20 cm (4”-8”) deep.  The nerdy kid in me loved this place, and even Jalene came away awed and impressed.  Our guide gave a great presentation in both Spanish and English, and answered all of our questions.  Later on, we spoke of our various interests, and he wanted to know more about where I picked up so much information about paleontology.  I admitted that Paleontology and Geology classes in Community College were inspired by books I received in the mail as a grade-school kid.  My parents signed me up for the Junior Science Series of books, which arrived in the mail every month or so, and you got to put in all the color pictures yourself, lick-and-stick.  I can still taste them.

Up close, this is mind-blowing.

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Lots more photos HERE.

Salar de Uyuni

In the early morning light of the equinoccio de primavera, and its promise of warm days to come, the mining city of Potosi, Bolivia was as yet still cold and raw.  High in the Andean Cordillera Central, even with the sunshine, walking around on a Sunday morning trying to find an open café was not much fun.  We circled around the streets a while, and ended up back where we started.  During our cold, wet arrival our hostel the night before, we missed that there was a kitchen available for us to use.  Having now discovered that, Jalene made a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, and we packed up the bikes.

The ride out to Uyuni from Potosi takes you through rolling mountains and high desert.  I just loved this day’s ride, as we rolled along through terrain seemingly straight out of a model railroad set, with rugged, weatherworn rocky ridges and a narrow-gauge rail line winding around, crossing and re-crossing the road.  Brown and red bands of rock in the ridges stood out, and far-off rain clouds dropped ribbons of water down onto them in the distance.  We crossed over rises where the snow from the day before lay all around, but our road was dry and the sun was on us.  Eventually we passed down into flatter land, cruising through open valleys with broad marshy areas holding large herds of llamas.  Except for these low wet basins, we were passing through a very dry country, and the sand and rock was peppered with cactus plants in all their various forms, some round and plump, some tall and corrugated, some palmate with broad, thick disks of green spreading in the sun.  Most had spines and thorns, but some were smooth, and a few were showing a flower.  Sometimes we would come through a little settlement or farm, and one could see very old structures directing water, either canals dug or stone aqueducts built, running out from the springs or creeks and toward the towns and fields.  The value of water here was made plain by the tunnels hacked through solid rock, connecting aqueducts to route the water where it was desperately wanted.

We had a grand surprise as we neared Uyuni.  The road had flattened out and some clouds come over, and we were in an occasional bit of rain.  Then we saw them – two bicyclists with orange reflective tape plastered all over their bikes, and we could not mistake that this was Genevieve and Michael, whom we had met at our Cusco hostel stay.  We laughed and hugged and had a brief, excited chat before they had to be off, and we too.  They were coming up from Uyuni and we going down toward it, so we exchanged info about the road ahead for each, and were on our way.  It’s always a huge instant recharge for me when we see people we know by chance along the road and get to say hello again, even for just a brief few moments.  We wished each other well and, in my mind at least, prayed for their safety, and that we would someday meet again with time for stories.

Welcome to the town of Uyuni.

Dusty and tired, we rolled into Uyuni, on the edge of the Salar, and found a hostel with a nice garage area for the bikes.  This town was originally a stop along the railway line, where rails from the north, east, and west all came together.  As such, one of the things this town is famous for is the Train Cemetery, where one can see long lines of old steam engines and cars left to rot from days long gone.  Jalene and I never got out to see them, and I’m sorry about that now, after seeing some really amazing photos taken by others.  Don’t miss it if you go there.

The Salar de Uyuni itself was a different story.  We both really wanted to see it, and get out on the biggest salt flat in the world.  It’s so big and so smooth that the space agencies use it as a mirror to calibrate their laser and radar surveying satellites.  We got up the next morning and rode a bit north to Colchani, where you can take a dirt road out to the west, gradually changing in composition from dirt to salt.  After a bit of wandering through a potholed section where you could see the mushy wet salt underneath, we made it out onto the hard, thick, white crust of the Salar, and stopped for photos.  As we were having fun with that, a small black spot far out on the Salar slowly grew, and another moto rolled up with a fellow from Argentina aboard.  He told us about the Dakar Rally monument about 5 kilometers further out on the salt.  No problem, he said, just ride generally west, and you can’t miss it.  So we took off, following the dark line of tire tracks that we thought went in about the right direction across an otherwise completely featureless plain of stark white.  Soon enough, something big loomed on the horizon, and we soon found ourselves converging with other vehicles on the immense Dakar Rally monument.  Someone built a huge stack of salt blocks and then carved into the familiar stylization of the Touareg tribesman with his folds of fabric covering all but the eyes from the blowing sand.  Flags of many, many countries were strung up like prayer flags nearby, and everyone was grinning and welcoming each other in a way I’d never really seen before or since.  We rolled the bikes up in front of the giant salt carving and took a few victory photos, with the crowd cheering us and helping out.  One woman even did a little video interview of us for a project she was doing.  A French couple wanted to know about the Dakar Rally, as they had never heard of it.  “Are there any French competitors?”  After explaining that it was originally the Paris-Dakar Rally years ago, and it is recognized as the toughest race in the world, I simply had them google Cyril Depres on their phones (5-time motorcycle champion from France), Stephane Peterhansel (7-time winner in cars, 6-time moto champion, from France), Richard Sainct, Hubert Auriol, and Cyril Neveu (all French Dakar moto champions) and they were astonished.  I simply loved the looks that came over them as they realized they were standing in front something that the French racers have excelled in!

The Salar is a strange place, where you can have fun with perspective in photos.  The surface is perfectly flat, a uniform white color, and stretches to the horizon unbroken.  As such, there are no objects in view for scale or size reference.  If you wish, you can place a camera, park the bike well away from it, walk toward the camera until you find that perfect spot where you can hold up your hand and have the bike seemingly in your palm.  There is nothing in the photo except you and the bike, and so the viewer has no way to tell how big anything is.  People construct all kinds of interesting photos in this crazy, empty environment. It was fun to watch them having so much fun with it, and to play around with it ourselves.  

We met some guys on dirt bikes at the Dakar monument, turns out to be a tour led by an English fellow that moved to Uyuni and now runs guided off-road trips on and around the Salar.  He made a point of emphasizing how corrosive the salt is.  Living right on the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, I had already decided not to spend too much time on the powdery lake surface.  We didn’t like the idea of salt in the electrical connectors and such, and so turned back toward “shore” after having enjoyed a great time riding out about 10 km onto the Salar.  Others we know have ridden out to an island far, far out in the middle of the Salar and camped there.  Sometimes I wish we’d not been quite so conservative on this trip and had done things like this, as I’m told that the view of the stars from the island is absolutely astonishing.  I’d encourage others to find a balance a little more toward adventure if they can.  No regrets, though, we had a long, long way still to go, and the bikes had been serving us dependably.

Once back in town, I decided that my front tire had gone far enough with me on this trip.  I spooned on the new tire I’d been carrying since Lima, where I’d bought the tire I wanted at a decent price about two months ago.  We try to get every mile we can out of them, and they end up pretty smooth.  It’s always a guessing game of what the road ahead will throw at you, and do you think this tire can make it another day?  Where will we find new ones?  Our rear tires were getting down there, too, and I was starting to look into buying some here in Bolivia.  I could get Brazilian-made Pirellis cheap here in Bolivia.  In Chile, we could get whatever we wanted, but they would be much more expensive.  Tariffs in Argentina made buying tires there out of the question.  As it turns out, I bought the Pirelli rear tires in Sucre, Bolivia from a moto shop for about the same as the internet price in the US.  We then carried them for maybe three weeks before mounting them on the bikes.  Carrying tires is not hard, it’s just another bit of hassle to deal with when packing and unpacking the bikes each day, but it does add several pounds to our load.

Uyuni is a dry, dusty town, but it has several nice places to eat, and a nice plaza and market area to browse through.  Down the center margin of the main drag, they have many old steam engines, boilers and train equipment placed, with a kind of Industrial Sculpture Garden feel to it.  I enjoyed puzzling out how the old boilers fit into the original engines, and how some of the other pieces were originally used.  Anyone with a mechanical mind will love this area, there is so much historical iron lying around.  We cruised on foot through the town, and had some great pizza just a few doors down from our hotel.  The place was filled with a busload of tourists from Europe, and we had some fun conversations, as we always do, with so many viewpoints from so many places all talking at once about their journeys, the strange things they see, or helping others to understand mysteries which they have already found the answers for.  Jalene and I, somewhere along the line, had found that we were becoming those people that could answer the questions more and more often.  We had been on the road over a year now, and had run into many of these mysteries ourselves, and so were morphing into the seasoned travelers that tended to have the answers.  It seems such a short time ago that we were new at this, full of questions, and so nervous at crossing those first few borders.  Now we hardly think twice about it, except to make sure we have all the papers (and snacks!) we need handy once we get there.  We have changed immensely, in knowledge, in confidence, in communications, and in trust of ourselves and, especially, each other.

Our time in Uyuni came to a close with the decision that, instead of taking the road around the south side of the Salar over to Chile, we would see more of Bolivia.  We chose to turn east toward the old city of Sucre, which we were told was a busy town with a lot of history and parks to enjoy.  It was also supposed to be warmer there, and that alone was pretty attractive to us.  But Sucre was going to throw a curveball at us from out of the Cretaceous Period, and we were in for a big, big surprise.

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Check out photos of the Salar de Uyuni and Jalene's blog video that we made on the Salar.

Death Road Days

After a bit of rest in La Paz, exploring up and down the steep hills and taking the cable gondola to the top of the plateau above the city to have a look around, we packed up to head out of town to the northeast.  We were headed toward Coroico, which has become the base for anyone wanting to experience the old “Death Road.” This was once a narrow, cliff-side dirt road connecting La Paz with points north.  We would follow it, and spend time in a lower, warmer climate beyond, to soak up a bit of heat for a while.  Friends of ours had stayed in Coroico a few years back, and recommended a hostel that had us huffing and puffing as we packed our gear down about 50 steep steps to our little cabaña, and parked our bikes up a hill across the road.  But we were repaid with a great balcony view over the treetops and across the broad valley, where we could see the highway we had just ridden dropping down, down, down the mountainside into our area.

The Death Road is a one-lane dirt and rock road, wider in some places, narrower and rougher in others, easily negotiated by riders with moderate dual-sport skills.  It runs generally downhill to the northeast toward Coroico, with the mountain on your right and the cliff on your left going down.  But when I imagined two big trucks or buses trying to get by each other going opposite directions, I could easily see why this was the Death Road before the paved highway bypassing it was built.  The custom is to pass on the left on this road.  This puts the drivers on the outside, and so the one nearest the edge will be better able to judge where he was in relation to the edge of the road better.  In some places that edge drops off, sometimes steeply downhill, and sometimes straight down, for hundreds of meters.  There are big memorial markers along its length where particularly grisly accidents occurred.  We learned that the road, which is spoken of as strictly one-way now, is actually still a two-way road, but in the morning there are hordes of tour-group bicyclists that like to coast down from the top.  Once the bicycles start flowing down, the locals set up at least two stations to collect local “road fees” from them, giving out very official looking tickets, all totally illegal but tolerated.  I met a German fellow on an R1100GS at our hostel who told me about all this one-way stuff.  His name is Florian, and he had ridden it the day before, on the way down to Coroico.  On his recommendation he and I waited until about 4 in the afternoon, and headed up the road the “wrong” way, while Jalene relaxed in town.  In the afternoon it was pleasantly empty, and we were able to stop and take photos all we wanted.  Small pickups and cars occasionally came by going both ways, as people do live along some parts of this road.  No toll-ropes to be seen, and a very enjoyable afternoon ride along a super-scenic and historic road section.  When Jalene and I rode it together, following the “rules”, we ended up amongst bicycles, lots of them along with their attendant vehicles as well as some crazy ATV riders.  We were both very nervous with them in front, beside, and behind us at times, as they were trying to coast as fast as they could along a road where a mistake could get you killed.   If you come to the La Paz area, you must do this road, but I’d encourage those on motos to ride this road, up or down, in the afternoon when it is empty.

We stayed for 5 nights in Coroico, and enjoyed a beautiful view across a huge valley of the mountains to the north and the road leading down, down, down into the valley we were in.   At night we could see long trains of cars and trucks coming down the mountain switchbacks in an endless procession.  We were in a very steep country here, and on our fourth night, we noticed a small grass and brush fire on a hillside opposite us.  It was already dark outside, and we could not easily tell what was between the fire and us, or how fast it could reach us if it spread up hill in our direction.  The ground was quite steep below us, and the trees and foliage very thick and dry.  As we watched, the fire spread to our right and down hill quite steadily, but we heard no alarm response nor did we see any evidence of anyone trying to quench the flames.  Soon the hostal lost power, the next-door hospital clinic fired up it’s generators, and we packed our bags up just in case we had to run for it.  After watching for a couple of hours, we went to bed.  I woke up and looked out several times, but heard no commotion in the town around us, so decided that if the locals weren’t alarmed, maybe I shouldn’t be.  In the morning we could see that between the charred area and us, there was a low rise and second watercourse, which we had not seen in the dark.  The fire had burned downhill slowly to a creek, and stopped.  The flames we had observed in the night was the fire on its way up to the ridgetop beyond, but no further, leaving a large section of the hillside blackened, but no real property damage appears to have occurred.  Next year’s pasture crop on that hillside is sure to benefit.

In places the road is quite narrow and slick.  Fun on motos, but I wouldn't want to be on the bus coming through here back when this was used as the main route.

We had a nice 5-day break here in Coroico, but soon enough it was time to depart and head south into other areas of Bolivia.  We rode back to La Paz, and this time I was able to see the terrain from a different direction.  What had seemed a gentle descent down into the Coroico area now was revealed as a very steep climb out, with long sections between switchbacks (super-fun!).  We could look straight up at the road as it crossed above us in long, sweeping arcs.  Seeing the underside of a crumbly Bolivian concrete bridge you will be crossing in a couple of minutes, well, you just learn to expand the “adventure” attitude.  Once back on the ridgetop, we took a break at the short tunnel that drills through a very steep mountaintop, and came to appreciate just how hard transiting this area can be.  Super-steep mountains all around us, it’s amazing how a two-lane road wide enough for trucks can be punched through here – one is able to easily comprehend why the Death Road lasted as long as it did before this bypass was finally constructed.  If you are coming over into this area from La Paz, keep an eye out where you first top out over the pass – you will see a dirt road heading down below you.  I imagine that this is the original pathway into the valley below.  It would be fun someday to do this section on a nice, light little dirt bike.  This was a time when my F650 Dakar felt big and ponderous, too much for explorations like this.  Oh, to be traveling on a Yamaha WR250, or even better down here (for parts and repair), a Honda 250 Tornado.  Then we’d have some fun!

We crossed back through La Paz, and spent a night at our Muslim friend’s hostel again before heading southeast toward the heart of Bolivia.  The mountains around Potosi and Sucre were our goal, as well as the big Salar de Uyuni.  Leaving La Paz, aiming ouirselves toward the center of the country, we started out on a big divided highway, filled not with cars and trucks, but crowded on either side by market stalls, so that all traffic was constricted down the center lanes.  This traffic/market hybrid jam lasted for many kilometers until finally it cleared out and the road opened up before us.  In all the craziness I couldn’t pull the camera out to get the best sign I had seen yet.  In front of a gas station, it showed a cartoon drawing making it graphically clear that if you urinate on the ground around that station, a large pair of scissors would be used, gentlemen, to castrate you.  No words, but perfect clarity.

Once out of the city and rolling, the roads through Bolivia are simply incredible.  Western Bolivia, in the area of the Altiplano, is a very high, dry landscape.  The altitudes vary from 3-4,000 meters (~10-13,000’) while traveling the roads, and the area lies east of a wall of Andean peaks, sheltering it from most precipitation.  Now we were rolling along on fairly flat ground, with low scrub bushes and grasses growing on the open ground.  It’s a high desert here, and there is nothing to stop the wind and weather.  After a night in Oruro, we continued south paralleling Lago Poopo, a large, shallow lake where you can see the salt and sediment deposits in the satellite view on Google Maps.  South of Poopo lie the great salt flats: Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni.  But first, we wanted to detour into the mountains to the mining city of Potosi, located high above the Altiplano in the Cordillera Central, or central range of the Andes.  At an altitude of 4,100 meters (13,400’) we had a cold ride to get there, and were also very glad the 8-liter plastic gas jugs we each carry were full (more on that later).

From Oruro, our day’s ride didn’t look all that difficult, but we were to have an introduction to Bolivian mountain weather this day.  We started out just fine, with clear skies, riding south on a good paved road to Challapata, and a hot lunch at a roadside cafeteria.  There was a load of tourists on a big high-clearance off-road bus there as well, and we enjoyed chatting with them.  The company is Dragoman, and they specialize in taking you much further into the “outback” areas than the regular bus routes.  They camp along the way, and passengers take turns sharing kitchen and camp chores, so it’s a bit like a rolling hostel.  A chat with the two driver-guides revealed that the company does tours in many places in the world.  The routes are often very long, and passengers can begin and end at places they choose they choose along the route, or go the whole way.  It looks like the kind of bus tour I’d take!

The road to Potosi, Bolivia had entertaining weather.  This is my current office environment these days.

After lunch, our route turned up a valley, and began to climb into the mountains.  The temperature dropped, but the skies remained clear, at least for a while.  We topped out over several ridges taking us above the snowline.  Stopping for a pee break along the road, it was silent except for the cold wind, and I could look around and see angry storm clouds that we had been skirting were now moving directly into our path.  It’s often hard to know this, as the road tends to dodge to the right or left every time it rounds a mountain or ridgeline, but this was too close to be mistaken about.  We were in for it.  Within about ten minutes, we were riding with snow on the road in cold, drenching rain and sleet.  Fortunately, the Dragoman bus had passed us at our pee stop, and we now had two nice tandem tire tracks of clear, wet pavement to ride in for about 30 minutes, until we descended out of the snow.  Not long before gaining Potosi, we came into a town with a gas station.  Tarapaya, I think it was.  It was still cold and raining, and we were thankful to pull under the pump shelter.  Problem was, the power was out and the pumps were not running.  No sweat, we dumped the fuel from our jugs into the bikes, at which point of course the power came back on and we were able to top off.  Still, having that gas in those jugs meant no panicky feeling anywhere, as our tanks were pretty dry.  We started making a habit of filling at least one jug whenever we had the least doubt about fuel availability ahead.  Although we never really got into an emergency situation, it was a good feeling to know we had that extra gas along.  We did this in Patagonia at times, as well. (I’ll tell you a little more about Bolivian fuel-buying adventures in the next story.)

A note here for long-distance folks and practical cheapskates like me:  The upper third of a clear plastic water bottle, cut off at the fattest point, makes the best funnel for pouring gas.  You can see right down through them with perfect focus, and watch the level as it fills.  No more “It’s full!” spillovers.  Best of all, they are free, available in any ditch or garbage pile near you.  Bring your knife.

Riding above 4,000 meters (13,000’) in hard rain, with snow on the ground, way out in the Bolivian Andes, with no help anywhere near really gets your imagination running.  A flat tire?  That’s workable.  An engine failure?  Much more difficult.  An accident?  Let’s not go there.  These are the times that keep me on top of the bike maintenance when we stop for the night.  We spent a lot of money on good gear and equipment, and in these conditions I am so thankful for it.  We arrived in Potosi in the cold rain, found a hostel using iOverlander, and though we were shivering and cold, we were relatively dry and safe.  We unloaded stuff, lubed the chains, and put the bikes to bed.  Rooms here are equipped with thick, heavy wool and alpaca blankets, and after finding a hot meal nearby, we were oh-so-glad to burrow in underneath them.  We dozed off dreaming of sunshine in the morning on the ride to Uyuni, and the largest salt flat on earth.

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More photos HERE :) + check out Jalene's take on swinging and the changes coming our way.

Koronas del Incas

Jalene’s birthday is three days from now – what to do?  We’re hanging out in Cusco, planning our route into Bolivia, and getting over the cold that both of us have caught.  Fortunately it’s high and dry here, so head colds don’t last long.  Skin cracks, throats parch, and your sinuses and lungs always feel a bit on the leathery side at this altitude.  Cusco is just over on the dry western side of the Andes, and you roll out of here to the southeast onto the high Altiplano as you approach Lago Titicaca.  Yesterday afternoon was spent opening up the valve cover on my bike and installing an updated decompression lever on the exhaust cam, which helped cure my bike’s high-altitude cold-start issue.  I’m getting to the point where any paved area is all the shop I need to do engine surgery.  Still, what I’d give for my garage and proper tools…

But back to our journey through northern Peru.  After we left Chachapoyas we rode north a short ways and found our way up a mountainside to the village of Cocachimba.  From our hostel window we could gaze out at the 771-meter high Gocta waterfall.  Strangely, while many people know of this spectacle, we only encountered a few other tourists coming to see it.  The dirt road up to the village is not hard, and so I wondered why there were not more people there.  The waterfall itself is amazing, descending in two steps down into a large pool that you can hike to and swim in.

Now it was time to turn east and then south again.  We had been at altitude in the Andes for quite some time, and were anxious to change our surroundings, and so headed for the Amazonia.  Our path took us to Moyobamba, where we took a 3-day break to soak up some warmth and relax.  We found a very comfortable and inexpensive hostel near the square (as always), and enjoyed some time getting to know an American PhD student working with the local indigenous people to develop the market for an alternative vanilla species grown locally.  I had no idea that vanilla was a species of orchid, and that there are many species that produce the vanilla pod.  The hard part is getting a new species recognized and approved by the regulatory agencies in importing countries.

This is a place with a tremendous variety of orchids, and as we dropped in elevation going east, the desert of the high mountains gave way to lush, wet jungle.  We continued east until we reached Yurimaguas, literally the end of the road, at least the road for things with wheels.  There, one finds a harbor on the big Rio Huallaga, where river boats of all kinds pull up to the bank, serving as truck and bus on the watery highway that continues into Amazonia.  One can hop on a boat here – look at the board on each vessel advertising where they are going and when – and head deep downriver.  In a few days, you could be at Iquitos, a fair-sized city still in Peru where only boats and planes go, or continue on until the river joins into the Amazon itself before flowing east to Brazil.  The noisy “docks” where the boats pull up to the bank is an interesting area to watch, with everything loaded and unloaded by hand, using long ramps and slides.  Large things, even vehicles, are wrestled off onto the bank and driven up the rocky, muddy ramps to the street level.  Bags of rice, fruit, cement, and whatever are sent sliding down long planks covered with tarps, and only once did I see one go off the side.  It reminded me of tales of the Mississippi from long ago.

We have many photos of the long, long canoes that ply the river, carrying people and cargo up and down the river locally.  Some are covered, seat four abreast with an aisle down the middle, and over 20 meters long.  As we rode along the river southward, we could see them moving along through vast areas of farmland and jungle, and in the little towns where the road found the river again, we saw shops with “Yamaha” and Suzuki” over the door, but inside there were only outboard supplies – this area was totally focused on river travel.  This is also timber country, and we were pleasantly surprised when we looked in a chainsaw shop and spotted Oregon brand chains for sale.  I asked the guy at the counter what chains the locals preferred for cutting the hardwood trees here, and he pointed at the Oregon brand boxes.

As we were riding south through the area known as the Mountagnia, that flat band of jungle near the base of the Andes, we found the roads varying between good pavement, bad pavement, and good rock roads.  The good rock roads are much better than the bad paved roads, mainly because a bad paved road has sharp-edged potholes that can bend rims and break your teeth.  It tends to happen in areas where rocks fall down onto the road and punch holes in the asphalt, after which trucks and buses destroy it.  Sometimes it lasts a hundred yards, sometimes it lasts 100 miles.  We are always much happier when the asphalt ends completely and we’re on dirt and rocks, it’s much easier to ride on.  Sometimes when we choose our routes we make choices based on the road surface, especially if there is more than one way to get there.  Google maps will often have enough resolution that I can zoom in and actually see the road surface.

We rode south , and spent nights in towns with names like Juanjui, Tocache, and Tingo Maria.  Finally, at Huanuco, we turned west again and headed back up into the Andes, our goal being to see the Cordillera Blanca with its glaciers and ice fields.  It would take us two days to get to Huaraz, which sits in the valley below the mountain range.  The road rose quickly, and just as quickly deteriorated to a maze of potholes, rocks, and small patches of the road that once was.  Our speed dropped to about 20 mph as we weaved and dodged obstacles and holes, working our way up through switchbacks, trucks, buses, and what-have-you.  We finally topped out in the afternoon at Koronas del Incas, the Crown of the Incas, a spectacular series of rock towers on the mountaintop above.  The pass topped out at 4100 meters, and we took a break on the grass beside the road and soaked in the scenery.  Glen Cochrane, from Australia came by on his Triumph, and we had a nice chat and story-swap.  Glen has been traveling for three years now and filled us in a bit on the area around where we were going.  After a while it was time to ride, and as went descended the clouds closed in and the rain began, coming down harder and harder as we worked our way further east.  Finally, in La Union, we found a clean, cheap place and threw in the towel for the day, muddy and wet and tired, but happy with the progress we’d made.  Some kind of festival was going on, so the streets were noisy and crowded.  We found a place for Chifa, a kind of cross between Chinese and Peruvian food, which is usually a good choice when you have no idea, and are tired and hungry.

When we left La Union in the morning, the road changed quickly for the better, and soon we found ourselves back on good pavement, becoming two-lane once we reached Huansala.  Neither one of us could quite remember when the last time we’d seen a yellow line was.  Now the road rose up quickly, and we climbed to 4,700 meters over Abra Yanashalla, a high pass where nothing but brown grass and bare rock is seen, with jagged peaks and glaciers above you.  We dropped down into a broad valley, looping around and around, and the road passed frigid streams with llamas along the banks and in the fields.  Soon we turned north, and the land opened out onto high, rolling plains, with the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca in the background behind.  This was a new and different kind of country to us, and while the huge bowls of brown grass reminded us of Wyoming at times, the round corrals surrounded by dry-stack stone walls that had been there for ages, and the herds of llamas quietly grazing with their brightly-dressed Peruvian shepherds always nearby under the high mountains beyond told us we were far from home.  The air was thin and cold, and we were glad to have good gear to ride in, and heated grips and jacket liners.

We reached Huaraz, a high mountain city at 3100 meters, and checked in at Jo’s Place, a hostel that let us pitch our tent in the grassy courtyard with others, and we enjoyed a nice cross between camping and hotel room.  Hot showers just a few steps out of your tent, near freezing temps a night, intense sun filled days, and fascinating travelers with whom we swapped stories.  Huaraz was a unique city, where we found a creperia run by a guy from France, excellent wood-fired Peruvian pizza, and views of the snow-covered peaks rising above the buildings everywhere you walked.  Plenty of tourists were around, as this is a popular and challenging place for hikers, trekkers, and mountain climbers.

While in Huaraz, I took a ride up to a nearby pass which tops out at the highest tunnel in South America at over 4,800 meters, Tunel Punto Olimpica.  The old road over the top still exists, and of course when I reached the tunnel, I turned left onto the dirt switchbacks leading over the pass above.  Sadly, the old road was badly washed out in one spot not far from the top, and I chose to stop just below 5,000 meters.  On the way back down to the tunnel, I lost the front end in some big loose rocks, no harm, but then got to experience picking up the bike at almost 16,000 feet of elevation.  It was a bit of work, but the cyclists going over the top were doing the real work, wow!  They loved it when I pointed to my GPS and they could see their elevation.  But the scary part was when I entered the seemingly safe tunnel to see the other side.  This is a major highway, two lanes and perfect pavement and the tunnel is 1.3 km straight through.  I swung in behind a car, which proved fortunate for me.  While enjoying the sparkling lights off the icicled rock ceiling, I saw brake lights come on in front of me and slowed to a stop behind.  My front tire slid a bit on wet ice that I didn’t know was there, and then I saw the two-foot deep ice barrier on the road ahead that had fallen from the ceiling moments before.  It looked like crushed rock on a railroad bed from wall to wall, tons of ice about 2 feet deep and maybe 100 feet to the far side.  Cars and trucks came to a stop in both directions, and the glare made seeing extremely difficult.  A big SUV, first in line coming at me, smashed through it and blocked others while I turned the bike around.  I elected to take the safe way back out rather than trying to push through the deep chunks of wet ice.  I never did get to thank the SUV driver that was probably my lifesaver in that wet, slick, glare-filled tunnel with traffic piling up.  I was disappointed at being twice-thwarted to get to the other side, but happy at being able to ride away with some great photos from way up high.

Sometimes it’s best to just accept what we are given, and on a trip like this, that sure is a lot to be thankful for.

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Head over to our South America Gallery to peruse the photos + take a gander at this video from Jalene sharing how this trip is teaching her to Live with More Heart.