July 30, 2011

After a welcome break in Copacabana, it was time to hit the road again. We left as we had arrived with Rene and we headed to Tiquini, where we had to share a bus with a boat to get across the lake one last time. While doing this we were interviewed by the BBC World Service about pollution in the lake, so keep your ears peeled for that!

After that, it took 2 days to get to El Alto, the outskirts of La Paz. We decided not to go into La Paz, for both time and hassle reasons. From the other cyclists we´ve met along the way, we´ve heard tales of a 12km, 12 lane descent into the city which we quite fancied avoiding. We found a nice place to stay before spending the rest of the afternoon exploring. Unfortunately whille doing this, I had my wallet stolen on the busy street as rice was thrown over me. Luckily for us, we were on our way to a cash machine and not from one, and our passports were seperate.

Street Carnival, El Alto

The following day we quickly left El Alto and did our fastest day yet. The road was still paved but the buses and lorries were driving a bit too close for our liking. It took us two days of some of the most boring, flat scenery we´ve encountered so far to get to Oruro where we planned to have our last bit of luxury for a while. In fact, for breakfast we managed to get 7 Empandadas and 3 cups of tea for Bs./30, bargain! This was exactly what we needed as the thermometer in the town showed a chilly 2·C.

After Oruro, we actually had 1.5 more days of good roads before it all turned for the worse. From Challapata to Uyuni took us 3 days of 6 hour+ slogs across the bumpy and more frustratingly, sandy, roads. Each night we had to camp as the temperature plumetted, and on the second night all the water bottles we had INSIDE the tent, froze. On the last day we managed to make it onto the Salar, where the white salt extends way off over the horizon, allowing us to take some funny pictures, bearing in mind not many people were around. We decided not to go over the salt flats as recently there has been a lot of snow which has all melted to make it all boggy.

Camping on the road to Uyuni

Passing 2000km

Lisa on the Salt Flats

When we finally made it to Uyuni around 6 o´clock on the third day it was a welcome suprise to find it so touristy, and with the help of a nice German couple we found a hotel for the night. To say we ate well when we were in Uyuni would be an understatement. I think we blew all the money we´d saved of the last couple of days eating very well indeed, trying to stock up on fruit and veg as much as possible, spending the majority of our day off in cafes and restaurants.

Before leaving Uyuni we had a tough decision to make, take the less major road to Villazon, or take the more major road to Potosi and then down to Villazon. Twice the distance but potentially more places to stay and a better road. We ultimately decided to go the long way, which looking back now, was almost certainly the wrong decision. The first day we spent 3 hours pushing our bikes up a dirt road before the road finally became paved. The next day started exactly the same with a long climb on a dirt road before the roads became paved. Although where the road was paved it was a beautifully new road and when it was down hill you could absolutely fly. It took 3 days to get to Potosi, and the third day was a tale of ups and downs, literally. On the down hill´s I went faster than I´ve ever been on a bike, 70.9km/h but the uphills went on forever and the centre of Potosi was a steep climb up to 4070m. Which we´ve since discovered is the highest city in the World, something we found out the hard way.

Looking back to Potosi

After climbing into Potosi, we still had to climb out, reaching about 4400m before we were finally given some descending to do.  The road was fine, if not a little bit hilly, for about 40km, and then for the next 2 days until Tupiza, the road was a work in progress, reminding us of badtimes in Peru. As a rule of thumb, if there are roadworks and signs telling you to avoid the shiny new road ahead and take the bumpy, dirt road to the side, you´re best off ignorning the signs and cycling overthe barrier. This served us well mostof the time, giving us either paved or flattened road for about 80% of the time while the cars and lorries looked on. We were caught out once however, cycling onto a road they were mid spraying fresh tar on, forcing us to leave our mark on the new road and skirt down the side. It was still worth it though, cutting a huge offroad section out.

When we finally got to Tupiza, in 10km less than the map had said, we were suprised to find it so touristy, but it was a welcome break. We knew  the next day would be tough, getting to Villazon, as we knew the altitude of both towns and the latter was significantly more. We set off early and battling through the hills and wind we made it where we stayed for the night.

One thing´s for sure in Bolivia, the road signs, the map and our speedos rarely agree, there were lots of times that we ended up having to do more miles than we had planned to do.

The following day we´d planned as a rest day which was a good job as it took us 2 hours to cross the border into Argentina, the last country on our journey. Overall our impression of Bolivia was much more positive than we had expected, for the majority of the time the roads were good and we were able to put down the miles. Combined with a few touristy towns along the way where we were able to get nice food and laundry done it has been a good section of the trip.

As for Argentina, we´re hoping for lots of nice road, lots of downhill or flat and some good wine along the way. We´re currently good on time so we shouldn´t have to push it too hard and the good roads and lack of mountains should definately help!


Making up for lost time

July 14, 2011

After a fun few days in Cusco and Machu Picchu, it was time to get back on the bike, and this time (with a map again) we knew the roads were paved for the rest of our time in Peru. Since being on the road between Cusco and the Bolvian border we´ve bumped into a few other cyclists of widely varying nationalities, including Israeli, Swiss,  Spanish, German, Russian and South African, which has been reassuring to see other people doing a similar thing to us.

The roads have been nice and fast, espcially once we got onto the Altiplano, which has meant that the miles have flown by. We made it to Puno it 3.5 days, racking up the 400km with time to spare for 2 hours at some hot springs along the way, which were a nice brake and a good substitute for a much needed shower. We also completed our longest day so far at 140km, from Santa Rosa to Juliaca.

On the altiplano

When we got to Puno, we quickly found somewhere to stay and in the afternoon, went to explore what we could do on lake Titicaca. The pier was full off people selling long boat trips but we opted for the 2.5 hours trip to the Uros floating islands, which was well worth the 15 Sol. The islands themselves were pretty incredible if only the trip didn´t drag on for so long. In the evening we found probably the best restaurant of the trip so far where we got 3 courses of delicious Italian food really cheap, before heading back to the room and crashing. The next two days we continued our journey around the lake before finally leaving Peru and entering Bolivia where we stopped at Copacabana with Remi, our fellow German cyclist, where we had a much needed day off. Sipping cocktails on the beach and riding a pedalo on the lake seemed a world away from cycling beofre getting a boat to Sun Island the following day.

Uros floating islands

Overlooking lake Titicaca

So far our opinion of Bolivian has been good, with everything cheaper than in Peru, so long may it continue to the Salt flats…

En bicicleta, y otros

July 7, 2011

By bike, and other means…

After being ill and recovering in Ayacucho, it was time to get back on the bike for the next leg of the journey, to Cusco! It was a bit of a maze getting out of Ayacucho, bearing in mind by this point, the map was long gone, but after a detour up a rather steep hill, we were on the right road. Yet again, the road just continued to climb, almost endlessly. However we were glad for the nice road we had, if only this was to last…

Clearly the road we were on was brand new, very shiny and as smooth as a baby’s bum. But this new road was still a work in progres as we passed numerous roadworks with the road in different stages. The road works seemed to go on forever and on the first day we camped hidden just off the side of the road after climbing for 43km. The next day the roadworks just continued on and on mixing brand new road with loose rock before they eventually died out and we were left  on a rocky road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Just as Lisa was begging me to get a lift the rolling up-hills came to an abrupt end as the scenery got more like what I expected in Peru. However between us and the town must have been a 1000m drop which could only we passed by the windiest road imaginagable. As the day got later and later it was clear that we weren’t getting to the bottom and as the rain started and turned the road even more trecherous, it became clear we weren´t getting to the bottom. We decided to hitch a lift to the next town and luckily a lorry driver passed soon after who helped us on our way.

The change in scenery

After a night relieved to be somewhere warm, we set off again on the bumpy road. The morning was downhill and then road went along the river for a while before climbing yet again. At least at the end of this climb there was a town where we could stay, even a 3 star hotel. We were awoken the next morning by more rain which persisted all day, this made the 20km climb a muddy mess and a huge effort. When we finally reached the top it was clear going down the other side would be no better and we soon realised that the road was impassable. Accepting defeat again we got in the back of another lorry which kindly took us to the next town where they dropped us of at a bakery and told us to eat cakes and drink coffee. We decided that night that this was getting crazy and that the road was unlikely to get any better any time soon.

The view along the river

In the back of the lorry

The next day we decicded to get a lift to Andahuaylas which was a two hour taxi away. Very soon into the journey we realised that this was a good call as the rain had completely destroyed the roads. The taxi was sliding all over the place and lorries were stuck in the mud along the way. When we finally reached Andahuaylas, everything was covered in mud and it was still raining. We took a big decision to get a bus to Cusco as we couldn´t waste any more time on these roads as we were getting nowhere.

The next morning we wook up early to get the 0630 bus which was just managed to squeeze our bikes on. Yet again it was became clear very early on into the journey that this was the right decision to make. The roads here were as bad as earlier and at one point it took us an hour to get around one corner where lots of lorries had got stuck. When we finally reached Abancay (half way) 6 hours later (by the way the bus had no toilet) the roads finally got better. As the miles counted down to Cusco the night set in and we were getting on for 12 hours since we set off. With about 50km to go the bus all of a sudden went bang as a tire blew out and that was the end of our journey. No one seemed to have any idea about what was going to happen, but it became clear that the bus wasn´t moving anywhere until the morning. In the end we had to tie the bikes onto the roof of a taxi to the next town where we stayed the night before cycling to Cusco the next day.

A short morning cycle saw us arive in Cusco around lunchtime which was perfect to find somewhere to stay, go shopping and sort out a trip to Machu Picchu the following day. Cusco is much nicer than Lima butn expensive place to spend any amount of time. It turns out that thursday is the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu so if we were a day later it would have been impssible to get there.

Early the next morning we got our bus to Ollantambo train station where we got the train to Machu Picchu. Although a very expensive day,  spending god knows how many Soles and Dollars, it was well worth it. Machu Picchu was amazing and we spent the whole day wondering around taking pictures, before getting the train back in the evening. As for now it´s off to Puno on hopefully some good roads…

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

A long way down...