Thursday, 2 February 2012

Four seasons in one daaay

When setting off on the bikes at the start of the day It's often hard to judge just how much clothes to wear and it's annoying having to stop and add or remove layers all the time. We left the dry hot environment in Cachi and had not travelled far and we had to add our thermal liners. The road had smartly taken us up to about 3500m in a series of nice tarmac switch backs and the temp had dropped accordingly. The catus weren't complaining about the cold and were thriving up on the high saddle.

Interesting lanscape near Cachi

Cacti at 3500m

The road then dropped us down the other side of the pass even more dramatically as we descended 2000m elevation on tight gravel switch backs. Surprisingly at the bottom we were now riding through a hot and humid rain forest as we neared the valley containing the cities of Salta and San Salvador De Jujuy. With the thermal liners out we were still uncomfortably hot and found refuge for a lunch break in the gas station's air conditioned cafe. In the afternoon we took the old route between Salta and Jujuy. The road was a narrow and windy tarmac track that traversed along a mountain range with jungle vines draping of the trees, very nice going on the motos.

We were surprised to find such a green environment in this area, lots of crops growing, particularly tobacco, I guess with a name like "Salta" we were expecting more of the dramatically dry and rocky country that we had seen through most of northern Argentina. Within the days riding we left the red desert environment of Cachi's Adobe earth buildings and Rocky outcrops, summitted a 3500m pass containing a scattered forest of millions of Cati's, and then descended into a rain forest. Not a bad day out really.

Down in the rain forest

In the city of San Salvador De Jujuy we managed to find a hostel without too much fuss. Most of the cities over here contain one way streets which makes navigating around even harder for unfamiliar tourist's on motos! Another plus was the secure "estacionamiento" across the road. It's also often difficult to find secure safe parking for the bikes so the parking was a bonus. The following day we were hoping to head up to the Bolivian border after replacing the chain and sprockets on the Tenere. Rob had purchased all the bits back in La Serena, all we needed was a large 32mm socket to remove the front sprocket and we should be on the road in no time. Yeah, should be but not so....

Not far from the hostel we found a small but very friendly moto shop selling Chinese "kellers" and were keen for us to use there workshop. After a bit of mucking about removing the rear wheel and also a very, very extensive unplanned tour of Jujuy's one way streets on a misson to retrieve forgotten parts back at the hostel we thought we were good to go. Problem was the front sprocket obtained in La Serena did not match the chain. After several visits to moto shops and also the standard 3 hour midday lunch break/siesta we were very lucky and found a KLR 650 sprocket which fitted the Tenere. The crew at keller moto's went out of there way running us around town and helping us out all day, once again we were amazed at peoples helpfulness here in S. America. Often these unwelcomed experiences turn out as memorable ones due to peoples generosity.

With the Tenere powering on smoothly we climbed up out of the green valley and onto the Altiplano heading for the Bolivian boarder town of La Quiaca. Once again the surroundings were transformed back into the arid dry environment. Within Bolivia the Andes become much broader creating the "Altiplano" high plane at 3500 to 4000m above sea level which contains some very interesting features. These include the largest salt flat in the world, the Salar De Uyuni, lake Titicaca the worlds highest navigable lake and also Potosi the worlds highest city at 4000m.

The Dr 650 had puffed it's way over the passo San fransico and Auga Nerga ok put was by far running well up and over 3500 m. With the majority of our time in Bolivia up high I re jetted the carburetor on the dr which has definitely helped but may need some further tuning. Robs bike has fuel injection which automatically compensates for the lack of oxygen. Ourselves have felt the effects of less oxygen with mild headaches and breathless at times, but our staggered gains in altitude over the last week or so has so far prevented any real illness thankfully.

meeting up with the Germans
On our way to La Quinca we court up with 4 German's travelling on bikes similar to ours and decided to ride on together. We pulled into town and proceeded to the boarder processing. This is the major Bolivian/Argentina crossing and there were people everywhere. Once in the appropriate que it was obvious that this was going to be a long and painful one. The que was barely moving and 4 hours later the passport was finally stamped by an extremely slow immigration officer who along with his colleagues just didn't give two hoots about the many people waiting for hours. One enjoyable feature about S. America is the laid back nature and lack of regulations but sometimes you need something such as money, fuel, and passports processed and it can be extremely frustrating spending hours queing up for these services. The Germans joked that back home things were just too efficient and organised but this was just way too inefficient for them.

Having spent 4 hours getting our passports stamped we still had to repeat the hole thing in a new que to get the moto's stamped out of Argentina and it was obvious that this wasn't going to happen before the office closed up shop in an hours time at 10 pm. Officially exited we rode back into Argentina with the job half done and found a hotel for the night. We were back at the office first thing and just happened to bump into Lucus and Whitney with whom we'd spent xmas with down at the other end of Argentina. After a brief catch up we were first in que so got the moto's processed in good time. Now all we had to do was ride over the river to the other half of town, find the Bolivian immigration and we were done.

It was 7am and there was already a massive que of people spilling out of the office and well up the street. Thankfully the que was for people exiting Bolivia and there was virtually no que for us so within 1 hour six very happy and rowdy trail bikers rode up the busy narrow street past the huge crowd of backpackers and locals. We got many envious looks form the backpackers as we passed by. I dought many new just how long they would be stuck there. We are definitely over border crossings!

At the 1 2

After a late breakfast and our first taste of Bolivia at Tupiza we had 200km of dirt road to Uyuni and the riding was first rate. It fulled in the rest of the day nicely as the road took us past more interesting dirt/rock and climbed high up onto and traversed ridge tops past very small communities. Uyuni is the starting point for the very popular jeep tours that head out onto the massive salar. The next day we road out to the edge for a look. Firstly, we stoped by a mechanic shop to get a nut tightened on Rob's bike. The cap on top of the steering column had come loose for the second time, we needed a large socket. Upon inspection the mechanic determined that the thread was too loose, the cap worn and proceeded to machine up a new one in his well equipped machine shop. He did a nice job for a fraction of the cost that it would have been back in NZ.

Once out on the edge of the salar the vastness was truly impressive. The best way I can think to describe the view is to imagine a massive frozen lake that spreads over the horizon and has volcanoes dotted around the edge. I had mixed feelings as we surveyed the landscape. The salar is a very unique riding experience and we were hoping to ride across it's length but with the rains already arrived the salt surface was covered in a briny salt water which we didn't want to subject the bikes to. We had to be content with the view from the edge and enjoy the reflectiveness that the water provided. We also visited a hotel nearby that was built mainly from salt! Yep, salt brick walls, salt pebble floor, just about everything salt.

Heading for Uyuni

On the edge of the Salar de Uyuni

lunch time at Uyuni and the usual insulin shot and not so usual curious company

We sett off for Potosi after lunch and the road once again traversed along ridge tops offering great views of the surrounding Altiplano and the salar disappearing off in the distance behind us. This section of road was once all dirt but has been transformed into a very smooth and well built highway with the final sections almost complete. As we neared Potosi it was obvious that we were pretty high up as the DR was lacking power. Potosi is the highest city in world at 4000m and was once the largest and wealthiest city in Latern America due to very rich silver ore deposits.

Today the mining still goes on in much the same way as it did many years ago, very primitively with very few safety measures in place. We got to experience it first hand with a mine tour that had us underground and in the hands of "Tio" the underground Devil with which the miners worship.

This is Tio down in the mine ( side on )

The lack of safety measures was evident when we almost got taken out by a speeding 1 ton trolley load of ore with no brakes. It was also obvious that these were extremely hard and dangerous working conditions. Miners often die after only 10 years exposure due to lung disease. As interesting as it was we were both clad to be back up on the surface and checking out the colour full market back in town. It's quite fascinating seeing the woman here in there traditional bright clothing, hats, and long platterd hair. I couldn't help myself but have a good look at some and noticed that a few were having a good look at me too and giggling under their hats probably due to my bright blond eyebrows and reddy blonde beard that is now after two and a half months looking a bit "woolly"

I must have jinkest myself writing this blog as within a few hours of writing " no real illness" I come down with a nasty stomach bug which for couple of days had me in the bed or trying to decided which end of me to point at the toilet! The staff at the hotel, Nora and Hector were very helpful and specially prepared meals while I was crook. After a recovery day we set of towards La Paz and parked up at a city called Oruro. On the way we passed locals minding there stock ( llamas, sheep, and cows) and also road men with there bicycle's, shovels and wheel barrows! Lots of very basic adobe homes and people living a very simple life in these parts.

On arrival to Oruro the place looked a bit like a shit hole really, dirty muddy and rubbishy side roads, worn out diesel trucks and buses spewing out clouds of white diesel smoke and when we were refused fuel at the first gas station we were even less impressed. The Bolivian parliament has recently introduced a policy to charge foreign vehicles almost 3 times as much as the locals. This was brought on by increasing amount of cheap bulk fuel being taken back over the border by neighbouring countries. After following a friendly taxi driver to another station and trying but failing to get fuel at the locals rate we eventually parked up at a motorcycle dealers show where a local biker filled up Robs 8 liter jerry several times from a gas station across the road. In the mean time us and our bikes become the centre of attention at the show.

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