Friday, December 30, 2005

DHL: Deliver Here Later

No water in the hotel. Apparently a feeder line from the main broke.

Beautiful day. Went outside to try to change my rear tire. Tried Helge Pedersen’s technique of using the sidestand to break the bead on the (tubeless) tire, but numerous attempts failed. Hopefully, I won't have to try that in the middle of nowhere.

Taxied to “Daci” with my wheel assembly and the new tire. At 9:00, they were just opening their doors. They told me previously, they would change my tire, but one look and the mechanic said he couldn’t change it. He gave me the name of a shop that could: “Socoser” in the Cristo Rey neighborhood.

Taxied up the mountain to this modern tire shop, but the manager said they were busy and couldn’t do it until 2:30 this afternoon. Not accepting this answer, I remained with my tires, taking a seat in their waiting area. An hour later, they took care of me. For a few dollars, they changed and balanced the tire.

Stood out on the curb with my wheel and hailed another taxi. It’s kind of funny how often, when you tell a taxi driver where you want to go, they simply shake their head and drive off. Such was the case here. They weren't too eager to drive into the mess downtown. Returned to the hotel and re-mounted the wheel.

From a phone center, called DHL to check on the status of my parts shipment. It is still in Ohio! It should reach Bolivian customs Tuesday. "Crap. Well, now what?" (I learned Monday is a holiday here.)

With the water restored, showered and did laundry, then went out to visit the Goethe Institute (not knowing what it is, but it sounded interesting.) Taxied downtown. It was closed until 4:00. Went to “Alexander Coffee Shop.” It was quiet and, with at least eight employees, way overstaffed.

Talked with an older gentleman, "Fernando" who has an English/Irish accent, but is Bolivian. (He spent time in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.) He loved having someone to talk with, and wouldn't let me leave. "Aw, come on. Sit a while longer!"

He's not very happy about the election of Evo Morales (or Don Huevo, as he refers to Evo.) Fernando builds highways, and "these indigenous just tear them up," (referring to some of the blockades, I think.) When I mentioned I was going over to the Goethe Institute, he asked "what for? It's just a German school. There's nothing to see there." So, I decided against it.

Wandered back towards the old city, making my way up to the “Rosario”, and camped out at the computer until dinnertime. Ran into Michael (the Kiwi) again. He and his "mates" had just climbed the nearby 6,088-meter peak, Huayna Potasi. They were relaxing in luxury at the "Rosario" after the grueling trek.

Tried llama tenderloin for the first time. Served in a mustard sauce, it was excellent.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Between Hotels

10:08 p.m.

Slept in my sleeping bag last night, as it has been quite chilly and even with three wool blankets on the bed, I haven’t been warm enough. But the bag was toasty!

Another slow start, testing my ribs and leg when I first start moving. Even rolling over in bed is difficult and uncomfortable, but it seems things are slowly mending.

Two days ago, I looked at my nice “Cross” pen and thought it is surprising it has survived this long on the trip. Today, it’s gone. Funny how that works.

I wanted to check messages this morning, but I needed to find some place to hook up. Decided to taxi to the central library, where they’d hopefully have free internet service.

Arriving there, found it was closed for renovations. But all was not lost; right next to it is a tourist information office, so I could at last get a La Paz map. The map cost about 60 cents and was not a whole lot better than what I’ve already seen, but it was a small mission accomplished.

The information officer also told me of an excellent café only a few steps away: “Alexander Coffee Shop”. Sitting there with a chocolate croissant and cappuccino, all was right with my little world. And interestingly, the same “Hotel California” soundtrack was playing in the background. (If I had known about this "lucidcafe" website earlier, I would have found this coffee shop sooner!)

Walking back along the tree-lined Mariscal Santa Cruz, I spotted a “DHL” office and went over to check on the status of the parts shipment from California. They said it should arrive tomorrow, then go to customs. I should call tomorrow to check on the status.

Tried several internet cafés to see if they would allow me to hook up with my laptop, but it has been unanimous: not a single internet café in La Paz (I’ve tried well over a dozen) will allow me to connect. “No es permite,” is the tape heard over and over. Along the Mariscal, with it's office towers, I tried to pick up a wireless connection. Numerous signals were available, but I couldn’t connect to any. Another interesting feature of La Paz. I think the mafia runs internet communications here. It's big business.

Continued walking in the direction of my hotel and soon found myself at the Plaza San Francisco, with its 450-year-old Basilica. There is a Franciscan museum there that I decided to look into. The afternoon was overcast and a light rain was beginning to fall. Perfect weather for a museum visit.

A temporary exhibit from the Anne Frank Museum is on display. It depicts the life of Anne Frank, against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. An amazing chapter in human history that sends chills through my body every time I encounter it.

A particularly sobering document drafted at the senior Nazi leadership Wannsee Conference in January 1942, shows the estimated distribution of Jews throughout Europe, detailed by country: a total of 11 million. The goal was established to eradicate all of them. By the end of the war, Hitler had “succeeded” in eliminating 6 million Jews.

It is a strange exhibit to run parallel to the story of the Spanish missionaries’ role indoctrinating the indigenous people while the conquistadors ravaged the American continents. Very similar campaigns to “purify” or dominate races.

I wandered through the empty San Francisco Basilica, and down into the “Crypt of the Heroes”, where a half dozen giant metal urns hold the remains of some of Bolivia’s “champions of liberty”.

I was then given a quick guided tour up to the roof and campanile. The young lady declined my request to ring the bells. “Just one?” “No!”

Roamed numerous galleries of religious paintings. I can’t relate to the minds that revered these icons, and I find it impossible to understand the devotion that gave rise to these works. It all seems dark and nightmarish to me.

One area of the cloister I did find interesting, however, was the friar’s winery and distillery where they made wine and pisco, or “moon shine”. I suspect these fellows knew how to party.

The rain came pouring down while I was in the museum, accompanied by lightning and thunder. Followed my visit with a relaxing cup of coffee in their nice coffee shop. So civilized!

Wandered back to “Hotel Rosario” to check on e-mail. I had worn out my welcome last night, but hopefully the staff would be different at this hour.

An e-mail from Jaime said the tire should be in La Paz by 2:00 or 3:00 today and he provided the air cargo carrier’s name.

Back to my hotel. The hotel door is usually chained shut. (Kind of gives you an idea of the type of neighborhood.) The manager said that the owner had come by and told her that the motorcycle must go. She wanted it put in a garage, but I just rolled it back outside. “It’s my problem, not hers,” I said.

Called “Lloyd Aero Boliviana Carga” to find out if they had my tire and how late they’d be open. First reached the international services at the airport, but they directed me to their downtown office. Confirmed it was indeed there, then taxied to their office in the commercial district.

The tire cost a total of $65, shipping from Sucre included! And it looked beautiful: a Pirelli MT 60.

Piled into another taxi, this one a 1980 Nissan. Not much worked in the car. In fact, the engine stopped at every intersection. The driver pointed to the wire under the ignition switch that he grounds to start the car moving again. Windows all fogged from rain, it’s miraculous that people survive here!

Back at the hotel, took a few minutes to just admire the tire!

Over to "Rosario" again. Decided to have a nice dinner tonight, but the restaurant didn’t open until 7:00, so more e-mailing.

Dined at their “Tambo Colonial” restaurant. It was filled with Europeans and Australians, and two Japanese (and one American, me.) It was quite enjoyable. Lasagna, good bread, salad bar, a half bottle of Peruvian red wine from the Tarija region (near Argentina): 2004 Bodegas La Concepcion Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva. Chocolate mousse and cappuccino (I’m pretty sure it was made with “Nescafe” instant!)

The bill was about $12.50 (the wine half that), expensive for La Paz, but in my mind a bargain. This is one of the things that ties me to life back home – good food!

Downloaded music until 10:00 when Abel politely asked us all to “go to bed early tonight”.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Doing business in another world

A knock on my hotel room door early this morning. The manager said a woman from "Daci" had stopped by the hotel to say the tire was not available and she returned my deposit. After clearing my head, the first thought, "well that sucks."

"Well, you didn't think it was going to be easy, did you?"

The hotel manager offered to help by calling Jaime Medina, a shop owner in Sucre. He had responded to an e-mail saying that there were three options available, and he could have a tire to me in two or three days.

She accompanied me to a call center across the street and placed the call, but there was no answer. (Call centers are virtually everywhere throughout Latin America. Most people don't have phones, so they rely on these businesses that provide a bank of phone booths, and track your call, charging you after the call is completed.)

Since the phone call didn't work, she and her son helped me craft an e-mail to Jaime. I went to “Hotel Rosario” to send the message, but found the bar and internet café locked. Asking at the front desk, I was told it wouldn’t open until 1:00.

Walked to an internet café. They wouldn’t allow me to hook up my laptop to their network. (I’ve run into this in several spots here in La Paz.)

Returned to “Rosario” and asked if I could pay to connect. The manager gave me the key to the café, telling me to lock the door behind me and not let anyone else in.

Sent the message to Jaime, and, since I had the connection, just settled in to work on other things until Jaime replied. When Abel arrived at 1:00 to open the café, I still had not heard from Jaime. Lunch time. Abel recommended “Restaurante Lobo” down the street, but they were closed. Ended up at the simple choice, “Pizzeria Italia.”

After lunch, I tried calling Jaime on my own. A difficult conversation, first with his assistant, then with Jaime, but we got things straightened out: he would order the tire now, and I would go to "Banco de Credito" to make a deposit into his account.

Taxied down to the commercial center and found the "Banco de Credito". In the lobby, there were perhaps 100 people waiting to be served. You take a number and have a seat. (Some take numbers, then run errands.) My number was 630, and they were currently serving number 545.

I’ve passed by banks throughout Latin America and witnessed these crowds inside and never understood what was going on. I only hoped I wouldn't have to deal with one. But here I was. And it's insane. Time (life) is worth so little here.

The lobby has TVs to entertain the customers, and frequent "Banco de Credito" commercials. Big brother taking care of all the little people. (But on the TV, I did get to watch the Eagles’ “Unplugged” performance of “Hotel California”. Outstanding. It makes me wish I had studied music instead of...whatever it was I studied.)

One unruly customer sitting next to me, shouted out whenever he saw what appeared to be an idle teller. (When a number is called, the teller allows a certain time - a minute or two - to pass, for the customer to make their way to the window. After that, if no one has appeared, they move on to the next number. The man didn't like these long intervals between numbers.)

With 18 service windows in operation, it took between 30 and 45 minutes before my number was called. I made a $65 deposit in Jaime Medina's account. Next, I went to a copy center to make a copy of the deposit receipt. Then to a phone center to fax a confirmation of the deposit to Jaime.

What a strange world this is, and what a cumbersome way to transact business! What should be a simple transaction can take a half day. But for much of the population, it is a cash economy, and credit cards or lines of credit are meaningless. There is little trust. For good reason, I guess.

Even in this cash economy, when you hand over currency, it is usually held up to the light to inspect for counterfeits, as they are so commonplace. (A 50-Boliviano note I handed a street vendor the other day was handed back to me. "Malo." Bad. I thought I had lost $7, but later was able to hand it off to someone else without incident. Such is life here.)

So, once again I taxied back to the hotel, hoping that "the wheels were turning" and I would soon have a tire.

Heavy rains this afternoon. My bathroom leaks in about four places, but it's a bathroom. It's supposed to get wet.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tire shopping and a visit to the Black Market




11:42 p.m.

My injuries are kind of like getting hurt in the final game before the World Series. For us riders, the Salar de Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia is one of the big events, the World Series (or World Cup, if you prefer) of South American riding.

Finally overcame my aversion to the bathroom and attempted a shower. There is a small electric heater and shower head unit rigged over the bath tub. There is no curtain, so the water splashes all over the bathroom, puddling on the old linoleum floor. But the water was hot, and felt good.

Afterward, washed laundry in the sink and strung a clothes line across the bathroom.

I was about to head out on another motorcycle shop search, when I checked the rear tire and found it flat again. This time I looked closely and found a tiny hole. Probing it with a knife, I discovered a very thin two-inch nail.

Tried plugging the hole but after destroying one insertion tool and 5 plugs, I gave up. These Metzler tires are tough! But the failure of the BMW tire repair kit is concerning. I’m left with only one plug. (Fortunately, I had brought two kits along...or maybe not, if they don’t work!)

Taxied over to the stadium area. We finally located a shop, "Daci S.R.L. Custom & Chopper”! Signs indicate they work on Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson, Yamaha and BMW. That was encouraging. But they were closed (at 1:00 p.m.) Both the taxi driver and a woman who lives upstairs from the shop assured me they would reopen around 2:00 or 2:30.

Looked for a place to have some lunch, finding “El Motacú Restaurant” a few blocks away. It looked safe, as they were doing a healthy lunch business. Ordered the “Picante de Gallina”. Turned down the yucca and fried banana plate that came out first, opting for bread instead. The chicken was long-simmered, creole-style with rice, potatoes and chuños, smaller, harder, purple-colored dehydrated potatoes. Way too much food, and, with drink and tip, amounted to only $3.

Killed a bit of time at an internet café, then returned to Daci. They were now open. “Edgar” pulled out a Pirelli catalog and identified my only options, then he checked an inventory list for the local distributor. He then called to confirm availability. The only tire they had is a 140/80 R17 (instead of the standard 150/70 R17), which should nevertheless work on my bike. The price, $65. He asked that I place a deposit (100 Bolivianos). He would have the tire tomorrow. It all seemed so refreshingly efficient!

Taxied back to the hotel in the typical circa-1990 Toyota with between 250 and 350,000 miles on the odometer. And I got to enjoy the mindless honking from inside. Less than a dollar for the 15 to 20-minute ride.

Feeling that the "wheels were turning" (pardon the pun), I went out to take some photos; not much else I could do, and I thought it would help take my mind off my truly insubstantial "problems". It was a welcome diversion.

I learned that my neighborhood bordered the hugely-popular Mercado Negro, La Paz's "Black Market" district. A walking tour follows:






This market is NOT earthquake-proofed






Typical La Paz street encounter. The bus is moving; you just have to watch your toes.



Imagine being an electrician here! This is La Paz's Mercado Negro, Black Market district.






Forget carrying extra gasoline. You can carry rum and vodka by the jerry can! (Note the security chain snaked through the handles.)







The Plaza Equino right outside my hotel. The picture is not complete without the sounds and smells.



Shopping for toys at the street marke



Street vendors


Later on, returned to the "Hotel Rosario" to plug in. Advised other riders in the area of my thoughts to head for Arica, Chile, then Santiago. For me it would be unwise to attempt the Salar de Uyuni at this time, and Brad Houghton has told us the window of opportunity there has closed.

Issa Eismont at BMW of SF wrote to say the repair parts I'll need are on their way via DHL. Good news! Issa has helped rescue a number of us in our time of need. (He's planning a round-the-world ride with his wife in a year or so.) Thanks, buddy!

Remained at "Rosario" until closing again. Walking back to the hotel, bought some bottled water (at less than 30 cents for 600ml, this is more like it!)

Returning to the hotel, the couple managing the hotel suggested I bring the bike into the lobby. It’s very dangerous outside, they said. With the rear tire flattened, I crawled it up a step and into lobby.

A rainy, chilly night.

As my energies lately have been sucked up by motorcycle-related issues, I realize the need to re-focus my attention, and avoid this being just a motorcycling exercise. Drew reminded me tonight to contact Doug and Kris, the founders of "Northface" and "Espirit" who have established an 800,000-acre nature preserve near Puerto Montt, Chile.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bad Mood

This has to be one of the lowest points on this journey. No motivation to get out of bed this morning, and I was hurting in several places. Rest is not a bad thing right now.

I slept in my clothes last night, not wishing to contact the bed covers in this dismal hotel. (But the under $4 price keeps me here!) This market district in the center of La Paz is, for a northerner, atrocious: the air smells of garbage and urine. It is common to see men urinating in public, even in broad daylight. The din of traffic, horns, people shouting in the market place; it sounds like a huge rally and traffic jam rolled into one. All the time. Conditions here are simply disgusting, yet this is the reality for so many people. And they seem to make the most of it.

I went looking for a tourist information office purportedly on a nearby square. I asked people all around the square. Each person was aware of it, and everyone gave me different directions. I never did find it. I just want a friggin’ map of this city! (The small map of downtown on my Bolivia map is terrible.)

The hotel doesn't even have any telephone yellow pages to research shops, so I went out on my bike at 11:00, feeling pretty depressed. Tried to follow directions to an area where, I was told, I would find auto and motorcycle shops. Today is a holiday, so they were likely to be closed, but I wanted to use the day to get oriented and prepared.

Once in the area, I stopped at a gas station for some help finding the dealerships. The attendant said, "not here." The only place I'd find motorcycle shops was over by the stadium, he said.

Then I tried going in that direction on Ave. Simon Bolivar. At a stop light, I asked a motorcycle policeman and he pointed me in yet another direction, up into the hills. "That's where you'll find the motorcycle shops."

Found a small, grimy shop with motorcycles parked out front. The proprietor said there were a couple large shops up on the mountaintop. He tried calling, but one was closed, and the other didn't have the size tire I needed. Not even anything close.

Tried again to find the area by the stadium. What a crazy city! It started raining and I decided it was rather hopeless today. Maybe I could do more on the internet. Returned to my hotel, even more depressed.

Maybe I needed to eat! Went back to "Pizzeria Italia" for lunch. Watched some bull riding (from the U.S.!) and football (soccer) while dining.

Walked over to the "Hotel Rosario" and again asked to use their internet. Met the bar manager "Abel", who wanted to help me search for a tire. His English was very good, but he kept finding tires in places like the U.S. and Colombia, which wasn't a big help. I appreciated his enthusiasm, however, because at this point I had little.

Back to my hotel. I couldn't get much lower. The possibility that I might be stuck in La Paz, as in Lima, waiting on a tire, was nearly unbearable. The “I told you so’s” were flowing. (Those who told me I should have spent the money to bring in two tires from the U.S. “No, I’ll be able to find a rear tire in La Paz. It’s the front that’s the problem.”) I was hating this city and my helplessness.

Late in the day, there was nothing to do but go through my bags again. "What can I dump?" A half dozen maps I no longer need, some pants, a “Solo” lighter that stopped working, and the butane to fill it. My digital pressure gauge that stopped working. Threw out receipts that had been accumulating since Texas. The rope too? No, I might need that to hang myself.

Returned to the "Hotel Rosario" after 9:30. Tried writing a few more contacts about tires. Wrote the head of BMW Service for South America, complaining of the difficulty finding tires for these bikes.

Brad Houghton wrote that he and Melissa just arrived in Uyuni after a "hell ride". It may be too late for the Salar de Uyuni, as it is covered in "five inches of water." 8 falls for them on that little sidetrip.

I can’t afford to be falling right now, not with the injuries I already have. The Salar de Uyuni was one of the goals of this trip, one of the highlights. If I pass on it, it will be a major disappointment.

The part of me that is very anxious about going out there, and the risks such a trip entails, would be relieved at a change in plans. Another, more reasonable part knows it would be foolish to attempt it when injured. Even more so if the bike were in marginal condition.

Is it possible to do after going to Tierra del Fuego? I could make a case for curtailing all side trips and driving straight south. This is the optimum time to visit Tierra del Fuego, not two months from now.

Kicked out of the bar at 11:00.

Bought toilet paper from a street vendor for one Boliviano and two small (hotel-size) bars of soap for two Bolivianos. You can find almost anything out there on the street!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas in La Paz


First view of La Paz, Bolivia


10:15 p.m. Hotel Rosario

This isn't my hotel, but I'm sitting in the top floor bar and internet cafe. No one else around. In fact, the attendant handed me the key and asked me to turn out the lights and lock up when I'm done. He's evidently unaware that I'm not a guest here! Rooms in this hotel are $30. It's quite nice and comfortable.

My hotel, the "Italia", on the other hand, is costing 30 Bolivianos per night. That's one-eighth the price! But I don't get a TV or internet, or towel or toilet paper! (I'll just come over here to use the "loo".)

***

Loading up the bike this morning in Copacabana, I checked my tires and found the rear pressure very low. No obvious cause, but I hadn't checked them in ages, so I thought maybe this had developed gradually. An opportunity to use my electric pump for the first time. It took about 15 minutes to get the tire back up to 40 psi (perhaps due to the elevation here.) The tire will be replaced in La Paz, so I wasn't too concerned.

Anne and I decided to ride to La Paz together. Trying to navigate our way out of Copacabana, we encountered a huge festival in the town square. It appeared they were having a "blessing of the vehicles": everywhere, there were cars and trucks adorned with flowers.



The Bolivian town of Copacabana in the distance, on the shore of Lake Titicaca


About twenty miles east of Copacabana, there is a ferry crossing that one must take to continue on to La Paz. The flat-bottom boats look ancient, and rough-sawn planks are laid lengthwise across their ribs; only enough planks to provide a rail for the vehicle tires. We were directed aboard ("pull forward to the rocks") and then the young man piloting this ferry picked up a long pole and pushed us off from the shore.



This is what constitutes a ferry. Traveling from Copacabana to La Paz, you have to cross these straits.




Pushing off from shore. "Are you going to push us all the way across?" Then, I noticed the tiny outboard motor that was going to propel us across the straits.



Notice all the water in the bilge! We were fortunate that "seas" were calm this morning.


After clearing the shore, he fired up a tiny outboard motor (it said "Honda 50"). And we puttered along. There was clearly no hurry getting to the other side. Too late, we asked how much this costs. "30 Bolivianos (almost $4) each. "Too much!" I protested. "30 para dos!" Thirty for the two. But he wouldn't have it.



There was plenty of traffic on the water this morning


When we reached the opposite shore, we had to back the motorcycles off, which was a bit of a project, given the narrow planks and uphill slope to reach the bank. Anne negotiated a discount, and we paid 50 Bolivianos for the two bikes.

Quite a ways back, I referred to Highway 101 through Washington's Olympic Peninsula as a "Trail of Tears", because of all the clear-cutting. But today, from Copacabana to La Paz, Anne and I were on a different kind of "Trail of Tears." Perhaps because it’s Christmas, the hundred mile stretch between these cities was lined with literally thousands of peasants: standing, sitting, lying and kneeling alongside the highway, hands (or hats) outstretched for any kind of an offering.

Families camped on blankets and ate their meals along the road, the children beckoning at every passing vehicle. It was clearly a special day, as some vehicles stopped along the shoulder obviously bearing treats or gifts, and for hundreds of yards in all directions, children came running. They lined up patiently to receive their surprise.

From other passing vehicles gifts were tossed out the windows and the kids raced to pick up the little wrapped parcels, wrestling each other in the dust to capture the prize.

We slowed down to have a closer look, but I wouldn't even consider photographing these people, treating them as a spectacle. Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America, and from today's ride, the poverty was all too clear.

It's a pretty bleak landscape as well, this altiplano. Brick and concrete structures rising out of the earth, with little vegetation to soften the impression.

In La Paz, we stopped downtown to look up recommended hotels in Anne’s guide. She led us to "Hotel Italia" (I would have been lost, but she easily found it, geographer that she is!) At first, I was going to look for a nicer hotel, then decided “why make it hard on yourself.” And the price is right. They allowed us to park our motorcycles inside a gated drive.

We went out to lunch at “Pizzeria Italia”, which claims “the best pizza in town.” This was our Christmas dinner! (We passed on the $15 turkey dinner offered by the "Hotel Rosario".)

Afterwards, we took care of our internet responsibilities, checking in and answering e-mails. I tried calling Jessica, but only connected to voice mail.

Late in the afternoon, I wandered through some of the open air markets scattered through this hillside neighborhood. A sea of humanity! Fascinating. But just climbing a couple flights of stairs here can take your breath away. I had to take it easy. (And my calf was starting to cramp up, reminding me that I need to go slow.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve


Hotel Utama, Copacabana, Bolivia


This is the noisiest hotel I’ve been in! It sounds like a train station with the movement of guests in and out. They're fully-booked for the weekend. I didn't realize Copacabana was such a destination.

Awoke at 8:30 but my back, ribs and calf were pain, a sorry state of affairs. The body is truly feeble! Lay in bed longer, trying to at least give my back a chance recover.

Occasional thunder rolling in the distance.

Downstairs later, I met "Jessica "(from Lake Tahoe and North Carolina) and "Marcia" (Montgomery, Alabama). They are studying Portuguese in Brazil.

A late lunch with Anne: we walked down to the waterfront and ordered the trucha (trout) lunch at "kiosk #10". That and some La Paz Pilsener beer, not bad!




Lunch with Anne on the waterfront at Copacabana. Trucha (trout) with French fries, salad and La Paz Pilsener! (A scene similar to the Cevecheria Yuly Hoy in Peru!)



Later, we went out to Nimbo’s, a strange little restaurant with a quirky, cluttered interior. The diners, all gringos, and the slowest service ever!

In the rain, walked to the cathedral, visiting a small chapel on one side, where parishioners gathered to light devotional candles.

Visited a club later, where we heard there would be a good band performing. The music was largely Cuban-influenced: songs such as “Chan Chan”. Anne went off to attend the evening mass. After a couple hours in the small club, from my position sitting in the middle of a sofa, I suddenly looked around at all the "20- and 30-somethings", and asked myself “what am I doing here?”

Half-way down the block, I realized I hadn’t paid for my two glasses of wine, and returned to settle my account.

The altitude here makes climbing a couple flights of stairs, or walking up a hill a challenge. It hits you once you stop, then find you can barely catch your breath.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cusco to Copacabana, Bolivia


Lake Titicaca from the south shore, near Yunguy, Peru


Just returned from dinner with Anne. We went to “Mankha Uta”, a restaurant that was totally populated with foreigners (even the band was from Argentina.) They offered fixed menus at 17 Bolivianos, a bit over two dollars. I tried some lasagna, which was satisfactory - well, great, considering the cost!

Coming into town, I had stopped at two hotels, asking if anyone had seen a French woman on a motorcycle. At the second, I was told she went to the "Hotel Mirador". I got directions from people on the street, and was on my way, when she spotted me and called out.

She led me up the hill to her hotel, the "Utama" (not the "Mirador") and I checked on a room. They offered me the only one available. It was pretty dismal and cell-like, but at $6, I was happy to take it. (Anne said the breakfast that's included is quite good.)

After checking in, Anne and I went to an internet café. I sent an e-mail to Issa at BMW of SF asking that he send the repair parts I'll need to La Paz. The new valve cover, related hardware, face shield and turn signal cover, will run over $300, plus exorbitant shipping costs, I'm sure. Later, Issa responded that the parts probably will not go out until Tuesday, so I may be getting to know La Paz pretty well!

My back is really bothering me tonight. Can’t stand straight. Probably from sleeping in the same position the past 5 or 6 nights (due to my other injuries.)(Reminds me of a particular period at Mondavi, when at least three of is in the Purchasing group were suffering back problems, at about the same time. It was the subject of some humor, as day after day someone would come to work bent over to one side.)


THIS MORNING

As I was loading up the bike, two of the hotel staff brought me a number of gifts, from the owner: souvenirs of Cusco, including a ceramic pot and medallion and some post cards. A surprising and very nice gesture.

The manager, Juan Carlos, came out to chat and admire the bike. It was the first time he’s shown interest in my travels. He asked if I wanted to stay for coffee, but I was ready to go. Though my stay here was a bit rocky, I reflected upon how Juan Carlos took a personal interest in correcting my Spanish, always teaching. And I was touched by his subsequent unsolicited offer to discount my bill as a result of the theft.

Left Cusco at 8:00 a.m., easily finding my way out of town. A beautiful day for riding; chilly with some clouds, but mostly deep blue sky.

Anne was right: 84 octane is the only gas available in most stations south of Cusco. Even the stations that advertise 90, didn’t have any in stock. Anne had found a couple offering 90 octane, but her notes were on my computer, and I didn't want to unpack it. I used 84; it seemed fine.

Many towns and cities in Peru, don't seem to consider the traveler, someone who may simply be passing through. The highway dumps into these towns, then you’re on your own to find the way out. There are no signs, and no obvious "main road". Two good examples today were Ayaviri and Juliaca. The latter is a thriving center, a festive town, full of color. The streets are jammed with tricycle taxis and I found myself paddling along with my legs through crowds of them.

In Puno, a popular tourist hub, I didn’t even enter downtown, but took the “circumnavigation” route. By now, I had little interest in the typical tourist attractions: the reed islands and boats on Lake Titicaca. I wanted to be beyond Peru at the end of the day.

The afternoon grew brisk and windy and I added a fleece layer under my riding suit. Over the deep turquoise of Lake Titicaca, white thunderheads rose, beautiful in the afternoon light.

At the southern edge of Lake Titicaca, I paused to take some photos of reed gatherers. After I took the pictures, several ran over to me, asking for platita (coins). I gave them a few Soles, but they demanded more. “Lo Siento. No mas,” and I drove off. Peruvians have been particularly aggressive, elevating pan-handling to an art form. But I have grown weary of it. “Bunch of mercenaries!”



Reed gatherers on Lake Titicaca's south shore



The reeds are used for animal feed, I'm told


Pulled up to the Bolivian border around 3:30, a sleepy little crossing, unlike any to date. All the offices are conveniently clustered there at the crossing.

The first stop was immigration. Reviewing my passport, the officer said “you only had 30 days in Peru.” He looked at the calendar and counted out the days elapsed since my November 7th arrival.

“This is a problem.” Then he said there is a dollar per day charge for overstaying the visa. $17. He said I could pay here, or at the immigration office in Puno (an hour and a half behind me.) I wasn’t about to drive back to Puno.

Suspecting that this was just a scam (the scribbled “30” he pointed to on the passport just looked like somebody’s initials to me), I agreed to pay, but added “if I pay you, I need a receipt showing your name, the date and the amount.” (I figured if it were a scam, he wouldn't want to provide a receipt.)

He said that if I wanted to get a receipt I would need to go pay at the bank in nearby Yunguy. Oh, and "the bank is closed," so I’d need to do it tomorrow. I was losing my patience and decided to go talk with the police and the customs officers, to see if this sounded legitimate to them.

They said it wasn’t their business, but yes, there is a penalty for overstaying a visa, and the best way to handle the situation was to pay at the bank (tomorrow). Not what I wanted to hear. I went back to the immigration officer and said “okay, I’ll pay here, and I don’t need a receipt.”

But now he had reversed his position and obstinately said I had to go to Puno. He wasn’t going to sign my passport.

“I don’t need a receipt!”

“It’s too much of a problem. I can’t help you. Puno!”

I followed him around. ("What do you want me to do, beg?" It was becoming clear, that is what it was going to take.)

Finally, two of his buddies showed up and clarified the rules; in order to pay here, I must pay the $17 plus 25 Soles (for their “services”, I assumed). Okay. They had me. I didn’t want to stay in the dismal town of Yungay, nor was I driving back to Puno. The thought occurred to drive south to the Desaguadero crossing, but there was no guarantee I’d have any better luck (or that the price wouldn’t be higher) there.

The officer’s stubbornness disappeared, and he processed my documents, walking me over to a nearby store to get copies of the stamped passport. I thanked him for his help!

Then I quickly passed through customs and the police check. The police officer added with a smile “poquito para gaseosas?” He wanted some change for sodas. Geez! Holding out my last Sole, I complained about those other guys taking all my money. He took it, saying “just a small soda.”

At the store, I took out my last 10-Sole note and bought candy bars. The proprietor asked if I needed Bolivianos. I asked the rate: 7.90 per dollar, not a terrible rate of exchange. So I changed $100.

Walking back to my bike, I noticed oil on the ground beneath the right cylinder. The epoxy patch was not holding, and a fair amount of oil was leaking.

Is it my imagination, or is the Bolivian countryside in much better shape than Peru's? In just the first few miles, I sensed more of a respect for the land.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Final Day in Cusco

Disappointed that my ribs and calf are still painful today, in fact, worse than yesterday! This planted the seed early to remain yet another day.

Dropped off laundry and bought some detergent to wash up gear that was still covered with dirt from the Santa Teresa ride.

Ran into Jerry (Jeremiah) outside the same "Perumototours" shop I'd seen Anne parked at a couple days ago. From all reports, these guys are a great asset to travelers. Jerry's R650GS looked immaculate and scratch free! And he has basically done the same trip as me. Different riding styles (careful versus reckless!)

Had the bike cleaned at a gas station, where the workers wash vehicles using small buckets, which they repeatedly run back to refill at a 55-gallon drum. (They've never heard of a hose?) For all the energy and effort the young man put into it, the bike still looked pretty crappy! But then it only cost a little over a dollar.

Visited a few motorcycle shops looking for a new faceshield, but my upscale "Arai Quantum" helmet is not something you find here.

Puttered around the motorcycle for a while: topped up the oil, sprayed "WD40" on a sticky brake pedal and clutch lever, straightened up a rear turn signal, torqued bolts.

Went to "Trotamundo's" for a sandwich, staying on to try and finish up the blog. A beautiful day. I kick myself for not being on the road.

Late in the afternoon, I started packing up the bags. I hope to get an early start in the morning and have a long ride, perhaps to the Bolivian border, tomorrow.

***

11:30 p.m.

Enjoyed a last "gourmet" dinner in Cusco, at Jack’s: chicken curry.

At "Trotamundo’s", I wrapped up work on the blog. It's "up to date"!

Bought a phone card and called Jessica from a payphone on the Plaza. She got all “A’s” this semester at Sonoma State! (As a parent, I'm obliged to brag about this.) She's spending Christmas with Sergio’s family for the first time.

While we were talking, I nodded to a fellow who wanted to shine my shoes. Soon, three kids whose earlier offer for a shine I had turned down, showed up and began howling that I was obligated to use them. One called me “fucker”! I had just about enough of this crap, and almost grabbed the kid by the neck.

When the fellow who was working on my boots finished, I asked how much? "15 Soles", he said, pulling out a price list to show me the price for a "shine with special treatment" (he had rubbed on a little water repellant material.)

A twenty-minute shine in Lima cost about a buck, and this guy wanted to charge $4.50 for a ten-minute, half-ass job! I gave him 6 Soles, still too much.

I'm very ready to move on!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Solstice

Normally, I'd call this the Winter Solstice, but since I'm south of the equator, I should probably refer to it as the Summer Solstice. Originally, I expected to be at or near Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina around this time. But I'm more than a month away.

***

Tonight, crowds had gathered in the Plaza de Armas to watch a football match on big screen. (Any other TV screen in town was similarly swarmed.) When I was kicked out of "MundoNet" at 10:45, the game was just ending and people were streaming away in all directions.

This plaza gets a remarkable amount of use. Almost daily, there are rallies, parades, concerts or ceremonies. Sometimes, a variety of events in a single day. Plenty of military displays. The other day, troops marched by in full battle dress, many wearing gas masks, bearing rifles with bayonets, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers. I see it as silly child's play. Unfortunately, there are many who take it very seriously.

***

Started the day at "MundoNet" as soon as they opened their doors. After an hour, adjourned to "Jack's" for some of those great pancakes. Talked with one of the partners, congratulating him for putting together a refreshingly well-run business.

Gray skies today. It's difficult to tell if this portends any long-term change in the weather. It seems so unpredictable up here. Walking across the Plaza, I caught the fragrance of petunias. It was one of the few clear connections I've had to a particular season lately (as, at home, these flowers would be out in late spring and early summer.) This trip has been strangely "seasonless."

Moved to "Trotamundo’s", where I stayed until 4:00, working on the blog and catching up on news ("Democracy Now!").

I wanted to get the bike put back together before dark, so I hurried back to the parking lot to work on it. The metal tab that I had epoxied yesterday snapped as I pushed the front fender into place. I put it all back together nevertheless. Hopefully, the piece wasn't that significant!

Paid off my hotel bill, 100 Soles ($34.00) for five days. I plan to get on the road tomorrow!

In an effort to leave town with the blog up-to-date (to the extent that's possible), I worked at "MundoNet" until 10:30, when they again threw me out. (I'm like a bad habit!)

Before turning in for the evening, I stopped at one of the many street vendors, and ordered a chorizo sandwich ($1). They cook it up in front of you, literally throwing onto the grill sliced chorizo, onions, cabbage, tomatoes (and french fries, if you want), then stuffing it all into a big hamburger bun. Squirt on the desired condiments, and you're set. It takes about a minute, two maximum.

***

Cathie wrote to advise me that the Senate today defeated yet another measure that would authorize oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I wrote a personal message to Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski asking them to give up their outrageous efforts to line the pockets of a few well-placed friends, at the expense of our nation's natural legacy. Stevens, who has pressed this issue for 25 years, is one person whose passing I may quietly celebrate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cusco

Awoke this morning with almost no pain in my calf! Very strange. It's still very stiff and starting to turn "black and blue", but this is a very good development! The ribs will apparently be the more lingering problem. I'm still getting some sharp pain whenever I exert.

Leaving the hostel this morning, I saw a familiar motorcycle parked down the street in front of a shop that rents motorcycles and offers tour packages. Anne was having them bleed her rear brake. But apparently her problem is in the brake cylinder, which will need replacement, perhaps in Santiago.

Went to "MundoNet" to continue work on notes, answer e-mails and listen to today's "Democracy Now!" broadcast. I was caught off guard by the profound show, in which Amy Goodman presented nearly an hour-long interview with Harold Wilson, who has just been freed after 17 years in prison, most on Death Row, for three homicides he didn't commit.

Took a lunch break at "Paddy Flaherty's", at 10,739 feet, "the highest Irish-owned pub on the planet". (Jim Murphy and Tim shaw take note - sounds like a potential investigative assignment.)(Even if you've already been here, I'm sure the menu changes and a fresh assessment is needed.) Excellent "Mum's Chicken and Vegetable Soup"!

After lunch, returned to the hotel and got my tools out. It was time to work on the bike. Assessed more carefully the damage to the windshield and turn signal. The tubular aluminum frame that supports the windshield was twisted and would need to be straightened. An aluminum guide that supports the front fender broke off, and a plastic pin that fastens the lower part of the windshield was sheared away. Nothing dramatic.

Late in the afternoon, I epoxied the aluminum guide back in place, then caught a taxi (for less than 70 cents) and took the windshield frame to Carlos at "Balu". Using his vice, a few dirty rags and a three-foot-long pipe, he worked on the frame for half an hour or so and got it re-aligned pretty well. He happily accepted about $6 for his work, and wished me a safe journey.

The taxi back was a dollar! (There are no meters, and no fixed rates. The price is...whatever.)

In the fading daylight, I used a board to leverage the "cockpit" frame into something approximating its original shape, then reinstalled the windshield frame. Things actually looked fairly good. I'll give the epoxy overnight to set up before re-installing the fender.

Met Anne "Anna Moto Diva" at "Trotamundo's", where each of us spent some time on the internet, then we walked across the Plaza to "Inka Grill" for dinner. This restaurant is regarded as one of the best in Cusco. It's very elegant (though it's not uncommon, I think, to see diners in their North Face or Mountain Hardwear "trekking" clothes.) Anne tried a traditional aji chicken dish and I opted for the not-so-traditional gorgonzola and spinach-filled chicken breast. Accompanied this with a half-bottle of 2004 Casillero del Diablo Tinto.

The food was outstanding and while the $20 per person cost is extravagant by Peruvian standards, it was a bargain to me when I consider the cost of similar cuisine in Napa Valley.

Anne is off tomorrow for points south, Puno and Bolivia.

***

In e-mail conversations with my former Robert Mondavi Winery co-workers, it is all too apparent that the "mergers and acquisitions" ("M & As") that are but a challenging game for those obsessed with power and wealth, have far-reaching human consequences, notably absent from Annual Reports and Balance Sheets. (Economics is indeed the most dismal - and myopic - science! Even calling it a "science" is being very generous.)

Each person negatively impacted by the Robert Mondavi sell-off has struggled. Their trust has been betrayed by the manipulations of greedy executives. Trust is one of the greatest of human virtues and one of the most fragile. Trust and avarice are mutually exclusive. One cannot exist in the other's presence.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bike Stuff


Crack in right cylinder valve cover patched and crash bar straightened up a bit. This epoxy patch replaces the Super Glue and yarn trick, which didn't quite work out. I'll know in the next few days if this is going to get me to Santiago.


Slept long. My lower right leg in quite a bit more pain this morning, but I'm fairly certain it's all muscular and there was no damage to the bone.

Crawled out of bed about 8:30, showered, then took some ibuprofen and wrapped up my calf again.

There seems no sense in having a doctor look at me. If I've cracked a rib, they'd just have me take it easy; same for the calf muscle.

Found "Representaciones Balu", a small motorcycle shop with a couple of eager mechanics. "Carlos" was confident he could straighten the crash bar and do an effective patch of the valve cover that would serve to get me to Santiago.

He removed the cover and we found that not only had it been cracked, but a mounting bolt was bent and the metal and rubber grommets that form a seal were damaged.

I left the bike in his care and taxied back to the hotel. I wanted to send an e-mail to BMW of San Francisco to check on parts availability.

By the way, when I arrived, Carlos pointed to my headlight that was on. He said it's illegal to ride with your lights on during the daytime. Maybe that's why so many people flash their lights at us motorcyclists.

Late in the afternoon, I taxied back to "Balu". Carlos had everything put back together and it looked good enough to ride. He used a "JB-Weld"-type epoxy on the valve cover. I figure I will know by La Paz how durable the patch is. Who knows, maybe I'll ride it all the way home that way.

Speaking of La Paz, there's an interesting news story today: it looks like former coca grower and labor union leader, Evo Morales has been elected to Bolivia's presidency, leading South America's poorest nation. An Amara Indian, Morales will be Bolivia's first indigenous leader. Morales calls himself George W. Bush's worst nightmare. I will be interested to see the reception an American receives in that country.

***

11:45 p.m.

Just back from "Norton Rat’s" and a gathering of motorcyclists. Four Japanese riders: Aki, Motsu, Ryou and Mina. (All riding 225cc Yamahas!) Two from New Zealand: Geoff and Nina. Two from Germany: Uwe and Ramona. Four from the U.S.: Anne, Jeremiah, yours and our host Jeff.

Geoff and Nina are on their way home after ten years in England, riding from Colorado since April.

Uwe and Ramona are journalists, traveling the World on motorcycle and writing for “Roadrunner” and 13 other magazines.

Jeremiah arrived late and sat at the other end of the table, so I didn't get to talk with him, but he left Colorado in June, riding a BMW R650GS (like Anne's), went north to Prudhoe Bay, and has been heading for Ushuaia ever since.

An interesting conversation with Ramona about "learning" and "experience" on the road. For her, it's important to settle in with the locals and experience their world. She left Germany five years ago, new to motorcycling. Her first challenge was the Sahara!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Licking my wounds

When I woke this morning, I could hardly move, my right calf in pain, like the worst cramp.

"I'll just rest a little longer and it will get better." It didn't.

Read in my emergency medical aid booklet that muscle injuries take 6 to 8 weeks to recover. That's unacceptable!

Wrapped my calf in an ace bandage and took some ibuprofen, then went out to find some breakfast. Stopped in at "Trotamundo's" and ordered an omelette, juice and coffee. Not their strong suit.

Remained at “Trotamundo's” for six hours, working on the blog, balancing bank accounts. Later, an early dinner at “Jack’s”, including their "Tuscan soup" and chicken with mushroom sauce. Excellent as usual.

Hobbled around town, wearing a pained expression, I’m sure. It's easy to slip into self-pity at such times.

I'm continually baffled how foreigners divert their eyes, as if to pretend it’s just them and the locals.

***

In bed tonight, feeling a bit feverish and frail. Ribs now have a sharp pain occasionally and the leg feels no better.

A thunderstorm passed over a while ago. Up here at 10,000 feet, next to the clouds, the power is amazing, as thunder rolls through the mountains and valleys, shaking buildings.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Santa Teresa to Cusco, the hard way


An entire highway crew looks on. Where's the boss?


Up at 6:30 and was ready to go by 7:30. Many residents were aware of this big motorcycle in town. It's an event. Several gathered to watch as I loaded up.

Overnight, the street leading out of town had turned to mush, and I didn't make the most graceful departure. For the ride to Santa Maria, I stood up on the footpegs the entire distance. The road was much more slippery this morning than when I rode into Santa Teresa, especially in areas of red clay. But this was nothing like Panama. At least I could move through this stuff. Lots of mud and water though, with the few pueblitos being particularly messy.

I was in Santa Maria by 9:00 and it was already very warm. I was eager to climb out of this tropical air. I had no interest in going further into the jungle (Quillabamba.) I was still fatigued from all the hiking but happy to be heading back to some creature comforts, and looking forward to a good bowl of soup.

The highway in this area is hard pack rip-rap and easy riding. You could sail on this stuff at high speed (if it weren't for the many villages along the way.) But even at higher speeds, I much preferred standing to sitting. Off pavement, it's much less jarring on the body. I kept the left mirror set for the standing position, and the right mirror set for those times I sat down for a break.

Out here, you don't see vehicles with only one occupant. A vehicle's utility is maximized. If not full, you stop to pick up those who need a ride. It's simply expected.

The surrounding mountains were cloaked in rain clouds and I was anxious to get up and over Puerto Malaga as early as possible, at least before any major rain developed again. I couldn't help but think about the creeks high in the mountains. Would they be passable today?

As I started to reach the crossings, there were no surprises, until I came to the second-to-last. Here, there were trucks and buses stopped on both sides. The creek looked much fuller than three days ago. "If this one, which was a non-event the other day, is this full, what's the upper one like?"

As I approached, people were standing on either side of the creek, and they waved me on. "You can make it. No problem."

I took a look from the bike and agreed. Without stopping, I plunged in and came out the other side without incident. Turning uphill, I pulled away from the creek, but the next moment I was on the ground, my helmet firmly planted into the rocks, faceshield splattered with mud.

I stumbled to my feet, and in a kind of drunken stupor wandered about, glancing off at the motorcycle lying on its side several yards away, engine still running. I was too dazed to go over and shut it down, and instead headed off in a different direction. The motor finally died and I began to collect myself. People were gathering around and speaking, but I just looked back, confused.

I assessed the personal damage: both hands were in pain on their backsides, there was an intense throbbing in my right calf, but I was standing up, so I was pretty confident there wasn't a bone injury (I think the rear footpeg and brace had come down on it) and I felt some pain in my right ribs (from landing on my right elbow, I think.)

It became clear that I needed to move the bike, as trucks were now trying to squeeze through. Several men helped lift it and I rolled it aside.

Looking over the bike's damage, the right cylinder had taken a hard blow. The crash bar was pushed back into the cylinder, breaking a couple of cooling fins. The plastic valve cover guard had been ripped away and the cover cracked. Oil was leaking from the opening. The windshield was impacted by rocks, which pushed the supporting frame out of alignment and snapped several fasteners. The right front turn signal was broken (again.)

My new faceshield was covered with scratches from the rocks. Thank goodness for full-face helmets. Had I been wearing an open-face helmet, I'd probably be looking at some major facial and dental work!

The bike was still roadworthy, though the oil leak was a problem. But I figured that if I take it slowly, I could limp back to Cusco, topping up the oil as needed (if I could find oil in time.)

Got back aboard and continued up the mountain. I was too preoccupied to think about the next creek crossing, and when I reached it, I didn't even pause, but just charged through. No problem. But my mind was distracted and that doesn't make for safe riding. I felt like I had been tackled from behind on a rocky football field (and I'm in no shape to be out on a football field!) And I don't even know what happened. Certainly I was distracted by the stopped vehicles and people standing around, but I must have hit some slippery rocks turning the corner.

The rain was starting, and soon turned to hail, and visibility was decreasing. But I had no intention of stopping. Using much more of the road than I should, I climbed to the top of Puerto Malaga. The gate was closed, and a worker said it would reopen at noon, in about 45 minutes. It was fairly cold up here above 14,000 feet, with light rain. He finally took pity and let me proceed ahead of schedule, warning me to go slowly.

After any "incident", I find it an effort to re-establish confidence, and this time was no different. I gingerly picked my way through the construction zones. Stopped at the first camp I came to and inquired if they had some oil. My right boot was now covered in oil, and it was clear I needed oil sooner than anticipated.

The bike immediately drew a crowd of workers. One had a partial container of oil in his truck and gave it to me. It was only a fifth of a quart or so, but it brought the level up to a comfortable mid-point. The workers surveyed the damaged head and one quickly proposed a temporary patch, using yarn and super glue. "Why not?"



Peruvian ingenuity: super glue-coated yarn stuffed into my cracked valve cover


Everyone, including myself, looked on in amusement as the "Peruvian mechanic" went to work. He couldn't possibly cause more damage. After he was finished, cameras came out and workers asked to have their photo taken on the bike. "Why not?"

I stood back, while one after another climbed onto the bike, cradling my helmet and beaming at the camera. Then women with babies appeared and we were having baby-on-motorcycle-photos! Standing off to the side, I met "Daniel", who spoke a bit of English. He spent some time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, undergoing airborne training.

I finally asked, "any more photos?" But they already had what they wanted.

I was sent on my way with a dozen well-wishes, and slowly descended the pass. Revisited Inti Punko Restaurant in Ollantaytambo for another ham and cheese sandwich. (And again I watched as a young boy dashed off to borrow some ham.) I paid the 8 Sole bill with a 10 Sole note. Another runner was sent to find change for the note somewhere down the street! (How can you run a business this way???)

A few miles down the highway, I stopped for gas and oil, adding a full quart of oil. the Peruvian solution wasn't quite doing the trick.

One more stop for oil before reaching Cusco. Arrived at Hostal Familiar just as a large thunderstorm was moving up from the south. In my injured condition, I had no interest in wrestling the bike up the hostel's steps, so I found an enclosed parking lot down the street and put it to bed there.

Tomorrow I would have a better idea if any of my injuries were of serious concern. Tonight I wouldn't let it stop me from going out and having a good meal.

On the sidewalk outside the hostel, I ran into Jessica (from Machu Picchu) and just down the street, met J.D. with one of his "family", Juan Carlos.

In the Plaza de Armas, a rally was underway for presidential candidate Valentin Paniagua, apparently a local favorite. (Peru will hold presidential elections next Spring.)

Hobbled up to Jack's for some dinner. I marveled at the frequent sight of women sitting in this restaurant reading magazines. On the wall rack, 14 magazines hang. Most are fashion magazines. I don't understand sitting here in Cusco reading "Glamour" or "Bazarre" (Bizarre?)

After dinner, went to Trotamundo's to post pictures from Machu Piccchu, hanging around until they pushed me out the door at 11:45.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Machu Picchu to Santa Teresa


A street in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)


Enjoyed a great rest last night. Before departing the hostel, ate a continental breakfast (included in the $15, of course.)

My plan for the day was to hike back to Santa Teresa by 11:00, then board my bike and ride back to Cusco. Another possible scenario had me camping tonight up near Puerto Malaga.

On the rails by 8:45 or so (not as early as expected), under sunny skies. It's about a 12-mile hike from Aguas Calientes to Santa Teresa, about half of it along the railroad tracks.

One finds things to do. I counted ties (14 to 16 per rail), measured rails (40'), measured my strides (2.5' average), 116 per minute, figured out my pace (3.3 mph). ("How do they do this in two hours???")

Along the tracks, I'm shocked at the amount of plastic refuse - it's everywhere. Every foot of the way. Amazing!



Off to work at the hydro plant along the Rio Urubamba


Reached the halfway point (10 kilometers) after two hours, right on schedule. The trip back would be at least a half hour shorter than the hike up.

The day grew quite warm, and at lower elevations the temperature increased even more. I was pretty drained by the time I reached the cable crossing. And this time, I had to pull myself across. The apprehension about crossing had disappeared, but the effort seemed to sap the last of my energy.



Crossing the Rio Urubamba again. That's Santa Teresa on the distant bluffs.



Chris and Amber, here's some good kayaking for you! Many of those boulders are house-sized.





It took four hours to arrive at the base of the bluffs upon which Santa Teresa rests. I stood looking up at the long stone staircase that ascends the cliff. "I don't think I can climb this! Well, maybe one step at a time."

Hernan and a friend came along and he asked if I needed help, offering to carry my pack. "Sure!" Perfect timing. After about ten steps, I had to rest. Hernan patiently waited, but I finally told him to give me back the pack and go on ahead.

Another ten or so steps, and I was exhausted again. I sought shaded spots against the rocks to catch my breath. Beneath the bluffs is a school, and the children were now getting out of class and climbing up to their homes. They were so sweet, as each one passed and timidly said "caballero, buenas tardes," some offering concerned looks as I leaned against the side of the path.

I think this was about as close to heat stroke as I want to come. I was momentarily dizzy, nauseous and out of breath. I had to calmly talk myself through the worst of it. A half hour, and I was about half way up the bluff. Hernan reappeared with his friend. They had tiny popsicles, and he offered me one. An angel sent from heaven! We stood silently sucking on the icy treats, then they went on their way. That little jolt seemed to give me the energy to finish the job.

I walked to the polleria to pick up my room key, pausing there to enjoy a soda. It had taken an hour to arrive here from the river bottom. A half hour longer than yesterday's hike.

I decided I wasn't going anywhere else today, but would go back to the room and lay down for a while. It was a long time before I was feeling refreshed.

Around sunset, I took a walk up to the sports field a couple blocks away. It's a concrete slab that doubles as a football (soccer) field and basketball court. A popular gathering spot. Watched the kids play football until it was getting too dark to see.

A fellow named Uriel greeted me as he was leaving. We started talking. He works most of the month in Aguas Calientes as a waiter, then hikes back to Santa Teresa to spend a few days at home before repeating the cycle.

I was pretty hungry now and invited him to join me for dinner at the polleria. He gladly accepted. Walking over to the restaurant, he was teased for hanging out with the gringo. He bantered with his friends. He was well-known to the polleria staff. Our 15-year-old server stuck her tongue out at him and made faces. They teased each other throughout the meal.

Uriel is 23 years old (same age as my daughter) and offered his services as a guide to the region for me or my daughter when she comes here! ("Wait a minute! I'm her father. I don't know if I like that idea!")

The chicken tonight was outstanding - really unexpected in such a modest restaurant. 8 Soles for the dinner, well under $3.

Uriel told me that a 1998 slide and flood destroyed much of Santa Teresa, which was formerly below the bluffs. After the disaster, the town was rebuilt in its present location.

He talked about a new route from Cusco to Quillabamba following the Rio Urubamba beneath Machu Picchu, but in the end I was confused whether he was talking of a railway or highway. It would be a disaster if they routed a highway through that canyon. The noise would destroy Machu Picchu's solitude.

I retired early, hoping to get an early start tomorrow. Rains came on and intensified throughout the night. As they did, so did my concern for crossing some of those creeks tomorrow. The rain pounded on the corrugated steel roof, but I enjoyed the sound (though I didn't sleep well.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Hostal La Cabaña", Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)

Roosters woke me at 3:00 a.m. this morning.

Natividad told me that no one else was staying in the bungalow, but during night, a tenant came and went, while another came, stayed and snored. Not much sleep for me.

Up at 4:30 to prepare for today's hike to Machu Picchu. Breakfast consisted of the leftover ham and cheese sandwich and two small "Tetrapaks" of pineapple juice.

Out into the chilly, overcast morning at 5:00, secretly thinking if Hernan doesn't show, I'd set off on my own, and save on the exorbitant fee. But he was right on time. Departing the village, we immediately descended a long staircase. All I could think of was "now we'll have to make up this loss in elevation!"



Hernan Gutierrez (sp?), my guide from Santa Teresa to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes)


Just above the confluence of the Rio Urubamba and another river, we crossed a foot bridge and continued upstream through the boulder-strewn river canyon. We soon came to one of the now-famous cable crossings (that Brad had described so well in his blog.) "People use this all the time," I told myself, bolstering my confidence as we approached the landing.

The small passenger cage was dangling out over the torrent. Hernan grabbed the towrope and pulled the cage over to the concrete platform we were standing on. As he held it in place, I climbed in. I figured he was going to somehow reel me across the river, then follow. Instead, he jumped aboard, hanging onto the side and we took off, rolling down the cable, and coming to a halt somewhere out in the middle. Grabbing the cable and pulling hand-over-hand, Hernan then drew us to the other side. Fun!



An early morning river crossing by cage suspended from a cable. Below, Rio Urubamba.


On the east bank of the Rio Urubamba, we followed a road up the canyon. Looking down at the ground, I noticed motorcycle tracks.

"You mean I could have driven my motorcycle up here?"

"Si!"

We crossed sandy areas and it was strange to think that these rugged mountains give birth to the beaches of Brazil's Atlantic Coast, thousands of miles away.

Walking below sheer rock walls, sometimes the roar coming directly from the river would be loudest, at other times, its echo off the canyon walls.



The discharge from the upstream hydro plant, the water flowing out of a massive granite wall


All along the river were small farms, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, banana trees and coffee bushes, beautiful flowers and clear streams flowing down from the mountains. Though these people have so little, they live in a piece of Paradise.



Typical farmhouse along the Rio Urubamba



Coffee growing along the Rio Urubamba


Here I saw "Impatiens", the popular California garden flower growing in a natural setting. (How often I grumbled while watering twice daily, trying to keep the tropical flowers from wilting in the hot and arid Northern California chaparral!)

We walked for a couple of hours, finally reaching the hydro plant deep in the canyon. We crossed a bridge to the river's west bank and climbed to railroad tracks. A train ran from Cusco to Quillabamba at one time, but floods and slides wiped away the track in numerous place along this river. A project is underway to open the connection once again.



Once we reached the railroad track (about halfway into the walk from Santa Teresa to Machu Picchu), Hernan walked on the rail much of the way. I tried but couldn't stay on for more than a few steps.


I asked Hernan how much longer to Aguas Calientes.

He looked at his watch. "Dos horas." Two hours.

"We have been walking for two, and now it's two more? Your sister said it was a 2½-hour hike."

"That's if you don't walk so slow," he replied.

I thought to myself, "come on! I've been moving right along! Okay, maybe I stopped to take a couple pictures and drink some water, but 4 hours is a big difference!"

Well, this was Hernan's first job as a guide. I didn't want to be too critical - yet.



Seen from below, Machu Picchu rests high in the mists


Just below Aguas Calientes, we walked through two railway tunnels. A team of about twenty police, with what appeared to be riot gear, came walking out of one. Hernan said they were drug enforcement police. "They are looking for coca."



From the railroad tracks, the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo, or Aguas Calientes, on the bank of the Rio Urubamba


After 4½ hours, we reached Aguas Calientes. ("2½ hours, my foot! I'll never trust another thing Natividad says!") Here, Hernan was a help in quickly determining where I could buy my entry ticket to the santuario of Machu Picchu. $25 for non-Peruvians. (And this doesn't even include a rudimentary guide to the ruins. No map. Nothing.)

I offered to buy lunch, and we began to look around for a restaurante typico. Hernan thought we better check on the bus schedule up the mountain. Found the ticket office and bought a round-trip ticket ($12 for non-Peruvians.)

I could take offense at being targeted with hefty prices because of my "First World origins", but I recall the expression "to each according to his means". There's a little bit of socialism in both the formal and informal pricing structures in Peru. And I don't disagree with the principle. I think those who are fortunate enough to be affluent have an obligation to assist the less fortunate, as it is not entirely by our their intelligence and sweat that they have achieved wealth. Nobody "succeeds" without an enormous supporting cast. "Never forget this."

There was word of a bus strike and I was told I better queue up with a group of students and take the bus that was about to leave. "There may not be another." So, I gave Hernan 10 Soles for lunch and bid him "hasta luego" (see you later - back at Santa Teresa. He said it would take him two hours to get back!)

The bus for the 15-minute ride up the mountain is a luxurious tour bus. We picked up members of Peru's "Escuadron Verde", special police force along the way, then began the tortuous winding climb to Machu Picchu. The ride is not advisable for those who suffer from vertigo. I sat behind the driver, noticing the big green oxygen cylinder mounted beside his seat. "I may need that later," I noted.

Up top, we disembarked near the "Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge" (where rooms start at about $450 per night, and I'm told you can spend $1,200 for the "Presidential Suite".) There's a small outdoor food court and restrooms (50-centimo fee).

It was around 11:00 a.m., and I was surprised that it wasn't more crowded, though it was raining and visibility was perhaps one hundred yards, not quite ideal touring conditions. All manner of rain gear was being employed by visitors, from plastic trash bags, to cheap brightly-colored ponchos to high-tech foul weather jackets.

I wandered into the ruins and took a bench under one of the few thatched-roof shelters on the site. Looked out at the rain, pondering. Started talking to a young woman seated nearby. I learned she was from New Zealand. She said there was a rail strike today and no trains were running from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. This meant that the only visitors would be those who were already here, or those coming in on foot along the Inca Trail, or other trails leading into Aguas Calientes.

Like many New Zealanders, she moved to London to work, as part of her "O.E." (Overseas Experience). Unlike most, she stayed on after the normal two-year O.E. visa expired.

With hopes that conditions would eventually improve, I set off to climb Huayna Picchu, fearing that if I didn't do it early, I wouldn't have the energy later. From Huayna Picchu, about 700 feet above Machu Picchu, I was told one would have (weather permitting,) a commanding view of the santuario. Before entering the trail, you must register at a small booth, logging your name, age, nationality and the time you set out. You can only enter up until 1:00 p.m. and must descend and log back in by 4:00 p.m.

The hiking boots that I've carried for over six months are finally getting a workout, and I was glad to have them today. In fog and rain, the stone paths throughout the sanctuary are very slippery. Many paths have sand, and transitioning from sandy path to wet stones can be especially treacherous.

The trail ascending Huayna Picchu consists of stone steps and, at times, just rocks on which to climb. In the most difficult areas, cables or nylon ropes are strung to provide a hand-hold. It's a very steep climb. I took many rests along the way. Conditions seemed so miserable today, that few people were on the trail. Perhaps four people passed me on their way down, and another three or four passed me on their way up.

Near the top, a young fellow from San Diego caught up with me and we chatted a bit as we climbed (until he was too far beyond me to hear!) I successfully scaled the mountain, reaching a large complex perched precariously on the very apex of Huayna Picchu. Through the swirling clouds, occasional glimpses of the Rio Urubamba snaking around the base of this spire thousands of feet below, attested to the strategic value of this outpost. The dizzying view was intensified by the lack of barriers or safeguards. One step in the wrong direction, and oblivion!



Beneath Machu Picchu, Rio Urubamba cuts through the mountains


To build the structures on this mountaintop, did the Incas dismantle the crown to create the blocks? It is unimaginable that stones were carried here from below. The human toll in building the Huayna Picchu complex must have been enormous.

As is often the case, when visiting "remote" sites, one encounters people who live and work there. Atop Huayna Picchu, I found the complex occupied by a crew of maintenance staff who make the climb nearly every day, and bring tools with them! Besides the dozen or so workers, there were a few hardy (or foolish?) tourists.

Out there in the clouds somewhere was Machu Picchu. As moist winds from the selva blow up the Urubamba river valley, you can watch the clouds form in a matter of minutes, rising from far below to envelop the mountaintops.

But over the course of two hours, the rain diminished and the interval between clouds lengthened, until finally the sun managed to break through and illuminate the citadel below. It was well worth the wait.



Looking down on Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu. After a strenuous climb, a few patient tourists waited for a break in the clouds and rain.



On a clear day, you would have a beautiful view of Machu Picchu



Gradually Machu Picchu revealed itself












Machu Picchu as seen from Huayna Picchu



A bedraggled timtraveler atop Huayna Picchu


By now, the summit was empty. The workers had gone, as had the other tourists. I was the last one to climb down from Huayna Picchu. The ropes and cables that seemed unnecessary on the ascent, were now invaluable. Coming down the slippery trail, I was fatigued and couldn't trust my muscles and judgment. Reaching the gate before 4:00, I found the office closed. I was hurt that no one was waiting to make sure I made it back safely!



This amazing structure juts out from a cliff. A misstep ascending to the terraces, and it's a plunge straight down, thousands of feet.



I was the last one to descend from Huayna Picchu today. The gatehouse that records hikers who ascend the mountain had closed. I guess they didn't care if I returned or not. Just me and the llamas.






Llama taking a dump beside "The Sacred Stone"






Within Machu Picchu's grounds, a horticultural exhibit



They're coming to take me away



There is a rail strike today. No trains running from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Consequently, there were 300 visitors today, versus 1,500 normally for this time of year, and 3,000 in the "high season". You'll be hard-pressed to find a single person in this photo. Huayna Picchu towers in the background.


The lowering sun was now casting a rich light across the ruins. I couldn't believe the solitude here. There were only a small number of visitors scattered across the grounds. I ran into my "Kiwi" friend. Now that the sun was out, she was scurrying about, capturing the pictures that had eluded her all day. (I believe she said she had come up here around 6:00 this morning!) I asked her what I should see in the remaining hour, and she pointed to a number of the highlights.

Climbing to gain a different perspective, I ran into Americans Taylor Paul of Santa Cruz, California and Jessica Gifford of Austin, Texas.

By now, we were all in disbelief at our good fortune, being afforded a quiet, golden afternoon in this magical kingdom. Everyone was in a great mood, regardless of the day's exertions.

Taylor said they had asked at the entrance how many visitors were here today. Only 300 had come, versus the normal 1,500 daily visitors at this time of year (and 3,000 per day during the high season!)

Jessica's an Oceanography major at the University of Texas in Austin and Taylor's a Hotel Management major at California State University, San Diego (and avid surfer. But it was Jessica who said she has a copy of "Stoked", brother Drew's beautiful history of surfing!)

Both have been on an exchange program, studying in Valparaiso, Chile. (You'll notice I only learn background information about English-speaking acquaintances, a result of my weak Spanish skills.)



We used Taylor Paul, my "body double" (Mary, is that the correct term?) to set up the following shot. Notice the striking resemblance.





Anti-terrorist police, who now far-outnumbered tourists within the complex, were beginning to make their sweep to assure there would be no one left here after closing time. Two of the police asked to have their picture taken with the gringos. We put our arms on each others' shoulders.

"Hey! there's a machine gun back here," I exclaimed, laughing as I felt the cold steel of the Russian-made weapon hanging from the officer's back.



Late in the afternoon, the anti-terrorist forces out-numbered tourists. A couple of them wanted to have their picture taken with the gringos, Taylor Paul, Jessica Gifford and yours.



A Machu Picchu resident blends in with its surroundings





As we were gently coaxed toward the exit, I felt completely drained, and my
butt cheeks were so chafed I could barely walk! (But you didn't need to know that, did you?)



Terraces with no terrorists



Huayna Picchu looms over Machu Picchu. I was up on the top there earlier in the day.


I welcomed the ride back to Aguas Calientes on a comfy bus. Boarding, I found Taylor, Jessica and the Kiwi (unfortunately, I forgot her name!) seated at the back and joined them. Soon, the police piled aboard too, and one sat down next to me. I asked about his machine gun, and about the job. His unit had come up from Lima for security training here at Machu Picchu.

The ride down the mountain was pretty exciting. I tried not to worry that I was looking off the edge of a cliff, and the bus seemed to be moving very fast, and the driver looked younger than my daughter!

In Aguas Calientes, Taylor and Jessica suggested we meet for dinner later, which sounded good to me. I headed off in search of a room. Contrary to what I had heard, Aguas Calientes struck me as a fairly clean and colorful town! I was impressed.

I found the three-star "Hostal La Cabaña" and, armed with the knowledge that the rail strike would cause a very high vacancy rate for hotels, went in to see what a room would cost me.

"$30."

"I'm sorry. That's way too much for me."

The manager asked if I'd like to see a room.

"Sure."

The room was luxurious compared to what I've been staying in lately. I told her I liked it, but I couldn't pay $30.

She then asked how much I wanted to pay, and I replied "no more than $15."

"Okay."

So we were both happy. $15 is still a lot, but to me it was well worth it.

At 7:00, I met Taylor and Jessica in the plaza and we set out to find a restaurant. Many were closed, perhaps because of the strike, but we found one near to my hostel. With Bob Marley echoing through the deserted streets, we enjoyed a mellow evening with some decent local dishes (my aji pollo was very good), a couple beers and good conversation. I enjoyed hearing of their experiences studying in Chile.

At 10:00 p.m. tonight, the entire town was conducting an annual disaster drill, or simulacro. Aguas Calientes is in a deep valley and subject to the very real threats of landslides and floods. It's not a question of if they'll suffer a disaster, but when. The hostel manager told me that if I didn't want to participate, I should just be in my room when the drill begins. Easy choice.

I was in bed by 10:00, and could hear all the commotion when the town's power was shut off and everyone poured into the streets with their disaster-preparedness kits and flashlights. There were whistles and sirens, feigned shrieks, laughter and lots of excitement. It sounded kind of fun and I felt I was missing out. But sleep called...