October 19, Iscayachi, October 20, Padcayo, Oct 21 La Paz
As we leave Jujuy, we note this hot water machine in the gas station. Many Argentineans carry around their mate—a tea-type hot drink, sipped through a metal straw—all day. They periodically refresh the potion—so, many gas stations provide hot water. The drink originated with the Guaraní, and has much historical and social significance.
The alternate border crossing. This part was efficient, with the customs agents for each country in the same building. However, the overall border crossing was a typically lengthy affair. And very hot in this valley.
We soon climbed back up into cooler heights.
And the countryside became more suitable for goats.
Lots of them.
And then the fun began. It wasn’t long before we came to another road block, near Tarija. Another protest! It can’t be about paving the road, since the road is paved. We managed to weave our way through a long blockade. Motorcycles are pretty manoeuvrable, and the protesters didn’t seem to mind too much.
The pavement didn’t last for long—so much for the Bolivian consulate in La Quiaca. And soon we were stopped by another blockade. Here they very kindly fired up the diesel truck blocking the road, and moved over enough to let motorcycles by. All told, we ran eight blockades before we were out of Bolivia.
But that long, long line of trucks and buses will be there for a long time. The theory behind the protests is that if you paralyze commercial transport, then the government will feel it in their pockets and will pay attention to these demands. Nearly 70% of Bolivians live in poverty and nearly 40% in extreme poverty.
We take a little break before pushing on.
But the road gets much worse, and night falls so we look for a place to crash in a little village called Iscayachi. They kindly offer us the empty dormitory of a boarding school, and we are grateful for the roof over our heads.
It’s chilly—of course—so we sleep in our clothes. But there are flush toilets and running water. Although certainly not for drinking.
Filthy and exhausted, nobody had trouble sleeping. The snorers were royally teased in the morning.
This is not a good omen. Mauricio is tightening a bolt near the axle under the trailer.
Morning in the hills dawns cold and clear.
We set off in groups of two and three.
The road isn’t great, although some sections are fine.
The sky really was that clear and that blue. The road is not only unpaved, it is also under construction, so some of the sections are quite bad. We don’t have any pictures of the really rough sections, through muddy ruts and sand, because we were too busy staying upright. In a couple of years or so, this will no doubt be an excellent road.
At times we met up with other riders in the group. Unfortunately this is the last picture we have of two of the group. The couple on the right were riding two-up, and ran into some sand shortly after this picture was taken. The rider put his foot out to stop the fall.
The bike went down anyway, twisting his leg in the process. We found him and his bike on the ground, although the passenger, his wife, was not injured. It had not been a high-speed mishap, but there was little doubt that he had broken his leg. Cell phone contact with our guides wasn’t working in Bolivia. Even though there was virtually no traffic on this road, a vehicle finally came by and Madeleine flagged it down. Since she speaks Spanish fluently she was able to explain the situation.
The driver was a local school principal who kindly gave us a ride to Villa Abecia, this little village about an hour’s drive north, where we were able to find an ambulance. We went back with the ambulance and doctor for the injured rider, and he was taken to a small hospital another two-hour’s drive to the north. Eventually he and his wife were flown back to Canada.
Brian, Madeleine and Marilyn continued on together. But, because of all the time spent looking for an ambulance and then stopping by the hospital to ensure our injured rider was being taken care of, it started to get dark, and Brian—on a bigger bike—didn’t have enough gas to get to Potosí. The gas stations were few and far between, but they didn’t have gas anyway. The gas tankers couldn’t get through the blockades!
We finally came to a small scruffy village, Padcayo, and decided we should stop. First we located some black market gasoline. Then we were told there was nowhere to stay. But persistent asking turned up a local “hotel”—for a dollar a night per person. It turned out to be a large room with several beds. Some time after we gratefully lay down to sleep, local travellers arrived to claim the other beds. In the dark they would determine which beds were empty by poking. Your dollar gives you a bed—and that’s it.
Note the reed and adobe roof construction. Very effective at keeping out the mountain cold. Before we turned in, Madeleine asked the proprietor where the washrooms were. With a quizzical look, the landlady asked her what she thought the ditch out the back was for. Sadly this reflects the widespread poverty. Malnutrition is the norm. Lack of clean water and sanitation ensures that disease is endemic. Will the election of Evo Morales bring changes? Let’s hope so.
Finding a place to store out bikes for the night took even more persistence. However, this storage shed worked very well. Madeleine is bending over checking the lock.
The path down to the storage shed was much steeper than it looks, so Brian got the task of riding all three bikes both up and down between the piles of roof tiles.
Great job, Brian.
Padcayo wakes up.
We’re not the only chilly ones.
Three of us head north again. The countryside is starkly beautiful.
This farmer carries a plough whose design hasn’t changed since the Egyptians of 3000 years ago.
And this farmer takes her donkey out to the fields.
Which part of the road to take is not always clear.
This time we took the wrong track, and had to get back.
Brian tells Marilyn, “Just go for it.”
And she did. We finally get back on pavement and catch up to the rest of the group in Potosí. Mauricio now has a rider with a broken leg—and a trailer with a broken axle. It didn’t make it out of Iscayachi. Oh, we forgot to mention that Tony crashed earlier on and messed up his arm a bit. So he is riding in the truck.
But the bikes need to press on to La Paz. Having safely navigated the dirt road, Madeleine then manages to crash. She caught her front wheel in that cut going down the centre of the pavement, and went down whap, at about 100 kph.
This was a brand new bike and Madeleine is absolutely mortified. At the beginning of the trip she was assigned a bike without heated grips, and she moaned to Mauricio that she’d never survive the cold in the Andes. Well, Mauricio went and organized a brand new bike with heated grips to be added to his fleet, and handed Madeleine the key. The beautiful bike is now missing the left turn signal and is scratched and bleeding. More trial and tribulations for our trip leader Mauricio.
Madeleine recuperates at the side of the road, a bit beat up but no broken bones. Good protective riding gear is worth its weight in gold. She’ll shortly crawl onto the back of Brian’s bike and make it to La Paz.