Bolivia kicked my butt! First she pummeled me to death, then she beat me to a pulp, and finally, she chewed me up and spit me out! But first, the rest of the story…
It took 18 days to go a pathetic 435 miles from Oruro to the Southwest corner of Bolivia. Those hard won miles were over gravel, sand, rocks and broken pavement. They were ridden going up and down from 3600 meters to 5000 meters on any given day (Mt. Rainier is 4,392 meters to give it some perspective). Often there was gale force headwinds or mighty crosswinds mocking our efforts, in addition to high altitude, horrendous roads, and the weight of our fully loaded bikes. One day I could only walk my bike 13 miles up a pass before calling it quits five hours later and camping out in the freezing cold just off the side of the road. All I could think about was how similar my efforts were to Robert DeNiro’s in “The Mission” were he pulled a metal knight’s suit along behind him up the ragging Iguazú Falls for penance (if you haven’t seen it, rent it!). For the last eight days we had to carry enough food for the entire trip and water for two days at a time. This added weight plus the already taxing environmental conditions made for slow going, lots of pushing, and time to think about my own “pentance.”
I had to get very creative on where to stay in order to block out at least some of the strong wind and teeth-chattering cold that threatened to blast us every night. We stayed in an old abandoned school house, a gym, a church courtyard, a military compound and several “Refugios” along the way. The refugios are where the folks on jeep tours would stay which meant two things…other folks from around the world to chat with and, if we were lucky, scoring some leftover pancakes, cereal, hot water, or even coffee. The bikers were sort of second-rate citizens at these refugios so we had to be stealthy and swoop down like vultures as soon as the jeeps took off. A few unforeseen pancakes could tip the scales on energy and just plain old anticipation for the mid-morning or afternoon break.
Alas, after 18 days off the grid (which now means without internet!), we crossed the last Bolivian outpost at Laguna Verde and entered the promised land of Chile! Here toilet paper is freely distributed, showers run warm and the streets are paved. Who knew that the simplest pleasures of life could bring such joy!