Tuesday, March 27, 2007

la paaaaaaaaaaaaz

The Powercrushers (or actually, just one of them right now) are scooting around La Paz after a series of especially "authentic" Bolivian experiences. After traipsing around Uyuni and Potosi with for a couple days we parted ways with the globetrotting Eric Adamson and booked an overnight bus to La Paz. Once there we planned to hike and rest while we awaited the arrival of new tires for the Tallies. Initially the ride seemed to be going well, on track to be our smoothest Bolivian transit experience so far - our previous bus experiences that included interior rain showers, a flat tire (you should have seen the jack they used - gaaaaaaaaaah it was huge!), sliding off the road in a rain storm, and an overnight ride that featured the same a particularly un-melodic bird song samled on repeat for six hours. Ka-Kaw Ka-Kaw! Anyway so the ride was smooth through the night until we got to Oruro where we had to change buses for La Paz...after reloading our bikes and bags we settled into our seats for the second leg of our trip, only to have the bus stop just as it was pulling out of the terminal. A lady with nice teeth but a bad haircut came on board and informed us that there was a blockade of unknown origin on the road to La Paz and all motor transit was impossible between the two cities. It was like, you know, a pretty intense bummer. This would have been the perfect moment to hop on our bikes and just bust the 150 km in a day or two, but alas, too many holes in our tires. So we found the cheapest dirtiest bus station hostal we could and crashed out for a couple days to wait. In the meantime Ben got pretty sick again and had to push the Cipro button. though luckily a strict dietary regimen of Pringles and Sprite had things back to normal by the time, bum bum bum, we decided to run the blockade.


What Daring!

Ba-zang running the blockade was awesome. Although at first nobody seemed to have any idea who or how people where blocking the road (guesses included peasants disatisfied with the quality of the socialized health care/blueberry pancakes), by reading the paper (very slowly....) we discovered that residents of the three major villages in between Oruro and La Paz thought they were gauged in their energy bills and decided to stone anybody who tried to pass on the highway until the issue was resolved. At the end of the third day we were sick of waiting and threw our bikes on top of a cab, heading to the first roadblock in hopes of somehow being able to get around it. We had heard there was an "alternate route" to La Paz and, after being dropped off 30 miles out of town, where able to hitch in the back of a minerals truck as our driver drove over every ledge, pothole, and rock in between the two cities. We made it to La Paz 18 hours later after getting stuck in a ravine, bribing innumerable locals at road blocks, and guiding downed powerlines hand-over-hand over the top of the truck. Felipe, our driver, spoke a strange mixture of Spanish, Quechua, Mumble, and "I talk to myself a lot on long drives," making comminication hit or miss. We shared a delicious dinner of fried chicken and cookies at 1 am in El Alto before passing out in the back of his truck, hoping our sleeping bags wouldn't pick up too much of the sulfur smell.

Thea had a great point that the fact that anyone in this country can literally bring all commercial and private transportation to a standstill is mindboggling - in the US only transportation workers can do that, and then only for public transit. As we passed the roadblocks we saw thousands of trucks that had lined up to wait over the course of the three days. Locals had literally just rolled big boulders into the middle of the main highway and stood by with slings and rocks ready to pelt anyone who tried to pass. The back roads we took were sometimes blocked, sometimes not, though anyone we encountered was quick to stand aside in exchange for a bribe, money easily extorted from the desperate bus and truck drivers. President Evo Morales was elected as a populist leader, the country´s first indeginous president and the closest South American ally of Chavez. Because of this I had assumed that the road block, despite being a major hassle, would be something that people would be proud of, concrete affirmation of the populist sentiments that have recently become popular. People power, you know? But when asked Felipe was angry about the blockade - he thought the blockaders where were little more than mean, petty thieves using a political issue to financially exploit their countrymen. It was both amusing and sad to find groups of kids no more than ten years old demanding money from drivers in order to pass. Perhaps more sobering were the interspersed groups of adults doing the exact same thing.

el alto

Cotton Candy; Wry to Embarrassed

I am only, like, 35% embarrassed that I had embarrassed spelled wrong up here for so long. These shots (and the ones above) where taken at a female wrestling exhibition in El Alto that Claire, Thea and Ben attended a couple Sundays ago. It was at least six times more awesome than anything you can imagine. Many thanks to Uncle Lou for the tip - I´ve been trying to come up with a subtle intellectual framing for the event using the journal entries of Herndon but it is really too hot to think about anything besides Britney and cold sodas. My original idea came after reading a chapter of "Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon" in which Herndon describes cresting a ridge after a long hike and feeling disappointed that the view before him was not as spectacular as he had imagined it would be. I was nervous that I might experience similar emotions as I had been amping the group for months about how awesome the female wrestling in La Paz was going to be. Nothing could be further from the truth. While watching indigenous women in bowler hats and ruffled skirts perform WWF moves on each other (pausing only to kick the referee repeatedly in the crotch) may sound morally dubious, it was everything and more that a rising member of Generation Next could hope for. As Tim likes to say; Be Young, Have Fun, Drink Pepsi. And when you finish don´t forget to throw your bottle at the ref. It´s all part of the show.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Salt Workers on the Salar

Many thanks to Eric Adamson for this sweet snap. Check out his blog at http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/eadamson/everywhere/tpod.html. Many thanks to to George Lucas as well for instilling baby-boomers everywhere with pre-scripted notions of sci-fi realities, brother/sister/Harrison Ford romance, and Chewbacca.

On the road to Atocha

Three Little Pricks, All In A Row

We chalk up gear problems as "memories" - since entering Bolivia our memories include four flats, a tire blowout, a broken chain, a broken spoke, two hail storms, and lightning lightning lightning all the time (which is scary when you are at the top of a pass riding a big piece of steel). Here Thea does her best Vanna White with this lucky tire...the symmetry of these patches seemed a little fishy to all. There were murmurs of foul play around the campfire but nothing could be substantiated. In the end we just put another tube and sent this one on to it's great reward.

Hella Pastoral

Bolivia is positively something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Our crossing from La Quiaca was tough - nine consecutive passes over 13000 feet. We wheezed our way through some of the shortest days of the whole trip - usually no more than fifteen or twenty miles between breakfast and dinner. Rain, thunder, and lightning every night promptly at 7:30. Sun every morning to dry our tents and gear before another day of big passes and smoked lunch meats. Each of us carried between 10 and 12 liters of water everyday and if it hadn't rained so much I doubt we would have been able to find enough agua along the way to actually make it between towns. This is the country where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came to pull their final heists (they died in a gun fight in San Vincente). It is easy to see how outlaws would be drawn to the zigzagging canyons and ridge lines that cover the Altiplano...lots and lots of really good places to hide out and play gin rummy. We talk a lot about that cowboys riding late into the mountains around here, drinking muddy water and eating cactus shoots. Except instead of horses they would probably be riding llamas. They would be really dehydrated too unless they found lots of lizards too eat. Harris makes fun of America's general obsession with charismatic mega-fauna but looking at these mountains really makes me want to track, capture, and tame a wolf to act as my travelling companion and night time guardian for bad dreams. This fantasy is actually straight out of "The Crossing" by Cormac McCarthy and is probably the greatest non-novella of all time. Thinking about cowboys can make you feel tough when you are curled up alone and cold at night in your tent wishing you would just fall asleep and escape the shame of having had to push your bike up the last pass of the day.

Salar de Uyuni

The Salar is incredible - because of the rain the whole thing is sitting under about six inches of water and when the air is still the horizon line disappears and you feel like you just stepped into something out of Salvador Dali's frontal lobe. We had originally planned on riding it but all the water makes that practically impossible - we did what any committed group of cyclists do when faced with adversity and hired a jeep. The landscape made up for our guilt. Once you stop rubbing sunscreen onto the underside of your nose you can take some of those weird perspective photos where your friend is standing in the palm of your hand, or maybe just swish your toes around in the sand and pretend you are on the ice world of Hoth where the Rebel Forces had their secret base, only to be destroyed by Impèrial ATAT Forces that bear a striking resemblance to the shipping cranes in Oakland. The surface of the salar is entirely salt, lots of little crystals that feel and look exactly like sand. It is Bolivia's only source of salt and the jeeps full of gawking gringos intermingle freely with the teams of workers that fill dumptrucks by the ton. The gringos all look like devils with their sunburns and mirrored shades and the workers look like something our of Star Wars with their ski masks and long sleeves to protect themselves from the sun. Some of you may never have seen Star Wars and should probably be ashamed. At the end of the day our guide took us to a hotel on the edge of the salar that was entirely made out of salt - floors, walls, tables, chairs, everything except the beds and toilets. The entire hotel appeared to be deserted and we wandered around feeling somewhere between Goldilocks and The Shining. All the ping pong and foosball almost made us forget what a creep-town the whole place was, though something about the half-eaten breakfast in the kitchen and the laundry on the line outside might have tipped us off that we weren't alone. Luckily it wasn't until we had all stepped outside to snap some photos of the sunset that the proprietor emerged. Suddenly by some strange force everyone forgot how to speak Spanish and we high-tailed it for the jeep. Neither the Three Bears nor Johnny ever arrived.


Sometimes you forget how awesome it can be to see people you know. I was sleeping in my bed in Uyuni after the big border crossing from Argentina when suddenly Eric Adamson is jumping on me and telling me how my whole body smells like armpít and how I need to take a shower. He had taken the overnight bus from La Paz to get to Uyuni and ran into Thea outside the tourist office. We had seen him in Santiago but didn't think it was going to work out for Bolivia. Suddenly we are all on the same jeep tour headed into the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, talking about that time that we all worked at that summer camp in Tahoe or all the kids from our freshman dorms who are now doing important things in big cities or that other time that crazy hilarious thing occurred. Eric is on one of those round the world tickets which is very exciting, making it nothing less than fortuitous that we ran into each other in a place that could be described in no other way as Cat Butt, Bolivia.

How to Drain Pasta at 13000 feet

The Bolivian sunsets have been more than making up for the fact that all our food is undercooked. Because of the altitude water boils at a much lower temperature and everything, pasta especially, turns out a strange combination of al dente and mushy. You can practically stick your finger in a pot of water when it is at a roiling boil and so far the clear winner of all our dinners has been the instant potatoes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

goodness gracious goodbye chile

In Santiago there were errands to be done and goodness gracious they propelled us around the city into places that the new sleek and speedy bus system never would have. There was a hunt for English language books. There were used bookstores in the bohemian district with English language sections that included old non-fiction with titles like ¨Is Male Mysticism Really Over?¨ And there were street vendors whose collections of English books included used calculator instruction manuals and issues of playboy from 1980.

The best of all was the hunt for another tall-person tire. We biked down to a street named San Diego and goodness gracious there were about thirty bike shops all lined up within two blocks. And on a hot Friday afternoon the neighborhood was kicking and hopping with teenage boys on trick bikes and middle-aged men wearing neon jerseys. There were shiny party, old parts, tricycles, skinny bikes, fat rims and spokes being sliced like butter. Because the stores were too narrow to window shop, and because all the shoppers had, of course, come by bike, there was cramming and squeezing of people and their bikes and this knocked over more bikes that were for sale and it was all a riot.

In Santiago we reminded ourselves that somewhere in the middle of biking miles of lonely roads in Chile and always being hungry and eating lentils for dinner, and then again for breakfast the next morning, (Matt added honey to his- I respected this because I think he´s an innovator- but do you think this improves the situation?) we had promised to have a cookie eating contest when we hit a town with a big store and cheap cookies. So, in an effort to fatten up before hitting the desert, we got competitive during our last night. The cookies won.

39 hours of busing later, we reached a town just on the border of Argentina and Bolivia - La Quiaca. We always scramble to the station and once our big fat bus arrives, goodness gracious, we rip off our bags, and flip over the bikes and twist off the tires and balance our pile of junk. Matt assures the driver that we did indeed buy tickets for this bus, and yes, we can fit the bikes and so we toss them in and cringe when they bang around. The first six hour bus ride was good and the next 19 hour bus ride was fine, but the last overnight bus really won. It was a stormy night and a leaky bus. So between the hours of two and five in the morning, Matt and Harris passed my rain jacket back and forth between themselves, each trying to arrange a few minutes of dry napping. Ben kept a stopwatch going to ensure that the time was shared evenly. So, we arrived and already things feel so different from Chile- people are out in the streets wearing colorful clothes, the air is thin and the bread is tasty. We cannot wait to be back on bikes tomorrow and breaking for Bolivia.

Lots of love to our families and friends. We wish we had all the spandex and extra spandex and planes and bikes and tents and free-time-coupons it would take to bring over everyone we miss and have you ride with us for a few days on bumpy roads. Special shout out to my uncle Talbot and grandmother Snooky for doing solidarity rides.

Friday, March 02, 2007

No Clear Exit Strategy

Dear Readers,

Team CP is currently in Santiago waiting for visas to clear, after waiting in Puerto Montt for packages to clear customs, after waiting in Chaiten for a ferry to come. We have discovered that waiting is the new black. But I am not writing to bore you with fashion advice, I am writing to set the facts straight. Over two weeks ago now, Team CP departed Coyaique for a final go at the Carraterra. The details of our exit have been hinted at in our blog, but up until recently is has just been too soon to speak of the happening.

We departed Coyaique on a down note. It was damp and drizzling- that type of cold that fills your bones. We checked our tire pressure over and over, did stretches, grabbed one last ice cream. No one wanted to be the one to call "Lets ride." But in the early afternoon we set out and after taking a few wrong turns and stopping to grab two bottles of pisco, one of coke for the 2000 km party at the last liquor store on the outskirts of town we finally, reluctantly pushed out of Coyaique.

A huge pass waited for us just outside the city limits and as we trudged up it drizzle turned to rain, the temperature dropped, hail was added into the mix and soon we were caught in a maelstrom of bad conditions. We had ridden, at most, 8 km, but the thought of riding even one more was on no one´s mind. We stopped at a farm house. No room, a maid told us. And so we plopped back on our bikes, drenched to the bone and rode on until we found a pair of bus stops set in front of a few houses and a small church. We sat together on the bus stop bench and shivered violently.

Ben stepped out of the shelter and glanced at his odometer.
"1989 k," he read, "shame its not 2000."
"Yep" everyone burred in response.
"You know," Matt piqued in, "I´m not a stickler for numbers."
"Me neither," Thea added.
"The 1% rule," I said, " you´re allowed to have 1000 km parties within 1% of the target distance- it´s well known."
Everyone nodded, cups were quickly pulled from panniers and a bottle of pisco appeared on the scene. We drank with great verve, did some warm up dances and smiles were visited upon our faces.
"Thank god for the 1% rule," we said as our cheeks began to flush.
The last drop was poured out and we climbed back onto the bench to huddle next to each other for warmth. The rain was still coming down in buckets and a small woman sat down next to us at the bus stop.
"How´s everyone feeling?" someone ventured.
"Yeah, warm."
"Great. Could be warmer, though."¨

A mischievous grin spread through the group and in the way that old confidantes can communicate without a word being uttered and a decision was reached. The second bottle was presented and cups were filled. We moved to the bus stop across the street where a couple of policemen were conducting a consensus of local traffic and began to chat them up. There were many toasts and group hugs, back patting about turning lemons to lemonade. We stumbled and cheered.

Then we noticed that Ben was gone. The three remaining troops agreed that we hadn´t seen him for half an hour at least. It was a small town and no one was worried, and so the story telling continued. About half an hour later, it was decided through that Ben had been gone for quite a long while. I decided to look for him, more our of curiosity than worry, and so I carefully ambled towards the closest house. A yellow one, right behind the bus stop. ¨

"Hola," I said as I opened the door, "ma amigo, Ben."
The woman gave me a blank stare. "Where is Benjmamin? You know?" I said in broken spanish.
"Ah, Ben-ha-meen." she said. She did some motioning and said something in Spanish. I was sat down next to the wood fire stove and a cup of mate, made out of a short ram´s horn, was placed in my right hand. I sipped and told them I was from New York. They asked me more questions. I stared at them blankly. It was quiet for a while and then I said:
"Two friends, speak good spanish. outside, it´s good?¨
Whether they understood or not I motioned for Matt and Thea to come in.
Thea sat down on the bench to my right and Matt was brought into the other room.

It was about this time that I started to notice the crosses, one over the stove, a couple over the cabinets. A half dozen in the living room. And between the crosses there were bible versus and posters of Jesus. Like bank robbers that had stumbled into the annual policeman´s ball, we found ourselves in the local missionaries house, drunk as sin in the middle of the day.

Thea was given our host´s mate cup and took a sip. It was the straw that broke the camel´s back- she suddenly clutched her stomach and her eyes became wide.
She shoved a copy of the spanish bible she had been given into my hands and made a mad dash to behind the chicken coop. Whatever transpired there we´ll leave to the confidence of Thea and the chicks.

The missionaries looked at me with concern.
"Bad empanada," I ventured.
The missionaries looked at me with skepticism.

At around this time Ben stumbled through the door, ruddy faced with an ear to ear grin.
"We´re staying up the street," he announced.
As it turned out, Ben had somehow been taken on a long car ride with a member of the mission named Jamie (pronounched Hi-mee). How exactly this had happened is unknown by all members of the group, including Ben.

Soon we were pushing our bikes up a dirt road to a small house consisting of a room with a wood fire stove and a wash basin, and two identical bedrooms, separated from the main room by a pair of curtains. It was about 6 o´clock and as the rest of the group pulled off their wet clothes I passed out on one of the beds, shoes still on my feet.

I awoke an hour or two later feeling terribly hung over and Jamie was there, showing the group the travel magazines he had accrued over the years and post cards he had collected from other travelers. He possessed a baby face just starting to show its first wrinkles and his cheeks were slightly asymmetrical, the left drooping below the right. He had a strange effect and when we asked him if he would like some of our dinner he answered, "of course."

We slept soundly that night and woke up early to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness with this generous, but strange man. He asked us to write down each of our addresses and he poured over the letters, when he came to one he could not discern he asked us to rewrite it more clearly.

By a little after nine we made double time toward the gate. The sky had begun to clear and the mix of rain and snow that visited us over the night had finally stopped. It was Ben´s birthday- streamers and confetti would be in order.