Out of Calama…out of Chile

 Bolivia visa is only visa I got without hassling. After got the visa there were no much to do in this mining oasis town, by using old map and wrong direction I end up climb 15 km to find out the road is blocked by mining plants so it out of use. I made it back to calama central lost two good biking hours.  The road from town takes me across the Atacama, near the foothills of Andes I pass couple of salt pans to Chiu-Chiu village. It nice and green village in the river (San Pedro) running from Andes and turn to sort of delta leave soil fertile good for small agriculture hence small community, there are Inca ruins here which prove that life has started long time ago in this place. The mad houses (about 20 to 30 include a church and small plaza), fields, landscape, and of cause it inhabitant made this village looks very exotic.

Sopa for Negrito…

I stop in the village for lunch, there was only one restaurant serving lunch though there are 3 but each are open in different time, for breakfast, lunch and dinner ‘No need to compete!’. I pop in the restaurant with only one customer, the 3 waitress in the front desk run behind the counter.  Then from behind the counter they ask ‘Que necsita?’ ‘What do you want? Of cause I want food so I replay ‘Comida’. I could hear them whispering ‘ es negrito!. I wasn’t then used with the way highland folks describe little or few things like ‘Panisito (one or two breads), ‘tecito’ (cup of tea), ‘negrito’ (one black), ‘camioneta’ (small road or track) they use this way as friendly way of describing thing and address people. After waiting for a while almost though I wasn’t going to get service,  one girl show up with bow of soup in one hand while another hold her mouth to stop herself from laughing she could barely face me as she place the bowl in the table then behind me she asked  ‘Pancito?’ hearing pan I just say ‘Yes pan!’ . Then there was giggling bind the counter with whisper ‘El hablar espan~ol!’. The soup is containing rice, potatoes and chicken and some verges for the hungry cyclist this was real good. As I finish the soup other girl brought a plate of rice and chicken, it was bit surprise but since I’m always hungry I continue with meal though at the end I become real full, this is the way lunch and dinner served here it always two plates though you can choose if you want only one.  When it comes the time to pay there were 3 girls in counter ready to receive my 2500 peso ($5), they come out to study me well as I cycle off. This will be the common situation from here on to La Paz; the tanagers to middle age female will run away from me some who are waitress or vendors will gathers up themselves after a while to serve me. The boys are also quite shy but few are courage enough to replay when I ask for directions while other will run away laughing just like you say something very fun. Men and old lady are quite brief only the drunker will come by and start up conversation walk away to tell the story to their friends. This situation is more common in Bolivia, the native Indians start from this part of Chile. I’ll have to get used to this satiation later and understand that this community it not very open to strangers though being black here it quite a sight. The more strangely thing is no one want to be photographed even when I ask to take pic with them, people are very nervous when they see camera.  

It was very scenic day as I start in the desert slowly approach the glaciers peaks on the horizon, from Chiu-Chiu the road turn left make the end of pave to gravel, it pass through the deep green river gorge kept on along the glaciers peak while gently start to climb. In the evening I made it San Pedro (3500m) the small village of less than 10 houses, mining train station, grave yard and church are most visible things. I camp in front of church and happen to meet only 3 people, 2 in the evening and one in the morning, general the place looks very life less. The next day was quite a challenge as the road took me to high pass of 4000m then descends to 3600m in Ollague, the border town between Chile and Bolivia.

Zona Andina…

Ollague remind me a lot of ‘Ringo movie’, it alpine desert with cold wind all the time. There are less than 20 houses build by volcanic laver rock, the walls are about 12cm to prevent the cold, they doesn’t looks very attractive house from outside, they are sort of desert camouflage though inside they are colorful. I enter one restaurant to ask for camping information, the resto-bar was real colorful with several celebrate photos in the wall and different alcohols to decoration the shelves. The bar man ask my name as said ‘Elvis’ he point in the wall to Elvis Presley photo, I just laugh and wonder what is Presley photo doing in this middle of nowhere. The bar man told me camping here it just like committing suicide, the bed coast 10,000 peso ($20) even with 4 blanket in the night I thought the 20 bucks worth nothing for this cold. In the morning I had to bike in 5 centigrade with wind it burn more than fire. I stamp in Bolivia, the immigration was sound like ‘Sherriff Ringo’ with his swagger and information, he was proud to learn that there is countries in Africa and one is Tanzania, he gave me Bolivian flag for my bike claim no more Chile!. He told me the first village is 4hrs by bike; the village is about 70km away which took me almost a day.

The good gravel road start with gently climb which will stay like that for almost half day, it meandering in the gracias peaks which I saw two days before from the desert. The day was just me with this wonderful landscape which make you think the paradise is just hear in the earth. Different from the desert up here it starts to get green by ‘Paja brava’ (Andean grass) with small valleys/ craters, lagoons inhabited by flamingos all these give way to one glacier from to another. The sky is crystal blue, few clouds in the peaks, the sun seem to be far as cold wind hold the temperature between 10-19 centigrade just up and down like that for a  day before it start to drop to 5 in the night.

Slowly the life it became possible as I start to encounter Llamas (Atiplano camels).  There are 3 species I see here; Vicuna (pronounced Vucunya), they are in small groups of 3 to 6 individuals, size of grant gazelle remind me of Serengeti in rain season. El Pakas size of waterbuck, I only see groups of 3 and 4, they are shyer, and they run far into mountains when they spot me. The last spp is Llama, I come across these animals in the long downhill to vast crater unlikely other spp the front point ears creature they stop in the middle of road just wonder what is heck was that, I did the same as well. My main question was what kind of wild animal could maintain such close distance and stare for long time this was before I find out they are domesticated! These animals made the welcome to Villa Alota, the village pitch in the crater rim. Here it where I start to discover the interesting Andean life.

Zona Andean it covers about 30% of Bolivia start from La Paz department run south ward to Oruro and Potosi. It is a region which contain the ‘Cordillera Occidental’ between these chains of mountains there are high flats known as Altiplano where altitudes range from 3500m to 4000m. The first view of human in these Altiplano before the village was short woman with long colorful gown which make her looks broad, long black hair and hut in the back she had the multicolor bundle, she was looking after herd of Llama. I stop to have a close looks but she walk away giving me the back while her dog bark me of and llama stop eating staring at me. The bowl hut she wore wasn’t real for sun, I learn latter these are ‘Cholita (female) Cholito (male) hut.

     “The Sombrero de Cholita are part of Andino traditional costume. The dress looks the same like the Herero of Botswana and Namibia but the hut is different. The story of Cholito/ta hut goes back to 100 or 150 years ago when one merchant bough all shipment of hut but couldn’t find the market. He made up the story that if you were the hut you will have good fertility so he sells his shipment and leave behind what become tradition. Today the hut are local made and just like maasai with stick andinos love hut, the young in town likes baseball caps mix with gangsters style, what a good combination!”

I refuel my water bottles and get bananas which I missed for a while because in Chile they are expensive, the evening turn to be very nice, wind slow down, the sun down seems to take it time to sink to the other part. It turns the sky into different color which reflects to the lagoons and glaciers peaks, the entire are looks picturesque. I find a nice place for wild camp in the crater. The next day start with little rain which holds me in the tent till 9 am it pass away but come again 10km before San Cristobal village. This isn’t the rain I’m used to, I have experience this kind of rain once in my life in Mt. Kilimanjaro and that day we lost our fellow porter who dead because of cold. This rain it real cold, it burn my fingers when I get to the village I was start shivering. I made a second breakfast as I boil water for tea a woman near offer me breads because she wonder ‘how come can you drink tea without bread’. The rain was short but I was scared to get out there again, one old man who we chart for a while he insured me there will be no more rain for the day. I cycle cautious but eventual I made to Uyuni town. I didn’t knew the town was such big and busy, it a central of tourism, the get way to Salar de Uyuni and in the South East glaciers of the country.


Salar de Uyuni…the beauty is very simple.

The next day I bough gloves and hood try to stay hot as it seem that I have wrong clothes or I’m wrong person for the weather. In steady of heading to Potosi which makes the loop but paved road to Oruro, I take a short cut which becomes terrible bumping road. 22km out of town I turn left to ‘gringo trail’ following 4X4 tourist’s jeep to famous ‘Salar De Uyuni’. It was 5km of straggling with strong with heard wind while tourists jeep pass by horning not sure what they mean because they just past fast, there are two explanations of these kinda of horn, cheering up or simply ‘get the fk out of the road’. I think my feelings to these hot spot places are getting old, or NO! With this kind of travel you learn that the beauty is in the simple thing. I always find something good, amazing to fill the curiosity, to learn from, these are just simply a landscape, villages, towns, people, ect.  In the Salar de Uyuni I had feel very normal, Yes it is a wonderful place. It largest salt pan, stretch as far to the mountain, it a breath taking place. The place still has water and jeeps pass through I thought to go little bit further but seem impossible with loaded bike.  I took photos chart with tourists and their drivers then I continue pedaling towards Oruro. The bumping road goes through altipino remote village, it rolling hills with crates which seem to be sort of lakes in the past due to their structures and rocks formation. There are yellow and red fields which are the native grains known as quenua, grain size of amaranths it said to help brain memory, reasoning skills, physical and mental growth, etc. 

In the 130km of bumping road it start to rain but this time more heavily with wind the only option I had was to camp but it was in the crater and there were no suitable area at all, luckily there was mining truck going to next village. They stop to offer me a ride of 20km that was sweetest help, next day was ease in the paved road I made it early to Oruro town. I cycle across Oruro carnival town of Bolivia to meet my host Matias in the ecological park where we had ‘parilla’ with other friends. The town has a huge market along the main street, the market offer almost everything you can think of from all kind of farm products to cheap Chinese products. It was un exciting feeling mix with sort of rendezvous, I had to push my bike since there is no way you can cycle though. The guys selling music system, memory card for radio and CDs they blear loud music, other with small loudspeakers sing the song of their products including prices. The place is full of these people with nice costume and their bundles pushing, jousting, negotiating and what not. I saw some things which I may want to buy here but I find out the buying and selling it what slowly everything here, everyone will ask, handle money, try to peak themselves no one want to wait and the seller are also real slow and ease to get confused, I wait for almost 15 minutes to buy breads, you just need the whole day to buy and enjoy the entire process here.   


La Paz…

It takes two riding days to cove 228km from Oruro to the city of La Paz, Oruro it 3709m while La Paz is 3660m. The road is still the one goes through the altplano, I’m sure it went to 4000m in some point as breathing become difficult in the long climbing. With such high altitude La Paz makes one of the most highest city in the world, my entrance to the city didn’t make much different to the other city, the traffic, highway without cycling path, etc.  Thanks that I wasn’t staying in the city center, I cross the city and heading to ‘Zone Sur’ ‘Calacoto’ (3100m). Before I took on (about) 10km downhill the view from the top its magnificent, the city buildings in the valleys from top to the bottom, the glaciers peaks, it just amazing!. The downhill it quite sharp with loaded bike you go more fast and can’t hold breaks for long time, it give such thrilling feelings. I had to stop after 5 to 7 minutes because of cold wind. About 3km before finishing the downhill it when I lost all the excitement, there were policeman stop vehicle for some inspections so I had to pay attention to him and traffic while the bike was still rolling on 15 to 20kmp/h. Oooh My! I didn’t notes the drench cross the road line up with pieces of rail which are wide enough to let 19” tire go through. My front tire went in, bike crash while I flew over the bike to pavement. It was bad crash I ever had, the tube bust and folk bent backward stopped by fuel bottle to go further behind. I spent 1 hour fixing the bike to finish few km. In the center of Calacoto there are also these kinds of drench but some covered with pieces of metal.  Thanks to my host family Raul & Linda, we manage to find an old man with lots of wisdom and patient to fix the folk. I’m now in La Paz processing the Brazilian and Colombia visa then climb Andes again and descend to the sub tropical.                                           

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  1. Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:58 am by Garth Anton | Permalink

    You are amazing Elvis !! stay strong, keep the wheels pointed down, exhaust yourself in the glorious per suit of life ! Garth Anton.

  2. Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm by Sally May | Permalink

    Hi Elvis. We keep catching up with your amazing blog. It’s a joy to read and to be able to think of you on these adventures while we are working away in the UK in ‘normal life’. Through all the pain it is a so great to hear your love of the beauty of people and landscapes that you come across –
    Warmest support to you

    Sally & Robin (TDA 2011)

    • Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:34 pm by Elvis | Permalink

      Heyyyy Saly!
      What a memory. I’m very happy to hear from you guys and I’m glad we’re still traveling together!
      Pls keep in touch and talk soon.

  3. Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm by CRC | Permalink

    Bravo Elvis ! The Ringo for Tanzania!!!

  4. Posted April 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm by ignacio | Permalink

    Bravo Elvis! You are a source of inspiration for us all. Keep going!
    I hope Bolivia is recriminó You properly!

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm by Elvis | Permalink

      Thanks Ignacio! I´m gla that i manage to inspire, together we can make changers!

  5. Posted April 24, 2012 at 1:19 am by Cladia | Permalink

    WELCOME TO BOLIVIA Elvis!!! I just can express my admiration to you, you are the kind of people that make the difference in this world!!!

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm by Elvis | Permalink

      Thanks Cladia! I real appriciate your appricion towards my initiative.

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