Is it time yet? How about now?!? Now??? I’m ready to go…

January 5, 2016

I have enjoyed spending time with family and friends the last few weeks in Texas, Tennessee, and California.

Discussing my travels with fellow small-bike enthusiasts Dale & James at Middleton Brewery in Wimberley, Texas. Football, beer, live music, friends. Good times. I have a feeling Dale will be riding through Peru in the not-too-distant future.

With my time off, I was able to obtain my Tanzanian visa (the other African visas I can get at the border crossings), plan a bit more of my South America travels, and even make some plans for the continent after Africa.

The downside to spending two weeks in the States is that I gained ten pounds back. Sadly, I am ready to get back to the South American “diet” as well. I love food, I love the choices of food in the States, but the quantities are just way more than I need. And I’ve found that a big part of the problem is that it is too easily accessible. It’s harder to grab a snack or a burger or cookies or junk food and soda in most of the places I’ve been traveling. In the States, it’s all within arm’s reach all the time.

I had booked this return trip to the US before I ever left Texas back in July. I was planning ahead in order to hopefully avoid travel burn-out. But when the time came, I found I wasn’t really burned out on traveling. And within a very short time I was missing my little 250, and ready to get back on the bike and head towards Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Actually, I am beyond ready.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to email me, visit with me, buy me a meal, or otherwise say hello while I was in the U.S. It’s always good to know I have a support team out there, even if they are invisible and silent most of the time.

Now let’s get this show back on the road!


On The Road Again…Finally!!

January 9, 2015

Toby & Sara, my hosts and bikesitters in Huanuco. Thanks guys!

I have been in Peru for a little more than a day, and on the bike again for about ten minutes. I’m sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I guess it’s actually bumper-to-taillight traffic, since I don’t have a bumper, and the car behind me is pressed against me. Motorcycles are splitting lanes, squeezing between traffic heading south and traffic heading north. With my panniers, I’m too wide to risk splitting lanes into oncoming traffic.

Heading in my direction (south), to my left is a collectivo mini-van. To my right is a Bajaj moto-taxi. To his right is another moto-taxi on the shoulder. Did I mention that this is a two-lane road? Yes, the mini-van, me, and the three-wheeled moto-taxi are all abreast in one lane. Actually, the mini-van is hanging into oncoming traffic, defending his position. That’s just the way it’s done here. But I’ve been off the bike and away from this craziness for several weeks. My heart is racing, my palms are sweating, my eyes are constantly darting left-to-right, ahead-to-rear view mirrors.

It stays like this through Huanuco and out of town about another three miles. Eventually, we arrive at the problem: a truck has gone off the side of the road and down to the river. I can’t see it from my lane, but there are large crowds on the adjacent bridge and along the road, watching. Others are hauling boxes of cargo up the bank one at a time. The road clears and I have clear sailing for another twelve miles or so. Following the GPS, I turn off and through Ambo on Highway 18, where the road turns to gravel for the next sixty miles.

Another thing I have forgotten in my weeks off: don’t blindly follow the GPS. I knew this. I am reminded of it when I ride through Yanacocha and my Garmin keeps looping me around the same two streets. It is clearly confused. I stop and ask a gentleman on the sidewalk and he points to the top of the mountain. Makes sense. I’m in a valley and I have to go southeast. That would be up, from here.

As I get to the top, it’s getting cold, and looking like rain. I’ve climbed above 14,000 feet again. I stop and close the vents on my riding gear and I am much warmer immediately.

Looking back down on Yanacocha after finally finding the way out of town and up the mountain.

The view turns to wide open alti-plano. This is a huge high plain with small lakes scattered about, and far across, on both sides, I can see snow-covered peaks.



Can someone tell me what these birds are? They were beautiful to watch around this high plains lake.


A little further along, I pass through a tiny town in the middle of nowhere on the alti-plano. The large purple glass ball is visible from miles away, and looks like a giant radish or grape from a distance.

Alien playground in the middle of nowhere, or something from HR PuffNStuff? Ok, I really dated myself with that comment.

Several villages in this area are selling maca juice and other products made from maca, a root vegetable grown on the altiplano.

I follow the road to Cerro de Pasco, and arrive just before running out of gas. I have replaced my 1.75 gallon Rotopax fuel can on the rear rack with a 3 gallon version, but I didn’t stop and fill it before leaving Huanuco, so I’m glad the gas station showed up when it did.  The woman attendant looks at me puzzled. I made the mistake of telling her I want to fill the can on the rear rack, but the can is lying down and she can’t figure out how to fill it. Doh! Hang on, let me take it off the bike first!

Two more attendants approach and we have a conversation in broken Spanish (I’ve lost a bunch of words in the last three weeks. I’m sure they’ll come back with a little more conversation.) The three of them are very curious about my bike, my riding suit, and why I came this way when I could have just ridden down the paved highway from Huanuco. Yes, thanks, I realize that. I can’t begin to explain that my GPS routed me this way, as they’ve never seen a GPS like the one on my motorcycle. But they’re having a great time watching the screen as I enter the next destination.

In the end, I’m glad for the detour, as I saw a lot that I wouldn’t have seen had I taken the shorter, faster way.

Due to the extra time taking the gravel road for sixty miles, I arrive late in Huancayo, but the Hotel Rey is nice, clean, friendly, with indoor parking and under twelve dollars. Along with the large bowl of Caldo de Gallina (chicken noodle soup) next door for dinner ($1.20), it’s been a good day for the budget. 

Carretera Central

January 10, 2016

Highway 3S from Huancayo to Ayacucho is mostly a one-and-a-half lane wide paved road following the Rio Mantaro. It’s a fun ride, and the scenery changes considerably from one end to the other, beginning with pampas and plains at 11,000 feet and slowly descending to around 7,000 feet elevation and more of a desert look, with cactus and scrub. 

It’s not a particularly busy road, but there is the occasional car, bus, or truck. 

Yes, this is considered a major highway. In addition to PE-3S, it’s also known as the Carretera Central, or Central Highway. This is THE route south in this part of Peru, and between Huancayo and Andalhuaylas (about 300 miles), it is mostly narrow, often one lane, full of blind turns and switchbacks. Not exactly Interstate 5 in California, or I-35 in Texas. Although people try to drive like it is.

Many of the corners have this sign as you enter them, and most people abide by the sign and honk as they enter the blind turn or switchback. That’s about all they do is honk; they don’t slow down at all. As if somehow honking deploys the anti-collision shields. Judging by the number of memorials on the side of this road, I’d say honking while entering a blind corner at 40mph doesn’t work that well.


Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The blue truck was in a bad position, angled and blocking the road. As I came around in the opposite direction, I was able to squeeze between the mountainside and the rear wheels of the truck and get through. No one else was going anywhere. There were a number of vehicles parked both ahead and behind the truck and people standing around the truck, and it looked as though the truck had either been in an accident, or tried to avoid one and ended up skewed across the road. As I got further down the road, I looked back and took this photo. Not sure, but I think that may be a crumpled vehicle in the water just to the left of the gravel slide.


There are several bridges across the river. This one had a nice look, steel plates covering wood rails for traction, and no guard rails.

Past Ayacucho the road (now PE-3SL) continues to be a lane and a half wide, but the pavement improves as does the scenery. Overall, I’d have to put this road in my top 5 of the trip. It’s fun, but gets tiring between the nearly constant curves for hundreds of miles — which means an average speed of around 28 mph — and the need to  be very vigilant for oncoming traffic. 

I pushed myself too far today. I had originally planned to stop in Ayacucho, but as it was only 2pm, I decided to keep going and try to make it all the way to Andahuaylas. And of course I was reminded of another important GPS lesson: when you enter the location in Garmin, it tells you how far it is to that location, as the crow flies. Example: after leaving Ayacucho, I entered the waypoint for Andahuaylas. Garmin said 68 miles. which is about 150 road miles. All those switchbacks add a lot of miles when you’re not a crow. 

So just before dark I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to make my destination, and began looking for a place to camp. As I rode into Chincheros, I spotted what looked like an off-road truck race track a few hundred feet below me near the river. Nobody there, and the green grass looked like the perfect place to pitch my tent. But just as I was going to turn off the highway to head down there, I spotted a hotel on the left with a large gated parking area. So I took it. Which was yet another mistake for today. The tent would have been much more comfortable. Oh well, if all goes as planned I’ll be in the tent tomorrow night. 

Cusco, and the “Back Way” to Machu Picchu

January 13, 2015

I had read a lot of others’ blogs about going the “back way” to Machu Picchu. This required a bit of logistical work, but was considerably cheaper than the typical tourist method of taking the train from Cusco. It would involve a bus, a collectivo, a taxi, a hike, and another bus before arriving at the gates to Machu Picchu. Not exactly the way Hiram Bingham arrived ca. 1911, but I only had a day or two.

Some people ride their bike to Santa Teresa, and leave it there and hike the rest of the way to Aguas Calientes — also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, which is the town at the base of Machu Picchu. Not for me this time. For 15 Soles (five dollars), you can take a bus to Santa Maria, where you then take a collectivo to Santa Teresa, then a taxi the last 20 minutes to the hydroelectric plant, where you can hike along the railroad tracks (for free) for a little over six miles. It’s possible to do all of this in a day, see Machu Picchu the next morning and return to Cusco. A bit hectic, but possible.

The bus ride from Cusco to Santa Maria was not like the luxury bus I took from Huanuco to Lima last month. I was seated in the last row of the bus, and the woman next to me (besides not bathing in a month or two) apparently was able to buy one seat for her, her ten year old son, and her 2 year old son. Which meant the ten year old sat mostly in my seat, and the two year old sprawled across her lap and mine. For six hours. Hey, I wanted to experience the local culture. I was getting what I asked for.

Next up after the bus: collectivo to Santa Maria. That’s enough for one day. How about spending the night here and going on in the morning?

Treehouse Penthouse. Eco-Quechua Lodge.


No actual windows, so mosquito netting is a must.

The morning taxi ride to the Hidroelectrica plant is about 20 minutes, and then the hike to Aguas Calientes begins. This is well worth it. Along the railroad tracks, mostly level. Despite the elevation, it’s an easy hike.



I didn’t know it at the time, and it’s hard to see in this photo from the bridge, but between those two peaks on the mountain is a terraced area. I could see that much. What I didn’t realize is I was looking at Machu Picchu from below.

Machu Picchu is pretty spectacular, but as I’ve said many times before, I’m not fond of tourists, so this place and the town below it feels a bit like a South American Disneyland. Hordes of tourists (mostly North American and European) whining because they aren’t in their homeland’s “give me everything” culture, demanding that they be catered to, thrusting “selfie sticks” with abandon in every direction like light sabers in Star Wars.

I have to admit that while Machu Picchu is pretty impressive, I found the surrounding scenery to be the true stand-out.

I really expected more people on this hike. I was pleasantly surprised.


Machu Picchu as seen from the Sun Gate. It’s a 45 minute hike up to here from the park entrance. I was not so pleasantly surprised to find about 60 to 80 people there, all taking group selfies. These people had all hiked four days on the Inca Trail to get there, so I guess they deserved it. The switchback road is the bus route up to Machu Picchu.




Gratuitous selfie, sans selfie stick.


Spectacular surroundings.


More Incan lawnmowers.


This one even smiled for me.

A few hours here is enough for me. Besides, I was secretly focused on a different, much less-known attraction nearby. Behind Aguas Calientes and across the valley from Machu Picchu is a mountain known as Putucusi. There is an unmarked trail that leads to the top of this mountain, where you can look across to Machu Picchu. The catch: there are seven “ladders” going nearly vertically up the granite face of the mountain, some over 100 feet long. It is not an easy trail, especially if you are afraid of heights. Between and above the ladders are stone steps, steep dirt path, and eventually, at the top, a narrow ridge about three feet wide that you have to cross to get to the “summit”. I had been excited to do this since I got to Peru.

I found the unmarked entrance to the trail and began the climb up. The first twenty minutes or so is up stone steps, very steep and overgrown. At one point, the steps were gone and it was necessary to “shimmy” across a couple of large poles, then climb to the continuation of the steps.

“Hidden” trail into the jungle.


Not much use.

Had to cross these poles to climb to the next section.


Looking back down at the steps.

Eventually I arrived at the first, and longest ladder. I was shocked. The first sixty feet or so was missing. You could see where the rungs had been in the rock, but someone had torn them out. The large steel cable alongside the ladder was still there, and for a moment I considered using it to climb the rock to the remaining ladder rungs, but I decided that without a climbing partner and/or climbing gear, it was too dangerous.

Hard to tell how steep this is, but it’s probably about 60 degrees or so. You can see the holes where the rungs of the ladder used to be, and further up you can see the actual remaining ladder.


Close up of remaining ladder rungs further up the rock.

Disappointed, I turned around and headed back down.

After my experience with my fellow bus passengers on the ride up, I decided to speed things up and take the train back. Out of my budget, but comfortable and quick.

This photo is hard to figure out without explanation. See those three “pod” looking things on the side of this giant cliff? Those are “Skypod” hotel rooms. Yup. You have to climb up to them. They are complete with a nice bed, couch, bathroom (no shower or bathtub), and believe it or not, they serve dinner and breakfast to you. This is definitely on my to-do list next time in Peru. I took this photo from the skylight of the train as we passed by. Then I happened to meet a British couple at my campground in Cusco that just spent last night there.

It’s been nice to camp in my tent again, even though it was raining in Cusco. The campground was small, and there were about four other overlanders there when I arrived, all in one form of motorhome or another.

Fifteen years on the road so far…and still getting this behemoth stuck in wet campgrounds…

I was lucky enough to pitch my tent under a protected spot, and let the barking of a thousand dogs in Cusco lull me to sleep.

Nice campsite, with wifi, a bench and table, electricity, and protection from the rain.


And these guys for neighbors. They didn’t really care about the camera. They expected me to feed them. They followed me around like puppies.


The campground is on top of a mountain overlooking Cusco. Just below is an archaeological park. Gotta love Quechua words. The park is called Saqsaywaman. And yes, it is pronounced “Sexy Woman”.


I walked down into town to Norton Rat’s Pub, a very famous motorcycle destination in Cusco. The walls are covered with old British bike posters and t-shirts from other bike destinations. Oddly, for a “motorcycle destination”, there is no place to park. I ordered a hamburger…


And an Inca Kola. Despite how it looks, and the fact that it tastes like 99% sugar, it really isn’t bad once you get used to it. I even found these for sale in Peruvian restaurants in the States over Christmas. Very popular.


Tinajani Canyon

January 14, 2016

The rain held off just long enough to allow me to pack up my camping gear in Cusco and get on the bike. Before I could leave town the rain began again and it continued on and off most of the day. 

In between showers I met several people on bicycles heading north, and a pair of Korean guys on bicycles heading south. 

The scenery was mostly altiplano: few trees, lots of open plains, with mountains surrounding. At one point there was quite a bit of snow on one of the mountain peaks. I don’t think I gained or lost much altitude. It turns out my campsite in Tinjani Canyon was at 12,800 feet elevation.

Looks kind of like a toy train set, only with bigger mountains. The Peru Rail Andean Explorer, between Cusco and Puno. At the next train crossing, I watched the passengers, both inside the train, and on the back deck of the last car. Most with their puffy down North Face jackets.

I stopped several times in search of oil, without success. 

In case you ever get lost, it’s easy to find your way again on the Gringo Trail…just look for the stickers plastered all over the gas station windows. Now including mine at the top, at this Repsol station.

Like many other things outside of the United States, you don’t go to one store for everything; Repsol gas stations don’t carry oil. You have to go to the lubricant store. I also stopped at several motorcycle repair shops, but they only carried 30 weight mineral oil. Eventually I found a lubricant store in Sicuani and was able to buy some synthetic oil, and while I was strapping it onto the bike, a guy three doors down whistled at me, calling me over. We struck a deal, and he changed my oil for me for ten soles, or $2.91 (okay, I mostly changed it, but he took my old oil away. I prefer it this way). 

A little south of Sicuani I passed the town of Marangani, which is famous for raising Cuy, that tasty treat known to most of us as Guinea Pig. 

CuyTown. Too cute to eat. “Buenas noches, me nombre is Chuck E. Cuy, voy a ser su cena.”

I made a short day of it, as I had planned to stop and camp in Tinajani Canyon, just outside of the small village of Tinajani. I stopped in town at a small tienda to buy some supplies for dinner and future meals. I bought a large bag of pancito (bread), two bananas, a can of tuna, a bottle of water and a bottle of coke for $2.33. The road bypasses this town, and it looked and felt like most of the people weren’t used to seeing Gringos in riding gear on fully loaded motorcycles, even if it is just a 250. I drew a bit of a crowd just packing my groceries away. This probably happens every day to all of those BMW riders.

Friendly locals smiling while watching me load the bike with dinner. They seemed surprised when I asked them to pose for a photo with my bike. Or it could be just I’m a crazy Gringo far from home.

Tinajani Canyon is beautiful. The rock formations remind me of Utah, but the ground is all green around them. I stopped at a small house and asked the woman there (dressed in traditional clothing and hat) if I could camp there. She said yes, and pointed across a small bridge to a green spot above the river. Just as I pulled up, it began to rain again. I quickly pitched my tent and crawled inside. The sound of the rain put me to sleep, and I awoke about an hour later to the sound of hooves. As I looked out of the tent, there were cattle and sheep being driven around my tent and up the canyon. The rain had stopped and there was a cold breeze blowing, but it was comfortable in the tent. 

Cool house, great location


The husband of the woman I met earlier came by and offered me hot cafe con leche and pancito bread. Just genuine people.

Once it got dark, the sounds got interesting. It is incredibly dark and incredibly quiet out here, since there is no electricity and few people. The first sound I noticed was a huge june bug flying around outside my tent. I am not exaggerating when I say at first I thought it was a motorcycle going by on the dirt road. It wasn’t until it hit my tent (and startled me) that I realized what it was. After a while, there were several of these huge bugs around. One of them was under the rain fly of my tent and I watched from inside the tent as he munched on the grass. It sounded like eating crisp lettuce.

Next came two bullfrogs. The first one sounded like “I’m Adam. I’m Adam. I’m adamant” (or it could have been “I’m Adam Ant”, but he seemed a bit young to be a fan of early 80’s post-punk music). The second would answer with “Sam-Sung, Sam-Sung, Sam-Sung”. This went on for over an hour. It was entertaining for the first five minutes or so. Not so much after that.

Cozy in my tent, with my new alpaca hat (wow, that thing is warm!), eating pancito and reading on my iPad.

In the morning, I awoke to frost on my tent and bike cover, and ended up having to wait a while for it to melt off and dry before packing up. It gets light here about 5:30am, but the sun didn’t make it over the mountain and into the canyon until after 7am. 

Leaving the canyon the next morning.



Next stop: Bolivia!

Van Halen, or Barry Manilow?

January 15, 2016

Which would you rather have stuck in your head?

Riding through Panama, I couldn’t stop singing along with David Lee Roth for days. Although the song has nothing to do with the country.

Neither does Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” have anything to do with the Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. But that’s where I was headed for the night if I could just get through the border crossing.And unfortunately, every time I thought of the town, the chorus to the song started over in my head.

As I came around a corner, I saw these two women from Argentina having lunch on the side of the road, overlooking Lake Titicaca. I couldn’t help but grin. They were having a great time.


It’s a huge lake.


Looking down on Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.

At the end of the day, having either song on constant repeat in my head is annoying. But I suppose there are others that could definitely be worse. I will let you choose the song. Between the two locations, my personal favorite remains Panama.

Oh $#*! Quick! What’s the Spanish word for “stuck”?

January 15, 2016

My mind was scrambling but coming up blank. I knew the word for “Foot”: Pie. But I couldn’t come up with a word for “stuck”. 

The kid standing on the ramp to the ferry/barge just looked at me like I was a complete idiot. My eyes big, and all I kept saying was “No! No! No!” 

Quickly!….alternative sentence structures: “wedged”? “lodged”? “Unable to move”? That’s it! Foot no move! “Mi pie no puede mover!” Too late. Nice thought, but about a second delayed. Over I went.

About ten minutes before disaster…

I had left Copacabana, headed for La Paz. There is a short ferry crossing, and about a dozen of these large, rectangular wooden barges with outboard motors to carry vehicles across Lake Titicaca at this small gap in land. The “front” of the barge is open, and is pulled up to the land, where wooden ramps are positioned to load cars, truck, buses, and motorcycles. On the other end, the same “front” end of the barge is pulled up to the ramps, and you have to back off of the barge.

On my barge, they loaded a large truck, an SUV, and last, me. Which meant I was first off, backwards. I felt like my taillight was hanging off the open end of the barge and I was just inches from falling off. I’m sure it wasn’t that close, but I wasn’t going to get off the bike to look…there wasn’t a lot of “floor” on the barge either; just enough to get the four wheels of a truck or car onto the barge. No way for me to make a U-turn and ride off.

On the way across, I asked an elderly gentleman who worked on the barge to take a photo (the one above). We began talking (in Spanish), and he asked how many accidents I had had on this trip, and how many times I had tipped over.

“Nada”. That was a mistake. Never should have said it.

When we docked on the east side, I began to unload, rolling backwards off the barge. About half way down the ramp, while looking to my left at the kid on the ramp that worked with the barges, my right boot got stuck in between two of the wooden boards, and wouldn’t come out. Front wheel locked, the bike kept sliding down the board. Before I could do much more, my leg reached its’ limit, and down I went.

I was very, very lucky. The ramp that we had pulled up to went all the way across the back (front?) of the barge. If it had only been wide enough for the car tires, with a gap between, the bike would have fallen further than 90 degrees, and my ankle, and possibly my lower leg, most assuredly would have snapped. As it was, I was pinned and it required the people from the SUV to lift the front of the bike and free my foot. Embarrassing. And my first tip-over of the trip.

But other than a little twist in the knee and ankle, I am unscathed, and still rolling….

The Bolivian “Death Road”

January 16, 2016

Bicycle staging area at the top of the mountain, several miles before the turn-off to the Bolivian Death Road.

“OMG, you guys, I signed up for this awesome thing. It’s called ‘The Bolivian Death Road’. Have you heard about it? It’s SOOOOO cool! Early in the morning, our driver, Fernando, picks us up at our hotel in a bus with, like, twenty five bicycles or something on top of it. Then we start up the mountain outside of La Paz. OMG you guys, Fernando is cray-cray. He is driving like NASCAR or something, like passing all these other vans with like a bazillion bicycles on top of them. I almost spilled my latte. Then at the top of the mountain they stop and unload the bikes and fed us pastries and stuff. OMG you guys. Biff and I both almost gagged. I mean, really? HEL-LO!!! Haven’t these people ever heard of gluten-free? So then they put this, like, really unflattering helmet on me, and we take off down the mountain on this super-scary road (which I later found out was the paved new super-highway that like totally bypasses the Death Road. But, Whatever!) And then — wait, What? You want me to ride down that?!? Uh-uh. NO. WAY. YOU are cray-cray. Fernando, take me back to the Ritz Carlton. I have a 2pm massage and pedi.”

That’s pretty much today’s Bolivian Death Road as far as I can tell from what I saw. I had read so much about the North Yungas Road over the years and it was high on my list of must do’s. I have absolutely no doubt that back when this was the main road between Coroico and La Paz, this was a dangerous road to travel. Many people died here, and occasionally some still do. It’s not the road’s fault. The road is wide enough to negotiate, so long as you aren’t passing a bus or a truck (which, by the way, no longer use this road as there is a beautiful paved two-lane highway just north of here). Drive responsibly, with some respect for the circumstances, and you’ll be fine. Drive (or ride a motorcycle or bicycle) like an idiot and the consequences here will be severe.

Since around 2006, when the new highway opened, the “Death Road” has become mostly just a tourism venue. Vans and buses haul hundreds of tourists and mountain bikes a day to the top of the mountain, where they can coast down the highway to the turnoff to North Yungas Road, then take the gravel road to near the town of Coroico, where they are picked up and returned to La Paz. In return, like my volcano-boarding experience in Leon, Nicaragua, you get the t-shirt for bragging rights. Nothing says “Adventure Hero” like a t-shirt with a bicycle and the words “Death Road” on it.

Back when this was a heavily driven road, the “Keep Left” rule was instated. This allows the driver to always be on the “cliff side” of the road, so he can better judge where his outside wheels are in relation to the drop-off. The rule continues today.

The first six miles or so of the road are absolutely spectacular. Often in the clouds, the jungle-like setting adds to the spectacular waterfalls that fall onto and over the road in many places. The road is quite narrow, with only a few well-placed guardrails. A mistake here will most certainly prove fatal.

The highway on the way to North Yungas. Cloud formations were pretty phenomenal.


Near the beginning (top) of the “Death Road”


Lots of waterfalls. Some next to the road, some over the road, some onto the road.


Hard to see here, but there is a series of water cascading down onto the road here, landing just about in the middle. You can ride inside or outside of the waterfalls.


Mistakes are most likely fatal here, thus earning the “Death Road” moniker.

Near the top I ran across Barbara Kennedi and her companion Peter, on KTM 1190 Adventure R models. Barbara is a KTM employee in Austria, and she and Peter are riding around the world in stages. They are doing a similar route right now to mine — to Ushuaia then Buenos Aires. But they will ship to Dakar when I ship to Cape Town.

There is virtually no traffic on this road, which of course is good not only for the mountain bikers but for me as well. It doesn’t take long to complete the ride and return to La Paz in the same day. I went from clouds, fog, cold and rain at the top, to sun, hot and dry at the bottom, back through fog and rain across the top and once again into heat as I passed through La Paz to the Colibri Camping spot that I will call home for another night. In my opinion, riding through traffic in La Paz is more dangerous than the “Death Road”. I was a bit underwhelmed at the road and it’s hype. But I would still do it again if I happened to be in La Paz and had access to a motorcycle. At least the first six miles or so. And my advice if you are considering doing this road: be sure you turn off the highway and onto North Yungas before 10am. After that, and you’ll be picking your way through hundreds of mountain bikes.

Which gives me an idea for a new business venture. I’m going to find the road in Austin where the most bicyclists have been killed. Then I’m gonna market the heck out of it as “The World’s Most Dangerous Road on a Mountainbike” (okay, maybe Texas’ most dangerous. Okay, maybe Austin’s most dangerous. Wait, where’d the hype go?). Then I’m gonna charge people a ridiculous amount of money to ride a mountain bike down the road, and give them a t-shirt if/when they survive. Yeah, I know, it’ll never work in the States. Because there’s nobody to sue in Bolivia.


Just before La Paz, I have my first encounter with being refused fuel. Bolivia laws require fuel sellers to complete a ridiculous amount of paperwork when selling fuel to foreigners, including inputting passport number, name and country of residence information, as well as completing a detailed receipt (or two, in some cases). In addition, there is a “Foreigner” price and a “Boliviano” price for fuel. Yesterday, I paid just under five dollars a gallon, where the locals-only price is around $1.99, and got to experience the hassles the attendants encounter when following the rules; by the time my purchase was complete, there was a line of cars out to the street, waiting. No such luck today. The attendant takes one look at my Texas license plate and refuses to sell me fuel. I ask if he will sell me fuel without a receipt (“sin factura”) at the higher rate. Nope. So, off I go in search of fuel. Five hundred feet down the road, I run out of gas. Fortunately, I have fuel in the spare can on the back of the bike, but I still need to find fuel to replace it.

Headed toward Cochabamba and Sucre in the morning…

My Mama Always Told Me…

January 18, 2016

“If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say nuthin.”

So, in keeping with that theme, I will skip Cochabamba and move on to my travels south towards Potosi and Uyuni.

My attitude has been suffering as of late, mostly due to the corruption and my treatment at the border crossing into Bolivia from Peru — which unfortunately pre-shaped my opinion of Bolivia — as well as the ridiculous inability to buy gasoline in Bolivia, which eats up a lot of travel time, as it typically takes three stops before I find someone that will sell me gasoline.

I’ll wait til I’m out of the country (in a couple of days) before I go into details about my border crossing into Bolivia, but when I mentioned it to a volunteer at a campground I stayed at, her response was entertaining, if nothing else: “Bolivia runs on corruption. If there were no corruption, no one in Bolivia would have a job.”

My attitude improved today. I attribute it to staying out of large cities (and the terrible traffic), and getting back to the country and the rural people, who are almost always friendly.

Sunday night, it rained about four inches in Cochabamba and much of Southwestern Bolivia. After leaving Cochabamba Monday morning (a feat in itself; it took me four hours and 50 miles before I made any real forward progress), I rode about thirty miles before I came upon stopped traffic. I rode to the front of the line (another reason to ride a motorcycle), and found that there had been a huge rock- and mud-slide, and men with large dozers and graders were working to clear the highway. While sitting there waiting, a Bolivian family approached me. The father spoke no English, but his son and daughter did. So we went back and forth; the daughter would translate if I didn’t understand something, and I would answer in Spanish where possible. We were all having a fun time while waiting for the road to open. (Side note: he saw my license plate and thought Texas was in Canada. No kidding.)

Once the road opened we all took off for Oruro. Again, I was refused fuel, but the attendant told me where I could buy fuel in town. And sure enough, that station had no problem selling me fuel. I still don’t comprehend the benefit of this system to the nation and its’ people. (Side note: the gas station attendant saw my license plate and thought Texas was in Mexico. No kidding.)

Near Challapata, between Oruro and Potosi. The Dakar race came through here about nine days ago. I just barely missed it.

It wasn’t long before it started raining again. Then it got really dark. Then the lightning started. Then the sleet. And of course this is all at around 13,000 feet elevation, so yes, it was quite cold. It was getting late, and becoming clear that I was not going to make it to Potosi before dark. I began scanning the roadside for possible places to camp. Due to the large amount of rain the night before, and the rain now falling, most everything was muddy and there were a lot of standing puddles.

Just before dark, the rain let up briefly and I spotted a dirt and gravel road going off to the east. I turned and headed down a couple hundred yards and found an old rock wall out of sight of the highway. The tent went up quickly, just before the rain resumed.

The rain stopped in the middle of the night, and in the morning it was a damp but beautiful sight.

13,200 feet elevation. At least it quit raining. Beautiful morning.

After coffee and allowing the sun to dry the tent, I packed up and headed south.

Hundreds of these guys along the road to Potosi and Uyuni. Some of them will suddenly run across the road.


In a contest between Llama and Llamaha, nobody wins.

At a gas station in Potosi (the second one I tried — I was refused at the first), I met a couple from Colombia on a BMW F800 headed north. They had been to Ushuaia and were moving very quickly home.

Potosi claims to be one of the world’s highest cities at 13,420 feet, and was home to the Spanish colonial mint. It’s not very large, and I passed through it quickly headed to my destination: Uyuni.

The road looked like this for about 90 miles. With virtually no traffic. I later found out why. But it was fun while it lasted.

The highway climbs and dips in the mountains, but mostly stays around 12,000 feet for the 130 miles between Potosi and Uyuni. Suddenly as you round a bend, the Salar de Uyuni comes into view.

The city of Uyuni sits at the edge of the Salar, and from high above, the city looks like something from Burning Man. As I descended towards Uyuni, I came upon another line of stopped traffic. I worked my way to the front, and this time it was clear that it wasn’t a rock-slide, although there were plenty of rocks in the road.

Unhappy, but non-threatening, at least to me. They smiled, rolled a big rock out of the way, and waved me through.


Looking back at the traffic blocked by the protesters.

I’m not sure what they were protesting, but they let me through. As I continued the last mile and a half or so to Uyuni, I passed dozens of tourists headed the other way on foot– up the mountain, with their backpacks and roller bags. They were all trying to get to their bus, which was waiting, stuck on the other side of the blockade.

I arrived in Uyuni mid-afternoon, and checked into the Hotel Inti, which has a garage for motorcycles. There is a Honda Transalp here also, with Swiss plates, though the hotel owner told me they were from Canada. I’m thinking they may have ridden from Canada, but are probably Swiss. Perhaps I will find out later.

Tomorrow I will visit the Salar, and perhaps work my way a little further south, setting up for my crossing into Chile.

Salar de Uyuni

January 20, 2016

This has to be my highlight of Bolivia. It’s an odd little town on the edge of the world’s largest salar (salt flat: over 4,000 square miles), and as I said earlier, the initial appearance as you descend into the town from the mountains (or from an airplane I would imagine), is that it looks a bit like the temporary city of Burning Man: a small community surrounded by vast nothingness.

Aside from tourism, there isn’t a lot going on in Uyuni. But the town has definitely capitalized on the tourism. For such a small place, it is amazing how many US, South American, Asian and European tourists are present. The Salar attracts the tourists, but there is a lot going on here as well. Just ten days earlier, the Dakar race came through here. I wish I had been present for that, but timing just didn’t work — this year.

The Salar is definitely huge. It’s amazing to ride across something and see nothing at the horizon but more vast salt flat. Forever, it seems.

International flags on the Salar de Uyuni


The Road Goes On Forever…there are definitive roads across the Salar. Besides the tourist jeeps, I saw local buses transporting people across this way as well.


Salar Selfie


In tribute to my late former father-in-law, Lloyd. This would definitely have been his kind of place. I can see him standing out here, looking around, saying, “Golly. Big place.”

On the edge of the Salar is the Palacio del Sal, the world’s first salt hotel. Much of it is made from salt.


Probably a difficult place to stay if you’re on a low sodium diet.

The other big draw in Uyuni is the train graveyard. Personally, I found it a bit ironic. In the late 1800’s, British engineers, invited by British-sponsored Antofogasta and Bolivia Railway Companies, were invited to build a railway to transport minerals from here. The local indigenous people felt it was an intrusion into their lives, and constantly sabotaged it. In the 1940s the mining industry collapsed and the trains were abandoned. Pieces of the railway and trains can be seen scattered throughout the streets of Uyuni as memorials and pieces of art. So in the end, the thing that the local people despised and wanted to rid their lives of, provides a good part of their livelihood in tourism, and they celebrate it. Still, the train cemetery is pretty cool.

Leaving Uyuni, I topped off my fuel (took two tries to get someone to sell me gas), as the next leg was 275 miles across high desert dirt roads which (allegedly) had no fuel purchase options in between. The first ninety miles from Uyuni to Alota is a fairly well maintained dirt road used by buses and 18-wheelers (it’s the main highway), and it was common to have them pass me going the other way at 60 to 70 mph on the dirt.

In Alota, I rode through the very small village until I found a guy who looked like he might be able to help me. I rode up to him and asked, “Donde puedo comprar gasolina?” (Where can I buy gasoline?). He just looked at me and smiled, pointed to his chest and said, “Yo”. Amazing. In a place that doesn’t sell gas, I find the one guy in town that will sell me five liters from a plastic Jerry can. Now I was assured I could go the distance. 

The next 150 miles or so are definitely not highway. From Alota to the border with Chile, through the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, the road is mostly sand, rocks, and gravel. This, I found out later, is apparently known as the “Laguna Route” as it passes several high elevation lakes. Definitely no buses. No trucks. An occasional four wheel drive SUV. 

Behind me, blue skies…


While ahead looks more ominous. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the omens.


This is one of the most desolate roads I have ever ridden. In well over 100 miles, I rarely saw another vehicle or person. Lots of Llamas though.

Coming into Laguna Colorada late in the day.


Much of the road is between 14,000 and 16,000 feet elevation. Here it is just over 16,000 feet, and not a soul to be found. The GPS says 3:40pm, but that’s Texas time. It’s either 5:40 or 6:40pm here, depending on how close to the border I am, I think.


The definition of stark beauty.

You definitely have to keep your attention on the road here. As soon as you think you are on a hard surface and can speed up, you suddenly hit a one- to two-foot-deep section of “fesh fesh” (talcum powder-like dust) or gravel. 

And that’s what happened next.

To be continued….