Thursday, January 24, 2013

Potosi, Bolivoa

Started the day on Tarija, Bolivia. Hit the road at noon. After picking up a chain breaker tool I left town on Routa 1 (the Pan American highway.) A few miles north a sign appeared directing me to turn left -- onto a dirt road. I left the lovely paved road assuming this is the portion of the route to Potosi that the Tarija tourist office mentioned as the "not paved section." An hour of exciting dirt road, replete with fog ensued. After said hour, I merged with a very paved road. I hadn't encounter much traffic on dirt road, which was very curious. On route I checked my feeble GPS and confirm I was on the PanAm. Had I just taken an adventure detour? The first vehicle was a luxury bus...hmmm. It seemed like a cruel joke. I had detoured the easy road to follow the official Routa 1. The photos below show it was not a waste. to the mist...
...memorials for those that did not properly negotiate the turn...

After several hours of riding the temperature started to drop, so I put on my liners, heated vest and warm driving gloves. This helped beat back the cold, until the sun set and the temperature dropped further. Still about an hour from reaching Potisi, finding something warm to drink was key to my chilled bones. In a little town I was directed to an adobe building where I found a family serving food. The dining area was separated from the kitchen by several bed sheets. I could hear the family's daughter practicing her school lessons behind the curtain. The roof was some kind of thatch and the floor was dirt. I really didn't care about the ambiance of the restaurant,  I was cold and a touch hunger. The coffee with chocolate, bread and soap was magical.

Back on the bike I arrived in the hills above Potisi and worked my way toward the center that I never truly identified. Potisi is a crazy town, very hard to navigate. The street are very narrow and the drivers wouldn't give you an inch when trying to merge. Car pull out without warning and traffic lights are considered leftovers Christmas decorations. The first hostel had room, but only vague directions to a parking garage. The garage was elusive, so I settled on a high end hotel that had a garage onsite, reportedly a good breakfast, fast Internet service and the deal maker -- 2:00 PM check out. 

Settling in to my room I opened a bottle of red wine and proceeded to drink most of it with half of a dried sausage with bread. All the things you aren't supposed to do at high altitude. The next morning I had a splitting headache and a mild hangover. Would I do it all again? Sure.

Getting out of Potisi was a challenge and included loss of electronics... To be detailed in the next post.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Laugh in Death’s Face

“Don't you know what you're doin'
You got a death wish”
- Suicide Blonde - INXS

Today Takahiro and I ride the famous Death Road.  At top of the Death Road….

Top of theDeath Road

A view of the route taken from the start of the road.

Bolivia - Death Road 07

A short clip Taka captured from his GoPro helmet camera.

Celebrating back in La Paz.


The next morning I flew back to New Jersey for three weeks. The night clerk woke me up at 4:10 AM, so would have time to pack and be ready for my taxi to the airport. Taka woke up and hung out with me while I packed, then walked down to the taxi to see me off. What a great guy. I hope to see him again when he finishes his round the world ride. Maybe I’ll see him in Japan. He is always welcome in my home.

Death Road Riders

Today I joined Takahiro Sanui at the Bacoo Hostel, La Paz. We met in October, 2012, on the Stalhratte, while crossing from Panama to Columbia. Taka is from Japan, riding a Suzuki that he bought in California. He had the misfortune of dropping his motorcycle in a swollen stream while returning from Matu Pitu. Some parts could not be sourced locally and a friend sent the needed from Japan. Getting his bike back on the road took a month. While Taka was stuck in Cusco, I traveled through northern South America, down the coast of Brazil, across  northern Argentina and north to La Paz. Taka travels slowly, taking his time in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, before getting stuck in Bolivia.

The first day we started out for the Death Road, Taka found his bike was not running correcctly. We postponed our ride to the Death Road and Taka went to seek a mechanic and carburetor tuning. No worries, we'll do it tomorrow. On the way back to the hostel I took this photo of La Paz.

La Paz grew into a sprawling metropolis, built in a valley. To say it is difficult for the uninitiated to navigate is a gross understatement. 

With a concern that we might run into road block for a transit strike we headed out the next morning. We did not encounter any road blocks what so ever.  As Takahiro Sanui and I rode to the Death Road, a coating of sugar snow made the mountains east of La Paz, amazing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rock On!

Riding to Potosi I stopped for gas and noticed an interesting rock formation.

Riding to the western edge of town to get a better view I found people gathered. The were looking at a massive boulder that had tumbled down the hill moments earlier. Luckily it stopped before hitting someone or thing. Experienced engineers had installed a protective wall to stop. The "unstable" elements of nature.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bolivian Break Down

At the recommendation of Guillermo of Salta/Buenes Aires I took the long way into Boliva. I rode north of Salta, AR, slept in a town a short ride from the frontier, then crossed into Bolivia at YacuĂ­ba, BO, in the morning. Took a big hit changing my Argentine Peso for Bolivian Pesos. Because the Argentinian Peso is so unstable and the private trading (a.k.a. black  market), the exchange rate outside of the country is very low.
Soon I was heading north and then near the edge of town I headed west. The road was paved, for the first mile or so and then turned to dirt. I love it when I get faked out by paved road that turn to dirt not far along. About an hour into the ride and passed a small village by 10 minutes, I lost power. Coasting to a stop I looked down  and discovered the problem. My chain wasn't where it should be. Turns out it was along the road, some 100 feet back. I packed all manner of tools and supplies, but didn't include a chain breaker tool. That is exactly what is needed to put a chain back together once it separated. I tried flagging down several cars. None had a chain breaking tool. A motorcycle stopped and quickly understood my problem. The rider left and returned a little while later, not with a tool, but with two guys. They had a hammer, a Philips screw driver and a box wrench. I quickly understood that the one guy was a mechanical genius. They proceeded to remove the surplus remains of the chain, the with great skill tapped the pin almost all of the way out of a link. I found a 5 foot log and positioned it perpendicular to the installed chain to provide a base to drive the pin back into the second link. It took time, but these guys saved my bacon with the most basic of tools. I gave them a considerable tip by local standards and was on my way. Then two days later I bought a chain breaker tool and later brought a spare chain back to Bolivia when going home for three weeks. In fact, I am still riding on the same chain that these mechanical super heroes repaired in the middle of no where.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Riding to Rioja!

Saw these misty mountains on the way to Rioja, Argentina, and could not resist stopping and taking a photo.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

God Willing and the River Don’t Rise…

I spent the night in Belen, AR, and headed north for Salta in the morning. Half an hour north of Belen there was a line up of cars waiting at a small stream now swollen by rain. Crap. Not knowing how deep that water might be, I found a long stick and was preparing to measure the depth before attempting a water crossing. I started taking off my riding pants to prepared for a wade into the stream. At that moment I noticed a loose bolt and a missing bolt on my engine guard (a.k.a. crash bars.) Deferring the dip into the stream, tool were unpacked and simple maintenance commenced.

The activity attracted attention for a group of people that were also coming from the Dakar Rally: Guillermo, Maria Jose, Fermin, Mercedes and their son.  Introductions, conversation, mechanical advice, sharing of chain lube and water crossing advice ensued. Trucks and four wheel drive vehicles started crossing the stream. Their path through the water was closely studied for deep selections and ruts.  The rain started again, pushing the decision to brave the swollen stream before it got deeper.

There were two Argentinian motorcyclists posed to cross the stream. No one was in a hurry or wanted the privilege of crossing first. I said, “…for the flag of Argentina, you guys should go first…” and they did.

Me: “I haven’t done many water crossing. Should I be in first or second gear.?”
Guillermo: “Use first gear and don’t stop.”
Me: “Hold on to my passport…to identify the body. <grin>”

After transferring my panniers and outer riding gear to their trunk, cameras ready, I took a deep breath, knowing that one slip could land the bike in the drink and cause untold problems.

Fermin’s capture -

Guillermo’s capture -

Lesson learned, use first gear when making a water crossing and don’t forget to close your helmet face shield. Your face stays drier that way.  =)

After fording the stream I followed Guillermo and crew toward Salta. We rode through breathtaking rock formation and some of north Argentina wine country. The road twisted and turn, sometime gravel and mud, crossed smaller streams, then the road opened up for a long flat stretch of valley floor and we hit the throttle, screaming our way to Salta.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chasing the Dakar Rally

I use a cool app on my iPhone called World Explorer that returns the most popular tourist sites to see for a given city. The results are rated (somehow...perhaps by elfin magic), ordered by distance from the city center and the locations can be viewed as pin points on a map. After checking out the results for Tucuman, I decided to see the local modern art museum Museo Timoteo Navarro before leaving town. The museum has very nice wooden doors, which do not open on Monday...

Pablo does not share my interest in art and had gone ahead to the next Dakar Rally stage, Rioja. After lunch I followed on a more leisurely pace, stopping now and then to take photos. This must a tobacco drying shed.

These photos are classic misty mountains, I just couldn't resist taking this photo.

Further down Routa 40 I rode past what was unmistakeably tobacco drying sheds. I grew up in rural southeast Pennsylvania, Chester County, where the Amish grow tobacco. See tobacco drying so far from home transported me back to my teenage years...

At the end of 2012 Ingrid joined me in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The original plan was to meet in southern Patagonia, but I couldn't make there within her fixed vacation schedule. The new plan was to meet in B.A. and fly to Patagonia. This plan spared me a 3000 miles round trip from B.A. to Patagonia and back. Routa 38 and40 are long and boring stretches of highway. While I won't have the bragging right of saying I rode to the "End of the World", I didn't have to spent days on end trying to stay awake on bone crushing boring roads like this one.

On arriving in Rioja, AR, I learned that next race starts in Cordoba, follows off road dirt course for the first half of the race, then the riders travel on the highway, ending in Rioja, where we are in position. The racers must follow posted speed limits on the public roads, so short of being in Cordoba, there would be excitement. I learned that the actual route is kept secret until the day of the stage, so the racers have equal knowledge of the course. This makes it hard for spectators get in position beforehand.  We skipped riding all the way to Cordoba.

The next day I hung around the hotel and heard from Pablo Kohan late in the day that he managed to secure a wrist band for me. It is difficult to get these wrist bands and Pablo pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Some how he knows a guy at the Argentinean Tourist Bureau, who released a pass late in the day. I got on my motorcycle and wasted no time getting to the secure bivouac where the racers work on their vehicles, eat and sleep. Pablo met me at the gate with the high tech wrist band. The wrist band has an RFID chip built into it and the guards scan each one before allow entry. Cool, I'm in.

I wondered around the bivouac for three hours, talking to racers and their support teams. A team from England offered me a cup of tea. How perfectly English.

The English racer was trashing his paper scroll that is issued for each race. The scroll assists the race in navigating the race course and describes the turns and hills. The racers study these scroll and mark them up with highlighters. I took home a length of scroll as a souvenir.

My favorite moment was finding Nicolas Boyer, the French racer that stopped were we were watch the Tucuman stage. He need tools and bolts to secure his rear sprocket, which I gladly provided. He remember me and chatted as he removed his back tire. He had no support team, doing all of the maintenance work on his motorcycle, after racing that day and traveling to the next bivouac. Many racers have a support team and get to rest. Boyer does the work himself, with cracked ribs. This guy is a genuine Dakar racer, the real deal. I have so much respect for a guy that takes on the challenge of the Dakar by himself, like the original racers. Boyer is my Dakar hero.

(Note the taped ribs.)


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dakar Rally - Tucuman, Argentina

Watched the Dakar Rally - Tucuman, Argentina, well, as much as happened before the stage was cancelled due to rain swollen water crossing. It was simply thrilling as dozens and dozens of motorcycles screamed by, chased by four wheelers and a handful of souped up rally cars. I was not aware of the rally truck class, but there weren't any on this course anyway.

Deep into the race a French rider, Nicolas BOYER, pulled into our camp seeking tools. A nut and bolt or two to replace those that had fallen off his back sprocket, causing his chain to fall off once or twice. In a mad scramble to assist my tool bags were torn opened and the bag of spare parts spread out. We won't apply of a pit crew at the Indie 500, but he got back on the course pretty quickly.

I have been riding with Pablo, a motorcyclist that I met in Bueno Aires before leaving for Patagonia. Pablo knows a guy who lives near Tucuan, and we were invited to join his friends for BBQ and camping. I assisted the "BBQ Maestro" (from the Italian maestro, meaning "master" or "teacher") the night, building a fire, preparing meat and cooking it Argentinian style. I learn new BBQ tips from the Maestro (white cap cutting meat.) We ate the leftovers for breakfast and later that night, after the rally we were treated to ANOTHER BBQ!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hanging Out in Buenos Aires

While staying in Buenos Aires with Pablo, we hung out with his artist friend, Raul. He has a custom vehicle call the "Weapon of Mass Instruction." it is some kind a military jeep that is outfitted with an non-fictional cannon and covered with books.

Raul is squatting in a vacant building where he creates art in an industrial oven.

During the afternoon a drum parade went by the site, replete with a energetic flag bearer.

That night we made an uban Argentine BBQ. The fire consisted of a circle of wooden blocks stacked in a cylindrical tower. The flames were feed with demonic sticks that fall from the trees.