Hola good people, Ville here bringing you the next scoop on our Northern Argentina adventures.
For our last full day in Bolivia we had a clear plan: ride till we got close enough to the border of Argentina to cross it early the next day. The first half of the day was spent cruising slightly downhill in a beautiful river canyon, the second half was spent climbing for 15 miles back to the high plains where the winds were ripping. We camped before dark in a giant open sand pit on someone's big property and I got a flat tire from the many thorns everywhere. While patching my tube I decided to change my tire since it was getting pretty bald. I had gotten a new tire in Cusco thanks to the good people at Project Bike Bend for tracking down my size and a huge thanks to K.G's parents for bringing it to me in Peru! I gave my old tire to our friend Camilo, he's been dealing with multiple broken spokes since we've met him and we were hoping my wider tire would help him.
The next day we scarfed breakfast and raced the remaining 10 miles to the border to get to the promised land! We had heard so many great things about Argentina and to be honest Bolivia was not our favorite place. Bolivia has a couple of things that make it hard for touring cyclists : Numero uno, it doesn't have a lot of options for food (rice & chicken or chicken & rice IF you can find a food place in the ghost towns we seldom pass by). Two, the distances between towns are long so you have to haul a lot of food and water with you. Three, It's not that special when it comes to the views, sure Salar de Uyuni (World's largest salt flat) was nice but that's pretty much it.
When we were crossing the border we noticed one thing that bothered K.G and I quite a bit:
When we were greeted nicely and welcomed to Argentina with open arms and big smiles, our Colombian friend Camilo got the third degree from the Masters of the Stamps. " How much money do you have? What do you do for work? How long are you going to stay in Argentina?" We got none of these questions. Camilo is an engineer from Bogota, Colombia...to be honest he's way less of a bum than we are. It's crazy how many more doors a blue or a burgundy passport opens.
On the other side of the border we immediately sensed that Argentina is different from Bolivia and Peru. Less hassle, less animals running around the streets, less honking of the horn, more detail in the architecture (K.G. noticed right away that the windows here are glass set into wood opening windows in contrast to Peru and Bolivia's non-opening glass windows if they could afford the glass), more food and more education. The first thing we needed to find was a bank to get some local currency and so we proceeded to ask some teenagers since they know everything...or at least I did when I was their age. The answers we got were finely articulated and you could sense that the level of education was higher here. After a quick run to the ATM and pockets full of bills( Argentinian fiscal history is a roller coaster) we were heading out of the border town, La Quiaca, since the towns close to the border are pretty dumpy. From the first mile on we were met with an intense headwind, we had to fight this bastard for the next 250 miles until Salta. After a few miles, we took a break at a bus stop and lit some fireworks that I had purchased in Bolivia to celebrate making it to Argentina. As we were lighting them I could sense that this was no longer the part of good old South America where one could do anything and no one would say anything even if you were shooting your automatic rifle into the air.
Argentinians have declared themselves as the Europe of South America...as a European, I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong, they're doing pretty good in South American standards, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Maybe better roads with a shoulder for starters. Roads are better in most parts of Africa. Argentinians seem to trash talk a lot about their neighbors and have their nose up in the air, but right now there is not a lot to boast about. In 2 years the Argentinian peso has lost half of it's value against the mighty US green back. Even Greece has a better central bank! Hopefully I didn't hurt too many feelings in Argentina or Greece.
Our first 12 days in Argentina have been filled with the most boring/repetitive/long/terrible riding of our entire trip, but for the next few paragraphs I'm going to try to focus on the positive things. It's not Argentina's fault that the Northern part of the country is filled with nothing but desert and headwinds from hell. Not bad if your in an air conditioned car driving at excessive speeds, but horrid if your on a bicycle moving as fast as a snail.
Before entering Argentina, our friend Pac-Man (aka Ninja Kicks) and many other Argentinians told us about how much meat they eat and how cheap it is, this has proven to be true. Even if you don't visit the restaurants to see it for yourself, you can witness it on the peoples bodies. Argentinians got way more "Junk in the trunk" if you know what I mean. This has been good and bad for us. We are not border-line starving anymore, but there's only so much red meat you can eat! We're dreaming of salads and seafood but they seem to be only a myth here.
A lot of the towns we've visited seem to be centered around areas that have water, usually we spot the towns from 5 miles distance because they look like an oasis with tall trees and green areas. The small town of Cafayate, south of Salta, was one of these places. Littered with vineyards and cafes that cater to the many passing gringos traveling by car or motorcycle. Since then, Chilecito, was a decent sized town at the base of a giant mountain with year-round snow, so a pretty cool town with water and over-priced hotels. We have struggled with the increase in prices for hotels and hostels to get showers, so we have occasionally opted for the expensive campground (they cost around $12, what we use to get a hotel room for in many other Latin American countries) and have opted to mainly stealth camp in scrub brush sin showers. Sometimes we bathe in gas station sinks. We have also been pushing way too many miles without rest trying to make it through this desert stretch and our health has been suffering.
And my final rant, Argentina, how do function when you are NEVER OPEN??? Literally, we are constantly told that something will open at 8 am. Which is a total lie. We have been lucky if we find anything open by 9 or 10 am. This includes all breakfast places, grocery stores, and the like. Just tell us the truth, that you will roll in and open your shop whenever your butt rolls out of bed. If they are open, breakfast is a tiny grilled cheese sandwich on white bread for over $5. Then, we continually hit towns looking for a place to get lunch or even lunch things, and they are closed for siesta! What hours are siesta? Well, seems like anytime from 1pm-6pm. You want to eat, better save your appetite for after 6pm when things begin to open for the day. Then stuff your jowls with a bunch of meat, hop on your motorscooter that looks like it's being eaten by your ass and head home for your night siesta.
Are we ready for some rest, less sun, less heat, more lakes, rivers, towns and healthy food or what? We plan to hit Mendoza in a few days, hope to take a day off at a Warmshowers host's house and then begin the climb west over the Andes (again and right next to the highest point in the Andes) to drop to Santiago, Chile. Hope that by our next post we have heaps of great things to say about the views, open shops, less heat and water! Until next time, stay classy!
BOLIVIA: High altitude plains, stunning sunsets, and the poorest country yet Juliaca, Peru to Tupiza, Bolivia
Having Mango and Magoo (my parents) in Cusco for two weeks of relaxation and exploration was fabulous! And when it came to an end, we were both sad to see them leave, but happy to know we were getting closer to the end of the ride with some pretty scenic places in front of us. Thanks to parents that love us, my parents gave us a little spending money to upgrade from chicken bus to tourist bus to get back to Juliaca. And Ville's parents sent us a brand new tent that didn't leak water! Thanks Moms and Dads!
The bus back to Juliaca was way more pleasant, didn't have to listen to sales pitches and preachers the entire ride, got to recline the seat and pig out. Once back in Juliaca, we spent a day (with great help from another Argentinean cyclist, Pac-Man) changing out much needed bike parts my parents had brought to us (and thanks John and Project Bike Bend for rounding up all our parts!). Back in the saddles, heading northeast around Lake Titicaca with new friend Pac-Man in tow, we were on our way to Bolivia. Winding around the lake was beautiful and the north side of the lake made for much less traffic, but we timed it during some crazy holiday and every town was closed up save for the one tienda that had cold beer and hordes of drunk guys beckoning us to come party. Almost no one has a refrigerator at home and there isn't bars in tiny towns, so guys (because we never once saw a woman) hang outside the corner market where the beer is kept in a fridge and just keep chugging. Stacking up the empties at the curb. Makes sense right?
The border crossing was a joke, in a small village, one young kid and a toothless wonder in a military jacket checked our passports and took my $160 USD to get a damn visa, good for 10 years. Guess it's to be expected when the US requires expensive visa fees and rules on everyone else, that I get hit with it going the other way (only US Citizens have to pay for this visa, so Ville was saved), but when they began asking for immunization records I thought it was a joke. Luckily my smooth talking husband made up some "hers was stolen" excuse real quick and we got out of there quick. Now if you saw and experienced Bolivia, you would laugh too at the request for immunization records. Bolivia, really???
We opted to skip La Paz, capitol of Bolivia, because we heard it was a cyclists nightmare and took a long, bumpy dirt road detour instead. It was incredibly scenic with a giant mountain range resembling the Tetons to the east. When again hit pavement, Ville realized his back tire was out of true (wobbling). Luckily, Pac-Man came to our rescue (the guy literally carries everything you can think of on his bike) and fixed the wheel enough to continue. And after setting up to camp for the night in a field, we met another cyclist, Camilo, from Bogota, Columbia.
Now a real traveling circus, party of 4, we spent a couple days riding the flat wide open desert, fighting winds from every direction at over 13,000ft, enjoying the cool high altitude temps, and struggling to find food and water. If the Peruvian mountain people were living on the bare essentials of life, the Bolivians have drastically less. I read that Bolivia is made up of over 60% indigenous people with most people living on the altiplano and so our days were passed by waving at sheep, llama, goat, and pig herders in the fields minding and moving the flocks. Very kind people, allowing us to camp in their fields and leaving us alone, but not much else. Towns looked like ghost towns in the States, with disintegrating sand-blocked buildings, caved-in roofs, garbage blowing down streets, but with people living in them. One of the families we asked about camping we realized lived in a tiny tarped van in the yard with a handful of kids, their 4-walled house had no roof. We gave the kids stickers and wished we could give them a house.
Food has also been a huge challenge, there doesn't appear to be any except for a few of the large cities in the country. Every town we ride through, we have to stop at at least 10 different tiendas (corner markets) to scrounge up enough things to cook ourselves to eat. We basically ate spaghetti and oatmeal the entire way through Bolivia (YUMMY!!). Oruro, we all four shared a room in this dump of a city, enjoyed the hot shower after a week without one, resupplied some food stores, had a failed attempt at working WiFi, and moved on. After a four day stretch on the open plains (afternoon rain showers and thunderstorms being the norm), we enjoyed the camping, stunning sunsets, laughing at each other and made it to the Salar de Uyuni.
The night before, we chose to camp in a lookout tower with views of the salt flat (if your thinking that someone of authority might kick us out, we are in Bolivia, so not a chance), but at first light were awoken by a giant tour bus that arrived with a bus load of tourists to see the view. You should have seen their faces to see a bunch of non-bathed, stinky, pajama wearing, dirt-ball cyclists greeting them from our sleeping bags strewn about the tower! Priceless. Most opted to not even get out of the bus. I didn't blame them. The winds were freezing and good ol' Pac-Man was putting a camera in their face. Little backstory on Pac-Man, he's a character. Nicest guy, gave Ville some clothes since his are all falling apart, fixed Ville's and Camilo's bikes as they are also falling apart and shares all his food with everyone. He does have a thing for doing ninja kicks all over the place (he IS 41, not 8), has a Buenos Aires accent non of us can understand, will one-up ANY story (usually with stories of ninja kicks) and can talk an ear off of ANYTHING! We watched one night as Camilo went to his tent, turned on his music, zipped his tent closed to go to sleep, and Pac-Man didn't skip a beat, just talked to the outside of Camilo's tent. Hilarious guy. He moved on a couple days ago when we opted for a hotel and shower so may or may not run into him again.
We did spend the next day on the Salar, biking across the wide open radiating-ly white salt, taking some fun pics of ourselves and ruining my eyes with the boy's stark white nudity. Felt very lucky to get to ride on the salt (it's packed like riding on pavement unless it rains), because the very next day it rained and it was likely not ride-able. We pushed on to Uyuni (originally opting to avoid the over-priced tourist trap), but were desperate for a shower. This was where Pac-Man rode on and we got another dumpy room in a crappy town that would not exist except for the salt.
The last two days have been rough. The road that had been so flat and fairly easy miles, became more mountainous and under serious construction, where they are paving a giant road (which had previously been only dirt trails) for about 180 miles. When we had pavement, it was new, glorious pavement. For many sections, there were bulldozers, dump trucks, backhoes, and kamikaze "Too Fast Too Furious" crew throwing dirt in our faces as we tried to navigate deep sand with thin tired, heavy bikes. Last night we made it just outside Tupiza (about 55 miles shy of the Argentinean border), Camilo rolling into camp just before dark and realized Ville's sleeping pad was missing. Shit! Can't live without that. We pieced together that it must have fallen behind a giant rock Ville had set it on at lunch in the middle of a giant hail storm, he had not seen it then when packing up. We both squeezed onto my sleeping pad last night for some pretty crappy sleep.
This morning, Camilo was nice enough to hitch a ride with Ville and a coca chewing, coffee/cognac slurping, cocaine snorting dump truck driver picked them up and gave them a ride 25-30 miles back up the road to go look for the pad. I remained in camp cleaning and fixing stuff, when the boys showed up a few hours later without the pad, but with word that one of the construction guys had picked it up and taken it back to camp. We packed up, rode to Tupiza, got a hotel room, showered (this is only our 3rd shower in 2 weeks folks), caught up on laundry and the boys took a death-defying taxi ride 10 miles back up the road to camp to track down the pad. Just 10 minutes ago, Ville and Camilo waltzed into the room with pad and booze in hand!! YAY!!! They both said the taxi ride was like being in the Dakar Rally, the most dangerous thing either of them have done on this trip yet (that says a LOT). The guy drove with his foot to the floor in a little Toyota Corolla on loose gravel through streams, fishtailing, and when out of nowhere a car pulled out in front of them while doing 50 miles an hour, the guy hit and locked up the brakes and almost killed everyone. NOT sorry I missed that ride!
Tomorrow we push on. One day more (fingers crossed) to get out of Bolivia and into Argentina! Another 250 miles from there we should reach Salta. Sorry for the massive delay in a post folks, there is horse-poopy non-existent WiFi throughout all of Bolivia and we just got connected again. Hope all you fine friends are doing great, thanks to all of you who have commented, messaged, emailed, and stayed in touch. It means a lot when we feel really out of touch with everyone. Until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll!
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
Make a Difference!
Help us directly with PayPal or Credit Card