23rd November 2015
23 November – 02 December: Peru for the last and Bolivia…. well, read and see for yourself…
Even though I actually wanted to leave on Monday Cusco, Alan, a local biker persuades me to stay another 1 or 2 nights. I can stay at his place and so have finally taken this opportunity to print my own stickers (an absolute "must" as an motorcyclists here in South America) and try to find out with a mechanic whats wrong with the fluid of the cooler system. Ira, Günter and Andres (a Chilean motorcyclists) are also still in Cusco and that makes my decision easy. Two cozy days and evenings, I even can make a short trip around the beautiful landscape around Cusco with Jorge and Tomas. Unfortunately even I get caught up with some bad luck after 5 months of traveling; during a visit of some Inca ruins one of the two luggage bag is cut open and the whole trekking stuff, among other things is stolen. Well, I've already made the trekking – so from now on there will be "only" motorcycling and no hiking anymore J That is part of the risk which I deal with so-called "soft luggage; I could secure the bags from not being stolen away from the bike but 100% safety's just not possible as the bags are soft and therefore not lockable.
On Wednesday at last I take off towards Bolivia; my last stop in Peru will be Puno which I reach quite late because I met 5 motorcyclists from Cusco on the way and spontanously join them them for a brief tour around some lakes just outside of Cusco.
I didn’t miss much in Puno as there had been a big demonstration that day; people have demonstrated for cheaper water. Water is in these areas not self-evident and as it was getting more and more expensive they suddenly couldn’t hardly afford it anymore. For us unimaginable - but that happens when the municipalities sell the water resources to private companies and it therefore becomes part of speculating funds. The streets looked like after an earthquake: stones, entire boulders, much battered glass; the mood in the city was still quite "loaded". So I took the first payable hotel with a secure parking and left it again the next morning early, driving towards the border, always along the stunning Lake Titicaca.
It's almost a pleasure to pass the borders here, in comparison to the procedure with the border crossings in Central America.
Thanks to the warning of Michael, who was on the Stahlratte with me and reached La Paz about 10 days earlier, I could avoid the traffic chaos in El Alto and reached in time the wonderfully secluded Camping Colibri, about 15km outside of La Paz. 3 nights in a cool teepee, magnificent views over the "Valley of Flowers" and the opposite mountains and the whole without honking and barking; simply pure nature.
The next day I had to try to find spare parts as I had to replace sprockets and chain; Unfortunately, stupid enough I didn’t check them while still staying in Peru - stupidity is well known to be punished sooner or later. So that was no easy task in Bolivia as motorcycle parts Lucky that Andres had given me a bikers contact in La Paz and with the help of Marcelo and his "house-mechanic", chain and sprockets could actually be changed, although at a multiple of the price of Peru. While I waited on my motorcycle I strolled through La Paz, took one of the four cablecars that hover over the city. The construction of La Paz is truly special: the surrounding hills and valleys are totally blocked and so you are constantly walking on either steep up or steep down.
On Monday then on again towards Potosi, the famous silver mining town. As Ronaldo, the camping owner, had advised against the mountain route, as in very poor condition and with a number of defective bridges, I drove on the normal main road and made quite some kilometers. Thus, from the 2-day trip to Potosi it turned out to be one day and I reached Potosi tired from the long drive but still long before nightfall - Bolivia is back an hour and therefore sunset is an hour later ;-) Not very easy to find here an affordable hostel in this pulk of one-way tiny streets. After a 2-hour walk I had already seen enough; I confess here and now official that I just cannot do much with cities: beautiful main squares, 2,3 beautiful cathedrals and churches, beautiful colonial buildings - in the case of Potosi with funny, outstanding balconies.
But that is more or less always the same in every city - ok, that's my personal opinion!
I enjoy the rides through the incredibly diverse and exciting landscapes much more, see the people in their - unfortunately mostly very poor- everyday life. While driving I can experience the country with all my senses – and I’m still not tired of driving - even after 5 months "on the road"!
So I leave Potosi the next morning already again, Uyuni and the famous salt lake is my aim now. I've considered to book a tour of the silver mine; but to see under what hard, inhuman, old conditions the mine people still have to work to earn a small living peril of their lives, I sort of didn’t want to see. During the trip - with hardly any traffic - the landscape changes slowly but surely to desert-like, barren.
Wherever a stream comes down from the mountains you can find right away trees and shrubs and all the llama herds romp in the meadows. This is currently THAT animal that crosses my way - literally - often right now ;-) I like the looks of them even if they stubbornly refuse to give me a great photo motif ... So here I am again and notice that I just love theses desert colours; and at the same time to know that I’m driving all the time somewhere between 3500-4000 meter, is simply fascinating - not been in sunshine and pleasant temperatures; only at night and in the morning it is quite fresh but for that I have my Goretex rain suit that protects me as well from the cold as from the wind.
I reach Uyuni by early afternoon and have plenty of time to think about how I best check out the Salar. I take the easy way and call Robin, who offers guided motorbike tours on the Salar (of course not only) and we meet to discuss this together. Robin is a passionate motorcyclist and off-roader which moved to Bolivia because of his Bolivian wife. Together with a Bolivian he built up this company (www.motorcycletoursbolivia.com); He convinces me that I can make the tour on the salar easily on my own as the salar is dry as a bone right now and therefor easy to drive at the moment. He also offers me to get my bike washed at his place - an absolute necessity because the salt goes in anywhere and would be purely eat within a short time in everything. What a great opportunity to drive the salar with my Suzy istead of a hired bike. I start in the morning quite early as all the guided Jeep tours start only from 10 clock and I therefore have the Salar more or less just for me, at least the first 2 hours. Honestly, it's an incredible feeling to drive over the salt lake, resp. correctly "saltpan". You feel soooo small here, the salar infinitely great.
I visit the salt hotel - really exciting since almost completely made of salt -, the lava island "Incuahasi" with up to 1,200 years old cacti on it, continue driving to the volcano Tunupa and watch there the caves with the – due to the high salinity - four total well-preserved mummies; after that driving about the same way back to the mainland. I am traveling all day, driving alone on the salar more than 250km; rarely I have enjoyed a ride that much although theoretically totally boring as driving more or less always straight and on a white background all day. But the solar has a very special atmosphere from which I let myself be carried away.
Back in Uyuni then Suzy is most thoroughly washed; instead of a payment I give Robin my big Swiss Army knife which he accepts very pleased because it will be a welcome aid on his tours. We chat for a long time on motorbikes, technique, everything that matches our topic: motorikes. And we talk as well about the Bolivians. He sort of can well understand that I do not really get "warm" with Bolivia – except of the breathtaking scenery. The Bolivians show a completely different atmosphere than any other South American people that I have experienced so far. Of course, I also met really nice and interested people here; but the majority of people seem somehow lethargic, not very interested in the tourists and a well-to-end business. The best example is the Herculean task to buy gasoline here in Bolivia ! The state has subsidized gasoline for the Bolivians and the service-station operator must therefore issue a separate receipt for the "foreigners" but he may also charge the triple. Many do not want to (or are able) to write these invoices/receipts and therefore refuse simply to sell gasoline to people with international license plates; in areas where you don’t find a gas station every now and than quite tricky. Sometimes it works to say that I though paying the higher price of course do not require a separate bill - which of course would be financially an advantage for the petrol station operator. But even in large cities such as Potosi or Uyuni it may happen that you have to approach 3, 4 petrol stations until you get gasoline. Honestly, that’s just too much for me!! Even in Uyuni which is that proud to host the Dakar Rally - omnipresent at every turn - you would think that they handle it better.
Far away from it: of 3 existing gasoline stations only ONE sells gasoline to foreigners – although that is officially of course not allowed. So I’ll have to buy for tomorrow small extra can and fill it because I cannot take the risk not to get any gasoline from the only gas station on the way to Chili.
Today I just hang around in Uyuni – nothing but a pretty barren desert city - and prepare myself and Suzy for the long driving day.
Tomorrow I will therefore already be leaving Bolivia again and enter in my last country on this travel. It's not that I did not like Bolivia ; to spectacular the landscape but it is definitely not one of my "must - I - absolutely - re - visit countries ". The days are now counted, the more I 'm going to enjoy Chile and the totally different landscapes ( deserts, mountains , volcanoes , coast and sea ). My next destination: San Pedro de Atacama ; more of it in a few days :-)