After delaying our departure from Sucre by a day because of a night of debauchery and karaoke, the road beckoned. We left with Myles, Ellen and Elmar climbing a crazy steep road out of the city. But soon after, the road dropped a long way down.
Part-way down, we found Marcin on the side of the road fixing a flat tire. He was frustrated as he had already had a couple that day. And a bit further down the road, Flo was coming back up, looking for Marcin. So, seven of us continued down the mountain to a small town where we stopped for lunch. Soon after, filled with chicken and pasta from a restaurant, Flo surged ahead and that was the last we saw of him. We all had had bread for lunch. Guess the chicken and pasta worked better. We camped beside a bridge crossing the Rio Grande in a small, nameless town. It was nice to camp again after having been pampered at Casa Verde in Sucre. And it was nice to just sit outside basking in the warm evening and not have to dive into the tent at sunset because of the cold.
We continued to Aiquile where we had planned to stay to watch the next round of the World Cup as Holland played Costa Rica. After striking out at a few hotels, we managed to get pretty nice rooms at the Aiquile Hotel and went in search of a place to eat. There was only one place in town that offered something other than pollo y papas, so that’s where we went. It was also one of the only places we found with wifi so we could connect to the mothership.
Ironically, the evening meal that day turned out to be pollo y papas con arroz (chicken with fries and rice). It was tasty but the portions, as usual, were too small, so, afterwards we crossed the street to Chicken’s Planet for another helping of pollo y pappas. Chicken is the mainstay of the Bolivian diet. If you don’t eat chicken, you are going to starve.
We watched Holland vs. Costa Rica on the big screen TV in the hotel because our favourite restaurant, like just about all businesses in town, was closed for the mandatory siesta time until 6 p.m. The game was an uninspired contest and Holland was lucky to advance to the semi-finals on penalties with two amazing saves by Dutch goaltender and last-minute substitute Tim Krul.
It was back to the road after that futbol interlude and the search for another TV to watch the semi-finals. Marcin had left the previous day and we now bade our farewells to Myles who chose the cobblestone road to Cochabamba. You can read about his ride and animal encounters on his blog: Myles & Miles. Safe journeys, Myles. Perhaps our paths will cross again.
The asphalt ended for us, too, at Aiquile. Instead of the beautiful, smooth blacktop we ended up on a dusty track from hell with some nasty, steep climbs to complete the suffering. But the scenery was quite amazing, especially around Peña Colorada where the red cliffs to the east of town formed a spectacular backdrop.
We found a couple of rooms in an abandoned house, apparently owned by the same people who own a small restaurant in town. For B$100 (about $16) we got two rooms, each with a mattress and a table and some chairs. The bathroom, with only cold water, was downstairs and outside. We were in desperate need of showers after a dusty day on the trail, but the water was a bit too chill for that, so a basic scrub-off had to do. Besides, the next day we would do it all over again so there was not much point in getting too clean.
We sat on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant drinking beer and pop while waiting for the rooms to be made ready by our hostess. This meant a cursory sweep and putting clean sheets on the mattresses. As has been usual, people looked at us in amazement – or is that confusion? Ridicule? I can never tell. We must have been quite the sight, though, looking like coal miners who just came up from the deep.
It’s amazing how comfortable one can be with so little. The rooms were sparse but the mattress was quite comfortable with clean sheets and blankets. The place wasn’t all that clean but neither were we. We opted to cook our own food rather than eat the usual chicken and rice and fries in the restaurant, especially after seeing our hostess take the shitty toilet paper from the bathroom’s waste basket with her bare hands to burn it outside in the yard.
The road continued as it had before but fortunately there was less traffic than the previous day. But it made little difference in how dirty we got. After about the sixth truck we were completely covered in the microscopic dust that covers the road.
We slowly made our way along the dusty track running through the red mountains. On the downhill portions we often travelled the same speed as on the uphill ones as the condition of the road did not allow us to go very fast. We managed 50 KM to the town of Saipena.
The only hotel in town was a bit pricey for what it was but it had hot water. Although, while Jan and Elmar were having their showers (yes, separately!) a fuse blew and they both ended up showering in the dark with mostly cold water, as did Ellen afterwards, for some reason. I think I was the only one who had a hot shower. It felt good to wash the dirt and grime off after two long days in the dust.
Tired but clean we wandered through town to look at our dining options as it was nearly chicken o’clock and we were hungry. We settled for the restaurant in our hotel as it was convenient and looked like it offered the lowest possibility of giving us food poisoning. The portions were too small so I had a second one. When I ordered it, the woman asked if it was for me, and when I answered yes, there was a look of something between amazement and disgust on her face. Perhaps she thought I was a glutton. I told her I was hungry.
We continued our sufferfest in the dust bowl with a 10-kilometre climb out of Saipena. Jan had been having some issues with what we thought was the chain slipping over the worn out jockey wheels but it turned out to be a much more serious problem. Her rear hub was sometimes not engaging, resulting in the pedals just spinning. We took it apart along the side of the road to see what was going on and discovered that a spring inside had either slipped or been installed incorrectly. It was showing signs of wear and was at the point of breaking. We cleaned it, greased it and carefully put it back together, hoping for the best.
This was a problem as it’s unlikely we can find the parts to fix it anywhere in Bolivia. We phoned Josh, our bike pusher at Kissing Crows Cyclery in Vancouver, to see if he could secure the parts and have them couriered to us in Santa Cruz. We also contacted Rodriguez Cycles in Seattle where we had the bikes built to see what they could do. The other option would be to buy a new hub and have it installed in the wheel. With no internet connection and a spotty phone connection, we would have to wait to find out.
After 28 more kilometres on the dusty road from hell, we finally arrived back on pavement. What a joy that was after plowing through ankle-deep dust for three days and nearly 200 KM. The fact we had to climb back up to 2,000 metres didn’t matter so much. All that mattered was the smooth asphalt under our tires.
We arrived in Materal to witness the second half of Germany’s humiliation of Brazil in their semi-final game. Quite an unbelievable score for a world cup semi. We found refuge at another eclectic “hotel”. This place had it all: restaurant, store, rooms, pigs out the back and a calf named Matteo stumbling around the courtyard. It’s mother wasn’t giving milk so the hotel’s matron was feeding it with bottles.
The map showed 48 KM to Samaipata which turned out to actually be 68 KM. We’ve found many such inconsistencies on maps and road signs. It made for a much longer day than we had anticipated and to top it off, as we climbed up to Samaipata, the weather became much colder and damp. It didn’t rain exactly, but there was just a lot of moisture in the air.
We arrived just in time to check into a hostel, have showers and walk across the street to yet another Dutch-owned resto-bar to watch the semi-final against Argentina. The game and the end result were a major disappointment. Neither team played up to its potential and the penalty shoot-out turned out to be a bit of a disaster for Orange. See you in two years for the Europa Cup, boys.
We had hoped to see some of the sights around Samaipata the next day but the weather was dismally cold and damp. The road up to the Inca ruins was a muddy mess that cars couldn’t pass and we were not about to attempt it on the bicycles. We ended up hanging out in Café 1900 sipping the very good espresso and snacking on the sandwiches and brownies. The same owner also runs a great restaurant where we had dined the night before.
The road to Santa Cruz was now an easy ride downhill on mostly good asphalt. We dropped from Samaipata’s 1650 metres down to 450 metres into downtown Santa Cruz. Along the way we found a German expat with a kind of resort where we camped before cycling the final 42 KM into the city.
Having spent enough nights on floors in cheap “hotels” we decided we deserved a little luxury and checked into Senses Boutique Hotel right off the main plaza in the centre. It’s a 5-star jobbie with all the amenities you would expect of such an establishment, including a good breakfast buffet where I’m trying to put on a couple of kilos. The bathroom scale in our hotel revealed I’m clocking in a bit below my fighting weight at a scant 70 KG, so, I’m doing my best to push that number up a bit before we get back on the bikes.
We also had success with securing the necessary bike parts. John at Rodriguez in Seattle managed to get Phil Wood, our hubs’ manufacturer, to provide us with the necessary parts with a very good discount. They have been shipped and are on their way to us as I write. Hopefully the package will arrive in another day or two.
Meanwhile, we went next door to the Goethe Zentrum, a German cultural Centre, to watch the world cup final with about 200 other people, mostly German tourists and expats. The beer was free and flowed freely. The game was a bit of a cliff hanger with an exciting finish. Congratulations Germany! People celebrated in the main plaza. Who knew there were so many Germany fans in Bolivia.
And now we bask in the warm sun at our luxurious hotel going from one restaurant or café to another, waiting for the bike parts to arrive. We’ve been eating well and enjoying some very good ice cream. Life does have its rewards.