Table of Contents    |    Chapter Fourteen    |  |    Chapter Sixteen

The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Sometimes a major setback creates a new train of thought which in turn leads to a great advancement."

Chapter Fifteen

Heading Into The Andes

As I sit here overlooking the ocean and reflecting back over the past 4 months and all that I've come through and what I've become after 4000 miles of cycling the length of Chile. About 10 years ago a roommate in Colorado asked me if I ever experienced spiritual enlightenment? Not only did I not have an answer, I didn't even know what he was talking about. None the less over the years I've thought a lot about that question as well as many of my own questions about who we are, why we are here, and how to achieve that happy contentment that we all so desperately seek. Some seek it through wealth and possessions or accomplishments others through relationships, some watch television or sports and sadly some even seek it through substances; food or drugs. Truth is it can only be cultivated from within. The more you let situations outside yourself bother you the more difficult this will be. ENLIGHTMENT is nothing more than the quiet acceptance of what is. But most importantly have faith in gods plan and in things you cannot comprehend. I could complain about the winds of Patagonia and the washboard road conditions or just accept them. The wind doesn't care, it just is. I could also take a bus, but then I have to ask myself why did I come here? I came here to experience, to comprehend and become part of all that Patagonia had to offer. Do you complain, take a bus or accept life's offerings?

Longfellow says it best in his poem about faith:

     " I cannot see the wind at all or hold it in my hand
      and yet I know there is a wind because it swirls the sand
      I know there is a wondrous wind because I glimpse its power
      whenever it bends low a tree or sways the smallest flower
      and god is very much like this as invisible as the air
      you cannot touch or see him yet you know that he is there
      because you glimpse his wondrous works and goodness everywhere "

Just before I left Arica I wanted to visit the museum inside the train station, but unfortunately the entrance to the station was all shut up, for the train doesn't run to LaPaz Bolivia anymore. I started out of the city and the road crossed some tracks so I thought, why not? I walked my bike along the tracks about a mile. I'm on the inside of the huge wall with the road on the other side. Following the tracks takes me right into the train station. A stations attendant came out and asked how I got in there? I guess they never thought of this flaw in their security. I told who I was and that I was very interested in the museum. He looked at me rather strangely and said the train doesn't run anymore. I assured him I was not interested in the train, just the museum. The museum is very very small and not even in the guide book, but a man in the fish market told me about it and said it merits a visit. The attendant was more than happy to show me around. There were old maps of the route up to LaPaz. The train climbs from sea level to over 15000 feet. It was one of the world's great train journeys but unfortunately it's no longer in operation. There were also many photos of the initial construction of the line, the tunnels and switch backs, where the tracks would form a V, only horizontally. The line would be switched and the train would continue up the top side of the V. There were also telephones and telegraph machines and typewriters from the turn of the century. It was an interesting place and I was glad I took the initiative to see it. After the museum he let me put my bike on the scale for an actual reading. 65 kilos,(143 pounds) swell... With the Andes mountains in front of me, and I'm still sea level. It's time to trim down. I thanked the man for his patience and understanding and gave him a bottle of olive oil which brought me down to 141 pounds.

With my back to the ocean cycling with the wind due east the climb begins. The sign at the turn off said 300 miles to LaPaz Bolivia and there's not much in the way of facilities between here and there. The road was flat for about 20 miles passing a lot of corn fields. The local people grew a lot of crops here because of the lush river valley. I stopped to talk to a man hitchhiking with 3 hundred pound sacks of corn. He had no vehicle to transport his crop into town to sell at the market. After about 10 minutes someone stopped so I helped load them into the truck and he offered me a dozen ears. I only accepted 6 which I would eat that night for dinner and I thanked him for his kindness. Imagine running a farm without any vehicles. Two cows yoked together pull the plow through the field. He and his family harvest everything by hand and then he hitches a ride with his harvest into town to sell his crop. What a contrast to the way we live and all the things we take for granted. Remember the days we had to get up to change the channel on the television?

That night some folks I met on the road invited me to sleep on the floor of their garage next to the truck. The ground was very soft, lots of hay, and I don't have to unpack and set up the tent. The evening was filled with good conversation. The father and oldest boy were fascinated with my camp stove. I don't think they ever saw one before. I cooked up the corn and pasta and tea and made salad using the olive oil for dressing and as sauce for the pasta. For their kindness I gave them a bottle of olive oil, down to 139 pounds. At first I thought it was stupid to carry the oil, but these people seem so happy to receive this unusual gift, the smiles are worth the extra pounds. People don't care what it is or the value of what you give, it's the fact that you offered them something, which shows that you care about them and that brings the smile.

I got an early start the next morning for there is a long climb ahead of me and I'm not sure what to expect. The road started climbing steadily not too steep, still nothing but sand all around except for the green river valley, which I can still see from time to time off to the left. After about 15 miles the road turned away from the valley and the real climb started. Steep in places, with many quick switchbacks. After a while some small trees and bushes started to appear. For the most part now it looks like Nevada. The people all look native, similar to those in Bolivia, not as friendly or as open as the Chileans. I believe all the people living here are Bolivian and just stayed after this area became part of Chile. There is still a lot of bitterness between the two countries over mining rights. Bolivia lost its only coastal access earlier this century to Chile but the people never left. My last week in Chile is only geographically, culturally its Bolivia. The people are what make up a country, so for me I'm in Bolivia only I'm spending pesos instead of Bolivians.

As I'm cycling up this hill I'm completely alone, no houses or people as far as I can see, but even if I was cycling with someone, I'm still alone. And in our minds we are always alone. The most important voyages are not recorded in the history books. That's because they are journeys of discovery, passages into the unknown. All the triumphs and defeats, fears and exaltations, all the joys and despairs are ultimately private. They are only marked on the chart of our spirit.

I climbed about 7000 feet the first day, good paved road, tail wind, and camped in the sand just off the road. Because its still desert I didn't feel the need to set up the tent. The following day I made it into the town of Putre at 3500 meters (11500) feet, which sat in a bowl in the mountains and the setting reminded me of Colorado. I strolled my bike around the town looking for a place to stay and came upon a little shop that also had a hotel in the back. The room was about $6.00 and I asked if he was willing to trade two bottles of Olive oil and he was quite enthusiastic about the exchange. Now the price of heating wasn't included in the room rate and because the nights dip down below freezing, the room was quite cold. I decided that cooking dinner would help to warm it up. I set up the stove by the door so that if anything happened, I could quickly open the door and push everything out into the concrete hallway. By the time I had cooked the pasta, boiled some water for tea and boiled the water for washing the dishes, the room had become toasty warm.

This was the first time on the trip that the temperature dropped below zero which is ironic since technically, I was in the tropical region. I went outside to cool off and watch the full moon rise and marveled at the contrast of temperature. It's unfortunate that few tourists go out of their way to take in this region of Chile since it is geographically very interesting and diverse.

I managed to get an early start the next morning and in the afternoon as I was looking for the turn off to Parinacota I stumbled upon a small village. There were no signs of any kind, so I walked around the village which felt like a ghost town, no cars, no people - just run down, dilapidated closed buildings. I came upon two distinctly Bolivian women sitting in dirt up against a building, weaving cloth and chewing on some sort of seeds. They were speaking to each other in the native Bolivian Quechua and I couldn't understand a word. I walked right up to them with my big yellow jacket and bike and stood there - they didn't look up, didn't acknowledge my presence, just kept weaving and chatting to each other. All I said was "Donde Parina Cota" and they finally looked up at me and nodded off towards a ragged dirt road. With some apprehension, I decided to trust them and headed off along the downhill road. A couple of miles later along the road, I came upon a town of mostly mud houses. The town is mostly a market and a tour bus stop with lots of traditional Bolivian souvenirs. I went up to the school to try to see if I could stay there for the night and the building was full of the local townspeople. They seemed to be having a town meeting. I was asking around to see if I could stay in the school for the night, but the person in charge of the school was out of town. While I was talking, a man invited me to stay at his house.

I use the term loosely when I call it a house for it wasn't quite up to being called more than a shed. The walls were made of mud and grass and the floor was just dirt. There was only room for a single bed, a wood stove, a table and space to walk between them. The man lived here with his wife, but they insisted that I stay and they went off to sleep somewhere else after they brought in some wood and offered me some bread and coffee. At night, when I went out to pee, I was shocked that it was like walking into a freezer. After months of traveling in comfort and warmth, it was bizarre to think that now that I was in the tropics, it was bitterly cold. At 6:00 am, I took the thermometer out for a reading and it registered minus one degree Fahrenheit (-18C). My friend returned at about 7:00 and he said the thermometer at the school in the center of town was -8F/-22C. All I knew was that it was bloody cold. So much for the term "Tropical Climate". I offered them several oranges and some of my oatmeal for their hospitality.

On the way out of town, I came across a group of German and Swiss cyclists without any gear so they must have been on one of those expensive guided tours. I flagged them down to chat but they were very unsociable and in a hurry to get where they were going. I found it incredible that they showed no sign of life or animation and were drifting through in a zombie state.

I cycled out of town and back to the paved road that led into the Parc National Luca. I've risen up to an altitude of about 4667 metres, over 15100 feet and now the road opens up onto the vast open flat planes, the altiplano, that stretches all the way out to Cusco. Whereas the Andes were only about a mile across down in Ushuaia, in this region, the mountains rise up rapidly to the altiplano plateau that stretches out for about 250 miles, then the mountains drop down into the jungles of Bolivia.

As I ride, ahead of me I can see two snow covered peaks that are almost perfect inverted cones that rise up to about 6,000 metres. The road circles around Lake Chanral, the highest lake in the world. It is also several miles across. The water is a brilliant turquoise blue and was inhabited by a few hundred pink flamingos. There were also many Llamas and Vicuna roaming around. I passed around the lake, and after cycling another 45 minutes, Mount Sajama, the highest point in Bolivia at 6500 metres, (21,300 feet ) comes into view.

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