Table of Contents    |    Chapter Fifteen    |  |    Chapter Seventeen

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

"Where people fight, where armies march, thorns and brambles grow and years of want will follow." - TAO

Chapter Sixteen

Bolivia: Altiplano-Lapaz-Tiahuanaco

Cycling at 15000 feet I notice that I have a low grade headache that doesn't go away, along with restlessness at night. Another interesting thing to note is that I'm cycling in low gear most of the time. Once in awhile I feel myself getting out of breath and sure enough, I look over my shoulder and there is a gentle rise in the road. Off the bike, when walking on level ground, no problem, but climbing stairs or hills, you take one step, stop take a breath, take another step, stop take a breath. All of this slowly became less noticeable over the next three weeks.

After 5 months its finally time to leave Chile, and while in the customs post I had my first little incident. The Police asked for a receipt for my bike and some money for a departure tax. As a rule when you travel never give anyone any money, but always be polite. In Spanish I explained to him that it was not necessary, that I crossed into and out of Chile 5 times and never before was I asked for such a receipt. He persisted, so I politely asked his name and Identification number, wrote them both down, then asked for the name of the chief, at this point he said he was busy and that I should just pass, and gave me my exit stamp. Be polite, patient and act in an official manner, they respect that. If you get angry, complain or shout, you only make matters worse. Yes he was trying to rip me off, yes he was doing something illegal, but my objective is not to catch him or prove him wrong, my objective is to cross the border. If he were to ask why I want all this information, I simply answer I want to ensure that I have all the proper information and receipts so as not to inconvenience anyone in the future and hopefully this misunderstanding won't happen again, and smile, always smile.

There was the usual mile long stretch of no mans land, where you're not in any country. The Bolivian border post is lined with about 25 tractor trailer rigs, one of the drivers told me its quite common to spend half a day waiting to cross. Traveling with a bicycle offers no worries, I walk into the office, hand the official my passport, looks at my bike incredulously, he asked me how long I want to stay in Bolivia, I say 2 months, he stamps my passport valid for 30 days, hands it to me and that's it. Why would a poor country limit a western traveler to one month, especially one traveling on a bike? Again words of wisdom for a happy life, never concern yourself with WHY.

From the border the road drops 3000 feet in 12 miles yahoo!!!!! On good paved road, no traffic, high speed for the trip was reached 106 (KPH) 65 miles per hour. I was very nervous, for a blow out or crash would be a bad thing. After arriving safely at the bottom of the hill, I rode into the town of Las Lagunas walked my bike through town to the school where I was instantly surrounded by 50 children. I went up to a man about my age and asked if he knew a guy named Pedro? He said I am, so I showed him his name in the South American handbook where it said ask Pedro about sleeping in the school and climbing Mount Sajama 6500 meters ( 21300 feet ). School was just about out for the day so He told me to bring my bike in and get set up for the night. The next day he arranged for someone to take me up to the mountain. My driver also turned out to be my guide who arranged for my permit, 25 dollars for the permit and the guide for the two day hike seemed like a bargain. I loaded up my backpack with food and supplies and off we went. I've done a lot of climbing in the Pacific northwest so this was not especially difficult, and its early June the beginning of winter, the dry season, no chance of clouds or storms. It's possible to do the climb without a guide but I would not recommend doing it alone. Also 5 months of cycling helped a great deal, being physically fit helped with the lung capacity. The last hour of the climb near the top, I felt dizzy, disoriented, splitting headache, and every step took an extraordinary effort. Reaching the top seemed to eradicate all that, and made the whole effort worthwhile. Only people who climb mountains can understand that. It's like starting a business and making a go of it, or building a house and pounding in that last nail, Oh what a feeling!

It was a long hard climb but when we returned to the school I had more energy than before we left. The boost in self image and confidence creates more energy and adrenaline than you use for the hike up. Its a strange feeling to be standing at a height nearing where jet planes fly, 4 miles above sea level and still be standing on the ground. Too many people want the exhilaration of escape without under going the anxiety that accompanies the leaving the known world behind. What's the point of going somewhere if it resembles the place you left? How can you possibly replace first hand experience with assimilation? However the reverse is possible. Its very easy to assimilate mentally something you already experienced first hand. I suppose it's possible to assimilate cycling trip by simply riding an exercise bike in your house while watching a video of South America, yahoo! But even if you could create the wind and altitude conditions it's still not the same.

Some people travel to document their trip. The documentation is their destination, a quick look, a photo and on to the next site. I'm the opposite of this. I might spend 3 days at Angel falls and not take a single photo. People want to experience the unfamiliar while being surrounded by the familiar. The character of your trip will alter the way you experience your destination. I could hire a helicopter to drop me at the top of Mt Sajama, but imagine how different my perception of the whole experience would be.

The following morning was warm so I stripped down to a T-shirt, put on sun screen and started out to the main road into Bolivia. After about 10 minutes the wind started, cooling things down to the point of needing a sweater and my jacket but I kept the shorts on. The temperature was only in the 50s. Mt Sajama stayed with me for 2 days, just over my left shoulder while the terrain looked like the badlands of South Dakota. Rolling hills, short trees and shrubs. It was very arid with many dry river valleys and the occasional mud huts here and there. Women wearing the traditional bowler hats, colorful skirts, primitive flip-flop shoes (if any), and very weathered faces were herding their sheep. Most didn't even look up as I passed by. After about 60 miles I stopped in a restaurant for some dinner, a place supported only by the truckers going between Chile and LaPaz. I met Miguel from Oruro who offered me a ride, but I refused, saying I preferred to cycle it. He gave me his address and said to stop by if I visit Oruro. I thanked him for his offer as he left and asked the server in the restaurant about hotel possibilities. She happily rented me her room out back for one dollar plus one dollar for dinner. I love this country!! I paid with Chilean pesos which they gladly accepted. The room was exactly as expected, pitch black, no electricity, just a bed, and stacks of empty coke bottles, and empty propane tanks one of which I used to keep the door from blowing open. But once I was tucked in, and lit my own candle for a little reading, it was no different than the Hilton, or at least not for me.

The next day I had a bit of bad luck, two flat tires in the course of an hour. The first came in a spot where there was already three patches, so I pitched the tube, but upon pumping up the tire I noticed my pump was broken. So I stepped out to the road and held up my tire and pump and gave the thumbs down symbol, and sure enough the first truck to come by, stopped. They had a generator pump for fixing flats out on the road. Within a few minutes, thanks to luck and their kindness I was up and cycling again. About hour later I noticed my back tire was low, oh no! But I kept riding anyway to the inter- section of the main LaPaz- Oruro road where it became too flat to go on. But just then another cyclist came by but his valves were presta so his pump was no help to me. We chatted for a while and not surprisingly he has met some of the same people I have on my trip. When I asked him if he met Judith and Anreas, Swiss couple number one from Patagonia, without a moments hesitation further questions he shouted you must be bob! How did you know? He said that they spoke highly of you and that you were the only one with a mini mouse on the front of your bike. Turns out I didn't even have their address so he gave it to me. They were quite surprised to get a letter from me, knowing I didn't have their address.

My new found friend, Thomas, was from Germany and he cycled here all the way from Buenos Aires. He said there was always a head wind but it was dry, no rain not even any clouds. After half an hour he was anxious to get on. so I figured I'd start walking. After about 15 minutes a truck stopped, asked why I was walking and offered me a ride into Oruro. I didn't plan to go there but I needed to buy a new pump and 2 new tires and had two friends in Oruro so I said Why not. It was about 1 hour ride in the truck, he even dropped me at Hotel Bolivia in the town square. A nice place and a good price at 2 dollars a night.

The next morning, I spent about 4 hours walking around, absorbing the atmosphere of the large Bolivian city. Oruro is nestled up against a hill and at the top of the hill was a large statue of Jesus, 30 feet high and about 12 feet across at the base with three tiers of steps forming the pedestal. As part of a religious pilgrimage, people come here to pray and crawl around the base on their knees. I noticed there were two older couples making their way around the statue on their knees and got to thinking that I could make quite a business here if I sold knee pads.

Oruro is also the home of the musician I had met back in Iquique so I went back to the hotel and gave him a call. He gave me directions to his house which was on the south side of the city. The house was made of cinder blocks and built in two parts - the kitchen was separated from the bedroom and main living area. The bedroom was essentially four walls, a cement floor and a bunch of blankets laid on the floor. The kitchen had a camp stove, no running water, a small counter and a small table with two chairs next to it. It was no bigger than about 8x6 feet. Next to the bedroom was an empty storage area where I stayed. Noone in Bolivia really has any possessions. To go from room to room, you have to go outside of the building and around into the next door and yet at night, the temperatures drop down to around 29 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

I took him out to dinner and both of us had full meals for a total of about $2.00 and we spent the rest of the night with his friends jamming and playing traditional Bolivian music. He then had to go out to work because he owns a concession stand at the border crossing and all the trucks come through at night. He offered to take me with him, but I had declined. A little later, about 11:00, I decided to go out for a walk to his concession stand, not realizing how far it was. After about an hour my nose detected an open sewage cesspool. I considered expanding my horizon of experience by going for a quick dip in the pool, but finally decided that there are some challenges that even I would leave unanswered. I also decided that his booth was going to be too far to go to and turned around and headed back. I also noticed that I was abnormally tired and had developed a low grade fever. Since this only lasted about 14 hours, I didn't think much about it, assuming that it was a normal winter event. But there was no sore throat or other flu symptoms, so it must have been my body burning off some sort of infection.

I got up early in the morning, packed up my gear and cycled out to the stand to thank him and say goodbye. I then cycled on to visit with Miguel who had offered me the ride in the restaurant a few days earlier. His wife was expecting me and the whole family was very excited that I had arrived. Their home is in the back of their restaurant, and she ushered me in to sit down and have something to eat. There were about 4 children at home and they slowly moved closer and closer to me although they were very shy and hiding behind the tables and doors. Eventually they were all around me, asking me to sign their book and asking all sorts of questions.

Miguel came home in the afternoon and took me and his son about 5 miles east of town out to the hot springs. The pool was in a building, but it was very primitive. The bottom of the pool muddy and the water was very dirty - just the way I like it. We spent about 3 hours playing in the 95 degree water and enjoyed the showers which were also fed from the hot springs. All this for about 50 cents! In Chile, they would have groomed the springs into some glossy resort and charged you more than $5.00. This hot spring was much more enjoyable and the price far more acceptable.

Although they owned very little, they did happen to have a TV, VCR and a collection of videos. Because they owned a restaurant and Miguel drove a truck, their income was above normal, but they still had few other possessions. That night, we settled in to watch "Mehors Impossible" = "Better is impossible", better known in North America as "As Good As It Gets". I remember the movie so well because I had developed severe, painful abdominal cramps for the first time since Ushuaia. Once again, I didn't think much of it because by the morning I was fine again.

With the bright morning sun, I packed up my gear, said my good-byes and cycled northward, into the wind towards La Paz. It's about 140 miles to La Paz and I managed to make it in two days, accompanied by the majestic jagged snowcapped Mount Illimani standing tall at 6300 meters (21000 feet). Of course the highlight was the much anticipated 1500 foot drop into the city. Descending into the city, I was actually riding in the fast lane of the 4-lane divided highway at about 40 MPH, passing cars making them wonder whether they were hallucinating. As you come into LaPaz, you're on the rim of a natural bowl looking down into a beautiful city which drops 1500 feet into the bowl. The houses are built all the way up the side of the bowl and the center is filled with tall sky scrapers.

Near the beginning of the trip, on the train from Santa Cruz to the Brazilian border, I had met a fellow named Marco who told Stuart that "Rober" had taken his jacket in the night. He lived in LaPaz, and when I called him up, I told him it was "Rober" and he was most excited to hear from me. He told me to meet him in a park and he picked me up there and took me to his house. Since he was Muslim, he had a little mosque in his house, with a carpet pointing east toward Mecca and his wife was covered in the traditional Muslim gear. The decor was very similar to houses in Saudi Arabia.

Marco was a plumber which I found odd in a country where so few have running water, but here in LaPaz there is a large affluent crowd, and most of the buildings in the city do have a need for his services. Marco set me up to sleep on the floor in the mosque in his house, meaning I slept on the floor, there was no furniture just a carpet, and a few decorative items for the room was used solely for praying, which Muslims do five times a day. In the morning they woke me at sunrise for the morning prayer, followed by breakfast of biscuits and tea. Marco spoke Arabic, Portuguese ( for his wife was from Brazil ) Spanish and English, but the prayers were done in Arabic, Marco left for work about 7:30, I had to leave with him, for he says its against the religion for me to be in his house with his wife if he is not at home. Marco drove to work and I set out on foot to explore the city.

In the market my first stop I found fresh juices for 20 cents a glass. Through- out the day I sampled them all. Papaya, guava, apricot, apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, strawberry and cream, and many other combinations you could even have some mixed with the aloe vera plant. Only women worked the booths where they would compete for your business by shouting or waving for you to come to them. They all had modern juicers and blenders and heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables. The market is also the best value for meals, lunch ( almureso) and dinner (cena) complete with soup, entree, beverage and sometimes dessert, for 60 cents. The usual price throughout the country has been about a dollar. That afternoon I took in a film in Spanish at the main theater. Most of the Hollywood films are in English with Spanish subtitles and cost a dollar but I wanted to see one in Spanish. Frustrating for I couldn't understand one word that was said. I also find it impossible to understand Spanish on the phone, but face to face is spoken slowly I can get by. I find watching a film with subtitles very helpful, especially now have about 500 words in my vocabulary.

After the film I figured I better visit the American express office to collect my mail before they close. The mail is set up like it is for teachers just a row of shelves with a letter under each one, my mail was naturally in L. Because of this set up other people can see if you have mail, and my friend Cara who I rode horse back with in Los Antigos Argentina, wrote a note on one of my envelopes, "it's me Cara from Argentina, I live here in LaPaz give me a call " and left her number. what a pleasant surprise! So I called her and we met at an English pub full of people who spoke English some from Europe some from north America who were living and working in LaPaz. Most either taught English or worked for government. People I talked to enjoyed living here and all the freedoms this country offers. Personally I like the idea of no insurance, no lawsuits, and few laws to worry about. Do what ya like but watch out for yourself. If I want to hang my whole body out of a fast moving train as it goes around a curve, I should be allowed to. If I get hurt well that's my business. In the states try that on Amtrack and see what happens. Oh well after one beer I had to go, business knows where money is, this pub is full of westerners so they charge the same prices as in the west, its hard to pay over 2 dollars for a beer when a complete dinner is only 60 cents.

That night I went back to Marco's place and he had 5 friends over all who were also Muslims, and they invited me to sit in on their evening prayer. They all kneel down facing towards Mecca and bow several times while talking individually in Arabic. I don't understand enough about the Muslim religion to comment on it, but I must say from my experience with people in the middle east, north Africa and the practicing Muslims I met elsewhere, that their commitment and dedication to their faith is highly honorable. I'm going to include a story from the Koran which is the Muslim bible. This only a paraphrase from an English translation that I read while I was in Algeria several years ago. So I apologize for any inaccuracies, but like me I'm sure you'll appreciate even a taste of this very foreign faith.


One man entered a garden it was unkempt and filthy rotten. He only noticed and occupied himself with the filthy things and it turned his stomach, and he left without being able to rest. His brother entered the same garden and acted according to the rule and only looked on the good side of things. He paid no attention to the rotting things. He received great benefit from the little good fruit he did find and had a good rest. Sometimes the situations in life that we find very difficult can be a servant under the ruler's command. All strange happenings are connected and everything is at the command of a hidden ruler. He is watching me and testing me at all times. He is constantly impelling me somewhere for some purpose. Observe all things regardless of how strange or unpleasant as a delightful lesson, pleasant fear and loving knowledge. Do you turn every negative unloving situation into a hellish DELUSION or a pleasant GARDEN? Good intention, good will, good character, and good thoughts allow you to receive great bounty and happiness. Good and evil always side by side. We always receive warnings to prevent us from slipping off into the sleep of heedlessness. Maintain tranquillity of heart. Are you a person of rebellion? The grave door opens into oblivion the other door offers escape from the hardships of life.

That's a paraphrase from the 8th word of the Koran

Do you notice some similarities to the Christian faith as well as all the other religions and new age ideas? In my opinion we should put more energy into encourage what we like instead of destroying what we don't like. Mother Teresa refused to march in a parade against the war, but would agree to march in a parade for peace. Worry about yourself instead of always pointing toward what someone else is doing. To criticize or judge will always bring turmoil into your life. If you think about it Judgment and Peace are opposite energies.

The next day I wandered down to the post office to post a few letters, and while I'm in line I hear a loud bellowing voice call out BOBSKI. Joery my friend from Holland who I cycled with in Chile is here . We had no plans to meet but fate has punished him with my company once again. We spent the day sharing stories of our trip since we parted. He took the route from San de Atacama into Bolivia where at times the road disappeared. He said several times that the road just stopped and he had to backtrack an hour to try another track, and the condition of the road was deplorable. He said and I quote " I earned my entrance into Bolivia". I missed his company, but did not regret taking the coastal route to Arica. When I told him of my adventure he indicated a desire to take a detour back that way. He told me also of his stay in the town of Potosi the historic mining capital of the world, a bit run down and bitterly cold at night. Sounds similar to Oruro except for the history, besides I've had enough of the cold and am ready to head down into the amazon jungle for a new flavor to the trip.

On June the 21st the first day of winter is also the native new year, to acknowledge a new beginning, and is celebrated in the nearby town of Tiawanaku. Joery went up the day before to camp and hang out, but I convinced my friends to go up the night before for the real celebration takes place at sunrise as the rays of the sun first crest above the horizon and shine through the stone arch at the site of the ancient ruins. None of us were too keen to camp up there for the night time temperature is in the 20s so we woke up at 4:30 and drove up to be there at 5:30 for the 6:30 sunrise. It was only 35 miles but there were patches of dense fog and some sections of bad road so it took us over an hour. It was bitterly cold and ice formed on the inside of the windows.

I guesstimate about 20,000 people were there, and loud cheers rose as the sun came up and the music started, all traditional Andean music with lots of dancing. Later at the lake, each tribe or group took turns marching by and performing their traditional dances all in complete costume and mask. Some looked quite scary others looked rather funny, but all took the event very seriously, and obviously put a lot of time into their costume and practising the intricate dance steps. Each person danced individually, in circles or figure eighties, with lots of high stepping and skipping. It was a very unusual experience but a very happy time. The television crew from LaPaz was there and they asked me several questions on camera, and said its OK to answer in English. My main comment was how nice it was to see tradition preserved and how serious everyone still took the event. There is no sign of commercialism or profitmaking here. Also there is no sign of materialism, or anyone trying to impress anyone else, everyone is equal and nobody really cares if your clothes match or whether your hair is sticking up or even it you showered this week. Just live and enjoy life. I think the Bolivian people have the highest form of self actualization which is to be independent of the good opinion of other people.

The event lasted all day but by evening it was time to return to LaPaz so unable to find my friends who probably left earlier, I decided to take a bus back. While waiting for the bus, demand was very high, I ran into Joery who had met a young lady from Spain, now living in LaPaz and the three of us returned together. This proved very fortunate for she knew exactly where to go to find a bus back to the city. It seemed every bus I saw was reserved for the natives and all their instruments and gear.

When we got back to Lapaz, Joery and his new love wanted to spend some time alone together so I went off to the Opera house where there was a special event from Europe, a string band from Vienna. It was sold out but as I've learned there is always one more seat. At 10 bucks to get in I talked my way into to standing room for a dollar, and at the first intermission found an empty seat. After a most refreshing 3 hour bath of classical music I drifted out of the theater as if on a cloud and into a cafe. I was just sitting and relishing the past 3 blissful hours and thinking how lucky I've been on this trip, when who walks in but Michael from El Cheltin, the guy whose birthday we celebrated with sparkling cider and cake with candles. We both have been traveling for 5 months since his party and now we meet up in LaPaz. Travelers are like magnets, drifting apart but always pulled back together again. Michael was returning to Chile to do some skiing in the Andes for it's winter now, then he will return home to Vancouver. I told him I'm off to the Bolivian Amazon tomorrow, then north to Peru and Ecuador. We shared stories and marveled on about south America until 2 in the morning.

In the morning, I said my good-byes to my Muslim friends and offered them my last bottle of olive oil, and a thousand thanks for their kindness and hospitality. Once again I was off towards new experiences. For me the best part of traveling is that I'm always going into something new, unfamiliar and often unexpected never really knowing what's around the next bend.

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