Table of Contents    |    Chapter Seventeen    |  |    Chapter Nineteen

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

"Those things that hurt, instruct."

Chapter Eighteen

Sorata and Lake Titicaca

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My hotel room for $ 1.75 a night has a balcony over looking the center square called the plaza de armas, and to the left the beautiful mount Illampu at 6400 meters or about 21000 feet. This majestic glistening white glacier looks down on the town with all the pride and nobility of lion gazing upon his mate and her freshly delivered cubs. This city has one of most beautiful settings in South America, built on a hill, with the snow capped Andes behind and a long river valley leading down into the Amazon below. The streets are cobbled, with people selling fresh juices and ice cream and tons of great munchies. The buildings are old colonial architecture with a slightly weathered facade which only adds to the city's character.

I spent the afternoon wandering the back streets, sampling the fine fresh juices and trying to strike up conversations with the ever so shy and elusive native people. I talked to one lady with the traditional weathered face, bowler hat, colorful skirt and customary large butt. She said they tend not to trust the non-natives, because they take as they wish, and force "progress" upon us. We don't hate anyone, we just want to be left alone. She had much more to say but my limited Spanish did not allow for translation.

I also talked to several serious climbers, 2 from France and 2 from Switzerland who came here for the sole purpose of climbing Illampu. They said depending on the route they take it could be a very difficult climb, with hundreds of feet of vertical ice along with some dangerous cervices. The weather is the real issue for one does not want to be trapped up there for long. After listening to some of their stories from previous climbs, I just smiled and said we all have our own way of getting our daily dose of Prozac!

I had a home-made ice-cream for 20 cents and another glass of fresh carrot juice as I worked my way back to the hotel. I figured a 2 hour nap would be most desirable before popping out for dinner. Because of the proximity to the river its possible to have a fresh fish dinner, fries, soup and bread for about a dollar. Trucha frita (fried trout) is deep fried whole then cut in half and served - head tail and all.

Traveling in Bolivia it can be difficult to avoid having a bad tummy. All the dishes and silverware are just dipped in a bucket of tap water. The juices are often diluted with tap water and we shower with it. For the most part after being here for a few weeks the stomach adjusts. In the United States the water is safe to drink but often filled with chlorine and other chemicals. Its hard to believe that we can visit other planets, build nuclear weapons, and make computers talk to us but can't provide healthy clean safe drinking water for everyone. Any intelligent person could see that this should be the first and foremost objective.

After a third night's rest, I still was still feeling less than perky but determined to press on. The road out of Sorata was stunning to say the least, as it rose up across the far valley with green below, snow capped peaks above. The trend of distances looking small on the map continued, but in reality they end up being very far. The road remained unpaved but in much better condition and now with the added benefit of many passing buses. Although buses and trucks passed only about one every 20 minutes, it seemed like rush hour when compared to only one in five days. The road climbed steadily back up to the altiplano where it was cold, blustery and bleak. The positive side is there is lots of sunshine and Lake Titicaca is in view. It is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3800 meters (12,600 feet) and is approximately 100 miles long, 30 miles wide and remarkably clean and clear. The water temperature was about the same as the air temperature, roughly 60 degrees. It took me 2 long days to cover the 80 miles back on to the main paved highway and another full day to make it over the rolling hills and down to the ferry at Tiquina. The short 10 minute ferry hop (the main route for tourists coming from LaPaz 100 miles southeast of here) takes you to the access road to Copacabana, the popular tourist Mecca on Lake Titicaca, not to be confused with the one in Brazil.

Arriving in the late afternoon I went down to the beach to watch a glorious sunset into the lake. The lake is so vast I have the same feeling as watching the sun set into the pacific ocean. It's hard to comprehend the fact that I'm two an a half miles above sea level. Titicaca, I don't know the origin of that name but for some reason I really like saying it, Titicaca.

I'm sitting here on the beach thinking how lucky I am to be living such a lifestyle. I think a lot the energy needed to do a trip like this and to keep going month after month comes from being totally present in what is happening right now. No energy is wasted on fear worry or regret. Energy and adrenaline seem to feed on themselves. The human body can create just about every chemical in the pharmacy, in the right amounts and at the right time. Unfortunately it can also create toxins and poisons. I think the only difference is where we focus our attention.

We all have something that we are really good at and love to do, and when we are doing it time just flies by, why don't we spend more time doing these things? I believe that almost all fear, jealously, envy, boredom and even depression comes from not valuing ourselves. I think that's why we should spend more time doing things that make us feel good about ourselves. When I'm traveling and learning about different places in the world, I feel like a million bucks. Personally I believe that one of the most important things in life is to always be moving toward a goal. A daily, long term personal objective that when achieved will yield a sense satisfaction and accomplishment. Could this be the answer to depression? Life is too short to be down on our own little insecurities. If you don't like something about yourself isn't that kinda like saying god made a mistake when he made me this way? I think it can be pretty dangerous in more ways than one not to like yourself!

After the sunset I walked my bike back through the town of Copacabana. The town was in the process of putting in sewer pipes everywhere consequently it looked like a war zone. All the labor was done by hand, and they left piles of debris and dirt everywhere making some of the streets barely impassable by foot. On the way through town I met a guy from Mexico who was cycling back home form Buenos Aires. He too was trying to negotiate the minefield of surprises, twice almost falling into the pit. I told them I never thought I would find a road that was impassable even to a mountain bike. Arturo was as loaded down as I was and traveling with his friend from Argentina. The 3 of us walked together looking for a hotel room, preferably one without a huge cavern in front of it.

About 2 dollars was the common price and that was per person not per room so we each got our own room. The 3 of us crowded into Arturo's room to cook up a lentil rice curry and a pot of tea. After 30 minutes of cooking, his room was like a sauna. Arturo suggested that tomorrow night we would cook in my room as he wiped the sweat from his brow. In the morning his friend had to go to LaPaz by bus to buy a new wheel. His was kaput from going too fast down a steep rocky road while fully loaded. Arturo and I spent the day sharing stories and watching Brazil beat Holland in the world cup finals. There were people in the bar watching with us who were from Brazil, actually crying when they won. It's hard for me to imagine getting so emotional about a game, but to the rest of the world soccer is life!

When we got back to the hotel two British guys had checked into the room next to mine. Andy was traveling with his friend Steve who was handicapped and suffered from frequent seizures. Because of a birth defect Steve had a very difficult time walking or speaking or using his hands. I told Andy how honorable it was that he was taking such good care of Steve and helping him see the world. They have been traveling for 3 months with many trials and tribulations and have one more month to go. The following day in a restaurant Steve had one of his seizures, where he could hardly breathe, shook violently and his skin turned completely white. It lasted about 10 minutes, while everyone just stared. Andy brought him a glass of water and held him till he settled down. Much to the surprise of everyone in the place, Steve lit up a cigarette as soon as he recovered from his seizure. Andy said there is nothing he could do about the smoking. He seems to think it calms him down. He did look a lot better after the cigarette but I can't imagine it being medicinal. He also told me he usually weathers the seizures OK, but the biggest fear is if he had one on a stuffy, crowded bus or out on hike away from facilities. Luckily so far there were no real problems. It takes a lot of patience and dedication to take on such a responsibility, hats off to you Andy.

The next day I started off cycling towards Peru. Arturo decided to stay behind to wait for his friend to get back from LaPaz (which was only an hour away by bus). We agreed to leave messages at the post offices in the upcoming villages until we met up again. I got about 100 yards down the road when a loud explosion occurred. My front tire had blown up. This was long overdue because about 2 weeks ago a rock had wedged between the tire and the brake leaving a weak spot on the tire. Much to my dismay it was not possible to buy a new tire in this town. I went to a tire repair shop and asked the guy to try to repair this tire, at least well enough to get me to the next town where I can purchase a new one. There was a hole about 4 inches across in the inner tube and a two inch tear in the tire. The man managed to make a patch for both and in about an hour, he had managed to patch and inflate the tire so that it was almost as good as new. All this for only $1.00 and I was off on the road again.

I was somewhat humbled while saying goodbye to my friends for the second time. When I got back to the spot where the tire blew, I had to stop and verify that it was still holding out. A couple squeezes of the tire with the thumb and forefinger and I was satisfied. I took a deep breath, then cycled past the taboo point, let out a sigh of relief and continued on towards the Peruvian boarder.

If you ever need to cross a South American border in a hurry cross during a world cup finals soccer game. When I got to the Bolivian customs post, to get my exit stamp, the three officials had their noses glued to the television watching the game. I knocked but there was no response so I just walked in and put my passport on the desk. When there was a break in the game, one of the guards quickly grabbed it, opened it, stamped it and sent me on my way without any questions.

At the Peruvian customs post, I found that they had gone so far as to bolt the door shut for their lunch break. I waited in the main office and watched the game until they came out and stamped my passport. I ended up staying and chatting with them while we watched the end of the game. It seemed that most people were cheering for France because they were tired of seeing Brazil always win it. By this time, it was getting late in the day so I started off, and as I went down the hill into Peru the street magically turned into beautiful pavement. I felt like I had landed in the magical land of Oz! I was a little bit nervous about the delicate nature of my tires and I went down the hill very slowly into the town of Yunguyo.

I had to find a replacement tire, so I went into the market to shop for a tire. The only type I could find were fat knobby tires 26"x2.10" where I preferred to have 1.5". They were too fat and would be slower, but anything was better than what I had. The tire was so fat that it was rubbing on the front rack and I was eager to try to wear it down so I decided to amuse the crowds with my Cirque De Soleil circus act impression. With the front rack fully loaded, I took the bike over to some rough pavement, leaned it over at a 45 degree angle and started dragging the bike around on the pavement in a circular fashion. I did this five minutes at a time, several times a day for the next several days, and much to my delight, it was finally worn down to fit.

After I made the repair, I checked into a hotel and exchanged some money for soles. As always, I was in a room on the second floor and had the added thrill of hauling my bike and all my gear up the stairs to my room. After I'd unpacked my gear and settled in, I went strolling out into the streets to feast on a meal that cost the equivalent of 75 cents and included soup, chicken and a hot cup of tea. Although it was early July and I was in the tropics, it was the middle of winter and the temperature dipped below freezing every night creating a completely surreal experience for me. Everyone was bundled up and huddled into doorways trying to keep warm. It was also the dry season which guarantees sunny days and clear nights.

The maximum temperature during the day was about 60F so it was relatively pleasant and you could get by with a light jacket. The Peruvian people were definitely different from Bolivians or the Chileans. People were still curious and inquisitive but they weren't insisting that you stay in their homes or bubbling over with hospitality. It was strange to see such a shift in culture, but they were still very polite and friendly and I felt no sense of threat or danger. Any time I stopped my bike when I was in a town, it was like I was the ice cream man because everyone would come running towards me and within minutes, I'd be surrounded by at least 50 people.

I cycled about 40 miles out of town on the glorious paved road, taking in the vistas of the lake along the west side. I made it to the town of Llave and checked into a hotel. The next day I went another 25 miles into the town of Puno on the northern tip of Lake Titicaca and as I was strolling through the streets, I happened to bump into Arturo. It turns out that Arturo and his friend were also staying in the same town the night before and we had missed each other completely. To earn some extra cash, they were busking as statues and they planned to spend the morning working in the town square. Arturo was dressed completely in Blue and his friend was dressed in Red and they would stand frozen until someone would toss coins into their collection tin. When the money would drop, they would move like mechanical robots to acknowledge the person and then freeze again. I was amazed to hear that they were able to make about $8.00 an hour in a country where people were making about $6.00 a day.

I went back to my room to have a nap for a few hours since I still feeling very tired and very low on energy even after a good night's rest. I slept soundly for 2 hours, packed up and went back to where my friends were doing the statues. But they had gone, even checked the hotel, the owner said they asked if I had left and he said he thought that I had. Swell. I'm sad to say that even though we were cycling on the same and only road in the same direction, we never saw each other again. So it goes sometimes.

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