The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"Those things that hurt, instruct."
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
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
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
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.