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October 26, 2011
You all know how much it hurts when you walk blindly into a glass door; now imagine having your feet kicked out from under you and slamming into the unforgiving pavement. Add 250 kilograms to your back and multiply it by 20 kilometres per hour and you have yourself a show stopper.
I haven’t yet described the rest of our journey trough Peru but since this is a significant route adjustment I will talk about it now. After leaving our good friends in Asia we headed North bound for Huaraz. I never felt right about it and only rationalized the mountain journey because it was assured to be beautiful and the traffic would be much better than the standard retards on the Panamerican. The night previous to the incident Deya had an ominous dream; it was one of difficulty and changing of plans. The dream didn’t describe the events that would soon take place but it did describe, fairly well, the results. Here is the event….
The road from Huaraz to the coast is all paved; it’s beautiful and is all curves. The only shame are the drivers, they don’t understand what lanes are. So the technique we have come accustom to is to keep a slow pace and lay the horn on solid to warn anyone of our approach. This means where the speed limit is posted 30 kilometres per hour we are probably doing only 20-25 kilometres per hour. Lame I know but better safe than sorry.
As I round a corner there was a short level stretch before entering the next hairpin turn. I checked my six to make sure Deya was still behind me and then looked forward again. I saw a pack of dogs on the shoulder at my right. I applied the breaks slightly as the leader of the dog pack looked like he was going to run at me. By now I’m likely doing 25-30 kilometres per hour when the dog charged right in front of me with two cronies starting to flank the right side.
Now, what normally happens is that the dog charges out then chases the tyre until he’s tired. I slow to get him beside me then give him a run for his money but this time was different. The dog paced to my left with my swerve, as I adjusted right he turned to get in front again. The dog was determined to block me but I was confidant I could dodge him.
As I went right I suddenly felt a significant impact on the front wheel as it was lifted and jarred hard, like having your feet kicked from under you. The wheel hammered to the left and I thought in my mind that the throttle came right out of my hand. For a moment I figured I somehow hit the attacking dog but Deya later confirmed that it was the third dog in the line that bolted straight under my front wheel which forced the wheel fast and hard to the left. I was going slow enough that dog number three overtook me and dog number two, then cut left at full speed into the wheel, his miscalculation, I never saw him.
Before I would hear the painful cries of the dog I would feel the thunderous crack of my right wrist hitting the ground. The impact was so fast and hard I felt my bone chatter as shockwave was sent straight up my arm to my spine. Immediately I thought my arm was likely broken.
The next sensation was the screaming of the dog I just hit as my left shoulder rolled into the road with crippling impact. The road heaved with such strength but without speed, until I felt my shoulder tearing away from those bones and ligaments that hold it in place. The weight was unbearable and I felt like I was ten times my normal body weight as I was forced into the roadway. The pain was numbingly intense and it was then that I wondered if this roller coaster of a train wreck would end, and wanted nothing more at that moment than to have my body come to a rest, but it didn’t.
Next I felt the crush of weight and the cruelty of torture in my right foot. Something was tearing at and crippling my foot as the foot and right leg became hyper extended. It seemed like an eternity as my leg was stretched and twisted and I was convinced it would come apart at any moment. It went on for an age until I was released from its grip and rolled to a stop.
I ended on my left side, the dog still screaming, my engine still running close to me and searing pain running in courses through my body. I was lying on my newly separated shoulder and felt like puking as I struggled to identify if my leg was still attached. I tried to move and was met with a howl from my core, the cry was half suffering and half rage. I managed to put my legs together to feel that my foot and knee were still pointing in the same direction as my good left leg. The right foot and knee were still in one piece though I was surprised by this and so tried to roll off my left shoulder and onto my back. I was met again by another agonizing howl as I fought to find a position without so much pain, I could not.
Just then Deya arrived, I told her to turn off the bike and to come back immediately. I felt the bike nearby me and the thought that gasoline might ignite meant Deya needed to make the scene safe. If there was a fire I knew that I would not be able to rescue myself. Deya left, I heard the engine stop and Deya screaming about the dogs, really she was laying a rather vicious curse on the family of the property where the dogs emerged from. The curse had enough impact to send the women screaming off in fear. I heard Deya say she was going to pick up the bike then come back.
Moments past and I studied my situation; I was still on my side and accepted that this would be a painful journey since I was apparently helpless and unable to force myself to move. Deya returned and another person was with her, the guy tried to lift me and I shouted to stop. Despite my ridiculously painful position I hadn’t yet determined if there was any neck or spinal damages and so I told Deya to make sure no one moves me. I began to describe different areas that I was sure were damaged. Eventually I had Deya roll me off my shoulder and onto my back without any twisting; it was infinitely more comfortable.
As a rather large crowd gathered I assessed my wounds. I could feel my right wrist, powerless and swollen from the anterior side of the caporals down to the whole wrist. It looked bad but felt worst, a good sign in general. The left shoulder was screaming at me and my arm was useless as I wondered how an 8-10 year old native kid and his parents thought it was okay to repeatedly kick me in the right leg. I asked Deya to tell him to stop and his mom slapped him away but not before at least two more short kicks.
I spelled out my injuries and had Deya search for more, removing my right boot, helmet and riding jacket; half of my fears were that the medics might cut them off. Sitting up to take the jacket off was a horrible and epic effort, especially at 3200 metres of altitude. The right knee, to my surprise and pleasure, was functional and likely only had some tearing of muscle or ligament. My right foot was bleeding at the heel from the crush it suffered earlier, despite that wound there was no damage to my boots; I can’t imagine what would have happened had I not had a heavy riding boot on.
The crowd of locals that circled around were now leaving but three ladies from town had stayed to call the police and protect me from the sun. It would be a while before the police showed up. They would then load me into the truck for the long, winding and painful road back to town and the clinic where I would spend the next few days in. I’ll explain how the medical services work here in Peru later. The police were very helpful and the tallest officer with the most experience riding took my bike back to town, followed by Deya. It only took a couple of turns to realize that the fellow has no idea how to ride.
Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for the help but one common theme here in Latin America is that everyone thinks they know how to ride because they can get on and make it move. And while people drive around as well as a trained monkey, the claim of driving knowledge is fiercely overstated. I appreciated the effort none the less.
I’m now sitting in a hospital bed typing with a disconnected left shoulder, a right arm in a cast from a break, IV drip running, a right leg that doesn’t like my weight and a bloody right foot. All is good but for the logistics of how we are going to proceed. It may be a month before I can hold a coffee cup.
The one thing I know for sure is that Deya is no princess and is the real musketeer of this story; she is also getting good at picking up the broken pieces of Brian when disaster hits. We now just need a duffle bag. Thank you Deya, you handled this like a champ!
October 10, 2011
We got to the border, of course the first thing to do is check out of Argentina, Immigration then Customs. This was straight forward but the next step is usually where things get dicey. For Bolivia you have to go to Customs first, this isn’t usual, then to Immigration. While Deya was clearing us out of Argentina I met a super cool couple touring around in a totally cool car. They were planning a world trip in the car next year and were just doing several months shake-out around South America. The couple arrived after us and left three hours earlier.
The folks from Argentina didn’t have Bolivian insurance, like us, and so instead of playing the game of ‘sorry you have to turn around and go back’, they paid 50 bucks and were through in minutes. Of course this set a bad precedence that was going to cost us several hours. We had to wait, and wait, and wait while the customs agent hummed a hawed about what could be done. He explained that we had to have international insurance for Bolivia; we explained that no one will sell us valid insurance for Bolivia. He said we can go back into Argentina and buy the insurance (even though it’s not valid) but he might not accept it. Deya asked what insurance he would accept and the agent told her any but he might not accept it when we got back. This went on and on.
Deya pressed and the guy was now at the point he was willing to ask for something but in the office was a customs broker who had recently reported him fore extortion. He kept looking at her and saying, “Hmmm, I wonder what to do, hmmm, what to do, what to do.” Then finally told us to go outside and wait. We went outside and stood by the bikes, I know what was coming and we did our best to capture it on video. The agent emerged and was casual just hanging out and talking to people before sauntering over to us and standing there looking into the distance.
The agent started to speak, “What should we do, let me think, let me think….hmmm, so do you use Euros in your country?” To which Deya replied “No, we use Canadian dollars”. The agent replies softly so the bystanders don’t hear, “Oh good because I collect Canadian money, do you have any?” Deya replies, “Yes.” To which the agent asked how much. And Deya replied that she only had pennies. The Agent says, “Oh well I can’t do anything with that.” Deya said, “So are you saying that we’ll have to back to Argentina and Chile to get to Peru?” And the agent replied, “Yes you’ll have to.” Deya snapped.
The road from the border almost all the way to Potosi was paved, the problem was it was blocked for construction. We had to ride dirt most of the way and it was very rutty. I had a bit of fun ploughing with our heavy bikes over some banks to get to the road and back, Deya just laughed and we should have recorded the bikes going airborne. It is probably the hardest we’ve been on the bikes since we started, good times.
We arrived in a little town called Tupiza and found a place called Hotel Mitru. About 14 dollars a night for the two of us, it included Wi-Fi, a substantial breakfast, swimming pool and an easy walk to everything. We could have stayed there for a week, very relaxing and a lot of interesting tourists coming and going. The town was nice and you could get pretty much anything you need except dinner. I know, it makes no sense but dinner isn’t really their thing in this town. Despite this it was great. It turns out we could get a tour from here for the same price as if we went to Potosi. We had decided not to take the bikes onto the Salar (Salt Flats) for a number of reasons as you might imagine. Since the tour from Tupiza was actually closer than Potosi and we were loving the accommodations and secure parking, we decided to take a tour from there by Jeep.
The tour would take us along rough dirt roads and river beds, we would traverse sandy sections and water filled with garbage, past many mines, small villages and prayer sites.
The mines are everywhere and they are primitive. Most things are done manually and the work is brutal, the wage is good for the area and a person can make from 12-35 dollars a day, wow! Lead, Zinc, Silver, Gold and some other minerals are extracted with the crudest of technology, often humped on someone’s back and carried up a hill that would kill most of us in the 3800 metres plus elevation. We are talking tonnes per day.
We crossed a river bed before stopping at what seemed to be the middle of nowhere and checked out the prayer sight for a Saint “Señor San Cristobal”, saint of the drivers. Our guide got out to give an offering of Coca leaves. It’s common to give an offering to this saint too so that one can be blessed with a successful and safe trip. The most common offerings here are beer, smokes and coca leaves. So the sight itself was a disaster of empty beer cans, chewed coca and half smoked cigarettes. Pretty much you can count on drunk or stoned drivers bashing around the back roads without much concern for others’ safety because they’ll be safe, God willing. Brutal, but this is their gig not mine and common sense plays no role here.
Did you say Coca leaves? So they produced a bag and started to consume and of course offered me some. Let me tell you why people here chew coca:
First off the UN and member countries have banned Coca production because of the huge demand in European and North American counties for Cocaine. The Bolivian government stepped up and changed the rules in their country saying, “Coca Yes, Cocaine NO!” and legalized and regulated the production for domestic use. They kicked out the USA DEA and have very little problems now. The concept is, stop demand and the supply of cocaine goes away. The USA being one of the largest demand customers, hence the Mexican problems with drugs and people trafficking, but all those people who buy narcotics are to blame.
I for one was scared of the leaf but when you have altitude sickness it makes you rethink your fears. Coca leaf is supposed to wake you up a bit, reduce feeling of cold or hot, make breathing easier and significantly reduce the effects of altitude. No wonder everyone here chews the stuff. It’s also not addictive, yet there are some people who can’t stop chewing it. Despite that observation there is no ‘High’ or special feelings or superpowers.
Okay, so having shortness of breath, a pounding headache and nausea I decided to give it a try. You have to remember that when we ask people in South America about coca leaves and if they are a nasty drug they look at you like you are a total retard or they just laugh. It’s kind of like asking the Chinese waiter in your favourite restaurant if the green tea is going to make you into a crack whore, totally stupid. So with overwhelming tranquillity, casual use and acceptance regarding the product and with no haggard crack junkies in sight trying to ram a leaf into their veins I gave it a go.
Wow, total non event. The wad taste like old lawn trimming so they add a catalyzer made out of the ash of quinoa tree and sodium bicarbonate (like you use in cakes and bread). The quinoa, if you’ve never heard of it, is a fancy grain that vegans usually pay a high price for because it is awesome. It’s kind of like rice but loaded with proteins and such. The taste of this catalyzer was minty and cool, it made the wad of coca very enjoyable and I could totally chew on the stuff all day if I wanted to, like having a fresh chewy candy in your mouth; I though the combination was really nice but what I was waiting for was the super powers. I finished the wad and had a very slight numb sensation in my cheek, very slight, I had to focus to notice it. No super powers emerged, it was cold out and I was cold, the sun was shining through the jeep window and I was uncomfortably hot, I still suffered from the headache and now I felt like I was going to puke lawn trimming and a minty fresh flavour (which I looked forward to).
The truth is a strong coffee has more kick but is too expensive here, it’s also more addictive in my opinion. I occasionally suffer from coffee addiction both mental and physical. After a long bought of coffee consumption, usually work related, a short stop produces a headache for a day or so; this is physical addiction and many of you know this well enough. The wish to sit quietly with an extra hot cup of coffee in hand and stare blankly into space absorbing the flavours, smells and heat from the cup is a psychological addiction. It’s reassuring and comforting and my mind wishes for it. But yet I haven’t seen any coca junkies. I think I agree with the low threat level of this product and would firmly agree that dealing with the demand problem is the solution. After all if we soaked coffee beans in gasoline (how they make cocaine) and added a bunch of other brutal refinement processes and people were stupid enough to fry their worthless brains on it, would it be fair to all the families who live off coffee plantations, work in Starbucks, Tim’s and all the people who enjoy a morning brew to criminalize the coffee plant? Stupid, hopefully we figure this complicated problem out one day.
So after the coca craze we stopped for a lunch and discovered something totally cool, poop piles! So these crazy looking Llamas don’t just taste good and have nice fuzzy fur but they are brilliant beasts that make their own piles of poop. Two to three times per day they will come running over the hill to find their own poop pile and take a dump.
The young ones don’t do it because they haven’t learned or don’t need to, may be a territory thing. Either way the piles of poop can be easily harvested to burn in the ovens to make bread taste better (hahahah) or turned into the soil for fertilizer. I was super impressed with this and it was probably the best discovery of the tour.
We ended the day in a salt hotel, everything but the hole you squat into to take a dump was made of salt. It’s interesting but I though pretty over rated, take me back to Tupiza please! The following day we went into the Salar, visited an island with a hotel and restaurant, saw some salty water holes (Eyes of the Salar) and took some typical pictures. It was a good tour and I’m glad we never took the bikes, too much work and risk. On the bikes we would have had to stay in the nearby town of Uyuni and it’s a total dump, literally it’s covered in garbage to the point that the population talks about the desert flowers (small shrubs adorned with garbage bags blowing in the wind).
There is a cemetery of old steam trains that could be cool but isn’t and we spent a little time learning some native language. The guides are good but tend to drink and drive.
After leaving Tupiza we headed towards Potosi, the road was still messy and we encountered a new problem. Previously we had to pay more than double for gas, due to the government subsidizing the national fuel reserve. This was okay since double is only about $1.38 CND for us and I understand, though the system is kind of stupid. The government wants to be able to make all us capitalist dogs pay for fuel in Bolivia at the price we would pay at home but only some of the stations have the proper receipts to make the transaction. So when we were nearly out of gas and stopped to find out that we could not by gas from anyone but this well hidden gas station in a mysterious section of town it was kind of annoying. The process, with two receipts, names and ID numbers takes a while and is very cumbersome. The loss of productivity for the staff and the long line ups created doesn’t help this country but I surmise the ones who thought this one up can’t think that deep. Not to be insulting but it’s a crazy thing to see.
We only spent the evening in Potosi, the third highest city in the world (4100 metres), but we scored Silver in food and people, literally! We had a fantastic dinner of llama that let us know what the beast was all about and met some super people while we looked for accommodations. The city is very nice and my only regret was not to be able to spend more time there and with the family that had us over for coffee. Brilliant people and super nice; they gave Deya a lump of unprocessed silver from the local mine as a reminder of our visit.
We spent the next night in Oruro, it was a dump.
Going around La Paz was the right thing to do, total chaos. We arrived to Copacabana which sits at the shores of Lake Titicaca. I know its funny but it’s a real lake, it happens to be the largest high altitude lake in the world at about 3808 metres. We took a ferry across the lake to get to Copacabana and it was only slightly better that the one we took in Guatemala. The ride from the ferry to Copacabana was stunning with near perfect roads and beautiful vistas. Once in town we found a place and attracted a lot of attention from tourists, this is typical and very enjoyable to have some conversation from the northern hemisphere. Our luck was good as we found a good place at a reasonable price with safe parking and Wi-Fi plus met two Vancouverites! Roger and Nicole, thanks for dinner and best wishes on your trip, it was a pleasure to meet you and you left me with that feeling of being around family and friends; maybe it was the proper use of ‘eh!’ that got me.
Next stop Peru, but they don’t sell insurance at this border, shit.