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October 09, 2011
To Bolivia, a land of extremes
Rich in resources, poor in wealth, extreme heat, extreme cold, super wet, brutally dry, the contrasts are striking in the country of Bolivia. But first we need to get there.
As we left Cafayate we travelled through areas of dry deserted mountains. The Argentinean drivers got progressively worse as we headed North towards Bolivia, I’m unsure the reason but it was reminiscent of the Chileans entering Argentina. The fuel continued to be a problem throughout the route but in general it was an easy and enjoyable ride. Dry and clear the route would wind through mountains of rock and dust. The mountains were often multi-coloured going from grey to deep red in layers displayed by the many millennia of erosion.
We stopped at what looked like a tourist trap where people were walking in to see the ‘The Devil’s Throat’ a gorge of sorts likely caused by water erosion since there was enough foliage there to suggest water in an otherwise desolate place. We snapped our photo and continued on, the road being more enjoyable than more rocks, not that, that’s not enjoyable for some. Some people might think I’m a cynic when it comes to nature making different shapes in the environment but I’m just not overly impressed. What impresses me is the cause and effect not the outcome so much. What the implication of a formation has is of interest; in general all of nature is impressive to me, not just some natural occurrence over millions of years. You’ll get the idea when I talk about what we found in the Salar de Uyuni.
After buzzing though the town of Germany (didn’t see any Germans) we were onto Route 9. It was a very narrow road, well travelled and what made it odd was the width. Great for a bike but not a tour bus, though there were a few. The road was winding through mountains of forest on very tight turns and one had to keep sharp for the traffic coming in both directions. Of course people tend to drive like they are on a race track even though they are missing lug nuts, have low tire pressure, shocks are spongy or their brake pads are done (evidenced by the loud squealing from the metal indicator).
As we rode we were flagged down by a guy on the side of the road not far from the picture of the narrow route. He was waiting near a vehicle and the area was fairly desolate. There was not a lot of traffic and as he flagged us down my mind started to scream, “Deya don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop!” But Deya stopped, so I had too as well. The guy said his wife had an accident and had gone to get help but the vehicle look fine with only a little damage on the front fender, certainly not more than the rest of the vehicles we’ve seen driving around. The guy came around to our rear and held onto the bikes and asked if we could spare some water, though it was not hot out and he wouldn’t have been in jeopardy. He was a bit nervous and was looking at us as though his opportunity had just arrived.
Deya said she could get some water and come back but we had to go because a large group of friends were waiting for us. Just then a car approached from the rear and another from the front and he stepped away from the bikes. I had my ‘exercise stick’ half way out of its sheath when we said good luck and started to drive away. The guy walked onto the shoulder and never tried to stop either of the cars to ask for help. We drove on totally sketched out. After that we were followed by strange cars, people were stopped in odd places looking around, the paranoia was thick. In reality the route was fine and there was nothing other than that freaked out feeling we both had. There were probably 100 subtle reasons why that scene was bad but really no evidence of anything wrong. Simply one of those times when you go with you gut, better safe than sorry. We stopped a few kilometres ahead and I reminded Deya that we don’t stop for anyone on the side of the road, period and she chastised herself for what she knew better. It sounds cold to leave someone hanging when maybe they are in trouble but really, if the locals aren’t stopping then a couple of unprepared tourists without knowledge of the area or resources are not the right people for the job.
We carried on to the next town where we found a campground and spent the night. It was a long night since Argentineans seem to stay up forever playing music, singing and generally enjoying the evening. About the time it got quite is when the herd of goats came through the grounds, eating whatever they could find, baaaaing and maaing and jingling their bells. I got up to take a crappy picture and Deya slept right through it, which was startling because it was like thunder and orchestrated chaos as the team, followed by barking dogs, moved slowly through. People were screaming at the animals to get out of their tents, there must have been a hundred of them, I laughed and thought it was awesome, the mess they made was confounding and the grounds’ staff looked pissed off the next morning.
We finally got to a town near the border of Bolivia, Yavi, it was an expensive place to stay with little resources. We stayed in a hostel made of cob which was about the only option for us. Deya cooked some pasta which had the effect of nearly bringing in the customers. “If she cooks dinner we’ll spend the night”, but no such luck for those folks though the staff did talk Deya into teaching them how to make Apple Crisp, mmm. Deya chatted up some important government officials for the area and got their info, just in case we needed a contact. They where touring the area to ensure proper use of government resources. The next day we headed for the Bolivian border early to start the processes…and the extortion.