Some of you might have come to expect a certain formula from your favourite bloggers over here at Livedeleven.com. Sure we party, get up to some antics, omit some details, drive some beautiful roads, and meet a ton of locals with stories to tell. In some ways this blog post is no different, however as we sit here staring at the ceiling of our hospedaje, bruised and battered I still get the feeling that this chapter is different in someway…somehow.
We start this story however, in a familiar place. Not because we had ever been to Cusco before, but the thick atmosphere of Loki Hostel (one of many “party” hostels in Cusco) rings ever close to our hearts. As you’ve read from Thomas’ Peruvian Tales, the road to Cusco was rough and partying was a top priority for us.
Here at Loki, you are pretty much separated from the dangerous culture and beauty Cusco has to offer. A bar that runs almost non-stop, nightly games and activities (mostly revolving around drinking) and a cheap-ish restaurant that serves Western and Latin dishes from 6am to 12am.
The road to Cusco
Here we would meet a bunch of awesome people that luckily enough we would end up running into again later on down the road. Two of which are Joe and Eeva, whom we had befriended at the hostel but bonded mostly at an interesting bar located on top of a t-shirt shop. We decided a bike adventure was in order at this point and we soon found ourselves riding with some passengers around the foothills of Cusco, visiting salt mines, seeing llamas, and having a generally good time.
At the salt mines, yes we licked the ground
Shitloads of salt
In a way we became a bit “stuck” in Cusco, and the club I most hated (Temple) I ended up going about five times in a row. “No way am I going to Temple tonight” I found myself saying on a nightly basis, before flashing forward two hours and finding myself standing right in the middle of a crowd of fellow gringos spending another night stuck in the trap.
Eventually though, after we “repaired” Thomas’ bike issue of leaking fork oil (by getting a guy to make a part that would fit the part we lost and adding more oil) we made our way onwards and upwards.
From here, Thomas and I broke off briefly. I had heard that a friend of mine was in Pisac, which was quite close to Cusco however in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go so we decided to ride separately for a while, with plans to meet up in La Paz, Bolivia.
As usual, a crowd gathers…
I rode solo to Pisac, which is a beautiful town about half an hour from Cusco in the “Sacred Valley” After having lunch with Jessica and chilling in a hostel where a one eyed Argentinian man with a mohawk was making a djembe, I decided it was time to leave. I rode a few hundred kilometers to a freezing cold town at an altitude somewhere in the 4500’s where I stayed for the night.
To my surprise, as I rode towards the Bolivian border I saw a familiar face riding in the OPPOSITE direction to Bolivia. My brain almost exploded at this confusion, he was meant to be a full days ride ahead and sitting in our hostel in La Paz smoking a cigarette.
Get a load of this guy
Turning around I started to chase him down, which proved to be no easy task at the altitude of Lake Titicaca with both of our bikes struggling to make 110km/hr and myself being nothing but a distant spec in his rear view mirror.
After a good 30kms of chasing I caught up, overtook him and signalled to stop. I stopped first, and Thomas unceremoniously crashed his bike next to me in the dirt, leaving it on the ground, jumping off and saying a big hello.
As it turned out, he had been pick pocketed the day before and only had a small amount of cash. He had lost the Peruvian immigration paper needed to cross the border to Bolivia and had fallen short of around 7 soles (2 euros) needed to bribe the immigration officer to let this slide. He was on his way back to civilisation to get to an ATM to get out more money when I ran in to him.
I had money though, so we proceeded to cross the border in to Bolivia and begin the toughest part of our trip so far.
We stayed in Copacabana and went on a boat ride to Isla del Sol (Means “The Isla of Sol” I think) which proved to be a BOATload of fun.
FUN FUN FUN
FUN FUN FUN
We walked around the isla, saw some sol and moved on to our main destination…La Paz.
Donkey on the Isla del Sol
To get to La Paz, we needed to board our bikes on a rickety boat and park on either side of a swaying truck.
Note how my bike is essentially UNDER the truck
Before I continue, let me state first that we had booked ourselves into The Wild Rover Hostel. There was also one of these in Cusco which we had been to briefly to check out the bar. There was also a Loki in La Paz. These are chain hostels notorious for parties.
Let me stall my impending continuation once again by explaining something else. If this sounds like a lot of gringo-and-not-so-cultural-travely-travelling then you are correct. No we did not go to Machu Picchu, no we did not do any hikes around Cusco. But travelling on a motorcycle you get your fair share of culture and off the beaten track moments so when arriving in a big city, we want to party.
And oh lord did we ever party.
Our first night we managed to find one of the most sought after pack animals in the wild…The Brit.
A Brit in his natural habitat
Some despise the “Brit Abroad” but here at livedeleven.com we consider them official friends. Rowdy as they may be, I’m not sure if I have ever laughed so hard at their antics. Genuine louts are sometimes hard to come by in this “18-year old just out of high school, backpacking to find yourself” or “just taking a break from work” crowd. With the former traveller, conversations are nice and pleasant but with a lout, anything can come and thats what makes it so awesome.
If you find yourself agreeing with what I am saying here, you might want to hold your nod of approval for a moment. The following is a list of SOME of the ludicrous acts this magical “group of five or so” got up to. All of this taking place in the hostel bar or the dorm room, over the course of two nights (after the second night they were all kicked out…the first people EVER kicked out of Wild Rover apparently).
Oh but it gets worse
Loud chants of the following drinking song: “There was a great big moose (crowd repeats) and he drank a lot of juice (repeat) and he drank it with glee (repeat) and he spilt it on his knee (crowd repeats and chant starter tips his beer over his knee” This song was sung by the entire group, as well as perhaps most enthusiastically by Thomas and I. Along with this, various other drinking songs, which I have since forgotten as well as English football chants about various clubs of which I have no idea what the names are.
Not so bad? Yeah, ok. Read on.
At one point during one of the songs, one of the brits started shaking the table with much zealous pride. The table had around 12 full and half drunken beers of which most fell off the table or spilt over their owners. This is not a way to make friends, especially if you just continue chanting and beating your chest like a baboon.
BRITS BRITS BRITS!!!
The same guy, later decided he had enough of the table entirely and decided to carry it on his shoulders around the bar, once again with the table full of beer. Bottles were smashed and many laughs were had.
Throwing up was a thing, one brit being egged on by his friends to down his beer for whatever reason, managing to make it all the way down before throwing it back up in the same glass.
This picture was enthusiastically shown to everyone at the hostel by one of the brits, very impressive…
Most threw up in the bar, others threw up in the dorm, others deciding the closest bin was the appropriate place.
Oh and they got naked. I won’t go into detail as to the various things they did with their body parts or which friends put what part in which orifice inside a packed hostel but I’ll let your imagination do the rest.
It gets worse, but I think I have said enough.
Now read back up saying how they are friends, yes FRIENDS of livedeleven.com. This is the craziness we want to see while travelling. This is the Wild Rover, where most of the employees are former clients working off their bar tab and are usually (bar the brits, or perhaps Thomas or myself) the drunkest people in the bar.
We thought Loki was a party hostel. Wild Rover La Paz, makes Loki look like a kindergarden.
But hey, La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and is a MASSIVE city a fact we learned when getting hopelessly lost in the outskirts when arriving on our first night. Luckily we ran into a group of about six fellow adventure riders who lead us there in convoy to the front door. A cool experience to say the least.
We had heard stories of “Crazy Dave” from our friend Joe-man in Cusco. From New York, Dave had been busted some 18 years ago flying from Bolivia to Miami with 8.5 kilos of cocaine, is currently on parole and can be found outside the San Pedro prison where he served his sentence where he gives tours in exchange for groceries or packets of cigarettes.
Of course we had to go check this out.
Sure enough, Dave was there and greeted us with a big smile. A small black dude, aged around 50 or so and covered in tattoos, he proceeded to walk us around the prison walls and explain to us some of the history of corruption, escapes, and the goings-on behind the prison where the book “Marching Powder” is set.
A picture of Guatemala, because we have none of La Paz
Cocaine is made inside the prison, and Dave’s job was to stamp on cocoa leaves for about an hour a day in exchange for a gram of coke. He thus developed a habit which is why, now on parole and able to fly back to New York in a year he does not accept cash for his tour but rather groceries which he can’t put up his nose.
He seemed quite wired when giving the tour, but I guess with a name like “Crazy [insert name]” you can get away with that sort of thing.
Here in La Paz we met back up with our friends from Cusco. Chaz and Z. Two English lassies who accompanied us on varying party and sightseeing adventures in and around La Paz. A highlight of which was a visit to the local market along with two other brits, Fiona and Alice where we found ourselves driving back in a taxi, Alice and Chaz in the boot of the car, Thomas and I wearing matching green turtleneck sweaters, and the taxi driver blaring his home-made CD of 80’s synth metal.
Yes, that happened.
We met other riders as well. Not just any riders either, like-minded riders. Chris and Mark rolled up on their beat up bikes (125cc or 150cc if I remember correctly) with their luggage strapped like a Christmas present wrapped at the last minute, Loving a party, we spent a few nights on the drink with them and exchanged riding stories like manly men who know what they are talking about.
More manly men…in Guatemala
Every night at the ‘Rover we’d tell ourselves we’d leave the next day but that never ended up happening. Well, until it did. We had made good friends with the bar tenders, the local pool sharks, security guards and pretty much everyone except the reception people who were not very pleased we had been sleeping in beds without actually extending our stay…oops.
From La Paz, we decided to do “Death Road”, the so-called “Most Dangerous Road in the World” where apparently 200-300 people die each year. It sounds scary, but when you see some fat dude wearing a “I Survived The Death Road” T-shirt at the Wild Rover your expectations drop quite a bit.
Still pretty steep
The road its self is best described by Chris when we asked him how the death road was “Death Road? More like Sweet Road!”. It is true that there are sheer cliff faces and many MANY blind corners on a one-lane road, HOWEVER you’d have to be rolling down death road on a wheelchair without any brakes to run any risk of death.
Easily driveable, and amazing
The road is not very narrow, it easily fits trucks. For motorcycles, you can easily ride without fear of falling, the only danger being oncoming traffic who don’t always slow down a huge amount and tend to blow a lot of dust in your face. For the most part, Death Road is beautiful. It was so nice actually that we rode it twice, downhill and uphill. We rode back through La Paz to make our way to Uyuni, the start of the Salt Flats.
The road to Uyuni
Let me take a pause here for a moment to remind anyone still reading from the beginning that I have not forgotten about my “this blog post is different” claim. To hint at a spoiler, it has to do with our Salt Flats adventure…and I don’t use the term “adventure” lightly here.
The ride from La Paz to Uyuni was rough. Very rough. A familiar sight in Western countries, the final 100 kilometer stretch to Uyuni is a huge “in construction” road that no-one has worked on for at least 6 months. For some reason, big patches of the road is sand that at some point reaches around 40cms in depth. Other parts is hard rocks and loose gravel, which gives both the bike and the body a battering.
After several hours of this onslaught, Thomas and I arrived safe and sound to Uyuni, where we proceeded to get in to several petty arguments with the owner of the hospedaje relating to the keeping of ID documents, the charging of money for services that should be free, and the lack of bed supplies in the dormitory. Not to bore you with the details, we were correct. Trust me.
A trustworthy individual and upstanding citizen
To our very pleasant surprise after storming out of the lodgement in search of a map for the Salt Flats (and surrounding national parks and other pretty things) we ran in to our good friends (and official friends of livedeleven.com) Chaz and Z who were sitting in a tour agency smoking cigarettes and using their plug to charge their phones.
A very big “How do you do, ladies” ensued and we decided the most pertinent course of action was to find a place to have a beer. After some wandering around in the cold we found the “Extreme Fun” bar in which we sat down and downed a beer.
The meeting however was brief with our homegirls needing to take a bus back to La Paz having already finished their Salt Flat tour. We went to bed and rested for what would turn out to be the greatest test for us so far.
It started simply enough with a realisation that we would never have enough gasoline to make it from Uyuni, across the salt flats, and a further 300 kilometers or so to the border with Chile. Our solution was simple: “Bah, we’ll find gas along the way anyway”. Further facts which made the task harder were that A) There are no signs or even roads to indicate the way, making our map pretty much useless. And B) There would be no civilisation at all.
But that didn’t scare us, not one bit. We are livedeleven.com gosh darn it, if we can create a website with monthly visits in the HUNDREDS then surely we can make it to Chile off road! So off we went.
The first part of our journey, surprisingly went exactly as planned. We were blown away by the absolute beauty of the Salt Flats and the sheer fun of driving in such wide open spaces. We even found time to get naked and drive our bikes with no hands, standing up. FUN!!!
Best Picture Ever.
We could drive as fast as we wanted, unfortunately at altitude we couldn’t do much more than 100.
Obligatory perspective shot
Our first stop was to check out Isla Incahuasi, which is a sort of an “island” in the middle of the salt flats. It apparently has some sort of Incan significance, although neither of us ever bothered to find out what that is exactly.
Don’t know why the Incas would bother to come to some salt flats, but it sure is pretty.
Here our plan was quite simple. The man at the tour place said we could find the Isla by ourselves (which we did) but it would be suicidal to try and find our own way to San Juan, which is the first stopping point and only town within a days ride from anything.
The plan here was to ask a tour guide if we could follow them to San Juan, after some searching we managed to find a group heading there. We had to way at the Isla for a while for them to finish up, but once that was done, we got ready for the cold and followed our new found guide.
Waiting for departure.
It was freezing cold while we waited, and we asked our guide how fast he usually drove. He said that he would “take it easy” for us and make it easy for us to follow. He kept a steady pace of 80kms an hour across the Salt Flats which was very pleasant.
Once we cleared the flats however, our lead car seemed to don a red bandana and transform into John Rambo, deciding he would keep the same pace as he did on the flats across rocky and sandy terrain as well. An even 80 k’s an hour.
Our driver had a fire in his eyes as we left the Isla. We’d get to San Juan or die trying
Not knowing the way, Thomas and I sped up not to lose sight of him. Our bikes were shaking and trembling as they powered through sand and dirt, making horrible noises which sounded like this was doing more harm than good. I managed to crash my bike (no injuries) in the gravel trying to keep up.
We eventually arrived in San Juan, hugged each other thankful to be alive and went to our hospedaje for the night with plans to leave in the morning.
As we prepared to leave the next day, Thomas noticed he had (once again) lost one of the bolts holding his frame together. That was far from the end of our worries though. When I started my bike, a steady stream of oil started pouring out near my front sprocket. The drive the day before had shaken loose the nut holding it in place and then I had an oil problem.
Once we had tightened my bolt and found a replacement for Thomas’ missing bolt we found out that all of a sudden my motorcycle would not start.
This is not the first time we have had bike troubles, every time we find ourselves saying “Well, there are worse places in the world to be stuck!” which is very easy to say when you have issues in Flores (Guatemala), Bacalar (Mexico), or Medellin (Colombia). However in San Juan, where the population numbers in the 20’s it becomes a lot more annoying.
The best part of the day…Sunset
Here there are no restaurants. No bars. No internet cafes, and barely any electricity. Our search for a mechanic to take a look at my bike was not going to be easy. I essentially went door to door in this town asking not for a mechanic, but for someone who knows more about motorcycles than I do.
Bolivian SPAM, the dinner of kings
I was eventually referred on to Maxi, a farmer who is apparently the “Go-To” guy for fixing things. We were held up an additional day because the entire town had a day long meeting for some reason, but eventually we went over to Maxi’s house and we got to work.
Taking things apart in his backyard.
“I’m not a professional” – Maxi
Maxi turned out to be a very capable mechanic and after a few hours of troubleshooting, including taking off and disassembling my starter as well as the various removal and replacement of other parts it turned out that my battery was to blame. For some reason (possibly the shaky road where we followed Mr Rambo) it had completely died all of a sudden.
He invited us in for lunch with his family
So now with a dead battery in the middle of nowhere, the problem now became how to make it to civilisation? A push start was successful, but with a 230kg bike and 500 kilometers of off-roading to do we moved on to the jump start solution. This was the first thing we had tried which was why we didn’t think it was a battery problem, however the cables we were using at the time were far from perfect.
With this in mind, the team at livedeleven.com decided to make our own jumper cables. We went to a hardware store and bought some thick length of electrical wire, stripped it with a knife and connected it to my bike from Thomas’. SUCCESS!!! We’d be able to leave the next day.
buurman en buurman
So with a “fixed” bike we set off from San Juan. Using our strategy of following someone, we found our way across another salt flat and towards the border with Chile, where we headed south. The weather was brutally cold on the bikes and we looked on enviously at those on the Jeep tour in the warmth.
Stalling or crashing my bike was a terrible idea, with our home made jumper cables however I was able to keep my bike going further. Things were going well for about 100kms until, in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road Thomas comes to a halt saying he has a “slight problem”
Those three things should be held together with a bolt
This problem was that the bolt that held the upper part of his frame together had completely broken in three places, his fuel tank almost coming off his bike in the process. The rough road was taking its toll. I drove off in search of a welder and headed back north, coming back empty handed (of course).
Luckily, Thomas had managed to wave down a rare car who had done some “bush mechanics” in his time. He tied Thomas’ bike together with rubber, estimating we could get another few hundred k’s out of it.
A Je To!
So after jump starting my handicapped bike, and Thomas holding his fuel tank on with his legs with his frame held in place with rubber we drove another 50kms to a town where apparently there would be someone who could weld.
We managed to find someone, and after yet another backyard job and a bit of sleep, we tried again to make it to our stop for the night, La Laguna Colorada. With no guide to follow, we just went with the tyre tracks, which in some cases would branch in to ten different tracks. We knew the direction though, and continued grinding our way towards the Laguna.
Steep climbs, rocky roads, and a dead battery.
Needing yet another jump start after crashing in the sand…again
Thomas was starting to feel sick at this point and the weather was getting freezing. After another long day we would end up finally making it to the Lagoon. We were riding from first light, and stopped around 3:30pm.
One of the lagoons we passed featuring flamingos
Thomas went to bed immediately and started getting feverish, so I went on a walk around the Lagoon. Here by chance I would run in to Coline, a friend of mine who worked with me in Australia four years ago. We had made no plans to meet up and by pure luck we were in the same middle-of-nowhere town in Bolivia.
Considered yet another “official friend of livedeleven.com”
The day had been hard on our bikes yet again, Thomas had lost Juan (the goat’s skull on the top of his bike) and I had lost yet another bolt which was holding my panniers together. Thomas tied Juan to the back of his bike, while I strangely found a random bolt which had come off a different part of my bike on my engine, which I then attached to my pannier. I still have no idea where that bolt came from.
The frame of Thomas’ pannier had completely snapped during the day as well, and was a top priority to get fixed in the morning.
That night, I hung around with the tour groups and caught up with Coline, managing to get more than my fair share of free wine from the table while also filling up a tupperware container with their spaghetti.
The first item on the to-do list for the next day was the pannier frame of Thomas. While there were no “welders” in this town, the mother of a deaf boy assured us that her son was up to the task of fixing Thomas’ bike.
Yet another “home job” for the bikes held together by South American know-how
The kid was around 14 years old, but he worked fast and well. Within about an hour, he had re-attached Juanito as well as fixed the pannier frame. With Thomas feeling better we hit the road again.
The “town” where we stopped to get Thomas’ bike fixed.
No asphalt, not ever.
Keeping my eyes on the road
To say at this point that it started to get cold would be an understatement of monumental proportions. We climbed over a volcano to over 5,000 meters and it started snowing.
You’re still beautiful Bolivia
We made our way to some geysers when we were caught in the middle of a snowstorm. Bikes slipping all over the place and without a way to start my bike without cables, we found ourselves being concerned for our safety. At one point, due to the cold both of our engines seized and we had to scramble to get the bikes started again in the blizzard.
With frozen hands it became very difficult to drive or even to see where we were going. With the occasional tour Jeep coming by, we were eventually able to clear the mountain range and get to lower altitude.
So Gangsta it hurts
Shivering, but alive. We continued on towards the border, the occasional crash or dropped bike being the only hindrance to the juggernaut that is the team of livedeleven.com. We would continue for a further 80 kilometers of dirt and roughness before finally arriving at the end of Bolivia and the beginning of Chile.
Once crossing the border we came across a beautiful sight. The road once we arrived in Chile was paved and thankfully was a steep road downhill and out of altitude. At this point I had completely ran out of gas but managed to coast the bike downhill for about 20 kilometers before siphoning some gas from Thomas.
Currently in San Pedro de Atacama, we are enjoying some beers and reminiscing about the biggest hardship we have come across on the trip so far. We managed to watch Chile win La Copa America in the house of the custom’s agent at the border and are basking in the glory that is civilisation.
It is hard to believe at the moment that we have made it to Chile from our beginning in Vancounver, but as road to Buenos Aires becomes shorter and shorter it is becoming ever apparent that we just might make it.