Day 188 – Potosi, BO

Day 188 – Potosi, BO      02/25/11      Mileage: 0

Potosi is famous for mainly one thing…the mine. The Spanish found pure veins of silver in the mountain here and extracted more than 45,000 tons…fueling the Spanish Empire. In it’s heyday, Potosi was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world…and it’s also one of the highest at 13, 400 feet. The mine has been in operation for over 400 years, and the mountain is riddled with some 400 different mines, 127 of which are currently in operation. There are roughly 12,000 miners who work in the various individual mines in a co-op structure. Normally there is a shuttle bus to take the gringo tourists around, but because of a nationwide general strike, no buses were aloud to run. Instead we had to ride in the back of a truck, which frankly made it a bit more realistic.

Our first stop was to get fitted with our miners outfit complete with hard-hat and miners lamp.

Marshall and I all dressed up and looking to party…

Next was the miners market where we bought gifts for the miners…water, coca leaves, oh, and of course dynamite!

Yep, that is real dynamite for sale…no age or any kind of other restrictions…it’s as easy to buy as toothpaste.

When do we get to light the bang sticks!?

Some locals in the market…

Next we toured the facility where they process the rock from the mine to extract the silver.

Then it was back to the truck for the bumpy 20 minute ride up to the mine.

Just outside the mine shaft, our guide lit a stick of dynamite and let (those who wanted) hold it…after which he quickly ran and tossed it out into an open area before it exploded moments later.

I hope this really is a 3 minute fuse….or else this will be a very bad day!

Evan at a distance you could feel the shock wave and the echo lingered as it bounced off of the nearby mountains. Next it was into the mine itself where there are no lights except for the one on your helmet.

Our guide in the entrance to the mine…

It is also dusty and definitely no place for the claustrophobic! As we descended deeper into the mine the temperature got hotter and it was altogether an uncomfortable place to be. In places we had to crawl on our stomachs over small collapsed areas or to squeeze through small shafts.

Most of the work is still done by hand or in some cases pneumatic drills are used to make holes for the dynamite, but it is as you might expect a dirty, dusty, arduous job to say the least.

Back on the surface we loaded back into the truck and headed back for town. It was an altogether great experience and certainly made me appreciate my (former) cushy IT job. That night Marshall and Megan cooked a nice homemade dinner for the three of us and we shared some good laughs and conversation. Tomorrow it’s off to Uyuni, if the weather cooperates!

Day 187 – Oruro, BO to Potosi, BO

Day 187 – Oruro, BO to Potosi, BO      02/24/11      Mileage: 207

A nice buffet breakfast was included with the room so I made sure to eat my fill. As I was finishing up a girl walked by towards the lobby in motorcycle gear, so I promptly dropped my coffee and went to introduce myself and get the story. Megan and her husband Marshall are riding BMW 650’s from their home in Seattle down to Argentina. They were also on their way to Potosi today so we decided to ride together….sweet!

The road started out long and straight down a broad valley and I was on point. The weather was mercifully good, and that is to say not soaking rain or freezing cold.

In Challapata the road turned up into the mountains and soon we were enjoying nice 3rd and 4th gear sweepers as it climbed.

 The scenery was spectacular and we managed to skirt the edges of a few storms and stay dry for the most part.

We pulled into Potosi mid-afternoon and found refuge at the Koala Hostal.

After stashing the bikes and dropping our gear, we went out for dinner at a nice pub 3 blocks away. They had fondo de carne (meat fondue) which was fantastic and went nice with the liters of local Potosina beer we were washing it down with.

It was the perfect way to end a great day of riding with new friends.

Day 186 – La Paz, BO to Oruro, BO

Day 186 – La Paz, BO to Oruro, BO      02/23/11      Mileage: 146

I spent the morning using the good wifi at the hostal, then packed the bike and headed south for Oruro. The road was paved and fairly straight running down a wide, shallow valley….and I was on the gas to make time.

 Just over a blind rise I see a cop standing on the side pointing what he wanted me to believe was a radar gun. It looked like something out of a Cracker Jacks box or perhaps it was a marshmallow shooter, but as I passed I could see him going for his radio. Oh grand, here we go again. Sure enough a few hundred yards down the road another cop is in the middle of the road flagging me over. I kept the bike running as he walked up and asked for my license. He said I was in a lot of trouble (of course) because I was doing 90 kph in an 80 kph zone. Well, now I knew he and his friend with the plastic Star Trek phaser were full of shit because I was doing at least 120 kph. I pretended to not know a single word of spanish and spoke only good old loud fast Americano….things like “thank you for welcoming me, Bolivia is great” and “I’m from the United States, it’s great to meet you”. From behind his 1 gold front tooth (you honestly can’t make this stuff up) he was telling me in spanish that I was going to get a ticket and I would have to go back to La Paz to pay it. I just kept saying “thank you, I like La Paz very much”, “looks like more rain ahead.” This song and dance went on for 15 minutes but he finally handed my license back in disgust, pointed to 80 kph on my dash, waved his finger at me and let me go. AMF! I continued rolling south but soon I had to back way off the pace, not because of my lecture from Barney Fife, but because the rain started to mix with pea size hail. Luckily there was a gas station after a few miles so I pulled in to wait out the worst of it.

Continuing on a ran into another hail storm but there was not shelter in sight so I just ducked my head and soldiered on. Eventually the hail and even the rain stopped and I rolled into Oruro around 4:30 in the afternoon. I found a room with secure parking at the Hotel Grand Sucre which must have been a swinging joint back in Oruro’s heyday. I quickly showered and went out for dinner before calling it a day. Tomorrow it’s on to Potosi…

Day 185 – La Paz, Bolivia and the Death Road

Day 185 – La Paz, Bolivia and the Death Road      02/22/11      Mileage: 0

One of the first things I knew I wanted to do on this trip was to ride the famous “Death Road” (also called “The Worlds Most Dangerous Road”) here in Bolivia. It got this reputation from the amount of trucks, buses and cars that met an early demise along with their passengers because the road is so narrow with sheer cliffs…and of course no guard rails.

Well it’s not nearly as dangerous as it once was as a new safer and modern road was built a few years ago to bypass it. So today the Death Road has become more of a playground for adventure seekers on motorcycles and to an even greater extent… mountain bikes.

So my dilemma was deciding how to ride it…on my KLR or a mountain bike. I went back and forth but decided to hire a mountain bike…as I would consider myself more of a die-hard mountain biker than motorcyclist. I found a tour operator (Barro) that had nice Kona Coiler dual suspension bikes and at 8:30am we set off up the pass in the support van.

Near the top of the pass it began to rain and soon we were above the snow line.

Just over the other side of the pass we pulled over and got ready for the first leg of the descent which was paved.

It was a fast and cold descent in the rain…but good fun anyway. Then it was back in the van for a short shuttle to the beginning of the top of the Death Road where we would bomb down to the valley below…and try not to run any corners wide!

The rain was still coming down but the temperature was rising with every mile we descended. How they built this road is a mystery to me as it is literally carved into a sheer cliff face in spots, if you run off the road, you had better hope it’s into the side of the cliff and not off the other side into oblivion. Several mountain bikers have died here over the last few years, like the Israeli girl for whom the memorial in the picture below is for.

That being said it is honestly pretty tame, but still great fun! Farther down the sun came out and we had a light lunch and admired the view.

Back on the bikes we continued down the last stretch to the town of Yungo in the valley below where we were treated to a hot shower and a nice dinner.

This guy was also having lunch near us…

Afterwards we piled into the van and headed back up and over the pass to La Paz.

Coming down from the pass with the city lights of La Paz below…

It was a long but fun and memorable day and one that will stand out from the others on this trip.

Made it to Chile…

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the delay in posting, but Bolivia is not known for its fast or abundant internet! I am currently in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile after several days of remote riding across the Bolivian Altiplano and will be getting some new posts up today. Thanks so much for all the great comments and encouragement!