Travelling broadens the mind…   1 comment

In the small hours of the night I wake up again because it’s so freezing cold in my room. Lesson number one: if you make the effort to carry a warm sleeping bag on your bike, you are actually allowed to use it even if you are staying in a hotel room. At the very least have the silk inner liner to hand before you go to bed… 

I stare into the darkness and wait for symptoms of altitude sickness to manifest themselves. After all, Villazón sits at 3,400m / 11,155ft above sea level. Maybe I am a bit paranoid about this but one of the problems with travelling on your own is that no one tells you when you start to behave weirdly…

Breakfast is served at 7.00 downstairs at smallish tables among a lot of big guys who seem to be mainly truck drivers – we are in a busy border town after all. Despite the sceptical glances from every side, I enjoy my frugal meal consisting of a bread roll with butter and jam and black tea while trying to translate the Arabic proverb on the wall.

I think it goes like this:

Don’t say everything you know,
don’t do everything you can.
Don’t believe everything you hear,
don’t spend everything you have.


He who says everything he knows,
He who does everything he can,
He who believes everything he hears,
He who spends everything he has,


Says what he shouldn’t say,
does what he shouldn’t do,
judges what he doesn’t see,
spends what he cannot afford.

I’m sure there are a number of lessons that can be learnt from these pearls of Arabic wisdom.

After packing my stuff, I head for the gated courtyard where my baby has spent the night, and arrive at 9.00 on the dot as agreed the evening before. A young man opens the gate but there is a big 4×4 blocking the entrance. No worries, the owner will also collect his vehicle at 9.00 hrs.

9:20 hrs and nothing has happened. I return to the hotel. What is this guy thinking? I ask for his whereabouts at the reception: Se ha salido – he’s gone out. Great. Maybe I’ve missed him on the way, so I go back the two blocks to the parking site. The gate is now open but the 4×4 is still sitting there. I try not to get worked up about the delay, ask the young man if he has some old rags and start to clean my bike – mumbling all the Spanish swearwords I can remember under my breath…

10.00 hrs and no driver in sight… Once more I return to the Hostal Plaza, try to make use of the time by writing my diary but at some point I am so annoyed that I ask the receptionist if he knows of a locksmith who can help me open the car so that I can drive it out of the way. Silly, I know, and wasn’t one of the objectives of this trip to practice a bit of stoicism and not getting stressed so easily?

It’s no big deal, really, it’s only 100 km / 59 miles to my next destination Tupiza, and there is nothing the receptionist or the young man at the parking place can do (well, the latter shouldn’t have let the guy park in a way that was blocking everybody else’s exit route, inconsiderate hijo de p*ta). And breathe…

Finally the receptionist reaches the driver on his mobile: the car should be gone by the time the fuming gringa has made her way to the parking site for the third time. I relax immediately and feel quite embarrassed now that I have let my anger take the better of me – and thus made everyone around me pretty uncomfortable. That’s a lesson that will still take some learning, I suppose…

With the obstacle out of the way, my mind is open again for the sights and delights of Villazón – the slightly moralistic street art

… and the urban wildlife…

The young man from the parking courtyard meets me halfway down the road to tell me the good news, we’re both relieved and laugh; I collect my baby and thank him very much for all his help. Quickly I lube my chain, load the bike and set off.

After a nice chat with the female attendant of the filling station on the outskirts of town, I reach the border control-cum-tollbooth again, explain that I was just staying overnight in Villazón but had no intention of leaving lovely Bolivia already, pay my 3 Bolivianos (under 30p) and enjoy the new smooth asfalto. Gliding through the beautiful panorama of the Altiplano, it slowly dawns on me that my water bladder is almost empty. How stupid! Haven’t I learnt the lesson yet to check my water supply every morning and stock up while I’m still within a human settlement?

Oh well, only 65 kilometres / 40 miles to Tupiza left – I will probably survive. Shortly afterwards I pass yesterday’s junction where the road branches off to Tarija in the east and the Ruta 14 carries on to Tupiza in the northwest. Again, all directions are clearly sign-posted and I’m a bit puzzled how anyone could miss these obvious crossroads unless seriously intoxicated…  The tarmac has disappeared by now but the Ruta 14 consists of nicely hard-packed, fast dirt.

Blue sky, glorious sunshine, clean and fresh air, the absorbing solitude of a vast and seemingly empty landscape – I feel the morning’s tension dissolve into the thin air and admire the mountain tops in the distance. Big mistake. All of a sudden the handlebars are out of control, the bike leans left, right, left, right and down in a matter of split seconds and I find myself in a heap of deep gravel, getting a final kick in the back from my own steed… God, I’m shaken – never take your eyes off the road, as the surface can change in an instant, is the fifth lesson today.

Fuel is dripping out of the tank, the GPS has a deep scar, there may be more things broken but I am fine, I think. Phew, sit down at the roadside, helmet and gloves off, take a photo, calm down, drink some water – damn, I really have nothing left, and if there is serious damage to the bike, I’m pretty scr*wed. That’s the difference between important and vital lessons, dear reader… 

A bus approaches from the north; I wave him down and a group of young men descends. They ask what happened and if I hurt, they help me lifting the bike, and one of them starts talking to me in English. That’s not necessary, really, but somehow I feel strangely comforted by hearing the language of my adopted home country: Thank you for speaking English, Señor.

After my saviours have left I still rest a bit longer and assess the damage: mirror, GPS cradle and screen have scratches, the handlebar units are slightly twisted, the straps of my soft panniers are torn off – but I am ok, thank God and the Hi-Art Halvarssons suit for that! It may make my bum look big – but far more important, it just saved it! If that’s not worth another lesson…

Cautiously I continue the journey – staying in the harder ruts made by previous vehicles and slowing right down at every dip and bump. From time to time I find a stretch of tarmac where the roadwork is already completed but soon enough there’s a sign again: Fin de pavimento

… and it’s back onto the dirt track again

At least there is now some vegetation, so I can go into the bushes…

Impressive heights the cacti reach here!

As I come over the mountains towards Tupiza, the land gets a bit more fertile and agricultural

There is more water…

… I pass through little villages

… and cross small streams that must be raging torrents in the rainy season (and not all of them can be crossed via bridges…)

Tupiza lies at the river of the same name which has created some gorgeous gorges in the area

It’s just after 3pm when I arrive in town, most of the inhabitants are still holding their siesta, but after the obligatory sightseeing tour I finally find the Hotel Mitru, warmly recommended in the South America Handbook

Yes, they have a single room, con baño privado, secure parking, breakfast buffet – and all that for 70 Bolivianos, which is about £6.30… The room is delightful, airy, and spacious

There is a little desk, the bathroom has its own window – what more can the battered and bruised traveller ask for?
After a quick shower I explore the hotel’s facilities – garden, pool and roof terrace…

… from where you have a great view over the city…

… and the dramatic red rock formations the region is famous for

Is there a cobbler nearby who can repair my soft luggage? Just one block down the road, advises the receptionist. The zapatero understands straight away what needs to be done to make my panniers usable again. Give me until 7pm, señora. There is no rush, sir, I will stay another night in your lovely town – mañana is early enough.

I like Tupiza; the climate is pleasant – we are down to 2,800 metres / 9,200 ft again, the people are friendly and helpful, and I hugely enjoy strolling aimlessly through the city, absorbing the ambience, watching the locals watching football…

… and admiring the somewhat fancy architecture

The mercado is colourful and picturesque but I don’t feel comfortable taking photos; I’m not in a zoo here and it feels disrespectful towards the market-people to point the camera into their faces while they are pursuing their day-to-day tasks. There are still enough inanimate objects worth photographing around

I call Possu, assure him that I am still alive and make light of the accident; then I walk back to the bridge and the railway crossing over which I have entered the town earlier – both look like they have seen better days…

Tupiza has surprisingly many Pizzerias – and a nice sense of humour: ‘Your Pizza’

… and they all promote their vegetarian menu. I feel spoilt for choice. – “Are you decisive, Ela?” “Mmm, let me think about that…” – I’ve been known for almost starving while passing one café after the other on my trips, because there could be a better one around the next corner…  In the Pizzeria I finally settle for, I meet Ylon from Israel who has been travelling through South America for six months and is now in his last three weeks. We exchange recommendations: he must go and see the Iguazú Falls, I should not miss Northern Peru and Ecuador – which I probably will, as I have only 3 1/2 months to spare…

After dinner I’m looking for an internet café, there are plenty about but they are all full – I try in at least eight places to get a free space but to no avail. It certainly doesn’t help that the whole of Tupiza relies on one dial-up connection, or so it seems to me, after I have finally managed to upload one photo on the hotel computer – in 15 minutes…

What an eventful day, lots to think about and digest into lessons learnt and others that will still need recapping for a while… Suddenly I feel very tired – and what prevents me from going to bed before 9pm if I feel like it? I’m on holiday, it’s a free country and tomorrow will be another great day, I’m sure.

¡Buenas noches!

Posted 26 September 2013 by Pumpy in Bolivia, The 2010 Bike Trip

One response to “Travelling broadens the mind…

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  1. Great stuff, where have you been and how is the book coming along? Seriously this is good stuff, you write like no one else , there must be a market for a humorous German!

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