San Carlo de Bariloche and random thoughts

Rest day here in this upscale ski town of about 130,000 people. Nice town obviously built for tourists with lots of quaint shops, outdoor centers and multiple hotels often with the word ski in front or after the name. Beautifully situated on the shores of some big lakes (Nahuel Huapi, Gutierrez, Moreno, and Mascardi) with snow covered mountains as a backdrop (Tronador, Cerro Catedral, Cerro Lopez). The towns economy is based entirely on tourism and apparently not only has skiing in winter (July, August) but water sports, trekking, and climbing.

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Bariloche is also famous for chocolate of which I have not tried although there are numerous chocolate shops. And it is infamous as the residence of several German WWII war criminals including Adolph Eichmann. There is apparently an advanced science and technological research center.

We arrived yesterday in temperatures of low 20’s or high teens; very nice cycling temperature. Staying at the “Hotel Islas Malvinas” which I am unsure of its significance to the Falkland Islands. There certainly are signs on the road throughout Argentina stating the Malvinas are Argentina. For those that remember there recent history England and Argentina fought a war in the early 1990’s over ownership which as I remember was inconclusive, but England was a bit embarrassed as I remember it.

As usual hot soup, fruit, chips, cookies were available on arrival which was great. Seems all are ready for a rest day of doing nothing, overrating, oversleeping, and indulging. Here Jon Willem and Carroll depart. Jon
Willam did the last part 4 years ago and is excited to see his family having started in Quito, the first of August. Carroll must return to work having joined in Mendoza. Both are incredible cyclists. I asked Carroll yesterday why the Dutch seem so good at hills. I think it is because since they do not have big climbs they do not know that they hurt. Carroll said it was because since they do not have big hills they just want to get to the top. Meanwhile I huff and puff. I will miss their comradeship. But we are joined by 5; 2 from Australia, 2 from Belgium, and one from Germany. Makes 35 of us plus crew of 6.

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The last days of cycling have been beautiful in the mountains. Actually several national parks (Lanin, Nahuel Huapi) which were of course beautiful. At first I was comparing them to the high Sierra or Canadian Rockies, or Colorado, but finally settled on this is Patagonia and it too is unique. Mostly we were on highway 40 but this section is known as "Ruta de 7 Lagos". (Route of the 7 lakes). And every since the first lake at San Martin we have been cruising along the shores.

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And the cycling continues. I have almost reached 5000 kilometers ridden in South America. Thus far although officially I have only ridden about 4500 for the race. Route 40 kilometer posts are now down to 2065 from Ushuaia although our distance is longer due to we often get off the main road for back roads and are going into Chili next week. My bike the Ibis Tranny is doing great without a problem as yet although now on 3rd chain, 2nd cassette, and still needs a major cleaning, but is holding up well. Loving it. Changed the saddle again today in hopes of rearranging the sores on my butt, which are improving. Physically I am doing good. Even think I may have lost a bit of weight which was and is still necessary. Started at 98 kg and weighed myself in Salta many weeks ago and was 90 kg with clothes, so still fat but improving.

And as far weight loss have concluded regular diets do not work. I have tried not eating and it works well for several hours then I get hungry. And I reside with someone who is an excellent cook and know several people also excellent cooks.

Thus twice now I have gone on a eat anything you want,mad much as you want and I seem to lose weight. I did that on the great divide and it seems again here. Get up eat bread, rolls, jam, sausage, cheese, hopefully porridge, yogurt, bananas, coffee and juice. Several snack bars during the day with bananas, lunch is rolls, sausage, cheese, vegetables, (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc),fruit (bananas, apples, kiwis, pears, watermelon, oranges) juice. Snack at end of ride, soup (yesterday was tomato noodle) with chips, cookies, juice, and lots of fruit. Dinner is a big plate of delicious whatever. (Two nights ago curry rice with chicken and lots of peanut sauce and vegetables, with an ice cream cake for desert). And of course two cups of coffee after dinner. Rest days are anything you can get your hands on. Last night a liter of beer, and two large pizzas for 3 of us and 6 empanadas. Breakfast today at hotel toast, sausage, cheese, cereal with yogurt. Lunch was beer and 4 empanadas. Dinner I am in search of an Argentina steak of which we have found a restaurant which opens before the usual 8 o’clock. Of course as with last night it will be followed by 2 scoops of ice cream.

And I am losing weight. Bliss

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And as usual group dynamics is an interesting phenomenon. When Rob announces the next day activities there are boos and cheers. Too early, too late, too much pavement, too little pavement, weather too hot, too cold. And everyone feels strongly about whatever. We all are individuals, but work as a group toward a common goal. Enough said.

Another day, another day on the bike

Behind mountains, more mountains

Haitian proverb

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After breakfast, washing dishes, and packing trucks with paraphernalia of camp life ( tables, chairs, tents, personal gear, cook gear, etc) depart about usual time of 8 am. Climb slowly and steadily for 28 kilometers rising to nearly 3100 meters in elevation from Uspallata elevation of about 2000 meters. The road quickly went from paved out of town to an old mining road winding through the little canyons and arroyos. Along the way came across numerous guicanos. These animals are the other wild grazers in the Andes. Related to the Alpaca and Llama which are domestic. Guicanos are slowly larger than the smaller much more valuable Vicuña. Vicuña fur is much softer and finer and reportedly fetches as much as 100 Euros a kilo. Both animals are protected.

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It is always nice to see wild critters wandering around.

Reached the summit and lunch truck shortly after out of the wind. Carmen and I were riding last today, just enjoying the climb knowing it was a 70 k downhill. Annalot was riding Max’s bike as he does not like downhills and had left. Thus we left Walter and Max to clean up the chairs and incredible lunch spread Walter and Annalot had put on.

Later we commented how it is the miserable parts which stick in our minds. There are some section between Quito and Cusco which folks still refer with bad memories and the Tocota road a few days ago. But today would be remembered for the incredible downhill.

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And down we went hands and wrists getting a workout as stopping was frequent and necessary for the scenery. Thought of “going to the sun road” in Montana and the “death road” in LaPaz. Apparently this has 365 switchbacks, although I did not come close to counting. IMG_0823.JPGReaching the bottom where a hotel was situated and pavement began the flowers were in full bloom. And the road continued to descend for another 25 kilometers into Mendoza. Finally requiring peddling to maintain our 35kph speed.

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Campsite is a very nice place with eucalyptus trees, palm trees and some other ones related to cottonwoods. And could not get out of birthday celebration which was nice and a parting party for Ellen our cook who is being replaced by Gerdi, and also joined by two cyclist who are Buck’s neighbors back in Minnesota, Deb and Brian.

And Rien as noted earlier is departing. Talking with him he reminded me of jean Claude Killy in the 1968 Olympics after winning gold in all three downhill events. He said the key to winning is never rest, Rien said the same thing, peddle downhill to maintain speed.

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And now just hanging out. Jon Willan, James, and I caught a ride down street to a little pastry place for coffee and some sort of nourishment. Campsite is on edge of town about 8 kilometers from city center. I understand it is a nice downtown with several plazas, but not much reason to go now in afternoon. Siesta time. Will catch a cab about 4-5 and go eat dinner somewhere. Mendoza is noted for wine and Argentina for beef so guess that is what I’ll have. About half the crew got a hotel in town for the nights here in Mendoza, but camping is quite comfortable for me. And with only 6 of us remaining, nice quiet time.

Bareal – Uspallata

A nice day. Gentle ride up hill to about 2200 meters again, then somewhat flat and up then a 30 kilometer descent just pedaling in top gear. And best part was the big mountains to the west. At first glance hills with snow on them, but look closer and these were big mountains with big glaciers. Looked it up and biggest was Cerro Mercedario at 6720 meters. The eighth highest in South America. It was first climbed in 1934. Magnificent peak when you look at it.

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Riding was great and at 50 k hit the gravel and washboard but it felt good so just powered on. Lunch truck at 60 k then onward again, feeling good. It was a long straight road and just cruising along watching the mountains go by.

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As noted in previous blog saw a set of stairs beside road going apparently nowhere. There were some folks there so I stopped. Turns out their English was excellent; he from Buenos Aires and she from Vladivostok Russia. They were touring Argentina and found our group fascinating. Who was more unique. He had been to Alaska 4 years ago driving to prudhoe bay. Currently they were excited about the inca road and the ruins which the steps overlooked.

Camp is in municipal campground which as usual has a swimming pool but everyone says it is too early and it is not full of water. Uspalleta seems a tourist town and possibly a ski town in winter as a ski shop and lots of tourist activities. Walked in the 500 meters to gas station for the iffy wifi, but wanted to post before reaching Mendoza, although hopefully much better there and can get some pictures loaded. Have enjoyed taking pictures along the way, even if it slows me down.

And Rien leaves tomorrow. He has been a great addition and a pleasure. I think he is one of best riders here, not only because he is incredible to watch as he powers up a hill, but he also takes time to ride with others. I have learned a lot from him. Back to Holland for 5 weeks to help his niece with a flower shop then off on another bike trip. He is retired from DOW chemical.

And Hardy 2 leaves also to cycle by himself to Buenos Aires and fly home to return to work as a geriatric nurse in Germany. He is the on who cycled from Germany to Barcelona, flew to Brasilia and cycled to Cusco where he joined with me.

Tomorrow a party to celebrate Mendoza, my birthday, and to wish Rien and Hardy off. A municipal,campground and several getting hotels in town closer to the city center. Camping ok by me and will just take a cab in when needed. As per usual we shall see what it brings when we get there. As with the daily briefing the numbers of distance, elevation, % paved due not tell the whole story. Same for camp sights. Have to wait and see.

Cafayate-Santa Maria-Hualfin-San Blas -Chilicito

Great day. Although disco band outside campground played from midnight to 6 am. Oh well. And then we are up and departing at 8 am. A few pictures of grape fields and something happened. Must have been the Nescafé kicking in but my legs started turning. Why fight it, there was timing to lunch so I went with it, slowly working my way along to kilometer 49 and lunch at about 10:15. Lunch, grease up with more sunscreen, fill water bottles and onward this time at a cruising pace. I am on 5th tube of sunscreen thus far. Redo it three times a day. Still have a burnt area on left arm which was not covered in first days out of cusco.

Afternoon was a lot of gravel which was fine and little villages alongside the mountain. With a forest fire burning up one of the valley’s. Arrived at town of Santa Maria about 12:30, after 78 kilometer and a gentle 500 meter climb. We are at 1900 meters now.

Of course it is Saturday but more important it was siesta time so town was deserted. Doors locked up, everything closed. Sign on grocery store informed us they would open from 6 pm to 10pm. Walked from camp the 500 meters to plaza where supposed wifi was but it did not work. Did find a bar and it had decent wifi. Several sat outside but I found it cooler inside. Temps a comfortable mid 30s today. Amazing how two days ago reset everyone’s thermostat. Mid 30s is not bad.

Not a lot to do but caught up a bit on life back home. Texted Jeanne who was at work then she had a break. She is in break room at work and I am in a bar in Argentina. Wild. After phone call found an ATM as running low on cash. At Bolivian border turned in U.S. Dollars and got 13 pesos to the dollar. At ATM got 8 to the dollar. But no exchange market here, and running low on dollars.

Great dinner, my favorite Thai curry. Boxed wine tonight was only fair but ice cream and strawberries for desert was good. Now sitting around as it gets dark, awaiting concert to begin next door to campground. Numerous have said they need to have one for old people which would quit at 10, but I do not think that will happen. Till then listening to music of sound checks. Beautiful venue overlooking town and valley.

Has been a good three past days. Buck, who is riding again after a week of rehab, commented it is like waiting for shoe to drop. Past three days have been pleasant less than 100 k and gradual climbs. Tomorrow may change: 122 k 65% pavement with 500 meter climb over 70 kilometers. Not bad, then day after is longest day of trip 165 kilometer. At least I have something to complain about or worry about. It will be what it will be.

And Argentina interesting. As noted obviously much richer than Bolivia or Peru. In Peru it seemed most cars were Toyota, Bolivia it seemed a combo of Toyota and Nissan. Here a wide variety. Citroen, Renault, Toyota, Nissan, ford, Chevrolet. And have noted 5 or 6 ford falcons. That is as in 1965 models.

19 October Santa Maria to Hualfin 122 kilometer headwinds

Quite a day. Awake about midnight to 1 am listening to band playing Latino music. Actually good blending the instruments vocals and such. Checked decibel level in tent at 93, 300 meters from stage and to the side. Hardy who had a hotel room across town could hear it in his room. South America loves its noise. Went back to sleep about 1, but awoke again when concert over about 4 and concert goers were reveling.

Cycling was good but 20-30 kph headwind entire day. I took a few pictures near beginning and of course was soon by myself. I do not mind being alone, in fact somewhat like it, but afraid I must learn to ride with the crowd as will not survive the next months, with the coming winds. Folks were a bit concerned with me being late and alone but all ok. Arrived at 4:15 but most arrived about 2 with 5-6 taking truck.

Country was mostly flat, very desert like then arrive here a few kilometers past town of Hualfin. Entry to a desert canyon and a bush camp, but there are hot springs here. Nice little pool water temperature of 36 degrees.

2452 kilometers thus far, about a third of the distance for me. And has been a few days over a month with bike dreams. A month done two to go. Have not a clue what that means except another day cycling tomorrow.

20 October 2014 Hualfin to camp at San Blas de Los Sauces. 160 kilometer 6 hours 3 minutes of ride time from 07:30 to 3 pm. Temp in afternoon high 30s.

Great sleep last night I suppose because it was quiet and I did not set up my tent under a light. Beautiful spot with big rock walls surrounding us. Reminded me somewhat of lee’s ferry (the launch point for Grand Canyon). Early start as long day and winds yesterday have everyone a bit spooked. So alarm at 5:30 breakfast at 6:30 and depart at 7:30. Pretty good considering tents away, breakfast including wash dishes, put away tables, seats and pack gear in trucks. Breakfast today as seems usual is muesli with yogurt or milk and some cereal, rolls, and jam. Everyone seems to miss the porridge. Discussion today covered how folks miss good bread at home. United States excluded for bread, although I did set them straight about good beer in Alaska.

Today’s mantra for me was stay with pelaton. No stopping for photos, looking around, or whatever other excuses I come up with to go slow and stop. Peddle, watch the wheel in front, peddle, coast, peddle brake, peddle, keep the legs churning at about 80-90 rpm. A grouped of about 15 formed up and with a slight downhill we cruised at about 30 kph. Nice. Stopped at Belem at a coffee shop and had a good americano coffee. Basically an expresso without milk. Very good and my 4th for the day after the three Nescafé at breakfast. I seem to be caffeine powered.

Lunch at 75 k in the plaza then back to cycling. Walter the lunch truck driver had his usual great spread of rolls, meats, cheese, tomatoes, veggies, fruits, Bananas, kiwis and apples, cookies, water juice, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup. Then back on road and in the pack. Not a single car honked or rushed us. If someone was coming or a corner or whatever unsafe passing condition they waited until safe to pass. Keep in mind our pack takes up entire lane.

Walter met us at 120 k with more water as none in afternoon and hot, and chocolates. Then back to work and I was able to lead for 10 k feeling pushed along by the 13 people behind, Terry at my side keeping me informed as to proper technique for front position. (Mid lane, so as to provide best wind blockage for following and not to fast so entire pack can stay on your rear wheel). With side wind and gust we kept not quite a meter apart and front was nice as did not worry about braking so could ride with hands in varying position. Before the pelaton regrouped Jurg and I were riding 22-25 kph, in the pelaton the speed picked up to 26-30kph.

Thus arrived at campground about 3, a somewhat nice place but apparently early season yet, so again swimming pool empty, no water for toilets,(like a bush camp) but an irrigation ditch and I sat in it for a bit to cool off and get the salt off. Nice!

And as usual town is closed up tight for siesta so no beer.

Excellent dinner, again, Max barbecued sausages, with potatoes, green salad, garbanzo beans, wine, and a pudding for dessert. Took Terry’s duties after dinner so as he could go the 1 k back to town plaza where there was internet. He still stayed and washed then went to town in search of beer and internet. I decided to stay as cooled off and pleasant after dinner to just sit outside and enjoy the evening. Apparently beers hard to find but internet at the plaza.

San Blas to Chilecito Argentina. 121 kilometer 10 of green leaving San Blas then brown desert until Chilecito

Today’s ride was long hot and butt tired. Time to think. No answers but thinking. Was not ready when time for depart so basically rode alone. Nice ride for a bit with Vivean but alone after lunch. Lunch had a shade spot beside road which was pleasant otherwise direct sun overhead.

Thoughts ranged from people mostly parents and how they usually are completely unconditionally supportive. When doing the great divide I would call my dad who was blind and he always knew where I was, following via computer voice. When we went to India his words of wisdom were “have fun and be careful, they do things different there. Not better just different.”

And thoughts of the day riding were how not everyone would enjoy this. Many would be severely bored just kilometer after kilometer. Me, I was just enjoying the slowly changing scenery. The mountains to sides and wide empty valley. No shade and hot the kilometer markers marking down the distance to Ushuaia, 3900.

And sitting on sidewalk cafe watching Chilicito come alive. Took taxi from our apartment where wifi does not work to plaza about 5:30. Not much happening but now 7:30 and picking up. Little traffic at first now road and sidewalk busy. Different world.

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Salta – Yafacate

Whew did not get memo this am about late start due to people in hotels and such so I was up at 5:30 yet in the dark. Finally depart for a good day of cycling but as feared it was going to be hot. Taxi driver taking Hardy back to our camp told him Salta was supposed to be 36 today. This afternoon bike computers were reading 45 to 49. Very little shade and could not get fluid in fast enough. Stopped once at a roadside stand and chugged a 1500 ml fruit juice and an ice cream still thirsty. Stopped in another 5 k and split 3 beers for four of us. Each is a liter. Had to check 45-49 Celsius for Fahrenheit. 114 to 119 degrees. No wonder it felt warm.

But the cycling was good, 97 kilometer of gentle hills, covering it in just over 4 hours plus 3 hours of breaks. As noted by several, the Andes Trail is not every day an exquisite delight or exceptional scenery, but it was pleasant. Just cruising along, watching grape fields, alfalfa crops, and the passing hills, plus beautiful trees some in bloom of purple, red, yellow.

Arrived at bush camp beside the road dry with some beautiful saguaro cactus, acacia trees, with their thorns which grab anything. On dinner duty tonite set the table, deliver food, clean up and wash. Dinner of pasta, with vegetables, and pork. Very good and tasty with a great wine, followed by a pear tart. Now under the rain fly as did not set up tent just the fly on arrival for shade. This way a bit of a breeze blows through. Probably too hot for sleeping bag so just the sleep sheet tonight.

And glad 21 days of trip have gone by as having a great time. But as I learned on the divide I am thinking one day at a time. Of course thinking of the sights yet to come, mostly in Patagonia, but that is a few thousand kilometers away. I did today and despite the heat had a good time now I am reviewing tomorrow’s route. We shall see.

17 October 2014

bush camp near Talapampa to Cafayate 91 kilometers cooler as cloudy today only in high 30’s. Left earlier which was nice as got in at 1:30. Was riding along thinking wow it is cooler today then realized it was only 11:30. It is the little things. But it was cooler. Currently after dinner and temp only in high 30s. ( upper 90s)

But a good day. Rode a canyon reminding me of grand canyon with a bit of Yosemite and Death Valley thrown in. Beautiful. Slot canyons, heat, pinnacles, erosion, layers of rocks going in a variety of directions, variety of colors. And I got to ride my bike through it.

Now in wine country. Several wineries today reminded me of napa valley in California. But difference is these are not immaculate with every blade of grass at its precise height. But the wine is good. Tomorrow being a short day 78 kilometer goes through more wine country. May stop for rehydration.

And at a municipal campground again outside of Yafacate. A cute town of artisans, tourists, and wine. Hence lots of junk shops, restaurants and wine. With several ice cream shops thrown in. Reminds me of Santa Fe New Mexico and napa, California combined. Walked into town to try a wine ice cream but alas siesta and closed for afternoon. I am not walking in again this evening.

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Experiencing the beauty of the whirring spokes.

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of the country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. But you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
Ernest Hemingway

11 October 2014 117 kilometer 450 meter climb

The exact opposite of yesterday. Awoke at 5:30 thought I would attempt internet and got on right away but could not post anything. Did get a text out to Jeanne but early yet. Did find a response a bit later wishing me a good ride today. She had not heard about yesterday except to see the email about the visa. Amazing how words can affect one even when they are not meant to. My spirits were already good but the message reiterated my good day.

Breakfast was so so. Again we overwhelmed the hotel. Had delayed breakfast till 8 am and still slow. Muesli cereal and coffee.

The off we went and it was wondrous. Perhaps one of the better days of cycling I have had. Out into a wide valley generally flat but climbed about 200 meters over 80 kilometers. Group of about 20 fell into a pelaton for nearly 25 kilometer then a few broke off racing ahead and a few fell back. Left at 9 and arrived at the lunch truck beside the road 56 kilometers into ride at 11:15. And I felt great just being able to keep up even working forward until last 5 k actually was in lead with Hardy. I felt pushed along by the group behind. An amazing feeling. Must have been quite a sight this group of Lycra clad bicyclists moving down the road.

Traffic was light mostly trucks and buses but almost everyone polite. If they could not pass they waited patiently behind the pelaton until safe to pass often cheering us on then.

After lunch took off at noon and found myself in another pelaton but this time I found myself leading Joost and Rien, probably what I consider the best cyclist in the group. I thought this is crazy I can never keep this up and dropped back to join Jorg, Mario, and Michelle and we just cruised the afternoon.

I believe many would find the ride boring as basically flat and straight. I found it exciting to view the horizon and see it coming up, eventually we reached it as the climb began. But not bad 200 meters over 20 kilometers. A delightful ride stopping at the top for a banana.

Once the pass was reached we entered a geologic playground. Down through this valley with amazing formations along the way. Reminded me of Bryce Canyon, but very different.

Then this amazing camp in a small canyon beside the road. There is a house with a family here including goats, sheep and chickens but lots of room. After arrival hiked down the small embankment and took a warm bath in the creek. Now just a relaxing afternoon.
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12 October
. Well yesterday was amazing and so was today. But in entirely different ways. One never knows how things will turn out. The profile said 155 kilometers with only a few hundred meters ascent but ending up nearly 2000 meters lower. We left the altoplano and altitude which everyone has been looking forward to. Now down low about 1600 meters. Springtime leaves are out, some green grass, horses (apparently horses do not do altitude, whereas donkeys do).

The as noted the elevation profile for the day was down down down. Only problem is at 40 k the headwinds picked up. 40-50 kilometer an hour. One unmentioned person arrived at lunch truck and just broke down crying, they were so tired. Ok they took the truck to camp another 90 kilometers, reassured by all we all felt that way at times. I certainly have felt that way.

But we got into a pelaton group of 8 people and rode side by side 4 people in length for the rest of day. We would alternate lead about every kilometer in a big circle, left front would rotate to front right then when tired fall back one space with second left moving up front to face the wind. When you got 2nd 3rd or at the back it was a bit restful until you began to work your way forward on the left. This went on kilometer after kilometer. For the most part traffic was good, as yesterday often waiting behind until safe to pass. An occasional driver was a bit angry, but we had no choice. Like everywhere some people are in a hurry to get to the end of the day.

The problem with all this is I am used to cycling alone and was a bit nerve wracking for me trying to stay inches from the person in front and to the side. Pedal, brake pedal, brake. Do not touch them.

Did stop at a village for a mid afternoon snack. I am very tired of soda and cookies, but that is what is available. Need the quick calories for a boost. Mind you I am tough, but sodas are above what I can do. Leaves a bad taste, but like I said it is energy. And today a hill came up shortly after when I wish I had more energy. I am not a hill climber. Part way up I had fallen back about a hundred meters. Jon Willan fell back and said just stay on his wheel which I did and he pulled me to the top breaking the wind for me. Then a 30 kilometer descent without wind winding down the switchbacks at about 55 kph. Sweet. Then a good ride to camp.

And camp is not a bush camp defined as no amenities. This one not only has bathrooms, but showers and a swimming pool. And the have office has good wifi thus was able to post the blog about politics from several days ago. I have heard campgrounds are expected to have wifi now but never experienced it.

And as Rob, one of directors of bike dreams, said tonight we will eat as usual at 6 although the Argentinians eat at 11. It is Sunday and as usual it is a day off, hence families and friends come here and barbecue, play futball, swim and enjoy themselves. The disco next to campground played until about midnight.

Interesting as there are some trees here with incredible red flowers and some with some yellow ones. Final kilometers heard flocks of birds in trees. Someone said they were parakeets and I believe it, although have not seen any.

And noted Argentina is different than Bolivia. Thus far in small ways. No garbage along the roads. Remember Bolivia is a very poor country. Wifi tonight was best I have experienced in South America. Cars are a little nicer and architecture changing subtlety. Not quite as much adobe but one or two days does not say anything. And am looking forward to a real Argentinian steak, after all this place is noted for its meat. And the wine has been good but the Bolivian wine was also excellent.

Crossed the Tropic of Capricorn so officially have left the tropics I guess.

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Two days to remember

My best vacation is your worst nightmare.

Bumper sticker seen in Moab, Utah

Left Uyani at 8 am with everyone cycling, all happy, but within 2 kilometer the washboard started. Soon everyone was attempting to find a smooth route somewhat resembling our direction. A trail developed to the left of road which cars had been driving on and appeared smoother. Somehow I ended up near the front, then a brilliant idea for a picture looking back at the line of riders emanating from the town against the flatness of the horizon. There were a few hills but mostly the flatness of the salar. I stopped but there was no one behind me, but 1/2 a k back I could see a crowd gathered. That did not look good. Alas nothing I could do so continued to bounce along trying to find a smooth line for a few meters at a time.

Brigit caught up with me shortly later with the news. Buck had gone over his handlebars crossing the tiny berm to the side trail. She said he had probably broken his shoulder and was in extreme pain. That put a damper on my mood. For the next 50 kilometer I thought his ride was probably over and may even have to return to LaPaz and home. I would not even see him.

Lunch was supposed to be at a tiny village at 56 kilometer but the camp truck passed saying all they knew was Buck had gone to hospital with Annalot, our doctor. There probably would be no lunch truck today and gave us some rolls, and filled our water as it was going to be a long hard day. Everyone including the truck was trying to find a way through the washboard, even going out into the desert and trying to find hard ground to ride.

We finally came to the village and a shop was open where we were able to purchase bananas, apples, an orange soda, water, and jello. Barry and Terry caught up saying Buck was in bad condition from the pain and even if he got better there was no way he could drive on this road. Alas the mood dipped.

I rode on soon taking my usual place still riding last or near last. At 75 kilometer the lunch truck passed and Buck was in the back smiling. Yahoo. I thought about hopping aboard but thought only 35 k to go. As soon as they left I thought “did I just make a big mistake?” Once the trucks pass one is on their own. I knew I was getting very tired. Caught up with Terry, Berry, and team Norway (Hilde, and Knut who informed me Buck had just dislocated shoulder and it was back in place.

Rode on slowly gaining altitude and the washboard continued with occasional soft sand which required walking. Glad I had switched tires yesterday to wider despite little tread. Feeling pretty miserable and wondering what the hell was I doing. Washboard, soft sand, uphill when at 83.73 kilometer a thought suddenly hit me that I was on my bicycle and despite being exhausted was having fun. Climbed the hill and descended but a new fear arose. The descent was fast going about 45 kph, over heavy washboard. I was afraid the bike was going to disintegrate with the rattling. It was crashing and banging hard. But the Ibis Tranny was doing great, although my behind was not so lucky and regretted changing saddles to the fizik gobe. Alas it was a trial.

Caught up with Jorg whose gut was acting up and we rode the up and down hills till time to turn off road and onto the river bed which supposedly avoided the hills of the road if the river bed cooperated and was hard enough to ride. It was, and we had a delightful ride somewhat coasting down occasionally pedaling having to ride across the small bit of flowing water. Beautiful little canyon, and the side country was developing into southern Utah like country. After 7 kilometer arrived at the town of Atoche, a mining town where Rob was waiting for us checking off people to see who came the road or river. Hardy 2 was the only unaccounted for person. Jorg and I rode on for the final 7 k of difficult uphill out of the canyon. Rob waited for Hardy. It was a very steep climb and I ended up walking a portion. I was just exhausted. Finally topped out and the country side was incredible with towers and spires and colors and changing scenery. But I was definitely again questioning myself.

Finally arrived camp about 5:30 after a very long day. It was a beautiful site although not much protection beside the road. But all cheered and congratulated me saying it had been a very hard day on all. Everyone had had a hard time.. So where I had questioned my abilities and was thinking of going in the truck tomorrow, I felt rejuvenated and would try again tomorrow. But as Rob said tomorrow was harder. The day would climb back to 4300 meters from our current 3700 then descend to our lowest point in Bolivia about 3200 meters. Still higher than anything in the lower 48 U.S., except a few peaks in Colorado and California.

And a full moon and a lightening show to the south where we head tomorrow.

8 October 2014 bush camp. 7 kilometer south of Atocha, Bolivia

It is always nice for me to awake in the desert. Open your eyes just as it is getting light and see the last of the fading stars and the glow in the eastern horizon. Those moments to oneself when one feels oneself coming alive again.

Had been a problem the day before with Walters lunch truck. The spare tire had bounced out of the carrier beneath. Rob (one of directors of bike dreams) and Walter had gone back last evening to try and find and they were not back this morning. So it was asked that those that could ride do so as little room. Buck was only one to go in truck as injured.

So we prepared only to have Walter and Rob arrive just as ready to depart. 4-5 got in as they do not like the washboard.

The day was a day of changing scenery climbing, and descending.started at about 3700 meters eventually the high point was 4251 meters. Then descended ending up here at Tupiza at 3100 meter. But not quite that simple. There was a lot of up and down. Up a hundred down 75 up a hundred. The day ended with 1500 meters of ascent.

The final big descent was long and the wrists were very sore. Hardy and I exclaimed when we reached the bottom “wow, there are trees, and they are green”. We have not seen trees I quite a while due to the altitude, and greening up is just starting up high. Wondrous.

Hardy and I rode the last 20 k together stopping often for pictures saying better to be slow than not remember what this was as probably never be here again. And the scenery was now much like southern Utah. Cliffs canyons, rock formations. No wonder Butch Cassidy and the sun dance kid lived here. They met their demise in this area although it was not the Hollywood version of the movie. Arrived at hotel about 5:30 after a long hard ride.

Another rest day, wash clothes, sleep, spending the day mostly deciding best option for activity. Something about line dried clothes. I love em. Maybe it is the stiffness or the sterile feeling from the baking in the sun, whatever they just seem nicer to me. Up on the patio a cool breeze blowing keeping the sweat to a minimum. And drinking a beer and eating an apple. Life is good.

Ciudad de Uyuni rest day

If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand. Buddha

Awoke after a great nights sleep on the salt bed. Per usual had about 4 heavy blankets to keep warm. Fortunately I like heavy blankets. But problem-bike dreams and hotel had no coffee, just tea. Arghhh. I require coffee, and luckily know this so, so I had stowed away several Starbucks via instant coffees. Well all the coffee here is instant, but Starbucks vias are good coffee. I have gotten used to the Nescafé, but still an emergency ration was necessary. I became a hero.

Then bicycling and it was time trial day. Remember this is a race although only one (James) is really racing. But what the heck I entered with about 20 others. The rest just took off and headed to the finish and on to the town of Uyuni. At the finish everyone was coughing and hacking from jumping on the bike and roaring full tilt boogie for 7 kilometers at 3625 meters. I knew within a hundred meters I had made a mistake, but only 6900 meters to go. Finished in my usual last place finish.

After a pleasant ride into town of another 27 kilometer arriving about 11 am. Nice hotel, again Buck and I are on third floor, and surprise hot water. And no surprise internet, but as soon as 40 people get on, it became incredibly slow, and intermittent. One must be careful

The town itself has a population of about 6000 and is purely a tourist town as a step off onto the salt flats. Arriving on Sunday things were very quiet. But a rest day for catching up, so gather the weeks dirty clothes and take to the Lavanderia for washing. 2 1/2 kilos cost 37.5 bolivianos (about $5.00). The question is will I get any of it back. Supposed to be ready at 6 pm Monday.

Today is now Monday although definitely had to look that up. Cleaned the bike, greased the bottom bracket, changed the chain, changed tires to wider ones in hopes of a softer ride next days off road riding. Interesting changing tubeless tires which normally requires a compressor for inflation. Here only a floor pump and exertion. It worked.

Checked out the bike by riding out to the train cemetery where dozens of steam engines and carriages have been parked. Interesting to see them sitting in the dirt. Walter one of our drivers (from Vienna, Austria) had been out mountain bike riding as he did not have to drive today. We looked and tried to figure out what was what and just enjoyed the afternoon.

Back to town and attempted to connect via computer without wifi in attempt to download pictures from camera to iCloud, but a no go. So back to trying with wifi. Have now taken about 2000 pictures and takes way to long to back up onto iPad. Then try and determine which ones go to show although editing is minimal due to difficulty loading editing etc.

And tomorrow back to riding. 2 days off road 103 and 130 kilometers with 900 and 1500 meter climbs. Interesting. Another rest day then a couple days to Salta, Argentina with a descent to lower altitudes.

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Update got the laundry but had to pick off line myself. Ok also be careful of steps not always the same height.

LaPaz & more

Will I live tomorrow?
Well, I don’t know
Will I live tomorrow?
Well, I don’t know
But I know for sure
I will live today

Jimi Hendrix

Thoughts of our visit to LaPaz. It is another city. It has it’s unique qualities such as being built in a steep valley. I am amazed at the steepness of the slopes of which they build on, and multistory buildings. The city is apparently somewhat divided by the richer and poorer areas as are most cities. In taxi rides about town one saw the discrepancies, in general lower elevation were preferred. There is a gondola which stretches over the city from one end to the other. I am not sure if it is tourist or transport oriented. That view would provide an interesting perspective.

As in much of Bolivia trash is scattered about and there are smells of all sorts of human activity. Street vendors are scattered about the sidewalks and in the roadway, selling everything from kitchen Formica to tourist knick knacks, food vendors with some delicious looking meals. And hidden away restaurants which are difficult to see on the outside but delightful inside (with wifi). A barrage of the senses. I did not eat much as feeling sick but on our departure while waiting for Ellen, our cook, to do some final shopping for wine and cake I did sample an excellent empanadas. Fresh out of the oven and just delivered to the street vendor. Filled with beef, vegetables, hard boiled egg, olives. Oh my gosh it was a taste sensation. Sickness be damned. The two two dozen which were delivered were all gone by others by the time I had eaten and paid for my empanadas and coffee.

We had arrived in LaPaz on Friday afternoon and as noted in an earlier blog I was alone and got lost. Now I have discovered I was way lost not even remotely on the route. But I made it and another adventure was had. Saturday early we began the death road bike trip which took an entire blog site. One addition to the end of the death road was when we finished at a place called Monte Carlo resort where we had eaten and showered. After eating we were sitting out on patio watching the parrots arguing and flying about and seeing monkeys on the other side of the valley. Joost and I noticed under a banana leaf a white nodule about 10 centimeter across and deep with crawlie things. So we inspected to get a closer look. It appeared an ant colony as the critters were about medium ant size. Getting yet a closer look and lifting the leaf more the white nodule began to turn black and pulsate.. It was a wasp nest and they were now mad. We scrambled away waving arms like mad men. Ouch and ouch. 3 of us got a painful bite joust, Barry, and myself.

Sunday arrived and I was still feeling as they say in Australia a bit crook. But the diarrhea seemed somewhat at least under control. So joined 7 others we hailed to cabs by waving your arm in front of them as they drive by and proceeded to a futball game of the local LaPaz team against someone else. What a hoot. About 8000 in attendance and being Sunday was family day. Stadium was open air and about 1/2 to 2/3 full. No announcer to rouse up the crowd but all was good. Bought our tickets through a chain link fence wandering through the team paraphernalia, styrofoam cushion for sale, and food vendors of which I had to try. Empanadas, sausages, oh my gosh great. Diarrhea be damned this was amazing.

The game was good although not great. The home team won 2-0 and the fans were happy. When the final whistle blew everyone took there styrofoam cushions and tossed them into the air. At this time it was raining hard so Terry and I each purchased a poncho and worked our way out the only exit open. Found a cab in which the driver was not familiar with our area of town and we wandered around a bit, when we decided to walk, as we knew we were in our neighborhood. Another adventure.

A good meal at a restaurant, my first as had not been feeling well. Home to the hotel and wonderous sleep. Buck woke me at 6:30 and I rushed to dress and prep for day. By the time I was dressed in bike gear I was exhausted and realized today’s biking was not to be. It has been six days of diarrhea and enough, so started antibiotic in hopes it is bacterial and changed to street clothes. I was going to go in the truck.

Our two trucks are converted fire trucks and designed to hold up to 10 people including the driver. Enroute out of town we stopped at a gas station filling up with 200 liters of diesel of which local price was $68, but we have to pay tourist price of $190. That is established as there is a different rate for tourists and locals. And fire trucks are not designed to drive long distances. One must admit it is unique to drive cross country in Bolivia in a fire truck. Today there were 8 of us. Robert the driver, Maria his wife, Ellen our cook, and in the back Cristen from Norway, Elizabeth from Australia, Vivian from Australia who started in Quito but had left in Cusco for her daughters wedding in Sydney returning to trip in LaPaz, and Barry from Australia, and me. 135 kilometers later we are what we call a bush camp. Just camping beside the road near a village where there used to be a hotel but it is no longer there. Robert went and checked with the mayor ( or whatever the official is) and asked permission that we camp in the futball pitch. The mayor came and met us ( none of the bikers had arrived yet) and he seemed impressed I was from Alaska, the land of the white bears. If it rains hard it may be a bit muddy as the ground is just dirt.

The countryside is continuing altoplano. Looking out it appears the new sprouts of grass are emerging and the sheep with their new lambs give hints of coming springtime. Great time of year.

And today is Jeanne’s and my anniversary. Marriage is not always easy but I believe I am proving easy does not always make it good. Sometimes working hard leads to a wonderful time. And I would not trade the past 23 years for any other adventure. Hoping for another 23 years.

And an amazing afternoon and evening. Set up tent and shortly later 5 mm size hail then pouring rain. I thought wow, in 3 camps thus far for me I have had more rain than Joe and I had in 71 days on the great divide. But then the rain stopped and the wind with thunder and lightening. Keep in mind we are out on a big plain. I and assume others were in our sleeping bags just napping keeping warm, but the wind was now blowing about 30 mph. (Sorry I cannot guess kilometer). And my tent was sideways. It is the same tent I took on the great divide but it had never been tested in wind. Thought it was going to be flattened but it survived. Finally after a nap and watching the center pole bend in all various contortions, I got out and reset the tent length wise which made the tent happier. It has to last 2 1/2 more months.

The trucks during this time had moved. Apparently the school next to futball pitch had invited us to use two classrooms for cooking and eating. Hence indoor in one of the classrooms. Great meal noodles chicken, sauce, spinach, beans, with a great Bolivian wine of a good year (2014). Guess I will learn to like wine as entering some great wine country. After a cake with whipping cream, and some fruit on top. Then I put myself on cleanup and dishes began. Cleaning up for 45 people plus the school headmaster and a couple of students and teachers. A four part system first a big pan of hot water with soap and heavy dose of Clorox, two people use this and do first wash, then second wash is same without Clorox, third is rinse then dry and fourth separate the dishes into appropriate bins. And a good time was had by all (about 10 of us).

On the school walls were a few papers showing studies of the crusades in Europe, and studies of the valence state of the elements of the periodic chart. Not a book in sight or paper other than that on the wall.

After dinner coffee and chocolate and I meander to my tent by 8:30. Late by my standards. Feeling better would like to ride tomorrow but will wait to see how the night goes. Only a 99 kilometer day with 350 meters of elevation, but do not want a setback.

And looking ahead until 14 December when we end in Ushuaia we have only 13 hotel, hostels now. So this is my home for a while. Goodnight all. I hope you are all well and finding life as interesting as I do.

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Traffic police outskirts of LaPaz

Terry buying a ticket for big game

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Cusco – Puno

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of the country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. But you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.

Ernest Hemingway

Cusco -Racqui Ruins stage 39 122 kilometers

Great day and am beginning to understand the routine, up about 6 (first light about 5:30) organize self, decide on bike clothes for the day, breakfast at 7 and discussion of days plan. 8 am load trucks with gear. Gear is separated into three bags: camping gear (tent, sleeping bag etc) which only comes out at camps, a bag of not needed stuff comes out only on rest days, (spare tires, parts, and things only needed in rest days). The final bag is day bag of things used everyday. That one is by far my heaviest.

This morning we left as group because of Cusco traffic and not a timed day to prevent racing in traffic. Stopped at Plaza Mayor for pictures by local newspaper. Then a lap of all around the Plaza with more pictures in front of cathedral, and finally off. It felt good and I realized I had wasted a good worry, wondering if I could do this. Once on bike I remembered I knew how to ride and it was fun.

People along the sides were cheering us on and the police stopped traffic at numerous stop lights so we could go nonstop through the first part of town. Then onto a busy road and we moved to the southern part of Cusco, eventually reaching outskirts and a pace line developed about 20 miles into the ride, which at this point was slightly downhill. We were cruising at about 35-40 km per hour, and it was a kick. But the roads like the sidewalks require constant vigilance as grates are not always perpendicular to the bike wheels, there are holes and bumps, curbs, and traffic going in all direction. There does not seem to be a 3 foot rule here so cars, buses, and trucks occasionally come close.

We wound our way to the Urobamba river and proceeded to slowly climb the valley the rest of day. It is the same road Jeanne and I travelled nearly 2 1/2 weeks ago on our bus trip to Puno. Camped at same Inca Ruins we explored on the tour. Remnants of one of the largest Inca buildings is here. Only the wall remains. A beautiful camp on the grassy flats. Not sure about latrines, as none. One of the girls commented not many trees for them.

But currently laying in tent pondering if I need to put up the rain fly as would be awesome stars tonight, but can hear thunder in mountains..

Wow I made it to 6:50 and now in tent trying to ID stars. Very nice stars with the Milky Way. Spent afternoon lounging around. Went to the town square where tourist stuff was set up, took pictures and just enjoyed. Just finished dinner and now in bed.

And many concerned about tomorrow hence a 6:15 breakfast and early start. We are at an elevation of 3475 meters with a climb to 4335 meters and descending to Pukara 159 kilometers away. One of the bigger distances on the trip. And tomorrow we enter the altoplano which we will cover for nearly 3000 kilometers in 4 weeks. Mostly flat, but high.

Exciting stuff

Racqui Ruins – 3 K short of Pucara bush camp stage 40. 159 kilometers

Awakened at 5 am by loudspeaker over the valley with some political announcement. Peru has an election coming up 5 October. Pack up tent and sleeping bag a bit wet do to dew. It did freeze last nite, but once the sun hit about 6:30 it warmed up nicely. Depart at 7:15 after packing trucks.

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A great day of riding but long. Made it in by 4 pm and distracted by soup before completing mission of getting camp gear. Then it started to sprinkle and I went to set up camp. Area is like the high desert but no sage brush, but has cow patties. Nice place but hard ground. And as finished setting up tent it really began to rain stopping when the truck siren went off announcing dinner. Good timing.

As for the day, 20 k very pleasant gradual up then started climbing for the next next 40 K arriving at pass (Aba la Raya) at 4335 meters about 11:30 to another awesome lunch. Roll, meats, cheese, guacamole, onions, veggies, and bananas and apples.

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Beautiful descent for 25 K averaging 40K per hour, then flattened out and kept a steady 20-25 K for the last 75 kilometers to camp. At first rode with Mario just so we had someone to ride with, but his gut was off with diarrhea and after 2 times for trip beside the road (no shelter or cover anywhere) he decided to take the truck which was still behind us, then I rode for a few kilometers with Hardy from Germany. He just joined in Cusco after riding Germany to Spain and flying to Brasilia and taking 3 months to ride to Cusco. He leaves in Mendoza and will ride to Rio. Says will miss trip south to Ushuaia, but stated one always will miss something. Better to just enjoy what you have. I have to agree with his philosophy. After a few K I left him and rode alone for remainder of day. Other riders way ahead.

The birds were amazing. Hawks mostly, a kestrel like bird, but appeared like a peregrine but did not act as such. A huge hawk, like a goshawk, soaring above. And a crow like bird size of raven with red and yellow beak. All the birds seem to have larger than usual wings.

And riding a gradual uphill about 10 Kilometers from end the usual dog laying beside the road. Seems a dog every kilometer or so and all appear to tired to barely look around, but this one just as I passed decided might be worth a try, and he took off. I had a head start so thought I could outrun him. Then his buddy from house 50 meters off other side of road decided to join in. I topped out at 38 kilometer an hour and thought they would quit, but they stuck with me for 1/2 a K before calling it off. One on each side. And I was pooped. Next move would have been slam on brakes and just stop. Everyone here agrees that is best: give them nothing to chase.

Watching folks was great along the way. Out of Cusco the corn is about a foot high and folks were out weeding. As we approached the pass they were just planting potatoes. All by hand with plowing either by hand or draft cows.

At one of the toll booths stopped by guard who wanted to congratulate me. At least I think that was the conversation. He only spoke Spanish hence a bit of confusion, but fun anyway. Bikes go through the toll for free. We are riding the main highway of Peru from north to south, although I think there is a main highway on coast too. Traffic much less near pass but still one must be cautious.

The people have been very pleasant and kids coming out to high five and slap hands going by. Makes me feel like I am part of something. Brought tears to my eyes when I think of this. But then I get tears when I see anyone pushing the limits and doing their best, no matter what; racing dogs, skiing, climbing, or raising kids.

And a great dinner of beef stroganoff, with a pudding like desert with bananas and something else in it. I had two helpings of dinner and desert. Now 7 pm and everyone in tents for another early start tomorrow. Very pleasant in tent. As Rob says camping is much nicer than hotels as every night is the same home. Hotels are different each time and you never know what to expect. Camp is consistent and mine very comfortable everything in its place.

And beautiful now as up to pee for before bed. Tents scattered about most with a light on, I suspect doing much as I am, recollecting the day and listening to it rain.

Pucara – Puno stage 41 111kilometers

Up at 5:30 so as get to Puno early, so those that want to can go visit the floating islands. Left camp at 7:15 arriving at lunch truck just shy of Juliaca by 9:30; 60 kilometer of flat riding. We were told to ride in groups as Juliaca can be a rough town. Apparently from the tour to Puno nearly three weeks ago with Jeanne they said Juliaca was only established about 1985 and is mostly immigrants from Bolivia. I remember it for the 15000 foot runway. Going through on a bus was one thing, riding bicycles is totally different. I half expected a gun fight to emerge in the streets. Then through the center of town with Marius, his wife Hannie, Brigit (all from Holland) and I all agreeing traffic was like Delhi and India. Except no elephants or camels, but there were sheep, pedicabs, 3 wheel bicycle carts, taxis, trucks, buses, minivans, pedestrians and us vying for the same small space. Wild! Have to watch the usual road conditions but 360 degrees around you as things come from any direction and rapidly. We were glad to make it through.

Other than Juliaca and the city of Puno the riding today was great. Flat (except last 8 kilometers with a 435 meter climb) but reminds me of why I like touring. You see the horizon and you just keep going to yet another horizon. You see hills in the distance and then you cross them and the next horizon emerges. I love it. Some did not like the flats but alas. And I realized my fear of starting in Cusco with the others having ridden for six weeks was a realistic fear. But the mountains wore them down. They are tired having ridden an average of 120 kilometers a day over rough terrain and climbs nearly every day of 1000 to 2500 meters. All are tired. At first I was very jealous of missing the ride from Quito to Cusco, but now not so sure. One cannot fail to underestimate the effects of altitude on us low landers.

And discussing living here, Hannie described it as bleak. Very few trees, and growing things is difficult. And it is dirty with trash. So much different than seeing from the bus. From the bicycle one gets the feel of the hills and altitude, the cold, and the existence of the locals. Very interesting I find.

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Am finding internet connection frustrating and this is not receiving the editing it should. But I should be enjoying the trip not playing with technology. Hope you are enjoying it. I am.

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