So where does the name "Latitude Fifty Four" come from?
The final destination for this motorcycle adventure was the city of Ushuaia located in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina.
The latitude of this city is 54° 47' South.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Day 129 to Day 130

March 12th, 2006: La Paz, Bolivia to Salinas De Garcia Mendoza, Bolivia
March 13th, 2006: Salinas De Garcia Mendoza, Bolivia to Oruro, Bolivia

Our intention was to head south from La Paz towards a small town called Salinas which was located in salt flats just east of the Chilean border. The first 3/4 of the drive was an absolutely great highway. Smooth rolling curves, flat pavement, gorgeous mountains! We were amazed at what great time we were making when suddenly the road turned into foot deep potholes, mud and half finished walkways. We started to get worried and asked a few people around town how the drive was to Salinas. They told us that the roads were bad in the town, but that shortly after that they would get better, and that we shouldn't worry. Sure enough, the second we left the city the roads were smoothly paved again. We drove a little while longer and arrived in another city called Huari. When we left Huari, we found ourselves driving along a tiny gravel road that hardly resembled the double-thick line on our map. We drove a little way back and asked the first person we saw for directions assuming we were lost, but they assured us that we were heading in the right direction. We then asked how long it would be to Salinas and they told us only 2 hours. We drove back along that gravel road, stopping to confirm with every person we saw if we were going in the right direction and each time they assured us that we were on the correct road. The problem was, that there really wasn't much of a road to speak of. By the time we had asked the third person if we were still on the way to Salinas the road had narrowed to nothing more than two tire tracks in the sand, and we had crossed 6 small rivers, but by this point in the day it was much to late to turn around. Besides, everyone we talked to said it was the right highway and not to worry because the road was bad for a while, but got better eventually. We drove, and drove, and drove....or should I say "motocrossed" and "motocrossed" and "motocrossed" until we hit a giant river. If you look closely to the left and right of the picture (the one that looks like a lake to the left) you can actually see the highway ends descending into the river, and a small line of rocks between the banks that are evidently there to prevent too much of the sand from washing away when cars drive through the river. We opted to take the side-route and instead used a concrete walking bridge to drive over. We kept trekking on until suddenly we heard the rumbling of thunderclouds. The sky began to get very dark and large raindrops began pelting down on the bikes. We gave it full throttle trying to outrun the rain since it looked like blue skies ahead, and as soon as we were out of the rain we stopped the bikes to put on some warmer clothes. We bundled up the best we could, but unfortunately my heated vest was out of commission as a result of a broken wire which caused a hot spot in the vest. It not only melted through the outer layer of the vest, but also my sweater, t-shirt, and tank top before finally leaving a sizeable char mark on my bra. My dad was nice enough to offer me his heated vest instead, and just as we were gearing up the rain caught up to us again! We tried to outrun the rain a second time, but by this time the clay road was turning to a thick slippery orange goo full of barely visible potholes. It was also quite dark out now so it was becoming increasing difficult to see. After battling the driving conditions for an hour we came across a village consisting of a few mud shacks. We stopped and asked a lady how far it was to Salinas. She told us it was only 2 hours away. We were a little worried that after driving for a full hour it was still apparently 2 hours away, but thought perhaps she was mistaken. We would just ask the next person we saw to clarify. The problem was, that we didn't see another person for 2 hours. When we finally came across the next tiny mud shack village we asked the first person we saw how much time we had left before we got to Salinas. She told us 3 hours. This is when the panick really started to set it. It was not only getting dark, and storming on and off, but there was no sign of Salinas and all we knew was that we were supposed to be in Salinas anywhere between 3 hours from now and 1 hour ago. The conditions must have gotten the better of me because the next thing I knew I blurted out in a desperate tone "Well, can't we just stay here? Maybe someone has a llama barn we can sleep in or will just be for one night!" My dad had a good laugh over that one and said that we should just keep trucking along slowly and eventually we would get there. We drove for another hour, now in pitch darkness on whatever remained of the road in hopes that we would eventually find the elusive Salinas, when we came across a checkpoint of some sort. A lady was manning the checkpoint with what I can only assume was her pet alpaca. I certainly hope he wasn't the "guard alpaca." When we stopped at the gate a few more people poked their heads out of the booth to see what the commotion was all about. Slowly the lady came walking up to the bikes, the alpaca shuffling hesitantly behind, and rather inquisitively asked us where we were headed to. We used the opportunity to ask her where Salinas was and we were pretty surprised when she said "this is Salinas". I looked into the total darkness and succeeded in seeing nothing aside from the gate that was blocking our path and the alpaca curiously tilting its head from side to side each time I looked around. We asked if there actually was a hotel in this city as we were promised over and again. She said that there was a hostal in the plaza of the city. Now totally baffled we thanked her and drove a few feet up the "highway" in hopes that the mystery city would suddenly emerge. We stopped at an adobe brick house and asked where the hotel was. Just as the lady suggested, we were directed to the plaza, but again we saw nothing. We drove a few more feet up the road, stopped at another adobe brick house and asked once more where the hostal was. Yet again we were told to just drive to the plaza, but this time we were given directions. He even told us the "good road" to take to get to the plaza. Thank goodness we didn't take the bad road because the "good road" turned out to be a narrow street that was undergoing renovations to install a sewage pipeline and therefore had a giant gorge carved into the middle of it leaving only 2 feet between the hole and the the walls of the houses. We carefully shimmied our way down the narrow path and in pitch darkness arrived in the plaza of the city. The only light in the whole village was coming from one dimly lit neon bulb at the entrance of the hostal and another one from a street vendor's booth. Although everyone we talked to was really friendly and strangers would wish you a nice evening when passing by, the utter darkness gave the eerie impression that people were lurking in the shadows. My dad went into the hostal to ask about lodging and they told us that they had a room available for the night for $1.10. The price was good, but of course that meant that the room probably was not, and since they were the only place in town we didn't have any options left. We were pretty tired at this point, so just about anything would do, and "just about anything" was what we got. To get to the room you had to climb a concrete staircase up to the landing which was little more than some scaffolding made out of bits and pieces of metal piping and rebar welded together. The floor of the landing consisted of wooden planks laid on the piping with little concern as to minimizing the gaps between the boards. The room had only two small single cots and a wooden coat rack in the corner with the same wooden planks as on the outside landing for a floor. The windows were cracked, the doors didn't lock and the bathroom was communal to half the people in the village. A hot shower would have been so welcome after the strenuous drive, but I got one look at the mildewy rags bundled up in shower area resting in a nest of hairs and changed my mind. Then I also realized the shower area was in no way seperated from the leaking toilet and used-toilet-paper-garbage-can area (flushing paper is highly discouraged), and definitely scrapped the idea of the shower. Besides, there was no covering on the window in the bathroom and the door not only didn't lock, but also didn't close properly anyways. I figured using the tap would at least be safe but as soon as I turned on the tap water came shooting out of a pipe that was located directly on top of the faucet but for some inexplicable reason was facing the side of the sink instead of the basin thereby causing water to splash all over the floor and not even remotely close to the sink. By the time we unloaded all of our luggage and got used to the idea of our surroundings we mustered up enough courage to order some food. We only had one small bun in the morning, and after such a hard day of riding we were pretty hungry. We were pleased when the owner plopped down some hot coffees followed by bread, two piping hot bowls of alpaca soup and some sort of alpaca/carrot/rice mush. It actually tasted rather good and after chowing down heartily we worked on our coffees. My dad made a bit of a face when he got to the bottom of the cup because there was a large coffee grind in the bottom of his cup. As he spit it out onto his plate I began laughing uncontrollably when I realized the large coffee grind was, in reality, a large fly. I suppose when things get that bad all you can really do is laugh about your luck, so my dad joined in and we both ended up laughing until we had tears in our eyes. After we finished our borderline mental breakdowns it was time for some sleep. I pulled back the wool blankets and realized you were given one flat sheet which could either be used to cover up the dingy mattress or as a clean barrier between the blankets that had probably been on that bed unwashed for the last two decades. There were no pillowcases either. I decided that for my own mental well-being I would use the bottom sheet to cover up the mattress and pillow, add extra reinforcement over the pillow with my rain suit, and sleep in my riding gear to minimize contact with anything in the room. I'm still not sure if the room was actually worth the $1.10, but then again, I was about ready to sleep in a llama barn, so I suppose it was at least a step up from that.
After a less than stellar sleep we were ready to hit the road again. We had some bread and coffee for breakfast...minus the flies this time....loaded up the bikes and started towards the Chilean border from Salinas. Unfortunately after battling the road for a good 15 minutes we rendered it futile. We were told it was only 3 hours on that road to Chile, but as we learned yesterday, that didn't really mean a heck of a lot, plus we were now wondering if there would even be a proper border when we got to the frontera. In addition, not only were these roads bad, but they also had a heck of a lot of climbing involved. After some deliberation we both agreed to cut our losses and make the 4 and a half hour trip back towards La Paz. We found a little bit of a shortcut to get to Huari, which would save us about 9 river crossings, so we cut our total down from 27 to 18 (that only includes rivers that actually had water in them at the time and omits any that had dried up between rains)!! There was a catch...of course! One of the rivers we crossed in lieu of some smaller ones was a very deep one and we had to blast through it full throttle since the waterline was coming dangerously close to the muffler. The other catch was the river full of quick sand. I had just crossed the first stream of water, and slowed down slightly to turn my wheel to cross the second. As soon as I lost my momentum my bike started to sink in the sand. I tried to give it one quick rev of the throttle in hopes I'd pop out, but all that succeeded in doing was sinking my bike tire further. I put my feet down in the sand to try to see if I could walk the bike out only to find that my feet started sinking into the sand. Suddenly I found myself up to calf level in the muck with sand running into my boots and every time I tried to dislodge my feet all that happened was that I sunk deeper! In a panick I let out a huge "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I'm siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnkkkkkiiiiiiiiing!!!!!!!!" to my dad. One look at my bike, and me encased in the muck and my dad just burst out laughing. Using my dad as a support beam I yanked myself up out of the sand and then finally got to assess the damage myself. I got one look at the rear of the bike sunken all the way past the chain and all I could to my dad was "Uh oh. What now?". He replied with "Well, we don't have a rope and there isn't a sign of anything for miles....first we take a picture.....then we'll figure out how to get out of this mess." We unloaded all the luggage to lighten up the bike, and tried a few times to push or pull it out to no avail. I suggested trying to get some rocks under the wheels somehow so that the bike had a base. My dad said we should put a large rock under the kickstand first so we could try to tilt the bike over and dislodge it a bit, then use rocks under the wheels so that the tires had grip. We gathered up a bunch of them, and began the process of carefully tilting the bike over to one side, shoving in as many rocks as we could, then switching sides and repeating the process. It actually worked rather well, and after a few minutes of that we had the bike ready. All we had to do then was walk the bike over to the other bank and we were home free!! I took as much sand off of the bike as I could before loading it up and starting on my way again. Thankfully the aforementioned deep river was the next thing we hit after getting stuck in the sand, so a lot of it probably washed off in that crossing. We stopped for the night in a city called Oruro, rather than heading to La Paz to save some driving. Oruro isn't a very tourist town so we got the usual strange looks at every stop. We spent some of the evening wandering around the market. All of the local markets are sectioned off according to what they sell. The organization of some areas is pretty self explanatory, such as the meats section, the fruit juices section, the pharmacy street, or the clothing block. Other areas are a little less clear. Some of these include the padlocks/paperclips/walkman booths which don't belong in the hardware street, or the whistles/wooden frogs/glow in the dark plastic ants tables which are for some reason separate from the toys area. While we were trying to figure out the organization scheme we stumbled across the most peculiar booths we'd seen yet. The ladies working at the booth would take a sheet of dot matrix printer paper. They would then place various items on it including such things as salt or talc pucks that had images embossed in them, dried egg noodles or beans, small balls of llama fur, herbs, and the clencher, teddy bear golden graham cookies. We inquired and were told that it was for medicinal purposes. We then asked what the shrivelled up alpaca fetuses and dried armadillos were for. The lady told us very sternly, because they are pretty, and then rolled her eyes at the idiocy of our question.

1 comment:

worldrider said...

well maybe not the easiest escape route! your mud stories make me smile! that's the Andes in the summer huh? wet, wet and more wet.