As luck would have it we appear to have stumbled upon the world woofing competition venue and last night was obviously the final. Dogs from around the world seem to have descended on the place and spent the whole night trying to out bark each other. There seemed to be a lot of fighting amongst the crown to from what I could hear. Consequently, very very little sleep.
Breakfast was served in super slow motion so we left late and it was already getting warm as we headed into the Atacama desert. This place is the driest on earth, in some places it’s apparently never ever rained. It’s a very high desert too, very rocky and and rough here, not big and golden traditional sandy desert like I expected. Hot though, very very very hot. Long stretches of straight road shimmering to the horizon and not much else here. This is the first bit of the traditional Pan American highway that we’ve done and it’s pretty mind numbing for a while. It’s not until later when we come down from the high plains that you see the kind of scenery that the Dakar boys play in with their big expensive toys.
Again the scale is hard to describe. Your brain is saying ‘surely not’ but your eyes are saying ‘yep, it really is that big.’ The road winds up and down through long canyons. We often go from 2000m down to sea level then back up to 2000m again and it makes you feel a bit strange. The roads have limitless, barrier less falls at the sides. If you go over the edge here you’d probably die of old age before you hit the bottom. Up and down more canyons/super duper sized dunes in the afternoon. Lack of petrol is the only damper on the funometer. We get to Arica and end up in a real shit hole in the arse end of town. it’s in Prat street. I kid you not. The place is an absolute hovel. 1950s bathroom furniture, beds that you don’t want to breath in near, windowless rooms and a general air of neglect and damp. All the surrounding shops have bars across the fronts and the pavements are thick with dirt and unmentionable fluids. Going out has to be done in multiples, I’ve no compulsion to be a target so a few of us head up to the better part of town and eat before returning to the dark side for a night of sweat and discomfort.
Out of the shit pit and another day of riotous roads round and and round and up and down the mountains. At first its the big dunes, that’s big like a pyramid dunes, big like bring a quarry truck bucket and a 200 foot crane spade dunes. Then the mountains proper begin. The roads get really scary for a while with big off camber bends running off into sharp shadows. I stuck the turtles head out a couple of times when I misread corners and I had to put my foot down once speedway style to pick it up and stop myself meeting rock. Some of this has to do with the altitude. We’ve been up and down big changes over the last week or so and it really effects your thinking. We’ve really high today again, between 3 and 4000m and we all feel bad. One bloke says it makes him feel ‘dizzly’ which is about right. It’s hard to concentrate and you seem to have a permanent headache. We go to look for food in a little village perched off to the
side and we descend into a cafe who’s not had a customer for a month at least. She is lovely lady, a Chilean/Italian cross and we eat her out of house and home. All her coffee, milk, bread, biscuits, sweets, pretty well everything she has available is consumed in a short burst of gluttony and she charges us just a couple of pounds each. Doing random visits like that you meet the absolute nicest people. In an isolated Chilean village you pick a random house and come across a lovely lady who says she is a descendant of italian gypsies, speaks excellent English, feeds you everything she has and charges you virtually nothing, all with a big beaming smile on her face. ‘Petrol?’ I ask. ‘At the hotel’ she says. Obviously! We go to the single village shop and ask. Bloke comes to the gate and lets us into the back of the hotel where he serves petrol from a barrel. All part of the experience. Watch the little kids on there way to school in the thin morning sunshine. Sometimes a life like this seems almost to tempting to resist but I can bet you freeze your tits off in the winter and have to live on a single biscuit fir months on end. Up to the Chilean boarder.
What can you say about the scenery up here? My ‘spectaculometer’ has been reading off the scale for days and today it’s finally broken. It’s amazing, the whole place is just stunning. Big, snow covered ex-volcanoes reaching up to touch the clouds, beautiful lakes with pink flamingoes on, limitless blue sky punctuated with Daz white clouds. Mountain hugging roads again, beautifully bendy but at this altitude, rough dangerous with serious pothole acne. Out of Chile in an instant. ‘Go’ says the bloke as we hand over our passports documents. ‘No stamp?’ ‘Go…Finish’ says the bloke. Off we go to the Bolivia border 5 miles down the road. ‘No stamp’ says the Bolivian bloke. These two must play people ping pong all day long for a laugh.
Back to the Chile border and find another bloke in another office to get stamped properly, then back to Bolivia. Get the passport stamped in no time, the bikes however are a different matter entirely. Off to portacabin No.1, fill in a form, then it’s a treasure hunt arrangement to identify the next stop. There are a maze of alleys and doorways in what looks like an army training building, the kind that the army use to conduct practice raids. It has a myriad of different sized unmarked entrances of varying sizes and darkness and it looks like it’s all been shot at an bombed for the last 3 months. Sometimes you wander into people that started their hunts in the 1960 & still haven’t found the right doorway. We’re lucky, we find the photocopy room somewhere in the bowels after using a combination of GPS, divining rods, lucky heather and a bunch of banknotes. Go get another form then climb through a half height Alice in Wonderland styley doorway halfway up a wall (I kid you not – it was MAD) and up some stairs to a queue. Well queue implies some occasional movement towards and eventual destination but this queue is special. At the head is a woman that looks like the cat in the hat tapping away at a computer/abacas halfbreed. I’m sure I saw a ‘Made by Charles Babbage’ sticker on the side. Her finger taps are like drips….drip…drip…..shift/drip.. She’s not going to get RSI anytime soon that’s for sure. It’s hot, it’s smelly and you can feel yourself getting more and more tense every second. This is definitely another stop on my waiting holiday tour. Eventually, after three stops to shave and two good nights sleep I get to the front of the queue and my details are tap….tap……..tap……tapped in and I can go.. as soon as I get some road tax. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH bollox. ‘£1 please’, ‘Are you sure? Why bother?’.
Off we go into Bolivia, the poorest nation is South America. Immediately I see the difference in the people, nutty skinned and stunted through generations of malnutrition. The women wearing traditional dress, all bent over and in the fields breaking their backs to scrape a living. We’re off to La Paz, the highest capital city on earth tonight. Beautiful scenery dissected by roads made of a thin layer of chocolate. The tracks in the road are so deep you feel like a scalextric car, no steering required. Reach La Paz towards dark …. go through a toll post and the city’s appearance is immediate and stunning down below us. Its virtually indescribable. I’ve never seen anything else even remotely like it anywhere.
The sight of it in the dusk has set my ‘amazinometer’ right off the scale and there is a involuntary intake of breath as you take the sight in. Imagine a huge bowl, 3000ft deep, miles and miles wide, surrounded by 6000m snow capped mountains. Pour some glue in the bowl then get a few million tiny red lego houses and pour them in. Spin the bowl until the edges are completely covered in the houses, let it set and you have La Paz. Houses stacked on top of one another as far as the eye can see. It must be their Inca origins, but the whole effect is less Machu Picchu, more Mucha PooPoo. The scene looks absolutely unreal, like a film set from the Matrix, it just looks impossible. The roads in look unfeasibly steep but in we go. You know those charity boxes where you put in a penny and it rolls down inside a bowl getting quicker and quicker, well that’s the journey in. Down down down, round round round then we reach the point where the penny drops, chaos central.
We get a taxi and try to follow but there are one and a half cars for every single car space and people are just everywhere. A bit like India without the cows and donkeys. the bikes are getting really hot, one bike falls. It’s impossible to filter unless you’re riding a piece of cigarette paper, the gaps are just not wide enough and frequently have people running through them. I get separated. I’m alone….again. Fuck. Get some instructions from a local and head in a general direction, follow my nose, eyes and ears on stalks. Find the place on a 1 in 1 hill and go to park but the garage is full. This is a really lovely 4 star hotel for a change with a nice marble clad reception area. The porter comes out and points to the front door. ‘in here’ Ok, mate, no problem. I run the old girl over the steps and into reception and park on their lovely shiny floor. Later I move the bike into the ballroom! Thats the poshest garage my bike has ever been in, she deserves it though.
One of the nicest blokes in the group organises a couple of takes to take us out of the city. We’d be here all day on our own. Up up up we go, 1 in 3 or less hills all the way up out of the bowl, like pulling a two hour long wheelie. I reckon 90% of the worlds clutch and brake production must come here. Hot bikes, hot clutches, hot tempers. You can’t help but be impressed every time you look behind and its difficult to stop yourself spending most you time doing it – its incredible. Climb over the rim and use 2nd and 3rd gear for the first time in an hour.
We’re heading for lake Titicaca today, the highest freshwater lake on the planet at 12,500ft. Out through the fields, someone has definitely spilled a big can of green paint here. It’s soooooooo green. Lots of animals on small farms and fields being ploughed by Oxen. Simple hard lives. God only knows what it’s like in the winter here though once that snow line starts enveloping this land. We get to Titicaca early. The lake is FLIPPIN HUGE.
Get the ferry across part of the lake. Reverse on, ride off. The next 30 miles to Copacabana I award another ‘best of breed’ gold star to the road. This is their primary source of tourist income and the road is new. Fantastic sweeping barrierless bends with the views of the lake trying to seduce you over the edge and into the deep blue cool water. What a ride, what an truly amazing ride. Get to Copacabana quite early and into a hotel on the lakes edge. Talk about room with a view! How lucky am I? Walk around the small town and watch the kids out of school having a running race through the streets, at 3800m. I can barely breath and they’re running, laughing and don’t look bothered in the slightest. Sit on the waters edge and watch the reed boats land on the shore accompanied by a beautiful rose coloured sunsetNext Page