Bolivia, my third country in South America, is a surreal country, with eye-popping scenery at a breath-taking altitude. By breath-taking, of course, I mean much of the cycling is between 3000 and 4000 meters above sea level. Kate and I called it the soul-crusher, and after a few short days of biking, decided any future journeys would take place by motorcycle.
Yes, Bolivia was tough. We knew it would be - after all, our route shadowed the Andes! - but I think both Kate and I were surprised by the effects of altitude, sand roads, food poisoning… oh, and our own mechanical ineptness. We spent one morning struggling, me complaining that my front rim was too tight and my brake kept pulling, while Kate couldn’t understand why her brake no longer worked. Yes, it took 30 kilometers before we realized we’d switched wheels after short bus ride (you generally need to take the front wheels off for bus rides, then tip the driver an extra $5 or so each.) We’re obviously both amazing engineers - perhaps a change in careers is for the best!
We nearly died of boredom on an expensive jeep tour of the southwest corner of the country (and it’s probably for the best as trying to bike this route would, no doubt, have killed us in fact, peaking at over 5000m in altitude on painfully sandy-dirt roads) but the scenery was stunning. As though we were on a different planet, we saw belching craters, red and green lakes, strange rock formations, and of course flamingos. Who’d have thought it?
We then headed north from Uyuni and its enormous salt lake to La Paz, through true highlands on some of the worst roads of the trip. We went several days without villages, camping in the empty plateaus and occasionally awakened by curious shepherds. When we did come to a town with a market, we found more dried llama fetuses and flamingo wings than food… when we finally made it to La Paz we pigged out on sushi, forgetting the number one rule of sushi: Do NOT eat sushi in a landlocked South American country infamous for its poor hygiene. Our next several days were fun as we enjoyed the clean bathrooms and amazing American TV of some of the nicer hotels in the city. And then, over all too soon and not soon enough, just waking up from a dream, we cycled north past Lake Titicaca and into Peru. Rolling hills along the beautiful lake, a nice breeze, whitewashed cathedrals and amazing pavement, the last day of biking was everything that the rest of Bolivia was not: peaceful, enjoyable, and fast. Goodbye, soul-crusher, may I never see you again on a bicycle!