30 November 2003

Well, Lois and I have been parked in La Paz for a while now..  My bike had broken down again..  I thought it is the stator brushes, which Fanch had send me.  So I pulled the stator at Frank's house, and asked him to run it and the new brushes over to his mechanic to solder the new brushes on.  Problem was, Frank accidentally broke the stator on the way there.  So it took another 2 or 3 days to get that fixed, as apparently it is magnesium..  So finally I got that back, only to find that it didn't solve any problems.  I finally gave up and brought the whole bike to Christian's.  He found a loose connection on the stator, and fixed that.  The bike is now charging better than it ever has..  almost 14v.  Which of course, concerns me...  But what the hell.

Amalia continues to improve.  She had another surgery the other night to drain off excess blood from her skull, and on Thursday her boyfriend Zig showed up..  He is taking over the lion's share of the responsibility.  Lois and I, if we can get our bikes working and whatnot, plan to leave in a day or two for southern Bolivia.  Plus, we hope to make a major surprise improvement to both our bikes..  but we are having trouble tracking down the necessary parts.  Hopefully tomorrow we will find what we need.

25 November 2003

Amalia is doing better..  She is lucid, but has many questions.  She had surgery this morning to straighten out her nose and jaw, and is not allowed to talk right now..  but can write.  Her sense of humor is intact, as she suggested while they were at it, maybe they could do something about the wrinkles around her eyes...

Based on the suggestion of a few people, I have set up an email address if anyone wants to send a get well email to Amalia.  Frank will print the emails up and read them to her in the hospital for as long as she is there.  If you want to send an email, send it to (email link removed).


24 November 2003

Well, yesterday was fucking awful..

Amalia, one of the British girls I am currently traveling with, crashed badly yesterday. We got her to the best hospital in La Paz, Bolivia... but she is in very serious condition in intensive care with many injuries, including missing teeth, broken jaw, lacerations to chin and nose, dislocated elbow and shoulder, and the most serious being a skull fracture.  Lois, the other British biker, and I visited her this morning.  She is much better than last night..  Lucid, talkative, pissed off at herself, and a bit ornery.  A vast improvement over yesterday.

The story goes something like this:

I was leading, Amalia was next, then Lois.  I stopped for a break and Lois arrived.  Immediately I was worried.  Lois said there was a crowd of people next to a bus (not uncommon) a mile or so back.  So we turned around and I sped back.  Amalia had crashed hard, and was not wearing a full face helmet.  Her face was very cut up, her jaw broken, and her right arm dislocated and shoulder and elbow.  There was a lot of blood from her facial wounds, and I knew it was serious.  I figured out that nobody had gone for an ambulance, so I told Lois to stay with Amalia, and I took off to the nearest town, about 15 miles away.  There is a military base there, and I got an ambulance on it's way.  The entire time it took me to get an ambulance..  which seemed like forever, I had no idea of Amalia's condition, other than I knew it was bad.  As soon as the ambulance left, I sped back to the scene, to find that Amalia was now semi conscious and responding.  Good news.  There was also a family with a doctor that were on a day trip to Copacabana that had stopped.  They knew some English, and their daughter was fluent.  It was a godsend, as the doctor was able to stabilize Amalia, and the daughter was able to talk to Lois and I and help communicate with everyone.

The ambulance finally showed up, and we loaded Amalia and Lois and sent them on their way to the military base.  I stayed with the bikes, trying to figure how to get two working bikes and one broken bike the 15 miles into town.  Luckily, another ambulance showed up (from the town on the other side of us) and one of the ambulance personnel rode Lois' bike while I rode mine to the military base.  I then checked on Amalia, who was getting a little cleaned up and stabilized at the base for the 3 hour ambulance ride to La Paz.  The ambulance guy who rode Lois' bike found a taxi willing to carry Amalia's bike, and he took the taxi back to the scene and sent the bike back.  As this happened, the ambulance with Amalia and Lois headed for La Paz.

I was then stuck in a small town with three bikes..   Luckily, I was able to reach Frank.  He borrowed a truck and started driving towards me.  I managed to get all three bikes on a small ferry across Lago Titicaca, and waited on the La Paz side for him.  The family that had stopped and helped before were on their way back, and found me sitting on a step in the town square with three bikes.  They were nicer then ever, offering support and some sandwiches.  Finally, Frank showed up, we got the bikes loaded, and headed for La Paz.  We dropped off the borrowed truck and returned to Frank's house, where we found Lois having just returned from the hospital....

We don't know how or why she crashed, except there were some potholes around, and a bunch of dogs that enjoyed chasing motos at times..  We can only guess that some combination caused her crash.

Anyway, Lois and I are now staying with Frank and Anna, and will be here for a little while..  not sure what anyone's plans are at this point.

23 November 2003

Well, a few days ago one of the British lasses Amalia and I set off for Puno (Amalia was, incidentally, the manager of Ace Cafe in London before she chucked it all to travel).  The other young lady, Lois, was waiting for parts in Cusco, and caught up with us the next night..

We had heard that there were blockades between Cusco and Puno, but we had also heard they would be broken up by the day we were leaving (for those that don't know, whenever the rural poor people get angry about something or another, they blockade the roads in protest.  This is what happened in La Paz that almost ruined my return).

Anyway, there were blockades.  About 50 miles out of Cusco we came upon piles of rocks, broken glass and trees scattered across the road.  On bikes, we were able to swerve in and out, and kept going, well aware it was going to get worse.

We arrived in one town and they had a huge pile of dirt all the way across the road..  Hundreds of locals were out and about.  The protesters had a microphone and loudspeaker.  The man holding the mic waved at us, and motioned for us to come around the side over the sidewalk.  Sweet, we could get through.  Except..   the women didn't agree.  They stood in our way, wearing long black braids, colorful traditional Andean clothes, and small bowler hats...  holding buckets of dirty water and rocks ready to throw at us.  We pleaded, cajoled, and sat there.  Nothing doing.  Several of the men also tried to talk the women into letting us go, but they stood firm.

Amalia, being the novelty and not a threat, got off the bike and walked up to the mic.  The guy handed her the mic, and asked her to talk.  So she gave an eloquent speech about the beautiful country, the nice people, and about how much we wanted to see more of their nice country.  Problem was, Amalia knows about as much Spanish as I do, which is to say not a lot, so she gave the speech in English.  Nevertheless, the crowd cheered when she finished, and we thought maybe we would get through.  But no, the women were not amused by Amalia's speech, and continued to block the way.

So, we sat there.  And as we sat there, they convened a sort of impromptu town meeting.  The women, the men, and anyone else who cared to join met in a circle in the middle of the street.  They talked, they pleaded, they argued, and finally, the women gave in.  The crowd applauded, and we were allowed through!!!

Of course, that meant we had to spend the next 50 miles avoiding rocks, glass, felled trees, blocked bridges, old car shells, and fires.  However, we no longer had any problem with the people.  Each blockade we came to we were waved around, sometimes over very narrow bridges, sometimes down railroad tracks, sometimes over rough dirt roads, sometimes through yards and small fields, once over a mossy railroad bridge that I thought wasn't going to hold my bike.  And we continued to make ground.  After 50 miles and several hours, and as we approached the mountain pass, the blockades ended.

It was interesting, amusing, a little scary at times, but certainly one hell of an experience.

The next day Amalia and I visited the floating islands in Lago Titicaca..  which are basically huge rafts made of reeds.  The people that live on them originally did so to escape persecution by the folks that lived on the land..  So they set up these islands where no one would bother them.  The whole trip was quite touristy, but interesting.  Where else do you see people living on man-made floating islands?

Then today, after Lois had caught up with us in Puno, the three of us rode into Bolivia.  I was a little concerned, as we crossed the same border as the one I had to bribe my way out of.  When I was bribing the guy a few weeks ago, he asked me if I was coming back to Bolivia, and I said yes.  He wasn't thrilled about it, so I told him I would be coming back across another border.  But I decided against that, and came back across the same one.  I had to deal with the same guy yesterday, but either he didn't remember me or he didn't care..  which was fine by me.

19 November 2003

A few stories from the past week or so...

When Dieter and I were riding through the Sacred Valley before we went to Machu Picchu, we were stopped at one ruin site, and were talking with the women selling trinkets and whatnot.  They asked how long we were traveling for, and when we responded, they said that it cost a lot of money.  We replied that we had no "espousa, novia, casa, apartimento, or ninos (wife, girlfriend, house, apartment, or children)".  It totally threw them, as everyone here has families..  But they then understood how we could travel.

Jeffrey, the owner of Norton Rats, just bought a new used Norton in Lima and had it shipped here to Cusco.  Check out the picture in the photos section of the proud new owner and his sweet ride.

One of the guys on the Inca Trail trip, Ben, was complaining that his hair was getting too long in the back..  so I offered to cut his hair with my knife.  After a few beers the last night of the trip, he agreed, and I hacked off the back of his hair with my knife as we sat in the bar.  The group of Peruvian porters were very amused, and kept looking down and pointing.  I offered to cut their hair as well, but they declined..  I wonder why?

That same night another guy on the trip, Marc, bumps into me at the bar getting a beer.  He gleams, saying, "Now it is tequila time.  I don't like it....  but I loooooove it."  He had a good time that night.

Ruben, our guide for the trip, seemed concerned about me for the first day or two..  Evidently he wasn't sure I could keep up the pace.  The first afternoon, going up the first big hill, I decided to see if I could keep up with him.  I did, but was winded.  He kept looking back, asking if I hiked a lot..  then he asked how old I was..  etcetera etcetera.  The second day he kept on telling me to slow down.  I don't know why, I cranked right along..  in the top five of the group up the hills..  But he was definitely worried early on.

Dieter and I visited Tipon, another Inca site, with tons of aqueducts and waterfalls, etc.  When we were there a team of Peruvians was rebuilding and restoring a wall.  They had dug out a bunch of dirt, and in doing so, found a bunch of broken pottery from the Incas.  We talked to the head guy for a few minutes, and he showed us the pottery.  Then he said we could take some if we wanted.  So I now have three small pieces of Incan pottery with original designs on it.  500 plus years old.  It is, of course, illegal for me to have them and to remove them from the country.  But I don't think they'll catch me..  and they are pretty damn cool souvenirs.

17 November 2003

The Inca Trail...  it was awesome, brutal at times, wet, sweaty, huge climbs, insane down hills, and an amazing experience.

We started with a two hour bus ride to the end of the road..  We then set out, carrying what we needed, not including tents and food, but including sleeping bags, water, clothes, and mattresses.  We had a nice hike the first afternoon, stopping at one Inca site, and camping along a river in a nice valley.  The weather was nice, the company good, and the trail not too hard.  Some good uphills, combined with some flat areas and a few downhills.

The next morning we awoke at 6, and were on the trail at 7.  Day two was very tough.  It was all uphill.  We hiked from about 2600 meters/8500 feet in altitude over the first pass of the trip.  Dead Woman Pass was at 4200 meters/13,800 feet.  It was all uphill for about 5 hours.  Very tough, especially because there was no oxygen up there.  I don't know how many of you have been up at those levels, but it's tough to breath walking up stairs, let alone walking up stone stairs for 5 hours.  But we all made it.  After we reached the pass we hiked downhill on very steep stone steps for an hour or so to our next campsite.  It was a tough day, but worth it.

Day three started at 5am with another uphill, heading over pass two at a mere 4000 meters/13,100 feet.  This day was filled with visiting archeological sites.  We started with one half an hour into the day, then another an hour or so later, then two hours more walking, another pass at 3700 meters/12,100 feet, lunch, and another site.  Then we had to go down a very steep stone trail 3200 steps to the next site..  then just a little more downhill to our campsite and the final site.  Three of us even decided to do a bit more on day three, throwing in another hour trip down to a 50 meter/150 foot waterfall and back.  We then had dinner at the restaurant, cooked by our cook, and got a chance to thank and tip our porters, who carried all our food, tents, etc the whole trek.  They are limited to carrying a mere 25kgs/55lbs, and were running past us on the trail..  One of the guys was 60 years old.  We got to have a few cold beers, and some people even danced.

The final day started at 4 am..  And I had gotten little sleep, as I spent most of the 6 hours I had to sleep running back and forth to the toilet.  Montezuma's revenge hit me hard.  So I had about two hours of sleep, was very dehydrated, and had to hike a few hours in the pouring rain to Machu Picchu.  It was hell.  I desperately needed a bathroom, but the trail was on the side of a cliff, and there were many people on it, so I had no choice but to keep marching and make it to Machu Picchu.  We arrived, and couldn't see anything as it was rainy and foggy.  I spent half an hour sitting on a stone walkway leaning against a wooden bench trying to sleep, then our guide got us all motivated and we headed up to see Machu Picchu.  I was sick and tired, and everyone in our group was extremely tired, as we had woke up at 4, and had hiked 42 kms/26 miles over mountains and through the jungle in the previous 72 hours.  That said, Machu Picchu was amazing, and I enjoyed myself, cracking jokes here and there and keeping some of my group awake..  Finally we called it a day, and a few of us took the bus down to town.  Of course, the bus broke down, so it took us longer than planned.  We checked into a hostal, and I passed out.  I woke up, went to dinner with some of the group, checked my email, and went back to sleep.  Because we had to wake up at 5 this morning to catch the train and bus back to Cusco...

Anyway, I am back in Cusco now..  I have had a cheeseburger, a hot shower, and have clean clothes on.  It was a great trip..  A bit smelly, as I only had two t-shirts, one pair of socks, and one pair of pants.  They are in the laundry now.  We had a great group..  Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Dutch, Swiss, and Americans.  Many of us are getting together tonight here in Cusco for a few beers.  Some of them may be heading my way, and I will see them again.

The sites were amazing, as you can see in the photos (I posted somewhere over 75!).  The mountains are incredible, the Inca sites were inspiring, and I am very happy I made the trek, even if at times I felt as if I were on a death march.

Anyway, check out the pictures...  and if you get a chance, get in shape and come on down and do this yourself.


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