5 November 2012

Bolivia - November 2012

01/11/2012

If only my night had been as cheerful as I thought it would be. Woke at about midnight feeling very cold, retrieved the sleeping bag and snuggled down for another 4 hour sleep. I got about 2 hours into that sleep before the mother of all electrical storms broke above my head. Pounding thunder and dangerously close lightening strikes had me fearful for the first time. Particularly as I had tied myself up between two electricity poles. Rain was torrential and I found to my utter unamusement that my fly sheet did not protect me all that well. Rain started pouring in through the meshing drenching my face and sleeping bag. I couldn't sleep in this, nor could I remain in the hammock. One of the electrical poles had obviously been put into the ground without foundation and it started to sag meaning that my back was now touching the wet ground. 

Out of the hammock, tried to cover up the gap in my hammock and then sat on it under the fly sheet to get a little protection. It was freezing cold for some reason, so I retrieved my half wet sleeping bag and wrapped up. There was nothing I could do about the lightening though, all I could do was hope it hit something higher than me. I have never been fatalistic and certainly vouch for no 'higher power', but I had gotten to the stage of accepting my impending cessation. There were at least three different electrical cells in the valley. If lightening wasn't striking the ground dangerously close, then it was crossing the sky to a neighbouring cell. Lightening and sharks are about the only naturally occurring phenomena that puts the shits up me. 

By 06:00, the thunderstorms had run out of DC. The rain had lessened to a drizzle and I decided it was time to hit the road. I was already 2 hours late, so I fully expected to waste most of the day waiting at a road block. Either way, I was getting out tonight. My sleeping bag and tent were soaked and my patience was mighty short by now. I knew I still had a fair amount of pushing to get through, I could only hope the 'pass' as I saw it was not false. 

On the bright side, at least there would be no choking dust to deal with. Mud and water are not a problem to me at least, my bike might not like any of it though. The so called 'pass' turned out to be false. Up and up we went again, fully 7km's more until finally I topped out at over 1600masl. I had only reached half way, it had taken the best part of a day and half to cover 29km's, half of which I had been out of the saddle and pushing. I reached a small village and a number of shops selling 'desayuno', breakfast. I settled down for what looked a wholesome feast of crumbed chicken and rice. Despite being the second person to sit at the table, I never got served. A host of later arrivals simply barked there orders and I was ignored. I tried next door, despite a number of people sitting for breakfast, they no longer had any remaining. I got the distinct impression that they don't like white foreigners here. Eventually I collared one of the sons and simply demanded breakfast, he also pleaded not to have a complete breakfast option, but he could do bread rolls and coffee if that would be OK. After 45mins of screwing about I was taking anything offered. 

I approached the construction worker manning the road block and asked him what time the road would open. For the trucks and cars it would be 16:00 as normal, but I could proceed as soon as I wanted. Swallowed the remainder of my coffee and jumped on the bike. I reckoned I was over half way now, although it was difficult to tell with all the mucking about yesterday. The road maintained a steep descent before climbing slightly again and resuming the long downhill. Seemed typical how so much of my uphill was smooth, muddy sand - but the moment I get to go downhill it was all stony rock. Having travelled more km's in an hour than what I made in half a day yesterday - it was time for a break, actually the break found me and boy did I hit the brakes. For most people who do not watch birds, my bird talk is probably quite boring. However, the chunky bright orange and red bird flying across me would have stopped even the non-birder. The emblematic species of the humid Andes - the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. 

All sorts of chaos ensued as I kept one eye on the bird, one on the road and fiddled around for my camera at the same time. Not coming to as quick a stop as I had expected had me almost falling over the handlebars. Camera out and off to the bush that the bird flew into. Nothing, tried playing the call a few times, no response. Unfortunately the bird was dead to me save for the cracking view I had of it while it struggled to hump its heavy body across the road in front of me. I certainly hope to see more, either here or in Peru most likely. All the up hill pushing was quickly forgotten in this one instance. How birds make me feel better about life. As it happens a small bird party was in full swing and in short time I added : Screaming Piha, Grey-breasted Sabrewing and a span of Tanagers including Black-and-Blue, Masked, Blue-necked and Blue-winged Mountain. Frustratingly the Tanagers remained in the high trees tops and the grey sky did little for their incredible colours. 

Back down the track and a few more bird stops adding Chestnut-tipped Toucanet before the sun finally disappeared and I decided to get a move on before it got too hot. Then the sight of a very problematic landslide. Man induced again, as a huge Caterpillar bucket loader dumped huge numbers of rocks onto the road below it. I had two choices, undo my gear and hump over to the other side - perhaps three journeys dodging the boulders and likely incurring the wrath of one of the site engineers. Or I could try to hump the entire bike over the boulders and thus only get into minor trouble with the boss. I figured on the latter, but made a serious underestimate of not only the boulder size but the slippery state they were on. There was lots of scraping and banging or important bike parts as I pushed and pulled for all I was worth. Making it over the first of the landslides, the foreman spotted me and told me to get a move on quickly - I certainly wasn't planning on farting about! Ran, skipped and jumped over the last few boulders before the rocks came raining down again. One last bird stop netted a pair of Bolivian Ant-Shrikes. 

Birds were put to one side now as I raced to get down the hill before any more problems like this one. I reached the apparent end of the construction zone, which was also a narco-trafficking check point. A huge sign listing all the substances that could not be carried any further without good reason - all the products that go into making the drug. Having read through this huge list I was rather put off ever trying cocaine, even in its 'purest' form. From what I recall, petrol, diesel, potassium permanganate, sodium chloride, caustic soda, kerosene amongst many other similar products. I recalled seeing a 20lt drum of Diesel at the half built house I slept in yesterday. Coca farming occurred all along this valley, fires high up in the hills only added to my suspicion that cocaine production was in full swing here and that the locals knew exactly where I was at all times. Even the taxi driver that stopped me to suggest the lack of an alternate route had all the suspicious scars and tattoos of someone who had been inside for a while. Then it got me thinking, why would you buy 20lt of diesel in a drum (think the exact same design and style as a large paint drum). The fact that YPFB (the national Bolivian petroleum company) even make such a design is suggestive. When you whip off the lid, how exactly do you pour it into your fuel tank? I'd guess you don't, rather I'd guess it is much easier to throw the diesel over the coca leaves from said bucket than it would be from a jerry can. Am starting to think that this legal coca growing and illegal cocaine policy isn't working all that well, especially as everyone seems to be building and/or designing things for its production. Having said all that, I am no objector - in fact if the Bolivians (or others) shipped the product by the tanker load to the US and Europe, they may save everyone time, money and quality.
By now I figured I was almost at Sapecho. The last 10km's of road had been horrendously rocky. Now there was some respite as I neared the river. Things did not look promising if this was the Beni River, there was barely enough water to float a decent sized leaf let alone a boat. Out came the iPhone to check on my position. On one hand I was delighted, this was simply a small unnamed river, on the other hand - I had further to go than expected. Damn Google - they really could do with increasing the accuracy of their information or simply removing it until it is accurate. I was still 11km's away rather than 3km's as expected. Worse, there was more construction and my route was now uphill, again...

Shuffled my way past a road grader much to the chagrin of the site manager - a cheery, smily faced 'Buenos tardes', softened him slightly. Up and over the top, then the site I had been hoping for - a long downhill on hard, compacted soil - and no rocks! Crossed the Beni River, a little disappointing at this time of year due to its low level - about deep enough to float an inflated inner tube down. Most of the island sandbanks have been levelled by the construction companies for use on the road. Headed on towards Sapecho. More uphills and more construction - so much for the sign 15km's previously stating 'Fin obra construcion'. Oh well, I snuck past this one too without any hassle and then faced another lovely rock strewn few km's to town. Ha, but there was a split in the road and none of the choices looked promising. Upon enquiry I was directed to the appropriate road. Clearly the people of this town had visited Coroico and found the contact details of the people who laid down the cobble stones there. For the next few km's into town were those sodding uneven and hellishly bumpy cobble stones - the final insult to my poor bike. 
I no longer bother searching for hotels, particularly after a day like today. Generally I am quite thirsty and hungry by the time a reach a town. So I find a likely looking store to get provisions and then ask where to go. I knew which hotel I was looking for, now I had the directions. If I am honest, the hotel and Sapecho itself were rather disappointing. I had expected slightly larger and a little better. I knew from the look of the town that there was not going to be any other choice, so here it was. Two nights in a 'hotel' for B70 (R80.00, £8.50). Breakfast and dinner go for 1/10th of that.

Straight into the shower, cold as expected. Myself cleaned, I tackle the mountain of laundry I have produced over the last few dusty and soggy days. The sleeping bag gets it’s first wash too. Tent gets hung out to dry and I search through my gear for the tarpaulin, which also needs a drying. No tarpaulin, hunt around the room and outside but come to the conclusion that it has fallen off the back. Normally I pack it inside my large bag with my tent and sleeping bag, but today I simply strapped it onto the back and didn't have the foresight to tie it as well. That has proven a very useful addition to my gear, not only keeping out sun and rain, but also covering my bike at night from any nosy passerby. Not going to have much luck finding anything of similar quality until at least Santa Cruz, will just have to make do with what I have. Am quite disappointed with myself after this, despite two horrific days of weather and circumstances - stupid mistakes like this cannot be tolerated. 

Stomp around sorting out some of my other gear. The panniers all need a clean again, but that can happen tomorrow when the bike gets a big clean and some much needed maintenance. I no longer have brake pads, they have gone from mildly worn after 4800km's to the bone after 4950km's or thereabouts.

02/11/2012

Despite being tired, I wake at 06:00 to the first rays of light coming through my excuse of a curtain. Lie half asleep for another hour before rising. Today is a 'Dia de los Muertos' (All Souls Day), only a few shops are open. My 'hotel' does not serve breakfast despite the large advertisement out front and inside my room. The owner, as he has done with most of my questions simply points to town. It would seem that due to construction, the hotel is not properly open. Indeed a three storey block next to us is busy taking shape into what might be a half decent hotel when it is complete. So I trudge off to town to find something to eat and stock up on food supplies. 

I find a decent enough spot for breakfast and tuck in to - you guessed it, deep fried chicken, equally deep fried potato wedges and rice. One day, the Chinese will show the Bolivians how to 'deep fry' rice and the meal will be complete. I wander around the neighbourhood and find what might be an Internet cafe - but it only opens at 09:00. I also find a better general dealer that is open. By Jove, I have also found some Dulche de Leche. When I finished my pot yesterday, I had looked at it longingly - fully expecting it to have been my last for a long time. A heap of biscuits, some bottles of water. I hate buying bottled water, and although I think that the water here is fine - better not to risk it. Caravani, the big town it was did not have potable water! 

Back at the hotel I get all my panniers and bags assembled for the big wash. Doesn't take all that long to get the thickly caked mud off. The bags don't exactly look as good as new, but they are now at least clean of all the mud. Next task is to head back into town to see if the Internet cafe has actually opened. It has not, so next port of call is to walk the kilometre or so back to the junction. Now I need to find out where one catches the boat to Rurrenabaque from. I ask a few local mechanics and they all point me in the direction of a blue and yellow coloured hut. A few officious types are entrenched, this looks most likely. I repeat my question and get rather quizzical looks - boat? No there is no boat from here, bus yes. I am not exactly next to the river at this point, so perhaps I need to go all the way back to the bridge. That is a good number of km's away and I have no interest in doing that now. I inspect the road that leads out of town - if it is of similar quality all the way to Rurrenabaque then I should be just fine. Of course, with my luck so far it is most probably a muddy pit just around the bend. 

On the way back to the hotel I spot two foreign looking travellers, turns out they are only as foreign as Argentina. We trade small talk, but these two are not going to be of much use in finding me a boat. We part ways with them offering me a fresh joint - bloody hippies. 

The work really starts as I strip my poor bike for some much needed love and attention. Front wheel off for a good clean and inspection. No cracks and all the spokes are in good order surprisingly. Repeat the process with my rear wheel, but also remove the cassette for a detailed clean. I don't carry any degreaser otherwise this job would have been much easier. Instead it is dish washing liquid to fight the dirty grease. Not making much impact, out comes the toothbrush and we start to shovel the crap off. Everything dries very quickly in this heat, so I can grease and reassemble everything pretty much straight away. On closer inspection, the brakes are not quite done. The grooves are filled solid with dirt and brake residue, but after a good scrubbing I can make out at least 1mm of groove left. I'm not likely to be seeing too many more hills, so think these will probably survive until Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The entire cleaning process ends up taking the better part of 4 hours. My pride and joy now clean and in pretty reasonable shape I tie her back up for the night. 

Now the arduous process of putting everything I removed from my panniers back again. Job mostly done I head off to cool down and clean myself. What is left of the afternoon is spent sorting through images and getting mentally prepared for at least another 3 days of cycling in order to reach Rurrenabaque.

03/11/2012

Get woken at 03:30 by a heavy downpour. The rain is lashing down, I realise that I am going nowhere at 04:30, so I reset my alarm for 06:00. This seems to be the pattern here, heavy thunderstorm starting around 03:00 with plenty of rain before dissipating around 06:00. Wake again just before 06:00 to find that the rain seems to be easing. Start packing my bike up and getting ready to leave. Two large water buttes of probably 2000lt each were empty yesterday, both are now overflowing. 

Everyone else is sound asleep when I head off just after 06:30. Am supposed to pay the owner another B10 for the privilege of doing my own laundry. Consider leaving the money in my room, but think better of it. I'll consider it a penalty charge from me for failure to provide services. Despite all the advertised laundry service, breakfast and dinner - they provided none. More than anything, it was the attitude that went with every enquiry I made. While I didn't point out the large notice in my room stating as much, or similar advertisements outside - every time I asked, I just got a shrug of the shoulders and a finger pointing me into town.

That ethical debacle over, I bounced along the now wet and slippery cobble road to the turnoff. There seemed to be more on offer at the turnoff than there was in town. Breakfast is even being served. They are probably doing a roaring trade with the road closures, with all vehicles stuck here from 06:00 - 16:00. I decide breakfast is a good idea even if I lose a little time. It will be a long day and I could do with whatever food I can get. For the first time in 4 days I have something other than deep fried chicken. Breakfast is a decent piece of beef, an egg and the ubiquitous rice and plantain. Ditch the plantain, but gobble everything else down along with a cup of hot chocolate.

Now for the business of the day. The first kilometre of so is on a fairly decent hardened section, probably just about ready for road surfacing. The next 15km's are (as predicted) a bash through very muddy red soil and rocks. A truck has slipped off the road, but looks to be heading back in the right direction courtesy some spades and lots of effort. My nice shiny bike is now wrecked - covered in a thick layer of red mud, I have to stop every few hundred metres to wipe the mud off my brake pads and mud guard otherwise the friction would cause me to come to a standstill on an already tough climb. I meet a few road workers who give me the good news that my long and tortuous climb through the slippery mud will be over in about 3km's and then it is 'tranquillo' for plenty of km's after that. Given the almost solid cloud cover, I'm hoping they mean it is a nice tranquil downhill ride rather than a decent view. Add a pair of Black-fronted Nunbirds to the list.

The workers turn out to be spot on, as the climbing eventually stops and I am free wheeling. Albeit quite slowly as the downhill section is very rocky. So much for me not needing my brakes much! Near to the bottom I take another break and do a spot of birding, a huge flying ant breakout has occurred. I get very little but do manage a small flock of Masked Tityras. Bottom out at a river, which can only mean some more climbing to come. 

The road climbs and drops a little for the next few km's. Am passing through a particularly wet and muddy patch when yet another dog fancies it's chances. I don't have a stone to hand, so have to just cycle onwards and hope the little bugger doesn't like mud. While keeping myself fairly straight and steady, I am also keeping half an eye on the yapper - when I find myself face first in the watery mud. Have come a right cropper on what turns out to be a small bridge, so my poor knees and arms take the full concrete impact. Jump to my feet and get out of the road before assessing the damage. Both knees are cut up and covered in mud, so I wash the mud off using my water sparingly. Nothing major, few minor cuts. Both knees and elbows will likely bruise a bit too. The remaining 'clean' parts of my bike are now covered in stinking mud. Find a few stones and let the dog have it anyway. I no longer aim to miss anymore, I hate these things so much I now aim for the head with a fast bowlers intent.

Up and up we go again. I stop for a drinks break at a small village. The only shop does not have any small bottles, except for the locally made Coca Quina. Part of me has wanted to avoid it for lack of content knowledge, while another part of me has been quite keen to give it a try. Now I have no choice, Coca Quina it will be. Firstly, I am stunned at the price - only B4.00 for a 750ml bottle. By comparison, regular Coca Cola is B6.00 for a 330ml bottle. Secondly, this coke is much better - every so slowly sweeter, but much less fizzy. Settles that conundrum, it will be Bolivian Coke from now on. I read recently that regular Coca Cola is to be banned here shortly. The government is keen to get rid of Yankee imperialism of all sorts. Even MacDonalds quit here recently due to an inability to turn a profit.

A horde of kids gather around my bike poking and prodding all the parts. From what I can make out, they seem to know what each part is and how it works - even my integrated gear and braking system hasn't passed them by. I set off to climb some more of another never ending hill when one of the kids rides past me on his very shiny bike. I wonder how long it has been out of the packet given the general state of these roads or whether he just looks after it really well. The kid thumps me up the hill, I eventually pass him near the top about 10mins later. Young sod is showing off to some of the local girls, no doubt telling them how he beat the foreign cyclist up the hill. Good for him, seemed like a nice kid.

Near the crest of the hill, I see a truck that has slipped off the road. How on earth it has not rolled into the valley below I do not know. It is leaning at what must be at least 40°, if it didn't roll, it should surely have slid in - see the photo. Get stuck at a road block just ahead, not one of the manufactured construction sites, this is for a landslide au natural. Much dry sand is being dumped and levelled off by a tracked grader. Chat with a horde of impatient taxi drivers. They give me some information on the road ahead and where to stop for food etc. They are most perplexed when I tell them I am from South Africa. One guy positively taps my black saddle and then rubs his face - Africa is mulatto he tells me, where was I ‘actually’ born? I give them a quick education in population dynamics, telling them that there is 'puchito blanco, puchito Indier, mucho negro'. They seem excited about the Indian population, but I explain further that they are different Indians, from the country of India - same brother, different mother. Shortly we are given the go ahead and I have to jog/push to keep up with the last truck so as not to inconvenience the equally impatient drivers at the other end of the mess. 


Finally I get some respite as the downhill starts. I pass through the small village of Cascades looking for the 'many foreigners place' that one of the taxi drivers told me about, but find no such looking venue or waterfall. Do spot yet another hippy all dressed out in hippy camouflage. More colours on this fellow that there is in the spectrum of visible light. The road keeps descending which is most welcome, I know that I have a few more climbs left, but for now I enjoy the moment. I bottom out at yet another small river, and cross the bridge out of the Department (Province) of La Paz and into the Department of Beni. Come to a shuddering halt and rub my eyes. Get off the bike and tap the road surface to make sure I have not lost the plot completely. I do believe I can see tar on the road. I want to jump with joy, but am tempered with the thought that this may just be some horrible trick - the mud will return around the corner. 

Surprise surprise the mud and rock road are only a few hundred metres away. After crashing over that for a short while, I am back on the tar. This goes on for almost 10km's. There was obviously a decent road here many years ago, lack of maintenance has allowed sand and rock to accumulate in some areas. Like with many things, maintenance is not big in Bolivia. So I have to weave a little to avoid potholes and take the odd trip over rocky sand - but this is a whole lot better than anything I have seen in over a week. I loudly promise never to complain about another hill again so long as it has tar, it is a good piece of road. 

Unfortunately the inevitable occurs, I just catch a sign saying 'Fin asphalto'. After all that fun going downhill on the tar, I now have the next uphill on the rock and mud. This turns out to be some vengeful section of track. Clearly wanting to spite me for having had such fun on the tar, the rocks are the worst I have encountered so far. The inners on my shoes have had enough of the pushing by this stage, as they slip about causing my toes even more friction and damage as I slip and slog my way up. It is already after 17:00, long past the sensible cut off time to find a camp site. Problem is, there had been nothing on offer up this mountain so far. I press on, determined to at least crest this up hill section before holing up for the night. 

I stop for a break having reached a seminal marker of the trip so far, 5000km. A small pack of Dulche de Leche cream biscuits is about all the celebration I can offer myself. No champagne in these parts, didn't think to buy a beer either. Not that it would have been a good one, would be too hot and fizzy by now. Come to think of it, I haven't had a beer in over a week - in fact, the last time I had a beer was the night before starting this most terrible of roads. Therefore, I need to have a beer soon in order for this torture to end. It is starting to get dark already and am still pushing. Get the yellow high visibility jacket on and push some more. Have still not reached the pass, but do find a small cutting leading off the road. Grab the torch and go for an investigation. Would you believe it, there is a small abandoned shed. Better still, it is not an animal shed either. Four wooden plank walls and a corrugated iron roof. A sack lying on the floor suggests that some itinerant has probably used to place once before too. I cannot decide if it is currently in use or not, but it will do. Judging on the thick tangle of vegetation leading to it, I'd suggest no one has been here in some time though. 

Headlamp on and I go about setting up my tent, safe in the knowledge that it will not get rained into tonight. Get changed, my feet have been soggy all day and I have spent too much time reading about Trench Foot to leave my sodden socks on all night again. Everything fits very neatly, tent spanning the walls diagonally - attached to some sturdy poles this time. Bike in one corner, get myself and dinner set up in the other. Tonight it is pasta and a chicken and rice soup. I hadn't realised it had rice in it when I bought it, good thing I read the instructions early rather than tipping it in last minute. I have found shelter not a moment too soon, as it starts to tip down. What I would have done otherwise, especially without my tarpaulin. Sleep yes, but dinner would have been a more difficult proposition without adequate cover - and I am not about to start cooking under my hammock either. Dinner goes down a treat, I now have a few hours to tap away at the blog.  

I have another 20km's or so to reach the town of Yacumo, the juncture to Rurrenabaque and Trinidad. Will stock up on supplies when I get there before continuing on towards Rurrenabaque. Yacumo to Rurrenabaque is just over 100km's, but it looks to be a very flat ride to. I don't think I can make it all in one day, especially if the sun is out - but I will see how things pan out. Road surface will be the all important factor, if the tar returns - I have a chance. If it is mostly dirt then probably not, unless it is hard and compacted dirt without too many boulders. Tomorrows problems, will be up at the usual 04:30 and hope for a lack of rain. Today I was lucky, the grey cloudy skies stayed in place all day keeping the sun away and me cool. I hope for same conditions tomorrow if I am to have a shot at reaching Rurrenabaque.

04/11/2012

Up at 04:30 to a dark but clear morning. Loaded the bike before hitting the road for some more pushing up the hill. Mercifully the hill only lasted another five hundred metres before levelling out. Traffic was busy at this time, but I was relatively unimpeded. Stopped for an amazing sunrise over the Beni lowlands. The downhill started proper, but it was a more rocky road - progress was slower than I would have liked.

At the bottom of the hill the tar road started again allowing me to shift into the upper gears and crack on to Yacumo. I arrived in town a little after 08:00 for breakfast. 30km's done, and the mountains and crappy roads were now over hopefully. I met a few off road bikers travelling back to La Paz, absolutely coated in mud. They gave me the good news that the road was pretty flat but muddy in the odd patch. Finishing breakfast, I dawdled about - unsure whether to stay in Yacumo for the night or push on to Rurrenabaque. It was now after 09:00 and I still had 105km's to go. Even on a good asphalt road, I have never set out to purposefully complete 130km+ in a day. On a dirt road in this this heat and humidity it was a stupid idea perhaps. The sun was already burning fiercely even this early in the morning, it was only going to get hotter. 

However, the 8 days I had already spent getting through the mountains had motivated me to push on. Stocked up on fluid levels and started to give it welly. I calculated that I had exactly 10 hours of daylight to reach Rurrenabaque - I would need to cycle at least 10km's per hour for the rest of the day. The road started out on a very muddy patch before becoming fairly hard and flat sand. I just about made my split time and stopped for a few minutes to look at some birds - Lined and Double-collared Seedeater.

The rest of the day progressed to this basic plan, stop on the hour for 15minutes then give it hells bells for 45minutes (for cyclists, I was running at an average cadence of 90 from start to finish). I started to gain on my distance to hour ratio, even though I stopped for 2 lunches of biscuits dipped in Dulche de Leche. I also made a number of quick pit stops to local shops for a dose of Coca Quina. By 15:00, the heat had probably hit the low 30's and the humidity well over the 90% mark. I had drunk in excess of 10lt of fluid so far and been for a pit stop only once! However, I was also over the 70km mark for this stretch - Rurrenabaque would happen today. 

It took another 3 hours to hit the outskirts of town where I found the road to be in the early stages of tarring. It seems Bolivia just wasn't ready for me yet. I'd suggest anyone thinking of visiting the country puts that thought on the back burner for 5 years. Hopefully by then, the basic infrastructure will have been laid down! 7 km's from town and the Bolivian Welcoming Committee was waiting for me - that is the horribly laid boulders and stones set in concrete. Took half an hour to slowly bash my way into the town itself to find my chosen place of relaxation for a few days.

Hotel turns out to be half as expensive as I had thought, a real steal in fact. Unlike most of the rubbish I had stayed in between here and Coroico, this was fairly decent. Calls itself a hotel, but really it is a hostel. Waited outside for 3 clients to process at the front desk before walking in. When I find myself repugnantly smelly, I can only imagine how I must waft across to others. In fact I had taken to calling myself 'chancho' - something I yelled will great delight every time I saw a pig next to the road. Checked in and straight into the shower - half a kg of sand and probably an equal amount of sweat peeled off. Set off for dinner - anything but fried chicken tonight please. 

Found a restaurant full of foreigners, grabbed a menu and sat down. Mexican it would be - a taco followed by a burrito. I didn't wait to be served, something that one might die waiting for here - went straight to the desk and started ordering before anyone had even looked at me. Unusually by Bolivian standards it took at least 20minutes for the meal to arrive. Typically food is shunted after ordering, it is the ordering that normally takes so long. Wolfed that down and headed off back to the hotel. Was still very hungry though and saw a restaurant that had WiFi - something I had not seen in 9 days. It was an Israeli restaurant (what is it with the Israelis and South America - this is a like Marbella to the Brits). Hummus and falafel, plenty of garlic too. My stomach much happier with some decent food I headed back to the hotel for some basic list updating and a much need sleep. 

9 days of hell over!


05/11/2012

Woke up at the ridiculous hour of 05:30 despite being shattered and needing some sleep. Once I am up though, there can be no going back to sleep. I was going to get little done today except respond to emails and get my blog up to date. Internet connection here is intermittent and of low bandwidth, but is should just about manage it. Chat with a couple of the other residents, a young German fellow is desperately trying to find someone to go into the jungles with. He does eventually find an odd Frenchman to join him on a 3 days survival course. Offer some advice to yet another German heading down to Argentina.
Having had enough of the chatting, I bury myself in the Mac and do not come up for air until later in the day. Head off for dinner after 20:00 and continue with the current book - No One Left to Lie to, Christopher Hitchens slays Bill Clinton like the US government should have done for his lying, murdering and alleged rapes. Get to bed at a decent hour, given that I am quite likely to wake up very early again. My German friend has moved into my room for the night (triple), slashed the room rate in half. He is off tomorrow for his survival business, good luck to him. 

06/11/2012

Awake at the expected hour, perhaps rather unamusing to my room mate. Still have a little remaining work to be done before breakfast. Take breakfast before setting out my stall near the room. Today Chancho gets a wash and clean - again. In all the time that I cycled around Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, I only had to wash him once - and that was a high pressure spray at the local ‘Lavadero’. Chancho has now been washed twice in the week, being mostly disassembled on one occasion. Think I can just about make it on the brake pad remnants for another few weeks given that the terrain is likely to be rather flat. 

Chancho’s wash takes a good four hours. I also give the panniers and bags a good going over. Yet another puncture to repair - rear wheel yet again. My tyres are disappearing at some rate. I amy even have to change them before leaving Bolivia. As it is, I have become very disheartened with these Schwalbe tyres - they do not perform nearly as well as advertised or expected. Unfortunately, I have since found out that this is to the general chagrin of the cycling world who consider the tyres rather rubbish. Why I ever switched from the tried, tested and frankly excellent Continental I do not know. Am looking forward to getting some decent rubber back on my wheels, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the most likely spot for acquisition. I will of course investigate the possibility of having them shipped here from Europe - the vast majority of the cycling gear here is complete crap or very expensive. If not from Europe, then I will try to get tyres from Colombia where quality cycling is and cycling itself are huge. With Chancho relatively clean and the panniers sorted, I could repack most of the gear.

I head into town to chat to the local tour agencies. I want someone who is prepared to take me to Alto Madidi. The first fellow I speak to says that is might be possible, but only with more people. Fat chance that more people are going to want to go there or that I want anyone with me. He also wants to know why I want to go there - birds I tell him. He then proceeds to tell me that the jungles are useless for birds, I should go to the Pampas instead. Short of getting into an argument with the fellow, I explain the prominence of Alto Madidi in world terms (ie: the highest concentration of bird species in a limited area). He doesn’t seem to buy it, and I am starting to lose my patience - how the hell can you be a proper travel operative here and a) not know this and b) attempt to argue with me about a subject I happen to know a little about. This is the consequence of too many dumb ‘gringos’ simply accepting everything they are told here. Sod him, I move on to another provider. Nope, they certainly don’t go to Alto, but they helpfully point me in the direction of a company that will.

So it is that I walk into Mogli Tours, a family run business who still live off the name they made for themselves in finding the Yossi Ginsburg in the early 1980’s. He of the stupid quartet that went off to the Alto Madidi area, the only one that survived before being found 20 odd days later. There is a Czech/Croat women at the front desk. She is busy with two young Israeli girls heading back to La Paz by taxi. The women tells the girls that they can do this entire journey during day light hours. I interject and tell her that the Caranavi/Sapecho stretch of road is shut from 06:00 to 16:00, so it is not going to be done during the day. No she tells me, she did this trip herself a few days ago and there was no such thing as road blocks or closed roads. Strange that, given I was on the same roads at the same time and was let through more construction sites than vehicles were. I suppose once they have their commission from the taxi fair, it is not as if the girls are going to come all the way back to Rurrenabaque to complain about getting stuck in Sapecho are they? A part of me figured I should simply walk out at that point, but I decided to stick around for the entertainment - this women seemed to be a tour de force in her own right.

Having duped the two young girls, she then addressed me and asked what she might be able to help me with. In a very understated way, I said that I would like to go to Alto Madidi and that local opinion was that this was the company to do it. I quote her response verbatim, “well yes, and I’d like to go to the fucking moon”. I did say she had some character, but having not heard anyone swear for almost 5 months, this came as a bit of an affront. Needless to say that people working in the tourist industry might want to temper their language a little until they understand or have judged their client a little better. Can you imagine requesting a loan at the bank and getting that type of response first up. Well, if the idea was unsettle me it failed spectacularly. From this point on, she hauled out maps, continued on about how difficult the place was to reach, to get back ad nauseum. This was evidently the well rehearsed story to justify the large price tag that was going to be associated. Despite all the negativity, she closed by saying that I should, ‘really go for it, take the chance’. In fact, the fee was not as immense as I had expected - only BOB400 per day. Given that I was going to go on my own to a clearly difficult to reach venue, I thought this was a good bargain. We agreed to have a look at the weather the next day before cementing any further plans. 


I made it pretty clear early on that I had the means and wherewithal for the difficulty involved, I was not some gap year student looking for a non-risk little flirtation with the big bad jungle. I was already devising my own plans at this point, certain that I would not bother with inconveniencing the staid life of these tour agents. Had this person had had some level of compunction or communicative ability, it may well have been different. It was time to 

Just as well that I got sorted early. I met an Englishmen and his Trinidadian girlfriend, Matt and Carrie. They are not the standard ‘gap year students’, I have some proper intellectuals to speak to for a change. When you have the next beer waiting for winner of ‘name all the African countries’ competition, then you know that I have landed in deeper and more pleasurable mud than Chancho himself. 

Dinner becomes of secondary importance as the three of us chatter away, the beer flowing much more freely than I am generally capable of. Some time after 23:00 I waltz off to bed, fortunate for my German friend that he checked out this am. 

07/11/2012

Decide to spend another day in Rurrenabaque. After yesterday's debacle with the travel agents, I need to sit and decide how to proceed. If I am to cycle, then I want an extra days rest and feeding before the next instalment of hell begins - for it will surely be infernal. The morning is spent shopping for supplies and generally getting myself mentally prepared. It doesn't take long for me to decide on how to proceed. Despite not wanting to see any more rock and sand roads, I despise the attitude of the tour agents more than I despise the roads. So it will be many more hundreds of km's on the shitty roads. 

Head off to the Israeli restaurant for a large pizza and some decent WiFi. Consciously stuff my face, continuing with a large pancake and chocolate ice cream. Spend the remainder of the afternoon going through my various birding books trying to prepare for the big week ahead. Time flies, but a stomach rumble reminds me that I need to eat again. Head off to the restaurant that my room mate recommended a few days ago. Juliano's for the steak and wine sauce. It was OK, chef could learn what 'rare' means, it does not mean ‘medium well’. My German fried had come from Peru, so when he said it was the best steak he had had all trip, that was in perhaps in respect of where he had been. He will change his mind when he enters Argentina and discovers proper steak. Back to the hostel for one last decent sleep. 

08/11/2012

Leave Rurrenabaque finally. Grab a last coffee, a few buns and am then out of the traps at 07:30. Reach the impassable river, not knowing what to do. Everyone else is heading for a small rickety looking wooden boat, so I follow. For the sum of BOB2.50, I have a pass to the other side. Am not too sure where the bike is going to go, but a helpful soldier kicks a wooden plank into position - looks like I am going to simply roll straight onto the bow. So I stand there, delusions of grandeur flowing through my mind. Here I am, standing on the bow (no railings mind), wind blowing through my hair - just short a blonde maiden at my side. Instead, there is my steed Chancho to keep me company. It wasn't the only allusion I had in mind with respect to the Titanic. With some relief we make it to the other bank. I roll off, but have difficulty in pushing up a stupidly steep hill, the deck hand of the boat gave Chancho a push from behind. With that I am rolling into the unknown.

At the end of the town, I am stopped by some officious looking coppers. However, they don't stop me to check on my papers - they just want to have a chat with the 'loco gringo' as I have become known recently. I still cannot speak Spanish for toffee, but my understanding is getting much better. We chat, or at least they chat and I listen mostly for 10 minutes and interject with odd ‘si’ or ‘bueno’. Am warned repeatedly about the 'Jaguars or Tigres, mucho peligroso'. I am thankful for their concern, but Jaguars do not phase me in quite the same way that Lions or Leopards do. They are not known for attacking or hunting humans after all. 

It is hellishly hot today, I find myself stopping every 5km's for a rest and drink. The road is not letting me get up to any speed, the surface alternating between plain rock to slightly less rocky and sandy. First bird of the morning is not long in arriving, Capped Heron - surely one of the more attractive herons about. A pair of very noisy Black-capped Donacobius finally allow me to tick off this most infuriating bird. The hours I spent in Argentina trying to find them... I spot a small flock of very noisy parrots in a palm tree, snap a few photos and move on. [it was only later upon reviewing the photos that I discover they are in fact Red-bellied Macaws]. My first sighting of a macaw since I was in Costa Rica almost two and a half years ago. 

Throughout the day I can hear Undulated Tinamou calling from the tree line. Every now and then, one sounds really close to the road. I stop repeatedly but fail to see much more than a dark grey flash of this chicken sized bird. Nearing the end of the day, I add another beautiful species of tanager to the list - Turquoise Tanager. I roll into Tumupasa just after 17:00, finding a room in the only hotel in the village. Actually, I am surprised to find a hotel in such a small village - this is a bit of a bonus. Two nights stay costs BOB50.00, about half what I was spending on the average dinner in Rurrenabaque. Unpack my gear and head for a cold shower. This is a very cold shower, takes my breath away a few times.

Head into town for a look at my dinner options. Sit down in two restaurants but am told that they are not serving food tonight. Am starting to get the impression that there are many who do not like 'gringos' in these parts. How to convince the locals that I am not related to the Spanish Inquisition or the Conquistadores. It's a very small taste of what racial segregation must have been like. I can't say I liked it much, what it must have been like to undergo complete and utter dehumanisation due to ones skin colour is beyond my lilly white comprehension though. 

Find a place that will serve me, dinner is a half decent soup followed my an omelette of sorts. Contains many vegetables, rather tasty too. Enjoy the minor amount of nutritious food I have had recently. Dinner costs next to nothing, only BOB14.00 and that includes the Coka Quina. Head back to the hotel to complete my second Christopher Hitchens book in as many days. Hitchens slays Mother Teresa (The Missionary Position), but crucified the public and especially the politicians who amplify this non-entity for their own means. Quite how the general public was conned into passing sainthood on this person is beyond comprehension. More unbelievably, very few people have ever asked any questions. As Hitchens put it, it was time to judge mother Teresa's reputation by her actions and words, not judge her actions and words by her reputation. It's an illuminating book, you'll feel cheated and stupid for having bought into the aura at all.

09/11/2012

Up early again for a spot of birding in the surrounding forests. To say it was a disappointing day is to somewhat understate the fact. I spent the best part of 4 hours traipsing through a forest that could only have been more barren for the lack of my own presence. 

After that rubbish day in the field, I returned to the hotel to get some washing done. Washing sorted, I had yet another puncture to fix before heading down the 'high street' to find some food and supplies. Spent the remainder of the day creating some truly complex spread sheets to incorporate all my various lists. As many will know, I get true enjoyment out of playing with spreadsheets, it was past 18:00 before I came up for air. Collected my now dry washing and finished reading another Hitchens book - The Trial of Henry Kissinger. A staggering indictment of an individual who should have been sitting in the Hague many years ago. The scale of his involvement in the needless extension of the Vietnam war, the usurpation of Chilean democracy, East Timor, Greece and Cyprus is quite staggering. How the world has one set of rules for the tinpot African and Arab dictators but another for the 'Western liberators' as they like to see themselves. 

By the time I was done, I was rather peckish. Dinner tonight would consist of soup and the local speciality, deep fried chicken and rice. In fact, I was very hungry - purchasing another chicken and chips to go once I had left. Finished the final additions to my spreadsheets before hitting the sack. Another early start tomorrow morning.



10/11/2012

Leave Tumupasa as early as the light will allow. Bash and crash my way along, little different to the first half of the road. Get some early excitement when a large flock of Blue-and-yellow Macaws take flight a few hundred metres away. Can't get any photos, but hope for better luck later on. The initial going is rather slow, but I aim to take advantage of the intermittent cloud cover pushing my sector distances out to 7km's.

Shortly, another new bird, a Laughing Falcon sitting out in the open - not a common occurrence. I take full advantage and snap off a number of photos. No sooner had I made to put the camera back in the bag, than the sound of approaching macaws had me ready. A pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws flew broadside, with the sun at the perfect angle for a number of very decent images if I do say so. 

Got stopped by a local chap on a motorbike. We chatted for a bit and he offered to take me to his house at a new wildlife lodge. Many promises of Jaguar, Tapir and Anaconda. That is at least how I understood what he offered. I nodded my head and thanked him for his kind offer before continuing on to Ixiamas. I had no idea at this stage that I would cross paths with him 2 more times and that he was most insistent that I come and visit him. I manage to assuage him by saying that I off to Ixiamas today, but would drop in on my return from the forests. I had and still have no intention of doing so. Unfortunately, my experience with Bolivians has been so mixed, that it is impossible to draw a conclusion as to whether he is simply a lovely man or one with criminal intent. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, had this been Argentina I would have had no qualms whatsoever. 

The rest of the day progressed accordingly, 7km's then stop for a rest. One of my planned stops occurred at a large river. I took the opportunity to give my face and head a good splash of cool, refreshing water. Then on again, getting half decent images of some of the other macaw species - Red-and-green and Chestnut-fronted. The last 10km's into Ixiamas may as well have been along a bloody river bed. Soft, deep beach sand, large rocks and boulders. Fortunately this was the state of the road at the end of the cycle rather than the beginning. 

I rolled into a decent sized town, expecting to find a hotel rather easily. Cycled around the town, but found no hotel. Stopped to ask the local motorbike taxis where to go and headed off with conviction. Hotel found - it looked fairly decent except for the receptionists which were both teenage males. Nope, they had no rooms available - I couldn't help but notice that most of the room keys were still hanging in reception. It was Saturday, so they may have had bookings arriving later, but it was already 16:00 and that seem rather unlikely. Back into town to find the least worst 'alojiamento'. These are normally a bunch of rooms thrown together for long term local stays.
First one I went to looked very dodgy, across the street to another. Upon enquiry the bloke at the front very loudly asked his ‘missus’ if there was any rooms available for the 'gringo'. The response was an immediate no. Across the road to yet another spot. Nope, they didn't have any rooms either, but clearly this women could see I was now getting rather disparate. She could offer me a bed, but I would have to share a room. I didn't see many options at this stage so decided to take my chances. My 'room mate' looked to be a truck driver. A rather large and obese fellow who spent most of the day in his jocks, trying to impersonate a beached whale. Stunk to high heaven which hardly helped, but could not leave the door open for fresh air short of inviting half the mosquito swarm in too. As it happens, this didn't seem to bother him as he left the door open in any case. The mosquitos duly obliged before I covered myself in 100% DEET. Must have fallen asleep sometime after 23:00.

11/11/2012

This morning was going to be a short jaunt to the grasslands bordering the northern part of Ixiamas. I needed a host of species here, but I was particularly looking for Cock-tailed Tyrant. I needn't set my alarm anymore, I wake at 05:30 most days without trying. Today was no different, I quietly grabbed my gear and snuck off - bearing in mind that it was a Sunday after all. My fat friend was no doubt going to want a long lie in today. 

Set off at a decent clip, getting into the grassland within 20 minutes or so. A host of the typical grassland birds gave themselves up quickly - Rufous-rumped Seedeater, Tawny-bellied Seedeater, Dark-throated Seedeater, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch. A Streamer-tailed Tyrant was a useful addition to the list, surely an armchair tick for the future. Onwards I went, the sun rising way too quickly - a pair of Grey-crested Cacholotes making their customary racket. I added a few more species as things started to get really warm - Peach-fronted Parakeet, Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, Black-masked Finch, Long-winged Harrier and a White-eared Puffbird.


By 08:30, the heat was already into the high 30's and I retreated back into town. Breakfast was in order, for a change I was served without prejudice. Steak, egg and rice polished off with seemingly the last small bottle of soda in town. Breakfast done, I paid a quick visit to the Internet cafe - well, it would have been a quick visit had it not taken almost 25 mins to open my Gmail account. Have managed to get myself blocked out of my various other sites on account of using 'an unrecognised device'. 

Back to the hotel and 'el Gordo' was still dozing like a beached whale. Grabbed all my dirty clothes, my towel especially stank. Sat outside for an hour giving everything a good wash. It would not take long to dry in this heat. Assessed my gear and went shopping for supplies. Now that I am finally using my camel back (6lt material water storage container), I need to buy many bottles of water. Lugged five 2lt bottles of water and a large Fanta back to the room before disappearing for other necessities - more toilet paper, many more biscuits and snacks. There would be nothing to munch on except what I was carrying to Alto Madidi. Packed my gear and went for a shower. My clothes had been soaked numerous times today, my shorts simply acting as a poor sponge for all the liquid emanating from me. 

Sat to type out some emails, but attracted much attention from some of the other local residents who wanted to alternatively play and or buy my gear. One of the residents is most certainly a deranged psychopath, have done my best to keep him laughing and smiling. Head off to the park for some peace and quiet. Type out the remainder of my emails and start working on the blog - something that is hopelessly out of date since I published the last entry.

Dinner tonight at the same place I had breakfast. Pretty much the same, except there is soup to start with. More rice and the steak is now a t-bone. Don't get yourselves excited though. This was a quarter inch thick t-bone of crushingly tough steak. It all came to the concise total of BOB10.00, less than £1.00. Headed off to a neighbouring shop for another tub of chocolate ice cream. No luck tonight, so it was just a stick ice cream. Some more tapping away at the blog before I get to sleep. Early morning start on what promises to be a truly horrendous track/road.

12/11/2012

The road itself does not start out too badly, much the same as what I have been travelling on for the last 120km’s. Cycle past a large number of timber mills, one even has the temerity to throw in the word ‘ecological’ into it’s name. Under what authority they consider themselves ecological pervades my observation - they look the same as any of the other mills here. The Amazon as we know it seems a doomed entity. There were thousands upon thousands of huge hardwood trunks lying in the timber yards. Each one of these trees would have taken many decades to reach their felled size. It is not only the trees here that are problematic it is the huge number of other trees and plants that get cut out in order for the building of roads to reach the larger hard woods. The indiscriminate destruction of surrounding fauna and flora during the lumber process. The list could go on, but it will only serve to wind me up. One day, and it may happen sooner rather than later my indignation will get the better of my apathy. I rather suspect that I will start a lethal war against the numerous poachers and purveyors of destruction. If only I spoke or looked Chinese, for I would surely start such a war at the head of the bastard.

Surely Chancho felt some some of my rage as I thudded and bumped into rocks with more abandon than normal. Took a rest and managed to calm my slow boiling contempt. If humans could take to looking after the planet with the same fervour they pour into fervent submission to non-existent deities, we may have a world worth living in and on. The going was slightly slow but I only had 30km’s to cycle today. Took another break past the half way mark, having added little in the way of birds or anything else as it happens. 

I had stopped opposite a small stall that was seemingly shut. Had breakfast (Oreo’s dipped in Dulche de Leche) when a friendly shout from the farm behind the stall. Out came a fellow of a Caucasian extraction of some form. He greeted me and very quickly switched to almost faultless English with a slight American twang. Naturally I was relived to get some good advice on the upcoming road that I understood. Unfortunately it was not the news I wanted to here. Alto Madidi was not just around the corner now, it was still 80km’s away. The small village of Tigre itself was still 68km’s away. Tigre was the last form of anything representing civilisation, more importantly, it was possible that I may be able to get supplies there. However, it was certainly not guaranteed - the majority of people had already left the area, including the park rangers. That was not bad news, as it meant I could enter the park - better, I was told that I would also be able to pitch my tent at the Ranger quarters. Some good news, some bad news. The bad news got worse though, a large river was going to present a problem in about 10km’s time. I might have to unpack my bike and wade across, the water being chest high. If I could get over that, then the road would be navigable again for another 30km’s or so before being reduced to to very tough terrain. In fact, I was advised that from Tigre I may well have to walk the remaining 12km’s due to fallen trees and vegetation. This all sounded fantastic!

Turned out that this fellow was actually Bolivian, so I enquired as to his excellent English. Apparently he used to be a guide, so had learnt to speak the language. He was now married to a Yankee, so his English was much improved, but had also inherited the slight twang. At that moment, his wife came down to the stall to set out the food and drinks that they sold here. Rather interesting if I do say so - she was dressed much the same as the Amish of Pennsylvania, thus I suspect that they are Mennonites of some description. We chatted more about what he was doing here. He had always wanted to get away from the bigger towns and cities and had truly found a lovely place here. Of course things then took a small nose dive (the wife’s dress was no co-incidence) - him and his wife had certain ‘spiritual plans’ for their children. What he termed a ‘large’ family requires no imagination - but they were keen to keep things like television, electricity and any access to the outer world well away from their kids. I don’t have a problem with people removing themselves from society and returning to nature - am I not doing something of a half way house of it myself? I do take strong issue with adults removing the power of decision or choice from children though. They seem to forget, particularly in the case of this chap who consciously relinquished one way of life for another (I doubt his wife had much choice, as she looked purely Mennonite - blonde hair, blue eyes as were two of her daughters). Educate your kids, steer them in the direction you’d like them to take - but give them the freedom to make such decisions on their own. Given my lack of children and even greater desire not to have any - I am perhaps not in a great position to be commenting, although this have never stopped me commenting in any case. Really does take the religious fundamentalist to do such things. Either way, I was thankful for his kind help and somewhat tickled to have finally met and seen this sect of Mennonites (I had been guided by Quakers in the Costa Rican village of Monteverde) in person. While I did not try to engage his wife in conversation, I have no doubt she would have happily talked to me.

After that illuminating chat, I was implored to stop by and have tea on my return - something I may well do. Off I set for what was now going to be a much longer and more arduous day than I had planned on. After a few more km’s the road degraded further into a waterlogged, boggy marsh. Well, there was nothing for it, Chancho and I were going to get very wet and muddy. Upwards of two km’s of this submersed cycling or pushing ended with much relief. Before long, I had reached the large river. The river was flowing fairly strongly, but more concerning was it’s colour - deep muddy brown. There were two entrances to the river, the one directly in front of me did not seem to be used, so I followed the alternate - it led to a natural head, a long line of rocks forming a river wide eddy. The water flowed faster, so clearly this area was slightly shallower. I would have to walk across and test this theory, but first I needed a sturdy pole. A convenient dead tree branch was lying next to the road - so out came the Sog to chop it size. I made a pre-emptive walk half way across before my better judgment suggested I might be risking a lot here.

Decision time, so I opened up the kitchen pannier and had another ration of Oreos and Dulche de Leche to cogitate on. I reckoned I could get across, despite my dislike for crossing water that I could not see into. However, my mind kept going over the adventures of Christopher McCandless. If you have not read this Jon Krakauer’s book (Into the Wild)him or seen the pretty decent film by Sean Penn, you should. I won’t go into detail on that front should you wish to read the book, but this river posed more than a simple crossing problem. 

If I made it to the other side, then I was on the other side of civilisation. Any further rain (a rather distinct possibility given that this is the wet season), I would be cut off without recourse to supplies. Even if one puts the likely Visa troubles I would have by getting stuck for anything up to 6 months here, how would I survive? It would be untruthful of me to suggest this was an easy decision to make. My own self preservation was being weighed up against the potential loss of hundreds of new birds, thus a weighty decision - for why else was I in South America, let alone the cycling of hundreds of horrid km’s to get to this destination. 

After some heavy soul searching, I decided it was better not to risk and hope to pick up these birds in Peru. Worst case scenario, I might visit again some day. It would be equally untrue to say that I walked away without a heavy felling or guilt and disappointment. Was I bailing out to early, should I have risked all? I have yet to satisfy myself on either of these accounts. Surely I could have tried harder, certainly had there been known civilisation or at least a possibility of exit on the other side I would certainly have prevailed on crossing come what may. To fall this close to the line was gut wrenching, something I am still very unhappy about days after the fact.

With some reluctance I turned Chancho around and headed back down a now familiar road. Clearly I was not my normal self any more as I lurched through puddles and submerged roads that had presented no issue only an hour before. Eventually losing it completely and having Chancho toppled over in a deep puddle. I even stopped and took a photograph instead of righting him immediately. The realisation that all my electronic gear was now sitting submerged in muddy water purged my befuddled brain with some force. I was not quite at the point of sitting in a puddle and adding my own tears to its volume, but I was not far from wanting to kick something with violent intent. Perhaps with some luck there were no stray dogs this far out.

I cycled with blinkers on for the next 10km’s, barely registering the surrounding jungle. Eventually I thrashed things out and decided that if I were not to get to Alto Madidi, then I should at least try to find as many birds as one could hope for on the cycle back - mid day heat or not. With a new resolve, I was able to tick off the final macaw species of the area - Scarlet Macaw. Precious little was moving about though, and I soon found myself on the outskirts of Ixiamas again. 

I made another attempt at the decent looking hotel. Again, despite it being a Monday afternoon and all the keys hanging in reception - there seemed to be no rooms available. Back into town again, but I certainly was not going back to the place of my last residence. I found a new ‘alojiamento’ that was not only a vast improvement, but had a room for me alone at a similar rate. It was too late in the day to perform any serious cleaning. Upon opening my panniers, I found to my alarm that my electronics pannier was not quite as water tight as it was supposed to be. Fortunately I never rely on one line of defence, having packed all the components in sealed plastic bags ‘just in case’. However, the plastic bags were now rather muddy and needed a quick wipe down. 

I then set off to procure a bus ticket for the following morning. This was surprisingly easier than I had expected, although I would not be leaving at 06:30 as expected, but 05:00 instead. This was some form of bonus, the quicker I could get into Rurrenabaque, the quicker I could get my gear cleaned and readied for the next leg of the trip. I also had a blog to update and many photos to upload. I had not uploaded any of my images to Flickr since entering Bolivia, such is the quality (or distinct lack there of) of internet here. 

Dinner was much the same type of rubbish that I had become used to. Fried chicken and fries. Off to bed early, a horrid morning ride in a crowded bus was something not to look forward to.

13/11/2012

Up at 04:15 to get all my gear loaded for the short walk to the bus stop. Fortunately I had packed everything the night before as the power was out yet again. So by head lamp I loaded the gear and set off along the cobbled road. Chancho squealed a little getting into the bus - perhaps he knew what was coming too. Finally after some pushing and pulling we got the objectionable swine on board with the rest of my gear. I managed to rest most of him on my panniers, a little protection from the impending bump and grinding hopefully. All my electronics were in my day pack so that they could have the seat and my lap for added cushioning. I was not to be disappointed, the ride was horrendous. I could not stop marvelling at the workmanship that allowed this vehicle to take an absolute pummelling and still retain it’s general shape and movement. No doubt the many mechanics make a decent living out of maintaining what they can of these old busses. 

Half way, we stopped at a small roadside shop for a spot of breakfast and a toilet break. I have a fairly hardened tolerance for the low quality of hygiene evident in Bolivia, but I was still slightly taken aback by watching a scene described by Che Guevara from his trip here in the 1950’s. The more traditional indigenous women wear rather attractive flowing robes, perhaps reminiscent of Victorian England. However, the similarity ends rather abruptly when it comes to bathroom stops as they shuffle the robes slightly, do there business and then vigorously wipe themselves with said dress! The image I had conjured from Guevara’s book was repeated in front of my eyes. It was a shock to Guevara then as it was to me now. Not that Guevara was a necessarily clean person, despite him being a medical doctor. During his university days, he was an able rugby player, but proudly too to wearing a single rugby jersey for months at a time without washing hence his rather apt nickname of ‘Chancho’ (yes, it was partly this association as well as the literal meaning of the word that caused me to name my bike this way.)

Just the type of thing you want to see at 07:00 in the morning while everyone else is taking breakfast. The journey continue it’s shocking (literally) journey, finally concluding in San Buenaventura - on the opposite bank to Rurrenabaque. I departed as did everyone else. We would all cross the river, the bus on it’s own barge sans occupants. Many would get back on and continue all the way to La Paz while I would head into Rurrenabaque and start the big wash.

I walked around the town trying to locate some other residence to the place I had stayed at previously. There was nothing wrong with my former accommodation, but I was hoping for a change of scenery. There were other places, but they were much more expensive. Thus I made my way back to the hostel I knew. It dawned on me that this was a good idea, there was a car port next to the room where I could wash Chancho in the shade. I wasted no time, a quick breakfast before beginning the washing. I popped around the corner to get a small tub and then started to strip Chancho of everything, the first time that I would not only take the wheels off, but also the derailleurs and cranks, replace the brake pads and generally get into every nook and corner. 

Cleaning the cranks and derailleurs required the use of a screwdriver to scrape the embedded oily dirt. Even some degreaser could not budge the stuff. Doesn’t sound like much, but I have a 116 link chain which required scraping of every link and inner link, on both sides. Cogs were disassembled and received the same treatment. After 5 hours, I had everything clean and put back together. Except for the rear wheel which had yet another puncture. Puncture sorted and bike dried, I gave the pannier the similar treatment - inside and out. Shoes, well they needed a good scrub to. My poor cycling shoes are starting to disintegrate from all the pushing I have been doing on slippery, sharp rocks. They won’t last much longer unless I get off these shitty roads soon. 

Then it was time to clean my own dirty, sweaty and smelly self. This time a brillo scrubbing brush was taken into the toilet too - for I needed a good exfoliation alongside the removal of grease and dirt. With all the cleaning done, it was left only to take my dirty smelly laundry next door for a wash and the remainder of the day was mine. 

Spent the rest of the afternoon uploading my various lists and purchasing some more books - for I had become bored with nothing to read. A few more Hitchens books (The Portable Atheist and God is Not Great) along with another of those books I should have read ages ago, Dawkins’s The God Delusion. OK, so I had promised myself to keep my more controversial views out of my blog, but I’m afraid this is proving nigh near impossible - it is who I am, so you’ll have to live with it if you enjoy reading the rest of my blog. I further make no apologies for doing so, especially if this offends you - get a brain and live the only life you will ever have while you have the chance to do so. What on earth are you fearful of? If it hasn’t dawned on anyone reading my blogs that I am a fervent anti-theist then you haven’t been paying attention! Not that I am trying to cement my position, rather these are all excellent books for the enquiring mind. The Portable Atheist is an excellent compendium of short stories or excerpts taken from various authors that Hitchens introduces one to including - Karl Marx, Mark Twain, George Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Emma Goldman, David Hume, Einstein, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Salman Rushdie, Ian MacEwan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Steven Weinberg and Dawkins amongst others. 

Books bought, a spot of dinner although my eyes over order what my stomach requires and I battle to stuff the large pepper steak down. Nothing much more to be done today, the blog and photos will be dealt with tomorrow. I also have to sort out my next move, where to go and what to do. I’m not sure I have finished with the jungle, but have come up with a plan.

I often quote people for my own benefit rather than that of the reader, but here I do for both of us - for me because the quote amplifies my reasoning for being and doing what I do, and for the reader as a salient reminder that a life lived vicariously is no life at all.

“Death is certain...Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” - Ayaan Hirsi Ali


14/11/2012

Bit of a quiet day, had been a busy one with all the cleaning yesterday. I would get my blog updated as well as attempt to upload the large photo images to Flickr - something I have not been able to do in Bolivia so far. Most of the morning was spent in the pursuit of decent bandwidth - something that was as arbitrary as the cloud cover today. 

By lunch time I had only managed to get through a small percentage of the image uploads, but had made better progress with the blog material. Out for a quick bite to eat before resuming the task. A large pizza at the usual Jewish restaurant around the corner. Finish yet another book, start a new one. Back to the hostel and upload the blog. Images continue to cause problems, so scrap the whole idea. I noticed an internet cafe that had WiFi access, so will try there this evening. Don’t have much else to do as the day draws to a close, so head off to the local bus station to see what I can arrange for tomorrow.

I milled about like the typically lost muppet, but had noted that busses for Trinidad only departed at 22:00, so I could either leave later tonight or waste the entire following day waiting for departure. I had just about everything done in any case, so figured I may as well go tonight. Eventually I heard what I had been waiting for, someone shouting loudly about departures to ‘Trinny‘ as it is known here. I lapsed for a second, waiting for the expected call of Susannah... (UK slant that I’m afraid, don’t even think of asking me if I watched the program - have you seen my dress sense?). 

I sidled up to the women of loud voice to buy my ticket. Then I changed my mind a little, instead of going all the way to Trinidad - I would in fact stop at San Borja instead and cycle the rest. For some reason I suddenly felt cycling strong and wanted to finish off with a few hundred kilometres of dirt road! Cost of ticket was BOB80, which seemed about right. As I was about to take a leisurely stroll back to the hotel to pack, I enquired as to the departure time - just to make sure. The first time she responded, it didn’t here the 22:00 I was expecting. My now perfunctory Argentine response of, ‘¿Che?‘ had her repeating what she had just said. The answer equated to anytime, now if you want. I think she realised that I was rather confused, at which point a local taxi driver came over to show me where he would put my bike. On a Taxi? Great, I had booked myself a taxi ride, not a bike ride. Still for BOB80 this certainly seemed a better deal than some crowded rickety bus. 

Hauled my rear back to the hostel, collected my laundry (didn't check it, of course they nicked one of my cycling gloves - pillocks, what are they or I for that matter to do with one glove?) and got back to the terminal in good time. Loaded the bike and all my gear comfortably enough (bike on the roof) and then waited. First half an hour, then an hour and more before I went to find my driver and ask what the delay was. The taxi needed to be full before departure, ie: we still needed another 4 people and there had been no takers in 2.5 hours. The decision I had to make at this point was ditch the whole stupid affair and lose the BOB80 or sit and wait. Instead I told him we could leave now and I would pay the difference, which turned out to be some BOB350 more. Of course, having paid for the entire taxi, he then went and picked up some women and kids to occupy the boot... The similarities between here and India are more than just remarkable. I passed some comment about India’s Indians and South Americas Indigenous people (Indians to us) being the same brother from a different mother. I’m starting to wonder about the accuracy of that genealogy.

Thus followed a 4 hour drive to San Borja - arriving at 01:30 in the morning. Along the way, my eagle eyed driver managed to avoid most of the flatter sections of the road and run over a Yellow Armadillo. His last second attempt to miss the creature may well be construed as having aimed for it, given his capacity to hot large holes and objects seemingly at will. At the time of this specific collision, I was no wiser as to what we had hit - being half asleep. However, it must have been serious for the taxi stopped and off my driver ran seemingly quite excited. I jumped out to see what he was after, it being pitch black - it was only when he stood in front of the car’s lights that I could now see the rather large armadillo. Great, a partial hit, but enough to cause it pain and suffering. At this point the two of us seemed to have the same idea, but probably for different reasons. I was off to retrieve my SOG, but my driver beat me to it by grabbing some small pen knife from the cubbyhole. Having managed to slit the poor things throat, he then attempted to latch the thing to the roof rack. Just what my now duty bike needed, some armadillo blood and guts. S small problem presented itself, the armadillo could not be squeezed onto the roof racks - there wasn’t any space. So my intuitive driver solved this problem by simply cutting the thing in half! I saw a need to kill this creature to put it out of it’s pain and suffering. My man had just hit the jackpot in terms of ‘bush meat’, pain and suffering, I don’t believe ever entered his thought process. 

15/11/2012

San Borja at 01:30 was not exactly quiet, but it was pretty much shut. Walked into a few hotels, but there was no one on duty. Eventually I cycled off to a hotel about 1.5km out of town - more like a resort. Given the lights and the security guard cubicle, I thought I might have been in luck. There was no one home, so I resolved to sit outside until someone did arrive. I had planned on getting a few hours sleep under my mosquito net, but ended up sitting on the laptop sorting out the remainder of my spread sheets. By the time I was done, dawn was breaking and I had one of the most incredible birding moments for many a day. A flock of Nacunda Nighthawks descended in the gathering light to pick off the insects flying around a street light. Try my best, I could not get them in focus - either for lack of light or them being too swift for me to follow. Just as I was starting to get my range, they all disappeared - as if a switch went off, dictating the difference between feeding and roosting for them. They all had the same in-built light meter which didn’t require the subjective analysis of two umpires before everyone went off for light. 

At about 06:00, one of the staff came to the gate and saw me. I wasn't expecting to be able to check in until much later, but they wheeled me straight in, room ready by 06:15 - even had air conditioning. I figured I had best get some sleep, but found this impossibly difficult to do with the sun up. Played with the tame Grey Brocket (species of deer about the size of a Grey Duiker). Damn thing ended up being a worse ‘hanger on’, than a puppy. It was nigh near impossible to move without being licked or head butted around the ankles whenever I left the apartment. The hotel had a number of tame animals, I cannot be sure if they were rescues or purposefully caught - some rather rare birds like Razor-billed Curassow and Blue-fronted Piping-Guan, neither of which I have seen in the wild yet.

Went to town to pick up some cash as I was running low. No ATM, but luckily I had taken out some US Dollars in La Paz. When I draw from the ATM, the exchange rate I get is around US1:BOB7.8, these buggers gave it to me at US1:BOB6.7. I had no other means of getting cash, so I could do nothing about it. Stocked up on fluids and some food and went back to the hotel where I managed to doze for a few hours. Back into town later in the evening for dinner. All in all I had been on the go for 42 hours without sleep, and come to think of it - a pizza and two small empanadas/saltenas (depends which country you are in, but they understand it both ways) for food during that entire time. Probably not the diet or sleep of someone who planned on doing a major cycle the following morning. 

16/11/2012

Either way, at 05:00 I was dressed and packed. Somehow I had neglected to pick up bottles of water, so now I had to improvise and fill my bottles with tap water and hope for the best. I would also have to hope for some small roadside stalls or villages along the way. Of course the sensible thing to have done would have been to delay my departure and wait for the town to open. Clearly this was an early sign that I was not my usual self. The dirt road turned out to be of relative quality and mostly quite flat, so I was able to put a number of km's under the belt very quickly - perhaps too quickly. Given that I had left at 06:00, but 10:00 I had already passed the 60km mark. The sun had now just emerged from some cloud cover, and it was intent on making up for lost time. 

Just as I was starting to consider the use of my UV pen and water filters, a small bar/restaurant (think wattle and adobe lean to with a wooden plank) got me a 2lt bottle of water and a small coke. I was now much happier about my fluid situation. I carried on cycling to plan, aiming to travel a minimum of 12km within the hour, including any stops, breaks etc. I was still doing this comfortably, in fact by 13:00 I had just passed the 96km mark, an hour ahead of schedule. 

Slightly interjecting : birds seen to this point included - Jabiru, Maguari Stork and Wood Stork (finally - 3 trips to the Americas without that damn stork!), Red-capped Cardinal & Pied Plover amongst a host of other commoner grassland species I had already seen on the trip. 

I had for the last few sectors been pumping my rear tyre at each stop. Given that it was now extremely hot, I decided to take some time off in the shade, replace the tube and have lunch. I took a full hour to accomplish the tube change, have lunch and relax. I still felt pretty good at this point, but had certainly started to feel the heat. Things started to deteriorate very quickly form this point onwards. I managed to find only the second village at the 106km mark, picking up another 2lt bottle of fluid and take my rest stop early. 

My average speed had reduced from 19km/h (when cycling) to just over 15km/h. That is a very significant drop given that I am an extremely consistent athlete (my marathon km splits are within 15sec of each other from start to finish, all 44km). I should at the very least have recognised that I had a problem of sorts and thought of the problems and alternatives - I still had 36km to go in order to reach the town of San Ignacio de Moxos. My 'new' tube had clearly punctured as well, I was now having to pump every 5-6km's. 


Instead I bumbled on, rigidly fixated on the finish line. I had what amounted to a second wind of sorts after this and pushed out a 16km sector leaving myself just the two shorter sectors to finish. It was now 16:00, I had 20km's to go and about 2.5 hours of sunlight - any other day I would have cruised in no later that 17:30. However, at the end of this sector I had become very lackadaisical and struggling to maintain full concentration and balance even. The first muscle cramps had started in my calves. I finished the remainder of the 2lt bottle of juice and simple wanted to go to sleep. I sat down for 10 minutes on a cool concrete slab - even the biting insects weren’t really bothering me much. My neck and back had gone quite stiff. I've been here before, I knew what was going on. Now it became a constant struggle in my head between calling it quits here and getting some rest of pushing on just a few more km’s.

Perhaps my brain and my body were in co-delusion. Part of me knew I was in trouble already, it also knew that there were no hospitals out here - I needed to get into the town to have any hope. Off I went again, as luck would have it the road deteriorated significantly from a decently hardish surface to large sections of very soft, powdery sand - more energy required, less distance gained. I started counting down the distance in 500m sectors, stopping every 2-3km’s for a rest and to pump the damn rear wheel. 

By the time I was in sight of the towns radio towers (which normally means I have about about 5-6km's to go) it was starting to get darker already. Most things happened in slow motion, my vision went in and out of focus, got speckled or blotched at other times. The first waves of nausea started now and my stomach started to feel ‘a little brittle’. I started to wonder if that tap water was indeed contaminated with something like cholera. Perhaps my body was only now starting to react. Finished the remainder of my water.

I reached the town at 18:45, having taken almost 5 hours to cycle 45km's. (My average marathon time is 3:20 by comparison). Found the first accommodation I could - what it consisted of I could have cared less, I needed to get in a shower and lie down asap. Walked in the front door and cannot remember how I managed to secure accommodation as I was unable to speak properly. My ears were no longer equalised and no amount of sniffing or blowing would change that fact. My throat was eviscerated, I could barely breathe without pain, let along enunciate words. 

One way or another my man got a room sorted for me, but persisted in fumbling about with the fan, light switches and the like. So while trying to unload my luggage as quickly as I could, he kept getting in my way. My levels of tolerance were negative at this point and I very quickly told him to take a hike - if I wanted anything I'd ask. It was patently obvious that I needed to be in a hospital, not stuck here in the first place - certainly not being messed about. He took his cue and disappeared - I crumpled on the bed in front of he fan and didn't move for a good 45mins. The whole time I lay there, I was trying to convince myself to get into the shower and try to reduce my body temperature, but seemed powerless over myself for a change. The strength of mind which had gotten me over the last 20km’s of cycling could not get me to stand up and move 20 yards. 

When I did finally make it, I managed to switch the settings to cold without getting electrocuted and just stood there for 20 mins. I could feel some level of improvement, but I now started to feel very nauseas. I hadn't eaten much of substance all day either, only biscuits and other very sugary stuff. Feeling slightly improved I went downstairs to the owners cafe - when I looked properly in the fridge I saw that he had PowerAde and Gatorade. I desperately needed electrolytes and here for the first time in Bolivian history were such drinks available. I bought two of them and a pack of Pringles - the only food that I could see of any attraction (although I remember recoiling at the prospect of ‘Cheese Pringles’ - must be the worse flavour they make). 

Upstairs, PowerAde went down in one shot - almost immediately I got that sensation that comes about very rarely for me these days, but needs little experience to recognise what is about to happen. I hauled off to the bathrooms as quickly as my decrepit body would take me, but fell agonisingly short - I didn't get the door open in time. Well, it looked and felt as though I had purged every drop of fluid I had imbibed since 13:00. 

On the up side so to speak - this event changed everything from my perspective. For it was now obvious that I was not suffering from sun/heat stroke as I had thought. Indeed, my previous problems in Argentina now looked to have been caused in the same way - dilutional hyponatremia or water intoxication. I decided to look into this much further, in essence to try and evaluate where everything had gone wrong. I took the 13:00 mark as the cut off between good/poor bodily function. I’ll spare you the toiletry details other than to say that it was a regular occurrence during the early part of the day, but just my fluid consumption rate should have pointed to an alarming problem.

<13:00 - 8 stops (1.2lt water + 0.5lt Coke) [1700ml]
>13:00 - 4 stops (1.0lt juice + 1.5lt water + 2.0lt Soda [4500ml]

Strange as it may seem, water is considered a toxic compound (even if it is considered the ‘least toxic’ compound). Water has an LD
50 of 90g/kg. To give you a comparison, the Black Mamba has an LD50 of 0.00025g/kg. My short hand math makes the Black Mamba about 36million times more lethal than water on a gram to gram basis. So I am not claiming that water is killing unsuspecting people left, right and centre - but it is killing some.

Every time you see the front page splash of a ‘bright and talented teen dies from 1 Ecstasy tab’ (aren’t they always ‘bright and talented’...) consider that the drug itself was probably not the reason in itself - the coroner is likely to return a verdict of of water intoxication associated with the high fluid intake. Many studies have been made on marathons runners, in particular the Boston Marathon of 2002 showed that of the 488 runners tested, 13% had clinical dilutional hyponatremia. 

Enough science for you, I will spare you the rest of my research. After violently and explosively ejecting my bodily contents and carpeting the bathroom, walkway and door - I suddenly felt much better. Certainly better enough to grab a mop and bucket and clean up. Got back in the shower and changed again. Now I dropped the other bottle of GatorAde and started on the Pringles. I managed about 5 or 6 of the crisps before I could eat no more. It was not for a lack of desire, but my throat was so eviscerated that I was unable to swallow. I decided to give up on the Pringles and dozed in front of the fan. Just after 23:00 I went back downstairs for another PowerAde and a litre of Chocolate Milkshake. Drained both of those and then had an intermittent nights sleep, waking every hour or so. Sometimes with severe cramp, sometimes just the thought of it. My calves are stuffed, but more concerning is that my thighs have cramped heavily too, that has never happened before.

17/11/2012

Got up this morning feeling slightly better, and decided I needed to go for a walk. My legs had cramped heavily, very unusually for me, my thighs had too. Thus my legs needed a gentle stretch to try and walk off the pain and stiffness. I also wanted to find better accommodation and somewhere to have some food. I wasn't hungry at this point, but I knew that I needed to eat at some point. My fluid intake today consisted of the following : GatorAde 500ml x 2, PowerAde 500ml x 2, Pil Chocolate Milkshake 500ml x 1, Fanta 500ml x 2, Coke Cola 500ml x 2, Pil Strawberry Yogurt 1000ml x 1, Tampica Citrus blend 750ml x 2, Fanta Orange 2000ml x 1. [10 litres for the day]. I also found some other accommodation, a better hotel for only BOB40 (BOB10 more than the other dodge place I stayed in last night. Moved in here at 10:00 after struggling to find anywhere to eat this morning. In fact, I only managed to find another tube of Pringles. Once I got into the hotel I felt a little bit less sorry for myself and set about the task of fixing my two punctures and attempting to establish the cause of this problem (this is my 5th rear puncture in 3 days of cycling!). OK, so I wasn’t done feeling sorry for myself juts yet.

Marked my tyres, tubes etc - but was unable to find an embedded thorn or cause for this issue. I took the precaution of layering down a few strips of insulation tape in the marked areas to provide a little more protection but also to act as a marker should these turn out to be the problem areas. Fixed the other tubes and put the bike away. Got to dealing with my dirty laundry - dust, sweat and stomach contents. Got that sorted and hung before having a shower and hitting the town for lunch. Fortunately this was easier to find, a good bowl of soup, some pasta and minced beef. Relaxed in the shady town square for a few hours reading my latest books before sitting down to sort out my latest photos and emails etc. For the first time in days, I am positively looking forward to dinner. It turns out to be a small but very tasty hamburger. Still cannot find any form of nutrition here. 

18/11/2012

Wake at 06:00 to the sound of heavy rain. Fantastic, if soft and sandy roads were tricky enough to get through, this would now be nigh near impossible. Not that I was in any shape to cycle, but it did verily put a last nail in that coffin of options. Breakfast seemed to be a non-entity in this town, so I wandered off to enquire about the elusive busses. I had better luck immediately though, I could get another taxi ride for only BOB40. Bette yet, they only needed one more passenger to fill the vehicle before we could leave.

I was ready to depart this time around, so darted back to the hotel and wheel Chancho back to the taxi rank. Up went Chancho, tenderly tied down for what would certainly be another bumpy ride. The vehicle was full, including a young baby - great! Fortunately the little fellow was an excellent companion - he slept the whole way without making a racket. Me, well I got to sit next to the very ‘friendly, slightly rotund, vivacious’ women who kept making sure I understood where I needed to sit - right next to her. This caused much giggling and natter from everyone in the bus, none of which I could understand - but I have perfected the ‘sheepish grin’ to accommodate for such situations. 

Off we went, attacking the dirt road with due care and consideration. We made decent progress over the first 5km’s. Although, most of that forward gain was made in a perpendicular direction to that intended of the manufacturers. A rare metre it was when the pointy end of the Toyota was facing the direction of travel. I could only but humour myself at the dichotomy between the intended operational use of the vehicle and its actual use. I wondered if the fine minds that designed and created this vehicle had any idea of how resilient it was. More over, did they any idea that thousands of these vehicles ploughed the roughly hewn roads of Bolivia on a daily basis - requiring only basic maintenance? This particular vehicle had done almost 100 000km’s in this crap. If ever Toyota (or indeed Volvo - for they have the same monopoly on trucks in Bolivia) needed a team building event or motivational experience they should should come to Bolivia. Needless to say, one doesn’t see many Landrovers around these parts - at least not in an operational condition, roadside carcass there are though. 

I was very much happier with todays driver. Having myself driven on pretty much every known surface, one gets an immediate feel for a drivers capability in tricky situations. Believe me, this wasn’t just mud - it was the horrid ochre red type - very sticky and slippery at the same time. My man had it all sorted, caressing the steering wheel back and forth to accommodate for our fish tailing without ever over-correcting (something I have certainly done to much ahumorous entertainment).

After a good 90minutes of driving, I started to pay more attention to the savanna outside the taxi. There were still a few common and obvious species of bird that I needed to add to my Bolivian list. An Anhinga and Plumbeous Ibis were two of the birds I was looking for. What came next was not just a surprise, it was a CMF (birder parlance for a Complete Mind F... - birders do swear, but usually it is in awe of a very rare bird or at the failure to find said rare bird). I did have to take into consideration that I was in a moving vehicle, albeit not much faster that what I would have been cycling at. I also had to consider that this bird superficially resembles a much commoner relative. Compounded all that with the knowledge that there are approximately 250-300 birds in the wild. I was also pretty certain that these two birds were a little out of their known confines, if not out of habitat. All that being stated, there was no doubting that these were not Blue-and-yellow Macaw’s. When you get lucky enough to see two large birds from no more than 20yards with perfect lighting - a large blue throat set against a yellow belly, a beautiful royal blue shoulder and back - you should get extremely excited, you should have been on your bike twit. Not stuck in a taxi, unable to bring a halt to momentum and at best just take a few snaps. No, my short sighting of a pair of Blue-throated Macaws should never have happened from inside a taxi or any other form of transport than that which I set out to do this trip in the first place. 

Coming up to what I expected was the half way point (about 85km’s), we reached a large river. Onto a punt we drove - and I picked up from one of the passengers that this was the Rio Mamore. Surely some mistake? The Rio Mamore was very close to Trinidad, it should still be another 95km’s away at least. Out came the GPS to confirm my thoughts, or in this case completely disprove them. I checked my distance sector sheet again. Google, effing Google. Although in some respects I should have wondered at the indicated distance based on the map. No, Google has delivered me duff data yet again - although whether I should hold it against Google is debatable. There is so little information for Bolivia, no maps of any useful kind that I guess I am stuck with them for better or worse. 


However this has cocked up everything, had I known that the distance from San Ignacio de Moxos to Trinidad was only 95km’s I wouldn’t have bother stopping in San Borja. So the last weeks events, could and should have been a whole lot different. Not that there is any use in whinging about what has already happened, but the events of this entire week essentially boil down to a 90km discrepancy. In fact, much of my tour had ridden on very minor details like this. In Uruguay and Argentina the data was good and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip - I don’t think I would have done much different logistically in hindsight. However, I would have done Bolivia differently in almost every respect so far, that is aside from the retarded infrastructure.

In some respects it was a good thing that I only had another few kilometres to go. The fun of slipping and sliding over the mud had been replaced by a bumpy semi-dry road. My usual reasons for averting busses and taxis was starting to be felt in my stomach at this point. It would not have been long before I would have had to ask the driver to stop - although it occurred to me at this point that I wouldn’t have known how to. Nor could I check my phrase book right now, for that would have been an immediate purgative. 

I managed to change positions on the punt, moving next the window. The older fellow to my left had much more interest in the ‘chica’ next to me, so it suited both our purposes. If the worst came about, then I would only leave a GT streak down the side of the taxi. As it happens, the asphalt road started shortly making the drive to Trinidad a brisk one. Loaded Chancho up, who seemed in no worse shape for his travels on top of bumpy taxis. I promised Chancho at this point that there might be one more bus trip and that was it for a long, long time. In fact, he would have a new set of tyres and many other trinkets to marvel at before we ever went near another bus. 

Cycled aimlessly through the town trying to find some form of accommodation. Given the time I had, I was going to be picky in what I accepted - I certainly wanted WiFi. Not that I could find the appropriate roads or areas of the hotels. Juts my luck, today was a Sunday and the 18th of November which my trusty manual told me was the biggest celebration in town, given that it was the ‘state day’. Actually all I saw besides marching bands and blocked streets were a few drunken punch ups. What I did notice very quickly was that I was no longer the self evident ‘gringo’ anymore. It is as though the European descendants only live in towns with asphalt roads (not that I blame them). 

Even to my un-trained anthropological gaze, the indigenous people here were very different to that of La Paz, the Yungas, even Rurrenabaque - in fact very much until I reached San Ignacio itself by and large. From a short bit of research, the indigenous population around here are called the Moxos, rather than the Aymara or Quechua of the Andean areas. They seemingly are much lighter skinned and have a much different facial structure too (to the the Indigenous Andean tribes in any case). Either that or there has been so much mixing of European and Indigenous peoples that it is no longer possible to tell who may have been descended from who. Either way, this is a much better mix of people to what I have found so far. Not only have people stopped staring at me or going on about the ‘gringo’, but they can’t anymore either. Half of them are lighter skinned than me, some are taller, some look very Japanese - I could go one, but at least I don’t stand out now until I open my mouth. It comes as no surprise that the locals are much friendlier too, something that has been noticeable since leaving Rurrenabaque (unfortunately a complete tourist despot).

Tomorrow is the designated ‘maintenance and cleaning day’. It is incredible how much if this tour is dedicated to keeping Chancho in good working order and washing bloody clothes, as well as myself. Showering now takes place at least 3 times a day. Then it will be off for a spot of birding around the Laguna Suarez and an investigation into a trip to the one of the surrounding ‘estancias’ to see if I can improve on my Blue-throated Macaw sighting. 



20/12/2012

Up at 05:15 for an early mornings birding. Today I am heading off to Laguna Suarez, a small lake not far from Trinidad. The birds start off a little on the slow side, but am soon adding new species to my Bolivia list. First lifer of the morning is a Yellow-billed Tern, another of those frustrating birds that I have some how failed to see up until today. It is shortly followed by a small hummingbird, the Glittering-bellied Emerald. 

Pedalling onwards, I find a small access road to the lagoon. The birds suddenly come alive, and despite the overcast conditions I do my best to get photographs of such splendid birds as Golden-collared Macaw, Blue-winged Parrotlet and Hoatzin. I now only have one species of macaw left in order to twitch a full house in Bolivia. I follow the road around the lagoon adding some other very good birds - Slender-billed Kite, Great Antshrike, White-bellied Seedeater, Marsh Seedeater and Large Elaenia.

Satisfied with my mornings efforts, I head back to the hotel for a much needed shower. Update my lists and settle in for some other listing work. It would seem that I arrived back just in time, as the skies open up with a volley of rain. 

Dinner is taken this evening at a small bar/restaurant. Food is good, Mexican - I stuff my face with Nachos and a Burrito.

21/11/2012

Up at the usual hour of 05:15. Out the door and onto Chancho for a slightly longer cycle north of Trinidad. Today I am heading off to San Ramon and Puerto Ballivian. The clouds are dark and threatening. They open in due course, but it is not a downpour like yesterday - this is much more typical of a British drizzle. Arriving in San Ramon, I pull on some long sleeved clothes as the mosquitos home in. Locating the road/path that I need to be on, I trudge and push Chancho through thick sticky mud. This was not what I was hoping for. In a matter of metres, Chancho is chock a block with thick sticky mud. My trousers are already caked up to the knee and the mosquitos are no longer tentative in their approach. 

Deciding that this was not a bright idea, I give up the push and slip method after a few hundred metres. Park Chancho on a relatively hard piece of ground and walk the road in the near vicinity. Almost immediately 3 Plain Softtails (what will be Beni Softtails when someone can be bothered to do the taxonomic work) sit calling from the top of a small bush. The rain is now starting to get heavier, so I decline the offer of some photographs - the light is equally rubbish anyway. Apparently this is the place to look for the mythical Unicoloured Thrush. I have no such luck in the small amount of time that I bird here, but do manage to add Reddish Hermit, Barred Antshrike and Velvet-fronted Grackle (surely another 'armchair' tick when the taxonomic work concludes that these are in fact a separate species, the Beni Grackle). 

With the environmental conditions worsening, I decide to cut my losses and head off to Puerto Ballivian - hopefully to get another bird that has tormented me on this trip so far, the Pale-legged Hornero. En route to Puerto Ballivian, a blistering orange bird glides across the road - an Orange-backed Troupial. I arrive at the port, something a little misleading - it is a rather small and overgrown river with the odd wooden canoes, some port! While I am getting changed again, the flat waters of the river are ever so slightly breached. Hmm, I knew what those were - I quick scan through the binoculars confirms the presence of these rather odd pink mammals - the Amazonian River Dolphin. As with a few other species, this sub-species will also be elevated to species status shortly (Beni River Dolphin). Unlike the above mentioned species, the work on this mammal is pretty much done. 

Having enjoyed the dolphins for a while, I head off along the trail in search of more birds. Almost immediately I am assaulted by a squadron of kamikaze mosquitos. These are not the dainty little black and white striped mosquitos that fart their way about for a few minutes before settling and biting you. These mosquitos are about twice the size with a very heavy build, they simply fly straight at you and start going the moment they land. Even the 100% DEET was only a momentary hindrance to them. Despite wearing two shirts, they bit through them, through my bandana and into my scalp, my eyelid, upper and lower lips, nostril edge. It was not just the biting that was an issue, they were now interfering with my vision - even with the binoculars up, they were creating interference in my line of sight, trying to get past the eye pieces to my eyelids etc. 

With the rain starting to pour again, I had just about had all I could take of this bollocks. A loud hornero call, had me hurriedly getting my camera set up despite the rain. Standing still for this long was an invitation to incessant harassment from the mosquitos though. Camera set, I attempted to get images of the Pale-legged Hornero. A remarkable species, every other member of it's Genus generally lives in dry and arid conditions - but not his one, it got lost in the forest one day and decided to stay. Unlike its relatives, it is not all that keen on having photographs taken. I struggled for a while before admitting defeat not only to the bird, but the inclement weather and mosquitos.

Gear packed, I headed off into the torrential downpour. I made sure I cycled through as many puddles as possible, trying to get the mud off Chancho. This was to no avail, I entered the town with almost as much mud on as I had picked up in San Ramon. Then I saw an opportunity, a Lavadero (car wash) was busy cleaning it’s facilities with no vehicle in sight. I stepped in and asked if I could give the bike a quick spray. Gave Chancho a good going over before enquiring as to the cost. Nothing to pay said the old lady, but I handed over BOB5 in any case. 

I was now rather soaked, as well as being a little muddy myself. Back at the hotel I took my shoes off and allowed them to be water blasted by the streams of water running off the top of the hotel. Mission accomplished, I now needed to get in - the hotel keeps it's doors locked but rarely had anyone on duty to open them again. A few loud knocks had one of them open up - it seemed as though she had only just gotten out of bed. I supposed it was only 09:00, as it was to turn out, they all knew something that I didn't.

After having a shower and cleaning my gear, I headed off to buy some supplies. My dirty clothes needed a wash and I needed breakfast. I walked out at about 11:00 to find a ghost town. Not a person in sight, never mind that, there was not a motorbike in sight. I must be one of very few (if any?) foreigners who has stood in the middle of Trinidad and not seen or heard a motorbike, for hours. Trinidad is something akin to Ho Chi Minh City - motorbikes probably outnumber all other forms of transport 100:1. They are incessant and inescapable - something like the mosquitos. I figured I would take a walk around the block and see what I might find to eat. Luckily I found a small shop selling 'saltenas'. Dropped two of those before I continued my traipse about to get supplies. My little traipse about took in a good 25-30 blocks before I called it quits. There was nothing and no one.

I found out a little later that there was a census going on - happens once every eleven years, just my luck. I arrived in Trinidad on a Sunday - that was a public holiday, the Monday that followed was the day off. Today is even worse, at least on the public holidays people were out and about. I'm not sure what they have been told, but must have been something akin to remain at home all day long and don't move or go for a walk - you'll confuse the people trying to count you. So I spent most of the day in the hotel either reading, watching the odd episode of CSI or fiddling with some more lists. By 18:00 I was starting to get very hungry, but even on a good day the food stalls don't open until 19:00. I waste some more time before heading out to see what I can find. 

Turns out the options are limited, but at least there are some. It is hamburgers next door or some more Mexican food across the road. I have some more Mexican, this time it is Nachos, an Enchilada and a Burrito. Very spicy, very tasty - perhaps improved by my very hungry taste buds. Either way, I am done for the night. After a cool shower, I promptly collapse on the bed - waking at 02:00 to find the lights still on. Worse, the Aussies are mauling South Africa in the cricket - 480/5 at stumps on the first day! Back to sleep, hoping the cricket score was just a bad dream.
Turns out that the Bolivian census had some tough rules attached to it. People were essentially under ‘house arrest’ the entire day. The nervous looks out of the restaurants every few minutes must have been to keep an eye on the cops. According to the BBC, some 300 people were arrested for breaking the curfew. Just like the road closures below La Paz and now with the census, the locals all seem to know what is happening - but there is no attempt to inform anyone else who happens to be in the country. 

22/11/2012

Today I leave Trinidad, so spend an extra hour in bed for a change. Slowly start to sort my gear out and get the bike packed. I am planning on catching the bus to Santa Cruz de la Sierra as there is next to nothing of birding interest for the next 600km’s. From some previous research, I also know that the bus does not leave until 21:00. Essentially this is going to be one of those wasted days of waiting. Finish sorting out some new lists, have another shower and get the bike packed. I am about to leave the hotel when a heavy deluge forces me to sit tight. The extra half hour is just enough time to finish the last of my current Christopher Hitchens books - God is Not Great, how Religion Poisons Everything. As with most of Hitchens’s works, he makes copious notes on relevant data and their sources, so I now have more books and authors to read. Next up is another of those books that everyone thinks I must have read, should have read - The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. 

With the rain abated, I head off to the bus stop to get a ticket. It happens to be on the other side of town, so I cycle fully loaded. Cost of the ticket is rather cheap, even for the best seat in the bus - BOB250 (US$35.00). With ticket in hand I head towards town, but change my mind at the last minute. Instead I am going to cycle around the ring road and inspect some of the larger lakes for that missing goose. I spend a few hours fruitlessly looking for the Orinoco Goose before calling it a day and heading back to the town square. Sit for lunch, just as the next downpour starts. Then it is off to an internet cafe to book my accommodation in Santa Cruz for the next few days. I am now rather bored, the BBC just does not have anything interesting to read. Back to the town square for some supplies before taking a seat and getting on with the job of reading my next book. 

It is rolling on for 17:00 when I go for a wander. I don’t get all that far when I am engaged by a young Polish couple, Magdalena & Luke (http://szlakiswiata.blogspot.com/). They have been travelling from the Caribbean south. At some point in Colombia they decided to start cycling, geared up and have been cycling most of the way since. We chat for a few hours exchanging ideas about where to go and where to avoid. They are also catching a bus to Santa Cruz this evening. Having parted ways, I start out towards the bus station before it gets dark. 

There I sit for another few hours waiting for time to tick away. Eventually the time has ticked on to 21:00 and I can think of loading my bike. I find the appropriate bus and get some assistance from one of the loaders to put my bike on board. It would seem that I was supposed to get it weighed and tagged before, the loader not being all that happy without such tags - but with the bus about to depart he loads it anyway. The usual fee of BOB30 is parted with. I get onto the bus and find that my seat is taken - so I find another and wait to see what happens. The bus fills up quickly and very soon I am checking with the lady in ‘my’ seat. She tells me that my bus is actually at a different platform. I get down and have a chat to the bus driver, I am indeed on the wrong bus he tells me. In something of a panic, I tell him that I need to get my bicycle out of the cargo rather quickly so that I can get on the other bus. Not to worry he tells me (at least that is how I understood it), both busses are going to the same place and will arrive at the same time. I am to pick up the bike form their bus when I get there. Naturally I am not overly convinced, nor am I very happy to be parting with Chancho like this. The thought of not finding my bike at the other end would be quite unacceptable. Not from a monetary point of view, but I have become rather attached to my friend and to lose him due to my own stupidity would be rather unpleasant. 

I have little choice in the matter and get onto the bus I should have been on. A quick look at this particular bus does make me slightly happier, there seems to be almost no luggage space - perhaps everyone’s gear is on the other bus too. This is a fancy bus by Bolivian standards - it would be par for the course in Argentina. However, unlike Argentina there is no meal service of any kind, just a bunch of kids selling gum. 

The aircon is on full blast and muppet is in shorts and a vest without so much as a blanket. I cannot so anything on a bus except sit and stare into space or attempt to sleep. The seat recline quite a distance, so I lay back and try to sleep. At some point near to 01:00, we stop for a break. Most of us get off to take a leak before returning to our sleeps. I sleep intermittently, but slightly better than I do on planes. 

23/11/2012

I wake up at 05:00 to find that we are entering the outskirts of Santa Cruz, but I am not feeling all that good. By the time we arrive at the bus station I am pretty sure that I am going to get very sick. Feel exactly the same as I did when going through my water intoxication episode. Make it off the bus before anything untoward occurs. As sick as I feel, I start searching the platform for the other bus. No such luck. I wouldn’t say that I had started to panic yet, but that may have been down to how ill I felt. As it happens, a large group of the passengers were still waiting by the bus. The conductor was on the mobile fairly shortly, telling us that the other bus would be arriving in 15minutes. For the first time since departing yesterday, I was now certain that the other bus and Chancho were going to arrive. This was momentary relief from my nausea. I had enough in me to get Chancho out of the bus and packed. I walked off in the light rain looking for somewhere to sit down for a bit. I also needed the loo, but the queue coming out of the toilets was not inviting. Off to one side of the bus station were some trees - I would follow the lead of a number of locals in that case. 

Fortunately the hostel was only a kilometre or so away. I quickly found my bearings and rode off to the hostel, arriving at 07:00. Despite being very early, they allowed me to check in - but I would have to wait for the room to be cleaned first. I had no problem with this, I could go and have a shower or sit in any of the common rooms until later. I didn’t need a second invitation, a large bean bag in the TV room had my name on it. I crashed and slept for a few hours before being told that the room was ready. I wasn’t feeling much better, but unpacked my gear and headed off for a shower. Handed over my stinking washing - must have gotten some really crappy mud on my clothes in Trinidad. The rest of the day was spent mostly in bed, the odd foray for water or a small snack. 

Despite the knowledge that I should eat, I was not in any mood for substantial food - a bag of Pringles being my food of choice. Back to bed for a long sleep. At some point during the day, I started to wonder if I may not have Dengue Fever or Malaria. All the typical symptoms of head ache, nausea and muscle pain. I decided to consider my position in the morning - had it been any other day I would have gone for a blood test, but I was still leaning on the side of fatigue rather than anything else.

24/11/2012

Woke up feeling much happier with life, clearly I had just been very fatigued. Birdwatching on a permanent basis is tough on the sleep patterns, certainly no use in going to bed after 23:00 every night when I am getting up at 05:00 every morning.

Went for a wander through the town to pick up a few supplies. Didn’t make much headway before returning to the hostel. I resolved to do absolutely nothing today. Other than some haphazard work on the blog and the updating of some photos, I pretty much satisfied my requirement of sitting on my bum vegetating.

dinner time arrived and for a change I was actually hungry. Had the receptionist call a local pizza parlour for a large garlic chicken. Damn pizza cost more than a nights accommodation, but it was large enough that I was only able to get half way before calling it a night. Off to bed at a reasonable hour, tomorrow I was going to get some birding done.

25/11/2012

I didn’t wake up all that early and had little motivation for an early cycle. Rolled over and went back to bed. Decided to have breakfast before leaving, but got side tracked chatting to a Latvian chap about his impending trip to Argentina. It was only some time after 10:00 that I started out for the Botanical Gardens. Arriving in the middle of the day was never going to produce many birds, but I figured I would take a small wander to get my bearings and return tomorrow at a reasonable hour. 

Still managed a few birds, Hauxwell’s Thrush, White-wedged Piculet, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Amazonian Motmot and some Orange-winged Parrots. I tried venturing deeper into the forest, but got hit with the largest swarm of mosquitos I had seen all trip. I soldiered on for a while, but soon beat a hasty retreat. I did not come prepared with bug spray either, so I was the proverbial sitting duck. I was somewhat pleased with my efforts given the time of day and the strong wind blowing. 

Returned to to the hostel to have lunch, yesterdays remaining pizza. Sorted through some photos and lists. Must have gotten lost in my work, for it was late before I thought of food again. Yet again my appetite seemed to have deserted me, so it was nothing more than another bag of Pringles for dinner. Another early night, hopefully I would wake up in the right mood for an early morning visit. My 6 bed dorm room was barren except for me, so there was no fear of waking up the others tomorrow. 

26/11/2012

My trusty body alarm had me up before the scheduled iPhone alarm of 05:00. To my utter dismay, it was already getting light. This was no good, I wanted to be at the gardens right now, not 45 minutes away. Changed and readied myself as quickly as one can at that time of the morning. The roads were quiet fortunately and I made good speed, arriving at the entrance a little before 06:00. I hadn’t bothered to check yesterday, but the gardens only open at 08:00. I would need to get a little inventive in that case. 

I found a track running down the side of the gardens. For a simple public institute, the gardens were secured like a prison - huge fence going all the way around. So I birded the track for as far as it would take me, picking up a few species. By 07:00, I headed back to the entrance in the hope that I might find someone there to let me in a little early. My luck was in, and I was able to cycle all the way to the forest entrance on this occasion. Put my bush clothes on and doused myself in bug spray. Not that the bug spray caused any dismay amongst the mosquito squadrons, for they buzzed around me the entire time. There were easily a couple of hundred of the things constantly chaperoning my every move, just in case they found a chink in the armour. Every now and then one would succeed in getting it’s beak through my double layers and bug spray - a resounding whack putting paid to yet another devilish bitch (all mosquitos that present a bite/disease threat to humans are female in case that sounded overly misogynistic). 

By 09:00 the birding action was dying down and I was starting to lose the mosquito battle. A good morning, adding the following : Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Common Slaty Flycatcher, Fawn-breasted Wren, Grey-headed Kite, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Southern Scrub Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Grassland Yellow Finch.

On the way back to the hostel, I stopped in at a large supermarket. For the first time since leaving Argentina I was able to walk into a shop and touch the goods I wanted to buy. In some respects, this shop was even better than anything I had found in Argentina as it had a huge selection to boot. I know that it is only a supermarket, it is perhaps nothing much better than an ASDA or Walmart, but to me this was a candy store. I got rather carried away as can be expected. Think of what it would be like if London or your own home town had no supermarkets, in fact no shops that you were even allowed into. The only way in which you were able to buy anything was to stand at the front door (gate) of a small corner cafe and tell the person behind the counter what you wanted. Now imagine doing this when you cannot speak the local language and have no idea what the products and brands are. That has been life for me over the last 6 weeks. 

Out I came with enough food for the next few days as well as some toiletries that I was running low on. Arrived back at the hostel a few minutes late for breakfast, but happy with my mornings effort. 

Rest of the day spent doing the usual stuff. Imported my photos, quite looking forward to a few images of the Rufous Casiornis and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, species I knew I had cracking photos of. My impending enjoyment quickly soured as I found that my images were all black and white barring one colour. I tinkered with the software, then pulled out my camera to check the on screen shots. There was no mistake, when I looked at the effects knob it was set to ‘S’. This setting is for a single colour selection, in other words the images came up only with the colour I was focussed on - everything else was black and white. My settings have shifted on the odd occasion due to vibration and the odd whack from hitting a bump in the road. I normally check my settings before setting out, but had not bothered since yesterday as the roads were so flat - I hadn’t whacked anything to cause such a shift. I also tend to check my shots on the LCD screen when shooting, but had kept the screen flipped due to all the bug spray I had flying everywhere. Complete and utter pillock stuff. 

After that disappointment, I rather fell flat for the rest of the day. At 16:30, I did motivate myself to go for an exploratory cycle. I wanted to visit Lomas de Arena tomorrow, an area of sand dunes. The birding looked good, so it was decided to have a quick dip at the birds this evening as well as get my route sorted out for an early start tomorrow. Fighting through rush hour traffic was probably not the greatest idea, but after an hours cycling I reached the point of no return. Perhaps the words ‘sand dune’ might have given me a hint, but there was no way I was able to cycle on the roads. So that idea was quickly abandoned, but tomorrow I would attempt to reach the venue by an alternate route. I suddenly felt like having a sprint, in went some very loud music and I set off at a rate of knots back to the hostel. I felt as though I was back in London again, scooting along at over 30km/h, shouting at busses and taxis, jumping traffic lights (I didn’t do that in London actually), hitting wing mirrors if drivers got to close or didn’t leave enough space. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, hedonistic half hour of cycling. 


After that fun, I put my feet in the pool and had my first beer for over week. Sat and had some very entertaining conversations with a couple from Australia and a young Irishman. It was no surprise to find that the majority of the people here were in their late twenties and early thirties - this is not a city on the standard ‘Gringo Trail’, so all the young whipper snappers are absent. This means that there are no raucous, cheap Vodka fuelled parties. More considered beer and wine drinking to go with some educated conversations. Somehow the topic turned to snakes, a topic I am very keen on. Everyone here had their own snake stories, one can’t spend much time in South America without coming across them. Although I was rather envious of how many snakes most other people had come across - I had some catching up to do. Some Yank pitches in to say that she saw a Green Mamba. Where in southern Africa was that I asked. No, it was right here in the Bolivian Amazon. That was incredible most of us concurred, but for once in my life I decided to simply let this bollocks slide. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood to educate, but I was probably more stumped as to how she even came up with that name. South African’s see any green snake as a ‘Green Mamba’, but how did a Yank come across this? I rather suspected that her guide gave out the bullshit information. Anyhow, Green Mambas only live on a very narrow stretch of littoral coast line in South Africa and Mozambique, with the odd record in Zimbabwe and perhaps further north too. 

Eventually it was time to sort out food for the evening. I had some lemon and black pepper chicken to go with some very fresh tomatoes and peppers. This would all get thrown onto some white bread rolls with thick layers of cheese. By the time I had sorted out dinner it was well past 23:30. Off to bed, the chances of an early start were not looking promising. 

27/11/2012

Indeed, an early start was not on the cards. I rather sleepily arose at 07:00 and figured I would rather have breakfast first before setting off on an unlikely mission. As I have come to expect, the wind was already playing havoc - not a good element for productive birding. Through clouds of sandy dust I cycled onwards, almost certainly a waste of time. 

It certainly was, I got bogged down in soft sand a good 5km’s from the entrance. The surrounding grasslands looked promising, so I headed off to make the best of the circumstances. There were precious few birds about, perching in such strong wind would have been a near impossible task. I did flush a feeding Pearl Kite onto a nearby snag. The Pearl Kite is one of those birds that you cannot really look for in any one particular spot, you just hope you come across it somewhere. Here it was, with a rather large lizard for breakfast. I sat and watched it feed for a good 15 minutes, thinking it would take most of the day for the bird to get through this meal. With that I headed back to the hostel to get my gear packed for tomorrows departure. My accrued stack of dirty clothes needed washing too. 

With my gear packed, it was time for dinner. Not overly hungry I settled for a large salad, left overs from the previous evenings chicken rolls. With that I settled down to do some work on www.golobaltwitcher.comthe website I use for my all my lists. Lots of new work being done and I needed to test some of the new facilities. Suddenly found a need to listen to Ozzy Osbourne, so clogged up the wireless feed while downloading a rather large album. Disappointingly, I only took a liking to a handful of songs (if its of interest : Dreamer, Black Rain, No More Tears). 

28/11/2012

Time to leave the hostel. Having arrived rather out of sorts, I ended up having a very relaxed week interspersed with some birding. Given that it was a short cycle today, I took my time and had breakfast. A last minute chat with a young South African couple, from South Africa no less. (I know that sounds self evident, but a massive number of South Africans of this age group, do not reside in their country of birth anymore).

Cycling through Santa Cruz was akin to fighting your way through London traffic. There was lots of shouting and swearing at various idiots before I reached the outskirts of the city. The useless car drivers were now replaced with eminently more dangerous truckers - who paid no attention to my presence what so ever. Things never really improved after that, the wind blew a gale into my face (does the wind ever blow in any other direction except into me?) and the hard shoulder looked like it had been strafed with cluster bombs. The entire area around Santa Cruz is made of fine beach sand. It very much resembles a sand desert in some respects, small sand dunes and fine sand blowing across the road. Not only was the wind making it feel as though I was cycling through treacle, but I was getting sand blasted at the same time. 

However, despite the harsh conditions I knew I did not have far to go. Arrived in Montero just after 15:00, fully 4 hours to cycle the small part of 55km’s. Parked up next to some street vendors selling what could best be described as a Slush Puppy. The women serving me starts off with a large block of ice and a what looks like a carpenters plane. A few scrapes and we have a cup full of crushed ice - genius. In went the syrup and I had myself a very refreshing drink, so good that I had another. 


Checked into a local hotel which very fortunately had an air conditioner - the outside temperature had already reached 35°C. Spent the afternoon sorting out my mothers blog. Will find out tomorrow morning if my work has been of use or hinderance. A long walk through the town trying to find dinner - no such luck, so fried chicken again, at least the rice had a vegetable mix thrown in. The diets here are atrocious, how anyone survives on this lack of vegetables is beyond my understanding. However, it comes as no surprise that the majority of Bolivians are rather rotund - it would surprise me no less to find that they also drop like flies from coronary diseases. 

29/11/2012

Another short cycle today, but was not planning on messing about before leaving. As I was able to wheel my bike into my room yesterday - I had it packed and ready to go early. For some absurd reason I felt it was a good idea to have another shower before leaving. Hit the road just after 08:00 and found the conditions slightly improved for cycling. A thick covering of cloud would at least keep the heat off me, if not the howling wind. Traffic was initially heavy, some truck dodging and a few near misses with the local motorcycle taxis had me suitably awake. 
The traffic eased as I left the town, where it went is slightly surprising - trucks don’t tend to make a towns traffic, not is there any other road out of here. I was not to complain about the lack of trucks, but I would register yet another protest at the insidious wind. The cycle proceeded without any issues, but I did have to pump the rear tyre again. Guess that would be another rear wheel puncture to deal with later. 

Arrived in the quaint town of Buena Vista, which sits on a hill - something I haven’t had to go up for almost a month now. I fudged around the town until I had my bearings and set off for the hotel of choice. Thankfully I only planned on one night here, the prices are steep! Blown the budget for a few days, so tomorrow will have to be in the tent. Chores to be sorted, into the shower for a quick wash of me and my clothes. Moved onto the decking where I ordered an ‘Irish Sandwich’ - I hadn’t realised that the Irish were known for such things, so this was more out of curiosity. Whatever it’s proper origin, this was a very thick, four layered Club Sandwich. Went down rather well for a change, have not been all that hungry for the last few weeks.

Next it was time to deal with that other favourite job - changing the back wheel. Having become rather frustrated with what I figured was an embedded object, I had taped and marked the suspicious area of my tyre for the next puncture. More marking before pulling off the offending tube, surprise surprise it was in the exact same spot. This now confirmed my thoughts of an embedded issue, not that I could see or feel anything. Out came the Leatherman knife and I prodded and probed every suspicious spot on the tyre. Eventually I felt something that was not rubber. Much more pushing and prodding produced a fine piece of wire, no more than 5mm long and not much thicker than a human hair. This one piece of fine metal was probably responsible for all of my 7 rear wheel punctures in Bolivia. I most likely picked it up on Rurrenabaque’s cobbled roads where it got pushed deep into the tyre - not to be seen for three weeks. Chancho’s wheel cancer is in remission, for now at least. 

Quick trip into town for some supplies and to get some more cash. The only bank in town does not have an ATM, but they did have signs for Mastercard - so I figured I would be alright. Nope, they were not going to give me a cash advance on my card. Helpfully I was told that the next ATM was located at Yapacani some 40km’s away. There are probably more ATM’s in the West End of London than there are in this entire damn country. I have had quite enough of the money situation here too. They don’t have banks where you can draw money, and when you can the banks issue you with BOB100 and BOB200 notes. The locals won’t accept large notes - NO HAY CAMBIO (no change). How is this possible? Left and right hands run by the same brain, stuck in the same arse. 

It is most remarkable how countries in various states of regress can provide such facilities against all odds, but this backwards entity somehow can’t, despite never having any such sanctions placed on it by anybody other than itself. Bolivia must be something akin to where Cambodia was in about Year 5. I would like to clarify that at any time I refer to ‘Bolivia’, I am referring to the entire plurinational state except the Department of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz wants to secede from Bolivia, and it would take no brain surgeon to work out why. Santa Cruz de la Sierra is comfortably a first world city. Modern roads, good infrastructure, a sewer system, internet capabilities extending beyond the useless pulsed ISDN satellite feeds amongst other things. Not only is it a modern and comfortable city to live in, (the people have returned to Latin American form by being friendly and warm) but the state also has most of the oil and mineral wealth. Why would you want to be part of the Bolivian state when you you could comfortably survive on your own? It must feel to the locals that they are the occupants of a city like Miami dropped in the middle of the Congo. (Mind that is probably unfair even to the Congo - perhaps consider substituting with Somalia, Syria etc.)

Tomorrow is a long cycle, and the wind does not look as though it plans on easing. Best get to bed at a reasonable hour in that case.


30/11/2012

My first long cycle since my last ‘water intoxication’ episode. It has dawned on me that what I thought was a struggle with Acute Mountain Sickness now looks more and more likely to have been another water intoxication episode. I no have more concerns about my electrolyte levels and fluid intake than I do about simple cycling distance. It has also caused me much thought at to why I was able to cycle much longer distances day after day without effect in places like Brazil. Those days were equally hot and humid, but my diet was certainly better. The other common denominator has been the wearing of my Skins. I will give this more thought when appropriate, for now I can do with the sun protection.

Knowing that the day was expected to be overcast and windy from the start, I saw no point in waking up early. Besides, breakfast was included in my room rate - and having broken the bank to stay here, I had better take advantage. The breakfast was mostly wasted on me, the fruit looked lovely - pity I don’t touch the stuff. So it was eggs and toast, which made a break from the typical Bolivian breakfast of rice and steak/chicken. 

I left just after 08:00, hoping that yesterdays efforts to sort out the recurrent rear wheel puncture would pay dividends. I trundled along at good speed, averaging well over 22km/h by the time I stopped for my first break. I did however berate myself for travelling too quickly, there was near enough 65km’s to go yet. My pace hardly abated over the next few sectors, despite my best mental attempts to reign my legs in. I stopped occasionally at a road side stall for a PowerAde if one was available or my new favourite drink, Pil Chocolate Milk. Normally I buy the 961ml (who comes up with these silly quantities?) which I polish off in one go. Roadside stalls tend only to sell the smaller versions (150ml), so I buy four of them that disappear in rapid succession. 

With 15km’s to go, my legs started to give way rather unsurprisingly. I was still averaging well over 22km/h, but my legs had had enough now. The last 10km’s took almost an hour to get through. It was still relatively early (14:00) when I rolled into the town of Bulo Bulo. There wasn’t much going for the place, not even a river crossing. Thankfully there was some accommodation in the form of an Alojiamento. Generally speaking I try to avoid Residencials or Alojiamentos if possible. These are typically grotty, the bathrooms almost unusable. They are mostly used by ‘campesinos’ (migrant workers) when travelling long distances or engaging in local contract work. Hostales and Hoteles are of better quality. In small towns like this, anything would do. I managed to secure a room with it’s own bathroom (a rarity) for the rather expensive sum of BOB40 (US$6.00). You might argue that US6 is nothing, but by Bolivian standards this is quite steep for an Alojiamento. Typically they are around the BOB20-30 mark. Perhaps they were cashing in on their monopoly - and why not? 

Jumped straight into the shower (they are always cold in such accommodation), but this was exactly what I wanted for it was extremely hot outside. Walked into town for a quick bite to eat. Restaurants (get any idea of European restaurants out of your head) - this is simply a large covered space with plastic tables and chairs. There are no menu’s and you are normally served by children while their parents are in the kitchen. Add to the mix most of the local stray dogs, hundreds of flies amongst other vermin and you get the picture. Speaking of pictures, each one of these ‘restaurants‘ will typically have a massive TV with equally massive speakers blasting out the latest copied and badly voice over’ed DVD. Today we have some war film starring that short, fornicating bastard of an anti-semitic Australian.

Unfortunately, child labour in Bolivia is a way of life - whether the government cares or makes a significant effort to combat it is unknown to me. However, us Westerners should not foist out opinions on other cultures - this is ‘their culture’ and we should ‘respect’ it. I mean, what would life be without cultural diversity - better yet, we steadfastly defend their right to ‘cultural diversity’ and don’t even have to pay the price for it, they do. Pretty much the same with other ludicrous bollocks that we ‘give respect to’ - you can guess where this is going. 


Lunch was half decent today, even if it was the same as always - rice, chicken and fries. By the time I returned to my room, sweat was pouring off me. Collapsed on the bed for a good few hours, simply unable or unwilling to move in this insipid heat. Jumped into the shower to try and cool off. The feeling was immediate but short lived. As much as I wanted to open the door for extra fresh and cool air, the prospect of letting in a world of mosquitos was worse than the heat. 

By the time I got my lazy backside off the bed again it was time for dinner. Just around the corner I could smell a rather tasty ‘asado’ happening. Dinner tonight would be slightly different, we would have some BBQ. Along with the standard rice, there was some decent looking salad, a piece of chicken, some beef and half a chorizo sausage. Very enjoyable, even finished the rice. Of course one should not be eating the salad, but I am not on a tourist holiday for a few weeks - I have been in Bolivia for months now. I have already had my weeks worth of burbling stomach, my guts are now hardened and seemingly immune to all the other crap that is being sent down there. It takes no genius to work out that most of the food that one is eating has come from the surrounding markets. There is no cold room or any room for that matter when it comes to meat - open air, flies and all. If you saw the quantity of flies and other things sitting in the open bags of rice - you would find it very difficult not to starve to death here. 

A few more Pil Chocolate Milks before heading back to my room for an uncomfortable nights sleep. For one, the bed stand was about 2 inches too long on one end - even the bricks couldn’t get it correctly aligned. Secondly, there was definitely one mosquito on the loose. For some or other reason, when mosquitos bite you while asleep - you feel the itch, but you don’t really wake up to deal with the problem. By the time found the little cow in the morning, I could quite conceivably have received a decent blood transfusion back from her!