Nairobi to Muscat, Oman

May 28, 2017

The route from Nairobi went through Marsabit and Moyale and on to Ethiopia’s capitol, Addis Ababa.
Then I flew to the United Arab Emirates and cycled the north coast of Oman to Muscat.

I left off the last segment with next wanting to get a visa to Ethiopia in Nairobi, Kenya.  I managed to do it but there were several hurdles.  Ethiopia wanted a “letter” from the US Embassy stating intentions.  This meant trips on the bike across town, two more nights in hotels and more long lines to simply be given a US letterheaded sheet of paper that I hand wrote my Ethiopian itinerary on.  The US Embassy then stamped it with what amounted to a notary public.  It cost $50 to do that.  I must say that a bicycle is the only way to get around in the horrendous Nairobi traffic- or any other African capitol I’ve yet been to.

Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi.

At the Ethiopian Embassy there were never any lines to speak of, but you waited just the same.  They had comfortable couches and magazines to look at and it felt more like a doctor’s office.  In the end they approved the visa, all for $140.  In one sense it was almost too easy; I was expecting warnings about problems at the border with Kenya, and even hoping for some free consultation on what to expect.  I inquired about border violence but this woman just said “no, everything is at peace now”.

Kenyan river with dugout canoes that they would shovel sand into from the river bottom.  Probably for making bricks.

Kenya, southern Ethiopia and northwestern Somalia all meet near the town of Moyale.  The border is not well defined in surrounding areas and there has been fighting in recent years.  It is unclear how much is “government sponsored” and how much is intertribal.  Much of the land of northern Kenya is the Chalbi Desert.  It is occupied by semi-nomadic herders from many language groups and for which international boundaries are not necessarily respected.  They fight among themselves and have done so for millennia.  Livestock rustling is a way of life and, even today, a young man coming home with a haul of goats is just a rite to adulthood.  From the perspective of a Western cyclist passing through they might be described as wild and not playing by the same rules.  It made for some interesting episodes, stay tuned.

Scafolding for buildings in Nanyuki.  I would see this method often in the coming weeks.  It’s just 2 and 3 inch diameter wooden poles joined with a 20 penny nail.  A few would have an additional wire tie.

Mt Kenya lay on the route north of Nairobi.  It’s highest point is a little over 17,000 feet and is the second highest mountain in Africa, next to Kilimanjaro.  Unlike Kilimanjaro, a guide is not required to climb it which I was hoping would bring things into my price range.  It’s also a much more interesting mountain than the Kilimanjaro volcano, with jagged spires and exposed faces reminiscent of the Tetons.  The two highest summits,  Bation and Nelion, are “technical” meaning the average person would want to be roped up to climb it.  I was hoping to either find partners or climb sans rope if either peak looked reasonable.  The third highest point is Lenana, a walk up, and the most popular summit.

Baboon at the Mt Kenya trailhead.
Bike bag made into a backpack.  I salvaged the shoulder straps clear back in Ecuador (off a pack thrown away at the side of the road) with the intention of attaching them to the blue bag. They’ve been in the bottom of a pannier since, but I finally got around to it.  They weren’t very comfortable but did the job.

So, I found a campground in the nearby tourist town of Nanyuki where I could stay and then leave the bike. A taxi took me to the trailhead. Once there I was dismayed to find a park fee of $50 a day and, though guides aren’t required in general, you must have a guide if you’re solo. A guide costs $30 a day and then there is a onetime camping fee of $20. My taxi driver was, of course, right there to line me up with a guide service and took me to the office of one back in town. Being all packed up for four days of hiking and just that close to actually doing it, I let them talk me into a hikeup of Lenana for grand total of $380. A technical climb of Bation would be $700 but they said if I felt like “3rd classing it” when I got up there I could, and the “hiking guide” would just wait for me. It’s all pretty subjective and I think the most important thing is that they get your money, although $30 a day for a guide is ridiculously cheap. The $50 and $30 fees should probably be swapped.

Giant grounsels endemic to Mt. Kenya’s alpine.
Nelion and Bation are the massif to the right and Lenana is to the left off the picture.

I still can’t decide if it was worth it or not.  To make a long story short, I hiked through rainy weather to a base camp (Camp Shipton), ditched my somewhat obnoxious guide on the day of the climb, and hiked to the top of a snow dusted Lenana.  The next day I hiked out.  Saw lots of new birds, Zebras and Cape Buffalo lower down as well as incredible flora in the alpine.  The pictures say it all.

High on Mt Kenya.
Nelion from Lenana.  Bation is directly behind.
Nearing Lenana’s summit.
Crowded summit.  Not sure “soloing” is really possible.
Mt Kenya has many faces and buttresses with solid looking rock that I would assume have routes on them.
Nice camp high up.  The official camp was essentially squalid and I camped well away, somewhat to the chagrin of my guide.
Summit from the approach.

Mt Kenya was a fair amount of work, but it was a nice break from cycling.  It felt good to get back on the bike.  The next miles went through small towns populated with Meru speakers.  These folks are friendly, have more of a Westernized economy (for better or worse) and English speakers are common.  I stopped to buy tomatoes that were being sold from the trunk of a car and ended up camping at the house of the seller, Josephat.  He and his family were hospitable and brought out chai tea to drink in the evening.  We talked well into the night about anything and everything.  Many Africans, these folks included, are aware of advances in the world of genetics and have at least a glimmer of understanding (as much as me, anyway) regarding recent discoveries in the world of mitochondrial DNA, i.e., we all come from Africa and, more specifically, all trans African humanity has a common African “grand mother” that dates to a short 80,000-100,000 years ago. White skin is a recent developement that amounts to infinitesimally small differences in the human genome.  It was gratifying to talk about this stuff with native Africans.

Carolina, Doreen and Lucy are Meru.  They had a small store and cafe that served great food.  They loaded me up with desserts and bottles of juice, all free gratis, as I was leaving.  Lucy wants me to come back and climb Kenya with her.
Josephat (and Check) helping me pitch the tent.
Check.
This is Josephat’s neighbor, Pauline, making gravel fill for house foundations that she sells to local builders.   She collects liftable rocks in the surrounding hills and breaks them into grapefruit sizes (behind her to the right) with a sledge hammer.   Then she shatters them again into course gravel with a hammer.  The rocks she’s pounding in the picture are contained in a hoop of steel bound by a strip of rubber tire and tie wire.  It’s held over a suitable flat rock used as an anvil.  I spent an hour breaking rocks just to try and imagine what it must be like.  The hammer head is loosely attached to a homemade handle.  She said it took about three weeks to make the two stacks visible in the picture.  After the hour or so of hammering I could notice no disernabe increase.
Pauline, Linety (Josephat’s wife), and J near their house.  They have no electricity and cook with charcoal.  His kids, boys and girls, go to school.
First encounter with camel herders.  I would see thousands of camels in the next few hundred miles.
Saw several of these signs starting in Tanzania and through Ethiopia.  A fair amount of aid comes from China as well.
There is a great deal of African culture, found particularly with nomadic herders, that treat women and girls in ways Western culture regards as criminal.  Fathers “sell” daughters for a bride’s price as early as 10 years of age and female circumcision, better described as female genital mutilation (FGM), in all its hideous forms, is commonly practiced in some areas.  NGOs from many places around the world are trying to effect change.
After leaving Meru speaking areas near Mt Kenya, the topography tilts downward into desert climate.   During the rainy season,  which is when I was there, it’s really a beautiful place.

The rainy season replenishes water holes like these. They have a variety of ways to enhance water retention including rubber liners in depressions and concrete barriers dug into stream beds to create water saturated sand. This year rainfall was above average. Droughts can really be tough.

At the town of Isiola you leave Meru speakers and enter the domain of semi-nomadic pastoralists.  The culture is similar to the Maasai and many come from the same basic language group, Nilotic, but are comprised of many different tribes including Samburu, Turkanas, Rendille, Gabbra, Somali, Bomba, Kikuyu, Luo to name a few.  As I got close to some of the camps a guy in a Land Rover was coming towards me and stopped to talk.  I was already leary of such behavior out on these deserted roads, but this guy seemed OK.  He was from the pastoral culture and had the characteristic stretched ears but the fact he was driving an automobile means he also had a connection to Western culture- he wasn’t going to mess with me. Sure enough, he told me when I saw these camps and herders along the road side to just keep moving.  Sound advice.  The first few encounters were just the usual begging but then a few became more aggressive.  These weren’t children anymore, more like twenty year olds.   On one uphill a guy ran behind me and pulled the bike to a stop and demanded money.  I told him no and started to ride off and he pulled the bike to a stop again.  I told him NO again and waved him to get back and he let me go.  I had a can of bear spray in the front pack but it wasn’t readily available.  I would have used it otherwise, but I’m glad I didn’t.   With time to think about it, I decided it would just make things worse unless I really feared for my life.  As primitive as these guys are, the one 21st century commodity I sometimes see is a cell phone; he would have just called ahead to relatives.  (As a foot note, I have this image of these two Maasai herders back in Tanzania decked out in their crimson finery, walking in tandem with a bunch of cows ahead of them.  Each had the stick they use as a cattle prod tucked under an arm, then each had one hand holding a cell phone, the other shading the screen so they could see to text. Would have made a great adverisement for iPhone).  Anyway, that was the first guy.  Then it happened again.  This time the bear spray was right there, but this “kid”, dressed in a bright blue shúkà and a good 3 or 4 inches taller than me, let me go the first time.  Others waved me to stop, but I was on flatter ground and could go around and then outrun them.    That happened several times over the next couple of days.

A long ways from any towns, there was no choice but to camp as evening came on.  This actually wasn’t too bad.  I’d hit a section where there were no people in sight and get the bike off the road and into the bush unnoticed.  Then I’d just hang for a few minutes.  If anybody did see me, they’d be right over and I’d march back to the highway.  Next, I’d take a short hike around and look for tracks, livestock or human, and any well used paths.  You listen for the bells that hang on the cows.  Jackasses make a loud bray.  If you get a green light on all that, camp.  It’s really no different than a camp anywhere, just here, if somebody did find you with all your stuff unloaded and scattered around, you’d be robbed for sure.

The next day was more of the same.  Flat-to-downhill, terrain made outrunning easier, but when there was a chase it always left you unnerved.  I came to a small village called Log-Logo, got water at a grocery store and began a long grade to the town of Marsabit.  I knew I was going to get harassed on the uphill and after a mile or two came to a military looking installation and pulled in.  Two guys in a small pickup truck, David Ndundo and Mathew Geacho, were pulling out and pretty much new what was going on.  They loaded the bike into the back of the truck and took me 10 miles to a hotel in Marsabit.

David and Mathew, my rescuers, are technicians testing for asphalt thicknesss on the newly laid highway of northern Kenya.

I spent the night there and the next morning found a van that was going to Moyale, the border town with Ethiopia.  It was about a 150 mile ride that passed through many herder communities.  I was glad I didn’t try to cycle it.

By comparison of cultures, over the endless expanses of Patagonia, the perspective of an Argentine driving along and seeing a lone bicycle is “how’s this guy surviving out here in the middle of nowhere? I’ll see if he needs help”.  For a Chalbi Desert herder in the middle of nowhere it’s more like “how come this guy gets the luxury of a bicycle loaded with more stuff than we’re going to see in a lifetime? Lets check him out a little closer”.  From there it becomes a game taking intimidation begging to the limit of outright robbery, a line that I’m sure gets crossed.  It gives you some idea what it must have been like for a white man to roam the American west in the 1800s.

Loading the bike on the van, or matatu, that took me to Moyale, the border with Ethiopia.
Encouraging advertisement inside.  The driver couldn’t speak a word of English, but he was friendly and safe.
Never got a good photo of the portable houses the herders use, but here is a row of them. They’re framed with saplings and branches with roof and wall coverings essentially made from garbage (recycling at its best!), the more plastic the better.
Chalbi Desert.
Ethiopian immigration.
New Ethiopian immigration offices soon to be opened. The 500 miles of road from a Isiola to Moyale was dirt up until the early 2000s when they began paving it. It was completed in 2016. A paved road and consequent traffic increase is all new to much of the pastoral culture.
Moyale.

At Moyale I was immediately swarmed with people as I unloaded the bike from the van’s roof. Everybody wanted to do something for me that would get them a tip. I was becoming more and more annoyed as I repacked the bike and one guy finally cleared everybody away. I was thankful till I realized he just wanted me for himself. Once the bike was loaded I could ride away, hopefully with all my gear still intact.  Then it was the same drill of getting checked out of one country and into another. The money changers were waiting and I had about a hundred dollars worth to change out. This time I was ready for them. I had ample time in the van to calculate how much Ethiopian birr I should get, and got them in a bidding war, exploiting  rivalries. I got a good deal.

Ethiopia began as a shock when driving went back to the right side.  It should have been a relief, but it just confused me all the more for a day or so.  I had talked to a few people about what to expect cycling highways in rural Ethiopia and all said I’d see lots of excited children, but would be pretty much out of the pastoral culture of northern Kenya.  So, I decided to ride the bike again.  Camping was about impossible as you go from a comparatively empty desert to crowded foothills and highlands.  Hotels, however, were cheap.  I lasted three days but was back on a bus at Hagere Mariyam.  In part I was skipping a 200 mile stretch of rough dirt road that would be hilly and slow, but I knew as well the kids would be unrelenting.  From the border to Hagere, about 200 miles as well, I had rocks thrown at me, one kid hit me with a stick, one karate kicked at the pannier as I went by, many chased and grabbed at anything loose- usually a bag of garbage or a half empty bottle of coke under a bungi. Probably the most disturbing was a little girl no more than three or four years old shaking her fist at me.

Termite mound.
These child generals were among the few eager to be photographed.  They’re guarding this machine that’s out in the middle of nowhere.  For me, it was a good place to lean the bike and take a break.  I hope the guns weren’t loaded.
Bus ride from Hagere Mariyam.  It could have been a lot hotter, but I was borderline uncomfortable in a teeshirt and shorts.  This guy’s dressed for an early spring day in Wyoming.

Two busses and one van ride, over two days, got me to Modjo, Ethiopia and a far easier culture to be in.  Kids were in school again, adults had work to do.  I stayed in one of the nicer hotels of the trip in Modjo for about $20.  From there I cycled the remaining 45 miles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capitol, where I met with Haile-Kiros Gessesse.  Haile is an old friend of one of my friends in the US, Gail Blattenberger, and she hooked me up.  Haile took me to dinner that night with a few friends that I soon realized were some of Ethiopia’s more important people.  Haile, retired now, was Ethiopia’s Ambassodor to China and held several government positions over his career.  He was part of the Ethiopian revolution that, in 1991, overthrew a government, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, responsible for a genocide over the previous fifteen years that claimed over a half-million lives.  The Red Terror, or Qey Shibir was the height of it in the late 1970s.  War crippled the country’s agriculture and food shortages, exacerbated by drought, led to famine.  The famine made Western news, the famine’s cause, war, not so much.  Live Aid, two concurrent rock concerts held in the US and Britain in 1985, raised relief money for the famine.  Though over $100 million was made directly and indirectly, it’s debated to this day how much of it went to fuel the civil war.  After the overthrow, Mengistu escaped the country and is today living in asylum in Zimbabwe, following a similar path with Chili’s Pinochet.

Present at the dinner was Tefera Ghedamu, a journalist and documentary film maker, who also hosts a weekly television show interviewing people from all walks of life with interesting stories to tell.  A few days later I was on his show,  Meet EBC, which he’s done for over 20 years.

Qey Shibir, or Red Terror, museum.  These are bones and belongings of victims disinterred from mass graves after killings in the 1970s.  Over a half-million people lost their lives in a genocide that created famine and had power struggles from a brutal military dictatorship, the Derg, as an underlying cause.
Museum painting of a mother casting a shadow of her four children that were killed.
Tefera Ghedamu.

There were a few errands to do over the days spent in Addis and many miles on the bike running around the city.  I was lost about half the time and at one place asked a guy, Tekalng (Tek) Assefa, in a parking lot for instructions.  He told me what I needed to know as he looked the bike over and then mentioned he was in a cycling club.  He said they were doing a ride the following Sunday and invited me to come.  Haile mentioned that I should get in touch with the cycling club, there’s only one that I know of, so this was all serendipity.  I took him up on it and came to the coffee shop where everyone met early Sunday.  These guys are serious riders and go at a much faster pace than I’m used to, but with the bags off the bike I could at least keep up with most (not all!).  It was about a 50 mile day that left me as tired as having ridden a 100 mile day at the regular pace.  I had a great time though and Tek paid for breakfast and a lunch he wasn’t even able to stay around for.

Ethiopian Cycling Club.  I didn’t get everybody’s name but Gene and Jose are in the center, Feshaye in the green shoes and Tek on the right.
Gene, Jose, Tek and Feshaye.

I met Gene Lin on the ride and he invited me to stay at his place the last night in Addis.  Gene is from Vail, Colorado and is a consultant to the Ethiopian government working on upgrading electric infrastructure.  Gene was a great host, fantastic guitarist and wouldn’t let me pay for anything.  He took me to a wedding reception at the home of Norway’s Ambassodor to Ethiopia, providing me with appropriate attire.  During the reception the Ambassador gave a speech that ended with the fact that we all come from Africa and have a very recent common ancestry.  I was impressed.

Mekdes was a very sweet lady working the front desk at the Yeka Hotel.
Oleg Malkov is a Russian astronomer and was staying at the hotel in Addis.  Over several morning’s breakfast we talked about everything from Trump & Putin to astrophysics which he lives, eats and sleeps.
Gene’s an accomplished blues/rock guitarist and has a band in Addis. It was great to listen to and play a guitar after a year’s hiatus.
From hobo to yuppie.

From Addis Ababa I had intended to carry on to Eritrea, cross the Red Sea to Yemen and on to Oman. On the grand map of the Eastern Hemispere, Yemen and Oman are the “Pythagorean cutoff” from Africa to Asia. The objective from northern Africa is to get to Asia without going through Iran, where I wouldn’t be admitted anyway.  If I got to Oman I could take a boat or fly from Muscat across to India. Nobody I talked to had much to recommend in Eritrea, a heavily industrialized place known as a refueling stop for a steady stream of ships going to and from the Suez Canal. Yemen is in the midst of a civil war and would be hard to get into. Oman, by contrast, is safe and has a thriving economy. Oman was first recommended to me by my friend Daniel Steuri back in Patagonia. Addis has regular flights to Dubai in The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which borders Oman, so I booked a flight to there, with the intention of cycling Oman’s northern coast to Muscat, the capitol. The only downside is the season- HOT.

Reassembling the bike in the Dubai airport and jumping back into the life of a hobo.
Mariam Alfalasi is a lab tech doing medical research. She got me through a somewhat complicated grocery store in Dubai.
After a sleepless night in the Dubai airport, I took an afternoon nap in the shade of about the only tree for miles.  I woke up to these camels around me when one nudged my leg.
United Arab Emirates, not far from Dubai.  It’s over 100°F.
Oman gets virtually all it’s water by mining “fossil water”, a non renewable resource. I was surprised to see an abundance of green lawns and watering on 110°F afternoons.
Muscat, Oman and a very different culture. Modern, fundamentalist, very safe.
The Gulf of Oman.

The ride through Oman has been good overall. People are friendly and I can leave the bike unattended about anywhere. For the first time since leaving the US, I’m encountering large grocery stores without armed guards covering the entrances. Some places in Argentina had things dwindled to a guy in a uniform and no visible firearm, but about anywhere else you were greeted with sawed off shotguns and AK-47s.  Of course, these same guys were also watching the bike so I couldn’t complain. (Ethiopia is the one place where a security guard and an accomplice at a restaurant tried to steal the bike’s front pack- another story).

The heat is intense here and walking out of an airconditioned restaurant into it will part your hair.  It’s dry heat though and soon you’ll begin to sweat.  That’s the key.  So long as you’ve got water, and I drink gallons of it a day, it’s down the hatch and out your pores in a coninuous flow to keep clothing soaked; cotton works best.  On the bike, you try not to be in a hurry and if movements are kept slow the light breeze you create riding makes it surprisingly tolerable. Days have been over 110°F and nights get down to about 95°F.

It took five days to get to Muscat and I was able to camp throughout on some incredible but desolate desert.  A terrible beauty.  At the moment I’m jumping through hoops trying to get a visa to India and I’ve been nearly a week waiting on it.  Hotels are expensive here so I’ll be glad to get going again.  There are no alcohol sales in Oman (except at the airport) so I’ve involuntarily saved money in that regard.  It’s too hot for wine but a cold beer would sure be nice.

Once in India, I’m not sure what’s going to happen.  Not too much interest for folks making the ride over Tibet, and the price just keeps going up.  The Nepali-Sino border has been closed from a 2015 earthquake but was supposed to reopen this year.  Now land slides will keep it closed till at least next year, meaning one would have to fly to Lhasa and then begin the overland trip.  I’m looking at the moment at Pakistan again and possibly taking the Karakoram Highway which would lead to circumventing Tibet’s west side and then on to Mongolia by a different route.  On the upside, I’ve got the whole season to get to Ulaanbaatar, which from India is far less distance than that covered last summer in South America.   The unknowns, however, are far greater.  Visas are getting harder, borders uncertain. I was hoping to winter in Ulaanbaatar and then start on Siberia as soon as melting snows would allow travel in the spring of 2018.  Latin America, from Mexico on, is for the most part friendly but I know now that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily follow suit.  Till next time.

Lusaka to Nairobi, Kenya

April 24, 2017

From Lusaka I traveled NE to the border w/ Tanzania between Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi and then on to Dodoma via Iringa.
From Dodoma, north to Arusha and Nairobi.uyg

Getting away from Lusaka was a challenge.  The morning I was to leave, Luis set me up with his video camera that he mounted on the handlebars to get footage riding from his place to a café near downtown where he bought me breakfast.  A bike cam is something I should have probably had all along to catalogue some of the riding, and I may buy one yet if I’m ever in one pace long enough to shop for one.  At the café the loaded bike soon attracted a crowd in the parking lot with every one wanting to know details.  One lady, Brenda, gave me a 50 kwacha donation (about $5) and soon she and her daughter and a couple of other folks were all being treated to breakfast by Luis at the café.

Luis and his taxi driver, Victor.
Didn’t get everybody’s name but Brenda and her daughter Niza are on my right.

As we talked in the café- in an English I would struggle to understand even if my hearing were 100 percent- we learned that Brenda was running a school for underprivileged children at her house in Chilanga, a town 10 miles south of Lusaka.  She mentioned also some horrible murders going on in her neighborhood where two children were killed and then internal organs removed in a sort of witchcraft sorcery.  Things aren’t what they seem in otherwise happy and peaceful Lusaka.  After we had talked I decided to go and take a look at what she was doing with the intent I could pass the info on to people that might be able to help her financially.

She and her family are farely well to do as far as Zambians go, her husband being an electrical engineer spending most of his time in South Africa.  They own about three acres of land where they’re building three more rental houses on their property.  Short on funds, the building came to a stop, but she now wants to use at least one of the houses for the school.  She said that since the murders, children from more or less good family situations are now staying home because it’s safer;  children from not so good family situations are coming to her place for the same reason- safety.  Lack of education and illiteracy are high in Zambia.  There is a pubic school system but it is not necessarily well attended.  I don’t have demographic details but it would be interesting to know.

Kids at Brenda’s school.

Brenda’s children Jeremiah, Monda and brother-in-law Evans.

I ended up staying the night with Brenda, Niza and their family and was again treated like royalty.  They walked with me the next morning a kilometer to the main highway and we had a long goodby in company with several neighbors.

North of Lusaka the main highway continues to copper belt areas and on to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Due to revenues from extractive industries things are fairly modern along this route and most ammenities can be found.  I turned off of it however a hundred miles to the north of Lusaka and travelled into Zambia’s more remote northestern district which is much poorer.  The modern grocery stores of Lusaka became shops selling grains and a few can goods.  Coke and Pepsi although are found throughout.  Fruits and veggies could still be found at roadside stands and through it all I was able to eat OK, just no Reggianno cheese or red wine with pasta.  On the positive side, things were very cheap and I was getting by on a couple of dollars a day.   Camping was relatively easy.

One rainy day I had the bike bags well bundled up, but jettisoned the raincoat, stored the wallet, and in shorts and Tevas just got wet.  But it wasn’t that warm and I spent an afternoon borderline shivering.  A couple of days later I had the flu.  I rode for two more days to Mpika and actually found a good hotel and after a day resting felt like I was improving enough to start on a two hundred mile stretch to Isoka.  Then it really hit me.  I was in about the seventh day of riding sick when I found a clinic in the small villiage of Matumbo.  I was wondering if I had Malaria but the nurse there, Peter, tested for it and it came up negative.  The symptoms seemed more bacterial than viral and I decided to chance antibiotics which Peter gave me along with more Malaria test kits, pain relievers and antihistamines.  I gave him about half the cash I had on hand which amounted to about $10.  The antibiotic did the trick and I was feeling better after a couple of days.  Having to keep riding through it all was tough.

Peter, the nurse at Matumbo.

At the clinic “office” they had charts on a wall that kept track of individual patients and it was telling to see the amount of Malaria and HIV patients.  Both are a major problem in Central Africa.

Billboards in Zambia that would be politically incorrect in the Western world. The US probably uses more chemicals than anyone on the planet but the less said the better.

I met Toto in Mpika. He lives in Nairobi but was cycling to Lusaka to see family.

More friends in Zambia.
De-anting potato chips.

Northern Zambia is very poor and there are children everywhere.  They line the roads, some going to and from school, others just hanging out.  Teenaged mothers are routinely seen carrying infants.  The kids can be a problem and constantly beg.  They will start out with how are you or good morning (at any time of the day) and then say money or give me money or give me my money and I even heard give me back my money a couple of times. I could go for weeks without seeing a white person, so for them to see a white apparition on a bicycle ride by is cause for great excitement.  If I was on flat terrain and had good speed I could say hi back or just ingnore them and keep going, all the while hearing how are you, I’m fine and money till I was out of earshot.  If I was going up hill, though, they would run along side and be grabbing at the bike along with the heckling.  It gave one visions of Gulliver’s Travels.

Children along a stretch of road in Zambia.
Extensive conifer tree planting near Mafinga, TZ.   Judging from tree rings, they were planted shortly after WWII.  I saw two species that I later learned are Pinus radiata from the California coast near Monterrey and P. patula from highlands of Mexico.  The stands are visible on Google Earth and appear to be over 30 square miles in size.  This stand is being logged.
Chameleon.

Could be Yellowstone. Elevation is about 6,000 feet.  Nice to camp in pines for a night.

Colobus monkeys in pine trees.

I got to the border with Tanzania and crossed fairly easily but got my first dose of Tanzanian begging and money extortion.  It leaves Zambia in the dust.  Any border will be replete with money changers that are all over you to exchange currency.  I try to spend as much of one country’s cash as I can before getting to a border because your not going to get a good exchange rate in the first place and they’re going to short change you in the second place.  If it’s just a few dollars I don’t worry about it and accept the forfeiture. At the Tanzanian border I had maybe $40 in Kwacha but knew there would be visa fees to spend it on.  Immigration first said it was $50 but it had to be in greenbacks.  There was a place a few doors down that would dispence dollars, but in going there I was being hounded by a smartly dressed guy in white shoes that wanted  me to do the exchange with him.  I told him any left over kwats would go to him.  Since I didn’t have $50 in Zambian Kwacha I had to get an ATM and then swap for a crisp new US $50 at the exchange office.  When I got back to immigration, the officer said he hadn’t noticed I was American and said it would be another $50.  Then, in the same breath added that I could still do it for the original $50 but it would only be good for 14 days and said it would be tough to make Kenya that quickly on the bicycle.  He added it was good for one year and multiple entries and mentioned other added bonuses I was by that time not paying attention to. It was like buying a phone plan.   I figured better safe than sorry and headed back to the exchange office.  Of course, my white-shoed friend was waiting with a $50 in his hand.  What ever.  I still had Kwachas to get rid of so we did the deal.  I got the magic STAMP and was on my way.  But then Mr White Shoes says as I’m walking out the door that he had miscalculated and needed another 10,000 Shillings (a few dollars) and I gave it to him.  But I made the mistake of letting him see the juicy stack of shillings still in my wallet and with hardly a studder he said he needed still more.  At this point we went back in the immigration office and I got out a pen and on the back of a blank visa form started to hand calculate what the exchange should be.  He distracted me the whole time, saying things like he could do all this easily on his calculator, but I made him wait and said the more he talked the longer this was going to take.  Once satisfied he’d already gotten a good deal, I told him I wasn’t paying anything more.  Then he said he would go to the police.  At that I said, yes, lets go to the police.  It wasn’t hard to find a policeman, and though the officer said he didn’t know exchange rates, he took the original stack of bills I gave to White Shoes, put it in my hand and said to go to the exchange office and have it valued.  When I got to the exchange I told the guy to just give me another $50 back, which he did along with about $10 in shillings!  I walked back out to White Shoes and gave him back his $50, pocketed the $10, and left him still insisting I ripped him off as I rode away.  Welcome to Tanzania.

The border of Tanzania also marked the one year point for having been on the road.  The odometer was a little over 16,000 miles and I figured I was on the bike for about 300 of the days.  So, I’ve averaged about 55 miles a day when riding.

Baobab tree.
Newt.
Great camp in a secluded spot but I got hit with a drenching rain.

I had a chance encounter in Botswana with a guy, Andrew Marx, who saw me fixing a flat on a deserted stretch while he was enroute to Pretoria.  He stopped and offered to fill the tire with an electric pump which I took him up on.  I mentioned some of my tire and tube woes and inquired as to what I’d find in that regard in Zambia and Tanzania.  The answer was “not much”.  He’s an Africaaner and working with a British mining company in Mbeya, Tanzania, a town not too far from the border with Zambia.  He said he’d be returning to Mbeya (with his wife and a new baby) in a few weeks and could get tires and tubes in Pretoria which I could pick up on the way through.  He didn’t ask for money but we exchanged email addresses and he drove off.  I had been having trouble with tubes on the rear tire that were splitting on the inside seam and was increasingly convinced it was a combination of cheap tubes and using thinner 23c tubes on the fatter 28c tires.  But the problem had been getting progressively worse and now a tube was bursting every couple of days.  The rim strip, which in this case was just duck tape, looked OK, so I couldn’t imagine that being the cause.  I finally made a new rim strip out of an old tube (I have many of them) and that fixed the problem.  Still not sure what the actual cause was.  It began happening clear back in Peru with the flats steadily increasing in frequency ever since.

I must have seen a dozen truck rollovers in Zambia. I noticed after a while that the drivers tended to be quite young, even kids. They were also the most aggressive towards bicycles. Kenya’s been much better in that regard.

In Lusaka, I bought a less than desirable tire and a couple of tubes with thicker “schrader” valves for which I had to file out the hole in the rim (meant for a “presta” tube) to fit the valve.  I had pretty much forgotten about Andrew and then I got an email as I neared Mbeya that he had the tires complete with 28c tubes.  He recommended a hotel there and we met up a few days later.  I had a great evening at the hotel’s plein aire restaurant with six or eight of his English speaking friends also working jobs in Tanzania.  I spent a couple of hours talking to a guy from Chicago who is collecting epidemiology data for the US Gov’t.  First person from home I’ve seen in a while (although Chicago’s is of course a bit of a foreign country).

Added to the splitting tube fiascos have been patch kits that work poorly at best and require a sort of alchemy to get to work at all.  I might bore you with all the techniques, combinations, frustrations and failures at some point when I have more time.  I long for Rema Tiptop kits which I should have filled a pannier with before leaving the US.  I’ll be looking for patch kits here in Nairobi before I leave.

Iringa.  The photo is of shops and people of course, but what I’m really interested in are the granite outcrops in the background that go for miles. If the bolters ever got to this place, Tanzania could have sport clmbing as one more source of tourism.

Tanzania has been a tough country to ride through.  There were some good miles after Mbeya getting to Iringa and then to Dodoma, the twin capitol with Dar es Salaam, but after that you get into Maasai territory where the children are even more aggressive beggars and often throw rocks when they don’t get their way.  I haven’t been hit directly yet, but they hit the pannier once with a plum-sized rock that was thrown from atop a road cut where it gathered enough speed to have done some damage had it hit me.  The Maasai are traditionally cattle herders and dress in colorful frocks called shúkàs.  They set the world standard for ear piercing and stretching.  They’re fiercely traditional, paternalistic and resistant to changes the modern world is bringing to their culture.  They’re maintaining traditions of nomadic herding, but their populations are also increasing, helped in part by the same modern world benefits they’re fighting to reject.   With the greater numbers comes more cows and with that an over-grazed range that it’s a wonder a cow can even surive on.  The cows are all skin and bone.

Alpher took me around Dodoma to bike shops and grocery stores for an hour. It would have been a half-day’s work done on my own. I bought tubes at a bike shop for about $1.50, very cheap, but the valves leaked from the beginning and I ended up throwing them away.
First encounters with Maasai. They don’t like to be photographed, but I took these from a distance with telephoto.

Tanzania was a colony of sorts for the Germans beginning in the late 1800s but was lost to the British after WWI.  It was governed as Tanganyika on the mainland and Zanzibar on the island archipelago. Independence was gained from the British in 1961 and thence renamed Tanzania, a combination of the two disricts.  You hear two pronunciations depending on who your talking to, Tan-zan-‘ia or Tan-‘zan-ia.

After independence it was voted to make a unifying language of the 104 recognized languages the country embraces (Zambia has 72).  Swahili was already lingua franca for the African Great Lakes region and had become a coagulation several languages in itself, having Bantu origins but through trade had picked up other African languages as well as Arabic and Latin (meza is Swahili for table).  It’s taught in the primary schools so children that go to school will be bilingual in their native tongue and Swahili.  Swahili is spoken in courts of law and gov’t.  The bottom line for me in all this is that few people speak English in Tanzania.

I fought my way to Arusha, which is the gateway to both the Serengeti and Mt Kilimanjaro.  Things became more touristy, I began seeing white people again, and amenities like grocery stores and Wi-Fi became available.  I spent a night in a hotel in Arusha and then made my way north to the border with Kenya, two days ride away.

Camping was difficult enough among the Maasai here that I went to a hotel in Longido where they had a place to pitch the tent for $10 a night, breakfast included.  I met there Penny and Melanie who are doing NGO work with rural Tanzanians and focused on women’s health issues.  Penny is an MD from the UK and Melanie, her daughter-in-law, was born in Kenya but lives in Vermont with her husband  (a wild life photographer and film maker) and two children.  It was wonderful to communicate with English speakers.  The hotel itself (Hotel Tembo) has NGO funding and is set up with solar electric panels, solar hot water heaters and rooftop rainwater collection.  The property is a sort of pilot project that engineering students are participating in.  There was a paper in a loose leaf binder in the hotel commons that was set in an academic tone, and described work being done there.  It was fascinating to see measures to conserve water in this region with its long dry seasons.  The project, Buckets to Rain Barrels is funded by Canadians.  More info can be found here.

Penny and Melanie are traveling to remote villiages to  provide information on prenatal care and women’s health issues.  They’ve been doing this for eight years but just this year they’re walking on the eggshell terrain of subjects like planned parenthood.  The culture they’re working with is steeped in a tradition where fathers receive money (cattle) from suitors when the daughter marries.  The father is always eager to attain such wealth and daughters are often betrothed at 9 or 10 years old and married by their early teens.  This, of course, interferes with education not to mention subjecting a girl to a life of virtual slavery.  Suitors often already have wives, and a younger girl entering into such a family is often abused by wives jealous of the attentions the new wife might be getting.  Education often opens the eyes of young girls subjected to this culture, and though polygamy is legal, keeping a girl from going to school that wants to do so is illegal.  It’s likely these rights are not much talked about in the paternalistic society.  It’s easy to imagine such misogynous fathers and husbands a few short years ago throwing rocks at passing bicyclists.

I decided to spend an extra day there and learn more. Melanie suggested a hike up the adjacent mountain the town of Longido lies next to called, not surprisingly, Mt Longido.   Caroline, the hotel manager, said I couldn’t go there alone and had to have a guide.  She was instantly on the phone that morning during breakfast.  The guide, Juma, came by a few minutes later and said the fee was $50.  I offered $20 and we agreed on $25.  I had a great day.  Like my friend Walter from all the way back in Costa Rica, Juma had some training in natural sciences, binomial taxonomy, and was very good with bird ID.  I got my money’s worth.  The hike was wonderful.  Juma was something of a climber, having guided Kilimanjaro, and we did some easy 5th class scrambling to get to the summit.  (I should mention as well that he said just this year they completed a mountain bike trail to the top of Kilimanjaro’s 19,300 foot summit!).   Cape buffalo and elephants graze easier slopes on the far side of Mt Longido and we saw buffalo scat in rocky terrain near the summit.  When we got down I gave him a tip and took him to lunch.

Euphorbia candelabra on the hike with Juma

Astragalus?

Juma near summit.  “L” for Longido.
Summit
Lena……..
….and Ian are a german couple that made the hike as well.
Penny (right) and Melanie at Hotel Tembo.  Tembo means “peace”.

The work being done at the hotel had some  maintenance problems, the worst of which was the roof gutters that caught the rain water.  I agreed to stay an extra day and work on them.  The building is an octagon shape and the gutter joints are at an odd angle.  The game is to use only local materials that can be readily available to the inhabitants, so 4″ PVC pipe was spit in two for the gutters and attached with a manufactured hanger evidently sold in their small hardware shops.  I found a pair of tin snips at the hotel and tried to fashion angled joints out of some metal roofing that was laying around.  I bought a tube of silicone and a caulking gun at the towns hardware store.  I improved things, but the system really needs a re-think.  I was able to observe it in a hard rain and saw that about 70 percent of the water was shooting over the top of gutter and onto the ground.  The system works well enough in the wet season but they haven’t the cistern capacity to take them very far into the dry season even if the catchment were improved.  I wouldn’t call the project ill concieved, but it needs budget to work out the kinks that go with R & D.

Gutters at Tembo.
Solar hot water heaters to the left, water storage to the right.

I left Tembo the following morning and crossed into Kenya by about noon.  Lots of hoops to jump through with visas and money.  A $50 greenback with a defect in it sent me to the back of the line.  I got some comic relief when the customs folks wanted documentation on the bicycle make and model.  I pointed out first  the name on my passport, then the decal on the bike’s downtube.  Then the SW on on the head tube, then the SW under the bottom bracket.  The coup de grace was the Steve & Walker cut into the opposing tangs on the inside of the forks.  I convinced them!  They wanted then to know more about the trip and the one official, Emmanuel, has even left a comment in the blog.  These are all firsts.

A later encounter with a Maasai youth and his little brother at a petrol convenience store was a little tense.  He came up to me demanding money with the little brother standing there grabbing at the bike.  I told them both to back off.  He was almost as tall as me and I would have had my hands full if it came to a fight.  He wouldn’t stand down and soon we’re faced off nose-to-nose and, almost shouting, I told him to get the hell away from the bike.  He finally backed down and they both disappeared.

Then there was one more money encounter that ended unfavoraby this time.  I had had lunch at place with a really nice guy that served good food at a fair price.   I paid using the new Kenyan shillings.  It’s always a challenge adjusting to new currency, but I did it OK and felt good about the conversion from Tanzanian shillings. Later I bought a litre of water but when told the price my brain reverted to Tanzanian shillings and I was thinking 600 T. shillings when it was only 60 K. shillings.  When I payed with a 1000 K. shilling note this kid saw it right off.  He nonchalantly gave me 400 change and, bingo, I just payed about $6 for a litre of water.  I realized the mistake as I walked out the door but didn’t do anything about it.  Win some, loose some.

Easy miles then took me to a camp in the bush.  I was more careful selecting a camp site than I’ve been in a while.  I “egressed” the highway with no cars or people in sight and quickly got a secluded spot.  Goat’s heads have been ubiquitous since entering Tanzania so the bike has to be carried any time you leave the highway.  Not an easy task.

Goat’s heads collected carrying the bike to a camp.

So, now I’m in Nairobi and will go to the Ethiopian Embassy tomorrow for visa stuff and continue the never ending quest for bike shops.  It appears the road north to Ethiopia is now mostly paved, but it wasn’t just a few years ago.  It was slated to be completed in 2016 but time will tell if it’s true.  I may spend some time on Mt. Kenya if weather cooperates.  Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is maybe two weeks away if I rode straight through.

 

 

 

Pretoria to Lusaka, Zambia

March 24,  2017

The route went from Pretoria to Gabarone, Botswana and north to Palapye.
Then to Francistown and WNW to Nata near the top of the map.
From Nata, remote Highway 33 travels north…..
…..to Kazungula and Livingstone.
Then north again to Lusaka.

My stay at Pretoria was at a hostel / hotel dedicated to providing economic quarters for out of town people attending to family being treated in a nearby hospital, the same where I got the Malaria prescription.  The pharmacy folks actually clued me in on the place.  After I sunk $500+ for the meds I guess they figured I deserved a break.  Mostly older folks stay there, a few permanent residents, and the facility, Four Flowers Foundation, was a great place to rest for a couple of days- quiet and clean.  I was there for three nights and the manager and his wife, Vivian and Nora Morris, made my stay pleasant.  Vivian spent part of his career collecting gemstones and crystals that he took around to rock shows in southern Africa.  He was what we’d call a rockhound and had a few samples of tiger eye and other gems kicking around the grounds.  People there were friendly and talkative and it was entertaining to hear what the Afrikaaner retirees had done for a living.

Vivian Morris from Four Flowers Foundation.
Nora Morris cooking us breakfast.
A gemstone having to do with garnets- he had more info than I could absorb.

Visits to embassies were mostly unencouraging as in general an embassy will only issue a visa to a person from the country where the embsssy is located, in this case, South Africa.  Makes sense, but it’s all new to me.  One piece of good news, Kenya said, contrary to the country’s website, that I could get a visa at point of entry.  Who knows.  Ethiopia said to apply at Nairobi, Kenya.  Russia said my plans for Siberia were possible but there was nothing they could do then and there.  Didn’t make it to China’s embassy.  I went to the U.S. Embassy for possible advice but, without an appointment, didn’t get far; two security guys came out in the parking lot and like robots that were neither friendly nor unfriendly told me to contact an American Civil Services office either in Johannesburg or Gaborone, Botswana.  Their advice then culminated in suggesting I always lock my bike when not attending it and not to ride through downtown Pretoria.

On the way to the border with Botswana, I took a short detour to an archeological site called the Maropeng Crucible of Humankind.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are Hominid fossils dating back 3 million years in a network of limestone caves covering about 500 square kilometers.  See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_of_Humankind.  Work there is ongoing with significant discoveries in just the last few years.

Somewhere near there I discovered in my pants pocket keys to my room and entrance gates at the Four Flowers Foundation- I had forgotten to turn them over to Vivian.  I sent him an email requesting an address to which I could send them and then found a PostNet (the South African equivelant to FedEx) in Rustenburg, the next sizable town.  After I gave the PostNet folks the sad story, they gave me a very good deal on overnight delivery and were in general fun to be around.

Leigh Ann, Chris (manager), Chere and Charissa from PostNet.
Camp at a church yard near the border with Botswana.
Fires Van Vuuren, the caretaker at the church…
……and his 25 year old dog accompanied by tormenting chihuahuas.

I took a less traveled route to the border with Botswana where things were pretty well deserted.  There were no lines at immigration and the lady who stamps the passports was behind the counter sitting and waiting.  It should have been simple from there but somehow she didn’t like the idea of me riding a bike through Botswana alone and had to keep going to her boss with questions.  Unlike any border I’ve ever been through, she invited me to come through a door to her side of the counter and sit while negotiations were made.  They even took a look at my website.  I finally convinced them it would be OK and the boss gave a nod.  Back around to  the other side I watched as she held the stamp over passport but then asked me just one more question.  I wanted to reach through and slam the hovering hand to the page.  I’m not even sure what she asked but I nodded and, finally, STAMP.

I rode tailwind into Gabarone, found a hotel, then went to the American Civil Services office which, in Gabarone, is at the Embassy.   The ACS was only open Monday and Thursday mornings and it was then noon, Monday- they were closed.  So, I gave up on talking with the consulate, slept the night at the hotel (& casino!) and started north the next morning.

Cape cobra that had been killed by villagers at Debete, Botswana.  Poisonous snakes are pretty much killed onsite in Africa.
Jimson Chengeta stopped to talk in Palapye, Botswana.  Retired now, he was educated in wildlife management in the UK.
Nthophi Ramotsoko, right, studied ground water engineering in Edmonton, Alberta and now works for the gov’t in Palapye.  He’s also involved with Amway and, as you might guess, was trying to interest me.
Blue highway short cut that actually worked.
Chameleon crossing the highway.

Botswana is a country about three times the area of the state of Utah but only 2/3 the people.  Most of the population is located on the east side, between Gabarone and Francistown.  Elsewhere are vast expanses of wild Africa, a sample of which I got when leaving Francistown but especially after turning north from Nata, Botswana.  Getting to Francistown was flat, fast and uneventful.   A left turn and good tail wind then took me to Nata.  Had one 112 mile day on that stretch. From Nata the route went north over a little traveled highway to the Zambian border at Kazungula.  No fences for this stretch and much wildlife.  There are many elephants which made for some exciting travel and you had to keep a constant lookout for them.  The terrain is “bushveld” where trees and shrubs are just high enough to hide the giant beasts, and they had a habit of appearing out of nowhere.  I figured a hundred or so feet seemed ample distance from the highway to pass by one and did so for a couple of bulls.  Then I had one turn towards me when I was adjacent with him.  He lowered his head, stuck his ears straight out and took a couple of bluff charge steps towards me- it put my heart in my throat.  There after, the hundred feet became more like a hundred yards.  When I would see one that was too close I’d wait for a car, sometimes 15 or 20 minutes, and wave him down to escort me through, riding the bike along side the vehicle.  The elephants are habituated to the cars and trucks but the bikes, being a bit more animate, get their attention.  They are sensitive to eye contact and if you are going to pass close, it’s best to just look straight ahead and ride; easier said than done.   I watched one bull from maybe two hundred yards out while waiting for a car.  He was facing me and glancing my way as if to say “what are you lookin’ at?”

Hard to see, but there’s an elephant crossing the road in the distance.
Elephant dung was a common sight for about a hundred miles.

Along with elephants there were much less threatening giraffes, zebras, impalas, tiny deer that I think were reeboks.  One warthog! They say there are lions and cape buffalo as well but I never saw them.   Camping could be nerve wracking, and I always pitched the tent near a climbable tree.  I have a can of bear spray that has survived now multiple airline flights and about 16 border crossings.  Might dissuade a lion, but little else.  I keep stove gasoline and a lighter close by as a last resort.

Enormous termite mound.

I was able to camp a couple of nights at microwave towers. They have fenced enclosures and two security people that man them day and night. The two I stayed at had people more than glad for company and a break in a routine that must be pretty boring. They would offer food and heat water for nightly showers, all done on wood fires. Virtually everyone in Botswana speaks some English, so we could communicate pretty well.

View from the first microwave tower which my hosts were surprisingly game to have me climb.
Wanani and Cuatro at the first tower.

Elephant track.
Garden spider at the tower.  It’s abdomin is a good 3 inches.
Moagi at the second tower.
Joseph and Moagi.

Botswana was a British protectorate until the mid 60s and English influence is still prevalent.  Zambia and Zimbabwe were Crown Colonies then as well, but as North and South Rhodesia.  Together with Swaziland and country-locked Lesotho, they all gained independence in the 60s.   Zambia declared its independence at the closing ceremony for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Japan making them the only country to enter the games as one country and leave as another.

After getting to the border with Zambia, you cross the Zambezi River fifty or so miles upstream from Victoria Falls.  Transportation is by ferry, but it will only carry two semi trucks at a time.  Trucks were lined up for miles on each side, the wait being as much as two weeks.  They’re currently building a bridge and I’m sure there will be great relief to get it finished.  No wait for peds and bikes.

Zebras
Near the border with Zambia you emerge from wild bush into an ocean of corn fields that went for miles.

 

Baobab tree.
Marcu Bogdan from Romania at the Botswana-Zambia border.  He’s crossing Africa north-south having started in Egypt.

At the ferry a guy, Levy, came to me, struck up a conversation and invited me to stay at his house. It being late in the day, I took him up on the offer. He made me dinner over a charcoal fire and cooked Nshima (ground corn not very different from polenta) tomatoes, onions and hard boiled eggs that he then fried in oil.  Very good. The next day he rode 50 miles with me to Livingstone, the tourist town near Victoria Falls. We managed to kill most of the day doing that but he had a place for us to stay there. He is involved with the Baptist Church and we stayed at his pastor’s compound. The pastor, a Filipino, invited us for dinner, over the course of which he waisted no time in trying to convert me.  A younger man than me, he insisted it was never too late for salvation, even for a guy my age. I endured the evening but was glad to get going early the next morning.

Bridge over Zambezi River near Victoria Falls.
Mist rising just upstream from the falls.

Victoria Falls.

Billboard in Livingston.  Very touristy, very commercialized.

Victoria Falls were indeed spectacular and worth seeing.  I spent the morning walking mist trails and getting soaked with spray.  Once back in Livingstone I got groceries and rode a 30 mile afternoon to a good camp in secluded bush.  Several days of mild headwind followed taking me to Lusaka, Zambia’s capitol.  Roads for the most part were good, even very good.  In South Africa, chip sealing is part of new construction for highways, and they use very course aggregate.  I’m guessing that the rough surface offers better traction and less tendency for hydroplaning on roads that can see heavy rains.  They were tough to ride a bike on, though, and generated a screaming hiss when a car flew past at 80 mph- it was like spraying a high pressure air nozzle across your ear.  Botswana saw a decline in chip sealing and the practice is non-existent in Zambia.  The “good” highways in Zambia are smoother, shoulders fair, but when roads are deteriorated they can be a nightmare.  The traffic has been much heavier in Zambia, particularly truck traffic, and bad roads could be a free-for-all of traffic weaving in and out of chuckholes, competing for the best lines.  There is considerable bicycle traffic in Zambia as well and a palpable disdain for them by the trucks- I get no better treatment than anybody and they’ll honk to get you out of the way and then pass with as tight a clearance as they can get away with, sometimes pushing me onto a dirt shoulder.

A few of the many camps in the bush.

Alanna Dent was in Chomo and is a volunteer for the Peace Core.  Over about a half-hour conversation she tripled my knowledge of Zambia.
Green Mamba that had been hit on the highway. I’ve now seen the “big 3” of poisonous snakes- mamba, adder & cobra- but have yet to see one live……and hope I don’t.
Ants, biting ones this time, devouring a bag of garbage.
Truckload of copper ingots coming from Zambia’s copperbelt.  Out of curiousity I counted trucks one day and was up to 29 in about 7 hours of riding.  Together with how much a truck can carry and the price of copper scrap in the U.S., simple arithmetic suggests a multi-billion dollar a year export.  The fluctuating price of copper though has made it a boom-bust industry over the years.

The final leg to Lusaka was through headwind and I was fairly beat when I pulled up to a KFC (they appear to have edged out McDonalds in world wide popularity) to try and get Wi-Fi and locate a hotel.  Luis Lopes was watching me park the bike through the window and waved me to come in and share some chicken.  The next thing I knew I was staying at his place and being treated like royalty.  He’s a builder constructing high-end houses for rentals on a property his brother owns.  He fed me many meals over three days while I worked on the blog and did repairs.  He wouldn’t let me ride the bike to town and arranged a taxi to take me around to bike shops one day.  The houses are beautiful.  He builds doors and trim out of African rosewood but then plant trees for replacement. He has one mahogany that’s becoming sizable.  He has several avocado, passion fruit and kiwi fruit trees on the property as well.

Luis Lopes.
Russian military vehicle that Luis and his brother somehow got a hold of.  It was converted into an all-terrain camper and is where he put me up.
Beautiful construction on the houses they’re building.

He does a lot of building with African rosewood….
….but then is planting replacement trees.  The seedling front and second from left is teak.
Entrance to the camper where I slept.  There are two dents barely visible on the facing cabinet where an elephant had poked a tusk inside on an earlier camping trip.

The stay with Luis has been a good rest and I haven’t been able to spend a dime in three days.  I was considering another attempt at contacting the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka but have been so discouraged at previous embassy tries that I was then leaning towards riding on and taking my chances.  Luis suggested getting an appointment and got them on the phone.  Over the telephone it took some convincing with the front desk person, but he finally gave me an email address to set up an appointment.  In the email I gave them some background on what I was doing and got a response right away to come the next afternoon.  This time I was given a security pass, invited in and spent a good hour with a somebody fairly high in the food chain.  He printed out all kinds of info on upcoming countries and had lots of sound advice but knew well bounderies where he just couldn’t say.  Very good, professional treatment this time.  Appointments make the difference- Thanks Luis.

Tomorrow I’ll be on the road again headed to Tanzania- maybe 8 days away.

Cape Town to Pretoria

March 1, 2017

From Cape Town the route followed coastline to Cape Agulhas, the tip of the continent…….
….then to George….
….then mostly on “blue highways” that roughly parallel the shown main road to Johannesburg and Pretoria.

I finally flew out Ushuaia and landed in Buenos Aires in the middle of the night and found a place to hang in the airport till morning.  International airports typically have good “camping” facilities for all the folks waiting on connecting flights.  There’s plenty of electrical outlets and Wi-Fi’s readily available.  I had a couple of days to spend in B.A. and saw a few sights in the city, then it was off to airport camping again to catch a midnight flight to Cape Town, South Africa that was via Qatar in the Middle East.  Twenty-seven hours of flights and airports later I was in C.T.

Carolina from Ushuaia Extreme lined me up with a bike box for the flights as well as a shop in Buenos Aires that had tires I could never seem to find elsewhere.
Flying out of Ushuaia.
Posh hotel in B.A. I could have lived without; nice to do once in a while.
B.A.
Making friends in Buenos Aires.
Eva Perón is well remembered in Argentina.
What happens when you don’t lock your car in B.A.
This is a bar. I didn’t go in but I’m sure Hunter S. Thompson wouldn’t have missed the opportunity.
Anita “camped out” next to me at the airport in B.A. waiting on flights. She’s from Moscow, Russia but now surfs for a living, lives in Panama, and hasn’t been home in years.  She speaks Spanish, Russian and English (well!) that I know of.
Hilton picked me up at the airport in Cape Town and helped me find a hotel.
Cape Town and Table Mountain.

Once in cape Town I went to a sporting goods store and was able to finally replace the Whisperlite stove I lost in Mazatlán, Mexico.  I did see them for sale in S. America but at more than double the price that I paid here.  I left the dinosaur I bought in Quito in the crotch of a tree near Ushuaia where in twenty years I’m sure I’ll be able to find it again.  It was tempormental, inefficient, sooty and needed constant fixing.  I couldn’t even see giving it away to someone.

Then I found a bike shop and got bearings for the headset and bottom bracket.  From there I was off.  At the suggestion of Hilton, my taxi driver, I went a little out of the way to get to the southernmost point of the continent, Cape Agulhas, that was maybe a 150 mile detour.  Headwinds made for slow travel, nothing like Patagonia, but it was the morning of the fifth day that I got there.  Beautiful coast line along the way through  geography called Fynbos, a green and biologically diverse scrubland.  In reading about it, it was not the first time I’ve heard “world’s greatest biodiversity” about a given area.

Another zipper replacement. I could never find zippers in S. America; they’re all in Cape Town.
Near Cape Town

Elim, S.A.  The roofs of the buildings are thatch and made from reeds in the genus Restio.  I’ll have photos in the next plant segment.
One of only 3 African penguin rookeries on the continent.

Lighthouse at Cape Agulhas.  “Agulhas”  is derived from Latin and means needle.  The Portuguese named it not for pointy rocks, but for the compass needle showing no declination at that time.  Today, magnetic north here is about 25º west of true north.
Lighthouse’s fresnel lens.
Ostriches are common both as farm animals and in a wild state.
Camp along route climbing into mountains. The foreground ridge is pine covered but planted long enough ago that they look like they’d always been there. Felt like home.
First mountains after leaving the coast and part of a belt of ranges that roughly follow southern Africa’s east and west coasts.    Collectively, they’re called The Great Escarpment.

After Cape Agulhas, the route trends east and north to George and put me about as close as I’ll get to the antipodal diameter with Logan, Utah.  It’s located to the southeast of George about two thousand miles in the Indian Ocean.  Now every mile I ride will be getting me closer to home- psychologically comforting.  After George I turned inland and began climbing into mountains that lead to the interior and a more deserty rain shadow.  Geographically, the coast is referred to as the Fynbos, inland the Karoo and the separating mountains The Great Escarpment.

I finally changed the bearings in the bottom bracket but found the old ones were in perfect shape.
Short section of dirt road near Heidelberg, S.A.
A bit of Utah landscape once again after descending the coastal mountains into the interior’s rain shadow.  Prickly pair is an invasive here.
New MSR stove- great relief.  A lot easier to use and far better fuel efficiency.
Nice camp
Blue highways.
Got needed water here.
Baboons. Those that I’ve seen have been wild and I was lucky to get this close for a photo. Near Cape Town, however, they’ve habituated well to humans and can open unlocked cars and doors to houses. There are warning signs saying things like “what to do if you’re surrounded by a troop” and “act calm and show confidence”.  This is either a female or a juvenile.  The males look formidable.
Good spot to sleep….
……but I was completely drenched by morning.  From the perch on the rock there was no way to anchor the fly out and away from the tent.  The night started clear, so I wasn’t too worried, but I hastily pitched the tent about midnight in rain and intense thunder & lightning.
Drying out.
Sleeping bag lable I had hoped I would never have to test. Took a good 3 days to dry the bag.
Road side repairs with Simon whom I lent some tools.
Another great camp in Karoo scrub.
The goat’s head, above and below, is alive and well in S. Africa. Unfortunately it found the bike tires before I found it.

Ticks!  None have bitten me yet but I’ve found them crawling on me.
Noupoort, S.A.
The grasslands, or Veld, are extensive and amazing. In the U.S. these habitats are too often converted to agriculture. The thousands of bumps are termite mounds- most building here is masonry.
Border with the Orange Free State and entering a mostly Dutch speaking area.
Crossing the Orange River.
A puff adder that had been hit on the highway.  A viper counterpart to our rattlesnakes, they’re responsible for the vast majority of snake bites in Africa.  They hold their ground when approached but don’t warn like a rattlesnake and often get stepped on.  They say cobras slither off before you see them.  They all make for carefull travel when wheeling the bike through tall grass to a campsite.
Spent two nights here waiting out rain. Kept relatively dry this time.
Tortoise!

Below are a just a handful of the many people I’ve talked to since getting to S.A.  There are many English speakers here though accents are often hard to understand.  Blacks typically speak their tribe’s language as their first language and many are then taught English by bilingual Dutch (Afrikaaner) speakers.   You can imagine the accent.  They can understand me (most of the time) but at first I didn’t realize people were speaking English back.

Lionel & Philba Visagie.
Rachael ran a very nice restaurant in Struisbaai, near Cape Agulhas.
Nose Makeleni had lots of questions.
These guys had an art gallery in Hartenbos- lost their info.
Lionel and Philba Visagie gave me water when I needed it.
Robert and Joy Balcon are safari guides and world travelers that had a load of info on Africa for me.
Matthew Luyanda worked on the road crew and came over to eat lunch with me. He’s from the Xhosa (Cosa) Tribe, the same as Nelson Mandela.
Willie Pienaar has been all over Africa on both a motorcycle and a bicycle. It was a short conversation, but he had valuable info as well and has kept in contact answering more questions.   Check out MyCrazyDad.com for his travels.
These guys were in the town of Noupoort.

There are far fewer long distance cyclists here (I’ve seen one guy from Spain’s Canary Islands since being in South Africa) and many people are curious.  I’ve described where I’ve gone countless times but most people don’t really comprehend the distances.  One guy nodded patiently while I told of Central and South America and then asked where I was going next.  I said on to Pretoria and Zimbabwe but not sure after that.  He said “Zimbabwe? You’re riding your bicycle to Zimbabwe?”.  I’m getting to where I say a lot less until specifically asked.

Soweto, or South West Town, a district of Johannesburg that was in world news quite a bit in the 1970s and 80s.  Near Johannesburg’s gold mines, there was much unrest here in the years leading to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
The hill is gold mine tailings between Soweto and downtown Johannesburg.

I’ve been looking ahead to the route through Asia and would like to cross the Tibetan Plateau from Nepal to Mongolia.  This would be one of the grails of the trip.  Travel is restricted there but the prospect of riding a bike over it that began as impossible has advanced now to just expensive.  Tourists need to be accompanied by a guide.  To do it with just myself would be beyond what I could afford.  I have, however, been in touch with a company in Lhasa and worked out a group rate for 6 people that would be around $3200/person to go from the Nepali-Sino border to the Chinese city of Xining, which is out of the travel restriction zone.  It would take about a month and the price includes hotels and meals.  The accompanying guide amounts to what we would call a sag wagon- no panniers required- good news.  Furthermore, camping is limited, so distances between towns and hotels beyond that which can be covered in a day by bicycle will require riding for part of the time.  The bad news is that it sounds like your riding in the back of a truck.  They gave me a cursory itinerary that was about 2/3 biking / 1/3 riding for a total of about 2000 miles.  That would amount to ~1400 miles biking over a month’s time but with no loads.  This is close to what I’ve been doing over the last year loaded.  So, for all the folks that wanted to ride a leg of the trip, now’s your chance.  For my timeline, it could happen this fall, but it could also be the spring of 2018.  I’ll have to see how Africa and the Middle East go, but I should be able to commit in the next couple of months.  Anybody interested can email me at steven.g.walker@gmail.com for more info.

I’m now in Pretoria checking into embassies for visa info, replacing the drive train on the bike (cluster rings completely shot), and stocking up on Malaria prophylaxis.  In S. Africa, Malaria meds are by prescription, so I had to go to a doctor.  It was very cheap and the doctor, Elizna Britten had a lot of good information.  The meds, however, are not cheap: 4 month’s worth of pills were about $500!

Aggy Modise, Dr Elizna Britten and Sinah Monageng. Aggy and Sinah speak Tshwane.

From here I go to west to Botswana and then north to Victoria Falls.  I’ll hopefully be putting out the next blog somewhere in Zambia.

El Chaltén to Ushuaia, Fin del Mundo

January 25, 2017

From El Chaltén, a highway parallels pea-green Lago Viedma back to the main highway.  El Calafate is on the south shore of blue colored Lago Argentino.  The city of Rio Gallegos is under the “Santa Cruz” which is Rio Gallegos’ province.
From Rio Gallegos the highway cuts through a portion of Chile, and ferries onto the island of Tierra del Fuego at the “gap” in the road, and continues south, then west to Ushuaia.

I spent over three weeks in El Chaltén.  Climbing of any kind never materialized.  To tackle a bigger peak I would have wanted to get to know partners pretty well, and it just wasn’t happening.  The sport climbs near town didn’t seem worth the gear rental.  Folks are pretty well teamed up before they get here and once again language barriers were an added obstacle.  I did encounter climbers from the U.S. but was discouraged by generational differences and I’m sure they thought the same about climbing with some over-the-hill-never-was-been.  Climbing was something I hoped to do more of on the trip.

Of the three weeks in Chaltén, I spent one week sick with the flu, three days of which I hardly got out of the tent.  I had a good place to convalesce though, with a camp at the outskirts of town in some old-growth beech forest.  Quiet and secluded.  Once I felt better I took a few hikes into alpine zones and near the big peaks.  Two were off the main trails, and as always, one often sees more interesting things away from crowds.  The Calceolaria uniflora being one, it was first described by Darwin himself, it’s common English name being Darwin’s slipper. (See last “Plants” segment).

A hike to the summit of Cerro Pollo gave a grand view of the Fitzroy skyline.
Fitzroy group from ridge leading to Cerro Negro.
Cerro Negro and a faint outline of Cerro Torre to the right of the summit. Cerro Torre rarely came out of the clouds while I was there.
Laguna Torre. Very muddy with glacial sill.
Lago de Los Tres, where I had hiked the previous week, is above and Laguna Sucia below.

After almost a month I was ready to move on and packed to go.  Wind for the first 50 miles woud be a tailwind that blew constantly through Chaltén for the time I was there.  It could be calmer at night and in the mornings but invariably gathered strength in the afternoons and evenings.  No need for an early start this time.

I rode the wind back to the junction with Ruta 40, but then turned 120° into almost direct headwind for which it was impossible to make any progress whatsoever.  I spotted a metal shack off the highway a little ways, hopped the fence to check it out and began shuttling gear.   Good enough under the circumstances.

Hotel Patagonia.

Somewhere in Peru or Bolivia I had come across a website that mapped current world wide surface wind.  It’s function is ostensibly a service for wind power industries.  The site, https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/orthographic=-72.27,-56.93,3000/loc=-79.769,-48.371,is invaluable for a cyclist navigating Patagonian wind.  Since discovering the site, I would look briefly at it each time I had Wi-Fi and gained familiarity with what wind “usually” did on stretches I’d be covering later on.  With that, I could know the likelihood that bad conditions might change favorably if I waited a day or two, or whether I’d have to grim it out.  From my location at the shack I knew it wasn’t probable that wind direction would change for a some distance, but that it often calmed at night.  Sure enough, around midnight, it became a tolerable head/side wind and by 1:30 am I was riding in the light of a nearly full moon, making maybe 7 or 8 miles an hour.  I was at the foot of elongated Lago Viedma, the focus of katabatic winds coming off of Patagonia’s southern ice cap, Campo Hielo Sur.  After 20 miles the route ascends into foothills where I then found windless conditions in moonlight surrounded by incredible Patagonian expanses.   One car passed during the  night.

I reached El Calafate by 10 am, ate at a restaurant,  found a camp outside of town and went to sleep by early in the afternoon.  Next morning I went to town and looked at the wind map and found conditions for the next 230 miles to be a direct tailwind for 90% of the route.  No choice but to stock up on groceries and get going.  I made a 140 mile day and found another shack that appeared to be a half-finished bus stop in the middle of nowhere.  A bit drafty, but out of direct wind.  Made Rio Gallegos early the next day, but, once again, needed to wait for a change in the wind before continuing.  I checked into a spendy, but nice hotel (camping is far preferable to some of the cheaper hotels) and spent two nights.

Sheridan Patagonia.  Wind kept up all night and into the morning but was fortunately at my back for the ride.

At 3:00 am of the second night I began riding in light crosswind that developed into a component of tailwind after 20 miles.  I made the Chilean border by 10 am and was confronted with more border surprises.  For these vast and desolate stretches that comprise Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego I always leave a good sized town well stocked with supplies.  Chile, in general, lets no fresh food across its border and meats, vegetables, fruits, even mushrooms, are all contraband.  I had heard rumors to this effect but the tiny stretch of dead end road one travels to the sub-Antarctic climates of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas wouldn’t seem to be an area of concern.  I told them what I had.  Their response was that I would have to throw more than half of what I had away.  I explained it would be stupid to ride a bicycle out into Tierra del Fuego’s no-man’s land without a good stock of food.  They allowed that if the food was cooked it would be OK.  They set me up in a place more-or-less out of the wind and I boiled potatoes, hamburger, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli (I actually eat pretty well out there) and put it all in plastic bags.  I had good treatment through it all and one guy even brought me hot coffee and cookies while I cooked.  They took me at my word when I said I was done (I’m sure they weren’t blind to the virtual impossibility of something like a fruit fly destroying vineyards over a thousand miles away to the north).  I had the benefit as well of being recipient to fruit others were giving up as they crossed- they saw me there cooking and figured they’d rather give it to me than see the Chileans get it.  I left on a full stomach.

Chilean border beauracracy.

Mostly favorable wind took me to the ferry that crosses the Strait of Magellan to the island of Tierra del Fuego proper.  T. del F. is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined and contains many habitats from active volcanoes to peaks encased by glaciers to miles of flat pampa.  In diminishing evening wind I rode another 20 miles and had a beautiful camp on green grass in open steppe.  Had the wind picked up it woud have been a disaster, but as it was things stayed calm.   I took no chances, however; and was riding again by 3:00 am.

Ferry terminal.
Strait of Magellan and a strong tidal current making the ocean look like a choppy river.
Landing on Tierra del Fuego.
Night ride and solar/battery lighting at a rest area.

I saw a few other cyclists that day coming towards me.  A guy from Guadalajara, Mexico, a couple from Denmark, a guy from Rio de Janeiro.  These were the first I’d seen in a while.  An expected 30 mile stretch of construction and dirt road came that afternoon and slowed things a bit, particularly since it was accompanied with rain and mud.   One stretch was freshly paved but not yet allowing traffic and I helped myself to it.  The construction ended at the Argentine border and I crossed without hassle.  Another 20 miles of tailwind gave me a 120 mile day.

Muddy roads.

Argentine border.

More tailwind took me 30 miles to Rio Grande, Argentina, followed by 10 miles of headwind that wrapped around again to tailwind.  Somewhere in this stretch I encountered the first cyclists from the U.S. I had seen for the entire 12,500 miles I’d traveled from Logan, Utah.  I had seen enough passing cyclists the last couple of days that I was considering just giving a wave and continuing on, but as it was I was glad I stopped.

They were a group of three and from the Northeast, but one guy, Noah, was working in Cedar City, Utah guiding outdoor trips for people with drug addictions.  As we talked the conversation naturally came to the topic of our new president and it was found we had about the same take on it all.    I was quick to mention that I had been a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, but then Cameron pulled out a photo on his cell phone of he and Bernie at Bernie’s house on New Years Day.  Cameron was the Coordinated Campaign Director for the Vermont Democratic Party and his partner, Krista, was Sanders’ Operations Director.   You can follow the cycling travels of Eli, Noah and Cameron on http://Www.mundopequeno.org.  Mundo pequeno indeed.

Noah, Eli & Cameron.
Cameron and Bernie.

Over the two days spent in Rio Gallegos I had booked flights to Cape Town, South Africa.  The first would be from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.  With wind being the unknown it is here, I left myself plenty of time to complete the last leg to Ushuaia.  As it was I had about a week to spare and spent a couple of days in Tolhuin at the foot of Lago Fagnano before finishing the last 60 miles.  I found a Panaderia with Wi-Fi and worked on the blog,  as well as spending time at camp finishing Nelson Mandela’s autobiography as a start to knowing something about South Africa.  I was lucky to find an English version at a bookstore in El Chaltén.  I spent one morning cleaning & lubing of the bike.

Major scrub down of the bike- the cleaner the better for overseas customs.
New oil in the hubs and bottom bracket.
I have the tool for removing and cleaning the freewheel but finding somebody with a vise to hold the tool while the wheel is spun off is always a challenge.  A tire shop in Tolhuin was willing to let me use theirs.
Lake Fagnano. Huge waves for a lake.
Beaver near camp at Tolhuin. They were introduced here for their fur but with no natural predators they’re now considered a problem.
Lots of foxes. Often they’re habituated to humans.
A much calmer Lago Fagnano. The lake also goes by the indigenous name of Khami.
Lago Escondido (Hidden Lake) and Khami in the distance from Passo Girabaldi.  P.G. is the last summit before descending to Ushuaia.
Last camp before Ushuaia.
High peaks near Ushuaia.

The last 60 miles to Ushuaia from Tolhuin are westerly for which there would usually be a headwind.  With time to spare I waited a couple of days and had the extrodinary luck of almost no wind at all covering the last leg.  Since El Chaltén the wind gods have treated me well.

The Beagle Channel, Ushuaia and a couple of acres of shipping containers at about center photo.  Navarino Island, in the distance, is in Chile.
Mileage from Logan to Ushuaia.
Ushuaia has increased dramatically in size from what I saw in 2007, and it continues to grow.  Currently, the population is about 70,000 full time residents.  It’s considered the world’s most austral city.

A very different Ushuaia from 2007.
Joel & Natalia at the En Freddo Wi-Fi Cafe let me take up space for an afternoon while I wrote the blog.

One of the tasks I wanted to complete in Ushuaia was to find a machine shop that could make a tool that would allow me to adjust a stubborn bottom bracket bearing.  The last adjustment was in Bogotá, Colombia and I cringed while this well meaning kid drove the bearing cup around with a hammer and a punch.  The crank arms were a bit loose again (bearings have worn evenly, but need replacing which I’ll do in Cape Town where hopefully I can find non-metric bearing balls).  I asked around and found Diego Otamendi’s shop and he built the perfect tool for me at a very reasonable price.  His daughter, Andrea, interpreted and it was fun to spend time there.

 

Andrea and her dad Diego. Andrea is a psychology student in Cordoba, AR but helps her dad out running machines on vacations.
Diego
Part Diego made for me.

Next stop Cape Town, South Africa.

Plants & Animals, Peru to Argentina

January 9th, 2017

I left off the last plant segment, clear back in Peru, with this, the deflated “birdie”.

This is an Altiplano cactus that grew at elevations over 14,000 feet.
Very pretty, “digital” snake that was hit on the highway.

More Solanaceae.

6-legged spider on the tent fly.

Quenual above (paper bark tree) and above that, one that looks very similar from a distance but quite different up close.  The two often grow together.
Vetch of some kind.

Taraxacum reappeared soon after descending the last time off the Altiplano and has been with me since.
These (above & below) were a sort of tiger lilly growing in roadside gravels.

Pea family and mesquite-like.
More trippy cactus above and below. Grades from the 14,000 foot Altiplano would drop over 8,000 feet to desert climates, cross a river, and then the begin climbing again.

 

Peruvean lupine.

Townsendia- like.  Once again at over 14,000 feet.

Looks Claytonia megarhiza-like

These got fairly big, much like Hymenoxys grandiflora.

This thing was the only one of its kind (above and next two below) so I suspect it was planted by someone.

Pine, probably introduced, and Eucalyptus.
Pine was 3-needled.
Vetch
More of the alpine cactus.  Nasty to navigate around.
Once again, akin to reindeer lichen.
No clue here.  Hi in Peru but looks like it should be underwater in ocean surf.  Stromatolites!
Lichens

Cactus within a grass that could be Sporobolus.
Eucalyptus

This was growing at over 17,000 feet and looked like sky pilot.

More Fabaceae
Many grasses.
This thing was pretty much the high point of Bolivia, but was an incredible cactus.  I found a colony of them on a hillside out in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere in here I dropped off of the Altiplano and into a more desert climate and topography.

Erodium

Lots of non-descript shrubs.

Argentine saguaro.

This thing had quite an odd shaped pedal till a I realized it was being eaten by something.
Yellow version of prickly poppy.

I saw this clear back in Oaxaca but it reappears here at a comparable latitude and elevation.

 

A legume that without flowers looks like ephedra (below).

Creosote. This looks virtually like the Mojave species Larrea tridentata but here goes by L. cuneifolia. The “lumpers” say they’re the same while the “splitters” have more than one species on each continent. The smell, which is distinctive, is the same.
More cactus than I’ll ever learn.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more and better photos of this.  Very different cactus.

I can’t find if they separate their saguaro species from Trichocereus (or Echinopsus) terscheckii, but this one, found further south, had a few differences from it’s northern counterpart.  It had a very showy flower (below).

Very phlox-like

The ephedra-pea again.
This is again some kind of mesquite. The thorns are 2.5 inches long.
Oenothera and token dandelion .
Tamarisk doesn’t invade the way it does in the Southwest, but it’s definitely here.

Sphaeralcea?
S. America is where both tomatos and potatos (Solanaceae) originate so there are many species.
Mesquite-like shrub.

Armadillo for the second time. (Too cool not to show it twice).
Mimulus?

Some kind of tussock grass.

The next bunch were taken as I was passing about 40 degrees south, which is about what northern Utah is.  Many familiar invasives are found where elevation and climate are similar.  Both Melilotuses are here and a few others I didn’t photograph.

Rumex!
Hound’s tongue.
Bindweed. Not a very good picture, but it doesn’t need to be- everybody knows this this one.
The brown grass I think is B. tectorum
Mulinum spinosum

Penstamon of some kind.

Above and below are of what I’m guessing is a chenopode and possibly an atriplex not unlike our shadscales and four-wing salt bush.

The star thistle mentioned in the blog already.
This and below looks like an invasive as they will dominate road shoulders. Very showy invasive, though.  Here I’m entering “green” mountains again north of Bariloche.

Lupine that again is probably an invasive.
Lot of Cirsium.  Not sure on species.
Rose.  Could be woodii.

Oenothera?
Might be Sisymbrium altissimum
Penstamon.
Embothrium coccineum, or Chilean firetree, is a spring bloom that gives forested slopes the look of first autumn reds.
Queen Anne’s lace, I think.
Oenathera

Chloephaga melanoptera or Andean goose.
Below, closeup of above.

Erodiium

The plants below are all in Patagonian mountains near El Chaltén.

Looks like Pachystima. Same habitat.
There are a few different violas.
Beech forest. There are a few species of Nothafagus. Two that are common here are antarcticus (above, I think) and betuloides, below, which means “birchlike”.

 

Caryophyllaceae.
Wintergreen, Gaultheria pumila.
If it were N. America this would be a Sisyrinchium species but here goes by Cordonorchis lessonii.
Sisyrinchium arenarium.
Anemone multifida.
Euphorbia collina.
Adesmia boronioides. The leaves of this plant look somewhat like our fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millifolium, but Adesmia is in the pea family and fernbush is rose family. What’s amazing is that they have the same pungent, not unpleasant, smell.  Here, they say this Adesmia produces an “essential oil”. What were the circumstances of evolution that the two plants would concoct the same chemicals for their smell?
Phacelia or Penstamon?
Ranunculus.
More stromatolites.

Above: Oxalis aderophila.

Erigeron.
Don’t see a lot of sedge, but there are a few.

Looks like good old dandelion…..
…….but has a wiry stem.

Andean goose and goslings near Chaltén.
Cougar shit. Yes, they’re here!
Seeds from an Osmorhiza species that could be the same as that found in N. America.  We’ve all had to extract these things from our animals after a walk in the Bear River Range.

These plants are more in the alpine.

Adesmia salicornioides.

Above: Azorella spp.

Calceolaria biflora.

Above: Empetrum rubrum, or what N. Americans would call Crow berry.

Swertia?
Well, if you made it to here you get a prize. This is Calceolaria uniflora, one of the incredible plants of Patagonian alpine.  Looks like an orchid but was strangely classified as a Scroph when I was here in 2007.  Now it, and C. biflora, a few photos above, are in their own family, Calceolareae.  I remembered it being a good 3 or 4 inches long and was surprised that in reality it is barely an inch. They’ve recently found out that it is pollinated by a seedsnipe, a small bird. The white “tray” is high in sugars and as the bird pecks at it, rubs pollen onto its head from two stamens at the top of the plant.

Bariloche to El Chaltén

December 31, 2016

Bariloche is under the “40” at the top of the map.  The route goes through mountains to the south and then out onto steppes….
……..and continues to pea-green Lake Viedma.  El Chaltén is under the “O” in Monte.  The white areas are ice caps- Campos Hielo Norte and Sur, which are counterpart to Alaska’s and British Columbia’s coastal mountains.

Before I get too far there are some heart-wrenching photos below that may be “viewer discretion”.  They’re of guanacos that are getting hung up on fences lining the highways.  The photos are not isolated cases- dozens of animals over a two hundred mile stretch.  I include them that folks might join in urging the Argentine Gov’t to do something about it.   It can’t be helping the economics of ecotourism, something they actively promote.

On another note of very sad news I would like to acknowledge the passing of our good friend and neighbor Jack Kidd.  Jack had a great life and a wonderful family.  His outlook was always positive and I believe he found a true happiness in a world fraught with difficulties.  He was 92.

Rain with mild but unpredictable wind marked the first days south of Bariloche.  Highway 40 remains in mountain valleys for about 100 more miles after which you’re spit out onto steppes and once again into pitiless wind.  Distance-wise I’ve had the extrodinary good luck of having 70% tail wind but the flip side is that time-wise it’s been 70% head wind.  As with hills, you spend all your time on the slow sections. 70% headwind would be unbearable.

Lago Nahuel Huapi between Angostura and Bariloche.
Bariloche from across Nahuel Huapi.
Near Bariloche
Continental Divide crossing to water flowing into Chile.
I try to leave any town on these vast stretches with four days worth of groceries. Getting it all on the bike is always a challenge.

The lombardy poplar, planted as windbreaks in towns and estancias, should be Argentina’s national tree.

A memorable stretch between Bajo Caracoles and Gobernador Gregores, two small towns the size of Snowville, Utah, began on one day with light tail wind.  By midday it was a side wind and by early afternoon was much stronger with a component of head wind.  Side winds, even with a component of tail, are tough to ride in.  Side/tail wind needs to get around to about 45 degrees before it really does you any good.  Even then, though, it can be scary because although it propels you faster, with speed you have far less control over gusts.  Pure head wind greater than about 30 MPH isn’t rideable.   Enduring a day of either leaves your face, eyes and sinuses burning; ears ringing.  I use a neck gaiter-type face mask and ear plugs for the latter two.  This day I knew in the early afternoon that if I got about another 20 miles behind me a >90 degree bend in the highway was going to put me in very strong late-in-the-day tailwind.  It took about 5 hours of searing side wind to cover those 20 miles and several times I got blown off onto the shoulder, once over a guard rail (me only- bike stayed behind).  But then towards evening there was 40 miles traveled at over 30 MPH on dead flat.  I put the brakes on at 35.  Total for the day was 130 miles.  I got the drug infusion.

Tire that wore out after 600 miles.  May have to make the last 1000 miles to Ushuaia on what tires I have (down to one spare).
Water cistern in the middle of nowhere that has never impounded a drop of water.  Made a good camp though, and out of direct wind.
Smashed locusts covered the road in sections. Below, a bit of cannibalism.

Geoffery’s cat. I’ve seen a couple that have been hit on the highway and one live one running up a road cut. They’re a little bigger than a domestic cat.  Lots of foxes as well.
A near disaster here priming the stove in dry grass and wind. I keep the lid to the pot close by to tamp out what ever catches fire, but it got away from me here within seconds. I was able to beat it out with the ground tarp but for an uncertain instant was ready to grab what I could and run upwind, which was to the right in the photo.

Guanacos.

Over the course of trip I’ve had one “ride”, that was on an airplane getting from Panama City to Bogotá, Colombia. The rest has all been done on the bike….till now.  In the last miles getting to El Chaltén I’ve accepted 3 rides, all in circumstances of extreme wind. The first was just outside of Esquel, a ski town set at the foot of some beautiful mountains south of Bariloche.  Side winds were blowing me all over the road and a fishing guide, whose info I seemed to have misplaced, pulled over and without a word helped me load the bike into the back of his truck.   He took me the last few miles into town and I had tail wind after that.

The next was 40 miles before Tres Lagos. I had gotten a first-light start that morning and under reasonably calm conditions rode 40 miles before real wind began to kick in at about 10 O’clock. With nothing to even resemble a wind break from horizon to horizon I made a lee out of a highway sign that had blown down. I propped it up against the remainder of the post it had broken off of and settled in for the day. With some additional wind screen, I could light the stove and spent the afternoon with hot drinks, sudokus and math problems. Slept some. I intended to ride that night when the wind would abate and try to get the remaining miles to Tres Lagos, a small town before the final leg to El Chaltén, where I am now. There may have been a dozen cars that went by throughout the day and a good five stopped to make sure I was OK. Just at sunset Daniel Steuri, from Lake Constance, Switzerland, stopped and offered a ride. I had learned from the last folks (who left me with water and would have given me anything they had) that a 40 km dirt section was coming up in about a kilometer.  This was unexpected and would make getting to Tres Lagos by morning all the harder. I took Daniel up on the offer to at least ride to the end of the dirt. I was curious to try riding at night on the deserted highways, even with no moon, to see if it was a feasible way to get around wind if and when it calmed after sunset.

Escaping wind.
Daniel

With the sun setting we took off and I was altogether amazed at how fast dirt road miles went by when in a rental truck with a driver that treated it as such.  The problem was that we couldn’t get the tailgate of the truck up and though the the bike was locked in with a strap, a pannier came open.  This I discovered as he was dropping me off where the pavement resumed.  Things were missing.  The stove was the most obvious.  Daniel was more than game to go back and look for it and within a few miles we began seeing parts and debris strewn along the road.  I recovered everything that I know of but the stove needed some repairs to be functional again.  At that point I abandoned the idea of riding that night and went with Daniel the remaining miles into Tres Lagos where we got a room at a hostel.

The hostel didn’t take plastic and it took all the combined cash we had ($15 each!) to pay for the room.  We then found out there were no ATMs in town.  I had to have supplies for the next leg to El Chaltén and had no choice but to ride another 30 miles with Daniel to El Chaltén’s turnoff the following morning.

Daniel was just fun to be around and we seemed to hit it off.  He does about the same thing for a living that I do so we had a lot to talk about anyway,  but found also we well agreed on recent and disastrous presidential elections.  He instantly came up with one of the repairs for the stove suggesting a soup can for a lost heat shield protecting the fuel tank.  I made it out of a can of peas a couple of days later; works great.

El Chaltén is 50+ miles off of the main road, but I figured I could ride that far with what food I had.  Well, I pedaled two hours to get 10 miles in impossible head and side wind, when a van heading to Chaltén to pick up tourists took pity on me.  Third ride.

I was in El Chaltén in 2007.  In the 10 years that have passed since, the town has at least quadrupled in size and I could recognize very little- maybe the visitor center.  The town is at the foot of some of the world’s most dramatic mountains, Cerro Torre and Monte Fitzroy being the two most famous, and attracts tourists world wide.  Relatively easy, if crowded, hiking trails wind around to the foot of the peaks and massive glaciers.  Things are fairly expensive in town but there are no fees for the park and climbing is free.

El Chaltén was only declared a town in the 1980s.   A few climbers first came to the area in the 1950s making the first ascents of Fitzroy and Poincenot, but found only an estancia where the town now exists. The 60s saw a few more but people started coming in numbers in the late 70s and 80s.  The Argentine-Chilean border wasn’t well defined in many of the more remote frontier regions and here the land was up for grabs.  Argentina rushed to claim it as it became clear it was destined to become a world tourist destination.  Disputes over the border went on into the 1990s and it’s still a touchy subject between the two countries today.

El Chaltén and Fitzroy.  The summit towers nearly 10,000 feet over the town.  The Grand Teton, by comparison, is about 7,500 feet above Jackson Hole.
Lago de Los Tres at the foot of Fitzroy on a blustery day.
From the left, St-Exupery, Aguja Raphael, Poincenot, Fitzroy.

So, I’m in El Chaltén now and spent Christmas day in a bit of a vacuum camped outside of town avoiding campground fees.  It’s an incredible place and I needn’t be in too big of a hurry to leave as I’m well ahead of schedule.  The intent is to continue to Africa, starting in Cape Town and then heading north.  At the rate I’ve been traveling I could be in the Middle East in blistering summer heat which is an impetus to hang here for a while.  There’s climbing everywhere but I need to rent/buy gear and find partners.  To enable that, get Wi-Fi, and just for a little social life, I’ve moved for a few days to a campground in town which runs about $10 a night.  Expensive for S. America,  cheap for the US.

Federica & Francesca from Milan, Italy. While on a hike to the base of Fitzroy they were maybe 50 feet ahead of me where a forested trail emerged into a clearing. They suddenly turned and began walking fast towards me and passed saying “puma”.  I, of course, began walking fast towards the clearing to get a look.  The animal was long gone in the seconds it took me to get there. They described it and I believe they indeed saw a cougar- they’re here.  Of all the time I’ve spent in the outdoors the last 50 years, I’ve yet to see one.  Just isn’t fair.

These are hard to look at.  The fence wires are also too close together to allow adult Rheas to pass.  When trapped on the highway side they would run along ahead of me till they were exhausted enough that I could pass them.
I’ll end on something a little more up-beat; an Andean Condor floating past some climbers at a crag near town.  With a ten foot wing span, it dwarfs the climbers who are at about the same distance away.

Thanks to everyone for the Christmas and birthday cheer-  I have two versions of The Raven to memorize now!  Happy new year.

Salta to Bariloche, Argentina


December 6th, 2016


Bzbz
The route from Salta climbs back to drier terrain following the south-trending line of yellow squares (towns) to Mendoza which is due east of Aconcagua…….
......then
……then south to Bariloche which is on the lake just to the north and east of Puerto Montt.
Closeup of Bariloche. The Seven Lakes route follows mountain valleys south of San Martin
Closeup of Bariloche. The Seven Lakes route follows mountain valleys south of San Martín.

Since the last post from Salta I’ve covered 1800 miles to the town of Angostura, about 30 miles north of Bariloche.  It took just over three weeks. The cities of Jujuy and Salta are at the extent of a green, dry-tropics climate that is part of the Paraná River basin which drains into the Atlantic at Buenos Aires. To the south of Salta the route took me once again onto desert-dry terrain that climbs onto a lower version of the Altiplano, never exceeding about 8000 feet and averaging more like 4000 or 5000 feet. Over these vast deserts there are counterparts to all of our North American deserts from the Mexico and Arizona Sonora, to California Mojave, to Utah’s Colorado Plateau, to Nevada’s Great Basin, to Wyoming stepps. The distances between towns could be over a hundred miles and twice I was caught short on water over roads that maybe I saw a car per hour. I’ve ridden straight days since Salta, several were over 90 miles with one at 120 miles. A few that covered 30 or 40 miles sufficed for rest days. Winds have been variable with some very good tail wind, but also head winds and one day of horrendous side winds that blew the bike around on a shoulderless stretch with heavier than usual traffic. There was road construction in a couple of places and stretches of dirt road that, all told, added up to over a hundred miles. I was following Ruta 40, an Argentine highway with a sort of Route 66 or Lincoln Highway reputation that spans much of the country’s north-south expanse. There are certainly not the grades of Peru on Ruta 40 but it’s hilly just the same, although in a manner that keeps it more interesting than difficult. It was all very beautiful.

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Utah landscapes!
Utah landscapes!
Vineyards near Cayafal
Vineyards near Cafayate.  Very much a desert environment but with irrigation it is good for growing grapes.
Wine country.
These mileage markers are for Ruta 40 and are counting down to somewhere in Tierra Del Fuego. I've followed them to about 2000 km.
These mileage markers are for Ruta 40 and are counting down to somewhere in Tierra del Fuego. I’ve followed them so far to about 2000 km.
  • Enzo, Martin, Guevara, and Lali of Maxi Bici Bikes in Mendoza. These guys gave me a new chain and a bunch of accessories all free gratis. Stop in if you’re ever in Mendoza! http://Maxibici.com
Jersey from the folks at Maxi Bici
Jersey from the folks at Maxi Bici- I finally look like a cyclist.
Ruta 40 essentially ends at this Rio but a mile down stream. I had to push the bike to a ford here where the road continues up the other side.
Ruta 40 essentially ends at this Rio but a mile down stream. I had to push the bike to the ford here, crossed, and found a road continuing up the other side.
Canyon with little or no road that had to be crossed.
Canyon with little or no road that had to be crossed.
Culvert bridge used by construction crews.
Culvert bridge used by construction crews on a much larger river in the next valley.
Could be a spring scene in the Rockies.
Could be a spring scene in the Rockies.  Nearing the small town of El Sosneado.

I had intended on a layover in Mendoza which is about the half-way point between Salta and Bariloche.  I wanted to climb Aconcagua, South America’s high point at 22,900 feet and Mendoza is about 100 miles away, the nearest big city and a take-off point to the mountain.  Plans were foiled when I discovered it would cost me around $1500.  The permit alone is $729.  Gear rental, buses and mules to transport everything to base camp add another $700 or $800.  I went to about 20,000 feet on the mountain in the 1990s but got weathered off and always wanted to get back to it.  Back then, a permit was about $80.   I had skipped the mule rental then, but started out with a pack weighing 105 lbs- something I don’t want to repeat at this point in my life- but a mule and driver would be over $300 now.  I was disappointed because it was the one mountain I could realistically do by myself.  There are no major glaciers to get to the summit by the easiest route which is essentially a hiking trail.  I had a good head start on acclimation with all the time spent on the Altiplano.  The effort to cover ground quickly from Salta was in part to enable extra time for Aconcagua.  I was disappointed but for that kind of money it just wasn’t worth it.  You’re not required to hire a guide, like in Ecuador, but Argentina is not blind to the fact that the highest point in the Western Hemisphere is a true commodity with plenty of demand in the 21st century.  Argentina has, of course, many other great summits but none that I had much familiarity with and none made as simple as Aconcagua.  Part of the price I guess.

Mendoza has an almost mythical reputation for fine wine, good climate and enjoyable atmosphere.  I arrived early the day I got there but ended up in a less than desirable hostel.  That afternoon I got all the bad news on Aconcagua, and decided to head out the next day.  I found the city fairly chaotic and after all the hype was actually glad to put it behind me.  Bit of sour grapes, perhaps.  They’ve got the wine part of it right though- in Argentina in general you can buy a Malbec or Cabernet for $3 a bottle that is better than anything out of California for $15 or $20.  They (the locals at least) say that Argentina is now making the world’s best Cabernets.  And wine is everywhere; a large grocery store will have thousands of bottles lining aisles.  Street corner markets will have hundreds.  Leaving Argentina could take some adjustment.

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The goat's head, probably the worst thorn there is for bike tires. We have these in the western U.S.
The goat’s head!  Probably the worst thorn there is for bike tires and we have it also in the western U.S.  I managed to pick up 20 or so of them wheeling the bike to a camp.  I got all but two out before they punctured a tube.  Remarkably, those are the only flats since the brutal roads in Bolivia.
Wet, muddy, miserable camp.
Wet, muddy, miserable camp just before Mendoza.
Tamarisk. I haven’t seen it in the monocultures found on the Colorado Plateau, but it’s definitely here.
The Rio Grande of Argentina.  Here, it’s confined to this gorge and moving swiftly.  Up stream, where it’s in a wide valley, it’s a good hundred yards across in places.

Many miles of dirt roads over lava beds lined with sandstone cliffs. Tough roads but incredible.
Ruta Cuarenta
This is part of the Pierre Auger Observatory, a network of cosmic ray detectors the size of Rhode Island near Malarque, Argentina.  Cosmic rays are high energy protons believed to have originated from supernovae and possibly echos from the Big Bang.  Those that penetrate to the Earth’s surface are very high energy, some nearing 10²º eVs (electron volts).   By comparison, CERN’s new LHC (the thing that discovered the Higgs Boson) is achieving energies around 10¹² eVs, more than a million times less than these particles.  Nobody’s figured out how to do anything with them yet.  They’re popular with grant writers and at cocktail parties.

Some rainy days followed but soon I was again on high desert and somewhat able to plan days around wind cycles.  For the most part that meant getting going as early in the morning as possible, in relative calm, and then either going for a big mileage day in afternoon tailwind or shutting down for the day having at least gotten some mileage.  But tail winds are like a drug and when you get it, and then don’t, your life becomes miserable.  You can really do a number on yourself trying to force long mileages on days when it’s just not meant to be.  Basing what supplies you pack on hopes of tailwind is a dangerous gamble and I got burned with it on one occasion trying to get to San Juan, a major city just before Mendoza.  I pulled into the city out of food and water and pretty hammered.

The “glaciers” in these desert peaks are sand dunes.
Lots of friendly Argentines.

Vineyards closer to the Andes south of Mendoza.

 

Tarantulas are commen, but this one was big enough I had to stop and get a photo.
Tarantulas are common, but this one was big enough that I had to get a photo.
I skidded him (her) off the highway but this one wasn't used to being pushed around.
I skidded it to safety off the highway but found it ready to fight and not used to being pushed around.

I ran short on water again south of Chos Malal when a well meaning couple stopped and offered some.  I was getting down to my last as afternoon heat was settling in and though they only had a few swallows to give, it was good and cold.  We talked for a bit and exchanged contact information.  They said the next town, Las Lejas was only 15 kilometers away (less than 10 miles).  I asked about the mileage at least a couple of times to confirm it and then drank the rest of what I had confident I was close to a town.   It turned out, however, that La Lejas was more like 45 km (25+miles) and against a head wind that had picked up.  The real irony though was that I passed up a water source a couple of miles later at this roadside stand selling drinks out in the middle of nowhere.  I was mad at the misinformation but even madder at myself for not hedging my bets.  I ended up camping on a muddy stream 6 miles from Las Lejas that I was lucky to find.  I never could get the water clear enough for the UV purifier to work properly and had to drink it murky.  That’s been more than a week ago and no ill effects yet.

Muddy water camp- actually a very nice spot.
While changing out this tire I bought in Salta I noticed the eponymous model name.  Specialized needs to come up with a “Route 66” model.
I was able to fill up on good, clear water once in a while.

Zapala is the next good sized town encountered but then it’s another 100+ miles to Junín de los Andes over the last desert stretch before entering forested mountains.   I was much better prepared beginning that leg and was rolling at daybreak to get a head start on wind for the longest part.  I didn’t quite make Junín, but crossed the Rio Collon Cura, a beautiful, clear running river, reminiscent of Idaho’s Payette where it leaves the mountains prior to its confluence with the Snake.  I’ll do another plant segment, but mention now that as elevation, latitude and climate go through similar zones to that of the western U.S., many of the same familiar weeds are seen.  Here at the Payette’s counterpart I found good old star thistle, a nasty little Idaho knapweed to be avoided if you’re wearing anything but cowboy boots.

Star thistle! A North American invasive found in Idaho and now in an Argentine latitude and elevation counterpart.
Star thistle! Centaurea solstitialis, a North American invasive found in Idaho and now seen in an Argentine latitude and elevation counterpart.
Rio Collon Cura.  Fly fishing is popular here.
Argentinians recreate unlike any of the counties to the north but the RVs haven't quite evolved to the behemoths found on North American highways. You see a few ATVs, boats and mountain bikes as well, something very unusual in Peru or Bolivia.
Argentinians recreate unlike any of the counties to the north but the RVs haven’t quite evolved to the behemoths found on North American highways. Looks more like something from 1960s U.S.A.  You see a few ATVs, boats and mountain bikes as well, something virtually unheard of in Peru or Bolivia.
This guy jumped out of the iPad case when I pulled it out first thing in the morning.
This guy jumped out of the iPad case when I pulled it out first thing in the morning.
View looking into Junín and where greenery is seen for the first time since Salta.
View looking into Junín’s valley where real greenery is seen for the first time since Salta.
San Martín de los Andes at the foot of Lago Lácar.
Pine, Cedar and Juniper were introduced here in great numbers and long enough ago that they look endemic.
Lago Lacár looking away from San Martín.
Good camp in South American beech trees, Nothofagus, the only endemic large trees here that I know of.

A desert akin to Wyoming stepps is left behind when Ruta 40 enters mountains near San Martín de los Andes, and follows a route called The Seven Lakes to Angostura and Bariloche.  San Martín is a ski town with commensurate prices and I didn’t stay long.  The Seven Lakes route travels Alp-like mountains and the area from there to Bariloche is National Park through glaciated valleys and lakes.  It rained for most of it and the iPad battery was dead so I took no pictures but there are plenty to be found on Google Earth.  The resemblance to the Alps attracted German settlers as early as the 1880s and there are tales that many Nazis fled to Bariloche and surrounding areas after WWII.  There is even a myth of Hitler living here with Eva Braun.  It’s true an SS Captain, Eric Priebke, was a director in the school system after the war but that may be the extent of it.

Ruso and Vale at the Hostel La Angostura put up with me for a couple of days while I did repairs and put the blog together.

I’ll end with a link to a song from a new album by Nathan Walker; scroll down a bit for a short article and video of his song Bobby.

Cuzco to Salta, Argentina

November 11, 2016

The route goes from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and La Paz, then to the big white patch (world's largest salt flat) and then to Salta.
The route goes from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and La Paz, then to the big white patch (Uyuni and the world’s largest salt flat) and then to Salta.

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Note on maps:  I copy these off of Google Earth but they may not be the best quality.  On a touch screen you can zoom in for better resolution but I’m not sure how well they work otherwise.  I’ll try and evolve a better system as time goes.

Weather in Cuzco was generally rainy and cool.   With a late start the day I left I only made about 30 miles for the day and pitched the tent in the rain near some roadside Inca ruins.  Over the next two days the road gradually climbed to over 13,000 feet from Cuzco’s 11,200 feet, a minor grade in comparison with the previous weeks.  Near the high point at Abra la Raya, 17,000+ foot peaks to the north were visible that were free of glaciers, accessible from the road and hike-able.  I saw them from the bus in 2007 and remember wishing for independent travel to check them out.  Having it now, I decided to take a day and climb one.

Once again, hiking legs are different from cycling legs and it was a long haul to get up there.  17,000 is still out of my acclimation zone.  Great day though.  A couple of afternoon thunder storms needed to be waited out and they left the peaks in a shroud of graupel.   As I got higher into a cirque below the objective peaks I got fooled as to which was the highest and ended up on one about 500 feet lower than I could have gone.  A beautiful sumit none-the-less.  Not a hint of a trail or any tracks to the top, but there was a summit cairn.

Gradual climb up beautiful valleys out of Cuzco.
Gradual climb up beautiful valleys out of Cuzco.  Traffic was lite, shoulder good.

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Beginning of the hike.
Beginning of the hike.

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The peak to the right is the highest of the group, but I went to the left
The peak to the right is the highest of the group, but I went to the left.
Teton-esque gendarmes.
Teton-esque gendarmes near the summit.
Summit.
Summit.
Higher summit.
Higher summit with twin glaciers of Nevado Chimboya  just visible to left.
~18,500 foot Nevado Chimboya was near Abra de
~18,500 foot Nevado Chimboya from Abra la Raya.
Another great camp.
Another great camp.
Juli, Peru. These kids were all smiles and took an interest in the anomaly that had come through town. Their names, collectively, were
Juli, Peru. These kids were all smiles and took an interest in the anomaly that was having lunch in the town square. Their names were, collectively (two missing from picture!) David, Jose, Roger, Nelly, Ruz, Ines, Nayeli, Yeny, Camila, Laura, Jhino, Meliton, Jhon.
Ykug
Andres Collatupa Chagra was part of the crowd and I’m sure could have told me many things about Juli.

Continuing to Puno I stopped at the Hotel Europa where Laurel and I had stayed in 2007.  We were there for a few days while we explored islands on Titicaca but when we left for good I managed to leave my passport in the room.  Gregorio, the hotel owner, tracked me several blocks to the bus station, and as I boarded the bus, returned it to me.  There was no time for anything but “thanks a lot”.  Well, I found Gregorio still there after ten years and he remembered me.  I gave him a long overdue twenty bucks reward that should have been more like a hundred.

Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Gregorio!
Gregorio!

After Puno roads narrowed but traffic remained fairly lite.  At the Bolivian border I got hit with a load of beauracracy as Bolivia now requires a visa for USA visitors and charges $160.  It took two days to get through it all.  Minutia, like getting visa photos and requiring payment in US cash (with bills in perfect condition), made for many trips back and forth to the Peru side.  There are two entities of Bolivian gov’t at the border; military and migration.  Oddly enough, the military folks were observing it all and actually went to bat for me against what migration was putting me through.  When one US $20 bill had a small tear in it they were saying it was ridiculous to go back to Peru just to get another one.  Unfortunately, migration usually trumped but the military guys always made sure I skipped standing in line again each time I came back.  The last straw was a requirement that I had to have hotel reservations lined up during my stay for which the military folks simply called bullshit- I didn’t get the conversation word-for-word but the gist was “this guy’s on a bicycle and many Bolivian distances between towns & hotels cannot be covered realistically in one day.”  The guards won that one for me.

Military buddies.
Military buddies.

I have to add as well that after all the warnings about Latin American police and military corruption- things like having drugs planted on you and then coercing a bribe to go free or people posing as police and then robbing you- I have found none of it. I can’t judge what goes on in their internal affairs, but I have found both police and military in Latin America helpfull and friendly throughout. In another volume I’ll recall some tales.

Both Chile and Argentina recently were also charging a $160 fee to US tourists, as well as the US charging a similar reciprocity fee.  Where the number 160 came from is anybody’s guess, but a recent visit by Obama to Argentina resulted in a waiver of fees from both sides.  Chile soon followed suit but Bolivia has held out.  I can’t say I blame them, they are South America’s poorest nation and tourism isn’t as prosperous as in neighboring countries.  They are landlocked, the result of a war with Chile in the late 1800s over mining claims for extracting sodium nitrate.  Sodium nitrate, or saltpeter, was used for making gun powder and explosives.  Bird guano, found on the coasts, also had a sizable market back then for fertilizer.  Peru and Bolivia allied against Chile in what became “The War of the Pacific” but Chile had greater financial backing from the mining interests and ended up winning the Bolivian port of Antofagasta and Peru’s port of Arica.  In recent times, Chile has been generous to Bolivia with port fees and duties but Bolivia is still landlocked and it requires an ascent of 13,000 feet to reach its western border from the port of Arica.  They also lost territory to Paraguay in the Chaco war which took place in the 1930s.

On the up side, Bolivia has realized natural gas potential in recent years and has income today from providing northern Argentina with natural gas and propane.  Argentina also hires Bolivian labor which, for better or worse, channels money to the country.  They’re also South America’s largest grower of coca, but much of it is for domestic use and legal.  It should be pointed out that coca leaves made into tea has less of a narcotic effect than caffeine or even sugar.  This is how the natives use it today and how they’ve used it for centuries.  Cocaine is the result of many intricate distillations of coca leaves.  Some of Bolivia’s coca, though, does make it into black markets for cocaine.

The few times I've asked permission to get a photo of locals it has been denied, but these ladies, who were out inn the middle of nowhere, wanted to know all about the trip and were quite knowledgable about where I'd been.
The few times I’ve asked permission to get a photo of locals it has been denied, but these ladies, who were out in the middle of nowhere, wanted to know all about my travels and were quite knowledgable about where I’d been.  The woman on the right is making a joke that she’s not yet ready to be in a picture.  A bay of Titicaca is in the background.
A short cut crossing what was essentially sewage that allowed skipping downtown La Paz.
A short cut crossing what was essentially a stream of sewage that allowed skipping downtown La Paz.
Rainy, windy camp.
Rainy, windy camp.
Bolivian friends.
Bolivian friends.
This "mural" was the wall of somebody's flower shop in Oruro and should be recognizable to most folks from the USA.
This “Teton mural” was the wall of somebody’s flower shop in Oruro and should be recognizable to most folks from the USA.
Altiplano in Bolivia
Altiplano in Bolivia

Entering Bolivia started out as continuation around Lake Titicaca but then climbed over low hills to La Paz.  A city of 2 million people, I avoided going into La Paz proper but had a hard time navigating roads that would avoid it.  Many were dirt or cobblestone and involved crossing streams, one of which was pretty much sewage.  The roads emanate radially from the center La Paz and I was coming out almost in the opposite direction from coming in, so it wasn’t very far jumping across, but it took the better part of a day.

Cordillera Real near La Paz. 21,121 foot Illimani is to the right.
Cordillera Real near La Paz. 21,121 foot Illimani is to the right.

Agricultural land at 12,000 feet surrounds La Paz to the west and south, but gives way to a barren network a badlands and playa as Oruro is approached.  Soon the playa flats become the pure salt of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Bolivia is trying to develope the town of Uyuni for tourism with an airport, hotels, restaurants and tours.  I didn’t see any North Americans but there were a few Europeans in Uyuni.

Here, and below, some outstanding road cut stratigraphy in Bolivia near Uyuni. It was about a 1/2 mile long. I'd like to know more about it.
Here, and below, some outstanding road cut stratigraphy in Bolivia near Uyuni. It was about a 1/2 mile long. I’d like to know more about ages and how many years are spanned.

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Another great camp near the tilted strata.
Another great camp near the tilted strata.

The highway to Uyuni from Oruro was newly paved, had a wide shoulder and very little traffic. Both maps and people I talked to indicated paved road continued from Uyuni to the town of Tupiza near the Argentine border. Such was not the case. In Uyuni, I found Wi-Fi and spent some time on Google Earth where I can zoom in on highways and see if there’s a white stripe- a sure indicator of pavement. However, even without the stripe, a road still might be paved if the satellite image predates paving. That’s happened a couple of times. In this case, though, the 120 miles to Tupiza was going to be mostly dirt. It turns out they are in the process of paving it and had maybe 20 miles total completed and another 10 or so where it had been “rolled smooth” just prior to paving. The rest was either washboard, rock, or deep sand requiring getting off the bike and pushing. There was maybe ten miles of the latter.  My rear tire was fairly warn and a little smaller than what I usually try to find- a “23c” width as opposed to a “25c”.  I found a very good quality Specialized 25c in Bogotá that I got an unprecedented 2000 miles out of and no flats till the tire was essentially warn out.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen a 25c tire since then.  The 23c meant a few flats and then many more from Latin American patch kits that just don’t hold up that well.  Bumpy roads and high pressure seems to shorten the life of the patches and you end up putting a patch on top of a patch, and so on, till there are four or five patches covering one leak.  I’ve tried switching glue to what the the automotive shops use, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.  Regardless, I was on a loaded road bike treading into the domain of mountain bikes.

Looking towards the Salar de Uyuni. The real salt starts a few miles beyond what you can see.
Looking towards the Salar de Uyuni. The real salt starts a few miles beyond what you can see.
Start of the road to Tupiza.
Start of the road to Tupiza.
Near the salt flats. Notice the water line from what was undoubtedly a Pleistocene lake contemporary with Utah's Bonneveille.
Near the salt flats. Notice the water line from what was undoubtedly a Pleistocene lake contemporary with Utah’s Lake Bonneville.
Short but welcome sections of paved road. It wasn't open to traffic yet but nobody stopped me from riding the bike on it.
Short but welcome sections of paved road.  It wasn’t open to traffic yet, but nobody stopped me from riding the bike on it.
The road generally follows a rail line and with the amount of construction debris- tiewire, rebar, lengths of wood of all sizes- I was tempted to try and adapt the bike to run on the narrow-gauge rail line. I would have attached bracing from the bike to the opposing rail and skidded rebar over it in lieu of a third wheel. Rebar extended vertically from the bike frame as well as the contact on the opposing rail would have held it on the track. Just wasn't sure about the time required to do it.
The road generally follows a defunct rail line and with the amount of construction debris from the new highway’s culverts and bridges- tiewire, rebar, lengths of wood of all sizes- I was tempted to try and adapt the bike to run on the narrow-gauge rail line. I would have attached bracing from the bike to the opposing rail and skidded rebar over it in lieu of a third wheel. Rebar extended vertically from the bike frame, as well as stapleing over the opposing rail, would have held it on the track. Just wasn’t sure about the time required to do it- might have starved to death working kinks out.  Had it worked though it would have saved a lot of difficult dirt road.
Sandy sections. It's late in the day and windy and cold.
Sandy sections. It’s late in the day and windy and cold.

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Mining town of Atocha.
Mining town of Atocha.

Once again, the flat tires, the wind, dust, hills, rough road, were all offset by incredible country and great camps.  It took four days (three nights) and I had just enough food with an addition of apples and candy bars from generous Bolivians passing by towards the end.  The route follows a rail line and water was available at small communities associated with the railroad.  Also, there is a mining town, Atocha, at about the halfway point that offered some resupply.

The last leg into Tupiza was a long descent down a washboard road that had many crossings of a small stream.  Tupiza itself is a sizable town of 25,000 situated in a verdant valley lined with red rock foothills and cliffs.  It’s a sort of Bolivian version of Moab and has a similar climate.  They’re working on the tourism.   I laid over there two nights and did a thorough cleaning of the bike.  That involves many syringe fulls of raw gas injected into the oil journals of the hubs as well as pouring gasoline down the seat tube to rinse sand out of the bottom bracket.  The derailleurs are cleaned with a toothbrush and gas.  New oil is added the same way.  It’s akin to an “oil change” that I do every couple of months or after prolonged riding in sand or rain.

Few shots of Tupiza.
Few shots of Tupiza.

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South of Tupiza and the last leg to the Argentine border.
South of Tupiza and the last leg to the Argentine border.

Crossing into Argentina required no lines and was free.  They did run my bags through an outdoor x-ray scan, but that was it.  It was Sunday and there wasn’t much open but I found an ATM (Cajera) and then a small grocery store with enough supplies for a dinner and breakfast.  Then I rode out into a very remote corner of Argentina, more sparsely populated than just across the border in Bolivia.  Far more llama husbandry here, and in Bolivia as well, than in Peru.  Had some tailwind, but riding the Altiplano winds come from all directions.  Mornings usually start calm and morning frost gives way to wearing a tee shirt and shorts by mid morning.  By early afternoon, however, the winds would pick up and it seemed about 50/50 that I’d get a tailwind.  By late afternoon I’d be bundled up for winter again and looking for a sheltered spot to camp.  One day was especially bad where there was dust from a ten mile stretch of construction.

Camp in Argentina after a tough day of wind.
Camp in Argentina after a tough day of wind.
Sajaro-like cactus in the Humanuaca Valley on the way to Jujuy and Salta.
Trichocereus terscheckii, or Argentine Saguaro, in the Humanuaca Valley on the way to Jujuy and Salta.  These grow much faster than Arizona Saguaros and are consequently being planted in people’s yards in North American desert climates.

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Major milestone here. The Tropic of Cancer was near Mazatlan, Mexico. The remaining distance to Tierra Del Fuego will be comparable to going from Mazatlan to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Major milestone.  The Tropic of Cancer was crossed near Mazatlan, Mexico. The remaining distance to Tierra Del Fuego will be comparable to going from Mazatlan to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, which seems incredibly far except that I’m more than 3/4 of the way there relative to Logan, Utah.

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Jujuy.
Jujuy.

I had a choice of more dirt road heading over a 17,500 foot pass or a drop from the 12,000 foot Altiplano to the towns of Jujuy and Salta, which are at 4000 feet, followed then by a climb again to a somewhat lower Altiplano.  I took the latter and I’m in Salta now.  It’s verdantly green and very modern though the no-shouldered, busy autopista from Jujuy to Salta was as dangerous as anything I’d seen since Mexico.  There was a back road over a pass that connected the two, but I let a guy at a bike shop talk me out of it.  The tuktuks and motor cycles of cities in Peru and Bolivia are SUVs and buses in Argentina.   I had dinner last night in a crowded plein air restaurant in the main plaza that could have been downtown Paris.  I ended up having a long conversation with an Irish couple, Frank and Vivian, sitting at the next table.

Gondola in Salta leading to a peak overlooking the city.
Gondola in Salta leading to a peak overlooking the city.
Few more photos of Salta.
Few photos of Salta.

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Tomorrow I start for Mendoza and will hopefully be there in a couple of weeks.  There appears to be more Utah-like terrain ahead, this time at a lower elevation that I hope isn’t too hot.   Salta’s been a refreshing rest from the windswept Altiplano, but I’ll be glad to get back to desert quiet.  I’ve logged several 100+ mile days since Cuzco and should get a few more in the next leg if the winds treat me right.  It’s starting to go very fast now.

Huaraz to Cuzco

October 20, 2016

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The terrain from Huaraz to Cuzco was wildly complex so I’ve added more maps than usual. The straight line distance is about 450 miles but the odometer logged nearly 1000 miles. The first leg is from Huaraz to Huánuco.
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Then Huánuco to Junín.
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Junín to Huancayo through La Oroya.  Ore from area mines is smelted in La Oroya giving the town the distinction of being on “top ten” lists of world polluters.  The town has a huge smokestack, adjacent to Rio Mantaro, that I should have photographed.
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Huancayo to Ayacucho along 3S.
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Ayacucho to Abancay.
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Winding road climbing out of Abancay.
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Last leg to Cusco.

After an extended rest in Huaraz it took a couple of days to get back to full strength again. The route continued uphill to a pass at 15,493 feet, Yanashalla, on the second day, at the top of which 18,000 foot peaks were near by. Got snow overnight at a camp near the top. Then it was down to 10,000, up to 13,000 and way down to 6,200 feet and the town of Huánuco. The downhill stretch to Huánuco started out with fast, easy grades winding through small villages. Waving people, chasing dogs and steep drop offs would have made for good headcam footage. The pavement was punctuated with dirt stretches but soon deteriorated into dirt punctuated with chuckholed pavement and had to be taken slow. It was hard on the bike and gear regardless, but a good test for the fork repair, which held up.

Beautiful camp on rising plain above Huaraz.
Beautiful camp on rising plain above Huaraz.
Looking towards Yerupaja, a difficult peak in the Cordillara V,
Looking towards Yerupajá, a spectacular peak with a climbing reputation in the Cordillara Huayhuash.  Unfortunately I never saw it out of the clouds.
The lower end of this valley marks the extent of glaciation where thee flat-bottomed valley drops into the V-shaped canyon.
The lower end of this valley marks the extent of glaciation where the flat-bottomed valley drops into the V-shaped canyon.
Town of Pachapaqui. The highway climbs to the glaciated valley right of the foreground mountain.
Town of Pachapaqui. The highway climbs to the glaciated valley tucked behind and right of the foreground mountain.
Bull fighting rings replace soccer fields in many of the mountain towns.
Bull fighting rings replace soccer fields in many of the mountain towns.  This is Pachapaqui as well.
Climbing to 15,500 feet.
Climbing to 15,500 foot Yanashalla.
Woke one morning to this.
Snowy morning.

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Somewhere after the town of La Union I caught up to a couple cycling from Berlin, Germany- actually East Germany which was the USSR when they were growing up.  They had cycled across Europe to Lisbon, Portugal and then flew to New York. They pedaled to San Francisco then down the west coast to Baja’s tip and ferried to mainland Mexico. They zig-zagged through Mexico, took a side trip to Cuba, and then took the sail boat to Colombia that enabled cycling the part of Colombia I had skipped.  They’ve been on the road for 17 months and plan to go to Ushuaia, and on to Australia.  We ended up traveling together for several days and it was good to have company.  You’d think we would be learning alternative approaches to the world of long distance cycling from eachother, and though there were a few things, it was amazing how similar we were.  We were pretty much in lockstep from the beginning.

Ina and Mirko were on mountain bikes and consequently traveled a little slower than me. They estimated that they would have a hard time making the tip of S. America before Austral winter and decided to take a bus over the last torturous and time consuming passes from Huancayo to Cuzco, so we parted. I may catch up to them again in Argentina.

Ina and Mirko
Ina and Mirko.  Check out MINA.RTWBLOG.DE.
 Campground south of
Small campground south of Huánuco that Ina spotted late in the day when campsites in a narrow canyon weren’t looking probable.
More friends in Peru
Campground host- more friends in Peru.
One of many countless small towns
One of countless small towns.

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Beginning a long descent.
Beginning a long descent.

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Huanaco's main square was a surprize.
Huánuco’s main square was a surprize.  The city has nearly tripled in size since 2007 to nearly 200,000 people, and is a confusing mix of old and new.

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Camping in quenuals.
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This is Michael and Domenique (Mirko center).  From France, they’re retired and have traveled the world by bicycle for five years.  They store their bikes and fly home for two months a year to spend time with kids and grandkids.  They don’t go too fast but they’ve been everywhere.

On my own again, I resumed the enormous grades that would eventually lead to Cuzco.  There were a total of nine high points between Huaraz and Cuzco, all over 13,000 feet, most over 14,000, and the one, Yanashalla, at 15,500.  The lowest point was about 6500 and the longest uphill about 8000 feet.  As difficult as it sounds it was incredibly beautiful and actually enjoyable.  Traffic was lite having stretches with less than a car every 1/2 hour, much of which was on manicured roads.  Peruvian grades are not in general as steep as elsewhere in Latin America, perhaps to lessen brake loss fatalities.  I seem to be inured to the uphills and keep getting stronger; the main differences are with altitude.  At over 14,000 feet muscles simply don’t work as well but a couple of hours drop to 7000 feet makes climbing again feel like you’re on steroids- professional sports training camps would do well to locate high in the Andes.

I tried to time camps to be at higher elevations where people, bugs and cactus thinned out.   There were some beautiful camps.  Lower down I would encounter a species of  no-see-um that made fixing a flat a challenge and camping resigned to the tent. After, there were days of incessant scratching.  Over about 12,000 feet bugs pretty much disappeared.

Ina after a chilly and rainy night.
Ina after a chilly and rainy night.
Though downstream from La olya
Rio Mantaro downstream from La Oroya.  The highway follows this river for over 100 miles.  No boaters whatsoever, which wouldn’t be the case if it were in the U.S.
Heavey trucks cross this bridge.
Heavey trucks cross this deteriorating bridge.
This is debris from a highway tunnel being excavated several thousand feet up. Had to stop and watch some world class trundling.
This is debris from a highway tunnel being excavated several thousand feet up. Had to stop and watch some world class trundling.
Flat Fauna. Skunks have been common in Peru.
Flat Fauna. Skunks have been common in Peru.
Cactus!
Cactus!
Yucca at nearly 14,000 feet. More on this i another plant segment.
Yucca at nearly 14,000 feet. More on this in another plant segment.
This is Karan Ali. He was coming from Ushuaia and heading for N. America. He's from Pakistan but works as a software engineer in Germany.
This is Kamran Ali. He was coming from Ushuaia and heading for N. America. He’s from Pakistan but works as a software engineer in Germany.  He was unsure about being able to get a visa for the US.  Check him out at Kamranonbike.com.
Alpacas are the stereotype you see on Peruvian postcards but you see more cows and sheep in the highlands by far.
Alpacas are the bucolic stereotype you see on Peruvian postcards but today you see far more cows and sheep in the highlands.
This ranchero had a spring, below, that enabled a beautiful camp at 14,000 feet.
This ranchero had a spring, pictured below, that enabled a beautiful camp at 14,000 feet.

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Took an evening hike to the top of this little peak.
Took an evening hike to the top of this little peak.
View from the top looking at the highway and camp in the meadow.
View from the top looking at the highway and camp in the meadow.

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Bricks of mud, straw and gravel go into many of the houses.
Bricks made of mud, straw and gravel go into many of the houses.
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Jonathon,  Bery, Amelia and Valentino.  I stopped here to eat and learned that Bery was a biologist working in Abancay but helped out with the family business on weekends.  She knows plant and bird taxonomy and has emailed loads of info for IDing plants.
Salcantay, 21,000 feet, is the high point of the Cordillara V. Described as a deeply incized range, Salcantay is Peru's second highest in prominence. It's too bad I have have to keep bypassing these beautiful peaks.
Salcantay, 20,551 feet, is the high point of the Cordillara Vilcabamba.  The range is described as “deeply incised”, and Salcantay is Peru’s second highest mountain in prominence and twelfth highest overall. There’s always a little sense of anguish at having to bypass one beautiful peak after another without being able climb.

The people of Peru have been very friendly and prices here are very cheap.  Food in general has been wonderful and I can get a breakfast of eggs, rice, potatoes (Peru is where the potato comes from), veggies and quinoa in a stir fry with a choice of meat, all for less than $3.  Yuca, a sort of stringy potato, is common and very good as well.  I’ve never felt unsafe really anywhere in South America, and Peru has been as welcoming as anywhere.  You get stories of bandits disguised as policeman or gang violence or kidnappings and though these things happen they’re isolated.  It’s not unlike a traveler to the U.S. wondering the likelihood of being involved in a random shooting; for the vast majority of the country it would be highly improbable.  People are just going about their lives and Latin American culture is not far out of step with the US and Canada.

Getting to Cuzco was a major milestone.  It has put me into territory I’ve been to before, having visited Machu Picchu in 2007.  I’ll be on roads into Bolivia that I’m familiar with, at least from the perspective of a bus.  I remember the confinement of bus travel and looking at the sparsely populated, high Bolivian landscapes and thinking how nice traveling in the van would be, camping whenever and wherever.  I wouldn’t have guessed that ten years later I’d be here by bicycle.  The terrain from here should both straighten out and flatten out, with direction of travel for once actually tending towards the destination.  In Bolivia I’ll be crossing the Altiplano, which is high, over 12,000 feet, but stays high without the drops.  There’s a favorable probability I’ll get tailwind.  We’ll see.