Thursday 3 September 2009

BOLIVIA Charazani-Sajama (Aug 9-19)

In Charazani we stayed at Hotel Charazani where we slept 16 years ago. This is our host Doña Sofia, a marvellous cook who made huevos musicos for us in ´93. Her banana/apple pancakes are delicious.

We left Charazani on Aug 9 and instead of climbing up the long and tedious Pumasami pass we took the backroads again. We climbed slowly up to Amarete, a hidden and very traditional village. The men here wear conical (and comical Wee Willy Winky) hats.

The women wear green skirts and capes with red embroidery. On our long slow climb to the pass at 4600m, we met this woman coming down to Amarete for the annual fiesta (La Virgen de los Nieves). her mules were carrying potatoes so we bought some..

There are many varieties of spuds- we had 3 types, which made a wonderful potato salad, with mayonnaise, cucumber and tomatoes for lunch at the pass.

We met up with the main road to Escoma crossing the Cordillera Muñecas - more traffic and lots of steep ups and downs on a bumpy surface. Then the mist from the south enveloped us - only 5 metres visibility. Here Jude is trying to navigate through the thick fog.

At dusk I spotted a shallow lake through the mist and we made camp among the reeds and raucous birdlife. In the morning the mist cleared revealing the reed-shrouded lake and views across to Cordillera Real.

Caracara - a bit of a scavenger, waiting by the roadside for some tasty morsels.

After Escoma we rode along the shore of Lake Titcaca and stayed at a guesthouse in Ancoraimes. As we rode out of town next morning we encountered lots of friendly and laughing students on Chinese-made bicycles on their way to college.

Had to get a photo of Che Guevara in Latin America. This one is slightly cross-eyed though. He´s still a popular figure here and the indigenous people hail him as a revolutionary hero. I´m sure Evo Morales is milking this sentiment as he builds up his own personality cult.

From the road we heard the sound of a brass band emanating from a small village square. It happened to be the fiesta de la Virgen de los Nieves (Virgin of the Snows). It was an authentic and purely indigenous festival with only local participants compared to Charazani and Corocoro where the towns hire out dancing troupes and bands from La Paz and elsewhere.
It was in a beautiful setting- sandwiched between the deep blue waters of Lake Titcaca and the white snows of Illampu and Ancohuma of the looming Cordillera Real.

The last glimpse of Lake a black-faced heron glides by the totora reeds of the lake edge.

We became bored with the flat sealed highway and veered onto a dirt road. We wanted to avoid the busy main road to La Paz and the noisy outskirts of El Alto so we headed towards Pucarani on a rocky but quiet track across the altiplano. In Pucarani we found a small guesthouse- our cheapest lodgings at 8 bolivianos each (or just over US$1). The owner was a bowler hat maker and a chrming and erudite fellow.

At dusk from the square in Pucarani- views of Nevado Huayna Potosi (6088m).

An Aymaran girl riding cacross farmland. Interesting barn design - adobe and thatch.

At times it brought back memories of riding in the Australian outback- windmills, cattle and water tanks. Other similarities appeared in the southern altiplano- saline lakes, ghost towns, abandoned railways and endless horizons.

Jude riding hard in the shadows of Cordillera Real. We had superb views of this mountain range, much better than the main road as we were further south.

An Aymaran shepherdess with her sheep. Cattle and sheep are dominant here and have replaced the traditional herds of llamas and alpacas wheres in the southern altiplano, the Aymarans farmers still keep the camelids.

¨Follow the Red Brick Road¨- riding over a road made up of smashed red bricks on the way to Viacha, the ugliest town in Bolivia. It´s the home of a cement and brick factory and we fled the town after stocking up food at the local market (for 5 days).

Surprisingly we found a brand new sealed road heading south and took it for 20kms where it ended abruptly and turned into a bumpy track with headwinds. Found a camp among some ochre-coloured eroded hills.
The following day we had a tough ride over a bad roacky surface and lots of traffic. We found out in Comanche that all the buses and trucks were heading to festivals in two mining towns. I counted 50 vehicles in one hour.
We made it to Corocoro, `the copper capital of Bolivia´ in time for the 4-day festival, August 15- La Virgen del Ascension, any excuse for a party- lots of dancing drinking and debauchery.
As we rode into town, they were laying out all the masks and costumes for the celebrations.

All accommodation was booked up so we camped just outside town, hidden behind some derelict houses. Not much sleep this night, but plenty of photos of spectacular horny devils, black minstrels, scantily-clad dancers and all the phantoms of Carnival.

In the morning thelocal Aymaran dancers and bands took over the streets.

Aymaran women taking a break from dancing, some drinking beer.

I´ve always wanted a horn on my bike.

One of the band members helping me through the throngs..

After being accosted by several beligerent drunks it was time to leave town and get back on the road. Getting on the road wasn´t that easy though. We made it to a town called Pando and shortly after got lost among the hills following trails among troglodyte mining dwellings. Eventually got back on the road heading south and then took another wrong turn. Well, as I always say... ¨One wrong turn deserves another¨. In Bolivia many of these remote roads have no directions or signs and more frustrating, there are no people around to ask directions.
Here is our long and winding road. Beautiful scenery, no traffic (no vehicles all day) tailwind and nice road surface. Ideal cycling.

Salt heaps in a salt-mining village. Mounds of salt are raked up from the saline lake. Not a profitable industry- a worker told us they received 2 bolivianos per kilo (or US 30 cents).

From a camp on the altiplano, views of Volcan Sajama at sunset. It dominates everything around it and at 6542m it is the highest peak in Bolivia. We first saw it yesterday, as we had our backs to the fading giants of the Cordillera Real this solitary massif appeared in the south.

Chullpas or funerary towers standing on a plateau. I had a weird moment here among the ancient tombs. As we cycled up to the towers I was listening to Bob Dylan´s `All Along the Watchtower´...
¨Two riders were approaching,
And the wind began to howl¨

And a few moments later, we entered this small canyon with strange rocky outcrops and Bob was singing about Isis and treasures...
¨As we rode through the canyon
In the devilish cold¨

It was all very surreal- the eerie landscape melding with haunting Dylan poetry.

We met a French couple from Grenoble, Laurent and Muriel in Charazani and Pelechuco. They trekked in the southern Apolobamba and kindly gave us the maps and directions for the northern part of the range. (We had hiked in the south in ´93). We didn´t see another tourist for two weeks then they mysteriously reappeared on the Sajama road heading back to La Paz in their rented 4WD. They gave us lots of useful info on the salt lakes with some maps as well as some tasty food. Muchas gracias to our French friends.

Pete playing slly buggers in a chullpa

The bell tower of the famous altiplano 16th century church in Curahuara de Carangas

Made of adobe and thatch it is having restoration work done.

Inside the walls are festooned with religious paintings, all 16th century and the colours are from naturals dyes. The windows are made of alabaster.

Along the main road from Curahuara to the Chilean/Bolivian border we came across unusual rock outcrops with birdlike features. Sajama is in the background.

The sun setting on the east face of Sajama.

We left the sealed road and onto a single guage track to find a shortcut around Sajama but we were blocked by the deep ravine of Rio Tomarapi. However, the trail lead to a wonderful campsite among some eroded Daliesque rocks with superb views of Sajama.

I´m riding out of camp the next morning- on a smooth bedrock surface. Awesome stuff!

We made a 60km circuit around Sajama via Tomarapi. On the east side hardy cushion plants cling to the boulders (the threatened lareta sp.)

Queñal trees also eke out a precarious life on the slopes of Sajama. These trees at Sajama supposedly make up the highest forests in the world at 5200m , but I calculated the small copses on the high slopes at 4600-4700m. I thought I saw the highest forests in the upper Karma valley of the Tibetan Himalayas, but I guess I was mistaken. Can anyone shed some light on this superlative puzzle? Oy, perhaps??

The rock arch of colonial church at Tomarapi framing a much older and larger rock, Sajama.

The snow mantle of the west face of Sajama. In 1993 we hithched on the back of a truck across a rough dirt road and we peered out this impressive peak when it had more expansive galciers and snow cover.

Heading out from Sajama village we met 2 Aymaran boys off to school.

It was a bloody awful sandy road. In fact the road from Tomarapi to the main road was the same - deep soft volcanic sand. You are never quite sure where to ride, so lots of swerving among the sand. And we had to ride into a strong headwind as well.

Riding out of Sajama village with Parinacota and Pomerape as backdrops. These two extinct volcanoes are on the Chilean/Bolivian frontier.

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