From Arequipa to Potosi

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Jun 10, 2008

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

 After a 12 and a half hour flight from Amsterdam to Lima, followed by another hour's flight to Arequipa in Southern Peru we begin our motorbike trip.  First day is free to acclamatise to the altitude which is approx 2.400 meter.  We visit the ice mummy 'Juanita' who was discovered at the top of a mountain, still frozen, she was a young girl offered to the gods by the Incas.  We take to the bikes the following morning, mostly 400 cc Honda Falcons.  We have now arrived in Potosoi in Bolivia via Puno in Peru and the floating islands in lake Titikaka, the original Copacabana, Coroico , La Paz, Oruro and now Potosi.  We are generally between 3800 - 4100 m altitude.  The initial headaches are gone but it is not only the landscape which leaves us breathless, sometimes just climbing on the bike leaves us out of puff.  La Paz is a hectic city, we were staying near the witches market, where you can find  all sorts of everything and especially animal embrios (?).  Interesting place but we were all glad to leave it. The traffic is manic.  Yesterday we drove to Oruro and some of us were trying to find a vegetarian restaurant, as in the good old south American tradition it is steak steak and more steak.  I am getting my fill of eggs and salad, but it was mother's day and all the restaurants were full.  We  walked  miles and ended up in a pizza place, wasn't bad for a change.  It is freezing cold here and the hotels have no heating.  When we left this morning it was 1 degree C and it only warms up when the sun comes out during the day.  My little hot water bottle is coming in handy here.  Pat is getting respect for his Honda, he negotiated death road spectacularly well, but I must say we have encountered similar roads in the Himalayas last year, so I am not sure if it deserves the tag 'most dangerous road in the world'. Yesterday it was a lot of straight road driving over an enourmous plateau, so the speed was fast.  To-day it was more exciting and I am not just talking about the scenery.  We arrived around a bend and there was a bus stretched across the road, it was trying to turn on the narrow road.  When we managed to pass, we found a load of stones and boulders strewn across the road.  In the Himalayas, if there was a rockfall, everyone got out and shifted them out of the way, and I was wondering why the bus was turing back.  A little further there were more big stones on the road and quite an agressive crowd ready to throw stones at anyone trying to pass.  They were protesting about somethng or other.  Our road captain Geert, who looks like a neo-nazi without the tatoos, but much nicer, managed to talk his way passed them, but the support vehicle with Lars, Carol the mechanic, all the luggage, and spare petrol etc, was not allowed through.  We continued, but could not get any petrol along the road, so negotiations started at the next village to see if there was any illegal petrol to be had somewhere.  Lucky enough we found some stored at a little restaurant in big vats behind the kitchen and made it to Potosi.  Geert told us that protests like that could last a day or a week, we would have been in a real pickle if we hadn't found petrol.
We are making a great impression when we are riding into some of the small towns, which have a bit of the wild west about them and when we are riding in convoy into town, everybody stops and watches, just like in the cowboy films.  For good measure, our bike backfires  like mad which provides the sound effects of gun shots and you see women children and dogs jumping a feet high with fright.   People are generally very friendly, there are lots of women going around in the typical bolar heads and the wide skirts , which makes them neary as wide as they are tall.   To-morrow we have a day off from the riding and hopefully visit the silver mines of Potosi, this is where the Spaniards took all the silver from the mines to bring it to Spain and used the indigenous population as slaves to do the work.   Poverty is still pretty grim here.
We are now in the hotel  all 12 of us with 2 toothbrushes between us and absolutely no luggage.  We may not be reunited with our bags until the day after next.  If the car can't get through, the mechanic and driver will make their way directly to the next point, the largest salt flats in the world.  Really looking forward to that.  Hopefully nobody will break down or get a puncture.
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