“After leaving Puno I start making my way for the Bolivian border…this would be an easy day as the ride is flat along lake Titicaca but my stomach is in pieces and liquid starts coming out of the wrong hole (never had it so bad!) I have to stop to relieve myself at least every 10km and make good use from the pages of my lonely planet guide book as toilet paper (I was never a fan of the book with its constant captain planet environmental preaching and for once managed to put it to good use). As I reach the border and go through customs a little runt starts changing the gears on my bike. I tell him to stop then turn round to find him unravelling the bar tape…..”Get the **** off my bike”!! …I shout….he repeats it back to me in English!
I stay the night on the Bolivian side of the border and head for the capital La Paz the following morning. On arrival i am informed that the next day there will be a census which means the whole country has to stay indoors or face a 3000 Boliviano fine or 2 days in prison!!! I can’t hang around………….I speak to the staff at the hostel who try to help me out and go to the government building with me to apply for an exception to travel pass…I pretend I am a key worker at the hostel and luckily am issued a pass….so the next day I venture out on my bike….The whole city is a ghost town!! Not a single person on the street or car on any of the roads except the military police, ambulance and media! I’m stopped by the military every 100 yards as I leave the city and have to show my pass and passport……….then waiting for me, on the express way out of the city, is the local TV station crew!! They interview me in Spanglish about my trip and I continue…only to find another TV crew waiting for me a mile ahead!! News must be spreading fast about a foreign idiot on a bicycle.
The traffic free roads actually mean more dog attacks as they can hear me coming and there’re no cars on the road to prevent them running after me! As I head south towards Oruro and into the countryside people seem to be less concerned with the census rules and use the main highway as a football pitch. Later I am faced with a group of kids who perform a road block and try to pull the panniers off my bike as a dodge past them. At the next military road block there are some Germans on motorbikes who don’t have consent to ride and are stuck waiting for permission. The leader tries to give me the big-un about how he knows these roads like the back of his hand, he is not happy when his mates take pics of my bicycle and I show him my pass to travel.
Soon after the clouds ahead turn very black and I see mini whirlwinds, I take photos and push on. Suddenly it starts to hail and it feels like someone is shooting my face with a BB gun. I find an underground water pipe and take shelter; I decide to eat my lunch in the pipe….. then water starts flowing towards me from the other end of the pipe!!! I rush back outside into the hail and start heading towards the next town like an icicle – (now I always pack my waterproofs at the TOP of my pannier bags). As I arrive in the next town (Lahuachaca) I ask a man on a motorbike where I can stay and he leads me (after kicking a dog in the face who lunged at his bike) to a man who has little huts with thatched roofs…I spend the night in my own hut, complete with chickens and cows outside.
The next day I head further south and spend the night in a mining town called Poopo, there’s no accommodation except the possibly once grand state hotel, I take a room for about 5 quid. I’m the only person in the hotel, slightly creepy. I go to check out the pool which is empty and decrepid with a bit of brown water in the bottom. I head out to get some chicken and come back to find the whole place locked shut so end up having to climb over the wall and make my way through the back kitchen to get back to my room, nothing is straightforward!
From Poopo I head south on the main road to Uyuni…famous for its huge salt plains. I am making good progress and it seems that I will arrive in Argentina in no time………when the tarmac disappears…despite my map showing this to be a significant main road! I find myself on a road which varies between rocks and dust with juts like mini speed bumps a foot apart and just sand!! The bumps jolt and shake my whole body and rattles my brain…annoyed Panther…..and when the road turns to sand my skinny touring tyres slip and slide like crazy and I fall off numerous times. I frequently shout and curse out loud like I have turrets. This will be my road for approx the next 500km.To make things worse every half an hour or so a lorry or bus speeds past coating me in dust, I have inhaled enough sand already on this trip. I decide the best way to deal with approaching vehicles is to weave in the centre of the road until they beep repetitively and nearly come to a standstill, which is also gives me great satisfaction. Determined not to have to spend 2 days in the dust and arrive at Uyuni I push ahead and arrive at 10 o’clock at night in the pitch black, probably unwise but glad to arrive. A mile out of Uyuni 2 picks ups with tourists for the salt plains drive alongside me and take photos of me…they may be thinking what an idiot but it makes me feel pretty good!!
I’ve now ridden over 2200km….which have come a lot harder than I could ever imagine. I believe the hardest miles are almost done. 2 to 3 more days of dirt, sand and rocky roads and I should be close to Argentina, where I will start to descend to sea level. When I hit a tarmac road again it will be like Christmas has come early.
P.S. thanks if you have given to my charity and please feel free to make a donation if not…many thanks!”
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Update 1: Charity Bike Ride Across South America
Update 2: Mile Number 1, 2999 To Go
Update 3: Get Me Out Of Here!
Please note the views expressed in this article are those of the author Simon Panther and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to Appliance House Ltd or Cancer Research UK.