Frozen

I felt it for the first time in Humahuaca. I had been riding through the beautiful, what do I say, stunningly beautiful, Northwestern tip of Argentina. Purmamarca, Tilcara and finally Humahuaca to settle for the night. The days were warm enough, very warm even and the scenery just impossibly colorful.

In Purmamarca
In Purmamarca
Colors
Colors

But when night fell, it was time to hide away. Time to crawl under a blanket as fast as possible and don’t go out until morning. Yes, I was getting closer to the Equator, the weather could only get warmer, but at the same time, I was climbing higher and higher in altitude. The nightly chill followed me into Bolivia and though the scenery was getting even more beautiful (Bolivia is kind of the undiscovered beauty of South America), it was getting colder and colder. On my way to Uyuni, night caught me in a smallish town called Atocha. Over time, I’ve created a category for this kind of town, I call it “ghastly little mining towns”. They give you a much deeper insight of life in the country outside of the tourist circuit but the regular comforts that I’ve come to expect from city life are non-existent. I checked-in at the better looking *hotel* without even realising that the name meant that it was right next to the train tracks.

Residencial Punta Rieles
Residencial Punta Rieles
My bed in Atocha
My bed in Atocha
But the train stopping next to my window and blowing the horn multiple times at 1AM wasn’t the worst. The worst part was that I had to sleep inside my winter sleeping bag. Partly because I didn’t want to touch the bedsheets but mostly to avoid freezing to death during the night. It was also the most expensive accommodation I paid in my whole stay in Bolivia.
Eventually I woke up the next day in good enough health to ride to Uyuni and enjoy the incredible views of the altiplano. I almost didn’t survive the electrically heated shower (proper insulation being one of those comforts we’ve come to expect from civilisation) but that’s just a small detail.
The scarcity of oxygen was playing some tricks on me and at some point of that beautiful ride through the high plains, my wondrous steed and I found ourselves moving at different speeds and both with the wrong parts of our bodies touching the ground. I, slowly dragging with my ass on the ground and her sliding on one of the panniers. None of us were badly hurt but it was sobering. I should be more careful when I’m lacking oxygen. Also, sand was involved; I hate sand.

Crash site
Crash site
High and flat: Altiplano
High and flat: Altiplano
I eventually found the salt flats, wondered at their white flat immensity, took the customary false perspective pictures, then gawked a bit more and withdrew to the town of Uyuni. A town that would probably fall in the aforementioned category if it wasn’t for the proximity of the salt flats.

Big bike
Big bike
It was also freezing at night. A side effect of freezing night and unheated hostels is that the common room quickly becomes a place where you don’t want to be and everyone is sleeping by 10PM.
It’s getting late and I ride to Colombia tomorrow so the rest of this post will just be pictures of other beautiful places where I froze my ass. Suffice it to say that I was getting tired of being cold and breathless (for lack of oxygen) but stayed at high altitude because, paradoxically, I didn’t want to miss any of the breathtaking scenery that Bolivia has to offer. Also, because most of Bolivia isn’t very close to the sea.

Coroico
Coroico

Crossing the Titicaca
Crossing the Titicaca
Leaving Potosi
Leaving Potosi
Arriving to La Paz
Arriving to La Paz
Titicaca
Titicaca
On the Titicaca
On the Titicaca
To Coroico
To Coroico
Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol
On the Death Road
On the Death Road
On the road in Bolivia
On the road in Bolivia
The chill followed me into Peru and stayed with me until around the Ecuadorian border. I don’t regret it, it was an awesome experience and I’ve seen scenery, ridden roads and met people that will stay in my mind and heart forever. It was incredible and there will be more posts about Peru. I just wanted to convery a bit of the other things that you don’t get to feel in the pictures. In this case, the cold.

Quito, Quito, Ecuador

El Gauchito Gil

One of the first things that got my attention on the roads of Argentina was the profusion of little shrines surrounded by offerings and decorated with red flags that can be spotted in most provinces I’ve visited. They are usually under trees but not restricted to that (especially where there’s no such thing as trees).

 

A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil
A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil
There isn’t nearly as many as there are roadside wats in Thailand but there is enough to be noticed.

I knew somehow that this was not a Christian thing, there’s always been little shrines dedicated to Virgin Mary of Luján along the roads of Argentina but this felt different. Only after a while my subconscious finally made the link and I realised they were shrines dedicated to the Gauchito Gil. But who is this and why is it everywhere? The devotion to Gauchito Gil is a heathen devotion that originates in Northeastern Argentina, in the province of Corrientes, and is apparently propagated by truck drivers. He is said to work miracles.

The legend has it that the gaucho Antonio Gil, an adorer of San La Muerte (another pagan devotion), had a romance with a rich widow and that earned him the hatred of her brothers and of a police sheriff that had courted her. Seeing the danger to his life, he enlisted himself to fight in the Paraguayan war. After coming back, he was enlisted by the Autonomist Party of the province of Corrientes to fight in the provincial civil war against the Liberal Party but he defected. Defection being punishable by death, he was hanged from a tree by his foot and his throat slit. Before dying, he told his executioner that he should pray in his name for his son’s health. The executioner’s son healed miraculously and so he decided to give Gil proper burial. The red flags are the symbol of the Autonomist Party.

There is other versions of the story and more on San La Muerte in wikipedia in Spanish and in English. Some of the versions even omit the bit about San La Muerte and make him a Christian, thus trying to make him into a Catholic saint. The Catholic Church obviously wants nothing to do with it.

It’s one of those things you only notice if you are riding the roads instead of sitting inside a bus.

Roadside shrine
Roadside shrine

Salta, Municipio de Salta, Argentina

A day in Patagonia

La pluie et le beau temps
La pluie et le beau temps

Sometimes I ride through ugly places.

No, not really.

I have been to the Southernmost city of the continent and to the very end of National Road 3 (a.k.a. Ruta Tres) and now I’m riding it to the North in a mad rush to reach Buenos Aires in the shortest possible time. Why? Because I like doing stupid things just for fun.

The landscape is quite bleak. It’s mostly steppe, very windy steppe with no trees and the occasional bush. Not much to see. Fortunately, the sky compensates and the clouds are a thing of beauty. Today’s sunset as I was arriving in Caleta Olivia can only be described as the orange version of the Northern lights. I didn’t take any photos for fear of not doing it justice and spoiling the moment.

Earlier during the day though, I got drenched. During 200km I could see a big patch of rain in the horizon and I kept wondering if the road would take me through it or around. Sure enough, the road went straight into it and it poured. I realised that my Spidi jacket is not waterproof anymore but I survived to see the amazing image that the photo on top of this post not even begins to portray. It just doesn’t do it justice. Once the rain moved East towards the sea, beautiful clouds were left in the West where the sun was starting to set and a mighty rainbow formed in the West over the (still) pouring rain. Simply beautiful.

A long day awaits tomorrow. Over and out.

Hello there!
Hello there!
Oh, and a song I could have listened to today but didn’t.

 

 

Mercado de la Ciudad, Municipio de Caleta Olivia, San Jorge Gulf

Miorița

Today is a sad day. Today, on my way from El Calafate to the Chilean border, I ran over a sheep. Today I want to tell the story of Miorița. I didn’t kill the sheep, but I must have hurt it pretty badly because it was shaking and tried frantically to limp away from me when I approached her on foot.

The tale of Miorița was related to me in Samarqand, Uzbekistan by a group of shady-looking Romanians who were running the Mongol Rally, their team was called Free Miorița. The views about Romania in this article reflect what they tried to convey with this tale. As far as I remember anyway.

Miorița was a sheep. She was very fond of her shepherd and when she heard that two other shepherds, envious, were plotting to kill him in order to steal his herd, she went straight to him and told him about the danger to his life. Despaired, the shepherd asked Miorița that, should the worst befall him, she should make sure that he gets proper burial and never tell that he was murdered.

The actual poem is much longer and has other nuances but the point is that this tale symbolises the conformism and tragic mood of the Romanian people. Their aim as a team, and in their lives was to fight against this and debunk the myth of Miorița as a foundational story for the Romanians. I wish them good luck.

On my bike I have two stickers that they gave me and the other day I was about to cover one with another sticker. Maybe now I won’t. I have been meaning to write about this story for a very long time but somehow I couldn’t fit it anywhere. Now seems to be as good a moment as any.

Miorița
Miorița

Of course the sheep I ran over has nothing to do with Miorița but I felt sorry for it as I felt sorry for the shepherd when I heard the tale for the first time.

The bike didn’t suffer any damage as far as I can tell but I did get a hell of a scare. After hitting it, I lost control of the bike for about 20 meters. I didn’t think at any moment that I would come off, though.

By the way, sheep are not usually that stupid. Most sheep run away from the road when they see you coming. This particular flock was having a cow day and decided to cross the road when they saw me coming at 100kph.

Natales, Provincia de Última Esperanza, Chile

Awesome day is awesome

So, the new Pope is Argentinean. Well, the Perito Moreno glacier too and it’s awesome. IT. IS. AWESOME. I went for a trek on top of it today and it is unbelievable. I can’t say more because I really don’t have words for it but after the trek I rode to the catwalks and stalked the glacier for more than one hour with my camera in video mode. I managed to capture a big rupture on video and here it is 🙂

Macrozona Bahía Redonda y Primeros Faldeos, Municipio de El Calafate, Argentina

Deja vu

“It’s funny, I’ve just had the exact same conversation two blocks ago with a girl that, in a way, looks exactly like you*”. It’s like when they make a change in the Matrix and you see the cat walk past by the brick wall twice.

Every time I sneak away from a scam, I am left with a question: What was it this time? Many times I have let them talk some more just to see where it goes but today I am walking around with my passport, all my credit cards and 3000 yuan that an ATM has kindly agreed to give me. It is out of the question that I pursue any conversation with scammers with pockets full of *goodies*. It’s no use taking risks so I told her that I wanted to walk alone, twice and then she said “Oh! No me?” and went on to deliver her payload in a last, desperate attempt to not lose the opportunity. “Do you want massage?”. There you are! I should have thanked her for taking away my doubts but she had already stayed behind. I could only hear her congratulating me for my good looks or maybe something else, I don’t know, it was in Chinese.

I was also accosted twice by girls that asked me to take a picture of them together and claimed to be tourists from other parts of China headed for a traditional tea house and “would you like to join us?”. My short answer is a clear NO but I could also go on about how I grew up in Argentina and this kind of thing is every day life in Buenos Aires and even locals are targets of scams like this one. This one in particular, I had seen it in Argentina already but in the form of a guy that offers you a free or very cheap ticket to enter a very exclusive bar or strip club. You sort of develop a sixth sense for these things growing up in BA.


* Moderately good-looking Chinese girl elegantly dressed in 100% Western clothes (nothing looks Chinese except of course her) speaking quite good English but not so perfect that you would be suspicious

dianping.com, Changning, Changning District, PRC

Bulgaria

Glass of rakia
A glass of Pomoriska a day…
Shopska salata
…just keeps the salad good company

Now that I’ve had my Shopska salata with a glass of rakia, I can say I’m officially in Bulgaria. Ah! Such good memoires!

A short explanation is in order. This is rakia, R-A-K-I-A. It is Bulgarian and has nothing to do with Turkish raki, that’s the next country I’ll visit, I’m not there yet. Rakia is not anise flavored. That’s why I like it so much :).

When in Rome, do as the Romans and when in Bulgaria… well, drink rakia with your salad at the beginning of the meal. I learnt that on my first trip to Bulgaria in 2007. I love rakia so much I might as well buy a bottle for the road.

Oh, and how could I forget the main dish, Meshana skara, the typical Bulgarian mixed grill. Made mainly of pork meat, it sort of reminds me of home in Argentina where a barbecue always includes a bit of everything.

Meshana Skara
Just about everything that was on the grill goes on the plate
 UPDATE:

That was dinner but my lunch was also interesting. A bit lost (post to come), I stopped at a small village and had the awesomest döner kebab ever (dyuner in Bulgarian). All the more awesome because it cost me 1.5 leva (0.75€). When I decided to take a picture, I realized they had a promo of 2 döners for 2 leva. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. It was here:

Kebab shop
2 döner for 2 leva

Nesebar, Burgas, Bulgaria