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.

Roadside meetings and new tyres

When I was leaving, a friend posted this song on my page. Whenever I think of the road, it often comes to my mind. Where I lay my head is home. Anywhere I roam.

The road is a harsh mistress I said once talking about long hours on the road but it can also give you a lot of pleasant surprises, not

Scary barge
I was amazed it didn’t crumble

only in the form of gorgeous landscapes. I entered Laos through the South from Cambodia and even before I got to the border, I ran into two bikers in disguise. At first they looked like locals, riding smallish bikes very heavy loaded but their luggage didn’t look like the things you usually see on the road (video post to come on that). It was Denis and Hanes, Dutch and Estonian who had bought their bikes in Vietnam and had come riding all the way from there. Even though I was faster, we crossed the border together and they came with me to Don Khong where we crossed the river together in some scary barges.

We stayed there 2 days, minding our own business. I reading my book, them checking for a mechanic for Hanes’ bike and after two nights I was on my way. Ahead of my I had the road to Pakse and Savannakhet where I didn’t expect to do any sightseeing. I was on the road to Vientiane where I had agreed to meet with Julien, a French biker I had met in Ulan Baatar, like 4 countries ago. He was luckier than me with his China crossing and actually crossed China from North to South. In truth, I was also feeling a bit pressed for time since now I have a date to fly out of New Zealand to Chile and have to somehow manage to get to Auckland on February 18th to catch my flight with the bike sorted out.

I didn’t feel like straining myself though so I left not too late and rode only to Pakse, a couple of hours away and checked my self into a guesthouse with wi-fi. Since it was pretty early, I wandered around town and had a late lunch of pizza. Not really good but did the job.

Chiang Mai
Unexpected meeting in Chiang Mai

After wandering around and fiddling with the internet, I decided to share the info on Vietnamese bikes I had got from the other guys with Antoine, a French guy travelling in the region I had met in Bangkok and then randomly run into in Chiang Mai who was interested in maybe buying one. I fired him an email, only to receive a quick response just before going to sleep saying “you are going to laugh but I was just thinking of you, I’m in Pakse tonight too”. Wait, what? Distance from Bangkok to Pakse: 600 km as the crow flies. Time since I had last seen him: around 3 weeks. Emails exchanged in the meantime: zero. And he was in the same town. See, I give all the details and all but these things barely seem strange anymore. We agreed on having breakfast the next day before I left.

And breakfast we had. Soon after I was on my way to Savannakhet. Another short ride and very nice. Here, checking into a guesthouse was a bit more difficult, most of the guesthouses the Lonely Planet mentions had disappeared and the first one I visited had me running away from it for no particular reason but finally I did find a cozy one with wi-fi and a garden to park the bike inside. Again, it was still day and I went for a long walk around town hunting after lunch. On a small side street not far from the Mekong and not far from my guesthouse, I saw a small group of backpackers. Among them, Timo, a Finn I had also met in Bangkok. I remember also saying to him that I was sure we would meet again because the road is just like that.

The road indeed is just like that. You will meet the same people over and over again without even asking for it. Most of the time not even in the same country. I had met these two guys in Thailand. Antoine had come straight to Laos from there, Timo had been in Vietnam in the meantime, I had been to Cambodia. I put Laos in my list of “that sort of places that are just like that”. That list has so far four countries: Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Laos.

The next day I set off for Vientiane and got there. When I was checking myself into the guesthouse, I met with Julien but that meeting was planned. He told me that the next day he was going to work on the bike at Fuark’s bike shop and when we went back to the street to look at my bike and his, we noticed that my rear tyre was completely worn. Looked like I would be taking my bike to Fuark’s too.

At Fuark's
Bike work day

The next day was Thai visa day and Buddha Park day. We also did some pictures together with the bikes. We are in Laos. In the background, the Mekong and beyond, Thailand.

Bikers
Bikers by the Mekong

To be sure, that wasn’t the end of it. In Vang Vieng, some random guy said bonjour, I had seen him in Vientiane so when I saw him again in Luang Namtha we shook hands and introduced ourselves, lest we meet again and still don’t know each other’s names. They are Michael and Sandrine and they are also travelling around the world, only by plane and bus.