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

Huinca

Many years ago, while I was backpacking in Argentina, somewhere in Northern Patagonia we were restocking our food supplies at a small town supermarket when an old drunkard invited himself to our conversation. He had the discrete elegance that self-respecting old drunkards usually have, he wore a hat and a felt coat. His face was wrinkled by many years in the sun and he talked a lot. Unfortunately, something even the self-respecting variety of drunkards doesn’t have is articulate speech and even though he spoke Spanish, I couldn’t understand most of what he said. One phrase did get through and stuck to the walls of my mind. Whenever I remember the episode, it comes back: “And then the ‘huinca’ came”.

This is the land of the Mapuche. As I cross the Bio-Bio river, I remember that this was the last line of defence between the Chileans and the original Chileans. What else to call them if not that? Before that fort line was built, this was their land, all of it.

The Inca came and conquered, in name. A tax was agreed and a tax collector took residence here but in reality, the Mapuche were always left to their own devices.

Araucanos, the Spanish called them. The Mapuche always lived on both sides of the Andes and they still do. Araucanos is an unfortunate name, it robs them of their true nature. Perhaps that was the aim. Mapuche has ‘mapu’ in it: Earth (or land, or dirt) and “che” simply means people, they are the people of the land and I am but a visitor in their lands. Some say that our Argentinean custom of calling people “che” comes from them (yes, their land extended to what today is the province of Buenos Aires).

As I enter the Araucanía Andina region, an unofficial sign reminds me, in case I’ve forgotten, that I’m entering Mapuche territory and when I start seeing the beauty that surrounds me, I understand why they defended it so fiercely. The mighty Andes on the horizon, plentiful rivers teeming with fish every couple of kilometers, forests and grassland valleys with no end in sight. They lost, as history records, and today the descendants of the Spanish conquerors rule the land.

At the time of that episode, the word huinca didn’t make any sense to me. I had heard it somewhere but it wasn’t Spanish, I had to find out the meaning. Internet wasn’t that developed back then so I just waited and some time later, while perusing a Mapudungun glossary I found it. Huinca(1): White man. Hum… Wait a second, there’s a Huinca(2) definition under it. Huinca(2): cattle thief. Interesting.

So here I am, cattle thief by definition, visiting their land. I hope they won’t think too badly of me and let me through.

EDIT: This paper looks interesting but I haven’t read it.

Curacautín, Provincia de Malleco, Chile