photos – mountain biking, Caraz, Peru, 2005

sunsetThe best bike rides are cruising downhill in the Andes. To see all annotated photos, jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive. OPEN icon

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travelogue – el norte – Peru

Most visitors to Peru clog the southern Gringo Trail: Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca.

But many are banking on making the north just as enticing. The attractions are there but not yet the infrastructure. …

For the complete travelogue & photos jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive. OPEN icon

» north coast Peru
» mountain biking the Andes
» hiking the Santa Cruz trek Trek

travelogue – the world’s most dangerous road – Bolivia

bolivie-164crop_smGo to Bolivia?

Everyone else was.

Beneath my radar, I had never heard good things about Bolivia. It is the prototype South American disaster: corrupt, turbulent history, over 190 leaders in 180 years, breakdowns, roadblocks, strikes. Mucho problemas!

Yet Stephan from Vancouver (yet another engineer) and I crossed the border to Copacabana, Bolivia — a classic hangout for travellers.

sun fun

Bolivia looked good to us!

On the standard Island of the Sun tour I mostly ignored the ruins and dreamed about the mountains in the distance. The weather was perfect even though this was supposed to be the start of the rainy season.

Stephan returned to Peru to do the Inca Trail. I climbed on a local bus with my huge luggage, the only gringo trying to reach the tiny mountain town of Sorata.

I ended up in La Paz instead.

If you are planning your next family vacation to La Paz — reconsider.

I expected to like La Paz as most do:

  • world’s highest major city
  • spectacular setting
  • indigenous culture, vibrant festivals
  • underrated, little known

But I did not thrive. It was very difficult to get anythingdone there. Accommodation & food were disappointing.

la_pazMy hotel was last modernized in the 1950s. But I loved the location beside central Murillo Plaza & theRoyal Palace (known as the Burned Palace for historical reasons).

The statue is President Villarroel, dragged from the Palace and hung on this spot in 1946. Coincidentally, much the same thing happened to President Murillo in 1810.

Ancient history? Plaza Murillo was riddled with bullets a year ago. (Oct. 2003) The then President Lozada fled to Florida rather than face the mob.

So is La Paz safe?

Surprisingly, yes. It is one of the safest large cities in South America. Dunno why. Perhaps because there are more armed personnel here than any city I can recall aside Mexico City.

marketThe most frequent crime in La Paz is theft of ladies bowler hats, worth on average US$40.

The wonderfully colourful indigenous costumes some say were imposed on natives by the King of Spain in the 1700s. They are charming. Bolivia has the highest percentage native population of any South American country.

Actually, I was twice approached by awkward scam artist / pickpockets. My usual tactic of walking into busy traffic dissuaded them.

I note 2 interesting things in La Paz, though:

1) Shoeshine boys are everywhere, dressed as bandits! Ski masks protect the identity of the young men and their families. It is lowly work of last resort.

shoes

2) No need to own a phone. Everywhere are people in uniform leashed to mobile phones. Local calls are US$.15 / minute.

Like La Paz, hiking in Bolivia has great potential, but is surprisingly undeveloped. Access to trailheads is problematic. Bandits are a concern. In the end I did none of the major treks.

But for climbers, Bolivia is a paradise. No restrictions. No permits required. No fees. Screw the Himalaya, come to Bolivia!

The Royal Range (Cordillera Real) near La Paz offers 6 peaks over 6000m.

hp3photo source unknown

The most popular mountaineering peak is Huayna Potasi— though it is no cinch due to altitude. The last 200m is a steep scramble above 19,000ft. Roped together, keeping the line taut, you have very little control over the pace of ascent. I was exhausted for two days after.

Climbing Potasi was a wonderful experience though. Perfect weather! I saw the grandest shooting star of my life up close through the thin air. (My climbing amigos were so tired & focused they barely acknowledged it.) Climbing a mountain at night by full moon was unique. This photo shows the knifetop summit ridge.

Annotated climbing photos with Into-Thin-Air-likedetail.

Many climb Potasi first in preparation for peaks of 6300 – 6500m, very doable for the average Edmund once acclimatized.

Not me. I prefer carbogganing & hiking. I will be back to Bolivia to do the major mountain routes. (May – June are probably the best months in the central Andes if you want to join me.)

danger1Most every backpacker in Bolivia bikes the world’s most dangerous road. Something like a 3000m descent from high peak to steamy jungle in one go.

It reminded me of Going to the Sun highway in Montana. (Bikes not allowed there, of course.)

The title of most dangerous was designated by the Inter-American Development Bank. Can you dispute the claim? An average of 26 vehicles a year were disappearing over the brink.

danger2

The bank helped fund (US$120 million) a safe road on theopposite side of the valley. The new road was paved with good intentions.

But the day I biked the new road was closed yet again for repair. All traffic took the dangerous road. In fact, we learned that buses & trucks always take the old road with the cyclists. The new bridges were under built — they cannot support heavy vehicles. That is Bolivia for you.

It was good fun. The torrential rainstorm on the way down cut the dust until the complimentary beer at the bottom.

Rainy season had finally arrived in the Central Andes.

Time to head for sunny northern Chile via the fabulous 3-day salt lake jeep trek.

jeep_

jenni_

I travelled by train to Uyuni, in remote SW Bolivia with Jenni from Finland. She’s a gamer having just toured North America by Greyhound from sea to shining sea.

Kid, the next time I say lets go some place like Bolivia, lets go some place like Bolivia!
                                                                  Paul Newman

Our train had been robbed by 2 Americanos. But a posse from Uyuni tracked down Butch & Sundance in 1908. Cornered & wounded, Butch shot his partner and then himself rather than surrender. (That’s not how the movie ended, you may recall.)

Che Guevara died too in Bolivia in a rash attempt toliberate the country from a U.S. backed (one of the George Bushes, I think) military dictator.

El Puro’s end was sad. Age 38, emaciated, sick, defeated; shot on a schoolroom floor by a lowly CIA-trained sergeant bolstered to the task with beer.

Che is dead as Elvis. But his icon lives on, a vague symbol anti-capitalism, pro-revolution. An ex-girlfriend says Che would be mortified to have become a consumer product. But I bought the t-shirt.

Rather than read the much edited Motorcycle Diaries, I recommend Chasing Che (2000) by journalist Patrick Symmes. He retraced Che’s early footsteps giving a more accurate & entertaining account.

116_9154bolivarBolivia is named for Simon Bolivar, one of the few hombres who deserves a statue.

There have been three great fools in history: Jesus, Don Quiote and I.

An idealist who could get the job done — he liberated Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia & Bolivia — but none the less died broke & abandoned. Bolivar dreamed of unifying Spanish America into a single country.

Why is North America so advanced, Bolivia & South America so slow to develop?

Bolivar knows.

Last Bolivian stop — gorgeous Laguna Verde on the border. See you in Patagonia!

Ricardo

travelogue – Touching the Void – Peru

There is a particular anonymity about being in tents. … Once the zip is closed, all sense of location disappears. You might be in the Rockies, the West Coast Trail — or in the Andes with Joe Simpson. …

For the complete travelogue & photos jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive. OPEN icon

» hiking the Huayhuash Circuit
» hiking Alpamayo
» mountain biking the Andes
» canyoning

travelogue – racing rabbits

Spring has sprung in Calgary. Cycling in March was wondrous. Every day I saw more life.

First sign of spring were the huge hares I had seen all winter. But in March they got frisky. They like to race me as I bike along the canal pathway.

A highlight for me during the winter was the first bald eagle I had ever seen in Calgary. (RC has seen them every year south of town.) This one was waiting on an inevitable death of one of tens of thousands of ducks and geese on the frozen Bow River near Inglewood bird sanctuary.

calg

I am a working Joe these days. Sitting in Tim Hortons, reading the Sun. I much like coaching at Altadore for the people and the relaxed work environment. There is no club where I would rather coach.

It is mid-season. I am off to Western Canada Championships next weekend, the first time it has been held in Yukon.

As Calvin famously said, Yukon Ho!

The working world is so often a mutually parasitic relationship. Life is too short to work, really.

Though my job as resident manager of an apartment building is beginning to strain, it has been a eye opener on the world of the working poor; those riding the bus home from work with 5 rolls of stolen toilet paper.

I have even been to court evicting a tenant. A sad and costly system, I thought.

ice_climber copyMountains

Last Fall I felt guilty about not getting up to the mountains often enough. But spring has been much better.

Ice climbing with TM was a rush.

My climbing buddy BW fantasized dispatching me as in Touching the Void. He cut the rope — at least in Photoshop.

The first man-made ice wall opened this winter at the International Hostel in Banff. A great place for beginners to try it.

ET has been talking about the Kicking Horse ski resort for years. I finally got there with RH, GN and others after the Jurassic Classic competition. Super snow, lots of variety and we enjoyed a gourmet lunch in Canada’s highest gourmet restaurant.

Later I got a day at Sunshine with friends from Saskatoon.

If you are on as many humour mailing lists as I, you see a lot of comic photos. Many are fakes, of course. I have been fooled by some:

shark touristguy

The Museum of Hoaxes website collects them. 

And did you see the eerie photos of Chernobyl from Feb. 2004?

Los Angeles is a seductive. Every time there I rent a car and spend time roaming town. It’s easy.

On a gymnastics trip this year we took the kids to wheel the beach, still the highlight of town for Canadians. 

Shopping in LA is excellent. I bought high end hiking gear and an MP3 player.

A safe bet would be to guess I got an iPod, the outrageously cool and popular top seller. But you’d be wrong. I ended up with the Rio Cali 256 Mb flash MP3 player. Why? It runs on a standard AA battery and is computer memory based, rather than a spinning disk. No moving parts. Much more reliable. The downside? Only 60-120 songs at your finger tips rather than thousands.

WAIT as long as possible before you get one. They are not devices for the faint of pocketbook.

My best purchase of hiking gear was a new pack, the Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude 3800 T-PEX (smoke blue). At 3.5 pounds it carries 40 pounds. I’ve often said there is no such thing as a good pack. But it seems this one is.

56rick_elephant

Over the winter too I researched and posted a list of World’s best hikes. Unconstrained by imperatives of children, marriage and career, where would a recidivist go?

I have big hikes planned in the Canadian Rockies and to the West Coast Trail this summer.

Whoo hoo!

Calgary Rick