Bob’s (not) Your Uncle


Uyuni – Bolivia

The road to Uyuni

We were on our way to Uyuni to see the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt lake in the world.  The day started with a few small hills (by Bolivian standards anyway) then the road turned onto a huge open plain. The road was very rutted, with large rocks and loose sand, indeed, in some areas, it was better to venture off into the adjacent scrubland. We had taken 55km off what we expected to be a 100km day. It was around 3:00, the sun was very hot and the land around was arid and desolate.

Ferg shouted up to me, “big problem!”. One of the steel members on his Bob trailer had snapped. It was indeed a big problem, the break had occured at the main  pivot, a critical point on the trailer, which meant that the trailer was unusable.

Marina offered to get a lift to Uyuni with the broken trailer so Fearghal could finish off the leg, and keep our pedalled line around the World intact (for our circumnavigation, we need to cycle continuously across the lands). Grand I thought, we’ll just wait for the next car, van, truck or bus to come along. But this is Bolivia, and so, despite the fact that this was a relatively major road, between two pretty big towns there was not a sinner on the road, barring a few laamas. We waited and waited in the searing heat with no shade and feeling very isolated. Two hours, a few crosswords and lots of sunburn later, a bus came along, and with much luggage relocation, we managed to get Marinas bike and the damaged trailer into a slightly too small luggage compartment.

We sped off, keen to finish the last 45km before sunset. We passed sand dunes, wierd mushy green plains and a huge herd of llamas. With only 10 km to go, we were knackered, the rutted roads and sun exposure had taken their toll and our speed was dropping, at last though, we saw Uyuni. With renewed strength we pedalled on, until I suddenly felt the back end of the bike go loose. To my amazement and horror, I found that I had snapped my trailer in exactly the same place as Fearghal. After 5000km, both trailers had broken within 30km of each other.

Fearghal cycled into Uyuni with the aim of getting a taxi to collect me. As I was lying by the road in complete darkness, a van came along, passed me, then screeched on the brakes. The guys jumped out, they thought I was in an accident. I tried to explain what happened, they offered to give me a lift, so we lashed the bike and trailer onto ther already overloaded pickup van, then headed to Uyuni.

Our welder at work

After a couple of days getting over the dreaded stomach monsters, Marina and I went to get the trailers welded. The guys there make stalls and mend ancient cars so it wasn´t exactly precision engineering. The teenager who welded our precious trailers was in shorts, wore no safaty goggles, even while welding or grinding (when hot sparks fly about the place) and their young kids were wondering around, playing among the various tools and bits of scrap metal. He inadvertantly melted the main bearings on Fearghals trailer, but after a lot of searching and a bit of adjustment, we got two skateboard wheels to fit nicely. It took 3 hours and a lot of nervous energy, but we finally got the joints repaired and strengthened, by adding a steel gusset plate to each joint.

With both trailers sorted, I went out to where mine broke and cycled the 10km back into town. On the way in I stopped for a burger and salchipapas (frankfurter and chips). I sat by the side of the road, safe in the knowledge that I have a continuous tyre track across the lands, all the way from Ireland.


A series of unfortunate events


Bolivia- Uyuni

The last week hasn’t exactly been the smoothest. The Bolivian roads finally got the better of us on Friday when the swing arm on both myself and Simon’s Bob Trailer snapped within 30km of each other, Simon will post a full report on this and his fun excursion to find a welder later today or tomorrow.

In other news, we’ve spent the last two days commuting from the bed to the little boys and girls room. We had bouts of conventional food poisoning from dodgy llama steaks the night we arrived, I won’t go into detail again. Then when we thought we were over it, we were treated to a more musical dose which kept us up parping all night. Our room must have sounded like a brass band rehearsing, badly.

Unfortunately, it looks like the gastric fortitude of a Manilla street dog is still illuding us. I just hope our stomachs toughen up soon and that we don’t spend the next 12 months until we reach Sicily playing musical chairs ; )

Marina the femme forte is still suffering the effects today, although myself and Simon seem to be on the road to recovery. Hopefully we’ll all be back on the gastric track tomorrow and well enough to check out the Salar, if you’re reading this today or tomorrow check out the autotracker at the top of the page, the Salar is the big white patch.

A very long day.

Twittering at 3,500m on the Bolivian Altiplano


We started the Bolivian leg of our little bicycle oddessy on Friday, leaving the border town of Villazon and heading norht towards the salt flats of Uyuni. We were pretty excited as we’d heard lots of reports of the state of Bolivian road conditions, food availability and road safety, ranging from positive to downright depressing, and were dying to find out for ourselves.

2Km outside Villazon, and the depressing reports of the Bolivian roads turned out to be correct when the asphalt road abruptly turned into a wide dusty track. We’d decided to stick with our thin slick road tyres until we knew what the roads were like so we weren’t exactly kitted out correctly. The “roads” should probably be called tracks as it gives a fairer idea of the dusty gravely scratch across the landscape that we followed for 95km.

The map showed regular towns every 20km(ish) so we were carrying minimal food and water. At the first stop at 25km where the map showed a town called Shagnasti we found a few deserted mudbrick cabins, and new sign proudly declaring some civil engineering project courtesy of Evo Morales. No shop, no restaurant, no petrol or station. Apart from a wisened old women tending to a heard of goats, no signs of life. We also discovered that the constant jarring of the rutted roads had dislodged some our kit from the trailers and we’d left our bottles of emergency water somewhere down the road behind us.

We pressed on regardless and stopped at the next town, sheltering briefly from a thunderstorm in a new school after an search for food and water only turned up a bottle of Sprite. At the 40km mark the road descended, and deteriorated, usually we crave downhills, but with heavily laden trailers and the washboard effect of the ruts our speed was little more than it was on the flat.

At four o’clock we manged to buy some emapanadas and humitas from an old woman wearing a bowler hat, so we stopped for a quick lunch. We still had 40km to cover. As the road wound up and down through mudbricked villages, over hillsides, and across rivers the sun progessed across the sky and began to drop behind the red hills to our left. At six thirty we still had 20km to do, and it was getting dusky so we donned our head torches and pressed on. Soon total darkness fell. We followed the dusty beam of light from our head torches and tried to avoid the rocks that had fallen from the precipitous rocky slopes bordering the road.

Our progress was little faster than a walking pace, and we had to stop regularly to avoid the careening trucks and buses. We were tired and grumpy, and the communication of “truck behind”, “big rock to the left” etc was, to put it mildly, curt. One revolutionary who will remain nameless, was heard loudly cursing her skinny tyres and the rocky roads in the darkenss : )

Eventually at ten o’clock we arrived at our destination, dog tired and caked from head to toe in mud and dust, and literally pounced on the first hostel we passed.

We’re off again tomorrow after refuelling, changing tyres and stocking up on food today, and will hopefully make it to the mining town of Atocha, and then, inshallah, to our next landmark the salt flats of Uyuni in time for my birthday on Tuesday : )

Virgin de la Candelaria


Today we were treated to an amazing parade as it´s Humahuaca (our current towns) local festival. What a feast for the senses it was! The procession began with drummers and panpipes, not a mix I would put together but somehow it works really well. Then there was the carrying of the Virgin Mary, followed by ladies in bright traditional dress, complete with hats, long colourful dresses; and half a dead lamb! The open carcass was held by the feet and swung around merrily. There was also a strange shaker instrument, made with an armadillo on a stick. Feathered dancers and traditionally dressed riders on horseback made up the rear of this unique parade. Check out the photos on the flickr slideshow below.

Into the Andes

High in the Andes


We´re now at 3000m, high in the Andes. The air is thinning out and the nights are getting colder. Even at this height, the surrounding mountains tower above us. So far we haven´t had any major effects of the altitude other than a couple of tight necks and a slight shortness of breath on the steeper uphill sections.

On our first day out of Salta we were treated to an adrenaline filled downhill. The road snaked along the mountainside, high above the thick green jungle below. The tight hairpins and fast flowing corners were worlds away from the straight, flat roads of the Chaco.

Over the last few days the road has wound gradually upwards, alongside dry riverbeds, past giant cactii and through beautiful rocky valleys. The towns are becoming dustier, indeed in one town we had to get off and push our heavy bikes up a steep rocky road.  In order to accimatise properly, we´ve been doing short 50km days, each with around 500m ascent.

Humahuaca Folk Festival

We´ve arrived at carnival time and have been treated to two successive Andean folk festivals which give a good insight into the local music (keep an eye out for some clips of this on the next video update). We´re told that during carnival (which runs for the whole of February), we can expect to be the recipients of many water ballon attacks by the locals, I guess I´d better get my waterproofs on!

Tropic of Capricorn

Yesterday we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. Lying 23 degrees south of the Equator, its an imaginary line stretching around the world. It marks the farthest point south that the Sun is directly overhead at mid-day.

The actual line was a bit of a non-event marked with a giant concrete sundial and a few stalls selling Andean souvenirs, alpaca wool sweaters and hats and miniature llama toys. It was a significant event for our circumnavigation though, as it marked the first longitudinal landmark that we’ve cycled across.

The criteriafor a pedal powered circumnavigation state, among other things, that your circle around the Earth must cross the equator twice, and pass through all lines of longitude. Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn was a big deal for us though. The next one will be the Equator in Ecuador in around three month’s time.  

We tracked yesterday’s journey in real time using sanoodi ‘s excellent smap program and a Blackberry. There’s some interesting info on elevation, distance etc here, and you can be notified of our progress if you follow us on Twitter. We’ll be using sanoodi’s application a lot more in the future.

Tropico de Capricorno