Potosi to La Paz - 300ish miles
What a day! People still suffering from the altitude. Lou's had a relapse and is confined to the support van, so I'm solo for the day...hmmm...corners :))) some great riding through the hills with lots of photo opportunities I'll bore people with later. Had some scare stories from our glorious leader Kevin about suicidal vicuñas (small, camouflaged, attack deer) on this leg, so paying careful attention to the kerbside wildlife.
First 80 miles or so is wonderfully twisty, but road surface very variable with deep ruts in the tarmac from the mining trucks escaping from potosi. Bit of an emotional roller coaster though. Goes something like:
get excited about really nice curve
go "wow" at new stunning view
clock lorry/llama/large rock in middle of your side of the road
go "oh sh*t" as you realise you're stuck in a deep tarmac rut and handling options are distinctly limited
Realise heart hasn't actually stopped.
Pull over, check underwear, carry on.
Note to lou's mum. Of course none of this happens when lou's on the back due to large amount of noise and tactical thumping that prevents this situation occurring :)
Note to my mum: this is of course wildly exaggerated for comedy effect.
Most people are stopping to take pictures so I'm constantly swapping places with the other 13 bikes on the trip. Chugging along a nice open section and ride over a small blind summit to find the road covered in fine gravel, and one other bike in the ditch with three people around it. I stop and run over to see what's going on. One of our guys (DB) has come off and ended up in the ditch, and two locals are busy trying to help him get the thing out again. Luckily he's not hurt and is helping, and within minutes four others arrive, including Julia, Kevin's wife and co-guide, swiftly followed by Alan and Lou in the support van. I end up riding back over the hill to warn oncoming traffic. Using the proven technique of lots of hand waving and broken conversations in three different languages I manage to get the point across. They drive off - no bang - must have worked! A somewhat shaken DB and his bike end up in the van and the trip continues.
One incident down, three to go.
I hook up with julia and two other bikes to drive through Oruro. A large sprawling city in the middle of Bolivia, cross between the brazilian favelas of "city of God" fame and a s***heap. Navigating this chaotic sprawl is tough. Things change every year, and the route notes rapidly get out of date. We all stop to investigate a tiny overpass, and after resisting the urge to drive up the "right" way (cars were coming down it so we brilliantly deduced logic had no place here), turned in the road and went up the "right" access way. The two of us at the back stop, waiting for a gap in the traffic. John and Marion were on the bike in front of me, unfortunately John lost his footing on some gravel, and down went the bike. We got the engine stopped and after a fairly eye-bulging struggle, we got it upright again with injuries confined to the usual loss of dignity. I can personally ratify that these BMWs are not light. 265kg dry weight. This one also had solid metal panniers, tank bag & tail bag, all brimming with kit, which I strongly suspect consisted of rocks. We managed to rejoin the group just as they were about to come back and look for us and together we leave the slum clearance zone behind. Two incidents down.
Every now and again we get a checkpoint, but this one involved two Bolivian policemen, and box that they said was a radar gun. Truly Bolivia is at the cutting edge of technology, as this one managed to see through the local van that we were all riding behind, and detect speed infringements from all four of us independently. Apparently we had disturbed his paperwork and the only solution was to cross his palm with a substantial offering. Haggling ensued. A small note negotiated its way into his substantial back pocket and we shot off before he changed his mind. Three.
We were now quite a bit behind schedule, and looked like we could be entering La Paz at night. So we got a wiggle on. The approach to La Paz is not nice. Dead straight road (condition variable) and lots of heavy, truck-shaped traffic, with an unnerving tendency to overtake at the wrong moment (for you) and an relaxed attitude to lane discipline. By the time we reached El Alto nerves were jangling. La Paz itself is in a bowl, with El Alto curled around the top. We passed a number of smouldering tyres left over from an earlier demonstration, and we crawled into el alto with the light fading fast, breathing in delightful rush hour fumes from the gridlocked mass of "collectivos" (small, overcrowded minibuses). We'd managed a few miles and were within range of the toll at the start of the descent into La Paz when we smelled smoke. John and Marion's bike had had enough. The clutch had gone. We pushed the bike to the side of the three lane freeway & called the man in his van. He'd somehow managed to get ahead of us & couldn't turn round.Oops....
Beer was very, very, welcome that night.