December 2008



Getting ready to celebrate the new year with a stick of dynamite and a bag of ammonium nitrate. All can be had for under $2 in Bolivia – who knew?

Yesterday I decided to head over to Cordova instead of Mendoza. From here I can ride to Puerto Madryn where there is a huge wildlife park with penguins and whales and such, as well as an overnight stop off for the Paris to Dakar. But when I left I had no idea the road would be so boring. Nearly all day without even a curve. The most amazing thing is that I started this leg of the trip five days ago in terrain like this:


And last night, pulling into town, I saw this:


Tom Waits sings: “They say if you get far enough away, you’ll be on your way back home”

I think got far enough away….

In this part of the Andes there’s a very thin veil between Catholicism and the old pagan gods. There are shrines dedicated to the Virgin mother everywhere, but really they’re shrines to Pachamama. Its a complicated kind of a mix, a little for the Virgin and a lot for the Mama. The people leave little gifts of candy, flowers, candels and bottles of water. I’ve been looking for a good one to take a picture of and yesterday I came on this whopper:


All those bottles are filled with water as an offering. These folks really love their mama… If you look closely, you can see three aisles and at the back of each, there is a shrine like this:


and behind the cage is a statue of Pachamama disguised as  the Virgin Mary.


My little attempt at summiting South America reminded me of a night out drinking. When you first go out, all your friends are there, the conversation is interesting and everything sparkles, but as the night wears on, the crowd dwindles and your left alone with an annoying acquaintance who keeps drunkenly mumbling the same phrase over and over. “It’s flat. There’s a bush over there… It’s flat. There’s a bush over there… It’s flat. There’s a bush over there.” You quit listening but they drone on like a fly at the window. As they drift from consciousness something catches your attention. You think you hear a change in the refrain. “Purple mountain in the distance, smoke – could be a fire…” but the change of rhythm is just a trick of your own mind, the circle of words and scenes repeated over and over until they loose meaning and there is no beginning or end, just your annoying, unchanging acquaintance, the flat desert.

And with that, I’m left with where to go from here. More desert on Ruta 40 South? Should I go East through the desert to Cordova and Buenos Aires? Or should I engage in the insanity that will be the New Year and the start of the Paris to Dakar race (being held in Argentina because of terrorism in North Africa)?

Instead, what I would love right now is to be faced with trying to decide between cooking my New Years Day collards with jowls or smoked neck bones. Should I make ribs or a loin? Do I have enough pecan and apple wood to keep the smoker going all day? These are the kinds of questions whose answers leave your lips shinny and make your house smell good for days. They bring old acquaintances out from the woodwork for sips from the mason jar, a few of them happily overstaying their welcome, lost in the backyard and wishing you happy new year over and over and over…

“…sleepy ditch”


The colors through this mountain range were amazing.


Did I find Big Rock Candy Mountain?


Shrines dotted the roadside


As well as graves


The only trees here grow on peoples farms. I stopped for lunch under one and as I ate, I heard whispering behind the wall I was leaning on. These guys snuck-up on me! For the price of a Wherthers Original, I got two big smiles.


A llama house


Argentines, in this part of the country at least, don’t believe in bridges. The road goes down into the river, and it comes back up. Its funny, because this used to really scare me. After riding the Altiplano, I look and think nothing could be as bad as that, so I down shift, stand up and throttle through.


…. and after this, nothing but flat for days.

Yesterday, between the two small towns of Cafayate and Cachi I ran into a few people I had met before. These are middle-of-nowhere kind of places and I was really surprised. The first was a couple that I met in Abancay Peru when Shannon and I were trying to get him into a helicopter. They have converted a VW bus to biodeseil and are driving it from their home in Mexico City to Terria Del Fuego. Very nice folks and even though we didn’t spend much time together in Peru, it was little reunion. Here’s their website (spanish) to promote alternative fuels and conservative living:


Here they are leaving Mexico City

A bit  later, really in the middle of nowhere, because I was on an empty stretch of dusty dirt road, I saw group of people beside two cars. I thought there might have been an accident or something, so I slowed down and turned my engine off. Coasting in I recognized one of the group as an Aussie I had met in the Altiplano. When we first met he was traveling with a tour group out of Uyuni and we had talked a while by one of the lakes. Totally random re-encounter and we had a laugh about it.

So, lets see what who I’ll meet today. The highest pass in South America is about 90 km north on Ruta 40. I’m going to ride up and check out the view. Simon and Mike went to Tocuman yesterday for repairs, so I’m on my own till we meet back up down the road.

I’ll be MIA for a few days, so Mom – DON’T CALL THE EMBASSY!


The whole crew in reunited in Salta


My first wheely!


The back road to Salta


The road to Cafayate kept getting better and better


With this little side hike into the Devils Throat



And these weird rock formations


And ended up in wine country.


Just for the hell of it I rode up to Cachi.


And got another full day of dirt with crazy spires of rocks.  This is the stuff I love!

CB Christmas

Hi everyone and Merry Christmas from somewhere in Northern Argentina! With the green grass and lots of palm tress, the Christmas spirit is MIA. But thats Ok because being so far away from family and friends it will pass like just another day. So have seconds on egg-nog and maybe pour a little extra gravy on those taters for me!


A long time ago, when Wanda was queen of the house I lived in, she put up a tree for Christmas and decorated it just so. One night when she was at work I replaced the angel at the top with this little Mexican devil I had. The red devil had a patch of grey rabbit fur for chest hair and putting him at the top of tree made me laugh. But not Wanda. She was having none of it.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, and annoying Wanda, here’s a little devil that lives down in a mine we visited in Potosi Bolivia. The miners bring him gifts of cigarettes, booze and coca leaves in hopes that he’ll help them find a fat vein of silver.  You can print out his picture and add it your own Nativity, then put shots of rum and cigarette buts around his feet. If he favors you, you might find some silver lining your clouds too.

Mine devil

(I added a page with a link to a movie Simon shot while we were riding the Salar. Check it out! -and let me know if it doesn’t work for you, I’ve had some trouble with video before)

Click for the full gallery of photos


The Salar. A huge salt plane in southern Boliva that streches for miles.


The road to Uyuni


The first night we camped on an island of rock and sand in the sea of salt


The second day the Salar gives way to the Altiplano and the roads turn to deep, soft sand. We rode for days in first gear averaging 15 miles an hour. I fell seven times…


Setting up camp the second night out


In the midst of the destert there are salt ringed lakes with flocks of flamingos


And wind sculped rocks


The view from our camp the fourth night. Stark and beautiful.


The border between Bolivia and Chile

riding the salar

Today we fire up the bikes and enter the Salar, the largest salt flat in the world. I’ve got a full tank of gas and twenty liters of extra fuel strapped to the back of the bike. At 8:00 a.m. when the market opens we’re going to buy enough canned tuna and pasta to last a week, and our rag-tag band of five people on four bikes will leave on what could be the most amazing leg of this whole trip. (In Potosi we picked up Didi and Martina, a German couple riding two up on a DR 650)

We’re late in leaving because December rains usually cover the plane with water, but we did a little recon yesterday and it was dry. With that information, our plan is to enter from the east, and in about the center, where there are “islands” or raised areas of sand where cacti grow, we’ll spend the night, and in the morning turn south.

South of the Salar is a volcanic zone with geysers, hot springs, stone sculpted by wind, and colored lakes where, in November Flamingos flock to breed. If we’re lucky, they’ll still be there. From there we’ll cross the border from Bolivia into Chile and finish this little excursion in the colonial town of San Pedro de Atacama. The whole trip should be about five or six days through very remote territory, so hang on St Christopher, we’re gonna ride like the devil!

A few photos from the train graveyard on the edge of the Salar:

into the train grave yard

long view

train face


trian coming


I wasn’t able to upload the post above before we left. Its a long story that goes something like this: After visiting five internet places in the town of Uyuni, none would let me plug a USB flash drive into their computers so I got frustrated and stormed into the desert.

We spent five days camping our way across the Salar and Altaplano, sun burnt, cold and happy. My camera broke on the salt flats and now I’m going through everyone elses photos to pull together a post of the expedition within our adventure. I should have it late tomorrow.

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