Feb 27, 2009

symphony for the soul

Desert beauty, coastal solitaire...Winding through roads of evenly surfaced hard gravel (quite similar to pavement when dry), banking into turns as frequent as color changes in the earth. This is grin-full/tension-free riding, provoking thoughts and memories of the deserts in southwestern US; I am happy to be in country like this. The air moving accrossed my face feels good as I casually cruise from the desertscape to the rock and sand of the Chilean coast. Different colored, sized, and types of rocks, and up & down through hills and valleys, this is a desert geologists dreamscape. I am tempted to stop and crack a few random rocks, but when I dismount the moto, the warmth of the sun is so strong that to remain off the moving moto for too long doesn´t appeal. Anxious to see the coast again (altough its only been a matter of hours) a picture or two will have to do for now.

On the coast the temperature suddenly becomes cooler. The oceanfresh crispness of the air feels good, its is OK now to rest off the bike for awhile. There isn´t much traffic on this road, most commuters stay inland on the paved highways- fast, but straight and boring. I prefer this route-slower, but quiet (except for the crashing waves), beautiful, and offering an endless blue nothingness to gaze out on meditatively.

Decided to stop in the quiet, bayed town of Tal Tal to gear up for camp (tonights cuisine: soup.....water, onion, tomato, carrot, garlic and a pepper to go with some pasta, bullion, oregano, salt and pepper stashed on the back-in remembrance of Bolivian menu), and throttled off in search of a suitible site for the night...

The hundred or so possible campsites passed en route the 10km to mine were all equally beautiful, with small spots of sand woven into the maze of rocks and boulders on the beach. Groups of families/friends in two, three, and four tent "pueblitos" were scattered thinly about the coastline, and yet still plenty of hiddenbeach-treasurespots for one to claim as home for an evening. Out of site & out of mind-if one preferred, which I do this night.

I followed a two-track sand path down to an unnocupied stretch of coastline just before sunset. One thing Chile is not short of is coastline. Built the tent & firepit, and combed the rockbeach for oceanic treasures, bathing in the last bit of salty sunshine. Sipping soup to the animate sound of the waves in a sort of "breathing" pattern reminded me that even in my solitary state, I am never alone. To relay this message in a more barefaced way, I decided to start a fire to let my presence be known among the few other far off campfires glowing along the coast. The warmth given off by the fire below and by the stars above embraced me with a suggestive good night hug, and I was off to dreamland, in this land of dreams.


I can feel tuning fork like vibrations in my hands and fingers after running the bike at high speeds for such a long time. Purely pavement today, hot sun and pavement. The motorcycle cants into the wind as if it were programmed to do so by the honda engineers, and I can smell the ocean air as I approach Antofogasta.

Only 8km out of town & sight of the Chilean coast, and I pick up a sixteen penny nail in the shape best described as a loch ness monster or an angry cobra- erect and ready to strike. Strike it did, leaving me in a side to side skid at 75kmph. As the skids grew bigger, the only option was to lay the bike down... Thankfully not in front of any oncoming traffic or other hazards, doy las gracias a Dios that I am OK. After hobbling accrossed the highway back and forth carrying boulders big enough to stand the bike on to remove the tire, I was rescued by a passing veteranarian and his friend. Luckily he had no passengers of the perro species in back, so the three of us lifted the bike into the van, and buzzed off to Antofogasta and the coast.

Ahhhhh, the ocean....................

No chance in fixing the tube, blown into pieces, and I have no spair. The search for a moto tube on a Saturday afternoon in Antofogasta is something someone should give a prize for finding . I like prizes. The owner of the tire repair shop and I ended up cruising the whole town in his old beat up chevy truck looking for one. No luck at the tire stores, all the motorcycle shops were closed, we even checked the local version of a Target in the "supermall" thing. Last stop before I´ll have to stick it out the weekend, we checked a friend of his´s used tire shed/repiar shop, and laying in the back used and dirty, but hole-less, an 18 inch motorcycle tube. Sonrisas y rubber to the road...

On my way out of town on the coastal gravel road, I met another couple of friendly local Antofogastans (Miguel & Patrick-toilet cleaner and chemical engineer :) I decided to stop and sip a beer with them and enjoy the beautiful vista del mar. One beer turned into two, and then three, and I was starting to think riding on wouldn´t be the best idea. Neither did they, and I was invited to stay at Patricks apartment for the night. Seems karma has a way of presenting opportunities to repay kindness; on the way into town, Miguel blew a tire and he had no spare tire, and no tools to change it even if he did. A cousin of thiers was called and with the few tools I had and the only spare tire they had, I managed to jimmy rig the different sized wheel onto the axle (minus a few parts) while they watched in awe of this gringos mechanical ablity (which isn´t much) and we hobbled back into town. Miguel & Pat----------------->

As if a bed in his daughters´room for the night wasn´t enough to repay me for helping them, I was intvited to a BBQ, and out for drinks that night-all gratis (free).

Awoke to HelloKitty wallpaper, with slight reccolection of how and when we arrived back at Patrick´s place and the events of the nightbefore... Laughter... Coronas... Meat... Buenas Ondas... Discotecas... Dancing... Whiskey... Comatose............. Damn whiskey´ll do it . Happy, but huuuuuungover. I remembered from days in Hawaii & Bali alike that the best cure for a hangover of this sort was a nice dip in the ocean...I did just that, and the healing powers of the Pacific came through once again. I was ready for another day in the saddle. My fellow nerds, thanks for everything. ;)

smelly site

Reluctantly left the border town of San Pedro at 2pm, looking forward to great pavement and looking back on a barren desert and the snowcapped volcanos and mountains of Bolivia. Rolled into Calama, and decided to service the bike. New fluids and filter only took about half-an-hour, but trying to convince the girl at the shop that I was excited to camp in the desert took another hour or more. She knew plenty about motos, and seemingly more about the Chilean attractions one shouldn´t miss.... Camping in the desert wasn´t one of them. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of sites and conviction with which she spoke, but peculiarly satisfied with what I have already explored/discovered/experienced. After failing to convince me to stay in Calama for the night, I motored out to find a site to camp. In retrospect, she couldve been right... By the time the sun had started to set, I wasn´t finding much to block the gusting winds from butchering my tent, so I set up behind the only windshelter I could see. Beautiful sunset illuminating everything in a desert red glow. Not-so-beautiful piles of poop equally illuminated everywhere around the shelter. It seemed that the only area for a guy to get out of the wind and camp was also the only place for commuting traffic to get out of site of traffic to pinch one out. In the desert, there isn´t much to hide you from the traffic... or the wind. In my case that night, less wind = more poop. I think I will plan more time to look for a site out of the passing poop route next time, or just deal with the wind.

Bienvenido a Chile

Chilean economy made itself apparent as soon as I crossed over that invisible line we like to call "la frontera" or "the border". Smooth pavement, lane lines not only visible but shouting "PASS\DON´T PASS", and emergency SOS phones every 5K or so lined the road dropping into the Atacama desert and San Pedro. I sit back and relax.
To my delight, a freindly smile and a not entirely true explanation of why I didnt have papers from Bolivia, were all it took to get me through the Chilean customs with the only problem being my twelve inch Dundee knife on my side (my security system in the previous countries), easily stowed for passage...

Bienvenido a Chile...
San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis in the middle of the Atacama desert-apparently the second driest place on earth behind Antarctica. A tourist trap, but beautiful nonetheless, offering tours to some of the deserts unique & amazingly beautiful attractions. Everything seemed a little closer to home. The people, cars, shops & soccer fields, and even the dogs seem more "well to do" here. Sitting on the first street I cruised looking for a room for the night was a familiar face. Cesar, from Columbia and whom I´d met in Huaraz, was relaxing in the shade of tree out of the desert sun, working on some of his jewelry for the next days´artesan fair. Random aquaintences don´t seem very random at times, more driven towards something bigger. He introduced me to his Chilean friend whom he´d been staying with for the last three weeks, Fernando, and the two of them decided to give me a proper introduction into the Chilean lifestyle of a street artist. The name sounds a little cheezy, but these guys are the real deal. Handmade everythings like leather purses, jewelry of all materials, stone carvings, and even tables and chairs lined the street in front of them the day of the fair- the only day of the week its legal to sell on the street. The rest of the days they spent working, preparing delicious BBQs, and drinking whilst waiting for the night, and the illegal displaying of goods on street to tourists while keeping an eye out for the policia (my job). Cervesas and vino led to conversations of truth and spirituality on a few occasions over the four nights spent in S.P. and the rest of the time joking around and just chillin out was a great way to come to know Chile.
Two very good amigos, time very well spent, and a town very well remembered...

Feb 20, 2009

Southern Bolivia

Back on terribly sandy roads full of unevenly spaced washboards. Not quite the picturesque riding as found in the salar, but the incredible countryside I was riding through made it worth the chattered teeth and shaken brains. The first night out, the only ¨city¨ within one hundred plus miles, happend to be the ¨City of Rocks¨.... Literally a city full of sandstone boulders creeplily staring down at me in odd shapes one could easily find representation in whatever theme you prefer. To me they appeared as a variety faces beckoning to be climbed on, a paradise of boulders. After sending a few of the easier routes I could find, the tent went up, dinner started, and gazed out meditatively into the seemingly neverending sunsets found in southern Bolivia. That night I parted from the tent for a good ol midnight relieving, and looking up from 12000ft, the stars have never appeared brighter-a real visual symphony. God does great work.

Back in the saddle the next day and the roads were even worse, but as I have experienced, that only means the scenery gets better.True again. The highlands of the National park were unlike any territory I´ve seen yet. Entering the park, I was going to practice the art of drive-by-control-check-without-paying as its worked in the past- all I ve gotten was a stern whistling at, but the two gentelmen in charge were onto me, and the gate was down, their guards were up. The thirty Bs. fee was paid, and after sitting down for some friendly conversation and info gathering, I was invited to join them for almuerzos (lunch). Freshly prepared soup and llama meat, well worth the entrance fee. After lunch we made a few pratical joke calls over the two way radio in the control tower, and I was off to explore the Park.

First stop Laguna Colorada:
Red and pink water, white twisters of salt dust, and pink flamingoes were all in excess here, not to mention the surrounding 5000+ meter peaks in all dierctions. Very neat, so neat in fact that one of the flyers given to me at the control check was a ballot promoting votes for Laguna Colorada to be one of the new seven world wonders!

Up and over 15,000 ft on once again, "carreteras duras" (rough, gravely roads) with winds blowing snow in the form of needles at 40mph-stinging any part of skin exposed. This felt like a martian world- reds, yellows and multiple shades of grey in every direction, snow, wind, and sunshine rotating in twenty minute shifts... I sensed some martian activity going on, and followed a two track down and around a few hills and volcanic float to discover some geysers and a short hundred or so of bubbling mud pits. No dinosaurs...or martians. The blistering hot steam coming from the pits, warming the cold air around it got me excited for my next stop, and hopefully camp spot for the night- the Polques hot springs.

Down from the pass, fingers started to warm, the land showing similarities of Earth, and life began to show its face again in the form of more flamingos, an occasional emu, vicuƱas, and of course llamas. That evening I watched the sunset from a thermal bath looking over a saffire blue lake observing the eating habits of flamingos, very impressive. Set up camp only 1km away. Two plus hours of mineral moisture soaked bones wasn´t enough for me, I had hopes of a sunrise soak as well! With that thought in mind I whipped up some soup and tea, took in the brilliantly bright stars for a while, and slept like a baby.

I awoke twenty minutes before sunrise, tent covered in thick frost, water jugs partially frozen, and moto facing the hot springs instead of toward the way I would be heading out on. Threw on the boots and headed over to the pool. Beautiful sheets of steam covered the landscape as flamingos continued to graze in the warm mineral streams surrounding the lake. I plopped down into the pool just in time for the sun to rise- a miraculous minute of beauty, a great start to what would be my last day in Bolivia, and hopefully my first day in Chile.

On my way to the border I stopped by Laguna Verde, known by its´green water. On this particular morning, a green cloud hovering above the lake was annoucing its location. By the time I reached the lake, the cloud was gone, but two volcanoes were exposed - both in this world and in the relfective world of the lakes´ green water. I did the dance(meat paste) , had some lunch, and gave my farewells to this gorgeous country.

Bolivia will always remain in my heart as one of the most beautiful and remote places I´ve been blessed to experience. Graicas a Dios. Chau Bolivia.

Feb 13, 2009

Desert of salt

The road south of Oruro wound its way through the altiplano leading us to a phenomenon unlike anything I´ve ever experienced. The salt flats of southern Bolivia have been becconing us since we started planning this trip back in early 2008. The first of the two we encountered, Coipasa, is much less traveled and about half the size of the better known Uyuni to the south. Riding onto Coipasa gave me a feeling of giddyness similar to what I remember experiencing on the first day of snowboarding as a child. The great white expanse in front of me baffled me and everything I knew of familiar lanscapes. It took me a day or so to shed the fear of falling through the layer of salt below me, such similarities to a frozen lake back in the midwest. Fear soon led to expierementation and curiosity. Exploring how long I could ride with my eyes closed, seat surfing, or recliner rididng filled time while waiting for Brent who was somewhere out there in the great white void.I had loaded my moto with food, water, and supplies to last the two of us for four days and three nights, the bike looked like a rig made for a touring clown. Our approach was fairly simple, we would pick a landmark in the far distance and I would ride ten, fifteen, or twenty km towards it and set up a sun shade using tent poles and a tarp.. Brent would arrive an hour or so later, and we would eat lunch and chillout for awhile out of the white hot sun. Our lunches consisted of an unusual substance we came to call "meat paste"- a mashed bologne substance that provoked a rather odd dance every time we mentioned it..yummy. The winds at sunset would try and mold my tent into a sculpture seen only in a modern art museums, but once the sun went down the winds calmed and it was the moon turn to shine.
The full moon we were priveleged enough to experience was another oddity, as the great white expanse turned into a glistening pale blue ocean of salt in every direction. Mornings came earlier than expected, and after coffee and oats it was off into the salt for another day of nothingness and simplicity. Ride straight. Ok, close your eyes and throttle down for a while. Stop. Set up the sun shade. Make some goofy pictures. Ride straight. Set up camp. Sleep.
A few landmarks in the form of islands made for good rest points along the route, and provided cool refreshments (cervesa 1L bottles) much to our admiration. Smiling ear to ear led to sunburned gums and tounges,and the uncomfortablness of rubbing sunscreen inside my nose was overcome by the pain of burnt nostrils. Eyes closed riding, and flavoring meals with literally the "salt of the earth" were once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Eventually, saltier than weve ever been, we splashed our way out of the Uyuni six or so days later, and into the town of Uyuni to enjoy the likes of pizza and people. ¨ Nothing compares to nothingsness¨-Brent Sturlaugson


My Bolivian homey... For the last couple of years, I have been sponsering this little guy in Bolivia through Christian Childrens Fund- a very reputible orginization, and one of the most organized outfits I´ve encountered in all of South America. From what I´ve been told meeting one´s sponsered child is somewhat of a rarity, so I felt extremely priveleged to have the opportunity to finaly meet Gonzalo. Gonzalo hails from a small pueblo in the countryside, where little spanish is spoken, and busses only run one day a week. In La paz I arranged for us to meet in Oruro the day before his eighth birthday, unplanned but very convienient, as I had been toy shopping for a few days for Gonzalo before I knew of his cumpleaƱos.

He was joined by his extremely humble father and Anita (a rep. from CCF), and the group of us spent the day in the town visiting churches, museums, and eating our fill of ice cream and pizza. We went to the big screen to see Madagascar (a first for him and his father too) and played soccer in the park. In between timid smiles, we briefly chatted about where he lives and goes to school. His understanding of spanish was up to par, but he was very shy to speak, thus conversations were kept fairly short, but the smiles were abundant for all throughout the day. The day ended with more pizza and ice cream and we said our good bye´s- Gonzalo´s dad claiming I will be always known as ¨tio¨(uncle) Soren. An incredible experience for all involved, such a blessing it was to meet Gonzalo. Gracias a Dios.

Feb 12, 2009

The Peace

La Paz, the city I had the highest hopes for, turned out to be better than imagined. The "highest" capital city in the world lived up to its name (the peace) in a country of slight unrest and unfair treatment. The feeling I had in the city was just that-peaceful. Not so much in the calm/quiet sense, but as a feeling inside. Everything I experienced from the city streets, to the peoples/travelers attitudes, and even the San Pedro prisoners appeared at ease with themselves and one another.

The city offered up its finest attractions for the few days we spent there including a very impressive hostal that acquired its uniqueness from the micro-brewery located on the main floor and bath tub of beer in the sky bar (supposedly good for the skin?). Other interseting attractions included the infamous Routa 36 club- if you´ve been there, you know what I´m talking about, and the San Pedro prison.
The prison is a one of a kind place, it acts more as a neighborhood than a correctional institution There are countless women and children scurrying about, stores, pool halls, and fountains giving the place the feel of a normal barrio in any other pat of the city. Adventurous tourists can pay a fairly steep price for a guide and body guard to acompany them inside the guardless prison while explaining the ins and outs of the place. .Quite a unique experience- well worth it in my book.

Nights out in some of the most attractive clubs, mornings with all you can eat pancakes, and afternoons visiting museums proved a nice break from the desolate and shabby towns of southern Peru. Over all, La Paz gets my vote for favorite capital city in South America so far. The time spent there and it´s memories will continue to entice me into returning someday.

Feb 4, 2009

La Paz and beyond

Just a quick note for now as I am short of time- as unimaginable as that is - I gotta hit the road to catch up with little bro. After getting out of jail free in La Paz, we joined some newly acquired friends for a fun party that we found around every corner during our short weekend there. It is an incredible city, full of good people, and as tranquillo as they come(big cities that is.) The road after La paz led to another town named Oruro, where I met the little guy I´ve been sponsering for the last couple of years.. We spent the day before his eigth birthday together engoying a number of firsts for him including pizza and a movie on the big screen. It was a very special day for all of us involved... More on all that later as Brent and i are off to navigate the largest salt flats in the world. It should prove a very incredible time of reflection and relaxation out in the middle of what I hear fells exactly like nowhere...