November 11, 2005 GMT
Peruvian National Sport

Although footie is very popular, the real National Sport is protest marches and demonstrations. Especially if they can persuade the riot police to attend in their beat-up troop carrier with the extremely cracked windscreen. Today's was an anti-Fujimori do - pix on Phil's site when he has a moment.

So, the second alternator arrived yesterday; and after I spent all of five minutes fitting it, the yard at the back of the hotel reverberated with the sweet sound of a revving engine and the cheers of the hotel staff as they saw the needle on the voltmeter swing to the right. The third one should sould arrive tomorrow (I paid more dollars into the bank this morning).

Hallelujah and Hurrah.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 06:16 PM GMT
November 16, 2005 GMT
What They Donīt Tell You At Border Posts

Had a cracking ride up over the altiplano to Juliaca, then along Lake Titicaca through Puno to the border at Desaguedero.

Just about every policeman I passed flagged me down for a chat; and I think Iīve had more offers of marriage in Peru than the rest of my life put together.

The border was the usual beargarden (busy market, mud etc.), made tolerable by the very friendly chaps at the Central Customs office (had to go there in a tricycle taxi) and the equally friendly Bolivian truckers who insisted I jump the queue as my paperwork was minimal compared with theirs. The downside was the bribe to the border customs man (only a couple of quid, but never nice) which was allegedly a fee but disappeared into his shirt pocket. And, of course, the īlast manī at the end of the village; the immigration man was OK, but the man checking the bike papers demanded more money - I pretended not to understand and claimed I only had Peruvian soles (absolutely true, except for the dollars).

On the road the Bolivian police at the checkpoints were nearly as friendly as the Peruvians, and at the toll booth the guy decided that my lack of understanding, lack of bolivianos and the hassle of getting at any money anyway negated any discernible advantage so let me through gratis (with the police looking on).

I have no idea how I managed to get into the centre of La Paz and find a hotel with parking. All pure luck - dark, no map, no road signs.

Anyway, todayīs my birthday (all together now), a fact which didnīt escape the staff at the hotel in Arica, as they gave me leaving/birthday prezzies (they clock your DOB at checkin). The bar staff gave me a nice Arequipa T-shirt, and the reception staff a rather smart embroidered hotel polo shirt. the bellboys contributed stickers for the bike, and the maintenance guys cleaned it for me. And I thought I was supposed to be tipping them mightily for all their help.

Oh, and the thing they never tell you at border posts is the time. So if you forget to look at a clock you can end up in a bit of a pickle. For the record, Iīm now only 4 hours behind GMT.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 06:35 PM GMT
November 23, 2005 GMT
A Day In The Life Of . . .

Six days, 2,000 miles and three border crossings from Arequipa; and thanks for the birthday wishes. Now in Argentina and only three hours behind GMT.

A Typical Day (yesterday actually)

Up at sparrowīs (still in Chile), cup of instant while checking with BBC/CNN that Bush hasnīt declared war on this country or the next. Do tappets (a bit major because of having to drop Ernieīs Mega Crashbars) and rejet/readjust carbs for sea-level. Spot of brekky while telling stories to nice German lady motel owner. Fuel up, ride 350 miles to Mendoza (Argentina); in the course of which I have to ooh and aah at a knackered Suzuki camchain produced by a chap at a rest stop, climb to 10,000 feet to do border crossing in middle of Andes, escape from trucker threatening me with baseball bat, find hotel in Mendoza with secure parking, hot shower (36 degrees this side of the Andes), cold beer, legendary Argentinian steak, bed to sleep for 12 hours.

The Border Crossing Scale

Ranges from 0 (e.g. Europe, barely noticeable) to 10 (e.g. Egypt, Australia, at least all day, complicated, expensive, very hot/cold).

Peru-Ecuador/Ecuador-Peru: 4
Peru-Bolivia: 5
Bolivia-Chile: 1 (included marriage offer from widowed Chilean Customs chief and a stunning setting 16,000 feet up on the altiplano by a lake with pink flamingos beside a snow-capped volcano)
Chile-Argentina: 2 (extremely well sorted, despite stretching for 30km from start to finish; didnīt even have to get off the bike)

Bolivia/Chile border at 16,000 feet

More About Height

1. It appears the acclimatisation is partly "sticky" in that even if you return to sea-level the effects when one returns to altitude are not as severe.

2. Coffee is on the hot side of warm as water boils at around 80 degrees. A blue steak will be more or less cold.

3. I had a swig from my standard 500ml placky water bottle at 16,000 feet, upon which the bottle was around half full. Three hours later at sea level the bottle was more than 3/4 full because it had squashed. So I still donīt understand about tyres: at sea level the rear is at 36psi relative to the pressure at sea level, so it must be at a higher relative pressure at high altitude, mustnīt it? Never was very good at sums.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 02:50 PM GMT
November 29, 2005 GMT
Aaaaah, Ripio

"How do you keep so fit, just sitting on a motorbike all day?"

"No idea, madam. I put it down to my strict diet regime of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol."

There are two types of road in Argentina - paved and unpaved.

There are two types of paved road - excellent and awful.

There are three types of pothole on the awful paved roads - pothole, POTHOLE, and "Where'd that truck go?"

The unpaved roads are ripio - gravel.

There are two types of gravel - large ball-bearings and small ball-bearings. Both are slithery and lethal with the strong blustery wind (which is what did for me back in April). Sometimes the ripio has been graded, which means that the ball-bearings are spread evenly across the width of the road to a depth of up to two inches. So one prays for an ungraded section so that one can ride in a compacted tyre track. However, this means appalling corrugations and bits falling off the bike regularly. It also wreaks havoc with my shoulder.

Yesterday it took me six hours to ride the 108 miles from Rio Mayo in Argentina to Coyhaique, all on ripio. The border crossing only took about half an hour altogether as the officials on both sides had nothing else to do (they get an average of three vehicles a day). What bliss to get to the Chilean side where the dirt is nicely compacted and there's NO GRAVEL.

And what a welcome from Francisco and Fabiola, not to mention Hortensia (the maid) who immediately sat me down in front of a huge bowl of warming stew.

So I have to do a few repairs (courtesy of the aforementioned Argentinian ripio), and a major service as I've now done over 30,000 miles. I managed to get a new pair of tyres fitted the other day when I was passing through San Rafael on the way from Mendoza to Zapala, so they should be OK for a while now.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 02:54 PM GMT

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