We woke up early to exit the saggy bed of death. It was seriously the softest, saggiest mattress I have ever encountered, our bums nearly touched the floor under the bed! We enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee utilizing our camp stove and then packed up and headed down the street to attempt to re-seat Drew’s tire from his roadside flat fix the day before as it was riding a little rough. We found a little tire shop that had air and Drew set to work trying to fix the crooked tire. It was taking a lot more time and trouble shooting than anticipated. No big deal, though. It was a beautiful little town and we didn’t mind sitting on the curb enjoying the morning sun for a bit.
Then my stomach started churning. I desperately asked the store owner if he had a bathroom. He did not, but directed me around the corner and down some steps to the public banos. Oh wow. I felt like I was in a medieval castle. The bathrooms were in a big stone room and were simply holes in the ground separated by stone walls. And if they weren’t already disgusting, I definitely made it worse. Back up at the tire shop, things seemed to be on the right track for Drew’s tire and we were ready to be on our way.
We finally headed over the last of the shortcut towards the altiplano. I think it is safe to say that this road is one of my favorites so far! Driving along deep canyons, surrounded by snow capped peaks with waterfalls pouring down emerald green mountain sides was truly spectacular. And the road just switching back and climbing higher and higher! We all stopped a lot to take in the beauty and try to capture it on camera. I also had to stop multiple times to try and find secret rocks to crouch behind and appease my extremely unhappy stomach. I guess the antibiotics I took in Huaraz only worked for so long, which is pretty frustrating. I have a big dose of really strong antibiotics in my emergency arsenal, but I want to avoid taking them if at all possible. Time will tell, I guess.
The road climbed up high again, above 4,500 meters or 14,500 feet! And then we exited the mountains and the terrain completely flattened out. We didn’t descend from the mountains, though. Everything simply flattened out. Welcome to the altiplano! We made our way south towards the town of Oruro. We were all running extremely low on cash, so low that we would not be able to buy gas when needed. Since we had spent the last three days driving through tiny towns, there had been no cash machines and we could pay for nothing with credit card. It’s really felt like we have been in the true thick of it lately. Just as we got to the main road towards Oruro, Linus and I found a gas station that was somewhere in between tourist and local prices and we had just enough cash to fill our bikes. The other guys were up ahead and didn’t seem interested in trying to fill up. Their gas tanks are a little bigger than ours, so we figured they would be fine.
The road to Oruro was two lanes each way and straight! It was quite the shock to our systems after all the crazy roads we had driven the past few days. It really reminded me of some of the desert driving in the U.S. Around lunch time we rolled into Oruro, which is a pretty good sized city. Our first goal was to find a cash machine, then lunch, then gas. Drew navigated us into the center of town and we started the search. Around and around we went and no ATMs. Finally, after asking a few people, we bumped into what looked like one, but wasn’t, got directed further down the street by a guard and found a few. Problem was that they only worked for Visa card, and Linus and I are the only ones with Visa. The search continued, and finally in a slightly crummier part of town we found a machine that would accept Mastercard. As I waited for the others, I looked around and realized we had accidentally found the moto street of Oruro! There were tire stores galore! This is perfect for us as we have decided to skip the three day (one way) drive east to Sucre which is the next biggest city that would have tires. As lunch spots looked scarce and my stomach was feeling less than dependable, we had a group meeting and decided to look for a place to stay for the night. That would give me the afternoon to try and settle my stomach and would also give those who needed tires a chance to find a good deal.
Let the search for a hostel begin.. As we navigated our way towards an option, we got stuck in a snarl of traffic and then, you guessed it, a massive street market. What in the world is going on? It’s Wednesday! Of course, duh, massive market day is Wednesday! I’ll never figure this one out… And then, like clockwork, Rich ran out of gas. And my stomach churned. Crap. Linus gave Rich some of his gas and we quickly continued towards the direction of said hostel.
When we got there I ran in and desperately asked to use the bathroom. Whew! What a relief. Unfortunately, the place was pretty nasty, so we walked around the block checking other places. They were either full, had no parking, or were too pricey. Ugh. I just wanted to find a bathroom to camp out in for the rest of my life. Plan B ensued: As the other guys were running very low on fuel, we would find gas station, then find hostel. Just a little further down the road we found a station! Rich was able to fill up, albeit at premium pricing. Then, as Sam and Drew stepped up there seemed to be an unfixable problem with the station’s computer system for foreigners and they said they couldn’t sell them gas. Again, crap. And more stomach churning. More wild goose chasing followed, then Sam ran out of gas, so we stopped again to get gas from Rich to Sam. By this time, I was huddled in a ball on the curb, maybe, possibly missing the infrastructures of the developed world just a wee bit.
FINALLY, we made it to a nice, clean, affordable hotel that even had private bathrooms. Yay! I crawled up to the room and Linus was nice enough to park my bike for me. They let us park the bikes inside the hotel in a dining room they weren’t using! When all was said and done, it was 5:00pm. We had arrived in Oruro at 1:00. Four hours of goose chasing! The beautiful drive of the morning was a distant memory by now. Once my stomach had calmed down (thanks to Imodium) we ventured out to find food. Everyone was starving and desperate for something to eat. But as it was in between lunch and dinner all that could be found was street food of fried potatoes with hotdogs and various sauces (called salchipapas) or hamburgers. Not anything I wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. We wandered around the markets for a while. If I had felt better it would have been super interesting. There were all sorts of dry goods, knitted goods, and even a row of ladies making fresh smoothies and juices. I didn’t feel up to trusting the street food, though. On our way back to the hotel we saw a sign for fresh empanadas. We walked into a tiny little place that smelled amazing. I had a perfectly baked chicken and potato empanada and a cup of tea. And it sat perfectly in my stomach!
Back at the hotel, I had every intention of catching up on writing about our recent adventures, but as soon as I sat down in bed I realized it would be a fight that I would loose. I was passed out before 9:00. If I felt better in the morning, the plan was to get new tires and head a few hours down the road to find a camping spot on the way to the infamous Salar de Uyuni, or the massive salt flats of Bolivia.