Monthly Archives: July 2019

Bolivia week 2 for Ginette

Week 2 in Bolivia

Summary – Very frustrating week. I have spent each day in school worrying about Gary, he has not always had access to the internet so there have been days when I have not known whether he is safe and well.  My Spanish lessons have given me something to focus on but it has been a difficult week for both of us. Of course more so for Gary, I am so glad, I chose not to cycle this last stretch of Paraguay.

I have moved to my new apartment, it is bang whallop in the middle of the local’s market, which is huge (the market not my apartment) and a little noisy (views from my window below along with a picture of the front of my building, yes there are vendors sitting right outside my gate). It is better than staying in a hostel but i am struggling to sleep with all the noise. It is amazing the hours these stall holders work, they set up at 06.00am and are still working at 19.00pm.  Some are selling very little, a small pile of peas, carrots, peppers and spinach. I can purchase a small bag of veg for less than 30p. It is clearly a hard way to make a living but as the governement does not have a benefits system like ours they have very little choice. The old people here look much older than people in the UK. Some people are unable to work and they are left to beg in the streets. I asked at my spanish school what happens to these people if they get ill, or are unable to beg and my tutor replied ‘they die’. Apparently once the elderly reach 67 they receive 300 bolivianos a month this is about £30 which would not cover the cost of a room, let alone food, clothes etc.

The dogs seem to fare better, there are hundreds of them, they are friendly and mainly look well fed.  Most of the dogs in the city are wearing jumpers to keep them warm.  As you can imagine with that amount of dogs there’s a lot of barking and dog shit. To be fair the street cleaners do an excellent job of cleaning up but it would be impossible to ensure the pavements were always clean because of the amount of dogs.

The children however seem to suffer the most, I have seen children as young as 6 or 7 walking the streets trying to sell small pieces of fruit/veg.  Or doing basic gymnastics in front of stationary cars. Some have no shoes and looking extremely dirty and skinny. I am not sure where they sleep but I have seen several peeing in the drains.  I have also observed babies sleeping in crates while their mothers work either cleaning the streets or selling food.  It is destressing to see especially in contrast to the majority of children who attend school, are well dressed and wander the streets without a care in the world.

When I first arrived in Sucre, I seemed to be forever putting my hand in my pocket and giving away small change.  But as it is a poor country I soon realised that I needed the small change as much as the locals. I have tried presenting a 50 bolivian note in shops and they struggle to break this down. This equates to about £6. Talking of money I found to my cost that I have been given two fake 50 bolivian dollar notes. This experience has taught me not to be so complacent with my money.

It is the winter here in Sucre however the temperature during the day is late teens early 20’s centigrade. While you have sweltered in the UK the temperature dropped here on Wednesday and the schools closed for the rest of the week! Apparently the next big city up from Sucre has had snow so as a precaution the schools closed. I am in bed every night by 7.00pm just to keep warm I either read my book or watch a programme under the quilt cover brrrrr.

It is much busier in Sucre this week, as it is winter a lot of familes went away for a couple of weeks but returned this week. The roads are congested and the city smells of exhaust fumes.

My lessons are progressing well but I still do not feel confident putting sentences together. I am hoping this will improve. Other than attending lessons and touring the city my week has been quite dull. I had my haircut, which was a huge mistake, It took me the best part of a year to grow all the layers out and it took one crazy hairdresser 15 minutes to undo all my hard work. This is dispite the fact that I showed her a picture and told her quite clearly I only wanted a little bit off.

I visited a market which sells miniature items, cars, money, houses, baby dolls, degrees, contracts etc the locals believe if you purchase one of these items and have it blessed you will be awarded the equivalent but bigger.  The person who told me this truly believed this to be the case.

Gary’s week has been more adventurous as I am sure you will find out when you read his blog.  I am finding it really difficult being apart from him – love definitely hurts.

I will be moving apartment again this weekend, to a smaller, cheaper apartment in the city. This will be my 4th move in 2 weeks!! The things I do to keep myself amused.

As I finish writing this blog, I have just read an email from Gary and he has decided to get the bus to Sucre rather than cycling Yayyyyyyyy!!! I am very excited.

Gary in Paraguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and back into Bolivia

Summary

Very frustrating week, broken back wheel, lost power pack, limited signal and several trips across borders. Now safe and well in Santa Cruz with a new wheel.

20th July

Army hospitality, wizened old lady and a bumpy ride

I was really grateful for the hospitality showed by the Army lads (although technically I believe they are Air Force) I was fed and watered and made to feel like the place was my home. They were a nice bunch of guys.

I wanted to get away early to try to take advantage of the cooler morning hours so skipped taking the breakfast offered as it would have meant waiting a while, hence I cooked my own porridge but did partake in the coffee that had been kindly made for me.
So Capitan Jorge Gomez, if you ever do make it over to England then please contact me so I am able to offer the same hospitality for you.

I was not looking forward to going backwards but needs must, I had 7 hours of hard graft, the initial stages was like pushing the laden cycle along Weston’s soft sandy beach. I had no choice but my body was really suffering (blood in the wee type, yuk).
I thought I had an early salvation when a 4×4 came from behind me from the Indeginous camp, but other than nearly running me over as they went past they were no help.
I passed the coke ovens again but got a better look, they are actually brick kilns for the firing of new bricks.

I found the same wizened old lady selling her wares under a tree, this time I bought 2 litres of water and sat with her offer of Comer(food) dinner was a tin of moist meat (looked like dog food but tasted great) and small hard bread balls, the meal may not sound good but I was really grateful for it. She was chatting away to me even though she knew I couldn’t understand her, she is positioned in just the right place for a weary cyclist.

7 hours later, the track was far improved and I was cycling more than pushing (at this stage I can see why I had carried on as the road wasn’t to bad), but a waggon was coming from behind me and I waved them down for a lift. They took me the rest of the remaining 31 miles to Le Patria, a very bouncy 2.5 hours in the back of a flat bed lorry. I spent most of it in a Judo back fall position as I was been tossed around, as unpleasant as this was it meant I reached Tarmac and a town by 4pm.

The weather is blowing a bit and I only have an hour and a half before sunrise so after a shop and fizzy drink in the company of a cow in the process of been butchered I moved on, but found a Ranch motel 100 yards down the road so promptly stopped and got my tired out old body a room to sleep in.

Managed a FaceTime with Ginette, looking forward to reaching Sucre but still along way to go

21st July

The air con in the room was a bit half hearted but kept the room just under roasting. I had to rig up the mozzie net as my little friends had found me again, sleeping on my back and I noticed the bruises from the lorry ride.

I had breakfast of toasted sandwich having ordered omelette

The cycle ride out was really easy, I had smooth flat tarmac and a fantastic hard wind pushing me along so I needn’t cycle sometimes. Just as I was thinking how I would stop early today so I could cross the border in the morning the back wheel started making some nasty metallic noises, I didn’t have a radio that I could turn up so the noises continued , I figured sand had got in the bearing I had the tools I needed so stopped and stripped the back wheel by the roadside, I am missing a couple of ball bearings and have metal swarf. I did consider pushing on but as I was only 10 miles out of town I headed back. Now I have an awful headwind that pushed me off the road a couple of times.

I found a mechanic and he let me strip the wheel again and try to clean up the remaining bearings and the chain, he helped where he could and was kind enough to do this for free. The result is the back wheel needs yet another set of bearings
Some locals have tried to help me and it looks like I may be able to get a bus tomorrow at 6am, a taxi would be 100 dollars and I am at present very low on ready cash (I have about £20) as no one has been taking credit cards.

I was shown a shed area with some picnic tables and told I can stay there (or at least I think that was what was implied). I did look at staying at the hotel again but they don’t take credit card and I need the little cash I have for the bus( if it exists)
This shed turns out to a focal point for the village, I was playing my Ukulele and ended up entertaining some kids then being fed steak and potatoes and cold coke all for free. I was planning on sleeping there but as it got dark more locals turned up and the music system was turned on, I sneaked off and set up camp in the dark in what I hope is a bit of wasteland.
The plan is to get up at 5 pack up and try to catch the bus, if not then I have the rest of the day to try to hitch a lift in a lorry

Today has felt like another setback and to be honest did upset me, having Net on face time helped and she has done some research for me on cycle shops and buses. I must admit I would have preferred that she was with me so she could cuddle my low spirits away

But it’s not all bad, I have enjoyed meeting the locals and made to feel welcome.

22nd July

It’s just not going to plan

Up and ready for the bus at 6am. The first bus driver looked to have enough room in the luggage hold but wasn’t particularly keen to load my bike in and asked for money and wasn’t impressed when I showed him all that I had. The second bus driver was happy to take me but not the bike.

I hung around all day trying to thumb a lift, there was not a lot of traffic and the lorries that went by were either tanker drivers or wagons that were fully sheeted down.

By late afternoon a motorcycle tourist pulled over for a chat, he was a Russian guy and had very good Spanish, he did the same circuit as me trying to help me get a lift but the only response was for me to take the bus in the morning. I could do this with just the back wheel if the next days buses don’t have room for bike, but I am also worried I won’t have enough cash to pay. The nearest ATM is 70 miles away and no card machines in sight.

My Russian friend offered to take me and the wheel, so my bike and all my kit has been left next to the Police station in La Patria. We had 130 miles to cover, I was sitting on his top pannier and holding onto the cycle wheel.

Bolivian customs are a bit of a rigmarole but we got through. The road now started to undulate and twist and turn a little which made a refreshing change. There was a 15k stretch of gravel road with loose gravel piled on ruts from the buses etc, I was feeling vary vulnerable sitting up on the back of the bike whilst my Russian friend manoeuvred over the rough surface, we had to stop as the chain came off so this had to be repaired involving removing all the panniers.
We arrived after dark in Villamontes, headed for an ATM (horray I have cash again). We are now in a budget hotel at £6 a night and have eaten for just over a pound.

Smelly Gary only as I only have the clothes on my back, wallet, phone and passports.
I have showered but as there was no towel I used a corner of the bed sheet to tap myself dry.

23rd July

Repairs done – and free of charge

I was up early, so went to the bus station to try to sort out a bus back to Paraguay, but I was too early as all the offices were still closed.

My Russian friend Kirill was up so after breakfast we went off to purchase Bolivian SIM cards, this is much easier when one of you can speak some Spanish. Then we went to the bus station were we where directed to a notice about the bus to Ascension with a phone number which we will call when I am sure my wheel is repaired.

Kirill had a few jobs to do so we went our separate ways.
I didn’t leave my wheel at the workshop I had aimed for, I have problems using mechanical old shacks as they are often skilled but this was a bit ropy even for me.

I headed for a store that an internet searched had shown me called Villamontes racing. Andrew had excellent English and told me he would help me repair the wheel and to come back at 10.30
On return he had been tied up elsewhere and I was asked to leave my wheel and come back at 3 pm

So I had a day wandering around markets and a couple of museums mainly about the Chaco war 1932 to 1935.
I also drew out some more cash and Dollars, it wasn’t a nice feeling being stranded and broke.

On return to Villamontes racing store it was all locked up for siesta, I was a little worried I had done the wrong thing leaving my wheel, but Andrew turned up cycling his own bike with my fully repaired wheel. He would take no payment even though he had to search around town for the parts. He then was kind enough to call the bus company to book my seat for me back to Paraguay, so my bad memories of the last few days are turning into good ones again. People can be so kind.

I have booked back into the hotel but will be up early as the bus leaves at 2am.

24th July

Up at 1am to catch the 2 am bus which turned up at 4am. Met a young lady from Scotland who is backpacking on her own, she was short of currency for the bus and the ATM is a long walk so I lent her £20, hopefully this will be paid back.

Back through border control into Paraguay and dropped at around 8am at the now very familiar La Patria.

A quick breakfast and reassembled cycle then for the ride back to Bolivia, I have 75 miles to the border and managed 50 in wet wether and temperatures ranging from 5 to 7 degrees with a headwind so Not a good cycling day.

The back wheel is not great, I suspect the cup and cones are worn out and destroying the new bal bearings. When I think on it this wheels has done over 18,000 miles.
I am camped under a phone-mast and have no signal on either the Paraguay or Bolivian Sim, how frustrating, I got the tent up in a dry spell but it’s raining again now

My Plan is to limp along to Villamontes, (as long as I can past the border and even get a few more miles under the belt then if the wheel fails I should be able to hitch a lift) I will get the bus to Santa Cruz to a known cycle store and order a new back wheel, I dare say this will take a while so I plan to bus up to Ginette in Sucre whilst waiting.

25th July

Up early , the tent was soaking so removed the inner and packed away
Adjusted the back wheel bearings to remove some of the play, fingers crossed on getting to Villamontes.

Through the Bolivian border again,  first obstacle achieved,  if I broke down it will be easier to get a lift, however I have managed to cycle 70 miles and have approx 25 to go just as well as there have been very few cars and trucks.

The birds have come to entertain me again, not in the high numbers in parts of Paraguay but today I have spotted the following;
Budgies
Parrots
Canaries
Some small birds with Red mohecans and a range of other smaller and some larger birds

There a loads of loose livestock wandering by the road, cattle, horses and pigs. The pigs are in family groups and totally oblivious to me, but the cattle and horses don’t know what to make of me and often run off in all directions including right across my path

I am camping again and have found a hidden spot in the woods by the road, it’s still close to the road so the ear plugs will be going in again.

26th July arrived in Villamontes

27th July arrived in Santa Cruz – bike fixed and bus booked to see Net tomorrow am.

Gary in Paraguay

Gary’s unedited blog

Sat 13th July

First day with out my life partner, lover, best friend.

Ginette is going ahead to Bolivia by bus so she can do a Spanish language course. I saw off off last night on a shabby bus, she has to spend god knows how many hours/days on this thing but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun
When we saw the type of bus she had booked she could have elected to still come with me by bike, but she had her heart set on this language course so she bit the bullet. It was sad leaving her with tears in her eyes and asking me to stay safe.

This morning my ride out of the city was the usual city mayhem, a distraction for me was stopping at the Ferrateria hard ware stores in search of cooking gas, After lots of stops I found a camping/ gun shop and purchased two bottles.

The ride for the first 25 miles was just a hard slog, after that I had a few miles of bad hard shoulder and sand to navigate. But after about 30 miles the road and habitation changed. I now have a long flat straight road route 9 with no hard shoulder but the traffic is so light I am able to cruise along the road.
For the last 30 miles there have been no towns, shops, shacks, fuel stations. The only glimpse of life are occasional ranches off to each side and the odd tent village.
The area does have ranches with cattle and horses but the land is not farmed so the fields are full of trees. I have had lots of bird encounters and spotted a few Dead snakes and foxes. It feels like I am cycling off into a real wilderness

Shopping this morning I didn’t buy the extra water as I planned to but it on route cold, mistake. I do have water filters so could use the odd cattle lakes and streams but gaining access to these means climbing over private fences and probably getting wet feet in the shallows however I did manage to pass a ranch close to the road with a farmer in sight, so he was kind enough to fill my bottles up.

At one break in a lay-by making a cheese-and onion roll a tanker driver had also pulled over, before he set of he gave me some crackers, local round breads and a can of corned beef.

I have stopped at a fuel station and shop, the first in 30 miles. Tent is up and dinner was rice and veggies plus beers from the shop. As soon as I started cooking I was swarmed by mozzies, I had to put my waterproof coat on for protection and eat in the tent, I hate mozzies but they love me, hence I have loads of bites and I am in for an itchy night.

14th July

Somewhere North East is Ascention.

The chair I have has bust an elastic so I spent some time fiddling with it but became frustrated due to lack of suitable repair kit, hence I just have to take care now whenever I move the chair as one of the legs falls off.
Packing away this morning I decided to try to lay on the air mat to expel the air outside of the tent, only to have a local dog come and think it was play time.

The road is long and flat and mostly in good condition, there is no hard shoulder but the traffic is really light, if I can hear a big waggon behind me when a car is coming the other way I pull over in case he tries to squeeze by.

I have seen lots of animals that don’t know the green cross code, the only living ones are the huge away of exotic birds, wading and birds of prey. There a lot of different fairly large wild mammals around, however these are only evident by there roadside remains.
Some of the road kill today.
A few Large snakes.
An ant eater
Several Foxes
What looked like a beaver
Mink
What was once a cute possum type mammal
A cow(this one obviously pushed its luck)

I have managed 80 miles without to much effort, just the amount of time riding on flat roads. I set up camp before dark, hiding under some trees by the side of the road. Not sure this was a good plan as I had to clear a load of spiky branches out of the way, plus I have chosen an area that has been grazed so there is no grass under me, however there are footprints of an animal that has been dwellers going here, though I figure it uses it for the shade and I am here for the night. Treading through the deeper grass to get near, stamping and clapping to try to ensure I don’t encounter any snakes. The dead ones I have seen are pretty large so it does put you on edge.
I am hiding in the tent but only because the bloody mozzies have homed in on me again.

Managed to find a fuel station with WiFi so could email chat with Net.

15th July

Ornithologist and taxidermist dream day

The camp spot last night was hidden and on bare mud, so when the thunder and lighting and rain set in at midnight I was concerned that the reason the area was mud was that it may be a dried up water bed. I had a little panic and considered packing up and moving. But not a good idea travelling in the dark so I stayed put and fortunately didn’t wake up in a puddle.
I have more mozzie bites on my bum than a teenagers face and I believe there is conspiracy going on between said bites and my hands. I know not to scratch them as it makes them worse but just as I am on the edge of sleep the mozzie bites whisper sweet nothings to my hands and entice them to have a scratch hence setting off the itching again, dam those mozzies
I did remove the tent inner when packing away as the outer was soaking.

The rain held off today but it has been overcast and cool at 20 degrees, making the cycling easy, hitting speeds of 15mph (not bad for a laden bike of approx 45kg).

There have been a couple of fuel stations on route so I have taken advantage of them to charge devices and try to use the WiFi to no avail, I even had a full basin wash and cleaned my shirt and shorts. I kept the wet shorts on put wore a lean dry shirt.

Today was even more intense on the wild life front, the bird calls had stepped up to a full orchestra, some of the things spotted today alive
Kingfishers
Flamingos
Green small parrots
Lots of different birds of prey
Cranes, plus other similar wadding birds just as large but with black long breaks and red legs.

Dead things (I have only spotted one live mammal and that was a small armadillo were I am now camped, in some sort of disused gravel plain)
Huge ant eaters (at least two and these are bigger than your average dog).
Large snake (within minutes of setting of from last nights camp).
Otter.
And various other fluffy small mammals.

The last 10 miles the road conditions have been appalling with huge axle breaking craters scattered all over the road, like an aircraft has come and striffed the runway. This however has led to safer conditions for me as the drivers are having to slow down and dodge and weave down the road. For my part it has been like riding in a peloton but with riders coming from both directions. I have been able to point out the holes and gaps to the other traffic so have quite enjoyed this last stretch.

16th July

Cowboys and Indians

A fairly good nights sleep, once I got used the sound of the lorries having to slow then reaccelerate past the holes in the road

It seems the mornings are the noisiest time for the birdies, not just dawn chorus but all morning. Today was much sunnier at around 26 degrees and I even have a little sunburn on my arms

Today I spotted 4 Emus along with the usual varied array of other exotic birds, I also had another close encounter with an armadillo. This was about a foot long and scurrying across the road just in front of me.

I was hoping to visit Fortín Boquerón, but when I reached the turning the road was just a dirt poor surfaced road and due to the recent rains was no fit for me to cycle on, at least not when this would have been 18 miles there then the same back on said road.

It feels like now I have passed this last landmark the road conditions have deteriorated even more with not just holes but sections of road missing, the traffic is much lighter as well but this just maybe because it is now late afternoon.

I have managed to find what I hope is a good camping spot, behind a hedge on a track that is used by the nearby ranch, I am camped on a grassy bit of track so hopefully it won’t be used. I have cooked dinner and played my ukulele with an audience of cows, I am sure they would have given a round of applause if they had hands.

Ginette and I are having trouble keeping in touch, I have a local sim but the network coverage up here is not great. I have managed to find the odd petrol station with WiFi and we can communicate this way but if we are not next to our pc/phone at the same time then we end up reading each overs messages the next day

Today I have seen lots of cowboys on horseback tending to their cattle, I am also in an area where there is a strong Indigenous presence, as yet I have not seen any trouble between the two and no smoke signals in the distance.

17th July

Not much to report

It gets dark here at 540pm, I prefer to set up camp and have cooked before dark so I end up with a lot of time in the evening. The snag with some of this.wild camping is there’s no where to go and you end up just catching up on the diary and reading kindle , on the bright side I get to practice my ukulele
Last night I was ready to sleep by 730 pm, but it took me ages due to fact it was still warm in the tent and my hands and mozzie bites were getting acquainted making me hot itchy and miserable. I even had a full wash with a wet wipe but was soon sweating again

Today the road has improved as I know have brand new tarmac to cycle on, however they have widened both sides clearing the trees and shrubs so now I have very little fraternation with the birds and wildlife. Today has been pretty boring but Ginette and managed a very short face time session that really lit my day up. The rest of the afternoon was spent cycling singing and whistling

18th July

Definitely a Stuart road day

Slept better, have changed my bed layout so that I now sleep similar to Ginette. I use the sleeping bag liner to cover the Thermarest bed so I can lay on it without the horrible plastic feel and use the sleeping bag as a blanket as it gets cooler on the night. I slept with some thin clothes in so that my sweaty body parts didn’t touch each over, seemed to help.
The first 25 miles was on new road, I made good progress stopping for some empanadas and drink and picking up another large water

So now the road took two turns, Left was route 9 which I had been following but my Garmin plotted route went straight on as did I on route 3,
Within half a mile the tarmac ended. Should I go back and follow route 9? If I did then my planned Garmin route to Sucre would no longer be valid. I continued straight on route 3 as the road although dirt seemed in good condition.
I am now 25 miles further and the road is now a single lane sandy rutted track (with not just grass but plants in the middle) the going is tough as I can ride the majority of it at a slow careful pace but occasionally my steel horse refuses at the deeper sandy bits and I have to walk a little.
A few miles back I bought some water from an old lady sitting at a junction in the middle of nowhere, there is very little traffic but I take some relief that there have been the odd motorcycle and one jeep go by. There have been a couple of ranch turnings as well so there is life out here
Maps . Me suggest I have 45 miles more of this track, yuk. But it looks like there are some more army barracks and indigenous areas coming up so maybe the road will get better

19th July

I am having an adventure

I wondered this morning whether to turn back but three wagons came down from the direction I wanted to head last night (having cycled this route now I can only presume they came from a charcoal farm, I past one with lots of round huts burning just like they would have done for centuries), also 18 miles further is an army barracks so I am hoping the road after it will improve
It has been a real struggle, the road has become a single sandy track and I am pushing the bike more than I am riding it,
After struggling along I reached an Indigenous camp, I had lunch at there gates, they could see I was there but showed no sign of wanting contact. Straight after was the army barracks. The road was worse, I am having to push all the time and it’s loose sand so a right effort, in my head I thought by reaching the barracks I could ask for a lift the 23 miles to next junction so persevered.

The guys in the camp were really nice, they couldn’t help with a lift but offered me a place to stay. It was 2pm so I decided to push on, how hard can it be?
It turns out really hard, an hour later I had covered 3 miles, I was knackered and full of doubt that even if I reach the junction 23 miles away what if this this road is also a sand track.
So I have finally succumbed and am doubling back the 53 mile to the tarmac road. Although I know how much pushing I am going to have to do to go back at least I know things will get better
On the way back another Indeginous cowboy came across my path, not only did he not want contact he looked anxious to get away from me.

I am now back at the army barracks and have my first shower since leaving Net and have washed the cycling kit (this has been washed before and worn wet)
This is small but cosy barracks with only about 14 soldiers, I have had fresh cold water and sat and shared Mattie tea with them (this is drunk cold, I had presumed the flasks they all carry in this country had hot water in them)
Not looking forward to retracing my steps as I know what hard work it’s going to be for the next 30 miles.

Other than the kindness of these army lads the only other highlight today was walking through a plague of locusts that took flight as I approached in waves, quite a spectacular sight and went on for ages.

Unfortunately Gary has had poor internet connection and he has been unable to send many photos. I spoke to him last night he is in good spirits.

Ginette in Bolivia

13th July

Bus journey from Asuncion to Santa Cruz

This was a bus journey like no other long distance bus journey I have been on. We got on the bus at 7.30pm and did not get back off again until the border control at 07.00am. There was a toilet on board, but not one you would want to use, fortunately I had no desperate need to use it.

border control

at 7.00am we arrived at the Bolivian border control, j was oblivious to what was going on, people were disembarking with their bags but we clearly were not in Santa Cruz (my end destination). I quickly caught on and followed suit, I then had to take all my panniers across the road for inspection. Passport control was fairly straightforward if not a little protracted, first we had to queue to have our passports stamped for leaving Paraquay, then we had to complete a registeration form and enter a separate room for another photo and forms to be cleared, this was rewarded with a Bolivian stamp in the book. As I waited to go into the room I could clearly see the passenger in front of me approach one of the officers, shake his hand and give him some money (enclosed within his handshake) the officer didn’t say anything, he simply stamped the man’s documents and left the room. Once back outside we waited 10 mins with a lot of stray dogs before being asked to load all our bags on a static table and were given another form to complete about our luggage, this was then duly inspected by one of the officers. The whole procedure took about 1 hour – 1 hour and half (this was for a bus of about 30 people). As I stood there I took time to look at my surroundings, I was the only westerner, the landscape was flat (I’d expected huge mountains) and the ground was scattered with rubbish and looked very baron, I really hoped Bolivia was going to get better, because I was totally underwhelmed by what I could see and the immigration officers had hardly been friendly or welcoming. It is very strange crossing into a new country and not being able to understand a word that is spoken to me.

When I got back on the bus I realised my food bag had disappeared, I asked the driver and his mate but both looked confused, I can only imagine they thought the bag contained rubbish and it was cleared away with the other rubbish left on the bus. I didn’t initially worry because i knew breakfast would be served soon, I didn’t realise at this point that it was going to consist of a packet of biscuits and a carton of chocolate milk!

I bit my tongue, I had some nuts hidden away in my other bag, I could survive until lunchtime with what little I had, fortunately I hadn’t drunk my lemon juice from the night before so I knew I wasn’t going to waste away.

Before we set off some local Bolivian ladies got on the bus, dressed in the local attire of pleated skirt, pinafore and hats, they wandered up the aisle of the bus waving wads of Bolivian money, I imagine they were offering to exchange our currency from paraguay, but I was too tired to engage with them. They were on and off the bus very quickly so I don’t think anyone else took them up on their offer either.

The road down from the border was in a really bad state, I’m not sure where Gary will be crossing into Bolivia but I don’t envy anyone cycling along that road, it was full of rubble and made for a very bumpy ride. On a brighter note I was quite excited to see lots of small green parrot type birds in the trees, I am not sure what they were but they were very colourful and just the boost I needed.

The landscape changed later in the morning and I got quite excited when I spotted mountains in the distance, however they remained in the distance and when the bus entered Santa Cruz at 6.30pm (1 and 1/2 hours later than scheduled) I was surprised to find we were only at 400 meters above sea level.

Lunch arrived at about 1.00pm, I was starving, the drivers mate handed me a box containing rice and chicken, I explained again, I was a vegetarian and he grunted and asked if I wanted fruit (“fruitas?”). I could see the stall that was suppling the rice and chicken and asked if I could go out to speak to her. The drivers mate didn’t understand me but happily let me get off the bus (this was a treat because we hadn’t been invited to disembark, it was great to stretch my legs). I could see the lady had salad and rice so I asked for these to be put in a carton/tray for me, she pointed to some potatoes and I gladly accepted. Hooray and relieve I wasn’t looking forward to eating the two small boys who were sat next to me throughout the journey. The boys were a delight and had been exceptionally well behaved only playing up during some of the more violent scenes on the loud TV screen (acting out fighting scenes). I couldn’t believe they were showing certificate 18 films when there were young children on board. Not long after the bus set off one of the parents knocked on the drivers door, I thought he was complaining about the violence but instead he’d asked for the volume to be turned up – unbelievable.

The bus arrived at Santa Cruz bus station at 6.30 (an hour and half later than scheduled). The terminal is huge and a hive of activity, I quickly unloaded my bike and made my way to the exit. It was dark and there were thousands of people hustling around. I decided for my own sanity I would pass on getting my next bus (my original plan) and wait until the morning. I could spot several hotels opposite the bus terminal and I made my way throw the masses of people to check into one of them.

Day Santa Cruz

Not surprisingly I slept well, I was exhausted.

Woke did the blog and feeling stronger and more confident I ventured back to the bus station to order my ticket for the next stage of my journey. I was pleasantly surprised to see the terminal was much calmer than the previous evening and I was able to procure my ticket without any issues.

With a full 7 hours to kill, I decided to venture out and see the city. I used Maps.me to guide me to several monuments and to the Cathedral. My timing was perfect and I was able to stand at the back of the cathedral while the Sunday service was held. I have no idea what they were saying or doing but I was memorised and felt very serene and privileged to be part of the service.

I spent an hour simply sitting and watching people in one of the main squares, there is a real difference between the older and younger generation. The older ladies were mainly dressed in the pleated skirt and pinafores that I had seen the ladies on the bus wearing. Some ladies had donned the very traditional outfits for photo opportunities and to make some money. I saw a number of older men chewing what I can only image is coca leaves, their cheeks were bulging not very attractive.

There were a number of small fruit sellars but most of the shops were shut, which was a shame as I fancied a mooch around. Instead I found a bar and sat back and enjoyed a beer in the sun. There seem to be more bars in Bolivia than in Paraguay, where there were mainly restaurants/cafes that sold beer along with food.

When I arrived at the bus terminal the lady who had sold me my ticket was outside touting for more passengers, she instantly recognised me, I’m not sure whether the bike gave it away or my white hair which stood out amongst the throng of other passengers. She escorted me through the terminal and allowed me to park my park in safety while I went to get some dinner.

The bus was an improvement on the previous one but it had one huge fault the reclining seats, reclined all the way back on to the passenger behind, leaving no leg room at all. To make this situation worse the man in front of me could not decide if he wanted to be upright or horizontal and on several occasions came crashing down on my lap. My legs are both bruised as a result.

It was impossible to sleep on this bus as the road conditions were horrendous, with large craters in the road. The luggage in the over head compartments fell down several times, windows opened and closed with the jolt of the bus, the ride should have come with a health warning for anyone who was pregnant or had a bad back.

We did stop just before midnight it was great to get out and stretch before the next stretch of road. I looked out of the window a lot during the evening and I was surprised at what we were driving through. There had been several land slides with huge rocks dangerously laying on the road and hanging from the mountain side. After a while I decided it was probably best to close my eyes and try and sleep.

We arrived in Sucre earlier than expected, it was cold and not as busy as Santa Cruz. I could see in the distance that we were much closer to the mountains and I felt we were much higher (2810 meters above sea level) as my ears had popped several times during the night due to the change in altitude. I used maps.me to make my way to my hostel, which I had arranged to access early. I had not anticipated struggling with the altitude and when I came to a steep hill, I struggled to push the bike up it, fortunately a local man saw me struggling and helped me push the bike up it. I thanked him and apologised that I could not speak spanish, he laughed and indicated there were lots of hills in Sucre, later that day I was to realise how true this statement was. Within 15 minutes of arriving at my hostel, I was in bed fast asleep, I couldn’t even be bothered to shower or eat, I was exhausted.

Sucre

I woke at about 9.30am and helped myself to a very basic breakfast of cereal, bread and jam. I had a full schedule for the day including showering, booking Spanish lessons, laundry (my clothes stink), shopping for food and looking round Sucre. All of which I achieved although the launderette was closed. I couldn’t find a self service one but found one that I could leave my clothes with the following day. As I navigated my way round the white washed colonial buildings, I found every time I encountered a hill, I would struggle to catch my breath, a sure sign that I was at a higher altitude than previously. The sun was out but the temperature was in the late teens, I need to purchase another jumper and maybe a new pair of lungs.

Sucre is located in the southern part of Bolivia’s Central Highlands, it is in a valley surrounded by low mountains. As I walked around the city I could appreciate why it has been described as the prettiest city in Bolivia. It is much cleaner than other South American cities we have visited on our travels and there are a lot of museums, bell towers and plaza like squares for me to explore during my stay.

In the evening I chatted with an older French couple who had arrived that morning to commence a tour of South America,  unfortunately the airline had lost part of their luggage which meant they’d spent the day trying to replace jumpers, trousers etc. This would not have been an easy task, firstly because the people here are shorter than us westerners, the man was at least 6 foot tall and secondly they did not speak a word of Spanish. I had looked round the shops earlier in the day and nothing was marked with a price and when I asked in my best Spanish how much an item was, I struggled to understand the response and then to convert the currency into English. I left empty handed. Unlike the French couple I did not have deep pockets. They’d apparently accepted the price given and simply handed over their credit card. I know there is scope to haggle (which I despise) when I have walked away from sale assistant I have asked me to enter the price I would like to pay on a calculator. I also know from experience that South Americans will try and charge gringos a higher price, therefore it is always wise to go harmed with the local price so that you can query the price offered and if you like haggle.

I spent a very quiet night in my room watching a Spanish film, I’d hoped staying in a hostel I would meet others learning Spanish but so far I have met the french couple, a German couple and a lady from Italy. None of which are in Sucre to learn Spanish.

I will be moving accommodation on Wednesday, hopefully there will be others that are learning the language and we can practice together. The idea of coming to Sucre was so that I can immerse myself in the language and culture.

Sucre day 2

I awoke early and practiced some Spanish before breakfast. My first stop was to drop off the laundry and then to attend my first Spanish lesson. I had a three hour individual lesson that went really well, I have booked for three weeks and I think it will take that long before I can spontaneously and confidently speak a sentence in Spanish. My old brain recognises the words but when it comes to speaking it, it withholds all the information and provides it in a jumbled state.

In the afternoon I went to back to the main plaza and went into the Casa de La Liberated this is considered to be the birthplace of Bolivia because the Declaration of Independence was signed in the building in 1825. I arrived during an English tour I think I missed the first 10-15 minutes, however it was very interesting listening to the guide describe the turbulent history of Bolivia. I also had a quick look round the cathedral before heading off to the market and shops for a browse around.

Sucre day 3

Again I woke early, which is not a bad thing as my Spanish lessons start at 08.30 and I have a 30 minute walk to access them. I packed up all my panniers and loaded my bike as I had booked another hostel for the following 3 nights. The one I was staying in was OK but they did not have any rooms left. I was also a little disappointed that I had not had an opportunity to practice any of my Spanish and I had to wait for kitchen to open before I could make myself a coffee in the morning. My Spanish lesson included a trip to the market and to a shop that sells xxxx my tutor helped me to order a vegetarian option which went well, we also took a look around the market and she provided me with the Spanish words for fruit and veg. It was good to walk around with my tutor as I could ask her lots of questions about Sucre and the way the city works. I am a little concerned our lessons are focused on verb formations which would be great if I had months here but as I only have a couple of weeks I will have to redirect the lessons tomorrow. I am also aware that we speak more English than Spanish as my tutor is very interested in England and I often have to help her find the English word she is looking for. She is lovely but my pace of learning is slow. I shouldn’t complain too much the lessons are only £4 an hour and I am sure they will adapt them to meet my needs.

In the afternoon I checked into my new hostel, the host was lovely but the accommodation was hard to find, run down and very noisy. A family have the room opposite to mine and they are very noisy, in addition my room is next to the main corrodor leading to the garage and exit which means I hear everyone coming and going. The internal noises are competing against the traffic and barking dogs. I’m glad I have my ear plugs. One of the first tasks I did when I checked in was book an apartment, I don’t know what it is going to be like but at least I will have all the space to myself instead of sharing bathrooms and kitchens. I will try and stay put for the period I have paid for but I may move sooner.

Fortunately the wifi is good which meant I had a brief conversation with Gary on line, we tried to face time each other and we briefly made contact but it was like being in a time machine his face flickered in front of me and he sounded 5 million miles away instead of 500. It made me quite emotional, although I’m enjoying my time in Sucre, it is not the same without him.

Thursday and Friday

More spanish lessons and more sight seeing. I am loving Sucre and being back in the classroom.

There were several protests in Sucre today by the indiginous people, I asked several people what they were protesting about but it would appear they protest often against the governement. They blocked the entrance to the main square which caused havoc with the traffic. There were a lot of guns being shot throughout the day, the locals seemed oblivious to but like the birds I didn’t like it. It did not feel threatening at all, if anything it felt like a caraval atmosphere, everynow and then they’d break into song and bang drums. Mainly it was a sit down protest with a large group of people wandering the town with banners.

I think it was a planned protest because usually in and around the square there are traffic mascots (men and women dressed in zebra, dinosuaur costumes) that help children cross the road and they were absent today. There was also a high level of police presence.

I have booked into an apartment across town and will be moving tomorrow. It is an AirbnB and surprisingly it will cost the same as the hostal.  The downside is it is slightly out of the city but within walking distance. On the upside no more sharing the toilet and kitchen.

Spoke to Gary last night, we used face time, he looks so unkept, very hairy yuk. He had just had a shower, the first since i left him last week.  I am so glad I chose not to continue in Paraguay, I would have hated it and this would have spoilt it for Gary. He seems to be enjoying the long roads, bugs, wildlife and camping. It will be interesting to see how the next year goes, we may be spending more weeks apart because reading his adventure does not appeal to me. It has been great to be around people, getting to know a city, rather than passing through it and doing something constructive.

 

 

 

 

Paraquay

Summary  

Paraguay, long rolling roads, cycle repairs, people a little more friendly, confusing money and parting ways.

5th July

Following a little research and with some help from our lovely host we booked a taxi for 9am to take us into Paraguay, we had to do this as the bridge we needed to cross would not let cyclists over it, even on foot, which was bonkers because pedestrians could cross it.

Our host and her daughter are in the process of saving so that they can visit Europe in 5 years time, I gave her a 10 Euro note to thank her for her trouble, she was so grateful. It was a large tip but she had spent most of the evening ringing friends, bridge control, train stations etc to see how we could get across the bridge and had ordered the taxi and ensured we only had to pay the fee quoted.

The taxi ride over the bridge and through Argentine and Paraguay’s borders was without incident, the taxi driver did try to charge us more money but our nice host had told us the fee so he was getting no more money.

We managed to check in to our apartment early, we had a couple of issues with the bikes that needed looking at so we took them to a cycle shop, Vivo bikes, to see if they could help.
With the bikes in for repair, we had a walk around Encarnacion (the town we were staying in).

Encarnacion is on the river Rio Parana, it is known as a beach resort. There were sandy beaches  and beach bars but we are well out of season so it was all quiet, windy and only one beach bar open but empty.

We struggled with the currency change as there are a lot of numbers to work with 8000 Guarani equals £1, so our first withdrawal was for over a million.

The mechanic in the cycle shop Vivo bike was great. He changed the bearings in Ginette’s top set as the steering was locking, he also changed the wheel bearings on my front wheel. This is not an easy task as I have a dynamo, during the bearing change one of the cables was damaged. He left me in his workshop whilst he drove off with another guy, they where gone for over an hour but came back with my fully repaired wheel.

These two repairs took him a while due to our awkward bike designs, but the final bill was very reasonable compared to UK prices at 50000 Guarani, about £7.

All the while I was in Vivo cycle shop anytime another cyclist walked in they would come to me and Say Hi and shake hands, a very welcoming community.

Ginette – Paraguay seems very similar to Argentina and rural areas of Brasil. People do seem a little more friendly, several have stopped to ask us where we are going. Everyone is dressed in their winter clothes, it is a little chilly, a little like our Spring.  There are lots of old cars and run down buildings

Encarnación, aka La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South), is Paraguay’s most attractive city. It was easy to see that in the summer it could look attractive with its riverside promenade and beach but on the day we visited it was deserted, the river was very choppy and it was a little cold and uninviting. 

While Gary was in the bike shop, I prepared the fresh veg we had purchased from the market stalls in preparation for what turned out to be an excellent curry.

6th July 

Bloody freezing.

We set off in the morning wrapped up with leggings and coats, it was about 12 degrees but felt much colder.

The cycle out of Encarnacion was quite good, along a main road, Route One, but with hard shoulders and drivers that seemed to take care except when they have to cross each overs path at junctions and roundabouts, I am still not sure who has right of way so we proceeded with caution even stopping on the roundabouts until we were sure we were safe to go past each junction.

We cycled Route One out of town, it was just like Argentina with us having to cycle on the rough hard shoulder and even when it was smooth it had sleeping policemen every 20 metres.
We had a 50 50 decision to make on whether to continue on Route 1 or turnoff to Route 8, we opted for the later and so far it seems the right choice. This road has been recently resurfaced which meant we had a smooth hard shoulder with no sleeping policemen hence we made good speed.

We finished the day in a small town called General Artigas, it had a hotel and a few shops. We managed to eat out, Net finally ended up with a veggie pizza after some discussion with the father and daughter, I shared this and a cold burger served like a sandwich that had been left on the side. This meal and 4 beers came to 38,000 pesos (a bargain at £4.75)

Ginette – We were starving, but none of the restaurants were open, it was fairly early for a South American country. I knew Gary needed to eat otherwise he’d get Hangry and wouldn’t have the patience to deal with my dietary needs. We tried to communicate I was a vegetarian without success eventually giving in and Gary ordered a burger. As we sat in the bar/restaurant, with everyone in their coats and hats (none of the bars had heating) we noticed a pizza in the fridge. Gary went to inspect and as it was a simple tomato based pizza he asked if we could have that. The dough was equally as bad as that in Argentina and again it was served undercooked but at least I managed to eat something.

The bar across the street decided it was a good night to play loud music until the wee hours, the noise was occasionally deadened but only by a car who’s music system was set on boy racer high.

The following day It tried to warm up, the sun was out and we had clear blue skies but the temp only reached 14 degrees, by the end of the day it had dropped to a very chilly 4 degrees.

Some of the small things that happened during the day.

There was a dog asleep by the road, I told Ginette “It’s not a dead dog, it’s asleep” but Ginette thought I had said “Feed the dead dog a treat”, I am not sure what treat she would feed him.
On the subject of real dead dogs, Ginette refused to take a photo of the vulture type birds making a meal of one unfortunate dog road.

Some of The petrol stations are very modern, we notice that 60% of the fridges are just for beer.

We passed a motel called “passion motel” I wonder what type of client goes here?

Ginette was nearly attacked by a runaway pig but before it got too close several dogs shepherded it back into its home.

7th July

The road remained good and easy to cycle, it has very few ups and very long straight bits where you can see for miles all around as the whole area has large open fields with occasional wooded areas. It can be quite monotonous but the bird life keeps us entertained with its unusual calls and variety, there are a lot of birds of prey and large vulture type birds. The birds of prey seem more common than the normal birds.

Ginette – several of the roads were very smoky due to the fields being burnt, it was a little unsettling cycling past fields that were on fire.

As it was Sunday there was not a lot open, no cafes. But the odd small shop was still open for business so there was no worry about running out of supplies.

The sun was out today, it was another cold start at 4 degrees but got up to 20 degrees by late afternoon. The navigation web site I use is called “plot a route.com” it turns out that the maps on this site are far better at showing hotels and shops than the maps.me site. I can view a town on maps.me and it shows no shops just a plan of the roads, but plotaroute shows me all the shops and possible hotels, hostels etc. Normally the town map systems are similar but maps.me doesn’t seem very accurate for Paraguay.

We cycled 60 miles and found a place called Ilsa Del Bosque to stay (this was shown on plotaroute) we have struck lucky as we weren’t sure there would be a place to stay and was preparing to camp. Pulling up there were no signs for the hotel so walked into the gate to be greeted by half a dozen blokes sitting around a table.  I was a little unsure of how welcoming they would be, turns out they were German forest workers and several could speak perfect English. It made life so much easier being able to communicate.

Our German host et us use his breakfast kitchen so we can cook our own dinner, he even laid out some extra food for us to use, we had potatoes in a sauce, a local root vegetable, some red cabbage in vinaigrette, bread and cakes. A real feast.

  

Ginette – if only we could end every day in accommodation as luxurious as this one. Our room was basic but the grounds were beautiful and our host was really welcoming and generous.

8th July 

Our host and accommodation last night was great, it transpired he had lived on the site for 10 years and cleared the land and built the place himself. He even had a swimming pool with a waterfall, I did check the water and it was a bit too cold.

Our cycle ride was a bit shorter today at 42 miles, we headed to a town called Villaricca along the same route 8 road. This road made for easy cycling so we were able to plod along and enjoy the expansive views of the open flat fields, so much so I tuned out for a lot of the inventing and thinking of business ideas.

Ginette – it was a hilly day compared to the previous day, but Gary was totally oblivious, at each stop he made a copious amount of notes on the inventions sparking in his head.

We stopped for a drink on route, the old lady who served us spoke Guarani which we do not understand at all. We have met several people who speak this language (which has 6 different dialects) It is very different to Spanish and even when we explain we do not understand the speaker continues enthusiastically trying to convey their message. When we have tried to use our very basic Spanish we have not been understood which has been a little frustrating especially when we try and explain I am a vegetarian. This has meant I have eaten a lot of gluten based foods and as a result, my stomach is not happy. Hopefully once my Spanish improves I can order something other than pizza or a cheese type pastry or bread.

The sun came out and we had 23 degrees to cycle in, all very pleasant.

Ginette – it was great to feel the sun although I think we should probably have applied a little suncream we ended the day with red faces.

The hotel Net has booked is to be frank a bit of a shit hole, the town is one of the larger towns but still has a few unsaved roads, we had a good wander around some shops, parks and the area has a feel of somewhere that may have been pretty once. There are some higher buildings with balustrade balconies that would have looked nice but now they just all look weary and worn.

The statues that are erected in the parks are also fairly poor in relation to the grand arty type we have in Europe, they look like they have been done by a good amateur.

Ginette – the hotel was in the middle of town, noisy and very run down. It is hotels like this one that make camping look appealing, but at £15 a night we can’t complain too much. The host was helpful and friendly but it was a shithole. 

10th – 12th July 

We have a few notes from the last few days but not a day to day blog, partly due to the poor WiFi and mostly as the road and scenery have been similar.

We arrived in Ascension on the 11th of July, we spent the previous night in a brothel, which was vile but cheap. On arrival, we had been offered the master suite complete with a sunken spa bath in the bedroom. We had taken some of our bags to the room only to be informed the price had doubled. Ginette was having none of this and we made to leave when the man offered us another room, which due to it being late we accepted. Unfortunately Net left her helmet in the first room and by the morning it had magically vanished.

Ginette – this place was awful, we had stopped at a modern hotel earlier in the evening but it was very expensive, Gary used his varying mapping devices and we cycled to each of the hotels. One had been turned into a nursing home and another looked like a nunnery. The brothel was our last hope otherwise we would have had to cycle out of town. The rooms are usually charged by the hour, each room came complete with wall to wall mirrors, a radio (that could only be turned to mute) and TV with a range of channels. It was gross, we could not wait to leave to have a shower and feel clean again. The entrance was through a garage door and up a set of steep rickety steel stairs.

The ride from the brothel to Ascension wasn’t that pleasant as we approach the outskirts of the city, the traffic was congested and the road lost any pretence of a hard shoulder or cycle lane. There are lots of buses here are frequent and the drivers drive by really close to the bikes and cut in front to pick up fares.

Fortunately, maps .me helped us navigate as many of the side roads as we could, they were surprisingly quiet in comparison to the neighbouring main road.

Our hotel was called Ross Char, and it was a good quality hotel with nice rooms, gardens and even a pool.

I took advantage of staying in a city and had my rear wheel bearings changed for £7 at a Giant cycle store, I have also replaced my pedals these cost £35.

In the evening we had hoped to eat out in a Japanese restaurant but having wandered for a while in circles it turned out it was closed as the owners had gone on holiday. We ended up with a buffet lunch in a supermarket cafe.

Some notes from the last couple of days cycling
Chiperia. Loads of small shacks selling what looks like bread rings

Cows in road. The cows are free to roam like in India

Sleeping policemen – bags have fallen off the bikes several times. We had a bad stretch for a few miles where the bumps were so bad we actually lost the panniers a few times. Gravel sides. It was hard to skirt around the bumps due to the gravel areas, sometimes the gravel encroached the hard shoulder so we had to risk the road

Anthills. Huge ant / Termite nests all around, a bit like giant molehills scattered in the fields

More driver beeping hello. The drivers are becoming more aware of us and tooting to say hi

Stalls selling the same product for short stretches of road, these included wooden furniture, tacky coloured toucans and fruit.

On the 11th July, we visited Caacupe Cathedral.

There are more Kids around with no shoes and looking very poor. Children stand in the road with younger siblings attached to them in a sling begging for money or selling little bags of nuts or tissues.

Ginette – We both need a haircut 

12th July 

day in Asuncion

We started the day with a trip to the bus station to book my bus ticket for later that evening to Bolvia. Three different touts offered the same price for what we presumed was the same bus however on arriving at the bus station much later in the day it was clear mine was definitely the budget bus. More on that later.

Once we had the bus tickets we took a taxi ride into the city, the driver made me feel even more nervous about cycling on the roads. He drove like a mad man on a mission, accelerating and swerving around cars, people and motorbikes (very few cyclists on the road).

Gary had planned a route around the city which included the Palace, the Cathedral, a couple of free museums including the Culture Museum and a street with artwork on the walls. It was interesting visiting these building which are all within easy walking distance of each other but my lasting memory will be the wooden shanty town which had been erected between the Palace and the Culture Centre. This is home to 100’s if not 1000’s of displaced people. There had been flooding earlier in the year and we hoped that the people living in this run-down area of town had only been there since May and that they would be rehomed soon.

We spent the afternoon chilling in the hotel and made our way to the bus station at about 18.00pm.

As we were waiting it became apparent my bus was the budget tin can.

I was fuming, I vented my anger but to no avail, no-one spoke English and didn’t really care. I contemplated not getting on the bus but I really want to go and learn Spanish, at least then I can vent my anger and be understood. The bus was THE worse bus I have ever been on. It had holes in the ceiling, it didn’t have seat belts, the seats reclined, if you pushed them hard enough and even then they sat at a wonky level. The toilet had no flush or toilet paper and no lock on the door. To exit the toilet you had to kick the door as it easily jammed. The 20 hour bus journey was advertised with food, but this was a joke, breakfast was a packet of biscuits!

I left Gary at the station in tears, partly down to the fact that I was hugely disappointed by the bus but mainly because I would miss him and I worried about him on the roads and I was a little scared about travelling on my own with the bike to a country I had never been to before.

After feeling sorry for myself, I pulled myself together, I only had to spend 20 hours on a rickety uncomfortable bus, the people living in the shanty town had to do that for much longer.

More on the bus journey and Bolivia next week. I am now safely in Santa Cruz, another 10-hour bus journey later today down to Sucre.

Argentina to Paraguay

Summary

Very undulating road, mixed weather (3 degrees to 37 degrees), camped and stayed in hotels. Followed the river from Foz de Iguacu to Paraquay, highway 12 all the way.   Gary has enjoyed this week, I have found it challenging, the first week on the bike is always the hardest for me. One of my biggest obstacles is not being able to speak Spanish, it has meant I have eaten a lot of yukky pizza, so we’ve decided, I will spend a couple of weeks in Bolivia while Gary cycles in Paraguay.

29th June

The WiFi in our room was not very quick and Ginette wanted to update word press which meant we didn’t set off till 10am.

We have cycled south in Argentina for 40 odd miles and are now set up camp with our tent in Balearic las delicias Baxter camping near Nueva Delicia.

Ginette the campsite fee was 25 pesos about 50p. It looks like in its hay day it might have been popular but it is pretty run down now. Drop toilet which includes a big hairy bodyguard with eight legs, a tap but no washing facilities. We are by a stream but it is heavily polluted.

It was a hot ride, in contrast to the cloudy wet days we have had down here so far, the temp reached 38 degrees, I believe the UK is also basking in the sunshine this weekend.

The road had two lanes and a good hard shoulder both sides, plus the drivers show cyclists more courtesy by slowing down and giving us space which is much better and has led to a good days cycling.

Ginette has struggled today with the heat, we have stopped often and sheltered from the sun but she found the afternoon hard going.

We had the campsite to ourselves, it’s basic but does have long drop loos, bbq areas complete with firewood and power points so we can charge our devices. We have no WiFi, hopefully, Ginette will make it through till tomorrow without getting serious withdrawal symptoms.

Ginette – cheeky, he should be worried no WiFi, no cold beer and no wine. What are we going to do with our evening? Hide and seek from the hairy spider, giant ants and much bigger wildlife.

Ginette – Gary was eager to set off this morning and that meant we only had the water that was in our bottles from 3 days ago. When we stopped for our mid-morning break I chose not to drink this preferring to wait for a shop to get some fresh water. In hindsight, this was a mistake as I had to wait for 20 miles. I had been riding well but as I got off the bike at the service station I felt a little woozy. I was fine after several cans of sprite but found the afternoon heat kept sapping my energy. We climbed approx 3000 ft, the road was very undulating but better than the roads we cycled in Brazil.

Observations from the day as we left the comfort of the town we were met with signs warning us about jaguars (the animal variety not the car). This understandably made me feel a little nervous until we saw a man running and children farming in the fields. Our main threat came from the hundreds of butterflies that flew directly at us kamikaze style. Initially, I tried avoiding them but they were everywhere, on the road in the air and on our bike.

Lunch was a pit stop at a buffet restaurant, Gary opted for a hot dish containing chicken while I had a cold buffet style dinner with lots of potatoes and pickled cauliflower and other veg. The meal cost £4 each.

By the side of the road there were a number of small settlements all containing rundown shack style houses, some on sticks. In contrast on the opposite side of the road, there was a shop selling swimming pools.

       

30th June

Monte Carlo or Bust? We have cycled to a fairly large town called Monte Carlo.
we have cycled through Monte Carlo in France on our last long trip and now this one in Argentina. We are staying in a hotel.

Last night we camped on a very basic site for 50p, so a really good price. I enjoyed this site, we were the only ones there. We cooked our own dinner on our camping stove and even had a log fire burning in one of the BBQ setups.

There were a lot of mosquitoes and moths etc so we did have to hide in the tent after a short while of darkness to protect our skin from bites (7pm).
It rained a lot in the night so our tent was soaked in the morning.

The ride was down the same main road, we are gaining confidence with the Argentine drivers, most are courteous and give us space, we have had several cars toot to say hi as well as passing touring motorbikes.

Ginette wanted to try to book somewhere for tonight, we stopped in Eldorado and a hotel allowed her to sit in the lobby to make use of the WiFi, however it was poor and I knew there were places to stay on route as I could see them on my maps, hence we set off winging it.

Ginette has again struggled with the heat. It was wet this morning but the sun came out and reached around 35 degrees. We had to stop several times in the shade. Needless to say, she is not enjoying this, it does put a damper on the trip.

Ginette – Not only am I suffering from the heat but I’m bored. I know, I’ve felt this way before but I feel like I’m wasting time rather than having an enriching experience, I feel like it is groundhog day.

Gary – Personally, I would prefer to just cycle till I am tired then set up camp, Ginette would prefer to have a pre-booked hotel room. We are now in a hotel which we found once in this town, the shower was cold and we have had to pay for food out, and it was not that nice. I don’t see how this beats camping. If we had camped I could have cooked what we wanted when we wanted it, there is not a lot gained in spending out for hotel rooms.

Ginette – I think you either like camping or don’t. Last night we were eaten alive, no shower, a drop toilet and to feel comfortable we had to retire to our tent at 7pm. Personally, I would much rather have a bed inside, where I can relax bug-free and go to the toilet when I like rather than waiting for the rain to stop or fearing spiders or snakes or worse. I confidently say I prefer a bed indoors, although I acknowledge it is good to eat what you like, when you like and only pay 50p for your lodgings.

We are starting to appreciate we want different things from this adventure and that is fine, we’re grown-ups, we will sort it out.

1st July

We started the day with a fight to be the first to pinch punch the other, I think this one must be declared a draw.

Ginette – we both had a restless night due to the number of mosquito bites we have, fortunately, we were in twin beds so we did not disturb each other too much but the itching is driving us crazy. Each day we’ve applied the lotion it is called bug off but I think it is actually attracting the bugs. I have never had so many bites in my life.

We are now in Puerto Rico, having cycled south on the same main road.

Today though we moved into a different borough and the roads lost their trusted safe hard shoulder for long sections, so we had several close shaves with heavy lorry’s as there is little room for them to go by, the drivers are pretty good and do slow down and give us as much room as they can.

It’s the cars that can be hairy, Ginette had a close fly past with a car just as our hard shoulder disappeared and she had to rejoin the main road. Cycling on another route here is not an option as there are very few other roads and none heading our direction.

Ginette – I am losing confidence by the day, the drivers are much better than Brazil but the traffic is fast and there is no room for error. We’ve seen a number of dead dogs, and they can move quicker than I can on my heavily laden bike. More worryingly when I look behind me I can’t see the cars approaching, we are going to see if we can fit a wing mirror to my bike. I am tense all day long, which means I ache at the end of each day. Added to this the road we have been on for the last 3 days is very undulating with climbs at 8 – 10 % which is a perfect recipe for lactic acid to build in your joints.

I have been chatting with the local wildlife, there is a small yellow bird here with a call that sounds like “peek a boo” but as a whistle, hence I have been whistling peek a boo to our feathered friends. There are still rainforests around us, although it is becoming less as we enter some cultivated areas. I am sure there must be quite a bit of wildlife lurking but the most obvious is always the birds, they are the easiest to spot and to hear. The bird calls are very different from the UK.

This Puerto Rico looks like it may have been a thriving tourist town once, it is now rundown and quiet, perhaps we are out of season as well but the town is well past the need of a makeover. There is a ferry crossing to Patagonia here, we walked down o the crossing where there is an Argentine naval barracks and memorial to those who fought in the Falklands.

On route we stopped for a sprite at a petrol station, the owner was a lovely man called Hector. We spent a while trying to chat with Hector and swapped numbers and e mails. I think he was trying to tell us about the interesting places nearby that we should visit. It’s a bit frustrating not being able to communicate but also fun at the same time.

Ginette – it is highly frustrating not speaking Spanish, can you imagine the treatment two Spanish cyclists would receive if they turned up in England without speaking any English? I have decided I need to do a Spanish course, I will probably take time out in Bolivia.

Our hotel is pretty nice, Ginette managed to secure a room down to a discounted price of 1000 pesos, around £20 compared to the 2000 pesos that the hotel had wanted to charge, 50% discount not bad at all.

Ginette – In the afternoon we walked down to the river, the shops and bars were shut but it was interesting walking past the Argentina naval base, if not a little unsettling as there were memorials to the Falkland war.  We had dinner out, Gary ordered an empanada which turned out to be a very small steak pasty at £5 while I ordered a Calzone for the same price but was big enough to feed a family of 4. The culture in Argentina is similar to Spain, everything closes during the day and opens again after 6.00pm. We have struggled to find restaurants that are open when we feel hungry and have had to resort to eating junk type food. In this regard, camping is much better.

Due to the fact that we have been charged an astronomical fee to access our money we have tried to use the credit cards whenever we can, however, this has proven to be time-consuming, as we have to also show our personal ID, in our case our passport. Interestingly I show my passport which after some confusion is accepted with Gary’s credit card, this seems to be acceptable. This is interesting because on the occasion I have asked why they need the passport they say for security reasons. This is even the case in the local supermarkets.

2nd July

We woke on Tuesday morning to rain and 13 degrees, unlike sunny England. The cycle ride was horrible, the wet weather not only made it cold and unpleasant but the road noise of the buses cars and lorries was heightened and as this stretch of the road kept running out of hard shoulder it made it quite frightening. It’s not nice seeing Ginette in tears as she builds up the courage to attempt the next narrow stretch caused when the hard shoulder disappears.
Her confidence has really taken a low after being knocked off, we opted to walk several stretches on the grass verge.

Ginette – I felt really anxious, I could cope when we had a hard shoulder but this disappeared for miles and we were forced onto the dual carriageway style road. It felt dangerous, if I’d seen two cyclists using a similar road in the UK in the pouring rain I would have thought they were nuts. Unfortunately, we had no choice, all the other roads were dirt tracks and in the rain, this made them impassable. I played my iPod to dampen the noise but the voices in my head kept shouting danger, danger. The first time I got off my bike in panic was when I saw a large truck coming over the brow of a hill and he was wiping his windscreen with a rag, if a truck or bus had overtaken us at this point I have no doubt they’d have been a crash. I feel a bit of a failure walking but I’d rather that than be the cause of an accident.

After only 20 odd miles we stopped at Jardin America, soaked and cold and defeated. We found a restaurant with the usual one price buffet. This was really nice, it had table cloths, a nice atmosphere and a waiter coming around with basted BBQ beef pork and chicken on skewers (carnivores paradise) he kept filling my plate on regular occasions. The only thing that spoiled this restaurant were the two dripping cyclists that left a huge puddle around the table.

We used the WiFi in the restaurant to book an apartment in town, we’d had enough, although it was only 1.00pm, it was still raining and it wasn’t enjoyable. However, it took us 2 hours to find the bloody place. We found another Cabana close to the one we had booked and even knocked to ask where the other place was.

After going around in circles we stopped at the police station for help, then followed our armed police escort. He took us to the same Cabana we had knocked at before, then after directions finally found us the correct Cabana. However, no one would answer the door and neither the policeman or fancied opening the gate due to the barking dog on the other side.

We opted to go and disturb the nice lady at the first Cabana again and have paid her £20 to stay in her hotel. All this time the rain was still hammering down so we were like drowned rats.
This place was nice, it had a pool and sunbathing area, shame it pissed it down all day.

3rd July 

What a difference a day makes.

We didn’t leave the room yesterday once settled, we cooked our own dinner and sat inside in the warm listening to the rain hammer down.

This morning after making our own porridge we packed and put on our still wet shoes to go, and found a breakfast tray outside our room along with a note in English hoping we had had a nice stay and wishing us well for our trip (our landlord speaks no English so has put some effort in for us). She also left a small gift of an insulated cup for making and drinking the local tea Mezzee. What a lovely gesture, shame we had no room to take it.

It had stopped raining and was overcast initially but the sun came out to give us a nice comfortable 20 degrees to cycle in.

The road is still the same one heading south, we have grown more cautious and savvy, when the paved hard shoulder disappears we now either switch to cycling on the hard shoulder on the other side or ride on the dirt and grass verge. Cycling on the other side seems far better as you can see the heavy lorries coming so you don’t have to worry about them approaching from behind and hope they are making room for you.

Ginette – last night I gave myself a good talking to and woke with a more positive attitude to cycling. We’ve cycled on worse roads, I realised we just needed to be very cautious and take it slowly. I also feel more content now I know i will be leaving in a week or two for Bolivia to learn to speak Spanish. 

We are at San Ignacio, we have visited a world heritage site of Mini Ignacio, this is a Jesuit ruin from 400 years ago. It looks similar in the stonework at Angkor wat in Cambodia but not as extensive. It was interesting learning about the way the Jesuit community blended its own religious beliefs with that of the locals, they built the temple areas with lots of structured housing for the locals. Taught them art, farming and skills that would be useful. It seemed a good commune environment to live in. The Jesuit’s were finally driven out of South America by government decree and the ruins have only been restored since the 19.40s.

We have noticed that there is always a queue formed outside some banks to the ATMs, Ginette has had to Queue herself to get cash out of the rip off ATM,s but the locals seem to be forever queueing.

4th July

Setting off in the morning it was interesting to see that there was already a queue at the bank, queuing at banks seems to be a daily occurrence. We also saw a bus arrive and the majority of the passengers disembarking were Gurani (local tribe people). We presume they must work in the local area.

It was really cold start to the day, I had to stop after a short while to dig down in my cycle bag for a pair of gloves, the temperature was 3.5 degrees, a drastic drop to the previous day so we really felt it.

The road we’ve been cycling on is undergoing a major widening project so we had lots or roadworks to navigate, parts of the road were rubble tracks but in other areas we were really lucky and had long stretches of new tarmac, three lanes wide all to ourselves as the traffic was not yet allowed on these bits of new road.

My chain came fully off on a dirt section, the speed links had somehow come apart, it was just a matter of cleaning them and fitting them back together.

I spotted a Toucan in flight just before it came to stop in a large tree, Ginette could see its large colourful beak in the tree. We also had a few other bird encounters, it’s the calls that are the most interesting as they are so different to any we hear in the UK. I still have the peek a boo birds to entertain me as well.

Despite the road works we made really good time and reached our accommodation in Garupa by 1.30. We really stink so Ginette has taken the opportunity to use the washing machine. Other than that a restful afternoon

Ginette – found my bike legs, at last, the riding was a lot easier, and when we had the road to ourselves it was quite enjoyable. However I will be glad to leave Highway 12, with it’s constant, noise, and up and downs. 

We are very close to the bridge where we cross into Paraguay, but unfortunately, we’ve learnt we can’t cross the bridge on our bikes. This is crazy as we can walk across (but not with bikes) and motorcyclists can cross on the road. Our landlady is being super helpful she has contacted the bridge, ferry port and train station but all without any joy. We are hoping a taxi will take us across otherwise we will need to cycle much further to the next bridge crossing.

Lasting memories of Northern Argentina (albeit based on one week), people drink lots of Matte (green leaf tea, in a pot, topped up with hot water from a flask, very bitter taste). There are dogs (both dead and alive) everywhere, on the whole, they are harmless although have given chase once or twice.

People are welcoming, but slow to smile. We’re not sure what happens at the bank, but people spend a lot of time queuing and then 5-10 minutes at the cash machine.

We’ve seen a mix of rundown accommodation including shacks, not dissimilar to South East Asia alongside very modern buildings. On the whole it appears to be a poor country. Drivers have been more considerate than Brazilian drivers.

It is a very carnivorous country with very few vegetarian options. Pizza is different from European pizza, the dough is thicker and generally, it is served undercooked.  We particularly like the buffet self service restaurants. These have been good value for money.

The weather can change on a daily basis from hot to cold to very wet (at least in the Winter, in the summer it is supposed to be very hot all the time).  We are travelling out of season, which has meant the tourist attractions have been quiet and a number of shops/restaurants have been closed.

The birds have kept us company along our route, it has been lovely listening to different calls from the trees.