Monday, April 20, 2020


Our route through Bolivia

Native Apparel
It’s as if Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are thumbing through the same fashion magazines. The skirts, leggings, shoes, hats, the smock that covers it all, and the common long braids: It’s the female native uniform - The haute couture fashion of the Cholitas.

Are they huge fans of Charlie Chaplin or maybe Laurel & Hardy? That bowler hat is just one more dirty trick that was pulled on the natives – The story goes; in the mid-1800s the Manchester merchants manufactured a shipment too small for men’s heads but duped the Bolivian women into thinking that it was the height of European fashion to wear the undersized headgear. Silly that they still crave them 150 years later but the photographic evidence is overwhelming.

Salar De Uyuni
There is a reason why there are very few white people in Bolivia. Europeans went around the world taking the best of the planet and displacing the native people. This is one of those places that is a perfect example of; “No reason to stay. They can have it”. Life is hard here. Humans have to scratch an existence out of a place that has literally been salted so that nothing will ever grow. It was super interesting and I’m glad we went but I doubt they get a lot of repeat business. Refer to the captions for the storyline.
The perspective game. So flat and featureless that you can fool the eye
Aleja at the train graveyard

She was out there collecting salt

Salt is used as building blocks out here. Solid, until the rains come
Colorado Lake. Freezing and windy. We slept on a bed made of salt bricks this night
with the blankets piled so high you couldn't roll over.
Now you know why it was so cold. Altitude headaches and nausea were the rule.
That's 5000 Meters
One flamingo
Many Flamingos
Flamingos with chaperones

Not a rabbit. That's a chinchilla

The Altiplano is the high plateau of Bolivia. It's perfectly flat and you forget you are driving at 13,000 feet until you get to the edge of the drop off and realize this is just one huge mesa.

Now this is a charming town. Just don’t visit it with a big rig. It wasn’t as bad as driving into Cusco, but close. The architecture and the restaurants were the winning high notes.
Little ninja, big colonial door

Now vertical dinosaur tracks that are 68 million years old. Located outside of Sucre

New Years Eve in Aiquile
We spent New Year’s Eve in this endearing little pueblo parked in the plaza. Aleja made micheladas and we reminisced about the last 12 months. 2018 saw me drive to the bottom of South America, fly around the world and visit 9 countries. I say to myself, “It might not be a perfect life but it’s exactly the one I chose, and at least I’m not reading lines from someone else’s script.”  We racked out early and weren’t even awakened by fireworks.

New Years Day with Drunk Ingrid
We drove the next day into another tiny village called Mataral. We shut off the engine at about 4pm and joined the locals who were still drinking from the previous night. There wasn’t much left of them. Exhaustion was being fought back in a losing battle and brains were shutting down. Lots of catatonic stares were followed by the demands to take another shot. Ingrid was the 50ish ring leader. She passed around her phone which was playing hardcore porn. It barely seemed to register with the viewers. Ingrid was the only one howling with glee. A married woman whose husband was propped up against a tree drinking with some friends took Aleja to show her where the bathroom was and tried to kiss her. It’s gonna be a weird year.
My 7.3 liter turbo diesel laughs at these steep hills.
I can take them at 45 mph. My brakes however,
shudder in terror upon descent.

Bolivia Wasn’t Always Landlocked
In 1879 Bolivia had a 250 mile coastline on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In 1884 it didn’t. The Bolivians broke a tax treaty with a Chilean mining company, the Chileans asked the courts to mediate, Bolivia refused and declared war. Because Peru was Bolivia’s ally both countries went to war against Chile and both lost land. Now Bolivia is landlocked.
The lands both Peru and Bolivia lost 

The Chane culture started working this huge rock in 300 AD and were overtaken by the Inca in the late 1400’s. The Guarani dislodged the Inca in the 1520s. The Spanish started settling it in 1615 but were attacked repeatedly by the Guarani up until the 1800s. It’s mainly a temple that has been added to over the centuries by the different tribes that ruled it.
The actual rock that they carved for 1200 years 

The museum does a great job of explaining what you're looking at. Most of it is Pre-Inca

A lot of our friends are having babies. I thought they might want to consider these beauty techniques for cranial reshaping
Your child could be a real live conehead. Who wouldn't want an egghead like that on your debate team?
Those kids from Harvard would be so intimidated
The whole rock is carved with meanings that have been lost to time
Last chance to "Inca". Just in case you were curious about the extent of the empire

Santa Cruz
This is a city worth avoiding. It’s huge dirty & poor with zero attractions. We found courts and played tennis. You’ll never find a Bolivian restaurant anywhere in the world. It’s not a cuisine worth replicating. It’s merely subsistence gristle with starch. We ate a ton of fried chicken due to the shortage of other acceptable options.
The road to Santa Cruz was dramatic

Constant Poverty. 
If you want to know what it’s like to be poor, here’s a very simple exercise. Go out and leave your wallet at home. Look at all the things you can’t have, all the restaurants you can’t eat at, all the places you can’t gain entry to, and when it breaks your heart - walk home, because you can’t take a cab. It’s one thing to have a cold and stay home for 3 days and pat yourself on the back for not spending money. It’s another thing entirely to live in a world in which you can’t fully participate, day after day after day.

It’s upsetting to see it, but these people aren’t crying into their llama blankets. It’s only thru my spoiled first world rose tinted glasses that I lament their lives. I need to let that go.
I'm guessing this place was originally built before electricity

What’s With You And The 3rd World Bro?
Ah the third world – what you save with the low prices, you pay for with your health. The unregulated vehicle emissions could choke a sword swallower. These cities literally taste bad. Open sewers and car exhaust make you want to rinse your own mouth out with soap. The Instagram photos don’t show it, but black lung is lurking in the air you breathe.

I have light eyes and fair hair which is really good for walking into any resort anywhere in the world but not so good for walking at night by yourself in a dark country. I sometimes feel the fear. In Medellin I noticed my usual street had gone dark just as I was making my way home. I made a quick turnaround to avoid the hidden recesses that lay ahead. I looked back in time to catch the perp stick his head out wondering where I was. I was nearly cornered by a pack of snarling dogs when I cut thru an abandoned amusement park in the middle of the night in Nicaragua (Note - Pick up a rock and all third world dogs will run. Even the act of faking the picking up of a rock will work. They’ve had plenty of rocks thrown at them. Poor people are hard on animals.) Aleja and I spent a sleepless night in Brazil after paying extortion to a man who pounded on the door at 2am and demanded it. I thought for an instant about telling him to “eff off” and then pictured him lighting Elsie on fire (we paid by throwing the cash rubber-banded to a hunk of chocolate thru the moon roof after refusing to open the door. He thanked us for the chocolate).
Ruins everywhere. Most aren't ancient

The 3rd world can be sketchy. However, back in the US of A - my roommate faked a robbery at our house and stole $8,000 from me, and then threatened me. I caught my next door neighbor in the act of stealing my bike.  When my house burned down an unscrupulous contractor scared my poor old mother into signing a contract while I was still out of the country. That cost me almost $6,000. Bad people are everywhere.

I like the 3rd world. It’s weird and exotic and rarely boring, and the poor are usually the most honest & honorable people of all. I still have some frontier spirit left, though I might be scrapping the bottom of the barrel for any innocence left to lose, and at times my sense of humor sags. Without further ado, here is my list:

Criteria Of First vs Third.
Hey Bobby – how can I tell if I’m in the 3rd world:
1. Is there toilet paper?
2. Can the paper be flushed?
3. Do the toilets have seats?
4. Do they have iodine in their salt?
5. Are there safety railings in front of the cliff?
6. Is there a lifeguard on duty?
7. Are there clean healthy dogs with collars?
8. Can you safely drink the water?
9. Are there public drinking fountains?
10. Are city buildings handicap accessible?
11. Is their wiring up to code? Do they have a ground wire, and do they use it?
12. Do children’s car seats exist?
13. Do they stand in an orderly line?
14. Do you see public trash cans?
15. Do you see dog poop bag dispensers?
16. Do pedestrians have rights?
17. Are abortions legal and readily available?
18. Did everyone at the table get served at the same time?
19. Are street cops incorruptible?
20. Does laundry day mean going to the river?
If you answered no to all but the last  - it’s the 3rd world!
O the roads we've driven!

Amateur Archeologists

And Now The Poverty Test:
How do you know if you are poor?
1. Have you ever eaten crackers for dinner?
2. Do you know the price of a single egg?
3. Has anyone in your family ever owned a car?
4. Have you ever chewed electrical cables due to hunger? No one has. Those are rats. You just need an exterminator
Toborochi tree. San Jose De Chiquitos. The church / mission was built in 1561 

Aguas Calientes
We hired this kid to destroy his car on a road-less track of land in search of ancient pictographs. We found them. The triumvirate for a jackpot experience is 1. Difficult access – This was an hour each way on a goat trail. 2. Private property - means you have to ask for permission and pay. 3. A baking hot sun - offers full light, zero crowds and another reminder that your hair is thinning. We had it all to ourselves. I voluntarily doubled our negotiated fee and wished him luck with that now loose exhaust system.
That was a painful ride in a passenger car
Different kid. This kid was the grandson of the property owner

Bolivia In Conclusion
The fuel at the gas stations is subsidized for the citizens. If you are a foreigner they are supposed to charge you a much higher price but the paperwork for that is long and the guy pumping the gas isn’t going to do it. They just wave you off. We were told fueling up was going to be a huge problem. It wasn’t. The lazy attendant was greeted by the lovely Aleja in his native language and maybe twice we were turned away. Usually they agreed to fill us for a tip and everyone was happy.

We left Bolivia feeling like we won. We had set very low expectations based on all the horror stories we had heard but those weren’t our experiences. We had a wonderful month. Go everywhere, do everything, see it all.

Your Man On Point,
Blacktop Bobby

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Argentina Part 2

I literally had to fly around the world for one signature at my bank in Bali. It was the dumbest most expensive inconvenience ever. The Indonesians will never colonize Mars (I’m writing this from Bali and that’s all I have to say about that). We returned to Uruguay and drove for a day to get back to our friends Ana and Diego in ….. Belen De Escobar, Argentina!

Buenos Aires
Because we love Buenos Aires so much we parked for another week in the Puerto Madero section of the city and enjoyed the restaurants and night life.

The Upcoming Route
Argentina is a large country that has vastly divergent biomes. The only portion of the country that we hadn’t experienced was the northern hump that would deliver us into Bolivia. So once again we set off to cross this country and serve as witness to the rest of what she offered.

The air pressure is correct. The engine fluid levels are topped off. The gray and black water tanks are empty. The engine has reached 180 degrees. I put it in drive. God I love a road trip. Let’s go see something we’ve never seen before.

Their world famous opera house. Quite a treat.
Don’t judge her by those little tires. Judge her by the engine: 
The 7.3 liter turbo diesel that everyone in the know drools over. 

Back to Alicia
We’ve now traversed this nation so many times that we have friends we keep dropping in on. Rulo, Sere and the Alicia crew always welcomed us with open arms.

                                                          How to Talk To Children

Rioja – A Furnace With A Great Museum
We’d suffered the frost of Patagonia so it was only fair that we spent time melting in the oven that is Rioja. The highlight for me was the museum. You know by now that I’m a sucker for Pre-Colombian history and tangible artifacts make it so real. This place was a first rate brass ring winner since we got some “hands on time” in the office after befriending the manager.

Mold for pouring metals

So many treasures that they didn't have shelf space and kept them in cardboard boxes

Questions For The Road
Q: How can you tell that the dirty backpackers you are staring at are from Argentina?
A: Because of all the juggling equipment hanging off their backpacks
I’ve met them all over Latin America. The Shargies love to travel and are all broke so they develop their juggling skills and perform at red light intersections all over the world. Give those tan dexterous jugglers your change and a smile
The lovely Aleja free swims it. She asked upon seeing this photo:
"Will I ever drown with those floaties?"

El Mollar Ruins
The ruins we came to see turned out not to be the highlight. These totem pole looking stone pillars were collected from all over and brought here. It didn’t feel very authentic. The lady who owned the property we were camped on told us about some ruins up in the hills if we wanted an adventure. Her dog came along as security. The vistas alone were worth the hike. I love playing amateur anthropologist and walking among the ancient footsteps as they whisper their stories.
                                  The ruins are in the foreground on the top of the hill
That Look
If you ever doubted Elsie was a freedom machine, then I wish you could see the occasional expression on people’s faces when we drive by a kindred spirit. It’s a moment of recognition in which their jaw goes slack, their eyes swell, and that beautiful human spark that is ignited by the wonderment of total freedom gets beamed right back at us. That look is so precious to me.

Surprise Surprise – we found more archaeological ruins!

The story of the Quilmes people will break your heart. They successfully remained independent against the aggressive advances of the Inca for over 100 years. After the Spanish defeated the Inca in 1532 the Quilmes fought for their survival against the Spanish conquistadors for an additional 135 years until ultimately starved out in 1667. The 2000 survivors were then forced on a death march to Buenos Aires and the last 1000 were caged on a reservation until they finally went extinct in 1812. The national beer of Argentina is named after them. What a shameful tribute.
Just how I found it laying on the ground. There is so much broken pottery you would be shocked

Fizzy Water
Soda is so important to the Shargies that they get deliveries like we used to get milk on the doorstep. That’s the truth. A delivery service drops it off and picks up the empty bottles. They even named their most famous band Soda Stereo. They mix it into everything: Fernet, wine, anything. Yep – they put soda in wine. I’ve seen them do it.
Parts of this landscape really remind me of Arizona

I almost bought land here, that’s how much I love this valley.  If their economy wasn’t in free fall I would have. There are grapes that grow at this elevation that produce astoundingly fine wines. Their gargantuan haciendas produce excellent free ranging beef. The sky is colossal and the vistas from either side of the mountains across the valley floor to the next range will suspend you in silent meditation. The sensation it radiates is one of freedom, fresh air and immensity. A man could breathe deeply here.
See the petroglyphs?

We met Miguel & Marine and their puppy Luna when they parked near us. It was a nice surprise to realize Marine and I shared a birthday and it was only 10 hours away. We celebrated in this lovely pueblo and have been friends ever since.

I Drink The Sherbs
Yerba mate – The yerba is the plant material. The mate is the cup (originally a gourd in days of old and still common today). It’s a highly ritualized, excruciatingly complicated way to drink tea. You’ve seen tan handsome people sucking on these metallic straws pulling a liquid from an ornate cup, refilling it from a thermos, and never knew what the hell was going on.… Next time, say “Como le va” and introduce yourself. It’s either a friendly Shargie or a bored Uruguayo.

Yerba Mate is so important that hot water vending machines are everywhere

We literally parked at an archaeological museum for 3 nights. Yeah – I got a physical anthropology addiction. Part of the reason for our delay was the visa process for Bolivia and the vehicle insurance issue that is always an ongoing hassle.

We went to a frozen museum which replicated the conditions under which these Inca children were sacrificed on the top of a volcano. They were perfectly preserved for almost 600 years. Sorry, no pictures allowed

We had some close calls in Argentina

The Double M’s
The Shargies love milanesa and mayonesa. As if they don’t get enough cholesterol from all the beef they slather everything else with mayonnaise. Do you know what milanesa is? Beef, Chicken or pork that is pounded flat, breaded and then fried and….usually dipped in mayonnaise.
Pretty little frog we met on a hike

Sherbs, Asados, Wine, Milenesa, Mayonesa, Soda, Juggling and boisterous camaraderie. Are you starting to see how much fun you could have down here?

It’s fun to type, but more fun to say. Purmamarca is a charming little colonial pueblo with gentle weather and that artistic refuge sensibility. This was a place we could slow down, drink cold beer in the plaza and conjure images of days gone by. The view from above the town wasn’t hard on the eye either.

We camped above a soccer field and made the long walk into town to again stroll the cobblestone streets of an old colonial pueblito. The other allure was outside of town at a place called The Mountain of 14 Colors. It didn’t disappoint.

Ah... The Wildlife
The Vicuna looks like a llama but it has a longer neck and softer lips and it only drinks spritzers, and its foals have nannies, and it pays extra for the year round locker option at the country club (not that country club! - The nice one)
This has nothing to do with anything
but aren't these the most beautiful artichokes you've ever seen?
I was hoping that drawer would break again so that I could say
"I have now officially fixed everything at least twice"

In Conclusion
My first impressions of Argentina when we crossed that original time from Santiago over the Andes at Paso Libertadores were of collapsing bridges and terrible roads. Not a good sign, however, it didn’t take long for the natural landscapes to pay the debt of the man-made structures. And then we met her people, and the bud really began to blossom. Add to that the majesty of Patagonia and Argentina carved her name into my soul. From the stinking tubes-o-cute penguins in the south to the archaeological ruins shading beneath palm trees in the north; Argentina is a land that has it all. I’ll always remember her fondly.

Next up –Bolivia!

Your man on point,
Captain Bobby