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A day in the wops of Bolivia

We left our little mud hut home-stay in San Juan before the others and after wandering a maze of tracks through the desert, following a gps arrow to get a “near enough” direction, thought we were lost. After no sign or sight of any life for an hour, then we saw an adobe mud cottage. The dogs barked, the old guy who lived in the middle of no-where said his name was “Cantene” or it sounded like this. He was embarrassed when I asked to take a photograph as he was in his work clothes. I showed him the mud on my boots and clothes and he laughed and agreed so I held his arm. Gareth took a photo and it appeared I was trying to dance with him. He pointed and gestured a big distance with a wave so we continued across his meagre fields on a two rut indication of a few previous vehicles.
We had both already fallen off in the middle of a salt pan that was only a light salt crust covering the very sticky mud. I felt the bike sliding away under me and did a 360 turn before lightly landing. I looked to see if Gareth would notice my absence only to see him lying with his bike on top of him about 20 m in front of me.
We had only seen one vehicle all morning and they were right there and the back was full of young men, keen to help me pick the bike up and then they continued to help Gareth too. they then turned to get out of the area so they wouldn’t end up a victim of the terrain. I slid as my boots became heavy with caked mud, over to Gareth to help push his bike over to a dryer place, and got splattered with mud as he cut a huge trench across the surface. Then he did the same for me.
We found a track around the salt/mud pan and pounded up and down muddy and rock trails, into sandy water courses and up and down the ledges cut by the recent rains. We wondered how the van that held the precious cargo of wives and my sister would pass along this way. An hour later only a few kilometres out of the border town of Olligue we came on a rail track, the relief of seeing a couple of huts and a flag was great. The customs lady inthis isolated place had a brother, David, in NZ a Dr of Biology in Wellington. I’m sure this connection across the world helped us get our bikes out of Bolivia as they had never been processed properly on the way into the country. So out of Bolivia and into Chile, where the lines on the map really meant roads.

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