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Sunchuli Pass

This is a situation that I am sure you have faced yourself, it is a common element to many adventures, excursions, and family road trips. The wrong turn. This is a plot device that has motivated the action of drama, adventure, and horror stories since time forgotten. Ancient Greeks, Sumerians and Mesopotamians were not immune to the wrong turn, and neither were the likes of Clark W. Griswald or Bugs Bunny and the infamous Albuquerque. Whether appearing as historical fact or contemporary fiction, the wrong turn plays a crucial role, its consequences opening up so many unexpected possibilities for folly and a redemption. It would have been unthinkable for our crew to think that our Bolivian excursion would be immune from such a formidable and entrenched narrative device. There was no precedent for our trip, our maps were more than 40 years old, and it quickly became apparent that since they had been drawn many new roads and paths had been constructed. There was maybe a tacit acceptance in the group of an outside possibility that we would, at some point, follow an incorrect path or choose the wrong direction, but the consequences of such a mistake had extremely high potential for disaster—as in true disaster, as in emotional, physical, and mortal disaster—that we chose to not take it seriously, choosing to instead to rely on luck, less than accurate maps, and the scattered bits of trash on the side of the road to help guide us to the town of Curva, our end point.

“It is important to note that trash is omnipresent in Bolivia.”

The country is one of the poorest in the western hemisphere and lacks many of the modern conveniences that you and I take for granted, trash removal being one of them. In the small campamentos of the Altiplano and the Cordillera Apolobambas refuse is omnipresent, scattered like mundane confetti. The idea of “pack out what you pack in” that has been ingrained into our outdoor psyche since childhood is also dependent on a plurality of luxuries that make up our culture, luxuries that have yet to affect the lives of your average Bolivian. To have the energy and the time to pack out your trash is a luxury of convenience, of surplus energy, of public services, and of health. This is not a condemnation, simply an observation worth noting because trash, throughout our adventure, would act as a type of breadcrumb trail. Once out of town wrappers and bottles littered the side of the roads and trails; the higher the frequency of travel the higher the frequency of litter. This was the flotsam and jetsam of travelers past.

 

So this is where we found ourselves, at a crossroads, high above Pelechuco. We had spent that previous half day riding, pushing, and panting our way up the side of the mountain. On our map there was one route, one path, and we were not expecting to have to make a decision. But here it was. James and I argued about which path to take, poring over the vague shapes on the map to determine which route would take us over the correct pass and into Hilo Hilo. I say vague because the maps we were using were zoomed-in color photocopies of screenshots from Google Earth and the original images were of such a low resolution that staring at them felt like you were looking through goggles smudged with grease. Specifics were not forthcoming, details were scarce. We would need to rely on circumstantial evidence, living up to our project’s namesake, we would need to do some Dead Reckoning. What we knew: the road going to the left was steeper and appeared older with washout and rock fall covering its path, while the road to the right appeared to have been recently constructed or plowed. Yonder Journal’s previous trip experience told us that you take the older, steeper, more damaged road because these trips aren’t supposed to be easy. Up the steep winding switchbacks of the road on the left we went, following what looked to be recently churned tire tracks, past a few hanging valleys, and through a pile of rocks shaped like a wall that lined the saddle of what appeared to be a pass. We rejoiced, had a snack, used the restroom, and then followed the trail down the backside. We are on a new road, we are flying, and boy do these Fatboys get moving when you head down hill.

“We smash switchback after switchback, quickly losing altitude, then suddenly, it stops. The road ends.”

There are three men and a rugged SUV in front of us. We have been descending for 15 minutes. It is drizzling, and the man closest to use is wearing sandals while he rolls one basketball sized boulder after another off the road. He stares at us for a moment, giving us a wide, tooth-poor smile before getting back to work. From behind him steps a man wearing track suit pants and a few thin gold chains around his neck; he is obviously the foreman. We ask him in our awful broken Spanish, “Is this is the road to Hilo Hilo?” “No,” he says, “this road turns into a trail that dead ends another mile down the hill.” He is annoyed by our presence, we are annoyed by our presence. We ask him if he is sure. He doesn’t answer, but gives us a looks that says, “I don’t give a shit what you think, I just don’t want you around me.” His vehicle is stuck. It is getting late. The situation is miserable. We turn around. That 15 minutes of blissful descending takes us three hours to climb and by the time we reach the crossroads it is twilight and the drizzle has turned to a downpour. We have two options: ride all the way back down the hill to Pelechuco, losing all of our day’s work and risking a detrimental blow to our overall trip motivation or bivouac here on the mountain, saving the work we put in on the climb but facing another night of sleeplessness at elevation. We settle for the latter and strike camp in the indigo blue light of the coming night.

Pelechuco

Looks nice right? For a brief moment it was. Unfortunately that brief moment didn’t happen when we were inside the place, nope, when we were inside using the place it felt like our room was being cold steamed, like the inside of the room was at the dew point, as if we were moments away from experiencing our own little in room thunderstorm brewing up and lashing our gear, our beds, and our bods with some cold wet nightmares. The storm didn’t happen and sleep didn’t happen. Win some, lose some.
"Why are our bodies still working?” - James Crowe, reflecting on the fact that we have slept maybe a total of 3 hours in the last 3 days.
Puppies are puppies anywhere you go. They have that cute, fuzzy, energetic thing going for them and they will pee where ever and when ever they want to. We really wanted to hang with this puppy, but we were also a little concerned about the fleas, turds, and trash that this little bugger may have combed through with his brushy fur. Caution must be observed when on expedition and we knew all too well that communicable GI issues would stop us dead in our tracks, unnecessary risks must be avoided when you are bike packing in Space.
FOR SALE! Wizard Hut second home currently under construction. Offers a scenic panoramic view for casting and conjuring and is conveniently located atop a rock perch for easy defense if one’s sorcery causes a stir with locals. Located near a few nice bucket chicken joints and the fine rock masonry recalls the stone stacked structures of the old world. Ask for Elena at the Hotel Apolobamba to set up a showing.

Kakazani Pass

This was our first day riding on the side of the Apolobambas that faced that Amazon basin, and this was our first experience of the Amazon fed storms that rise out of that great dark mysterious place every afternoon. There is no going faster at altitude, no pouring on the gas. Your pace is your pace and all you can do is move on steadily as the storms silently creep up the valley to consume you.
In terms of mechanicals, luck was on our side during the trip. Despite the sleep/oxygen/nutrition deprivation, Kyle didn't keep pedaling when his chain slipped behind his cogs.
Still the boys had to do a bit of finagling in order to put the bike back in working order.
Dead Reckoning alumnus, AWOL designer, and black metal acolyte Erik Nohlin @hellhommus introduced the team to the concept of the Hot Lunch while we were in New Zealand. Though it takes a bit more time to prepare, when deployed correctly, the Hot Lunch can be crucial for both morale and digestive sustenance. A bit of Top Ramen, some crunched Chips, and a few Clifbars and you are ready to take the wrong road, do an additional pass twice, and attempt sleep at 15,000 feet.

The Wrong Turn

This is what it looks like when two people debate a fateful course of action in which neither have reliable data, or experience. This is not a situation you want to get yourself into, especially when you are halfway around the world, on the side of a mountain, being threatened by freezing rain, miles away from anywhere and many days away from home.

Mountainside Bivouac

This tent smelled really really really bad.

Brief Histories: Pishtaco

By Dillon Maxwell

Every culture contains a folk villain. An antagonist, an entity of evil, something to fear, some kind of Boogeyman to keep people up at night. In the Andes, a demon-like figured dubbed Pishtaco is that Boogeyman. The name of Pishtaco comes from a Quechua word, pishtay, which means to cut into pieces. Pishtaco is a pale, foreign figure who roams the Andes searching for victims to brutally torture, mutilate, and suck the fat from their corpse.

Pishtaco’s identity may have shifted over the time, but Pishtaco has always maintained a goal of mutilating and sucking the fat from his victims. The entity has become a reflection of colonizers and westerners by the indigenous peoples in the region. During the Colonization of Latin America, conquistadors and missionaries were seen as Pishtacos or as agents of Pishtaco. Word began to spread about how the Spanish Pishtacos would kill the indigenous peoples and use their fat to make candles for the churches, to heal wounds of conquistadors, and to shine armor. In more recent times, Pishtaco began to take on a new identity with the arrival of NGO’s, mining corporations, and outsiders visiting the region. Some saw the workers of corporations as Pishtacos. They were going to kill and take the fat of the victims to help run mining machines and airplanes. Others saw people working with NGOs, the anthropologists, geologists as agents of Pishtaco. The work they were doing when studying people, places, and cultures was really just a cover up in order to spy for Pishtaco so he could know where the most fat was. There are even accounts of workers being attacked by locals in hopes of driving the monster away from the region.

*Dillon Maxwell earned a BA in History from Colorado State University. He wrote his thesis on the Spanish Civil War's effects on the Cuban Revolution and did historical fieldwork in Southern Colorado focusing on famed American Explorer Zebulon Pike and the environment Pike encountered in his travels. Dillon lives in Fort Collins, Colorado where he spends his time riding bikes, camping, riffin', and playing drums.

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