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Sunchuli Pass

Bolivia makes me feel like a westernized white person from America. Which, no surprise, I am. But more and more, the deeper we go, the further in we get, the whiter I feel. Obviously I’m not talking about skin color but yeah, that too. But who cares about that, nobody here even cares about that, except maybe the kids. No, I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about how every day on a regular basis, increasingly, I present like a high-maintenance clean freak with agoraphobia and lots of allergies to basic shit like flour and water. Listen, bottom line, Bolivia makes me feel like a pussy. Especially when it comes to hygiene and exposure.

Hygiene for example: there is so much Bolivia and so little me I’m starting to simply yield. Also, let’s be honest, hygiene is a form of maintenance and I loathe maintenance. So yeah, fuck it, When in Rome (if Rome is the second poorest country in South America) maybe you don’t floss because flossing requires, regardless of technique, sticking your fist in your mouth. And trust me if your hand looked anything like my hand you wouldn’t stick it anywhere near your own mouth. Okay wait, that’s not true. Just the other day I caught myself casually observing, as if in the midst of an out-of-body experience, the three of us, barehanded and joyful, sharing a bag of imported potato chips after a long day of riding bikes through literal shit, some of it human. The chips were barbecue flavored and they were finger-licking good, Goddamnit. The three of us crowded together, huddling around the bag, cramming and jamming, jamming and cramming, going for it, bag to mouth, one after the other in spite of the dirt and the funk and the feces in our fingernails and all over our fingers and now the corners of our orange-encrusted mouth holes. But still, I draw the line at fisting, and maybe I don’t know how you do it, but I personally can’t floss without fisting.

“The transition in situations like this is always a source of mild to medium discomfort. But here it’s so severe, abrupt and absolute as to be alarming. It feels less like the exercise of peeling back the layers of comfort and civility through a few nights sleeping in the dirt and the need to shit behind a rock, and more like parachuting into a 16th century cholera epidemic.”

I started peeing into my titanium Snow Peak cup two nights ago. We were at Edgar’s and it was late and James and I were pretend sleeping in the back room. The only way out was through Edgar’s bedroom and I’d already done the lo siento necessito bano fire drill a few hours earlier so I located my titanium Snow Peak cup which is actually the bottom portion of a french press kit, emptied out all the CLIF bars/gels/ropes/sticks/nuggets/pouches I keep in there, and filled it to the brim with hot piss. Titanium, in case you didn’t know, is very conductive. Also, I don’t know about you but my urethra governor or kegel or whatever you call it is out of practice so watching that 20oz cup fill-up in “real time” was terrifying. Also, FYI, laughing uncontrollably with a headlamp on, especially if the headlamp is the primary light source illuminating a delicate procedure, is not recommended. And finally storage, even in areas not prone to earthquakes, was a source of mild concern. I mean, you really just don’t want that puppy to spill even a little bit.

Two nights later, throughout our evening at Mountain Bivouac #1, I urinated into my titanium Snow Peak cup no less than three times. That night it was because I was in a tent, and it was raining outside, and everything I owned was already wet and close to being ruined. Also, I’m lazy, and the seal had been cracked so to speak. I mean, until Bolivia I’d never dreamt of peeing into a permanent vessel I intended to continue using for drinking and eating—the morning after Edgar’s insomnia camp I used the cup after a quick rinse for coffee and oatmeal, and it was fine—but now that I had, and there were no negative (so far) side effects, it just seemed like a “move” of sorts. Like a new part of my camping repertoire so to speak. Sidenote, I first remember hearing about the “pee cup” from Patrick aka @ultratradition on day six of Brodrick Pass because apparently, Club Macho founder Benedict aka @ultraromance is a practitioner. Anyway, that same night I also accidentally shit in my ninja suit a little bit. It wasn’t too bad, I just needed to wipe three times with three different wet wipes and the mess was all cleaned up. The next morning I put the trash from my dinner along with the dirty wet wipes into the cup which was now a miniature makeshift trash can and carried the hazmat bundle that way all the way to the Mountaineering Luxury Hotel, where I emptied the cup onto the concrete floor, more or less wiped it clean with the same t-shirt I’d been wearing for the last three days and filled it first with scrambled eggs and mayonnaise, then with off-brand beef flavored top ramen, and finally with a few rounds of genuine Coca-Cola. Things are just different in Bolivia.

It’s like how later that same night in the Mountaineering Luxury Hotel, under a set of world-class blankets, I had a wet dream about Stacey Stilts and jizzed into my ninja suit—that poor thing really took a beating on this trip. The crazy thing is I haven’t had a wet dream since 1988, but listen, altitude and stress will do weird things to you. Speaking of which, the following evening I had a dream that I was in Los Angeles breakdancing on a piece of cardboard in the middle of a bike path. Everything was going fine until I was surrounded by a grip of dudes from 18th Street who all wanted the amulet Mike Cherney made for me. Shit got kinda rowdy and next thing I know I was dismembering fools left and right. Straight limb-from-limb style. I guess I went crazy or something, but whatever because nobody got my amulet and eventually everybody left me alone. Apparently at that point I didn’t feel like breakdancing anymore because all of a sudden I was having sex under a freeway bridge with my cousin Denise who I haven’t seen since 1995.

“It’s clear to me the dreams and the diving head first into every health code violation possible is a byproduct of increased anxiety. I have so much of it these days it’s like my new baseline. Basically now, sometimes, when I’m lucky, I have a relax attack or two but otherwise I’m pretty fucking wound up. All the time.”

Anxiety isn’t new to me, I’ve been managing it for the last two decades. Anymore it’s not really a problem except sometimes when I run into people I know but whose name I’ve forgotten, say like in a grocery store or post office for example, and I can’t avoid them because we’ve already made eye contact and so we have to walk over and start talking to each other and but still I can’t remember their name. I start sweating. Especially if I need to recall whoever’s name to maybe make an introduction to someone I’m with. But even if I don’t, I sweat. And sweat. And sweat. All over my face. Like sweat running down my face. So quickly and so intensely that sometimes people want to rush me to the hospital and/or at the very least insist I lie on the floor next to some boxes in the dark in some back room while they take my pulse. Also, please don’t make me give a speech. Also, every time I get on a plane I take a Xanax otherwise flying is pure terror. But listen, generally that’s the extent of it.

So no big deal but sure, since landing at El Alto things have been a bit heightened but nothing was acute until we stopped for lunch a little less than half way up Pelechuco Pass on Day 02. That’s when shit started getting weird for me. I was dizzy and I felt like I was going to pass out and I could barely eat so I started talking pretty seriously about bailing, like just calling it, like just giving the fuck up. I started by quizzing Kyle incessantly about the names of various buses and destinations all related to finding my way back to La Paz on my own. I also asked him how to say key phrases in Spanish, shit like do you have a room I could have for the night? or where does this bus go?. Also, since I was carrying about two thirds of the cash we needed (collectively) for hotels and the bus back to La Paz, I made a point of dividing it up11Side note: doing even super basic math at that this point was pretty difficult. keeping only what I would need should I, I don’t know… turn around and ride back down to the town of Pelechuco and throw my Fat Boy into the river.

“From that point on, basically every minute of every day was a contingency party for me.”

The next day, after going over the wrong pass and having to sleep at altitude, I tried to turn around about an hour into the final push over Pelechuco. Kyle wouldn’t let me though, he said something stupid like, whoa, hey, Daniel, let’s just go over to that rock over there [pointing to a rock about fifty feet up the road] together and see how you feel then, what do you say to that buddy, does that sound like an okay plan to you, I mean, that rock is pretty cool, and it’s not that far away, I sure would like to ride to that rock with you bud, come on, let’s do it for old time’s sake. And for whatever reason I believe him that it’s a good idea to ride to this fucking rock he’s all cranked up about and in the five minutes it takes us to get over to this placebo huckleberry rock of his I’ve forgotten how bad I want to go home long enough to get a visual on the pass, and once I get a visual, then I’m fine, for now, on this pass.

I think what I’m reacting to is the exposure.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to fight for hours, one step at a time, to get to a pass, on the other side of which is who knows what, and ride over it like BASE jumping into a black hole if black holes were filled with Amazonian weather systems, day after day. But I’m going to try anyway, here goes:

Dear ______,

 

Today you’re going to wake up on the side of a remote road in the Andes Mountains in a country that does not have helicopters or rescue bullshit of any kind.

You dont have a satellite phone.

You speak a little bit of the language, but definitely not a lot of it.

Your most recent map of the area is 20 years old.

You haven’t really slept or eaten much in the last four days.

It’s raining now, but soon it will be snowing.

You are carrying everything you need to survive, it’s actually conveniently strapped to your bike. Dont lose or break your bike.

Most of the time you will be on a road, except for when you’re not.

You will labor all day to get over a fifteen thousand, maybe sixteen thousand, even as much as seventeen thousand foot road, then plunge further into the unknown wilderness, undoing in minutes what it took an entire day to do.

There will probably be some semblance, some modicum of service(s) on the other side. But if there isn’t, you’ve got, like it was previously stated, everything you need to survive conveniently strapped to your bike.

Don’t get hurt. Or lost. Enjoy.

Whenever the issue of exposure comes up, Kyle likes to talk about New Zealand, a country he likens to some kind of very large, very convincing indoor Mountain Center in the atrium of an REI. You know, over by the climbing wall. He’s like yeah, it’s like those indoor ski slopes they have in places like Dubai and Landgraaf. Only it’s not just one ski slope, it’s a whole bunch of them with rivers and stuff and it’s all shaped like several mountain ranges stacked on an island. It’s very convincing stuff but guys, I’m telling you, it’s an indoor deal just like Disneyland, I mean Disneyland isn’t indoors but you know what I mean. And it’s got ALL the services you could want for, again, just like Disneyland. I mean, where else can you find free houses all over the place and organize an unscheduled taxi cab ride off an alpine mountain in less than hour? NOWHERE!!!!!!! That’s my whole point. NOWHERE!!!!!!

And maybe, the more I think about it, exposure is the wrong word. Maybe the right word is commitment. Because, really, when you think about it, exposure is shit that you can mitigate and manage, right?, because after all, all the shit you need to survive is conveniently strapped to your bike.

“But dropping into something that you can’t, at will, get out of is a different story. And that’s ALL we did in Bolivia, is drop into shit, big shit, that you can’t’ easily get out of. And that’s why Bolivia makes me feel like a pussy.”

24 Aspects of the Day

Presented as Objectives

 

Wake-up basically on top of the penultimate pass of the trip. We only have one pass left.

Ride past an abandoned mine which abandoned mine is straddling the road with sluice boxes, pipes, pools, vats, hovels, and weathered pin-up posters.

Find the trail next to the lake that last night’s whistling miners told us about.

Hit bona fide singletrack for the first time in Bolivia.

Experience (if you’re James) the first of several Diarrhea Sessions just off the trail between two beautiful alpine ponds.

Come to the edge of a two thousand meter cliff. And walk, with our bikes, basically off of it. Down the steepest, most switchbacked trail in the world. Side note, this trail would be illegal in America. Or just closed. But probably illegal and closed.

Hike, scramble and slide down a rocky couloir for thirty minutes.

Run into a local dude “backpacking” wearing sandals and ear muffs hiking up in the opposite direction. He came from Curva. We are headed to Curva. Until this point we only suspected we were on the right trail.

At the bottom, cross a river with care.

Push bikes up a three thousand meter grassy mountain face on a marginal trail for five hours. FIVE HOURS OF PUSHING. FIVE. HOURS. OF. PUSHING. A BIKE. STRAIGHT UP. A MOUNTAIN. A WHOLE FUCKING MOUNTAIN. AT ALTITUDE. FOR FIVE HOURS. ON PRETTY MUCH NO TRAIL. Oh, and hurry up because today’s afternoon thunderstorm appears to be ahead of schedule.

Get socked-in by fog and clouds. Lose the trail. And each other. A little bit.

Seven Hanging Valley Huckleberries later, make it to the top.

Drop down the otherside (real fast), hit thicker fog, come to a split in the trail, maybe go the right way, maybe not. At a certain point you just can’t care anymore.

Ride down a 100% shale wall/moat/trail/dike thing built into the mountain, explode out of the fog into a scene from the children’s book called the Rainbow Goblins.

Experience a rainbow.

Experience two of the best views in your life, in the world, in the universe. One, a mountain in some post thunderstorm sun light. The other, a different mountain top with lots of water running off it in all the ways it’s possible for water to run – falls, creeks, glaciers, rivers, streams, clouds, mist, fog, steam, springs, etc.

Continue to drop and drop and drop off the mountain, and into the valleys below.

Help some dudes get their truck unstuck from the mud. Get lied to about a ride for us and our bikes should we contribute to the unsticking.

Ride down (DOWN!, the whole way!) a valley road in God light, passing lots of old ladies and fake horses the whole way.

Discover it would take WAY TOO long to ride all the way back to Charazani.

Ride to the town at the top of the hill on the edge of the mountain called Curva.

Find a bench, buy some bus tickets (THERE IS NO WAY YOU ARE NOT GETTING ON THAT BUS IN THE MORNING), buy some soda pop, make friends with a dog, sit on the bench, find the grossest most disgusting prison cell/hotel room in the universe to stay in, sit on the bench some more, watch the sunset.

Visit the hot food store. Order fried potatoes. Receive, stare at, then eat par-fried fingerling potatoes.

Fall “asleep” in a hotel cell that has been doused with the black mold scented air freshener.

Mountainside Bivouac

Run a comb through your hair and come over!
It's pretty upsetting when you wake up in the morning and go to rub the sleep out of your eyes, but one eye is totally covered in a thick crackling mucus and doesn't want to open. Your friend might say "Hey, your eye's pretty red." What he means is, "Hey, your eye's pretty pink." He means that because you have pink eye. In this case that friend is James and that "you" is me, Kyle. In this photo I have pink eye. Don't touch the screen.
When there is no soap within 100 miles of your location and your eye needs some cleaning, pour some filtered water on it and dream a little dream.
Remember this simple little rhyme: "Gear tan, whenever you can."
Guys, guys, guys! These views are AMAZING!

Lagunita Mil Curva

Most of today would be on trails. Trails are like roads that are missing a leg and because of this they hop up and down the sides of hills without any respect for the requirements of wheels.
The Lagunita Mil Curvas annual wakeboard competition happens the third weekend of June. Be there to catch all of the heart-stopping action!!!!
The views of the Apolobambas did not cease to amaze!

Descent Into Valley Primeval

What, exactly, are these assholes doing?
Couloir than you bro, couloir than you.

Ascent From Valley Primeval

Our bodies went down that, pulled by eighty pound bikes.

The Final Descent

What? But you were soooo sunny all day. Why now? Why here? You know that our map is fully and completely worthless, yet we are so close! We need to see the route guys, we need to know where we are going, all these trails branching off in different directions are NOT helping. Especially when we can't see... anything.
RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW RAINBOW
The road on the left is the new road, I think that really dialed 4x4s could, maybe, drive up it. The trail on the right is the old path, and dudes wearing sandals hike up this little deal all day long. The bike path has yet to be installed.
EXTREME TO THE EXTREME!
I don't know why we stopped. We were home free, on a downhill run to our bus and our way home. Irrational exuberance probably. But we helped these dudes push their miniature treadless dually out of their rudimentary leech field.
This was the best. Velvet smooth and slightly downhill. Coasting along with the sun. Dig.
Behold Curva and its bus station!
Exactly what kind of animal is this? Kindly email your response to holler@yonderprojects.com

Finish Line Party!

Brief Histories: the Kallawaya

By Dillon Maxwell

The Kallawaya are traditional healers indigenous to the Bolivian Altiplano. They are are keepers of the region’s traditional healing techniques, language, remedies, and rituals. They are believed to be direct descendants of Tiwanaku and Mollo peoples. Their practices date back before the Inca Empire but to this day their inner workings are still masked in secret.

The heart of Kallawaya culture lies in the towns of Curva and Charazani In the Bautista Saavedra Province. Still, Kallawaya healers can be hard to find as they are constantly on the move, traveling on foot throughout the region. The healers travel in pairs, consisting of master healer and apprentice, and all told the Kallawaya healers have working knowledge of how to use over 900 native plant species.

Being on foot is a key for the healers. Primarily because being on foot makes it easier access to plants. Traveling on foot also lends itself to the rugged and remote region where much of their healing takes place. When they are not out healing, they generally take up “normal” jobs. Only men can take up the role as a healer. This does not mean that women do not play an equally important role; Kallawaya women act as midwives and caregivers. They also weave detailed, colorful woven garbs that are unique to the Kallawaya.

If there is one thing that has kept the Kallawaya’s practices, culture, and ritual so untouched over so many generations it has been the element of extreme secrecy. The knowledge of remedies, language, and ritual can only be passed from master to apprentice. There are no classes, forums, or books on how to practice Kallawaya healing. The language of the Kallawaya, Manchaj Juyay, is passed down from father to son, or grandfather to grandson—also in secret. Because of this, Manchaj Juyay is not a widely spoken language in the region like Spanish or Quechua. The language holds a spiritual facet, but also helps maintain the secrecy by acting as a defense mechanism against outsiders seeking to exploit remedies. The Intangible Heritage Register by UNESCO protects the Kallawaya nowadays. The increase in interest from pharmaceutical companies and a growing interest natural, herb based medicine, in addition to increasing global homogony landed the group on the protected list.

*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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