One of the funniest things I’ve had in my travel life; “Someone stole my panties at the hostel”.
I think I’m one of the unusual travelers who come to Uyuni and never participate in any activity. I didn’t leave the hostel room for the first two days. Then I didn’t go any further than few side streets in the city center. Because the world’s largest salt lake in the rain season I didn’t want to pass by bike. Besides this enormously big whiteness was in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go by bike. It would be strange for me to climb to the north from the salt lake while an important city like Potosi standing in the east of where I am. Potosi was a city I’d been wondering and wanted to see for years. That’s why I can’t say I’ve done much in Uyuni. I rested in my room, going around and watching the local people blankly. At nights, I sit in the restaurants and ate plenty of mixed pizzas, meats and get back the calories I lost.
The first thing I did when I arrived in town was to get a Bolivian GSM line. As in other South American countries, GSM lines were not sold around in Uyuni too. I got the GSM line after standing very long queue of egghead firm. The internet opened, there were a lot of messages. But my eyes looked for one message. My father’s message! I haven’t had internet in 10 days. He would surely send a message or two about the geography I’m in and he would say “ What the hell are you going on a bike to the top of that mountain?”. But there wasn’t. I looked at messages blankly so long then I put the phone in my pocket without reading any messages and went to the hostel’s room to sleep. I have to get used to it, no message from him. It’s going to be difficult, the questions that haven’t crossed my mind for years go through my mind. I’ll get use to..
This road was really exhausting for my body. I haven’t been this hard in a long time. It wasn’t an easy way. One person realized where I was climbing and how hard the way is. Since he is not normal like me, it was natural for him to notice. I smiled when I saw his sharing about me on his Facebook page. “Dude, did you notice what altitude Gürkan is riding at, the man is climbing to 5.700.” (Enes Şensoy – Canavar Keşifte)
I went to barber once during my stay in Uyuni. They charge $ 1 extra because I’m foreigner. I’m not surprised and not offended. It was superb to eat beside barbecue on the street at nights as it was in other countries. I went to a place where the meat is beautiful, no mercy I ate 500 gr big meat. After Chile, this country is so cheap that is unbelievable. There is no difference in country side between shopping and preparing meal and eating outside. I can even say that grocery shopping is a little more expensive. By the way, I’ve seen so many Chinese and Korean travelers in the city that I’m surprised. For example, visuals in social media of these countries are little bit more important than other countries. So, a photo which is taken at Salt Lake has great impact for them. I saw neither Chinese nor Korean tourists in any of the cities I visited in the coming days. Different strokes for different folks, everyone has different taste of traveling.
After resting in Uyuni, I left. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting an asphalt road in the country. While I assumed an earth road between Uyuni and Potosi, I came across a magnificent asphalt road with very few vehicles. After that, the word form me:
- Climb as much as you want on the asphalt is not problem.
I finished in the south west of Bolivia my heart in my mouth. After that they built a two-lane, very clean and wide safety road to Potosi. After leaving Uyuni, it can be pedaled from Potosi road to Sucre in 5 days. It is possible to finish this distance by climbing total 5,050 meters in 360 kilometers. The road between Uyuni and Potosi is truly legendary. Every time I turn around a corner, I begin to say “ I wonder what kind of landscape appears in front of me.”. I also liked the road signs in this area, They give little information about the ground shapes on the right or left. When I arrived a small town between the valley, there wasn’t much left to dark. I thought maybe there was a fire station in town, but I couldn’t see it. I ran into the hospital when I was looking for a fire station.
There was no patient, the attendant came to the door when he saw me. I told him I wanted to speak a doctor as well as my Spanish. Doctor’s name was Maria:
- Hi, can I stay in the hospital yard for one night, if it is possible? I’ll be on my way early in the morning.
- Of course you can. My name is Maria and I am this town’s doctor. I can see that you are in good health, but is there anything that I can help?
- No, thank you very much. In fact, can you listen to my heart in case if there is ant trouble?
After she checked my heart, I went on a weighing, I weigh 85 kilos. Good everything is as it should be. The time has come for a full health check in Peru’s capital or in Ecuador. After spending the night there, I started the day with a spectacular climb. Again the views were very beautiful. I thought I’d shoot with drone over there. I switched the drone on, but there is something wrong. The fan that cooled the processor did not wheel at startup. When it didn’t wheel, it gave a message “The device is not cooling right now, shutting down the system. Thus, my new problem emerged. Drone can not fly! It’s normal when it flies in that much dust.
As I approached the city of Potosi, ups and downs began. I stopped at the last exit before the entrance of the city and had a snack. You see the city, but you can’t get there somehow, haha. I only climbed 280 meters inside the city, somewhere I couldn’t pedaling even it was concrete road. The slope was %32. WTF?! Is there a slope like that? Even I’ve pushed so hard by drawing zigzags. The steepness of the narrow streets of this city, as it has been told.
Besides the center of Potosi, there is really nothing in the rest of the city. The center of the city was built during the colonial period. As Galeo wrote in his memoirs, the city canter was more beautiful than most European cities in the past. The old town looks very clear from the top of the silver mine.
While thinking where to stay, I found the Potosi Casa Blanca Hostel which is most admired according to app. I saw a couple of bikers stayed there, all right, let me stay here. Indeed, the street where the hostel was located was very nice. The hostel itself was very nice, as they should have done everything in place. The first day I arrived, they asked me if I was going to take a tour of the mine. The only reason I came to this city is that silver mine.
Early in the morning, we met the guys at the hostel in the lobby. The guide who took us to the mine also came and we all went to the shop where we will pay for the mine trip. At that time, there was a minibus coming down from the narrow street. Meanwhile, lots of the minibuses used in the cities of Bolivia were sent from China. All used. The Chinese inscriptions on the vehicles are still being read. Two police wheels were kicking on both sides of the front wheels of the minibus in the narrow street. When the minibus slowly descends downwards, one strikes the wheel to go to the left and one strikes the other wheel to go to the other side. The steering column was broken. Uppss! I hope there is a mechanic out there somewhere, or if they’re going to go all the way down to the city, they’ll arrive in the morning. What if we get the same minibus?
We paid our money, we go to the minibus and of course they gave us one of those junks. First we went to pick up the clothes, shoes and helmets to be given to us for a tour of the mine. We were dressed and then we went up to the top of the silver mine. After leaving the city center, we came to the area where the miners stayed or the mining companies are. This place is almost as big as the city center. Okey the minibus is going up, but downhill down with this minibus, I began to brood on. Already the engine had died on the way of up. I really don’t like getting off the bike and on another vehicle. I’m not just saying that. It bothers me car or bus. Bike is the most beautiful.
After looking at the city through the entrance of a mine, we came to the area where we will enter the mine. They put a ladder in to a hole goes down. I was expecting a more wide space. Before entering the mine our guide drank a shot from the 80% alcohol containing vial, then poured a little bit of the entrance, prayed and went inside. Yeah, we’re blesses, nothing gonna happen. What kind of madness is going to get in with 80% alcohol?
This mine, as I said above, is an important mine. It is estimated that 70% of the silver extracted in the world between 1550-1600 is extracted from this mine. Of course the mine is not within the current Bolivian borders in the South American continent.
If I say, today’s industrial age, steam technology and machine revolution were partly provided with the wealth from here to Europe in those years would not be a lie. Travelers of the period liked to exaggerate or add some fantastic visuals and exaggerated portraits when talking about the wealth of the city of Potosi (today they still do). It was written that the population of the city was more than Madrid, Paris and London. But many people who go to the region can say that this is impossible, both by looking at the current settlement and the settlement area from 300 years ago. Local people were used as slaves in mines for a 100 years. However, the use of mercury and other chemicals with developing mining techniques had caused people to die very quickly. Spain has started to send slaves from the African colonies to the region so the workforce don’t fall. Even after a while, they started to make slaves do all the work that animals do. As a result, it is estimated that 80 million people died in this mine in 400 years. There is no official data, it is miners’ guess. After entering the mine I asked the guide who took us around:
- Now we’re heading to such depth, do you have any map of this mine?
- No, I do not.
- Well, aren’t these paths merge others like a labyrinth?
- How many entrances to this mine?
- There are 400 entries.
- 400? And you don’t have any map?
- Yeah, I don’t have.
The mine hole which I went with the group is at 4,300 meters. We’re going deep into the mountain, it is not easy for who is not used to breathe at these altitudes. Well, it is not easy to go underground and breathe in the mine cover with dust and soil. Two girls and a boy in tho group had to go out before they finish the tour. One of the girls even started to cry. I was going from the back of the group, watching out the back. After losing the light of others in a tunnel, I turned my own light off for a while. I stood there about 30 seconds. I wasn’t afraid of darkness in my childhood and staying here in the darkness didn’t scare me too. But staying in such a place in dark for hours and days and weeks, that is indescribable. To enter these mines with knowing there is such a risk, close to death any time… Every year dozens of people in our country and in the world are losing their lives in the mining dumps. While they are worried about bringing food to their homes, the mine owners or the governments are skimming of excess profit of products from raw materials. While writing this article, I asked myself “I wonder if the laborer earns what he deserves and lives the life he deserves..”. It is an other unanswered question.
My hostel room is with 10 people. A room with 8 women and 2 men. I sleep more comfortably when there are more women in the room. Because the number of people who are snoring or farting loudly is no more than 1 or 2 or no sound. Over the years I’ve become the oldest traveler in the room. When I register, I see the ages written in the register books. Those moments always take me to the first hostel I stayed in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Time passed quickly. Meanwhile, during my stay at the hostel, 80% of the travelers who come to the hostel were female travelers. The number of the female travelers began to increase noticeably over the years. It is a promising situation for the future of the world.
Since San Pedro Atakama, Chile, clothes have been washed by hand. When I was here, I decided to get them washed by dry cleaning. My clothes weighed about 2 kilos and I gave them to the employee in two pieces. They said come here tonight. I went in the evening they were closed, next day morning they were closed. They opened that night. Half of my clothes were missing. How can I find my clothes in this mess? She found them all one by one. They put a purple thread on the label side of all clothes. Roger that, continue to wash by hand. Let’s not lose our clothes.
When I left the next day, I found an iron welder outside the city. The kickstand was cracked when I was moving toward the Uyuni. First I took off the kickstand and threw it with its key, I got rid of 1.5 kg weight. But then I thought that the kickstand actually does a lot of work and I put it back on the bike. Because of the vibration in the road the cracking part broke off again and fell somewhere. I had to welded a new one. When I showed left of the kickstand to the iron welder, who I found outside the city, he asked where is left of it? Haha I said there is non, we will make it. I told him to shape the reinforcing bar, which I found in the shop, like the other kickstand and then weld it. I bought this kickstand when passing through Belgium in 2013 and in 2015 I placed small plates to strengthen it in Algeria. In 2017 in Tanzania, I made some additions to the upper and lower connection points and made it stand more stable. In 2019 one of the kickstands is made of reinforcing bar, hahahaLet’s see how far it lasts.
For the first time in a long time on the road ı pedaled in the rain between Potosi and Sucre. I’ve never had a problem with pedaling in the rain but fır the first time I saw so much thunder and lightning. One of these lightnings fell 100-150 meters in front of me, I swear when it rumbled in an incredible voice I hopped on the bike. I hopped, even after seeing it I knew the sound is coming. I said “ Hah, sky will split and something will fall down. No such thing, such an experience!”. When I saw that lightning, I realized that I had to find a shelter as soon as possible. I asked a villager on my way if I could stay in his garage. They gave me space on the second floor od their house under construction and I got rid of setting up a tent in the rain.
Although I descended from Potosi 4.100 meters to Sucre 2.780 meters, I still had to climb to reach the city center. The last 5 kilometers are always climb in this country. There is a climb before or after a village, town or city, no escape that. I staid at the Casa Blanca Hostel, which same as in Potosi, in Sucre. The area and the prices of room for 10 people were quite good. I also admire the city of Sucre, the center is really beautiful. Walking between the streets was really enjoyable.
One thing I didn’t like about the city, there are so many street dogs and these dogs shit on the pavement and nobody cleans it. Every place stays in shit until it rains. I had to pay attention to where I actually stepped while walking the streets. Bolivia is the country with the largest number of street dogs I have ever seen. Not online the cities but also in the villages the number of dogs is quite high. The high number of dogs in a city or village leads to serious destruction in the natural habitats inhabited by non-domesticated animals. So many dogs enter the area of animals on the other side of the ring to find food and cause them to starve. One example of this is that 15-20 dogs in Chile scared a cougar and took its food. Of course the reason for this disorder is human as always.
In my hostel, everyone was going to school for Spanish lessons. So I searched for school prices. The group of 10 people take lessons for 50 Bolivianano, like $7. I’ve started a WhatsApp group with Turkish friends who are traveling in South America. When I consulted the issue I learned that a few of our friends took private lessons from Carla for 30 Bolivyano, like $4 per hour. She didn’t give lessons for that money anymore but thanks to her, she made such discount because of my travel around the world and my friendship situations. In the meantime, all of my friends have taken 1 or 3 months lessons. The best thing would be to take a 3 month lessons, but it didn’t work, maybe in some other time. I don’t have that long visa or time or money. I took total 24 hours lessons from 2 hours in 12 days and paid $96. During the time my Spanish has progressed a little more.
Why don’t I have time? The Thermarest brand inflatable mat has broken which I put on the ground in my tent. I sent a massage to the US headquarters of the the brand, which has a lifetime warranty. They sent a new one to Santiago, Chile because it is closest city to me. The new mat, which they sent for me, is latest model but the firm in Santiago didn’t ship it to me. They said I have come and sign by my own self and than give the old mat to get new one. I was mad but there was nothing to do and I had to go and get the new mat. That’s why I was able to study Spanish for only 12 days instead of 1 or 2 months in Sucre, Bolivia.
When I was studying Spanish, I tried to read the newspapers during lectures occasionally and I saw men and women served escort jobs in job ads sections. I’ve never seen jobs in a country’s best-selling newspaper, where men and women provide sex and dating services. When I told Carla that first time I had seen such job ads, she said “Oh, it is very normal around here Gürkan. People use these ways to complete their educations.”. I am sorry for this situation. I swore a few Turkish bad words and Carla looked at me cluelessly.
When I talked to Carla about our people, I learned that when the marriage is made in Bolivian countryside, the daughters! fathers give their husbands a lots of money when they marry. “I raised my daughter well and good care of her until this age, now you keep going protect and watch out her same way I do.” with this opinion fathers give all they have to husbands. And the women were supposed to cook rice good. If the rice isn’t good, the father says “ No one want to marry you, rice is cooked bad.”. The similarities between the societies, which I have seen, passed in front of my eyes during talking.
One day after class O went back to the hostel to take a shower. I took my towel, my soap and thought take one of my clean underwear. My clean underwear was on the bag next to my bed but my tree clean underwear was not there. I look everywhere even look into the other bags but I don’t really have any underwear. I’m sure I put them there and after lookin around a little bit more, I got that my panties were stolen. I have only pantie which is on my ass! To myself:
- Someone stole my panties. (I’m laughing while I’m talking.) I am traveling for 9 years and this is the first time in my life. I’ve heard stolen women’s underwear in some hostels but it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a man’s underwear stolen. What the fuck you steal? Come on, you intend to steal it why did you take all three? Your deal! When I came to reception desk with laughter Roberto asked:
- What are you laughing about?
- There is an interesting case of stealing.
- How? Who stole what? How could it happen, you have a locker. Don’t you put your electronics in your locker?
- Not my electronics, someone stole my panties.
- How come?
- My washed panties have been stolen!
We couldn’t stop laughing it. Why is underwear stolen? Anyway after laughing with all hostel, I asked him where I can find a store which sells men’s underwear and he said there is non. Really there isn’t any underwear shop for men in Sucre the capital of Bolivia. The men buy their underwear from bazaars. I looked at underwear in a bazaar and all polyester. In my next Spanish class, I asked my teacher Carla:
- Isn’t there a store sell men’s underwear in the capital city?
- No Gürkan, you can buy from a bazaar.
- Well, they are all polyester and very bad. I’ve been to the whole city, there is any.
- You’re right, Bolivian men don’t pay much attention to this.
- Frankly, if I am not doing a world tour by bike right now, I would open a beautiful shop, selling only men’s underwear in the capital Sucre.
- Well, men will not buy much.
- Why men will buy? All married women will buy for their husbands or lovers.
- It’s true, we’d all buy, hahaha.
Bolivia’s capital is very active and beautiful city with its 2 or 3 stories white houses, museums which has colonial architecture in the city center and nightlife. In the meantime, after a long break for the first time in this city to drink tripe soup was also a nice. Yes, they have tripe soups just like we do and before they go home after a night out they go to drink tripe soup for recover.
I started pedaling from Sucre to Oruro. Of course altitude descended slowly when I came to Sucre now it began to rise. I can tell you the city gets ugly when you move away from the center. This is often the case in urbanization in South America. There were actually many cyclists in Sucre, but I didn’t meet them because I didn’t make any attempt. Since I set out on Sunday, I saw how many bicycles there were in the mountainous region.
I didn’t understand what happened but in the afternoon my pulse was a little bit higher than usual on the bike and I wasn’t feeling well. When I was planning to stay in the field, I thought it would be better if I stay in a small village in front of my road. I paid $3 for a single room in this small village called Rovale. I was going to leave next day but when I saw a hospital which I can get blood tests, I decide to not go.
I gave $4 to hospital for checking heart rhythm and blood tests. Everything seems fine, I didn’t understand why yesterday my pulse was higher than usual. It’s nice to look after yourself but sometimes it’s a false alarm. There is only one school in this small village and the students are divided into two groups as morning shift and evening shift. Almost every house has a stove in front of the door. They sell dishes like chicken, potatoes or egg with rice. You can eat for $1. The Bolivian countryside is really cheap.
When I looked at my diary for later of this road, I swore abundantly. Because the ups and downs on the road are superhuman. I swore a lot in the evenings inside my tent for ups and downs between 3,000 and 4,200 meters. The reason is I pedaled these ups and downs in the rain. Once in a while, when passing through the villages, I stoped and cook in the village center. But I don’t like that many people come to chat and poke the bicycle.
In one of them, I went into a construction for cooking, the owner of next house saw me and came to me. We chatted. Emilio has 5 daughters, he sent them all to school. One of his daughters goes to college. He is a farmer and has a quinoa field. Then asked me:
- Gürkan how much is this bike?
- I was going to ask you how much your feels is.
- I’ll sell 1000 meter square of field for $500.
- $500 for an 1000 meter square?
So this place is far away from everywhere, there are one or two villages around here and altitude is 4,100 meters. I think the price is normal. I went to a school in Ocuri, another town nearby, asking permission to set up my tent in their garden, but the teachers gave me a room and cook me a meal in the school. I took advantage of the opportunity to study some Spanish in this warm environment. I went online in the evening and surfing. There was a massage again “Why don’t you take videos for YouTube?”.
- If Marco Polo, Ibni Batuda or Evliya Çelebi ere living at this time, would they have made videos of their trips for YouTube to be a YouTuber? I think they wouldn’t, these were the men who loved to write and they wrote the most detailed travel books in history.
- The old people were very detailed writers. From the veins of leaf motifs on the stones to the fine workmanship details on a spoon…From the colors of the clothes of people who were belong different class of society to productions… They wrote down even mathematical calculations, numbers, measurements or they tried to draw each details with black pencil for hours.
- With the invention of the camera, they began to carry huge wooden tripods and huge cameras. It was easier for them to take a picture of a place when they would describe it. At this point, the content of travel writings began to change.
- The development of photographic technology, the reduction in size and the increase of instant photo shoots have started to gradually reduce the interest in writing. With the development of digital technology, cameras began to shrink and then video cameras were released.
- When the handheld video cameras came alongside the cameras, the interest began to shift towards that side. In the meantime, the details in travel writings has decreased. Because with both cameras and video cameras, theses details have been revealed on screens or in photo albums.
- Then, internet technology has developed and travels are started to be written on the internet. So more people can be reached more easily but it turns little bit a business. The authors are beginning to earn money independently. Since cameras and video cameras have also developed during this period, these articles get continuous support from either one of both.
- Appearing social media thanks to internet cause of travel memories are written under photographs or turned into a visual feasts by YouTube channels. These things get into everyone’s pocket with the development of communication technology. While everyone has an incredible media power, the written travel booklets don’t attract much attention due to the decrease number of readers. This is a result of our age of fast consumption, no one looks or comments at a photo to video that I shared 5 years ago, but still people write comments and ask questions about an article that I wrote 5 years ago. Even this has encouraged me to write for years.
- What do you think will be the next two new trends?
- I’m going to draw between the people who gave the right answer and I will have get two people with my privet jet to come here to pedal with me. Tag your 3 friends in the comment section below to join the draw, food & beverages, camp equipments and bicycles on me. I will share the results of the draw on April 1, 2119. JUST KIDDING DUDE! Guys I promised my elementary school teacher, I have not been cursing for years on my social media or my website. Don’t keep tagging me to those stupid draws. One day I’m going to swear to someone very hard. I ask you not to do what I don’t do to you.
- Where were we, yes, how do you think the next two processes? Writing, photos and videos come into the virtual environment with the development of internet, communication and social media. What is next? I wonder what are your thoughts.
In Europe, people learn mountaineering at 2,500 – 3,500 meters and climb over 5,000 meters mountains of Europe. That’s not the case in South America. Specially in Peru and Bolivia. There are fields between 4,000 – 5,000 meters in Bolivia, local people, farmers go up and work on those slops. Tractors go downhill from incredible locations at 4,500 meters. I’ve already pedaled for miles over 5,000 meters in Sol de Mañana. The concept of mountaineering in Europe is changing here. For example, Mont Blanc in Europe is 4,807 meters. There are also some people who perceive Georgia as a part of Europe. Tetnulti is 4,853 meters, Georgia – Kazbek is 5,047 meters, Eastern Europe – Russia – Koshtan – Tau is 5,144 meters, Georgia – Shkhara is 5,201 meters, Eastern Europe – Russia – Dykh – Tau is 5,205 meters and Eastern Europe – Russia – Elbrus is 5,642 meters. If one day they’ll say that Turkey is a part of Europe (Which is not, it is part of Anatolia, Asia. Well, you say Georgia is a part of Europe. But you are right too, there is a relationship based on interests.) Mount Ararat is 5,137 meters. Uturunku Mountain, which you can go cycling in South America, is 5,740 meters. The Ojos del Salado is 6,320 meters, where from sea level by bike and Guinness record is reached. ( I tried to go up twice, but I came to the snowy period due to seasonal changes.) Local people are farming at 4,000 – 5,000 meters, I smile when I see them. They are all much more vigorous and healthier than me.
As I pedaled down from 4.300 meters towards Oruro, I passed through the mining area. What a thunder dude! It was very strange feeling that you were amazed by the voice and screaming of nature as well as the voice that you are afraid of. the moment of explosion of sound was so loud that the headphones in my ears didn’t help. I had a hostel in Oruro city center. The city has this bazaar which is along many streets. It was unbelievable. A couple of cyclists talked about the bazaar in following weeks, and they were as surprised as me. Although it is not a touristic place, it was quite crowded in the city. In the evening after buying cheap food and fruits from the bazaar, I went to rest and set off in the morning. When I set off, I saw 4 Colombian and 1 Spanish cyclists heading south. I left the city again, I saw 1 Swiss cyclist heading south. In the evening I saw 2 German cyclists heading south before reaching a campsite. In this way during my world tour I have seen most tour cyclists in 24 hours in a country, Bolivia.
During that day, I passed Sajama Volcano, the highest mountain in Bolivia, 6,542 meters. In the meantime, I was pedaling at 4,300 meters. For a long time I stood beside the mountain and looked at it admiringly. Even if I don’t climb mountains like climbers, I love going to the most extreme point I can go on my bike. I like pedaling those imposing images, paths that seem impossible. There were also signs of wild animals hanging around the national park on the side of the road. Puma is one of the animals in the area.
But I don’t think they appeared to people. In fact, their numbers are small. There is no deed to confront any wild human race, so they live in the deep of the national park. It was obvious from the images that there are incredible routes in the national park around Mount Sajama. But I had to go back to Chile to get my new mat. I’ll go when I come another time.
The passage from Bolivia to Chile was at 4,666 meters and it was very crowed. I can say that the last 30 kilometers of Bolivia have not been fun, because of both for the Bolivians who coming to the suitcase trading and the trucks which carrying cargo. After waiting 2 hours at the border, I returned to Chile. I already said that I would return to this point after visiting Easter Island in the north of Chile. I wanted to see some historical ruins and the museum here. This time to get my new mat and to make this trip keep going to north of Chile…