The W Trek – Torres del Paine

Contrary to what it seems, I’m not that huge a fitness nerd. I make it a point to stay fit enough to be able to run a comfortable 10km anytime I want to because, apparently, I’ve learnt that I’m quite vulnerable to spontaneous calls to adventure. That is the story here.

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Casually-placed mountain on the trek

While in South America, I had plans to make it to Ushuaia which claims to be the southern-most city in the world. Somehow, I ended up on Puerto Natales where every vaguely outdoorsy person sojourns to trek the Torres del Paine. The W-trek, a 5-day circuit that covers most of the scenic spots, is touted as one of the most spectacular treks in the world. After talking to a bunch of people, I found myself caught up in their excitement and decided that since it’s not every day I’m in Patagonia, I should definitely be trekking too! Carpe diem!

Everything that I would need could be rented or bought in town. I bought a fleece jacket from a thrift shop for $5 because it never occurred to me that Patagonia could be cold and the supermarkets had all sorts of dry or long-keep foods. This was supposed to be my last stop before heading into Argentina so I was running quite low on Chilean Pesos and park admission, lodging and meals are quite expensive. Luckily for my penchant for spontaneity though, the lodges with warm beds and covers were sold out months in advance and my option was to indulge in the full camping experience.

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SAVE SAAVE SAAAAAVE!

I’ve never gone self-supported camping in my life nor have I ever trekked ever but hey, that’s the magic of it, no? I have however walked a lot with a backpack before (when I’m classically lost) and from that, I’ve learnt that I want to pack the bare minimum. In fact, I went further and thought it was a great idea to complete the trek in 4 days instead just so I don’t have to lug additional food around. My entire packing list was something like this:

  • Breakfasts – Cereal, milk, nuts. Protein, fiber and carbs to get me on the road.
  • Lunches – Bread or biscuits, ham and cheese. I want something light and stuff I can eat while walking. Also I’m going to be snacking a lot so this isn’t an important meal for me.
  • Dinners – Instant mashed potatoes, nuts, milk, chicken stock (for flavor).  Carbs, some protein. I know I’m going to be starved but I didn’t want food that took a long time to cook or require lots of cleaning up(ie pasta, rice). Also, I wanted lean foods that would keep me filled to the next day because I’m not an early breakfast type of person.
  • Snacks – Nuts, pureed fruit (the type for babies), dried fruit, chocolate, biscuits. I’m usually a pretty big eater but I’m also deathly afraid of carrying too much weight. I wanted motivational food that is high in sugar and also I needed vitamins and more protein to work my way through the day.
  • A container of vodka – to make friends, to keep warm, to sleep well and to forget how awful trekking in the cold is.
  • Clothes – a fleece jacket, an outer shell for rain, 3 tees, a pair of comfy pants, underwear, flip-flops, an extra pair of socks, shorts for nights, towel, paracord bracelet <- If you haven’t been bringing this on your trips, you should because they can be used for everything, from securing your slippers to hanging your clothes in the shower.
  • Toiletries – shampoo, bar soap, facial foam
  • Rented tent
  • Rented sleeping bag
  • Rented gas cooker
  • Gas unit, portable pot, mug, spoon – all for cooking dinners and breakfasts
  • Torch and batteries
  • iPhone 5 as a camera

If you’re wondering about the lack of water, you’ll be walking through glacial streams every half an hour or so and you’ll never be short of quality water. My backpack weighed in at about 12kg which is quite incredible since rented gear isn’t exactly the lightest.

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Heroes in a Half Shell

The first day started with an early morning pilgrimage to the bus terminal followed by a bus ride, then a ferry ride to a drop-off point. The entire scene reminds me a little of some survival movie where the ‘fit’ folks would be doing their stretches and warm-ups while indulging in their healthy breakfast of apple and PB&J. There’s the occasional stressed-out person who would mumble about how he/she thinks he/she’s over or underpacked and then there’s people like me who’re trying to figure out how to stay awake with the wind gently caressing our faces. Well, ok, ‘gentle’ is kind of comparative.

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Camp Site

I couldn’t get on the first boat which delayed my start by a couple of hours. After setting up camp at the foot of the mountain, I packed some snacks, my mug and a jacket and bounded up the mountain. Like I’ve said, I’ve never trekked in my life so everything was new to me. Every few kilometers greets you with new sights of glaciers, mountains and misty green lakes. It’s spell-binding.

I think I got back to camp just before 9 and scrambled to cook some dinner before crashing for the night. Some of the guys who I met along the way stayed a bit too long and found the kitchens closed.

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Just the odd scenic point

Day 2 was horrid for me. It was the longest day with lots of climbs and sights paled in comparison to Day 1 AND it started raining just before lunch. I tagged along with 2 other guys who were moving at a much slower pace than I’d like so that might have made things worse for me. It wasn’t their fault, I’d later find out. They shared a tent but were carrying something like 20kg of load each because they really like food. I could totally relate and am glad that I like food less than I like lugging 20kg of food around. They’d later stop at an earlier camp site and I trekked an additional few kilometers to save me some pain for Day 3.

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Clouds, pre-rain

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I’d put my face into the stream and drink it all up

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Even a fallen tree looks artistic

There was quite a bit of rain during the nights. Rainy nights are horrid because it means you’ll be lugging tent and mud along with wet clothes around in your bag and this adds a LOT to the weight. It rained too during the day and the camp site on Day 3 had a weighing scale which registered my back as somewhat close to 13kg still, despite having finished the bulk of my food. It’s depressing. Day 3 also involved gaining a lot of elevation along the side of a mountain face (I see this is a recurring theme in my travels…) on a dirt-and-loose rocks track. I walked with a very cheery teacher from Santiago who was travelling with his dad. I hope I still have knees when I’m 60.

No matter how many days you intend to do the trek in, your first and last days are certain to be half-day affairs. On the first, you’ll be at the mercy of the ferries and how familiar you are with your equipment when you’re setting up and on the last, the only bus leaving the area leaves at mid-day.

The ultimate destination of your trek is really to view the Torres; the Towers. When you google for how they look like, you get spectacular pics like this.

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If only my eyes had Instagram filters built in…

That’s not necessarily far from what you’ll see though. I’ve seen some photos from fellow travelers where the Torres are bathed in warm golden sunlight and I daresay some of that is more beautiful than what you’re seeing on the Google results. However, if you’re like me and are trapped in the middle of rainy weather – which I hear is very common and that it’s highly unlikely you’ll not encounter rain during your short trek – you’ll be rewarded for your hours spent walking with this beautiful sight.

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The Torres… if you squint

That is the story of how I trekked the Torres del Paine.

Unicycling the Death Road

You might have heard of this particular route that’s touted as the World’s Most Dangerous Road(tm). Also known as the Yungas Road, the road is thus named for the 200–300 travellers who die yearly travelling along it as well as the steep drop into nothingness.

You’d start off from about 4650m above sea level and end at 1200m. That’s almost 3.5km of altitude change over the 65km route. Well, around 65km — I’ll explain.

I didn’t go to Bolivia intending to ride the route. In fact, I didn’t even know if it’s possible since I was riding a 24″ unicycle which I’d estimate myself to go at about 10kph max, offroad. That all changed the moment I got into my La Paz hostel.

The most visible tour option advertised was an MTB experience through the World’s Most Dangerous Road(tm). All over the tourist agencies were plastered with itineraries about the same. I inquired at 3 of the main agencies offering the tour and was told the following

  • If I had my own equipment, I might as well go on my own
  • It’s VERY touristy
  • It’s quite safe — the route is well-covered by a LOT of tour groups

While the tour agencies offered tours that cost roughly US$80–150, going on my own would cost something like US$6 for the return ride. Most tour agencies will offer a bike with front and/or back suspension from a reputable brand, a standard/full-face helmet, rain jackets, full body armor or knee/elbow guards, food/water and the promise of a support vehicle that can ferry all the crap you want to bring with you on the ride.

I had with me shin/knee guards, a unicycle, a backpack with a day’s food, a rain jacket, a warm jacket, a change of clothes and about 2 liters of water. With a 10kph speed and a 70–80km ride total (including the roads to/from the Death Road), I expected a 10h ride including breaks and knew I couldn’t make the last public transport in the late afternoon. My plan was to stay the night in Coroico which is really an interesting town with lots of diversions on its own, well worth the visit even if you’re not riding the route.

On your own, you’d take a mini-van from La Paz to the tourist checkpoint near La Cumbre, make your way to the start of the Death Road (that’s about 7km?) and then ride towards Coroico.

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Start of the Journey

I started my day late, mostly because the journey to Villa Fatima, where the bus terminal was, took longer than I thought. The mini-van fits about 10 people and doesn’t leave until it is full so I had to wait over an hour before it would leave. That brought me to well past noon when I began my ride.

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All smiles because I haven’t started riding

It’s not all insanity on my part.

  • I’ve been told by both the agencies as well as by drivers that the route is perfectly fine if I travel on foot so I know that if things get rough, walking is fine.
  • Bicycles travel at much much faster. It’s way easier to bail from a unicycle than on a bike and you usually land quite close to where your uni lands so chances of you flying off a cliff isn’t that high if you keep close to land.
  • I don’t have a helmet or elbow guards but I know that if I do get to the point where I risk falling on my head or tumbling all over, no amount of armor is going to save me.
  • Tour agencies tell me that the route is VERY TOURISTY so if I run into trouble, I would probably be able to get a ride to town relatively easily.

Well, the good news is that the first three points are true. Cup, half-full please.

The day I went, as luck would have it, has the worst weather in ALL my days in Bolivia. It rained crazy and at the top of the mountain, visibility was shit.

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En Route to La Cumbre

In the buses, both locals and drivers would ask about my unicycle and in my very halting Spanish, I’d chat about my plan to ride the route, what I was doing in South America, etc. I’d learn new Spanish vocabulary like ‘peligroso’ (danger) and ‘cuidarte’ (take care of yourself) from them along with advice about how I shouldn’t be travelling alone much less on a unicycle.

After the initial clearance where I had to pay a small fee (I think it was like US$5) to an office for a ticket to traverse the route, I had to ride a highway segment (as in first picture) before reaching the very obvious start of the Death Road. I rode about a km perhaps before concluding that the fog is too heavy to ride without the risk of cars running into me. So I walked.

About 10 minutes after that, some locals in a car stopped for me and drove me to the start of the proper road (along with the same precautions about ‘PELIGROSO!!’, etc).

The start of the road looked like this. It was about 1pm.

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3km drop into nothingness on the left

Like any rider starting a ride, this was really cool and exciting for me. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see 5m into the distance or where the drop on my left would have led. I had been told the roads were narrow but I didn’t feel the narrowness for sure. Perhaps the fog helped.

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When I could FINALLY see trees past the fog

I had met some cyclists and a guy I knew from a previous hostel at the checkpoint but they were nowhere to be seen at the start of my ride. I had assumed they were way ahead but it was still early noon and the view was breathtaking. My intention was to ride half the route and then hitch a ride to the end point. 30km would be ideal for me. I can start panicking at 3pm.

The drizzle had turned into a bit of a downpour an hour into my ride. I had my rain jacket on and whoever told me it was cold at the peak obviously wasn’t riding intensively enough. I was sweating buckets into my jacket and the outside was soaked from the rain. I didn’t have my hood on because it was blocking my view of the cliff so I was generally wet.

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My tourist map had indicated an overhead waterfall. The first one I saw was spectacular. If you’ve never ridden or walked or ran through a waterfall before, I can assure you that it’s so magical, you’ll forget that you’re on the good side of a 3km drop.

This is about 2h in and there’s a noticeable number of grave markers and crosses at the edges of the roads. I had seen a number of them marked in Hebrew and dated rather recently. I also remembered a news feature of a cyclist who rode off a cliff when she took a pic with a selfie stick while on a bike. That explains why most of my pictures look like this:

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It’s really difficult to take riding pictures when you’re soaked and there’s no one around to take pictures for you. I didn’t have money for a GoPro (if you’re reading this, GoPro, thanks). The only reasonable attempt at a riding picture was a selfie when I was at a non-hazardous part of the route.
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The good thing about being on a unicycle is that your hands are free enough for you to fish out your phone to grab a quick pic. However, since it WAS raining and i had nothing dry on me, it’s impressively hard to have your cold wet fingers register properly on an iPhone. I gave up quick.

The terrain thus far had been manageable. Whatever ‘rough bumpy roads’ I had been warned of by hostel roomies was really nothing more than slightly-rockier gravel road and nothing even close to some of the single tracks you’ll see on intermediate MTB paths. I think the bad weather also played a good part in distracting me from whatever roads were there but I had been very exceedingly cautious with the road, what with it being crazy foggy and all.

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When I finally saw the fog lifting, it was almost 3pm. It was about that time when it first occurred to me that i saw all of ONE mini-van passing me in the last 2 hours and that was the support vehicle for one of the tour groups.

That was about when I stopped taking as many photos and began riding faster. Whatever the tour agencies told me about the route being touristy was probably for the start of the day. I had but the tourist map with me which marked something like 3 main points in the WHOLE 65km of trail.

Very useful.

I did pass some houses over the next few km but none of them seemed occupied. Again, the trail was empty and I didn’t know if it was the weather that was keeping people indoors — it didn’t seem appropriate to knock and say hi and then go ‘ah, bueno!’ and then leave.

The next time I saw civilisation was when two cyclists rode by me sometime at about 4pm. I would meet them again a short while later at the ‘tourist checkpoint’ which is little more than a wooden barricade and a small shelter with a map.

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I went so fast in the last hour that I felt like death at this point (the muerte part of ‘Ruta de la Muerte’) and it’s also the first break I took for the day. I stuffed what remained of my empanada in my face (I ate as I rode) and had to fight off the resident dog for it too. The two cyclists were apparently a guide and a tourist who was frustrated at having waited too long for his companions to take photos of the route and decided to ride on ahead. I chatted with the latter for a while and then left ahead of them.

The next section was probably the easiest part of the trail. The rain had stopped; the gradient was gentle and the gravel gave way to a smoother soil surface. I walked most of the remaining 15km or so because my legs had died.

When the duo caught up with me some km later, the guy I had been chatting to asked if I ‘could ride downhill’. I didn’t have the energy to be sarcastic about how I made the past 50km.

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Civilisation???

The death road really stops at Yoloso, a small town at the foot of the hill and also, YOLO, so. Whatever assumptions I had made about being able to grab a cab in a nearby town vanished fast when every vehicle I saw there had no extra space. This was almost 7pm.

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From Yoloso, it was about a 6–10km walk to Coroico, specifically the hostel I wanted to head to. Sunset was slated for 7:30pm and the rest of the walk was uphill so I had to get started.

I probably waved at no less than 20 cars and vans before stopping one about half the walk in. It was about a US$4 ride which was probably the best value for money ever.

Somehow, I managed to finish the 65km + whatever before and after distances in about 7 hours. On a 24″ wheel. With 150mm cranks. With no breaks.

My thighs cramped for the rest of the day and I couldn’t walk properly for the next 3 days.

In retrospect, I can see why the road is touted as dangerous. A lot of the cyclists on the road are not experienced with trails. Some of the folks I spoke to can cycle but have never ridden offroad in their lives. I don’t know why anyone would want to start learning to mountain bike on the side of a frickin’ cliff with a top-end bike with controls they got acquainted with 15 minutes before riding.

From what I’ve overheard at the tourist offices too, it seems that most of these people don’t really know what they should look for in a ride. A couple had remarked they felt safer with full body armor and more than a few chose a tour because it offered ‘full suspension bikes’.

If you’re thinking of going for a ride bike, unicycle or foot, here’s REALLY what you need

  • Familiarity with your shoes, bike or unicycle. Or puma. Or sleigh. Or whatever you’re using as transport.
  • Fitness. If you haven’t the endurance, you’ll feel like shit. ANY endurance activity you choose to undertake that you’re not fit enough for or don’t have the stamina for is going to cause you to feel like shit.

That’s it.

If you’re intending to go on a unicycle, it’s highly recommended but maybe opt for a larger wheel than what I went for. I think a 29 is ideal for going slow on foggy sections and going faster everywhere else. Anything bigger would be a pain to lug along on the transportation.

Remember, cuidarte.

When I Went Fishing and Caught a Whale

The seas were rough and I signed up for a fishing trip that day. I was on a ship and something caught in my hook. I yanked and reeled. It was cold and my limbs were becoming numb fast. A lot of effort and what seemed like forever later, my catch became apparent.

I caught a whale.

When I yanked a final time, it flopped right out of the waves and onto half my body.

I staggered.

The lights came on and slowly the scene of the sea faded out and was replaced with the interior of a bus. It was a night bus from Uyuni to La Paz in Bolivia and it was a very realistic dream.

Buses in Bolivia are a mixed bag — some companies offer glorious spacious seats and actual working toilets while others have leaking roofs and no toilet breaks in an 8-hour journey although of course everyone claims to offer the same luxuries. On this particular ride, it was closer to the latter and my seat-mate happens to be this plus-sized woman.

This is going to sound really offensive but I’m paranoid about sitting beside fat people. Most people are decent and self-aware about how much space they take up and that’s fine but there’s always this small group of fuckers who would assume it’s ok to overflow into your private space because you happen to look small. I’m not small-sized. I am 5’8″ with a full-seat-occupying-ass who happen to look skinny and that’s where the problem is.

This particular woman doesn’t give a shit that she’s in my space. In fact, she removed the arm rest between us just so she can have better access into my space. As I jolted from my dream and maybe screamed a little, her elbow was over half my body, blocking an artery — or several — in my arm and poking my rib. My left arm and a lung were numb and I must have shoved her hard enough because for the rest of the trip, she did make an effort to keep her arm closer to herself so I wouldn’t scream in terror.

You’ll always remember your very first lap dance. It could well be that sexy first time you promised your boyfriend that little something extra or that time you had to pay off your college debt or a drunken bet.

Or it could be the time you accidentally offended that fat lady sitting beside you on the bus so she wouldn’t budge when the bus stops for a toilet break and because the person in front of her has his seat inclined fully, it’s the only way out of your seat.

The Virtue of Being Grace

I met an Argentinian lady at a hostel. Grace. She likes practising her English because she used to teach it and had an American boyfriend but hasn’t the opportunity to use it regularly. She was also going to Bolivia at 930 on the morning I was going. I booked the 830 bus because I figured the immigration queue will be terrible.

On the morning, I saw my bus leave at 800. I couldn’t run fast with the shit I was carrying. The ticket lady smiled apologetically and said something about the bus boy wanting to leave early. She returned me my money and told me to get the 930 bus. Fun.

Ok now a bit of context. I’m on day 55 of a solo trip around South America and day 30 or so of having to speak some Spanish regularly. I’m also suffering some altitude-related nasal problem where I’m bleeding from my nose and perpetually tearing.

Grace shows up for her — and now my — bus and we have a polite chat. We talk about where we’re heading to and she changes her plans to follow me to Potosi, which she hasn’t heard of instead of Tarija which she knows is a lovely place. She feels safer travelling with me. Me — Asian girl, probably 25 (everyone thinks Asians are 16–25), speaks very little Spanish as far as she knows and pretty much holding a couple rounds of toilet roll to my face the entire time I’m talking to her.

Safer with me.

We have a conversation that goes something like this –

G: Why Potosi?

Me: I want to go to Uyuni but the salt flats are closed for this Dakar Rally race on some days so I have to do a detour. Also I hear you can book the tour from Potosi so it’s easy.

G: What’s in Potosi?

Me: Mines. It’s quite cool. There’s a tour to see the silver mines.

G: Mines?

Me: Minas. (Mines in Spanish)

G: Ahhhh minas. I don’t like.

Me: Uh ok.

G: Why don’t you go to Tarija?

Me: I don’t want to?

G: It’s beautiful. I don’t know what’s in Potosi.

Me: Mines. The mines.

G: I don’t know. Why don’t you go to Uyuni?

Me: Because the salt flats are closed…


At this point I figured that this isn’t such a good idea. On the bus, I start selling the idea of her going to Tarija which she likes instead. I’m only going to be in Potosi for a day and if I can get a tour to the Salt flats by some chance (you know, pay a bit more, stuff happens), I won’t even stay in Potosi.

G: I hear the salt flats are closed. You can’t get a tour in Potosi.

Me: Yea ok but I still want to see Potosi…

G: What’s there in Potosi?

Me: Mines.

G: Oh yes mines. I don’t know what else is in Potosi.


We reached La Quiaca, an Argentinian border town. There, we are supposed to walk across a bridge to the immigration counter then find the bus terminal on the Bolivia side of Villazon and grab a bus to wherever. I mention that I would need to pay for a visa on arrival. We are on the streets.

G: I don’t know if I need to pay. I need this paper that says (I zoned out at this point).

Me: Ok. I know I need to pay so I need to change some money.

G: Yes I need to change money too but we can change over the border.

Me: I want to have exact change because I am afraid immigration will overcharge me if I hand over a big note.

G: Why would they do that?

Me: Because Bolivia? And no one knows where Singapore is.

G: They won’t do that.

Me: I prefer to change money here.

G: You need to pay for your visa?

Me: Yes.

G: I don’t know if I need to pay.

Me: I don’t know either.

G: How much are you changing?

Me: US$100

G: Why do you need to change money?

Me: TO PAY IMMIGRATION.

At this point, the guy behind us overhears us and offers the usual everyone-is-a-money-changer-in-Argentina deal. I smile and start walking away.

G: We need to be more alert of people around us. It can be dangerous.

I’m still tearing uncontrollably.


We are at immigration. Grace starts a conversation in Spanish with the girl in front asking her about the weather in various parts of Bolivia, if it’s cold, what the temperature is like in Potosi, how Potosi is like, what there is to do in Potosi, bla bla bla. The queue takes so long the girl eventually leaves — I will never know if it’s because she’s sick of talking. The conversation then (again) turns to me and how I need to pay for my visa and how she doesn’t know if she needs to. I’m still tearing uncontrollably.

At the immigration office, there are 2 counters — one for exiting Argentina and one for entering Bolivia as is the norm for most countries except that there was so many people at the counter you’re just expected to know this. I tried explaining this concept to Grace first in English, then in Spanish (ie. “Salida Argentina, Entrada Bolivia”). She doesn’t understand. Next confused guy comes along and of all people she starts asking him in Spanish. He doesn’t know. I repeat what I said in Spanish. He gets it. She doesn’t. He explains it to her. She still doesn’t get it but queues at the counter and asks a whole bunch of stuff anyway including if she needs to pay.


The bus terminal is 5 or so streets away. I’m carrying a 7kg unicycle bag, an 8–10kg backpack and a 2–3kg knapsack with my laptop and water. Grace is dragging this trolley bag around the cobblestone streets. 3 streets later she starts whining about how her bag is heavy and how the altitude is getting to her. I’m sniffling blood and mucus so I just nod and smile. At least she knows Spanish, right?

We reach the terminal and there’re only overnight buses to Potosi that supposedly take 9 hours (nueve horas). I was with Grace when she checked with the collectivos (these are like carpool vans). They cost about US$10 more and will take 4.5 hours (cuattro y media horas). I don’t really believe them since Google Maps shows a 6h route. I try to talk Grace into heading to Tarija instead since she is whining and whining incessantly about how long it takes. We have this classic conversation –

G: The bus leaves at 9 and takes 9 hours. It’s very long. Why don’t you go to Tarija?

Me: Because I want to go to Potosi.

G: I don’t know what there is in Potosi.

Me: MINES. I want to see if I can get a tour to Uyuni too.

G: Why don’t you go to Uyuni?

Me: Because it is closed. YOU SAID SO.

G: Oh yes. 9pm is a very long wait to the bus.

Me: We can take the collectivo.

G: I don’t want to reach at night. It will take 9 hours.

Me: No… it will take less. They said 4.5h but I think a bit more?

G: They told you 4.5h?

Me: No, they told YOU. YOU asked. In Spanish.

G: I don’t know. I think the bus takes 9 hours.

Me: YES BUT THE COLLECTIVO TAKES LESS.

G: I don’t know how long it takes.

Me: Cuattro y media horas.

G: I don’t remember.

We bought bus tickets because you don’t want to think when you’re bleeding from the nose and streaming from an eye while lugging 15kg of shit around.


We took a walk in the streets. Every other street, Grace would stop a random passerby to ask where the touristic sights are. We are in a frickin’ border town. No one gives a conclusive answer and I try to look as poor as I can while holding on to my valuables tight.

It wouldn’t matter anyway because after a while, Grace decides the weather is too hot and we should stay in the shade. There’s a street with shops on both sides. She reckons the shaded side is more interesting. I don’t care because we have a lot of time. This side happens to sell hardware.

G: You like looking at these?

Me: No.

G: Hahaha. But it’s interesting yes?

Me: No.

G: Haha.

Me: Are you looking for a buzzsaw? Everyone’s selling them.

G: I don’t understand.

Me: Nevermind.

Eventually she caves in and asks what I’d like to see. Local crafts, I say. There’s a local market that I’d love to walk around in. We went there.

G: It’s too hot. Let’s walk here.

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That’s where we walked.

Me: What’re we looking at?

G: The shops! Aren’t they lovely?

Me: I see a wall.

G: Hahaha. More shade here.

Me: I don’t know what we’re seeing.

G: Hahaha.

I left to take a walk on my own for the next hours. Still tearing.


Now you’re probably asking why I’m not ditching her yet. I would except we got bus tickets where we’ll be sitting next to each other for 9 hours. It is political to be cordial to someone who will be unwittingly guarding your valuables for 9 hours. I thought hard about how to ditch her once in Potosi and figured the only way would be to somehow lose her in a hostel.

While in good spirits after a cheap ice cream cone, we somehow concluded that we could share a dinner since I was feeling sort of sick and a long bus ride without toilets isn’t fun at all with a full dinner. It’s for once something that’s mutually beneficial.

She also mentioned she is somewhat vegetarian but she’s taking meat while travelling. We went to something like 10 different restaurants, all of which are unacceptable because she wants to eat something that is not fried but is not soup and has to be dry and also served in a restaurant with a proper bathroom and a TV and bla bla bla.

G: Do you like this place? This place is not so good because it has no TV. You want TV right?

Me: I can eat anything. TV is in Spanish. I don’t care.

G: Ok we go the next one with a TV.

Me: You can choose.

Somehow, she settles on a place that serves nothing but fried food and she asks me to pick what to eat.

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I picked the greasiest, meatiest thing on the menu, then smiled and told her that it looks like it isn’t fried and comes with a salad so she should love it. It’s probably one of the most passive-aggressive acts I’ve done in my life.


Finally we get in the bus. I hold my backpack to my lap partly because it might be cold and mostly because my laptop is in it and Grace is sitting on the aisle seat and I don’t trust her to keep watch on my stuff.

G: You can put your bag up there.

Me: It’s ok. I’ll hold it.

G: Why?

Me: I like it.

G: Is it because you don’t feel safe?

Me: Yes.

G: It won’t get off the bus! It’s ok!

Me: I like to hold it.

Personally, I hate speaking in English in non-English countries because you never know who’s listening in and also because it makes you stick out like a sore thumb. What’s worse than a loud English conversation is a loud English conversation about your fears on being robbed because what better ways to draw attention than to tell everyone in the bus where your valuables are kept? I make a mental note to lose her in Potosi.

I fall asleep — or try to- promptly, still sniffling and tearing. Midway through, some immigration officers get on the bus to check on our passports. Mine is fine and Grace is missing an entry stamp — the one I specifically told her she needed at the border. She has to get off the bus and when she got back on, she began whining about how cold it is and how terrible it is to have to get off for a stamp that they didn’t tell her about. She then notices I’m all bleary-eyed and comments how good it is that I can sleep. I turn around and go back to sleep. She starts talking to the guys behind us which in my haze I could make out to be from Buenos Aires too.

The bus stops at the terminal in the middle of nowhere in the morning which I didn’t quite expect. I wake to Grace asking me “Que tal, como estas? Oh you are still sick. Same thing eh?” I want to slap her.

Some people start getting off the bus and Grace gets up and tells me to “Vamos!”. Repeatedly. I get my phone out and try to figure out where we are. We ARE in the middle of nowhere. We get off the bus and amidst her whining about how we need a cab and asking every other person in Spanish how to get to town when it’s so early AND random haggler cab drivers screaming at us to engage their services, I attempt to ask the porter in halting Spanish if there’s a different terminal in town or if the bus stops elsewhere since some people haven’t gotten off the bus yet.

I make out that yes, there is an older terminal closer to town but this bus doesn’t go there and we can stay in the bus til daybreak. I fall asleep in the bus as Grace chats with the guys from before.


7am. I wake and I wake Grace up. I suggest we can cab. She agrees. I suggest asking those guys she was talking to to share a cab. They’re gone she says. No they’re not, I say, they are there 5 seats behind us. She looks into God-knows-where and I walk to the guys and wake them up. They reckon we can take the public bus instead. I don’t care because they seem like they could be my substitute for Grace to leech onto.

We chatted a little about hostels and directions. Grace says she doesn’t know anything because there was only wifi the night before and she was on Facebook the whole time. Haha, she laughs cheerfully.

The guys don’t have a hostel to stay at but have a lead from someone in the bus so we got off a little further than the hostel I want to be in and found our way to this dingy place that was recommended. All 4 of us got in and didn’t like it. They left their bags at the place so they could look around the area. I figured it’s the best chance for me to lose them all so I insist on carrying my bags and to head to where I had intended to go to begin with. We all decided to check my place out.

The hostel is awesome. It has wifi and was serving a buffet breakfast when we turned up. I booked a bed on the spot and left my luggage in the keep while waiting for check-in. Some time later, Grace appears from the toilet and announces that she can’t find the guys.

G: My luggage is at the other place and I can’t find the guys.

Me: Did they say they will wait?

G: I don’t know.

Me: You want to get your luggage?

G: I don’t know where the place is.

Me: It’s 2 streets there and 2 streets to the right after.

G: Oh. I don’t know if the guys will be back.

Me: Ok so you wait for them?

G: I don’t know where the place is.

Me: 2 streets, 2 streets.

G: Oh it’s 2 streets then 2 streets?

Me: Yes.

G: But I don’t know where the guys are.

Me: You can wait for them.

G: Yes I have to. I don’t know where the place is.

Me: IT IS 2 STREETS IN THAT DIRECTION AND THEN 2 STREETS AFTER.

G: Oh but I might have to wait for the guys.

At this point, I’ve just got Wifi and am trying to concurrently dry my tears, arrange a flight, load up a map for my location and bitch on Whatsapp about the stupidity I’m in. All while Grace is continuing with her rant.

I did make sure to give Grace directions to a few more hostels in the area. She didn’t get the hint.

The guys showed up some ten minutes later and led her away. They eventually settled on staying at the hostel I was at and I paid extra to be in a different room and then promptly arranged to join a day tour for the afternoon. To the mines. While tearing and bleeding.


Epilogue

I met Grace later in the day before I left for the mines.

G: I am not going to the mines. The guy tells me it is not so good.

Me: Ok. I’m going still.

G: You are going to the mines?

Me: Yes, that’s why I came to Potosi.

G: So you are not going to Uyuni today?

Me: No… it is closed…

Easter Island Ride Report

I chose to stay at a camp site on Easter Island for a couple of reasons. There’s privacy in a tent of your own for one; the stars would  be perfect and able to be appreciated only by camping for another but most importantly though, I figured the island would be so remote, camping would really be the best way to understand all it has to offer.

The whole island is a nature reserve and camping is sort of prohibited but regardless, highly recommended is Camping Mihinoa which provides a tent, sleeping bag and mattress for 6,500 Pesos (that’s < US$10). I picked a spot that’s sheltered from the sea winds by the ornamental rocks but which is smack in front of the ocean. Beautiful.

 

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I’ve read that Easter Island is expensive. Food in general is slightly pricier than the mainland. I bought my food from Santiago just in case so I lived off fresh produce (which is definitely pricier on the island) and some tinned items in my 5 days stay. Still, food isn’t as expensive as claimed – you’d get a restaurant meal for about what you’d pay in the US or Europe and the most expensive groceries you’ll buy is probably water for about $3 a bottle. You can drink tap water anyway (it tastes a tat metallic but it’s drinkable).

Your other expenses are likely to be a car ride (or tours but do rent a car). That’s another reason why it’s great to stay on a camp site where you can group up really easily. Cars are expensive but rental is for a full 24h rather than the ambiguous ‘day’. Our rental + gas cost us something like 60,000 pesos in total but we drove to the ends of the island so it was still cheaper than tours. Also, I’ve never driven offroad before so it’s quite an experience.

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I had intended initially to ride across the island on my uni. Distances are not great. There are 3 main loops – 20, 30 and 6km one way. It would take probably take a full day on the longest loop which isn’t too bad but the main reason why I didn’t choose to ride the longest loop is that there are no street lights after sunset and there’s no traffic outside of the main town. The island is apparently small enough that everyone knows each other and you can easily hitch a ride back to town but I didn’t feel confident enough to do that from my first day so I didn’t want to risk it.

On the days I did ride though, I think it wasn’t too bad an idea i decided to go by car. My first riding day was down south to the volcanic rim and Orongo National Park area. It was the shortest route, 6km but it was 6km of perpetual gradual uphill which was killer to say the least. Having not ridden properly for a couple of months, I didn’t actually realise I was falling sick so I just thought the hills were worse than usual. I walked most of the way uphill but rode most of the downhills.

The next day – and my last day, I took an easy day and rode just 2-3km just outside of town where some Moais are. There’s a huge plain and some offroad tracks that’s perfect for some quick fun. In general the roads are riddled with potholes and even the main parts of town have irregular roads so the terrain does make for some fun riding. There are some caves a short distance away from town that would be amazing to ride in as well. The paths are not long enough for mountain bikes but for unicycles, perfect. I didn’t get to trek in any of them on that day though since it was raining and the floor gets very wet and slippery when that happens.

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