Having made it to the bottom of El Retiro the night before, at 7:30 we were starting the climb. If I’d been alone, it would have been a couple of hours of constant climbing. As it was, it took until 11am and pushing probably 90% of the way. HJ tried riding at times, but it was nearly always too steep as we went up switchback after switchback climbing up to the start of the altiplano. There must be a bike race up there, as I saw plenty of motivational messages written on the road aimed at cyclists, keeping them going on the climb up.
The altiplano is definitely not as flat as I’d first thought, but they were more bumps than long climbs. The main difference was how the crops all seemed to be potatoes and how almost everything had become brown. The colours and life that had been visible in the valleys we’d been climbing up from were at best muted. Thankfully, it didn’t stop the nearby mountains being impressively jagged as we made our way past the odd lady herding her sheep.
We arrived in Betanzos fairly early, and sat around for a while. We could easily have found a place to stay, if I’d been willing to pay, but free options generally take longer. The father wasn’t at the church, he’d gone to Potosí on business, and while a lady at city hall ran round a lot asking lots of people she couldn’t find somewhere either. I was almost resigned to paying, when I came across the police, who took pity on us and showed us to a hotel. As we were only looking for a space to sleep, they would be able to give us an empty room for free.
While the room was getting sorted, we went to town and found a lady who ran the biggest shop in town. She spoke a fair bit of English, having travelled around, a rarity in Bolivia, and was fun to talk to. I’d moved on to eating oatmeal and powdered milk for breakfast, and she gave me a free pack of raisins to go with them. Lucky!