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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » September 28, 2012
TRAVEL: Around the World in a Land Rover or how to go traveling while running a firm effectively (10)
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A Test of Strength
September 28, 2012   
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As the vehicle bravely covered thousands of kilometers, we again headed north along Route 40. This road runs for 5,224 kilometers from Patagonia to the Bolivian border, but only half of it has a proper hard surface. On the left, we could see the snowy peaks of the Andean Cordilleras reaching up to the clouds. There are numerous shrines dedicated to Diffunta Correa and Gauchito along that road. These are folk saints, not recognized but tolerated by the Church. The Christianization of the continent has been spreading, embracing many important local beliefs. In Africa, this is called inculturation.

Loneliness of a long-distance traveler
We often went for hours on end without seeing a single house or passing a single vehicle. The road was in such a poor state that on some stretches it was impossible to drive faster than 20 kilometers per hour. Meanwhile, I had to plan our journey in such a way so that the company could reach me via the internet every Friday. Luckily, there were several villages on the way which enabled us to make contact with the outside world. We usually found internet connections in places which are tourist attractions in the region. One of them is Perito Moreno, which is 30 kilometers in length and one of the few glaciers that are still growing.

But soon we were again alone with our loneliness. At an altitude of over 3,000 meters above see level, we took a bath in a hot river at the foot of the Domuyo Volcano. It was only 5 degrees Celsius outside. Accidentally, we also gave a bath to our camera. As a result, we had to go to Santiago de Chile to buy a new one. The road, full of hairpin bends, crosses the Cordillera and almost bumps into another summit—Aconcagua.

Staying on the fourth floor of a hotel in the Chilean capital, we were surprised by an earthquake. The walls of our room started tilting. We had a terrifying sense of helplessness. The building seemed to be as fragile as a sand castle. The receptionist told us it had been designed to withstand earthquakes, but we decided to leave the place nonetheless. The huge cracks on the walls made us doubt his optimism.

On the road to the Paso de Jama, we crossed mountain passes at an altitude of over 4,000 meters. Suddenly, our car ran out of power. We had to stop and give it some rest. We got back on the road, still fearing that there would be another breakdown. Just before descent to San Pedro de Atacama, we approached an altitude of 4,900 meters. The area is famous for the huge telescopes located here. It has the clearest skies in the world. After a few days of stargazing, we set off for Peru. The country took us aback with its culinary diversity and quality. Unique places appeared one after another: Nazca, Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Titicaca.

Legal drugs
Once we arrived in Bolivia, we saw breathtakingly beautiful mountain landscapes. We were moving slowly. The winding path ended with a daredevil descent that put our brakes to a difficult test. The road surface resembled a corrugated sheet. The vehicle was shaking, suffering and creaking. Scattered along the road were toll collection points, which always appeared to come out of nowhere. Many of these were just shabby sheds with a barrier made of a piece of line. The ordeal was becoming increasingly unbearable and our delight over the landscapes was mixed with a sense of impatience to reach our destination. Finally, La Paz loomed into view at an altitude of 3,660 meters.

The city, enclosed between mountain ranges, is home to almost 2 million people. In Bolivia, there are glaring inequalities between the whites, who hold economic and financial power, and the indigenous population. In 2005, Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, was elected president, an event that marked the end of the white rule in that country. Morales nationalized companies exploiting the country’s most important natural resources. He also legalized coca growing. Trade in coca leaves and products derived from them is quite legal in Peru and Bolivia. In other places, the same coca leaves are treated as an illegal product entered on a list of prohibited and intoxicating products. Around 1 kilogram of coca leaves are needed to produce 2 grams of cocaine. But the leaves are also effective against altitude sickness. They are used in the treatment of headaches and are a source of nutritional components in regions where diets are not too varied. Chewing coca leaves is a tradition in the Andean region, one dating back to the Incas. It is a sacred symbol of Andean identity, much like Communion wine and the Host for the Catholics.

Interestingly, coca generates three times more income for farmers than bananas, rice and cotton. This is especially important as Bolivia is one of the poorest countries on the continent. The more so as no one has proposed farmers any sensible alternatives. Northern Americans regard coca plantations as a source of cocaine smuggled into their countries. Bolivians, on the other hand, put the blame on those who buy the drugs, saying it is these people rather than the farmers that contribute to drug trafficking. The debate goes on.

Igor Jeliński
Barbara Deręgowska

Igor Jeliński, 41, businessman and traveler. After 15 years of working in senior posts for large multinational corporations, he swapped his career for a journey around the world with his family. Before departing, he set up two firms with two partners, Akcja Job and NelsonLamartine, which proved highly successful during the two years he was away traveling. While pursuing his dream and visiting the most distant and most beautiful corners of the world, he was able to manage his business effectively.

You can find out how he did it from his monthly accounts of his journey in the Voice.
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