Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bolivia. Exceptional! And full of surprises.


Bolivia.

Distance: 2069.5 kms
Average speed: 57 kph
Max speed: 139 kph (
on the salt flats)
Riding time: 52 hrs 30 mins

Total distance: 12694.8 kms

The temperature didn't get any cooler. We decided to ride to the first town in Bolivia and stop for the night. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the six P's. (prior planning prevents piss poor performance)

We rode for about 100 kilometres. It was still hot. Bloody hot. No service stations or garages at all. Dale was low on fuel. I left the highway and found a small village. Eventually, was directed to a guy who sold Dale 10 litres of petrol out of 2 litre Coke bottles from his backyard. His horse was pregnant. The guy told us the next fuel and Hotel was 100kms down the road.

It got dark. We shared the road with cattle, donkeys and other unrecognizable animals. Eventually, arrived at Robore, got Lindsay some fuel (from Coke bottles again) found a hotel and had about the best cold shower ever.

As often happens, a local bloke took a liking to us and wanted to show us around his town. We needed a beer and a meal, so our new best mate led us to a shitty little bar with the coldest beer on the planet, then on a kilometre walk to a restaurant. Showed us the railway station and the town square. A good young bloke. Wanted to take us to see a waterfall in the morning. We had to hit the road.

The roads had been good. Very good. Concrete and with a wide shoulder on both sides. Remarkably little traffic as well.
We wanted to by pass Santa Cruz and head for the mountains. Traffic increased during the day. We hit Santa Cruz during the afternoon peak. Dale navigated us through Santa Cruz with his tablet. Traffic became scarcer, the road had corners, many, many corners. We were in the mountains again. The temperature dropped for the first time in a week. In the dark, with me on reserve for the last 50 kilometres, we arrived at Samaiparta.

This joint is a little different. People from 27 different Countries live here. Ernesto Guevara Lynch lived here. These days Ernesto is better known as Che' Guevara, probably the World's most infamous Communist Insurgent. Che' spent a little time in town, went to the Chemist and a few other places.

Did you know, at school Che' was nicknamed Chancho (Pig) by his schoolmates because he rarely bathed.

An Aussie couple from Brisbane own the best Bar in town. Expats, the World over, know how to drink. Samaiparta is no exception. I think representatives from the 27 nationalities resident in town were in the bar the night we went.

Our Hotel, the La Posada del Sol, is the best of our trip. By far. It is like an Oasis. Only better. The staff are brilliant, the food and ambience great. Plenty of other travellers to talk to.

Today we hired a guide and drove for 2 hours along winding dirt tracks, then walked 1.2 kilometres, in 37 degree heat. Only 1.2 kms you think. That is 1.2kms fcuking vertical! We wanted to see Condors, reputedly the largest bird in the world. (wingspan 3 metres) They pick up calves and fly away to eat them. They fly 500kms most days. As we ate our magnificent picnic lunch we saw 5 Condors. (at a distance)

Next day, our guide, Ronaldo, took us on a “Cloud Forest” walk. We walked for hours through a magnificent forest, so high up in the clouds Epiphytes are common place. To the uneducated like myself, these are plants and ferns growing high up on tree branches, non parasitic, fed only by moisture and nutrients from clouds and rain. Fcuking amazing. I hadn't heard of Cloud Forest before I met Dale, now I have been to one, I realised I have been to several. Not as good as this one though! Thankfully it was only about 30 degrees in the forest.

`After 4 nights we dragged ourselves away from Samaiparta, headed for Sucra

Now that Bolivia has a left leaning Government, Che's sins have been forgiven. People have forgotten he was a Marxist Guerilla. Not even from Bolivia. He was born in Argentina and lived most of his life in Cuba, Castro funded his attempted Coup.

Our route from Samaiparta to Sucre for a large part followed the Ruta Del Che'. Rough as guts dirt track supposedly used by Che' and his gang. We passed up the opportunity to visit the hospital where his body was displayed, or the place where it was buried for 30 years.

Riding along nicely. My bike stops. Electrics dead. Fcuk. Found a fuse holder had got wet and cooked. We made a “Dave Carlaw” fuse holder and were on our way in an hour.

We did stay at La Higuera, the village where Che' was executed. In fact we slept in the Old Telegraph Station”, in the room next to where his last meal was cooked. It was the room where Miguel, Coco and Julio, (Che's Vanguardia de la Guerrilla's) belongings were divided between the soldiers. Their bodies had been laid on the ground outside our room. Visited the School Room where old Che' was shot. It is now a pretty good sort on museum. It all made for a very interesting and informative day.

If Che' ate and drank as well as we did, he had a pretty good send off. Our Chef was French. And damned good.

The ride from La Higuera to Sucre was magnificent, absolutely magnificent. Rough dirt and gravel tracks, dry creek wash a ways, hundreds of kms of terrific gravel, some slippery newly rained upon clay and to finish it off a fantastic twisty section of new asphalt, over a 3,300 metre pass. And almost no bloody traffic!

Sucre has a new, paved bicycle track. Two laned and well built. My GPS decided it was the best way out of town. Who were we to argue? I think a few locals were surprised to see and hear us, particularly the Old Girl having a snooze in one lane of the bike track.

Today our ride from Sucre to Potosi was also brilliant. Only 156kms, but, another new road without any traffic. Maybe 20 or 30 vehicles in the whole day. When I realised I was putting weight over the front and starting to hang off the side, I thought enough is enough. Slow down you dropkick! Crossed our highest pass yet, 4550 metres. My “BMW Rooney Special” loved it.

The last three days have most likely been 3 of the best riding days, ever. Great “Adventure Touring”.

Potosi is infamous for its mines. Cerro Rico is a big hill above the town. It is riddled with 182 mines. Today 19,000 miners work there. Before the world precious metal price went through the floor there were 38,000. There are many more mines, and disadvantaged miners in the area.

We took a brilliant tour of the mine. Our guide, Willy, was excellent. Simply the best. His Company is Marco Polo (www.potosimarcopolo.com) Willy worked underground for 6 years before studying and setting up his tour business. He has an excellent rapport with the Miners.

Most Miners from the Cerro Rico die before they are 44! From Silicosis and other dust born diseases. These poor bastards work 12 hour/day, 6 days/week. No paid sick leave. No paid holidays. No Workers Compensation. A top Miner can earn $100-120/month. The new kids on the block get $60/month. This is disgusting! The area has been mined for 469 years. When the Spanish ran the joint about 50% of the worlds silver came from Bolivia. They managed to get 800 grams out of each ton of rock. Today only 12 grams/ton is extracted. The conditions are cramped and extremely hazardous.

Willy introduced us to one of the oldest Miners still working. He is 58 and has mined for 44 years. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to spend time down an extremely cramped 1.5 metre high tunnel, about 1km under the ground, talking to one of life’s Gentlemen. We discussed the environment and how our Countries and Corporations respect, or disrespect it. While we talked we heard 27 explosions, just other teams getting on with the job.

We stayed at another great Hotel, the “Hostel Carlos V Imperial”. Management let us park our bikes inside the Hotel. Fantastic. Lindsay was sick. We took him to the Vet. Ramiro Guaman, our Hotel's owner, came along and translated for us.

Bikes and Quads from the Dakar race are passing through Bolivia in 2014 for the first time. Everyone in the Country is excited. The Dakar people had a display in Potosi. We talked to them, they gave us caps, stickers and posters. Came to the Hotel to look at our bikes. Invited us back in the evening, asked us to wear our riding gear. I went and listened to some speeches, in Spanish. When I heard Australia and BMW mentioned then people started taking photos of me I legged it. I was terrified there was some mix up in the translation and the crowd was being told I was a former Dakar rider.

Our ride from Potosi to Tupiza was only a short days ride, but, bloody fantastic. A relatively new concrete road, already falling apart, little traffic and great scenery. It was hot, damned hot. Who cares, our Hotel had a pool.

We have been riding at about 3,600-3,800 metres for days, and will be for a few weeks. I changed my “Rooney Specials” carbie jets from 220 down to 150. Once again Paul Rooney's advice was spot on. She pulled like a train.

Tupiza to Uyuni was a 204 km ride down a brilliant dirt/gravel/sand road, most of which will be used for the 2004 Dakar race. The first 60 kms was some of the most scenic country I have ridden through. Outstanding rock formations for km after km. Dale's Honda got temperamental again. He took the Carbie bowl off and flushed it. All good. The last 80 kms was a 100 kph blast through the Altiplano. For about 3 minutes I thought I was in the Dakar. An unseen patch of deep sand, some tourists taking photos of me stuffing it up, and I am back down to earth.

Uyuni is the starting point for rides across the largest dry salt lake in the world, the Salar de Uyuni. We rode 20 km along a road works ridden shit fight to the salt lake. I have wanted to ride the salt since Mike Ferris and Ian Jurgens talked about it. We followed faint tracks 100 kms across the salt to an island full of cactus. Walked to the top to take photos, bloody hot, about 35 degrees. Met Robyn from BMT. His Company runs Motorcycle Tours in Uyuni and La Paz. (www.motorcycletoursbolivia.com) Robyn told us if we headed 35-40 kms in the direction of a big volcano we would find water. After 39.5 kms we hit the jackpot. Fcuking brilliant. Until Lindsay's bike called it a day. The salt fcuks everything. In quick time. Fortunately it was only corrosion on a spark plug lead.

We played the tourist. Rode at speed through the water, probably 80-90 kph. Took photos, acted like kids. Luckily the water was only about 50mm deep, the salt is about 1 metre deep, the water underneath up to 20 metres. Water bubbles up through holes called Eyes de Salar. I think if we hit one of these at speed we would be fcuked for good.

Time to go home. No tracks to follow. Only the Garmin GPS. Plotted a course and went for it. Another 100km passage. By this time we were used to it and mucked around like kids. Fcuk the Eyes de Salar! Amazingly, my navigation was OK, arrived were we wanted to be. The bikes were white, covered in salt, and dissolving before our eyes. Robyn let us use his Kartcher, took us over 2 hours to wash the 3 bikes. And they still had salt on them. Lindsay's bike wouldn't start and stayed at Robyn's the night. This had been an incredible day.

Uyuni is the Bolivian overnight stop on the 2014 Dakar. Everybody is wetting themselves with excitement. Every shop sells Dakar souvenirs. They have a gigantic Dakar emblem statue in the centre of town.

There are 2 ways from Uyuni to La Paz, one is black top and easy, the other has 177kms of dirt and construction. We took the dirt. My “Rooney” would not start, she had her own salt corrosion. Dale and WD40 fixed her. We hadn't had rain of any significance since starting out. That all changed when we hit the road works. It rained, I hit a patch of clay, my “Rooney's” front end went its own way and incredibly I didn't fall off. After about 10,000kms my TKC80 front tire is nearly bald, the bike was all over the joint. About 1 km furthe down the track I came to a small hill. Lindsay was stopped halfway. The track was still clay. Our bikes could not get any traction. I stopped, locked both brakes and still slid backwards. A truck came down the hill. Out of control, missed Lindsay's bike by 50 mm. To close. Much to close. It was so slippery I could hardly walk up the hill.

We waited an hour or more. I dropped my tires to 12 psi and we rode, pushed, slid our bikes across the mud to the new road, which was still under construction. It was as slippery as shit as well. Waited another 30 minutes and took off at about 5-10 kph. We had about 100 kms of dirt to go. As it dried out, we rode the bikes like we had stolen them, didn't want to get caught for a week in the clay. A magnificent view, in the mirrors, of the approaching storm. I rode through one more cloudburst. The bloody bike slid all over the place. Eventually, made it to the bitumen. What a great afternoons ride.

Cruising along on the black the rain caught us. It pissed down. Good thing, washed all the remaining salt away. About 30 kms from our nice dry beds in Oruro, Lindsay”s bike got temperamental again. The shitty little town we stopped in had one small hotel. Clean and dry, so it was not to bad. No restaurants or bars though. We bought bread rolls, tuna, tomatoes, onions and beer at a shop and ate and drank at our Hotel. The tuna tasted sort of OK, although we still are not sure if it was cat food or or not.

Next day it rained. My bike wouldn't start. I had forgotten the kill switch! After a while Lindsay's bike stopped again. He covered the coil and leads with WD40 and a plastic bag. Did the job. It pissed down all the way to La Paz. The road works and traffic were incredible. Close to the city we rode along the footpath, dodging pedestrians, dogs, market stalls and riding over 1 metre piles of earth put there to stop people like us. My Garmin took us off the highway, through some interesting small cobblestone roads to the Oberland Hotel in La Paz.

We planned to ride down the “Death Road”.(in 1995 the Inter-American development Bank christened it the “worlds most dangerous road”) We discovered if we rode up the “Death Road” we would be on the cliff side. Much safer. We had a stupendous 230km days ride. Crossed our highest pass yet, 4,687 metres. Met Chris and Jim, 2 Aussies from Queensland riding DR650's from Prudo Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia. Chris has a full spec Vince Strange bike. Rides like he is in the Dakar! We decided to ride together for the day.

The road built to replace the “Death Road” runs from 4,687 down to 1,019 metres. Many great corners, great views, great everything. Except the odd truck doing about 10 kph, or unannounced roadworks. The “Death Road” section we rode up only lasts 64kms. It is a bloody amazing ride! It rained, there was fog, there were waterfalls across the track, there were 400 metre shear drops. We met a truck,and a bus, plus a few cars. I loved it. The boys loved it. My “Rooney Special” loved it.

At lunch Jim noticed my front tire had canvas showing in a couple of spots. My back Mitas EO7 is a little worse for wear as well. Not a good range of tires for sale in La Paz. Last trip I got another 5,000kms from my tires. I guess Dale and Lindsay are a bad influence and there have been plenty of exceptional riding roads.

Fortunately, bike riders, in far off lands, have a habit of leaving their worn tires in bike friendly hotels. Some lovely rider had left a pair on worn Michelin Sahara's at the Oberland. Fortunately, the front was 21X 90/90. How good was that! Probably payback, I have done the same thing in the past. I changed the front and now have a couple of thousand more kms left.

Dale and I went to the La Paz Zoo. Robyn told us they had some Condors. In fact they had 7. We could see them up close, as well as Puma's, Jaguar's and Anacondas. Plus the usual collection of monkeys and birds. Two of the Jaguars were fornicating. Unfortunately my bloody camera battery went flat. Their movements and growling was like I imagined Lindsay's love making to be. A little bit of a shame to see birds used to flying 500kms a day in an aviary. No matter how large.

It is only 100kms from La Paz to the Peruvian border. The Garmin took us out of town and into the biggest traffic jam I have ever been in. Bigger than Bangkok in Thailand. Bigger than Dhakar in Bangladesh. Several times we shut down our engines and waited. It was absolute chaos. Finally, eventually, we cleared the traffic. Then I thought I new better than the GPS. The result: a 20km detour.

So, we are at the chaotic area known as the Bolivian/Peruvian Border. Bring it on!

Make sure you all have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year. Have a sip or two for me. Cuzco is one of my favourite cities and that's where we will be for Christmas.

Congratulations to Betty & Bob.

Chris.
xx



Lindsay's hot. (Dale's photo)


Condor watching picnic

Did we walk that far? (Dale's photo)



Dale got to photograph a Condor.


Cloud Forest walk.

Ernesto Guevara Lynch's road.


Our Hotel in La Higuera.


This is were it all ended for Che'.



Lindsay on Che's trail.


Ernesto Lynch's Trail.
(Dale's photo)

 Carlos V Imperial Hotel. Potosi.
Our bikes inside.


Do I look like a miner?
Note the gelignite & fuse.


Tourists bearing gifts.




The Miners wheel barrows under this beam.


Our Mates, chewing Coco leaf in their crib break.






Dale.


Dale's photo.

While Dale ponders, Lindsay laughs & the Bolivian Official poses.


Lindsay.




Cactus.

Dale the Botanist.


Lindsay.



My "Rooney BMW", Dale & Lindsay.



Dale.







My "Rooney Special". Sorry Paul.










Dale's Honda. Sorry Sorichiro.










The "Death Road".









Condor's arse.




Puma, sleeping in a gum tree.

1 comment:

  1. Merry Christmas Mate !! I wish you a safe ride and a wonderful time !

    Matty and Susan

    ReplyDelete