Trip Report - Riding Bolivia
(Editorial note: Some text that follows was lifted from the published itinerary so attribution in advance to Phil Freeman (MotoQuest) and Cory Rowden (BoliviaMotors))
In early 2016 Phil Freeman at Motoquest invited a bunch of known riders on a scouting trip to Boliva in partnership with Cory Rowden of BoliviaMotors. Scouting trips are where a tour group has drafted a route and itinerary but hasn’t yet ridden the whole thing and wants to understand what a scheduled trip might be like in that area. Known “Plan-B” riders are invited to fill out the trip and manage the costs. Plan-B riders are all like “Well we have a flat tire, we’ve just ridden through a forest fire, and we’re lost – so let’s do Plan-b!”
On a serious note, everyone on a scouting trip needs to be relaxed, self-reliant, and ready for any change in plans. On that note, let’s begin. What follows are my notes and observations, mixed in with the written itinerary provided by Motoquest/BoliviaMotors, so editorial attribution should also go to Phil Freeman and Cory Rowden. We were going to be riding Suzuki DR650s (with electric start) and BMW 800GSs. I know this is an XLADV forum but this story is about the route rather than the bikes and anything we rode was doable on a large KTM or BMW, unless notes.
Getting the Bolivian Visa ahead of time involved sending my US Passport to the local consulate with the fee, a self-addressed return envelope, and a lot of patience. I’m told that tourist Visas are available upon arrival if you have the $160 cash in clean, crisp, undamaged US notes – some of the other riders who flew into Santa Maria did it that way. I flew from California into La Paz on Friday a couple days ahead of time to acclimate to the altitude. La Paz is the highest international airport in the world at 13,000 ft.
I coordinated to meet a riding buddy of mine in La Paz, Craig from Missouri, and we tooled around the city for a couple days with some local FIFA contacts he had.
On Sunday we flew from La Paz into Cochabamba and met the rest of the riders, guides, and mechanics.
Day 1 – Sunday, November 6th, 2016
Arrival in the city of Cochabamba - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba
Phil picked us up in a very classy Hawaiian shirt from the airport and we met all the other riders and mechanics as they arrived at the hotel. Before dinner we also took cabs over to the BoliviaMotors compound, checked out the bikes, and went for a quick ride through the city and up to some spectacular viewpoints.
Plan-B: One flat and one drop for the group.
Day 2 – Monday, November 7th, 2016
Cochabamba – Comarapa (160 miles)
Day 3 – Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
Comarapa – La Higuera (105 miles)
Lunch at Valle Grande. This is where the Che Guevara route starts and we visited the hospital laundry where his body was laid out to show the world he was truly dead. We also visited the location where his secret burial site was and the new mausoleum built to honor Che and his comrades killed by the Bolivian Army in 1967.
Spent a rainy night in the tiny village of La Higuera. This is where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was held and later assassinated.
This is the location of the actual schoolhouse where he was held and executed. We dined and slept at the telegraph compound where Che’ supposedly sent his last telegrams, allowing the Bolivian Army to pinpoint his location for eventual capture.
Placed my Mosko Moto 40L duffle here for a pic. This bag, a gift form my amazing wife, was indispensible for lugging gear through airports and up narrow stairs at 14,000 ft altitude. Just pull on the shoulder straps and walk – never taking a standard roller-bag again.
Day 4 – Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
La Higuera – Sucre (180 miles)
Pretty amazing riding day on a road described by adventure riders as “one of the best adventure riding roads in the world”.
Rode pretty good paved roads into Sucre – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Altitude 9,000 ft.
Day 5 – Thursday, November 10th, 2016
We spent the day in Sucre and visited the oldest silver mine in the Americas, as well as the government museum. A great day to rest and relax.
Day 6 – Friday, November 11th, 2016
Sucre – Potosi (100 miles)
Wonderful paved roads into Potosi. Some of the group went and toured a working silver mines of Cerro Rico and they all regretted the experience of crawling, climbing, scrambling up and down sketchy underground pathways and being in the mine when dynamite was used further down. I don’t have pics of this but I’ll try to find some.
Day 7 – 9 November 12th through 14th, 2016 (My timeline is a bit hazy here)
Potosi – Uyuni – Oruro (Hundreds and hundreds of miles)
So Uyuni was indeed a highight. This is on the Dakkar route and the Solar de Uyuni salt flats is one of the wonders of the world. We rode out onto the 4,000 square miles of ancient salt lake to some islsnds for lunch, then back for a dinner and overnight at a hotel made of salt. Must be seen to be believed.
What follows was a combination of dirt roads, some awesome ascents, valleys, dry riverbed crossings, and finally a nice highway into the city of Oruro, which is considered to be Bolivia’s most indigenous city.
Day 10 – Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
Oruro – Quime (105 miles)
So now we ride up and over the Andes form the western alto-plano region east intot he Amazonian areas over a summit of 15680 ft.
Day 11 – Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
Quime – Chulumani (100 + miles)
A long and hot dirt slog day. After descending into the Amazon rainforest on winding, narrow dirt roads into the lowlands of Bolivia. This was a very long day up and over mountains, through valleys, dodging slash and burn agriculture that got out of hand, trying to pass trucks on silty dusty mountain roads, and then up and over the next mountain. And then the next one. Many flats and breakdowns (electrical) today but the Bolivian chase truck caught up to everyone of us.
The video is a little glimpse of the exhaustion, heat, and elevation. We stayed overnight in Chulumani.
Day 12 – Thursday, November 17th, 2016
Chulumani – Coroico (60 + miles)
More upper reaches of the Amazon rainforest riding a little used dirt road between the two Yungas towns of Chulumani and Coroico. Lots of coca leaf cultivation.
Day 13 – Friday, November 18th, 2016
Coroico – La Paz (40 epic miles)
Road of Death in the rain and fog. Video should give a little insight into this spectacular day. A couple breakdowns today (chain sprocket on Angry-Ian’s bike, and a non-injury low-side in the rain by Happy-Ian) and very cold, but awesome and one of those life experiences that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
So an epic trip and I probably didn’t do it justice here because I’m not a writer, but if you have any questions let me know and I’ll try to fill in the rough spots.