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Two Weeks in Bolivia

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Found myself with some time in between jobs so I thought I'd go someplace exotic and adventurous.  I had looked into this two years ago but didn't have the time to do it until this summer.  I emailed Cory Rowden of BoliviaMotors Motorcycle Tours on Thur evening and he said he just happened to have an Amazon Recce trip leaving the next week.  So I bought a ticket to La Paz leaving the following Tuesday.

 

Had a lot to do to get ready!  I got an international drivers license from AAA.  Got all my immunizations the day before, which were not only EXPENSIVE but left me feeling like crap for a few days after.

 

I had researched this over two years ago and spoke with Cory Rowden (Kiwi). I ended up going with Cory because he just seemed like a good guy who knew his stuff. He also has more bikes to choose from, namely a BMW F800 GS (even though I spent most of my time on an XR 650).
 
Given my tight time frame, it was also decided on the fact Cory had a tour about to begin the very next week (Aug 28 I flew to La Paz). So I dove in head first. As luck would have it for me, there was only one other client on the trip so it was just three of us. His name is Martin and he's also a Kiwi (New Zealand). As you know, with just three riders we ended up getting done a bit earlier and that gave us more time for some cool detours or just relaxing after a hard day of riding.
 
I landed early on a Wed morning in La Paz and instantly felt the altitude (about 12,000 feet) sucking the air out of me with every breath.  What's interesting is as you descend in an airplane, your ears typically get plugged up as the pressure increases on the outside of your ears.  La Paz is one of the only places in the world where your ears pop when you land because the outside pressure is less than what the cabin is pressurized to.
 
I got to spend the rest of the day and all day Thur in La Paz at the hotel, Hotel Oberland, acclimating to the altitude and the three hour time difference. This is a Swiss hotel that specializes in hosting a lot of overland travelers. Got some good pics of some of their rigs too.

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Arrival and Prep
 
Touching down in La Paz is very interesting. You know how when you fly and are approaching your destination that your ears plug up on descent? The opposite happens when descending to La Paz because the cabin is pressurized to an equivalent of 10,000 feet yet you're landing at 12,000 so your ears pop rather than plug when you land.
 
The airport area of town is called El Alto and is kind of a shitty area. But when we drove to the hotel, the views got better.

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View outside Hotel Oberland

View outside Hotel Oberland

 

 

 

Thursday we went tooling around La Paz and did some shopping and sight seeing.

Market

 
 
I got this cool poncho. Tried to find a bolero hat and cigar but this is as close to Pale Rider as I got.

High plains drifter

 

 
 
Freaky deaky dried llama fetuses for sale. I think they are good luck or some kind of indigenous black magic thing.

Freaky deaky dried llama fetus!

 

 
 
Note the high density housing all the way up the hill. La Paz has a very interesting history. Obviously the Spanish came to conquer, not necessarily to colonize, so the town was divided in half where the indigenous people had one side and the Spanish lived in the other. You can see the Spanish side has wider and more orderly streets and the indigenous side has narrow and random streets.

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Toured the San Francisco (St. Francis) church in town. Lots of history there. I guess the original church collapsed in a major snow storm and they rebuilt it. The monks made a lot of wine here too.

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Colorful clothing

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Funny because Bolivian women just don't have this kind of ass. Colombia, Venezuela? You damn right they do. Not Bolivia. But I guess it sells jeans.

Pants for sale

 

 
 
Changing of the guard at the presidential palace.  There was a big shooting here in the 80's during some kind of coup.  Not good.  Bunch of people died.

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More colorful locals. I don't really know the history of this garb for sure but the Spanish were kind of control freaks and they had a kind of dress code for the indigenous population that caught on, from what I was told, hence the odd hats and braided hair, etc...

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A nice rig back at the hotel. Met an Austrian couple traveling the world. They say they're coming up here around January and I told them all the cool places to see like Death Valley, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc...

Overland rig outside of Hotel Oberland

 

 
 
L to R is Cory Rowden of Bolivia Bound, me and Martin Giles. It's winter down there and was a bit chilly at that altitude, hence the poncho. And I thought it was cool. They called me macho poncho man.

Three amigos

 

 

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Day 1. Friday we got underway. Here is my ride. This one idled really high the whole time and I ended up riding the other one mostly but we switched bikes quite a bit. The XR 650 is not a bad bike, even with the kickstart. Great baja bike I hear. All we had for gear was a Wolfman Rolie medium, which was plenty. Cory carried more stuff on the 800 gs. I checked the weather before and gambled on not bringing a jacket. Most of the ride was warm/hot and I didn't want to carry that thing. I did an under armor type shirt, the Fox Titan armor vest, a jersey over that and the Klim windbreaker over that when cold or wet. No rain though, so that was nice too. My face got a bit cold but not my core. The first and last days were the only cold ones (altitude).

My steed!

 
We stopped near Copacabana (didn't see Barry Manilow) on lake Titicaca and had lunch. I like saying "Titicaca."

Shores of Lake Titicaca

 
Had some great lake trout.
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Road to Sorata

 
Snaked out way down this pass towards Sorata
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Gas isn't always readily available in Bolivia so we had to wait in line for the truck to arrive. Bolivia is run by a socialist, Evo Morales, and is not at all thriving like Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, etc... Gas is subsidized and nationalized, which of course leads to shortages. Natural gas and butter were also hard to come by. Hopefully they don't go the way of Chavez's Venezuela but that looks to be the way things are headed there.

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Stayed at this great hostel in Sorata, Hostel de las Piedras, run by a German woman named Petra. She had a hot little Polish girl helping her there who was quite nice to be around.

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The town square had a display of heavy equipment for the farmers and miners, who used this occasion to get hammered. Why not?

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I bought some coca leaves in the local market and tried that, largely to no effect other than a slightly numb side of my mouth. We found some good pizza there though. Hot water was one of those shower-mounted electrical heaters that you fear could shock you at any moment. That actually happened to Martin in Chulamani.
 
Next up is Day 2 in Conzata. Not exactly plush accommodations there. Suffered a bit of Atahualpa's revenge there too.

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Day 3-5: Mapiri, Guanay, River camping.
 
I was kind of glad to put Conzata in the rear view mirror. Just a bit too roughing it for me and I was wondering if the remaining days were going to be that "interesting." We headed for Mapiri and that is kind of a new mining town that sprung up out of nowhere. Dirt streets and lots of dust but a bit more civilized than Conzata.
 
Lots of the locals grow coca and the locals chew it like Copenhagen or Skoal in the south. These guys doing construction on our "hotel" in Conzata had big wads making their cheeks protrude out. Here's a pic of some locals drying their freshly picked coca leaves.
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We later came to one of many bridges and stopped for a snack of either Chips Ahoy or Oreos, I can't remember which. What's interesting is that many of the locals use the river as their car wash. I'll fill you in later on the general state of the river.

Bolivian car wash

 
This is Sien or Cien, not sure. Probably a nick name for "100." He's quite an amazing guy. He runs the hotel or "alojamiento" we stayed at in Mapiri that wasn't half bad. Could have used some ceiling fans, some toilet paper and wi-fi but whatevs. Sien was raised in a town across the river from Rurrenabaque, a town we stayed at three nights later. He's a great guide and knows just about everything about the jungle. More on him later.
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Manager of the local Starbucks
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Here's Cory at a local internet cafe where we discovered all of Mapiri's nerd boys playing computer games. They sure liked to snoop over your shoulder too. I stayed there quite a while catching up on email and such but was still battling some of Atahualpa's revenge. I thought I sharted myself but upon further inspection found that it was a false alarm. The people who run this bodega/internet cafe were really really nice. They were very curious about "el norteno" and made me feel very welcome with my broken Spanglish. They asked me if I learned in Mexico, which I took as both a compliment and a joke (si, senor!). I felt even better on day 12 after meeting Marco the Alaskan hostel owner listening to his horrible spanish.
 
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Cory made a point of telling me he wanted me to take his picture next to these livestock. Lots of local herders moving their animals up and down the roads. Horses, burros, mules, llamas, cows, pigs, etc...
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Are first significant water crossing went pretty well. My new boots, Gaerne SG12's performed flawlessly. We saw a car go in and do it, so we did it after him. Video shows this better.
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This was our only suspension bridge. It's made for cars if you can believe that. We would have done the water crossing but saw it and it was very swift. Not safe. It all worked out fine.

 

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This day was very long and tough. Lots of up and down. Tight switchbacks with heavy, aggressive traffic. You have to cut that mf'ing corner TIGHT or risk getting run down. Very silty switchbacks too. This is where I was glad to be on an XR 650 and not my GSA. I decided to just make a race out of it and practiced my counter balancing and started to get really friendly with my throttle. I soon found that was a lot more fun.
 
That's another thing about this ride that I found a bit disappointing; the riding conditions weren't all that enjoyable. The percent of track that was fun to ride was a lot smaller than I expected. I prefer trails, two track, single track for fun, but this was mostly heavily traveled dirt roads. Not so bad though, as we found the adventure was in the sights, places and people we met along the way.
 
We got to Guanay for a late lunch, which SUCKED. We got this "chicken" that was all back and ribs; no meat. Bollocks.
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Got on the boat around 4:00 and met this Belgian guy and his "girlfriend" who were going to join us. Really eccentric. He lives in La Paz and has been kind of a vagabond for a decade or more. His "girlfriend" was a very nice 24 year old student from a good school in La Paz studying marketing. He lowballed Sien $20 for a three day catered boat ride to Rurrenabaque. M'yeah, not going to happen, dude. So he "volunteered" Blanca (his companion) as a cook; something she did the first night then the rest of the crew wised up and said nevermind after that.
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My Wolfman Rolie medium bag. All you need really.
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This camp site at Retama on the river was very primitive. A local let us set up there. He works some rubber trees in the area. LOTS OF BUGS. They really liked this adventure rider's blood. Marc the Belgian decided he thought it was a really good idea to put food in his tent (idiot) and was surprised to see he and his "date" attacked by ants not once, but three times during the night as they moved their tent each time. The ants cut their way through the netting to get to his food. Seriously, &%$#@!? Who doesn't know that you don't put food in your tent? Whatever.
Headlamp under a water bottle
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Here's the Belgian's tent. He was always asking all these Cliff Clavin type questions too all the time like "is this bug always white or does it sometimes come in different colors?" &%$#@! cares? STFU.  Just a bit annoying as we were the ones paying the full fare for the boat and didn't need them tagging along.
 
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Super plush toilet facilities

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Before leaf cutter ants
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After leaf cutter ants
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Pineapple!
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This guy harvests rubber from these rubber trees in this little area. One barrel of rubber gets him about $500.

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After waking up, we hiked up this rock outcropping and saw a cool owl in a crevice and got to look down on the campsite below.

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I found myself whining like a little girl on this hike to a waterfall to bathe. I think it's an American thing. I thought it was like 100 yards but it turned into an hour hike each way. I think we are used to having information up front to set expectations like "this will be about a 5 mile hike that will take about an hour each way."  My right achilles is still messed up from Baja (Dec 28) so I wasn't happy about the long hike but it was worth it when we got there. The guy with the Hugh Jackman-like arms is me.  Good idea for others is take a high or mid top waterproof boot instead of what I had.  Just remember though, it has to fit in that Wolfman Rollie bag.

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We heard all this blasting going on and when we got back to camp discovered that the blasting was on the road across the river up the cliff and had showered the campground w/rocks! The Belgian got a rock that pierced ANOTHER hole in his tent! Luckily our crew wasn't hurt but there was a hole in the roof of the boat. That's just how they roll in Bolivia.

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Pushed on down the river and stopped for some "provisions." That's me carrying a case of Pacena beer. Priorities and all.  Pacena as in from La Paz.  A La Paz'ian beer.  Basically.

 

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Peta! You're my BOY! Peta was a great boatman. Sure, he might have been a bit distracted by the Belgian's inane questions, causing us to run aground twice, get out and push the boat free (luckily no piranhas or crocs got us). Peta is also a nickname for the old VW beetles. Maybe he had one, who knows.

 

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Evening shot of our second night on the river. This campground was even more primitive and the bugs even more aggressive. I whined like a bitch too on a hike we took through the jungle. It was cool to see Sien telling us all about the jungle ---- that will get you. Trust me, it's ALL poisonous or irritating. We learned about the "palo diablo" ant, which lives in trees and will f your ---- up. 100 bites will kill a man. We saw them all chase Sien's finger along the tree. I managed to pierce my palm on a tree that has spikes on it; the kind you see on those trees from Madagascar. Still hurts. We shared the beer with the crew, which made things go better all around. The southern sky was also great to see. Whole new group of constellations I'm not familiar with. We camped with these "pads" which were maybe an inch thick of straw. I'm a side sleeper so my hips and shoulders were hurting like a mofo.

 

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Day 4 has us getting to Rurrenabaque. Skin nearly fully perforated by blood sucking insects. I found if I just put on long pants and long sleeves that they pretty much left me alone. I know now!

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Day 2:  Sorata and Conzata

 

Well, things got pretty Spartan at this point. Conzata is just a mining town so the few hotels there only cater to them and they're not exactly epicurean in their tastes. We met this guy right off the bat; a young guy who spoke pretty good English. He said he's a sluice miner and has been there for six years. He was super friendly and my suspicion was he wanted something from us, like a ride or hotel room. That was just my American sensibilities in play though because this guy was just genuinely friendly and glad to see us. He said he had a big place down the road and later we regretted not taking advantage of his hospitality. That's one thing about Bolivia, the people are very nice and genuinely friendly.
 
This was our room. The floor smelled of sick. Probably miners from the night before vomited their beer all over the floor.
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This was a shock but turned out to be one of the cleaner toilets we found. No paper and standing "water" on the floor. They don't flush the tp there; you have to put it in a trash can or it clogs the pipes, which run over a cliff on the other side of this wall into the river. Fun stuff when you're stricken with the runs. I kept saying "this is all part of the adventure" and that seemed to help. I knew it would all be great story telling in hindsight, as uncomfortable as it all was. That's adventure travel though; it's not all a merry stroll. This kind of trip was very grueling. Lots of constant travel and intermittent rest. We got plenty of sleep but that was mostly because the day's riding was so demanding, the heat and/or altitude and the general lack of anything to do after dark other than sleep.
 
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Dogs are everywhere and there was a surprising diversity in breeds. These two were play wrestling. Dogs there are not really pets but just roam the streets and have their little areas staked out like homeless people. They're not really the kind that enjoy being petted; they're a bit wary but pretty happy mostly. Later we saw a lot of "highway dogs" that just sit on the side of the road and are fed by truckers who throw food out to them as they pass by. There were quite a few of them spaced out along the highway.
 
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Day 7 and 8: Rurrenabaque.
 
This morning's hike went much better because Sien finally told me exactly how long the hike was going to be. It also wasn't as difficult and not as hot as the previous hikes. I took a Midol and dealt with it great. Smiley/>
Frog of some kind.
 
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Here's the deal... with gold prices through the roof, sluice mining has become a huge thing in Bolivia and has turned the rivers a permanent cocoa brown. That chases a lot of the fish away, which in turn chases a lot of the wildlife away. We saw few birds. Saw one croc (alligator I insisted), a few turtles and a few capybaras. Saw a few pigs and one monkey. I'm not a Gorebot but the mining has had an impact on the local wildlife. You just have to go up some clear-water rivers to see the wildlife now.
 
Sien showing us how the locals use a palm tree husk to fashion a dinner bowl.
 
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Pig jaw. Most likely taken by a jaguar.
 
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The author's leg, taken by every host of flying and crawling insect.

 

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C'mon, Peta! Put your back into it!

 

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They dropped us off at Rurrenabaque and we found a nice hotel w/a pool to lounge in, do some maintenance on the bikes, laundry, etc... Found some good pizza too and a great French bakery. Lots of tourists here, especially Israelis.

 

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Did manage to get stalked by these two deadly pumas. Barely escaped with my life!

 

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Rurrenabaque is kind of an eco-tourist hub as it's on the edge of the Madidi national wildlife area. We had to stop up the river and pay a $15 entry fee to get in. We saw the water line where the flood two years ago nearly covered the building, which was already at least 100 feet above our boat on the river. The canyon narrows and that creates a really backup in water there. Cool to see such raw power. We also saw the jungle mist pour over a ridge and down into the town each of two mornings. Out of a movie or something.
 
Katydid or leaf bug on the Wolfman tank bag (not a plug)
 
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Sunset
 
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Best bfast in all Bolivia at this French bakery.
 
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Day 9 has us back on the bikes and headed for Caranavi. It was a long an interesting day. We had a road wash out down a cliff that blocked our progress.

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Day 9: Caranavi
 
What a death march this turned out to be! We got gas here the night before (gas isn't always readily available)
 
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And we heard that parts of the road ahead were going to be closed for road work. We decided to get an early start to get as far as we could. The road was mostly straight and had many little dirt detours where they were putting in cement culverts under the road. We made pretty good progress though.
 
As we started up into some mountains, though, we saw traffic come to a halt ahead with lots of cars and trucks queued up. So naturally we rode to the front to find out what was going on and found the road had slid down the cliff around 9:00 the night before. Luckily, no one went over. The driver of this blue truck stopped before he went down.
 
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We waited for about 90 minutes before they opened it up and it was like a champagne cork because everybody started streaming over the new "road." We rode over in the first 5 or so group of vehicles and saw the other side there were a few hundred cars/buses waiting to come the other way. They were all cheering and shouting as we rode by. I shouted "viva Bolivia!" and felt like a Dakar racer at the end of a stage. What came next was not so great.
 
As we were going down the other side of the mountain, we basically had a whole of of pissed off and tired drivers trying to make time. They were all honking at us and passing us with inches to spare. Huge clouds of dust, etc... I said screw this and just pulled over to let the craziest ones go ahead. We came to a few more roadblocks as other heavy equipment were digging out other areas at the same time (Bolivia has a lot of slides I guess). These drivers were totally nuts; they were honking and trying to drive around the traffic cones.
 
We finally got to Caranavi on our last nerve. Found this hotel where the owner convinced a lazy cook to get us some beer and burgers. You can see the pool at the hotel in the video which looks nice but the rooms, not so much.
 
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I guess Caranavi is known for its coffee but that's another story. You'd think in a country that grows coffee they'd have some decent stuff. They make this syrup of coffee concentrate then give you hot water to cut it. Nasty.
 
Burgers went down well but were just an appetizer.
 
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We found some food in town and ran across this church on the square. It was near the Bolivian national day and they had some kind of festival on the square with lots of kids in marching bands.
 
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This town was really just a blur since we got into town late and ended up getting up at 4:00 am the next morning for a similar reason, to avoid a road closure at 7:00 am. Like the idea of riding narrow roads with no guardrails in the dark and in dust? That was us for a few hours the next morning...

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Day 10: Coroico
 
We got a very early (4:00 am) start to this day. Riding in the dark on a dirt bike with a dim headlight that points too far up is a tricky thing. Every truck/car that passed flashed me their high beams and in the dust, all I could see was a cloud. Nothing but darkness over the side of the roads too. Went through a wet tunnel at one point.
 
We got to Coroico around 7:30 and filled up with gas. Since it was so early, we decided to go back down the hill to this nature preserve (La Senda Verde) and see if we could get some breakfast.
 
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They weren't supposed to open until 10:00 but were nice enough to open early for us. They had some good coffee there, along with some eggs and bread. This South African guy there talked to us quite a bit about his various experience there in Bolivia. We said we'd go check out the zipline in Yolosa down the road and then come back around 10:00 for a tour.
 
This zipline (ziplinebolivia.com) was off the hook. I am very much afraid of heights so I have no idea what got into me or what made me able to do it. I just focused on the cable and went. There are three lines you'll take from top to bottom. They say the first one is the highest, the second the fastest and the third the longest in the world but I think that was when they built it.  New ones seem to pop up all over the place.  There's one now on Catalina Island near me and some more in Hawaii I've seen. It's suspended hundreds of meters above the valley floor and you get going up to about 85 km/hour (53 mph). This is also at the base of the "death road" we would take the next morning.
 
I do all my own stunts
 
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We headed back to the ecological preserve for a tour. They have all kinds of birds, cayman, tortoises, turtles, monkeys, etc... This spider monkey was all over this girl like a .... spider monkey! At first it was kind of cute but then it got an attitude and wanted her to come with it somewhere else and got mad when she didn't want to go.
 
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They had some capuchins too
 
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Frankly, I hardly think it's any of your business where I throw my poo, kind sir!

 

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It's okay to want what I got, baby!

 

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After this, we went back up to Coroico and checked into our hotel, which by Bolivian standards was quite nice. Hotel Gloria or something like that. Great views at around 5,500 feet in elevation. This was sunrise. Coroico is an Aymaran word meaning golden valley.

 

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View at a really great lunch place/hostel we visited

 

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We wandered up to the town square (lots of steps up) and found an interesting pizza place staffed by a 12 year old boy. This kid made the best mojitos I've ever had! We chatted with some other patrons and met this guy who said he grew up in La Paz, lived there for 23 years, came back only to find he got altitude sickness! That's the thing about altitude, some are fine, some aren't and sometimes it can bite you even if you have been okay at altitude.
 
This turned out to be quite a nice day. We got to relax and enjoy the area, have some fun, eat some pretty good food (finally). The next day we headed up the "death road" towards Chulumani.

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Day  11:  Chulumani

 

Turns out it was pretty tame. There were some very narrow spots with huge drop offs but we did it early on a Sunday morning and I saw one car, one motorcycle and one road crew coming the other way, so no big deal really.
 
I don't read Hebrew but this seems to mark the spot some Israelis perished a few years ago.
 
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There was another monument to democratic activists in the 80's who were lucky enough to get their own military helicopter tour of this valley but sadly seemed to find it was only a one way trip for them.
 
Steep!
 
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We got to the top just as some mountain bikers were starting their descent down the road. Cory had a run in with one of these bikes before. They forget which side of the road they're supposed to be on and one hit him head on. Oops.
 
They built a new road so this "death road" is mostly just traveled by locals and mountain bikers now.
 
We got to the top, got on the new road and hit a gas station to fill up. We ran into these guys from La Paz on their way down to Coroico for lunch. Their bikes were all brand new and shiny sparkly! This guy was showing off his new Giant Loop Great Basin bag.
 
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Nice guys though. They all spoke very good english. A few were actually on new KTM 500 EXC's and were probably taking some more interesting dirt segments.
 
Next up was the road to Chulumani
 
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We stopped at this place called El Castillo, or the castle. It had been the country residence of a former Bolivian president in the 30's. Colorful history. I guess this guy started a war w/Paraguay and gave up part of Bolivia. It's said he stored gold in a secret vault there but I was kind of doubting that. They were trying to make it a destination place for weddings and such. They rent out rooms, have a pool and a pretty good ropes obstacle course on the property.
 
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Further down the road we stopped where we saw some locals parked on the side an looking down. There was a van that had gone over the edge two days earlier killing the driver and injuring a Venezuelan couple who had been staying at that castle we just saw. One of the driver's relatives was there mourning their loss. You can see in the video that spot and a truck come zooming down the narrow road and see how that kind of stuff can happen.
 
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Made it to Chulumani late in the afternoon. This is around 5,000 feet too but is warmer and more tropical. Flocks of parrots fly all around the place. This is the Hotel San Bartolome. Very nice staff but none of us had working hot water. Cool mini-golf course too where I thrashed Martin the kiwi 7 holes to 4.
 
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The next day was to Quime to see Marco the Alaskan. Martin goofs around doing wheelies and hurts his leg. We stop for lunch at a really friendly town.

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This was the one thing I found most odd about Bolivia, that they will not take any US paper money that isn't in perfect condition.

 

I got off the plane and right there in customs the guy wanted me to pay something like $135 US to enter the country.  I had never heard of that but it turns out they only do it because apparently the US charges Bolivians the same amount of money to come into the US.  So I paid him with seven $20 bills and he hands me back three of them saying he wants three that don't have any tears whatsoever in them.   :huh:

 

 I had never heard of such a thing before and thought he was just trying to harass me because I'm an American or something.  Luckily, I had more money I could give him that was in better condition.

 

As it turns out, he wasn't hassling me because of where I'm from because everyone was doing the same thing.  Every cabbie, every bar, every merchant.  I guess it has to do with Bolivia being on a bad behavior list with the US government and that may have something to do also with a lot of counterfeiting happening in that part of the world.  In the US, all places will accept all paper money regardless of the condition.

 

I ended up having to find an ATM in La Paz to get more money and ended up coming home with about $150 in US money they wouldn't accept.

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It's all in your attitude I guess, but Bolivian roads and drivers are quite interesting.
 
I think it was between Sorata and Conzata, we were riding along and got held up behind this Toyota Hilux for quite a few miles.  On dirt roads that's a real nightmare because you're choking on that dust the whole time.  We wore bandanas over our noses and mouths to keep most of it out.  So Cory and I eventually pass this guy and now all of a sudden he's enraged that we passed him and starts driving like a mad man trying to run us off the road!  At first I was scared shitless but then after a few miles I was getting pretty angry about the whole thing.  I had to worry about Martin behind us because he was now stuck behind this maniac.  I thought of pulling around the next corner and grabbing a large 20lb rock to throw through his windshield but I just kept my eyes on the back of Cory's bike and figured I'd consult his local knowledge before doing anything stupid.
 
We got to the next town and Cory could tell I was quite animated.  We saw Martin pull up and he was laughing at that guy chasing us but didn't have any trouble.  I stood out on the square the whole time waiting for that jackass to come into town where I was going to pull him out and beat him senseless LA-style.  He never showed up.
 
We got lunch (Chicken soup) and then gassed up with some gas this guy was selling out of plastic bottles from his store.  We were gassing up the last bike, one of the xr650's with the big desert tank, and all of a sudden this guy who was parked in front of us starts up his car and runs right into the bike, knocking it over and gas spilling out all over the place.  We got the bike back up and luckily there was no damage but we go pull this guy out of his car and he's completely pissed drunk.  One of his friends comes out and takes his keys from him.  He couldn't even stand up.  We saw a lot of locals drinking like that not just at lunch but even early in the morning.  The thing to do on your day off was to get a few cases of beer and sit in the town square and drink it all day long.

Smells were definitely part of the adventure. There's not much public sewage treatment in Bolivia, so you tend to smell a lot of that in various places. Not so pleasant. But there were also a lot of good smells. We'd smell people cooking their breakfast or dinner as we rode through towns and that's always nice. There was also a unique smell in the jungle on the river that was very nice. Not sure if it was from a flower or from wood but it was great. The best and most unique smell was probably the coca leaves. They have a unique tea smell to them and taste quite sweet. I smelled that all over the place and it became a familiar thing each day.

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Day 12: Quime

 

Headed out for Quime and just really enjoyed roads that had less traffic on them. Stopped at a really nice little town (Irupani) for lunch (street meat fried chicken) and met some really nice people.

 

The road up from this bridge crossing was really fun. Nice and smooth and fast with no traffic. Also explains maybe why this was also where a rider on a previous trip went over the edge when he looked behind him at his buddy for a second. Woops! He was fine; they just had to drag his bike back up a scree hill.

 

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Street meat vendor. This guy who owned is was really cool too. I guess he was really into enduro racing back in his day and knew a ton about the sport and bikes and such. He got a kick out of when I told him I'd been able to ride Baja FOUR times! (8 now as of this writing)

 

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I got stuck showing these local boys all the videos from the trip. They especially liked the bikini bike wash video that was still there from the LBBMW fund raiser.

 

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We stopped for some shade and a snack and Martin did this little water crossing just for the sake of the video

 

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He was goofing around after that doing some wheelies then found his feet off the pegs and the whole thing went like in slow motion. He fell off the back and on the bike. Not a major off; one of those 2 mph things that happens 98% of the time. Got this scrape/gash on his leg though. You know that feeling of embarrassment when you do something stupid and everyone's watching? He felt that. I told him it was just as likely to have been me as I had thought about doing some wheelies too.

 

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Made out way to Quime and I stopped to snap a pic of this monster triple slide. Everything slides in Bolivia because it's so mountainous and every road seems to go up a valley.

 

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Saw a bunch of blue-ish trees that turned out to be imported gum trees. They grow quickly, straight and are very strong. They're used initially for support in the mines but now mostly for building. Don't have a pic of them handy now though.

 

Quime is a cool looking town. Looks like something out of Switzerland (from a distance of course). It's at about 10,000 feet in elevation and sits between two valleys. There's a guy who owns a hostel (Colibri Hostel) named Marco. He's from Alaska (LA really). Very eccentric guy. He's been there nearly 35 years and I think my spanish is better than his. At least my pronunciation and grammar are. Long hair, long beard, etc... Really happy kind of guy though. He built the place and knows everything about the area. Tons of great stories. The hostel is quite unkempt though. Last time the group had a steak dinner but there wasn't any cutlery! This time we had to share knives as there were only three. It all worked fine though. That was part of the adventure. There was another young couple from Washington there and a guy originally from DC but had been in Asia for six years.

 

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For security, we parked at this guy's lot down the hill and the walk back was something else. Very steep street here. Huffing and puffing at this altitude.

 

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Our dinner table.  If you ever go here, be sure to go ride to see the condor's nest.  We were too tired to go but Cory's done it before.

 

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Huge spider staring at me when I woke up the next morning. It's Bolivia.   That's part of the adventure.

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Day 13: Cochabamba
 
This was to be our last day on the trail. Our destination was Bolivia Bound HQ (Cory's house). We started out after a good breakfast of Marcos' pancakes not with maple syrup but this cane sugar syrup that was more like molasses. Kind of an acquired taste. Really good coffee too.
 
It was quite cold too and I suddenly remembered the cost of all that space I saved by not bringing my jacket. I had my Under Armor long sleeve turtle neck, my Fox Titan armor vest, a regular motocross jersey and my Klim windbreaker. That thing is awesome and really keeps the air off your core. That was really all I needed. My face was a bit cold after about two hours in it.
 
We headed up the mountain pass to what was to be our highest altitude of the trip (and my lifetime), 15,537 feet. This was up a side dirt road that we came back down to the main road, then over the pass on the highway so it's possible we might have gone a bit higher. I tried to track on Google Earth but the photos of that pass are so lo-res that I couldn't make out exactly where the highway is.
 
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Looking down towards an ancient-looking village and a glacial lake or tarn. These hillsides were all demarcated with these rock wall partitions that looked a thousand years old. They probably were. Maybe the climate used to be warmer in this pass for agriculture but it looked like it hadn't been worked in eons.
 
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Martin catching his breath. Martin used to race motocross and is a total badass on the bike when he want to be. I learned a few tricks from him and loved hearing all his stories of this or that getoff and the various bones and other parts he broke. This guy has done A LOT of things too. He ran away to join the circus at 16 and shared a great story of an elephant that knocked him over for walking where he wasn't supposed to. Martin was drunk and pissed off so he whacked that thing with a shovel. But see, elephants have that memory thing and the next time he got too close, that elephant sent him flying. 15 years later he was at the local zoo near the elephant cage when the elephant came out and the next thing his wife saw was Martin hiding in the bushes. He was afraid that was the same elephant from the circus out to get him. He was an engineer, a psychologist and now a consultant for various government departments looking to re-organize.
 
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Nice pass we headed up. Saw some wild llamas.
 
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And some not so wild
 
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Great shot to end a trip with
 
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We got over this pass and I was thinking, okay, I'm ready for this warm Cochabamba. But... it just kept going and going at this 13,000 foot plateau forever. Getting really cold too. What was really freaky was my allergy to cold (cold urticaria) was keeping the blood flowing in my hands with my meager Klim Dakar gloves (desert gloves). Cold urticaria is a rare allergy. No one seems to know what causes it and in some people it goes away. Whatever flesh is exposed to cold develops a hive which is caused by a cryoglobulin releasing a histamine. Some think it's adaptative like sickle-cell makes Africans immune to malaria or slanty eyes in Asians helps deflect dust in a very dusty environment. Cold urticaria is seen in a lot of people from northern Europe and is seen to maybe be an adaptation to working with your hands in cold water, like fishing or something. So while the other guys' hands were burning and aching from the cold, mine were fine. Just a bit itchy. I'm half norwegian, quarter swede and quarter English and all other so maybe that's it.
 
Got to this town at a highway junction just in time for them to celebrate the Bolivian national day. Some asshat pulled right out in front of me right outside of town. Lucky for me I took that MSF course and was prepared to slow down and evade him!
 
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Made it to casa de BoliviaMotors!
 
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Got to take a real shower, shart my guts out, and do some laundry. We picked up Cory's three boys (4,5,6) from school and that's where the fun really began! I showed them all my "real" magic tricks like the quarter disappearing trick, the broken nose trick, the separating thumb trick and a few other nifty sound effects. They were climbing all over us like a bunch of monkeys.  Those thieving little Hobbitses stole my heart   :D
 
Martin and I caught a cab to our hotel, only to find that they guy took us to the wrong hotel. We called a cab and had that guy take us to the right hotel but that was just a block away and we could have walked. Went to a great dinner that night in Cochabamba with Cory and his lovely wife, Paula. She seemed very eager to get out of the house and talk to real adults. Might have had a few cocktails too. A dirty martini and a margarita for me.
 
The next day we followed Cory around with his honey-do list of errands. It was good to see kind of a day in the life of the average person in Cochabamba. We hit the local market which is each Wed and Sat. I got some gifts for the kids. After that it was off to the airport for a 24 hour tour of the Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz, Miami, DFW and John Wayne airports.
 
Was given a proper send off by my new favorite Bolivians (l to r): Isaac, Hugo and Liam. Liam said "I love you!". :)  Liam is holding up his "alligator egg."
 
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