Public Enemy to Public Hero !!! Parking is something we always have to consider when looking for a guest house. This isn't as much of a problem as it may seem because most places are happy to find some corner of the courtyard, corridor, reception or cafe for them despite the coating of mud or dust. You would think steps might be a problem but it's amazing what you can get a Transalp up with the enthusiastic help of a landlord keen to fill beds. Strangely, in all our travels this is the only time the ground clearance of the Transalp (which is no motocrosser) has been a problem. The Hotel in Santa Cruz was just such a place and the bashplates left their customary scars on the front step early one morning as we headed out for a day ride. Now, many of you would imagine that months of endless touring in exotic places is the ultimate motorcycle experience (and you may be right) but I must confess even now I miss that typical Sunday day-ride experience. But this was a Sunday and we were off for the day, no luggage, no boarders and we even knew the road! Admitidly your average day-ride probably doesn't climb 1200m out of the jungle to the ancient ruins of a mystical civilisation but when it comes to the ride, well, I for one was more interested in scrubbing the edges of my tyres. The road from Santa Cruz is virtually all tarmac and once it reaches the edge of the flat jungle basin with its many villages, speed bumps and kids it winds its way up a lush forested range with towering cliffs and tumbling rivers. This is the road we came into Santa Cruz on but then it was shrouded in dense wet cloud. Now we were going back to check out the ruins of Samaipata and the sky was bluest blue. Jane won't let me bore you with a corner by corner account but suffice to say that we arrived with big smiles. The view from Samaipate was breathtaking and the 3000 year old dwellings had some of the best locations you could ever wish for but I'm afraid it was the long tight corner sequences that sat my heart thumping that day. For Gerhard, our German companion, it was a different experience that got his heart going. On our way back through the dozens of villages around Santa Cruz one of the kids playing by the road suddenly ran right into the side of his bike as he road past! We were going slowly thanks to the speed bumps but the 4 year old was knocked to the ground and hit his head when he fell. It is a sickening thing to happen, but luckily it wasn't any more serious than needing a couple of stitches. We stopped and Jane accompanied the casualty to the village medical center while Gerhard and I became the uneasy focus of a gathering crowd. Once Jane returned and we were happy the kid was receiving treatment we decided to continue on our way but certain elements of the crowd had other ideas and tried to stop us demanding cash. Gerhard being so clearly blameless we dismissed these claims and pushed our way back to the road. None of us felt very happy riding back towards town and when we were flagged down by cops at a checkpoint we knew what it was about. You could tell it wasn't your usual check by the way they unbuttoned their gun holsters as we approached! (We reckon cops here have to buy their own guns because they all have something different. Buttless pump-action shotguns are popular but we've seen everything from an ancient bolt-action rifle to modern machine guns and a stray Kalashnicov. These guys were just sporting pistols.) Someone in the village had phoned the cops and obviously spun a horror story about foreigners idiscrimintly mowing down kids and riding off. We were public enemies. We emphatically stated the facts (thank God I've picked up a basic grasp of the language) and luckily for us the more senior cop seemed to believe us. He confiscated Gerhards passport though and made us wait for the kids parents who were on their way down to the local hospital to have the stitches done. As an illustration of how concerned they were about the child, they came to the police station first to argue about money. (Perhaps the effect of a lack of state health system to pay for the hospital costs.) It was clear we wouldn't get away without parting with some cash while they still had Gerhards passport however blameless he was. It became a struggle on our behalf to make sure anything we did pay was really for the benefit of the boy and not for the pockets of the police or parents. We fought every demand to pay cash directly to the cops or parents and instead accompanied them to the hospital where we paid the efficient hospital staff directly. Unfortunately we were told the pharmacy was shut so we had to give the parents cash for the prescribed pills which may or may not have been purchased. When the family left the cops still held the passport and started demanding that we pay them too! (Apparently innocent people who are run into by kids have to pay the police "electricity bill"!) They even went so far as to point out that they could arrest and hold us for 8 hours or we could take the matter to the traffic police in Santa Cruz where they could hold us for 2 days. They had no statements, no signatures, not a single official document so, smelling the bullshit, we called their bluff and agreed to go to H.Q. which promptly halved the requested amount. Sick of it all by now we paid and left with chummy handshakes from the smarmy cops. This sort of experience considerably sours one's opinion of a country and people, but a change of scene gave us time to recover as we headed deep into the Amazon jungle for a week. We were a group of 7 plus 3 guides on a flat bottomed wooden boat with a small outboard motor and a tarpaulin roof. This is the only way to cover much distance in the jungle and spending most of the 6 days on the boat meant we could get deep into the "primary growth". It was a really interesting trip. We got to see all sorts of animals as well as seeing how people live along the river from the farms and river traders to the hunters and poachers. We saw plenty of camans (crocodiles), monkeys, giant otters, capaybara (like a cross between a pig and a rat), foxes and all sorts of birds including huge heron, bright colored macaws and dazzling king fishers. In the water we saw river dolphins and a big ray as well as catching catfish and paranah to eat. It was great but after several days the bench seats and incessant buzz of the motor started to overcome the novelty and wonder. We were always happy to get to camp in the evening where our guides pitched tents and cooked great food. We even had comfortably cool weather which reduced the number of animals about but virtually eliminated mosquitoes! In the deep jungle the endless variety of the trees and plants surrounded us with an aura of lush tranquility the expanse of which is more felt and heard then seen. What with the hammocks and fresh picked fruit it was all quite idyllic but we did feel a bit dissapointed by the lack of information from our guides. When we asked them things they would spin elaborate fabrications and by the last day their input was reduced to pointing to anything that moved saying "pavo" (turkey). It was good to get back on the bikes (even if Jane's did have a puncture) as we headed east into the wealthier cattle country. The flat jungle basin gave way to rolling hills where the original forests are interspersed with rich grazing and impressive gateways guard the tracks up to hidden ranches. Occasionally we would see large heards of motionless white Indian cattle standing like ghostly spirits against the rich green landscape. This area is known for a series of 18th century Jesuit missions with distinctive churches facing smart squares. A number of these have been restored over the last 20 years to their initial elegance by the late German architect Hans Roth. Having seen a lot of churches over the last months we were ready to be unimpressed but instead found their simple structures and superb decor charming. Exhibitions of Roth's other more contempory work in the area were good too and the simplicity of the villages with a noticeable lack of squaller really endeared the region to us. Riding back to Santa Cruz was a different matter. The relatively major road (from the Brazilian boarder) was in a shocking state. Some sections were totally unmade such as the long diversion from a washed out road bridge. The trucks that use the road had just driven a track miles across scrub, forest and bare rock to a railway bridge which they use instead. Bouncing over the track & sleepers is no worse than the road. Even the made sections of the road are awful. Much of it is just clay which is squelched into interwoven ruts when wet and then sets rock hard in the sun. The dry clay is then ground into fine dust that lies inches deep across big sections of the road and feels like water to ride through! It hides the ruts and is swept up into an impenetrable cloud with every passing vehicle. (Luckily there aren't too many.) At one point we reached a section that had just been rained on. There was no warning the surface just turned to sticky mud and we slid and slithered for 100m until I stopped and Jane fell over (point!). It was punishing on the bikes and when we eventually reached potholed asphalt we found Janes bike had another puncture but, worse, the rear suspension had collapsed! We limpe3d into Santa Cruz and hauled the bikes back up the hotel steps. Closer inspection showed that the bolt connecting the bottom of the shock to the suspension linkage had come loose allowing the shock to jump out of position. This bent the bottom mounting points and the crooked loading damaged the seals loosing all the damping oil. With our knowledge of Santa Cruz bike shops we knew we could get the mounting points straightened out but rebuilding the shocky was out of the question. There was no chance of getting a replacement locally either as they just don't have bikes like these. They do, however, have them in Germany and we had Gerhard, our German connection. To cut a long story a bit shorter he got his sister (Thank you Barbara!) to buy a second hand replacement and send it by courier to La Paz. It cost US$180 all up but it was our best option. All we had to do was get to La Paz with a slightly bent un-damped shocky. Luckily the road to La Paz is one of the few well paved roads in Bolivia. There are a few "geologically unstable" sections that don't have asphalt but what can you do if it slips off the side of the hill every year? Cochabamba is about half way between Santa Cruz and La Paz and about half way up from the humid jungle to the freezing altiplano. It's agreeable climate, varied surrounds and easy going feel make it a popular city with travelers. We had to stop here to visit some friends we met in Toro Toro who had rescued a camera we left behind. Claudia, Miro and their American guest Carla gave us the most amazing lunch which, for the first time in weeks, included loads of fresh salad and no rice! (Thanks guys and thanks for saving the camera.) The other highlight of Cochabamba is, according to Gerhard, "the big cheeses". It took us a while to figure out that he was actually referring, in his German accent, to the large statue of Christ that stands (5mm taller than the one in Rio) on a hill above town. We took the cable car up to the big Jesus and the view was O.K. but we decided the crude concrete construction was best seen from a distance. (This was partly to avoid being hit by the hand of God as the outstretched arms are in the process of being saved from falling off.) Riding up to La Paz we climbed steeply to find huge glistening white mountains. We're back in the Andes! La Paz is a nice city with everything we needed: A U.P.S. office to receive the shocky, a cheep hotel with indoor parking (up steps) and cheap food. We can live on about US$4 each while waiting for the delivery which is just as well because our financial situation is now very tight and delivery was delayed by the annual "La Paz Day" celebrations. These consisted of dozens of marching bands and troops of baton twirling majorettes parading the streets in every direction. The bands are of varying musical accomplishment but the girls with sticks are all dressed in very short dresses and white knee high kinky boots. The parades are followed by a loud midnight street party for the youth with stages competing for the biggest stacks of speakers. Before the festivities we rode out of town to the ruined temples of Tiahuanaco reputed to be up to 2500 years old. They lie on a wide plain near lake Titicaca and have some really impressive stonework. It was a beautiful day and the peace of the plain was soothing after the bustle of La Paz. On the way home, however, the peace was shattered along with the windows of a bus in front of us by protesters hurling rocks! This has become a regular occurance on Bolivia's main roads over the last few months as the "campensinos" (country folk) protest about government policy particularly regarding coca. A few kms past the unfortunate bus we encountered a big queue of traffic and lots of people telling us we couldn't proceed. A blockade, the other weapon of the campensinos. Everybody was telling us to stop and turn around as there was stone throwing ahead but, with our usual scepticism we had to go and see for ourselves. We have never been stopped by a blockade yet. We passed dozens of vehicles, hundreds of passengers including stranded day tours from La Paz but when we got to the front there was just an empty road. Trucks were turning around and everyone was still telling us to retreat but we wanted to hear it from the blockaders themselves. We continued up the road slowly and as non-threateningly as we could. After a km or so we crested a rise and just saw more empty road. We rode on for another km or so to the next crest where we finally found the blockade. The road was covered for 200m with stones and rocks which would be impossible for a 4 wheeled vehicle but which we could weave carefully through on the bikes. There were bits of old car wrecks and a single burning tyre but no people. Looking up to our left we found them, a couple of hundred campensinos on top of the hill watching their creation, and us. They were too far off to get aggressive or to talk to so we just started slowly threading our way between the obstacles watching them for any reaction. It was tense but there was no shouting, no signal, no movement from them at all and we thanked again their attitude to bikes as not real vehicles. After these obstructions the road was clear and deserted again for a km or so until over the next crest we found the waiting traffic from the other direction. As we approached a crowd gathered to ask us about the situation and congratulate. We were the only vehicles to get through. Heros to some. Even the lone token police car waved us over to hear our report. The single burning tyre seemed to be what impressed them most, the description of which brought on much tutting and sucking through teeth. That was Friday 13th and, as far as we can work out, the blockade still stands and features on the T.V. daily. It was certainly an unlucky date for those day-trippers out from La Paz. We are still in La Paz stalled, not by blockades, but by U.P.S.'s failure to deliver our new shocky. Tomorrow, they reckon, "Manana". Once we get it we're off to the beach. All that stands in the way is the entire Amazon Basin... Crash Stats: Jane=10.5, Dave=10.5 (even at last) Best Moment: Getting through the blockade Worst Moment: Seeing an unattended 4 year old run across a big main road right into the side of Gerhard's bike.