South America- the adventure continues--LONG

Discussion in 'Ride Reports' started by dave, Oct 31, 2012.

  1. dave

    dave New Member

    Three weeks ago we were in Iquique and we had just finished fixing Dave’s bike. Sergio’s magic with the TIG welder and a Dremmel are still holding out remarkably well despite 2000kms of sand, bumps, speed and mud. Since our 2-up trip to Peru, we realized that we did not need half the stuff we were carrying so we left a couple of boxes in Iquique and are now traveling much lighter.

    It was good to be on two bikes again, Dave stopped speaking in such a high pitched voice and I (Jane) got to ride my bike again! Not believing in breaking Dave’s bike in gently, we left Iquique and headed for the hills. Armed with loads of advice from Sergio, we spent four days riding around some fantastic dirt roads above 4000m in altitude. The route took us along the Chile/Bolivian boarder and across two national parks and a mine field(!). The parks have some stunning scenery including volcanoes, geysers, salt lakes, thermal springs and great wildlife. We actually managed to see wild flamingoes at last, and guinea pigs (which are a bit less glamorous).

    The first night we stayed for free at a derelict old thermal springs hotel. It was a bit run-down but there was still a wardrobe in the room (which became a table) and, best of all, we had our own en-suite with an enormous bath fed by the hot waters from the springs. Actually everything was fed from the hot springs. It’s the only time we’ve stayed in a place with no COLD water. Even the toilet flushed with hot water! The rest of the time we camped in freezing temperatures (5 degrees below freezing INSIDE the tent). We had to sleep with our drinking water to stop it freezing up! One night a German couple (Wolf & Ilona) took pity on us and invited us into their lovely warm Mercedes 4WD motorhome and let us cook dinner and warm our toes before heading back our igloo of a tent. During the day however, the sun was hot and we rode along deserted tracks & roads though occasional rustic mud brick villages each with a squat whitewashed church. It was fantastic fun.

    Our last night in Chile was spent in Putre where, as luck would have, it we bumped into Gerhard, (the German biker we met in the Paso San Francisco and shared some whisky then altitude sickness with). We were all headed the same way, so the following day we crossed the Chilian/Bolivian boarder. Our plan was to take the 350km of sealed (and boring) road to Oruro but just as we passed the border, we noticed a sign to Oruro heading off along a small dirt road. It turned out to be a great road, freshly graded since the floods earlier in the year. There were a few fords by washed-out bridges but it shaved 100km of the total distance and took us through some great altiplano & salar scenery. We had an interesting lunch in a small village where a meeting of the local farmers was postponed for the spectacle of our arrival and they fed us a huge but unidentifiable lunch.

    Our first impressions of Bolivia are that it feels the similar to Peru. It costs about the same (we manage to live quite easily on US$30-40 per day for the two of us), the people are friendly and the women tend to be amazingly broad around the hip region. This look is not helped by the national dress which includes a shapeless smock over layers of knee length gathered skirts. The countryside mostly comprises of small manually worked farms with adobe dwellings producing coca, maize, some vegetables and small herds of assorted farm animals. The cities are more modern, with a mixture of Spanish colonial and new concrete buildings, the latter usually being incomplete. Most of the roads in this country are unsealed and even those that are marked on the map as sealed vary rarely are. There is noticeably less traffic on the roads too making an idyllic combination for us. The lack of traffic is often due to the blockades that seem to be a regular feature here. Any cause wishing to attract attention does so by blocking all the roads it can with trucks and/or stones. Fortunately motorbikes don’t seem to be regarded as real traffic and are allowed to get through!

    We only spent a night in Oruro, keen to get to Potosi, a colonial mining town once famous for it’s fine silver. We spent a few days here visiting the mines, churches and the museum of the coin mint with its great array of machines through the ages and genuine original “pieces of eight”. Museums in Bolivia seem to be one thing they do do very well. Another thing they do well is cakes and it wasn’t long before we adopted a ritual of afternoon tea. At the other end of the luxury spectrum, however, are the mines. Most of them are still worked by hand including the one we got to go down. It was awesome to see the miners in the warren of small tunnels chiseling shafts into the rock for the dynamite or hauling up to 20 tones of rock a week on their backs to the surface. The only thing that keeps the miners going are the bags of coca leaves they chew to overcome the fatigue and hunger. (Now, if Maggie had thought of that…) At 45 years old, having worked for 30 years (sometimes digging the same hole), they usually retire on a meager pension suffering from fatal chest diseases. One interesting aspect of the mining here is that anyone can walk up to a market stall and buy sticks of Dynamite! We were tempted but were worried about the transportability.

    Unfortunately Gerhard had to leave Potosi early since he was feeling incredibly sick, due to a combination of flu and altitude sickness (Potosi being about 3400m ASL). We also left Potosi feeling incredibly sick, but our symptoms were instead due to the hospitality of a particular pub owner who forced beer, wine, Pisco, whiskey and rum on us in copious quantities with no financial disincentive. It was a good night and our Spanish improved immeasurable, if temporarily.

    It took us 5 hours to travel the 200KM to Sucre even though the road was sealed and well maintained. The hangover was partly to blame, but we also ran into what we first thought was another blockade. It turned out to be the local rally car championships which we got a great view of from the roadside while we waited.

    We met up with Gerhard again In Sucre which, news to us, is the capital of Bolivia (not La Paz). Sucre has some great buildings and even better restaurants specializing in wonderful cakes allowing us to continue the tradition of High Tea. We even managed to squeeze in a few morning teas just for good measure!

    The rally championships thwarted our plans for Sunday too when we tried to ride to a nearby village with a reputedly excellent market. The road was closed however, we were now armed with a map from the Bolivian Military Geographic Service. On it we noticed another small road to the village about 50km up the main road out of town. There was a 2km road block, (in protest against the Americans trying to make coca growing in Bolivia illegal in a vain attempt to control the Cocaine market in America), but we squeezed pass on our bikes and no one seemed to mind. We rode the 50km and more but still did not notice the side road. We asked a few locals and finally discovered the road was no more then a foot path and would take us at least 4 hours to ride by which time the market would have finished. We headed back to Sucre for a large afternoon tea instead.

    Our wonderful map failed us again after Sucre when we wanted to get to a national park called Toro Toro about 400KM away. The map showed a route via Tin Tin & a small village called San Vicente. The road was an adventure in itself with good and bad bits. The good bits were large stretches of the main road that were actually cobbled for 50kms or more! That’s a lot of work. The bad bits were wide stoney river crossings and insignificant sandy tracks used only occasionally for servicing a gas pipeline. When we got to San Vincente it turned out that the road to Toro Toro was actually a footpath through the mountains. It was dark, the detour to Toro Toro was another 200kms and they didn’t have anywhere for us to stay in town so we continued to the end of the road to a small private mine named Minos Asientos. After waiting for an hour behind the locked barrier, the man with the key turned up, let us into the town and opened up the almost disused guest house for us. The locals were very friendly and spent most of the night in our room watching us cook, eat and drink beer whilst chatting and looking at photos.

    There was no charge for the guesthouse so in the morning we thought we would donate some money to the school which has about 200 pupils from remote homes & villages all over the surrounding area. They were so grateful they called an assembly of the whole school for us and paraded the banknote up and down! After a speech from the headmaster groups of the kids sang songs and performed dances for us but then came the catch. The head turned to us to speak to the assembled kids! Dave did a wonderful job of explaining (in Spanish) who we were etc, and managed to finish on the advice that if they worked hard at school and studied hard they too might be able to travel like us when they are older. The head liked that and gave us some of the school breakfast of bread & sweet soya soup.

    We spent the next night at a great village called Anzaldo on the detour back around to Toro Toro. The local Pastor there was from Los Angeles (USA) and we spent several hours chatting to him about the church, school and local communities. He was a stout, happy friendly chap who clearly loves living in Bolivia and making a real contribution to the lives of his very rural parishioners. He reminded us very much of Don Camillo with his stories of local family feuds, blessing processions of bulls and, especially, his efforts to help the locals see through the schemes of the mayor!

    The following day we eventually arrived in Toro Toro and committed the rest of the day to Siesta, being quite worn out from all our adventures. Next day we joined some Bolivians from the nearby city Cochabamba and a girl from the US who were going to visit some caves in the park. It was excellent . The 10km walk to the caves crossed dozens of fossilised dinosaur tracks including the huge footprints of one of the giant vegetarians like Brontasaurus. At the caves we spent 2 hours scrambling around underground through an intricate succession of large chambers and squeezey tunnels. We saw amazing stalagmites and stalactites, underwater lakes with blind fish underground river channels.

    We took the “scenic” old highway through the mountains to Santa Cruz (which was supposed to be sealed) planning on spending a night, on route, in the mountains. Predictably the road wasn’t sealed but it was well graded and would have been a great ride if it wasn’t for the weather. The road goes through “cloud forest” so we expected a bit of cloud but not the blinding, freezing, condensing-by-the-bucket-load cloud that we ended up riding through for 3 or 4 hours! Everything the cloud touches becomes sodden and that goes for the road too which turned to liquid mud. This combined with the cold temperatures forced us to stop at a hotel half way. It transpires that weather that cold is actually a bit of a rarity here so the hotel & restaurant had no heating, and the shower was only luke warm, braaa.

    From there we rode to Santa Cruz where we have now spent about 4 days doing an awful lot of work on the bikes which are showing signs of wear and tear. We needed a new chain, new wheel bearings, tyres, oil, filters and you should have seen the state of the air filters! We had actually been carrying a lot of the spares we needed but, having carried them for months without needing them, they were among the stuff we left in Iquique! Oh well. Jane’s rear suspension linkage bearings were shot too but we fixed them Bolivian style by having an oversized inner race machined up (US$8) to take up the slack! The bikes now have nice new knobbies on them, perfect for muddy slimy jungle roads, and we even went so far as to wash them, nearly blocking up the towns drainage system with all the gunk that came from them. We’re leaving here on Monday to go and explore the jungle again on a 6 day trip with a local female farmer from London(?).

    Best Moment: Discovering Bolivian cakes. OR: Getting a snapped headlight bracket welded up for B$1.5 (25 cents!)

    Worst moment: Realising our 10 year old AU$100 sleeping bags aren’t really up to sub-zero conditions.

    Crash Stats: Dave 9.5, Jane 8.5 (Although I attribute this to my worn front tyre )

    Dental Visits: Oh I can’t remember but I think I (Jane) will be up for another one soon, just hope the teeth don’t fall out in the middle of the jungle, (maybe I can get a false pair from a large piranha?).
  2. jayjacinto

    jayjacinto Member

    Hey look on the bright side! At least you discovered something :)
  3. alac65

    alac65 New Member

    If you decide to go for a trip in any South American countries. If you speak Spanish, It is very helpful. If you do not speak any Spanish, I would strongly recommend, to learn some Spanish during your trip.
  4. royabikeride

    royabikeride New Member

    That is good for read it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 16, 2014

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