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  #46  
Old 27 Apr 2011
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Arequipa

Hi Pumpy. it looks as though they have re-built the bell towers on the cathedral in Arequipa. I arrived there 2 hours before the earthquake, I think it was 2001. It registered 7.5, what an experience that was. The cobbled road moved like waves on the sea, one of the bell towers completely collapsed and the other was hanging on by a thin vertical piece of stone, what a mess it was, but everything thing looke fine now.
I would love to go there again and see the town as it should be before the eartquake.
By the way can't wait to read you report, best wishes Mike.
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  #47  
Old 28 Apr 2011
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I love the photos and the write-up. I wanna do that too. Someday i will. I have a dream...
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  #48  
Old 28 Apr 2011
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Originally Posted by daytonatwin View Post
Hi Pumpy. it looks as though they have re-built the bell towers on the cathedral in Arequipa. I arrived there 2 hours before the earthquake, I think it was 2001. It registered 7.5, what an experience that was. The cobbled road moved like waves on the sea, one of the bell towers completely collapsed and the other was hanging on by a thin vertical piece of stone, what a mess it was, but everything thing looke fine now.
I would love to go there again and see the town as it should be before the eartquake.
By the way can't wait to read you report, best wishes Mike.
That must have been a very scary day, Mike; glad that you weren't injured! After the recent earthquakes in Chile I had this horror vision that I was riding along a road and suddenly the ground would open up - fortunately that nightmare didn't materialise...

Arequipa looks fantastic these days, they have done a great job rebuilding the city - I didn't notice any damage in the parts of the town I went.

Thanks for your kind words,

Ela
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  #49  
Old 28 Apr 2011
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I love the photos and the write-up. I wanna do that too. Someday i will. I have a dream...
Thank you, deadman23, I'm sure you will fulfill your dream one day. Just don't leave it too long...
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  #50  
Old 21 May 2011
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In search of Ibibobo...




After a good night's sleep I enjoyed a varied breakfast buffet in the El Rancho’s comedor. Jeidi, a cousin of Yessime, Juan-Carlos’s wife from the Paraguayan border post, who happened to work in the hotel’s kitchen, showed me what was on offer, how the Maté dispenser worked and just very kindly looked after me during my stay. The hotel owners sat down at the next table, asked if I felt better this morning (oh, yes!) and allowed me to wash the bike in their immaculately kept garden. The gardener was called to give me a hand and somehow the lovely man took over and cleaned the DRZ all by himself; I was hardly permitted to get near my baby. As a small gesture of my appreciation I let him ride the bike around the building to the front entrance. When he didn’t turn up at after five minutes, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to turn the fuel tap on. Quickly I limped round the corner and found José checking the bike over for possible faults. Sorry...

Then some serious maintenance was called for: after the hardships of the last days I tightened all the nuts and bolts, adjusted and lubed the chain, shortened the luggage straps that had become loose, replaced the lost O-rings on my GPS cradle and fixed other little things – all under the benevolent eyes of the hotel owners who were happy to let me work in the beautiful courtyard of the El Rancho.



Does anybody know what flowers these are?



There is no immigration office in Villamontes; I could either go on tarmac to Yacuiba on the border with Argentina further south or return to Ibibobo, which I had missed the previous day. Well, with my passport showing the Bolivian customs' entry at Infante Rivarola from 1st September and the Paraguayan exit stamp from Mariscal on the 2nd, it seemed a safer bet to go back to Ibibobo - I would have some explaining to do how I could suddenly turn up near the Argentinean border – especially as there are only minor dirt tracks and, more importantly, no bridge over the Río Pilcomayo from that direction… And also, I wanted to find out where this elusive Bolivian border post was and where I had gone wrong during the night.

With the bike looked after, I then went into town for a cash-point, as I still didn’t have any local currency in my wallet yet. Banco Bisa has reliable ATM’s that don’t charge you an extra fee and give you a maximum of 1,000 Bolivianos, about £93 at the time, which last you a long time in Bolivia. I refilled bike and fuel canister and made my way back to the Bolivian border post, hoping that I had just missed the turning to the tarmac in the dark.



But no, look at the sign on the junction where I had emerged onto the paved road the previous night!



Obligatory route to Ibibobo - so it was exactly the same dirt track I had to take...



… a bit quicker though now due to daylight and carrying no luggage apart from the tank panniers with all my tools and spares. There were even road signs along the track - 13 km to Ibibobo, then 8 km, 3km...



Interesting vegetation -



And a shrine – for the solace of the soldiers and something probably more serious than the shape of the bottle tree suggests…



To my great surprise, the dirt track joined the tarmac again and I stood at the very same military check point as the previous evening. I limped down the hill for a second time and showed the officer the entry with my name in the book. When I asked for the actual border post, he pointed to the east – just 500 m further down the road towards Paraguay. ¿Qué?

Can you imagine, I had passed the building the day before in daylight without recognising it as such! Ibibobo was only 50 kilometres from the border and not 70, as the Paraguayans had told me (or maybe I had understood…). I should really have asked the soldiers at the military control post - but in my hurry to reach my destination before nightfall I had missed the most obvious course of action...

The Bolivian immigration office was just an adobe hut with goats, piglets and children running around.



Have I ever mentioned my fondness of piglets?



Anyway, the official was apparently having his siesta and harshly asked from the next room “what do you want?”. I did not explain anything, he had not seen from which direction I had arrived, and so I just said that I was coming from Mariscal and would like to enter Bolivia. He did not question the dates in my passport, just stamped everything and tried to persuade me to change some money with him. The ATM in Villamontes would not be working (yeah, right...), it was Friday afternoon and the banks were closed at the weekend and if I had any Paraguayan Guaranís or Dolares? No, I said, using an old travellers’ trick divulged to me by John, only my credit card. And off I went.

At the military control they knew me in the meantime, even smiled and we started chatting. So I asked if it was possible to use the closed tarmac road (because it was still under construction), as I had already done the 70 kilometres of dirt track twice and was getting a bit fed up with it. Claro, there were some obstacles but they shouldn't be a problem on a motorbike; the sergeant was using the road on his commute from Villamontes everyday. Gracias, señores, have a nice day!

Happily I carried on, enjoying the smooth surface, but soon ran into the first trouble: I took the wrong side along the construction site and ended up in lots of deep, soft soil, where I could only push the bike downhill but not back up onto the road again.



Probably not a big deal for many of you, dear readers, but I’m a bit of a chicken and with no one around for miles to help me out should my attempts of climbing back onto the road go wrong, it was reverting to the track. By now the official Ruta 11 didn’t bother me anymore, it seemed like a well-known trail and I started to enjoy the ride, testing different techniques through the sand and trying to identify the spot where I had taken my luggage rail apart the previous night.

However, when I got stuck behind a slow-ish truck I took one of the service tracks which are used by the heavy plants to get to and back from the new road. And soon I was on the tarmac again. The next obstacles seemed a piece of cake, as I was in good spirits and full of confidence in my riding skills...



I even got off the bike to check for an escape route before riding to a potential point of no return…



A few horses, cattle, sheep, goats and the occasional truck was all I encountered, no one stopped and questioned me what I was thinking riding on a closed road under construction; the workers even waved to me. Just visualise the same situation in the UK…



I was wondering how the road works would be barred at the other end but suddenly I arrived at the junction with the “obligatory route to Ibibobo” sign and there had been nothing advising the public on a construction site at all!

In a fraction of the time I was back in Villamontes.



What an adventure!

In future, I will read the travel guide properly, keep an eye out for buildings that could potentially host an immigration office within a 250-kilometre radius from any border and try to avoid night rides at all costs…

.
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  #51  
Old 22 May 2011
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"Does anybody know what flowers these are?"

Thunbergia grandiflora (in spanish, common name: "tumbergia").
Great ride, great teller, beautiful pictures, congratulations!
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  #52  
Old 22 May 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by faraway View Post
"Does anybody know what flowers these are?"

Thunbergia grandiflora (in spanish, common name: "tumbergia").

Great ride, great teller, beautiful pictures, congratulations!
Hola, Mel, thank you very much for your kind feedback and the identification of the tumbergia!

If they grow in the UK I will plant one in my garden as a souvenir of the wonderful time I had in South America.
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  #53  
Old 23 Jun 2011
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More please

Pumpy,

Very entertaining, educational and enlightening read so far but we want more. There must be more. Please.
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  #54  
Old 23 Jun 2011
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Thumbs up

Terrific photos and story.... but no updates here or on her web-site since May..?
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  #55  
Old 23 Jun 2011
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Thank you both very much for your kind words - I was just too busy during the last weeks, sorry...

But here you go!
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  #56  
Old 23 Jun 2011
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Between Rivers




Before I set off on my big trip, I went to see my parents in Berlin. Together we sat in front of the computer and hovered over my planned route in Google Earth, admiring the features of the application, the landscape in the different countries I was going to visit and the pictures people had added to the various places. After entering Bolivia near Villamontes we got stuck. From there I wanted to go to Tarija but the suggested directions took me back south into Argentina and then onto a massive detour of 913 kilometres (567 miles)!



This was a journey that should only be 270 kilometres (160 miles) on the more direct road through El Angosto, a gorge shaped by the Río Pilcomayo.



Some of the photos of this gorge were subtitled Ruta de la muerte (route of death) and I was hoping my parents wouldn’t notice the resemblance to the Camino de la muerte (the road of death) north-east of La Paz, which I had just promised not to ride under any circumstances…

So when I was packing my stuff in Villamontes the next morning, I was a bit apprehensive, to say the least. At breakfast Jeidi told me that her cousin Yessime was planning to come round and see me during the day but the two nights in El Rancho had already cost me £60 (including two three-course meals for dinner, drinks and laundry) and I couldn’t afford to stay any longer, sorry. By the way, did she know the road to Tarija? Oh yes, un camino muy feo – another very ugly (= bad) road… But was it doable? I really didn’t fancy the detour through Argentina, especially as I had been told some horror stories about several Gringos who had been robbed down to their underwear on the way to the border recently.

Con mucho cuidado, with great caution I would have to ride, was the unanimous answer to my enquiry about the route to Tarija, regardless how many locals I asked… Wouldn’t I want to visit Santa Cruz instead? The city in north-east of Boliva is the fastest growing in the country, the one with the healthiest economy and providing the highest living standard for its inhabitants. Mmm, maybe another time, unfortunately Santa Cruz didn’t lie exactly on my route.

Right, courage, let’s see what El Angosto will throw at us! I said goodbye to the people at the hotel, bought some water for the journey while a nice young security guard in front of the bank looked after my bike, and then said it was adiós to Villamontes.



Smooth tarmac led out of the town; then a checkpoint: where to? Tarija. ¡Mucha suerte!, good luck, said the officer and waved me through. A tidy gravel road took me along the river Pilcomayo.



Gradually the carretera was rising higher



… until you couldn’t see the water at the bottom of the valley anymore. At this point a one-way traffic regulation had been introduced to cut down on the casualties that the most dangerous bits of the Ruta de la muerte had claimed in previous years.



There were still plenty of stretches where I had to pull in my belly when passing a truck but when the road led out of the gorge things got a bit more relaxed and I could even find some bushes...



Rather randomly there was even tarmac in between – albeit not entirely gravel-free…



Higher and higher the road climbed into the hills



Opening great views of the countryside



… and promising pure exploring pleasure



… if I had only given it some welly when pulling out off the lay-by… But no, the bike started to tumble in the sand and then, lacking the necessary momentum, assumed a horizontal position.

Well, while this was another situation where I was glad that I hadn’t taken the GS to South America, there was still no way that I could lift the DRZ with all the luggage on. I hadn’t seen any vehicle for the last hour and the chances of a pair of helping hands coming along were slim. So I started to unload the bike quickly, as the fall had ripped off the valve cap of my tank lid and fuel was spilling out in considerable quantities. I fixed this issue temporarily by corking the breather with a small pebble but still, the solution was far from perfect and the stuff in my tank panniers smelt of petrol for days after…

I was just about to remove said tank panniers when I heard a car approaching. The friendly driver stopped immediately when he saw me waving and helped me lifting the poor DRZ off the ground. He was even going to wait until I was ready to go again to see if bike and rider were ok! I thanked him very much but it would take me a while to reload the luggage. Just when he had disappeared around the corner, another vehicle came along and I made a mental note that the next time I fell over I would just wait a little longer before unpacking…



Anyway, there were still a few kilometres to ride until Tarija and I’d better got going. But when I pressed the starter button nothing happened… The prospect of a bump-start down this twisty gravel road and the subsequent U-turn didn’t seem overly appealing. Please, baby, don’t let me down! Fuel tap on, choke out, throttle on stand-by, starter - after what felt like ages the engine finally sprang to life – and died immediately again. On. Off. On – and gasss! Yippee, off we went!

Progress was slow though, as the road was narrow with lots of blind bends, washed-out switch-backs and the abyss on the wrong side most of the time…



Not more than 20 to 30 km/h (15 to 19 miles) were the riding average. On one corner I suddenly heard a loud horn and the next second a bus came round - at a speed three times more than would have been appropriate for the road conditions! The driver saw me at the last moment, braked hard and his rear-end swung onto my side – leaving little more than a metre between him and the steep drop to my right! Luckily I had already come to a standstill and the driver got his vehicle back on track just before touching the DRZ and sending us both down the mountain – phew!

After crossing another ridge the drop was on the other side of the road for a change; I could relax a bit and admire the beautiful countryside.



The road is actually in quite a good condition due to the country’s natural gas reserves of which 85% are found in the province of Tarija.



Around three in the afternoon I arrived in the village of Supitum which instantly seemed very appealing to me...



I chatted a while to the lady who owns the restaurant in the photo and made friends with her piglets.



Living far away from the bigger settlements, the locals are largely self-sufficient in terms of agricultural produce.



From a distance the landscape is stunningly beautiful but if you have a closer look you will see that fly-tipping is a problem here as well...



At four o’clock I was still 100 kilometres (60 miles) away from Tarija, following a sluggish truck through the bends without any chance of overtaking, and approaching the only town en-route: Entre Ríos. As I was pretty knackered by then it would have been pointless to carry on, so I was hoping that I could find accommodation here. I asked a young couple by the side of the road and they pointed me into the centre, where I found the Plaza Hotel on the main square (not really surprising…).



The place was fantastic; the interior nicely decorated, cool and clean.



I could park the bike safely in one of the many courtyards...



... and I got a lovely en-suite room with a view for less than half the price of the ‘El Rancho’ in Villamontes





The only nuisance was the man who you can just see on the bandstand in the middle of the square: for hours he proclaimed his faith and that the end of the world was nigh – until even the patient Bolivians told him unambiguously that enough was enough and that he’d better shut up now. I really don’t get it, what do these self-appointed preachers think they can achieve by shouting out their conviction for hours on end - apart from getting on everybody else’s nerves?



Anyway, showered and shaved I went for a sight-seeing stroll through this pleasant little town. Entre Ríos has a pretty market area with colourful stalls and evenly colourful vendors selling all kinds of products. There were no other foreigners around, I tried to blend in and avoid the “zoo-effect” as much as possible – so no pictures here, sorry, but taking photographs felt too intrusive to me at the time.

Although I passed an internet café first, I acted sensibly that evening and carried on until I found a restaurant. A lovely young woman explained the menu to me. Mmm, I don’t fancy a three-course-meal tonight; could I just have some soup? No problem, with fideo? Sorry, this term is missing from my vocabulary, so the señorita went into the kitchen and came back with a handful of pasta – perfect, and great customer service, too! A few minutes later she brought me a big bottle of Fanta (600 ml), some maize salad and a huge bowl of soup with vegetables, potatoes, meat and fideo; basic, rich and flavoursome. The bill was then written by another waitress and showed the stately sum of 13 Bolivianos, around £1.20. No, no, said the girl who had looked after me originally, the señora had only soup and a soft drink, so it’s just 8 Bolivianos – £0.74.

It makes you think – about the value of goods, of services, of smiles, about the cost and the standard of living in the places you are and the country you live your normal life in; it makes you question a whole lot of assumptions, your perceptions and priorities. What a humbling experience and still, this is what travelling is all about for me.

Back in the market area, I found a stall selling watches and, having lost a small metal pin on my wrist band, I asked the elderly gentleman if he had a spare by any chance. He rummaged through little plastic containers for quite a while and then told me I should come back in the morning, he would have a look at home and return at 8 am the following day. I thanked him very much and wished him a good night: buenas noches y hasta mañana.

Coming out of the internet café, which had a surprisingly speedy connection, I went back to the town square – only to see that I had missed a fiesta! The musicians and dancers were just packing up their instruments and utensils; what a shame! I was spending far too much time online trying to keep my photos, route-log and blog up-to-date instead of enjoying myself with the locals – something else I had to think about.

How do other travellers deal with this problem? I have been reading amazingly elaborate ride reports written almost in real time but how do people manage to do this? You ride at least 8 hours, often longer, then you have to find accommodation and food, look after your bike, laundry, personal hygiene; you want to meet people and talk to them, you are tired, and then there are the loved ones at home who are waiting for a sign of life from you – how do you fit this all into one day?

.
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  #57  
Old 25 Jun 2011
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Thanx for the continued writing! I am planning a 9 week ride for 8 of us and looking for little out-of-the-way places like this! We would wind this into our Santa Cruz to Salta week. We LOVE the narrow dirt roads with challenging truck or bus-passing as we all grew up on dirt bikes in the jungles of Peru (as expats)!

Keep writing! We are hanging on every word!
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  #58  
Old 28 Jun 2011
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Thanks for your kind words, Toby.

The route gets even more interesting between Tarija and Villazon (which could be on your way when you go to Salta) crossing the Cordilllera de Sama. And Tarija is a very nice and friendly place to stay.

Further details in the next instalment... ahem...

Enjoy your trip!

Ela
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Old 17 Jul 2011
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It was great to hear your presentation at Ripley and I've only just found your trip described in full here - fantastic report and photo's. Glad everything worked out well and I may steal a few DRZ modification ideas for my old DR250
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  #60  
Old 19 Jul 2011
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Adventures

Hey Pumpy,

I'm still keeping track of your great adventures!!!

Keep on going!!

Grz from Holland.
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