Entering Bolivia was quite a rude awakening having left the European sofa that was Argentina. The roads were primed to test the bike to its limits, and local officials seemed to be a lot more ‘flexible’ – sometimes inventing rules to suit their wallets in the name of Santa Maria…
After waking up the Villazon customs officer from his 3pm slumber, I headed towards Tupiza on a road as bone jarring as Argentina’s Ruta 40, every corner presenting something new, including vicious bottom-out dips which scared the life out of my rear shock.
In Tupiza I opted for a 1985 Toyota Landcruiser, a 4 day tour including the amazing Salar De Uyuni, a salt desert at an altitude of 3653 Metres. At first I thought the bike could have handled the terrain with ease, although I soon realized that without some local knowledge or a GPS, I would have been one very cold and hungry Kiwi.
My tourmates from Israel Vardit & Assaf, Holland Esther & Ben), Californian (Melissa) enjoyed some spectacular sites, blasting through film on Flamingos, arsenic filled lakes, geysers, Dali-like rockscapes, and a truly spectacular sunrise at the Salar Uyuni.
At the highest point of the tour we drove at 5,000 metres, and right on cue Assaf ‘popped’ , luckily he was sitting next to the door …
Assaf still happy after loosing his lunch
Arbol de Puedra ( Tree Rock) Click here for pop-up Jeremy.
Despite the warnings in the guidebooks, our guide failed to come up with the wine on the last evening, despite our protests. Even the promised vegetarian food materialized as eggs. If you ever do a tour with Tupiza tours ( aka Money-grabber tours ) , or with one of the Uyuni based operators, you really do need a contract in writing specifying the details.
Our driver Pablo sensed a mutiny on his hands, and offered some beer as a peacemaking gesture, telling us there was no wine to be had in the tiny settlement where we were. ( We bought some ourselves right afterwards ). He then offered an early start in order to catch the sunrise over the Salar , grudgingly we accepted 4am.
In short, it was well worth the effort.:
Sunrise on the Salar, click for larger image.
The team at sunrise on the Salar
The Salar is famous for bringing out naked Israelis in front of cameras, although Assaf was too chicken to give us a show, so we settled for some group action.
It's all in the lick, click for larger image.
In Uyuni I spotted two fellow riders on an F650 and KLR 650, although for the life of me I can’t remember their names. The guy on the left is from Bayern Germany, and the other from Santiago.
Mr X and his mate
Thanks to some doubtful chicken in Tupiza, I had a rather immediate call of nature while looking at some bubbling mud pools – couldn’t believe it. It turned out that 4 of us had Salmonella , Assaf with the type associated with Typhoid - and a bonus amoeba. Both he and Verdit landed in hospital, while I had the worst case of Montezumas revenge you could possibly imagine. I reckon I lost around 8 Kilo’s.
As I left Sucre towards La Paz I spotted a Honda shop, and took the opportunity to mount a new Pirelli MT21 tyre on the back. ( Actually it was all they had ). The TKC 80 had done an admirable job, but I doubted it would handle the road to La Paz without imploding. Lucky man I was….
The road via Ravelo, Ocuri and northwards was at the outset like outback Australia, blistering heat and dusty gravel roads , lined with Eucalyptus trees. ( no Koala’s though ). All I had to contend with was ‘people trucks’ playing chicken with me from the opposing direction, and choking on dust clouds trying to pass them.
The warmth somehow turned into rain and snow as I climbed, and the river crossings got more and more adventurous as they swelled with the downpour. I pressed onwards, spying a bright patch ahead ( biker’s optimism ). In fact I kept pressing on, breaking the rules as it got darker, although realizing I wouldn’t make it to Oruro that day.
Pitch black, desolate and muddy I crawled through a place near Cala Cala distracted by what appeared to be a small fire on the hillside. You can imagine my slightly increased heart rate when I realized the letters spelt E.T.A. – and there I was on my own late at night…., silly me. I thought ETA was only active in Spain, although my hotel guys in La Paz informed me there are sympathizers all over. This day prevented me from further estimates on how far I could travel, taking 10 hours to make 220 Km’s I realized Bolivia needed a different approach.
Weary from the symptoms of the chicken I rolled into La Paz, and was greeted by a hailstorm which stung even through my leather pants. I stopped at the first Hotel which could park the bike, and fell into bed frozen and exhausted. I learned that my travel mates had Salmonella the day afterward, and I spent three days recovering while taking antibiotics.
A note for those of you heading toward Bolivia – although the petrol is by law a universal 80 Octane, the Honda guy in Sucre informed me it varied from 60-70. In retrospect some octane booster might have been useful.
Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.
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