August 30, 2003 GMT
Up into the Bolivian highlands

Santa Cruz is a big city and it felt more Brazilian than Bolivian. We were in need of a place to do an oil change and some maintenance after riding the Road to Hell. Found a workshop that on first sight wasnt encouraging, a young lad was drilling out a cylinder with what looked like a Black & Decker!! The guy in charge knew what he was about however, Snr. Becerra had worked in the States and Japan. Besides we didnt need anything complicated doing, oil change, wheel bearings, and while we were there, Arno took the chance to check out his shaft.

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Arno checking how clean his bike is, or was it the bearings?


Antonis turned up while we were in the city, he had the good sense to take the train from Brazil and decided to come with us to Sucre. Arno assured us that the road was paved the whole way, I had my doubts this is Bolivia after all but we set off expecting tarmac. We got it too, well for 70kms anyway, until Abapo, where the road works started. We got fuel here too, by the side of the road, jerrycan and funnel replacing the usual pump.

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Filling up dont think this is Shell!

We had to ride across another of those railway/road bridges, this one in a worse state of repair than the last if that were possible, no side rails and the tracks not flat into what little wood there was between them. On the other side of the river, the road works awaited, we thought we had missed a turn but no, this was the new road, trouble was, it was still being built.
We did actually get to ride on parts of the new road, at other times however we had to contend with the sand. Antonis was having a harder time than me, the big 1150GS kitted out with road tyres was not easy to keep upright. It made a change for someone other than me to be dumping their bike in the sand! Wed planned to be in Monteagudo for the night, but we were far far away by the time it came to look for accommodation. Asked in a tiny village if we could camp somewhere, it didnt look very secure, but then a truck driver told us there was a construction workers camp a few kms further on and we should ask the boss there. We did so, and were able to put up our tents in a nice fenced compound complete with semi-permanent bathrooms and even a canteen.

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Packing up in the early morning

An early start the next morning after a Bolivian construction workers breakfast, of steak, egg, chips, rice and coffee all at 7am!! We actually got to ride on new road for most of the morning we sneaked onto it when no-one was looking and kept going. Had to move the occasional branch out of the way but was preferable to riding on the sand holes the trucks were making. Unfortunately, at a junction, we had to turn off the nice road and go back onto the sandy track that was the road to Sucre.
It took us a few more days than planned, but it was a good ride and took us once again away from the other travellers.

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Antonis battling with the sand


The city of Sucre was a great place to hang out for a couple of days. Arno found a workshop and we spent a day doing a few things to the bikes; fixing panniers, cleaning air filters and fiddling with our carburettors in anticipation of higher altitudes.
The town was full of historic buildings, the market was wonderful to stroll around and we even managed to be there for a big Fiesta.

Our next destination was Potosi, 160kms away, another 2000 metres higher but tarmac all the way. Took it slowly and had lots of breaks to try and avoid getting sick. The 2 BMWs had no problems with the altitude, my XT though was stuttering a little above 3500m.

Potosi is famous for its mine well mines, the mountain towering over the city is filled with small mines, some of which you can visit. It was hard work clambering around in the small tunnels, to see the appalling conditions in which the miners have to work. Glad we were only down there for a couple of hours and not a working lifetime, not surprisingly shorter than the average!! Dynamite is used to reveal more seams of zinc and when underground, the whole mountain seemed to tremble as the charges went off. It was interesting to wander around the miners market, where the full array of mining paraphernalia was on sale for anyone to buy including sticks of dynamite. Now Arno is a bit of an explosions freak, so there was no way he was leaving town without a few sticks to test out somewhere in the desert. Antonis and I patiently waited while he chose between the various sizes types and lengths, then he had to choose the fuse!

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Arno deciding which dynamite to purchase

Antonis wasnt too keen to tackle anymore dirt roads, so he rode in the direction of La Paz, while we took the dirt road to Uyuni. It wasnt too bad this time and the scenery of course pretty spectacular.

We arrived in Uyuni late afternoon, a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand and plastic bags. Booked into the Hotel Avenida where most riders seem to stay and were amazed to see a huge Yamaha Dragstar complete with trailer, parked inside. Cant wait to meet the owner of that one!

Posted by Sian Mackenzie at August 30, 2003 09:51 PM GMT
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