December 10, 2003 GMT
Bloqueos, Bribes and BSAs

Oururo behind us, we took the long way round to Sucre, as we had been told the more direct route was much tougher, 300kms of hard dirt. As we approached the small town of Challapata however, we began to think that maybe the direct route would have been faster. There were rocks littering the road as we approached one of the toll stations and a large crowd was gathered around a truck on the other side.
A bloqueo or roadblock!


Rocks on the road to stop the traffic

We parked up some distance away and watched for awhile. A lorry pulled up behind us and the driver came over for a chat. He didnít know what the cause of the bloqueo was either. He said that we could probably pass if we were quick, either going around the side of the toll station, or going off the road onto one of the sandy tracks that led around the town. We could see the local cars doing just that, ferrying locals from one side of the bloqueo to the other, the long way around.

We decided to chance it and went for the short option, anything to avoid battling with sand! What we didnít see was the trench that the campesinos had dug, obviously to prevent bus drivers and silly tourists from trying to get through. Luckily it must have been coca breakĖtime before they had finished, as the trench was only 20cms or so deep. Still was a bit of a shock as we flew over it, accompanied by the whistles from the crowd.

We had to ride some dirt, but only 60kms or so, most of it right next to the new tarmac road, not quite ready to be opened. Looked ready to me, but there was no way to sneak onto it, moreís the pity.


Another toll station marks the end of the dirt

The rain clouds were following us as we left Potosi, maybe thatís why we were going a little faster than usual and got caught in the only speed trap we have seen in Bolivia. The radar gun showed 93kph not very accurate, we were going at least 100!! The two uniforms were very polite, asking if we realised we were going a little fast, saying the fine was 50 bolivianos per bike (around Ä5) and that we would have to go back to the station with them to fill out the paperwork. We asked if it was possible to pay on the spot. Normally yes, they said, but they didnít have any receipts left Ė how convenient. The on the spot fine was only 30 bolis, we didnít have change of course and so produced U$6. They were happy with that and so off we went, a little slower of course.


Arriving in Sucre before the rain

Back in Sucre, at Nikkiís workshop, we had lots to do, got things repaired, cleaned and checked all the necessary. Met lots of interesting people there, got invited to see a chocolate factory and were told of a guy in Cochabamba who deals in old bikes and cars. That got Arno's attention and we had to then decide if we wanted to backtrack and visit him. Meantime, Marco and Cornel arrived, Africa Twin riders from Switzerland, who we had first bumped into, in La Paz. They were on their way to the Salar, so gave them our map and amongst other things told them where they could buy dynamite in Potosi.


Swiss riders Marco and Cornel leaving Sucre

Arno, was by now in old-timer fever and after a few phone-calls to Cochabamba he couldnít wait to leave!
Not to keen on riding the same bad road twice, we left the bikes in Sucre and took the bus. Yes we finally got to see the inside of a bus station. A night bus was the only option, saved us some time but it wasnít exactly very restful and we didnít get to see anything. What is the point of travelling if you never see any of the countryside?

Once in Cochabamba, we met up with Mike and were taken to see some of the bikes that have been collected from around the area. For once communication was no problem, we spoke German; his parents were German and he had worked in Germany for 8 years or so.
We were taken to one workshop where 3 or 4 guys were busy welding bike frames together inside, while outside stood at least 30 bikes, in differing states of decay. Some of the big names were there, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Harley, BSA, Indian, even an Ural with sidecar, but no BMWís. There were a couple of cars too, waiting for the restorers touch.


Objects of Arnoís affection

Back at his home, Mike showed us his treasures; an NSU Fox and an Indian from the twenties, both complete and running. He also had a couple of Indians in a crate, waiting for someone to put them back together again. Who would have thought there would be so many bikes like this in the poorest country in South America?


Mike with his Indian

Back in Sucre after another night on the bus, we picked up our bikes and headed back to Potosi, careful to stick to the speed limit this time. The town of Tupiza was next, as we rode south towards the Argentine border, the dirt road not half as bad as we had expected.

Posted by Sian Mackenzie at 05:31 PM GMT
December 20, 2003 GMT
Dragon at the border

Tupiza was a small town, we found only one hotel with parking, so it wasn't surprising to find a couple of bikes already there. The Africa Twins belonged to Claudio and Eduardo, from Santiago, on a 2 week holiday, heading towards Uyuni and the Salar. They were spending the next day riding around the area, but we were anxious to reach Argentina, so agreed to meet up again in Santiago.


Africa Twins from Santiago in Tupiza

Leaving Tupiza was another toll and police post. Here our papers were checked thoroughly for the first time in Bolivia. The road from Tupiza to the border, was a little more difficult than the previous day, more gravel and more corrugations. We met the grading machine after awhile and for a few kms afterwards the ride was a little smoother.


Waiting to get our papers back and to pay another toll.

Despite some carburettor problems with Arno's bike Ė for a change - we got to Villazon in time for lunch, stamped out of Bolivia, rode 10metres across the bridge and started the entry process for Argentina. Immigration done, we had to wait awhile for the aduana bod to come back from lunch.

Now lunch in Argentina is a long affair, luckily Bolivia is one hour behind, so we didnít have to wait too long. A constant stream of people crossing the bridge kept us amused for the first hour at least. After awhile, we realised that it was the same people, they would go over to the Argentinean side, load themselves up, cross back into Bolivia, then start the whole process again. They were carrying all sorts of things, sacks of cement or grain, crates of beer and soft drinks, boxes of groceries etc etc. It wasnít personal shopping, it seemed as if they were emptying a truck. Indeed, when we finally got across the border, we found out that was exactly what they were doing. Seems like the Bolivians donít want Argentinean trucks on their roads. Or is it that the Argentinean truckies donít want to ruin their nice trucks on Bolivian roads?

Eventually the lady from Aduana appeared, her lunch must have disagreed with her as she wasnít too happy about us wanting to bring the bikes into the country. She wanted to know where we had last left Argentina, and examined our passports trying to find the relevant stamp. Then marched off to consult with a colleague, came back and reluctantly said we could have 3 months, but then we had to return to our country of origin, she even wanted to know which hotel in BsAs we would be staying in.
The forms slowly typed up on an ancient typewriter, we then had the bikes inspected by 2 different officials before we could eventually enter the country. All the other Argentine borders have been speedy and friendly, but this was by far the worst border experience of our whole trip. So if you want to enter Argentina at Villazon, just beware the Aduana Dragon.

Our first night back in Argentina, we camped behind a fuel station, good for the budget and the tent which we haven't had a chance to use for awhile. The next day, riding to Salta, the landscape suddenly changed from dry dessert to lush green and between JuyJuy and Salta the fields were filled with lush green tobacco plants. We found the hostel that had been recommended to us, Terra Occulta, a great place with a garage for the bikes, where Arno could spend some time fiddling.
Cornel and Marco arrived a day later and we drank a few beers on the rooftop terrace and traded Salar stories.

After a couple of days, it was time to head south, decided to ride together for a couple of days and take the gravelled Ruta 40 towards Cafayete. Was a lovely ride through lush valleys along the river. The then road twisted up to a pass at 3000m before dropping down toward Cachi.


The Ruta 40 between Salta and Cachi Ė Easy!

Shortly before Cachi, the road was paved, and for 11kms or so, dead straight. This section was named TinTin, donít ask me why!


Arno at the beginning of Tin Tin

We camped in the tiny but lovely town of Cachi for one night, then on towards Cafayete. Marco and Cornel are much faster on the dirt than we are, well ok, than I am, so we started out a little earlier, knowing they would easily catch us up. The road for the first 50kms, was really narrow in places and we wondered if we had missed a turn-off. After the village of Molinos the road widened and passed through valleys filled with spectacular rock formations.


The road passes through weird rock formations.

Reached Cafayete in time for lunch and Arno and I decided to stay there. Cornel and Marco decided to keep riding as they needed to be in Santiago for Xmas. Found a nice hotel, then spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and doing some sampling. Most people come here to sample the wine, but we made do with the wine flavoured ice cream. Most of the Bodegas being closed over the weekend.

Chilecito was the next stop, had trouble finding accommodation, full, overpriced or with no parking. No-one seemed to know where the campsite was and the fuel stations were in the middle of town, so no camping there. For the first time, we checked out a hotel run by the ACA, the Argentine motoring club, which is supposed to recognise members from the British AA and the German ADAC. We did get the members discount, so checked in and were treated to all mod cons, cable tv and a pool, which of course we made the most of. Sometimes its hard to be a traveller!

Posted by Sian Mackenzie at 07:53 PM GMT

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