May 16, 2006 GMT
(2) Bolivia: El Camino Nuevo

Cochabamba was nestled in a broad valley at 8500 ft. The climate was moderate; warm in the day and cool at night.

I had heard much about the "new" road to Santa Cruz. I had heard much about the "old" road to Santa Cruz. I decided to ride them both.

The new road was the tropical route. I had been hearing about it for years. It was on all of the maps, but we know that doesn't mean much.

I climbed to 13,500 ft. Even at this elevation the land was different than other high passes. This pass was fertile. The steep slopes were cultivated. There was also the remnants of an ancient forest that had not been totally harvested. This is now a protected area.

It was 165 km to Villa Tunari, a tropical village that was my destination. They said it would take 4 hours...it did!

Moving onward, I crested and started the long tortuous spiral downward. Sometimes the road was there...sometimes it wasn't...sometimes it hadn't been built yet...sometimes it was being built.

The lush greenery of the jungle rushed up to greet me. Flowers abounded. Tropical vegetation replaced the scrub grass and moss of the altiplano. The temperature soared and with it the humidity. I was surrounded by beauty and warmth and greenness and banana trees and fruit trees of every description.


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These people lived in a different dimension, a different time from those on the other side of the pass. Life, in its tropical simplicity became so much easier. Food was abundant, shelter easy and clothing barely necessary.

I scrubbed off 12,000 ft over the course of the next two hours. Traffic was heavy and traffic was light. Traffic was backed up. At one point the road was reduced to one lane for construction. I coasted along at 2 mph as the road was downhill. The meandering course and speed dictated by the many semi-trailer trucks in front of me...the single lane too narrow to pass on.

On my left was a concrete paving machine, it's auger full of drying cement...it's hopper empty, awaiting the next load. But there was no mixer truck in sight. I never met one as I descended deeper into the valley. I passed the concrete plant, but still no trucks. I wondered silently how many paving machines had been frozen by the very product they were designed to place.

I didn't realize how lucky I had been until I was relaxing in the evening and reviewed the day's happenings. The traffic up the mountain had been stopped to allow for our passage. The line-up was miles long...mostly heavy trucks. They would wait for hours for us to pass and then grind their way uphill for hours at 2-3 mph...much too slow for a motorcycle. Had I been going in the opposite direction my clutch would have been fried...my engine cooked...my nerves shot. As it was all I had to contend with was an hour of slow coasting. The timing had been right. I did not have to wait.


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At Villa Tunari a lovely room awaited me. But I had other things in mind. In the midst of a tropical garden I set up my tent. I couldn't wait to sleep under the stars in the fresh Amazon air, surrounded by a lushness that was foreign to me. The moon was full, the stars bright, the sky clear. What more could you ask for. I drifted off into a restful slumber.


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I had it in mind to ride to the Missiones Region north and east of Santa Cruz the next day. I could not find the road when I came to the junction. I asked everyone I thought might know. The map showed a road, but the answer was consistent..."go to Santa Cruz and take the new road from there."

I went to Santa Cruz. It was against my wishes because I longed for the tropical, aloneness of the outdoors. I was not ready for another city just yet. It would have been better on my return from the Missiones...but it was not to be.

The chaos of the city drove me nuts. With blocked streets, streets going nowhere and one-ways to HELL I "do-looped" my way around the centro until my bike and I were fried. Finally I just took the first hotel that had secure parking and checked in. I was frazzled...my plans reversed...my perfect day altered.


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Posted by Robert Bielesch at May 16, 2006 12:43 AM GMT
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