(5) Bolivia: Conception to Santa Cruz
The Missiones circuit...
At Conception I lodged at the Hotel Etayo. I was their only guest. They welcomed me into their family as one of their own. I had planned to stay one day and ended up staying for three. We shared stories and traded lifestyles. Fernando had learned English in the United States...Ohio. We talked well into the evening. Born in 1950, he was the same age as me. He had moved to Conception to start a new life and to raise his family.
His young son, Matthew, became enamoured with my camera. Initially camera shy he became fascinated with the magic of the silver box. It had pictures of him, and more...it had pictures of macaws, motos, monos (monkeys), llamas, vicunas and many wonderful things he had not seen before.
But he still remained shy of me. I think it was the beard. When pressed as to whether I could be his friend, he was insistent. "No, I was too old to be his friend." He liked me, but I could not be his friend.
I left Conception and began backtracking to Santa Cruz. The day gradually cooled as I moved south to the city. A Surazo was blowing into town. I had hoped I could escape Santa Cruz without this experience but I guess not. The Surazo is a cold wind that blows into this area from the Argentinian Patagonia. The temperature dropped from the 30's C to the low teens...and with it came the rains.
We lined up at the one-way entrance to the "Train Track Bridge From Hell." It had been raining; the polished boards on either side of the tracks slickened to the consistency of ice.
I was in pole position...everyone behind me itching to pass the gringo on this narrow trestle. The slickened boards sometimes placed with a 2"-3" gap along their length...bigger gaps where they should have butted together...sometimes missing. They were a challenge when they were dry, never mind now.
I caught an edge and it threw me to the outside railing. I recovered only to hit a too large gap that grabbed the tire and tried to spin me sideways. Again, I somehow reovered and continued...the bridge too long to expect continued miracles as I worked my way along its 1km length.
More gaps; sideways; my foot shot out to kick the bike back upright. The train tracks in the middle gave me only a 4 ft margin to work with. Suddenly the bike felt ponderous, way too heavy, incapable of going the distance without a crash. The taxi driver on my tail, nudging me to my doom.
I accelerated out of his range. A board was missing. I narrowly averted disaster. Glancing upward, away from the track directly in front of me, I could see the end of the bridge. The criss-cross pattern of the bridge started to diverge instead of converge. It was a race against time. Could I make it before my luck ran out?
The boards became smoother...the gaps narrower and then I was at the end. But, I could not exit. I was on the right hand side of the tracks. The exit road was on the left hand side of the tracks. I could not cross the 6" high rail.
I bumped my front tire against it and it skidded along. Wet and slippery, it could not grip the rail to climb it. I tried again and almost fell. The impatient traffic stacked up behind me now. I moved off of the bridge and bounced along the ties. The situation did not change. I now only had a 3 ft verge before the rail bed dropped off into a deep ditch...the 3" ballast difficult to negotiate. I was being pushed to the outside...closer to the edge. I couldn't go back.
Ahead of me the tracks split creating another barrier. I cursed the rain, the tracks and the goddam taxi drivers. The only option I had was to ride down the steep, rain soaked, mud embankment hoping it was firm enough to support me. Once at the bottom I would have to turn around and pull a 1/2 Steve McQueen.
I looked around. That was my only option. The crowd lined up for the show.
The sticky, clayey mud balled up on my tires. I twisted the throttle and did a quick 180 turn as the back wheel spun in the mud. I paused 10 seconds to ponder the steep ramp in front of me. I could not see the tracks from here, but I knew where they were.
I had but one chance. If I spun out I was done. Too much speed and I would break something crossing the tracks. If I did not hit them perpendicular I would crash.
I twisted the throttle and released the clutch. A rooster tail of mud and rocks flew skyward behind me. I accelerated up the embankment and then "shut it down." The front wheel hit the rail hard enough to clear it. As the suspension compressed the rail hit the underside of the bike with a "clang." I jumped the second rail... clang...and then I was done. I merged into the lineup and accelerated the hell away from there. I didnīt bother to look back...my vision firmly fixed on the road ahead...the future and not the past.
It started to rain hard. I could see it coming as the sheets descended onto the highway just ahead. I did a "Right Turn Clyde" into a garage, to suit up. I was followed by a flock of chickens and a bicyclist. We joined the moto taxi already there. The owner watched patiently as his shop filled with non-paying customers.
I rode off minutes later as the burst dissipated, slowed to a gentle rain. I had better places in mind to spend my day.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at May 20, 2006 09:39 PM GMT