The Surazo can hang around for days or weeks. There is no telling.
Saturday was a wet and miserable day, the temperature barely above 10C. A good day for a movie...The da Vinci Code. Interesting, perhaps a little melodramatic, but a good distraction.
Sunday dawned overcast and cold, but no rain. I made a break for it. I knew that somewhere to the west the Surazo would run out of gas and blue skies would return.
I headed west on El Camino Viejo. I had heard much about this highway, mostly bad. Could it be true? My friends in Conception warned me it was a dangerous highway. I thought of robbers, guns and knives. They thought of land slides, wash outs and unpaved sections. I went to find out.
The first half was incredible...a road and a river sharing a narrow, deep canyon. The pavement was flawless and dry. The air cool. My destination was Samiapata, normally a weekend tropical retreat area for the Santa Cruzianos. But, on this weekend I had the place to myself. Of course there were a few obstacles...
Near Samiapata was the pre-Inca ruin named El Fuerte by the Spanish since they thought it was used as a defensive site. It was most likely a religious ceremonial site, carved into the top of a mountain. Without the benefit of mind altering drugs to enter the induced hallucinagenic state enjoyed by von Daniken, I failed to encounter any extra-terrestials or their craft.
Beyond Samiapata the road began to leave the valley and climb the pass. As the ascent began, the pavement ceased. It turns out the "Old Highway" has never been finished either. This section which lasted for the duration of the ascent and the descent, a distance of about 100 km, was finished in the brain rattling, mind numbing, suspension breaking roughest of all finishes...pit run.
At 10,000 feet the temperature plummetted to 9C and I had entered the zone of the neblina (the fog). Visibility was reduced to a few feet and the inspiring views that should have greeted me disappeared into the mist. Villages abounded in this high altitude region and in my zero visibility state I could only wonder why anyone would live in this godforsaken place. As I crested and moved down the other side, I moved beyond the fog. Then I could soon see why. The mountains had been farmed to their peaks. The fertile, steep slopes cleared and cropped much as they were in Ecuador and Central America. The concept of terracing not used...the near vertical slopes simply cropped and harvested as nature had built them.
Near the bottom of the descent, the road became maintained gravel with intermittent pavement proving that at one time this side had been paved. I watched my GPS for my turnoff but it was deceptive. All along the route the GPS had tracked the road to the pixel. Now that I really need it, it was an inch off of the mark. A tiny sign not much larger than a knee-cap alerted me to my intersection. But it just didn't make sense. I spotted a service station and gased up. This inconspicuous little town was Izacara, the thriving truck stop and junction that I had been looking for. No wonder I didn't recognize it...it was a one horse town...but it was still the primary junction to Sucre, the proclaimed most beautiful city in all of Bolivia. It was hard to tell from where I was standing.
I made the turn. A cobblestone road greeted me. A dual carriageway extending into the distance. Polished smooth by centuries of traffic, there is a slickness in a cobblestone road like no other. Dry it is doable, but wet it is unforgiving. Today was a dry day.
This cobblestone road would lead me through hills and valleys, over mountains and back down again. It would last for 100 km, all the way to Aiquile. The surface was flawless...as good as cobblestone can be. The stones mostly hand sized. The manhours...the man years required to build it were incalculable.
I hate cobblestone roads. They are only a few steps better than pitrun. Idling along in 3rd gear was a reasonable speed...a mere 60 km/hr. I was glad when it came to an end at Aiquile. It was replaced by what I call a fast gravel road. I skimmed along a 80 kmph. A dust cloud of epic proportions followed me. They said it would take me four hours to go from Aiquile to Sucre. I was there in less than two.
Out in the middle of nowhere I encountered a toll booth. On this dusty, miserable road I could not imagine they would be charging a toll. I argued with the money changer that motorcycles were free in Bolivia. He disagreed. Reluctantly I paid the toll...50 cents. Hey, you have to try. It is part of the game.
Around the corner and across the bridge I had my answer. As I exited the bridge I came across a brand new concrete highway leading to Sucre. What a pleasant surprise. It wound its way along the broad river, up the valley and over the mountains. What an incredible ride made all the better by a superb roadway. Well worth the 50 cents any day.
In fact the entire ride from Santa Cruz to Sucre will remain one of my all time favorites, simply because of the variety of road surfaces and total transitional environment. I had moved from tropical, to tropical transitional, to montane, to desert and on to altiplano where Sucre was situated...back at 9,000 ft.
Entry to Sucre from this direction, takes you right past the limestone mine where they quarried the rock for cement. Embedded in the upthrust plate was a massive accumulation of dinosaur tracks...over 5,000 in total. I stopped for a visit. They have named the site Cal Orcko.
Now, located in an almost vertical position, due to the upthrust, originally the tracks were on a flat mud plain.
My lovely guide was most accomodating and provided a personal tour.
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