May 24, 2006 GMT
(6) Bolivia...El Camino Viejo

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.

El Fuerte.JPG

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 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 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.

New Church at Aiquile.JPG

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.

Dinosaur Tracks.JPG

My lovely guide was most accomodating and provided a personal tour.

Posted by Robert Bielesch at May 24, 2006 01:29 AM GMT

NEW! HU 2015 Motorcycle Adventure Travel Calendar is now available! Get your copy now for some terrific travel inspiration!

HUGE, 11.5 x 16.5 inches, beautifully printed in Germany on top quality stock! Photos are the winning images from over 600 entries in the 9th Annual HU Photo Contest!

Horizons Unlimited 2015 Motorcycle Adventure Travel Calendar.

"The calendar is magnificent!"

"I just wanted to say how much I'm loving the new, larger calendar!"

We share the profit with the winning photographers. YOU could be in the HU Calendar too - enter here!

HU DVD Autumn Special!

Take 40% off Road Heroes Part 1 until October 31 only!

Road Heroes features tales of adventure, joy and sheer terror by veteran travellers Peter and Kay Forwood (193 countries two-up on a Harley); Dr. Greg Frazier (5 times RTW); Tiffany Coates (RTW solo female); and Rene Cormier (University of Gravel Roads).

The first in an exciting new series, Road Heroes features tales of adventure, joy and sheer terror by veteran travellers."Inspiring and hilarious!"

"I loved watching this DVD!"

"Lots of amazing stories and even more amazing photographs, it's great fun and very inspirational."

"Wonderful entertainment!"

Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'HEROES' on your order when you checkout.

Renedian Adventures

Renedian Adventures

What others say about HU...

"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada

"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia

"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders

contest pic

10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!

What turns you on to motorcycle travel?

Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!

New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.

Books & DVDs


All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.

Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

Story and photos copyright ©

Sorry, you need a Javascript enabled browser to get the email address and dates. You can contact Horizons Unlimited at the link below. Please be sure to tell us WHICH blog writer you wish to contact.

All Rights Reserved.

Contact the author:

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!