Bolivia
November 18, 2006 GMT
Bolivia Bolivia

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Road to Cochabamba

What do you do when three giggling young girls hastily converge upon you in Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre? Gripped with terror and not knowing which way to turn, I gasped, finding the scene far too alien.

What do they want and why are they so happy ot see me? And why, with my dishevelled appearance of faded jeans and shabby hair-doo, do three attractive Latino girls pour over me with big brown fluttering eyes?

I was not going to complain, though the innocent truth was this over dose of attention was merely that I was the new subject of a tourism survey.

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Police bike - Sucre

Do you like Bolivia? Do you like Sucre? What can be done to make it better for the tourist? A barrage of questions ensued and yet all in all, and though Grant loathes attention, it seems on that particular occasion not all that difficult for him to take.

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Border - Peru

Desequadero is one town, bisected by the border of Peru and Bolivia. Neither the Peruvian or Bolivian side promise a comfortable time for the visitor. They do however enjoy a beautiful location on the southern banks of Lago Titicaca.

BORDER CROSSING

Peru
* Go to the Migration building and have passport stamped out of Peru;
* Cross the street to Aduana and return the Temporary Import Papers;
* Fight your way through an infinite number of pedestrians, tricycle taxis, farmers carrying bundles of potatoes, onions, etc etc etc and cross the bridge into Bolivia.

Bolivia
* Go to Aduana and clear customs for the bike and organise the temporary import - this must be done first;
* Go to Migration for entrance stamps;
* Find your way out of town navigating the narrow over crowded unpaved streets.

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Border - Bolivia

Riding over the bumpy stretch of dirt towards, what appeared to be, a narrow strip of ashfalt and our destinaton of La Paz, Grant notes to Jules that the climate in Deseguadero is warmer than in Puno, due to the lower altitude. Both towns incidentally sit on the banks of Lago Titicaca.

We continue for perhaps a minute when Jules altitude weary brain catches up with her blonde hair, she raises her helmet visor to the buffeting winds and states "But if Puno is on Lago Titicaca and Deseguadero is too, wouldn't that make them......."

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Mountains - Road to La Paz

Mother Nature obviously does not read the travel guide books, the wet season is supposed to start in December. Why then, in early November, were we being slowly drenched by the thunderous storm raging down from the snow capped mountains?

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Jules in La Paz

We enjoyed our brief stay in La Paz in the high suburb of El Alto near the airport, finding cheap, clean and comfortable accommodation with 'lobby' parking for Miss Piggy.

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La Paz

La Paz enjoys a stunning location with astounding views to the nearby mountains. It is, however, yet another over crowded and disorganised Latin American city that seems to function beyond logic!

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Outside the hotel entrance - La Paz

Our journey to Potosi was a long and hard days ride. The high Alto Plano from La Paz to Orouro was uninteresting, straight and very cold. The odd shower did not help our mood.

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River scene

Concerned about travelling on Bolivias 60% unpaved roads (with the term 'road' being often an exagerated description of what is on offer) we asked the locals about the condition of the careterra. 'Todos pista' 'All paved' they said, our map said different, not convinced we headed off.

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Canyon

The fully paved road wound its way gently through some of the prettiest country. 'Canyons in the making', Jules described one scene. Stopping often to admire the view we eventually arrived in Potosi at 7:00pm.

Potosi is famous for being the highest city of its size in the world at almost 4,200 meters. It was also the largest city in the Americas for many years due to the enormous deposits of silver that were prominent in the area. The term 'Potosi' has been used for many years in Spain to describe anything of great wealth!

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Grant and Piggy overlooking Potosi

Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, relaxed, inviting, nice restaurants and a beautiful central park surrounded by traditional Spanish Colonial buildings all painted white with little balconies full of colourful potted geraniums.

The road leading into Sucre reminded us of the area around the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, so much that we both suffered a few pangs of home sickness.

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Torata

In 11 days we came across one portion of dirt road. It was the main trunk from Sucre to Cochabamba. After three days of heavy rain we were reluctant to go. The locals warned us to take care but it should be ok. From Puente Arce the pavement ends and dirt begins. We stopped for a big bowl of soup and to steel our nerves for what lay ahead and accepted more warnings to take care before we headed out.

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Main Trunk Road to Cochabamba

The road had dried out considerably since the rains, and evidence of the damage was clearly visible in parts with large wash outs turning the road to a crumbling mess made worse by heavy vehicles.

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Rain Damage

The V-Strom is an excellent compromise bike. Each time we take Piggy onto a road of dubious condition she proves herself competently. However, the constant corregrations sheared a bold in the main strut of the pannier frame. Discovered early and repaired we had no more trouble.

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Settlement

We took our time. The scenery was beautiful, dotted with small settlements and farms the road navigated a river and before we knew it we had traversed the 150km's of dirt with the road winding its way up through the mountians as finally cobblestone. We prefered the dirt! The round cobblestones were very slippery and the surface corregated, often old land slide damage would cover the width of the road so that it was kind of like riding over a dirty river bed. All in all 300 kilometers was covered and quite easily in a day.

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Farm

Leaving Cochabamba in heavy fog and drizzle we descended the Andes for the low lands and the Amazonia region of Bolivia.

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Fog

The wet road was steep and the many 'Curvas Peligrosas' signs were barely visible in the pea-souper. When the fog did clear, the most startling sight was the thick lush tropical vegetation covering the slopes of the mountains, this within 40kms from the pampas of the Alto Plano.

We were informed it would take five hours (mas menos) to reach Santa Cruz from Cochabamba. After an hour of riding in precarious conditions we came upon a long line of stopped vehicles. We filtered through the frustrated busses, trucks and cars hooting thier horns and waving their hands in dispair. After an hour we reached the front of the line and the cause of the hold up.... Road Works.

We became very apprehensive, waiting for 45 minutes while we were slowly shunted into an ever decreasing space by the larger vehicles.

For two hours we slowly rode over the slippery mud covered concrete, cobbletones and dirt while other travellers took great risks overtaking and speeding on the steep slippery road works.

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Bog

Eventually, after four hours entangled in the road works, every thing finally cleared. We passed kilometers of vehicles parked waiting to go up in the other direction. Obviously this has been an ongoing situation as many local people had set up stalls selling snacks, drinks and even some selling meals, also there were permanent camps erected for the road workers.

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Valley Scene

This has been one of the most dangerous situations we have encountered in our journey to date. By the time we hit the low lands we were hungry and tired, all we wanted to do was stop for the day. So we did, with still 5 hours journey to Santa Cruz.

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The road where we are going...... bit steep!

The band palyed Cole Porters 'Night and Day' as we sipped our long cool gin and tonics in the trendy cafe overlooking the plaza.

Santa Cruz is so different to ther rest of Bolivia. It is a modern western style city filled with classy restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs. Designer clothes stores, perfumeries and jewelery shops line the streets. It is relaxed and the climate very warm.

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Santa Cruz

The shady, cool Central Plaza is a hive of activity, children playing and laughing under the watchful eye of parents, juice sellers, doctors offering free diabetes checks, photographers co-ercing families into portraits with the cathederal as the back ground. Young people sell bags of corn to feed the pigeons. People come from mass while tourists visit the church. Couples stroll hand in hand or sit contentedly on a bench. It is such a great place to while away the day, people watch and relax after a few days hard ride.

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Blue Cemetery - Near Santa Cruz

Bolivia is surprising. Whilst, as in Australia, you can find some seriously 'feo' roads, they are not your only option, in fact, you can travel most of Bolivia on tarmac, however some of the best country, no doubt, is accessible only by dirt. It all depends on your priorities.

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Lake - Amazonia Bolivia


Posted by Grant Guerin at 04:40 PM GMT
 



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