Samaipata will go down on our favourites list. We spend 5 days here enjoying the tranquil, peaceful surroundings.
The evening we arrive we find a bar and to our delight share the evening with fellow Aussie and former resident of Brisvegas, Kirsty. She and her husband Dave own and run the delightful “La Boheme” Bar on the main square. Kirsty is a Samaipatian enthusiast and gives us her take on the best food in town, which happens to be across the road at “La Cocina” run by 2 Istanbulians.. The food is a Mexican/Turkish fusion and although incredibly simple, it is amazing. After an absolute pig out we return to the Bar and finish the evening with another cleansing ale. We return to our yurt, climb the ladder to our bedroom and enjoy a long nights rest.
Skill in the bar at “La Boheme”
Each day we go to the markets, wander the streets, do our washing, sit in the sun and read, in the evenings we venture out to “La Boheme” to chat with the regulars and locals alike then being creatures of habit we usually eat at “La Cocina”, we can't seem to get our fill of their great fresh food.
We do have one small problem while in Samaipata, there is no automatic cash machine in town and the cash machine in the previous village doesn't like our card. Fortunately we can delve into our American dollar stash and change it in town.
The main square, Samaipata
On our last full day in Samaipata we ride the 10 km track out to El Fuerte, an ancient archaeological site. At the centre of this site is a huge sandstone monolith that has the most extraordinary abstract carvings along it's back. It is surrounded by many buildings, many of which are yet to be uncovered. It is believed to have been a meeting place and religious centre since 800 AD, for many different peoples including the Chane people, the Chiriguanos, and the Incas.
Fortunately it was a nice, cool overcast day, so we spent a good three hours just wandering the site by ourselves, a real treat.
Back to Samaipata for a great lunch before we venture off to the Mueseo Archeologico to look at some of the finds from El Fuerte and other local archaeological sites.
That evening we go out for a posh dinner before it is back to the local for a long, late night of cocktails and beers. It is fun to be amongst the Ex-pat and Santa Cruzian banter, however there is a rumour circulating that Bolivia is about to have a week or more of National Blockades, I guess we will see how it pans out.
Margaritas at “La Boheme” Bar
The next morning we have trouble getting going, we don't really want to leave this little oasis but leave we must. After a big bacon and egg breakfast we head out of town in the rain, despite the conditions it is a glorious ride and as we drop down off the mountain the rain stops and the temperatures warm up.
Skill enjoys his bacon and egg breakfast
Here is a link to short video clip of some of the ride.
We arrive on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, refuel with the 5 litre bottle, as previously mentioned fuel is an issue. Quite often they don't want to sell fuel to foreigners as there is so much paper work to fill out. We have learnt that 5 litres is the magic amount, so we have to stop at least every 100km to fill up the 5 litre container. We park the bike around the corner, Skill takes off his riding jacket and walks in with the jerry can, so far this has worked most times, but once again it makes for a long day when you have to stop at nearly every petrol station you see, just in case.
We also find a money machine and get money out for the first time in a month, then we high tail it out of Santa Cruz (Population 1.5 million), thank goodness for Carmen's directions (Carmen the Garmin - GPS) as there is not one single sign to anywhere, we find our way onto the ring road, a 5 litre refuel again, and then another at the next gas station, and finally we are on our way. It is a slow ride to Buena Vista as there are countless chaotic market towns to negotiate. We arrive just before dark, manage to find a cute little place after checking out three dodgy hotels. They open up the doors and insist we ride the bike through the dining room out into the courtyard.
Hostal in Buena Vista
We are unpacked, showered, and out for pepper steak dinner before 7.00pm. Later in the evening we sit in the courtyard, have a cleansing ale and admire the hostel's colourful free roaming pet Macau.
Next morning we have an empanada and coffee breakfast on the square before getting the bike out via the dining room, we are packed up and ready to roll by 10.00am, all we need now is fuel. This is a bit of a problem as the service station is out of fuel, we eventually track down a private seller and we can now leave.
Riding the bike through the dining room
The hunt for that elusive Bolivian fuel
Not far out of town we are stopped for our first police check in Bolivia, a very, young policeman asks for “Documentos”. “Que documentos?” Skill asks. “Hmmmmm, hmmmmm, hmmmmm”, was the response. Eventually he asks for pasaporte and moto documentos which Skill hands over. He peruses them for a good 3 or 4 minutes turning them over and over and over, then indicates for us to pull over, off the road. At this point, Skill tells me to get off the bike and follow him. I say in my pathetic Spanish “Documentos bueno” and intimate for him to give them back. He is still not convinced so I say, “Immigracion OK, Aduana OK. Bueno”. Then take the documents from him. He reluctantly returns them. At this point I say “Gracias Senor” Chao!” and we make a hasty exit . Not sure if he was out for a bribe or the poor young sole couldn't read, even though the temporary import document is in Spanish. Either way we take our leave and move on.
The road to Villa Tunari is an amazing ride through the Eastern lowlands, part of the headwaters of Amazon basin with huge rivers and jungle like vegetation, and a hot tropical climate.
Fuel seems to be a bit of an issue in this area, that is, there is none, so after playing the 5 litre fuel game a couple of times we arrive in Villa Tunari around 3.00 pm, we are hot, sweaty and the bike is playing up, yet again. Although it is only a 160km to Cochabamba it is a long slow 4 hour ride up over the mountains, so we decide we will stay put. After one hotel declines to let us park in their enclosed parking area as they have workman parked there, we cross the road and stay in the very old San Martin Hotel. They have no problem with us parking in their yard, and while the room is dodgy as, the views are quite stunning.
The grounds of San Martin Hotel
After a quick dip in the pool (it's the first time we have been warm enough to swim since we were at John & Annette's finca in Argentina!) we relax with a book then Skill manages to find a beer and some street food to quell our hunger, we enjoy a pleasant warm, afternoon pool side.
After yet another dodgy breakfast we hit the road not knowing what the day will bring, fortunately the travel Gods are being kind and there are no blockades. There are however 100s of trucks all doing 10km an hour up over the mountain pass, it is a painstakingly slow ride. Not only do you have to watch for oncoming traffic you also have to watch for the micro buses who tailgate you and overtake us and the trucks on blind corners.
At one point we are overtaken by 4 Brazilian plated bikes, they give us a friendly wave and speed on ahead of us, we are not quite as courageous?? as them in our overtaking manoeuvres. About an hour later on the descent into Cochabamba we see the Brazilian guys stopped for a break so we also stop for a chat. They ask us all sorts of questions about our travels but mainly they want to know about the road conditions in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, we give our road report, take a group photo and continue on.
A stop with the Brazilian Motorcyclists
We arrive back in Cochabamba, call in to to see the Rowdens, have lunch and head into the city. We mange to find the Hotel Gina but as it does not have parking we park the bike in a paid secure parking area around the corner. Of course as usual we are on the top floor so after we have lugged everything up 2 flights of steps we are stuffed.
We spend the next 3 days in Cochabamba, taking in the sites and walking the streets of this modern metropolitan city, we are in food overload, Japanese one night, Mexican the next and of course the local food as well.
At lunch time we usually head out for a local “menu del dia”. On one such day we have lunch and also get the street guys to wash and polish the bike (just in front of our restaurant table), the bike is absolutely filthy from the ride to Santa Cruz.
The bike gets a bath while we have lunch
Cochabamba's claim to fame is it's giant Cristo de las Concordia, modelled on the one in Rio but is slightly taller, we catch the teleferico (cable car) up and take the obligatory photos of the giant Cristo and of course views back over the smoggy city.
Lan and Skill in the Teleferico
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
That afternoon Cory calls in to the hotel and invites us to spend the weekend with them at a small cabin on a Lake just outside Cochabamba. We get ourselves organised and the following afternoon follow them out to the Lake. We enjoy a tranquil afternoon with Paolo, Cory and the boys, walking the Lake, canoeing and that night sit around the fire, under a perfect starry sky. The Southern Cross constellation is there in all it's glory. Thoughts turn to home, family and friends.
Canoing on the lake.
The following morning, Kate, Nathan and their four children join us, we now have 6 adults and 7 children under 7. We move into our tent in the back garden, the best place to be according to Cory.
Some of our fondest memories of Bolivia will be the time we spent with these families.
Dinner with the kids
Next day we try to get away at a reasonable hour, say very sad, fond farewells and get on the road to La Paz, it is Sunday and we are hopeful the blockaders will be on days off.
We refuel twice before leaving Cochabamba and with Cory's perfect directions get out of town with ease. We then retrace our path over the mountains to Caracollo (near Oruro) and then it is a very cold 193km ride to La Paz. There are road works everywhere and the dark, black sky is threatening to rain. We stop for fuel, a banana lunch, and don the wet weather gear.
Continuing on we ride straight into a storm, it was so cold that the rain was turning to snow and hail, fortunately it only lasted for 10 minutes then we popped back into the sunshine. We arrived in El Alto (the city that surrounds La Paz) and because we had GPS coordinates for the Hotel Sucre in La Paz we followed Carmen's (Carmen the Garmin GPS) directions. BIG MISTAKE!!! She is a bloody cow and directed us straight through the huge market area of El Alto, I cannot describe the chaos of animals, trucks, taxis, buses, people and us on bike bigger than the space shuttle. Sheer Lunacy. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
By some miracle we got out of the market area and with no idea of how we did it, we get on the toll road into La Paz. Once we did that Carmen did a great job of getting us straight to the Hostel which is on Plaza Sucre, right in the city centre. It has been a long seven hour day with only fuel stops, and we are very tired. Although Residencial Sucre is quite old, it is spotlessly clean and it is a bike friendly hostel, they even have a specially made ramp to get you into the building. The owners are lovely and tell us to relax, get ourselves sorted, have a shower and register when we are ready, just what we need to hear. We follow their advice and that evening head out for an Indian Curry, our first in over 7 months. Did I happen to mention, we love Bolivia.
La Paz and Residencial Sucre is to become our home for the next 6 days. Unfortunately during these 6 days, protests and blockades become more intense and the main El Prado and other roads into La Paz are blocked off. Finding your way into and out of the city is a lesson in supreme patience. However late one evening we are joined by Alex and Anya two beautiful, young Polish motorcyclists, there are now 4 bikes in the foyer of the hostel. The other bike belongs to Hans a Swiss RTW motorcyclist who we also met briefly in Cochabamba.
Bikes parked in the foyer of Residencial Sucre
We are very lucky Residencial Sucre is in a great central position, with sites, parks and food places all around. We are on Plaza Sucre, across from the famous San Pedro Prison. There are no guards, the prison is controlled by the prisoners who work to pay for the cells, those with money can live in quite luxurious accommodation while those without income live in the hallways and struggle to survive on the official rations. The prison is a village in its own right, complete with shops, restaurants, billiards halls and even a creche as prisoners families live with them. It is a tourist attraction in itself, there are even unofficial tours of the place, but we didn't try it out. I guess for the prisoners it is better to have shelter than to have to sleep on the streets.
Every day we are in La Paz there are blockades and demonstrations, usually starting at 9.00 in the morning and finishing around 6.00pm. On Tuesday and Wednesday in particular the protests pick up and there are dynamite blasts all day................ yes they protest by letting off dynamite, which you can buy in the markets.
We stay in La Paz for 6 days partly because of the protests and still didn't get to see one of the main squares near the presidential palace and parliament as that is where the main protests were taking place and although we walked all over the city, we avoided the main protest areas for obvious reasons, did I mention the dynamite!! As far as we know it was the public servants who were protesting for a pay rise, but there could have been more people involved, who knows, truck drivers, miners, butchers, bakers???????
There is nothing unusual about protests and blockades in Bolivia, it is part of their daily lives, people are used to it, but having said that, people were slightly tetchy. While we were having a coffee in a very Western style cafe, the protesters started to march along the street outside complete with fire crackers (no dynamite thankfully), the staff locked the front doors until they had thoroughly checked out the situation.
Then while we were out walking and I was trying to get a video off the protests from a distance a lovely older lady who spoke English started to talk to us. She said “Please don't go any further, we never know what will happen, people are going crazy” She then gave us her thoughts “This is not my Bolivia, it is very sad.”
However when all is said and done we loved Bolivia, it is the most amazing place. I don't think I have ever been to a country where there is such a juxtaposition between ancient cultures and modernity. One day as I was walking up an alleyway in the Witches Market I was following two ladies, one dressed in traditional Bolivian dress complete with flared skirt and bowler hat, carrying her wares on her back and the other was dressed in a Prado suit, walking in 6 inch heels (I don't know how this is possible on the streets of La Paz) carrying a Gucci Handbag. And it is not just in the capital that you see these stark differences it is all over the country. On one side of the road you will see expensive homes with 4WDs parked in the driveway and on the other you will see a family eeking out an existence in a one room mud adobe hut and a donkey in the driveway. I guess it is these social/economic differences that lead to the social unrest.
La Paz is a great city, very exotic and authentic but with enough Western influence to have great restaurants, bars etc. There aren't a lot of sites to see, but just wandering the streets is an experience in itself.
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz - Llama foetuses in Mercado de Hechiceria
On our fifth day in La Paz we decide we will ride to Coroico, we are up at 6.30 am and on the bike by 7.45am to get out of La Paz before the blockaders start, the lovely owner of the hostel has given us directions of how to get onto the road to Coroico. We negotiate this easily and are soon on the open road. The plan is to ride to Coroico, have lunch then ride the so-called 'death road' back to La Paz. This road was once named the worlds most dangerous road, but nowadays most of the traffic uses the new asphalt road so it's not quite as dangerous any more, well apart from hundreds of mountain bikers and the occasional motorcyclist crossing paths.
Unfortunately only a short way out of La Paz on the new road we are greeted by snow, ice and wind, and the conditions were getting worse and more slippery the further we pushed on. In the end after a couple of nasty slides, we made the decision that we should turn around and it was back to La Paz.
The road to Coroico
The road to Coroico
The road to Coroico
Snow covered Llamas on the road to Coroico
Skill was really disappointed that we missed out on this spectacular road, but it really was getting dangerous as he couldn't see a thing through his helmet in the rain/snow/white-out and it was so slippery. There was also a chance of being cut off with more snow falling and all our gear was back in the hostel in La Paz so we thought it best to play it safe and return while we could. It continued to rain in in La Paz for the next few days so I guess it was still snowing in the mountains.
On Friday afternoon as we are having some internet time we get an email from Cory and Paolo explaining that it looks as if the blockades are going to get worse.
“Things are going to get a lot worse...on Monday the highways out of La Paz will be heavily blocked by people coming from the rural areas...they are coming to march against the union members that have been causing all these strikes...Don't want to worry you...and it could well be that you may already be out....but please please go this weekend.”
We heed their advice, when the locals are telling you it is time to go it is time to go. It could all have blown over and been political propaganda but it could also get violent and I guess that is why Paolo wanted us out. As we said blockades and social unrest are part of Bolivian culture, you just have to accept the situation. We never felt unsafe or threatened, it just made travelling on the bike a little uncertain, you never know what the day will bring, all part of the adventure.
On Saturday, with heavy hearts, we leave La Paz at about 9.00 am as we had to change all our Bolivianos that we had got out the day before into US dollars and Peruvian Sol. It took us close on two hours to get out of the city as their were protesters (not blockaders) and all the traffic was being diverted which is fine if you know La Paz (there are about two road signs in La Paz). The poor old bike was so hot and the clutch was taking a caning on the steep, traffic jammed streets. Once we were on the open road we headed to the border but not before riding through a big rain storm, it was very cold, but thankfully only lasted about half an hour.
Storm building on the way to the Bolivian/Peruvian border
We got to the border at 12.15 and were processed by immigration really quickly which we were grateful for as we knew the Aduana (Customs for the bike, we need to hand in our temporary import paper) shut at 1.00pm. Wrong the Aduana was shut at 12.30 and by 2.30 pm was still not open. By this time we were joined by a Chilean and 2 Argentinian motorcyclists. Everyone was getting extremely tetchy and after speaking to several people (thank goodness for the Spanish speakers) the authorities told us that they didn't know where the Aduana guys were and we should go out to the truck aduana on the outskirts of town. This we did and the guy took our papers and we left within 5 minutes of arriving. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By this time it is getting on for 3.00pm. We get to the Peruvian side and are through immigration in less than 10 minutes and head to Aduana............................ well they can't seem to find the Chilean guys make of Chinese motorcycle on the computer and the only available Aduana officer doesn't seem to know how to use a computer but he persists and persists...., to cut a long story short we are processed over an hour later.
Welcome to Peru
While waiting and waiting and waiting, I watch the locals pushing loads of goods between the two countries. I discover I still have some Bolivian coins so give it to this young mother who has been pushing loads of bricks between the borders for the past hour.
A young mother
We then change money, get fuel and head towards Puno, it is now just after 4.30pm.
Getting fuel at the Peruvian border
We have a lovely ride by the shores of Lake Titicaca, but about 20 minutes before our destination it rains again. We are heading to Puno but have the GPS co-ordinates for a hotel in a little town Chucuito, just before Puno, and as it is wet, late and getting dark we opt for this place. It is quite cute, the room is clean and there are promises of hot water. We stay and Skill goes to check the town out, he comes back and says, “you are not going to believe this but there is not one single restaurant open”. Neither of us really care, he has managed to find red wine and chips. We always carry emergency food, and we have a left over can of beer, crackers, cheese and tomato so that is entree, then we have a bit of pasta cooked on the camp stove in the bathroom. Finally, a cup of tea and chocolate for dessert. NO WONDER THE TOP BOX IS SO BLOODY HEAVY.
We have a tepid shower and go to bed, once in bed there is absolutely no chance of either of us moving, we are pinned to the bed as the 3 blankets are so heavy but thankfully, also very warm. We are absolutely exhausted, but also happy as there is a huge thunder and lightning storm over Lake Titicaca. And because we have a tin roof and skylight in the bathroom, we can go to sleep listening to rain on the roof and watching the lightning display through the skylight. Welcome to Peru!
The main square of Chucuito, 15 restaurants and not one open.
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