Bolivia El Mejor
The worlds most dangerous road!!! Naarrrr the M1 is more dangerous on friday rush hour.
We survived it but we didn’t get the t-shirt, (you have to do it on mountain bike to get one of those.) There is no doubt though that it’s a pretty spectacular road , 70km of single track road that hugs the mountainside from 4200m to 1200m, giving way to 200m drops to the jungle floor below.
Easy, just dont ride off the edge!
Riding the first part in the rain and fog helped the vertigo problem as there was no guessing how far you’d go if you didn’t make a corner. This happens a lot apparently as numerous memorials and crosses marked the tricky corners and acted as a good reminder to brake well in time for them. Half way down and the mist lifted and the full extent of its danger then became aparent, it was not easy trying to watch the road while catch a glimpse of the fantastic views of the Yungas below. We rode into the sub tropical climate of Coroico three hours later ‘thankful to be alive’ and straight into an awaiting hotel with pool that our fellow biker friend Jon had booked us into.
Two days in this quite relaxing paradise was not enough ,but the dirt roads were inticing us to move on. Besides Oz had become too friendly (yet again) with the local wildlife and it was time to leave before things got complicated.
"Yes I know........I feel the same way about you too"
The next three days we dirt bashed our way through the Yungas riding everything that came at us, sand, rocks, rivers and percaroius bridge crossings but the going was very slow.
Oz loving it, Jon hating it!
On the first day we only clocked 50km before we had to stop because Oz’s bike rack broke. I too was suffering the effects of my first low speed crash into a ditch and the joys of mud ruts and Jon, well he was just suffering full stop.
Opps I did it again!
He bailed the next day and rode back to La Paz in search of pavement. We promised to meet futher down the road in Cochabamba but not to be deterred Oz and I continued on with our first off road adventure. This is what we´d come for ..right!!
The next day we were flying, no crashes no drops and a total of 160km covered. Mind you we didn’t stop riding, desperate to make the town of Quime before sunset. I lost count how many switch backs we rode, how many mountain passes we crossed but the riding was amazing. We passed through several remote villages were you can’t for the hell of you think what they do there all day. Just hang out is the conclusion we came to but they were always friendly and helpful, giving us directions.
Can't beat a dust map
Local transport equiped with the latest security. Thorn bush on seat!
The night we spent in Ouime still remains one of my highlights of Bolivia. We slid into this muddy little ram-shackled town after dusk in the pouring rain, tired and weary from 8 hours riding. Camping was out of the question and the only hotel was up this muddy road that had been dug up and was virtually impassable. In our vain attempts to negotiate the deep puddles and dug up cobbles to the hotel a crowd gathered around us. My initial reaction was they were all waiting to be entertained and were hoping I’d drop the bike, but instead they all tried to help. Some pushed, some offered alternative routes and one little old lady even offered us a room in her house. The people were overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable and maybe even curious why tourists were visiting their little town. We spent a wonderful evening eating and drinking at a little street vendor, under a corrugated roof out of the rain, talking to the family that ran it. Even with our very bad Spanish we were able to learn something about their lives and after various photos, gifts and exchanges of addresses we were the best of friends. I was truly touched by their warmth and generosity. The next morning we ate breakfast with them and said our farewells promising to send copies of the photos. Before we left we dropped the son off at his school and Oz rode him into the playground. I think we might possibly have made his day by the reaction of his class mates!!!
Fresh snow and a mountain pass, what we had come here for.
We soon left the warmth and greenness of the Yungus behind as we climbed back up onto the altiplano on our way back to tarmac. The contrast in environments in Bolivia is incredible and still continues to impress us. Within the space of three days we’d ridden in the cold bleakness of the altiplano, the subtropics, jungle, eucalyptus forest and now we were back surrounded by snow peaked mountains, while riding on the wackiest red roads. The night before we crossed the pass it had snowed and the whole pass was covered. Add to that llamas grazing by the road as we rode by and you can start to imagine how amazing Bolivia was turning out to be.
The redest road we have ever seen.
Our first big offroad adventure over we were glad to get back to the rare (in Bolivia) blacktop. The riding would be much more relaxing and less stressfull, well that is until you run into a roadblock full of protesting miners. Roadblocks in Bolivia are pretty common events. When the people have a grievance the first thing they do is block the roads. Now if you are lucky the novelty value of seeing gringos turn up on a big bikes is enough to get you through. You feel bad cruising past the miles of parked up trucks and cars but heh if they are going to let you through what the hell. It certainly beats hours of sitting in the sun or retracing your steps to the nearest next town. We got lucky at the first blockade, passe no problema. What I did not bank on was the trucks full of miners behind the first vehicle who had just arrived to join the protest. Jess was only seconds ahead but got through the mob without hassle. I was not so lucky and got a crowd of about 60 men around the bike and was forced to stop. The guys were obviously a little excited and reved up for the protest. They were not unfriendly but having a crowd swamp you and nowhere to go was a little stressy to say the least. Eventually someone important gets to the bike and tell me I must stop now. I try to explain that me chica has gone and I must catch her. Now this was when he pulls his trump card. Out of the pocket comes a small but I presume very effective stick of dynamite. Now even with limited spanish I got the drift of what he was saying, stop or I will blow you up was the general jist of it all. Now in the meantime his happier fellow miners were having a good laugh at my expense about me wanting to go find me chica. I luckily made them laugh some more and they managed to disuade their official looking friend from terminating my trip there and then. 2 long minutes, lots of questions, hands all over the bike and luggage and the crowd parted and I was free to go. It was an interesting experience but once only please. I fully sympathise with these miners as they get paid a pittance and work in very poor conditions, but I really had no desire to martyr myself for their cause. 3 more roadblocks, all without incident saw us arrive in Cochabamba.
Jess cruising past the miles of blockaded trucks.
Cochabamba was a lovely chilled out city and a good place to relaxl for a few days. Next destination was Sucre, known for its old colonial buildings and having the worlds largest dinosaur footprints. The ride involved about 100kms of cobbles and another 150kms of dirt. This was the first experience of Bolivian cobbles and it was hell. It was like riding a big jackhammer which bounced and slid around every corner. Other than our USA riding buddy, Jon wiping out himself and a cyclist in a little town on the way the journey passed quickly. Both he and the cylist got away with scuffs but Jons bike needed a little TLC from the town welder. The cyclist was riding the wrong way down a dual carriageway and was bloody lucky not to have been badly hurt. But heh its Bolivia where the animals are dangerous and always on the road but not as dangerous as unpredictable drivers/cyclists!
In Sucre we hooked up with lots of other biking amigos we had met on the way and had a great time drinking and lying to each other in the Joyride Bar. During one such session, the Dutch owner of the bar. Gert told us of this Caravana that was happening soon. It involved lots of Bolivians riding their quads or bikes offroad for 4 days through sub tropical places. This caravana was following the route of Che Guevara, starting at the place he was killed. This sounded like and excellent opportunity to meet lots of Bolivians and ride some fantastic roads. We were in but had some time to kill before it started. What we needed was a small excursion out of Sucre so we decided to Visit Potosi, the worlds highest city and at one time the worlds richest city. A three hour ride away and sitting at 4,200 metres, time to dig out the thermals.
Riding into Potosi was unforgetable, it sits in a valley in an arid altiplano setting and is dominated by the huge mountain above it called Cerro Rico. The whole city is all about mining and minerals, and these all come from Cerro Rico. The spanish must have wet themselves with happiness when they discovered just how much silver was sitting there in that big hill 300 years ago. Legend has it that the seams of silver were as big as 8ft wide and high as a house. They wasted no time or spanish lives to get it out either. Black slaves were sent underground for three months at a time to mine the mountain, if they lived through this they then spent another three months processing the rocks above ground. Most never made it back out, being from hot climates, then having to work at altitude in 24 hour darkness only the "lucky" few made it out to break rocks in the daylight.
Get ready for this statistic cause its a big one. 8,000,000 yes thats eight million people have died in that mountain in the last 300 years, mostly black slaves but lots of Bolivians as well. Its hard to believe but true and it is still happening today. The day after we arrived one man was killed in a rock fall and another was lucky to survive. 80 deaths a year is the current rate at which the mountain kills men. Now three hundred years aint a long time in history, but enough time to see Potosi fall from richest city in the world to poorest city in Bolivia. Leaving this aside it was a fantastic place full of interesting buildings and very friendly people.
Chillin' in the market feeding my face with empanadas.
(Cerro Rico is in the background)
One of the must do's in Potosi is to go and visit the mines to see first hand what the town is all about. We organised our tour with an ex-miner called Roberto. He had done 10 years as a miner when he was younger but had given it up after getting lost for three days and nearly coming close to dying. First stop was the market to get the miners we would meet some presents. These consisted of coca leaves for them to chew, water and dynamite. Yep you can walk up to any market stand and get yourself alot of bang for your buck. Cost 15 Bolivianos ($1.90) for 1 five minute fuse, 1 stick of dynamite and 1kg of diesel soaked fertiliser. Imagine kids back in the UK being able to get themselves this sort of kit from Romford Market. I would certainly give up teaching, its risky enough as it is! Anyway back to the story. First stop on the mine tour was to visit some ladies working under tin shacks. They spent 5 days a week sat on the floor breaking rocks with a club hammer looking for small remnants of minerals that may be inside.The rocks they break are scraps that have fallen off overloaded trucks or from digger shovels. Why are they doing this? Because they were married to a miner in years gone by and their husbands have been killed in the mines. They have no other way to survive other than to crack rocks with a hammer.
All day for 85p. Who for? Us in the western world!
The lady in the picture below has been doing this for 37 years, she will continue to do this until she is dead or can no longer lift the hammer. Average wage for a days work is 10 Bolivianos, about 85p. I cant describe how tragic it was to see this happening and to realise just how much I take for granted in my life. The ladies, were they resentful of our visit, not at all. We gave them gifts of coca, sweets etc and they were very happy to talk and tell us their story.
37 years of breaking rocks. Check out her hands. There is arsenic in the dust that in time turns hands white and poisons the skin.
The next part of the mine tour was much lighter. We had invested 15 Bs in a dynamite kit and Roberto happily talked us through what we needed to do to set it all up. 3 minutes later the fuse was lit and we all posed for pictures with the dynamite. Around the back, in the mouth, kissing it, everything imaginable. We had a 5 minute fuse and had 3 minutes worth of fun before burying it and waiting.
Fuse smoking and 3 minutes to go. Jess feels the power and loves it!
What a wait it was but when it did go, bloody hell. The bang was huge, you could feel your whole body move, next rocks started landing on the ground and a huge cloud of dust drifted towards us. Wouldn't this be great for after pub fun back home!
So fun over it was time to light our lamps and go underground. Within minutes both Jess and I were lost. The whole mountain, all 5,400m of it has been riddled with tunnels. Mineral seams go north/ south and other tunnels go east/west looking for new seams. It is like a giant swiss cheese. One day I am sure there will be one tunnel too many cut and it will all fall down. No one has a definitive map of what goes where, miners just blow up what they want, as long as they find minerals its all good. The miners reckon the only protection they need will come from 2 different sources. The first is God, brought by the spanish all those years ago. The miners arn't too sure that god alone can do the job so they also give gifts to Pacha Mama. She is the original mother earth that the Quechuan peoples of the altiplano have believed in prior to the spanish. Offerings of coca are made to both of the above. There is also someone else who the miners give offerings to and live in constant fear of. This person is reported to be seen walking the mines in many different guises. They call him "El Te", spanish for uncle. His real name is seldom used. It is believed that he has and always will own the mines and respect must be paid to him by all that enter. We call him the Devil. Every mine has a stylised representation of him somewhere. Miners leave offerings of coca, put burning cigarettes in his mouth and on friday afternoon stop work early to go drink with him, eventually going home smashed. The traditional offering of alcohol is also used daily.Now we are not talking about a little beer but a lethal brew which is 96% strong. There are 4 places you need to sprinkle the brew. A little on the ground for Pacha Mama, on El Te's right arm for minerals and money, left arm for safety and lastly on his rather exagerated cock for good sex and lots of it (he is the devil after all). You then take a swig from the bottle and spend the next 30 seconds wincing at the taste.
Did "El Te" grant Jess her wish?
Now mines without miners sort of misses the point. Our last stop on the tour was to go see exactly what these guys do and how its done. This was to be another unforgetable experience. The first miner we saw was working in a small hole, his tools consisted only of a hammer and chisel. 3 hours of hitting and turning the chisel would result in a hole that could be dynamited. Each blast would yeild less than 1m square of rock, some of which would be minerals. Seeing these guys working was like stepping back a few hundred years in time, conditions are primitive and tools basic. Not only was it men that were working in the mines but boys as young as 10 were working alongside the men. How long do these guys last in a job like this. If rockfall doesn't kill them first they will get to no more than 45 years old before dying of silicosis. The walls of the mine are covered with asbestos fibres, arsenic is in the dust created from working and sulphuric acid seaps from the walls and forms puddles on the floor.
3 hours of standing on this ladder swinging a club hammer gets this guy a few dollars worth of minerals if he is lucky.
Because the dust is toxic and for cost reasons the miners do not eat anything all day while working. Instead they chew coca leaves. This takes away hunger and thirst and stops you feeling tired. Once chewd it is collected in the cheeks and slowly ferments with saliva. It is amazing to see just how far a cheek can be stretched.
Old (43yr old) miner and young lad with facefuls of coca.
The miners we met were very friendly, taking timeout of working to talk to us and to give me a swing of the hammer to see just how hard it was. A couple of distant explosions in a mine not so far away added to the desparate feeling of having to work in these conditions. After giving gifts to the miners we worked our way back out to the "real world". These guys got my upmost respect. They work in shocking conditions for very little reward so that we in the west can have lots of zinc and tin to use for products that we take for granted. Think of that next time you open a can of beans and throw the can in the bin!
The same day we visited the cities mint, one of four mints used by the spanish to make currency for their worldwide empire. Again slaves were used to do all the work, you can even see foot shaped worn areas on the wooden floors where a slaves would have stood to operated a press. It was fantastically preserved and served as complete contrast to the mines. Potosi has fallen from the top to near the bottom in just 300 years. Our visit to the city was complete. We rode over the altiplano back down to Sucre.
The Caravana sounded like a great way to experience another side to Bolivian life. Joining the rich and privileged 3% of the country on a grand, ‘drunken’ (as we later found out) tour of Che Guevara's last resting place was not something you’d read about in your lonely planet guide or find pinned to your hostel notice board. Exactly how were going to compete with them on our built for overland travel bikes was a different story but the fact that no other women had ever ridden bikes on it was enough of a draw for me!!! The foreign bikers contingency had diminished from a possible seven to a hard core of four and on Saturday afternoon, riding with minimal luggage, Rene, Amy, Oz and myself headed out to meet the main group. We arrived in Valle Serrano four hours later, but not that much ahead of the Sucre boys who’d left 2 hours after us. Ooops !! this didn’t bode well, it was obvious they were riding in a different league. Next morning sure to have a good head start we left early. The amazing views we’d been promised of the Valle Grande looked all but lost, as we headed out into the mist and drizzle. Che was obviously masking the route to his death!!! … or so Rene liked to believe!! Anyway as soon as we dropped through the rain forest the views opened up and the expanse of the mountains could then really be appreciated. Riding into La Higeria was like nothing I am ever likely to experience again. After 6 hours of riding non stop of which the last 12km was hellishly difficult, I was then greeted by the whole Caravana. They watched as I not so carefully full throttled my bike up the rocky plaza straight into the back of Oz’s bike. Desperately trying to salvage some dignity, I managed to keep my bike up right and dismounted as coolly as I could. As if it wasn’t obvious enough I was a girl new to riding, the moment I took my lid off the cameras were upon me and a microphone shoved in my face. Oooh!! if only I could go back and make my entrance again! The array of quads and bikes was a sight to behold in this dilapidated jungle village and I couldn’t help wandering what Che would be thinking looking out at all those rich Bolivians playing in the countryside while the majority of Bolivia wakes up to poverty every day.
Che pondering the gathered crowd.
The locals seemed happy enough with this intrusion of wealth and the children, well they were just reveling in the excitement of something actually happening in their village. The obligatory photos were taken of the caravana all posing next to Che. Check out the revolutionary wannabe on the top row punching the air for the people.
The complete caravana posse, Oz and me up by his left ear.
An hour later we were back on the road heading for our days destination Valle Grande. This time with our new amigos, but it wasn’t long before they all passed us and left us in a cloud of dust. In Valle Grande we were descended upon by more camera crews. This time a Brazilian sports channel wanting a foreign perspective on the Caravana and our thoughts on what it meant for us following Che´s final route. What!!! I hadn’t really given that one much thought! Thank god they asked Rene that question and not me. He answered it most eloquently
Rene in full swing for the camera.
By the end of the evening we were well initiated into the tour and had sunk many beers with our new friends. The next day we were into some very funky riding. Technical slick rock is one thing on a mountain bike, on a motorbike its something else!! I dropped my bike four times, hurled many expletives into the air and had kicked the hell out of the bike before we arrived at our evening camping spot. The days struggles faded as we took a look at our surroundings. We ridden into paradise. A fresh water lagoon surrounded by jungle and a 50 meter waterfall plummeting straight into it. After a swim the party was under way, the bar tent stocked with free beer and 4 pigs roasting on the spit. These guys didn’t take any short cuts when it came to partying. They’d hired dancing girls to entertain us for the night and many a man was transfixed as these girls managed to shake their arses at an unfeasible rate. Amy and I not to be upstaged did our best to compete but it was pretty extraordinary how they could move.
The foreign contingent of the Caravana.
The final day was to be a short ride to the nearby town of Samaipata and a farewell meal before we went our separate ways and we headed back to Sucre. Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way. Amy crashed with 15km to go (which was bloody criminal seeing as she’d ridden so well throughout the caravana) and hurt her knee really badly. She was in a lot of pain and it was obvious she’d done something serious. Before too long the medical truck arrived and splinted up her leg. All plans changed and Amy was whisked away to Santa Cruz hospital for x-rays and the three of us followed on.
The aftermath of Amy's crash.
Santa Cruz came slowly, we were all tired after the caravana. We found Amy and the hospital quickly, made sure she was ok then contacted our new friend who was riding a quad in the caravana. He had invited us to stay at his house, 5kms out of town.
When we arrived we knew we were in for a treat. As the automatic doors opened a huge house was revealed in what can only be described as a small park. Chicatine or Walter showed us to our new lodgings. His whole family still lived at home so we staying in a 4 man tent erected under a thatched canopy next to the pool. Nice!
Our "shabby" digs in Santa Cruz
Next day before going to the hospital we took the bikes to the mechanics, suspecting that the caravana may be about to cost us more than we had bargained on. Correct, both bikes would need work. Jess's had worn out a cam chain, cost US$120 and mine had decided to eat 3rd gear and would need a complete engine strip to see what damage was. My bike would take at least 4 days! Stuck again, but life by the pool would see us through I was sure.
Amy in the meantime had MIR scans and had been told what we all dreaded to hear. She would need surgery and in a nutshell her round the world trip was now over for at least 6 months. She took the news well, better that I could have. We were all gutted for her but at least she was in a good hospital with the best doctors Bolivia had to offer. The hospital was way better than many back in the UK. Thats what money can buy I suppose. Amy 3 days later had an operation which revealed she had fractured her kneecap and severed a ligament. It was better than the doctors initially expected and 8 days later she flew back to the states to begin the recupertion.
In the meantime Chicatine was being a complete star running me about to get parts and organising repairs for me that without good spanish would have been very hard to do. The 3rd gear was not terminal and could be repaired without replacing the parts. The mechanic also found some valve wear so I was up for new valves and all the gubbins that go with that. Still pool life was good and on the saturday we were invited to take part in Santa Cruz's evening quad ride. Chicatine would give us one of his spare quads, all we need supply was gas and beer.
The ride started at 3 in the afternoon. Riding the quad was fantastic. It would cross deep rivers, scream through sand and when you hit deep mud you didn't fall off.
Dealing with some jungle obstacles in a dry river.
10kms of razzing about the jungle and the first stop happened. It was a beer break. All 20 of us stood about bullshitting and having a beer or cuba libre. Very social we thought. Only prob was the kilometers between breaks got smaller and and much beer was being consumed. We had ridden some amazing terain. I will never forget sitting braced on the back of the bike as Jess raced downriver bed at night, driving through the water every 100m or so following the rest of the pack. The whole world disappeared in a curtain of brown water and then bang you hit the bank on the other side, good job I had drank enough beer to be relaxed! The ride went on until 11 in the evening until we finally returned to the main drag in town where saturday night was in full swing. The street was jam packed full of people either in bars or standing round their cars drinking. This was not a problem for the cops, just a normal saturday night. I aint big or clever but most of us arrived on the strip a little pissed to say the least. Our quading mates also hung about on the pavement drinking and talking some more, bars were not really on the agenda seeing as we were all covered in mud and dripping wet. Before leaving for home, Chicatine insisted we do a lap of the main drag. We gained a new passenger on the bike, another chica and off we went. It was only 2kms there and back but 1 hour later we were only just over half way. No probs though as there was pizza for sale on the street and lots of beer vendors walking through the cars.
The cooler is a long time empty! Cruising the town strip complete with beer and 2 chicas.
We arrived home at 3 in the morning having had an amazing night. Combined with the caravana we had gained a fantastic insight into the way wealthy bolivians played and worked. Chicatine and his family were superstars to us and we are very grateful for their friendship and hospitality.
On the following tuesday I paid the mechanics US$300 and made plans to leave the next day. One last hospital visit to say our farewells to Rene and Amy and we were back on the road headed again for Sucre.
We were not into the 300kms of dirt we would have to ride to get there but needs must. First place to go see on our return was the local, Joyride. Happily 2 of our biking amigos were still in town. Tony who had spent the last 10 days in hospital with typhoid (bad water in Sucre they say!) and Dan who was supposed to have spent the last 10 days writing for Bike magazine but who had instead become nurse and translator for Tony.
The following night Dan, initially feeling a little sickly decided to go for the pub record of 17 superchopps (big beers). Dan is not shy of a beer or two but definately needed support, at first verbal but by the end of the night after sucessfully completing the task the support needed was a lot more physical.
Dan 6 beers into his 17 beer record breaking evening. Jess got the flowers as an advance apology cause he knew it would get messy!
The following day we finally saw Sucre in the bikes mirrors for the last time. At last we were headed for what I considered the highlight of Bolivia if not the trip so far. The Salar de Uyni. This area is the worlds largest and highest salt plains. It is probably half the size of Wales, and consists of nothing other than salt and a few little islands. Once on it you can ride anywhere you like. Everbody we had met going north raved about it.
Once onto the dirt roads we had to work hard to get to the Salar. The roads were badly corrugated, whatever speed you went it felt like you were about to shake you bike to pieces and loose all your teeths fillings. 100kms of slow going and it came into view. After an hour spent finding gas for the crossing in a small village we finally headed onto the salt, following a compass bearing to an island we knew was there but could not see.
Riding on the salt was amazing, go where you want and as fast as you want. There is nothing to run into, just a slight vibration through the bars due to the irregular octagonal shapes that make up the cracks in the surface. We managed 30 seconds flat out with eyes closed, it is possible to go minutes but my courage wasn't up to it. 50kms of straight line bliss saw us arrive at the Isla de Pescardo, a small island full of huge cactus. We spent the afternoon checking this out and razzing about some more on the salt. At sunset we rode about 10kms from the isla and set up camp in the middle of nowhere. That evening we saw a sunset that ranks as the best I have ever seen in my life. Amazing colours and a 360 degree parorama broken only by the volcanoe in the distance where we had come from earlier in the day. A truly amazing place to experience.
Camp on the salar during an amazing sun set.
The next morning we were baked out of the tent early and set off for the salt hotel and the town of Uyni 120kms straight across the salt. Well we did eventually get going but not before a little messing about riding the salt.
Ahh, the wind on your skin and the salt beneath your wheels.
After 2 hours of riding in a straight line following the compass we reached the salt hotel. Yep its built totally out of salt and is a big tourist attraction. To stay in a pokey room for the night will cost ya US$20. Thats a heap of money in Bolivia and to be honest give me the tent anyday.
The last 20kms of road to Uyni was the now typical sand and corrugated horrorshow and we were both lucky not to crash. When the sand gets the front wheel it all goes very out of shape very quick. One day we might learn to ride the stuff, in the meantime we both struggle every time it appears.
Uyni was a funky little town, not much happening but really interesting none the less. We spent the afternoon at the Cemetario de Trains, As the name suggests this is where all of Bolivias old steam trains have come to die. It was a fascinating place to wander round, well for me anyway. Loads of old locos, all rusting away which you could climb all over, even jump from one to another. Maybee I have seen too many of those westerns where they do this but it was great fun.
After a night in Uyni it was time to head south for Tupiza and the border, but we were not quite finished with Bolivia yet, we had Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid country to explore. Just when we thought Bolivia had no more surprise to offer we were again blown away by the scenery. The road was by far the most funkiest yet. We found ourselves at first struggling through miles of corrugation, with patches of deep sand, and then on a dried up river bed nestled between spectacular rock formations.
We stopped in Atocha a small run down adobe market town in search of gas. It was a fascinating little place full of very colorful people, but no gas. We had to ride 3km up the river to get it . Bizarre as it seemed we found the gas station perched on the side of the river bed and the road continued up it.
This riverbed is the main road into and out of town.What happens when it rains?
Having got some vague directions from the gas attendant we continued up the river in search of a tiny village called San Vincent. Its renown purely for its links with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid who are reputed to have been killed there in a shoot out. Although the place ended up being a let down with a measly little sign to commemorate their deaths and some very unfriendly locals the road was fantastic. Passing through cowboy country like you only see in the old westerns. Cactus six meters high, tumble weed blowing across the road ( in Jess's imagination maybee, I saw none!), and red rock gorges. A truly perfect setting for Clint Eastwood to turn up in and some Red Indians to appear on the rocky horizon. The intension had been to haul up in San Vincent for the night soak up the atmosphere and head to Tupiza the following day but with the kind of reception we received we didn’t want to run the risk of being run out of town or suffer the same fate as Butch and Sundance. So we kept going and ended up riding our longest day yet. All up ten and half hours of dirt riding arriving in Tupiza at 7.30pm in the dark. Eager to play cowboys and Indians for ourselves we booked ourselves onto a 5 hour horse trek the next day. Any longer and I don’t think our arses would have coped with it, but what good fun!!!!!!. Galloping at break neck (it was fast but breakneck? mmmm) speed through canyons pretending to be chased by Indians and sauntering through dry dusty river beds lined with cactus. I only wished I had the outfit to go with it.
Jess Cassidy after outrunning those troopers.
We spent two fantastic days exploring the movie set of Tupiza before time caught up with us again and urged us onto the border. With some sadness we left for the Argentinian border, knowing we were riding our last dirt road for while and leaving behind a country that is truly unique to South America. I just hope it stays that way long enough for us to return.
Not far to go to Ushaia, really!
Posted by Peter Slarke at November 14, 2004 05:03 PM GMT