It wasn’t until I saw the road in daylight that I knew what kind of misery I was in for. This road was supposed to be paved, but it was under construction at the moment and the ranchers said that it would be like this for another 100km. As it is customary in South America, when you hear a number related to distance, you should always multiply it by three for good measure so I figured the whole way to Bolivia would be like that.
And the sand started yet again. Now that we could see better, we kept on zigzagging and making a miserable progress but it all came to a halt when I caught a sight of a water truck spraying the road. The guys on the truck stopped to see what in the hell we were doing there and sent us off with evil smiles and good lucks on our muddy journey. I literally rode 100 yards before I stopped the bike and gave up. The fine sand mixed with water created a thick gravy and the giant bike wasn’t going anywhere in this muck. The tire grooves were filled with mud with no traction whatsoever and I had no choice; I pushed the bike to the sandy shoulder.
For the next hour, I rode with both of my feet on the ground, frequently asking Lourdes to get off and walk in hairy spots. Sweat kept dripping off my nose and sand filled my mouth and the road went on. The mud started to dry out gradually in the sun and all there was left was fine sand again. Now I had more appreciation for the sand and I just picked up speed and ripped through it. The faster I went, the easier it got until it felt like I was riding on the clouds. The bike would sink momentarily but would spring back up and keep going. Lourdes asked me if it was dangerous going this fast, and my answer was “Yes, but If I slow down you’re going to end up walking” and I don’t remember hearing a word from her again.
Patches of asphalt started to show and we picked up speed and life got easier. We filled up the gas tank from Pepsi bottles at a small shack and pushed for the border. At last we made it. At this border, there were two wooden outhouse looking offices with two guys running the whole show. Checking out the bike at the Paraguayan side went smoothly and we walked in the Bolivian office to do the paperwork for temporary importation. The guy kept looking at the documents and kept making excuses and asking stupid questions. I got the feeling that he was setting us up for bribe and I wasn’t budging. Then he finally said it: “You have to pay $100 USD here for the fees”.
My answer was NO, there aren’t any fees for importation of temporary tourist vehicle. In the middle of the shakedown, some other guy walked in and all of a sudden he forgot all about the “fees” and we bolted out. We rode a few feet and we had to stop. There was no road. Not even a sign. There was a mule track barely wide enough for a car next to a giant tree that blocked the way with a mound of dirt on it. I was confused. I looked around but there was no other way. This was Bolivia.
There seemed to be a semi-paved road above were we were standing, but it was blocked with trees and dirt piles. Down below in the ditch, this secondary hell of a road was to be used until the main road was completed. It was covered in soft sand, deep potholes, lose rocks and broken beer bottles. So our Bolivian odyssey began. In only 10km the bike bottomed out a thousand times, every bolt was shaking lose and at last we hit a deep pothole so hard that the giant camera box on the back broke and stuff started to fly out on the road. This road was impossible. Now I started to really see why there hadn’t been a single soul on the road for the past 300km. Bolivia was a shithole and Paraguayans knew better not to venture it.
We gathered up the banged up stuff from the road and devised a new plan. If I could climb up the ditch and get to the main road, we would be home free. The trouble was that the ditch had deep trenches dogged in it by the construction workers to prevent this exact scenario. I kept on looking and finally found a spot that seemed promising so I gave it hell. The bike shook up and down and miserably climbed up to the heaven above. No more potholes, no more sand.
We celebrated the victory by drinking piss-warm water and got on with it. But 2km ahead, the road ended again with trees and dirt blocking it. We climbed back down the ditch and as soon as we found another suitable spot, climbed back up on the road. Sometimes the blockades were passable and I would run them over, but most of the time we had to get back down and up again. Sometimes we had to backtrack a few kilometers to where we went up because there was no way to get down. Long story short, we were covering 30km an hour hill climbing with an 1100 ponds street motorcycle.
We were stopped by the military at a check post and searched. These guys looked like jungle rebels, no shirts, sombreros, camouflage pants and guns. At least we found out for certain that we were in Bolivia and going the right way. We kept on ditch-hopping and made our way towards the town of Ibibobo where there would be food, gas, a bank and we could get my visa. But things in Bolivia are never that simple. On one of the ditch-climbs, the bike came out short and the rear tire slipped on the brush covered sand and send the bike flying. This time the bike was lying on its side, leaking the precious fuel and transmission oil all over the ground. Now we were going north aimlessly with even shorter supply of gas and low transmission oil.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a sign for the Immigration Office in the middle of nowhere. I was thinking that this can’t be it; Ibibobo is a town with banks, gas stations, and actual human beings in it. At least that’s what I was told at the Bolivian embassy in Paraguay. Nevertheless I turned around to check it out. This place didn’t resemble a government office. It was a stable with animals running around and no one in sight. We knocked on the door of a house nearby and a guy with no shirt walked out and said that this was it. I turned to Lourdes and the first thing I said was there is no bank here!
When we left Asunción in Paraguay, I took out 800,000 Guaranies (roughly 200USD) and that was the last time I saw a sight of an ATM machine. With almost no gas station taking credit cards, we resorted to paying cash for gas and food and kept looking for a bank that never came. Now we were at the immigration office, where I had to pay $130 for my visa and all I had left was barely enough for a few liter of gas!
A bald headed short guy came out of the house and took charge of the process. I tried to tell him that we had to get to a bank to get the money for visa but he kept shushing me, telling me to be quite and asked for a photocopy of my passport. I said I didn’t have one and explained that the embassy already has all the information, including million copies of everything and this paper is all he needs but he flipped out. He huffed and puffed, cursed at us and shoved a form in front of me to fill out. I filled out the form and tried to tell him again that I had no money but he cut me off again and told me to be quite. This was fucking unbelievable but I just went with it. He kept saying that he was doing us a favor, and wouldn’t let me talk.
Then he looked at my passport. In my passport, it states my birth place which is Shiraz, Iran. He flipped out again and said with utmost hatred that Iranians are not welcomed in Bolivia. “You can’t come in”. It’s impossible to describe how long it took to explain to this waste of a sperm that he was holding an American passport, and my birthplace had nothing to do with anything. He had to call for his wife, and all the other dimwitted short people he had around the stable to hold a council on whether to let an Iranian terrorist inside the “wonderful” country of Bolivia or not.
To say that I was furious is an understatement. The only thing kept me from killing this pest was the mere fact that I was out of gas and couldn’t get far. Finally he was convinced and before I could tell him that I had no money, he slapped the visa (while still cursing at me) in the passport and asked for $130 USD. Then came the moment of truth. Oh god, his face was priceless when I could finally get a word in and tell him that I had no money. He threw the passport in his desk drawer, locked it and walked away. We were kept captive, knowing that it was Saturday, and there wasn’t a bank for another 200km to the north or 650km to the south. Welcome to Bolivia.