May 12th, 2013 - Bolivia II
After our second visit to Sucre we were headed for Northern Chile via Oruro. The road to Oruro turned out to be quite a little adventure as most roads in Bolivia seem to be. It was some beautiful high mountain riding with breath taking views as we climbed to the cold mountain town of Colquechaca. We found a super cheap place to stay which was under $3 a person and we went into the shop next door to find some cold beer to end the day’s long ride. I looked around disappointedly, only seeing beer on a shelf and none in a fridge. I asked the lady in the store if she had any cold beer and she laughed at me as she handed me a bottle off the shelf… it was ice cold. Colquechaca is the highest city in Bolivia at 4180m (13,710ft) in elevation and everything is cold including beer sitting on a shelf.
From Colquechaca to Oruro there were a lot of construction zones due to major landslides, some of which were closed at certain times but thanks to our nice motorcycle we got to pass through most of the closures. The construction foreman, guys in white hardhats that look very clean, dress nicely and drive around in a nice pick-up’s, liked our travels and our motorcycles and let us follow them through the closures. The “road” was extremely rough and it was hard to keep up with a 4×4 truck, often getting us stuck waiting for machines as they dropped huge rocks and debris onto the road from high above on a cliff. At one point we even had to ride up a muddy river for a kilometer or so which was the replacement for the road buried by a landslide… yes up the river not across.
In our opinion Oruro had nothing to offer and was a very dirty and industrial city. We spent one night there and quickly left the next morning. The border crossing heading into Colchane, Chile was very easy for stamping in and out of each country and completing the motorcycle paperwork. However, Chile held true to its strict scrutinising of luggage and had us un-strap our bags and send them through an x-ray machine. The Altiplano of Northern Chile is part of the widest section of the Andes and is some of the highest plateau on earth. It’s a very beautiful yet barren place with massive open expanses between mountains and snow capped volcanos which make for some amazing scenery while riding. Besides a few indigenous tribes who mainly raise sheep and llama’s there really isn’t any form of civilization which may sound nice but makes it extremely difficult to buy anything. Luckily we had filled our gas tanks with cheap gas from Bolivia before crossing which would give us enough fuel to head north across the wide expanse.
Our first night back in Chile we camped at 4300m above sea level and it was absolutely freezing. The next day due to our lack of food and water and to avoid another cold night camping we pushed hard to reach the town of Putre. The road had some bad sections of washboard and patches of deep sand which any biker hates but Erin seemed to hate the sand just a little more. The road took us up over 5000m and past salt flats and small ponds with pink flamingos. It was beautiful and exhausting at the same time. After an amazing hot shower and a great sleep in Putre we had used up our left over Chilean money from our previous travels in Chile and decided to head back to Bolivia where things are cheap. Back in Bolivia we rode past Volcano Sajama, the highest peak in Bolivia at an amazing 6542m (21,463ft). It is spectacular and I couldn’t keep my eyes off it.
We made our way into La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and I was rather disappointed I must say. The city has engulfed an entire valley and it’s in a chaotic state of disrepair. The once beautiful historic center is falling apart and peoples disregard for proper management of waste and garbage has turned the city into a dump. When it rains the city’s waste drains downhill to the center of the city where the curbs and drains flood with the lovely smell of sewage. Also, due to the fact that the city is in a downhill valley, whether you walk or drive 75% of the time you’re going uphill and when you’re stuck in the cities terrible traffic uphill sucks (My poor clutch…). Despite my obvious “love” for La Paz we managed to find a nice hostel and get some things done that had been recently neglected including patching a massive hole on the bottom of my right boot. I don’t like carrying tires while traveling but even more so I don’t like buying expensive tires… which means I’m often carrying tires. We figured tires would be cheaper in Bolivia so we picked up a couple new rear tires to take with us into Peru as our current tires have about a month left on them.
Our next stop was Yungas Rd or as it more commonly know, the Death Highway. With a new paved highway built just to the west of Yungas Rd the old Death Highway is now nothing more than a tourist attraction. With all the traffic taking the new paved highway, Route 3, the Death Highway really doesn’t possess any danger unless you’re skilled enough to drive off the edge of the road and down a sheer cliff. Despite dodging a hundred people on mountain bike tours rolling down the road, Yungas Rd is actually a very beautiful ride and one I would definitely recommend. The road is in very good condition for the most part and has some great views and spectacular waterfalls. In fact, I was kind of jealous of the people effortlessly flying down the road on a mountain bikes.
Continuing north towards Caranavi the road was unfortunately closed during the day for construction and opened to traffic late in the afternoon which forced us to ride in the dark. The road was in poor condition with rough rocky sections and slick muddy sections. Ofcourse to make things worse the drivers who had been waiting all day for the road to open were now recklessly impatient and driving like mad. They would race up behind us in the dark to within inches of our bikes and flash there high beams and honk constantly trying to get us to move out of the way. We are on a tight single lane muddy road with nowhere to pull over except off the cliff and into the river below. Where is it they expect us to move to? When the slightest opening would appear Erin and I would pull over and the car would race past us only to confront the vehicle in front of us and repeat its ludicrous process of high beaming and honking. To make matters worse the traffic from the opposite direction was now racing through as well which meant things would constantly come to a standstill as both directions would meet in a narrow section of road and have a honking competition. The side with a big truck or bus always won, forcing the others to very awkwardly reverse. This was more of a death highway than the Death Highway itself, as were most roads in Bolivia.
We then undertook a long route through the mountainous jungle on the roughest road we have ever ridden. Luckily for us it was almost devoid of any traffic which meant it was only us against the road. I absolutely loved the ride despite dropping my bike in one of the many river crossings. Fortunately I was quick enough to hit the kill switch on the bike before hitting the water and therefore avoided sucking water into the engine. It was the challenge that drove me and I felt like we were truly exploring Bolivia. It took us 3 days to ride from Caranavi to Sorata via Mapiri and everyday was new and exciting with its own set of challenges and rewarding scenery and experiences. I would love to have spent more time in this area and I know it’s a place I will ride again one day but for now it was the perfect way to end Bolivia. We spent a few nights in a good bed in Sorata watching movies before packing up and heading to Peru to meet our good friend Karl who is flying in from Canada to ride with us for 3 weeks.
We loved travelling in Bolivia and for us its one of the best countries so far for adventure motorcycling. That doesn’t just mean it has bad roads but that it has exciting places to go and is cheap enough that you can go and do just about anything and not have to worry about sticking to a strict budget. Our daily budget for travelling is $25 per person which in some countries can be tight as that’s supposed to cover everything, food, fuel, lodging etc. We honestly did whatever we wanted in Bolivia without thinking of money and in the end our daily average was only $18.44 per person. That’s everything including all the fuel for the motorcycles! Bolivia is cheap! It is true that Bolivia tries to make all foreign plates pay a lot more for fuel however if you plan it right and have a little patience you can get your fuel cheap. Bolivians pay approximately $0.53 per liter for gasoline while they try and charge any foreign plate, including other South American countries, $1.32 per liter. This really pissed me off and I can proudly say that I never paid their ridiculous foreign price. Small towns with old gas stations didn’t know about the foreign plate rule as they rarely get tourists so that’s where we would buy most of our gasoline. When the price was high we would go around and try to buy it in a plastic jug or sometimes try buying it without a receipt and we could get it for a little less than the foreign price. It took a lot of work sometimes but in the end I’m happy to say that our average fuel price for Bolivia was $0.77 per liter. That’s much better than $1.32…