Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Up

From Santa Cruz we were headed towards Sucre, slowly working our way up in to the mountains, the Altiplano of Bolivia.

We left Santa Cruz and passed a couple of smaller towns. It was still very warm and with time there was more and more vegetation. The towns were very simple, you could see this is not a rich country, yet it is no comparison to other places in the world like certain regions of India for example, where Christoph had been traveling before.

After about half an hour we came to one of the police control points, we had passed several of these before in Bolivia and it is nothing special, at the most they will ask for your papers. Usually they have a rope stretched across the street so you can’t simply pass, most of the times this is lowered to the ground though. Here they stopped us and asked for our papers. We handed them over and the guy disappeared in his shed. When he came back he asked for some stamps on our temporary import papers which according to him we should have received every time we pass a control point. This was obviously a made up story, but he wouldn’t let us pass without them. Again we started discussing, going back and forth, until finally they asked for money. They started with ridiculous amounts, we felt like on a Turkish bazar. In the end we had to pay 50 Bolivianos for the both of us, about 5 Euros. This made a total of 150 Bolivianos in bribes that day. The most annoying thing about this is that you’re basically feeding into the system and they get away with it, but there was no way around. Anyway we were free to go.

Soon after leaving the checkpoint behind the roads became really nice, winding there way slowly up into the heights through almost jungle-like vegetation. Contrary to what we had been told and had read most of the roads in Bolivia (between the bigger towns) are paved and usually in a good condition, this one being no exception except for short stretches. There was small, remote houses along the road, some offering accomadation. It was a really beautiful area.

After a while we passed a small town called Samaipata. We decided to have a short break to grab some food and drinks. In the small shop we bought some snacks, and where surprised to see the sausages were branded with a German name and produced in the very same town. After a short discussion and a look around in town, which seemed quite nice, we decided to stay. It was rather late in the day anyway and we wouldn’t be able to make a great distance that day. We went looking for the butcher but it turned out to be a rather “industrialized” (yet very small) place. We had hoped for some nice German-style butcher’s shop and an interesting chat. Later we found out that for some reason a lot of Germans had settled in this area.

We found a hostel, got unpacked and went to the central plaza. Here we found some small restaurant with an outside porch were we set down to have a beer. After a while we got approached by a German couple living in England who had seen us earlier on our bikes. They were bikers themselves, though not traveling on those. We invited them to sit with us and it turned us to be a really nice night, with more people joining over the time. Unfortunately we lost the piece of paper with their email-addresses, so if you read this, send us a mail to longrideback (at) gmail.com.

The next day we got up early in expectation of a long stretch to Sucre. We were surprised to be welcomed by a farewell committee, thanks again for showing up and saying goodbye! After this we were on our way. After some time on paved road we took a left towards Sucre, now slowly making our way up into the mountains on gravel roads. The weather was nice and we made a good pace. After a while we got back on a paved road and then it was uphill on snake roads, the highest pass taking us to about 4.000 meters. We arrived in Sucre at about 3.500 meters late afternoon, but we had not pre-booked a hostel, so we had to drive around in town to find one. Suddenly the back of my bike started moving strangely and I pulled over to have a look. I had a flat tire, the first one on this trip. As we couldn’t find a place to have it fixed immediately we decided to have it fixed the next morning, put some air on it using our compressor and looked for a hostel. We found a reasonably priced one pretty soon and checked in.

The next day we looked for a “gomeria”, a place to have my tire fixed. Christoph took a spin in town, found one and returned back to the hostel. We disassembled the wheel, put it on the back of his bike and brought it there. It took the guy maybe 20 minutes to fix it and all he asked for was ten Bolivianos, about one Euro. And that was on a Sunday. I gave him 20 Bolivianos and he was happy. After that Christoph and me took a walk in the city. Sucre is one of the nicest cities in Bolivia in regards to its historic town center, being heavily affected by colonial architecture. It was quite busy that day since there was a rally going through town (rally as in fast, powerful cars). In the afternoon there was an award ceremony in the city center and some parties. Later at night I accompanied David, an Israeli guy, who desperately wanted to go out and find some party. Everything was closed though on a Sunday so we ended up in some shady local Karaoke place which smelled really bad of urine and vomit in some corners. Despite that it was packed and we decided to have a beer… We ended up singing a couple of songs, even gave the Spanish once a try, much to the amusement of the local crowd.

The next day we left for Potosi, an old mining town in the mountains. The roads were getting worse again. It was all gravel, sometimes good to drive, sometimes not so much. Two times we had to pass construction sites which would have been impossible to pass on anything but a bike and even that was hard. One time there was a difference in the road level of about three feet. You can see that on the video below:


In order two pass it we had to do some digging first which is quite exhausting in that height. Talking about height, neither one of us experienced any problems with altitude sickness during our journey, so that was good.

Anyway it wasn’t a very long drive to Potosi so we were not in a hurry. The views on the way were amazing and we really enjoyed the ride. We got to Potosi quite early, talked to some backpackers for hostel recommendations and found a nice one close to the center. Christoph wanted to do the mining tour so we looked for an agency and booked that trip. The next day we got up Christoph was feeling really bad, he had caught a bad cold. It had started in Sucre but now it put him in the bed. As I wasn’t too keen on the tour we called it off and I took a walk in the city. Potosi is a small town but also quite beautiful around the center with the regular colonial architecture and a huge market. The markets are very different from our ones, especially when it comes to selling meat and hygiene. There was a truck for example being loaded with various parts of cows at the end of the day, underneath it two dogs were “enjoying themselves”. Different standards I assume.

As I walked around I ran into the French family we had met in Quéllon in Chile. We had a nice talk and exchanged stories and decided to meet later that night, which for some reason unfortunately didn’t happen. We stayed in Potosi for one more night, waiting for Christoph to feel better, but in the end decided we wanted to move on towards Uyuni, taking it slow. Finally we were close to one of the places we had been really looking forward for, the salt flats of Uyuni. I will write more about those and the fantastic ride in the next blog.

Best regards,
Christoph and Thomas