And so we arrived in Bolivia after all. For a moment we had doubts this was wise. Because we have been in the subtropics now for a while, camping is not an option. Until now we have found places with TV, and so we know this country is rather restless. But the violence seems to be concentrated around the larger cities, and we haven't reached them yet.
The border city of Bermejo is colorful, as are the people. We feel at home, and decide to stay a day longer. We wander around the market place, eat 'off the street', and try the Bolivean Internet services (and they work). We receive the article from ProMotor Adriaan has written; way cool! Adriaan had sent in two stories, and I was very curious which one would make it. And wouldn't you know: they are both accepted! And we are interviewed by the local broadcast station on the street. Such fame on one day!
And now the violence has ceased, so we can safely continue our journey. I have already learned from our handbook that only 5% of the roads are paved. The remaining 95% is 25% gravel, the rest is sand. We all can imagine what asphalt should be. And to be honest, when they have asphalt here, it is nice and well made. Like the asphalt roads, gravel roads are slightly raised, which helps the water drainage during heavy rain. The top layer is crushed stone, and generally pretty good. The rest is what it is, and makes up the major part of the road infrastructure. No elevation, or water drainage or top layers. Just the tracks of carts, cars and trucks. Which fill up or wash out during rain season.
Bravely I start with our first session. After just 20 km we are stopped. We can't continue - the heavy rains of the past days have caused rocks to block the road. And they are working on the road using dynamite, so the faithful officer is not inclined to let these two funny tourists pass. Suppose we get hurt; he would be blamed! But we want to continue, there is no other road available. Adriaan keeps talking to the man. Sure, cars can't pass here, but our bikes are small, so please let us try. The officer hesitates, and tries to get permission via the radio. Alas, the radio is dead. A truck approaches us. If he can make it, surely we can too, Adriaan says to the officer. He has no reply. We may continue, yes!
Our joy soon passes. You won't be surprised if I tell you gravel roads are not my favourite. This road doesn't even qualify as a gravel road. The surroundings are supposed to be beautiful (officially we are in the tropics), but I have only eyes for the 'road' in front of me. I do hear the occasional whistle, and once an applause, but even that cannot capture my attention. Our average speed is awfully low, temperatures are high. Barely 200 km further, and 8 hours later, I am glad I can get of my bike in Tarija. I'm a bit cramped, but after a refreshing shower, a drink and some food I feel fit enough to enjoy the carnival parade.
Tarija is a beautiful city, widely spaced with lots of trees and parks. But we want to go to Lake Titicaca, so we get on our bikes again and head for the next stop, Potosi. Of course more gravel, and on top of that a mountain pass well over 4000 meter high, through low clouds. No fun for me, but the Kawa isn't happy either. It starts to cough, and the power is all but gone; probably a combination of thin air and low-grade fuel. After some tips from Adriaan (keep up the revs, so mainly use first gear, and when it stalls, clutch, more gas, and release clutch) I clear the pass. We expect to see a plateau (or flat terrain), so we can raise the pityful average of 25 km/h. Unfortunately, that's not the case at all.
Adriaan wonders why I can't pick up more speed; we are on normal gravel again. But for me there is no such thing as 'normal' gravel, and double so in mountain terrain. Everywhere I see trouble (too close to the edge is scary, you could fall down; watch out for potholes, those could cost you your bike or luggage; I don't trust the brakes, so please don't go too fast), and I can't go faster. In the dusk we reach the city of Camargo, totally worn down. Thankfully they have a hotel. We haven't even covered half the distance we wanted to.
The plan is to continue early next day. But first we have to seal a hole in the rear tire of the BMW! After an hour delay we can continue. Again I best a couple of washouts. The speed is still low, but now I'm less doubtful. At about 45 km before we reach Potosi a brand new piece of asphalt surprises us, along with a thunder storm. But the storm doesn't last long (hail really hurts when you're doing 120 km/h), and unfortunately the asphalt doesn't last long either. The last part to Potosi is over even worse gravel, next to the new asphalt road, but ahead of the next thunder storm we reach this mining village.
The city is not a pleasant sight. Everything is grey and dusty. And still it is on the world heritage list. I can't see why. Another 'highlight' is the fact that it is the highest city of its size in the world. We are slightly above 4000 meter. And it shows. We both battle symptoms of altitude sickness. We are forced to rest a couple of days before we continue towards Sucre, the official capitol of Bolivia. So we have time to scout the city (the usual pace of Adriaan is absolutely undoable), and little by litle I start to appreciate its beauty. Behind grey walls with creaky doors the most gorgeous colonial houses can be found. There are lots of small open spaces, crowded by colorful people. And each place has not one but five icecream stands. Shopping streets are arranged by type of shop: a street filled with shoe shops, or pharmacies, dentists, lawyers, electronics, or clothes. Very funny.
Remember I talked about 'firsts' in my first or second report ? Well, here is another one. When we leave for Sucre, we have a 'sad' first. We are more tired leaving a city than when we entered it. Luckily the road to Sucre (found under escort of 2 police officers on bikes) is completely paved. And it crosses mountains and valleys, there is enough to look at. Even more so when we slow down after a warning from officers with radar guns who stop us for speeding.
Sucre itself is nice, as is the sleeping place we use. Too bad we can only stay one night. We visit the joy-ride pub owned by a Dutch guy; it was recommended by a Dutch couple on bicycles. It is refreshing to talk Dutch to someone other than your partner. But the music is not my style, and much too loud. No reason to extend our stay here. To La Paz!
We already know no more asphalt for now. OK, the first 50 km is paved, but after that it is really over. As said, we are in the tropics, in rain season. And here too roads are flooded. Sometimes the water rushes so hard I can't see the road below it, and I'm afraid to continue. Poor Adriaan has to bring my bike to the other side. Now his feet are wet too. I endure a fall in the mud, which leaves me with a dirty suit (just washed of course), and a broken mirror. Again we only manage to cover half the distance, but again we find a place to sleep.
The remaining stretch until the asphalt alternates between big round boulders, and red gravel, the kind you see in Wimbledon. And veeery slippery mud. Three times I survive, but then it goes wrong. Now I fall on my other side, so now my suit is dirty all around. Later we notice the dynamo casing has cracked again (see first report), but I'm still in one piece. Despite all hardship we reach the asphalt by noon, and a little later on Cochabamba, the fourth largest city of Bolivia. Fortunately a large city, so it's not hard to find a place to clean the bikes. And to locate a welder to fix my mirror again, and the hole in the dynamo casing. Everything works out, even finding a hostal with help of a colleague biker.
Cochabamba is no La Paz, so on we go towards the governmental capitol of the country, over asphalt. La Paz is located at 3800 meter elevation, and is surrounded by mountains (reaching 6000 meter). You can imagine the view we had when we arrived. We are busy arranging pictures on the website, so in a month or so you'll know what I mean. La Paz is the largest city of Bolivia, and we can use our Footprint to locate accomodation with parking places. I still feel the height (I'm short of breath, tired and head aches), so we stay here a day longer. And that's necessary too, for sending off a few parcels and cards back home takes half a day. But finally we leave for Lake Titicaca.
This is the largest natural lake at this altitude, and is considered an absolute must-see. We ride at a relaxed pace, and find it ... a disappointment. Maybe it is the weather (cold, wet and windy), or the many white noses we see. I don't know. I do know we don't feel like staying here for more than one day. I am glad we find a restaurant with a fire place, else we would have never warmed up again.
Tomorrow we go to Peru. Hopefully it will be warmer there.