Bolivia Off-Road

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by xs400, Oct 23, 2012.

  1. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Bolivia Off-Road

    Days 1 and 2


    Date of travel - October 2 through October 17.

    As an early 60th birthday present, I gave myself a present - 2 weeks off road motorcycling in Bolivia. Maybe I should say my
    wife gave me an early birthday present because she let me go!! Being lazy and not really knowing how to plan it myself, I
    instead signed up with Bolivian Motorcycle Adventures for the Highland I tour. (http://www.boliviamotorcycleadventures.com/index.htm)

    I flew from San Francisco to Dallas then on to Miami and finally to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

    I arrived in Santa Cruz at about 8am – nearly 21 hours after leaving home. I was met at the airport and was driven by van to
    the town of Samaipata – about a 3 hour drive – where to tour would begin. I was the only person to have signed up for the tour,
    so it was me, the guide (Maarten) and the guides assistant (Irwin).

    When I arrived in Santa Cruz it was raining. I was met at the airport and it was off to Samaipata. To be honest, I was glad to
    have been picked up and driven to Samaipata for the start of the tour. Riding a motorcycle on the wet roads and in congested
    traffic in Santa Cruz would not have been a good way to start my adventure. The don't seem to be too many rules of the road in
    Bolivia, stopping at red lights seemed to be optional and Bolivian drivers were very aggressive.


    Traffic in Santa Cruz - this is suppose to be a 2 lane road, but no one cares if there are lines on the road specifying lanes.
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    Once out of Santa Cruz, the rain stopped and the traffic disappeared. We also left the flat, low lands of Santa Cruz and started
    to go up into the mountains.

    The road from Santa Cruz to Samaipata
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    In Samaipata, I met my guide and checked into my hotel.

    Day 2
    After breakfast, I was met by Maarten (my guide) and we went to get the motorcycles. I was given a yellow Suzuki DR650. The first day was just going to be a couple of short rides so I could get to know the bike and to learn some of the local rules of the road - the rules were don't crash, don't get hit bay another vehicle, and don't run into anybody or anything!

    In the morning, we headed off for El Fuerte de Samaipata (The fort of samaipata), maybe 8 miles from the hotel. Maarten gave me an excellent description of the history of El Fuerte de Samaipata as we walked around the area.

    The road to El Fuerte de Samaipata with Samaipata in the far distance.
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    The ruins at El Fuerte de Samaipata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Fuerte_de_Samaipata)
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    After lunch we took another short ride to visit the local wild animal park. It was populated with monkeys, parrots, turtles,
    and some of the local fauna. Many of the monkeys are roaming loose in the park and they will climb up on you. I had the
    misfortune of having an overly excited monkey climb on my shoulder. He first tried to remove my hat, then my glasses and when I
    reached up to try and keep him from removing my glasses, the monkey bent over and lightly scratched me on the nose. It was only a
    small scratch but it did draw blood and I had to be taken inside the office to have some antibiotic put on my nose! I also did
    a thorough cleaning of the wound when I got back to the hotel.

    A monkey at the animal park – not the one that scratched me.
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    Day 3
    El Ruta del Che.


    Today we start our first real day of motorcycling. We will be riding from Samaipata to La Higuera – where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
    was killed. along the way, we will also visit the Che Guevara museum in Vallegrande.

    The road from Samaipata to Villegrande was paved and an easy ride. While riding to Villegrande, the right mirror on my bike
    decided to just fall off for no apparent reason. As I was riding on smooth paved road the mirror just fell off and hit my right
    arm and bounced into my lap! I was able to catch it between my leg on the saddle of the bike. I pulled over to show Maarten
    the mirror. We were able to buy a replacement mirror in Villegrande.

    The road to Viillegrande
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    Inside the Che Guevara Museum, Villegrande
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    Che was actually captured alive but the generals in charge of Bolivia at the time, ordered Che's execution.

    Getting gas near Villegrande
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    Leaving Villegrande, the road turned to dirt. The road was maintained, but potholes were just filled with large stones and being the end of the dry season, the road was very dusty. Before this trip, my only real off road riding was when I was in high school about 40 years ago. Luckily for me, my off road skills came back quickly and I did not have any real problems while riding.

    The road to La Higuera - the site of Che's death.
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    Shortly after we left Villegrande, Maarten started having problems with his Honda xr650. He was having problems with the engine missing and low power. Possibly due to dirt in the jets. He made a management decision and decided to go back to Samaipata and get a different motorcycle. Maarten told me to go an ahead the La Higuera and he'd catch up later. So I rode on alone for about 2 hours until I got to the hotel. Maarten showed up about 8pm on blue Suzuki DR650.

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    Self Portrait on the way to La Higuera
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    The hotel in La Higuera was quite rustic and did not even have electricity. The hotel was the former telegraph office where Che tried to remain in contact with the rest of the world. Since there was not electricity in the rooms, lighting at night was by candles. Dinner was at a local restaurant where the hosts (owners) were busy chewing on coca leaves and lightly tasting a white powder (cocaine?) while I enjoyed my dinner. There was a single bathroom for the 5-6 room hotel which did have a propane heated shower - so a hot shower was nice after a long dirty day in the saddle.


    Statue of Che at the site of his death (execution) I was told that Che did not get much support from the local population for a revolution in Bolivia. The Bolivian Communist party was also not a strong supported of Che.
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    To be continued
    #1
  2. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Day 4

    La Higuera to Villa Serrano


    We left La Higuera early and headed out on dirt roads to Villa Serrano. We were in the highlands at the end of the dry season. This area really doesn't get a lot of rain even in the wet season. Today's ride was 100% dirt road passing over some low passes and crossing the Rio Grande river.


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    We passed through a few small villages on the way to Villa Serrano. Most of the villages looked deserted, but the locals were either working somewhere or inside. There weren't many people just walking around.
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    When we arrived in Villa Serrano we found out it was a festival day for the town. It was sort of like the running of the bulls but I only saw the bulls in the corrals. The local young men would get into to corral and play around with the bulls. I think it was more to impress the girls because the bulls were pretty tame.

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    Downtown Villa Serrano
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    To be continued
    #2
  3. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Day 5

    Villa Serrano to Sucre


    More dirt roads and some paved to get to the next destination, Sucre. Along the way we stopped for lunch and toured a local market.


    The homes of the local farmers do not have a lot of color
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    There were quite a few animals on the roads. In this case goats, but it was not unusual to see cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, or llamas on or near the roads.
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    Women buying and selling goods in a local market
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    Shoe sales! These shoes were made from tires.
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    Downtown Sucre
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    #3
  4. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Great ride and birthday present. Thanks for taking us along. :D
    #4
  5. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Day 6

    Sucre to Potosi


    The road from Sucre to Potosi was paved all the way. Today was primarily riding through mountains and planes.

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    To be Continued
    #5
  6. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    In the silver mines of Potosi

    When I first arrived in Potosi, I noticed the elevation (13,400) feet) fairly soon. After checking into the hotel, I went for a walk around town to find the Plaza - all the towns we visted have at least one plaza when there is usually a large park like area surrounded on 4 sides by city streets, with a church or cathedral facing the plaza. Shops, restaurants, and markets also can be found facing or near the plaza. Anyway, after walking 8-10 blocks I found the plaza and I bought a beer and some chips to take back the the hotel room. The walk back to the hotel was all uphill and I was quite out of breath from the high altitude when I got back.

    My second day on Potosi was a challenge - the night before I started having problems with the altitude. I had a bad headache and trouble breathing. On the second day we were suppose to go to see the local silver mine and the mint. But I felt pretty bad that morning because of the altitude. So I got some medication for the altitude sickness and rested all morning. Coca tea also helps a lot with altitude sickness, so I drank 2 pots of coca tea in the morning and by lunch time I was fine. So after lunch we went of the silver mine to see how the miners work and to blow up some dynamite!

    Before going to the mine, we stopped at the local market to pick up some things. I needed to get some dynamite and also gifts for the miners that we going to show me how to set off the dynamite. At one store I bought 2 sticks of dynamite, 2 blasting caps with 3 minute fuzes, 3 bags of coca leaves, a bottle of 98% alcohol, and a bottle of orange soda. All that stuff cost about $8 US. Anyone can by dynamite at the local market - it's all part of doing business in Potosi.

    Before going in the mine I donned a hard hat with light and overalls. Climbing down into the mine was somewhat challenging but not a problem. It would, however, be a problem is you were overweight because I did have to crawl through some tight spaces. Soon after entering in the mine, I was told that the miners were setting up explosives further inside the tunnel. At the right time, we were told to cover our ears - then a series of 15 explosions took place down the mine shaft. I could feel the pressure wave from each explosion - exciting!!. Later, one of the miners showed me how to set the fuse in dynamite and I lit the fuse before we made a hasty retreat back through the tunnel to a safe place and we waited for the explosion. After the explosion, they showed me some veins of the minerals before going out of the tunnel. I left the 1 stick of dynamite and blasting cap, the coca leaves, alcohol, and orange soda as thank you gifts to the miners for showing me their work.

    BTW, I am way too tall to be a miner in Potosi. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet and overalls, I'm 6'1" and I must have banged my head more than a dozen times inside the mine - but the helmet saved me from harm. In most places the tunnels were about 5 to 5 1/2 feet high but sometimes only 4 1/2 feet high. There were places I could stand up straight, but they were few and far between. Climbing in and out of the mine also required climbing through some tight spaces.

    In the mine with 2 miners, some dynamite and a fuse!
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    The miners drink that 98% alcohol straight!!! They also give small offerings of alcohol to El Tio - the spirit of the mountain - for good luck and they make offerings to Pachamama - the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes also for good luck. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachamama)

    Orange soda is just to drink when thirsty.
    #6
  7. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    After spending 2 nights in Potosi, we headed off for Uyuni - the gateway to the largest salt flats in the world - the nearby Salar de Uyuni. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salar_de_Uyuni) The salt flats are also the site of lithium mining. Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries.

    The ride to Uyuni was only about 150 miles but the scenery was great and the road was mostly paved. We did see a lot a llamas along the way.

    Llamas hanging out near the road. The llamas did not seem to have any significant rear of people.
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    A truck stop where we had lunch on the road to Uyuni
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    Our lunch that day was soup - I was hungry so I had 2 bowls of soup for lunch.
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    The road to Uyuni
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    Nearing Uyuni with the salt flats in the far distance.
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    After arriving in Uyuni we took a side trip to the train graveyard outside Uyuni.
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    After checking into the hotel, we took a walking tour of the town before having dinner
    Dinner that night was llama steaks and potatoes. Llama tastes a lot like beef liver!!
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    #7
  8. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni

    Uyuni is a town of about 21,000 people and it is the gateway to the Sala de Uyuni - a vast salt plane in southwest Bolivia. The salt plane is at about 12,000 feet and the salt can be several meters deep in places. The salt plane is flat as far as the eye can see and the Salar de Uyuni covers over 4,000 square miles!

    Downtown Uyuni - not much happening here
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    I don't know if it was pay day or a run on the bank, but there was a line waiting to get in.
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    Entering the Salar de Uyuni - that shack up ahead, it's made out of salt!
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    On the Salar de Uyuni
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    On the Salar, followed by our support vehicle.
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    We rode about 50 miles across the flat Salar. Our destination was an island in the middle of the Salar. It is called Cactus island by the locals. The major vegetation is these tall cactus and other than 2 imported llamas, I did not see any other animal life. The only water the island gets is trucked in for use by the local park ranger or by the rain that falls in the rainy season. I was there near the end of the dry season and the island was very dry. The island is completely surrounded by the salt plane.

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    Because the salt is so flat and featureless, there is little perspective for photography and it is easy to make some some unusual photos.
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    After getting off the Salar, it's very important to get the bikes and vehicles cleaned. The salt is very corrosive. I was specifically told to avoid riding in any areas where there was standing water because the spray from riding through the saturated salt water was really bad for the bikes. Interestingly, there were places where people (guides) had cut holes in the salt to show that the water table was only a few inches below the dried salt. Below the dried salt was saturated saltwater.

    There are several vehicle cleaning places in Uyuni, just outside the salt plane. This was our first stop after getting off the Salar.
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    #8
  9. Flyingavanti

    Flyingavanti With the Redhead on Back!

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    Thanks for the ride report!:clap
    #9
  10. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

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    Lovin your report. Keep the photos coming!

    Johnnydarock
    #10
  11. Bear Chow

    Bear Chow Adventurer

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    Thanks for the report, I was in Saavadra and Santa Cruz in 1986. Geesh that was a life time ago. Can you please include a review of the tour facilitators.? How would you rate Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure?
    #11
  12. stickman1432

    stickman1432 Crusty Adventurer

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    Great report on Bolivia..............I haven't seen it report on before and you are opening up our knowledge for the ADVrider. The salt flats were very interesting.................Keep em comin.............:wink::wink:
    #12
  13. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Notes on hotels and stuff

    Many of the hotels we stayed in were what I'd call rustic. All the places we stayed were clean and had soap and shampoo, but a few places where we stayed had limited amenities. We were, of course, out in the middle of nowher so I did not not expect to stay at the Hilton. In town like La Higuera and Uyuni, there are no 5 star hotels, or even 3 star hotels. When we were in bigger cities, the hotels were better equipped. Most places I stayed had wi-fi, but I only got dial-up download speeds. It was OK for email and reading the news, but not for video. A few places I stayed I could use Skype to call my wife at home - but you can't count on that in most places.

    Let me tell you about the place we stayed in Uyuni. My room in Uyuni was spartan with no TV or internet but it had a bathroom. There was an electric heater on the wall for when it got cold at night. The bathroom shower in Uyuni was the same as in all my hotels. The bathroom sink only had a faucet for cold water.

    The showers in all the hotels I stayed in use an electrically heated shower head for taking a shower. The temperature of the water is controlled by the water flow rate, fast water equals colder water temps. You can see in the pic below the 2 wires going into the shower head. There was usually a circuit breaker in the bathroom connected to the shower head. Now here's where it gets really interesting, the shower head has an electrical coil in it to heat the water. If you reach up to the shower head while the shower is running, you get an electrical shock. Not only that, I found that most of the showers have plastic knobs on the single faucet in the shower. However, in one instance the shower faucet had a metal knob covered in electrical tape. In this case, when I went to adjust the water by turning the faucet, I once again got an electrical shock!! I was the grounding wire for the shower. So I learned early on to be careful and not touch the shower head so I would not get shocked while taking a shower. I also learned how to turn the water on and off in the shower so as to not get shocked. These are important things to know while traveling in Bolivia.

    One more thing about the showers, the drains in the showers all ran slow. By the time I was finished taking a shower, I was always standing in 1/2 to 1 inch of water.

    My hotel room in Uyuni.
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    Shower in Uyuni - note the electrical wire going into the shower head!! And only one faucet.
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    #13
  14. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    I thought Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure did a great job. I really like motorcycling in different places, besides Bolivia I've also been to Thailand and Mexico. But I'm too busy with work, family and stuff to do all the planning myself. I've found that going on a motorcycle tour works for me. I liked Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure because the price was right - not real expensive - and I got a good feel for off road travel in Bolivia. We didn't stay in 5 star hotels or eat at fancy restaurants and that's just what I was looking for. Yeah, I had a guide, but it was still a great adventure for me.

    The support vehicle also helps a lot with carrying the luggage and any spare parts that might be needed.
    #14
  15. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Uyuni to Oruro

    Today would be the longest day riding on the tour so far. We had to leave a little earlier than normal because of the long day riding. We had breakfast at about 7:30 and we were on the bikes by 8:30. The day would have a lot of dirt road riding before hitting pavement as we neared the city of Oruro.

    We bid farewell to beautiful downtown Uyuni.
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    The road from Uyuni to Oruro was fairly level and straight. However, the road was pretty mush washboard, rocks, dust and sand for many miles. There was little traffic on the road. Care had to be taken when crossing any railroad crossing that might cross the road. The railroad crossing were not maintained and there could be a good sized hole in the road near the RR tracks. The closest I came to crashing on the whole tour was when a set of crossing the railroad tracks on this road. I nearly lost it one time when I hit a deep hole between the RR tracks where the tracks crossed the road. I also had to keep an eye out for deep dust, that was also a challenge to keep upright in while riding.

    The road leaving Uyuni on the way to Oruro
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    The road to Oruro - note sheep and llamas in the distance near the road
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    Careful on those dusty curves
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    On the way to Oruro, we passed through the town of Challapata - the center of Illegal vehicle trade in Bolivia. As we approached Challapata, there was a strong military police presence. As we passed through the town, I noticed places in the street where it looked like tires had been burning, but now it had been clean up. The town was pretty quiet except for the military police all over the place. As we got to the other side of town there was a road block manned by more military police. At the road block they asked for our papers and i showed my passport and international drivers license to the very nice officer - he was nice, I'm not joking. Anyway, he asked where we were going and where we came from. When we told him we were from Uyuni, he was impressed - it's a long hard road to Uyuni.

    After a short stop to have our papers checked, we were bid good luck by the commander and we were sent on our way. Just past the road block were more troops in riot gear - helmets and shields - and an army tank, complete with canon pointing towards the town. Just so the towns folk would know who's in charge.

    I learned later on that 2 people had been killed by the police in Challapata a day or 2 before we went through the town. The dead guys had been part of a car smuggling ring. After the killing of the 2 guys, there was a big demonstration by the locals. The demonstration (maybe riot) had to be put down by the military police. Sorry I didn't get any pictures of the troops, taking pictures didn't seem like a good idea at the time.

    A town we passed through on the way to Oruro. It seemed like most of the small towns we rode through were nearly deserted. There were people there, they just were not out on the streets.
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    Typical street scene in downtown Oruro.
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    The central square or Plaza in Oruro
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    #15
  16. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Oruro the Cochabamba

    Today's ride would be all paved, but not without excitement. After leaving Oruro at 12,200 feet, we will head up into the mountains and go over a pass at about 15,000 feet. The road over the mountains were well paved and wide. Going over the pass would require a lot of passing of trucks and buses. Double yellow lines on the road are there mainly as a caution and we passed many vehicles on our way over the pass.

    Leaving Oruno there was no traffic to speak of. We rode through rolling hills with broad sweeping curves. Approaching the pass the road got steeper and the temperature dropped. Surprisingly, there were people living up near the summit. There's not much vegetation above 14,000 feet.

    Nearing the pass on the way to Cochabamba
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    People living up near the pass, we stopped here to put no some warmer gear.
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    Just pass the summit, looking back.
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    The road on the way down from the pass. The red dirt of the mountains were really spectacular to see!
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    On the ride down after going over tha pass, we came across a bus accident. One bus had rear ended another bus on the road down the mountain. We also saw a third bus broken down on the side of the road. It was not a good day to be in a bus.

    The highway down the mountains on the way to Cochabamba. If you closely you can see trucks and buses on the road.
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    Truck stop on the way to Cochabamba
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    Downtown Cochabamba
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    Arriving in Cocabamba I was warned to stay close and not get lost. Cochabamba is a city of about 1 million people. If I lost the guide, it would be hard to find him again - not impossible because I had the address and phone number of the hotel, but it would be a PITA to find the place by myself. Traffic was crazy in Cochabamba. We were splitting lanes and passing cars and trucks on the right. I'm OK splitting lanes, but when passing on the right you really have to focus in case someone in front decide to make a right turn. Also, traffic lights were mainly cautionary - meaning people ran red lights - and the lines were not obeyed all the time.

    Cochabamba was quite a bit lower altitude (9,300 feet ) and warmer than the towns we had been in previously. It was hot negotiating the stop and go traffic in the city center.

    Traffic in Cochabamba
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    We spent 2 nights in Cochabamba with 2 planned activities, stopping by the local market and visiting the largest "Cristo" sculpture of South America. At 33 meters and 30 cm, the Cristo de Cochabamba is 30 cm taller then the famous "Cristo de Rio de Janeiro"

    The market in Cochabamba - note the 3 people on the scooter on the left - helmets? - they don't need no sticking helmets. 0r any gear for that matter.
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    To get to the Cristo statue there is a gondola you can take for the trip up and down. It was a hot day and the gondola ride was a nice way to get there. Once at the top, you could go inside the statue and walk up to about has high as the arms. There were some small windows in the statue where you could look out.
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    #16
  17. miguelitro

    miguelitro Chuchaqui

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    Keep it up!
    The white powder being ingested with the coca leaves was likey quinoa ash, not cocaine. That gets smelled, not tasted:rofl
    Mike
    #17
  18. auldublinr

    auldublinr Adventurer

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    Great report there Mr.xs.Hell of a way to see a very far away place ,get some great experiences and hopefully not break the Bank at the same time.Some of those village don't look like they have changed in hundreds of years.Thanks for taking us along.
    #18
  19. xs400

    xs400 Be seeing you

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    Cochabamba to Samaipata

    This would be my last day of riding. It would also be the most scenic, as far as I was concerned. We left Cochabamba early and were able to get out of the city without much trouble from the traffic. Once out of the city we rode through the suburbs - more like farming areas and not really suburbs. As we got farther from the city, the scenery opened up to rolling hills with large farming areas. The roads were wide with sweeping curves.

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    After about 100 miles of riding, the pavement ended in a small village where we stopped across the street from the Hilton Hotel to grab a coke and a bite to eat.
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    The next 100 miles would be on dirt. First we would ride through villages and over mountain passes. Eventually we would go through an area called La Siberia. La Siberia is an area where it's cold and wet almost all year. This is an area where the moist tropical air from the Bolivian lowlands is pushed up against the mountains and a cloud forest is formed along the mountain passes. I was warned in advance that we go through foggy areas where we'd only have about 50 feet of visibility.

    The road to La Siberia
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    Panoramas of the road we took from Cochabamba to La Siberia. You can just see the dirt road on the right and then going over the pass in the distance.
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    The road where it followed a ridge line on the way to La Siberia
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    On my way to La Siberia, I had a close encounter with a rooster. We were passing through a very small village with a lot of chickens walking around. As I rode through, a rooster decided to cross in front of me. As I got close, the rooster decided to jump or fly in front of me and the rooster hit me in the shoulder as I rode by. Not a hard impact, but memorable. As I looked in the mirror after the impact, the rooster was again walking on the street. Apparently no harm done to either of us.

    The fog and cloud forest of La Siberia can be seen in the distance
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    Sure enough, when we got up to the pass and La Siberia, it was quite cold and foggy. Luckily the dirt road was dry so we did not have to ride in the mud. As promised, the visibility was about 50 feet in places, so we rode very slowly to make sure we did not ride off the side of the mountain. There were also quite a few animals, cattle and horses along the road and slightly hidden by the fog.

    Once over the pass and through La Siberia, we descended rapidly to much drier, warmer weather. Actually, the terrain we followed after going through La Siberia turned almost desert like.
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    The road also became paved for the last 40-50 miles as we continued on to Samaipata and the end of the tour.

    I stayed one more night in Samaipata before being driven to Santa Cruz for a tour of the city and a farewell dinner before catching an early flight home.
    #19