Chicago to Panamá y Más Allá - A Staged Journey Through Latin America

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Parcero, Nov 21, 2011.

  1. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    Good luck Parcero!.. Wow, I didn't realize you were heading out this soon. Good luck to you and SAFE riding my friend. I'll follow your adv postings closely. Feel free to PM or contact me directly if I can be of any help to you. I'm seriously considering signing up for one of Chris' tours, but prolly will not be this year.

    Again, GOD bless your journey and SAFE Riding.
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  2. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

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    Haha...you are a very lucky man!


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  3. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Thank you, kaspilo! I’ll be thinking of you as I ride through Bolivia.

    My own bike won’t be there after this stage, but keep me posted if/when you’re further into the planning stages of doing a tour with Chris. I would join you!


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  4. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    All packed up, checked in, and waiting to board the flight to Panama and then on to Bolivia, while wondering why a Panamanian-flag carrier is the “Offical Airline” of Major League Baseball.

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    By the time I arrived in Santa Cruz it was just before midnight after a flight delay in Panama due to the heaviest rain I have ever seen there. By the time I got to the hotel and got settled in, I knew that my trip to Chris’s place to pick up my moto might be later than planned.

    And that’s the way it worked out. Since I did in fact get up up a little later than I wanted to, rather than lug all of my gear to El Torno to pack up and leave from there, I decided to just bring my jacket to pick up the bike and ride back to the hotel to pack up the bike. I skipped breakfast and ordered an Uber. The half-hour trip set me back 87 bolivianos, or about US$12. I love this place!

    I’m super thankful to Chris who stored my bike and gear, and had everything ready and the bike’s battery charged. It fired right up. After chatting a bit, it was time to get back to the hotel to pack up.

    I brought along some more camping gear, mostly for cooking. As little space as that took up, it seemed like I had way more gear this time around than could be easily packed on the bike. I took a bit more time rearranging things with the bike parked right in front of the Marriott Hotel’s entrance. Some of the hotel employees were asking questions, and I was happy to regale them with stories of my trip.

    As I was packing and chatting, the manager of the hotel came out and introduced himself, and told me that he was also a rider and had a Triumph Tiger 800. He seemed to have a lot of good information about the roads around Santa Cruz, both paved and unpaved.

    I finally got the bike packed up and went upstairs to suit up. I checked email one last time and discovered that a deal back home was going to close earlier than expected, so I had to stick around and wait for documents to be emailed that I would have to print, sign, and FedEx back home. I figured I might as well have lunch while I waited, and the hotel manager saw me in the restaurant and asked about my delayed start.

    He suggested modifying my route to exit Bolivia via Ruta 4 from to Corunabá, Brazil, rather than turning north at San Jose de Chiquitos. That would save time, Ruta 4 from Santa Cruz to the border being “the best road in all of Bolivia,” according to him. This would create a longer route on the Brazil side, but he said the roads were good a fast there so it would be easy to cover the extra miles.

    After lunch I printed and signed the documents, then jumped on the bike and headed to the local FedEx office. The process was slow, with all of various forms and copies and stamps required, and by the time I was rolling it was 3 PM.

    Takin’ care of business.
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    I gassed up on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, just before picking up Ruta 4. The attendant checked my plate and quoted me the extranjero price. I asked for the “sin factura” price and she wouldn’t agree. But she suggested that I move the bike to the edge of the property, outside of camera range, and said she would fill up as many two-liter soda bottles as I needed at the cheapest price. They even had a bunch of empty bottles on hand. So she filled up six bottles and I carried them over to the bike and filled up on the cheap!

    When I got on Ruta 4, I saw what the manager meant—it was definitely a very good road, pristinely paved and well-marked, with a high speed limit of 110 kph in most places. But it was very straight and not much on scenery.

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    It was an easy ride by any standard, with plenty of fuel availability and places to stop to rest, coffee, or food.

    Except for this place, which was out of gasolina.
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    But I had two gallons in RotoPax cans stashed in my panniers, so I would be good until until San Jose. So I rolled on a bit and then stopped here for coffee and a snack.
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    I arrived in San Jose de Chiquitos a little after dark and found a motel on the outside of town. Nice place with secure parking for the bike, in a courtyard right outside of the room. I dumped my gear, changed, and went to the plaza for dinner. After that it was lights out to try to get an earlier start the next day.

    The Jesuit Mission of Chiquitos, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 17th and 18th centuries to convert local tribes to Christianity.
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    One of the ubiquitous cute street dogs on the plaza, very patiently waiting for a hand out. Of course I obliged.
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  5. Rubinski

    Rubinski Been here awhile

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    Que padre! I'm enjoying your Post Parcero. I'll be looking forward to continue following your trip. Be safe
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  6. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    Yeah... good job Parcero. I was there about 4-5 years ago, but the roads were not nearly as good as the one on your picture... Hopefully, if your future roads continue to be paved you won't have much to worry about, except for the animals on the road. Well?..spring is now there and the dry season is just about over with, I suspect you will be dealing with rain, humidity, high temps + lots of mosquitos and other bugs (keep your moth shut)! :lol3 I suspect you will go north from San Jose de Chiquitos...(rt 17.. if not wrong). Isn't interesting that the Jusuits built those missions to catechize the locals in the middle of nowhere in the jungle?, there are quite a few all over the corner between Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia and since there are no stones/rocks they were built using bricks!

    God Bless and Have a safe ride.... will follow your postings daily.
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  7. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    I woke up to a sunny and cool morning—perfect riding weather, and very different from the last time I was in Bolivia. I had breakfast at the hotel, which turned out to be the weak link in an otherwise perfect place. Should have eaten on the plaza during my quick tour on the way out of town.

    Packing the bike would be very easy. Any closer to the room and the bike would be inside with me.
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    Last night when I saw these sculptures outside of the motel, I was wondering just what kind of place it was going to be. But the El Suto Aparthotel was legit, clean, and family friendly.
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    Ruta 4 continued on, just as straight and flat as it was yesterday.
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    A little change of scenery through a short group of sweepers near Chochis, with a bit of red rock formations similar to many parts of the western U.S.A.
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    And then back to normal.
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    Of course with a road like that I was making good time. I arrived at the border at Puerto Quijarro at 2 PM.

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    First stop was a money changer to swap my bolivianos for reales. A quick check of the xe fx rate app told me she was within just a few points of the official exchange rate. Not bad.

    I stamped out of Bolivia and walked over to aduanas to have my Bolivia TVIP cancelled. I had to run around and make copies of my passport information pages and Bolivian entry stamps, and then had to wait a bit for the inspection of the bike’s VIN and plate numbers since the agent was finishing up with a tour bus that arrived just before I did. After an hour I was out and rode to the Brazil side to stamp in with migraciones. With the ink still wet on my passport stamp, I walked into aduanas to register the bike, and was told that the person who handled TVIPs was gone and wouldn’t be back until 9 PM at the earliest. A seven hour wait? Really?

    I was debating whether or not to ride into Corumbá, Brazil to wait it out since there was nothing to do at the border. A group of Brazilian bikers arrived shortly who where heading into Bolivia. We struck up a conversation and I told them what happened and explained my route. They were very familiar with the roads in Brazil and told me that the road I was to use in Brazil was not that fast, at least for the first few hundred miles, and could be slow going due to the number of trucks. It was also devoid of decent scenery.

    They suggested going back through Bolivia to Puerto Velho, along my original route. At this point, it was probably going to be six of one or half a dozen of the other given the amount of time I would have to wait to get the bike into Brazil, and if I chose to wait it out, I would certainly have to stay the night.

    So after some more discussions, this time with paper maps out, I decided to go back to Bolivia.

    Yeah, enjoy your stay, even if it is less than an hour!
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    I walked back to Brazil migraciones to stamp out. The agent was very curious to say the least about why I was coming back so soon. I explained as best I could, and one of the Brazilian riders helped me out in Portuguese. Then the border agent said yeah, good decision because this part of Brazil is boring. Better to go back to Bolivia. They have much more to see and do! And then he proceeded to tick off all of his recommendations for me—San Jose de Chiquitos, La Paz, El Salar, Lake Titicaca, Potosí, and more. Seemed like he would be better as a Bolivian border agent.

    He stamped me out and I went back to Bolivian migraciones. The agent there, the same one who stamped me out, was equally suspicious but at least I could explain things to him in Spanish. He questioned me pretty thoroughly, but soon stamped me back in.

    I rolled up to aduanas next only to find out they were closed for the day. Looks like I will be spending the night at the border after all.

    Time for a little chow and a map study session at a Puerto Quijarro restaurant.
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    Since I couldn’t go anywhere until the next day when aduanas opened up, I found a hotel and decided to enjoy a restful night close to the border.

    Welcome to the Hotel Bibosi.
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    Too bad it was too cold to swim.
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    A little sprocket art.
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    And secure parking, although not as convenient as at the hotel in San Jose de Chiquitos.
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    Despite there not being many guests that night, the hotel was well-staffed, and had a full menu at the restaurant. I had a very nice dinner, reviewed my route options, and decided to make my final decision in the morning based on how quickly I get in and out of aduanas.


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  8. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    I thought you were heading towards Manaus, but roads seem to be great, a surprise to me. What a beautiful adventure...Von Voyage!
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  9. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

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    Nice!
    Cool sprocket/chain piece.
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  10. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    I was up nice and early for breakfast and to be at aduanas when they opened at 8 AM. It was another nice, sunny, but cool day.

    I arrived at aduanas just before 8 AM. The guard recognized me from yesterday and opened he door and asked me to take a seat. Employees began to trickle in, and by the time they were all there and had there computers fired up it was almost 9 AM. I gave the guard my paperwork for the new TVIP and he carried it back to an employee. She came back to the front of the office a few minutes later and asked for copies of my passport information page and new entry stamp. Oops! Good thing there was a copy shop across the street. I ran over and returned with the needed copies. Now I just has to wait for the new TVIP.

    It seemed to be taking much longer than it did on my first two entries into Bolivia. I looked back into the office, and saw the woman with my papers talking to another employee. They seemed to be whispering to each other and glancing at me from time to time.

    Finally she came to the front and told me that they could not issue a new TVIP, at least not today. She explained that the employee who checked the bike out the day before only put one of two required stamps on my TVIP cancellation, and didn’t enter it into the computer system before going home for the night. They would have to enter the cancellation now, and it would show up in the system tomorrow, at which point they could issue a new one.

    I couldn’t be mad at the employee who handled my exit the night before. If I had stayed gone it would have not mattered if my exit was in the system or not. Now, I just hoped there was a way to resolve the matter without spending yet another day at the border. Of course I still had the option of heading to Porto Velho through Brazil, but with all the time I had already lost, that plan just didn’t seem viable. So I waited while they tried to call the main office in LaPaz for instructions.

    I asked if they could still generate the form, and let the system catch up later. Not possible, they said. How about give me some kind of a letter? No on that front as well. About an hour into the wait, the employee who handled my exit the day before walked in. I suggested they speak with him. After some more whispering, and then a pow wow in a back room, the woman told be that they could process my new TVIP.

    By now the office was full of people, more Brazilian bikers, tour busses, and passenger cars. Another 45 minutes passed before someone was available to check my VIN and plate. After that, it was another half an hour to get the new TVIP, but at least I had it.

    I finally left Puerto Quijarro at about 11:30 AM, and knowing that I would not be heading back through Brazil after yesterday’s and today’s delays, I exchanged my reales back to bolivianos. The same lady gave me a decent rate, and I figured that I only lost about 15 US dollars in the transfers.

    Waiting for inspection with the some Brazilian bikers.
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    Welcome back to Bolivia!
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    I got back on Ruta 4 heading east toward San Jose de Chiquitos. Being a Sunday, the road was a ghost town—almost no other traffic in either direction. I was stopped at the very first first checkpoint outside of town. Good thing I had my TVIP.

    I stopped for lunch near Yacuces. Not a lot to choose from but like every roadside restaurant in Bolivia, the food was delicious.
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    I got back on the road and stopped for gas near Roboré. I pulled up to the pump, and the attendant dutifully checked my plate. She quoted me the extranjero price and I asked for the sin factura price. There were two Bolivian-plated motos in the gas station, a KLR and a BMW R1200C. The guy on the KLR approached me and told me to move my bike next to his and he would have the attendant pump the gas into an old one-gallon plastic oil bottle on the cheap.

    I thanked him but said it’s not a big deal, I don’t need much gasoline anyway. He insisted, saying the extranjero price is robbery. So I let Victor handle the negotiations and got filled up on the cheap again. He insisted that I strap the oil jug onto the back of my bike so I could use it again. Now I know why all those bikes I have seen have empty jugs bungeed to the back.

    Thanks, Victor!
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    Victor lives in Santa Cruz and was riding with his girlfriend, Maria. He asked me to ride along with them to Santa Cruz. I told him I would be happy to do that, but only as far as San Jose de Chiquitos where I was turning off toward Brazil on Ruta 17. No problem, he said, we’ll all stop for coffee there and be on our separate ways.

    Victor and Maria
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    On the way to San Jose, Victor pulled off at a fork in the road. The fork led to Cochis, and he asked if I had stopped there on the way out to see the Sanctuario Mariano de la Torre, also known as the Santuario de Cochis. I said no, I hadn’t, and he insisted that we all go now. I didn’t really have the time, but Victor assured me that it would be worth it.

    He was right! The sanctuary is a church and a shrine dedicated to the victims of a natural disaster that occurred there on January 15, 1979, when heavy rains caused a landslide that trapped and killed residents in the area, and also destroyed the railroad tracks passing through the area.

    It’s perch high on the mountainside offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, and the architecture and hand-carved features in the church and shrine are beautiful.

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    The huge, hand-carved, door to the church.
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    Many carvings commemorate the disaster.
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    The views from the top of the short hike up the mountain are amazing.
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    The stations of the cross along an outside promenade.
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    That little side trip took more time than I anticipated, but it was well worth it. Later we also tried to see the nearby waterfalls, but the entrance was closed. Victor suggested we make a stop on Aguas Calientes to see the hot springs, but we were running out of time.

    We got into San Jose well before dusk, and stopped on the plaza for coffee.

    A group of youngsters seem fascinated by my moto, or perhaps it was with Maria.
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    On the way out of town Victor stopped for gas. I didn’t need much, but I figured I’d tip off anyway. I parked away from the pumps and walked up to them with my empty jug.

    “Lo siento, no puedo,” I was told by the attendant. At that, Victor launched into her insisting that she fill the jug. She refused, and Victor argued and argued, blasting the government’s policy of sticking it to the tourists and telling her that the whole world does it anyway, and pointed to a group of bikes near the station’s entrance filling up out of two-liter bottles as he spoke. She held her ground, called the manager over, and he threatened to call the police. At that I told Victor no sweat, I’ll pay the full extranjero price. Victor wouldn’t have it. It’s the principle and he’s a man of principle. Now he was arguing with the manager and with an audience, and the manager conceded and I filled up again on the cheap, saving my empty bottle for the next stop.






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  11. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    That was the original plan for this stage, kaspilo, but squeezing it in between another trip and obligations at home made for a very tight timeline, without room for error.


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  12. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

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    What a rare gem that sanctuary/shrine is! Beautiful carvings.
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  13. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    One of the things I noticed when I was riding after dark on the way to San Jose de Chiquitos was that every single oncoming car or truck was flashing their high beams at me. I thought perhaps my headlight was out again, as it was when I picked up the bike at Chris’s. When I replaced the H7 bulb with a spare that I had been carrying around, I found that the plastic connector was broken and looked like it had been burned. It crumbled in my hands, so I had to connect the two wires individually with their spade connectors. They too were loose, so I crimped them on as best I could and used electrical tape to make sure the connection held before I left.

    I pulled over to check the lights, and everything looked good. Victor noticed that my lights were aimed extremely high. In fact, when I turned off the auxiliary lights, neither my low nor high beam lit the roadway. No wonder the oncoming traffic was flashing their lights at me.

    I tried to aim the lights downward using the adjusting lever behind the headlight assembly that lowers the lights when heavily loaded. That didn’t do the trick, and I discovered that the entire headlight assembly was aimed high and seed to be jammed in that position.

    Most likely that occurred on the way back from Trinidad, where the pothole-ridden road was so bad and so jarring that I dented my front rim in a couple of places, thankfully not bad enough for the tires to loose air.

    Attempts to force the assembly back into place were futile, and taking the whole thing apart to try to reposition it in on the road when darkness was setting in wasn’t something that I wanted to attempt. Additionally, my brake pads were now super thin, both front and back.

    Since it was now too late to make much headway in the daylight on Ruta 17, my options were to either stay in San Jose for the night or head back to Santa Cruz. I went over the route and remaining time with Victor and decided to head back to Santa Cruz. There was a BMW shop there who would most likely have brake pads, and might even be able to fix my headlight assembly. The idea of having to cover a ton of ground and ride after dark to get it done with bad lightly wasn’t something that I wanted to do.

    So I began the ride back to Santa Cruz, following Victor in the dark.


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  14. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Bolivia is full of hidden gems!


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  15. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    What a coincidence! yesterday I replaced my headlight ass'y on my F650Gs, it also cooked the 2 spade brown connector to the lightbulb, the heat burned a section of the reflrector near the light bulb and the smoke blurred the internal reflecting surfaces... had to buy another reflect assy... $200 ! I was reading ADvrider and I guess this is a common problem among the GS models.

    What awewsome pict's you have posted. Thanks for such a detail and good narrative, it makes me believe I was tere with you. Best regards... Be safe and God Bless!
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  16. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    A coincidence indeed. I remember smelling something like an electrical fire many months ago. It didn’t last long and I presumed it might have been from somewhere other than my bike, but there was nothing else around. I guess I was lucky that nothing else got fried other than the connector. My reflector is stil good.
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  17. Nateman

    Nateman Adventurer

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    Maybe they were fascinated with the empty oil jug bungeed to the back of your bike! I like it, it gives your bike a kind of gypsy look.
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  18. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Good eye, again! I didn’t even notice that. I thought I didn’t have a picture of the bike with the jug hanging off the back.
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  19. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    I arrived in Santa Cruz well after dark. The last 30 miles was a brutal ordeal of truck traffic in both directions, leaving little opportunity to pass slow-moving rigs. I was dead on arrival, and left the bike in the hotel’s driveway, grabbed my bag, checked in, and hit the sack.

    The next morning I was up early for breakfast. The hotel manager asked me why I was back in Santa Cruz. I told him about my delays at the border and the bike maintenance issues. When I mentioned going to the local BMW dealer, he said his best friend is the manager and he pulled out his cellphone and dialed up Ovidio at the shop.

    The dealer was only about a half a mile from the hotel, and I arrived just after they opened. Ovidio’s service manager wasn’t in yet, and he suggested that I come back at 1 PM. I used the time to get do some local riding and sight seeing, and to grab lunch.

    I also got the bike washed, which it sorely needed.
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    When I got back to the shop, we looked over the bike and determined there was a broken mount on the headlight assembly, which was fixable. That, an oil change, brake pad replacement, and replacement of a broken and bent clutch lever would take a couple of days. Of course with another two days of down time there was no way I would make it to Porto Velho, let alone Manaus on this stage. Ovidio said I could leave the bike there for as long as I need, so I left it there for service and went back to the hotel to see about changing my flights home.

    I decided rather than spend the money to change flights and travel dates, I would stay until my original departure date and fly out to Uyuni to see the Salar properly. I was there before, but it was an abbreviated visit due to getting my bike stuck in the mud.

    I booked flights on Boliviana de Aviación, packed up my moto gear to leave in the hotel, and readied a small travel bag for Uyuni.

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    Before I left in the morning I had breakfast with Victor and Maria. Great people and I hope to see them again when I return.
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    Off to Uyuni, with a connection in LaPaz.
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    Approaching El Alto.
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    El Alto Internacional Airport.
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    Enjoying the cool, crisp, and thin air of El Alto before boarding my connecting flight to Uyuni.
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    Final leg to Uyuni.
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    And back to the Palacio de Sal Hotel.
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    I thought the hotel was pretty nice when I stayed there in January, but they have made some nice improvements since then.
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    The outside temperature was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and the many fireplaces in the hotel were comforting.
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    I’ll sleep well tonight.
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  20. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile Supporter

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    Wow nice digs. Hard to imagine such a nice spot in the middle of a high desert. I’ll be rolling through there in a little over a week. Can’t wait. Safe travels!
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