Chasing “Che” in the mud

Monday February 20, 2017

With threatening skies we decided to leave Villa Serrano early in hopes of making the 75 mile trek to La Higuera before the rain starts. We are also concerned about the condition of the road after the massive rainstorm two days ago. We didn’t have any word on the road conditions and there was no internet service or cell service to check so we took a chance. The day actually starts out pretty nice. Deby is happy. 

More amazing roads and scenery. We both thought all this black rock was coal but were repeatably told there was no coal mining in this area. 

We drop down to the Rio Grande river where we need to cross. There is a narrow part of the river between two rock outcroppings where there is a suspension bridge. You can see it in the distance. 

Jean told us the bridge might be closed because some of the cables snapped a couple of weeks ago. He knew it was closed for a while but didn’t know if it was repaired or someone just moved the road closed sign. Fortunately the bridge was open so we stopped for a few pictures. 

Aude and Jacques on the Super Tenere. 

Deby and Aude, two amazing women. 

We found evidence of the broken cable, they just left it in the middle of the bridge deck. Maybe as a reminder to be careful? 

I mean… these are thick cables. Must have been a big storm to make it break. 

This sign is at the end of the bridge, I’ll translate: “Don’t fish with explosives.” Always good advice I think. 

Back on the road. The speck below on the road is the Yamaha. 

It’s all good until the rain starts…. and the road turns to …. mud.

We are behind Aude and Jacques when the Super Tenere hits a slick spot in the mud and down they go. They seem ok but I deem it to dangerous to stop where they fell because the mud was so slick sometimes even standing can be dangerous. Deby and I stop at a level spot just beyond and run back to help. They are ok and the bike seems fine as well. Good thing they were going slow. We take a minute to get the bike up and collect ourselves before moving on.

After what is probably another mile of tricky mud we stop here because we notice they are not behind us any more. Hmmm. Deby waits in the rain while I turn around the Honda to look for them. I find Jacques on the side of the road sitting on his bike in the rain. No Aude. She lost her cell phone in the crash and decided to walk back on the steep muddy road to look for it. Dang. I jump back on the bike to help. I don’t know if she was jogging or what but we both arrived at the crash site about the same time and she actually found the phone before I did. I realized I didn’t take the back bag off my bike and there is nowhere to give her a ride back so she said not to worry and started walking uphill in the rain and mud back to the bikes. I rode the ever more treacherous road back for the third time to report on her progress and wait.

Finally she arrives, tired and soaked. She is wearing blue jeans that are soaked through. With only about 10Km to her hotel Jacques decides it would be a good time to put on rain gear. 

It’s a three man job. 

It’s tricky, slippery and muddy but we make the last few kilometers to Posada Casa del Telegrafista. 

We lodge in the historic building, basically a mud hut with no water or electricity but a super comfy bed, candles for light and lots of warm blankets. 

I love the hammock. 

Bano, over here. Actually, nice flush toilet and hot shower which we took immediate advantage of. 

I feel bad, after everything Aude has been through she is exhausted, soaked and probably just wants a warm shower and nap. No, she is the hostess of the hotel and feels obligated to make us a warm meal. Amazingly, she whipped up omelettes and salads for us in her house where we all ate in relative silence. Thanks Aude.

I walk out and there is Aude up on a ladder wiring up a light fixture… hey, what are you doing? Give me that, “I’m an engineer!” 

We still had some daylight so Deby and I decided to walk the (very) short distance to the main square. There is a giant statue of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Most of us Norton aficionados are familiar with Ernesto “Che” Guevara because of his iconic trip in 1952 through South America on a 500cc 1939 Norton Model 18. Che’s journey on the Norton with his fellow medical student friend Alberto Granado was turned into the classic book and movie “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Little did I know when we started our South America trip in Buenos Aries that I would be not far from following the route of Che or “Ruta del Che” as they call it down here.

I’m sitting is this exact spot after Deby takes my picture and a guy comes walking up with a glass of wine and a camera. It looks like he wants to take a picture of the statue and I assume he doesn’t want me to be part of his picture. I’m too tired to move so I look at him an say in my best Spanish (which is not very good) “Soy tourista del dia.’ He looks at me and says “Triste?” What the? Is my Spanish that bad? “No I’m not sad,” I answer in English. He laughs and introduces himself in perfect English. He’s Mika and he’s a German ex-pat living in Samaipata. He rode his motorcycle to La Higuera and was spending the night at the Los Amigos bar and hotel across the street from ours. He’s on a Suzuki DR350 and is leaving the next day. That is the same city we are going to so he asks us to join him. Cool!
Much has been written about Che by people with more knowledge on the subject than me and I recommend at least taking a look at the Wikipedia summary of his life. In short, during his motorcycle trip through South America he witnessed social injustice that spurred him to become a revolutionary eventually teaming up with Fidel Castro to overthrow Cuba and then worked to export his idealism through out parts of South America. In 1966 he travelled to Bolivia in disguise to organize a revolution. For various reasons Che did not find the support he expected from the people of Bolivia and the Bolivian army with help from the CIA captured Che in October of 1967. Che was held captive in the school house in the small town of La Higuera where after a few days he was executed.

About 100 feet away from the statue is the small school house where Che was killed which is now a museum. It was closed. I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists in town so I didn’t really expect someone to be waiting for us. We find a little kid who knows someone who can ask an adult who might have a key. So we wait.
The museum is, well, very humble and probably not really changed in 50 years. We saw the spot he was supposedly killed, the chair he sat in and the original desks from the school. I was looking for any Norton pictures and only found a blurry copy of a picture with him and the Model 18.

Schoolhouse museum.


Later that night Deby and I join Mika at Los Amigos, the only bar in town that is run by an old biker guy and his wife from France. He moved to La Higuera five years ago because he was a Che fan. His bar was more of a museum to Che than the actual museum. He had owned a number of Harleys and despite the language barrier we spent the night drinking wine and discussing various motorcycles and sharing pictures of past motorcycles owned. Motorcycling is truly a universal language. Here is their web page for Bar and Hostel Los Amigos. 

Tuesday February 21, 2017

Aude was the perfect host. We had a wonderful breakfast and loaded up our bikes and met Mika for the ride to Samaipata 112 miiles away. Below is Mika and his DR350 at the Los Amigos. 

What can I say, more beautiful mountain roads winding off into the distance, a really nice ride through beautiful country.

We arrive at Samaipata early in the afternoon and check into a hotel that Mika recommended. We decided to stay an extra day because I needed to fulfill my duties as editor of the Northwest Norton Owners newsletter. I spend the next day working on the newsletter and doing a day trip to some nearby Inca ruins.

Here’s Mika with one of his small bikes he rents to tourists in Samaipata. 

As it turns out, Mika is an experienced world motorcycle traveler, having traveled through Europe, Russia, SE Asia and the United States. Now he’s settled into this small corner of Bolivia. I would recommend connecting with Mika if you are ever in Bolivia. Thanks for everything Mika!

Bikes ready to leave for Cochabamba. 

We say goodbye to Mika and start off with smiles on our faces, it doesn’t last long. We had 239 miles to our destination and I had a route planned but somehow I think we may have got on the wrong route. I was trying to just stay on the main highway looking forward to an easy day ride on pavement. Not to be.

Immediately the road turned to dirt, OK no problem but the clouds forming were ominous. 

Then we hit road construction. 

Then the rain came and everything turned to slick mud……

The road was under construction for over 100 miles! It all turned to mud in the rain. 

When it wasn’t bad… it was worse. 

At one point we had to wait for this guy to actually build us a path through the muck.

Deby was an absolute trooper. This was some of the most challenging riding we’ve ever had. On and on, for over six hours she followed in the slick mud kept her bike upright the whole way. What was supposed to be a relaxing day ride ended up being a skills test in mud riding. 

We were a mess. 

If you are really interested in riding through mud, here is a four minute video summary.

According to my GPS log our moving time was 8 hours even with a total time of 9 hours and 13 minutes, mostly stopped for construction vehicles. We didn’t stop for lunch all day, mostly because there was just nowhere to stop on this mountain road. We arrived in Cochabamba at 5:30 PM. Tired, wet and extremely muddy. We had booked a room at a nice hotel, Hotel Aranjuez a 4 star place that was highly recommended on Booking.com. We arrived looking like total mud balls, I didn’t even want to step into the lobby with our muddy boots and pants. Fortunately, the hotel staff couldn’t have been nicer and went out of their way to carry our muddy bags into our room and help the best they could.

We ended up staying a few more days so I could get caught up on pictures, videos and the Norton club newsletter. This resulted in way too many hours in the hotel typing on my laptop but I’m glad to get caught up. In one of our excursions around the hotel I found a car wash a half a block away. Yowsers! I rode both bikes over and for 100 Bolivianos we had clean motorcycles, that’s about $15 USD. The deal of the week.

So, whew! So far so good. What’s next? Ummmm, the Bolivian Death Road…. click on the article headline to read about it.

A 15,000ft descent, sheer drops and 300 deaths a year: Welcome to Bolivia’s Death Road, the terrifying route tourists love to cycle

Why? Why? Why? According to one person we talked to there are actually many Bolivian Death Roads, and the one we were just on was one of them…

Thanks for following! Love the comments.

Donn and Deby

Back Roads of Bolivia

Ok, just one more quick video from the Salar. Our tour guide Markus made this one, a true horror classic.

And one last (I promise) silly picture of us balancing on a shoe string.

With all the fun behind us we found our way back to Sucre and our favorite hotel. Remember I said we had the best room in the house? Here is a pic, we had the whole top floor. Trust me, not all our accommodations are so luxurious but we’ll take it when we can.

And a super nice restaurant with really good food.  

Serendipity

Also as mentioned in the last post we met Marco Birchler at Casa de Turismo across the street from the hotel. He had a recommend route that went into the Bolivian mountains and included the Ruta del Che, named after Ernesto “Che” Guevara, but more on that later. Deby and I were in Marco’s shop inquiring about the accomadations he recommended along the way. One of them, Posada Casa del Telegrafista in La Higuera was an small place run by a French woman. According to my map this little pueblo was 15Km off the main (dirt) highway at the end of a dead end road. After some discussion about needing a reservation he called her on her cell phone to see if she had a room available. Sure she said…. she would be right over! She was in Sucre for the day with her boyfriend and was a block away in the main square. Literally two minutes later Aude walked in the door with her boyfriend, who is also from France, Jacques. It get’s better…. they are travelling two up on a big Yamaha Super Tenere. It’s a two day ride to their hotel, would we like to join them? Sure, a personal guide with local knowledge who speaks the language? So, that is how we ended up spending the next three adventure filled days with Aude and Jacques. We made plans to leave the next afternoon.

That gave us more time to wander around the city one last time. We were getting close to the annual Carnival celebration and there were almost daily parades and activities in and around the main square.

Who doesn’t love a parade? People from all the surrounding villages come into the big city to march and represent their communities. Everyone was having a great time, including us.

Saw this on a 125cc motorcycle. I guess Harley doesn’t bother with enforcing their branding down here. 

In the main square there were about a half dozen of these kids, all well under 10 years old, doing chalk drawings on the sidewalks for money. 

Some were really good. Can you imagine how good an artist you would be after doing this everyday since the age of six? Deby was quite generous with her appreciation of the art.

Saturday February 18, 2017

On the road with our new friends. The Bolivian countryside is amazing, with green mountains everywhere and narrow twisty roads. We started out on nice pavement and pleasant temperatures in the 70’s. A good start to the day.

I don’t think there is a straight road in this part of Bolivia. 

We were behind this bus for a while and for once I didn’t really want to pass. I was glad it caught up with us at a stop so I could get this picture. 

The road eventually turned to gravel but it was nicely maintained as we wound through the hills. 

We ended up in the small village of Villa Sarrano, population 2,877. Aude was friends with the owners of the Hostel San Miguel so we pulled in for what ended up being two nights.

The secure parking is, of course, in the lobby of the hotel. Something we were quite used to by this time. We wait until we’ve had some beer and it gets dark before loading the bikes for the night. 

Easy….

Here is Jacques and I congratulating ourselves on a job well done storing the bikes. 

I didn’t mention that Jacques and Aude don’t really speak much English, they speak French and Spanish. It’s no problem because we can get by with basic stuff with our limited Spanish. At dinner we were trying to explain where Seattle is in broken Spanish when I hear a voice behind be in perfect English say, “It’s near Vancouver.” Hey! I turn around and meet Jean, a French Canadian from Quebec. We invite him to join us and immediately becomes our translator jumping between his native language of French, his perfect English and his third language of Spanish. Here is Jean and Jacques.

Jean is a totally interesting guy, he’s been in the pig industry his whole life. His father was a pig farmer and that’s what he always knew he would be. He was in this little town working on a joint Canadian, Bolivian project to open a slaughterhouse for pigs. I think he was just as glad to see us as we were to see him. He gave me his business card where he has the title, “Economic Coordinator – Swine Production.”

That night the rain starts, and doesn’t stop. Just after midnight we wake up to torrents of rain hitting the roof, loud cracks of lightning and building shaking thunder. A thoroughly impressive display that I would say surpassed the massive thunderstorms of my youth in Wisconsin. It didn’t take long for the power to go out.

Sunday February 19, 2017

No power, but that didn’t stop the hotel from finding breakfast and coffee (instant) for us. Slowly we all filtered down to the little restaurant to evaluate our plans for the day. Jean, who had been there a while and knew the roads said travel would be out of the question. With rain that hard the roads would be a mess with washouts and mud everywhere. Aude concurred, the road to her hotel would be impassable. We looked at each other and decided the best course of action would be to stay put in Villa Seranno.

Here is the view from our room, not quite the same as in Sucre but pleasant enough. 

Luxury accommodations, not bad for about $25 USD.

So we spend the day exploring the town, went to the market and took pictures in a few shops. Here is a shoe shop, sandals are pretty popular here. 

These are made out of recycled tires. 

We went for a walk across the suspension bridge and hiked up the small mountain you see for a view of the city. 

A pretty impressive little town from above. 

Common construction, stone, mud, wood. 

Nice looking cow. 

This is an ant hill. It’s great to have Jean along with us because he knows a lot about agriculture and animals. He said these ant hills are so hard they damage the plows in the fields and cause problems. 

Back in town we look at some of the construction techniques. We saw this many places in Bolivia, it must work. 

This picture was in the hotel. Must be the same (famous?) artist that painted the bus.

I’ll stop all the excitement here. The next few days were true adventure as we connect with the ghost of “Che”.

Thanks for following

Donn and Deby

The Salar!

Technically, the Salar de Uyuni but most people just call it The Salar. It’s one of those wonders of the world that is only recently being discovered as a tourist destination. The famous Dakar race started going through here a few years ago and that is what’s credited with elevating The Salar to a world class destination. The launching point for The Salar is the humble (very) town of Uyuni situated on the shore of this onetime giant section of ocean.  

In the early 1900’s Bolivia’s borders extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Bolivian government built a railroad to the coast to export vast amounts of salt. Through a series of wars with it’s neighbors, which Bolivia lost them all, Chile expanded all the way north to Peru cutting off Bolivia from the ocean and any port access without paying a huge tax. That effectively ended the salt export business and the trains were just parked and left to rot. Since then the city stagnated until the recent uptick in tourism. Our guide said 70% of the population now works in tourism.

Here is the city as we dropped from the mountains approaching from the east. 

It’s a rag-tag of buildings on the desert floor. The pavement abruptly ends as we reached the city limits and the roads seemed to wander randomly through town. My GPS was useless leaving it up to us to untangle the maze and find our hotel.

We thought about riding our motorcycles on The Salar and doing a homemade tour, I’m glad we didn’t. We learned that the first Dakar race through here had the cars and motorcycles ride across the salt flats. The problem is that it’s not all dry especially in the rainy season which we were in. When it’s wet the water is not very deep but extremely salty (you might have guessed) and it caused major havoc to all the expensive Dakar racing machines. Not good. Now the Dakar race is routed around the actual salt flats. We opted for a three day two night tour in a Toyota Land Cruiser. I read too many horror stories about damage to bearings, chains and electronics of modern motorcycles riding on the salt. Also, it’s really easy to get lost and end up in a soft part of the salt flat sinking helplessly into the salty muck. Lastly, there are no places to get gas and really no hotels. Most bikers end up camping in temperatures that often get below freezing at night. The “lodging” on the tour was generally available only to the tour companies and was very basic, almost like camping.

We picked Red Planet Tours from the many, many tour operators based on some recommendations. There were dire warnings on the internet about unscrupulous tour operators and deadly crashes due to drunk drivers crashing in the desert. Ok, we were warned.

So, here we go, three days in and around the salt flats and the surrounding desert. Of course, we took a gazillion pictures so instead of just trying to summarize them here I made a short video for each day with entertaining music, capturing photos and witty comments. The first one is about 7 minutes long, Deby gets shrunk to pixie size and chased by a dinosaur. 

I hope you enjoy.

I have to point out the island we visited. The area was a vast ocean and then through the motion of tectonic plates the ocean floor rose to over 12,000 feet! Of course the ocean dried up and left a bunch of salt. Here is what is cool… under the ocean, like many oceans there were coral reefs. When the ocean dried up these reefs were exposed and petrified. This whole island is a giant petrified coral reef! Wow, you don’t see that everyday much less get to climb around on it.

This was our room for the night, everything was made of salt. The floor was loose salt crystals. I was thirsty all night! 

But enough of all that. On to day two. On the second day we left the salt flats to explore the surrounding area. This video is a little longer, eight and a half minutes. I broke out the GoPro camera so there are some video clips. Our elevations varied from 12,000 feet to over 15,000 feet in places. Wow. I was careful with water and taking altitude pills so actually felt pretty good…. for now.

If you like fluffy Llamas and pink flamingos you will love this. 

We ended the second day at a rough grouping of structures with beds. Four people to a room. We shared our room with a young couple where nurses at a hospital in LA. Good to have medical staff nearby. The woman was having symptoms of altitude sickness so I gave here a few of my pills. The only redeeming thing about this place was the nearby hot springs. After dinner all 20 of us walked in complete darkness to the black soupy hole of hot water. The nearly full moon hadn’t risen yet and the dark sky exploded with stars. The Milky Way was as bright as I’ve ever seen it, a giant ribbon of stars in the sky punctuated at the southern end by the Southern Cross constellation.

The water temp was perfect, warmer where the constant stream of water entered and cooler at the exit so we could pick our perfect temperature. The younger crowd was passing around bottles of rum, wine and beer which seemed like a bad combination at almost 14,000 feet so I wisely abstained. After a while the full moon started to rise over the mountains to the east, it was an amazing sight. A special evening for sure.

Red Planet Tours, we were told, is the only tour group that stops here for the night and allows the opportunity for night time soaks in the thermals. During the day many tour groups stop and let tourists soak for a while. Our tour guide said that during the day all the gringos full of sunscreen soaking in the thermal pond makes for some gross water. He called it sopa de gringo…. gringo soup. On the way out I managed an early morning picture of the gringo soup. 

Here is the video…. it’s a short one this time as we only stopped at a few places and then blasted through the sand and rocks back to Uyuni.

Here is a final picture of the group, us, our guide and Team-K as our guide called the South Koreans. We had a great time.

Next back on the bikes but first I have to put in a plug for SoySucre.info 

Across the street from our hotel is a European guy with good English skills that helped us arrange the tour of the Salar. He was immensely helpful in helping us plan the next section of the trip. If you ever go to Sucre I highly recommend contacting Marco Birchler at the Casa de turismo. Calle Audiencia N 81 Sucre, Bolivia. marco.birchler@casadeturismo.com.bo and visiting http://www.soysucre.info/en/

Thanks Marco!

I also have to highly recommend Hotel Boutique La Posada. It was home away from home for about 10 days all together. Staying somewhere for this long we got to know the owners, managers, restaurant staff and the housekeeping crew. They were all fantastic, put up with our constant attempts at their language and excited to hear about our adventures and eager to wish us luck on our voyage.

So, no motorcycles on this post but more to come. We are on the road tomorrow chasing the ghost of Che…. Things didn’t end well for him here in Bolivia.

Donn and Deby

 

 

 

 

 

Sucre Bolivia

As I write this we are getting ready to leave Sucre tomorrow, I’ll miss this city after being here a little more than a week. If you are only interested in the motorcycle riding part of this blog skip this post, the motorcycles are tucked into a parking lot some blocks away and haven’t been touched in a week. If you are interested in my take on this Bolivian mountain city of 700,000 people and why we like it so much, read on…..

First of all, we totally scored one of the best hotels in town and even better with some smooth talk in my improving Spanish we managed to get the penthouse suite on the third floor with wonderful views for the same price as a regular room. Nice. We also learned Sucre is famous for Spanish immersion schools, hummm, Something we’ve been wanting to do so we decided to dive in and give it a try. After some research we ended up signing up for classes at the Me Gusta Spanish School. Click on the link to learn more. I would recommend it to anyone interested in improving their Spanish skills.

We arrived on Friday February 3rd and arranged for classes beginning on the following Monday. That gave us the weekend off the bikes to check out the city.

It’s known as the white city. Why? We learned on a walking tour that it is because the buildings are painted white. Ha, go figure..

It’s the rainy season but it’s the rainy season like in Florida where it clouds up in the afternoon and might rain for an hour or so. More often than not it would get impressively cloudy and then not rain at all. It did make for some good pictures.

Narrow colonial streets full of people, cars, buses and motorcycles of every shape and size. Like many Latin American cities it was organized chaos.  Sucre, however, seemed more organized than chaotic. The road in front of the main square was always bustling. 

Here’s another picture for my friend Gary who drives a bucket truck for Seattle City Light…. safety third. 

Actually, it’s a beautiful city full of cool old buildings. 

Kids everywhere playing and climbing on the statue in the main square. 

Bolivia is home to the largest indigenous population in South America, I was told is is over 40% of the population. The new president is a supporter of the indigenous people and has put policies and laws in place to support their way of life. Really different from what we’ve seen in other parts of South America. 

Here is the view from our deck on the first night. No modification was made to this picture.

Here’s me, nice place to hang out with a cool cup of water (off the booze due to the high elevation). 

The view from our deck, ever changing with the weather…super nice. 

The city has a very vibrant market that was only blocks from our hotel. It is open every day and we were able to route our daily trek to Spanish class to walk through the market in the morning when they were opening and loading produce for the day. Get ready for a bunch of colorful market pictures….

I love this next picture. We are sensitive about taking photos of people and usually ask permission. Often the answer is no. Deby took all the market pictures and had to sneak a few, this next one included. This woman was there everyday, I never saw her awake. 

They had the cake section with booth after booth of cakes. 

Here is the potato section, bags, bags and bags of potatoes. I was told over 50 different kind.  

As part of our Spanish class we went to the market and were taught how to buy fruit and ask typical questions. It was fun. 

We learned the names of new fruits that we sampled. They tasted really good but we immediately forgot the names. 

There were about a dozen of these stands. We learned they are juice stands where they will make you any kind of blended juice drink you can think of. You go up and order your drink and then wait in the chair. After some time and the whirring of a blender drinks appear. Each booth had a number of chairs and all the chairs had people sitting drinking their juice concoctions. We learned the Sucre is very proud of these juice bars, they should be, it was delicious and refreshing.

The meat department, like most meat sections in markets can be somewhat disturbing. Deby had to sneak pictures and at one point had someone throwing meat at her as a reprimand for taking a picture. She got a good picture and we hurried out of that part of the market.  

Ok…. gross alert on the next picture.

 

What the? It’s from a cow. We learned that cow tongue is a delicacy here and we had a lengthy explanation from a local we met about how it was prepared and how good it tasted. He said Sucre is famous for it and we should try it…. Umm, maybe? I don’t know though.

The street life was just as vibrant with people everywhere, children in school uniforms, people selling things and like I said, general but organized chaos. Does that make sense?

Maybe most endearing was the little kids who were drawing chalk drawings on the sidewalks for money. Deby, being a softie for kids and art was a good patron of these little artistas. Here is only one example, most of the kids seemed to be about 5 years old and some were really good artists. 

More street scenes.

Our daily bread.

Loading huge produce into the market in the morning. 

Seriously Costco has absolutely nothing on this part of town. 

Oh, and the motorcycles…. got to love this!

This next one if my favorite….. the little kid was actually sleeping!!

We saw everything on motorcycles, a well document fact of life in all south and central america. It’s common to see mother, father and child on a motorcycle so that no longer becomes unusual. The other day we came across such a trio but noticed the mother was nursing the baby… now you don’t see that every day.

On our way home from school this particular street was always full of buses. A bus lane of sorts I suppose. 

Oh and Spanish class…..

We were definitely the oldest people… including the teachers. All of the students were in their 20’s and ALL of them were from Europe doing some sort of gap year or another. Here are some of our classmates during a break on the porch. 

And here is our graduating class. I would list names but I don’t want to butcher the spelling. Our teacher Vinciente is in the middle with the red shirt. 

It was a really fun and educational experience. Four hours a day for five days and then a few hours of homework after that. Thankfully Vincente spoke good English, it really helped with us beginners. By the end of the class he spoke less and less in English and mostly in Spanish. It is amazing how much this class helped working out problems we’ve been having. We still struggle with the language but every day get’s better.

Finally, just now, on our last night some thick clouds suddenly formed and before we know it we were on our third floor suite in the middle of a huge thunder and lightning storm. I don’t know if it was because we were at nearly 10,000 feet but the storm seemed really close rattling the windows and building. Suddenly we heard hail. Lots of hail. Our room has two big double doors that we just usually leave open but with the wind and rain it was starting to flood the room so we had to close them and put a towel under the door to keep the water out. When the hail started I had the great idea to walk about 6 feet down the patio to an area with big windows where we could watch the impressive hail storm. We put on rain coats and ran out the door for the shelter of the stairway a few feet away. We were slipping and sliding on the hail it was so thick on the tile floor. Once sequestered safely behind the glass doors we realized we left the key in the room. Really? Yes. The windows that we usually left open were closed and latched because the wind was blowing them around. Oh great, what to do? Run down three flights of outside stairs in the hail to the office to get an extra key. Good thing we had the camera.

Here is the hail in the inner courtyard we had to traverse, Deby in flipflops that she just ended taking off because it was too slippery. 

We ducked into the restaurant and watched the deluge. 

The staff doing their best to keep the water under control. 

Wow, what a night. After an hour it was all over and we found our way back to our rooms where I’m completing this blog post. Never a dull moment, so it seems.

OK, Tomorrow it’s off to one of the craziest places in the world and probably the biggest tourist attraction in all of Bolivia, the Salar del Uyuni.

Again, from Lonely Planet:

The world’s largest salt flat sits at a lofty 3653m (11,985ft) and blankets an amazing 12,000 sq km (4633 sq mi). It was part of a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchín, which once covered most of southwest Bolivia. When it dried up, it left a couple of seasonal puddles and several salt pans, including the Salar de Uyuni. The savage beauty of this vast salt desert makes it one of South America’s most awe-inspiring spectacles.

From strange islands in a sea of blindingly bright salt to delicately colored mineral lakes in the Andean mountains, this is an unforgettable Bolivian landscape.

We booked a three day 4WD tour of the salt flats. I’ve heard too many stories of motorcycles being ruined riding across the “dry” lake bed. Since this is the rainy season most people expect the salar to be wet, not conducive to safe motorcycle travel…

More to come. Thanks for following. Donn and Deby

 

 

 

Into Thin Air – Bolivia

Thursday February 2, 2017

Once again the scenery surrounding us in northern Argentina continued to amaze us for the last 80 miles from Purmarca to the Bolivian border. More of the same…. crazy wonderful colored mountains. 

To add to the excitement we were soon climbing to over 10,000 feet. Here my GPS shows 11,204 feet and climbing.

If I were flying a as a private pilot I would be required to be using supplemental oxygen according to FAA regulations at this elevation. On a motorcycle on the open highway? Nada, just go for it. We came to this construction zone at 12,000 feet and needed to stop for a few minutes. I could tell the air was getting thin, we were both breathing heavy, my extremities started feeling a little tingly and I had a certain euphoric feeling. Hmmmm, loving the world and the people around me. Construction delay? No worries, let me just hang out here in this blissful world. 

One last Argentina picture….

We really spent most of two months in Argentina and had developed a certain affinity for the country. The people are amazing and the diverse landscape is incredible. It’s a huge country and I’m glad we had time to explore quite a bit of it. … so long Argentina.

We reached the border early in the afternoon and needed to sort out our our crossing. I knew we needed visas but hoped that wouldn’t be a problem. The border seemed somewhat chaotic compared to the orderly border crossings between Argentina and Chile. This crossing was jammed with tour buses and hundreds of people with carts pushing all kinds of goods between countries. I stopped at the first booth and all my Spanish left me, what was I supposed to ask? What are the words in Spanish? Why am I here? Oh oh, clear warning signs of early hypoxia. Ok, take a deep breath and go slow…..

The countries are separated by this bridge over the Rio de la Quiaca, here we are catching our first glance across the bridge into Bolivia. 

We met a couple from Europe on WR250’s crossing the other direction. They are on a multiple year trip on these small bikes, good for them. I wish we could have talked longer. 

After some back and forth, $320 USD for visas and only one time standing in the wrong line we were allowed to cross the bridge. At the other side a very friendly military guard checked our papers one last time and enthusiastically said welcome to his country. Off to a good start, I think he really meant it and it gave me a good feeling about what was ahead.

 

A few miles down the road was the official welcome sign.

We decided to stop at the first town of any size in Bolivia to get oriented, exchange money and make a plan. We stayed at a hotel that was recommended to us, $18USD. We got what we paid for, it was actually a hostel which was ok but our room didn’t have any windows and was next to the common cooking area so  it had a constant peculiar smell to it. Not wanting to hang around there any more than needed we went for a walk around the city.

The city had a wild west feel to it but safe and friendly. Came across these guys running new power lines. (No bucket truck needed here Gary)

Walked past this barber shop, love the TV’s.

For the first time on this trip we were in a city with these tuk tuk vehicles running around, so after a basic meal we decided to flag one down. In my best Spanish I asked how much it would be for a half hour tour of his city. At first he didn’t understand, which might be a reflection of my Spanish, then he caught on and happily agreed to show us around. Wow, did we get a tour. It was getting dark so pictures didn’t turn out very well but he showed us all around including climbing some really steep hills with this little machine. It was certainly the highlight of Tupiza for us.

Full speed ahead James! 

At the viewpoint we had a great view of the city nestled into the crook of the mountain. 

Here is the tuk tuk on the gravel road up to the viewpoint, it’s a blurry picture but I didn’t have my camera and it’s a nighttime shot with my iPhone. 

The tuk tuk that could. Ended up being a nice night for the first day in Bolivia, not as good tomorrow….

Friday February 3, 2017.

Tupiza is at an elevation of just under 10,000 feet. I woke up with a splitting headache and nausea. Maybe something I ate? Probably the elevation, the smell in the room was making it worse and there were no windows to open. Yuk. I went out for coffee, nothing until 7:00 so I sat in the lobby which was a little fresher and tried to distract myself by reading the morning paper online. I had a bad case of altitude sickness on our last trip and that time it hit me full force at 12,000 feet in Colombia. It was not fun. I was not going to let it get me this time. I took ibuprofen and some pills my doctor prescribed before we left hoping it would not at least get worse.   Finally, with all haste we managed coffee, food and were on the bikes. The best cure for altitude sickness is to get to a lower elevation. Guess what we did… climb. Immediately outside of Tupiza the road climbed and climbed. Beautiful scenery but my head was spinning. In the first 10 miles we climbed to 12,000 feet. Yikes. Nothing to do but keep riding.

We dropped down to about 9,000 feet and then climbed steadily to over 14,000 feet!

My head was spinning but the nausea and headache had subsided, thankfully. We arrived at our destination of Sucre just before 4:00 where we had reservations at Hotel La Posada. Ummm, wow. What a nice place in the middle of town a half a block from the main square. Back down to about 9,000 feet I was feeling better so we checked in and went for a walk about town. The main square was full of people and activity. In particular, there were young children going from person to person asking to polish their shoes. This particular young boy, who we found out later was 10 years old, made a positive impression on Deby. Not simply content with begging for money he was willing to work for some spare change. My hiking boots with the suede exterior wouldn’t take a shine if you tried and Deby was wearing flip flops. But,… instead of disappointing this enterprising young man Deby told him to wait and ran back to the hotel to get her motorcycle boots! Wow, you should have seen his eyes when she returned with the filthy, muddy boots. He went right to work.

Now Deby has the best polished boots around.

Thus we discovered the city of Sucre Bolivia. Lonely Planet describes it this way:

Proud, genteel Sucre is Bolivia’s most beautiful city and the symbolic heart of the nation. It was here that independence was proclaimed, and while La Paz is now the seat of government and treasury, Sucre is recognized in the constitution as the nation’s capital. A glorious ensemble of whitewashed buildings sheltering pretty patios, it’s a spruce place that preserves a wealth of colonial architecture. Sensibly, there are strict controls on development, which have ensured Sucre remains a real showpiece of Bolivia. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.

Set in a valley surrounded by low mountains, Sucre enjoys a mild and comfortable climate. It’s still a center of learning, and both the city and its university enjoy reputations as focal points of progressive thought within the country.

With a selection of excellent accommodation, a wealth of churches and museums, and plenty to see and do in the surrounding area, it’s no surprise that visitors end up spending much longer in Sucre than they bargained on.
Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bolivia/the-southwest/sucre/introduction#ixzz4YKYyj8Po

“Longer than they bargained on….”. True for us, we ended up staying for eight days.

Next: The wonderful city of Sucre and…… Donn and Deby take Spanish immersion class.

Thanks for following! Donn and Deby

 

 

The last of Argentina

Sunday January 29, 2017 – Ready for a better day.

We knew it was going to be another hot one so we worked on getting an early start to our day. Fortunately the Posada del Olivia had breakfast waiting in the restaurant, coffee check…. bread, check… umm ham, check… cheese, check. Ok, whatever ham and cheese again. Anxious to go we were on the bikes by 9:10 AM and the plan was to follow the exact route we had ridden in 2013 on the MotoRaid II trip going from North to South. Certainly some nice roads.  Continue reading

Not Done With Argentina

It’s like Argentina saved some of the best (and worst) for last.

Sort of perchance we ended up staying in the small town of Uspallata which is the first gas stop after crossing over the border from Chile to Argentina. Most people get gas and move on to Mendoza but eager to avoid the big city we decided to call it a day in Uspallata. Good call. Continue reading