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:

“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



8 thoughts on “Into Thin Air – Bolivia

  1. No canned oxygen on board? Note to not travel to high altitudes without it! Loving all the photos and traveling with you vicariously!

  2. Donn my boy – you take that altitude medicine BEFORE you get up high! I learned that the hard way from climbing, been there and it was miserable. Awesome report. Keith is doing a presentation on his new book at South Sound in a couple weeks, I was just in Seattle so won’t be able to make back for it. Keep on truck’in Amigos, be safe.

  3. Hey Donn and Deb,
    Cousin Tom and wife Judy are getting your blogs from Aunt Phyllis. We find them nat and enjoyable. Please keep them coming and safe riding. We’re watching you. Slow down Deb! Tom and Judy Watanabe

  4. Hola Donn and Deby …. They told me to chew some coca leaves with lemon juice for the altitude sickness (soroche) when I was a Peace Corps volunteer there in the early ’70s … so long ago I forgot if it worked … actually forgot a lot of things from those years …. stay safe … quite an adventure! Are you going to get to Machuu Pichuu in Peru I wonder ?

    Tom (your dad’s radio club neighbor in Mequon)

    • Hi Tom, Yes we tried some of that. It’s a mild stimulant and seems to help. I switched to the coca candy which tastes better but not sure about the effectiveness.

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