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

13 thoughts on “Chasing “Che” in the mud

  1. Keep on truchin … Something happened to the last mud ride video toward the end … Seemed like it switched to someone else’s video … I ride about some of WordPress soft spot (XSS) something … Whatever … You’re both doing a great job … So much of south America is just frozen in time isn’t it … (Big excitement this morning was the solar eclipse that was about 10:00 Chilean time in Coyaique … don’t think you went that far south …? Seems like you both could have gotten the car wash treatment with your cloths on … ha ha

    • Hi, weird about the video. I think if you have YouTube set to automatically play the next video that might be it. Didn’t know about the eclipse, wouldn’t have seen it here with all the clouds 🙂

  2. 2 questions, how is the DCT in those conditions and is that mud worse than Capital Forest? As always loving the blog and catching up on Deb’s awesomeness, be safe!

    • Hi Kris, the DCT was awesome! Except for one unexpected part where the front wheel was sliding and was reaching for a clutch to keep my back wheel from pushing me forward. You can’t shift into N while moving so that didn’t help. Had to geeennnntttlllyy hit the back brake. A weird technique that I had to get used to. I left the traction control setting on high and it kept the rear from spinning on acceleration. 2) Ahhhh, I have many not so good memories of the mud in Capital Forest. That is some really really bad stuff. This was just as slick but not as deep. In CF I was always on a light 250cc with no load. On this stuff a fully loaded ADV bike, big difference. I will say one thing….. the mud (thankfully) was not very “packy” and didn’t load up our tires into big mud balls. That would have been a show stopper. What really made it hard was it went on and on for hours with not much of a break. Still I think it was easier with the DCT, I felt bad for Deby back there working the clutch.

  3. So fun to read your post & see where your adventures take you. Debbie – you are so amazing to tackle those roads. I’m in awe of your skills & courage!

  4. Met you guys in Maricopa at dinner one night, Debbie sure is a good mud rider, the mud in Arizona burned up my clutch, was looking for decals of SA and saw the one you gave me, opened it up and found your website, just wondering since you visited Che’s place, why you didn’t go to San Vincent where Bitch and Sundance met their end, Ride safe. Shortcut

    • Yes we were close to San Vincent but missed going there. The word on the street down here is that there is new evidence that they didn’t really die there. Hmmmm, not sure what the facts are but I heard that from a few people.

  5. You are real motorcyclist. The Bonehead Enduro is the first Sunday In May this year at the Black Dog 8:00 AM in Snoqualmie WA . Lots of snow up there this year
    Tor and Tom

    • Tom and Tor, great to hear from you. Sorry we’ll miss the Bonehead enduro this year, always one of our favorite events. Just the other day Deby was mentioning her trophy for being the oldest woman rider. We still laugh about that since she was the only woman rider, couldn’t she have gotten the award for being the youngest? Ha, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the bonehead tradition. Have fun.

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