Rolled into Bolivia and parked outside the Aduana. There we were told to get our passports stamped first. No problem, this was a piece of cake…just very expensive at $135 USD for the Bolivian visa. It is good for 5 years should I decide that I want to come back in the near future.
Made a couple copies and showed up at the Aduana. First in line and we had everything wrapped up in about 30 minutes for both bikes. Exited Peru and entering Bolivia took just over an hour.
Five miles later we ate some lunch in Copacabana. Very nice little town right on the lake. Extremely touristy. Filled our pockets with Bolivianos and headed for La Paz.
Twenty miles later we had to board a ferry to cross the famous Lago Titicaca.
There was a ticket office but we just drove down to the beach and offered the toothless gent some money and 2 minutes later we set sail….or just fired up the tired ass outboard and puttered our way eastward. I don’t know what tickets actually cost but for both of us and our bikes we paid $5 USD including a tip for our very friendly captain.
Definitely got a sense that Bolivia is not rolling in money but nothing too abnormal thus far. About 15 miles out of La Paz we hit the shit zone of traffic, dogs, people in the streets, and general mayhem. We take a moment to recompose ourselves and grab some fuel. They just look at the license plate and so no way. Not from Bolivia, not selling you gas. I had expected this to happen in some areas but not right outside La Paz. No problem, we intentionally filled up before crossing the border so to be sure to make it to our hostel.
When you get to the rim of the mountains that surround La Paz you help but mutter to yourself, “holy hell this is going to be an adventure.”
Our hostel room is a small box with a bunk bed and 20 square feet to lay out our gear. No heat, door doesn’t seal, plastic corrugated roof, single pane window. A bit chilly is an understatement. So to warm our souls and bare the evening we put the local brew to the test. It worked, but this morning we felt it.
IBProfen, coffee, toast, and the engines are warmed up for a day on the death road. First we fixed up the bikes to appear more like locals so that we could get some gas.
The attendant wasn’t having any of this.
We got gas but at the “International” rate (which is $6/gallon). Off we went climbing our way out of the city and into some sub-par weather. Rain and fog soon turned into snow and then hail. At 15,000 ft we were freezing, the road had slush on it, and we couldn’t see more than 50’ in front of us. The pace was set at 25 mph with foggy windshields that had to be lifted we squinted as the hail pelted our stinging faces. Both of us were ready to turn around but neither one would bring up the topic because we each knew that missing the death road was really not an option. It is one of the 3 main objectives in Bolivia.
Went for a little offroad along the highway:
Only 20 miles shy of Coroico we are still on pavement. Something is wrong. I start scrolling around on the GPS and find a very jagged crooked looking line that is almost paralleling our current highway. Scrolling over the road reveals the name I am looking for, Yungus Road. Backtrack just a few miles and jump on the infamous “highway.”
With all the recent rain the streams and falls are flowing, the road is slippery and muddy, and the edge is nothing short of vertical. The road is very narrow in some sections but really nothing for a motorcycle. I couldn’t imagine even fitting a bus in some areas let alone passing. I passed a few cars on the way but nothing that forced an uncomfortable situation. Just for fun we would creep up to the edge and then pull back to the wall after catching a glimpse of where you would end up if a mistake was made….a long fricking way from where you are currently.
On the way back out Al got a flat tire. Why not, rain, snow, hail, mud, death road, might as well get a flat tire today. The good part was that by the time this was repaired the clouds had lifted and the sun peaked through. Made for a few nice views of the valley before departing this lovely area.
Al with the goods:
With that fixed up we hauled back to La Paz. Well, we tried to haul but were forced to stop and take photos. Incredible that we missed all this scenery on the way in. The mountains were like earthen stone plates that were shoved out of the ground at a slight angle. The stone was wet/icy and the sun sheened off of them it looked like something from a fiction tale. So very impressive.
Then we found some snow.
In preparation for our ride tomorrow we chose a gas station about 10 miles out of town with no clients. Pulled in, he looked at the plates, said no way. I said, “Grande Propina”, he shrugged his shoulders and filled us up at the local rate. Tipped him well and with that included we were down around $3.50/gallon. Nice!
Then returned to the city to breath more of the ghastly pollution and sit in our little ice box of a room. We roamed through the city center and ate some street food, hotdogs on a hamburger bun with grilled onions and an egg for a dollar. Then I got two pairs of ankle socks with Nike swooshes for a dollar. Then got a bag of juice of freshly blended strawberries, bananas, mangos, papaya, mint leaves, and a few other things for a dollar. Then had Chinese food for $3. Fantastic day!
Standard street entertainer hurling flaming sticks at a stoplight:
Short drive to Oruro today. This is simply a place to stop so that we don’t have to drive all the way to Potosi in a single sitting. The town was very nice. It is known for the dance of the devil festivities and thus has tons of artwork and sculptures all over town depicting the “Diablo” in different forms.
Cool town nestled at 12,500 feet. The ride here was absolutely boring….120 miles of high altitude plains with little to see. Terrible highway with tons of gravel detours extended the time considerably.
The first 100 miles were similar to yesterday. High altiplano cruising with little to see except for a sign pointing towards Poopo. And Lago Poopo.
Then into some hills. Broke up the monotony but not too crazy. Lots of red rock similar to Northern Arizona desert. We stopped to chase some Alpacas in a field and found some skulls to decorate the bikes. Boredom was peaking.
Rolled into Potosi early. One of the world’s highest cities at 4,060 meters (13,200’). Scored a very cheap room and roamed the city looking for stickers for the bikes. None to be had here…..will have to wait for Uyuni. Also signed up for the infamous silver mine tour. This should be interesting.
Picked up a mask because I heard the mine tour could be rather dusty/dirty:
Found this guy airbrushing the side of a building:
Went out on the town and had some delicious pizza and beer. There was some sort of celebration going on in central park so we snapped some photos and watched the fireworks.
This thing was in the restaurant that we had pizza in. The waiter said it was a wolf. I question this:
Up early and ready for a silver mine tour. First we meet the guide…seems like nut job to me. An ex-miner who learned enough English to give tours. First we go over safety, rules, and expectations. None of which are very demanding.
Then we get our gear and dress up. Rubber boots, plastic pants & jacket, hardhat equipped with headlight. Then off we go on the bus to the “Miners Market”.
Basically the guide goes through the items that the miners want and we are expected to purchase “gifts” for them before going to the mine. The top things that they desire are Alcohol (96% pure gasoline rubbing alcohol basically), Coca Leaves for chewing, and Juice (more like carbonated Fanta but they call it juice). You also have the options to purchase dynamite. I have been blowing shit up since I was a small lad and this is as close to heaven as I can get. The Cost: $3 gets you a pint of rubbing alcohol, 1 liter of “juice”, and a large bag of coca leaves. The next $3 gets you a stick of dynamite, a blasting cap, fuse, and a bag of ammonium nitrate. I’m standing there giggling like a school girl. You are actually going to give me a stick of dynamite and all necessary detonation equipment for $3? Load up the bags!!
First we wait in line for gas with all the other mining rigs:
Taking photos overlooking the town of Potosi:
Back in the bus with our booze, dynamite, coca leaves, and juice we head for the mine. Only about a 10 minute drive up the hill and then we all exit and prepare to enter.
The entrance hole looks sketchy at best.
I have also read that this is one of the most dangerous mines in the world. This mountain made Potosi the largest and richest city in the Americas around 1550 AD. Since then most of the silver has been extracted but the miners continue to works in search of lead, tin, and zinc. The miners do not work for a company. They are on their own and purchase sections of the mountain to dig at will. The mines have never been mapped out and it is believed that it looks like a block of swiss cheese on the inside. It is a well-known fact that it could/will collapse at any time. I’m sure it will hold out one more day for me.
Inside we hike between the cart tracks on the main passage through a soupy muddy mess for about 10 minutes. Then we pick some awful looking hole to start climbing up. Every other rock you grab hold of on the edge of the cave that is only 3 feet high gives way and pulls free. On hands and knees we crawl up the dust filled chute and it gets hotter and hotter the higher we climb. Every now and again we a forced to squeeze through a 2 foot diameter hole to pop out on the other side to see a gravel slide that we must scale. I was last in line on the way up so it was incredibly dusty and rocks would tumble down from our fellow friends above hitting you in the hands and legs. Two of the group have already dropped out saying that this just isn’t for them….only 5 left.
Just some breaking timbers supporting the ceiling:
Our guide getting drunk:
Finally we arrive where 2 brothers are mining and they inform us that there has been a recent cave in and they are working to clear the passage. We sit down, bullshit, break out the juice, alcohol, and coca leaves. They are all thankful for our gifts. These two have been working in the mine since they were 15 years old. They are now 35. I can’t believe they have survived this long in these conditions.
We sit and poor out liquor for the Diablo (devil), El Dio (God), Amigos, and ourselves…..then drink to good luck. Round and round we go and then we lose another patron. It is hot, humid, very little oxygen. The brothers just broke through a vein of Carbon Monoxide and it is making them sleepy….yeah me too. A few more drinks and we move on.
Finding a new hole to climb up we locate a good place to set off some dynamite. The guide cuts fuses, pulls back the sheaths, fills the detonator with gun powder from the fuse, tears open two sticks of dynamite and wads up the putty into a ball. Then inserts detonators and drops the wad into a bag of ammonium nitrate. All the while he is drinking sufficient amounts of pure alcohol and asking cigarettes, dope, anything he can get his hands on. Then he stands up and lights the fuses to the 2 bombs. He just stands there asking for more whiskey. We all fight to find a bottle and hand it to him. Two swigs, he hands it back, starts to turn, then ask for just a little bit more. F*ck dude, get away from me with that stuff. You can’t tell how far the fuse has burnt because it is all internal, no sparks or fire on the outside so we have no idea what kind of burn time this 20” of fuse has. Anyway, one more pull and he runs off behind a corner.
He hurry’s back and a few seconds later….KAWAMMY!! The entire mine shakes, the concussion courses through our bodies, and then the dirt/dust starts coming towards us. Epic!! Inside a fricken mine detonating dynamite in the middle of Bolivia. AWESOME!! Now get me outta here.
As you can only imagine Alex has been drinking shot for shot with the guide in some sort of competition. It is clear he is starting to lose. Out of the remaining patrons Alex is the only one who chooses to continue on to a new section of the mine to visit more miners, hand out gifts, and drink more booze. The rest of us, including me, have seen enough and are ready for fresh air.
Outside we suck in the sweet air. It no longer feels like we are at 14,000’ in comparison to the interior of the mine. We wait for about 30 minutes and then the bus loads up. Who knows what Alex and Choco (the guide) are doing but the other guide thinks they can find a ride home. We pull out and get less than an 1/8 mile when we see Choco walking and Alex stumbling down the hillside headed for the bus.
At the hostel we undress and turn in our garmets. I hurry to the room and unload my remaining dynamite. You are not supposed to have this stuff outside of the mine area. Hey, it’s a once in a lifetime thing and I’m going to blow something up. Alex collapses on the bed and passes out. Choco gets ready for the afternoon guiding trip….Wow!
The tour is sketchy to say the least but it is an experience that I will never forget and I do believe that is what counts.
Geared up and got out of town at a reasonable time but not much hurry to only drive 120 miles to Uyuni. The drive was desolate. We snaked through the low mountains with little to look at….red rock, a few formations, lots of cacti, and mostly dusty desert.
I was anxious to test some of my dynamite so we pulled off the road a bit and selected one of the hundreds of thousands of cacti to become a victim. Mashed up 2 sticks of the good stuff into a ball and dropped it into a bag of ANFO. Then prepped the fuse and blasting cap. I hiked up a little hill and cut a hole in the side of a 10’ tall cactus. These things are the consistency of the outer rind of a cantelope. I thought I could just a cut a hole and stuff the package inside but it took me a bit to get a nice cubby hole for my present. With that accomplished I lit the fuse and fled back to the bike all geared up and ready to get the hell out of dodge. The explosion shook the entire valley and made quick work of the 1,000+ lb cactus….dropped it like a sack of potatoes. A grin from ear to ear is plastered on my face for the next 50 miles. I love dynamite!!
An hour later we crested a final hill that revealed the solar of Uyuni. A couple photos and we dropped into town.
Here early we were able to search out a reasonable place to stay. Hotel Avenida. Cheap place with bike parking. I don’t believe that any hostal or hotel in all of Uyuni has internet access. Rather unfortunate. Checked out town and grabbed some grub. Not much to see or do in the small dusty town of Uyuni. Tomorrow should be interesting on the solar.
In the morning we filled up the tanks at the local rate with the usual tip that is necessary to do so. Then we ran off to the train boneyard that seems to be a big part of Uyuni. Just a bunch of mangled old trains laid to rest out in the desert. Supposedly one of these was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A few photos later we were off to find the salt.
Drive north on the dirt highway for 10 miles and then hang a left where you quickly find the salt mounds being harvested. We stop for a moment and take some photos. It is so incredibly bright out here. I immediately start to feel the pangs of a headache and search for my sunglasses. They help but I need more.
From here you just pick a direction and twist the throttle. We head due west in search of the salt hotel. With great success we find our destination and snap a few more photos.
Then point west/northwest and hold it wide open for 30 miles until we arrive at one of the two inhabited “islands” of the solar. Met the below gent at the hotel who took Al’s bike for a quick spin.
Drink a beer and snap some photos of the cacti that supposedly only grows on the islands of the solar. They are large and covered with a thick layer of prickles.
Now it is time to do what anyone would do with this much salt laying around. Head to the middle of nowhere to take shots of Tequila!! Followed by many goofy pictures.
Then drive to the middle of nowhere about 15 miles north of the last middle of nowhere and play with dynamite!
This is my sad face. Note the T-shirt. Brought this thing over 12,000 miles just for this reason.
First, I have to insert the blasting cap:
Then I have to blow up some salt:
Then drive to the middle of nowhere about 40 miles south/southwest of the last middle of nowhere and take pictures in the middle of the salty water. And while doing so absolutely coat your bike with salt water.
Then make an attempt to B-line back to Uyuni only to find that some sections of the solar are quite muddy and impassable. Here is Al’s fail. My track of success is the one leading the way out. HA!
Then head north until you can cut back to the dirt road that will take you back to Uyuni. Arrive in Uyuni and find that not only are all the washing stations closed but protests have started and the gas stations are blocked….I hope I can get out of town tomorrow. Get a toothbrush and a bottle of water and try my best to resurrect the bike before the salt eats it away.
Shortly after get bitched at by the hotel management for washing your bike in the concrete “courtyard”. Then get dinner and start planning our departure for the morning despite the outrageous headache I have from the blinding light on the Solar.
Miss iron titties of Uyuni:
Number three is now complete. Bolivia – Death Road, Dynamite, Solar….Complete!!
First thing to do is run down to the gasolinera where we find that the protests are continuing.
We ask all over town and they say that tomorrow morning we should be able to get gas. I even offer locals double price to siphon from their car because I do not want to stay another night….not happening. Then we roll to the Llavado to get the bikes washed and to see what is left underneath the salt. Water is frozen so they are still closed; yeah it’s cold here.
We grab breakfast and then head back to the wash station and pay an exorbitant gringo price to have them pressure washed and soaped down. Then head for the hotel to pay for another night after checking on the gas station again.
Right next door to us is a Frenchman riding two-up with his wife and we tell him about the gas situation. He busts out a piece of paper with the name of an ice cream shop on it “Heladeria Pinguil”. He says that he read about another rider who experienced this same situation and this ice cream shop sold him gas out of the back. So we all leave the hotel and a few blocks later find the place and they have gas!! The price is only $7 bolivianos per liter which is half way between local and international price so we gladly pay this and fill the tanks. It is just before noon so we rush back to the hotel and load up. 120 miles of pure offroad in front of us to the next town of Tupiza.
Leaving town there is a roadblock made of cars, bicycles, garbage, and rocks. We squeeze between a bicycle and a car before anyone can make a move on us and hit the dusty trail.
First 30 or so miles is straight lines full of brutal washboard with the occasional 20 yards of sand patches thrown in that tries to give you a case of the tank slappers. We run this section full out at our normal cruising speed of 55mph. Occasionally there are large ruts/dips in the road that bottom out your back end and then send it flying diaganoly just to test how hard you can squeeze your knees against the tank.
During one of these episodes my front end smashed hard and I flew out of the rut with a large piece of the bike flying up into the air and then smashing me in the face……it was the llama skull. Happened so fast it could have been anything I thought I was going to go down hard. Phew!!
Then the road entered the hills winding through red rock terrain and rolling cactus laden hills. The Frenchman who gave us the lead on fuel said that this road took him a little over 5 hours. He said we might be able to do it in 4 if we are cruising. I said 3 hours I’ll be in Tapiza and he said no way. This is an Enduro event with a single entry. Sliding around corners, hitting large rocks, slamming gears because the bike just won’t run right under 5K RPM due to the elevation, I am absolutely punishing the DRZ.
Occasionally there is a sign that depicts a sharp corner or twisty road ahead. It seems that whenever a sign is present you can haul ass because the corners will NOT be very sharp and when there are no signs you better be careful. I learned this after flying up over a hill where the road immediately turned 90* and also turned into loose sandy dirt rather than gravel. Sharp turn and over the handlebars I went….kinda bugered up my shoulder but my luck was due to run out soon. A few miles down the rode and I realize I am aiming at 11 O’clock in order to go straight; somehow I tweaked the forks in the triples. Stopped, loosened everything up and realigned everything. Seems to be fixed.
All along the way I was looking for a good spot for a little explosion but nothing jumped out at me. We rolled into Tapiza after 3 hours 15 minutes. Killed it.
These people are protesting as well so we had to turn around at the road block and navigate around town along a river bed and then jump onto the highway where we found a gas station. The first was out of fuel due to the road blocks but the second had a bit. The lady wouldn’t take a tip so we paid international rate for the last time. We will exit Bolivia tomorrow.
Internet duties consumed the majority of the day. Walked around town, found some grease for the chains, ate a bunch of street food, and hid dynamite in various places among my bike to bring to Argentina. I’m going fishing one way or another. POW!
Shoot south for the last bordering crossing that I will make on this trip. Decent ride but nothing notable.
So we get to Villazon, on the border, and I watch the bikes while Al figures out the process. He turns in the bike paperwork and stamps out of Bolivia in all of 5 minutes. It is quite nice because the Bolivian and Argentinean immigration and customs office are all in the same place.
But then he goes to get his stamp into Argentina and can’t. We were expecting to pay the $160 reciprocity fee but were completely unaware that YOU CANNOT PAY IN CASH at the border. You must pay online and print a receipt. Here is the website:
So then we turn back and drive into Villazon looking for an internet shop with a printer. The 3rd one we stop at has both computers and printers. Sit down and access the website. I can make it only so far through the process and then the internet cuts out or the browser times out and can’t load the required page. After 100 tries and much frustration sitting in a room full of kids playing video games, looking at porn, and playing rap music we say F*CK it go to a hostal/hotel. They have wifi so we can use our own computers. No success. The internet is just flat out to slow to make this required payment to enter the next bloody country.
So I call my buddy Robert (the guy that met us in Medellin). I wake him up and tell him I need help, here is a website, here is a debit card number, just save the forms as pdf’s and email them to me. I owe Robert big time. He has been an awesome help for me on this journey. 15 minutes later I get two emails with our Payment receipts that I quickly print out back at the first internet café. Thank you such much Buddy!!
We pull up at the border again and now a bus has dropped off about 70 Bolivians trying to enter Argentina. The sun is beating down on us and all I can think about are the hidden stashes of explosive in my bike and how they my start leaking impact sensitive fluids at any time. I stand in line for a solid hour to get my exit stamp. Entering Argentina took no time at all. Now we can pull the bikes into the shade and get them imported. The guys inspecting the citizens that came off the bus are doing serious searches. Digging through all the belongings pretty in depth. We get the bikes imported (30 minutes for both) and then are told to show some guy our papers and he will inspect the bikes before we can enter. He says to hang on a minute while he is digging through somebody’s luggage and will be over soon. I’ve got this stuff tucked away pretty good but still have my concerns. His line gets longer and longer and finally he yells at the guy who do the paperwork for our bikes and asks if he will do the inspection. You can tell this is one lazy government employee so I’m feeling better already. He walks over, checks the vin number to match the paperwork, asks what’s in the bags, we say clothes and camping gear, he says go ahead. Sweet!!!!! Resume update: International explosive trafficker. BAM!!!
Before we depart we ask where we can trade in the Bolivianos for Argentinean Pesos. He says you have to do that in Bolivia. So Al runs back (no bikes allowed) and changes our money out. The guy doing the change accidently divided by .73 instead of multiplying. I made about $150 in the ordeal and Al picked up an extra $350 or so. Awesome, entrance to Argentina paid for on a fluke.