Okay… so its been a while…
We have been having so much fun lately that it’s been tough finding the time to put something down on paper (or pixels). Whoever said adventure riding wasn’t difficult never tried to write a blog post between island hopping in the Caribbean, swinging off boats into the sea, and getting irresponsibly drunk on rum. Adventure travel is tough, I promise.
Rewind a couple of countries back and we were blasting out of Sucre and well on our way to Cochabamba in Bolivia, my bike was riding proud on her new suspension and we were sporting big smiles on the dials.
The ride was a magnificent one, one that only got better. Martin and his new German friend Mich, were eagerly awaiting our arrival in Cochabamba. Our plan was to meet up, make light work of some burgers and beer and head off the next day into the jungle. This was to be done on a lesser-known road, with a hairy reputation for landslides and broken up by a rather large river with no bridge, during the rainy season. Sounds about right.
But Bolivia, as we had come to expect, had other plans. The road had turned from desert to jungle, and before long we were riding through the clouds. Every turn presented us with staggering vistas of forest-covered hills sprawling out into the clouds. We made our way slowly over the slippery cobbles, the mist condensing on our faces and dripping down over our mouths. To my absolute dread, I had come to notice that my bike was losing power. The engine started to surge and strain, eventually sputtering out at such inappropriate times as overtaking a bus, uphill, over wet cobbles, on a cliff edge, at altitude, in Bolivia. This was becoming a bit of a problem. This worsened to a point where the bike would lose power and cut out just seconds after being restarted. Being late afternoon, we decided to limp to the next town and sort out the problem before continuing over rather dangerous roads
As you can imagine, this put me in a really good mood, especially after recently being stuck with a broken bike in Sucre for over a month. This was worsened by the fact that we now in a rush, and had to let people down who were not only expecting us, but had prepared food for us. I really didn’t want this to start becoming a habit with my bike, even though it was fast starting to look like one.
The town we crash-landed in was Totora, a town so small, that it had no cell phone reception, no working internet connection, no cars, no streetlights and only two restaurants, one of which was closed. I would struggle to even classify this as a town, it was more like a very small village, and a perfect place to perform major surgery on my motorcycle with no training, prior experience or YouTube in sight. But as every overlander worth his salt will tell you, this is exactly how valuable skills are learned and badges are earned. Desperation is, after all, is the best teacher.
Totora, it’s awesome entrance is seriously misleading
With much determination, a few laughs, and surprisingly little stress and worry, we managed to remove a faulty fuel pump from inside my petrol-tank and swap it out with a spare I carry in my pannier [Check out our Tool Kit]. Surprisingly, and reassuringly, everything went well, apart from a great deal of difficulty getting the pump nozzle out of the fuel line. After a good deal pulling, twisting, bending and crunching the pump came loose, and the line was clear. The pipe was a little stretched, but still fitted correctly and the whole device sat in a cradle. I remember thinking ‘That’ll hold, and it will definitely stretch back a bit.’, but more about that in Cusco, Peru…
My spare, just for all the naysayers (told ya so!)
The pump was changed, the tank was closed, and the Mommy-Frightener was running better than ever. After years of abuse over rough terrain, and now a combination of crazy altitudes, painfully dusty gravel roads, thick sand tracks and corrugations from hell, the pump had a good reason to kick the bucket. RIP pump, we had some good times.
We had a good meal of ‘we’ll have what they’re having’ at the only restaurant in town, and went promptly to bed, painfully aware of the fact that we couldn’t let Martin or Mich know where we were, or even if we were still coming.
You don’t always have to travel like a hobo, why not treat yourself for a night and stay at the Hilton?
The following morning we headed out to Cochabamba at first light. Maybe we could still catch the guys before they left, or maybe they had actually waited for us. So we rode on into town, through the rush hour traffic, foreign smells, and sprawling markets. We were following a way-point Martin had sent us of a small hostel in the area. The roads became progressively narrower, the asphalt scarcer and the buildings more spars. We were starting to get worried. Before long we were eventually confronted with a sizable puddle in the road that had evolved into a rather precarious water crossing. Precarious because I didn’t know what was underneath the water, and even more dangerous because I refused to walk a road-puddle to judge depth, I was not ready to become that much of a laughing stock, I still have some dignity you know.
Riding into Cochabamba
It was a big puddle ok… Megan doing a water crossing in the suburbs
Well we were soon pleasantly surprised by the fact that we had not gotten lost, and we had actually arrived at the correct location, a rare occasion for Meg and I. Unluckily, Martin and Mich had made tracks, literally. On pulling into the garden to park our bikes, we saw two large, deep muddy tears in the otherwise pristine, soft, thick lawn. The pair had already left. Boys will be boys.
Martin and Mich were here…
You go boys!
Later that night we got an update from the battlefield: Martin had slipped hard in the mud, and had hurt his knee, now unable to pick up his bike alone, the road had been completely washed out by rain and landslides, and they hadn’t gotten far enough to even see the notorious river. Martin was ‘literally’ limping to La Paz in pain, having turned around and gotten the hell out of dodge Martin was also seriously concerned that his trip might actually be at it’s end. We followed suit and changed course to La Paz.
It was bad news, but later that night we were fortunate enough to meet an English speaking father and son, who told us about an Afrikaans South African lady who was living a few roads down with her family, we just had to give her a call. Natalie and her family generously invited us over for breakfast the following morning, we spoke some Afrikaans, had some good laughs, ate some fantastic home-made food and met some genuinely good, warm, welcoming people. When sending us on our way, Natalie’s husband, Mathuresh was even kind enough to fill up our bikes with petrol. We owe a huge thanks to the Sandi family for making us feel so welcome, and alleviating some homesickness in a very foreign country. We really hope to meet again in future!
Arriving at the Sandi’s – the warmest welcome in months!
Natalie and the Sandi’s – we headed out with full hearts, full tummies and full tanks
Next stop was La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, and holds the record for the highest capital city on Earth at roughly 4000m above sea level. We had received a generous invitation for accommodation and a ride-along from Oscar Andrade, a great character who would become a good friend of ours. The way-point was set and we were making good time. Just before entering the city limits, which is no small feat in La Paz, we decided to fill up with fuel, which, once again, is no small feat. We began the arduous task of filling up using all sorts of jerry cans, funnels filters, fake paperwork, bribes, disguises and evasive maneuvers, all for foul-smelling 80 0ctane fuel that would probably need to be lit with kindling before anything actually happened.
Just when we were packing up and getting ready to leave I was confronted by a German on a Honda. He had stopped to say hi after he saw us filling up, and introduced himself as Mich, before the realisation could fully compute, Martin pulled up behind him and suddenly everything made sense. We had met up by chance, an occurrence which is surprisingly common in the overland community.
And into La Paz we went. By this time it was already getting dark, but being so close we decided to push through. On our way in we had to drive through El Alto, a ‘Mordore-ish’ part of La Paz that had mutated into its own city over time, with an even higher population density, a higher altitude, worse traffic, and twice the level of crazy as La Paz itself. El Alto was like an obstacle course, roads ended in sheer 1 meter drops without warning, tar was applied in patchwork, main roads were left dug-up, sidewalks were used as roads, manholes protruded a foot out of the road or were simply uncovered, and most roads were horrendous dirt, with no signs or markings to be seen. The cars in Bolivia also don’t use headlights at all, they have headlights, and they work perfectly, but they just choose to use strobe lights and disco-Christmas lights instead, obviously just for the ‘cool-factor’ and street-cred. Another thing, which one should never attempt to use in Bolivia, is a GPS. Bolivia laughs in the face of the global positioning system, and spits out fancy new units with blue eyes, missing teeth and streaming tears. But you will try, oh you will try, exactly the same way I tried, and then, when you are riding through construction sites and considering traversing steep flights of stairs, you will remember what I said, and you will promptly turn off your GPS, its a right of passage.
Eventually we managed, taking a rather beautiful scenic tour around the brim of La Paz, with the expanse of city lights stretching out below us, completely blanketing the massive valley bowl. After wandering around for a good 2 hours, getting lost once again, this time in La Paz itself, we managed to meet Oscar. Oscar welcomed us to the city with big smile, over a burger and a beer… naturally. Over the next few days we were blown over by the hospitality that Oscar showed us. We stayed in an apartment of his, which looked out over the entire city, with a great garage to work in and a rooftop BBQ area with hammock which we made full use of. Eventually Martin and Mich were also staying in the apartment, and together with Oscar, we managed to consume industrial quantities of beer and Pisco, always with a smile, a laugh and a dirty joke.
BBQ at Oscar’s place
Never short on toasts
I even got to play some guitar
The view of La Paz from Oscar’s apartment
La Paz from the cable car
The El Alto market – bearings and sprockets anyone?
Martin demonstrates the size difference between Europeans and Bolivians, who are marginally taller than Hobbits
Sunglasses anyone? Are they original? – Por Favor…
Taking the cable car up to El Alto market
Oscar was also kind enough to ride with us to the infamous Yungas Road, better known as ‘Death Road’, setting off every car alarm, and chasing away every dog in the city with his exhaust that was made in the bowels of hell itself. Never have I heard such a monstrous sound come out of an exhaust, Oscar will put any Boeing to shame with this weaponised noise-maker.
The Yungas was amazing. It has outgrown it’s previous fearsome reputation as the world’s most dangerous road after the brand new highway was built to bypass it, turning the Yungas into a quiet, relaxed scenic ride through the cloud-forest. Although still sporting a lack of roadside barriers and tar, with numerous waterfalls landing in the road, the Yungas no longer has the two-way truck and bus traffic that made it so incredibly dangerous in earlier days. Now overrun with mountain-biking backpackers who are constantly on the wrong side of the road and don’t know how to give way to actual traffic, an opportunity for a fun new game has presented itself: Try to see how many you can terrify into face-planting on the way down (or up), at least they would have earned their t-shirts claiming that they ‘Survived Death Road’.
Backpackers aside, the Yungas was beautiful, a must-do, the views are jaw-dropping and the riding is just about as much fun as you can have with your pants on. The reward that lies at the bottom is a hearty plate of food and a cold beer in the tropical forest that lies in the roads terminus. It was a great day spent with friends, motorbikes, and a very special road.
And Death Road begins…
Spot the Poodle
The reward at the bottom: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Just a rather fancy parrot minding his own business
Beer and Parrots, who ever would have thought
Before long, the time had come to press-on, this time to Lake Titicaca and on into the ancient mystique of Peru. We said goodbye to Oscar with heavy hearts and made an early start to the sacred lake of the Incas.