Into Bolivia, the welcome matt

So here I am in Bolivia. I have been anticipating this country since the time I started dreaming of traveling the world on my motorcycle. I’ve also been apprehensive, because I know that at times it will be difficult. I had heard that gas can be difficult to buy and that the roads in the south can be impossible.

I had met up with Jacob in Peru and we planned to ride together in Bolivia. We set out for the border. The border crossing was like most, simple and straightforward. Get stamped out of Peru, turn in your TIP (Temporary Import for the motorcycle) and then get stamped into and receive a new TIP from Bolivia. Bolivia only grants 30 day visas for citizens of the USA, but you can get it extended easily in La Paz or other places where they have a immigration office. You can also extend the TIP once you have extended your visa.

Off we go from the frontier to our first town, Copacabana. It’s a quaint town on lake Titicaca. Things are cheaper here in Bolivia than Peru. Seven dollars for a hostel, three dollars for a meal. I think Bolivia is going to be a nice experience.

(Following the trail of my predecessors)

(Sunset over Copacabana)

Next morning Jacob and I headed off to La Paz. The road out of Copa was fun and twisty with great views of the lake. At one point we had to take a small ferry across a narrow straight to get to the mainland.

This is where stuff gets interesting. The road leading out of the lake was wonderful and twisty. My WR was soaking up the pavement. Finally when we reached the top, the plateau leveled out and we hit about 10kms of straight road.

The road was under construction, so there were patches of asphalt followed by short sections of dirt. We were almost to our first junction and suddenly, after hitting a small dirt patch the back of my motorcycle collapsed under me. I could feel my tire and grinding under my seat and the noise was terrible as I came to a sudden and quick stop.

Jacob behind me was in complete stunned, as was I. His eye wide with surprise, he quickly parked on the side of the road and came to me. My bike was stopped in the road and I could no longer move. I hopped off my bike and assessed the situation. I was sure the my suspension collapsed, but how? Then, I saw the culprit. In disbelief, I saw the the pivot point of my linkage, the part of the suspension where everything is connected had cracked open. This is not something that is known to break.

We were now stranded on the side of the road. One hour from La Paz. Assessing the situation, there was no way to rig the motorcycle so I could ride it. We looked on the map and saw the next town was about 15 minutes away. Jacob, rode into town and looked for someone that could transport me and the moto in to the city. Jacob returned about 30 minutes later, and had found someone with a truck that was willing to take me in to La Paz, but for a price. I took Jacobs bike and went into the town to negotiate.

I had often experienced the kindness of strangers, but Bolivia was the contradiction of that. The man who was offering to take me and the motorcycle wanted $100 dollars to take me the one hour to La Paz. Now, that may not seem to bad if I was in the USA, but $100 in Bolivia is about a weeks worth of work, and this guy knew he had me over a barrel. The problem was that the town was so small that word had passed quickly and there was no alternatives to the man with the truck. He was going to get his payday, and the town was in on it. Reluctantly agreeing to the terms, he met me at the roadside where my injured bike sit. We loaded everything up and set off to La Paz.

While on the road, I started to reach out to friends about my situation. My first call was to Alex at Motorsports of Olympia. He has always been there whenever I needed advise on my moto. He was impressed with my situation. Doing some quick research he determined the parts I would need at the tune of about $200. Yikes! But then, 10 minutes later, he came back to me with good news. He had found an entire linkage on Ebay for $60. I found the parts on Ebay and messaged the seller right away about sending the parts to Bolivia. The seller responded favorably, and would have the parts Fedex the next day. With my mind at ease, I returned my attention to the asshole who was driving me to La Paz. Asshole, yes, asshole. When we reached to edge of La Paz, there was a bunch of small motorcycle shops. Mostly selling chinese bikes, and all of them looking like hack shops. This is the point where he wanted to leave me. I reminded him that we agreed to a point on the map that I negotiated. The hostel where I was staying. He pretended not to understand, until I said that I would not pay him anything until we arrived at my destination. Grudgingly we drove on into the city. I would soon realize why he was wanting to avoid driving there.

La Paz is the capital and largest city in Bolivia. It sits in a valley. As we crested the hill, the city exposed itself. An awe inspiring site. A mammoth bowl of a metropolis. The road was steep and windy, leading down to the neighborhood were my hostel was.

We finally arrived after two hours of driving. Missing the hostel by a half block, the man refused to back up or turn around so we could unload the bike at the gate. Jacob was already there and helped me unload the bike. I paid the man and reminded him that “God” would remember how you took advantage of this situation. His eyes got wide as I know in Latin culture they have a strong belief in superstitions and religion.

La Paz, city of dirt and good food.

Now that I am in La Paz, I was play the waiting game for my parts to arrive. I had my tracking number from Fedex, and in addition to the $60 for the parts, I paid $125 for the shipping. All things considered, I was doing better than paying $200 for parts and shipping.

My friend Phil who was recently in La Paz told me about some places to go eat and see. One place in particular was called Bolivian Popular Foods, a gourmet restaurant at incredibly cheap prices.

I spent a couple of days exploring the city and picking up some things I would need for the motorcycle when the parts arrived. New chain, rear tire and oil.

One thing that we needed in Bolivia was going to be a couple of gas cans. To my understanding, gas is Bolivia is regulated by the government and that selling to foreigners is not exactly easy. Normally you have to take your gas can to the station with motorcycle out of site, and as someone to buy the gas for you. Sometimes you can get lucky and get buy gas at national stations, but at three times the price. The average price is 3 Bolivianos per liter. (About $1.60 per gallon). Surprisingly it was difficult to find a small can (3 gallons). It took three tries in different neighborhoods to find a place that sold small cans.

La Paz is not a city I would consider to be a destination for tourism. Yes, they have tourism, but after spending a few days here, I soon started to see past the luster and what the city really is. A dirty over populated, polluted mess. Traffic is horrible, and the drivers to boot. They actually have this campaign called “Zebras” that manage the intersections, forcing drivers to obey the traffic regulations. Seriously, they are pretty F'ing dumb as a collective society when i comes to driving. They beep their horn for everything and it make the city even less appealing.

One thing the city has to reduce traffic is the Teleferico, a cable type of Gondola system that is laced across the city. With 9 routes in place, there are plans for 4 more in the next two years.

Back to Bolivian Popular Foods. This was something I wanted to try, and to my luck, I stumbled across an event at a museum that was being put on by the restaurant.

The event was a 10 year anniversary of the art gallery. Now, I'm not really a person who is into art or art galleries, but food is art and I love food! Fortunately they had a few seats left and so I there I was, sitting amongst artist and media people. There were a few people that spoke english, and I was able to convey my story in Spanish. All in all it was a fun experience, and I had some awesome food.

Surrounded by idiots

So i have been tracking my Fedex package and seeing that it was now in customs, I decided to give they system the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s Fedex. I waited until the day it was scheduled to arrive and then went to the office where it was to be delivered. Fedex explained to me that my package was suspended in customs because there wasn’t enough information on the package to be delivered. I asked why I wasn’t contacted and it turned out that the genius who sent the package didn’t put my name or email address on the label. He put exactly the address to the Fedex office and addressed to “Fedex”! Seriously??? WTF? So now I would have to go to the customs warehouse at the airport and pay extra to get my package out of customs jail! And I would have to wait until Monday to do that.

It has now coming up on two weeks in La Paz and things are getting stagnant and annoying. I know my spanish is not great, but when you go to the hardware store and ask for a certain item like a 19mm socket, and show a picture, you don’t expect them to come back with batteries, but they did. There’s also certain lack of intellectual understanding of technology. When asking for directions, they don’t understand digital maps. Simply showing them a map on a phone confuses the fuck out of them and they want to draw you a map.

Finally monday comes and after spending an entire day, taking the Teleferico and a taxi to the airport, going from one office to the next. I was able to get my package out of hawk and put the new linkage on the bike.

One a small note there were plenty of people who wanted to help me. Recommending mechanics and such, but they couldn’t seem to understand that I only needed the parts and I could fix the bike in about 30 minutes.

My last hurdle was getting the extension for my motorcycle. I had already spent ½ my time for my visa sitting around La Paz, so the next morning I planned to stop at the customs office on my way out of the city to get my extension for my motorcycle. Arrived at the office, and showed them my extion for my visa which I obtained days before. The immigration gave me and everyone else wanting an extension a simple stamp that says “30 Dias”. But when I arrived at customs to extend the motorcycle, they didn’t accept the stamp. Fuck me. So I had to go back to immigration and get a different stamp. When I arrived and explained the situation, they gave me another “30 dias” stamp. ARRRRH! After some more explaining, I had to go make copies of my passport and visa stamp and then they gave me another stamp and signed it. Back to customs on the other side of the city, I finally got my extension. I would spend another night in La Paz.
(Stupid 30 day extension stamp)


Back on the road I headed to Cochabamba and then to Sucre where I met up with Jacob again.

The main attraction in Bolivia is the Salar De Uyuni. The world's largest salt flat. To get there we would ride through Potosi before hitting the town of Uyuni. This is where the real adventure would begin.

Just outside of Uyuni there is the famous train graveyard. The town served in the past as a distribution hub for the trains carrying minerals on their way to the Pacific Ocean ports, but now is an attraction for tourist.

The Salar and Ruta Laguna

The next day Jacob and I headed to the Salar. We knew that we would need to get gas at least one time on the route.

Riding across the salar was amazing.

In the center of the Salar is a couple of Islands that you can camp.

With little light pollution, the stargazing was incredible!

Camping that night on the Salar was cold, but not as cold as the next nights were to be expected as we would ride close to 5000 meters asl on the Laguna Rutas.

Back on the bikes in the morning we followed the tracks south. We has been reminded to stay on the tracks as you can find soft mud and be stuck for days on the Salar. We followed the tracks which brought us to the road leading south.

Initially we found the riding fairly easy leading out of the Salar, but we we tried to navigate towards a know petrol stop things got more interesting. We crossed another salt flat that had tracks going every direction. We found ourselves on a two track trail that we obviously not well traveled, but would lead us to the next main road where we could find gas. Jacob would struggle with his BMW GS800. And with no proper off road training, I feared that things could go badly.

Finally making it to the main road, we headed 20 kms to the town with known gas. By this time Jacob was feeling the burden of his large BMW. We looked at the maps and decided there was another route that would be easier, but would bring us to the lagunas of Bolivia. Taking the easier road was still challenging for Jacob, and so after another fall, I decided that it was in the best interest for the both of us if we switched bikes.

Taking his F800GS, a bike I have owned and know well. We continued up the road. The corrugation and sand challenged Jacob the entire way to the next town, but it was the better decision for him to ride my lighter, more capable Yamaha than for him to risk injury riding the lunky BMW.

We would spend the next two days riding the roads south to Chile. The lakes along the route were absolutely the highlight of South America thus far and probably the best riding I’ve done on this entire trek. Although I did it on the bike that I absolutely dismissed as an practical bike for traveling, I still enjoyed the ride.

My time in Bolivia had come to an end. The best part was, every gas station I went to filled up my tank, no questions asked!


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