Santa Cruz, 9-Jul-2010
Bolivia is quite a tumultuous country, especially in its central & east parts: cities/states vying for more power or autonomy from the federal government of Evo Morales, different cultures and societies feeling repressed or showing hypocrisy vs. others, villages and communities fighting for their survivals from the controlling hands of the state government who in turn are in a “lucha” vs. the federal bureaucracy and corruption. Miners, exporters, cocaleros, farmers, bus drivers, etc,… seem to take turn in waging daily strikes and blockades throughout the country. How does this affect us? Well, our route will be leading us to the heart of these problematic areas. But we were lucky: the on-going road strikes to & around Potosi were suspended for a few days allowing us to head there and the riots in Sucre have also been repressed. (Fast forward 1 month: strikes are still on-going in Potosi wrecking havoc with tourists traveling the La Paz/Sucre/Potosi/Uyuni routes. 330 tourists are still trapped in Uyuni, no gas available, not even to go on the Salar tour)
Kilometer 24,588; Potosi, 22-Jun-10 @ 16:45. Potosi is famous for its Cerro Rico; No other mountain in the world contained such richness and affected the history of the world as much. The Spain monarchy and its economy were so dependent on this silver mine that when one of the ship heading to Spain full of silver was attacked by pirates, it was an economic catastrophe. It is estimated that since 1546 up to 6 million people (mostly slaves) have died while working in the mine and up to 45,000 tons of silver extracted. Cerro Potosi is still mined today via cooperative and the working conditions are still as dangerous as the old days. These workers do not expect to live beyond 40 due to contracting silicosis, yet after talking to a few of them in the city, it’s a voluntary choice they take. To roughly quote a drunken miner: “I prefer dying at forty with some money vs. living worthless in these streets”. To each his logic I guess. In Potosi, the main attraction is to actually visit the mine, and we went on a tour as happy tourists: walking inside the mine, crawling through narrow passages, dropping into holes to see men at work, hearing miners blowing dynamites to shatter rocks in search for silver. But the real shock came when in one of the mine’s side tunnels we met a 13 year old kid, exhausted and barely conscious from dehydration. I gave him my water bottle which he gulped down in seconds. I asked him what was he doing here? “My dad is an associate, he owns this tunnel and he makes me work here…” He starts at 6:00 every day. And where is your dad? “Drinking in the village”. It was 11:00 AM! That was a hard fall back to reality; this boy will not live to see 30. We demanded to exit the mine immediately, which our guide reluctantly accepted. For them, this is normal.
Unfortunately, my riding buddies left the next day. They are great company and we had fun times but their schedule is more constrained then mine. Most riders I met were on a tight schedule: drop in, check the big attraction then keep on riding. And as you have noticed I got the luxury to linger around, stopping in many places and visiting + enjoying each town to its fullest. Here, there was the famous mint museum, churches, convent, monastery from the colonial times, the local market… A few days later, when I called the guys from Sucre, they were already at the Bolivia/Peru border…. crazy! They could only spend 1 night in each city on their way north.
Kilometer 24,748; Sucre, 25-Jun-10 @ 17:25. Sucre, the white city, is probably the most beautiful city in Bolivia. Charming streets to stroll in, a fascinating market (with lots of food stalls 🙂 and a lively night scene. It’s also the cradle of independence and history of Bolivia and the city is very proud of this heritage. And to make it even better, I bumped again into Carmen and we spent the next 4 days just chilling, going on the normal visits and just “living it up”.
My route through Bolivia will now take me east, doing a detour to Santa Cruz. There are some amazing parks in these eastern provinces but most importantly, I wanted to retrace and visit the last villages/places where Che Guevara fought, was captured and then executed. It wasn’t to be that easy: On my way to Samaipata a police checkpoint told me to take another route which will save me 100Km. Kilometer 24,898; Aiquile, 29-Jun-10 @ 13:40. True enough, my map showed another gravel road cutting through the country. And how’s the route condition? “Tranquilo, with the moto it’s the same as the current route”. During my whole trip I always got the best advices on which routes to take, but not this time. The gravel and dirt road was pretty good for the first 20Km but then, it turned for the worst. I should have u-turned but I just thought it will be a small bad stretch. Well, it turned out this was not a drivable road, it was mainly used by the local mines and couple of villages. I was driving in ruts of sand, crossing rivers by going down their banks and driving through their beds, heading up and down mountains where the mines are located and passing bulldozers clearing the roads. I had sand flying from the front wheel all the way up to my knees as if I was driving in water. I never subscribed to do a Dakar!! It was the hardest driving conditions I ever faced, absolute hell. This 120Km stretch took me 5 hours and caused me to fall… twice. Downhill, through sand, with a 230Kg bike & luggage, exhausted, I just could not hold it: the front wheel dug in the sand and flipped me sideways. And it was a bad fall: part of my front brake lever broke so did the bike shift lever. To shift gears I needed to twist my ankle and hit the peg, which rarely worked. I passed a few small villages, asked if I could stop and sleep anywhere as I was exhausted, but people just looked at this dust & mud covered dirty guy and immediately refused to accept me in. Thanks guys, just add to my pain. I finally reached the main road and stopped at a police checkpoint to see if they will let me in. The boys actually accepted that I crash in the barracks, but when their commander saw me pulling in, he insisted that it’s against regulation: I could not stay with them. And since when Bolivianos have regulation? 🙂 It made me laugh and at that moment, somehow, I felt absolute ease and calm. Strange, but I was in peace. It was already 19:00 but I just took a break at the local street side resto-bar, had a drink chatting with a couple of locals, then put on my helmet, blasted my favorite music and kept on riding. And it felt so good riding under the stars. I also got a tip to stay at Andoriña hostel in Samaipata and it wasn’t to disappoint; the place and managers were amazing. I took a shower, went to the plaza to eat then headed to bed and slept like a baby. Kilometer 25,136; Samaipata, 29-Jun-10 @ 20:45
I chilled the next day in Samaipata and hiked to the mystic pre-Inca site called El-Fuerte with Valeska and Regina. Then late afternoon, I went to the local welder and worked on a quick fix to my foot shifter. Hey, I was going to ride the “ruta del Che”! Very few people actually do this route even if a lot of tourists actually want to. The issue lies with the roads leading to La Higuera: it can only be reached by narrow mountain roads via infrequent/non-reliable local buses. So either you need lots of time on your hand or your own transportation or take a private tour (which charges U$D150!!).
… keep reading about my Ruta del Che after these pics.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.