Get me the f out of Bolivia.


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South America » Chile
February 14th 2011
Published: February 14th 2011
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Patrick & the Pacific.Patrick & the Pacific.Patrick & the Pacific.

Northern Chile.
I'd truly had enough of Bolivia (see videos at the end of this entry) and was longing to see the Chilean border. Yes it was cheap & there was a lot to see but regardless I couldn't wait to get out. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, a mixture between just one of those feelings & being sick of riding through deep, wet mud for mile after mile after mile. Unfortunately Bolivia got word we wanted out & tried so very hard to keep us a while longer.

Prior to leaving Andy, Patrick & I agreed to head south to the town where Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (one of my favourite films by the way) met their end. It didn't look that far on the map, maybe 400 miles total, but to get there & get out into Chile took approximately 1577 miles & involved 9 days of bike battering roads, bush camping and no showers. I've said it before, this adventure biking malarky is tougher then you'd imagine.

I could have easily by passed the tricky parts and took the easier path, but each & everytime, wisely or unwisely I chose to give it a go (usually unwisely if you're wondering) but as Andy says "I'd rather be lucky then good".

I did eventually get out of La Paz & surprise, surprise headed north. Yes, the intention is still to get to the southern most tip of the Americas but a quick trip to lake Titicaca was called for. We'd met two lads who had bought brand new Chinese 125cc motorbikes in Santiago, Chile for $1000 with the intention of riding to Alaska. Adrian from NZ & Bill from Canada. They gave us some tips on beach camping in Chile (hide from the gypsies) & how to catch crabs for breakfast on the coast which basically involves a lot of splashing about and a big knife.

We all rode to Lake Titicaca together, at 50mph. It made me smile watching them really push their bikes to hit 50mph & then not slowing down for man nor beast nor bends. Neither Adrian or Bill has a licence or knows anything about maintenance (yeah, yeah, before you say anything, atleast I have a licence) & I have nothing but admiration for them. Saying that, it took nearly five hours to get to where we were going riding together but less then two to get back the following day without them. Good luck gents, may the sun always shine!

After Lake Titicaca we headed due south & it felt good to be heading towards the bottom again, a direction I hadn't taken in nearly three weeks & I'd been getting really restless. As we were still high above sea level I spent most of the day watching the clouds pass as I rode along. I would of thought cloud height is relative to all number of weather & climate conditions but huge cumulonimbus clouds (you know, the big fluffy ones) appeared to be only a couple of hundred feet up & I was loving it.

I had to take it easy as my rear tyre was falling apart and I was still 1000 odd miles from being able to get a replacement so I cruised along nice & gently which got more then a little tedious mile after mile, hence the cloud watching. Somehow, I still managed to get caught speeding but my "NO HABLA SPANISH" routine worked a treat.

We were on route to a town called Sucre & when we pulled up for fuel I asked Andy & Patrick why were we going to Sucre again? Transpires none of us knew. Each thought the other wanted to. So instead we decided to head for Potosi, solely as that's the town where you're allowed to play with dynamite.

The hotel we stayed at in Potosi was owned by a women who appeared to be about 193 & was very nearly three foot tall. Her memory wasn't great as each & everytime we came to the door it took a couple of minutes of explanation to convince her we were actually guests, which perhaps wouldn't be so bad if we weren't the only guests. She was lovely & without doubt my favourite of her many wonderful character traits was her ability to fart almost continuously as she doddered about. Seriously, she could fart up a storm!

Patrick, Andy & I took a tour of the mine which is in a mountain that overshadows the town & has been worked continuously for nearly 500 years. I did think after 500 years of digging the mountain must be riddled with tunnels & surely soon to collapse but put that to
Patrick playing with dynamite.Patrick playing with dynamite.Patrick playing with dynamite.

What could possibly go wrong?
the back of my mind. As I said our primary motivation for visiting Potosi was after the mine tour you're allowed to play with dynamite. However, only days prior to our arrival allowing tourists to play with explosives was outlawed. Health & safety gone mad.

Prior to getting to the mine we were taken to the market to buy gifts for the miners which included fizzy drinks, coca leaves & more importantly fuses, dynamite & nitro glycerine. The explosives cost $3. We gave the fizzy pop & the leaves to the miners but kept the explosives for ourselves which meant tucking them into our trousers for later. Lots of gags to be had there but I'll leave it.

The tour was good if a little scary as the tunnels are tiny & some of the wooden supports were snapped from the strain. At times we were on our hands & knees crawling through passageways & down holes. After a 90 minutes of near darkness I was very relieved to see daylight.

The tour guides did demonstrate the power of the explosives & Patrick & I watched carefully. Andy has had his time blowing things up in the American military & so wasn't as keen to play with dynamite as we were. Break the dynamite into three, put them together to form a pyramid, insert the fuse & then place into the bag of nitro glycerine, seal, light & then run. Easy. The explosion was so much bigger then we expected making the dynamite I had tucked into my trousers feel even more uncomfortable.

From Potosi we headed south to a town called Tupiza which is where Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid used to hang out when they weren't robbing. It was well out of way as we were supposed to be heading back into Chile & due south but we were too close (in relative terms) not to visit.

Getting there involved yet more gravel miles (& a stop off to play with dynamite) with a back tyre which by then was even balder then me. The roads were rough which meant it was less then an ideal time for one of my front suspension forks to blow & lose all fluid adding to the mounting list of repairs required. I'm hoping my credit card can take more punishment then my bike.

In Tupiza Patrick & I went horse riding which was a superb way to spend a morning, Butch & Sundance had nothing on us & for the best part of three hours we galloped through the Bolivian countryside. Before you ask, the definition of galloping differs from country to country & in Bolivia it equates to something a little slower then walking pace. I blame the calibre of horses, not the skill of the jockeys. Prior to getting on board (horsey terminology evades me & 'mount' just sounds wrong) I'd never realised just how uncomfortable a horse can be. I truly can't understand why the vast majority of jockeys are men as from my experience men & saddles do not mix, trust me.

Back in town I bumped into some backpackers I'd met in La Paz one of which was celebrating a birthday. Bottle after bottle of rum & whisky & a very good night ensued but it didn't make for a great time on the bike the following morning but I took the hangover like a man & only moaned & whinged to Patrick & Andy each & everytime we stopped.

Our intended destination was San Vincente where Butch & Sundance ended their days and the dirt road that took us there included river crossings which got my adrenalin flowing and cleared the hangover in seconds. Flash floods had washed the trail away making progress more then a little tricky.

You'll be pleased to hear I'm getting better at off tarmac riding. My favourite off road is still urban off road, the wrong way down one way streets, across public squares, along pavements, through parks etc. I'm still not a fan of riding through mud on a enormous motorcycle with bald road tyres.

The river crossings were hard to judge as it was impossible to tell the lay of the land (see the pictures & you'll know what I mean) due to the torrents of muddy water which meant filling my boots with freezing cold water by walking across first & then walking back (topping off the boots nicely) to get on the bikes & plough across.

If the river snaked through a valley we'd have to cross it 3 or 4 times in less then a mile. Fun, fun, fun. After about seven hours and the best part of 70 miles covered we arrived in San Vincente which only exists to serve the local mine & comprises of about 4 short streets of ramshackle buildings, one of which is a museum to Butch & Sundance that was opened on request by the shop keeper next door.

The museum itself is roughly the size of your average garden shed and much like your average garden shed is a little short on info about Butch & Sundance. To their credit where there was space they've filled it with different types of rocks from the local mine & explanations in Spanish about what sort of rocks they were. Enthralling.

We did get to see the building where it all came to an end for Butch & Sundance which is now used as a church. A sad corner of the world to end up. After that it was on through the rain & hail out into the tundra to find a nice, windy & wet place to camp for the night.

The maps we had didn't match the trail in terms of mileage, terrain or geography but were otherwise perfect. Luckily I'd swapped sat navs with Damon so I actually had a comprehensive digital map to rely on & therefore would be able to judge where the Chilean border was. Get in there! Unfortunately, the sat nav had no clue where we were either & so we had to rely on a $3 compass.

The following day it was mud, more mud followed by a liberal smattering of yet more mud. It seemed like the only traction I was getting was coming from the metal barbs sticking out through the remaining rubber on my tyre & so when we did hit a decent stretch of gravel I'd have to be as restrained as possible. A blown rear tyre in the arse end of Bolivia would be a pain & I'd probably still be there now.

Andy ran out of fuel and had to be towed by Patrick the last few km to town. Even then on a gravel track they were able to speed past me with big broad smiles. Bastards!

The famous Salt Flats were flooded which lead to a stunning view as the sky was mirrored perfectly in the water, but as it was the best part of a foot deep I parked up on the edge & jumped on the back of Patrick's bike. My bike has taken enough of a pounding and a salt water wash was something it could do without. Patrick's bike was still suffering a little from the salt flats in America & therefore he didn't care. We messed about for a few hours out on the salt, took a few pictures, messed about a little more & then headed back to town with all we wanted to do in Bolivia done & dusted. All we had to do now was get out.

The next morning we were utterly lost within 5 minutes of leaving town, a new record. The trail disappeared and again we had to crack out the compass to decide which direction to head in. After a while making our way through the wilderness & passed a train graveyard we hit the mud covered road and made very slow progress towards the border. Locals told us the flooding was bad, brilliant.

As we ploughed on it got slicker and both Patrick & I went over. I managed to land in a puddle the size of a pond with the bike trapping my leg beneath. A friend of mine called Danny pointed out I could have been one of the few to die in a motorcycle accident where the actual cause of death was drowning. Cheers Danny. Luckily Patrick wasn't far behind and my leg sank into the mud allowing me to get out from under the bike. I hope you're getting a feel for how much I was enjoying Bolivia?

We pushed on & after 8 hours we thankfully made it to the border. I didn't bother to sign out of Bolivia so as far as they are concerned both me & my bike are still there. We asked the officials on the Chilean side where the nearest fuel stop was and were told a mere 215km down the road. None of us could make that distance & Andy was nearly out so he opted to head back into Bolivia in search whilst I eventually found an illicit supply in a yard around the back of a restuarant. Initially I was sure it was petrol but Patrick sowed the seeds of doubt as he thought it was diesel. I went with my initial gut feeling & poured it in & a little nervously started the bike. I'm pleased to report it kept running.

The following day was decent gravel track meaning Patrick & Andy could fly whilst I pottered along with my dodgy rear tyre & leaking front suspension. Patrick & Andy could stop for photos, snacks & a chat and I'd finally roll passed leaving them to get on & gun it off into the distance again. After hours I finally made it to tarmac & just as I did the other fork seal on the suspension blew & poured all the fluid out onto the road in a display of disgust of how the bike had been treated in Bolivia.

I searched for a tyre in the biggest town we came to with no luck so as a last resort opted to - wait for it - I was so impressed with myself - stick gaffer tape over the holes. Genius! The gaffer tape is silver & so fairly apparent & wouldn't you know minutes after applying it I got pulled over at a police checkpoint. My Spanish is getting worse as with Patrick & Andy I speak English all day everyday & so trying to explain why my tyre is now 70% gaffer tape
Taking a break. Bolivia.Taking a break. Bolivia.Taking a break. Bolivia.

I'm still wearing that mud.
is slightly beyond me. Luckily they were too busy being nice to care & so I rode off into the sunset without having to try.

We bush camped yet again & the following morning I put the best part of 11 metres of gaffer tape on the tyre & you'll be as amazed as Patrick, Andy & I that it is surprisingly effective. I stuck to 48 mph & only over took 3 vehicles all day, one of which was being towed but I made it to Antofagasta a large town on the Chilean coast where my woes would come to an and & I'd soon be able to fly once again.

I couldn't get a tyre. In the end I paid $20 for a secondhand one & put in on the following morning. I'm still carrying the old one as I couldn't throw it into the desert despite it being strewn with all number of car & truck tyres. I came close on a few occasions but its sitting outside the hostel as I type this.

So at the moment I'm in Santiago, a city I spent either my 26th or 27th birthday & where I was given as a birthday gift a Chinese coin that I've carried with me on my travels since, one rather big loop. The last time I was here it never occured to me one day I'd be returning on a motorbike I'd ridden from New York. Funny how life works out eh?

200km Short of getting here the rear wheel bearings on the bike disintergrated & took large parts of the rear wheel hub with it. Technical talk which basically means the credit card is soon to take a pounding.

The fix took 5 hours of 'roadside ingenuity' which invariably involves hitting the bike with large rock. I had spares as I was going to change them here in Santiago (cracking timing as ever) but the heat generated when it failed welded the old one into place meaning I may have started hitting it with a rock but I ended up smashing it with a boulder.

I took the bike to a mechanic who is famous amongst overland bikers & he told me with a smile that;

The water pump has gone.

The $80 suspension seals I've ordered from BMW to replace the old ones
Good work gents. River fording Bolivia.Good work gents. River fording Bolivia.Good work gents. River fording Bolivia.

Trying to get out of Bolivia.
that blew aren't good, he'll sort others.

New chain & sprockets will be required to get me home. $400.

Wheel bearings required on the front & new brakes.

Bearings required on the rear sprocket.

Full service to include filters & fluids.

New tyres front & rear.

Patch up rear wheel as best as he can which is not going to be easy.

& as a nice final touch have I had trouble with the clutch yet???

There's a scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid where they're learning the necessary Spanish phrases required if you want to rob a bank in South America & I think I may need to watch that film again.

When I do get rolling it's due south to the southern most tip of the America's, back up to BA, Argentina & then London where I promise to grow old gracefully. Only 9000km left, fingers crossed both me & the bike are up to it.

Thanks for the emails saying hello, I truly love them.

Take care,

Brian

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Home is where you park it. No.301Home is where you park it. No.301
Home is where you park it. No.301

Pacific coast Chile, bush camp.


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