Day 186 – La Paz, BO to Oruro, BO

Day 186 – La Paz, BO to Oruro, BO      02/23/11      Mileage: 146

I spent the morning using the good wifi at the hostal, then packed the bike and headed south for Oruro. The road was paved and fairly straight running down a wide, shallow valley….and I was on the gas to make time.

 Just over a blind rise I see a cop standing on the side pointing what he wanted me to believe was a radar gun. It looked like something out of a Cracker Jacks box or perhaps it was a marshmallow shooter, but as I passed I could see him going for his radio. Oh grand, here we go again. Sure enough a few hundred yards down the road another cop is in the middle of the road flagging me over. I kept the bike running as he walked up and asked for my license. He said I was in a lot of trouble (of course) because I was doing 90 kph in an 80 kph zone. Well, now I knew he and his friend with the plastic Star Trek phaser were full of shit because I was doing at least 120 kph. I pretended to not know a single word of spanish and spoke only good old loud fast Americano….things like “thank you for welcoming me, Bolivia is great” and “I’m from the United States, it’s great to meet you”. From behind his 1 gold front tooth (you honestly can’t make this stuff up) he was telling me in spanish that I was going to get a ticket and I would have to go back to La Paz to pay it. I just kept saying “thank you, I like La Paz very much”, “looks like more rain ahead.” This song and dance went on for 15 minutes but he finally handed my license back in disgust, pointed to 80 kph on my dash, waved his finger at me and let me go. AMF! I continued rolling south but soon I had to back way off the pace, not because of my lecture from Barney Fife, but because the rain started to mix with pea size hail. Luckily there was a gas station after a few miles so I pulled in to wait out the worst of it.

Continuing on a ran into another hail storm but there was not shelter in sight so I just ducked my head and soldiered on. Eventually the hail and even the rain stopped and I rolled into Oruro around 4:30 in the afternoon. I found a room with secure parking at the Hotel Grand Sucre which must have been a swinging joint back in Oruro’s heyday. I quickly showered and went out for dinner before calling it a day. Tomorrow it’s on to Potosi…

Day 185 – La Paz, Bolivia and the Death Road

Day 185 – La Paz, Bolivia and the Death Road      02/22/11      Mileage: 0

One of the first things I knew I wanted to do on this trip was to ride the famous “Death Road” (also called “The Worlds Most Dangerous Road”) here in Bolivia. It got this reputation from the amount of trucks, buses and cars that met an early demise along with their passengers because the road is so narrow with sheer cliffs…and of course no guard rails.

Well it’s not nearly as dangerous as it once was as a new safer and modern road was built a few years ago to bypass it. So today the Death Road has become more of a playground for adventure seekers on motorcycles and to an even greater extent… mountain bikes.

So my dilemma was deciding how to ride it…on my KLR or a mountain bike. I went back and forth but decided to hire a mountain bike…as I would consider myself more of a die-hard mountain biker than motorcyclist. I found a tour operator (Barro) that had nice Kona Coiler dual suspension bikes and at 8:30am we set off up the pass in the support van.

Near the top of the pass it began to rain and soon we were above the snow line.

Just over the other side of the pass we pulled over and got ready for the first leg of the descent which was paved.

It was a fast and cold descent in the rain…but good fun anyway. Then it was back in the van for a short shuttle to the beginning of the top of the Death Road where we would bomb down to the valley below…and try not to run any corners wide!

The rain was still coming down but the temperature was rising with every mile we descended. How they built this road is a mystery to me as it is literally carved into a sheer cliff face in spots, if you run off the road, you had better hope it’s into the side of the cliff and not off the other side into oblivion. Several mountain bikers have died here over the last few years, like the Israeli girl for whom the memorial in the picture below is for.

That being said it is honestly pretty tame, but still great fun! Farther down the sun came out and we had a light lunch and admired the view.

Back on the bikes we continued down the last stretch to the town of Yungo in the valley below where we were treated to a hot shower and a nice dinner.

This guy was also having lunch near us…

Afterwards we piled into the van and headed back up and over the pass to La Paz.

Coming down from the pass with the city lights of La Paz below…

It was a long but fun and memorable day and one that will stand out from the others on this trip.

Made it to Chile…

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the delay in posting, but Bolivia is not known for its fast or abundant internet! I am currently in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile after several days of remote riding across the Bolivian Altiplano and will be getting some new posts up today. Thanks so much for all the great comments and encouragement!


Day 184 – Copacabana, BO to La Paz, BO

Day 184 – Copacabana, BO to La Paz, BO 02/21/11 Mileage: 102

After tracking down some breakfast, I packed the bike and split for La Paz.

One last look around town on the way to breakfast…

Low on fuel, my first stop was at a gas station in Copacabana…but it was closed…and so was the other one. It was around 10am, so it’s not like it was too early…hmmm.

A view of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca…

I pressed on towards the ferry at San Pedro de Tiquina hoping to find gas there…but no luck.

Coming into San Pedro de Tiquina to catch the ferry…

On the ferry I met a Swiss couple, Ornella and Fabian, who have been traveling around the America’s in their 4×4 VW camper….cool!

Off the ferry I again was on the hunt for gas, but like the previous gas stations, the next 4 were either out of gas or closed completely. I had no choice but to press on towards La Paz…now running on vapor.

Sure enough in a few miles the bike started to sputter and I had to switch to the reserve. The countdown was on, I had around 40 miles of gas in the reserve tank and 1 liter in my stove bottle…which would get me another 10-15 miles. I had already dropped my pace a while back to save fuel, and now I tucked in behind a slow moving mini-bus to block the wind and hopefully stretch what gas I had left. Mercifully though, around 30 miles later there was a gas station that was open and had gas…which was in the process of being delivered by a tanker! The smell of fresh, wholesome gas pouring into my tank never smelt so good! Now with a full belly of fuel I was free to make the run to La Paz, so I cracked the throttle on the KLR and whipped up the pace. Soon I was flying by minibuses and trucks like they were in a parking lot and it felt good to be able fly again. I reached the outskirts of La Paz and El Alto and my high speed flight was over…now I was in a traffic dogfight.

The view of La Paz coming down from El Alto…

Riding in cities where there are few traffic laws and even fewer adhered to, the only way to get anywhere is to ride aggressive and use the bikes acceleration and maneuverability to your advantage.

I sliced and diced my way into the heart of La Paz and made my way to the Adventure Brew Hostal. Yep, a hostal that has it’s own brewery, secure parking for the KLR and books mountain bike trips to the famous Death Road in the mountains above La Paz…sounds like a place purpose built for me! Oh, a beer and breakfast is included with your stay too…nice.

After settling in I went out in search of some spare gas cans to strap to the bike, which I planned on purchasing here anyway despite this mornings gas shortage.

Searching for spare fuel cans in the bustling LA Paz markets…

My planned route in southern Bolivia across the Atacama Desert will exceed the range of the KLR, so I’ll need to carry extra fuel. I was also told of fuel shortages in parts of Argentina, so the extra fuel will provide a safety net there as well. Of course, finding gas cans, even in a city this large has proved difficult. The closest I came was a little old lady selling used plastic containers from a street stand. Amongst the used cooking oil jugs and gallon shampoo containers were 2 gallon size 40W oil containers. Seeing as the KLR has an appetite for 40W oil anyway, I figured any residue in there wouldn’t be a problem. So, I purchased the 2 containers for 6 Bolivianos (85 cents) and a picture with her.

Back at the hostal I collected my free beer and got it on a poker game…and promptly lost my ass. Luckily for me, there was no money involved and the first man out, which was me, got a shot as a consolation prize. After some wifi and a few more beers, I stumbled down to my room, 1 floor down…convenient!

The 4th floor pub at the Adventure Brew Hostal….complete with a great view of downtown La Paz…

Tomorrow it’s off to ride the famous Death Road, not with the KLR, but with a mountain bike!

Day 183 – Puno, PE to Copacabana, BO

Day 183 – Puno, PE to Copacabana, BO 02/20/11 Mileage: 90

The rain was coming down in buckets when I woke up so I lingered in my room and watched some CNN…in english…a rare treat of sorts. The rain let up around 11 so I packed the bike and set out for the Bolivian border. I took the road that followed the west shore of Lake Titicaca which was scenic and a nice ride.

They say it is the highest navigable lake in the world…whatever that means…but I can say that it is for sure BIG and also high at 12,500 feet above sea level. I was started to run low on fuel and I only had 16 soles left…enough for just over gallon of gogo juice. The gas station I found would not take US dollars, so I got my 16 soles worth and continued towards Bolivia. I calculated that I had just enough fuel to get to Copacabana just beyond the Bolivian border….so I pressed on.

Passing through Yunguyo, PE

I arrived at the Peruvian side of the border and it was the usual song and dance. I was told to first go to the National Police office, but they told me to go to the aduana (customs) office first, where I was told to go to immigration first, where I was told I had to go to a different National Police office first! WTF…is this their first time doing this…don’t they do this sh*t every day for a living?! So off to National Police office #2 where the officer applied a stamp to my tourist card, then back to immigration where the official applied his stamp. Now it was back to customs to cancel the bike import permit, which he did with his stamp. I asked if I could keep a copy, but he said no and angrily rattled of some spanish I didn’t understand. Okeee, now it was back to National Police office #1 where they in fact asked for a copy of my canceled bike permit…the one the customs official wouldn’t give me. I went back to the customs office and explained that the National Police needed a copy of the canceled permit, but he insisted they did not. Alrighty…back to the National Police where I explained as best I could that customs has my canceled permit and he says the you the police don’t need it. Well, they insisted they did need it, so it was time to do what I always did in my professional life whenever people started playing the finger pointing game…call a conference. I went back and asked the customs official to accompany me to the National Police office to settle the disagreement. So after a few minutes of official cock fighting, the police got the canceled permit…after all, they do have the guns! That completed, the police let me pass (but not before asking for a tip, which they did not get) and I was on to the Bolivian border post where, I have to essentially do the whole process in reverse. Ahhh, the joy of border crossings. The process in Bolivia was mercifully straight forward…immigration, customs, national police…not too bad. The only bummer is that U.S. citizens are charged $135 for a visa to enter, making this the most expensive country to enter yet. The fee however is in reciprocity for the fee the U.S. started charging Bolivian citizens to enter the U. S…so you can’t blame them. So, with all the border formalities complete, I was set loose in Bolivia…country number 14! I decided to hold up in Copacabana just beyond the border as I liked the vibe and the town is situated in a nice setting right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I found a room at the Hotel Ambassador where there were many stickers on the front door from other overland travelers.

The Hotel Ambassador

My room at the Ambassador…not to bad…

Copacabana, Bolivia on the shores of Lake Titicaca…

I found dinner at a cool little joint called Nimbo which has unique decor and nice pooch guarding the entrance.

Tomorrow it’s off to La Paz….