Loving Bolivia, stuck in second gear: Phil's tale of Bolivia. (Now with photo/video update)

Loving Bolivia, stuck in second gear: Phil’s tale of Bolivia. (Now with photo/video update)

I’ll decorate this post with some photos as soon as I can, for now… (June 11th edit: Now with Photos!)

Sometimes you want to get somewhere, but it feels like you are stuck in second gear, and just can’t get there as fast as you intended.
Figuratively and literally, that is Bolivia for me.
Jayne’s time in Bolivia was marred with rain. A moto friend of hers had said long ago simply “don’t go to Bolivia in Rainy season”. Given that Jayne had a below average time and I have loved the rides and otherwise really enjoyed myself here, I think he might be right.
The border was quick and easy, possibly the fastest yet. The ride from Copacabana through to La Paz was scenic and great twisty roads. The only downside was that nobody would sell me gas! Not “that’ll be three times the price”, just “No”. The one lady who seemed like she miiight sell me gas had no power to operate her pumps. Fortunately I had taken all the advice and filled before the border but still, 0/7 is a pretty bad start.
In La Paz I moved into a place with Pablo and Mama Lilly, amigo’s of my moto friend Rusty. Great to have my own room.

Pablo pretends to work in his cafe.

Pablo pretends to work in his cafe.

"Shhhh, they'll hear us"... Pablo's cafe art: suited for every hostel dorm room, everywhere.

“Shhhh, they’ll hear us”… Pablo’s cafe art: suited for every hostel dorm room, everywhere.

Under repair, Pablo's moto.

Under repair, Pablo’s moto.

Mama Lily, always smiling and ready to chat over a cup of tea.

Mama Lily, always smiling and ready to chat over a cup of tea.

 

I spent a fair amount of time down at Loki Hostel, since Luis and many of my other Loki Cusco friends had turned up there.

Reunited with Luis for some daily drinks

Reunited with Luis for some daily drinks

 

Heaven and hell party at Loki. Photo c/o Loki La Paz

Heaven and hell party at Loki. Photo c/o Loki La Paz

 

My second day in La Paz was bright and sunny, a change apparently from a recent 2 week spat of rain. I took advantage and rode the “death road”.
I had such a great time riding down, that I turned around and rode right back up! The only real danger on death road: Tourists out of control on bikes.

I had planned to leave the next day, but finally got approval to have my bothersome clavicle pin removed. I spent an extra couple days with appointments to have that done, and what a relief! Video here.

Good bye pin #1!

Good bye pin #1!

 

Micro Kelly now set to play hockey with pin #1.

Micro Kelly now set to play hockey with pin #1.

 

Good chats with Pablo and Mama Lilly highlighted my stay in La Paz, and made it easy to stay, but once my pin was out, I hit the road the next morning towards Potosi.

Once out of the traffic nightmare that is Alto (above La Paz), the road past Oruro introduced me to what would become the norm here in Bolivia: Spectacular scenery.

Glorious hills. The twists would be a lot less glorious in the rain, I lucked out.

Glorious hills. The twists would be a lot less glorious in the rain, I lucked out.

 

Great views around every corner

Great views around every corner

 

Potosi was run amok with children throwing water balloons and spaying shaving cream. All in a lead up to carnival apparently. Eventually I found myself a place at Koala inn, parked in the living room, and booked a mine tour for the morning.

Moto parking in the lounge

Moto parking in the lounge at Koala inn.

 

For dinner I met up with Carla, one of Rusty and Pablo’s amigas. I ate Llama for the first time. Carla had an annoying habit of disappearing to the toilets each time the bill came, but it was nice of her to come show me around town on such short notice.

Carla and I out for drinks.

Carla and I out for drinks.

 

In the morning I set off to blow some things up. Only we didn’t. The mine tour was great: cramped, hot and head-crashingly uncomfortable. Exactly what the brochure offered. Really makes you appreciate your job back home. But the brochure also offered explosions, and apparently that usually only happens on the evening tour.

very loud minerals.

First stop: very loud mineral processing.

 

Bolivian MacGyver works here

Bolivian MacGyver works here.

 

Dynamite demonstration in the miners market.

Dynamite demonstration in the miners market.

 

Can you tell who the tourists are?

Can you tell who the tourists are?

 

Trying out the wheels outside the mine.

Trying out the wheels outside the mine.

 

Taking a knee under one of the many broken support beams in the mine.

Taking a knee under one of the many broken support beams in the mine.

 

I took over the shovel for one load of rock... I have great appreciation for how hard these men are working.

I took over the shovel for one load of rock… I have great appreciation for how hard these men are working.

 

Two Tonne Trolleys pushed by Two Tiny miners.

Two Tonne Trolleys pushed by Two Tiny miners.

 

96% pure alcohol, the refreshment of champions. Though strong, surprisingly it is incredibly smooth, no joke!

96% pure alcohol, the refreshment of champions. Though strong, surprisingly it is incredibly smooth. No joke!

 

The “unregulated” miners market is indeed unregulated. When you show up in your miners costume and helmet, they will without question sell you all the explosives your heart desires. But when you show up again later in your Motorcycle gear, the questions start. Regardless, I convinced the kind lady that I would be very careful and left with some fuse and a detonator to go with the extra stick of dynamite I had picked up earlier. I would get my explosion come hell or high water.

Boom

Boom!

 

Chased out of Potosi by black clouds, I soon came into bright blue skies to highlight one of my top five rides of this trip. Potosi to Uyuni is just magical. I also stopped at a weigh scale along the way.

 

Weight

 

Llamas and cows together at last.

Llamas and cows together at last.

Random cacti make a roadside appearance.

Random cacti make a roadside appearance.

And more.

And more.

More beautiful scenery

More beautiful scenery.

"When you can get gas: get gas". This is never more true than in Bolivia.

“When you can get gas: get gas”. This is never more true than in Bolivia.

 

In Uyuni my first stop was gas. I’d discovered a trick to always getting served, and generally at a discount: Coca leaves. I pull up to the pump, and before they say anything or look at my plate, I’m already shoving coca leaves in my mouth and offering them some. Without question they say “yes” and we start chatting. Tank filled, and at an average of about 5 BOB/liter (rough guess: 80 cents) since I started with the coca. Golden!

Follow the leader: young boy leads me to cheap accommodation. 30 BOB (5$)/night

Follow the leader: young boy leads me to cheap accommodation. 30 BOB (5$)/night

Own room, shower, secure parking and friendly neighbors. Can't ask for more.

Own room, shower, secure parking and friendly neighbors. Can’t ask for more.

In the morning I set off on a 4×4 tour of the salt flats. The entry was still s 30 cm lagoon of salty water, and after all she’s been through, I couldn’t subject Jugs to that too. Great day on the salt flats with my crew of 2 Swedes and 3 Chileans. Many fun and beautiful photos to come below! of that too. p.s. Sunscreen would have been a good plan…

Train Graveyard

Train Graveyard

Dakar Salt statues are all over the place

Dakar Salt statues are all over the place

Perspective shots

Perspective shots

Easy now

Easy now

Hanging off my pin

Hanging off my pin

making sure I got an even burn everywhere

making sure I got an even burn everywhere

I think there are dino's in a lot of the 4x4's

I think there are dino’s in a lot of the 4×4’s

Puddle shots were all nice

Puddle shots were all nice

Couldn't bare the rough, sharp salt on my feet, the socks just made it tolerable.

Couldn’t bare the rough, sharp salt on my feet, the socks just made it tolerable.

The sweedes

The sweedes

the Canadian

the Canadian

Well worth staying out the extra couple hours for sunset. no extra charge.

Well worth staying out the extra couple hours for sunset. no extra charge.

young girls being young girls

Young girls being young girls.

Middle-aged man being middle-aged video game character.

Middle-aged man being middle-aged video game character.

 

From Uyuni I set off south west towards the Alvaro National park, then into the Atacama in Chile. 100kms into my day, I pulled into the small town of San Cristobal to try to top off with gas. The station was closed for lunch, but my ability to change gears was suddenly closed forever.

I had felt a couple rough shifts from first into second gear for quite some time. But it never caused any problem more than having to shift a second time out of neutral. The only luck I would have is being stuck in Second gear, not neutral. It feels like the shifting forks are worn out, with simply nothing happening when I shift up or down. Not knowing my fuel mileage running purely in second gear, and not wanting to get stuck in the Atacama, I pulled a U-turn and head back to Uyuni. A mechanic there confirmed my diagnosis: “muy dificile”, a very tough fix. To get at the transmission you have to take apart the motor and then split the cases… He had no parts to help out, so recommended I head off towards Sucre. Instead I head south, towards Argentina.

"Grande problema". No doubt.

“Grande problema”. No doubt.

The roads since leaving Uyuni have been all dirt with sandy patches and a couple washouts. In all, I haven’t missed having gears too much. Second gear does alright for the most part. A couple water crossings first gear would have been nice. I stopped to help a young guy change his blown tire, then found a nice secluded place to go blow something of my own: my stick of dynamite.

Today you, tomorrow me. They always stop to help here. I've adopted the practice myself.

Today you, tomorrow me. They always stop to help here. I’ve adopted the practice myself.

First gear would have been really nice in a couple places, but mostly dry.

First gear would have been really nice in a couple places, but mostly dry.

Took a spin and a slide. Tore the cage off my spare gas, but otherwise no harm. zip-ties to the rescue.

Took a spin and a slide. Tore the cage off my spare gas, but otherwise no harm. zip-ties to the rescue.

The dynamite had been on my mind constantly. Where? how far away should I be? What should I blow up? Eventually my concern for roaming wildlife took priority, and I found a location devoid of Llama’s, Alpacas or anything else. I’ll post a video is below! with the results. (less impressive than you might think)

At sunset I was in the middle of nowhere, so set up camp next to a hut. As I set up my tent, a lady herded about 150 llamas into their walled pen. My night was spent eating cheese and jam sandwiches, watching the stars come out, with lightning storms off in the distance to the north and east. All the while the Llamas made Llama sex noises, or perhaps Llama snoring. I guess I’ll never know which. It was a pretty amazing place to end up.

Next to a heard of Llamas or the night. The locals were happy to have me camp out.

Next to a heard of Llamas rounded up in their pen for the night. The locals were happy to have me camp out.

With that many Llamas around, finding a Llama-poop free zone for the tent was key.

With that many Llamas around, finding a Llama-poop free zone for the tent was key.

I’m now (Feb 21st, 2014)  riding very slowly southbound to Argentina. There I hope to track down whatever parts I need and get moving south at a much faster clip.