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Offline fudgypup

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2 Weeks in Bolivia
« on: November 10, 2013, 01:12:34 am »
Found myself with some time in between jobs so I thought I'd go someplace exotic and adventurous.  I had looked into this two years ago but didn't have the time to do it until this summer.  I emailed Cory Rowden of Bolivia Bound Adventures on Thur evening, Aug 1 and he said he just happened to have an Amazon Recce trip leaving the next week.  So I bought a ticket to La Paz leaving the following Tuesday.

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Offline fudgypup

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Wheels on the ground
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2013, 01:18:24 am »
I found myself working in a tough situation, for a company with a lot of issues, in an industry facing some serious changes. Wasn't really sure how things were going to turn out. I was lucky enough to land a great job with a great company in the Carlsbad, California area that I would start on Aug 19 so I found myself with an opportunity to take some time to do the type of adventure we all talk about but never seem to have the time to tackle. I had researched this over two years ago and spoke with two outfits (there are many): Bolivia Bound Adventure Tours run by Cory Rowden (Kiwi) and Bolivia Motorcycle Adventures run by a guy named Maarten. There's another I learned of recently too called Adventure Moto Bolivia that I've heard good things about. I ended up going with Cory of Bolivia Bound because he just seemed like a good guy who knew his stuff. He also has more bikes to choose from, namely a BMW F800 GS (even though I spent most of my time on an XR 650).

Given my tight time frame, it was also decided on the fact Cory had a tour about to begin the very next week (Aug 28 I flew to La Paz). So I dove in head first. As luck would have it for me, there was only one other client on the trip so it was just three of us. His name is Martin and he's also a Kiwi (New Zealand). As you know, with just three riders we ended up getting done a bit earlier and that gave us more time for some cool detours or just relaxing after a hard day of riding.

I landed early on a Wed morning in La Paz and instantly felt the altitude (about 12,000 feet) sucking the air out of me with every breath.  What's interesting is as you descend in an airplane, your ears typically get plugged up as the pressure increases on the outside of your ears.  La Paz is one of the only places in the world where your ears pop when you land because the outside pressure is less than what the cabin is pressurized to.

I got to spend the rest of the day and all day Thur in La Paz at the hotel, Hotel Oberland, acclimating to the altitude and the three hour time difference. This is a Swiss hotel that specializes in hosting a lot of overland travelers. Got some good pics of some of their rigs too.
 

Offline fudgypup

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La Paz
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2013, 01:27:17 am »
Touching down in La Paz is very interesting. You know how when you fly and are approaching your destination that your ears plug up on descent? The opposite happens when descending to La Paz because the cabin is pressurized to an equivalent of 10,000 feet yet you're landing at 12,000 so your ears pop rather than plug when you land.

The airport area of town is called El Alto and is kind of a shitty area. But when we drove to the hotel, the views got better.


View outside the Hotel Oberland


Thursday we went tooling around La Paz and did some shopping and sight seeing.


I got this cool poncho. Tried to find a bolero hat and cigar but this is as close to Pale Rider as I got.


Freaky deaky dried llama fetuses for sale. I think they are good luck or some kind of indigenous black magic thing.


Note the high density housing all the way up the hill. La Paz has a very interesting history. Obviously the Spanish came to conquer, not necessarily to colonize, so the town was divided in half where the indigenous people had one side and the Spanish lived in the other. You can see the Spanish side has wider and more orderly streets and the indigenous side has narrow and random streets.


Toured the San Francisco (St. Francis) church in town. Lots of history there. I guess the original church collapsed in a major snow storm and they rebuilt it. The monks made a lot of wine here too.


Colorful clothing


Funny because Bolivian women just don't have this kind of ass. Colombia, Venezuela? You damn right they do. Not Bolivia. But I guess it sells jeans.


Changing of the guard at the presidential palace.  There was a big shooting here in the 80's during some kind of coup.  Not good.  Bunch of people died.


More colorful locals. I don't really know the history of this garb for sure but the Spanish were kind of control freaks and they had a kind of dress code for the indigenous population that caught on, from what I was told, hence the odd hats and braided hair, etc...


A nice rig back at the hotel. Met an Austrian couple traveling the world. They say they're coming up here around January and I told them all the cool places to see like Death Valley, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc...


Another view of the La Paz skyline


L to R is Cory Rowden of Bolivia Bound, me and Martin Giles. It's winter down there and was a bit chilly at that altitude, hence the poncho. And I thought it was cool. They called me macho poncho man.
 

Offline fudgypup

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Day 1: La Paz to Sorata
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2013, 01:36:01 am »
Day 1. Friday we got underway. Here is my ride. This one idled really high the whole time and I ended up riding the other one mostly but we switched bikes quite a bit. The XR 650 is not a bad bike, even with the kickstart. Great baja bike I hear. All we had for gear was a Wolfman Rolie medium, which was plenty. Cory carried more stuff on the 800 gs. I checked the weather before and gambled on not bringing a jacket. Most of the ride was warm/hot and I didn't want to carry that thing. I did an under armor type shirt, the Fox Titan armor vest, a jersey over that and the Klim windbreaker over that when cold or wet. No rain though, so that was nice too. My face got a bit cold but not my core. The first and last days were the only cold ones (altitude).


We stopped near Copacabana (didn't see Barry Manilow) on lake Titicaca and had lunch. I like saying "Titicaca."


Had some great lake trout.




Snaked out way down this pass towards Sorata






Gas isn't always readily available in Bolivia so we had to wait in line for the truck to arrive. Bolivia is run by a socialist, Evo Morales, and is not at all thriving like Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, etc... Gas is subsidized and nationalized, which of course leads to shortages. Natural gas and butter were also hard to come by. Hopefully they don't go the way of Chavez's Venezuela but that looks to be the way things are headed there.




Stayed at this great hostel in Sorata, Hostel de las Piedras, run by a German woman named Petra. She had a hot little Polish girl helping her there who was quite nice to be around. :)



The town square had a display of heavy equipment for the farmers and miners, who used this occasion to get hammered. Why not?


I bought some coca leaves in the local market and tried that, largely to no effect other than a slightly numb side of my mouth. We found some good pizza there though. Hot water was one of those shower-mounted electrical heaters that you fear could shock you at any moment. That actually happened to Martin in Chulamani.

Next up is Day 2 in Conzata. Not exactly plush accommodations there. Suffered a bit of Atahualpa's revenge there too.
 

Offline fudgypup

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Day 2: Sorata to Conzata
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2013, 01:41:28 am »
Well, things got pretty Spartan at this point. Conzata is just a mining town so the few hotels there only cater to them and they're not exactly epicurean in their tastes. We met this guy right off the bat; a young guy who spoke pretty good English. He said he's a sluice miner and has been there for six years. He was super friendly and my suspicion was he wanted something from us, like a ride or hotel room. That was just my American sensibilities in play though because this guy was just genuinely friendly and glad to see us. He said he had a big place down the road and later we regretted not taking advantage of his hospitality. That's one thing about Bolivia, the people are very nice and genuinely friendly.

This was our room. The floor smelled of sick. Probably miners from the night before vomited their beer all over the floor.


This was a shock but turned out to be one of the cleaner toilets we found. No paper and standing "water" on the floor. They don't flush the tp there; you have to put it in a trash can or it clogs the pipes, which run over a cliff on the other side of this wall into the river. Fun stuff when you're stricken with the runs. I kept saying "this is all part of the adventure" and that seemed to help. I knew it would all be great story telling in hindsight, as uncomfortable as it all was. That's adventure travel though; it's not all a merry stroll. This kind of trip was very grueling. Lots of constant travel and intermittent rest. We got plenty of sleep but that was mostly because the day's riding was so demanding, the heat and/or altitude and the general lack of anything to do after dark other than sleep.

Dogs are everywhere and there was a surprising diversity in breeds. These two were play wrestling. Dogs there are not really pets but just roam the streets and have their little areas staked out like homeless people. They're not really the kind that enjoy being petted; they're a bit wary but pretty happy mostly. Later we saw a lot of "highway dogs" that just sit on the side of the road and are fed by truckers who throw food out to them as they pass by. There were quite a few of them spaced out along the highway.
 

Offline fudgypup

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Day 1 route
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2013, 01:47:41 am »
 

Offline White Rhino

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2013, 03:11:23 am »
Every bit an adventure - nice one :thumleft:
I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy
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Offline fudgypup

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Day 3 to 5: Conzata to Mapiri
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2013, 03:33:17 am »
Day 3-5: Mapiri, Guanay, River camping.

I was kind of glad to put Conzata in the rear view mirror. Just a bit too roughing it for me and I was wondering if the remaining days were going to be that "interesting." We headed for Mapiri and that is kind of a new mining town that sprung up out of nowhere. Dirt streets and lots of dust but a bit more civilized than Conzata.

Lots of the locals grow coca and the locals chew it like Copenhagen or Skoal in the south. These guys doing construction on our "hotel" in Conzata had big wads making their cheeks protrude out. Here's a pic of some locals drying their freshly picked coca leaves.


We later came to one of many bridges and stopped for a snack of either Chips Ahoy or Oreos, I can't remember which. What's interesting is that many of the locals use the river as their car wash. I'll fill you in later on the general state of the river.
[/img]
This is Sien or Cien, not sure. Probably a nick name for "100." He's quite an amazing guy. He runs the hotel or "alojamiento" we stayed at in Mapiri that wasn't half bad. Could have used some ceiling fans, some toilet paper and wi-fi but whatevs. Sien was raised in a town across the river from Rurrenabaque, a town we stayed at three nights later. He's a great guide and knows just about everything about the jungle. More on him later.

Some Starbucks dork

Here's Cory at a local internet cafe where we discovered all of Mapiri's nerd boys playing computer games. They sure liked to snoop over your shoulder too. I stayed there quite a while catching up on email and such but was still battling some of Atahualpa's revenge. I thought I sharted myself but upon further inspection found that it was a false alarm. The people who run this bodega/internet cafe were really really nice. They were very curious about "el norteno" and made me feel very welcome with my broken Spanglish. They asked me if I learned in Mexico, which I took as both a compliment and a joke (si, senor!). I felt even better on day 12 after meeting Marco the Alaskan hostel owner listening to his horrible spanish.

Cory made a point of telling me he wanted me to take his picture next to these livestock. Lots of local herders moving their animals up and down the roads. Horses, burros, mules, llamas, cows, pigs, etc...

Are first significant water crossing went pretty well. My new boots, Gaerne SG12's performed flawlessly. We saw a car go in and do it, so we did it after him. Video shows this better.

This was our only suspension bridge. It's made for cars if you can believe that. We would have done the water crossing but saw it and it was very swift. Not safe. It all worked out fine.
Posted Image

This day was very long and tough. Lots of up and down. Tight switchbacks with heavy, aggressive traffic. You have to cut that mf'ing corner TIGHT or risk getting run down. Very silty switchbacks too. This is where I was glad to be on an XR 650 and not my GSA. I decided to just make a race out of it and practiced my counter balancing and started to get really friendly with my throttle. I soon found that was a lot more fun.

That's another thing about this ride that I found a bit disappointing; the riding conditions weren't all that enjoyable. The percent of track that was fun to ride was a lot smaller than I expected. I prefer trails, two track, single track for fun, but this was mostly heavily traveled dirt roads. Not so bad though, as we found the adventure was in the sights, places and people we met along the way.

We got to Guanay for a late lunch, which SUCKED. We got this "chicken" that was all back and ribs; no meat. Bollocks.

Got on the boat around 4:00 and met this Belgian guy and his "girlfriend" who were going to join us. Really eccentric. He lives in La Paz and has been kind of a vagabond for a decade or more. His "girlfriend" was a very nice 24 year old student from a good school in La Paz studying marketing. He lowballed Sien $20 for a three day catered boat ride to Rurrenabaque. M'yeah, not going to happen, dude. So he "volunteered" Blanca (his companion) as a cook; something she did the first night then the rest of the crew wised up and said nevermind after that.

My Wolfman Rolie medium bag. All you need really.

This camp site at Retama on the river was very primitive. A local let us set up there. He works some rubber trees in the area. LOTS OF BUGS. They really liked this adventure rider's blood. Marc the Belgian decided he thought it was a really good idea to put food in his tent (idiot) and was surprised to see he and his "date" attacked by ants not once, but three times during the night as they moved their tent each time. The ants cut their way through the netting to get to his food. Seriously, wtf? Who doesn't know that you don't put food in your tent? Whatever.
Headlamp under a water bottle

Here's the Belgian's tent. He was always asking all these Cliff Clavin type questions too all the time like "is this bug always white or does it sometimes come in different colors?" WTF cares? STFU. :)/>/> Just a bit annoying as we were the ones paying the full fare for the boat and didn't need them tagging along.

Super plush toilet

Before leaf cutter ants

After leaf cutter ants

Pineapple

Rubber tree. One barrel of rubber gets them about $500.

After waking up, we hiked up this rock outcropping and saw a cool owl in a crevice and got to look down on the campsite below.

I found myself whining like a little girl on this hike to a waterfall to bathe. I'm all about managing expectations. I thought it was like 100 yards but it turned into an hour hike each way. My right achilles is still messed up from Baja (Dec 28) so I wasn't happy about the long hike but it was worth it when we got there. The guy with the Hugh Jackman-like arms is me.

We heard all this blasting going on and when we got back to camp discovered that the blasting was on the road across the river up the cliff and had showered the campground w/rocks! The Belgian got a rock that pierced ANOTHER hole in his tent! Luckily our crew wasn't hurt but there was a hole in the roof of the boat. That's just how they roll in Bolivia.

Pushed on down the river and stopped for some "provisions." That's me carrying a case of Pacena beer. Priorities and all.

Peta! You're my BOY! Peta was a great boatman. Sure, he might have been a bit distracted by the Belgian's inane questions, causing us to run aground twice, get out and push the boat free (luckily no piranhas or crocs got us). Peta is also a nickname for the old VW beetles. Maybe he had one, who knows.

Evening shot of our second night on the river. This campground was even more primitive and the bugs even more aggressive. I whined like a bitch too on a hike we took through the jungle. It was cool to see Sien telling us all about the jungle ---- that will get you. Trust me, it's ALL poisonous or irritating. We learned about the "palo diablo" ant, which lives in trees and will f your ---- up. 100 bites will kill a man. We saw them all chase Sien's finger along the tree. I managed to pierce my palm on a tree that has spikes on it; the kind you see on those trees from Madagascar. Still hurts. We shared the beer with the crew, which made things go better all around. The southern sky was also great to see. Whole new group of constellations I'm not familiar with. We camped with these "pads" which were maybe an inch thick of straw. I'm a side sleeper so my hips and shoulders were hurting like a mofo.


Day 4 has us getting to Rurrenabaque. Skin nearly fully perforated by blood sucking insects. I found if I just put on long pants and long sleeves that they pretty much left me alone. I know now!
« Last Edit: September 23, 2014, 10:06:03 pm by fudgypup »
 

Offline fudgypup

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2013, 04:29:59 am »
Map doesn't show Conzata so this is from Mapiri to Guanay.  We got on a boat in Guanay and spent the next three days on the river headed northeast to Rurrenabaque.

http://goo.gl/maps/g4iNR
 

Offline Rooies

Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2013, 07:39:15 am »
 :happy1:
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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2013, 07:45:45 am »
 :thumleft:
keep it coming
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Offline troos

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2013, 09:45:09 pm »
oh yeah, let it roll
 

Offline BlueBull2007

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2013, 10:07:24 pm »
This great stuff. Wish I had know you were coming to Bolivia, could have had a beer or three in La Paz!

From your summary it sounds like you missed south Western Bolivia - That's where the best riding in the world is as far as I am concerned.
You'll get to see some of it in the Dakar in January 2014.
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Offline DikZol

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2013, 11:28:23 pm »
Looks like a really awesome trip!!!!

Offline fudgypup

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2013, 06:24:21 am »
This great stuff. Wish I had know you were coming to Bolivia, could have had a beer or three in La Paz!

From your summary it sounds like you missed south Western Bolivia - That's where the best riding in the world is as far as I am concerned.
You'll get to see some of it in the Dakar in January 2014.

That would be great to have some Pacenas!  Cory lives in Cochabamba and is doing a Dakar trip coming up.

http://www.boliviabound.net/8-motorcycle-tours/3-motorcycle-tours-of-bolivia

If you see my Joe Rocket helmet, GoPro and Klim Element long gloves, let me know because they were stolen in El Alto.  The bikes got hot in traffic so we pulled over and it was on the sidewalk right behind my back!  Someone just walked off with it.

We had to ride around town to a few motorcycle shops to find a helmet that would fit me.  Finally found a $40 Chinese helmet that worked fine.  I had an extra set of gloves but those Klim ones cost me $225.  It was an excuse to buy a new GoPro Hero 3 Black edition.  I had to shoot all that video just using my Samsung Galaxy SIII phone. :)
 

Offline fudgypup

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Day 7 and 8
« Reply #15 on: November 11, 2013, 06:31:52 am »
Day 7 and 8: Rurrenabaque.

This morning's hike went much better because Sien finally told me exactly how long the hike was going to be. It also wasn't as difficult and not as hot as the previous hikes. I took a Midol and dealt with it great. :)/>
Frog of some kind.


Here's the deal... with gold prices through the roof, sluice mining has become a huge thing in Bolivia and has turned the rivers a permanent cocoa brown. That chases a lot of the fish away, which in turn chases a lot of the wildlife away. We saw few birds. Saw one croc (alligator I insisted), a few turtles and a few capybaras. Saw a few pigs and one monkey. I'm not a Gorebot but the mining has had an impact on the local wildlife. You just have to go up some clear-water rivers to see the wildlife now.

Sien showing us how the locals use a palm tree husk to fashion a dinner bowl.

Pig jaw. Most likely taken by a jaguar.

The author's leg, taken by every host of flying and crawling insect.

C'mon, Peta! Put your back into it!

They dropped us off at Rurrenabaque and we found a nice hotel w/a pool to lounge in, do some maintenance on the bikes, laundry, etc... Found some good pizza too and a great French bakery. Lots of tourists here, especially Israelis.

Did manage to get stalked by these two deadly pumas. Barely escaped with my life!

Rurrenabaque is kind of an eco-tourist hub as it's on the edge of the Madidi national wildlife area. We had to stop up the river and pay a $15 entry fee to get in. We saw the water line where the flood two years ago nearly covered the building, which was already at least 100 feet above our boat on the river. The canyon narrows and that creates a really backup in water there. Cool to see such raw power. We also saw the jungle mist pour over a ridge and down into the town each of two mornings. Out of a movie or something.

Katydid or leaf bug on the Wolfman tank bag (not a plug)

Sunset

Best bfast in all Bolivia at this French bakery.



Day 6 has us back on the bikes and headed for Caranavi. It was a long an interesting day. We had a road wash out down a cliff that blocked our progress.
 

Offline fudgypup

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Day 9: Caranavi
« Reply #16 on: November 11, 2013, 06:36:23 am »
Day 9: Caranavi

What a death march this turned out to be! We got gas here the night before (gas isn't always readily available)

And we heard that parts of the road ahead were going to be closed for road work. We decided to get an early start to get as far as we could. The road was mostly straight and had many little dirt detours where they were putting in cement culverts under the road. We made pretty good progress though.

As we started up into some mountains, though, we saw traffic come to a halt ahead with lots of cars and trucks queued up. So naturally we rode to the front to find out what was going on and found the road had slid down the cliff around 9:00 the night before. Luckily, no one went over. The driver of this blue truck stopped before he went down.






We waited for about 90 minutes before they opened it up and it was like a champagne cork because everybody started streaming over the new "road." We rode over in the first 5 or so group of vehicles and saw the other side there were a few hundred cars/buses waiting to come the other way. They were all cheering and shouting as we rode by. I shouted "viva Bolivia!" and felt like a Dakar racer at the end of a stage. What came next was not so great.

As we were going down the other side of the mountain, we basically had a whole of of pissed off and tired drivers trying to make time. They were all honking at us and passing us with inches to spare. Huge clouds of dust, etc... I said screw this and just pulled over to let the craziest ones go ahead. We came to a few more roadblocks as other heavy equipment were digging out other areas at the same time (Bolivia has a lot of slides I guess). These drivers were totally nuts; they were honking and trying to drive around the traffic cones.

We finally got to Caranavi on our last nerve. Found this hotel where the owner convinced a lazy cook to get us some beer and burgers. You can see the pool at the hotel in the video which looks nice but the rooms, not so much

I guess Caranavi is known for its coffee but that's another story. You'd think in a country that grows coffee they'd have some decent stuff. They make this syrup of coffee concentrate then give you hot water to cut it. Nasty.

Burgers went down well but were just an appetizer

We found some food in town and ran across this church on the square. It was near the Bolivian national day and they had some kind of festival on the square with lots of kids in marching bands.


This town was really just a blur since we got into town late and ended up getting up at 4:00 am the next morning for a similar reason, to avoid a road closure at 7:00 am. Like the idea of riding narrow roads with no guardrails in the dark and in dust? That was us for a few hours the next morning...
 

Offline adv

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #17 on: November 11, 2013, 08:30:00 am »
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Offline Malibu

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #18 on: November 11, 2013, 08:53:22 am »
What a fantastic ride report... ;D
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Offline jeff

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Re: 2 Weeks in Bolivia
« Reply #19 on: November 11, 2013, 09:30:03 am »
exellent.  :drif:
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