Bolivian Dirt Roads

On April 29, 2013

Leaving Sucre is quite the adventure. As I was attempting to navigate out of town my bike had a problem. The middle chain ring got worn down by my stretched chain. Unusual since it only had 1000 km on it. I hit up a bike shop where I got equipped with a new chain and the mechanic also took a grinder to my chain ring. I had to trust him. So now I was navigating out of Sucre at noon with non existent signs, road construction, and unmarked detours. I had a cool guy I met on the road who wanted to check out my trailer jump on a bike and give me a short helpful guide. Unfortunately he only rode a kilometer or two, but it was very nice.

The reports I read about the highway (if you can call it that) between Sucre and Oruro were correct. It is a gravel, mostly one lane road that has a mixture of wheel-stopping, bone rattling embedded rocks, loose marble-like rocks sending your bike sideways when one pops out from under your tire, and thick dust or sand which slows down even the fittest cyclist. Any passing truck will cause a huge cloud of this fine dust to explode from under their tires. Combine the road conditions with impossibly steep grades and altitudes reaching 4,400 m and you get Bolivian ripio. Definitely worse than the Caraterra Austral as a cyclist warned me. Don’t forget nights in the altiplano dip well below freezing, I’m guessing 0-10° F. At night in my tent I’d sleep in my 20° down bag with wool socks, long underwear, pants, a wool jacket, and then stuff a towel by my feet, jacket between my legs, and put my huge down jacket on top of my torso and cinch up the hood. Perfect temperature for me.

The benefits far outweigh the tough conditions. I enjoy camping at the highest points in the road to get my body acclimated without the local custom of chewing coca leaves. (Some cyclists swear by the custom saying it gives you energy, reduces thirst, and curbs your extraordinary appetite but I feel considerably better if I acclimate and eat a bunch of food. Not eating enough food can cause the worst cycling days.) The sweeping views of tiny farms and villages are amazing. Even in the bigger towns Quechua is the most commonly spoken language. In Ocurí I had a group of schoolboys in red sweaters eyeing my bike while I ate lunch. As I rode out of town they chased after me yelling “gringo!” Which caused people to look out if their doors. It was a mini parade. A few of the boys followed me out of town on mountain bikes, easily beating me in what could have been a race. Experiences like that make cycle touring in remote villages exciting.

The first day out of Sucre I had a rude awakening to these horrible road conditions. While going down a steep section way too fast my bike fell from under me in some loose gravel and I vaulted over the handlebars. I had three chunks taken out of my hands and a skinned right knee. A nice truck driver helped clean me up. I then walked to the nearest house to ask if I could camp. Who can refuse a solo bleeding cyclist? I did a decent job cleaning up and started cooking dinner when three kids show up with a plate of potatoes and pasta. Yum! I had a good time talking to these kids testing the limits of everybody’s Spanish. In the morning the father was super interested in my stove since I showed the kids the night before. They even gave me some bonus breakfast with my oatmeal. The next day I found out my real wound was on my left knee. It felt like I broke my kneecap or severely sprained my knee. After a day of pain I started taking Advil. It would help for a few hours but after two days of this I knew I needed a break from the road. I slept at the top of a hill before Macha and rolled downhill to sleep in a cheap alojamiento and eat delicious food for super cheap. I of course talked to the most curious of the school kids. Their Spanish is very rapid and has a thick accent. I can’t tell if they are excited or nervous or that’s just the way they speak.

Routa 6 sometime after Macha towards Oruro is under construction. A man selling me bananas told me they only open it for half a day and I should go towards Ventilla and connect with paved Routa 1. This turned out to be a good idea since 15 km into the 40 km ride my knee completely gave out. They are working on making this a 2 lane dirt road and the parts that are done are super nice.

After a day and a half in Ventilla I was ready to explode from boredom. Not being able to walk or ride is super frustrating. I ended up taking a bus to Oruro (they leave every hour, 20 Bol), staying there one night, then taking another bus to La Paz (15 Bol). My next post will be about Bolivian hospitals and some revised travel plans!

Random side note, you can’t take photos of your own embassy in a foreign country. Expect to be interrogated by the police, have all of your information jotted down, and your photos deleted. Hello, FBI! I promise I’m not a bad guy. But if I really wanted to I could easily get those photos from the SD card. Thanks for not stealing my entire SD card though. And I doubt terrorists wear bright yellow jackets while taking photos. Oh well.

The Internet is too slow for me to caption or put photos next to the stories. Guessing game!

2 Responses to “Bolivian Dirt Roads”

  • I like how you carefully omit the current status of your knee. Were you correct? It was just a bad sprain?

    • Probably a sprain. I doubt I’ll ever know for sure, but it still hurts pretty bad just from walking. That’s all I really need to know.

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