Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650 ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

May 26, 2002.-- Bolivia, our 41st country

Credit to 1 in Bolivia

-- Story by Chris --

Saturday, May 25th: After a measly breakfast of dry biscuits and tea with Annet and Liam, we packed our bikes and drove a few blocks to the border. The customs official (aduana) stared at each of our carnets for a good 5 minutes, obviously unable to understand what the documents said, but making a show of the importance of his job.  We waited patiently, not saying anything. Exit stamps were issued from Argentina, and we crossed the small bridge to Villazón, Bolivia.

Immigration into Bolivia was swift, but there was some confusion as to where we could find the aduana to do the paperwork for the motorbikes. No one seemed to care if we just drove off, but experience told us that would probably lead to a major hassle/nightmare when we tried to leave the country. After a lot of here and there, trying to find the aduana in abandoned buildings, we decided to change some money and stop for lunch in a small restaurant. The menu was very different from what we were used to (didn’t understand any of the dishes they listed), and opted for the daily menu. We each got a (very) small salad to start; next came a huge bowl of delicious bow-tie noodle soup with beef; followed by a dish of awesome grilled chicken and rice; and ending with some warm gray liquid in a bowl which tasted as bad as it looked. The bill came to 36 Bolivianos (US$5.40), which included 2 liters of coke, and was the total for the four of us!

The local currency is Bolivianos, and US$1 = 7.03 BOB. To make conversion easy, we add 50% to the BOB and drop the last digit to equal dollars, so 20 BOBs is about US$3. We also forgot that there was a time change, and we lost an hour. Liam and I started chewing the local coca leaves, to help with the high altitude (we were at 3,400 meters/11,150 feet) – I didn’t get any sort of buzz, but the point is to help avoid altitude sickness.

After lunch, we went back to the border, and found the Bolivian aduana back on the Argentine side of the bridge, down stairs in a building you would never know had a downstairs. The office was very tidy and the official was incredibly efficient. Four bikes were (correctly) stamped in within 2 minutes!

It took us awhile to get out of Bolivia’s southern-most town, as the "road" was under construction and we made several wrong turns on each of the unmarked dirt roads. When we eventually reached the northern limit (the town wasn’t that big, but it took us a good 10 minutes), we had to pay a road tax of 3 BOBs per bike. Our tax paid, it was about 3pm when we finally headed north on a very dusty dirt road.

We eventually got ourselves well spaced, to avoid swallowing too much dust (I somehow was at the back and eating the most). About 30kms later, on a relatively nice patch of the road, with beautiful landscapes to either side, I saw a huge cloud of dust in the road ahead. At first I thought it was a slow moving truck kicking up the dust, but soon realized it was Liam waving his arms at me, and a pile in the road behind him. My heart skipped, as it looked like 2 bikes had collided. A moment later I realized it was Annet’s bike on it’s side, with the contents of her panniers strewn across the dirt, and Annet standing feebly about 5 meters behind.

She was moving, which was good, but obviously dazed and in shock. After confirming she was OK, and giving her a 2-liter bottle of water to drink, we moved her bike and the debris over to the side of the road. To Annet, the situation was disastrous – her bike was banged up, and she still had no idea how it happened. She was most upset because she was really enjoying herself, feeling confident on the gravel, and didn’t think she did anything wrong – she wasn’t going too fast, and the road was not too technical. We also couldn’t figure out what happened, and surmised it to be simple bad luck.

Although her Touratech panniers were a bit out of sorts, and the handlebars were severely bent, it was the headlight/fairing assembly that was causing the immediate problem. The whole console had been pushed to the left about 3 inches (the bike high sided to the right). The console was pressing against the right fork tube, and we could not turn the steering to the right.

As time went by, so did many trucks and buses. We stopped each of the trucks, but all were full. We decided to strip off all the gear from her bike, to make it easier to load into an eventual truck. Later, we removed the console so we could move the bike easier. I took it for a ride, and although the handlebars felt odd, the bike as a whole was in good shape. We would just need to do a lot of pulling and pushing at a metal shop.

Just before 5pm, we realized that we had lost an hour, and that sunset was only 45 minutes away. Aside from getting Annet sorted, we would also have to get the 3 other bikes back to town, and driving on a dirt road in the dark was not high on anyone’s list of good ideas. While Erin and Annet finished getting all of Annet’s gear packed, Liam and I stowed the bike behind an abandoned adobe structure. At 5:30pm, we hailed a minivan, loaded Annet’s gear, and raced the sun 30km back to Villazón. We reached the outskirts of town just as the sky faded to black, and found our way though the dirt streets to the hostal we agreed to meet at. We secured the bikes in the courtyard and got our rooms sorted. For the second time in a row, Erin and I opted for a room with 2 single beds, as the matrimonial beds they showed us had craters in the center! After hearing our tail, the owner got on the phone and organized a pickup truck to meet us first thing in the morning so we could retrieve Annet’s bike.

We washed up and went in search of dinner, eventually choosing a Chinese restaurant where we had a terrific meal. Turns out the owner used to live in Flushing, NY, a hub for great Chinese restaurants in New York. We returned to the hostal around 10pm and went directly to sleep.

And so ends our first day in Bolivia, our 41st country – quite an adventure so far…


Moments after the crash

Annet working to get the fairing off

Liam celebrates the removal of the instrument panel

The next morning, driving back to Villazón.  This was our 13th encounter with Liam (first in India in Dec '99), and he has vowed to wear this shirt every day until we split after Uyuni -- good thing we're outdoors!


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