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 (didnt
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 didnt get any sort of buzz, but the point is to help avoid altitude
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 Bolivias 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 wasnt
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
Annets bike on its 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 didnt think
she did anything wrong she wasnt going too fast, and the road was not too
technical. We also couldnt figure out what happened, and surmised it to be simple
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 anyones list of
good ideas. While Erin and Annet finished getting all of Annets gear packed, Liam
and I stowed the bike behind an abandoned adobe structure. At 5:30pm, we hailed a minivan,
loaded Annets 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 Annets 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