Friday, August 5, 2016

Girl On Fire Begging For Gas.

Loaded with gasoline from Peru we ride into a gas station where we agreed to meet with David again. We want to keep the good gas for when the going gets rough down South so we line up to fill our almost empty tanks. “No we don’t sell to foreigners but the next gas station will”. We had heard about this and were sort of mentally prepared for it. So we ride to the next gas station. Nope! The next one and the next one... With every station we get more desperate and we try to talk to the attendants. Some of them say they can’t handle the paperwork, some of them just don’t want to help. 
No we don't help foreigners. And can't you see we are too busy drinking Pepsi...
We are really too busy but do try the next gas station down the road!
In short: Bolivian Law mandates that foreigners pay 3 times the amount a local pays for gas in Bolivia. Although this is painful it is not a problem. The problem is that they need a computer to do the math for them and to print a receipt for the people with foreign license plates. Most stations don’t have a computer. Add to that the “enormous amount of work involved” and you end up running out of gas. We tell them we will pay the amount which we will calculate for them and that we don’t need the receipt. They point at the cameras above and tell us the police keep an eye on them. This whole problem started with the people of neighboring countries coming over the border to buy up all their fuel and so Bolivia took these measures to solve the problem. What had been a warm welcome to Bolivia is completely wiped out within a matter of miles. If you rely on the availability of gas it really takes away the fun of traveling if they just won’t sell you any.
5 Liters! No more!...
After 10 or so stations, we are on a stretch of road between small villages. We haven't even seen a station to ask at for a while and Azure runs out of gas. We use one of the precious "good" bottles of spare fuel and continue to a small settlement where there is no gas station. All three of us go door to door asking where to find gas until Azure finds a lady who will sell us 5 liters of gas "but NO more!." She gives Azure 5 liters out of a big drum. Azure pleads with her for more. OK, but NO MORE. Another 5 liters. Azure begs again and we get another 5 liters before she takes our money and closes her door. We just can’t wrap our brains around it! Why do you people not want to make some money? 
Just when it all gets to be too much, you ride past this beautiful scene.
This is the other side of the road and we have snow capped mountains ahead of us.
And flamingos always put a smile on our faces!
We continue with the fuel we have and still enjoy our ride. At least the pavement is immaculate! We find another gas station and the guys are willing to fill us up for the foreigner rate but without the paperwork. This simply means the money will disappear in their pockets but hey, we have full tanks! It seems that further away from the big cities there are fewer cameras and less control by the police so it’s easier for us to fill up. 
Successfully dodging the downpours so far...
We make it to Oruro and since we have not gotten any compulsory insurance in La Paz, we try our luck here. The rate of the insurance depends on the chance of getting an accident. This chance is simply smaller in rural areas with less traffic. However the offices are still open they can’t help us because their system shuts down at 4.30PM so we have to come back the next day. With dark clouds gathering over our heads we find a cheap hotel and settle in for the night. Just before we ride in to the hotel lobby, the skies open up. Absolutely soaked we ride in. The downpour is so bad, the water comes through the ceiling and waterfalls come down the walls of the lobby. But our room is dry so no worries.
This friendly guy asked us if we needed help with directions. Always nice in a big city!
The next day we go back to the office and figure out that we can only get the compulsory insurance for a year. It is a significant amount of money and we decide not to buy it. We could have bought third party insurance but this does not seem to be the same as the compulsory insurance. Screw this. Let’s get out of here. We just have to hope that we don’t run into a police checkpoint. 
When the "Friendly Giant" showed up to help hang the traffic light...
Along the road we had purchased a 10 Gallon container for gas. With a helpful taxi driver we try to get some gas for the normal price by having him fill up the container. I check out the progress from afar. “The container is too big and he is not allowed to fill it”, the taxi driver tells me upon his return. Oh well. The driver feels bad for us and does not charge me for our little fuel run.
We leave Oruro, which is actually a very nice town with very nice and helpful people, and gun it South. The road is perfect and the scenery keeps surprising us. At another gas station the fill up is remarkably easy. Azure takes a look at iOverlander (an app used by overland travelers to mark points of interest, hotels, etc.) and notices a post about a police checkpoint just down the road. They check paperwork… Evasive maneuvers are made through town where we get strange looks from the locals. Riding over a soccer pitch we make it back to the main road about a 1000 feet past the checkpoint that has a barrier over the road. With big smiles on our faces we ride towards a dark cloud on the horizon. 
This guy had run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. It is hard to get for us but I couldn't really say I did not have any... so we topped him up and we were all on our way. :)

That moment when Azure's bike got hit by lightning and shrunk into a 150cc dirt bike.
...or just another guy that ran out of gas.
We manage to dodge the rain for a while but just before we make it to the salt flats of Uyuni the dust gets rinsed off our suits and bikes.  The rain does not bother us but we are worried about the conditions of the Salar. 

The moment of truth... will it be wet? Or dry?
After we ride down a bumpy dirt road we make it to the Salar and our fears become reality. The biggest salt flat in the world looks like a giant mirror. It is very beautiful but we cannot ride further. We could but we don’t want to do that to our bikes who have taken us so far around the world. David, who had loved riding on the dry salt on his previous Bolivian adventure, is as disappointed as we are. He would have loved to do it again and to show us around on this massive playground. 
Not a good sign.
and no further...
Although beautiful, this is not what we hoped for.
The bikes even looked disappointed.
David is not giving up yet. There has got to be a way in!
But No!
We ride into Uyuni and after checking out some of the Dakar monuments we ride to a train graveyard where we set up camp for the night. The next morning I set up the breakfast bar on an old carriage and we entertain a steady stream of tourists. The Japanese are thrilled to see their old Honda’s get around the world. 

Perfect place for camping!
From a conductors perspective, it looks good too!
The famous breakfast bar... this time on a train carriage.
The best thing about traveling with David: Give him an egg sandwich and he starts working on your bike! What were you doing here anyway?

Back in town we settle in to a hotel with safe parking to do some work on the computers and the bikes. Azure completes her set of sand eating Karoo’s and I look for some mirrors for her bike. We also buy an extra tire tube as a preparation for the Lagunas Route. We are thinking about heading out there tomorrow but something is not sitting well for Azure and I. We want to see the Salar. We don’t want to ride the bikes in the saltwater so we start looking for a tour. It’s something we strongly dislike but it’s our only option. We decide on a sunset tour the next day. 

I have to admit it looks more like a support vehicle than a Dakar rally bike here.
David kindly offered to help Azure change her tire. Cheers Mate!

He is almost breaking a sweat!
Azure does not cease to surprise me. Why not do some yoga while working on your bike? The "3 Lever Tire Change Pose"
She looks like a beast with the new Metzeler Karoo 3. Bring on the sand!
Although it hurts not to be riding here, the 4x4 tour is absolutely spectacular. Words cannot express how vast this place is. It would have been nicer on the bikes but the mirroring effects of the water are out of this world, especially during sunset. We are thankful for being in this special part of the world during this season and we are thrilled about what’s next! 

The floating mountains of Uyuni.
The one "funny picture" that came out right somehow perfectly sums up our relationship. ;) I'm going to get in trouble for this caption!!
A very pretty sight but we would have loved it to be with just 2 bikes in it.
When the sun sets the magic happens.
Perfect reflections.
When you feel you walk into a painting. Can you print this one for me mom!?! :)
The Girl On Fire!
What a truly magical place. We'll be back here one day in the dry season.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Muslim Hospitality In La Paz

We ride along a beautifully winding road towards La Paz. A new part of our adventure has started and we are thrilled to have David along with us. He is not only a good friend but, having been here before, he is now our official guide.
Camping near a border crossing is never without risks.
Stand off next to our tent this morning. Bring it on you little white punks! This is my grass!
David having a chat with this little girl in Copacabana while making sure the puppy gets some much needed attention.
The only moment in all of our time together where we were the ones waiting for David to be ready to go. ;)

Lake Titicaca
The last miles of joy before we hit La Paz.
Before long we say goodbye to the beautiful vistas over lake Titicaca as we ride onto a large barge to cross the last obstacle to get to Bolivia’s capital city. The barge does not appear to be seaworthy, but we manage to make it across Lake Titicaca without sinking, so we're all pleased. The traffic into town is bad and somehow we get lost and end up riding through a market. People are helpful and point us in the right direction. Soon we are going downhill into the city. The views are spectacular. 
The ferry to mainland Bolivia.
Look at these faces! We are still afloat! The massive barge is propelled by one tiny little boat engine.
Almost there when it starts raining.
We make it to a hostel that is mentioned on iOverlander. David, who has stayed here before warns us that it is a bit like a prison. As long as that means our bikes are safe it is ok with us! Or so we thought… We literally climb over filthy-looking backpackers doing yoga in front of our room, and drop our luggage next to lumpy mattresses on the floor (Azure insists we never put luggage on beds in case of bed bugs - probably a good call in this instance). The walls are covered in graffiti... some drawings, some famous quotes in a variety of languages. It seems that if you have a marker handy, you can leave whatever you like on the wall. It drives me crazy!
David shows us around town and we start to relax. The people are nice and there is a lot to see. La Paz is situated in a valley and it means that, no matter where you walk, you go up or down a hill. 
Witchcraft market in La Paz. Yes, those are dead alpaca babies...
Absolutely exhausted we make it back up the hill, to our hostel where a large group of Argentinian youngsters have taken over and a party is well on its way. With a sign demanding quiet hours from 10PM we go to “bed” and wait for things to quiet down. 10.30PM and the party is getting louder. 11PM. Through the roof now! Azure talks with the night manager and he points at the sign that says the quiet hour began at 10pm, as if he hasn't realized it is 11pm. At 1AM the party is still going and all I can think off is how to get my revenge in the morning…
With a “Stomp style” percussion act I make coffee at 7.30AM. Grumpy party people start grumbling from their beds and I make even more noise. Only after someone starts cleansing the air from bad spirits with a ritualistic “smote stick” I take it down a notch and start packing the bike. We are out of here! It is our mission to find a new and better place. Many hostels and hotels later and battling city traffic we find a gem. A Pakistani man and his Bolivian wife have set up a lovely Bed and Breakfast and we are welcomed in with a fresh pot of coffee. It reminds me of the hospitality I encountered when I was riding in Pakistan. Casa Skyways is fully booked but when we explain our situation he allows us to stay in a room that he is working on and is not yet furnished. We can decide ourselves how much we want to pay him for it. Yes please! We set up our comfy Nemo air mattresses and sleeping bag and with our bikes in a serene backyard we finally sit down and relax.
Safe and clean bike parking. And the homemade Transalp center stand in action. (very lightweight, cut to size walking cane)
David opted to stay at the other hostel but we meet up again to go to the famous markets of El Alto. We take the cable car up and get a spectacular view of the city. We pass over houses and a massive graveyard. On one of the streets there is a parade going on. The people in our cable car point out a car wedged into a ravine. What a way to see the city! With a warning to look after our stuff, we leave the cable car and walk onto one of the biggest markets we have ever seen.  
The Red Cable Car taking us to the El Alto market. A great way to see La Paz.

La Paz's famous cemetery.
We make a quick stop to see this colorful and extremely busy graveyard.

What a city!
Hell of a way to park your car!
Colors, colors, colors.
Restocking electrical parts at the El Alto market.
We have heard a lot of bad stories about Bolivia and La Paz. The people would be very nasty towards foreigners and absolutely not helpful. Yes, the city is very hectic but it is also very lively and beautiful. We have a great time and enjoy having a couple of days to relax. Azure's thumb injury is still bothering her so much to her chagrin, I swap her Sahara 3 rear tire for a chunkier Metzeler Karoo 3 while she looks on. Once her thumb is healed, both she and the Transalp will be ready to handle the sand that is waiting for us in the South. With that, we ride our of La Paz and head for Oruruo. 
Another bonus of riding with the Mosko's in front: A good place to stow a spare tire.
"Roel, could you change it for me this time, please?" How could I say no!