• Bolivia – Someone Needs to Update the Maps

    Posted by Loren on May 11, 2011

    Murray and I often said that when we were not having fun, that it made for the best blog updates. Lovely, smooth pavement with perfect berms don’t transfer to more than a few words. So it is my dear readers, that I sacrifice the next week of my life for your entertainment.

    A 20,000km service on my bike dictated that I go to Santa Cruz, the only BMW Motorrad dealer in Bolivia. Looking at the map, with consideration that I hadn’t been warm for a long while, I chose the route to Trinidad, located in the jungle in Bolivia. Your geography lesson for the day is that 1/3 of Bolivia is in the Amazon Basin. Educating and entertaining.

    After a much needed, in hindsight, double espresso in Coroico, all bits and pieces checked and accounted for, I headed towards Trinidad, 500km away, on what the map describes as a “trunk road”, which is second from the best. Think the Autobahn without tolls. The espresso kicked in when through spewing, billowing dust, the words “Globetrotter”, affixed to an overloaded truck, bore down on me in my lane. With the full 80db squawking from my horn, I swerved around him, blinded by dust, only to find another Globetrotter trotting up the hill. Perhaps my head was foggy today and I had reverted back to the Australian side of the road? Nope, I was still on the correct side of the road. After several more trucks including gestations from their 13 year old drivers, I concluded that for reasons unknown, once they hit the mountains, they drive on the opposite side. No wonder it is called “The Most Dangerous Road in the World”. Giving up that particular battle, I conceded to fighting the dust, the road and drop-offs that make your stomach squirm.

    The beauty of a bike is that lineups of traffic do not apply. With thoughts of “suckers” as my mirrors banged off the cliff on one side and car mirrors on the other, I was soon confronted with their reason for stopping. Half a lane of the road had plummeted into the gorge below, leaving slippery mud with a river flowing down it, and the infamous Globetrotter’s coming the other way. With nowhere to go, I proceeded with a 130 point turn attempting to go back up the hill, red mud topping my boots and helmet steaming up. 128 points in, I lost the bike, dropping back down the hill, billowing with steam as it contacted the river/road. In way of help, trucks on both sides started beeping their horns, yelling that they needed to get past, oblivious to the fact 240kgs of bike and gear was laying at an impossible angle. One of the gentlemen who had at least finished year 3 realised the problem, and offered two arms in assistance. Bike back up, and return to the end of the line, I noticed my headphone extension wrapped around the read hub. No music for me for the rest of the trip. A note to those trip planning, buy an extra headphone extension for your Starcomm – your sanity will thank-you.

    And so it went for the rest of the day and three hours of the night. I continued to be perplexed with which side of the road I was to be riding on. Sometimes it was the left, sometimes it was the right. I thought it had something to do with who was going uphill, but no, this proved not to be the case. I concluded I was supposed to be on whatever side I wasn’t on. At kilometre 190 and after 8 hours, I hit pavement, which was the cruelest of jokes as it lasted on and off for 5km, before disappearing completely, being replaced with an assortment of bull dust, slippery clay and sharp rocks.

    Pulling into Yucuma, 220km and 10 hours later, I gladly got off my bike for the day, fully expecting to have the daily argument about there not being any of the promised hot water. To add a twist, today there was no water at all. A telling end to the day.

    Breakfast the next morning was a repeat of the unchewable beef and rice dish from the night before. A needed stop at the fuel station was met with the international “we don’t have fuel” sign. OK not international, as I have never been to a fuel station without fuel before. I had enough in the tank to get me to San Borja, the next town. Two hours of bone jarring, BMW testing road later, intermittently broken by new, rolled, dirt roads, I was sitting at a store having a cold beverage when I noticed a sign for a town, pointing to the right. The map clarified that the town should most certainly be to the left. With a sinking feeling, I asked the store owner where we were. Turns out when I left town in the morning, I should have gone right, but instead went left. Who knew there were two exits from the one street town? The option of returning to Yucuma was out of the question after a drive-by of another fuel station with no fuel. Thankfully, the tourist town of Rurrenabaque was 5km down the road, so I would at least have internet access whilst waiting for fuel. A visit to the Tourist Office came up trumps, and I organised a clandestine delivery of 18L of fuel from the second floor apartment down a dark street. 12L later, 18L paid for and with the sound of rain pinging off the tin roof, I drifted into unconsciousness.

    Thoughts of topping up the tank the next morning were quickly abated as I started passing the line of motorbikes 500m from the fuel station. Once clear of town, my internal questioning of the sensibility of building roads of dirt in a rainforest, were confirmed. The previous days bull dust and newly rolled dirt were now a sloppy mess, providing a slippery surface, not at all conducive to motorbike riding. Adrenaline does some strange things, one of which is making you laugh like a hyena when upon hitting a clay surface, the back end of the bike tries becoming the front, and with some smooth moves and a bit of acceleration, the bike corrects itself, and continues in the correct trajectory. The third such crazy man laugh in 500m turned into horror as the bike went down, and your author, still attached, slide towards the side of the road and the very firm looking berm. Both wheels contacted the berm at the same time, and I was for the most part ejected over the handlebars. I say for the most part, as my windscreen came in contact with the nose, creating two swollen black eyes, one very sore nose, and a few cracked ribs, a result of either the windscreen or earth. At least I got to use my first aid kit. A couple bandaids, and a bit of rubber mallet work later (on the panniers not my nose), I continued for another 8 hours, covering 100 of the worst kilometres I have ever had to endure. Whoever thought it a good idea to make a road out of clay should be hung, drawn and quartered. I must say, I have never been so happy to pull into a town as I was screaming down the streets of San Borja.

    After a night in a quality establishment where I need to use my thermarest on the bed, and where there was a guy sleeping in the flowerbed in the morning, spirits where high, or higher at least, as the sun was out. Calculating the distance remaining and negotiating the purchase of four Coke bottles of fuel from out the back of a store, I was on my way, whistling like one possessed. It wasn’t wet! Well, not for the first 5km. Then, back onto the wet clay. Sigh. This really is going to take awhile. With varying stages of wetness, I continued for two hours on what was once a track. Happily, I reached a dry section, and got moving, probably a bit quicker than I should have. Approached some ruts where trucks had been slopping through the mud on the previous day, but which had now hardened like cement, I dropped from second gear to first. Unfortunately, I missed first, instead sliding into neutral. Momentarily distracted, I clipped my front wheel on one of the ruts, flicked sideways, flew over the handlebars, and with all the grace of a rag doll, landed upside down with my right shoulder on the rock hard ground, and my legs up in a bush. Adjusting my shoulder pad didn’t relive the pressure on my shoulder. Pulling my legs from the bush, I rolled onto my knees, and knew something was seriously wrong with my shoulder. I know what a dislocation felt like, having done it hundreds of times when I was younger prior to having an operation to tighten everything up. This was much more painful. You don’t get to chose where you have an accident, but if you did, it certainly wouldn’t be here.

    Thoughts immediately go to, “ok what do I do now”? The pain in my shoulder was so great I could barely move, let alone pick my bike up and ride it. I knew the first thing I had to do was get out of the heat and into the shade, as my body had gone into shock, sweat pouring out in the jungle heat. It was then that a fellow came down the track on a scooter, and upon seeing an orange motorbike and an orange headed man rolling around on the ground, deduced quite correctly that something was wrong, and stopped to offer some assistance. He managed to wrangle the bike upright, and promptly dropped it again when he tried moving it. I just wanted to lay under a tree, which he didn’t understand, as he road off on my bike in search of more help. Returning in a very full van load of people, we drove back to his village , I got my passports and money from the bike, details of the new possessor of my bike, jumped into the van, sitting on the gearshift between the two front seats, and began the excruciating ride back to San Borja. I do not recommend having a dislocated shoulder and riding in a Bolivian taxi along absolutely terrible roads. An eighty year old man sleeping on injured shoulder also doesn’t help matters.

    2304 screams of pain later, we arrived back in town and I was dropped off at the hospital. Straight into the x-ray room I went, and I heard the first music to my ears all day, it wasn’t broken, but had been dislocated, and was back in place. The doctor then used 18 meters of bandage and immobilised my shoulder, strapping me like a Thanksgiving turkey. This lasted for all of 5 hours before I cut it off, the itching of a hot sweaty, woollen Icebreaker shirt against my skin nearly being worse than the dislocation.

    7:30am th next morning found me on a 6 seater Cessna, whining across the jungle in the direction of Trinidad and the prospect of a hospital with more than 3 people on staff. I quick look at the x-ray confirmed the previous doctors prognosis, along with instructions to get an immobilising sling and not to do anything for three weeks. My plans from the previous day when I thought I would have to fly back to Australia, where improved slightly, but certainly not what they had been if it had not been for that pesky dirt rut. Trinidad is not the kind of place that I could hang out doing nothing for three weeks, so I went in search of help to go and retrieve my bike.

    Up until this stage, I am still not aware that the remainder of the road to Trinidad is any worse than what I had been riding on. I figured we could take a truck back from the Trinidad side, load it up, bring it back, then ship it on to Santa Cruz for a service. Instead, here is what was required:

    -hiring a man (fixer) and a 4×4 in Trinidad, driving to the edge of a very wide river

    -hiring a pontoon with crew of Cocoa leave chewing men to take the 4×4 through the marsh for 4 hours

    -driving the 4×4 with the worlds slowest driver, 4 hours until the road turned into a river

    -arriving at said river at dusk, at the same time as a bus of very surprised passengers. 3 scooters running the passengers the 6km section of road, ending where another river was out. No way for Loren to get there in a hurry, other than running, in thongs and with immobilised arm

    -transfer to canoe with whipper snipper motor on the back, for navigation for 30 minutes through marsh. Shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops offer no protection from the very hungry mosquitos. Give up trying to kill them and submit to their biting

    -negotiate with a moto-taxi (scooter) to take me the 90 minutes to where my bike is stored. Have to get off twice to walk through river crossings

    -Set eyes on my bike! Load gear onto bike, remove arm strap, get extra water, reward helper with money, high fives all around, leave farm.

    -On road, realize they have put 100km on my bike, used all my fuel, stole my Leatherman and stole my gloves. Return to camp, discuss heatedly with 8 men in Spanish their lack of humanitarianism and taking my money after they stole my gear, then left, leaving an imprint of my tire down the driveway to the entrance.

    -First river crossing. Extremely slippery ground, heavily corrugated from a tractor tire, 30cm of water flowing over the top. Impossible for me to cross, as if the bike goes down, I can’t pick it up with one arm. Negotiate with 2 moto-taxi drivers to assist, one on each side. Across the other side, I returned to get my luggage, only to have the first person in Bolivia attempt to hit me up for cash. At 11.00pm, after struggling through a river, he now comes up asking for money. I lost it.

    -Second river crossing. After dropping some passengers off, my heros returned, more money was exchanged, and I made it across another river.

    -Return to where canoe was plying it’s trade. They are finished for the night, so I set up tent by moonlight. 12am. Mosquitos are so intense I need earplugs to block them out in the tent.

    -1.30am. Wake up with the urgent advise to get out of the tent as quickly as possible. Bad water. Get eaten by mosquitos. 3 rounds of killing mosquitos on the tent. Another advise, another round of being eaten by mosquitos following by another round of killings. Four more times, I wasn’t sure what was going to kill me first, the effects of the bad water, or the mosquitos. Malaria is rampant in these parts, and I have no protection. My tent was dripping from the heat, and walls resembled a massacre in a steam room in a bad Hollywood movie.

    -First light, out of the tent with continued bad water problems. Break camp, wait for canoe.

    -Fixer arrives on back of moto-taxi. They both assist in getting through two sections of 150m of mud, impassable by myself in my current condition.

    -Load bike into canoe to go around washed out bridge

    -ride 6km

    -load bike into canoe to go through marsh to circumnavigate impassable section

    -load bike into 4×4, and drive 4 hours, faking sleep so I don’t have to talk to the fixer

    -negotiate return passage on pontoon through marsh, returning to Trinidad.

    -Ride my bike on pavement back into Trinidad, yes!!!

    The next day I road 600km on beautifully paved roads all the way to Santa Cruz. An hour out of Santa Cruz I saw something that I never thought I would be happy to see – a Hummer. If they have Hummers around here, then they have money, the town can’t be that bad, and I am a happy camper. Pulling into BMW Santa Cruz was a surreal experience. After all I had been through in the last week, here I was pulling into a BMW dealership, with new cars and new bikes.  I had forgot that it was the Easter long weekend, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything on my bike until the Monday. No problem, I needed a rest and ready access to a of tub of cream to rub on my jungle insect bitten body, currently looking like a mad case of chicken pox and eczema.  Here’s hoping I don’t have malaria or dengue fever to add to the mix.

10 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Donna Vercoe on May 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Donna to self: hmmmm… I’ve not heard from Loren in 48 hours, I hope he’s ok.
    Loren, 48 hours later… “I’ve come off my bike. I’ve dislocated my shoulder, but I’m ok.”
    Donna to self: another 48 hours and I’ve not heard from Loren. I’ll give him 72 hours before I send out the Bolivian Army in search for him.
    Exactly 72 hours almost to the minute later… Loren emails… I’m ok, but you’re not going to believe the story I have for you…
    (Now I understand the expression “worried sick”. So glad you lived to tell the story with flourish! And I want to know… do “creature” comforts include mosquito’s!?)

  2. Anthony McNab on May 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Hey Loren,

    WOW…. now that is a story and a half. Thanks for sharing the details. And hope you are doing OK now after the injuries.

    Keep upright from here on :0)

  3. Bec on May 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Hahaha this is great to read whilst having pre-labour contractions.. made me laugh hard!
    Quite different to your usual day back home building database. Its stories like this that you expect when traveling through third world countries innit, I love that the whole kerfuffle was to get your bike serviced – would have really needed it by then :D

    • Loren on May 12, 2011 at 8:37 pm

      So true. You could have imagine the shock on my face when the guy at the BMW in Santa Cruz said, “oh you could have had it serviced in our store in La Paz”, which I had passed through 1 week before! In hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it all! My shoulder may have.

    • Loren on May 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

      Looks like this ended up being the final push for Sofia May!! A warning to all – read this, and you will give birth!

  4. Anna B on May 13, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Wow, that is quite a story! Whew. As fellow travel bloggers, we too have discovered that the less fun we’re having, the more people want to read about it! Our compassionate fellow humans, eh? :) Hope the road is smoother (in more ways than one) from here on!

  5. Lachlan on May 13, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Lozza, if you weren’t a man before this trip, then you are now!!! ride on bro :)

    • Loren on May 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

      While sitting on the edge of the pontoon ploughing through the marsh, moving my head to avoid oncoming vines , mud caked up my pants, scratching the 18,234 mosquito bites at the same time ensuring my shoulder didn’t move – I found myself.

  6. Merrilyn P on May 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    It is amazing what the human spirit can endure Loren, I wont be complaining about blocked toilets or other domestic problems anytime soon. Imagine all the skills you can add to your resume!! That bloke sleeping in the garden looks very much like Murray, are you sure he is in Australia?

  7. Murray on May 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Brillant mate, just brilliant!!! You have to love the fixers! Ride on SH1