Cochabamba to Tarija 8th October. 12,711 miles
David's cold was bad enough to delay us yet another 2 days in Cochabamba. The cold turned into a sore throat and upper chest which is not good for cycling at altitude. On day 5 David's chest was still wheezy and his cough no better so we caught a bus to Villa Tunari and spent another couple of days there. The tropical climate down at only 1000ft was much different to that which we had been accustomed to. David's lungs now improved and we set off again towards Santa Cruz.
The weather here is hot and humid with all the tropical wildlife including biting flies. No dangerous animals but a notice by the river warned not to swim because of electric eels. A shock from these can be fatal.
The cycling is very pleasant with a tail wind at last. Roads are good tarmac (except in towns) and the scenery is a mixture of swampy farmland and jungle. Each time we cross a river, we see locals bathing and doing their laundry, presumably avoiding the eels.
Decided on a short trip to Chimore and stayed in a hostel full of electricity workers. Unfortunately, just behind the rooms, a disco blared out most of the night and in the morning everybody looked in need of sleep.
At Buena Vista, we attempted to find a hostel. The town was a small tourist town with some expensive hotels for Americans visiting the local jungle reserve. All the cheaper ones were full, except for one which offered a dark, dingy, dirty room for 40 bolivianos which we rejected. Eventually found a reasonable place, which seemed cheap enough only to find out that the prices were in dollars which is seven times more expensive.
As the wind was behind us and it was not late, we pushed on. At 80 miles we found a lovely place in Portachuelo. This had a pleasant room, garden full of flowers and was 40 bolivianos (4pounds).
Short fast ride with a gale behind us to Santa Cruz. The countryside is now more affluent with expensive farms and buildings. As this is the centre of the Bolivian cocoa growing area, there is plenty of money around.
Residential Ballivan in Santa Cruz had rooms around a courtyard, and we stayed in the same room that the legendary Che Guevara stayed in before he was assassinated nearby in 1967. His body was not found until 1998 when it was taken back to Cuba. We found scratched faintly on the back of the wardrobe "Che was here" (No, only joking!)
It rained quite heavily on and off for three days and we decided to leave on the fourth day when it stopped. The road south looked reasonable on the map although we know a large part was unpaved. The map showed villages every 20 miles or so. 90 miles of smooth tarmac on the first day to Abapo where we expected to find a hostel. There wasn't one and not much in the way of food either. The road now turned to dirt and crossed a river using a railway bridge. Any traffic had to straddle the lines to proceed. A few miles further on and we decided to camp in a secluded spot by the railway. In the night, we had two trains and several million biting flies. Our legs, in the morning looked like we had measles. Joan's itched like crazy, but David's just showed red spots.
The road. It wasn't just a dirt road, but soft sand most of the time. Whenever we could ride, we did, but wherever the soft patches arose it was impossible. We had to push or drag our bikes through sand for at least half the time. It took all day to cover 30 miles. The villages marked on the map turned out to be mostly a small collection of huts and cafes with refreshments few and far between. In the baking sun and little shade we were getting through water at an alarming rate. There was nowhere to stay and even camping needed at least six litres of water each night. Have you ever tried a body wash using half a cup of water between two? We used what was left for washing the pans. The technique for washing was to use a wet flannel and keep wringing it out in the same container.
We carried on through countryside of tropical scrub with the occasional farm full of very healthy looking cattle. A truck would pass about every hour or so and when one did, it covered us in sand and dust and left visibility down to nil for a while. There was no natural water anywhere, apart from muddy cattle pools and we were back to buying water whenever we could at 50p a litre. The very rare shops had almost nothing.
You have heard this one before, but, Oh! for a shower! As we dragged our bikes through the sand in a particularly tough stretch, a truck pulled up beside us and asked if we wanted a lift. Off we went together with steel tubing, sacks of rice, flour and sugar. The going was still very slow and the next 30 miles took two hours when we had to stop in a small village to mend a puncture and attempt to mend a broken spring. There was no spare wheel and the tyre was removed with long levers in order to repair the tube.
The driver was going to Villamontes, about 130 miles away, but as he would have arrived very late at night and there was a town called Camiri, with a hostel at the end of the sandy road section, we opted to stay there.
It was 7 o'clock and dark when we arrived. The first thing we did at the hostel was to have a hot shower, our first for four days after 100 miles of Sahara desert-like road. The next day was mainly a cleaning session trying to get the sand and dust out of everything.
As we were leaving Camari, a reporter from the local radio station stopped us. He had heard about us cycling the road from Santa Cruz. After a few brief words and questions, he stuck the microphone up to David's face. When your Spanish is very limited it's difficult to know what to say on "live" radio. But David managed to say what we were doing. After our usual ride around the town trying to get out, we found the TARMAC road south. (There are very few signs in Bolivia) We had almost forgotten what it was like to ride on a smooth road and covered a reasonable distance to the next town, Boyuibe. The next day the 70 miles to Villa Montes was again on silky smooth roads passing rolling hills and cattle ranches. We saw many cowboys on horseback wearing enormous leather chaps and wide brimmed hats turned down in the local style.
Road casualties now are goats, donkeys and cattle. So the vultures do well.
The hostel at Villamontes at first glance looked OK until we tried the shower. Joan should have realised that the metal water valve was not wrapped with lots of insulating tape to look nice. She got an electric shock, not for the first time with one of these showers. Most of the wiring is in a terrible state, and decent earthing is non-existent. In the evening, when we turned the fan on in the room, the light dimmed. When the light was turned off, the fan went off. David found that the power socket and the light were wired in series so that one could not be on without the other.
We decided not to head straight for the border, a days ride. But, to keep in Bolivia and head back up into the mountains for a while.
The ride out of Villamontes started well with some stunning scenery as we followed a river gorge. There were lots of parrots of different colours and sizes and Joan spotted a grey fox by the road. The road was once again gravel and sand, but quite manageable. A tyre bought only 100 miles ago burst with a loud bang as David hit a jagged rock. We were down to only one lightweight spare and what looked like two days of rough road before another could be bought.
After 30 of the 50 miles we expected to cover to Palos Blancos our six litres of water were gone. There was nowhere on the way to buy a drink or replenish our water. Eventually, at 3000ft higher than we started, we found Palos Blancos where we expected to find a hostel. No hostel, but we camped at the rear of a cafe and used their shower and very basic facilities.
The map showed more rough road for the next 150 miles and very few settlements until Tarija. Due to the water problems and only having one spare tyre, we decided to hitch a lift to Tarija to be on the safe side. It turned out to be a very wise decision, as the next 150 miles were over mountain ranges and the roads continued to be very rough indeed with many severely steep sections climbing thousands of feet at a time. There were stretches of over 50 miles with nowhere to replenish our water. The transport took 10 hours to cover the 150 miles and we arrived in Tairja in the dark, which was made worse because the town was in the throes of a power cut, and by torchlight we finally found a hostel.
Dave and Joan