We made it to Villamontes and after an early dinner of really bad chicken and rice, we found a lubricant shop to buy some gear oil. As I was coming to stop in front of the shop, my left arm went completely numb. I could neither move it nor hold it up, and an excruciating pain started to shoot up from my wrest. I pushed the kill switch and stopped the bike and got off holding my arm. Lourdes thought I was having a heart attack and was hysterical, but I had no chest pain. It was just my arm that was a dead limb and I had no idea what was causing it. After about 15 minutes some sense started to come back and I could move my fingers again. I filled up the transmission and called it a day as I couldn’t risk riding with something like that happening at high speed.
Our options as finding hotels weren’t great, there was a whorehouse for $8 a night without a fan (I really felt sorry for the whores), a rundown Favela looking motel with fan for $10 and a Holliday-Inn looking hotel for $150 a night. We settled in the Favela as it at least had a yard with a gate for the bike. After a shower under a cold 6-trickle-a-minute showerhead, I headed downstairs to take care of the poor bike after this hell. I pulled out the air filter and with it came out the whole Arabian Desert. How this bike survived through this dust and sand is beyond me but special thanks goes to Jeff at Z1 Enterprises for sending me a K&N air filter instead of the original foam one. Not a particle of sand was anywhere passed the filter.
I washed the filter with soap and toothbrush for half an hour and hung it to dry, topped off the oil, cleaned the bike as well as I could, and crashed in the oven-like room to the sound of the mosquitoes whizzing by.
Now that we were inside Bolivia and well rested, we went out for lunch before heading north. On recommendation of the locals, we stopped at a little seafood (actually just fish from the muddy river below the bridge) restaurant and took the first swing at the Bolivian cuisine. We kept it simple, fish, rice and a salad of lettuce, tomato and onions. We ended up with cold fish, salad with rotten tomatoes minus the lettuce, and a bowl of boiled cold popcorn that was impossible to eat. We asked the waitress for the rice and got an evil eye and she disappeared and never came back.
Note to self: Never ask for food recommendation from locals in Bolivia again.
The road going north was paved with a nice coat of asphalt which was refreshing. The scenery started to change as we climbed up to higher altitudes and the weather cooled off. We rode passed herds of horses, wandering cows and beautiful pastures with the mountains in the distance. But something kept bothering me. Every so often I would start to smell a strong stench and shortly after a village or a town would pop in the view. It took me a while to figure out the pattern but it was horrible. I would start to smell the garbage before the city sign was in view and long after the urban area ended. My goal became racing for the countryside as soon as possible for some fresh air.
The triple price for gas was getting on my nerve, and I being still pissed off at the treatment we received so far, decided to not obey the gringo pricing. We found a few empty 2 liter coke bottles (not a hard task at all, considering there’s a pile of garbage at any given human settlement in Bolivia) and we set to work. I would park the bike out of sight and Lourdes would go to the gas station to fill up the bottles at a normal price. Then we would dump the gas in the tank and repeat the process until it was full. We needed a few big jugs to be able to fill up the 6 gallon tank in one shot so we looked around for some. The first 4 liter jug we found was an empty oil jug, and the guy happily gave it to us. We thanked him and we were about to leave as he stopped us and said, $2 for the jug. $2 for a used plastic oil jug? From then on, I learned a very important lesson. As a tourist, you are a walking dollar sign in Bolivia. The next jug shopping proved to be the same, this time a 7 or 8 year old girl asked for the extortion fees for useless plastic jugs. I wonder if it ever occurred to these people that giving away a piece of their garbage for a reasonable price or god forbid for free would help out another human being?
Armed with 2 five liter, 1 four liter, and three 2 liter coke bottles, we solved the gas prices for good. Although I wouldn’t pay a penny for the industrial sewage they called gas in any modern country, we had to live with it. It broke my heart every time I dumped this dirty gas into the tank as I could see the stuff floating in it that didn’t belong in refined petroleum. I would let the bottles settle down and I always dumped the last part out as it had way too much crap in it.
Around 7 pm we arrived in a remote village and bought some very questionable meat from a lady with no teeth for dinner, and hit the road. The plan was to camp out that night in the countryside and we started to look for a suitable spot. Both sides of the road were farm lands with a few shacks here and there. We stopped at one of the houses to ask for permission to camp on their land and the answer was no. So we went further down to the next farm and asked for the same and the answer was no again. Not only we weren’t welcome in the country from the start, now the regular people would deny a 4 foot by 6ft ground to travelers for a night sleep in their own tent. Something so uncustomary in Latin America.
Needless to say, we had no luck finding a spot to camp and quite frankly I was hesitant to camp anywhere knowing how inhospitable these people were. I saw a sign to my left for Vallegrande, where Ernesto Guevara was killed some 40 years ago and wondered about the very same people who ratted him out. Hospitality and decency is a rare commodity in Bolivia so we stopped searching for it.
We made it to another stinky town called Cabezas, and looked for a hotel. The only joint in town was a big open style motel with a courtyard in the middle. It had a safe spot with gates and the rate was 25 Bolivianos per person. We took a room and I went from the back alley to bring in the bike. The alley was filled with the all familiar soft sand and I fell on my ass right in front of the gate. When the bike fell, my tankbag was pressing against the horn button and the hotel owner, a very big guy (equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting in Bolivia), walked out to see what was going on. He saw me struggling with picking up the loaded bike, took one look at me and without a word turned around and went inside. I suppose I would be expecting a help in any normal country, but by now I was used to it. Lourdes came out and we picked up the bike and settled in.
Our room had no fan, the water was shut off, the beds were filled with moldy corn husk, which were harder than rock with a permanent hole under our backs, and as a lullaby you could hear the bugs moving under the sheets. Still better than begging a Bolivian peasant for a grave size space on their land for a night. I always thought that posted signs in countries are the best indicators of human development. These signs always show the level of civility, ignorance and social issues and Bolivia is full of signs. The sign behind our door read:
“Forbidden to take the covers or sheets
Do not stain the beds
Do not scratch the furnitures or the walls”
As much as I tried to like this country, they always came back with something more to change my mind. Stay tuned.