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April 7th, 2012 - The Damned Bolivia – Part One

boliviaA whole century later, I must have had the same look as the Sundance Kid as he stepped off the train in Bolivia. I stood in front of a mound of rubble, no sign, no road, no nothing, but a narrow mule track straight out of the 1900 which marked the border of Bolivia.

To tell the story of the damned Bolivia, I must first tell the hellish story of getting to Bolivia. Imagine yourself sitting under the August sun in Texas, dressed in thick black Kevlar pants and jackets, full-face helmet, pair of gloves and black combat boots, then fancy sitting on top of a black motorcycle with 300lbs of film and travel gear with an engine hot enough to fry bacons on. Now add another person with the exact same outfit to your pillion and for the finishing touch, imagine sipping boiling hot water and you might get a grasp of what I felt as I left the capital of Paraguay for the Chaco region to the north. I visited the Chaco in Argentina in winter and came out just short of a heatstroke, yet I was riding in the middle of summer to one of the most isolated and hottest places in South America.

The ordeal of getting a visa for Bolivia is a story of it itself, but to not make the long story longer, the Bolivian Embassy doesn’t really give you a visa. What they give you is a piece of paper that you take with you and then you have to find the immigration office somewhere past the border deep in Bolivia to get your actual visa. And as everything takes a million years to get done in South America, my visa process took so long that when I finally got the paper, I had only two days to get to the border, almost 900km away.

Visa in hand, I went to the parking garage to bring out the motorcycle for oil and tire change, and as Mr. Murphy had it, the battery was completely dead, reading zero volt on the voltmeter. I took out the battery and took it to a shop to recharge, and I had to wait until the next day to get it back. When I finally got the battery back, I tore the bike apart until I found the short but it was already too late to get on the road. The next day I changed the tires for a pair of new dual sports, changed the brake pads, and loaded the bike for the marathon to the border with only 12 hours left on my visa.

Paraguay has very nice highways, and discounting the occasional wandering cows, you can rack up pretty good time, but this road wouldn’t end. From 10am to 7pm, we rode straight shot only stopping for gas and a short lunch break and we made it to Mariscal Estigarribia, the last frontier town in the Chaco in Paraguay. We got the passport stamped and I was officially out of the country, although we had 250km from Mariscal Estigarribia to the border and 150km more to Ibibobo, the first town in Bolivia. It was already 7pm and the sun would set in an hour or two so we kept pushing on to get at least closer to the border.

As we went deeper into the Chaco, the road started to get worse and potholes the size of a fin-tailed Cadillac started to cover the road. I double checked a few times on my GPS and it seemed that we were going the right way, but the total lack of traffic was telling me that either people don’t go to Bolivia for some reason or this was going to be a road from hell. As my luck had it, it turned out to be both. Potholes steadily grew in size and worse yet, the ground turned into some sort of sand that was finer that Baby Johnson ass-powder. Going on a straight line was impossible and the more I dodged sandpits, bigger and wider versions kept showing up. It was like a DMV test, except that if I ran over a cone, I would send us crashing in a ditch.

I was thinking that there is no way in hell that we could make the border, but there was nowhere to stop either. Both sides of the road were like the Atlantic beach with that powdery stuff going down to China and I just kept going with hope of finding a solid ground that we could crash at night. As I was thinking about all this, we hit a deep sandpit and went flying on the ground. We were Ok but the bike was stuck. We were both exhausted from the long ride and as much as we tried, we couldn’t even upright the bike in the sand as we kept slipping on the soft ground. There was nothing we could do so we waited, hoping that there would be another idiot going the same road who would give us a helping hand. A cigarette or two later, we spotted a fruit truck in the distance and our deliverance came in a form of an 8 man team. All these guys pushed and shoved and I kept on the throttle until the bike made it out of the long pit.

We thanked our saviors and knowing that there won’t be a soul on the road if we got stuck again, I chased after them and got in front just in case. I don’t remember how long we rode in the dark but I know that it felt like an eternity as we kept going in and out of sand pits, and the bike trashed about every direction. Finally we saw a light. A lone dim light of a common house on a cattle ranch and I raced for it. We asked for permission to stay there and we were home free – for the night at least. The fruit truck arrived a few minutes later and we bought a dozen bananas and a giant watermelon for the dinner.

The watermelon turned out to be as white as Dick Cheney, but I didn’t care, I was so dehydrated that all I wanted was something with water in it. We pitched the tent next to an old abandoned Jeep, and a three legged calf, and retired for the night. My face was so burnt from the sun and it was so hot outside that I stayed awake for the longest time before falling asleep in my own sweat with the three legged cow howling nonstop next to my head until dawn. As it would turn out, the road to hell was just about to begin; the past section would be a walk in a park in comparison. Stay tuned.

There are 26 Comments

  1. April 9, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Gee, Chris, glad you’ve had such a wonderful time! I’ll bet that cow was happy to have company for the night. 😉
    I assume that you made it in the end and that now your Bolivian adventure is going well.
    All the best,

  2. April 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Hey Chris,
    Jeezes man, I do hate those loose sand roads. I recon the only way you would have gotten out of there alone would be to take all weight off the bike. Did you lower your tire pressure? That helps in sandy conditions. Can’t wait for part two.

  3. Jared
    April 9, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Glad to see a post, was wondering how things are going for you.

  4. Herman
    April 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Good look and keep going my friends
    only the best take a road to whateber place and keep being hapier
    I did take the road on March to bpril 2011 to the Amazonas Brazil from El Salvador
    dont gorget to communicate with the motoclubs in every country Peru have a good ones Brazil are so friendly look on internet for it
    and keep safe

  5. Chris Sorbi
    April 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks guys, I just finished the part two and will post it shortly. It will get much worse 🙂

  6. April 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    shit man… less talking and more posting… post that thing already so we can read it! 🙂

  7. Chris Sorbi
    April 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    lol, I just found a few videos from the road and i’m putting them together. Will be up soon, I promise.

  8. April 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    OMG….talk about the road less traveled….

  9. Richard
    April 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Chris, it’s really great to see you back on the road and writing again. Seems like Paraguay has treated you well over the past few months since your last post. 🙂

  10. Oscar
    April 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Then don’t come down here to evaluate from your culture our culture man! You suck!!! In LA we dont have time or any thing like that, we hate the progress that takes away nature! You are a big ignorant my friend. Stay with your bike in texas and never call any LA country damned. “We will meet you on the road skank”. (Johnny to Goose)

  11. Oscar
    April 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    We are emailing the authorities in Bolivia about your post and how you call a LA country, bad knew dude, good trip. Take it back know, thank you.

  12. Jared
    April 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Oscar, you need to relax and do not take anything written as a personal attack on you. Any web blog is going to have emotionally based posts that are directly related to that individuals experiences and accounts. Do you think he was treated fairly by the authorities he met or do you think having half built unsafe roads is a reflection on keeping progress out for the sake of culture?

  13. Jared
    April 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Furthermore if you want to see a post in a different light perhaps offering assistance in his travels would help, but threats and attacks will only further stigmatize you and your culture you are attempting to stand up for. You should consider apologizing so the readers do not get the wrong impression of what is very likely a very beautiful country he has yet to find.

  14. April 10, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Hey Oscar,
    before you judge Chris based on one post on this blog, maybe you should read the other posts and find out about WHY Chris is riding around the world. You would find out that he has done a lot of good things and made a lot of sacrifices while he was in LA.
    He obviously didn’t take the easiest road to get from Paraguay to Bolivia, almost destroying his bike and then, after all the problems on the road, he finds himself in a situation where people treat him as some kind of terrorist based on the place he was born…
    I can understand that a person gets frustrated and angry.
    This post was most likely a way to get all this out of his system.
    I hope you can find a way to put this into perspective and not make things even more complicated for him.
    Peace man

  15. Chris Sorbi
    April 11, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Oscar sweetheart, I don’t take a single word back so when you do call the “authorities” in Bolivia, report your countrymen corruptions too while you’re at it, and that should take you a good long while.

    “We hate the progress that takes away nature!”

    What nature? So all of a sudden Bolivians are environmentalists? Have you took a good look at your cities and villages? It’s a pile of garbage over a pile of garbage with children eating the garbage while sitting on top of the garbage. I would smell the stench of your population long before the city sign was in sight so don’t bullshit yourself.

    And again, Bolivia is a mining country. Destroying the mountains, digging craters are OK but fixing roads that has made Bolivia the most dangerous country to drive in, takes away from your nature?

    And in your fabulous culture that I have offended so badly, why do you allow your miners to die in thousands from working long hours on empty stomach? Why is it that your bigger than god president closed his eyes when half of the eastern Bolivia was under water? Why is it that you spend millions on a celebration of an imaginary event every year all over the country but you fail to better the lives of your country men?

    I understand that you have national pride, but national pride is just an excuse to defend the un-defendable. Open your eyes, look around you and don’t think with pride, think with your eyes and the facts you know that are true.

    If you label yourself as Latin American then act like one. Have some hospitality, have some decency, have some compassion, not for me, for your own people. I don’t call Bolivia a Latin American country, it would be an insult to the beautiful and giving Latinos that I know. I hope one day in the future you can make a comment and tell me that Bolivia is a wonderful place now, but today is not the day and you damn well know it.

  16. Oscar
    April 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Yeah, maybe you are right dude.
    The title of the article and your answer were a little heavy for me…but well that’s the bike world after all!!!
    What the hell man, ride safe and meet the people. The country after all is the people

  17. sandro
    April 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    My name is Sandro, I’m from Bolivia, I understand you’re angry … and I agree with you on some things, but I think some people are an insult to my country because it does not reason before writing shit, I think you are reflecting your trip, all adventure trips are full of good and bad incidents, but if you had known a little more about my country, would have seen that we have thousands of wonderful places and friendly people.

    In any case, the positive and negative comments should serve to improve the errors committed in the countries to improve visitor experiences

  18. Jared
    April 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Oscar thanks for sticking around and Sandro thanks for posting as well. As I said Chris is being honest with his personal experiences and his not sugar coating the disappointments and issues only leads to more credibility on the positive experiences.

    Its very easy to group people based on culture or country or anything else but its important to remember we all have a choice and our actions may reflect on others for both good and bad its just as important to look at everyone as individuals.

  19. Lucia
    April 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Hey man… I get it, you had a shity experience, met shity people and had an awful time… but guess what… shit happens!! In Bolivia, in the US and everywhere on this crazy world. Just because you had a couple of bad days on a place you don’t know shit about, you think you have the right to label all bolivians as an insult to all latinamericans?? Man, that’s just ignorant.
    To show you why I think is ignorant, let me give you an example: Today I read the most outrageous and ignorant post of some biker who travels around the world… well I guess then that all freakin’ bikers must be as ignorant as this one…. suddenly I hate all bikers and I think they are a shame for the human race… Get my point?
    If you don’t want people to use national pride to defend their country and their culture, then don’t make national-wide statements!!! Honestly… what kind of reaction did you expect??

  20. Heman
    April 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Iam proud to be a biker !!! and i cingratulate all tha person that one day make the desition of take the street and their destiny is the best that a human being could do.
    but first take the tame to know the different cultures, leguages. money name and change value to the Us dollars or Euro, make as many copies of the passport and criver licenses is possible and
    most inportant to know is if you will need visas and how much it cost acording to your country
    example. for US citizen the visa to brazil cost more or abot $ 200 Us dollars, for other nationalities is free.
    this little but important information will keep you safe and your trip will be super

    I hope my experience help you
    i did a trip from El Salvador to Brazil in 60 days and it was fenomenal following this simple rule
    get informed
    every country have their rules sane fair other ……………

  21. mabel
    April 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Dude! You went to Bolivia once and you are judging us? Fuck you! That’s all that I have to tell you.

  22. Richard
    April 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Mabel – you read one entry in a blog and you are judging him? Pot, meet black kettle. You do no favours to yourself nor to what others may think of Bolivians in general with your knee-jerk, immature remarks. Then again, tourism and self-promotion may not be your strong suit.

  23. Peter
    April 24, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    The defensive and downright hostile reactions of the Bolivians here isn’t exactly endearing their country to those of us who dream of motorcycling through South America someday. (I already have a V-Strom, now I just need time and money!) 🙂

    Your energy might be better spent on advising Chris where to go and whom to meet in order to enjoy your country more.

  24. May 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Chris; it is very unfortunatelly that you had a bad experience on the roads of Bolivia, but that is not an excuse for you to damned our country. Furthermore to profile all bolivians as the lack of Latin America.
    I don’t travel arround the world on a bike like you do, I usually travel first class, but let me tell you something; you can not judge a whole country based on your damned experience.
    How would you feel if somebody blogs and post wrong facts about the USA based on a short visit to Miami, Florida? Most pleople there are lazy, plastic, loud, ignorant, do not speak english, should I continue?
    What I am asking you is to please have a little bit of respect for my people, for my culture and for my country. Which I am sure, that if you learn more about us, you will see that the kids that you saw eating garbage on top of garbage is not because they like it, it is because my country is very poor and we do not have a 800 billion stimulus package to save us, nor a government that cares.
    I really hope that one day you can go back to Bolivia under a different situation and see the magic of my country. I assure you you will not only enjoy it, you will love it.
    Here are some places that I am sure you missed:
    Take care and enjoy every ride!

  25. June 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I am sad.
    I have spend 3 years on a motorcycle, traveling around the world, visiting some 75 countries.
    In some countries I was treated like shit. In some countries I was treated like a prince.
    But the way you wrote about Bolivia and more sadly the way you and other people reacted to the response from Bolivians…. What can I say..
    I don’t want to offend you, but I really think you should change the way you look at countries where you are a guest. (even if you need a visa (my wife needs one for the USA, so what…)

    So, a few guys treated you badly??? Do you have any idea how your country treats its guest, especially when they arrive by air ? It’s like watching an old bonanza episode where they are branding and de-horning cattle…
    Does that make Americans assholes ? No… actually a lot of Americans are very nice and friendly people. (except for the idiot that tried to run me off the road with his car.. ohh and the nut who … and not to forget…. bla bla.. ).
    Yes, everywhere there are bad people. And everywhere there are good people.
    The way you deal with that… decides in which group you belong.

    And Bolivia ??? A fantastic country with fantastic nature, awesome roads (if you like dirt) and the most spectacular sights. Ohh..yeah, and a few corrupt cops… tsss just a minor inconvenience or a challenge. You are a traveler aren’t you?


  26. Nata
    June 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    well said! could not be more straight forward! viva Bolivia!

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