Monday, March 15, 2010

Tupiza to Potosi (OOPS!) - March 10

We got on the road early, excited to be headed to Uyuni and the Salar.  Getting out of town was tricky as Bolivian drivers don't believe in right-of-way, they rather play "chicken" by nosing out in front of traffic and forcing their way into lanes etc. - compounded by dust roads (not dusty, I mean roads made of dust!).

Petra bottomed out her bike on a railway track approaching the bridge out of town, and told me over the radio that her bike had stalled and wouldn't restart.  I could see her in my mirrors stuck in the middle of the road with trucks and buses now weaving left and right around her, so I stopped quickly on the side of the road and ran back to walk her bike out of traffic.

I suspected the side stand kill switch had been damaged by the railway track; it's a safety feature built into the sidestand intended to ensure people don't ride away with the stand extended.  I was preparing to dismantle the switch when Petra pointed out that the connecting wires may have been pinched by the frame.  Sure enough, that was the problem, so after a quick splice and taping we were riding again in 15 minutes.

10 minutes outside of town we approached a number of stopped trucks on the road.  Passing them slowly, we realized the road ahead was closed.  It had rained heavily in the night to the north of Tupiza, and presumably this had caused a rock slide, blocking a section of road some 200 feet above our road.  A heavy equipment crew was clearing that slide by pushing the rock and debris down onto our road, from where they would then push it over into the canyon beneath us. 
The flagman told me it would be an hour wait, so we took off our gear and hid in the shade of the bikes.  25 minutes later, substantial lines of vehicles had formed ahead of and behind the closure.  When I overheard the flagman tell someone else the wait was still "una hora",  I walked ahead to see if there was a route around the falling debris.  I returned to negotiate with the flagman indicating that there was a "poco camino por motos", he agreed and said they would let us pass.  Work stopped briefly above us, and they even sent a front-end loader  through  the debris to ensure we had a smooth path - we were away, leaving the larger vehicles to sort out right-of-way issues north and south over the newly cleared lane.
We were off the main road almost immmediately and on desvio.  Our paper maps of Bolivia have not proven accurate, and our GPS data is not detailed for this area either - compounded by the extensive temporary construction roads and an almost complete lack of directional signage or place names etc.

Last nights rain, together with the fact that the vast majority of Bolivian vehicles using these roads are trucks or buses, meant the poor quality desvio had taken a beating.  We rode for hours on incredibly challenging terrain - washed out roads, deep puddles, and 500m long stretches of deeply rutted thick mud.
Bolivian truck stuck in the mud.

I fell sideways in a deep slippery rut, but only slightly as the side of the rut was high enough to hold the bike upright.  Petra had a bigger fall as her bike bounced off one side of a rut and ran up and over the opposite side.
 We were moving slowly, collecting bumps and bruises, when we approached a difficult river crossing.  The water was shallow but wide, and had moved beyond the gravel stream bed onto the adjacent delta, making for a 120m wide, deeply rutted, muddy crossing.  Petra was almost across, and past the most difficult part, when she toppled over into the running water.  The pannier kept the motor up and out of the water, but Petra was soaked!
Petra fell in the open water visible in the bottom of the image.

The road improved from that point as we continued north, only to find after 5 hours of riding that we had gotten onto the wrong path somehow, and were headed to Potosi not Uyuni.  If I had an eject button, I might have used it at that moment!
The road changed to pavement and it began to rain as the temperature dropped below 6 degrees C.  We were freezing on the last 50kms into Potosi, especially Petra after her afternoon dunking.

Potosi is the highest elevated city in the world at over 13,300 feet above sea level.  It is an old colonial city with narrow streets, cobbled and steep, set into the slopes of the adjacent mountains.  There are virtually no traffic signs, signals or markings.  The traffic is chaotic.

We struggled to find a hotel before dark, and put up for the night dejected at the thought of another long ride to our intended destination of Uyuni tomorrow. 

No comments:

Post a Comment