We leave Cochabamba at around 10:00 and head for Santa Cruz. There are two routes to get there. The southern is the old one which is no longer being maintained. Good for adventure, bad if you are actually trying to get somewhere. We are, so we have decided on the northern route which is the newest and paved and maintained all the way. And how much traffic can there be on the 1st of January, right?
We figure we can make the 160km to Villa Tunari in maximum three hours so we have time for an afternoon visit in the national park. If it is open that is…Mother Nature had other plans.
The first 40 or so kilometres go as planned until we have to stop behind a long line of cars. There is a checkpoint a few hundred meters ahead. Probably a small congestion due to just one person with a hangover in the booth. After 15 minutes of not moving even a centimetre we figure something must be wrong and one of the locals in the car in front of us comes over. He speaks perfect English and explains the situation. This is the beginning of the tropical part of the country and with that comes the rain. It has rained so heavily that part of the road has been blocked by mudslides for the last two days. Traffic now only flows in one direction at a time. That explains why there is a steady flow of cars coming towards us, but we are not moving. He has spoken to the police at the checkpoint, and they will open the road in our direction in one hour.
There are more one-way restrictions further up and he tells us to be patient. His brother came this way yesterday and it took him 17 hours to get to Santa Cruz. A car going in the other directions stops in front of our helpful friend, there is a quick exchange of words and he moves on. “He says, just don´t go that way.” we are told. Well, we kind of have to, so we go over to the food stands that are very conveniently located across the street and stock up on water, crackers and whatever “road food” we can find.
An hour later we are let through. After the checkpoint the road is perfect and we move at normal speed for another 20km feeling relieved. What chaos? We thought and agreed that the guy was full of shit.
Well No he wasn´t. We get stuck at another roadblock for two hours and after that another one just for good measure which is where we pass the worst bit. The road is not blocked by a mudslide here, half of it is plain and simple missing, washed away by massive amounts of water. Once past there we start moving again. First slowly and then back to normal. The amount of traffic, especially trucks, lined up is insane. The line is several kilometres long. Luckily the trucks have comfortable cabins with a bed in it because the ones at the rear are going to need it.
Parts of the road have simply been washed away
While in other areas parts of the mountain have been washed onto the road
We have done the last 40km in about 8 hours and it is getting dark with 40km to go to Villa Tunari. Just to finish off the day in good spirits it starts to rain. A proper tropical storm. Rain is coming down in ropes accompanied by loud and close strikes of lightning.
I do not miss my bike right now.
We arrive in complete darkness and pouring rain to Villa Tunari and manage to find a cheap hotel. The first one we found shamelessly tried to take advantage of the bad weather and figured they could ask desperate strangers for 100USD for a simple room. Forget it. We would rather sleep in the car.
The next morning the rain has stopped and the last 320km to Santa Cruz de la Sierra are uneventful. Apart from Lorraine almost adopting a street dog (again) it was incredibly cute, I will give her that 🙂
The Villa Tunari street dogs having breakfast together
Some of the rather surreal sights in Bolivia
This is our last stop before we part ways and I fly home, so we have booked a room at a nice hotel with a pool. Turns out it is inside a gated community. This is apparently the nice part of town and on this road alone there are five gated communities. This is clearly where the money is. This type of settlement is getting more and more common and causing lots of debates about societies being divided into the “haves” and the “have not’s”. I understand the concern, but if you have had your house broken into five times in a year, what are you to do?
Being a biker the sure sign that we are inside the gates, is the bikes that I notice parked in front of some of the houses. The most popular bikes in Bolivia are 125 and 250cc Chinese bikes that are just everywhere. I go for a walk in the community and spot a K1200R, a R6 and a Fazer 1000. They most likely don´t park those on the street down town.
We don´t see much of Santa Cruz as we are busy packing all our stuff for the flights and also just want to relax together. In two days it is time to say goodbye for two months. We do find time to go to the local malls cinema multiplex centre and watch the new Starwars movie. Like hotels and airports these places are alike everywhere. If I had been beamed here I could not tell you if I was in Bolivia or Boston or Rome. Just one more reason why we prefer overland travel, because that is where the diversity is.
It has been an amazing trip / honeymoon and neither of us want it to end, but reality has a nasty habit of catching up to you. Lorraine will go back to Salta and get her bike and continue through Central America, but I am going home. I have to be in the office Monday morning. Work. This thing that pays for all this. Remember that.
I choose to focus on the positive aspects of going home, like being able to choose between more than two pairs of pants to wear or going shopping in the local supermarket where they have all the stuff I like and I have a big fridge to put it in. Besides I enjoy the privileged of actually liking my job and the company I work for. I just had the longest holiday off of my life, got married to the woman of my dreams and had a fantastic honeymoon, met lots of awesome people and saw some of the planets most extreme and beautiful places. I went to the biggest salt flat in the world, the driest place in the world, the highest located lake in the world, drove past volcanoes, at some point on one, watched pink flamingos fly by right above my head in formation, rode a motorcycle over a mountain pass as high as the peak of Mont Blanc, watched sunsets over the Pacific and Lake Titicaca and the Atacama desert, chewed coca leaves for breakfast, got blown of my bike in Patagonia and loads more that I will remember in little bits and it will make me smile every time for years to come, so who am I to complain.
Life is good.