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xs400 10-23-2012 02:06 PM

Bolivia Off-Road

Bolivia Off-Road

Days 1 and 2

Date of travel - October 2 through October 17.

As an early 60th birthday present, I gave myself a present - 2 weeks off road motorcycling in Bolivia. Maybe I should say my
wife gave me an early birthday present because she let me go!! Being lazy and not really knowing how to plan it myself, I
instead signed up with Bolivian Motorcycle Adventures for the Highland I tour. (

I flew from San Francisco to Dallas then on to Miami and finally to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

I arrived in Santa Cruz at about 8am – nearly 21 hours after leaving home. I was met at the airport and was driven by van to
the town of Samaipata – about a 3 hour drive – where to tour would begin. I was the only person to have signed up for the tour,
so it was me, the guide (Maarten) and the guides assistant (Irwin).

When I arrived in Santa Cruz it was raining. I was met at the airport and it was off to Samaipata. To be honest, I was glad to
have been picked up and driven to Samaipata for the start of the tour. Riding a motorcycle on the wet roads and in congested
traffic in Santa Cruz would not have been a good way to start my adventure. The don't seem to be too many rules of the road in
Bolivia, stopping at red lights seemed to be optional and Bolivian drivers were very aggressive.

Traffic in Santa Cruz - this is suppose to be a 2 lane road, but no one cares if there are lines on the road specifying lanes.

Once out of Santa Cruz, the rain stopped and the traffic disappeared. We also left the flat, low lands of Santa Cruz and started
to go up into the mountains.

The road from Santa Cruz to Samaipata

In Samaipata, I met my guide and checked into my hotel.

Day 2
After breakfast, I was met by Maarten (my guide) and we went to get the motorcycles. I was given a yellow Suzuki DR650. The first day was just going to be a couple of short rides so I could get to know the bike and to learn some of the local rules of the road - the rules were don't crash, don't get hit bay another vehicle, and don't run into anybody or anything!

In the morning, we headed off for El Fuerte de Samaipata (The fort of samaipata), maybe 8 miles from the hotel. Maarten gave me an excellent description of the history of El Fuerte de Samaipata as we walked around the area.

The road to El Fuerte de Samaipata with Samaipata in the far distance.

The ruins at El Fuerte de Samaipata (

After lunch we took another short ride to visit the local wild animal park. It was populated with monkeys, parrots, turtles,
and some of the local fauna. Many of the monkeys are roaming loose in the park and they will climb up on you. I had the
misfortune of having an overly excited monkey climb on my shoulder. He first tried to remove my hat, then my glasses and when I
reached up to try and keep him from removing my glasses, the monkey bent over and lightly scratched me on the nose. It was only a
small scratch but it did draw blood and I had to be taken inside the office to have some antibiotic put on my nose! I also did
a thorough cleaning of the wound when I got back to the hotel.

A monkey at the animal park – not the one that scratched me.

Day 3
El Ruta del Che.

Today we start our first real day of motorcycling. We will be riding from Samaipata to La Higuera – where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
was killed. along the way, we will also visit the Che Guevara museum in Vallegrande.

The road from Samaipata to Villegrande was paved and an easy ride. While riding to Villegrande, the right mirror on my bike
decided to just fall off for no apparent reason. As I was riding on smooth paved road the mirror just fell off and hit my right
arm and bounced into my lap! I was able to catch it between my leg on the saddle of the bike. I pulled over to show Maarten
the mirror. We were able to buy a replacement mirror in Villegrande.

The road to Viillegrande

Inside the Che Guevara Museum, Villegrande

Che was actually captured alive but the generals in charge of Bolivia at the time, ordered Che's execution.

Getting gas near Villegrande

Leaving Villegrande, the road turned to dirt. The road was maintained, but potholes were just filled with large stones and being the end of the dry season, the road was very dusty. Before this trip, my only real off road riding was when I was in high school about 40 years ago. Luckily for me, my off road skills came back quickly and I did not have any real problems while riding.

The road to La Higuera - the site of Che's death.

Shortly after we left Villegrande, Maarten started having problems with his Honda xr650. He was having problems with the engine missing and low power. Possibly due to dirt in the jets. He made a management decision and decided to go back to Samaipata and get a different motorcycle. Maarten told me to go an ahead the La Higuera and he'd catch up later. So I rode on alone for about 2 hours until I got to the hotel. Maarten showed up about 8pm on blue Suzuki DR650.

Self Portrait on the way to La Higuera

The hotel in La Higuera was quite rustic and did not even have electricity. The hotel was the former telegraph office where Che tried to remain in contact with the rest of the world. Since there was not electricity in the rooms, lighting at night was by candles. Dinner was at a local restaurant where the hosts (owners) were busy chewing on coca leaves and lightly tasting a white powder (cocaine?) while I enjoyed my dinner. There was a single bathroom for the 5-6 room hotel which did have a propane heated shower - so a hot shower was nice after a long dirty day in the saddle.

Statue of Che at the site of his death (execution) I was told that Che did not get much support from the local population for a revolution in Bolivia. The Bolivian Communist party was also not a strong supported of Che.

To be continued

xs400 10-23-2012 02:07 PM

Day 4

La Higuera to Villa Serrano

We left La Higuera early and headed out on dirt roads to Villa Serrano. We were in the highlands at the end of the dry season. This area really doesn't get a lot of rain even in the wet season. Today's ride was 100% dirt road passing over some low passes and crossing the Rio Grande river.

We passed through a few small villages on the way to Villa Serrano. Most of the villages looked deserted, but the locals were either working somewhere or inside. There weren't many people just walking around.

When we arrived in Villa Serrano we found out it was a festival day for the town. It was sort of like the running of the bulls but I only saw the bulls in the corrals. The local young men would get into to corral and play around with the bulls. I think it was more to impress the girls because the bulls were pretty tame.

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Downtown Villa Serrano

To be continued

xs400 10-23-2012 09:28 PM

Day 5

Villa Serrano to Sucre

More dirt roads and some paved to get to the next destination, Sucre. Along the way we stopped for lunch and toured a local market.

The homes of the local farmers do not have a lot of color

There were quite a few animals on the roads. In this case goats, but it was not unusual to see cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, or llamas on or near the roads.

Women buying and selling goods in a local market

Shoe sales! These shoes were made from tires.

Downtown Sucre

GB 10-24-2012 03:21 AM

Great ride and birthday present. Thanks for taking us along. :D

xs400 10-24-2012 01:46 PM

Day 6

Sucre to Potosi

The road from Sucre to Potosi was paved all the way. Today was primarily riding through mountains and planes.

To be Continued

xs400 10-25-2012 04:26 PM

In the silver mines of Potosi

When I first arrived in Potosi, I noticed the elevation (13,400) feet) fairly soon. After checking into the hotel, I went for a walk around town to find the Plaza - all the towns we visted have at least one plaza when there is usually a large park like area surrounded on 4 sides by city streets, with a church or cathedral facing the plaza. Shops, restaurants, and markets also can be found facing or near the plaza. Anyway, after walking 8-10 blocks I found the plaza and I bought a beer and some chips to take back the the hotel room. The walk back to the hotel was all uphill and I was quite out of breath from the high altitude when I got back.

My second day on Potosi was a challenge - the night before I started having problems with the altitude. I had a bad headache and trouble breathing. On the second day we were suppose to go to see the local silver mine and the mint. But I felt pretty bad that morning because of the altitude. So I got some medication for the altitude sickness and rested all morning. Coca tea also helps a lot with altitude sickness, so I drank 2 pots of coca tea in the morning and by lunch time I was fine. So after lunch we went of the silver mine to see how the miners work and to blow up some dynamite!

Before going to the mine, we stopped at the local market to pick up some things. I needed to get some dynamite and also gifts for the miners that we going to show me how to set off the dynamite. At one store I bought 2 sticks of dynamite, 2 blasting caps with 3 minute fuzes, 3 bags of coca leaves, a bottle of 98% alcohol, and a bottle of orange soda. All that stuff cost about $8 US. Anyone can by dynamite at the local market - it's all part of doing business in Potosi.

Before going in the mine I donned a hard hat with light and overalls. Climbing down into the mine was somewhat challenging but not a problem. It would, however, be a problem is you were overweight because I did have to crawl through some tight spaces. Soon after entering in the mine, I was told that the miners were setting up explosives further inside the tunnel. At the right time, we were told to cover our ears - then a series of 15 explosions took place down the mine shaft. I could feel the pressure wave from each explosion - exciting!!. Later, one of the miners showed me how to set the fuse in dynamite and I lit the fuse before we made a hasty retreat back through the tunnel to a safe place and we waited for the explosion. After the explosion, they showed me some veins of the minerals before going out of the tunnel. I left the 1 stick of dynamite and blasting cap, the coca leaves, alcohol, and orange soda as thank you gifts to the miners for showing me their work.

BTW, I am way too tall to be a miner in Potosi. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet and overalls, I'm 6'1" and I must have banged my head more than a dozen times inside the mine - but the helmet saved me from harm. In most places the tunnels were about 5 to 5 1/2 feet high but sometimes only 4 1/2 feet high. There were places I could stand up straight, but they were few and far between. Climbing in and out of the mine also required climbing through some tight spaces.

In the mine with 2 miners, some dynamite and a fuse!

The miners drink that 98% alcohol straight!!! They also give small offerings of alcohol to El Tio - the spirit of the mountain - for good luck and they make offerings to Pachamama - the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes also for good luck. (

Orange soda is just to drink when thirsty.

xs400 10-25-2012 04:26 PM

After spending 2 nights in Potosi, we headed off for Uyuni - the gateway to the largest salt flats in the world - the nearby Salar de Uyuni. ( The salt flats are also the site of lithium mining. Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries.

The ride to Uyuni was only about 150 miles but the scenery was great and the road was mostly paved. We did see a lot a llamas along the way.

Llamas hanging out near the road. The llamas did not seem to have any significant rear of people.

A truck stop where we had lunch on the road to Uyuni

Our lunch that day was soup - I was hungry so I had 2 bowls of soup for lunch.

The road to Uyuni

Nearing Uyuni with the salt flats in the far distance.

After arriving in Uyuni we took a side trip to the train graveyard outside Uyuni.

After checking into the hotel, we took a walking tour of the town before having dinner
Dinner that night was llama steaks and potatoes. Llama tastes a lot like beef liver!!

xs400 10-25-2012 04:27 PM

Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni

Uyuni is a town of about 21,000 people and it is the gateway to the Sala de Uyuni - a vast salt plane in southwest Bolivia. The salt plane is at about 12,000 feet and the salt can be several meters deep in places. The salt plane is flat as far as the eye can see and the Salar de Uyuni covers over 4,000 square miles!

Downtown Uyuni - not much happening here

I don't know if it was pay day or a run on the bank, but there was a line waiting to get in.

Entering the Salar de Uyuni - that shack up ahead, it's made out of salt!

On the Salar de Uyuni

On the Salar, followed by our support vehicle.

We rode about 50 miles across the flat Salar. Our destination was an island in the middle of the Salar. It is called Cactus island by the locals. The major vegetation is these tall cactus and other than 2 imported llamas, I did not see any other animal life. The only water the island gets is trucked in for use by the local park ranger or by the rain that falls in the rainy season. I was there near the end of the dry season and the island was very dry. The island is completely surrounded by the salt plane.

Because the salt is so flat and featureless, there is little perspective for photography and it is easy to make some some unusual photos.

After getting off the Salar, it's very important to get the bikes and vehicles cleaned. The salt is very corrosive. I was specifically told to avoid riding in any areas where there was standing water because the spray from riding through the saturated salt water was really bad for the bikes. Interestingly, there were places where people (guides) had cut holes in the salt to show that the water table was only a few inches below the dried salt. Below the dried salt was saturated saltwater.

There are several vehicle cleaning places in Uyuni, just outside the salt plane. This was our first stop after getting off the Salar.

Flyingavanti 10-25-2012 05:43 PM

Thanks for the ride report!:clap

Johnnydarock 10-25-2012 06:00 PM

Lovin your report. Keep the photos coming!


Bear Chow 10-25-2012 06:11 PM

Thanks for the report, I was in Saavadra and Santa Cruz in 1986. Geesh that was a life time ago. Can you please include a review of the tour facilitators.? How would you rate Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure?

stickman1432 10-26-2012 01:10 AM

Great report on Bolivia..............I haven't seen it report on before and you are opening up our knowledge for the ADVrider. The salt flats were very interesting.................Keep em comin.............:wink::wink:

xs400 10-26-2012 08:56 AM

Notes on hotels and stuff

Many of the hotels we stayed in were what I'd call rustic. All the places we stayed were clean and had soap and shampoo, but a few places where we stayed had limited amenities. We were, of course, out in the middle of nowher so I did not not expect to stay at the Hilton. In town like La Higuera and Uyuni, there are no 5 star hotels, or even 3 star hotels. When we were in bigger cities, the hotels were better equipped. Most places I stayed had wi-fi, but I only got dial-up download speeds. It was OK for email and reading the news, but not for video. A few places I stayed I could use Skype to call my wife at home - but you can't count on that in most places.

Let me tell you about the place we stayed in Uyuni. My room in Uyuni was spartan with no TV or internet but it had a bathroom. There was an electric heater on the wall for when it got cold at night. The bathroom shower in Uyuni was the same as in all my hotels. The bathroom sink only had a faucet for cold water.

The showers in all the hotels I stayed in use an electrically heated shower head for taking a shower. The temperature of the water is controlled by the water flow rate, fast water equals colder water temps. You can see in the pic below the 2 wires going into the shower head. There was usually a circuit breaker in the bathroom connected to the shower head. Now here's where it gets really interesting, the shower head has an electrical coil in it to heat the water. If you reach up to the shower head while the shower is running, you get an electrical shock. Not only that, I found that most of the showers have plastic knobs on the single faucet in the shower. However, in one instance the shower faucet had a metal knob covered in electrical tape. In this case, when I went to adjust the water by turning the faucet, I once again got an electrical shock!! I was the grounding wire for the shower. So I learned early on to be careful and not touch the shower head so I would not get shocked while taking a shower. I also learned how to turn the water on and off in the shower so as to not get shocked. These are important things to know while traveling in Bolivia.

One more thing about the showers, the drains in the showers all ran slow. By the time I was finished taking a shower, I was always standing in 1/2 to 1 inch of water.

My hotel room in Uyuni.

Shower in Uyuni - note the electrical wire going into the shower head!! And only one faucet.

xs400 10-26-2012 10:10 AM


Originally Posted by Bear Chow (Post 19901369)
Thanks for the report, I was in Saavadra and Santa Cruz in 1986. Geesh that was a life time ago. Can you please include a review of the tour facilitators.? How would you rate Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure?

I thought Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure did a great job. I really like motorcycling in different places, besides Bolivia I've also been to Thailand and Mexico. But I'm too busy with work, family and stuff to do all the planning myself. I've found that going on a motorcycle tour works for me. I liked Bolivia Motorcycle Adventure because the price was right - not real expensive - and I got a good feel for off road travel in Bolivia. We didn't stay in 5 star hotels or eat at fancy restaurants and that's just what I was looking for. Yeah, I had a guide, but it was still a great adventure for me.

The support vehicle also helps a lot with carrying the luggage and any spare parts that might be needed.

xs400 10-26-2012 06:37 PM

Uyuni to Oruro

Today would be the longest day riding on the tour so far. We had to leave a little earlier than normal because of the long day riding. We had breakfast at about 7:30 and we were on the bikes by 8:30. The day would have a lot of dirt road riding before hitting pavement as we neared the city of Oruro.

We bid farewell to beautiful downtown Uyuni.

The road from Uyuni to Oruro was fairly level and straight. However, the road was pretty mush washboard, rocks, dust and sand for many miles. There was little traffic on the road. Care had to be taken when crossing any railroad crossing that might cross the road. The railroad crossing were not maintained and there could be a good sized hole in the road near the RR tracks. The closest I came to crashing on the whole tour was when a set of crossing the railroad tracks on this road. I nearly lost it one time when I hit a deep hole between the RR tracks where the tracks crossed the road. I also had to keep an eye out for deep dust, that was also a challenge to keep upright in while riding.

The road leaving Uyuni on the way to Oruro

The road to Oruro - note sheep and llamas in the distance near the road

Careful on those dusty curves

On the way to Oruro, we passed through the town of Challapata - the center of Illegal vehicle trade in Bolivia. As we approached Challapata, there was a strong military police presence. As we passed through the town, I noticed places in the street where it looked like tires had been burning, but now it had been clean up. The town was pretty quiet except for the military police all over the place. As we got to the other side of town there was a road block manned by more military police. At the road block they asked for our papers and i showed my passport and international drivers license to the very nice officer - he was nice, I'm not joking. Anyway, he asked where we were going and where we came from. When we told him we were from Uyuni, he was impressed - it's a long hard road to Uyuni.

After a short stop to have our papers checked, we were bid good luck by the commander and we were sent on our way. Just past the road block were more troops in riot gear - helmets and shields - and an army tank, complete with canon pointing towards the town. Just so the towns folk would know who's in charge.

I learned later on that 2 people had been killed by the police in Challapata a day or 2 before we went through the town. The dead guys had been part of a car smuggling ring. After the killing of the 2 guys, there was a big demonstration by the locals. The demonstration (maybe riot) had to be put down by the military police. Sorry I didn't get any pictures of the troops, taking pictures didn't seem like a good idea at the time.

A town we passed through on the way to Oruro. It seemed like most of the small towns we rode through were nearly deserted. There were people there, they just were not out on the streets.

Typical street scene in downtown Oruro.

The central square or Plaza in Oruro

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