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Old 03-18-2013, 09:28 PM   #147
porkandcorn OP
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Joined: Jan 2011
Location: Portland, Oregon
Oddometer: 296
santa cruz, bolivia to cochabamba, bolivia

as soon as i left my little oasis in santa cruz, the tone changed. i've been waiting for the day when i'd finally meet some policia looking for an easy gringo target, and that day was today. the very first checkpoint north of santa cruz, a cop motioned for me to pull over to the side. in my normal fashion, i gave the thumbs-up and continued through the checkpoint, ignoring him. in fact - this is the recommended protocol, as they normally don't have vehicles, or the patience to chase you down. but he blew his whistle, and two more policia after the checkpoint stepped out in front of the bike and blocked my path. they had machine guns, so i figured maybe it was time to stop...

i pulled over, and i was instructed to go into the office for a shake-down. i played dumb, and made sure my spanish was extra-terrible. on the way in, i banged my helmet on the door frame, because it was made for smurfs. i then almost knocked a wall mount tv off it's stand. it was a pretty impressive entrance. after a stern lecture about the tv, i was instructed to cough up my documents. i made copies of my passport and my bolivian entry documents, in case they were held for ransome. they all checked out and then he said i owed a 50.00 boliviano (8.00 USD) 'road tax'. well, this is really a beer fund for him and the boys, because the receipt was a standard issue receipt that you could probably buy in a supermarket. he looked like he needed a beer, and so did the other 5 guys staring at me. so i paid with a smile, knowing that if i put up any resistance, i would be guaranteeing a long, boring wait in that office. i left, and as i went out, i pretended to almost hit the door again. they laughed. they weren't bad guys, i was just an obvious payday in what is otherwise very likely a low-paying job. it's part of the adventure.

line for gas, yapacani, bolivia by porkandcorn, on Flickr

i went through another 2 checkpoints. at one, i was not requested to stop. at the second, i was, but i continued through and there was no chase or machine-gun backup at that one. about 50 km later, i came to another checkpoint. there was no officer there, but at this checkpoint was the infamous pull-wire across the road. the pull-wire is a crowd-favorite, controlled by a dirty man that usually looks drunk or asleep or both. he pulled it tight, and it raised up blocking my path. again, i was asked to an office where - again - i was asked for documents. after the last checkpoint, i took the 'receipt' that they stapled to my immigration document and put it in another pocket. i had a feeling that this was a signal to other policia down the line that i was ripe for the picking. i asked straight-away what the fee was. they said 100.00 boliviano. i pulled out the receipt, explaining in my best spanish this time that i already paid, and that i was getting tired of paying. (a different technique.) i only ended up paying 20.00, because i said that's all i had with me in cash. they didn't take visa. i presume neither american express, diner's club, or paypal.

a few towns after that checkpoint, there was some kind of strange commotion as i rode in. there was smoke coming from a ditch, with a lot of on-lookers. as i passed, i realized that it was a van in the ditch, on fire, with people in it and scrambling out of it. not a good scene. i continued past, not about to stop and get involved. coming toward me was a truck full of guys with machine guns looking like they meant business. after that, a military truck with more guys and machine guns. some people ran into the jungle that were next to the burning van.

i don't know what was going down in that town, but i didn't stick around to find out. i heard route 4 from santa cruz to cochabamba referred to as the 'ruta de coca', as in - cocaine - coca. cultivation of coca is legal in bolivia, as far as i know. but i have a feeling that there are still quite a few trades surrounding that industry that are under the table. so it was a bit of a weird morning. as i drove during the day, i saw little old ladies in traditional dresses and hats drying coca leaves on big blue tarps, pushing them around in the sun to dry them evenly. i wanted to stop for a picture for the blog, but it never felt right. i behaved and was a good gringo.

interestingly, the very apparent and sudden prosperity of santa cruz is - in part - fueled by cash from the drug trade. i found this out by asking people, and got the same answer every time. i didn't want to misrepresent the city with false information. it is not a point of pride for cruzenos (people from santa cruz), but it is commonly accepted as a fact. all that drug money then trickles down to normal people - good people - entrepreneurs, business owners, and families in the area. don't be so quick to pass judgment on those cruzenos - some of those dollars are probably from your community. the cruzenos are just trying to make a living like anyone else in the world.

after i passed through the lowlands of farms and tropical savanna, i started to climb into the highland. there was mist in the trees, and it collected on my visor as i zipped along into the green hills. i climbed higher, and the fog became more thick. the road worsened, with deep grooves in the pavement from all the heavy truck traffic. i was like the road was melting under all those big trucks - creeping up the mountain and belching out thick heavy smoke.

route 4, villa tunari, bolivia by porkandcorn, on Flickr

at 3,500 meters (about 12,000 feet), the air was very, very cold and wet. i turned on the grip warmers and my fog lights, and continued on, not feeling like stopping to take so many photos. usually, there was no space to pull over that was safe. i finally crested the pass, and in the distance could see a few rays of sun peaking through. i descended a bit and as i did, the chill in the air receded some, but not much. another day of extreme environmental changes confused the bike's computer a little bit, but she did much better today. i went from 300 - 3,500 meters, and from 90 farenheit to about 35.

route 4, sunset, sacaba, bolivia by porkandcorn, on Flickr

foggy mountain sunset, sacaba, bolivia by porkandcorn, on Flickr

as i learned from michi, the tech in santa cruz, i will now reboot the computer every morning after i have extreme changes like this. i simply disconnect the battery for 15 minutes, turn the key on to cycle the computer, turn it off for a minute to let the stepper motor find it's tolerances, then turn it on and let it idle for 15 minutes. this is something that i was not aware i needed to do before this trip. there are pros and cons to a fuel injected motor. the pros outweigh the cons in comparison to a carbureted motor, which would probably run terribly or not run at all at the top of these passes and in these extreme changing conditions.

foggy mountain sunset 2, sacaba, bolivia by porkandcorn, on Flickr

tomorrow to la paz, bolivia, the highest (defacto) capital in the world, where i will likely test the pros and cons of the human body at elevation. i hope my hotel has oxygen, because with how i feel now, i think i am going to need it - i'm having a hard time catching my breath currently, and that means a lousy night's sleep.

cochabamba to la paz by porkandcorn, on Flickr

porkandcorn screwed with this post 03-18-2013 at 09:54 PM
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