My time in Bolivia was much longer than originally anticipated! Mainly in part to the invitation I received from my new friend and mechanic Reka. If you're reading this and plan on visiting Sucre around Easter Weekend, You NEED to contact this guy, you won't regret it. Contact me for his info!!
|The Ultimate Invitation|
For only $70 USD/450Boliviano I got the following:
- Entry for 3 days and 2 nights
- Hat and Jersey
- Full Support for any problems encountered, support vehicles also carried all my stuff
- Hotel rooms
- CD of photos taken throughout the event
- Breakfast and Dinner
- The best friends I could ever ask for, I met some of the most incredibly nice people ever!!!!
The first day:
The ride started like a race, each rider started on there own with one minute gaps between riders, but because I had no clue about the route and where to go, I was allowed to start with my new friend Reka. We started out like bats out of hell, Reka was making me work for my ride, we were driving through the streets of Sucre like none of the laws applied to us :) It was little scary but for the last 4 months I've learned how to manage the crazy traffic in South America, I like to call this style of driving "Aggressive Defensive", if you're not aggressive you'll end up making no progress but if you're not defensive you'll end up a statistic. It actually starts to feel like a video game and when people see that you're not timid they end up giving you the attention you deserve. For instance, at one point, a driver saw me coming down the left median and pulled in his mirror to give me the room I needed. Nobody wants to get in an accident, in traffic especially, its usually just going to be a headache with no injuries, just vehicle damage and time wasted figuring out who was at fault and dealing with the cops. And the cops here get no respect and are all considered lazy and always want a bribe of some sort. Anyways, back to the first days ride....We were on our way out of the city when we noticed a couple of the riders stopped on the side of the road, we stopped to see what was going on, well, it turned out that a dog ran out right in front of one of the guys, he ended up wrecking. Thankfully he wasn't hurt and no damage was done to the bike but unfortunately the dog wasn't so lucky, they were pretty sure it was dead :( But in all of South America this is common, there are sooooo many stray dogs, its actually my biggest danger when riding, not only because they are unpredictable and run out into the street but I've also been bitten several times when they come out and chase me, my $500 boot investment is coming in quite handy, although heavy and built more for moto-X, the thick plastic offers protection against dog bites as well.
After we got out of town the scenery changed rapidly, we cruised well kept pavement roads through the amazing mountains of Bolivia. The scenery was breathtaking and I finally got a much deserved opportunity to sit back, relax and breath the fresh mountain air. We made a couple stops here and there to meet up with Reka's friends, take break and pose for some pictures before reaching our first section of off road fun.
After about 60 miles of road riding we get to our first section of back roads where we spend the rest of the day. The roads are rough riding but lead us to some of the most amazing views. We didn't do much stopping the entire ride so pictures are few and far between, fortunately there was multiple photographers along the routes taking action shots of the riders. Not many of the gringo, but the ones I was in were perfect. Our first night was in Sopachuy, a super small town located in the middle of nowhere. When I first entered the town I was sure that we were interrupting a town function, as I rounded a corner in town I was surprised when I encountered a large crowd of people, a stage announcing something in Spanish and live music. As I continued to follow Reka I spotted other riders and continued to drive past the crowd that assembled who were applauding our arrival. Was this for us? Am I in a Twilight Zone episode? Well....as it turns out, it was for us, I didn't find out til later on that we had a Bolivian celebrity riding with us, Walter Nosigilia. Walter and his sons all have raced in the Dakar over the last few years, Walter finished 3rd, 5th and held 1st place for a good portion of the race before he had a race ending mechanical problem. He level of celebrity spilled over to everyone in the caravan and we all got to revel in fame for the weekend.
That night was pretty quiet, the town put together a buffet dinner for all the riders. The remainder of the night was spent mainly listing to those around me talk and laugh as they compared stories about that days ride and if I could guess stories of past rides. Those who sat closest did there best to include me but my lack of Spanish hindered how deep the conversation went but the gesture meant more than they'll ever know. I went to bed that night frustrated that my Spanish hindered my experience but truly exhausted because of the unspoken bond that was shared. A feeling that I've never had before that day.
The 2nd day started out with the others rustling about, getting there motos ready and dressing in protective gear as they prepared for the days adventure. The sound of rumbling engines filled the air but the sound of laughter had a greater presence then that of the motos. The mischief of the night before was obvious, apparently there was a great deal of fun had in other rooms the night before. It was clear that many of the revelers would be riding with a bit of a hangover today but that didn't diminish there excitement. Thankfully I refrained from such shenanigans and would be riding with a well rested body and mind, for this day would turn out to be the best day. It might not have been so if I were hungover!! The ride started out same as before with riders taking off at timed intervals, the difference today was that we had an audience watching our start. Locals lined the street as we prepared for take off. As each rider set off in motion the applause of the audience overcame the sounds of the engines and the riders who were able to, showed off there talents by screaming down the road front wheel in the air. For the rest of us the applause was equally enthusiastic but we were just as happy with both wheels kissing the ground. This day was the day I really got comfortable riding without my bags, the freedom from the decreased weight and size was obvious as my speed increased, my smile widened and my adrenaline soared. I quickly caught up with bikes that started before me and made my first passes on this trip. I still followed Reka because my lack of knowledge about our route but eventually became more comfortable and realized that if I did come across any change in direction options I could just wait for someone and then take the route they took. Once I reached this comfort level I shot passed Reka like he was standing still (his words, not mine). The shot below was taken moments before I would leave Reka in the dust!!
This was a great day with amazing scenery, grueling technical trail riding as well as a couple river crossings! The first river crossing was a little intimidating at first, the water was deep and this would be my first river crossing in over a month. I ended up successfully crossing and also came to the other side completely dry as if Moses was helping my by parting the way for me;) Unfortunately a couple bikes didn't make it through the river crossing as smoothly as I did but when you have friends standing by to ensure a successful crossing, after the laughing stops, they come and help you pick up your bike:)
My plan, mentioned earlier, for this day worked flawlessly, well......until I came to the change of direction point. It turns out that I wasn't the only one with this plan, I met the other guy with the same plan and with a couple confusing hand signals and misinterpreted Spanish, a wrong turn was decided on. Eventually , after riding what seemed to be familiar terrain, we ended up in a town that we had already been in before realizing the mistake we made:( But at least we could easily get to the town we were supposed to be in by taking the highway, the only down side is that we missed a little bit of the off road fun. The upside to our mistake is that it may have been a blessing in disguise, because on this same route, Reka lived up to his name and wrecked his baby:( He as well got a little lost and took some advise from a local that happened to be wrong. The local said that his best choice between right and left would be right, well, he was wrong. As Reka crested a hill, at a relatively high speed, he was surprised to see that the road was no longer there, there instead was a large ravine that readily gobbled up his bike. Quick thinking on his behalf prevented a much worse scenario, he was able to lay the bike on its side as he turned it. This kept the bike from entering straight on which would have surely ruined his front fork and left him stranded. This choice left him with some cosmetic damage mainly as well as a broken foot peg and brake lever. Although damaged, the bike was still rideable and able to get him to the final destination for the night. The worst part was that the brand new LED lights, that he installed 2 days ago, the right one was now trashed:( But that didn't change his demeanor one bit, his enthusiasm for the days adventure was that much greater, for now he had a story to tell everyone at dinner and laugh about it over food and booze. As we pulled into town, the same scenario played out as the night before, it was nice being a celebrity for these 2 days and this day was filled with the same enthusiasm from the crowd but it also included me giving out my autograph to a handful of kids. I didn't want to break it to them that my autograph wasn't worth much but the smiles on there faces meant that I and the other 80 riders had been the highlight of there day and I hope that what they saw that day inspires them someway somehow. As we pulled into town and parked the bikes I was introduced to a new drink, Chicha. It's an alcoholic beverage that has a unique fermenting process. This process, which gives some a reason to not try it, includes someone, usually women of the village, chewing the corn then spitting it into water and left for weeks to ferment. I'm not sure that this was the process used here but it didn't bother me, I love trying new and unusual food and drinks and if thats how they do things then no harm done.
After the day time festivities quieted down the real celebrations started and i was introduced to some real culture, stuff you would never see on a bus tour. This is Easter weekend remember, so the communities we visit, devout Catholic communities, were having there own festivities separate from having a bunch of yahoos on motos reeking havoc. After I finished dinner I decided to go on a stroll through the town, I followed the sound of a drum that I could hear from the hotel, as I came around the corner I noticed a group of people, some dancing, some sitting and listening to the music and others playing instruments. As I got closer I noticed that people stopped dancing, eyes started focusing on the gringo walking towards them, the music then died. At this point I started to feel that I was imposing, then I noticed something strange on the ground, a headless goat. At this point I got a little nervous and decided that this wasn't something touristy that I should see so I turned around and went back to the hotel. Later on that same goat would make an appearance that was new to me to say the least, if you've been following my facebook post you've already seen the video of this appearance. I got back to the hotel and got the scoop on what the plans were for tonight, since its the final night I figure I need to partake in the shenanigans. So at first I get invited to hang out with the old guys and drink and chew coca leaves but I'm quickly adopted by the young guys who find it funny to teach me things that I should never say in public and teach me how to drink irresponsibly, this is the night I learn the scorpion drinking technique, it's quite messy and you can end up with alcohol in your eye. I'll show you the technique if you like! I also am told about the festivities about to take place, they will commence at midnight and are something that you'll never forget. The customs of the community begin after mass is let out, at which time a bull will be waiting outside, this bull has a rope around its neck but not tight, just tight enough for the two men, one on either side, can control the general direction of the bull and try to prevent any major trauma induced by the horns of the bull. The bull will be taunted by the church goers up and down the main street, I still don't know what or if this signifies anything significant but it is quite amusing if you take out the animal cruelty part. All of this is taking place while a parade of sorts is going on, the same music I heard earlier is now being played in the streets but now it's ok for the gringo to be there. As I wander up and down the street I have my second encounter with the headless goat, this time the goat has rope tied around its front legs and rear legs. The other end of the ropes are controlled by 2 people and as they walk in front of the band they vigorously whip the goat around, kind of like how kids swing a jump rope while their friends jump but minus the friends jumping and throw in the violent slamming of the goats body on the road. It's a great way to tenderize the meat before you cook and eat it, who knows, maybe thats what they were doing!
Shortly after the bull running started I come across a frantic group of people, it turns out that the bull got a little revenge and the victim was one of our guys. I'm a little terrified at first but am reassured that he is fine but had to get taken to the hospital. The next day I find out he got 24 stitches in the side of his head but when I see him on the street the next day he's nothing but smiles and laughter as he tells his story to his friends.
As the night goes on, the young ones now decide to teach me the technique of picking up the local girls or "choletas" and the technique works first time. All I had to do was say "hello" in english, I was ignored when I tried "hola" but as soon as I used english, bam, I was talking to a local girl. It went no further than a walk and talk (more of a slur by that point) but it was good fun. By this time it's well past my bedtime, I stumble home and fall asleep quickly.
The next morning is similar to the prior morning and although I was out drinking with the boys i'm surprisingly well rested and in no pain. As I walk around in search of breakfast I run into one of the youngsters who I was out with and he can't say the same about his condition, he looks awful, so awful in fact that he has decided to load his moto in the back of a truck and not ride at all today:) At this point I feel pretty accomplished, I just partied with a bunch of kids and fared way better the next day, WIN! I'm saddened that this is the final day of riding but am excited about the ride ahead, today we will be riding to the top of the highest peak in the area, I think the height was around 15K ft, I really need to write these posts closer to the time that they happen, I don't realize how much I've forgotten until I sit down to write. The ride up is great, super technical and the views once again are amazing.
This is a great way to finish the weekend. After we complete this portion we head back to town and start to say our farewells, this will the be the end of the trip. Everyone will go back home, most back to Sucre but there is nothing planned after this. I make my rounds and find it difficult to express how grateful I am for this opportunity and how lucky I am to meet each and everyone I have. The feeling seems mutual and I know that I will always have a home in Sucre. Reka and I meet back up and ride back to Sucre together, the ride is peaceful and uneventful as we weave through the mountain roads. Once at Reka's place we talk a little and arrange to meet up tomorrow and go over the bikes to make sure they're ready for the next adventure. I set off to get back to my housing, shower, eat and rest, I also share my adventure with the others staying at the house.
After a good nights rest I return to Reka's and begin the process of tearing down the bike and looking for any damage while going through and tightening any bolts that may have been jostled loose from all the bumpy terrain. This proves to be a necessity as I find a precariously loose bolt that has backed itself almost completely out, the good news is I caught it just in time, the bolt found is 1 of two that hold the rear subframe to main frame, a pretty important bolt you might say. The bad new is that because the bold had been loosened so much the torquing of the frame has crack a piece of metal that the gas tank secures to. Thankfully, Reka has a welder and we take care of the problem pretty easily. After the bike is inspected and is ready to roll I make plans with Reka for one last dinner and drink together that night, this will be our farewell, i'm saddened about having to leave but am grateful for the luck I had just meeting these guys. The time I got to spend with all of them and how much fun I had will be something I will always remember.
That night we meet up at a favorite restaurant of Reka's, initially I thought it was going to be just the 2 of us but I was pleasantly surprised as others started showing up one by one. The night got more and more interesting as it went on, with my best spanish and with the help of Reka, I was able to converse with everyone and share in some laughs about our adventure together. When the food was gone and the others dispersed Reka and I went on a bit of a joy ride through town, as we drove through the city streets Reka relived his childhood with me and told me stories about how he and Walter Nosiglia reeked havoc on the town as teenagers. The stories proved that we weren't much different although we grew up on different sides of the planet. After my guided tour of the city Reka dropped me off for the night.
The next day I made my rounds with my friends, or should I say my family? my time here, 3 weeks, although short in time was enough time to share a bond that only travelers have. During my time here I was well taken care of, just like family. When I was sick, the people I lived with went out of their way to get me what I needed to make me feel better and all without even asking. When I needed something specific for my travels that was difficult to find in South America, they went out of there way to help me find it, sometimes taking hours out of the day to do so. I really felt like I was at home although I am thousands of miles away. I will truly miss everyone that I had the pleasure of meeting, they will always be family in my mind and I hope that one day I can meet up with them again, until that day happens I will learn from their hospitality and do my best to make those around me feel the same way. After my rounds are made with the family I shared a home with I go and visit my teacher one last time, Carla is definitely included in this extended family of mine, she has shown nothing but kindness towards me and did more than her share in making my stay in Sucre unforgettable, if it wasn't for her I would have never experienced any of this, she made everything happen for me and their is no way that I could ever repay her for her kindness except by learning from her and showing the same kindness for others I encounter. I will miss her and Reka the most, I will remain in contact with them both for the rest of my life, so if you are reading this, if you ever need anything PLEASE ASK ME, I will do anything that I possibly can to help you and PLEASE come visit me if you ever get the chance.
After my visit with my teacher I finally set off down the city streets of Sucre, with tears in my eyes I find it difficult to acclimate to driving again. The traffic is horrible and managing my beast through this traffic at first is difficult but as I continue to ride my experience comes back into play. As I'm exiting the city the memories of the last 3 weeks overwhelm me but as I get further from the city I start to weave down the winding roads, as the curves of the road increase so does the curves of my smile as it widens. I spend the next 6 hours driving with a km wide smile on my face, the combination of the fun road and memories makes the time fly as I make my way to Cochabamba.
The next few days are spent one night at a time, the bonds I make at each stop could never compare to the ones I made in Sucre but I'm sure time is the determining factor. Cochabamba, La Paz and Copacabana all seem to have their appeal but I'm pressed for time and need to move north. These are all places that I may visit another day.....but onward to Peru!!
This whole blog thing is difficult for me so for those who are following along I hope that I'm keeping you interested and inspired to travel like this someday, if you have any suggestions about my writing or any questions please feel free to contact me.