Mar. 3 – Oruro to Rio Mulatos

2009 March 8
by joe

We awake to a very pleasant surprise -. our room here includes a very nice buffet breakfast, the best we have seen in a long, long time! I go down to the health-club to work (again) on the carb, while wally-ball goes on all around me! We load up and head for the border, hoping to be in Argentina by tonight.

We get right out of town, find a good road, and are traveling in a desolate high plain. It is cold, raining, and depressing. Then, at the town of Challapata, we make a very bad decision. We agree to leave the main road, and follow another ‘red line’ on our map that also heads south, to the town of Uyuni, which is near the famous Bolivian salt flats. This decision turned out to be a disaster. It lead to three days of delay and suffering for us and our bikes, and it is a decision I wish I could un-make.

The road we wound up on was not just a bad road, it was a terrible road, really not a ‘road’ at all in many places; it was mud and sand and 3-foot deep ruts and rivers to ford and un-marked trails and every kind of hazard you can imagine, and ones you cannot imagine or believe. At first, we thought it was fun, part of the ‘adventure’. We started down the dirt two-track, for a couple of miles, until we came to a river that looked uncrossable. We then climbed our bikes over huge piles of dirt to get onto a road under construction, that had a bridge over that river, and thought we were pretty clever. Then we encountered more road blocks, and we got around them, but eventually, we had no choice but to get onto the dirt/mud two-track and follow it where it went, which was straight to hell. We encountered more un-bridged rivers and streams than we could count, that had to be forded by driving through them… some were 3 or 4 feet deep, some with very swift current. The mud and loose sand kept our average speed to 10-15 MPH, and much of that was with feet down for survival. This was not fun, it was pure hell. Mile after mile of first gear. No signs or marking, so often we had to guess which fork to take; never sure if we were on the ‘road’ or some goat path. At one mud-hole ‘town’ named Sevaruyor, we locate an old man who sold us gas out of a 5 gallon pail, and we were glad to get it. When we try to leave that town, we are told that the river we would need to cross is too high, too swift for us to cross. We check it out, and have to agree that it looks uncrossable for us. Some locals told us to use the railroad bridge, but that also looks impossible. We have come an awfully long way to have to turn around now.

After searching and asking around, we are told that there is another crossing, further downstream that we may be ble to use. We locate it, and find that people are walking across the river here, with the water just over their knees, but a very swift current. We decide that we cannot drive across here, but maybe we can walk our bikes across, with both of us walking each bike one at a time. We start with first bike, and it is hard; we stop to rest half way across, and then make it to the other side. As we go back for the second bike, we can tell that the river is rising! It is higher now that it was when we started. We get the other bike across, but are exhausted by the effort. Now we have to ride across country to get back to our road.

The road, and the rain, get worse and worse. Water is flowing everywhere, and everything has turned to slippery, slimy mud. After 5 hours of this madness, I finally slide on the mud and fall, getting the left handlebar into my chest. I was only going 10 MPH at the time, but I still feel pretty wasted by now. After we discuss whether or not to stop here and camp or go on, we continue, both of us exhausted and soaked. The rain continues steady and hard. First gear now all the time, struggling to keep upright. Darkness starts to settle, and it is getting pretty desperate for us. Soon after dark, we see lights off in the distance. We have made it to the village of Rio Mulatos, and have high hopes for some food and and shelter from this nightmare.

As we enter the town, we park in front of the only lit building – which claims to be a restaurant-hotel! But before Levi can enter to see what is there, a seeming crazy-man in a federal police uniform starts yelling at him from a nearby doorway, ordering him to come in there. He was the local law, and was so drunk that he staggered about and slurred his words. First off he demanded that I leave the bikes and come into the office as well. Then he demanded money, B/50.00, and was abusive and nasty. When Levi hesitated to call me in, he took out an automatic pistol from his rear waistband, and started waiving it around, and cocking the slide! When I got into the office, he continued his ranting, telling us the we were in Bolivia now, not the USA, and things were different! Waiving the gun all around, cocking and re-cocking the weapon, he acted like a true lunatic. After he had operated the automatic’s slide twice in front of me, and no shell had ejected, I realized that the weapon could not be loaded! This guy was a real jerk of the first order. We tried to reason with him for a few minutes, then I pulled out a B/20.00 note, and handed it to Levi. The crazy-man took it, grumbling something about ‘next time it will be double’;  yea, right! Next time!

We did get a hotel room, in what was the most primitive and basic place you can imagine – rough wood floors, no heat, one bare lightbulb, and a common toilet that made you retch just to walk by it. We were so exhausted we didn’t care. We got food from our landlady, and crashed. I loaded up on pain meds, again, and had a rough night. Unfortunately, we were still in the middle of nowhere, and had only more of the same to look forward to tomorrow.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 March 9
    Marc McCole permalink

    Man, what a god-damn fantastic day. Can only imagine a muddied Levi standing toe-to-toe with a gun-totting lunatic.

  2. 2009 March 10
    Jenn permalink

    The good news is that it appears you have made it out of Bolivia and into Argentina. The even better news is that you will come pretty close to wine country–the area surrounding Mendoza is known for some of the best malbec in the world. Drink up….it will help erase these not so pleasant memories :)