19 October, 2012

Day 104, 542km: To Potosi, Boliva

Starting my day in La Paz, I didn't really know where I was headed. Packing the bike in front of the hotel I met Andrey and Peter, two Czechs riding the Americas as well! They just arrived and I was just leaving. We exchanged contact and will probably meet at some point!

Once all set and ready, I hoped on the bike into a general southward direction, my default "I don't know where I'm going" compass heading a.k.a azimuth. There were two big towns on the southern route towards Uyuni. Ururo first and then Potosi. I figured I'd stop for the night in one of the two. Little did I know at this point I would end up staying at both cities.

Gas in Bolivia. Top quality, top supply, top service.
So when you go to the gas station, you either buy Super, Normal, Regular, Premium, Beyond Premium or whatever it's called. Sometimes there's a little number next to the gas name. 89, 91, 95, 98. Some of you know that's the Octane rating for the gas you buy.
But what's the Octane rating, anyway? Well, to keep it short, the number represents how likely the gas is to explode by itself when compressed. The higher the number, the less likely is the gas to auto explode when compressed.
So the more you engine compresses the gas (modern engines do that for better performance) the higher octane rating gas you need to use.

That's the problem in Bolivia. The gas is of low quality (low octane rating) and therefore can potentially destroy modern engines, like the one of the bike I drive. Filing-up at gas stations like the one above is therefore always a bit of a gamble.

Bolivia tollway. Wonderful.
The road south from La Paz is rather boring and empty. So it was doubly great to meet other riders along the way.

Left to right, Sonia, Hector and Daniel
The trio of Argentinians riders when coming back home after a trip to Peru and across Bolivia. I happened to meet them along the road and we decided to drive together for the rest of the day.

Lengthy sections of empty Altiplano between towns
 The weather was good however and so we made quick progress across the Bolivian Altiplano. All day long we were above 4000m. I'm starting to get used to it, it's been more than a week that I'm driving at 35000m+ and there's no more headaches.

Bolivian police check-up
I didn't have many encounters with the Bolivian police this far. For the check-up above, I was only asked to produce my driving license. No vehicle title, import permit, no insurance. My Thai motorcycle driving license was enough to please the officer. I guess he wasn't in the mood for scams.

Entrance to Oruro
Early in the afternoon we reached the city of Oruro. The entrance was marked by a roadblock of trucks, protesting for various reasons.

The main reason for the protest, apparently, Oruro's customs
Luckily, a roadblock isn't much of an obstacle when you're on a motorcycle. We just had to find our way around the trucks and were free to drive into Oruro. Luckily the town's gas station was well supplied and we continued, headed for Potosi.

What I found funny and difficult to understand was that the truck drivers were protesting against the city's customs department, although the nearest border is 200km away from the city. Or perhaps the provincial jurisdiction extends a lot further towards the western border with Chile. There wasn't any protester to ask these questions to, so we left with more questions than we had coming in.

A town proud of its mining heritage
 Stopping in Oruro for fuel, I tried in vain to inquire on the gas' octane rating, to be answered that the gas was pure, without any octane. Those who followed the octane explanation above will understand why I didn't bother asking further and just prayed that the gas wouldn't be too shitty.

Road after Oruro towards Potosi
The second part of the way gave us much better driving. Hector, Sonia and Daniel were riding faster than me. More experienced and on road bikes, they raced across the country side and I caught up to them when they stopped to refill their tanks.

The day was coming to an end, we still had 200km to go
None of us really anticipated the fact that the last 200km of the day would be mountain roads. Which meant we'd arrive in Potosi around an hour after dark. In this kind of situation, not being alone is definitely a huge plus. You can "share" the lights of the bike ahead of you, switch regularly so that it's not always the same one in front and generally feel more relaxed since we're more visible.

Slightly before the night fell, the road went across a small valley with lots of cattle in it. Driving carefully across it, my eyes were focused on a group of Lamas to the right of the road. My attention was on them, in case one of them decided to gallop across the road just as I passed their group.
So I didn't see the group of sheep on the left side of the road until they were almost in front of me.
I braked as hard as I could and the ABS kicked-in, avoiding a certain fall. I was still going too fast and wouldn't have time to come to a full stop, so I turned slightly towards a gap between the sheep, hoping for the best.

Luckily for me and for the sheep, I didn't hit them. Hector and Silvia, two-up on their bike had a hard braking and barely avoided them as well.

Cool views up there in the mountains
The night fell and the mercury with it. Driving in the last minute of twilight, I had another very close encounter with a sheep. This time it was a lone sheep who -I have no better explanation- jumped down a cliff and landed in the middle of the road. So after the emergency braking I had the opportunity to practice emergency  swerving as well. Fun times. Luckily I made it this time too.

Everyone was relieved to finally be in Potosi
We arrived around an hour after the night fell at the hostel in Potosi. Everyone was visibly relieved. The three would then continue on their way south the next day (crossing back into Argentina!) while I would head west towards the Salar de Uyuni.

Take care guys, hope you made it OK back home in Tucuman!
Guillaume

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