On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, we have the task of finding a mechanical workshop in Uyuni.
All we know is that we have this unknown "clonk clonk clonk" from below the OKA.
We expect that we will have to get the transfer case down again and check the bearings of the shifter.
Luckily we watched well and helped when the box was fixed in Tupiza and will do it on our own this time.
We ask at the service station and are sent to a mechanical garage close by.
The owner of the workshop tells us that he will help us if required and we should come back tomorrow.
So we head out of town and have a cold night sleep ........ the temperature drops to –15 °C ......
On Wednesday morning we are guided to the back of the workshop.
The workshop is nothing else than a flat sandy area with a wall around it.
In one corner there is a "car-painting" shop ..... in other areas trucks and busses are being repaired ......
In our corner we don't disturb the ongoing work (the shop is quite busy!) and we can stay there as long as it is required.
We get the transfer case down with our own tools and are surprised how easy it is.
Then it is time to have a look at it ...... but there is only one screw a bit loose ...... and even after tightening it correctly the "clonk clonk clonk" is not gone ......
So it must be the hand break!
Ruedi has a hard time to remove the park brake drum and then he sees why!
All screws fixing the park brake to the transfer case are loose and one has started touching the screws holding the brake drum.
That's what causes that ugly sound.
Luckily Ruedi has the correct screw in his spares and soon the park break is fixed.
As it gets late we stay in the workshop for the night.
Shortly after midnight Susi wakes up because the inverter has started its fan.
Luckily we have power and can use our electrical cooking plate from South Africa as heater.
It only does that when it is under heavy load ......
When Susi checks she sees that the external power has gone ...... hmmmmmm .... did we blow the fuse with the "heater"?
We would not be surprised with the shaky power they have in Uyuni ......
Well, not much choice than to turn the hotplate off.
On Friday morning around 8 AM suddenly we hear the inverter fan going again ...... what's happening now?
The power has come back and the inverter is loading the batteries!
So quickly we turn on the hotplate and enjoy the warmth it gives.
After all it is some –10 °C outside ......
Around 9 AM the workers come to work.
By now the sun is strong enough that in the sunshine it is warm enough to work.
We watch as the ladies living in the house of the owner make a fire around the tap to unfreeze it.
Once this is done they bring a washing machine from the house and wash clothes.
Funny enough the clothes dry quite well as it is only 20° humidity and the sun "soaks" all humidity up in no time.
It is also interesting to watch the people working in the paint shop.
The front of a truck had previously been fixed and the dented sections filled in with material.
The front is now carefully sandpapered and then washed.
Then it is sprayed very thinly with a metallic colour (in this case pink) which dries almost instantly.
Then the next colour is applied (in this case dark red), also fast drying.
Then some decorative plastic foil (in this case white) is stuck on the part, the wanted pattern cut into it, then the unwanted part of the plastic removed and voila! ... a new looking front of a truck has been created from an old piece of junk.
It is obviously not the first time they are doing it
Late in the afternoon we finish remounting the transfer case.
But as the owner of the workshop is not here and we cannot pay we stay for another night.
We don't mind.
We are just able to heat the OKA to comfortable temperatures before again at midnight the power goes.
At least now we are sure that it was not because of our "heater" that the power had stopped last night!
On Friday morning after another cold night we leave the friendly group of people in the workshop and head into Uyuni.
As we arrive in town we see that the main square is cordoned off and a stage is being prepared.
We ask what is happening and are informed that today is the official welcoming of the Dakar race.
The riders in the motorcycle category will visit Uyuni in 2014.
A minister is expected today and the town is gearing up for it.
As we will be travelling south at the beginning of the next year we wonder on what dates the Dakar will stop in Uyuni.
A friendly lady has a look at the decoration of the stage and reads "February 12 to 15th 2014" to us.
Ok, we will be in Patagonia then so it is too late for us.
Then we start thinking ..... February ...... isn't the Dakar usually in January?
But we haven't time to elaborate on that much longer and head to the immigration office to extend our visas.
We had only received 30 days and this is not enough for all we want to visit.
In Uyuni it is quite easy to extend the visa: Get a copy of the main passport page, visit the immigration office, get a stamp in your passport and off you are ..... and all for free!
The shopping is a bit more adventurous because there is no shopping centre.
So Susi has to go from one shop to the other one and see what they sell.
We finally land in the "dairy products" road and are able to get milk, butter and some vegetable.
After all this shopping we need an ATM for some cash.
As it is close to the main square we come past the stage again.
And what do we see?
The official decoration banners have been covered by an orange canvas ........ no more dates are visible .....
No wonder, the race will come through Uyuni in JANUARY!
Ahhhhhhh Bolivia .......
All set we leave town and head to the train cemetery.
Uyuni once served as a hub for the trains carrying minerals to the Pacific Ocean ports.
The train lines were built by British engineers from the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Companies between 1888 and 1892.
It was strongly supported by the Bolivian President Aniceto Arce.
But in the 1940s the mining industry collapsed and the trains stopped running.
The trains were abandoned, some locomotives just driven off the rails into the sandy ground .......
The useful parts have been taken .... the rest now just sits there .... slowly rusting away in the saline air ......
Some of the graffiti sprayed on is quite funny:
"se necesita un mechanico con experiencia" "Urgente"
"Required a mechanic with experience" "Urgent!"
Even the train cemetery is preparing for the Dakar 2014 ......
(For more details on the Dakar 2014 click www.dakar.com)
Even politics don't stop at the train cemetery ...... a bust of the present president Evo Morales made from junk.......
In the afternoon we leave Uyuni and head north.
We want to visit the Salar de Uyuni, with its 10'582 km2 the world's largest salt flat (Lake Eyre in Australia has 9‘500 km2).
The road towards Colchani is under construction and we wonder how normal cars make it through this........
In Colchani we turn west and reach the edge of the salar.
But we had been advised by Ariel, our tour operator in Tupiza, that as long as we follow the dark marks on the salt we should be fine .... even with our weight ..... as the black marks are the tyre marks left on the most driven tracks where even heavy truck drive onto the salar.
We are a bit nervous as we don't really like driving on salt ........ rather on solid ground ......
We come past some piles of salt where workers collect the salt.
As it is late afternoon nobody is there anymore.
Then we reach the white flat salt pan.
It is a strange feeling to think that there is just a more or less thick salt crust between us and the salt water below .....
We come past the Palacio de Sal (Spanish for "Palace of salt"), a hotel-building built in 1993 - 1995 completely made from 35-cm salt blocks which are used for the floor, walls, ceiling and furniture, including beds, tables, chairs and sculptures.
It even had a saltwater pool!
Today it is only a tourist attraction as a modern salt hotel has been built at the edge of the salar.
Following the dark tracks we travel further and further out on the salt crust.
Just before the sunset we reach the island Incahausi where we will camp for the night.
Tour operator vehicles are parked everywhere and tourists are busy taking pictures of the sunset.
After the sun disappears all the tour operators with their tourists leave ..... we are the only ones staying on ....
It feels as if a blanket of "quietness" sinks down on us ...... not a sound .... not even wind .....
And also the cold sinks down on us ......... we can watch (and feel!) the temperature drop .....
We decide to treat ourselves to a meal in the local restaurant and decide to try Llama.
As there is no power on the island, just some solar power during the day, we enjoy a candle light dinner ......
We set the alarm to 5:45 AM so we can get up to watch the sun rise - theoretically.
And really ..... on Saturday morning at 5:45 AM the alarm starts ringing ........
It is –7.5 °C outside and inside the camper still "cosy" +10 °C.
Susi decides not to get up, it is too cold!
We can hear the tour operator vehicles arriving ...... one after the other ....
Then somebody starts shaking the OKA!
"Time to get up! Sunrise!"
Ok, so Susi quickly gets dressed ...... or better: Wrapped up in as much clothing that she can to still be able to handle the camera ...... and gets out.
Out on the salt plains there are some vehicles too, from the tour operators that don't want to pay the entry fee to the island Incahausi but still have promised their tourists a sunrise on the salar.
The horizon is slowly being painted in pastel colours ..... and then the sun appears ............... and so does Ruedi ..............
As daylight comes we can see how many people have come to watch the sunrise ...... they are all over the place!
So we wait until they have all gone and slowly make our way down.
We come past some large cacti ............................ some of them are quite old .......... or were quite old ............
When we finally come back to the OKA we see that 14 tour operator have arrived.
They are now preparing warm drinks and breakfast for their passengers.
There are small tables at the parking, all made of salt blocks.
It is funny to watch the different styles of the different tour operators.
Some just place a plastic container full of biscuits on the salty surface of the table others place a tablecloth on it and the really fancy ones even spread their passenger's toast!
We prefer the "warmth" of our camper .... at least we have some above zero temperature inside!
After a bit of heating with the hot plate it gets almost cosy ......
Then the tour operators leave but it takes not long and the next group of them appears.
We lose track on how many come and go .....
Later on we take our time and visit the island.
The views out onto the white saltpan are quite impressive.
And it is so quiet ...... silent ........
Then it is also time for us to leave.
We decide to drive the same track back as we came yesterday .... just to be on the safe side ......
On the way we stop to have some fun ..... like all the tourist have ......
Suddenly the salt starts having "ojos" or "eyes" in Spanish ..... holes in the salt crust ....
We did not see them yesterday!
We get quite nervous but must tell ourselves that yesterday we did not have a problem so why should we have one now?
We even stop to have a look at the holes .....
We find that even though there is a hole and one can see water there is a firm crust of salt below it.
Still, we don't like it and drive back as quickly as we can.
Ruedi decides that it is now a good time to fill the radiator-self-sealing-healing-whatever powder into the radiator and let it unfold its magic.
It is a grey powder of unknown material ..... hmmmm ...... at least not linseed as the one brand we had before!
Let's see if it will help
We reach the salt works again and can watch the men shovelling the salt onto some old beaten up, used-and-abused trucks.
Imagine .... this heavy work at 3'680 m above sea level!
As we watch the men work we spot a VW bus with Swiss plates.
We stop and meet Corsin and Andrea with their bus "Norbert" (www.norbertontour.com
), a veteran VW built 1980.
After a fun lunch they head out onto the salar and we towards Uyuni.
In Uyuni we fill up the tanks and the jerry cans with diesel.
We have the usual discussion about the price of diesel.
Non-Bolivian-residents or in other words drivers of cars with foreign licence plates have to pay much more than the locals.
The local price is around 3.72 Bolivianos and the tourists have to pay an extra 5.72 Bolivianos!
To ensure the rule is correctly followed cameras are being installed in service station where all cars that drive to the pump are filmed.
Now there are ways around this:
- One can go and get the fuel in jerry cans or
- One can go to service stations that are not yet equipped with a camera and get fuel without a receipt and only pay a portion of the 5.72
But the owners of those stations like to keep the larger part of the money for themselves.
So Susi as finance minister does not accept fuel stations where they only offer a rebate of 1 – 2 Bolivianos.
Either we share the discount or we will insist on the official paperwork so the owner of the petrol station does not get too rich on the tourists.
If you are trying to rip us off do it a bit discrete ......
We leave Uyuni on the excellent RN 5 (in some maps still shown as 701) which was finished in August 2012.
The road winds its way up to the
On the way we come past Pulacayo where we stop for a small train cemetery.
This was the first railroad to ever reach Bolivia!
The mine just "parked" the trains when they stopped using them so they are still in very good condition.
Huanchaca, Pulacayo's mine, was founded in 1833 and once was the world's 2nd largest silver mine.
It belonged to Aniceto Arce, former president of Bolivia, who had the railroad built in 1890 to connect the mine with Antofagasta.
It was also the first place in Bolivia where steam engines and other modern machines were used.
It mine reached 1'100 m below the surface but work was stopped in the 1990s due to increasingly difficult conditions (hot springs with 60 degree C water and large quantities of carbon dioxide gas).
As we continue on the RN5 we see a sign pointing to Aguas Termales Calerias ........
We turn around and on a small track drive some 2,5 km up the hill and find a small house with a bath.
We join the locals and enjoy the hot water.
We stay for the night right outside the house.
We might like another bath in the morning .....
But on Sunday morning it is windy and the outside temperature is –10 °C.
If we could come back to a warm camper after having a bath in the hot springs it would be an option, but not into a camper with barely 7 °C and ice inside of on the windows ........
So we leave and continue travelling north on the RN 5.
The road offers some very pretty views.
As we climb over one pass after the other we notice some mauve coloured rocks .....
Don't ask us what it is but it looks nice.
We come past some mining towns ................. some look very interesting .....
Only after having taken the picture we realise that this is Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world !
We must turn east here!!!
Just before we head into Potosí we see these rock formations on the other side of the valley and wonder what they are ....
Potosí is incredibly busy.
There are markets everywhere!
But the steep roads are a challenge for Ruedi and the OKA.
The roads are so steep that Ruedi has to use the low gears!
After the long time we have spent out in the bush we are not used to cities anymore.
This and the chaotic conditions in Potosí make us decide to just get fuel and then drive through and continue our journey without a stop-over.
Maybe next time when we come through here and are a bit more used to Bolivia .....
Later on we hear from various travellers that a visit to the mines is a must ...... it will have you walking and crawling through it for about 2 -3 hours.
After Potosí the RN5 continues on with a very steep pass (up and down) but then slowly starts sinking.
It gets warmer (we actually reach 21 °C, haven't seen that for a long time ....) and we can see large fields with crops.
It is harvest time ..... and it is all done by hand!
We also get a closer look at public transport in the area ......
Most trucks that are empty or have some space left will take passengers.
They display a sign with their destinations and people flag them down.
As there are not too many busses running this is the main mean of transport though out Bolivia.
Suddenly we come past a splendid suspension bridge.
We are absolutely surprised to find such a bridge here, way out in the Pampas with no larger city close by.
And it is in such good condition!
What is also surprising is that it is only mentioned with one sentence in the guide book .....
We decide to camp close by and visit it tomorrow.
After a very pleasant night with a low of 7 °C (PLUS not minus!!!) we head back to the bridge.
Construction on the Puente Colgante Arce or Puente Sucre started in 1892.
promoted by the then President Aniceto Arce as part of his policy to interconnect the whole country with roads.
This would allow a direct connection route between Sucre and Potosi even during the rainy season.
Today no roads lead to the bridge anymore; on one side even on foot it is difficult to get to it.
It was restored in the late 1990s to its former glory.
It is interesting to see with how much love to details this was done.
The old cables were not replaced but reinforced with new ones .....
We continue north on the RN 5 and shortly before noon arrive in Sucre.
Thanks to the GPS we can find a shopping centre and even a free parking spot right in front of it.
The SAS food store has a remarkable selection of good things including some fine cheeses.
As it had been a few weeks since we had been in a place like this and we don't know when we will see the next one we stock up quite a bit.
At the cash register we are surprised about the unexpected small amount of the bill .... our first realisation of the low prices in Bolivia ......
Then we make the mistake of trying to cross Sucre during lunch hour ......
As we stand and wait to be able to cross the intersection we spot Jurgen und Ruth.
They spot us at the same time but there is no time for a chat as traffic then starts to move again.
What a shame!
But even though they tell us where they have parked their MAN we just don't have the nerve to go and look for a parking spot and then head back to meet them again ..... so we drive on.
The roads in Sucre are very narrow and the majority lead up a hill.
As Susi is not really prepared to cross this large city and as the GPS doesn't tell which roads are steep and which ones are even steeper Ruedi has to find a way for the OKA through some pretty steep and narrow spots.
After we make it out of the city we stop ...... the driver's and co-driver's nerves need a break.
We decide to stay on the RN5.
The first few km on the way out of town we come past some workshops right along the road .... or more: right ON the road!
And they are grouped: Tyre makers, then mechanical workshops a.s.o.
On has to be careful not to drive over the legs of a mechanic that is lying in the middle of the road underneath a truck!
The road is made from concrete and is in very good condition.
First it leads on top of the ridge, then is heads steeply down to the river.
The road follows the river and it is a very pleasant drive.
By now it is hot .... we see 28.5 °C ......
Every so often we come past some pedestrian bridges that span the river.
It is the only way that people can access the other side of the river.
We also see a very explicit sign "Prohibido pescar con dinamita" ...... it is prohibited to fish with dynamite .....
After some 110 km (approx. at Matarao) the concrete finishes and continues in bitumen for a few km.
We cross the Rio Grande and the valley gets dry.
We come past Quiroga and shortly after the bitumen ends and the track gets dusty with many bull dust holes ......
The road is under construction ...... and it has very bad sections!
The 25 km to Aiquile take us more than an hour.
In Aiquile for the first time we see (and feel) the cobblestone pavement.
It is an old road that was built by the Incas.
This way of building roads has a huge advantage: People can fix the road on their own, they don't have to wait for the government to come and fix it.
We stay on the RN 5 and turn off toward San Isidro.
As it is getting late we find ourselves a spot for the night.
On Tuesday, June 4, we continue on the dusty RN 5.
In some sections the road is so narrow that it only has one lane.
We lose track of the many trucks we pass and the dust clouds that we drive through .... it must be one of the longest stretches of bad road we have ever driven ......
We come past some small villages and even though Ruedi tries very hard to drive slowly everything gets dusted .....
We also come past some blooming cacti.
Then we finally reach Saipina, another town with cobblestone pavement.
From here on at least the road has less curves and has been recently graded.
At least the valley gets wider and green.
We can also tell that we are getting closer to civilization by the many broken down trucks along the road.
The bad track is taking its toll .....
Shortly before 3 PM we finally reach La Palizada at the RN7 and bitumen where we turn east towards Santa Cruz.
But the RN7 is in need of repair too.
Some of the holes in the bitumen have been filled in with rock ..... some not ........
We are not sure which road was easier to travel .....
We try to get Diesel but are not successful.
The stations don't have the forms for foreigners and are not willing to sell fuel without them.
Obviously they have cameras installed .....
Then we are lucky and in Mairana find a station were we get the fuel at the price of locals.
Quickly we fill all tanks and also the jerry cans.
We also get directions to the Parque Nacional Amboró.
We have to drive up to La Yunga and there we will find the entry .....
We take the road which soon is nothing more than a dirt track.
We wonder if we have taken the right one but the GPS indicates that this will lead us towards the Parque Nacional.
It also indicates that it will get steep .....
It is already late in the afternoon and there is quite some incoming traffic, trucks with lots of people in the back, motorbikes, people on foot .... and all on a small dirt track ......
Right at the beginning of the steep part we find a small track leaving the main track so we decide to park the OKA and stay for the night.
We hear traffic pass the OKA until late.
On Wednesday morning we are woken up by motorbikes and vehicles driving past.
We hear them for quite a while as they crawl up the hill .....
Next morning we wait until no more traffic comes uphill and then also tackle the track.
Fog has settled over the valley over night.
The track heads uphill with many hairpin turns.
We are glad that there is no traffic on the way down.
It would have been difficult to pass any vehicle larger than a bicycle .....
Then we reach the end of it and enjoy the nice view.
On the now much wider track we reach the small dwelling of La Yunga.
We even find a sign indicating the attractions of the area.
But there is no ranger or any office in sight.
As we wonder how we can get into the park an elderly lady approaches us.
With her mix of Spanish and native language Susi has a hard time understanding her.
But finally we understand that this entry to the park is managed by the local community and that the lady has the tickets for the entry.
After buying the tickets the lady asks if we require a guide.
We ask her if we need one ....
No, no, she replies, the road has a few bad sections but it should be ok.
Well, is the road as bad and narrow like the one we came up from Mairana?
Not all of it ....
As we only have 2 seats in the OKA anyway we decide to try it on our own.
The lady opens the gate and off we go.
Already after a few meters the track starts climbing and climbing.
It is quite steep, narrow and really not in good condition.
But we manage and eventually reach the parking area.
This section of the park is famous for its cloud forest, tree ferns birds, butterflies, and some other animals that we will most probably only see on the welcome sign ......
We follow the path into the bush and try to find animals ...... but we are not bird watchers and just by hearing the birds twitter and having no clue what their habitat is we have no chance to spot them.
Luckily there are a few flowers for Susi.
Then we reach the tree ferns.
It is a nice little forest but we are spoiled from Tasmania and it is hard to impress us .....
There are a few nice mosses ....
.... and some interesting flies and nice butterflies.
But if one is not a bird watcher it is not really worth driving up here.
So we head back.
Luckily we had asked the lady if there was another way down back to the RN 7.
It is unchartered territory on our maps and the GPS ......
She had confirmed that the back road is open and in better condition than the one we had come up.
And she was right, the dirt road to Samaipata is much better than the track from Mairana.
We reach Samaipata and are surprised to find a cute little village.
It has a fair bit of tourism because of the Fuerte de Samaipata, a pre-Columbian religious site, built by the Chané people, a pre-Inca culture. The site has buildings of three different cultures: Chanés, Incas, and Spaniards.
We look for the national park office but cannot find it.
Once again the guide book shows its up-to-dateness ..... the office had moved to the neighbouring town of Castillo a while ago .....
As it is already late in the afternoon we decide to find ourselves a spot for the night on the way up to the ruins.
We follow the signs and follow the dirt road.
As we drive we see a sign to a camping.
That is exactly what we need now, a nice camping with hot showers!
We are a bit irritated because the track is a bit narrow ..... Well, so be it.
After some distance and a few gates we reach the end of the track .... the metal cable that crosses the road is definitely too low for the OKA to be able to drive underneath.
We get out and have a look.
The sign points across a river with large rocks and it. No more track.
Hmmmmm .... not for us then.
(Later on, after a few more "camping" we searched for we find out that in Bolivia mobile homes / capers are rather unknown vehicles and are mostly driven by tourists. Therefore there are no camping grounds like we know them from Argentina ......
"Camping" in Bolivia is for tents!)
Finally we drive almost to the top of the main track, to the entry gate of the ruins, where we find a nice little spot with some fine views over the valley, just the spot we had been looking for.
The red rock wall in the other side of the spot is covered in bromeliads.
As we start setting up camp a motorbike stops and we are asked what we are doing here.
When we reply that we intend to stay for the night we are told that this is not possible as this is within the zone of the ruins and everybody has to leave at night.
Frustrated we leave again drive all the way down again and finally find a spot near the main road.
On Thursday morning we wake up to another sunny day.
We have had sunny days for weeks now ...... sometimes a bit cold over night but always sunny.
That's how we like it!
We drive up to the Fuerte de Samaipata and get the tickets.
Again we are asked if we want a guide but we decide to find our own way around.
Equipped with the handy little map one gets with the tickets we climb up to the viewing platform.
El Fuerte de Samaipata consists of two sections:
The stone carvings high on the hill and the residential area to the south of the hill.
It is the largest carved stone in the world.
Its most important feature seems to be two parallel lines pointing to a position of azimuth 71° and an altitude of about 6.75° in the eastern sky.
Some wild theories exist about the lines:
In any case .... it is impressive what was done to the rock!
The stone hill was the ceremonial and religious centre of the ancient town.
From the temples and other buildings only seats and niches cut into their walls have survived.
Next to the stone hill excavations are ongoing.
Besides many smaller buildings a large building (68m by 16m) known as the Kallanka has been found.
There is still much to be dug up.
If one looks closely over the grass shadows still buried buildings can be seen.
On the way out we come past an old Toyota.
When we look closer we see who is using it ..... it fits ....
"Centro de investigaciones arqueologicas de Samaipata"...... the "Samaipata Archaeological Research Centre" .....
After a short visit in the museum in Samaipata we head south on the RN 7.
We stop in Castillo at the new position of the national park office and try to get information on the points of entry into the Parque Nacional Amboró but the "ranger" is not really up-to-date on it ........
All we find out is that at Bermejo further south there should be an entry via the Refugio Los Volcanes.
So off we go.
Along the road we see stalls were mandarins are being sold.
We stop and ask for the price ...... 30 mandarins for 10 Bolivianos (approx.. 1.50 AU$) and we even get 3 on top to cover for the pos. bad ones ........ and they are good!
The bitumen road gets worse and in some spots there is only dirt left.
We reach Bermejo and take the only road we find.
The dirt track soon gets ugly ...... it is steep and muddy and the curves are very narrow.
At least there are some nice flowers .....
As we reach the top we find ourselves at a stunning place ..... a lagoon with some amazing views surrounded by chalets .....
We have reached the Laguna Volcán Golf Eco Resort, a 5-star Golf Resort!
We don't even ask if we can stay for the night on their car park .....
So we head down again and drive to Bermejo again to ask for directions.
But nobody knows anything about it so we give up and look for a spot for the night right beside the road and a river.
As we are now much lower than we have been in the last weeks we can leave the windows open over night and enjoy the sound of the river.
It is so loud that we don't hear the traffic going past all night .....
On Friday we drive further south.
The valley gets wide and from Angostura on it is more or less one town after the other one.
The traffic gets heavier and heavier.
We are not used to this anymore ..... we have turned even more into country-bumpkins than we were already before ......
According to our guide book just 16 kilometres south of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (or Santa Cruz as they call it) there are some sand dunes and south of it a campground.
As we are way back with updating our web page Susi wants some time to just sit still and work on it, preferable with electricity and a hot shower
So a campground is exactly what we need.
Santa Cruz is a city of more than 1 mio inhabitants and Susi prepares a route to the dunes to be loaded to the GPS.
We will take one of the outer most ring roads possible.
We turn off the RN 7 and the road becomes a dirt track.
We are used to a lot with regards to Bolivian roads but to find this in a large metropolitan city like Santa Cruz still surprises us a fair bit .....
After a bumpy ride according to the GPS route we reach the entry to the Parque Regional Lomas de Arena.
The entry is almost 3 km away from the sand dunes.
There are quads for rent and a horse carriage waits to take passenger into the park.
When we ask for the campground they look a bit surprised and answer that we can stay at the parking lot.
We decide to have a look at the "camp" first before and then decide how long we want to stay.
First we drive past some houses ..... a bit surprising for a national reserve ......
Then we drive past a country club, nicely sent in a forest ........ hmmmmm ..... ok, it might have been here before the area was declared a national reserve.
Up to here the dirt track had been a bit sandy but ok.
But now it turns into a 4x4 track.
We have to cross water up to about 1m deep a few time and one time it is so deep that Ruedi worries if we will make it out of it.
We wonder how the quads and the horse carriage get through it ......
Finally we can see the sand dunes.
But before we can reach them we have to drive past some fancy villas.
We also find the campground ........ closed ........
So we drive to the end of the track and find ourselves a level spot on the parking lot.
It is hot (31 °C) and muggy and some flies are very friendly.
After all we are at only 420 m above sea level and in a tropical area .....
We set up camp and stay for the night.
During the night we can see lightning around us ......
On Saturday the suns shines again and Susi goes for a walk on the sand dunes.
The lakes that were prised in the guide book as crystal clear are brown and murky.
But it could be because they don't have enough water inside.
There are not many birds to be seen but Susi is surprised about the many flowers she can find.
Then the sky starts getting overcast and it looks like rain.
We decide to leave as long as we can.
As we drive out we realise that the water levels are higher than they were yesterday.
But we know that the ground is quite firm and drive through the water with ease.
Santa Cruz is a large city and has a system of circular roads.
On normal roads the traffic is ok but as soon as one gets onto the circular roads the traffic gets hectic.
It reminds us of Africa .... the same friendly pushing and shoving ........ no horns are used but if Ruedi does not instantly close the gap on the car in front of the OKA it does not take long and somebody else's car is there .....
We find a shopping centre with a Hipermaxi and lose ourselves in all the goodies .....
Santa Cruz has a large community of Germans, Swiss and Austrians and accordingly is the selection on cheeses, meets, sausages, Leberkäse ...... etc. ......
In the parking lot we can also watch "public transport": A small truck arrives with that many people on its bridge that they all must stand.
But they seem to be used to this way of going shopping and happily chatting hop off the bridge .....
We leave the town in northerly direction on the RN4, a 4 lane highway.
There is much to be seen .....
a whole family on one bike ...... a 2-horse-power vehicle needs maintenance ...... markets along the road ....
According to our guide book there should be a camping along the road run by the Automobile Club.
After much searching we find it but it looks pretty closed ........
Frustrated Susi says that we don't seem to have much luck with finding a campground!
We sink another 100 m on altitude and nature gets lush and tropical.
In Montero we turn West on the RN 4 and slowly start climbing into the mountains again.
We reach Buena Vista which according to our guide book is another entry point for the Parque Nacional Amboró.
We actually manage to find the office of the national park .... yes, the plan in the guide book is wrong ..... but we still find it.
Either a lot has changed since our "Reise Know-How" guide book was printed in 2009 or it is of a lousy quality ..... maybe both.
We explain to the ranger that we would like to go to the national park and stay there for a few days.
He looks a bit surprised and then explains that we can only go to the national park with a guide.
If we want to stay for a few days we would have to take food for the guide along and also pay him for the amount of days we stay.
But we would have to go to a tour operator and book the guide there.
The rangers will only give permits to enter the park to them once all is organised.
When we look a bit bewildered the ranger explains to us that all the national parks in Bolivia have a system that people are only allowed to enter with a guide.
We wonder why then we were allowed into the park in La Yunga without a guide .....?
The ranger wonders too ...... mind you it is the same park he is working for ....
According to the guide book there are some campgrounds in Buena vista ..... no no, just wait .....
So we go to the town square and study the local plan.
And there we can see at least 3 campgrounds!
We choose Hacienda El Cafetal about 5 km out of town which offers WiFi, pool and a nice view.
And boy, did we strike it lucky .....
and all for 10 US$ per vehicle per day!
We set up camp and enjoy the pool.
It is exactly what Susi had dreamed off ......
We feel like in Africa...... sun, 32 °C ...... just the elephants are missing in the dense jungle ........
We had been in contact with Joop and Adrie, our Dutch travel companions and know that they will be coming south in a short while too.
So we send them an email with the GPS coordinates and a short description of the place .... just in case they happen to come past Buena Vista .....
In the evening we get a few drops of rain and some lightning but nothing serious.
Sunday comes and goes filled with washing, surfing, a lengthy pool session ..... we love it!
Susi has some time for some photos .....
... and we have some visitors too .....
On Monday, June 10, we receive an email from Joop and Adrie that they have left La Paz and are on the way to Buena Vista.
In the evening just as we want to go to bed we hear the truck coming down the track to the Hacienda ...... Joop and Adrie!
Instead of 7 hours it had taken them 19 hours from Cochabamba to Buena Vista.
The RN 4 is very steep shortly after Cochabamba and has cobblestone pavement.
It had rained a bit thus making it almost impassable for the trucks on the way up to Cochabamba.
Joop and Adrie tell us that they had to manoeuvre their truck past all the stuck trucks.
Then they had come past a city where the students had been protesting and smashing windows .....
They are very glad to be here and just want to relax.
So on Tuesday we just set up camp, chat a lot and enjoy the pool ......what a life!
On Wednesday the weather does not look too good.
Still we decide to take out the bikes and go for a drive into town.
At a tour operator office we ask for a tour to the park but the price they ask for is so stiff that we all are not willing to pay it. For 4 people in 1 car and 1 guide they want 60 US$ per day and person. Bear in mind a tour operator earns about 100 Bolivianos per day which is approx. 15 US$. So much for the tour.
We go and visit the Queseria Suiza.
In Sucre and also in Santa Cruz we had bought some cheeses form them and they were very good.
Now we are wondering if it is possible to have a look at the factory.
We are lucky and soon we are shown through the small cheese factory.
We also hear about the problems that they have with the cleanliness of the milk and that they can only produce cheeses from pasteurized milk.
They have two storage areas, one for normal cheese and one just for Parmesan.
Currently they sell their cheese so fast that they are considering extending the factory.
On the way back we have lunch in a small restaurant.
4 lunches with soup and main course, 2 beers and 2 lt of lemonade for some 60 Bolivianos (approx. 10 AU$).
As we drive back the first rain drops fall ......
Late in the afternoon the sun comes back and we can watch some large Toucans in the trees.
Amazing that they can fly with such large bills!
On Thursday morning we visit the coffee plantation which is part of the Hacienda el Cafetal.
They grow biological coffee and most of it is sent to Switzerland.
Our guide had worked on the Hacienda for more than 20 years.
But now he is retired and if needed shows some tourist around.
The coffee beans are collected by hand.
During harvest they work in shifts around the clock and 7 days a week.
There are a lot of interpretative signs explaining all and we also get a good look at the machines they use to wash the coffee beans .....
.... dry and peel them ......
Now as it is end of season the small amount of coffee beans that are still collected are pre-dried outside until they have a full badge to process ..... like they used to do it in the old days .......
Then we learn about the different blends of coffee and at the end enjoy a good cuppa .....
Friday and Saturday flies past with enjoying the company, the pool, the internet ......
The weather just does not get really fine anymore and on Saturday we have the first day of intermittent rain ........
During the night we even have some strong showers.
On Sunday Joop and Adrie leave again.
They are on the way to Brazil.
Their truck is a wee bit heavier than ours and the ground is soggy and soft ..... so we prepare all we can to save the grass.
They manage to get out pretty ok.
We stay for another week.
The weather gets worse ..... it rains now every day and it is too cold to use to pool ..... it is time to go ......
On Friday June 21 we leave the Hacienda El Cafetal.
We stop at the Queseria Suiza and stock up on cheese.
Because of what Joop and Adrie experienced on the RN 4 to Cochabamba and the rain that we are having now we decide to take the RN 7 instead.
it is much longer but it will for certain have less traffic and there should be no problem with the weather.
Via Montero we drive back to Santa Cruz for an extensive visit of the Hipermaxi.
We come past some interesting building in Santa Cruz.
Luckily the traffic is very quiet .....
We stop for the night at our spot at the river near Angostura but this time it is too cold to have the window open ..... how quickly the time changes ......
On Saturday morning it still rains and also the RN7 is a mess.
We climb and climb and climb .....
After Samaipata the rain stops and the drive over the passes is quite enjoyable.
We come past a construction site and wonder how steep some vehicles can get up the hill ......
We reach Comarapa where all of a sudden the bitumen finishes.
This is not shown on any map.
From here on the dirt track climbs up quite steeply (200 meters altitude in less than 6 km).
We reach an altiplano and see some clouds coming in from the east.
First we think that it is rain which would be a bit of a worry on this road ......
As we get closer we can see that the whole mountain ridge is covered in thick fog.
The fog moves over the mountain top, falls down into the valley and gets dissolved again.
Where the fog is constant the valley is green and the vegetation lush, where there is no fog the valley is dry and has to be irrigated.
We reach the fog.
Virtually from one meter to the other one the dirt track changes from a dry easy drivable track to a slippery muddy thing.
At one time Ruedi is close to put the snow chains on the wheels ......
The track climbs further to almost 3'100 m above sea level and eventually we see sun .....
And then we are in an area without fog, very dry and pretty cold ..... just 10 °C ..... we have reached La Siberia.
We reach the border between the Santa Cruz and the Cochabamba cantons.
On the Cochabamba side the dirt road has just been graded, nice ......
Then the road starts sinking again and we reach the fog again.
The road is less steep than on the other side and we can have a look at nature as we drive past.
Susi sees a lot of interesting things and ask for a photo stop.
The trees are covered with moss ......
As there are flowers everywhere and as it is already late in the afternoon Susi ask that we stay for the night so she can go for a walk tomorrow morning.
On Sunday morning we find ourselves at the border of drizzle and fog ......
Susi wraps up and heads out into it .....
... flowers .....
... leaves ....
... nice settings .....
... mosses and similar "things" ......
... ferns ....
It is a bit too early for the orchids .... they are only just starting to grow their flower panicles .....
In a few weeks this must be an orchid paradise!
Too soon it is time to leave ......
We continue on the RN 7 ..... up to 3'000 m altitude ..... down into the next valley ...... up to some 3'000 m altitude ..... down again ......
The track used to be covered with bitumen but now only bits and pieces are left of it.
After Espizana the bitumen starts again.
In Monte Puncu we leave the RN 7 and drive on a well maintained cobblestone road to the Inca ruins of Incallajta.
It is too late to visit the ruins so we set up camp on their parking lot and stay for the night.
On Monday morning the weather does not look good.
Still we decide to go for the visit.
To get to the ruins we have to cross a small river.
The bridge is nicely built and seems to be brand new.
The ruins are at an altitude of 2'950 meters above sea level so the going uphill is a bit slow .....
A sign at the entry gives some good information.
Intrigued by the story Susi did a bit more research on the internet so here an overview of what she found:
Before the Spanish conquest of South America the Incas had expanded into the Cochabamba valley because of its rich agricultural potential.
They built a complex system of roads and fortresses.
Incallajta had the same function as Sacsahuaman in Cusco (Peru).
Incallajta was a strategic effort to further Inca expansion toward the Amazon.
It was used as an administrative, political, military and ceremonial centre.
It is the second largest archaeological site in Bolivia and the most important Inca city of Kollasuyu (today Bolivia).
Incallajta was built in the 15th century by Inca Tupac Yupanqui and complemented by his son Wayna Capac.
The lady at the entry does only speak Aymara.
But we get a guide that speaks pretty good Spanish.
Together with our guide we start climbing uphill to the ruins.
According to a sign Incallajta has the only Inca construction with a two storage building in Bolivia.
Salients can be seen where the upper floor timbers were supported.
It has three rows of niches in its interior.
According to the guide the house was occupied by the Inca .......
The largest structure is a huge rectangular building called Kallanka that is 78 by 26 meters.
It is the largest known roofed building in the entire Inca Empire.
The walls have 44 niches which according to our guide were used for lamps.
Incallajta's stone structures were coated with mud plaster which had a reddish finish.
Susi likes the comment of the guide that this was the favourite colour of the Inca Wayna Capac and therefore it was used in all constructions that he had built .......
There are also remains of a number of residences including housing for the women and priests.
We also come past the principal plaza area with a sacrificial altar.
The rock has some red stains on it.
When Susi asks what this is the guide replies that it is blood.
On June 20 and 21 the whole valley had come together to celebrated the Aymara New Year.
This is done by scarifying a Llama to the gods.
Susi is glad that we did not come two days ago ......
Some "locals" were also photographed by Susi .....
As we come back to the OKA the first few drops fall ......
We decide not to take the Inca trail over the mountains towards Torotoro but to head back to the bitumen and take the longer but probably safer way around the mountains.
The drizzle changes to rain and stays with us all the way up the valley.
We reach the pass with 3'670 m above sea level and the thermometer shows 8 °C ...... not very inviting ......
The harvest is still on and the rain is disrupting it.
Then we spot pink painted animals and wonder a bit.
Could it be some kind of a vaccination program like we had seen earlier this month with dogs.
Each vaccinated dog had received a brightly coloured collar.
The road slowly descends to Tiraque where we leave the RN 7 and head to Punata on a small dirt track.
In Punata we see some puppets hanging from the street light poles.
First we think it is something like carnival but when we look closer we see that they have signs.
"Ladron que sea atropado sera linchado y colgado" --> "A thief that is caught will be lynched and hang-up".
Punata is an endless town ..... the houses just seem to go on and on .....
It is not obvious where the next town starts but suddenly we find ourselves in Cliza.
By now we have descended almost 1'000 m since we crossed the pass and are at 2'740 m above sea level.
It is just amazing how the roads go up and down by 1'000 m in no time in Bolivia .....
Thanks to the GPS we find our way to Toco and then Anzaldo.
Again the road is an old Inca-type road with cobble stones.
The road climbs all the way to Anzaldo.
Regrettably the road changes to dirt / bulldust again.
Shortly after Anzaldo a steep descent towards La Viña starts. It is built along a steep slope ... no crash barriers ....
In less than 15 km we descend 700 m .... if it rains don't even think about driving this road!
Luckily it does not rain anymore .....
After La Viña the road slowly descends further.
The mountains and the valley are very colourful.
The layers of material were tilted by up to 90°.
Then nature worked on them a bit generating some interesting structures.
We see some more "painted" animals .....
(Later on we find out that it has to do with the local "day of the animal".)
In the late afternoon we reach the end of the valley and look for a spot to stay for the night.
We drive down a sandy track towards the river some 500 m and settle down.
The clouds still hang around and we are not sure, if the rain is gone for good ......
Around midnight we hear raindrops on the roof!
Ruedi gets really nervous.
The 500 m up to the main road could become a nightmare if the rain really sets in ......
But we decide that it is too late already to go back to the main road and that we will sit it out.
The heavy rains stops later on but Ruedi does not get much sleep ......
On Tuesday morning we wake up to a sunny morning.
There are still clouds hanging around but it looks pretty good.
The ground looks pretty good too: The sand has absorbed the rain and the surface is excellent to drive on.
We are very glad about that.
The road towards Torotoro goes uphill turn after turn.
In the curves the trucks have damaged the Inca road a bit otherwise it is in good condition.
The higher we climb the better the views get.
Then we reach the valley.
The mountains look great, like grey waves .....
We reach Torotoro and are amused about this sign:
"Prohibido orinar y defecar" --> "It is forbidden to urinate or defecate"
It will not be the last time we see signs like this on Bolivia ......
The roads in Torotoro are very narrow and we have some problems to get to the town centre but with the help of a friendly man we find a parking spot.
He also tells us the way to the office of the parque nacional.
It is shortly before 9 AM and two ladies come into the office and ask if we will be joining a tour?
We don't know yet but we follow them to the guide's office to find out what is happening.
A group of tourists is just getting ready to go up to the Ciudad de Itas.
If we also join the group it gets cheaper for all of us as the price is per car and guide.
Aha, that what it is all about!
So after a bit to and fro we join them.
Justino, our guide quickly informs us that we have to take lunch with us, that we will be hiking for some 2 hours at 3'800 m above sea level and that it could be cold and windy.
Soon we get organised and hop into the vehicle that will takes us into the mountains.
It is an old LandRover and not really made for 6 passengers (2 girls from Lithuania, 2 ladies from Cochabamba, Bolivia, and us) the driver and Justino but we manage.
We climb up the hill on a bumpy dirt track past some colourful rocks.
After about 1 hour we reach an altiplano and the spot where the hike starts.
It is cold and windy and it also looks like it will start raining soon.
Quickly we walk to some rocks and as the rain sets in we can get protection in a cave.
Justino is a very good guide and during the rain he gives us a great overview over the Quechua, Aymara, Incas and the Spaniards.
After some 30 minutes the rain stops and we can start our hike.
The tour was sold to us as a visit of the Ciudad de Itas.
What nobody said was that it includes light canyoning!
When we reach the first section where we have to climb down one of the Bolivian ladies refuses to proceed.
Justino tells her that this is the only way she can go, there is no other way.
So with a little help from all of us she makes it down.
When we reach the bottom of the climb we find ourselves in front of a system of caves.
Justino tells us the story of a pair of brothers that stole cattle from the surrounding area and hid here.
He even shows us the little door they used to enter the caves ..... so it must be true .....
We continue climbing over rocks and come past a formation they call "The Turtle".
Susi also finds some flowers .....
Erosion over millions of years has formed huge spaces ...... like cathedrals.
Justino leads us past some more nice views and rocks.
Then it is time to climb up the hill again.
The only way up is up some tree trunks where steps have been cut into.
The trunks are by no means fixed to the wall .... they turn to the side easily if one is not careful on the way up!
So as one climbs the other ones try to stabilise the trunks.
The Bolivian lady has a real problem with this and it needs quite some talking form Justino to persuade her to a climb up.
In addition to her fear the lady also has a problem with the height.
Every few steps she needs a break to catch her breath.
We are quite in helping her where ever we can ..... pushing, showing, pulling ......
Then a thunderstorm lets loose with a mixture of small hail and rain.
We find shelter under some overhanging rocks but the two girls from Lithuania are not dressed properly and are really cold.
The colours of some rocks are emphasised by the rain.
The storm eases a bit and we quickly continue on towards the waiting car .... the next storm is already looming .....
Driving back becomes a special experience.
It's raining again, the roof leaks and the defroster does not work so the driver and Ruedi take turns in defogging the windscreen ..... but maybe it is better we don't see how the track is!
The dust has turned to mud and the LandRover behaves pretty independently ......
At one stage when we have to drive down a slope, on one side the rock and on the other side a 100 m abyss, the LandRover starts skidding. Ruedi wants to get out and walk this part ......
At one time
Justino even asks the driver if he really has the car under control ...... it is pretty scary .....
This is when having experience in off-roading becomes a handicap;
one knows too well when the vehicle is not really under the control of the driver anymore ......
But we make it down and the driver drives down to the Caverna Umajallanta which is next on the program.
As we reach the parking area the storm really picks up. It rains cats and dogs and hail bangs heavily onto the windscreen.
It must be something quite exceptional because the driver quickly gets his phone and starts filming it!
Justino decides that it is too dangerous to go into a cave when there is so much water coming down the mountains and gives the instructions to quickly leave the area before the track turns too slippery to be driven and before a swollen creek blocks the road.
He offers that we will come back tomorrow morning and finish the tour then.
The further down we drive the better the weather gets.
When we reach Torotoro they are all surprised about our rain-story.
We head down to the little river and settle there for the night.
Luckily there had been enough light during the day to charge the batteries and even enough sun to warm the camper backsection so we have a comfortable evening and night.
On Wednesday morning it is a bit fresh (+3.5 °C) but the sun shines from a more or less cloudless sky.
We head down to the tour office and meet our group and Gabriel, our guide for the day.
We all squash into the LandRover ..... the seats are still a bit wet ...... and are driven uphill to the parking lot of the cave.
Gabriel takes us to have a look at some dinosaur footprints.
The prints date back some 80 - 100 million years when the area of Torotoro was a gigantic swamp.
We reach the entrance to the caves and already the climbing starts.
When we booked the tour nobody said a word that it was going to include crawling, climbing, rock-hopping, abseiling ......
The Bolivian lady still has a problem with the height and soon we are again busily pushing, shoving, pulling ......
The cave is inhabited by bats.
Some of them have died and fallen down onto the rocks below and are slowly covered by a fungus .....
Even though Umajallanta is the longest and deepest cave of Bolivia there are not too many pretty stalactites, stalagmites or column to be seen in the area that is shown to the normal tourists.
The most famous formations are the "Christmas tree" and the "Finger".
But the cave is great fun!
Everybody gets really dirty with all this crawling ......
We reach the Lago de la Cachuela where a rare species of a blind fish (Trichomycterius chaberti SP) lives.
We can see a few of them but they are almost transparent and taking pictures of them does not really work.
There is waterfall at the end of the lake.
Gabriel is very experienced and like a little monkey he climbs to the fall and back.
The locals run regular competitions in the cave where one has to do our roundtrip in complete darkness ...... without the help of any light ..... and of course as quickly as possible!
One could easily get lost in here since the cave is huge and heavily branched.
We believe the guide said the fastest competitor makes it in about 20 minutes .....
The way back is interesting again .....
After close to 3 hours underground we are back at the surface.
In the afternoon we meet with Justino again for a trip to the Cementerio De Tortugas De Molle Cancha, the turtle cemetery.
The cemetery is some 3.5 km away from Torotoro and the tourist are taken there on foot.
Justino is quite nervous because on this trip he is tested as tour guide.
(From all the parks we have so far visited in Argentina and Bolivia Torotoro by far has the best guides.)
A group of other tour guides comes along too as "tourists" which gives us a lot of time to talk to them and find out a lot about the country and its customs.
We also ask about the lynched puppets we had seen on the way.
In brief this is what they tell us:
Bolivia consists of a group of states each of them with its own sets of laws which are controlled by a council of elders.
They are not allowed to kill anybody but corporal punishment is allowed.
Outside of the large cities these laws are still in use, also in Torotoro.
The police are basically only present to prevent violations against human rights.
So if they have an offender e.g. a thief the person will be flogged and then hung by their arms on a pool.
In 2009 Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous President, had signed a law extending institutional recognition of "indigenous justice" ..... but it's difficult to define how far the indigenous systems of justice can go and when the Western systems of justice has to be applied .....
Here as nearly everywhere we come past some colourful rocks.
We also cross a small creek.
This place is haunted and even today the locals will try not to pass through here between 6 PM and 8 AM ......
We reach the small town of Molle Cancha where the Cementerio De Tortugas is located.
First we visit the new visitors centre.
The revenue of it is used for public projects in Molle Cancha.
Justino gives us a rundown of the past of Torotoro.
The Torotoro National Park has around 2'000 footprints of dinosaurs, the largest collection of biped and quadruped dinosaur footprints of Bolivia, including
The group is considered to be the archetypal armoured dinosaur .....
"lizard-hipped" dinosaurs, including the largest animals to have ever lived on land.
Including the largest terrestrial carnivores ever to been on earth. Tyrannosaurus Rex
Birds are actually the descendants of small nonflying theropods.
Small- to medium-sized feathered carnivores that probably were closely related with the birds.
This puts Bolivia in the top of palaeontology in South America.
Next we visit the cemetery, an area of approx. 7 ha and an age of about 65 to 60 mios. years.
It contains large concentrations of fragmented bellies and vertebrae of continental freshwater turtles (genus Roxochelys vilavilensis) as well as skeletal remains of crocodiles and fish.
The fossils are found in horizontal layers not thicker than 2 m. Wind and rain are constantly revealing new fossils.
The area had to be fenced off to prevent further "visits" of fossil thieves.
Sadly Justino has used too much time with his explanations in the museum and it is already getting dark.
So we don't really get to see many of the fossils but luckily the museum has a well preserved one on display.
In the evening the 2 girls from Lithuania come for dinner and we have a great time chatting.
On Thursday morning the sun shines again and we decide to go for a hike to the Torotoro canyon and El Vergel.
Justino and Gabriel are already busy so our guide for today is Gabriel's brother.
Sadly he has a cold and sore throat and is not as communicative as the other two were.
Soon we are on the way and come past a creek where the bottom section is called "amphitheatre" because of its fine acoustics.
Concerts are held hear and the rocks used to seat the listeners.
There are also a few natural bridges.
A large dinosaur print of a plant eater can be seen too.
Have a look at the relation to Ruedi's pocket knife!
The next stop is the viewing point at the Grand Canyon of Torotoro.
The lookout is free hanging ..... not for everybody's (in this case Susi ....) nerves ...... but bravely she looks up in the sky and walks out onto the bridge so the "tourist" picture can be taken ......
We reach the descent down to El Vergel or Waka Sinqa Canyon.
The guide points out that it will be 800 steps ..... 400 down and 400 up again .... to visit El Vergel.
We feel like it and down it goes!
At the bottom of the deep canyon we find some pools of water, waterfalls ...... and many rocks that we have to climb over.
El Vergel is a series of waterfalls that come out of a wall that is covered by lichen and moos.
Lush tropical vegetation adds to the pretty setting.
After lunch we head back ...... 400 steps up the hill again ........
Even though we had a fresh night with only 2.5 °C by now the sun has warmed the air nicely and the 29 °C feel much warmer ......
Next stop is El Chifflon a canyon with some caves which apparently are one of the exits of the water from the Caverna Umajallanta.
On the way back to Torotoro we come past some rock painting.
Sadly they fenced them off too late .... some intelligent people have already left their names .......
Tired we make it back to the OKA for a nice hot shower and a quiet night.
On Friday morning we leave Torotoro. We liked it very much. The ambience is good, the prices ok and the guides very good.
One feels being welcomed.
The sun gives a great light to the colourful rocks along the way.
The folding of the mountains in this area is impressive.
On the way we come past a typical Bolivian thing:
They use trees to store their dried maize plants so the animals and in this case possibly the rising river cannot reach the plants.
After La Viña we reach the steep ascent ...... with a dry track it is no problem .....
It is a beautiful sunny day and we enjoy the drive to Tarata where we reach bitumen again.
Shortly before reaching the RN 7 again we come past the Laguna La Angostura.
It is a very pretty place and a lot of fancy villas are being built there.
Cochabamba must be doing well ......
We reach Cochabamba and find a well-stocked Hipermaxi ..... joy!
Cochabamba is a large city with an interesting mixture of traditional ......
... and modern ........
We leave Cochabamba on the RN 4.
As we want to sleep below 3'000 m altitude (yes, to be able to use the heater .....) we stop outside of Parotani for the night.
It is a difficult area and we have to leave the RN 4 and drive towards Capinota to find something suitable.
On Saturday we are glad that we were able to preheat the engine because right after we join the RN 4 again the road starts climbing and climbing and climbing ......
Within just 46 km we go from the 2'500 m altitude in Parotani to the 4'000 m above sea level in Sayaro!
The road is very good and has an interesting bridge.
There are lots of trucks on the way carrying container driving towards La Paz..
But luckily in most cases the OKA still has enough power left that we can pass them.
Saturday seems to be market day in many towns.
Due to the traffic congestion on the road around those places Susi has some time to have a closer look at the vivid hustle and bustle.
And after shopping they wait for transport ......
This stretch of the RN 4 is very colourful.
As we climb we come past many small farms.
It must be hard to work on the sloping fields .....
We climb further.
In Confital we reach 4'370 m above sea level and eventual reach 4'496 m above sea level at the watershed at La Cumbre.
Here too it is harvest time.
The grain crop is collected and then dried.
Potatoes are dug up by hand, then dried on the floor and packed in bags.
The bags are transported to the road where a trader will pick them up and take them to the markets.
We come past some interesting adobe buildings.
Then the road descends down into the valley and the scenery gets a bit boring ......
From Caracollo the road is under construction; the whole road from La Paz to Cochabamba is being extended to a 4-lane highway.
It is interesting to watch how, where ever the soil is suitable, the fields are taken up to the tops of the mountains.
Then we get a first glimpse of the snowy mountains in this area.
At Patacamaya the RN 4 turns west towards Chile and we continue on the RN 1 towards La Paz.
Due to all the extra traffic coming from Chile and the deviations due to the constructions from here on the driving is painful.
Luckily it is Saturday and not too many trucks from the construction are on the road too.
But the minibuses and taxis are a pain in the bum squeezing and squashing into the tiniest spots between vehicles to be faster.
The police seem to know this too ..... shortly before Calamarca they make a speed control.
This is the first time that we actually see the Bolivian police make anything else than control traffic on intersections ......
Then we reach the outskirts of El Alto, the city adjacent to La Paz with more than 1.2 mio inhabitants.
For many km we drive through it ......
Thanks to Joop we have a track on to easily find the Hotel Oberland (GPS: S 16° 34.108', W 068° 05.358',
just 300 meters from the Valley of the Moon), where the overlander camp ground of La Paz is located.
So we have no problem in finding the right turn-off and head down into the valley.
In the afternoon sun the valley that surrounds La Paz looks very pretty.
At the Hotel Oberland we find two more Swiss overlander vehicles, Sonja und Roman with their Toyota (www.romson.ch
) and Michèlle und Kurt with their MAN (they belong to the few that don't have a webpage ..... no time .....).
We hear from Michèlle und Kurt that they have their MAN booked in for some mechanical work at the Ingenieria de Transportes in El Alto, a trucking company belonging to a German family that is specialised in transporting heavy haulage, especially for the mines.
When their workshop is not busy fixing their own truck they keep their mechanics busy in fixing overlander trucks.
After a warm shower it is time to use the free WiFi and slowly get back into civilization .....
As we have power we can use our hotplate cum heater and don't mind the 0 °C we have over night .....
On Sunday Ruedi gives Roman a hand with fixing the backdoor of his Toyotas while Susi is busy answering to all the emails.
During the day the sun warms the courtyard to comfortable 28 °C which is very much appreciated by all of us.
On Monday, July 1, we get up early.
We want to go to the Ingenieria de Transportes in El Alto and ask if and when they would have time to look at our various problems with the OKA.
When we get there their chef mechanic comes and has a look at all the problems together with Ruedi.
The list goes from fixing the leaking yoke and front differential and to find the leak in the radiator to do a service and grease the OKA .... many hours of work .....
To our surprise they say that we can stay and they will start the work today.
We are equipped with a helmet and are instructed that we must wear it at all times when we walk around.
Then the OKA gets a bath .... the first one since we left Europe .....
We have to wait until a truck of the company is finished and leaves the workshop.
It is much colder up here at 4'000 m above sea level than what it was at the Hotel Oberland at 3'300 m above sea level so we sit in the sun and wait.
At lunch a worker comes and calls us to the canteen.
The enterprise offers lunch for 1 € to their workers ..... And the Señoras in the kitchen sure know how to cook!
After lunch we can drive into the workshop and work begins.
At 4 PM their working day is over and the workers go home.
We are allowed to stay in the workshop.
So we close the doors, turn on the "heater" and have a quiet evening.
On Tuesday morning with a lot of effort the radiator is removed. The leak is easy to spot.
Half of the OKA has to be dismantled for that.
The radiator is taken to a specialist who will fix it and test it under pressure to ensure all is fixed.
This must be about the largest dismantling our OKA had had since it was built!
As a lot areas are now accessible that are usually blocked by the radiator all the hoses and clamps are checked and possible problems fixed.
Later in the morning the other Swiss couple with their MAN also arrives.
Suddenly it dawn to us why they had not been surprised at all yesterday when we arrived ..... they had thought we were the truck they were expecting today ......
Luckily they have more bays free and the MAN is parked there and work starts there too.
Work goes on and the front axle is dismantled so they can fix the leaking differential.
The OKA is now sitting on some wooden blocks ...... looks scary but it is pretty safe ......
Julio and his brother Jorge are in charge of this work.
At times up to 4 workers are busily taking the OKA apart.
Then Romulo, the differential specialist, is called.
The right drive shaft which has to be removed to allow extracting the diff does not look good ..... the bearing neither ......
It is the drive shaft we had already fixed in Switzerland but obviously this did not last.
And without a healthy drive shaft we will only be able to use 4WD in emergencies.
As soon as possible we will exchange the bearings, the seals and the drive shaft.
BAE in south Africa will have to send us a drive shaft together with the transfer case we already ordered.
And one other thing is now also clear: Our next travel destination will have to be Iquique in Chile where we send all the parts to ....
We are not really shocked about this conclusion as by now we are used to the OKA defining where we go next .... where we can get spares for the problems the OKA has .....
Today is an unfriendly day, overcast and cold with a max. of 10 °C.
It is time to start wearing the sky-underwear again ......
The work at the MAN takes a bit longer than expected so they also stay at the work shop for the night.
Over night we hear some rain ......
On Wednesday we wake up to a sunny day.
This is good because today they have a fire drill at the Ingenieria!
As no work will be done at the OKA until after lunch we have time to have a look at the trucks.
We find out that the Ingenieria has an ISO and TÜV certification.
We are absolutely surprised to find something like this in Bolivia.
But apparently the mines want it that way ..... no certification no work ........
The fire brigade arrives and the drill begins.
Even the Señoras from the kitchen have to use the fire extinguisher!
In the afternoon the yoke and the differential are sealed.
Also the radiator comes back from the workshop, the whole top section newly soldered.
During the night it rains again .....
On Thursday morning we wake up to frost ..... all is covered in snow pellets ...
Slowly but surely the assembly of the OKA is started.
Romulo inserts the drive shaft but is not happy with the fit of the outer race ring of the bearing.
In his opinion something is applying pressure to it ......
For us this means that once we have picked up the new drive shaft in Iquique we will come back to La Paz to have "magic Romulo" fix it.
He is one of these people that not just look what they are doing, they "feel" it.
As he sits in front of the axle and turns the bearing he looks like a bank robber turning the wheel of a safe to hear the "click" of the correct number ......
On Friday the work is continued.
They have to finish the work before 4 PM.
The gas company had been working all week installing some new pipes on the road outside of the work shop.
They had just left one small part of the road intact so the traffic could get into the work shop.
But they intend to open up the whole road over the weekend starting today at 4 PM.
In the afternoon Susi hears music nearby.
When she asks the guard what is going on he tells her that the Concejo Distrital de Juntas Escolares CODIJE (district council of school boards) is celebrating its 5th anniversary.
CODIJE represents 57 schools of the district No. 8 of El Alto.
They will have a procession with marching bands to celebrate this.
Quickly Susi fetches her camera and heads out to have a look.
It is not hard to see where they are assembling .....
The side road is blocked with people and the traffic is forced to deviate onto the main highway.
Spectators are watching as the groups of the parade are forming.
The bands are ready .......... officials of the municipal legislature of El Alto too ..... .
And off they go! For our Swiss ears it sounds a bit like a "Guggemusig" (Swiss carnival band).
Click here to watch a movie of the band and the parade
(file type: .wmv, size: 3'561 KB).
Some of the Señoras have dressed up in their finest dresses.
At the workshop things are proceeding.
Work on the MAN has been finished and Michèlle und Kurt head back to the Hotel Oberland.
We hope to see them later on .....
By 3:30 PM it is obvious that the work on the OKA will not be finished by 4 PM.
John, the son of the owner of the company, has a word with the gas company worker and "bribes" them with an afternoon snack at 4 PM ..... they will need some 20 – 30 minutes for that and will delay the tearing open of the road until then.
At 4:10 PM the last screw it tightened and we drive the OKA out of the workshop ....
Many thanks to John and his crew for helping us!
Back at the Hotel Oberland we find that some more Swiss overlanders have arrived.
We all get together and enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant of the hotel.
Over the next few days we finish the web-update and get the OKA ready to leave La Paz.
We also organise that the transfer case and the drive shaft from Johannesburg (South Africa), the steering damper, some seals and some bearing from Melbourne (Australia) and some small shock absorbers from Murg (Germany) are all send to Iquique in Chile.
On Tuesday , July 9, morning it is time to say goodbye to .....
Fränzi und Richi (www.el-amarillo.ch
), Carol and Urs with Tim and Clara ( www.swisszebra.jimdo.com
) and Simon (no web page .... no time .....).
We are all traveling in the same direction and will most probably see each other on the way again ....
We leave La Paz in direction of Chile and head south on the RN1 to Patacamaya.
The traffic out of the city is stop-and-go and Susi has a lot of time to take photos of what we see:
El Alto is one of the fastest growing cities of Bolivia and they have an interesting building style.
In many cases only the top floor / penthouse has been sold and has been finished.
The other floors will only be finished when they are sold so the owners can define how they want it.
There are many markets along the road.
The meat is sold separately ...... the donkeys too ......
Again we can watch the pretty dresses of the Señoras.
The construction site isn't any better than it was when we came.
The only thing that looks finished is the toll station .....
Bolivians have their own way of doing things .....
After Patacamaya we head west on the RN4.
The road is pretty good but has a few holes which every so are being fixed.
Clothes are being washed at a cold creek .....
Near Callapa we see some chullpas, ancient Aymara funerary towers.
Then we get the first view of the Volcano Sajama, at 6‘542 m above sea level the highest peak in Bolivia, South America's second highest mountain.
And here the views we have in the evening at our camp ...... but over the night it gets cold again with –7.5 °C ......
On Wednesday morning the mountains look very pretty in the cloudless sky.
We try to find the entry to the northerly route around the volcano through the Parque Nacional Sajama.
We follow Ruta 104 and the track on the GPS but somehow it seems too rough .....
At the end we decide to drive back to the bitumen.
As we continue towards the border we see some rocks with an arrow on it and "Circuito Turistico".
So we get off the bitumen again and follow the track.
Note to the fellow overlanders:
Don't take the Ruta 104 at GPS S 17° 54.236', W 068° 37.133', take it at GPS S 17° 56.196', W 068° 38.642'.
This time the track is well driven and quite good.
We come past some funny rock formations.
A bit later we see the reason why the track way changed to this route:
A swamp covers the old track and it is impassable.
It is a very dry area and the farms have pumping wells.
Then we are back on the GPS track and shortly after reach Tomarapi and its pretty church.
We come past another small town with also has a pretty church.
It is well noticeable that in all dwellings the church is the best, sometimes the only looked after building.
At the Laguna Huaynacota we stop and go for a hike.
There are some quite large Queñoa De Altura (Polylepis tarapacana, English quenoa of height or altitude), a short tree growing in soil formed by volcanos
We try to find the Termas but even though there is a sign we cannot find it and suddenly are at the village of Sajama and the park exit checkpoint. Funny enough we never passed a park entry checkpoint ....
Here we see that there are geysers in the area and decide to go there for the night.
The area is covered with steaming and bubbling holes.
The water contains many minerals creating colourful settings.
On Thursday, July 11, morning we go for another walk.
Suddenly a geyser starts squirting for a while.
It is cold (-4.5 °C) and the steam looks great.
Susi could have spent much more time there but Chile is calling ......
On the way back we pass the nice church of the village of Sajama and have another great view of the Volcano Sajama.
(When we later on google about Volcano Sajama we find this funny story: In August 2001 two teams of Bolivian mountain guides played a football match on top of the Volcano Sajama to protest against the FIFA decision to discontinue the use of La Paz as a location for international football matches because of its very high elevation; see the report from the BBC here
The view of the mountains is great.
We reach the RN 4 again and head towards Tambo Quemado and the Bolivian / Chilean border.
At Tambo Quemado there is a long queue of waiting trucks.
Their fuel is controlled.
Only 150 lt are allowed to be taken out of Bolivia per vehicle.
Bolivia subsidises the Diesel for its citizens and
this way wants to prevent the diesel from being sold illegally in Chile because of the much higher diesel price.
We park the OKA on the side and find out how the procedure is.
An English speaking customs officers informs us that we will require photocopies of all documents for the entry into Chile and points us to the corresponding shop.
After this has been done our papers are checked and we are sent to the border in Chungará, some 16 km away, where Bolivian and the Chilean immigrations and customs are side by side.
We climb up to the Tambo Quemado pass at 4'660 m above sea level and com past the pretty Laguna Chungará.
Right after crossing the actual border the road deteriorates.
Then we reach the end of a long queue of trucks. It is a few kilometres long.
Luckily we are allowed to pass and reach the customs area.
We find out that the customs officers in Chile are on strike.
But we are lucky as busses and private vehicles are processed.
We had been scared of this entry as there had been much trouble with right-hand driven vehicles at the beginning of this year.
Luckily there is an OKA in Valdivia and the officer finds "OKA" as entry in his database.
Even though it is an Australian vehicle the officer never asks anything regarding the side of the steering wheel .... and we are happy about that .....
The quarantine officer takes his job very serious and Susi has to part off all the grains and beans ..... basically all that can sprout ......
Luckily the officer is happy with what he gets and does not ask if we have any more ...... and as he does not asks we don't tell him that we have some more food underneath the seat .....
And guess what: nobody ever asks for a photocopy of any documents .....
The queue of waiting trucks on the Chilean side is very long too.
We continue on past the pretty Lagunas Cotacotani and head down to Putre ........
And this is the end of this journal!