Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 69/70 - Rest day/Rurrenabaque to Caranavi, Bolivia

Day 69:  We decided to take a much needed rest day after the long, hard and dusty day we had yesterday.  Laundry, bike repairs (RobC's "mailbox" had cracked and was about to cause his top box to fall off), blog updates all had to be done.  We couldn't have picked a better spot, the Safari Hotel was right on the Beni River, on the edge of the jungle town of Rurrenabaque.  No air conditioning but a good fan seemed to do the trick in keeping us cool at night.  Nice place with a huge veranda on the main building, thatched roofs, swimming pool and a long porch that ran the length of the building where the rooms were located.  20 USD per night per person.  The place even had great outdoor laundry facilities (two large tubs with running water and soap) and a place to wash our bikes.  The day was sunny and hot so everything dried in no time; we even had the use of clothes lines with plastic clothes pins. The bikes took some doing to get reasonably clean, so we could inspect them for loose or missing bolts, oil leaks, etc.  My fog lights had quit working and we both had to check and clean our air filters. 

RobC's mess.

Nothing like working on a clean bike.

RobC's clean machine, minus top box that had to be welded

Trying to fix the fog lights ... turns out it was a loose connection at the relay.  Not surprised after the roads we've been on.

 Extremely pleasant couple we met from La Paz ... Ivan and Elizabeth .. both medical doctors.  Elizabeth and I talked for some time (who had lived in NY for 6 years) and she taught me a lot about life in Bolivia.

After all our chores were done, we went into town in search of a decent place to eat ... and, hopefully, a WiFi connection.  No Internet connection was to be had.  Rurrennebaque is a tourist town known for jungle trips and river tours of various lengths in days and by various means, from hiking to fly-in. 

Day 70:  We left this morning knowing that we had 8 hours of misery before we would got to Coroico.  First things first ... get the tire pressures to about 24 PSI front and back.  It's really amazing the traction you get on loose gravel and rock when you let some air out of the tires.  The whole bike behaves differently, more stable.   

We were told that after 2 hours we’d get to a town where we could buy fuel, then after 4 more hours another town and the last 2 hours would get us to Coroico, Bolivia.  The distances were not great but the roads were in bad shape.  Okay.  Our speed would be 25 to 30 kph (15 to 20 mph).  We decided to get fuel at the next town; thus, in two hours.  The road turned out to be brutal!!

The start of the "challenge." Road construction everywhere, meaning: dump truck loads of red dirt.

We finally got to the first town, thirsty, beat and ready for a break.  We also needed fuel so we entered a gas station ... all out ... next gas station ... all out.  Great.  We asked around and found out we could get “black market” gas down the dusty, dirt road.  We found the place and it was a table under a tarp, selling gas out of 5 gallon jugs at a little over double the street value, so, 1 USD a liter.  A plastic coke bottle cut in half with a garden hose attached to the end was the funnel.  We fueled up and left town ready for the next 4 hours.  Surprisingly, the fuel was good.

2 hours and 70 km later the first town where we were told there was fuel.

No fuel at the two gas stations in town so RobC started asking local vendors about other possibilities.

The bike was clean yesterday.  I happen to ride through some mud that looked inviting.

The fuel station on the right under the tarp.  Not sure what octane the fuel was. 

The gas attendants pouring our fuel.

RobC trying to get a good look at what we were getting.

Cut-off coke bottle funnel and an attached garden hose .....

My turn.

The next part of the road is also known as the start of the Death Road, but the most famous section is between Coroico and La Paz.  This section is equally as dangerous if not more so because of dust, powder sand, the usual steep drop-offs, narrow single-lane roads, plus the fact that this is a major road, so traffic is also a problem.  Coming up on a slower moving vehicle, typically trucks, you get mired in the cloud of stubborn dust, unless you pass or drop way back.  Thankfully, there were a few villages along the way where we had the opportunity to pass the trucks, as they slowed down for the inevitable and ever-popular traffic bumps.  These villages were typically nestled precariously to the side of the drops.  Can’t begin to describe the poverty.  Really .. unbelievable.  Most of these people are just in survival mode and it is hard to imagine that life would be enjoyable to them.  The minimum wage in Bolivia is 700 Bolivianos per month, roughly 100 USD.  Granted food and lodging are cheap, owning a car or new clothes is out of the question.  

"Corner" store.

 Dried pig skin.

Police control typically on entering a town.  The truck on the right is what you would encounter on the roads.

The condition of the road was nothing short of one of the worst we have been on.  Dust, powder sand, rocks, ruts, sheer drops, traffic, and riding on the mountain side of the road which in this case happened to be the left side.  The reason for this is so the traffic on the right side, driver side, the driver can see clearly where his left side tires are, so they can get as close to the cliff side as possible when passing.  CRAZY!! From that you are probably thinking, “are you guys friggin nuts?!”  Drivers were actually quite courteous and orderly, and people knew what had to be done, where to pass and they respected each others' presence on the road.  Oh!, the other thing, honk the horn before EVERY blind corner!  Even with this, you still run into close calls when some hot shot (RobT edit:  idiot, not hot shot) in a station wagon taxi comes flying around the corner.

Barely enough room for a car.

We decided it was getting too late and with 2 plus hours left, dark approaching and being tired, we thought we should find a place in Caravani.  The best hotel we could get was 20 USD and had air conditioning.  Great, as it was 33 Celsius (98 F).   We found out later that "air conditioning" and a floor fan are one and the same thing.  Ugh.  We pointed the fan directly at the bed and turned it to full power.  The best food we could find in town was “ribs” on a bed of rice, lettuce and some refresco to drink.  Ugh again.


  1. Hi, this is Ivan, Elizabeth and Valeria , we met in Rurrenabaque (Safari Hotel) thanks for the photo, we read about RobC's accident, hope you are ok and enjoing the rest of your adventure. The roads between Rurrenabaque and Caranavi were really bad, we got to the hotel ( by taxi)covered in dirt,and extreamly tired we can't imagine how tired ( and dirty ) you guys were, it was nice to meet you , we will be following you on your journey blog, please remember to send us information about Iguazu, lot's of luck and best wishes.

  2. Hi Valeria, glad you are enjoying the blog. RobC is doing well, thanks. Would love to send you more info on Iguazu but I dont think I have your email

  3. Hi Robbie :D
    my mail:
    thanks for the information
    good luck on the trip.