Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bribing our way out of Bolivia

While we were lucky to miss most of the rain/mud season in Bolivia, we did have the chance to sample some of the fun it can offer while passing through a construction zone (ahhhh...South American construction zones....) near Monteagudo.  Even before making it to the mud, we were challenged by the staggeringly high number of staggeringly drunk drivers on the staggeringly narrow canyon roads.  One was going incredibly slow when we caught him, raced to catch up to us after we passed, tailgated for awhile until Mike pulled over to let him pass, then blocked our forward progress with his vehicle to insist that we join him for a drink, which he of course had in ample supply in his car.  After refusing, and refusing his offer to drink beer at the bar up ahead, he still wouldn't let us separate ourselves on the road, always insuring that we stayed right in his dust cloud.  Suh-WEET!  Shortly after witnessing him run over a small pig - which absolutely devastated the farmer, who sadly witnessed the event, too - he stumbled out of his car (to vomit?) and we finally were able to pull away from him.  We didn't take any breaks that afternoon to keep our distance.  But now back to the more fun part of our ride...

On the way to the Bolivian border.

(the beautiful views continued)

Until the first crux of the construction zone:

This car barely made it through this spot on the way to the Bolivian border.
(this car only made it through this patch of the construction zone with the help of some barefoot pushers)

Mike working his way through on the way to the Bolivian border.
(Mike kept his boots on to make his way through)

Water crossings became more common in the kms that followed:

A water crossing on the way to the Bolivian border.

And then we found a nasty combination of mud and water:

His car, on the other hand, required some heavy machinery.
(this car was our first clue that this hole was a bit harrier than others)

Mike trying to work his way through some very deep mud on the way to the Bolivian border.
(Mike tried to plow through along the edge...)

And that's as far as he got. Luckily the guy on the right helps us push the bike out.
(but this is as far as the mud let him go.)

That stuff was nasty. Thankfully the guy from the car helped lift and push the back end to free the TA. Once free, Mike was still pushing the bars from beside the back and giving some throttle. But he just couldn't resist playing in the mud, so he super-manned a comical fall with the bike falling towards him on its left side, and Mike falling chest down into the mud with hands still on the bars. The barefoot guy (pretty sure they all lost their shoes in the mud it was that suctioney) again helped out with the bike, but this time seemed less into it for some reason... A tractor from the next house came to pull his car out as we were leaving.

Our tire was just a little muddy after that crossing.

Mike cleaned the tire off by riding through this river.
(the river helped us clean up a bit)

On the way to the Bolivian border.
(we eventually made it out of the construction zone and back to easy riding dirt. We covered about 20 km in 2.5 hours that morning, but began making better progress later in the day)

Bulls fighting in the road on the way to the Bolivian border.
(luckily we didn't get stuck near these unhappy characters)

Mike getting through another watery/muddy crossing on the way to the Bolivian border.
(but there was still some fun-havin' going on)

Once we hit the main highway, we were filling up gas when Mika pulled up next to us on his Africa Twin. He took off on a RTW trip years ago, spending nearly 7 years on that trip, and is currently living in Bolivia. He was making his way to Argentina for a Horizons Unlimited traveler's meeting in Viedma - he last attended the first one 10 years ago. Mika was a great travel partner who knows the region very well and was a lot of fun to hang out with. The first night we found a reasonable hotel in Villamontes, and Mika brought back the first round of beers before we even got our boots off. He's a good man. He even had the patience to wait with us while we sorted out our paperwork at the Yacuiba border between Bolivia and Argentina. I would not recommend that crossing to anyone, and neither would Mika who has used the other options as well. However, I made it even more challenging by unknowingly trying to exit the country on an expired moto permit. D'oh!

I always check our documents well, but somehow managed to screw this one up when entering Bolivia. I asked the customs official for 90 days and he agreed, but the form only gave us 30 days and I didn't catch it. I never even noticed it. So I presented the document to the customs official to close it out. He asked why it was expired and my heart sank. Here we go... At first he said how major an offense this is, that he should confiscate the bike and charge 200% of its value (or something ridiculous) to release it. I told him that seemed excessive, using the tourist visa as an example (fines are ~US$3/day you overstay) and stating that we were around 10 days overdue, so US$20 seemed fair. He kept on shaking me down, giving stories about his manager showing up and how much more $$$ that would be. After an hour of waiting, talking, debating (very politely), pleading, and hoping, I finally persuaded him to throw out a number: US$160. That was nowhere close to the US$20 I had been sticking to. After a few more minutes of pleading (just pleading at this point), he agreed to US$40, with US$10 thrown in for his slimeball helper who mediated and would handle the cash. Ok. US$50 to leave the country on an expired import permit didn't seem that bad. I still can't believe that I was so clueless, but it least it wasn't too painful of a mistake. In total, the crossing took about 3.5 hours. Did I mention Mika was patient?

Another important feature of our day was changing USD into Argentine pesos.  Given the crazy inflation happening in Argentina, the discrepancy between what the Argentine government admits (~10%) versus what the rest of the world - and individual Argentines - recognizes (~30%), and the limit the government places on its citizens access to cash, there is now a black market for US dollars.  The official rate is somewhere around 4.8 pesos for each dollar.  That is what you will get if you use an ATM, credit card, or bank in Argentina to access your USD account.  We received 6.55 pesos for each dollar at the border.  That's about a 40% improvement over the official rate!  Thankfully we knew to expect that so brought enough  US dollars to get us through this leg of Argentina.

After a burger in the border town, we made our way down the road to find out how hospitable Argentina is to travelers. Many towns have free municipal campgrounds and many gas stations let you camp for free and have decent bathrooms available.

Mika with his Africa Twin at our gas station campsite.
(Mika with his Africa Twin at our gas station campsite)

The next day Mika took off to cover some distance towards Viedma, and we steered towards Salta. AR9 connecting San Salvador de Jujuy to Salta was a beautiful, twisty, 1.5 lane road through some lush mountains. It was a gorgeous day.

On the way to Salta.

Horses mating in the road, on the way to the Bolivian border.
(Argentina is known for its horses)

Arriving in Salta we had 2 errands: eat food and get insurance. We were only able to get into Argentina by showing an "insurance" document, but would much rather have insurance (not just the "document") since it's required and all. The food stop was easy - good, cheap pizza. The insurance was a bit tougher as we hit town in the middle of siesta. So we waited until 4pm. But then the little insurance shop opened up and we got coverage good for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, even Bolivia and Peru for just US$11 per month. We went with ATM seguros (S24 47.536 / W65 25.202) as it was cheaper and with better coverage than the Federacion Patronal (S24 47.214 W65 24.830).

ATM Seguros
Pje. Ruiz de los Llanos 1230 (4400)
Tel: (0387) 422 - 4247
GPS: S24 deg 47.536 min / W65 deg 25.202 min

By this time it was after 5pm and neither one of us was that excited about finding our way out of town and hitting the road again that evening. So we found a hostel that Mika had drawn on a napkin map and stayed the night. Sadly, the skies opened up for the last 15 minutes of our ride, so we arrived soaked. But better at a hostel than camping. And some Argentine moto travelers showed up later, too.

A group of four other Argentine motorcycle travelers pulled up to our hostel in Salta shortly after we did.

1 comment:

  1. Wow ... That was a great update. We miss u guys! Jeff, Bobbi, Britney & Nate.