Monday, April 20, 2020


Our route through Bolivia

Native Apparel
It’s as if Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are thumbing through the same fashion magazines. The skirts, leggings, shoes, hats, the smock that covers it all, and the common long braids: It’s the female native uniform - The haute couture fashion of the Cholitas.

Are they huge fans of Charlie Chaplin or maybe Laurel & Hardy? That bowler hat is just one more dirty trick that was pulled on the natives – The story goes; in the mid-1800s the Manchester merchants manufactured a shipment too small for men’s heads but duped the Bolivian women into thinking that it was the height of European fashion to wear the undersized headgear. Silly that they still crave them 150 years later but the photographic evidence is overwhelming.

Salar De Uyuni
There is a reason why there are very few white people in Bolivia. Europeans went around the world taking the best of the planet and displacing the native people. This is one of those places that is a perfect example of; “No reason to stay. They can have it”. Life is hard here. Humans have to scratch an existence out of a place that has literally been salted so that nothing will ever grow. It was super interesting and I’m glad we went but I doubt they get a lot of repeat business. Refer to the captions for the storyline.
The perspective game. So flat and featureless that you can fool the eye
Aleja at the train graveyard

She was out there collecting salt

Salt is used as building blocks out here. Solid, until the rains come
Colorado Lake. Freezing and windy. We slept on a bed made of salt bricks this night
with the blankets piled so high you couldn't roll over.
Now you know why it was so cold. Altitude headaches and nausea were the rule.
That's 5000 Meters
One flamingo
Many Flamingos
Flamingos with chaperones

Not a rabbit. That's a chinchilla

The Altiplano is the high plateau of Bolivia. It's perfectly flat and you forget you are driving at 13,000 feet until you get to the edge of the drop off and realize this is just one huge mesa.

Now this is a charming town. Just don’t visit it with a big rig. It wasn’t as bad as driving into Cusco, but close. The architecture and the restaurants were the winning high notes.
Little ninja, big colonial door

Now vertical dinosaur tracks that are 68 million years old. Located outside of Sucre

New Years Eve in Aiquile
We spent New Year’s Eve in this endearing little pueblo parked in the plaza. Aleja made micheladas and we reminisced about the last 12 months. 2018 saw me drive to the bottom of South America, fly around the world and visit 9 countries. I say to myself, “It might not be a perfect life but it’s exactly the one I chose, and at least I’m not reading lines from someone else’s script.”  We racked out early and weren’t even awakened by fireworks.

New Years Day with Drunk Ingrid
We drove the next day into another tiny village called Mataral. We shut off the engine at about 4pm and joined the locals who were still drinking from the previous night. There wasn’t much left of them. Exhaustion was being fought back in a losing battle and brains were shutting down. Lots of catatonic stares were followed by the demands to take another shot. Ingrid was the 50ish ring leader. She passed around her phone which was playing hardcore porn. It barely seemed to register with the viewers. Ingrid was the only one howling with glee. A married woman whose husband was propped up against a tree drinking with some friends took Aleja to show her where the bathroom was and tried to kiss her. It’s gonna be a weird year.
My 7.3 liter turbo diesel laughs at these steep hills.
I can take them at 45 mph. My brakes however,
shudder in terror upon descent.

Bolivia Wasn’t Always Landlocked
In 1879 Bolivia had a 250 mile coastline on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In 1884 it didn’t. The Bolivians broke a tax treaty with a Chilean mining company, the Chileans asked the courts to mediate, Bolivia refused and declared war. Because Peru was Bolivia’s ally both countries went to war against Chile and both lost land. Now Bolivia is landlocked.
The lands both Peru and Bolivia lost 

The Chane culture started working this huge rock in 300 AD and were overtaken by the Inca in the late 1400’s. The Guarani dislodged the Inca in the 1520s. The Spanish started settling it in 1615 but were attacked repeatedly by the Guarani up until the 1800s. It’s mainly a temple that has been added to over the centuries by the different tribes that ruled it.
The actual rock that they carved for 1200 years 

The museum does a great job of explaining what you're looking at. Most of it is Pre-Inca

A lot of our friends are having babies. I thought they might want to consider these beauty techniques for cranial reshaping
Your child could be a real live conehead. Who wouldn't want an egghead like that on your debate team?
Those kids from Harvard would be so intimidated
The whole rock is carved with meanings that have been lost to time
Last chance to "Inca". Just in case you were curious about the extent of the empire

Santa Cruz
This is a city worth avoiding. It’s huge dirty & poor with zero attractions. We found courts and played tennis. You’ll never find a Bolivian restaurant anywhere in the world. It’s not a cuisine worth replicating. It’s merely subsistence gristle with starch. We ate a ton of fried chicken due to the shortage of other acceptable options.
The road to Santa Cruz was dramatic

Constant Poverty. 
If you want to know what it’s like to be poor, here’s a very simple exercise. Go out and leave your wallet at home. Look at all the things you can’t have, all the restaurants you can’t eat at, all the places you can’t gain entry to, and when it breaks your heart - walk home, because you can’t take a cab. It’s one thing to have a cold and stay home for 3 days and pat yourself on the back for not spending money. It’s another thing entirely to live in a world in which you can’t fully participate, day after day after day.

It’s upsetting to see it, but these people aren’t crying into their llama blankets. It’s only thru my spoiled first world rose tinted glasses that I lament their lives. I need to let that go.
I'm guessing this place was originally built before electricity

What’s With You And The 3rd World Bro?
Ah the third world – what you save with the low prices, you pay for with your health. The unregulated vehicle emissions could choke a sword swallower. These cities literally taste bad. Open sewers and car exhaust make you want to rinse your own mouth out with soap. The Instagram photos don’t show it, but black lung is lurking in the air you breathe.

I have light eyes and fair hair which is really good for walking into any resort anywhere in the world but not so good for walking at night by yourself in a dark country. I sometimes feel the fear. In Medellin I noticed my usual street had gone dark just as I was making my way home. I made a quick turnaround to avoid the hidden recesses that lay ahead. I looked back in time to catch the perp stick his head out wondering where I was. I was nearly cornered by a pack of snarling dogs when I cut thru an abandoned amusement park in the middle of the night in Nicaragua (Note - Pick up a rock and all third world dogs will run. Even the act of faking the picking up of a rock will work. They’ve had plenty of rocks thrown at them. Poor people are hard on animals.) Aleja and I spent a sleepless night in Brazil after paying extortion to a man who pounded on the door at 2am and demanded it. I thought for an instant about telling him to “eff off” and then pictured him lighting Elsie on fire (we paid by throwing the cash rubber-banded to a hunk of chocolate thru the moon roof after refusing to open the door. He thanked us for the chocolate).
Ruins everywhere. Most aren't ancient

The 3rd world can be sketchy. However, back in the US of A - my roommate faked a robbery at our house and stole $8,000 from me, and then threatened me. I caught my next door neighbor in the act of stealing my bike.  When my house burned down an unscrupulous contractor scared my poor old mother into signing a contract while I was still out of the country. That cost me almost $6,000. Bad people are everywhere.

I like the 3rd world. It’s weird and exotic and rarely boring, and the poor are usually the most honest & honorable people of all. I still have some frontier spirit left, though I might be scrapping the bottom of the barrel for any innocence left to lose, and at times my sense of humor sags. Without further ado, here is my list:

Criteria Of First vs Third.
Hey Bobby – how can I tell if I’m in the 3rd world:
1. Is there toilet paper?
2. Can the paper be flushed?
3. Do the toilets have seats?
4. Do they have iodine in their salt?
5. Are there safety railings in front of the cliff?
6. Is there a lifeguard on duty?
7. Are there clean healthy dogs with collars?
8. Can you safely drink the water?
9. Are there public drinking fountains?
10. Are city buildings handicap accessible?
11. Is their wiring up to code? Do they have a ground wire, and do they use it?
12. Do children’s car seats exist?
13. Do they stand in an orderly line?
14. Do you see public trash cans?
15. Do you see dog poop bag dispensers?
16. Do pedestrians have rights?
17. Are abortions legal and readily available?
18. Did everyone at the table get served at the same time?
19. Are street cops incorruptible?
20. Does laundry day mean going to the river?
If you answered no to all but the last  - it’s the 3rd world!
O the roads we've driven!

Amateur Archeologists

And Now The Poverty Test:
How do you know if you are poor?
1. Have you ever eaten crackers for dinner?
2. Do you know the price of a single egg?
3. Has anyone in your family ever owned a car?
4. Have you ever chewed electrical cables due to hunger? No one has. Those are rats. You just need an exterminator
Toborochi tree. San Jose De Chiquitos. The church / mission was built in 1561 

Aguas Calientes
We hired this kid to destroy his car on a road-less track of land in search of ancient pictographs. We found them. The triumvirate for a jackpot experience is 1. Difficult access – This was an hour each way on a goat trail. 2. Private property - means you have to ask for permission and pay. 3. A baking hot sun - offers full light, zero crowds and another reminder that your hair is thinning. We had it all to ourselves. I voluntarily doubled our negotiated fee and wished him luck with that now loose exhaust system.
That was a painful ride in a passenger car
Different kid. This kid was the grandson of the property owner

Bolivia In Conclusion
The fuel at the gas stations is subsidized for the citizens. If you are a foreigner they are supposed to charge you a much higher price but the paperwork for that is long and the guy pumping the gas isn’t going to do it. They just wave you off. We were told fueling up was going to be a huge problem. It wasn’t. The lazy attendant was greeted by the lovely Aleja in his native language and maybe twice we were turned away. Usually they agreed to fill us for a tip and everyone was happy.

We left Bolivia feeling like we won. We had set very low expectations based on all the horror stories we had heard but those weren’t our experiences. We had a wonderful month. Go everywhere, do everything, see it all.

Your Man On Point,
Blacktop Bobby

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