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The Bolivian Lowlands

As I mentioned in the second last post, I wanted to do a detour down to the lowlands of Bolivia to see jungle, get some warmth and see parts of the country other than the altiplano. This detour got a bit longer than I first thought, since I decided to head all the way to Trinidad and Rurrenabaque.

Exactly one month ago, I left the mine town Potosí and started to descend the Andes together with Brian. It was such a nice feeling to get more oxygen, see a greener landscape and smell flowers etc! Brian wanted to stay in Sucre so I continued on my own towards Santa Cruz. There was a lot of construction going on on the road and not really much to see, but the people outside of the altiplano were more talkative and open minded!

In Samaipata, I met the American cyclist Tim who lives in Colombia. We continued together to Santa Cruz the following day, and this was when Bolivia (and many other countries in South America) experienced a cold that they haven’t had in over 30 years! In Santa Cruz, which is on an elevation of 400 m, it was only 6 degrees and I had to wear my down jacket! Several people had even died from the extreme weather in the region. Despite the weather I was glad to spend a few resting days after having covered 16 bus hours in 6 cycling days. I did a few practical things in Santa Cruz like repairing my shoes (again) and trying to fix my derailleur that keeps on malfunctioning, but the mechanic didn’t have a clue about it. I also bought a pair of Converse shoes, an extra weight that I’ve been missing a lot, haha!

When I continued cycling it was normal temperature again (around 30 degrees) and I was excited about seeing some of the tropics. However, outside Santa Cruz it was just dry land with cattle, strong side winds and trucks that didn’t show any respect. By the time I had my second near-death experience by almost getting run over by a truck, I decided to call it a day. I met a friendly family that lived at a road toll who invited me to eat duck, and they explained that the nature and traffic will be the same for about 200 km’s more. This wasn’t really my intention by doing this detour, so after a few hours of trying I managed to flag down a truck for a hitch. The bumpy ride lasted for about 6 hours but it was actually quite fun to lie and watch the stars in the tropical night, contemplating about life in general from the back of the dirty truck bed.

Sunset in the jungle

I continued cycling from Guarayos, where the landscape was much more attractive and the road less busy. The first day, I spotted monkeys, parrots, snakes, a scorpion and a capybara. I also noticed another species (of humans) called Mennonites. This group is similar to Amish and can be found in colonies all over the world. They all wear the same type of clothes and strive to work with agriculture in a very primary way, for example using donkeys to pull and wheels of iron. I also passed by a volunteer refuge for rescued animals where I got a guided tour around the facilities. The same night, I camped at a family’s house and they told me local stories about anacondas and jaguars. In this area, there are also poisonous sting rays and electric eels, but I still swam in the rivers just like the locals. The family’s dog had recently been bitten by a snake and I swear I’ve never seen a dog that skinny. It had lost its appetite completely and was facing a sure death. The following morning, we went with horse and cart to check out their ”chaco” where they grew yucca and rice for consumption but also for sales when the times were good.

Capybaras

After Trinidad, I crossed Río Mamoré with a boat and stayed with another lovely family who were fishermen. I played with the children in the river for over two hours and swam with dolphins! It was very hot that night, 31 degrees in the tent at 8pm..!

Kids in a canoe

Playing in the river

Doing the laundry

The following day I got to experience REAL mud due to a heavy rainfall during the night. The whole situation was actually quite funny. The road workers were laughing at me when I took off the mud guards to prepare for some muddy cycling. I told them that I was a strong Swedish Viking who were gonna make it, despite the fact that a bus was stuck diagonally on the road ahead, and two heavily loaded trucks behind me were spinning. Well, I think I only got about 5 meters until I had a lump as big as a coconut stuck on my front brakes. It was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to continue since the wheels locked! The only way I could go on was by lifting the front and let the back just slide on the side. Eventually, after laughing my way through the mud for a while, I realized the need for another truck ride.

Muddy road

Impossible to cycle!

Fortunately, the road had dried up the next day and I did almost 140 km’s! But when it’s not muddy on these kind of roads, it’s definitely gonna be dusty:

Take a deep breath...

Dusty face

Dusty legs

My last destination in the lowlands was Rurrenabaque, Bolivias tourist destination located at Río Beni just below the Andes and at the beginning of the Amazon. I didn’t do much in Rurre except for a disappointing 2-day fishing trip where we spent more time searching for worms than on fishing. And the guide didn’t even bring something to dig with except for the machete! I got bitten by a 100 mosquitoes and on top of that traumatized by seeing a dog being eaten alive by fly larvae in a huge infected wound on its back. Anyway, it was nice with some days off the bike just reading in a hammock and drinking cold beer.

Sunset in Rurrenabaque

As I often get excited by routes by just looking at the topography and satellite photos, I really wanted to cycle north from Ixiamas to Puerto Heath, and then cross into Peru with a boat on Río Madre de Dios. This road, crossing the biologically diverse national park Madidi, was shown on my map. It also existed on the Bolivian Road Ministry’s map, but not on the Military Institute’s (IGM). Some people from other villages had told me that they were logging trees in the area and that cattle had been taken all the way to Puerto Heath. Other’s said there is no such road. When I reached Rurre I asked around but the only response I got was that a tractor managed to pass there 6 years ago. Bummer! I had to turn back towards the altiplano and La Paz.

It turned out that the road going up the Andes was extremely muddy as well so I had to hitchhike for some parts. One of rides I got was with some happy local artisans that went from festival to festival selling handicraft. They played an old cassette tape with Modern Talking on repeat for 7 hours while a bottle of whisky was passed around. On top of that a semi-drunk driver and muddy, steep roads… Crazy! Luckily, the vehicle was decorated with a “God Save Us”-sticker.

A popular backpacker activity in La Paz is to cycle the World’s Most Dangerous Road, aka The Death Road, almost pure downhill from La Cumbre at 4,650 m down to Yolosa at 1,200 m. I did this when I was here on my last trip and it was great fun! This time I decided to cycle it uphill :-) It is a very scenic road but unfortunately it was all covered in clouds this time with less than 30 m visibility. But that didn’t stop me from covering 2,200 m vertical the first day! I met about 100 cyclists on the way and they all had very funny expressions on their faces when they saw me coming in the opposite direction. I was afraid that the second day would be very hard considering the altitude and one month in the lowlands, but my body had remembered my previous acclimatization surprisingly well and I didn’t have any problems to reach the top. In total, the climb was 3,450 m vertical so the downhill on the other side was a nice reward and I reached a new top speed – 78 km/h!

The Death Road

La Cumbre - 4,650 m