South America Blog Posts

Week 20 – Bolivia to Peru via Brazil

After being ill for most of the previous week, I was glad to get a rest day in the small town of Puerto Rico. But It was time to head off and get closer to the border. As I left town, the road surface suddenly stopped and I was riding on a compacted dirt road again. It was pretty rough going, but at least it was a dry firm surface. This wouldn’t last for long though

A hard day’s ride

This area of Bolivia is so strange. You can be riding on terrible dirt roads in the middle of nowhere and then suddenly there’s a really great road surface. You follow it for a kilometer or so and then there will be a beautiful ranch, which is obviously owned by someone rich and powerful. Then around a kilometer past their ranch, the road stops again and you are back on the dirt. I’d been making good progress when I got to an area that had been hit by rain the night before. The ground looked ok, but when I rode on it or stood on it, it stuck to my wheels or boots. It was like it was mixed with glue or something. The back wheel jammed up and I tried to push the bike, but I couldn’t even do that properly. I had to keep stopping to clear the mud from the wheels until I got out of that patch. The rest of the route was covered in these muddy areas and deep puddles. The worst thing about these muddy puddles is that you can’t see how deep they are. You think they are just a shallow puddle, but when you are in it, it can drop deep. It was a really hard day.

Rest stop turns to a camp spot

I was planning to get to a village called Villa Amazonica. But it was getting late and I couldn’t be bothered going much further. So I stopped at a shop to get a snack before I thought about heading further. The owner of the shop was really nice. He gave me a free bottle of coca cola and a bag of bread rolls. I asked if I could camp outside his shop and he said it wouldn’t be a problem. He even let me go around the back and take a shower. It was really nice to get freshened up after such a hard day. Maybe I looked rough and that’s why he was so kind. The next morning I saw how dirty the bike was. It was completely jammed up with mud, I poked as much of the mud out of the frame as I could. Then poured buckets of water over the bike to help clean it before I hit the road again. But when I started riding, the bike was making a horrible noise. Scraping and squealing as I was riding along. Luckily I found some discarded bottles of oil on the side of the road, so I was able to lube up the pedals and chain.

An amazing camp spot

The road wasn’t quite as bad as the day before. There were some sections of the road that had been surfaced. I actually found out that this road had been under construction, just like the long road north in week 18. The only difference is that this road was started twelve years ago and was an abandoned project. The government had run out of money and just left it. The worst part is that the local people have been told that there isn’t any chance of more budget for at least another 6 years. It was midafternoon and I was getting a bit peckish when I saw a small shed with a sign advertising food and drinks. I pulled in and they offered to make a special cheap meal for me that wasn’t on the menu. After I had finished, they asked if I’d like to take a shower. Of course I took them up on the offer. But I was shocked to see where it was. Around the back of this shed there was a swimming pool with tables and chairs as well as a terrace. I couldn’t believe it. I asked if they would let me stay the night and they agreed. It wasn’t as far as I wanted to get that day. But it was still half way to Cobija, so it worked out perfectly.

A strange border crossing

The next day I headed to Cobija and spent a night there before I crossed the border. This border was one of the strangest borders I have experienced. Firstly the Bolivian side is just an office that you could easily drive past if you missed it. Then the Brazilian customs is done in the police office. So you have to ride all the way into town to find the office in order to get stamped into the country. Its not at all what I am used to. But the border with Peru in Iñapari isn’t much different. I was only planning on spending a couple of days in Brazil. Just getting to Peru. But in the end I actually only spent a little over a day. This was lucky, because neither of my cards were accepted in the ATM, so I didn’t have any cash for the journey.

Friendly, helpful Brazilians

The first Brazilians I met pulled over in front of me when I was cycling and started talking to me. I was really suspicious of them. They asked me to come to their community place which was further down the road. I said ok, but I wasn’t sure that I would actually go. I just couldn’t believe that someone would pull over a complete stranger like that, just to help them. But when I got to their place they waved me in. They welcomed me with iced water and brought me a plate of food. I really couldn’t believe it. They were so nice. After I left their place I was thinking about it and I felt so guilty for not trusting them. But then I would think that it is probably best not to blindly trust strangers. I’m really not sure where to find the balance. The next people I met were at a restaurant. I had stopped there to eat and drink. They had a card machine, so luckily, I could buy things. But when I was there, a couple of guys in a truck also stopped for snacks. They said hello and asked where I was headed. Then they said they would drive me close to the border. About 20 km from the border. So I took them up on the offer and we headed out. The actually drove me all the way to the border and dropped me right at the Brazilian border. I didn’t know where I could sleep or where to go. But they drove off into the night and I had to deal with it.

A night in the border town

This border is another strange one. After you pass through immigration, there is a town before the border. Then on the other side of the border is another town, then the immigration is at the other side of that. So there are basically two towns between the immigration offices. I ended up spending a night in the Brazilian town called Assis Brazil. The hotel wasn’t great, but I negotiated it down to half price. I could deal with the border crossing the next morning and cross over into Peru to start a new chapter of my journey through South America.

South America Blog Posts

Week 19 – Getting sick in the Bolivian Amazon

In my last vlog I had just finished a long journey north through the Beni region to Pando. I arrived at a very basic hostel and was finally getting some rest. Although, there wasn’t a shower and only a long drop toilet. I took a rest day and I wasn’t feeling so good. I thought it was just because I had been cycling so far all week. So I relaxed and made sure I was eating and drinking enough. In the evening I cooked myself some fish pasta. My usual energy boost meal on the road.

A rude awakening

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling weird. I thought that I needed to throw up. So I got some clothes on and ran outside. After a few seconds of standing bent forward in the grass it became apparent that I didn’t need to throw up. I needed to get to the toilet. As there’s no running water in that village, there’s just a long drop toilet. I walked to the end of the field to a wooden hut. Opened the door to see a wooden box raised from the ground with a hole cut in the top. As my headtorch flashed over the ‘toilet’ I saw maybe a hundred cockroaches scatter into the darkness. I have to say that I didn’t sit on this wooden box. I opted to use it like a squat toilet. At least this way I only had the risk of a cockroach running on my foot instead of across my bum cheeks or up my back. So yeah, it turned out I had somehow picked up a case of food poisoning.

A difficult decision

The next morning I felt pretty rough. I just wanted to relax in bed, drink something nice and eat some easy to digest foods. The only problem was my location. I was in the middle of nowhere, no running water and a room with no door. I checked the map and saw that the next town was 75km further down the road. I didn’t feel like I was comfortable enough to recover in the place I was staying. So I decided to go for it. Cycling 75km without eating anything. I told myself that I could take it steady and when I got to town I would have access to all the things I might need.

A hard days ride

It turned out to be a long, hard day. The road surface wasn’t so bad and the scenery was really nice. But I was struggling to appreciate it in the condition I was in. I kept zoning out, just slipping into my own mind and cycling. I would catch myself doing it and try to force myself to take in my surroundings. I stopped in each village that I passed through and drank an energy drink to keep me going. Eventually I got to the town of El Sena. I managed to negotiate a really good price for a decent hotel room. Probably just because the owner felt sorry for me. But I was finally in a comfortable place. I took a shower and bought drinks and bread. Then I just settled in for a couple of days of recouperation.

Spending time in the village

For a day or so, I felt really weak and pretty low emotionally. But once I was eating properly again, my strength came back and with it came my positive energy. The day before I was planning to leave, I got a message from Yuri. He mentioned that he had a friend in a village a days ride from El Sena and that I could go stay with him. So that was how I was introduced to Rozen. The next day I cycled out to meet him and stayed with his family. They were all so friendly and welcoming. They live in a beautiful little village called Mandarino. All the neighbours came over to say hello and the kids were amazed to see my drone flying around. It was really nice to experience a small taste of village life. So peaceful and laid back. Rozen explained how much he preferred this lifestyle rather than working in town. As he put it, when you work in town you got to work and come home to sleep. But now his life is spent with his family. His son is like a close friend and he can give his daughter a lot of attention as she grows up. They make some money selling things from a small shop on the front of their house and they are happy.

Pit stop in Puerto Rico

As the week was coming to an end, I headed to the next town along my route. A small town called Puerto Rico. I took a rest day before heading out again. The next leg of my journey would take me through the rest of the Pando region, through the South of Brazil and over the border into Peru. But we can talk about that next week.

South America Blog Posts

Week 18 – The long road north to Pando

At the end of my last vlog I arrived in the town of Santa Rosa. I wasn’t looking forward to the next part of this route. Yuri had told me that it was a bad road. Not necessarily because of the road surface, but because it was boring. Knowing this, I tried to get a bus up to the end of the road. Unfortunately, after waiting for more than an hour, I was told that the buses on this road don’t take bicycles. So I tried to stay positive and set off to cycle north.

The Long Road North

The road I was had to take was from Santa Rosa to El Triangulo. This doesn’t actually take me all the way to the Pando region. But the junction that turns to get there. Its 350km of road that is under construction. As I cycled north, each section was in a different stage of construction. Mostly just bare earth. But some were compacted with several layers of earth. Yuri was right. It was boring. Really boring. Even though I was technically in the Amazon, the area near the road had been cleared for farmland. Mostly farmers raising cows and horses. But this meant that there weren’t any trees, so no shade. Some sections were really windy too, as there weren’t any trees to act as a windbreak. Not may people live in this area. So there are long stretches of nothing, then a small village with maybe 5 houses. I ended up camping every night on the way north. But as there weren’t any nice camp spots out on the road, I would ask in each village whether I could camp in front of a shop or restaurant.

My first Amazonian Village

Each day I would wake up and cycle as far north as I could, keeping in mind that I wanted to camp close enough to a shop so that I could buy supplies. My last night on the road before getting to El Triangulo, I arrived in quite a large village. The village was called Los Cayuces. I saw a hostel there on google maps. So I assumed it was quite a big village or small town. But when I arrived, the locals told me there wasn’t a hostel, or a restaurant, or even a local shop. But they said I could camp there and they offered to cook a meal for me. This ended up being one of my favourite places in Bolivia up to that point. It was a real Amazonian village. It reminded me of Africa so much that I felt right at home.

Not Finished Yet…

As I set up my tent, I had an audience. A group of children from the village were stood watching what I was doing. Then the next morning, I flew my drone a little and the children were curious to see that too. I really love these environments. The houses, people, nature and climate just make me feel like I’m back in Africa. But I had to leave and get to a place with mobile phone signal and electricity. So I cycled to El Triangulo. This was supposed to be my final stop for the week and I was ready to take a rest day. But when I got to El Triangulo I realised that this wasn’t a good place to take a rest day. I know that I have compared towns to truck stops before on this trip. But this place is literally a truck stop. But because it is so remote, its expensive. They were asking around 40-60 Bolivianos for a room. Just a bed, no lights, no electricity. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay. So I ended up camping outside a restaurant again. This was my 5th night sleeping on this road, but I needed to keep going before I could rest. I looked at my map and could see that there was a village on the border between the Beni and Pando regions. But it was another 50km. Bringing my weekly total distance up to 400km this week. So I set off the next morning.

On the Border of the Pando Region

The road to the Pando region was pretty bad. A dirt road with a lot of corrugations. But the area surrounding the road was a lot better than I had for the week up to now. The 50km went pretty fast and I found a place to stay. The village is called Peña Amarilla. It’s right next to a bridge over the Beni River, which is also the border between the regions. The village doesn’t have running water, so the hostel had a long drop toilet and I had to go to wash near the bridge. It looked like a storm drain, but everyone in the village collects water there to take to their houses. It was a new experience for me to shower in a place like that, but I just got on with it. This I headed back to my room and settled down ready for a well earned rest.

South America Blog Posts

Week 17 – Doing repairs & riding San Borja to Santa Rosa

After I arrived in San Borja with the French couple, we had planned to separate as they headed to Trinidad and I continued north. After spending so many nights in the tents, we decided to take some rest days before leaving town. In my case, this wasn’t just to rest, but also to take care of some repairs that I needed to address. Riding on the rough road surfaces over the last few weeks had taken it’s toll on the bike. I am guessing the vibrations just worked things loose. So it was mostly just a case of tightening some bolts. But there was one problem that I really didn’t know how to take care of.

A Damaged Tyre

One day on the route to San Borja I noticed a huge lump in the wall of my front tyre. I never experienced anything like that before, so I posted some pictures in Facebook groups to ask for advice. After reading through a lot of comments I spoke to my friend Charlie, who I met while travelling through Africa. He has a lot more knowledge about bicycles than I do and actually owns a chain of bike shops. So I went with his suggestion. I wrapped a bank note around the innertube of the tyre where it aligned with the defect. This worked for a few days, but then it came back. When I took the wheel off again I saw that the bank note had split into several pieces. So I went for a slightly stronger solution. First I lined the inside of the tyre with duct tape. Then I cut a small piece of plastic water bottle to around the size of the bank note. Charlie had warned me that the plastic would puncture the tube. So I followed some more advice from Facebook. I covered the piece of bottle with more duct tape. That seems to have done the trick and its still holding up to now. I also contacted the manufacturer and they said they would replace the tyre. But I won’t be holding my breath.

The Back Road to Santa Rosa

I decided to take the route that I am on, after meeting Yuri in Uyuni. He said that one of the highlights was the road from San Borja to Santa Rosa. This is a back road which doesn’t show up on Google Maps. The road surface isn’t so great, but the road takes you through the countryside. Passing cattle ranches, forest and marshland. The route took a couple of days and I spent the night camping in a small village called Santa Elena. It’s such a beautiful village. There were horses, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats just wandering around free. It was also a great camp spot as there was an outside toilet and a tap with running water. I took a ‘shower’ using the tap before getting some food and heading to bed.

Lots of Wildlife

The second way was amazing. I started to see more wildlife along the roadside. Animals that I had never seen in the wild before. The first was an armadillo. But it ran too fast for me to take any pictures. Then there were Capybaras. Lots of them. Some in the road and they would make a loud noise when they were running away. Something like a dog’s bark, but a lazy old dog with dementia or something. Then I saw a large bird that looked like an emu or ostrich. But maybe the coolest thing was when I got closer to my final destination for this week. I was crossing a bridge when I heard a noise. Something moving in the water. I looked down to see that the river was full of Kaimen. It was a great way to end the route as I got into town. The only issue now is the road north. Yuri told me it was a bad road. Not necessarily the road surface, but just a long boring road, 350km. But that is for next week.

South America Blog Posts

Week 16 – Caranavi to San Borja with some new friends

After I arrived in Caranavi, I took a couple of rest days to sort out a few things I needed to do. Firstly, I needed to fix my gears as they had been playing up since the ‘Death Road’. But I also needed to do my usual weekly blog and vlog posts. Luckily the gears were an easy fix. The front gears were just jammed by a bit of grit in the mechanism. But I actually took the time to watch some YouTube videos and learned how to adjust the gears on the front and back. They aren’t set up perfectly, but they are much better than they were.

Meeting New Friends

I have also been having some problems with my center stand. It keeps coming loose with the vibrations on the rough road surfaces. So I needed to buy a hex key big enough to fit. When I was walking back to my hotel, I noticed two touring bicycles locked up in the lobby of a hotel across the street. I went in and asked if they belonged to some tourists, they did, but they were out in town. So the next time I went out of the hotel, I called in again and asked if they were back. This is how I met the French couple, Lea and Armand. We had breakfast together the next day and it turned out that they were heading the same direction as I was. We agreed that we would share the road for a while.

Some Great Camping

I had hoped that coming down the ‘Death Road’ would take me out of the mountains. While it did bring me down a lot of altitude, there were still a lot of mountains still to cover. We headed out of Caranavi and we realised that we would be passing over a mountain pretty much every day of the next week. We didn’t hit a mountain every day though. We took some rest days along the way. We also had some great camping spots beside rivers and waterfalls. It was really nice to travel with Lea and Armand. It gave me motivation to push over some mountain roads, but also camping with some new people was a lot of fun. There were two camp spots that were particularly good. The first was next to someone’s house in a mountain village. The guy who owned the house was a musician and he played some music for us. Then I played his guitar while he played his local instruments. He taught me a traditional Bolivian rhythm on guitar. It was a lot of fun and completely unexpected. In the morning we also met his 96 year old mother. The second great spot was next to the river in Sapecho. We swam in the river and I took the opportunity to take a bath and wash my clothes in the river.

Clearing the Andes

The road north was sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrible. The road surface was sometimes smooth and good condition, then it would just stop and we would find ourselves going over rocky roads. I think it would have taken me a lot longer to follow this route if I had been alone. Not that I felt rushed, but being with other people can give you that little extra motivation to keep pushing up the hill rather than stop. It took us almost a whole week to finally get out of the Andes and onto the flat plains of the Bolivian Amazon region. It feels so good to be able to cycle so easily on the roads, even if they are in bad condition. As the week came to a close, we arrived in a town called San Borja. This was our last stop together. Lea and Armand would be heading east to Trinidad while I would be heading North towards Cobija and the Brazilian border. But we all decided to stay in town for a few rest days before we separated.