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.

South America Blog Posts

Week 15 – Down the Bolivian ‘Death road’ and to Caranavi

The Bolivian ‘Death Road’ got it’s name from the number of traffic accidents that happened on the road. Most of them occurred when vehicles tried to pass each other on the narrow roads and rolled down the mountain. The road was built to link La Paz with the Amazonian areas of Brazil. It was started using labour from prisoners of war from Paraguay. Because of the number of deaths on the road, the Bolivian government completed a new road in 2006. Since then the road gets very little use, other than tourists on bike tours who are driven there from La Paz, go down the hill then are driven back to La Paz again. So the road is actually very safe, peaceful and beautiful to ride down.

Heading down the ‘Death Road’

I started my week by waking up in the viewpoint at the top of the ‘Death road’. The view was amazing, especially as I hadn’t been able to see more than a meter in front of my face the night before. Before I set off, I waited for the tour groups to leave so that I could take my time without them passing me. While I was waiting, I met a couple who were travelling in their small campervan with their 9 month old baby. It’s always nice to meet and chat with fellow travellers, especially when they are coming from the direction you are heading in. They recommended a riverside camping spot further on my route. We wished each other luck and then I started cycling down the road. The views were so refreshing after the desert landscapes I have been in for the lase few months. Tropical forest covered mountains with birds singing in the trees. Really wonderful.

I got to the checkpoint which is maybe half way down the road. That’s when I noticed that I had dropped my powerbank somewhere on the road. I left my bike at the checkpoint and started walking back up the mountain to see if I could see it. Luckily the ambulance driver, who waits at the checkpoint, was kind enough to drive me up the hill to look. It’s a good job that he did, because the powerbank was right up near the top of the road. I was so grateful. I didn’t know what I would do without the powerbank. Without it I can’t use my solar charger and can’t recharge any of my equipment. I thanked him, passed through the checkpoint and then found another viewpoint that I decided to camp in for the night.

The road to Caranavi

In the morning I sat listening to the birds singing and made some recordings of the sounds before I packed up and continued down through the mountains. I spent a day resting in a hostel in the valley at the bottom of the road before taking the road to Caranavi. Honestly, there isn’t much difference between the standard of the ‘Death Road’ and the rest of the road to Caranavi. Both of them are terrible and gravel covered, passing through mountains. I thought that passing down the ‘Death Road’ would take me out of the Andes and that I would be on more level ground. But I was mistaken. The Andes gently get smaller and smaller for hundreds of kilometers yet. It was a long days ride to Caranavi and when I arrived, the city didn’t look nice at all. It basically looked like a huge truck stop. But I stayed there a day or so and it looked a lot better with a fresh pair of eyes after a nights sleep. The city is sat in the mountains, with wonderful views as you look out of the city. It was while taking a rest day here that I met a French couple who were also cycling into the Amazon. We decided to travel together for the next week as our routes will separate in a town called San Borja. They will head East to Trinidad and I will head north. But we can talk about that next week.