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|Chile Border to Oruro • Bolivia 4wd Expedition|
|JULY 15, 2006 – SATURDAY
BOLIVIA OR BUST
|After a quick stroll and a few pix on the rocky beach, we backtrack north out of Arica, Chile just a few kilometers, and then hang a right (East), on Hwy 11 for Bolivia. The 200k of road appeared to be very curvy on the map, and I was afraid that we would be all day just to the crossing at Tambo Quemado. Tambo means “trail marking,” so we are hoping that it is a less-used border crossing, and we will have none of the problems that everyone has told us we will have. It is actually a very nice road. The pavement is good. There are a few places where there is unstable geology and you can tell it has heaved or just washed out or something, but repairs have been made. There are definitely places that still need help, but they are marked with spray paint, like they intend to fix them.|
|Chile Border to Oruro Gallery|
|We are climbing in elevation, from sea level in Arica, to just over 12,000 ft in 3 hours or so. We spot our first llama, which are really vicunas. They are smaller than llama or alpaca, no long wool, and are skinny. There are not very many of them, kind of like we would see deer at home, I guess. The land changes to a “tundra” type of ground. It truly looks like Alaska. There are bumpy lumps of greenish lichens/grass surrounded by shallow pools. There is 1 main difference; there are ALPACA everywhere, herds of them.As we come around a corner, very close to the border crossing, I can see all kinds of birds in the lake. Upon closer inspection, I yell to stop, “look at the penguins.” Well, not penguins, but it got Mike’s attention. In my excitement, I mistake FLAMINGOS for penguins. You can see the resemblance, right? Well, it did make him stop. We took a few photos. I had not read about flamingos here, so was not expecting it. What a pleasant surprise. We get to the “let you out of Chile” crossing and are done in about 10 minutes. After a 5 minute drive, we arrive at the Bolivia crossing. The 15 minute document examination and a discussion as to our “UNIMOG” placa (license plate), and we were through! There were none of the horror stories we heard of: personal searches, demands that all US money be handed over, thorough searches of vehicles while planting contraband, etc. It was a VERY nice and uneventful crossing. This is the one we had been so worried about.
NOTE: LICENSE PLATE STOLEN
I forgot to mention that our back license plate was stolen while in shipment. The thief was so kind to have put back the license plate bracket AND the bolts! It has not been a concern anywhere we have been yet. We expected to have to explain the missing plate even before we left Lima and then at least at one of the border crossings. The only placa issue we have had is explaining why the MODEL of our truck is UNIMOG, AND our license plate is UNIMOG. Note to self – best not to travel abroad with custom license plates, at least ones that match the model of vehicle and ones without numbers. We have learned to explain in Spanish that in the “Estados Unidos”, the United States, you can fill out a documento for especial placas. Then I was asked if I had to pay. My “yes” answer was mistaken as I had bribed someone to give us special plates! Oh well, I’ll try a different explanation next time.From Tambo Quemado we take the Hwy 108 to Platacamaya. WHAT A WONDERFUL ROAD!! This is the best road we have been on yet! Yes, there are toll stops were we have to pay maybe 15 Bolivianos, around $1.60 (8 Bolivianos to $1 US). For these types of roads, we are very willing to pay. There are even pretty good shoulders on the roads, and very smooth. We are again remarkable surprised by this point of Bolivia.
ORUR0, BOLIVIA – Elevation 12,197 feet – Population 200,000
At Platacamaya, we turn South on Hwy 1, going toward Oruro. We make Oruro just in time to end up in the middle of their Day of Revolution parade. (I think that was the occasion that was being celebrated.) Anyway, we were definitely the biggest thing in the parade! Travelers are warned to stay out of LaPaz for the day or 2 surrounding this celebration. This was another reason for us using this southerly route.
SPENDING THE NIGHT AT THE PRISON
We spend an hour driving around town asking directions to a banco (bank), as we desperately need Bolivianos. We exchanged $10 US at the border from a lady sitting beside the road because we needed 15 Bolivianos at the crossing. There were no fuel stations that accepted tarjeta creditos (credit cards), so we MUST have some Bolivianos. It is very strange how the businesses seem to lay out here. One street has just abadagos (attorneys), another has food stuffs, another small wares. It is all very segregated. FINALLY we end up on BANK street. Every other storefront is a bank or ATM. We finally get our Bolivianos from the ATM.
It is now dark and we still need a place to park. We get directions to the Hotel Terminal that supposedly has a large enough place for us. Well, it is inside the bus terminal. Bus terminals are the last resort, because of security and noise. So we continue to look. This is a very frustrating and nerve wrecking experience. We remember that there was a Police Station as we came into town. So, we start back to that side of town, and THEN I spot a 2nd police station. I know they will know of a place to stay. The site of the doors was quite intimidating. They were about 10 feet tall and solid steel, 3/8 inches thick, with small slits for lookout (or they could have been for guns!!). As I knock on the doors, they creak open and a policeman comes out. I ask about seguridad estacioamiento de la noche (secure/safe parking for the night.) He discusses with a fellow officer and tells me that we can park in front of the building, just where we are. I ask about someone to watch the truck all night. He says he will. Mike tells him that we will pay him 50 Bolivianos to watch all night and 50 more if all is well in the morning. He agrees. Feeling secure, we climb in the back for the night.
About 1 O’clock in the morning, Mike wakes up, wondering how cold it is, and wondering if our non-winter diesel fuel will be gelled by morning. Our 40 gallon tank has quite a lot of diesel treatment in it, so we lay awake discussing how cold it might be and how badly do we really want to get up and transfer the 40 gal tank into the big tank. At 2:30, Mike decides to get up and do it. He finds that it is about 38 degrees, and the truck doesn’t want to start very well because of the altitude. He also finds that our 50 Bolivianos policeman is no where in sight. But being in front of the police station, who is worried?
The next morning, Mike ventures out in the cold to see if Kolob will start. Reluctantly, it does start. Mike’s new discovery is relayed to me in the form of a question: “Did you know that the police are toting machine guns?” Well, I did not see that last night! Sorry. As I am buttoning things up to leave, Mike pops his head back in and asks “Did you know that you parked us at a PRISON???” Of course I didn’t. I thought it was a Police station! Well, that might explain the thick steel doors and the machine guns. Mike has been offered a “tour” of the prison, and accepts, but tells me to be sure to lock the camper door while he is gone. (That is reassuring!) It appears that for a 20 Boliviano donation (asked for at the end of the tour), one can get a glimpse of the prison life for counterfeiters. He thinks that is what he was told the prison was for. (Where were these prisons in Peru where counterfeiting is an art?)
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