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Bolivia II, Part 3: Sucre thru Tupiza to Atocha

Bolivia6 min read

December 15 - 18, 2010

I spent a few days in Sucre, getting acclimatized and making final preparations for the Lagunas Route.

A prominent statue at the center of revolutionary leader Antonio José de Sucre, whom the city is named after. He was a Venezuelan general and the right-hand man of Simón Bolívar, who together orchestrated the liberation of the Spanish colonies from here north. Sucre won the final battle in Ayacucho and thus liberated Alto Peru, which was later renamed as Bolivia, in honor of Simón Bolívar.

The government house, showcasing Sucre's colonial architecture. The city was founded in 1538 and features heavily in Bolivian history, being its capital initially and later relinquishing the title to La Paz, but still holding onto the seat of the judiciary, while the legislative and executive branches moved to the new capital.

Nearing on almost half a millenia of continued inhabitation, it's amazing that so much of its colonial past has been preserved. The city has sprawled out into the nearby mountains, but the center still retains much of its architectural glory, typified by whitewashed buildings.

After welding up a small crack in my pannier frame (from the cobble-stoned road), I figured this was a good place to finally fix my shortened side stand. I had cut off an inch of it before the trip since it appeared too long with the weight of all the luggage. However, I later realized that cranking up the compression of the rear spring was the correct way to compensate for the heavy load and this in turn raised the rear of the bike, making it precarious to park with the shortened side stand. I made a temporary fix in São Paulo by adding a few extension bolts but here I could correct it properly.

The welder spliced in an inch of steel tube and did a good job. All for B40 (US$6).

Having a huge bowl of fruit salad for lunch, for B6 in the central market. This was a common sight in most Bolivian cities; stalls selling fresh fruit juices and salads with yogurt and granola.

At night, the lit-up whitewashed buildings glow in all their grandeur.

The street markets come alive at night as people are heading home.

Eating at the mercado is usually the cheapest option but this is also primarily a daytime activity. Strolling around the center, looking for a cheap place to eat at night, I was directed to a back entrance of the central market to the Comedor Nocturno (night food court), that runs after the market usually shuts down from 3 pm to midnight.

The comedor consists of numerous stalls with each table run by a different family.

And they're all jousting to get your business, but it's hard to pick a table when they're all serving the same items at the same price, so just sit down anywhere. This is the typical meal, lomitos, consisting of a piece of fried beef served on rice and french fries with a fried egg on top with fried plantains and a nominal salad, all for B10. It's tasty, but oh so greasy.

And the tables come with pickled vegetables, which I added to supplant the salad. There were onions, sweet peppers and even radishes. Plus, Bolivia understands hot sauce and it's widely available where food is served, usually homemade and very spicy.

At the mercado campesino (street market for the normal folk) stitching up my five year old toiletry bag, which was bursting at the seams and was held up with staples for the longest time. I figured this was the last stop to get things repaired before I entered Chile and Argentina. I also managed to find a real goose down sleeping bag for around US$30, as I would need that for the cold nights at high altitude on the salar and into the Lagunas Route.

Spending a few days at Hotel Pachamama, which was recommended by other bike travelers. A bed could be had for B40 a night with courtyard parking for the bike, hot showers and prime location between the center and the mercado campesino. As Sucre is located at around 2,800 m (9,200 ft), it was a good place to acclimatize to the elevation and walking the hills around town was a good way to introduce my blood to the reduced oxygen up here. I also adjusted sanDRina's air/fuel mixture in the carburetor by reducing the flow of fuel to get the combustion mixture as close to stoichiometric as possible (14.7 molecules of oxygen for 1 molecule of hydrocarbons).

Heading out from Sucre, the road climbs steadily up to Potosi.

A taste of the geological wonders from here on. Flat sedimentary layers pushed almost vertical as the South American plate steadily crashes into the Nazca and Pacific plates.

Cerro Rico and the world's highest city of Potosi at 4,070 m (13,350 ft). The discovery of huge quantities of silver in 1545 made this the richest city in Latin America by the 19th century and this location alone bank-rolled the entire Spanish empire for nearly two centuries. Millions of indigenous people and African slaves were forced into the bone-chilling mines to create wealth for the colonial powers. Most of the towns I passed through in northern Argentina were setup along the supply route to Potosi from the port at Buenos Aires. Just think, if it wasn't for the discovery of exploitable natural resources, where would the colonial powers be today?

From Potosi, I headed south to Tupiza on word that the route from Tupiza to Uyuni should not be missed.

There was some good off-road riding but this was mostly a construction detour as the route is being paved.

The route snaking through a valley. I gained and dropped elevation throughout the day and not yet being fully acclimatized, I got a serious headache by late afternoon, similar to my first experience with huge variations in elevation in getting to Quito.

I found a room in Cotagaita, a town halfway to Tupiza, popped a few paracetamol, applied some tiger balm and slept it off.

It was all good in the morning and I had some typical breakfast of a salty soup with some meat and potatoes, which are considered by the locals as a good source of energy, maybe cause the potato might have been the only source of energy for long periods in their history.

There were some interesting sights on the ride to Tupiza, but most of it was shrouded in construction dust.

Following a rural Land Cruiser ambulance on a stretch of freshly-laid tarmac with colorful mountains ahead.

Having some tasty Salteñas for lunch in Tupiza. These are a form of empanadas and are very tasty. An Argentine couple from Salta was exiled to Bolivia where they started selling these emapandas and the craze soon spread around the country. While in Tupiza, I also picked up a bunch of altitude sickness pills (10 for B35, $5) from a local pharmacy, because I could not afford any more headaches in the rough terrain coming up.

From Tupiza, I turned north towards Uyuni and stayed the night at Atocha.

I was told this route was full of geologic marvels and was not disappointed. Vertical sedimentary layers.

Twisted and contorted layers of rock.

There was farmland in some valleys, but the route was mostly quite remote.

With hardly any traffic, it was an enjoyable ride.

A huge obelisk of stone right by the road. With more people around, I could see this sculpture being worshiped for fertility due to its uncanny phallic resemblance.

As I gained elevation, the terrain became more arid and cactus took over from the shrubs.

Taking a break at 3,800 m (12,465 ft) and noting the path as it slowly made its way along this sparse mountain ridge.

I was heading to that little volcano you see in the distance.

Yup, it was thaaat steep. Coming down after summitting near 4,050 m (13,300 ft).

There's something to appreciate in a route following the natural curves of the land, rather than a straight path being bulldozed in the name of efficiency.

This route is known in the motorcycling community for its frequent arroyo crossings, which are dried river beds for most of the year and swell up in the short rainy season, which was supposed to begin right about now, but was delayed. A flash flood could be coming and that cow would have no idea.

A wide-angle view showing the prominent landmark of that volcano, which was visible for most of the route in this big sky landscape. The clouds feel close enough to touch.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Domesticated llamas were the only visible wildlife.

A landform, plying its way through time under the open sky.

I stopped in this little village after seeing the public water pump and this man jumped on top and happily put some energy down the pump to bring up the water.

I'm sure it was a pure and clean source, coming from deep underground, but just in case, I ran it through my LifeSaver filter, which I've been doing for most of my trip and have avoided spending money on bottled water.

A panorama taking in the route and the ever-present volcano.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

The old route crossing over the muddy arroyo before Atocha.

But, I played it safe and took the newer route through the hills to...

...arrive in Atocha, a small mountain town halfway to Uyuni.

The brightly colored buildings were a stark contrast to the surrounding natural hues. I got a room there for B20.

The bus station and airport all in one place. I guess when the wind picks up, you could just unbolt it from the tower and lift off.

Dinner at the mercado of a warming soup and meat and potatoes with rice. Even if the main dishes stay the same throughout this area, the hot sauce varies.

Next: Bolivia II, Part 4: Salar de Uyuni

Previous: Bolivia II, Part 2: Ruta del Che Guevara


Jammin thru the Global South was the 3+ year, 100,000+ km ride Jay did from the US to India via Latin America, Europe and Africa. Explore the photojournals at the Journey Posts tab.

Jammin Global Adventures is a tour company run by Jay Kannaiyan. He organizes small group, premium motorcycle adventures in Peru, Kenya, Mongolia, India and more.

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