Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Ruta Del Che

By Mark

We had decided since we had been enjoying Bolivia that we should see a little more instead of heading straight for La Paz. So our next route was going to take us through the mountains and down into the lowlands of the south-east via the Ruta del Che.

We had seen some photos posted by a fellow motorcycle traveller we had just met in Sucre and I was very keen on taking this route. It was not really because of Che Guevara but because of the beautiful landscape and the quiet dirt roads winding their way through the mountains and grand valleys.

We had a late start to the day, a little hard getting ourselves packed early after nearly 5 weeks off the bike. Luckily the first stint was mainly on sealed roads but that didn't stop me from getting a puncture, something that is becoming a very regular occurrence and one thing I could do without. With no spare tube I started to repair the  punctured tube by the roadside in a small village only 25kms from our destination, with fading light I rushed the job and the following morning realised that my attempt to repair the tube was only a half-arsed attempt. No worries I thought, I will just pump the tyre up every few hours until we reach our next destination and when I have time I will fix it properly then.

Well, this didn't turn out to be the best idea as within an hour the tyre was dead flat and with Sanne off zooming ahead I was left to repair the bike roadside by myself. A half hour later Sanne had finally realised I was not behind her and she came back to look for me. Hot and sweaty I was done as she pulled up, only left having to put the wheel back on. I really thought I had done a good job this time but again within half an hour the same problem. So we stopped in the next small village, again going through the ordeal of removing wheel etc. One good thing now is that at least I can remove the tyre very quickly. Assessing the problem I found that the issue was down to the fact that the patches would not adhere properly with the old glue that I have been carrying for such a long time. The other problem was that there were 3 holes beside one another and they needed three patches to cover them which all had to overlap. This was not going to work either, but with no choice I did the best I could do with the bad situation and pushed on again.

This time at least I only had to stop every couple of hours to pump up the tyre. With only very small villages on our route there was nothing else I could do until we reached a larger town to replace the worn tube. After a long day we were looking forward to reaching Valle Grande but with fading light we had a 2 hour night ride ahead of us. Luckily we came across a sign (which was a surprise as signs are very limited and far between in Bolivia) for the village of La Higuera. So as the sunset and day turned into night the last 10kms were slow going on these small dirt roads. The lights of the village came into sight and we were all the happier for it.
The village of about 8 homes has a population consisting of 10% French, this just happened to be one of the people we stayed with. His entire guesthouse is dedicated to the life of Che and the bar is covered in Che pictures and memorabilia.

So a little info for you all. The village of La Higuera is where Che saw his final days. The last 14 days leading up to his death were spent in the surrounding mountains with 17 men with him. With 1800 Bolivian soldiers after him, they never really had a chance to make it out. Che and some of his men were shot and captured a 2 hour hike from the village. They were then marched into the local school in the village where they were kept imprisoned until the soldiers received orders of what to do with them. The order came for Che's death. So Mario Teran put his hand up to do the honours. The 31 year old alcoholic Sergeant then entered the room where Che was, pointed his rifle at him but hesitated, Che angrily spat at him and told him "shoot me you coward, you are only going to kill a man!" Teran opened fire and 9 shots later that was the end for Che. He was then taken to the next village of Valle Grande where he was buried until 1995. Now half of him is in his home country of Argentina and the other half in Cuba.
You can read all about his life here:

We enjoyed hearing the story from Chris the owner of the guesthouse but with not much else to see or do here, we decided to hit the road for Samaipata. We had heard how great this town is meant to be so we were looking forward to seeing if it was in fact all that. Along the way I finally got my new tube, in fact I bought 2 so I would not have to go though all the hassle again. We arrived in Samaipata late as we have done every day since being back on the road. After finally finding a room, more of a shoe box in size we headed out for dinner and a drink. Straight away both of us were not taken by the town and were quite disappointed. There seemed to be a divide between the locals and the ever growing number of gringos moving to town and setting up shop. The following day gave us a chance to see the scenery surrounding the town and even that had been hyped up by the fellow travellers we had spoken to. Further from town it became more beautiful but it was not enough to keep us there.

So we hit the road for Santa Cruz though we had no intention of staying there the night but it was the only route we could take to head north via Buena Vista. I am glad we did not stay in Santa Cruz because the traffic on the outskirts had been atrocious along with the roads and we just wanted out. It seemed to take forever and with little signage it made the day even longer having to stop and ask for directions. One thing at least is that everyone we met have been very helpful and have always guided us in the right direction. Who needs a GPS? With no decent map of Bolivia this will continue on until we leave the country I think.

The next 2 days passed without much excitement and we now just had our sights set on getting to La Paz, with a stop off in Cochabamba. The ride from Villa Tunari was some ride. We went from 270 metres above seal level to 3000m in no time at all. Climbing none stop up and out of the jungle and mountains which we never really got to see as we were in a cloud the majority of the time. After 3000m+ we were up and above the clouds and headed back onto the Altiplano. I don't know what was the worse part about the ride, the cold and wet, the roads in terrible conditions or fighting your way through the traffic with mad van drivers overtaking anywhere and everywhere. At least on the way up the mountain it was slow going but soon as we were up on the Altiplano the stakes were much higher for survival. On the last leg dropping back down to Cochabamba we were happy to have hit the road early and arriving in the city in the daytime as night riding would not be a good option here. All in all the past few days had been enjoyable if not a little hectic. The next ride to la Paz should see us take more back roads away from the mental drivers.

The dry landscape outside of Sucre

Where all my troubles first started with my first puncture, at least this lovely family kept us company while fixing it. 

We both loved being back on the dirt roads

Heading up out of the valley

Another day another flat

Selfie time

Back down the mountain to Valle Grande

Parts of the road were in really bad condition

 Time to try and fix the puncture once again

Beautiful views everywhere

After a long day we were happy to come across this sign

The hostal we stayed at in La Higuera, with the entire room dedicated to Che

 Found this guy hanging around the bar

 A monument to Che in La Higuera

The school building in which Che was killed

Another day another beautiful vista

 Drying of corn in a small village somewhere in the mountains

Down in the lowlands and the landscape has completely changed from dry and arid to lush jungle

Up into the clouds

Arriving in Cochabamba

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