Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Argentina, goodbye Argentina, Bolivia here we come.

(Iglesia San Roque, Tarija, Bolivia)

Well, all good things come to an end, and our end in Argentina had finally come. We left Salta and headed for the border, despite some stories about road blocks and lack of gasoline. The border we were interested in crossing was the Aguas Blancas/Bermejo border. Apparently, according to the latest reports, there was not supposed to be any problems here, as the border currently affected was further north east at Pocitos. Apparently, the farmers are up in arms again, and had been blocking roads and there was no gasoline or diesel in the area, forcing hundreds of trucks to wait either for the road blocks, or the fuel.

But as I said, the border we were headed for was not supposed to be affected, so off we rode. It only took a couple of hours for us to run into the first road block. Here at the entrance to one of the many small farming communities along the road, they had parked a road grader across the road, and there were a larger number of farmers and hangers-on just standing around. Nearby, some police just watching, everything very relaxed, all the drivers of cars and trucks, just sitting in their cars waiting or standing around talking. As we neared, some of the drivers motioned us to pass either on the right or left, and as I stopped, they said it was no problem, the bike could go through. So that is exactly what we did, we headed to the front of the line, an as we neared the people manning the road block, stood aside and let us through a small gap in the road. Everyone waving and smiling as we passed and asking where we were headed.

In short order we had passed two or three more of these. So we figured it was no big deal, although, I was now starting to worry about the gas situation. My plan had been to fill up at the last major town before the border at the main north/south - east/west road junction, Pichanal. This town was still hundreds of kilometers away from where I had heard of problems. But before we got there, we ran into an "un-usual" road block. This time, it was just a few cars (by this time we had passed 4 other road blocks, and there just wasn't a lot of traffic coming through), but rather than an "organized" blockade, it was just some bushes across the road, manned by a couple of elderly ladies, and some masked youths, never a good sign. Ahead of us on either side of the block were a couple of cars and some busses. While we watched, a couple of the people went up to the bus, and came back with some soft-drinks, and snacks! After that, they opened the road block and let everyone through! Hmmm. Very curious. They didn't go to, or ask for anything else from any other vehicles other than the two buses, and before I really thought about it we were on our way again. I guess that it was just a minor "shake down", with some people taking advantage of the current situation.

(Fast food stands, Bolivia)

At Pichanal, as I had feared there was no gasoline, luckily for us, the attendants told us that there was gasoline in the direction we were traveling, at a town called Oran. So in the end it turned out pretty good for us. We found gas, and a nice camping at a place called Hipolito Yrigoyen, a few kilometers before Oran. so we were all set before heading to the border. Unfortunately, the whole area was swarming with bugs. Small biting flies, I can't remember anything as bad. Must be all the water around here. Since leaving Salta we had been getting increasingly into very productive farming areas, all irrigated by rivers in the area. So we covered ourselves in bug spray and spent as little time outside as absolutely necessary.

Now it was time for Bolivia, we got a good start, and there were no more road blocks or other problems in getting to the border. The border it self was totally deserted. I was the only one there. The Argentinian police started by telling me that the road was blocked on the Bolivian side and that I could not cross the border. Hmm. This didn't sound good. Nevertheless I persisted, and after a little back and forth, they reluctantly agreed to stamp our passports and let us pass. As I was getting the customs stuff taken care of, Katheryna told me that a number of Argentinian's who had showed up by car had been turned back by the same police who had tried to stop us!!

The crossing itself was simple, just a bridge across the Bermejo river and we were at the Bolivian migration, which incidently was also deserted. The usual formalities taken care of and we were officialy in Bolivia!!!

We had a quick look at Bermejo, where we spent an hour or so looking for a map of Bolivia. If you have followed our adventures, you know that in Mendoza, when we got robbed, they also took all my wonderful maps. Including of course the Bolivian map, so we had to find a replacement. We have been looking for one since Salta, without much luck. Apparently not too many people travel this way, and if they do they don't need any maps. The funny thing was a few of the people we asked regarding, where we could get a map, would invariably say that we didn't need one. There aren't that many roads and you couldn't get lost anyway. Well, we continued trying, and unfortunately, in Bermejo we didn't find one either. We even stopped at the Municipal building and asked there, and of course, they were on strike, but nevertheless a couple of people rifled their cupboards, and filing cabinets, and eventually came up with a xerox copy of a political map of Bolivia, as A4 format. Not very helpful, but I gave them an A for effort and willingness to help.

(Casa Dorada, Tarija, Bolivia)

In case you are curious, Bermejo isn't much, a small town, lots of clothing shops, a few dirt streets, a bank, a couple of hotels/hostals and that is about it. Lots of little boats along the river, with which people would cross over to Argentina. A functional border town, without any pretentions of being anything else.

We continued on our way. On my GPS when I planned this route I did so because the road looked awsome, it followed the river and had lots and lots of curves. For some reason I had the feeling that it would be over a mountain, but I was not disappointed to find that the road was not only as curvy as it looked on the GPS. But, the road was also paved and for the most part in excellent condition. Not only that there was no traffic. So with huge smiles on our faces we spent a few hours riding along the Bermejo river. Once we left the river the road climbed up and over some "mountains" and we eventually made it to Tarija.

(Gas station, Tarija, Bolivia)

There had been no road blocks as the police had warned us. In addition, there had been not much of anything else. Only a few small villages. Tarija, was different, as we came in to town we were greeted with little traffic, and huge, but huge, lines at the gas station. The gas station itself wasn't pumping any gas, but cars where lined up for km's. Not only that, on closer look, there where hundreds of people standing in line with their LP gas cans. Apparently the gas station was next door to the distribution point for LP gas (which is what most people here use to cook with), and they weren't distributing either!

(Tarija, Bolivia)

Past this, we came into town proper, with treelined 6 lane avenues, and our first road block. The bike got around some and in a couple of cases we just turned around and headed along another road. We eventually found the center of town, and took a rest. Everything was pretty quiet as it was siesta time, and the Tarijenos take their fiestas very seriously. We found ourselves an relatively cheap accommodation and a place to park the bike and we could relax a little. We have made it to Bolivia!

Our first impressions have been favorable, the road blocks not withstanding. Everyone has been universally friendly and helpful. It is a poorer country than Argentina, at least from our experiences to date.

The plan is now to head to Trinidad, and maybe do a jungle cruise. Who knows....

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