I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave Bolivia without it taking me down first.
I should have known when the woman who worked at the hostel asked, “Where are you heading?”
“Chile,” we responded with happiness filling in the space around that one word.
“That’s a good road, as long as it’s not raining.”
Really? Why did she have to say that? What is it with women parting gifts of such promonitive words? And why did we decide to visit Bolivia during the rainy season?
After having dismantled our bikes yet again that morning in the courtesy of the courtyard of the hostel, we left late that afternoon with the idea of riding as far as we can until sunset and setting up in our tents in the landscapes of Bolivia. Our bikes loaded with a projected 5 days of water and food for what we thought it would take to get through the Lagunas route in the Eduardo Reserve. Trying to lighten our load for the endeavor, we left with more than we had hoped.
The sun was shining as we made our final stop to top off with gasoline, an endeavor that took more negotiation and multiple stations to fulfill. It was not more than 20 km down the road when the forecasted rain fell, slickening the red tierra beneath our tires, potholes now filled with liquid projectile.
The days proceeding Uyuni were alive with music, dancing, and being sprayed with water in celebration of Carnaval. The kids of one village I stopped at to buy gasoline from local tienda out of a 10L can, were kind enough to greet me at the one lane entrance with water guns, aiming for my face (I was smart enough at this point to keep my face shield down) and yelling “tourista!” with exuberance as he hit his target. Yet another left me with a crack as he threw rocks. I wish I had stocked up on water balloons I could have thrown back, but it would have been out of anger rather than festivity. I just wanted out of there.
Back on the muddy road out of Bolivia, the rain continued, as did the parade of bad 4×4 drivers. The elevated lane and a half road gathered all the water it could hold and wept the rest. A Landcrusier passes, migrating to his right hand side and allowing me space to continue on the hard packed tierra. I see another driver in the distance and this one does not give the same space. He passes, aiming for the puddles, mud spraying my suit with Jackson Pollock precision, and I can imagine the driver, an older version of the kids with waterguns, yelling “tourista!” I try to wipe the dirt from my shield as the rain is not strong enough to wash it off. Another truck approaches on the horizon and I move to the right to give him space as he passes since he does not have the courtesy to do the same. Unfortunately, my tires entered the soft squishiness of newly formed mud. Momentarily thankful for the knobby front tire I put on, I felt it grip the mess below, but the mess was not able to provide grip back. It was more like a slingshot sending me away from itself, saying this is not the place for you or your motorcycle. I arched to the left, my tires looking for any ground to steady itself, I am going down… the instability I held onto wobbled beneath my hands gave me a glimmer of hope, no I’m not, I’m not! But the weight of a loaded machine won and over-turned the idea…I am going down. I released the bike as it spun around, tires pointing in the opposite direction, my body summersaulting without enough space for a full rotation. As my helmet connected with a thunk to the ground, I couldn’t help but think, it did its job, how do people ever ride without one of these. Then my shoulder found the earth and legs to follow. The nice thing about the mud is it did give a soft-ish place to land, the stickiness absorbing some of the impact. In the same vein of a circus performer who missed his cue, I used the momentum to gather to my feet and keep moving before the adrenaline wore off. Amidst the stream of inconsiderate tour drivers, a man in a pickup with his family dry inside, stopped to help lift up the KLR, now heavier with stuck mud and turn it around, so I could start it up as I headed in the right direction. With a wave as thank you, I continued down that road to Chile.