Archive for May, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

Posted on May 30, 2011 by 5 Comments

We asked our Facebook friends whether or not we should go to the Bolivian jungle. It wasn’t even close. Amazonia, here we come.

A flight from La Paz was only about 45 minutes, but the drive would have been 18 hours or more! We’ve been told this long drive is no fun at all, so we opted to take the small propeller plane to the jungle town of Rurrenabaque.

After a night in Rurre, we set out on a 5 day tour. We met up with our guide, Jimmy, and took a small boat 3 hours up the Beni river to an eco-lodge in Madidi National Park. We stopped 4 times to buy/show our tickets/permissions to park rangers, so apparently this is not something that can easily be done on one’s own. Guides are required.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on this trip. Several new friends had recommended a pricier tour and lodge, but we opted to go a bit cheaper. There were no other guests at this lodge – only the family of 3 that runs the place. I don’t think they’d had any business for a while.

We set out for a hike, but despite the 28% DEET we covered ourselves with, we were instantly surrounded by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, in the jungle?!

We were a sight, the 3 of us all doing a continuous swatting motion around our heads while Jimmy told us about the local flora. Occasionally he’d stop and say something like “smell that?…..jungle pig”. We saw tracks and certainly smelled something, but never saw the peccary.  We did see some amazing plants,  but that wasn’t enough to keep Bode interested for 3 hours.  The poor kid had thousands of bugs swarming him.

At one point, Jimmy turned around and had 4 mosquitoes on his face and another in his mouth. I looked at Bode who looked at me with his sad face, and told Jimmy we wouldn’t be able to go on for 2 more hours.

No problem, we’ll take a different trail back. Half an hour later, Jimmy is building his own bridge for us to cross a creek. On the other side, the trail had been taken back by the jungle and Jimmy was hacking away at it with his machete. At one point, he told us to wait by a marshy area while he checked the trail ahead. Oddly, and luckily the bugs didn’t seem to know about this particular part of the jungle. We waited there about 45 minutes listening to the sounds of machete. Was he leaving us there?

Finally, Jimmy returned and took us on an adventurous trail where we climbed up, over, under and through some crazy spots. My personal favorite was the poisonous tree he told us not to touch that was laying about 3 feet above ground on our path. Over or under that?

At one point Jimmy just lifted Bode and started carrying him.

In the end, the hike was about… 3 hours. We all wished we’d just stayed on the regularly scheduled 3 hour hike.


Folkevogn Tidende

Posted on May 27, 2011 by 7 Comments

A few weeks ago we received a nice email from a guy in Norway. He’d seen us in the African magazine article. Never in my life would I have imagined I would put those two sentences together.

Anyway, he wanted to use some of our photos for his club newsletter. We didn’t have to do anything but agree… easy enough.

Today, we received an electronic copy and were surprised to see just how thoroughly he had combed through our entire journey and pulled out some of the odd VW’s we’ve seen. My Norwegian is a bit rusty – okay, I actually don’t speak any language that involves umlauts or the letter “ø” – but the article looks great and we’re flattered to be included.

And, to Kjell and our new friends in Norway - Velkommen til vår reise – vi vil se deg når vi kommer til Norge!

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Filed Under: Bolivia

The Road of Death

Posted on May 26, 2011 by 9 Comments

The Most Dangerous Road in the World

Has a nice ring to it.

La Ruta De Muerte” also sounds pretty intimidating.

Driving this route has been the subject of debate for quite a while. I want to drive it – she doesn’t. Angela has tried to get me to ride down it on a mountain bike instead.

Eventually, I stumped her with “What am I going to tell Mitch?” As a last resort, I stopped using logic. You can’t argue with crazy.

A few notes on driving this route:

It’s generally just a car-width and recently-graded gravel. But, there are plenty of turn-outs. Honk your horn around the blind turns. Watch out for bikes. Drive on the left.

This last part maybe this is why it’s so dangerous. The Bolivians use some twisted logic and explain that driving on the left here is somehow safer. The downhill driver’s side wheel will be on the edge of the cliff and they can see better. Right.

This is a tourist attraction – watch out for bikes.  I figure we saw 100 mountain bikers or more. At $100 USD each, that’s a $3.65 million dollar a year industry. Most of these folks seemed uncomfortable on a bike, period. Why coast down 2500 meters on the most dangerous road in the world if you can hardly ride a bike? Apparently, you get a T-shirt.

We stopped and talked to one of the tour guides leading a biking group. Nice folks. Bode was “on”. They offered him a job whenever he wants it. As a parent, having your child offered future employment is always encouraging.

Oh, and I call bullshit on the History Channel. They were shooting a TV show – something about ‘Extreme Truckers’ – and had been filming here for weeks trying to get the perfect shots. A pro stunt driver in a big blue truck hauling an empty steel tank –  for no reason at all. There is a perfectly good new paved highway not far away that all the trucks and buses now use. Fake ‘extreme reality trucking’ shows. History Channel, we’ve got your reality right here.

Despite my incredulity, the road is still pretty insane. You drive through waterfalls. You drive within inches of straight vertical drops. One mistake and you’re dead. It is serious.

Of course, I was aware that I was placing my son in some level of danger – he thought it was pretty cool. Still, despite riding in what is likely the only car seat in South America, there probably wouldn’t be enough magic to protect him from any plunge over the edge.

We survived – but didn’t get a T-shirt.

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Filed Under: Bolivia

Down to Coroico

Posted on May 25, 2011 by 1 Comment

We continued on, and to the top of La Ruta de Muerte. We had discussed driving “The Most Dangerous Road in the World” but took a pass for now since it was completely fogged over. If we are going to plummet to our deaths, we at least want a nice view on the way down.

Hours later, we finally made it to the animal rescue center our friend had recommended. We had called them to see about volunteering opportunities and they told us to come on down.  Both the guidebook and the sign out front said they had camping, but when we got there they decided that they didn’t. And, they didn’t want children on the grounds (despite saying we were welcome to stay for two weeks in previous  in e-mails).

In the few minutes we were there, Bode had  been jumped by a monkey and another monkey was riding around on the back of a dog. Interesting place. Oh well, it looked like they had enough volunteers anyway.

So, we headed into the hillside village of Coroico and found a great hostal - Sol y Luna. Way down at 1800 meters. We’d been all sleeping together ‘downstairs’ to stay warm in the bus for the past week, so we were ready for some space. Our room was great and had a kitchen.  The grounds of the place were completely amazing and overlooked the valley below. We want this garden.

Coroico – not much to do, but nice views.

We also found the one gas station within 100 km. They had gas, but ration you to 50 B’s per day – about a quarter tank.


Filed Under: Bolivia

All Choked Up

Posted on May 24, 2011 by 11 Comments

The bus has been running terribly when it first starts up – barely going at all, actually. For the most part, we haven’t been under 3500 meters in a month. It’s the cold, it’s the altitude. Well, today I decided to actually do something about it.  I would either try to fix that broken choke or just open them up all the way.

Well, first of all, I found out that BOTH the chokes were broken. Same part, but different places. It took a while, but I figured out a way to essentially make a new part with some baling wire and RTV. It now starts right up on the first try. While I was at it, I fixed that damn throttle lever that was coming off all the time. It was too the point where I was stopping every 30 minutes to re-attach it.

Problem is, my carbs are now literally held together with baling wire. Note to the Solex/Kadron people: make components that don’t fall apart when you use them.

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Filed Under: Bolivia

Up and Out

Posted on May 22, 2011 by 2 Comments

We coasted into La Paz (1 million people, 3500 meters above sea level) and found the first gas station. For some reason there was no line – gasoline no problem.

It’s worth repeating that we had absolutely no intention of coming here. We even told multiple people we would bypass the city completely. Here we are.

Needless to say, we were ready to set up camp. An hour after entering La Paz, we finally made it to a notorious hotel in town that caters to overlanders: the Swiss-run Hotel Oberlander. We were the 6th camper in the lot.

Once you’re in a place like this, all the kids become friends, there’s free wi-fi, a real supermarket is a short cab-ride away and before long you’ve been here a lot longer than you’ve planned. And, you’ve barely left the hotel grounds.

Bode and I finally went into downtown La Paz to run some errands and we ended up fending off a purse-snatcher.  Luckily, I pulled away when I felt something. They managed to unzip the pack while it was on my back, but they didn’t get an opportunity to grab anything. Still, it made me leery of the entire city.

Oddly, downtown and the “nice” part of the city is at the bottom of the canyon and the slums are at the top. Opposite of every other city in the world. The river in town has got to be record-setting in it’s pollution.

It wasn’t long, and we were desperate to get out of La Paz. We took off for what we thought would be a nice 2.5 hour drive to Coroico. At the mountain pass at 4600 meters, we saw a small lake just off the road. There were two Land Cruisers camping, so we pulled off to have lunch. Surprise, surprise – a French family. Bode made another great friend and they played like it was nothing. An altitude of 15,100 ft doesn’t seem to make much difference anymore. Maybe we’ll have super-human strength when we return to sea level.



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Filed Under: Bolivia

How to Get a Picture of Yourself in the Newspaper Holding a Picture of Yourself in the Newspaper

Posted on May 20, 2011 by 6 Comments


Announce to all your friends and family that you are going to do something preposterous.

This serves a few purposes. You can hear yourself say it and explain it out loud enough times that it starts to make sense… or it might help you realize you’re completely full of sh!*. In either case, you’ll probably learn something valuable.

If it’s just crazy enough (and you live in a small enough town) you might get some attention from the local paper. Maybe they’ll come interview you.  Maybe they’ll put your picture in the paper. Smile! Somehow, we ended up on the front page.



Assuming your hometown is small enough, you might send them an update after a few years to let them know you actually went through with it and haven’t been kidnapped or dissolved your marriage. They might even have a feature in the paper where they publish photos of people ‘reading’ their paper in other parts of the world. Take along your front page spread, big shot.

Lest you think we’re major narcissists, we haven’t been carrying around newspaper clippings of ourselves for the entire trip. We came across the paper when were purging more of our belongings from Angela’s parent’s house over the holidays. It was either chunk it or pack it. It was small enough – we packed it.

And, many thanks to Mike C. for providing the newspapers clippings/scans!

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Filed Under: Bolivia

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