Week 76 to 81 - Sucre Shenannigans!
Yes, ANOTHER long city stay due to my bike issues! We do try to avoid big cities and if not, just spend 2 days or so, however the unrelenting mechanical issues with my bike had caused us to end up in many big cities on this adventure, and for way longer than expected. We had two key purposes for returning to Sucre; a highly recommended mechanic and extending our visa's which were coming to an end, and we'd definitely need longer to get the bike sorted. Obviously thrown in with that would be lots of other stuff to, like meeting new people, people watching in the square and drinking beer!
We returned to good old Wasi Masi hostel. We had a couple of days until we needed to get the ball rolling with the visa extension, and we were going to see Niky from MotoCar about the bike issue, but then we had to wait for the parts. We’d managed to get in contact with a guy called Dan via ‘Overland Mules’ on Facebook, who happened to be flying to Santiago (Chile) from Bolivia and coming back again in two weeks. It was funny to think that we’d set this group up with our South African friends Michnus and Elsebie about a year before and never used it until now, and it worked well! We found a company (Rino Motos) who actually had the parts I needed available so off Dan went to get them.
Whilst we were waiting for the time to come to go into immigration about extending our Visa’s we thought we’d do a little sight seeing. Sucre is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Dinosaur footprints, all found at Cal Orck'o cliff, very close to the city. The park was called Parque Cretacico (http://parquecretacicosucre.com) and was not expensive to get in, plus after hopping on a local bus which cost literally a few pennies we got there just in time for an English guided tour through the park and then a English/Spanish guided tour of the wall of dinosaur prints. Ruins aren’t normal our thing, but seeing perfectly preserved dinosaur footprints from creatures that walked our Earth millions of years ago is just amazing. Even the sculptures of lots of different types of dinosaurs spread out within the park was pretty cool. After our little excursion we hopped back on the local bus to the centre of town, meandering though lots of back streets and markets on route, way better than paying multiple times the price for the commercial ‘Dino Bus’.
Soon it was time to renew the visa’s. We had a week until they would expire so we though that would be about right. We headed off to the immigration office and waited for our turn, which was only a couple of minutes. The lovely immigration officer explained to us that we would need a letter from a notary which stated what we would be doing in terms of ‘work’ as the only way to extend our stay in Bolivia was via a Working visa, not a tourist visa. He knew we wanted to extend due to my bike issues, however that didn’t seem to matter. So, off we went to the notary. Since we had done some volunteering in the country when we first entered, I decided to use this as the location to put on the letter. We also had to provide proof of funds, although it seemed it didn’t matter how much funds you had! The letter cost a few quid and then we went back to immigration. Next he said we needed a letter from the company. Ok. He gave us a copy of someone else’s letter to take a photo of and copy. No data protection laws here then! Off we went and wrote a nice letter with the logo of the company, however I also contacted Ivonne and explained the situation. I sent her the already typed letter and she sent it back with a stamp and signature. Bingo! Off to immigration again.
Next we were informed that said letter had to have an ink signature and could not be a photocopy signature. The guy asked if we had a blank copy and we could sign it ourselves, or we could send it to La Paz to be signed via courier. We had no blank copy yet, but we assured him we’d get it sorted. 2 hours later we returned to him with the letter he required after a little help from photoshop and a nice, traced signature holding the letter up to a window. Perfecto! Last mission…he wanted a photo. Again, he supplied us with someone else photo and told us where to go to get the correct photos done. Easy! After 20 minutes for them to get them all printed, we collected the photos and returned to immigration for the penultimate time! The officer smiled and sorted out two visa’s for us and placed one in each passport. There were a few signatures to be done and hey presto. The only thing was that they also had to be signed and agreed by the ‘top boss’ so it seemed, and therefore we had to leave our passports at immigration for a few days while we waited for the last step. Phew, almost done. Thankfully when we returned, we were handed our passports, complete with shiny new 90 day Visa’s. Woohoo!
One major hurdle sorted, and now our attention was back on the parts. We would find out in a few days what was going on so we’d have to just wait. In the mean time, we’d been advised by a fellow traveller on Instagram that if we were in Sucre we must meet Frank! We liked to meet fellow travellers, especially bike travellers so we got in touch. The next thing we knew we’d arranged to meet for a beer at Florin, a cool bar / restaurant run by a Dutch guy, a place that we'd visit many times over the course of the next few weeks!
After a few beers and travel stories Frank offered for us to come and stay at his place. The next day we went off to see the place and it was really beautiful, with four lovely dogs. The day after that we moved in. Our first plan was to camp outside and then we thought maybe inside and just use it as a cover, however when the lovely Roxana turned up (Frank’s girlfriend), she had other ideas. The workmen who were busy transforming the property in to Frank and Roxana’s future home were marching off down the street. The next thing we knew they were back with all the components to put together a double bed! A new mattress was already on site and Rox said that they’d be buying one anyway at some point, so they may as well get it now. We were blown away. In less than an hour, we had a beautifully hand made double bed made up in the main living area of the apartment. Also, they didn’t want any money from us to stay, just for us to water the plants a couple of times a day and play with the dogs, and just feed them on a Sunday when the workmen weren’t there.
Looking after the four dogs Relampago, Diez y nueve, Choco, Vacita was no problem, only a joy for us dog lovers. I fell quickly in love with Relampago, my little one-eyed wonder and Kelvin had a soft spot for Diez y Nueve, however all of them were great. They also had two additional dogs Catorce & Lucita at their apartment in the town centre, and they came to visit a couple of days a week for a run around with the other dogs. Sadly Relampago and Catorce were not great friends and therefore had to be split up during those times, which was a bit sad but needs must.
Niky the mechanic was a friend of Frank’s and he also said he was the best around, so we felt even better about our choice. Despite not having the parts we decided to go and see Niky and have a quick chat about when the parts would be here and if he was happy to do everything. He seemed confident, knowledgeable and had time to fit it in once ready, and we were very confident in our choice of mechanic. Perfect. Just wait for the parts. Dan had been to Rino Moto’s however although we had sent them the correct part numbers they had managed to get Suzuki DR650 valves, but for the pre-1996 model. Luckily Dan noticed and asked for the right ones, which fortunately they would have in a couple of days and also the guides, however they insisted that the parts were the same. Funnily enough we were right, the parts were most definitely different and the wait would be worth it. The only issue was that Dan’s flight was the day before the parts would arrive so we agreed to pay for another flight if he could wait to get the parts. It was way better than the alternative options and getting a courier would mean lots of red tape and delays.
Whilst we were waiting for the parts, Frank and Roxana invited us arround to their apartment for dinner. We gladly accepted and headed over. We’d got used to walking the 2km from the apartment they were doing up to town, which was also giving us some much needed exercise. We were treated to a very yummy Goulash and Mash dinner and after we headed off to the ‘Goblin ‘pub which was a really cool place with some nice gingery drinks, as well as lots of home-brewed beers to choose from.
Finally Dan arrived in Sucre with all of the Original OEM Suzuki parts we needed for my bike and we met for drinks with him and his friend Iliana. They were both really lovely and we were so thankful to Dan for helping us out so much and even delaying his flight for us. Phew! We wanted to get their drinks however Dan wasn’t having any of it, so we just gave him another huge thank you and a big hug. The next mission was to take the bike and parts over to Niky. We dropped everything off and left it in his hands. The head off my bike needed to go to an engineering machine shop before being put back together, so it wouldn’t be an overnight job. We told him not to rush as we didn’t want any shortcuts being taken.
Niky kept me updated and also confirmed the problem…the previous valves were utter shite? Whether it was the mechanics fault or the people who sold them I don’t know, however it was evident the the valves were not designed for the Suzuki DR650 and had been cut down, and by the looks of it not re-hardened! On top of that there was the possibility that the FM valves were fakes. Who knows but it had cost us A LOT of time and money over the previous few months and to say I was angry was an understatement. I let the previous mechanic know what had happened and I didn’t want to be aggressive but just point out that they needed to check their parts before fitting them to bikes or they would have plenty more unhappy customers and get a bad reputation. Despite the “guarantee” on the work, there wasn’t much I could do about it now being in a different country, which is always the issue when overlanding over vast distances. Anyway, onwards and upwards, you live, you learn and try not to make the same mistake twice!
Whilst we waited for the bike to be ready for testing we just spent time walking around the city and we worked on blogs and other stuff, as well as spending a crazy amount of time just playing with the dogs. Frank also gave me some advice on pictures and article writing as he’d had a lot of experience writing for various magazines about his travels, which was really nice. There were plenty of evenings where Frank and Rox popped over for a chat and lots of beers and wine, so that was fun. There was a beer festival coming up and a guy called Chris was due to be arriving in Sucre, another UK biker we hadn’t met yet so we invited him along. Dan was also due to be back in Sucre for a couple of days at that time so I got him a ticket to. Frank and Rox were also keen to go to the beer festival so we had a good little group together. It was quite cheap and although I’m not personally a fan of beer I did try a couple. I was particularly sold by the one where they coated the rim of the glass in chocolate! It was really busy and after enjoying a few hours there and some yummy snacks, we went off to find another pub. We went to an Irish bar, Frank, Kelvin and I ended up being out until 3am which I have to say was very hard going for a sloth like me but I made it without crawling into a corner and going to sleep!
The next day, after an extended sleep we walked into town. We ended up meeting Chris for a coffee at our now regular jaunt, the ‘Joy Ride Cafe’ and wished him a safe trip. He was off to lead his first group on a motorcycle tour of South America.
Finally Niky contacted me and told me the bike was ready. I was so glad to have the bike back. We decided to test the bike over a couple of days and then get the valves calibrated before testing again to be absolutely sure didn’t end up with the same problem. We tested the bike about 800km in two day trips. The first was a loop out West via Macha then up and around to Aiquile and back. It was a really stunning road going through the Bolivian countryside and really not a lot of traffic. We were stopped at police check points a couple of times however we were let go very quickly as theiy were either just checking where we were from and where we were going or doing a standard document check. The next day we completed a loop out and around to near Potosi. Again, it was a great road and we saw some amazing colourful mountains and a lot of the routes were smooth winding tarmac, with not too much traffic thank godness.
Unfortunately we had our first refusal of fuel near Potosi, and despite blatantly filling up cars in front of us with fuel he said ‘No hay Gasolina’; we don’t have fuel. Ok. The guy behind me who was a local asked what the problem was and I explained. He told me there was another gas station down the road so no biggie, we just headed off there. I kind of don’t blame them as there’s a lot of effort to serve foreigners because of the extra paperwork and he was obviously getting enough business without us! So, off we went and got in line at the next station. The next thing we knew the guy in the station before that had asked me what the issue was pulled up and beckoned me over. He then handed me a litre bottle of fuel he’d filled up and said he hoped it helped. How unbelievably kind is that?! I was very grateful, and luckily the gas station did serve us for the foreigner price of 8.7 Bolivianos per litre and we very happy to have fuel.
On returning to Sucre we gave the bikes back to Niky for some more TLC. We wanted the valves of both bikes recalibrated, Kelvin’s front wheel bearings replaced and an oil leak by my front sprocket sorted out. Normally we would do most of this ourselves but we wanted Niky to take a look at the valves and check he felt all was well and give the bikes a quick look over, as the next part of our trip would be long, heading down into Patagonia where prices were higher and good mechanics may be hard to find.
Whilst we were waiting for the bikes again we decided to go to the Casa Libertad or Liberty house in the main square of Sucre. It was a big building with a courtyard in the centre and lots of history about Bolivia and its people. We turned up in time to get an English tour which was really interesting. The key thing I couldn’t believe was that it was only a few years ago that the indiginous people were actually really recognised as equal citizens and prior to that people would not sit next to them on the bus and treated them completely differently. Also, the indigenous who helped fight Bolivia’s war for independence had finally been recognised and the Quechua flag took pride of place in the main hall. A very interesting place to visit and very inexpensive.
Whilst in Sucre, we also had the pleasure to another couple called Taryn and Sam (aka Ride to the end), travelling on two Kawazaki KLX 250 motorbikes who were from Australia. They were on a trip from Alaska to Ushuaia and coming to the end of their travels. They were kind enough to pick up a package from our friends Michnus and Elsebie who were in Cusco, and deliver it to us in Sucre. We were even more thankful when we realised how big the package actually was! Needless to say we took them out for a few beers and some food to say thank you and got them very drunk! He he! It was a fun night and we also got some really lovely goodies from our friends including some awesome NationalPornographic t-shirts, spices, zip ties, a couple of additional bike parts and a worry monster for me among other things. The worry monster was a nice touch, good for a stressy (due to my bike issues), sleepy sloth like me and after that took pride of place at the front of my bike and is still there now!
Soon, the bikes were ready, so we set off to get them from Niky. He was happy with my bike and felt that my worries were over from the current problem. I explained that we would do another 1000km testing before leaving Sucre and see what happens. After a multitude of problems and the head being apart a grand total of five times in the past year, resulting in about five months of travel lost, not to mention the massive travel savings lost, I was struggling to find my optimism, however Niky was very optimistic and assured me all was good.
Before taking the bike for one last test ride we were due to go to Uyuni and the Salt Flats with Frank and Rox in Rox’s new 4x4. She runs a tour company called Azucar Y Sal tours (Sugar and Salt Tours) and was very excited that we had a drone. She wanted to take us on a five day tour and get some footage with the drone so that we could make her a video for her company, which we were more than happy to do, especially since she’d shown us such warm hospitality. It would be a very different experience from travelling there by bike and camping everywhere, but we were happy to give it a go and do our best to get some decent footage and photos for her. We charged everything up, wrote a list of shots we wanted to take and off we went!