A great road in Bolivia.

We took over five days to drive the 450km from Samaipata to Sucre via Materal, Vallegrande, Pucara, a very fine cable-stay bridge, Nuevo Mundo, Villa Serrano, Tomina and Tarabuco. And a splendid drive it was too!

The route was offered as a four day mini-bus/taxi excursion from Samaipata by a tour operator (on the La Vispera camp site) and described as the "Antique Trade Route to Sucre".

However, Peter (the owner of the camp site) said we could do it in our vans - "no problem". When he later expressed surprise that Mel was not four wheel drive, we perhaps should have reconsidered the value of this advice!

Warning: We did this route in July (the dry season). It would be far more difficult with even a little rain! This route is right at the limit of what a standard rear wheel drive motorhome like Mel should be asked to do. Not recommended for anything with front wheel drive or longer than seven metres.

According to our brochure, the first highlights of the "Antique Trade Route to Sucre" were the "enormous cacti" at Trigal.

Big: Yes. Enormous: No.

The second highlight was a visit to the town of Vallegrande where we parked in the town square for the night (the police moved us from one side of the road to the other, but did not object to us sleeping in our vans in the centre of town.) S18.489845 W64.108265.

Vallegrande is famous (or infamous) for being the place where the one time President of the Bank of Cuba's dead body was shown to the world's press on top of two sinks in a hospital laundry. The laundry is now a centre of pilgrimage and reverential graffiti. (The Bolivian army unit that killed him were trained by the USA army. The CIA had already declared him dead in the Congo. In 1997 the remains of Ernesto "Che" Guevera's body were found under the airport runway and returned to Cuba.)

Rather surprisingly no t-shirts bearing Ernesto's likeness were on sale in Vallegrande.

As you can see from our track (above) the map (Reise Know-How Bolivia 1:1300,000) we were using for this route had been reasonably accurate so far. Not any more!

Our next day's drive past Pucara was spectacular, though considerably more difficult (Mel's rear chassis member scraping along the ground several times) and we only covered 75km. We spent the night at a magnificent cable-stay bridge across a major river. Remarkably neither our road nor the river are marked on any of the three maps we have!

Whilst camped by the end of this bridge (apparently built in 1994) and drinking our rather fine Chilean wine, we observed several birds (some were condors for which you get lots of points, others were turkey-vultures, for which you get far fewer points).

On day three, the road improved a little and we covered just over 100km. However, at one point Mel got stuck trying to climb out from a river crossing up a steep bank. Mel was unable to reverse because the rear of the chassis dug into the river bed and had insufficient power to climb the river bank without being able to take a run at it. Rather than risk burning the clutch out, Mel was manoeuvered to the side and Mog scraped passed to tow Mel up the bank.

(Yes I know, the bank does not look steep, the river crossing does not look rough, Mel does not look stuck, and there seems to be plenty of room for Mog to get passed! Just ask Mick and Mo if they enjoyed it at the time.)

Our third night was spent near Tomina (S19.176510 W64.473395). The main road was under repair and the diversion took us down to a river (again not shown on our map). When we parked up for the evening, the river was negligible (Clive walked across it to take photographs). However at 03:00 in the middle of the night, it started to rain. At 03:15 we decided to abandon our riverside camping spot and return to the higher (but closed) main road 50 metres above the river. At 07:00 we made an early return to the diversion to discover we had to drive both across and along the river over six times. Both K-Nine and Mel made it thru without incident, although some water got into Mel's lockers and heating system. A fun time was had by all (well by Mog anyway).

When we reached Tarabuco, we decided to stay until Sunday to see the "colourful indigenous market, the most renowned in Bolivia". Driving from Tomina on the main road to Sucre there is a well-marked turning to the left, that says "Welcome to Tarabuco". With Mog in the lead, we made the mistake of taking it!

The initial wide welcoming road becomes narrow with overhanging roofs and low cables. After a dead end, much reversing and turning round in the middle of the street, we eventually found the way out. Unfortunately this involved a turning between houses that was so tight both K-Nine and Mel had to first reverse into the opposite street. Mog made it round but clipped the roof of one house, for which 100 Bolivianos (about $12USA) compensation was paid.

We eventually ended up parked in a bus and truck park above the main square (S19.184413 W64.916915). To get there without the nightmare of Tarabuco's narrow streets, drive passed Tarabuco towards Sucre and turn left near S19.178088 W64.924345.

Stephen Stewart.

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