Two things had to be done before I could load Doc on that truck and kiss Santa Cruz goodbye. First, I needed to get legal documentation permitting me to have my motorcycle in Bolivia. And second, I had to take care of the minor repairs to the bike. With these loose ends tied down I could move on and still give my ankle and knee adequate time to heal. Eventually, Doc and I would ride the Salar de Uyuni.
As for the Aduana — Bolivia customs — the tramitador referred to me by Ferdy back in Sucre, Ronald, had been by my hotel several times last week. He required copies of a number of documents that I’d been carrying for quite a while:
1) Passport with exit stamp in January 2006
2) Passport with entrance stamp in October 2006
3) Original import permit that was issued to me in Kazani at the Peruvian border near Lake Titicaca
4) Canceled invoice from the garage where the bike was stored for 9 months
5) Article from newspaper that documented my evacuation from Bolivia
6) Letter I wrote to Aduana in March of 2006
As I mentioned earlier, I had a slight problem with my current visa. At the airport when I returned to this country in October, I was only given 30 days to stay in Bolivia. This week marks the end of those 30 days. Aduana refuses to issue paperwork to extend my motorcycle permit if my passport visa is due to expire. With help from friends in immigration Ronald managed to get new exit and entry stamps from Bolivia — this time I got 90 days.
Now with a passport visa for 90 days, on Friday Ronald showed up looking for the original documents. About 5’10” with a soccer player’s athletic body, neatly trimmed black hair and a demeanor at times very serious but as the subject turns light his smile and “get-it-done” attitude lightens the conversation. I was unwilling to part with both my original passports so he suggested I join him for a quick trip to Aduana. I balked because I was waiting for Joaquin Alvarez, the guy who’d help me fix the bike. Friday’s daylight was dwindling and I worried that I might lose my window for Joaquin. He had promised to be here on Thursday but never showed. Meanwhile, I was hot on a trail for a truck to take me out of here on Monday or Tuesday. Lots of things to do. Lots of things happening.
I took a chance and took a ride to Aduana. As the clock ticked we were first ushered into a cramped room shared by only a small desk and a woman and her 1980’s vintage copier machine. A few posters of scantily clad women donned the otherwise bleak beige walls. More photo copies. From here we moved to another building, passed through security with armed police and into a brightly fluorescent lit room. We waded through a small maze of cubicles and men and woman banging on traditional typewriters. Two woman in adjacent cubicles reviewed the documents as Ronald turned on his charm. Upon leaving he handed one of the women what appeared to be two tickets to some sort of show or concert. Then we were out of there.
The plan was I’d have to pay a penalty of about $44 at the bank (an official government office) and with that receipt we’d return to Aduana where new documents would be prepared. Unfortunately, I learned that it would take two or three days to make this happen. Ronald’s concern as my usual affable and lighthearted demeanor turned doleful and disappointed was eminent and he promised to try to get the documents by sometime Tuesday.
I made it back to the hotel with five minutes to spare before Joaquin showed up. Security held him up at the garage and through the lobby window he spotted me and leaned out of his truck waving a clutch lever. Days earlier he took what remained of my clutch lever. He hoped to weld it to another lever so the bike could be moved. Joaquin, with a trim yet sturdy frame sported graying hair, wire rim glasses and hyper-kinetic moves as he talked, walked and worked, attached the lever to the bike. It worked. But to pull the clutch lever took pro-basketball player sized hands to grab as it extended way pass the hand guards. I didn’t have to worry about grabbing the lever — Joaquin would ride Doc back to his shop where we would have more space and tools.
He zoomed away through traffic on the bike moving much the same way he did off the bike.
By the time I arrived at his shop there were 4 workers removing nuts and bolts from the Jesse brackets and frame. His shop was huge. There seemed to be a couple dozen workers. It was more of a body shop than a moto repair shop. But this was okay because the bike ran fine. It was simply the Jesse brackets that needed attention. The rear bracket was tweaked and the left bracket sported and “s” shape. Everything needed to be straightened and returned to original spec.
As these guys were hammering on the anvil and trying to fit the pieces back together Joaquin showed up with a wad in his cheek. Coca leaves. Did I chew it? Sure. Zoom. He was off and back before I knew it and holding out a small green cellophane bag packed with coca leaves. I stuffed a few into my mouth. He nodded and smiled. There was something about him that was so familiar. I swear I’d met him somewhere before. I wracked my brain and then remembered Stormy, the tobacco chewing and spitting ex-motorcycle racer I med in Fairbanks, Alaska last August. They had the same demeanor, looked alike and always packed a wad of something in their mouths. And there were both charming and friendly.
Minutes later Joaquin was gone again. Then back. This time riding his pristine 1972 Honda XL 175. According to Joaquin this was the first true Enduro motorcycle Honda ever made. And it was a beauty.
Later as I waited in his office I learned more of Joaquin’s history. For more than 20 years he owned an automotive repair shop in Sucre. He was lured to the heat and cosmopolitan nature of Santa Cruz about 12 years ago. A former Bolivian National Champion Rally (automobile) racer, his office was full of photos from rallies all over the world. He was sponsored by Subaru and Canon and told stories of roughing the wild Bolivian terrain during races that would last sometimes a week.
The Jesse brackets were straight and somehow we figured out the maze of nuts and bolts and did the best we can to get the panniers to sit correctly. It’s not 100% but I feel it’s good enough. But before Joaquin would ride my bike back to the hotel he demanded that I have a cervecita (small beer) with him. He pulls a liter sized bottle of Huari out and a couple glasses. By the time we finished that beer he brought another. We were laughing, toasting and sharing stories as if we’d known each other for years. An old black and white photo of a young couple sitting on a early Indian motorcycle caught my eye. It was Joaquin’s mother and father. And the 1918 Indian is completely restored and he tells me is sitting in his living room at home.
More coca leaves and another beer. All the while his phones have been ringing of the hook and many times he’s got both on his ears. People shuffle in and out of the office. We share greetings and tell the quick story of my two motorcycle accidents. He has more fun telling it than me. Soon it’s 9pm. We’ve downed the three beers, packed Coca leaves in our cheeks and Joaquin is still going to ride my bike back to the hotel?
I try to pay him several times but he just keeps refilling my glass with Huari beer. He pulls out an old Subaru newsletter with a feature story and pics of one of his rally wins. The guy is a legend. I pull out my recorder to grab sound-bites and do a quick interview. Look for this in an upcoming Pod-Cast.
Removing and straightening Jesse brackets at Joaquin Alvarez shop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Ex-Bolivian National Auto Rally Champion, Joaquin juggles his business while his passion for motos stays intact.
Alvarez’s parents on a 1918 Indian; Joaquin rides Doc back to my hotel.
All turns out well as both me and my bike are returned safely to the hotel. Joaquin tells me he’ll call me tomorrow so we can share more beer and I can pay him. Unfortunately I never get back in touch and leave Santa Cruz without a proper goodbye. I hope he finds someone to translate this page and reads it — Joaquin, I shall return and we’ll do it all over again.
Monday morning when I took my therapeutic dip into the pool DHL shows up with the new clutch lever — on time. I quickly replaced the less than adequate but “it works” lever created by Joaquin and team and shoved the spare in my tank pannier — just in case.
Later Monday afternoon, Ronald shows up at the hotel. This time with his wife, Patricia. Patricia is a lawyer and Ronald has finished his studies and will take the equivalent of the Bar Examination the end of this month. They both worked hard on my case and were happy to have a complete set of new documents for my motorcycle — apparently thanks to a few legal documents and a letter for the Aduana customs officials prepared and signed by Patricia. I was legal and they did it in less than a day. I was glowing. Ecstatic. Now I could get out of town.
That night I was invited to their house for a home-cooked meal. When I arrived generations of their family were gathered together in the backyard. Kids played on the swing-set, teenagers were watching TV in the living room. The dining room table was set with fine dishes and cloth napkins. I filled myself with seconds and thirds of the outstanding meal of lasagna, chicken, rice, salad, fresh tomatoes and more. Ronald, aware of my passion for wine, opened up a special bottle for the occasion. And it wasn’t just that I was over for dinner. Turns out it was Patricia’s brother’s birthday. We sang, cut cake and I just felt part of the family.
I joked with the family and was happy my spanish was proficient enough to make them laugh a number of times. My heart was warmed and at the end of the evening the farewell bid was long if not teary. Concerned about my ankle once I rode my bike Ronald handed me a roll of fabric used to brace ankles, knees and wrists and showed me how to wrap my ankle. At 36 years old he still plays soccer two or three times a week. He’s had his meniscus repaired in his knee and has had his share of ankle and wrist sprains. And then as we were getting in the car to go back to the hotel he hands me a bottle of wine — a bottle I had seen displayed prominently on a shelf in his living room. I tried to refuse this gift. He’d already given me the tape, handled my Aduana issue, fed me and made me feel part of his family. Now this? He wouldn’t take it back. He said you’re going to have a long two and half day truck ride and this bottle just might come in handy.
I shoved the bottle under my arm and headed back to the hotel.
I am now obligated to return to Santa Cruz. What started out as a quick stop off in a city that I had low expectations, turned out to be once again another example of the friendly, helpful and lack of selfishness that permeates me as I travel through South America — and Bolivia especially. Regardless what I read in the paper, see on the news or hear through well-worn and exaggerated stories, the people here are warm, endearing and interested in others. There is no animosity or ill will targeted at Americans or anyone else. Not that I’ve found.
While I feel I’ve warn out my welcome and Bolivia may be beating me up, but the people warm my heart and seem to be doing everything to keep me here!