More Bad Luck… All Aboard!

The fist time I came through Oruro the experience was miserable. With no signage nor orientation from the main road to La Paz, we found ourselves running circles trying to find something to eat. Then we get hammered by the most fierce hail storm I’d ever experienced. The food we did find was miserable and I just had a bad feeling about the place.

Downtown Oruro

Looking from Plaza Principal, Oruro Bolivia

This time Oruro surprised me. And it pissed me off.

So with the bike safely parked in the garage of the Gran Hotel Sucre in Oruro I set about to secure my belongings in my room and take a long needed shower and quick nap. Finding a decent restaurant was easy and with a belly full of great food and a beer to settle the nerves I hit the sack.

Consider this: my motorcycle was loaded onto three different trucks and took the hammering of nearly 36 hours of brutal roads in the back of a huge Volvo truck. Getting the bike off the last matchbox truck was clearly a test of patience, stamina and incredible luck. Little did I know that Bolivia would hit me again.

When the phone rang just before 8-am the next morning (Friday) I thought they were waking me up so I didn’t miss breakfast. The good folks at the Hotel Colonia Real in Sucre did this like clockwork. Even if I didn’t want breakfast I still had to make an appearance. But at the ironically named Hotel Sucre in Oruro the news was much worse.

The guy unleashed in rapid fashion a string of sentences of which I understood only a few. He was talking about my motorcycle in the garage. Perhaps, I thought, they wanted me to move it to make more room for cars. No that’s not it. He kept repeating a word “caido” which to me sounded like quedo (I stay). I asked him several times what he meant by “caido”. But nothing was coming through. Then he stumbled and said “en el piso”. Then it hit me. Somehow my motorcycle fell. At the reception desk I demanded more information. They told me something was broken. So I followed the bell boy across the street where he unlocked the garage and we wandered through the dark maze of rocks, sand, broken concrete, rebar and cement mixers till we came to the garage. My bike had been put back on the center stand. Yesterday I had tucked it into a corner of the garage and left it on its side kick-stand. All the luggage, Jjesse bags and such were in my room. All along I thought for sure my bike was safe.

But no. Even though it made the incredible journey from Santa Cruz in three separate trucks without harm, it somehow gets knocked over in the garage of my hotel. And the side kick-stand snapped off and lay beneath my bike with it’s springs and attachment plate. I was furious. This was too much. I’ve been pushed to the max. I’ve been in Bolivia a month and ever fucking time I turn around I get slammed. The staff told me the bike fell in the middle of the night. That the bell boy found it on the ground this morning. Bullshit.

I explained that I have ridden that motorcycle 25,000 miles and over 8 months and not once has the kick-stand failed me. Though I have to admit that the crew that moved my bike from Tica Tica transported it on its kick-stand on a lettuce truck through dirt and rutted roads till it gave way and broke leaving me with snapped signal light posts and a broken windshield. But here in Oruro the bike was simply parked on the dirt driveway of the hotel garage. There was no way the bike would simply tip over with force to snap and break the kick-stand. Impossible.

I asked to speak to the hotel owner. I wanted to know who was responsible; who was in the garage in the last 12 hours? They are building a huge addition to the hotel so lots of construction workers are in and out of the garage. Someone must have backed into the bike. Yesterday when we performed the amazing remove bike from matchbox truck ritual, I had wanted to park in a different spot but I was asked to move the bike. I parked the bike where the bell boy told me would be the most secure. As always, the bike was covered so there was no reflective material. It easily could have been just a black blob in the dark. I understand this. It’s unfortunate, but someone backed into it. And the sound of that 500 pound beast hitting the ground could not be ignored. But no one was coming clean.

So as any moto traveler can attest I moved into survival and problem solving mode. I would have to weld back the kick-stand. I had a kick-stand problem in Colombia when the Jesse extender (the F650GS kick-stand is inadequately short; Jesse Luggage makes an extender so the bike has a less severe lean when resting on the side stand) had become loose due to vibration and fell off. I quickly remedied this situation by finding a welder to weld a new piece and foot. The welder in Colombia did all this while I was sitting on the bike. But before he started to weld the piece to the bike he had me start the engine and attach a ground wire to the frame. This was to prevent any damage to the bike’s electrical system.

With this memory nestled in my mind, I was determined to avert potential problems and remove the remaining stub of the kick-stand. Great idea. But practically impossible with my tools. The kick stand is set with heavy duty loc-tite and removing it required heat and much more leverage. I asked the owner of the hotel if he knew a motorcycle mechanic. The staff moved into action. An hour later a welder shows up. A welder? I asked for a motorcycle mechanic. But no, this old salt shows up with a handful of welding rods and a portable arc welding machine. But it’s even more comical. It’s impossibly dark in the cavernous garage. Only two small fluorescent lights provide a dim glow at the far end of the garage. This is no problem the maintenance guy from the hotel declares and then returns with a single incandescent light bulb with a european plug. But there’s no outlet. Maintenance man to the rescue as he lays about 60 feet of “extension” cord near the bike. But there’s no receptacle for the plug on his extension cord. It’s simply two bare wires. He proceeds to wrap the bare wires around the plug for the light and while the welder and I go about inspecting the job at hand he simply holds the bare wires to the plug and thereby provides us some sort of illumination.

Then the welder tries to loosen the nut securing the kick-stand to the bike. I ask him to sit still while I go see if we can’t find a mechanic with more adequate tools. When I come back the old man is still trying to crack the nut. But he’s messing with the safety switch. Or so it appears. I push him away and ask him to wait. No word on a mechanic. After time passes and much conversation the welder insists he can weld my kick-stand back stronger than new without removing the piece in question. I ask again about a motorcycle mechanic but am assured this is a simple welding job. So I disconnect the battery and the old salt fires up his machine.

Fifteen minutes later the side-stand is welded, springs attached and moving just as new. After I reconnect the battery and re-install all the plastic parts I try to start the bike. Nothing. It’s not cold. As I click the key-switch I hear a couple clicks instead of the usual hum of the fuel pump. This concerns me. When I turn the ignition switch on, one of the warning lights fails to glow. I try starting again. The welder starts poking his hands around. You’re not a motorcycle mechanic, I’m thinking to myself. I ask him to just step back and let me figure this out. Still nothing. There’s no spark. Or no fuel. I’m not sure. But the bike is dead. I’m am so livid at this point my temper takes over and I kick a pile of stones clear to the other side of the garage. This can’t be happening. Yesterday the bike started with a half second push of the ignition. Now I’m dead. Stuck in Oruro.

Welding Doc Oruro Oruro Kickstand

Welder finds a way to get Doc a kick-stand again!

There are two things that might be wrong here. One, the safety switch for the kick-stand is malfunctioning and all electronics (fuel and ignition) are disabled. Or two, when the welder fired up his torch and even with the battery disconnected the computer “brain” for the BMW F650GS Dakar fried. Scenario one was a bit disconcerting but I had the foresight to carry a replacement safety switch in my spare parts. Scenario two scared me. The cost of a new “brain” had to be hundreds of dollars. Plus, it would cost me more time in Oruro and shipping charges to get it here. A call to Mark at BMW Santa Cruz County confirmed my notion: we had to determine if the switch was good before setting into panic. So instead, I set out to find a motorcycle mechanic who could help me troubleshoot this problem. Forget the people at the hotel. I was referred to a motorcycle parts store. When the taxi arrived it was closed. For the most part, the entire country of Bolivia shuts down between 1pm and 3pm. Each city has different hours, but lunch is a big thing. And virtually no business is done between these hours.

I ask the taxi if he knows a motorcycle mechanic. No, but he thinks he knows where I could find one. Sure enough he drops me at a storefront where a line of motorcycles in various stages of repair or death sit. But the shop is closed. Next door the mechanic working on a car assures me the moto mechanic will be back by 2pm. By ten after two Edwin shows up. I suggest that the hotel garage is too dark to work and perhaps he could find a truck to bring the motorcycle to his shop. His assistant points to one of the bikes in the stack, a Honda XR250. They want to tow my motorcycle back to the shop using the Honda. Why not.

At 3pm they show up at my hotel with a large tow strap and within minutes the bike is on its way to Servicross Antaco – the ONLY motorcycle repair place in town. A crowd gathers as my motorcycle is pushed into the cramped ten by twenty foot workshop. I crack a back door in the shop and find a pile of tires, batteries, wheels, frames, handlebars and more. Ah. The junkyard. Throughout the shop parts and pieces of bikes, scooters, generators are crammed into every conceivable crevice. The brick-layed floor is missing a few and the lighting is only marginally better than the garage. But we jump into action. After removing the spark plug we find there’s no spark. Next step, the safety switch. With a wrench in his hand he starts to remove parts necessary to get at the switch. Then he spots the new weld on the kick-stand.

Oruro Towing Doc

Doc gets a tow by Honda XR250

Speaking in Spanish he asks me if I removed the kick-stand before welding. I shake my head and say no. He shakes his head and says “oh no.” I explain that I completed disconnected the battery. He asks if I disconnected the connector to the computer “brain”. Again, I shake my head. And again, he shakes his head. Oh no.

Things are looking bleak. He explains that disconnecting the battery isn’t enough. That the best thing would have been to find him earlier and remove the kick-stand, or simply disconnect the massive computer connector. He was convinced that welding the bike fried my computer.

With the help of an electrical specialist form the shop next door they try jumping the kick-stand switch. Still no spark. Everyone is shaking their heads. The welder was a bad idea. There is no true test to see if the “computer” fried, but a clear indication would be any electrical burning aroma. So we remove the computer brain from the bike and take turns sniffing the circuit board. There’s no sign of burning. Everything looks clean. But a microprocessor, in this case my bike has a Motorola, could fry with little indication. A BMW dealer would have a computer that could easily determine any problem. But the nearest dealer is perhaps 3,000 miles or more away.

I begin thinking my options. It’s Friday so finding a BMW computer part in stock could be tough, but shipping on Friday is the same as early Saturday. Even so, I’d be lucky to get the part by the following Thursday or Friday. I suggest that we install my replacement safety switch and harness. The old switch looks bad – worn. Then we try again with the new switch. Still no spark. At this point I want to cry. Instead, I note the part number of the computer brain and start to put all the pieces of Doc back together. Doc would have to be towed back to the hotel until the package arrives.

We also fix the headlight which had been pushed in most likely when the bell boy and construction workers put my bike on its center stand. Using epoxy we try to fix a signal light post. For me, my heart sank deeper than ever before. I looked up and grey clouds, thunder and lightening moved across the sky. Things weren’t getting better. Bolivia smacked me with another kidney punch. I was hurting.

Edwin replaced the spark plug. I suggested we check the second plug. Even though Doc is a single cylinder “thumper”, the bike has two spark plugs. The idea is a hotter spark and therefore smoother running single cylinder engine. He yanks the plug out. Same thing. Then he re-seats everything. He asks me to try starting it again. With a push of the starter Doc fires up for a brief second. Then putts out. Wait. Did I hear that? Did you? Shit. It’s working. Edwin’s assistant grabs the throttle and puts his thumb on the starter and Doc shows signs of waking up. They try again. I take over explaining that there is a procedure for starting up these bikes: wait for all warning lights to go off, then start. No need to gas the throttle, it won’t help. Within seconds I have Doc thumping nicely and the engine sound is music to my ears. Handshakes go around the small shop. Doc is back.

Oruro Taller

Servicross Antaco, Oruro Bolivia

Oruro Moto Techs

Edwin’s assistant and the neighbor electrical magnate.

Edwin Returns Doc Oruro

Edwin takes Doc for a test ride and safely returns.

What was the problem? I’m convinced the safety switch was bad and until Edwin installed the new one, there was going to be no starting. Why didn’t jumping the switch work? I don’t know except that instead of by passing the entire harness they simply tried to force the switch open and closed. Perhaps there was a short in the cable. We didn’t check that. But since I had the new switch and I had seen the welder messing with this as he tried to pry the kick-stand bolt loose, the odds were for the switch. Why didn’t we get spark after the new switch was installed? This will remain a great mystery. But whatever it was, I’m running again and can kiss Oruro goodbye.

Back at the hotel I try to negotiate a discount because I truly believe that someone on the construction crew caused me the pain and suffering of repairing a bike that beforehand was perfect. I had to pay the welder and Edwin and his assistant. The owner said if I moved to a different room he would give me a break. Give me a break! Move? With all this shit and a bad ankle? Well they helped me move and I’m saving a couple bucks.

Yesterday (Saturday) I tried to go to the train station to arrange a ticket for me and Doc — express to Uyuni. But they were closed. But just around the corner of the train station I heard the thumping sounds of drums and staccato blasts of trumpets. I follow the sounds to find a festival parade featuring men, women in children in traditional altiplano dress. Oruro thinks itself as the folklore capital of Bolivia. Spending time watching this celebration convinced me.

Oruro Fiesta

Oruro Fiesta Girl

Oruro Fiesta2-1

Oruro Fiesta3

Oruro Fiesta5

All shots taken in Oruro, Bolivia during Saturday folk festival.

So this morning I figured I’d get to the station just before they opened at 8:15 to secure my space. When I walked in every seat was full and they were calling numbers. The police officer gave me number 23. The last number called was 61. So I had to wait an hour and 62 numbers. Worried that the train would sell out or not have enough space for Doc, I tapped the foot of my bad ankle nervously as the minutes ticked. But patience paid off and my space was secure. As for Doc, I would have to bring the motorcycle to the cargo door and make arrangements there.

So my first time on Doc since Sunday November 5 I was a bit nervous. Especially since the construction around the hotel left a huge gap between the garage ramp and the road. A few large and lose stones were placed in the gap. But I managed to get up and over and take the short 7 block ride to the train station. Doc had to be weighed, which was another 2 x 4 experience as we had to balance doc on the board while it sat on the scale. Then I inspected the train. There’s no place to attach tie downs. I do find one wall where planks are nailed and a few are missing. I suggest that we can get a tie down around the board and pull doc snug against the wall of the train car. Pedro Gonzales the 40-something chief of the cargo crew assures me that my bike will be fine. I assure him it will be if we secure the bike to the only place in the train car possible. He mumbles that since the train has 5 stops, cargo has to be placed by destination. I assure him that my bike must be tied down.

I’ll be heading back to the train station in a few hours to watch and assist as they begin loading cargo. The cost for shipping my bike to Uyuni, about a 7 hour train ride, is 270 Bs, or about $33.75. They’ll probably hit me up for more Bolivianos for my Jesse bags, top box and large duffel holding my riding gear and helmet. We’ll see.

4 replies
  1. Venturello
    Venturello says:

    Hi Allan. DONT DESPAIR! Quite a scare, I know… no doubt! – needless to say now… but always when you solder you have to disconnect as much electronics as you can, and even so shit could happen. You where lucky. Probably what happened was that during those 36 hours bouncing around the back of trucks something got disconnected and Edwin put it back in place inadvertedly. When I started reading your story I thought your bike had been stolen!!
    Enjoy the trip. Chile is going to be much better. Remember what you are doing is very special, the dream of MANY of us. Best of luck,
    Juan Miguel Venturello

    Reply
  2. A.T.
    A.T. says:

    Holy shit Kemosabe! You almost got stuck in Bolivia again. I made my blood boil just reading it. One thing about the business practices in South America, most do not practice fiscal responsibility. If they owned up to damaging your bike while under their care, they would have to pay for the damage. No such thing as insurance of any kind there.
    And the welder and the mechanics…What a bunch of well-meaning bozos!
    It’s some kind of bad karma. Get the f… outta there while you can. Somebody put some bad juju on you. However, the juju shit stops at the border.
    A.T.

    Reply
  3. Johnny A
    Johnny A says:

    Geez Allan… at least you haven’t actually stepped in poop yet… or have you? Things’ll change… onward road warrior… onward!
    J

    Reply

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