Count Down.

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.

Taller Juaquin Alvarez Scruz

Taller (workshop) Joaquin Alvarez, Santa Cruz Bolivia (see Doc?)

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.

Jesse Brackets1 Jesse Brackets2

Removing and straightening Jesse brackets at Joaquin Alvarez shop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Img 0397 - 2006-11-10 At 19-33-20 Juaquin Alvarez Honda

Ex-Bolivian National Auto Rally Champion, Joaquin juggles his business while his passion for motos stays intact.

Juaquin Alvarez Parents Joaquin Con Doc

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.

Patricia Ronald Santacruz Ronald Allan

Patricia & Ronald and Ronald with me showing off new legal documents so Doc can ride Bolivia — legally!

Ronald Family Santacruz

Feeling part of the family at Ronald & Patricia’s for her brother’s birthday celebration.

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!

6 replies
  1. DB1
    DB1 says:

    Aloha Allan,
    Good blog as usual! We loved the photo of Joaquin Alvarez’s parents on the 1918 Indian, and what a guy, wow. We will look forward to the audio interview soon!
    Ronald and his wife Patricia seemed very very nice also, what a treat to be invited into their family and birthday party!
    We are in Princeville for Thanksgiving, enjoying the weather while working on our home here. This is paradise. I hope you will be somewhere nice for Thanksgiving next week, we’ll look forward to your next post. Take care and be careful.
    Don and Nada

  2. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Dude, please be careful with those immigration rubber stamps. As they are illegal in most countries, there is a risk that you can be stopped at the border and questioned about them. I’ve known a few people who have paid to get those stamps in some countries and have been thrown in immigration jail, deported and blacklisted from the country. Be careful

  3. giersman
    giersman says:

    Hey Allan,
    Rodger and I agree with Don and Nada’s comment about Joquin’s parents on the Indian Relic. Would give anything to be able to see the restored version! I bet Jay Leno would feel the same.(He’d probably fly down there to try and buy it)
    Good luck with your continued journey and we apologize for not having gotten to reading and posting sooner. As usual your writing and descriptiveness are as colorful and entertaining as always. Your adventure is awe inspiring and you are living the life the way it was meant to be cousin!
    ANyhow Rodger and I have been in Germany since Nov 13th in the Munich area. I have been attending the 2006 Electronica exhibition for all the players in our EOEM industry. Of course Rodger did just one day at the hall with me and has been off playing most of the week after dining in Munich at the famous Hofbrauhaus where the Octoberfest tradition has originally started. Then he tripped off solo to a place called Neuschwanstein which is a famous bavarian castle in Germany. He stayed here overnigght after seeing an opera in the same town where he claimed to have enjoyed it but did not understan a thing becasue it was all in German!
    Which was built by King Ludwig II
    King of Bavaria 1864 – 1886
    It’s quite an intersting story and wish I had the time to go but for Eric it was all work and only a little play.
    Rodger then decided to visit Basil, France and got there and his Hertz GPS neverlost in his Mercedes wagon decided to tak a holiday of it’s own and he ended up getting lost and when he got back to the border between France and Switzerland (He and I were due to meet in Bad Ragaz, Switerland for a night where we would swim in the local Hot Spring that so many towns in the Swiss Alps foothills have)So he ended up at the border and got roped into a corner by a heft woman who claimed to be an official and before he could cross the border into Switzerland he was told by this woman that he needed to pay 30 Euros for a special sticket to drive in Switerland legally. Despite her not having any offical uniform on Rodger reluctantly agreed and gave her the money and received his sticker in exchange. He did claim that she had a large money pouch on her belt. No doubt she had some sort of arrangement with the local border patrol to give them a cut of some sort for every unsuspecting person that fell into her clutches. I told Rodger he should have said he did not have any money but here is a credit card you can go and charge. O well! Hindsight is always 20/20.
    Then we met in Bad Ragaz later that evening at Hotel Sardona where we spent the Friday night and swam at the mineral spa which was tremendoulsy refreshing and slept well. Next morning we left our rentals at the hotel and hopped a train to St. Moritz as I had been there beofre and planned to take Rodger to see if we could ski a little earlier than ususal. The resort did not open until Dec 2nd for skiing but we never made it there anyway as Rodger got a wild hair as usual and decided to make a detour to the highest peak in the region (some 5700kM in height!) So we diverted in a town called Samedan where we took a special observation train with huge windows that was bound for this Pass called Delavaoss. So we got there on the train and of course you had to take a gondola to the peak from the train station and it was not operational yet. There was only a spattering of snow on the ground in many places maybe 3 inches deep. SO we stayed on the train to the end of the line crossing the border into Italy to a town called Tirano. (not the Olympics Tourino as Eric thought!)It was a small town where we walked to a nice resturant for a tradiditon meal and then for a 2K walk to the famous Lady Madonna Church where we saw wonderful architecture from the 17th century on the outside of the church. Then the inside was wonderfully appointed with intricate HUGE wood carvings and marvelous oil painitngs of the period. I think between Rodger and I we sanpped well over 1000 pictures of the whole trip.
    Now we are sitting in the Munich airport after spending the night in Bad Ragaz again and driving to Munich this morning. About 2:15 mins by car at around 190-210KmH! Gosh bless the auotobahn! Such nice courteous drivers! At those speeds things happen quickly. Rodger was not into it but I did that a few times in my rental while being passed by porsches on occassion! It is not a speed that I would reccommend for the USA!
    Cheers Allen and God Bless and may your travels be safe from here on out!

  4. lj
    lj says:

    Hey Alan,
    Glad to hear that you are almost on the road again.
    When I read about your accident at the bridge. I was wondering: ‘Oh no!!!! What did this guy do wrong to Murphy to diserve this kind of troubles? ‘
    However, It is encouraging to hear that kindness and hospitality are still present in this world.
    Although in order to find it you have to travel to non-touristic areas.
    Anyway, i hope that this extra few days rest will have you back on your bike.
    Drive safely. ;-))
    Jurgen Limbourg

  5. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    wow great comments from everyone so far. Don & Nada i hope to be in Chile for Thanksgiving. Or Ill spend it freezing my butt in the Salar eating freeze dried food from REI… but hell. I’ll never forget it.
    Dennis, I think my stamps are very okay. But who knows. I also got the immigratiion card intact and it seems perfect. But I won’t let this happen again. I coulda left the country and returned but my man Ronald assured me this would work. Well, we’ll see. Thanks for the warning.
    Eric, What a trip!!! I think any time an offical poses as an offical I would say I want to pay the fee at the police station or whatever. That way you can pluck the bad one’s out of the crowd. Sounds like a whirlwind tour and you guys must be exhausted. Thanks for sharing. I love italy, german and hope some day to find myself in Switzerland…
    Jurgen – Yeah. Murphy’s been following me. I think he has an extended visa in Bolivia too. But today I rode the bike 7 blocks to the train station. I’m getting ready in couple more days to load up and go!!!
    thanks everyone for tuning in!

  6. Jonathan Karl
    Jonathan Karl says:

    That ’72 Honda looks a lot like Dad’s old Honda. Isn’t that a 1972 too?
    You’ve been fortunate to meet some interesting and generous people in Bolivia. Murphy, too. I don’t know if I’d rush back anytime soon …
    P.S. Any word from Jeremiah?


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