Miguel was backing the Volvo out of the garage — which was simply a dirt yard securely fenced in and packed with trucks. As I climbed into the cab I almost plopped on top of another gentleman who occupied the seat that I had grown accustomed to for about 15 hours yesterday. I climbed over him and sat on the mattress behind. Miguel muttered some words I couldn’t understand but suspected we were going to have a passenger for part of the journey to Oruro. Turns out this wasn’t just a passenger. This was the dueno — the owner of the truck — a slightly heavy-set man with a round face and recently bleached teeth.
I took a cue as the two discussed business and dozed off on the ‘bed’. It wasn’t long before I awoke to the bumping and twisting of the cab. Once horizontal I discovered we were on some dirt road and cutting through a ravine. Plus, another passenger joined us and the owner was sharing his seat with a younger guy. Trucks were headed at us from the other way. This small by-way was barely big enough for one Volvo — let alone two. People were jumping out of trucks, and with flailing arms tried to direct traffic. There was no organization. The truck rocked back in forth like a ship in a storm. I worried about Doc. For the next 45 minutes we travelled poor dirt roads through the barrios and questionable neighborhoods while playing chicken down one-way alleys with other massive trucks.
There was a blockade on the main road out of town. Apparently hundreds of men created a barrier so no trucks could enter or leave the city. Traffic was piling up throughout Cochabamba. I had a hard time understanding what the commotion was about but a few brave and aggressive truckers would have nothing of waiting for a blockade. We cruised through narrow alleys as school children dodged the traffic they probably never see. Apparently there is a part of Cochabamba that was once prospected and drilled for oil. Those reserves are now dry. Now the government wants to drill for water — wells. But for some reason the locals are against this. It’s these times when my limited Spanish vocabulary really hurts. I yearned to get more out of our conversation but most of the words and my pleas for simplification ended in frustrating all of us. But soon we were back on the main road and heading out of town.(look for an upcoming Pod-Cast as I interviewed Miguel and the truck owner during the commotion)
We eventually lost the third passenger and Miguel egged the truck owner to ask me about America. He wanted to know everything. If there were mountains, deserts and rivers. And what were the cities like? I explained how our modern and refined our roads and highway were perhaps a lot easier on trucks than in Bolivia. He explained that in Bolivia there were primarily Volvos — for the big trucks. Though there were some Nissan’s too. That was it. And I kept a mental inventory as the day rolled on. And he was right. I didn’t see one Mercedes, International. Mack, Peterbilt, KenWorth or any of the others we see on road in the U.S. And these Volvo trucks take a beating. From the insane road that takes cargo from Sucre to Santa Cruz, to the climbing of the mountains out of the Amazon Basin and up to the altiplano, it’s a testament for Volvo trucks.
An hour or so outside Cochabamba we began climbing again. This time to the altiplano and closer to my destination — Oruro. The scenes that flew by the windows of the truck were so familiar. Though the last time I experienced this was on my motorcycle climbing from Oruro to Potosi last January. The weather soon was brisk and the pueblos we passed were at both scenic and harsh. For there was no electricity flowing into the adobe homes. Hillsides were dotted with geometric shapes created by carefully placed stone walls retaining sheep and goats. We had to slow and stop several times to let herds of llamas cross the highway. And men and women in padded dress sporting the usual “bowler” style hat walked along the highway. It’s the harsh winters of the altiplano that not only create the gruff and weathered exteriors but create the brazen and tough characters of the people of the altiplano.
Perhaps its the harsh conditions, low pay and faltering economy, but the Bolivians are artisans at getting things done — cheap. Taxis, for example are imported from Asia via Chile and have been converted from right hand driver’s to left. The blinkers, speedometer and gauges sit atop a gaping hole where the steering wheel used to be. Things are rarely tossed and changed for new — they can’t afford it. Whether it’s a television, typewriter, winter jacket or children’s toy. There seems to be no waste — other than trash that’s tossed everywhere. Mini-busses are packed so tight and even smaller trucks whiz down the highway with a pile of people in the back. Both Miguel and the truck owner (can’t remember his name) cleaned there plates at lunch. But visions of Jeremiah’s asado crusade has kept me more cautious than usual, so I offered my steak to the others and simply ate the rice and potatoes when we stopped for lunch an hour outside of Oruro.
And when we arrived in Oruro at about 1pm we parked the truck on the outskirts of town near the bus station. Apparently this is where all the trucks in transit with empty or available cargo space hang until they can secure a load. I was a bit concerned and asked why didn’t we simply go to the office of Lozada Transport as planned. There they would unload my bike and put it on a smaller truck and then take me to a hotel. Miguel tried to keep me patient, but I was insistent. Finally he called Lozada and was informed they’d show up in 30 minutes with a smaller truck.
“How we gonna unload the bike?” I asked what seemed a logical question. We had no ramp, no forklift and the bed of the truck was about 5 feet off the ground.
“Don’t worry. They are bringing a truck!” Sure, I thought. And a forklift too? It made more sense tto go to the office and employ their staff and equipment to facilitate the unloading of Doc.
When the Lozada truck arrived I almost broke out laughing. The bed of the truck was barely 4 feet long and the sides were about 12 inches high and comprised of rotting and rusting metal that was tin thin.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said expressing the amazement that these people would even think of trying to get my truck off this huge Volvo and onto a matchbox sized truck. “How you going to do this?”
Soon I was very animated expressing my concern in a lighthearted manner. I walked over to the small truck and pointed to the front an rear tires on the passenger side. They were as smooth as racing slicks – yet balder. “Where’s the tread? You’re going to need new tires, this isn’t very safe.” Then I walked over to the Volvo and with my arms showed the measure of the bed to the ground and then to the matchbox truck to show the differnce. Everyone smiled. But I was serious.
Three people packed the cab of the matchbox Lozada truck. An old man in his 60’s or 79’s, a middle-aged woman and a young man in his early twenties.
“This is impossible. You cannot get my bike into that truck. I think you should go back to your office and get another truck.”
The old man looked at me and glanced a semi-toothless smile. “En tu vida todo es possible.” He said “in life, everything is possible.” He made me laugh. His attitude expressed what only generations of life living in the harsh conditions of the altiplano could yield — optimism. I was touched. But still a non-believer.
They told me the plan was to find a place where the large truck could be parked somewhere low so that the smaller truck could butt up against the large truck and the bike could be easily rolled onto the small truck.
We rode around a bit and then found a deteriorating concrete truck loading ramp in the middle of a dirt field. It was so out of place. But there it was. Miguel backed the Volvo up against the ramp. The bed of the truck was still higher than the ramp. Then the old guy tries backing the matchbox truck up the sand and dirt ramp. The bald tires fail to get traction and the back of the truck starts fishtailing as we all jump for cover. After two tries of getting the truck up the ramp, the old man moves to plan B. He backs the truck up perpendicular to the ramp at bout the stage where the incline is matched to the bed of his truck. The scene was so comical I had no time to get mad or insist on other options.
Miguel removed the door from the back of his truck. This was then positioned diagonally as a ramp. Slowly and carefully Doc rolled safely onto the top of the truck ramp. Then came the hard part. But we managed to get Doc into the back of the match box truck with some prodding, pulling and profanity. It had to be positioned diagonally to fit. I guess the back of the truck was about the size of a pallet because it fit exactly the same position as when we loaded Doc using the forklift back in Santa Cruz.
I walked over to the old man and grabbed his hand in a solid and firm shake and said, “En su vida, todo es possible.”
I thought we were in the clear. But I was wrong.
This truck loading ramp was in the middle of nowhere but my friends figured it could work.
Doc sits atop sacks of something.
Let’s use the door as a ramp and roll Doc out.
Now getting it on the matchbox Suzuki truck.
En su vida, todo es possible.
The parting scene in Oruro. But there’s more….
I found a hotel with an underground parking lot, Gran Hotel Sucre, but when we rolled the match box truck underground we were once again challenged. How we going to get this 400 pound beast off the truck? The underground garage was a mess. The entire hotel was under construction. I had to traipse over piles of sand, rocks, chunks of concrete and down a dirt path just to get to the garage from the street. Above the street the hotel was expanding with a 10 story addition. Outside from the second story a construction worker handed us 20 feet long 2″ by 4″. There was nothing wider. Nor anything shorter. By this time we’d lost Miguel and his truck owner. And were left with the middle aged woman, the old man, the youthful 20-something man and me, useless with my lame ankle.
So we set the 20 foot board on the bed of the truck. But my bike was positioned head-in and at a 45 degree angle. The first step was to try to lift the rear wheel and set it on the 2×4. Next we had to slowly let Doc roll down the long incline without letting the tire fall of the edge of the board. After a couple close calls we seemed to move it down a foot or two. Now we had to get the front wheel aligned while keeping the back one in position. It was maddening. The rear tire was almost exactly the width of the board. There was no room for error. Sweat was beading on the young man’s head as he worked the break while trying to keep the bike balanced. I took the handlebars and carefully kept the front wheel on the board while the old man would push and drag the rear wheel along the board to keep it from falling off. We did this for the entire 20 foot length of the board and moved Doc to safe and solid ground.