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World Trip Part 11

Thursday, November 10, 2011
Days 104-129

Cochabamba -> Mizque -> Cochabamba

When I got my flat tire I was riding on a dirt road, edging past grinding and lurching trucks in an attempt to escape their dust. These trucks always have five or ten folks piled in the back, peering at you quizzically during the few seconds it takes to pull up behind, then beside them. I was riding with a local motorcycle club, Solo Moto, on the way to Mizque, Bolivia. About 20 dirtbikes buzzed ahead of me, with another 15 or so behind – I was focused on my pace, fast enough for fun but slow enough for solid control. Rounding one bend, I felt the rear of the bike start to swing out in the soft dirt. Slowing down a little, I kept going – but the bike was riding like it was drunk, the rear end swinging lazily from one side to the other, like it was drifting in Mario Kart. Looking back, my heart sunk – an airless tire looks pretty pathetic. So began my first outing on the motorcycle, miles from anywhere, in the countryside with nothing but trucks, motorcycles, and me.

The motorcycle purchasing process has been more drawn out than I imagined. After agreeing to buy the bike, I learned that it had already been rented to an old Australian chap for a 10-day trip out to Lake Titicaca and back. Then, upon its return, the paperwork and maintenance trail began. It is important to understand that, in Bolivia, business hours are little more than suggestions. This means that the window of opportunity to bring the bike to a mechanic or drop off boots for repair can be limited and mysterious. Extrapolate this mindset to the government bureaucracy, especially with a complicated task like registering a motorcycle to a gringo, and you need to be in the game for the long haul. The trip is still on hold, after four weeks in Cochabamba, as the paperwork labyrinth continues. Thanks to my generous hosts, the Aranibar family, I have a beautiful home to live in while I wait.

Back on the side of the road with the flat tire, my friend Freddy figured out that I was taking too long to catch up and came back to investigate. We discovered that my tube was completely shredded, so the only option was to ride with the flat to the nearest town and play it by ear. A guy at the tire shop there pulled a tube out of the trash (warning flag, maybe?) and starting applying all sorts of patches to resurrect it for my wheel. After over an hour, with the tube back on the rim, we held our collective breath as he pumped it up – and let out our breath as the tube exploded. Freddy rode all the way back to Cochabamba to buy a new tube, while I sat and swapped stories in broken Spanish with the fellow about families and careers. We finally got the bike in fighting form and high-tailed it to Mizque, arriving several hours after the others as the sun dipped below the mountains. Somebody handed me a beer, we made our way to the grill, and I learned that I had a new nickname: “Pinch Tire Luke”. Any press is good press, right?

With my extra time in Cochabamba, I’ve been exploring the surrounding area and enjoying the beautiful weather. Halloween in Bolivia is a pretty limited affair. I toyed with the idea of buying a mask and riding around town in a costume, but ran out of time and motivation at the same instant. To my friends back in Seattle, stay strong in the rainy darkness! Always remember, no matter how depressing the weather, there are cities in the southern hemisphere that are bright and warm where other people are enjoying themselves. I am planning my next steps, and look forward to hitting the open road as soon as I have paperwork in hand.