So it’s Saturday morning in La Paz. Yesterday I got my visa extension. The only things left now so I can go back to Europe for a few weeks are getting to Santa Cruz and getting my car import permit extended. The aduana offices are closed for the weekend, if I drive a lot I can get to Santa Cruz by Monday night which gives me four days to organize my import permit before flying back next Sunday. The drive is some 900 kilometers and there is supposed to be a lot of construction. Let’s see how it goes. The first bit of the drive from La Paz to Oruro is pretty easy with 2×2 lane nicely paved highway. But after that it’s a 100km long construction zone. Bumby, dusty and loads of slow cargo traffic. I got the first 380km done today but that did take me 8 hours. I plan to camp at a national park just before Cochabamba. The description isn’t very clear on whether you can officially camp here but I’ll give it a shot. When I show up the guy at the gate says that camping is no problem. Just drive around the corner and find yourself a spot. Well, camping is clearly allowed… finding a spot is a bit harder. This place is packed. There are at least 100 camping spots filled with local families. I haven’t seen this many people on a campsite since leaving the US. And local families on a campsite in South America is also a completely new thing. I find a nice spot on a terrace at the edge of the forest overlooking Cochabamba. I’m very tired and sleep early.
When I wake up I find Lucas and Eveline parked next to me. They were also planning to head this way but they left La Paz later than I did. I didn’t think they would drive all the way here still but they did. Over breakfast we pick a campsite for tonight halfway between here and Santa Cruz. Before I can start my drive of the day it is time for some more fun Bolivian problems. I need four things: groceries, cash, motor oil and diesel. For the first two I drive to the biggest shopping mall in town. Groceries are no problem but getting cash isn’t easy. There are tons of ATMs at the mall but most of them only take Visa. The first three that I try that are supposed to take Maestro refuse to help me too. The fourth one does give me cash but only in 200 Bolivianos notes (25 Euros). Getting 100 bills accepted is already a huge pain, I’m not sure who will break my 200s… Next up diesel! Filling up your car in Bolivia is one of those things which has the wildest rumors told by people you meet on the road. The official story is that in Bolivia there is a local price (50 cents per liter) and a foreigner price (1.15 euro per liter). That’s not very nice, but if that’s the way it is than so be it. Except for the fact that barely any of the gas stations have the system to process the foreign price, but the government did put up cameras at almost every station to check they don’t fill up foreign cars. Some people tell me they couldn’t get gas at all, some said it was no problem. Some say you have to park around the corner and walk up with Jerry cans and others say you should try the smaller places that don’t have cameras yet. Another question is what to pay. Some people get local price, some people have to pay full foreigner price and others have to negotiate to get something in between where the station guy just pockets the difference. So slightly nervous I start my hunt for diesel. Of the first three fuel stations I try, at two of them people just ignore me and and at the other they tell me they can’t do foreign cars. At my fourth gas station I get more lucky. The guy asks me where my plates are from. I say the Netherlands. He tells me he can’t fill up foreign cars. I tell him I don’t need a receipt. He asks me if I can cover up my license plates. I say sure. He tells me to come back in a few minutes with covered license plates. I park my van behind some of the big trucks at the gas station out of view of the cameras and get some duct tape and sheets of paper to cover up my plates. When I get back the guy happily fills my car up without needing Jerry cans. He really fills up the tank until not another drop would fit and all of that for local price. I’m quite sure not all of my fill ups in Bolivia will be this easy, but if only… Later I hear from Lucas and Eveline that they found a station that fills up for local price too, but they had to walk ten times with their Jerry can. Last problem: oil. My van is still burning oil like a maniac. So I always drive with a four liter bottle in the back. The one thing I did not think about is that today is Sunday and even though supermarkets and gas stations are open, mechanics and oil shops aren’t. I really need to buy some extra oil, otherwise I won’t make it to Santa Cruz. It takes me half an hour of hunting but then I finally find a store that is open. So now I can finally start driving. Getting out of Cochabamba involves crossing the last mountain for a while. Santa Cruz is on the Amazon plain at only 400m. So one more time over 3700m and then it’s all down hill and flat. Even though this is the new main road from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz it is still very slow and busy. It takes me about 5 hours to do 200km. After the mountain the road goes down into the jungle and everything changes: it gets warm and humid, there are sounds of the animals; the plants are different. I camp that night in the backyard of a local family in Villa Tunari, a village located at a river fork in the jungle. When I drive up three Argentinians who are camping here too welcome me with fresh coconuts. A bit later Lucas and Eveline also show up. The warmth is so nice after the weeks of freezing highlands in Peru and Bolivia. We don’t even care about the mosquitoes. The weather is so nice that we can cook and eat outside. Or at least that was the plan because with jungle come jungle rain storms.
It rained all night, I can’t remember the last time I had proper rain. But in the morning the sun comes back and I’m actually excited about a cold shower. I say goodbye to Lucas and Eveline who are heading into Brazil while I head for my last day of driving to Santa Cruz. No more mountains makes for easy driving. I got warned about a police checkpoint on this road which is supposed to be especially corrupt and annoying. When I get there there is a chain across the road so I can’t do anything but stop. The guy at the chain signals me to go check in the office. I park my van in the middle of the road and start inefficiently collecting all my paperwork. The guy at the chain gets annoyed that I block the road and signals me to park to the side past the chain. I “misinterpret” his waving for a “please continue”, I give him a friendly wave and drive off. Nobody yells or follows me. I camp just south of Santa Cruz in the garden of a restaurant.
So let’s see about this vehicle permit extension I need. The aduana is at the other side of town in a huge complex. I show up and the guard tells me I can’t go inside with my van and need to park it outside on the busy large highway. I go in to the complex and to the counter for permit extensions. The first thing the lady asks me is if my van is parked inside because they do need to do an inspection. So we’re off to a good start. I go outside and get my van and tell the guy at the gate my van does need to go inside. After that everything is really easy, no questions, a quick look at the VIN number and half an hour later my van is allowed to stay for 60 days more. All is ready to fly home now. Of course a day like this can’t go by without any problems and I find out my water bottle had leaked in my waterproof bag and now my camera is swimming in a few centimeters of water… just great… I spend the afternoon in the huge botanical garden close to the aduana and then head back to camp. At camp I park my van and start reading my book, but when I want to go to the toilet I can’t find my keys anywhere. I haven’t left the van since I got here but nope, no keys, not even after two hours of searching.
The next day I spend another two hours looking for my keys but can’t find them. I end up breaking my locker open to get to my spare keys. Also my camera is definitely dead: I can still take pictures and they look OK on the computer but the screen isn’t working anymore and I can’t switch the camera off. The one bright side of the day is that having dinner and a beer at the restaurant makes the owner OK with me leaving my van here for three weeks, for free!
Another day of fun. It’s really hot and sunny here in the jungle so I have my awning out. Out of nowhere comes a big gust of wind flipping my awning on the roof of the van. The aluminium profiles are completely bend, I can’t even close the awning anymore. I end up disassembling the whole thing instead. Also, guess where I found my keys? In an open bag of chips. They must have fallen in there when I was lazily hanging on my couch. Seems like everything that could go wrong is going wrong the last few weeks. Car stuck in mud breaking sliding door, border not giving me enough visa days, hitting low wall causing a nice dent in sliding door, twice problems with police, hard drive broken, camera broken, awning broken, keys gone for days. It is really time for a travel break. I’m not going to anything anymore these last two days, just hang around here on the campsite hoping not to break anything anymore.
On Sunday morning a taxi brings me to the airport three hours before my flight, all of security only takes half an hour so now it’s time for the waiting game. The plane to Madrid is much better than I thought and it even has movies. The food is a two bite portion so I use my two hours in Madrid to eat a lot. Good call because the flight to Amsterdam has no food at all. Now everything goes quick and I’m through security with my bag having breakfast with my parents at the airport before my plane was even supposed to land. So now the next three weeks there will be no van issues, no police issues (I hope), no immigration issues, no thinking about where I’ll sleep tonight or how I’m going to get diesel again. Just hanging out with my friends and relax! I’m looking forward to it.