We reversed course out of Uyuni and headed back up the road toward the mountain town of Potosi, where we had been three days before. This time, rather than finding a cold and rainy city, we came through in the sun, though it still wasn’t very warm. Jalene and I fueled up at the usual foreigner price, which I don’t much mind as long as they sell us gasoline.
About buying fuel in Bolivia: Bolivia imposes a tax on gasoline for all foreign-plated vehicles. For Bolivian-plated vehicles, the fuel costs about 3.8 Bolivianos per liter today, about $0.55 USD. For all foreign plates, it’s about 8.6 Bolivianos per liter with the tax (about $1.25). The trouble is that the government regards this as two separate items – the sale of the gas and the collection of the tax. As such, they require that the fuel vendor fill out two receipts, and this must be done on official receipt books, by hand. It’s a hassle and takes time. There are cameras at the stations recording the plates and activities, as well. Thus it’s no surprise to pull into a busy station in the middle of a city and have them simply say “No” and take the next customer in line, refusing to sell to foreigners. After a few experiences like this, we always chose stations at the outskirts where they weren’t so busy, pulling up and saying “sin factura” (without receipt) when we requested gas. Generally at these quieter places, they would always sell you the gas, often at the foreign price, but often for much less, pocketing the premium. Several times we bought at local prices. I really didn’t mind if the person pumping my gas was skimming some money (they generally needed it!), as long they would sell me the gas. Only twice did a vendor go through the whole drill of the official receipt books. For us moto-overlanders, it is no big deal, but having to go to three different stations, or having a local buy it for you using your jug, as some do, is no fun.
About the fuel itself: Install a GOOD fuel filter on your bike. Bolivian gas is of questionable octane ratings – I was told as low as 84 at times, and is often full of rust and sediment. While the bikes seem to run fine on anything we dump into them, my fuel jug looked like it had been used for river water after one station outside La Paz. With modern fuel injection, make sure you have adequate filtration capability for your bike. Our F650 BMWs have the fuel injection pressure regulator and the fuel filter combined into one unit, and they cost $170 in the US. You don’t want to be replacing those! Ask about a high-pressure inline filter at the auto-parts store and put it in yourself.
I also strongly recommend one of Guglatech’s in-tank bag filters. It filters the fuel as the bike is being filled, and you can get them in very small mesh. Looking like a sock, it hangs inside the tank from the filler neck, so your fuel pump is protected as well. I installed a 10-micron filter in each bike, and they have lasted the entire trip. They are easy to install, just replace the fuel filler neck with the new one containing the filter. They are very durable, with tough fabric inside to protect the filter membrane – we have had attendant’s try to jam the fuel nozzle through them many, many times and they are unfazed by this abuse. The volume is such that they don’t slow down the fill rate, and they hold all the sediment and rust particles easily. The very fine particles are trapped in the thick layers of the filter membrane, which gradually turn grey over time, but ours have not stopped flowing fuel. I will install a Guglatech filter in every bike I own from now on.
Okay, enough tech talk. On our way up to Potosi again, we noted that all the snow we had seen on the ground three days before was completely gone. It’s September here, and summer is on the way to Bolivia. We bathed in the “heat” and enjoyed the dry roads, going straight through town on firm dirt, where we had been in the mud coming in just a few days before. Heaven. We fueled up, had a soda and snacks, and just barely avoided the cops as they rolled into the station in response to the domestic violence eruption. As I write this, people all over the USA are participating in the Women’s March, and so it’s with a heavy heart that I remember the sight of a Bolivian woman getting thrown to the ground at the gas station, presumably by an angry boyfriend or husband, but at least the cops rolled in to intervene, but maybe just to fill up. I wonder how much justice was served in this instance. This was a time when I had to check myself, limiting my actions to making it very apparent that the foreigner on the bike was watching everything. It slowed things down a bit, and 10 seconds later the cops pulled in. Impulse told me to wade right in, but with Jalene there, my first priority had to be to keep both of us safe. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do. I try not to second-guess myself too much in these instances. We made it out safe, and the police saw what was going on. We got the hell out of there.
We had a beautiful ride to Sucre that afternoon. Like many roads in South America, this one is not long as the crow flies, but it can take a long time traversing the twisty road through the mountains. The path takes you eastward and descends about 1,000 meters (3,300’), then turns north across the Rio Pilcomayo and along a valley up to Sucre. Along the way, we dropped down into a mostly dry riverbed to get off the road and make some sandwiches for lunch. Further on, we came upon the old Puente Sucre masonry suspension bridge that now serves pedestrians, and the deck lies at a significant cross-tilt, but the locals were still striding across, seeming not to notice. Founded in 1538, this old city is the Constitutional Capitol of Bolivia, though the actual governing is now mainly done from La Paz. Many argue that Sucre was the site where the initial independence movement against Spain began. While we always love the beautiful historical buildings and parks of towns like Sucre, we really came to see what our friends Mindy and Taylor discovered – dinosaurs. Or, more specifically, fossil dinosaur tracks.
In a limestone quarry in Sucre is a wall 1,500 meters (5,000’) long and about 100 meters (330’) tall, and it is covered with over 5,000 fossil dinosaur tracks. The footprints of eight species cover it, mostly saurapods and therapods, and the longest continuous set of fossilized tracks yet found crosses that wall. Originally the shore of a large, shallow lake, the prints were preserved as diatoms formed layers of limestone over the top of them, and as the Andes rose, the layers were turned vertically. The limestone was of high quality for use in concrete, and so a large concrete and cement works operated a pit here for years, digging first down and then sideways, before running into a section of lower quality rock, unsuitable for making cement or concrete with. They stopped digging, and as the crumbly rock wall eroded away, the mudstone layers with the fossilized tracks began to be revealed. Today most of it is exposed, and the race is on to protect the soft mudstone from erosion by water movement, and damage from plants, whose seeds lodge in the flakey, friable rock face and start to grow. The Bolivians are working hard to gain UNESCO Heritage protection for the site, and with it will come much needed money to seal the face of the rock as well as the ground surface behind it, to protect it from groundwater penetration. Work has begun, but it will take a huge effort to save this incredible resource. Parque Cretacico is an educational park, headquartered on the opposite side of the quarry, where one can see the whole wall, and learn about the animals from life-sized models. Standing under the largest, it’s easy to understand how it pressed so deeply into the mud of the shoreline. I was pleased that they kept things focused on education, and didn’t turn it into a theme park environment. In the afternoon, a guide took us right down to the base of the wall, and we could walk anywhere as long as we did not touch! This was the amazing part, as we could see evidence of layer after layer of tracks recorded here. You could examine the texture of the shoreline sand and the ripples, and imagine the shallow water moving over the beach. Some of the tracks meandered across the wall, some up and down. They ranged from small three-toed tracks the size of your hand, to monstrous circular tracks a meter (3’) across and 10-20 cm (4”-8”) deep. The nerdy kid in me loved this place, and even Jalene came away awed and impressed. Our guide gave a great presentation in both Spanish and English, and answered all of our questions. Later on, we spoke of our various interests, and he wanted to know more about where I picked up so much information about paleontology. I admitted that Paleontology and Geology classes in Community College were inspired by books I received in the mail as a grade-school kid. My parents signed me up for the Junior Science Series of books, which arrived in the mail every month or so, and you got to put in all the color pictures yourself, lick-and-stick. I can still taste them.
Lots more photos HERE.