Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Exiting Bolivia...with Some Unexpected Stops

I had a great time in Sucre, but it was time to move on. 

I was at point A (Sucre) and wanted to go to point B (El Chaco) in Paraguay. In general there is not much tourist information about Paraguay, and even less about El Chaco. El Chaco is a vast and isolated area in the north of Paraguay. I was not having much success finding reliable information about the border crossings, check points and roads to determine which would be the best route. There was even less information about places to stay, but I thought that I could figure that out once I arrived in Paraguay.

In Sucre, I asked a hotel owner and he did not know. I asked the tourist information office and they did not know. Finally, I stopped by the police station to find out which route the buses generally travel. I was told that one could cross in the north via Robore, but there was no check point. One could cross in the middle via Boyuibe, but there was no check point. The typical route that the buses take was via the city of Villamontes. It was the only route that had a reliable check point. This meant that I would have to travel south, then east, then north. Who's up for a little adventure?
And so I set off.
I rode through some majestic areas...mostly dirt roads... green mountains along the way.
After about 4 hours of riding, I came across this little obstacle.
I was not sure if the tree had fallen accidentally and the people were clearing the brush out of good will. Or if the man had cut down the tree for firewood and now was trying to clean up the mess. Either way, the tree was blocking the road and it was taking the group of three a long time to clear the obstacle. I was the only person on my side of the tree. There was a group of three or four cars on the other side of the tree. To hurry things along, I decided that I would help to clear the brush. I got off my bike and started moving the big branches. It turned out that my motorcycle gloves were functioning pretty nicely as work gloves. After about 30 minutes we had moved enough of the brush out of the way so that my motorcycle and other cars could pass. Funny thing, some of the drivers in the cars got out of their cars to watch, but none of the drivers helped to clear the tree.
I rode on.

I had starting riding at 8am in the morning and it was now about 7pm in the evening. It was starting to turn dark. It had been a full day of riding when I came upon a small village called Bourgue. At least I believe that was the name of the village. The village was so small that I have had trouble finding it on Google Maps.  For some reason there was a check point. I pulled up to the check point and got off my bike. I asked the guard if there was any place in the village where I might be able to stay for the night and set up my tent. He directed me to next door to a little store with an enclosed yard. I walked around the corner to see what I could find out.

As in many small villages in Bolivia, the store was basically the front room of a house. There were a few odds and ends of basic neccesities...soap, matches, cooking oil. The owner appeared to be the lady of the house.

I was hungry, so I first glanced around to see if there was anything that looked appetizing. Glancing over the shelves there was not much - some chips, candy, canned food. The woman opened up a box and showed me a half butchered pig. I could tell that it was a pig because the head was still attached to the body. Looked interesting, but I said...no. She pointed to some eggs. I shook my head...no. Then she uncovered at a large bag filled with loaves of bread. I shook my head in approval. She also pointed at a can of sardines on the shelf. Bread and fish out of a can... it was starting to grow on me. I said that I would take three loaves of bread and a can of sardines. It seemed to make her happy that she was able to help me find something to eat.

I then asked the lady if there was anyplace where I might be able to stay and set up my tent. She said that I could stay in her yard. I pointed to a clearing in the dirt yard and inquired if it would be a good location. She said that I was welcome to set up my tent under her porch. I accepted the offer and said thank you. I then moved my motorcycle inside the yard and started to set up camp.

By this time it was completely dark. There was no moon out. There were no lights in the village.

I guess that it was a bit unusual to have a traveler visiting this area... let alone a guy on a motorcycle. I mean, why would anyone stop in this small village that lied along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

A crowd started to gather. There were old men, women, teens and some kids. It was hard to make out the expressions on the people's faces because it was so dark, but they seemed to be enjoying the experience of watching this extranjero (stranger) set up camp. Of course I got the usual questions... Where are you from? What are you doing here? Do you like Bolivia? Where are you going? How much did your motorcycle cost? How much did your tent cost? Are you Chinese?

When people ask me if I am Chinese I always share that I am ethnically Chinese, but that I was born in the United States... a Chino Americano. Some people get it, some people don't.

I asked the group, now numbering about 15 people, if they had even had ever seen an actual Chinese person. Most of the group said...no. There were three teens that raised their hands eagerly and said that they had seen Chinese people before. I asked them where. They said that they studied in Sucre and had seen Chinese tourists in the city. Cool, I pondered a bit.

I asked the group if they had ever eaten Chinese food. There was silence. Nobody responded. Then one lady asked me what was Chinese food. I tried my best to explain. I said that there are basic ingredients like chicken or beef, vegetables like carrots, onion, scallions, and that all the ingredients are cut up into small pieces then cooked together in a big pot called a wok. She said that it sounded like some of the food that they made. I said that the seasonings and flavors might be different. One lady was really curious and asked if I knew how to cook Chinese food. I said that I knew how to cook a few dishes. She asked if I could teach her. Without really thinking... I said yes.

Hmmmm... then I thought. Was she serious. I asked her if she was serious. She said that she really would like to learn. Hmmmm... I asked her... right now? She said that I could do it the following day. Well, I was not really planning to stay around this small town for much time. But, I was so overcome by the eagerness and openness of this small village that I said... okay.

I inquired if they had chicken... yes... rice... yes... onions... yes... carrots... yes... salt... yes... pepper... yes... oil... yes. And then I said we had all the ingredients, but usually I would use a sauce we call... soya (soy sauce). The lady said with great eagerness... we have soya! Wow, I knew that there were many places in Bolivia that had soy sauce, but I was surprised to that they would have it in this small village. We live in a global village.

We continued to talk while I set up my camp. But it was settled... I would teach the village how to prepare Chinese food the next day.

After setting up my camp, it was time to eat. The crowd sensed that I was about to eat, so it started to disperse. I proceeded to open the can of sardines and break the bread. There were still a few people hanging around watching me. I offered them some of my newly acquired sardines and bread. Two of the teens accepted my offer. So I shared my food and we had a nice little meal. I was glad that I had some people with which to share the sardines, because after a few bites, I knew that there was no way that I would be able to eat the whole can. Between the three of us, we eventually finished the food. Nothing went to waste.

Then it was time to go to sleep. I said good night to all my new friends and crawled into my tent.

The next morning I awoke. This is the house/store/yard where I had camped for the night.

I packed up my things and prepped my motorcycle.

Some of the townspeople were hanging around watching me. I asked them kind of half heartedly if they still wanted me to teach them how to cook Chinese food.

Yes! the ladies replied.

Okay, brunch would be served!

So I rattled off a list of the ingredients and asked them to compile them. I asked them how many people might be interested in cooking and eating. The one lady that was kind of the coordinator said... Oh, probably about 15.

Wow, 15 people. I have cooked for 8 to 10 people in my house before, but never 15. And I've always had all the proper ingredients, utensils and kitchen space. This was going to be interesting.

It took the group a little time to run around the village and gather all the ingredients. We moved to another house to do the cooking.
As I walked through the open courtyard and up to the house, I saw this scene. Two of the young girls had killed a chicken, boiled it to remove the feathers and were plucking the remaining feathers. It was probably the freshest chicken that I had ever cooked.
I then proceeded to show the group how to cut the vegetables and chicken into small pieces. They had all the basic ingredients and most of them had been grown right around the village. If you look closely you will even notice that they had a bottle of soy sauce. For some reason they had brought mayonnaise and catchup. I told them that those ingredients would not be necessary.

Also, a number of times they asked me if we would need any potatoes. I said... no. Potatoes are a staple food in Bolivia and are eaten with just about every meal. There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes that are grown in the country. Unfortunately, for this recipe we would not be using any potatoes.
After a little time, we had all the food prepped and we were ready to begin cooking.
I had never cooked Chinese food over an open fire. It was definitely a new experience. The heat was intense. I found it difficult to get close enough to the fire to stir fry the ingredients. Eventually, I turned over the responsibility of stirring the dish to one of the ladies.
In the end, it all worked out. We made a big pot full of chicken fried rice. I think that there were about 10 people that showed up to eat. They all said that they really enjoyed it. I do not know if they really enjoyed it or if they were just being polite. But... in the end... all the food was finished.
Here is the core group of women that I taught how to cook the meal. People that I have encountered along my way have been so willing to share their culture with me, it was nice to share a little bit of my culture with this community.
It was time to leave... so I said my good-byes.
I headed down the road.
I followed a dirt road, which followed alongside a river. I had been riding over a lot of rough roads in Bolivia. I heard a little rattling noise coming from my bike. I stopped to inspect it. I noticed that a spot weld that connects my rear rack and case to my motorcycle frame had separated. It was not a crucial mechanical weld, but it did support the weight of my rear case.
In the next town I passed called Monteagudo I sought out a soldidura (welder). I found this one man shop and explained the issue. He said that he could help me.
I backed my motorcycle into the shop. The welder went to work. The work was complete within 5 minutes. Simple roadside repair in Bolivia. It cost me $15 Bolivianos (US$2).
I rode on...traveled for about an hour... until I came across this fallen tree.

At this spot there was a crew with some heavy equipment moving the brush. It was all cleared in about 5 minutes.
I rode on for another 3 or 4 hours to a town called Camiri where I stayed the night. I found an inexpensive hotel... ate a decent meal... and rested.

In the morning, I left Camiri and traveled for about 2 hours south to the town of Villamontes. In Villamontes I stopped for lunch.

With a full stomach, I headed east to the border of Paraguay.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow, what a unique experience Troy. I suspect in five years, if you came back to this little village you'd find a 'comida china' restaurant proudly serving your recipe! Well done sir.


Thanks for visiting my website and for leaving a comment. - Troy

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