After recuperating from the border crossing experience at a hotel in Villamontes, Bolivia, our goal was to reach Tarija; we had heard that Tarija was beautiful, and in the middle of a wine region; we intended to spend 4 – 5 days there.
From Villamontes to Tarija, it’s 250 km, 150 miles, and on the map it’s marked as a major unpaved road, ie gravel or ripio. We had found a comment or two in the blogosphere stating that the road was challenging, and wiser from previous experience we decided to spread the trip over two days: 150 km to Entre Rios, and then 100 km to Tarija. Good call.
We asked the girl in the reception of the hotel about the road, and we’re either better at asking questions, or she is the one no-bullshit person in South America: “The road is bad. It will take you 5 hours to get to Entre Rios. There are significant risks if you meet trucks or buses. Muy peligroso (very dangerous)”. Wow.
And was she ever correct. The road at time was truly scary. When the best that the PR guy for the District (state) of Tarija can come up with is “The road, which despite its precariousness, is passable throughout the year…”, you know it’s not going to be good.
During the first 30 minutes of driving, we passed through a couple of sections where I was an inch away from scraping the driver side mirror on the solid rock that the road was carved out of, and on Karen’s side, our wheels were no more than one, maybe two with a stretch, feet away from the edge. And past the edge, it’s a few hundred feet down.
After that, for the next 4 hours, the road is a one lane road, with curves every 200 – 300 feet, blind curves every 500 feet, and meeting spots that somehow lean out over the valley below. And guard rails are not in the picture.
It’s an adrenaline shock to be halfway around a blind corner and suddenly meet a big truck, or a crazed, meth-addicted, Bolivian driver in a souped-up SUV. Ok, the meth-addicted was an exaggeration, the crazed was not.
Not sure how it happened, but 90% of the road had the steep drop-off on Karen’s side of the casa. Karen’s way of handling the “excitement” was to cling with both hands to her seat-belt, and to concentrate on trying to help me out by looking further down the road to see if someone was coming; I was highly focused on the next 200 feet.
As we were stopped for lunch, we did see the technique that the driver of one of the large buses used: he was coming up the road at a pretty rapid clip, and honking before every blind corner, which he then swept around; there is absolutely no way he could have stopped if he had met a car, or worse, a truck. Hopefully there aren’t too many deaf drivers in Bolivia.
We were both worn by the time we got to Entre Rios. But in one of those great chance encounters we found Hotel Soluna, a small hotel owned by, and built by, Torge and Astrid, a very cool couple from Germany, who live there with their two adorable daughters, Kaya and Serena.
Torge and Astrid let us park in their driveway – for free – and we had a great relaxing evening chatting with the family, and imbibing a celebratory beverage, or three.