Motorcycle trip Part 2
We woke in San Pablo to a drizzly day. The clouds hung low and there was a chill in the air. We ate some breakfast cooked by our hostess who was a shy young mother with a child shadowing her every move. As Americans we were often treated differently. The children were either eager to talk to us or they were scared of us.
By the time we were dressed in our still wet clothes from the night before the sun began to burn through the clouds. Since we arrived in the cover of darkness we were seeing our first look at the small town of San Pablo. It was not much to speak of; not a paved road in sight. The only public utility was electricity powered by a generator that was shut off nightly at midnight. None of the adobe houses had running water or sewer systems. Many of the houses had thatched roofs with board shutters where windows would be. It was a primitive town but it had been a welcome sight the night before.
The road was still muddy from the rain. But the sun was quickly turning the water puddles in to humidity that could be felt as we rode through tall dense jungles. In many places there was standing water on both sides of the road from where the bulldozers had pushed the dirt up to build the road. These narrow strips of water were home to many different water fowl. Pink flamingos balancing on one leg watching for bugs and small fish to eat were prevalent. Beautiful parrots and toucans could be seen flying along the road searching for their next meal. The trees were massive, tall with large canopies. I saw many that had large bee hives hanging from branches or nestled in the forks of the limbs. Every few miles the trees would give way to open grass lands filled with cattle. The grass was littered with large termite mounds, many of them stood three feet high. Occasionally a mud hut that a rancher lived in tending to his cattle and fields could be seen off to the side of the road.
On this day we encountered our first of several cattle drives. Cowboys were herding several dozen head of Creole and Brahma cattle right down the road as it was the only logical place to travel. If the cattle herd was traveling the same direction as we were; we simply rode slowly through the cows attempting not to spook any of them. These cows all had horns. Some were rather long and ominous! We did not want to tangle with them under any circumstances. But it was quite a predicament when the herd was coming toward us. We would have to shut our engines off and let the cowboys drive the herd right past us. Often the cattle would get a little unruly and the cowboys would crack their whips and get them back in line. I wondered what the cowboys did if a big truck came along instead of motorcycles which would take up most of the road.
We arrived in the city of Trinidad in the early afternoon. This was the largest city of the Beni Department. It was a modern city by Bolivian standards with some paved streets but the majority were dirt that would turn to sloppy mud when it rained. There was electricity 24 hours a day providing the generators didn’t break down. A small river snaked through the middle of town that doubled as both a garbage dump and sewer system for the city. There were many more motorcycles in town than cars. Many of the motorcycles actually served as taxis. Flag one down and you could hop on the back and for a few pesos the driver would take you anywhere in town. There were even stop lights around the main plaza. But these were no ordinary stop lights, each light had a police officer manning a homemade rudimentary switch board to change the light from green to red and back again. If the officer was distracted by something like a pretty girl walking by or one of his amigos stopping to chat, the light would stay red for too long prompting the waiting motorcycles and cars to start honking their horns and the moto-taxis to yell at him. One popular past time at night was for the locals to cruise around the main Plaza on their scooters and motorcycles in the center of town. Lap after lap the young men would go around having a good time. Trinidad also welcomed commercial air traffic with a paved runway.
Steve led us to a church where we planned to stay the night. The locals would stop what they were doing and watch us ride by. They did not see many people traveling like us on motorcycles that were well maintained adorned by helmet wearing riders. There wasn’t really any good and safe place for us to park our motorcycles so the pastor opened the doors of the church and we moved the benches out of the way and rolled our motorcycles inside on the dirt floor. The pastor was excited to see his friends Steve and Efrain and he and his wife welcomed us with open arms.
We needed to purchase some parts for our motorcycles so we set off on a scavenger hunt around town. We found a motorcycle shop and bought a chain and sprockets for my dad’s bike and a rear tire and a couple of headlight bulbs for my brother’s bike. After making our purchases we headed back to the church to install our treasures. The day quickly faded into night and Grant, my dad, my brother, and I ventured out for some dinner. Down the street a short walk away was a Churrascaria. The restaurant was no more than a thatched roof with a hard packed dirt floor underneath. Blue painted tables with plastic chairs advertising several different beer companies filled the area. The kitchen was off to one end divided with about a 4 foot wall from the rest of the restaurant. We were seated by a clean cut, well-mannered young man. After talking over the small menu Grant talked us into ordering the “churrasco”. Now a churrasco varied depending on the restaurant. To some it was a form of Brazilian meat buffet and to others a steak dinner with a few side dishes. Grant told us it was the latter. So we all proceeded to order the churrasco. We should have known something was up when the waiter gave us a very quizzical look, especially me. He asked if we were sure that is what we wanted suggesting that it was a pretty big piece of meat for each of us. Grant assured him that it was what we wanted. The waiter hurried off after giving us the “dumb gringo” look to help prepare our dinner. By this time it was already after 8 pm. This was a normal supper eating hour for Bolivians, in fact many don’t eat till then or later in the urban areas. And so we waited, and waited, and waited some more. We shared about the neat things like the wildlife we had seen so far and we talked about how sore our backsides were from riding the motorcycles for 3 days straight. Every once in a while the waiter would come reassure us that our food was coming. Finally after my stomach must have growled a hundred times several men emerged from the kitchen area carrying plates of food. They brought home cut French fries, yucca and cheese, and some salad dishes to the table. After making a quick return trip to the kitchen they returned with our “steaks”. These were no ordinary steaks! They were big enough to feed several grown men, and we had four of them sitting on the table. The chunk of meat was about 10 inches long and about 4 inches high on the plate. Juice slowly escaped onto the plate and the smell was invigorating! We could not believe what was in front of us. The waiter and cook stood nearby to watch the gringos eat all this food. Grant apologized immediately for the mistake of ordering all this food and making us wait so long for it. But at that point it was too late so we all dug in. The meat was one of the best steaks I have ever had. It was tender and juicy. I ate a little of the side dishes, but I concentrated mostly on the meat. I knew there was no way I could eat the whole thing, but I was determined to make as big of a dent in it as I could. We ate in silence, each one determined to not waste any of it. Finally we were all forced to raise the white flag of surrender. The churrasco had won. We could not eat another bite. I felt guilty to waste so much food, but since we were traveling on motorcycles we had no way of taking any of it with us. I am sure that a few of the neighborhood dogs that kept getting run off by the waiter were very appreciative of us that night. Somehow we managed to walk ourselves back to the church where we were staying. I slept hard that night. I was a tired boy and my belly was full. It did not bother me that I was sleeping on a wood church pew that was wobbly and uncomfortable with no more than a wool blanket to keep me warm.