We left the Salar after a good truck scrubbing, which was also an interesting experience. With the build up of salt and sand, it was necessary to clean the Tundra inside and out. Traditionally, the car washes we have found along the way are made with cement ramps upon which you drive allowing the workers at the car wash to spray, scrub and clean your vehicle from every angle with more detail than most US car dealerships. There are no photos of this experience because Jorge and I were so enamored with the process that neither of us pulled out our cameras to snap a picture. When we go back for a second round of the Salar, I will make sure to document the event!
We headed to Sucre, the next stop on the route toward Brazil. We had read a few entries in iOverlander about where to stay and chose a quaint camping spot inside a gated courtyard right in the heart of the market area. We spent two nights and shared the space with travelers from Switzerland, Poland and France. We especially enjoyed getting to know Connie and Roger, a Swiss couple who have been traveling for almost two years!
Sucre has a vibrant market and beautiful old-style architecture. For the first time in weeks, we slowed down to enjoy the sunny days, drink delicious fresh juices, visit museums, shop for food in the square, and take long walks to explore the city. It was great.
From Sucre, we headed to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and the Chiquitania route to visit Jesuit missions. Along the way, we found the ruins in Samaipata, drove through small villages on a variety of one lane ‘highways,’ and camped in 105-degree weather next to a swimming pool where we learned to drink Caipirinhas – a Brazilian national drink made with fermented sugar cane…yummy! We were visited by a rhea (a distant cousin of the ostrich) one morning at our campsite, stopped to say hello to a curious water buffalo on the road, and as always – found a variety of vaca (Spanish for cow) wondering through their day.
We had a unique experience with a couple of corrupt police officers as we re-entered Santa Cruz from the mission route. Before we left the city for the long weekend, we had visited the Brazilian embassy in Santa Cruz to get our visas. This meant leaving our passports with the consulate until Tuesday, as Monday was a holiday. We thought nothing of getting into the truck with the color copy photos of our passports as we headed to San Jose de Chiquitos. On our way back into town to collect our passports, we were stopped by the police. This has happened several times in each country. It usually takes just a few minutes and most often we are stopped out of curiosity. We usually give them stickers, tell them about our blog, and they send us on our way…many of them actually follow us on Instagram and Facebook!
Not this time. The cop asked Jorge to get out of the car and went directly to the back to ask about our jerry can filled with gas. You see, the gas in Bolivia is highly subsidized by the government and it is illegal to sell it to foreigners for the regular price. While many gas station attendants negotiate with travelers for reasonable prices, sometimes the only way you can get the gas is to use the jerry can, for many of the gas stations have cameras watching to see that the attendants do not break the rules. Because we had been driving in an unfamiliar territory for the weekend, and because we were not sure what the gas situation would be, we had loaded up before leaving to make sure we would not be left stranded. This full jerry can of gas proved to be just the thing the cop needed to ‘bring us in.’ He quickly explained to Jorge that we were breaking the law, asked if we were carrying illegal drugs and said we would have to come with him. This could not be a good thing.
We followed him into a very small room with no windows and one desk. It felt like we were in some bad movie as he explained that we were in big trouble and that if we did not cooperate, he would have to call Interpol. He actually said ‘Interpol.’ While we held back the laughter at first, we quickly became irritated as it was clear that he would not let us go without a bribe. As he was describing that we had illegal gasoline and no documents, he whispered that we could make things easier on ourselves by offering a donation to him. Ha! Jorge explained that giving him money would be very illegal and that we had only a credit card, no cash. Jorge was certain that it would be difficult to swipe our card to pay a bribe to a dishonest crook. The first cop left the room and sent in his commanding officer. He tried again to explain that we could offer a donation. It seemed to be a well-organized game for them. We watched as two other cops stopping cars on the road were collecting money from each. After we refused to give cash, Jorge suggested that we would just have to empty the gas can. This caught their attention and they offered a container in which to catch the gas – if they could not take our money, they would take our gas. Jorge finally acquiesced, and the cop motioned for Jorge to bring the can into the office to make the switch. Jorge would not. He stood like a superhero in the middle of road and told the cop to come out into the open to steal our gas and he made the commanding officer hold his own gas can. People in cars passing by watched as the crooked cop confiscated gas from the tourists in the middle of the road. When the can was half full, and he was clearly uncomfortable with the situation, he told us he did not need anymore and sent us on our way.
Today’s theme – Next time, I will suggest they use my cellphone to call Interpol.