Cloud Forest Football
7.30am soon came round and Ali was up early making his homemade chocolate to rival Moe’s yankee addiction to peanut butter and Nutella. With toast, fruit salad, condensed milk and copious “jugo de naranja” and Boliviano coffee on tap from “Cocina Gravity” courtesy of messers Moe and Ali we couldnt fail at being fuelled up for todays remote adventure, mountain biking in Bolivia. Bubbly as ever, Herman and the Landcruiser were poised for another day of action playing mountain goat and mule.
Grappling our way up the wet, lush singletrack road akin to the Camel trophy of the 80’s. This was no tame Top Gear “death road” nonsense. Herman insisting on the romantic melodies of Bolivian folk music rather than the funky tones of the Chillies, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or the Killers set a new vibe in the back. For me mountain biking had always been a by-word for adventure but even though G and I had joined the tour a day late, yesterday’s menu of mountain biking in Bolivia left us grasping at more. Just as Ali finished explaining the finer details of chewing coca leaf and why the cultivation is so important to the local people, we were parked up and unloading the fleet. Most a little sore with lower arm and hand stiffness partly due to their lack of bike time. And the fact that the tyres must of been running at least 60psi to prevent punctures and increase rolling resistance “apparently”. Not wanting to sound like the group “know it all”, I quietly encouraged each of my new friends to reduce the air in their tyres for the sake of their grip and comfort. Once again it was predominantly double track undulating through dense lush forest with circling Turkey vultures and vibrant butterflies the size of bats to keep us company.
With each corner dissected by a fresh water stream that were fun to manual or attempt to jump, we reeled off 10km of honest cross country (XC) in a blink of an eye considering the downhill pedigree of our rigs. I was surprised how well the Bottle-rocket rolled and climbed once I got it moving. An honest flow of sweat on everyone was evident as we rolled our fleet of XC Shermans into San Jose de Pututumi,a tiny mountain side village. The Her-meister rolled up and dished out the passion fruits to refresh the pallet. With thirsts quenched we decided the congregated mass of 7 year old school kids on mid-morning break were worthy enough challengers for a game of footy.
After 15 minutes of swarming around an onion bag (football) and being nut megged by a 2ft Etcheverry brought a lot of smiles to everyones face. But my personal favourite was seeing G weaving through Hobiton with full control of the ball before being stopped in his tracks by a well timed stern tackle. Stumbling over his own feet and only just staying up right was his only saving grace as the 20kg playground bruiser peeled off for an attempt at Ali’s goal! With humidity taking its toll on the Gringos we retreated for another passion fruit but with huge smiles. Playing footy with those village kids made my day, simply priceless experience. I had to get a photo with the G-slayer or was he the one that ran through my legs with the ball?
With the school bell ringing out it was time to negotiate the loose, muddy and rocky off-camber descent to Incachaca for a light lunch of traditional soup and more pat-a-cake with another set of excitable kids! Each dish like Ali’s trail choice just keeps on getting better. To-date this was the best Bolivian soup that fuelled our afternoon of hot punchy climbs up mining roads which preceded plummeting short roller coaster descents that left Mr and Mrs Claudio whooping for more.
The rest of the ride dragged us ever closer to Mapidi. Unlike day 2 it was devoid of singletrack. But today was always about the transition between mountains to Amazonian river basin. The riding was hard earned and soul building with enough reward on the lumpy, rocky descents through the frequent mining towns and co-operative settlements to always bring that adrenaline buzz. We rode into town amongst a flurry of fake Suzuki 125s, roaming ponies and of course the Toyota Caribs and Landcruisers.
The locals as ever very curious but happy to see us as ONLY Gravity bring outsiders to this part of Bolivia. Our blue eyes, milky bar skin, blonde locks and towering physique bring horn honking, waving and hand shaking from anyone within passing reach! Our host for the next 3 nights was Sain the “Donald Trump” of Mapidi. A hotel, two restaurants, boat with crew and doubles as a master jungle guide. Gravity have been running this expedition style tour for a few years now. Moe has completed his 32nd in the past year alone, along with Sain, who has been involved with every one! He provides the boat, the skipper, the navigator and the camp cook for 2nd half of this trip, which can only mean we are in good hands. At this stage the bikes, Landcruiser and 2nd guide are not needed so after a quick beer to welcome our arrival we say our big thanks to Ali and Herman and wave them good bye as they make there way back to La Paz via 26 hours of cliff edge dirt roads!
We settle into “Donalds” comfortable rooms at his ample casa as we all look forward to a nice hot shower even a cold one would of been nice as the hot humid Mapidi evening was drawing in. A freshen up was on the cards. But Sain’s water pump had other ideas. Settling for buckets of water as a shower was just another excellent experience in the real Bolivia.
Once relatively clean and rested we headed out to Sain’s number one restaurant that of course he owned for dinner. Which of course is all included in the price of the expedition. After a cold beer under the starry sky and croaking soundtrack it was time for bed and the eagerly awaited part two of this trip which was the 3 day canoe trip deep into the Bolivian Amazonian jungle. This final day of mountain biking in Bolivia was a real mix of cultural, visual and riding experiences and set us perfectly for the relaxing time, aboard Sain´s traditional river canoe.