We’d ridden hard through the rain from the salt flats of Uyuni in South Western Bolivia to the large regional town of Oruro, arriving in the dark to flooded streets, scarce hotel accommodation and traffic gridlock caused by a mardi gras type parade including blokes dancing around in pink sequinned costumes and high wooden shoes with bells attached (Sonja reckons it was a traditional cultural event). It was just one of those days in Bolivia…
We planned to just stay the night before pushing on but unbeknown to us Oruro was gripped with Dakar race fever as Stage 5 of the race was finishing there the next day and no less than the President of Bolivia was going to be there as the competitors roared into town. This proved to be our undoing. We left the hotel to head north but soon found ourselves completely trapped in the city by multiple road closures and manic supporters who were crowding the streets to see the racers. The police were typically no nonsense and one gave us complex directions in Spanish on how to go around the road blocks. After hopelessly going in circles for an hour in the pouring rain we gave up and slunk back to our hotel defeated, much to the surprise and delight of the owners. Muttering dark curses about the race we had no choice but to cool our heels and wait for the Dakar induced chaos to subside and try to leave the next day.
We woke to the sound of rain (fabulous) and after struggling into multiple layers of clothing left the hotel again just after 7.00am, hoping that the road out of town would be open and the Dakar crew had all buggered off into the desert. Things were looking great as my GPS counted down to the start of Ruta 1 North: 1000m to go, 500m to go, 200m to go – no road blocks – hooray! Until we got to the entrance ramp to Ruta 1 and there before us was a massive police check point stopping all vehicles onto the road – CRAP! Drivers were arguing with the heavily armed cops but getting nowhere. Bolivian authorities are notoriously security minded and the Dakar camp was about 5km down the road and police were taking no chances of disruptions to the race.
This is where we discovered a marvellous new tactic that works a treat when dealing with the police.
As we are clearly foreigners on big fancy bikes, police and other officials don’t quite know how to deal with us. Plus our fluoro coloured jackets looked like the ones worn by Dakar officials and newly purchased Dakar stickers on our bikes made us look a bit like we were part of the race. So we just rode through the traffic chaos caused by the road block, bowled up to one of the policemen, gave him a haughty ‘I’m a pissed off official’ look (gotta love an open faced helmet) and he took one look and immediately let us through without a word– boo yah!
Well this was just the beginning. We carried off this fabulous trick for the next 250km as the entire stretch of Ruta 1 was closed down as the Dakar was heading into La Paz for a media event. We sailed past their camp outside town and hammed it up as we roared along the almost empty highway looking like we owned the place. As ‘lead riders’ for the event we even rode side by side in each lane with our warning lights flashing, making us look even more like we were part of the race. There were literally thousands of police deployed along the highway and we just sauntered past the lot of them as they stared at us. Many even took photos as we rode by! Sonja was totally in the zone, waving and tooting her horn at spectators who waved and danced ecstatically back, taking even more photos of the phony lead riders. We totally owned the event, especially when three event media helicopters flew overhead.
However, the nearer we got to La Paz the more intense it got. Suddenly there were literally thousands of people watching us from the side of the road and overpasses, plus huge throngs of police, paramilitaries and soldiers lining the road. And here we were, total fakes pretending to be lead riders in the famous Dakar rally sweeping past them all. Totally surreal.
We started to get a bit nervous at the scale of our deception as we knew we were going to get sprung at some stage so we started to look for ways off the procession road but side roads were blocked by cops, barriers and thousands of people. We were flagged down by a senior motorbike policeman but I talked our way out of it and despite being slightly confused about who we were, he sent us on our way. Eventually we found a small gap in a road with not much of a barrier and no security forces so we dived off the road and rode slowly through the crowd. We were immediately pounced on by people wanting photos with us. I was grabbed by a TV journalist and she asked me a bunch of questions about the race to camera as I sat on my bike. I earnestly answered in English about “how wonderful the race has been” and “what a fantastic country Bolivia is”. Sonja could hear all of this through our helmet intercoms and thought it utterly hilarious.
Literally as the first ‘real’ Dakar truck roared past we made our escape and disappeared into the surrounding streets before anyone could figure out who we were, or more importantly, who we weren’t.
Easily one of the most wonderful and hilarious rides of our lives!