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Family on Bikes in Bolivia

This is a newsletter from Family on Bikes - a family riding bicycles from Alaska to Argentina. Sign up to receive the newsletters directly to your inbox

Cycling Bolivia was a challenge, but in a good way
Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Where do I even begin? So much has happened since I last wrote from La Paz, it makes my head swim! Since early July, we’ve been featured in Parade Magazine, interviewed by the BBC and The Guardian (UK), highlighted on, and appeared on Good Morning America! Truly amazing to think that our tiny little family has been exposed to the world!

One of the many tasks we had on our to-do list for La Paz was dental checkups for the four of us. That visit to the dentist ended up changing the next couple of weeks of our lives. We managed to find a great German-trained dentist who could redo John’s entire mouth – take out all his old fillings and crowns, and then completely rebuild it all. We hung out for another three weeks for that.

That three weeks was such a treat! We moved from our luxury home to the local Casa de Ciclistas and hung out with other cyclists. We went mountain biking and stumbled upon parades and thoroughly enjoyed our time in the big city. But finally the day came when John’s mouth was fixed up, I sported a brand new crown on my tooth, and the boys’ teeth were all clean. It was time to move on.

Our plan was to head straight south through the altiplano – it would be bitterly cold at night, but it was the most direct route and besides, we wanted to see the altiplano. It was fairly easy pedaling across the flat plains, and we enjoyed a few lovely days looking forward to more. That came to a screeching halt when we arrived at the doorstep of a hotel in Oruro.

“Where you are headed next,” the receptionist at the hotel asked when we arrived with our heavy bikes.

“Potosi,” I answered. “We’ll push on tomorrow.”

“You can’t go to Potosi,” came the reply. “It’s closed.

Huh? Potosi is closed? How can one of the major cities in Bolivia be closed?

But it was closed. Local authorities had sealed off the city in order to pressure the government to provide certain economic developments. Nobody in, nobody out.

Our first thought was your typical biker response: Perfect! If they’ve closed the roads, we won’t have to deal with traffic! But then, as we learned more about this particular strike, we came to the conclusion that this one wasn’t a simple road block – they were serious about their nobody in, nobody out stance. We checked into the hotel and determined to wait it out.

Three days later I headed downstairs in the morning. “You guys need to leave,” the hotel receptionist told me. “Word on the street is that they will close Oruro in a few days if they government doesn’t meet their demands.” We hightailed it out of there – heading east toward the Amazon basin. It would end up being a 700-km detour, but worth it in order to avoid the unrest and possible violence.

A week later, after climbing back up to over 14,000 feet, we arrived into the city of Cochabamba and met up with our friends, the Verhage family. We first met them in Honduras many months ago, then again in La Paz, and now they were hanging out in Cochabamba. The boys were thrilled – all four of them! D & D spent hours hanging out with Jesse and Sammy!

Ever notice how sometimes it only takes a second to change your life? The second we walked into the cancer ward in Cochabamba, our lives took on a drastically new direction. The Verhage family had met a 13-year-old Bolivian girl who had cancer and had made the decision to try and help her out. Although they raised a lot of money and managed to rebuild her family’s home, she still needed a lot. We decided we couldn’t turn our backs. Our lives took a dramatic turn and we did what we could to raise money for Mariela and the rest of the cancer kids in Cochabamba.

It was a whirlwind ten days in Cochabamba setting up bank accounts, meeting with lawyers, and holding babies with cancer, but finally we hit the road again – with the Verhage family. They decided to ride with us to Santa Cruz, 475 km east.

What a blast! Jesse and Sammy rode their tandem next to Davy and they chatted all day long. John tried his best to keep up with them so Daryl could join in, but there were many times when John simply couldn’t keep up – where do kids get their energy anyway?

It took us nine days to reach Santa Cruz – we stayed in schools, military bases, and small alojamientos along the way. The boys played together. The adults chatted together. It was magic.

And now, we’re in Santa Cruz enjoying the big city. The boys are still playing together, although the Verhage family plans to head out tomorrow. It’ll be hard to say goodbye – this time they are heading north and we’re going south. We’re not sure when we’ll meet up next time.

After cycling 700 km east, we are now ready to head south - we are now a mere 550 km away from the Argentinean border. With any luck, the next time I write we will be in a new country! At this point, we estimate we have somewhere between 6000 and 7000 km left of our journey and then we’ll start on a new chapter in our lives. We’re getting closer with each mile we pedal!

Thank you all for hanging in there with us and supporting us along the way!

Nancy, John, Davy, Daryl


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