Originally, we were going to drive from Tarija to the Potosí, the fabulous town where silver mining was and still is done. This plan was aborted because the miners are demonstating for more pay. They have closed the roads around Potosí. In fact, we met a Chilean couple on a motorcycle who said that, not only was it closed, but they put dynamite on the road. The only way that the couple got through was to be guided cross-country. So, Potosí was out of the question for us. We decided to go to Santa Cruz instead. Having made this decision, looking at the map, we'd have to back-track to go to the touristic, colonial town of Sucre. We hate to drive back. So Sucre was out too.
Our drive on Saturday from Tarija to Villa Montes (our overnight stop) was horrendous. We couldn't share the 8 hours to drive 250 km/ 155.34 miles. I didn't feel comfortable on the narrow, dirt road (and Dimitri would have been a nervous wreck). We had all kinds of conditions: hard pack dirt, talcum powder, slippery surface, misty rain which turned the surface into muddy, slippery, red mush. It was a narrow ledge though the mountains of the Cordillera Oriente with no shoulder or verge. It took 4 hours to do 100 km/62 miles. Then the next 100 km took 2 3/4 hours.
For the first part there was no traffic and we were crossing a valley. The earth was a golden color. Then we started into the mountains and there was road work for which we were stopped for 1/2 hour. After that, we were driving in a procession of the cars, buses and trucks that had been stopped for the road work. Dimitri liked to follow the small truck in front of us and called it a guide-truck. There was a section (at which we took some snaps) where the road was narrow and there were huge buses coming at us in the other direction.
The next delay was when a over-sized piece of machinery had to pass from the other direction. Workmen with big wads of coca in there mouths (that made them look like they had tumors) told us to get way off the road. Since there really wasn't a big enough shoulder, we slowly turned all the way around and found a safe spot off the road some ways back. By the time the machinery passed us and we started up again, we had lost our guide-truck. The wet mushy earth was a red color (like iron rich soil) and caked our white car thoroughly. Dimitri did very well and we were grateful again for our Michelin Alpine snow tires which gave us additional traction. When we arrived in Villa Montes at 6 pm, we were exhausted. We tried to buy gas but the station was out of gasolina especial. There was no car wash open either so the wet red mud dried on the car.
Lonely Planet listed Hotel El Rancho (Av. Mendez Arcos Final, Villa Montes, Tarija, Gran Chaco, fono: (591-4)672-2140, e-mail: email@example.com) and described it as "appealing". We chose the Suite #36 for Bs380/US$55.07. The room was large with a queen bed and a sofa. The cable TV had lots of channels. Incredibly, there was wi-fi internet in the room in this tiny burg! There was 24 hour hot water but no heat at all although the temperature outside was about 10 C degrees/50 F degrees. Our new portable heater that we had bought in Tarija (for Bs140/US$20), when our old one died, worked just fine. We settled in and had our own wine and aperitif watching TV and a show on our computer. We started to relax after this harrowing day.
Lonely Planet described the comedor/restaurant at El Rancho as "pleasant". We thought so too. There were 2 gas heaters that warmed us enough. The large salad and main course buffets were truly a pleasant surprise. The stew was great. The 2 buffets (Bs 50 each/US$7.24 x2 = US$14.49) plus a bottle of Campos de Solana Reserva, Bivarietal Cabernet Sauvignon + Merlot '03 (Bs 90) cost a total of Bs 190/US $27.53. We were happy, we watched some computer TV (previously recorded on the Archos 605 personal video recorder) and went to bed early.