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Monday, March 11, 2013 | Santa Cruz to Chile

Blog 4 Santa Cruz to Chile Bolivia is a country of contrasts. From La Paz, high in the Andes, we are now making our way to Santa Cruz, located in the lush tropical rain forest. The city, one of the fastest growing in the country, is home to Embol, Coca Cola licensee in Bolivia. Here we talk with Roberto Francina, Technical Director, responsible for all 4 plants in the country. Growth in the past 10 years has been remarkable. On his watch, Roberto has overseen an increase in production from 180 million litres in 2003 to 675 million litres of CSD this year. Growth has been almost exclusively in the PET disposable bottle sector, with glass and reusable PET showing only a modest increase. The preforms for the bottles come from Empacar, which is where we are heading for our next appointment.

Roberto Francina, Technical Director, Embol shows us the two-way PET lines at its main plant in Santa Cruz

Also headquartered in Santa Cruz is Empacar, a company whose activities embrace the recycling of PET bottles. For the preforms supplied to Coca Cola, Empacar uses 10% recycled material. The company produces the r-Pet in-house on a bottle to bottle line. The material for this comes principally from Bolivia. Approximately 60% of all bottles find their way back into recycling process.

We are making heavy weather of getting to Chile, but we still have one more appointment in Bolivia’s constitutional capital, Sucre. The question is, how are we going to get there? The most direct way is over minor roads, which don’t look terribly inviting. The alternative, using major highways, would take us on a massive detour almost back to La Paz. Nothing daunted, we decide on the shorter, riskier route. The tarmac rapidly runs out and we find ourselves bumping along for 300 kilometres over sand and gravel. The interior and exterior of the poor old Editourmobil are swiftly covered in a generous coating of dust and dirt. And just to make life more interesting, we manage to get stuck in a mud hole, from which a kindly truck driver, who happens to be passing, drags us out. In Sucre, we instantly despatch the vehicle to the local car wash, where a diligent team of 4 spend a good four hours giving the Editourmobil a thorough spring-clean inside and out.

Our appointment is with the small brewery Surena. They have what must be a unique problem to resolve with every brew they produce. The brewery is situated at a height of 3,300 metres, and the brewpots need to be pressurised, otherwise, at this altitude, the water will boil before it reaches the required temperature of 100o Celsius.

The appointment with Surena marks the end of the first part of our eventful Latin American adventure. It only remains for us now to hand over the Editourmobil to our second team in Santiago de Chile. A quick glance at the road atlas confirms our worst fears yet again. Surprise, surprise, there is no direct route to our destination. The options are either to go back virtually to La Paz, or to take a huge loop round via Argentina. It may be a case of once bitten, twice shy, but we again opt for the shorter route, and find ourselves crossing the beautiful landscape of the National Park in southwest Bolivia. Salt lakes, majestic mountains, flocks of flamingos in peaceful lagoons and, perhaps more importantly, the official stamp for the vehicle at the customs station situated at an altitude of 5,020 metres (200m higher than Mont Blanc!). Needless to say the roads are very poor, with dust everywhere and the ever present threat of getting stuck in the mud. When we are almost through, I jot down this observation about our chosen route in the guidebook: "Drivers on this route should ensure that their four-wheel vehicle is equipped with a crawler gear, since there are some very steep gradients to negotiate." We managed to do it with the Editourmobil without AWD and without a crawler gear. I think we (Rolf and I) can hand over the vehicle, with a clear conscience, to the second team with the words: "The Editourmobil came through with flying colours, but it’s definitely no stick-in-the-mud!"

In Santa Cruz Empacar collects the post-consumer PET bottles themselves from their own collection centres. A Big Bottle Recycler holds about 120kg of old bottles.