There are a few milestones on any trip, bottom of the world, hand in the desert, highest capital city… yes that would be La Paz.
From Sucre, where we had extended our stay, we estimated 2 days riding would see us in the capital. As Jim was recovering from a bad back (a combination of lifting Bertie.. don’t ask.. and a massive sneeze) we opted for the route north which the Footprint guide assured us was pretty nearly all paved to Cochabamba, our stopover for the night; a distance of 361km would be manageable.
All started off well with the road a mixture of asphalt and short distances of ripio with the odd delay while they constructed a short piece of makeshift road. Click link for video http://youtu.be/GS9dk89xNQk Having been across loose sand before and getting stuck we opted for Jim going it alone and I would film the results. However he was gone in a flash leaving me to run after him, well waddle as fast as full bike gear in the heat allows.
A lunch stop in the square of Aiquile provided a good view of a couple having their wedding photos taken in the square. Neither looked too happy but we have noticed that in Bolivia the people do not seem to smile for a photo, but a shame on a happy occasion.
With full stomachs and a word with a guy seemingly guarding a fork in the road, we discovered that the next 90 km of newly constructed road was all cobbles up and down mountain sides, leaving Bertie pretty shook up and us counting our fillings. Click link for video http://youtu.be/1zZ5JH6dOU0 We were thankful there was little other traffic as we pulled into the lovely little colonial town of Totoro.
Tempting as it was to look for some simple lodging there we knew we had to make Cochabamba for the night if we were to make La Paz the next day.
Nothing could have prepared us for the chaos that is Cochabamba at 5pm! We had sussed out a hostal near the cathedral. As the satnav refused to recognise the 4th largest city in Bolivia we were riding blind but guessed that the centre would be well marked. Wrong!! After asking several helpful people, riding back out and back into the city, we spied a hotel with garage doors. The light fading it would have to be okay. As Jim went to negotiate, I looked around and was reminded of what the guide book had said about not staying on the wrong side of the city. My horrible feeling this was it, was backed up by the manager who said the nearest eating place was the bus station opposite but it was not safe to go out at night in this area; however he could call for a takeaway for us. So that was decided, takeaway and the delights of CSI on the cable network.
If the satnav couldn’t get us into Cochabamba, would it manage La Paz. We decided to prebook a room and hope for the best. Good old satnav managed to get us out of Cochabamba but we always seemed to be on the wrong side of the road for the fuel stations. Buying fuel is an issue for foreigners in Bolivia. First you have to pay 3x the local’s rate, that is if they will serve you and if they have any petrol to start with. First station, no fuel, second refused to serve us but third time lucky and bonus, they charged us the local’s rate of about £0.38 per litre.
Things were looking up, especially as at these high altitudes we were clocking about 21 km to the litre and we had a ride of 375km ahead of us.
Once out of the city the road began to climb, ever upwards while we met up with buses and lorries, spewing out filth and watching in absolute horror as they overtook on blind bends with sheer drops to the side. As the kilometres rolled by with no end to the climbing, Jim eventually had to ask that I release the death grip I had on his jacket so that he could breathe; vertigo and mountain roads are not a happy combination. After about 3 hours of climbing and reaching over 4000meters above sea level the road levelled out for which we were both grateful. At Caracollo the intersection with Ruta 1 appeared and we prepared for the final 183 km to La Paz. To our amazement the road was a newly built dual carriageway. We are not sure what the locals made of it but we were not going to complain and the easy ride gave us a breather at least until we reached El Alto.
La Paz nestles in the bottom of a canyon and the sprawling metropolis that is El Alto, Bolivia’s 2nd largest city, sits around the rim. But no matter, the satnav, she knows where we are going, except that for hundreds of metres the road we want is dug up with no diversion signs. So we improvise and ignore the sat nav. And then La Paz comes into view, it quite simply takes your breath away as buildings spill down the canyon sides to the city below. To get down you just join the throng of traffic heading downwards and go with the flow. No matter what the satnav says, just keep riding down the steep often cobbled streets with all the other traffic and hope that nerve and brakes don’t fail.
If I could have got off the bike, I would, despite Jim’s assurances that it would be fine, but stopping is not an option. Click link for video http://youtu.be/qf_yE41laq0 When we finally reach the bottom, the satnav has apparently agreed with us and leads us to the base of a steep set of steps, but we haven’t come this far to be outwitted and after riding round the houses to the other side of the block we arrive, tired but with a sense of satisfaction.
How do we get back out of La Paz to our next stop, Copacabana? Well we will worry about that another day.