Wednesday, January 24, 2007

La Paz and the ´Road of Death´ Woooo!

We arrived in La Paz at nightfall though we had taken the sensible precaution of booking a hotel with parking before we left Potosi. Coming into the city, we were greated with a roadblock of a procession with people dancing around in costume and about 20,000 minibusses. We got round this lot, as well as the usual dead dogs with varying degrees of fatal injuries, and into La Paz. I was a little nervous of being here as I remember reading about various kidnappings that had occured in the recent past involving these minibusses, however we eventually found our way to the centre after asking some of the very helpful minibus drivers.

The hotel we´d booked was located within the touristy streets in the old part of town and involved several clutch burning moments thanks to the steepness of the hills. On arrival at the hotel, we went up the flight of stairs to an open courtyard where the hotel was situated and enquired where the parking was. we listened to the manager explain that we could park our bikes either in the courtyard or bizzarely (he opened a narrow door at this point) within the sauna. After slowly explaing to the idiot that there was no way on earth we would get the bikes up a flight of stairs let alone in the bloody sauna, we went back outside and bumped into A&K who it turned out, had a hotel with parking. 30 minutes later, we were parked up and unloaded in our hotel room.

We spent a couple of days floating around La Paz visiting the markets, buying alpaca gifts for relatives and I even bought a Charanga to satisfy my guitar urges. These are a little like a mandolin and I can fit it on the back of my bike. The guy who made it also gave lessons so I got myself an hours tuition to get the ball rolling.

A&k had moved on to Cocacabana but bumped into Ian from Summerset on a GS1200 traveling south and had directed him to our hotel so we enjoyed a couple of evenings with him. One was at ´Vienna´, a restaurant tipped as one of the best in La Paz. We turned up and were greated by waiters in full regalia, while the restaurant even had tablecloths and a piano player. The food was ok, nothing that great, but the piano player was the highlight. I´ve never heard such crap playing, my mate mark, who´s a very good jazz pianist would have been kicking her off like a shot!

Ian from Summerset on the GS 1200 Adv

We decided to tackle the famous Death Road to Corioco on our own bikes as the only other way is to take a $45 mountain bike tour. Its called the Death Road due to its precarious location, ie stuck on the side of some very steep mountains and due to the volume off traffic that used to fall off it. The government decided to clean up its act and build a new, slightly safer road and as of 3 or 4 months ago, the new road opened- it only took 15 years.

We checked out of our hotel as we planned to do the Death Road and be in Peru in time for tea. After bidding Ian fairwell (he´d done the road the day before and given me some very useful GPS waypoints), we set off out of town. Finding the very obscure turn-off to the old road (thanks to Ians waypoints), the road decended into the valley in a series of sharp, hairpin bends. The scary thing about the road is that there aren´t really any crash barriers as you´d expect a road of this nature to have and the steep drop to the side. However, when we went down it, it was very cloudy and visibility was limited so there were very few opportunities to cak oneself.

The so-called ´Road of Death´

- I just couldn´t see what the fuss was about

And as depicted by the brochures

(a slight Photoshop job I feel!)

Finding ourselves in Coroico at the end of the old road, we decide this is as good a place as any to hole up for the night as its quite a long way to Peru from here. The town has a pretty square and we find a decent bar run by a german who´s happy to dish out free drink as the boss is away.

The following morning, we don´t get a hot shower thanks to a power-cut affecting the whole town, we get on to the new road back to La Paz (unfortunately we can´t go round it). This road turns out to be a highlight and I´m soon in biker nirvana. It´s a clear day and the new road is just great, good tarmac, hairpins and generally stunning views- ace!

Somehow we get through La Paz with minimal pain and emerge on the other side. We head to Tiwanaku (?), an archialogical site of great improtance, the heart of the Inca empire- but it was shite and left early. We get to the border with Peru somewhat late in the day and find out Peru is 1 hour behind Bolivia. The Bolivian side is a bit of a worry as those Aduana things we didn´t get when entering Bolivia were actually the import documents for the bikes and we could be in real trouble. We roll up to a bit of a shack with the usual barrier across the road which is the border post. The official stamps our passports without any difficulty and then asks for a $10 bribe. Hang on, shouldn´t you have done that ´before´ stamping our passports? Anyway, he then lowers his request to 10 Bolivianos (about 60pence) all the while laughing with his mate at our ´no entiendo´s´. I show him both my empty wallets and explain that we got rid of all our Boliviano´s at that shit archelogical site which cleaned us out so no one would be getting any bribe money. And with that, he waved us on. Oh, and he forgot to arrest us for not getting the bikes signed in to his country. Phew!

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