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La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in La Paz was literally breath taking. The road leads you in from the top and so you catch amazing views of the city stretching away below you down the edge of the valley and then up the other side again. It really is huge!
When I arrived I took a taxi straight to the hostel that I had booked into at got settled before heading out to see a bit of the city. It´s quite a modern place with lots of high rise buildings, but it´s also full of old colonial buildings too, so it makes for quite an interesting, though not necessarily pleasant, site.
The hostel was holding a French themed party on my first night, and although I didn´t have time to construct a convincing outfit, it was great fun and a good chance to meet lots of other people on the hostel. One girl Lottie and I hit it off straight away and so sepnt the next day together wandering around the capital exploring. We discovered a great food market that sprawled for several blocks and made for some fun photos. I bought lots of fresh yummies; cheese, avocado, tomatoes and fresh bread and it all came to a couple of pounds...amazing!
That evening was also quite extraordinary. Each Sunday there´s a wrestling match that the hostel organises tours to, and which, having heard the line up, nearly everybody went to! It´s basically like WWF, so not proper wrestling, but the competitors were women, men and midgets all fighting each other so it made for quite a hilarious evening and a real photo opportunity. It was really all in good taste, dispite the inclusion of a woman midget half way through, but it just so funny how much the locals were getting involved. There were cheering and booing at the top of their lungs and didn´t hesitate to lob orange peel and popcorn at wrestlers they didn´t favour! Great fun.
The next day wasn´t really spend doing much, I once again took myself into the town and explored the different markets, including one called the Witches´Market which caters to the supersticious side of the locals and sells all kinds of herbs and potions as well as llama feotuses which apparently if buried under your front doorstep will bring you good luck!
A guy called Rob from my hostel and I went to the cinema that night to see Changling with Angelina Jolie which is very good by the way if you haven´t seen it. Loki - the hostel I was staying at, is renound for being a pary hostel so it was nice for a change of scenery and a quiet alternative.
The next day I undertook the "World´s Most Dangerous Road", by far one of the funest and best things that I have done so far. My entire travels I have met people who have told me to do it when I got to Bolivia and always I would tell them that I had no intention of riding down a death road. However, when I actually arrived in La Paz I immediately changed my mind for no discernable reason and decided to sign up. We all met in a cafe early on Tusday morning and caught the bus to the beginning of the ride. Here we were kitted out with wind proof jacket and trousers, gloves, helmet, fluorescent jacket, buff and of course bike and given the briefing. This basically included the guide telling us how best to avoid accidents along the way and a few added horror stories to scare the boys into being sensible! The first 20km on the ride was on tarmac so it was a great oportunity to get used to the bikes - I´ve never ridden a mountain bike with suspension before so it felt quite strange at first. The entire route, except for a couple of very minor sections, is downhill so you only had to peddle a few times and you were flying. It was great fun speeding down the road with beautiful mountain scenery on either side and minimal traffic. Most of the vehicles were large lorries and because they were going downhill were in a very low gear and do easy to overtake.
After the first section we then hit the "World´s Most Dangerous Road" proper which is all gravel - and thus much harder to ride on, especially as you´re going down and need to constantly break. We were all quite timid at first, getting used to breaking and not making the bikes skid everywhere, so were pretty slow for the first gravel section. This changed as we went down and we all picked up confidence, but not too much as for most of the time we were cycling about a metre away from a 400-600m cliff edge! It actually didn´t feel dangerous or scary when you were riding, but it made for some amazing views and pretty daunting glances when you dared take your eyes off the track! There´s hardly any traffic on the road anymore since the completion of the new road a few years ago and I think in four hours of biking on the gravel section we only passed on vehicle. When this happens, the guide who´s at the front will blow his whistle either once or four times depending on how he assesses the situation. One blow of the whistle means it´s safe to continue riding and there´s no need to dismount. Four whistles means that the driver is either on the wrong side of the road, or is drunk and therefore we should all get out of the way until the hazard has passed!
Near to the end of the road it widens out and you can pick up quite a bit of speed pretty safely - lots of fun! I managed to break my chain about 100m away from the finish line so I had to freewheel the last bit.....never mind.
We ended up at an animal sanctuary where were allowed a complimentary beer for completing the road and a shower to remove all the dust which was blissful. We also had something to eat here before taking the bus back up the road we had just cycled down - definitely more scary than the bike ride, especially because our guide was kind enough to point out all the times there was a lovely steep cliff to the side.
I was exhausted after this so I had a bit fo food in the hostel bar and then slipped into bed and fell into an immediate and very deep sleep.
The next day I took an overnight bus to Sucre which was much better than my last overnight experience. My seat was about a metre wide an reclined nearly all the way so I could curl up and actually had a pretty decent amount of sleep. The only negative was the fact that there was a loo on the bus but we were informed a few minutes after leaving the bus station that it wasn´t working and wouldn´t be for the entirety of our 13 hours trip! The driver did kindly stop once for us though so it wasn´t too bad. One girl on the bus was convinced that they were actually using the loo for a spot of drug smuggling as she, more than once, saw a man going in and out and moving big bags of something around! Ahh the joys of Bolivian buses!

permalink written by  veritykent on June 2, 2009 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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