La Paz, Bolivia: The death road, cable cars and Valle de la Luna

IMG_0814My next destination was La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. I hadn’t heard too much about the city so I was excited to start exploring and see what it had to offer.

When our bus arrived in Uyuni, I place my backpack underneath and showed my ticket to the driver. I found my seat, where someone else was going to sit but I explained it was my seat. No big deal. I had the luxury of travelling on a cama seat, where the seat was wide and pretty much lies down horizontally as well as been given a blanket.

The other three didn’t have much luck as they had sold their seat to other people. After some shouting and talking to the company, they eventually got some seats together near me.

I have to say even though I had a cama seat, it wasn’t a pleasant trip. I don’t know whether the heating was jammed or they liked putting the heating high but it was so hot, I just couldn’t sleep well. I kept tossing and tuning and waking up. The journey was smooth and took about 8 hours arriving into La Paz at 4.30am in the morning. What was I suppose to do at this hour? I bid farewell to the others and waited at the bus terminal until I was too cold. I managed to get a taxi, which overcharged me but at least the hostel had a 24 hours reception.P1400403

I could check in straight away, giving me a dorm room on the first floor. Success! I had a couple of hours kip until a decent hours in the morning. I sorted out a few things before heading out into the city to explore. Actually my first port of call was to find a company, which offers biking down the Death Road. The hostel had recommended a place around the corner. I received the details and booked a place for the following day as well as trying on the gear and paying. I was so excited about doing this.

After, I wandered around the markets and headed towards San Francisco Church and the food market. Inside, there were many little cafes serving lunch, sandwiches, desserts and juices. I purchased a mango juice, which was huge and delicious.

I walked to san Pedro square to sit and chill. The altitude was really hitting me in this city. I know La Paz is extremely hilly but I was getting out of breath moving around a couple of metres. I was feeling a little hungry and had been recommended to go to a vegetarian restaurant called Namas Te. It wasn’t too far from where I was. As  was walking there, there was a wedding outside the church. A guy encouraged me to come in and take some photos. The bride and her party were standing there whilst others through confetti on each individual and gave them a kiss. There was a band playing but I couldn’t get close enough to see what she was wearing. A lot of the other women were wearing traditional clothing, where they had wide, over the knee pleated skirts, a shirt, cardigan and a rounded to hat which looks too small for the head.

At the restaurant, I had there set menu, where I was served a melon and cheese salad, vegetable soup, chick pea, hummus and  rice and some sort of bready-fruity cake for dessert. I also treated myself to a passionfruit juice. All-in-all, it came to 38 Bolivianos (about £4.50), which is more than my normal budget but I wanted to check it out.

Once I had finished, I went back to San Pedro Square to join the city walking tour. There were about 25 others wanting to take part in the tour and one guide, whose English was amazing with no a strong accent. First, he told us a little about the square we were standing in but more about the famous prison on one of the edges. Basically, if someone has  commited a crime they have to go to prison depending on the crime they commit. However here, they have to pay for a cell and it totally depends how much money the person has. There are many food businesses inside and families often live in too. There is a lot of cocaine being made and sold in there too with loads of parties. People climb the roofs at night to sell alcohol and drugs.

Next we walked through a big fruit and vegetable market, with a variety of them including potatoes that look like stone. When we stopped, the guide talked about the traditional ladies named cholitas, specifically their clothes and how a lot of them have several businesses. It was interesting to find out bout the culture.

We carried on through the witches market, which sells all sorts of powders and leaves as well as having a shrine on their stalls and dead baby lamas. It was horrible. The tour guide told us about Bolivian myths, traditions and potions. Then we headed to the square I had been too this morning with the cathedral and market. We had a break, where we bought juices and snacks. I kind a pastry with cheese and some kind of thick liquid inside.IMG_0836

We strolled to the other side of the main road to the Houses of parliaments, where we were told a little about the government and past presidents. We ended in a pub nearer the centre and listened to more about the current president, where the country is divided about him. We were told of some good, bad and strange policies he has tried to put in place.

When the tour was finished, we were all given a shot of a orange liquor. It was tasty. Even though it was meant to be a free tour, he did explain at the beginning because of regulations and taxes, we would have to pay 20 Bolivianos plus tips. I didn’t mind as it was a good tour and definitely would recommend it to others.

Four of a us, a girl from Australia, two Indians and myself wandered around the markets with them purchasing different souvenirs. Then we headed back to the prison to walk around as the girl had read the book ‘Marching Powder’, which was written by a prisoner and their experiences of that prison.

In the square, there was a rap concert in one corner and a group of 12 people doing a dance on repeat. It was really cool to watch.

As it was early evening, the altitude had caught up with us so we split up and went back to our hostels. In the evening, I just chilled and went to bed early as I had to get up early the next day.P1400508

With my alarm waking me up just after 6, I struggled to get out of bed. I had already packed my bag the night before so I just needed a shower and put the clothes on. Then I walked around to the Xtreme Downhill shop around the corner from my hostel. There was quite a lot of us so we split up into two group with there being four I n ours and about fifteen in the other. Not quite sure how that work but it was nice having a small group.

The four of us, two people from Italy who were about my age and an older guy from Spain, plus our biking guide and the driver piled into the van along with all our equipment and bikes. I was excited about cycling the most dangerous road in the worried but also slightly worried as I’m not the most confident biker.

It took a while to get out of La Paz city centre but once we were, we drove through the beautiful countryside of mountains, hills and rivers.  It took about an hour to arrive at our starting point. Here, we were provided breakfast of rolls, jam and tea. Even though we were 4700m above sea level, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. We put on our gear over our clothes including a jacket, trousers, pair of gloves, knee and elbow pads and a helmet. We tried out our mountain bike before having a safety briefing. He initially explained in Spanish, where I understood some parts but not others. The Italians translated the most important parts. Then we were off.

The first part was following the new road down the mountain, swinging round the bends at full speed. The view was spectacular and riding down went down well. The guide was at the front, then the Spanish guy, who I could tell did a lot of biking, I came next then the two Italians. It worked out perfect because of speed, going from the fastest person to the slowest. We stopped regularly for photos but it was also a great rest for the legs. I have to say most of the time was pressing the breaks not peddling. At one of the stop, one of the Italians exclaimed that his gears weren’t working correctly, where the guide fix them.IMG_0739

We stopped at the tunnel to take a photo of us with our bikes next to a ‘Cycling prohibited in the tunnel’. Then we went around the tunnel on gravely ground, where it was difficult to control the bike. We cycled a few more kilometres before hopping off our bike and into the van.

We were driven about 8km as it went slightly uphill but also to take us to the start of ‘The Death Road’. The reason it is called this is because 200-300 people died a year along this road as it is such a dangerous road, only allowing the width of one car most of the time with windy, sharp corners on a cliff edge of about 600m. It was most dangerous to ride down during rainy season, which it was. However, luckily for us there was no rain in sight with a little sun at points.

We had to pay an entrance fee then we were off on our way. At the start the visibility wasn’t great but the further, we went down, the clearer it got. Again, we paused regularly for photos. I got use to the cycling on the gravel road, riding on the left hand side, which is the opposite to the side Bolivians usually drive on. There were times were it was extremely difficult to control the bike, where I could at any second be flung off the bike but I did manage to stay on.P1400524

We rode through San Juan Waterfall, getting slightly wet from head to toe. About half way down, we took a break for a snack consisting of a cheese rolls, crisps, a banana and fizzy drink. It was more food then I expected. We striped our outer layer of clothes as we were a lot lower. I’m glad I did this otherwise, I would have been hot riding.

The rest of the journey down was either slightly downhill or flat, passing through Yolosani River, where my feet got soaked. Eventually, we reached our final destination at Yokosa, finishing at 1200m above sea level. It was a thrilling and amazing ride, full of incredible picturesque views. I was so proud of myself for doing this. Then we jumped into the minivan, taking us to a hotel. We were able to have a shower before grabbing lunch. We had vegetable soup then a choice of meat, pasta, rice and chips with salad. I had some pasta, fried aubergine, chips and salad. It was delicious.

After, we chilled by the pool in the sun. We deserved this. When the next group arrived, we left, where we were given our ‘I survived the Death Road’ T-shirt. We drove back to La Paz, which took about 3 hours. I chatted and slept for most of the journey.

At the shop, we waited for them to burn our photos on the disk, then we bid our farewells to each other. I went to the hostel to drop off my bag, then ended standing outside the shop as the internet was so much better.IMG_0954

While hanging outside, a Bolivian mother and daughter stopped to talk to me so the daughter could practice her English. We made an arrangement to meet up the next day, where they invited me to their home for a meal. We exchanged numbers but I explained I could only reply if I had WiFi.

For the rest of the evening, I just relaxed, sorting out my photo. I think the tiredness hit me because I ended up falling asleep quite early.

The following day, I got up casually, showing and eating the complimentary breakfast of yoghurt with oats, rolls, jam, tea and orange juice. I had organised to meet this girl at 12 at Valle de la Luna, so once I was ready, I left the hostel to find a bus going that way, Down by San Francisco church, I caught a bus but had to changed as the driver decided to stop. It was a lot further than I thought and took around an hour.

I decided to look around Valle de la Luna, costing 15 bolivianos. It was a sectioned off area, where there were unusual formations of rocks with house on the hills in the background. There were two walking routes, one taking 45 minutes and the other 15 minute. I walked around the longer one. It was nice to see but not necessarily worth it.

As I left, I asked the Cholita (Traditional Bolivian women) if I could take a photo of her and she said yes, which is unusual as most of them refuse. I waited outside for the girl for just over an hour, where other stopped and talked to me but she didn’t show us. After one, I decided to caught a bus back to the main square.P1400534

I went to the market, where I purchased a hot lunch of fried tortilla, rice and salad. Then stopped at a different café for a large mango juice. I walked back to the hostel, where I heard from the girl, who told me she was waiting for me but I didn’t see her, which was a shame.

Later on in the afternoon, I decided to take the red cable car to the Alto (high part of La Paz). It was like a 10 minute walk to the cable car station. It cost 3 Bolivianos (£0.45) each way. How cheap! The ride up overlooked the city. At the top, there wasn’t much going on except a small market and views of the city. I wanted to walk around to find a more open section but couldn’t seem to find a way; there were rows of shacks of the side of the cliff, where I couldn’t pass through.

I relaxed at the top admiring the view, chatting to an older guy from Argentina. Then I caught the cable car back down and walked back to the hostel. Again, I didn’t do much that evening, just blog writing and watching a movie. I sound like an old fart but the altitude was killing me, leading me to feel tired constantly and in need of sleep.

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