Friday, 14 August 2015

La Paz Part 2


08/07 - 16/07


Our bus ride from Copacabana went smoothly as we enjoyed the last views of the enormous lake from our bus window. We were a little nervous of our luggage getting stolen as we were on a more local bus than on our journey to Copa, so we did keep a keen eye whenever the luggage compartments were opened. As we came into La Paz, we could feel the energy of excitement in the air. Today had been declared a public holiday, on account of the Pope's sheduled visit, so people were relaxing all around. There seemed to be a lot of traffic congestion and we didn't recognise the route our bus was going. We came to the cemetery, which we had spied from a top of our cable car trip.  Our bus stopped there and we were all instructed to get off. This was not the main terminal at which we had expected to be dropped off. We quickly asked the bus driver and he indicated that all the downtown roads were closed due to the Pope's arrival. Oh dear...well, there was nothing to it but to walk for the extra 5 kms.  Luckily for us we stayed in the lowest part of town so we knew we just needed to keep walking downhill. We had no map on us, but much as great explorers used the stars to navigate their way, we used the cable-car above us as our guide. It felt like we walked for ages but once we reached a familiar landmark, Lanza Market, we knew we were close. Unfortunately, the bridge leading to our hostel was also blocked off by a heavy police presence. We thus had to go on a roundabout route, through a dodgy tunnel and up an extremely steep hill to get to the same spot on the other side. It was about an hour's trek before we finally reached our final hurdle... The 100 stairs up to the hostel reception. We were breathless (especially at this altitude) and our backs would definitely need to be clicked back into place but we made it safely and we hadn't missed the Pope yet, who was set to be passing through the street right in front of our hostel. 

We freshened up a bit and were really excited when we realised that we could watch all the action from our dormitory window. We had about half an hour before the sheduled time he was supposed to pass, so we went down onto the street to experience the electric energy and to get some street food for supper. People had camping chairs packed out on the side of the road, everyone was waving Papa Francisco flags or white hankies and the military/police were patrolling around. It was a great vibe but since we hadn't been booking our front row seats to the event the whole day, we were pretty far back in the crowd and couldn't see much over the taller people's heads. So we returned to our room as our vantage point from the window would result in the best view.
  View from our room
On the street - Everyone anxiously awaiting Pope Fancis' arrival

 Police patrolling the streets to control the crowds

 Thick crowds lining the street

 Selfie from our window 

His arrival was scheduled for 18:00 but he was running on South American time, so was rather fashionably late.  Every time we saw a row of flashing cars coming we thought it might be him but we were alwys disappointed.  So we may have made many dud videos... Eventually Papa Francisco made his appearance - and it was Awesome! 


We used this day to catch up on some admin. One of the things that we were keen to do in Bolivia was to cycle the World's Most Dangerous Road. There were many companies which offered these day tours with ranging prices and quality of equipment (the most well known was a company called Gravity who charged an enormous B$750). We would usually always go for the cheapest option but because our lives were at stake on this occasion, we decided to be a little more picky. Paul, from Gibraltar, had done it about a week before and recommended the the company he had used. Granted, he had based his choice on the style of the t-shirt you receive once completing the cycle but he had survived, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. We went to the Vertigo office and started asking them all the necessary questions. Perhaps we were a bit pedantic about the equipment (full suspension bikes, secure helmets, elbow and knee guards) but better safe than sorry. Once we were satisfied with everything (Roxy went through all the terms and conditions quite thoroughly) we signed up for the next day. We even got a discounted price of B$460. excited for the adventure of tomorrow! 


We had a good night's rest so we were fresh and alert for the activities of the day. Our day began by getting picked up by our transport vehicle where we got to meet two of our fellow Death Road riders, Daniel (from the Canary Islands) and Fernanda (from Brazil). We drove about 30mins where we stopped and got kitted out. 

Snow on the side of the road! As Africans, we still get so excited about it... Can we pull over and build a snowman please? 

The Huayna Potosi mountain in the background - the highest mountain range near La Paz.

We arrived and met the rest of our group and our guides. Everyone seemed energetic and ready for the challenge ahead. We then gathered together for a safety briefing and an explanation of what we could expect for the day.

Afterwards we got given our equipment.

Fully kitted out in thick trousers, a jacket, elbow and knee pads and full helmets that even covered our chins! 

This was our most hardcore biker pose!
And here is the team ready for blast off - Ruza, Davyd and Tono (Spain), Fernanda (Brazil), David (Canary Islands), Sam and Josh (Britain), Joy and Roxy (SA) and the two guides.

Most of the ride was downhill, with a few flat spots in between. The total distance we were to ride was about 80km, 64km on the actual Death Road and the rest of the ride was on the main road which was tarred. This was the first leg which gave us a chance to get used to our full suspension bikes and work out any kinks before tackling the gravel. 
The road was smooth and downhill... No need to peddle! It was quite daunting at first because we started flying down the hill and gained speed as we gathered momentum. Our hands we already sore from holding onto the brakes so fiercely! 

Superman poses at the view point stop along the road
 Sexy Llama poses

After our first stop, we had gotten a feel for the speed and became a bit more daring... Not holding the breaks so tightly. We were built for speed!

On the tarred road section 

After about 20km on the main road, we reached the entrance to the Death Road where we had to pay an entrance fee of B$25 per person. This stop also served as our lunch break. We had to get fuelled up for the strenuous ride ahead... Next stop, The World's Most Dangerous Road! 

Everyone enjoying our lavish lunch. 

We drove a little further to the start of the section of road that we were to ride.

Views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. 

The section we were going to cycle was from La Cambre to Coroico - it was 64km of gravel road, a 3200m vertical decent, 600m drops with no safety rails and with some places only 3.2m wide. 
As we arrived and got our first look at the road, we could see how over 300 travellers and 15 cyclist had lost their lives on this treacherous stretch.  It was steep, windy and had sheer cliff drops! 
A New Road was opened in 2002, which meant that the Death Road was usually only used by cyclists, however because of a landslide that had occurred last year on the new road, which still hasn't been repaired fully due to constant rain, most trucks still used the old road, especially during working hours when the new road is being repaired and closed to bigger vehicles.  In case of an encounter with a car/truck coming up or down the road, our guides were to blow a whistle and we would know to stop or stick to one side.   Unfortunately it was the side of the cliff that we were to stick to. 

View from our starting point... This is going to be fun! 

What an incredible landscape 

One last selfie over the valley

Our bikes, all checked and ready to go! 

We got onto our bikes and we were off...

It was a rush heading down the gravel path, dodging rocks and trucks, taking sharp corners and navigating narrow bridges all whilst trying to not get too distracted by admiring the incredible views of the valley!

Narrow bridge

 Luckily this vehicle had a bit of room within which to manoeuvre around us...

 ...But this one was a little close for comfort...


It's not called the infamous 'Death Road' for nothing 

We road for a section and then stopped to take some fun photos.
Lean of trust!

The conquerors of the mountain

Roxy looking so relaxed on the edge - despite her fear of heights

Don't try this at home kids!

 Very steep cliff! 

Evolutionary man/cyclist  (Yes this pose from Uyuni was such a hit that it has carried through to the Death Road as well)

After taking enough Death Road poses, we were off again. 

 More vehicles to avoid around sharp corners

As we descended the mountain, it got warmer and warmer. We were so thrilled! 

Finally showing some skin again

A narrow part of the road that goes through a waterfall.

Map of our route... About half way and we are still alive! 

Keen for the next half! 

Rox looking in control, for now...

Joy also looking impressive 

Joy and Dani taking a break to admire the view! 

As we had quite a big group and everyone was riding down at different speeds, there were points at which we were quite separated. We would always try stay close together though. At one point Joy was in front and as we were coming around one of the many sharp corners, she saw car approaching. The guides were not near us so we didn't hear the whistles. Joy shouted to Roxy who was just behind. Rox then tried to warn the people behind us. The car was moving very fast and would intersect with the other cyclists at the corner and they wouldn't see it coming beforehand.  If they had been cycling in the centre, as we tried to do most of the time, they would have been goners.  Rox heard no responses so took her one hand off the handlebars to give the 'Stop' signal. Unfortunately, her hand went off the back brakes, leaving her only clutching the front brakes. She thus went flying over the handle bars and OFF THE DEATH ROAD, OVER THE CLIFF!!!!!! It all happened so quickly and she doesn't remember exactly what happened but when Joy looked back, she could only see Roxy's helmet sticking out from below the cliff, she dropped her bike and ran over. The guide was behind us and also ran over. We looked over the edge and about 1m down there was Roxy, alive!  Luckily, she had been caught by a bush growing out the side of the cliff. Her bike had fallen about 2m down below her. The guide was absolutely freaking out once we got her back onto the road. He kept asking if she was okay, he urged her to check for broken bones and ribs. After all, people had actually died doing this route before. But she was totally fine... Not even a scratch! Just a couple of bruises that appeared later.  It was a complete miracle! 

Roxy rejoicing after surviving having fallen off the World's Most Dangerous Road! 

The last part of the road was the most challenging with lots of loose gravel, steeper slopes and sharper bends. We were given strict instructions to be careful...our guide looked directly at Roxy when giving this briefing!  He had been hesitant to even let her get back on the bike again after her near-death experience, but she could not be deterred and was even more determined than ever to complete the challenge.

And finally after about 5 hours of cycling on this notorious route - we had survived and conquered the Death Road.

At the bottom! Safe and sound... Just a little dusty! 

Our team, all in one piece and all sporting our 'I survived the road' t-shirts!

Showing off our real motivation for doing the Death Road.  #wediditforthetshirt ;) Just jokes - we did it for the 'experience' of course

To celebrate our successful cycle, we were taken to a nearby resort where we could enjoy a buffet lunch, a well needed shower and even a dip in the pool. We had not been hot enough to swim in ages but as we were a bit more in a jungle area and at a much lower altitude, it was quite hot so we decided to take the plunge. The water was freezing but so refreshing! We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon chatting to our fellow survivors and sharing tales of our travels. It was then back into the minibuses for our 2hr trip back to La Paz. We had some good music on the drive back and enjoyed singing along to Roxette amongst other 'modern' songs! 
We arrived back in the dark and went to the agency to get our free CDs with all the photos and videos of the day. We waited for ages as they were only able to make one at a time but we eventually got ours and headed back to the hostel to fall into bed... Exhausted, but relieved to be alive! 


Flights out of Bolivia are four times the price of other international flights between countries in South America, we guess because it is more challenging to fly into a county at such a high altitude.  So, we had booked a 30hr bus to Lima (Peru), leaving the next morning. Therefore, we had one last day in Bolivia to finish up all the things we needed to do. We wanted do post home a few things that we had collected over the last two months but when we weighed our package and saw how much it would cost, we decided against it. We just sent a few postcards instead, which were still actually very expensive to post.

A book we found in the book exchange at the hostel... We know a few people back home who would love to get their hands on this one (WOT fans).

We had been craving veggies for quite a while so we went down to the street market to buy some supplies. We found carrots, onions, pumpkin, green beans and a couple of other goodies. Our planned dish was inspired by Joy's dad, Wally's famous vegetable soup. We started by boiling up all the veggies and then adding some noodles and a stoke cube, which would act as a broth. This idea worked quite successfully and we enjoyed a yummy/healthy home cooked meal. 

Kem had arrived back from Copacabana so we were keen to meet up with him for dinner or a chilled drink. He was staying at Wild Rover Hostel, which is known as the party hostel of La Paz.  It was way overpriced for us to stay there (double of what we were paying at the Bash and Crash) and not a place you stayed if you ever wanted to get a good night's sleep, but to go and party there suited our purposes.  He invited us over there for a few drinks. It was our last night so we were keen to go out for a little bit. But first we got all our packing done, just in case it turned into a bit of a late one. 

At about 8ish we walked over to Wild Rover. We rang the doorbell and were greeted by a buff bouncer type figure. He asked us for our room numbers and when we said we were just meeting a friend, he gave us a skew look. After some deliberation he agreed to let us inside but only if we signed in with our passport numbers... Jeepers security is tight this side of town. 

We walked up the stairs and followed the music and crowds to the bar area. We were a little intimidated by the scene... We had not seen such a high concentration of gringos in a long time! The first familiar face we saw was Dani with whom we had done the Death Road cycle the day before. He introduced us to his friend and we went to sit with them in the bar area. We got some seats and then spotted Kem who was working the room! We dashed over to him and noticed something different about him. He was sporting a new hairstyle... The Mohawk! 

Reunited! Check that hair... So stylish! 

It was happy hour (which lasted for two hours) within which we could get two for one double vodka or rum. We hadn't had a voddie in quite a while so we're keen to have a little drinkie. The first round was on us so we got our drinks and went to enjoy some chatter. 
The night started off rather civilised but we could feel an air of rowdiness brewing around us. 

The second round of happy hour... 

Kem and Loic looking suave! 

The theme for the night was 'Sinful Saturday' so all the bartenders were dressed in fairy/devil outfits. The guys looked hilarious in their tutus and fairy wings. 
All of a sudden the music stopped and a hairy fairy jumped onto the bar counter with a bottle of liquor... FREE SHOTS! 

Come and get it ladies! 

We knew that this was perhaps not the wisest idea, but it was free so we joined the line! 

Roxy taking it like a pro... Unfortunately the pourer was less accurate and we ended up with strawberry liquor all over our faces! 

Kem is quite a smooth operator and let us in on a little secret to his swagger... 
... When the glasses come off, the game is on! 

It was at this point that things got a little messy! 

Everyone clearly having a great time! 

The dance floor then became our home as we enjoyed getting down to whatever music was playing. There was a big UFC match going on but we were more concerned with perfecting our selfie. 

After a few tequila shots (never a good idea), the dance floor was not an adequate stage upon which to display our amazing moves...

...The bar counter was definitely more appropriate! 

The crowded bar scene - Gringo central

It was quite a wild night and we could see how people could get trapped in the 'party all night, sleep all day' cycle that this hostel promotes. They even give you a free shot with breakfast! We had had an awesome night but after the last round of free shots, we were covered in sticky shot spillage and were ready for bed. We said farewell to our great crew and took a taxi ride to our hostel where we fell into bed, not looking forward to our early wake up and 30hr bus in the morning! 



Our alarm went off at 05:45 and we got our last few things together.  It was a strenuous 20min walk to the bus station where we boarded our first bus of the day. The first part of our journey took us from La Paz to Puno with a stop at Desaguadero, the border crossing. With South American buses you can choose different classes of seats. Cama (larger seats and almost full reclining) or Semi-cama (smaller seats, lesser degree of recline but cheaper). Obviously we always choose the cheaper Semi-cama option but the bus that went to Puno was only cama so we got to experience a bit of luxury travel - which was very welcomed as we needed to catch up on some sleep.
It was about 2.5hrs to the border post. We had to jump off the bus and wait in a never ending line to get our Bolivian exit stamps. As soon as the ticket officer checked our passports and saw we were South African, we were ushered to the front of the line. Not sure why we were given such special treatment but we were grateful for the speedier process. We then walked across a bridge into Peru where we quickly received our entrance stamps. It was then back on the bus and time for lunch as we continued to Puno. 
At Puno we changed off our luxury transportation and onto our familiar semi-cama bus.  It was now a further 20ish hours all the way to Lima. We settled into our seats and were rather disappointed when we realised we were placed right beneath a speaker. On every single bus we have been on, they will play a movie and 9 times out of 10 it will be an action movie. This time was no exception so we got to enjoy the car chases and gun shooting in loud surround sound! One movie that was screened took us back to our childhood... Mortal Combat 1 and 2! We chuckled along as we watched the old school special effects. 
We enjoyed a delicious chicken and rice dinner (served like aeroplane food) before snuggling up in our sleeping bags to try get some sleep. 


We woke up to the 'soothing' sounds of yet another action movie. We only had a few more hours though so the end was in sight. We received a very small but satisfying breakfast. It was at this point that we started to get a bit of cabin fever. It was really difficult to be restricted to just one seat for such an extended amount of time. A trip downstairs to the tiny bathroom was the only relief and that wasn't the most pleasant experience in itself. Eventually around 1pm we pulled into what we believed was Lima. 
The problem with Lima is that there is no central bus stop, each company has their own station and these are scattered all around the city. We unfortunately had no clue where our bus was going to stop so we were not sure how we were going to find our hostel. As we drove along through the city, we looked out the bus window searching for street names. We were luckily able to spot a few and in combination with the Lonely Planet map, we were able to kind of work out where we were going. We stopped at the station and we were so excited to be free from the metal cage. We grabbed our bags and went outside to investigate our whereabouts a bit further. Lima is apparently quite dangerous so we wanted to head to Miraflores, which is supposed to be the safer backpacker area. Roxy had read that we could use public buses so we asked a few people around us. Everyone seemed to give us different answers so we were getting more and more confused. We even got given a warning to be more careful by a passing motorist. After walking up and down the street with no luck in finding a bus, we eventually hailed a taxi who took us to our desired destination. We had flagged a hostel beforehand but when we arrived there we were told they were fully booked. Damn it! The owner did however give us directions to another hostel which we then went in search of! 
It was a mission to find the Israeli owned Hostel Lima but once we did, we were super excited to drop our bags, have a shower, find food and sleep in a bed that wasn't moving! 


We needed a day on solid ground and were happy to spend it in Lima. At this point we were thinking of finding a flight to Colombia. We had failed to book the flight online thus far but were hoping to find an agent somewhere in the city who could help us. We tried a few agencies but none were able to help. We went back to our hostel and the owner said that he could book the ticket for us but that he would need us to pay in cash. We gave him the flight details and he told us the price. We were a little sceptical about the deal but he seemed like a trustworthy person and we had no other option. We went to draw the cash but because of the international withdrawal restrictions we were unable to draw enough. Thus this plan would not work. We had exhausted all our options of flying to Colombia so decided to change our plans slightly. We decided to take another 24+ hour bus to Ecuador. We would then work our way up to Colombia through Ecuador and then fly back from Columbia to Peru in September. 
We were not excited for yet another long bus ride but it seemed like the only option available to us. We needed just one more night of stability before taking on this next feat. 


Our bus was scheduled to leave that afternoon. We spent the morning getting all our things together, doing a bit of research on Ecuador and mentally/emotionally preparing ourselves for the bus trip ahead. The bus company we had chosen was Cruz del Sur,  it was not the cheapest but it was known to be the most reliable. We weren't sure what to expect from Ecuador so we were happy to have a little cushion of comfort before we were thrown into the unknown. We caught a taxi to the bus station where we realised just how gringo orientated this company was. We received a blanket and pillows and a full safety briefing before we left. It felt like we were on an aeroplane. There was even a little steward who would choose the movies and serve us meals. After a meat and rice dinner, we watched a movie (something with Jean Claude van Damme of course) and tried to get some sleep. 


We woke up... Still on the bus. At about 11am we reached the border between Peru and Ecuador, Tumbes. This was a welcomed opportunity to get off the bus and go through the stamping process. We received our exit stamps at the Peru counter then across to the Ecuadorian counter for an entrance stamp. It was then back onto the bus for the last leg of our epic journey. We had originally intended to go directly from Guayaquil, where our bus would stop, to Montanita, but we only arrived at 18:30, much later than scheduled. We thus decided to stay one night in the less appealing Guayaquil and catch an early morning bus to Montanita the next day. We had made friends with a few people on our bus so planned to share a taxi with them. They had all made reservations at the DreamKapture Hostel so we went along with them there. Unfortunately, there were no dorm beds available so we had to share a double room which was way out of our price range, but we didn't have any other options and it was already quite late.  It was, however, quite nice to have our own space where we could have some down time and psych ourselves up for the beach experience that we expected to enjoy in Montanita. So keen for sunshine, sun tanning and cocktails on the beach! 

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