Copacabana to La Paz

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South America » Bolivia » La Paz Department » Copacabana
November 25th 2005
Published: November 25th 2005EDIT THIS ENTRY

I’m in La Paz! After some excellent relaxing in Copacabana, Bolivia, I am trying my luck in the Big (and high) capital city. First, let me tell you about my time on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is a tiny lakeside town overflowing with tourists and hippies. Walking down the one main street in the town, you will find tons of shoeless, dreadlocked hippies selling amazing handmade jewelry back-dropped by the amazingly blue lake. It is probably the extremely laid back atmosphere of Copacabana that has turned it into a sort of “Che worshipers’ breeding ground.” My favorite part of Copacabana had to be sitting down at the lakeside food stalls eating the largest, freshest trout imaginable. Life is rough sitting in front of the most beautiful scenery in the world, eating $1.75 morning-fresh trout while sipping down my $0.75 beer. (It’s amazing that I ever left) After lounging around for the day and enjoying the atmosphere, I met up with Daisy and we took a 17km hike and then a 30-minute boat ride to the nearby Isla Del Sol. This small island, with a plethora of unauthentic ruins, is where the Incas believed the first Incas were sent to earth by the Sun God. After another 6-7 km of hiking, we arrived to our $2 hotel that sat up on a cliff overlooking the world’s highest navigable lake. (Bolivia loves its superlatives… it hosts the world’s highest capital, the world’s highest city, the world’s highest high-rises, the world’s most dangerous road, etc…) Waking up to clear skies hosting snow-capped mountains reflecting off the smooth waters was unforgettable. We hopped on a boat that day to return to Copacabana where I lounged around for another day before heading to La Paz. Wednesday morning, I caught a microbus to La Paz. For those of you unfamiliar with South America, a micro bus can be described as either an extended minivan or a really, really skinny 15-passenger van. I was lucky enough to reserve a seat in the front so I could have some very rare leg room. Unfortunately, so did the extremely overweight man that squeezed between me and the driver. As we started on our way, the man and I started chatting it up about La Paz, his work, and his nagging wife who wouldn’t leave him alone about his weight. 10 minutes into the trip, things took a major turn for the worse. My new friend, the man with uncountable necks, yawned, stretched, and pulled the oldest junior high dating move of all time… he put his arm around my shoulder. I could have handled sitting for 3 hours without being able to move my shoulders as he dropped pork rind crumbs on my lap, but having his cavernous armpit inches away from my face was more than I could take. I quickly opted for hanging my head out the window until my snot completely froze up and I was forced to snuggle up with my new “sweetheart” for the remainder of the trip. That’s budget traveling though huh? Recently, I have had some exciting bathroom experiences on my trip (no not like the bus ride). At the first place I stayed in Copacabana, there was an unexpected luxury that came with the $2 a night hotel. Whoever designed the bathroom/shower, ingeniously put the knobs for shower outside of the bathroom. This resulted in the old man that owned the hotel sitting outside the door and adjusting the water as you yelled hotter or colder. I have never had something so lavish as a personal shower assistant to control my water temperature, but as the old man tried to converse with me as I lathered up, discomfort was an understatement. Besides, he was shouting through the gaping holes in the wall and door that peered directly out into the main plaza of the hotel where traveler traffic was especially thick at the time. It was, needless to say, one of the shortest showers I have ever taken. The next hotel had even more luxurious showers though. Another ingenious design to save space and add tourist enjoyment was the installment of the shower directly above the toilet, enabling one to shit and shower at the same time. (Although a childhood dream of mine to do both at the same time, I opted out for sanitary reasons.)
I don’t really like La Paz. The first day I got here, I booked the nearest cheap hotel. This meant staying in a dorm room setting, but I thought that it would be good to meet other travelers since I am now completely on my own. It turns out the only person I met in the grimy place was my Japanese roommate. He told me he spoke English, but when I asked him how long he had been traveling, his response was simple… “She die 6 years.” I stopped trying after that. I found a new hotel that was a dollar more but entitled me to my own cell with a shared bathroom and a little more sense of security about my stuff not getting stolen like what was happening at the other place. That first day in La Paz, I also booked a trip to mountain bike down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” for yesterday. That meant taking all my gear to my new hotel at 6 am yesterday morning… and here arose the problem. I was walking the mere block and a half to my new place when all of a sudden, a guy scrambled up behind me on the street. Sensing his proximity, I turned around suddenly just as he was telling me, “There’s something dirty on you,” as he pointed to the sky. Now I’m not a dumbass, I know all about the scams present in La Paz, and this was obviously one of them. The way it works is some kind citizen simply helping out, informs you that you have something dirty on your bag. As you are distracted cleaning off whatever substance they have just put on you, they take off with your bag or pick your pockets. With his hand already on one of my shoulder straps, I gave him a quick shove in the chest and a few choice words and he scampered up the hill empty-handed. It wasn’t until I got into the hotel that I figured out that he actually had squirted something all over me… dulce de leche (caramel). He had squirted it all over the back of my pants, my jacket, and covered my entire pack and my shoes that were hooked to the outside. (Santiago, I know that the thought of me covered in dulce de leche is tantalizingly irresistible, but you will have to take that up with Ms. Love). All my stuff is now a sticky mess as the goo has spread like wildfire to everything I touch, but I guess I should be happy just to have my sticky, nasty stuff in the first place.
After surviving that little incident quite well, it was time for me to take on the world’s most dangerous road. It was a nearly 70km plunge from Lima to a small town called Coroico. Starting out at an altitude of 4,700 meters and dropping down to 1,200 meant going down nearly 2 miles worth of altitude. As we climbed on our bikes at the top of the mountain, Mother Nature blessed us with a thick snow. The first 20 kilometers are an extremely fast paved downhill section of road. I imagine it was scary, but I hardly saw any of it as the snow clogged up my goggles. It’s alright though, my fingers were too frozen to brake when I had to anyways. Freezing our asses off, we plummeted down the road. As we dropped in altitude, the precipitation turned to a much worse freezing rain. Not until an hour later did it turn into a simple cold rain, that lasted 70% of the day. After the paved section, starts the actual world’s most dangerous road. It’s a narrow mud and rock path that curves around the high Andean mountains. The drops on the sides of the mountain were breathtaking, and often too far down to see the end of the fall. The reason this particular road has earned the title as the most dangerous in the road is the annual death rate averaging around 100. The main reason for all the deaths on the road are the old, poorly maintained, and overweighed trucks that try to climb up and speed down the road. Since the road is barely wide enough for a car, when the trucks come head to head around one of the hundreds of blind curves, there is no where to go but straight off the cliff. We absolutely flew down the mountain, hugging cliff-bordered curves, hoping that a truck wasn’t around the next turn. We zoomed past numerous memorials for the unlucky people that didn’t survive the road. At the bottom, we showered off the thick mud and got ready for our bus ride back up the road. It was this ride back up the road, towards La Paz, that was the scariest of the day. This trip provided us the opportunity to look out the windows and down the cliff that we had just flown by at quite a high speed. It was good that we didn’t see the road from this perspective until after we had biked down, because a lot more of us would have been in the safety bus at the back of the group. Contemplating what we had just done, we took closer looks at the memorials lining the road and the still visible wreckage from trucks that had gone off the side. It was an awesome, exhilarating, and fearful adventure that I will always remember. (By the way, Mom, aren’t you happy that I didn’t tell you I was going to bike down until after I did it? And you thought you wanted to know what I was doing before I did it… ha!) Anyways, I got back at 10 last night a crashed in my dulce de leche-covered bed. I woke up this morning and booked a 4 day 4x4 trip to the salt flats of Uyuni. (Like I was saying about the superlatives, the largest and highest salt flats in the world.) Now I’m not going to make any promises about the picture uploading process, I have had a hell of a time trying to find a place that I can upload them faster than 1 every 20 minutes. I will keep trying until you all get to see all the pictures… don’t worry, I know that I still owe you the pictures from Machu Picchu. Hope everyone had a great thanksgiving, I definitely had a memorable one!

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25th November 2005

Dude- happy thanksgiving- I wish that I was there with you man. Next time you take an adventure like this- I definitely want to come with you- I want to travel the world and help people- We could make a documentary. Later man- Nate
25th November 2005

Safe trip
Paul, Sometimes not knowing in advance is a good thing, but I still worry of what is next. Just part of being a mother. Love MOM
26th November 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!
Hey man sounds like you have plenty to be thankful for down there. Hope the next leg of your trip is just as exhilarating! Miss ya bud take care! ~Munton
26th November 2005

Funniest Yet
That has got to have been the funniest travelblog yet claire, you can't half pick em. Kev said he obviously didn't use 'Sure'. Glad to hear you are still in one piece after that horrific bike ride, you certainly are a brave lass!!
26th November 2005

Paul: Love your stories! And your pictures are breath-taking! Stay safe! Happy Thanksgiving! Love Aunt Ilene
27th November 2005

That is one hell of a manly beard. I love it. Take care of yourself. Jake
29th November 2005

Thank you
Hi Paul, Thank you. Thank you for not being a passive observant of these foreign places, as most of us travellers are, but an active participant in creating meaningful change in this difficult world. You are very inspiring!
30th November 2005

Paul, I’m so proud of you and what you are doing you are a truly amazing person who only deserve great things.I miss you and think of you often.-Kathleen
30th November 2005

Great pictures
Hey Paul, I love your pictures - especially because they remind me so much of my tour a couple of years ago. Lake Titicaca was awesome and so was the whole experience of being at such high altitude. The bus ride (in my case) to Coroico was positively scary. I had a window seat and sometimes did not see the road under the window anymore - it is pretty narrow. But I loved to relax in the pool of our guesthouse in Coroico. I could go on and on but this is your blog so I am going to quit now. Have a good time, Paul!
3rd December 2005

Great writing!!!!
Paul, Glad Aunt Ilene sent me the blog. I will continue to read it. What a trip!!! How long are you gone for? Hope the holidays are good for you. Saty safe and make the most of this fabulous adventure. Aunt Kathy

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