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Published: August 6th 2007
Liam and Noel Sanchez
The angry brothers attempt to "break" South America started in La Paz, but wasnt going to plan.
Heading from Copacabana to La Paz involved a 4 hour bus journey including one point where we all had to get off and take a boat across a small stretch of Lake Titicaca whilst the bus went in a different boat which looked dubiously like it may not make it. The scenery along the way was dramatic though we are beginning to get spoilt by towering snowcapped mountains, bright blue skies and shimmering lakes (honestly this travel lark is tough!)
As we neared La Paz the density of houses increased and we realised we were passing through El Alto (supposedly the fastest growing city in Latin America) dusty and rundown it actually makes Puno (one of our Peru stops) look finished. Shortly after we rounded a bend and got our first glimpse of La Paz (sit on the right hand side of the bus for the best views) which literally made the whole bus gasp. It's like a giant scoop has been taken out of the mountain and in the bowl that remains the city has appeared and began crawling up the sides.
In most big cities we have visited we have done walking tours to get a feel
The World's Most Dangerous Road
More beautiful than dangerous - unless you were the Japanese girl who drove of this corner (the guides cruelly named her E.T on account of the fact she carried on pedalling as she fell)
for the place and its layout. In La Paz the tour was impossible to complete, the streets were so busy that we kept detouring and backtracking. We ended up in the middle of a market full of knock-off trainers and football shirts, a vast contrast to the lifestyles we had encountered on Lake Titicaca's islands where people seemed to be really far removed from modern life. Men carried huge bags of stock on their backs which were so heavy they were bent almost in half with their faces close to the sloping pavement. At one point I got trapped between two rolls of carpet on a man's back and two children on a woman's back and we decided to skip the rest of the tour.
Bolivia like many parts of South America grows Coca both for legal and illegal purposes. La Paz's ramshackle Coca Museum gave us a real insight into the history of the leaf and its uses....
* There is a legal 'Cocaine Club' whose members are made up of countries that legally produce Cocaine for medical purposes.
* Great Britain is in 'the club' and makes 365kg of Cocaine a year.
* In the
The World's Most Breathtaking Road
The view at our first "pit stop" only another 60km to go until we can have a beer
18th Century France produced Mariani, a wine which included Cocaine. When the prohibition began and alcohol was banned Coca Cola was invented to give the same stimulant without the alcohol.
* Until 1894 Coca Cola contained Cocaine
* In 1985 Coca Cola bought 204 tonnes of Coca from Bolivia and still buy to this day.
* Today, of course, Coca Cola does not contain Cocaine but the Coca leaf is used to add flavour.
Before we came to Bolivia we both read a book called 'Marching Powder' about an Englishman arrested for drug smuggling and imprisoned in La Paz's San Pedro Prison. My knowledge of prisons is not vast but this sounds unlike any other in that prisoners have to buy their cells, they run businesses and their wives and children live within the prison. At one point the Englishman was running guided tours and there is even a section of the Lonely Planet referring to it as a tourist attraction. We decided to take a look (from the outside) and it looked just like a big mud building, though the armed guards at the front, children dressed in school uniform entering with their Mums and an increase
Ready...Steady......Stay where you are!!
Whilst travelling at 60kph down the W.M.D.R I pretended I was a contestant on the 80's Kids TV show "kickstart"
in the amount of crazy/shadey characters (just released/just escaped) made me feel uneasy, I certainly wouldn't have wanted to go in though we saw one eager tourist trying his luck. The World's Most Dangerous Road™
A 64km bike ride, almost all downhill, sounds easy enough......down the "World's Most Dangerous Road" hmmmmmmm. The road's infamous name comes from the fact that since being built in the 1930's approximately 100 people have died on it per year, this includes around 80 people in one single bus crash and 15 tourists (including 5 Israelies, 1 French, 1 Japanese and 1 Canadian, but no Brits....yet).
The day started well with a bus ride to 4,700 metres above sea level where we were given $3000 bikes complete with hydraulic brakes and sent down asphalt where the bikes absolutely flew, fast but not so dangerous. After freewheeling for a while we got to the 3km of uphill peddling, some of it on gravel, tough enough at the best of times at altitude it was pure hell. Matt managed easy enough and by the time I got to the top (I did push my bike for a while) he was casually eating a
La Paz's Plaza Murillo
As many pigeons as Plaza Trafalgar, but with fewer Japanese tourists.
banana whilst I felt like my lungs were bleeding.
Stopping to look at the route we were due to take was heart stopping, set admist beautiful scenery was a road snaking its way through the mountains, with sheer drops to the left hand side of up to 500 metres, and as we were going to be going downhill we had to ride on the left (not the norm in Bolivia)....gulp!
We split into 3 groups of varying speeds (me = slow, Matt = medium) and set off, the road was not in great condition, large stones and potholes here and there and I was scared to look over the edge in case I veered over it. By the time we stopped for lunch about 30 minutes later my hands were red raw as I think I had been constantly braking the whole way down.
Over lunch, where we sat at a memorial for an Israeli girl who went over the edge in 2001, Arron our English guide told us some of the 'death' stories though I think some were over exaggerated to make it all seem more hardcore. Technically the road isn't as dangerous as it used
Mike Ried on a motorcycle
Carla keeps the dust and bugs out of her eyes whilst still managing to look like Frank Butcher
to be, 6 months ago a new road opened which means the bikes no longer share the roadspace with some of the bigger trucks (fine by me!).
Surprisingly after lunch it all fell into place and I started to feel confident on my bike, took my hands off the brakes, leant in to go faster, over took people and even started to enjoy the scenery. Matt had moved up to the fast group whilst my group has disintergrated and was guideless due to a broken chain.
By the time we reached the botton the entire group was filthy, Matt had mud on his teeth, a Chilean guy had a cut arm and was bleeding onto his friend Paolo and I had a bruised leg from the Chilean guy falling out of the minivan onto me before we had even been given our bikes. After a much needed beer we headed to Hotel Esmerelda where a buffet had been laid on and hot showers awaited, Matt and I found it a little too relaxing and ended up booking 3 nights there...to be continued.....
Tot: 2.372s; Tpl: 0.067s; cc: 28; qc: 133; dbt: 0.0741s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb