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Published: June 17th 2010
The Bolivian border was one which we approached with apprehension and anxiety, given that I had no passport and was travelling on an A4 piece of paper with my photo 'pritt-sticked' onto it and my name and details hand written with little care. Fortunately we crossed with little hassle and headed straight for the small town of Copacabana where we spent an enjoyable day hanging out with Ian and Daragh. We set off on a walk up to a viewpoint at a height of almost four thousand meters above sea level over Lake Titicaca, where we had a picnic of wine and popcorn and chilled out for the afternoon until sunset, descending just in time to avoid the heavy downpours that followed. That same rain continued to bucket down throughout the night and into the morning so we decided to make our way on to La Paz to collect my passport.
When I rang the consulate, they knew nothing of any passport and the search began! As it turned out, my passport was in Mexico and all I could do was wait until it was couriered down. In the meantime, Daragh, Ian, Paulo and I sampled some of what La Paz
had to offer.
We got to know the city's restaurants quite well, treating ourselves to Indian, Thai, Bolivian, Cuban and Mexican meals while we were there. The Bolivians, we soon discovered, sure know how to make cakes and it became a little ritual for us to go for afternoon coffee and lemon pie, Oreo cheesecake, mocha pie and strawberry flan. We really did spoil ourselves here.
Based in the Wild Rover Hostel, partying played a major role in getting to know La Paz and once Saturday night was upon us, we set off for a night of fun like nothing we'd ever experienced before.
La Paz is a city of many crazy opportunities and we tried to fit in as many weird and wonderful activities as possible. Paulo managed to get his hands on the phone number of Jose, a prisoner in La Paz's San Pedro's prison and gave him a call to see if, for a sizable fee, he could organise to get us inside, show us around and introduce us to some inmates.
The whole afternoon was a little surreal. We met a twenty year old man who had been sentenced to thirty years for a double murder,
an older man who was awaiting trial for robbing millions from a drug cartel and murdering his friend in the process and others who were in on drug trafficking offences.
In San Pedro, prisoners buy their cells, no coincidence so that the men in on fraud charges were living in self contained studio apartments! They can pay the police off for pretty much anything; many of the cells have laptops with internet and play stations. Some men have even paid for a night of freedom. The police stay out at the main entrance and don't control the daily running of the prison. Because of this, both cocaine and marijuana are produced and sold within the prison. It is also possible for the prisoners to have their families move into the prison and live there with them!
Although the men have a great life in there, better than many of the ordinary working Bolivians, we were quite happy to leave.
Not far from La Paz, is the famous 'Death Road', so called because between three and five hundred people are killed on it every year! Bike companies in La Paz offer tours down 'The Most Dangerous Road in the World' to
crazy back packers who always seem to be looking to take part in death defying activities. Of course we stepped up to the challenge.
The morning we set off didn't gift us with great weather, in fact, the weather was so bad that there was a land slide, blocking off part of Death Road. This didn't stop the bikes from continuing (we just picked them up on our shoulders and climbed over the fallen rocks and rubble) but our recovery van couldn't pass! The boys were loving the fact that it rained for most of the ride, making the surface quite slippy and even more dangerous than usual. I'm not sure what scared me more, whether it was the sheer drops from the cliffs, meters from where we were hurtling down, or the horrifying stories our guide shared with us of accidents he'd witnessed as we passed hundreds of crosses on the road. The latest victim of Death Road was an Israeli girl, on 08/04/10, she went over the edge, not too far from the headstone of another Israeli girl who had died there on the 08/04/01!
Having planned on spending just five days in La Paz, two weeks later
we still found ourselves waiting for my passport. We were given all sorts of excuses for the delay, firstly that the US had selected the package randomly for inspection and then that Bolivia had suspended DHL´s licence to operate. So my passport, although it is sitting in La Paz airport, can not be released!
We met many great people and made lots of friends over the two weeks. We went to the cinema, hairdressers, watched countless DVD´s and passed the time as best we could but by day fifteen we had had enough and decided to make our way towards the Argentine border, using another flimsy emergency travel document, not knowing what would happen to my passport or when I would see it!
Unfortunately, our wait in La Paz wasn't all pleasant. After heading off to an internet cafe to back up our photos from our camera, to hard drive to cd's we dropped into a little restaurant for lunch on the way back to the hostel. I put the bag with the camera, hard drive and all the backed up cd's hanging on the chair I was sitting on and Paulo sat down opposite me. Somehow, some guy took
the bag from the chair without either of us realising.
Although we really loved La Paz, we sure were happy to leave it behind us and head on for more adventures in Bolivia.
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