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Published: December 8th 2012
The Big Climb
The 8-mile climb out of La Paz from 3500 to 4000 metres onto the Altiplano. After days of drinking beer was hard work
Wednesday 7th December 2011
We awoke just before six, had a tea, then left at 06.30. The roads were quieter as the rode out bikes out of the centre of La Paz and started our 8-mile uphill climb to El Ato and onto the Altiplano. It took two hours to do this, breathing in smog from passing trucks, taxis, and buses. We had several litres of Maté de Cocoa water to keep up going, also Ovalmaltine from Holland, and Kendal Mint Cake from England. Just after the toll booth at the top of the autopista, a sharp right turn took us onto the road we needed for the next 50 miles. There were several lanes of minibuses vying for space in El Alto and you had to cycle really defensive. The whole set up reminded me of the hectic cities in China.
After about 10 miles we were on open road, a chill in the air, and the Altiplano streching away into the distance. We continued on slightly busy roads to Hautajata where we had heard that we could camp at the yacht club. It was great to see Lake Titicaca for the first time and to wonder what
James at El Alto
The road through El Alto was noisy, crazy, hectic, but fun.
the first Europeans to have seen it were thinking all those years ago. At the yacht club, there was nobody there to ask whether we could camp or not, so we just risked it and pitched our tents on the grass and used their facilities. There was a great sunset to be seen over the lake before we crashed out for the night. I was actually feeling really ill, four illnesses in one I think: bad stomach, sunstroke, painful knees, and of course altitude sickness. It was to be a restless night in the tent.
ROUTE: La Paz – El Alto – Huatajata.
TODAY’S MILEAGE: 57.65 TOTAL MILEAGE: 57.65 TIME IN SADDLE: 6hrs 12mins
Day 8: Thursday 8th
We set out early so as not to be reprimanded for using the toilet that didn’t flush! On our bikes again, there were views of the lake till Jankho Amaya where the road forked left to Copacabana and right to Achachachi, it was a brand new asphalt road but here the climbing began and my poor knees started to ache. One blessing was the overcast sky and lack of traffic. James has more power
It was a pleasure to be cycling out of La Paz across the Altiplano after 7 days in the city
in his legs than me and can do the uphills better, thus he waits for me at the top of the climbs which makes me feel I’m getting too old for this lark.
The people we see at the roadside are friendly and curious – I don’t think they see many travellers coming this way at all. At lunchtime, I knew that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to go on any further. I was exhausted and in pain, and I reckon that the altitude is playing a big part in all of this – or am I just a wimp? Even the little sugary “Nikolo” bars of Bolivian chocolate couldn’t give me any more energy. So, in the village of Santiago de Huata we asked some young boys on bikes where the ‘Habitaciones’ were and they took us to the main square and pointed at a church. James went in, a few minutes later he came out with the pastor with the news that we could spend the night there in a dormitory.
One minute you’re dying on the Altiplano, and the next you are lying on a cosy bed in a santuary... I love
The road from La Paz to Lake Titicaca was refreshingly empty
this lifestyle! We settled in and I made good use of the toilet with my pebble-dashing activities... Thank God for ‘Pompi’ wet wipes... another new discovery that you should never be without when you’re on the road.
We cooked up a bit of food on my Trangia stove, then had a walk around the main square. It seems like a place that time doesn’t change. They have the new road, thanks to Evo Morales, and electricity. But tradition is strong in this part of Bolivia and I think that if I came back in a hundred years, well, it would probably be no different.
ROUTE: Huatajata – Santiago de Huatajata
TODAY’S MILEAGE: 26.63 TOTAL MILEAGE: 84.00 TIME IN SADDLE: 3:06
Day 9: Friday 9th
Had a reasonable sleep, thanked the pastor, and headed off at 8am following the coastal road to Achachachi. I was feeling a touch better and it was nice cycling with few hills and some flat streches to the glum town where we felt very observed. We didn’t stay long, just to stock up on sweety things and water, then took the road north west out of town
Near Huarina, Lake Titicaca
Our first view of the lake lifted our spirits
and continued along the lake’s shore.
My magnesium tablets taste well mixed with the water in my bike bottle, I suck on my German ‘Euka Mentol’ bon-bons now and then, but I used the last of my Kendal Mint Cake today which I’d brought from England.
We pased through ever rural villages with everyone we saw wearing traditional costume. Young kids were working the fields with their mothers and grannies, or they were herding cows and sheep. We climbed up big hill and on the way down the other side we were confronted by dozens of stray dogs coming at us from all directions – it was like some insane video game trying to dodge them. I had to use my pepper-spray hoping that James, who was behind me, wouldn’t catch the peppery mist in his face, like Stephané did in Thailand 10 years ago! We were faster than the dogs, and eventually they ran out of energy.
At Chaguaya, we stopped at a police roadblock and chatted to a drunk Ernesto and his young trainee officer, Victor. With their shiny, out of place, uniforms... they gallantly guarded the piece of rope that lay over this dusty
road. We bade them farewell and a few miles on we decided to call it a day and started to look for free-camping possibilities. James spotted a mud-walled and deserted compound to the right of the road and we camped there. It turned out to be a great spot, really quiet, however, in the night there came a storm and I dreamed of the rabid dogs visiting us.
ROUTE: Santiago de Huatajata – Achachachi – Carabuco
TODAY’S MILEAGE: 54.10 TOTAL MILEAGE: 138 TIME IN SADDLE: 6:02
Day 10: Saturday 10th
The night passed well – our last night in Bolivia for a while. We cycled on to Escoma over a large hill and down into the quaint little town, then had a short rest. The food here isn’t much to write home about, stale bread, funky cheese (which I reckon has messed up my guts), but great fruity tomatoes... I’m beginning to believe the tomato is really a fruit! I’ve noticed that I need to drink more to avoid these headaches I’m getting every day. I’ve consumed all my aspirin.
As we left town, the road changed to ‘Tierra’ as we’d
Lake Titicaca Sunset
The view from our tents while free-camping. No hotel can beat this experience!
been told. It wasn’t the nice dirt roads you get in places like New Zealand,... oh no, it was a pitted rockier road with massive potholes. It was a constant battle of wits to steer and avoig the pointy, vicious-looking, jaggedy, pyramid, rocks! Those that looked like they really wanted to induce serious damage to your tyres, and probably your rims, too! The passing buses and trucks also added to the adventure by kicking up so much dust that you had to stop and wait for Bolivia to appear again.... It made the ride to Pueto Acosta long and drawn out.
Eventually, we arrived in the border town after taking a bridge over a fetid stream. The town had a strange feel and seemed very local... a kind of Bolivian “Royston Vasey”! We sat under a tree in the main square for a while before I decided to go the the police station to get directions to the border. The police station was just a room with a chair and desk, not even a telephone. The young and somewhat confused officer spread out a map of the whole of Bolivia and began pointing at a variety of places hundreds
Local Market Huata
At a small town on the Peninsula de Huata
of miles away and reading out the place names. I had to keep reminding him where Puerto Acosta was on the map. In the end, he asked two old guys outside who were sitting on a bench who pointed the way.
We headed back over the reeking and stenching, fetid stream, and along a road to the border that took us inland and up and up, over a big hill. The sky became grey, settlements just vanished, and traffic disappeared. The landscape just got more and more bleak and depressingly desolate, and we wondered if we were really on the right track. When we reached the top of the hill, we were looking down on an empty plain with a tiny settlement in the distance. We made out the red,yellow, and green of a Bolivian flag fluttering and figuired that this must be the border.
The dusty track led us to a collection of seemingly empty shacks, and to ‘Hito 10’... border marker 10. An old concrete obelisk with BOLIVIA etched at the base on one side, and PERU on the other. There were no formalities, because there was no-one there, and after the obligatory ego-photos, we set
Peninsula de Huata
Moody skies, mud-brick houses, and reed beds at Lake Titicaca
off into hoping that the road conditions would improve.
The road from the border was much worse, in fact it was scrotum-splittingly horrendous! I hope I never meet a woman who wants babies, because after this it will be almost impossible I reckon. We had to push the bikes at times and wondered if anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle could come this way, when a big laden truck came bouncing along. Swaying dangerously from side to side due to the massive potholes, I was amazed it didn’t tip over!
Over the crest of the hill, we saw what we’d been waiting for: an incredible view of Lake Titicaca with its islands and peninsulars. Steadily heading downhill, we encountered a group of local Indian people doing traditional dances in the hills and met friendly local people. At our first Peruvian village we found good paved road and cycling on it felt like flying after days of nut-crunching rock-strewn goat tracks! We also discovered a new drink in the small stores – ‘Inca Cola’. A luminous, sweet, bubble-gum flavoured, soft drink that I also believe can de-grease bike chains. James drank 4 litres in one go! The resulting
Along the north shore of Lake Titicaca there was a military prescence and many signs like this one
'piss stops' led me to believe that James's body cannot metabolize Inca Cola as his piss was as luminous as the drink itself!
The good roads took us around picturesque headlands and through quaint villages At one village we tried to find accommodation, but with no luck. It was getting dark so we carried on. I spotted a white sandy beach below the road and said, “There”! I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of camping on a Lake Titicaca beach. It was a tough climb down through a graveyard and over some rocks.
The beach was perfect, but overlooked by the small village of Caynajoni. A local man and his two daughters came down to see who was camping on their beach. After checking us out, the man said it was okay to camp, so we set up our tents on the sand in the dying daylight. I cooked up a tomato pasta meal and made a pot of tea. We ate on the beach in front of our tents, a few feet away from the lapping waters of Lake Titicaca and under a rising full moon. In my tent I opened one of Cindy’s little envelopes
Lake Titicaca, Ancoraimes
The great expanse of the lake from a hilltop location on the north shore
– the one containing loads of little red hearts. It would have been perfect to share this moment with her.
ROUTE: Carabuco – Puerto Acosta – Bolivia/Peru border - Caynajoni
TODAY’S MILEAGE: 43.25 TOTAL MILEAGE: 181 TIME IN SADDLE: 7:29
In the next journal entry:
Encounter with smugglersA night in Peru’s horriblest townFrozen in the Andes
Tot: 1.732s; Tpl: 0.054s; cc: 24; qc: 108; dbt: 0.0599s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.6mb