Wednesday, 4 December 2013

La Paz and cycling the death road

La Paz is crazy. There were steep streets, lots of traffic and next to no road rules. Brian got road rage just walking along beside the road. Taxi's and Minibuses toot at passing pedestrians hoping to entice them to take a ride, they also toot at anyone crossing the road to inform them that they are driving on the road and you'd better get off it, also they toot at all other traffic for all manner of violations - like driving too slow and waiting for pedestrians.

We stayed right in the tourist center beside the San Francisco Cathedral at Naira Hostel which was more of a hotel than a hostel. We both agreed this was the best shower in South America so far. The breakfast was also very good, with pancakes and eggs included.

One of the recommendations we had was to visit the Taj Mahal - an Indian restaurant close to our lodgings. We visited on our first evening in La Paz, we had barely started with our delicious curries when Brian got a bleeding nose. The staff said this was fairly common with people not yet adjusted to the altitude. A small crowd of Indians gathered around, dunked Brian's head in water and made him lie down on a blanket in the courtyard.

The market streets are amazing, they seem to specialize in particular items. There were streets primarily selling potatoes, streets for fruit, and streets for cellphones. We happened to be staying on a very touristy street which had lots of shops selling alpaca wool items, much to Sarah's delight.

We took our first Spanish lesson at Pica Verde. We are still struggling but the lesson certainly helped with our numbers and a few key verbs.

La Paz Prison is infamous for various reasons, primarily it allows prisoners to conduct tours for tourists. Brian had recently read a book called "Marching Powder" about the start of these tours and of the cocaine production that occurs within the prison. As we walked past the prison we were approached by David, a convict asking if we wanted a tour. We weren't quite brave enough though so perhaps wisely only got to see the outside of the city block that makes up the prison.

One of the most popular adventure attractions offered in La Paz is to cycle the most dangerous road in the world. Couldn't confirm that it deserves that name but Mountain Biking the so called Death Road was fun. We went with a new company, "No Fear Adventure" they had new bikes and were really good. Having "rear suspension" would have been nice, but the bikes were good quality and importantly had very good brakes!

We'd only just got on our bikes when we saw our first crash on the Death Road. A truck driver had apparently fallen asleep and drifted into the ditch on the side of the road. Very fortunately it wasn't the incredibly steep cliff side of the road! We saw the truck still in the same location being emptied into another truck at the end of the day.

Somewhat oddly the few road rules of Bolivia don't apply on the death road, rather they officially change to drive on the left. The main reason for this is the drivers are then on the outside - better able to see how close their wheels are to the cliff and edge.

In Sarah's words "It was a nice bike down a hill". It really wasn't too scary or anything like that. At times it was possible to get quite fast, we started on the sealed road and would have loved road bikes for that part. We biked through small waterfalls and the odd stream which made it a bit more exciting. There was still some traffic going in each direction but they were pretty

After the cycle we went to a small family run restaurant for lunch. We played in the pool with the owners' two young daughters. We attempted to speak Spanish with them bossing us around to play games in the pool. Just before leaving Sarah was a bit parched so ordered a watermelon juice, it was quite a surprise when the proprietors came out with a five liter container of fresh juice! Luckily our group was large enough to make short work of the surplus!

The minivan ride back was interesting in its own right. The new road opens late in the afternoon so we weren't in a big rush to get away. A couple of the Brazilian lads bought a couple of Rum + Cola drinks with plastic cups and we essentially had a party bus trip the whole way back. After the Brazilians had run out of tunes on their smartphones, everyone had to give a rendition of a song native to their country. By the time everyone was through a few cups of rum and coke we were all having a good old sing song.

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