WARNING: The following text may contain offensive language and mild references of a sexual nature. Please do not read if you feel easily offended. If you have been affected by the issues discussed please contact the BBC and blame them.
Wednesday 07th October 2015 –
My bum was sore. No, its not like that, don’t go getting any ideas – it was the minibus. Pretty much all the long haul buses I have been on so far have been relatively comfortable, but the short three hour ride from Coroico to La Paz, with the broken seat springs, was agony. Nonetheless, with the help of Erin and Alex, our stop in El Alto, the city that spills out of La Paz, was negotiated with ease. Another minibus took us to the centre, where we were soon able to safely tuck away our luggage.
We’d discussed it before we left for La Paz – our challenge that is. When we got there we were to find three objects: something hand wrapped, something bought from the floor, and something that we had no idea what it was. Each had to be under 10 bolivianos, which is less than a pound. This is what I spent the afternoon doing.
All heading off in separate directions, I spent most of the time looking around the touristy areas and the witches market, or anywhere I thought I could get the weirdest things really. Whilst certainly on the touristy side, the area is really cool, with all sorts of weird and wonderful things being sold. Unfortunately, most of it was easy to figure out what it was, even in the Witches Market. The stipulation that we had to have properly attempted to find out by asking what the items were didn’t make things easier. When you see tablets and potions for sexual dysfunction and extra longevity its pretty easy to figure out what they are, even in Spanish.
Unfortunately, I returned at the end of the day in disappointment. I had failed in my task, only having found two of my items. For the hand wrapped I had found honey in the Witches Market, in a pre-used pot. I had wanted the one in the Nescafe jar, but it had been over budget at 15bs. For the unknown, I had returned with some weird potion, again from the Witches Market, marked with a red hand. I suspected it was for the bathroom in some way due to it having ‘Bano’ written on it, but for what purpose I could not gather.
I actually failed on the item bought from the floor. Civilised as people tend to be (most of the time, anyway), everybody had crates or rugs underneath their produce. The one time I found things directly on the floor, some gloves, they were 15bs. It would take a meaner man than I to barter down that sort of price.
Reconvening at the hostel, only Alex had completed the task fully, such was the difficulty. Erin and I actually found we had both got honey. It was not a total loss for me though, as my bano potion was crowned best item! Yay! A worthy victor, I might add.
The next day, Erin and Alex spent the morning sorting out their future travel plans, including booking their bus that evening for Sucre, while I mooched around town again. After I’d visited and taken a tour around the San Francisco cathedral we met up to find a chocolate shop they had heard about. Devastatingly, it was closed, but on the way my eagle eye had seen a cake shop of multicolour proportions, complete with revolving stand, entire counters of cakes and it’s very own dancing bear. As we sat down and looked at the menus I had palpitations, and it wasn’t due to the altitude. Erin had an awesome looking ice cream sundae and Alex had a massive slice of amazing chocolate cake. I went for the chocolate cake and another slice of strawberry cake. How could I not? I only took two more groups of people back in my time in La Paz. Totally selflessly, obviously.
Alex and Erin left for Sucre that evening, leaving me to explore the city on my own for a few days. In this time I did a tour round the city, which mostly showed me everything I had seen before. That is aside from Murillio square, where I witnessed a remarkably undisciplined show of Bolivian military prowess. It was quite funny actually, soldiers swaying relaxedly and stopping completely out of time with each other. The tour was pretty funny too; full of little tidbits about Bolivian culture. Apparently, strong calves on a woman really gets a bloke going over here!
I also explored the city from one of the cable cars up to El Alto. Or rather, got off the cable car, took a quick look at the market there and quickly came down again. Bravery in all its glory. The views from the cable car were amazing though; surely the definition of panoramic, as the city spread over all sides of the bowl, snow topped mountains peeking out above. Awesome.
In addition, I frequented a few different restaurants and cafes, eating a variety of food I had not even seen existed in South America so far. Llama curry was a big, if expensive, highlight, but the best was a small hole in the wall I found. Most restaurants in La Paz are empty, but my nose led me to a great place with open cooked meat, crammed with Bolivians. Squashed on tables with complete strangers, it was my first taste of normal Bolivian eating out, and was a cheap meal with brilliant meats. You can’t go wrong with chorizo.
After four days, it was time to get out of La Paz for a bit. I’d booked it the day before, after a bit of deliberation over safety versus cost. It was time to bike down Death road, or the World’s Most Dangerous road, whichever name you prefer. Who doesn’t enjoy risking their life in the name of adrenalin?
Friday 09th October 2015 –
It was racing time! Actually, that’s pretty much what they tell you not to do, and I am definitely not fit enough for that sort of physical exertion. I discovered that early on, as after a slightly slow start I found myself off the back of the group. With the paved road in the beginning stages, everyone can zoom along, but that little gap meant I got the full brunt of the wind. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t catch up and had to bust u gut just to keep anyone within sight. I only caught up when everyone stopped again; now I know why everyone works so hard to stay in the peloton in the Tour de France.
Things were easy enough when I wasn’t screwing up though, at least in those early paved stages. After starting at over 4000m we quickly descended, and providing you stuck with the group there wasn’t too much work to do. It’s when the tarmac ends that the adventure/danger begins.
Rattling down the road is the name of the game, at whatever speed you feel comfortable with. By rattling I mean rattling, as the rock strewn mountainside track causes you to judder up and down like a pneumatic drill, or an exceptionally quick jack-in-a-box. By whatever speed you feel comfortable with, I actually mean a little slower than that. I almost shot over the edge twice with the former policy, nearly falling to my doom into the canyon several hundred metres below. I didn’t though! I stayed upright like a boss. Naturally, I blame the bike – it had a serious case of understeer that was in no way my fault whatsoever!
When I’d finished being a twat/prat/plonker I was concentrating on riding, ignoring the extensive views of the forested valleys around. It was probably for the best – I can come back and not risk my life to see them another time. These came into view a bit later into the ride, as we descended toward the base – a rather more toasty 1100m in elevation. The road here started to flatten out, the sun beat down and my breezy smile morphed into huffing and puffing, and later, pained wheezing.
My original position as a frontrunner was decimated. As my legs ground to an embarrassingly slow crawl and my two smallest left hand fingers became agonisingly locked in tight embrace with the bike handles, I was overtaken. By everyone. Cool, Doug. Really cool. As we eventually crawled toward our finishing point, myself no longer quite last, we witnessed salvation. A pool. Apart from a rather emergency pitstop on the way to La Paz (its the altitude!), the rest of the day was bliss.
The following morning, I had arranged to meet with Christina, Magdalena and Jasper, who I had met on the bike trip. After much difficult decision making over the past few days, their influence (the fact that they were going) swayed my decision to climb Huayna Potosi, a local mountain measured at 6,088m. We booked it that afternoon, Christina, Magdalena and I opting for the professional looking Altitud6000, in an attempt to ensure maximum chance of submitting the beast. Jasper split, deciding he preferred another, cheaper agency. We would leave the next morning, all hoping we had made the right decision.
The evening brought home some realities though. During some sort of Bolivian festival taking place, Francesco, a London based Italian I had met a few days earlier was the target of a pickpocket. He was on his way back from the bank. Safety of belongings is an issue in La Paz, but nothing had happened to me so I had not felt too worried. This event taking place about five metres from the hostel entrance brought home a few of the dangers that I had grown increasing blasé about.
PS. As a last note, I would just like to congratulate myself for the hard work and dedication that went into the resurrection of many of these photos, from the corrupted status that originally made me so angry. It’s been a hard slog, but I’m proud of what has been achieved. Obviously I can’t mention everyone who made this happen, but special thanks to me, myself and I who really put in the hours when it seemed a thankless task. Oh, and whoever it was who suggested I needed to download an app to get the camera WiFi to work. You’re a genius.