Sunday, 29 May 2011

La Paz & the Death Road

La Paz is the largest city in Bolivia and administrative capital of the country, in contrast to Sucre which is the juridical capital. It's a strange distinction, but this way both cities get their share of governmental attention.
Didn't have too much time to spend in La Paz though. One day would go for the Death Road downhill mountain bike ride and another day to walk around the city and its famous markets.

The legendary Death Road
There are a lot of stories about accidents that have happened on this road that connects La Paz with Coroico and the surrounding area and most of them are true. For many years it was the only road connecting the two regions and the only way for the farmers to get their products to the markets of La Paz. If you search on YouTube you'll came across a very big number of videos on what is known as "The world's most dangerous road". With no doubt, one of the most entertaining ones is the one below from TopGear:

Gravity Bolivia is probably the oldest, for sure the most reputable and slightly more expensive of the agencies that organise those downhill trips at the very same route. 
I chose to go with them because they had the best bikes :))

The day started early with a good breakfast and after a short 1h ride with Gravity's bus, we reached the point where the descent would start....La Cumbre, at 4.700m !!!
First 12km or so was on paved road, so it was a good opportunity to get to know our bikes and enjoy the nice landscapes.

Off we go....!!!

After successfully crossing the security check-point for drugs trafficking, there was an uphill part for about 8km which due to the altitude and the the very plush suspension of the bikes, was sooo hard to get over with it....oxygen, oxygen lungs are exploding!!!

After a short break for instructions we got to the off-road part...what we have all been expecting. 

what a breathtaking start :)

it might look scary in the pictures, but as long as you don't look down, you are fine

Starting at 4.700m and getting down to 1.200m

Officially, the traffic in this specific road, switches from the conventional right-hand side to what the British consider correct :) So everybody drives on the left; and the reason for this is that this way, the driver on the left, can look out of his window and see how much space the outer tire has (measured in centimeters) from the....drop!!

And this road is really narrow; just wide enough for one big car or truck. If you happen to meet another vehicle from the opposite direction, you have to reverse to the closest pull-out point. And during the rain season things get much more worse. Mountain biking was fairly easy without any dangerous points, but driving in that road is an altogether different story. Maybe a picture will help you get my point...

El camino de la muerte.
When it was in full traffic, more than 200 people were dying every year on accidents

After having a shower, lunch and some rest at Coroico, it was time to return to La Paz....yes, from the same road, but inside the bus this time...
.... I have to admit that I was feeling much much more comfortable on the bike going down, especially when started getting dark and wasn't the most relaxing part of the day.

Nuestra Senora de La Paz
After the mountain bike day, I stayed another two days in La Paz, during which I tried to discover as much of the city as possible. 

The Witches' Market: Those are llama fetuses that local Aymara people bury in the foundations of new buildings and houses, as an offering to Pachamama (mother earth). Also you'll find there several other nice things like frog parts, insects, etc :))

At the local market, a really nice sandwich and a large mug of coffee for 5 Bolivianos.
Divide that by 7 if you live in the U.S. and by 10 for Europe !!!

The Zebras of La Paz. An idea of the city council in order to bring a spell of humor to the not so good relationship between drivers and pedestrians. They have proven quite successful and they receive all the respect they deserve as crossings guards.

The climate is really dry. At nearly 4.000m and they rarely get any snow. 

Next ---> Potosi, the Silver city. I had to squeeze my schedule quite a bit to find a few days to visit this truly special place. More in the next come soon

Hasta luego !

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The way back to Bolivia

After having spent 5 really great days in Peru, it was time to make my way back to Bolivia and visit La Paz & Potosi that I had intentionaly bypassed during the first time.
I don't know why, but I had the "brilliant" idea to stop at Puno, a town by the lake Titicaca, offering some "really" nice boat excursions to a couple of islands at the lake. To be honest, the views were nice and also being in front of a lake, 165km long, at 3.809m altitude is a strange feeling altogether. It's like a sea in the mountains. Other than that, nada !! Uros & Taquile islands were such a disappointment, I don't even feel like writing about it. If you ever get there, do yourself a favor, save the day and head straight to the other side of the lake and Copacabana in Bolivia.

another night bus :) arrived at Puno at 5.00am

I spent no more than 1 night in Puno and the next morning I headed to the bus station to get on the first bus to La Paz...only that there was a not so pleasant surprise waiting for me and many other travelers.

There was a blockade on the road to Bolivia and there was absolutely no way of any bus or private car to get through. From what we learned later, the locals were protesting against the opening of a mine, close to the lake, that would potentially pollute the area and the waters of the lake specifically. Didn't learn more details, but sounds like a fair cause to me.
Well, that was kind of unexpected. The bus terminal was full of people trying to figure out alternatives to get to La Paz. Some would go to Lima and then fly, others would go down south to Chile and cross from San Pedro de Atacama...all kind of crazy, expensive and super lengthy plans. For one thing I was sure about...I wouldn't stay at Puno for another day :)
After talking with the bus company, they reckoned that the blockade might go on for weeks since the locals don't show any signs to negotiate with the government. After 1h or so, no realistic plan was presented from their, I decided with 3 other Brazillians to get as far as we any possible way. Besides, it would be better to be as close to our destination as possible :))
We jumped into a taxi, the 4 of us, and asked him to take us as close to the blockade as he could. We did quite ok and managed to get some 80km towards the border. And that's where he left us...just 40km from our destination. the middle of nowhere

And so, we started walking with all our luggage, at 3.800m altitude and under a ruthless sun.

no problem to walk through, but no vehicle was allowed to pass :(

how to fit 7 people with their luggage in a car.....
a nice guy already having two persons in the car gave us a lift between two blockade points, 2-3km less walking

We found a tri-cycle and carried our luggage for another kilometer or so...

That's Alex's magic backpack....looks small, but weights over 30kg

time for a break

apparently, few others had the same idea like us, but they were not going to the border

for a small tip, some local boys gave us a ride for another 2-3km....that was scary though!!!

we reached the Police station at Juli and the officer gave us also a lift close to the next blockade point
we must have looked so desperate and exhausted :))

no vehicle gets through....they were friendly with us though

we are almost there....tough negotiations with the road devils for the last ride to the border :))

does this qualify as a self-portrait?? 

with Camila, Felipe & Felipe....after 11 insane hours, we made it to Bolivia.....ole!!!

Spent the night in Copacabana and next morning, to La Paz. I had planned to stay for a day in Copacabana and visit the Isla del Sol, but with all the delays, I have to move on....

Next, La Paz....this time for real :))

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Inca jungle trail & Machu-Picchu

Day 1 - Mountain Biking
So, everything is booked and we are about to start the first day with mountain biking, starting from around 4.400m altitude, getting down to the village of Santa Maria, at 1.400m. I have to say that it was a bit of a disappointment...great delays without reason in the morning, below average bikes, and a no-adrenaline ride on asphalt....offered some great views however

- Mum....where do rivers start from????
- High up at the mountains son

Spend the first night at a nice hostel in Santa Maria

...and the winner is....the black chap on the left :)

Day 2 - Heavy Trekking
We started at 7.30am, fully loaded with our backpacks and tons of insect repellent for the annoying day flies, to make our ways to our next stop, Santa Teresa, after about 9h....through the Inca jungle. That was the most tiring but also most rewarding day before we reach Machu - Picchu.

Santa Teresa is somewhere behind those mountains at the faaaaar end...we better get started, it's getting hot already

entering the Inca trail....

...careful, you don't want to slip there !

you can hardly see the trail...really scary if you look down, so don't :)

the little fella in yellow was our of the few times he was ahead of us :))

sun goes down, and we still have a couple of hours walking

We finally made it to Santa Teresa, after 28km of hiking, at around 7.30pm. Shower, dinner....bed :))
An exhausting but nice day !

Day 3 - Hydroelectrico & Aguas Callientes
Another early morning start, with a strong sun above us. Good breakfast and another long day is ahead of us; 22km to Aguas Callientes.

if the river is angry, you have to cross from above :))

walking though a banana & cocoa forest revealed.....

a nice waterfall....time for a cold shower

At around 7pm, we arrived at Aguas Callientes. A really nice place, and the closest town to Machu-Picchu.
Settled at a nice hotel, nice dinner and straight to bed. Tomorrow will be an early start.

just in case you ask, yes we could have gone by train for USD80

Day 4 - Machu Picchu
There are a number of options to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Callientes. It all depends when you want to go. It gets complicated if you want to go early in the morning :)
Buses from Aguas Callientes start running at 5.30am, and get to the entrance of Machu Picchu at around 6.30 but in order to get on the first bus you need to queue from 3am. But what if you want to get to the entrance before buses arrive??? Then you do what some of us did !!!
Woke up at 4am and walk up all the way from Aguas Callientes to the entrance...or maybe I should say climb....1.484 long & tall steps I counted; in complete darkness, with torches...maybe I missed some :))

we made it to the entrance before the buses arrive

In return, you get the chance to take some nice early morning pics....

Llamas having breakfast :)

The way to Waynapicchu
Apparently, there is one more strong reason to get to Machu Picchu early in the morning and be among the first; the name of that reason is Waynapicchu. This is the huge rock that you see in every typical Machu Picchu postcard. Going up there is not the easiest thing and accidents have happened in the past. This has led the site administration to limit the number of visitors to 400 daily, in two time windows, of 200 visitors each. You either make for 7am, or then at 10am.

actually, you need about 45' to go up in a fast pace, but it takes 1.5h to come down :))

starts kinda smooth, with ups and downs...

that's how it goes for the most part of it....already thinking of the way back

just over the clouds....perfect

Machu Picchu & Waynapicchu in the typical postcard shot :))

sharp ehh?? if heights are not your thing, just stay where you are

dinner with the team-mates and a nice jenga game to relax.
guess who dropped them :)))

Next stop: Nuestra Senora de La Paz

Hasta luego