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 !