La Paz & the Death Road
Since our last update, we`ve travelled the guts of 1500km, travelling on bus up through the Pantanal (where I saw crocodiles, eagles, human-sized white and black birds and the most beautiful purple flowers), riding the infamous Death Train from Brazil across Bolivia where the train barely touched the rails (eating our dinner involved attempting to not stab ourselves in the mouth with our forks while our food happily jumped off of our plates onto our trays, laps, fellow travellers etc), and then the bus from Santa Cruz to La Paz which, not only had no air conditioning (temperature pushing 40) but also strained the ole toilet humour to the max - first stop was at the side of the road, next stop was an improvement with an actual alleyway and finally a toilet (where you had to bring in your own bucket of water for flushing).
The first view of La Paz was amazing, with the snow capped peak of Ilampu standing over the sprawling city clinging to the mountain side. Unfortunately I was the only one enjoying it as poor Mel had started to feel the effects of the altitude (we`d gone from sea level in Santa Cruz to 3,600m in La Paz). Once we got to the Wild Rover hostel I put Mel to bed and went to watch the Heineken Cup Final (sorry Mel, some things are just more important). When I popped back up to Mel after the beautiful Leinster win, death was already at the door so I went to get the doctor who promptly stuck a needle in her ass (yes, it makes another appearance).
Mel, the trooper, ventured out on Sunday, despite still not feeling well, so we wandered around La Paz, visiting the Witches Market - was tempted to buy a dried llama foetus for the folks back home but I`m afraid there just wasn`t space in the bag.... We visited 2 of the viewing points in the city and I gotta say I love La Paz, nearly as beautifully set as Rio.
So, enough of the wishy washy touristy stuff, it was time for some biking. The La Paz to Coroico road plunges 3,600m over 64km. Mel and I signed up with a company called Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking and joined 5 other nutters for the ride down. We started at 4,700m, on a barren mountain top with snow on the ground, led by our trusty guide Phil. For the first 2 hours we were on asphalt so we had the chance to get used to the bikes and pick up some serious speed. There was some traffic on the road so we overook lorries and buses, zipping past them at speeds of up to 80km/hour. Unfortunately, just as we made it off the first part of asphalt, Mel had a fall and landed on her wrist and had to take a few hours off. I think it was planned though :D as it happened just as we started our 45 minutes of ascent which, at that altitude, there just wasn´t enough oxygen and took the breath out of the whole group. Not only that, but it also started to lash rain as we flew off the asphalt and down the narrow bumpy gravel surface of the Death Road proper. Here, the road is about a metre wide, twisting through lush forest, with a drop of over 1,000m on our left (with Phil telling us to stick to the left!), seriously dangerous when the view was as amazing as it was. The only thing that hampered the view was the numerous crosses and plaques lining sections of the road where previous travellers had run out of luck (the most recent fatality was an English guy 2 weeks ago).
Myself and the lads were speed demons, jostling for first place. The adrenaline rush was amazing as we sped through the gravel, under waterfalls and across a few streams. We made it down the Death Road in about 2 and a half hours, with Mel pushing through the pain and joining us for the last half hour or so. At the bottom, free beer was passed around and, man, it never tasted so good. Hot showers awaited (as well as some angry parrots who weren`t impressed we were invading their space) and some much needed food.
We left La Paz the day after and we`re currently freezing our behinds off in Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca. More news next week. xxx