So I guess it´s getting all Christmassy and cold in the UK, while still remaining nice and warm here but if truth be told we are pining for some Ice Skating, mulled wine and mince pies!
I take up the story on the bus to La Paz where I was delighted to realise I could now understand most of the Spanish subtitles on the film and actually understand what was happening. This made me really happy and made the last two weeks of school feel like a great idea. The fact that my speaking was still pretty poor wasn´t going to spoil my mood.
So we arrived early Sunday morning and trundled down the hill with our bags to the hostel and happily were able to check in to our room. That done we ordered an English breakfast and started to digest the posters and displays on the walls of the reception area. We soon learnt that we were in luck. One of the two things that we had wanted to see in La Paz (Cholita Wrestling) was only on Sundays and we could book from our hostel. We promptly signed up and then turned our attention to the other (more important) “must do” on the list – cycling down the “World´s Most Dangerous Road” which was again straightforward We wanted to go with Gravity Assisted tours and again we could sign up with them from our hostel. Easy!
Next on the agenda was getting to know La Paz a little. Everyone in Sucre had told us that La Paz was dirty and horrible and so we set out to form our own opinions. We wondered down to the central Church and the streets around there where Sarah made a friend of one of the ladies selling textiles and bought a beautifully coloured blanket. Once our hunger was up we headed to a Morrocan restaurant that had been recommended to us to enjoy some hummus and meat kebabs. It was tasty and more surprisingly (for South America) quick to appear! Suitably rested we wandered a little more and then made our way back to the hostel to have a beer and wait for the bus to pick us up and take us to see the Cholita´s. When we got to our hostel the road outside was closed to traffic and after a little while lots of cyclists went whizzing past, taking part in some race or another. The resulting traffic from the road closure meant that our bus was late, but that gave us more time to chat with the other people from our hostel who were also going. Once finally aboard we made our way and stopped briefly at a vantage point overlooking the city to snap a few photo´s.
While there I saw David, a guy from London who we had met in Buenos Aires at Spanish School and who we knew to be in La Paz, sitting on one of the other buses heading to the wrestling. When we got to the venue we were told quite firmly not to throw things at the wrestlers (which hadn´t even crossed our minds until that point) as it was a big problem apparently. We got inside and David joined us and we sat down to catch up and enjoy the show. And what a show it was too. It was quite a funny set up with all the gringo´s around the ringside in their VIP (plastic garden) seats and the locals crammed in around the edges on their wooden benches. The wrestling itself was more pantomime that followed the same script. Repeatedly there was a woman fighting a man with the referee constantly interfering to help the man. The woman was suitably pummeled for a while before making a miraculous recovery and overcoming her opponent. The locals loved all of this, especially the women in the crowd who loved shouting insults and (of course) throwing things at the male combatants. During the interval some of the wrestlers came out and we could take photo´s with them and we were also allowed into the ring which soon devolved into anarchy as all the gringos went crazy and lived out childhood (then) WWF (now WWE of course) dreams of being on the ropes in the corner or bodyslamming their frinds. After the break we finally got a woman on woman match up, but again the referee was biased on the part of one of the actors which was getting a little boring by now and so we could have a good catch up with David. The show finished with a scary zombie type figure fighting a man in a leopard leotard (presumably the last two costumes left in the dress up box) and one of the announcers grunting into a microphone to simulate the heaving breathing of the zombie. Scary stuff indeed. The zombie eventually ended up in the crowd, chairs were scattered and thrown before he ambled off back stage to leave the little girls in the audience crying and the rest of us to file out and back to our buses. It was certainly different, but nothing on the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Mr. Perfect and co.
Later that night we met up with David in Oliver´s which is an English pub in La Paz. The menu consisted of English dishes like fish and chips, pie and mash etc and they had some tasty local beers on tap served in pint classes! The food was good and the beer strong. We were soon pretty merry and then the friendly bartender duly brought over some free shots. Being hyper suspicious of everything we were instantly on the alert and so questioned why we had received them. We were told that every new customer got one, but when we looked around no one else did. We again questioned this and were told that they didn´t have enough shot glasses and so needed to wait until we had done. This all sounded dodgy to us and so we (David) accused the bartender of trying to date rape us which he luckily didn´t hear and so we just decided to go with it and do the shots. Turns out they didn´t taste very nice and we didn´t like them so we moved on. David decided to call it a night as we walked passed his hostel, but the outside door was all locked up so he had to ring the bell and when it was answered his Spanish all but deserted him. He managed to tell them who he was and that he had a room and they thankfully came and let him in. Sarah and I went off the Hard Rock to dance for a bit before heading back to our hostel to find it too was all locked up for the night. We rang the bell but got no answer, but luckily our hostel had a sister branch up the road. We went there to find a full on party going on and managed to get the night porter there to ring ours and wake him up. We went back down the road to find the little door in the shutter open and were soon tucked up in bed.
Next day we wandered around La Paz looking at the markets and bought a few bits to send home. Just as we were about to enter DHL an English guy came out and informed us that DHL wanted 1000 Bolivianos per kilo, so he was going to try the regular post office. We duly decided to follow suite and went over to find out that it was recorded delivery and much cheaper so we handed over our stuff and the kind lady promptly tried to stuff all of our things into the tiniest of boxes. We helpfully suggested that two boxes might be better and so our stuff was soon packed up and off to Inglaterra.
That night we had made a dinner reservation for the restaurant on top of the Plaza hotel as it offered a city wide view while you ate. The food was good and the bill came to 10 each for two courses and a drink which was great value! Next day was death road so it was early to bed for plenty of rest!
So, for me, the most anticipated day of the trip had arrived, cycling down the worlds most dangerous road. We awoke early and headed to Alexanders cafe (the meeting point) for a hearty breakfast ahead of the days riding. Our guide, Paddy arrived and introduced himself and took us to our bus. During the journey we got busy getting to know Lucy and Konrad who were also in our group and from London. When we arrived at the drop off point we got kitted out and completed the mandatory offering to Pachamama, which included taking a sip of 96% proof alcohol which was certainly warming. The first part of the ride was on tarmac and was a great introduction to the day, getting to know the bikes and enjoy some beautiful mountain scenery before having to contend with the gravel road sections ahead. It was also fun to tuck into the smallest position possible and free wheel all the way, slipstreaming others in the group where possible. Then it was onto the gravel section off the road and the clouds had closed in, shrouding the route in a cloak of mystery. It was actually quite good not to be able to see the sheer drop that was waiting off the edge of the road for anyone who made a mistake! The ride turned out to be very enjoyable with lots of stops along the way to receive info from Paddy and take pictures. There was a second guide with us too, a Bolivian, who was taking photos of us that were really good.
Thankfully we all made it to the bottom without too much incident and the sun was now beating down and it was a beautiful day, so we decided to do the optional ziplining before going to the animal sanctuary which was the final point on the tour. The ziplining was great fun, to get there we had to all ride in the back of the jeep which was also fun and the lines were all 400+ metres long across the valley that we had just cycled down, so it was a great way to get an alternative view on the route. After that it was off to the animal sanctuary where illegal pet animals are taken after discovery to live out their lives as the laws state that they can’t be re-released into the wild. There we were able to have food, swim in the river and take nice hot showers before starting back to La Paz in the bus up the same road we had cycled down, possibly the most scary part of the day! We were able to stop and open the side door at the “Top Gear point” which was also a great touch.
Once back into La Paz we were admiring some of the crazy driving and asking Paddy if there were many accidents to which he said no, not really and so of course we rounded a corner to find an accident between a minibus and taxi. Quite amusing! We had arranged to meet up with David, Lucy and Konrad in Oliver’s that night to celebrate our completion of the days events and it was a good job because we managed to leave our camera on the bus, but thankfully we got a message from David on Facebook to say that he had it! Phew!
At Oliver’s it turned out to be quiz night, which we of course aced, without using the internet, but we lost out thanks to the clay sculpting round. Our model was judged the lamest and so we lost out overall, but everyone got a free shot for taking part so we weren’t too disgruntled. It was quite good fun to take part in a pub quiz miles away from home – a small reminder of home.
The next day was our last in La Paz so we were mainly pottering around the city, exploring the lower region. It wasn’t terribly exciting. That night we arranged to go for a curry at the Star of India with a couple we had met at breakfast. We didn’t realise that we were in for an exciting show with our dinner. When we arrived there were another couple of couples, one paying and one eating. There had obviously been some sort of problem because the couple paying the bill walked over to the couple eating and said that they had got a discount because they complained that the food was bad. The couple eating agreed that theirs was also bad and so when it came for them to pay they must’ve also complained but not gotten a discount because all of a sudden they ran out of the restaurant. The waiter was obviously on to them though because he gave chase immediately and the hapless couple made a crucial mistake, they went right out of the door which was uphill! In La Paz that was a crucial mistake and so a couple of minutes later the man was marched back into the restaurant with his head dipped in shame to pay his bill. And yes, the curry was pretty poor, but the bhaji’s were good and when the bill was only like £7 each we couldn’t be bothered to complain and we certainly weren’t going to run out on the bill!
So that was our time in La Paz. We had a great time and cycling down the World’s Most Dangerous Road was certainly the best day of the entire trip so far. Next day we took an early bus to Copacabana to see Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side.