Demonstrators were out on the streets and roads into La Paz were blocked by protesting campesinos. Away from Plaza de San Francisco, where protesters were rallying, the city centre was quite, more so than usual. The Prada, usually 6 lanes of gridlocked traffic, was a delight to wander along, as were the streets near our Alojamiento, equally peaceful without the buses and collectivos, which had stayed at home in support of the demonstrators.
The streets of La Paz full of demonstrators
We were in La Paz for a week, while waiting for the spare parts we needed to fix the XT. It turned out to be a city of renewing old acquaintances, we bumped into Ian who we had met back in Guatemala, and also saw by chance Sascha and Monique, Swiss overlanders we’d met in Santa Cruz. Dieter, the HPN sheep killer also turned up. It was good to see him and his bike fully recovered from that accident.
We had ridden up to La Paz via Iquique and Arica, on Arno's bike, stopping off at Putre to test out the hot springs – no disappointment this time! Again the scenery on the Altiplano was amazing, especially around Lago Chungará near the Chilean border.
Lago Chungará with one of the many volcanoes behind
The city of La Paz – highest capital city in the world, was amazing, approaching from the south, you see nothing of the city until the autopista winds down from the sprawl of El Alto, then suddenly there it is, an enormous canyon filled with a city! The centre is a good 500metres lower than the rim, but still almost 4km above sea level! It’s a busy and very colourful city, our accommodation was close to Plaza V J Eguino where a multitude of stalls sprang up every morning.
Arno getting the bike out of our Alojamiento
After a few days of demonstrations, some roads out of La Paz were open and so we took the opportunity to take a ride down the so called “most dangerous road in the world” to the village of Corioco. This is the main route down to the Yungas and to the jungle lowlands of Bolivia and until recently the only road. The road itself is not too bad, it’s the fact that it is, in most places a single lane, and clings to the mountainside, with a sheer drop of at least 200m.
One of the many buses we met on our way to Corioco
There are few safety barriers, many blind corners and one moment of inattention would prove deadly. This fact is clear as you descend, passing the crosses that mark the many places where vehicles have left the road. The most recent accident was less than a month ago.
Sitting behind Arno as we rode towards Coroico, I had more than enough time to look over the edge, it was pretty scary and I wondered as we came face to face with yet another truck, why more traffic doesn’t make use of the new road, fully fitted out with safety barriers and tunnels?
Time to pull over as trucks speed past
We survived the most dangerous road, but still ended up lying in the street that day. As we rode over La Cumbre pass, on the way back to La Paz we met rain, the first for awhile. It had rained in the city too, making the cobblestones very slippery, the bike just slid from under us, it was even difficult righting it again.
We got to Arica a few days later, lucky not to have encountered any roadblocks on the way down from La Paz. Back down the coast in Antofagasta, I was relieved to find my bike still where we’d parked it and the arrival of the new piston etc, meant Arno was able to start working on my bike.
Not a sight I expected to see on this trip – my bike in bits!
It took 4 days in all, from the morning the postman delivered the parts, to restarting the bike after taking the engine apart, having the cylinder redrilled and putting all back together. We had a lot of help from the guys at Motosport, and owe them a big thank you for letting us work at their place and helping out when we got stuck!
Mechanic Luis and owner Jaime Rios at Motosport, Antofagasta
The coastal route to Iquique is amazing, but as we rode it for the third time, the impact was somewhat lost and we were glad to get to the city. We didn’t bother with the Zona Franca this time, having discovered on our previous visits, the ‘Zofri’ is only interesting for camera film, absolutely useless for anything to do with motorcycles. There is however a very good welder in the city, so we spent a day in his workshop getting Arno's panniers and rack sorted out.
Everything on the bikes now fixed, checked and run in, it was time to leave Chile and head to Peru.
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