90 kms by bike, 120 kms by car
We had made plans to meet Oscar and Elizabeth in La Paz today and stay there with them so had to be up bright and early to get back up the fabled road.
We’d arranged to have breakfast early, 7.30; they start normally at 8, in order to get away briskly. Breakfast wasn't quite sharpish enough so we never got to leave 'til 8.30.
Got caught by one of those little things you can so easily not realise on the bill too. Our breakfast was included in the room, but when they asked if we wanted eggs, and how cooked, that wasn't included, and was an extra. Bit sneaky in my book, but put it down to experience (at 50p odd extra eh!).
The great advantage of being up and out early was that the road was quite clear, not in a traffic sense, but a weather one. We were going to get the views over the edge today!
There was still traffic moving up the road, but not too much. The first half is lower down and very dusty, barring three stream crossings that is! It was certainly nicer going up as we were on the inside of the hill, i.e. left, and that felt a lot less virtiguous than the 'correct' side.
Then we came upon a rock fall!
This was still where the road was quite spacious, but the drop off was still 70 or 80 degrees and we weren't for going any nearer the edge than necessary thank you! It wouldn't have been an issue excepting that obviously the rock fall was on the inside edge, and many of the rocks were of a substantial size and scattered across the remaining width without there being bike width gaps. Hmmm...what to do ! There seemed no option but to clear a path through. Only problem was the rocks in way were a goodly size, and not nice round boulders either. That was enough of an issue, but, there was also the fact that the rockslide was not dormant, there were still various size boulders and mud and stones toppling down to add to the already dangerous piles.
Well, there was no real way around it, the rocks would have to be cleared, and there was only one man available!
With Bev keeping a weather eye on the slope I had to get into the danger zone and start trying to shift a couple of knee high rocks off the road. Only one place for them (apologies down below) and so I struggled to roll the none-rounded rocks away before their mates decided to join in and have a pop at me. It didn't take long, wasn't easy, but just had to be done. Occasional slides of smaller stones occurred, but none more significant while I was there luckily. One large one had joined the others just before I started which was warning enough as far as I was concerned.
Anyway, job done I straddled the bike and rode through as briskly as I dared incase of a further slide. I was as concerned at hitting the rocks still there as anything as they wouldn't have given an inch...but my legs or the cylinders or panniers certainly would have!
So that excitement over, we were once again on our way. The weather was superb with virtually no mist or low cloud so the views of the road were brilliant. The section where the main waterfalls either run onto the road, or past it due to the overhang were much better photographed than on our descent. On the descent the camera had kept misting up due to the difference in temperature from 4700m to lower jungle like conditions so it was nice to get some good shots. I guess the local’s call this section the 'car wash' or similar as one particular waterfall is bang on the line of travel. On the way down we had gone straight through it, but this time managed to get around the worst of it.
Just after this section is one of the most famously photographed sections were the road cuts through a turn and is three quarters cut into the hillside with vegetation hanging down. Obviously what you want at that moment is a bloody big old orange truck to come round the corner, and luckily one obliged.
As we were paused a stunningly beautiful humming bird came close by feeding off the flowers of a bush. It was green, purple and gold metallic and quite the best one we've seen to date. There were many parrots around too and some blue birds with yellow breast and black heads.
We continued upwards stopping only to admire (yes really) the horrendous drop offs and wider views. The other advantage of leaving early meant we beat the rush on the road...yes, there is one! Unconventional, but widely known. The mountain bike companies that offer to take folks to the top so they can virtually freewheel all the way down (shame about the 12kms steep uphill they get right at the end to get a pool and a beer, I feel so sorry for them, not!) As we neared the top there were groups coming down, generally very well managed by the outriders with them. There were folk who looked to be having the time of their lives, and folk who plainly weren't enjoying it at all, takes all sorts!
There was other traffic on the road, but it is generally light, and mainly locals who know both the roads, and the risks, so aren't stupid.
I slightly regret having not come one way on the new road (not that it's finished yet) just to see the engineering involved as it's been a fairly mammoth task with huge cuttings and tunnels. Must be quite a job.
La Cumbre was breathless as ever, but very clear and picturesque and we were soon descending once again into the big city itself. There was more traffic than I'd have expected for a Sunday so we were late ringing Oscar but still it had only taken 3 hrs to get across.
Oscar came to meet us, but first we were greeted by one of his biking friends Gonzalez on I think an older Honda XL250. We rode behind them to Oscar's place, which was right down the back of La Paz in a nice quiet spot. Met up again with Elizabeth, and Oscar's daughter Andrea (hope the spelling is right).
Having sorted out some of our gear and changed we were ready for the off as we were going by car to see the pre-Columbian (that's the society that is well pre-Inca, and similar to our bronze Age I think) site of Tiwanaku. (Tihuanaco)
Gonzalez had to go elsewhere so the 5 of us got into Oscar's 4x4 and set out. Oscar knows La Paz very well, and we were soon taking a variety of back roads out of town. La Paz as mentioned sits in a huge crater and a few of the roads are ridiculously steep, especially when cobbled, or unsurfaced.
The site is about 70-odd kms west of the city and as we drove across we encountered the sort of weather we wouldn't want on the bike. Very heavy squalls that lead into hail showers that reduced visibility immensely.
Fortunately when we arrived it was beginning to ease and we had a great chicken picnic before going into the museum and site. There is the usual Gringo price which bears no relation to the local price, ours being 80 or over £5 each, lot of money for a country like Bolivia, at least locals pay only 20% of that price though.
I won't give a history lesson on the place, but I was quite surprised I'd not heard of it before as it is a very major archeological site, though admittedly not as great as it could be. There was a whole community living around the site and there were many temples with huge monolithic carved portals and doorways and statues relating variously to the sun and moon etc.
Some of the carving is very elaborate, and most of these pieces are now undercover in the museum though one or two are still in situ outside. The level of craftsmanship is amazing, even just on the blocks and drainage channels.
Temple (of the sun?)
As we left the sight we drove towards the village were obviously something was going on. It turned out to be the end of a carnival or fiesta. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a whole town in party mode and the amazing sounds of the slightly out of tune brass bands and the amazingly decorative outfits of the dancers.
We were I guess a little apprehensive about wading in taking photos and the like, there not being any western faces there that we could see. We needn't have worried of course, the natives were friendly. Being in the company of Oscar, Elizabeth and Andrea certainly helped too as Oscar grabbed Bev and waded into the square of dancers !
Bev and Oscar dancing
The outfits these guys, and I say guys as they in the main wear the really fancy suits, have are something else, they're beyond fancy. Strange things go on as they seem to get into the character. Many are feline, tigers and cats and the like, and they actually speak in high-pitched exaggerated voices, very odd. The women’s outfits are also beautiful, but the men are the peacocks for sure. Photos are the only way to do the dancers justice.
If I thought I was getting away with it I was wrong, as the dancers left the square and started the procession around the outside I was grabbed by Elizabeth and forced to use my best two left feet to their worse ability. Everything was good-natured, and you would routinely be grabbed by men or women and dragged off to make a fool of yourself in the dance procession. Fair exchange for some great pictures and memories of something quite special.
Oscar was kind enough to offer us his spare room and we took up the kind offer so we could see more of the city we've now grown to see in a different light and are certainly enjoying - maybe we’re getting used to the altitude!
Monday 6th March 2006
La Paz and around
40 kms by car
Got a good nights kip and had breakfast with Elizabeth. Oscar returned a bit later and we all went out for a drive south of the city out towards the Valle de Luna. The landscape is impressive enough hereabout without going to the actual valley. It is dry and the surrounding ground is steep and generally pinnacles of mudstone weathered into sharks fins and points to create quite an abstract backdrop.
Out of town are newly developing areas of quite impressive sized houses built on plots in various grand styles. Obviously were the new rich are building to be just outside the city itself, but very close for commuting. It's much warmer down there than in the city.
We returned and made our own plans for the afternoon as Oscar and Elizabeth had other business. We walked back up to the area of Calla 21 which is the more affluent neighborhood in search of some small shopping items and to get yet more CDs burnt and to Internet. The card reader we have has a problem lead and is not working now, so the only way we can get photos back home is by burning CDs and then passing on the pics by using the CDs in internet cafes. A pain, but with a CD costing a quid it's not to much of an inconvenience money wise, just time delay wise.
It was a long uphill trudge to get there, but we found all the facilities we wanted - barring a new card reader - and also treated ourselves to a fairly spectacular ice-cream each, Bev's a Rusa with a startling 48 cherries, ice cream and cream and Vodka, and mine Irish with a stack of ice cream Dulce con Leche and Whisky. A very nice treat when the items were actually bigger and better than the impressive pics on the menu, marvelous, and only £1.50.
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