People come to Sucre for three days and stay for three months, it is just that kind of place. It is a really easy city to negotiate, there are great restaurants, markets/supermarkets, cultural museums and activities.
Life here is simple. Our move to Hostel Pachamama (Mother Earth) proves to be the right one, the cost is 100 Bol ($15.00AUD) per night and we have our own big room with ensuite on the second floor overlooking the garden. It really is a gorgeous place.
The hostel is owned by a lovely family who also have a sponsored son Martin, who was the sweetest young man, he worked like a trojan in the hostel all day, then went to school in the afternoon, then back to work in the hostel in the evening. And you never saw him without a smile on his face. A very bright young man, he had also taught himself English.
There was a real mix of ages and cultures amongst the inhabitants, our favourites included Te, a beautiful young American girl, Sun an equally gorgeous Korean girl, Helga an older Austrian lady and Mark (commonly referred to as Mr Mark by Martin) a British soccer coach who while travelling was coaching the local kids in Soccer. We also got to spend a great week with Lisa and Jarrod a pair of Aussies who were on their way home after living and working in the UK for 8 years. There was also a constant stream of Israelis, French, German and Argentinian travellers as well.
However amongst all the great people we got to meet there were two very odd, older travellers who just did not fit in and made life as difficult for others as they could. One very opinionated woman who believed in black magic and and an older guy with absolutely no social skills, who could not stand any sort of noise, he was staying in a hostel??????
Our first week in Sucre adopts a similar pattern, we shop at Mercado Central for our daily fruit and vegetable supplies, haggling with the gnarly ladies becomes part of the process, then it's off to El Patio for the best Salteneas and coffee in town, before Spanish homework and then it is off to afternoon Spanish classes for four hours. We have a great teacher, called Moi who is a University Lecturer/Student. I would love to report that we are now fluent Spanish speakers, but that would be an outrageous lie. We have improved a little but are really not that much better at all, however we enjoyed the experience. Our problem is we are basically lazy and probably don't put the time in that we should. Most people staying at Hostal Pachamama were doing Spanish lessons, but unlike us they were clever, earnest, young beings and seemed to be continually studying, and were therefore quite good Spanish speakers.
Another thing we love about Sucre is the zebras, yes zebras. On our very first afternoon out and about we come across two guys dressed up as zebras, I assume it is street art and they will hit people up for money, so completely ignore their protestations at me crossing the road on a red 'Don't Walk” signal, this is Bolivia after all. There is much hand (foot) wringing and crying into hands but as we continue on up the road we come upon a whole herd of them. Oops they are part of a road safety, pedestrian education program, stupid bloody, gringo woman!!!!!! Needless to say I am rather remorseful. These guys and girls do a great job and make everyone smile, they are Sucre's ambassadors.
The Zebras of Sucre
The Zebras of Sucre
Herds of Zebras
The next two weeks in Sucre, we just chill out, enjoy the hostel's gardens and the hammocks, have a couple of BBQs with Mark, Helga, Jarrod and Lisa. We also discover it is just as cheap to eat out as it is to buy food and cook yourself, so we try most restaurants within walking distance.
A lovely Italian dinner at a very posh place
We also visit the huge markets where you can buy anything you could possibly need, washing powder, hair care products, shoes, blankets, buckets, ladders, toys, even dried llama foetuses in the witches markets! As we have no need for any of the above items we buy a 5 litre container to carry extra fuel in and wander home. The markets are always an eye opener, especially the witches market. All sorts of weird items and offerings. (Sorry no photos, they get a bit tetchy about gringos taking photos)
The Streets of Sucre
The Streets of Sucre
During this time we also get our tourist entry stamps extended from 30 days to 90 days at immigration, and Skill has to venture out twice to the Aduana building on the outskirts of town to get the bike's temporary import papers extended to 90 days, although this sounds simple, this is Bolivia, and it probably took up a full day in time. On the first morning that Skill is taking the bike out to the Aduana for them to inspect it, the bike refuses to start (it has been sitting for over a week, but this is not normally a problem) Skill eventually gets it to start but it is running really, really badly. He makes it to the Aduana, then after it's inspection on the ride back it decides to run perfectly again. On his return he pulls the bike to bits yet again with another theory of what may be wrong????
It is also at this time that Skill finds a local Honda dealer and gets him to order a new front sprocket for the bike, the day before we leave the new sprocket is fitted and the bike has a bath at the local lavadora, it looks brand new, well almost.
However all good things must come to an end and we leave Sucre after fond, sad, farewells to our Pachamama family. We ride for about 3 kilometres before we hit the first snag of the day, Sucre is blockaded by trucks, so at first glance it looks like we can't get out of town, however we follow the local motorcyclists lead and wend our way through: up footpaths, along dirt tracks, down stairs, between trucks and posts for the next 3 kilometres. I walk the road trying to pick the best path through, talking to Skill on the intercom. A good couple of hours later we make it through but we are both stuffed and we haven't even left Sucre.
Negotiating the truck blockade in Sucre
Negotiating the truck blockade in Sucre
However the benefit of blockades is that once you are through you have the whole road to yourself, it is a glorious ride to Potosi and we make the most of it. We refuel using our new 5 litre container and get fuel with no problems at the local price. We have since found out 5 litres is the magic amount petrol stations can sell you without having to fill in paper work. We have learnt to park the bike around the corner away from the petrol station, Skill takes off his riding jacket and takes the container in to be filled, so far it has worked every time.
We hit Potosi around lunch time and yes you guessed it more truck blockades, this blockade is much longer but with not as many trucks, but it still takes us over an hour to wend our way through, once again I walk a lot of it and direct Skill through, it is tight fit and the last section proves difficult, up a steep dirt track between a sign post and a truck, somehow Skill and the bike stay upright and we are on our way to Oruro. By this time we are both puffing and panting, remembering that Potosi is at an altitude of over 4000metres.
Negotiating truck blockade in Potosi
The ride to Oruro is a lovely quiet one with little traffic, the scenery is gorgeous and by three o'clock we are famished so stop for a very quick picnic lunch as it is another 200 km to Oruro. We refuel again with no problems with our trusty 5 litre container and we are on our way. We arrive late in the bleak mining town of Oruro with the name of a Hotel and GPS coordinates (thanks to the Life Remotely team). This is a godsend as we are parked, checked in, and showered by 7.00 pm. We get out the gas stove and make chicken soup dinner in the bathroom of our room and then fall into bed. It has been a long arduous day.
After a rather dull breakfast in the vast dining/ball room (we are the only guests) of the hotel we pack up and get under way. We are heading to Cochabamba to visit Cory and Paolo Rowden (of Bolivia Bound Tours, who, our friends Guy and Buzz used to follow this years Dakar), once again it is a high altitude ride climbing up to 4496 metres, with glorious scenery and glorious riding until about 30 km out of Cochabamba.
Climbing, climbing, climbing to 4496 metres
We hit another blockade, this time it is a village blockade with rocks, burnt out tyres and villagers facing off against riot police. We decide to back right off so we can assess the situation and park ourselves down a side road in the shade. There is lots of noisy bangs and yelling going on, but we come to the conclusion it is fireworks, not rubber bullets or tear gas.
Blockade outside Cochabamba
After about two hours, the riot police seem to back right off and Skill sees a larger local motorcycle come through the blockade so we decide we will give it a go. As we are about to leave Skill informs me we may have bigger problems than a blockade, the key is jammed in the ignition and won't turn. At this point I pick out our tent site for the night. Skill gets out the CRC gives the ignition a spray and after about 5 minutes he gets the key out. I suddenly remember that we have a brand new unused ignition key on my bunch of keys so we get it off and thankfully it works straight away. Phhewww, now for the blockade. Just as we get back onto the road the larger local motorcycle and rider comes back to go through the blockade, we ask him is it OK. Follow me he says so we do, me walking and Skill taking the bike over rocks and branches, meanwhile some of the villagers move the biggest branch out of the way for us. All the while there is much cheering going on at our antics. We say our thank yous and get out of there as quickly as we can. What we didn't realise was that the local motorcyclist was part of the Blockade, not travelling through it!!!!!!!
Negotiating Cochabamba is not difficult, just slow, but with Cory's perfect directions and GPS co-ordinates we reach their place just after 3 o'clock. This delightful family invites us to camp in their back yard and share in their ANZAC day festivities the following day. Which is exactly what we do. That night is very cold and there is even a good frost next morning, thank goodness for down sleeping bags.
The following day we decorate, and help prepare a feast of roast lamb and veges. Paolo is helped by her good Aussie friend Kate. Later in the day other expat Aussie friends arrive, and also Paolo's gorgeous Bolivian parents join in the festivities.
Anzac day decorations
Anzac day cricket match
Lan enjoying the cricket match
After a very serious cricket match we enjoy the fabulous lamb feast followed by Hoky Poky icecream, Pavlova and Anzac Biscuits. It was so nice to be amongst such great people on Anzac Day. We thank them all for their kindness.
The following day Paolo invites me to go to the boys school with her. She and Kate have organised to make Anzac Biscuits with the class. I seem to slip back into teacher mode pretty quickly and enjoy the morning in this beautifully run Montesouri school. Later in the day we three girls go and share a coffee and a chat. I realise that is now 6 months since I have had girls day out and I really enjoy it. Later in the afternoon we meet Skill and Cory at Kate and Nathans house and have a huge left over lamb lunch.
The following day is Saturday and we join the family for the day. It is off to the markets, then we all go to a textile exhibition at Palacio Portales, the luxurious mansion built for the “King of Tin”, Simon Patino. The house is set amongst the most beautiful gardens.
The Gardens of Palacio Portales
The Gardens of Palacio Portales
Then it is into the city for a Saltanea lunch and a visit to the “Spitting Llama” Bookstore for some English books to read.
Lunch with the Rowden Family
That evening we join Paolo, Corey and their friends for dinner, it is a really enjoyable evening.
Sunday we just chill back, read our newly acquired books and enjoy the sunshine and the serene surroundings of the garden, however later in the day Skill develops another bad dose of Bolivian belly and is really quite ill.
The following day, although Skill is still not feeling that great, we decide to make a move and let the Rowdens have their garden back. (For more information on Corey and Paolo's motorcycle rental and touring business - Bolivia Bound Adventure Tourism www.boliviabound.net or contact Cory on email@example.com)
We pack up and get thoroughly lost (in the market area known as La Cancha) getting out of Cochabamba, but finally get on the road heading towards Cliza, the gateway to Toro Toro National Park. We have a great deal of trouble finding Cliza but eventually get there after several wrong turns. Then we take several more wrong roads out of town, it seems the road to Toro Toro is very elusive, there are no signs, the GPS is of no help, and four different people send us in four different directions. In the end we are defeated and as Skill is still feeling terrible, we make the completely irrational decision to keep travelling on the road towards Samaipata.
Well to cut a long story short, the day deteriorates into one of those long, long days where the road turns to ripio and gets rougher, no towns with hotels materialise, and it is getting very late. Just on dark we arrive at the tiny village of Pojo, and we wend our way down a steep, twisty cobblestone road into the town, where accommodation looks to be non existent. We ask about a hotel and are pointed down a street off the plaza. As I am trying to find the hotel in a very uninspiring street, a lady appears and tells me to follow her.
The uninspiring streets of Pojo
She is our travel angel, she owns a alojamiento (hotel/B&B/cafe), and we can have a room in her house for the night. We park in the garden, unload the bike, while she makes us hamburgers and chips, Skill finds a cold beer in a shop next door. Dinner is fabulous and all is right in the world. After dinner we have a hot shower and fall into bed. The beds must be have the hardest mattresses we have ever slept on but we are asleep by 8.30 pm. Then at about 9.30 pm we are woken by persistent knocking on our door, the owners want us to move the bike as late arrivals in a car want to park inside! What, surely you are joking? We are asleep in our PJ's and you told us to park there! So Skill starts the bike still half asleep, and then has to do a tricky manoeuvre along a path to park literally in the garden greenery beside the chook pen! OK now back to bed.
Bike parked next to the chooks
The gardens of our Alojaimento
In the early hours of the morning we awake again, this time to a violent storm rumbling all around the mountains, but quickly go back to sleep. Later in the morning we join fellow late arrival guests for breakfast before heading out, we get fuel at a local shop where they decant it into a five litre bottle for us, and we are on our way. The ride, while now wet, very muddy and slippery in places is absolutely spectacular, we climb up and up into the clouds, the environment has changed from a dry brown landscape to beautiful greenery and dense thick forests.
The road to Samaipata
The road to Samaipata
The road to Samaipata
Just as we reach the tops of the mountain we smell something dead and rotting and see all sorts of birds circling, including condors, these birds are huge, what a treat we didn't expect to see these amazing creatures. We come down off the mountain and reach the town of Compara where we once again refuel and then have a beautiful ride on bitumen to the gorgeous town of Samaipata. We stop to take in the views, this is Che Guevara country, he met his end not far from here in the small town of La Higuera.
Arriving in Samaipata we pull over to check out our accommodation options when a Swiss plated van pulls up beside us. It is Martin who we briefly met in Turpungato in Argentina. We have a quick chat and both go our separate ways, hoping to meet on the road again as he will be in Bolivia for a while.
Then begins the long hunt for accommodation, we end up in the hippy retreat of El Jardin, living in a yurt like construction. After we unload the bike it is off to the PUB, yes a bar, and wouldn't you know it, it is run by Aussies..................... but that's another story.
Our Yurt in the gardens of El Jardin
Samaipata will go down on our favourites list. We spend 5 days here enjoying the tranquil, peaceful surroundings.
The evening we arrive we find a bar and to our delight share the evening with fellow Aussie and former resident of Brisvegas, Kirsty. She and her husband Dave own and run the delightful “La Boheme” Bar on the main square. Kirsty is a Samaipatian enthusiast and gives us her take on the best food in town, which happens to be across the road at “La Cocina” run by 2 Istanbulians.. The food is a Mexican/Turkish fusion and although incredibly simple, it is amazing. After an absolute pig out we return to the Bar and finish the evening with another cleansing ale. We return to our yurt, climb the ladder to our bedroom and enjoy a long nights rest.
Skill in the bar at “La Boheme”
Each day we go to the markets, wander the streets, do our washing, sit in the sun and read, in the evenings we venture out to “La Boheme” to chat with the regulars and locals alike then being creatures of habit we usually eat at “La Cocina”, we can't seem to get our fill of their great fresh food.
We do have one small problem while in Samaipata, there is no automatic cash machine in town and the cash machine in the previous village doesn't like our card. Fortunately we can delve into our American dollar stash and change it in town.
The main square, Samaipata
On our last full day in Samaipata we ride the 10 km track out to El Fuerte, an ancient archaeological site. At the centre of this site is a huge sandstone monolith that has the most extraordinary abstract carvings along it's back. It is surrounded by many buildings, many of which are yet to be uncovered. It is believed to have been a meeting place and religious centre since 800 AD, for many different peoples including the Chane people, the Chiriguanos, and the Incas.
Fortunately it was a nice, cool overcast day, so we spent a good three hours just wandering the site by ourselves, a real treat.
Back to Samaipata for a great lunch before we venture off to the Mueseo Archeologico to look at some of the finds from El Fuerte and other local archaeological sites.
That evening we go out for a posh dinner before it is back to the local for a long, late night of cocktails and beers. It is fun to be amongst the Ex-pat and Santa Cruzian banter, however there is a rumour circulating that Bolivia is about to have a week or more of National Blockades, I guess we will see how it pans out.
Margaritas at “La Boheme” Bar
The next morning we have trouble getting going, we don't really want to leave this little oasis but leave we must. After a big bacon and egg breakfast we head out of town in the rain, despite the conditions it is a glorious ride and as we drop down off the mountain the rain stops and the temperatures warm up.
Skill enjoys his bacon and egg breakfast
Here is a link to short video clip of some of the ride.
We arrive on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, refuel with the 5 litre bottle, as previously mentioned fuel is an issue. Quite often they don't want to sell fuel to foreigners as there is so much paper work to fill out. We have learnt that 5 litres is the magic amount, so we have to stop at least every 100km to fill up the 5 litre container. We park the bike around the corner, Skill takes off his riding jacket and walks in with the jerry can, so far this has worked most times, but once again it makes for a long day when you have to stop at nearly every petrol station you see, just in case.
We also find a money machine and get money out for the first time in a month, then we high tail it out of Santa Cruz (Population 1.5 million), thank goodness for Carmen's directions (Carmen the Garmin - GPS) as there is not one single sign to anywhere, we find our way onto the ring road, a 5 litre refuel again, and then another at the next gas station, and finally we are on our way. It is a slow ride to Buena Vista as there are countless chaotic market towns to negotiate. We arrive just before dark, manage to find a cute little place after checking out three dodgy hotels. They open up the doors and insist we ride the bike through the dining room out into the courtyard.
Hostal in Buena Vista
We are unpacked, showered, and out for pepper steak dinner before 7.00pm. Later in the evening we sit in the courtyard, have a cleansing ale and admire the hostel's colourful free roaming pet Macau.
Next morning we have an empanada and coffee breakfast on the square before getting the bike out via the dining room, we are packed up and ready to roll by 10.00am, all we need now is fuel. This is a bit of a problem as the service station is out of fuel, we eventually track down a private seller and we can now leave.
Riding the bike through the dining room
The hunt for that elusive Bolivian fuel
Not far out of town we are stopped for our first police check in Bolivia, a very, young policeman asks for “Documentos”. “Que documentos?” Skill asks. “Hmmmmm, hmmmmm, hmmmmm”, was the response. Eventually he asks for pasaporte and moto documentos which Skill hands over. He peruses them for a good 3 or 4 minutes turning them over and over and over, then indicates for us to pull over, off the road. At this point, Skill tells me to get off the bike and follow him. I say in my pathetic Spanish “Documentos bueno” and intimate for him to give them back. He is still not convinced so I say, “Immigracion OK, Aduana OK. Bueno”. Then take the documents from him. He reluctantly returns them. At this point I say “Gracias Senor” Chao!” and we make a hasty exit . Not sure if he was out for a bribe or the poor young sole couldn't read, even though the temporary import document is in Spanish. Either way we take our leave and move on.
The road to Villa Tunari is an amazing ride through the Eastern lowlands, part of the headwaters of Amazon basin with huge rivers and jungle like vegetation, and a hot tropical climate.
Fuel seems to be a bit of an issue in this area, that is, there is none, so after playing the 5 litre fuel game a couple of times we arrive in Villa Tunari around 3.00 pm, we are hot, sweaty and the bike is playing up, yet again. Although it is only a 160km to Cochabamba it is a long slow 4 hour ride up over the mountains, so we decide we will stay put. After one hotel declines to let us park in their enclosed parking area as they have workman parked there, we cross the road and stay in the very old San Martin Hotel. They have no problem with us parking in their yard, and while the room is dodgy as, the views are quite stunning.
The grounds of San Martin Hotel
After a quick dip in the pool (it's the first time we have been warm enough to swim since we were at John & Annette's finca in Argentina!) we relax with a book then Skill manages to find a beer and some street food to quell our hunger, we enjoy a pleasant warm, afternoon pool side.
After yet another dodgy breakfast we hit the road not knowing what the day will bring, fortunately the travel Gods are being kind and there are no blockades. There are however 100s of trucks all doing 10km an hour up over the mountain pass, it is a painstakingly slow ride. Not only do you have to watch for oncoming traffic you also have to watch for the micro buses who tailgate you and overtake us and the trucks on blind corners.
At one point we are overtaken by 4 Brazilian plated bikes, they give us a friendly wave and speed on ahead of us, we are not quite as courageous?? as them in our overtaking manoeuvres. About an hour later on the descent into Cochabamba we see the Brazilian guys stopped for a break so we also stop for a chat. They ask us all sorts of questions about our travels but mainly they want to know about the road conditions in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, we give our road report, take a group photo and continue on.
A stop with the Brazilian Motorcyclists
We arrive back in Cochabamba, call in to to see the Rowdens, have lunch and head into the city. We mange to find the Hotel Gina but as it does not have parking we park the bike in a paid secure parking area around the corner. Of course as usual we are on the top floor so after we have lugged everything up 2 flights of steps we are stuffed.
We spend the next 3 days in Cochabamba, taking in the sites and walking the streets of this modern metropolitan city, we are in food overload, Japanese one night, Mexican the next and of course the local food as well.
At lunch time we usually head out for a local “menu del dia”. On one such day we have lunch and also get the street guys to wash and polish the bike (just in front of our restaurant table), the bike is absolutely filthy from the ride to Santa Cruz.
The bike gets a bath while we have lunch
Cochabamba's claim to fame is it's giant Cristo de las Concordia, modelled on the one in Rio but is slightly taller, we catch the teleferico (cable car) up and take the obligatory photos of the giant Cristo and of course views back over the smoggy city.
Lan and Skill in the Teleferico
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
The giant Cristo de las Concordia
That afternoon Cory calls in to the hotel and invites us to spend the weekend with them at a small cabin on a Lake just outside Cochabamba. We get ourselves organised and the following afternoon follow them out to the Lake. We enjoy a tranquil afternoon with Paolo, Cory and the boys, walking the Lake, canoeing and that night sit around the fire, under a perfect starry sky. The Southern Cross constellation is there in all it's glory. Thoughts turn to home, family and friends.
Canoing on the lake.
The following morning, Kate, Nathan and their four children join us, we now have 6 adults and 7 children under 7. We move into our tent in the back garden, the best place to be according to Cory.
Some of our fondest memories of Bolivia will be the time we spent with these families.
Dinner with the kids
Next day we try to get away at a reasonable hour, say very sad, fond farewells and get on the road to La Paz, it is Sunday and we are hopeful the blockaders will be on days off.
We refuel twice before leaving Cochabamba and with Cory's perfect directions get out of town with ease. We then retrace our path over the mountains to Caracollo (near Oruro) and then it is a very cold 193km ride to La Paz. There are road works everywhere and the dark, black sky is threatening to rain. We stop for fuel, a banana lunch, and don the wet weather gear.
Continuing on we ride straight into a storm, it was so cold that the rain was turning to snow and hail, fortunately it only lasted for 10 minutes then we popped back into the sunshine. We arrived in El Alto (the city that surrounds La Paz) and because we had GPS coordinates for the Hotel Sucre in La Paz we followed Carmen's (Carmen the Garmin GPS) directions. BIG MISTAKE!!! She is a bloody cow and directed us straight through the huge market area of El Alto, I cannot describe the chaos of animals, trucks, taxis, buses, people and us on bike bigger than the space shuttle. Sheer Lunacy. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
By some miracle we got out of the market area and with no idea of how we did it, we get on the toll road into La Paz. Once we did that Carmen did a great job of getting us straight to the Hostel which is on Plaza Sucre, right in the city centre. It has been a long seven hour day with only fuel stops, and we are very tired. Although Residencial Sucre is quite old, it is spotlessly clean and it is a bike friendly hostel, they even have a specially made ramp to get you into the building. The owners are lovely and tell us to relax, get ourselves sorted, have a shower and register when we are ready, just what we need to hear. We follow their advice and that evening head out for an Indian Curry, our first in over 7 months. Did I happen to mention, we love Bolivia.
La Paz and Residencial Sucre is to become our home for the next 6 days. Unfortunately during these 6 days, protests and blockades become more intense and the main El Prado and other roads into La Paz are blocked off. Finding your way into and out of the city is a lesson in supreme patience. However late one evening we are joined by Alex and Anya two beautiful, young Polish motorcyclists, there are now 4 bikes in the foyer of the hostel. The other bike belongs to Hans a Swiss RTW motorcyclist who we also met briefly in Cochabamba.
Bikes parked in the foyer of Residencial Sucre
We are very lucky Residencial Sucre is in a great central position, with sites, parks and food places all around. We are on Plaza Sucre, across from the famous San Pedro Prison. There are no guards, the prison is controlled by the prisoners who work to pay for the cells, those with money can live in quite luxurious accommodation while those without income live in the hallways and struggle to survive on the official rations. The prison is a village in its own right, complete with shops, restaurants, billiards halls and even a creche as prisoners families live with them. It is a tourist attraction in itself, there are even unofficial tours of the place, but we didn't try it out. I guess for the prisoners it is better to have shelter than to have to sleep on the streets.
Every day we are in La Paz there are blockades and demonstrations, usually starting at 9.00 in the morning and finishing around 6.00pm. On Tuesday and Wednesday in particular the protests pick up and there are dynamite blasts all day................ yes they protest by letting off dynamite, which you can buy in the markets.
We stay in La Paz for 6 days partly because of the protests and still didn't get to see one of the main squares near the presidential palace and parliament as that is where the main protests were taking place and although we walked all over the city, we avoided the main protest areas for obvious reasons, did I mention the dynamite!! As far as we know it was the public servants who were protesting for a pay rise, but there could have been more people involved, who knows, truck drivers, miners, butchers, bakers???????
There is nothing unusual about protests and blockades in Bolivia, it is part of their daily lives, people are used to it, but having said that, people were slightly tetchy. While we were having a coffee in a very Western style cafe, the protesters started to march along the street outside complete with fire crackers (no dynamite thankfully), the staff locked the front doors until they had thoroughly checked out the situation.
Then while we were out walking and I was trying to get a video off the protests from a distance a lovely older lady who spoke English started to talk to us. She said “Please don't go any further, we never know what will happen, people are going crazy” She then gave us her thoughts “This is not my Bolivia, it is very sad.”
However when all is said and done we loved Bolivia, it is the most amazing place. I don't think I have ever been to a country where there is such a juxtaposition between ancient cultures and modernity. One day as I was walking up an alleyway in the Witches Market I was following two ladies, one dressed in traditional Bolivian dress complete with flared skirt and bowler hat, carrying her wares on her back and the other was dressed in a Prado suit, walking in 6 inch heels (I don't know how this is possible on the streets of La Paz) carrying a Gucci Handbag. And it is not just in the capital that you see these stark differences it is all over the country. On one side of the road you will see expensive homes with 4WDs parked in the driveway and on the other you will see a family eeking out an existence in a one room mud adobe hut and a donkey in the driveway. I guess it is these social/economic differences that lead to the social unrest.
La Paz is a great city, very exotic and authentic but with enough Western influence to have great restaurants, bars etc. There aren't a lot of sites to see, but just wandering the streets is an experience in itself.
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz
The Streets of La Paz - Llama foetuses in Mercado de Hechiceria
On our fifth day in La Paz we decide we will ride to Coroico, we are up at 6.30 am and on the bike by 7.45am to get out of La Paz before the blockaders start, the lovely owner of the hostel has given us directions of how to get onto the road to Coroico. We negotiate this easily and are soon on the open road. The plan is to ride to Coroico, have lunch then ride the so-called 'death road' back to La Paz. This road was once named the worlds most dangerous road, but nowadays most of the traffic uses the new asphalt road so it's not quite as dangerous any more, well apart from hundreds of mountain bikers and the occasional motorcyclist crossing paths.
Unfortunately only a short way out of La Paz on the new road we are greeted by snow, ice and wind, and the conditions were getting worse and more slippery the further we pushed on. In the end after a couple of nasty slides, we made the decision that we should turn around and it was back to La Paz.
The road to Coroico
The road to Coroico
The road to Coroico
Snow covered Llamas on the road to Coroico
Skill was really disappointed that we missed out on this spectacular road, but it really was getting dangerous as he couldn't see a thing through his helmet in the rain/snow/white-out and it was so slippery. There was also a chance of being cut off with more snow falling and all our gear was back in the hostel in La Paz so we thought it best to play it safe and return while we could. It continued to rain in in La Paz for the next few days so I guess it was still snowing in the mountains.
On Friday afternoon as we are having some internet time we get an email from Cory and Paolo explaining that it looks as if the blockades are going to get worse.
“Things are going to get a lot worse...on Monday the highways out of La Paz will be heavily blocked by people coming from the rural areas...they are coming to march against the union members that have been causing all these strikes...Don't want to worry you...and it could well be that you may already be out....but please please go this weekend.”
We heed their advice, when the locals are telling you it is time to go it is time to go. It could all have blown over and been political propaganda but it could also get violent and I guess that is why Paolo wanted us out. As we said blockades and social unrest are part of Bolivian culture, you just have to accept the situation. We never felt unsafe or threatened, it just made travelling on the bike a little uncertain, you never know what the day will bring, all part of the adventure.
On Saturday, with heavy hearts, we leave La Paz at about 9.00 am as we had to change all our Bolivianos that we had got out the day before into US dollars and Peruvian Sol. It took us close on two hours to get out of the city as their were protesters (not blockaders) and all the traffic was being diverted which is fine if you know La Paz (there are about two road signs in La Paz). The poor old bike was so hot and the clutch was taking a caning on the steep, traffic jammed streets. Once we were on the open road we headed to the border but not before riding through a big rain storm, it was very cold, but thankfully only lasted about half an hour.
Storm building on the way to the Bolivian/Peruvian border
We got to the border at 12.15 and were processed by immigration really quickly which we were grateful for as we knew the Aduana (Customs for the bike, we need to hand in our temporary import paper) shut at 1.00pm. Wrong the Aduana was shut at 12.30 and by 2.30 pm was still not open. By this time we were joined by a Chilean and 2 Argentinian motorcyclists. Everyone was getting extremely tetchy and after speaking to several people (thank goodness for the Spanish speakers) the authorities told us that they didn't know where the Aduana guys were and we should go out to the truck aduana on the outskirts of town. This we did and the guy took our papers and we left within 5 minutes of arriving. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By this time it is getting on for 3.00pm. We get to the Peruvian side and are through immigration in less than 10 minutes and head to Aduana............................ well they can't seem to find the Chilean guys make of Chinese motorcycle on the computer and the only available Aduana officer doesn't seem to know how to use a computer but he persists and persists...., to cut a long story short we are processed over an hour later.
Welcome to Peru
While waiting and waiting and waiting, I watch the locals pushing loads of goods between the two countries. I discover I still have some Bolivian coins so give it to this young mother who has been pushing loads of bricks between the borders for the past hour.
A young mother
We then change money, get fuel and head towards Puno, it is now just after 4.30pm.
Getting fuel at the Peruvian border
We have a lovely ride by the shores of Lake Titicaca, but about 20 minutes before our destination it rains again. We are heading to Puno but have the GPS co-ordinates for a hotel in a little town Chucuito, just before Puno, and as it is wet, late and getting dark we opt for this place. It is quite cute, the room is clean and there are promises of hot water. We stay and Skill goes to check the town out, he comes back and says, “you are not going to believe this but there is not one single restaurant open”. Neither of us really care, he has managed to find red wine and chips. We always carry emergency food, and we have a left over can of beer, crackers, cheese and tomato so that is entree, then we have a bit of pasta cooked on the camp stove in the bathroom. Finally, a cup of tea and chocolate for dessert. NO WONDER THE TOP BOX IS SO BLOODY HEAVY.
We have a tepid shower and go to bed, once in bed there is absolutely no chance of either of us moving, we are pinned to the bed as the 3 blankets are so heavy but thankfully, also very warm. We are absolutely exhausted, but also happy as there is a huge thunder and lightning storm over Lake Titicaca. And because we have a tin roof and skylight in the bathroom, we can go to sleep listening to rain on the roof and watching the lightning display through the skylight. Welcome to Peru!
The main square of Chucuito, 15 restaurants and not one open.
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