The World’s Most Dangerous Road

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Even though my mother forbid me from doing this, I couldn’t visit Bolivia and not take on the Death Road – I would’ve regretted it forever.

For those of you playing along at home, the ´World’s Most Dangerous Road´ or ´Death Road´ is a narrow track that snakes down the side of a mountain just outside of La Paz. It used to be the main road between the towns in this part of the country and is a gravel path generally only wide enough for one vehicle (just!) with sheer cliffs on one side that can drop up to 600 metres. On average 26 vehicles disappeared over the edge each year. However, they’ve now opened a replacement road which means the WMDR is mainly only used for cyclists and support vehicles.

The 64km ride began on a tarred road to give you a chance to get used to the bikes and then we began the infamous road. There was just one other girl, Ruth, on my tour (Pro Downhill) and we were given full suspension bikes, protective pants, vests, gloves and full-face helmets. Our guide rode at the front and the support vehicle followed behind.

At the start I was pretty nervous but it didn´t take long before I relaxed and was able to enjoy the spectacular views,  soon I had a smile on my face that lasted the whole way down.

Really the road isn’t that dangerous if you go at a steady pace and don’t panic, although I can see how accidents occur as people could start going too fast and lose control or see the steep cliff to the side and break too fast, sending them flying over the edge.

It’s difficult to describe how amazing it was; the vistas, the track itself and the steep mountains were incredible. We passed under waterfalls and the forest-like landscape was just stunning.

We stopped every 10 minutes or so to take photos and take in the views but all too soon we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, 3,600 below where we started, where we had lunch and a swim in the pool – it had been freezing when we started but by this time it was boiling hot!

And then it was back to La Paz via the new road.

What an experience! It was so exhilarating and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscapes were.

I definitely recommend it to everyone, just tell your mum about it afterwards like I did!

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La Paz – Walking Tour

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On my last day in La Paz I went on a walking tour of the city in order to learn more about the history, social issues and customs of the different parts of the town.

The tour started at Plaza San Pedro where the famous prison is located. It’s not much to look at from the outside but it reminded me of the remarkable book I read called Marching Powder about an English backpacker thrown in prison for trafficking cocaine – worth a read!

From there we headed up to El Alto (by taxi, no way was I walking all the way up there!) where my guide Alejandro told me that El Alto is considered the Aymara capital of South America. The Aymarans were a pre-inca civilisation that lived in the Lake Titicaca area. They are said to be a proud people and are trying to improve their way of life however their efforts at times hindered by the government.

We visited the contemporary art gallery, which was quite interesting, and then began the descent into La Paz. We walked through the neighbourhoods perched high up the valley and it was amazing to see how they build their houses on the steep slopes.

We then caught one of the local buses, which looks like a school bus from the 60s, painted in bright colours and upholstered on the inside – very cool! The bus wound down through the street to the area of the city where the black market is located. Here you can buy absolutely everything, we saw DVDs, flowers, fruit, dried meat and many more weird and wonderful things (no livers unfortunately, I think I need a new one!)

Just a few of the 5000 different varetes of potato grown in South America.

It was so interesting to learn more about this amazing city and gain an understanding of the dynamics of the people of the city. I’d highly recommend the tour (www.lapazonfoot.com) and ask for Alejando.

I know there is just so much more that I saw and did in La Paz but I just can’t get it all written down, but take my word for it, it is an amazing city and if you can handle the altitude, the steep streets and the noise then you’ll just love it too!

La Paz – Wild Rover

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I previously mentioned that I stayed at the Wild Rover hostel while in La Paz which was absolutely fantastic! I’d recommend it to anyone but make sure you take with you a spare liver, because you’ll need it!

The guys that work there are all Irish and therefore know how to throw a good party – and party I did, almost every night. It was like being back at uni, with dress up nights (school disco being one of the memorable ones) hour of power (a shot of beer a minute for 60 minutes, although I had vodka instead – what a night!) and killer pool competitions (miss a shot, do a shot!)

Generally after the bar we’d head to one of the nearby clubs as a group (Blue House and Mongos were two of the notable ones) where the rest of the evening was made up of dancing like maniacs until very early in the morning.

I met so many great people and had some very fun times. My health and my ability to learn spanish the day after a big night definitely suffered but it was totally worth it!

La Paz – The Solo Adventure Begins

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So the first thing I did as a solo traveller was to book into my first ever hostel. Thanks to my friend Nerida back home for suggesting the Wild Rover hostel, my time in La Paz would not have been the same if I hadn’t stayed at this amazing place (more on that later). The next thing I did was find a place to study Spanish. I planned to stay in La Paz for about a week in order to give me enough time to learn some basic Spanish as well as a chance to get out and about and see this amazingly diverse city. I began lessons at Pico Verde with the lovely Maria and did five lessons of two hours each. Maria was fantastic and I learned a lot although I wish I’d had a month to study so I could really gain a better understanding of the language, but hopefully I’ll be able to pick up more as I travel.

My lovely Spanish teacher Maria.

The rest of my time in La Paz I spent wandering around checking out the Witches´Market (which is famous for odd bits and pieces such as llama fetuses, which locals bury under their new house in order to bring good luck) and the other streets on both sides of the city.

I think La Paz is such an amazingly diverse city because of the great mix of old and new you can see around everyday. You notice businessmen and women dressed in designer jeans and high heels wandering the same streets as cholitas dressed in traditional skirts and bowler hats. There are also beautiful stores selling fancy brands right next to tiny street stalls selling anything from toilet paper to empanadas and saltenas (types of South American savory pastries) – I once saw a stall that sold only hole punches!

The faces you see here are all very different as well. Some people have darker skin, some look more Asian or Indian or native American, but all have great character and it’s interesting to see how they all fit into the social landscape.

One of the other interesting characters in La Paz are the shoe shine boys. They get around with all their equipment wearing ski masks, which make them look pretty scary, asking everyone who walks by if they’d like a shoe shine! I later found out that they wear the ski masks because they didn’t want people they socialise with to know that they were shoe shine boys, as it is quite a low standing job in Bolivia.

I didn´t really get any photos of the people unfortunately because many of them don´t appreciate having their photo taken by gringos.

The buildings in the main square of La Paz are quite spectacular and one day I was there while they had a ceremony for a visiting ambassador (at least that’s what I think it was for) where they had the military band all dressed up and singing and playing – they looked very impressive in their regalia – it really came across what a proud nation Bolivia is.

I was told many times before arriving in La Paz to be very careful as it can be a dangerous city, however I must say that I felt absolutely safe the entire time I was there and most of the time I was just wandering around by myself.

Of course you always have to be careful and I have heard some horror stories from other travellers but more often than not I was helped by the people of La Paz rather than hindered.

More on La Paz in my next post.

Hasta luego

La Paz, Bolivia – The End of the Tour

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After leaving Puno we headed around the banks of Lake Titicaca towards Bolivia. The border crossing went quite smoothly which was a relief as I was a bit nervous because it was my first overland border crossing.

We stopped off in Copacabana for lunch (not the famous Copacabana from the song, which is in Brazil) before continuing on to La Paz. All up it was about a 7 hour bus journey.

The city of La Paz is located in a valley and sprawls up the sides of the mountains that surround it. We entered the city via El Alto, a neighboring city which overlooks La Paz. As we came to the edge of El Alto we were able to look down onto the city and I was absolutely awestruck! I’ve never seen anything like it. The buildings cling to the mountainsides and spill down into the lower part of the canyon where the main streets of the city are made up of modern skyscrapers.

After my first glimpse of La Paz I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time in the city.

The only part I didn’t enjoy was saying goodbye to the amazing group of people from the tour. Part of the group were heading home while others were continuing on with another tour which meant it was time for me to start the solo part of my journey. It was quite amazing how well everyone on the tour got on and we were all very sad to say goodbye. The good thing is that many of them will be in London or nearby when I arrive so we have already planned to catch-up and reminisce about the amazing times we shared.

A huge thank you to Rod from G.A.P Adventures who looked after all of us and made the tour the best experience of my life. And of course to the cheeky bastards on the tour: Francisca, Benedicte, Jolien, Marilyn, Nat, Kat, Shruti, Kat, Will, Tim, Joey and Mark; you guys were the best tour group I could have imagined and I already miss you all very much!

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