La vida loca in La Paz

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Our next bus ride would take us into Bolivia. It ended up being a very long travel day...we were told it would be 7 hours but through a number of circumstances that turned into 12 hours. The flat tire along the way did not seem to help the situation, but really what we learned that day was only the beginning of our understanding of Bolivian time and that
it is not quite literal. For example, when you hear that something will be about 5 minutes or 15 minutes, that usually means at least half hour or more. One of the funniest parts of that day was that we are in the bus, past the border and now in Bolivian territory, when we pull up to
a port area and are told we have to get off the bus and take a short boat ride across to the other side of the lake. Not knowing what was going on, we watch as our empty bus drives onto a very sketchy-looking wooden barge that then proceeds to take it across the lake while we jump on a small motor boat. I truly thought the barge with our bus and all our backpacks was going to sink before making it to the other side.

We finally reached our destination, La Paz, Bolivia. We seem to be all about high altitude cities lately as La Paz is the highest country capital in the world at 12,078 feet. We were thrilled to find a hotel room with TV (yes, English channels too!) and hot shower 24 hours a
day. Bolivia is one of the poorest South American countries and we are finding that often times hot water for showers can be a luxury. Even toilet paper and soap being provided in housing situations is a bonus. In fact, we have found that crucial objects that need to be carried at all times are toilet paper, hand sanitizer, chapstick, bottled water, and coins. Many bathrooms in restaurants do not offer toilet paper or soap for properly washing your hands and most all public bathrooms require a small fee for their use (they provide you with a bit of
toilet paper but there are no toilet seats, rarely do the toilets actually flush, and there is often no water to wash your hands). Fun!

La Paz is a large city built in-between some gorgeous mountains and red rock that reminds us of Utah. Lining many of the streets are women selling fruits, flowers, and vegetables. There were numerous meat shops lining the street of our hostel as well so the smells that arose from such items was oftentimes overwhelming. We took a very touristy city tour in one of those red double-decker buses that you picture in London and actually had a great time. We learned much about Bolivia's past and present political that is full of change and corruption. We learned that the average ANNUAL salary of a Bolivian is $1200 whereas the monthly salary of the politicians is $4000. Quite a difference and this discrepancy has been the source of much dissension for a long time. Currently, only 4% of the population is 60 years or older and the life expectancy is only 60-63 years old! In fact, health care is free for anyone 65 years or older!
On our tour we visited a very odd place called Valle De La Luna (Valley of the Moon) that is just on the outskirts of the city. It is described as a "bizarrely eroded maze of canyons and pinnacles technically known as badlands". Wandering through it was really interesting and it offered great view of the landscape surrounding the city of La Paz.

During our few days in La Paz we were focused on trying to obtain our visas that we would need a few weeks later for Brazil. The process was difficult and required much paperwork (bank statements, credit card statements, proof of yellow fever immunization, etc.) plus a nasty fee for a simple 30-day tourist visa. Because this process took about 2 days and required several visits to the embassy during mid-day, we were not able to do much adventure-wise outside of the city. On our way back through La Paz about 10 days later when we were heading back up to Peru, however, we decided to get a little crazy and do the famous bike ride down what has been referred to as the "most dangerous road in the world". It is called this because it has the most fatalities annually due to crazy drivers on a narrow, one-lane, rocky road. It goes from La Cumbre, outside of La Paz to a town called Yolosa. Fortunately, I think the road will be losing its claim to fame soon (this is a good thing) because 10 months ago an alternate, safer paved road was built so that people no longer have to risk their lives trying to get up the road and back to La Paz. This road was built, of course, under pressure from the protests of local people who were outraged after another public bus full of 45 people went off the edge.
So...we joined a tour group called Downhill Madness, got all geared up (see our pictures) and did the ride. It was about 5 or 6 hours long, 60 km, and a decrease in about 10,000 feet! The first half of the ride was all downhill on paved road (with the exception of 3 km of uphill that winded us big time). The second half of the ride was on the scary road that was all gravel. This was a challenge for us particularly because we have ZERO mountain biking experience. We had to concentrate on how to use our brakes (using the back brake more then the front) so that we would not go flying head first over the handlebars. Fortunately we  took many breaks so that we could enjoy the incredible scenery and views around us (including the many steep drops off the edge of the cliff). There were waterfalls everywhere. At the end of the ride, everyone was accounted for with no injuries and only a few flat tires. (Rumor is that 8 tourists have died going off the cliff during the many years of this bike ride). We all went to a nearby hotel to swim and enjoy a sauna and warm shower before the 3-hour drive back to La Paz (do not worry, mom, we were on the nice, safe, wide paved road on the way home!)
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