Cycling days 188 to 195: Cusco to La Paz, Bolivia

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 19, 2012

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, September 30, 2011

We have to thank our friend Steve for the pictures in this entry. Unfortunately, our camera got stolen right under our nose 4 days ago in Puno (the last big city we went through). So overall Peru hasn't been very nice to us. Although the country is beautiful, safety is definitely a concern. In roughly 5 weeks of cycling through Peru we got attacked by a mototaxi, shot at, and lately robbed.
But now we are in a new country (Bolivia) and we will buy a new camera in the next few days for the continuation of our adventure. Everything happens for a reason, right!
Since getting robbed though, life has been good to us: we connected with fellow touring cyclists (Justin and Melissa), played nurse with a family of three that crashed their motorcycle on the side of the road, changed country, changed time zone, and visited a Bolivian hospital bordering lake Titicaka to give them the last of our medical supplies from MedShare. We've been carrying those supplies from the USA for 13000km (over 8,000 miles). passing through 10 countries along the medical supplies, free "shipping"...they loved it. If you want to contribute to our cause, help others, and help divert 6 tons of medical supplies from ending up in landfill, you can donate thereFor every $100 donated, you eliminate 30kg (66lb) of trash and you actually provide $2500 of supplies to the developping world.

Day 189 (9/23/11): 58km

We purchase two spare Maxxis tires (basically the best brand you can buy in this part of the world), chit chat with other cyclists, pack our things, have some lunch and pastries, and are finally ready to leave the hotel at 1:45pm. The others tell us we might as well stay another night and leave in the morning, but we know that if we don't go now, we’ll be sucked into the vortex. Steve, Yannick, and Shirley drag the bicycles out of the hostel and hit the mad streets of Cusco. As we exit the city, we dodge cars and combis (minivans used for public transportation) until we get back onto the highway leading to Puno, Peru. We make good time and surprisingly cover 20km in the first hour of riding.

Our first stop is a gas station because Yannick has indigestion from last night’s Indian food feast and stuffing himself with 7 buttery pastries after having the complimentary hotel breakfast. He is having regrets as his stomach is extremely bloated and cramping, making it difficult to stay in riding position on his bicycle for very long. We make several stops along the way, one to check out some archeological ruins, another at an old church, and a few just for Yannick to stretch his belly.

At 5pm, we stop next to a river to set up camp. Unfortunately, the town drunk fumbles upon our "hiding spot," and bugs us for about 20 minutes asking for money, alcohol, and food. At first we are nice to him, but begin ignoring him and his annoying questions until he finally leaves. We have dinner, then go to sleep hoping we don’t have any more visitors for the rest of the night.

Day 190 (9/24/11): 115km

For breakfast, we eat our last two pan de pasas (raisin bread rolls) from the French bakery – oh, the tragedy! We want to go back to Cusco to buy more because Yannick isn’t sure he can make the rest of the trip without them…but, alas, he must try. In the first hour of riding, we cover 20km – the mellow uphill grade makes it easy to get in the groove and move. We follow a river flowing in the opposite direction and have views of beautiful hilltops. By noon, we’ve completed 80km and stop for lunch just outside Sicuani and have a filling menu for 3 soles. 

As we ride along, we pass by countless farms and people herding cattle alongside the road. At times, the shoulder disappears, making it precarious to pass cows as traffic passes us. Late in the day, we meet a lone cyclist, Dave, heading North; he tells us we are not far from the pass (the highest point between Cusco and Puno). At 5pm, we come to a toll booth, fill up our water bottles, and debate whether we should continue on. We’ve already covered 115km and the large meadow behind the toll booth looks perfect for camp. Hmm…we could go on, but something is telling us we should just call it a day. Just as we finish pitching the tents and locking the bicycles together, we feel raindrops. In 5 minutes, the wind picks up and the rain gets heavy – amazing how quickly the weather turned from mostly blue sky to this! We’re happy we listened to our instincts even though we weren’t sure what it was telling us. Warm and cozy inside our tents, it looks like we luck out again.

Day 191 (9/25/11): 115km

It rained off-and-on all night, but by morning, the storm has passed as we are left with partly cloudy skies. We finish off the last 5km to the pass and begin our easy-grade descent. The landscape around us is breathtaking – golden pastures rising to rolling hills with stunning, snow-capped mountains in the distance. We just finished off an entire summer of mountaineering and are already drooling over these beauties and picking out possible routes to get to their summits – mountaineering definitely is our passion. But no, we sent home our technical climbing gear, so no more climbing for us for a while. For now, we will just gaze at these passing peaks and enjoy cruising along on our bicycles and take in the views from the road.

At 11am, we stop at the Mercado in Santa Rosa to load up on fruit and veggies. After we leave town, the road becomes straight as an arrow with a slight tailwind, allowing us to speed up to 30kph at times. In the late afternoon, the road becomes cracked, rutted, and full of pot holes, making it unpleasant to ride. We’ve done over 100km today, so the rough conditions make our bodies complain. When the skies ahead turn dark and we can see that rain is coming across our path, we use it as an excuse to end the day at 4:30pm. We take a dirt road to a rock quarry and set up camp. At 6:30pm, the rain hasn’t hit us yet, but the cold wind and lightning storm in the distance doesn’t make us regret our decision.

Day 192 (9/26/11): 102km

The road is flat and we book it to Juliaca – 60km by 11am. From here, we intended to take the less-traveled route around the North side of Lake Titicaca, but with no immigration office at that Peruvian-Bolivian border, changing countries is a little complicated. We would have to go to Puno, 43km in the opposite direction, to take care of the paperwork then backtrack to this city again. One option is to leave our bicycles somewhere safe, take a combi to Puno, find the immigration office to get our Peruvian Exit Stamp, then return to Juliaca and continue North on bicycles. The other option is to pedal to Puno, take care of everything, and ride back to Juliaca, adding almost 90km and an extra day of effort.

As we navigate our way through the crowded, concrete, and very unpleasant city of Juliaca, we wonder if there is anywhere we can possibly leave our bicycles without worrying about them, making us decide to go to Puno by bicycle. As we battle traffic and strong sidewinds, along the way, we figure all the trouble isn’t worth it and settle on staying along the South side of the lake.

The last 10km to Puno is uphill, but we actually enjoy the change from all the flat riding we’ve had recently. Besides, this climb means we might actually get a nice view of Lake Titicaca! At the edge of Puno, we detour to a mirador (viewpoint) overlooking the city set alongside the highest navigable lake in the world. We pitch our tents in the courtyard of a small school at the mirador (the guard is very nice and says it is no problem). By 6:30pm, we are snuggled in our sleeping bags, ready to doze off.

Day 193 (9/23/11): 54km

It started raining last night, but unlike all the previous days, the sky did not clear by morning. We pack our things by 6:45am and wait under the roof outside the school, having breakfast and stare at Lake Titicaca as we wait for the rain to stop. At 9am, the clouds start to thin out, so we pack up and ride down into the city. We stop at a supermarket and Yannick stays out with the bicycles while Shirley and Steve go inside. Yannick pops into the store for a minute to ask a question, feeling it’s okay because he has full view of the bicycles through the window. Yannick goes back outside when he sees a guy checking out the bikes, and when Yannick approaches him, he takes off running. Yannick yells, “hey,” so Shirley and Steve come out, then the boys start pursuing the suspicious guy. Yannick and Steve only half run after the guy, but unsure if he actually took anything, the boys return to the bikes. Shirley realizes the camera is gone and yells out to Yannick and Steve, who then turn around to chase the guy again…but by now it’s too late. We tell Steve, “Sorry, but your country is F#@& up. We hate Peru.” Three bad incidents have happened to us – we were smacked by a man passing in a mototaxi, got shot at at close range, and now got our camera stolen – all of which happened in Peru.

We aren’t in the mood to buy food anymore, so we go the Plaza de Armas  to take care of a few chores. Unfortunately, we aren’t in the mood to find an internet café to update the blog because we’re too upset and don’t have any pictures to post anyway, so whatever. As we sit there, we eye everyone suspiciously and don’t give anyone friendly smiles or answer inquisitive questions. We wonder why we’re even bicycling South anyway…we aren’t enjoying ourselves and are just wasting our time…we should just go “home.” All these ill thoughts race through our minds and we just wish someone would come try to steal something else so we can beat the crap out of them. We can’t stand this city or the people around us, so we decide to leave without getting anything productive done.

On the way out, we stop for lunch, but don’t even really enjoy eating…we are just eating to get some food in our stomachs, which is very unlike us. As we have our meal, a traveler stops by to talk to us because he noticed our bicycles outside the restaurant. He is speaking in Spanish, but we pretend not to understand because we aren’t in a chatty mood. He stands there in the doorway for over 5 minutes blabbing, but all we can think is, “You’re blocking our view of our bicycles and are really annoying. Are you really just trying to distract us while a friend of yours tries to steal something else of ours? Grr…just go away!”

Back on our bicycles and back on the PanAmerican Highway, things don’t get better – there is no shoulder and vehicles don’t give us much room and even come at us from the opposite direction in our lane. Shirley is in the lead and she curses out drivers coming at her head-on. Too many people in this country have a total lack of respect for other people, their personal space, their possessions, and even their lives. We pedal on, not taking in much of the scenery, just fuming amongst ourselves. Shirley thinks to herself that something good has to happen to take our minds off this and get us back to our normal selves again. And whatever is going to happen better happen soon because she can’t stand being this way!

Half an hour later, we come across Justin and Melissa (a couple we met at the hostel in Cusco who also hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year and just began cycling from Lima) sitting on the side of the road having a snack. We stop and have a break with them then continue riding together. Yannick is chatting with them as we ride and Shirley can see he is getting in a better mood now that his mind is being distracted from thinking about his camera being stolen. A while later, we come across a family of 3 who were just in a motorcycle accident – the rear tire blew out and they went off the side of the road – so we stop to help. Luckily, they just have minor scrapes and bruises. Shirley and Yannick pull out some of the medical supplies they were given by MedShare to clean their wounds and bandage them up. The little boy is crying with fear and anticipation when Yannick starts to wipe off the wound on his cheek with iodine, but calms down after he realizes that what we are doing doesn’t hurt much. We ask them if they need help getting home, they say they only live 1km down the road and will be fine. Just and Steve pick up the motorcycle and wheel it onto the side of the road, then we each get back on our bicycles, happy that the accident was very minor and that we could help out. It also puts things into perspective – what is a stolen camera compared to being in an accident? Yeah, what happened to us sucks and that thief is an asshole, but all we lost was a piece of property.

The sun gets low on the horizon when 5pm rolls around and the temperature begins to drop. We aren’t quite ready to look for camp, but Steve gets another flat tire. The leak is slow and he thinks he can continue on to a dirt road we see in the distance and fix it at camp, so we push on with Steve in the lead. We ride in a line of 5, drafting one another when Steve comes to an abrupt stop. Melissa brakes hard and Shirley feels her front tire touch Melissa’s wheel, so she in turn brakes hard. When Justin hits Shirley from behind, she lets go of the brakes and feels her bike swerve out of control. Sandwiched between the two other riders, she doesn’t have enough room to correct herself and ends up rolling down the embankment. Shirley (surprisingly!) executes a combat roll and lands on her feet and runs over to her bicycle to make sure it’s off the road and out of traffic. Everyone is apologetic for playing a part in the crash, but with just a couple of scrapes on her leg and a couple broken eggs in her food pannier, there isn’t much to be sorry for. No harm, no foul.

The large field just off the road looks flat enough for camp and with so many people, we aren’t really worried about being bothered. We push the bikes far enough off the road and camp out in the middle of the open space. What a day it has been! But wait, it isn’t over yet; to top it off, we mistakenly use Shirley’s bike bottle full of limeade instead of water to boil our spaghetti. Even dinner is messed up!

Day 194 (9/28/11): 122km

Yannick had a hard time sleeping last night because he kept thinking about the stolen camera – it’s the first time he’s ever had anything taken from him like this. The scene plays over and over in his mind and he wishes he had done things differently. Yannick is still upset and feel violated.

At 7am, the party of 5 depart from camp and in a few kilometers, we come to the Aymara town of Ilave, where they burned the mayor alive for being corrupt a few years ago. We make a quick stop to buy some bread and cookies, then quickly get moving because it begins drizzling. By 9am the sun is back and we are ready for 2nd breakfast, so we break in Juli to munch on some food and dry the tents.

When we hit the road again, Justin and Melissa are cranking it. We find that are riding styles are different – they go long distances between breaks and stop for a longer period of time whereas we like shorter, more frequent breaks. At 11am, Justin and Melissa have gone ahead of us and we find a truck stop with sinks to do laundry and shampoo our hair. We can see the dark clouds moving in, so we hurry off to try to make it around the lake to bypass the storm. Our plan works and we only feel a few drops on us after we make the turnoff towards the Yungayo border crossing. There is hardly any traffic on the intermixed sections of bumpy asphalt and dirt roads. A few construction zones later, we are at the border at 1pm with 87km for the day. We find Justin and Melissa on the Bolivian side of the border and take some photos together.

Getting our exit stamps from Peru went smoothly, but Steve has a hard time at the Bolivian border. The immigration officer only wants to give him a 30-day Visa, but Steve asks for 60 days just in case he decides to continue riding with us and it takes longer than a month to cross the country. The officer says he can’t give him the lengthier Visa, but can find a way to do it if they settle the matter on a personal basis (i.e., give me a bribe). Steve says, “Forget it, just give me the 30 days!” in an upset, screw you tone. In the end, the officer gives Steve the 60-day Visa without the bribe, but Steve is still left with a bad taste in his mouth as his first impression of Bolivia.

Copacabana is only 8km away, so we stop there for a late 2pm lunch of fried trout. The city is still super touristy and expensive, but looks much cleaner and is more peaceful than when we were here a month ago during the car blessing festival. We remember that we change time zones now, making it 4pm instead of 3pm. Yannick, Shirley, and Steve head out of town together and start the arduous climbing section. As we gain elevation, we get a beautiful sunset view of Lake Titicaca sprinkled with little islands. (Too bad Yannick and Shirley can’t take any photos!)

When we start the minor rolling hills, the temperature is only 6⁰C, but with the windchill we are freezing! We have a little trouble finding a place to camp out of the wind…until we come upon a cemetery. We’ve never camped at a cemetery before! We find a nice, flat, perfect place along a trail and pitch the tents. It’s the latest we’ve ridden in a long time (regardless of the time change) and are too tired to cook dinner. A cold meal and we are off to sleep.

Day 195 (9/29/11): 125km

Yannick slept well last night – guess the long day of riding helped! As we pack up our things, people start passing through the cemetery as they make their way to the “bus stop” along the side of the road. Several of the women, speaking in Aymara, mention something about spirits, but we just smile and say we were protecting them for the night.

After leaving camp, we head down to the ferry boat crossing fairly quickly. The crossing is about a 1/2 km ride that costs 1.5 Bolivianos per passenger, but when we ask for the price with bicycles, the military guys tell us it is 10Bs. We know they are trying to screw us, so we go down to one of the ferry boats and a captain gives us a quote of 5Bs. An old woman sitting at her vending stand overhears this and tells Shirley that the real price is supposed to be 3Bs. Shirley thanks her and we board the boat with the bicycles. After the calm crossing, the captain asks for his payment, so Shirley hands him a 10Bs bill. He tells her we’re short 5Bs, but she says, “No, the price is 3Bs each.” He looks down at the bill, kind of nods, and gives her her change back. 

From the shore of Lake Titicaca, we climb and go through more hills – pedaling between short spurts of ups and downs always makes our thighs burn, making us glad to hit the flat, straightaway leading to La Paz. As we pass by some pueblos, we see a small hospital with its doors open. We go inside and talk to the Director/Resident, Dr. Irina Martinez about MedShare (with Steve’s help as translator). Dr. Martinez is very happy to receive the medical supplies we have been carrying with us since we left Los Angeles on bicycles and seems interested in the MedShare mission and has a lot of questions about the application process for receiving additional aide.

After we leave the hospital, we look at our watch – with 4 hours of good daylight and 60km to La Paz, we think we can still make it to the city tonight if we push hard. As we pedal at 25kph for almost an hour, we feel that our goal is within reach and are happy we were able to bypass some rain showers by outrunning some threatening clouds. We take a short break and eat some snacks quickly, hungry from skipping lunch. When we push on, a side wind starts blowing…which turns into a strong headwind…grr!

We want to thank MedShare for supplying us with a medical kit with material we could use in an emergency situation or donate to hospitals in need. During this past week, we were able to provide basic first aide for family in a motorcycle accident and donate the rest of the supplies (mostly surgical items) to a hospital located in a small pueblo.

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Jason on

I had my clothes stolen on my trip. I was also quite upset about it and it put me in a bad mood for a while. Best to just put it behind you and move on.

Peru was a bit rough for me too. The road was blocked by protestors at Ilave, I crashed once, got ran off the road by a semi truck and had a dump truck hit the side of my motorcycle. I'm in no hurry to back there. on

Merci Steve pour les photos ...

Monica Harrisson on

Shirley + Yannick I am so sorry to hear all your bad experiencie in Peru.. . I wish we can show you more about our nice places and people. Sorry and I wish you the best for your next journey.. and have a safe trip..

Tina on

That's awesome you dropped off the MedShare package and they were excited!

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