Many people make the assumption that La Paz is the capital of Bolivia which would be incorrect. Sucre is the actual capital which we have been to but didn’t do anything really noteworthy there. La Paz is the largest city in Bolivia and offers a wide range of markets and a city tour (which I opted out off this time). Probably the biggest attraction for La Paz which attracts thousands of tourists every year is the infamous “Death Road” which can be mountain biked down for a thrilling time. There is also zip lining and an animal sanctuary available at the bottom of the Death Road which we did visit. But I will save the best for last. Lets get to some markets!
As with all towns and cities visited in Bolivia, you have your standard range of handicraft and food markets. What was different about some of the markets here was that they were “witches markets”. Stalls on the side of the road offering various herbs, crushed bones and bizarrely enough, llama fetuses! The usage of said fetuses is apparently for good luck. Purchase one and put it under your house, business, bed or anything else you want luck supplied and you will have it. There are various other idols sold at these markets. The llama for luck. The snake for the underworld. The frog for fortune among many others. There was also a wide range of sketchy potions on offer. Everything from weight loss to fortitude in the bedroom. With little in the way of labels or ingredients, your guess is as good as mine as to what is in these dodgy drinks.
The highlight of our visit. The infamous “Death Road” is the old road connecting La Paz to Coroico and was used mainly for moving drugs into La Paz. It is no longer used as there is a new road which has been built but a few vehicles belonging to people who still live in the area will traverse it once in a while. It is now more of a tourist attraction with the offer to mountain bike down the road which is about 60km long and downhill for most of the way. It gets its name from the large number of people that have been killed doing the journey. Steep cliffs with 400m drops at some points line the left-hand side of the road with a 3000m drop in altitude into rain forest climate. We used a company called Gravity and for $110, we got the bikes, wind-proof clothing, snacks along the way, lunch at an animal sanctuary at the bottom, a DVD with photos and videos taken by the guides and a t-shirt.
It has been a while since I have ridden a mountain bike and I was a little nervous at first but the first 20km of tar road to the entrance of the old road gave me the courage needed for the rest. But that’s the boring part. The old road is what its all about! We started in the clouds with little visibility. We were told that cars have right of way and we should stop and stand on the cliff edge to allow cars to pass by. Super safe that is. Thankfully, there weren’t many vehicles making their way along the road when we were doing our trip. I don’t quite know how to put into words the experience of travelling down the death road. Its all gravel and stone and zooming along on the mountain bikes proof to be an adrenaline pumping experience especially when you bike hops over a “baby head” (i.e. baby head sized stones). There are waterfalls pouring onto the road at places and at one point, the road was as wide as a single vehicle (which is not all that wide when you have a 200m dead drop right next to you!). The best way to explain the Death Road is to do the Death Road but once I have time, I will get those pictures up on Facebook.
After a most exhilarating ride, we stopped at the bottom and had the option of doing a zip line which would have cost an extra 100 Bolivianos but I opted to skip that and head off to the animal sanctuary as I have done the zip lining in Salta which was better than this one. The animal sanctuary greeted us with a beer and buffet. They told us a little about the sanctuary and the work they do, asking for volunteers. There were 6 species of monkey, various birds and parrots as well as two bears which are only around at feeding time in the morning. The food was good and it was nice to relax after the Death Road. Only pain in the neck were the sand flies which were to small to be seen but would leave you with bleeding bites. A 12 hour day but well worth the cost and energy spent. An amazing experience!
This brings us to the end of our Bolivian experience. It has been only 12 days but we have experienced some of the most amazing natural wonders and excursions South America has to offer. The salt flats and death road will forever remain in my memory. We lost Mike, our tour leader for the last 2 months, and picked up a new tour leader, Alvaro, who is a Peruvian. 3 more people have joined onto our tour to Quito which is nice. We head out to Puno in Peru tomorrow and I look forward to seeing what it’s like there. Having a Peruvian tour leader is going to make our experience of Peru all the better has he has the inside knowledge about all the places we visit. So for now, choa.