Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bolivia, La Paz and Around

After Puno, we were seduced by the proximity of La Paz (only 5 hours away). I had to get a Bolivian visa first. It proved to be rather easy and surprisingly free. The only hassle was getting a yellow fever vaccine, which i did in a hospital for 3 sols ($1). Thus, the unplanned journey into Bolivia began.

Bolivia is a special place, like Aron Ralston calls it, between a rock and a hard place. It is the South American Tibet, one of the highest countries of the world - and one that possesses a part of the Amazonian jungle as well. A country of paradoxes, it has furnished Spain for centuries with its silver and prosperity, it is today one of the poorest on the continent. It has also recently elected Evo Morales, the first indigenous president, that rallies for the people, against the US, friends with Cuba and Venezuela...Below is a picture of the people, a street pop corn vendor and her customer from the bourgeoisie:

Our first stop has been La Paz. The main objective there has been mountain biking through the Death Road, Renaud´s idea. The Death Road used to officially be the most dangerous road in Latin America, as the Inter-American Development Bank statistics stated. Those same statistics said around 200 people were killed there yearly from car, truck and motorcycle traffic (see here for more). In this great new century, after an IFM grant and over 20 years of construction effort, a new road has been opened in 2006, and thus leaving the Death Road to the mountain bikers and their support vehicles.

It is the road going from La Paz, on the West side of Cordiliera Real mountain range, to the village of Coroico, on the east side of the range, where the jungle starts. This whole jungle region is called the Yungas, also famous for its coca growing traditions. The biking starts from the high point of a pass at 4 600 meters at La Cumbre, goes down for 24 asphalted kilometers, and then down more 36 non asphalted old Death Road, to finish at 1 200 meters above sea level. An overall 60km descent, usually done in 4 to 5 hours.

This circuit is usually accomplished through a travel agency with a group of 9 people, two guides, and a support van that drives behind the group in case of a problem. We paid around $45 per person with El Solario, nice agency, for the fun or the suffering, whatever way you like it. The first half was relatively easy and benign. The second part is the business. The road enters the jungle, wet, misty and unforgiving. It is also unpaved and full of gravels - perfect for mountain biking enthusiasts or those who enjoy making their butt suffer. And here is our proud group in the middle of the descent:

I wished i were more expert at the mountain biking, but the couple of times out with Renaud in Belgian plains seemed to have sufficed to make me able to go down safely, if not quickly. Below is Renaud enjoying himself on the final stretch. All the pictures are courtesy of our guide from El Solario.

The view of the road and its famous drop offs. We did not exactly realize that it looked like this when posing for this picture!


Anna said...

Hi, ja znovu iz zahoplenniam chytaju tvoju mandrivni zapysy;-) CE - KAJF!!!!!

uasunflower said...

thanks :)