And so the glorious dream is over. Twenty days spent with my Atacama crossing group, we crossed the Atacama and then it was over. As these things usually are. We bid a fond farewell at our hotel in La Paz and each set off alone. I say alone but we actually continued as a group in a small sense. The group now consisted of Colin, Andrea and myself.
We all had a little time 'till our next tours so decided to spend it together. There is comfort in numbers, especially after being molly-coddled on tour for three weeks. To recap; Colin is the Scottish chap who looks a little like Richard Hammond and is often and hilariously angry at the smallest of things. Including drops of rain, mayonnaise on sandwiches, spoons being too small and there being too many cool things to buy at local markets. Often I will hear him scream at the top of his lungs in his crazy Glaswegian accent; “Jesus Christ!!” and then he'll turn to tell me, with exasperation in his eyes, that he can't decide which top to wear. It's very amusing. And Andrea is the Australian nurse. She has no particularly
amusing habits other than coughing a lot, defending Australia staunchly against any perceived attacks Colin and I may throw at her and never having any change which has led to me christening her 'Big Note Sally'. She doesn't like this. Fortunately she has a very good sense of humour so it's all gravy as they say in the United States.
We decided to spend a few more days in La Paz after our group had disbanded and thought the best spot to do this from would be the biggest party hostel in the city
. I had heard about this from some American chaps in Buenos Aires and everyone seems to know about it once you arrive in La Paz. It's called The Wild Rover
and used to be the Governor's mansion house and is full of party people and huge dormitories. I would normally baulk at such a place, in fact baulk
isn't a strong enough word, I would normally turn and run from such a place, but with time running out and the GAP hotel's being very nice but quiet I decided to go a little crazy. The Wild Rover
is home to SO many Irish people it boggles the mind. If they all decided to return home at the same time I fear Ireland would sink. It does beg the question “why come all the way to Bolivia, if you're Irish, and stay in an Irish hostel with Irish food, drink, music and tons of other Irish people?” You may as well stay in Ireland. And it really was a party place too. We were there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night and all three were bonkers madness. Three nights were plenty though, thank you very much, but we had a laugh.
Also in La Paz Colin and I met the Iranian President, President Ahmadinejad
. Which was a bit of a surprise. I'm not sure if that's a co-incidence that his first name is President and he is
a President or if he just got really motivated to become one because of the name. Anywhoo, Colin and I were close enough to take him out
and we did discuss it. And I don't mean for a nice spot of dinner and a drink. I mean take him out
as Tony Soprano would understand it. We would be doing the world a huge favour and would surely become heroes. Well, possibly martyrs. But we thought it best to let him live not least because we had no guns and he had a lot
of big bodyguards. But we did get within twenty feet of him and would have had a clean shot. And he is ignoring the West's pleas to stop his nuclear development program which is creating panic in the Middle East and potentially another war there. Apparently he was on a trip around South America trying to buddy-up with any world leaders who already have a problem with the United States. An attempt to build a sort of United States of countries who hate the United States. And as the comedian Rob Newman once observed, this group already have their own flag; “same as the United States', but on fire”.
From the most dangerous man in the world to most dangerous road! One of the activities you pretty much have
to do when visiting La Paz is the so-called 'Death Road' or the most dangerous road on earth. Whoever named it has clearly never ridden a scooter in Saigon but I can see where they're coming from
. You descend from 4,700 feet to 1,200 feet, starting in freezing cold and misty conditions and ending up in tropical conditions. And people die!! Or so the adverts told us. For four hours you go downhill at a very fast rate on very thin roads that go around mountains very high up in the air. It's a bit like the cycling equivalent of sky diving in that you get a van to drive you to high altitude and then you free-fall thousands of feet. It really is exhilarating. And as you go you pass gravestones of poor chaps who've bought the farm whilst riding the road. Apparently a few months ago a group was being shown the place where somebody died weeks earlier and one of the group fell of the mountain whilst taking a picture. I think that tale tells it's own moral. But we were told that as long as you're sensible there's very little risk of death but it does pass through your mind. You get passages where you ride under a water-fall and then over slippery rocks with a two thousand feet sheer drop on both sides. It's what Sir Alex Ferguson describes as “squeaky bum time”. Now I'm not a competitive man and this is no race, but I managed to finish second behind a very
competitive New Zealand chap. And
he is a professional ice boarder / snow surfer type man. So that was quite encouraging.
The three of us recovered from the long day of death-road riding and decided to move on from La Paz. This we did via a nightmarish four hour local bus ride to Copacabana, sitting as it does comfortably on Lake Titicaca
. We chose this destination entirely because of the song and the humorous name of the lake. I believe most tourists use such sensible criteria for choosing destinations. Cocacabana is not as beautiful as the song had led us to believe. Although the song is about a hotel, not a town, and one apparently in Brazil, not Bolivia (which we found out during our stay). We had it in our minds that it would be quite European and snazzy but it's a fairly functional place and absolutely packed with tourists. All of whom probably labouring under our false impressions and singing the Barry Manilow song under their breath all the time much as we were doing. We stayed for the first night in a very rustic (shockingly dirty) place but made the most of it with Contract Whist and a carton of red wine. We are nothing if not classy travellers. The next day we walked up a huge hill to see a church and did a little exploring. Trust me; in Cocacabana a little exploring goes a long way. The hill walk was incredibly hard at this altitude but we took it as good preparation for the Inca Trail to come.
The next day we decided to go to the nearby island, Isla De Sol
. The largest Island in Lake Titicaca. See the photographs for proof of the crazy tilt this place is on. They say that these are Inca steps carved into the land but with a back-pack on it just looks like a huge hill. We were extremely tired but we consoled ourselves with the fact it would also
be good practice for Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
. We found ourselves saying that a lot whilst gasping for air and grabbing onto things for support. We spent the evening on the island shivering and playing Contract Whist because, after eight 'O' Clock on Isla De Sol
there are no lights and NOTHING to do. The next day we headed back for our last night in Copacabana. It was also, after a month travelling together, our last night as a three. We spent it watching terrible romantic comedies in our huge hotel room. It has been good fun being in a team and as we all have a certain cynical but comic side to our characters and got on well it was a thoroughly enjoyable month.
The next day I headed back to La Paz alone as Colin and Andrea headed to other parts of South America. In order to get back to the mainland you have to take a small boat for ten minutes or so across Lake Titicaca whilst your coach does the same thing on a barge of sorts. On this particular trip the boat owner had packed as many of us 'gringos' onto the boat as possible and we were sitting somewhat low in the water
. As we set off the Lake got pretty rough, as lakes of this size can do, and an old Bolivian lady sat opposite me starting panicking a little. She reached over and grabbed my knee, much to the amusement of everyone else on board, and then starting saying her prayers as the waves licked the sides of our boat. Fortunately we got to the other side without incident but an Irish chap sat near me commented “you've got a friend for life there mate” and I replied, quick as a snap, “bruise for life, maybe.” That lady had a heck of a grip. I got back to La Paz without further incident, spent one night there before meeting up with my new GAP group for the Inca Heartland trail and we set off the next day for our first day in Puno in Peru. The group consists of Rodney, Merrill, Belinda, Chris, Ben and Luciano – the tour leader. I shall say nothing about them yet as I know
nothing but needless to say, that will change in the next twenty-one days. Onwards, to Peru!
Love, Dan. x.