Copacabana, La Paz, Death Road
Trip Start Aug 23, 2012
37Trip End Ongoing
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Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, a pretty but weird little town on the Bolivian shore of Lake Titicaca; for our UK readers, I would describe Copacabana as a mix between Brighton and Margate, but replace the entire elderly population with Israelis, hippies and Israeli hippies. I myself spent a day doing a boat tour to Isla del Sol – reportedly the birthplace of the Incas - whilst Daryn stayed behind, preferring to indulge in a 4.5 hour boozy lunch with some friends from the truck…. Good to see we have our priorities straight
From Copacabana we headed to La Paz – the highest capital in the world. After being warned about the likelihood of getting food poisoning in Bolivia (and promptly disregarding it), we headed off to an Indian restaurant for their famous 'curry challenge' which entailed eating an entire plate of ridiculously hot curry in exchange for an unattractive, oversized tee-shirt - who in their right mind wouldn’t take up the challenge?! (Rob, I’m thinking of you in this particular scenario…) Plus, the place was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide so what could possibly go wrong?! After boasting our curry-eating skills, Daryn myself and Buddy set to work on possibly the hottest and definitely the worst curry ever… after 30 minutes of profuse sweating, swearing, a few retches and many tears, Daryn emerged victorious from the competition and promptly put on his unattractive oversized tee-shirt to walk home in. I will mention at this point that if he had eaten any more, I’m certain he would have been wearing it home as a diaper. 3 hours later, all hell broke loose; needless to say, we will not be eating curry for a very long time, possibly ever. Future eating challenges have also been suspended indefinitely.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yungas_Road – it was the road on Top Gear when they went to Bolivia (though the filming was quite clearly bogus). The excursion is exactly as described – terrifying mountain biking down a narrow gravel cliff-hugging road with a sheer 400m vertical drop to the side – inconvieniently – the side we were meant to stick to. Before the new road that is mainly used today was built, there were over 300 deaths per year on this road; there have been 19 recorded deaths of cyclists since the road was opened to mountain biking in 1996, the most recent of which was a few months ago when a Japanese girl drove off the cliff whilst filming her boyfriend on her iPhone (Cei-Cei, let this be a lesson to you in regards to filming yourself whilst driving a scooter). Before we set off, our guides explained that they were trained in first aid and mountain rescue, but that if your body had fallen further than the 100m of rope they had on the truck, the rescue mission becomes a recovery mission. Apparently some guides have even died, our own guide had just recently recovered from a broken collarbone and 3 broken ribs (he very conveniently told us this after we had finished).
Setting off from 4600m, we rode down about 54kms to approx. 1200m, going from freezing to boiling in a matter of hours; despite all the risks / warnings / prior deaths it was an amazing experience; ironically, the Death Road actually felt like one of our safer insane endeavours thanks to our excellent guides simple instructions: stay on the road and you’ll probably live; the car & bus wrecks we could see at the bottom of the valley and crosses / shrines abundant along the road were also a good reminder to stay on the road.
After only one spill which left me me to extract a friend’s feet from the bike’s handlebars after she launched off her bike, we all made it down in one piece and headed to a local eco lodge which specialized in rescuing monkeys that have been in captivity. We were really looking forward to a swim in the thermal pool so were somewhat disappointed when we were advised that the monkeys had taken over the pool and swimming with them was not safe; luckily we were able to swim relatively free of monkey-hassle in the nearby river. The eco lodge had a pretty good set up – the more beer and desert you bought, the more money they raised for rescuing animals; daryn and I alone have sponsored the rescue of every single monkey from North American zoos thanks to our efforts.
Next stop… not sure. Somewhere else in Bolivia. Hope everyone is well!