To get to La Paz we booked an overnight “Cama” bus. This is like a first class bus, with fully reclining seats and blankets. As we were in Bolivia, we expected it might not be perfect, but we did hope for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately this is not what we got. The first four hours of the trip we drove straight up the Grand Canyon. At least it felt like we did. It was a goat track and the bus did very little to disguise this. We had heard the first section was a grind, but we still hoped to get some sleep after midnight. Still wrong. It turned out that the bus had no suspension and even on the sealed roads it felt like we were in a unique kind of torturous massage chair. I managed to get to sleep, but the vibrations caused havoc with my stomach the next day.
We arrived in La Paz around 6am and stumbled down the road looking for a hostel. We found the Adventure Brew Hostel just down the road, which looked okay. We were all pretty exhausted though. We managed to get to a cafe and just sat there for a few hours feeling sorry for ourselves. We had a look around the town and then headed to the hostel to check in and have a nap.
They have this thing called the Witches Market here. It’s where a number of old Bolivian women sell “alternative” medicines, good luck charms and other odd bits and bobs. One of their most famous items are llama fetuses. Apparently these are very lucky and Bolivians bury them under their houses for good fortune. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the fetuses were huge, dead, smelly, rotting llamas. The whole area made me want to vomit and I walked down the street keeled over, trying my best not to throw up. We got a lucky charm (not a fetus, just a stone) and got out of there as quickly as possible.
We also went to the lookout over La Paz. The city is in a basin and is incredible to see at night, as all the hills light up like fairy lights. During the day a huge 6000m mountain can be seen in the distance too. It’s a very pretty city, but the traffic chaos and tiny sidewalks are enough to make me not want to live there. After the lookout we went to the Valley of the Moon. It’s about 15mins out of town and is this weird rock formation area. The rocks are jagged and it does make you feel like you are walking on another planet.
On our last day before going to the Amazon we rode the World’s Most Dangerous Road. It’s an early start and you bus up to 4700m. Then you get fitted with your gear and bike and zoom down a very steep asphalt road. We reached speeds up to 70km/h. We flew down the mountains and saw vans that had crashed over the edge along the way.
We then bused 8kms to the official start of the dangerous road. This road is gravel, so you can’t go as fast. The road is on a cliff with a huge drop. More people have died on this stretch of road than anywhere else in the world. However, this was from when it was a main road and a new road has opened, which means usually only cyclists and their support vans use it now. It’s one lane and quite rough. We did the road on a cloudy day, so we couldn’t actually see how far we could fall. This was probably a good thing! The road is 30km long and takes most of the day to get to the bottom. It was terrifying at times and very exhausting. At one point along the road there is a cross that marks the most fatalities in a single accident in the world. Over 100 people died when two trucks crashed into each other when they were filled with people going to a soccer game. We made it to the end in one piece. We later found out the day earlier their had been a crash and a rope rescue was needed. We got a T-shirt for our troubles. Then we had a delicious buffet lunch and went to a wildlife reserve. We went into the monkey area and had little monkeys prod at our legs. We then drove back up the dangerous road in the dark. For some reason our company pride themselves in being the only company that return via the same road, rather than the newer, much safer road.