Week 19: La Paz, Death Road & Corrico. Bolivia

I still have to pinch myself when I wake up in huge double bed in a hotel. I haven’t gotten used to the luxury of it all and have no idea how I am going to back to my tent life.

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Streets of La Paz
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La Paz’s main plaza
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Even the clocks are different in La Paz

The week started off with me trying to convince Una to cycle death road which is one of the biggest attractions in La Paz. It used to be known as the words most dangerous road (a new road has since been constructed).  It is estimated that 200 to 300 drivers were killed yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks. Still, today about 9 tourists die per year doing the tour and its easy to see why. Una settled on going in the support van while the rest of us took to the bikes and in hindsight this was the best decision. It was comforting to know that there were a few others in the group also violently sick from the altitude. The bumpy bike ride definitely didn’t  help. You have to concentrate so hard not to fall off cliff that you forget about being sick.

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Kitted out in all the gear!
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4,800m high, La Cumbre
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Our group just before lift off!

You drive to the highest point at 4,800m where we all had breakie before setting off. Physcially it’s not too difficult *except for altitude sickness as it’s all basically free-falling down the mountain not an uphill in sight. I loved it from the minute we started. I kept wanting to go faster. I tried to stay to stay behind the guide so you wouldn’t get stuck behind a slowie. Una played a blinder on photo duty. Death road day happened to fall on mother’s day. World’s worst daughter dragging Una along valley de la muerte in a support vehicle. Being the saint that she is didn’t complain and seemed to enjoy herself.

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Beginning of death road
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The route

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One of the treacherous turns!
All was redeemed at the end of the day when we reached beautiful Coirico. We all had lunch and dip in the pool and soaked up the afternoon rays.  Everyone in the group was getting the mouldy bus back to La Paz that evening but myself and Una were booked into a beautiful ecolodge in the mountains for 4 days (Hostal Sol y Luna). How the other half live!Cycling valley de la meurte was spectacular I would do it again in a heart beat. A memorable day!

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Death Road survivors

My generous mother’s day gift to Una consisted of a $3 piece of trout and a cup of tea (don’t worry Mam you’ll get a double whammy pressie next year when I’m home).

The climate in Coirico is amazing for most of the year it remains about 20-25 degrees. It is a little jungle town set in mountains. Our little apartment was perfect and had a kitchen and the most amazing views of the valley. We were surrounded by banana, avocado, orange and lemon trees and beautiful exotic flowers. The wildlife was also amazing with regular appearances from the humming-bird. This is the perfect place to chill in a hammock or by the pool and do absolutely nothing which I am becoming quite good at.

 

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View from our apartment in Coirico
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More views from hostel Sol y Luna, Coirico
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Banana trees are absolutely everywhere

One of the mornings we to an animal rescue centre 8km outside the town. Sende Verde is an amazing organization that save animals from being sold on the black market especially monkeys. All of the staff are volunteers and all proceeds go back into the centre. The tour we did was top class and we saw some of the most amazing animals’ toucans, exotic birds, lots of monkeys, capibara and turtles. Some of the cases are quite sad there was one monkey who was paralysed because his mother was shot and her body fell on the baby monkey causing paralysis. The refugee is set in the heart of the jungle so the animals have lots of freedom. We were warned beforehand that the monkeys are extremely clever and lots of them had been previously trained on the black market to rob tourists so we were told to have nothing in our pockets. True to the guides word we were greeted by the most adorable monkey who took a shining to Una and essentially gave her a head massage for the duration of the tour. There was an extremely rude Italian girl in our group. She had a big face on her for the entire tour. At the end she starting going mad and complaining that the tour was in English not Spanish. To my secret satisfaction she realized at the end that the monkey had robbed one of her earrings that she had kept in her pocket!  She had booked to stay in the refugee but after seeing two spiders in her room refused and left the refugee in a huff.  Imagine seeing spiders in a jungle! Would you be well….

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Even the monkey wasn’t a fan of the Italiano
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He obviously had good  taste and loved Una
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Some of the beautiful animals in Sende Verde

We ended up bumping into the Italian later that night in a gorgeous little pizzeria run solo handed by the cutest bolivian woman. She is the chef, cleaner, manager and waitress and doing an excellent job. She even makes all of her own pasta from scratch (major brownie points in my book). I made the mistake of asking the Italian girl did she enjoy her pizza and she went off on a rant…. Needless to say she didn’t enjoy it and it wasn’t up to her Napoli pizza standards. Welcome to Bolivia you big moan bag. Me and Una on the other hand were delighted with our feed.

The next day we booked to go on a tour of a coffee plantation. This was absolutely amazing. Maurizio the guide took the two of us to his mates house who grows a few coffee plants and just makes coffee for himself and his family. The tour was in Spanish so I was on translation duty. He wanted to take to us through the whole process of making coffee from plant to cup. So me and Una picked our own coffee beans, skinned them, roasted the beans and more importantly spent the afternoon drinking the most delicious coffee. Bolivia also makes a special tea out of the skins of the coffee which is v fruity. Lunch was sourced from the garden. We had bananas, avocados (both freshly picked), a local bolivian fruit called tuna (this are everywhere and v v nice). The beans we roasted were packed up and given to us to take home. The coffee plantations in Bolivia are 100% natural and instead of using chemicals to protect the plants they plant trees/ fruit bushes and their branches and leaves are also used to protect the precious coffee bean. In this coffee plantation we also saw lots of coca plants which are seen all over Bolivia.

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Una at the coffee plantation
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Una picking coffee beans in Coirico

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Our hand picked beans!
En route back to Coirico we stopped off at one of the waterfalls which is set in the most stunning part of the valley. I was buzzing for the rest of the day I forgot how good coffee tasted and after 4 cups I was set for the day. I reluctantly drew the line after the 4th cup (Una after the 1st). It brought me back to that one time I drank 13 cups of coffee and 8 teas at a coffee festival in Dublin. The entry fee covered all you can drink; a dangerous concept. I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours and was nauseated by coffee for over 3 weeks. Never again!

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Me en route to the waterfalls in Coirico
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Una at the jugani waterfall, Coirico

 

We had a gorgeous dinner that night in the restaurant; Carla’s garden. For the first time I was feeling well enough to have some vino (having with drawl symptoms at this stage). I let my guard down when I almost let the waitress take away some delicious fresh Chorizo. Una suggested packing them up for the eggs in the am! So with chorizo and cheese stuffed into pockets we crawled home with happy heads and full bellies.

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Locals in Coiroico

I am now the proud owner of a phone with a microphone, screen and light. An early birthday pressie from Una. I splashed the boat and went with a Cherry (I’ve no doubt a trusted, reputable bolivian brand). Fingers crossed this phone makes it through the next few months without any lake, coffee or robbery incidents. We got the bus back from Coirico to La Paz. For our last night together we decided to splash out on a nice restaurant (well Una was splashing out).  We both agreed that Coroico was one of our favourite places it really was paradise. I had  been researching  this restaurant for weeks and before my card was blocked I had planned on treating myself and Una. Poor Una had to foot the bill once again. Gusto was voted as one of South America’s best restaurants and is owned by Copppenhagon native who owns Noma (world famous restaurant).  I  love eating in the local markets and on the streets but on this occasion I was dying for a bit of fancy.

So when we arrived to the chick restaurant it was hard to believe we were in La Paz any more.  Getting ready for our fancy outing I realized the fanciest pair of shoes I own are a pair of asics currently with holes in them and covered in mud. The only other alternative was Una’s new pair of chunky plastic flipflops. They  were the chosen ones on the night. A few glasses in and the chucky sandels were the least of our concerns.We had a choice of an 8 course tasting menu or a 20 course tasting menu (obviously we went for the 20) and I treated myself on Una’s behalf to the matching wines. We were 4 hours going through the meal and it was an incredible experience . The tasting menu was based around all of the local and traditional foods of Bolivia . Some of the exotic dishes we tasted was cow’s heart with peanut sauce which we cooked ourselves on a volcano rock, alligator with ginger/lime and melon and strawberry salad (also v good), marinated ants taco (this species of ant can only be caught in December and is extremely raw). My standout dishes were a quinoa salad (using 4 different types of quinoa), seared duck with roasted pineapple and citrus butter sauce with cocoa and the dessert of brunt white chocolate, locals fruits and a white chocolate ganache was amazing. The wine pairing was excellent and thankfully the waitress made a mistake so we got a free glass of bubbly. 3 cocktails were also included; one really unusual one was gin, carrot juice and bolivian equivalent to the herb mint (this was v fresh). There were all sorts of shots included at the end.  I loved every second of the experience.

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Enjoy the rest of your Bolivian trip Mam!

I hit the mam lottery with Una and she treated me like an absolute queen during our 2 weeks together. She came equipped with mitchem (worlds best deodorant),  knickers, socks, towels , sewing kit (to repair all my ripped clothes) and most importantly my favourite chocolate!!! A special thanks also to Fiona and Marian who sent chocolate over. I’ve already put a big a dent in the supplies. Una is joining a tour group to travel around the rest of Bolivia where she’ll see Sucre, Potosi and Uyuni. She’s then travelling to San Pedro in Chile and flying home from Buenes Aires in Argentina. Thanks Mam for coming to visit and for the endless amount of treats. The show must go on so back to the backpacking! I am dying to get out of La Paz and am praying the altitude in Peru is a little more forgiving on my stomach!

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Back on the road with Ro

 

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