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

 

Week 18: La Paz, Copacabana & Isla del Sol (Lake Titicacka ).Bolivia

The night bus from Cochabamaba to La Paz was amazing leather seats, recling chairs and most importantly a loo. I have started to dehydrate myself before all Bolivian buses because it really is torture and peeing into lunch boxes obviously isn’t something I want to make a habit of. Things started to decline fairly swiftly when I got my fairly routine  car sickness. The chap next to me was fast asleep so I didn’t want to wake him. After a few hours his Mam came over with fleece blankies to tuck him (he was my age v jel!) so this was my escape point. Luckily I just  made it to the loo on time where I was violently sick. When we eventually arrived  at La paz terminal I realized my laptop had been robbed. Obviously I had invested in a high tech one before my trip. I was raging with myself as usually I don’t leave the bag out of my sight. I’m almost 100% sure it was the chap next to me. I am just so lucky he didn’t take anything else. I had $1000 dollars right beside the laptop, my camera, phone and passport. I have been storing my money in a first aid kid lately because I lost my purse so maybe that saved me. Naturally I was upset initially because of loosing lots of photos but looking on the bright side at least I wasn’t attacked…I’d love to give the culprit a going over with my pepper spray!!!

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Museum Street, La Paz

Things started to get worse from this point on wards. When I arrived at the fabulous Hotel Rosario Una booked for us (she didn’t arrive until the following day). I could barely walk and was violently sick en route to the hotel. The fancy hotel staff didn’t really know how to react to me. I looked homeless, dirty, sick and my backpack was covered in muck post camping expedition.  It felt so strange to be in a hotel and the timing couldn’t have been better. I definitely wasn’t their typical clientele. I rang Ulster bank to try and unblock my card which has been out of action for almost 2 weeks. They started to ask me had I spend thousands of euro on washing machines, hoovers, flights to America, hotels and of course hundreds on pizza. The money situation was  not looking the healthiest at this stage. They think someone may have cloned my card so it was blocked immediately. A new one is being sent to Dublin so Brian will be on the case to try and get it sent over to Bolivia.

Later in the day for good measure my phone decided it also had enough also enough and packed it in (I can’t say I blame him). My screen gradually turned completely black (even though the phone is still working ‘perfectly’). I spent the afternoon guessing where my spotify app might be and when I eventually found it obviously landed onto my Christmas playlist so that was the afternoons agenda along with regular trips to the bathroom to be sick. Reliable google was telling me  my sickness was down to the altitude. La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world and you can definitely feel it. So laptopless, phoneless and moneyless all in the space of one day even for me I think that’s impressive.

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La Paz

Una’s visit couldn’t have come at a better time! The hotel breakfast was amazing and needless to say I got overwhelmed by the buffet element  and overdid it. This is  what happens when you’ve been severely slumming it for the last 4 months.

Una’s first day of holidays was spent on operation laptop. The thing in Bolivia they have themed streets so they have camping street, hairdresser street, stationary street etc…. You name it they have it. Electronic street is like a dodgier version of Moore street. It was hell trying to find a laptop. Most of the sales people would just play candy crush as you’d be asking questions. They also tried to insist that dell doesn’t have a model it’s just dell. One shop for the same laptop there was $400 in the difference. We abandoned ship that day and went back the next morning where I settled for a cheap model-less DELL.  When I got back to the hotel it said the laptop was completely out of storage despite not even using it. So all and all operation laptop a massive success.

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Car accessory street
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The best gal in all of La Paz
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She has been making Api (hot maize drink) and Pastel (cheese pastry) her whole life. This glass was on the house!

Later that day  we did a city walking tour of La Paz which was amazing. La Paz is one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. One of the interesting things is Mc Donald’s opened a couple of years ago and was forced to shut down because no one wanted it. The bolivians really value fresh quality food and virtually everything is bought from the cholitas (traditional women) on the streets. There’s are no supermarkets and more importantly no Starbucks (thank god).

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Amazing street finds in Bolivia

Another interesting fact is Bolivia’s is one of the few countries in the world with 2 different national flags (one for the indigenous people). We also visited the witches market where they sell all sorts of useful items like dead lamas, chalks, dried flowers and of course potions. The only way to become a witch is by getting struck by lightening. Only in Bolivia!  The amazing thing is people actually buy this stuff. One of the most interesting places in La Paz is San Pedro prison which is situated in one of the main plazas. It is the only prison in the world where there are no guards and the prisoners manage the prison it’s like a small village. In the past tourists could do tours of the prison with a prisoner guide. I can’t recommend the book ‘Marching Powder’ enough a true story of a British drug trafficker who spend 5 years in San Pedro prison and shares all the inside stories of this crazy place.

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The building on front is the presidents current house. The horrible building behind will be the presidents new house, costing the country a whooping $136 million

The tour finished in a party hostel in a sky bar with fab views of the city. We each got to make our own singani sour (Bolivian’s equivalent of the piso sour and equally delish).

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View of La Paz from the sky bar

Una was treated to dinner in Lanze market a real eye opener to Bolivia’s rustic cuisine. $1.50 for sopa de mani and the popular Milanese. Really splashing the boat.

One of the days we took a bus to Copacabana to see Lake Titicacka the worlds largest lake.  My stomach was still in ribbons from the altitude despite lashing the coca tea into me.  On Una’s  first Bolivian bus there was almost world war 3 as she had taken one of the senoritas seats.  A perfect introduction to the Bolivias’s transport system. After a rough but beautiful road we arrived into Copacabana and dinner was their famous fried trout ( a famous delicacy in Titicaka).

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$3 for a whole trout

We checked into our hotel at the top of the hill which was beautiful. During breakie we had the most amazing view of the lake, the lamas eating breakie and to top it off the cores were playing. Copacabana is a bit scrubby and not the nicest of places but a perfect stop over point to some of the surrounding Islands.

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View from breakie, Copacabana
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Una hanging out with the lamas
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Copacabana’s church
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Copacabana’s church

Una booked us into an eco lodge on Isla del Sol where we had our own little caban. We  took a two hour boat to get to the island. It was absolutely stunning. The only traffic system is donkeys. The lodge was a 45 minute trek across the island but the donkeys carried our luggage. We were treated to the most incredible views and the lodge itself is probably one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed in. It’s entirely run on solar energy and everything is biodegradable. We ate dinner and breakie here and both nights we had the most amazing trout dinners (probably some of the nicest food of the trip so far). Breakie was a different level and once again I got overwhelmed. There was amazing  cheeses and breads. I seized the opportunity to suss us out with sambos for lunch. It reminded me of the time me Sinead and Orla were in Greece and took robbing the buffet to a whole new level. Our daily challenge was making jumbo seized sambos at dinner. One night I got screwed by trying to wrap my sambo in the white linen table cloth! Never again! Anyway on this occasion Una’s influence made the operation more seamless.

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Lake Titicacka 
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Boats coming in and out of Isla del Sol
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Local crafts, Isla de Sol
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One of the main streets, Isla del Sol
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Views from our lodge, Isla del Sol
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The transport
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The walls here are made out of muck

It’s a shame you can’t visit the north of the island as of a year ago. There’s some archaeological site in the north where tourist paid to see . After a while the middle of the island got wind that there was money to be made and build a lodge also charging tourist to pass the route towards the north. Once the north heard about it they got dynamite and blew up the lodge. Since then both the centre and the north are completely closed off until they can solve their differences. Another interesting fact about Bolivia is you can legally buy dynamite! It’s such a shame and the locals depend so much on tourism for their livelihood so everyone is really a looser! We spend our days exploring Yumani (the south) there are amazing view points, eating trout, reading and soaking up the fresh air. A welcomed change from the chaos of La Paz.

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This little fella almost came home with us!

 

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Una looking fab

I couldn’t have asked for a better way of ending the roughest start to the week. La Paz is such an interesting place and so nice to see their unique culture still alive. Unfortunately, the altitude had me in ribbons and I was sick as a dog. Delira Una got off scot free we’re milling coca tee like there’s no tomorrow.  It’s so nice catching up with Una, god love here though she is having to foot the bill for absolutely until my finances get sorted.

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Me and Una, Isla del Sol

 

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One of the many hills on Isla del Sol