Another bus journey – another country, and a city even higher this time. La Paz is the highest ‘administrative’ capital in the world, sitting at an impressive 3,600M. This is where our ‘social media experiment’ was due to start. Our family had been selected by a Facebook group – ‘Our Tribe Travels’ to have our travels plans dictated by input and knowledge from the community. Options of what to do, places to visit, experiences to try, foods to sample would be suggested by the community and then voted on.
Exploring La Paz
We soon set about exploring what La Paz had to offer. My attempt at a run to check out the neighbourhood was futile, and I lasted about 300 metres before the altitude and hills had me doubled over gasping for air; run aborted! The ‘Teleferico’ is a modern feat of genius. An eight line cable car system covering about 33km over the city to take the strain off the shoddy dangerous local transport system, and make life considerably easier for the city’s inhabitants. It was clean, efficient, cheap, and offered the most magnificent views of all four corners of the city. We spent hours, just hopping from one line to another enjoying the sun and the vistas.
An evening at the ‘Cholitas wrestling’ was very bizarre. It was like Peru’s answer to WWF wrestling but the ‘performers’ were indigenous Bolivian women in traditional dress. It was completely staged and got a bit lively when the fighters occasionally extended their theatrics to outside of the ring sometimes enlisting the odd spectator for back up. Despite it’s seemingly silly nature, the history behind the sport dates back to 2006 when indigenous Peruvian’s were given equal rights, and this sport was a form of empowerment.
Ever since a friend of mine rode down the sinisterly named “Death Road’ years ago, it has been on my biking bucket list. Becky kindly fielded the kids for day and booked me on a tour to go and ride it. It was 50km’s of downhill fun; not too technical, especially compared to the courses we are blessed with in Cape Town. The road down was very narrow and there was a sheer drop to one side; any wrong turn would lead to a meeting with the big guy upstairs. I did have a twitchy moment when my back tyre blew, but I was able to steady the bike. The scenery was outstanding and it was a privilege to have ridden such a famous road.
A long overnight bus journey was to supposed to take us to Uyuni, the gateway to the famous Bolivian salt flats. About 8kms out, our bus pulled over, and we were informed that due to a problem on the road the bus could go no further. We’d have to walk about 10 minutes and would be met by our respective tour companies. It was all a bit vague, and there were passengers that didn’t even have onward tours arranged. It transpired that there was a protest from taxi drivers with regard to proposed measures by the local council to implement a bus service which would jeopardise their livelihoods.
We donned our backpacks and started to walk along the road, where we could see the town of Uyuni quite far in the distance. Only one representative from the bus company accompanied us – a newbie who had only worked for them for 2 weeks and had limited English- and this poor bloke received the ire of the passengers. The taxi drivers had placed rocks and tyres in the middle of the road at various point to prevent vehicles either entering or leaving the town. From this, it was evident that no one would be coming to pick us up and we had to walk the full 8 km’s to get to town. After a night on a bus, and not having had any breakfast, this wasn’t the news that Tiana and Rico needed to hear! Two hours later we finally got to the fringe of town, past the last blockade where a representative from our tour company hurried us onto their vehicle as we were 2 hours behind schedule.
We were in one of the two 4×4 vehicles, and spent two days driving through the salt pans and desert before our end destination in Chile. Within an hour we were cruising along the magnificent salt flats; brilliant white as far the eye could see; a vast expanse of nothing but whiteness. The salt flats really should be made one of the natural wonders of the world. In the middle of this was ‘Fish Island’ a rocky outcrop full of huge cacti, and a climb to the top accentuated the beauty of the vista.
The drive was mesmerising; first the glare of the salt pans and then the changing scenery, beautiful desert punctuated by little pockets of majestic trees and rocks. Wild foxes and the bizarre ‘viscachas’ – a cross between a rabbit and squirrel, inhabited these areas. Our first night’s accommodation was quite unique – a hotel built from salt bricks, which of course Tiana had to lick!
There were a good crowd of people on the tour with us – all young backpackers, and I foolishly tried to go toe to toe with a group of young Canadians lads. They cajoled me into a Rum, Pisco and card session, which drifted into the early hours. A few hours later we had to be up and out, visiting some natural geysers and hot springs. I was broken, and naturally my partners in crime, 20 odd years younger than me, were like spring lambs; lesson learnt! The day was long, but became even longer when we got to the Chilean border. Weather conditions were bleak; sub zero temperatures and slight snowfall.
A one mile road separated the exit border in Bolivia to the entry border on the Chilean side. The latter deemed that the road may not be fit for vehicles to pass through and come to pick us up, and they deliberated this for 5 hours. During this time, we sat freezing in the truck, no food, and no access to a bathroom. The previous night’s merriment were weighing on me, but I had to deal with the consequences of my actions. Finally a vehicle was seen approaching in the distance and was met with a wave of relief from everyone. There was still a pretty strict search to go through at the Chilean border, but the immigration guards were in a festive mood as it was the opening day of the ‘ Copa de America’ football tournament, and they taught us the Chilean football chant before letting us go through.