Saturday, 14 August 2010

The capital of Bolivia - Sucre, no, La Paz, no Sucre....


Today is a hangover day so here´s another post for you. It see
ms at last the altitude is getting to us, an overactive day yesterday (mountain biking down the "World´s most dangerous road") followed by a big night out has hit us pretty hard, didn´t get in til half 5 in the morning... Lack of oxygen at altitude, an exhausting day and the fact that Bolivians don´t really measure their drinks, they just pour in however much they feel like = the worst hangover so far on the trip. We are staying at ´Wild Rover´in La Paz, a bit of a party hostel, so to cater for such things they do a proper fry up and serve ACTUAL tea (PG Tips!!!). I still feel like crap but it helped a little.

There´s still no movement on the road blocks around Salar de Uyuni and Potosi so we´re staying in La Paz where we´ll fly to Rurrenabaque for some Jungle and Pampas tours. Hopefully things will have blown over by the the time we´re back so we can go to the Salt flats. It seems like the best option as we´ve heard stories of other tourists getting trapped in Potosi and Uyuni where the locals have planted dynamite on the connecting roads and airport runway! Screw that. According to Wikipedia...

"La Paz is the highest (administrative) capital city in the world.(Although it is not the formal capital like Sucre. Calling La Paz the capital of Bolivia is like saying New York City is the capital of the USA.) , La Paz is home to the world's highest Golf Course, Football Stadium, Velodrome (where the world record currently stands), and landing strip."

... Bolivians in La Paz say that they live in the capital and in Sucre they say the same. Sucre was a lot prettier and cleaner than La Paz and seemed a lot more like the capital but La Paz is still a breathtaking city. It´s 3,600 metres above sea level, way up in the mountains, and you can feel how thin the air is - every time you try to run or walk up the steep hills (which are everywhere) you are nearly winded and have to stop and catch your breath. It seems a ridiculous place to build a capital city but this is Bolivia we are talking about.

La Paz, high rises to basic brick huts, most of them perched precariously on the edge of the mountains. In the background is Mount Illampu.

We didn´t realise but altitude sickne
ss can actually be very serious and cause brain damage or death so we have to take it a bit easy, unlike yesterday...
There is only one effective way to help you stay well up here, Coca. You can chew it, but it´s pretty horrible tasting and you basically have to keep a ball of dirty leaves in your mouth for 45 minutes to an hour until your cheek starts to go a little bit numb, and then add either plant ash(!) or bicarbonate of soda to release the alkaloids that give the effect (which is very mild anyway). Not very pleasant. Coca tea is a lot easier to stomach, although isn´t nearly as effective. We have managed to find "Coca Elixir" which is just as disgusting tasting as chewing but you only need to keep it in your mouth for a few seconds.

Coca tea

We had a relaxing week or so in Sucre, we mostly trawled the markets and artisan shops for Alpaca wool clothes and ate really nice food. For JC´s birthday we went to a posh
restaurant and paid 4 quid for the tastiest steak I´ve ever eaten, in a red wine and mushroom sauce. Bloody lovely. On 6th August it was Bolivia´s independence day and the whole of Sucre seemed to be in the parade around the town. We got to see it from the balcony of the posh restaurant which was even better! All the buildings in Sucre are painted white, the flowers in the city are all pristine, and the whole place is generally very clean, unlike La Paz.

Local man looking across the small Plaza
Local man in one of the smaller Plazas

The streets of Sucre
The streets of Sucre

Independence parade at night
Independence parade

On the edge of Sucre there´s a fault line where a huge slab of fossilised mud with dinosaur footprints all over it has been pushed up so it´s almost vertical. Sounds amazing but actually it was a bit disappointing. Rather than build a nice walkway up close to the footprints and have the dinosaur park next to it, the local concrete company has a massive factory, and quarry all around it, and they´ve built a gravel road between the park and the footprints so you can barely see them! Typical Bolivia!!!!

A good illustration of Bolivia´s disregard for archaeology
The Dinosaur park with the concrete factory in the background

As close as you can get to the footprints without trespassing on the cement factory´s land!
As close as you can get to the footprints without trespassing!

We left Sucre 5 days ago and took another toilet-less night bus to La Paz. This was probably the sketchiest journey so far. We don´t have pictures to show it, but basically after a couple of hours the tarmac road disappears and the road turns into a far-too-narrow, dirt road with shear drops on one side and pot holes everywhere. We spent most of the 15 hour journey on that road. It was bloody scary, and made even scarier by reading an article a few hours before with the the following snippets of horrifying info...

In January 2010 there were 72 deaths and 196 injured in Bolivian bus accidents during that month alone. A lot of these are due to drunk bus drivers. Bus drivers on the night buses will often start out drunk and continue to drink through the night (this is bad enough as it is but then throw in dirt roads with a couple of hundred metres of sheer drop next to it...). To top it off when the government wanted to introduce laws to make drunk bus driving illegal there were national protests! WTF?!

We saw a poster at the bus station with a photo of a crashed bus all mangled after it fell off the side of the road, then we had to get on the bloody thing and hope we would make it alive! Luckily we had a good driver and I made a point of checking whether I could see a bottle next to him. He did, it was a plain white bottle with "Alcool" written on the side... but it later turned out to be de-icer. I wouldn´t be surprised if some Bolivians drank that stuff though.

After not dying by falling from a great height we decided to mountain bike down the "World´s most dangerous road". A name well deserved, but applies more to cars than bikes. In most places it´s just wide enough for one car to pass with it´s wheels almost hanging over the edge. I don´t have a statistic for the number of deaths there but every 20 metres or so there was a cross at the side of the road.

We survived, including the drive back up in van and it was a really cool ride. 4 hours of down hill as fast as we dared pedal, a metre away from mental sheer drops, awesome.

Fia ready to go. It was bloody freezing at the top (4,800 metres above sea level) and at one point it was snowing. You start in the clouds basically.

Me at the edge, that´s a rain-forest below

The road...

...and again.

La Paz is a pretty surreal city, we´ve fed the pigeons and spent a couple of half days wandering through the "witches market" where you can buy anything and everything, from clay Condors to fossilised trilobytes, llama hoodies to woollen gimp mask style hats (I have bought all of these things, the Bolivians are good sales people)! And for good luck... shriveled, smelly Llama foetuses, which apparently get buried under the doorstep of a new house for good luck.

Llama foetuses

Pigeons in the main plaza

We have a couple of days left in La Paz and then it´s off to Rurrenabaque in the Amazon basin where we get to swim with Pink river dolphins (and piranhas and Caimans!!!), go animal spotting, piranha fishing and lots of other cool stuff. AND we are going to fly this time, which we hope is a little safer!

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