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Riding High and Low in La Paz

Written on: Monday September 29th, 2008

A journal entry from: Trails in 2008

Things are noticeably poorer in Bolivia.  This is the poorest country in South America  but it shouldnīt be – it has a whole load of natural resources but corruption is rife, maybe the 200 changes in Government over the past 181 years explains it. 


La Paz has the feel of a real city and we like its authenticity, as well as the great markets which are for tourists and locals alike.  Weīve bumped into a few familiar faces at some of the gringo places– particularly an English pub where Al has been slipping away to early in the morning to watch the footy and get a fry up. 


Ladies in town hover over the gutter to pee, but they are dressed so fantastically, in high bowler hats, frilly skirts and pigtails down to their (fairly large) waists they can get away with anything.  Men on the streets sit behind sewing machines waiting to repair shoes, and boys in balaclavas crouch on every corner, looking like terrorists but armed only with a shoe shining kit (they apparently wear the masks because of the shame of the job).  Itīs a really hilly town, and at this high altitude a small uphill walk needs to be taken slowly to keep our hearts from jumping out of our chests.  

We were warned not to walk about at night, but after some beers at a kiwi owned microbrewery we were invincible... we even dared to get some street meat, from one of many vendors selling thin slices of steak, onion and chips all in a big white bun.  As we stood on the pavement munching away it took about 30 seconds to realise we were stood next to vendors selling porn DVDs playing on their portable tvīs, and glue sniffers enjoying the free show.  So we decided to take-away but it was a little reminder not to get too relaxed in South America.   


We mountain biked down "The worldīs most dangerous road" which was a great downhill from high altitude to nearly sea level – from freezing cold to tropical hot.  Itīs earned the title of most dangerous road because of the buses that career over the side with no possible survivors due to the sheer drop.  But our brakes were working well and with a new tar sealed road taking most of the public transport us bikers had this rocky road mostly to ourselves.  Made an interesting discovery though - weīre not covered by insurance for any walks over 3,000 metres - considering weīve been coming down the Andes most of the time we have hardly been under this height.  oops?.  But lucky we didnīt have to test the boundaries of the insurance and made it down in one piece – our guide told us tales about bikers who had died/been injured and how on each upcoming stretch, a great way to remind the testosterone fuelled Irish in our group to be careful.  


Stopped in an animal refuge at the end of the day, where all kinds of animals have been saved from markets in the city, for their meat or feathers.  The best were the monkeys trained as pickpockets.