La Paz, Bolivia

The march north took us on a flight to La Paz and El Alto, the latter being the highest city in the world (with a population over 100k).

The landing was fucking scary, at 4100m an aircraft has to travel considerably faster to stay airborne than at sea level. It means you hit the ground with a big bump and don’t slow down for ages.

Carrying a fully loaded travel pack at this altitude is exhausting. Happily we jumped on a collectivo which took us down the valley into Downtown La Paz. Our digs were at 3500masl, much more comfortable!

La Paz is set into a massive valley, so the only mass transit mechanism available is the cable car. It is still under construction, but it is state of the art.

It’s works out about 50% more expensive than the bus and doesn’t go everywhere, but given how gridlocked the city is it is a miles better option.

You can pick up a cable car tour of the city every day, it’s well worth the 50 bolivianos and is a good way of finding your feet in the city. Try to avoid the red line on Saturdays though, as the markets in El Alto are vast and VERY busy, you will queue for ages.

Food is crackers cheap, the usual South American set lunches are always on offer, our friends David and Kathy found a particularly awesome one called Popular. It’s rated as the number 1 restaurant in La Paz on trip advisor, and the accolade is well deserved. 40bob for a set lunch of 3 stunning courses (just over 4 quid!). You can’t book and it’s only open noon till 2.30 mon-thurs. Get there early to avoid disappointment.

The following day the four of us tackled death road via mountain bike. We selected gravity tours for this excursion as they have been doing it the longest, and have an excellent safety record.

Loons

Our faith was well placed, our guide was a chirpy kiwi called Tim who set about making sure that all of us understood that heavy front breaking was bad, distances between riders was important and to keep our eyes on the road and not the highly distracting iridescent butterflies (aka killer butterflies).

Ready for the off

The death road ride has two sections, tarmac and uphill. You start on the tarmac section at a place called La Cumbre. It’s about an hour out of La Paz and sits at 4700masl. So high that even going for a bio takes effort. You rapidly descend down some simply stunning valleys, we covered the 20 kilometres in an hour and a half.

Stunning views on the tarmac section

You then have the option of a short uphill section, sounds easy but you are still at 3300masl, I chose to sit on my ass and let the bus haul me + bike up!

Gulp

You then reach the death road proper. It’s hardly used by traffic these days as a new safer road has been built. It’s still lethal to the unwary though, some of the drops are over a kilometre straight down.

It was a long way down

When you get into the flow it ceases to be scary. It’s probably something to do with the total concentration you have to muster. When you are just watching your distance and the path in front, you tend to ignore the precipitous drop a meter to your left!

Group shot

Around four hours later you are down, and enjoying a nice cold one at an animal sanctuary at the bottom of the trail.

Best mates, too cute

I would say that the day ranked amongst the best yet on our travels, it was superb value for money and highly professional. If you get the chance to do it, just do it. It’s not as scary as the blurb makes out if you have a competent guide to warn you of all the upcoming hazards (use Gravity, seriously).

Onwards…to lake Titicaca!

Sucre, Bolivia

So it’s been a good few months since I posted. During that time we have covered New Zealand and Chile. I’m not going to go back over old ground as that is one of the reasons I’ve not posted, the to do pile just being far too large!

Perched at 2900 meters above sea level, Bolivia’s de facto capital provides a welcome drop in altitude if you are travelling north through the country (mostly 4000 masl prior to it). It has an abundance of Spanish language schools and some really nice bars and restaurants.

We chose to have 4 hours a day of Spanish lessons here, and can throughly recommend Open Spanish on Calle Potosi. 35 Bolivanos per hour per person when studying as a couple (about £3.50 each). The staff are super friendly, have a great sense of humour (necesario para mi!) and are very knowledgeable.

Food is bonkers cheap. A menu del dias lunch will set you back 25-40 Bolivianos for a 3-4 course meal (yes, £2.50 to £4!!). It’s really hard to actually cook your own meals for less. Take out beer is about 10 bob, while a pint in a bar might set you back 20 (£2).

Public transport is very budget friendly. A bus journey back from town will cost you 15 pence. A taxi might be as much as 50 pence. As always, agree the fare up front.

Australia- Blue Mountains

So 560 kilometres, passing countless roadkill and 8 hours later we arrived in Bulls camp reserve, a free campsite which is a gateway to the Blue Mountains. We had decided on a two night stay but needed to move to another site the following day as Bulls camp had a one night stay limit. The camp was clean, had a lot of people staying and even had a shower (cold). We settled in for the night and had a few glasses of vino and a rather decent curry prepared in the limited facilities of the camper.

Morning bought with it a short drive to Wentworth falls and a walk around them. It was spectacular.

Blue Mountains

There are several routes down to and past Wentworth falls that you can take. Some look pretty hair raising from a height perspective.

Wentworth falls

We opted for what turned out to be the cave walk. The path dropping under the precipice these last photos were taken from. I don’t think that the photos really convey the size of the area, or the height.

We ended up walking for a couple of hours before heading over to our second campsite in Katoomba.

We had seen (and heard!) the cockatoos all day but in our new campsite they were abundant, and quite tame.

In hindsight I would have liked to have had an extra day to explore, maybe taking a hike down into the rainforest below the falls. Alas we had to leave (becoming a common thing)

Next stop…Yass or somewhere nearby

Australia- Urunga

Our plan was to break the back of the journey to Melbourne in the first few days of our 9 day transfer. This would leave us free to stop at places longer if we found them more interesting. With that in mind we wanted to make it to the Blue Mountains outside Sydney asap.

So Urunga is a tiny speck of a town off the A1. It was marked as having a free rest stop so seemed like the ideal place to break the drive from Byron Bay to Sydney.

These free rest stops can be anything from a car park with a toilet to quite decent miniature campsite parks. This was the former, a car park under a rail bridge. What stood out with this place was the view….my word!

Not bad for free 🙂 the toilets were a bit on the “untidy” side but it was made up for by the location.

An early start was called for as we wanted to make it to the blue Mountains before sundown. Driving after sunset is really not advisable as the local wildlife are not very vehicle savvy and have a tendency to stand there and get run over. A fully grown Roo will make a bit of a mess of your bodywork…

Australia – Brisbane to Byron Bay.

We headed south again from Maryborough to Brisbane, where we traded our rental car in for a free (yes free!) campervan.

For those not in the know, a transfercar (www.transfercar.com.au) is where you agree to return a vehicle back to its original hire location after someone else has used it for a one way trip.

The Pom was pleased with his free wheels :)

The length of time you get the vehicle for is quite variable but we lucked out big time, and managed to get a hitop camper for 8 days for free (we paid $75 to extend by one day). All we had to do was get it from Brissy to Melbourne (well over 1000 miles). We have seen the same transfer down as low as 4 days, so be flexible and keep your eyes peeled if you want to try it.

Having already driven from Maryborough to Brissy in the morning and having to pick up and load the camper meant the drive to Byron Bay started later than I would have liked. We arrived at sunset, having skipped lunch, tired, annoyed at rush hour traffic, full of lurgy and without a reservation for a camp site. Really not ideal for bargain hunting or our mood! Tuna pasta and an early night it is then!

Byron Bay surfer

Morning brought with it plenty of sunshine and a much more positive attitude. We had a lot of driving ahead of us so didn’t linger too long, but did manage to get some exploring done for a few hours.

Onwards always onwards, next stop is a transit stop in Urunga. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of a funky chick..

Funky chicken

Australia- Maryborough

Around halfway along the drive back to Brisbane from Bundaberg is the small town of Maryborough. We were planning to stop for a few nights and take a tour of Fraser Island from here. The dreaded lurgy got in the way of those plans, with us both falling victim to a nasty cold as soon as we arrived (probably picked up on the flight form Singapore).

There isn’t a lot to say about Maryborough really. It’s a got some quirky old style buildings in the town centre and it acts as one of the places to launch your Fraser Island expeditions, alas it was not to be 😦

Next up….Byron Bay via Brissy

Australia – Bundaberg & Lady Musgrave Island

Bundaberg was an unplanned stop for us. We originally wanted to visit Lady Musgrave Island from a place called Agnes Water, we even had accommodation booked there. The day before we were due to leave we got a call from the tour company saying that the tides from Agnes water were preventing sailing from there for a few days, and suggesting that we go from Bundaberg instead. Some frantic searching on Airbnb followed. We struck gold and found a really good replacement 🙂

The drive up to Bundaberg from Brissy is nearly 400km and takes up most of the day. We stopped at a place called Gympie (yes, pronounced that way!) for a lunch break, arriving in Bundaberg late afternoon.

First impression of the town is that it is has hardly any tall buildings and that it was a lot bigger than expected. I guess outside the major population centres that space really isn’t a problem, so there is no need to build high.

Burnett heads coastline

We were actually staying in a small village outside town called Burnett heads. It is very quiet, close to the ocean and a stones throw from our departure point to Lady Musgrave Island. It’s highly recommended if you are just up here for the tour. Our Airbnb hosts Gabby and Ian were lovely, and the house was immaculate, well equipped and clearly had a lot of love thrown into it.

Burnett heads coastline

Our tour was not until the Saturday, so we had a full day to chill out around the amazing house, use the pool and go for a walk up the coast. One thing I would watch out for is the Mosquitos. They are huge, bite day and night and will itch like mad if you get bitten.

Onto the main event…literally.

Main event

It was an early and grey start to jump on the boat to Lady Musgrave. It’s around 90km offshore and took just over 2 hours to reach. There isn’t a lot to see en-route, except the odd dolphin pod and if you are really lucky, Humpbacks.

Lady Musgrave

Lady Musgrave pops up out of the horizon quite late into the journey because it really isn’t very high. The waters are unbelievably clear and shallow. We transferred to the island itself on a glass bottomed boat.

Glass bottomed tender to Main Event

Being a coral island it has a unique ecosystem. Here the trees provide valuable nesting space to the Noddy Terns that swarm the island, there are no predators here so the birds have no fear of people and will happily let you stand next to their nests while they sit there.

Noddy terns nesting

The nutrient cycle is brutal. The island has no topsoil so to fertilise the soil the trees produce sticky seeds, which unfortunate terns get caught up in. When they can no longer fly they die of starvation , their nutrients being returned to the soil for the trees to absorb. Yummy!

Lady Musgrave eastern beach

After a walk around the island, we got transported back to Main Event for a spot of lunch and some snorkelling.

Some still surviving Bleached coral :(Zebra fish (I think)

The coral is quite badly bleached here now, but small pockets remain intact, and there are still a lot of fish to see. If you are lucky you can see some turtles, they can move with surprisingly speed when startled.

Overall, a grand day out. For what you get it’s also pretty good value.

On the way back to the house we also clocked our first Roo 🙂

Next stop…Maryborough

More mature. Apparently.