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