We arrived in La Paz early after an overnight journey by coach. We were staying in the Sopocachi area near the cable car station. After breakfast at the hostel we got chatting to Ollie and Deniz and took a taxi to the Witches Market together. We wandered around the stalls which sold everything from llama jumpers to coca leaves.
We had lunch at a café, the little old lady owner said she'd make us big sandwiches to entice us to come in. When the sandwiches came we couldn't help but laugh, we ended up with two tiny slices of bread toasted on one side with a slice of cheese in the middle. We paid the bill and promptly moved to another café as we were all still hungry. While Deniz and I relaxed in the café Craig and Ollie popped to the tour office opposite and booked our Death Road tour for the following day.
Morning, we rushed out of the hostel to get to the meeting point about twenty minutes away. I hadn't a clue what to pack for a day cycling down 'the worlds most dangerous road' and was feeling quite nervous. We boarded the minibus and met our guide. After a stop to pick up more passengers and waterproofs we were on our way. We were given coveralls, helmets and pads to wear and then we arrived at the start of the cycle. First of all came the safety advice which was pretty basic, there were two rules; "don't be f*cking stupid" and "don't take f*cking selfies". The guides words not mine. We toasted to Pachamama with a bottle of liquid which was almost pure alcohol, a drop on the ground, a drop on the front tyre and a swig ourselves. The alcohol burned my throat and made everyone pull the most unattractive faces.
We started the ride, the ground was damp and the air slightly misty. The road was smooth tarmac which made riding a breeze. Craig started to get frustrated as we were at the back and the girls in front were going too slow for his liking, for me it was about the perfect speed. The rain came, drenched us then went away again and the scenery was very impressive despite the low clouds clinging to the landscape. We stopped just before a bridge and cycled along a small stretch of road that was all loose stones and gravel. We were told if you can handle this then you can do Death Road. I was a little bit apprehensive, my wheels seemed like they could easily slip on the rocks so I was slightly worried about the more challenging terrain yet to come.
We threw the bikes on the minibus roof and drove to the start of Death Road. The landscape was phenomenal. Steep tree covered cliff faces and a dirt track that wound its way through the landscape were what faced us. We started the ride, I stayed at the back to ease into it. Eventually I overtook someone and found myself on the road with no one else to be seen. I had the whole landscape to myself and it was glorious. The road surface was better than I'd predicted and I kept to a speed I was comfortable with. During the ride we went under waterfalls and dangled our legs over the cliff edge for photos, we rode through deep rivers where my shoes filled to the brim with cold water and I managed to get so far behind I didn't know which way to go. By the end my brakes were starting to give up and so was I. For a ride that is primarily downhill I was exhausted. Craig was in his element all day, he raced ahead and I barely saw him. At the end as I rode in I got a high five and was so relieved, I'd not come off, not veered off the edge and had survived! We ate a buffet lunch and then headed back, the journey home would be a few hours so our guide suggested we buy bottles of cuba libre and turn it into a party bus. We turned the music up and drank our cocktails, singing along and chatting. As the sun set some of us *cough* Craig *cough* started to feel a bit worse for wear. By the end of the journey I think we were all broken, I saw some things which still make me smile and cringe to this day. But, what happens on the party bus stays on the party bus.
The next day we decided to take a ride on the cable cars to see views of La Paz from above. The locals use the cable cars in the same way as the buses so the ride was very cheap, it's a normal way to commute for them. La Paz from above is a sea of red bricks, all the buildings look the same and the views stretched on for miles. Once on ground level we treated ourselves to dinner at the restaurant we went to with Ollie and Deniz, it was international food and therefore higher prices but was delicious.
The next few days were a blur. We both woke up feeling absolutely awful. My whole body ached and I couldn't work out what was wrong. La Paz is at high altitude and so we thought maybe that was the reason why we felt so bad. We'd been in high altitude places for a while but had perhaps over exerted ourselves while here and not allowed enough time to acclimatise. We spent a few days in bed only venturing out to go to the pharmacy. We didn't want to stay in our hostel any longer as despite being ill we were being woken by staff late at night to answer questions and couldn't sleep with all the noise of guests coming and going. We moved down the road to a lovely bright room but despite the nice surroundings Craig wasn't improving. I was getting stronger each day but after about four days Craig could barely keep consciousness. I had no idea what to do so I spoke in broken Spanish to the hostel manager. He advised me to take him by taxi to a nearby clinic, altitude sickness can be fatal in serious cases and I was worried sick. Earlier in the year Craig had been admitted to hospital twice with kidney stones and all those feelings of worry resurfaced. I guided him to the taxi which the lovely hostel manager had prepaid for us, he could barely walk. Once at the clinic he was in a hospital bed within minutes and hooked up to a drip and oxygen. After several hours in hospital his strength was returning. Somehow he'd developed a throat infection alongside altitude sickness so he was given antibiotics and soroche medication to take.
The following day we left La Paz and took a coach to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, we were at even higher altitude but it was the only way to move on with our trip and continue to Peru. Our plans of spending days island hopping on the colossal lake were dashed, neither of us were feeling well enough. We spent our two nights wandering very slowly, eating and watching films in our hotel room. It was a shame to end Bolivia in such a way but we can't dwell, we saw some amazing sights in our four weeks in the country.
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