In this journal…
I bike down the most dangerous road
2 locals engage in a brawl
I take a selfie with a 50-year-old cholita
This is part of the 7 Continents Plan 2016.
Prologue: the Voyage South
To finish all 7 continents, I had to go to Antarctica, the forbidden continent, so far south that some maps even forget to include it. Though I had been to Panama and Colombia in March, technically covering my South America portion of the mission, I wanted to have a more thorough exploration in South America for the year; additionally, South America is the only place that I could depart in order to reach the frozen continent. So, South America it is!
I decided to fly into La Paz, Bolivia, since I had always wanted to visit the holy Salar de Uyuni, and after Uyuni visit, I will continue down to cross the border into Argentina. I bus down the famous Quebrada de Humahuaca and eventually reach the highland capital Salta. From there, a flight takes me to the iconic Iguazu Falls, and another plane shuttles me to the southern Paris, namely Buenos Aires. I take a short detour to Uruguay, covering both the capital Montevideo and Punta del Este. I fly from BA to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, and depart for the epic journey in the Southern Ocean.
my trip in map form
in this part, you will see my travels through La Paz region
In Antarctica I will cover Falkland Islands/Malvinas, South Georgia Islands, South Orkneys and of course, the continent itself, in the epic 20-day sail. Eventually I return to Ushuaia, cross the border into Chilean Patagonia, and venture into the famous Torres del Paine National Park. Another flight brings me to the capital, Santiago, where my trip ends. As the same as the last longhaul journey, this post will have a grand directory to shuttle you around easily, so keep this page handy.
for the Voyage South
<— last in 7 Continents Plan: Round’aWorld 2016
next in 7 Continents Plan: ThaiMar 2016 —>
1 US dollar = 7 Bolivian Boliviano
= 0.8 Falkland Pound
= 16 Argentine Peso (18 on black market)
= 650 Chilean Peso
power trip begin!
I departed Los Angeles just 4 days after I came back from Osaka, barely enough time for me to organize about 1% of my photos, and sleep for 90 hours non-stop. All other students had begun their new school year, yet I declared non-attendance and was ready to embark on some real learning in the real world. Before I realized this grand journey towards south had begun, I was already sitting right in front of my plane to Charlotte at the gate.
good morning, Los Angeles!
I was not technically ready to embark on such a long journey yet. Before I barely could wrap my head around the fact that next time I come back to Los Angeles, I will be another 2 months older, and become a person who have officially been to the frozen continent. However, I found a person’s sitting posture in the airplane to be even more perplexing. He/She was sitting with legs straight up into the sky, what?!
How do you even do that??
The plane ride to Charlotte was eventless, except that the pilot kept announcing the flight as a US Airways flight, even though American Airlines had taken over for almost 1 year now. It is funny how these former US Airways planes and crew get second-class citizen treatment, as the plane was simply old and awful, and the crew was completely unchanged. Upon arrival in Charlotte, I found the best thing a VIP lounge could offer. It was not wine, champagne, lobster buffet, or SPA, it is a guacamole stand.
oh fuck yeah
After shoving twenty packs of nachos down with my guacamole, I had to board my flight to Miami, which connected with my flight down to La Paz, Bolivia. I did not get too much sleep on the flight, as it was incredibly cramped in the old 767. Before the first light had dawned Bolivia, I was approaching the city already.
here I come, Bolivia
The immigration was non-existent, since everyone except US nationals did not need a visa. The air was thin and cold, as La Paz is the highest capital in the world, sitting at 3640m/11940ft above sea level. I could barely feel air being pumped out of my lungs. I got out of the airport while the first light was just casted onto the barren highlands of El Alto, the town where the airport is located. I took a taxi and arrived at my hostel. I was warmly welcomed with a breakfast with of course, the iconic coca tea.
no time to waste, let’s do some cocaine in tea form!
I quickly figured out what I should do for the day. A few other fellow travelers were heading to a free city tour, and altitude sickness had never bothered me ever since my Nepal and Kilimanjaro days, so I gladly tagged on. However, I have heard others being sent to the hospital after playing tough. Altitude is not something to mess around. The meeting place was in front of the notorious San Pedro Prison. If you have not heard of it, oh boy prepare for an eye-opener.
front gate of San Pedro prison
When I tell you this ain’t your normal prison, I am more than understating, just like me saying I am slightly upset that I am still single. This barely qualifies even as a holding facility: because there are virtually no control at the gates. You can go in and out at will, as long as you are not an inmate and you pay up 400 Bolivianos/55 USD. This drives the main industry inside: tourism. The inmates form a giant, coherent society here, along with a functioning economy. You do not own a cell; in fact, you have to rent one, and the best cell costs up to 5000 USD a month! (suck it Downtown NYC!) Inmates are allowed to have wife and kids going in and out, and to live with them. The inmates mostly have jobs, and since this is amongst the lawless, there are jobs highly specialized for the occasion. There are bodyguards for the tourists, messengers if anyone wants to deliver something to anyone inside, and tour guides to take curious (stupid) white gringos around. There are grocery stores, electronic shops, barber shops, carpenters, blacksmiths, a hospital, two nurseries, and many other functional pieces of a small town. Inmates elect a leader for each area inside the jail, and the leaders, and I quote wikipedia, “enforce the laws of the community, commonly through stabbing.”
for some strange reason, people here perceive Chinese food as fried chicken
And it is not common to hear tourists brave enough to venture into it get into trouble. Let’s not say the second biggest industry inside the walls is actually cocaine manufacturing, the security itself is quite a bit of a problem. It is not uncommon to hear some guy got stabbed, robbed, or some gringa white girl got gang raped, and since these took place in a lawless jail, everyone got away with that. However, this does not stop the tourists from coughing up stacks to come in. All this hype comes from two books by actual foreigners who had served sentences inside the walls, and those mythical tales kept drawing silly tourists thinking they are brave enough to get around without a word of Spanish, like Marco Polo’s stories kept luring adventurers into death traps. The prison guards only was responsible for keeping the inmates in, but all others could go in and out with ease.
Next stop for me was another notorious place called Mercado de Hechiceria, aka the Witches’ Market. It was more touristified nowadays, but back in the days, this was the place you go for your monthly Andes “herbal treatment”. Much like the “healthy lifestyle” thing going on in the western world, people came here to get some rather unusual items used for specific rituals, and one of the ingredients needed for the ritual of constructing a new building is, uh, a bit, more unusual than others.
dried baby llama fetus
Among these slightly cute nightmare fuel were also regular herbs, dried birds, colored candies for other rituals, etc. So next time your “lifestyle” friend asks you about your opinion of quinoa and the culture behind it, you can gladly ask her about her baby llama fetus drying process.
facade of Iglesia de San Francisco
The next stop was the center of the city, in front of a church called San Francisco. This was a restored religious complex where the Revolution of 1809 took place, which basically liberated Bolivia from colonial control. The building itself was nothing much to brag about, as the carvings were not as intricate as some would expect, especially compared to similar structures in Chile or Mexico. In front of it was the Plaza Major, the main artery of the city passes through here, carrying a lot of buzz.
Right beside the plaza was the main market of this city. La Paz is the capital of street markets in the world, hands down. There are specific markets that pop up at specific time at specific days in specific areas around the city, and these markets are so integral to the society here that a specific type of people called chulita have been linked to this culture, which I will talk about extensively later.
Inside the main market, you can get almost all kinds of local food for cheap, so I of course asked the locals what to try for my very first meal here in Bolivia. What they told me was a strange kind of chicken avocado sandwich. I was suspicious about that at first, but after a bite, I was convinced this was the best thing that could happen to me on that day unless Jesus himself descends from the heavens and personally blesses my left butt cheek.
chicken avocado sandwich
What meal would be complete without a proper dessert? The sandwich cost me only 3 dollars, so the budget was not an issue. Tossing all the diets aside, I got myself likely the best local dessert I could find. It was a large fruit salad topped with a perfectly spherical ball of ice cream and waffles. Who says a sad lonely single grown man cannot enjoy his life once in a while?
After lunch, the tour ended with a toast in a local bar, traditional Andes style. I was not ready for it to be over yet, however, and I immediately signed up for the afternoon trip, departing within minutes. It would take me to the famous satellite town El Alto (where the airport is), a shanty town still clinging to the last gash of earth on the 4000m plateau. A common way to reach El Alto is through the telefrico tram car, which is the common public transport strategy employed by mountainous highland cities like Bogota and Medellin. The tram station is right by the cemetery, which we had to take a trufi, a kind of shared van service with a certain fixed route, since there are no official buses in the city. I sat down, and a chulita came in, and sat right beside me.
(translated from Spanish)”Hey, do you want to take a selfie?” I asked her.
“What is a selfie?”
“Just look into my phone!”
After the camwhoring, we talked about our families. It turned out that she had 5 children, and a loving husband. He loved travelling around when she had time, even though she meant going to nearby towns, not in my sense of “traveling around”. 😉 I waved her goodbye as she got off, and we continued to the cemetery.
La Paz public cemetery
This is a rather peculiar graveyard. First thing I noticed was huge amounts of art in the place, mostly with socio-political stances. Second was that there were paper stuck on people’s graveyards. It turned out that the sons and daughters of the deceased have to pay yearly rent in order to keep their parents in their place. However, there is a tradition here that you have to do this for 5 years, and after that, the dead go to the heavens, so it does not matter any more. Thus, you see people stopped paying rent, and “eviction notices” adhered to the graves.
a scathing drawing of the broken medical system
We crossed the cemetery and reached the telefrico station. Similar to the ones in Colombia, these newly built trams are economically viable to most Bolivians, costing only 2 Bolivianos. The land is not a place for metro rides, so this is the only approachable form of public transportation.
telefrico station Cemeterio
The ride up was spectacular, as the ride forces you up the highland plateau out of the city valley. In La Paz, the higher you go, the poorer the area goes, just like Medellin. I looked outside, seeing the beautiful Illimani mountain covered with snow in the back. The buildings all appeared paintless outside because the houses are considered “in progress” if you never finish its paint job, so you do not have to pay property tax.
riding into the heavens
We hopped off the telefrico with heavy breathing, and found ourselves in a local market. This one was not touristy at all, and we could find all kinds of hardcore witchcraft items here. These are the shops that real witches come to shop, so it is better to ask the shop owners if it is okay to take pictures.
a witch’s shop
a collection of materials for a specific ritual to find love (I guess?)
I was told this above formula can guarantee me a girlfriend in one year, so I gladly bought one and asked the witch how do I use it. I am not going to spell out the details because I still want it to work, even though I am not usually into this kind of things.
more dried baby llamas, isn’t this just a delightful day?
However, for more complex tasks, you will need more than just a handful of strange items to help you out. You will need to go to a witchdoctor’s, which is different from the witches. It is like in the old times, going to the post office for an envelope, and then you need to actually go to a letter writer to help you compose the letter. Here it is the same: you buy up your things needed to perform a craft at the market, and then go to the witchdoctors for the ritual. There is a special street in El Alto just for these people, and the competition seemed to be fierce. They all lined up together, and can read your future with coca leaves, sacrifice live guinea pigs for you, and a long list of neat things. Locals are said to come once a month or so to keep up with the ritual spree.
The fire places in front of each hut was supposed to be burning specific herbs and items for the gods. Unlike grilled sandwiches, Andean mythology has never been my strong suit, so that is as far as I can explain. The tour ended here, and I wandered around the place a bit before heading back down to downtown La Paz: I had something very special planned for the night.
I got myself a front seat for a fight amongst chulitas. Finally it is time to explain who they are. Bolivians are a hard and steadfast people, and men usually had to work construction, driving or other demanding jobs in the city. At the end it is up to the girls, more specifically, the chulitas, to pick up their homestead and deal with everything on the site. Part of the job involves getting the harvest to the market, and of course selling them. That is why you almost exclusively see only chulitas tending the stalls in the markets.
a cute welcome
Regarding aesthetics, these girls have very different views. First thing they value is a big body, like, enormous. The bigger your skeleton is, the better. Also the traditional Andean outfit has to go with an English bowler hat. Legends have it that the English colonists brought their hats over here, and some chulitas just really dug it, and it quickly spread out like some kind of 19th century fashion trend.
full on brawling
When a guy is really interested in a chulita, he would approach her in her homestead. Then if the girl is interested as well, she would show him her very own… nope, not the part you are thinking about, nope, not that either… she would show the bloke her calf! Yes, because they think the true strength of a women can be easily detected through the size of her calf. Interesting, right?
They value children like me value my hamburgers: the more the merrier. It is quite common to hear that the chulita at that stall beside your place has 10 children. They also like to gossip, since there was nothing better to do when tending a bag of dried potatoes. Thus if you tell your story to your favorite chulita, it will be known throughout the town by sundown. Oh another fun fact, if they wear their elegant English bowler hat sideways, that means the chulita is single, and is ready to flamingo~! 😉 So if you are an avid reader, you now know why I appear to wear my hats sideways in a lot of photos.
another set of chulitas ready for fighting
oh mai gah…
The fights were just normally choreographed as many of the other forms of martial performance. It was just a show at the end. It was the idea that these women are known for their strength that made this show so spectacular. Before I got back to my hostel, I took a quick selfie with the fighters, who seemed to be ready to take on one more fight on the markets tomorrow.
now that is my idea of girl power!
I slept like a pig who just had way too much food for the 3rd late night snack. Altitude, fatigue, jet lag all crashed into one night, and never again would I do that. I woke up with a slight headache (probably from that alcohol at the fighting place) and nothing else to do, so I decided to go to the famous ruins outside town called Tiwanaku.
a local lunch
I took a trufi to the cemetery, and had my lunch there before I left. The meal cost less than 3 dollars, and I was genuinely shocked by how good this soup was. You get two little tags, one for the appetizer and one for the main course. When you are ready, just give it to the waiter and he will tell you what is available. I was too tired to wait for a bus to Tiwanaku, and hired a private van to take me there. Strong US dollar makes everything in Bolivia so, so cheap, and even a broke backpacker like me can still splurge.
this car is carrying something bigger than itself!
On the way to Tiwanaku, we had to cross many valleys and hilltops, which made the view incredibly spectacular. With the extremely tall snow-covered peaks lurking in the back, the entire journey felt like one for not only your body, but your soul as well.
on the road
We passed by a small town called Laja, and in the center stood a typical colonial church made from local rocks. The cross under the lazy sun and the blue sky dotted with whimsically fluffy clouds felt like a dream.
Before I could fully enjoy the journey, the van pulled into the Tiwanaku ruins. It was quite large, and as I explore the compound, I will try my best to explain its backgrounds.
Tiwanaku train station
The entire place sits at 3870m/12700ft above sea level, and was the capital of the pre-Inca Tiwanaku empire. The archeological finds were scarce as there were many lootings, and it was estimated that the empire hit its peak around 300BC to 300AD. The people worshipped sun, spoke Puquina language but lacked written languages.
ruined religious compounds
a totem to the northeast
They also seemed to have a shaman as the religious leader. These people consider the shaman a connector to the gods, and puma one of the most important religious animals. The empire itself was very much for debate, though. Some believed it was a fully functional empire with military, diplomacy and governing power. Some scholars thought it was just a country on the back of the llamas, as a country loosely organized by a few trade routes and a common religion.
These people also seemed be stuck in Bronze Age, without much yielding power of advanced alloys. However, they were superb craftsmen when it comes to clay and stone, especially totems. In one of the museums, which I unfortunately could not take pictures in, the tallest totem was well over 4 stories tall with exceptionally intricate carvings, from head to toe.
the sun gate
There was also a sun gate and moon gate, in the same line as Inca culture. Another set of skeletons was found nearby, and was dated to be well over 13000 years old, which astonished many scientists. That must be from another empire in another period, but nobody knows what it was.
the barren highlands
Another mystery lies in the stones used in the entire area. As you can see, some of the religious compounds took hundreds of tons of rocks, forming them into a man made hill. What was particularly peculiar was the fact that all these rocks are not native to the area, and needed to be transported from hundreds of miles away. Why did they do that? How did they do that? Nobody knows.
another archeological site
I wandered back to the north side of the compound after finishing my visit, and approached the little town with the same name as the ruins. On this lazy Friday afternoon, nothing much seemed to be happening, and the highland gust wisped up piles of dust collected in little corners. Lots of stray dogs barked into the sky, while a big moon was dangling on the sides of brownish-yellow hills.
streets in Tiwanaku
I walked around while I was waiting for the trufi to show up. It was especially quiet, with just my footsteps clicking on the uneven bricks that appeared to be breaking apart. The center lied a small chapel, with its bell still swinging from side to side, making the squeaky sound only rusty doors would make. A van finally arrived in the town square, and I rushed into it, as if one of the older gentlemen sitting under the sun was gonna take my spot.
I got back early enough to take a walk around the area where I was dropped off. I walked a few blocks and the sky turned pitch black before I realized. I do not find myself in this situation often, but I actually was so damn lost. The mountainous terrain made streets look closer than what they actually were, and I had no idea which area I was in. I walked into a tiny restaurant slightly protruding into the sidewalk, and ordered myself a dinner: food always goes first.
It is some kind of grill steak and chicken combo meal, costing me 20 Bolivianos/3 dollars. I asked the shop owner which trufi to take, and he said he had absolutely no idea. Well, fuck. I stood dejectedly on the side of the street like an unpopular stripper. I saw a small, old trufi with the sign “SAN FRANCISCO” passing by, so I got on, and maneuvered my way home. I had already decided what I should do for the next day, and what I was about to do would demand a good night of rest from me.
I woke up extremely early to walk down to the meeting point, a restaurant called Sol y Luna. The place was way too expensive for a breakfast, so I walked onto the streets and got myself some local treats: quinoa milk with bread, sounds just about right: healthy and energizing~! The bus came to pick up the 8 of us, and we were off on our way to the notorious Death Road.
a truck toppled in La Paz
We took a short stop at a checkpoint, and I bought a unique quinoa apple drink that was still very warm as I held it in my hand. I was so clingy to it because it felt like a little bag of warmth, something I have not had in my life for a long, long time… The lady only charged me 10 Bolivianos and a smile. I joked with Noel, our guide, that this would cost only 15 dollars in a Whole Foods in upper east side in New York.
The photos that will come during the journey will be taken by the guide, and that is why their quality may be a bit up for some desires, though the weather could take some blame as well.
quinoa in apple juice
We quickly reached La Cumbre, where our journey finally began. This was the highest part of the road, which sits at a ridiculous 4700m/15000ft. Here we finally got our bikes, which were extremely sturdy with air brakes and very, very large tires. Normal brakes do not work on death road, as it is too steep and fast that they will burn out. Huge shock absorbers looked like they could take more beatings than my body could, and the large tires were for skipping on the stones.
lock and loaded! (you can see the bus is one retired from a Japanese furniture shop)
Before we depart, however, we needed to perform the customary ritual for Pachamama, the mountain mother deity. It involves drinking some alcohol and then spilling some on your travel gear, in this case, the tires of the bikes. What can possibly go wrong if you drink alcohol before riding down the most dangerous road in the world? And it is not your normal alcohol, as that is for pussies, the thing we had to drink was MOTHER-FUCKING INDUSTRIAL 95% ALCOHOL. Yes, the type that kills you if you drink any amount significant.
oh alcohol my old friend~
The first part, however, was paved as the new highway had covered the old road. The second part was where the real unpaved road begins, which lied some distance ahead of us. However, who doesn’t want to bike down the valley right? We sped down the well-maintained highway faster than the cars. Despite it being well-paved, it was still very dangerous though, as the mountainous road and fast speed meant I often found myself struggling to turn the wheels as I was sliding out of the curve, or sometimes I simply saw a large truck coming at me and had nowhere to escape. The wind was also an issue, penetrating deep into my jacket and through the glasses, making me shiver uncontrollably and barely able to open my eyes.
a rock cliff
We took a quick break at the first cliff, and looking down the valley, the clouds were congregating, forming a gloomy line of defence beneath us. The road could also be seen as a long snake, twisting and turning down the hill towards north. It was an incredible scenery, and I could not believe I had to do this for 40 km/26 miles.
on the road down
After we had descended a huge chunk of the elevation, suddenly rain came. It was quite miserable afterwards. We finally reached the proper section of the death road, and my bike started shaking vehemently as the rocky road crumbled like freshly baked cinnamon cookie beneath me. The road was extremely narrow, and the rain severely hindered my visibility as the muddy water brought up by the front tire kept obscuring my glasses. The 500m drop at the side of the road was not exactly comforting as well. I have not felt fear for such a long time.
see for yourself
The guide was very fast on the tarmac, which was understandable; but once we reached the rocky part, he suddenly started accelerating to even faster speeds. What.The.Fuck. I thought I value my single and lonely life as nothing, but he must had a death wish. By riding bikes in this kind of situation faster than 50 km/hr, there is nothing other than death awaiting us. I had been right behind the guide this whole time on the tarmac, thanks to years of my Shanghai bike riding experience. However, within three hairpin turns, he vanished out of my sight. The only thing I could hear was his loud “WOOOHOOOO~!” echoing in the valley.
the guide Noel rushing down the mountain, with Young struggling to keep up
Now it is a proper time for an introduction of this road. Death Road, originally named North Yungas Road, was the only road linking Yungas to La Paz at its time. It descends a stunning 3500m/10000 ft within less than 40km/26mi. It is around 1 car wide, averaging about 3.2m/10ft. It is never paved, and has rock slides in the summer, mudslides in the winter. Cliffs usually drop 300m or more into the abyss, and there is barely any protection. If you fall, you die. Nobody has ever survived the fall yet. In its heyday before the new highway was constructed, it claimed 1 life a day on average. Now that is some literal DEATH ROAD!
look at this hairpin! sharp gradient, blind curve, sharp turn, a little river, you got’em all!
We quickly reached what appeared to be the most dangerous turn in the world. It is a blind curve with incredibly narrow width, along with a 600m drop into the darkness, my old friend. We stopped and looked deep into the heart of earth, and shivered in both awe and coldness.
this is my love life summarized as a road
A side fun fact: during my visit in Bolivia, their controversial president is holding a referendum on whether he should change the constitution so that he could be re-elected. He has done a lot of good for the people, but a lot of his comments came out as sexist, racist and just simply weird. His name is Evo, and is an extremely controversial figure in Bolivian politics, and that is why there are so many signs everywhere such as “SI EVO” or “NO EVO” as people express their opinions via graffiti in Bolivia. Try spot how many of my pictures have these slogans!
eyyyyyyyyy~! (crippling depression please kill me or I will jump~!)
And, the road just continued, like it was a highway to hell. We did not stop anymore, as every time I had to hop down the bike, I could feel my underwear sticking to the inner side of my thigh, and my socks squeezing out some muddy water along with an equally annoying sound.
time to pray
We did not have time to eat anything. The only thing in my head was descend, and descend. It is remarkable to see a road going downhill without a single stretch upwards. To make matters even worse, we were forced to ride on the left side of the road, despite the entire Bolivia drives on the right. It is because the road is too narrow, and it is necessary for the drivers to look outside their windows to look at their tires so they don’t go over the edge. It then became customary to drive on the left, and the cyclists have to obey this as well, despite the traffic on this road has been reduced to almost zero after the new road was constructed.
waterfall on the road? woohoo~!
The most painful part of this ride has to be my hands. Fast descent means extremely shaky handles and I could feel my elbow being shattered into pieces. The pain was conducted through my muscles and nerves from both the physical strain as well as the cold rain. My gloves were soaking wet, and it kept rubbing against my palm, making it so painful while I desperately tried to hit on brakes so that I did not fly off the cliff to my death like I always wanted.
do not stop, or take a bath in the river
After a long, 20 km segment of straight down, I finally got to take a rest in a little tent after a relatively flat part. The sky was clearing up, and the blue sky started illuminating the deepest parts of the valley. I just realized I had been sweating all over since we had basically descended into the heart of jungles. It was simply crazy to think about that: in 2 hours, we got down from alpine tundra into tropical rainforest!
riding in the forest
The last part was just mindless fun, as the valley was not as deep beside the road, I could easily speed up and catch up on the guide with crazy speed. I was not afraid anymore. My hands no longer felt anything, and blood was dripping from my gloves, but I did not care: it was so damn fun riding downhill! My bike’s chains dropped loose, but who needs that when you are going downhill? I somehow felt sad when we finally terminated in the little town called Coroico, our destination 1200m above sea level. I was completely covered in mud and sand, and everything, I mean everything, was soaked inside out. It was a damn good ride!
check us out~!
We were invited into a little cabin, and got ourselves some beer. The sun was finally out, but was not helpful in drying my underwear at all. I made my way to the balcony, making squeezy sounds from every part in my body. We then got to a natural reserve in the valley, which gave us buffet lunch and shower.
the valley in the bottom
Inside the reserve, you can see the biggest type of rodent to ever walk on earth called capybara. And I have to tell you it is a rodent, a cousin of the house rat, because if I just show you, there is not a single chance that you will believe it! It was HUUUUUUUUUGE. It was the size of a big dog, over 80cm/3ft tall!!! Holy mother of Arceus I would never want that buddy munching my cheetos in my basement, it is my job to do that!
this is actually a rat, A RAT, A RAT?!?!?
Inside the refuge, it was actually humans who had to live inside cages, as all houses were inside metal bars, and the walkways were covered by fences on all sides, left, right, top and bottom. It was because of the hundreds of monkeys roaming the grounds, and we humans had to be secured inside at all times. As we were eating lunch, a spider monkey tried to get some banana from the buffet table, to no avail.
a spider monkey watching us in the human zoo, I wonder how much did he pay?
We finally started our way back in dry clothes, (for me wet underwear still) and made our way back to La Paz via the new highway. For me today is definitely one of the highlights of my life. It was simply dirty, muddy, wet, soggy, cold, and fun. I think the world has so much dirty fun like this that I have not enjoyed, and I was glad this was my first time. Now thinking backwards, few people get the chance to fly around the world, a lot of times in Business Class, and then get off the plane to ride a huge bike down the most dangerous road in the pouring rain, right? I knew it would be very nice to do this on a slightly sunny day, but who says I won’t come back for another attempt of suicide? 😉
on the way back
We sang a lot of songs on the way back, and quickly fell asleep afterwards. We made it back to La Paz just in time for dinner, and I hugged goodbye to Noel and the drivers. I spent most of my night cuddling my piggy plushy by the fireplace, and blow drying my shoes, socks, underwear, jacket, shirt, pants, hat, cellphone, wallet, and so on. It turned out that the mud stuck on my waterproof Arc’teryx jacket was almost permanent, as I tried many times to wash it off, but my attempts all resulted in failure.
my jacket after the ride
For my last day, I woke up with pain in my legs, arms, elbow, shoulder, palm, wrist, and back. I struggled to get up, and talked to Marie, a French Quebecois, who kindly lended me her hairdryer yesterday to dry my stinky muddy shoes. We decided to take a look at the famous El Alto weekend market, and took off to the telefrico station. We took it all the way up with the company of 10 other strangers in one tiny tram, and made our way to the market. And it turned out, El Alto weekend market is the biggest flea market in all of South America.
a honey vender, now that is what I call straight from the source!
Anything that you have ever seen was on sale, everything. Electronics to electronic accessories, pirated TV shows to pirated music CD’s, text books to porn books, toys, food, drinks, kitchenware, pets, to even second hand cars were on sale! There was absolutely no organization: sometimes an ice cream seller happens to own the car repair shop right next to it! One vender selling kittens told me once her neighbor dragged a fucking jet plane engine to the market to sell!!!
cars for sale in the market
I returned home after losing much of my sanity at the crowded market, and quickly took a nap. I woke up with my two arms still slightly attached to my torso, which was great news. A quick trufi ride took me to the bus terminal, and I bought myself a ticket to Uyuni on the overnight bus. Then, I met with Marie to have dinner. We talked a lot and had only a few empanadas. The streets were clear and cold, with very few people visible, but it was time for me to leave this beautiful capital.
lunch in the market
I got to the bus station to board the bus towards Uyuni. It was gonna be a long 8 hour ride, so I settled myself in the very front of the bus. As the bus climbed the hill just outside the valley, I gave this dazzling city with so much height one last look. It was a crazy 5 days in La Paz. Witch markets to weekend markets, ride down the Death Road or the ride to ancient Tiwanaku, chulitas wrestling to a ridiculous 95° alcohol toast, all condensed in this city on crack, which this city also produces in bulk in that little prison. La Paz is just a place that I knew would be a highlight in my travels ever since the beginning, and there is no denying that I want to come back to experience this madness all over again.
mocochinchi, Bolivian’s national drink, some kind of rehydrated peach cider
I closed my eyes, and thought about the days to come. I have finally started to move south, and today marks the first 500 km, and then, I would need to move south another 5000km in order to reach the dreamy Antarctica. But for now, my mind was only occupied by a huge salt flat, covered with a slim sheet of water, and the sky reflecting front to back, all over the places… Ah, Uyuni, where paradise touches planet Earth…