So where were we……?
An easy border crossing the next day and we had decided to take a short drive to the base of Volcan Sajama, Bolivia's highest peak. After another chilly night camped and a fairly easy drive we arrived in La Paz just after lunch. La Paz is an amazing city nestled in a valley although still at 3800m above sea level - the highest capital city in the world!
We had been given an "Overlander Friendly" Swiss owned hotel address just 12 km from the city centre where there is a dedicated car park and the use of all the hotel facilities for overlanders. An interesting drive through La Paz' very hectic traffic and we arrived at Hotel Oberland in one piece. Walter (the owner) also has a "friendly" Alpaca (sort of mini Llama) in the campsite that had tonnes of character, we were assured he did not spit. James put this to the test one day and what an appalling effort at a spit, the little guy sort of coughed and spittle dribbled from his mouth.
Before continuing further North we had decided to undertake a Spanish refresher course and had a weeks worth of lessons, including home work etc. La Paz is a great city with an excellent Black Market and Art and Craft market where you can literally buy anything under the sun. We had fun walking around the markets in our free afternoons and had some quality time to catch up on a few chores to the Landy. In the market they had a witch doctor section which contained some of the most disgusting and smelly things we have ever come across including dead and pickled animals and the local speciality is Llama foetus' which are hung from your gate to ward off evil spirits.
We also purchased "Ernesto" in La Paz. Walking around the market we came upon an Art gallery by Dina Vega a popular local Bolivian Artist and were both smitten with a portrait of an old Altiplano man whose eyes followed you where ever you stood. We managed to finally fill our gas bottle at the local plant and more importantly buy replacement rear tyres as our BF Goodrich were now absolutely tattered to the point of being distorted and having holes showing the inside wire re-enforcement. Unfortunately BF Goodrich is not represented in La Paz and the only All Terrain tyres our size (and our price range) were Dunlop! So we will give them a go!
Food here is great as well with the main meal being consumed at lunch time and most of the restaurants closed at night. "Menu del Dia" is the best option where for about USD2 you get a three course meal. La Paz has a rather bad reputation for tourist safety and a couple of times we missed the last bus back to the hotel (although no one tells you this and we had a few 1 hr plus bus waits for nothing) But we felt safe the whole time and every one we met was friendly.
For all adventure enthusiasts, numerous tour companies offer a mountain bike ride from the rim of La Paz down into the Yunga valley to a village called Coroica. It is almost 95km all down hill with the last 60km being on a dust road along the world's most dangerous road "The Death Road". You cycle along a single track dust road cut into the side of the cliff, a 150m drop on one side and supporting two way traffic. We had a fantastic, extremely dusty day out with a group of 8 other tourists. Kerry managing to break her sunglasses about 25km from the end and undertaking the last stretch with her eyes closed!!
Safely back in La Paz the "Overland Campsite" had filled up and now contained a Unimog, two Landrovers, two Landcruisers, a VW Camper, and two assorted Camper Vans, all containing German and Swiss travellers. We have found the different cultures synonymous with the vehicle you drive very entertaining, for example Landcruiser travellers tend to discuss the route and the countries they have visited, Landrover travellers tend to discuss the latest mechanical set backs or leaks. Well a lot of useful tips and route information was exchanged and the email contact list expands daily.
We have now decided to continue into the rainforest and pampas region of North Bolivia as suggested by fellow Landrover travellers. Another deviation to plan but we were dying for some warmer weather in the low jungle. After bidding fair well to all the overlanders we headed North East from La Paz for the Yunga valley, where most of Bolivia's coca production is done on the sides of the hills. The drive was beautiful taking us through evergreen forests and across many little streams and waterfalls.
We came across hundreds of little fields of coca which was continually being harvested. The locals use the coca in tea but more importantly they sort of chew it. They stick about 40 green leaves into the side of their cheek and then put a little bit of a catalyst in their mouth. It curbs hunger and increases endurance kind of like a stimulant in raw form (although this, with a very expensive and illegal chemical plant is converted into cocaine). You get almost every single person in the area walking around with what looks like a gob stopper in their cheek.
.................We meandered slowly north to Rurrenabaque Next Page