Lake Titicaca borders both Peru and Bolivia – after our stop in Puno to visit the reed islands we continued our bike trip around this impressive body of water. We were all a little apprehensive as to how long the border crossing would take but were surprised at the ease. Our timing was good, there were no lines and getting our exit stamps from Peru was a breeze as was the entry into Bolivia. A lot of goods pass from Bolivia to Peru because of Bolivia’s poorer economy thus cheaper goods. We watched as cartons of eggs piled high on carts were manually moved through the Peruvian checkpoint past us from the Bolivian side – trucks with various goods moved along as well. There must have been an advantage to taking these eggs across in this manner and then loading them onto trucks across the line. Very little traffic other than commercial goods and little from Peru at all. I watched as the Immigration official thumbed through my passport. All US citizens require a visa – a process that took a while before my trip. 90 days is standard for your stay- mine will be 16. Not sure what he was looking for but after a few looks at a computer screen and glances out the window he decided “what the Hell, might as well stamp this thing.” It all seemed so arbitrary. Off we went to what I thought would be a wild border town similar to our experiences across the Peruvian border. The traffic had been a little crazy on the Peruvian side leading up to our crossing – where they were going I don’t know because there was no traffic on our ride across that imaginary line now. The wild and crazy border town was anything but – Copacabana is a waterfront town with about 6000 people and a flotilla of boats moored in front as well as along the wharfs. Very quiet, it’s now the off season. We were greeted by restaurants running at about half speed. They had large menus but very few items were available. I spent the day sitting on a stump bench along the beach front chatting with friends. Relaxing. No noise. No traffic. No pressure to do anything; The lake is at 3800 meters and the next days ride took us up to 4300 then slowly back down as we followed the shoreline. That will be our elevation parameters for the 3 week stay on the altiplano of Bolivia. Cold nights, slow digestion and a few problems sleeping are facing us during this time. The 120K trip from Copacabana to our next hotel along the lake however, was one of the most beautiful of our entire trip. Once we reached our climbing level above the water, we were treated to magnificent views, little traffic, and a gentle cruise that allowed one to just take it all in. The ride reminded me so much of our shoreline on the north shore of Lake Superior. Titicaca is also large enough for water landscapes that don’t include the other side. The twists and turns of the roadway kept the view fresh and the islands and peninsulas were spectacular. Of course, we don’t have any Incan terraces in our landscape on the north shore – there were, however, some impressive pines along this shore. The sun was pleasant, the wind nonexistent and the temps cool enough to keep the sweat away. We were just cruising. Lunch break brought us to an overlook of the ferries transporting goods across the narrow isthmus below. We were headed to one just a couple of K’s from lunch. As we approached the ticket office I think we all thought we were destined to an experience on the passenger ferry. No. An even better experience awaited us as we were shown to a barge with a bus already loaded aboard. We all moved ourselves and our bikes onto the heavy wooden low floating scow as the two young men pushed us off with wooden poles and started the 25 horsepower outboard which somehow pushed us across the water. It was pretty cool. About a 15 minute ride but more than a little interesting. The bus drove off the barge and we pedaled away off to our hotel destination for the night. Cost per cyclist – 5 Bolivianos which translates to around 80 cents US. The following day we had 140 K’s to ride on our way to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world at about 4000 meters depending on where you measured it. We traveled along what became a busier and busier highway up to around 4100 meters. Our ride included views of the Cordilllera Real. White-capped mountains that include peaks over 6000 meters. Real mountains. About 25K from La Paz the traffic began to become crazier and crazier. The constant road construction along the stretch did little to improve the situation. Nor did the diesel smoke and the trucks, buses and cars ever changing lanes and blowing their horns. On our bikes, this quagmire required our constant attention. A dangerous ride for cyclists. I rode in a group of 7 cyclists and was very happy to have our more conspicuous appearance than being solo coming into town. Nearing the city we took an underpass to a 10K crazy drop into this swarming city of more than 2 million people crunched into a relatively narrow valley. Wow. I was so happy to finally get navigated to our hotel. The streets are very narrow here in the center of town yet are packed with people moving every which way and others sitting with various wares to sell at every curb. It’s a loud and wild experience just moving along with the flow as best you can. Found I needed a nap upon arrival – more just an escape from all the hubbub around me. Give me back Copacabana and the quiet lakefront. Today Terry had scheduled a trip to the Death Road. A google search will give you some idea of just why this roadway has been designated as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. A few years ago they built a new road and now the Death Road has little traffic but does have cyclists touring along the 55K down hill portion. These touring cyclists are carefully monitored by guides to keep them as safe as possible. The road is gravel and rough. There are cars and buses lying below and crosses above honoring the dead over the years. There are drops of thousands of feet. The ride itself takes about 4 hours on a cycle. You don’t go fast. About 22 of our group opted to take this ride including myself, however, when I awoke early this morning I decided to give myself the day instead. Since we are being picked up at 8 am and don’t get back until 8 pm it just seemed to much. We have 7 straight cycling days when we leave La Paz – tough long days. I felt better off with a free day to myself. I will try to post photos from other cyclists later, however. I am going to take in a soccer match tomorrow at the Stadium here in La Paz with Hardy and whoever else opts to go. We have now left Peru – a country that greeted us with stark bare deserts and a police escort when we came in from Ecuador. Trash-lined roadways and loud raucous villages and towns. Then she showed us the beautiful Andes and friendly small villages, the llama, alpacas and vicunas; the high mountain shepherds and high mountain passes. What I will remember most about Peru are the gracious friendly people. A small village watching our truck get forced into a muddy ditch by other traffic, then coming over as a group and engineering it out of that quagmire. All with ropes and many hands. Laughing and singing the whole time. Unselfish. Wonderful people. I might also remember the penetrating cold of our climb up to Cerro de Pasco, an ugly mining town with a hotel with an interior temperature of 4 C where i never got warm in the slightest. Another night the same in our next town, Junin. Elevations of up to 4887 meters is not easy cycling. Nor comfortable. However, the views and the impressions of the people living there make it all worth it.
6 thoughts on “Bolivia”
You deserve a day off “work” at 4000 m! And I think you will be comfortable with Bolivia and Bolivians once you get out of La Paz.
Tom, it’s been a great day in La Paz – quite a town.
Buck Your descriptions are unbelievable…can almost see it…can’t wait to hear your stories in person over a good bottle (or 2) of wine.
I can’t wait for the bottle or two with you and Bob myself, Nikki!
From what I’ve read in your blog so far, a large part of your trip has already been on the Death Road. I’m sure there is more to come .There’s no need to do any extra!
Yes, one in our group who had done it 5 years ago told me exactly that. I’ll hear more this am when people arise for breakfast. Hope the boys had a great Birthday, John!