Guide New Title 2 (THE ADVENTURES OF BOLIVIA)

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In San Pablo de Tiquina, do try a snack of grilled fish — offered by numerous local ladies by the waterfront — before crossing. Last sailings of the day from Copacabana to Isla del Sol are at Groceries will cost more in Isla del Sol, so stock up in Copacabana before you travel. Visiting Isla del Sol was one of the most memorable experiences on my Bolivian trip. The island is perfect for hiking north-south there are two trails overlapping in parts and provides a wonderful glimpse into the simple life of the islanders whose main source of livelihood is farming.

The island was populated as far back as 3rd millennium BC and has numerous Inca ruin sites. The location was perfect for the starting point of the stone trail to Chincana ruins further north. The views along the hike were spectacular, especially when sunset started to fall. It is important to bring a torch in case one is caught out after sunset as there is not a single light around.

Also, air temperature drops dramatically after dark and very strong night-time winds are common in the early spring September. I was most grateful for the layers of clothing I had brought. On my full day on Isla del Sol, I hiked from Challapampa to Yumani via the coastal route and back on the ridge trail. Most travellers prefer to carry their stuff from Challapampa to Yumani and depart the same day.

This is perfectly reasonable if you are in a rush, but I enjoyed having more time on the island, not having to carry more than a daypack and generally seeing more. I took numerous breaks on the hike and felt wiped out upon return to Challapampa. After another long rest, I wandered around the settlement in search of good sunset shots — this is the time when many locals lead their cattle home from grazing, which is fascinating to watch. Note: I recommend staying at least two nights on Isla del Sol to do the island justice. The facilities and comfort are generally better in Yumani, but Challapampa is quieter, more authentic and conveniently located for the start of the trail to Chincana ruins and sunset viewing.

There is little to no phone reception on Isla del Sol little in the south, none in the north , but several places in Yumani offer wifi connection. To return to La Paz at a reasonable time, take the boat from Challapampa to Copacabana and connect with the bus, arriving in La Paz around The road between La Paz and Sucre Ruta 1 is definitely not the worst in Bolivia and is paved the entire way.

Bolivia tours & travel

First, I was completely exhausted after the return bus journey from Titicaca to La Paz, and longed for some comfort. Embarking on another bus straight away for the whole night would have wiped me out. Second, the one-way flight with Amaszonas cost less than 50 pounds — I know this is shockingly expensive compared to the bus fare, and probably not in the spirit of a barebone budget trip, but, again, I longed for some comfort. I was on holiday, after all! After the sprawling La Paz, I found Sucre wonderfully relaxing.

It is without doubt the most beautiful Bolivian city I have visited, with a wealth of colonial buildings for architecture enthusiasts to admire. My favourite examples were the Cathedral, Convento de San Felipe Neri and the inner patio of the main University building.

Note: Sucre streets being irresistibly pretty, I found the best way to see the city was from the various rooftops. The third stunning view was provided by my guesthouse, Casa Al Tronco in the Ricoleta district, where I not only had a spectacular view from my top floor room but also had access to the equally amazing view from the common terrace. There are only three rooms at Casa Al Tronco and I highly recommend travellers booking early to secure a place. Central Market Mercado Central was more manageable, with two rows of excellent fresh juice stalls actively frequented by locals.

Yet every day people still take the risk of soaring down Death Road on bikes hoping not to become the next victim. And now we were joining them.

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Butterflies were churning in our stomach. But we packed up, jumped in the van, and journeyed from the busy capital of La Paz up to the serene mountaintops of the Andes. At the 4, meters in altitude nearly 3 miles high , our Death Road Bolivia tour began on a quite chilly note for what would ultimately prove to be a chilling experience. We nervously put on our safety gear and became acquainted with the dual suspension mountain bikes that would take us down this horrendous road.

But first, there was a ritual we had to follow that seemed just as important as the safety checks. We had to make an offering to Pacha Mama mother earth by giving her a pour of pure alcohol. Then we were to take a swig ourselves, to help provide courage. But we reluctantly followed tradition and hence took a nip of the potent firewater before flying down the Andes. At first, this all seemed like a fun little shtick put on as part of this Death Road tour. But we witnessed firsthand that this is taken very seriously.

The driver of our support van took the same alcohol and meticulously splashed it around each tire and on the van itself. Bolivians are deeply superstitious. And there are a number of rituals you should follow on Death Road to help ensure your survival.

So, yes, that includes subjecting yourself to ingesting pure alcohol. With that alcohol burn still lingering in our throats and beginning to warm our bellies, it was time to begin this insane adventure.

The first kilometers of cycling Death Road is actually on a good paved road, which is the main road used today for vehicular traffic. This paved portion is used as somewhat of a test-run before getting to the treacherous dirt road that has claimed so many lives. This highway is steep and you can build up speed easily.

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With Barracuda Cycling, the guides give you a careful briefing of what to expect and where to use caution. There are also specific meeting points that are pointed out so that everyone can cycle down at their own comfortable pace. Our adventure had just begun, but already Death Road was living up to its accident-laden reputation. Time ticked by and we all grew more worried.

It turns out, the girl we were waiting for had fallen while speeding down the mountain and it resulted in a broken arm.

Highlights

So this poor girl was at least taken care of and rushed off to the hospital. Meanwhile, a guy cycling Death Road with another group also had an accident during this stretch. Apparently, his accident was even worse and resulted in a head injury. The ambulance transporting the broken arm victim was nice enough to pick him up too. So they would both be ending their day in the emergency room. While they were being rushed back to La Paz, we continued our descent. At the end, sandwiches were distributed throughout our group and we realized there was one extra. It was for the girl who was now being rushed to the hospital.


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This was a stark and sobering reminder that Death Road accidents do happen. It was a strange feeling having just been making introductions with this girl, and now she was gone from our group. There would be at least one empty seat on the van ride back to La Paz. Despite these accidents, our journey continued. After a bit of pedaling, we reached the beginning of the old Death Road. There would be no more pavement, nor secure guardrails.

Death Road Tours – Bolivia Hop

And our arrival seemed to coincide with thick fog cover. Our guides prepared us with careful briefings and instructions before we began actually mountain biking down Death Road. We were briefed about some peculiarities to the road. For example, although driving in Bolivia is always on the right side of the road, Death Road has a rule that uses the left side of the road. But the left-hand side for those of us cycling down Death Road, is the same side as that steep drop-off! So we were surprised to learn that we would be cycling on the edge of the cliff side of the Death Road. Our natural inclination is to drive on the right, which is further fueled by the fact that there is a scary-as-hell death-drop on the left.

Yet, it is this left-hand side of Death Road that you are to ride on. Off we went though.