The rest of this G Adventures tour brought us through Potosí, Sucre and La Paz the final stop on this leg of the trip.
Potosí is a silver mining town in Bolivia. There is an incredibly sad history here dating back to when the Spanish were taking advantage of the indigenous people and their natural resources. It’s said that the amount of silver taken from here could build a bridge from Potosí to Madrid and a bridge twice that with the bodies of the people who died there. Mining still continues there and tours are readily available though following our disaster out car journey of the day prior, we chose not to go into this claustrophobic maze. Instead we spent the day wandering around the town and chilling out in our hotel room. Probably not the best use of our time but very much needed. Hearing the stories from the others who did go into the mines made me glad I didn’t go. It sounded awful- not in a “you shouldn’t go” way but in a “it’s so desperately sad” way. The miners age from 14 upwards and generally don’t live past 35. Conditions are generally terrible and not looking to improve any time soon. What I think is worse is how the people here just accept that and don’t or can’t seek change. As I said, very sad…
We did get to try some of the local cuisine, in particular the volcano soup. It’s a vegetable soup with one special added ingredient- a volcano rock. This rock is heated and placed in the bowl to keep it hot. The temperature is such that the soup is boiling when served and keeps boiling for some time after. Pretty cool!
Sucre was a bit more lively. Set up to house the Spanish who couldn’t tolerate the high altitude of Potosí, Sucre is a far wealthier city, visible in the manicured public parks and tree lined roads. We stayed at the Hotel Independencia which was converted from a beautiful colonial house just metres from the main square.
The square was surrounded by cafés so of course we tried a few! They love their desserts and ice cream here so I had a giant brownie with ice cream and cream and extra chocolate sauce… I was making up for the calories lost on the desert crossing!
We had almost two full days here in Sucre and whilst the weather (which was still dismal) excluded our ability to go paragliding, we thought we’d at least give something adventurous a go and went rock climbing instead.
It was a good experience (just under £30 each for a half day with a climbing guide and lunch with just the two of us) with Carlos and our first time climbing outdoors with all the ropes and harnesses and stuff. I think we managed pretty well! At least with the easier climbs. When we tried the route which goes straight up a quite flat rock face we started to have doubts… There was definitely a couple of moments when I wasn’t hanging on to anything…
We also managed to squeeze in a massage, manicure and pedicure each (at bargain prices)! Exhausted but rather happy with ourselves, we got onto an overnight bus to La Paz that evening.
The overnight bus was not fun. Which was not what I expected since I really quite enjoyed the ones we did in Argentina. The heating was on too high, the chairs not quite comfortable. I barely slept two winks that night! Though I wasn’t the only one. I think everyone had troubles, not least were those of one of the guys in our group who had a leak patched up with chewing gum above his head…
This was to be the only full day in La Paz for a lot of our group so our guide Vlad had arranged (for though who wanted to go) a day trip down a Death Road.
Death Road is a popular mountain biking route covering 50km partly on asphalt but mostly on dirt track. The road was famous because a lot of cars used to fall off the cliff and well, people died… For the past ten years though, it’s been almost solely for the use of thrill seeking bike riders since a safer road was opened and it has become a very popular tourist attraction.
We went with Altitude bike company which is G recommended I think. It costs either 600 or 700 bolivianos depending on the type of bike you want and includes snacks, water and lunch with three specialist guides cycling with the group. One of the guides is armed with a camera (though a pretty poor quality one) to take pictures and videos during the day which who’s receive on a CD in the evening at your hotel.
It was pretty darn cool.
As you can see, we get kitted out pretty well with knee/ shin pads and elbow/ forearm guards underneath the reinforced pants and jacket. We still wore waterproofs underneath though as the first part of the route is cold and there is often a lot of rain.
I would say that I am not a particularly confident cyclist and I have zero experience mountain biking so I was hesitant to say the least when starting out. I did splash out and go for the more expensive bike- just in case it helped!- though I’m not sure how much of a difference it would’ve made. You don’t cycle much at all (just balancing!) since it’s all “gravity assisted”. I think I pedalled for approximately five minutes on one flat part… It is a dangerous road and you do need to take a fair bit of care. One member of our group took a bit of a tumble and his bike fell down the mountain… He was lucky to get away with just a few grazes!
It’s definitely worth doing whilst you’re in La Paz- unless you have a massive fear of bikes/ can’t cycle at all- and is condidered one of the best roads to bike down in the world.
Our last day in La Paz was mostly spent figuring out how many alpaca sweaters we could fit into our already full suitcases. The answer was A LOT! We visited the witches market and lots of other markets. The locals don’t like shopping malls and prefer to buy from street vendors which meant roads full of people and products. I’m talking pavements covered in baths and toilets, electronics stands, food, clothes, the works. My favourite was what I dubbed ‘lightbulb lane’ which unsurprisingly enough sold light bulbs…
The life and the culture in La Paz was so vibrant and colourful. It was lovely to visit. I loved seeing the indigenous ladies or cholitas with their traditional bowler hats and wide skirts in the midst of a modern city. Plus the shopping is very good- a nice alpaca jumper costs anywhere from 60-80 bolivianos. Even if they’re fake alpaca it’s still cheaper than anything you’d get in London!