(September 3 – written by Dave)
Yesterday was amazingly scenic. Today wasn’t. We had glimpses of the Cordillera Real Mountains but mostly it was through the general haze of the massive city of La Paz. La Paz and the surrounding cities are Bolivia’s largest urban area with 2.3 million people living here. It is often called the highest national capital in the world but in fact, it is not the capital – the capital is Sucre. Parliament and many other official functions are located in La Paz so it is easy to see why Sucre gets forgotten at times.
Anyway, back to our day. Everyone slept pretty well in the church building. It was a bit of a concrete echo chamber but no one was overly upset in the morning with my snoring, so it worked out great. It was really cold overnight outside, and only slightly warmer in our room. We would have had frost on the tent had it been outside so the lack of inside heating was not something that we were going to complain about.
We were on the road early, at 7:45. That’s extra early if you consider our recent time change. We haven’t been riding at 6:45 since the balmy days back in Central America. We were all pretty rugged up as we headed back out to our semi-dual carriage way. Unlike yesterday, today it was more or less finished and we could ride in the proper far right lane.
We had about 40k to ride before we reached the edge of El Alto, one of the biggest suburbs of the city. Like yesterday we had views of the mountains but the haze, a slight uphill grade and mostly nothingness scenery put us in “heads down” mode. Traffic was much heavier today but the shoulder was reasonable until our morning tea stop where we checked our maps and made sure we had a clear path to the city.
Soon after morning tea we reached the edge of El Alto and what can only be described as riding hell. The road was under construction, going from 1 to 3 lanes and back almost at random. And the traffic was insane. Our road was the main bus route into and out this section of the city and full of nasty white mini-vans that pulled in and out with reckless abandon. We rode in a fairly tight pace line but still had vans trying to pull in, or out, in the middle of our bunch. The vans pulling out often went without looking, simply turning the wheel to the left and accelerating. You could mostly tell when they were getting ready to go because they closed the sliding door just before launch. But this wasn’t always the case as some drivers started driving with the door open as the last passenger is still boarding. It was nuts.
Philipp as on the front, I was on the back, we had the girls in the middle. At one point a van that looked like it was not moving suddenly pulled over near Philipp and he grabbed the brakes hard. Nancy was right behind him and did the same. Unfortunately, next in line Tine, was not quick enough braking and she ran into Nancy. This almost always means the person in back will fall and that’s what Tine did. As she fell, she yelled out “sorry” to Nancy for running into her. Nancy stayed upright and I was far enough back to stop before hitting Tine. It was all a pretty low speed so Tine was fine and we only had to straighten her handle bars to get her back on the road again. She was pretty dusty however, as in addition to being busy the road was a bit of a dust pit.
Most of the last 14k was on a motorway that prohibited bikes. We ignored this rule and rode it anyway. It was all downhill and very fast. It is normally a 4 lane motorway but they had two of the lanes closed so even this supposedly safer route was a little hair-raising but we made it safely to the edge of the city. The last 2k were in the middle of the city and full of more insane traffic but it felt almost as safe as we’d been all day. The traffic was stop and go, meaning everything was slow and other than the cars honking at us and us ignoring them, it was smooth sailing. La Paz from above.
We reached our planned hotel (Sol Andino) at about 1PM. They tried to get us to go up the street to their sister hotel because it had better bike parking but we looked the rooms and decided to stay here. They quoted us a silly price but came down when we showed them our booking.com rate. Philipp and Tine went up the road to look at a couple other hostels that were cheaper but they turned out to be not so nice and they ended up back here as well.
We are taking two days off here as La Paz is the last supply point before we head off into the wilds of Bolivia’s southwest. To get out of town we have to backtrack the last 14k that we rode today but we’ll be doing that either in a tram or in a mini-van. There is no way we are riding up through that mess again. Almost everyone riding ahead of us and those whose blogs we’ve read have hitched some form of ride – so that’s something we need to figure out in the next couple days.
Check back later for impressions of La Paz – after we get a good night’s sleep that is…