So from Peru to Bolivia - we travelled by various buses and a ferry, and finally made it to La Paz. On the journey in, you can see the city in the valley from on high and it´s quite a sight. Thousands of houses/ shacks crammed together on sheer mountainsides, all looking a bit precarious...
La Paz itself is home to an eighth of the Bolivian population so as you can probably imagine, it´s hectic, noisy and chaotic - just as any South American city worth its salt should be. The traffic is even more mental than in Lima - anything goes and drivers beep to say hello, coming through, watch out, get out of my way and sometimes just for the hell of it (and because it´s been at least 20 seconds since they last honked their horn).
On the 10th July we did a walking tour of the centre and saw the main square with goverment buildings nursing the bulletholes of an uprising just a few years ago. We also checked out the Witches´ Market where you can buy various potions and charms - we managed to resist the llama foetuses, tempting as they were. Ah shame, that huge fortune will never be ours...
Then we visited a place called Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) where the earth has eroded to look vaguely moony. A little underwhelming, though we did see an extreme busker perched on a bit of craggy rock - surely deserving of a few Bolivianos.
For our last night with our group, we went to a traditional Bolivian...English-owned curry house. Having just about recovered from his encounters with fried guinea pig skin, Roland went for the llama tikka masala - tastes a bit like pork, but quite tough. We had a fun last night and were sorry to say goodbye to our motley crew - but equally quite looking forward to working to our own schedule a bit more and enjoying some lie-ins!
We spent the next few days taking it easy in La Paz, visiting the English pub Oliver´s Travels (see what they did there?...) rather too often for a pint (really) of PG Tips. We also watched Spain eventually snaffle the World Cup, and then commiserated at a Dutch restaurant.
Had the best meal in Bolivia so far at a market stall - delicious spicy chicken stew with rice and potatoes (they like their carbs...), all for a whopping 1.20 GBP. Bolivia is certainly cheaper than Peru so managing to stick to our budget pretty well, though having had freezing showers for a few days on the trot, we might need to splash out a little more on accommodation occasionally! Brrr.
On 14th July (vive la France!) Roland did a downhill bike ride on the so-called ´World´s Most Dangerous Road´. If any of you saw the Top Gear Bolivia episode, they filmed (or staged, according to our guide) some of their infantile antics here. I wasn´t wildly happy about Roland doing the ride (even though, since the opening of a new alternative road that takes most of the traffic, it´s not really that dangerous anymore), but he loved it and arrived safely in one muddy piece. I was unashamedly a wimp and travelled behind in the accompanying truck - at least that meant Roland could go at his own pace and not babysit me at the back like on the Inca Trail. It was quite an experience going from La Cumbre (sunny but absolutely freezing) to Coroico (jungly and warm) - 64km with a 3600m vertical descent.
The bike ride finished up with lunch at an animal refuge with various exotic birds, monkeys etc that have been rescued. The monkeys were great fun, brilliant to watch them playing at such close quarters - though we were warned that some were light-fingered from having been trained as pickpockets in their previous lives (and some of the pro-thief monkeys have even taught their innocent youngers at the sanctuary!)
We´re liking being a few thousand metres nearer sea level - Coroico (in the Yungas region) is at 1750m altitude, versus La Paz at 3660m so we´re enjoying the extra oxygen and warmer temperature.
We have a lovely hostel room, very basic, but with double aspect view over the beatiful valley and mountains. It was glorious when we arrived yesterday, even had a dip in the pool but today it´s been raining so far and we can´t even see the mountains - so much for our great view! I´m still hopeful that it´ll clear up later and will be a sunny afternoon.
Currently listening to (or rather, hearing...) the musical delights of a brass band practising the theme from the film Titantic, hmm. There´s a festival day tomorrow, for patron saint of Bolivia (Virgen del Carmen) so we think they´re getting ready for that. Looking forward to a bit of a party, Bolivian style...
Hasta la vista, and love to all,
Helene and Roland xx