2nd Mar 2006 - La Paz - Coroico


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Sep 23, 2003
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Manchester, England
100 kms

The optional Carettera del Muerte

We decided to split La Paz and head out into the country for the weekend before moving onwards to Lake Titicaca.

The skies were grey and there was moisture in the air, looked like we'd be ridding in the wet for the first time since I don't know when, seriously, it's been an age since we've had rain in any amount never mind heavy. We'd guessed the thunder storm we had so narrowly missed last night on the way back from dinner would have cleared the air, nope! Mentioning food I have to say last nights meal at Angelo Colonial was a belter. First time for months we've been served food with proper cooked vegetables and served in a manner you’d expect at a posh restaurant back home- never expected to get that anywhere here. Candle lit in a great atmospheric setting with locals as well as tourists eating. Really excellent food and at prices so easily afforded. We knew there was a storm brewing and got back to base with literally minutes to spare before the storm broke in serious manner. Anyway, today!...

We had one other fellow guest on our floor last night (not literally our floor of course) but other than that we've had the place generally to ourselves. At £4 for the room a night it was pretty marvelous. As usual the room was never cleaned so bedding the same the whole stay, but the biggest surprise was that it was so quiet. Best nights kip I've had (annoyingly light sleeper) for an age. So silent for a near central location, helped I'm sure by the lack of guests. The owner was a nice guy to and gave us a recommendation for Titicaca.

By the time we left it wasn't raining and in fact looked fine, but very grey. As it was cold in the grey we had all our liners in and it was quite comfortable riding out of town towards the Yungas. Well, we would have been riding towards the Yungas if I had of studied the city map rather than the country map. We left the centre fairly easily and wheezed up the toll road (bikes free) out of town. Trying to find the way we had all sorts of fun wrestling with the taxi minibuses and larger buses, you can't give an inch, and neither do they! It's a battle out there and no corner can be given. Luckily it’s all at slow speed and so not to dangerous.

We passed a big parade; schools in the main but in many varied uniforms and outfits, what it was all about we have no idea. A short while after I realised we were on the right road, but the wrong side of La Paz for our destination! That’s when we realised we should have gone right from centre rather than left and up and out. We now know the way to Titicaca though!

So we had to return, luckily La Paz is not too bad a city and not madly congested so we'd only lost an hour. It was rather busy though as I asked a policeman the way, blocking the traffic with no ill effect. It was obvious we needed to u turn, but due to the stationary nature of the road I could only see us doing it as soon as possible, and directly in front of lots of police were it was clearly indicated you couldn't, oh well.

I turned and two police men looked, one sternly, I gave an exaggerated look of sorry and he frowned and then smiled and waived us on. So what's all this idea that we have that we'll be ripped off by the police over her then?


Congress building and flag

Re-entering La Paz it was fairly effortless to use the city map to get to the right place. We wound up and up and up until the suburbs started to thin, and the bike wheezed again and we new we were about 4000m+.

There was a control point which was no issue then a toll booth where we had to pay (0.55 Bol, less than 4p). A funny thing happened, a face popped up and wished us good day and stretched an arm out to shake hands - he's been on the toll at Patatacama and recognised us. Wished us well and waived us off. Lovely people!

As we left La Paz this morning we had that schizophrenic feeling we have had since we arrived, where this time we were sad to be leaving the city, having partially come to accept it's ways and slowly grown to like it - there's no pleasing us is there. Maybe we can blame the altitude?

Anyway, leaving the suburbs we were now climbing high into the surrounding hills and then mountains. For all the world it was like a big scale version of a Lake District pass, very similar if not much larger. There were even a few guys mining slate from an exposed section next to the road, very manually. Honister pass?

La Cumbre sits at 4725m and our three days at 3700 in La Paz had helped, but the bike didn't feel any different, for it was still a struggle. Still, we were still faster than the buses and trucks so fine.

At the top the view was restricted heavily by cloud, but the mountains that stuck jaggedly through were enormous and impressive with fresh snow gilding.

We pulled up by the Christ monument and there was a local family in their truck and we had the usual basic conversation and they were in awe of our travels, and the fact the bike was 1000cc. A lady - I assume part of the family - was carrying out a ritual on the ground that we assumed was for some form of luck on the road and we both hoped that wouldn't be necessary for us!

I'd struggled when reading the guide book to figure out whether we could get to Coroico without using the infamous 'road of death' and thought we could but still wasn't sure. The Hotel owner said we could and to take directions at controls, and Martin and Alan said we should be able to too. We had you will remember decided it was too dodgy for us two up and fully loaded.

The descent from the top of La Cumbre is on very good (well, few potholes) tarmac and is impressive with the mountain architecture that surrounds it, jagged peaks and hanging snow fields with the distant green valley floor well below. Cloud was wafting all around to add to the general ambience.

A further check, where our passports were checked but nothing else and we were motioned past the other vehicles with the cautionary warning of 'slow'.

I forgot to check the route, but guessed it would be signed, or obvious once we got further down, which was the good and bad road. As it was we needed have worried. A few kilometres on we met Oscar.

Oscar is a Bolivian biker on a NR250 Honda and had pulled in besides us to make sure we were OK. He spoke perfect English and was obviously a lovely guy. I explained about our concerns and that we wanted to take the 'new' (unfinished) road to Coroico.


Our friend Oscar on the La Cumbre pass - All following 'The road of Death'

He said we could, but he'd recommend the old road for descent as it was much nicer! Well, we guessed with a local guide we should at least have someone to report us missing and so went along.

It's quite obvious where the new road starts, but less obvious that at the same point the old road cuts off; I don't remember any signs at all.

The initial descent is on broad fairly well surfaced wide road (totally unsurfaced by the way, and apparently built by POWs 60 years ago). It soon starts to narrow though, and starts to follow its true path on the hillside precariously.

As the cloud zone is at about the same level as the road for a long length of the initial descent there is actually little in the way of dramatic views, and we got it in fairly good weather according to Oscar, often it can be denser.

There were one or two points where the drop off the side was very sharp, almost vertical, and there was very definitely no sign of a bottom, the drop offs are very serious indeed. (a couple were literally vertical for hundreds of metres with no barrier) The road itself is no worse than many we've been on, just the narrowness, and twistyness with regular blind bends, and fact its two way that makes it dangerous

To make things safer the descending traffic drives on the 'wrong' side, i.e. the outside edge, the left like driving at home, so ascending vehicles can continue whilst you perch on the edge to let them past...nice !


Typical truck, typical width, don’t typically want to meet!

To be quite honest there are some hairy points on the route, but it isn't the worst ride we've undertaken, the problem is you would get no second chance at all in some places for an error.


No second chances at edge (not worst drop off)

In places it is very slimy and wet, and in others it is a bit chossy and loose, but generally - and I say generally - those points aren't at the narrowest points.

Were it does become an issue is if you're not watching the road, I'm not joking, this is not a place to admire the view unless stationary.

There are vehicles going down, which you can either overtake, or they let you past, and there most certainly are vehicles coming up, you remember on the inside where we'd like to be! The vehicles range from cars (rare) to minibuses (common) to trucks and even proper coach buses! And you will occasionally meet one where you least want to.


Coach on road - tight!

We came round one bend to find a large minibus coming up and had nowhere to go. He stopped, we stopped, and he reversed a few feet so we could squeeze by. It's one thing squeezing through a tight space with the panniers, but entirely different when it's a bus one side, and thin air the other, most interesting experience.

In the middle section there are some cuts that have overhanging vegetation where it seems very narrow and three-quarter tunnel like. There are also many waterfalls that stream over the edge, with the bike you can generally go on the inside and avoid them, but there is one particular one, quite a long drop, that we had to go through as it was were the 'road' was best. Absolutely bloody soaking !


Waterfalls onto, and over road

As you descend you also get a total temperature change as you are heading more to temperate rainforest type temps and vegetation. Comes as a surprise to see huge ferns reappearing so soon after snow, and then so many insects as you slowly start to get hot, some magnificent butterflies like the Blue Morphos that we saw up at Iguazu falls.

We stopped a couple of times at good viewing spots, but generally there just isn't the room to stop and admire the generally pretty scary drops. There was a monument in Hebrew that was from where some Israelis had asked the bus driver to reverse to go under a waterfall again, but they went off the road instead!

Further down were a few river crossings and then into dusty conditions just to plaster the bike and ourselves totally. The last 12kms to the town are the only uphill and on a cobbled road that was interesting enough in itself.

Finally reaching Coroico we were well warm, and Oscar met his girlfriend Elizabeth who had come on the bus. They insisted we have lunch with them which we did and then as they were staying the night we all booked into the same place, Gloria, which sits in a prime location with panoramic views almost beyond belief. This town clings to the hillside and the approach to the hotel (there is a safer one) was down a ridiculously steep cobbled track that Bev insisted on getting off for. It was more concerning than the road here.

In all honestly, the road was not as dangerous as we expected at all. Provided you pay full attention, are careful with positioning and oncoming vehicles, it's not too hazardous for a motorcycle at all, far more likely to fall over, than fall off. It is not a route for fear of heights, but really the danger - and where it gets it's infamy from - is for 4 or more wheel vehicles. I'm not sure I'd want to take a coach to here! But a bike, no problem.

Still sounds good to say you've ridden it though eh?!

Friday 3rd March 2006


25 kms

Well the views off the balcony were something else again this morning with the cloud boiling up from the distant valley floor and creating initially a temperature inversion before they rose higher and we were ourselves in the same cloud.


View from hotel balcony

Breakfast was excellent and served in their panoramic room which was certainly a true description. The wall of cloud would occasionally part like theatre curtains to allow glimpses of the vast green mountainscape beyond.

Oscar and Elizabeth as true hosts had a guess altered their plans to accommodate us and suggested we should take the bikes on a run to the river (far below) to bathe there, sounded good.

We were able to ride out without our lids and in light clothing as the roads are but tracks and the gear wouldn't protect so much, and if you went over the edge it would make not a jot of difference!

We rode out through the town and up some tracks, or backstreets as there were hostels etc up there, to a view point that gave great perspective to the village and the hotel we were staying in.

Then it was out of town a way and a seven kilometre descent for the river. This road was narrower than the previous days, and was certainly as twisty, the drop offs were not as severe, but what’s the difference between 150m and 900m if you go over the edge....exactly, not much chance with either!

The blessing of course was the lack of traffic. A jeep had been down and up, but that was it apart from the odd pedestrian, even those rare.

The road (hell it wasn't really a road, a track) was generally pretty good, just odd slimy bits and the worst the steep bits with newly added hardly compacted rock, few bottom twitching moments, and as we were lidless, I could hear Bev's breaths shortening. At least I had something to hold onto, Bev was trying to take pictures and the combined effect must have been a little disconcerting at times I'm sure.

It's still a surprise after the barren expanse of N Chile to be once again amongst so much vegetation, especially, as lush as now. All those familiar exotics from back home just rambling through the verge, banana plants growing wild and butterflies that could be confused for birds floating past.

It was damn warm too, even without all our clobber on.

Arriving at the end of the track (Vagante river pools) we had the place to ourselves barring a local guy who was barrowing slate he had hewed himself up and down the narrowest of tricky paths. Even here after all that descent we were still 1200m above sea.

There was a dramatic gorge where the river tore through and further up the area for swimming (or more lounging I guess). Unfortunately the river had previously been dammed a little to create a pool, but recent storms (linking back to the one we saw the results of on Atacama perhaps) had washed it away and there was no safe bathing place left.

As it is almost tropical here; there were an abundance of 'biting things' which is unwelcome. mosquito's (not malarial thank goodness) and little things that look like fruit flies but have a mouth bigger than there head you'd guess from the pain of their bite. The relative variety of wildlife can only be accompanied by a wealth of big bugs too. Last night the lights outside attracted everything from stick insects to huge moths and other bugs that defy description.

We had to return without our bathing, and obviously back up the entire track again. Always seems easier on the up, even though there was some light rain to contend with.

Back in town we went for lunch and once again got stuffed for a remarkably good price.

A return to the hotel for Elizabeth and Oscar to prepare to leave, she again by coach, and he by bike, watching him gear up we weren't too envious as the heat made it an unpleasant task. We will meet again at his in La Paz tomorrow and stay there and go out for the day. What can you say, a very lovely couple and it has already been great to spend some time together, and we will welcome the opportunity for more. Nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to seeing a place. There is no way we'd have found the track to the river without them, and I'm sure the same will be true of La Paz and surroundings.

Wandering around the town taking photos we were trying to get stickers - very hard everywhere post Argentina. Someone suggested we try tourist office and the guy there couldn't have been more helpful. We chatted (no really) about nature and the area as he had some enormous moths and beetles on the wall and through our interest loaded a CD with pics of the area and for 60p we bought a booklet covering the area. We discovered the national flower and an answer to a query we had in La Paz that was also answered in the Coca museum, the question? Why are there so many afro Caribbean looking people here?


Allies....me no think so, explain that one? Not best symbol for a coach on the road of death

In La Paz I had at first thought they were US tourists, but here there is no mistaking the fact they are local as many of the women wear the scarves and skirts and bowler hats of the locals.

In fact we are very near the area responsible for this phenomenon. Negro slaves were brought from Africa to work in the Coca fields and so have been here and are now incorporated in the local society. We tried asking a couple of the ladies in town but they didn't want their pictures taken. I would always rather ask than just snap. Shame as it is so interesting, the same thing here as in Britain with the Caribbean population becoming (as it should be) part of the national identity. There are a few villages around here were there are large populations of Caribbean stock, but for all the world being Bolivian of course.


Coroico we saw about 7 Jawas - in UK, haven’t seen one for years (good reason!)

This would be another great place to return to and do some treks with a guide (probably best for security by all accounts too). On the way back to the hotel we met the man from the Tourist info who recognised us and immediately pulled out a bag with a huge insect in it. Brightly coloured and about 4" long but with long legs, antennae and some wicked looking mandibles - you would not want a nip off this thing. I guess it was to be gassed and added to the collection on wall, but amazing to see all the same, and nice that he took the time to show us.


Not a bed bug luckily, would sit in your hand, but for those mandibles

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