Bolivia, north to Lake Titicaca

From Uyuni we continued north on to Potosi. Apart from 20kms which was not yet finished, the road was brand spanking new. And as with many of the roads here, it is designed like a race track, awesome bends to get your footpegs down on.

I was not expecting much from Potosi. It’s history is heavily based on mining and has a terrible record dating back to the Spanish times. Millions have died in the mines. Unfortunately I only found out about the Miner’s market, where you can buy dynamite, after I had left. Life is full of missed opportunities…

Yes, that is another protest, this time Potosi. It’s difficult taking a picture in Bolivia without seeing one

At Potosi I said goodbye to Joca and Marianne, I was going to Sucre and them to Cochabamba. More racetrack roads led to Sucre, a great little city full of old Spanish style buildings and heaps of charm. I could wax lyrical about Sucre, low altitude and loads of character. I stayed 3 nights and could have stayed longer, but I was due to meet my backpacker mates in La Paz for a weekend out on the town.

The main plaza in Sucre

The Sucre food market

En route to La Paz I get pulled over by the local fuzz, apparently doing 120kmh, in a country where national speed limit is 80kmh, is a chargeable offence. 80kmh national speed limit, seriously? No wonder nothing gets done in this country. OK, fair enough, I’ve been busted. I do my usual anti-police tactics; stay on the bike, helmet on, engine running, etc. The fine is 200 Bobs (30USD). Fine, I’ve done wrong, I’m happy to pay up, but I want a receipt. No, apparently I have to go with the police to the last town 100km back. Many “No etiendo’s” later and they are still not budging. No receipt unless I go back to town, a 3 hour round trip at 80kmh. I finally give in and hand over the cash without a receipt, this really grates me because I’m confident this is a con and I hate dodgy cops.

Apart from this incident, Bolivia has been a lot tamer than I was expecting. I’ve heard so many horror stories about corrupt cops and even worse driving. Those people complaining about the driving and dodgy cops have clearly never been to Nigeria.

More racetracks ascending the plateau

Amazing scenery in the Andean plateau en route to La Paz

The approach to La Paz is a long flat plateau which then descends into the valley where the city reveals itself in a sprawl that encompasses the entire valley. The city consumes every bit of available space. Whilst I did not particularly like the city, the views are outstanding. At 3,800m above sea level the air contains roughly 50% the Oxygen you would get at sea level, making everything a chore. Walking up a flight of stairs leaves you out of breathe. And in La Paz everything is either 45 degrees up or 45 degrees down. Nothing is easy.

La Paz, consuming all available space in the valley

My stay in La Paz was extended by 2 days due to a national bus strike, drivers protesting about the forced introduction of seat belts and mandatory scheduled breaks. Seems fair to me. I leave the day after the bus strikes only to encounter another strike, this time medical workers protesting against the government increasing their working day from 6 to 8 hours. Seems fair to me. Not a day goes by without a strike in Bolivia, it’s their national pastime. The strike causes havoc leaving the city. Every second street is blocked, detour after detour, inching forward in heavy traffic, every street 45 degrees up or 45 degrees down. Clutch taking strain, clutch being to smell. Finally after 2 hours, I’m free of La Paz…

Bus strike in La Paz, who needs seatbelts? I do love their old America buses though

Next stop is Copacabana on the opposite shores of Lake Titicaca, not to be confused with the beach in Rio. I make my way to the waters where a row of ferries are lined up to take me across the lake. I say ferries but none of them are more than an outboard motor attached to a few loosely bound planks. At some point an argument brakes out between my would be lake-fairing operators, you’d be surprised be know how often stuff like this happens to me. Anyway, I board the vessel which I deem the most lake-worthy and we venture forth. 50m before we reach the opposite shore the motor cuts out and quickly gets dismantled. As we slowly drift to shore, the other ferry ‘captain’ from the earlier argument has caught up to us and starts ramming our boat. This actually helps push our boat the final few metres needed for me to disembark. I leave letting them to sort out their differences.

Lake Titicaca ferry to Copacabana

Loosely bound planks

Scenery around Lake Titicaca approaching Copacabana

Copacabana is great, exactly what I needed after La Paz, a quaint lakeside village full of hippies selling weird organic products, most of which seem to be of the alternative medicine variety. The guidebook mentioned an ancient Inca observatory on a hill a few km’s out of town, being a history anorak I decided to venture forth. Lake Titicaca is situated at 3808m above sea level, its the largest high-altitude lake. Needless to say the 800m incline knacked me. I get to the top and wander around looking for the observatory, nothing. A local guide pops out of nowhere, this also happens often, and informs me that the Spanish destroyed the observatory. The Spanish were not keen on pagan gods. All that remains is a hole in rock where a pole was used to indicate the solstice. The rest on my time was spent eating cheap, tasty local trout and chilling out.

Inca observatory, note the hole in the rock

Some tourists accuse Copacabana of being overly touristy. Not me, I love pedalos

From Copacabana it’s not far to the border, just over 10kms. I’ve enjoyed Bolivia, it’s spectacularly beautiful, but Peru beckons.