Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Worlds Most Dangerous Road. 26.11.12

Today we biked The Worlds Most Dangerous Road....

Technically this is the title given to a stretch of road between Unduavi (north of La Paz) and Coroico by some development agency some 20-odd years ago, when annual deaths numbered in the hundreds. It was dirt and rock, very narrow and followed a precarious route with near-vertical drops in the hundreds of meters on one side. It was also two-way, so most deaths occurred when a vehicle got nudged off the side by another. Since 2006 a by-pass taking all the vehicular traffic away from the rock and dirt 'track' has rendered it much safer.

As all cyclists know, traffic is always our greatest danger. Now you would have to be a complete dumb-wit to fall over the edge. I am sure they are still out there, though.

However, dangerous it may not be, but that does not stop it being a blast - starting at 4,700meters (15,419') it drops to 1,200meters (3917') in 64k. (40 miles). That equates to a drop of 11,502'' in 40 miles. Ben Nevis is only 4,409' high. It is a real downhill ride.

The first section is paved - therefore fast- the latter on the original, rock and dirt road down the massive canyon. Good fun.

Veggie beware...

Our evening continued in grand fashion as we visited El Arrieo, an Argentine steak restaurant.

Imagine a sublime steak (imported from Argentina; I suspect it is the source of the best meat in the world)

Imagine a fantastic bottle of Alta Playa melbec, from Mendoza.

Nothing fancy, no sauces, just the star performer and the wine. I cannot tell you how good both were.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bolivian Graffiti 2. 25.11.12

Apart from embassy's , policia stations and the like, graffiti is to be seen everywhere in this, central part of the city.

"I didn't see a thing, Guvn'r"".

....and politics in all its forms is always close to the surface.


Graffiti, Bolivian style. 24.11.12

Along with the street stalls, markets and bowler hats graffiti is to be seen everywhere. Often political in nature, it is left on most buildings, but can appear overnight on more salubrious institutions. We will then see a hapless attempt to have it removed, only for more to appear days later. Maybe I am glad I cannot understand it all.

Gigantografias - what a great word!


You get the impression that if you stand around too long you may get painted over.

Whilst at home I would consider such graffiti ugly; somehow it all seems in keeping with La Paz.

Very quickly you don't even notice it. Which I assume is the most annoying possibilty for the 'artist'.



Brassed off: 1 20.11.12

Apologies for the pun.

As luck would have it we stumbled across a large scale traditional Bolivian band competition, which made getting from A to B in La Paz both confusing and noisy. And rather fun.

Sprinkle in street food vendors of every kind (and hygienic level; Sarah declined to join me in my

sausage bap) and you have a La Paz street.


Brasses off: 2. 20.11.12

I believe the below couple were on the winning band.

Having heard them play, I am pretty sure that the below are not part of the winning band.

Top marks for enthusiam, effort and choice of dry cleaners, though.





Brassed off 3: 20.11.12

Conversations from the band competition.

"It's easy as falling off a plank".


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brassed off: 4. 20.11.12


"Don't like her outfit much".

Could be be Cardiff on a Saturday night.


Curfew: Wednesday 21st November 2012

La Paz is a large, vibrant city, with people and traffic moving noisily, often very noisily, about the streets well into the early hours of every day.

But not today.

Today is almost completely silent, largely devoid of cars or persons. Today is the national census day, held every ten years. In Bolivia that means there is an enforced midnight-to-midnight curfew. The curfew, my first, is rather interesting. I try to imagine one in place at home, but fail miserably. I do recall my parents getting caught on the streets during a war time curfew by a sympathetic policeman, who walked the other way whilst they knocked on a strangers door to claim sanctuary. Must have been fun.

Here in Bolivia, wisely, there is a ban on alcohol sales the evening before the curfew starts; imagine trying to enforce such a thing on a population who had gone partying before a days holiday? Luckily we had bought in our supplies the day before.

Looking out from our first floor balcony I do spy some of the census takers walking around. They go door to door recording information, their numbers bolstered by high-school kids. I have been told that it is voluntary, but if you do not assist your grades could go down; but that is untested information. I also see the occasional policia vehicle or motorbike scuttle by. The overall effect I would liken to the aftermath in a disaster movie.Unnaturally eerie.

Even the pigeons seem a little bewildered, as there is no one on a bench to peck around, no street stall to gather crumbs from under. The traffic lights continue their slow repetitious existence. but with no traffic it is like a reincarnated Indian deity on an endless eternal cycle. Ultimately pointless.

Now it has reached evening the novelty has worn off and I cannot wait to get outside. It is tempting to sneak out, but being new in this foreign land I am aware I do not know the rules of the game yet. But what is the worst that could happen........?

(Editor; actually he knows. In the city center is the infamous city San Pedro prison, renowned for its violent prison culture and not taking kindly to gringos. So he won't be sneaking out after all, inspite of the rhetoric).


Bowler hats and my Aunty Betty. 22.11.12

You may have noticed the bowler hats.....
The reason for the bowler hat being the traditional headwear worn by the Aymara women is vague at best. Why the hats are also three sizes too small is even more vague, and to me even more intriguing.

Perhaps in England we wear them three sizes too big?

I also have the impression that I am in a city largely populated by my Aunty Betty.

The Aymara and other indigenous Bolivians are all of a similar height both to each other and to Aunty Betty (The traditional multi-layered petticoats, however, make them seem 10x bulkier). The tallest would come in at under 5', with many much smaller. However they do not move anywhere near as fast as Aunty Betty.

But then, not many people back in Falmouth do either.


The Snooze Factor.


Snooze Factor 1.

Snooze Factor 2.

Snooze Factor 3.


La Paz streets. 17.11.12

We are staying in La Paz to attend a language school for two weeks (Quickly I realise two years would be more realistic). A good plan none the less, as the school and staff are excellent and prove a gentle welcome to Bolvia. I recommend them without hesitation - they are Instituto Exclusivo - www.instituto-exclusivo.com.

Between 'classes' we catch up on chores and check the city out.

It is clear the city lives on the streets. It lives, breathes and trades on its streets, with markets of all kinds dominated by the indigenous Aymara. One alone covers 35 city blocks; we at Topsham have a long way to go yet. Making your way across the city is both confusing and enthralling in equal measure.

..........and you are never quite sure what you will find around the next corner.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Arriving: La Paz, Bolivia. 8th Nov 2012

First impressions:

Arriving at 2.30am in a foreign city, in a foreign country, on a foreign continent, we were glad of our pre-arranged taxi to take us to our pre-arranged 'homestay'. Georges the taxi driver managed to cram our bikes and bags into his taxi, before carefully spreading a blanket over each of or laps. A welcome gesture, even though, inspite of wearing shorts, it was not cold at all.

The airport is at over 4,000mts. That is high. La Paz itself drops to a more reasonable 3,610mts down a deserted multi-lane highway. A slight mist hangs in the air, outlining occasional almost mythical characters seemingly sweeping the streets. They are clad in garish clothes including a balaclava of some sort and appear to be 4' tall, like an extra on a Star Wars movie. Given the scale of the roads and the traditional brush their task is clearly impossible. I would have taken a photograph were it not for the sudden swerves Georges had to take to avoid the large potholes - sporadic, but way too large to ignore.

My first thought was of India, but without the masses. The crumbling buildings, extrovert wiring tangled at all heights like so many Gordian Knots, and the generally 'worn out and knackered' air was India all over. I immediately had a crush on La Paz.

Georges drove down through the city center, much more dilapidated than I expected before landing. Then we there, our host Pamela waiting at the kerbside to welcome us and get us settled. After three international flights, 24hours of travelling, and fears our bikes would not travel with us, we had arrived.

La Paz, Bolivia. Welcome to South America!


El Salvador airport, Wednesday 7th November 2012

Backtrack to 7th Nov.

There I was having a nice little kip, waiting in El Salvador airportfor our onward flight to Bolivia, when I was rudely shaken awake. (Editor; there is probably no 'politely shaken awake').

Instead of Sarah doing the shaking, I awoke to the very large settee I was enjoying shaking and the advertising displays wobbling. Others, including airport staff, jumped to their feet and made their way to the main corridor. Then I realised the actual concrete structure of the whole building was visibly quaking. Not even Sarah can achieve that level of energy, not even on a bad day. Eureka - it was an earthquake.

It transpired that it was actually in nearby Guatemala, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. I have always wanted to be in a 'proper' earthquake, and I was not disappointed. It was impressive, but not at all scary in my particular situation.

Until recently I did not realise that a one point increase on the Richter scale is a thousandfold increase in an earthquakes energy.

I am more than happy with my experience of a semi-distant 7.5 quake. That is quite enough, thankyou. Another experience ticked off my list. I suspect I may go through some more before returning home.....


Monday, 12 November 2012

A final, simple thought on the USA.

There is one characteristic about the USA which really impressed itself upon me on this trip.

We travelled through an incredible variety of landscapes, industrial, rural, old- school and high tech, through a myriad national backgrounds embodied in its populous - and all this within arguably the most conservative of their regions.

Some of these communities are so far apart geographically that they may as well be in a different country. And geography and climate shape people as surely as the Colorado river shaped the Grand Canyon.

And yet despite all the obvious differences and problems (and they are legion) 'they' still remain -

--- a United States of America.

And that seems almost inexplicable, and admirable, to me.

And with this post I have chosen the below photo. It is of a bunch of neighbours on the road to LA who decided to have a chilli cook-off. They had originally envisaged a big organised affair in the park, but in the end opted to set up at the side of the road outside their homes and call out to passers-by, inviting them to be the judge of their efforts.

(I voted for number two, the vegan chilli). I hope they let me know who won.......



Between 13th October and the 7th November....

(Editor; warning, boring post alert).

Well, we did not quite get to Mexico.

But we did go rafting down a short section of the Colorado river,

below the surprisingly beautiful Glen Canyon dam.
Our guide was LaToyah, one of the 200,000 Navaho who live in that area of the southwest. When I asked her, she said she was an American, but that she came from the Navaho. Pretty obvious, really.

We then headed further south through Flagstaff and as far as Prescott (Both worth visiting, especially the latter).

After that we headed north west to the Californian coast hitting it at Carmel (One of Sarah's favourites), then headed south down the coast. It was good to 'be beside the seaside' once more after being landlocked for so long.

A note of sadness: the large, long haired, long bearded owner of the Iron Maiden Pub (at Point Sur) and true Maiden fan has sold up.

The Maiden ( as it is now known) remains, the beer is still good, the list of beers impressive, but the ol' guy is missing. I mourn his passing.

We enjoyed a three night stop at Santa Barbara (Sarah's favourite) - which included a 'very lively' halloween night at The Brew House. (The yanks really make a party of halloween, admirable considering it was mid-week) - before reaching LA along the coast.


On the 7th Nov we flew from LA and after three flights via San Salvador (and an earthquake) and Peru, into La Paz, Bolivia.

And that, my friends, looks set to be another story entirely......


Friday, 9 November 2012

Just how grand is The Grand Canyon? 12.10.12

Well, as it turns out, pretty darn grand.

Imagine the grandest thing you have ever seen. Then double it, add your age, multiply by the year England won the world cup (For those who can remember that far back. if not, contact Ralph Hare) and you may be getting close to how just how grand the 'GC' is.





It wasn't all sunshine and roses. Well, two days were, with the one in between a very snowy day. 50' visibilty, but still very magical. Actually, the conditions quickly became quite difficult, and we would have been 'uncomfortable' in such weather --- But we were not, because we had met up with friends from British Columbia, in two camper outfits, who did a sterling job becoming our support wagon. Thanks, Team BC!

Yes, our tent. It stood up remarkably well, and our sleeping bags did there job too.
"Yes, Gail, you can take one more photo. Take your time, the weather is lovely"
This is what 50' visilbilty looks like. Behind Team BC is an 11mile wide. 1 mile deep canyon. Trust me. I met a

gynaelcologist once.

(Yes, I know there are two similar shots, but Sarah likes trees).

And Team Bc in more clement times.

A times their behaviour was cause for concern.


But for me there was only one star of the show.


Don't let people tell you that "It all looks the same". Rather like a fine woman, different viewpoints provide very different perspectives, very different experiences.....
A member of Team BC checking it is still there.








I was mesmerised. The stats are only a whisper of the story infront of you - 6000' feet to the bottom, 11 miles across (The view in the large photo), a thousand foot difference between the north rim (the higher side) and the south rim. All just numbers, numbers, numbers.

There is something about becoming aware of that great big, simple, void. (Editor; sounds just like Fatboy Wallace).

That may not sound very glamourous, but trust me, looking down into that amount of defined, empty space? That is as glamourous a void as I have ever seen.

(I like this picture so much, I am going to show you it twice).

To be honest, I cannot imagine Old Mother Earth ever looking more radiant, more glamourous.