Bug Hunt in La Paz

Date: 13th September – 24th September 2012

Where: La Paz – Calamarca – Sica Sica – Oruro – Poopo – Challapata

Distance: 5023 to 5267 miles

Crammed into the La Paz Casa de Ciclista with at least 14 other cyclists like sardines in a tin was never going to be an entirely pleasant experience. At 3 o’clock in the morning it became clear it was one which would have to be endured for more than the planned single rest day. Geoff spent most of that night on the toilet demonstrating the many colours of Bolivia, both in bodily fluids and in the language he mumbled under his breath.

The next morning a trip to the Doctor’s with four of the other Casa inhabitants resulted in simply submitting blood and poo tests. This time we’d find the bug(ger) and kill it proper! Unfortunately this meant waiting four days for the results. The ensuing days were spent relaxing, getting to know the other cyclists with useful tips like using plastic bottle tops as funnels for decanting bags of stuff like powdered milk (a popular cyclist’s pastime). We even treated ourselves to a bit of luxury, going to see the latest Batman movie in a huge cinema complex on the outskirts of La Paz, devouring a Burger King on the way out.

Stocking up on Vit C on the streets of La Paz with freshly squeezed orange juice

The salteñas of La Paz are justifiably famous. Think: small, spicy cornish pasty

So…the moment we’ve all been waitng for…what has geoff got living in his stomach? Hooray! It’s e-coli, no wonder the other drugs didn’t work! Right, now let’s annihilate it with antibiotics…but wait…the French cyclists have announced a crepe party. Maybe the antibiotics can wait till the morning! (Bolivian red wine is really good!)

The moment of truth…and it’s e-coli!

A multitude of cyclists enjoy the crepe party in the Casa de Cicilista

The very next day we were on the road, the uphill road, out of La Paz. The traffic was abysmal and we were nearly robbed on the way up, but eventually we reached the altiplano and exhausted we reached the town of Calamarca. We had been told by everyone there were rooms, then discovered there weren’t, but we ended up OK in the local library with a restaurant attached next door. After such as exhausting day, the next one to Sica Sica was short and comfortable, and we were able to enjoy a number of ice creams in the town square that afternoon. This was perfect preparation for the 100km stretch to Oruro the next day along undulating altiplano made slightly easier mid-afternoon by the new road being built alongside the old one (making it dual-carriageway). Our luck didn’t last though, when a stretch of the new road clogged up our bike tyres. Ten days later, and we are still finding patches of bitumen on our clothes and bags!

Leaving La Paz by the eventually scenic and quiet road

Once out of La Paz, the road flattens out and snowy mountains fill the horizon with La Paz completely hidden from view

Our spacious room at the library in Calamarca reminded us of jumble sales back home in England

Evidence of burnt tyres from strikes was everywhere on this, the main road through Bolivia

Being the main road through Bolivia doesn’t stop the local school from closing it down for its sports day though!

A peaceful afternoon in Sica Sica

Riding the bitumen trap into Oruro

Entering Oruro via a boulevard of copper statues indicating the town’s mining importance

A restful rest day in Oruro watching subtitled films and cleaning bikes energised us for the next stage South towards Potosi. Armed with clear directions from the hostal owner we struck out for some hot springs South of Poopo. Soon we were delighted and a little surprised to find ourselves seeing flamingos for the first time. The surprise turned to concern as we realised that there shouldn’t be a lake on our left, but on our right. A quick compass check and 12km from Oruro we turned back realising he had sent us on the wrong road. We didn’t care though as the colours of the landscape and flamingos had been breath-taking (especially given the lack of oxygen!).

Cycling out of Oruro past Lago Uru Uru and it’s flamingos

Andean and Chilean flamingos in the water

Riding back to Oruro past the flamingos

We’ve been told that as cycle tourists you can easily ask to camp in people’s yards or behind their houses, however we are happy to report that this is utter rubbish in this part of Bolivia at least. They wont exactly say no but will suggest you go on a bit further as you will be more comfortable there given they have many territorial dogs which they let out at night. The next day we found out that they aren’t lying about their ‘perros bravos’ as Sarah was attacked by an insane dog as she approached a house to ask for a safe place to camp. With Sarah approaching a certain time of the month this led to an important discovery…try not to cry at altitude, it just suffocates you. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of swearing, which comes out just as easily. The dog didn’t bite her but it got quite close and if it wasn’t for Sarah standing her ground we would very likely have been heading back to La Paz for dog bite treatment. Even the shop and alojamiento (hostal) we found that day had vicious dogs in.

The next day was a lot better with everything going to plan along the plain flat roads. The town of Challapata was better than expected and we even managed to find a decent place to stay although it’s name might not suggest it (Residencial Diar). We ushered in some Argentinian motorbikers that night. They’d ridden from Cordoba in Argentina in only three days and were visibly exhausted. They should try riding bicycles!

We start getting creative with our photos on the virtually empty altiplano road

The floating islands of Lago Poopo mix with small salt flats while vicuñas graze

Peeing with a view as we approach Challapata

Next we head off across the hills to Potosi with little hope of hotels we’re going to have to risk asking locals for space to camp or (more preferably) find our own spot away from any dogs.

2 responses to “Bug Hunt in La Paz”

  1. Lloyd says :

    Hi Sarah and Geoff!

    The trip looks like it is going well. I’m happy to know you two are still on the road and pedaling! The pictures and letters are stellar and make me wish I was out there with you! Take care and happy trails.


    • Geoff says :

      Hey Lloyd,
      We keep telling everyone about your bucket panniers. Things are going well here, we just met up with two French cyclists we met in Granada and will cycle with them across the SW corner of Bolivia. looking forward to it! We did a little calculation the other day and think that our Casa Xaltava Spanish skills must´ve negotiated us about $1000 of savings just by being able to haggle in their language! Well worth it! Sarah´s Spanish is amazing now, but I´m still stuck in the present tense…too much time writing blogs and fixing bikes!
      Hope all goes well for you back in the USA, and let us know if you ever come to England,
      Geoff & Sarah

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