Week of May 02, 2004
When we were coming into Copacabana, we thought we saw another RV parked down along the shoreline. We wandered down and lo and behold, there were two New Zealanders, Sam and Christine, that were camped in an RV they purchased in the United States (Arizona) some 12 years ago. They have been traveling for all that time, spending months and years in the U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America, oftentimes working as massage therapists/consultants. They have even picked up construction projects as Sam was (get this coincidence) a plumbing contractor in New Zealand. Needless to say, the next day Cindy camped next to "Izzy" and we enjoyed a few days of nothing but great conversation and needed relaxation beside the lake.
We hope to meet up with Sam, Christine and Izzy in La Paz or in Chile. They gave us a good reference in La Paz in which to park Cindy so if we find it, we should cross paths again.
We left Copacabana and Lake Titicaca with hopes to make it up to Sorata, a nearby town laying at the base of two mountains, Illampu (6360m ~ 20,000ft) and Ancohuma (6429m ~ 21,000ft). Unfortunately, the road was a tad too rough (more for us than for Cindy) and we turned back to head on to La Paz.
On the way out of Lake Titicaca, we passed her "sister" lake, Lake Huynaymarka, which is impressive in her own right. We also had to take a so-called "ferry" across the lake to avoid driving hours around the two lakes. Crossing the storm-roughened water on this planked barge was a bit of a white-knuckler ride (and not only because it was chilly). Cindy was quite relieved to be on solid ground after that experience.
We made it into La Paz and nothing could have prepared us for the topography of this large and picturesque city. La Paz, Bolivia, is a city that is snugly set into a chasm at a dizzying 3850m (13,000ft) above sea level. Inasmuch as La Paz has only one main road that dissects the city, this same road (one road mind you) has many names. Needless to say, we got to see parts of La Paz that we probably would never be able to find again.
Unfortunately, many of the streets were extremely steep, and with the altitude, Cindy did what most Los Angeles sports teams do when the going gets tough: she choked. At one time, I had to leap out of Cindy while Gerson held on for dear life (MY dear life) to the parking brake, and I ran behind a backward-sliding Cindy to motion oncoming traffic to the other lane while Gerson slowly eased Cindy back down an unforgivable hill. Fortunately, the Bolivians are patient and somewhat reasonable drivers and we easily backed down the 100 or so feet to where we could to turn onto a cross street with less climb in altitude.
We had difficulty on a number of hills, so much so, that the warning light came on for the brakes. That was when we decided that we were just going to follow whatever streets go slightly downhill and hope we make it into the Zona Sur, where Sam and Christine had recommended we park Cindy. (Understand, a crowded, narrow downtown street is not where you can just pull over and let the brakes cool down). Luckily, our instincts proved correct because how we did it, we have no idea, but we hit upon that many-named road that took us right to the south end of La Paz.
We found Rolando (Sam and Christine's recommendation), a mechanic and the owner of the small parking area and Cindy fit beautifully. As we were intending on giving Cindy a once over while in La Paz anyway, her little choking episode prioritized our activities in the city. Rolando just happened to be one of those gem of mechanics that does everything. He repairs, rebuilds, welds, molds - you name it when it comes to vehicles. We quickly found out that our choke was malfunctioning (hence the complete shut down of the engine at the higher altitude) and that we needed to clean the carburetor, replace a small part on the starter and a few other small cleanings and repairs. Since we had already decided to complete a tune-up, we just handed Cindy over into Rolando's capable hands and all was to be taken care of.
La Paz is a surprising city. From the standard red brick flats to immense mansion-like homes tucked into gated communities. Bolivia is a poor country but this city has the looks of a strong middle class and a very present wealthy class. There is such a mix of people on every street that I almost didn't stand out (I said "almost").
We took the opportunity to do the city walking tour and wandered around several churches, government buildings and up to a local "mirador" or lookout spot. We also happened upon the Mercado de los Brujos or the "witch doctor's market" where they sell all kinds of amulets, charms, spices, magic potions and other unusual spiritual artifacts.
A stop in La Paz is almost not complete unless you visit the Valle de la Luna. This valley is a geologists dream of eroded landscape that has resulted in a terrain of dirt and rock spires and seemingly bottomless pits, hence a moon-like appearance. If you have visited Bryce Canyon in Utah, this valley is very similar, minus the brilliant color and fortunately, minus the lack of access. The visitor is allowed to meander in, around, among, over and through the pillars and spires and the chasms and bridges. Watching your step is as important as taking in your bizarre surroundings as at any moment, you can step into a hole that will take you on a 30' - 50' ride straight down. Also, the six-inch wide catwalks were, shall we say, interesting?
Geologists have concluded that before the Andes formed (you know, those rather insignificant mountains that run through Peru and into Bolivia), that this area was covered by the ocean. Many fish fossils have been found in the area and as the valley continues to erode with each passing day (and visitor), more fossils become exposed.
While we were wandering around La Paz proper, we ventured into a local tour agency that specializes in mountain bike adventures. You will have to check back for next week's edition for our "gravity assisted" mountain bike expedition down what is considered to be "the most dangerous road in the world". At least I hope we survive so there can be a next week's edition...