Week of May 09, 2004
We made it! What a ride...what a rush!
Once we were dropped off at the freezing summit, we propelled ourselves downward almost 3000m (~10,500 ft) in approximately 70km (~50 miles) while clinging to a oftentimes one-lane dirt "road" cut out of the side of the mountains. It was not uncommon to be careening around a curve and find yourself within inches of the edge that disappeared hundreds of feet below to the valley gorge. The "road", dubbed "The World's Most Dangerous Road" has earned its name by averaging 200 fatalities (vehicle and bicycle) every year. Fortunately, we did not add to that count.
The road is shared by vehicles of all sizes (especially very large produce trucks and transportation buses) that force you into the immediate action of stopping at the very edge of the road and to wait for the vehicle and its shadowing dust cloud to pass.
We started at freezing temperatures and ended in the valley with welcoming warmth. We passed through and under waterfalls, over (and me into) rivers, across and over cliffs, etc. With our layers of clothing being removed as we plummeted into the abyss, needless to say, we had a significant layer of dirt and dust covering our bodies to bring home with us.
Because of our new dusty skin tone, we decided to stay overnight in Coroico, the little town of our gravity-assisted destination. We stayed in a wonderful hotel and the hot shower was magnificent. The views were not too bad either.
The ride was an adrenaline rush of the highest caliper and Gerson and I are thinking of all those mountains close to home that may just need our attention once we get back.
We went back to La Paz to regroup and prepare for our 10-day trek circuiting southern Bolivia via bus, 4x4 and train. Unfortunately, Bolivia's teachers were unhappy with their recent contract concessions and as a result, created several blockades on the few paved roads around La Paz. No violence would erupt as long as the buses and the commuters did not attempt to pass through or go around the blockade so our five-hour ride to Cochabamba turned into an eleven hour trial. Promptly at 6:00 p.m., the teachers packed up and slowly walked down the road with many buses and trucks in their wake.
A humorous side note (and a glimpse into the dense mindset of the Bolivian people) was when we asked the local people all standing around why the police or military were not involved in dispersing the blockade compiled of people and rocks (no real weapons), their answer was that if the police/military came, that would "encourage violence" and "we are a democracy" and "we don't believe in violence".
Ok, let me get this straight, you have a bunch of teachers that are blocking ALL commerce and personal business, leaving women and children stranded in the middle of freezing nowhere with no food or water for many hours, threatening anyone or any vehicle that try to go around the blockade by throwing rocks and the locals believe that the police/military would encourage violence? Ok, how about the terrorists that are in front of the buses threatening violence against that poor soul that just wants to get to the next town! This helpless attitude is pervasive in the Bolivian culture and it is no wonder that they lost a war to Chile which in turn, lost their access to the Pacific and this attitude lost them access to the Atlantic when Brasil gave them a route through the Amazon and all Bolivia had to do was maintain the route...of course they did not and the Amazon reclaimed the passage.
Please keep in mind that these same people allowed the blockades to completely shut down the city of La Paz for six days in October and each week, various strikers shut down entire sections of the city, with no resistance from the suffering locals.
Bolivia, unbelievable beauty within its landscape and unbelievable stupidity within its populace. (We can list many examples of this view but we would run out of website space, there are so many *rolling eyes*). And as a disclaimer, yes, we have met some terrific people that stand out like the blonde hair in Bolivia, but they were definitely the exception.
And, you know you are in trouble when the radio gives announcements on not only "how to wash your hands correctly" but that the people should be washing them anyway. Unfortunately, many of the Indian women do not listen to the radio nor have much of an idea about hygiene and baths. As the traditional Indian women would walk by, we started a rating system of 1-weeker, 2-weeker, etc. A 1-weeker meant a smell associated with a person that has not bathed in a week, a 2-weeker, for two weeks, etc. We actually had a 1-yearer, she smelled so overwhelmingly bad that she made our eyes water and Gerson to coughing. There is not a dead fish out there that could smell that bad...pu.
We stayed in Cochabamba long enough to catch the next night's bus to Sucre for a grueling eleven-hour ride. We managed a sleeper bus which only means the seats recline and you have a footrest. The sleeper part is all in how you define "sleep" since the bus stopped four times (which means lights on) and people come onto the bus to sell "refrescos" or "saltenas" at two in the morning. The first thing we did when we got in Sucre? Take a nap.
There was not much to do in Sucre but we happened upon this gimmicky advertisement for a tour to a place where they have discovered dinosaur tracks. Thinking the site was probably a hoax created by some energetic Bolivians hopping around in big, fake dinosaur feet, we got drawn in and took the tour. What we found was extraordinary and definitely no pogo-dino-footing people here. These tracks are the real thing and they were fascinating.
Apparently 150 million years ago (yeah, that long ago), this enormous vertical limestone wall was actually a sloping beach to the local dinosaur watering hole. As these rather un-petite beasts trundled down to drink their fill, they embedded their footprints into the soft limestone and volcanic ash covered beach. Tracks go every which way and several cross each other at different periods in time.
The tracks were discovered when the local concrete manufacturing company was scouring this huge hillside layer-by-layer and hit the softer limestone/ash fill. Having already destroyed hundreds of tracks, it finally dawned on someone in the company that maybe the tracks would be of scientific interest. So within the past 8 years, there has been a conservation effort to protect the tracks and the concrete company cannot disturb the remaining hillside. Also to note, that many of the tracks are disappearing on their own through natural erosion, and many tracks are appearing through the same process. No one knows what other magnificent finds are just laying underneath this uppermost layer of limestone, but as erosion has its way, much is lost and much will be gained.