Juliaca-Peru to Cochabamba - Bolivia. 16th September 2001 - 12,123 miles
As we needed some relaxation after the strenuous cycling at altitude over the terrible roads, we decided on the southern route around Lake Titicaca. We know this route well having cycled it 3 years ago. The roads are reasonable and towns are frequent.
Short hop to Puno where Joan managed to find two books in English. David stripped down his front forks and there was no damage. He divided the existing oil between the two forks. All seems well. Nobody seems to sell hydraulic oil. We think they use motor oil.
On to Juli and the border, 11,700 miles, before Copacabana. Cycling out of Juli we noticed a strange absence of vehicles on the road. Several times, we had to go round obstructions and obvious deliberate attempts to slow traffic. This was strange as we were on the main road from Puno to La Paz.
On a remote stretch of road, we were confronted by a man standing menacingly in the middle of the road waving an iron bar. Pepper sprays at the ready we cycled towards him. His dress and manner indicated to us that he was not really a danger, but just trying his luck. He asked us for money to which we constantly replied "No entiendo!", "No tengo". The ruse worked and we cycled on leaving a rather confused and disappointed amateur robber still waving his iron bar.
When we turned off to the border at Yunguyo, the road was deserted and it became obvious why. Every mile or so, the road was totally blocked and we had to walk around piles of dirt and rocks that had obviously been put there intentionally. Very suspicious! Was the border open! Eventually after 10 miles of roadblocks, we came to the border, which was actually open, but nothing apart from foot passengers and bikes could get through. On the Bolivian side all was OK. Apparently, the people in the Puno District were staging a demonstration for two days and stopping all traffic flow in the area in protest against government plans not to build a new road.
At Copacabana, another problem loomed. The next two days were a national census for Bolivia. The regulations stated that all nationals must stay at home during the census. This meant that there would be no transport, uncertain facilities and most probably the ferry that we would need to travel further would be closed. The locals were unsure what would happen and how they would be affected and we therefore decided to stay put in Copacabana until the census was over.
All these problems were of no real concern to us, but to some of the many travelling tourists relying on public transport and on a tight schedule, they posed real problems.
The currency is now Bolivianos, at 10 to the pound, and our good hotel with lake view cost us 40 Bolivianos a day.
The decision to stay put in Copacabana turned out to be the correct one. We are now part of the Bolivian census as at 9 a.m. on the 5th September we were asked all sorts of questions and included on the census form. Our names have gone down in the Bolivian records as Joan Anne and David Sydney as we had no wish to complicate the issue when they omitted our surnames.
The town was like a ghost town with only tourists and police walking the streets. Everything was closed and tourists could not even get breakfast. We were ok as we had our usual porridge cooked in our room.
Staying at our hostel was a couple from Brazil, Freddy and Ann, who we made friends with and went out to dinner together. On census day, they went out in their car, and less than a mile away they were stopped by police and the car confiscated until 6 in the evening. Nobody not even foreigners were allowed to move around on census day.
After two stiff climbs and a ferry over the straits of Tiquina we headed for a nice hotel we had stayed at 2 years ago on the shore of the lake. It had gone upmarket and now wanted 40 USD for a room. We cycled back a couple of miles and found a lovely room overlooking the lake for 30 Bolivianos (about 5USD or 3 pounds).
On to La Paz. The last time we entered La Paz, we got lost, and so we were careful this time. We got lost again! Eventually found a hostel with communal kitchen and two Dutch cyclists, Thelma and Oscar who were cycling from Mexico to T del F. While walking in town the next day we saw a touring cyclist. He was Klaus from Germany who is on a 5-year trip. We installed him in the same hostel making a total of 5 cyclists there. It turned out that he was about two weeks behind us in Alaska and also heading for T del F.
La Paz is one of the worlds highest cities at 11,800ft, but we had to drop down 1,000ft to get into it. From the high mountain rim surrounding the city the view of the city is stupendous. It is like looking down into a city set in the crater of a huge volcano.
Spent 3 days in La Paz. The extension from 30 to 90 days on our entry card was given free. Why not give us 90 days at the border?
The route out of La Paz was a 1200ft climb to El Alto, then more or less flat at 13,000ft plus or minus 300ft for another 150 miles. We also had a tail wind and a short spell of icy rain. For two days out of La Paz we were joined by Thelma, Oscar and Klaus at the hostels.
On our radio we heard of the terrorist attacks in the USA and saw the plane crash into the Trade Center on the TV.
We thought that we had seen everything on the roof rack of a bus from tied-down goats and chickens to furniture. Today we saw a coffin on top of a bus!
Thelma and Oscar continued on the Pan-American to Oruro.
Accompanied by Klaus, we turned off on the road to Cochabamba assured by locals that there were plenty of hostels on the way. The road climbed to 15,000ft with no sign of anywhere to stay. Eventually at Pongo (yes, that's right - Pongo) a friendly woman in a cafe let us sleep on the floor. She gave us food, coffee and a sermon in Spanish. This was accompanied by religious and local native songs. Although it was cold, it was not as cold as our night at Imata in Peru.
The road from Pongo was mostly downhill all the way to Cochabamba, although we met some fierce headwinds in places. The mountain scenery was made up of multicoloured rock, red, yellow and green. As we descended it became warmer until at Cochabamba (8,500ft) it was almost tropical.
We have been at a minimum of 10,000ft for the last 3 weeks and do not expect to go as high as this during the rest of our trip.
The main square was called¨"14th September" and coincidentally we arrived on this date. The town was alive with parades, police and army. Planes flew in formation overhead. Very nice, but it was also a public holiday and almost everything was closed. Could not buy any food, to cook, and so we had hamburger, chips and coke for a pound each, followed by a one pound fifty pence ice cream and two spoons!
David had a bad cold which kept him awake at night and we stayed in Cochabamba for 3 days to rest and to service the bikes. Nowhere can we buy any decent bike bits - even metric screws seem to be unobtainable.
Our plan is to head east to Santa Cruz and then south through Argentina for a while. We may take a jungle trip.
Dave and Joan