La Paz is the de facto capital of Bolivia, it's a city of 1.5 million; and at 3,600m a.s.l, it's really, really high. La Paz has a number of attractions, such as the nearby ruins of Tiwanaku, the famous "death road" bike ride, and the world's strangest jail, San Pedro. Also has beautiful, snow-capped mountains surrounding it on all sides.
Chris and I were hoping to catch either the 8pm or the 8:30pm bus this evening, from La Paz to Potosí. But when we got to the bus station, at 6:30pm this evening, the seats on both of these buses were completely sold out. However, they did have two seats left (the last two) for the bus to Sucre, which left — well — immediately, at 6:30pm! So we immediately bought the two final tickets, ran to the bus, whacked our luggage underneath, and jumped on. And that's how we ended up going to Sucre tonight, instead of to Potosí.
Bolivia is an amazing country; but sadly, this is despite its culinary offerings. Fortunately, there are plenty of exotic gringo restaurants in La Paz, offering many of the fine foods that we crave from back home, and that give us a break from the positively ordinary local food of Bolivia. Last Thursday night, I dined on some delicious Beef Vindaloo at the Star of India restaurant. And today, I had some great Red Curry Thai Chicken at Maphro On.
This morning's climb of Huayna Potosí was very hard. But it turned out that getting to the top was the easy part. Once we reached the summit, we had to climb and hike all the way back through the ice, to the high camp; and then straight away, we had to continue hiking down, all the way to base camp. I was already dead when I reached the top of the mountain; but by the time I'd done the additional 5 hours or so of hiking to get back to base camp, I was semi-human. Mountain climbing lesson number 1: getting to the top is only half the journey. Once you get there, there's no helicopter waiting to take you back down.
Yesterday, I made it to the high camp on the way to Huayna Potosí. This morning, I actually went and climbed the mountain. It was very, very hard work. It damn near killed me. But, with a bit of good luck, and a lot of persistence, I made it to the top! Nothing in the world quite compares with making that last step to the top of a 6088m mountain peak, and taking in the dazzling view around you.
Issac was the guy who took me up the crazy climb of Huayna Potosí this weekend. He's an incredibly fit and ready-for-anything guide: he climbs the mountain as much as three times each week; and he knows it like the back of his hand. Couldn't have got to the top without him.
This weekend, I decided to try real mountain climbing for the first time in my life, and I did it on the mountain of Huayna Potosí, not far from La Paz. Huayna Potosí is recommended as a great first try for people with no prior climbing experience, as it's a relatively easy 6000m peak to ascend (the total ascent is to 6088m), and as it's conveniently close to the already-high city of La Paz. Today, I drove out to the base camp with my guide, and completed the hike of about 3 hours, to the high camp of 5200m.
At the end of today's death road ride, we had a very cool river crossing, that we all blazed and splashed through at full speed on our bikes. And the fine folks at B-Side were kind enough to capture the whole thing on video. Check it out.
Arguably the most famous, and the most popular, tourist attraction in La Paz these days is the death road bike ride. A 3000m descent, from La Cumbre to Coroico. Downhill almost all the way. And fatally dangerous for much of the distance. Today, Chris and I did the ride, with B-Side Adventures (great company — but horrible web site). And we survived, and loved every minute of it.
For the first time so far on my trip, I went to the cinemas tonight in La Paz, and saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (the third and final instalment in the trilogy). Great movie, and an interesting experience going to the cinemas in Bolivia. They're screening movies until 10pm, but the last decent ones are at 7pm. They have numbered, reserved seating; but when you get inside, you can't see the numbers, so you just sit anywhere (then someone comes and moves you). And they turn the movie off as soon as the credits start rolling, so that you get out of there faster. Crazy place.
I was a bit desperate for lunch today, so I wandered into the first local-looking restaurant that I stumbled across. It was a bit late — about 3pm — and when I asked them what they had on offer, they said that all they could give me was Jolke. I had no idea what Jolke was, but I was starving, so I said bring it on. Big mistake. Disgusting brown soup with horrible meat and various spices. Basically looks and tastes like a bowl of $—%#. Try and keep away from it during your next visit to Bolivia.