Cochabamba to La Paz, Bolivia

Cochabamba to La Paz, Bolivia

May 21, 2015

Narrated Audio Blog

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

Why do men transform into giant babies when they get sick? All their manliness is consumed by the illness and what is left is the shell of a man with the temperament of a 5 year old boy. Stuart is no exception to the rule. It had been a while since his last bout of sickness but it struck again the day we left Sucre, Bolivia, headed for Cochabamba.

We had been on the road maybe two hours after a breakfast feast in Sucre with our friends Hernan and Noelia from Argentina. The first symptom was a "sore tummy" and was closely followed by a headache, nausea and diarrhoea so it was slow going with long toilet breaks. Every time we stopped Stu would lie down on the ground for a few minutes until the pain passed then we would try to continue. Maybe 100km along Stuart lay down and wouldn't get up. We were in a tiny town with a few houses and services along the highway. It didn't take long for the locals to approach us with offers of assistance. We had some medication for these circumstances but it didn't seem to be working so when a local man drove over with his van, we accepted his help to drive Stu to the nearest hospital.

Janell stayed in the tiny highway town with the motorbikes and Weeti, expecting Stu back in a couple of hours. These hours passed very slowly and finally it was dark and there was no sign of Stu. Of course the worst scenarios pass through your mind. Janell secured Stuarts motorbike with Weeti and went for a ride to find the hospital. Unable to locate a hospital, disheartened and distressed she returned to Weeti with no choice but to wait and hope Stu was okay. Resolved he was not returning until tomorrow, she set up the camping chair between the two motorbikes and snuggled up to Weeti. It was warm at an elevation of 800m and the highway was busy with trucks so she felt fairly safe but aware of her surroundings.

Its so easy to forget about food when you are stressed but eventually your body will remind you to refuel to keep your strength up. It was well after dark by now so Janell walked to the nearest 'restaurant' about 200m away and grabbed an egg burger and juice. With a full belly she returned to the motorbikes and then, after what seemed like an eternity, Stuart returned in the van around 11pm. He looked only slightly better and was in no condition to ride so Janell set up the tent in the dark, only metres set back from the highway, the only space available nearby. She placed big rocks in 3 rows about 2m apart around the tent in case a vehicle pulled off the road and didn't see the tent.

It was a rough night, especially for Stuart. But he was feeling well enough to ride the next morning so everything was packed up, we grabbed an egg roll and coffee for breakfast (absolutely necessary after little sleep) and continued the remaining 250 km to Cochabamba which was a stunning ride. We cruised on twisty roads traversing  mountains and valleys. The long section of cobblestone road, which at one point would have scared Janell, was fun and we flew along it only stopping for photos and historical markers.

We made good time pulling in to Cochabama well before dark and settling in to a hostel in the old part of town. Street food was plentiful and diverse from cups of fruit to burgers to ice cream. Lots of ice cream and cakes in this town! Three nights in a city was a trend in Bolivia but this allowed us two full days of exploring and a break from the challenging riding. The Statue of Christ, our third or fourth in South America, was a fun day out climbing the thousands of stairs with Weeti in her blanket. The markets, La Cancha, were a must being the largest and liveliest in Bolivia. You can buy anything local or imported in Bolivia in these markets and give yourself a few hours to check it out,  try some food, buy some flowers or get a pedicure.

La Paz, the other Capital of Bolivia, was a big days ride from Cochabamba at 400km. We decided to split the trip in to two easier riding days just stopping where we felt like. Normally this plan works out fine for us but this time we really struggled finding accommodation. It was dark and cold and the only hotel in town had no vacancies because there was construction work on the highway so the workers needed somewhere temporary to stay. The next town was going to be an hours ride and we really didn't want to get back on the motorbikes in the cold. The best thing to do was get some dinner, at least then when we hit the road again we'd be warm with full bellies. The staff at the restaurant were really friendly, they asked about our journey and where we were headed. When they understood our accommodation situation they offered us a room in the upstairs of their restaurant. It took them 15 minutes to clear out the room which was being used for storage, then it was good to go. A young lady walked us around the back to park the motorbikes then took us upstairs to the room. We put the sleeping bags out and the three of us jumped in quick as a flash because it was so cold and just wanted to be asleep.

These situations really make you appreciate the simple things in life. We were so grateful for somewhere to rest for the night but also for the friendly conversation we had with the staff at the restaurant. In the morning we ordered their biggest breakfast, downed it and finished the ride to La Paz. We thought it would be a fairly uneventful day with a relatively straightforward ride to the big city. We were wrong. About 80 km on the road Janell realised Stuart was missing one of his Touratech pannier lids. Ah oh. They pulled over to discuss, actually it was more of a point-the-finger conversation in which Janell deduced she had accessed the tool pannier on Stuarts bike to get some dog treats and had forgotten to close it afterwards so at some point on the road the pannier lid had fallen off. There was no choice but to ride back, retrace our steps and look for the fallen lid.

We rode all the way back to the restaurant then slowly covered the same 80km. About half way through it was time for a quick stop for Weeti to go to the toilet. Now this you wouldn't believe. Our Argentinian friends, Hernan and Noelia, came cruising up and pulled in. They instantly recognised the Pillion Pooch. It was so good to see them again and so unexpectedly. After Sucre we weren't sure if we'd cross paths again. We didn't find the pannier but we found our friends instead. They were headed for La Paz also so we followed them, met up with motorbike club contacts of theirs in La Paz and all checked in to the same hotel.

La Paz was a fun city. Its huge when you combine the city which is located in a valley, with the area of El Alto which sits on the plane above the valley. There are cable cars for commuters between the two but you can also ride it for fun as a tourist. We just enjoyed walking the streets with Weeti, watching people go about their busy lives and stopping at street vendors for food and drinks. The traffic was epic in the valley but there was a system to the chaos and an understanding among the various vehicle types that you just need to figure out and respect.

Our friends Hernana and Noelia were only in La Paz for two nights and their contacts from the motorbike club wanted to escort us all on the famous Death Road. To say Janell was nervous was an understatement. She was seriously contemplating going 2-up on Stuarts motorbike, nervous she'd fall off a cliff or crash in to someone because the road surface is gravel and often wet. Come 6am Janell was no less nervous but determined to give it a go. There were 6 of us on 5 motorbikes (Hernan and Noelia were travelling 2 up on a Honda Falcon 400cc). We had to travel about an hour to get out of the city and climb right up to the top of the Yungas. It was very cold at 4,600m plus so we only had a short stop at a lake for a photo, potentially the last photo we'd ever take.

No, that was being far too dramatic. The road has a bad reputation because in its hay day, it was the main route north but being so narrow and twisty and often wet and foggy, vehicles would fall into the abyss. Now days there is a major highway so the death road is mostly closed to traffic but open for mountain bikes. It just so happened that road works on the main highway had forced traffic on to the death road for our visit so it was just like it used to be.

We travelled from freezing climates at 4,600m to stinking hot rainforest at 800m at the town of Coroico. The descent occurs over 30km and at the end is Coroico, a cute tourist town with plenty of restaurants to feast in. We all agreed on a local restaurant a few streets back from the town plaza. Before we knew it we had full bellies and it was time to return to La Paz. It was a full day and we were exhausted but it was a day we will never forget, especially Janell.

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