He went through the Andes, lost his credit card and trekked through Machu Picchu in our last post. This time Dave goes through Bolivia and then he flies back to Brazil (San Paolo).
There’s a lot to like about this post; soaking up the local culture in Bolivia, going through the markets, getting back together with old friends, watching a local Soccer game in Brazil and others.
But then there’s Yungas Road, a part of the world that terrifies me. That’s just me though, and you might be like Daredevil Dave who took to the road after a night of heavy drinking.
And so without further ado..
La Paz, Bolivia
Well after another relentless bus journey I arrived in the city of La Paz. The only thing notable about the journey was the border. A bridge separated Peru and Bolivia which is like a neutral area. The crossing involved hopping off the bus, walking past the Peruvian part of the bridge with my luggage, crossing over to the Bolivian side and jumping on the other bus.
There were people stuck in the area underneath the bridge where the area was considered not to be of either country and there were people scattered about camping. Apparently these poor souls were people that had successfully managed to exit a country, but not enter the other; they were effectively stateless, poor sods.
Coming into La Paz I noticed how densely populated it appeared to be, I came in over a mountain where I could see the entire city and it seemed to be endless. I had not much of an idea about the city and wasn’t expecting a massive sprawling concrete jungle of buildings. I also can’t say I learnt much about the place either, I had five days (or nights) before I was to fly out to Brazil and I was going to make the most of my time socially.
The area I stayed in was full of party hotels located within walking distance of each other. I stayed at the Irish hostel to hang out with friends I had met along the way, though I quite often visited the Australian hostel that was located around the corner where there were more friends I had met. I don’t know how many people I knew in town but I suspect it was well over thirty. This was a change from Cusco where I made an effort to meet new people, also Arica and Salta where there wasn’t too many people to meet.
La Paz is a terrific place to party, but you start to wonder why you’re there after a while as you really have to make an effort as there is so much to do at night. It was also coming up to my birthday, another reason for making most of the night life.
The first few days involved reunions (should I say nights), mainly with the Irish people that I’d been catching up with on and off.
On my first night everyone became inebriated in the Irish bar which was part of the hostel, there was a dress up party, though I did not participate in this as I considered myself way too mature for that. After the party we wandered down to a local nightclub. This involved drinking and participating in a “dance off” with a couple of others (very mature) as well as chatting with more and more people.
The night got even more questionable, as did my decision making, when we headed to Route 36, a bar that not only sells alcohol but also cocaine, cocaine is not legal in Bolivia (or anywhere for that matter), however it is manufactured in large amounts within the country.
I had hoped to do the prison tour of San Pedro as mentioned in the book “Marching Powder” (a must read for anyone travelling South America— I recommend it too, Ed), however the prison was in full lockdown as a camera crew had snuck in there and filmed tourists using cocaine within the prison. I don’t dabble in such things, I did however get back to the hostel in 6 in the morning and the following day was spent in thoughtful contemplation from my hostel bed.
Night two was the pre celebration on my birthday; I found that I had become popular amongst my travel mates, a pleasant change from my earlier years as a shy non-social personality. It was the pre celebration as I was encouraged to stay up till 12:00am.
At around 11 we moved from the Irish to the Aussie hostel. Where at midnight I received 36 kisses for my 36 years of age, I’m not sure how many people were involved as there were a few repeaters and there may also have been a few guys involved.
After this finished up, headed back to the first hostel, drank down some more beverages and eventually got to bed at around 3 in the morning, decided to not go clubbing as my birthday celebration I figured should start on the evening of the 12th, as opposed to 12am, as I said, my pre celebrations.
Nightlife in La Paz
Night three involved more partying, this involved most of the people from the previous night and unlike birthdays in Australia which the majority of my friends were male, and the majority of my friends in La Paz were women. After several hours in the hostel bar and lots of singing “Happy Birthday” we the headed out to another local nightclub where I befriended the Dutch running the event night, they let me choose music for the club as well as gave me free drinks (La Paz is awesome, I suspect my brain and body would not agree)..
I eventually made it back to the hostel at around 6 or so and passed out.
The following day, I finally made it out of the hostel, sober (ish). I and a friend went around the rather impressive “Witches Market”, but as they day wore on though, I became and more ill. I can confirm that the recuperative power of a 36 year old binge drinker is nowhere near people 10 years my junior.
I purchased yet another football shirt as well as a man chain for my wrist, met up with some people for lunch where I just had cola and eventually got back to the hostel. I did not drink that night as I thought it was time I should do an activity; I had booked myself on the bicycle tour “Death Road” the world’s most deadly road.
Yungas Road (Death Road)
I woke up at 730am and it was time for Death Road, I felt refreshed after all the excess drinking and also very excited about finally doing an activity. A group of us jumped in a bus drove for about a heading out of town up the one of the mountains surround La Paz.
Unfortunately the top of the mountain range was covered in clouds and it was raining, so riding proved a little cumbersome. Being the daredevil I am (not quite daredevil but a little crazy nevertheless) this did not bother me so I started hurtling down the mountain as quick as I could behind my Kiwi bike guide. And eventually we descended to where we could see views; we had started at 4800 metres.
Initially the ride involved bitumen, but soon enough our tour went into the forest and it was dirt road. Once I could see where I was going, I then proceeded to race ahead, take photos, let my fellow riders go by and then race ahead again.
Death Road is approximately 60 km’s and all up it took 3 hours or so. It is one of the most exhilarating activities I’ve participated in and whilst 17 cyclists have died in 10 years, I think the hype of how deadly it is a little over the top. I believe most of the deaths were attributed to buses and other forms of transport falling over the side of the road when Death Road was a major transport area, unlike now with a freeway being used; Death Road is mainly for cyclists.
That’s not to say I did not almost (in my opinion anyway) almost experience death.
When I did reach the bottom, something must of bit me to which I had a rather strange reaction. I noticed that my face was feeling my skin was coming up in a rash and then my lips swelled up (think Mick Jagger), I complained a few times to my Kiwi tourist guide to which he first indicated “Don’t worry mate, it will go away”. When my lips swelled up and I unloaded a tirade of blubbery abuse of abuse (I was actually thinking I’d die in a Bolivian hospital) I was given an antihistamine and a few hours later returned to normal.
Wrapping it up in Bolivia
That night was the last I was going to see everyone as I was flying out to Brazil. This was sad as I’d gotten to know a lot of people very closely over the past two months. We celebrated in the typical Aussie / Irish of drinking. Though I’d decided to go to bed at midnight at 12, I was out again clubbing till 4 in the morning, this was considered early. To be honest I wished I did not have to leave, sad saying my goodbyes.
I had to fly to Santa Cruz and didn’t want to be in bits as I was on the evening of my birthday. I woke, rash was gone, could no longer get hangover and made my flight,
San Paolo, Brazil
I arrived from a long flight from La Paz via Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz I stayed for a night, nothing to report) to Sao Paolo where I had three nights booked. The taxi from the airport cost more than my accommodation for the three nights, this was quite a shock from the relatively cheap costs of everything since Id left Buenos Aires 6 weeks earlier..
The hostel I stayed at were almost all Brazilians and they could speak fluent English, this was a first for me as I previously mentioned I don’t have a gift for languages and most of the people I had met were either backpackers, hostel staff or locals that did not speak English. I chatted with some of them and then headed off to sleep.
Observations of San Paolo
The next day I decided to go for a walk, I needed to purchase some new jeans as the old ones were still covered in mud from Death Road and the rest of my clothes also smelt like old granny shoes. I wasn’t sure what to expect from shopping and it was also my first chance to get an impression of the city.
San Paolo is massive, 11.5 million people in the central area and not sure how many in the surrounding, the city is littered with high rise apartment blocks and very wide streets, I can’t say it’s the most attractive place, unlike Rio though, it’s very modern and safe, at least where I was anyway. And Sao Paolo is generally safer.
I walked to the local shopping district and must say the quality of clothes shopping was very impressive, as good as anywhere I’ve been. The streets were littered with trees and street side cafes and boutique stores for as long as you can see. Anyway, being smeggy smelly backpacker and feeling totally out of place, I went to a bargain shop and purchased some new local brand jeans and a shirt (which wasn’t a football shirt), and I felt clean again.
The people of San Paolo
The hostel had turned into a restaurant and people came in off the streets. The hostel was unusual at as it ran itself also as a business, there was no common area to chill out though which was a little frustrating. I downed a few beers, waiting for something to happen, a couple of German guys came down from the room and we decided to head up the road for dinner. I consumed half a sheep (or it seemed so anyway) and then decided to head back to see if anything was happening, and it did, the hostel had turned into a nightclub.
It was filled with locals, mainly girls dancing around (I was most impressed with this) and they all spoke English. The hostel night club was popular with locals that wanted to meet Gringo’s for the purpose of practicing English, all students, the Germans and I willingly obliged. I’ve never spoken to so many Brazilians, danced around with so many and felt so welcome. I had a great night and fell asleep at some stage.
“It was the first time since the USA, that I’d had an opportunity to speak with so many local people that were as interested in what I had to say as I was with them. My experience with backpacking is usually you hang out with backpackers in foreign countries; this was the opposite and refreshingly different.”
Soccer in Brazil
The next day was a bit of a right off, had some junk food, watched Chelsea knock Arsenal out of the FA cup (very happy with that), had a nap and then got ready to go to one last football game, Palmeros vrs Santos in a local cup match. The hostel owner was a Palmeros supporter and arranged tickets for us and also became our guide.
We headed to the stadium and I purchased a replica Palmeros shirt. It was good to be in amongst the crowd in a sell-out capacity (unlike Rio) with unrestricted views (unlike Buenos Aires), the fans were jumping and dancing so much, that the concrete stadium was shaking, it was great to see so much passion.
Unfortunately, Palmeros lost and the quality of the game wasn’t very high. When we left I noticed a riot where groups of Palmeros supporters were fighting each other, I asked our guide and he indicated the Palmeros has two supporters groups that hate each other more than the opposition, I’d never heard of that before.
San Paolo nightlife
Back at the hostel, there were many more Brazilians, again majority being women, we were invited out to some night clubs and as it was my last night I figured why not. The nightclubs themselves are also first class, as impressive as anything I’d seen in Buenos Aires (and cheaper) and as I said before, the locals were friendliest I’ve met in South America. The night was spent dancing, I did notice that despite doing everything perfect, their dance music was not to my taste, but I sucked it up and danced the night away.
I wish that I’d had more time to spend there and had been thinking if there was a place I could live, it would be Sao Paolo (or Buenos Aries), someone told me it was Sao Paolo is to South America is like New York to the USA
I arrived back in Rio on my last night, I checked into the hostel where it all began (long ago it seemed now) and socialised with the staff I’d met. I had a few bevvies, did some organising for the next part of my trip and headed off to sleep. Rio seemed quiet now that the Carnavale ended.
The following day involved going to the beach for a little while taking in a movie and purchasing some new clothes as the old ones were now officially toxic, and then headed off to the airport on the UK. I was a third of the way through my journey…..
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished in Chile and Peru last time around. We’ll be back soon in the UK!
He just completed another world trip including stops at Vancouver, USA (numerous cities), Copenhagen, Paris and various stops around the UK, Spain and South Africa.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.