Flat and fast riding to Bolivia – Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Death Road

Exhausted after hauling my bike around the Ausangate circuit, it was only appropriate that I should immediately set off to Bolivia without rest. This time in the fine company of Swiss cyclist Rachele who midway through her South American travels decided to turn her adventures into a long distance cycle tour.  After strapping a couple of gasoline canisters to a bicycle bought in Guayaquil she was off. Although faster than her with my lighter setup she often gained the upper hand with her relentless pace; she would barely stop to breathe.

Some photos and story of our trip to La Paz via the north side of Lake Titicaca:

Setting out from Pitumarca:

I manage to lose Rachele on the first day as she takes an alternate route by accident somehow confusing me for someone else. Unaware of what is happening and after half an hour of waiting I am highly concerned for her welfare and backtrack to look for her losing 400 metres of hard fought elevation in the process. After climbing back up the hill, I get vague responses from locals as to whether she has passed or not. A passing minivan puts me at ease shouting out my name from across the highway; it turns out she’s way ahead of me in Aguascalientes.

I am delighted to find her alive and we celebrate our reunition (is that a word?) with a quick dip in the ‘not very hot’ hot springs. With a roof over our head, I opt for the lazy option and decide not to bother unpacking my tent.

And we set off the next morning. This blue sky sets the standard state of affairs for the next week.

With my new camera I keep stopping in an attempt to improve my photography skills (and eat obviously). However, Rachele doesn’t stop. Ever. The sight of her passing and disappearing into the distance becomes familiar.

After our  final Peruvian pass we stop to chat to ‘Tan Lines for Two’ who are on a bicycle world tour passing the other way. They’re from England. They’re not going back.

In Ayaviri we eat some delicious meat (and potatoes) that is served by a jolly ‘large’ Bolivian woman. She retrieves it unexpectedly from a massive paper bag covered in blankets which turns out to contain the corpse of a lamb (aka Kankucho). The next morning we’re on our way for more flat straight pavement.

 

The monotony is broken again when we these two young Argentinian brothers going the other way also ploughing along the incredibly flat straight roads from Lake Titicaca

And it just goes on and on. Although there are, undoubtedly, moments of boredom, I’m enjoying the change of riding style and the incredibly fast sense of progress towards Argentina.

Staying two nights in the Juliaca Casa de Ciclista we take a day trip to Puno to get our Peruvian exit stamps (no facilities where we’re going) and head round the northern side of Lake Titicaca.

After the first day of flat riding, a few tedious hills start appearing before we reach the Bolivian border…

Glimpses of the massive Lake Titicaca come in and out of view.

And then this marvellous road side view of the big lake.

Literally zero traffic.

The last few hundred metres before the border.

Finally the Peru / Bolivia border

Looking ahead into Bolivia. What adventures lie ahead?

Bolivia. I like it already.

After a cold rainy and dreary ascent into neighbouring city El Alto, we are rewarded with miles of La Paz nestled compactly into this huge bowl in front of us.

It quickly becomes clear that these pulbic transport minivans form the majority of the traffic. If everyone had their own car the chaos in this city would be unimaginable.

Glimpses of snow capped peaks add to the charm.

And it’s time to say goodbye to Rachele, she has a contact she will stay with.

After a night in the casa de ciclistas (home for cyclists) I join a group to head off and ride the famous Death Road. With a strong desire to rest after many days of riding, I find the non-trivial and unexpected uphill stretch to the bus terminal almost unbearable. Various cries of despair are heard within the group as the driver clumsily straps the seven bicycles to the top of the van.  Fragile derailleurs are mashed against spokes and pedals and then dark clouds appear in the direction of Death Road. This doesn’t seem like such a good idea after all.

However very soon we’re at the top and my mood lightens. This will all be over in a couple of hours…

But it takes two hours to just get to the start. Due to initial hailstorms and seemingly relentless freezing rain two of the group understandably give up and head back to La Paz. By now it’s close to 4pm.

But I forget about the time pretty quickly when I see this.

And this… With my 2.4inch tyres I am unable to hold back and tear off ahead spending the remainder of the day alone. I enjoy breaking free of the large group and the return to freedom.

Then back to the Casa de Ciclista in La Paz for 9pm.

From Pitumarca to La Paz took seven days riding with one rest day in Puno sorting out exit stamps. From 19th November 2016 to 26th November 2016.

Extra details on The Road of Death:

In total, 45 minutes to the bus terminal by bicycle, half an hour to the top of the pass, 2 hours descending to the start, two hours actually descending Death Road and two and a half hours by bus back to La Paz.  At the end of Death End there’s no need to climb up the 500 metre elevation gain to Coroico, leave Death Road early and pick up a bus from Yolosita just after the bridge.  Could be a struggle to get a bus from there in a large group but you could always get a ride up to Coroico.


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