Doug McLean World Tour 1999-2000
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October 10-18, 2000:
La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and Coroico!
Wed. October 18, 2000 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Leave tonight out of Santa Cruz...going to Cacares, Brazil (thinking of my friend Victor in LA)...and then onwards to visit Juliano in Brasilia...hopefully will arrive there on Friday.
Oct. 10, 2000 (Tue):
Woke up about 5am on the train to Oruro. The train was great...allowing Guillermo, Laura and I to enjoy the scenery while we were served breakfast onboard...ahhhh...the luxury of it all! We passed some pretty barren land and then a lake near Oruro which was covered with pink flamingoes...which all started to fly as the train passed...stunning!
When we arrived into Oruro we grabbed our backpacks and walked to the bus station...about 10 blocks away. Got a bus to La Paz...and enjoyed the 3-4 hour ride. We could tell that we were gaining altitude as we approached La Paz and it's surrounding mountains. It is an amazing city...it is like a bowl...with the downtown in the bottom part...and the city stretching (literally) up in all directions...crawling up the sides of the mountains in all directions. At night it is amazing!
Anyway, it was not a spectacular arrival...with freezing rain falling as we got into the station. We took a taxi to Hostal Austria...a very pleasant hostel in the center of the city...one block from the capitol.
After getting settled in, I went walking around to see the city. I also needed to get my Bolivian visa extended...so I found the appropriate office and bingo, an hour later I had it extended for 60 more days. I used the internet a little. Walked around lots of La Paz...I like the city. La Paz is pleasantly laid out...nice squares, churches, and it seems to have an energy. There are lots of people in the streets...but they seem to be doing something...unlike in many South American cities where there are lots of people around...but you wonder what the heck they are doing.
I returned to the hostel and ended up meeting a lot of people in the hostel's central room (the sign of a good hostel is a nice open space where fellow travelers can meet and exchange info...good hostel.). Many of the folks I met were going to do the La Paz-Coroico bike trip (this road generally is acknowledged as The World's Most Dangerous)...so I of course felt I should go too...I went with a few others and we paid our money and signed up for the trip...$39 dollars to go risk our lives...what the heck, it's only money.
I tried to encourage Guillermo and Laura to go...they laughed at me and said they wouldn't go if it was free! Smile...cést la vie...good night.
Oct. 11, 2000 (Wed):
There were 7 of us who left the hostel to bike down to Coroico...and we were hoping that all 7 of us would return! It was raining when we left...and things didn't get better during the bus ride to the starting spot...because we were climbing into the mountains to start our trip. Started in the freezing rain of the mountains around La Paz at 4700 Meters...brrrr cold!!! We had been warned...signed waivers...told it would be 70 Kilometers with 95 percent of it downhill...dropping from 4700 Meters to a mere 1300 meters in a matter of 4-5 hours on bike...it was dangerous and that was why we were doing it!!! ...smile...like my friend Emer says...regret the things you've done...not the things you haven't done!
We started biking...downhill and fast and FREAKING COLD!!! The mountains around us were covered in snow...it was magnificent. Also, the rising clouds and mist made for an amazing effect. First 45 minutes were all paved and only a little of it was uphill. Believe it or not, the uphill actually helped...because it made us pedal and work...thus warming us up. We had shed a lot of altitude at this point...and we started to shed clothes now as well...it wasn't quite as cold anymore. Unfortunately, at one point one of the riders hit a pothole wrong and fell off her bike...this was a good place to fall if you have to...she fell in the road, and there were no sheer drop-offs right here...we would later realize that there was little room for error on this ride...and that errors along the road later could turn into grave mistakes (pun intended).
The pavement ended and we found ourselves traveling on a muddy, gravel road...and most of it was being kicked up off our tires onto us! We were absolutely filthy in no time...literally bits of mud were being flung up into our faces...we were freckled with mud by the time we stopped at the bluff...which is where the real ride started...
This is where the part of the road that is called ¨The World's Most Dangerous Road!¨ begins! It was stunning...it is a road that literally clings to the side of the Andes Mountains...It was mud and gravel...and had sheer drop-offs. Now when I say a sheer drop-off, I don't mean into a ditch...I mean 200-300 meters STRAIGHT FREAKING DOWN! Along this road going downhill, the mountain is on your right and the edge is on your left...it is the only place in Bolivia where when passing an oncoming vehicle (in the few places wide enough) the car going downhill must pass on the left-hand side...this puts the driver close to the edge so they can have a better idea of the difference between good and bad decisions while steering...with little room for error.
We started down the narrow road with some caution...hmmm...but I guess that didn't last for long as the riders self sorted. I ended up biking for much of the time with a young Danish couple from Copenhagen. They were on their honeymoon and enjoying a month in Bolivia! Morten and his new wife Vibeke were great...and enjoyed riding aggressively. Especially Morten who had biked a lot and was very good...smile...sometimes too good...we got into racing down the mountain at times...ahhhh...what fun! The only real race we staged I won...but probably not because I am so darned good...but more because my bike had better gearing than his...on equal bikes he probably would have kicked my tail. That said, we had a great time...and as the Butthole Surfer's would sing in their song titled Pepper, at times we were ¨Pourin´ Like an Avalanche, Comin` Down the Mountain!¨ It was a great day!!! Lots of steep roads...stops for trucks and busses to pass. Actually, on these roads going downhill, a bike can go much faster than a truck or bus...better cornering and turning.
Smile...I guess most of my friends know that I'm a little competitive at times...but I almost took it too far on this road. Once we were all stopped and I saw that a bus was coming along the road...I hate being behind busses! Anyway I quickly mentioned that we should all head out ahead of the bus (because we'd end up passing it anyway...no sense following)...but the bus was going a little faster than I'd expected...I pedaled (sp?) like HECK! The bus wasn't going to slow down for me...and I wasn't inclined to give way either...I luckily got out ahead of the bus and extended it out to a safe distance by taking a turn faster than it could...but it was a little closer than I'd planned, and my fellow riders later said that they thought the bus was going to get me for sure...APLASTADO! Smile... Not my smartest move ever...but that which does not kill us, makes us stronger!
It was an exhilarating ride...one I'll never forget. At the bottom we stopped and peeled off our coats...I had also luckily worn my waterproof pants over my other pants...so I was able to end up looking somewhat clean at the end of the trip.
We hopped in the van and went the last 9km uphill into Coroico. It is a nice little town in the Yungas...beautiful scenery. We could also see part of the new road that was being built to connect La Paz and Coroico...a newer, safer road...too bad.
Returned to La Paz in the van on the same road since the new one is not yet finished. Now we got the first-hand experience of being in a vehicle on The World's Most Dangerous Road...wow. We all agreed, we preferred it on bikes...in a vehicle you truly appreciate how narrow the road is...and that you are at the mercy of the driver's skills. Also, I was fortunate...I was in the front passenger seat (the side nearest the cliff) for much of the ride...and could truly enjoy the view...smile...which was straight down at times. On the way back, the driver informed us that about 70-80 people died every year on this road...and due to the steep drop-offs...there were rarely survivors. 3 Months earlier, a big truck (loaded with both goods and people) had plunged off a cliff...22 people died, and earlier in the year I had heard of 8 Israeli's who had also plunged off the cliff to their ends...this road is not forgiving whatsoever.
Got back to La Paz tired but very happy. Several of us decided to order a Pizza...not our best call of the day...Domino's Pizza in La Paz SUCKS...after 4 calls...we got it delivered...but it had the wrong toppings...cèst la vie.
Talked with Guillermo and Laura...they were going to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca the next day...I decided to go too...have to keep moving.
Oct. 12, 2000 (Thur):
Hopped on the bus to Copacabana about 8am...me, Laura, Guillermo, and Rene/Australia. At one point the bus must be put on a ferry and cross part of the lake...we all got out and got on a small boat and crossed. Lake Titicaca was beautiful and clear. Hopped back on the bus and headed to Copacabana.
Laura and Guillermo had made reservations already at a hotel...La Cupola. NOW LISTEN...if you visit Copacabana...YOU MUST STAY AT LA CUPOLA HOTEL. It is awesome...domed buildings built after the styles in Tunis...amazing rooms...vegetarian restaurant (that serves fish...go figure...I guess if it isn't cute and cuddly it isn't meat and it's ok for vegetarians to eat...yeah, right!). We felt like we had landed in paradise...La Cupola had hammocks outside...an amazing view of the shoreline...and a great view of the city of Copacabana and it's impressive church. Rene and I decided to split a room...only $6 per person...cheap in the USA...expensive here in Bolivia...but La Cupola was worth it. Our room was amazing...we took pictures of the hotel and the room if that tells you anything!
We lounged in the hammocks for awhile...then Rene and I went to visit the church. It is actually an amazing church...of course taking up a whole city block...but it had a big open courtyard in front of the church. The church is in a Moorish style and is very grand. We then walked up the hill that overlooks the city. From the city you see that there are many crosses onto of the hill. On the way up, we discovered that there were many crosses on the ascent as well...indicating the stages of Christ as he bore the cross. At the top, of course there were lovely views of the city and of Lake Titicaca.
We hiked down the hill another way...and ended up back at La Cupola (which is right under the hill). We learned that the hotel hosted nightly movie showings in the group room...the movie being requested by the guests. Tonight it would be American Beauty...and I requested tomorrow night's movie...The Mission with Robert Dinero. We continued to be surprised and delighted by the hotel, as we found out that the restaurant would serve us during the movie...smile. Unfortunately, Guillermo and Laura were feeling bad...maybe something they ate...so I gave them Kaopectate (sp?)...they were quickly cured...smile. Rene and I decided to take advantage of movie and dinner...so we ordered the trout...and sat down with a group of others to watch American Beauty...ahhh...it was so nice to have our INCREDIBLY TASTY dinners show up during the show...and allowed us to watch a movie and dine sumptuously. Then we went to a bar we had heard of...Sol y Luna (meaning Sun and Moon). This is an AWESOME backpacker bar...having a book exchange, all the Lonely Planet books for South America, candles lighting the place, run by friendly ex-pats, guy playing the piano, menu of music to request (I requested and heard Stevie Ray Vaughn of course!), and a guitar on the wall for random travelers to play if they got the urge...an amazing place. Copacabana was exceeding all of my expectations...smile...
Oct. 13, 2000 (Fri):
Woke early...showered and then we headed out to visit Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun) on Lake Titicaca. This is where the Incas believed that the Sun was born. Guillermo, Laura, Rene, and I hopped on the boat for the trip. We would be dropped off on the North end of the island...and then have about 5 hours to walk to the South End of the Island to be picked up.
The Lake was beautiful but a little cold... Onboard the boat, we met Rachel/Indiana and Joana/Florida...they were living in La Paz doing missionary work helping the folks in La Paz. We arrived at the North end of the Island and disembarked. Walking off the dock, I spotted our friends from the Salar de Uyuni trip: Julia, Lisa, and Sasha (Julia's Russian Husband who had joined them in La Paz). It was good to see them again...they had spent the night on Isla del Sol and were going to Isla de la Luna (where the Moon was born, of course) and would be on the boat when it picked us up on the South end of the Island later.
So, Guillermo, Laura, Rene, Rachel, Joana, and I all trooped off to see the sights of Isla Del Sol. The entire island was terraced...exactly how long ago was unknown...but it could have been started and done by the early Incas. Anyway, we walked to some ruins...met a local guide who explained some of the information. He showed us the Piedra de Titicaca (the Titicaca rock...where the lake got it's name). Titi means puma or panther and caca means rock...so Titicaca means Puma/Panther Rock. It was assumed to be a source of great power, along with other powerful areas...being Cuzco, Peru and Chichen Itza, Mexico. We enjoyed the information...and of course tipped him...these type of informal guides are often the best way to get information and to avoid being GUIDED and SCHEDULED by formal guides. The information certainly added to our understanding...
He also pointed out the ¨Footprints of the Sun¨...which were supposedly left when the Sun walked out of the Lake and emerged to go into the sky.
We continued to hike for awhile...it was a long hike...and at altitude it wasn't any easier...smile. But we all enjoyed the hike and the conversations. Rachel and Joana were doing admirable work in La Paz...really trying to help others. We had some great conversations...and I arranged to visit them when I returned to La Paz.
We met up with Lisa, Julia and Sasha for the boat ride back to Copacabana. Onboard I told our new enlarged group of the movie showing at our hotel...all agreed to come...including 2 Danish girls who happened to overhear me (I guess I don't speak very quietly...smile). Back at the hotel...we placed our dinner orders and the movie started. Smile...we had a huge group in there to watch the movie...and everyone really enjoyed The Mission and the dinner. The Mission, describes the early Jesuit activities in the are that is now basically around Foz do Iguazu...the junction of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. It is a very good movie...and was special for me because I had visited the Jesuit ruins in San Ignacio Mini, Argentina in Dec. 99.
Then we all went to Sol y Luna bar...had a great evening listening to a few Argentinean guys playing the guitar and drums and singing in Spanish...smile. It had been a great day.
Oct. 14, 2000 (Sat):
Woke early...Rene checked out and we headed to catch a micro to the Peruvian border. Rene was heading into Peru to go hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Piccu and needed to catch a bus in Puno.
Puno is a big connecting point between La Paz and Cuzco...it is along Lake Titicaca...and is truly a PIT of a city. I had gone to Puno with Rene only to visit the famous Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca...then I would return back to Copacabana. We visited the floating islands...they were fascinating. Literally, they are bundles of cut reeds that the natives have placed down onto of piles of other reeds...the bottom-most of which are rotting beneath the surface of the water. It was truly like walking on an enormous waterbed...really funky. We enjoyed it...only a 2 hour trip.
Returned to Puno...used the internet for a little while...then I hopped on a bus back to the border city of Yunguyo, Peru. Well, I arrived into Yunguyo sometime around 8pm...and the place was absolutely dead. I found a taxi driver to take me to the border...but it was closed. Now, that's not to say that you couldn't just walk through...it is only to say that it was no longer attended...and getting passport stamps was impossible. It was freaking cold and raining as I walked to the Bolivian side. It was even more tranquilized than the Peruvian side...and I was still 12KM from Copacabana!
I found one vehicle that had a guy sleeping in it. I woke him and asked if he would go to Copacabana...it was about 9pm now. He said he was waiting for a group to hop in the bus to go to Copacabana but it would be awhile. I waited with him in the bus until it was finally full...sometime around 11pm...and we were off for Copacabana. Arriving there, I realized that I was starving...I went to the ever faithful bar Sol y Luna...ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a hot chocolate...I love this place!
Oct. 15, 2000 (Sun):
Woke early...dressed and caught a micro back to the Bolivia-Peru Border. Crossed without problem (as the Bolivians were raising the flag at 8am for the opening of the border)...however, the Peruvians are 1 hour behind and for some reason can't coordinate to open the border with the Bolivians at the same time...I waited for an hour until Peru's immigration office opened. I got my Peru exit stamp, then walked across and got my Bolivian entry stamp.
Packed and then caught a bus to La Paz. Started reading Ayn Rand`s The Fountainhead. Arrived into a cold and rainy La Paz...went to Hostal Austria...then to internet place for awhile...continued to read the Fountainhead. Then went to Burger King...ate and used the internet there...met a Brazilian guy, Alex...tried to speak in Portuguese...with mixed results...smile...both Spanish and Portuguese are a little mixed up in my mind...but he understood me and we had a good conversation.
Returned to the hostel...read The Fountainhead until way too late...crashed.
Oct. 16, 2000 (Mon):
Woke...continued reading and finally finished reading Ayn Rand`s The Fountainhead just before noon. I hated most of the book! OK, ok...let me explain. I've already read Ayn`s Atlas Shrugged...and liked it. The Fountainhead is basically the same (it was written 10-15 years before Atlas)...it doesn't really present any new ideas that I hadn't heard and agreed with in Atlas Shrugged. I also was pretty pissed that Ayn felt she needed to waste my time with 700 pages to convey some ideas could have been easily condensed into a few pages...also the plot is somewhat (no, VERY) melodramatic and seems to take away from the spirit of some of her central characters... I did like the following quote:
¨Don't worry. They're all against me. But I have one advantage: They don't know what they want. I do.¨
OK...so much for me slamming The Fountainhead...I do recommend that one DOES read an Ayn Rand book...and I suggest that it be Atlas Shrugged...my friend Agustin was right!
Walked to bus station to check out their schedules to Santa Cruz and made a reservation for tomorrow. Then went to Burger King for lunch and internet. I was sad and had to respond to Luciana about her having had some money stolen out of her purse in the hospital in Sao Paulo. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to be far away sometimes from the ones you love and not be able to be there to try and help...not that there was much I could do...but I suddenly felt very helpless and far from her...not a good feeling. Lots of people think that traveling is all fun and games...but it certainly does have some serious downsides.
Spent much of the day at Burger King trying to catch-up...and since the internet was free here...I just spent the same amount of money as I would have elsewhere...but here I got food and internet for the same price! (does my thrifty Scottish heart good!). Met a couple of New Zealanders and gave them the scoop on Uyuni, Copacabana, and Puno...it's good to help your fellow travelers. Then tried to get in touch with Joanna and Rachel here in La Paz...but Rachel said that tomorrow they would probably have to work...cèst la vie.
Went to my room...and tried to start reading Darwin's Descent of Man. I barely made it through the Introduction before I was asleep.
Oct. 17, 2000 (Tue):
Woke...went to Burger King for internet again...checked out of the Hostal Austria...back to internet for awhile (lots of Journals to catch-up with)...went to the bus station and bought my ticket to Santa Cruz.
Hopped onboard. Sat next to a guy who is a dentist but also is an announcer for ¨Lucha Libre¨ ...which took me some time to figure out that it means WRESTLING!!! Yes, I was sitting next to a Bolivian Wrestling TV Announcer...ahhh...life just doesn't get better than this (bet my dad is jealous!). He was a real nice guy...and we had some great conversations in Spanish...gotta keep up my skills...because I'll be messing it all up soon when I get into Brazil and start speaking Portuguese!
Slept...soon to arrive in Santa Cruz.
Oct. 18, 2000 (Wed):
Started reading some more of Darwin's Descent of Man while on the bus...got a little deeper into it.
Arrived in Santa Cruz...reserved a ticket on the bus to Cacares, Brazil (made me think of my friend Victor in LA)...used the internet...that's where I am now...finally up-to-date with my journals...if all goes according to plan, I will catch the bus tonight and be in Brazil tomorrow...we'll see...