If you think Britain is swine flu obsessed, think again. I´m currently typing on a keyboard wrapped in clingfilm to stop the spread of the disease over here in Bolivia, where about one third of barmen and waiters wear face masks. It really is crazy and at times very annoying.
I´m now in Bolivia´s 4th largest city, Cochabamba, which is home to South America´s largest Christ the Redeemer statue, which I´ll be visiting later by cable car. There isn´t much else here, but our new guide, 34 year old Chilean Joaquin, is giving us a walking tour in a bit, and we leave at 8 this evening on our 2nd night bus of the tour to the UNESCO world heritage city of Sucre where we´re staying for 3 nights.
As you know I did the Death Road bike ride a couple of days ago, and unsurprisingly have survived. We went with the most expensive and repuitable company for their equipment, but that also meant many hours of pointless how to ride a bike talks, and further safety announcements. They also made us wear thick overalls which were absolutely boiling and I would suggest unsafe, as they made me feel like fainting in the heat. We started at 15,400 feet (4710m) on tarmac roads where we did a warm up 10km ride down a barren Andean Valley. We then boarded the bus again for a short uphill section to the start of the danger road, which was a dirt track, I think around 35km in length. Before a new tarmac bypass road was opened 3 years ago an average of 150 people a year used to plunge to their deaths off this narrow track, where the highest single drop is a staggering 2000ft (600m). There are little to no crash barriers and not much to break your fall. Interestingly drivers on the road, and cyclists, are instructed to ride on the left (right is the norm in south America), as this way it allows the driver to better see how close his wheels are to the edge. For us cyclists it meant riding literally 2 feet from the edge, but despite this I didn´t feel too unsafe and as I gained in confidence and we got lower I started to go quite fast. Nobody fell off in our group, thus the death toll of cyclists this year remained at 3. The scenery on the ride was amazing but I was annoyed that we never stopped at the good photo opportunities like the other groups. I think this was a ploy to make us buy the photo CD made by our company, which I declined to do out of principle. I can download some photos later for a small fee though.
The road ends at just below 6000ft, so we made a major descent. At this altitude temperatures felt much more tropical, and we were given time for lunch and a swim in a pool at an animal sanctuary in the valley. Ran by volunteers it is home to animals who have suffered abuse, and thus in my view are deadly! There was a racoon like thing that bit one of the girls and then attacked a dog three times its size, and there were monkeys leaping and bounding everywhere, including on people! They also stole a few towels and flip flops! After a couple of hours rest we had to drive back up the death road, which I felt was worse as I was not in control, and we arrived back at around 7 into La Paz. The 3 hour journey gave me a headache, and I think the exertions of the day, even though I didn´t pedal much, brought back symptons of my cold.
Yesterday we had a 7 hour, turned 9 hour bus journey here on the worse bus I´ve been on. It repeatedly stopped to pick up street sellers who´´d walk on and try and sell ice creams, and the driver drove 3 times slower downhill than uphill, which considering we were as high as 16000ft on the mountain pass and are now at 8,800ft was very painful. Even the locals were shouting "vamos".
The new people on tour are mostly cool. There´s Daniel, 28, from Huddersfield. 2 Chinese English girls from London, 21 and 25 (I´m no longer the youngest!) and a late 20s German couple who got food poisoning on their first day. I´m sure they´ll settle in well.
Anyway, the weather here is still sunny as always and its getting quite hot now I´m at lower altitude. Walking tour starts soon. I shall update again in Sucre.