(108) Bye Bolivia
After Steve now being ready to head home it was time for me to head north and leave Bolivia. It had felt like I had been here forever and needed to get going and make my way north. It had been a while since I had been on my bike but I had enjoyed the climbs and the challenges I faced with such good friends. I would miss Steve as he heads home but as he left I knew it was time for me to not only leave the city but everything thing that had come with this country. I was pleased I had come back as it had settled many things in my mind but now started the journey north into the unknown and the unfamiliar. I was a little nervous as it was uncovered ground but then I suppose so is life!
Friday 8th May
Not really knowing what time of the morning it was Steve got up and packed the rest of his things. Other then mis-placing his wallet and finding it again it all went with out a hitch. Like Andy, Jules and Sara it had been incredible to have him join me and do something challenging and a little different. We said goodbye and he set off out onto the streets of La Paz and catch a taxi for the airport. As I headed back to bed I sort of hoped he would miss his flight and return to keep me company. Thinking I might head off as well I went through what needed to do which ended being more then I had first thought so decided it better to wait a day.
Once I had a plan I started to look at the roads and where I would need to stamp out of Bolivia and in to Peru. I started to check the border controls when a wave of panic came over me. How long had I been in Bolivia? I only had a 30 day visa and 21 were with Andy Jules and Sara. About 6 days before that with Rafael and riding to Uyuni, just under a week waiting for Steve then 9 days with Steve. I ran upstairs to check my passport to find I was over my stay by about 12 days. All I could think was I needed to go to immigration now. I had no idea what would happen I would just have to see. I headed out and straight for the immigration office and arrived to a female guard that looked like she really enjoyed her job, once. She told me to go and photocopy my passport picture and visa then return. Thinking I wouldn’t try and make her smile considering my position and went off to get the relative photocopies. I cued up again and she pointed to a desk and said the number. I walked over to desk number 11 and stood in front of another guard who took my passport and the photo copy’s. He then opened my passport picked up a tiny stamp that looked like a flower with the number 30 on it and pressed it into my passport adding another 30 days just like that. I couldn’t believe it, I was over the moon and the relief was amazing.
Having brought my down jacket along in case I was locked up in some cold cell but also because the zip was broken and thought it a good time to see if I could get it fixed in case I wasn’t. I headed out of the immigration office before they changed their minds and made my way along the street of banks,up the street for tours, then on to the street for flowers, past the street for fish. Then right up the street for wedding cakes, left on the street for fruit, right on the street for veg and then found the street that sold zips, buttons and cotton. Once I had found and brought a zip I went along the street that sold material then in the building that made curtains and in the building that made wedding dresses. After asking 4 shops the 5th one said she could fix it.
5 hours after setting off I had a renewed visa and a new zip in my down jacket for £3.50 and free. With the rain starting to fall and the temperature dropping I headed via the street that sold meat and the next that sold veg and picked up enough to make cottage pie. Stacey and Johnny the Korean cyclists were back from there trip and so caught up with them while cooking. With the climb out of La Paz and wanting to cover some distance I made enough for lunch and packed it away. I checked through my things only to find my helmet was missing and also my shorts. At first I thought Steve might have packed them but the more I thought the more likely I had left them in the van when we went on the death road. I was gutted but there wasn’t anything I could do about it now other then rest for the big day tomorrow and to hit the road once more.
Saturday 9th May
After a good nights sleep I woke around 8.30am and started packing my things. I was really annoyed I had lost my shorts but I could at least try the tour company. They said they would check but didn’t hold out much hope. I hung around waiting and ringing until 10.30 when I really needed to get going. Deciding to take the road out of the city that Christian had told me about I said goodbye to the few that were still at the casa and headed into town. It was easier to push the bike to start with as the streets were one way in places giving me the chance to take a short cut. I could have taken a lift up as I had already ridden the road but something said I needed to ride it. I got on the right road to start with and was really steep in sections then I think I went wrong. I ended up on a really steep section that was almost impossible to ride. I tried to push but that was even harder. I reached an earth road when a drunk guy approached me and asked for money. I smiled tapped him on the back and pretended I didn’t understand. I set off without him following and continued to slowly climb. I finally reached the right road where the gradient wasn’t as bad and arrived not far from the teleferic. It had taken 3 hours to climb the 500 metres through the streets and was now 1,30pm. Wanting to get as far out of the city as I could I kept going steadily pushing on along an undulating road into what was now a strong head wind. Although it was flat the wind made it hard and slow going but at least I was making progress and was soon out of El Alto and on the road to the lake.
La Paz on the way out
The cars and trucks were kind giving me the room I needed. feeling tired I stopped for a short break to eat the packet of biscuits I had brought which gave me a little energy but I knew it wasn’t enough. I wanted to get more then half way to Copacabana to give me a chance to find somewhere to stay with plenty of light.
The mountains were always a welcome sight and so beautiful
With the wind blowing hard pushing on made the flat road feel more like a climb. As the cars and trucks passed they gave me some rest bite from the wind but what with the climb out of la Paz and the relentless battering from the wind I was now very tired. I stopped after 30 miles at a small shop to buy some coke and crisps as a pick me up and also some bread and water to save me time for later. By the time I set off again the wind dropped a little and with the odd down hill helped me pick up my pace.
The local car wash on the outskirts
It wasn’t long after that I saw the lake for the first time with the sun glinting off its surface.It felt good that I would be riding next to it for a few days and was mesmerising as I passed through villages next to it with the sun getting low adding colour and the scenery becoming more spectacular. With ducks in the reeds and the lake disappearing off in the distance with snow capped mountains in the background it was truly captivating.
It was amazing to see this tiny church on top of the hill
Wanting to cover 50 miles before I stopped I pushed on as the light faded. I reached the 50mile mark then came village after village. I just wanted to stop now but with nowhere out of site from people I kept riding on looking. After another 6 miles there was a gap between two villages and fields off to the right. Not wanting to expose my position I turned off all my lights and pushed my bike up a slope and behind a hedge. Hearing voices I pitched the tent in the dark and got everything ready. By this time it was not only freezing but I was tired. I turned my light on to cook and hoping no one could see me and was just pleased I had already cooked my tea ready.
Sunday 10th May
It was cold in the night but it felt so good waking to the sun on the tent. I could hear people singing in church and to see a clear sky and feel a warmth of the sun heat the tent. Even though there were people in the other fields no one bothered me allowing me to have breakfast in peace and dry the condensation off my tent. I was on the road by 10am and with no or little wind I was making good progress. After about 10 miles the road split and I started to head west.
I would often see tiny settlements with a donkey outside
From here on the road started to climb. I felt good as I approached a hill and picked an easy gear and climb. As I reached the half way point I passing a guy just letting his seat back in his little van with a lady next to him. As I passed it made him jump which made me chuckle and keep me amused for the rest of the climb. The road continued up and around a headland to then descend to a port. I picked up a couple snacks and boarded the mini ferry. It was an interesting port with probably 50 ferries and about 20 in service. Each one would take 2 cars, a car and a bus or a truck.
It was incredible these even stay afloat
It looked odd having the tractor unit of a truck floating along on a little wooden barge that looked like it could tip at any moment. At the cost of 50 pence I was across the water and paused in the square while I watched a ceremony.
It was nice to see all the ladies in their local dress for their awards
Knowing I had a climb I left the small village and made my way slowly up the hills and with the sun so hot and not having my over shorts my legs were starting to burn. I had factor 50 on but with it being so intense it didn’t seem to make any difference. Once I had climbed out of the port the road hugged the coast high on the cliffs it allowed me to look down on the blue lake with the green hills rising out from the waters edge and the snow capped mountains way off in the distance.
The road rose and fell along the coast before turning inland onto the last big climb over the pass before descending to Copacabana. Still feeling good I reached the top at 4266 metres around 3pm which still left me with plenty of time for the descent. It felt cold at the top but knew I would soon warm up once I had descended the 450 metres down to the lake. It was an amazing descent and I felt great reaching the town in 2 days giving me a day to visit the Isle del Sol and look around the town.
looking down on Copacabana and the lake
I would then have 2 days left to cover the 90 miles to Puno where I would stay and catch a bus to collect Amanda from the airport. I was really looking forward to heading north again and having Amanda join me would be amazing. For now I needed to find a hostel so I rode through the streets down to the lake shore and back up another street checking out a couple hostels on the way. After the third one I had looked at I found a single room for £3 which was perfect and just enough room for my bike. With everything safely inside I had a shower, got changed, put everything on charge then headed out to look around town. It was a pretty town that felt safe,relaxing and had interesting old streets.
Down by the harbour
The incredible church in the town centre
I headed up to look at the church then through the streets picking up a snack on the way. By the time I reached the harbour the sun was starting to set.
I was almost at the end of Bolivia which had been a roller coaster of emotions, It felt strange that I was leaving after everyhing that had happened but it was the next step and I needed to take it. Peru would be my next country but first I had a day off to look around on the Isle del Sol. Not having a guide book and the internet at the hostel being turned on and off at odd times it would just have to remain a surprise. I booked the boat out and sat in a restaurant to eat pizza. We wouldn’t normally stop after only two days cycling but having gained a day I was going to make the most of it.
Monday 11th May
Although I slept well, the night seemed to take ages to pass. I wasn’t complaining and I still had to kick myself out of bed to get ready for the boat trip out to the Island. I packed what I thought I needed for the day and headed down to the harbour. With a huge black cloud heading towards us and the island I had a funny feeling the Isle de Sol wouldn’t live up to its name. We set off slowly out of the harbour and thought we would soon speed up once outside the harbour but no, It was painfully slow and at this point knew it was going to take ages to reach the island. The further out we got the chillier it got so I made my way inside for the second part of the voyage. We reached the South part of the island and rather then wasting my life sat on a boat to head to the north me and a few others jumped off and set off up the steep climb out of the bay. As I made my way up the hillside the village got bigger with hostels, shops and a school. With the black cloud now right on top of the island and the rain starting to fall I took shelter under a canopy with a chicken and a donkey while I let a big rain cloud pass. I reached the top of the South of the island and sat and had lunch. It didn’t feel as fun on my own and not having someone else to suggest what we should do. I sat in silence watching the clouds move off and taking their shadows with them then watching the sun start to come out warming everything around me.
I made my way back to the port stopping for a cup of coffee while finishing making notes in my book that backed up my GPS points. It was great to get them done and while I had the time and gave me peace of mind that they were backed up.
As I sat having a coffee I got to watch this humming bird feed from the flowers
Back at the harbour I got to see this reed boat come in
I made it back to the port around 2.30pm and sat in the sun waiting for my ferry. It was nice to be on the island but I wanted to be ready to leave in the morning and check I had everything. I had 2 days to get to Puno and didn’t want anything to hold me up. With the trip back to the mainland a little faster I checked my things and went out for dinner. Still having some Bolivianos left I picked up supplies for the the next few days and headed back to my room. It was my last night in Bolivia and the end of a hard country physically and emotionally I just hoped the rest were kind.
How can I describe Bolivia with so much that has happened. Before we entered the country we knew it was going to be hard and beautiful. It was the first country we had put a lot of time into research and planned our route according to what we would see and the level of fitness we were at. A few people commented at how strong Sharon was while we were in Chile, and how strong she was, stronger not just in body but also in mind more then she had ever been. The moment we entered Bolivia the landscape changed and it was stunning. It was also hard, very hard. With sand roads, no road signs, freezing at night and yet the beauty and the clear scenery which was moon like and unforgiving. I met up with Manu who was cycling on his own and who we cycled with briefly over paso Sico into Chile. We talked about city’s and the countryside and he put it perfectly. He said “In the city it can feel lonely but in the nature you feel free” We never felt lonely out in the middle of nowhere and were constantly drawn into the wilderness by this incredible scenery. We saw that the 4×4’s drove so fast full of tourists clinging to the doors and would pass us so close and we would try and we would try get out the way. We would be worried for their safety and wonder why they allowed them to drive so fast. To this day I will never know why Sharon was killed and try not to think what if. Sharon was the happiest I had ever seen her and I think it was where we were and what we were doing that made her so happy. I could see she was proud and I could see she was strong and at the end of it all as humble as the day we set off.One of the things the gives me peace is that she lived every single moment with a smile and with energy that warmed every heart.
Bolivia was a hard country to return to and to return to the place Sharon was killed was a key moment in my life, to see that she had not been forgotten by finding a monument put in the exact place where she lost her life settled my soul. Having Andy, Jules and Sara join me for three weeks and Steve for nine days was incredible and gave them all a chance to see what an amazing country it is and what kind of life we lived.
There is a huge part of the country we never got to see which again is totally different but for now it was time for me to leave. The people were lovely and we felt safe, the only down side that we saw was the amount of rubbish that lines the streets and the highway. It could be an even more beautiful country then it is now but the people need to change to do that and I can’t see that happening for a long time.
I hope one day to return to Bolivia weather I will or not is another thing as it holds so much joy and also pain. We have always known the risks weather at home stepping out into the street or riding a bike abroad but regret is a wasteful emotion if were not willing to do something about our future! we all need learn to live with the sun on our face.
Thanks for reading xxxx
Distance in country 917 miles/1475km
Total Distance 21,657 miles/34,846km
Distance from Ushuaia 5,509 miles/8,864km
Country Altitude gain 11,815 metres
Total Altitude gain 294,040 metres
Altitude gain from Ushuaia 100,255 metres
Sharon had ridden 20,869 miles 33,578 km
Climbed just 288,228 metres
She had ridden in 32 countries, 26 of which on this trip and in total been to 42 different countries in the world and enjoyed every second!!!