What’s on the menu 8

October 2, 2009

No rat relatives on the menu today.  Nothing remotely funny about the name of the dish.  And everything we ate for lunch in our first Bolivian restaurant was legal, decent, honest-to-goodness grub.

It was just the price we thought out of the ordinary.  See if you agree.

First course – a help yourself, all you can eat salad bar.

salad bar












Second course – soup. My command of  the Spanish language is such that I can’t help you with the name of the dish, but there was definitely some lamb in there, as well as assorted vegetables, cream, chilli, garlic, olive oil, turmeric and other good stuff. 

Looked and tasted home made and jolly toothsome too.


Course three – linguini bolognese. Nothing more to add, other than it was fresh and there was plenty of it.


Finally, the dessert – trifle.


Total for four courses, £1.96 a head.

Coffee was included, but wine was extra.  My large glass of Argentinian Malbec Reserve came in at 80p.

They always get you on the drinks.



World’s Most Dangerous Road

October 1, 2009
Death road team talk tactics on the edge

Death road team talk tactics on the edge

Pete persuaded me to do another weird thing: cycle down the World’s most Dangerous Road (WMDR).

The 60 km stretch of road, most of which has been blasted into the side of sheer cliff face, was named WMDR in 1995 after a whopping 26 vehicles whizzed off the edge into oblivion within one year.

As you may imagine, I wasn’t actually that keen on doing this bike ride… but as this road is the only way to arrive in a lovely town in the sub tropical jungle we all wanted to visit, I let Helen and Pete wheedle me into it.

The day before leaving we were asking the tour company for info about what to wear etc and I thought I would cut to the chase.

“How many tourists have died on this trip?” I asked. I nearly fainted when she coolly replied, “Just 27 … but none with our company. ”

Left to right: Pete, Helen, Fraser, Houdini (the guide)

Left to right: Pete, Helen, Fraser, Houdini (the guide)

We started at 4700m where the air was icy and thin. To cap it all, it was misty as hell.The first 8 miles were tarmacked road which would have been a dream to whiz down had my fingers and feet not gone numb with cold and started to throb. The scenery here was cloud filled valleys and snowy mountains and it was hard to believe what the guide was telling us: that in the space of 4 or 5 hours we would descend over 3500m into the humid rainforest.It was when the tarmac ran out that you could see why it was also called “death road”. A look over the edge revealed drops of over 300m into the forest below.

Large parts of the road aren’t even wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass, and as it gets steeper and bumpier, it gets narrower and the blind bends come faster. There isn’t enough money to erect barriers and all that stands between you and the edge are regular clusters of makeshift crosses reminding you that one skid on the slippery, stony track and one of them could be yours.

Red plastic flags mark the spots where recent accidents have happened and if you look from the other side of the valley you can see where vehicles have slid down through the greenery. For the most part I was too pre-occupied at steering my juddering bike around the potholes and stones to notice the drop too much which was probably a good thing. The rule is that downward traffic must stick to “the outside left edge” whilst those going up can hug the middle. Despite being told this I couldn’t help but veer over to the middle at every opportunity!

I was clenching my fingers so tightly around the brakes that after the first 2 hours I could hardly brake any more. Pete and his daughter Helen whizzed passed me a couple of time apparently oblivious to the drop, that was until Helen decided to scare the whatsit out of us by falling off her bike at top speed and slithering to a stop just inches from the edge!!!

As the scenery got greener and lusher the further down we got, the sun got hotter and the excitement built when we spotted the town of Coroico perched high in the hills – the Promised Land. Finally after 5 hours of fist clenching we reached the bottom. We crawled onto the bus for the last few miles up to Coroico. I have decided that hurtling down bumpy dirt tracks with blind bends and sheer drops next to me is what life is all about!!

You really should try it!!!


Muddy, but unbowed

Muddy, but unbowed

Weird but wonderful La Paz

October 1, 2009

la paz ariel

Bolivia is a weird place, a place where after a while the out of the ordinary is taken for granted.

Its capital, La Paz is situated at over 4000m so planes almost have to ascend to land here!

Whilst being architecturally quite dull, it has an impressive setting. Our first view of the city was from a vast slum called “El Alto” on top of the rim of a huge kind of canyon in which the city covers the floor of and climbs up the sides. As with all of Bolivia so far it oozes colourful street life and South American character. Many Bolivians live below the poverty line which can be hard to take in, and it has minimal western influence compared to Peru and Ecuador.

Shops are simple and all seem to sell the same few things – so most of La Paz seems like one giant street market. You can buy absolutely anything on the street, from a grotesque dried llama foetus (for warding off evil spirits) to knocked-off black-market designer clothes.

The local Witches Market

The local Witches Market

The city is alive with constant hustle and bustle as the chola’s (Indian women who moved from the rural areas to work market stalls) rush around everywhere carrying things between market stalls, and minibuses choke the streets. These take the place of cars in a normal city and each one has a boy hanging out the door shouting a babble of incomprehensible place names. Sometimes there are so many boys shouting at once the street just becomes a mass of place names.

At 11pm stallholders pack their entire stalls up into a man-sized sack and put them on their backs, another 14 hour day over.


Typical La Paz street

Typical La Paz street

The place the sun calls home

October 1, 2009
The place the sun calls home, living up to its name

The place the sun calls home, living up to its name

Next we caught a slow wooden boat to Isla Del Sol – 1½ hours across the Lake. According to the Inca´s and pre Inca civilizations this island is the birthplace of the sun and of their civilization.

It’s easy to see why they thought it was mystical. The atmosphere is so thin up here that the sun shines with an amazing brilliance onto the lake. The waters are so calm and clear and in the distance you can see a the Cordillera Real`s white mountain tops. The island is small and covered in walking trails, Inca staircases, terraces and ruins. Although the main town is a bit touristy, once out of there the tiny villages consist of mud brick huts, llamas, donkeys and campesinos working the land.

Feels a million miles away from civilization.

And is.


El Camino de la Muerte (the road of death)

June 16, 2009


The North Yungas Road, as it is otherwise known, is a 64 km stretch of continuous downhill road leading from the world’s highest city, La Paz to Coroico in Bolivia.

It is legendary for its extreme danger and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it “the world’s most dangerous road”.

One estimate is that 200-300 travelers are killed annually on the road, which is marked at regular intervals by crosses indicating where its victims met their untimely ends. On July 24, 1983, a bus veered off the road and into a canyon, killing more than 100 passengers in what is said to be Bolivia’s worst road accident.

Why is it so deadly?  A number of factors all contribute.  First of all, the extreme dropoffs of at least 600 meters, with no guard rails.  Then there’s the fact that much of the road is single-lane width —  no wider than 3.2 meters.  Further still, rain and fog can make visibility precarious, and the wet rainforest climate makes the surface slippy and causes rocks to fall from the  hillsides above.

One man’s meat, of course,  is another man’s poisson.

The extreme danger of the road has ironically made it a popular tourist destination.  Mountain biking enthusiasts, in particular, are drawn to the Road of Death, lured by the appeal of its 64 kilometers of continuous downhill riding and the activity keeps several tour operators permanently employed, providing information, guides, transportation, and equipment.

The local understakers are kept pretty busy too.  At least 13 of these cyclists died on the ride since 1998.

A possible side trip for the intrepid Peru Trek team?  Hell, yeah!

Beats driving.

Here’s a video we found of a documentary made about the road: