Category Archives: Bolivia


Today is “plan what next” day for all four of us and probably our last evening together as Phil and Paul both want to head north east to the jungle and we want to head to Lake Titicaca and Peru. When we finally surface and manage to make brekkie just as its finishing, we make a plan to head out to the bus station and check out bus timings and prices for Puno, a village on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We also take our new little camera out with us to look for a 2nd battery for it.

At the bus station we manage to buy tickets to Puno with the bus coming past our hostel at 0800 in the morning to collect us and stopping at Copacabana for about 1.5 hours over lunch where we change buses to go across the border and onto Puno. Sorted! Job done we manage to find a battery for the camera quite easily and not too expensive either, and are on our way back to the hostel when we decide to stop at a chemist for shampoo.

Just after this and walking up the road that leads to our hostel Huw is heckled by a barber, it happened a few days ago and was highly amusing then. Now it also seemed amusing if in a tired kind of way, as moments later Huw realises that the back over his shoulder the camera was in now feels very light. On inspection we realise someone has cheekily if cleverly managed to unzip it and make off with our camera. Leaving the new battery as if to rub salt in our wounds, take your pick (excuse the pun!), it either happened at the chemist or as the barber distracted us, either way it was slick and over before we knew it.

Gutted! We stand against the wall taking in the last few minutes, then the sick feeling turns to true nauseous as we realise not only was the camera stolen but all our great piccies of the hike we´ve just done are gone too……

Stupidy! stupidy! stupidy! Why weren´t we more careful? Why did we let ourselves be distracted? Why did we bring the camera out? Why didn´t we download the photos onto the laptop? Why didn´t we remove the SD card? Why? Why? Why?!!!

Back at the hostel we are both visibly upset and can´t get over it, we thought we were doing well, travelling 7 months now, meeting loads of people with horror stories to tell and we had managed to escape it happening to us. Until now! Maybe we´ve just been lucky! We could deal with the camera, let´s face it it’s a camera, it was new granted, but replaceable all he same, but the photos, that’s another thing altogether.

Without boring you with all the details or having to re-live the whole nightmare telling you all, the rest of the afternoon was taken up with visiting the “tourist police” which just happen to be way over the other side of town. A twenty min bus ride away, nope sorry 3 twenty minute bus rides away – we have to go back to the hostel for our passports and make the journey again, a copy isn´t good enough!

Huw sent a message to the guys earlier asking if we could at least have a copy of their photos, there will be none of us at the top as we stupidly/tiredly forgot to do a group shot, but there will be some of the trip nonetheless. We never got Florian or Petr´s contact details another thing we could kick ourselves for so can´t get theirs. Anyways, we arrange to meet this evening to get a copy and let Joe and Ellie know where to find us – not thinking they´ll actually show if they are tired like we all were.

Cuban bar it is for photo swaps and food, and final farewells, for now anyway. Joe and Ellie do join us and we swap stories of each other’s plights to conquer 6088m of mountain hell. Oh and the events of earlier today 🙁

Interestingly they tell us that half of their group didn´t make it to the top, but all received a tee-shirt regardless, hhmm, that isn´t cricket and certainly deserves an email we think, when we are feeling in the mood. A final drink in The Blue Note afterwards and goodbyes proclaimed we all had our separate ways.

Day 3 – Happy Birthday Sarah from the top of the world

Getting to the top, we were one of the 1st groups to arrive. Phil and Paul were about 10 mins if that in front of us and other than one other group of three we were next on the top 🙂 It was 0615 and having left around 0105, we reckon it took us about 5hrs 10min. Nice one. We obviously timed it perfectly as the sun began to rise and quickly taking lots of photos – of the view, of ourselves, of us with Marcelo etc… we started making our descent, we knew well enough it would be another hour before it warmed up and even then the wind chill would probably stay so no need to hang around. The sunrise was awesome and well worth the effort!

On the way back down we passed lots of wreckage. Florian and Petr were on the Arête and contemplating giving up. Partly our encouragement and partly not wanting to be beaten by a girl we are sure, they reluctantly crawled past us. We think they should have carried more water and that was their main problem, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Our remaining water was now frozen in our camelbak and we´d need to descend quite a bit to render it drinkable again.

We also passed the scared Norwegian who was huddled out of the wind shaking and looking very much out of his comfort zone. A guide had darted past us only moments earlier, obviously having given up trying to get him to the top and now letting his fellow guides know he was resigned to going back down.

Happy in the knowledge that stamina and determination won through, that we made it to the top was only sweetened by the added bonus that we beat most of the others who started off at a race pace and double bonus that Bernice was the only girl today to make it (the other girl retired probably about 5/600m from the summit) 🙂 Oh Yeah!

As suspected the descent was pretty tricky and not to be under estimated. You´d be forgiven for thinking the reason for the night hike was to hide the danger in a vale of darkness, a fact that it did indeed do, however this was not the reason. The reason was much more basic than this. We needed to walk up and preferably back down before the sun had time to melt the ice and make the journey altogether unachievable.

Back at base camp we had soup for what was effectively our breakfast and we relaxed in the now warm sun as we waited on the others arrive. Phil and Paul had caught us up just before we reached the refugio, but Florian and Petr were quite a while and disappeared upstairs as soon as they did to have a snooze! Or so they thought… we still had to hike back off the hill.

Everyone is exhausted but equally elated. It goes to show the statistics aren´t lying where this beast of a mountain is concerned. If you are following behind us and are tempted to give it a try, bear in mind: We did the 3 day trek, taking in the ice-climbing on day 1 – and we all reached the top. Those who only did the 2 day hike – the other girl for instance – never made it. So our advice?! Do the 3 dayer! Its great fun and the acclimatisation is necessary!!! You´ll only be mega disappointed if you fail at the last.

Once we´re all rested (Florian and Petr really wanted more rest) we move on down to the bottom refugio, they follow us when they get their butts in gear. The only rush is meeting the transport back to La Paz. It´ll arrive with a new load of hikers where it dropped us off around 1215 and we have to be there to meet it having unloaded all the hiking gear 1st. So sleeping up at the high refugio all morning is not an option.

Funnily Huw makes a comment at the lower camp that it was supposed to snow today and that the weather website he uses has been really reliable up until now (, when suddenly without a word of a lie it changes from sunbathing weather to a hail storm right before our eyes. Thankfully the boys had arrived and we were able to get down meeting the transport in the nick of time so as not to get drenched.

Another spooky thing happens, as the new group arriving get off the minibuses we hear our names being called – Joe and Ellie, the English couple we met in Valparaiso are here. They left us way back to hurry to Peru to see Machupicchu and do a month’s voluntary work, we never expected to see them again, let alone here… They have indeed done these things and are intending dong the 2 day climb of Hauyna Potosi, danger danger, we say… but having trekked Machupicchu they are reasonably confident in doing this, we wish them luck and suggest meeting up back in La Paz when they return.

We get back to La Paz around 1500 and the guides insist we go back to the office to collect our victory tee-shirts. The girl who didn’t make it to the summit is with us, but we don´t think anything of it, I mean they were quite adamant on their forms that only those who succeeded could have a tee-shirt.

Very very very tired we all head to our respective hostels for a well-earned sleep, and realising how tired we all are we don´t even try and make a plan for later, just suggest getting in touch tomorrow for sure and later maybe. As it happens we sleep till about 1930 and then order pizza to be delivered to the hostel, eat this and then sleep till morning.

Day 2 – acclimatising with “Mierda de Cabeza”

As instructed by our guides we are all up at 0800 for brekkie. We have about an 1hr 40 trek today to the next refugio “Rock Camp” which is at 5130m. This is a short but arduous hike with all our gear, quite steep at the end over a boulder field and seeing our end goal before we start doesn´t make it any easier. The altitude is taking its toll on Bernice´s breathing and struggling to keep up with the group our guide offers to take her pack for her. “That’s not cricket!” and she tells him so, there´s little/no chance she´s going to give up her pack if she´s going to convince herself of being able to climb the mountain. Respectfully he backs down and stays back with us for the remainder of the walk.

Arriving at the refugio, we are struck by how much writing there is on the wall. Flags pinned up or drawn up, characatures, lots of “it´s f****** hard but really worth it” comments too. No one mentioned this to us, guess the agencies/guides don´t want to be seen as condoning it, we didn´t even have a pen between us, so even if we do make it to the top we can´t add to the scribblings 🙁

It´s only about midday and other than lunch now and dinner about 1700 there isn´t much else on the agenda, other than you guessed it – acclimatise. So needing to amuse ourselves we take to some cards, and decide on an old favourite of ours, “Mierda de Cabeza”, which as usual goes down well. That’s pretty much it for the afternoon, that and watch group after group arrive from other agencies with their guides.

The plan is bed for no later than 1800 to arise again at 2400 for setting off on the event of the trek – up the remainder of the mountain in our crampons with ice axe in hand. Most people manage to convince their bodies that sleep is required but some, such as Petr find it a real struggle.

Up again at midnight gear all on and roped, two at most to a guide, we all set off in staged departures to climb the beast that is Huayna Potosi. It would be a slog at the best of times as it´s very steep, cold and in a word challenging. Add to the mix that we are way over 5000m up and that it is a night hike and you might get somewhere close to what we are experiencing. Remembering what Aly in the agency said – take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, breathe and keep going – Bernice motivated herself to do just that. Interestingly it all smacked of “the tortoise and the hare” as a large group of Norwegians, some Israelis, and in fact most of the other groups kept speeding past us, and then a short while later were overtaken again as we carried on at our slow and steady pace.
Bernice just wants to point out at this stage that over the whole trek so far we have only come across one other girl, disappointed girlies!!!

Our guide is called Marcelo; Bernice is roped to him 1st and then Huw. It´s probably a good job we are doing the hike in the dark by head torch as it becomes apparent as we walk that there are quite a few crevasses around and we are thankful of a guide who knows the mountain. He is also very good at setting the pace, reading from how taut the line is how quick Bernice is able to walk. Well done Marcelo, we truly appreciated your efforts, patience and expert knowledge. At one point we had to straddle across a hole which we agreed will make for an interesting re-traverse on our descent laters!

When we think we are nearly there, we round a corner to find the last few hundred metres are steeply up an Arête to the top. It was blatantly obvious that no matter how fit all these other lads thought they were they hadn´t tackled much in the way of mountains before and many of them were dumb struck at this point. Rooted to the spot and basically petrified! One lad didn´t want anyone to come anywhere near him, fearing we´d send him careering down the steep 1000m or more steep edge.

It was gibbering up there and no amount of whinging was stopping us pass. Marcelo made sure we were comfortable about where we should put our feet and we glided past them. He was a bit surprised we (or should we be specific here, Bernice) weren´t fazed by the exposure but silently glad as he too was feeling the cold.

Huayna Potosi trek – Day 1

So at 0900 outside the main Travel Tracks office we eventually meet the guides, as is usual for South American time, 0900 means 1030. Not to worry we needed the practice of getting up early as the trip was going to involve a few early rises.

Once we are all assembled, us, Phil, Paul and two other guys – Florian (French) and Petr (Czech) we walk back up the hill to a van parked near the Blue Note bar. There we try on heavy duty mountain boots necessary for the crampons we´ll be wearing later, once sorted we pack the van and head out of town. We stop at El Alto which is the flat area high up out of the La Paz valley which used to be classed as part of La Paz but is now a city in its own rite, its home to all the poorer inhabitants of the area, it´s also where the airport is and sits at roughly 4100m. The stop is for the market to get some last minute supplies and we finally get a view and photos of the city from here.

Carrying on it´s a somewhat rickety journey to the base of the trek, where after offloading all the gear and sharing it out, we make a 15min walk for the 1st refugio, “Zongo” where we´ll be staying the night and which is at 4750m.

Lunch is the priority on arrival and this is prepared by our chef while we unpack and organise what equipment we need for the ice climbing, which is about 30 min walk away and our mission after lunch. It´s great fun, the other guys’ haven´t done anything like this before and although we have been walking in crampons and done some ice safety work/avalanche training previously we haven´t climbed vertical walls with crampons and ice-axes before either. The fact that we have been climbing before shows through and other than Paul we are the only ones that manage to get to the top.

Exhausted after an hour or so, we head back to the refugio for some dinner and an early bed. The scenery is stunning and along with photos of ourselves halfway up the ice climb everyone is also snapping photos of the glacier itself and the surrounding valley. The idea of today is just to do a little bit of work, and concentrate of acclimatising to the altitude. Some of the guys are already experiencing altitude headaches. Bernice started on the altitude pills we bought as soon as we left La Paz, liking them to seasick pills – if you wait till you need them it´s already too late. Not being able to argue with this Huw follows suit soon after and luckily we don´t experience much in the way of headaches like the others.

World Most Dangerous Road

A 0615 start for Huw, and oh a little later, sometime around 0900 for Bernice 😉

Paul, Phil and Huw meet in a local café for brekkie, before being loaded into a minibus for today’s adventure … cycling the “World´s Most Dangerous Road!! (WMDR) This is a 65km stretch of road between La Paz and Coroico down in the Jungle. Half of it is tarmac, and half is dirt/gravel and it descends something like 3000m in a nearly continuous downhill run. It´s reputation dates from when it was still the main road between La Paz and Coroico, when over a 100 people a year would be killed, usually when the vehicle they were on going over the vertical edge of the narrow twisty track. These days it is (supposed to be) closed to traffic and thus makes for a good days cycle. Apparently, the road was featured in last years Top Gear Xmas special but for obvious reasons we haven´t see it!

One of the main reasons for using “Pro Downhill”, is that they offered the option to do the first half of the route off-road – the usual run people take is on tarmac with regular traffic. Up at 4800m we all get kitted out with full suss bikes (tired but ok), full face helmet, trousers and jackets as well as elbow and knee protection (which we don´t bother with). Strangely, the pads are compulsory for girls but optional for blokes?!

The group size is 14 but it seems only the 3 of us knew about the off-road first section 😉 So, it´s just the 3 of us and a guide who set of at a great pace down some interesting trails, stopping occasionally to take photos and navigate where the trail has been washed away etc. Great fun, technical without being too bonkers, although Paul did manage to fit in a crash. It was pretty cold at the top but by the time we reach the half way stage it has warmed up nicely so we strip down to shorts and t-shirts and get back in the bus to join the rest of the group.

Next up is the main reason that most people do the trip – the death road or WMDR. To be honest, Huw nearly didn´t do the trip because the thought of drifting down a trail with a dozen or so non-cyclist sounded like a dull day out, so it is with a sense of an impending anti-climax that we arrive at the start of the road and get our initial brief. However, as it turns out, he needn´t have worried! The lead guide seems more than happy to ride at the pace of the quickest riders … i.e. the three of us plus another Dutch guy who was a bit put out that he hadn´t been on the first section with us. So, we get to ride the road at max speed 😀 … was it dangerous? Well, the ´road´ is a gravelly track that is about the width of a decent sized truck that has shear drops of a couple of hundred metres deep along large sections (i.e. most of it). So, if you happen to be travelling too quick into a corner and over-do the braking or catch a large bolder with your front wheel, it does get the heart racing … other than that same as a day out at the Look Out in Bracknell Forest!

By the time we reach the bottom we have been riding for about 3 hour and pretty tired, especially as we are now in the jungle so it is really hot and steamy. In fact, one of the great things about the ride has been the way the landscape has changes as we have descended. The destination is at 1900m and Huw get a reminder what life is like off the Altiplano … nice and warm mostly! We get to spent the next couple of hours in the grounds of a hotel having a nice hot shower, a bite of lunch and a splash around in the pool – oh and maybe drinking a cold beer or two! Finally, it is 3 hours in the back of a very uncomfortable mini-bus along the new road back to La Paz.

Meanwhile back in town and after brekkie, Bernice has a leisurely wander around, trying to locate a second pair of trekking socks for Huw as we´ve been advised to have two pairs for the hike tomorrow. It’s a bit of a mission but job done she returns to get some blog writing cracked….and relax for the rest of the day… and other than a brief power cut to the room she manages it perfectly.

That was until she got a call from reception around 1930, her immediate reaction was that it was Huw but in fact it was Lars, the Norwegian guy we spent time with in La Serena, Chile. He had returned to Bolivia to sell his motorbike he´d bought to travel South America, we´d noticed on Facebook. He´d turned up with a girl from the volunteer outfit he´d been working at when he´d been here before. She was also Norwegian. We sat in the communal area of the hostel chatting, thinking Huw would be back from his cycle ride any minute. The time ticked by and it got a bit embarrassing so Bernice suggested just going for a coffee somewhere and leaving a note for Huw. When she went to the room to get her jacket there was another call from reception coming through but she couldn´t get the key in the door quick enough to answer it. To say she was fretting a little bit about Huw and the death road would be an understatement. Anyway to her relief the phone went again and it was actually Huw back safe and sound. Hurrah.

We waited while he got sorted and we all went for a coffee and some food. Though when the food turned up neither of us could eat very much. We tried but the notion had passed. So doggie bag in hand we made our way back to the hostel hoping to find some worthy homeless person to donate it too on route. Never there when you want them eh! So we had no option to leave it in a conspicuous place hoping someone needy would come across it. It wasn´t there in the morning and there was no evidence of dogs so we can only assume it did 🙂

Commit! Commit! Commit!

This morning we meet Paul and Phil at 11, and go to Travel Tracks, to have Aly explain to the guys the options for climbing Huayna Potosi (6088). We all agree the here day option was the best which would allow us to acclimatise at height whilst also having a go at vertical ice climbing. Names are confirmed and deposit taken. Monday we plan to start, that way Huw and the boys can get the death road cycle done tomorrow.

So inevitably that’s the next job – checking out cycle agency options. Aly suggested going to Travel Tracks other office that deals with cycling as a further discount could be had, but more off road was wanted, or to be exact all off road was required. After a few visits to various agencies one was picked and after lunch a decision was made. Lunch was more successful today; it was in the juice bar just across the road from Travel Tracks and as it happened, next door to the cycle agency picked – “Pro Downhill”.

Decisions made, plans in action we all parted company to buy altitude tablets and get organised for the coming days. We had to meet up again at 1830 to go pay the balance on the mountain hike. We had let Tom and Natalie know about our rendezvous but we never saw them. It was a bit hectic though. As a reward for a day of decision making we headed for a wee local eatery for a bowl of chilli. The place was great, the wee man waiting on; probably the owner was really amusing and kept us entertained, which we necessary as we waited quite a while for our food. Funny though!

Our evening came to a very satisfying finish as we visited The Blue Note for one more “té con té”.

Bad food day

Some blogging needs to be done today as we are getting behind again, so that’s the morning full up! Also we´ve bought some small country flags and asked the girls in reception where the best place to get them sewn onto the camera bag would be. In Sucre our hostel was right next to all the sewing shops and like everything else here we imagine there will be a whole street of seamstresses. Sure enough there is and it just happens to be right across the road! After brekkie we take our empty camera bag over and al the flags and for the equivalent of £2 we get them all sewn on. Nice.

We decide to have lunch in one of the restaurants we were looking at the other night with Delphine and co, but it turns out to be a disaster! The chicken sandwich is on stale bread and when we complain they take it away but on return in a baguette a short time later, the chicken and the fries are stone cold! Only one thing for it, money back and walk away. Shame really, as their salad bar looked really nice and we would have considered a return at some point for dinner, but not now!

After lunch and having checked a few other prices out Bernice decides to buy the poncho she tried on yesterday. It works out about £25 so not a lot really. Having bought it and a few other bits and pieces we return to the hostel. The plan is to meet Tom, Natalie, Phil and Paul (if he arrives in time) at the Indian restaurant and see what all the fuss is about there. We phoned and booked a table this morning on the free locals phone in the hostel, as we didn´t want to be disappointed this time with them not having enough room.

We met the guys outside and went in. The menu looked good, what we´d expect to see back home. As Paul hadn´t arrived within about 40 minutess we decided to go ahead and order. In true indian restaurant fashion we ordered far too much food. Deciding it wouldn´t be an issue as Paul could eat our leftovers we relaxed and waited on our food.

For the 2nd time today we were disappointed. It was hot; it looked fine, but very much the same, regardless of what each of us ordered. Another gringo recommendation bites the dust. We wouldn´t recommend it (The Star of India), sorry. Overpriced in the scheme of things and probably just riding on its guidebook mention like so many other gringo restaurants.

Paul arrives pretty late, after the plates have all been cleared away. He didn´t miss much. We went the full hog, we tried another gringo place afterwards for drinks – Olivers Travels – might as well finish the night as we started it. It was ok, but weirdly pretty much emptied a short time after we got there. We were all tired too, this altitude business really is taking its toll, Tom and Natalie had wanted to go clubbing and yet we were all done for, including them, so it didn´t happen yet again.

Té con té

Today we are determined to go to a mirador to get some good panoramic photos of the city but everything seems to conspire against us. We set off reasonably early from our hostel and the sky is bright blue so the view should be amazing when we get there. It seems sensible to plan our route around a few jobs we have to do and tick them off along the way. There are 3 miradors marked on our map, so working out what else there is we choose what we think is the best one to head for.

Last night we were talking with the guys over dinner about the amount of people we´ve seen in zebra costumes and trying to work out what was going on. Well it all became clear this morning as we saw some near what once would have been a zebra crossing! There´s a huge banner above it and basically they are on a campaign to try and get drivers to actually STOP at the crossings. Generally they carry on whilst beeping their horns for everybody and everything to get out of their way. We even got a pose for some photos from one or two of the zebras.

We take in some shops (we are in the lookout for a cleaning implement for our Camelbaks) as we go via Loki (a major party hostel here famous for its “anything goes” attitude) looking for V – a kiwi guy we did the cycling with in Bariloche, a lifetime ago – he´s been working here over a month. We thought he´d already gone but we realised yesterday he was still here. Well in body anyway, as when we ask after him he´s in his pit asleep, must have been a usual heavy night then.

Next we seek out some old colonial and government buildings around a nice plaza and are thinking of having lunch before visiting the mirador when two things happen (a) we realise the mirador we are headed to is not a high point but just a point in the city where you can get a good view up the steep valley sides of the city, (b) it starts raining, so much for that sunshine this morning!

Lunch ends up being in a nice looking but expensive café. It´s a different part of town we´re in and we struggle to find anywhere else, always the same if you leave it till you´re really hungry.

Cutting our loses we head back to the familiar part of town and the café bar to meet Tom and Natalie. Phil also joins us – we met him outside his hostel whilst ambling about earlier and invite him along. It´s noticeably colder today and even with her new poncho scarf Bernice is cold sitting in this place. Some hot food helps alleviate it but we eventually have to move on. A bar we noticed the other night called the “Blue Note” is where we head to and low and behold it has a lovely open fire in the corner surrounds by comfy, and empty, sofas. Ah nice!
There was a plan to party on and find a club but it really is amazing how much the altitude kills our energy and we are all really too tired for this. Two mugs of “té con té”, a local speciality drink of alcoholic tea which isn´t too dissimilar to mulled wine.

Granny Jumpers

This morning we decide to ask at reception if there is an alternative room we could move into that has only one bed, Wi-Fi and possibly still a balcony. As it happens there is, right across the corridor, but our excitement is quashed when we go and look at it as the occupants who have just left were smokers and it´s more than a tad smelly 🙂 . Some more procrastination required on this one then.

A return to the camera shop this morning confirms our fears, the price to potentially fix the issues with the camera body and the lens is way more than we want to pay – 1,500Bs (~£150). We reckon it would probably cost more in the UK and be more economical to buy a new body as this one is nearly 3 years old now. Who knows! As for the lens well we don´t want to invalidate the warranty by having this guy fix it, when, if we can get a Canon approved place to look at fixing it, it might be covered and cost us nothing. Then again we are heading to Machu Picchu next and want great photos from the experience – dilemmas.

We go for a coffee to decide what to do. As Rolando pointed out, genuinely, the camera still works, it´s not broken completely. We could make do till we get the opportunity to have it looked at under warranty. He as good as told us we´d be daft to shell out this kind of money right now.

So in reality it´s a no brainer – get back to Canon and see where, other than Santa Cruz, we could have it looked at under warranty. Meantime make do.

That decided we now need to work out a plan, how long to stay in La Paz, what to do while here and where to stay… On our return to the hostel we realise Delphine and Sven have invited us to join them for dinner again. Why not!

Back at the hostel we decide to have another look at the smelly room – we left the balcony door open earlier and hopefully the cleaners did too so with a bit of luck the smell will have gone… What we are thinking is if we just move rooms we will at least still have internet (the router is right outside the door) we won´t have to lug all our gear back down the stairs and off somewhere else that might not be any better. This hostel is clean, quiet and central. There is little choice in La Paz if you don´t want a party hostel or to pay too much. Thankfully our 2nd viewing is ok and we decide we should just take it and extend for 3 more days. Give ourselves a chance to look around the city.

Talking of which that’s what we do with the rest of the afternoon – have a look around the immediate area. There´s 2-3 streets full of nothing but craft shops, selling loads and loads of granny jumpers (you know those jumpers you get for xmas with animals all over them that you hide in your drawer and never wear), we start here, Bernice is cold! Thankfully we restrain ourselves from succumbing to buying any jumpers, which is more than we can say for most of the other backpackers we see. Is there going to be a new fashion trend in Europe/UK shortly or are they just buying for the moment? No, Bernice buys a very large stripy scarf cum poncho thingy. Which is reversible and not too heavy which does the job to get her warm again.

The weird but nice thing we are noticing while walking around La Paz, is that every couple of streets seem to have a different specialism. There´s a street or two just for plumbing, another few for tiles, another for clothes, another for fancy dress, another for boxes of sweets, cleaning products, hairdressers, fabric, you name it there´ll be a street full of nothing else!!

We also pop into a couple more agencies and enquire about the mountain trek up Huayna Potosi. This time we talk to a Dutch girl who part owns the company Travel Tracks ( While Huw is getting all the relevant info Bernice gets chatting to Tom and Natalie (who we know from Wasi Masi a week or so ago), they just happen past as we walk into the shop. They´ve just arrived this afternoon from Cochabamba. A plan to meet tomorrow in the café bar across the street is made. We suggest they join us tonight too and they´re up for it but when they´re 20 mins late we wonder if they are indeed coming and don´t like to make the others hang around.

As it is, meeting Delphine and Sven at their hostel to go for food proves a bit of a mission – Julia and Toby are keen to find a decent vegetarian option, i.e. not pasta, omelette or salad… After a few false starts we finally find somewhere, not very busy, offering a 3 course menu for 40 Bs, everyone seems happy so we settle for that. It´s surprisingly ok. Albeit the tomato sauce on Bernice´s fish is just a drop of the same tomato soup she had as a starter 🙂

The highest capital city in the world

Daybreak and we are just arriving at the outskirts of La Paz which at an altitude of around 3700m and is the highest capital city in the world (that’s if you take La Paz as the capital of Bolivia and not Sucre – a touchy subject here!). In fact as we wake up we are just passing the airport which is the highest international airport in the world at over 4000m.

La Paz is one of those places that has a reputation on the traveller circuit for being somewhat unsafe – people grabbing at your bags trying to relieve you of you gear when you arrive etc. Accordingly, we are on guard when we pull into the bus station – however, for us at least, the reputation seems unfounded. The only people in the bus station seem to be other bus users and all is calm and safe. The one bad thing we do notice is that it is really cold!!

Our hostel is about 10 blocks so rather than hike in a strange city and at altitude, first thing in the morning we a share a cab with Sven & Delphine who are going a couple of streets further on – costs us a massive 10Bs (£1). On arrival at the Cruz de Los Andes everything is a bit chaotic with early morning arrivals and departures all trying to get sorted out. We are told our room will be ready in 30 mins – not bad considering it is 0730 in the morning. We have some breakfast while we wait.

The room we are given is on the 4th floor which is great for views and it is the one place wifi is available in the rooms – on the downside we are quickly reminded how little air there is at this altitude – as we wheeze our way up the stairs. The room itself is a disappointment as they have crammed a double and two single beds into the room leaving virtually no floor space. On the upside it is clean, Wi-Fi appears to work and we have a balcony.

Our first mission is to go and find the camera repair shop we have heard about to see whether it is worth getting the SLR repaired – the lens is still sticking.

We get advice from the Receptionist at the hostel re. the best route to the repair shop – it is about 10 blocks away (oh BTW I know ‘blocks’ is an Americanism to sensitive British ears but all these places are laid out in grids of about 100m so a block actually turns out to be a useful measure!). Still being slightly unsure of how safe the streets are we set off!

As has been the case in every place we’ve been to so far – the city is as safe (or dangerous depending on your perspective) as anywhere else, i.e. In general people are friendly, helpful whilst at the same time caught up in their own lives and as long as you don´t flaunt your belongings nothing untoward should happen to you. We don’t sense any threat walking around, in fact much the opposite. Fingers crossed it stays that way x.

The city has a great vibe to it – lots of traffic, horns blaring, pavements full to overflowing, stacks of colour and life – one of our fellow travellers reckons it the nearest to Asia he has seen outside Asia!!

When we find the repair shop ( the owner Rolando takes a look at the camera and asks to keep it overnight to provide a quote for repair. However, he warns us that he is really busy and that it might take a couple of weeks before he can fix it!! We can come back in the morning and depending on cost decide whether or not to go ahead and let him take it apart to fix it. After he has provided us with a very reassuring, comprehensive receipt, we leave the camera with him (another traveller “story” about La Paz is where someone leaves a camera for repair but when they return in an hour the shop denies all knowledge of having it!! Yet again our experience is the opposite).

After finding a nice café it´s salteñas for lunch, and then we head back up the hill towards the hostel contemplating what sticking around for two weeks in La Paz might mean. We are not happy with the hostel mostly because of the lack of space in the room, and it´s more expensive than anywhere else in Bolivia so far, so we need to sort this as a priority. We also figure that we would be as well using our time to learn some more Spanish and pop into a school to see what’s on offer. It is a bit more expensive than Sucre but still good value and they seem really nice people.

The way back also takes us past the Museo de Arte (Museum of Contemporary Art) and there´s a portrait exhibition on so we pop in for a look around. There is a good collection of work by Bolivian artists including the portrait exhibition by Hans Hoffman (no not Hans Hofman). All of which is housed in a lovely old colonial building.

By now the effects of the bus journey are catching up with us and we are drooping fast – even so we still manage to find the energy to check out a couple of tour agencies to see how much it will cost to do some of La Paz’s (in)famous activities. First stop is Gravity Assisted Bikes the best known of the companies offering a mountain bike ride down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”. It is a 65km downhill ride three quarters of which is unpaved, with shear drops into the valley below. It’s reputation comes from when it used to be a major route out of La Paz and two way traffic fought for space on the road leading to regular fatalities. It is now only open to traffic travelling downhill as a new highway has been opened. Apparently it was featured on Top Gear at Xmas??! The price is 720Bs, Bernice is not interested in doing it at all and Huw is not sure how good a ride it will be given the large numbers that do it every day – maybe it would be better to just go and do some single track rides??

In the next place we ask about climbing Huayna Potosi, which at 6088m is one of the highest mountains that you can ‘trek’ up without mountain climbing. It is a two or three day trip and costs between 750 – 1000Bs. Huw had promised Paul he would look into it as Paul was really keen on the trek. Also, we ask about getting across Lake Titcaca to Peru via boat rather than the usual bus.

Back at the hostel, we plan to spend some time searching for a new place or apartment if we end up staying two weeks, but the Internet is down :-/ and the room is cold 🙁 so we resort to having a power nap. The only thing we managed to get off the email was an invite from Sven & Delphine to join them and some others for dinner.

We are due to meet at their hostel and take the opportunity to have a look at the rooms there which appear to be quite nice. We also bump into Nish and Rachael from Wasi Masi who are one of the couples joining us for dinner – apparently there is a table booked at La Paz’s British Curry House – “The Star of India”. A German couple Tobi & Julia (??) make up the rest of the group.

The table at the Indian is booked for 6 people but we reckoned that they would be able to squeeze in the 8 of us. Uh huh! Apparently not!! We try to convince the rest to stay and enjoy their curry but they are having none of it and insist on us all going to look for somewhere else – which is lovely but leaves us feeling like we’ve spoiled their evening. In the end, Tobi and Julia stay and the rest of us set off the find something else. You´d have thought that the likelihood of 8 people walking out they would have found space or at least said come back in 30 mins or similar, nope, not in Bolivia!

The something else turns out to be a cosy little Mexican – “La Cueva” – which is followed up by an old colonial place that is full of character – “Angelo Colonial” in fact – before calling it a night and heading off to bed.