22 Dec 2015

El Camino de la Muerte - Death Road Special

The Road of Death in Bolivia was reckoned to be the most dangerous road in the world, but now it is just a myth. We drove down it a few days ago and the only real danger nowadays is of knocking one of the cyclists (that come hurtling down) over the edge. A few years ago a new road was built and now the main traffic on the Road of Death are cyclists, their support vehicles and the odd over lander. Having said that it is easy to imagine how bad it was when this was the only road for buses, trucks etc especially seeing the way they drive, with no-one willing to give an inch.

As far as the road goes, we have probably been on at least a dozen roads in the last few months that are narrower, with tighter bends and drops just as long, but would never have had the amount of traffic that the death road once had.

It is quite a challenge for cyclist though, when we came up (the cyclists go down) there was torrential rain at times near the top, there are also a number of waterfalls that actually fall on the road and cascade over the side. Some of the cyclists we saw were really going for it, but there were others by half way down were going quite slowly and still clinging on for dear life. Officially, my excuse for not doing it myself is that Chris would not drive back down to get me. But in reality I have been in situations where I have ridden downhill soaking wet and so cold I couldn't keep the handle bars straight so was happy to stay driving the car.

Prior to the Death Road we drove from Copacabana to La Paz, through a hail storm which left the road completely white for a few hundred meters. La Paz is a huge city in a Canyon, one end is at 4000m, the other at 3,200m and the buildings tower up each side of the canyon. Driving through is a nightmare as nothing makes sense and the roads climb up multiple hairpin bends on each side, made considerably worse by the insistence of my GPS that I drive the wrong way up one way roads!

We staid in La Paz for 2 days prior to going to the Death Road in order to get insurance for the rest of South America and another 2 days after when we met up by chance with a number of Overlanders from France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

When we set off from La Paz for the Death Road we decided to take a wider sweep, via a Gold Mine in the jungle (which is apparently just like the wild west, including taking gold for payment in shops) but on the way we stopped at a police check point where they told us there was no road through (we heard later it was closed because they are building a new road). Not wanting to drive back through La Paz we went Mongolian style, completely off the map and the GPS, by following tracks we could see  joining roads in the next valley and eventually made it to the right road. But only after a number of dead ends, a 3 point tun on a really rough road at around 5,000m and another after we realised that we were on bulldozer tracks for another new road, where we had to use low box, initially to get through and then turn round and go back to find the right road.

We are now in Cochabamba for Christmas after the longest drive of this phase so far (240 miles) at 2.500m a little lower than recent times so a little warmer (tho it has been pouring with rain most of today).
Whilst in La Paz we visited the Charango Museum,. we bought (eldest daughter) Sarah a Charango back from Peru 11 years ago (and she still plays it) so this next selection is for her.
Charangos were originally made from Armadillo shells
And here are a couple of examples
And have been developed into all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments

Including this one that must be impossible to play

But there was also a picture of someone (apparently) playing it

Full of the most unlikely string instruments you could imagine (or maybe not!)

There was no picture of anyone playing these!!!
I want this picture!!!

After the Museum we found an English Pub
We camped a little way out of the La Paz, in the Valley of the Moon. The site was on quite a slope, but fortunately they had some ramps to level us up perfectly, the tent was so low at the back we almost didn't need the ladder to get in.
On the way to The Road of death we had to inch our way through a Market - over a mile long took us over an hour to get through - slower and more dangerous than The Road of Death!

And then back into the mountains

On my favourite roads

The view from our camp site before doing the Death Road      
And finally - The Road of Death (the misty bit in the middle is a water fall
Memorials all the way to those that have perished (usually with numerous names on)
As we go up the rain gets heavier
and at times more like the river of death

More water falls to contend with

and rivers running across the road (with another memorial in the foreground)
The view out of my side window as we crossed the 'river'
And the picture to prove it (unfortunately you had to pay to do the bike ride to get the tee shirt).
It looked like there were Guinness stations along the way - maybe these were only for the bike riders too - I really should have done the bike ride!


14 Dec 2015

It's a Long Way to Titicaca

I have been saving this title!But I came up with it before I realised just how far it was! Not so much in miles but in time! The distance from Huanuco (where the good road starts) to Puno on Lake Titicaca is 1,240 miles, so in terms of the mileage done to date is a drop in the ocean. And unlike the road from Chavin to Huanuco before it (187 of the worst pot holed miles I have driven) this was all tarmac, but constantly up to over 4000m, down to under 2000m and then back up again, and of course on very windy and often single track roads, taking 9 very tiring days (excluding rest days). We took time out at Ayacucho, which had very bad reports, but we loved it and ended up staying 2 nights. Both nights we ate on a balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas (main town square), with good food and an excellent view.

After Ayacucho we pushed on again, up and down, round and round, often climbing an descending over 7,000 metres per day, until finally we stopped at a small site on IOverlander called Casa Lena, supposedly for one night but stayed for 3 Casa Lena is in fact a school for deprived and special needs children from the local area, the camp site (and B & B) is to help support the school. Run by a young Belgian lady with amazing energy, her Peruvian husband and 2 small children. Stephanie (I won't go into why it is called Casa Lena) was a special needs teacher in Belgium, came to Peru to do some voluntary work, met her husband and here they are 5 years later, having built the house and the school from scratch. She now takes volunteers from Belgium training to be special needs teachers so helps both them and the local children. The views from the site are spectacular and there is a walk from the town (Curahuasi) up to a 3,200m peak with look-out points to an amazing Canyon below (arguably one of the deepest in the world). In fact it was very hard to only spend 3 nights there. From there we drove to Olantaytambo, taking a short cut over a dirt road round the most amazing lake, with snow capped peaks in the distance.

Olantaytambo for me has to be one of the main highlights of the trip. Part of the inspiration for this whole trip was our visit to Peru for Chris’s 50th birthday. This was an organised trip where everything was scheduled and whilst very good you can’t vary from the plan or stay somewhere a bit longer. Olantaytambo was definitely one of those places I wanted to stay longer and happened to be the place where this trip intercepted the one we did 11 years ago and I finally got to walk up to the Inca Granary way up on the cliff face I remembered from our first visit. The town itself is quite amazing as it has been inhabited continuously for 700 years, since Inca times and the bases of all of the houses, including the majority of doorways and windows, are original Inca stone work.

Chris was not feeling too good on our first day at Olantaytambo and elected to stay back at camp and rest, whilst I hiked up to the Granary, walked every corner of the village and then round the main archaeological site. After which I spent most of the night trying to work out how to get my head and my backside over the toilet at the same time, so next day I was laid up for the whole day!

Next was another Inca site called Pisac, with fortifications on various parts of the mountain guarding 3 different valleys. Chris decided against doing the whole circuit and I wished I hadn’t about ¾ round! After which we drove to Cusco. Cusco is a major city, again with lots of Inca walls and buildings based on Inca foundations, but for me not as good as Olantaytambo, in fact the most impressive place in Cusco was the Irish pub ‘Paddy’s Bar’, we initially went there for the full Irish breakfast, but ended up spending most of our time there as it started raining about midday and just got heavier and heavier and although the Guinness brewery will no longer deliver draft Guinness they have a local stout which is almost as good.

From Cusco we followed the train tracks over the Andes to Puno on Lake Titicaca, remembering the train that we had taken 11 years ago. On the itinerary this just looked like another mode of transport but in fact turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip and unlike many of the other roads we have driven this is a very gradual rise up to 4,350m at the top and gradually back down to Puno at 3,800m, covering a distance of over 200 miles.

We are now at the far end of Lake Titicaca at Copacabana, having crossed into Bolivia this morning, achieving another goal from 11 years ago, where from Puno we could see Bolivia and now we are here!
A Lake high in the mountains

Pisco Sours on the Terrace in Ayacucho

The Plaza de Armas in Ayacucho
The town in centre picture is over a mile below.
Our camp spot at Casa Lena
Ther view from our camp spot
A tough walk up in altitude but an amazing view of arguably the deepest canyon in the world
Stephanyie and the latest addition to the familly

Amazing skies

We take a short cut on a dirt road
Round another beautiful lake
Then back onto a good road to Olantaytambo
The original Inca Foundations

and doorways

A couple of locals on their way to sell thier wares to the tourists

The photo I took 11 years ago

And after 11 years I am almost at the Inc Granary

Taken from the Granary with a view of the ruins in the background

Pisac, another Inca Site

Unfortunatley they no longer have Guiness
But they did do a good Irish Breakfast
I'll save this for later
Cusco, the rain has just eased off a bit

Another Inca site
Following the reilway over the Andes
After a few days of rain we had blue skies for the drive over.
I could not decide which pictures to take out
So left them all in

After Puno we take a dirt road detour round a peninsular on the way to Bolivia
and find a really clear bay
Then continue round the peninsular, no tourists (other) here.

Then back on the road to Bolivia
Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian end
Copacabana, Bolivia