Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Death Road & Perusing Peru

So, back in La Paz and the ThisRoad team was reunited. La Paz was still as smoggy as ever, so in order to give our lungs a short respite we booked ourselves on a downhill mountain bike ride down the World's Most Dangerous Road - otherwise known as The Death Road. This turned out to be, as those kids with silly long blonde hair (or Phil) like to say, like totally awesome, dude! It was a descent of over 3km down 64km of road that claims an average of 300 lives per year. Nuts! We passed crosses on the way down at the spots where people have met untimely ends by plummeting, in some cases, 600m down a sheer vertical cliff-face into the jungle below. There was one point where a tractor pulling a cart with 95 people on board went over the edge. In 2006. Blimey!!

Suffice to say, hearts were racing slightly as we zoomed down this dry, dusty and stoney road (built by Paraguayan prisoners of war in the 1940s) and we were locked in concentration so as to avoid the edge where no hint of a barrier would save a slip up. What a rush!! And to put all our mother's minds at rest, we went with an extremely reputable company called Gravity so we were in extremely safe hands. Actually, this could be a new career move... Luckily the road was quiet so we didn't have much upcoming traffic to contend with, which was good as for the most part the road was only one vehicle-width wide. The other reason for this was because the following day was election day, so all the locals were going nuts about that in town. When we returned to the city we found that all bars were closed and not serving alcohol. Bummer! Apparently, Bolivians get very excited about elections and in the past would get totally tanked and go out for a spot of rioting. As you do. So the authorities ban booze the night before voting. Kinda goes to show how charismatic British politics is..! The two main backpacker hostels secretly kept their bars open so we were not to go dry on our last night in Bolivia. What a relief! Next on the agenda was to exit La Paz and make a break for the Peruvian border at Lake Titikaka. Now I don't want to come across as superior, elitist or anything like that, but I can see why the UK is such a great country. Road signs. We've got the whole signage thing nailed. It took us a bloody hour to figure out a way out of La Paz. Not one sign in sight giving any indication what road we were on, or where that road led to. A right pain in the backside! No wonder Bolivians are such pants drivers; they're all flippin lost! Our trusty GPS came to the rescue as we used the tried and tested method of navigating using compass alone. We wanted to go west (no outbursts of Pet Shop Boys warbling, please) so found roads that did that and by jove we ruddy well did it. Hurrah! The border crossing was another interesting experience and a classic example of IT not being the work efficiency saviour it is always touted as. Phil had to end up completing the electronic vehicle entry document on behalf of the somewhat befuddled (and senior in years) Peruvian official. We took the stamped up third attempted print-off and the smooth asphalt of Peru beckoned. Until said smooth asphalt gave up the ghost and became more pot-holled than a golf ball. Carry on into the night where headlights appear to be optional and we experienced an interesting drive to Puno, our stop-over on the drive north to Cusco.

And so we joined the thousands of other tourists that descend on the former Inca capital and Spanish colonial regional centre. In contrast to La Paz, Cusco is clean and fresh, with bright sunny plazas, stunning 16th century architecture and little back alleys populated with artisan shops and taverns. It also is crowded with peoples of all nations who flock to see arguably South America's biggest draw, Machu Picchu. In a vain attempt to get with the cool kids and be where it's at, we checked into Hostel Loki and instantly felt a generation apart. This place is full of gap-year backpackers, all wearing happy pants and llama jumpers, talking about how amazing traveling is, what uni they're off to come September and how no-one should need to, like, have to work or anything, all while never actually leaving the hostel bar (which, incidentally, is where I am typing this right now, having just watched Manchester United loose, sadly, to Bayern Munich on the widescreen. Pot, kettle, black, you say??!) Our plan to drive up to Machu Picchu have been scuppered for a variety of reasons and so we're hanging around here till the 8th when we catch a train for a 2-day visit to the ancient Inca ruins. To aid passing the time we volunteered to help clearing up some of the surrounding villages that had been devastated in the recent mudslides. Off we went with a few others from the hostel (Pauline, Tom, Don and Anya) to Taiy, a small village about an hour away where 120 homes have been wrecked of partially buried in mud. Phil went off to help dig out the ground floor of a old ladies house (by going in through the first floor) while Tim and I were tasked with commencing the demolition of a two-storey home with one of it's corners missing the mud-brick and plaster walls cracked and caving in and the roof being propped up with tree trunks. By hand. With no safety equipment or hard hats. And a ladder made from sticks. In an effort to rescue as much as possible, the roof tiles had to be removed individually and carefully so they can be reused. This took two hours perched upon a rickety building marked for demolition in the blistering sun. With a massive hangover. Yep, we got a little tipsy the night before. When will we learn? WIth the tiles down and stacked we attacked the rest of the roof. I must admit there is something decidedly counter-intuitave about removing something you are standing on that is stopping you from falling two stories to the ground. Well semi-stopping in Tim's case who half fell through, twice. The same hole both times; you'd think he'd have learned. Guess we used to call this sort of thing 'character building' back in the army. Bonkers if you ask me, but we persevered nonetheless and by close of play there was no roof to be seen. Other than the mass of detritus strewn around the base of the house. Tired, very dirty but satisfied we returned to he hostel where to cap off an otherwise fantastic day we won the bar-quiz!! Free shots and t-shirts all round! I'm off to join Phil and Tim on the pool table. Next post will be after Machu Picchu. Let's hope it lives up to the hype..!


Greg said...

You guys are crazy! Cwmcarn will never seem the same again uh?! Glad you lived to tell the tale of your 64K descent! Nuts indeed! Not sure I'd have the nerve to do that myself.

Tom, I was cracking up here in Boston Tea Party on whiteladies reading about your DIY efforts on the house and Tim's antics. Sounds like a unique way to interact with the locals. Take care fellas!

rbaz said...

More stunning pics - how many times can one say - it looks amazing -

What's with the life-jackets though? I don't think they would help when falling 600m.

Philip said...

The life-jackets are just there to look good.

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