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March 28th, 2012 | Bolivia

Days in La (s)Paz….

The traffic from the day before, the cold weather; coupled with the flu I was battling, did not make for a pleasant entry into La Paz…

"I'm not taking up that much space, officer...!! I don't see why I have to move...!!"

The cold weather and high altitude, as well as daily rain showers while I was there, did nothing to improve my impression of the city…!!

The cops were up early the next morning, hassling me to move the bike… I reluctantly rode around for a few blocks close to the hotel, in traffic that once again can only be described as “murderous”, looking for a safe place to park the Big Fella……

After what seemed like ages, I discovered a parking area just a block away from the hotel, and after some fierce negotiating with the owner, we settled on a fee for what I thought would be a single night and day, but turned into twice that…!!

He had three German Shepherds sitting at his side, and each time I named a price which he wouldn’t accept, the largest dog growled at me…

This put me at a rather unfortunate disadvantage, as I was never quite sure if I was negotiating with the owner or the dogs…!! I discovered that while the owner looked after the vehicles during the day, the three dogs looked after them during the night, so I guess it was only fair that they both had a say in the matter…!!

I spent a morning walking up the main road that leads into the busy commercial centre of the city, the Avenue del Prada… The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians and hawkers, selling an amazing assortment of cheap goods…

I bought a new cell phone charger for just R15.00, and probably paid more than a local would have…!!

The old propped up between the new... La Paz has some very interesting architecture that dates back to much earlier times...

By midday I had had more than enough of the crowds and sought refuge in a little coffee shop next to the main post office. I was the only customer, and the owner took great delight in giving me the best possible service… He could afford to after all, as I was probably the first customer of the day…!!

I sat taking stock of my mental and physical condition while I sipped on my coffee…

The physical state I was in took just a few minutes of investigation…: Runny nose, itchy throat, sore lower back, the usual ache in my left elbow, a mild headache, and a dozen mosquito bites that itched like hell…!! Apart from all that, I was in tip-top condition…!!

The old church of Saint Francisco has been converted into a museum... It's contents depict the life and times of La Paz and the Independence struggle of Bolivia...

My mental state was another kettle of scorpions… (By the way, I am having huge fun teaching non-English speakers a few idioms that I make up as I go along…!! I then encourage the gullible to use them on other English speakers to see the expressions on their faces…!!)

But I digress…

My mental state of mind, was something I needed to shake myself out of… I could have used the excuse that I was just tired after a few long rides at high altitude, but I knew it was more than that… I was in a bit of a funk, that was not allowing me to enjoy my surroundings as much as I usually did, and was making me far less patient that I had recently become… In short, things that never used to faze me, were fazing me now…!!

I ate at this little food stand every day, and had my boots cleaned and shined by the guy on the right... We became firm friends and they always shouted their greetings as soon as I stepped out of the doors to my hostel...

I had begun thinking about the end of my journey, something I had not wanted to do until I reached Alaska… Thoughts of home, made me miss my family and friends, whom I had not seen for more than two years… I wondered how much had changed while I had been away, and if the bonds I had made had been worn away by time and infrequent communication… I thought about what I wanted to do when I got back…

I had also been thinking about my future with Patricia, and how she would adapt to life in a country that was worlds apart from that which she was used to… The day when my ride would be complete and when we planned to be together was no longer something of the distant future, but drawing inexorably closer…

And this brought me around to the biggest single thing that had me stressing: Time…!!

I was running out of this precious commodity…!! Whenever I made mental calculations as to where I needed to be and when, I seemed to have lost a few more days since I last made the same calculation…!! Getting to Mexico by mid-May and then Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska by late July, were beginning to weigh far too heavily on my mind…

I tried a new dish every day, and such was the friendship I built up with the owner, that he actually let me run up an account...!!

There was not only myself to consider, but others too… I wanted to meet Patricia in Mexico in mid-May, as we had long ago decided to try and spend no more than three months apart while I was riding…

I had to swing by San Diego in California to meet Allan Karl, who wanted to ride with me to Alaska… I also had to be in Saltspring Island to hook up with Trevor and Chenty, who had long ago planned to ride to Prudhoe Bay with me as well…

There was also my good friend Tibor Molnar from Budapest,, who had huge plans of his own to ride across Canada and meet me somewhere in British Colombia to make the ride with us…

All these factors depended very heavily on timing… I wished there was such a thing as an endless Alaskan Summer…!!

During my second cup of Cafe con Leche (Grande…!!) it suddenly dawned on me that I was letting too many thing weigh too heavily on my mind… I was looking too far ahead, and in the words of my “Dearest”, was turning into “a hot mess”…!!

La Paz street burger, with all the trimmings...!! It cost less than a dollar...!!

I pushed the Alaskan deadlines to the furthest recesses of my mind, telling myself that it was crazy to worry about things that I had little or no control over… Instead, I thought rather of the next few days ahead of me, and within minutes I found the clarity of purpose that had been missing for the past few days…

I walked back to my hotel in a far better mood than I had been for some time… The found the traffic more amusing than anything else; I slowed my walk until my heart no longer thudded in my chest at the strain of the high altitude; I stopped trying to overtake other pedestrians on the sidewalk, and rather matched their pace…

Walking briskly at an altitude that is two and a half times higher than that of Johannesburg, puts a strain on your body that you do not realise, until you find yourself leaning against a wall, with your chest heaving like bellows, and your heartbeat going a mile a minute…!! It’s almost like having a stethoscope plugged into your ears…

Such was my change of mood that I decided to spend another day in La Paz…!! That and the fact that it poured with rain for the remainder of the day and night…

The Casa Colonial is directly across the road from the Plaza St. Pedro, a well maintained public park, where locals congregate in the evenings to buy light meals cooked in little carriages that are brought in by their owners in the late afternoons…

This woman would not allow me to take a photograph of her, so I had to take one from behind her...!! The bowler hats they wear were introduced into Bolivia in the 1920's and seem to have found more favor with women rather than men...!!

Old woman in their bowler hats and flared floral skirts, sit chatting and knitting… Kids run around with gay abandon, and I stood watching all of this while munching on a variety of local dishes, and chatting to the Shoe Shine Man… I never bothered going to look for restaurants, because I had all I needed right across the road from my hostel…!!

The staff at the hotel, and in particular, Roland and Herman, the shift managers, were very helpful… They continually checked to see if I needed anything, and were always on hand to give me advice…

When the sim card I had bought did not work properly, Herman actually walked the few blocks down to the vendor where I had bought it, and managed to sort out my connection problems for me…!! That was way beyond the “call of duty” so to speak, and put me into an even better frame of mind that I was already in…!!

At the service station across the road from where I parked the bike, they refused to sell me any fuel… My foreign registration being the problem…!! The local rules governing the sale of fuel to foreigners made me smile rather than get irritated… In order to sell fuel to me, they would need all my passport details, and at most service stations, they are just too lazy to go to all that trouble…!1

Back at the hotel, Herman apologised profusely for the stupid laws that govern the sale of petrol in Bolivia, and the next day, came to work with a 5 litre Jerry can, and offered to make the four trips to and from the services station, that it would take to fill the Big Fella’s tank…!!

I was well and truly taken aback by his thoughtfulness, even though it turned out that he was too busy to leave the hotel that day, and never got to help me out…

Roland, one of the shift managers at the Casa Colonial... Thanks for all the help guys...!! Much appreciated...!!

I brought my blog up to date and answered a long list of emails that I had been meaning to, and then went for another short walk before rain forced me back indoors…

I did not manage to leave La Paz as early the following morning as I had hoped to, and found myself in the middle of the usual traffic madness…!! In sharp contrast to my arrival though, I sat in the midst of it all, smiling and laughing with the people in the cars around me…

Early morning traffic in La Paz...!! You just have to grin and bear it...!!

Zebras in Bolivia...!! Go figure...!!

There was just no point in getting upset… We were all in the same jam…!!

I had a running conversation with a guy in a taxi, who spoke perfect English, and wanted to know where I was from and where I was heading… It took twenty minutes to cover just three blocks, and we chatted for all that time…!! He even took down details of my website and promised to follow my journey and tell his kids all about me…!!

Apart from the traffic officers who tried to make sense of the bedlam, there were also a large number of guys dressed in zebra outfits, that tried to help out…!! I have no idea where they came from, and in fact I think they just added to the chaos…!!

I only had about 50 kms worth of fuel in the tank and no spare in my four bottles, and knew I would have to find fuel before I left the city…

I stopped at a service station on the outskirts of La Paz in El Alto, and was at first refused fuel…

I got off the bike, took my helmet off, and advised the young attendant that I was not moving until he sold me fuel… The cars behind me began backing up, and then began hooting in annoyance…

When I'm stuck in traffic, I while away the boredom by making up phrases using the letters on number plates around me... This one was simple... "Go Gypsy Biker"...!!

Seeing that I was dead serious about not moving an inch until I got fuel, he then offered to sell me four litres…!!

I told him what he could do with his four litres, all the while smiling from ear to ear…!! Rather than losing my cool, and allowing the Dark Destroyer to deal with the situation, I found I was actually enjoying the discomfort I was causing him and the people waiting in line behind me…

I was determined to get one over on the silly Bolivian rules before I left the country…!!

Eventually, the manager was called, and I explained that I knew all about the rules governing petrol sales, and was quite prepared to pay triple the going price, and provide my passport details, but was not moving until I got a full tank of fuel…

The manager then peered closely at me, and a burst of Spanish issued from his lips, ending with “TV”…

Thinking quickly, I  nodded, and said,

“Si Senhor…!! TV…!! You saw me on television…??”…

Of course, I had never been on Bolivian television, but if he was mistaking me for someone else, and that would get me fuel, then I was happy to play along…!!

He asked about all the flags on the panniers; where I was from; and where I was going…. I politely answered all his questions and then within minutes I had a fuel tank of fuel, and only paid the local price for it as well…!! A huge bonus…!!

Being mistaken for a celebrity of some kind, helped me get fuel at local prices...!!

Smiling to myself, and with Bryan Adams singing “Open Road” in my ear phones, I “…let the engine roar….and the white lines on the highway, lead me outta town…”

Except there were no white lines out here, just a potholed road leading northwest towards Battalas and Lagos Humaimarca…

But I didn’t care….!! I was on my way to Peru…!!

©GBWT 2012

 

4 comments to Days in La (s)Paz….

  • Mark Behr

    It is always invigorating and liberating when the clouds in your mind lift and the beauty of your situation reveals itself once again. Enjoy your ride and receive Blessings from Brisbane!

  • Kenny(S/Suburbs)

    Mark I think he is recieving Blessings from all over the world.The most amazing thing is getting back expecting change but normaly there is none.One thing that will never change is the beer in South Africa its always cold.Have a good one.

  • Tony Royle

    Caught sight of familar means of transport in one of the photo’s – HiAce’s

    Were the zebra dressers working for Total?

    (or maybe they were trying to introduce quagga’s to South America?

    http://www.southafrica.info/about/animals/quagga.htm)

  • Ha…!! Qwagga’s indeed…!! Don’t know what the heck they might have been advertising, but the buggers confused the traffic cops and motorists alike…!!

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