Bolivia

After Machu Picchu we boarded a night bus to La Paz, Bolivia and arrived around mid-day the next day. We stayed at Adventure Brew Hostel, which was a microbrewery that served its own beer on tap. We spent most of the day relaxing and then headed to Restaurant Gustu, owned by some big-wig that owns the best restaurant in the world and chose La Paz as his next endeavor. (Read more about it: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/jun/13/gustu-restaurant-la-paz-bolivia-review) La Paz is a gigantic city, so it was a 45 minute cab ride to the restaurant, during which we lost our way several times, but arrived in what seemed like a suburb with houses all around it, but there it was. We walked in to an absolutely stunning interior complete with an exposed kitchen to watch the chefs work. We opted for a 7-course tasting menu this time (who knew we were such foodies) along with the wine pairing. They started us off with delicious rolls along with artisanal butter, one of which was a coca leave butter that was delicious. We had an outstanding dried llama salad, the most mouth-watering lamb I have ever experienced in my life, and ox-cheek which is the most tender meat possible. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the other courses right now (why blogging at the time is so important), but all of the mains were just outstanding, the deserts were nothing to call home about, but were not bad by any means. The wine-pairings were impeccable, and certainly not on the small side (may be why some of the courses have eluded my memory). Compared to our 24-course experience at Astrid y Gaston, I have to say I much preferred this experience. Mostly because the portion sizes were bigger and you were able to truly explore the flavors in each dish. Also,the flavors were not blended and all mixed together, there were definite distinctions in each dish which I enjoyed. So the ruling (for me) is Gustu is now officially, the best food experience of my life. Chris disagrees, he still says Astrid is number one for him.

From pure enjoyment we moved to pure horror, as we left to bike down the death road the next day. Yes. I am aware that I am receiving many eye-rolls from friends as they read this due to my hatred of biking, but I felt that it is something I should do while in Bolivia. We went with the company Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking for its outstanding reputation with quality of bikes as well as overall safety profile. The bikes were absolutely fantastic, but they did not make up for my extreme dislike of biking.

What is the death road you ask? It was deemed the world’s most dangerous road by the inter-american development bank in 1995 and is a 64 km downhill ride. An average of 16 vehicles go over the cliff while driving the death road, claiming hundreds of lives each year. This is mostly due to the fact the road is only wide enough for one car, so if two cars meet, the car that is driving downhill must reverse uphill until they reach a widening in the road that they can safely pass. Sadly, tourists on bikes also have lost their lives while biking the road, the last of which was last year while trying to take a selfie. You descend over 3600 m throughout the ride, beginning in the mountains with snow, and ending in tropical  jungle. The first 22 km or so are on paved road, allowing time to adjust to your bike. Then you hit the official death road, and the “fun” starts.

After finishing biking the death road we ended at an animal sanctuary for a delightful meal and well deserved beverage. Our tour guide then asked if our group wanted to take the old death road home or the “new” death road home. The new death road is still dangerous as people drive faster on it, even though it is equally as windy and narrow. We opted for the old death road, as neither were true good decisions we might as well have the bragging rights of having survived it. It was much more terrifying in the old, beat up, dilapidated “bus” we were in as it was scarcely wider than the bus, and when you looked out the window there was nothing but cliff-face. All was well, until we suddenly came to a halt. Believe me, this was not a road you wanted to be stationary on for any longer than possible with the blind turns at every turn and all. It turned out that the cable that connects the accelerator in the engine to the peddle snapped. “Don’t worry, the driver dealt with this same issue just last week!” assured the guide. Sure enough, we were in motion within 10 minutes with a rather crafty solution to the problem. The drive attached a cable to the accelerator and fed it through the dashboard to his seat, so that he could hand-accelerate by pulling on the cable. Meaning, he had to hand accelerate, steer (with no power steering), and shift whilst we drove up the death road. There was a collective sigh of relief when we turned back on to the paved road. We were pretty certain the brakes on the bus also went as he seemed to be trying to coast back to La Paz, and any time he needed to brake he shifted down…It was a slightly stressful day. Worth it? Definitely.

Also, the day we were riding death road our tour guide told us about a crazy Kiwi that for his 40th birthday was having a ramp made off death road so he could ride a bike off and base jump from the side of death road, on Friday the 13th. I looked up the youtube video when I arrived home- needless to say it did not go as planned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db2vv6Vl98I&noredirect=1

The next day we left for Uyuni to start our 3 day Salar de Uyuni (salt flat) tour. The salt flats in Bolivia are the worlds largest, and provide exceptional photo opportunities. It was 3 days in a jeep, with a very enthusiastic guide (we later found the source of his enthusiasm was not a pure source) who was extremely knowledgeable. We had heard horror stories of people going on tours with guides who spoke no english, or with drivers who drove drunk so we went with Red Planet who had an excellent safety reputation, and luckily we had no issues at all (besides the enthusiasm).

The tour was a highlight for us, the scenery was stunning and we were able to see lots of wildlife as well as different landscapes. Our last night we took in hot springs at an altitude of 5000 m, so the stars were out of this world and we were able to see several shooting stars. The tour is a must-do! At the end of the tour Chris and I were able to catch a collectivo to the border of Chile, while Patrick and Christine made their way back to Cuzco for their flights home. We would have liked to spend more time in Bolivia than we were able to as it was absolutely incredible (and cheap!), but we wanted to get to wine country for our last 10 days in South America.