Wednesday, 5 February 2014

La Paz, the Casa de Ciclista and "The Death Road"

The small drawing of a bicycle above the door bell to the Casa de Ciclista
I had been hearing great things about the Casa de Ciclista in La Paz from other cyclists as far back as Ecuador so it was great to have some time off in this very well located Casa smack in the centre of La Paz. A Casa de Ciclista (directly translated meaning the cyclist's house or the house of cyclists.. I think) is basically a place for cyclists to hang out for a few days or sometimes a bit longer. Most cyclists find themselves spending a little longer than just the couple of days at this particular Casa and that was certainly the case with me. I have passed through several Casa de Ciclistas ever since Mexico and each one has been quite different in it's own way but pretty much all are very welcoming. This Casa is run by Cristian who leases out an apartment in the centre of town exclusively for passing cyclists. It's certainly a popular spot with hundreds of cyclists having passed through it's door in the few years it's been open. I must have met close to twenty cyclists during my time there.
It's a great place to recharge the batteries, exchange stories with fellow cyclists coming and going on their different adventures and have a few meals or even some drinks together. Strictly rehydrating electrolyte loaded sports drinks of course.

Kurt's batmobile aka Davie Hogan, he's cycling around the world
on a fat bike without panniers.
I had arrived at the Casa with Simon and Olivia and bumped into my pal Kurt that same day. Kurt and I have been running into each other ever since Panama and he had been in La Paz a week or so already so was able to give us the guided tour of the local neighbourhood on the first night including where to find the best pizza in town. Not having eaten any pizza in at least a year this was some treat. Karen and Mike arrived in a day or so later having taken a different route around Lake Titicaca. 

A few days after arriving back from the trip to the jungle six of us headed off to do "El Camino de la muerte" the so called Death Road. This used to be considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world due to all the heavy goods traffic, very narrow road and steep few hundred metre drops off the side of the cliff at different stages. Cristian who runs the Casa claims however that the death road is dead. An alternative road was built on the other side of the valley removing most vehicular traffic so now it's almost exclusively organised backpacker groups who have hired mountain bikes for the day... and some tourers who have their own bikes. We cycled up to the bus station and nearly had to pull the plug on the day out before we had even left the city with the manner in which the bikes were being thrown together on the top of a min-van. Thankfully another driver came to the rescue who had a roof rack specifically designed to carry several bikes so off out of the city and up into the impressive snow peaked mountains we drove.

We started around 4,600 metres in snow
The happy couples.. eh..
They usually drive on the right hand side of the road in Bolivia but on the
Death Road you are instructed to stay on your left, presumably to try
and keep things a little confusing/ dangerous.
It was myself, Simon & Olivia, Mike & Karen and Ho, a Korean cyclist also staying at the Casa. We started off surrounded by snow. I didn't have the usual amount of warm gear with me so I wasn't long descending before my knees had gone numb. Don't think I've ever been colder on the bike on the trip. We flew down the first thirty kilometres which was paved road, keen to get down from the cold at higher altitude. This initial stretch wasn't even the official death road yet. After a bit of a snack it was off onto the Death Road proper.! It was a stunning, winding descent that just went on and on. Despite passing way too many crosses and memorials to where people had died it didn't feel all that deadly but there were some serious cliff drop offs at certain stages. It was certainly a fun day out with a good crew. Nowadays it could probably be more accurately described as the "deadly" views road because of the stunning landscape most of the way down.

Time for a snack before we start the death road proper, don't want to be dying of hunger.. ha ha.

Olivia and Simon
Mike and Karen 
Karen leading the charge (photo courtesy of Mike and Karen -

Puncture repair time
Near the end of our enjoyable day out. A lot warmer than where we started out a few thousand metres higher up
The end of the road is at a town called Coroico around 1,200 metres above sea level in rainforest.
Celebrating a successful return to La Paz with a pizza the size of the table.. the others weren't hungry
Hitching a ride in the Casa de Ciclista from my mad Brazilian cycling friend Claudio.
Claudio has cycled almost every country in South America raising awareness about global warming.

Claudio was a talented cook who prepared a few delicious meals for his extended cycling family
Like many cyclists before me and presumably many more to come, I spent longer than my initially planned few days at the Casa. One Sunday we headed up to a huge market in El Alto which used to be a large suburb of La Paz but it has expanded so much it is now a seperate city onto itself. El Alto is on the Altiplano several hundred metres above central La Paz. The Sunday market is gigantic stretching for maybe ten or fifteen blocks. There is pretty much anything you could think of for sale at the market.

The Sunday market in El Alto sold everything from wrestling figures.. toilets.. smart phones.. fire engines.
A night market close to the Casa
Neighbourhoods stretching steep up the mountain side surrounding La Paz
The centre of the city was modern with lots of office & apartment blocks
Mural on a wall surrounding a local football pitch
Continuation of the mural
Plaza Murillo (Main Square) in central La Paz

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a good parking spot in La Paz
I'll miss the Casa. Muchas gracias por todo Cristian!

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