South America on a shoestring

Travel time: June - December 2004  |  by Rob W.

It´s not that dangerous really!

La Paz, Coroico, Copacabana, July 1st - 6th

Finding myself back in La Paz I had only one thing on my mind... leaving again. Before this there came the small matter of catching a Euro 2004 semi final game at the Cafe Ciudad, and taking in a few daytime beverages. Cafe Ciudad proved to be the only place to watch Euro 2004 in the entire city, unlike in Peru where it was shown in every bar. Football loving gringos take note. I think it was on Plaza Estudiante. I met up again with Andy (Cuzco, Rurre) for the match and then a few beers, but not before booking myself onto the world´s most dangerous road bike trip. Everyone I´d met in South America had recommended it to me, and although at USD50 it´s not cheap, it is definitely worth it. In a bit of free advertising for them (please send me gifts in exchange) I have to say, go with Gravity Tours. They have a website, are all English native speakers, and no one has ever died on their ride (people have with the other tour groups though, reassuring!).

It was an early start for the bike ride, meeting at a cafe at 8am, and I recognised one of the lads there who would be in my group from the hotel in Rurre... another ´adventurous´ backpacker like myself, obeying the route set by the Lonely Planet! Paul turned out to be a decent guy, and the ride was fucking awesome. Starting at over 4000 metres altitude surrounding by snow, you cruise down to 1000m in only 6 hours, where it´s warm enough to swim outdoors! The scenery is mind blowing, and the ride is not that hard work. The only thing that hurt afterwards was my hands, weird. I also managed to get itchy arms from the constant vibration of the handle bars which everyone laughed at me for until it started to happen to them. There´s a vibrator joke in their somewhere but I just don´t think I can articulate it... Our group made it to the bottom with no deaths, no injuries and not even a fall (which I was secretly disappointed about). The hotel in Coroico does a good buffet lunch so I stuffed myself and drunk well deserved beer. Paul and I decided to stay at the hotel for a night along with a British and an Irish girl, rather than jump straight back on the bus for the 3 hour ride back to La Paz. The hotel (I forget the name but it´s the one Gravity stop at) is pretty luxurious by backpacker standards, and has a pool, bar, restaurant etc. Only complaint about the place is the bitch on reception... customer service anyone? We headed for a night out in Coroico which turns out to be easier said than done. It´s a weird little town that looks like it occasionally sees a lot of visitors, but not this day! We headed for a bar that looked more like a brothel on the inside, followed by 2 dogs that had followed us down the hill, and get stuck into the cervezas. From our vantage point on a couple of leopard skin couches we were then able to watch the mating ritual of the little known species called the adolescent Bolivian. This involved a small group of girls dancing nervously at one side of the empty dance floor and being watched by a group of ´rude boys´ sat on the far side! That was about as far as it got.

In the mean time I´d received an email from a good mate from home saying she was going to a Copa America match in Arequipa in a week or so, and would I like a ticket. My plans were to go down to Uyuni and then head into Chile, but in all honesty this sounded too good to miss out on. Not only would I get to see Brazil in action, but I´d get to hook up with my mate for a few days. Setting aside my usual intrepid nature (ha ha) I decided to back track on myself and head back to Peru... but just for a couple of days mind! As such I agreed to meet Chrissy and her friend Sarah in Puno on July 6th, and thus had a couple of days to kill. Paul was heading Peru-bound via Copacabana (not Rio, the Lake Titicaca one) so I thought I´d head there for a couple of days of relaxation, as though I´d not been relaxing constantly already! The trip to Copacabana should have been hassle free as it´s not far at all, but this is Bolivia so it ended up being a mess.

Paul and I headed down to the bus station by 9am to look for a bus, and were told by a totally insane old woman that we had to go to the other terminal by the cemetery. I should mention that in the taxi between terminals I saw a hairdressers called Fanny Hair Trimming. We bought 2 seats on a local bus to Copa and had about an hour to wait before its departure. Unfortunately Paul had a stomach bug and set off in search of a reasonable looking toilet, having confirmed with the bus driver that we wouldn´t be setting off till 11.30am. At 11.00 the driver started the engine, and at 11.10 we started to move. I ran down the bus and shouted in mangled Spanish that we were missing one passenger and the little shit of a money collector claimed he was going in to get Paul, and that the bus would come back in a minute. With no reason to doubt him I retook my seat, and soon found myself heading out of La Paz! A gringo couple behind me shouted that we falta´d uno as did a local in front but to no avail, and we were soon out of the city. Now this wouldnt have been such a problem had the guy´s bag not been in the luggage hold! It´s times like this that you realise the true need for a mobile. After maybe 3 hours of the bus ride we stopped for someone to get off, and there was Paul at the fron of the bus shouting something at me to grab his bag when we arrived... turns out he had found a taxi to share with some other people and managed to overtake the bus! All´s well that ends well, and I found him in Copa and was able to get a room at the fantastic La Cupula Hostel which is really a great place to splash out and stay at (USD10 a night, but worth it!).

Copacabana is a nice enough sort of tourist town, and after watching Greece miraculously win Euro 2004 - worth it to watch that prick Ronaldo cry - I spent a day chilling out. One thing to note is that at night it is seriously cold. There are boat tours to Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca but I didn´t go because I´m lazy. Instead I drunk beer, ate steak, read my book and did very little else. Little did I know that this period of nothingness would be greatly appreciated by my body ahead of the complete battering I was about to give it....!

The good:

  • Gravity Tours - a fantastic day out

  • Staying the night in Coroico - do it if you have time

  • La Cupula Hostel, Copacabana

  • Beautiful scenery in Coroico and Copa

  • Ronaldo crying as Portugal lose


The bad:

  • Mango Capac Tours. The jokers who own the bus company... avoid them.

  • There´s not actually anything to do as such in Copacabana

  • Freezing cold nights, again!

© Rob W., 2004
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The trip
 
Description:
Backpacking in South America then 5 months at uni in Brazil, despite the fact I don't yet speak Portuguese. Bum.
Details:
Start of journey: Jun 12, 2004
Duration: 6 months
End of journey: Dec 24, 2004
Travelled countries: Peru
Bolivia
Argentina
Uruguay
Brazil
The Author
 
Rob W. is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 17 years.