Adventure Update #3: The Long Road to La Paz

Posted by on July 16, 2013

After taking the boat from Manaus to Porto Velho, Harry and I embarked on a long journey to La Paz in the heart of Bolivia.

We left the boat on Saturday evening and hurried to find the Porto Velho bus station (which would have been a much less successful endeavour without the help of our new Portuguese- and English-speaking friends, met on the boat – if you ever read this, thank you!). We caught an overnight bus to Guajara-Mirim/Guayaramerin on the Brazil/Bolivia border, and once we were dropped off we spent a few anxious minutes working out if we were in the right city or not – there were no signs! It turned out that it was the right city, so we set about working out where on earth we were meant to go. After getting the best set of directions I’ve heard in a while (“Bolivia? Ummm… that way.”) we walked to the border control*, crossed the border/river by boat, had our passports decorated by a stamp-happy Bolivian official, and then hurried to the Bolivian bus station using the most awesome form of transportation ever.

(* Recommendation to Brazilian authorities: when building the border control office, you could try building it somewhere vaguely near the border. Just an idea.)

In a fashion reminiscent of our Easter holiday, we reached the bus station just in time to catch our bus to La Paz – it left at 8am; we arrived around 7:55am! After buying our tickets and thanking our taxi driver, we found ourselves taking seats on the bus, less than 12 hours after getting off the boat that was, by this point, several hundred miles away and in a different country.

Now, let me tell you a fact: the road from Guayaramerin to La Paz is long. And dusty. And long. And bumpy. And long. And dangerous. And long. (Did I mention that it was long?)

A few years ago I travelled from England to Italy with my school, and I was ready to start pulling my hair out after 25 hours on a modern coach that had aircon, a toilet and a million and one distractions. To reach La Paz, we spent 41 hours travelling on a bus that was already somewhat past “modern” back when salt and vinegar crisps had the blue packet. It was devoid of aircon, lacked a toilet, and might have passed an MOT if the inspector was blind, daft and heavily bribed!

The route itself included about a mile of smoothly paved highway, followed by what felt like eight and a half million miles of dusty, bumpy roads cut through the seemingly unending savannah and jungle. A large section of the route also took us through winding, twisting mountain roads, hewn into the side of a few members of the Andes mountain range. These particular roads were an experience and a half: a wall of rock on one side, a loose-rock path that was, in places, about two microns wider than our bus, and then an unforgiving drop into jungly-abyss. Safety barriers? Keep dreaming. Honestly, I think I’d have had time to phone my loved ones on the way down.

This road is not for the faint of heart!

This road is not for the faint of heart!

To make matters worse, we were delayed for about 8 hours in the middle of the mountain road. By itself this wasn’t a problem – I used the time to enjoy a very cheap meal (Bs15, which is about £1.50, for chicken in sauce with rice, potatoes, eddoes, salad and a coke), read some more on my Kindle and catch a few minutes of shut-eye. The problem came when we set off again, and our driver decided to make up for lost time by driving like his hair was on fire. Remember what I said about the state of our bus? And the conditions of the roads? Yeah. Clearly then, this guy had given up on life itself and decided our bus was bound not for La Paz but for La Pearly Gates instead. Luckily this stage lasted only 20 minutes or so before he calmed down, but during those minutes I did find myself contemplating how I should jump from the window if we went over the edge. Miraculously we survived, so the point became moot.

All things considered, we were very glad to arrive in La Paz at about 1am Tuesday morning. We looked (and felt) decidedly rough; we were sleep-deprived and had lungs full of dust, but we were still very alive and very excited about carrying on with our adventure. We reached La Paz a day or two ahead of schedule, so we’ll be in Bolivia for a couple of weeks (ish) and making trips to various places, so keep your eyes on the blog to see all the awesome stuff we’ll be doing!

Graçias for reading!

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