I have been in Bolivia for six weeks and leave at the end of the month heading to Ireland then Scotland before I go back home to Canada.
I am in Bolivia because I had connected with local, Edwin Fernandez, and I was here helping him to set up a sustainable junior golf clinic for underprivileged locals.
Upon arrival in Bolivia, I was greeted at the airport by more than 20 people which was a little surreal considering I had been travelling for 40+ hours, but lovely nonetheless.
I have blogged about all the golf stuff on Fairways but I have done a few things for me. Granted I would have explored a lot more if I was here for me but that is just not the case.
I was invited to Ale’s 15th birthday. Ale is one of the juniors in our programme and I found out 15 is a big birthday here in Bolivia.
I made some friends and explored the centre of Santa Cruz with Mauricio.
I explored Cotoca with Edwin and his sister Jenny and even lit candles at the church although I am not religious and if I am completely honest I spent more time playing around in the hot wax than praying.
I watched a sloth makes it’s slow journey down a tree in the park.
I have driven around Santa Cruz with 13 people in the car (8 small children in the back of the ute) and have become a crazy Santa Cruz driver beeping my horn at the stupidity of others while confidently negotiating the chaos.
I have met with golf professionals and office bearers in all levels of Bolivian golf and hope to have an annual fundraiser here to support our Bolivian program.
I went out to a local bar, watched a band and danced until the wee hours.
For Carnival I jumped on a bus with Edwin as we made our way to La Paz. We stopped in Cochabamba first for some golf meetings then continued to La Paz. The bus was quite comfortable considering we were on it for 16 or so hours.
My brain was trying to explode from my head but I took altitude sickness pills and drank lots of coca tea.
Edwin’s sister Cintya (who also cut my hair) and her family hosted us for the duration of our stay. I got to meet Edwin’s extended family and see some of La Paz with them.
While in La Paz we went to Lake Titicaca and again if I wasn’t here for other purposes I would have explored that area for at least a week. Edwin wanted to hit golf balls into the lake but I only posed as the environmentalist in me refused to rubbish the waters intentionally.
We then explored La Paz and I joined Edwin, his sisters Jenny and Cintya and their school friends for a Carnival celebration and I danced and danced and danced. Including what we could call an interpretive dance off with a gentleman grooving on the dance floor. I like to think I won.
Carnival traffic is crazy. You are jammed into a minibus with 15 other people and you can clearly see the gridlock and yet everyone sits on their horns in a chaotic cacophony demanding the car in front moves on.
The drunkenness wasn’t just “I’m having fun” but “what is my name….oh are these my legs” kind of drinking as I watched many stumble around clueless.
I ate so many different types of street food. I have no idea what the various dishes were called and there was nothing I didn’t like oh except the fish soup at the markets. Way too salty and not to my taste at all.
I did learn that you should always have your pockets filled with wads of toilet paper and that after dark dogs rule the town.
At one intersection, while we waited for the light to change, I counted 34 dogs eating from a mound of garbage as they teased and chased and tormented each other. I was very glad to be in a vehicle although while they didn’t seem like mean dogs, it could get ugly pretty quickly.
I was actually astounded at the amount of dogs roaming the streets after dark in La Paz but perhaps they too celebrate Carnival.
Then I was off for the ride of my life. Elissa, Damien and Brian (friends of mine from Australia) had bought me a tour down Ruta de la Muerta – The Death Road, and what an amazing adventure!
It started off well. There was a group of 9 of us, a couple of South Africans, a couple of Brazilians, three Argentinians and of course another Aussie. We got used to the bikes on a 20km ride on a tar road and I was loving making myself as small as possible picking up speed and trying to keep my confidently cautious riding style in check.
I usually do things beyond my limits but this is one road where you want to be acutely aware of every little thing you are doing or you’ll end up dead.
Mac (our guide) told us of riders trying to get the best GoPro footage, watching a butterfly, or just being over confident and that was the last thing they did before riding off the edge.
The weather started out fantastic as we negotiated the obstacles including lots of riders from other companies. Some of those were dangers not only to themselves but to us as they weaved all over.
We stopped at various points on the road taking photos and documenting our adventures. The scenery is mind blowing. Pristine and deadly and beautiful and breathtaking (not just because your heart skips a beat as you look over the edge).
You have to concentrate and only look at the road. Twice I looked over the edge beside me but only when I was on a wide stretch and had a good look at what was in front of me but I do admit to having my adrenaline surge and my heart in my mouth as I looked back at the road.
I watched two people crash their bikes but into the grass and rocks to the right hand side (the side you want to crash into to) and there were times when my bike slipped hitting a rock and while I was in no danger of dying, I did slow my speed.
We were probably about 5kms in and as I peddled my gear slipped. My brakes still worked and as I was mostly going down hill I tried changing gears but they continued slipping. I stopped and waited for the other guide (terrible but I don’t remember his name now) and showed him my problem.
He flipped the bike upside down tweaked it a little and I was off only to continue slipping and sliding my way to the next check point where the rest of the group were waiting. As our bus pulled up my bike was switched for the spare one that was still strapped to the roof.
New bike to get used to on a deadly road. No problem.
The new bike handled a little differently but I was cruising comfortably by the time the torrential rain started. I watched in awe as I road towards the wall of rain and when it hit I could do nothing but smile as I clutched the bike tighter and slowed my speed a little as now the road was a little like a river in places.
At the next check point we all gathered, every other group had come to a stop too with some riders getting off their bikes and getting on the bus instead. No one in our group was going to stop riding. Mac she had never seen rain like this in the 5 months she had been here and after chatting to guides with the other companies, none had seen the sheets of water that were pouring down.
We waited but as it didn’t cease we jumped on our bikes and continued down the road. I still had three layers of clothes on under the wind breaker jacket and pants supplied by Gravity (the company I went with) and I was soaked to the bone but not at all cold.
My knee high woollen socks made me feel like I had lead boots on although I could do naught but smile as I continued on my merry way.
At the bottom we were accosted by a group of children spraying foam and water giggling about Carnival and while a few people got annoyed, we laughed and chased them and sprayed them back.
Back to La Paz and the next morning as Edwin and I got ready for golf (which didn’t happen as they decided to close the course) he told me there was a news report that 17 people died on Ruta de la Muerte yesterday as a car and bus collided and went over the edge.
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was thinking about my wonderful adventure and hours later these people plummeted to their deaths. I was saddened although not surprised as Mac had told us the stories and shown us the memorials all the way down the road.
I also understand why people still drive up it as it takes 3 hours off their journey although after biking down it, I don’t think I would every get on a bus and drive up it.
As the buses to Santa Cruz were cancelled due to a public holiday, instead of an additional 24 or so hours added to my already 15 hour bus ride I opted to go to the airport and fly back instead. Two hours later I was home (it is only a one hour flight).
Every week I spend four days at the golf course, arriving anywhere from 12pm-2pm and staying 5-6 hours. Around that, I spend time working on Fairways be it writing, planning or organising various aspects of the nonprofit as Jeremy and I continue to build it.
I am also ensuring I am having down time and not continually working so I have been doing Spanish lessons online – it would have been way better for my Spanish living with a family but I certainly cannot complain about the wonderful apartment I have been given to use during my stay here. I am even cooking with gas.
I am also running and exercising and watching Spanish television.
I spent last weekend in Samaipata with Maurico, exploring the Inca ruins and enjoying the mountains a 3 hour drive from Santa Cruz.
The weather was perfect.
We had planned to go a month ago but there was a massive electrical storm flooding parts of the city and 6 people died as a result.
This weekend the sun shone as we headed out of the city. It was cooler in the mountains of Samaipata when we headed to the markets for lunch then we explored the area as we drove to our accommodation.
We spent the afternoon lying in hammocks reading and looking over the village.
Dinner in town, then back to our accommodation for Mauricio to smash me in Yahtzee. The next day we headed to Samaipata and spent a few hours hiking and exploring the ancient Inca ruins.
It was a slow, dusty drive back to the city and we decided to go to a sauna Mauricio visits occasionally, when we got back to Santa Cruz.
I can’t believe I have waited 6 weeks to go to the sauna. It was fantastic. Exactly what I needed and I hope to visit quite a few more times before I leave the country.
Bolivia, my only regret is I don’t have more time to spend exploring the rest of your beauty.