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Heading towards La Paz

I head from Uyuni to the metropolis of Sucre. The route is mainly on the Altiplano, with a few high passes just to keep things interesting. I often see herds of llamas. Many have these colourful tassels in their ears and some have a woven decoration on their breast. I find out the ear tassels are to assist with keeping flies from their eyes so have a practical function, whereas additional decorations are a sign of reverence and respect.

Sucre was once the largest producer of silver for its Spanish masters and the town centre has a strong Spanish influence I’d like to see. It’s really difficult to find hostel accommodation in the city centres that have secure parking for the bike, so reluctantly I choose a beautiful hotel just off the city square and negotiate (it’s expected) a great price for a couple of nights including breakfast.

It’s good to be off the bike and I walk the city streets taking it all in.

In the evening the hotel opens its roof top bar and restaurant and I enjoy watching the sun set across the city, drink in hand.

Early in the morning I lug my gear down to the carpark, load the bike and head out of town with the rising sun. My destination today is a camping ground on the outskirts of La Paz.

It’s a big day on the road again with the morning spent climbing Andean passes and plunging into valleys below. It’s amazing seeing how the native people live at these high altitudes, growing their subsistence crops of wheat, broad beans and potatoes at near 4,000 metres.

I’m ahead of schedule and choose a back road route to La Paz. Soon enough I come across this rambling monstrosity above the river. It’s a tin mine and the river is laid waste by the mineral processing. I can’t help but compare this enterprise with the gold mining in the area I live in back in New Zealand. I guess in the 3rd world, the priority of putting bread on the table means the environment is always going to be the loser. Maybe no different to the way it was in the early days of our local mines?

I’d been warned about a police speed trap close to La Paz and promptly forgotten about it. Sure enough, about an hour out of La Paz police are running into the road with little red flags, waving them madly at me and other motorists. We’d been picked up on a mobile speed camera going too fast in a barely marked section of highway. The cop approached me asking for my passport and showing me the fine of $200 Bol in the well fingered page in his little book of fines. I didn’t come down in the last shower, and knew my best chance was to feign a lack of understanding due to my lack of Spanish (not hard) and to speak to him in English only. After five minutes of trying to get me to part with my Bol, he was starting to waver and I seized my moment and put out my hand for the return of my passport, which he begrudgingly gave me, waving his little flag in the direction of La Paz.

In time I reach the city and fight my way through the maze of roads in the city centre (thank goodness for audio GPS) and finally reach my destination, Colibri Camping, located on the cliffs above the Valley of the Moon and nearby Valley of Flowers.

Colibri means hummingbird, and there are several varieties here feeding in the small flowering trees in this high desert environment.

The camp itself is interesting, offering a variety of accommodation from the humble teepee up to more salubrious cabins and cottages. I must pay penance for my hotel extravagances and choose the teepee for a few nights. At $30 NZD including a great breakfast, it’s a no-brainer.

There’s a cool camp kitchen where I get to cook one of my ‘one pot wonders’ and the aroma of my minced meat and vegetable meal endears me to two of the camp dogs.

The camp has a cool vibe, it’s owned by a Bolivian guy and his English wife. All the staff speak some English here and are very helpful in teaching me a few Spanish phrases. Fresh flowers are delivered daily from the Valley of Flowers below the camp and the staff cook me a great chicken curry in the evening if I wish.

There are camp workers here on the ‘Workaway’ program and it’s nice to speak some English with James from Ireland. His partner Bea from Brazil gives basic lessons in Spanish (even though her mother tongue is Portuguese) and I take a basics lesson with her in the afternoon.

Thanks to Bea I now have a little Spanish I can practice that will make my life somewhat easier.

Colibri is such a peaceful sanctuary away from the madness of La Paz, and I extend my stay to 4 days. But it's time to leave. Adios amigos, hasta luego.


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