Day 10: The Road to Tiwanaku

Beautiful scenery

Strange structures

The Church in Tiwanaku

Street scene from La Paz

Today wasn’t a terribly eventful day though the riding was beautiful. The previous nights storm had spent itself and the sun was shining so we made good tracks through more spectacular scenery. We were both getting used to the altitude and we now had a good feel for the bikes. Our first stop of the day was to take some pictures, Dominik of distant views of the snow capped Andies and I of some mysterious brown coloured structures. They were the weirdest things and I thought they were perhaps relics of the Pre-Incan Empire. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but they were fascinating as they dotted the landscape like heads at Easter Island. Upon closer inspection they weren’t hewn of rock but were instead the product of a straw like substance and mud. Each had a small entrance big enough to fit through, but not big enough to walk through. There were animal bones in a couple of them. Due to their size, they were perhaps eight feet by four feet inside, Dominik suggested they might have been burial sites. It was a thought.

Back on the bikes we hit a T-junction, Patacamaya, where we gassed up before heading on to La Paz. It was supposed to be a quick exercise but it turned into a frustrating one. When we rolled into the station the attendant looked at me slyly and said with a smile, “Ocho Bolivianos.” She was referring to the price per litre. I looked at the pump and made a quick calculation from the previous sale at just under four Bolivianos. We pointed this out to her but she held fast. “International,” was all she would say. We’d heard stories about this and stuck our ground. Two more cars entered the station and their inhabitants soon joined the fray. It appeared this was the way it was in Bolivia, a two tiered system. One price for Nationals at 3.74 Bolivianos per litre while foreigners had to pay eight. This translated to around 60 cents for the locals vs. $1.30 for us. Needless to say we were a bit miffed but paid up and moved on. Bolivia was way too big on foot.

We headed for La Paz on a dual carriage highway. As it was still under construction there were ‘desvio’ (detour) signs every couple of kilometres and the usual lunacy as everyone jockeyed to overtake the truck in front. As we approached La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, the traffic increased as did the construction and density of buildings. Within a half hour we were in the thick of it, and it was pretty thick. The traffic took on a fire breathing life of its own as taxis overcame the road system. Taxis in La Paz are not cars but mini-vans, the square boxy kind. We soon found ourselves bumper to bumper in downtown traffic, two motorcycles surrounded by a sea of mini buses with doors sliding open and closed as fares jumped in and out. It didn’t matter where the taxi was or if the light was green, the four way flashers came on, the sliding door would open and it seemed like twenty people would pour out and make their way around the other taxis to get to the sidewalk. There were bumpers nudging in on us and the usual cacophony of horns as each driver had to pronounce his presence, meanwhile fares walked the gaps between it all. It was nuts.

Thankfully we had our com systems on and Dominik found a bank to change money. While he was in the bank I watched the bikes by the side of the road and took in my surroundings. On the sidewalk in front of me was a man with a hat, he was watching me wearily. Behind him was a small lumber yard where lumber was piled high and two workers were busy sawing boards on a belt driven table saw. To my right an old bright blue Chevrolet bus was disgorging its contents while the driving was flinging bags down from the roof. Just in front of the bus a woman in a little hawker stall was cleaning dishes in one bucket of water and rinsing them in another while a black dog sniffed around for handouts. When she was done she hurled the contents of the bucket into the drain beside her. The dirty water coursed by me a minute later while the same dog debated what to do. To my left was another hawker stall with a group of aged women in traditional dress huddled around it. They gabbed, ate and laughed like it was a tupperware party all the while a stream of taxis waited for full compliments before pulling away. In each taxi the driver waited while his co-worker hung from the sliding door and shouted out destinations to potential fares, like a fisherman trying to lure a catch. I watched one boy, he was around ten years old, he’d look left, look right, then bellow out the destination. The place was spelt with a lot of R’s and his lips would roll and pucker, then he’d look left, look right again and another bellow would come forth. Judging by his body language he’d already been doing this awhile. A fare would climb in, then another, then the door would slide shut and they’d move on as another taxi took their place.

Dominik returned and we thankfully headed out of La Paz, it wasn’t a great place to be on a motorbike and we agreed that we wouldn’t be rushing back any time soon. Back on the open road we headed to Tiwanaku,  a Pre-Inca archeological site of major importance not far from the shores of Lake Titicaca.

It wasn’t a long ride and when it was over we rode into another beautiful town square, this one littered with stone statues, aptly named the ‘Garden of Statues.’

Dominik already had a line on a hotel so we made a bee-line there and before long were relaxing in a beautiful room.......and there was agua caliente!!! Hot water be praised! Amazing what a hot shower will do for moral, even if the drains didn’t work.