Like a seasoned con giving a beating to a naive new inmate, Bolivia took no time in asserting its dominance over me. As soon as I crossed the border the road quality turned awful, a vicious wind whipped in from the lake and on the first incline I snapped my gear cable (again). Luckily the border town of Puerta Acosta was only 5km away but I was forced to push the bike uphill through the ailing light. I’d lost my gloves the previous day and before long it was dark and my hands were completely numb. I was convinced I’d taken a wrong turn and was nearing despair when a friendly farmer assured me I was on the right track and walked me to town.
The Bolivian immigration guard also gave me a frosty reception:
“Is this fake” “…No” “Then why is your hair a different colour” “I dyed it” “I’d lose my job if I did that”
After a few minutes of scanning both my passport and my head he relented and I was granted official entry to my fourth country of the trip. As soon as I crossed the border the poverty was evident. A small boy in muddy clothes asked me for money and a wizened old shepherdess who looked well into her 70s was still hunched over, tending to her flock. I’d heard from various tourists that Bolivians aren’t very receptive to foreign visitors and that the food is terrible, but my first impressions were quite the opposite. Other than the taciturn immigration officer everyone I met was welcoming and kind, while the food was no worse than in rural Peru, and at times better.
The night’s accomodation was extremely cheap at 20 Bolivianos (just under $3) but I got what I paid for – in this case a freezing cold box room with a convenient window in the door for any lonely Bolivian men that wanted to watch me sleep.
Having made plans to cycle down to the famous salt flats with my German friend, Philipp, I had a few days to spare while he made his way down from Cusco. I took this opportunity to do a little backpacking and take the bus to some of the Bolivian cities to the east of my bike route.
As of this post I’m back in the casa de ciclistas in La Paz and will shortly be departing south for the famous Bolivian salt flats that draw so many people to this part of the world. It is going to be very cold.
Tunes: Descendents – Milo Goes to College, Husker Du – New Day Rising, LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening, Neil Young – After The Gold Rush