Posted from La Paz Department, Bolivia.
I have just realised it had been more than two weeks since I wrote the last post. I must assure everyone though that I haven’t been idle. In the last 12 days of being in La Paz I managed to get a temp job, submit a journal paper, break my bicycle and then fix it with a tiny 3 Boliviano spring bought in the tayloring and sewing section of the street market in La Paz.
The La Paz ‘experience’ began with a 6-day cycling trip from Uyuni along the Bolivian altiplana. In comparison with cycling in the north of Argentina and the south of Bolivia the journey was rather easy and uneventful. The road between Uyuni and La Paz is flat, paved all the way and rather empty, at least until Oruro. Except one day when I felt a little sick in the stomach and took it easy, I have kept a rather good pace which allowed me to cover in excess of 100 kms every day. As I cycled north I couldn’t stop thinking that I would like to get back onto the smaller unpaved roads. I started missing the adventure of tougher riding in the mountains and through desolate places. It looks like my stay in Argentina and cycling along the famous Route 40 will remain in my memory for a long time to come. In comparison to this experience cycling along the main road to La Paz was more of a transit between two main destinations of my trip. Having said that, I was very happy to reach La Paz. As I began to see El Alto – the twin city of La Paz, and realised that from then on I would be able to rest for the next week or so, I suddenly felt tired and relieved at once. Almost two months of cycling did take toll on my general physical and mental state. I needed a well deserved break from physical activities, dirt, my punctured inflatable mat and all the elements of the environment I had been exposed to lately.
As soon as I got to El Alto I contacted Cristian, a local cyclist and runner who runs ‘Casa de Ciclistas’ – a place where the cyclists can enjoy inexpensive accommodation in the very city centre of La Paz. I was lucky he was around. Later in the day I was given the keys to the flat which I could enjoy for myself for the next 4 days until new arrivals started appearing at the doors. I planned my stay already: two days of resting and short walks in the city, one day of travelling on the teleferico – the La Paz answer to tube, visit to Valle de la Luna, ride on Camino de la Muerte (the Death Road), a couple days for finishing and submitting my journal paper. However, as usual, not much went accordingly to plan. The very first weekend I was offered a temporary job at a carting circuit. I went there out of curiosity, just to see how the carting competitions are organised, and to help Cristian as he seemed to have been wanting another pair of hands. Then, what initially seemed to have been only one day of work extended to two days due to bad weather. I was given a task of the track marshal whose responsibility is to look at the track for collisions and accidents and wave flags in case of unusual situations: accident, last lap, slow driver, etc. It was a fun experience but I felt like a rookie, especially with the language barrier. I have been schooled by a few parents of the kids who were competing for making mistakes. I sometimes had an impression that although I just went to a local carting circuit the stakes and emotions rose higher than during a Formula 1 Grand Prix :)
An eventful weekend called for uneventful couple of days in the flat – writing and submitting my journal paper was a perfect choice. I started well but then the German cyclists starting to arrive: two, one, then another one more, and the place became too lively to work efficiently. I put the computer aside, but on the positive side, I could enjoy peoples’ company for a change. Valle de la Luna, one of La Paz’s tourist attraction, was a little bit of a disappointment but Camino de la Muerte certainly was not.
We have had a German female cyclist in the house who recently had had a birthday. When I told her I was going to cycle the Death Road she was keen to join me as this would be a ‘good way to spend her birthday’. I thought that although belated I could consider the trip as my birthday trip too. Since it was one of the first days of her cycling we got a local bus ‘or collectivo’ to the main pass of La Cumbre instead of cycling up onto it. After thirty minutes on the bus we were on the top of our road and at around 4,700 metres above the sea level. From there the road descends to a village of Yolosa at about 1,200 m.a.s.l. from which you need to climb up about 500 metres to a town of Coroico. The views from the pass were spectacular. The road onto the pass from La Paz is more or less straight but as soon as you look down onto the other side, the road forms a long set of hairpins. It is about 60 kms from La Cumbre to Yolosa and it’s all downhill. The trip started nicely with sunshine in La Paz and good, slightly windy conditions at the top of the pass, but then things began to go a bit wrong for me. I was slightly too keen on pedalling the fastest I could down the road and early on into the trip I broke the freehub. I lost the drive train in my bike. Luckily, most of the road was downhill. Where it wasn’t I had to use the bike like a scooter and push away with my left leg. Then a torrential rain began. It would be all good if I didn’t decide to travel light with just my down jacket and no gear whatsoever. Every day is a school day :) Just because you go down into the jungle it doesn’t mean it will be dry and sunny. I got properly drenched. Next time I will remember to take all my gear and all my bike tools with me, even if I go around the corner to buy milk and bread :) As I was cycling downhill another ‘event’ happened. One of my front panniers came off and the strap got into the front wheel and blocked it sending me up in the sky and over the handlebars. I fell down pretty hard and although I did the ‘ukemi’ I still hit the ground with my shoulder. Fortunately, I didn’t break it or the collarbone but I bruised the collarbone-shoulder joint, scraped my ass and tore my down jacket. It now has a silver tape patch at the back. It makes me look like a seasoned climber in the climbing community and even more of a homeless guy elsewhere :) The rest of the descend happened without surprises although, since we had to stop a few times, we ended up finishing the road in the dark. Luckily, the next day was warm and sunny and my clothes dried out. The way up to Coroico was rather long considering that I had to push the bike but, in the middle of the road, we were offered a lift up by friendly Colombian family travelling around South America in a campervan. Half a day spent in Coroico, 3 hour journey back on a bus and a puncture later we were in La Paz. We survived the Death Road ;) Only my bike was killed :)
As soon as we got back I disassembled the hub. I was expecting to have to buy a new one and rebuild the wheel but luckily the damage was found to be less than I initially expected. The pawls in the freehub were not opening because the spring retainer inside it was broken. The rest of the freehub was still in a perfect condition. I thought I would get a spare retainer somewhere but first the shops were closed over Easter and then I found out that such a spare part would be hard or impossible to find. The only option was to manufacture one myself. I started with moulding a rather tough spring I found in my pannier. It was a bit challenging at first to make a perfect circle but after a bit of fiddling with my Leatherman tool the part was fabricated and it fit. The spring was pushing too hard on the pawls though and the sound of the freehub was not right. Back to the drawing board. I went for a walk in La Paz to look for anything which I could use to make a better part. I came back with two options – lighter spring and a thicker but similar diameter to the hub round chain ring. Another evening with the Leatherman and I had three retainer springs done. The thicker ones were too strong but the thinner one made out of the little spring worked perfectly. I reassembled the hub, changed the bearings and now I am hoping for a smooth ride to Peru. There is no time to waste. I only have two days to get out of Bolivia as my stay allowance is expiring. I already stayed till late and only have half a day to cycle today. I hope it is enough to get out of La Paz and El Alto so I can camp in a quieter place somewhere along the road. Hence, forgive me of the lack of photos today. I shall upload them once I find an internet cafe in Peru. The wi-fi connection here is too slow to upload my high resolution images. See you in another country :)