gra-dult-hood n.

1. A stage in life between graduation and adulthood.
2. Gradulthood often involves jobs that don't fulfil a graduate's expectations.
3. A term coined during the recession.

A Gradult Abroad: South America, Part Two.

At the risk of sounding like a very poor mans Michael Palin…

In the second installation of ‘A Gradult abroad’ (for the first click here), my journey took me south down the spine of the Andes from Peru to the southern hemisphere’s highest, most isolated, and most rugged nation, Bolivia.

Strikes in Bolivia (a common theme of our time there) had closed the main route south through the country, so what should have been a 12-hour journey, turned into an 18-hour nightmare. Roadblocks, very few toilet stops, and a quite ridiculous diversion through a dusty quarry combined to produce four tired travellers arriving in South America’s highest city, La Paz.

La Paz was one of the best cities I visited whilst in South America, not so much for the architecture or atmosphere of the place, but because of my fellow travellers, the nightlife, and it was also extremely cheap. However, on our second day in the city all buses were cancelled until further notice (more on that later), and there were armed police patrolling the streets/guarding the banks/civic buildings with shotguns – not a great start.

Not to worry though, because La Paz has the world’s highest curry house! It was admittedly nice to have a curry, but it was pretty poor if I’m honest, a gimmick – and to the owners, Carlsberg is not a premium beer! La Paz has a very high football pitch as well! Which we had a small game on until the police told us we weren’t allowed to play on Mondays…

In fact, as I write about this city, I realise what a strange place it actually is. One of the must see sights is the witches market. This is a perfectly normal market until, wait, what’s that? Is that a Llama’s foetus? Disgusting. Apparently locals bury them in the foundations of their homes to give them good luck, so you can buy them with or without hair from street vendors.

You wouldn't mess with her...
You think that’s strange? Bolivians also enjoy watching wrestling, but this being La Paz it wasn’t any ordinary wrestling. It involved two middle aged, slightly large women wrestling in traditional Bolivian outfits. Every so often a man dressed up in a lime green jump suit would also join in! Exciting! Or the locals thought so anyway, I wasn’t convinced, but it was nonetheless an interesting experience and the popcorn was good.

The reason La Paz is even on the radar for travellers isn’t because of any of the above, it’s because it is the base camp for the world’s most dangerous road – so named because a lot of people have died whilst travelling on it (, also featured in the ‘Top Gear’ Bolivia special).

The best way for you to understand the road is to take a look at the picture on the right…dangerous yeah!? Basically, you travel in a mini bus up and out of La Paz to the top of a large mountain. They then kit you out, give you a bike, and off you go. The first 10 minutes or so involve a sweeping tarmac road down through a valley, and there really are some incredible views. After this brief bit of relaxing/getting to grips with your rickety bike, THE actual road starts. I thought, ‘I wouldn’t ride off the side of a 3m road at home, so why would I do it here?’, but people do, and when you take a peek over the cliff edge it’s obvious to see that no one survives a fall that far. We survived, we got the tee shirt, and when asked whether we’d like to take the mini bus back up the track or the tarmac, we opted for the latter. This proved to provide a stark reminder of the road’s danger, 10 minutes before we arrived back at the top of the hill we passed an overturned bus, and quite a lot of body bags…

Because of the bus strikes I mentioned earlier, my stay in La Paz ended up lasting for 9 days – 3 more than I expected – so as soon as we heard there was a bus heading south to Sucre (the first capitol of Bolivia), we boarded it. After another epic journey, we arrived safe and sound. There isn’t really much to say about this city, it was fairly pretty, and quite small, had a few nice bars, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, the Bolivians decided to strike again as soon as we arrived, leaving us stranded for a few more days.

During our last bus journey, I had developed quite a serious swelling in my mouth, which was providing constant pain, and making it a problem to eat. As soon as the strikes were over again, I had three choices, try and get it sorted in Bolivia, take a 30-hour bus to Paraguay, or fly to Buenos Aires. I opted for Buenos Aires, I’d had a great time in Bolivia but I really didn’t trust their healthcare system, or their transport anymore for that matter. So, on to the home of Tango…

Part three next week.

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