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La Paz

El Condor and the Eagle Cafe, CopacabanaThe bike started on the first blip of the starter button after 5 days of inactivity and I walked it over the steps under engine power into the street before loading up the bags. One more visit to El Condor and the Eagle Cafe to pass away the morning and I was off to Huatajata on the way to La Paz via the picturesque peninsular track toward Isla Del Sol.

Andes Mountains and Lake TiticacaAs usual, the track was rough to the point of requiring a flagpole to mark a particularly deep pothole. The afternoon, bright, dry and warm with dust hanging in the air stirred up by the balding tyres of long passed taxis.

One wrong turn is all it takes. South to the Tiquina ferry and I find myself at a dead end in a churchyard, dogs barking somewhere in the small roadless village. An unstable U-turn in a rocky garden and half a mile back up the track reveals the junction, half hidden by a bend, that switched back over the peaks and loops south to Tiquina again. Over a dusty crest and the smooth asphalt ribbon of the F2 around the hills to La Paz presents itself for more rapid progress.

The fully loaded 125 can only make 80km/h so I was able to lean the bike around the sweeping bends at full speed. With a good view around the bend, I could use both lanes too. I had to be mindful though, a blowout or something could cause me to slide into the drain one side or over the edge of a cliff the other. With the hill on the right, I’m on the inside track of the curves.

Tequina FerriesTiquina saw fleets of rectangular wooden ferries. Square bow, powered by outboards. Perfectly aligned with the height of the ramps, I follow a taxi and a camper van without having to wait. Three empty ferries patiently drift awaiting the ramp with no traffic behind me. I put the side stand down but stay on the bike to brace against the swell on the lake, as small as it was. Facing the stern I watched On the Tiquina Ferry, Boliviathe ferry flexing with the waves. The strait is narrow, probably half a mile at the most but it took a while, the poor outboards pushing the square bow wave across the channel.

The sun was descending to the west but almost deserted F2 meant I could push on to Huatajata about forty minutes down the road and remain fairly relaxed.

The road is being widened so the surface is new, the main danger being ramps and ridges of new asphalt.

Huatajata HostelMissing the narrow gravel junction to the tiny plaza of Huatajata, I turned back after about half a mile past and found nowhere, not even a campsite. Not only did the plaza appear deserted, it appeared abandoned.

Extending my journey to a hostel on the iOverlander app featuring a reasonable review, found it closed and abandoned. Wild camping was a possibility but all the land along the lake seems to have been claimed by farmers. Private land for miles on end.

The next possibilities were Huarina fourteen kilometres down the road and Batillas the same distance again. Nothing appeared on the maps apps or my field of view diverting through the streets on my way through.

The sun had almost reached the horizon. A half hour and it would be dark. I wanted to avoid riding darkness as much as possible. iOverlander had one hostel marked in Pucarani, another fourteen kilometres south but the map would not load due to no internet connection, iOverlander is not a purely offline map like maps.me but between them, I can divine its location.

The straight bright yellow line on the map between Batillas and Pucarani promised a fast smooth ride but delivered white rock and dust with long straight furrows ploughed by car tyres for thirteen kilometres. No grip and loose uneven surface in fading light made for a treacherous journey. At my top speed of twenty to thirty kph, it would be dark before I arrived. Farms and at fields,fl some waterlogged lined the rail straight trail all the way along. I was noting plan ‘Bs’ all the way. A walled cemetery here some grassland at the side of a bridge there.

Hospedaje with a ‘k’ sound for the ‘j’ is the word for hostel here. No, the locals directed me to the hospital. I was getting uncomfortably cold riding around in the dark and frustrated trying to communicate with the locals. Resigning myself for camping out on the plains somewhere toward the F2, I stopped at a cafe for some food to warm me through the freezing night of the Alti Plano.

“Hospedakhay?” “No!” Finishing my modified vegetarian meal of chicken and rice, the companion of the girl who I spoke to eventually said “Residencia?” and pointed down the road just around the corner from where we were. “Si!” I was saved. A smart looking hostel with secure parking for 30BOB, maybe only 200 metres from where it was marked on the map, but far enough to render it invisible in the terraced streets of Pucarani.

One small wrinkle, check out is 6am…“Seis?” I hold six fingers up to check. The woman says “Si, seis!” and made a sign resembling a tentative nazi salute to indicate I go pronto.”

I awake a couple of minutes before the five twenty-five alarm. Funny how that happens. I had slept in most of my clothes as the night and room was cold. And I was trying to start the bike a few minutes before six. The bike was undercover but it wasn’t a garage. The rooms bridged the garage doors that led to a large garden. Similar to old coaching inns. Still, the bike seemed too cold to fire up. The host came out and unlocked the garage door and I pushed the bike out onto the dark and silent street.

I looked around hopefully for the dawn and saw a shooting star across a hint of a silhouetted horizon. Sunrise would be a while coming yet.

I pushed the bike as far as the restaurant on the main road which was on the side of the hill leading up to the main plaza. Should I need to attempt a jump start, I’d have about 40 metres. I didn’t need it. Full choke and holding the start button and caressing the throttle slightly got the bike to a slow tick over before the battery lost too much power. The engine speed picked up and I reduced the choke over the next few minutes and slowly eased the bike east toward the F2, ten kilometres away.

The air was still but with me moving through it my fingers were quickly losing heat through my gloves and knees losing heat through my trousers. Five kilometres along and I stopped to warm up. Two dogs at nearby houses came out and started barking and nervously edged toward me. I fired the bike up and drove toward the most aggressive one to chase it away with the headlamp beam, which worked only while I was pointing toward it, and it resumed the chase as I realigned to the path of the road. I was just far enough away to gain speed enough to outrun it.

A few kilometres later, speed humps for another urban settlement. Two more dogs came from the right and caught me in second gear. I was still accelerating when the closest one caught my boot. I carried on accelerating until it let go and heard the barking recede behind me.

The sky was brightening by the time I reached the F2. Traffic was light, mainly with minibuses ferrying people to work. I stopped a few times to warm my hands around the exhaust and again for ten minutes, leaning against a wall in the bright pale sun full of light but little heat.

RN 1 El AltoA half-hour later, I was in El Alto. Low sun but now full-beam daylight. Traffic was building and becoming ever more competitive for the diminishing road space. This is what I wanted to avoid by planning to stop in Huatajata, arriving in LaPaz in peak traffic.

El Alto and LaPaz are pretty much one big urban sprawl. El Alto occupies the flat plains at over 4000 metres elevation and the road spills over the lip of the canyon along with the buildings hundreds of metres into a crater-like valley of La Paz. To get to La Paz, I needed route F1.

La Paz from El AltoThe junction to F1 toward La Paz remained undiscovered as I found myself diverted into the Centre of El Alto by traffic flow and one-way signs.I was thrilled, once I had discovered myself actually on the F1 but in the wrong direction. Hanging a U-turn at some traffic lights I was riding into the Sun toward the giant loop that descends the crater that is La Paz.

Carretero HostelThe next mission: to find an affordable hostel that can accommodate a bike. I’d read a few reviews on iOverlander and by chance found myself close to the Carretero, all be it thirty metres the wrong way down a busy one-way street. I parked up and walked to it and found it perfect for my needs. I wasn’t risking losing myself around the one-way system so the next gap in the traffic I rode down the street and powered the bike over the tall step and with a helping push into the lobby.

Carretero Hostel, La PazThe journey from the ferry had been riddled with uncertainty. Cold, dusty, obstructed by the language barrier. It wasn’t fun. In ‘hindsight’ I would have been better off staying on the main route to El Alto and chance my luck with the evening peak traffic.

La Paz Mountains IllimaniNow I was here, I could unwind and look back at the journey from a warm and comfortable perspective. I hadn’t been happy about leaving at six but the side benefit was now it was only ten. I had the whole day to explore La Paz and stepped out into streets now bathed in strong, warm sunshine.

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