Andes Trail Stages 43-44, Sept 27-28, 2019

Stages 43-44 of 109 Puno to La Paz via hotel on Lake Titicaca, Days 60-61 of 142

More photos on Strava:

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America3,97955549,908
Andes Trail3,69754646,298X

Before the two-day ride to La Paz, we had a rest day in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, close to the Peru border we crossed on Sept 25. The big tourist thing to do is take a boat ride to a couple of islands, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna (Sun Island and Moon Island). The trip takes about 3 hours and costs just over $4. Most people, for some reason, chose not to do it. I certainly preferred hanging out in the hotel and the town. Maybe we’re not very good tourists. After a slow morning, Andrew, Martin and I went out for lunch in a 3rd floor terrace right at the shore. A giant meal of trout with onions and tomato sauce with the standard rice, veggies, salad (Tim, I don’t eat raw veggies any more!) and fries set me back a very small amount of money. Washed down with a nice big wheat beer – very good. But it does make for a lazy afternoon that included a nap. In the late afternoon, everyone seemed lazy but Andrew and I hiked up Cerro Calvario, a nice peak right next to town. We took the easier way up, mostly stairs for the 200m climb. We got to the top a few minutes before sunset which is at 6:30 these days. It’s a gorgeous view of Copacabana, Lake Titicaca and over to Isla del Sol. We took lots of photos, then headed down.

Looking down on Copacabana
Lake Titicaca after sunset – Peru in the distance

We met a bunch of riders in town headed for a really nice Italian restaurant, but alas, it was full. We ended up having a perfect dinner at Mauraz with Miranda and Annabel who is leaving us in La Paz. Everyone had the set course ($3.40) of soup, trout and dessert. I tried an adventurous dark Bolivian beer but it was crap. After only sleeping 3 hours the night before I tried folding my pillow to make it taller and slept 8 full hours – great!

In the morning we had the hotel breakfast plus muesli, nothing special. We took off together at 8:40, uphill, first on dirty brick cobblestones, then onto a nice smooth road. It’s funny, as we had noticed riding from the border, when the pavement gets a hole in it, the repair is just stuffing the hole with rocks, not patching with asphalt. Anyway, it was a nice easy climb of 450m up to about 4250m, about 14,000′. The road was so uncrowded and pleasant. As we got up high, the scenery opened up – just gorgeous. I caught Andrew and we rode the rest of the way to lunch together. After a few more little hills, we got a great view to the east of some of the Cordillera Real, a large range of mountains with many peaks from 6000-6400m. They are all snow-covered and look almost fake. Super beautiful.

Cordillera Real across Lake Titicaca

Then we descended back to lake level (3810m). Lake Titicaca is split into the main lake and a smaller one called Lago Huinaymarca (or Lago Wiñaymarka or just Lago Menor). There is a narrow strait we had to cross and there’s no bridge. We had lunch in the warm sun at the “ferry” terminal on our side, then boarded a “ferry” – really just a crappy old barge with a small motor. A Swiss couple traveling in a camper with their little daughter for a year plus a few locals were on ours. The barges go every few minutes – there are tons and it costs under $1 for the 15 minute crossing.

Barge “ferry”

It took a while to land as there are limited spots with vehicle ramps. I wish I could’ve seen one of the Bike Dreams firetrucks cross. It was pretty exciting on the other side since there was a huge band competition going on. Dozens of marching bands were warming up or competing all over. Their buses were parked everywhere. We stopped to take some photos and noticed a larger barge, completely covered with band members, cruising along the shore, playing loudly. Then another and another and another and … we finally left, but we rode up the hill hearing multiple bands playing at the same time.

The afternoon ride was only 35km, with a few tiny hills, on an uncrowded highway that is in the middle of being expanded into a 4-lane highway. We stopped to watch the Bolivian Army do calisthenics (to loud music and with weird purple smoke bombs going off).

Sorry didn’t catch the purple smoke bombs going off

We pulled into the Hotel Titikaka a little after 1pm – a very easy day. While the hotel has seen better days (long ago), it was still ok and no one else was there. We joked that the last time someone stayed there was when Bike Dreams came through in 2016. We had yummy soup and snacks, nearly hot showers, then it was time for beer. Martin and I were caught by the hotel guy snooping in the kitchen trying to find beer and he seemed pretty proud that he had a dozen large ones, cold in the freezer. We immediately bought three and told him he would need to chill many more. He suggested 30 and we said “Perfecto.” We sat outside on a nice deck with a beautiful view of Lake Titicaca, watching people riding the zip lines, spinning inside the hamster cages and playing with some local kids. The big excitement was when a fire started in the reeds just by the hotel – we saw a local woman with a comically small bucket and wondered what she was up to. The fire grew and grew until the flames were at least 5m high. It was burning fast and loud and at one point we could feel the heat from 200m away! It burned the whole area below the hotel to the lake, including some pumps and pipes and stuff that looked important. It eventually stopped.

Eventually all behind and left of the flames burned

I think there was another nap involved, then dinner for everyone was at 7pm, in the hotel dining room, choice of trout, chicken or carne. Most people took trout it seemed. Quinoa soup to start as usual, and dessert was crepes or ice cream. Most people chose crepes and I think they only had about 3. So they split them 10 ways each. You could eat it all in one or two bites. It was cold but there was a roaring fire going in the next room and we sat for a while. I also got to talk to Grace at home; Google Fi works so well here. Hotel Titikaka is purely pre-internet so no Wifi.

I slept so well, about 8 hours which was really nice. Breakfast was as usual, then we started the stage to La Paz at 9. After just a few km, our nice uncrowded nearly 4-lane highway teed into a busier highway which we took about 40k to lunch. I was riding with Jan and Andrew. The wind was light, the hills weren’t steep, the views of the Cordillera Real were awesome and the traffic was manageable. Wijnand had a tough time finding a place to set up lunch and said it would’ve been better to not have it today since it’s short. We hung out with the fast guys for a few minutes before they left. Lunch was ready later – we were in no hurry since we had strict instructions to not arrive at the hotel before 1pm. Most everyone arrived as we ate and Lucho gave us dire warnings about the traffic in La Paz we would be dealing with. He had stories of having side mirrors break off on his shoulder etc. So we rounded up Greg and Michael to join us. Sure enough after only 3km or so, the traffic got somewhat nasty. It is chaotic because so many people use the little mini-buses that they have to pull over and stop everywhere, all the time. The whole right lane is almost useless for riding. At this point the highway was 2-3 lanes in each direction, although some are dirt sometimes. But it wasn’t any worse than Juliaca or the other bad places we had ridden in Peru. I only heard of one incident later: Tom was hit by a bus, but like a pro, he just let it push him sideways and didn’t have a problem.

Traffic in El Alto

Michael went a little out of control once when a car cut him off (he imagined) – luckily there was no international incident. We told him to cool down and chill – he apologized and continued fine. With around 12km to go, we took a slight wrong turn, had to reverse 200m to catch the correct exit of a cloverleaf and somehow lost Greg and Michael. Assuming they were in front, we continued – right onto the motorway! This would be illegal in most countries but we just went through a lane that was “Cerrado” (closed) and suddenly all of La Paz was laid out about 400m below us. It’s an immense city.

View of part of La Paz

The upper part where we were is called “El Alto”, separate but right next to La Paz proper. 2.3m people total. After checking that this really was the route, we headed down the 6 lane motorway, taking it easy. Rob never mentions any details of the route preferring that each person have a bit of an adventure. There was very little traffic (high toll price maybe?) and we had the entire right lane to ourselves. It went down, on and on for over 10km but finally we came to our exit. From there the hotel was only 370m away! So easy and 1000% percent better than any other possible route. We rode up at 1pm on the dot and Rob let us in to park. It’s tricky here since in 2016 Bike Dreams got a fine from the police for unloading the trucks here. So Henk and Wijnand drove direct to a cable car parking lot and then taxied the mountain of luggage over. Rob told us this would take more time and to come back at 2. We walked into the first coffee shop we saw and Jan treated us to 710ml Paceña beers plus giant pieces of delicious lemon meringue pie! What a great way to kill an hour!

Happy to be safe in La Paz, Nathan, Jan and Andrew

At 2, we checked in and while our room is on the 3rd (4th in US English) floor, the shower is super hot, the wifi works, the beds are nice and we have a balcony with table and chairs for drying laundry. Soon we were downstairs having drinks and snacks. We met Karin’s son Twan who is a giant of a 23 year old and will be riding with us all the way to Ushuaia, taking her place. We met Dick our other new rider, also Dutch. We lose Pip and John, Greg and Annabel here – sad to see them all leave. Annabel has been with us since Quito and is family.

Later a bunch of us headed over to an excellent restaurant called Higher Ground several people discovered. It’s owned by an English guy and has just excellent food and drink. We had one of the best meals of the trip. The bill for 9 people ended up at BOB 1100, which makes us sound like high rollers, but no, it was well under $20 per person. Such a cozy, friendly place. The last thing we did was make a reservation for 12 for tomorrow night.

Fine dining with Czech beer!

Some of us went across the street to the DT Brew House after for a last round – watching rugby on ESPN from Japan. Their NE IPA was crap but their American IPA was ok. We got back before 10 and it’s hard to believe how much we did today. What a life this is!

3 thoughts on “Andes Trail Stages 43-44, Sept 27-28, 2019

    1. Yeah a super disappointment as it was the first NE IPA I’ve seen in almost 3 months here. I have no doubt at all that I would love yours. You actually know what you’re trying to make and are damn good at it. Corbin, you would’ve loved this trip I think, even with all the hard parts. Wish you could’ve come.


  1. Good to see all these reports. Thanks Nathan. I think you missed some beautiful spot on Isla del Sole. It is a little touristy, but so pretty there. These tiny barges bringing busses across Lake Titicaca was incredible to see. I could not believe it when I saw it. We had to go on a separate little boat to come across. La Paz and the area are crazy. Stay safe there and come back in one pize. CIAO Stefan

    Liked by 1 person

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