La Paz is one of the highest big cities in the world, resting in a big bowl of land and the surrounding hillsides at between 10,500 and 13,500 feet. The day we ride in from Copacabana, and take the ferry, is a clear sunny day.
We hit town from the west arriving in El Alto, the rougher and higher outskirts of the city. Brian pulls over to adjust the GPS and I snap a pic of a Che Guevera statue at the roundabout.
He leads us south of the city itself and toward Valle de la Luna, Valley of the Moon, and to a small campground in the town of Jupapina.
We stop for gas on the way, our first fillup in Bolivia. And although friends have given us a heads up about the possibility of finding and buying fuel in Bolivia, I’m caught off guard by what a frustrating process this will be. We park and take our helmets off and the female pump attendant says she cannot serve us. I’ve been told that tourists are charged a price somewhere between 2 and 3 times the price for nationals. I’ve also been told that they are supposed to complete paperwork for all purchases made by foreigners and to submit the extra amount they charge you to the headquarters and pass the appropriate share to the government. Some friends had said they don’t like filling up two bikes in two transactions since it is supposed to mean twice the paperwork, so that it helps to tell them you want both bikes filled up together and only need one receipt and one transaction. So I try this approach, but the woman doesn’t seem to care too much, at least not yet. So I tell her we are almost out of fuel and its our first time to Bolivia and how much I appreciate her selling us gas, and that at least gets her to quit saying no, but she doesn’t say much else. I explain we only need one receipt and really don’t even need a receipt at all if she doesn’t want to give us one (a lot of places and people that don’t give receipts supposedly pocket the money, and not asking for a receipt allows them to do it and means you’re willing to turn a blind eye on it…sometimes they don’t charge the nationally published upcharge price but something lower as a way of getting some money in their pocket but hopefully getting you to not rat them out since they are cutting you a deal on the price of fuel at the same time….). Eventually she says she has to check with someone and that it will cost us 3 times the price shown on the pump and I say I understand. She is gone a few minutes and comes back to say that it will be nearly 9 Bolivianos per litre, and I think she thinks it will make us go away but instead I say – “ok fine” and thank her. She gives this AWWW, MAN! sort of look of frustration and finally caves in and goes to work on completing a form and then her partner comes to pump the fuel. They need my passport number, country information, address, etc. All for a tank of gas…man we have it good in my country.
We pay and go find our campground and settle in for a few days. Andrew Lord, a fellow rider we met in Cusco, is here too. Small world! And it’s really nice to see him. He ahs already done the Death Road and would be willing to lead us out there again since he wants to go back and ride it again…very cool. We catch up with some other friends from the road while in the La Paz area – Micheal and Simone and Markus and Karin from Switzerland. And Toby and Chloe, overlanders from California with their dog Tia, show up a day or two later making a great camp in Jupapina. A Korean cyclist, Hun, shows up a couple of days later and then it’s officially a gang.
We go ride the gondola with Toby and Chloe, wander around the city in search of insurance for Brian’s bike, grab some groceries and meals and even find some fun to be had in La Paz.
The 6 of us head out for an afternoon of Cholita wrestling. My guidebook says its a local sporting even where Bolivian women, in traditional dress, wrestle each other. There’s beer too…sounds good to me. It turns out to be completely staged and like a badly choreographed WWF match from many moons ago and much cheesier, but its a great laugh. And afterwards the wrestlers offer autographs and photo ops for all the guests, free of charge. A good time was had by all.