So having made our get away from pretending to be lead riders in the Dakar parade leading to a podium event in the middle of La Paz, we plunged into the city traffic heading North West towards Lake Titicaca and the gorgeous town of Copacabana. Our GPS’s don’t work in Bolivia but Google maps works ok. The usual dodge and weave through crazy traffic took us to Ruta 2 and we thought we’d cleared this crazy city and were on our way to the peaceful Lake Titicaca. How wrong we were.
Ruta 2 suddenly stopped dead, disappearing into a massive impenetrable mound of construction debris. Small muddy streets led off in both directions and we were stumped as to which way to go. Heading off onto small side streets we tried to navigate around the roadworks and we ended up in muddy, potholed, litter covered barrios. Curious locals looked on as we got more and more lost. At one stage we followed cars and trucks down a road that led to a deep river crossing with filthy fast running water. Forget that.
The construction work seemed to go for ever (actually it was probably only a couple of kilometres) and after two hours of plunging through slippery puddles, riding over piles of construction waste and being chased by every mangy dog in Bolivia we thought we had figured out how to get out of town. There were no detour signs but we started following big yellow arrows painted on walls and following minibuses that seemed to be going in the direction we needed to go. It felt like we were competing in the Dakar race for real this time! Our bikes were caked with mud, and other stuff we don’t want to think about and we finally hit the edge of La Paz. Urban redevelopment on the edge of the city has resulted in sprawling ghost suburbs with half-finished brick box houses and shops, but devoid of people. Completely bizarre.
Ruta 2 finally opened in front of us and we were flying down a fabulous new highway. This is typical Bolivia. One minute you are in total third world chaos and the next surrounded by modern efficiency. Go figure. From then on riding was a snap as we zoomed past small towns and through rolling countryside making our way to Lake Titicaca.
But the day’s drama wasn’t over yet.
I’d noticed on the map that there was a small ferry crossing across a narrow channel in the lake. Elated at the morning’s antics and escaping from La Paz we bowled towards the ferry crossing not knowing what was in store for us…
Well you can’t really call them ‘ferries’, more like ‘small creaking wooden punts with a motor on the back’. Yet as we arrived in the port of Tiquina that’s what was in front of us. At this stage Sonja remembered reading about this crossing from another motorcycle touring couple and it hadn’t been pretty. We were waved onto a ‘ferry’ which already contained a tour bus load of Argentinians and a 4WD. We bowled straight on without a thought which was probably a good thing as if we’d stopped we’d never have got on. We rode up a dodgy wooden ramp onto the equally dodgy punt and stood over our bikes, the deck space too narrow to put down our sidestands. Suddenly we realized:
- Huge gaps in the wooden deck meant we could lose our footing and fall catastrophically breaking our legs or worse;
- The ferry did not have ramps at both ends meaning we’d have to push the bikes off backwards at the other side - no problem if you are in a vehicle with reverse but a mega problem for us;
- Waves coming through the channel hit the ferry side on causing it to rock and Sonja was going to topple over.;
- People on the ferry trying to help had no idea what to do and kept pulling Sonja off balance from her already precarious position; and
- The old deck hand was more interested in getting his hands on our Bolivios than helping us, constantly demanding more money from us as the trip went on
After what seemed like an eternity (actually 20 minutes) and a lot of shouting between the deck hand, us and the Argentinians who hate seeing people being ripped off we got to the other side. But now we had to get the bikes off the boat. Sonja’s bike went off OK with her and two young guys helping stabilize her. Phew. I wasn’t so lucky and ended right on the edge of the creaking ramp with my foot only millimetres from the edge. If I fell to the right I’d be in the water with the bike on top of me. Plus the bike bottomed out on the sharp angled edge of the ramp and people kept pushing, throwing me off balance. After a few heart stopping moments I was able to edge down the uneven planks and onto the beach. After catching our breath and calming our racing hearts, we took off waving good bye to the Argentinians before anything else could happen!
In typical Bolivian style the ride to Copacabana was heaven, probably boosted by the adrenalin of the ferry and escaping La Paz. The perfect road wound through the hills and mountain passes and local farmers sat on the side of the road. Incas and other native cultures have lived in the area for thousands of years leaving their mark everywhere. Hillsides are deeply terraced enabling crops to be scratched out by subsistence farmers. Tiny villages hug steep slopes and fishing boats bobbed up and down on the massive lake. In the distance snow peaked mountains poked through the clouds.
Coming down into Copacabana we had to stop at a police check point. Well actually a small hut with a frayed rope across the road. We trooped into the hut where a policeman wrote down our passport and bike rego numbers and an old fellow charged us one dollar each for an official looking bit of paper. We have no idea what it is for but there you go. Information recorded and fees payed a grubby kid dropped the bit of rope and off we went.
Copacabana is a thriving little town full of backpackers, the usual tourist shop selling trinkets and great places to eat. Trout from the lake is a local favourite and Sonja had found us a fantastic hotel, Hotel Utama. We dumped our bags in our room, headed off to a great fish restaurant and downed a bottle of red as we look over the lake.
The perfect end to a seriously crazy day.