Anyone who goes to Bolivia will most likely head to the large tourist city of La Paz, and for us it was where I would spend my birthday. La Paz is a busy city filled with local markets all the way to giant shopping malls. The streets are full of local vendors and I’m not sure if it’s the law or not but if there is one computer store the entire street is computer stores, must be some stiff competition! In La Paz there is plenty to do but what brings most backpackers here is the night life and the infamous Death Road.
The Death Road is built along a mountain with thousand foot sheer drops and in some spots is barely wide enough for a car. Unlike the Death Train, this road got its name because on average almost 300 people fell to their deaths every year until a new safer road was built. These days it is rarely used by locals but rather tourists wanting to test their skills on a downhill mountain bike. Of course we were gonna give this a crack, there are literally hundreds of tour operators and the prices differ a lot, we chose a relatively cheap company (400b or $80aud) but got good bikes which is really important!
At the start of the tour you get a short briefing and start the day on a busy highway ridding downhill which to me was more dangerous than the Death Road as getting hit by a car can be no fault of your own and I was relieved to finally get to the actual Death Road. Once we arrived we were informed that if you see a car to stick to the cliff side…. wait what?! As crazy as it sounds taking the inside can force the car over the edge likely killing everyone on board.
So we put our helmets on and off we went! The track is really rocky and makes staying at high speeds somewhat difficult. But for people on bikes its quite safe as you can go at your own pace you all like to race each other! I almost came off a few times racing Liam to the next stop and my bike actually broke. If I didn’t notice one of the main bolts snapping when I did I may not of been writing this blog post today, but here I am still alive! Overall, it’s a good day spent out of the city and after the tour there is a buffet lunch and cold beers all around.
For more blogs on our adventures in Bolivia click here:
Now for the night life, in La Paz there is always something going on and one way to have a good time is to stay at a party Hostel. We stayed at Loki which is a very famous party hostel in Peru and Bolivia. In this hostel they are always having themed nights, handing out free shots, and about 3 happy hours a day (not to mention some really good food.) We spent 3 nights there and really had an awesome time, I really wish I could remember more but hey, it was my birthday.
The city also has a rather dark side. To hear some stories from an American who spent 14 years in jail there for drug trafficking, we had to head to San Pedro Prison located right in the city. His name is Crazy Dave and if you’ve read the book Marching Powder – well, he was locked up with the guy that wrote that book. He runs local tours outside the prison in exchange for tips and his stories are interesting to say the least but also very sad. You see, Dave was smuggling drugs to the United States but was never meant to make it as he was the fall guy (not that he knew that.) But his attitude towards life seems very optimistic and he is a fun character to be around. While we were there a journalist was filming a documentary on him to send to Banged Up Abroad.
The San Pedro prison is also interesting because it doesn’t operate like any normal prison. You see, the guards don’t go inside. You’re probably thinking ‘what do you mean they don’t go inside’ well in prisons like San Pedro the guards are only there to keep the criminals in, the criminals run the place themselves. It is like it’s own town where people have jobs, make money and the richer ones buy nicer rooms. One benefit of this for the prisoners is that you can make cocaine in the prison and simply throw it over the wall to your customers. Crazy Dave talks about various jobs he had in the prison from cooking cocaine to teaching English to the kids in the prison (payment was all in cocaine). Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, the families of the prisoners live in the prison and every morning the kids leave the prison and attend the school across the road. Most of the wives have normal jobs outside of the prison and come and go freely as they wish. So, if your ever in La Paz go check out Crazy Dave’s tour even if it doesn’t sound like your thing you will learn alot about the history of the prison and why you shouldn’t traffick drugs.
Read more of our travel stories here: