Thankful for the downhill gradient and a right at the first intersection, the Adventure Brew hostel is a pleasingly short walk from both the bus terminal and the old town of La Paz. We were excited to be staying in a hostel with its own craft beer on tap in the bar courtesy of Saya Brewery. Dumping the backpacks on the way to the roof top bar we entered to find the place both empty and out of beer.
We entered to find the place both empty and out of beer
Yep, believe it. Having a chat to the Newcastle born and bred Robert behind the bar, our initial excitement is cut off at the knees, Matt is internally pissed off. Heads hung low, parched with a sense of defeat we retreat down the stairs. Roberts only forgot to mention that Adventure Brews second location, 100 metres down the road, has the main bar still flowing with amber goodness from its taps.
Beery nirvana we have arrived! Walking into the second bar we’re happy for the beer though a little confused as to why the ground floor bar takes most people’s liking as opposed to the rooftop one in its other location down the road, with its vista over the city of La Paz.
Who cares, we have beer. Chomping at the bit we can’t get a pint of Saya’s Amber down the hatch quick enough and soon settle in for the night. Set in what seems an old apartment/office building the courtyard has a pool table and tennis table with a ceiling that reaches up to the sky. Meeting several other travellers, many of whom spend a stint as staff behind the bar, we guzzle until the early hours as the place begins to heave.
The following day feels like one associated with far too much fun the night before, so with raspy throats and empty bellies we know that Oliver’s English Tavern has a Full English breakfast to tie us over. Scooting through the streets ignoring all offers of tours and weed, we finally find Oliver’s, order and wait impatiently.
A little slice of UK familiarity is eventually presented in the form of bacon, eggs and Cumberland sausages with a side of homemade baked beans (no Heinz or Bransons mind you) and a plethora of condiments including horse radish and HP sauce. Feeling like we back in London due to the interior design, smoky smell and lack of ventilation we shovel down the feed, setting us up for the day’s exploration.
Hop scotching through the ever present dog shit on the sidewalk we negotiate the streets over to Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking to book our ‘near death experience’ on mountain bikes most deadly downhill – ‘The Death Road’. Walking into the offices it’s immediately apparent as to why these guys charge the most of all the operators and they have the credentials to back it up. Set up by a Kiwi bloke the professional air to the staff and the kick arse Kona bike in the corner seals the deal.
Booked up it’s into the streets to check out some sights. First up is the Witches Market (Mercado de la Brujas) with it’s numerous unrecognisable products hemmed by the dried out llama foetus’s (calm down activists we were assured they only use stillborns), used to bury under new built houses as an offering to Pacha Mama. Up and down the souvenir shops, taking a cheap feed along Jimenez street before ending up in the upscale Banais restaurant for their silky milkshakes, we head back for dinner at the Adventure Brew (don’t bother, the foods hit and miss with a tremendous wait) before curling up to regenerate for the early adrenaline rush the following morn.
Waking early, cramming in some free pancakes we’re out the door and into the minibus that takes us up to the head of the trail, a disturbingly quiet lake in La Cumbre. A briefing on our bikes and needed safety precautions, us macho men are told not to try and keep up with the guide as his skills are far superior to that of ours. Kieran, our cocky guide hailing from the UK, then produces a bottle of clear liquid named Caiman. Akin to fire water we pass around the beverage pouring one onto the ground for Pacha Mama and taking a swig ourselves, either for warmth at this altitude or bravado or both.
Go Pros strapped in, our ‘Hell Yeah’ llama poses practiced we pedal off for the initial 20 kilometer tarmac session to get the legs loosened. With our extra photographer/guide accompanying us for the day ensuring we don’t need tow worry about much else but staying on the road. The first customs (drugs) check point passed, it’s not long until we stop to appreciate how dangerous the new paved road is when Keiran points out a bus at the bottom of the cliff edge (Death Road is only really used by heavy traffic in the wet season when they are repairing the new tarmac one). Onto the first non-lit blackened tunnel and the groups happy to be diverted around it, a little further on is the head of the showcase dirt Death Road.
Having being told about some incidents of people going off the side of the road due to accidents with local tractor drivers and peoples stupidity, giving safety briefings before all the major corners Kieran does well to keep the group informed and the sober moments light. Stopping at Dead Mans corner for the obligatory photo op of the group hanging their legs over, it’s pretty much a continuation with the odd truck climbing up the opposite way. Under a waterfall, across a stream and it’s all over just like that.
A frosty Judas beer to greet us at the finish line and a round of congrats, we head to La Senda Verde Cabins and Animal Refuge for a buffet feed, then grab a few traveller beers for the long journey back up the valley to La Paz. We stop at the narrowest point of the road where we all take the photo opportunity poising on the edge of the road before tipsy and read to party we meet up with a few of the other tour guides at Oliver’s for its 10 year anniversary. Let’s leave that at that.
Due to indulgence from the night before the only appointment we want to keep today is on for the Cholita Wrestling. As a way to give power back to the female community the word Cholita, once used as a derogatory term, has now become a term of empowerment. Unfortunately for us the curse of the kitchen at Adventure Brew made sure that didn’t eventuate (the piss poor kitchen staff couldn’t bring down our meals, the bar man had to abandon his post to retrieve it, we missed the bus).
For a birds eye view over the city from one of the many hilltop locations many of the locals pointed us toward El Alto. Walking over to the cemetery, which is a little underwhelming we confusingly find the Telerifico headed for El Alto. Up top again is uninspiring, all the food restaurants will rip you off so only go up for the view. Quickly descend in rapid fashion dropping into Mercado Lanza for a vitamin packed smoothie and onto the pretty Plaza Murillo, hemmed in by the Palacio de Gobierno and the National Congress it’s again solitude from the bustling menace surrounding.
Back out along Mariscal Santa Cruz, past the San Francisco Cathedral, the Coca Museum is the last in the list of sights we’d like to tick off. Being curated mainly for the tourists it gives an insightful history into the social, medical and warfare effects this little leaf has cast its spell on. Back to the bar for one last round of beer and goodbyes its yet again an overnight bus to the other worldly Uyuni. Peace out La Paz it’s been real.
For more photos check out our Flickr page. Peace!
TIPS FOR LA PAZ
- Forget the rest of the party hostels, Adventure Brew is the greatest. Good beers, nice staff and free unlimited pancake breakfast rounds off a pleasing stay. Just be prepared for a wait on food and ask around for what tastes good.
- Gravity, for us anyway, is a legit outfit that has the best bikes we saw on the Death Road, the guides are fully trained up (most are long term riders) and the free shirt, however it’s use adds to the experience. There’s many other cheaper options, though mind you the bikes aren’t on par. (Matt’s done plenty of Mountain biking in the past).
- Take the Telerifico to the top of EL Alto, just don’t eat there.