We had one more day in La Paz, which we spent exploring the largest flea market in South America, wandering a densely packed cemetery, eating street food we hoped wouldn’t make us sick, shopping for oddities at the Witch Market, and watching game one of the NBA finals.
The next day, we took a four hour bus to Copacabana, a charming town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Frank and I were joined by a pair of Austrians named Franzis and Philip, who I’d originally met back in San Pedro de Atacama. It happens often, that I find a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. It’s always fun, but also a reminder that I need to work harder to escape the “Gringo Trail.”
We arrived in Copacabana on the town’s birthday, so we were greeted with a parade, and entertained all day and night by fireworks and festive gatherings in the two main plazas.
Aside from the celebrations, Copacabana was a chilled out place. We spent much of our time there quietly sipping coffee on beachside roof decks, enjoying views of the largest lake in South America. During our three days there, we also rented jet skis, watched the champions league final, swam at 12,500 feet, saw Incan ruins and hiked the nearby Isla del Sol.
I returned to La Paz with 36 hours before my flight home; I’d left myself just enough time to spend a day on the “Death Road.” Officially called the Camino a los Yungas, it is exactly what you’d expect: narrow, winding, cliff-lined, gravelly (or muddy) and deadly. It held the distinction as the world’s most dangerous road until an alternative route was built a few years ago. It took five hours on bikes to descend from barren, snow-capped mountains to a balmy jungle almost 12,000 feet below. The views were spectacular, and it gave me an itch to finally replace the mountain bike I had stolen 5 years ago.
It was a great day; a suitable end to the first leg of this adventure. It felt strange to fly into LAX 30 hours later, knowing it was just another quick stop along the way. Nonetheless, it felt good to be home, and even better to see some familiar faces.