Joe Schwartz ventures to the Altiplano in search of big descents and wicked Andean singletrack
Bolivia has always been on my list of must-go places, so needless to say I was excited to experience this remote, mountainous country. Not even five airports worth of traveling was enough to dull my stoke for this trip.
I finally flew into Bolivia as the sun rose over the city of La Paz, which is crammed in a giant amphitheatre, ringed by snow covered 16,000 foot peaks. Aside from the view, and ridiculously crazy drivers, the first thing I noticed was a severe shortness of breath, as my body tried to cope with the sudden exposure to the thin air at 11,000 feet.
The kind folks at Gravity Bolivia were there to pick me up, bearing gifts of water and altitude pills, two essential ingredients in coping with the high elevations.
We rolled into La Paz, dodging feral dogs and wild taxi drivers, and checked into our accommodations, where I met up with the rest of the internationally diverse crew. The other riders are, from Switzerland, Rene Wildhaber, and from Germany, Rob Jauch. The trip is being documented by the Italian lensman, Marco Toniolo. We are being shown around by Alistair Mathew of Gravity Bolivia (www.gravitybolivia.com ), which is not only an amazingly run guiding outfit based here in La Paz, but also the Kona Bolivia distributor.
The first challenge of the trip was the arduous climb up to my second story room. It took everything I had to make it up the two measly flights of stairs, and I still felt like passing out in front of the door to my room. This was enough to convince me of an acclimatization day, to check out the sights, and build up my Coil Air Supreme.
The streets of La Paz were a sight for sure. Weathered Bolivian women selling veggies on the sidewalk, drivers trying their hardest to run down unwary pedestrians, and dried llama fetuses hanging off storefronts. Yes, that’s right, dried llama fetuses. According to Bolivian custom, they are buried under new homes to bring the dwelling good fortune.
I built my bike at the immaculate Gravity Bolivia workshop, and headed back to the Adventure Brew Hostel for dinner and beers with the crew.
We were roused early today, focused on a pre-dawn start in order to capitalize on some epic early light up high. The Land Cruisers took us up and up and up, and finally we parked in the clouds at 4300m/14,100ft. The morning glory light was not showing, but below us lay 3000 feet of epic singletrack that begged to be shredded. The light eventually poked out, and we got some shots on some of the fun, flowy Bolivian goodness.
After some lunch we headed up the other side of the valley, and rode an even more amazing trail. Big berms and airy ridgelines were the specialty here. What made it even better was that we were joined by a handful of Bolivian shredders, who were over the moon to ride with us on one of their favourite trails.
Tomorrow we are heading out of the big smoke, and into the Bolivia I have heard and read so much about. I am pretty excited to get into the heart of the Andes, ride some ancient Inca trails, and see some beautiful country. Check back for my next Regular Joe report soon!