Most countries in Latin America seem to ban the sale of alcohol during elections. Bolivia does that too, but also goes one step further in almost completely banning the car. Voting is compulsory, and the ban on cars is apparently to stop people voting multiple times. Honestly, considering how obvious the election result – an Evo landslide – it wouldn’t matter in the slightest. When you vote, you are given a piece of paper, without that paper you aren’t allowed to use the bank for the next three months, nor your passport, and you also get a fine. That’s some impressive dedication to democracy, other of course than the stories I’d heard of how in the most rural areas people vote but under serious pressure of Vote for Evo or get beaten. The joys of democracy.
Anyway, we decided to make the most of the almost ban on cars to leave La Paz that day. It meant I had been a pretty terrible tourist, visiting almost none of the city, but the chance to get out of a capital city without traffic was too good to miss. We had a 12km climb up the autopista to El Alto, the flat entrance where those who are too poor to live in La Paz seem to reside. It took a good while, with HJ walking good sections, but finally we were up to 4100m with a fine view back down on La Paz, with the nearby mountains of the Cordillera Real providing a glorious backdrop.
The zone of El Alto is apparently dangerous, with Leo, the Brazilian from the Casa de Ciclista getting pickpocketed there, and other blogs talk about the very heavy traffic that they had to navigate. For us, there were just the odd cars that had permission – police, press, people related to the vote – and then an ocean of people making the most of the lack of cars to turn the wide road almost into a pedestrianised area with a fair number of bikes too (more than I’d seen in the previous month combined.) The number of bikes was such that there were little stands with enterprising mechanics busy with the increased flux of bikes.
On finally leaving El Alto, it was about 40km of generally flat altiplano until we made it to the shore of Lake Titicaca, often thought of as the highest navigable lake in the world, but apparently it isn’t. Peru itself supposedly has higher ones, but definitely none as famous or touristic. We would be spending our next 3 days riding near it, giving an idea of its sheer size. It was just a short section, before we got to the turn off to Copacabana, not the Rio beach but a very touristy town with access to La Isla del Sol, the place where Incans believe the sun was born. It has walking trails and an Incan ruins, but HJ had already been and I didn’t want the detour. That meant it was onwards, towards our final goal of Achacachi, making the most of the lack of traffic, knowing that it would be back the next day.
It was the longest day of our trip together, at over 100km, and we arrived as the sun was going down. After a dinner, which was thankfully not chicken, HJ found us a place to sleep at the police station. We had to wait a while, as the chief was at the school overseeing the election, but when he came back he warmly welcomed us in and showed us a small room that they didn’t use. He said it wasn’t much, but it was all we needed.