“We’re only staying for a day or two”, that’s what we said while entering the capital of Bolivia; La Paz. Riding into the city was pretty hectic, like with every city. We felt we were on a roll with being on the road again, everyone was feeling better, the views along lake Titicaca were stunning. The deep blue water with the reflecting sun, the snow-topped mountains in the background and the sun disappearing into the lake every night made it kind of idyllic.
So yeah, you can imagine that we weren’t really hyped to ride into a big city. With all its chaos, the uncertainty of where to go in a new environment and the fact that we’re just not really “big city people”. But after descending from the altiplano into the heart of this magnificent beast of a city, we found the apartment that we’d booked. The next day we were meeting up with Eli, a volunteer from OYE LENA who was also visiting La Paz.
Eli was doing a paragliding course with an agency in La Paz… so one thing led to another and our “two days in La Paz” became a week. We signed up for a five day course to learn the basics, which included four solo flights!
One week later, we learned some aerodynamics, we practiced how to lift our parachute on the ground, learned the safety checks before takeoff and ultimately did our four solo flights! It. Was. Amazing. The takeoffs were kind of stressful, but we practiced them so well on the ground (inflate, let go of strings, check your parachute, run, fly) that there actually was no reason to be stressed. All very easily said in hindsight of course…Once you’re in the air you can really start to enjoy. So high above the valley and the snow-topped mountains (from earlier) now right in front of us.
We were feeling good! We kind of warmed up towards La Paz. So we decided to stay one day longer, our “two days” extended to a little over a week. There is a valley called “Valle de las Ánimas”, it’s an old river bed a little above the city. Because the soil there is very soft, the rain in the rainy season has eroded some spectacular formations in the side of the valley. Imagine walking through a gap in a mountain, great spikes sticking out a hundred meters high left and right, like they’re giant sharp teeth in the mouth of a buried giant.
Unfortunately, right at the start of this awesome day hike. We passed a little house right before entering the valley. There were three dogs in the distance, but they were getting closer FAST. Quickly we picked up Oli and held her tight. In a matter of seconds we were surrounded. Not sure what to do, we decided to kind of ignore the threat and keep walking. After all “a barking dog never bites”, right?
Well… not true! First Fien felt a kind of pinch in her leg, she looked and there was a round contusion with a little blood peeping out. Confused and a bit in pain we kept walking. All of a sudden Jesse too felt a pinching feeling and right afterwards another one. He looked around at his calf and there were two scratches. We couldn’t just stop, so we went on for a little while longer and then stopped to inspect our wounds. Immediately we saw that the bite marks weren’t deep because they weren’t really bleeding a lot. It just stung a fair amount and felt a bit like a bruise.
If you are reading this and you like to hike, no matter where in the world. Just take a first aid kit with you… we didn’t and we regretted it. We rinsed of the wounds with a bit of our water and contemplated what to do. Of course, we knew we had to go see a doctor. A dog bite isn’t something to take lightly. But we also wanted to do the hike in this amazing valley. So that’s what we did, we continued our hike but cut it a little short and went to find a doctor in the city.
All of this happened around 10:00AM. So we had plenty of time to get back, find a doctor and get a rabies vaccine. So we thought…
We arrived in a municipal medical center. The hike is pretty far from the city center, so it took us a while to get there. After an hour they took us into the emergency and cleaned our wounds VERY thoroughly. As in, they took a toothbrush and started scrubbing… after this, everything got disinfected and bandaged up we went to the doctor to ask about rabies vaccines.
You would think in a country where there’s still a considerable amount of rabies, that there would be rabies vaccins available almost everywhere. Well… not true! Let us talk you through “our quest to find vaccines”
The doctor told us “oh it’s past 4:00PM, the people who do vaccines aren’t here anymore”. “So what now?” We asked kind of astonished at which she lightly replied “well, we cleaned your wound. Let’s just hope you don’t have rabies. Besides, the part of La Paz where you got bitten doesn’t have rabies. So you’ll probably be fine.” After these reassuring words we left medical center and went to get a second opinion.
Later that evening we saw another doctor. He cleaned our wounds again, a little more gentle this time and told we definitely need rabies vaccines. “Can you do them” we asked hopefully. And you guessed it: the answer was “oh no, I don’t have them here. You need to go to a special center to get them”. He gave us an adres where we needed to go first thing the next morning.
Like the good and obedient patients that we are, we got up early so we got to the center when it opened. After waiting in line for a little while we come up to the desk, ask for rabies vaccines. Aaaaand you guessed it again, the answer was “we don’t do rabies vaccins here, you have to go to ‘Hospital La Paz’”.
Another important detail to mention is; you need to get your first vaccination within 24 hours of your bite. We were bitten around 10:00AM, it was 8:30AM the next day already. So our window was narrowing…
Luckily the other place the person mentioned was only five minutes away. We rush inside, quickly we tell our story (it was a routine sequence of sentences by now…) got sent upstairs to a door which said “Vacunas”. The woman inside told us they have rabies vaccines. Victory!
But we needed one vaccine every day for 7 days… Our “two days in La Paz” just got extended to two weeks.
In this week our feelings changed about La Paz. After the paragliding course we were feeling good, thinking that it was a fun city with lots to do. But now that we needed to stay 7 more days to get vaccines, our feelings began to darken and we started seeing La Paz as our prison. That’s maybe a little dramatic, but we really felt like we were stuck and had nothing to do.
So like all bicycle travelers who have nothing to do, we resorted to drinking coffee and eating…
Finally, sevens days have passed. We are free from our prison and VERY ready move on. To make up for the time that we lost, we are taking a bus from La Paz to Oruro and if we can we’ll go further towards Challapata by bus as well. We were able to end our time in La Paz pretty fluently. The bus company didn’t make any problem about bringing two fully loaded bikes, a trailer with a dog kennel and the dog herself! We arrived at the bus station and in not more than five minutes we were on a bus. Maybe our luck is changing?
We are glad to get back on the road again, to sleep in our tent again, even to live in a calorie deficit again (we really ate A LOT in La Paz, so much we almost feel guilty…). Sometimes the absence of something makes you realize how much you need or want that particular thing. For us that, getting back on the road and living a simpler life for a while!