After a successful race in Argentina we still had some time left in South America, so we made plans to travel to Bolivia and Peru.
The first days in Bolivia were strange. We knew that there were many beautiful natural places around us, but we couldn’t find where we should start to begin exploring. In Santa Cruz we were able to experience some of their culture thanks to a former work companion of Pere. We met with his parents and they gave us a taste of their gastronomy and an insight into their way of living.
I am definitely not a city person, so I couldn’t wait to leave the city and travel to the mountains. However, it still took us some days to figure out how to get away from the urban areas. From Santa Cruz we traveled to Samaipata, from Samaipata to Cochabamba and from there we went to La Paz. Samaipata was green and hilly. We saw giant butterflies and ran on the unpaved tracks and paths around the town. We stayed in an animal shelter which was lovely. Onna could be in direct contact with many different types of animals that you wouldn’t normally see in their natural habitat. It was like an animal wildlife farm. The animals could move freely and interestingly the monkeys were very sociable. One of them was curious enough to get into our apartment.
Cochebamba felt massive. We arrived very early in the morning after a night bus ride and were allowed to remain on the bus until six o clock because the streets could be dangerous in the dark.
Our next bus was not leaving until the evening, so we were in the city for a whole day. We walked along the vast market area until we arrived at the Cristo, a little mountain with a huge statue of a Christ on top. People can take a tele cabin to visit the monument, but it is also possible to reach it by climbing up a long stairway. Pere had the great idea to combine a dynamic training session with some strength training. We ran in turns but I found it difficult to use my legs as I would have wanted. They felt heavy from our travels and the lack of sleep. I had difficulty increasing my heart rate sufficiently, but the exercises I did on the stairs certainly had a great impact! It took several days to recover from the stiffness in my muscles afterwards.
We strolled back to the city centre by a different route and by the time we had reached the bus station we must have easily covered about 10-12km with Onna.
(Our luggage was stored in a locker)
Finally it was time to move on. After another overnight drive we reached La Paz, a huge city in the clouds built at an average altitude of 3700m!
We were in touch with people from the trail running community there who had seen that we were on our way to their city via instagram. Cristina Copa welcomed us early in the morning and invited us to her sister’s apartment to have some fresh food and a rest. I will always remember the multigrain bread which had very mild cheese melted inside it.
In the afternoon she took us on a city tour during which we could view the city from above whilst moving around in tele cabins. Later, we went to the gym and ran on a treadmill at an altitude of 3700m. Without stopping, we did a strengthening work out. Onna was allowed in the gym and copied some of the exercises we were doing 😉
The next day we visited El Valle de las Ánimas. This is a valley with very strange rock constructions. The pointed spines are called ánimas. We took it in turns and both had beautiful runs. Mine ended up a little anxiously as we had not agreed a fixed meeting point beforehand and I didn’t know where to find Onna and Pere after my run.
We found out that there was a 10K in El Alto the following day. El Alto is even more massive than La Paz and it’s situated above La Paz at an altitude of 4100m. It was free to sign up, so we decided that we would run it as a training exercise. Onna was able to stay with Ivan’s sister (Chaski runner) who had a 3 year old daughter. Just when we were about to leave her, she felt unwell and vomited. It made her feel better and after hesitating a little, we decided she would be ok to stay with the people. The race was an interesting experience! I found it incredibly hard to run fast in such an altitude. My lower abdomen hurt a lot whilst running and I was not able to find the strength to push myself. Pere enjoyed the experience more, but nevertheless found himself in the same situation. He wasn’t able to run that fast either.
Upon finishing, we collected Onna and all went to the market, where we had a tasty breadroll with palta, tomato, cheese and onion and freshly pressed juice.
On Sunday we got up early to meet with the Chaski runners. The plan was to go near Chacaltaya and run at altitude. Onna was feeling better but we decided that it wouldn’t be wise for her to go any higher than 4100m, so she stayed at home with the mother of another Chaski runner.
Our run started at nearly 4700m and we went straight up to the summit of Chacaltaya (5435m)! At first, my legs didn’t respond at all well and I stayed behind a little. Ivan looked after me and organised several photo stops. These pauses helped me to recover and to accustomise myself to running at high altitude. During the next two and a half hours we stayed above 5000m running in an incredibly scenic landscape below a clear blue sky. We both enjoyed this immensely!
After 21km there was a meeting point. Some of the Chaski runners had started from this point and for us it was a place to rest and refuel. We ate bread with palta and there was chicken too. After a pleasant break, we continued and ran another 8km to the spot where we would finish.
On the way back we were eager to be with Onna again. She was still not her real self, but had been looked after really well and she was happy.
On Monday, we traveled to Coroico. We considered that it would be good to stay in a lower altitude for some days and to be surrounded directly by nature. We had a speed up run in the evening and planned on a double training session for the next day. Rafa, our trainer had given us the task to run an interval training on hilly terrain and we needed some strength training too. We found a perfect place in a covered outdoor gym with amazing views of white mountain peaks! Onna joined us whilst we exercised which saved us from being separated and gave us some family time.
Right up until the evening we didn’t have any fixed plans. We wanted to cycle from Yolosa (1200m) all the way up the Death Road to the mountain pass at 4700m, but this wasn’t easy to arrange as we wanted Onna to be with us or near us all day long. Finally, just before going to sleep the plan was set: we had bicycles, a van, a driver and a guide! The bicycles were heavy downhill ones, but that didn’t bother us.
Our Death Road experience was a real Rolling Mountains adventure! It was awesome to have Onna following us all day long and both the guide and the driver were amazing people who greatly admired our unusual challenge and supported us in every way they could!
We cycled for many hours and when we reached the pass it was already pretty dark.
Regarding the Death Road, I can really understand why this road deserves its name. It used to be the main road between La Paz and Yolosa and on average 100 people died every year on it. It’s a narrow, wet, slippery, foggy and twisty road right next to a cliff edge…
Nowadays it’s only (mainly) used as a tourist attraction for downhill cyclists.
The day afterwards we were both knackered. We had a sports massage and rested for most of the day. On this day, we really became concerned about the spread of the Corona virus and its consequences. Spain and other countries had declared states of emergency and their populations had all been confined.
The virus was also detected in Bolivia, but fortunately, not close to where we were. We were still free, but one could feel the threat of the illness which had already caused so many deaths. Several borders between countries had been closed and we feared that Peru might also close its borders. Therefore we decided to skip our visit to this country and conclude our travels through South America as soon as possible.
We believed that there would not be a better way to conclude our travels through this continent than by racing!
On Saturday we ran the Snowrunning Chacaltaya, a 33K in at extremely high altitude!! We already knew a big part of the course and the weather greeted us with completely contrasting climatic conditions. Instead of clear skies we had fog and the higher levels were snow covered!
It left us with a feeling of complete privilege to have been able to run this race.
Pere and I both won! Pere ran it in a record time and I finished in a modest time, as I became lost in the foggy mountains for nearly 20min!
Right now we’ve just arrived in Costa Rica!! Our adventure continues.