Part 4: South America – Bolivia.

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January 10, 2018. Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.

Yet another early start. This time on the ‘Tourist Bus’, read backpacker bus, from Puno to Copacabana and then La Paz in Bolivia. 

It had rained all night so the skies were grey – again. 

At least we got mainly fine weather for our Lake Titicaca tour. 

It was about three hours from Puno to the Peru and Bolivian border points. 

We were offloaded from the bus to go through Peruvian immigration. Then we walked up the road and went through the formalities on the Bolivian side. 

Apart from the queue, it was rather painless and fast. 

Another stamp in the passport. 

It was a short drive from the border to Copacabana. 

We were picked up at the bus station and transferred to the Hotel Rosario. There was about 45 minutes before the bus to La Paz, so we had a short walk along the Titicaca waterfront. 

It was geared up for the local tourists with dozens of boats waiting to take the punters onto the lake. 

When we returned to the hotel we found that we were in a 12 seater mini van to La Paz, not a coach as we thought. 

The views of Lake Titicaca from the bus were stunning. 

We were driving on a peninsular and the lake would appear on either side of the van as we snaked our way along the ridge. 

As we had seen in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru gum trees were everywhere. 

At the end of the peninsula we reached San Pedro de Tiquina and then crossed by ferry to San Pablo de Tiquina. 

The coaches, vans, trucks and cars all went on large barges, while passengers took a power boat across. 

Titicaca was now only on our right. 

We finally arrived into La Paz at 5:30 pm, Bolivian time and 4:30 pm, Peru time. 

We had made our first time change since arriving in the US. 

In La Paz there was a mix up with our hotel. We thought we were staying at the three star Casa de Piedra but instead we were in the five star El Presidente. 

I liked the look of the Casa de Piedra. 

Searching for our hotel we had to walk through a street demonstration and on the way back to the El Presidente we walked through it again. 

Apparently demonstrations are a daily occurrence in La Paz. 

 

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January 11, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia.

Jimena was our guide for the La Paz city tour and Lucas our driver. 

As we were driving to our first site Jimena told us that there are 200 rivers running through the city. They don’t have earthquakes but they do have many landslides caused by flooding. 

Much of the city is built on clay and this is where the working class have to build their homes. 

They are the ones who suffer most. 

La Paz is an ‘est’ city.

Apart from being the highest major world city, it also has the highest golf course, football stadium, ski field, tennis club and international airport.

As we were told: ‘The football club in La Paz win games, not with attitude, but altitude.’

The 2018 Dakar Rally was again being held in South America, this was its tenth time there. The course took the competitors through parts of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

They race everything.

Cars, bikes, quads, UTVs and trucks race over gravel, dirt and sand for 14 days. They started on January 6 and were going until January 20.

And we were right in the middle of the Bolivian stage.

Our city tour with Jimena  took us to the Valley of the Moon. This is a popular tourist attraction and there were plenty of people there to share the experience with us.

Erosion has worn away a large part of the mountain, which is composed largely of clay. This leaves tall spires, similar to Göreme National Park in Cappadocia, Turkey, but not nearly as dramatic.

Mi Teleférico or My Cable Car is a public transport system that has been uniquely designed to suit this mountainous, high altitude city.

It’s a brilliantly simple and inexpensive answer to moving the people of la Paz around with the minimum of fuss.

I was so taken by Mi Teleférico that I wrote a blog specifically about it. You can see ‘The subway in the sky’ here.

On the way back to the hotel we wandered through the Witch’s Market. There are stalls full of weird and wonderful items all devoted to the spiritual well-being of the people. Run by the local witch doctors you can buy dried frogs, potions and medicinal plants. The most popular item of them all was dried llama foetuses. These could be seen hanging in a lot of the shop windows.

Apparently many Bolivian house have these buried beneath the foundations, as an offering to the goddess Pachamama.

We got back to the hotel and it started to pour. Lucky we took the morning tour.

The Dakar Rally was due to pass our hotel at about 2pm. There were a few people who braved the rain to watch the first of the vehicle pass by.

The majority of the crowd was made up of protesters. 

They were determined to cause strife and get publicity for their cause.

Then the police and army arrived. It was a cat and mouse game between the two sides.

We watched in amusement from the safety of our hotel room on the 13th floor.

The protesters tried to interrupt the proceedings as best they could. They pulled down banners and threw chairs onto the road in front of the passing rally and support vehicles.

Then the army arrived on motorcycles and drove through the crowd, scattering them in all directions.

This continued for some time.

As more and more rally vehicles arrived the crowds of supporters increased and the protesters lost interest.

By 5pm most of them had gone home.

We had a late afternoon coffee and another wander around the streets of Le Paz. We then went out for dinner.

When we returned there were still rally and support vehicles passing and honking their horns. Only a handful of spectators remained.

We hoped they wouldn’t go on all night.

 

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January 12, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia. 

Today was a day off as we had been on the go for weeks. 

Since we starting the 13 day tour of Peru and Bolivia we have had some very early mornings and long days.

It was also a day to plan the last of South America before the cruise to Antarctica. 

Our only real tourist adventure was to the Coca Museum, which was just around the corner from our hotel.

Its main goal was in presenting the differences between the use of the coca leaf, among indigenous South Americans, an it’s illegal use as cocaine. 

The display reinforced the belief that coco helps people in adapting to life in high altitudes and that there are a lot of medicinal values to the plant.

It also points out that it wasn’t until the Spaniards arrived that the evil side of coca, cocaine, was discovered.

One display pointed out that, “Coca leaves have been consumed for almost 5,000 years without damage to the human body. This suggests, or rather should prove, that the problem arose once the Western world left its mark on the coca leaf – and converted it into cocaine”(J. Hurtado 1982)

It also made the point that the US represents 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 50% of the cocaine that exists on the planet.

The exhibition also mentioned that Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine and it wasn’t until 1929 that it was removed as an ingredient.

Even today coca leaves are still one of Coke’s ‘secret’ ingredients.

Bolivia is a landlocked country bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile.

At last count there were 11 million people, with 70-75% of them being indigenous Bolivians.

Before the Spanish conquest Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. The first call for independence came in 1809. There was then a 16 year war before the Republic was named Bolivia, after Simón Bolívar. This gentleman was also a key player in the establishment of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia as sovereign states, independent from Spanish rule.

 

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January 13, 2018. La Paz to Uyuni, Bolivia.

It was another early start, this time for our flight to Uyuni. 

We weren’t the only ones up early, as the Daka Rally were also on the road. 

Ironically they were also headed to Uyuni. 

When we first arrived in La Paz our guide, obviously knowing our love of coffee, recommended Alexander Coffee. 

It was about 100 metres from our hotel. 

We returned there twice more over the time of our stay. 

Imagine our joy when we found an Alexander Coffee at the airport. In fact there were two and one was right next to our departure gate. 

It was only a 45 minute flight from La Paz to Uyuni. 

When we arrived there was an honour guard of police and security waiting for us at the airport, plus one very playful police dog. 

I think he was a sniffer dog in training. 

Once all our luggage had been off-loaded, and lined up, he was instructed to sniff. 

His handler used a tennis ball as an incentive. 

He had a ‘ball’ – pardon the pun. 

No sooner had we left the airport than we ran into the Daka again. 

All the streets were blocked off, waiting for the rally to pass through in the afternoon. 

Lillian was our guide for the next couple of days. 

Our first stop was Colchani, a salt town with about 500 residents. This doubles easily each day with the number of tourists that pass through.

Lunch was at the Palacio de Sal, the world’s first salt hotel. 

This part of the Bolivian trip included breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I was going to be ‘buffed’ out by the end. 

The salt flats at Uyini, or Salar de Uyuni, are the world’s biggest measuring 10,582 Square kilometres and sit at 3,656 metres above sea level. This salt is exceptionally rich in lithium, in fact the salt flats contain 50-70% of the world’s known reserves.

The afternoon was spent driving around Lake Minchin, as it is known locally.

At 6:00pm we went and found a spot, facing west, and waited for the sunset. 

It was a long wait. 

The wind had sprung up, so any chance a getting good reflections were gone. 

Once the sun dropped so did the temperature. 

 

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January 14, 2018. Uyuni to Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz, Bolivia.

It was a normal ‘working’ day as we had a 9:00 am start.

Due to the Daka Rally, which had now passed through, we had to return to Uyini. This was so we could visit the Cemetery of Locomotives, which we should have done the previous day. 

We started to get a feeling that Lillian hadn’t really planned our tour and was just winging it. 

She seemed very surprised that the Dakar Rally was interrupting our travels. Which was strange considering that it would have been planned, and known about, for a long time.

The Bolivian Railroad was active between 1842 and 1879. It was primarily developed to transport minerals to the Pacific coast for export. 

The war with Chile (1879-1883) or the War of the Pacific, resulted in Bolivia loosing access to the Pacific. An important area was known as the Litoral Department.

Most of the railroad system became redundant and the result is the Cemetery of Locomotives. 

The experience was somewhat spoilt by the ‘Selfie Generation’ who climbed over everything trying to get the perfect shot of themselves – not the trains. 

We stopped at San Cristóbal for lunch. This is one of the villages on the Pueblos Magicos or Magical Villages tourist route. 

Due to the Daka Rally we were off road again. 

We had 400 kilometres to cover to get to our next overnight stop. Much of the main road was closed so we had to take the alternative route, which ran along side. 

We realised that we should have started much earlier in the day.

Racing to get to our hotel we briefly visited Stone Valley, made from petrified laver. We then saw flamencos on Lake Hedionda, altitude 4,121 metres and then finally a stop at Lake Honda at 4,114 metres.

When we finally reached the Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz the sun was low and it was time for dinner.

There was no Wi-Fi, no mobile coverage and the solar electricity was only available between 6pm and 10pm.

We were in the High Bolivian Desert, the world’s highest, and both of us were feeling the altitude.

I didn’t dream that night but hallucinated.

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