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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Bolivia - Copacabana, Isla Del Sol, La Paz

BOLIVIA | Saturday, 7 January 2012 | Views [2979]

Next Stop – Bolivia!!


After the Inca Trail we had a relaxing 2 days in Cusco to recuperate. On the 2nd night we got a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia. The bus was actually pretty comfortable (as far as buses go). After 7 hours we had a 2 hr stop over in Puno where we got breakfast. It’s a very uninteresting place on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca (unless you want to see the floating islands). Being still half asleep at 5am and hearing all the touts shouting out their bus destinations competing for business by being the loudest – was very jarring. (This is a common fixture in Latino America everywhere you go, especially bus stations. Everyone shouts out what they have to offer, they even run out of their restaurants if you walk past on the hope of getting your attention.)


We tried to spend the remainder of our Peru Soles in coins and afterwards discovered we had to pay another departure tax (and we already paid one in Cusco) so we had to break a 20 soles note and ended up with a wallet full of coins again. Sigh. Luckily at the border we managed to find someone who accepted the coins to exchange to bolivianos. (Note that in Copacabana there are no ATMS so make sure you have plenty of money if you’re passing through).


Back on our connecting bus for another 3 hours to the Bolivian Border. We passed a small native village having their market day. Women in traditional dress – big colorful skirts and woolen jumpers, long black braided hair and a Charlie Chaplin type bowler hat balanced precariously on their heads, (some also wear sparkly shawls with tassels) – with their children or large bags tied to their backs in a colorful blanket as they tried to sell fruit, veggies, animals etc The men at the vans had big groups of sheep tied to their roofs all on top of each other. Some of them were still alive and this disturbed me a lot. Almost as much as all the dead wild dogs we’ve seen run over (the worst was one with its intestines rolled out... I shed a tear for that one...)


Thankfully there were no dramas at this border crossing. We just had to go to 2 offices to line up and get stamps on the Peru side, walk 200m to the Bolivian office to get our entry stamp. This time the bus waiting for us, yay! From here it was only 8km to Copacabana.

It had been raining for hours and looked rather gloomy but we were blessed, blue skies came out once we arrived. We checked into a inexpensive hotel right on the edge of Lake Titicaca and we had the most fantastic view of the sparkling blue water from our room. Note: In Bolivia, always check that the hotel has hot water before accepting the room – this place did and we even had our own bathroom and TV and breakfast included, bliss!


We even had access to wifi (which a lot of places here didn’t have) but unfortunately my laptop packed a sad in Cusco and now no longer turns on. This is a huge inconvenience as we now have the added cost of internet cafes to do our accommodation research and to save photos onto a usb in case of our camera theft (and of course to keep in touch with family and friends – especially to say were still alive as we have no phone for people to contact us). Its now difficult for me to upload my blog and photos which is very disappointing – I will now have to do this when our accom has free computers to use because its rather time consuming. Hopefully I can find an English speaking repair shop soon....


Went for a walk around the lake front and got surrounded by people trying to sell us trout which is in abundance here. I also noticed a large number of tourists here – even Asian ones! Other than Cusco, we haven’t really seen more than a handful of fellow gringos in each place – its mainly South American tourists.


We were going to spend the following night on Isla Del Sol but the weather still looked dubious so we went for a day trip in the morning instead. It was pouring with rain when we got onto a little boat packed to the brim with people, and leaking water... The boat was painfully slow and the sea was rough. After 2 hours we finally arrived at the north point of the island. Magically the sun came out in force and as we hadn’t been prepared for it, we got very sun burnt (my poor head was peeling chunks of skin through my hair far days... argh).

The island has no roads or traffic so it’s very peaceful. There is a community of around 5000 people living in simple huts there. Its 5.5 by 3.75 miles in size and is believed to be the birth place of the sun in Inca Mythology.


We walked for 2.5 hours around the island on its main paths marveling at its untainted beauty and visiting some of the islands many ruins. The island is made of grey, orange and red rock with a few beaches & groups of gum trees. The whole island is surrounded by the stunning bright navy blue waters of Lake Titicaca. Some of the hills left me breathless, even after the Inca Trail! This reminded us that we weren’t at sea level even though it seemed we were. The lake is at an elevation of 3820m and is 230km long, 97km wide and 1000 feet deep, flanked on either side by Peru and Bolivia. It had the reputation of being the highest navigable lake in the world, but its not quite. The snow covered peaks of the Cordilliera Real rise grandly in the distance.


It would’ve been wonderful to stay the night but we boarded the little boat back to Copacabana for another painfully slow 2 hours. I had a conversation with a guy from La Paz in Spanish and I enjoyed the practice but felt a bit uncomfortable after a while as he was blatantly hitting on me despite Andrew sitting right there! That evening we found an internet cafe to book our Salt Flats Tour and accommodation for Christmas and New Years. We’ve hardly had to pre book anything so far but now that its the holiday period – and Jan to March being summer and the peak season – we’ve been forced to as well as paying the astronomical inflated prices. To be honest I wish it wasn’t this time of year!

Afterwards we got glimpses of the fiery red sun sneaking down behind the horizon. Wed heard that the sun sets here were legendary but due to low cloud we didn’t get to see the full effect unfortunately.


Lunch time the following day we got a bus 3hours to La Paz passing spectacular lake views – it looks like an ocean! To get over the lake we had to board a little boat and our bus got its own small barge which looked like a few planks of floating wood. Very random! And of course this part wasn’t included in our bus ticket price. That’s a frustrating thing about around here, there always hidden extra costs. Always. Like on Isla Del Sol we got stopped 3 times on our hike to pay a fee to continue along the path. Even though the fee doesn’t amount to much, having to pay on more than one occasion for the same excursion creates the impression that you’re being taken advantage of and being ripped off. Why not charge one larger fee at the beginning? And paying for toilets is a hassle too, Andrew hates this with a passion (but it usually gets you a few squares of toilet paper which is necessary for a female – ALWAYS carry your own as free toilets never provide it).


For some reason I was under the impression that La Paz was built into a cliff side (prob cos I heard about the worlds dangerous road..) but its not. It’s a huge city built with red brick into a canyon. Everywhere you walk is up or down a hill, it’s never flat. It’s a mess of telephone and electricity wires crisscrossing above the streets and like every city in Central & South America, traffic is chaotic. The drivers make their own lanes where the please and I’m surprised there’s not more accidents as it looks like their about to play bumper cars the way they cut each other off and push in! La Paz has a population of 1.5 million people and it’s situated at a dizzying height of 3660m. To be honest I’m a bit bored of cities, I prefer the little places with more character and nature.


We treated ourselves to eating out in a Thai Restaurant. The food was good but it blew our budget and the mood was soured when our waiter gave us a guilt trip about leaving a tip. In Mexico it’s almost compulsory to leave a tip but in South America its not so we haven’t been as we really can’t afford too. I would love to help every hard worker and every struggling person and beggar but its impossible to help them all, and here there are so so many of them. Were spending more than we thought we would have too just on survival here ourselves. South Americas economy is poor but it sure has grown due to tourism increasing. Still, it makes me feel very thankful that I was born into a country where the majority of people have jobs and homes with running water and electricity, rubbish isn’t strewn everywhere, where people sitting on the side of the road aren’t desperately trying to sell whatever they can make or grow. Were very fortunate to live in the part of the world where 50% of the population isn’t in poverty....


The following day we explored the city’s busy streets. We checked out San Pedro Prison from the outside (if you haven’t read the book Marching Powder, then you should! It’s about the corrupt life in San Pedro Prison...) and wondered through the witches market with its potions, herbs and llama fetuses (yuck! Apparently its good luck to bury them under your home) and the black market with its stalls of house hold knick knacks and women selling fruit on a mat on the dirty road side. There is no supermarket in the city centre and it was difficult to find food to cook but I still wasn’t keen on purchasing from the roadside! We managed to find a store selling eggs, ham, bread and noodles. Score! Life on a budget...


Our hostel room looked like something out of a psychiatric ward and the computer that we had to pay to use was so ancient you could barely see what was on the rounded screen. The kitchen didn’t even have cutlery! But it was cheap and we managed. It’s been frustrating having to eat out all the time so we try and stay in hostels with kitchens. Even then, the supermarkets here don’t leave you with many meal options. Having to decide what you want to eat and then having to make the effort to actually go out and find somewhere 2-3 times a day is tiring. Plus it costs so damn much! The cheapest food is always pizza and burgers which isn’t particularly healthy or the menu del dia which is a set menu of rice, chicken and soup which gets boring or looks dodgy! All we can really cook is pasta, noodles, toasted sandwiches... I miss food from back home!!


The next day I spent in a sulk. We had found out that the train to Uyuni that wed booked when we were in Copacabana had actually sold out but their office was closed in the weekend which meant that we had to get a night bus for 10 hours- 5 of which is on a dirt and gravel road – and 2 hours after we arrive we would be leaving on our tour which involves loads of driving. I can barely function after a normal over night bus let alone a disruptive gravel one! I was disappointed that id be too tired (and unshowered) to enjoy our tour which id really been looking forward too. To add insult to injury, the place we chose to stay at for New Years had booked out right before we confirmed and the next cheapest available place was double the price! Grrrrr..... And I was missing being able to use my own computer big time so I had my bottom lip out.

But hurrah! Good news!! The agency had made a mistake and they did have the last train tickets for us! We happily rushed over to pick them up and my smile was back!


There’s more I would like to see in Bolivia but after our tour we are moving onto Chile already. One day id like to come back and head into the Amazon again – more than 50% of Bolivia is part of the Amazon Basin. Id also like to do some hiking in the Andean mountains where peaks reach as high as 6000m, go horse riding in the desert and visit Potosi – the highest city in the world. Stolen from the Lonely Planet Book – “The hemispheres highest, most isolated and most rugged nation, its also among the earths coldest, warmest & windiest spots, with some of the driest, saltiest, swampiest natural landscapes in the world. It’s the land of paradoxes: South Americas poorest country, Bolivia is the richest in the continent in natural resources. Over 60% of the population claims indigenous heritage making it South Americas most indigenous country.”


Bolivia is a landlocked country despite ongoing discussions with Chile about access to the ocean. Lake Titicaca used to be the ceremonial centre of the Tiwanaku culture which got incorporated into the Inca Empire. In 1532 the Spanish took over and high quality silver was found in Potosi turning it into one of the richest cities in the world and it had forced slave labor in the mines. Appalling work conditions caused the deaths of around 8 million African and Indian slaves. In 1824 after 15 years of bloodshed, Bolivia escaped Spanish domination and became independent. This triggered political chaos and the country endured nearly 200 changes in government in its 181 years as a republic. Under the Bolivian constitution a candidate must earn 50% or more votes to become president. When no candidate wins a clear majority, the congress makes the decision. This happened constantly resulting in a very unhappy population.

Over time Bolivia has been at war with Chile, Brazil and Paraguay losing land to each. In the war against Paraguay, 80,000 lives were lost.


Coca leaves are popular here, like in Peru. It is a big part of their culture. Chewing the bitter leaf increases alertness and reduces hunger, cold and pain. Coca Cola used to use it in their recipes! The raw leaf is neither harmful nor addictive but it is used to make cocaine which has made the government enforce limits on its growth.

Bolivians standard of living is low and 70% of the population lives in the high and cold altiplano region. Some still live by the traditional lunar calendar for their farming. The country has a high mortality rate of 52 deaths per 1000 births with a birth rate of 2.85 women. The thing that astounds me is they make their children squat on the side of the road or over a drain in the city if they need to go toilet!

The culture is very spiritual mixing their Christian & Inca beliefs together with loads of superstitions. In Peru, Guinea Pigs are eaten which I can’t stomach as their pets!! They’re cooked whole and served with their little paws and teeth & everything! I tried eating alpaca though and it’s kinda chewy but not much unlike eating beef. Llamas are their pets and are not eaten but in Bolivia they are. In Bolivia, they even make instruments out of 5 pairs of llama gut strings and armadillo shells! Sad...


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