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Bolivia - Lake Titicaca & La Paz

BOLIVIA | Sunday, 2 November 2008 | Views [2351] | Comments [1]

It was nice to be able to get the second of I don't know how many country stamps in our passports as we walked across the Bolivian border. We had heard rumours of dodgy border police taking your cash saying its fake so we had money in socks and concealed belts and all sorts but none of it was necessary. They were very friendly and helpful actually.
Copacabana is a small village on the coast of the enormous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and one of if not the largest in S America. So we had a new set of notes and coins and some new customs to get used to. For starters the Bolivians don't seem to be as outgoing and friendly as the Peruvians, the upside of this being that you are not accosted at every step by people trying to sell you massages, sweets, coca leaves or meals.
We got off the main streets to go to our extremely cheap but perfectly adequate and grandly named Hostel "Emperador". We had some pizza and some beers with our friends from the bus before retiring. The plan was to get up early to do an all day trip to La Isla del Sol, on the lake which is famous for its Inca creation myth. Wiracocha, the Incan Creator God had his children spring forth from the waters of the lake and found Cusco and the Inca dynasty. We slept it out and went for an afternoon trip instead which was ok, but 90 mins to get there, an hour there and 90 mins back was not ideal as we wanted to do some trekking. Besides it was incredibly tourist trappy as well and disgracefully expensive. All in all we were more glad of the extra sleep than more time on the island. Box ticked - move on.
On the boat ride back we met an interesting couple, Pitta from Chile and Joost from Holland who had met in Cuba. We spent a fun evening with them eating lasagne, drinking cheap Bolivian rum and playing Jenga. Curiously (and this only came out over drinks) they had recognised Claire from her vertigo experience on Wayna Picchu. Neither of us had seen them before.
The following day we hopped on another bus to La Paz, Jost and Pitta in tow. The route we took was over the straits of Tiquina, which separate the lake into 2 parts. We didn't know this at the time. We were all a bit confused when asked to leave the bus, for no apparent reason. We all had to board a tiny boat while the bus went on to a barge and we all went across the straits to the other side. Not sure if a barge counts as a new means of transport - our bags did it but we didn't!
We carried on to La Paz, a city with an incredible setting. Its the world´s highest capital built in a huge bowl so the further out of the centre you get the higher you have to climb (and its already 3600m in the centre!) We arrived in the cemetery district and had our first taste of the haphazard nature of the city. It freaked us out to be honest. For starters there don't seem to be any rules about driving and there are zebras (dressed up as opposed to real, of course) at every corner. They seem to be there to help traffic control and pedestrians but there are also transport police doing the same thing apparently without the need for a costume. Then there are the shoe shiners, which would be fine if it wasn't for the fact that they ALL wear balaclavas. It is more than a bit freaky to not be able to see someone´s face as they look at you and ask you if you want your hiking trainers shined (!!).
We had an abortive look at Hostel Loki (source of one bad experience for me already - not sure why I thought the one in La Paz would be better) and then tramped across town, a perturbing experience in a city where tourist muggings are fabled, before settling on the Happy Days hotel.
Luxury. A TV! We watched BBC world news and found out how bad things really are out there in the "real world" and also how much sterling had declined against the dollar. Good job we have NZ work permits!
We went out with Pitta and Joost for some food, but as they are veggies it was a bit of a challenge finding somewhere so we jumped in a taxi to the posh part of town and had a very overpriced linner (or dunch, depending) before heading back up town. The guys  were not great fans of La Paz and we were a bit overwhelmed to be honest as well but once we started strolling around we started to relax.
La Paz is basically a ginormous street market. We had a few purchases to make - batteries, headphones, combination locks etc. Within about 10 minutes we found everything we needed at about 10% the price you would get them at home. We got some popcorn and a giant fruit juice, curiously with popcorn in it on the street and retired to watch some movies on HBO. Wow, this is the life!
We then had an enormously productive and enjoyable following day - we bought souvenirs in the amazing witches market, avoiding the llama foetuses and jaguar skins and settling on representative statues instead, also picking up some alpaca socks and gloves. Then on to the post office where we sent home that bloody blanket, all of the souvenirs and a jacket that I didn't need any more (well i hope not anyway). And all for 30 quid! It was incredible the care and attention that 2 old ladies wrapped up our package. They even sewed it shut!
We had some afternoon beers and played cards in a fake English pub (the brummie behind the bar had me convinced it was real enough though!) before going for a British Indian Curry, just like you would order on a saturday night or get in Brick Lane. Except I suppose for the fact that I had a llama tikka masala instead of the usual chicken! Very tasty indeed. Joost and Pitta happened to be in the curry house so we joined them and then Claire pointed out another couple which requires a bit of explanation.
When we were walking up the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes we passed by a Scandinavian looking couple with massive bags. The we saw them again in the town having dinner. Then again in the queue for the bus up to Maccu Picchu. And then AGAIN at the bus station in Cusco - they asked us of we had managed to get tickets on the first night we spent trying to leave. So for them to be in the curry house in La Paz was too much to ignore - I said hello and we joined them for drinks in a bar around the corner. It turns out they are a very widely travelled and great fun Polish
couple living in Melbourne and I cant remember their names and have lost their email addresses. Maybe we´ll see them in Salta or Buenos Aires. I hope so!
Had a bit of a hangover day yesterday but managed to buy our train tickets from Oruro to Uyuni, our jump off point to the salt flats and gateway to Chile. Off to Oruro today where the primary goal will be to get some laundry done.
We´re zipping through Bolivia by he looks of things but I think we need to or else we´ll never get to Santiago by the time we need to!

Tags: balaclava, la paz, lake, zebra



Silvia from hostel in Rio

  Silvia Nov 23, 2008 11:01 AM

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