Published: August 14th 2011April 7th 2011
On that overnight bus on the way to La Paz
I met a couple from England who I shared a taxi with as we had booked into the same hostel, Wild Rover. This is one of a few hostel chains in Bolivia and Peru, they're all party hostels, so extremely busy with a cheap bar, nice food and super clean. The perfect place to stay in in La Paz, as there's not a lot to do apart from partying.
La Paz in itself is a strange place. The capital of the country, it doesn't look like it though and the only way you 'feel' it is because there are constant demonstrations featuring dynamite and fire barricades from the demonstrator's side, and tear gas and water canons from the police's side. What the crowds were demonstrating for or against (it was almost a daily occurance) wasn't always quite clear, but I think it was generally for higher wages, especially for people working in the mines, teachers and doctors. Once tear gas was even thrown into the courtyard of the hostel and people were suffering the effects, luckily I was out on that day.
So, some people love La Paz... I couldn't say
the same for me, although its roughness and the fact that there aren't McDonald's on every corner (in fact, I don't remember seeing a single one), but instead lots of street food stands, certainly makes it a different capital to any other one I've ever seen. It is an interesting place but I certainly wouldn't call it beautiful although that obviously lies in the eye of the observer. Except one spot where you can go up on a viewing platform and enjoy the stunning view of the surrounding mountains, one of which is Huayna Potosi (about 6000m high mountain).
Sightseeing wise there isn't a lot to see, yet people get stuck in La Paz for a while. It's not hard to see why... everything's cheap and there's a big backpacker scene, also the cheap and easy availability of Bolivia's cocaine might be a reason.
An activity I couldn't miss out on was the Death Road... a 61km narrow downhill road with steep, high drops to one side, which we mountain-biked down. The majority of the road is gravel and for the first half of the trip it was rainy and cold, the gravel hence a bit slippery as well, if
that makes sense (gravel being slippery, I mean), so I felt myself slipping slightly whenever I braked or whenever I went to fast, so didn't feel to save. Then you always to make sure not to get to close to the edge, take the corners slowly and not ride into anybody, as there were loads of groups out there. As soon as the sun came out and the gravel wasn't wet any more, I loved it! Suddenly the end was in sight already and I just wanted to continue! It was good fun, but is really dangerous... someone from another group actually managed to get himself over the corner but could hold on to a branch or something, the bike was gone though...
After spending far too much time in La Paz, me and the English couple decided to make our way up to Rurrenabaque
for a Pampas Tour. There was the option to take a bus which could take anything between 24 and 30 hours and which we later heard was really unsafe, people actually
feared for their lives. We made it to the airport only just on time as the streets were barricaded by yet another demonstration,
hence traffic was a nightmare and we had to leave one taxi, walk around the barricade and get into another taxi.
So despite their bad reputation, which proofed to be completely true as our flight was delayed/cancelled three times, we took a flight there with Amaszonas airlines... the tiny propeller aircraft had a whole 19 seats and there was room for absolutely nothing onboard. We were flying below the tip of Huayna Potosi!
We arrived on the airfield, a strip of grass with a wooden shed next to it (i.e. the airport), and were immediately approached by a woman who wanted to sell us a tour. There were exactly three spaces left and we heard that the company had a good reputation (forgotten the name :S), so seized the opportunity and were sitting in a 4x4 minutes later - a 2-3 hours uncomfortably bumpy right was lying ahead of us.
We were introduced to our guide who awaited us at the river with a small yellow boat and we made our way to our accommodation, already being fascinated by the landscapes and by the animals we could see. There were all sorts of monkeys jumping from tree to tree, birds
e.g. tucans and colourful parrots, and even some prehistoric ones apparently (they looked 'old', lol), plus the most amazing thing - pink dolphins! Now who would expect dolphins in a river and some surrounding wetlands? Or Cayman crocodiles, one of which was our pet at the accommodation. Fascinating! Piranhas were on offer to, small ones but with some pretty sharp teeth. Oh and did I mention tarantulas and full-size snakes? I have never seen that much wildlife at once, it was pretty unbelievable. Our guide was really good and didn't do anything to scare or harm the animals, unlike some other groups we saw and weren't impressed by.
It was a really good tour, despite the mosquitoes that bit us to bits whilst having dinner, especially on the first night. In the evenings we played cards by candlelight, before going on a nightly exploration tour to find some more cayman crocodiles and snakes, successfully.
After the 3 day tour, we spend a night in Rurrenabaque and flew back, this time with a 'normal' sized aircraft from TAM.
Due to the initial flight delays I had already lost two days in La Paz, so took a bus to Copacabana at Lake Titicaca
the same day. Copacabana is quite small and pretty, but it's mainly used as the gateway to Isla del Sol. I made a day trip there the next day, but wasn't overly excited by what they called 'Inca ruins'... there was hardly one stone on the other, and I had to leave again in a rush anyway, to catch the ferry back. Lake Titicaca however is a beautiful and such a stunning location, surrounded by mountains. At about 3800m altitude it's the highest and also largest lake in South America, so definitely worth a visit.
That evening I took an overnight bus straight to Cusco, crossing the border to Peru.