Published: May 17th 2008May 10th 2008
Bolivia is a country of crazy extremes, from the world´s highest capital city to the spectacular salt flats of Salar de Uyuni and the lush jungles and savannah lands, there is a chance to see and do just about anything. We took this onboard when entering Bolivia and did a few things of questionable sanity in our quest to embrace Bolivia.
We started our trip in La Paz after having taken a bus from Puno, Peru. And La Paz itself is a crazy, bustling city with hundreds of street hawkers, protestors and people everywhere you look. We got a hotel next to the Witches´Market, which is full of powders, potions and plenty of llama fetuses. The llama fetuses are buried under a new house for good luck. We spent quite a lot of time wandering around La Paz as we had to wait for Al´s visas for Brazil and Paraguay to be processed. And we also managed to visit the San Pedro prison and do some mountain biking.
Moment of Insanity No 1 - Paying to visit a prison. As we have been asked not to go into too much detail let us just say that we pretended to
Bolivian squirrel monkey
be the friends of a prisoner and then paid for a tour around the unusual ´5-star´prison where people have to pay for their own rooms, food etc and can have their family living with them. We read about this prison in the book ¨Marching Powder¨and when the opportunity arose to see the prison it was hard to say no, although it was a very strange experience. The only thing allowing us to get out was a stamp on our arm (Al had to have a signature as well because he looks like a local and would therefore be more likely to be a prisoner). Needless to say, we breathed sighs of relieve once we were safely on the outside.
Moment of Insanity No 2 - The World´s Most Dangerous Road. Now, you think the name would be enough of a giveaway but in the weeks proceeding our mountain biking, 2 mountain bikers died and 8 passengers on a bus were killed in freak accidents on this road. But alas, we did it anyway. And it actually wasn´t particularly scary, if you stopped thinking about the 400-600m drop to the left it was just an ordinary gravel road through spectacular
scenery. Once safely at the bottom we got to spend some time in an animal sanctuary where we saw monkeys, macaws, parrots, guinea fowl (?), and a boa constrictor before heading back to La Paz.
Al managed to fit one more mountain biking trip in before we planned to leave for the jungle. And while Lara wandered around the Contemporary Art Museum considering investing in Bolivian art, Al rode through snow and shale on the ¨Ghost Ride.¨ It was 4 hrs of single track riding which he thoroughly enjoyed. During the ride he was seriously considering staying in Bolivia and becoming a mountain bike instructor!
We were due to leave on a 19-seater plane to Rurrenabaque the following day but due to an engine explosion all flights were delayed. So after another day of La Paz off we headed to Rurrenbaque in the same plane that had previously had an engine explosion (Moment of insanity No 3), the jungle and the Pampas (savannah). From Rurrenabaque we set off on a 3 day tour of the Pampas and stayed in a lodge by the river. For the most part we spent our time on boats looking for wildlife on
the banks and we were not disappointed; we saw hundreds of caiman and tortoises, pink dolphins, capybara (a large rodent), Bolivian squirrel monkeys, Howler and Capuchin monkeys, Kingfishers, kites and falcons, woodpeckers and spoonbills.
But our Moment of Insanity No 4 was hunting for anacondas. We spent most of a day trudging around covered in mud (Lara fell on her bottom in a rather large mud puddle), ruining our shoes in the search for anacondas - and although we came close more than once we didn´t manage to find any. Which may have been a good thing as we heard stories about then being picked up and swung around the tour guides heads. So it was a shame but we saw so much wildlife that we weren´t too disappointed.
Once the three days were up we took the plane trip back to La Paz and we were lucky enough to be in La Paz for ´El Gran Poder´which is apparently a Christian festival but really an excuse for 25,000 Bolivians to dance around the streets in the largest parade I have ever seen. It started early in the morning and continued well into the night, apparently lasting until
after midnight but we were already on the overnight bus to Uyuni. The bus ride was an experience in itself as we bumped our way through the desert on a dirt track, having to reverse occasionally and try different routes. We slept badly but we did have heating which was a relief as our windows were iced over on the inside.
We spent three days travelling around Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding countryside with our guide Jeddy, 2 English girls and 2 Korean girls in a jeep. It was amazing scenery - we drove over salt flats, saw volcanoes and magical coloured lakes, geysers, flamingoes and vicuñas all at between 4,200m and 5,000m above sea level. It was absolutely dazzling but also freezing and getting up before the sun came up was well below zero. Straight after dinner we would all go straight to bed so we could be in our sleeping bags!
Once the Uyuni trip was over we headed to Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4,070m. We went to Potosi to see the infamous mines in the Cerro Rico (Moment of Insanity No 5), a mountain towering over Potosi which is the
Plaza Murillo - reporting on the Santa Cruz protests
workplace of 15,000 miners who work in abysmal conditions. The miners work from an extremely young age, with a life expectancy of only 15 years after they have started working in the mines. We took a tour through the mines to see what it was like - and the tour was hard enough. The miners work by hand and use dynamite, there is no forward planning as to which direction should be followed, and no modern equipment or ventilation, they have no engineers or planners and 42 miners are killed every year from gas or explosions. We saw miners at work, deep down in the mine with only their little torch for light and the youngest miner we met was 13. It was an eye-opening experience, many parts of the mine had to be crawled through and many of the tourists have to exit the mine early because of the heat, dust and confinement. Lara could barely talk after the trip because of the amount of dust in her throat, and she was only down there for a few hours. Our group had bought some dynamite and our guide blew it up for us after the tour, which I guess
Stamps from San Pedro - Al needed to get his signed as he looks like a local and could be mistaken for a prisoner!
could probably count as Moment of Insanity No 5, especially as the dynamite was bought from a market stall and everyone had their pictures taken with it lit before it exploded!
After the mine tour we headed straight for Sucre in a shared taxi and planned to continue to Santa Cruz that night but we had missed the last bus and had to stay in Sucre, which was quite a relief as we were still covered in dust from the mines. It turned out that Sucre was a pretty little colonial town with a lovely square and a huge wall of dinosaur footprints that we went to visit. The wall has the most dinosaur footprints anywhere in the world with 6 different species of dinosaurs having been identified. It was worth seeing but then on we headed to Santa Cruz on yet another overnight bus trip.
The bus to Santa Cruz wasn´t too bad, we had a little space and the seats were comfy, but it broke down over and over again during the night and we ended up arriving in Santa Cruz 6 hours late. In Santa Cruz we decided that we would continue straight to the
The start of the Worlds Most Dangerous Road (WMDR). La looks ready doesn't she!
border as we were running out of time to reach Buenos Aires, so we spent a few hours at the zoo in Santa Cruz, and enjoyed the sloths, agoutis and cara caras that were wild and roamed freely around as they pleased before heading straight back to the bus terminal and getting an overnight bus to the border.
This was unknowingly Moment of Insanity No 7 as the bus ride was the worst to date and we had been on some pretty terrible bus rides! We were told that it would take 16 hours to get there and it took us almost 30hrs. The bus was completely crammed with things so we spent 30hrs with our feet on sacks of potatoes and with not much to eat. Much of the time was spent waiting at enormous puddles for other trucks/buses to get towed out of the water so that we could make an attempt. There were 8 hours of waiting at puddles for something to happen while everyone just stood around talking - I guess they were prepared for the wait as they probably knew there wasn´t really a road between Santa Cruz and the Brazilian border. We would
World's Most Dangerous Road
the view from one of the stops
have been much better off taking the 'Train of Death´but we made it to the border town Quijarro eventually, starving and filthy and looking forward to a bed.
(Yes Mums, we promise to be more careful from now on!!)
There are more photos below