Published: December 3rd 2009
November 25th 2009
For those that haven't been to Bolivia :
Size of France and Spain combined
Population - approx 8.8 million
Capitals - Sucre (Constitutional) & La Paz (de facto)
Famous for High altitude, being land locked & Coca
Bolivia is the hemispheres highest, most isolated and rugged nation.
It has soaring peaks, hallucinogenic salt flats, steamy jungles and wildlife rich grasslands.
Although one of the poorest countries in South America, it's one of the richest in terms of natural resources. Especially with recent discoveries of Lithium mines. Which continually brings up discussions for land to be given back from Chile for export purposes.
4th November - Decided to get the bus at 7.30am from Puno in Peru to Copacabana in Bolivia. It was Puno day on the 5th November but I decided that Puno wasn't worth spending 3 nights there to watch the locals have a party, I can go to the Didsbury Festival back home for that. The bus was a bit bumpy although the scenery was lovely, the road goes round lake Titicaca. We had a very smooth border crossing and arrived at Copacabana for 12ish. The border crossing was as simple as they come and Americans
even get charged $140 to enter Bolivia, which will always put a smile on your face. Found a hostel then had an Almuerzo (set lunch) soup, coffee & trout with chips for 15 Boliviano's (about £1.50). First impressions of Copacabana were very positive, friendly people, nice scenery and a relaxed non touristy feel to the place. After a wander round town I spotted a couple of lads wearing football kits, so I invited myself along to a game. I soon got nicknamed Manchester due to the United top I was wearing and discovered that playing at altitude (3,820m) on a bumpy pitch is tough. Basically you struggle to control the ball, especially with hiking shoes on & I had to limit my runs to 10 yards (nothing new there then !) I scored, set 2 up and made it to half time. The goal was actually a peach curling into the top corner from outside the box. Much easier hitting the ball from distance than trying to run with it. At half time I made my excuses, had the team photo and took off up the hill for the sunset with Lea a Canadian girl I had met on the
bus who likes watching football apparently (comes with being a PE teacher in Canada I guess). It was a bit of a punishing 30 minutes walk straight after playing footy, I was wheezing a bit to say the least. The view was lovely over the lake.
Got back to the hostel, had a shower and out for food and well deserved beer and an early night.
5th - Lea and I decided to go for a 17km hike to the north of the island and then catch a boat over to the Isla del Sol, most other tourists get the boat to the north of the Isla del Sol, walk down to the south then either stay over or get the afternoon boat back to Copacabana. Anyway after about an hour and a half we decided that the walk would take over 5 hours and got a lift of a chap who conveniently had a boat and for 30 Boliviano's (less than £3) would take us over to the island, perfect. We spent a few hours on the island, got the boat back, climbed the hill for the sunset, had dinner and a few beers.
6th - Just
Playing at altitude..
about caught the 10am bus to La Paz. (The engine was running and the bus was pulling away when I got to the bus). I had to stand / sit on a bucket for most of the journey. I had put my washing in the day before and it was still drying in the morning ! After about 30 mins we reached a sort of ferry, where the bus goes on a wooden raft set up over a part of the lake. Unfortunately the President of Bolivia was paying a visit, so we had to wait for over 3 hours and watch a pathetic show from the Bolivian Navy. Having a navy for a country land locked !! Guess they need to protect themselves from Peru on the other side of the lake..We eventually arrived in La Paz for 7ish, & checked into Loki hostel. The hostel is both horrendous and fantastic, over 150 people staying there, loads of English, about as un Bolivian as you can get. It did however give me the chance to meet a great group, that I would end up hanging around with with for the weekend.
We all went to a club called Traffic,
Playing footy with the locals
bad house / techno music, but the usual mix of booze and altitude and English made for a good night.
7th - After a bit of sleep (as much as you get in a dorm ) food and a lazy afternoon we went out to Route 36 & Ram Jam, again very funny nights, including 2 bars being raided by the Bolivian police, thankfully we were leaving on both occasions as the police steamed in.
8th - up early to watch United lose to Chelsea with a big hang over. Then went to watch 2 Bolivian games of footy back to back with Eduardo a Brazilian guy from the dorm. The football was great fun, the locals certainly get into it, hanging off the terraces literally. Saw lots of goals and the 2 teams from La Paz won, so the fans were happy, not sure how many if any at all traveled from the away team. Cost a couple of quid to get in, unlike Old Trafford. In the evening went to a restaurant for pasta and a quiet night ready for the death road the next day.
9th - We got collected from the hostel at
8am, drove for just over an hour then began the 70 odd km down hill mountain bike ride named the Death road, tagged as the most dangerous road in the world. We were all padded up and a bit nervous, especially haven seen people around the hostel sporting bandages and plaster, including Eduardo, who found out later that he'd broken his hand after going over the handle bars. There have been many deaths, mostly trucks losing grip and slipping back over the edge, although a by pass has since been built for some of the route to reduce traffic, making it a bit more tourist friendly. I was more nervous about hitting a rock and flying off the bike and breaking a bone, shoulder perhaps!! It was a really nice day, thankfully no injuries and ended up having lunch by a swimming pool at the bottom. After a few well deserved beers and a swim we got the uncomfortable bus back to La Paz. We arrived about 8pm, had dinner at the Wild rover a hostel round the corner and went out to Mangos, a sort of restaurant come bar. I didn't stay too late as I was knackered and
had an early start the next day oh and it was crap !
10th - Left the hostel with Phil & Bex from England and flew to Sucre. La Paz airport, the plane and air stewardesses all looked great. For some reason the stewardesses were wearing hot pants.. The view was superb (out of the window) although we didn't seem to go that high. The flight took about 45 mins and the pilot seemed to nearly miss the runway, skidding and bouncing 3 times before landing, very scary. We checked into a hostel and went out for a curry (close to a curry anyway)
11th- Day of sight seeing, got a taxi for a view over Sucre., internet, food and relaxing after La Paz.. Found a good restaurant with WI FI. Called Florin. Went out for dinner and had a few beers with an American guy, 2 kiwi girls and an Irish couple (Rory and Helen) that I had met in La Paz.
12th - Decided to stay in Sucre for a few more days, mostly due to the hang over. I changed hostel. It was much better, the English couple that I met in Copacabana (Lecki
& Toby) and a couple of Belgian girls (Nele & Sarah) were staying there too. The American guy (Ben) who was cycling from Baltimore to Argentina, also moved to the hostel with the Kiwi girls. There was also a nice Israeli guy (Doron) staying there. All in all a nice crowd. I upgraded to a private room (50 Boliviano's) from a dorm the night before to a room with a double bed & a roof terrace overlooking Sucre. I was starting to like Sucre. There was also a good atmosphere as the Bolivar Olympics were starting that weekend, so athletes from Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Chile and of course Bolivia. It was a strange sort of Olympics, I'm still not sure who enters, and why they occur.
13th - Went for a picnic in the park (Toby, Doron, Sarah and Nele. We bought bread, chorizo (local delicacy) cheese, ketchup, mustard and some fruit. Nice hot day to sit in the park by the fountain, loads of kids and a kid called Nelson joined us to show off his pipe playing skills.
After an afternoon snooze we all headed out to Joyride ( a popular bar, especially with the travelers). Most
Isla Del sol
Plan B, The easy option
of the crowd went out from the hostel after drinking vodka and beer on the roof terrace. It was a funny night except for an incident towards the end. It was somebody's birthday in the bar, so the barman thought it would be a good idea to carry a tray with a large brandy glass full of flaming tequila, Sambucca and some other spirit across the dance floor with the drink on fire, then somebody knocked the tray over set alight to the floor and Sarah, well more precisely her dress. A mad 2 minutes of chaos. Sarah was obviously shaken up from being burnt and her favorite dress having a big hole in it. Thankfully after getting some burn cream from the managers office and a few free shots, things seemed to be ok. The manager also promised to pay for the dress. In America or the UK, you could probably sue for thousands, it was Bolivia after all I guess !
We all headed back to the hostel in dribs and drabs I think..
14th - Bit of a right off of a day, very hung over. Caught up on the blog, ate, slept and then went
to collect 500 Boliviano's in the evening for Sarah's dress that had been burnt the night before. (which was quite a lot by Bolivian standards)
15th - Quiet morning, wandering around Sucre. Watched the cycling in the Olympics from the roof top as the race went past our hostel. Got the bus to Potosi at 2pm (4 hours). Went for some dinner, found the street market and ate Empenada's with a strange corn soup. After food, we ended up in a street parade, full of energy and some great costumes, no idea what they were celebrating, fun none the less.
16th - Mine tour in the morning with Doron, a nice pair of English girls, an Aussie an American and our guide Effra, who I called Patty lad or Evra. He was still drunk from drinking the 96% proof booze with the miners the day before. The mine tour was fun, no good if your claustrophobic as it goes down 4 levels and you have Bolivians hacking away down there, absolutely no health and safety and over 30oC. We took the miners gifts (kind of obliged to) of drinks and dynamite which we'd bought at the miners market.
on the way back from Isla del Sol
It cost 15 Boliviano's for a stick of dynamite and some TNT, which we blew up once we got out of the mine, why not !
Had a an early night after dinner to try to shake off a cold / cough that I'd had for a few days. (probably not helped from going down a dusty, asbestos filled mine)
17th - Had breakfast then got the 10am bus with Doron to Uyuni (7 hours) ready for the next days tour of the salt flats. Met up with the Belgium girls (Nele & Sarah) and Lecki and Toby for dinner and booked the tour for the following day. Doron and I went for a wander round town, not much happening in a town in the middle of nowhere with a population of 10,000. It certainly felt like we were in Bolivia.
18th - Sorted a few things out for the 3 day tour such as booze, chocolate and toilet paper, all the essentials then left in jeep at about 10am. There were 7 of us in total in the jeep, just the right amount of space top not be cramped and thankfully we all knew each other the
group. There was Doron, (Israel) Sarah and Nele (Belgium girls), Toby and Lecki (English) and our driver / guide Ruud or Speedy Gonzales as he called himself.
Firstly we went to a train wreck graveyard 30 mins from Uyuni, not sure what it was there for ! Odd sight though ! We then went to the salt flats which is immediately striking for its whiteness and sheer amount of salt. Daft statement but you have to see it to get an idea of the scale of the flats. After that we stopped at a kind of salt museum with a small pool. Then we went to the fish island, no idea why its called that. Its a big rock covered in cactus's, great view from the top though. Toby and Lecki got engaged while we wandering round the cactus island. So the afternoon was full of excitement, we were all chuffed to bits for them, even though we had only known them a relatively short period of time.
Had lunch and stopped there for a few hours while all the other group and ours try to come up with the most creative photos. Lunch and all the food on the
Waiting for the sunset
tour was pretty good all things considered. The tour cost 560 Boliviano's (£50) for 3 days all in, not bad ! After that we then headed to the hotel seeing other bits and bobs on the way. The hotel was odd, mostly made up of salt. We had a game of footy of course, dinner and few beers with another group who were staying there too.
19th - Lots of lagoons, flamingos and time on the bus with impressive mountain ranges. A really enjoyable day, scenery was incredible !
Arrived at the hotel for 6pm, had dinner and surprisingly wine. Common sense would dictate going to bed early ready for a 4.20am get up. No chance, up talking and drinking to the wee hours then trying to pack half cut.
I was fairly optimistic about Bolivia as a few people had told me that I would enjoy it. It certainly didn't let me down. With hindsight I could have spent longer there. I've heard mixed reports since. I personally found the people very friendly, everything was cheap, the food was a lot better than I expected and I met some great people. Similarly to Colombia I was sorry
to leave, maybe it was because it was a bit more of a raw experience or just the people I met, who knows, either way you either take to somewhere or you don't & I did …...
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