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South America » Bolivia » La Paz Department » La Paz
January 15th 2016
Published: January 23rd 2016
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On the 20 hour trek to Bolivia I met two girls. Before I get into that, why was the trek 20 hours? Well, after the eight hour bus ride to what I thought was to Copacabana, it actually was to Puno, the other side of Lake Titicaca -- the Peru side. I scrambled, half awake, to find out my next move. I was in a bus station full of non-english speakers. Body language goes a long way, I find. After an hour and a half layover, I finally was on the bus — rather van— to Copacabana. That’s where I met the two girls.



Ferdanine (Fer) was from Mexico, she has long wavy brown hair and black eyes. She is just 19. Mikaela is from Sweeden, quite the opposite look: dirty blonde with blue eyes. They met volunteering at a school in Cusco. They will live there the next four months. It is so nice to have Fer around, fluent in Spanish. We also met Jason on the bus too, a Peru-dwelling transplant from Texas.



Crossing the Bolivian Boarder was a bitch and a half. Oh my goodness! Not only was it $160 US dollars just for a fun American fee for crossing made just for Americans, it was also photocopies of my passport, stupid inch sized pictures they take of you (that you buy), a printed out full itinerary, proof of hostel, and long lines for each thing required. Jason informed us that this is because years back, America attempted to assassinate the most popular Bolivian president. Where was that lesson in US history?



Two of the buses left without us because it took so much time getting these things. I was grateful Jason was there to help translate as he also has a US passport. Fer reminded me how much more difficult it is to get into the states. That shut me up real fast. She is right.



Once we arrived, Jason parted ways with us to go meet friends. And then there were three. We went for breakfast/lunch in the touristy part of Copacabana. It kind of looks like any beach town would. Lots of souvenir stands and overprices restaurants. It overlooks the lake that looks as big as the ocean, for it stretches onto the horizon. We waited for the boat that was to take us to Isla Del Sol, a small island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. From what we heard, a tropical paradise made for hiking, tanning, partying, and low cost hostels. We took the two hour boat ride where we met a group of fun Argentinian boys. Let’s see if I remember their names: Julian (the cute one,) Lucas (the charismatic one,) Fernando (the one who looks like the cute cousin of Where’s Waldo) Bruno (the one with the girlfriend,) and Joaquin (the one who speaks zero English.) They made the boat ride seem shorter. They also informed me that I am the living stereotype that is an American Girl, “the fun kind.” …Whatever that means.



Once we arrived to our “tropical paradise,” the North side of the island, we quickly realized this wasn’t so much paradise. It was actually disgusting. I’m not just saying that from spoiled American standards, I mean from any standards. All of the houses looked like they had been through a war zone. Nothing was a built 100%! (MISSING)The main “restaurants” here were the empanada caskets being sold by the locals here.



This island has no ATM, no Wifi (which I did kind of enjoy,) no hot water (they say it is, but it is semi-warm at best,) barely electricity for that matter. All I kept thinking was the bricks my mother will be shitting because I’m unable to text her our sign of safety. Unless I pay to take the two hour ferry there and back to text her the damn purple heart. Oh well, she will have to go on, probably thinking I’m dead or something for the next two days…sorry Ma.



We searched awhile with hopes of getting a hostel that looked fully built with clean sheets and “hot water.” No such luck. A word of advice to my fellow travelers: Isla Del Sol is a beautiful island…for camping. Bring a tent and your subzero sleeping bag (it gets cold at night) and you stay for free! That, or your own bed sheets if you are brave enough to sleep at a hostel. We settled on the hostel, Winay Cussi. It was 25 Bolivianos, which is like eight bucks US. Let me tell you, you get what you pay for. There was hot water, but in the bathroom stall that doesn’t lock or close all the way. No toilet paper (per usual,) no hand soap, can’t drink the water = overpriced water bottles, and then there was the actual bedroom. Oh my. The mattresses and the sheets felt like they passed their prime about 20+ years ago and a 100% chance of bed bugs. My bed had two big lumps in it, one in the top and one at the bottom. On a positive note, it fit my wait indent nicely, but still the worst place I’ve ever slept — by far. Fer seemed fine with it because it fit her budget. Mikaela did not. You can tell she was very put off. We shrugged it off and went to eat.



The restaurant was, you guessed it, shitty too. It looked like someone’s den that was poorly converted into a food establishment. The trout was delicious though, that is the one thing this island has going for it. They catch it from the lake, so you can really taste how fresh it is. Unfortunately, they pair it with canned veggies that have zero taste and soggy white rice. Afterwards, we walked around the island a bit and watched the sunset. It was so beautiful. The setting sun paints the lake pink, matching a more saturated sky. This really could be an island of paradise if the buildings were renovated.



Once it became dark, Mikaela decides she wants to go back and sleep. We get to know each other over a bottle of wine and a cigarette. Me more wine, her more cig. She is 19 years old and just graduated college. She asked her parents if she could travel for a year before she starts college. She’s an artist, illustrations. She has already been accepted into one a prestigious university in Mexico. Her parents granted her that year of travel and here she is. She is smart. I wish I did this. So many times I feel I wasted my college years on partying, masking my fear of not knowing what I want to do with my life. My biggest regret. Now I have no “credentials” on any career paths I actually want to pursue. It’s a tough one.



We walked along the shore. All the hippies dancing under the moonlight. Some played music on their guitars with groups of friends singing along with the tunes. Some juggled balls of colored lights, lighting up the beach with rainbows. Some drank, some smoked. All together, along the neighborhood of tents. In this moment, I began to see the magic that lives on the island.



We ran into the Argentinian boys we met on the boat. The wine was flowing and the laughter grew louder. They had me say embarrassing Spanish phrases to ring in a good laugh. They didn’t think I was brave enough to try some of these new phrases out on passerby’s. “I bet you I will for another bottle of wine,” I challenged. “You’re on!” Lucas said. I was brave enough. This will remain one of my most favorite nights.



New & Useful Spanish Phrases I Now Know:

•Flashando: Talking nonsense when you’re high

•Che Boludo: “‘Sup, Dude?!” (Argentina style)

•Tienes Condones/Forros: Do you have condoms?

•Tenes Faso: Do you have weed?

•Helvado: Ice Cream!

•Faction: Wine & Fanta (Delicious!)

•Ojotas: Flip-Flops

•Cuantos Años Tienes: How old are you? (I was asking people “Tienes años?” found out that’s not right)

•La Puta Madre: Oh fuck/Fuck yea (depending on how you say it)





And just like that, I’m fluent in Spanish.



It turned a little sour when we returned back to the hostel. Fer and I took turns holding the bathroom door closed as we peed. We went arm-in-arm back to the room drunkingly giggling. When we opened the door to the room, Mikaela was sitting straight up and alert. She was angry. In an attempt to soften the mood, Fer greeted Mikaela,

“Mikaela, we are so sad! You missed a great night, it was so fun!”

“I don’t want to stay here another night,” Mikaela snapped.

“It is not that—“

“I’M NOT STAYING HERE! This place is disgusting. I feel there are bugs crawling all over me when I sleep. This place is below my level.”

“I agree with Mikaela,” I chimed in, “but we are only staying here one night. Tomorrow we will look for a better hostel.” This was my attempt to compromise. It didn’t work very well, because the banter between the two lasted awhile longer. I used this time to brush my teeth and get ready for bed.



Another friendly traveller’s tip? If you ever find yourself in an unwanted sleeping arrangement, one sure-fire way to combat this is to be drunk, very drunk. At that point, it doesn’t matter where you sleep. Any bed looks comforting. I fell asleep that night with the thought that, during my college years, I’ve probably passed out in grosser places…maybe. It helped at the time.



The next morning we hiked the island to the ruins overlooking beautiful beaches on the lake’s shoreline. It felt like our own sanctuary. No one was there except us. Our own private beach. The water was as blue as the sky. It was lovely.



Mikaela was adamant to find another hostel that was of ‘her level.’ So Fer and I napped on the sand while she searched. She found a better one, I have to give it to her. I mean, it was no Day’s Inn or anything, but it’ll due, pig, it’ll due.



All and all it was a relaxing day, full of reading, writing and sleeping. Around 4pm, I met another set of Argentinian boys (noticing a pattern here?) They also added to the list of useful Spanish phrases:



•Andate a la mierda: Fuck You

•Prensado: Bad Weed

•Solo Flores: Only flowers (aka Good Weed)

•Todo Bien: You good?

•Tenes Novia: Do you have a girlfriend?

•Merida: Fuck/Shit

•Que merida es mate?: WTF is mate?

•Piola: Good (“Un qui Piola” = That’s good)

•Pelotudo: Whoa, Dude (that’s bad) // You’re an idiot

•La Posta: That’s the one!

•A ver: Let’s see

•Que bajan: Oh that’s bad

•El Bajon: munchies

•Aspera: wait



When night fell, it was so much colder than the previous night. So many people were zipped away in their tents and a lot less people were out on the beach like they were a night before. I found it tough at times because there were so few people that spoke English. I really was the only American on that island. One tremendous form of communication with no language barrier is dance. I met a group of Chileans and although no one spoke a lick of English, they had a drum and dance was how we spoke. It was awesome.



The next morning we races to get to the boat on time. We barely made it. I would’ve kicked myself if I had to stay at this under-developed island another night. I guess Latin American Time applies to everything except boat departures. Fast forward six hours, and we were in La Paz. La Paz is a big, big dirty city with people all over the place. We got off the bus in a not so good looking area. I was so thankful to have Spanish-speaking Fer there to help navigate us to a better section. We flagged down a marked taxi cab (key to getting anywhere safely) and he drove us to the Loki hostel in the area. Once we arrived at Loki, I immediately asked the man in charge to circle, on a map, all of the dangerous places we should avoid. Apparently, during the daytime: anything is fair game. At night, really post 10:30pm, you want to be back at your hostel, “for le prostitutes attract the riff raff.” Engage eye-rolling.



We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant that was recommended to us. I think it was called India Star? I’m not sure, but it was delicious!! I ate llama curry. Tastes like good steak. Llama is where it’s at! We then walked around to look for an ice cream place, and boy did we find it. Brasso’s: a three-story dessert palace! It had every dessert/ice cream flavor imaginable. I ordered a colossal sized chalet filled with cut up fruit, three scoops of ice cream (neapolitan style) and topped with whipped cream and a cherry, of course.



As we waited for our orders to arrive, I happen to glance at the entrance of the place. A little boy, probably six or seven, walked in. He was dirty and looked like he had been walking home from a long day of panhandling. His mouth gaped open, you could practically see the drool dripping from his mouth. His eyes were even wider, looking all around the three flights of sugar. I noticed the manager point at the boy and whisper something to the security guard. Before I even had time to get up from my seat, the guard saw the boy out to the street. I was devastated. I would give anything to go back and buy him an ice cream! Fer and I made a pack that we would save the last bits of our dessert to find the boy and give it to him.



The ice cream was just as amazing as it looked. Not too sweet, just right. Towards the end I was almost rushing so I could find the little boy who was turned away. We boxed up everything (the best we could, we was ice cream after all) and I sprinted down the street. After four or five blocks, we realized how ridiculous it was that we thought we could find one small boy in a sea of city-dwellers. I did find one child, a small boy. He didn’t look half as dirty as the other one, but I was so desperate to give the ice cream (now probably melted) to anyone that looked remotely hungry. He was standing next to his mother. I offered the ice cream to him in my broken Spanish. He looked at his mother, then back at me…confused. His mother urged him to take it. Puzzled, he reached out his hand and grabbed it from mine. In a small voice I heard, “Gracias,” and they walked away.



I could only imagine their looks when they opened the box to see melted sugar-milk inside. Oh well, I tried.

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