Perú and Bolivia


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South America » Bolivia » La Paz Department » La Paz
November 23rd 2016
Published: November 26th 2016
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Peru:

Lima - I was able to get a direct flight to Lima from Buenos Aires, where I was to meet my friend, Chum. I got in first and waited around the baggage claim until Chum arrived. To this point I had been traveling solo for about 2 months. Chum and I planned a little over a month to cover Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and part of Colombia.

From the airport we took an Uber to the Sheraton in downtown Lima. It only cost us $12 USD. It was late so we went to bed. The next day we walked to the main square and saw the Cathedral and took a tour of that and the Cardinal’s Palace. I have to admit, the Cardinals lived well back in the day. Across from the Cathedral in the same square was the Government Palace. It was gated and there were guards and a band that appeared to be rehearsing for a big welcoming event. The old section of town was filled with vendors and parks. We stopped at another church called San Francisco. The plaza in front was covered with pigeons.

That night we went to a water park that Chum had remembered when he was in Lima a few years before. It reminded me of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, except this one had lasers and projected images into the mist of the fountains. We got some cool pictures and then walked back to the hotel. Lima seemed a bit chaotic at night. There was a concert going on outside and everyone pretty much leans on their horn as they drive. We were pretty exhausted from all of the walking and decided to grab dinner at Chilis.

The next day we caught another Uber to Milaflores. This is the more upscale part of Lima. They have a full modern mall built into the mountainside. We were debating on paragliding in that area, but opted instead to rent bikes. The cliffside reminded me of Santa Monica a bit. We ended up walking up the park on the cliff and then cut into the more central area of Milaflores. In Lima you have to try the ceviche, so we looked up a restaurant on TripAdvisor and ate there.

After lunch we rented the bikes and biked around the Milaflores area. We took a road that went down the hillside to sea level. The only issue was that the sidewalk ended for no apparent reason and getting across the highway was like playing frogger. After waiting for about 10 minutes we were able to run our bikes across the highway, but the bike path didn’t pick up until about 400 yards up the coast. Once we were able to find it we came upon a surf competition, so we watched for a bit. The path looked like it continued on so we followed it until it stopped at an overpass bridge that was closed. We turned around and road all the way back to the surf competition where there was another overpass. After hiking our bikes back up the hill we decided to head back to mall to get a drink. As we were riding through the park Chum noticed that he had missed the right hand turn and stopped suddenly. I slammed on the brakes, or should I say brake. Unfortunately, it was just a front brake and I flew over the handlebars. Luckily I was ok, but the bike fell on my back and the seat went right into my tailbone. Ouch! Now I was really looking forward to those drinks.

After we made it back to the hotel we went to the lounge to get some food. We decided to call it a night, as we were flying to Cusco the next day.

Cusco – Chum and I had done some crash planning in Lima. We had been doing some independent research before meeting up, but confirmed a few things in Lima. Since our schedules were always in flux, we weren’t able to get the traditional 4 day Inca trek. That needs to be booked months in advance. Instead we opted to do the Salkantey trek with Alpaca Expeditions. This is a 5-day trek and is known to be more scenic.

As we landed in Cusco you could almost immediately feel the high altitude. I was concerned about the altitude and if I would be able to acclimate. In Salta, Argentina, I noticed how short of breath I became just walking a flight of stairs. How would I be able to hike at 15,000+ feet for days on end? We stayed two nights in Cusco and checked out the town. We also got some supplies for the trip and met our group.

The morning of the hike the tour company picked us up at 4:30 am. We had to put everything we needed on the trip in a green duffle bag. We also had our day packs, that we carried with us. The bus ride to the base was a little over 3 hours through winding mountains. The views were amazing and I knew the scenes would be incredible once we started hiking. We had 9 people in our group and 8 staff. We were dropped off at the start of the Salkantey trek and had breakfast. Then we got ready and headed up the mountain. We hiked for a few hours and it was obvious from the beginning that there were different levels of hikers. As we waited for everyone to catch up Chum pulled out his drone and we took some cool video and pictures. The first part of the hike is heading straight for the Salkantey mountain. As close as it looks, it is really a long way away. After hiking a few more hours, we broke for lunch. The staff had gone on ahead of us and set up a tent that doubled as a kitchen and dining room. Just as we had started lunch it began to hail. Then, as we finished, it stopped.

Being exhausted and at a higher altitude I was ready to take a nap. But, our day wasn’t even half over. We continued hiking to the Salkantey pass. This was much closer to the mountain. As we got closer you could hear and see avalanches occurring. They sound like gunshots and you could see the snow drop down the mountain. Luckily we were still a good distance away. Just as we got to the top a huge cloud rolled in. This would pretty much be the conditions all the way down to the camp site. The way to the campsite was mostly downhill. However, walking downhill on loose rock was almost as hard as walking up it, as you put a lot of pressure on your legs to maintain stability – along with navigating around alpaca and horse crap. After a few hours of walking in the cold we finally arrived at our campsite. Our tents were ready and all we had to do was pick up our sleeping bags. We had dinner and basically went right to sleep. They also gave us hot water bags to put in our sleeping bags to keep our feet warm. I hadn’t felt this miserable in a long time. All the hiking, altitude, and coldness made me wonder why I opted to do this in the first place, when I knew it was much easier to buy a ticket to Machu Picchu and take the bus there.

Day 2 of the trek was all downhill. However, it was all on uneven rock. The weather also changed from cold high altitude to more of a humid jungle condition. One cool thing was that we came across a small town to have lunch and they had wifi that you could pay for. Not only was there a wifi connection, but it was pretty fast as well. Surprisingly faster than some hotels I had been in that I will leave unmentioned. After lunch we continued down the path. This second half of the day was mostly on dirt roads, rather than loose rock. That night we came into a small town where our tents were waiting for us. I slept slightly better than the freezing night before, but not much.

Day 3 was another uphill battle. We stated out on the road, but it turned up rather quickly. We also stopped at a coffee and avocado farm and got to roast our own coffee. After coffee we continued up the hill until we arrived at some Inca ruins and our camp site. The camp site overlooked Machu Picchu. Our tent faced the backside of Machu Picchu. Chum got some amazing photos of it at night. Meanwhile, I gathered some firewood and we made a campfire for the whole group.

Day 4 was another early morning rise and then we hiked downhill to a town called Hydroelectrica. From there we walked along the train tracks until we arrived at Aguas Calientes. The hike took all day and we got to Agua Calientes around 4:00. It was mostly a straight hike, but it was very humid. Finally, we would be sleeping in a hotel. The trek felt like it took forever, but we had finally made it. We had a final team dinner and thanked our porters and guides.

Day 5 was the day we would see Machu Picchu. We had to get up early for a 6:00 am bus ride. The lines were already formed and it was about a 25 minute ride to the top. Once in the park our guide, Julio Cesar, talked to us about the Incan history and the history of Machu Picchu. After touring for a few hours we said goodbye to our guides and had the rest of the day in the park to explore. I took a good number of pictures. I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie, “The Motorcycle Diaries” and the scenes from Cusco and Machu Picchu. I tried to find some of the places I had remembered. It’s amazing how the Incas were so well versed in things like math and physics. They were a very developed civilization. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish had gunpowder. Machu Picchu was the top place in South America I wanted to see and I’m glad I was able to do the Salkantey trek to see it.

After our time in the park was up we took the train and then a bus back to Cusco. I had booked the Palacio del Inka using points. Once day you’re freezing in a tent, and the next you’re staying at a 5 stay luxury hotel.

After 2 more days in Cusco it was off to Puno and Lake Titicaca. We took an overnight but to Puno and then got a tour of the floating villages and Lake Titicaca. The families on the floating villages make crafts mostly. We got a tour of their homes and the guide explained how the village actually floats. The houses were mostly made out of straw. The people in the village also operate a ferry of sorts that they call “The Mercedes”. They took us to the next village about 100 yards away for $1 each to ride “The Mercedes”.

Chum and I made some good friends on the tour of Lake Titicaca. We had people from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. One of the girls from the Netherlands played in the Olympics in Rio in beach volleyball. That evening we all went to dinner for our last night in Peru.

Bolivia:

We grabbed the bus and made our way to the border. Chum and I had already got visas before, so we didn’t have to go through the process at the border. From the border it was just a short drive to Copacabana. We were all really impressed with Copacabana compared to Puno. Even though there were dirt roads, there seemed like there were more bars by the water. After having some Mexican food for lunch, we got another tour of the island of the sun. Afterwards it was off to La Paz.

La Paz – the bus ride to La Paz was absolutely beautiful. The mountains looked gold from the sunset reflecting off the yellow grass. At one point we had to cross the river. They had everyone get off and they put the bus on a barge. Then, we all got in these little boats and headed across. The boat we were in was rocking to the point that I thought we were going to capsize. It didn’t even have a light to see where we were going. Once across we had to wait for the bus and we continued on.

Getting into La Paz reminded me a bit of Yangon, Myanmar. The buildings looked half constructed and there weren’t a lot of street lights. Finally, we got to the city center. I have to hand it to Bolivia Hop, the bus operator. They did an amazing job getting us between cities, and, dropping us off and picking us up at our hotel.

We had 2 days in La Paz. The first day was dedicated to seeing the city and coordinating our plans in Bolivia. We mostly walked around the downtown area to see the Cathedral and other government buildings. We solidified our plans to see the Salt Desert and then booked a trip to do the Death Road mountain bike ride the next day.

The death road bike ride starts high up in the mountains around 15,000 feet. Though it is all downhill, you really need to be aware as not to fall off the side and get yourself killed. The road has memorial after memorial to those who did not. Our guide told us that since they closed the road in 2007, that only 8 people have died – 8!!! AFTER the road closed to commercial traffic!

After making it to the bottom and getting my “I survived the Death Road” t-shirt, we headed to a restaurant that had a pool and spend the rest of the day hanging out there. It’s interesting when you travel because you ultimately see people that you had seen at previous places.

We got back to La Paz and had to find our overnight bus to Uyuni for our 3-day Salt Desert trip. It turned out that the bus wasn’t at the bus station, but down the street. After finding the location and getting on the bus it was about a 7-hour bus ride.

We got to Uyuni at about 5 am. The air was freezing and no one was there to pick us up like we were told. Other people who were picking people up just said to go to this coffee shop and someone would come get us. At the coffee shop someone showed up and took us to the office. We were able to sleep there for a bit, then go for some breakfast before heading on the tour.

One of the most inspiring people I’ve met on my travels was a guy named Oliver from Germany who was on the Salt Desert tour. It turned out that he was deaf, but could write in English and German. I ended up helping to translate our guides instructions from Spanish and writing it down in English for Oliver. By the end of the trip I was able to sign the alphabet. To see a guy not let something like that hold him back from seeing the world was quite amazing.

The Salt Desert was quite impressive. We were six in total, including the driver and guide. We had a 1997 Lexus LX 450 to take us across all types of terrain. The desert goes on for as far as the eye can see. We made multiple stops and caught an amazing sunset. That night we stayed in a salt hotel. It was pretty cold, but the alpaca blankets were great.

Day 2 in the desert was more or less driving through rocky terrain and seeing some lagoons. It was amazing that at this altitude there were flamingos everywhere there was a lagoon. It was a long day and we stayed at a place in the middle of nowhere that was colder than the night before.

On day 3 we started out seeing geysers and then went to a hot spring to sit in before heading to the Chilean border to drop off Oliver. The way back to Uyuni was long and on a lot of unstable road. I’m not sure how our driver knew exactly where to go. I think he was just using the Force. Finally, when we got back to Uyuni we grabbed our flight for La Paz.

Back in La Paz we stayed at the airport. I had never stayed over at an airport before and I have to say that the chairs in La Paz are not the most comfortable in the world. I wasn’t able to sleep at all.

Bolivia had some of the best landscapes I’ve seen on this trip. If you are the outdoorsy type, then this could be for you.



Next Stop - Ecuador!!!


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27th November 2016

Nice post!
The story about the German guy, very impressive! I can't wait to see Bolivia, thinking of adding it to my trip... best of luck and enjoy Ecuador!

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