Bolivia Wrap

Bolivia, what to say about Bolivia? Bolivia is like Peru´s younger redheaded step-brother.  No, better yet, Bolivia is Peru´s Canada.  Bolivia is doing things just as well if not better than Peru but doesn´t get half the credit or notoriety that Peru receives.  It provides many of the same attributes as Peru: historical architecture, Inca heritage, and music/dress that are the exact fucking same.  Take a woman carrying half the world on her back, a kid playing the flute then asking for money, and an old man with a cheek full of coca leaves from each country; think you can tell the difference?  Yeah right, and Grizzly Adams had a beard.

Granted the infrastructure and business are a bit behind, but Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, what do you expect?  Not to worry, the two of us have done our best to try to singlehandedly boost their economy.  In a place we thought we would be saving cash we ended up simply raising the quality of lifestyle to compensate for the cost difference.  What were private rooms with a bathroom turned into a private cabin/house, sandwich lunches replaced by eating out, and don´t even get me started on our recycling campaign (Enough glass was used to replace all of the windows in a small office building.)

All that being said, Bolivia is not going to make my top ten list for countries I need to revisit.  The two of us have decided that there is never any reason to visit a place that is that cold that does not have some type of mountain we can snowboard down.  It is nice to stretch your money, but the sacrifices you have to make in regards to transportation, infrastructure,  and quality doesn´t really make up for it THAT much.

Food:

The food in Bolivia was actually not terrible (As far as the standards of countries we have visited so far).  We had heard horror stories about the food while we were in Peru, but I actually thought it was on par.  Or at least the quality of restaurant we visited went up?  Plenty of vegetables available, great soups, the chicken and steak weren´t always reflective of a piece of road kill that was ran over by a 18 wheeler, and the street food was the best we have had yet: Deep fried mashed potato balls with various fillings, Saltenas (similar to an empanadas only with a sweeter bread and better fillings), and plenty of fresh squeezed juice available.

Top Rated For The Trip:

The salt flat tour was pretty spectacular.  Not just the salt flat itself, but the lagoons, geysers, and flamingos were cool too.  Who the fuck thought there would be flamingos in place as barren and cold as Bolivia?  Perhaps I should have paid more attention in earth science class, but I thought they were warmer climate animals?  Maybe I am just confusing all the lawn ornaments in Florida stereotypically portrayed on T.V.?

Items lost:

Sally´s desire to ride horses (from almost being decapitated by a tree and falling off a horse)

Our tan and the moister from our skin

Bret´s debit card (left in an ATM machine in Sucre – that’s two for those of you keeping track at home)

Items acquired:

A never-ending runny nose

Current Running Rummy Scores:

Sally – 27 games won

Bret – 24 games won

Highest Score – 507 (Sally)

Lowest Score – 104 (Sally)

Advertisements

Potosi and Sucre

Welcome to the highest city in the world and I am NOT talking about Amsterdam.  Potosi, Bolivia sits at 13,420 ft!  For all you mathematically/geographically challenged individuals, Mt. Whitney is 14,495 ft.  That means the entire city of Potosi is well on it´s way to climbing the highest mountain in the lower United States.

I could feel the increase in elevation during our tour of the salt flats.  We actually passed through a point that was 15,748 ft high.  Now I am not sure if it was the altitude itself, the fact that I had drunk the night before, was low on sleep, had too much coffee, didn´t eat, was sitting in the back seat of an SUV on a bumpy dirt road, or the cheek full of coca leaves?  But there was something surreal about being that high above sea level.

Potosi had been on our mind a couple of weeks prior to our arrival.  Not in the traditional we read about it in Lonley Planet sense, but rather we had been drinking their beer for the last 17 days.  A cheap pilsner on par with consuming your own urine, but getting the job done none the less.  Potosi is a fairly small town, but with a lively communal vibe in the center square.  The only problem is once the sun dips out of sight it is quickly realized why the locals dawn snow jackets and the gringos run for their hostel.

The high electricity bill in Potosi (thus no heaters supplied) and little sympathy for the shivering tourists creates an early bed time or a night of heavy drinking (or both!) for those looking to stay some what warm.  The cold cement, old wood, and lack of heater in our hostel had us stacking the blankets on our bed half a foot high and practicing smoke rings with our breath as we waited for sleep to come.

The town is well-known for its large and unsafe mine operation where the miner is responsible for his own equipment (buying/using) and therefore safety as well.  There are tours that take you down into the mine, stopping by for coca leaves and 95 percent alcohol as a gift to the unfortunate miners.  The warnings of inhaling dangerous chemicals, explosions, and other hazards (such as miners that spend all day drinking and playing with dynamite) were enough to make us skip the mine and put a good documentary about it on our “to see” list. (The Devil´s Miner)

Potosi

Two quick days and long nights found us on our way to Sucre.  Apparently there was a bus strike that we weren´t made aware of until our driver stopped two miles outside of town and informed us we needed to walk the remainder of our trip.

The accommodation situation couldn´t have worked out any better.  We booked a double room with a shared bathroom (which was alright) but mumbled something about wanting a matrimonial room.  Beatriz, the owner was happy to up sell us.  She had a guest house with full availability.  We took the master bedroom and were fortunate enough not to be joined the entire seven days we were there.

I know what you’re wondering.  Just what is it about Sucre that encouraged us to stay so long?  Well before you put it on your top ten must see places of the world I should explain that to get to Santa Cruz (our next destination) it takes 15 to 25 hours on a dirt road in a Bolivian bus.  Ten hours difference, that is a pretty big disparity.  An overnight bus in Bolivia is stressful enough.  Take one that has no clear ending in sight and I bet you wish you took the 35 minute $45 flight like we did.  The only problem with taking a plane is there are only three companies that run the route, one of which went bankrupt two weeks ago.  Leaving the other two jacking up their rates and quickly filling up everyday.  Thus leaving us to sit in Sucre and wait for a seat on the next available flight.

Seven days to explore a city.  Seven days to take full advantage of everything Sucre has to offer.  Seven days to sit on our ass and act like you have a place to call home again.  Our time was mostly spent lounging around the house, cooking meals for ourselves, and enjoying being left the fuck alone.  We did manage to see the worlds largest collection of dinosaur tracks which was good for an hours worth of mild entertainment.

Sucre

The quick flight to Santa Cruz dropped us down to 1,300 feet and enabled us to do simple things like brush our teeth and take a shit without gasping for breath.  The constant runny nose cleared up and the mosquito bites came back , the battle for the blankets replaced with the debate about the angle of the fan,  and the fear of being out when the sun sets is now a concern for mid day heat.  The truth is, we couldn´t be happier!  There is something about warm weather, palm trees, and sun-tanned skin that makes you feel like you are on vacation! (even when you are already on vacation),

Even the locals seem to adjust with the climate change.  The women lose the traditional dresses, little top hats, and about two hundred pounds.  No more lugging around babies in a blanket on their back.  It´s daisy dukes, designer sunglasses, and cell phones.  The guys have their hair styled, jewelry blinging, and rides pimped out.  Ok, I made that last one up.  Their rides are still piles of shit.  But it was refreshing to see the youth of Bolivia expressing their own sense of culture and to get a small emulated taste of home.

It seems if you want to find western culture in Bolivia, you need to follow John Candy´s lead and head your wagons east.

Our month in Bolivia ended with just one night in Santa Cruz, followed by an extremely bumpy, 16 hour train ride to the borer town of Quijarro.  From there we walked across the border into Brazil.  Because we waited around so long in Sucre, Sally ended up overstaying her visa in Bolivia by two days.  Luckily you pay about $6 for the mistake and they send you on your way.

Salar de Uyuni

After the horse riding incident I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and put a request in to Bret to postpone our four-day tour to Salar de Uyuni in order for me to enjoy the trip once the wounds began to heal.  The request was approved and the next two days went something like this:  Wake up, lay in bed for a very long time.  Shower, eat breakfast, lay down for a couple of hours.  Venture outside into the sun because the room was freezing, grab a quick bite to eat. Back to the hotel, watch whatever movie was on HBO, venture out for an early dinner, back to bed, lay down, watch one of two channels available in English, sleep.

After those two days, I was feeling much better and we were both more than ready to get on the road.

We met up with our tour group at the Tupìza Tours office and were introduced to the two people we would be spending the next four days with, driving across the southeast of Bolivia in a jeep.  David, from Philly and Katja from Germany (living in LA) made up our group.

Day One
We left Tupiza around 9:30am and began our journey into the stunning surroundings, stopping off for a few photo opportunities along the way.  Around noon we stopped for lunch in a large open space where hundreds of llamas were congregating.  We hung out for an hour or so, getting plenty of photos of the llamas and the mother and baby donkey that wandered by.

Then it was back in the jeep and on our way to our first accommodations of the trip, stopping by a few small villages along the way.  Once we arrived at the village of San Antonio de Lipez (4,260m above sea level), we unpacked the jeep and were treated to tea, coffee and biscuits.  We were all settled in by around 5pm and it didn´t take long for us to realize that there was jack all to do in this small village and even if there was anything to do, it was too damn cold outside to leave our dining area.  The crew from another jeep that were travelling along with us pulled out their drinking supplies.  “Flu” (France), Donna and Dalla (New Jersey) were set.  Bret and I eyed up their drinks with envy.  We were going to use these four days to “detox” so to speak.  That is until we spotted a little store with red wine for the bargain price of $2.17.  Sold!

After dinner, the local kids treated us to a few songs and some questionable flute playing, followed by asking for tips.  Once they were happy with their donations, Donna busted out her Ipod, which sparked and impromptu dance party – merengue, bachata and salsa kept us warm until we called it a night around 9pm (let me tell you, sitting in a jeep all day really takes it out of you)!

Day Two
The day began with a 4:30am wake up call and we were on the road an hour later.  We stopped by the abandoned silver mining town of San Antonio but seeing as it was still dark and about 20 degrees farenheit outside, no pictures were taken.  From there we made our way through the Torreon, an eroded area with tonnes of volcanic rock and a couple more small villages.

Eventually we made it to Laguna Verde (Green Lake), with Volcano Licancabur (5,950m) in the background.  This made for a stunning site and more photos ops.  From there we moved on to the Rio Amargo (hot springs).  Unfortunately because of my neck wounds I didn´t get to soak in the springs in case of infection.  We were treated to a huge lunch at this stop before jumping back in the jeep for more driving.

Next stop was at the elevation of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) at Sol de Manana geysers and volcanic craters with natural boiling mud pools.  This was one of the trip highlights for me.

After admiring the volcanic craters, we made our way to Laguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean National Park.  The lake has a deep red color, which is derived from the algae and plankton that are present in the mineral-rich water.  It´s also a breeding ground for various breeds of flamingos.  We wandered around the lake for a while before heading to our next hostel.

Upon arrival, we were again treated to tea and coffee and right after, out came the adult beverages.  Bret was off to explore the area in the hopes of finding another little store.  He was in luck!  We found a place selling wine but for double the price we had been paying in the city.  Bret refused to pay that so we left,  him telling me that “it´s still only $7.25 but it´s the principal – how can they jack up the price like that, just because we are in the middle of nowhere!  Actually, it IS only $7.25, f%&$ it, let´s just get it!”  And that was that.  We enjoyed the wine, another dinner prepared by our awesome cook, Bernie, with delicious soup, followed by many hands of the card game, Asshole.

Day Three
We were lucky enough to sleep in a bit before hitting the road.  First stop of the day was at the Desert of Siloli to view the many lava formations, in particular, the famous “Stone Tree”.

We continued our journey, passing by four small lagoons.  We spent quite some time at Laguna Canapa, trying to get the perfect pink flamingo shot.  After that, although the scenery was still amazing, we were lagooned out and stopped only for a quick snap out of the car window.

We stopped in the desert, near the semi-active Volcano Ollague for another awesome lunch prepared by Bernie.

Our last night on the tour was spent in the village of San Juan where we crashed in one of the few salt hotels in the area.  This was a big night as we also had access to hot water and our first shower in three days!  Heaven it was.  Not so much for Bret whose water went cold right after he stepped in.

Day Four
The final day of the tour we were up very early again to catch the sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.

After a quick stop for a few sunrise photos over the salt flat we made our way to Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), in the middle of the Salar.  It´s a reef-like island with huge cacti, the first salt hotel and an iodized salt processing plant.  We spent an hour exploring the island, trying to keep warm.

After breakfast near the island we drove out to where the plain stretched and there was no background, the perfect spot for some photo fun.

We spent a good hour having fun with various props and seeing what we could come up with for photo ops.  Unfortunately it was freezing out on the salt so Bret and I lost motivation after a while and were ready to jump back into the warm jeep.

Our tour ended in Uyuni, a town, pretty much built for tourists and to provide tours to the Salar.  We made a quick stop at the train cemetery before finishing up with a group lunch.

Although we spent the majority of our time in the jeep, the scenery was amazing and made up for the at times, uncomfortable ride.  The tour was definitely a highlight of Bolivia for both of us.

Still doing my best to avoid night buses here in Bolivia, we crashed a night in Uyuni and jumped a bus to Potosi the next day.

Salar de Uyuni Tour

Tupiza

Our time in Tupiza was pretty much on par with having someone shit on our face and just so there is no confusion, we are not into that.  We pulled into town at four in the morning after an overnight train. The taxi charged us three times the fair price to go two fucking blocks and gave a local a ride with us for free. No worries, I had been wanting to get into charity work I was just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

Our hotels night shift guy greeted us kindly enough and said our room was ready if we wanted to crash out.  Considering we just got off an overnight train that saw its prime in the 1920´s and didn´t get much sleep, we were greatly appreciative.  We took a nap and woke up refreshed.  As we walked past the manager the next morning she introduced herself and asked our names with a smile.  After we told her who we were she mentioned our check out date.  “Oh I think there is a mistake, we wanted three nights”. “Yes, but you booked three nights.  Last night and two more nights”

What the fuck!?  This bitch wanted to charge us a full night for two hours!

We contested the full night rate and stated this should have been explained to us prior to our check in.  She instantly dropped the full night charge (120 Bolivianos) to 35.  This resolved the argument and we went to our room.  We expressed our frustration with the situation to each other but both agreed that the $4 was well worth the nap.  On our way out later in the day she stopped us and stated “Let me be clear (evil eyed) it is 35 per person”. I had a brief vision of running across the room and slamming her face on her desk.  What can we do?  The room is actually pretty nice, its cheap compared to the other hostels in town, and even if we left right then we would still have to pay her.  As much as I hated it we had to give her our money.

The next day Sally tried to earn her Tupiza Rodeo belt buckle and after our trip to the hospital we decided we should push back our departure date for the Salt flats.  When we told the manager we would like an extra day she paused “Yes, hmmmm.  That room might not be available.  You might have to change rooms.  I will let you know in the morning.”  Two people, two fucking people.  That is the number of other guests we had seen the two days we had been there.  They leave the unoccupied rooms door open and virtually every door was open to include the one across the hall that was the exact same as our room.  It was perfect.  Nothing is more enjoyable than being ripped off, nearly having your wife decapitated by a tree and falling off her horse, then getting fucked with by some scandalous bitch who is pissed you didn´t just take it up the ass and pay a full nights price for your two-hour nap.

We couldn´t be happier to get the hell out of Tupiza!

Originally we were debating between two tour companies.  Tupiza Tours and the one that was run out of our hostel.  Needless to say our hostel made the decision for us when they tried to squeeze as much money out of us as possible for the room.  We swung by the tour office the night before when we made the last-minute decision to rent sleeping bags (best idea of the trip so far!).  When we got there I heard a familiar voice as the tour lady introduced us to one of our tour partners.

(flashback) La Paz: We poured out of the cholitas wrestling and made our way onto the bus back to our hotel.  A middle-aged man with an eye twitching whinny voice sat behind us a proceeded to talk none stop for the entire 45 minute ride.  Sally and I both exited the bus with the same annoyance level.

It must have been the high altitude but again I envisioned myself diving across the desk, wrapping both hands around his neck and strangling the man.  Hoping to God that if I wasn´t thrown in jail and didn´t manage to kill him that at least I would injure his voice box in some capacity.  No such luck, my dumbfounded state overtook my body and I was unable to do anything but manage a fake smile.  The icing on the Tupiza cake. . .

A little bit of a spoiler alert.  Yes, he did manage to cause all of the passengers ears to bleed.  He actually came in and out of sleep during the first day of driving (8 hours) trying to ensure that not a single conversation took place with out his participation.

The Headless Horse(wo)man

“A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.”  ~Gerald Raferty

It had been on Sally´s things to do list for quite some time but I had managed to postpone horse ridding for one reason or another with great success.  It´s not that I dislike horses, horses are fine.  I just have had no desire to get on top of one and make it carry me around.  The same way I don´t want to send a telegram, watch a black and white TV, or own a rooster as an alarm clock.  Once mankind has evolved past a particular action/object, I personally don´t feel inclined to revisit it.  Unfortunately Bolivia was the perfect aligning of stars I couldn´t avoid.  Several people had raved about the scenery Tupiza horse tours provided and of course being in Bolivia my price argument had no merit.

We decided on the three-hour tour.  The shortest tour available.  Long enough to fulfill Sally´s desire and hopefully short enough to avoid any major damage to my sugar lumps.  We made our way to the stable with our group of five (a French couple, an Englishman, Sally and I) at one in the afternoon.  We decided on having a little bit of an outing the night before and my head was still swimming, motor skills slow, and enthusiasm at an all time low.  I managed a half-smile and minimal conversation with the rest of our group.  We had long enough to chat before our guide showed up to discover all of our experience combined wouldn´t even out stack the pile of horse shit I stepped in just moments before.

I marveled at the pairing of the horses to riders.  The English kid who was about 6´2″ was put on the smallest and clearly oldest horse, the French couple on two average sized horses, and Sally and I were left to see what they brought out of the stable. Our guide ran to the end of the field and emerged moments later at a full sprint with reins of a black stallion.  The horse was noticeably bigger then all the others and the way he threw his head and tugged at the reins while running toward us was enough for both Sally and I to pray to God it wasn´t ours.  Sally drew the short straw and was thrown on top of the massive animal.  Thankfully I was given another average size horse who actually turned out to be the best listener.

After a couple of minutes of instruction on how to control the horse, in Spanish, we were off.  I had the theory that if I just sat on my horse and let him follow the others, with the occasional pit stop to smell and eat the other horses shit, we would develop a mutual understanding and relationship.

The first 45 minutes was a casual stroll and actually a little bit enjoyable.  The English kid mentioned to the guide, Oscar, that he would like to go a bit faster.  Oscar explained (translated to Sally and I) that it is better to go slow.  Taking it easy is a good experience for first time riders and with the horses all in a line and little space between them,  they are easier to control.  That explanation seemed to fall on deaf ears as the English kid asked several more times if we could please at least gallop.  Oscar finally gave in and we did our first little trot.  Sally and the French woman mentioned they would prefer not to go any quicker and Oscar held their horses back as he encouraged the rest of our horses to take off.  The horses seemed to enjoy being able to stretch their legs a little bit and their competitiveness with each other was quickly exposed.  They no longer stayed in a straight line but rather tried to pass each other.  One horse actually tried to bite my horse a couple of times while I was passing.  At this point I still have little to do with what is going on with the direction or speed my horse decides to go.  But the smiles on our faces and the continued enthusiasm of the English kid encouraged several more trots and one mild run.

We finally made it to our destination and took a twenty-minute break to absorb the scenery.  During our break the English guy was trying his best to talk Oscar into turning it up to eleven.  I took a little stroll around and noticed a tree that one of the horses was tied off too.  The inch long thorns lined the branches.  Their diameter was enough that I couldn´t break one off in a mild attempt.  It seemed like everything about this area was rugged.

At our pit stop, the black stallion in the background

We got back on our horses and started to head home.  The French girl took the lead with Sally and I behind.  Oscar had yet to get on his horse and the French guy was having some problems so the three of us took a couple of minute lead.  We discussed stopping and waiting but the instructions we were given to stop the horses seemed to be falling on deaf ears.  They seemed to know they were heading home and all the “SHHHhhh” and pulling on the reins did was cause them to swing their head back and give you a look of discontent.

Five minutes later we heard the loud sound of three other group members catching up.  The English kid came ripping into sight at full speed.  This caught the attention of our horses and they started a small gallop.  Oscar caught up and managed to slow all the horses down.  We walked around the corner into to open space in the riverbed and Oscar said we were going to let the horses run.  Before the group could give this much debate the English kid was off.  It was enough to cause the group of horses to spread out and race for the first place trophy.  Oscar attempted to grab Sally´s reins prior to the sprint but missed them as the black stallion was intent on getting to the lead of the pack.

As my horse swung wide left I grabbed the handle on the saddle with both hands.  I have been on a horse twice in my life and never at a full sprint.  The saddle felt a little lose and even with my white knuckled hands I still felt on the verge of falling off.  You could hear screams from the girls and loud “Ssshhhhhh” from the guys as it seems everyone was ready to slow the pack down.  Sally´s horse went wide right and was making ground on the group.  He realized he was cutting down the lead and wanted to lighten the load.  He took Sally right into some overhanging trees.  The thorns on the tree gashed her face and neck and pushed her toward the back of the horse.  It was enough that she was only able to hang on for a couple more strides.  I glanced back just in time to see a pile of dust 10 feet behind Sally´s black stallion who was still racing toward the front of the pack.  I grabbed the reins like I knew what I was doing and yanked back with all of my might.  It took about 30 seconds for the horse to come to a complete stop.  I took off running toward Sally´s howling body expecting the worse.

Blood was dripping from her head, ear, and neck.  She clearly in a lot of pain but thankfully nothing was broken.  I used my shirt to clear away some of the major blood and to expose the severity of her wounds.  The tree had done the most damage causing her neck to look like a strangle victim.  The English kid and Oscar were moments behind me.  The French couple were unable to get their horses to stop.  Sally expressed no desire to get back on her horse (which was good because it ran off) so Oscar raced back to the farm to get a jeep.

The English guy and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to make Sally as comfortable as possible (a few pictures and a little ribbing of course).

Oscar returned in a jeep and the three of us piled in.  The jeep only had enough gas to make it out of the riverbed it literally died as soon as we hit the pavement (of course!).  Oscar took off again to get some gas for the jeep.  We waited another ten minutes for Oscar to return with small can of gas and then it was off to the hospital.

The nurse and doctor spent 30 minutes cleaning all of the dirt out of Sally´s wounds and trying to ask medical questions in Spanish.  It was refreshing to see Oscar and his manager when we emerged from the E.R.. They covered the hospital visit (11 Bolivionos / $1.59) and said they would offer a ride to our hotel but the jeep ran out of gas, again.

Tupiza

La Paz

All of sudden we heard a lot of noise down on the street so Bret went to our balcony to check it out.  Coming around the corner were 30 plus police officers cruising down the street in three pickup trucks, grabbing anything they could get their hands on from the unsuspecting store owners.

We arrived in La Paz after a three-hour bus and ferry journey from Copacabana.  When researching our South American part of this trip, I had read a lot about the bus rides, cruising at crazy high speeds around windy roads with steep cliff drops off to the side.  Up until now, I had been pretty lucky to only feel a tiny bit uncomfortable about these trips.

We boarded the tourist bus in Copacabana at 1:30pm (in Bolivia I am doing my best to avoid the night buses!).  It was a bus that seated about 30 or so people with wheels that looked like they belonged on a VW beetle and I tried my best not to notice how bald the tyres were.  Even if I didn’t want to board the bus, I really had no other choice.

The journey started off nice and slow as the bus seemed to barely make it up the winding hills.  I was relaxed and enjoying the scenery for the first ten minutes or so . . . until we got over the hills.  The bus picked up speed and the driver didn’t seem to slow down for any of the hairpin turns or care that he was driving all over the road, like he was the only vehicle using it .  I sat there staring out the window, trying not to think about us rolling over the cliff into the valley below.  After about fifteen minutes of deep breathing, sweaty palms and thoughts of my life ending on a tourist bus in Bolivia, Bret noticed my uneasiness and tried to comfort me.  It worked for a minute or two but I had to break out the iPod.  My old Jack Johnson playlist didn’t seem to help one bit.  I just had to sit and bare it and come to terms with the fact that I might just die in Bolivia – at least I would die in the midst of a round the world trip?

After an hour, we made it to where we get off the bus and take a quick ferry across the lake.  It was a relief to be off that bus, even if it was only for twenty minutes.  Once we re-boarded, I settled into my seat with my iPod and managed to stay quite relaxed.  I think accepting the fact that once I’m on the bus, things are out of my control, it made the crazy drive easier.  Luckily the second part of the journey was on a much straighter road.  The driver continued to drive at speeds that felt far too much for the bus and its tiny wheels but I felt much more comfortable on the straight road.  Once we finally arrived in La Paz, we decided on a chill night at a little Cuban restaurant.

We spent four days exploring La Paz.  Our first day saw us checking out the witches market, where stores sell everything from herbs to aphrodisiac formulas to dried frogs and llama fetuses.  I had heard about the llama fetuses but was thinking miniature ones kept in little bottles, where in fact, they are actual dead baby llamas in many different sizes!  They are often buried in new construction as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and are believed to bring good luck.

We also walked up to San Pedro prison, the one featured in a book both Bret and I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, Marching Powder.  Back in the day it was fairly easy to tour the prison with an inmate (usually foreign).  From the research we did, we found out that there is a super secret special backwards way of getting in for a tour but we thought we could find enough trouble without putting ourselves inside a Bolivian prison.  Instead, we opted to do a lap around it.  We didn´t see much but it was quite interesting to me that right across the street was a pretty nice plaza as well as a few nice looking hotels.  Around the back of the prison is an entire street of little shack stores selling mostly booze.  And at very reasonable prices.  The prisoners family members are able to bring the alcohol inside the prison when they visit.

Saturday night we decided it was time to get out and experience La Paz´s nightlife.  As usual, we were budget conscious and started with a few drinks in our pretty decent hostel room.  I had read about a hostel that was also a brew pub, serving up beer that wasn´t lager or pilsner, so we had to check out.  We made our way there, getting lost a few times, which turned what should have been a ten minute walk into a thirty minute walk.  When we finally arrived we made our way up the five flights of stairs, which at this altitude (3,650m/11,975ft) feels like running a half marathon!  Juuuuust as we took our last step to the top floor rooftop terrace/bar area, the lights went out.  That´s it folks!  It´s barely gone 10pm on a Saturday night and we are done!  Damn, what a cruel trick.

We were more than ready for a cold beer after that long ass walk to the bar and up all those stairs so we jumped in a cab and headed for Mongo´s, a bar we had heard pretty good things about (except for the fact that the staff are known to overcharge tourists).  When we got there it was fairly quiet but it was a really nice bar.  Fireplaces, candles, chill house music.  We settled in for a few beers but after a while, it didn´t really get going so we decided to walk around to see if we could find something a little more popping.  Bret went to settle the bill, and sure enough, we were being had.  The bartender tried to overcharge us by about 20 Bolivianos.  Lucky Bret was on it and set him straight.

The next hour or so we spent wandering around, looking for fun.  But to no avail.  We finally decided to head back to our neighborhood and check out, yep, The Hard Rock Cafe!  Believe it or not, we had heard it can get pretty crazy on the weekends so we thought why not.  We lined up to get in but quickly changed our mind when we got to the door and they were going to charge us 60 Bolivianos each just to get in!  Which to be honest, is only about ten US dollars but it´s also four or five large beers in Bolivia.  At that point we decided to find some food and call it a night as there was not much within a short walking distance.  The hunt for food ended in disaster as we ended up on our bed in the hostel, eating two-minute noodles.  Night out in La Paz = epic fail!

The next morning we were luckily enough to stumble upon some kind of street parade.  From what we could make out, it looked like a graduation festival.  Kids that looked around 12-13 were dressed up and dancing down the streets.  Fireworks, smoke bombs, and street food were plentiful.

Sunday night in La Paz is wrestling night!  Cholitas Wrestling that is.  The night out was organized by our hostel.  We were picked up around 3:30pm and made our way out to the neighborhood of El Alto.  Apparently we were VIP and were seated ringside.  I am not usually into wrestling and don´t understand it much but this was quite entertaining.  I think the highlight of the wrestling night is when the Cholitas “fight”.  I was expecting Cholita vs. Cholita but it was mostly Cholita vs. some kind of male wrestler.  Very interesting night indeed.  It ended fairly early and we met up with Alison and Mike, an Irish couple we had met in Copacabana for dinner, Thai of all things.

Our last day in La Paz was pretty chill.  We spent the morning walking to the other side of town to check out Mirador Killi Killi (a lookout over the city).  After that we felt pretty content with our exploration of the city so we headed back to our hostel for a chill afternoon.  The chill afternoon turned out to have a little excitement.  All of sudden we heard a lot of noise down on the street so Bret went to our balcony to check it out.  Coming around the corner were 30 plus police officers cruising down the street in three pickup trucks, grabbing anything they could get their hands on from the unsuspecting store owners.  There was a lot of shouting, shoving and slapping going on but it never turned too violent.  Bret, loving all of the commotion ordered me to grab the camera so he could get a video.  Unfortunately the SD card was almost full and we only got a few seconds of the action.

Video Of Police Stealing

I was deeply disturbed by the police officers actions and just couldn´t understand why they would drive down the street on a Monday afternoon, stealing from the locals.  I couldn´t let it go so Bret asked the receptionist what that was all about.  Turns out the store owners are constantly told not to keep their merchandise on the footpath as the road is very narrow and it´s not safe for pedestrians to have to step onto the road to get around their stuff.  So, every few days, the police came along and just take what they can.  You won´t move your shit, fine, we´ll take it!  I am now a little more comfortable with what went down.

That pretty much wrapped up our time in La Paz.  We had considered cycling the Death Road, but opted not to. Originally we had no interest in doing the ride but after meeting people along our travels and them raving about it, we began to consider doing it over the last two months.  After visiting a tour agency to book a tour, we had a beer and really thought about what we were buying/doing.  We got caught up in the hype of it all as many tourists visiting La Paz do the ride (we haven´t met anyone on this trip that has been to Bolivia and not done it).  When you strip away all of the marketing, it really is us paying about $120 each to cycle down a gravel road that happens to be nicknamed the Death Road.  After little debate, we were content with our decision not to take part and spend that money elsewhere.

We have spent the last three days trying to keep warm in Oruro, a town about three hours south of La Paz.  It´s pretty much a layover point where we´ll take the train further south to Tupiza later this afternoon.

La Paz

Copacabana and Isla del Sol

Picasso was credited with the expression, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” and when the picture illustrates a two-story apartment with kitchenette, fireplace, amazing views, and a sticker price of only $46 a night, who wouldn´t sneak past security Mission Impossible style and jack this great idea!?  Ok, there was no fake finger prints, smoke to detect the motion lasers, or dropping down from the ceiling.  We simply emailed them and asked about the details.  Of course not wanting to disappoint my high school English teacher we must always cite our source.  Davin and Leigh are friends from Seattle that set out on their journey a couple of months before us.  When they posted pictures of Las Olas we knew instantly it would be included on our trip.

A quick three-hour bus ride from Puno and a trip across the border brought us to Copacabana, Bolivia.  A small border town that hugs one of the many harbors of Lake Titicaca.  Most travelers spend a couple of hours or a night in the fairly touristic town on their way to Isla Del Sol or La Paz.  At the border we almost had to fill out the extra form at customs for having a suitcase full of cash on us because Sally had heard there was no ATM available and didn`t want to be short on cash.  (Thankfully things have changed, an ATM opened just this last January!)

We were not let down when we opened the door to our Turtle Suite.  Three nights in the best accommodation we have seen to date and will probably see on the rest of our travels. This is what we had been waiting for, Bolivia, land of the cheap!  We bought a couple  of $3 bottles of wine, an eleven dollar bottle of one liter Baccardi Rum, and nestled in.  We rarely left our estate and when we did it was only to grab some food to cook up or the occasional restock for our bar.

Our time in Copacabana proved to be extremely useful as I finally figured out a way to beat Sally at Rummy.  I simply have to drink her under the table.  A task that I am normally comfortable with, but unfortunately seems to take a bit longer these days.  We finished up our time at the Turtle Suite with me only being two games behind on our all time running score.  The closest I have been in about a month.

After our three-day pampering time we caught a 8:30am boat to Isle del Sol.  What looks like a quick half hour trip on the map takes about two and a half hours on a boat that would be made fun of for being slow by the short bus passengers.  The “wake” behind the boat would actually leave a visible trail through the water when both engines were fired up.  Thankfully we felt pretty safe on the boat as there is a strict policy that all vessels emit large amounts of smoke to ensure they are easily spotted from a distance.

We were dropped off on the north part of the island and hiked our way through the Incan ruins to the village of Yumani on the south part of the island.  Thankfully Sally did her research and we were prepared for the extensive checkpoints where the locals charged various amounts of money.  Other hikers were not as prepared.  It would be a flip of the coin to decide who had the honor of being the Stingy Dick Head of The Day.  An Argentinian who debated the 15 Bolivianos (about $2) checkpoint for ten minutes.  Yelling at the unphased local in Spanish about how he was being ripped off, or the Scandinavian who thought his sarcastic English and pouty body language would go unnoticed when asked to pay 5 Bolivianos (less than $1).  This large amount of money of course deeply hindering the tourist, while frivolously being spent on booze, snacks, and cheap accommodation by the local.

Once we got to Yumani we had lunch at one of the few restaurants that would serve us during the break between lunch and dinner.  Thankfuly the food was excellent and only out done by the view.

That night Sally regained her staggering lead at Rummy and has actually been asked by the South American pro-circut if she would like to become a regular.  I would say that my ego was flushed down the toilet, but they don´t flush anything that is not human waste here and I don´t think my self-worth is that deteriorated yet.  No, it is more likely found in the used toilet paper bin right next to the shitter.

The next day we made our way back to Copacabana and are headed to La Paz tomorrow.

Copacabana and Isla del Sol