So, that was Bolivia was it? That was a surprise!
I guess I did not really know what to expect of Bolivia – it’s not a country that I knew that much about before we started our trip – but what a country it is!
Our trip started much as Peru had ended, along the shores of the Sacred Lake – Titicaca (Titicaca being in both Peru and Bolivia) but now in Copacabana (no,don’t go all Barry Manilow – not that Copacabana!).
The oddessey of the lake sacred to the Incas continued as we took a boat to the Isla del Sol – the place where the Incas believed that the world was created. A beautiful, if hilly, island – it was our pleasure to catch a boat to the north of the island, climb to the top of it and walk along its undulating ridge to the south – all at altitudes of over 4100m. The Incas cannot have been right though about the world coming from there, because if it had then I am sure it would be a MUCH better world.
From Copacabana we caught a bus to La Paz – a 3 hour journey for the princely sum of 170 Bolivianos (£1.70/ $2.25) – confirming for us what people we had met previously told us – prices in Bolivia are LOW!
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world – but hey we were getting used to altitude having lived around 4000m for some weeks by then. La Paz, however is built in a steep sided valley which means that there are no flat streets – everywhere is either a breathless struggle up or calf wrenching walk down. It is frenetic – thousands of people completely filling the pavements and bumper to bumper traffic filling the roads with everyone seemingly having somewhere else to be – so we joined them and plodded our way up and down taking in the marvels that the city has to offer.
Nothing is expensive in La Paz and we made the most of it walking the streets shopping til we dropped. Despite chest infections and colds we walked everywhere. No point taking a taxi even if it does only cost about £2 to cross the city if the traffic is going nowhere!
We did take a taxi one day to the nearby town of El Alto which is perched right at the top of the valley (hence the name I guess!) for an eagle’s eye view of La Paz. There we unexpectedly found another market – this time the one where the “real” people shop with not a tourist in sight. Everything was here. From car parts rescued from the breakers yard (already broken into parts as small as springs and even individual screws) through to shamans curing people of whatever ailed them. How could I resist a pair of trousers dug out from a heap on the floor for the princely sum of 15Bs (yes, £1.50… and no, I would not have bought them in the UK but my jeans were becoming indecent and these will do until I get new jeans).
We both loved La Paz – hard to explain why as such a pace of living is not what would normally attract us, but it was in part because the people were warm and friendly, in part because of the stunning scenery with mountains and volcanoes all around, and maybe in part because we went up market in our hotel accommodation to a splendid Aparthotel that gave us space to spread ourselves out and relax between shopping ventures and eating! Did I mention the wonderful llama steaks? Maybe I shouldn’t…
£13 each bought us a ticket in an overnight coach to Sucre – luxury class, flat beds(!), 13 hours. You cannot beat it. We arrived in Sucre just as Sucre started to celebrate its patron saints national day (Virgin of Guadalupe) with fireworks and processions and music and dancing. Our couple of days there were noisy but pleasant – we even got to go to the cinema.
From Sucre to Potosi – a mining town that was once the richest town in the world due to the silver that was extractable from its mines. Nowadays it is only a hint of a shadow of what it once was with a miners’ cooperative struggling to eke a living from the mountains in conditions that cannot even live up to the description “appalling”. Life expectancy in the late 40s as the mines take their toll on whole families, widows with nothing breaking discarded stones on the outside of the mountains trying to support what’s left of their curtailed family. with temperatures inside as high as the mid 40s, living on coca leaves, the miners know the mines are killing them, but it’s all they know. Sad, sad.
Too sad for words, we skipped the tourist tour of the mines and took a tour of the amazing countryside instead. Words fail me describing the scenery just outside Potosi… Majestic multi coloured mountains worn by the effects of weather and mining. Strata of colours folded and twisted by the effects of the tectonic plates on which they sit. Thermal baths, the gift of Pachamama still honoured by many of the locals. Even the pictures fail. It is an amazing place – book a tour through Koala tours and see it for yourself some day.
All too soon it was time to plan our exit from this amazing country. A 3 day tour through the Salar (salt flats) and mountains that would take us from Uyuni in Bolivia over the border to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile… but more of that later!