17th May 2011 – Update from Bolivia
Bus trips in Bolivia don’t move very quickly. Between check points and road blocks and people coming on board to sell things like fried chicken and rice at 10am, a 10 hour trip can easily become several hours longer. At one point there were 6 women on board selling unknown items to us and if it had of been a yummy bakery treat i may have been interested. Later, the guy selling ice-cream got me though and I couldn’t resist. We are really starting to miss food from home. But I won’t start on that as it’ll still be a long time until we can have simple things like cordial or sliced cheese, cold milk, milo and dairy milk chocolate.
We’ve had almost 2 weeks in Bolivia and it has been hard and extraordinary at the same time. After our lake adventures in Peru we basically headed by bus along the shore down to the Bolivian border and then onto the Bolivian side if the lake. Border crossing is fun, well interesting I should say. There is a strip of no mans land that is about 100m wide that you walk through and get stamped on the other side. Heaps of military, police, and guns. All good though. We had no problems.
We then got a minivan on to Copacabana (not the one that Lola is from, that’s in Brazil). The Bolivian Copacabana is no sand, a hell of alot of dust and full of dogs, but was nice to sit and have lots and lots of beers on the lake side and watch the sunset over the water. That’s about all there was to do there.
There hasn’t been a huge change that we’ve noticed coming into Bolivia. Just small things. We were in La Paz for 4 nights and it was strange to be in a big city again after travelling trough the country and smaller cities. It had high rises! Quite easy to navigate and located in a valley with snow capped mountains surrounding it.
Rohan was suffering a bit from some bug he’d caught so just took it easy. I left him in the hotel and went and caught up with an Australian couple we’d met on the Inca Trail, Carly and Ben. They are both from Adelaide, and are youth workers who are just settling into life in El Alto (poorer city just outside of La Paz) for 3 months to do work with the local youth community. Amazing people. They took me to where they were staying with another NZ couple who have been doing similar work in the area for the last year and who intend on staying for another 6 years or so. We had lunch in there very simple home and heaps of very interesting and inspiring conversations were had. The area was dodgy and it was surreal being in the suburbs where everyone lives behind 8 foot walls for safety. City of knives apparently. Crazy stuff. Later we all came back to La Paz, picked up Rohan from sleeping the day away, and caught up a final time for dinner and say goodbyes.
We did a 64km mountain bike ride whilst in La Paz on what they call ‘Death Road’. We travelled 2 hours by van then started at an altitude of 4100m. Then gravel and cliff edges, downhill for 4 hours finally to 1000m above sea level. So much fun! I was so much more confident than I thought I’d be on that bike. I didn’t even fall off! I beat Rohan but he´d say he let me and wanted to keep an eye on me to make sure i was fine. But he was still sick so i´ll leave that as his excuse.
When we left La Paz we travelled 12 hours on a bus down to Uyuni, the altiplano (high plains) where we were to start a 3 day tour of ‘the Southwest Circuit’. This was SPECTACULAR! Except that we were 2 of 8 sardines (adults) in a tin can (Toyota landcruiser) for this whole time, and I was suffering from Bolivia belly. But the scenery was worth it.
There really are few words to explain what we saw, but hopefully photos will do it justice. Endless amounts of desert that looked like you were on another planet, salt flats and mirages, rock formations, then snow capped mountains, volcanoes, lagoons, flamingoes, geysers at dawn, hot springs, and to top it off, it SNOWED in the desert! Crazy and unforgettable. Though it was so good at the end to unfold myself out of the dicky seat.
Trying to leave the altiplano and travel from Uyuni to Cochabamba was a bit of a mission we were sceptical about. We had to get a night bus and change in a small town in the early hours of the morning without knowing when the next bus would be. Turns out that after 10 nervous minutes hanging out on a dark street a coach pulled up and the driver screamed out “Cochabamba!”. We paid a ridiculously cheap fare and silently got the only 2 seats left on a full sleeping bus of Bolivians. Cochabamba was pretty much a right off for us. We were still feeling ill from our Bolivia belly and it was merely just a stop over to break up what would have been an over 30 hour bus trip to Santa Cruz. Refreshed and ready for another long bus trip we travelled to Santa Cruz where we needed to fly out from. Along the way we could tell we were leaving altitude behind. Heaps of cloud and bare fields were disappearing making change for forest. We definitely felt like we are getting closer to the Amazon. Lots of trees and dense forest that looked ideal for all the coca growing they do here. Apparently this is where it all happens. All that dodgy stuff. The forest then changed to jungle and huge rivers and the heat was a welcome change. I felt better already.
Santa Cruz is quite a modern city. We were there for 3 nights only because we have to fly out to Brazil from here. It was hot, and bustling, and extremely easy to get around. We checked out the markets and hung out in one of the nicest plazas we had seen along the way. We’d finally worked up the courage to try the local micros (minivan) transport and took a ridiculously long trip in the opposite direction to the zoo and ended up in a dusty back street far from the city centre. Luckily Mr Bus Driver put us on another bus once he realised we were the last ones sitting there, and we eventually found the zoo.
We had heard that the Santa Cruz zoo had sloths so we gave it the benefit of doubt and paid to enter, even though we both don’t really like the idea of zoos. The animals were in horribly small enclosures and it was quite poorly maintained so it was hard to look at some of the animals. But it was awesome to see that they had the sloths just roaming free. There was one right on the path as we entered so i managed to get some great shots and we could watch him move around slowly. It was the most incredibly awkward looking creature I had ever seen. We hoped he didn’t know about the jungle nearby. Poor guy. We also saw alot of the Amazonian animals too, like the toucan, boa constrictor, anaconda, and monkeys. It made us want to add the Amazon onto our trip but we just didn’t allow for the time so we’ll just have to go back someday.
Thankfully our days of altitude are over. Getting puffed walking on flat ground or even sitting eating isn’t the most pleasant feeling and our digestion is back to normal again. From here it’s off to Brazil and we are very much looking forward to the beach and seeing Lola at Copacabana, and maybe even the girl from Ipanema.
Hasta Luego Amigos!