A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Titicaca

The highest navigable lake in the world

sunny 28 °C
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After our epic rurrenabaque airport ordeal we flew to La Paz. The half an hour flight in the 19 seat propeller plane took us up over the jungle and past snowcapped andean mountains. There were mountains literally 100m away from us and above us! At La Paz we transferred to the bus station for buses to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. We went with the public bus - a colourful and run down bus with our luggage on top of the bus. We were jammed in, there was almost no space for our legs and horrendous Quechuan music playing the whole trip. The 4 hour journey was pretty uneventful except for when we had to cross a narrow strait of water. Instead of, oh I don't know, building a bridge maybe, they make everyone get off and pay to cross in a small boat while the bus goes on a wooden barge across the river. On the other side we bordered back into the bus and were away again.

We arrived into Copacabana and were pleasantly surprised. It had a beautiful cathedral and lovely plaza. Our hotel room too had a lovely view out over the lake. We had lunch of trout (there is a lot of trout in the lake) down on the waterfront in the sun which was awesome then had a wander around, visiting the huge moorish looking cathedral and then made our way up to the lookout point over Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. As we had been back down at sea level we had to reacclimatise and so the climb up huge uneven stone stairs was a bit of an effort, but totally worth it. At the top we could see the small town of Copacabana and then a spectacular view out over Lake Titicaca. We stayed up here and watched the beautiful sunset.

The next day we got up early to go to Isla Del Sol, an island in Lake Titicaca that was an important Inca site (the Incas believed the island was the creation point of the first Inca and his sister-wife). The boat trip out there was a little painful. What should have taken 1.5hr took 2.5hr as one of the little engines didn't and instead of fixing it we just plodded along. The boat rocked and chugged along with other boats passing us but eventually we arrived.

At Isla del Sol we had a quick snack from a local stall and then started off walking. There is a hike that runs the length of the island along the ridge, giving amazing views out over the lake. We joined up with two canadian guys that were also doing the walk and made our way up past beautiful bays that wouldn't look out of place in the Greek Islands. The route was hilly and dry with very few trees and when they were they were eucalyptus trees. The hike was lovely with stunning vistas out over the lake and the snow-capped Andes. The only downside was the taxes or basically extortion money you had to pay along the way. It isn't a national park or anything but the locals at the top, middle and bottom of the island stand on the path and you have to pay to pass. 3 hours and many hills later we arrived at the bottom of the island where we had some more trout for lunch and then caught the boat back to Copacabana. 1.5 hours later we arrived in Copacabana, exhausted, ready to nap and ready to move on to Peru.

The logical way to move a bus?

The logical way to move a bus?

Streets of Copacabana

Streets of Copacabana

Copacabana wharf

Copacabana wharf

Copacabana cathedral

Copacabana cathedral

Copacabana

Copacabana

Looking out over Lake Titicaca

Looking out over Lake Titicaca

Sunset

Sunset

A bay of Isla Del Sol

A bay of Isla Del Sol

Andes and lake

Andes and lake

The hills of Isla del Sol

The hills of Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Posted by awowchuk 19:42 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Madidi Jungle

pigs, piranha's, parrots and pouring rain

rain 24 °C
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After a couple of days researching and several emails back and forth we decided to go to the Chalalan ecolodge in the Madidi national park. The Madidi national park is about 450km north of La Paz, but the road from the capital down into the Bolivian Amazon is notoriously treacherous, worse than the death roads, so we decided to fly. The flight took us over the Andes, with scenic views of Lake Titicaca and down into the jungle. As we flew in we could see huge meandering rivers and trees as far as the eye could see. We landed at a tiny airport in the town of Rurrenabaque. There were pigs and horses roaming all over the runway and the terminal building was literally a shack. We were met at the airport by our guide, Sandro, who took us to the office in town where we were told about the plan for the following day. We then checked into our hostel and headed out to a jungle themed bar for a couple of happy-hour cocktails.

The following morning we woke early. We met Sandro at 7.30am and walked down to the river, where we boarded a very thin motorised canoe for the journey to the lodge. Chalalan was about 6 hours up river from Rurrenabaque. On the way we saw capybaras, red & green macaws, herons, black vultures and red howler monkeys from the boat. When we reached the area near the lodge, we were met on the river bank by some of the workers at the lodge, who then wheel-barrowed our bags the 2km walk to the lodge through the jungle while we walked. On the way we saw Red Amazon squirrels, Brown Capuchin monkeys and Bolivian squirrel monkeys.

The lodge itself is run entirely by a local jungle community. The lodge was set up about 15 years ago as a joint venture between the indigenous people in the area and Conservation International, an American conservation foundation. At the time, hunting and logging was having a very detrimental effect on the rainforest and wildlife. Both parties saw the idea of an ecolodge as an opportunity to protect the forest, at the same time as providing an income for the indigenous community. Conservation International provided the initial funding and the community provided all the labour. The foundation also taught the community how to run the ecolodge, and in 2001 the foundation handed complete control of the lodge over to the community. It also turned out that our guide, Sandro, was something of a local celebrity - he originally worked as a guide at the lodge but had since gone on to be the lead guide at Bird Bolivia, and had also been the guide for National Geographic magazine, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides when they visited Madidi. Luckily for us, he had a free month, and had decided to return to Chalalan the exact day we arrived, so we had an amazing and incredibly knowledgable guide in all things jungle for our stay.

After a quick lunch at the lodge we set out on an afternoon walk. The walk took us down by the edge of the lake at first before moving deeper into the forest. About two minutes into the walk we stopped at an inlet from the lake where we saw a black caiman. The only bit of it that was visible was its head but we still thought it was very cool. We also saw a handful of long-nose bats hanging from a branch that was dangling over the water. As we moved further into the forest Sandro heard monkeys (we couldn't hear anything) and asked if we'd like to see them. Of course we said yes, so he darted off the trail into the trees. We followed behind as quickly as we could, but the whole thing seemed a bit ridiculous. After about 50m of fighting our way through the bushes however, we found the monkeys. We couldn't believe it! We spent a while watching the monkeys playing in the trees above us. They seemed incredibly comfortable with us being there and carried on with what they were doing - the brown capuchin monkeys were eating fruit and dropping nuts out of the trees (it seemed like they were trying to drop them on our heads) and the Bolivian squirrel monkeys were snapping off branches, looking for bugs living inside the branches to eat. It was a great start!

That evening after our three course dinner, Sandro asked if we wanted to go on a night walk through the forest. We agreed, although I was quite nervous. Before we set off however Sandro walked us round the different buildings at the lodge. We couldn't understand why at first, but then he pointed out an Amazonian tree boa constrictor, living in roof of one of the buildings and a handful of tarantulas living in the rooves of the other buildings. Lets just say I wasn't looking forward to going to sleep in those same buildings as much as I had been earlier in the day! Nevertheless we set off into the forest in search of all manner of noctural wildlife. It felt very strange and quite claustrophobic being in the jungle at night but as we walked further I gradually got used to it and started to enjoy it. We spotted another tarantula half inside its hole. As we approached it scurried inside, but lying just outside the hole, we were able to see the remnants of its dinner - some crickets, a beetle and some flies. As we walked through the jungle, lit only by our headtorches we also saw a hunter spider sitting proudly in the middle of its web which spanned the path. I thought it was absolutely massive, but Anna wasn't that bothered...apparently spiders are far bigger back in Australia. A couple of minutes later, I got a shock when I bumped into a lizard. We asked Sandro what it was and unbelievably he didn't know what it was, so we took lots of photos of it to examine later. The next morning, Sandro had a look through his animal encyclopedia and thought it was similar to one of the lizards in there but, I didnt think it looked that similar and the other guides all seemed to have different opinions, so who knows, I might have found a new species of lizard... I quite like the idea that I found a new lizard. It also presents the possibility that I could name it. This is particularly interesting because I could name it anything I wanted. Indeed a Las Vegas casino recently bought the rights to name a newly discovered species of monkey, and that species is now called the GoldenPalace.com monkey or Callicebus aureipalati! After a bit more walking through the bushes, Sandro led us back onto the trail and a few minutes later we were back at the lodge. I gave our bungalow a thorough inspection for spiders, snakes and the like but found nothing, so after a cold shower we went to sleep under our mosquito nets, in our little hut, in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. It felt quite surreal but very special nonetheless.

The following morning after an early breakfast we set out on a long walk to the salt lick. Animals come from all around to visit the salty clay pit (monkeys eat the mud because it neutralises the poison in some of the plants they eat, pigs bathe in it, even jaguars visit the salt lick). Unfortunately no sooner had we set off, than it started to rain. This wasn't good news because the animals do not tend to move around in the rain, instead preferring to take shelter in the trees. The sound of the rain on the leaves also makes it much more difficult to hear the animals. As a result we did not see many animals during the first part of the walk. We did however see an olive whipsnake in a puddle on the forest floor, a group of red-spotted poison-dart frogs and a couple of screaming pia birds. As the morning wore on, the rain began to stop and we were able to spot more birds in the trees. We saw several pairs of red and green macaws, sitting right at the top of canopy and were lucky enough to see an enormous white breasted toucan. Just before lunch Sandro heard some black spider monkeys, the biggest, fastest and rarest of all the monkeys in jungle. After a mad dash through the undergrowth, we saw a family of five spider monkeys moving through the trees. They were realy big, much bigger than I'd expected and moved very quickly through the trees. Sandro seemed very happy, apparently the black spider monkeys are still very afraid of humans (before the national park was formed, humans used to hunt all the monkeys), so we were very lucky to see them. After a few high-fives we carried on along the trail. About five minutes later Sandro thought he heard spider monkeys again. Once again we set off through the undergrowth, stopping at the base of a large tree. Sandro called out to the monkeys, and heard a response back. There was a baby black spider monkey sitting in the tree right above us. Sandro thought it was strange that a baby monkey was sitting in the tree on its own, its parents must have abandoned it and would probably be coming back soon. We waited patiently and then a couple of minutes later, just as Sandro had suggested, two adult spider monkeys came back for the baby. It was amazing, one of the monkeys swung through the trees right in front of us. Sandro looked thrilled, it was pretty cool! We had catfish for our packed lunch in the forest, before continuing to the salt lick. Unfortunately when we got to the salt lick there were no animals there. From the tracks in the mud we could see a group of peccaries had been there about an hour earlier, but sadly no more animals arrived while we were waiting. We walked the last part of the trail and were met at the end by our boat, that took us back down the river to the lodge. On the way back the captain stopped at a beach to pick up two fish he had caught while he was waiting for us. He found one of the fish half eaten. There were Jaguar prints all around it. Presumably it had been scared off by the sound of the boat's engine. We couldn't believe how close we'd come to seeing a jaguar! Nethertheless it was kind of cool to know we shared our dinner with one!

The following morning was very wet so our plans for the day were pushed back a bit. When the rain started to ease, we set off across the lake in a canoe. When we reached the other side we began our walk to the river. The plan was to go fishing. I had never been fishing before so I was incredibly excited! On the way across the lake we had spotted a couple of yellow spotted river turtles, but our day walk was about to get much more interesting. As we walked through the forest Sandro heard a group of white-lipped peccaries (jungle pigs). As we approached we could smell them. When they get scared or feel threatened they give off a disgusting odour in a similar way to skunks. I think we must have spooked them because we pretty much walked right into their group. With a few loud squeeks they burst through the bushes and away from us. We found this quite exciting but our excitement soon turned to anxiousness when Sandro told us the pigs had split and were now circling us. Now this might not sound like a big deal - being circled by a group of pigs, but white-lipped peccaries are known to be very aggressive when threatened and have killed people before. Sandro himself had been chased all through the forest to the river by a group before, so we were pretty nervous. Sandro's only advice was to climb a tree if we needed to. Looking round at the trees, I wasn't very optimistic! After a brief moment to listen to the pigs, we had to run back along the path to escape.

We carried along another trail until we came to the river. Amazingly we spotted a family of giant river otters playing in the water near the far bank. These animals are incredibly rare, Sandro hadn't seen one for three years, while foreigners will pay thousands of dollars for the chance to see one. To me they just looked a bit like seals but Sandro was exstatic and asked us to take some photos so he could show his friends. Once the otters had swam off downstream, we set about finding a suitable spot to fish. The river water was particularly high and fast moving that day so, we spent about half an hour hacking our way through shrubs and bushes to find a better stop downstream. We eventually found a nice sheltered spot downstream but we weren't very lucky. I successfully caught a number of branches, on of which snapped my line, Anna got bitten alive my mosquitos and it started to rain, so we packed up our stuff and headed back. Sandro had promised me that I could go fishing again later that afternoon, so I was ok. On the walk back we saw lots of birds: a forest falcon, an amazonian kingfisher, a few waksins (Sandro referred to them as smelly, heavy, noisy birds, because they produe a disgusting odour as a form of protection, they're so fat that they can barely fly, and they make a tremendous racket!), another toucan and an anhinga. Our trail was also blocked by a poisonous fer-de-lance snake, so we spent a bit of time watching him, before, very carefully stepping around him.

Later the same afternoon, we went fishing again. This time we just took a canoe out onto the lake, and tried our luck. The lake is home to a number of piranas and large catfish, so there was a possibility that we might catch something. After about 15 minutes of sitting in the canoe, I felt a strong tug on my line. I wasn't really sure what to do, Sandro had said something about pulling it hard towards you, but I just gradually wound in my rope. As it got nearer the boat, I could see that unlike in the morning, I had a fish on my hook, so I excitedly pulled it in. As I pulled it out of the water, Sandro told me it was a yellow-bellied pirana. It was quite big! I couldn't believe it, the first fish I had ever caught was a pirana. Sandro also caught a pirana but unfortunately Anna didn't catch anything before it started to rain again and we had to head back to the lodge. That night we had piranha for dinner!

Our final full day at the lodge followed a similar format to previous days. We went on a long walk in the morning, in the hope of finding a GoldenPalace.com monkey but we didnt have much luck. We saw lots of bird: a red throated caracara, a collard trogon, a brown capped flycatcher, a red necked woodpecker, a round-tailed manakee and a new tropic cormoran. During our walk we also heard the call of an animal that Sandro had never heard before. He told us to wait on the path while he dived off into the bushes to try and find it. No sooner had he left us on the trail, than we heard pigs coming towards us. We were not sure what to do, so we tried to climb a tree. Luckily the pigs never got to us and Sandro found it very funny, when he got back to find us clambering up a tree!

That afternoon, we went across the lake to a lookout platform built into the trees, at the top of the canopy. The view was amazing, you could see the lodge, the lake, all the forest around it and as far as the mountains that form the boundary of national park in the distance. We sat there and took photos, with Sandro pointing out all sorts of different birds. Interestingly, Sandro spotted some migrant birds that had travelled all the way down from Canada, just like us! We then went back down and paddled the canoe all around the outside of the lake and watched the monkeys playing in the trees overhanging the lake. That night we were meant to take a canoe out onto the lake to look for caimens but once again the weather transpired against us. Sandro had already gone off to bed, when I went for a walk down to the pontoon. I saw two big eyes staring back at me from the undergrowth. I moved from side to side to check it wasn't just a reflection of the light, but the red dots didn't move. I ran back and told the others and one of the other guides came down to have a look. We all jumped into a boat to have a look along the water's edge. We saw the caimen and one other, before we paddled back the pontoon.

On our last morning we packed up our stuff before heading out for a short walk. We had another pig incident, but we also got to see an enitre group of 200 or so pigs walk right across the path in front of us which was amazing! On the walk back to the lodge we also spotted a group of red howler monkeys in the trees, there were 3 or 4 adults and then a baby sitting on one of the adults back. They just sat there and watched us as we watched them. It was very cool! After an early lunch we walked back to the river to catch our boat back to Rurrenabaque. The journey back was much faster than the journey to the lodge because it was downstream. On the way back we spotted a huge spectacled caimen lying on the river bank, to wood storks, a group of yellow and blue macaws, some amazon kingfishers and three turkey vultures. We also picked up a polish photographer and his group that were finishing their expedition. He was the one who discovered the goldenpalace.com monkey! It was a perfect end to an amazing few days!

The next day we were meant to fly back to La Paz. We arrived at the flight office and everything seemed ok. The first flight of the day had taken off, albeit slightly delayed, and we were able to move onto an earlier flight so we were next to go. They took us out to the airport where we waited an hour or so before being told that we could not fly because of the weather. It turned out that the planes that flew to Rurrenabaque did not have sufficient GPS to land using it, and had to land by sight instead. This posed a problem because Rurrenabque lay in a valley in the rainforest and there seemed to be an everpresent layer of clouds only a couple of hundred metres off the ground. We were sent back to the office, where we were told to come back in an hour (as it turned out this was the airline's favourite tactic for dealing with customers when they had no idea what was going on, particularly when there was also a language barrier). After lunch we returned to the office and were bussed out to the airport again with a group of other passengers for the next flight. We waited there for about 3 hours with no updates or information before being told that we would not fly that day. We were assured though that we would be on the first flight whenever it took off! We were told to report to the office the following morning at 7.45am. That night we went out for a lovely meal at a steak restaurant.

The following morning it was absolutely pouring with rain. There was absolutely no chance we were flying when they had told us we would be, so we popped in at the office at about 7.30am on the way back from breakfast to ask what time we should come back. We were told to come back at 7.45am as before. We argued that this was silly, but they were insistent. "Come back at 7.45am!". So we came back 10 minutes later with all our bags, to be told to come back at 9am. Why they couldn't have told us that 10mins earlier I do not know. At 9am we were then bussed out to the airport for the third time. We waited there for 3 hours, when we asked the airport staff (not the airline) why we were there, they told that they did not know because there was no chance we could fly. Eventually with no answer to our questions the airline staff agreed to drive us back to town. We were then told the standard "Come back in an hour", so we went for lunch. When we got back to the office we found them loading up another flight into the bus to the airport. We asked what was going on and were told to get on the bus too. We all got to the airport and were told that the planes had taken off from La Paz and that we would be flying. We thought this was great news. Weirdly though, when the planes landed our names were not read out. It transpired that they had decided to change our plane and instead of flyng us to La Paz it would be flying another group of people to Trinidad and then would come back to fly us to La Paz. Meanwhile, the next 3 flights after ours to La Paz had all been put together onto a larger plane and were to be flown to La Paz then. We couldn't believe it, they'd promised us that we would be the first flight, and now everyone else apart from us, was flying. They refused to move us onto the first flight, (it is worth noting that they had moved all the Bolivians from our flight onto the other flight), and the plane took off without us. After much yelling and frustration on our side, they assured us that the other plane would return for us. We pointed out that the weather was getting worse by the minute, but they assured us, we would fly. We waited and waited in the rain, by which time we were absolutely livid! Then when we were ready to go back to town, we were told that our plane would fly and that it was on its way. They walked us down the runway and amazingly our plane landed. However as we excitingly stood there knowing we would leave, we were then told it had landed 2 minutes too late and that we could not fly tonight. Absolutely unbelieavable, so we went back to town, back to the hostel and were told to come back at 5.30am the next day. The following morning our plane took off an flew us the 30mins back to La Paz. 3 days waiting around for a 30 minute flight! Crazy!!!!

ox box lake on the flight over the jungle

ox box lake on the flight over the jungle

Rurrenabaque airport

Rurrenabaque airport

Welcome to the jungle

Welcome to the jungle

Our boat to Chalalan

Our boat to Chalalan

Capybaras

Capybaras

Chalalan lake

Chalalan lake

Spider

Spider

Christians lizard

Christians lizard

Muddy jungle

Muddy jungle

Red spotted poison dart frog

Red spotted poison dart frog

Sandro doing his thing

Sandro doing his thing

jungle plants

jungle plants

River Otter

River Otter

Fishing in the rain

Fishing in the rain

Waxin

Waxin

First fish ever... Piranha

First fish ever... Piranha

Piranha for dinner!

Piranha for dinner!

PIG

PIG

Bolivian squirrel monkey

Bolivian squirrel monkey

Red Howler monkeys

Red Howler monkeys

Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig

Swimming in piranha waters

Swimming in piranha waters

Tucan

Tucan

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkey

Canoeing around

Canoeing around

Sandro and Christian

Sandro and Christian

Chalalan Lake and Madidi National Park

Chalalan Lake and Madidi National Park

Rurrenabaque

Rurrenabaque

Not happy amaszonas

Not happy amaszonas

Finally getting on the plane

Finally getting on the plane

Posted by awowchuk 16:49 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

I still don't know why they built it here!

sunny 11 °C
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The bus ride to La Paz was not my best moment. The rough and windy road combined with being seated at the back of the top level and the high altitude as we passed through Potosi - the highest city in the world- meant I was feeling a little worse for wear. Eventually though I fell asleep and awoke in a very strange city.

La Paz is situated within a big dry canyon, there is not a tree insight, instead houses cover the hills all the way to the top. It is a massive and dramatic jumble of brick shacks all over the hills. We didn't really know what to expect but we were not expecting it to look like this. Once we checked into our hostel and had some breakfast we went off exploring. La Paz basically has one main long boulevard which our hostel was on and so we wandered along it. As we were coming to realize, the Bolivian's LOVE to protest and parade and today was no exception with a marching band leading a peaceful protest of some sort into a street fair with jumping castles, stalls, a police marching band playing songs from 'Grease' and to add to it all, dozens and dozens of medical stalls with doctors in white coats where you could get checked out for all sorts of ailments and issues. It was quite a sight.

In our wanderings we found the tourist market area, where you could buy hundreds of different alpaca products in all different colours, lots of bags, jewellery, sweaters, scarfs, even oven gloves. The kooky thing about these markets were the witches stalls where you could supposedly buy potions, herbs and even llama fetus' to use in spells and rituals. We then had lunch at a little cafe before heading back for a lazy afternoon and evening.

Our second day was a massive organisation day, booking a trip to the Bolivian jungle and the subsequent flights. Bolivia has fairly appalling internet so this was not the easiest process and consequently led us to a travel agent that turned out to be cheaper than online. In the afternoon we spent more time wandering around the tourist markets and through the main town square with the offical parliamentary buildings and churches (which are well maintained, next to ordinary crumbling buildings). We also made it to Mirador Killi Killi, a spectacular lookout over crazy La Paz.

We had signed up to go bike riding down 'The World's Most Dangerous Road' also known as the Death Roads. It is a very popular tourist activity and nervously I let Christian convince me to do it. We all met first thing in the morning and were bused up to the high point in the snow at 4800m above sea level. It was pretty chill and here we got suited up and met our bikes. Christian's was called Thor, mine was called Friomento or cold one (which I was). The first 25km was on windy asphault road through spectacular mountains. After paying our tourist tax (there is ALWAYS a tourist tax in Bolivia) we bordered the bus again for a short uphill section and to take us to the start of the gravel. The guide, Steve, was this Kiwi hippy. He was very safety conscious but got us all suitably prepared with horror stories of the road. I couldn't remember ever riding a full on mountain bike down rough terrain. Add in the fact that there were 1000m high cliffs off to the side and I felt incredibly nervous.
People going downhill have to give way to uphill, which meant that unlike everywhere else in South America, they drive on the left hand side of the road. There is also the practical benefit that the drivers going down can see their wheels against the edge. We thus had to ride down on the left hand, cliff side of the road. Although for most of the way, the road is only one lane wide so it really doesn't make a difference.
We rode down in single file, we were hanging at the back. It was fairly bumpy but the first part was in the clouds and we thankfully couldn't see just how high up we were up. The gravel road was 40km long and we stopped many times to rest, take pictures and so Steve could prepare us for the next section we were going to ride. When we passed out of the clouds it was very dramatic, but we barely looked out as we were so focused on the road.

We dropped from 4800m above sea level to around 1500m above sea level so by the time we got to the bottom it was very hot and humid. With great relief the whole group got to the bottom, covered in mud and sweat but safe. We celebrated with a beer and then went off to LaSenda Verde, an animal refuge at the bottom where we were able to eat, shower and see some animals. The animal refuge was a brief relief in the day as we had to drive back up the Death Road. It was an 1.5hr of scariness as we wound our way back up the road in the mini-bus, watching the night and fog descending on us. I don't know what is scarier - being able to see the cliffs off the side or not. Our heart heaved an enormous sigh of relief as we made it back onto the aspault road and into La Paz.
We were absolutely exhausted and very sore by the time we got home and into bed, but we were glad we'd done it and were looking forward to our Amazon adventure that would start the following day.

Downtown La Paz

Downtown La Paz

Zebra crossing

Zebra crossing

Public buses of La Paz

Public buses of La Paz

Markets

Markets

Llama fetus at the markets

Llama fetus at the markets

La Paz lookout

La Paz lookout

Mirador Killi Killi

Mirador Killi Killi

Miniature mode

Miniature mode

City in a canyon

City in a canyon

Christian and his bike

Christian and his bike

Landscape at the top

Landscape at the top

Amazing view

Amazing view

Anna ready to go

Anna ready to go

Action shot #1

Action shot #1

Action shot #2

Action shot #2

Action shot #3

Action shot #3

Action shot #4

Action shot #4

Action shot #5

Action shot #5

Action shot #6

Action shot #6

Action shot #7

Action shot #7

Action shot #8

Action shot #8

Halfway down

Halfway down

Action shot #9

Action shot #9

Action shot #10

Action shot #10

Action shot #11

Action shot #11

Action shot #12

Action shot #12

Christian on the road

Christian on the road

Postcard corner

Postcard corner

Silhouette

Silhouette

Action shot #13

Action shot #13

Action shot #14

Action shot #14

Posted by awowchuk 08:01 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sucre

Spanish and Cars

sunny 19 °C
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Our bus to Sucre was cold and uncomfortable, but this is Bolivia and we had been told not to expect anything better. The bus wound it way through the night to Sucre where it arrived at 3am. We were able to stay on the bus until 6:30am and continue trying to sleep instead of being stuck outside. Once we were kicked off the bus, we made our way to our hostel where with fingers crossed we hoped we could check in and go to sleep.

The hostel was like a palace after our time in the 4x4's and we happily went back to sleep for the better part of the day. When we awoke we went for a walk around the white walled city of Sucre. The spanish influence within the architecture is very prevelant. We also signed ourselves up for Spanish classes. Our favourite aspect of Sucre though is the cars. Everyone has stickers and sports kits on their very beaten up old cars. All the taxi's are wannabe dragsters and everyone thinks their cars look better or more expensive for being kitted out!

The next day, after a lazy morning, we walked up to Recoletta, the oldest part of Sucre and a pretty lookout over the city. It is very deceptive how steep the hills of Sucre are. We then strolled around a little more, having lunch before we went off to our Spanish class.

Our teacher's name was Ammy, a woman around our age from La Paz. We only were doing 2 days of classes so it wasn't like we would become fluent, but it was more to give us a bit more understanding of grammer, pronunciation and vocabulary. When we were going through it, it made sense, especially for Christian knowing French, but we knew we would have a hard time putting it all into practice. After 4 hours we were mentally exhausted so we had dinner in the hostel and spent time watching Summer Heights High.

The next day was a research day, making a lot of plans for our trip before another walk around the town where there was a little parade going on outside the main square. In the afternoon it was back off to Spanish class to continue learning our grammer and lots of vocabularly - colours, time, weather, materials, verbs etc etc. It was very helpful to learn but I wish everyone would speak as slowly as Ammy would when she was trying to teach us.

Our last day in Sucre was quite different. Today there was a rally car race that goes through the centre of the city. All day long there was fairly rough looking rally cars doing timed laps that started in the main square, went up through the city, around the outside and then finished back in the main square again. There were lots of people around, lots of dubious looking street food and lots of noisy cars. We spent the whole day walking around amongst it all and watching the racing. It is certainly run at a different pace to events in the west as for a good half an hour we stood on the road at the starting line, taking pictures and generally just watching the activity going around. Our favourite was the glammed up grid girls in their tight lycra onesies who struggled to walk in their ridiculous high heels.

We also went for a further stroll to some parks within the city and then back for a makeshift dinner before catching the nightbus to La Paz.

Sucre

Sucre

Christian at the Recoletta

Christian at the Recoletta

White city of Sucre

White city of Sucre

Back at school

Back at school

Parade

Parade

Mersedes????

Mersedes????

More rally cars

More rally cars

Rally cars

Rally cars

On the grid

On the grid

In Sucre

In Sucre

Cars and fancy buildings

Cars and fancy buildings

Racing through the streets

Racing through the streets

Posted by awowchuk 07:38 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

4x4 Trip

San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia

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Our 4x4 adventure to Bolivia was an exciting 3 day trip from San Pedro, over the Andes into Bolivia, passing lakes, geysers, volcanos and finishing in the Salar de Uyuni. We did lots of research on the different operators and picked one, Atacama Mistica. All of the operators have a bunch of good and bad reviews so you just had to go with it.

At 8am, 15 people were picked up and taken to the border checkpoint in San Pedro (about an hour from the actual border) where we sadly found out the border was closed from the snow. Couldn't believe our luck, there are 300+ days of sunshine up here but it had to storm the night before we left. As a group we had to decide whether to wait in San Pedro another day or two or go via another border crossing that wasn't as high and thus snow affected but we would miss out on the first day of sights. We decided to go as we were all packed and eager and didn't want to wait any more. Plus at the time they lied to us and said we would get to see some other sights (which didnt happen).

We drove basically for 12 hours on the first day. 5 of them in Chile in the van on pretty bumpy and remote roads, having breakfast in a village called Chiu Chiu then following the Andes chain up Chile, passing volcanes and small salt lakes until we arrived at the most desolate border town. We passed through the basic Chilean immigration and then drove 3 minutes down the road into the even more desolate and basic Bolivian immigration. It was quite a sight, abandoned trains on a rusted railway track, and a immigration office of 2 desks inside a tiny brick shack where the officer didn't even look at any identification, just stamped the passport and was done. Anyone or anything could get over this border!

From here we met our 4x4's and the drivers. We had to arrange ourselves into groups of 5 so Simone and Sjors, Christian and I and another english guy Jaime had one blue car together with our driver Alvaro. It was a good move going with Simone and Sjors as they spoke spanish and Alvaro spoke no english. We didnt have a great start as they told us there was no lunch and we had another 5 hours of straight driving, no sights, to get to our "hotel". No one was very happy but there was nothing we could do, we were in the middle of nowhere. So off we went for 5 hours on rough "roads" through the barren altiplano landscape. The most eventful moment was when the left rear wheel fell completely off. All of a sudden we jolted and dropped as our rear tyre went rolling past us. Quite a strange sensation seeing your wheel rolling ahead of you. With everyone using the opportunity for a nature bathroom break, Alvaro and the red car driver slowly put on the spare tyre and then we were away again.

Many many hours later, when we were all well and truely over it, we pulled up to a ramshackled building that was to be our home for the night. It was the coldest building I have ever experienced. The whole thing was exposed concrete and had no form of insulation and a few broken windows. We sat inside with all our layers on to eat soup and pasta for dinner. The beds were a mattress on a concrete plinth, and were no warmer. We had 5 layers of blankets and a sleeping bag to keep us warm but it didn't really work. In the morning it was a relief to be outside where it was warmer than in the freezing building.

The second day started much better, we actually saw the sights we were meant to see. We first visited Laguna Colorada, a majestic crimson lake amongst the mountains, with Andean flamingoes all over it. It was my favourite lake off the trip! We then continued on through the altiplano landscape, driving over sand dunes to the rock tree. Literally a rock that looks like a tree. It was bitterly cold and windy so we were quick smart back into the cars. We continued over the snow covered sand dunes, at one point with Alvaro loosing control and spinning the car up onto two wheels. It was a little terrifying to think we almost flipped but Alvaro just gave a cheeky smile. He probably did it to scare us! We arrived at Laguna Honda, another pretty altiplano lake and then onto another one whose name I have forgotten where we had lunch. The drivers prepare all our food and it was surprisingly good, with rice, veggies and tuna and lots of fruit, although the only drink on offer was coke, so nothing for me. No matter how many times I say it was so beautiful, it just cant compare to actually being there. The last lake we saw for the day was Laguna Negra (The Black Lake) The water was black from the ash of a nearby volcano. Surrounding it were shear cliffs and interesting rock formations and funny plants that grow onto the sides of the rocks. This was Christian's favourite lake of the day.

After a few more hours driving, where the red car almost ran out of fuel and the other blue car struggled so hard up a hill that they all had to get out and help push and then walk up the hill as we drove past and once the night had descended we arrived at our accommodation for the night - A salt hotel. Everything, apart from the doors, the bathroom tiles and fixtures and the mattresses was made of salt - the walls, the floor, the tables and chairs. It was a very strange place and thankfully slightly warmer than the night before. We had a nice dinner in the salt dining room before retreating to our salt bedroom.

The next morning did not start well. Alvaro said we had to leave at 5 to catch the sunrise on the Salt Flats. At 5, with everyone ready, only 1 of the 3 three drivers was up. We watched the red car go off into the dark as we had to wake up our hungover drivers. They had been drinking in the little town till 2:30am! No one was very happy and we didnt get to leave until 5:30am with a driver who we had to ask if he was still drunk "Not any more". Somehow he made it through the day, but we were not impressed. We drove fast through the darkness for an hour until we suddenly stopped and saw the red car sitting ontop of a mound of dirt in the middle of the road. The driver just hadn't seen the dirt until too late. Everyone inside the red car was a little shaken and had a few cuts and bumps but all say it wasn't the drivers fault and the mound appeqred out of nowhere. I don't know about this but at least they were ok and once the drivers all pushed the car off the mound, they were off again.

10 minutes further, just as the sky was lightening and we had turned onto the Salt Flats, we had another tyre incident, with the same rear left tyre coming off the rim. So the drivers had to change the tyre again to the red cars spare tyre and then we were off to a random point on the salt flats were we watched the sunrise. It was freezing outside and although the sky was cloudless, it was beautiful to see the sunrise over the salt.

We continued over the strange and enormous salt flats to an island in the centre. This island, about 100m high has nothing on it except for hundreds and hundreds of cacti of all sizes, the oldest one being 900 years old. Truely an unusual sight. We followed the path walking amongst the cacti, taking photos overlooking the salt flats for as far as you could see. We had breakfast in the sunshine and then headed off again to take fun photos.
The salar is where you can take trick photography as the sense of persepctive disappears. We spent an hour as a car group taking pretty unsuccessful trick pictures but it was lots of fun jumping around! It was also nice to feel the warmth of the sun again. We then continued on to an old salt hotel on the salt flats where we sat outside on the salt and had another yummy lunch. After we headed to a spot where they mine the salt for industrial uses. They wet the salt to loosen it up and then pile it all up and let it dry and then take it away for processing. The salar de Uyuni was the absolute highlight of the trip, it was truely stunning and surreal.

We left the salar and continued to and past Uyuni. Uyuni is one of the most sad and depressing towns I have ever seen. Ramshackled brick building surrounded in a landscape of rubbish. 3km out of Uyuni we pulled up at our last stop of the trip - the train cemetary. An abandoned piece of railway with abandoned train engines and carriages. Some of these trains were the first to arrive in Bolivia and have been sitting "dead" here for over 20 years. Bolivia has one of the only remaining train lines in South America with a train line going from Uyuni to La Paz.

Finally it was the end of the trip and Alvaro dropped us off in Uyuni. Here everyone organised their onward transport - no one was staying in Uyuni, it was too depressing and their was no point, we had seen the main attraction. We spent a few hours sitting around with people, watching a protest go through the streets and observing life in Uyuni as we all waited for our buses and then at 8pm, we were off to Sucre. Volcano from the road

Volcano from the road

Chile-Bolivian border train tracks

Chile-Bolivian border train tracks

Anna at the Bolivian border

Anna at the Bolivian border

I think there's something missing...

I think there's something missing...

Home for the first night

Home for the first night

Good morning Christian

Good morning Christian

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

Flamingo

Flamingo

More flamingos

More flamingos

At Laguna Colorada

At Laguna Colorada

Rock trees and jeeps

Rock trees and jeeps

The famous rock tree

The famous rock tree

Laguna Honda

Laguna Honda

Laguna Honda

Laguna Honda

Sand dunes

Sand dunes

Lunchtime lagoon

Lunchtime lagoon

Our view at lunch

Our view at lunch

Funky plants at Laguna Negra

Funky plants at Laguna Negra

Salt hotel

Salt hotel

The mound of dirt came out of nowhere... and did this to their jeep!

The mound of dirt came out of nowhere... and did this to their jeep!

Sunrise on the salt flats

Sunrise on the salt flats

Salt flat shadows

Salt flat shadows

Too cold outside!

Too cold outside!

Our jeep

Our jeep

Very Top Gear

Very Top Gear

Cactus island in the middle of the salt flats

Cactus island in the middle of the salt flats

Cactus island

Cactus island

Christian on the island

Christian on the island

The salt flats

The salt flats

Jumping!

Jumping!

Salt flat acrobatics

Salt flat acrobatics

More jumping...

More jumping...

Optical illusions

Optical illusions

Flying Anna

Flying Anna

Toy jeep

Toy jeep

Christian on the piles of salt

Christian on the piles of salt

Train cemetary

Train cemetary

Us at the train cemetary

Us at the train cemetary

Abandoned trains

Abandoned trains

Posted by awowchuk 13:16 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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