Summer Travels Part 3: Bolivia

Hello everyone! It’s a bit later than I wanted ti to be (our first week back was a whirlwind), but the final stretch of our adventure is here. We travelled from Cusco to La Paz, stopping in a few places along the way, and ended our time in Bolivia on a three-day tour of the salt flats. Judging by how much I’ve written in my travel journal, this post is going to be a big one too. I hope you enjoy!

18/01/19 – 19/01/19 – Bolivia Hop, Peru/Bolivia

We ‘hopped’ on the bus at around 10pm after saying goodbye to everyone at the hostel. Our first stop was in Puno, Peru, on the following day so we slept on the bus overnight. We arrived in the early morning, and sleepily got off to eat breakfast at a cafe (scrambled eggs in Peru don’t compare to the Chilean scrambled eggs, I’m sad to say).

Due to an oversight on my part (I was in charge of booking the bus), we weren’t actually booked on the boat tour of the Peruvian half of Lake Titicaca, one of South America’s largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water. Instead, we walked around part of the edge of the lake and chatting, trying to wake ourselves up. After successfully waking up and buying water (stay hydrated in high altitude – but also in general – kids), we walked back to the meet-up point and caught the bus to the boarder.

The Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca

The boarder crossing was actually pretty calm. While the queue was extremely long (we were waiting for almost an hour), being stamped out of Peru was painless. Soon, we were walking over the border to the point of entry in Bolivia (another uphill walk, this time with our massive rucksacks in the midday heat – fun).

After navigating the entry forms somewhat successfully (one of us had to redo his), we were given a very important scrap of paper that we ‘could not lose under any circumstances’ (it was required at the Bolivia-Chile border). Soon enough, we were back on the bus and on our way to Copacabana.

We actually booked the trip available during this stop so after a slightly stressful lunch (we had 50 minutes and the food arrived 15 minutes before we had to board the boat), we left the mainland to travel to La Isla del Sol.

The journey to the island was really peaceful. We stayed inside on the way there and just watched the water go by. Lake Titicaca is so vast it almost seems like the sea (its best not to call it that though, Bolivia not having access to the coast has been a point of contention for the country since the War of the Pacific ended in 1884).

Once we got there, we had the option of going on a walk around the island and meeting the boat later. Josh was still running on adrenaline, but Emily and I decided to stay on the boat and just watch the world go by. This wasn’t before we witnessed one of the German guys put his foot through the floor of the boat as he got up to leave (we were all in hysterics over the situation). Emily and I decided to sit on top of the boat as the captain (or driver?), moved the boat to the main point of the island where everyone would be picked up.

After sitting on the dock whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, Josh returned with a new German friend (not the one who broke the boat, mind you), who asked Emily to take photos of him as he dived into the lake. Josh, not wanting to feel left out, decided to go paddling in the lake.

On the boat back to the mainland, we all sat on the top of the boat and watched the sun begin to set as we pulled into Copacabana. We then boarded the bus to begin our journey to La Paz.

A few hours in, we had to get off the bus in order to cross part of the lake. The bus went on a sort of ferry, whilst we had to get back onto boats. It was close to pitch black at this point and I was actually kind of scared as we crossed.

After the crossing, we had a little time to buy food and go to the loo before boarding the bus. For the rest of the journey we had a sort of film night on the bus with the most incredible popcorn. The last 40 minutes of the journey were the worst as the roads in Bolivia are quite bad and we were all fed up of being on the bus. That being said, the view of La Paz lit up as we entered the city was astounding, and we arrived at our hostel pretty soon after that.

19/01/19 – 21/01/19 – La Paz, Bolivia

We arrived at Loki hostel at around 10:30pm, making our journey from Cusco to La Paz a full 24 hours. Since we were all exhausted and Josh had to be up early the next morning for Death Road, we went to bed as soon as we got to our room. This wasn’t before a drunk Brazilian man introduced himself to us. Luckily, he wasn’t in our room.

Unfortunately our room was on the floor below the bar, so we were privy to all the bad music and drunken shouting that comes with any Loki hostel bar and is significantly less enjoyable when you are not part of the group doing the shouting. Josh’s early start was self-inflicted, but I don’t think the comings and goings of our dorm-mates (part of the drunken, shouting group) was appreciated regardless.

By the time Emily and I were awake, showered, and ready to head out, Josh was long gone. We decided to try and walk to a cafe we had seen on the tourist’s map of La Paz, but we ended up getting hopelessly lost. In a moment of desperation (feeling increasingly exposed and unsafe as there were no other tourists around), we took a taxi to the purple teleférico station, thinking it was close to where we wanted to go. It wasn’t, and we then had to walk back up the hill (can you tell I am sick of mountainous terrain?) to get to the right place.

In the end, we both gave up and went to a Bolivian restaurant for, what was by that time, lunch. ‘The Local Dish’ was pretty cool. Murals covered the walls, along with textile hangings that showed off the indigenous cultures within Bolivia. We both went for the peanut soup, which was delicious (it reminded me of the Indonesian food Dad makes).

After spending an hour there trying to google things to do on a Sunday in Bolivia (most things are closed), we decided to buy a teleférico card and spent the rest of the afternoon riding on the different lines and seeing a bit more of La Paz from above. The day before something had bitten my ankle and caused it to swell a lot (I couldn’t walk on it properly), so it was good to be able to rest it and spend a day with ny feet up (literally). Luckily, I didn’t develop sepsis from the bites (like my dad thought I would) and recovered within a day or so, much to everyone’s relief (my flippancy about it was… Concerning for some).

We spent most of the evening in Loki having a good old natter, which included Josh once we found him. He told us all bout his Death Road adventures (the pictures were slightly terrifying, but he had a blast ), and at around 10pm, we walked back to the street we went to in the morning and ate at the Italian restaurant next to ‘The Local Dish’ since Emily and I were both craving pizza – and what fantastic pizza it was.

After finishing at the restaurant following a debate about how many continents there are (spoiler alert: it’s not 5), we walked down the slightly dodgy streets of La Paz at close to midnight and promptly crashed once we got back to the hostel.

The next day we all woke up pretty late (again) and grabbed breakfast in Loki. We also booked the next and final leg of our travelling: the Salar de Uyuni.

Emily had broken her phone in Cusco, so the main aim of the day was to find a shop that could fix her phone. Once we’d dropped it off at the first place we found, we went to go and sit on the steps outside of the San Francisco Church as Emily wasn’t feeling well (in hindsight this was foreshadowing for the next few days), and then decided the museum of the church on a whim.

We we given a tour guide since we weren’t allowed to wander around by ourselves, who took us around the monastery, which was painted bright blue (if I remember correctly this was to match the colour of the heavens).

Josh and I also went up to the roof of the church. Our guide told us that the tiles are different shapes and sizes because some were modelled on the thighs of Spaniards whereas others were modelled on the thighs of indigenous men. We also learnt that the opposite half of the city to the one we stayed in was far more ordered and the roads less maze-like because the Spanish settlers lived on that side of La Paz whereas the indigenous people lived in the half we were staying in. If anything, it explained why Emily and I got hopelessly lost the day before.

After having a look around the city and grabbing some lunch, Emily and I returned to the phone shop to pick up her phone. As she didn’t have enough money on her to pay for the repair (the more we think about it the more we think she was ripped off), we ended up walking around frantically to try and find a cash exchange place for Emily to exchange her dollars. We found one in the end, and Emily got her phone back almost good as new.

Once we dealt with that, we went back to the hostel to grab our bags and then got a taxi to the bus station (which was my favourite station because it was yellow and colonial and just very pretty).

Our overnight bus to Uyuni ended up being almost an hour late, which really stressed me out since we didn’t know which stop it was going to come into (“either this one or this one… Or that one over there” – actual words spoken by a member of staff when we asked where the bus would pull into), so we were on our feet the entire time, ready to run if need be. When it finally arrived, it took us another 40 minutes to actually leave because of luggage issues and the fact people were getting on the wrong bus and therefore putting their luggage on the wrong bus. Nevertheless, we set off soon enough. The actual journey was surprisingly smooth, considering how bad the roads are in Bolivia, and we all managed a respectable night’s sleep.

Overall, I think I’d give La Paz 3/5 llamas. I thought the city was interesting, but we couldn’t find much to do and the atmosphere of the hostel wasn’t as nice as others we had stayed in. I’m not even sure I’d want to visit it again, but I think there has to be more to the city than what we saw.

22/01/19 – 24/01/19 – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Once again, we arrived in the early hours of the morning. We were met by a woman who took all of us waiting for the Perla de Bolivia tour to a small cafe where we could wait and have breakfast. Josh almost ate a slice of Emily’s toast but luckily that situation was avoided and peace was maintained. I got changed in the toilets (Bolivian loos are the worst I experienced whilst travelling), and spent the next few hours reading, charging my phone and trying to find a cash point.

The tour house opened at around 10, so we moved there and signed in. When the time came to set off we discovered that Martin and Luke (the guys we met in Cusco who had been on BoliviaHop with is as well), were in the same car a us for the entire tour.

Our first stop was the train cemetery, where all the old steam trains used to transport mined silver were abandoned once they couldn’t be repaired. While interesting, it wasn’t my favourite part of the tour. That being said, it was fun climbing over all the rusted engines (tourists have apparently died doing this), and Josh being the absolute daredevil that he is decided to climb part of an old crane – I couldn’t watch.

Our tour guide Janet herded us back into the jeep to the next stop, a town where the salt from the salt flats is processed. It was cool watching the salt getting bagged, and we were asked to buy something to support the local community as it relies heavily on the tourism. I bought a salt magnet, a present for someone (I can’t remember if I told them or not so it will remain a secret), and also went to the loo (which they charge your for, that wasn’t just information I thought you needed to know).

Josh finds the Scottish flag in all its glory; we find the English flag torn up and faded at the bottom of a pole

After that, we actually began to drive on the salt flats, which was probably one of my favourite experiences of the trip. We stopped at the salt hotel and walked across the salt flats for a while, before meeting up with the jeeps and having lunch (which was so nice – Bolivian quinoa is actually magnificent I’m still in awe).

Once we’d taken some weird perspective photos with a banana, a pot, some wine bottles and a dinosaur (Josh took some absolutely brilliant photos for other people), we headed further out into the salt flats to get to Isla Incahuasi.

We were told on the drive to the island that the drivers use the mountains and volcanoes around the salt flats to navigate since GPS and phone service don’t work out there. So, if it’s cloudy, they start to have problems and could potentially get very lost, which is quite serious considering at 11,000-sq.km, the Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world.

Still, we got to the island, studded with cacti and formed from petrified coral (millions of years ago the Salar was a lake), without too much trouble. I decided it would be a brilliant idea to do the walk around the island in flip-flops (I only tripped a few times). The species of cacti that decorate the island grows 1cm every year, so we’d see a few small ones and call them cute, before realising that they were actually around 50-60 years old.

We took some more photos on the salt flats and I got my ego severely bruised when I fell over after trying to do a jump kick for a photo. Janet didn’t help as she reminded everyone of it as soon as we got back into the jeep. Regardless, the atmosphere in our car was great because Emily and Martin took turns to Bluetooth music the entire time. Thanks to Martin, I now have a soft spot for German rap music.

After a long stint driving, we reached the edge of the salt flats where there was enough water to give the mirror effect we were all dying to see. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The salt was actually really sharp – Emily got a deep gash on her finger from just running it along the ground. We got to watch the sunset and the skies were so gorgeous I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was so tranquil there too. We ended our time on the salt flats with a toast, before heading off to our hostel.

This is where things got a little more stressful. Emily woke me up at around midnight with the sound of her stomach contents splattering on the floor. I of course did the really helpful thing of standing outside a 5ft radius and awkwardly patting her in the back – not my finest moment as her partner. It’s safe to say both of us didn’t sleep much the rest of the night. Fortunately, Emily was able to get up the next morning and keep going with us, but she was confined to the jeep for pretty much the whole day.

Most of the day was spent driving, since we had a big distance to cover. We stopped once because one of the Jeep’s got a flat tyre, once to go to a cave we couldn’t actually go into because the museum was closed, and once to look at this active volcano.

Our view from the side of the road whilst the tyre was being changed

We did stop off for longer periods of time at some lagoons to see the flamingoes (I have seen so many flamingoes whilst travelling) and have lunch, but we stayed in the jeep mostly and sped through the Atacama desert. We also drove down such a steep sand dune we were almost vertical.

Lunchtime view

Before entering the national park, we stopped off at the red lagoon. Since we arrived well after midday, it was cloudier and you couldn’t really see the red too well. Regardless, I liked this stop because Emily was feeling better and came out of the jeep – the toilets here were definitely the worst though.

The Rock Tree I forgot we saw until I was looking for photos (oops)
Part 2 of tourists climbing things they should not be climbing

Our last stop before the hostel was a geyser. Admittedly, it wasn’t as nice as el Tatio (Josh kept repeating this adamantly) and it did smell of rotten eggs because of all the sulfur, but it was fun to walk around and see all the clay bubbling.

Josh was unimpressed with this geyser (it did smell awful to be fair)

The hostel we stayed in for the night was so lovely. It was really basic and had no electricity after 10pm, but dinner was nice, Emily was feeling better and the atmosphere was just really good and easygoing.

After diner Josh and I went down to the hot springs with Mark and Marie, a couple who were on our tour. The hot spring was incredible, it was definitely better than the one at el Tatio as we could actually stay in it for more than 15 minutes. I ended up staying with Martin, Luke, Chris, Rochelle and Alain as everyone else got out before the power in the hostel was shut off. We all watched the moonrise together which was a totally surreal experience (“that can’t be the moon, it must be a fire or something” – all of us at one point or another). Getting back to the hostel in the pitch black whilst dripping wet was entertaining. Fortunately we made it back in one piece before midnight (technically the hot springs closed at 10pm but we stayed whilst it drained out).

Our view from the hostel window in the morning

Breakfast the next morning was great because we had panqueques with manjar (manjar is the greatest invention. Ever). We set off again at around 7am, heading to the Dalí desert and the white and green lagoons before crossing the border back into Chile.

The White Lagoon and Licancabur

It was a really incredible experiences made better by the people. I’d give our time on the salt flats a 4.5/5 llamas. I definitely want to do this again. Below is a photo of our entire group, it was interesting meeting all these different people who had the tour in common!

Getting back into Chile was slightly arduous, however. Our minibus driver said that the border control guys could be nasty and not let people in for trivial reasons, and we had to wait for a good hour and a half (poor josh was sat under a pile of rucksacks for the journey to the border) just to get into the building. Luckily, we didn’t get any trouble from the men and it was a mostly-painless experience.

It felt so surreal to return to San Pedro de Atacama, where we began our travelling, and it was sad to think how quickly it had gone by. It just means I’ll have to return and do/see a bit more of everything.

After being dropped off in San Pedro, it’s safe to say Emily and I were in rotten moods. The temperature difference between Bolivia and Chile was slightly ridiculous considering we had only travelled 150km or so. Our moods weren’t helped by the bus ride back to Calama. It was 36°C outside and the air conditioning was broken. It didn’t help that 20 minutes into the 1.5 hour journey one of the bus drivers decided to close all the skylights which stopped what little breeze we had. We coped, though (barely).

‘Josh can make friends with anyone/anything’ – exhibit ?

After much deliberation, we ended up getting a bus to Santiago. Our second wait in Calama bus station wasn’t as long, and whilst Emily and I were washing ourselves with baby wipes in the toilets, Josh was making friends again (dogs in Calama can’t get enough of him). By the time we got on the bus, Emily and I were both fed up, and she was sure she was going to vomit again (luckily she didn’t). Josh was the only one of us in a good mood – he probably deserves a medal for putting up with us that day. That being said, we were all slightly unhinged by the time we got off the bus in Santiago. One final taxi ride, and we were home.

I loved our 3 weeks travelling, for the most part. I learnt a lot (buses longer than 10 hours suck), and pushed myself in ways I didn’t think I would (asking strangers for directions in Spanish, walking to Aguas Calientes). My favourite country was Peru, easily, and I really enjoyed our journey from Cusco to La Paz if only for all the inside jokes we now have. This taster has definitely awoken a love of travelling in me and I can’t wait to do more!

Once we got back from travelling, we spent a week at the beach with our host family which was exactly the kind of relaxation I needed after being non-stop for almost a month. The waves were massive and the beaches were busy, but I had a great time seeing more of the coastline and spending time with Monica and her family.

Horcón, the beach town nearest to where we were staying

Papudo; the waves here were huge!

Since this post was delayed, next week I’ll be talking about my first few weeks back at school and the work I’ve been doing with the children. Emily and I are now working in different cíclos (the equivalent of a key stage), so we now work separately within the school. I’m hoping to get back into doing weekly updates again. I hope you enjoyed this update and that you have a good day!

Chao,

Imogen.

One thought on “Summer Travels Part 3: Bolivia”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s