June 2, 2013
13 Days in Bolivia
Bolivia was not one of my must-see countries during our service, but I wanted to meet my friend Matt during his travels in South America and Bolivia was what worked best. (In hindsight, it should have been on my list.) During the planning time two amazing Seattle friends, Brian and Chris, also showed interest in the trip and just like that we had a great crew of friends to travel with in Bolivia.
The trip began with an unexpected day in Santa Cruz for Jon and I after missing a flight to Sucre. Santa Cruz is the largest city in Bolivia, but yet it felt less city-like and much more spread out than La Paz. During our time there we lingered in the beautiful plaza, enjoyed a real breakfast (I am still trying to introduce the notion of breakfast in Paraguay), got to enjoy some frozen yogurt, and visited several museums.
Then we were off to Sucre. Sucre is known as la Cuidad Blanca, the White City, because the buildings in the historic center are all white with red tiled roofs. It is a very endearing town with its meandering streets, cute coffee shops, and amazing food. They are also known for their chocolate shops, so I of course had to stop and enjoy a couple truffles.
In Sucre we met up with Brian and Chris, I was more than thrilled to find them at our hostel after Jon and I got back from some city exploring. Despite how tired they were from lots of traveling they were still up for getting to know Sucre. So we went to the rooftop of a Jesuit missionary building for some great views and then wandered up to La Recolecta for more amazing views. Simply put, Sucre is a wonderful town to start your travels in Bolivia.
The next morning we were off to Tupiza. Getting to Tupiza proved to be much more of an adventure than any of us anticipated. Due to government worker protests there were roadblocks all over the country. Since buses weren’t running we took a taxi through dirt roads to avoid the city roads, that was until we ran into a roadblock in the middle of the dessert. We decided to leave our taxi and walk through the roadblock and then continued walking for almost an hour (still in the middle of the dessert) until we reached the next town. There we found a taxi van that loaded up 13 of us in the 7 seats it had and once again we went off-roading through the riverbed to circumvent the roadblocks. Ten hours after we left Sucre we arrived to Tupiza, but yet again the entrance to the town was roadblocked so we walked several kilometers to get into the city and then to our hotel. I couldn’t have been happier to finally find that hotel sign and my friend Matt inside. Thankfully, we were with amazing travelers that took all of it in stride, because there were several moments were I was unsure if it was real life or we were just playing some part in a movie.
In Tupiza we did a fun “Triathlon” tour of the rock formations that are near to the town. The first part was jeep, the second bicycle and the final part was horseback riding. I enjoyed it more than I expected, the weather was perfect, and the scenery was amazing; it reminded us of national parks in Colorado and Utah.
The next day our four-day Jeep tour began, which took us high high up in the mountains and desert. At our highest we were 16,000 feet above sea level. The views during this tour were mind-boggling, and there was a certain sense of freedom to be in the middle of the desert with nothing around you. I was most in love with the flamencos, seeing as I had never seen flamencos in their natural habitat. And the red lake, I’ve seen many blue/green lakes, but never a red one. Ok, one more, the llamas, they were quite captivating.
What about the weather, you might ask? It was freezing cold and we were extra lucky that it was snowing the first couple days of the tour. Accommodations in the middle of the desert are also very basic so you sleep with every item of clothing you own on you, and then get yourself in a sleeping bag, which is under several thick blankets. There are also no showers for the first three days. I felt like a true adventure woman.
At the end of the tour you get to the Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats Bolivia is so famous for. Before heading out to the salt flats we stayed at a salt hotel, it was truly entirely made out of salt. The floor was my favorite, which was all pellets of salt. It felt like you were walking on loose pebbles.
The Salar itself was breathtaking. You feel like you are in a sea of snow, except it’s salt, that is flat and never ending, the sky and ground turn into one. We also had a little too much fun taking pictures.
From the Salar we traveled to La Paz to go down the Death Road, a.k.a. The World’s Most Dangerous Road. More people have died on this road than any other road in the world. During the planning of our trip I was resolute that I was going to skip this and go to art museums instead. My plan sounded much more pleasant. But in the end, I decided you only live once, so I joined the boys on the craziness. There were 16 other bikers in our group and I quite proudly was by far the slowest one of them all. Slow and steady wins the race is what I’ve been told. I was glad to have survived it, only hitting one stationary car and the scenery, like everything else in Bolivia, was breathtaking.
We also got to spend some time in La Paz, mostly filling our stomachs with Indian and Cuban food. From there, off to Copacabana, that is the original one the famous beach in Rio is named after. Copacabana is on the shores of Lake Titikaka, the highest navigable lake in the world. I was transfixed with the glistening water and had forgotten how calming it is to be near a body of water.
Afterwards we went on a boat ride to Isla del Sol, a nearby island with no cars, but plenty of donkeys. We enjoyed hiking across the island, and then treating ourselves to a tasty dinner. During our trip we kept on staying at more and more inexpensive places, but Isla del Sol, beat them all. It cost each of us $3.50 for a night in a private bedroom with a bathroom.
And just like that, our incredible trip, with extraordinary friends came to an end. Brian, Chris, and Matt’s crew continued on to Peru, and Jon and I made our way back to good ol’ Paraguay. But hey, to keep things cheesy, everlasting memories were made in the beautiful land of Bolivia.