Beautiful beautiful Bolivia.

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, December 5, 2009

The land of exploding lotions & bowler hats.

The day after we arrived in Bolivia from Peru, Evo Morales was re-elected for another 5 years with a 63% majority. And whilst people were ticking boxes the whole country stopped. No busses, no boats, no bread, no open banks (even in the lead up), and for the few days after, many restaurants had run out of food. Luckily on the afternoon before Bolivia stopped, Melanie, Mathias and I managed sail across Lake Titicaca, at 3,812 m and the biggest lake in South America, to the gorgeous Isla del Sol. We then hiked up the massive hill (my backpack assisted by a strong young boy), negotiated our rooms for 8 dollars a night, for million dollar views of the turquoise lake and snow covered Andes in the distance. Then we settled in for a few days of exhausting walking, at crippling altitude, helped along by the scorching sun. But beautifully tranquil it was, and completely back to basics, no cars, no paved paths just rugged, rocky, hilly terrain, with the ever present danger of being run over by a pack of llamas, alpacas, donkeys, horses, pigs or the whole farm yard at once!

On the island we were greeted by local ladies in traditional costume consisting of layered flamenco style Spanish skirts, and colourful ponchos carrying anything from small children, groceries to firewood. Topped off with a hat, most commonly a bowler hat - ten sizes too small (apparently introduced by the British in the 1920's when they came over to build the railways… interesting that the women have adopted the look and not the men). But the strangest thing to me is the overall plumpness of these ladies with all the climbing up and down the harsh terrain and no oxygen… but then I was told that they in fact wear 7 skirts which would make them look bigger, but also feel much warmer! Surprisingly when we arrived in La Paz the capital city, we were faced with the same attire, Bolivia feels a little more stuck it’s ways than Peru or Equador.

From the highest navigable lake in the world, my next stop was almost back to ground level in the jungle. Iīd met Victor in a few different spots on the way and he was keen to do the Amazon Basin, as was I (especially after missing it in Peru!), and as was Gaby who was arriving imminently in La Paz. But planes hadnīt been able to land in Jungle town of Rurrenabaque for almost a week due to a landing strip that turns to mud in the wet session (which is now). So the three of us decided to hire a 4WD and driver. The 14 hour bumpy ride (complete with flat tyre), was spectacular, however I’m glad I managed to get a plane back again. We then sailed 5 hrs up river  to get to Eco lodge Chalalan in the Nation Madidi Park, which is run and managed solely by the local community, and profits re-invested into education, health and water and sanitation projects. Chalalan sits in a clearing in the jungle, with it’s relaxing wooden huts complete with mosquito nets, hammocks and frogs in the toilet (can give you quite a shock!). It was a very relaxing three days, with an abundance of animals – way way up at the top of the trees and even swimming in the lake with the alligators was nice! When Victor and Gaby caught their ride back, I joined another tour of the Pampas , the lowland plains, for a hot and sticky few days of voyage up and down a mosquito ridden river with a lovely Danish family! There we saw many a monkey up close and personal, swam with the pink dolphins – who insisted on ignoring us and caught and ate piranhas -yum yum!

Why is that fear exponentially increases with age? I’ve found this to be true many times in Bolivia. Firstly when signing up to bike down īthe worlds most dangerous roadī which was named after many a truck toppled over the side claiming hundreds of lives annually (recently however, a new road has been built leaving the original to the cyclists). The ride involves descending 3500m over a distance of 64 km, through cascading waterfalls, and beside sheer drops on a narrow dirt road precariously chiselled out of the side of a near vertical mountain! But the thought of it (and name of it) turned out to be worse than the actual trip possibly because I chose the worst day possible. All the mist and clouds, and heavy rain prevented me seeing the danger, perhaps a blessing in disguise!

And fear again on many of the bus rides, whilst being catapulted around in the seat and not knowing why - as it’s pitch black out of the window. Each night bus I’ve taken… there’s been a few, I’ve been amazed when we’ve reached the other end. And of course our 4WD ride to the Amazon is worth a mention when it comes to scary - mega sheer drops, beside the wheels, not too mention a few near misses with oncoming trucks. 

My Christmas was spent on the Salar de Uyuni the Bolivian salt flats tour, with a bunch of foreigners, surrounded by the surreal and stunning Bolivian landscapes. We even stayed in a salt hotel on Christmas eve, which kinda made up for the lack of turkey etc. and on boxing day at 2am  I arrived in Potosi. Potosi is the highest city at in the world at 4090 m and has in it’s time produced the most silver in the world. Once upon a time is was up there with Paris and London, being the richest city in South America. But since the silver boom cooled in 1650 and Potosi began to rely more on tin, which subsequently crashed in the mid 1980’s, it been less fortunate. Now the city is a little run down and bruised, although still an attractive spot despite it’s inhospitable height. However 10,000 miners still work in the mines in dismal conditions that haven’t changed since colonial times, with no guarantee of a regular wage. Most retire in their forties when silicosis properly sets in, and have to move to more oxygen rich town! Tours are organized to visit the mines - our ex-miner tour guide had a lucky escape I’d say. We brought gifts of coca leaves (chewing the leaves helps the miners work for up to 12 hours at a time without food), and a stick of dynamite (which can be readily bought at the shops in town!). We climbed down lose ladders and more or less slid down ropes, to get 80 meters into the mountain and the general dust levels made me cough and sneeze. Water dripped from the ceiling, in many of the tunnels you’d have to crouch or crawl. I’d say over the three hours we got a little insight into how these poor people make their income!

And then onto Sucre, which built on the riches Potosi and once the capital of Bolivia, is a beautiful white washed city full of colonial architecture and wide streets and declared a UNESCO site in 1991. Unfortunately my visit was too brief in Sucre as I didn’t want to miss my flight! Then onto hot, humid Santa Cruz, where the highlight was possibly getting a pedicure!

Next stop Brazil, for NYE!

5 Dec - 29 Dec 09

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Vicky Burrough on

Great Pics Bee! Making me very nostalgic and very jealous. Enjoy Brazil!

Karen on

I loveeeddd the Pampas trip - yellow monkeys, pink dolphins...what more can you ask for! Photos of salt lakes are amazing too...

Susy and Elizabeth! on

Missing you!! Sounds like you're having an amazing time - wish we were there too - but would be worried about Elizabeth getting eaten by piranas if we were there - as she is so delicious!! Take care of yourself and keep in touch. All the best for 2010!! LOL Susyxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

hari on

Even more envious!!

gusandjess on

Awesome blog Bee! Lovely writing style and great photos... Hope your having a great trip!

Jess xx

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