Reflections on Bolivia
Trip Start May 31, 2008
33Trip End Jul 31, 2009
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I left La Paz yesterday on the 2pm tourist bus with Dan (Canadian) from the Amazon Pampas tour. The four hour ride was beautiful, with some of the most amazing high altitude vistas and lots of little villages along the way enveloped in fields which had recently been harvested with small conical stacks of hay peppering the land.
The big surprise of which I had been advised to look out for but not told what it was turned out to be a ferry system about 20 mins outside of Cocacobana which had very basic looking wooden single level boats. These it turned out took ALL vehicles one at a time across Lake Titikaka including our bus. We were made to disembark the bus and get on a ferry to keep the weight down. Other than this the day was uneventful, with a quick check into a guest house followed by booking onto trip to Isla Del Sol on Lake Titikaka for today
The boat out this morning was full and I was surprised when the lake soon revealed snow capped mountains in the distance which added an element to the scenery encountered during the two hour boat ride that served to make it in my opinion truly breathtaking and world class in its beauty.
Side note: Altitude is something which has to be managed primarily by keeping yourself hydrated. After dropping down to almost sea level I have been struggling a bit back up at almost 4000 meters, so after a bit of a crappy sleep the night before, in part due to the altitude, I had done my best to really hydrate myself this morning, as usual. I DID go to the bathroom before the boat ride, but by the end of the thing the beauty of the mountains and islands around me had taken a back seat. Good Grief from Foo Fighters first album had come onto shuffle as we approached our destination and Dave Grohls furious punk rock riff-o-rama was just about keeping my focus to prevent my pissing myself. However, as the people took their time to get off the boad and I spied the Banos (toilet en Espanol) a way off I decided that being at the front of the boat having been chilling on the bow for the ride that the only thing for it unfortunately was to face away from the pier and piss into the lake from the boat
Ahem... meh... etc
So the day was spent hiking the island in the strong rays of a high altitude clear blue sky. It was pretty hard going to be honest, after being given a guided tour of some of the highlights (footprints of the sun, Inca human virgin sacrifice stone tables, pre-Incan animal sacrifice stones, the head of a puma which gives the island its name and an Incan gods face both found in the rocks) we embarked on a 3 hour trek over the island which undulated in a way which presented some fairly challenging looking climbs. Said climbs, once embarked upon, made it fairly impossible for Dan and I to achieve our biggest challenge of talking, walking and eating our apples at the same time! It just wasn't possible and I soon found myself panting like an old man. Good training for Machu Pichu though!
After lunch and another boat to a floating island (which is made of reeds and has houses, churches and look out towers as well as boats - very cool) we came back to Cocacobana and got our tickets out of here
Bolivia is an amazing country. I guess as I write now firmly in Peru on the Bus to Puno where I will stay for a night before going to Cusco, I can look back at the country with a confidence and contentment which perhaps can only be afforded by non of the horror stories which pepper interactions with fellow travelers at every meal and bar having happened to me! I thank the Incan God of the Sun that I was not held at gun point and taken to various cash points to withdraw money before having my passport taken and being put on a bus to the boarder.
Bolivia is challenging, but mainly because of the altitude. It is rewarding in ways in which only countries which are significantly culturally different can be. The colours and clothes the women here wear remind you at every turn that you are somewhere different, far far away from home. Sure, most of the locals will try to get money out of you wherever possible, at every toilet, on the Isla del Sol today where there were extra costs for the ruins and the trek, but the charges are minimal and it's so cheap anyway you can't begrudge people trying to make a living. By and large people seem honest and happy to have you around.
There are things which take a while to get used to
Anomalies abound, contrasting the gap between 1st and 3rd world. You can generally get accommodation for 4 quid a night, but a good Pizza will probably cost you the same. A local Menu Del Dia will cost you a pound in some places (10 Bol) for FOUR courses, Salad, Soup, a meat main and fruit for dessert... (when are you booking your flight Dad? ;) Beers will cost you, and two drinks can equate to the same as a four hour bus ride. Finally, a certain bar in La Paz will serve Gringos with a line of cocaine with their drink - hows that for cultural difference!? I found out from people in the bar at Loki hostel that it's very easy to get hold of the stuff for about 6 pounds for what you would pay 40 for in the UK. This leads to Gringos getting stuck in La Paz and finding themselves in unfortunate circumstances(http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/0501/1224245759380.html) .
Bolivia, like life itself of course, has teeth, but if you treat the place with respect, if you approach with caution, if you listen to people on the road and their stories then the place is AMAZING!
Beat that Peru... now show me what you got!