A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia

MEMORIES OF BOLIVIA

THINGS I DID AND DIDN'T HAVEE TIME TO WRITE ABOUT BUT WANT TO REMEMBER

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1. Tourism – They haven’t quite got it mastered yet but they are getting there. Our excursions and travels were all without incident but bathrooms and water were never as simple as in Peru. Our tour coordinator thought a 4-ounce bottle of water would do us on the 11-hour bus trip.
2. Mining is the number one industry.
3. The poorest of all the South American countries. Sixty percent of the population live below the poverty line and it is worst in rural areas. Some of the areas we drove through were the worst I have ever seen.
4. Has two capital cities. Sucre is the official capital although La Paz is considered to be the administrative capital.
5. Altitude. La Paz, is considered to be the highest capital in the world. It is 3640 meters above sea level (11,942 feet).
6. The airport (El Alto) is even higher at 4100 meters above sea level. We were many places higher than that. We felt fine until we walked up hill, even an incline was labour intensive. Everything was up hill!
7. With altitude comes dry land and dry air. My skin feels like leather. We all had a few minor nose bleeds.
8. Wifi – almost as bad as Peru.
9. Even more people chew Coca. The government claims to have strict control over the use of the leaves claiming all the cocaine in the country is coming from the bordering countries. From what I gather, no one believes that.
10. Bolivian Salt Flats. Tick! 11,000 square kilometers of flat white salt. Once under the ocean, now hosts very little wildlife, except the pink flamingos.
11. Many issues with drunk drivers on the salt flats. We even saw a driver, with tourists, drinking out of a flask. I expressed my concern when we booked and we had no issues. Our drivers were great.
12. Eighty percent of the population is Catholic however the Quechua and Aymara often pray to the Virgin Mary and the various Catholic saints while simultaneously offering sacrifices to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Llama fetuses are often part of the sacrifice.
13. A decent meal is…..I am not sure we had one. Quinoa and potato with no seasoning. A bottle of water was between 5-8bs. Pizza was popular and our saviour. Our hotel in La Paz did have decent food and we ate there a few times.
14. The currency is the Boliviano; one Canadian dollar is about 5 bs.
15. Llama is on every menu.
16. The Cholas or Cholitas. The ladies in the big skirts and bowler hats or fancy hats carrying the colourful bags which hold goods or children. The sense of elegance is a direct contradiction to the obvious poverty. I often felt like I was walking through a movie set.
17. I will not forget all the begging in the street or worst the very young children dancing in the streets with a money dish in front of them. When we walked by, I saw a mother push her daughter to perform in hopes that we might pay. As much as it breaks my heart, I would never pay. I cannot encourage such exploitation of children.
18. I won’t forget the kids being offered cocaine in the streets in broad daylight.
19. La Paz was interesting and beautiful but it was also a little scary. I never felt like going out after dark. As much as I loved my time there, it made me a little sad.
20. I won’t forget how I felt when my guide told me he saved two of four Advil I gave him days before. Here’s what happened…..

While we took the nice tourist bus to Uyuni, our guide had to take a different, and I imagine, not so nice, bus. He had little sleep and at the end of our magnificent first day on the salt flats, he looked tired and mentioned he had a headache. He said don’t worry, I will go look for a pharmacy to see if I can get something. I gave him enough Advil for the night (4). Three days later when I hired him for our extra day, he asked me about them and said they worked so well, he saved two of them in case his daughter or wife had a headache or pain. He told me medicine was available but expensive and they would never use ibuprofen for pain, it was for serious fever. The conversation continued and I got the impression that although he was university educated, his life was not that easy. When we parted, he had my bottle of Advil, some Tylenol and a number of other things that I no longer needed. Talk about perspective.

Posted by curlygirl 15:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (0)

THE WINDING ROAD TO COROICO

OUR LAST DAY IN BOLIVIA

sunny 28 °C

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Today, with our companions on their way back home, we decided to plan an excursion to get out of the city. We hired our guide Juan from the past few days to take us to the town of Coroico, which is 3000 meters lower than where we are now and in the jungle. It is also much warmer.

Not long into our trip, I got a text from Lorna saying when they got to the airport, the airline insisted that all Sharon’s flights were cancelled. She ended up buying a ticket to Lima to try and straighten things out with Air Canada there because Avianca wasn’t helping. Then a few minutes later, another text, Lorna had lost her passports. No doubt from the stress of leaving her mom behind in Lima. She could not board her next flight. She did find the passports left on the previous flight, but not until after missing her flight. At present, they all have reunited in Lima and have new itineraries home tomorrow.

Nevertheless, it caused me some panic and so I texted Sherry back home to get online and on phone to make sure we had flights. She is the best agent, she even checked us in. So fingers crossed, things will be straight forward for us.

Our adventure wasn’t terribly exciting although the views through the Andes were lovely. We stopped at what they call the summit at 4700 meters above sea level. The road was crazy. They wanted to take the old road known as death road but I insisted on the new road. That freaked me out enough as it is. As we were driving out of town, Juan is telling me about all the accidents even on the new road. Now only bikers used the true death road.

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The summit

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While at the summit we could see fire pits everywhere from sacrifices. There were two female shaman there to assist with sacrifices and even our driver gave a sacrifice of alcohol and coca leaves to Pachamama ( the god or mother of the earth).

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When we got to Coroico, we had a quick look around but there wasn’t much there. We did have a really nice lunch at a cute little restaurant.

We visited a waterfall. The roads were brutal and it was so dusty.

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I had hoped to visit a Coca plantation but we did not and the Coca museum was closed. I am fascinated by this leaf that is used by tourists in tea to manage altitude sickness and is chewed constantly by locals. It is the same leaf that is used to manufacture cocaine. I am not sure why I was surprised that the tea is stimulant and was keeping me up or that the poor use it to have energy and not feel hungry, which makes it appealing. We can’t bring it home and the only way to get it there is to start a cocaine habit which doesn’t seem like the best idea. We did see it growing everywhere though. Apparently the chronic chewers are addicted to the leaf.

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The best part of my day was when we saw the potato farmers drying and dehydrating their potatoes and I asked to pull over. It was so cool. We got out and talked to them. This one couple showed me how they spread potatoes for 3 days so lots of frost gets in them, then they stomp them with their bare feet over a few days to get all the water out. This dehydrates them so they can store them.

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Another kind was soaked in sacks in the river for three weeks.

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This lady , my new friend, wanted to know if she would be on Facebook Canada.

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It was a nice day. Relaxing. But we are tired and we don’t go to the airport until 12:30 am and fly at 3:30 am. I guess that is a first world problem.

The chicken that joined us for lunch

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Posted by curlygirl 18:22 Archived in Bolivia Tagged la bolivia coca paz coroico Comments (2)

CHOLITAS – THE OBSESSION CONTINUES

A RELAXING DAY IN LA PAZ AND FINAL GOODBYES

sunny 22 °C

After a very busy couple of weeks exploring Peru and Bolivia we finally had a day with nothing on our schedule. This is actually the last day for our travel companions as they leave very early in the morning. We fly after midnight tomorrow night.

Since we were all exhausted we opted to take the morning to relax at our hotel which was great. At lunch time, we headed out on a little itinerary planned by Lorna. We started by heading to a restaurant for lunch, only to get caught up in a local protest. It was harmless minus the constant firecrackers. The protest appeared to be by medical professionals and along the sidelines were local protesting against them. It was without incident.

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After lunch we returned to San Francisco Cathedral hoping to get inside. It was still locked so we decided to visit the church museum. This turned out to be awesome as we ended up guided through alleys that took us to the balcony overlooking the inside of the church and to the bell tower and even up to the rooftop. The tiles on the roof were actually molded by the thighs of the workers. It was gorgeous and a complete surprise. It is definitely underated in the guide books.

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Next was a stroll through the market and some last minute shopping. And of course some Chola or Cholita stalking ( one week it is the geisha, next the cholitas). Lorna sent me a great article about the history of this dress code and their role in society. You can actual watch them wrestle on Sunday nights. I checked it out on YouTube and I don’t think we missed much.

If you want to read about the Cholitas, click here

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Can you see the wad of coca leaves in her cheek?

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We came back to the hotel to relax for a few minutes and then the adults went to a nearby museum that featured a textile exhibit, mask exhibit, traditional hats, history of the people of Bolivia, artifacts from the region and much more. Very well done.

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We came back and fetched the kids and grabbed a bite at the museum restaurant. I have barely had time to write anything about some of our impressions but I can tell you that we have been less than impressed with the food. Both Peru and Bolivia have over 22 types of quinoa and while I love it, I don’t care to see it for a very long time. The other local favorite is potato and it can appear in any of the over 100 varieties, not all good.

Then it was back to the hotel to say our goodbyes.

Six years ago, I traveled alone with my son for the first time. I was nervous. I booked my first ever tour, a family adventure through Costa Rica. I wasn’t sure I would like a tour. I wasn’t sure how Isaac would manage with other families, being without his dad. But fate took over. Our tour was unique, off the beaten path and showed us things we would have never discovered on our own. It was fun, it was relaxing. More importantly it was shared with just one other family. A single mom, Lorna with her two kids ( Kajal and Jackson), both slightly younger than Isaac and her mom, Sharon. Two incredibly strong smart ladies who shared so many interests with me. After two weeks, we were the best of friends and were already planning a second trip together in 2 years. That trip was just as successful. Vietnam and Cambodia remains one of my favorites and believe it or not, we were once again the only 6 booked on that tour. Two years after that we traveled to Kenya and Tanzania and decided there that we should tackle a 4th continent together. Well that trip is now complete and I have just said good bye to this special family. There are no future trips planned. Isaac is off to college in the fall and so life is about to change. I can only say that I am so grateful that this family was in the right place at the right time and I will never forget the special memories we have created together.

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Posted by curlygirl 18:28 Archived in Bolivia Tagged san francisco la paz chola chilota Comments (1)

SALT FLATS TAKE TWO

MORE TIME TO EXPLORE BOLIVIA’S TREASURE

sunny 14 °C

Our day started at 10 this morning which was a considerable sleep in on our very busy schedule.

We headed back out on to the flats and drove 100 kilometers towards a small village stopping to look at a volcano along the way. We were supposed to climb this volcano but it is over 18,000 feet. Not a chance when we have just adjusted to this altitude. So instead we made an alternate plan and continued on to the village. Juan told us that only 40 couples remain living there and that all the children had moved to bigger centers. That only makes sense given the isolation. Saying that it was a real treat. First we saw fields of llamas and flamingos nearby by drinking in the little puddles of water. I had no idea flamingos live here. It seems there would be nothing to eat. And what does that salt do to their blood pressure. I tried to get close to them but they didn’t like me if you can imagine that.

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In the little town we visited the home / museum of a local man who, over the years has found tons of artifacts from the pre-inca times, artifacts from those known as the Tiwanaku. Here, sitting in his backyard are intact jugs, pottery, weapons, cooking utensils that are thousands of years old. This would never happen in North America as they are so valuable and impossible to replace.

This same man has created rock formations to look like animals. A bit of an artist in a strange sort of way.

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As well, there is an open tomb where a mummy remains as it was found.

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In the same village sits a church that was once surrounded by homes made of stone. The church is still used for special occasions. Isaac did't quite fit in the bell tower.

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Next was a visit to a cave. There were three kids looking after the generator for this cave and they pulled up on motorcycle.

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After another picnic lunch on the salt, we visited another rock formation where another tomb was found. Again, in the middle of no where and wide open with no one guarding the remains.

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From there we began the long drive home. We stopped midway for a few more attempts at goofy pictures. Isaac slept through this.

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After returning to Uyuni we grabbed a quick supper and caught a flight back to La Paz. Looking forward to have two nights in the same bed. and having some time to relax today.

Posted by curlygirl 06:32 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (1)

THE INCREDIBLE AND SPECTACULAR SALT FLATS OF UYUNI

“I THINK I MAY HAVE DONE SOME DAMAGE MOM”

sunny 15 °C

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I am writing from under my duvet and heated blanket at our beautiful salt hotel. My view as I glance up from my computer is a dome of salt blocks above my bed. The hotel is made primarily of salt with some wood used in the framing and hallways. There are fireplaces everywhere and I feel such peace. Isaac is snoring beside me as he is completely exhausted from a very full day in the open air. He loves the hotel but his giant feet almost got him in trouble as he was gazing around and accidently chipped a little salt from a center piece. Oops.

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We have had so little down time and terrible internet so I am writing this in hopes of catching up tomorrow from La Paz.

I will write little and share way too many pictures of this incredible place that was simply an ocean 50,000 years ago. As the ocean evaporated Uyuni was left with a never ending sea of salt at over 3600 meters above sea level. The remaining salt is mined and exported and draws thousands of tourist a week. It is no wonder. I can’t believe that when I first started planning this trip with Lorna I didn’t really want to come here. It is now on my list of favorite places I have seen. I loved my day.

We arrived in Uyuni at 7 am and after a leisurely breakfast headed out.

Our first stop was quite bizarre. We visited the train graveyard and it is exactly that. Uyuni was once the maintenance center for all trains in the region but as technology improved, the need no longer existed and the old trains were simply left in the area. It didn’t sound all that interesting but it was cool. The kids had a blast climbing around and on top of the wrecks.

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From there we went to see how the salt was processed and ventured out onto the salt flats. We stopped to see the oxygen bubbling up from the water below. Yikes, it was scary to learn that there is water all below us and people have actually gone through. A 45-minute drive took us to the middle of the flats where we tried some funny pictures and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

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lunch

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Then another hour drive into the vast fields brought us to the most specular little island filled with cactuses. We hiked to the tops for more incredible views. I have never seen anything like it.

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Another hour drive (I have no idea how our driver knew where he was going since everything looks the same) took us to an area which is normally filled with water so we could see the reflections. In the last week the water evaporated leaving only small puddles for us to take some reflection photos and watch the sun go down.

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The entire day, I was mesmerized by the never ending sea of white and the constantly changing skies, clouds and colours.

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I thought nothing could make the day better until we arrived at our hotel. Cozy, quaint and unique. Yet another very special place on our little adventure.

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Posted by curlygirl 20:44 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (4)

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