Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Leaving Rurrenabaque well sunburnt, it was time for more sun – Isla del Sol, that is.

Having made the mistake of buying an open flight ticket with TAM for my return from Rurrenabaque to La Paz, then not using it (it was either wait two days and use it, or fly with Amaszonas, which is what I did), I needed to refund my ticket at the agency I bought it. Unfortunately, the opening time meant that I would miss the tourist bus to Copacabana, the access point to Isla del Sol. The more unfortunate thing? The refund was only 70%, so I lost about $18 for nothing but more hassle.

I then took a local bus to Copacabana, which costs less than the tourist bus…but considering that I needed to take a taxi to the bus company (in a dangerous area, no less), I ended up having to pay more. And the bus took an extra hour too, whoo! It was an excellent ride though, hugging the coast of the stunning Lago Titicaca, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world. The road was mountainous as is normal for the Andes, which made for plenty of great viewpoints of the lake. Little communities, farms, random crops growing right by the water, boats… Continue reading

Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

After hearing recommendations from other travellers (Andrew in particular, way back in El Chaltén, Argentina), I decided to make a three-day detour to Rurrenabaque, at the edge of the Amazon basin. The options? Bus for 24 hours (more on that later) or fly. Fly it is!

Well, I messed up a bit – my flight was at 3 pm, and I thought to myself to get to the airport at 1:30 pm, since the ticket says to arrive one hour early. What I DIDN’T read on the ticket was which airport – I ended up at the international airport, not the military one! Oops. With only 30 minutes to spare and a giant traffic jam, I grudgingly shelled out the extra 50 Bs to shuttle me there, just in time.

Except the plane wasn’t on time – we didn’t even board the plane until 4 pm. And zero semblance of security either! Well, a dog sniffed our bags (but not our carry-ons). Whoo. Continue reading

La Paz, Bolivia

That’s what the city’s shaped like, from altitudes ranging from 3100 m to 4058 m.  And maybe that’s why all the cholitas (indigenous women) here wear bowler hats instead of the ones you see in other Bolivian cities.  (Ba-dum-shhhh.)

All the good stuff is downhill in the center.  The poorer you are, the further uphill you live.  And these hills are bruuuutal.  At least there are micros that run super-frequently everywhere and every which way, costing only 2 Bs. Continue reading

Sucre, Bolivia

“Quick, go go go!”

There was a strike in Potosí, preventing me from the normal option of leaving town by bus. Strikes of any sort are extremely common here, and bus routes to major cities are often blocked for hours or days. Antonio beckoned me into a taxi at 7 am, after I had woken up early (begrudgingly, as I was fighting a cold from walking around Potosí in the rain the previous day) due to his warning the previous night. “Maybe you can get around el bloqueado.”

I was lucky, and I did – after detouring around one protestor-made roadblock, immediately upon arriving BEHIND the bus station, the taxi driver pointed out to me a private car heading to Sucre. Unfortunately, it would cost me 6 times the normal cost – 60 Bs ($9) instead of 10. Ah well, worth the price of an extra day. Continue reading

Potosí, Bolivia

Due to lack of time, I did something I normally wouldn’t do – take a night bus arriving in the middle of the night. I bought a bus ticket from Uyuni to Potosí, leaving 7:30 and arriving past 1 am for 35 bolivanos ($5, 3 hours)…but was jittery enough that I bought another one for 6 pm, arriving at midnight, for another 30 Bs. Tried to get a refund on that 35, but was unsuccessful. Was told to go sell my ticket on the street…I just gave my ticket back to the woman and told her (in bad Spanish) to sell it again without paying me. She was confused, but after much hemming and hawing, accepted. Seriously though, hesitating over free money?

The bus was an experience. Bumpy bumpy bumpy. Also, despite being seated, there were plenty of people standing in the aisles for at least an hour – turns out we were making local stops. After arriving in Potosí at midnight, I caught a taxi for my hostel. I was really quite paranoid at this point – I’ve heard too many stories about people getting taken to random places and having money stolen. But that taxi had a radio, and the lighty thing on top – I was alright. We randomly picked up another woman though.

I took a taxi, my first since Buenos Aires almost 7 weeks ago, since I didn’t want to walk 20 minutes to my hostel late at night. But that ride took over 30 minutes…since the driver and the woman weren’t able to find my hostel! That was a bit of a headache… I’m glad I can communicate relatively okay now in Spanish though, or I would have been freaking out. After many circles, we found my hostel… a block away. Oops. Continue reading

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

This is one of those things best left to pictures than to descriptions…so I’ll keep it short.

Jess, Sam, Shasha, and I departed Tupiza (altitude 2950 m) at 8 am, for the far southwest circuit to Uyuni.  We had a lovely driver/guide, Carmelo – the most enthusiastic person ever, though he only spoke Spanish.  (Every so often: “YAAAAY!” or “Llamaaaa!” whenever we saw a flock.)  As is required, we traveled in a convoy – two other trucks (four Americans, four Australians), as well as a few trucks (mainly rowdy Israelis) from other tour groups.

Our first day, we visited Quebrada de Palala, an area full of red pointy, needly geological formations; El Sillar, another valley of the moon; Valle del Diablo, an area impassible in winter due to heavy winds and blowing sand (of which we still got plenty, in summer); and the village of San Pablo de Lípez, a village of 150…except we maybe saw three people and a bunch of abandoned-looking houses with broken windows.  Turns out they’re tending to their llama flocks.  Oh yeah, llamas – we saw pleeeeeenty of them.  And ate some llama tamales for lunch too. Continue reading

Tupiza, Bolivia

We left Salta at midnight to catch the bus to La Quiaca, the border city to Bolivia.  Arriving at 7 am (meaning 6 am Bolivia time), we still had to cross the border on foot.  Wowwwww inefficient – at least we crossed in 2 hours.  Going the other way, the line looked at least 5 hours long!  The customs agent would stamp a few people through, disappear for maybe half an hour, then come back and do that all over again…

Bolivia feels different.  It’s more…Asia-like in some ways.  A few more stray dogs on the street, a bit more chaos, less developed, and everything is cheap.  Our two hour bus ride from Villazón (just across La Quiaca) to Tupiza cost only $2.

Now that bus ride was strange.  First off, we were walking toward the terminal, when the bus – already running – approached us, and some guy leaning out the door was yelling “Tupiza, Tupiza!” at us.  If you’re carrying backpacks and in Villazón, where else do you go?  We hopped in. Continue reading