Bolivia - The Potato Chick

Copacabana & Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

In a sentence...undoubtedly beautiful but it just didn’t “grab” us.

Food we loved...trout from the lake. Served with lemon sauce, with devilled sauce, with garlic sauce or grilled. Every version was delicious.

I guess it’s testament to the magnificence of the other places we have visited in South America so far that  we didn’t love Copacabana and Lake Titicaca, despite its undoubtable beauty. Nonetheless, we did have an enjoyable (although rather chilly) few days there.

With the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu fast approaching we decided to test ourselves out with a 30 minute hike up Cerro Calvario. What Wikitravel described as “mildly strenuous” was rather difficult for my tiny lungs in the high altitude and I found myself questioning whether the longer hike would really be possible. To add insult to injury, the pretty sunset we had hoped for at the top simply never appeared.

The next day we day tripped to nearby Isla del Sol which was just gorgeous. Lake Titicaca is so vast that it felt like we were in the middle of an ocean, not a lake. At the Northern end of the island was a fabulous set of ruins which we enjoyed exploring although finding our way back out through the maze-like walls was rather difficult. After lunch at the Southern end (more trout!) the boat trundled back to Copacabana, never increasing its speed past 10km per hour. When we left the next day we were glad that our bus could go a bit faster than that.

Next stop...Arequipa & Colca Canyon, Peru.

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Posted 12 April 2015

La Paz, Bolivia

In a oddly captivating city.

Food we loved...a chorizo sandwich which put Argentina’s choripan to shame – two sausages, pickled vegetables, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. So good.

La Paz was the most strangely intriguing city we have visited but we couldn’t quite put our finger on why.

The city sits more than 3000m above sea level and is surrounded by hills filled with ramshackle brick houses. Further in the distance are beautiful snow capped mountains. As we have recently discovered, living at high altitude can be tough - apparently the wealthier La Paz residents are, the lower they live.

We only spent a short time here, most of which was spent simply wandering the city and trying to get our breath back. We also caught a cable car up to one of the highest points of the city for excellent views over everything below.

On our first night we ventured high up into the hills to see the Cholitas wresting. “Cholita” is the term given to indigenous Bolivian women and you can typically spot them on the street by their distinctive clothing – big skirts, plaited hair and bowler hats. As you could imagine, this variation of wrestling was one of the most unique sporting experiences of our trip. Each pairing had a very obvious “goodie” and “baddie” and the goodie generally triumphed in the end, much to the delight of the local crowd.

Interspersed between the Cholitas were wannabe-WWE male wrestlers.  These guys were hilarious and their amateurish pre-planned wrestling sequences often had us nearly crying with laughter. To top it all off, their costumes looked like what might be created if Grade 6 art class had a “make your own wrestling costume” day.

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But the main reason for our visit to La Paz was so that Nick could ride down the infamous Death Road. While Nick was riding I spent another day wandering, most notably on the elevated walkway at Parque Metropolitano which offered a good view of the city and its street art.

Some people may question why I visited La Paz without taking part in what is probably its greatest tourist attraction. Those readers who have witnessed me riding my bike, my white-knuckled hands gripping the brakes at all times and any turn sharper than 90 degrees rendering me nearly incapacitated, will understand why.

And so, for only the second time in this blog’s history, let me introduce a special guest to tell us all about this hair raising experience, my adventurous husband Nick:

“The North Yungas Road (otherwise known as Death Road) links Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, to the small rural community of Coroico. It descends from 4600m above sea level all the way down to 1200m. It was named the “world’s most dangerous road” after a study in 1995 found that 300 - 350 people each year fatally went over the edge, on average of one vehicle every fortnight.

In 2008 a modern highway was opened, bypassing the route and leaving the perfect opportunity for backpackers. Around 25,000 each year take on the challenge of riding down on mountain bikes.

The road is unsealed and mainly single lane with the narrowest point having only 3.2m separating the rock wall from a 600m vertical drop. An interesting quirk is that the downward vehicle never has right of way and must always stay to the cliff side of the road, despite this being the wrong side of the road in the rest of Bolivia.

Leaving early in the morning we were bussed to the top of Death Road. We were greeted with snow capped mountains and a cold temperature to match. Whilst we frantically added more layers under the provided safety overalls we each received a personal safety briefing outlining which brake was front and back. Pretty simple stuff.

They did stress the importance of correct braking technique throughout the ride and suggested some practice in the car park to get a feel for the bike. My brake lever snapped within a minute which required a quick bike swap and left me hoping this was the only mishap I would have for the day.

The ride was fast, bumpy and extremely fun. It featured some spectacular views of the road winding along the cliff face ahead of us. We rode under waterfalls, through rivers and finished with a beer.  The roadside was lined with crosses to remind you of its reputation, but if you rode with even the tiniest bit of common sense it was perfectly safe”.

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There is little doubt that we’ll return to La Paz some day, if only to solve the mystery of why it so intrigued us.

Next stop...Copacabana & Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

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Posted 11 April 2015

Atacama Desert & Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

In a sentence...indescribably beautiful. An incredible few days.

Food we loved...While I wouldn’t say we loved the food we were served on the tour, after hearing plenty of horror stories we were just glad that it was edible.

We have been to the middle of nowhere and we loved it.

There is no doubt that our three day tour through the Atacama Desert and Salar de Uyuni (salt flat) in Bolivia will go down as one of the highlights of our time in South America.

We started off with a night in the very cute and tiny Chilean desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. We spent our time here simply getting organised for the days ahead – booking our tour, attempting to get laundry done and purchasing toilet paper, water and the all important Pringles. We paid extra for an English speaking guide.

The next morning we were introduced to our friendly guide, Oscar. His first words were: “does anyone speak Spanish? My English is not very good”.

The days that followed were truly memorable. We were lucky enough to have a lovely group consisting of a Swiss couple and an Austrian couple. They taught us the art of playing dominoes while we enlightened them about Australian “cuisine”, namely chicken parmigiana.

On the first day we reached the very high altitude of 4900m above sea level before settling in for the night at 4300m. The altitude certainly left all of us feeling ordinary and we were all tucked up in bed by 8pm. We had adapted somewhat by day two and slept at a much more pleasant 3700m which meant we settled in for the evening with a few bottles of red wine and several rounds of dominoes.

During the day we visited colourful lakes and saw volcanoes, snow capped mountains, bubbling geysers, cactus, quinoa, strange rock formations, a monument to the Dakar Rally, vicunas (the llama’s wild cousin) and thousands of flamingos. The scenery from outside our 4WD was constantly changing and always gorgeous. I could not believe how beautiful a desert can be.

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The final morning of the tour started with the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. The expanse of white was just spectacular and it was heaps of fun playing with perspective to get some quirky photos. It was a lot harder than it looks to get the photos to work. For example...





After a quick stop at the surprisingly cool train cemetery, the tour finished in Uyuni. Friends had advised us this town was not one of Bolivia’s highlights and to try and leave as soon as possible. I saw firsthand that this was the case as our overnight bus to La Paz pulled out of the bus station and I observed a local man dropping a Number Two on a street corner. It was an unforgettable end to an unforgettable few days.

Next stop…La Paz, Bolivia.

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Posted 2 April 2015