Sunday, 24 February 2013

BOLIVIA. THE RICHEST AND THE POOREST


Salar de Uyuni
Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol, Lago Titicaca
A country of statistical extremes, landlocked Bolivia is the highest and most isolated country in South America. Also considered as the poorest one in South America but one of the richest in natural resources.
It has the largest proportion of indigenous people, who make up around two-thirds of the population and most of them speak Quechua. 
Bolivia has it all, apart from beaches (the Chileans left them without a sea outlet after La Guerra del Pasifico). 

The bus from Arica (Chile) finally made it to La Paz at 7pm. The highest capital in the world, at 3600m above the sea, and I felt every one of them! I was having mate de coca 5 times a day to help me with the altitude sickness! Also tried chewing coca leaves but didn’t really work.
Stayed in Wild Rover, the hostel that never sleeps! Along with Loki,it´s one of the most notorious party hostel chains in South America. It sucks you in and bleeds you out. I usually prefer more chilled out places but I was supposed to meet up with Peter and his group of gringos there. With all the late nights and drinking or “other things in addition”, most backpackers end up staying much longer that they have originally planned, wandering what happened to the very well structured itinerary and trying to figure out which part of the route they will now have to miss out on. Luckily, I quickly realized that that wasn’t “my place” and after three nights of listening to the same music in the bar and not meeting a single person able to speak Spanish, I left to Marcelo´s house, my first Bolivian host.

La Paz itself has so much cool stuff going on and everything could be done on your own, without taking tours: Vale de la luna, Zona sur; Mirador Kili-Kili. Of course you have to change a few buses and ask for directions but hey, all we have is time. Why paying 15 $ for a tour when you can take a bus that costs you only 10 cents and not depend on a group of teenagers (lots of the backpackers are around 20). Unfortunately I couldn't do the Death road with Peter and the others cos I still had my hand in cast (broke it Argentina).

La Paz

Witches´ market in La Paz
Protest demonstrations were happening all over the country
Valle de la Luna
Valle de la luna
Liked it more than the Moon Valley in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile


Missing the Bulgarian flag
Traditional bowler hat
Doesn´t look neither comfortable nor stable

Another activity invented for us (backpackers)


Evo Morales´home
Mirador Kili-Kili

Mirador Kili-Kili

Watching England-Italy in Olivers
Last photo with Pesho
Stayed 3 days with Marcelo above bar Olivers. Walked with him for hours around street markets, one can buy anything there. Looks like every block is meant to sell just one product: either fruits and vegetables,  or jeans, or meat (with the inevitable flies on it), traditional clothing, etc.
Food is extremely cheap, 3 courses meal for 10 Bs (a bit more than 1 €). In a normal country you get a piece of meat with pasta, rice or potatoes but not in Bolivia, here they serve all three of them together in the same dish J. Massive carb bomb! 

Street markets in La Paz




Villa Tunari
I spent three days in the jungle climate of Villa Tunari, and had an incredible time.
The great majority of foreigners are volunteers who work at Parque Machía, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of wild animals (pumas and monkeys mostly), and they almost never leave the park’s premises. I also had the idea of volunteering there but after speaking to them about the conditions (very hard work, long hours, lots of mosquitoes, really bad housing, and paying loads to work…), my desire to do it vanished into thin air.


Parque Machia
View from the park
Stayed in Hostal Mirador, near the market, only 30 bolivianos per night. Nice place, hot water, the owner is French. Met Gonzalo, an Argentinean and hung out with him. Went to a place at the river (Las pozas) where there was something like natural pools so we soaked for a couple of hours. Food is cheap, you can get anything for 15-20 bolivianos.
I finally removed my cast, but my hand was still not fully functional. Had to do some rehabilitation to get it to normal state. No ATM by the way in Villa Tunari, only Banco Union that doesn’t work with Master Cards. Gonzalo gave me 15Bs so I can go to Santa Cruz by micro (mini van).
Las Pozas

Gonzalo with one of the little ones also staying in the hostel
Cacao (didn´t know it looks like that)
Villa Tunari
The kids in the hostel watching The wizzard of Oz
Santa Cruz
Took a minivan for 65Bs to Santa Cruz and in the middle of way we had to stop in a village, all the passengers (8) got off and loaded up to a taxi (all of us and the driver) for about 20km and there was our driver waiting for us. The problem was that in the village we crossed, the competition - another bus company didn’t want them to run the same survice to santa Cruz and it caused some violence in the past. It felt very insecure and dangerous, all of the others were Bolivians and even they got scared. The area is also one of the biggest producers of cocaine so that added more pressure too.
Diego and his football field was my next stop. Yes, he owns a football field which I surfed. I had Maradona in his youth just above my head. Diego is Bolivian but for my surprise looks just like any European. Turns out that most of the white Bolivians live in Santa Cruz. He came, we had some beers and he took me to this birthday party where I turned up in my usual jeans and white top to find out that all the girls were wearing very fancy shiny dresses, high heels and loooooots of make up. Not that it would of changed something if I´d known it.

My couch at the football field. Pele I think :)
La Plaza in Santa Cruz
The sugar cane fields

Spent at least half an hour on top of this monster harvesting the sugar cane

Diego and Ivo
Spain-Italy Eurocup final was happening next day and Diego took me to his friend´s house to watch the match. Actually mansion is the right word cos it was huuuuuuuge, with a swimming pool, horses, servants...We had a proper Bolivia tea in the afternoon (why didn’t I take photos????) which commrised so many yummy little things prepared by the house maid. Next day Ivo took me to his sugar cane fields and after that we spent the rest of the day with Ivo and Diego joining us later, drinking beers at the balcony over the football field.
I didn´t realize it at the time (massive hangover) but turned out that somehow I got introduced to the Bolivian aristocracy. The people I met were someone´s son or grandson like the Health minister, Economy minister, even the Bolivian dictator and president Hugo Banzer. It all makes sense now, explains why and how the dictator´s grandson was off to Brazil next day just to participate in a golf competition!

Diego recommended me an eco hostel on the way to Samaipata called Ginger’s paradise (http://www.gingersparadise.com/)and I went straight there. It´s not the typical hostel as u can help there picking coffee beans, gardening or clearing up the river pool. In that case you pay less. The owners provide the meals which are always very delicious and healthy since everything comes from the garden. The crowd there was pretty random but somehow we made it work. The weather wasn`t great but if it is nice you can do quite a lot here, since it is located on the edge of the Amazon river basin and the Andean mountain range. After 2 days of chilling there I headed to Samaipata.
This is the bridge where the minibus is supposed to drop u off


I helped with the coffee beans
The pet in Ginger´s paradise
Breakfast is served!
The energy generator 

Improvised backgammon 
The whole globe in the bedroom
Our house
Other guests
Samaipata is a secret little place in the highlands, 2 hours away from Santa Cruz that is not to be missed. Unfortunately I made it there in the coldest day of the year. But next day beautiful and I spent the whole day outdoors.
Went to the zoo which is actually a refuge for rescued animals – pretty small but very cozy and the animals run free. It is possible to volunteer there in exchange of accommodation. 



The monkeys are pretty friendly. All the animals actually are

Never seen this kind of road paving
Las cuevas – is definitely worth a visit, poor beauty and peace! Started a book I got from Gingers paradise and finished it by the end of the day. Literally I spent the whole day in front of the waterfalls reading a true story about this Chilean girl, Daniela Garcia, who lost her hands and legs falling off the train. Amazing story, incredible strength, made the problems I ever had look like a joke. I highly recommend it to everyone “Elegí vivir”. 




The nearby village of Vallegrande is famed as the place where Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was buried in local airport grounds. After he was executed in La Higuera, by the Bolivian army and the CIA, his corpse was transported to Vallegrande and lied in state in the hospital, thus exposed to the world.
Next…Bus to Sucre…buy it in advance cos quite often they are full. Had to go to the toll plaza and wait for all the buses (10 of them) coming from Santa Cruz and going to Sucre and ask them if they have a seat. All range of prices! Got smashed between two fat Bolivians, each one of them was taking one third of my seat. 12 hours of torture, I had to scream at them, especially when one of them´s hand was falling on my leg all the time. No sleep at all.
Once in Sucre, I stayed in Gringo´s Rincón, one of the coolest hostels I´ve ever been, amazing roof top terrace, lots of people from all over the world. I was extending my stay every day cos the hostel is so nice.
There are lots of things to see and visit in Sucre like the Cemetery, Mercado central, Mercado campesino, Calle de las brujas (they sell all kind of traditional medicine and herbs roots and resins used for spells and rituals in witchcraft), Recoleta. 


The cementery

Since it´s dinosaur land...

From La Recoleta
La Recoleta


Typical indigenous clothing in Bolivia
Apparently, size does matter after all!
At Mercado campesino.
Had at least 2 smoothies or juices at the market every day, trying a different fruit every time. They cost only 4 or 5 bolivianos (50 cents) and are so good! Also had 3 course lunch for 10 to 13 BS (1,2€) every day with Alex at these local restaurants that  are at every corner.
Juice market
My favourite section on the market
Went to this traditional singing and dancing with Alex (Aussie girl I met in the hostel).
Off the beaten track tour to see the dinosaur’s footprints, crazy climbing, couldn’t believe it but made it safe and sound with Alex. 50 bolivianos (6 €). Its worth it tho, much better than going to the theme park where you see the footprints from 1 km away, you actually need binoculars to see them properly. In order to arrange it you have to go to the information center and they will call a student who works as guide cos no chance going there by yourself. Its complicated and dangerous. Me and Alex really thought that we wouldn't make it, at least not in one piece.

Dinosaur´s footprints



Eiffel tower replica 
Potosi - the highest city in the world, 4100m above the sea level, means freezing at night.
Once one of the largest and richest cities in the world, has an incredible history. It is estimated that as many as eight million Andean Indians died because of the mining of its Cerro Rico (Rich Hill). The workers were brought from all over the region – in today’s Bolivia and Peru – to serve the Spanish Crown. Even now, two miners die each week of silicosis in Potosí, in addition to deaths from other mining-related illnesses and accidents. The “mountain that eats men alive” has been written of many times, especially in the “backpackers bible” in this part of the world – “The open veins of Latin America” though perhaps not often enough read. 
Potosi

The main square in Potosi
Stayed at Vicuña, they also organize tours to the mines (80Bs).  We all were in the mines for 2 hours, first went to miner´s market to buy presents for the miners – coca leaves, cigarettes, 95% alcohol, dynamite…

All the treats for the miners are here
Yeah, real dynamite! He´s teaching us how to use it.

Boom!

Before entering the hole
Toast to Pachamama before exploding the dynamite
Next day after the tour walked around the city with 2 kiwis from the hostel and the tour. Headed to the “ex terminal” for my bus to Uyuni at 6,30pm.

Uyuni – the biggest salt flat in the world. It´s touristy, it´s crowded but it´s really impressive. It´s a must do in Bolivia. 
The Train cemetery is the first stop on the tour - old rusting trains from decades ago, followed by the Colchni village, salt hotel, Incahuasi (Fish island) - to see the giant cacti and have great views of the salt flats all around,  “Ojos de Sal” where water bubbles up through the salt plains.
There were 3 young English girls on the tour who didn’t speak a word of Spanish and the tour was in Spanish so I had to serve as translator. Dindnt mind tho. Got more complicated when one of them lost her camera but after lots of negotiation with the other tour drivers and a bit of remuneration, she got it back. Back to Uyuni, I had a cup of coffee with the English girls (they were all from Isle of man) and we all got on our buses, me to La Paz and them to Salta, Argentina. Not a nice surprise that my bus actually was going to Oruro and I had to change buses there at 3 am. Not a great night, cold and sleepless. No wonder the bus ticket was cheap, only 100 Bs (to Oruro is only 50 and when I changed the buses I saw how the driver bought my ticket to La Paz for only 30Bs).








Everyone does it at Uyuni


In the salt hotel
The salt hotel
That was the beginning of the lama photo shooting (took a while)
The lama posing
Incahuasi







Who said I can´t take cool photos?


Coroico, Death road
No wonder it is known as the world's most dangerous road, or simply "death road". On its upper reaches, the clouds hug the cliff edge, obscuring the abyss. To the left, there is an unobstructed 600m drop off a cliff while on the right, a vertical rock-face. And the surface, which is unpaved, resembles a rough, dirt track more than a road. I thought that when I come back to la Paz I will be able to do the famous bike tour but my hand was still sore and stiff so the only option was a bus to Coroico which goes on the old Death Road at the beginning. Saw the bike groups and envied them.













In Coroico I stayed at Hotel Bella Vista – decided to treat myself with a nice room, WIFI and hot shower for only 65Bs (everything else was 25-30). I tried to go to the view point but it was so foggy and cloudy that you couldn’t see anything. Next day the weather was much better and I went to the view point and a bit further on the way the waterfalls which was really good. Once I checked out, had lunch and found my way to the bus terminal, getting a Minibus for 20 Bs to La Paz (Villa Fatima). Then got a micro to the Cementerio where the public buses to Copacabana leaves from.
Buena Vista guest house
From Buena Vista
Coffee beans everywhere

The hike I did took me to this church

Still in Coroico
Got to Copacabana quite late so went to the first cheap place I got offered (20 Bs – 2,5€) – room for myself, asked for an extra blanket because..simply because it´s Bolivia, with the average altitude of 3000m, it´s always cold at nighy. Try to not depend on the ATMs in Copacabana cos pretty often they are out of service. While I was thinking how I`m gonna survive at Isla del Sol with only 120 Bs left, I realized I had 10 euros and 5 $US left so changing that I felt much better.

Copacabana
Copacabana

Isla del sol, Lake Titicaca - the highest navigable lake in the world (3800m above the sea level)
Probably my favourite place in Bolivia together with Sucre. Relatively untouched by time, no roads, lots of sun. Accomodation on the island is pretty cheap, you can bargain it down to 20 Bs the night in a nice room. People come here just for a day or stay only one night but I decided that it´s worth staying another night, loved it so much. It is so chilled out, looks like the time had stopped here...long time ago.
I spent the 2 nights in the Southern part of the island, the views from even the cheapest guesthouse were just stunning but anyway me and the Australian girl I teamed up with, did the standard trek from the South to the North (where the beach is and where most of the backpackers stay) which is not the easiest but the views are spectaculars. Second day at lunchtime I took a boat back to Copacabana and then a bus to Puno. 

Every restaurant and guesthouse provide amazing views to the lake












My house
After lunch

Somewhere on the way to the Northern part of the island


North Isla del Sol
Life is so simple here - people and pigs share the beach



Clothes drying

From my room


The island from the boat
Leaving the island
Chile, Peru, Argentina and...I was representing Bolivia I guess :)) I really have to find the Bulgarian flag
Back in Copacabana
Almost everyone I met got sick in Bolivia due to food or water poisoning but I did just fine, never had a problem and ate all the time at local places, drunk even the tap water if the locals drank it. Very proud of my stomach! Looking forward to Peruvian food now.

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