Bolivia – highland lakes, salt flats, and diverse cities
Copacabana and Isla Del Sol – bringing in the New Year
I spend New Years partying with the locals on the main street of Copacabana – a beach side / resort town on the massive Lake Titicaca – the most elevated large lake in the world and location of many Mayan beliefs.Earlier that day I went out to the Isla del Sol which was incredibly beautiful – words don’t justify it. I wished I had bought my backpack with me so I could stay on the island which a bunch of other people had done, but alas. Maybe another time – it would be worth going to Bolivia just for this. Also, apparently a large city has just been discovered underwater next to the Isla Del Sol.
La Paz – Tiwanaku and downtime
Had a rocky start to La Paz, couldn’t do much prep research on the internet as I had no wifi in Copacabana, and the bus which I was told would be direct to the main terminal, dumped all the passengers in on the outskirts of the massive City. At this stage in the trip I had too much luggage, and I didn’t feel safe after reading about muggings in La Paz. My lonely planet guide/map was close to useless where I was. I ended up stopping a taxi and asked to go to a Plaza De San Pedro (which was on my Lonely Planet guide). Was relieved to find the local HI affiliated hostel was close to empty, and I had an entire dorm room to myself! (wasn’t the last time this would happen on this trip). Later I found out this was right next to an infamous prison that is a tourist destination in itself, has a book written about it and a documentary. Anyway, there is definitely a shady element with it so I just steered clear.
La Paz is an incredibly dense city, jam packed into a steep valley, having the high plains to Lake Titicaca on one side, and some impressive 6000m+ peaks of the Andes on the other side. In a reverse to what I’m used to, the higher elevations are where the poorer people live, where as the rich own land further down hill. Highlights of the City to me were the massive markets (really it was a entire district rather than a single location), and the incredibly efficient and affordable cable cars (Mi Teleferico) – for the equivalent of around 40 cents you can quickly get to a different part of the City and enjoy some amazing views on the way.
I did a day trip to some Inka ruins at Tiwanaku – it was massively undeveloped and a bit disappointing. Rather than see actual ruins, you see reconstructed ruins to what researchers think the ruins looked like, and you see where the ruins used to be. Another spot where the Spanish Conquistadors wreaked havoc.
I did fall sick which took out a solid 3-4 days. It was some combination of altitude, the local food, and the transport fumes from cars and buses in much worse condition than what I’m used to. But that is part of the travel. It is always a good time to catchup on sorting photos, emails etc.
Sucre and Potosi – heading south then west towards the flats
After the intensity of La Paz, Sucre was a welcome relief. Very chilled out, planned City, much safer and less polluted than La Paz and a slightly lower elevation. Good place to unwind. I did a day trip to some local falls (Las Siete Cascades). It is remarkable how suddenly the infrastructure and houses change when leaving the City – much much poorer in outside the City. Later I read more about the divide between the indigenous people and the Spanish descendants – it is a big issue in some part of the countries, and Sucre is one spot (especially it is where a lot of built up wealth was).
After rewinding at Sucre I did a cameo at Potosi, a medium sized City around an enormous Silver mine inside a mountain. Potosi was one of the most economically valuable Cities in Latin America for some time, and it produced a huge proportion of the worlds silver. In fact silver coins used to be called “potosi’s”. However, it has also been an incredibly deadly place to work – depending on what your source is, either hundreds of thousands, or millions of people have died working in the mines. It is a pretty bad case of worker exploitation, as the workers have very little safety equipment, for a pittance of pay and extremely low life expectancy (low 40s). It was shocking to see this, and it is another site that makes me appreciate the opportunities I have being a westerner.
Salt Flats and Volcanoes – muy bonita!
I joined a diverse group of travelers for a 4 day trip (from countries Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, South Korea and Austria), there were 6 of us packed into a 4wd. The first day was driving deep across this massive dried up lake, taking pics, getting sun burnt. Random fact: do you know where the salt in the ocean comes from? It comes from Volcanoes! This part of Bolivia is surrounded by Volcanoes and dried up lakes that has become elevated over time (similar to the Bonneville Flats in Utah). We stayed in a gimmicky ‘salt hotel’ but had some incredibly views of the stars at night. The next few days we drove further south until hitting the Argentinian and Chilean border. I was continually blown away by how beautiful the landscape was, so many individual note worthy sites (for another post perhaps). I want bananas with my camera, and had a lot of photos to sort through after this! (a few a copied below).