Tag Archives: bolivia

La Paz

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALa Paz is an enormous city with a population around 1.4 million. The city, like so many in South America is in a valley. The difference with La Paz is that it is kind of separated into three tiers. El Alto is at the top of the mountain at an altitude of 4100m, central La Paz is in the centre at 3600m and the lowlands are at 3100m. So the city has an altitude difference of 1000m, this also affect temperature, as there is a difference of 1 degree per 100m.

La Paz isn’t particularly well known for its safety, so I didn’t venture too far in my wandering. The hotel we stayed in was across the street from the infamous San Pedro prison, had they still run official prison tours I would have been interested to see inside, particularly after having read Marching Powder by Rusty Young, which details (among other things) the way the prison runs as a community where you need to work for your place in the prison. With no tour I had to settle for a birds eye view from my room.

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I made a visit out to Valle de la Luna, Moon Valley. It was about a 20mim taxi ride, that cost 35 bolivianos. Entry to the site was 15 bolivianos and I did a self guided walk. The landscape is quite peculiar with spires of land just sticking up out of the ground. It’s almost like a small city of termite mounds. It was interesting to see, but I didn’t need a great deal of time to explore. From the valley, I took a taxi to the green line cable car.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cable cars are cheap 3 bolivianos per line/colour. They provide the most fantastic overview of the city of La Paz. You are able to see the way people have built into the steep hillside, you can see the affluent areas and normal areas and you can see out over the hilltops to the glaciers!
I took the green line to the end, where I changed to the yellow line and then got off at Sopocachi, which is the closest stop to central La Paz.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe main street of La Paz is El Prado, but I didn’t spend much time exploring the main street, more the neighbouring streets. The area around San Francisco church is quite good, but it certainly targets the tourists with all the souvenir shops and cafes with the promos of wifi. The street to the left of San Francisco goes up the hill to the witches market where you can find all sorts of talismans and llama foetus’ (I think they are used as sacrifice, I can’t remember).

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The highlight of La Paz for me, which was before I got sick, was mountain biking Death Road.
I went with a company called Altitude Biking as it has good reviews from a few people I knew. Apparently Gravity Assisted Biking is the best company, but they are also twice the price. It was a full day trip and included snacks, lunch, t-shirt and a CD of the photos for USD$108.

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Death Road used to be a main thoroughfare in Bolivia. It’s 3.2metres wide and for the majority of the road, has a 600m drop on one side. Needless to say, as a two way main road it resulted in many deaths over the years. A replacement road was built and opened in 2007, since which time there have been way fewer deaths.

P1570565 (Copiar)So our ride down Death Road started amongst the glaciers at 4700m. We wound our way down the gravelly hillside through a waterfall or two, stopping for photos along the way, to the sunny jungle at 1200m.
It was terrifying at first, but then loads of fun. The scenery was amazing though we didn’t have too much opportunity to take it in, only during our brief stops. You certainly don’t want to take your eyes off the road for more than a second when you are riding on a cliff edge!!

P1570560 (Copiar)Because we booked the ride with a group of five of us, we were taken as a private tour. I was impressed with the safety standards and attitudes of our guides, Alex and Americo. All bikes were checked and double checked before we headed down the mountain. One guide stayed in from of us at all times, one checked on the entire group as we went and the van followed our group. We were given clear instructions on how to use the road safely and were strongly encouraged to go at our own pace, no matter how slow that might be. Unfortunately a number of the groups that flew past us clearly weren’t advised about appropriate or safe behaviours on the road.
Please note: despite being on an Intrepid Tour, I did the mountain biking on a free day. It is not supported by Intrepid and they actively discourage tour members from doing it.

Thus ended my South American West Coast adventure. I did the Intrepid combo tour Explore Peru and Bolivia and I would highly recommend it!
Brilliantly organised and loads of fun. The tour guides Mario (Peru) and Julia (Bolivia) were just brilliant and their local knowledge made all the experiences so much more meaningful and interesting.

South American East Coast here I come!!!

Check out all my La Paz photos on Flickr.

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Potosi & Sucre

Potosi and Sucre are both adorable towns with a very rich history. Unfortunately for me I came down with a nasty chest infection and mild flu basically as soon as I got to Potosi. My illness hung around beyond the visits to both Potosi and Sucre, so I didn’t see as much of these places as I would have liked to.

Potosi

Potosi has its origins in mining and was once the richest city in the world. They say its Cerro Rico, ‘Rich Hill’, was around 80% silver. The city was founded soon after the silver was discovered in 1545. Unfortunately the Spanish took advantage of the readily available wealth and sent the locals to work in the mines in extremely poor conditions. As a result, Potosi has a very sad history.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The town itself, as opposed to the mines, has a strong Spanish influence with colonial architecture and many elaborate cathedrals. The narrow streets are cute, and it’s a joy to wander.

There is a lovely local market, which is well worth a visit.

In the city center is the Casa Nacional de la Moneda, the Royal Mint House. The Spaniards established the first mint in 1572, but by 1575 a newer, bigger mint house was built to cope with the minting machinery.

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A model of the coin press designed by Leonardo Da Vinci

The first coins made were called macuquina, they were fairly shapeless and patterns were printed on them by using a cast and a hammer. Each coin needed to be hit once very hard, to print the pattern on them. Again the Bolivians were used as slave labour and each person was expected to make 1000 coins per day. Over time different technologies were introduced to make them process easier and to make the coins look better.

The visit to the mint house was incredibly interesting, and the guide was very entertaining to listen to as he was so animated, but again the history and abuse of the locals was very sad.

 Sucre

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile La Paz seems to be the city most people know about in Bolivia, Sucre is actually the country’s capital. The buildings here are gorgeous, whitewashed and are a fantastic display of colonial architecture. The city was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991. It’s another city that is just fabulous to wander around and get lost in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe local market is fabulous and has a huge array of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, bread and many other things. Around the city are loads of small plazas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It’s well worth the walk (or in my case taxi ride) up the hill to Recoleta, the view of the city is just amazing and it’s such a relaxed place to sit and have a coffee and soak up the atmosphere. There are some shops for souvenirs as well as café’s. From Recoleta it’s a nice stroll down hill back into the city center.

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On the outskirts of town in Cal Orck’O, about a 15 minute drive is a cretaceous park. Many years ago when they were mining the area they discovered fossilized dinosaur footprints. Due to tectonic plate movement, the footprints aren’t on the ground, but are on a vertical limestone wall. There are over 10,000 tracks of at least 8 different dinosaur species that have been found, and they are still discovering more. I found it quite fascinating to see the footprints, but I found most of them weren’t obviously discernable as dinosaur prints, but then I’m not a dinosaur expert. I found the visit a little bit disappointing, but I still think it was worth the effort and I am glad I went.

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Other than my short distance wandering and my two major outings, I wasn’t well enough to see more of Potosi and Sucre, but I am sure they both have loads more to offer!

For all my pictures, check out my Flickr album.

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The Southern Altiplano

The Southern Altiplano is the region south of La Paz, it has quite a harsh geography with deserts, mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, rock formations appearing out of nowhere and the seemingly endless salt flats.

Uyuni

Uyuni is the gateway to popular area of the Southern Altiplano, the salt flats. Uyuni is about a 10 hour drive from La Paz, we did it as a combination of bus and then jeeps. It’s quite a dinky little one horse town, but has it’s own charm.

From Uyuni most people head out on a three or four day jeep trip around the highlights of the area. Our tour group did a three day tour.  While there are many awesome things to see and it’s definitely well worth the time and money, be aware that these trips are predominantly driving.

Cemetario de Trenes

The first stop is the train cemetery. The trains were used by mining companies but when the industry collapsed, the trains were abandoned.
I thought it sounded uninteresting when I heard we were headed there, but once I got there, I actually found it really interesting. There were so many trains and many of them had cool graffiti on them. It was kind of like an adult playground.

Colchani

The second stop was a brief visit to a town called Colchani. This is where the salt from the salt flats is processed and packaged. On our very brief visit the processes were explained to us and the packing was demonstrated.

Salar de Uyuni 

This was absolutely 100% the highlight of the trip for me. The salt flats stretch for kilometres and kilometres (12,106 square kilometres) at an altitude of 3653metres. While all these kilometres of salt flats are basically all the same, I never tired of looking at them. The parts that are under water provide awesome reflections and the dry parts have really cool polygon patterns in them. It was also crazy to realise that in some places the crispy layer of salt was only about 10 cm thick, and if you broke the crust there were a few metres of water below.

Because of the extensive salt flats, all looking the same, you can create really awesome pictures using perspective. I had an absolute blast taking quirky pictures.

Island Inkawasi

In the middle of the salt flats, randomly popping up out of nowhere is an island, Island Inkawasi. It is covered in really old cacti and was really awesome to see. We did a short hike to the top of the island and had a fantastic view over the salt flats.

“Marith En”

We finished the first day of the jeep tour in a salt hotel called “Marith En” in a town called Atulcha. I was so excited to stay in a salt hotel, such a novelty!!

In reality they look quite dirty and are cold. But hey, I stayed in a salt hotel!!

Lakes, Volcano’s and Desert

The second day of the tour had many short stops.

We saw the smoking volcano Ollagüe. It’s an active Volcano that is partly in Bolivia and partly in Chile. It last erupted 100 years ago.

There were four lakes: Laguna Cañapa and Laguna Hedionda, which are both known for their flamingos. We drove past, but didn’t stop at Laguna chiarkhota, The last lake was Laguna Honda, known as the romatic lake, as it is in the shape of a heart (Though I feel that required some imagination to see).

We drove through the dusty dry Siloli Desert and saw a fox and a viscacha (a Bolivian bunny type creature with a long tail). We made a brief stop at the mountain of seven colours, our altitude at this point was 4741m.

We made another stop at some geological rock formations, the most famous of which was the Arbol De Piedra, tree stone. A rock that has been carved into a tree shape by the wind over many years.

We visit one last lake, Laguna Colorada, which is bright red from all the microorganisms living in the water. It was quite cool to see.

We spent the night in dormitory accommodation in a tiny town called Huallajara. Our altitude here was 4230m and it was cold!!!

Mud Bubbles, Hot Springs and more Desert

We started the morning well before sunrise and headed to Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun) to view the sunrise as well as the mud bubbling sulphur pools. This was the highest point in the journey at 4912m and it was freezing cold!

The mud bubbles were eerie to watch, they stank, but they were quite spectacular to see. Even more spectacular was the sun rise which could be seen through the steam clouds.

After the mud bubbling pools we headed to the hot springs at Polques where we had some breakfast and then some people hopped into the 39 degree hot springs for a soak. While the hot springs sounded appealing, the idea of getting out and having to dry off in temperatures around 9 degrees was not appealing, so I settled for soaking my toes in the warm water.

The next stop was a stretch of desert called Salvador Dali Valley. It was thought that the artist Salvador Dali visited this desert and it inspired many of his artworks, most notably his melting clock.

We then made a quick visit to Green Lake. Though it’s no longer green. An earthquake in Chile in 2014 somehow caused the copper (the source of the green colour) to dissipate.

The last stop before arriving back in Uyuni was Valle Ve Las Rocas, another geological fault which caused rock formations to pop up out of nowhere in the desert. They were pretty cool to look at too.

Sneezing 

Driving through the desert unsurprisingly results in dust, which causes you to cough and to sneeze. Something I learned about sneezing in South America is that they don’t say bless you, that’s not the surprising part.

If you sneeze consecutive times, they say something different each time.
The first sneeze they say Salud, which means health.
The second sneeze, they say Dinero, which means money.
The third sneeze is Amor, meaning love.
So if you sneeze three times consecutively you are wished health, money and love.
I thought that was pretty cool.

For all my pictures, check out my Flickr album.

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