After a quick pit stop in La Paz we were off to Isla Del Sol in the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. After a short but windy bus trip where the kid behind me threw up everywhere we arrived in the little town of Copacabana. From there we got tickets to head to the north side of Isla del Sol. Thankfully on the boat trip over we met Isabella, from Germany, and Eva, from Belgium, who knew a bit more about the island then Kirst and I (we knew nothing). We found the cheapest accommodation in all of Bolivia. For a private room with a hot shower it was only $3 a night (well I think it was that cheap… my memory isn’t too great). That night we went on a walk to see the mini Machu Picchu (not what it is really called) and then had to climb a frikin MOUNTAIN to watch the sunset. Isabella and Eva were really into hiking, I on the other hand hated every second of it but we did have wine at the top and it was a nice sunset. That night we went to the only restaurant in town and had a cheap Menu Del Dia*.
The next day we packed our bags and headed off on our hike to the south of the island. It was a really nice walk with a few tough uphill parts but nothing too hard. I think the walk took us 3-4 hours and was just through farmland and along the coast. When we got to the south of the island we had some lunch and had a look around. Eva and Isabella stayed on the island another night but Kirst and I were getting the ferry back that afternoon and were then getting onto a bus across the border that night. We almost missed our bus as we thought getting something to eat was more important and then in all the flurry we lost our tickets for out connecting bus. Thankfully someone called the bus station and let them know we had paid for the tickets so we were able to get onto our bus to Arequipa.
Oh we didn’t actually Tan here as it was freezing but I guess you could have gone swimming in the lake if you were game enough!
*Menu Del Dia is the cheapest meal option through most of South America. You get a soup for starter, a main which is normally some kind of meat and rice, fried eggs and plantains and a juice and normally cost about $2-5.
At mini Machu Picchu
View on our walk
Drinking wine freezing our asses off waiting for the sunset
It was finally time to head off into the Jungle. We jumped onto the smallest plane (19 seats in total and you could see the pilots and had to bend down to walk down the aisle) and headed to Rurrenabaque. Rurrenabaque is a small town in the North East of Bolivia and is an easy place to go and visit the Madidi National Park. While it’s not the Amazon it is one of the easiest and cheapest places to check out the rainforest and I’m sure it is pretty much the same….
We booked onto a Pampas tour which is one where you are supposed to see the most animals. The day we headed off it was raining and the “road” we had to drive down to get to the boat had turned into a massive mud pit. Thankfully we had an awesome driver that managed to make it all the way there. Once we got there we all piled into our boat and then set off animal spotting. We didn’t see too much on the first day as it was raining but we did manage to see some Capybaras. They are the largest rodents in the world and they look like huge guinea pigs. That night we headed off on a night tour to look for Caiman. We shone our torches into the water and saw lots of little red eyes staring back at us.
The next day we were off fishing for piranhas. We put a chunk of meat on the end of the hook and then hoped for the best. I didn’t manage to catch a piranha but I did catch some other weird fish with scary looking teeth. After our fishing expedition we headed to a pond area to go swimming with the pink dolphins. I wasn’t game enough to jump in the water as it was freezing and there were huge Caiman about 50m away, plus we had just been piranha fishing in pretty much in that spot. Kirst and some of the boys jumped in but the dolphins weren’t really up for playing so they were just standing around in the freezing water looking like dorks.
That afternoon we put our wellies on and headed off to search for some Anacondas! Now while this sounds like it would be super fun, it wasn’t! It pretty much was just us walking through a muddy field for a few hours and falling over and getting soaked (ok I was the only one that fell over) and not finding anything. Not even the dead one! Apparently other groups found one or 2 and they said they were really cool but we weren’t so lucky.
The next day we headed back to town and our driver thought he was in Rally Bolivia! We were going so fast down a dirt track overtaking everyone in dust clouds so you couldn’t even see. I don’t know how we made it home alive but thankfully we did.
We had such an awesome time on the pampas tour but we weren’t really in the jungle so Kirst and I decided to do a jungle tour. We went with a guy we had met in La Paz named Mehdi. At first we thought Medhi was really cool and fun but towards the end we wanted to kill him! He thought he was the world’s greatest bush man and could live in the jungle forever where in reality he got attacked by sand flies on the first night so bad his ankles doubled in size and Kirst and I did all the work while he fished. The Jungle tour was really good though as we made lots of jewellery out of nuts and seeds, fished and learnt a lot about the medicinal plants in the area. We didn’t see many animals on the jungle tour so if that’s what your after do the pampas tour.
Giant camen a few meters from where kirsten went swimming
Our campsite in the jungle
Ready to find some Anacondas!
Drinking from a Vine
After one of the worst bus trips (12 hours on a freezing bus, bouncing around for half of it on an unpaved road) we arrived in La Paz, the world’s highest capital city (3660m). We didn’t do too much on the first day as we were so tired but had a walk around and checked out the markets. Not as cool as Sucre but they were still ok. La Paz is def one of the best places to do your souvenir shopping. It is really cheap and has the most variety of stuff. I was a bit bummed that we were here so early on in the trip as I didn’t want to carry everything with me for the next few months.
Kirst and Cesar really wanted to do death road. I wasn’t too keen being the woos that I am and was scared I was going to fall off or injure myself. I left it up to them to organise. Being the stinges they are they found the cheapest company and opted to have the cheapest bikes possible. I would not recommend this and would say it is definitely worth getting the better bikes with double suspension. I really didn’t enjoy cycling death road. It went on FOREVER and was so uncomfortable. It was i don’t know how many hours of bouncing around and hands cramping from squeezing the breaks so hard! I think Kirst and Cesar enjoyed flying down the mountain but Cesar was also not feeling well (man flu) and didn’t want us to forget it! I guess it is one of the “things to do” in Bolivia and it was really pretty and maybe it would have been more enjoyable with a better bike but I wouldn’t do it again!
It was then my turn to do something that i wanted to do. Cesar headed off the next day as he had a job in Cusco at a hostel to get to so Kirst was stuck with just me. We went on a free walking tour around La Paz. I think this has to be the best walking tour in South America (I only did 3 of them but I am still willing to make this statement). It was full of really interesting facts and good stories. It started at the infamous San Pedro Prison that was made famous by the book Marching Powder (a really good book if you haven’t read it!) that used to offer tours around the place. Apparently you can still do the tours illegally but we weren’t game enough. We then went around the the markets and the witches market and then i think it ended at some government buildings but Kirst and I ditched the tour at this point as it started to rain and we weren’t to interested in the government. That night we went to Cholita Wrestling!! I was so excited!! Kirst not so much…. It was very over the top WWE Style wrestling with clowns, cakes, some gross guy that kept spitting and of course Cholitas (Bolivian women in traditional dress). I loved it but I don’t think Kirst was a fan.
Cycling Death Road
It was time to head to Bolivia’s biggest attraction, Salar de Uyuni (The Salt flats)! We arrived in the desert town of Uyuni and found the only other Gringos on the bus plus one Colombian and instantly made friends with them. None of us had anywhere to stay so we wandered around looking for a place to sleep. When I say we wander around I mean Cesar (the Colombian) took off and we all followed him (finally a person that could speak spanish!). We found a really cheap hospidaje that was a couple dollars a night. We then set off to book a tour to the salt flats. Amy, Adam, Steven, Kirst and I may have got distracted on the way to book the tour at a pub where we settled in to have some beers. Thankfully Cesar (who doesn’t drink….) set off and organised a great 3 day 2 night tour for us. Amy, Adam and Steven only wanted to do a 1 day tour so sadly they weren’t on our tour.
We set off on our tour really early the next day. We had to be sneaky about it as there was a protest going on in Uyuni and if they saw people working they would have been in big trouble (not really sure what would have happened but we just did as we were told). Our group consisted of Cesar, Kirsten, Me, Pedro (a guy we had actually met in Potosi and was on our mine tour), Tarun and Tina. We piled into our 4×4 and off we went. 1st stop was a train grave yard that was just a big area with lots of old trains. It was pretty cool and you got to climb all over them. It was then back into the car and off to the Salt Flats. They are pretty impressive. All you can see is white!! After lunch we headed to Isla de Pescado (Fish Island) which is a rocky hill in the middle of the Salar that is covered in Cacti. We climbed to the top of the hill (with a lot of protesting from me. You try climbing a hill at 3,565m! Yes I am blaming altitude and not my fitness….) and had an awesome view over the whole Salar. We then took a few typical Salar photos but thought we would save it for the next day. Little did we know that this was our only day on the salt flats as our tour guide didn’t speak English and our translators (Cesar and Pedro) did not think to ask. That night we got to stay in a Salt hotel. From the outside it looked like a bit of a shack but inside it was pretty cool with beds and tables made of salt bricks and the floor was covered in salt. That night we had an awesome night of watch the stars and drinking wine.
The next 2 days were spent bouncing around in a hot and dusty car with ears that I could not pop!! I was soooo uncomfortable! Next Tip: If you are going to do the 3 day tour DEF wear a sports bra!! We did get to see a lake full of flamingos which were awesome and a few other lakes that were different colours but if anyone was to ask me I would say just do a 2 day 1 night tour. Thankfully the people we were with were awesome and made it fun!
Train grave yard
Salar de Uyuni
Isla de Pescado
All packed into the Car
Last group photo
In one of the world’s highest cities (4090m) we were about to test how well adjusted we were to altitude*. Thankfully we didn’t suffer to bad. Got a bit puffed out walking up and down all the hills/mountains in Potosi but I don’t know if this was due to altitude or just being extremely unfit!!
When we got off the bus in Potosi we hopped into a taxi and asked him to take us to our hostel, Kola Den, which he said he knew. Well at least that’s what we thought he said (I hadn’t really learnt much in my Spanish lessons…) which leads me to Tip 3: ALWAYS write down the address of where you are going to be staying. He ended up taking us to the police/military headquarters where hundreds of armed men were running around. How he thought this is where we wanted to go I have no idea. We eventually managed to get him to drop us off in the centre of town and then wandered around until we found the place.
The next morning we were off for our tour of the Silver mines, the main reason everyone comes to Potosi. The silver mine is located in a huge mountain, Cerro Potosi, and has been producing silver for over 200 years. The conditions the miners work in are extremely dangerous and the life expectancy isn’t very high. The mine has pretty much run out of sliver now and there are fears the whole mine will collapse soon. We started off the tour by heading to the miner’s markets to buy them some gifts. Apparently the gifts miners like are: coca leaves, cigarettes, alcohol and dynamite. We bought them a bag of coca leaves and a stick of dynamite. We then had to go and suit up for the mines. This was a lovely outfit consisting of a brownish colour onesie, wellies, a hard hat with a light on it and a battery pack belt. After we were all suited up it was off to the mine we went. Unfortunately it was a Saturday when we went so there really weren’t too many miners, but we still got an idea of how the mine worked and the ancient conditions they worked in. OH&S would have a field day here! Most of the mining is done by hand with picks and carried out in 20kg bags. They do have carts on tracks in some parts of the mine but these are all moved around manually. We did manage to find one miner working on his own and gave him a hand moving some of the rocks. When I say ‘we’ gave him a hand I mean Kirsten and I! The boys in our group were useless!! Most were complaining about the dust and the others were complaining that their backs hurt! So Kirsten and I carried the 20kg bags of rocks and filled and emptied the wheelbarrow. Even though the mine wasn’t really in action when we went it was still really interesting and I would definitely recommend people to go, except maybe not if you are claustrophobic….
*Little note: Altitude becomes a big topic of discussion when travelling around South America. Being from Perth (0m) I had never thought twice about Altitude but it seems to be the only thing people can talk about here. “How high have you been?” seems to be a commonly asked question and not in a ‘recreational’ sort of way but that changes when you get out of the Andes.
Our sexy outfits for going into the mine
Pedro is ready with his stick of dynamite and bag of coca leaves
Into the mine we go!
Inside the mine
The old miner we helped out
We were off to Kirsten’s Bolivian home town. She had been staying here for a month trying to learn some Spanish and I thought it was probably time for me to give it a go. We stayed at a really nice hostel called 7 Patas hostel ($8 a night) and signed up to do some lessons with a guy called Vecinte. He was a private teacher that came to the hostel and only charged $10 per hour (maybe less). Most people in Sucre are there to learn some Spanish. There are so many Spanish schools and it is one of the cheapest places in South America to learn. My lessons went ok but to be honest my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t want to be in school while I was on my holiday (I later came to regret this).
The market in Sucre has to be one of my favourites. It is pretty much just for food but the variety of food is amazing! You can also get and awesome Chorizo sandwich there and it is all so cheap. I am not much of a cook so I can’t say I shopped here too often but two guys at our hostel used to make the most gourmet meals. One night we had family dinner night and they cooked a huge thing of chorizo spaghetti and garlic bread and salad which came to a total of ($4) each. Def handy for the budget traveller.
The other cool thing to visit in Sucre is the cemetery. A bit morbid I know, but they are very different to cemeteries at home with everyone being buried in a mausoleum or crypt. Each little window is heavily decorated and it is pretty cool to walk around and see the different types.
But my favourite thing in Sucre has to be the Road Crossing Zebras! Carolina explained them to me as a way to get people to follow the road rules. They walk around and stop traffic so people can cross the street and if someone isn’t following the rules they make a big deal about it and embarrass the person. Carolina said “No one wants to be embarrassed by the zebras so we all follow the rules!”
Road safety Zebra!!
Fruit section at the Sucre Market
Cheese Section at the Market
After joining the workforce and working full time for 8 months I realised full time work was not for me. My sister had planned a trip backpacking around South America starting with the World Cup in Brazil. I decided to join her in Bolivia and that’s about as far as my planning went.
After the worlds longest most round about flight (5 flights totaling 32 hours and lost luggage, anything to save a couple of dollars!!) I finally arrived in Santa Cruz. I had organised to stay with a girl, Carolina, that had come to my high school in year 10 as an exchange student. 1st trip for budget travelers: Stay in touch with EVERYONE! You never know who you can hit up for a free nights accommodation! Her and her husband picked me up from the airport and then took me out to dinner. I was also given my own room in her really nice apartment.
The next day I headed to the airport to meet Kirsten (my sister) and pickup my lost bag. Tip number 2: If you are heading to South America try to learn some basic Spanish before heading there or become excellent at Charades! Trying to get a taxi with not a word of Spanish turns out to be quite difficult. After a lot of miming and Spanglish I finally arrived at the airport. Thankfully Kirsten had been doing some lessons in Spanish so the trip home was a lot easier.
To be honest we weren’t the greatest tourists in Santa Cruz. We went out one night with Carolina and her friends which was good fun but we weren’t the biggest party animals as Kirsten was sick and I was getting over jet lag (well that was my excuse). We did go to one really interesting restaurant called Casa del Camba, where we got an array of bbqed meat. Now in Bolivia they eat EVERY part of the animal, so on our bbq plate we had kidneys, intestines, and the thing I found the weirdest: Cow’s Udders! The intestines were super chew and not that enjoyable but the udders were surprisingly ok. A bit creamy and mushy and I wouldn’t choose to eat them again but not awful.
Kirst and Me with Carolina and some of her friends