• Roger Yates

Bolivia


23rd - 25th Feb 2004

Having spent a few days getting used to 2400m, we felt ready for the 4WD Toyota LandCruiser trip across the border to Bolivia via the customs hut, lakes, geysers and volcanoes, pausing (or gasping...) for breath at 5000m.


We passed through some vast open spaces and spectacular landscapes, saw more flamingoes, some vizcachas (see pic), and vicunas (another flavour of llama). On the way our driver realised that one of the wheels was missing three bolts out of six, and therefore liable to fall off without notice. We spent merry 3 hours in the middle of absolutely NOWHERE, and caused a bit of a traffic jam as we asked every passing vehicle for help (both of them - see pic). We managed to cobble together a 4th bolt which made our driver, at least, marginally happy and successfully stopped our wheel from falling off. Saw some absolutely huge cacti on an island in the middle of a salt lake (Salar de Uyuni - we weren´t happy with 3rd largest - this one is THE largest in the world). One of the cacti was 1,200 years old, and pretty tall to boot, despite only growing at 10mm per year. Formations on the salt lake were very pretty - sunglasses required. Only one problem - Susana shrank (see pic). Stayed at hotel made entirely of salt (aptly named the Salt Hotel) but fortunately they gave us blankets that weren´t. Llama tastes good. Sadly, had to continue on to Uyuni. 26th Feb - 5th March Bus to Potosi, then to Sucre (the other capital of Bolivia). Being in Bolivia now, some people had to stand for 6 hours. Felt in need of some culture, so went to see a Bolivian play, which Susana managed to follow. Roger wasn{t quite sure which language they were speaking. Following this, enrolled in a week´s Spanish course to find out what went wrong. To prevent Roger from overtaking her, Susana also enrolled. To get a real taste of Bolivia, decided to stay with a Bolivian family. Great food and hospitality. Discovered that just outside Sucre is the largest set of dinosaur footprints in the world (Bolivia seems to be quite good at this world record thing) - 15-80cm in length, depending on the species of dinosaur. The longest set of imprints was several hundred metres (ask Guiness) and made by a dinosaur with the nickname Johnnie Walker. 7th March Failed to say goodbye to our most excellent Bolivian hostess, Angelica, on account of her dashing off to hospital to accompany her daughter giving birth, so family pic is without her! 7th –9th March Bus to Potosi Found world´s worst guide in Iglesia San Francisco – all the churches in Potosi are interconnected by tunnels but he didn´t think so. He also insisted that "the church was built in 1406" which, according to him, was after the Spanish arrived in the 1500s! Fortunately, a local chap also stunned in disbelief, gave us the real story once we´d left the church. Had a trip down a mine to try to dig up some silver to pay for the hotel bill (see pic). We bought a stick of dynamite and some coca leaves from a corner shop (as you do!), and made some miners very happy. They have to dig pretty hard into the hill now since they´ve already extracted 70,000 tons of silver since 1545 (making the hill lose 500m in height!). Back in the 16th century this was the biggest silver deposit in the world. Being optimists, they believe there´s another 70,000 tons to come. The miners probably got through 40,000 tons of coca leaves while they were at it – they all had golf-ball sized lumps of coca leaves bulging out of their cheeks. The compassionate Bolivian government recently reformed their pension rights such that they now only get a pension if they are going to die within a year or two (technically, only when their lungs are 80% siliconized). 10th-13th March Went to La Paz and left as soon as possible. Took a mountain bike ride from La Cumbre to Coroico, descending about 3500m over 62 km, taking 5.5 hours, and needed a new pair of hands by the end of it. 5.5 hours of braking takes its toll! In traditional Bolivian record-breaking style, this is apparently the most dangerous road in the world. We certainly wouldn´t want to be in a bus on it – it´s narrow, has sharp, blind corners, and room for 1 vehicle only, and was built by Paraguayan PoWs (so no wonder it´s not exactly a high quality piece of engineering). Oh, and it rained for 4 hours, so when we cycled through waterfalls, it made no difference! 14th-21st March Spent 16 hours in a bus to Rurrenabaque and, given the roads, vowed to take the plane back. It was probably a good thing that we arrived at 5:30am (in the dark). Most tour agencies have cottoned on to the fact that tourists like the "eco" word, pretend they are eco-friendly, and promptly leave rubbish in a pile in the jungle. We opted for the somewhat more expensive option of Chalalan Lodge (www.chalalan.com), 5.5 hours up-river, in the middle of the Parque Nacional Madidi (reputedly the most bio-diverse area on the planet). It´s run by a local indigenous community who really do look after the place. (It had nice beds too). Wildlife was interesting and included various types of monkeys (howler-, squirrel-, spider-, cappuccino-), caimans, a tortoise, frogs, loads of birds and all manner of huge insects (cricketus maximus, antus giganticus and butterflyus enormus). Went to a cliff where macaws live, as photographed by National Geographic in the March 2000 edition with its article on P.N. Madidi that went a long way to help save the park from a planned dam & hydro-electric power plant. Had some interesting conversations with Rosa Maria Ruiz – very switched on - who has been extremely involved in the creation of the park and various conservation issues. She took the Nat Geographic team all over the place for the article. She´s been working with a local community and they now have some lodges that we´d have gone to had they been open now (Serere - due to open April 2004, see www.madidi-travel.com). 22nd-23rd March Renewed visa, since we were unexpectedly about to exceed our 30 day limit! Bolivia seems to have far too many interesting things to see & do. Went to see the ruins of the first important and well developed Andean civilization – Tihuanacu (or Tiwanaku) – 600BC to 1200AD, once on the shores of Lake Titicaca but now high and dry. Interesting from an historical perspective, but some restoration work required! 24rd March Morning trip to Suriqui, on Isla Paco, Lake Titicaca, reputedly the last remaining place in the world where they still make reed boats. In September. The rest of the year, it appears they make wooden boats for the area. Nice, but not quite what we had in mind! Then a flying visit to Sorata, a picturesque town nestled in the shadow of a 6000m mountain, Illampu. Nice, but a bit cloudy and wet. 25th March From Sorata back to the shores of Lake Titicaca (highest navigable lake in the world – wonder if Guiness has issued a special book devoted to Bolivia!) to Copacabana in a variety of ways: coach, minibus, boat, taxi, and finally a walk with backpacks to our hotel (last bit because the taxi ran out of fuel on the outskirts!). 26th March Still at 3,800m, went to Isla del Sol where, legend has it, that the first Inca & sister appeared (as if by magic?). Nice couple of hours trek from one end of the island to the other, avoiding all the kids asking to have their pictures taken (for Bolivianos, of course). 27-28th March Finally left Bolivia for the forgery-centre of Peru - Puno, where we quickly learnt how to distinguish real from fake 1 Sol and 50c coins.


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