Bolivia really is the Best

I think it would be untrue to say that I didn’t have some preconceived ideas as to what Bolivia was going to be like. I would mostly blame movies and all the warning sections in the guide books.
I was expecting cocaine taking, gun wielding kidnappers. What I got were some incredibly friendly and very welcoming coca leaf chewing people. I think the nation suffers from having a natural facial expression which is set into a frown but we quickly saw some smiles when chatting and interacting with them.
Now I am not going to paint a completely rosie picture, I will admit that we were fairly responsible in where we went and certainly were fairly cautious as to which taxis we caught. There were a couple of occasions when we were a little worried but certainly on the whole we felt very comfortable.
The first thing we noticed in Bolivia was the altitude. This is probably due to the fact that on the first day we arrived we ascended from 2000m to sleep at 4800m above sea level. In fact the whole time we were in Bolivia (apart from the jungle which was just above sea level) we were at about 4000m above sea level. Which is bloody high!!
The altitude really does effect you, it’s certainly difficult to catch your breath at times and any physical exercise leaves you gasping for air. We did notice though that our recovery times got significantly quicker over time.  
The sights we saw were some of the most fantastic we have come across. While spectacular though they are all quite raw. That is to say that in most other countries we would have been held back by barriers or instructed to walk on walkways. Not here though, in fact you could clamber all over a lot of the natural sights and there wasn’t a “do not touch” sign to be seen. I think that’s something that will definitely change over the years.
One of the nicest thing about Bolivia is the evidence of the indigenous peoples. I don’t know whether this is due to strong genes or just a lack of inter breeding but there doesn’t seem to have been as much “dilution” by the Europeans as elsewhere in South America.
It’s also clear that Bolivia is not as developed as other countries. There are a lot of people living in villages which, when you see them, make you feel as though you are watching something from the past. There seem to be a lot of people living in rural communities in a manner which won’t have changed very much in many decades.
We didn’t get to discover enough but it did seem that the norm was to own a very small farm or small holding. Which usually consisted of just one small field with maybe a pig or two, a donkey or a Llama. There was quinoa and potatoes abound.
The picture I had in my head of the ladies carrying their loads in brightly coloured fabrics was indeed the norm. In fact it became pretty clear how much work the ladies actually did, you would often see them in the fields.
One of the stranger things we saw was that in the markets you would be able to buy a whole variety of produce. However the stalls would be divided into there different sections. That is to say that you would have a fruit area, an egg area, meat area, kitchen utensil area etc etc. Within these areas every stall would be exactly the same!! Even the stall owners wouldn’t have won any salesman of the year awards as they just waited for you to approach them.
The fact that you weren’t given the hard sale every time you went into a shop was also quite refreshing and it was nice just to have a look without being pestered. It did make bargaining harder though as they just didn’t seem to care whether they made the sale or not.
Now I am not going to say that Bolivia is stuck in the dark ages, certainly not, as apart from a couple of places we had internet in every place we stayed. There were also a fair number of smart phones and tablets on show. Also we could pay by card in most places (another dig at Argentina?!)
The most scared we have been in Bolivia has probably been on some of the roads. With altitude comes high roads and long drops on the side of the roads. A lot of the roads we were on were unpaved and when two mini busses tried to pass each other the tires of the outer bus had to be inch perfect!!! The most scary was after it had rained as there were times we certainly didn’t want to get a slide on!! On the flip side it makes a mockery as to what we won’t drive our cars on.
On the whole though the places we saw struck a nice balance between modernism and retaining some culture and tradition.
In fact we both fell in love with the place. The whole experience was just fantastic. Yes we scared ourselves to death on planes and pushed ourselves way too hard at altitude but had a great time doing it. It really felt that we had come to another country and another world (if that makes any sense)
To cut myself short I would just say we had an absolutely fantastic time and saw some of the most amazing sights in Bolivia. I couldn’t recommend coming here enough. T

Bolivian Experiences

Altitude! From day one on our arrival we were above 4000m, to put it in perspective most ski resorts sit at about 2000m and the slopes go up to 3000m
Breathlessness and walking very slowly
Up hills and down hills
The drive to the salt flats from San Pedro
Seeing the flamingos in the weirdly coloured lagoons
The salt flats, just amazing fun taking the photos
The mint museum at Potosi and the first time we had the mandatory guide, great idea
Eating the beef hearts at the market in Potosi
Eating all their amazing soups!
Arriving at Sucre and getting given the apartment 
The markets at Sucre, could have spent an eternity shopping there. Walking down the food line and being shouted at by all the tiny women urging you to come to their stall and not their neighbours.
Sucre really is a beautiful city and it was wonderful walking around it 
Trying to buy a bottle opener in the Sucre markets
Visiting the churches and cathedrals and being allowed to go wherever you want. Even onto the rooftops
Walking down the ancient Quechan paths for the first time
Going on the terrible tour and pushing the bus out of the mud with the locals.
Ditching the tour bus and walking down the hill with Thibaut and Lucie all alone in the middle of the Bolivian countryside wondering what the hell we were doing.
Having the bucket for a toilet on the bus from Sucre to La Paz
La Paz in general, just a crazy city with a definite edge
Realising that we had booked our hotel literally next door to the San Pedro prison.
Going to the local restaurant and only being served beer and wondering what was going on
Seeing the highest ski slopes in the world, no snow. Walking to to the top of the mountain. Our first real decent walk at altitude
Catching the gondola up to El Alto, just fantastic views of La Paz
Huayna Potosi an experience we will never forget
Walking along the Tarmac and seeing the plane we were going to fly to the Amazon in!!
The flight from La Paz to Rurrenbaque never been so scared.
The Pacu fish curry wrapped in leaves in Rurrenbaque, just delicious
Catching the boat up the river to the Madidi jungle and starting to realise that we were experiencing something really special
Walking through the rainforest with our private guide, Simon.
The relaxing feeling we had when walking through the rainforest.
The tapir and the boars hanging around the lodge.
Fishing for Pacu on the banks of the river and catching 3!!
Being taken by Simon to visit his village in the jungle. An incredible eye opener
Chilling by Lake Titicaca at Copacobana 
Catching the dodgy bus from La Paz to Copacobana, topped off by the barge crossing the lake
The place we stayed at on Isla del Sol a brilliant concrete construction.
The hike across Isla del Sol particularly when we decided to keep going after the rain started, seeing the pizza place in the middle of nowhere on top of the hill and especially walking through the villages.

Isla del Sol, An Island on Lake Titicaca 

 Isla Del sol

Today was the day we took a ferry and stayed over at the island of the sun. Unfortunately when we woke up it was stormy and not that sunny at all.
We still took the ferry over and were really glad we did. The ferry trip itself was great with the driver steering with his feet on the tiller most of the way. 
The island is spectacular and once we were dropped off at the south end we had a set of steep steps to climb to get to the village where we would be staying. When we reached the bottom end of the village a boy ran out and was asking if we needed accommodation. By this stage of the climb we would have taken anything but were shown to a cosy little room with an amazing view. 
We quickly dropped off our stuff and headed for a walk around the island. We were told you could walk to the north of the island and back in a day. Though as it is at elevation it is a tough hike.
So we set off through the village which is set in tiers going up the mountain. We were following a few other people who after climbing to the top of the village kept climbing up another hill. We of course followed and slowly made our way up. Once there we had spectacular views and realized a rain cloud was heading our way. We decided

to continue and got a bit further down the mountain when a shepherd stopped us and told us we were not on the path and pointed us in the right direction. We soon discovered that we had climbed the second mountain for nothing as the path actually winded around it! To add to the pain it started to rain….
So we bunkered down beside a wall of sorts, ate a snickers bar and contemplated going back. We decided we were only here once and continued on. The rain shortly stopped, the sun came out and we found the path and for the next 3 hours had a blast hiking to the north end of the island. The path was steep in places and due to the altitude was tough but very enjoyable. 
Once we got to the end we took the path that would lead us around the other side of the island around the coast through several little villages. These were a real highlight of the hike especially considering donkeys were the preferred mode for carrying goods and pigs, sheep and cows were regularly being herded through the streets. I forgot to mention there are no roads on the island, hence the donkeys. Everyone also seemed to have their patch of dirt to farm as well so the fields were full of locals tending to their crops.
By the time we had reached our village we were definitely in need of an alcoholic beverage and a meal. Which we found in a little cosy restaurant where we had the best quinoa and vegetable soup! 
When we got back to the cabins it was freezing! The bed had 4 blankets already but I ended up sleeping in socks, leggings and beanie. Tim even had a jumper on in bed so you know it was cold.
A massive storm hit during the night and we awoke to it still raining. We were heading back to Copacabana that morning anyway and the boat ride back was not really enjoyable as we were packed in like sardines in a boat that leaked water through the roof. We made it back safe and sound and had a few hours wait for our night bus to Cuzco. We passed the time shopping in the the wonderful markets that lined the streets. S  
The start of the climb up to Yumani town.  It was exhausting as we were starting the climb at about 3800m above sea level so we were pretty breathless after a couple of steps.  But we were getting acclimatised and our recovery time was getting a lot better

 
The balcony outside our room, sturdy enough.  In the background it’s incredible to see all the terracing around the island.

   
The Main Street in town

 
Most of the island is taken over by farming on these terraces.  All the work is still done by hand.

   
Walking along with the locals

 
Sarah trying to coax a Llama into a photo shoot.

   
The town of Yumani from above, the port where we arrived was down on the left side.  The hike up to this point has been pretty tough.

 
After the rain storm the weather really came good.  Again amazing to see all the hills terraced like this.

   
Another small town on the island, just spectacular views.

 
The path we followed along the length of the island.

   
The water of the lake is so clear.

 
Our path heading into another of the villages.

   
The villages have to be seen to be believed.

 
This is the main route between two of the villages.

  
Lovely just following this couple and their donkeys up the hill

Copacobana, Lake Titicaca 

Copacobana sits right on the shore of Lake Titicaca at about 3800m above sea level. It seems as though it’s a holiday destination for Bolivians as well as those on the Gringo trail.
We decided to have a relaxing day enjoying the views of the lake. We changed hotel and and managed to get a room with a superb view of the lake and we tried to catch up with some blogging! Alas the internet wasn’t fantastic but the view was so all was good.
The town is dominated by a huge church and a lot of people make a pilgrimage here to visit the church. That’s probably why it’s all a bit expensive (cynical I know). It was a pretty impressive church and we got to have a good wander around. It’s really refreshing not to be enclosed by barriers and rules and regs and allowed to look where you want.
The main thing I noticed at the church was the row of cars parked outside all adorned with flowers. Apparently they were waiting to be blessed!
The town centre was made up of a combination of hostels, restaurants, shops and market stalls. It was great fun walking around watching everyone. The best part we thought were the food stalls on the lake.
There were about 20 of them all lined up and all once again serving the same fare. The speciality here is the trout dishes and coupled with a quinoa broth and a beer that’s about all we ate.
It’s difficult to say what it is but Copacobana is actually quite a nice place just to sit and relax. We had mixed weather but when it was good the views across the lake to Peru were just fantastic. T   
The shore of Lake Titicaca.  All the boats in the harbour are for tourists to do trips on the lake.

  
All the pedalos on the beach.

 
There are a couple of main streets in Copacobana and they are both lined with restaurants and hotels.

   
A couple of Incan warriors guarding the lake.

 
The main church is absolutely huge, and all the buildings are so close around it that it’s difficult to get the whole thing in one shot.

   
The cars lined up outside the church, adorned with flowers and waiting to be blessed.  The stalls behind the cars are all selling flowers for the cars.

 
This lady was pleased as punch when we thanked her for the meal she had served up and asked her for her photo.

 

Scary Flight Take 2 (Take 1 Was Enough)

We woke in the morning, both a bit apprehensive (shit scared) of our impending flight to La Paz. The flight over here had been pretty terrifying. The plane was absolutely tiny with two propellers and not only did it jolt up and down and side to side it twisted as well. I think I have left a handprint in my seat from the first flight!
Coupled with the tiny plane the flight itself is pretty scary, climbing from sea level in the jungle, over a mountain range before landing at 4000m in El Alto.
We arrived at the office for the airline in town where we checked in and then all got put on a bus and told that there was maintenance being done on the runway so we were going to drive to another airport. Two airports in such a small town we thought!!
Well after over an hour of driving along mud roads we arrived at our destination. An airport it wasn’t, a building next to a narrow sandy landing strip was what it was.
We arrived just in time to see the plane taking off and were informed that there was a delay so we were going to have to wait two hours while the plane flew to La Paz and back.
Our minds were already racing and it was a pretty anxious wait but we really had little option we had to get out of the jungle and the boat would take 4-8 days and the bus 17hours including a drive up death road!! Sarah’s thoughts were that it was like ripping off a band aid better to do it quickly!!! 
We all boarded the plane and set off down our bumpy runway to the end where the plane got stuck trying to turn around!! Not what we needed! But after revving the propellers a bit we got out of the rut and were soon on our way.
To be fair the flight was so much better than the one out but the amazing thing was that we just climbed and climbed and climbed. There was a fair amount of cloud cover and the next thing we knew we were circling the airport and coming into land.
Quick lunch and change into our warm clothes at the airport then we had to catch a taxi to the bus station. Should have been a breed but for the taxi misunderstanding “terminal de autobus” for miraflores stadium. So at one point we weren’t sure what was going on but he seemed like a nice guy and got us there in the end.
The bus we caught was actually the last bus available and was more of a three quarter bus than a full one but they seemed to have managed to cram the same number of seats in. So it wasn’t a comfortable 4hr journey but was certainly entertaining.
The views were again spectacular and a beautiful sunset over the lakes. The real highlight occurred when we stopped in a town and everyone got out so we followed and the soon worked out that we were to cross the lake by ferry. The photos below tell the story as a series of small barges transport the vehicles back and forwards while the passengers caught tiny little wooden speedboats.
It was while huddled from the cold in the front of one of the speedboats that we had a laugh with each other, what an incredible day of transport so far and we weren’t even at Copacobana yet!
After getting dropped off by the bus, which was by now giving off huge plumes of black smoke from its exhaust, in the centre of Copacobana we decided to walk the last leg to the hostel. It was quite a surreal place and wasn’t exactly as described online. There wasn’t actually any wifi and the shower times were limited to two periods of two hours a day. So we had a choice dinner or shower.
Dinner it was and by this time I think we would have eaten anything, but luckily a lady and her husband were prepared to stay open for us to enjoy some soup and trout, just delicious.
What a day. T

  
This is the “airport” not exactly what we wanted to settle the nerves

  
Sarah commented how much bigger the plane looked when we saw it in the jungle, and not next to any normal sized planes.

  
The view of the runway as we were stuck in a rut trying to turn around. This coupled with a cross wind left me pretty scared.

  
Dover to Calais Bolivian style.

  
Now this is a good idea, free recharge locations.  Not sure how much of this photo passes Australian Electrical Safety Laws.

  
Lucky to find one stall open.

  
Our reward. A fantastic view of Lake Titicaca.

Final day in the Jungle, boo hoo

We awoke early and spent a pleasant hour laying and listening to the sounds of the jungle. When you stop and listen you hear so many animals but very rarely see any as the jungle is so dense.
Tim and I worked out that this was nearly the first place we have been on this trip where we have not been keen to move on to the next place. I truly have been in awe of the place. It’s a combination of not only the natural environment but the lodge as well and the care that has gone in to keep things simple yet comfortable and give you as an authentic experience as possible. I want to find out which charity came and helped the local community establish this place and thank them immensely. The locals who work here are all extremely happy for us to be here as well and are all genuinely happy to show us their home or backyard. 
Simon was desperate to show us monkeys today so we went on the spider monkey trail. Some of the plants we were shown was the cat claw vine which the indigenous people use as a water source when walking in the jungle. I must admit I have forgotten most of the plants names and uses but it was still fascinating to learn. No monkeys though. 
A new couple turned up yesterday and within an hour they had seen 3 different types of monkeys. Which would have been fine except for the fact that they almost had an air of indifference about the place and proceeded to tell us that they were tired and the walk was too long and it was hot. To make matters worse, the next day they proceeded to tell us that on their boat ride they managed to see a jaguar on the bank of the river. We had gotten up at 5am the previous day to increase our chances of seeing animals and they see the most rare of creatures at noon!!! I must admit it was an effort to keep the smile on my face as all I wanted to do was kick them under the table! I know! I know! I should be happy for them but at the time I was a tad jealous. Especially considering that we had a feeling that it was an absolute privilege to experience what we were seeing and doing and to come across others who were taking it for granted made me angry. Anyway you are always going to come across people like that I suppose where it is never good enough.
After another delicious lunch cooked by Erica, this one made more so because it was our Pacu that we caught yesterday, slowly cooked in the outside clay oven with lots of spice. It was awesome! We then reluctantly left the ecolodge for our 3 hour boat ride back to Rurrenabaque. On the way we stopped off at Simon’s community which is about half an hour down the river from Rurrenabaque. When we arrived he pulled out of the esky one of the pacu we caught yesterday and walked up the river bank into the village. 
The first thing we came across was a football pitch and then a cluster of old wood buildings. We walked over to an open covered area which was the kitchen and eating area and there was Simon’s mum, sister and brother and about 7 kids. Simon said this was where they lived but we hope he just met his mum as the hut beside the open covered area was about the size of a garden shed and had one bed. It was really weird as he was greeted by his mum as if he had not been back for a while and when we were walking around he seemed to be greeted with a little bit of indifference by the local people. Simon has been guiding for 18 years and has gotten a teacher to teach him English and dresses a little differently to the rest. Even though his guiding helps the community maybe they think he has changed. Or maybe it was just because we were there and we were reading to much into it. Who knows. The pacu certainly was greatly appreciated by his family and quickly thrown on the grill.
The community was by our standards very poor. Only a few buildings were made of cement and they were recent as a flood wiped out part of the village 2 years ago. Most other buildings are made of wood with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Very little furniture other than a bed really. They mainly grow everything they need and the most common meat is fish. There were lots of chickens running around so I would say eggs are a major part of the diet as well. 
Everyone was a little wary of us which you can understand as I suppose they wonder what we are doing there other than coming to see how “others” live and take a few pictures. 
The community, which is called San Miguel also has an ecolodge apparently and we did wonder where the hell all the money has gone. All the houses did have a little solar panel which provided them with enough electricity to get by and there was a school, but I suppose we were expecting a little more. But in saying that we don’t know how they were living a few years ago and maybe this is an improvement. 
The community practices a mix of Catholicism and their native religion. I always wondered how the missionaries managed to convert tribes to Catholicism but I can imagine if you came with food, medicine and a few improvements to their quality of life I can see how over time the tribes would have started to convert. Especially if their children where being better cared for.
I must admit it was awesome to go and see how an Amazon tribe lived but it brought up more questions than answers. An intense discussion over dinner and a beer was then had over the pros and cons of giving relief and in what form that relief should come in. Just because they don’t live like us that Disney mean they are poor or not fulfilled in their lives. I said more questions than answers. S   
Our path through the jungle.  The walks through the jungle are amazingly relaxing somehow.

 
A poisoned dart frog.

   
We stopped at this view for a rest and Simon assured us there were hundreds of monkeys out there!  All joking aside we could have stopped there all afternoon.

    
 
The moss covered trees are all around due to the high level of moisture.

   
A monkey brush, used for coming hair.

 
Our fish in the oven.  It was truely delicious and while light it was incredibly meaty.

   
All around the place you see things growing.  Some ginger.

 
The river had risen loads by the time we returned due to all the rain we had over one evening.  We were sad to be leaving but it was still nice cruising down the brown soupy river watching the jungle.

   
 
The town centre at San Miguel.  The building on the left is the community hall.

   
The school.

 
A row of houses, not much to them.

   
The guys had got some funding after a major flood came through and destroyed a lot of their homes. So here they are rebuilding.  Boiling tar to put on the posts before they go in the ground.

 
Simon’s family home.

  

Pacu fishing on the Tuichi River

Today we had the option of going on a boat trip up river to lake Santa Rosa. So we were up before 5 and on our way to try and see the sunrise and hopefully a jaguar. Unfortunately the weather had turned and it was cloudy so we didn’t get much of a sunrise and we also didn’t manage to see a jaguar either.
The cool weather was a nice change and it was really nice cruising up the river looking at the jungle. We arrived at the lake after a couple of hours, during which time we literally didn’t see another soul just a load of birds and the odd alligator.
As we arrived at the lake we could hear the call of a Macaw and our guide got us into a great position to see about a dozen of the beautiful birds. These ones were the yellow and blue kind and were fascinating and mesmerizing to watch.
We swapped our motorized boat for a canoe on the lake and cruised around the outside before stopping for some piranha fishing. Once again we proved ourselves as competent piranha fishermen and soon caught our lunch.
The area around the lake where we had stopped used to be a coffee plantation but had fallen into disrepair after the owner had died. So we had a pretty interesting walk around getting to see how the jungle was slowly but surely taking back over the land.
After our lunch of grilled piranha the guys set up some hammocks for us under a mango tree and we got to have a little siesta. Just fantastic.
We had asked on the boat ride back if we could do a bit of fishing and I think the guides were just as excited as us to be doing it. We were just using fairly large hand lines and huge hooks baited with beef and it wasn’t long before Sarah hooked a massive Pacu!!
It took a fair bit of strength to get them in and after Sarah’s initial success I was soon in the action with two more Pacu. It was really fantastic to be stood fishing and catching Pacu in the middle of nowhere in the Amazon.
All in all we bagged four fish which was more than enough to feed everyone back at camp. Later we noticed that we dropped a couple of the giant fish off at other communities and back at Rurrenbaque too. I think it’s all about sharing here, when you have an abundance of something you give it to others so that when you are short you may receive.
That evening we were treated to a local catfish meal which was wrapped in banana leaves and was absolutely delicious. We also had bought a bottle of rum with us which we offered to the locals who were looking after us and they all helped themselves to some fairly sizable measures and we had a lovely evening before retiring to bed to listen to the sounds of the jungle.
We were going to be very sad to be leaving the next day it really was a very magical place. T   
Dawn, cruising up the Tuichi River.  A really special moment watching the jungle wake up!

 
Glad we saw this guy today and not when we were floating down on our inner tubes.

   
Having seen these Macaws in cartoons so much it’s amazing to see how vivid their colours are in real life.  The noise they make is something else.

    
The shores of lake Santa Rosa.

 
Sarah proving her worth, and William behind who was learning how to be a guide.

   
Stick insects, three of them.  The two smaller males trying to mate with the bigger female 

 
Simon borrowed our camera to take these shots. Very funny.

   
 
Sarah putting her back into catching the first Pacu of the day.

   
What a monster!

 
Me stood in the middle of the jungle waiting for a bite.  Pretty amazing to think how in the middle of nowhere we were.

   
My turn to get in on the action!

 
Very proud fisherman.

  
The trip back on the boat just gave us more time to enjoy the sights of the jungle.

  
Sunset from back at the lodge.  Just helping us fall in love with the jungle even more.