A Travellerspoint blog

La Paz, Bolivia to Puno, Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca

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I boarded a morning bus in La Paz to head into Peru. I continue to head north as I will be meeting friends in Cuzco in a week to do the Inca Trail. overall I liked La Paz a lot. It is much nicer than expected and located in such an amazing setting. It is cheap too. Last night I paid $15 for a high end sushi meal (sashimi and sushi) with gyoza and a huge bowl of miso soup. I stayed at my hostel for $6 a night!

The bus left La Paz the same way it came, climbing up the valley 1500 feet to the plateau and the city of El Alto. On the way up the volcano and snowcapped mountains came into view. I cannot imagine the view in the dry season. As for El Alto, it is a strange town ... it is poor but more accurately 800,000 rural Aymara living in a city setting. The volcano loomed in the distance behind the city.
After that, we moved into the beautiful Bolivian countryside.
Then, the southern part of Lake Titcaca became visible with the Andes snowcapped behind.
At 11 AM, we got to the not so nice border town of Desaguadero. It was a bit disorganized and the wait was 30 minutes to exit and 30 minutes to enter Peru. talking to an Aussie couple in the Peru line made it seem to go faster.
The Peru countryside was different, with terraced farming and women working in the field with animals. The views of the lake were spectacular. Lake Titcaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 ft. What I notice is the clouds seem so low here.
I arrived in Puno at about 1 PM (although I thought it was 2 because there was a time change). Puno is a crowded city with narrow streets and Tuk-Tuks, the little vehicles, all over the place. I shared a cab ride with some British kids and then walked all over the city in search of a hostel. The first 3 or 4 did not sit right with me due to cost or lack of people. I ended up getting my tickets and tours booked and the folks at the tour agency were so nice. They phoned ahead to the hostel for me and made the reservation. After that things were looking up. I dropped my packs off and was able to explore the town more. A big storm came in creating some interesting lighting for photography.

Posted by solorooster 05:33 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

The Death Road

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Today I got up early and went on a death road mountain biking tour with a friend from Germany. We got a tour which was mostly Spanish speaking so I got to use it some. We took the van up from La Paz (12,000 feet) to a high mountain pass (15,000 feet) where we set off downhill.
We started above treeline and the road was paved. We quickly reached a forest and steep mountainsides with waterfalls flowing down.
It got cloudy … then foggy … then we parted ways with the paved road and started down the death road, which is not used much anymore because of the new road. All I can say is the road would be real dangerous with a lot of traffic on it. We descended into the jungle with the cliff down to our left and cliff up to our right. I was in the fast group but I did not try to keep up with the guide or the other 2 people, my friend from Germany and someone from Argentina.
About halfway down the death road, we reached these really jaw dropping waterfalls which fell right onto the road!

It was spectacular. This is the Yuingas region, a transition zone of steep valleys that go from the altiplano eventually down into the Amazon. By now it started getting real warm and humid. We continued all the way to the town of Yoloso at 4000 feet. Here we had a celbratory beer, ate lunch, and waited 2 hours for the others
And on the way back the view was nice too.
The 12 hour tour included gear, food, bike, t-shirt, pictures, and transportation for about $60. On the ride back, it was neat to come into La Paz at night, with all of it’s lights in an amphitheater.
Afterward it was 8:30 so it was street food time on the way back to the hostel.

Posted by solorooster 16:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

La Paz

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From Uyuni, I boarded an overnight bus to La Paz at 8 PM. The ride started off quite bumpy and dusty. Dust infiltrated the bus and my nose stung. I talked a bit to the guy sitting next to me, a farmer from Santa Cruz. Being in Bolivia, I kept my bag close at all times. The bus made one major stop at Oruro. I was sitting across the aisle from a French and German guy travelling together since the salt flat whom I had met in the bus station buying my ticket. The French guy had been in South America six months and at that stop someone made off with a bag of his containing his expensive camera and his pictures. The rest of the bus trip was quieter and we got to the La Paz outskirts at 7 AM. We arrived from El Alto, a La Paz suburb above the valley La Paz was in and the morning clouds were only partially warn off.
We descended into La Paz and to the bus station. The guy who lost his belongings reported it with the authorities and his friend and I found a hostel then walked the city. La Paz is not exactly what I expected, it is located in such a beautiful setting and it is more modern than I thought although there are poor areas too.
We went to the Plaza Murillo, where the presidential palace and main cathedral are located.
Then, we found a lookout point. It was spectacular! What a crazy setting for a city.
Can you spot the snowcapped volcano in the clouds?

Afterwards it was time to check into the hostel so we doubled back through other squares and market areas. It is Easter Sunday and a lot of people were dressed up. Also, street vendors sold Easter eggs. We went into the San Francisco Cathedral and a mass was going on.
After checking in and relaxing a few hours, we went to the witches market. A lot of stalls were closed but there was the occasional stall selling llama fetuses.
After that we made our way back to the main square and at 6 o’clock and they were lowering the flag in a small ceremony in which we had to stand for.
We had some street food at 8, but all the food seems the same. The options were steak burger, hamburger, or hot dogs. It was interesting watching this man eccentrically prepare the food.
After walking around looking for more interesting street food we all agreed that since it was Easter, not much was open.

These are some street scenes from the week and La Paz is much more lively.

Posted by solorooster 15:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni

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We got up for sunrise and watched from the hotel as the sun rose over the salt flat and shined light on the cactus.
Then, after breakfast, we set off on the salt flat, the largest in the world and almost the size of Massachusetts (almost 5,000 sq. mi.). We left Puerto Chabica, the town where our hotel was, and set off on the salt flat. The town is named port because in the wet season (Dec through Feb) the salt flat is filled with water. Now there is only a small area under water and we got to it early on.
Felipe the driver and I

Then it was just plain white. Lots of salt!
We first stopped at Isla Incahuasi or House of the Inca. It is also names Isla de los Pescadores (Island of the Fisherman). This island was spectacular! It is surrounded by the salt and itself is more densely populated with cactus than even Tucson, Arizona, though it is close.

There were some natural bridges in the middle of the island.
We then stopped at the Salt Hotel, an outpost in the middle of white. The distant mountains had faded and at this point it really looked like a different planet.
After stopping at a few more sites (a spring, a salt mine, and a small village) ...
... it was off to the town of Uyuni. Before the end of the tour we stopped at a train graveyard where there was a train collision on a railway that opened in 1881.
The landcape was stark and Uyuni looked poor, possibly the poorest place I have seen. However, the center was pretty nice. This was not a place to find wi-fi, it is stuck back in the 90s or before.
At Uyuni I had to deal with my visa issue, which was delayed until now. Fortunately the woman in the office helped me by walking down to the immigration office but it was closed. She asked another tour company for a number and called someone who agreed to process the paperwork in an hour. Fortunately, it was a Saturday and the officer was a father in street clothes who had his daughter with him. He processed the paperwork without issue (I have heard horror stories with Americans needing proof of exit and having to spend extra money to get a visa).

Before going our separate ways, a few of us from the tour ended up getting pizza together in town.

Posted by solorooster 15:43 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Day 2 on the Bolivian Altiplano

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Well, I was able to sleep some at 15,000 feet but it wasn’t easy. Today we kept on going into Bolivia stopping forst at the Lago de Piedra (Lake of Stone), formed by volcanic lava being pushed up and cooled into unique formations.
The Arbol de Piedra is the famous formation.
Then we rode through the desert ...

... and visited more lagunas, saw more flamingos, surrounded by colorful mountains and volcanoes. The most flamingos are in Bolivia in January, thousands in each lagoon, but now, the first lagoon, Laguna Onda, had the most I have seen on the trip … hundreds.

We made our way to Laguna Hedionda, white with potassium, where a mine was abandoned on its shores because it was impractical to ship anywhere from here.
Then, we encountered the most beautiful snowcapped mountains and Laguna Carina came into view, with the most spectacular mountains, and flamingos close by.
We stopped to learn about flora and fauna a bit, such as the viscacha, a type of rabbit, and the lloreta, a strange green plant with a syrup that has been used on eggs since ancient times (the translation is probably wrong here). After that, it was lunch by Volcan Oyague, with some steam coming out of it. We walked on the ancient lava fields.
lloreta plant with volcano in the distance

Then, we went through the Ciguana Salt flat, where train-tracks ran through and it was surrounded by volcanoes.
Then, we stopped at an ancient burial site of the Aymara people in San Juan. They date to 1200 and were buried within these coral formations, which are because the salt flat used to be oceans millions of years ago. The Aymara buried the bodies in the fetal position and dressed them for rebirth into their next life.
We then drove another hour and began to see the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. Surprisingly, the tours don’t prebook the lodging here and the first place we stopped, which did not look like much, was full. Our driver Felipe, 67 years young, quickly got us into the jeep and we raced off to the next place. It seemed like every jeep we saw was in a hurry! We got to the second place and it did not look very nice from the outside but it was a salt hotel and was beautiful on the inside. It was also located on a magnificent hill filled with cactus overlooking the salar.
After some past tour’s meals having no protein, including this tour’s breakfast and yesterday’s lunch, this dinner included wine and steak! After dinner, the stars were finally out without the moon so I could see clearly the Milky Way.

In Bolivia so far, it seems like travelling through it all you have to do is wait 20 minutes and the scenery changes completely.

Posted by solorooster 10:58 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

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