Bolivia was a lot like March – it started like a lion and ended like a lamb. We entered Bolivia after spending 36 hours between two overnight busses and a layover in Salta. After arriving at 4:30am, shivering in the cold until the border opened at 7am, and then waiting 20 minutes for the border guards to finally accept that we were not going to produce a $100-dollar bill out of thin air and they would just have to accept our perfectly good $20s, we entered Villazon, Bolivia.
Villazon is a very dusty border town in Bolivia that sits next to it’s Argentine counterpart La Quiaca. We got our first taste of Bolivian markets here and some really great fried empanadas. I found the combination filling to be much more flavorful in Bolivia (and northern Argentina) than we had found in Buenos Aires. We wandered around the town for a few hours, enjoying learning a bit about the Bolivian culture (our first encounter with llama fetuses and coca leaves). We even sat down for our first Menu del Dia meal – soup, salad, entree and dessert all for about $1.50. From Villazon, we caught the Expreso del Sur train to Uyuni. This train was a delight to take after our two overnight busses. The seats were large, dinner was included, and the view was incredible. A swiss traveler we met mentioned how similar it was to the iconic red rocks in Utah, though the red was from clay in the Bolivian soil.
The lion started to roar as we approached Uyuni as Danielle started to get sick. A train that sometimes feels like it is a boat because of its slow rolling and pitching is not the place to be sick. We made it to Uyuni and in to our hostel around 12:30am and settled in in another small dusty Bolivian town. While Danielle recovered for a few days in bed, I managed to enjoy myself finding myself plenty of street food (empanadas and churros with dulce de leche) and trying to figure out what the heck kind of celebrations were going on in this place.
One of the nicest surprises was a chance meeting with Mark and Britnee Johnston who were just a few weeks away from ending their year around the world. Mark and I wandered around the Uyuni market a bit and chatted about what it’s like to be traveling for so long with your spouse (incredible, but challenging to say the least – Britnee even wrote a post about this). Britnee joined us for a lunch of mexican food and we continued to compare notes about traveling and some of their favorite experiences. I highly encourage you to go check out their blog and you’ll quickly understand why I have blog envy. Mark and Britnee – thanks for the company on a day when my wife was sick and best of luck settling back in to life in the states!
After a couple of days resting, Danielle was back on her feet and we were settled in to a Lexus speeding over the white expanse that is the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flats). This was a incredible outing to view what remains of a prehistoric salt lake.
From Uyuni, which we escaped with just a few Bolivianos to our name, we took yet another overnight bus to La Paz. Arriving there at 9am, we walked (we didn’t know if we could afford a taxi) to our Airbnb apartment in downtown La Paz.
Over the next two and a half weeks we spent in La Paz, I fell in love with the city. It’s a cheap city and not the most modern, but it’s comfortable enough and it’s a fun place to enjoy some of the best South American has to offer without losing your wallet and still having some of the more modern luxuries we’re used to. The beauty of the steep hills lined with houses and the snow capped mountains in the distance definitely is an awesome sight, but in the end it was the tasty, but cheap, food that stole my heart. We enjoyed many “Menu” lunches that ranged from simple (entrada – lettuce, tomato, and cucumber; sopa – rice soup; segundo – rice, fish, and french fries; postre – flan; for $1.75) to gourmet (entrada – lettuce, tomato, and cucumber; sopa – delicious lentil or carrot soup; entrada – veggie lasagna or quarter chicken with mushrooms; postre – more flan; for $3.50). We also enjoyed some delicious dinners (Ciclik, MagicK (also has incredible coffee), La Cuerva for a whole pitcher of Margaritas) and one huge breakfast at Alexander Cafe.
Another great attribute of La Paz and other cities in Bolivia and, as we would find later, Peru are the great markets with an abundance of fresh fruits, vegatables, meats and breads. We spent plenty of time shopping, cooking, and eating.
When we weren’t eating, we also explored some of the activities that La Paz has to offer. We spent an evening reliving my childhood love of wrestling with the Cholitas and took a trip outside the city to see Chacaltaya and the Valley of the Moon.
La Paz is a city I look forward to returning to and enjoying some more.
Much of what we experienced in Yolosa and the Yungas area was already covered in my post about trusting God. It was a convicting time for me on this trip, which was important in the midst of an adventure that had some pretty crappy times. I do have to admit, though, that the area is beautiful. The jungle-ness of it allows for lush vegetation and many fruits and vegetables and views we hadn’t experienced yet. If you want to go, bike the Death Road or volunteer at Senda Verde. We didn’t experience either of these, but people who biked the Death Road enjoyed it and Senda Verde looks like it has a well run (though not necessarily cheap) volunteer program.
It’s an area that reminds me a lot of the Dominican Republic and faces a lot of economic challenges. I noticed lots of places which looked like they were built with the expectation of incoming wealth that either never arrived or has long since left. While our time in the Yungas was not the most enjoyable, I’m thankful we were there and able to give a small bit of our energy to help with the construction of a medical clinic.
As with March going out like a lamb, we spent our last few days in Bolivia enjoying the relative luxury of Copacabana and, most importantly, a hot tub. We stayed for three nights at Hotel La Cupula, which shares a hot tub with its neighbor Las Olas. I’d highly encourage staying at either of these places if you visit. Though, neither is the cheapest, they did provide a bit of luxury that we were in need of. Spending an hour watching the sunset from a solar heated hot tub (we were skeptical that it would be hot enough, but it was more than hot enough) was what we needed after a long trying month in Bolivia.
Of course we did more than just lounge around, celebrating my birthday on the Isla del Sol and hiking two of the hills that surround Copacabana for some pretty incredible views of the city and Lake Titicaca. The city sits nestled between the hills and the lake. One of the hills has been claimed for the Christian religion and features the stations of the cross as your ascend the very steep hill. The other hill was claimed by the Inca religion and features a sun gate looking out to the lake and the setting sun. Both hills and a run along the beach provided us some good physical challenges in altitude at 3800 meters above sea level.
Our time in Bolivia ended with a wonderful dinner with new found friends and a long wait at the border crossing in to Peru, that almost made us miss our connecting bus to Arequipa, but that’s a story for another country!