Bolivia takes off with a crash landing

Our time in Bolivia started with a visit to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. We had heard really good things about the place from people we had met in Cusco, especially one of the islands on the lake called Isla Del Sol. The lake itself is the largest in South America, and it separates Peru from Bolivia. The border crossing was simple enough, although there were a few Americans on the bus that had a harder time getting across than us, with one girl even getting refused.

We had an afternoon recovering from our overnight journey and relaxing in the sun before meeting some friends from Peru (Jo and Tommy) for dinner. We went to a great restaurant that I would highly recommend called La Orilla. A good fillet steak or amazing fresh water trout with a glass of wine for under £5 can’t be bad, and a great way to welcome in a new country.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

The next morning we got up early to get a boat to the north of Isla Del Sol, which took about three hours. Thankfully it was a nice day, so we took in the sights before arriving at the tiny port. Most people on the boat were booked on as part of a tour, but we had decided that we would explore the island on our own. We knew a rough route to take us down to the port in the south of the island, and we knew we had a maximum of about four hours to walk it. We saw loads of animals along the way as most of the land is used for farming, and we even had a dog for company for the first couple of miles of the walk.

Northern port of Isla Del Sol

Northern port of Isla Del Sol

The walk itself had some stunning views over the lake with the snow-capped Andes in the background. It was a hot day, and at over 3800m above sea level some of the hills seemed more like mountains. We had a quick break in the middle of a farm where in our best broken Spanish we asked for directions. When we were pointed up one of the bigger hills of the island, Katy didn’t seem too happy, and we soon found ourselves having another break. Forty minutes later we stumbled across another farmer who told us we had been going in the completely wrong direction, but for a small fee he could get us back on track. By this point Katy wasn’t in the mood for bartering and just told me to pay the man. We got back to the south port in plenty of time though, and thoroughly enjoyed our day on the lake.

Southern port of Isla Del Sol

Southern port of Isla Del Sol

Catching up with Slaven with Strongbow or two

Catching up with Slaven with Strongbow or two

We only had two nights in Copacabana before heading to La Paz. It’s a very busy city, and a stark contrast to our last few weeks. It’s a bit of a strange city as it’s a big, but with very little to do. We struggled to find restaurants at one stage, and it wasn’t really what we expected. We did get to meet up with an old friend that we met in our first week of travelling in Beijing, Slaven. Since Beijing we also bumped into him on a desert island in Cambodia, and it was nice to catch up again after so long. We enjoyed a few drinks and a full English breakfast whilst watching some of the Sunday morning football.

La Paz is famous for its markets, and specifically anything related to alpaca. I thought we had actually bought enough alpaca clothing to last us a lifetime, but Katy was adamant that we needed more…constantly reminding me that parts of Bolivia get as cold as -15° at night.

View of La Paz

View of La Paz

The markets also sell alpaca foetuses that local witches use to cook up potions and spells. Funnily enough though, Katy wasn’t interested in buying any of those as souvenirs.

Cholitas

Cholitas

Before we left La Paz, we went to check out the local attraction that is held every Sunday. Cholitas is local wrestling, where women in traditional clothes take on the men. Not really being a fan of wrestling I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a surprising evening. We took Slaven along with us, and not long after taking our seats in the front row were we covered in drinks being thrown out of the ring. At one point one of our fellow gringos was dragged into the ring, and I was just relived that it wasn’t me. It was all very cheesy, but a great night out none the less.

Next on the agenda was the Amazon jungle. We had been thinking about doing a jungle trip in Bolivia for some time, as it is supposed to be the cheapest place to do it. It wasn’t until we got to La Paz though that it was all booked and confirmed. We decided to go with a cheap return flight with a company that is run by the Bolivian military, called TAM.

TAM flight just after Katy's panic attack

TAM flight just after Katy’s panic attack

Katy isn’t the best flyer in the world and flying usually involves her squeezing all the blood out of my hand during take-off. This flight however was very different, with almost a full panic attack taking place. It didn’t help that the plane was about fifty years old, only held about forty people and was held together with duct tape (no joke). The main problem however was that after take-off we were flying perilously close to the surrounding mountains. Eventually though things calmed down and the panic attack was over, and forty minutes later we landed in Rurrenabaque.

The first night was much colder than we expected, and we went out for drinks and dinner with another couple from England we met on the flight, Zoe and JK. There are several tours you can do from here, but we decided to go with the Pampas tour which involved more animals and less trekking…much to Katy’s delight.

Capybara - the largest rodent in the world

Capybara – the largest rodent in the world

Our tour left early the next morning and we were joined for the very bumpy ride by four Aussies, Jess and Leigh and Kate and Andy. It was a three hour jeep ride to Santa Rosa, and we were all relieved to get out and stretch our legs before having lunch. Soon after we were on the road again, and we then made our way to the Beni River for the next leg of our trip; a three hour trip on a motorised canoe. Our guide, Juan, pointed out some of the many different types of wildlife on the way while we got to know each better and all wishing we had bought along a cerveza or two.

Spider Monkeys

Spider Monkeys

The lodge we stayed in was rickety to say the least, and we were staying in a dorm that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a few weeks. After dinner and a cold shower, we then headed up river to spot alligators and caimans. Our torches lit up their eyes in the dark, and it was a bit unnerving seeing so many of them so close to the boat. When we headed back to camp, we made a quick pit stop in a river bar (if you can call it that) to pick up some wine. The camp only had power until 10:00pm, so we had a couple of hour playing cards and learning how much Aussies cheat.

Anaconda

Anaconda

The next day we headed out into the marsh lands looking for anacondas. The weather had got much hotter since the previous day, and it finally began to feel like we were in the jungle. Our guide, Juan told us that two weeks before he had found a seven metre anaconda not far from where we were. As we were up to our knees in swamp it was making a few of the girls a bit nervous, so after a couple of hours of  searching they gave up and started playing cards under a tree, leaving the boys to do the searching. Ten minutes later we found one. It wasn’t quite seven metres long, but it was good to finally see one after searching for so long.

On our way back to the boat Katy suddenly screamed and began jumping up and down and flapping her arms. I looked around to see dozens of wasps surrounding her and decided the best thing to do was run (obviously telling Katy to do the same thing). It turns out she had walked straight through a wasp’s nest and ended up being stung about six times. Not a very happy Katy afterwards, until we smothered her wounds with tomato sauce to ease the pain.

Piranha fishing

Piranha fishing

That afternoon we went piranha fishing in a quiet area upstream. First of all we caught some sardines as bait, and then we went for the piranhas. Katy did well and had one of the bigger catches of the day, perfect for our dinner later on that evening. On the way back to camp we headed back to the river bar where a game of football had been organised by some Irish lads on one of the other tours. We spent an hour or so running around beer in hand, trying to avoid all of the mosquitoes. It ended with the guides, English and Aussies beating the rest of the world 6-5.

Pink Dolphin

Pink Dolphin

The next morning we were supposed to be up at 05:00am to go and see the sunrise, but the previous night after quite a few bottles of red wine we all decided that we would rather have a lie in. Instead after breakfast we went to swim with dolphins (among other things) in the river. After seeing people fishing for piranhas just metres away, and a host of alligators and caimans sat on the river banks, we were all a bit nervous. Juan ensured us though that the dolphins would protect us. I’m not too sure how true this is, but either way it got us into the water.

That afternoon we had the long journey back to Rurrenabaque. It had been an amazing few days in the jungle where we saw parrots, howler monkeys, black caimans, alligators, anacondas, piranhas, pink river dolphins, macaws, eagles, vultures, hoatzins, parrots, cassowarys, rhinoceros beetles, spider monkeys, capybaras and vampire bats. Unfortunately we didn’t see any sloths or tapirs, but we were both very happy with the trip.

Post crash cards

Post crash cards

That night we all met in the Mosquito Bar along with Zoe and JK for a few drinks. It turned onto a bit of a rowdy affair before we all left (or got kicked out) for some much needed sleep. The next day we had our return flight to La Paz, or so we thought. The airport is tiny, and doesn’t really have a departure building. Instead we were all congregated on the edge of the runway waiting for our plane to arrive. As it came in to land it suddenly veered off the runway almost hitting a group on people on the grass verge. Everyone watching was pretty shocked as it looked like it was very close to being a serious accident.

Bolivian taxi service

Bolivian taxi service

The plane slowly came to a stop next to us, and there was some sort of fluid leaking from one of the engines. The locals didn’t seemed too concerned about this, and just left us to play cards under the wings so we could shield ourselves from the sun. Eventually after a couple of hours of trying to either fix the problem or organise another flight, we were told that the flight was cancelled. I think we were all quite relieved by this, as the thought of getting back on that plane was a bit worrying. So instead we decided to stay another two nights and enjoy the sunshine. Before we could even get off of the tarmac though, the bus back to town actually broke down as well, and we all had to get out and push. It was ridiculous, but kind of summed up Bolivia.

Swimming pool in the Amazon Jungle

Swimming pool in the Amazon Jungle

We found a bar that had a nice swimming pool, and spent our extra day catching up on some sun. We knew the next day was going to be busy because as soon as we got to La Paz, we had an overnight bus booked to take us to Sucre. This actually turned into a very stressful day. First of all our flight was over an hour late leaving, then it took an age to get our bags off the plane. Then as we got a cab back to our hotel to pick up our bags it was diverted as roads were closed. I also had to run to the ticket office to pick up our bus tickets. When we got into another cab to take us to the bus station, as he went to leave the battery died, and we both had to get out and push the cab, again.

Eventually we got to the station with about 15 minutes to spare, but the attendant wouldn’t let us put our bags on the bus. Instead he told us to wait outside the bus and he would come back. Well we waited there until the bus driver closed the door and started driving away. I was shouting at him to stop but he just ignored me, so instead I stood in front of the bus to stop it from leaving. Eventually the attendant came back and took our bags, and we got aboard. We had to laugh about it, but it was not the easiest day of travelling…another one to add to the list.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link (more will be added in due course):

Until the next time.

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About Sam Thompson

Currently taking a break from everything and travelling around the world. For how long, who knows.

Posted on 04/09/2012, in Bolivia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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