Who knew 7 nights and 6 days in Bolivia could be such an adventure? With the help of Lonely Planet’s: South America on a Shoestring book (now referred to as the bible), I managed to get a glimpse of 3 main highlights of Bolivia: Isla Del Sol, The Yungas and the Salt Flats in less than a week. Our trip began when our group of 7 English teachers and friends rushed to the bus terminal in Cusco after work to catch our 10pm night bus to Copacabana. All was well and we were more then thrilled when we arrived at the border early Wednesday morning. Without any instruction from our bus driver, we realized we needed to deboard the bus and cross the border on foot. Amongst all the excitement we failed to notice that our dear friend Sara was missing. After about 30 minutes, and no sign of Sara, we began to grow concerned by her absence. Meanwhile Sara, whom had been in the bathroom, was still on the bus, which had crossed the border into Bolivia- unbeknownst to her or the bus driver. Luckily we were all reunited briefly after this mishap and had a good laugh about the accidental human smuggling incident.
The next hiccup occurred when all 7 of us failed to remember the time change and consequently we missed the last ferry from Copacabana to Isla del Sol. Ironically, we had arrived in-time to make the ferry, but were under the impression that we had enough time for a relaxed lunch after we purchased our ferry tickets. Fortunately, we were able to hire a private boat to take us to the island and arrived a swift two hours later, seasick but ready to explore. We were greeted by stunning views and children A.K.A. eager porters whom wanted to carry our bags up the steep 200 stair climb that is necessary to enter the island. After overcoming obstacle number three we proceeded to find a hostel with a picturesque view of Lake Titicaca and the surrounding islands. We indulged ourselves with trucha (trout) and wine in one of the several quaint cliffside cafes and reveled in the beauty of the sunset.
Once back in Copacabana, we caught a bus to La Paz. La Paz is an extremely beautiful city from afar, however its beauty is overshadowed by chaos once you are in the center of it. Despite the endless traffic, and imminent fear of being robbed, the city has a certain charm similar to Cusco. The snowcapped mountains peak out beyond the infinite hills and not a single spot seems to be uncovered by some form of architecture.
After eventually finding our way to the correct bus terminal, we managed to ensure a private ride in a combi (taxi-van) to The Yungas (the valley) where we stayed in Coroico a lovely town located near the jungle. The weather was agreeable and a nice change of pace from the chill of Cusco. We stayed in a nice hostel with a balcony and a view of the quaint tropical town. We were also able to witness what appeared to be a festival (drunk gringos dancing in their underwear in the plaza). In the morning we hiked to the Tres Cascadas (three waterfalls) on the outskirts of the town and were welcomed by a view of construction. Despite the scattered tractors, and whistling men in the passing combis, we enjoyed a swim at the base of the falls.
Uyuni is a strange town with an eery feel that you’ve just walked onto the set of “the Hills have Eyes.” We spent the day relaxing in our hostel where we finally got to save some money and cook our own food and take a hot shower. Then we made the mistake of paying 100 Bolivianos to get to some nearby “hot springs” which consisted of a concrete walled off area full of dirty water and naked locals. Needless to say we chose to pass on them and climbed some nearby hills instead. Despite the odd vibe of the town it is worth the stop to see the visually astounding salt flats that are nearby.
The next day we set off on our one day salt flats tour with visits to salt mounds that look like giant ant hills, a cactus island surrounded by salt, several wide open spaces where you can see salt for miles, and a train cemetery. The only obstacle was when our car broke down due to an unexpected llama crossing and we spent 40 minutes patiently waiting for our driver to fix it. Luckily we had some alcohol and the comedic relief of our friend Audra. The rest of the day was surreal and felt like we were on another planet. After hours of photoshoots of some successful and some failed optical illusions we called it a day and headed back to La Paz on yet another night bus.
|Train Cemetery (Uyuni)|
After our previous night bus experience, we decided to splurge a little and swing for the comas (fully reclining seats). Unfortunatley the better seats came at the price of having no bathroom aboard. This made for an interesting bonding experience when we stopped in the middle of nowhere for a bathroom break and all the girls did their business behind the bus and the boys to the side.