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Our route -I:

26.05.05 - 08.06.05:
  • Tupiza

    Our route - II:

    06.07.05 - 08.07.05:
  • NP Sajama

  • Oruro

    10.07.05 -11.07.05:
  • Tarapaya

    12.07.05 - 20.07.05:
  • Potosi

  • Chaqui

    22.07.05 - 24.07.05:
  • Sucre

    25.07.05 - 28.07.05:
  • Cord. Frailes

  • Potosi

    30.07.05 - 03.08.05:
  • Uyuni
  • Salar de Uyuni

  • Oruro

    05.08.05 - 13.08.05:
  • La Paz

    14.08.05 - 19.08.05:
  • Choro trek
  • Coroico

  • La Paz

    21.08.05 - 28.08.05:
  • Copacabana
  • Isla del Sol trek

  •   Bolivia
    On this page, we (will) describe our experiences in Bolivia. Apart from the travelogue for this country you will also find a number of links to useful sites, ranging from general information to embassy homepages.

  • Part 1: Tupiza (26.05.05 - 08.06.05)
  • Part 2: Altiplano (06.07.05 - 28.08.05)

    Part 1: Tupiza (26.05.05 - 08.06.05)

    Written by: Coen

    While we go through border formalities we see an endless queue of Bolivians with huge bags of goods on their backs crossing the border in both directions.
    After the border town of Villazon the asphalt stops but we still have to pay toll for the bad gravel road. It is really beautiful though; first we drive on the altiplano (high plateau), which is a continuation of the Argentine one, then we descend into a huge kind of national park. The road switchbacks between hills, passes green valleys and every now and then some adobe villages. On the roadside, Bolivian woman with bowler heads, dressed in colourful skirts, carry bundles of wood and children play in farm yards.
    After 4 hours we reach Tupiza on 3000 meters, our first destination in Bolivia.

    The city looks nice and clean. In the centre is a green plaza with a big colonial church in front of it and little shops around it. Men sit on benches, women in colourful traditional dresses and bowler hats carry around vegetables and children and stray dogs doze in the sun.
    Tupiza market We find a good and quiet parking place in the centre and we meet Harald and Ellen (on a RTW backpacking trip for over 3 years now) whom we already met in Argentina. The four of us eat something in a local restaurant. Shoe-shine-boys circle around the tables and children and dogs beg for the rests of our food. Dorrit buys a small boy a plate of food. For 0,65 EURO per plate you could feed them all...

    Next morning I go to the market to do some shopping. There are no Argentine style supermarkets so I have to buy everything separately. Farmers and farmers wives, who carry their children in colourful blankets on their back, sit on the floor with their vegetables spread around on blankets. Everything is to have, except sandwich filling. I feel brave and buy soft farmer cheese...

    Nice camping spot The area around Tupiza is famous for its canyons and rock formations. Together with Harald and Ellen we walk to the first clay-pebble formations. Meters high red needle shaped rocks (fin formations) stick out all around us.
    Saturday there is week market. This colourful collection of Bolivians sell everything you can imagine. Clothes, food and many yellowish marinated chicken. Many of the people on the market walk around with their cheeks full of coca leaves.
    Alongside a little road through a riverbed we find a nice camping spot, directly under a number of rock needles. Goat herds pass by as well as people carrying bundles of wood. Nicely dressed families and many bowler hats provide entertainment.
    Curious lamas The next days we walk around in the different canyons around Tupiza and we find another great camping spot on a river bank, just in front of a church organ style rock formation.

    Meanwhile the (in)famous Bolivian road blocks in and around the capital of La Paz are extended to most of the other main roads.
    The Amerindians that are blocking the roads (led by a communist called Evo Morales), want the huge Bolivian gas reserves to be nationalized and they want the president to resign. So far, things in Tupiza are still quiet.
    We enjoy Bolivia, walk around, camp and pick-nick in the beautiful valleys and keep a close ear on the news.
    But when the number of road blocks increase, in La Paz everybody strikes and the police attack the (still) peaceful demonstrators with tear gas, we also starting to get a bit nervous. Besides, the road to Potosi, our next destination in Bolivia, and the road back to Argentina were blocked for most of the last few days. Our world receiver keeps us informed.

    Then we hear that the president has resigned. Meanwhile 85% of the roads in Bolivia are blocked; there is no bread, fresh drinking water, medicine, fuel and gas in La Paz; white and Amerindian inhabitants from Santa Cruz attack each other with sticks and stones in the streets; miners start throwing with dynamite and the police kills the first miner. The situation threatens to escalate.
    We decide to go back to Argentina because it does not look like it is going to be possible to move on to Potosi, on the contrary, people talk about a coming civil war.
    Unfortunately the roads around Tupiza are blocked too so we have to wait.
    Road block in Tupiza Together with Sebastian from Germany we rent mountain bikes and we cycle up 17 km to the mountain pass of El Sillar. Despite the coca leaves we could hardly make the ascent. We walk the way back down because each of us has a flat tire.
    In the evening a bus driver tells us that the road to the Argentine border will probably be open the next morning. We take the chance, pick up Sebastian and drive back to Argentina.
    Goodbye Bolivia, hopefully it will be quiet in a while, so we may come back...


    Click here to read about our experiences in Chile first before continuing with the next part of our Bolivia travelogue.

    Part 2: Altiplano (06.07.05 - 31.08.05)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Sajama When we arrive in Bolivia, the custom officers tell us that for now there wonīt be any blockades or strikes, as elections have been scheduled for December and unrests wonīt start until November. Bolivia here we come!

    Bordering the Chilean national park Lauca is the Bolivian national park Sajama, named after Boliviaīs highest mountain (and according to a local we spoke to the highest in the world as well with its 6,550 m..). Via a sandy path we drive to the adobe village of Sajama, directly at the foot of the mountain. On our way there we have to stop several times to let herds of llama and alpaca pass, accompanied by a woman in traditional amerindian clothes (= five layers of skirts, a cardigan and a bowler hat that would not have attracted any attention in the UK of the 1890s).

    Geysers near Sajama A few kilometres north of the village a hot sulphur spring bubbles out of the ground in the middle of the altiplano (high plateau) and provides a stream with hot water. Here we take a long bath with an allround view over the altiplano and the herds of grazing alpaca, llama and vicunha, the volcano Sajama east of us and the twin peaks of the volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape (see our Chile travelogue for a picture) west of us. The next day we take a 6 hour walk over the altiplano, passing adobe huts with reed roofs and groups of staring llama and alpaca, to the hills below the twin peaks, where there should be geyser field. It is quite a heavy walk, as the air at this altitude (4,300 m) is very thin and contains only little oxygen, so we are constantly out of breath. Well before we reach the field we see the first plumes of smoke rising up and when we reach the last hill top we can oversee the entire geyser field. Tens of steam clouds rise from all kinds of holes in the ground. When we come near we see that the field exists of a kind of hardened crust full of holes, in which water boils, bubbles and steams. The largest two are actually spouting and create thick and hot clouds of steam. Some of the geysers are clear, others are more like bubbling mud pools, still others (that have cooled down a bit) are full of bright green or red algae and some rumble like thunder. You have to be very careful where you walk, as the crust is very thin at places and when you fall through you can get heavily burnt.

    We return to the village of Sajama, where the people are very friendly and offer us water and a place to park. A teacher of the local school asks us to come to school and teach some English and of course we say yes. In a small adobe building with wooden school banks that seem to date from the 1950s about 20 teenagers are looking at us curiously. Their English is limited, as their first language is Aymara (an amerindian language) and the first "foreign" language they learn at school is of course Spanish. The lesson is very interesting for both sides, as the kids are very interested to hear about our lives in Europe and we are just as interested in their lives here.

    Bolivian women Over a seemingly endless emptiness we drive to the city of Oruro, past lonely adobe huts where women are weaving in their yards, past old amerindian grave towers and tiny earth-coloured villages that blend in their surrounding so well that you only see them when you have nearly passed them by. The landscape is very special: enormous rocks that look like kneaded heaps of clay or mushroom shaped towers (the lower parts of these rocks have eroded faster than the top). In the larger villages there is a broad rim of gravel on each side of the (very good) asphalted road, where women in traditional amerindian clothes sell small heaps of potatoes or other vegetables.

    In Oruro, a city with a very Argentine look and beautiful old houses bordering the central square, we fall in the middle of a parade to honour the 99th birthday of the local university. We see some of the finest masks and carnaval suits passing by, most are related to the faculty, some however are related to the origin of the students, like the Arab students in their long white dresses and `Arafat-headcoversī, carrying a banner saying "Viva Islam".
    Leaving Oruro is not easy, as diesel is nowhere to be had. We do have enough in our spare tanks to go on, but do not want to risk getting stuck in the altiplano and therefore we do not drive to the small village of Uyuni as originally planned, but to the minerīs city of Potosi instead. On the altiplano the nights are icy cold, -10°C to -15°C are no exception. One night we forget to disconnect the water pump and of course the next morning the water pipes are frozen. Luckily without any permanent damage.
    The road to Potosi from Oruro is a new asphalt road by now and leads through a marvellous brown mountain landscape with only little vegetation. Withered people tend their flocks of llama, other than that there is nothing here.

    Late in the evening we arrive at the thermal resort of Tarapaya, where we bathe in the thermal baths that remind us of Druskininkay in Lithuania. Then we drive a bit further up the hill to the "Ojo del Inca", a perfectly round crater lake about 100 m in diametre, filled with 20-30°C warm water. The healing waters have attracted even the Inca kings from Cuzco, Peru in the 15th century, hence the name of the lake. We park the car between the fringes of reed at the lakeside and relax the day away. The next morning the lake steams like a Turkish bath in the cold of the morning. It looks very inviting so we jump in with a cup of hot coffee, just like we did in Chile. We did stay at the side though, as our travel guide has warned us for dangerous whirlpools in the middle of the lake. Coming out of the lake turns out to be something for die-hards, as it is freezing outside. Why didnīt we think of that before going in?

    The Bolivian army in 2005 Potosi lies at an altitude of 4,090 m and is the highest city in the world. Famous, however, is the city mainly for the mountain of Cerro Rico, where in the 16th century the Spanish found more silver than was good for them. With the money they got out of Potosi they did not just keep up the Spanish empire and its royals for centuries (oh, and of course the catholic church and its inquisition), but also financed their wars against Holland and England. But also the original inhabitants of Latin-America suffered from the search for the silver of Potosi: the Spanish immediately set them to work in the mines. Every man over the age of 18 had to go into the mines for a period of 4 months. Those that survived that had to come out blindfolded, as their eyes would go blind by the daylight after spending all these months in the darkness. The conditions in the mines must have been pretty inhuman: in the three centuries that the Spanish controlled the mines an estimated 8 million slaves have died in the mines.

    Cholita woman Potosi is a beautiful old colonial town, with cute 17th century mediterranean houses in all kinds of colours and beautiful wrought-iron balconies. We ramble through the narrow alleys and pass holes in the wall that turn out to be kiosks, butchers, a tailor that is cutting his cloth by hand or coffin shops.
    There are richly decorated churches and cathedrals, isolated nunneries with carved wooden doors and loads of little street stalls that sell anything you can imagine, like 5 chips in a little plastic bag, or cigarettes per piece. The narrow streets are filled to the brim with busses and taxis that bellow out thick clouds of black smoke, private cars seems to be a luxury only a few people can afford. The covered market halls seem to burst with goods: streets full of meat, from pigīs heads and cowīs noses to huge piles of hamburgers. Other streets contain enormous heaps of vegetables or huge bags of coca leaves. The coca leaf can be processed to cocaine, but here it is mainly used to chew or make tea of. It has a mildly numbing effect and your hunger, thirst and tiredness disappear; the Spanish used it frequently to make their slaves in the mines work longer and harder without breaks. It is not very tasty, but it does help against altitude related problems as headaches.

    We visit the Casa Real de la Moneda (Royal Mint), where since the 17th century all coins for Spanish Latin-Amerika were made. It is an enormous building, entirely white and it looks like a medieval prison with its metre-thick walls and the thick iron bars in front of the tiny little windows. In the basement there are still the huge wooden wheels used to drive the 17th century presses with mules. In another hall are the newer steam engines that work with giant leather straps running over a pulley in the roof.

    In the mines of Potosi The most impressive thing of Potosi is not the mint however, but the mines in Cerro Rico, that are still working. They are cooperative mines, meaning the miners lease a part of the mountain and can keep their earnings. Every miner is an entrepreneur therefore and has to pay for his equipment and explosives himself. An overall plan for the mountain does not exist, the miners work in small groups of 40 to divide tasks (in total there are about 8,000 miners in Cerro Rico), but other than a few main tunnels in the top of the mountain there are no facilities. Everyone is just digging somewhere without plan, for air shafts, elevators and a planning nobody has the money. Explosions can take place between noon and 1 pm and between 5 and 6 pm. If a miner has prepared an explosion he knocks three times on the wall he is going to blow up, to warn miners that might be at the other side of the wall. Then he ignites the dynamite and everyone has 5 minutes to get away. Since there is no more warning system than this it is no surprise that cave-ins are the main cause of death among the miners: every year between 20 and 30 miners die this way. Apart from that many miners die of poisoning: when digging and blowing up parts of the mountain, the miners set free toxic gasses like arsenic, asbest, acetylene (both of the dynamite and of the acetylene lamps they use to detect pockets of carbon monoxide), carbon monoxide and especially silica dust. Nearly every miner in Potosi dies of silicosis pneumonia within 10 to 15 years after entering the mines. Medieval conditions that still exist in Bolivia in 2005..

    Coen holding a bar of burning dynamite in his hand After receiving a sort of rainsuit, a helmet and boots we drive with a minibus to a minerīs shop, where we buy gifts for the miners: coca leaves, 96% alcohol, bars of dynamite, igniters and nitrate. Al for sale and perfectly legal here. The alcohol is for the Friday evening drink, the miners offer a bit of alcohol to mother earth, drink themselves nearly unconscious and then do a night shift to have the Saturday off (they have to work 6 shifts of 12 hours each per week). And of course it is Friday afternoon now..
    Before entering the mines, we are allowed to ignite a bar of dynamite, hold it for the picture and see it explode.
    The main entrance of the mine (at an altitude of 4,200 m) is no more than a hole in the mountain that is as big as a man and has a pair of rails coming out of it. It is damp and there is an icy draft. After no more than a couple of metres the tunnel becomes lower and narrower and we have to walk the rest bent over. We go forward through pools of mud, walking along pipes that make funny whistling noises. I feel like Harrison Ford. A couple of times we have to make way for a cart filled with rubble, that is being pushed over the rails by two boys. Our guide stops them for a chat: the boys turn out to be no older than 15 and do nothing else than push carts full of stones and rubble (that weigh about 1000 kg!) out of the mine, for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.
    Via a hole in the side of the tunnel we crawl down one level in the mine. This is the lowest level where there is still a main tunnel with rails, then we crawl via another hole to the third level. Here it is about 45°C, a huge contrast to the icy cold near the main entrance and outside. In a narrow tunnel two boys (nobody here is old, the few men that looked like 60 turned out to be 40 or even 30 when we asked) are shovelling stones and rubble into a small cart, that is then being heaved up by a rope through a hole in the ceiling to a higher level, where it is reloaded onto a bigger cart. The entire tunnel is filled with dust and stones are falling down from the hole in the ceiling where the cart just disappeared. The boys have been doing this work since they are 13.
    Via yet another hole (all not much bigger than ourselves) we enter a sort of grotto that the miners use as their īliving roomī. Two men, their cheeks full of coca leaves, are sitting below some posters of naked women and are drinking alcohol. We sit and drink with them, they dilute the alcohol for us as 96% is more than I can stomach. The older one of the two can hardly talk anymore, he can only produce a kind of creaking sounds. We talk about the life in the mines and when we have used up most of the oxygen we leave to visit the explosive brigade. We have to crawl on our bellies this time to get to a cave where three men are busy hammering iron bars into the rock face. The holes that they create this way are filled with bars of dynamite and then the rock wall is ready to be blown up. We talk to Santiago, a 24 year old guy that has been working here since he is 11. That means he is working in the mines for 13 years now and has only a few more years to live before his lungs give up. So sad it could make you cry.
    We rob back through the hole to the main part of the third level and are standing before a dark hole in the floor. The guide tells us it is the entrance to the 4th (and newest) level, that can only be accessed by letting yourself down with a rope.
    We climb back up to the higher levels and are being chased up by the guide, who claims that Santiago and his colleagues have ignited the dynamite that they had prepared while we were there. It might have been a joke, but as it is past 5 pm it might as well be true, so we climb a bit faster than we would have otherwise. Covered in sweat and out of breath we arrive outside again, where it is nearly dark and icy cold. The day is not over yet though, as we still have to visit the smelters, where the precious metals are being separated from the rubble. It looks like a relict from the 19th century, but is still being used today.
    We return to our car, tired and deeply impressed by what we have seen.

    street scene in Bolivia We stay a couple of days more in Potosi, take in some more sights of the city, buy some warm winter clothes and two bikes for EUR 75 (Chinese of course) and spend the nights in cosy bars with Peter and Heleen from Tilburg (Holland). My flue from Calama (Chile) has turned into a chronic cough and is now being accompanied by a severe pain in the chest. Therefore we go to the Red Cross hospital in town, that looks like an old school and where it is very crowded. The doctor decides it is an infection of the bronchi and prescribes penicillin. With the prescription we go to the hospital pharmacy, where to my horror I see three large injection needles disappear in our bag. I beg your pardon?
    Over here they do not send the (sometimes analphabete) patient home with a bag full of tablets, but have him come back every day to the hospital, where a nurse puts one of those nice needles in his lower back. This way they prevent patients from taking the medicine in the wrong way and possible allergia against medicines are discovered in time. So we stay three more days in Potosi and every night I obediently go to the hospital to get my injection. As long as I can breathe normally again I donīt care.
    It is very cold in Potosi and the kids in their thin clothes that are singing for a few cents in the streets at night, or the bent old women walking the streets with far too heavy bundles on their backs make us very sad.

    Sucre After 10 days in Potosi we drive 1,300 m downhill through a beautiful mountain area to the city of Sucre, that shares the title of Bolivian capital with La Paz. There we search for ages for a good place to sleep, until we meet a doctor who arranges that we can stay at the doctorīs car park behind the hospital. Sucre looks a bit like Potosi, a beautiful Spanish colonial town from the 17th century, but here all houses - without exception - are white, the streets are clean and there are even more churches and cathedrals. But the main difference is the people: no lively Bolivian streetlife with little stalls and people in traditional amerindian clothes, but rich people in western clothes. We climb onto the clock tower of one of the hundreds of churches and have a fantastic view over the red tiled roofs and white church towers of Sucre. It looks rather like Spain than Bolivia here. Although they probably donīt have shops with 18th century printing presses or Singer sewing machines from the 1950s. In the Dutch (!) cafe Joyride we eat lovely Dutch delicacies, then we walk with the dogs through the streets of the city and to a viewpoint from which you can see the whole town.

    dino tracks In 1994, when they were digging in the cement quarry north of Sucre, the workers stumbled over what seemed very large dog prints. Paleontologists came down from everywhere to research on the site for 10 years and found over 5000 traces of at least 320 different sorts of dinosaurs and other reptiles, all about 85 million years old. Since 1,5 year tourists are allowed onto the site as well, so with a helmet on our head we walk past the wall and admire the dino tracks, while the cement trucks roll past us. The cement quarry has not stopped working since the discovery of the prints, although the vibrations of the trucks and the explosions do occasionally cause parts of the wall to come falling down, with 85,000,000 year old dino tracks and all..

    with Jimmy and Tasha in cafe Joyride Jimmy en Tasha, whom we met in Mendoza in Argentina, are coming down to Sucre especially to see us and we spend a lovely night together at cafe Joyride. Together we drive to the mountain area west of Sucre (Cordillera de los Frailes) and spend a couple of days camping like in the good old days in Argentina, first in a nicely smelling eucalyptus forest and then near a crystal clear river in a red rock valley. We spend a good deal of the time BBQ-ing, baking pancakes and eggs and even making pizza's in a home made oven of river rocks and a Turkish baking pan. We also drive (with a lot of effort, as it is a really shitty road) to a meteorite crater of 85 million years old. It is a bizar sight: the crater floor is wine red with purpe spots and the walls of the crater are made of bright green "slabs" (probably the original surface that was pushed to all sides when the meteorite crashed into it) that look like giant green flower petals around a red core. On our way to the crater we find several fossils, stones with the imprints of roots, plants and shells, the Lord knows how old. The colours of the earth in this area are amazing. It is quite normal here to see a steel blue hill go over into a mint green flat, or see wine red and white striped rocks sticking out at the river side. In the adobe villages old men with high felt hats or knitted woolen Incahats work on Inca-terraces between grazing chicken and pig. Women herd their flocks of goats and are in the meantime spinning wool on a hand spinning tool. As if you are walking into a fairy tale! Bolivia is an amazing country.

    Salar de Uyuni Together we drive back to Potosi, from where Jimmy and Tasha are driving down to Argentina and we are driving to Uyuni. We agree to meet up in Europe and then say goodbye. It was great to see each other again!
    The city has run out of diesel again, but at a petrol station outside of town we see a long line of buses and trucks, and there they still have some. The drivers very kindly let us go first and after filling up we can start the 200 km drive over a dusty gravelroad to Uyuni, through the hilly altiplano, where nothing lives but some spiky grass, herds of llama and sometimes a lonely herder. At night it cools down to -12°C, so all blankets are in use and the dogs are wearing the baby sweaters that we bought for this purpose. They look ridiculous.

    Isla de los Pescadores The Salar de Uyuni, a giant salt lake of 130 x 90 km, dries up in winter (May-Sept) and the salt crust on top of the water gets so hard that you can drive over it with your car. It looks like a huge, glittering white snow field, punctured by some lonely rock islands. The islands and the chain of volcanoes and mountains that border the salar seem dark blue rather than brown by the effect of the white flat and the blue air. Despite the cold they seem to hover above the salar as fata morganas.
    Over a smooth trail we drive with 80 km/h to the island in the middle of the Salar (Isla de los Pescadores), that is covered with hundreds of rare cardones cactusses. These cardones only grow by 1 cm per year and blossom only one day a year. The ones here are all between 8 and 10 metres, meaning they are all between 800 and 1000 years old. We camp for two days here and make great bike tours over the salt flats.
    cycling over the Salar de Uyuni From the bike you can see the salt formations really well, e.g. how the salt crust breaks apart in perfectly symmetrical hexagons and forms a lovely pattern for kilometres on end.
    The Aymara family (Aymara is the main indigenous group in Bolivia) that lives on the island invites us to partake in the 1 August sacrifice rituals for mother earth, at 5:30 am. In a fire they throw confectionary forms (made of sugar) of the things they want to have (cars, houses etc.), together with petition letters, coca leaves and different kinds of alcohol. We drink, chew coca and talk about the catholic church and the habits and rites of the Aymara and about how these two influence each other. In the meantime we see a spectacular sunrise that turns the salt flat pink and orange.

    Over an awfully bad road through a variety of altiplano landscapes we drive via Oruro to La Paz. The last 100 km are through a brown flat with the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real, the central part of the Andes, in the background. To get to La Paz, that lies in a canyon, you first have to cross the city of El Alto, that lies on the altiplano surrounding the canyon. Here the poorer part of the twin city lives in tiny brow stone houses of the size of garden sheds. At the side of the street is garbage, everywhere there are skinny dogs, it all makes a rather poor impression. Then the road suddenly borders the edge of a deep and long canyon, filled to the brim with buildings and houses: La Paz. In the middle of the canyon, at its lowest point, are mainly high-rise buildings, crawling up the walls of the canyon on both sides of the high rises are the smaller houses. We drive down into the canyon and through the centre of La Paz to the village of Mallasa, about 10 km south of the centre of La Paz. There the friendly Swiss owner of hotel Oberland, Walter, has opened a parking for those that travel in Bolivia with their own transport. It is a real meeting point and there are already several other cars, among others Uwe and Judith, that shipped their car on the same boat as we have. Shortly after we arrived, Klaas and Willy, with whom we have baked oliebollen (a Dutch specialty) at new years eve in Ushuaia (Arg.), arrive as well. With them we go to an Arabic restaurant in the centre of town. The witches market of La Paz
    In the week that follows we do some serious souvenir-shopping in town, have campfires at night with the others and chat until late at night. We "do the sights" of La Paz, but they are not half as interesting as those of eg. Potosi, so we go through them rather quickly. Interesting though, is the so-called witches market in La Paz, an alley full of strange stalls, where all kinds of amerindian medicine, Chinese love elixers and talismen are being sold. Among others dried llamababies and -fetuses, stuffed armadrillos (that are on the verge of extinction!) and other dead animals, all of which should bring luck. And of course the confectionary forms of things that you would like to have and that you only have to throw into the fire to get the real version of them.

    We leave the car at hotel Oberland in Mallasa, say goodbye to Claudia and Thomas and their kids and to Andreas and Friederike and then take a taxi to a mountain pass at 4,700 m (La Cumbre), where the Choro trek starts. The trek starts with a climb of approx. 200 m to another mountain pass at 4,900 m and from there descends 3,600 m in about 50 km to the village of Chairo at 1,300 m.
    The entire route from the pass down through the Choro-valley goes over a paved, 500 year old Inca-road straight through the Yungas. The Yungas are the forests at the eastflank of the Andes, where the high plateau descends into the Amazon basin. These so called cloud forests attract the clouds and get their water directly from these clouds, as there is not enough rain to justify so much green.

    stalls in front of the cathedral of Copacabana The climb up is heavy because of the thin air and we take a lot of breaks, also to take in the beautiful snowy peaks and the altiplano with the deep blue lakes around us. Via a zig-zag road we descend on the other side of the pass into the Choro-valley. At the head of this valley a traditionally clad Aymara family are having a picknick between the ruins of an old Inca-tavern. After a chat we walk on through the swampy valley where herds of sheep are grazing. We spend the first night at 3,900 m and as the temperature drops well below zero it is a cold night in the tent. Just like in Argentina and Chile you can drink the water from the rivers in secluded areas like this, it is crystal clear and when it is not so cold anymore it tastes quite well.
    The first village that we pass lies on a natural viewing plateau high above the river, that is rapidly flowing through a bed of enormous white boulders. The houses and surrounding walls are made of rough boulders covered with mosses. The second village (Challapampa), where we spend the next night, is 1,000 m lower than where we spent the first night and that is clearly visible. During the rather steep descent it gets hotter and more humid all the time and vegetation is getting thicker and thicker. In the upper valley there was only spiky grass, but the lower we get the more trees and plants we see, and the more exotic they get too, up to bamboo and large green ferns. The village - no more than 4 round adobe huts with reed roofs on grassy fields amidst dark green woods - reminds us strongly of the village of Asterix and Obelix, especially when white plumes of smoke emerge from the roofs at night. Coen plays the harmonica in the light of the full moon and we enjoy the idyllic camping life and the fact that it is nice and warm here.
    From here a long day of steep descents and ascents follows. A heavy day, but in a great surrounding and quite tropical. We see a lot of plants that we have so far only been able to see indoors. Sometimes we have a great view over the entire valley, surrounded by enormous, dark green pyramids of hills covered in thick vegetation. We - or rather our dogs - are being chased by three huge hawks, that unfortunately flee when I uncover my camera.
    catholic Sunday procession In the 2 huts counting hamlet of San Francisco, perched high above the valley floor on a ridge on the hillside, we sleep between banana trees and wild hortensias with a great view over the green valley. The next day we take it easy and do no more than a three hour walk to the next estancia (farm). The road takes us through thick, dark jungle where only filtered green light comes through. From the trees lianes hang down, that in their turn are covered with mosses and other plants. Palms and huge purple flowers grow here and in the rocky basins we pass waterfalls come falling down. If you walk by, whole clouds of butterflies fly up from the floor. We stay at an estancia built by a Japanese in the 1950s, who has created a beautiful Japanese garden on a natural viewing plateau high above the valley. He must be over 80 now and is bent by the hard labor. Before coming here he traveled all over the world for years and he knows a lot about many countries.
    We relax in the warm sun and make a camp fire when it starts to get dark and the fire flies and bats are starting to fly around us. We fall asleep with exotic jungle sounds around us and wake up at sunrise to a splendid view over the entire valley, up to the snowy mountains we passed on the first day of the trek. There are only 3 hours left to Chairo, where we take a jeep to drive us over a very dusty and bumpy road to the cute village of Choroico. Here we camp one night and eat cake at Detlev`s, a German who opened a German cake shop here. Then we return to La Paz with a local minibus via the "most dangerous road of the world", called that because more people die on this road every year than on any other road in the world. It is a seemingly endless dustroad on the side of a steep mountainside, that ascends 3,500 m in 80 km. The dangerous thing about this road is that it is only very narrow, has many curves and its escape bays, on which you drive when you have to let a car pass, are quite unstable. Many accidents happen when the escape bay, that is on the "outside" of the road, collapses under the weight of a car and falls down some 1000 m into the dephts of the valley, including the car and all its passengers.
    We have to wait behind a road machine that ran out of petrol and therefore need not 3,5 hours but 5 hours to get back to La Paz.

    Crossing lake Titicaca There we spend a day before going to our last destination in Bolivia: Copacabana at Lake Titicaca (3,800 m). This lake, partly Bolivian, partly Peruvian, is where - according to the Inca religion - the sun rose for the first time after the Times of Flood and Darkness. This sun-god is supposed to have created both the moon and the first Inca emperor at the Isla del Sol (island of the sun), making both this island and the lake a holy place for the indigenous population of Bolivia and Peru (which is over half of the total population of these countries). The lake is of a deep sapphire blue and the brown islands and lake shores are contrasting beautifully. To get to Copacabana we have to cross the lake on a kind of barks, broad wooden platforms with a low rim that look rather unstable. We are not too keen to cross with our van, also because the lake is 350 m deep here, but when we see that even touring cars are crossing we take the risk as well.
    The "boulevard" of Copacabana is lined with beachfront stalls that all sell trout. We had a lovely meal there with a great view over the lake and the wooden rowing and sailing boats that are moored in front of the beach and give this place a mediterranean feel.

    Tranquil Titicaca The next morning we start a three day trek to and on Isla del Sol. When we leave town the locals are all laughing about our dogs wearing backpacks and many people start a chat. That first day we walk 18 km over the peninsula to a hamlet from where you can be rowed over the lake to the island. Uphill, downhill we go, through eucalyptus woods, bays fringed with reeds where amerindian families work the land and great views over the deep blue lake. We are rown over to the island in 45 minutes by a 70 year old, bent and toothless old man and feel guilty.
    On the island we are allowed to set up our tents between the ruins of an old Inca-palace and wonder what the Greek would say if you tried to put up your tent at the running court of Olympia. There is no water, but the locals assure us that you can safely drink the water from the lake (which is indeed crystal clear) so we give it a try and indeed donīt get ill.
    The next day we walk via the highest ridge on the island from the southernmost to the northernmost point on the island and have a great view over the lake, the snow covered mountain chain east of us (still the Cordillera Real) and far away Copacabana. In the north of the island we camp in a mediterranean looking bay near the ruins of an Inca temple where the sun must have risen for the first time in Inca religion. We walk back the next day to the village in the centre of the island, have a trout dish in the sun and in the afternoon take a (motor)boat back to Copacabana.

    Our car is being blessed In Copacabana I work for three days on end on this travelogue and on Sunday we have our car blessed at the large catholic cathedral in town. A huge happening, attracting hundreds of Bolivians and especially Peruvians. We have to wait for two hours and thus have a good opportunity to watch a procession of white-clad singing priests. We buy all sorts of lovely decoration in Bolivian and Peruvian colours, Chinese fireworks, beer and confetti. The car is fully decorated and then it is our turn: a īpadreīin a brown monkīs dress puts himself in front of our car, spreads out his arms, murmurs something about Spiritu Sanctu and then sprinkles holy water over the inside and outside of our car. We get a splash of it on our heads as well and in the blink of a eye he is gone again, on to the next car he has to bless. He is followed by a little old lady with some incense who goes through the car as well, murmuring prayers as she goes along (see picture). When she is gone, we spray the car full of beer and confetti and start drinking. The drinking is done with an amerindian family from El Alto that is here to have their car blessed too. They invite us for a picknick at the beach and we spend the rest of the day together. A nice ending to a great visit to Bolivia!


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  • Our top 5:

    1. Choro trek

    2. Salar de Uyuni

    3. Lake Titicaca

    4. Tupiza

    5. Potosi


    The road from Oruro to Potosi is paved for the entire length by now, as is the road between Potosi and Sucre.


    A good and cheap place to stay (EUR 2 / night) in Potosi is Residencial Copacabana on Av. Serrudo.


    You can fill your gas bottles in Potosi at the YPFB behind the stadion: EUR 2,50 for 11 litres.


    A good and cheap place to stay (EUR 1 / night) in Copacabana is at hotel Ambassador in the centre of town. Although you can also camp safely at the beach.