Thoughts on Bolivia

In contrast to our high expectations of Peru we arrived in Bolivia with low or maybe mixed expectations. Bolivia is the poorest and least developed of the countries that we’d be visiting. It also has a history of poor governance, is landlocked thanks again to its previous poor governance, and nearly the whole country exists at a high altitude which I’d already discovered does not always agree with me. There was also what we’d heard from other travellers. Before starting our trip we’d heard mixed reports and during our travels what we’d heard from people who’d already come through Bolivia was that although it was an incredible and beautiful place the people were unfriendly, the infrastructure was terrible and the food was pretty dire.

Posing at the train graveyard outside Uyuni
Posing at the train graveyard outside Uyuni

As a result of this we were thinking of Bolivia as somewhere to be endured whilst seeing the sights and saving money that we’d need later. What we actually encountered when we arrived in Bolivia surprised us. Although my first memory of Bolivia is of rushing around trying to find a working cash machine, we generally found the infrastructure to be reasonable, in particular the mobile phone network was no worse than anywhere we’ve been. On top of this although the food was nothing to write home about, it was no worse than Ecuador or outside of the big cities in Peru. Finally I never found the people to be at all unfriendly. What I did find is fewer people were as overtly friendly as we found in other countries. When we got to know a few people we realised they were not unfriendly, just not as talkative. Maybe it’s because we have spent so much time in London but I certainly felt a lot more warmth from Bolivians than I’d expect from Londoners!

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New Perspectives in Uyuni

We’ve just got back from an incredible 11 days in Antarctica on the Ortelius. We saw some incredible wildlife and scenery and got some great photos. That will have to wait for now though as we have a lot to publish first! In the meantime here’s one we prepared earlier….

Back during our Spanish course we’d been told about a “must see” place in Bolivia called Uyuni. We didn’t know much about it but saw some amazing photos of what is apparently the world’s largest salt flats, and we knew we wanted to go. A few weeks later we bumped into a couple who told us we had to travel there before Christmas (due to partying locals being dangerous on the roads over the festive season, and also the Dakar rally in early January). So we started to do some research along the way, and as has happened with most things here, in the end we booked a tour just the week before going. We booked a place for me, Chris and the three Dutch girls and managed to get a great deal with a recommended company (Al Extremo) by having five of us together which almost filled a van. The company was also about $100 cheaper than their rivals as they only offered Spanish speaking guides.

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Into the Underworld, a Weekend in Potosí

Church on the main square in Potosi
Church on the main square in Potosi

Our last post finished with us navigating our way through the narrow streets of Potosi in the random taxi we picked up in Sucre. We eventually found our hostel and checked in to a reasonable looking room with a private bathroom. We decided to go out quickly to explore the town however Jacqueline was feeling ill and stayed back for a nap whilst Alex, Esmee, Katinka and I went out. We quickly found the central plaza (10 de Noviembre) and although it was smaller than the one in Sucre, they certainly hadn’t skimped on the Christmas decorations as there were trees and fake snowmen, candles, a model Father Christmas and thousands of lights. We then explored the central market which was surprisingly large but half closed. In our attempts to escape the meat smell we walked down some stairs and found a section selling everything from dried pasta to electronics.

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One of the beautiful buildings surrounding Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre
One of the beautiful buildings surrounding Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre

Hi Alex here, taking over again to tell you about our stop in Sucre.

Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia, although the Government is based in La Paz and it is the much larger of the two. Sucre is a lovely city though, a small university town with lots of old colonial architecture and beautiful countryside all around.

From La Paz we’d decided to catch a plane to Sucre, this was a 35 minute flight as opposed to a 12 hour bus and only cost us £50 so not too difficult a decision! We arrived to a much more temperate climate and a lower, more manageable altitude. We were met by Jorge, the owner of the place we’d be staying in for the next few nights. We found the room through Esmee, whose friend had stayed with a friend of Jorge’s previously. Don Jorge’s Rooftop Rooms has a big roof terrace with a great view over the city and had space for all five of us.

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High Octane and High Altitude Fun in La Paz

It’s been a month since our last post thanks to having very little internet or time while on the road. We have however been writing as we travel so we have loads to publish. We’re currently sitting in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world while we await our Antarctica trip! We have 7 days so we’ll be using some of that time to publish a couple more posts and get more ready behind the scenes!

Anyway we left the story a month ago on a bus from Copacabana (the original one) in Bolivia to the city of La Paz. After a long but fairly comfortable journey we wound down the mountain towards the centre of the highest de facto capital city in the world!

View from the cable cars, La Paz
View from the cable cars, La Paz

On arrival by bus in La Paz, the biggest city in Bolivia, we walked to our hostel. Luckily it was only 5 minutes away in an area described as less than salubrious. Bus stations and the areas around them can often be a little sketchy and since we were arriving at 10:30pm I had a look at my map before we got off the bus and memorised the route. My efforts paid off as 5 minutes later we rounded a corner and found our hostel. We need not have worried as the area actually seemed to be fairly pleasant! We’d booked the Dutch girls into the main hostel where only dorms were available and ourselves into the hostel’s B&B 30 seconds up the road. Since both places were effectively part of the same hostel we could all use the facilities of both with the exception of breakfast. The hostel was called Adventure Brew and they owned their own microbrewery, one of the perks of the hostel was a free beer every night so, despite the late hour, we headed straight to get our beers from the bar. Within 10 minutes in the bar we’d struck up conversation with an Aussie, a couple of Brits and a rather strange guy from Denmark. All seemed to be travelling nearly indefinitely, and most had spent over a month in La Paz but had not done much more than we were planning to in a few short days. We ended up staying up until the bar closed, chatting and playing table tennis/table football.

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Train travel and Titicaca

Bright and early on the Monday morning in Cusco we packed up and headed for the train station. Since I normally get travel sick on long distance buses and Chris doesn’t particularly like them either, we decided to go for a much more interesting option of a train from Cusco to Lake Titicaca. The train took 10.5 hours, a few more hours than the bus and was much more expensive, but it was a great way to spend a day travelling.

The train stopped at the highest point of our journey
The train stopped at the highest point of our journey

We arrived at the station and passed our bags to the porter, aware that ours were the only backpacks being loaded amongst the smart suitcases. We went for a drink in the waiting room and realised we were probably the youngest passengers by about 30 years too! The other passengers were mainly made up of an older tour group from Tazmania with their Chilean guide, and we had a nice chat with a few of them.

We boarded the train and, as it pulled off we went to explore. The seating carriages were very plush, old fashioned with armchairs and proper tables with little lamps and tablecloths. We had a four person table to ourselves. The toilets were also very smart, more like a nice hotel than a train. Then there was a large bar carriage with windows curving up so you could see out of the roof too. The back end of the train was open air so you could lean out and watch the world passing by.

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