Bolivia · 21 Days · 21 Moments · May 2017

Aarohi's adventure in Bolivia + USA detour

27 May 2017

Has a clock in the main plaza which goes backwards- the time of south America as a protest against colonial influence Presidents wanted to increase population- tried to ban condoms and then tried to tax every woman over 18 who didn't have children! Bolivia has 36 official languages- Spanish is first, Qeuchua and Guarani are the next most common They say "chivo" for cheese (means family of goats)
Facts about Bolivia San Pedro prison- run by inmates, all based on money! There's restaurants, hairdressers, tailors etc. Family can live with you Coke has an exclusive deal with the prison- only soft drink allowed in there! Cassella- your special lady in the market. Can only buy from her! No bargaining, but she will give you a yappa (extra bit for free) 400 types of potatoes grown in La Paz! 3000 on Bolivia total Cholitas- puffy skirts, bowler hats, shawls etc. Their courtship- guys throw stones Bowler hats introduced in the 1900s- initially ordered for British men workers but made too small and brown. Didn't fit the British or the male Bolivian, given to the cholitas. If wear it straight- married, if wear tilted they're single Baby llama foetuses used for rituals to get blessings from Pachamama. Also candies with houses/cars/babies etc to get what you want. Also alcohol for her. Love potions- follow me dust, repellent dust, the punisher (makes person your slave), the bed breaker!
Verge fall hike Coffee to go Dinosaur footprints! Torotoro canyon, hike down, walk back Bone shattering minibus Cochabamba bus terminal- overwhelming
Torotoro is amazing! Waiting for ticket plus group Drive into mountains Fall Caving! Knee effusion- oops!
Had mostly packed so left to get local SIM' had to get it registered! Attempting bus to airport complete fail so taxi Online info wrong about where to get collectivo for Torotoro- checked with cab driver! When do we leave? When 3 more people have come lol. Unique experience. Tying luggage on roof rack
Woke up early, talked to Austin Booked flight for cochabamba after 10 attempts! Chilled in the sun for a bit Walked around city- Casa de libertad, Eiffel tower Read for a bit Sunset at Recoleta Dinner at El Germen
Bus actually arrived on time at 5am Zebras at the zebra crossing! Walked around city and markets, gave in laundry Faith in Bolivian wine restored at Recoleta (monastery with view) Too much wine plus fruit juice from market- not good. Met Ben and Charlotte for dinner
Day 37- my flight was mid morning but I woke up early to get a local SIM as Torotoro is a bit remote and I wanted to be safe. I bought the SIM easily enough but didn't realise you had to get it registered before you could use it! Luckily the Entel office wasn't far and the queue wasn't too long. I then attempted to get a collectivo to the airport-walked 25min with all my stuff but it was a complete fail. The internet lies, no collectivos appeared to exist so I caved and got a taxi. The airport is quite far from town and it's a really pretty drive through the mountains surrounding Sucre. Online info wrong about where to get collectivo for Torotoro- checked with cab driver! When do we leave? When 3 more people have come lol. Unique experience. Tying luggage on roof rack

26 May 2017

Day 36- despite being so tired, I woke up early as I wasn't feeling well- probably a combination of tiredness, wine and dodgy food. However I improved after breakfast and did some planning. I wanted to go to Torotoro national park which can only be accessed by Cochabamba. I decided to fly there to save time but booking the flight was easier said than done- it took over 10 attempts as the website was so temperamental! I nearly threw away my phone in frustration but eventually it was done. I then explored the city, going to see the Casa de Libertad (declaration of independence signed here) and the mini Eiffel tower (no idea why!)as well as a couple of the museums before heading back to Recoleta for the sunset which was stunning. We went for dinner afterwards at the cheapest restaurant I've eaten in yet- my meal was £1.20! And absolutely delicious

24 May 2017

Day 35- our bus was meant to arrive in Sucre at 5am and of course, with my luck, this is the first bus that didn't reach late. We pulled into the station at exactly 5am-FML. The station is also quite far out of town so we had to get a taxi to our hostel who were lovely but understandably couldn't let us check in that early. And nothing was open that early so we had to sit in the common area and wait. We were all so exhausted that there was zero conversation lol. We waited till 8am and then headed into town- Sucre is beautiful! Gorgeous colonial style buildings and so green! We found a great breakfast place and discovered some important facts- Bolivia is amazingly cheap, it was so nice to be back in a city with good food and WiFi, Sucre has a lot of museums including a hat museum and a bread museum. We ate leisurely and then headed back through the main plaza (which had people dressed as zebras at the zebra crossings!) to our hostel where we all needed to do laundry desperately.
I then walked around the city with Sarah- its so charming with its tiny streets, whitewashed buildings with terracotta tile roofs and colourful cholitas everywhere. They also have town workers dressed as zebras on the zebra crossings to educate people about traffic rules- love it! We explored the Mercado Central, where you can buy everything from fruit and veg, to meat, to household items and make-up. We also discovered the Hugo Ladies at the end of the market- for less than £1, you could have a glass of freshly made juice of any fruit- amazing! We then walked to Recoleta, which is an old monastery with an amazing view over the entire city. It was gorgeous and we had a couple of glasses of wine there (faith in Bolivian wine restored- it was yum!) before meeting up with Ben and Charlotte from Santiago for dinner. They are loving Sucre and planning to stay for another week or so to continue Spanish lessons. It was so nice to catch up with them- great end to a long day!
We found a restaurant in the sun and reconnected with the world, chatted and chilled out. After sunset, it got way too cold to stay so we moved to a different place indoors and had some delicious(but slightly odd)pizza that had cauliflower, broccoli and carrot as toppings! I had some hot chocolate (haven't had it in years!)and we played cards after dinner until our bus. By this point, we were slightly delirious with tiredness and everything was hilarious. We found out Bolivian buses don't have toilets, the driver makes intermittent stops and you wee by the road- just funny. The thing that broke us was a guy on the bus who kept punching his jacket to make it fit into his bag- this had us in complete hysterics for about 15min and I'm sure everyone else thought we were mad! Just as we would calm down, one of us would go "boom, boom, boom" and it would set everyone off. All the laughing and being so tired did mean I actually slept on the bus, despite the cold and the dodgy driving!

14 May 2017

It's 12000 sq km of breathtaking beauty and completely flat so one of the fun things to do is take silly perspective photos with the amazing scenery. We had a lot of fun messing around with different poses and the drivers even filmed a video of us(to Despacito- what else?)We then stopped for lunch (the others had llama, eew) and drove to our final stop which was a train cemetery. It's basically an abandoned train depot with rusty old trains and I have no idea how it's become a tourist attraction- so bizarre! Paul then dropped us off in Uyuni, taking us to the office(there is no bus station in Uyuni)where we could buy tickets to Sucre (most of us were heading there) Uyuni is a dump- tiny, dusty and full of only tourist agencies and restaurants. It's also really obviously poor and came as a slight shock after how developed the rest of south America has been so far. But we managed to get tickets on the overnight bus and had 6hrs to kill. Obvious solution- find somewhere with beer and WiFi

13 May 2017

Day 34- woke up at 4.30am(!) to make sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni. It was so, so cold- I think Kilimanjaro summit has been the only time I've been colder in my life. We drove to Isla Incahuasi- an "island" of cacti in the salar and hiked to the top to watch the sunrise. And I have to say, it was worth the early start. The sky turned beautiful blues, pinks and purples on the opposite side at sunrise and yellow/orange on sun side. And as it grew lighter, we could also see the cacti more clearly and they were cool- huge and spiky. Paul told us that the cactus grows 1m every 100 yrs so most of these were hundreds of years old. We then had breakfast on the salar and that is a sight of its own. An endless expanse of salt, with curious hexagonal patterns formed by nature (due to the pressure effects of tectonic plates) and completely flat. The salar used to be part of the ocean but as the earth shifted due to tectonic activity and was raised, the water retreated leaving the salt behind.
I had the best hot shower I've ever had (had to pay extra for it but so worth it!) and we had dinner. The wine was so terrible lol- there's a reason Bolivian wine isn't famous! Our drivers then started a bonfire for the whole group with a fiesta which was so sweet of them! They had even bought us a bottle of the terrible wine (!)They taught us some Bolivian traditions- at every fiesta, give Pachamama (mother earth) some coca leaves and some of your drink to say thanks and the Bolivian toast- arriba (up), abajo (down), Centro (middle), todo al dentro (all in your mouth!) and played music so we could have a dance around the fire (Despacito obviously featured- its been the song of this trip) It was really fun and definitely bonded the group together. We even had some DMCs including whether sex or cuddling was more intimate and I learnt way more than I wanted to know about some of the group lol. We eventually had to let the fire die and get to bed as we had an early start the next day.

12 May 2017

We then drove to Laguna Negra (black due to the reeds growing in it) and went rock climbing nearby- it was so beautiful and peaceful with amazing scenery. We saw tons of llamas, storks and a weird animal I've not seen before- looked like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. We ate lunch at the Laguna (delicous potato lasagne) and then drove to the anaconda canyon (so called because of its shape) It was really cool to see, with sheer drops and rock formations. We then drove to a village selling artisenal beer made from cactus, quinoa, honey or coca. Obviously had to try some! I had tried coca leaves the day before for the altitude and hated them (taste like grass, yuck!) so I gave that one a miss but the others were yum. We also picked up some Bolivian wine to have with dinner. It was nice to chill in the sun and we met other groups as well. We then drove to our hotel which was made completely from salt! It was beautiful, located at the edge of the salar and done up really nicely.
Day 33- woke up so refreshed as I slept for 9.5hrs! All the early starts clearly taking their toll. I was lucky compared to the people who got altitude sick- I only had a mild headache. We started the day with pancakes for breakfast, with dulce de leche (what else?) and then drove into the antiplano where we saw tons of llamas and I learnt that they can have sex for 6hrs! Along the drive, we saw beautiful rock formations, formed from magma deposits. Our first stop was to see some rock paintings from 13th century, done by Incas while invading, of symbols important to them (sun, rivers etc) We then drove to see some of the rock formations closer up- one called the World Cup (looked exactly like the cup), another called the camel (looked exactly like a camel) and one called the Lost Italian City (looked nothing like any city I've seen in Italy lol) We then drove past Laguna Vinto which had a few flamingos. These were not as pink as this Laguna has less food than the other.

10 May 2017

Our final stop was Laguna Colorado, a gorgeous red lake(due to amoeba in the water) filled with flamingos as far as you could see! It's the only lake in the world with 3 types of flamingos- Chilean, Andean and James. The flamingos eat the amoeba which makes their feathers pink! The chicks are grey when they hatch. The flamingos were hilarious to watch, doing their marching thing (?courtship ritual) EXACTLY like on Planet Earth 2- it was so cool to see it in real life. We spent so long watching them, Paul had to chivy us back to the Jeep. After an hr of driving, we left the desert behind and entered the antiplano- greener, more water, more animals and this was where our hostel was. It was lower at 3500m but by then Charlotte and a couple from the other Jeep were already sick. We spent the time before dinner just chatting- no one had energy for anything else! Dinner was simple but yummy and then we all crashed. I was wearing 4 layers but still needed blankets and a sleeping bag- so cold!

9 May 2017

We then had a brief stop at the Desert de Dali- named because the colours resemble a surreal Dali painting. Absolutely stunning, its so hard to believe that all this was formed from wind, sun and rain. Nature never ceases to amaze me. We then drove further to an area with natural hot springs- in the cold, getting into the springs was such bliss! And again, surrounded by stunning scenery. Paul made our lunch while we were in the water and it was so lovely! He'd set up a proper table (with a tablecloth!) and we had a delicious hot lunch (company had even managed to sort out veggie food) People were starting to feel the effects of the altitude by now, with a few headaches and nausea but after lunch we drove even higher! Our next stop were some geysers at 4900m! We had climbed nearly 2500m in one day, no wonder people were feeling rough. The geysers were cool to see- formed by magma (as all the surrounding mountains are volcanoes) that makes water vapourise and form geyser.

8 May 2017

We did eat as he'd made so much effort and our jeep turned up shortly, with our driver Paul (pronounced Paool). We tied our big bags to the roof rack and vamos! Paul was lovely and spoke clear, slow Spanish so we could understand him. He'd been doing the job was 7 years and so was our driver, guide, cook and doctor if something went wrong! We bought our tickets for the national park and our first stop was Laguna Blanco- a beautiful white lake(colour due to high borax content) surrounded by mountains and now frozen as the temperature goes as low as-20! We couldn't stay too long because of the cold and the wind. Our next stop was Laguna Verde- green because of high copper and arsenic content. It's a bit higher so even colder and more windy but so beautiful with better views of the mountains. Quechua and Inca people believe in Sun, moon and earth so at places of altitude, they make rock piles to reach divinity (mohon or pirca)-surrounded by such beauty, divinity almost feels accessible.

7 May 2017

Day 32- had another early start today but I was so excited about doing the salt flats tour that I actually didn't mind too much. Was ready and waiting at 7am and was promptly picked up at 7.10- good start! Our company had 2 jeeps of 6 but we all crossed the Chile border together in a minibus. I initially met Charlotte and Antoine (French couple), Annie (Swiss), Sarah (American) and Mareva (French)-they asked me to join their jeep and I happily agreed. Definitely turned out to be the right decision because I liked them much better than the other people who came on, especially the guys- they were hungover and so obnoxious! We crossed the Chilean border without any issues and snoozed until the Bolivian border. Which was a shack. At 4600m.It was so cold and so windy and there's no shelter. Our driver then starting laying a table for breakfast, which he insisted we eat even though all of us just wanted to sit in the bus for the warmth(weren't allowed to eat in the bus because of crumbs lol)