Yes, it was very scary at times, yes it was the worst we had experienced in our 15 months of travelling and yes we were glad to arrive to La Paz alive. This is what it’s like to take a bus from Rurrenabaque in the north of Bolivia to the high altitude capital of Bolivia.
All seemed straight forward after a few hours driving through the dusk, a full moon rising over the thick canopy provided some entertainment. We tried to get some sleep in the crammed bus but soon realised that there was a difficult river crossing ahead. When it came time for us to cross after 2 hours immobilised, we were aware of the angle of the bus and gripped our seats tighter.
With the first tribulation dealt with, the bus continued its ascent into the Andes mountain range. In the grey dawn, the views of the valley below became more apparent and the close encounters with the barriers and walls were often a little too close for comfort. At one point, the driver cut the corner too closely, forcing an oncoming taxi to a skidding halt and eventually hitting our bus.
The Latin spirit was in fine form as both parties paraded and argued over the problem, not caring about blocking the busy road. But soon after, we were finally in La Paz and on our way to meet with our jungle friends, Sandra and Adrian, who welcomed us into their home.
We used the opportunity of a comfortable residence to plan the next few months of our trip, planning our route and booking flights. It didn’t leave us much time to explore the city, but when we did get out, we explored the heights of the city via the teleferic and ate at a couple of local restaurants.
What impacted us the most in La Paz was the simple things. Walking to the shops and back required effort due to the altitude (3500-4000m). But when we did reach certain points, the views were interesting. The fact that people could squeeze themselves into every nook and cranny of this mountainous town was impressive.
The word “travel” has its etymology from the French word travail which means to work. And with our work completed, we looked to the west and to the town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Another stomach churning ride and a short ferry crossing had us arriving into the popular town in the evening. We located a great hospedaje and headed out for a simple dinner.
The next day we headed out, strolling the town, checking out our options for tours and window shopping. It became known that another road block was in the making and we weren’t in the mood for that again, so the decision was made to explore Isla del Sol the next day and head straight for Peru in the evening.
But we wanted to buy a hat for Steve and to try the famous trout of Titicaca. We had been impressed with all the different hats that graced the heads of the Bolivian working class and decided on one. After some hard bargaining, Steve had his sombrero and we headed for lunch.
The small stalls that line the lake front sell delicious grilled trout with all the trimmings for a decent price. We enjoyed the sun, the fish but not the strong wind. With bellies filled, we decided to tackle the hill to the mirador overlooking the town and the lake.
Ladies dressed in colourful, elegant dresses and jewellery and men in suits (all with matching hats) caught our attention and we followed the flow of ladies and gentlemen and the sound of music to catch a glimpse of a traditional wedding. Not wanting to intrude, we headed up the steep steps and channelled our inner Inca in sun worship, enjoying a gorgeous sunset over the largest high altitude lake in the world.
A quick breakfast in the local market the next day allowed us a glimpse into early morning Bolivian’s life and after a warming Mate de Coca (coca leaf tea very good for altitude and stomach ache), we were on the small craft slowly making our way to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).
According to mythology, after a few days of darkness, the local people became fearful. When the sun did appear, it seemed to be born from a crag or gap in the rock. Hence Isla del Sol is known as the birth place of the sun.
After being deposited in the northern town, we were greeted by a guide who gave us some good information on the ancient peoples’ ways of life. We were shown how they used terraces for growing different crops like quinoa, potatoes, grains and of course corns.
High above the water, we were shown some of the more spiritual sights and with a good imagination, we could see the crag where the sun was born and the sacred rock that “resembles” a puma.
After handing over our payment into our guides hand, we headed off for our walk across the island. Following the island’s spine, we had great views over the lake to Bolivia and Peru. Birds of prey circled overhead and swooped below, while long haired donkeys grazed on the terraces. The walk, however, did not reveal much else and was a bit of an effort due to the altitude.
With the deadline of the returning boat fast approaching, we had to keep a solid pace to get it on time. We of course forgot about Bolivian’s departure time (not always being “on time”) and had time to have a quick sandwich before boarding the boat and heading back to Copacabana.
A gentle boat ride back was enjoyable and we chatted with other travellers. That evening we were in the front seats of a very comfortable bus for our final journey in Bolivia to Peru.
We enjoyed our time in Bolivia, its people were mostly friendly and welcoming. We felt at times a bit restricted and forced into guided activities, but overall we had a great time exploring this diverse nation.