BOLIVIA/ LA PAZ, ORURO, POTOSI, SALAR DE UYUNI, TUPIZA, VILLAZONE, TARIJA, SUCRE, SANTA CRUZ, CONCEPCION,SAN IGNACIO, SAMIAPATA, VALLE GRANDE, COCHABAMBA / LA PAZ,
Hi everyone we are now in May 2021, Covid 19 continues, I have moved over to Bolivia and have been here since mid-December 2020, some 8 weeks in La Paz and the rest moving around the country. La Paz, is an extraordinary place, the altitude takes some getting used to, as you can vary from around 4,000 meters to 3,500 meters, depending on where you are. The views are spectacular with the city immersed in a large canyon surrounded by the snow-capped Andes called the Royal Range. All this only adds to those great views you get, sometimes you can almost feel that you can touch them. Illimani is the most well-known, some 6,000 meters high, white with snow and on a clear day, just stares back at you. The City Centre has its charms, the principal square with the Government Palace, the church of San Francisco and in its square the musicians and clowns who play to the constant audiences. The fascinating markets, Buenos Aires and Rodriguez to name just two, the indigenous people from the Anti Plano known as the Aymara’s, the ladies are all dressed in their traditional frocks and hats. These ladies dominate the markets places squatting at their stalls all day, calling out to potential clients,’ Caseros ‘, or clients, “Buy from me”. Food is not such a big thing as in Peru, you will find a lot of chicken is eaten here, Paltanas is a very popular pastry, filled with meat or chicken, nice tasty snack, then you have the sweet drink called Apio made from a pink corn and taken with a cheese empanada. Normally you will find these snacks in the markets, the stalls are humble but very clean and frankly it’s a nice experience to sit and share with the people. Of course, you need to ride the Teleferico, which takes you all over La Paz and gives you a full view of the city which can be stunning. There are many museums in La Paz and all are worth seeing, they will give you a good insight into the history and culture. Wander down the old street of Jaen with its special flavour and view. La Paz you can easily spend a week here wandering and exploring, the Ruins of Tiwanaku, are close by and can be visited in a Full or Half Day, this is regarded as the cradle of the human civilisations. Well after La Paz I travelled to Oruro, Potosi, Uyuni, Tupiza, Tarika and then onto Sucre, it was about six weeks of traveling to know these places well. Oruro is a transit point to take the train to Uyuni, has a long history of mining back to the Spanish Colonial times, there is a nice church you can visit with a small museum and a disused mine shaft which you can go down into. There is a great lookout close by which you can climb up to and see all of of Oruro along with a massive statue of Christ. Then Potosi which reminded me so much of Cusco, with its narrow streets, old houses, full of character and dominated by the Silver Mountain, which has been mined since before the Spanish. Until now some 20,000 people are still working this mountain, I am told the mountain top is dropping and there are only a few years left of mining. You can visit and go deep inside the huge shaft. Then you have the famous house called the, ‘Case de Monero, beautifully preserved and well presented with good guides to take you around so you can understand the importance of such a place. Potosi was one of the jewels of the Spanish Empire. Next, I visited Uyuni and the world-famous Salt Flats which are the largest in the world. Absolutely fascinating, the views are spectacular with the white of the salt against the blue sky, I spent about a week round this area. After which I travelled some two hours further on to the small town of Tupiza, this is a beautiful place nestled between valleys of red clay and rock and is great to explore on horseback, it’s also another launching pad to see Salar de Uyuni but from the opposite direction. You are from here close to the small border town of Villazone which is the entrance into Argentina and the well-known area of Salta. From Tupiza I made my way overland to Tarija, a spectacular journey by bus taking you across mountains and valleys, many isolated places on the way and it took a number of hours to arrive. The town of Tarija is fairly large and enjoys a unique climate nestled in a large valley and is largely known for its wine, which is of a very good quality and competes well with Chile and Argentina and of course it is exported. It enjoys a lovely warm climate with fresh evening making it a very comfortable place, the town itself has character and has a nice old square. Everything feels quite intimate as it’s not a huge place and is easy to get around. It’s also the point of entry to the area of Chaco, which historically is known for the war between Bolivia and Paraguay in the 1930’s, the border is not far from there. After Tarija I travelled overland to Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, but in reality the centre of government is in La Paz, it is the centre of the Judicial system. Sucre has a more temperate climate, but still is very comfortable and not cold. It has a beautiful centre with very grand colonial buildings all very well maintained, along with nice museums. It’s not a large place and so you can become familiar with Sucre quite quickly. There are also two rather grand places just outside, one is the El Castillo de Glorieta and the other Palacio de Florida, neither one is in the greatest of conditions, but I had time and it was interesting to visit. There is also a Dinosaur Park where you can see a rock face with hundreds of Dinosaur foot prints, well worth a visit. Enjoyed the local market and breakfasted there quite regularly, full of character. In most of these towns the access to natural fruit juices is everywhere, in the streets you always find somebody with their small cart making fresh orange juice for 3 or 4 pesos, a delicious break. From here I went deeper into the interior of Bolivia and finally arrived to the city of Santa Cruz with its tropical climate. The design of this city is great for getting around, five main roads which circle around the centre, spreading out. The rings have their dedicated buses which go around all day and you can easily walk between the rings, depending on where you want to go. The main feature of this area are the Missions, which are churches built by the Jesuits during the time of the Spanish and reached in about 4/ 5 hours from Santa Cruz. I visited Concepcion and San Ignacio, both had a beautiful Jesuit Missions in their main squares and it was well worth the effort to go. Concepcion was my favourite, I came across a lovely hostel very organic full of plants and smells and right next to the main square, which was full of character. On my return to San Cruz after a few days later journeyed to Samiapata, which is about 2 hours’ drive time and into the mountains. It’s a popular tourist attraction for the people of Santa Cruz, it’s a break from the hot weathers, as its more temperate. The small town is beautiful and surrounded by hills and mountains, great hikes from here, plus the Inca Ruins of El Fuerte which is beautifully conserved. Pay a small entrance fee of 50 pesos and contract your local guide 80 pesos who you will find at the entrance and enjoy abouts two hours touring the site. From Samiapate I travelled to Valle Grande, well known for Che Guevara who was a revolutionist and who made his last stand near here, before he was killed by the military. Not such a great place to stay, but I used it as a break point for my journey to Cochabamba. The journey from Valle Grande to Cochabamba was spectacular, so beautiful as we crossed through valleys and went up and down mountain sides to finally arrive to our destination. Cochabamba is my favourite city, lying in a large valley, it enjoys a great climate, warm in the day and fresh at night. It has a lovely atmosphere and you feel very comfortable with the climate, the coffee shops, the old main square etc. High up in the surrounding elevations you can spot Tunari, with its snow top, it’s about a two-hour journey to get up there and to get a good view of this mountain. Other places nearby to visit is Toro Toro and Chapari, which is jungle. After Cochabamba I returned to La Paz and shortly after returned to Peru. Bolivia as a destination is not so well known as Peru, its partly the fault of the country as it does not really promote itself unlike Peru, which invests a lot in marketing and publicity abroad. I have gotten to know Bolivia more than before, the roads and buses are okay to use, there is also a good internal flight network which is not too expensive. The climate varies depending on where you are and there are many places you can visit. It is not a luxury destination, its hotels are not high category, except in La Paz and Santa Cruz, generally speaking you are looking at hostels and hotels up to 3-stars. If you are comfortable with this you will be fine, there are certainly some nice properties in these levels. It’s an earthy destination, there are times when you feel the clock has stopped here and that for me is attractive. I have enjoyed my stay here. I will soon be leaving Bolivia and have been here 6 months ( December / June 2021 ) and its time to move on, will return to Peru for a short period of time before going to Mexico. Argentina would have been great, but the borders are closed due to Covid 19. Well, that’s all for now, my travels continue and will write again.
Coroico and Rurrenabaque
Whilst I was in La Paz, Bolivia in January/ February I made a two-week excursion right down to Rurrenabaque. First travelled from La Paz to Coroico, this takes you along the principal road outwards with Devel Pass on your right, this was the old road and regarded as very treacherous. In the rainy season you will get your fair share of Landslides, with lots of sheers drops on the road sides. It’s very popular for cyclists and motor bike riders and is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. You will certainly get quite a buzz going down Devel’s Pass. We took a large mini bus from the local bus station which took us further upwards to the highest point, before dropping down towards Coroico, all and all about a 6-hour journey. If your used to the altitude from La Paz as I was by this time, you will not be too affected as you do climb further at the beginning of this journey from La Paz. Years ago, this road would be subjected to snow falls and snow drifts, now its does not happen, you can see the snow further up the mountains, but climate warming is really kicked in here. The well known place called Chacaltaya which was the highest Ski Lift in the world, now barely has snow and obviously no more Skiing. It looks over La Paz and lies in the ring of the majestic Andes. Coroico is a small hill top town, which you can see in the distance as you climb and approach. Its small and quaint with a little main square. We stayed at the Hotel Gloria, a property from the 50’s, lot of character with a great view of the valley below. To get up to the main square you had to walk steeply upwards and its certainly kept you fit. Sitting in the main square you can observe the local population always interesting, it’s very much a working town with a constant movement of people. Not a great selection of restaurants, if you are vegetarian, you will find a lot of chicken, but this region is not geared up for a diversity of foods, its very Bolivian. We stayed about 5 days and that was enough for me, did a lot of walking, there is a small Afro Village not very far away you can visit called Tocana. Anyway after here we made our way to Caranavi, about 5 hours drive time in a mini bus. Road at this time was un paved, but it was a dramatic and interesting ride. Caranavi is very Bolivian, has some tourist traffic, but not much of a hotel infrastructure. Its well known for its coffee plantations and you will find a lot of Coffee shops, which was great as I enjoy a cuppa and a nice cake. The town itself sprawls around a river, there is nothing attractive about it and so stayed the one night. Next morning took another mini bus all the way to Rurrenabaque and that’s quite a trip, as you slowly descend down and down into the lowlands and the jungle. The road is not paved and during the rainy season you will definitely have problems with Landslides, as you can see the remnants of old slides all along the way. The reason for so many landslides is primarily due to the tragic deforestation, which takes all the defences and support from nature. This is a full day journey, a good 8 hours, with a brief stop at Yucumo , where we changed buses and begun the final descent into Rurrenabaque. My original bus continued on through the night to the City of Trinidad in the middle of the jungle, which I was told was a very poorly unpaved road and at least another 12 plus hours if not more. I would not have lasted, but there were people staying on for this destination. Finally arrived to Rurrreabaque and took a Moto Taxi to the centre of the town and my hotel, which was to close to the River Beni. Here I stayed a week, explored in and around the area, its markets, but there was literally no tourist traffic and all lodges inside the jungle were closed. I went one day by local bus as far as Tumupasa, which was about 4 hours there and the same back. Quite interesting if only to know a little of the landscape. My return to La Paz was by plane, it’s a short flight less than an hour as I remember and the local airport was quite unique, a small shack where you checked in and then a longish drive to find the runway, where we stood close to the jungle and waited for the plane to drop out of the sky and land. We then walked to the plane and boarded. On arrival to La Paz Airport which was in the district of El Alto, some 4,000 meters above sea level, I was again in familiar surroundings and a very different weather and environment to where I had come from.