Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fun Times In Bolivia

Alright, so it´s the 4th of September already and it has been awhile since our last blog. Sophie and I have successfully survived the Inca Trail and we are now back in Cusco. Before I divulge about our experience on the trek and the crazy weather we endured first things first, Bolivia.

We decided to fly into La Paz from the boarder town Guaramerim, swapping a 3 day bus journey for about a 1 hour plane ride, one of the best decisions we made. Good life choices we like to say. We hopped on a small plane and proceeded to ascend for about an hour, the plane never straightened out due to the cities high position above sea level. La Paz sits around 12,000 ft ASL. As we stepped off the plane we were hit with a cold blast of air, it was definitely much colder than the warm Amazonian climate we were in a couple of hours ago. We grabbed our bags and ran into the bathroom to start piling on the layers, changing out the flip flops for sneakers.

As we drove from the airport to central La Paz I looked out the window at all the locals with their nice warm scarves, jackets, and boots. We both agreed that some serious shopping was in order. Luckily as we found out the next day all the streets are lined with textile products, hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, all for amazing prices. Buying then can become very addicting; Sophie and I are in recovery right now, fighting our addiction, resisting the urge to buy every warm cozy product we walk by.

The night we arrived in La Paz we ended up staying at a random hostel. After we settled in I went to jump in the shower (freezing cold to my surprise). When I came back in the room Sophie said, “I just received the strangest phone call. A woman by the name of Ninfa called and wants to show us around the city tomorrow.” Apparently Ninfa´s friend was the receptionist of the hostel and told her that two Americans checked into the place. Ninfa is studying English and wants to practice her English any chance she gets, so what a better opportunity than hanging out with two native English speakers. Our “blind date” with Ninfa was set up for noon the next day.
Ninfa took us all around the city of La Paz, showing us the main plaza, special churches, hiking up and down the very hilling streets getting winded with the high altitude and steep climbs. None the less it was a great day, we walked down “Witches Market” which is a street filled local healers that make natural medicine, some even containing mescaline, hmmm. In the urban streets of La Paz there are still loads of Cholitas, which are women who are usually on the chubby side, in traditional dress with bowler hats, layers of sweaters and skirts, with their hair in long braids. Some have their babies tied to their backs with a blanket or our selling their goods on the side of the street. After spending all day with Ninfa we felt that we had a great feel of the city. We also notice that there were so many Gringos, loads of tourist, something that we were not used to living in Guyana and all.

Our original plan was to take a tour down to the Salt Flats, which is in the Southern part of the country. Unfortunately due to a dispute with the locals living in that region and the government the roads were blocked, no food, fuel, and water were making it into the area. So instead we spent the first week taking it easy getting acclimated, eating good food, meeting other travelers, and shopping of course.

The second week we decided to take it up a notch, first on the list horse back riding. There were four of us in our group, Soph and myself and an Italian couple. We arrived to the ranch and all got acquainted with our horses and or “bilingual guide,” who I later found out only know a few words of English two of them being “fast” and “picture”. We had our tour outside of La Paz in the Muela del Diablo and Valle de Las Animas, it was nice to get out of the city and into nature. The views were breathtaking we went from riding in canyons to reaching the tops of mountains. Our horses names were Mulatta and Muneca, and they were the best of friends always standing by each other they could it was pretty funny. My horse Mulatta did not like to be in the back she stayed close to our guide even when he decided to go “muy rapido” full speed ahead. I am talking full on galloping, I felt like a cowgirl. This was not some horseback riding tour like in the States where you walk the whole time and at the most trot for two minutes. When there were open spaces our guide would take off and all our horses would follow, there we were flying at full speed and hoping we didn´t bounce off. It was an amazing experience! With some soreness lingering after to remind us of all the fun we had.

Next tour up was an easy day hike, or so we thought. We went to the mountain of Chacaltaya. To reach the mountain we drove along cliffs in our little mini bus. We were literally on the edge of these small roads with our bus. As we climbed and climbed it seemed that the road became narrower and narrower, luckily we made it there in one piece and we ready to climb Chacaltaya. This mountain sits at 16,000 ft ASL which makes it very cold and a little hard to catch your breath but we you reach the top the views are all worth it.

So to add to our mountain climbing and horseback riding we decided to do a little mountain bike riding. There is this road called the “Death Road” which is a huge tourist attraction in La Paz there are over 20 companies that offer day tours along this notorious road. We weren´t to into participating in it in the very beginning of stay in La Paz but after being persuaded by many other Gringos saying how amazing it was we decided to sign ourselves up. I´m so glad we did! We went with company called Luna Tours who took amazing care of us, our guide´s name was Marco and he was great. Soph and I ended up being the only people in the group making it a private tour which was kind of funny but Marco took video and pictures of us the whole time which later he put on a souvenir CD and it´s only us on it which is kind of nice.
Starting off in the morning they drove us about two hours up into La Cumbre which sits about 15,000 ft ASL. There you get fitted with all your gear making you look like a “Bad Ass” even if you can´t even ride a bike, luckily we both can. We had special pants and a matching top, knee pads, elbow pads, goggles, and to top it off a motorcycle helmet. So if the unfortunate did happen and you did crash you were set. We started of on our 4 hour excursion which is mostly all downhill the ending point is 4,000 ft ASL; the first section was paved so we were flying down the hill and freezing, with amazing views. When reached the “Death Road” you are riding on dirt and rocks and there is also this huge cliff on the side of you the whole time so you definitely need to have your full attention on your riding. The whole experience was incredible, will worth our time and I highly suggested it anyone who travels to La Paz.

We also witnessed “Cholitas Wrestling” which was extremely bizarre and hopefully the pictures can help describe. Think WWE in a developing country, with lots of Cholitas, a “little person” wearing a mask holding a knife (not sure if it was real or not) lots of Gringos and Bolivians, and a wrestling ring.

I also celebrated my 27th in La Paz with Soph and a group of friends we had met during our time in Boliva. Very fun times!

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