Bouncing Around Bolivia

Hello friends, family, and followers!

We last left off making a beeline out of Uyuni and heading straight towards Potosi.  We actually debated hopping on a bus with Simone and Kathrin from the salt flat tour and jumping all the way to La Paz.  As much as it would have been great to travel with them, we decided we wanted to take Spanish lessons for a week in Sucre so Potosi would be our next destination.

As luck would have it a nice French couple was waiting to share a taxi to Potosi.  The next bus wasn't headed there until 5:30 pm and it was only 1:00 pm. We hopped in and couldn't believe that in less than 30 minutes we were already on our way to our next destination.  What's that old saying "Don't count your chickens before they hatch?"  This was one of those chicken moments.  Less than 30 minutes into the ride there were problems with the taxi so we had to turn around and head back to Uyuni.  Not in the plans at all.  On the bright side, we were able to get on that 5:30 bus bound for Potosi.  

After one slow bus ride, we practically picked up every local from every town along the way, we made it to Potosi just before 10:00 pm.  We were exhausted and Leanne had been fighting an awful cold/flu for the past 4 days so our pillows were calling our names.  

After several hours of sleep under our belts, we started off the next morning with a shoe shine. Our shoes were covered in salt and we wanted to help out this sweet man.  We kind of felt weird getting a shoe shine but we were supporting local small business.

Potosi claims to be one of the highest cities in the world at 4,060 meters (13,420 feet).  It was founded in 1545 as a mining town.  The mountain still continues to be mined for silver but due to the slow economic decline the boom of the industry has lost its luster and with it the town's once sense of wealth.

However, less tourists are drawn to this city so it does make you feel like you are experiencing a real part of Bolivia.

There's nothing like a private tour to the top of a church.  Thanks to a recommendation of a fellow traveler we were able to see the city from the top.  This is a common occurrence in Potosi.  Most of the churches have spectacular views from their rooftop terraces.

Yet another church and rooftop view.

While we didn't spend the money to actually go inside the Casa de la Moneda (Mint) we hung around the outskirts and took a few pictures.  We were feeling especially cheap this day and it cost $10 each for a visit.  We have to pick our sites wisely.  That cold/flu had now started to make its way into Josh's system so we were both miserable and using anything we had just to get out of bed.

Later that night we fought through the illness to make dinner with Jean-Francois and Marilyn, the French couple that we traveled with from Uyuni.  We felt so horrible that we were such bad company but they didn't seem to mind.

The next day we made our way to Sucre for the next 8 or 9 days (We can't remember now how many exactly) to take Spanish classes and try to stay put in one place for a little while.  We spent the first few days checking out the city and picking a school that we liked before starting classes on Monday.

The people, sights, and sounds of Sucre are nothing short of spectacular.  The people in Sucre were more open to having their pictures taken. 

Dancing and bands playing in the streets.

Note the tuba players are drinking beers while they're playing.  Now that's talent!

We loved the white colonial buildings with the mountains in the background.

On Saturdays there is a local market about an hour-and-a-half away from Sucre.  We were looking to get a few souvenirs and something for Josh's parents since they've been handling our affairs back home so we thought a local market would be a great place to find some unique Bolivian handicrafts.  Before we went to the market we had to walk around the small streets of the town.  It was absolutely unreal to see this way of life.

We were told we could capture pictures along the way as long as we weren't too invasive. 

When we got to the main square of the little town we found the most violent statue we've seen on our trip.  It is a Quechua soldier ripping the heart out of a dead Spanish soldier and showing it to the world. We were surprised to find out that many of the people in this little village don't even speak Spanish they speak Quechua and only know a few words of Spanish.

Tourist information?  Pretty sure this hasn't been open in a while.

After checking out the surrounding areas we were ready to dive into the market.  Shoes anyone?

They had just about everything you could think of and maybe a few things you didn't.  Many fruits and vegetables, rice, pasta, meat, laundry detergent, shoe polish, etc…

Altitude bothering you?  Chew on some coca.  There's enough to go around.

This lady is taking home her weekly supply of coca and flowers. 

Who needs trash service when you have pigs?

Ok, let's stop messing around, we needed to go back to the touristy area to do some shopping.  How about these creepy things?  Nah, they may be possessed.  What if we wake up in the middle of night and one of those are sitting at the foot of the bed?  That would really freak us out.  Think we'll pass.


A few more pictures from the square before we head home.

This man couldn't stop laughing that it actually made us laugh.  Maybe he was laughing at us and how weird we looked to him?

The market is winding down.  Time to pack up the trucks and head home. 

On Sunday we spent the day walking around and doing some more shopping.  Leanne found an new purse so it was a successful day. On a sad note, the purse only lasted a few days before it fell apart.  

Monday came and it was time to start learning some Spanish. 

Whew, we needed a break.  We forgot what is like to sit in a classroom for four hours a day.  Our heads were about to explode with all of the new knowledge. 

The school.

We stayed at a home stay during our week at the school.  The house was owned by a doctor and it was enormous.  The outside makes it look more appealing than the inside.  Let's just say cleanliness wasn't the top priority of this family. 

Our room was the doctor's son's room from when he lived there 15 years ago.  There were Snoopy statues and school books on the shelves.  Home sweet home!

Our hosts always had a smile on their faces.  The doctor's wife (far right) tried to get us to eat more at each meal.  Since we weren't feeling well, we explained that we weren't trying to be rude we were just sick.  It was tough because the food was less than desirable so we were trying to muscle down as much as we could.

We fumbled our way around with carrying conversations since they didn't speak English and we were learning Spanish.  We ate breakfast and lunch together so we had some time to practice.  The only negative aspect of the home stay was the other students that were staying at the house.  There were 3 other students and none of them were remotely interested in talking to us.  It was so weird that they would rather sit in silence during meal times than speak.  It made for one awkward situation and by the end of the week we were ready to move out of the house.  We had hoped for a better experience but you win some and lose some.  At least the family was nice.

How fitting L+J = heart

Each morning started out with a strong cup of tea.  We needed as much brain power as we could get.  This learning Spanish thing is HARD. 

Juan Carlos was a great teacher during our intensive week course.  Our primary focus was learning tenses other than the simple present tense.  We're not going to lie, it was overwhelming at times but we feel it improved our communication skills.  We are a far cry from being able to carry a full conversation but we came away with a strong sense of knowledge and structure of the language.  Let's just hope we keep up with studying and practicing along the way.

It was "Dia de los Muertos" a.k.a Day of the Dead, or Halloween for those of us back home, while we were in Sucre.

While a few families with children dressed up as we would for Halloween, the majority of the celebration takes place at the cemetery where families gather to celebrate deceased family members.

Families visit the tombs of their deceased family members with a feast, which they prepare the night before.  They spread out the feast in a form of a picnic, leaving room for the deceased family members as they wait for their "souls" to arrive.  The tables are adorned with candles and photos of the family member.  Many believe that the dead return to Earth to see if they are still being remember by their family and friends. It is a common belief that death is not separated from life.

Juan Carlos told us to pay a visit to the cemetery to observe true Bolivian culture.  He mentioned that it was best for us to visit during the day because many people start drinking heavily at night as part of the celebration.  We heeded his advice and visited in the early afternoon.

It was stimulation overload as we wondered around the cemetery taking in all of the sights and sounds.

It was a moving experience to witness droves of people paying their respect to deceased relatives and celebrating with joy rather than grief.

Children were readily available with wooden ladders to assist with placing flowers, candles and photos around the cemetery.

Throughout the day, family members would replace the flowers around the graves with fresh flowers.  There were massive piles of retired flowers throughout the grounds.

There aren't enough adjectives to describe the events that were unfolding before our eyes.  It was an experience rich with culture and one that we are thankful to have witnessed.

As we made our way out, most of the crowds were making their way in.  The streets were lined with food vendors preparing for the massive crowds that would descend on the cemetery grounds after 6:00 pm.

The "Baby Jesus" bus was packed and making rounds back and forth from the center of town to the cemetery.  We decided it was best to leisurely walk while the streets of the town were deserted.

We figured out that we spent 8 nights in Sucre.  After feeling accomplished with Spanish lessons under our belt, we took an overnight bus to La Paz.  We arrived in La Paz early in the morning and the place we booked didn't have our room ready yet so we had to walk around for several hours before we were able to check in.  They were nice enough to hold our stuff for us while we killed time.  Actually, every place we've ever stayed has been willing to do this for us except ONE.  We will forever curse your name, Stay Express Hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Oh, you better believe we still remember.  Anyway, enough of that.  The good thing was that we actually slept pretty well on the bus so it wasn't too bad.
On a side note, we usually roll into towns without reservations and just find a place.  The exception to this is when we arrive on overnight buses.  it is absolutely miserable trying to find a place when you're so tired and just want to take a shower and a nap.  80% of the time you can check in when you get there and it's much higher than 80% when they have rooms open.  Why don't they do this in the states? If you pull into a hotel and you have open rooms let the people check in!

The streets were lovely as was the San Francisco church.

Square with the church.

You never know when a hulu-hoop can come in handy.  Luckily for the world, this guy has you covered.

Traditional bolivian garb.

Believe it or not they have a witch's market in La Paz.  I know, really, really strange.  Guess what this is and scroll beneath the picture to find out.

Llama fetuses!!  What in the world would you do with these?  Crazy witches!

They had the coolest buses in La Paz.

La Paz is unreal when you're arriving by bus.  The entire city is built in a valley and when you drop down into it on the bus ride in it is a very impressive sight to see.  We picked a hill with a viewpoint and made our way to the top to try and recapture the bus ride in.  We weren't the only ones with this idea.

The ol' selfie.

There it is!  Look at the Andes lurking in the background.  It was a pretty amazing view.

We headed back to the center of town through a maze of food vendors and kids waiting to get into a haunted house.

Our main reason for stopping in La Paz was to take a bike ride on El Camino del Muerte.  This is the world famous "Death Road".  It is largely a single lane with no guardrails and cliffs up to 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet!).  According to Wikipedia:

The danger of the road ironically made it a popular tourist destination starting in the 1990s, drawing some 25,000 thrillseekersMountain biking enthusiasts in particular have made it a favourite destination for downhill biking since there is a 64-kilometre (40 mi) stretch of continuous downhill riding with only one short uphill section. There are now many tour operators catering to this activity, providing information, guides, transport, and equipment.
Nevertheless, the Yungas Road remains dangerous. At least 18 cyclists have died on the ride since 1998.

No need to worry though.  The road was closed a few years back so there are no vehicles on the road except for the occasional tourist riding in a jeep.  Also, we weren't allowed to take pictures.  The last person to die on Death Road was a Japanese tourist who was trying to take pictures while riding.  Apparently, she wasn't paying attention and rode right off a cliff.  Our group had a guide who took all the pictures for us.

As you read above it was almost all downhill so we were ready for a nice long downhill bike ride.

It was a little cloudy at the top but we were in good spirits.

Preparing for takeoff!

One of the many viewpoints

Let's go already!

The group.

Let's do this!

The first 20 kilometers or so are on pavement and it is really cold.  We held on and enjoyed the eery cloud cover that would reveal the rough terrain.

Taking a little break to make sure we have everybody.

All here!

We continued our ride down and down...

Ready for some dirt rode.  The road was nice but we were ready for some mountain terrain.

How in the world did huge trucks make it up this?  Hmmm, that must be why they call it "Death Road."  It's all starting to make sense.

Cloudy but scary!

There were memorials up and down the road for the victims that the road had claimed over the years.  It was probably a good idea to close the road.

This is the Irish couple we latched onto for the bike ride.  We seem to have good luck with Irish people.  Maybe it's because they're so cool!

More amazing views.

Leanne riding under a waterfall.

As we rode down it got hotter and hotter so we lost the biking getup.  They had Red Bulls waiting for us at our last stop before we headed the rest of the way down.  Josh thought this was hilarious.  Nothing says extreme like a Red Bull.

Fantastic scenery.

The last stretch was a breeze.

We even got free t-shirts at the conclusion of the ride.  They weren't really our style but we kept them anyway.

Group jumpy

We left behind cloudy La Paz in pursuit of some sunshine.  Our next destination was Lake Titicaca. 

We had to cross over the lake in one of the most primitive ferry crossings we've experienced. 

We weren't sure the bus would actually make it across. 

The passengers were shuttled across via a small boat.  It was freezing cold out.  Where's that sunshine and warmth that we were so desperately seeking? 

We made it safe and sound to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca.  Unfortunately, that warm weather we were hoping for wasn't there to greet us.  It was partly cloudy so that was a plus.  We've been told that the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca is much less touristy than the Peruvian side.

Skipping rocks on the lake.

We hiked up to the top of a viewpoint.  While the hike was only 40 minutes long it was steep.

Too bad this place was no longer in business.  We don't understand why a place called Cafe-Pub MTV wouldn't make it in a small town on the lake?  Leanne was hoping she could rock out.

These small kiosks lined the shore of the lake.  We decided to try our luck at eating the local dish "Trucha" or trout.

Two big portions and a large beer for under $5.  Yum!  The best part about it was that we gambled and won.  We didn't get food poisoning.  That makes it an even better deal.

The next day we made our way to the island of Isla del Sol for a day hike around the island.  While we would have loved to spend a night on the island, we were starting to run out of time and had to pick our destinations wisely.  The day hike seemed like a good solution.  Isla del Sol is a 2-hour boat ride from Copacabana and the largest island on Lake Titicaca.

Inca legend says that Viracocha, the bearded god that created the universe, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun at this location.  Legend or not, the sun was out and the views were breathtaking.

The life on the island is tranquil with no motorized traffic.

We hiked around the island from north to south.

Ancient Inca sacred sites

A few of the towns along the way required a small admission fee to continue on the trail.  While we understood and gladly paid our dues,  several tourists put up a huge stink over the $2 fee.  Josh was angered by this and told them his thoughts about them putting up a fight about paying.  They wound up paying the fee and moving on.

From north to south, the island did not disappoint with captivating views and a peaceful nature.

We cruised back to Copacabana and enjoyed dinner with a few new friends.  We forgot the camera so unfortunately, we don't have a picture.

The next morning we were bound for Peru.  After only a 30-minute ride we found ourselves marking off another country.  Welcome to Peru.  Yes, that's snow on the ground!

Our next post will include travels through the Inca jungle as we make our way to Machu Picchu.

As always, thanks for following!  

Leanne & Josh