A Travellerspoint blog

Sucre, Cochabamba and La Paz (again!)

Bye bye bolivia

sunny 18 °C
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Ohhh boy...we are getting behind in the blog again!

While our lungs were still trying to recover from the mines in Potosi, we boarded a bus to Sucre. Sucre is a very nice city with lots of colonial architecture. Many of the buildings are made of a sparkly white stone that is almost blinding during the day. We had a nice time exploring the city and we also went to a near-by town, Terabuco, for their famous Sunday market. Josh and I ended up buying a beautifully woven "manta" which is a large blanket/shawl that the women of Bolivia and Peru wear for warmth.

After Sucre, we headed for Cochabamba...mostly because we liked the name! The buses from Sucre to Cochabamba only run at night for some reason so we had no choice but take another exhausting night bus. This one was special though. One of our fellow passengers was a monkey! The monkey didn't get his own seat though. Neither did the 4 kids behind us trying to sit on their parent's laps but mostly who kicked our seats and pulled our hair. On the way out of town, there were these big groups of men trying to get on the bus. We had no extra seats but the bus driver did allow two police officers on who were transporting a convict out of town and he also opened the luggage compartments so that a man and his son could ride under the bus! The bus had no bathroom, but it did stop once in a small town. This town didn't have a public bathroom so I had to squat and pee on the road like the other women were doing. The huge Bolivian skirts are perfect make-do shelters for street peeing. Too bad I wasn't wearing one. The girl with the monkey bought it some dinner from the small restaurant. It ate its dinner from the plate and drank from the cup, then the restaurant lady just wiped the plate lightly and served up the next customer! Haha. During the trip, I became extremely nauseated. I couldn't get out of my window seat fast enough since Josh was asleep in the aisle seat and I was boxed in by the reclined seat in front of me, so I had no choice but to wrench open the window as far as it would go and let it fly. Of course, the open window was not directly beside me so I was also leaning way over the sleeping lady in front of me. She didn't seem to notice though...maybe she just thougt it was a bad dream. The bus pulled in to Cochabamba at 4:30 am! The station was in a very sketchy neighbourhood so rather than wander around in the dark, looking for a place to stay, we decided to stay in the crowded bus station until sun-up.

Cochabamba is not especially attractive but we spent a few nice days wandering the streets and basking in the warm weather. We also got to check out a few hostals and hotels because the first one we stayed at had bed bugs. Oh bed bugs, we meet again.

We headed back to La Paz en-route to Peru and stayed another couple of nights. We ended up buying more presents/souvenirs and mailed another large package home. Let's hope it makes it home!

Posted by edenjosh 16:49 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)


The highest city in the world!

sunny 9 °C

July 16th was Josh's and my 6th wedding anniversary! We hopped a bus from Uyuni to Potosi and celebrated at a posh Bolivian restaurant. Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4060m altitude. Because of the altitude, it is very cold, there is amost no vegetation and no hope of any kind of agriculture. Why do people live here, you may ask? FOR THE SILVER!

During the colonial times, Potosi used to be the richest city in South America. The mountains were filled with pure silver. The Spanish used millions of Bolivians and black and indian slaves to mine the silver. It is estimated that over 8 milions workers died in the horrific working conditions. These silver mines bank-rolled Spain for hundreds of years.

Today, most of the pure silver is gone but there is still a lot of composite - silver, lead and zinc alloys. The mines are co-operative mines which means the miners work for themselves rather than an outside company. They haul out tons of rock themselves and sell it to refineries that separate the minerals and pay the miners based on how much of each mineral the rocks contained.

Josh and I took a tour of one of the biggest mines. The working conditions were shocking! The men and boys work in this mine where the temperatures are sweltering and there is almost no air to breathe. What air there is, is so full of dust that most of the miners die a very early death from lung problems. We wore bandanas over our mouths but even still, after less than 2 hours in the mine, we were completely hoarse.

Because these mines are co-operatives, the miners must buy all their own supplies, such as dynamite and shovels, and decide where to blast and tunnel. These tunnels are not built or approved by engineers so the younger miners depend on the experience of the oldest men to prevent cave-ins and to find the mineral veins.

The working conditions were appaling, however, most men in this city are miners because there are few other jobs and mining tends to pay a little better than other jobs. One miner told us that most of them have 6 plus kids and even working in the mine does not earn them enough to support their families, so many boys have to work as well. The miners also feel abandoned by the government who refuses to build them a smelting plant. As a result, they must sell their silver powder at a very low price to Chile where it is smelted into a useable product which Bolivia must then buy back at a very high price.

Potosi is a very nice city but unfortunately its hay-day is over and as the mountains run out of silver, I'm sure it will eventually become a ghost town.


Posted by edenjosh 13:15 Archived in Bolivia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)


The largest salt flats in the world!

sunny 10 °C

After La Paz, Josh and I headed straight for Uyuni with a brief stop in the small city of Oruro. Uyuni itself is a cold and dusty town but it is famous for the Salar near-by. The Salar is the largest salt flat in the world at almost 11000km2.

We checked out lots of agencies offering trips and most seemed pretty similar. We chose one almost at random and set out for our 3-day jeep trip the next morning with 2 men from Germany and a French couple.

The trip was beautiful and the scenery was stunning, however, we witnessed a horrific jeep accident on the Salar that prevents me from raving about the experience. Another jeep of tourists that we were following flipped. Three of the passengers died quite soon after the accident. The other 4 were bady injured and we (other tourists stopped to help) tried to take care of them until the ambulance came. After 3 hours the ambulance/police still hadn't shown up so the injured had to be transported back to town in jeeps. One woman died later. It was a terrible tragedy and one that could have been prevented if the jeeps had only had seat belts. The lack of an emergency respose was also shocking and makes us both sick with regret for the 4 lost lives.


Posted by edenjosh 12:54 Archived in Bolivia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)


Lake Titicaca and La Paz

sunny 15 °C

Hurray! We've been in Bolivia for a week now and we haven't had to bribe any government officials or law enforcers yet!

We arrived in Copacabana, a small city on the coast of Lake Titicaca on July1st. There were some American's on the bus with us and they had to pay $130 USD in order to enter the country! I wouldn't even come here If I were American! We were given only a 30 day visa, instead of the 90 day one we were supposed to be entitled to because they wanted us to pay for the extra days. Just par for the course here. Too bad Bolivia, we will be gone by 30 days and you will miss out on the tourist money.

As soon as our bus entered Copacabana, a man came aboard and made everyone pay admission to the town because it is a "sanctuary". Copacabana is a touristy town, but pleasant enough. There are tons of trout restaurants that grill them up any way you like. They farm trout in Lake Titicaca so there seems to be no shortage of the fish. One of the main things people do from Copacabana is hop a boat to Isla del Sol. It is an island about 10km or so long, with some inhabitants and some Inca ruins. We took the boat over to the South side of the island in the morning and the ride took close to two hours. As soon as we stepped off the boat there were men selling admission tickets to the island for "conservation" purposes. Of course, as soon as they sold you the ticket, they ripped it and threw the other half on the ground. Hmmmm, yes, conservation!

We explored the south end a bit and visited the ruins of the Temple of the Sun. This also required an admission ticket. Then we started to walk to the north side of the island. Following the foot path ALSO required an admission ticket. The walk to the north took about 3 hours in total and we got to see some nice views of the lake and some more ruins. Once on the north end, we looked for a place to stay. There are fewer inhabitants in the north compared to the south, but we found a clean room to rent for the night. We also had a wonderful dinner in a woman's house.

The next morning we got up early and started our walk back to the South side. We made it there with plenty of time to catch the morning boat back to Copacabana. Lake Titicaca was beautiful but we were a little let down because you hear so much about this particular lake, but in reality, most of our lakes in Canada are much more beautiful! Also, we try not to use our lakes as garbage dumps anymore, but that is still the norm for Titicaca. Too bad.

Back in Copacabana, we hopped a bus to La Paz. La Paz is built in a huge crater. The poorer you are, the higher up on the hill you live where it is colder and there is less oxygen. It was quite a stange phenomenon to witness on the bus -entering the high slums and descending into more affluent areas. La Paz is not a particularly nice city, and the car exhaust is enough to kill you, but we were told it was a good place to buy and mail souvenirs. So, we have spent much of the last few days shopping for presents for our families which we will mail off tomorrow. It has been pretty fun especially since we hadn't bought ANYTHING yet on our trip because our bags are too heavy. We've also checked out a few interesting museums while we've been here and the "Valle de la Luna" which is an area with interesting land formations near the city.

Posted by edenjosh 13:31 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ausangate trek

Our 4-day trek around the highest mountain in southern Peru. Thousands of alpacas, small villages, and glaciers.

all seasons in one day -10 °C
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After reading about the Ausangate trek and seeing pictures, I was interested. Then, after seeing that besthike.com had rated it number 4 in the world, I HAD to go. The trek is difficult, high, and cold. Three solid reasons not to do it, but this also means that not so many tourists visit (and also because the trail does not lead to Machupicchu). Along the route you encounter thousands of alpacas, llamas, vicunas (the wild camelids that only live above 4000m), viscachas (rabbit-like animals), and the people who live around Ausangate usually only speak Quechua (with bits of Spanish, less than us!). Another interesting factoid, the first ascent of Ausangate was by a German party including Heinrich Harrer, author of 7 years in Tibet.

We tried to call the small town of Tinqui to arrange an arriero (horse driver), but didn´t have much luck with the one phone in town, so decided to go with an agency in Cusco (Apus Explorers on Suecia). They were a bargain at $130 per person but what was left out was a stove and gas, horses, a cooking tent, and a tent for our guides! These were arranged by our guides Luis and Alejandro in Tinqui, but cost us some time and we ended up spending the first night camping in Tinqui.

The following day we set off, but Eden had gotten a bit sick from the boiled water and wasn´t feeling well. Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes describes the trek as 6 days, but now we were going to doing it in 4 with horses. The first day we climbed steadily through brown puna grassland, past grazing sheep, cows, llamas and alpacas. We made camp at 4750m below one of the satellite peaks of Ausangate. The view was stunning, but when the sun went down it became very cold and our water in the wash basin froze at 6:30pm even though there was still some light out. While the guides were cooking I climbed two of the orange hills, first by running and then gasping my way to the top.

The next day we woke early to cross the first of the three passes for the day! The first wasn´t difficult because we already had the altitude, and then we descended into a valley. On our left a huge glacier was hanging above two large lakes. The second pass was quite a bit harder at 4850m (4861m on GPS), but we were going to have lunch and a 1 hour break after. From the top of this pass, our guide/arriero Alejandro pointed out the third pass. I couldn´t believe it. 300m higher than where we were standing, but we also had to descend 250-300m to the valley below. Doh!

The guides ran ahead to start lunch while we went down slowly. After lunch we started the slow climb up to Palomani Pass with me stopping every 5 steps to catch my breath above 4800m. So while Eden (still ill) was ahead, I was struggling every step. We reached the top, which registered 5123m on the GPS (5165m according to Lonely Planet). From there the view was stunning. Glaciated mountains to the left, a green valley below, and orange desert to the right. We then walked for several more hours to our camp on the Rio Jampamayo. When we arrived we were cold and exhausted.

We were happy that the third day had only one pass, even though it was the second highest of the trek at 5080m. Along the way we passed a few other trekking parties. The largest was a group of Israelis with 19 horses!! We knew that Israelis like to travel in large groups, but this made us wonder how many there were. Along the scree on the side of the trail we encountered rabbit-like viscachas. The trail then steadily climbed, and the pass itself was very broad (we were over 5000m for over an hour). The nearby peaks of Pico Tres and Collapa Ananta (both over 6000m) were stunning. We then descended into the valley where there were lakes with varying shades of blue. Stopped for lunch at a small tarn (didn´t think it was the cleanest water source for soup and tea), where two 8-year-old girls came to see what we were up to. Gave them some candy, crackers, and lunch and they gathered our horses afterwards.

After lunch we continued down valley, past more alpacas, stone fences and houses to the village of Pacchanta. Here there were hot springs and electricity, but we used neither since the tub was packed with Israeli trekkers and we decided not to stay in one of the small hostels.

Next morning we headed back to Tinqui, stopping for last looks at the mountains, then unloaded the horses and let them graze, tipped the guides, and caught the bus back to Cusco. At the first stop in Ocongate, our guide Luis got out with three other guys and downed a litre of chicha (not very tasty but cheap (20 cents) corn beer) and confirmed our suspicions that his yellow corneas are from liver problems.

Our arriero Alejandro was very good, is from Upis, and we recommend him to anyone considering the Ausangate trek. Even for experienced trekkers, the altitude makes things much more difficult and having an arriero makes things safer as there have been reports at South American Explorers of robberies along the trek. However, for trekkers going solo the trail is not difficult to follow with the description in Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes. Other agencies in Cusco charge between $180 and $800 for this trek with two people ($800 with SAS). If you call Alejandro two days ahead of time (only Spanish spoken), he will arrange everything for updated $120 (old price $80) per person for a 5-day trek. This includes horses, stove, gas, tents, cooking tent, food, and of course him. The only things he doesn´t provide are sleeping bags and mattresses, but you can rent these in Cusco. You may be required to get to Tinqui on your own, but this isn´t difficult. Two busses leave daily at 11am behind Coliseo Cerrado in Cusco. The better bus is Huayna Ausangate. Alejandro Gonzo Huaman can be reached on his cell phone at updated 984 382333 (old number was 984230664), or if you can´t get through you can try his brother at 984391965 and tell him you´re looking for Alejandro. He can also be reached via email alejandro.gonsalo(at)hotmail.com but the phone is probably better.


Posted by edenjosh 10:59 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

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