South America 2009 – Bolivia (2)

Thursday, 5th February – Monday, 9th February

La Paz is the administrative centre of Bolivia but not the capital. We were amazed by how chaotic it was, with minibuses clogging up the streets, and the centre being one big street market. The poorer classes live at high altitude, above the rim of the canyon in which La Paz sits, in a new, growing sprawl of a city called El Alto.

We had a tour of the city including the Valley of the Moon, the central square, the cathedral, a precious metal artefacts museum, and a panoramic viewpoint. We spent time on our own visiting the markets, the National Art Museum and the monastery of San Francisco.

The next day we took an additional tour with our guide, Carlos, to the Yungas, a region of steep forested mountainside that fall away to humid gorges. We travelled over part of the Andes called the Cordillera Real, stopping to bless Mother Earth at the highest point with alcohol and Coca leaves to protect us on our journey, then down to Coroico, where we had a walk around the town centre and into the countryside to see varied crops of coca, tropical fruits and coffee. After lunch overlooking the mountains at a local hotel we opted to travel back to La Paz on the Old Road, (also known as the Death Road because of the number of fatal accidents in the past!). The road was unpaved, with huge drops one side, and passed over streams and under waterfalls.

The following day we were picked up for our drive to Lake Titicaca. We travelled across part of the lake by ferry. It was chaotic as about 60 ferries were jostling for business, each only taking a couple of cars.

At Copacabana we visited the cathedral and watched the blessing of new vehicles by a priest outside. The cars are dressed up and holy water is sprinkled under the bonnet and inside.

After lunch we transferred to the Isla del Sol by small ferry. There we had to climb up 850 steps and 1300ft to our ecolodge hotel, La Estancia, for the night. Fortunately our luggage went up by donkey! We swore on the way up, but agreed it was worth it when we arrived; we had a lovely room overlooking the lake. That evening we watched the moon rise over the lake.

The next day we climbed back down and took the ferry back to Copacabana. After lunch we took the coach for transfer to Puno in Peru at the other end of the lake.

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