La Paz, Bolivia
July 20, 2015
It is time to part company with Andy and Christine after 9 days together. We have certainly been through it since we first met nervously struggling through a blockade at 13,000 feet on the mountain road to Potosi. We leave Christine in pieces in her hotel room, feeling mentally and physically exhausted and struggling with food poisoning. Without our Irish friends, I am not sure how we would have got through the Potosi Siege. I am sad to say my goodbyes.
We can hear numerous loud explosions in La Paz. Some sound as loud as bombs going off and the police response sounds like rounds of plastic bullets.
We bump into Steve and Jennifer just before we leave. They seem in fine fettle considering what they have been through in Bolivia. They invite us to visit them in Hawaii and we hug and say our goodbyes.
I would love to see more of Bolivia, especially Sucre and the Amazon, but with our trip to Machu Picchu set for only a few days from now and political instability still threatening Bolivia, I feel it is time to get out.
We do have a couple more scares though before we leave La Paz. Firstly, there is a strike near the bus station and it is only because our driver is streetwise that he is able to negotiate a route to the station that avoids us getting stuck in the giant traffic jam in that part of the city.
Secondly, two Posh English muppets who we saw at the hostel last night are getting on the same cross border bus as us and they are clearly high as kites. They are acting all paranoid and dodgy with their bags and they are putting the fear of God into me that they are trying to get drugs through the border. You hear of backpackers putting drugs in fellow travellers' bags and I certainly wouldn't put it past these two clowns, especially as the driver has left the luggage compartment open for anyone who comes along to put their bags in. I find myself pacing up and down outside next to the luggage compartment keeping an eye on the English clowns. After Potosi, I wouldn't be completely surprised if a couple of idiots like this got us arrested at the border for smuggling drugs!
The bus climbs out of La Paz and up into the poor suburbs that cling to the mountains in every direction. You cannot really put into words what this city looks like. Cable cars link the lower part of the city to the higher altitude barrios. It is a macabre looking Gothic scene.
You might assume that reaching the plateau above La Paz marks the city limits but far from it. Once you reach the plateau of the Altiplano, the city begins to stretch for miles in front of you.
As well as missing out on places such as Sucre, we are also going to pass on a night on Lake Titicaca. My reasoning, quite apart from lack of time, is that we will spend much of today traversing the lake anyhow as we travel to the border.
Once we hit the shoreline of this the largest lake in South America (and the highest navigable in the world), I must say I find its scenery a little underwhelming compared to what went before in Bolivia and Chile. I've heard from reliable sources that the reed boat villages are a tourist freak show and if you visit you feel like you are participating in a reality TV show.
At one point the bus stops as we need to cross the Strait of Tiquina to the opposite shoreline. This is Bolivia all over: They are putting the bus on a ferry which is little more than two planks of wood, while the passengers pay for private boats to ferry us to the opposite shoreline. I am so tired and paranoid after what went before that this whole process gives me an almighty fear until we are safely on the other side. The mountainous backdrop is a beautiful sight though.
Back on board the bus rides the ''hills" of the 4000-metre high shoreline until we reach Copacabana - a jumping off and jumping on point for the majority of travellers passing through this part of the world. I wouldn't have minded overnighting here, especially as the town is experiencing a lovely sunset above the lake as we ride into town, but time is short and we need to drive on.
Annoyingly, the two Posh Boy Muppets are travelling all the way to Cusco it seems and whilst most of our fellow passengers jump off, they are with us to the Peruvian border.
After walking a couple hundred metres from the Bolivian to the Peruvian border posts, it is a painfully slow single file queue at the Peruvian border. One immediate new feature of Peru is garish Tuk Tuks. We stand in the dark slowly shuffling along for a good two hours before everyone is done, our passports are stamped and we are on our way.
We got through the border without the English muppets getting us all arrested and there is general relief about Katya and myself getting out of Bolivia after what went before in Potosi. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed our Bolivian adventure in its countless colours, tastes and smells but I am more than relieved to get out of that place, haha.
I thought the trip from Chile to Bolivia, finishing up at the Salar de Uyuni was absolutely world class. If we forget the 'problems' in Potosi, I thought that city rates as one of my favourite colonial cities in the world. And La Paz was fascinating, and certainly safer and more comfortable than many Latin American cities. But Bolivia is also a shite show run by clowns. It constantly feels like something can or will go wrong.
We settle down for another 10-hour fear ride (to Cusco)....
....I wake a couple of times in the middle of the night as it feels like the bus is about to crash, questioning what the hell we are doing here at all....
....tonight I am feeling done with South America....