Hot Springs and Nicknames – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Dan, Farima, and I arrived in Uyuni around 4 am that morning and booked a room at the same hostel as Alaina. After we slept for a few hours, we walked around town comparing the different tour agencies offering tours into the Salt Flats. Farima, Alaina, and I decided to go with Red Planet, they were a bit more expensive, but received the best reviews online. Uyuni is basically a ghost town except for the tourists who go there to explore the Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt flats. We honestly didn’t do much the rest of the day and there is nothing really worth writing about, but I did buy some awesome indigenous high top shoes!

We woke up around 10 am the next morning, grabbed breakfast, and headed to Red Planet’s office to jump into our 4X4 for the next 3 days. There were 5 of us in the car, Alaina, Farima, myself, Faith, and Tom, as well as our guide, Bismak, and our driver, Jimmy. Our first stop of the tour was to an abandoned railway yard filled with the decaying skeletons of trains. We then headed to what would be the highlight of the trip, the Salar. Salar de Uyuni covering some 9000 square kilometers is by far the largest salt lake in the world. The Salar is no longer a lake as it is mostly dried up, but now consists of a thick, hard crust of salt with water below. The water forms hexagon like figures with the middle being rock solid. Almost all pictures taken in the Salar are of those using perspectives. Our driver Jimmy really knew what he was doing and took some really awesome pictures of us! After about an hour of taking as many pictures as we could, we were off to our next destination, a cactus-covered island with breathtaking views of the vast Salar.

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We all got back in the car and headed to the salt hotel where we would be staying for the night, but first we stopped to watch the sunset over the Salar. The salt hotel was awesome, everything was made of salt including our beds and the tables. After dinner, Jimmy took Alaina, Farima, Jaap (another guy on our tour but in a different car), Tom, and I out into the Salar to stargaze. Jaap had never seen the Milky Way before so he was probably the most excited out of all of us. The stars were absolutely incredible! That night was also the night nicknames were created for everyone, which would be our names for the remainder of the trip. Mine was ID (Irish dancer) because I decided to show everyone that I used to Irish dance back in the day.  As you can tell, the nicknames may have been lacking a little creativity 🙂

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The next day consisted of a lot of driving with various stops along the way which was fun but less so with the freezing cold weather. It was so hard to get out of the car because it was so cold that at each stop I would jump out, take a few pictures and jump back in. We were lucky enough to have the guide in our car as he would explain things inside the car instead of outside in the cold. We stopped at the Laguna Verde, as well as the Laguna Colorado, glacial salt lakes whose icy waters are stained bright red or green. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the colors because the wind was not strong enough. Most of the lakes contain a mineral that is widely used in cleaning products. We observed the flamingos at yet another lake, but like I said before it was so cold that I didn’t observe for too long. We visited the Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree) which only became famous because of the artist, Salvador Dali, who painted this particular tree. An interesting fact is that Salvador Dali has never been to Bolivia or to the spot of the now famous Rock Tree. Our last stop of the day before heading to our hostel was the Geyser Sol de Manana, geysers created by the semi-active volcano.

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We arrived at our hostel around 7:30 pm just in time for dinner. Our hostel was located near a natural hot spring created by the volcanic lava underneath the ground. After dinner I couldn’t wait to jump in the hot springs just so I could be warm for a little while. It was absolutely incredible, sitting in a natural hot spring underneath the Milky Way stargazing. We stayed in the hot springs for at least 3 hours until someone finally told us we had to get out. The best part was that we had the hot springs all to ourselves as our tour company was the only one staying in the hostel that night and therefore the only ones with access to the hot springs.

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The next morning, we were headed to the Chilean border. Bolivia had been good to us and we nearly spent almost a month in this country, but it was time to travel on and explore what the rest of South America had to offer!

Edited by: Farima M.

Dinosaurs and more – Sucre, Bolivia

After taking a nap from a nightmare of a bus journey, we went out to explore Sucre. Sucre was by far the prettiest city in Bolivia with its Spanish colonial architecture. All the buildings in Sucre are whitewashed making the city seem extremely clean and polished. We tried to explore the interiors of the various churches around the city, but each one we went to was closed and oddly enough it was a Sunday! There was some sort of parade going on throughout the city and we guessed it was a graduation as each group of students was carrying a flag with the field of study on it.

Later that day around sunset a group of us from the hostel made our way to the Mirador overlooking the city. We ate dinner at Café Gourmet Mirador while watching the sun set over the city below us. After dinner, Max, Farima, and I enjoyed a delightful Nutella banana crepe and found out there was a chocolate festival in town and it was the last day. Even though I was overstuffed from the dinner and the crepe, I couldn’t turn down a chocolate festival. The festival ended up being three stories high with various companies selling any kind of chocolate you could imagine. I decided on the submarine, which was basically steamed milk and a chunk of chocolate on a stick that melted into it. It was delicious and I so badly wanted to eat more but I’m sure I would have been sick had I continued.

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The next day was a National holiday in Sucre so almost everything was closed including the churches as we tried to explore their interiors once more. We also tried to catch the Dino truck, a truck that took you to Cal Orko, home to the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints, but it ended up being closed as well. Seeing as there was not much to do in Sucre that day, we just hung out at the hostel with the other hostel goers and had a relaxing day. For dinner, a group of about 10 of us went to Kultur Café Berlin, which ended in a night of Headsup (basically a Charades app on the iPhone).

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We slept in the next morning and headed to Condors, a vegetarian restaurant, for lunch. After lunch we explored the markets around town and I tried a famous chorizo sandwich, which wasn’t the best thing I’ve eaten but was okay. We had decided we wanted to leave the next day for Uyuni to explore the salt flats, but when I emailed the company for reservations, they had written us that the 3 day tour was canceled due to weather and snow in the national park. We didn’t know what to do next since the road to Chile, our next destination, would also be closed. We tried researching other options in Chile or Argentina, but couldn’t find a convenient method of travel so decided to stay a few more days in Sucre hoping the weather would turn around and the tours would open back up.

The next morning we tried to catch the Dino Truck once more, but it never showed. Dan, Farima, and I decided just to take a taxi to Cal Orko. A tour was included in our ticket price which always enhances the experience. Once there, we learned that the dinosaur footprints were discovered in 1994 by workers at a local cement company. The footprints are now vertical because of erosion and there are about 5,000 footprints from 150 different types of dinosaur. Unfortunately, we were not able to get too close to them as they are on quite unstable rock and are at risk of crumbling. There was a tour that took you a little closer to the wall of footprints but we were there so early and didn’t want to wait until noon for it. We ended up heading back to town and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee at a café.

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That night, I just felt like relaxing and as they were showing a movie at a cafe nearby — Devil’s Miner, a documentary about the lives of children miners in Potosi – I met up with our friend JC, who we had met earlier in Peru, to watch it. It was sad to see children so young working in the mines in order to support their families. Other people watching the movie had been to Potosi and the miners there had told them the movie was not very accurate and over exaggerated the situation. Regardless, I can’t imagine the health effects of mining being good for anyone. I ended up googling the two main kids in the film to see where they are now as the film was made 10 years ago, and both are still working in the mines, but one is also now a tour guide of the mines.

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That night we got some good news! We found out from our friend Alaina, who arrived in Uyuni the same day that the 3 day tours were open again. As soon as we got this news, we booked a night bus from Sucre to Uyuni for the following night. On my last day in Sucre, I met up with JC to get what he described as the best ice cream in town that was near the park. It was good, but I have definitely had better. I headed back to the hostel to pack up my things and hang out until our night bus. Sucre was perfect for doing nothing and taking a break from the crazy backpacker life of constantly being on the move.

Edited by: Farima M.

Cochabamba, home to the largest Jesus statue in the world!

As in every South American city, we headed to a market the following day, but it wasn’t a market we were expecting. I thought they would be selling more indigenous items but it was more westernized things. On our way to the market we heard a lot of loud noises on the street, which we later learned were university students rioting. They were throwing tear gas and lighting trash cans on fire throughout the city. Thankfully, we were far enough away from the action. After the market we walked to the Cristo de la Concordia, a statue of Christ modeled after the one in Rio but taller, therefore making it the largest Jesus statue in the world. On our search for saltenas (a pastry filled with a spicy, juicy stew of either meat or chicken with vegetables, olives, and a hard-boiled egg) we found an outdoor market that we explored before heading back to the hostel. We headed to the bus station where we thought we would catch a night bus to Sucre, but they ended up being sold out. We were then convinced that we could take a bus to Oruro arriving at 4:00 am, where we could then catch a bus to Sucre leaving from Oruro at 6:00 am. We got fooled though, there was no bus in the morning to Sucre only night buses leaving from Oruro and that wasn’t the worst part. Our bus to Oruro, which was supposed to take only 4 hours, ended up being 15 due to road blockage as a result of the protests that were going on in Bolivia. Farima, Dan, and I were stuck on the bus in one spot for 9 hours, in the freezing cold. The views from where we were parked for the time being, were actually quite beautiful with snow-capped mountains surrounding us. After a few hours though, we were over the view and just wanted to get moving already. Also, since there was no bathroom on the bus, you needed to go outside in the snow where pretty much everybody could see you from their cars or buses; it was not an ideal situation to say the least.

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We finally arrived in Oruro around 1 pm and bought tickets for the 7 pm bus to Sucre. We watched the Champions League final at a hotel bar to kill the time and then boarded our night bus to Sucre, which would take another 9 hours. We finally arrived in Sucre and went to the first hostel (Gringo’s Rincon) that had rooms and beds available that early in the morning.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle – Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

The next day we boarded our flight (on the tiniest plane ever) to Rurrenabaque to explore the Bolivian amazon. We happened to run into some friends we had met in Cusco on our same flight, Fabio and Dan, and decided to join them on their Pampas Tour. Dan and Fabio were also traveling with Alex, Jenny, Alaina, and Helen whom they met at their hostel in La Paz and were all doing same tour. They had booked their tour in La Paz, but we were able to jump on their tour when we arrived in Rurrenabaque. We left the following morning for our adventure in the pampas lowlands. First, we had a three hour drive (on a dirt road) to reach the Rio Yacuma. Alex, Helen and I were in one car with a couple from Taiwan and the other 5 were in another car. Alex and I sat it the very back seat and it was quite an adventurous ride. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then the driver turned off the air conditioner and the back seat got really hot. Alex and I tried to get anyone’s attention to turn the air back on or to roll down a window but no one would answer us so we just started hysterically laughing. Then the road got pretty bumpy and we started laughing even harder. I finally had to tap the Taiwanese couple to roll down a window so we could get some air in the back seat.

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When we reached the river we were so excited to get out of the car. The 8 of us then got into a very narrow boat for our 3 hour ride down the river to our accommodation for the next two nights. It was an absolutely stunning 3 hour ride with picturesque views all around us. On our way we saw pink dolphins, monkeys, and all sorts of birds. We came across another group feeding the monkeys bananas, which made our tour guide really upset. Many tours feed the monkeys bananas but as there are no bananas in the pampas, it is not a natural food source for them. The tour companies who are encouraging this are introducing a food source that is foreign to these monkeys and because these tours feed them every day they have come to expect them. It is really sad to think that these tours are ruining the natural habitat and are not respecting the pampas wildlife.

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When we reached our accommodation for the night I noticed a few caiman alligators hanging around. This place must have been their home as they were always there when I looked for them. We had dinner and then walked to the bar area to watch the sunset. At first the sunset wasn’t as beautiful as I had expected, but within minutes it turned so many different colors and became more and more beautiful. After sunset, we went on a night cruise through the pampas to look for the eyes of alligators. The moon that night was so bright it created a halo like circle encompassing the moon, it was something I had never seen before and rather striking.

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The agenda the next morning consisted of searching for Anacondas in the marsh. There were a few groups there all searching for them. One tour guide found one a few minutes into the search and grabbed him and poked him with a stick to unravel him. It was so disturbing to watch and this time our guide was beyond disgusted. It is frowned upon to touch the wildlife let alone try to drag him out of his habitat. The only reason they disturb these animals is because disrespectful tourists want to take a picture with the anaconda and do not realize the consequences this has on the wildlife. They then began to pass the snake around from person to person so each one could get a picture. Our group couldn’t watch any longer and we left to go back into the marsh to continue our search of anacondas. Fabio was so disturbed, he went back to where the group of tourists were taking pictures and expressed his disappointment and how taking a species out of his natural habitat is beyond disrespectful. When he rejoined our group, he told us that he just got into a fight with 20 people. Needless to say, we were all very proud of him. We walked around the marsh for another 2 hours, but we soon lost people one by one. Alex, Jenny, and I were the only three that lasted the whole time but unfortunately we did not find any more anacondas. We headed back to our Eco lodge for lunch and a little downtime.

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In the afternoon we jumped on the boat and headed out to swim with pink dolphins. There was quite a few around us but none wanting to really play with us. They mainly swam around but never got very close. I even tried to chase some of them but they would just swim away. There was one point that was really awesome, 5 or so of the dolphins right in front of us jumped in and out of the water basically giving us a show, which was the highlight of the swim for me. After a few hours we got back in the boat and headed to the same place we looked for anacondas to watch the sunset. Our guide wanted to take a picture with me and the sunset and told me to look at the beer. It was a very awkward moment for me, while all the others were screaming for me to “look into his eyes”. He then told me he was going to make that picture his profile picture on FaceBook, it was interesting to say the least. We headed back to the lodge, hung out for a bit, and then headed to bed.

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The next day before heading back to Rurrenabaque, we went Parana fishing. Our guide knew the perfect spot where all the Parana’s would be and I ended up catching six of them and one sardine (on accident)! Fabio kept telling me not to be so loud to avoid disturbing the fish, but I think he was just jealous that I caught the most. It was really fun using our make-shift fishing rod of wood and fishing line. Jenny caught the biggest Parana and we ended up keeping that one for lunch. Once we had enough of them for everyone to try at lunch (a total of 9), we threw any extras we caught back in the water. Another group staying at the lodge only caught two, so we split ours up for everyone to share. I didn’t eat a whole one but tried a little of it and realized it actually tasted pretty good and not fishy at all. After we ate our catch we left the Pampas and headed back to Rurrenabaque to check into out hostel. As soon as we entered Wifi zone, Alex found out she got into medical school and was going to be a doctor! All 8 of us went out for dinner and drinks that night to celebrate her good news!

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The following morning we parted ways with Fabio, Helen, Alex, and Jenny. Alaina, Dan, and I decided we wanted to trek into the jungle. We spent a day between the pampas and the jungle relaxing and hanging around Rurrenabaque. The following day, Alaina, Dan and I left for the jungle and Farima headed south to Cochabamba. As Farima was eaten alive in the pampas, her legs covered with bites, she didn’t feel comfortable heading into the jungle for the possibility of getting more bites there. I would meet her in Cochabamba again in 3 days.

We left Rurrenabaque on a 3 ½ hour boat ride on the River Beni as the portal to our jungle tour. It was around 1 pm when we got to the jungle and we had lunch as soon as we arrived. There were a total of 6 of us in the group, Dan, Ian, Alaina, myself, our guide, Miguel, and our cook, Ronan. During lunch I was given two nicknames, “Californication”, from the owner of the tour company we went with (Max Jungle) and “Mi Hermana” (translation: My Sister) from my tour guide since I seemed to have resembled his sister. After lunch we each got a temporary tattoo (aka war paint) with the liquid created from a leaf and water and were then ready to enter the jungle. We didn’t end up seeing much that day since we had to hurry to get to where we wanted to camp before sunset. Ronan and Miguel cut down a bunch of trees to create our home and kitchen for the night. We tried to help as much as we could but didn’t really know what we were doing. Once camp was all set up, we sat by our fire (which was just a candle on top of a stick) while Ronan prepared dinner. Meanwhile, Miguel had made a ring out of a coconut and proposed to Alaina, moving quickly on the proposal during the first night!

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After dinner, another group joined us for a traditional offering to Pachamama. We dug a hole in the ground, placing coca leaves inside and then passed some rum around the group circle. We were to first offer some of the alcohol to Pachamama and then take a sip ourselves – everyone in the circle took turns. We then offered tobacco to Pachamama with everyone in the circle (who desired) taking a drag. I kindly declined. The owner then began to explain that we were all equal, despite our individual markings – whether we were a guide, tourist, Bolivian, gringo – and had all been bonded throughout the ceremony as well as our experience in the jungle. Nevertheless, he also explained that everyone is their own person and free to choose what parts of the ceremony to participate in and what parts to respectfully decline. Pachamama accepts all regardless of their different decisions. I liked our guide as he proved to be a very good speaker and also very insightful. I also very much enjoyed the ceremony and it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the jungle. Not one of my favorite experiences was sleeping with ants that night after the ceremony. They were all over my sleeping bag, too many to try to kill so I sucked it up and just slept with them.

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The next morning we packed up camp and went on a walk through the jungle learning about various plants that were used as home remedies. For example, the bark of one tree when boiled in hot water, is used to help if you have diarrhea and stomach problems. I wish I could have taken some back with me for those just-in-case moments. Another tree bark is used for anti-malaria medication and anti-itch cream for bug bites. The anti-malaria medication tree, which we tried, tasted disgusting and I had to eat something else to get the taste out of my mouth. Our guide then cut down a small tree, turning it upside down and holding it up so we could drink the water coming out of it. The water was so refreshing and even tasted better than the bottled water I had grown accustomed to drinking in South America. Another tree, we learned is used for rubber as once you cut off the bark and combine the sap with a little bit of water it becomes a rubbery substance. Miguel used this rubber to stick flower earrings on mine and Alaina’s ears. I carved my name in this tree as a way to leave my mark in the jungle!

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Besides learning about different tree remedies, we were able to eat the fruit in the jungle including mangos, grapes, and some coconut. Inside the coconut we opened was a parasite. We learned that this type of parasite gets into a tiny hole in the coconut and grows as it eats the coconut inside. Miguel said it was okay to eat the parasite and that it tasted just like coconut. At first, I hesitated to eat the parasite but then gave in and tried it as I figured it as my only time in the jungle. I popped the parasite into my mouth, and surprisingly found out it did taste just like coconut. It is so fascinating to me that nature can be used to help cure certain sicknesses and it is all natural without any added chemicals or harmful substances like those found in most medications. Learning about the different trees, their different uses, and also eating the fruit found in the jungle, was definitely an enjoyable experience.

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After exploring for a few hours we headed to a new place to camp. Some group must have previously camped there before because all the wood had already been cut so it took us a lot less time to set up camp this time around. Dan and Ian built us a nice bench out of logs to sit on for the night. Before dinner, we headed down to the river to watch the sunset. The river and jungle all around made it a picturesque moment. Miguel and Ronan went swimming in the river, but the rest of us decided to pass. After dinner, Alaina and I went on a night walk through the jungle with Miguel and Ronan. The two boys were being babies and didn’t want to come so it was just us girls and the guides. We walked for around 2 hours seeing various animal eyes but I wasn’t really sure what animal I was seeing. I was hoping to see more spiders but we didn’t find that many. Every time Miguel told us to turn off our flashlights I got a bit nervous, but it would pass as soon as I got to turn my light back on. I was the one to stop the night walk because it was so muddy and I only had my sneakers on so I kept slipping and was covered in mud up to my knees. I changed out of my muddy clothes and cuddled in my mosquito net for another night of sleep listening to jungle noises.

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The next morning we slept in until 9 am, ate breakfast, and headed back to the spot where we would catch the boat back to Rurrenabaque. On our way back we found a jungle swing to have some fun on. Miguel made us jewelry with all the various nuts we had collected while exploring the jungle. Alaina and I both got necklaces, bracelets, and rings made for us. We said goodbye to Miguel as he was taking another group out that day and got on the boat to head back to town. We made plans to meet up with our cook, Ronan, for drinks later. Alaina, Dan, and I headed to the hostel to take showers and get ready.

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I had planned on leaving Rurrenabaque the next day but since flights were all booked up, I decided to have a lazy day and catch up on some writing. Dan and Alaina were supposed to leave that day at 3:30 pm but as their flight got canceled, they were put on my flight the following morning. Little did I know that since they were put on my flight at 7:30 am, that I would get booted to the 11:00 am flight.

Once I finally arrived in La Paz I got the first bus to Cochabamba, an 8 hour bus ride with no bathroom. At one point on the journey I had to go to the bathroom so badly that I had to have the driver stop the bus and use the nature bathroom on the side of the bus in broad daylight. As embarrassing as it was, I honestly could not hold it in any longer. I arrived in Cochabamba around 8 pm and met back up with Farima. I was so exhausted from a day of travel that we just watched a movie and headed to bed.

Edited by: Farima M.

 

“Wooorth it” – La Paz, Bolivia

We arrived in La Paz early evening, checked into our rooms and decided to grab dinner at the hostel. We had a few drinks with Bobby and Jake and then things got interesting as it was Karaoke night at the hostel bar. People really got into their Karaoke songs and some (including JC, a friend of ours from California we had met earlier in Peru) even got up and danced on the bar, which was very entertaining. Farima and I sang the Aladdin Disney song, “A Whole New World” in honor of our Machu Picchu trek with Brittany and since it was one of the only songs I knew all the words to.

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Our 2nd day in La Paz was pretty relaxing as we just grabbed lunch in the city, walked around a bit and didn’t do a whole lot after. The crew ended up heading out on the town that night but I didn’t join as I wasn’t feeling too great – and only slightly due to the previous night.

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As we wanted to learn more about the history of La Paz, we decided to join the Free Walking Tour the following day. I find the walking tours quite interesting as they are usually led by young locals who have grown up in that city and it is nice to hear their perspective of its culture and politics from someone of the same generation. Our tour group consisted of around 40 tourists and only one guide, Mauricio. The meeting point of the tour was the San Pedro Prison, a prison essentially run by the inmates, where money can create a good life for you inside and you are even required to buy your own cell. Inside the prison there are shops, restaurants, and pretty much anything you can imagine in a small city. Some mothers and kids even live inside the prison with their father inmates as they cannot afford a life both inside and outside of it, which is a bit shocking and sad. On the tour, we learned that at one point tourists were actually allowed inside the prison as a form of tour but in the present times this has become quite dangerous. Tourists these days still try to enter the prison, fascinated by its concept and history. However, in the current day prison tours are strictly advised against.

After the brief history on San Pedro, we made our way to the Mercado de Hechiceria (Witches’ Market), which is a market lined with stalls selling various products ranging from cures to stomach pain to helping with your sexual life. One of these products is called a “come to me, come to me” potion, where it is rumored that if you blow the dust on the back of the person you fancy, they will immediately be attracted to you (no… I didn’t actually try it to see if the rumors were true, but maybe I should bring some home!). Our tour guide, Mauricio, then explained a little bit of the Bolivian culture to us. He explained that when a person wishes to build a new house or building, they must sacrifice a baby llama corpse along with some alcohol to Pachamama (Mother Nature), in hopes of good fortune and for permission to use the land. Rumor has it that if you keep Pachamama drunk, she will never have time to be mad. Therefore alcohol is often used in offerings to Mother Nature during most rituals in South America. The baby llama corpse which is sacrificed, is then buried under where the house is to be built and after the offering, the construction workers have a big party before commencing work on the building. Another big “rumor” we were told about was regarding sacrifices for bigger buildings. It was said that in the past, instead of just a baby llama, one would have to sacrifice an actual human corpse. To do this, whoever wished to build a big building would wander the streets looking for those who lived on the streets, with no home and no family to leave behind. They would then become friends with them, invite them to their home for a meal, get them drunk, and the killing would occur mostly by the builders poisoning the person’s food or drink. Afterwards, they would bury their dead corpse under the building and cover it up with concrete to avoid anyone, including the police, of finding out about the crime. Some say this tradition may still be practiced today but no can know for sure.

Our last stop on the tour was the Political Plaza, where Mauricio told us stories about past presidents, three of which really stuck in my mind. The first was about a Bolivian president who tried to abolish slavery in the country, with the citizens actually turning around and killing him only to realize their mistake after as he was actually a good person and a good president. Upon realization of this, they ended up building a statue in his honor which is situated in the plaza. The second story involved a president who was an American citizen, but born to Bolivian parents. They elected him even though he could barely speak any Spanish. During his term, he did not make the wisest decisions and ended up stealing a lot of money from the Bolivian banks, running away with it all back to the United States. It is said that he lives a very good and luxurious lifestyle in Maryland with a good majority of the money still left. The Bolivians (not surprisingly) are not the biggest fan of him and all want him prosecuted in the country, however, this case seems to have been going on for ages (UPDATE: the Bolivians recently won the case against this former president and he is now required to return to Bolivia to be put on trial and receive a verdict there). We had to leave the main plaza and hear the last story somewhere more secure as it was regarding the current president. Overall, we learned that the citizens of La Paz are generally happy with him as he has done a lot of good for the country, although he has expressed some unwise remarks and has tried to enforce not widely accepted laws and regulations. For example, during his term and to solve the low population crisis of Bolivia, he once tried to ban the use of condoms as well as tax women of a certain age (18+) who did not have any children – making it understandable as to why the majority of the citizens are sometimes inquisitive and unaccepting of his views.

After the tour there was an 18th story hotel where you could scale down the side of the building in your choice of costume using the proper gear and equipment. Of course I had to try it, but it was way scarier than I had anticipated. Three boys went before me and I was the last to go of the day. The act required you to angle your body to 90 degrees before you began walking down. As soon as I started walking down I slipped and that’s when I started to freak out. They told me to use my hands to push myself back on the wall and once I got my footing I began walking again and then with 30 meters left, I was instructed to let go of the rope entirely, making the rest of the distance a fee-fall down to the bottom. This was by far the most fun part of scaling the wall for me and made me glad I had tried it.

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After the tour, we headed back to the hostel and got ready for a nice meal out. A big group of us, Jake, Jake’s friend Dash who just arrived from Los Angeles, Bobby, another Jake and Leo (who we had met on the walking tour), Farima, and myself went to the nicer part of town called Sopocachi for dinner. After dinner, we all headed back to the hostel for a night out together.

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The next day was Sunday, perfect for sleeping in and relaxing, just like lazy Sundays back home. Something not found every Sunday back home however, is Cholita Wrestling. Every Sunday in La Paz, El Alto is home to overdramatic Mexican style wrestling matches with the main attraction being the indigenous women known as Cholitas. It was quite an experience and basically a really bad version of WWE, but with indigenous Bolivian women wrestling one another and sometimes the referees. The act started off with really bad fake fighting but then as the matches went on they turned out to be pretty entertaining. The fun part about Cholita Wrestling was it wasn’t just a tourist attraction, many locals and indigenous women came to watch the show as well. If you particularly didn’t like one of the fighters you could throw stuff including water bottles and food at them in the ring, but beware because they could throw it right back at you. One tourist threw a full water bottle (and many other things) at this one Cholita fighting and when he wasn’t paying attention she dumped an entire water bottle on him as payback, which was the highlight of the show for me! It was an interesting night to say the least and one bizarre experience. The show ended around 7 pm and we headed back to La Paz and our hostel shortly after.

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The next day was Monday and finally time to bike down what is known as “Death Road”, aka the most dangerous road in the world. This road was said to be the most dangerous road in the world once upon a time, as in the past each year many vehicles plummeted over the edge killing many and risking the lives of others. Today, Death Road is rarely used by any vehicles as a new road that is safer and wider was recently built, however many tourists and bicyclists continue to use this as it is still one the main attractions of La Paz. Jake, Dash, Bobby, Farima, and I decided to go with the company Barracuda for our 3500 m descent from La Paz to Coroico. When we reached our starting point where our ride would begin, we suited up and made an offering to Pachamama for safe keeping. First we poured alcohol on the front wheel of our bike, then on the ground, and then had to drink a sip in order for Pachamama to look after us along the road. Unfortunately, the day started out quite cloudy and it didn’t really clear up much that day; it even began raining while we were biking down. We went quite slowly down the road just to be extra careful due to the weather conditions. Although the weather wasn’t the most desirable, it was still a beautiful ride as we rode through waterfalls and stopped occasionally to admire the views. Luckily, our group made it to the end without any injuries!

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When we reached the bottom for lunchtime, we were all soaked and drenched. We were lucky the place had showers and we were able to change into nice dry clothes. After lunch we had a 4 hour drive back to La Paz. The drive back was a party in itself as our bike guides bought us all Cuba Libres (rum and coke) that some of us drank on the way back — some more than others. We all sang along to the songs that our guide was DJ-ing and one guy in particular really got into it. Having such a fun time on the bus helped the time go by and we were back in La Paz faster than expected.

We got ready and met up with the same crew for dinner and a few drinks as it was our last night with all of them. It was sad to say goodbye especially to Jake since we had been traveling with him for quite some time but I have no doubt I will run into all of them again, Jake, Dash and Bobby – it would be upsetting if it didn’t happen. Saying good-bye to people you become so close to in such a small amount of time is the hardest part of traveling, but also the most rewarding knowing you’ve created a life-long friendship.

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Edited by: Farima M.

“We live until we live no more” – Copacabana and Isla del Sol, Bolivia

After our homestay, Jake, Farima, and I caught the early bus to Copacabana from Puno. When we arrived, Jake ran into a friend, Bobby, he had met previously traveling so we all decided to stay at the same hostel. The four us walked around town, grabbed a cup of coffee, then decided to grab a drink at a rooftop bar while watching the sunset.

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We made plans to head to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) the next day, another island on Lake Titicaca. This island was once the most important religious site in Bolivia, known as the place where the sun and moon were created. We took a boat from Copacabana to the northern end of Isla del Sol, Ch’allapampa, and hiked the length of the island heading south to Yumani, which took us around 3 hours. During the hike, we decided to go off the trail at one point to avoid one of the Lake Titicaca taxes we would have been required to pay otherwise. This resulted in us walking through crops and jumping a barbed wire fence, which was quite an adventure and a memorable detour on its own. We eventually found our way back to the main trail head. On our way down, we kept running into signs that pointed towards a pizzeria with a famous chef. After a bit more walking uphill and through eucalyptus trees as we were guided by mountain signs, we found ourselves in our own little paradise. The restaurant was situated on top of the hill with cute little tables and chairs made out of tree and breathtaking panoramic views of the lake. Although the menu and the prices were not what we were used to in Bolivia, we decided to treat ourselves and enjoyed a delicious meal while taking in the views.

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After lunch and once we reached the southern end of the island, we found a cute little place to stay with gorgeous views overlooking Lake Titicaca, all for only $7. We enjoyed the view from our room for a while, got ready and then headed back up the hill to watch the sunset. We grabbed a bottle of wine and some snacks and the four of us found our own perfect little spot to watch the sunset. Even though the mountains blocked our view from seeing the sun completely set, it was still a beautiful sight.

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After the sunset, we grabbed dinner at a pizza place nearby and then headed back to our hotel for an early night so we could wake up and catch the sunrise. The sunrise ended up being just as beautiful and we were lucky to be able to watch it from the balcony of our room! Afterwards, we headed down to the southern port to catch our boat back to Copacabana. Jake, Bobby, Farima and I then caught the 1 pm bus (we really like bus rides) to La Paz, just in time for the weekend.

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Edited by: Farima M.