A Shaky Start
Crossing the border from Peru was interesting, the border guards seemed a bit dodgy, and had a facial expression that read: “Oh, another gringo coming to our country?!” We sensed that they didn’t like us very much. Which made for an interesting start.
In order to enter the country we had to pay $135 dollars each, (a total of: $270) and we needed to hand in a passport photo as well. I entered the customs area and met the officials that were responsible for stamping us in and dealing with our paperwork (two customs officials and two officers).
Candice and I filled out paperwork and gave the official our passport photo and the money. The guard took the money and put it into a drawer full of U.S. dollars. Then he took our passport photos and put them into a jar with a ton of other foreigners photos as he laughed. I asked if we even needed to give a photo and he said, “certainly”, as he looked at his buddies.
After we were stamped in, I left the office. As we were about to get on our bicycles, the official came out of the office and said that he needed another $20 bill because one of the bills that I gave him was false, which is complete bull because we had U.S. dollars straight from our banking institution before we left home. We were aggravated but the problem belongs with them. They may be $20 richer, but in the end, they have lost something…..themselves, which is a far worse place to be, in my mind.
Our shaky start didn’t last long. Ahhh, Bolivia! I have heard it said that when you step foot here, you go back in time, and the rumors are true! This is also a country that prides itself of its 60% indigenous population! This is one instance in which the borders blended. The Peruvian Province of Puno was very similar.
Our destination was Copacabana (literally full of European tourists), and it was a beautiful ride as we entered the town. We made it to town and found a hotel where we can rest up for the day. The next morning we took a walk down to Lake Titicaca, then up the cliffs (about 600 feet) to get a better view, where we saw the whole town and some islands on the lake. It was breathtaking! We stayed in Copacabana for a few days and then we pushed on.
Crossing the Lake
The scenery was beautiful, but the climb seemed endless as we headed towards La Paz. Up, up, and more up. With the altitude, the climbing (and the sun) just sapped us of all our energy. Just before we throw in the towel for the day, we begin our descent to our next town which has a ferry that we need to take in order to press on to La Paz. We were on the ferry with a truck, which thankfully, didn’t topple over and on top of Candice. We crossed the lake and climbed up even further witch made it more difficult to breath. We made it into another hotel and passed out for the evening.
Crossing Titicaca by Ferry.
Candice Nearly Being Crushed by Truck!
Beautiful Church on a hill.
Lake Titicaca is in the Andes, and is on the border of Peru and Bolivia
Indigenous woman attending her flock of Sheep and Pigs!
My Next Mode of Transportation!
Farmers Hard at Work
In Bolivia, near Lake Titicaca, with Peruvian mountains in the background!
Entering La Paz was very impressive. We had to pass El Alto, which was about 1,000 feet above La Paz. We looked down into the valley and saw the city surrounded by mountains, a very impressive sight.
The City of La Paz (Bolivia’s Capital City), Tucked into a Valley
We made our way into La Paz, and found the place we were going to stay: Hostel Loki. It was fun, for a night! We slept in a dorm with about ten other people (all European). While I slept as snug as a bug in a rug, poor Candice heard all the commotion that evening. There is a bar/restaurant that is part of the hostel. As a natural result of such festive occasions there is oftentimes a hiccup that occurs. One guy was screaming and crying because his girlfriend was in another guy’s bed….., which happened to be in our dorm! The next morning we packed up and decided to find another place a bit quieter. Hostel Milenio was fairly cheap and much quieter!
With Israel (a worker) at Hostel Milenio
We stayed in La Paz for about three weeks. Touring the city was fun and cheap. We had a package sent to us from our family in Virginia and then we made our way out of La Paz. We had to back track to the city of El Alto, which meant that 1,000 foot descent was now a 1,000 foot climb!
Back to El Alto
We left late, around 11:00 am, from La Paz, and climbed to El Alto. We made it a short day and found a cheap place nearby. We get into a hostel and I have the urge to use the bathroom. I knock on the door and nobody answers, which tells me that the stall is empty. Much to my surprise, I open the door to a lonely chap sitting on the toilet hunched over and groaning with his head on his lap! He couldn’t even speak…so I closed the door quick. “Must have been something he ate!” I told Candice with a chuckle.
We left the next day and headed to the Calamarca. We stayed the night in a church, and it was my turn to pose like the gentleman did in the bathroom back in El Alto. Only, my sickness included vomiting! That night was horrible! Being sick at a high altitude is just a nightmare! We managed to make it a few miles to the town of Tholar (about eight to ten miles, it felt like 100!) and we found a place to stay and rest. The vomiting (the archers!) stopped and then came the diarrhea (the infantry!). It was up and down all night for four days just to begin feeling better!
After I got my sea legs, we headed towards Patacamaya, the intersection we would branch off in order to take the more expeditious route here in Bolivia. We found a hostel very cheap for the night. We enter our tiny room and walk around the town for a bit. There was not much here except some roadside vendors. It was more of a hub for people to take busses to other locations such as La Paz, Oruro and other neighboring towns. The people here are more indigenous, their look and the way they dressed. They are very nice, but fairly reserved.
Candice Chewing the Fat with the Locals
That evening (around 3:30 am), my stomach was growling as it has been the passed few days. I search for the bathroom and it turns out to be open stalls (about five stalls) with no doors and no flushing. I pick the second to last stall (the cleanest) and hurry to do my business, in a toilet that has black water in it, only to have an indian woman pass right in front of me to get to the last stall. She says good morning and asked how I was doing? Red-faced and unable to look directly at her, I said, “everything is good here!” She then continued to her intended destination (stall five) and then proceeded to relieve herself, in much the same way I was!
Open Bathrooms with Buckets for Toilet Paper
Obviously, life is much different here! It reminded me of a town in Colombia. There was a urinal in the main part of the restaurant! So just imagine going to a place with your friends, then telling them to hold that thought while you go over to the wall and take a leak! I love it, but it would be something that I would have to do a few hundred times in order to get rid of my stage freight!! That is one aspect of this journey that we enjoy, getting out of our comfort zone!
The Rural Route
We left Patacamaya and headed to our more rural destination. We headed to Carrangas and towards the end of the day, we had headwinds from hell! We looked for a place to camp but the roadsides were all fenced in! Wind takes every ounce of energy you have and then some. Candice got pushed out into the road multiple times and I just hunched over my handlebars trying to recover. The problem is the wind never stops and never lets up, and the trucks passing, counter the wind and it hit us even harder! There has never been a time I struggled more than this, sure there have been tough climbs and desert crossings, but when you struggle when you are starving and battling the wind, it makes for an interesting and torturous experience.
The best part of Bolivia by far…. The Children!!
We found an Alojamiento (on the outskirts of Carrangas) on the side of the road that evening. I asked the girl if there was a room available and she says, “no”. I then ask if all the rooms are occupied, she answered, “no”. “So there is a room available?!” “Yes”, she responded. This is just a few of the interesting and awkward interactions that we have had particularly in Bolivia! What she had to do, but didn’t want to, was to prepare a room that was previously used by someone else. I enjoy, very much, learning languages and haggling from time to time, but not when we are hungry, tired, and wanting to get out of this wind. After a bit, she brought us to a room, tidied up the bed, and we settled in for the evening. The wind just howled outside. It sounded like the roof was going to be torn off! We were glad not to be in it!
The next morning we woke up all rested, but there was a problem. We asked if there was an atm in the next town. The answer was no. So we cycled about four miles to the next town, put our things in the room and asked around for a bank or an atm. The closest atm was either La Paz, or Oruro, and there were no towns in our general direction with one either! So we had to take a bus to Oruro, which took about eight hours round trip on a bus! We got back to the hotel at about 11:30 pm only to find that the owner was not answering the door. We eventually made it inside about an hour later because another couple happened to be staying there and had the key!
Sajama and Tambo
The views here were spectacular!! Snow capped mountains, Llamas, Alpacas, and more were our companions as we cycled through this terrain! It was tough because it was all up and down, but it was worth it! We made it into the town of Tambo (a border town that led to Chile). This town had a bunch of supplies so we ended up staying the day to rest up and gather some food because our real adventure was about to begin. Here on out it would be dirt road and small rural villages. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.
Nevado Sajama, an extinct stratovolcano and the highest peak in Bolivia (21,463 feet) wiki
I wonder what is in that thing!
The roads were very hard to ride on. They were all washboard with rocks in between! We cycled on for as long as we could and then set up camp. Magnificent!! Our first night really on our own. We looked all around with no sight of a town, village, car, or anything man made, except the dirt track we were riding on! We wake up the next morning with spectacular views, birds chirping, llamas and alpacas ruling the terrain! We make coffee and our experience is slightly enhanced by the caffeine! “Wow,” we say to each other, “we are so glad to be here experiencing this!”
We move along to the village of Mochagi. We see in the distance, military in front of the town. As we approached this town, we see that it looks abandoned. We ask the guards about the town and they said that the people are off celebrating the festivals in Oruro and La Paz. We get some much needed water from the spicket and push on to our next town of Julo. The road begins to turn into sand. We get off of our bikes and start to push for a very long time.
To get some scale of size, look for the homes on the bottom of the picture! The Flat part is already at about 12,000 feet!
We have made it to Mars!
Mars Couple of the Year!
The difficult part on this journey begins! As we push in the sand we eventually come to dirt tracks, many tracks leading in all different directions! “Which path do we take?” we asked each other. We stayed on the main route for awhile and we realize that we are headed for the deserts of Chile! So backtracking, I peak at our GPS and find the right heading. Eventually we see a small sign a few miles into our path that says we are on the correct route to Julo. After the sign we find that we have our first river crossing! The water was so cold it actually hurt our feet and legs as we pushed our bikes through it.
After warming our feet we moved on, this time we had muddy tracks in our way. We couldn’t leave the muddy path much because thorny bushes covered the sides of most of the road. After pushing through the mud and water for a few hours we decide to camp.
The next day, we make it into the town of Julo. There were very few people in this town and we ask ourselves again, “Are all these people going to festivals?” We find two kids walking and ask if there is a store where we can buy food, they said, “there was no store here.” I asked them, “well how do you eat?” They said, “we live off of the llamas and alpacas.” We turn the corner of a dirt road and we see an indian woman walking out of a store with some food. “Maybe they can’t afford to eat there,” says Candice, as we talked about it later.
With Clemente, “The Count.” A One, a Two, a Thrrreee!!
We get to the store and there is not much to choose from. Some candy, pasta, juice or soda. We get what we can and begin to leave. As we leave we run into a man (Clemente, who looks like the Count) we met the day before (he was driving across a river and we asked him if we were on the correct route, he confirmed). He lived in Julo and said that we can camp in the school for free that evening, so we did. The next day we left Julo. About five miles into our journey the road went up and had rocky outcrops on both sides of it.
Perfect Mountain Lion Territory Ahead
Sure enough, we saw four mountain lions. Candice took five more steps and saw those critters to her right.
I felt a bit weary about this pass, so I began to look for any tracks and tracks I found! As Candice pushed her bike up, I stayed behind examining these tracks. Not realizing how far Candice went up I was thinking to myself “these tracks didn’t have claw marks and they just might be mountain lion (puma) tracks,” (thanks Bear Grylls!). A moment later, sure enough, I hear, “Erek!! I think you better get out your bear spray! Candice saw two pumas running up the mountain. I then look up and see two more fleeing as well. It was a mother and her cubs. These guys ran up these cliffs so fast and effortless, it was an unbelievable sight!
We have been avid watchers of the many survivalists and shows that air: Hoods Woods (Ron Hood), Man Vs Wild (Bear Grylls), Dual Survival (Dave & Cody), Survivorman (Les Stroud), Man, Woman, Wild (Mykel Hawk and Ruth England), and many more! The information they presented has been of invaluable help, as any scenario can sometimes be unforgiving!
We continued on, but not without trepidation! Were there other pumas around? We remembered the military guards, who were very friendly, in Julo. They said that pumas only took the internal organs of the llamas and alpacas and left the rest behind. There was a big problem in that area for farmers because they lost a lot of their livestock. Needless to say, camping was very interesting in the mountains! It was an amazing and very rare sight to see….and walk away from!
I no longer have doubts when people say that the only time you will see a puma (if its intent is to get you!) is when it is on top of you. These guys are extremely stealthy and extremely fast and agile! They floated up those cliff sides as if it were a game!
The Salars! Coipasa and Uyuni
There are two salars that we would have to cross: Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni. Coipasa was amazing and one thing we quickly discovered is that the distances are much lengthier than meets the eye. We saw an island that looked about five to ten miles in the distance and it was actually about 20 to 25! We approached the island town of Coipasa in the salar de Coipasa and it was then that we had our first leap of faith, that was, we needed to rely on our compass! We crossed to the northwestern part of the island and we had to, somehow, get to the small dirt track that was about 30 miles south! As we looked at our heading for south, we saw this huge landscape of mountains and never ending salar. We said the heck with it and went on.
The salar was beautiful and it shined bright white with the blue sky and the sun. One thing we learned is that the reflection (and altitude) from the crystalized salt was dangerous with UV light. We covered our eyes and our faces and made it soundly across with no problems….at least in regards to the sun.
Candice Heading Due South
Our luck was good in that we were not there in the rainy season (although I have heard that it is beautiful with a meter of water on it), but one thing we have learned from the salar is that when you are far from land the salt flats are firm and flat, but when you get close to land or an island the salt gets softer and there is more sand. With that said, we had about 12 miles of sand that was just unridable for us, so we had to get off our bikes and push for what felt like forever.
The Never Ending Push (about 12 miles), Salar de Coipasa
Candice pushing her bike with the mirage in the background
The closer to land the less rideable the salar is.
Nice camping spot, North was nice and blue, but the South was bleak.
A storm brewing on land just south of us.
In the distance, we saw a storm, so we called it a day and camped on the salar for the third time. Camping on the salar is very cold. We felt a big difference in temperature as soon as we got to land.
In the end, our compass worked great. It was hard to put our faith into a piece of plastic, but it worked and it worked well! We found our patch of land with a town that was again, largely abandoned, but a small family let us have some water from their well!
A local getting water for us from her well.
Ah, for a few miles we were finally on land, but we may have been better off on the salt flats because there was nothing but sand and corrugated roads.
Sand, sand, and more sand!
Candice Teasing the Flocks Again!
The Pool of Death! Pretty, but not drinkable.
Only Candice fully understands my dedication to photography!
Now it was time for our second salar. This salar is Uyuni and it is the salar that collects the mosts tourists!
“Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. The large area, clear skies, and the exceptional flatness of the surface make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. Salar de Uyuni is also a climatological transitional zone since the towering tropical cumulus congestus and cumulus incus clouds that form in the eastern part of the salt flat during the summer cannot permeate beyond its drier western edges, near the Chilean border and the Atacama Desert.
Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually.”
~ Wikipedia ~
The first marker in miles!
Whatever you think the distance from land is…..double or triple it!!
Nothing like coffee to settle the evening!
Salar de Uyuni at Night
A nice view from the tent.
A nice view of the tent: aka, Bag-End!
Feeling Taller Today!
A closer look at the salt flat.
At World’s Edge!
Only Candice can contain the sun!
Sunburn Paradise! Aaahhh … Luke…. I am Your Father!
Gotta love the hexagonal shapes!
As usual, in the middle of nowhere!
Hobo on a Bicycle!
Candice’s helmet, decorated by her family at Pyramid Studios!
Candice’s Victory Pose!
Overall, our visit here has been wonderful! If one is seeking solitude in a beautiful place, Bolivia is the place for you! A wonderful country with people that live life on their own terms and at their own pace!