Getting high in Bolivia
Copacabana, La Paz, Coroico
The bus from Arequipa had us winding up hundreds more metres, until we reached Copacabana at 3,841 metres. The border check between Peru and Bolivia involved us getting off our bus and getting our passports stamped by guards who really couldn’t be bothered. Matt thinks they save up all their borderguard narcyness for the Americans.
We huffed and puffed our way up a hill towards our accommodation. We weren’t sure how we were going to be greeted — this is the first of the hotels Rachel is including in her article for Metro.co.uk.
The ebullient host Martin greeted us like old friends, and, after showing us our suite — suite — showed us around his two hotels, La Cupula and Las Olas. We ended up staying in three different suites across the two hotels, each had it’s own little slice of paradise. The first had a perfect sofa in front of a stained glass window looking out over all of Copacabana. The second had a bath in the room — one life goal accomplished! The third was our favourite, it had a private garden with hammocks, as well as lake views, a giant bed, three sinks and two showers..!
Sorry #boastpost, but, it was good.
That night we discovered Bolivian wine! It’s not world class but it’s not half bad, and a glass of wine after 6 weeks went down a treat. Matt did not know they did wine in Bolivia.
The day after the day after that (which we had just spent chilling), Matt was struck down with a dodgy stomach. After spending a great deal of time reminding poorly Rachel that he “never gets sick”, it’s fair to say he was bashful. And sick.
So off Rachel went on her own to Isla del Sol — the reason most people come to Copacabana. And, (sorry Matt,) it was stunning.
The start of the island is known as “the Thousand steps”, but ever disability conscious Rachel had asked around and been told around 140. She thought, with double codeine, she could just about manage that.
Rachel had her doubts at the bottom of the stairs when she ran into some friends we had made in Colombia, who had spent nearly the entire last month trekking, and who said the stairs “killed them… dead.”
Telling herself that they had big bags… and surely it was 140, it can’t be that bad… off she trotted.
Up to 30, let’s take a break (we are at nearly 4,000 metres here), and another 30… still looks like a long way.
FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY STEPS LATER she made it.
She doesn’t know how, and they hurt for days, but she made it. Still on antibiotics for Salmonella, she rewarded herself with a bowl of plain rice at the top.
But was it worth it or what?
The next day, Matt feeling better and up for an adventure, we wandered down to the lake-front to rent a motorbike.
And that’s what there was, a motorbike — take it or leave it, and with it’s various parts held together by metal wire we did the obvious thing, and took it. Actually, we had to ask for various bits to be reattached with metal wire.
Now this thing wasn’t very powerful. We giggled to ourselves as we started going uphill and it slowed to a crawl, but gas, gas, gas (and Rachel, the passenger, occasionally getting off and walking) we made it work.
The views around the lake were stunning — absolutely breathtaking — and we were practically the only ones on the road (this would take on a less-good quality a little later). I don’t know why most travellers only give Copacabana a night or at most two, it has some really stunning scenery to offer.
Loving life, we made it to our destination, a small village called Sampaya and had a little potter around. It was an adorable little old place, with stone houses, straw roofs, and a winding path that led to a view over the nearby Isla del Luna.
So all is well and good until we get back to the motorcycle. The tyre is flat. Shit. We try to corral some villagers into helping us but it is to no avail, and off we head, very slowly, very carefully, back to Copacabana.
Until the bike stops halfway back in the middle of nowhere.
Yes, the gas metre said we had gas, no we did not have gas.
Fortuitously (for him), a taxi driver drove past us only a few minutes later, and convinced Matt to go in his taxi back to Copacabana, and get gas, and come back out to me. For a princely fee, of course.
But, we were desperate, so off Matt went.
Much to Rachel’s surprise only 4 or 5 minute later a teenager appears on a motorcycle brandishing a can of gas.
Communicating in her poco Espanol, she established he wanted to drive her back to Copacabana when Matt got back, for free, because of the flat tyre.
Somewhat confused, she looked up the Spanish for “very kind” and they proceeded to sit chatting for twenty minutes waiting for Matt.
Rachel chatted about how bad the motorcycle was, how broken it was, how expensive it was and how annoyed she was — amongst other things.
So, it was rather unfortunate when Matt reappeared and the teenager explained it was his dad’s motorbike.
All’s well that ends well though, as the teenager helped us get our money for the taxi and the gas back from his dad, and Rachel gave the dad her best death stare and the teenager a big hug.
[SCENE — COPACABANA SEA FRONT BIKE RENTAL]
Hijo: Hola, papa, donde es el moto sin gas? Yo tengo el gas por el moto.
Papa: Moto sin gas? Tengo no moto sin gas. Yo vente moto con gas a Matthew y Rachel.
Hijo: No! Papa, no es moto con gas, es moto sin gas. Yo voy a Matthew y Rachel con gas por el moto.
Next stop was La Paz. We were worried about visiting Bolivia, lots of people had warned us that it was cold, boring and that it was dirty. A few people we met had told us that this was wrong, and Bolivia is hot and fun, while yes being dirty too. We’d had a great time in Copacabana but then we’d been staying somewhere deluxe, would La Paz be great too? Spoiler alert, but yes, yes, it would be.
Slight hiccup with our first hostel though. We started off going to a hostel called Loki, which was the dingiest place we had had the misfortune to visit, so after dumping our bags, and having a rubbish cocktail (it was Friday, and Rachel was off her antibiotics, weee!) we decided to cut our loses and move. We felt so naughty but no were we staying there. It looked like a Margate beachfront hotel which had been rented for an year 11 prom afterparty.
We got to Wild Rover where we met our friends from Colombia, Martha and Fraser, and together with some Aussies they had picked up headed for a night out. We went to a delicious Mexican restaurant, and to a local bar which served Bolivian specialities, and tumbled home at 4am — we had started La Paz right.
On Sunday, just about recovered (being 30 sucks), we joined about 20 others from the hostel and headed to the football. Smuggling in rum and coke definitely helped perk us up too. We were cheering on a team called “The Strongest” so reckoned our chances were pretty good.
We suited up and got into the spirit, joining hundreds of locals cheering, singing and generally having a ball of a time (pun intended).
And they didn’t disappoint. “The Strongest” stormed to victory 5–0. Cue jubilance in the crowd, from mothers cradling babies to old men wandering around with cups of jelly.
Rachel, true to form, proceeded to get back to the hostel and fall asleep at 7.30pm whilst Matt went onto victory in Wild Rover’s pub quiz. It annoyed the New Zealand barmaid, but Matt can confirm she DOES NOT know Shannon Malloy, and he was quite thorough too.
On Monday we decided we hadn’t seen nearly enough of La Paz, so we went out to the Witches’ Market, which was a lot less spooky than we had hoped, but was still a nice big market and fun to wander around. Rachel bought a bag because her £4 Peruvian one fell apart.
The we went to the Teleferico and got the cable car up to more than 4,000 metres to see stunning views of La Paz. Cable cars were installed by Evo Morales during his many years in power and are one of the reasons he is popular. There were cable cars in Medellin and I think they’re popular in the Andes because 1) tunnelling for a metro is expensive and 2) everything is steep.
Any investment in infrastructure is welcome, especially in a city as hilly and congested as La Paz, and Bolivia’s previous governments never did much to help the poor. Evo’s a bit dodgy now (flooding primary rainforest, building Russian nuclear power stations near the Amazon, seeking another term in power, giant posters everywhere), but still pretty popular-we saw a lot of “Evo Si” graffiti-and in some ways its easy to see why. While we’re on infrastructure (okay, okay, Rachel, I’ll stop, I’ll stop)(Rachel: he doesn’t stop now), the roads in Bolivia are noticeably worse than Peru. There are decent roads, but a lot of the roads are mud tracks, or paved, or bricked, or a hodge-podge of materials. You don’t notice how good tarmac is until its gone.
By Tuesday morning, research for Rachel’s article done, Matt’s survey of Bolivian infrastructure complete, and Wild Rovered out, we were excited to be heading to our next destination, Coroico — a little town nestled amongst the mountains north of La Paz (but at only 1,525 metres, much better weather.)
We loved Coroico, which apart from being the end of “Death Road”, is an overlooked stop on the traveller trail. Cloud forest is magical, and the sounds of insects and birds all around made a welcome break from the chaos of La Paz.
We stayed in a great hostel with massive gardens up in the hills. We saw condors swooping about and they were massive, we also saw some of the birds we’d spotted when we first went to the Amazon. They are black and yellow and sound like idiots.
Later, we went to a waterfall, which despite the relatively low amount of water (as it is the end of the dry season), was fun to splash around in.
Although, we have to confess it was a little less idyllic than the photo suggests, as it had a bit of a sad man-made pool at the bottom of it.
Suitably blissed out, we headed to the Plaza to catch our bus to La Paz.
There was a lot going on in the Plaza of a small town for a Thursday morning.
There was some sort of kid’s fair going on. Matt tried to buy an empanada (traditional Bolivian pastry) from one of the stalls, but was informed it was made of hula-hoops and not for sale.
Whilst Matt was off trying to buy hula-hoop pastries, Rachel witnessed a protest consisting of 40 or so middle aged Bolivian woman banging on pans and demanding more water.
The area around La Paz is facing a water crisis due to global warming melting the traditional source of water from the surrounding mountains.
At the same time, a group of young boys was playing football with a ping pong ball next to Rachel and kicked her upwards of 15 times.
It was time for us to go.
After a terrifying (Matt says it was “fun”) ride back to La Paz, on mountain roads where the fog was so thick you couldn’t see a few metres in front, we went to the next bus station to purchase our tickets for the EIGHTEEN HOUR bus ride to Santa Cruz (it took nineteen).
Jungle, here we come.