Jul 13 2009

Copacabana (Bolivia..not Brazil..that’s in a couple weeks!)

Bodhi

We were in the Copacabana, Bolivia area from about July 7-10.  We had bussed there from La Paz.  Copa, as it’s called, is situated right on the lakefront of Lake Titicaca.  The majority of their business is tourism, both for Bolivians (I presume) and foreigners like ourselves.  It’s very sunny there during the day.  We saw very bright sun every day, with very few clouds.  You NEED a hat there!  And it was warm too, at least during the day.  Some of the warmer temperatures we’ve had yet, being over 20 C during the hottest time.  This is because we’re getting further and further north in our travels, and thus closer to the equator.  So even though Lake Titicaca is at about 3800 m elevation (that’s high) and it’s “winter”, it was still very pleasant.  Nights were cold still, but nothing compared to Uyuni or the high altiplano.

We enjoyed several sunsets and relaxed a bit.  I got to play my little guitarra I bought in La Paz, which was a lot of fun :)  There are a number of artist/hippy types in Copa, presumably because it’s a relaxed environment and warmer and touristy.  Lots of handmade jewelry and such being sold in the street, and a ton of stalls hocking alpaca wool hats and jumpers (chompas) and the like.

Here’s a few pictures that I was able to get up despite the generally grim state of computers we come across (web works fair, but USB connectivity, processor speed, and browser functionality and updatedness is grossly lacking):

Monica shooting at sunset on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Copa
Monica shooting at sunset on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Copa

 I sat and played guitar while Moni took pictures as the sun set behind boats in the bay.  Lovely.

One day, we set out early to do the trek described in the Lonely Planet.  The idea is you walk along the road for 17 km to a tiny town on the peninsula nearest the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and catch a boat from there, then stay on the island.  The scenery was beautiful, as the book described.  It was generally very pastoral, with what looked like dirt farms mostly.  Just kidding..they were growing some sort of grain and had sheep and llamas and things.  It was a long walk.  And hot, dry, and dusty.  Nevertheless, it was something rather off the beaten track that tourists see, which we appreciated.

View on our long (8 mile) trek to the boat we took to Isla del Sol

View on our long (8 mile) trek to the boat we took to Isla del Sol

More pastoral views near Lake Titicaca

More pastoral views near Lake Titicaca

Eventually, we were quite tired from walking for hours, and happened across Hilario Paye.  He is mentioned by name in the Lonely Planet guide as someone who will give you a boat ride to Isla.  We took him up on the offer, and rode in his little motorboat at a slow pace out to the island.

A trip to the peninsula after an 8 mile hike. There´s a great story behind this pic.

Riding in Hilario's boat to Isla del Sol. This is the start, in the shallow reed-filled waters.

Again, we loved this experience because it was so unique!  One could certainly have gotten to the island for cheaper and faster by just taking the big ferries, but this was really fun and quaint, even peaceful.  The waves were rocking the boat a bit, but we didn’t really get splashed and eventually reached a bunch of rocks at the edge of the island.  Hilario drops us off without ceremony and pulls away.  Thanks Hilario!

Cheerful Hilario..he's in the Lonely Planet guide!

Cheerful Hilario..he's in the Lonely Planet guide!

So then it’s a couple more miles (ouch!) along the steep island hills walking along donkey and sheep trails.  We even got to walk with some actual donkeys and sheep!

I think I might have a future in shepherdry

I think I might have a future in shepherdry

Everywhere on Isla del Sol is very high up and you can really see the sun and the lake from there.  It’s beautiful.  We have pictures somewhere but I can’t get them up right now.  We stayed in a tiny little hospedaje, maybe 4 rooms, for the cheapest we’ve seen yet!  $3 each ($6 total).  It wasn’t even that bad, though forget about hot water or breakfast.  It was great to wake up to blasting morning sun, no alarm required.
Though we tried valiantly, we couldn’t fit in a trip to the north part of the island, where the rock that is the birth of the world in the Incan tradition.  This is where the first Incan was born, and essentially where the world started.  That’s heavy.  But the weird little boat mafia didn’t allow for this to happen for our convenience and we didn’t have the extra day, so back to the mainland we went, on the ferry this time.  We made it in time to hike up the giant hill next to town and watch a gorgeous sunset together!
As we watch sunset from the top of the giant hill next to Copa
As we watch sunset from the top of the giant hill next to Copa
The next morning we got on a bus that would eventually bring us to Cusco, where we are now.

Jul 4 2009

Surviving the Death Road

Bodhi

Today we rode the infamous Death Road near La Paz, Bolivia.  We rode down it on high quality downhill mountain bikes as part of an organized tour by the company called Downhill Madness.  They’re based just next door to our hostel, so of course it was easy to arrange.  The Death Road is famous (infamous) for being perhaps the longest and steepest downhill stretch of road in the world.  Until not too long ago, it was actually an important road used by cars, making it all the more deadly for adventurous downhill mountain bikers.  Now there is a more modern road, leaving this dirt one primarily to the bikers.

People come from all over the world to ride this road.  Over about 64 km of distance, you descend 3345 meters!! That’s about 2 miles folks! And you hardly ever have to pedal, but you damn well better keep your hands on the brakes. It’s not just called the Death Road for fun. At the edge of the very narrow road (maybe 15 feet, less in some places) there’s a steep cliff dropoff to far below. And many a rider has actually slipped off that edge to their doom.  But the real danger in the past was oncoming vehicle traffic.

With enough caution and some words of warning from the helpful guides, we did fine.  It gets a bit sketchy at times when your back tire is slipping toward the edge of the cliff on the dusty and rocky dirt road as you come out of a turn and you get a gorgeous view of rainforest covered valley below.  One of the coolest parts of the adventure is the climates you move through in just a few hours.  You start the day at high alpine climate, literally seeing snow on the peaks and losing feeling in your fingers from the windchill through the gloves.  Then it’s high altitude rainforest in the 3000 m altitude range.  Green everywhere, little waterfalls, lots of plants.  Then it starts to get warm and even more dusty.  At the end of the descent, you’re at about 1000 m and it is proper rainforest, and warm even though it’s “winter” here now.  We were literally sitting by a pool and tanning ourselves after the ride, while we started at the top wearing almost all the clothes we’ve got!

At the start of the day, before we began riding

At the start of the day, before we began riding

Me with some of the route in the background

Me with some of the route in the background

Death Road, greenery, and clouds

Death Road, greenery, and clouds

Monica with bike and road - bring it on!

Monica with bike and road - bring it on!

Moni with her Coke and sammich at a stop

Moni with her Coke and sammich at a stop

More of the view into the valley

More of the view into the valley

Together at one of the stops

Together at one of the stops

Me holding my bike up in triumph at the bottom

Me holding my bike up in triumph at the bottom


Jul 4 2009

3 days, 2 nights, Chile to Bolivia, 2 minds blown

Monica

We’re now in La Paz, Bolivia.  We arrived before dawn yesterday after a night bus from the town of Uyuni.  Our 3 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama ended in Uyuni on Thursday.

The three day tour through the Andes and altiplano was amazing.  It’s rather hard to describe in words here….Beatiful landscapes, deserts, volcanos, lakes in every brilliant color, flamingos, salt hostels….the list goes on.  I’ll try to hit some highlights of the trip that truly blew my mind.

Day 1

Sitting pretty in our Toyota Land Cruiser with new friends Alex, Laura and Tobi and our wonderful guide Alberto, we crossed the Bolivian border and made our way into the National Park. Our first stop was the ¨Wicked¨ green Laguna Verde. This is a salt lake in the southwest and it´s vivid green color is caused by sediments, containing copper minerals. It is elevated some 4,300 m (14,000 ft) above sea level….and we get much higher than this as the day goes on.

As we climb in altitude we see lagoons of every color, take hundreds of pictures and brave the chill to relax in the natural hot springs. We reach our highest point of 5,000m, which is the highest I´ve EVER been, to see boiling, stinky, pre-historic geysers.  The air is so thin at this point that I´m having to take it a little slower than normal.

We stayed at a COLD hostel that night and I had to fight through some serious altitude sickness but was up early the next morning feeling good and ready for more.

img_2952

Laguna Verde (note the color)

Day 2

We started the day fresh from the cold hostel, eager to greet the sun.  We were tooling across the desert (altiplano) to our first stop, catching glimpses of now-familiar llamas and vicuñas.  The first stop of the day was the Arbol de Piedra, which means “tree of rock”.  And it’s just that - it looks like a tree but it’s actually rock.  Because of erosion and all, this rock sticks up and hardly looks like it should be able to stand at all.  Apparently this was a favorite site of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali as well as the surrounding area which now bears his name as the Desierto del Dali.

We saw green stuff growing on the boulders!  Our guide explained that it is a hardy little natural plant that can live with very little water and lives for a very long time.  It was weird to see it amidst the lifeless desert.

We saw a few more lagunas, each different colored and with different character, but of relatively similar concept.  And flamingos!  Yes, flamingos!  There they were, just hanging out in the ice cold water doing their flamingo thing.

After more driving and seeing the Spanish-built railroad that used to ferry passengers and freight to the boundary of Chile and Bolivia, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night - the Hotel of Salt!  The walls were made of salt bricks extracted from the Salar de Uyuni!  The floor was covered in salt rocks (we have a picture of Bodhi and me licking it together).  Even the platform for the mattress was made entirely of salt.  What a crazy place!

Day 3

This day we finally hit the Salar de Uyuni.  This is the world’s largest salt flat, and sits at an altitude of 3653 m and covers 12,000 sq km.  It is part of the remnants of a prehistoric salt lake, which left salt meters deep for as far as the eye can see.  It is blindingly white.  Our mind thinks “snow” when it sees such a sight, so it is flipped a bit when it’s not snow, nor even water.  When we stepped out of the truck onto it, expecting to slip on ice, we started to grin hugely and laugh and giggle and began to take tons and tons of pictures.  Think teenage girls at a New Kids on the Block concert.  Here are some of the shots we took:

I believe I can fly

I believe I can fly

ñasdklfjfklñasdj

cute

Im so little

Im so little

My great thinker

My great thinker

Perspective is completely warped.  Things look absurdly far away when they’re no more than 50 paces.  The mountains in the distance look like they’re floating.  It’s one of those things that is hard to imagine that it even really exists until you see it for yourself.  Even when we were cruising along at a healthy pace of 60 mph in the Land Cruiser and it felt like a perfectly smooth freeway, we stared out the window and felt like we were actually not moving at all.  You look ahead and the mountains in the distance look the same.  There are no near-distance landmarks to judge speed by.  It’s truly a perspective-warping experience.

As if the Salar itself is not crazy enough, there was an ISLAND!  This big piece of land that rises up out of the Salar floor and is an island surrounded by salt plain.  The island has cacti on it!  They look a lot like saguaro cacti in Arizona, said Bodhi.  So we hiked up it and gawked at the view of white plain off into the distance in all directions.  So cool.  The description can go on and on, but this is plenty for now!

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

One sad note… Bodhi´s camera was lifted from his pocket yesterday and while most of his pics were stored elsewhere through the day prior to the salt falt….pics from the day at the salt flats were lost.  I have some posted here and many more to upload from my Canon at some point soon.