Wednesday, July 20, 2011

La Paz

From Lake Titicaca we headed straight over to Bolivia's capital city, La Paz. The bus ride in was intense, as the homes and buildings are built in the middle of a giant valley, with apartment buildings clinging to the sides of rocky cliffs!
We managed to make it in time for Easter, and were both pretty happy to find a few chocolate shops dedicated to the occasion. Along with giant easter eggs, there was an amazing chocolate bar with cocoa nibs and salt from the Salar de Uyuni, which I wish we could have brought home to share (but I ate it)!
We also managed to make it to La Paz in time for a week-long demonstration held by locals who were enraged by rising gas prices. Apparently Bolivia had subsidized gas prices for its residents, but due to illegal selling of gas to neighbouring countries to make a profit, the government stopped the subsidy. However, the government also froze utility costs and raised wages to counter this loss... So, basically the gas smugglers (and those with jobs requiring copious amounts of gas) were all protesting by setting up major road blocks and gathering in streets and squares to set off fire-crackers and dynamite until the wee hours of the morning. This caused some pretty interesting war dreams!
You can see the protesters heading toward us, below, as we were walking to the movie theatre.

Random horse statue... we didn't take many La Paz photos...
We stayed in the touristy area of town located next to the Witch Market. Ty found us a nice place for lunch over-looking the shoppers on the street below. A very popular item in the market that is carried at almost every stand is dried llama fetus, which, if buried under your new house, is to bring good luck... kinda gross. No, we didn't feel comfortable taking photos!
We were told, and later discovered for ourselves, that you will most likely get sick in Bolivia. With prior knowledge of this from friends who made the journey, we made careful food decisions, but still managed to get a nice bout of food poisoning in La Paz! Hence the lack of photos :) And Licky Skittles' impression of Lydia's face at the time... (blech!)
We still managed to find some nice wedding outfits, however, like this adorable dress for our little flower girl/God baby/neice, Elle-Belle!
And these are the two little Bolivian ladies who pieced together the wedding dress that Ty and I designed ourselves... pictures to come after the wedding!!
Although we found these two ladies to be quite friendly, the people of La Paz were generally quite rude towards us as foreigners. Shopkeepers don't really want to serve anyone but locals (even if you offered to pay more) and the taxi drivers really try to gyp you, too... But as long as you stay on your toes and try not to take things too personally, all is fine and dandy! Other parts of Bolivia are so amazingly beautiful (ie. the Salar de Uyuni, to come) that it makes up for the unfriendliness that is La Paz.


After about 5 weeks in and around Cusco, we realized that we had nearly spent our total allotted 90 days in Peru. Thus, we had to get out of dodge and head south into Bolivia before our visas expired.
We took a 9 or so hour bus to Puno, Peru's bordering city with Bolivia, which also borders Lake Titicaca. After a late evening arrival, we spent the night in a cold and somewhat questionable hostel (a "sleeping bag" hostel, if you catch my drift). The next morning we awoke early for the border crossing and headed along the side of the stunningly gorgeous lake to the tiny town of Copa Cabana.

The drive was full of some of the most amazing views we had ever seen - the lake mirrored the sky, the farms were speckled with fall colours and scarecrows, and the farm animals grazed lazily in the sparkling sun.
When we arrived in Copa Cabana, we were greeted by many large resort-style hotels, all at very reasonable prices. We settled on a smaller hotel with the best private balcony over-looking the lake, which cost us a mere $15 a night!
Above our door-way was some pretty funky Bolivian style art!
There was some sort of festival going on when we first arrived... we never really found out what it was for certain, but were told it had something to do with good luck and hopes of fortune. So, people had their cars decorated with flowers and there were little booths set up in the streets all selling the same cheap champagne, flowers, ribbons, etc.
Lydia and Licky enjoying the sunset from their private balcony.
The next morning, we headed off to hike the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), a 12 km long island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. The Incas believed that this island is where their Sun God was born, hence the name. We took a very slow 2 hour boat ride across the giant blue lake to get to the south side of the island.
We had been advised by a local to hike from the south side of the island to the north, since there are beaches on the north side. They neglected to tell us, however, that the north side of the island has terribly slim picking of hostels.... and the south side is full of beautiful hostels and hotels with gorgeous panoramic views! So, if you go, make sure to take our advice and go from north to south... We ended up walking the 12km across and 12km back just to stay on the south side, pictured below.
It was gruelling work getting up the hill to this point, but sooo very worth it! Lake Titicaca sits at 3,800m above sea level (12,500ft), and Isla Del Sol is a few hundred metres higher! We had panoramic views of the whole lake and the Peru and Bolivian sides of it. So did these two cute little donkies :)
On our walk heading north, we came across this B&B with its gorgeous gardens and views... which we would later return to just as dark set in that night!
We met a lot of farmers leading their livestock around the hills on the island, as that is one of the main industries of the Titicacan (?) people, next to fishing and tourism. We had to be quick and sly with the photos, as most locals who catch you snapping a picture will say "dame moneda!", which exactly translates to "give me money".
Every corner of our walk had views even more gorgeous than the last - we can't stress enough just how beautiful and magical the lake is!!
We met up with an Aussie traveller who wanted a little company, as his wife opted to stay in a hotel sipping cocktails on the south side of the island!
Tyrone admiring the views.
After a few hours, we made it to the north side of the island and the Chicana ruins (birthplace of the Incan Sun God). There was even an ancient picnic table set up for us ;)
The view from what I have deduced to be the Sun God's bedroom.
We snapped a photo of another sheep herder whilst she wasn't looking! (Don't worry, it isn't believed that cameras steal souls or anything like that in most places in South America... It's just that we didn't have any change on us!)
We came across the friendliest little piggie on the north side of the island - the hostels may have been terrible, but Mr. or Ms. Piggle and the ruins made the extra hike worth the effort!
Tyrone also spotted a strange bird up in a tree.
The views got even better when the clouds cleared to reveal some very high, snow-capped mountains on the Bolivian side of the lake.
So, after our 24km walk, we just barely beat the rain as we finally returned to the gorgeous B&B I mentioned earlier. After hot showers and gulping down a litre of water each (we ran out of water at km 14 or so), we were seated for dinner by this cuddly little spider...
As soon as dinner was served, we had a nice lightning storm outside as part of the evening's entertainment! Tyrone proved me wrong when I said he couldn't catch a flash on film :)
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to sunshine and made our way back to Copa Cabana.