Hectic La Paz, restful Coroico, a decidedly non-touristy Oruru, and the cowboy and western town of Tupiza.
20.11.2011 - 04.12.2011 30 °C
We travel from Copacabana to La Paz by bus, with a short break in the journey to cross a narrow channel of Lake Titicaca. The bus goes on a barge alongside cars, cattle and anything else you can think of except for passengers (we jump on a separate little boat).
There are mountains in the distance and villages dotted across the barren plains of the altiplano. One village is a mass of dancing people and we spot what we guess are the bride and groom in the crowd.
All of a sudden there are mud and brick houses as far as we can see - we've just entered El Alto. This is a city that has sprung up on the flat altiplano right next to La Paz and is the area that houses many of the Bolivians that come to La Paz in search of work.
And next comes La Paz itself. The initial glance takes your breath away - the whole valley is filled with houses, skyscrapers pushing up from the valley floor and mountains rise from the desert in the distance. It is an odd feeling being able to look down on the city from the top of the valley.
We've heard that there is great food in La Paz, but it's a Sunday evening and it seems everything is shut. Finally we stumble on a fairly upmarket 'French' restaurant called La Comida, which was a restaurant we'd been recommended, where we eat some great cheviche (raw fish), meat and chocolate mousse.
Unfortunately, something in that meal wasn't so great and the next day was a rather unpleasant one of being sick. Oh well, we hope that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger in the long run.
We decide to head to the town of Coroico - this is a lovely quiet town perched on top of a hill in the 'high jungle'. It's also a much lower altitude (only 1800m! The lowest we will have been since Lima!), so we figure it'll be more conducive to helping us get our strength back than busy, polluted, 3800m La Paz.
We spend our first night in town at a hotel with amazing views down the valley from it's large patio.
And the patio also proves to be a lovely location for a spot of early morning yoga But it's a bit pricey and I've seen some cabanas advertised, so we move a 20min walk out of town to them. There are two little cabanas available at El Rincón Pichilemino and Ben and Tanis, an Oz/Canadian couple we met at the hotel in town, join us for some rest and relaxation in the hammocks and cooking up some yummy, healthy grub
Town is ventured into for groceries, saltenas (a bit like little cornish pasties filled with meat or chicken, egg, olives and potatoes), and helado made by an Italian family (their liquor de naranja was also rather good, especially when mixed with some fresh orange juice, Mmmm) Oh and one energetic morning we hiked to the three waterfalls - which were fenced off with barbed wire and not too impressive anyway...maybe we should have stayed in the hammocks.
It would have been very easy to have whiled away a few weeks in Coroico, but as there seemed to be a gap in the blockades that had been going on (and off) and stopping traffic from flowing between north and south Bolivia for the last few weeks, we decided it best to press on south to Oruru via La Paz.
Our time in La Paz was short - just enough to catch the Sunday carnival and fill our tummies. Then it was a bus to Oruru where the plan was to pick up the train to Tupiza. Only problem was that the train (or someone running the train) decided not to run. It took us two days to realise that 'quizás mañana' meant 'you foolish tourists, don't you know that we're not going to run this train for weeks and you're much better on the bus'...so after a couple of days we caught the bus. But in the meantime we explored Oruru. It's a city for locals...there's a great big market full of useful things for around the house, such as buckets, sieves and blankets (which in hindsight would have been perfect for our overnight bus trip) and several pleasant plazas for office workers to have their packed lunch in...and a cinema with a really good icecream bar. I got very excited when I saw there was a Govindas in town - curry! My excitement soon dissipates when the menu turned out to lack anything containing chillies or cumin seeds...soggy veggie lasagne and other types of overcooked pasta were the food of choice for Oruru's Hare Khrishnas.
Anyway, one bumpy and chilly night on a bus later, we arrive in Tupiza.
Tupiza has been plucked right out of a cowboy movie, long wide dusty streets, and even a 'saloon' with swinging wooden doors. The barren desert landscape is striped beige and red and rugged cliffs rise either side of the flat river plain. And just like in those cowboy movies, there's lots of horses
It's the start of the wet season and we encounter a couple of short but torrential downpours. But as it's so dry, the rain is soaked into the ground almost instantly and an hour later you are left with just an odd puddle here and there, and maybe a rainbow...
We're starting our tour of SW Bolivia and the salt plains of Uyuni from Tupiza and have Ben and Tanis joining us in a couple of days...which gives me just enough time for an excursion in the saddle, YEEHA!