Tuesday 12 January 2010


Our three weeks in Bolivia have passed very quickly. We arrived here on the 29th of December: our bus stopped before the Peruvian-Bolivian bridge, ejected its human cargo and, empty, drove across as we approached at a slow walk. Stamps at the Peruvian police and customs offices, a mark in our passports on the Bolivian side. Without any problems, without our bags even being checked, passing policemen lazily gazing at the bikes and carriages of the locals, we crossed the bridge as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Finally, our bus reached Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titikaka. A man wearing a baseball cap welcomed us, charging every single passenger a small fee for entry to the town, before going back to reading his newspaper on a little folding chair by the road-side. We drove off, only to stop again a few metres up the road: we had reached our destination. We soon discovered that Copacabana, the only beach town in Bolivia, had no cash machine. Luckily, we had some dollars with us, which we exchanged for local currency. We didn't stay in town for long though: we caught a boat to Isla del Sol, the island where the sun was born. The island greeted us with a long flight of Inca stairs, for me much more difficult than the four-day Machu Picchu hike, which we had to slowly climb with our backpacks before reaching the village above. We found shelter for the coming night in one of the many guesthouses and spent the rest of the day getting lost in the fields and admiring the views. The evening was spent on delicious pizza in a very romantic setting, followed by a bit of a panic when Bjarni injured his elbow. Early the next morning, by a normal, aquatic means of transport, we evacuated the complaining Bjarni from the island that had no medical facilities, returning to Copacabana and boarding a bus destined for La Paz. After a few kilometres the road ended and a serious obstacle appeared: a river. Bolivians had found a way to deal with it though, more innovative than the usual bridge: the bus was placed on a barge and its passengers, on a boat. The two were reunited on the other side.

As we approached La Paz, everyone rushed toward the windows on the right side of the vehicle. The view was amazing, this huge city covered a vast area, houses blanketing the hills in all directions. As we drove down, into the valley, the bus started to make terrifying sounds and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. We stopped by a petrol station: the driver and his assistant checked whether they could squeeze any more out of our poor bus. After some fifteen minutes we moved again, climbing a small hill: we stopped again at the top, mere meters away from our first unexpected stop. The driver opened the door and informed us that this was the end, we wouldn't go any further. People started laughing, but he was right: it really was the end, they had driven right to their office; exactly as planned. La Paz turned out to be incredibly noisy, polluted, masses of people flowing like rivers and uncountable stalls everywhere. At least, that was how the historical centre looked; when we went sightseeing in other parts of the city, our impressions were slightly different: the city seemed full of parks where whole families enjoyed ice-cream. We also stumbled upon a small church and at least four weddings in rapid succession, entertained by the same group of mariachis. They gave us their business-card, just in case... We spent New Year's Eve on the roof of one of the local hostels, staring as fireworks colored the sky above this city of millions, and then we followed the crowd to some random disco. In La Paz we also visited the wonderful Dr. Orellano, who fixed Bjarni's elbow.

After a few days in La Paz, it was high time to move on. We went to Cochabamba, from where we planned to visit the Torotoro National Park, famously full of dinosaur footprints. The trip didn't work out though: travel agencies were charging much higher prices than we expected, and when we went looking for the only bus company able to get us to Torotoro (some 140 kilometers away from Cochabamba, the journey lasts - if one is lucky - a mere seven hours), its office magically vanished from the face of the earth. After a few hours of being lost in infinite rows of stalls (Cochabamba has the biggest martket I have ever seen in my life), between clothes, CDs, jewelry, books, shoes, appliances, fruit, computers, tyres; after getting a massive headache and panicing that there was no way out of this place; we gave up and instead of Torotoro, we decided to go to the city of Oruro.

Oruro was boring: for two days Bjarni suffered from fever, which didn't help with sightseeing at all. On the second day, we decided to pay a visit to a doctor. He, apparently in a hurry to be elsewhere, sat Bjarni on a hospital bed, looked in his mouth, listened to his lungs and promptly prescribed a few days worth of antibiotics for what was apparently a throat infection. He also recommended we visit him again, for an injection, two hours later, after the pharmacy's siesta. Bjarni toughly refused to come back, refused all drugs, and spent the rest of the day in bed. He was miraculously cured the very next day. We could travel further, onwards to Sucre.

Sucre turned out to be the most beautiful town in Bolivia. Well-kept houses, tall palm trees towering over the main plaza, a fountain around which children joyeously laughed and chased balloons, eldery couples resting on benches - everything here made it very difficult to leave this town of roses and dinosaurs (dinosaurs lined the streets, hiding public phones in their bellies). When we finally managed to leave, we ended up in Potosi. The town, at 4000 metres above sea level, was cold: there was no point in leaving the house without a scarf. We had considered visiting the silver mines here, but instead we spent our days riding local vans to the bus station and back and eating pizza, delivered to our table by two twelve-year-olds.

After Potosi there was also Tupiza, but that is another story...


Anyway, three weeks in Bolivia made me fall in love with this place, feeling for the first time that I had found a South American country I would really like to return to. Smiling and helpful people, local women wearing completely impractical felt hats (when it rained, they wrapped them in plastic), beautiful landscapes, an atmosphere of otherness...

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The past!