A Travellerspoint blog

Life on the Street in La Paz

semi-overcast 13 °C

Wherever we go in the world we visit markets as a way of getting an insight into the daily lives of the locals. Marketplaces are the lifeblood of many communities in poorer countries and here in Bolivia almost everything can be bought on the street. It is as if La Paz is simply one great market. There is hardly a street that does not have some vendors and many are totally clogged with stalls offering all manner of goods and services...
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While many street markets have an eclectic mix of stalls, others cater to specific needs. In the Witches' market, the dried foetuses of alpacas are supposedly a traditional ingredient for powerful potions. The dead babies are prominently displayed to freak out the tourists, but we thought you'd rather see the ladies selling all manner of medicinal herbs...
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Some traders have nothing more than a wheelbarrow in which to display their wares. This lady is selling prickly pears, known locally as tuna...
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While here's a stall selling colourful party hats just right for Carnaval...
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This baker has his breads piled high on the sidewalk to catch the attention of shoppers and the fumes from the passing traffic...
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In addition to the markets there are entire streets of shops dedicated to specific products. For example: one long street is lined entirely by liquor stores, another solely with furniture shops while another is dedicated wholly to electrical appliances. There is a cellphone street, a leather goods street, a shoe street and even a street where almost every shop sells toilet bowls and urinals. Most Bolivians seem to have weight issues and it is not surprising considering the large number of stores and market stalls selling vast quantities of sugar coated popcorn and other sugary starches...
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Because it is Carnaval time everyone is stocking up on booze and candies and the street in front of our hotel is jammed with stalls selling party costumes and 'gifts' of seeds and nuts painted gold and silver to represent wealth – it's called Challa...
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Few people can afford cars or even individual taxis so most travel in collectivos, (mini-buses). The narrow streets of La Paz are often at a standstill as thousands of these vehicles try to navigate the roads where stop signs and pedestrian crossings are a waste of paint and traffic lights a waste of electricity.
The best way to view the choked streets of La Paz is from above...
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Like a number of overcrowded and polluted South American cities the government has had the good sense to build a network of commuter cableways. Ultra modern, environmentally friendly, cable cars zip you smoothly, silently and safely across the city, high into the mountains and beyond - into the sprawling suburbs where the street markets make driving virtually impossible...
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La Paz's Austrian built, Mi Teleferico, is the longest cable car system in the world and will stretch some 34 kilometres when the 11 lines are completed. Travelling on the cable system is a great way for us to practice Spanish with fellow riders and each journey costs only 50 cents Cdn. (30p).

We can't help but wonder how an impoverished nation like Bolivia can install such an advanced, clean, and sensible transportation system when certain cities close to home can barely run a bus service!

We are now leaving La Paz for Sucre, (a city that shares some of the governmental responsibilities with its big brother) and we will miss the Carnaval in La Paz. After witnessing the mayhem in the run-up to the big event we are not sorry to leave. The streets are already awash in cheap booze, deafening firecrackers and vomit, and this is just the first of a four day festival. These Bolivians may not have a lot of cash but they sure know how to let their hair down.

Posted by Hawkson 15:23 Archived in Bolivia Comments (7)

Taking the High Road to La Paz

semi-overcast 15 °C

Our blissful days at Lake Titicaca have come to an end. Despite dire weather forecasts for weeks before our arrival we had gloriously warm sun-filled days throughout our stay, although these were followed by nightly downpours.
We spent our last night on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Copacabana...
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In general Bolivian towns and cities are not pretty, however, the gaily dressed woman and the colourful street scenes make up for the ugliness of the buildings...
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Despite the high altitude and frequent rains it seems that most trading is done on the streets in Bolivia. There are few supermarkets and most fruits, vegetables and meats are sold in the markets that line almost every street in town. The women's voluminous traditional dresses and varieties of bowler hats create an exotic scene...
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In Copacabana backpackers can get a bed for 10 dollars or less a night and restaurants offer 3 course lunches for about 3 dollars (US). Few buildings in the town are finished, (but this is true of nearly all buildings we have seen in Bolivia).. One exception is the Hostal Las Olas, (The Waves)...
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Built up the side of a mountain, Las Olas is a German architect's fantasyland of spires and turrets reminiscent of the works of Gaudi. Our 3 floor “suite” took up an entire turret with massive circular beds, a kitchenette, numerous sitting areas and an abundance of spiral staircases built in natural woods...
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There was even a blazing fire in a ceramic pot-bellied stove...
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However, our delight soon wore off when we discovered that our turret was at the bottom of the mountain and the reception and restaurant were at the top. Oh well – you can't have everything.

The four hour bus ride to Bolivia's capital, La Paz, took us along the lakeside to a ferry: an ancient barge that looked as though it was sinking under the weight of our bus – and all our belongings were onboard!...
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We were ferried in a 25 seat launch, with 6 lifejackets and a spluttering outboard motor, which seemed only slightly safer. But we survived and continued to La Paz through mile after mile of sprawling suburbs where almost every building was in a state of disrepair. While the buildings are generally in pretty rough shape the roads are not nearly as good. Other than the main road, which was clogged with overloaded trucks and parked vehicles once we hit the outskirts of La Paz in the high plains above the city, most streets were just churned up mud.
However, excitement is building in the World's highest capital city. It is Carnaval time and the streets of La Paz are already thronged with people preparing to party. Here is the chaotic scene outside our hotel in the heart of the city as carnaval goers search for just the right costume among the thousands on offer ...
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Posted by Hawkson 12:24 Archived in Bolivia Comments (5)

Lake Titicaca's Islands in the Sun

semi-overcast 16 °C

We are now in the Bolivian town of Copacabana having spent the past two days visiting some of Lake Titicaca's inhabited islands. The world's highest navigable lake is shared between Peru and Bolivia and we began on the Peruvian side by taking a boat to the Uros Islands from Puno...
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This group of 42 islands with houses, medical centre and even some junior schools, certainly looks concrete enough, although it is immediately obvious that all the buildings are made of reeds cut from the surrounding waters. Here's a first glimpse of the islands inhabited by the Aymara people...
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It is only when you step onto the islands that you appreciate there is nothing solid underfoot. As you feel the ground give way slightly with every step you realise that you are actually walking on water. This is not a religious experience. It is simply that all the islands are floating. Great masses of totora reeds grow on the lake's surface and support themselves on dense beds of floating roots. The Aymara build layer upon layer of reeds on these natural rafts until they are able to support the weight of houses and people....
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Although more than two thousand people once lived on these islands, today they are something of a tourist novelty. Most inhabitants actually live on land and only visit to maintain the islands and entertain visitors. Equally entertaining are the garishly painted traditional boats made from the reeds,,,
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In 1970 a replica boat built from Lake Titicaca reeds successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Bermuda and proved Thor Heyerdahl's theory of inter-continental migration by early civilizations possible.

From the Uros floating islands we travelled further out into the lake to visit the Quechua people of Taquile Island. Some two thousand people actually live on this steep-sided piece of rock and work on terraces in the thin atmosphere more than 13,000 feet above sea level. They grow native potatoes, corn and lima beans and we are reminded that this is where these three crops were all discovered by the Europeans in the 16th century...
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Here's Sheila dancing with the locals after enjoying some excellent lake trout in a restaurant some 1,000 feet above the lake surface on Taquile Island – and in case you are wondering, we climbed all the way up there.
We later learned the trout are not native but were introduced from Canada in 1940. Here's a view of the lake from the path that took us to the mountain top...
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Our next Titicaca island is the most revered of all. It is Isla del Sol, (Sun Island), in the Bolivian end of the lake. It is a mystical island where it is said the Inca Empire began.
Our ascent to the top of this mountainous island started with the 208 precipitous stone steps cut into the rocks by the Incas some 800 years ago...
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Climbing is very hard in the thin atmosphere above 13,000 feet but we persevered and continued to the top for fabulous views of the surrounding lake and the distant snow capped peaks of the High Andes...
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We also got a smile of welcome from a little girl with her pet alpaca named Albino..
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Next stop - the World's highest capital city.

Posted by Hawkson 06:24 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

Surprising Puno, Peru

sunny 15 °C

The Blissful Adventurers re-united in Lima on Friday and flew to Puno to begin their trek to the southern tip of Patagonia.

The small Peruvian city of Puno on the north shore of the world's highest waterway, Lake Titicaca, is more than twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea level and is often shrouded in cloud. On our last visit in 2015 we had several days of cold rain and saw little of the lake. We therefore decided to try again and, so far, luck has been on our side. It's our first day and the sun has shone since dawn. However, that is not the lucky part – this is...
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By pure coincidence we arrived in Puno on the eve of one of the most incredible spectacles in all of South America – La Festividad Virgen de la Candelaria. Here's a group of dancers decked out in skeins of alpaca wool - the yarn for which this part of the world is famous...
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Every year on this day some sixty five thousand costumed dancers and musicians dance and sing their way through the streets of Puno from the Church of the Virgen de la Candaleria to the main stadium where they perform in front of a crowd of thousands from all over the world...
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Our hotel is just a few yards from the parade route and the 102 cultural groups composed of bands, dancers and singers in this year's festival have been entertaining us from 8am this morning and will continue until late tonight. The festival is classed in the top three of South American events alongside the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and the Carnaval of Oruro in Bolivia. Words cannot describe the beauty, the exuberance and the sheer emotion of watching tens of thousands of gaily costumed people taking part in such an amazing event. All we can do is show you some snapshots...
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The many beautiful young girls loved being photographed in their bright costumes...
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And the older women looked resplendent in their colourful hats...
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There were thousands of men in masks and costumes...
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And more than 2,500 musicians playing drums and traditional Peruvian pipes...
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We will leave you with these traditional stick dancers as we return to watch more of the procession...
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Tomorrow we will take to the water to visit the floating Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca.

Posted by Hawkson 12:52 Archived in Peru Comments (7)

Mindo - Ecuador's Garden of Eden

semi-overcast 27 °C

Just a stone's throw north of the equator in the heart of a tropical cloudforest lies the tiny community of Mindo. The perpetually warm equatorial sun greets us each morning as we breakfast in our lodge's rooftop restaurant, and we are serenaded by birdsong and the babbling of the nearby river as it tumbles headlong toward the ocean some 5,000 feet below us...
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Toucans and humming birds abound in this equatorial nirvana but both are too speedy to be caught on the wing and too difficult to see in the dense tropical canopy. The numerous exotic butterflies on the other hand have been corralled into several butterfly gardens where we were able to marvel at their amazing sizes, colours and disguises...
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And if you think that this is the head of a raptor looking for prey, try turning the picture upside down...
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Green is certainly the predominant colour in the lush tropical jungles that climb high into the Andes from the valley floor in Mindo, and by mid-afternoon everyday the hot humid air has turned to cloud and the forest is given its daily watering. The frequent showers and perpetual warmth has turned this part of the Andes into a Garden of Eden where plants that, to us northerners, are tender houseplants, grow in profusion. Sweetly scented wild orchids flourish here...
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as do the common slipper orchids...
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However, it is the multitude of brightly coloured bromeliads and heliconias that really stand out in the jungle...
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But all of the vegetation, including the cultivated bananas, coffee, papayas and edible yuccas, are exotic to us.
The best way to view the jungles of the Mindo valley is from above and there are two ways to do that. First we took a creaky open cable car across the valley - you can just see the river far below...
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But then we got really adventurous and put our lives into the hands of a couple of local guides and zipped from mountain to mountain on a series of 10 zip lines that carried us some 3 kilometres above the canopy. Here's Ian preparing for the first run...
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And then we were off...

After each zipline we climbed higher and higher into the the mountains until the final line zipped us all the way back to the start. It was exhilarating, (and a little nerve-racking at first), but once we had our feet firmly back on the ground we would happily have gone around again.

Our Ecuadorean adventure is now coming to an end and Ian will be returning to his home in France. He will be taking his GoPro underwater camera with him, together with his editing expertise, so back to the photographic steam age for us. We hope you enjoyed Ian's videos - we certainly did. Blissful Adventurers James and Sheila will be reuniting in Lima, Peru, for the next leg of the journey to the end of the world. We hope you will stay with us as we head south through Bolivia and Chile to Patagonia where we will bring you the wonders of Tierra del Fuego.

Posted by Hawkson 04:56 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

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