Monday, April 13, 2015

"All you've got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over"

After 3 flights and spending the night in the Miami airport I arrived at one of the highest airports in the world. I began my South American adventure in La Paz, Bolivia.  Determined to fight both tiredness and altitude sickness I checked into my hostel, showered, and headed out on the free walking tour of the city.  We saw food markets, the witches' market (sells llama fetuses, dried frogs, magical formulas, etc), learned a little about the politics and government buildings, churches and other historical places.  Later I went back to the giant market with floors upon floors of tiny kitchens and cafes.  I had the most delicious hot drink called api made with purple corn flour, cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange rind, pineapple juice and sugar that came with an empanada.  After that I sought out api at any chance I could! It was so good! I sat with some locals and had the opportunity to practice my rusty Spanish!  Also in the market they had amazing chorizo sandwiches, and cream horns.  I ate there often!

The following day I went on a day trip to Chacaltaya (a mountain in the Andes of about 18,000 ft) said to have the world's highest ski area and the world's oldest ski lift. Later in the day journeyed to el valle de la luna (moon valley).  The ride up to the mountain was quite memorable.  In a minibus we wound up the rugged uneven dirt roads that rapidly became blanketed by snow.  A tad bit scary, as the edge of the road didn't seem too far away and the cliffs and overlooks became higher and higher.

Later the snow ceased and gave way to stunning views in every direction. As we drove up it was completely gray passing through the clouds so before then the scenery was completely hidden.
Valle de la luna was pretty wild to see and to venture through. It was formed by erosion wearing away mountains of clay creating spires. There's so much variance in color because of the mineral content of the mountains
The following day I experienced an eventful bus ride to Copacabana (the original one which lends its name to Rio).  I'll just say we waited in traffic for over an hour while there was a massive fire in the middle of the road as well as tons and tons of people. We also had a quick boat ride separate from our bus which floated across on a barge, very weird to witness.   We finally arrived to this small town located on the Bolivian side of the shared (w/Peru), Lake Titicaca.  This is the largest lake in South America not counting the lake in Venezuela which is connected to the sea.  "Formerly the foundations of the most influential pre-Hispanic cultures of the Andean well as many independent kingdoms from the 9th century up until the 15th when they were conquered by the Incas."   
The next morning I hopped on a boat to Isla del Sol (island of the sun) an ancient holy site of the Incas.They believe the god who created the universe emerged from the lake and created the sun there.With Inca ruins and gorgeous views in all directions, it made for such an enjoyable hike.
After my trip to the island I headed back to La Paz to take a lengthy overnight bus to a small town, Tupiza, very near the border of Argentina.  It was a nice place to walk around and spend a day or two before I left on my trip to the Salar de Uyuni the world's largest salt flats!  The area looked similar to the American southwest. I even went on a horseback riding trip for a few hours through the canyons which was beautiful and quite an experience since I hadn't been on a horse since I was about 9 or 10!
one of the mant lagoons
The terrain I saw within those few days was seriously out of this world.  It was like nothing I'd ever seen before...looking completely like another planet.
The days leading up to the salt flats we saw white, green, yellow, blue  and pink lagoons, flamingos, llamas, alpacas, vicunas, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, deserts, and mountains.
It was insane! The wind was relentless out there and the temperatures frigid--our highest elevation reaching over 16,000 ft! The final morning we woke while it was still dark in order to arrive to the salt flats to see the sunrise. So worth it!

We also went to the isla de los pescados (fish island) where there were 1000 year old cacti and all the coral is fossilized which is so weird to be on an island that's not surrounded by water.

Before we ended the trip we stopped at an old train cemetery filled with wrecked old steam locomotives.
The whole experience of seeing everything and all the strange and fascinating landscapes was just incredible!

My second to last stop in Bolivia was Sucre, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as "the white city."  It was beautiful small city that reminded me a lot of Spain with the architecture and feel.  It had a really great food market where I ate every day and lots of places to walk to and just a nice place to walk around.  My final destination was Santa Cruz. I spent the day there before flying out to Ecuador!

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