To describe La Paz, Bolivia in such a way as to do it justice is indeed a challenge.
At 3600m in altitude, just to walk a block is an adventure that requires one to have their wits about them - as much for the plethora of unruly vehicles, broken sidewalks and streetside vendors as for the thin air. Not an ideal city to retreat to in search of tranquility, there was always a parade or party of some description pushing aside the traffic to take over a street nearby, always with a marching band and fire-crackers. Admittedly we didn´t explore the city half as well as we could have, with so many things to do it was quite overwhelming.
We mostly derived enjoyment from strolling the various markets and eating the menu of the day at the local hotspots. Dale suffered his first bout of food-poisoning when he found himself unable to resist the spiciness of the table salsa at one such foodstall. A thankfully quick recovery and a lesson hopefully learned well.
Street after cobblestone-street of shopping!
An unlikely fellow to find here. An epidemic of Zebra all over the city guiding traffic and generally being good citizens. A govt. inititive.
San Fransisco Church. The facade has many indigineous touches that represent the merging of cultures
Offerings for wealth and prosperity in the witches market.
The vibrant colors and designs of the costumes are incredible
An artistic touch to an enduring image
Llama fetus are buried under the cornerstone of new buildings to appease Pachamama.
No such thing as a day in Bolivia without a festival
To pick the best lunch spot, follow the locals
Dale defending his honor
One big day trip out of La Paz was to visit Tiwanaku, the ruins of a spiritual center of the pre-Incan Tiwanaku people. They were a powerful people ruling the area for thousands of years before mysteriously disappearing a few hundred years before the Incas came to power. Although the majority of the area is still to be escavated we were amazed by what ruins were visible. The huge stone monoliths covered in carvings, the immense gateways marking the entrances to the spiritual complexes and the amazingly accurate right angles of the carvings were all stunning. In the past some archeologists had even postulated that the stonework was so perfect it had to have been done by aliens! We were quite pleased to have visited the site before heading to Peru in order to appreciate the remains of pre-Incan civilizations.
After our wonderful but bare bones jungle float trip we decided to follow it up with three relatively luxurious days at an ecolodge in the pampas. Rurrenabuque is unique in that it is located in a region where the jungle covered foothills of the Andes transforms into a flat fertile plain.
Just the 4 hour drive to the ecolodge felt like a scene from National Geographic, with wildlife at every turn if you dared to take your eyes off the road, which was not much more than a dirt track weaving around muddy bogs and potholes that could and did swallow cars and trucks alike.
Out of the car and into a long, thin canoe with an outboard. This would serve as our transport for the next three days, weaving along the snakey Rio Yucuma viewing Caiman sunning themselves (on the rare occasion we had sun), Capybara, occasional monkeys and over 50 spieces of bird. We were a little unfortunate with the weather, experiencing torrential downpours most days, but to try to look on the bright side one might say that we were simply, truly immersing ourselves in the amazonian environment.
Highlights were the toucans, pink river dolphins, sloth-sightings, hearing the monkeys reply to our guide and our desperate attempts to push the car out of a knee-deep bog for fear of being stuck overnight a long way from anything resembling a comfortable bed.
We knew that we wanted to visit the Amazon while in the neighborhood, but we had not made any real plans. While in La Paz, Bek found a flier advertising just our type of tour: Build a raft and spend 5 days floating through the Amazon jungle. Done!
So we hopped on a bus for a harrowing 10 hour bus ride to the start of the journey - possibly the most dangerous thing we have done to date (I will spare our parents the details, but thankfully we arrived safely). The following morning, after a Bolivian brekkie (rice, steak, fried egg, grilled onion, and platano) we watched as our guide transformed 8 tires and a dozen bamboo poles into our home for the next 5 days. Thoroughly excited we loaded up and began the journey. It was perfect, no engine = no engine noise. It was us and the sounds of the jungle. Our soundtrack was the chatter of toucans, macaws and innumerable other tropical jungle birds, set to the slaps and yelps of gringos being molested by mosquitoes. By day we floated down the river, even eating lunch on the boat, although we did make occasional stops to go for a hike or visit indigenous families living in the jungle. By night we found a sandy patch of riverbank on which to camp. On 2 occasions we were startled by the sound of gunshots! Locals hunting for food for their families. The trip started out warm and sunny but by day 4 we were socked in by clouds and had to endure occasional rain storms. But nothing dampened our enthusiasm and enjoyment of this slow adventure. It was absolutely perfect and we still miss our lazy days listening to birdsong as we watched the jungle transform over the 280 km that we floated.
(click on the photo to see the caption)
After 6 plus hours of a bumpy, windy roads we arrived in Toro Toro at 1am. Bleary eyed, we wandered through the town knocking on doors until someone answered, only to discover they had no rooms available. Eventually we found our accommodation, but had to barter to get a reasonable price.
Phew, we were quite happy to have a sleep-in and wander around town the next day. It was a spectacular sight, the town was set in a valley composed of amazing rock fins. Picture standing inside the bottom jaw of a crocodile mouth looking out, that is how this valley appeared. The villagers are still leading lives of hard manual labor. There were no tractors around to help them reap their fields or separate the wheat from the chaff, it was all done by hand!
Our second day, Bek's birthday!, was a busy one. First we crammed 8 people into a 5 seater car, then we flossed the crocodile teeth on our way up and over to the top of a nearby mountain range. Here we wandered through a mass of stone, eroded over the eons through the force of water. We encountered some amazing chapels and cathedrals of stone and some great vistas of the surrounding countryside.
Post lunch we ventured underground. We visited a cave full of sleeping vampire bats, squeezed through some very small spaces and even got to see some blind cave fish (again the stuff of documentaries).
Decomposing vampire bat
Blind cave fish
Bek actually is lying down here!
Rock-climbing at a whole new level.
The following day found us frolicking with the dinosaurs. There were so many dino footprints!
The theory is that there was a big migration of dinosaurs during a time of drought and all types came tromping through the area in search of greener pastures (really makes me want to watch 'The Land Before Time'!) There were footprints of the T-Rex, Velociraptor, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Pterodactyl among others. It was so interesting to see all the shapes, sizes and depths of the footprints.
We spent the rest of the day in Toro Toro canyon appreciating the 250m drop from the viewpoint, admiring the rare and endangered red-fronted macaw, and cooling off in the refreshing stream at the bottom of the canyon.
El Fuerte, a pre-Incan religious site. This ceremonial area was carved into the stone that topped the mountain and is believed to have immense spiritual significance. It held a commanding view over the wonderful jungle valleys below. And from this vantage it seems the area has not changed in thousands of years.
La Yunga, cloud forest and ancient giant ferns. These ferns apparently grow 1 cm a year, and are ten to fifteen meters tall, you can do the math. We spent the day tromping through the jungle and spotted this green snake about 15 minutes before we arrived at the car. So glad we did not spot him earlier or I would have been so paranoid walking through the jungle. As it was I was blissfully unaware of the snakes lurking around.
We elected to go on a birding tour, we are so lame, I know. But we had quite a good time, saw over 20 species of birds in 3 hours of walking. We were only 2 hours from the jungles of La Yunga but it was a semi-desert area. We don't have any good photos of the birds but we did see them I promise. Our favorite was the red comet, a tiny hummingbird with a long red tail. It was unexpected and beautiful. As an added bonus we also got to see some cave paintings, these are particularly important because they are some of the only ancient paintings of faces in the region. Funnily enough there was also a painting of a bat and we could hear the squeaks and smell the guano of some vampire bats that lived in the cave.