I know I didn’t write in way too long (and I still didn’t talk about Argentina and Chile), but that just happens when you are traveling. Especially when that takes you to Bolivia, where Internet connection speeds are still stuck in the 1990s.
Anyway, we made it to our 5th South American country now, and after 3.5 month in the Cono Sur, this feels distinctly more “foreign”. That’s probably related to the fact that 60% of the population are indigenous, so there are a lot less European looking people than in Argentina or Chile. Many of the women still wear traditional dress, and coca is quite omnipresent, be it in the form of tea (mate de coca), sweets or as leaves. All of them are supposed to help with altitude sickness, and considering that we never really went below 2500m since we got here (and up to 5000m maximum) we’ve consumed our fair share too. And I strongly deny all rumors that I actually enjoy chewing coca, it’s purely for medical purposes… ;–)
But let’s go back to the beginning: on February 2nd we crossed into Bolivia at the La Quiaca/Villazon border, and after having heard terrible stories of hour long waits, we considered ourselves lucky to have made it across in roughly 45 minutes. Alas we later realized that the border guards on the Bolivian side had only changed the day on their stamps but not the month, so our entry stamp actually said January 2nd and you only get 30 days when entering overland. We managed to get this fixed in an immigration office afterwards, the guys working there were pretty amused about what the “idiotas” (quote) at the border did.
From Villazon we took a shared cab to Tupiza, where we spoiled ourselves with a stay in a rather nice hotel. Bolivia is cheap though, so we spent less money for it than we did for dorm beds in Argentina, Uruguay or Chile. The landscape around Tupiza is absolutely stunning, and exploring it on horseback definitely made me feel like Butch Cassady or the Sundance Kid, who by the way weren’t shot too far from there. After a couple of relaxed days we embarked on a 4 day tour of the so-called South West Circuit, which ended at the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s biggest salt flat. It’s hard to put what we saw into words, when we get to a place with a faster Internet connection again I’ll try to upload some pictures. One really remarkable thing about the tour was Silvia the cook though, who managed to prepare awesome meals with very limited time, space and equipment. She also made some of the best vegetarian food I’ve had in South America so far, which is why I still kinda regret not having kidnapped her. I definitely could do with my own personal cook who knows how to prepare veggie meals… After the tour we made our way via Potosi to beautiful Sucre, where we have been kicking back since last Saturday. And by “kicking back” I actually mean hiding in our guest house like most gringos, since the local carnival tradition involves water bombs, buckets of water, shaving foam and an utter lack of sympathy for people who have barely any clothes to begin with. Luckily this is over now, so we can actually fully enjoy the city before heading to La Paz.
After almost two weeks in Bolivia, my feelings are a bit mixed. Before we came, everyone told us how awesome it is, and from a landscape point of view I can wholeheartedly agree. What I miss though is interacting with the locals, which was a lot easier in the Cono Sur than it is here. First off there are lots of Quechua and Aymara speakers, but also the Spanish speakers are more reserved than they were further South, so we barely ever manage to have interesting conversations with locals. But that’s not the only thing that makes you feel like you are suddenly on the “gringo trail”: the restaurants mostly serve a rather uninspired mix of western “favorites” and even the banana pancake found its way from Southeast Asia to here. There’s also a lot more younger and/or obnoxious backpackers around, which I mostly attribute to the fact that Bolivia is considerably cheaper than the South, while still boasting a well-developed tourist infrastructure.
One thing I really like about this trip is how diverse it is: we stayed in hostels, hotels, B&Bs, rented a room from an old lady, used CouchSurfing and AirBnB and stayed with friends. We crossed borders via plane, private car (thanks Mencho!), bus, boat and by walking. We dipped our feet in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, saw volcanoes, salt flats and the world’s driest desert. I did my first longer trip on horseback, and also took my first surfing lesson. We learned a new language (Spanish) and got to use all the other ones we know, including Turkish, my very limited Swedish and even Mandarin (twice in Buenos Aires). All this variation makes traveling for a long time a lot more interesting and helps with not getting tired of it.