Visiting the sun’s birthplace at Lake Titicaca

Leaving La Paz on a bus like we did is quite a challenge as it takes forever to maneuver through some of the probably busiest streets we have ever seen. By the way, we have some amazing videos of the city’s crazy traffic, which entertained us from our hostel’s window better than any hollywood blockbuster could ever have. Just ask if you are interested to see them.
Anyways, as soon as our bus was outside the city area, it did not take long until the glistening blue of Lake Titicaca came in sight. However, this lake, that used to be a sea a long, long time ago, is so huge, it still took a while until we arrived at Copacabana. Most backpackers pass through this beach town when going from Bolivia to Peru or vice versa. The town itself is very touristy but still a nice place to spend an afternoon at. This is just enough time to, like us, have some delicious trout while enjoying a lovely view over the lake, to hike up Cerro Calvario to see the sunset and book tickets for the boat ride the next day to the “Isla del Sol”. This island is quite famous, as according to Inca mythology, it is the birth place of the sun as well as of the Incas as a people. Apart from historical importance, it is also recognized for being one of the lake’s most beautiful islands, and thus, we definitely wanted to see it.
Our boat took us to the North end of the island from where we walked in a nice afternoon stroll to the Southern end. While on our little “trans-island mission” we met lots of the friendly inhabitants of the island, not only people, but also donkeys, sheep, alpacas and pigs, always while enjoying lovely views. We arrived just in time to see a marvellous sunset. Afterwards we had a tasty candle-light trout dinner which was not only super delicious but also probably the last dinner in Bolivia on this trip of ours. As we slept in a hostel in the village Yumani, located up a hill, we had a spectacular view of the sunrise the following morning. Breakfast up here, with this amazing view over Lake Titicaca, tasted delicious. Afterwards we hiked down to the beach to catch a boat back to Copacabana where a big party was already going on: the 1st of May is celebrated here with colorful parades, lots of dancing and quite some booz. Despite that we would have liked to join in longer, we had to keep it short: Peru was calling and waiting to be discovered!

When at Lake Titicaca:
Where to eat & drink: There is a line up of little food stands on the beach in Copacabana and they all know how to grill the local trouts to perfection (for little money).
Where to sleep: Hostel Mirador – overlooking the lake and affordable. There is no functioning Wifi but hardly anywhere here is.
What to do: Take a boat to Isla del Sol and hike from the North to the South – we can promise you amazingly scenic views (take the path along the coast). Also, enjoy the sunset in Copacabana from the Cerro Calvario – just a 30 min hike from the city’s center (calculated for a slow high-altitude pace).

Huayna Potosí – Our highest adventure

Huayna Potosí is one of the many glacier covered peaks surrounding La Paz. It is part of the Cordillera Real with a mighty peak reaching 6088m above sea level and in a moment of cockiness we had decided that we wanted to conquer it. Conveniently, our chosen target was located just an hour’s drive outside the city. However, the road was so rocky, going there felt way farther away from civilization than that.
We spend the first day at the base camp where our awesome guide Santos made sure we got enough carbohydrates in form of huge portions of pasta, rice and potatoes. He also gave us a crash course of how to use crampons and an ice axe correctly, without hurting ourselves – quite a challenge by itself already.
The next day we hiked to the rock camp, located up on 5130m above sea level, higher than Europe’s highest mountain and higher than our feet had ever carried us until then – but not for long! Dinner was served at 5 pm and lights were out at 6 pm. As you might imagine, falling asleep at this time of the, well, day, is not so easy, especially when one of your mountain comrades is snoring like a buzz saw. Luckily for that guy, it was too cold to get out of the sleeping bag and hunt him down and luckily for us, breakfast was already served at 1.00 am. After that we started out, a bit sleepy still but fully equipped and in high spirits, towards the summit. Despite that Huayna Potosí is supposedly one of the easiest 6000m mountains to climb in the world, it was definitely no piece of cake to reach the summit. But with the help of lots of chocolate bars and our unbreakable Tyrolean power of endurance, we made it through our different ups and downs along the way, and eventually got there, just in time to see the sunrise. The view from the top was amazing: once the clouds below us had cleared up, we could see lots of other peaks, the lights of La Paz and even lake Titicaca – all of that of course, far, far below.
After our little break of glory and satisfaction at the summit it was time again to descend. While hiking down we got to enjoy all the marvellous views of the glacier and its surrounding scenery that we had not seen while hiking up in the dark. However, going down we also noticed how steep the hike up had been. In the afterthought, it was probably quite a good thing to not have seen all that at first, that way we could concentrate on each step after the other.
We got back to the rock camp at 8.00 am where it was time for “lunch”. Afterwards we could relax for a bit before embarking on the last hike of this adventure down to the base camp where “dinner” was served – at 1 pm. We had a hard time not falling asleep while eating. Luckily, soon after, we were brought back to La Paz where warm showers and cozy beds were waiting for us exhausted mountaineers.

When hiking Huyana Potosí:
What to do: When in La Paz you can find tour operators offering mountaineering trips up Huayna Potosí on every corner. We picked the one operator that had Italian hiking boots – Albert Tours – and had a good experience, especially due to our amazing guide Santos. But pick whichever suits your preferences.
Where to eat & drink: No need to choose thoroughly as options are limited and selected by the tour operator. However, bring lots of chocolate or other soul food.

Experiencing the hard life of a silver miner in Potosí

A new challenge was on when we planned out our trip to Potosí. We wanted to take an overnight bus from Villazón, the first town on the Bolivian side when coming from Humahuaca, spend a day in Potosí and take another overnight bus from there to La Paz. Planned – done – succeeded… even if quite exhausted.
Potosí is the world’s highest located city. Once upon a time it was also South America’s richest and one of the world’s biggest cities, as during the Spanish colonial times, silver was found in abundance there. Now the silver reserves have almost completely been exploited, but as for now, still around 15.000 people are working in the network of mines spanning the inside of Cerro Rico, the mountain overlooking Potosí.
Nowadays, it is also possible to visit the mines. We had been told that it would be tough, but seeing and at least slightly experiencing the conditions under which the miners, who often are no older than 15, work here, day after day, was still shocking. However this day trip helped to put things in perspective: we will probably think twice next time before complaining about uni, a job, or whatever else.
After all these impressions in Potosí and two nights in a bus, we are now happily knocked out in our hotel room in La Paz, recharging all our energy for the most likely “highest” challenge of all our trip: the hike up Mount Huyana Potosí*.

When in Potosí
Where to eat & drink: Mercado Central – here you can get breakfast at one of the little snack stands in case you arrive as early as us, before anything else opens.
What to do: Book a tour to see the mines. We did ours with Koala Tours and had a good experience.
Where to sleep: We actually don’t know, we opted for the bus, but there sure are some nice hostels.

* Due to the time difference between writing and posting we can already anounce our successful ascend. Story to come!

Salar de Uyuni – the world’s most beautiful mirror

Back in La Paz we had one day to relax, to wash our jungle-dirty-stinking clothes and get ready for our next destination: the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat. We took an overnight bus to the town of Uyuni which got us there just in time to have breakfast before starting our three day tour in a 4×4 land cruiser. The first day was already spectacular as we got to spend it all on the salt flat. We were very lucky, as the sun was shining down from a picture-perfect blue sky after it had rained just a day before. Thus, there was just enough water to make for perfect reflections. This place is definitely the world’s most beautiful mirror. It is also so unique that it is hard to find proper words to describe it. Thus, we hope the pictures we took can provide you with some adequate impressions that make you want to go there and see it with your own eyes. After a wonder- and eventful first day, we arrived at our hotel, which was pretty much entirely built of salt. The next day we got up early to see the sunrise over the salar, and off we went to see lagoons of all colors – most of them are inhabited by loads and loads of flamingos. This day we also reached the highest point of our trip so far: 4800 m above sea level. Up here, volcanoes of 6000 m (of which there are many around here) looked like hills. Tired from the myriad of impressions and probably also the altitude, we had no difficulties falling asleep at 8 pm that night. This was great, as we had to get up at 4 am the next day to see geysers and take a bath in hot springs at sunrise. Eventually, we made it to the Chilenean border. There we had to say goodbye to our great guide and awesome tour group members, as we had to catch a bus to San Pedro de Atacama – our next destination.

When in Uyuni
Where to sleep: A salt hotel – one sleeps amazingly sweet on salty beds.
Where to eat & drink: Hope for your guides cooking skills to be as good as ours : )
What to see & do: Do the three day tour of the Salar if you have time, it is worth it!

The road to Rurrenabaque…

…also known as the “Death Road”, and that for decently good reason: The Yungas road to Rurrenabaque is quite famous and was actually well known for years as the world’s most dangerous road. Since 2006, however, the most critical part of the road has been replaced by a newer one, leaving the original route to brave downhill bikers like us. Our ride down the death road started on 4700 m above sea level and took us down through the stunningly beautiful scenery of the Bolivian cloud forest which, by the way, is supposed to be the country’s best coca region. The tour ended after a descend of more than 3000 m of altitude in a town called Coroico. Most people do the death road by bike as a day trip, however, as we felt brave, we pimped this adventure with another one: the bus ride to Rurrenabaque. Thus, after a humongous “lunch-dinner” in Coroico we got on our bus and off we went. If you google this bus ride, you will find that this part of the road is way more scary than the part we did with the bikes. To be fair, only the first few hours were nerve-wrackingly intense as we could actually see how close to the edge we were ALL THE TIME. And the edge usually was facing cliffs of several hundred meters of height. Thus, it felt like a blessing when the sunlight faded and we could not see anymore. And luckily, the ride went smooth, so we eventually arrived at Rurrenabaque’s bus terminal early in the morning. There we hopped on a motorcyle-carried wagon, which took us to the town’s French bakery. There we helped our strained nerves to recover, by feeding them the best pastries we have encountered since setting foot on this continent (we recommend warm apple and chocolate bread!). Strengthened by this hearty breakfast we started our “Pampa” tour. During this three day tour, we were almost eaten alive by the biggest mosquito armies you can imagine. In spite of that, though, we had a blast looking for Caimans, pink dolphins, monkeys, birds, Piranhas and Anacondas. After these “Pampa-days”, we had one night in “Rurre”, before continuing with a two day exploration of the “Selva” (the rain forest) of Madidi National Park. This park constitutes a big part of Bolivia’s chunk of the Amazon’s basin. There, our guide was Erlan, who back in the day, grew up in one of the native communities of the area, where he was sent out to survive in the jungle all by himself at the age of 12 for a couple of days to test his survival skills. Obviously, he had passed the test and now had a blast watching us clumsily trying to make our path through the rain forest, swinging on lianas, climbing over fallen trees and jumping (and slipping) over lake-like puddles. He also taught us lots about the forest: about plants that can provide potable water, about some that can cure illnesses of all kinds and about several others that should be avoided as they can harm and even kill you. He also showed us how to defend ourselves against a jaguar attack, but luckily, he never left us alone in the forest to put our newly gained knowledge to the test. After two days of tip-toeing (that is necessary to not scare off all the animals) through the forest, we got back to Rurrenabaque, where we swung onto mototaxis (motorbike-taxis), which brought us to the most minuscule airport, any of us had ever seen before. However, it functioned efficiently and soon after we were sitting on our plane back to La Paz – enjoying the amazing bird’s eye view of Madidi National Park.

When in Rurrenabaque
Where to sleep: Hostel Ambaibo – the rooms are clean and there is a pool to recharge your energy after the tours.
Where to eat & drink: The French Bakery – chocolate bread made in heaven. Our first and last stop in Rurre.
What to see & do: Do a tour of both – the Pampas and the Selva to discover the region’s fauna and flora most thoroughly.

The San Francisco of South America, located in dizzy heights

Arriving in La Paz was literally a “breathtaking” event for us. Some other passengers of our flight, however, were obviously even more awestruck as they simply collapsed upon their first “impression” of the city. Or maybe also due to its most protruding characteristic: its height of about 3600 m above sea level. After an almost sleepless night of horrible headaches and nausea, we were eventually able to start discovering this stunning city which spreads out on a plateau surrounded by mountains with snowy peaks and of mighty heights of over 6000m. Our exploration tour, though, was a slow-mode-mission, as sightseeing in La Paz involves climbing hill after hill which was quite a challenge for us three breathless and still altitude-sickness fighting backpackers. This reminded us of San Francisco – simple relocated to South America and in dizzy heights. In the end, it took us a whole day simply to slender through the various market streets where everything is sold from fresh fruits and vegetables, to hopefully fresh enough fish and chicken, to pastries (generally containing lots of cheese and sugar – yes, usually combined in one pastry) and even witchcraft equipment. The next day, due to the help of lots of coca tea and time, we finally felt way better and were ready to take our exploration to the next (altitude) level. Thus, we boarded one of the local telefericos, (cable cars build by the Austrian company Doppelmayer!) to El Alto, the city overlooking La Paz from an altitude of about 4200 m. There we enjoyed the great panorama, and a delicious lunch of chicken (the local top-top-top favorite food) and fried bananas at the local market.
The next day it was already time to leave La Paz behind and bravely conquer the famous Yungas road to Rurrenabaque, the gate to the Bolivian part of the Amazon basin.

When in La Paz
Where to sleep: So far we are still looking for a nice place, let us know if you are more successful than us. Here are some potential places in La Paz.
Where to eat & drink: The local markets – proper restaurants are not so easy to find – Burger King and some Chicken fast food places where the main recommendations for “good restaurants”.
What to see & do: Chew coca leaves and take the teleferico up to El Alto for a great overview of the city.