Friday, August 31, 2012

Copacabana to La Paz, Bolivia

Hello friends and faithful readers, from La Paz, Bolivia, the highest (de facto) capital city in the world! Let me bring you up to date on our adventures since we last wrote.

Back in Copacabana, we woke up early (actually early) to catch the 8:30 AM boat to the north end of Isla de Sol. The ride is about 2 hours across the lake and around the island, and on the way, it hailed! It was sunny in Copacabana and beautiful and sunny on the Isla del Sol, but there was a giant storm cloud only over lake that let out its fury on our poor uncovered boat operator, who stood in the hail with a blanket over him during the hailstorm! On the island, we hiked about an hour up to the peak to see some Incan ruins, said to have stolen their style from the Tiwanaku culture. The views of the lake were beautiful from here, too.

Afterwards, we went to the small museum that held a collection of items from the ruins and also items that had been collected from the lake via submarine that may have been put there as offerings by the natives. The boat ride back was uneventful, but the two long boat rides and the hiking left us quite tired, so we took it easy that night and the next day, relaxing in the hotels hammocks, reading, and enjoying the warm sun during the daytime and the warm heater provided by our ¨splurge¨ hotel at night.

Wednesday, we woke up leisurely but still made it onto an 11 AM bus to La Paz. The ride is about 3 hours and includes a lake crossing. ¨How did the bus cross the lake?¨, you might ask, and I will tell you! All of us passengers got off the bus and crossed on a little motor boat. The bus drove onto a floating crate only slightly larger than the bus itself, propelled by a small engine and a man with a long wooden stick across the lake! This was definitely a new experience for us! On the other side, we all got back on the bus and continued on our merry way. As we were driving, we seemed to go through an area of brick and cement buildings, usually representative of a poorer community that one finds either on the outskirts of a large city or in a small rural village. Only, this area seemed to stretch out into the altiplano as far as the eye could see - surely, the biggest slum-area we had seen to date. We soon realized that this was part of La Paz, an area called El Alto, which indeed is a poor suburb of La Paz and also home to South America´s largest feria/market. Suddenly, we came over the ridge and had our first view of the valley that is filled by La Paz. This city also is huge and just stretches through the valley with no end in sight, and then just beyond, we could see the snow-capped mountains of the cordillera. The sight was incredible. The bus stopped at the cemetary, where we were obliged to find a microbus to the center. A plethora of micros passed by on the street and it was overwhelming as we didn´t know which to take! Luckily, a very friendly man heading in the same direction helped us find a good micro and we were off. The whole bus ride there, we conversed with the gentleman, who was impressed with the magnitude of our journey as well as our spanish skills! We made it to the city center and followed directions given to us by our friend, Elliot, (remember?) to his hotel. He was staying in a place a bit too swanky for us, as it was his second to last night of vacation, so after catching up a bit with him, we went in search of a more affordable accomodation. We found ourselves at a hostel recommended by some Australians in Mancora, the Adventure Brew Hostel. While not the cheapest place to stay in La Paz at 160 Bolivianos a night (approx. 23$), this price gets us a private room and bathroom, all you can eat pancake breakfast, and a FREE BEER EVERY NIGHT! The hostel is home to a microbrewery and the beer has been quite enjoyable so far.

Thursday, we met with Elliot and headed to the market in El Alto, which as I mentioned before, is the largest feria in South America. We took a combi up and were amazed by the seemingly endless market sprawl. We wandered around, looked at some interesting things, (including an old calculator watch like my brother used to have!) and other items. The market is really for locals, so there wasn´t much for us to buy, but we did enjoy walking around for a few hours and having a snack here and there. We came back to town and went to the Witch´s market, where we same llama fetuses and other things used by the Aymaras in religious ceremonies, and the Black Market, where we saw some legitimate, not stolen or fake technology (wink). We rested in the afternoon, then met up with Elliot one last time for some Chori-pan (chorizo in pan, pretty straight forward). It turns out our friendly Chori-pan lady, Doña Elvira, had been mentioned that day in the Prensa, a local newspaper!

Early this morning, our friends were off, returning to the states, and we wish them a pleasant journey home! We slept in and after our pancakes, heading to the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales. This museum showcased pre-colombian native Bolivian instruments, european instruments and their variants now used in Bolivan music, such as various accordians and many guitar variants, as well as instruments from all over the world. There were some really incredible things to see, such as pan-pipes made from condor feathers, flutes made from bones, guitars and harps made with an armadillo-like animal shell, beautiful painted instruments, and very unique instruments, such as a 5-necked guitar, shaped like a star.

Obviously, I had a lot of fun looking through the museum and especially enjoyed that we could play certain instruments! Fun!

I almost wish they had a little store where I might have bought a ¨manquita¨, a small guitar about the size of a hand! We had a delicious lunch of tucumanas, which are like fried salteñas. It`s supposed to snow this weekend, so Matt will probably do the Peru by the numbers post then.

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