©2019 by Jelle.

Bolivia

30/8/2019

After two and a half months in Peru, I decided it was time for the next chapter and chose the most direct route towards Bolivia. This route went through Puno, one of the bigger touristic cities in the area. The city was nice, but they were restoring the main square, much to the displeasure of the local businesses, since it is the touristic season. The municipality did not take this into account at all!

 

Puno borders the well-known Titicaca lake, the biggest lake of South-America that border both Peru and Bolivia. The road towards the border with Bolivia was parallel to this lake. I took me two days from Puno to reach the border, with an appropriate last sleeping spot in Peru. I could pitch up my tent right next to the so-called 'gate of the gods', made by the Incas.

 

 

The border crossing with Bolivia was the smoothest one I’ve ever had (outside the EU 😊). I was the only person at the immigration offices on both sides of the border. No questions were being asked, they just gave me my stamps and let me through. They didn’t check my luggage either, so my big stock of drugs remained unexposed. The first city in Bolivia that I visited was Copacabana, which is another touristic town. Most tourists go here to visit the island of the sun. I preferred to continue straight to La Paz, so I skipped this tourist attraction.

 

La  Paz is not far away from the border; it only took me two days to get there. The first day, leaving from Copacabana, was beautiful. It was a mountainous road that provided me with panoramic views of the Titicaca lake. I stopped at a viewpoint to take some pictures when a bus full of gringos stopped to take some pictures as well. A perfect opportunity to ask someone to take a picture of me with the lake in the background. I continued climbing and went passed multiple view points, although you could consider the entire route as one big viewpoint.

 

Do not pay attention to my sexy coupe

 

The second day was less spectacular. As you can expect, the traffic started to congest once I got closer to La Paz. Especially the last 15 kilotmers were pretty chaotic. The suburbs are relatively new and are located right next to the highway to La Paz. I met another cyclist who kind of guided me through the chaos towards El Alto. La Paz is located in a bowl, and El Alto is right next (and above) this bowl. I took the most direct route to the city center which took me through some extremely steep streets. Going down was possible, but a wrong turn would mean trouble because it would be impossible to cycle up. While I was already in the center of La Paz, I got a flat tire. So I was obligated to fix this under the watchful eyes of hundreds of La Pazians (I made that up). I hadn’t found an hotel yet, so I looked for a hipster coffee spot with WiFi to look for a cheap place to stay on Booking.com. That’s exactly what I did and managed to find a cheap spot on a good location.

 

In this hostel, I was surprised to see Rosa, a Chinese girl that met four days earlier in Puno. I told her she had a great taste when it comes to hotels. I also met the Italian Gulia, she comes from the Italian city of Rimini (close to San Marino) and told me I could pass by on my way home next year. Besides the Chinese and Italian girls, I also met a guy from my own country. Rutger has been travelling through South America for six months and is about to return to Madrid, where he lives. He wants to start an independent consultancy business on his own, doing consultancy work for start-ups. His idea is to live as a digital nomad and keep traveling around the world like that. Sounds like a plan! I wonder if he will succeed in doing so.

 

I stayed in La Paz for two and a half days. It is absolutely massive! Over the years, they have constructed multiple cable car lines that can take you around the entire city. The bowl in which La Paz is located, is completely filled and the cable cars give you a perfect view of this. I also visited some museums and did walking tour with Rutger. We concluded the walking tour with dinner in a restaurant that is owned by a Dutch guy. They have many typical Dutch options on the menu, which is highly uncommon.

 

 

 

They were also organizing an interesting fair when I was in La Paz, which represented the diplomatic ties of Bolivia with foreign countries. Most countries that have an embassy in Bolivia were represented at this fair and were handing out (or selling) traditional food or drinks. I could reminisce some happy moments from the past, by eating traditional food from Panama and trying a great Cuban mojito. The Netherlands does not have an embassy, so they were not present unfortunately. France was represented though, and I bought the best baguette that I’ve had in months. The French know their baguettes really well….

 

Panama on the fair

 

After two and a half days, I left La Paz in style. My loaded bike fitted perfectly in the cable car, so I reached El Alto in about five minutes. That saved me hours of climbing through chaotic traffic. I wanted to go to the salt flats of Uyuni as quickly as possible. In contrast to Peru, most of Bolivia that I got to know was flat, so it was easy going.

 

It took me five days to reach the city of Tahua, the village that is right next to the salt flats. These five days were pretty lonely and monotonous, I cycled about a 100 kilometers per day, but the landscape didn’t change much. Luckily, I passed through a handful of nice villages which made it all a bit more interesting. If I entered one of those villages around lunch time, there was a big change of finding an old lady on the villages’ square that was preparing some food. Llama is always on the menu in this region, as it’s one of the few animals that are farmed. They don’t have any cows. I must say, llama tastes pretty good! The village people were really friendly and enthusiastic in this area. A mother gave me a plasticized card with some holy virgin that they worship here. It’s supposed to protect me! I stored it with the other religious cards that people have given me over the months (years). Who knows, it might really help!

 

I have camped out quite frequently, lately

Lonely and empty

 

But spectacular

 

 

By chance, I passed the place where Bolivia's president Evo Morales was born.

 

He's from the country side, which makes him very popular among the farmers

 

I thought I was being clever by taking the shortcut to Tahua, but the road of this shortcut was so horrible that it possibly took me more time than the other road that was 20 (!) km longer. I quickly restocked in Tahua to make sure I had enough for the salt flats. And then it was time to enter the infinite bright whiteness of the salt flats. I find it difficult to describe this experience in words, but it was an amzing experience. The surface is pretty smooth as long as you stay on the ‘tracks’ that have been formed by the cars over the years. Once you deviate from these tracks, the surface gets really bumpy and shitty. I took a lot of pictures of this unique place and I didn’t want to rush through it. I stayed two nights in the middle of nowhere, under the brightest night sky that I had ever seen in my life. I had never seen the milky way as clear as here, it was incredible. The only complaint I have was the temperature, since -10 degrees Celsius is not ideal if you have a puncture in your sleeping mat that is supposed to isolate you from the rock hard and ice cold surface. But it was worth it!

 

 

 

 

In the center of the salt flats, there is an ‘island’ called Incahuasi, where an old lady was selling lunch. This women has been living here for 27 years with her husband, I cannot imagine living on such an isolated place. They have book for cyclists, the cyclists that pass through register themselves with a short message. So if you’re ever going there, ask for the book and check the 26th of August 2019. It was another 72 kilometers of impressive emptiness to get from ‘island’ to the ‘main land’. After a week through pretty rural areas, it was nice to get to a little city again.

 

Even the seats are made of salt

 

 Impressive emptiness

 

Monument of the Dakar rally, which passed through the salar

 

I am resting here for a couple of days and making a plan for the coming weeks. I have about two and a half months left of solo traveling before my parents will visit me in Santiago de Chile. The idea is definitely to reach Santiago by bicycle. Argentina is the next country that I will visit, I will probably enter Argentina the first week of September.  

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