15.10.2013 - 07.12.2013 18 °C
Copacabana (15th October - 16th October)
From the border with Peru we took a shared taxi to Copacabana, only 10km away. I wish I could have taken a photo as Alice was wedged into the middle seat in the back between two large Bolivian women in their traditional dress! We spent the afternoon looking round the town, including taking in a breathtaking sunset from a hill overlooking the town and the Isla del Sol, which we visited the next day. It was a 2 hour boat journey to the north of the island. From there we walked to the south which took us about 4 hours, walking along the ridge down the centre of the island with fantastic views across the lake on both sides. There were very few other tourists but I was irked by having to pay an "entrance fee" at each small town we passed. We stayed overnight on the island in another homestay and enjoyed another magnificent sunset over the island and lake titicaca that night. The next day we got the boat back to Copacabana and then a bus to La Paz.
La Paz (17th October - 7th December)
As we approached La Paz we were both struck by the amazing landscape in which the city is located. We came from El Alto which is about 4,000m above sea level and could look down into the bowl that is La Paz at 3,800m. The bus dropped us off at a random location and we got a taxi to our hotel.
We had decided to spend longer in La Paz volunteering at a prosthetics charity Alice had found, as we wanted a break from being on the road and to feel useful again! On our second day in La Paz, we went to the centre to meet Ivonne, a Bolivian volunteer who manages the operation on the ground. For various reasons, the clinic had had to leave their old centre and had just moved into a new building with nothing in it, having had to leave all of their machines and equipment in the old place! Ivonne very efficiently helped us find a room in a homestay that morning which took a bit weight of our shoulders.
On our first full day at the clinic we went to buy wood as our first task was to build 4 heavy duty workbenches for the workshop. Thankfully, we had a bit of an apprenticeship with woodwork during our time in farms in Australia! We had to buy the wood and then get the guy to size it for us followed by sitting on the back of a pick up truck with it to get it back to the office!
During our 7 weeks working at the clinic, getting it ready to reopen to patients, other jobs included making shelves, helping with office work and other random DIY projects. We have now built 8 tables of various type for the clinic...it is becoming our speciality! It was satisfying to be able to see the fruits of our effort but it was disappointing that we have spent 7 weeks helping to get the centre open rather than seeing the centre in action with patients. We both got really frustrated with the slowness of progress - one of the technicians went AWOL for 2 weeks and the other didn't turn up until our last week. The inefficiency got to us, but thankfully now, by the time we are leaving, the centre is pretty much up and running, only 8 weeks after they moved into it although they are shutting for Christmas next week and will not reopen until middle of January! With a bit of hard work from everyone, it could have been ready in a month I think.
Whilst in La Paz we have enjoyed having a private room and bathroom in a homestay with a proper kitchen to use. The location was ideal as it was only a 5 minute walk to the centre and the area was nice. Most days we ate lunch to a restaurant very close to the centre, where you can get a four course lunch for under GBP1.50! We developed a weekend tradition of food shopping at a big street market, and getting a delicious breakfast there of Tucamana (kind of like a deep fried Cornish pasty) and freshly squeezed orange juice. It also became a weekly occurrence to go to the cinema to see a subtitled film as well as buy DVDs from the street for 30p a shot to keep ourselves entertained!
We enjoyed eating out and took advantage of the diverse range of restaurants to eat Arabic, Indian, Chinese, pizza as well as more local food. Bolivian food isn't the finest in the world and Alice quickly became tired of her slab of meat and two carb portions, normally poor tasting rice and boiled potatoes! We also loved going to a specific cake shop where we would share a portion of the most sickly chocolate cake as well as a nut pie!
The city doesn't have a great deal to offer to the tourist but it was a relaxed place to stay and was easy to settle into. We never felt scared or worried being in such a big city. However, I did get a wallet pickpocketed when we went to the largest street market in South America, El Alto. Unluckily for them, it had no money in it and only our old student cards! Whilst in La Paz we have both become extremely fit as we walked almost everywhere - this is no easy feat in La Paz as the city is at such a high altitude and has some of the steepest streets we have ever seen!
During our stay we have done some excellent walks on the outside of the city with magnificent views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. One memorable day was when we crossed a mountain ridge just outside La Paz via the 'Muela del Diablo', or Devil's Molar, a huge craggy rock formation on top of the ridge. Fantastic views throughout across the city and surrounding valley, although the path wasn't exactly clear and we ended up having a very large, aggressive dog chase us down when we took a wrong turn. For the first time in my life I pelted a dog with stones but thankfully it worked and we were able to retreat and find the correct path! In addition, on the way down we again took a wrong path and ended up scrambling along a cliff at the side of a filthy, stinky river, desperately hoping we didn't fall in! Thankfully we made it back to La Paz in one piece and without getting wet.
Coroico and Cycling the World's Most Dangerous Road (9th November - 11th November)
On one of our first free weekends we organised to go on a tour to the World's Most Dangerous Road where we enjoyed a fantastic sunny day descending about 3,600m over 60km. We were both a bit nervous given the title of the excursion but we had an awesome time. The first part of the ride was on a sealed road and we probably hit speeds of up to 40km/h. It was even more incredible watching the guides whizz past without a fear in the world. After a short refreshment break we took a bus 8km to the start of the death road for real where the road was unpaved and single track in places with waterfalls falling on our heads and steep cliff faces down! This part was a lot more challenging and sore as the vibrations from going over the rocky road were painful on our hands. Travelling such a relatively short distance, it was incredible to see the change in landscape as we descended from altiplano to jungle. By the end we were only 1500m above sea level and it was sticky and sweaty. After finishing, we went to a plush resort for a buffet and shower, relaxing end to a fun day out.
Whereas most of the group went back to La Paz, Alice and I went to the town of Coroico where we spent the night and next day. On arrival, we were worried we wouldn't find accommodation as the first three places we asked in were full! Thankfully, the next place had a spare room which we took. Although only 2 hours from La Paz, Coroico has a completely different climate, and was clearly a weekend holiday destinations for young Pacenas. We both enjoyed the next day walking to a waterfall in the glorious sunshine.
Sorata (23rd November - 24th November)
Another weekend excursion took us to the town of Sorata, in the Cordillera Real. It was a 3 hour journey by minibus to the small town, perched halfway up a valley, overlooked by the glacial peak of Mount Illampu...not a bad spot to sit in the sunshine in the pretty main square enjoying an afternoon beer! Not a huge amount to do here, but it was a relaxing weekend, and we did make one trip to an interesting cave for a look around, then walked the 12km back to Sorata, yet again all uphill!
We are now packing our bags again for our final 2 months of travelling. Our plan for the rest of December is to travel around Bolivia, spending Christmas here and then spending New Year in the North of Argentina. We have about 1 month to see Argentina, then a brief visit to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil before returning home and facing reality!