Bolivia is a land of contrasts in the countryside and the people. The constant turmoil created by on again off again president Evo Morales has not helped the world see the beauty and wonder that is Bolivia. Bolivia has been in our hearts since my family had an exchange student from Bolivia stay with us in high school and we have made several trips to see her and her country since then.
The famous witches market, located in La Paz, is a popular tourist site where you can see everything from dried llama fetus (put up to guard off evil spirits on new home construction) to all types of potions and herbs to heal and do your voo doo with. I have no voodoo interests myself, but I love a good winding pathway through market streets and colorful booths!
Views from the local markets and streets are often colorful and full of all types of merchandise. The fabrics are hand woven and the patterns are traditional to the various regions. Around the 1st of the year, you will find lots of trinkets and objects that you can put up in your house as your "wishes" or prayers for the new year. Many put up fake money, cars, bride/groom articles, plastic babies or dolls, homes, etc. as to what they are asking for in the coming year. Though a Catholic country by heritage, the combination of witchcraft, shamans, medicine men from the altiplano, and local healers are a big part of the culture. While their work differs in scope, their beliefs are centered around Pachamama, or Mother Earth, who is appeased through ceremonial payments.
Lake Titicaca is a large, deep, freshwater lake in the Andes on the border of Bolivia and Peru
We were able to take an overnight ship and leisurely cruise around the lake and walk on the various sections. You could see evidence of the Incas in the landscape and lots of local agriculture.
The local wildlife consisted of llamas, alpacas, and vicunas, all members of the same family, as well as a variety of birds.
A local boatsman took us around the lake edges so that we could get an up close and personal view of the landscape. I love being out in places where I can connect with the local community and really feel like I am a part of the world around me.
Bolivia is definitely the place for a variety of potatoes. Chuño are the most interesting variety that I have seen, a type of frost-resistant variety of potatoes. A five day process involves freezing and sunlight to create the wrinkled process that makes them look like they have already been chewed up! The word comes from Quechuach'uñu, meaning 'frozen potato'.
Sights around La Paz and Cochabamba, Bolivia
Below is a view of the lake from out in the countryside. All the adobe buildings blend together and create a very scenic picture.
While in La Paz, we went to a great show that demonstrated all the various culture group and dances of Bolivia. It was a wonderful representation of colors and music that was probably the best value we have had in a folkloric tourist show that was right next to the witches market.
Local scenes around the countryside.
Our big trip was to the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats. It started out with a ten hour overnight bus ride from La Paz to Uyuni where we met our guide and headed out over the salt flats. Luckily it was a comfortable bus with reclining seats and heat. I still don't do that well on buses so I had cracked the window a little before we left. I tossed and turned and woke up with blasts of frozen air in my face as the pounding on the dirt roads had opened the window about a foot and because of the cold, had frozen over with ice. I couldn't get it shut and the people behind me were not happy so I had to wake Steve to break the window free to shut it; I looked at it as refreshing moment on the ride. We would drive for three days and cover over 600 miles on roads that only pack animals should have been on before our trip would be complete. The first hotel we stayed at was called the Salt Hotel. As the name states, everything was made of salt - the walls, tables, chairs, beds, etc. They also used flattened dried cactus to make the doors and cabinets. It is located right on the edge of the salt flats with lots of llama views.
The most amazing sight we saw were the Andean Flamingos that were in the lagunas. The water had to be freezing as there was snow and ice on the water as well so they must have some pretty insulated feathers and tough feet. The salt that is processed for use is a relatively small section of the overall flats which is 4,086 miles in size. It is done by hand, scrapped from the ground and then transferred for processing. Up close, the salt looks like ice and has a variety of textures. The flats look like snow, but is actually a salt lake bed with 23 islands that dot the surface. Some of the islands had lots of cactus, while others were barren.
Our second hotel (above, bottom left) truly was in the middle of nowhere. As you can see, there are no power lines so it all operates on solar and a generator. Hence, only electricity, heat, and hot water from 8 AM to 8 PM. As we left the salt flats, we headed into a mountainous area that got more desert-like as we went. I always think of Honduras as full of children and I'll remember Bolivia for the most rocks I've ever seen in one place in my life. Fields of rock were lined with walls of rock next to mountains of rocks. I kept thinking about being a kid and having to pick rocks from the garden for my folks and thought if you were a kid in this place, you wouldn't know where to start!