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We’ve Arrived in Bolivia!


July 14th

Fifteen minutes after crossing our fastest border ever, we were in Copacabana and chatting with Mark and Christine in their rig catching up.  We are boondocking with them right on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  This lake is the largest in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world at 3812m/12506’.  It borders both Peru and Bolivia. Enroute to La Paz you cross the lake by so called ferries (more like small wooden barges) across the Strait of Tiquina.

Canadians can enter Bolivia with no visa fee but Americans must pay a fee of $165 – steep!  We were able to get a 90 day TIP for our rig but only a 30 day visa which is renewable twice in major cities.  We’ll probably try and take care of this in La Paz.  We’ve been to this corner of Bolivia before so we won’t spend a lot of time sightseeing around this section but will still make a stop in the capital city to get this and a few other things done.  Doug has arranged with an insurance company based in La Paz to provide us vehicle insurance for much of the rest of the continent so we must stop in and finalize that.

Bolivia (named for Simon Bolivar) is the fifth largest country in South America (twice the size of Texas) and is landlocked surrounded by Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile, sitting more or less in the heart of South America.  It has snow and ice capped peaks of over 6000m/19600′ in two stretches of the Andes, high altitude deserts, rainforests of the Amazon and large stretches of savannah which means a huge range of climates. 

It was ruled by the Spanish for over three centuries so it has fine architecture with underlying indigenous culture. The first people in Bolivia were a tribe on the shores of Lake Titicaca in 1000 BC.  The Incas incorporated the Aymara people into their culture during the 11-15th centuries and the Spanish arrived in 1532.  In 1809 La Paz becomes the first capital city to declare its independence from Spain and after the battle of Ayacucho in Peru in 1824 where the Spanish were chased out, Bolivia became independent as well.  Bolivia opted not to be part of Peru or Argentina and was first know as “Alto Peru” (high Peru).  In the latter 19th century Chile invades Peru & Bolivia and the latter lots its access to the Pacific Ocean in 1904.

Bolivia has two capital cities:  La Paz is the seat of presidential power but Sucre is the seat of constitutional and judicial power. As like other Latin American countries, there has been political turmoil and uprisings with huge loss of life and ups and downs in the economy.  The current president, Morales, has been in power since 2005 and after drug issues with the US, the country was blacklisted.  Morales was elected for a third term after a constitutional change but after trying earlier this year to amend the constitution to allow him a fourth term he was denied.  

Bolivia’s currency is called the “Boliviano” and approximately 7B’s make a USD.  The beers are: Huari and Paceña.  We have yet to try them as we have plenty of Corona and Peruvian, Pilsen left.

Gasoline is a tricky business here in Bolivia.  The government subsidizes gas for the locals so there is a price for them and a price for foreign plated vehicles.  There are supposedly some stations that will not sell to foreigners at all and then there are some that will sell you gas at a “special” price somewhere between the two and pocket the difference.  There are apparently cameras set up in stations to watch over this policy so getting gas could be tricky.  We’ve hear from overlanders that at times you can buy gas in jerry cans for the local price by parking off the station property and walking in with your cans (especially outside big cities).  We filled up our tank and three jerry cans before leaving Peru so it will be a little while before we experience this for ourselves.  We will probably want a couple of extra containers for gas before we enter the remote southwestern corner as well; all part of the journey, right?

Sunday, the four of us went into the village mid-morning to catch the World Cup final: France vs Croatia.  Enroute we ran into Gabriel & Taies, whom we’d met back in Colombia and Ecuador and their friends, a young couple from Tennessee and they all joined us.  Sadly all six of us were cheering for Croatia – we figure it’s Doug: in nearly every match but one, he routed for the underdog and they lost.

We wandered the town afterwards on our own, hit an ATM got a sim card set up in Fran’s phone in less than twenty minutes – helps so much more when you can understand/speak the language.  We found a restaurant with wifi and spent some time online while having lunch and returned to Tigger to join Christine and Mark enjoying the afternoon sun on the lakeshore.  It got cold as the sun set and we went inside Tigger for happy hour.

We decided to stay here one more night and enjoyed a quieter Monday although it was surprising how many people were in town.  We went to a restaurant for internet for a bit then back to our campers for lunch and the afternoon in the sun.

We left on Tuesday morning for La Paz while Christine and Mark headed north to do a hike in the mountains; we didn’t feel we were acclimatized enough yet nor did we want to sleep at 4200m/ 13800‘.

After a scenic drive following the shores of the lake, we waited and bit and then were loaded onto a ferry (if you can call it that!) with a bus and the young men steering the boat had some challenges getting us away from the “dock”.

The crossing costs 50b (about $7) and lasted about fifteen minutes (probably shorter if you’re not so heavy!) and you back off the boat.  We picked up two men on board who were also headed to La Paz and continued on our way. After a short drive we hit a detour and then we were on the good four lane toll road.  We dropped one of our riders just over half when we stopped for a “pee” break and the other we took most of the way to El Alto – the suburb of La Paz where the airport is located.  Overlanders can park/camp in the secure lot there and take the new teleferico into the city (this is a really new form of transportation here that was not around when we were here seven years ago).  We got parked and went into the airport for lunch at “the highest burger joint in the world”.

and some internet.  For some reason Fran’s phone is acting up.  We’d bought a fair bit of data when we bought the sim card but for some reason although her phone’s hot spot appears on other phones and you can sign it, no one can access the internet.  So it was suggested that she back up her phone and do a factory reset but still nada.  Then the Whatsapp app will only work on wifi – not data!  Time to hit an Entel store and sort it out.

La Paz sits at over 3500m/ 11400’ and sits in a bowl like canyon (surrounded by mountains, some of which are over 6000m/19600′) where many ramshackle homes of the city’s poorer citizens cling precariously to very harsh grades in amoungst hoodoos and spires.  Both Wednesday and Thursday we took the really efficient teleferico system (gondolas) into the city.  There are several lines named by colour:  red, orange, blue, green, yellow, white and light blue with more to come.

We remembered the traffic in this city to be quiet chaotic but the new public transport systems looks to be helping.  It is said to be the longest and the highest in the world, transporting passengers from 3600m to 4200m and runs on electricity and solar power.  It is certainly the best way to see the city! It costs 3B – less than 50¢

We were very impressed; runs well, it’s cheap and surprising no lines!  We first sorted out vehicle insurance with a company that will cover all countries that border Bolivia; then Doug saw a cardiologist and had an ecko done; we found a security camera “street” and after a few tries found a guy willing to come out to Tigger and see what the problem was that Doug was having installing the new camera we’d brought from home; we also tried to extend the 30 day visas we received at the border, but the Immigration office would have none of it as we’d only been in the country four days!  We’d read others had been lucky but no dice for us.  We ran a few other errands but did not real sightseeing and returned to the airport parking.  The security fellow came out but after an hour, said he’d have to take the camera and the NVR to his shop and he’d call us tomorrow.

Thursday we headed out of town to a mechanic near where the  next camping spot was outside the city and funnily, as we were about to turn down a street a block before the garage, a man disembarked from a red Kia, waved us down and asked if we were looking for a mechanic! He was Rolando, the guy we’d read about on iOverlander and were looking for!  He turned around and we followed him to his shop.  After discussing what we needed done (oil change, tire rotation, sway bar repair, check the brakes and a couple of other minor things) he agreed that he could do it on Friday.  We then found a supermarket for food and drove to Hotel Oberland on the south side of the city, where we’ll camp the next few days awaiting Christine & Mark.

That afternoon we got a lot of chores down around the rig; including filling up with water as we won’t be as high the next little while.  We had finally found new floor mats for Tigger at the mall where we’d done our grocery shopping and after sweeping and washing the floor, in they went and then, of course, Fran managed to spill on them within an hour!

When we arrived here, the main “camping” area already had four rigs there and it would have been a squeeze to put Tigger in, and we have to leave for the day tomorrow and we know Christine and Mark are coming soon, so they parked us in their upper grassy lot (which is actually much nicer as there is a view being higher).  They don’t usually put campers up there but the hotel is in the midst of a change of ownership and there are very few guests.  Around four o’clock we were invited to the lower section for happy hour; there are two Dutch couples, a German couple, a Swiss couple and an American couple with kids (this is the couple Doug had spoken with on FB about the crossing into Bolvia).  It began raining within a half hour so it was cut short but everyone seems quite nice.  Afterwards, two more rigs arrived with Germans and they parked up on our level.

The security camera guy, showed up around 8:45 tonight and despite telling us he’d gotten the camera to work back in his shop, it was a no go here in Tigger.  So we are back to square one.  We paid him for his time and his cab fare and sent him home to his wife and baby.

Friday the weather was on an off rain/sun and rather cool.  We got some shores down around “home” and struggled with the hotel’s slow wifi.  Doug dropped off laundry down the street and we stuck close to home.  Christine and Mark reached out late in the afternoon and they arrived here around seven exhausted so we left catching up till the next morning.

Saturday was even wetter; we heard rain over night and awoke to it and it persisted throughout the entire day and into the night, on and off.  We had planned to walk to the nearby Valley of the Moon for a stroll but we’ll hope for better weather tomorrow.  We did take a short walk into the village after lunch to get out laundry and a few fruits and then spent a couple of hours playing cards and scrabble with Christine and Mark.

Sunday the skies were clear and Christine and Mark took off for Coroico (which we went to in 2011) and we will meet up again on Wednesday in Cochabamba.  The little town we are camped in, on the south side of La Paz, is called Mallasa and there are a lot of restaurants, mostly serving chicken.  On the weekend you see rotisseries all the way down the sidewalk outside these establishments:

It was a perfect day to walk about half a kilometre to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) park.  This is a rather poor imitation of Bryce Canyon National Park; lots of spires and hoodoos and a maze of paths to walk around in (although here there is as set trail to follow with railings and some bridges to keep you out of the hoodoos).  This is representative of the geology that La Paz sits in.  You see such formations all around the city. It was a pleasant hour or so and we returned to Tigger where Doug  managed to the Bolivia maps loaded onto the Garmin.

Around four o’clock, Robert, the Dutchman from Australia invited us down to the lower camp for happy hour where he and his wife, Clary, (aka Double Dutch!) and the Swiss couple that were still there, Benno & Sonja were set up in the sun.  We gave our Peru sim card to Clary and we enjoyed a couple of hours swapping stories until the sun was down and it got too cold.  Another German couple in a land rover arrived in the lower camp just before we called it.

So now it’s Monday, sunny again, and we packed up Tigger so Doug could head off to the mechanic while Fran stayed back at the camp.  There is only one other rig up top with us now, the Germans, Martin & Christine, and they are leaving today.  Fran found a warm spot up in the breakfast area of the hotel to sit and catch up on blogging and photos.

Doug returned around 7pm (after a five hour wait for the mechanics to begin working on Tigger.  He got the oil change, tire rotation and brake check done.  He also got the headlights polished, a new air intake valve replaced and learned we need a new belt tension…. which we can get in the next big city.  It was a long day.  We decided to have beer and popcorn for dinner and watch a movie.  No happy hour today.

During the early morning hours on Tuesday, Doug was not well and got sick.  We had planned to leave today but we’re in no rush so we’ll hang another day so he can rest up.  We later heard from Christine that they too are hanging out in Yungas (north of here where we’ve been before) and so we’ll meet up later in the week.  The hotel here sells propane to guests so we decided to see about topping up as the guy in Cusco did not seem to really fill the tank.  Gonzales, one of the workers here, brought a big tank over and was going to do a gravity fill but it seems with a half tank, there’s too much pressure and it wouldn’t work.  He’d put the tank on the roof of Tigger but it was a no go.  Hopefully before we enter the really cold part of Bolivia, we’ll find another place if we get empty…..

Clary and Robert came up to say goodbye; maybe we’ll meet again but they are heading into Peru in a few days so it’s unlikely, but you never know in this world, do you?