Sunday, 11 November 2018

Adventures in Bolivia



Before visiting Bolivia, all we knew was that Bolivia was a relatively poor country compared to Canada and that it was rich in superstition. After leaving Bolivia, I wish that we planned to stay longer because it was relatively cheap living, beautiful and it never ceased to surprise us with its diversity of traditions and modern developments.

We decided to use the company Bolivia Hop to get from Cusco, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia (and eventually to La Paz). It was nice using this company because there is an English speaking guide who can explain the ins and outs of the country and what was happening at each of our stops. It was another night bus, and after riding the extremely comfortable Cruz Del Sur, this was not a fun ride. The seats did not recline very far, and it was very difficult to find a comfortable position. Travelling tired, with tired children is not the funnest experience...

1. Copacabana
Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, a small town on Lake Titicaca. We only stayed for one night, but looking back, we probably would have enjoyed a few more days. One of the first things we noticed were the cars! Many of the cars were decorated with flowers and streamers. It seemed as though there was a festival they were decorating for, but through a little research we found that people like to bless their cars for good luck (for safe travels and no accidents). As we walked around the small town, we came to the Plaza 2 de febrero (main square) and were surprised to see line ups of cars and vans, two by two, getting decorated. There were also many stalls selling flowers (real and fake), small religious figures to attach on the outside and inside of cars, streamers and other colourful decorations. And to top it off, they also sold champagne and Coke that I believe, though we never witnessed it, they spray on cars. It seemed like quite the long process because we watched a van being decorated for over 30 minutes and it seemed like they were still adding touches when we left.





Another adventure for us in Copacabana was climbing Cerro Calvario, a tall hill right next to the city. While walking to the hill we saw a sign that read “Cerro Calvario” and pointed to a beaten path going upward, so one would think that it was the proper route up the hill. It was a challenging and rough climb up, and at times, we weren’t quite sure if we were on the path or not, but if we just looked upwards we could easily see which way we needed to go. Sometimes we saw people coming down the hill which confirmed that we must be on the right path! The top had a beautiful view of the land around and it was dedicated to the Stations of the Cross. As we walked across the top of the hill, we found…..the real pathway up the hill! A pathway constructed by bricks and stones with gradual steps zigzagging down. While this would have been a much easier climb, Adeline noted that the other way was much more interesting and fun!




Copacabana was a great place to visit because of the lake life for the kids. Being near the water and having a sandy beach to play in was so relaxing. Water and sand are definitely the two best ingredients for a family trip! Those two ingredients can entertain a child (and an adult) for hours on end! And, we got to have fresh trout for dinner! If you read our previous post about the Uros Islands, you would have read that the trout was introduced from North America and is now an invasive species in Lake Titicaca, so we didn’t feel badly when we each had our own fish for dinner.


2. La Paz
Back on the bus and off to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world (kind of...Sucre is really the capital of Bolivia, but only in name. The government sits in La Paz). La Paz is very neat in that it is shaped like a bowl; high mountain sides and city down in the bottom of the dish!

We arrived late at night and this was why I was most grateful we had chosen to ride with Bolivia Hop. Big cities can be a bit intimidating when you first arrive, but big cities in a country where you cannot communicate and have no access to a phone or the internet can be extremely intimidating! Our guide made sure that everyone on the bus made it to their hostels. When it was our turn, he jumped off the bus, took us right to the door and rang the bell because the door was locked. Nobody answered for 5 minutes… 10 minutes.... He kept pressing the bell and he even ended up calling a number he found by spying through a window. Finally after about 15 minutes, our host came to let us in. If we hadn’t had our guide, that situation would have been pretty disastrous! We slept in pretty late the next day!

Our first real day in La Paz was Sunday, and it is a good thing we arrived when we did! La Paz is bustling with activities for kids and families on weekends! After reading blog posts and websites written by other families, we found that one of the main roads, Prada Boulevard, had a festival for children. Unfortunately we woke up so late that I think that we missed most of it, but we still had a chance to see some street performers. If you haven’t seen our Instagram post of the rocking skeleton puppets, you should have a look! 

I was pretty disappointed in missing the children’s events, but as we stopped to figure out what to do next, we heard music and followed our ears, which ended up taking us to their Central Park. Wowee! What a Central Park they have in La Paz! We saw two separate fairs with carnival rides, a music stand where a band was playing cover songs from bands such as Green Day and Guns and Roses, a big BBQ cooking up pigs, and street vendors with all sorts of goodies! There also seemed to be a soccer tournament going on in the soccer fields in the park and we also saw people lined up outside their open air theatre for some other event going on! 

After eating some lunch and taking a ride on the Ferris Wheel, we decided to just keep walking to see what we could see and soon we found ourselves on a huge boardwalk, about a kilometre long, that took us high above the streets all the way to Pipiripi (La Paz’s Children’s museum). It cost us about $5 (Canadian) for the whole family to ride up their funicular and explore the museum for the rest of the day. There were science themes, lots of hands on fun and a focus on reusing materials for play. We could easily have spent another couple of days there, and it would be easy to afford since it was only about $5 for a family of 4!




The next day we spent on the Mi Teleférico (the world’s largest and highest aerial cable car urban transit system). There are several lines connecting the city and we just rode line to line. It was a fun way to see a bird’s eye view of the city! Sometimes we would leave the station, have a play in a local park, and get back on again. This also was a very inexpensive activity. About $5 Canadian for the whole family. Mi Teleférico is highly recommended by Charlie and Adeline!




3.Coroico
As exciting and fun as La Paz was, it is always nice to get away from the big cities! We wanted to find a place to just kick back and relax for a while, so we headed on a minibus to Coroico, a small town about 3 hours out and down from La Paz. And goodness, the drive was one of the most memorable drives I have ever been on. Being driven in a minibus in Bolivia is an experience in itself. People do not wear seatbelts (sorry mom), kids sit on laps of parents in the front (not us, don’t worry mom), there are lines on the roads, but the drivers don’t always follow them. The roads aren’t always in great condition...but that is how we were going to get to Coroico (Even the Bolivian man sitting next to David crossed himself once. If he was scared, should we be?). The drive to Coroico was once along the “Most Dangerous Road in the World”, but a new, paved road has been made. Many tourists ride the old road on mountain bikes, but we decided against it (you’re welcome mom), partially because there weren’t bikes that would fit Charlie and Adeline. And the clouds...wow! We drove through a cloud forest (a valley where clouds are trapped) and we were just amazed at the sights (or lack thereof) the whole way down! Our hostel was on the side of the mountain, so throughout the day, we had impressive views of the cloudy valley below and the mountains peeking above!

Math class with a beautiful view at our hostel.
From Coroico, we were able to visit La Senda Verde, a wildlife sanctuary that was once an eco-lodge. People kept dropping off injured animals, or animals that were illegally taken and sold as pets, and now they have a sanctuary full of animals from parakeets to monkeys to caimans. This might just be one of Adeline and Charlie’s favourite places so far. Move over Disney World! 


The bridge to Sende Verde (only two people allowed on the bridge at a time!)
We had a guide take us through the sanctuary, but first we had to go to the restaurant and take everything of value out of our pockets because the local capuchin monkeys like to go through pockets and have been known to rip up money or run off with it! We got to observe all the different animals that they care for while walking through a chain link cage for the humans. It was funny being the ones in the cage. We will remember the caiman enclosure the best because that is where a curious capuchin came to investigate Charlie and Adeline. We had to leave the human cage to see the caiman enclosure, and that is where the capuchin spotted us. It walked overtop of the roof and jumped right on Charlie’s shoulder, immediately peeled off the sticker on his hat, undid the Velcro and zipper on his raincoat and started exploring! What a monkey! Then he saw Adeline, reached over and knocked her hat off, climbed on her back and sat there until our guide took it off, then back to Charlie again. We had to leave the enclosure because it wouldn’t leave Charlie and Adeline (which was hilarious and exciting for us, but the staff didn’t think that it was so great as this was a wild monkey).



We had a little bit of time to sit and wait while a cab was called for us to go back to Coroico. While we waited, we sat with Maruca, the grandma spider monkey who likes to cuddle. Maruca is the only ‘wild’ animal allowed in the human cage. Maruca has a sad story. She was bought by a woman who abused her. She was hit frequently, which is obvious by her broken nose and misaligned jaw. Apparently one time she fought back and bit the lady, who ended up punishing her by pulling out some of her teeth! Thankfully she now has a home where she can relax and live in peace with only the occasional argument with the dog. If you sit down, Maruca will come over and sit and cuddle right in your lap. She is known as the grandma because she is 27 years old and most spider monkeys only live to 20 years old. I am so thankful that there is a place for her and other animals in her situation.




4. Uyuni Salt Flats
After our time in Coroico, we went on a tour to the Uyuni Salt Flats, a tour of amazingly different terrains and flamingos in the wild!  Nothing can prepare you for the Salt Flats and my words will never be able to describe the incredible feeling of being somewhere completely different, like being on a different planet. At times it reminded us of home, the white landscape was like snowy fields around Winnipeg, but it was hot! And the way the salt flats create almost pentagon shapes everywhere, like an enormous salt tapestry, is incredible. 

Many people like to take photos here that play with perspective. We took our fair share of photos too. You can see them on our Instagram feeds: @greatbigfamilyadventure and @vida_sabatica. Our guide was practically a professional photographer. He lined us up and told us what to do and took most of the pictures.





One of the most exciting parts of this tour was that there was a lot of open space around us, so we could play with our ball and frisbee. Most places in Bolivia and Peru did not have parks or open spaces to play (at least not where we were), and so this was such a treat! There were times where we had a chance to explore an old island or go on a short tour, but really, the kids just wanted to play. So we did.

The second day was spent moving from lagoon to lagoon where there were flamingos! I actually had never thought about where flamingos live in the wild, but here they were! Flamingos were not the only animals we saw. We got to stop in a valley and walk amongst llamas, were visited by some viscachas (relatives of chinchillas) at lunch and we also spotted an Andean ostrich with its baby chicks. Who knew, ostriches in Bolivia? The other exciting part of the day was exploring the rocks! It is very windy in the Atacama desert, and many of the old volcanic rocks have been eroded by the wind into fantastic shapes. One of the tourist destinations is to the Rock Tree where there is a rock, you guessed it, shaped like a tree. But along the way there, I saw other rocks shaped in a similar way, and right next to the rock tree, were amazing rocks that the kids and David enjoyed climbing. And they weren’t the only people climbing the rocks. It is a wonder that there isn’t a climbing company taking advantage of this space, or even the companies using that as a draw on their tours...maybe soon…



The last day was simply being taken to the Bolivian-Chilean border, which was humorous because Bolivia is considered a very poor country and Chile is not, and that is very obvious at the border. The Bolivian road up to the border is gravel, and the Chilean is paved with bright yellow lines. The Bolivian building is very simple and run down, and the Chilean building is more modern. The sign for Bolivia looks as though it was made and erected in the 1930s, and the Chilean sign was shiny and new.

We really enjoyed our stay in Bolivia. Looking back, I wish that we had stayed longer. But who knows, maybe we will head back. We still have 6 months to go...

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