Hello from the 2nd country of my world trip - Bolivia. Bolivia is roughly the size of France and Spain combined and is one of only two South American countries that are totally landlocked (the other being Paraguay). This is one reason why it is the poorest country in South America. I´ve got just under 2 weeks here before heading south into wealthier Chile.
Our last night in Peru was also Sarah´s 23rd birthday, which we celebrated in a nice restaurant in Puno. A local band came to sing her the longest rendition of happy birthday ever known to man, and there was plenty of dancing and cheering. We all chipped in for some communal guinea pig (Peru´s famed delicacy) which came nicely presented on a plate teeth and all. I tried one small piece and was not impressed, there was so little meat on it. But it was a bit like duck. I didn´t enjoy the best of nights at the restaurant since my cold was peaking in the evening and I was finding it hard to breathe and swallowing more phlegm than food. Fortunately this is now nearly all better apart from a tickly throat. I´ve been taking plenty of tablets for it.
We were up at 6 as usual the next day for the journey across into Bolivia. It was a 1.5 hour drive alongside Lake Titicaca to the border. We left the coach and all went and swapped our Peruvian neuvos soles for Bolivia´s currency, the Bolivianos, and then went through Peruvian immigration. It was then a surreal walk across no mans land through an arch and into the Bolivian immigration office, which was flanked by two formal looking doctors boasting swine flu masks. With my sunglasses on I think I just about escaped their attention and got through without any hassle. We also put our clocks forward one hour, and I´m now just 5 hours behind UK time, which is nice since it is lighter later here (about 7pm sunset as opposed to 6pm). We had lunch in the Bolivian resort town of Copacabana, of which the famed beach in Rio de Janiero is named after. It wasn´t half as nice, though there were plenty of local tourists there. From there it was a 3.5 hour entertaining drive to Bolivia´s capital La Paz. At one point we had to disembark the bus and board tiny boats to ferry us across a small part of Lake Titicaca. The many busses and cars were loaded onto large barges and ferried across that way, making for one of the more bizarre sights of my trip.
Arriving in La Paz reminded me of my arrival in Lima. I´ve not seen since crazy roads since those near Lima airport. Our driver kindly halted us on the edge of the freeway in a precariouis position so we could get photo´s looking down into the valley of La Paz, which at 3600m (11,811ft) is the highest capital city in the world. It was a great view made better by the unerring sight of a smoking volcano on the other side of the valley!
In the evening it was time for our farewell meal. This is the end of the 1st of my 4 segments of the Great South American Journey, so it was time to say goodbye to legendary tour guide Shirley and 6 of the other travellers- Andy, Lisa, Erika, Ryan, Julia and James. We meet the new tour guide and other new travellers tonight.
Today I actually had a lie in for the first time, though typically we were awoken early because we were directly below the noisy kitchen. We spent the morning wandering the streets of the city, which I thoroughly enjoyed. La Paz is as quintessentially South American as you can get - crowded, chaotic, dirty and probably slightly dangerous, but I absolutely love it like that! There wasn´t an awful lot to see. We passed the central square, parliament and President´s residence, before we and just about everyone was left shellshocked by an exploding bomb from a nearby protest. No idea what it was about. We also passed the infamous San Pedro prison, which was where an Australian writer spent 3 months living in order to write a book of horror stories about the place. Its one of the most overcrowded and corrupt prisons in the world, famed for high quality cocaine. I took one photo and then attempted to take another before being aggressively warned not to by a guard sporting a rather large shotgun.
After lunch we bumped into 2 of the new people at the hotel- Chinese-English sisters named Amelia and Selina from London. Selina is 1.5 months younger than me so I can now say I´m not the youngest here. Amelia is 25. We also saw the list of other new people. A mid 20s German couple, a 26 year old Aussie girl and a 27 year old Britis bloke named Daniel Snowball.
Me and the 2 new girls plus Katie, Sarah and Caroline took an afternoon trip 10km out of the city to the Valley of the Moon rock formations. The fact that there were 6 of us in a 4 seater taxi didn´t seem to bother the many police we passed at low speed, and the fact the driver couldn´t see out of his rear mirror because of Katie didn´t bother him despite the fact he had no wingmirrors and nearly killed us once. It was worth the trip though to see the spectacular pinnacle rock formations, which took us about 45 minutes to walk round and cost absolutely pittance to enter.
Tomorrow we have another full day in La Paz and you´ll be reassured to know that I´ve booked a downhill mountain biking tour down the most dangerous road in the world! If we never speak again after today, its been a pleasure!