Originally when we made our plans for South America, Bolivia was a must see country that required 12 days in our SA timeline. We had planned to visit Lake Titicaca (Copacabana), mountain bike down the world's deadliest road, visit the historical capital of La Paz (highest city in SA), and of course venture into the world famous salt flats. But unfortunately things change when the trip begins!
Time and money was running low so unfortunately the deepest we would make it into Bolivia was the tourist hotspot of Copacabana. Copacabana is a lakeside beach town that is frequented by Bolivans and foreigners looking to catch some water time.
We were glad that we at least had the chance to touch down on Bolivian soil but were a little disappointed that 3 days would be the limit. Nevertheless, we were thrilled when we realized just how cheap Bolivia is.
We traveled to Copacabana with our New Zealand friends, Matt and Emma, and found a fairly new 3 star hotel with a private bathroom, hot water (not common in Bolivia ), cable television, and new beds and linen for only US $7 per night! This budget friendly find was a stroke of luck because Cameron and Emma happened to catch a stomach bug that lasted a couple days - it could have been contracted from either the Guinea Pig or Alpaca meat that was eaten the night prior in Puno, Peru .
We had heard that the border crossing into Bolivia was a bit sketchy so we made sure that we found a bus company that took us directly from Puno to Copacabana (Collector was the bus company name).
The crossing was actually very easy and straight forward but it was definitely different from any previous crossing. We got our passports stamped and had to walk across a road for about 100 meters before entering Bolivia. It seems like the process hasn´t been updated in 50 years!
To those travelers looking to enter Bolivia via Copacabana that happen to read this blog, make sure that you bring enough cash with you! There are no ATM´s in the entire city. We found this out AFTER arriving and were shocked to think that a city on this planet doesn't have access to ATM´s or even have a local bank! Luckily we had some cash reserves stashed or it would have been very interesting trying to get out of the country.
Our goal was to visit the infamous Isla del Sol, which was a very important island during the Incan days. Unfortunately we planned to visit this island on our last day and the weather decided it did not want to co-operate. The result was a heavy down pour of rain, which in turn led to a day of relaxation watching 'Friends' reruns and the Lord of the Rings movie in Spanish.
Some bits and pieces that we observed during our stay:
- Yogurt is not refrigerated; it is sold off the street while sitting in the sun all day. Apparently it has no impact on the product either?!
- Meat and chicken are not refrigerated either. Walking through the food markets smell absolutely terrible! And all of the blood and guts are left on the counter tops and cutting boards… not good.
- Bolivian woman make the society work. They work so hard lifting 50 kgs on their backs, tending to the gardening and farm work, selling the family products, cooking and cleaning, all while having a young baby strapped on their backs!
- Drinking benders are quite common.In fact, speaking to some locals we found out that many store owners will close their operations for a week to go and party with friends. Good business practices!
- Discrimination towards tourists is very high. Each tourist will get their own set of pricing and in some cases the local dishes are 'not available' to gringos. I guess local restaurants figure that if the cheap dish is unavailable, the gringos will order the more expensive dishes.
- Many building constructions are started but very few are ever completed. In some areas it is a sea of incomplete, abanonded projects that become future landfills for plastic coke bottles.
- Garbage and rubbish is basically dumped anywhere, which is a huge shame because the landscape is quite beautiful.
- We all found it very difficult to breath at that altitude, which is funny because Puno is roughly the same height but we had no problems there? Go figure.
Although our stay was brief, we were very glad that we made the extra effort to visit Copacabana. It is a sleepy tourist town with very little to do, which was actually right in line with what we were looking for at that time.
Our journey south had come to an end and it was time to turnaround and head back to Peru, with Arequipa and the great Colca Canyon as our next destination!