Not much to report from our entire day of travelling from Puno to La Paz, except at the border we had to leave the bus and literally walk between Peru and Bolivia. Ybone, our tour leader, had to pretend she did not know us as border patrol can be very difficult in letting Peruvians into the country. After stopping at Copocabana (not the famous one in the song!) for lunch, we finally arrived late afternoon in La Paz.
Our expectations of Bolivia were beautiful scenery, snow-capped mountains and clean streets. Instead, our first impressions were of tramp-lined streets, excess rubbish on the floor and insane honking whilst waiting an hour to cross the road for fear of being killed in the process! Don´t worry Gail and Charles, Laura has been holding Emma´s hand tightly to avoid any more mishaps!
Quickly learning to be streetwise, Ybone put us in a taxi headed for a restaurant. Trusting her, as one should, it soon became apparent the driver had no clue where we were going and told us to get out at a quiet side street which clearly had no restaurants or lighting! Using our initiative we realised this was not the restaurant and refusing to leave the vehicle ended up arguing in Spanish with an increasingly aggressive driver! After driving round in circles and pleading with him to drop us back at the hotel, we later found our way to meet the others who were all worried sick and starving hungry! This taught us GAP tours are not a safe option they simply organise your transport - no matter how dodgy!
The following day we had free until the evening where we met our new tour leader and additions to the group. We headed out, the two of us, both armed with maps and exact directions of how to reach all the sights. Our first stop was the black market, consisting of hundreds of outdoor stalls and bustling Bolivians crowding around the fake designer clothes and electronics. Feeling we stuck out slightly, especially Laura! we headed to a more touristy witches market which, instead of clothes, we were surprised to find sold shrunken llamas, chicken skulls and many potions to ward off evil spirits!
Noticing a sign for the coca museum we thought some education would make a change and headed inside. We certainly became educated here as we discovered coca leaves, which our tour leader had been giving us in tea and in their natural form to combat altitude sickness, actually form the resin for cocaine! Both in shock, we didn´t hesitate to try a coca cookie and learn more about cocaine production in step-by-step detail! (Don´t worry coca-cola used to contain coca too until it became illegal - undoubtedly both sets of parents would have sampled this during childhood!)
Leaving an American Diner in the main tourist street, happy to have had more western food, we headed for more culture in the form of four museums. Noticing the long line, and our shortage of time, Emma suggested sneaking in for a quick look without paying the 4 Bolivianos (32p) entrance. She claims she just wanted to check if it was in English when we were chased by a Bolivian woman. Lucklily for us, David, our new best friend and the most enthusiatic tour guide EVER ran to our rescue, offering us a private tour for no extra cost and explaining every little detail of the Culture museum, History and War museum, Museum of precious metals (gold and silver), Tiwanaka and Inca museum and Pedro Domingo Murillo´s House. Murillo was the first Indian in Bolivia to stand up for Moreno´s (coloured people - as they are called here) rights and wrote a treaty for their freedom.
David explained the borders of Bolivia have moved due to a war with Chile meaning they are closer to the sea and to prove this took great delight in showing us one ¨aquarium¨room painted in a mural containing sharks and whales, supposedly the sealife in Bolivia. However we are yet to find the coast!
Ending our jam-packed day, we met Sara our new guide and went for a digusting Indian meal at a local restaurant getting an early night as the next day´s itinerary involved travelling all day to reach Uyuni, the coldest place in the world!! where the salt flats and desert excursion would begin!