Bolivia

Up to the highest height

That’s an understatement.

Being between 3,000m and 5,200m above sea level for most of our stay in Bolivia we experienced some of the most magnificent landscapes so far on our trip. From the rock formations of Tupiza, to the views from the hills of Sucre, to seeing La Paz from above the valley; traveling the cable cars from mountain to mountain. Last but by no means least, getting to to see the Salt Flats of Uyuni and area of Sud Lipez in the wet season. Breath taking!

Uyuni & Sud Lipez

(Click picture to enlarge)

It did come at a cost though, with our time in Bolivia being plagued by issues with the altitude. From feeling like two 80 year old men smoking 50 a day climbing the slightest incline to harsher symptoms, to infuriating sleep apnea and insomnia for 3 weeks straight (mainly affecting Jeroen). We never realized just how much altitude could affect you. We tried all kinds of advice to get over it (including copious amounts of the infamous coca tea). But to no avail.

Quite a challenge to say the least.  And to be honest, not the only one we encountered.

With travel, anything seemed to go (that is eventually, as it was always late).  From poorly developed, dangerous roads (on one occasion we even asked to get off one of our tour buses and walk back down a snowy mountain as the back of the rickety city van was sliding out), to riding old, battered buses that you could barely sit on (let alone sleep), to locals riding the bus sleeping in the middle of the aisles and even underneath the bus in the luggage compartments.

Many houses and accommodations were still essentially building sites.  Still in the middle of construction. Something we found out to be quite common in Bolivia, with many people not being able to complete building until they had more money.  The only exception to this that we saw was in the old centre of Sucre, which to be fair did have some beautiful colonial architecture.

The cities were generally very poor, hectic and over-crowded (especially La Paz), with people begging, selling or hustling on every corner, insane traffic, horns honking through all hours and so much pollution and rubbish. Although we did have some great experiences in La Paz (being chased by the armed guard at San Pedro prison for taking a photo, Friday night at the only gay bar in the city, dinner and happy hour wine at the Higher Ground Café and a special hidden bar in the centre of the city), the craziness of the cities was generally too much for us.

La Paz

Add into this mix the unpredictable weather (with torrential rain and storms at the blink of an eye) and the craziness multiplied.

Looking back at other countries we’d visited before (how spoiled we’d been so far), it’s fair to say overall Bolivia was quite a shock to the system.

With all this said, we wouldn’t change a thing about our experience in this country. Precisely because it was such a shock. So different from any of the places we have visited so far. So different from anything we have experienced at home or anywhere else.  Intense.

With hindsight, albeit we didn’t realize the at the time – it all kind of made us feel alive (breathing issues from the altitude aside). And gave us cause to really think about our own lives, as well as why we came on this trip. Sure, to explore some amazing places. But not just in our comfort zone. Seeing how people live differently; with their own routines, traditions and approach to life (good, bad or otherwise) – having their own challenges yet just trying to get along and make the most of it (whilst still being so incredibly hospitable, we might add).

Sucre

(Click picture to enlarge)

With all this in mind, on giving us a different experience, Bolivia definitely delivered.  If you just embrace it all it’s actually a cool place to visit. Unfortunately it won’t be somewhere we’ll come back to – simply because of the altitude. But for sure it’s a place we’ll never forget.

Till next time

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited:  5
  • Cities visited:  27
  • Distance travelled:  26.433 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (8),
    • Night-bus (7),
    • Day bus (17),
    • Boat (2),
    • 4×4 (1).

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