Things I loved about travelling in Bolivia

I crossed the border near Puno because it made sense to go into Bolivia after getting to the Titicacalake. The idea was to do a quick round in Bolivia without too much volunteering and getting back to Peru soon. I had so many ideas what to do and where to go in Peru, but hardly knew a thing about Bolivia. In the end my “quick visit” to the country turned into almost three months of travelling! I regularly get puzzled looks from gringo-trail backpackers when I tell them how much time I spent in Bolivia, but the fact is that in addition to being a slow traveller I really liked the country and think it is quite underrated by lots of travellers.When I left Bolivia I got kind of sad and realized that if I had infinite time and visa I easily could have spent at last a month more. So what do I think is so fantastic about travelling Bolivia?

  1. The incredible nature. When people think about Bolivia they mostly picture the Andes and it is true that they are incredible, but Bolivia has so much more to offer! From the saltflats and colourful lagunes in the southwest to the amazon djungle, from cloudforests to the Titicacalake this country is unbelievably diverse. Trekkers will find a paradise and I certainly didn’t expect to see so many different animals. A bus drive of only a few hours can chnge the climate so drastically you might have to change from summerdress to thermo leggins and lamawool socks. But wherever I went, the nature was spectacular.
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    The Amazing ‘Isla Incahuasi’ in Uyuni desert

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    ‘Cementerio de las tortugas’ in Torotoro near Cochabamba

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    More amazing nature: ‘Laguna Blanca’

  2. The adventure factor. Forget about biking “deathroad” near La Paz – if you spend enough time in Bolivia you will get your thrills just by riding a bus. When I went to Rurrenabaque the bus companies slogan was “Your adventure starts here!” and they were not lying. Narrow bumpy roads, road blocks, getting stuck in the mudd – nothing ever goes according to plan. I had a mouse eat a hole into my backpack, stayed in hostels with no water and survived several days in Tupiza with no electricity in the whole village. If you are on a tight scedule orstress out about things going “wrong” Bolivia might not be for you – but if you learn to embrace the craziness it’s actually a lot of fun. Each day offers a new surprise and in the end everything turns out fine.

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    This time at least it wasn’t the car I was sitting in that got stuck!

  3. The other travellers. This might also have to do with my choice of hostels or just be a coincidence, but the moment I entered Bolivia I was surrounded by amazing people. Don’t get me wrong – I met great people in my first month in Peru too, but everyone seemed to be on such a tight scedule so I would mostly just spend a day or two with them. There are also less travellers in a lot of places in Bolivia compared to south Peru, but it seemed easier to get to know them and everyone seemed so relaxed. I went from one great travel companion to another and really got to know them in the weeks (sometimes months) we spent together. I made real friends while travelling that I would love to see again and catch up with.
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    Diego, Melina, Sofia and Marlene using natural purple dye

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    Holding a lemon with the amazing Marie for no particular reason

  4. The respect for personal space. Don’t expect random people to invite you into their house, offering to show you aroundor just strike up a conversation out of nowhere in Bolivia. Building connections takes a while here, small talk is not always welcome and most people will just ignore you except for a quick greeting. Compared to other latinos Bolivians might seem cold and distanced at first sight, but at the same time they respect your space. In the three months I did not have one uncomfortable situation- no whistling, no weird sexual comments, no men I had to try to get rid of. Unfortunately this is not the norm in a lot of southamerican countries. Still I had lots of interesting conversations and met great people everywhere: couchsurfing, volunteering or simply taking a taxi. Because if you take a bit of time it is very possible to get to know Bolivians.

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    I have hardly taken any pictures of people and that has a reason: they don’t like it!

  5.  The diverse cultures. Although Bolivia is one country, it really consists of very different cultures. Peoples mentality, customs and traditional clothes are very different from place to place. Going from La Paz into the djungle I felt like entering a whole different country because everyone looked and behaved so different. After all this time in the country I still only got a superficial impression of Bolivias different cultures and this really makes me want to go back to learn and explore more.

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    Carnival at the Titicaca lake

  6. The prices. I am not going to lie – Bolivia is dead cheap and it is great! Of course it is not India, but I lived very comfortably without much volunteering and only spent 400 to 600 Euros per month despite various multi day tours which felt like a big luxury. I got so used to the prices that I would walk away from any street seller trying to charge more than 5 Bolivianos (0,65 Euro) for two papayas. If you get out of what I call “the tourist bubble”, eating overprized Pizza and staying at places that tell you their prices in US Dollars, Bolivia is a backpackers dream come true. Unfortunately beer and chocolate are quite pricy but I can live with that if I can have a huge fruit salad every day for under 1 Euro.

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    One of the cheapest vegetables to buy.As a german this makes me very happy!

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Walking to Machu Picchu

It has been a while since my last blog post and there is a good reason for it: lots and lots of trekking. Though I have been in the Cuzco area for more than two weeks it feels like I only ever spend a day or two in the city to organize the next trek. My first trek in the area was the Salkantay and I started just one day after my arrival. In the hostel kitchen I met Thomas, Daniel and Camille who were preparing a delicous looking meal and when they told me about their plans to do both the Salkantay (on a dead cheap tour) and the Ausangate trail by themselves right after I instantly decided to join them.

The Salkantay turned out to be a nice and easy warm up for our further trekking plans and we ended up in a wonderfull group of people. The first two days were amazing with spectacular landscapes and despite hords of tourists with selfie sticks I see the reason why Machu Picchu is so popular. However, there were long parts walking on dirt roads to get there and I would not say that Machu Picchu was “the cherry on top of my journey”. I also realized that I much prefer trekking without a tour, although it was nice to only carry a daypack and not have to worry about food.

If you would like to get an impression of the Salkantay I recommend Isabels blog post. She was part of our group and writes about sustainable travel. Though she might have experienced a few things different than me she takes incredible pictures and you’ll get an impression of the trail in general.

 

Another day in the djungle

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The only way to our camp: a three hour boat ride

I wake up to the buzzing noise of the amazon djungle. Birds are singing, howler monkeys screaming in the distance and millions of diffenent insects humming in the woods surrounding me.  Although the bed is is only protected by a simple wooden structure and palm leaf roof I am safe from any bloodsuckers under my green moskito net. It’s been unusually cold in the last few days, so I am wraped up in two sleeping bags  and wearing my favourite lama wool socks.

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My temporary home in the djungle

I have no clue what time it is and haven’t looked at a clock for days, but as the first light of the day is shinging through thick green leafs I figure it is time to get up. I make my way to the kitchen and prepare a coffe – that is powdered milk, choclate powder and Nescafe with hot water. Jani, our cook and only other woman in the camp has already been up for hours  frying empanadas, pancakes and other delicious things for the tour groups. I hope the tourists aren’t too hungy today so I can steal some fruits from their buffet, because our breakfast is more typical for Bolivia and consists of meat and rice.

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“Dining room” and hammocks – the heart of the camp

Slowly the kitchen is filling up with tour guides and other people from the Max team. Though my spanish has become quite good by now it is difficult to follow all the inside jokes and people takling at the same time. Still I feel welcome and have learned most peoples names by now. After helping with the dishes and chilling in the hammocks for a bit I am told to work with Krieter. We start painting wooden chairs, but hardly 10 minutes later he grinns and proclaims that we are going fishing. The work can wait. We walk through the dense djungle with its immense mahogany trees – thick lianas hanging from their branches. Crossing coutless antroads we make our way to the river and look for a nice sunny place to comfortably sit down and wait for the fishes to bite.

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Krieter preparing the hook

The hooks are big and the pieces of meat seem exaggerated to me, but Krieter tells me the story of how he once caught a 25kg fish and he is determined to repeat the story today. I on the other hand don’t think that I’ll catch something, but it is nice to enjoy the sun and listen to Krieters tales. Despite being only 23 and a school education of less than two years he has seen and done a lot in his life. After growing up in a Tacana community in the djungel he left his family at only nine years of age to work on a farm and make some money. Like the other indigenous guides he knows his way well around the djungel and has an incredible gift of finding animals. We talk about travelling, other german volunteers he has met, relationships and obviously that time he saw a jaguar. In Rurrenabaque amongst travellers and guides alike this is the ultimate goal and popular topic of conversations. At this point in the conversation my attention for fishing is almost nonexistant, so I casually pull my string out of the water. To my surprise it is quite difficult and suddenly I realize that there is something pulling back. Something big! Krieter takes over and tells me to get my camera ready. I pull one last time and out comes – a turtle.

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My accidental catch

Krieter thinks this is hillarious while I start to feel sorry for the poor animal. The hook is deep in its throuat and turtles can bite fingers off so it takes Krieter quite a while to free the creature with a kitchen knife. After about 10 minutes it is finally free and we send the little fellow (he is “only” about 10 years old) back into the river.

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Krieter freeing the turtle with a kitchen knife and lots of patience

 I am done with fishing for now and we decide to head back for lunch. With the food another nice surprise awaits us: Lennard, another german volunteer has arrived. We instantly get along well, but sadly he steals the best job of the afternoon from me: clearing paths with a machete. Nevermind. I help Alvero make the beds in the beautiful tree houses and again most of our time is spent taking breaks and chatting. When it takes us 30 minutes to make four beds Alvero is convinced we are working too hard.

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The treehouse my tourgroup stayed in when I arrived

Although Alvero has been working is both the Pampas and the Selva (djungel) for years, he is still crazy about taking pictures. If I wouldn’t know better I would think he is the tourist! So I help take pictures of him in the djungle, in fron of a tree house, making the beds… After a while I get tired of being his personal photographer, but dinnertime comes and he helps me look for seeds to make jewelery.

We join up with Krieter and Lennard and despite my earlier fishing-fail the two convince me to try my luck again. And night fishing turns out to be a lot of fun! It already stars when Krieter stops a baby-boa hanging from a branch. Of course I don’t have my camera with me, but the little snake hangs still so we can observe it from all angles. At the beach we have a great view of the night sky while the river is flowing in front of us – aligator eyes reflecting the light of our headlamps. While fishing Lennard and me get to the topic of festivals (he has a Boom ticket too) and Krieter jokingly complains that we are turning into Israelis. Our chatter is interrupted though when Lennard pulls his string out of the water. He has caught a big fish with jaguar-like skin. This will stay the yield for today.

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The only picture I was able to take of Lennards fish before it got taken apart

Krieter says that the fish is delicious and that we’ll prepare it for breakfast – and I think how strange it is that we will be eating this beautiful fish that could be the hilight of any zoo aquarium in Germany. I have to admit though that I am curious how it will taste (spoiler: very good and non-fishy) and so we leave the big catch in the kitchen and happily head back to our beds where each of us crawls under their moskito net.

The amazon truly is amazing and there are new things to discover and animals to spot each day. We will see what the next day brings…

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A turtle I didn’t catch, but found on the ground another day

The Pampas – safari for lazy people

Djungle or pampas? This is the question most travellers ask when arriving in Rurrenabaque. Fortunately I am bad at making decisions, so when Melina and me arrived in the village we just went for both tours.

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This is how we spent three days: relaxing on a boat

While I totally fell in love with the amazon djungle and even returned to volunteer for a week (more about that in my next blog post), I have to admit that it takes patience and luck to see animals up closer there. In the pampas on the other hand you will even see tons of animals if you contantly scream or stupidly try to touch them as the israelis in our tourgroup proved.

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Pedro our aligator friend chilling by the boat

There were many activities like (unsucessfull) piranha fishing and anaconda searching, but the real attraction were the many animals everywhere. Most of our time was spent on a boat – watching animals, watching the sunset, watching the sunrise… We saw aligators, turtles, parrots and countless other beautiful birds, monkeys, carpinchos and even pink dolphins! I had to learn the hard way that swimming with dolphins is not as romantic as I thought when they bit my toe, but still it was amazing to have them accompany our boat and just float through this animal paradise.

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We got really close to some of the birds

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Proud eagle on a tree

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There were also some smaller animals – unfortunately including moskitos

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The many different monkeys were my personal hilight

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Yet another cute monkey

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The standard comment of our guide was: and this bird likes to eat fish

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The biggest bird we saw – it was easily as tall as a small human

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Crazy bird in the afternoon sun

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Sunrise over the pampas