I left La Paz feeling I hadnt given it a chance! A large sprawling city built in a valley at 3600m with 2mil inhabitants, it is the highest capital city in the world. As we wandered through the cobbled steep streets, to coin a phrase, "it was an assault to the senses" – one can be overcome by the diesel fumes, sewerage and human excrement smells, but also by the crumbling Spanish colonial architecture, the traditionally dressed women selling everything from llama foetuses (good housewarming present), to snickers to fake North Face jackets, not to mention the llama wool jerseys, bright textiles and internet cafes! We were stayiung near "Gringo Alley" so plenty of opportunity to book a tour (jungle, trek, bike the worlds most dangerous road), find a hostal, restaurant or decide on which souveneir to buy (all the stalls sold the same jerseys, bags, toys, jewellery etc). Finding something unique was difficult and came with a hefty price tag!
From a cultural perspecitve, I did manage a visit to the Coca Museum – quite fascinating history and basic exhibitions of the story of the coca leaf and the only musuem open on Sun arvie!
In pursuit of quieter time and to get back in touch with nature, I decided to take a side trip to Coroico, 100kms from La Paz, set in lush tropical mountainous area – advertised for its tranquility and so I had set my mind on a relaxing day by the pool at a quiet hostel with beautiful gardens. On arrival in Coroico, I was pleasantly surprised by annual festival in main plaza with several bands, dancing with men, women and children in traditional colourful costume and copious amounts of beer being consumed!
As a storm and ominous sky was threatening my lazing by the pool, I opted for a cheapy hotel and settled into sheltered ringside seats of procession at pizzeria on plaza and joined in the celebration with several ice cold beers! The festivities ground to a halt when torrential downpours started but I was quite comfortable and dry. A little rain wasnt goint to sopt the party, once the rain dissipated, the bands and dancing resumed. Bolivians sure know how to party!
I had decided to take some time out from the cycle group and set off on a 3 day Jungle tour which entailed cruising down a number of rivers including the Beni river whcih feeds into Amazon basin, walks in rain forest and camping on the banks of the river. We were a small international group of 11 gringos and 7 Bolivian staff. We first started with a long drive along a continuation of the "Death Highway" with stunning scenery and dizzying heights. The boat was a long boat with wooden planks as seats but quite comfortable for appreciating the flora, fauna and birdlife along the river banks and suitable for the shallow sections of the river and odd rapid!
We enjoyed several walks in the rain forest, cooled off with swims in river and waterfall and a highlight was a canopy zip line tour that was exhilirating once I overcame my fear of heights suspended on platforms 200m above ground, the scenery looking over the forest canopy was spectacular! We cruised along Madidi National Park where there are puma, jaguar, wild boar, armiadillo, etc but unfortunately they did not appear for us, only tarantula, capybarra (large rodent like creatures), butterflies, frogs and plenty of birds. Waking up to the sounds of the rainforest was amazing….reminded me of relaxation tapes one hears enjoying a massage / bliss, but no masseur on tour!
We ended in Rurrenabaque where we stayed one night and enjoyed a night with new friends all of which were heading for Pamapas tours in Amazon basin whilst I caught an early morning flight on a 19 seater plant – a surprisingly smooth ride back up to La Paz. I had a few hours to spare and managed to enjoy some more sights, squares and museums (Ethnology a highlight) before catching bus for 7 hr trip to Puno, Peru to join up with cycle group.
I was feeling quite sad to leave Bolivia, a beautiful country with friendly people and stunning scenery and still somewhat untouchedby mass tourism and therefore cheap!
Posted By Natasha Barker