A Bit about Bolivia

Bolivia, my third country in South America, is a surreal country, with eye-popping scenery at a breath-taking altitude.  By breath-taking, of course, I mean much of the cycling is between 3000 and 4000 meters above sea level.  Kate and I called it the soul-crusher, and after a few short days of biking, decided any future journeys would take place by motorcycle.

Yes, Bolivia was tough.  We knew it would be - after all, our route shadowed the Andes! - but I think both Kate and I were surprised by the effects of altitude, sand roads, food poisoning… oh, and our own mechanical ineptness.  We spent one morning struggling, me complaining that my front rim was too tight and my brake kept pulling, while Kate couldn’t understand why her brake no longer worked.  Yes, it took 30 kilometers before we realized we’d switched wheels after short bus ride (you generally need to take the front wheels off for bus rides, then tip the driver an extra $5 or so each.)   We’re obviously both amazing engineers - perhaps a change in careers is for the best!

We nearly died of boredom on an expensive jeep tour of the southwest corner of the country (and it’s probably for the best as trying to bike this route would, no doubt, have killed us in fact, peaking at over 5000m in altitude on painfully sandy-dirt roads) but the scenery was stunning.  As though we were on a different planet, we saw belching craters, red and green lakes, strange rock formations, and of course flamingos.  Who’d have thought it?

We then headed north from Uyuni and its enormous salt lake to La Paz, through true highlands on some of the worst roads of the trip.  We went several days without villages, camping in the empty plateaus and occasionally awakened by curious shepherds.   When we did come to a town with a market, we found more dried llama fetuses and flamingo wings than food… when we finally made it to La Paz we pigged out on sushi, forgetting the number one rule of sushi:  Do NOT eat sushi in a landlocked South American country infamous for its poor hygiene.  Our next several days were fun as we enjoyed the clean bathrooms and amazing American TV of some of the nicer hotels in the city. And then, over all too soon and not soon enough, just waking up from a dream, we cycled north past Lake Titicaca and into Peru.  Rolling hills along the beautiful lake, a nice breeze, whitewashed cathedrals and amazing pavement, the last day of biking was everything that the rest of Bolivia was not: peaceful, enjoyable, and fast.  Goodbye, soul-crusher, may I never see you again on a bicycle!

Sea of Salt
Sea of Salt

Bike Balancing Test
Bike Balancing Test

Jumping Practice
Jumping Practice

The Promised Flamingos
The Promised Flamingos

Hot Spring in the Middle of Nowhere
Hot Spring in the Middle of Nowhere

Biking in Bolivia - a Dangerous Business
Biking in Bolivia - a Dangerous Business

Witch market
Witch market

Those Promised Flamingo Wings
Those Promised Flamingo Wings

Sushi in Bolivia... WHAT COULD GO WRONG??
Sushi in Bolivia... WHAT COULD GO WRONG??

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca

Sidewalk Scene
Sidewalk Scene

Llama
Llama

Copacabana Cathedral
Copacabana Cathedral

« The Andes and Aftershocks
I Will Always Regret that I didn’t go to Japan »

01
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 7:50 pm

awesome update!

02
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 7:53 pm

Thanks… about time I updated!

03
Jeanne in Michigan
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 8:13 pm

Great to hear from you, Malena! I thought your travel had ended, and that you were going to law school. Sounds like you’ve been bitten by the adventure bug and are still travelling. I followed you to the end of the Hostelling Candy Travel travel blog with all your wonderful candy pictures and ventures into amazing worldwide candy shops. Loved reading those adventures from my desk at work. What is your travel plan now? So glad that you’re blogging again with wonderful pictures, too, it’s going to brighten my work days!! Take good care and have fun! - Jeanne in Michigan

04
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 8:15 pm

Whoops! I should have clarified… I did stop traveling this summer for law school (in fact, I should be studying my contracts right now!) but I’m just trying to get caught up on the piles of photos I took that I haven’t blogged yet. There are a few more entries still to come, not to worry!

05
Kate
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 8:20 pm

ah hahahaha I needed that LOL moment thinking about our awesome struggle with swapped wheels. “I just don’t get it….. BOTH of our front brakes are acting up today”. :) Thanks for the update!

06
tey
posting from United States
October 29th, 2010 10:55 pm

super photos. they make me want to see bolivia, if only to get one of those hats. sorry about the post-sushi misery though.

thanks for posting this, malena. i missed reading about your travels. great story about the swapped bicycle wheels.

07
Quita
posting from Canada
October 30th, 2010 12:25 pm

Love these, Malena!

08
posting from Great Britain (UK)
October 30th, 2010 2:23 pm

wow Malena - those are really incredible photos, you capture the beauty of Bolivia so well, makes me want to go back!

09
Mom
posting from United States
October 30th, 2010 4:25 pm

Keep blogging even with your trip over. The stories are great to read.
Love,
Mom

10
Eric Stubbs
posting from United States
October 30th, 2010 7:27 pm

Thanks for the blog post! Wish I was able to do that..

11
posting from United States
October 31st, 2010 11:28 pm

Thanks for all the comments everyone! I still have loads more pictures to post, and maybe even a funny entry or two.

12
Bruce Clarkson
posting from United States
November 1st, 2010 8:46 am

Malena,

Glad to hear that you did not drop off the side of the universe somewhere. As usual, I enjoy hearing of your adventures and seeing your pix. It’s good that us home bodies get to see that there is a wider world out there somewhere.

13
posting from Australia
November 1st, 2010 2:57 pm

Hi Malena,

It’s been a long while since I’ve checked in on your blog, and wow! Biking South America = me jealous. So cool :)

But, seriously, sushi? haha

-Brooke

14
Aunt Lynn
posting from United States
November 1st, 2010 5:39 pm

So, seriously, when does the book come out? I enjoy reading of you adventures and seeing the pictures of places I’ve only heard about!!

15
posting from United States
November 4th, 2010 12:16 pm

At least you got awesome photos of Bolivia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen flamingos in the wild — cool! Also, what do they do with flamingo wings? Eat them?????!

16
posting from United States
December 9th, 2010 10:09 am

LOL! That’s an *excellent* point about never eating sushi in a landlocked country! I’ll definitely remember that for our future travels. :)

I love the photo of the bike balancing test! We haven’t made it to Bolivia just yet, but we do want to go one day…

Perhaps, though, not on a bike. ;)

17
posting from United States
December 12th, 2010 8:48 pm

They use the flamingo wings for magic spells, I believe - it’s in the “witch market” - same with the llama feti.

And Jessica - Bolivia is definitely interesting to visit, and the people are all generally friendly (although more reserved than the other South Americans I’d met) - I think it’s be a sweet country to motorcycle through, just the right mix of challenge and excitement and beauty. Shame I was on a bicycle :)

Leave Your Comment

Name*
Mail*
Website
Comment