Lake Titicaca

It was a tough decision whether or not to go to Isla del Sol, on Lake Titicaca. The weather seemed to be mostly bad. We watched some rain storms from our luxurious accommodation in Copacabana, and then heard them continue on the windows for most of the night. Would we really decide to get on a boat in the morning and head for the north end of the island? Where we would then risk hiking 4 hours back to the south end to stay the night – in questionable rain gear (one year of travel has really put a dent in the waterproof-ness of our jackets)? Well, the answer had to be yes.

Riding straight into the storm

After leaving the south port of the island, the captain asked everyone riding on top of the boat to get down below, as he was pretty sure it would start raining. Sure enough, less than 5 minutes after restarting our journey it started to come down hard. We disembarked in Challapampa, and ran for cover in a crowded restaurant. The general chatter was concerning the weather, and when the next boat left to return to the south port… Luckily, after about 30 minutes, the skies started to clear. Another 30 minutes of hiking and we were stunned at our change in fortune – blue skies and beautiful clouds.

The sky starts to clear in Challapampa

At the halfway point on Isla del Sol

Nevado Illampu in the Cordillera Real shows itself from our hostel in Yumani

The sunset from Las Velas – one of the best pizzas we’ve had in South America

Moonrise over Lake Titicaca

I want to live here

We stayed in this incredible place in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed somewhere more interesting – it was too bad we only got one night.

Looking out from the top floor bedroom – small fireplace to the right

Looking up from the top floor bedroom

The top floor – with awesome, custom oval bed (plus duvet)

The first floor bedroom

The caracol at night

Freezing in La Paz

Things haven’t improved a lot since we arrived in La Paz. For one, the weather has been horrible – raining and cold. And the altitude has just been kicking ass against Sheena and I – sigh, what’s new? But during those rare times when we felt healthy enough to go for a walk, and it wasn’t coming down in buckets, La Paz has impressed me (can’t say if Sheena feels the same). The way the city has been constructed, cascading down canyon walls, is hard to comprehend. The very new, and very popular cable car system has been a nice way to get above the rooftops and see the cityscape. It’s a place I imagine that I would enjoy quite a bit, if it was slightly lower in elevation and a little bit warmer.

La Paz, El Alto, Progress Connects Us – The north cable car line

Urban jumble

“Decide if pregnancy motherhood is an option in your life, and when you do it, that it’s your right. Decide to protect yourself, and decide how you do it as well.”

Those wheelbarrows are full of food – food that I’m not willing to try

In South America there is a store for everything

Our more commonly occupied space

A terrible, no good, bad way to arrive in La Paz

Our rationale for taking a flight between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, and taking a bus between Cochabamba and La Paz, was simple – the bus was shorter for the latter journey. But with the benefit of hindsight, I kinda which we did the opposite.

The first half of the ride was typical of the Andes: a rough, winding, mountainous two-lane road climbing and climbing. It certainly wasn’t bad, as you can only go so fast uphill in a bus, even if the driver is willing to pass trucks on blind corners. Pleasantly, once we reached the altiplano the road flattened completely, and even widened to a four-lane highway. We were cruising along without much care in the world, until we ran smack into rush-hour traffic in El Alto.

El Alto (the tall one) is La Paz’s poorer cousin (albeit one with a little more pride, wealth and political power these days). Where La Paz cascades down a canyon, with altitudes ranging from 3,600 meters all the way down to 2,800 meters, El Alto sprawls endlessly on the altiplano above (roughly at 4,000 meters). It was initially fun to look at the outskirts of El Alto as we slowed to a standstill. In these regions, new buildings are initially constructed with only the first floor complete. These usually house some sort of commercial venture, but the intent is clear – rebar and unfinished columns continue above the retail space. Step two is to build out the remaining four-five stories, leaving them mostly a hollow shell, to be filled in later with apartments or maybe a hotel. On the fringes of El Alto, these buildings were going up fast, without waiting for a commercial development to successfully raise capital. So fast in fact, that oftentimes the streets didn’t even exist yet.

Stage two development in El Alto – no streets yet

Our 5 mph tour quickly grew tiresome, however. When an hour had passed and we hadn’t even reached the canyon edge, Sheena and I started to get antsy. Mercifully, once we did reach that point the traffic melted away and we cruised quickly down to the bus terminal.

When our taxi driver hadn’t heard of our hostel, or even the street it was on, we didn’t get too worried. It was a relatively new place, and quite small, so chances are he just hadn’t taken someone there yet. But when we arrived at the street, the address of our hostel didn’t exist… Unhelpfully, there were three big-name hostels only a block away, so every time we asked about ours, people pointed us in that direction. Hungry, headache-y and getting more and more pissy with each other, Sheena and I were at a loss as to what to do. Some shop owners did identify a door near the address that had been known to admit gringos, but no one answered the doorbell… We trudged down the road and passed a mediocre-looking place that Sheena remembered was in our book, so we took a room.

Later, after a nice beer, some french fries and salsa (called Chips and Salsa on the menu) and something one might call pizza, we were calming down a bit. It was freezing cold out, we were dead tired, but at least we had a place to sleep. Then the hot water in my shower didn’t work and I kinda lost it. In these moments, Sheena has learned that it’s better just to let me deal on my own, and luck would have it that we had a spare bed in the room for some extra space apart… A most enjoyable welcome to La Paz.

The next morning we found out that the doorbell we had rung was, in fact, our hostel. Never trust a Facebook page (and why don’t they have a sign?!). We went over in the morning and were greeted by the grandmother, who hadn’t been expecting us until today anyway (a mix up with our reservation)… It’s a wonderful place and we’re very happy to be here. It’s a new day and there’s hope. It’s a new year in fact, by the time of this posting!

The Gran (Cocha)Bambino

People from Cochabamba are called cochabambinos, which I find hilarious as it reminds me of The Sand Lot. They’re lucky enough to live in a great city – one of those medium sized South American cities that not too many backpackers visit. It reminds me of Manizales, Colombia, or maybe Salta, Argentina. Perhaps that’s just the cable car talking though… I still can’t believe how popular these things are down here.

Always nice clouds at elevation

We’re back up at elevation, having climbed about 2,000 meters in one of the shortest flights imaginable. I mean, I guess all they really had to do was reach cruising altitude and then land the thing – which they did pretty haphazardly. We had enough time to chug our drink and eat our cookies before returning everything to their upright position.

The Cristo de la Concordia is larger than Rio’s, but why isn’t it as famous?

This stop is really just to gather our high altitude legs, before heading further north to La Paz. With 11 months under our belts, it’s hard to believe everything is ending (relatively) soon – my Calendar’s four week look-ahead shows California, USA. But it’s not done yet and we’re feeling very happy that we’re within sight of familiar territory (Arequipa, Peru is only 20 hours by bus; Arica, Chile only 10 hours). Here’s looking forward to the fresh juices and papa rellenas in Arequipa’s central market!

Bolivia’s Magic Word & other linguistic oddities

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In Bolivia, when you are at a market – buying produce for example – there’s a magic word you must use. After asking the price of all your goods, and paying the nice lady (or man), simply ask, “con yapa?” The shopkeeper will usually nod, look around for something smallish, and hand you two small plums or some hot peppers for free! When we first used it, it definitely felt magical; we had somehow trapped this lady and she had to give us something extra! Like a monster that will only let travelers pass when the correct phrase is uttered… I mean, sort of like that.

We originally thought that yapa must be some indigenous language word that has filtered into modern Bolivian society, but not so! Similar to the idea behind BOGO (buy one get one), yapa is short for lleva 3, paga 2 (take 3, pay for 2). I don’t know if I’m disappointed that it’s origins aren’t so old or not, but I love it nonetheless. The term con yapa comes from the Quechua word yapay which means “to increase” or “to add.” It’s lovely to learn that something so quirky like this has been maintained through modern times. I’ve even learned that there is a version of this known as lagniappe which is used in New Orleans, having arrived via Spanish creoles.

Our recent foray into the heart of camba country (the Bolivian Orient) led to the discovery of many great modismos, or slang words, typical of that region. First, a quick lesson: Spanish speakers love to use diminutives, applying an -ito suffix to make the word smaller. No joke, we once heard a vendor on a bus say something like, “un agüita, bien heladito, para una monedita, señor amiguito” or roughly “a small water, very cold (but somehow small), for a small coin, Mr. Little Friend.” It doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a way to diminish your request to something less serious.

In Santa Cruz they use the suffix -ingo instead. This adds a sort of flair to their Spanish. Combine this with not pronouncing the “s” at the ends of words, and dropping the second “d” when they end in “dado” and you’ve got a recipe for confusion. So, the next time you’re in the Bolivian Orient, and someone asks you how you’re feeling, answer them with this little number, “Pue, me siento chalingo! Y vos? Sentís bien pelao?”* Oh yeah, they use the Vos form instead of Tú, just like those crazy gauchos down south.

*chalingo is slang for really clean, like a windshield of a car; pelado literally means bare, but is used to call a person who doesn’t have facial hair, or could be going bald.