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Posts from the ‘Bolivia’ Category

camino de la muerte – WMDR  (the world’s most dangerous road) – 3000m downhill biking

I heard about it last year when travelling through Peru and i was thinking never over my dead body would i do this. On top the guys were wearing these impressive T-Shirts confirming they had done the death road. After speaking with my hiking guide from earlier in Bolivia who himself was a guide for the death road i got more comfortable and decided to book it.

After having breakfast in a pub at 06:30h in the morning, they took us with a bus up to La Cumbre at 4700m. There we were handed out the jackets, pants, helmets (they even helped us to mount our gopros), gloves, face masks and then the bikes. The bikes were in perfect condition with hydraulic breaks each individually fitted as you like rear left or right as you wished.

Before going down we made a little Pachamama ceremony by pooring a bit of alcohol on the road, on the tire and obviously taking a sip ourselves. He explained us where to ride: on the left side = the side next to the edge and not to the mountain. This comes from the time when this road was indeed the most dangerous road in the world due to its narrowness (at times just approx 3m). This doesn’t seem to bad at first sight but bearing in mind that big trucks were crossing it was! So by driving down on the left, the driver could always watch if the wheel is still on the road and not yet over the cliff. Needless to say that many accidents occured at the time. However since 2007 the new road is in place and now the road is almost only used by bikers, hence a lot less dangerous. So one of the most dangerous subjects is your camera… and other bikers and our guide told us to simply forget even the thought about fiddling around with the camera/phone while biking. Because the road is narrow, you drive on the ‘wrong side’ and it is not plastered but dirt/gravel with some quite big rocks now and then – aye aye we stayed focused.

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So as we set off i was pretty nervous and my stomach was not fine (though this could have been from all the Lama meet and potatoes and Coca Quina from the days before) but after the first few km i gradually gained confidence and moved ahead in the group. After a few stops i was heading to the front group as the rest was just really too slow – so it was me and the boys rattling down behind our guide.

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Luckily while biking you actually don’t realise how deep the drops are (up to 600m) – i only realised when looking at the videos!  There were some tricky curves and narrow sections but the guide always explained section by section so if you didn’t overestimate your speed it was kind of fine. Except when you got out of the ideal lane and ended in loose gravel and forgot that one shouldn’t break. I know the biking experts have a laugh now – but i normally don’t bike……  so a couple of sweaty moments but that was it.

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In fact one girl did fall and her bike went over the cliff – but the guide tied a rope to our bus and lowered himself down to the bike (assume it was not too deep, because our guide said he has only 100m rope with him. Because if one would fall deeper there is no more rush to recover him).

Ah yes after the 3000m downhill biking we also couldn’t resist to go on the zip line ‘the flying fox’ and this time i did it superman style…  flying through the valley at a speed or 90 km/h was an amazing feeling!

it was a great day and i am now also proudly wearing my ‘i biked the death road’ T-shirt! Normal Lama – Crazy Lama – Call me Lama – Super Lama!!!  Can only reccomend this to anybody who happens to be in La Paz 🙂

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4 days on the road with a Suyana mobile in the Bolivian altiplano

Already weeks ahead I was looking forward to join this trip with a team of co-ordinators from the Suyana Foundation. Among my other travels in South America this would be for sure the one bearing the most insight of true Bolivian way of living as well as giving me the opportunity to meet Bolivian people, see how Suyana managed to help them improve their way of life and actually get to talk to them.

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Tuesday morning at 06:00h, I was ready to be picked up by the mobile and meeting the team which would be my family for the next 4 days (Oswaldo, Ramiro, Rodolpho, Dr. Pena and Joelle). The latter turned out to be my life saver at times, when either my brain couldn’t take any more Spanish after a whole day of trying to follow conversation or when i simply didn’t understand anything. Having said that, I need to point out that the people in this area speak Aymara as their first language and therefore sometimes their Spanish was a mix of Aymara and Spanish or they had quite an accent – maybe this only appeared to me though but often i had a blank ‘screen’ while they were talking away.

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After about a 2-3 hours drive leaving the populated areas of La Paz & El Alto behind us, we reached the beautiful altiplano with a striking blue sky that matched the sandy yet reddish coloured soil. These same colours would intensify even more during sunrise or sunset.

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Our first stop was in Conchacollo in the area of San Andres de Machaca where we met the first families who joined the programs ‘vivienda saludable’ and ‘agua familiar productiva’. It was overwhelming to see how happy the people were to meet us and showing us proudly there homes which they had improved with the help of the Suyana team as well as the satiris. There were significant changes they had undertaken in order to transform their lifestyle into a healthier, sustainable yet independent way. Mostly it required them to construct additional houses in order to meet all the requirement as previously they would often live in one single house combining kitchen, dormitory and living room. With the assistance of Suyana they would construct a new cooker (Fugon) with a chimeny to get rid of the smoke in the kitchen, help them to construct a ‘refrigerador ecologico’ by means of wrapping a shelf with plastic sheets and putting a bucket of water on the ground helping to keep the vegetables, fruits and cheese cooled by taking advantage of the cold nights. At the same time many families got so happy with the improvements so that they constructed a sink to do the washing up as well as a ‘comedor’ to enjoy the meals with the family. One man said: ‘i wanted to construct the kitchen in a way to facilitate my wifes work as much as possible’. I really loved this statemet!

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An integral part of a healthier way of living was also to provide a ‘rincon de aseo’ with toothbrush, soap, etc. as well as the construction of a ‘bano hygienico’ where solid is divided from liquids to dispose it in a more environment friendly fashion. Same applying to the general waste which is being divided into organic and non-organic.

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Besides getting all these improvements done by the school book, most of the families also painted their houses in bright colours, planted flowers and herbs, constructed a winter garden to raise vegetables even in these rough desert like conditions, decorated their court yards with coloured pet bottles and named all the different little houses by its function. By making all these improvements in such an adorable way, they managed to turn their homes into much more economical, ecofriendly and far more pleasant places to live. So no wonder they were so proud to show us around.

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Not only did we visit families but we also went to see a number of schools among which the centro Mauri welcomed us with a memorable ceremony that meant playing music and throwing heaps of confetti at us – unfortunately we took our hats off too early.

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Suyana’s improvements of schools were mainly in terms of hygienic and nutrition, a more stimulating atmosphere of teaching as well as providing a nice ‘cancha’ and some tables with protection from the sun where children could play during their free time. Now schools would provide sufficient clean water (by means of the PET bottles exposed to sunlight) so that they could drink it / wash their hands as needed. Most of the schools who are collaborating with Suyana nowadays grow their own vegetables in winter gardens to ensure the children get more balanced meals while being in school. Some schools even have their own ‘gallinera’ where they have chickens that provide them eggs. One school is even farming trouts – amazing to see this on an altitude of around 4300m. A nice example that one of the school authorities made, was that nowadays children would come to school much before the classes would actually start as they like to spend time playing together in the nice environment. Whereas before the school yards were unpleasant and deserted prior or after classes.

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Another achievement that astonished me, was the fact that by helping to improve sanitary facilities and explaining children how to brush their teeth/they shouldn’t eat too many sugary things – one school authority proudly advised us that not a single child in their village would suffer from caries.

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Travelling onwards to the villages of Santiago de Machaca, Catacora and Comanche we were meeting many more families that won prices because they improved their way of living and were therefore awarded with a water tank as in these regions water remains one of the most precious resources. We also were visiting families that were strong in agriculture / raising lamas, sheeps and alpacas. This was the main foucs of Dr. Pena who is running his own TV show on the Bolivian Canal 7. While he was recording for his next sequences the people were presenting their houses and livestock. Many were also taking the opportunity to discuss issues they have with their animals as well as carry out some vaccinations of their sheep while having an expert on site.

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On the way ‘home’ from this 4 day adventure trip through the altiplano my head was bustling of these images of meeting all these people who received you with such warm hospitality, visiting  the beautiful houses, smiling children who clearly enjoy their ‘escuelas lindas’, having experienced the enthusiasm of the local authorities who couldn’t stress out enough how much the infrastructure of their villages has improved and simply the fact that we were being welcomed wherever we came as ‘hermanas’.

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All this proving that Suyana is doing sustainable work in the remotest areas of Bolivia and Peru and that they are determined to live up to it’s dedication ‘give hope for a better future’.

‘Suyana’ the word uniting Quechua and Aymara as it means in both languages ‘hope’

Salar de Uyuni

This was supposed to be definitely a highlight of my brief visit to Bolivia. Everybody kept repeating how amazing this is. As LonelyPlanet and Tripadvisor were very unhelpful with regards of finding  place to spend the night prior my tour in Uyuni I decided to go to THE salt hotel of the moment, the Palacio de Sal. What an amazing place this was. From outside not really striking your heart but once entered it was not less than they showed / promised on their website. With lots of care to the detail they built this hotel almost only with salt. All the couches, beds, walls whatever is white is made of salt. Also to mention was that the receptionist was lending me her bike for the afternoon so that i could have a little sneak preview of the salt flats.

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Well there was one drawback, in contradiction to the info on booking.com it was not possible to pay this beautiful place with credit card. However as i was just about to cross boarder to Chile Frau Rüttimann didn’t have sufficient cash left to pay the last days in Bolivia and pay the hotel. So therefore I had no other choice than calling a taxi that would drive me back into town, fetch some cash and drive back. This was a 45 min roundtrip costing me BOB500!!! What a waste of money but well not worth to freak out.

Another hot potato was to figure out with which agency i should go for the Salar Jeep tour as you keep hearing stories that some agency are really taking the mickey of you. Thus alike all the other travellers i was doing extensive research on tripadvisor/LP and figured out with which one i would like to go. Went there in the morning, bought my ticket, done and dusted. The following day we set off in a Toyota 4×4 which is said to be the best option. Well this one we managed, however after asking the driver – who acted also as cook and mechanic – with which agency we were now going, it was a) not the one i booked with and b) nor did any of the others. Well then… what to do just carry on and have a smile on your face.

Soon we reached the famous Salar of 12,000km2 a bright white desert just from salt as far as you can see. All looking a bit like a honeycomb with its hectagon shape caused by the evaporation of the rain water. Ample of time to take all those pictures  –  sadly my team wasn’t in the mood to shoot any of those silly pics. Well then.

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After that we headed for Incahuasi Island with it’s giant cactus. Very nice but after this vast white space almost nothing can top it – nevertheless we went to explore the island and it was in fact very nice.

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second day was a lot of driving in the jeep so the girls sticked their heads into the books, while 1 guy was suffering from flu and the other one tried to keep himself busy with his smartphone. Having said that, i kept praying not to catch to flu from him. Because trapped in a jeep for hours and even sharing the same dormitory was quite a tough test for my immune system. I assume i survived this because due to the holidays my body is quite relaxed and can deal with some ‘shit’ 😉  Eventually we arrived at the Siloli desert which is famous for the bizarre rocks that got its shape from the wind.

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Then a number of Lagunas followed on the second day, i really cannot remember anymore exactly which one is which but they had such beautiful names as Laguno Rojo, Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde and the Laguna Colorada which changes it’s colour depending on sunlight, content of minerals and algies in the water. The latter is also known as the home of approx 30,000 flamingoes. Well honestly i think there were a few hundreds there when we arrived – but let’s believe this is true.

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On the third day we had to get up super early in order to ensure we arrive at the geysers before the sunrise as they are the most active at low temperatures. When we put our bags back on the roof of the jeep it was truly freezing… the driver/mechanic/cook meant it was around -8. I think he exaggerated but for sure it was cold. But the geysers were waiting for us, the sunrise was ‘on hold just for us’ and the hot springs as well. ..and we didn’t get disappointed, the geysers were steaming and bustling and the aguas calientes were steaming hot.

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After the bath we headed to the Bolivian/Chilean border where we got first a breakfast and then were guided into the bus that lead us out of the desert, away from dusty roads and onto nicely paved ones….. yes here we come Chile.

La Paz (short for La ciudad de nuestra senora de la Paz)

La Paz had always been a city that fascinated yet scared me. So i thought i leave it till i speak at least some Spanish. So here we go… the city has a a population of only 1.4 Mio – where i always thought it would be much bigger.. however it definitely is not lacking of altitude as it is on an average elevation of 3660m. Having said that the airport is at 4200m in El Alto take good care while you breathe. Luckily i could stay at a friend’s house in La Paz and even more generous was that they were picking me up at the airport at 02:00 h in the morning.

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So my first exploration of the city was walking through the most famous tourist sections in the old town around San Francisco church and up to the witches market where you can find everything you need to make sacrifices to please the gods (i save the pics as it is about dried lama fetus, different little figures representing any kind of thing, sweets to burn and lots of other interesting things). Then walking further through the old town (Calle Jaen) passing some beautiful colonial houses and taking the new teleferico (feels like going skiing) back down to the south.

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Feeling a bit light headed from the altitude i took it very easy the first day and spend a lot of my time in the beautiful garden with my new friends – the lovely dogs (Beba, Mecha, Peggy & Darco).

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La Paz is an extraordinary city which doesn’t strike you with its beauty but with its extravagant way how it is being squeezed into the red rocks that surround it. While it’s north is ending in the rather scary looking El Alto it is guarded on the south side by the three-peaked Illimani with it’s impressive  6400m.

If you would like to get a taste of La Paz – read Marching Powder by Rusty Young. A book set in the La Paz’ prison San Pedro, not exactly well written but truly interesting to read.

Lago Titicaca – Tiwanaku – Isla del Sol

Ich hatte ja den Titicacasee ausgelassen als ich letztes Jahr in Peru war, deshalb war er jetzt mehr als überfällig. So fuhren wir los, raus aus La Paz über El Alto Richtung Grenze zu Peru.

Erster Stop war Tiwanaku. Lustigerweise kannte ich den Namen schon lange, weil es auch ein Concentrates mit dem Namen Tiwanaku gibt. Nun angekommen bei den echten Ruinen war spannend, obwohl sie leider eher schlecht als recht unterhalten waren und vieles nicht ausgegraben ist. Es gibt Hinweise, dass die Geschichte der Tiwanaku im Jahre 1400 BC begann und deren Territorium sich bis nach Peru und Argentinien erstreckte. In 1450 AC wurden sie von den Inkas erobert, welche alles was übrig blieb übernahmen und in ihr Reich einverleibten. Technisch waren die Tiwanaku den Inkas vieles im voraus, sie bauten ihre Tempel bis zur Perfektion, produzierten schon damals Schmuck, wunderschön verzierte Vasen, weshalb vermutet wird, dass sie sich deshalb nicht wirklich ausbreiten konnten. Auch fand man bis jetzt kaum Waffen, so dass davon auszugehen ist, dass es eher ein friedliches als bluttrünstiges Volk war – was auch erklären kann, weshalb die Inkas sie so schnell erobern konnten.

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Nach Tiwanaku gings weiter über zunehmend holprigere Strassen nach Desaguadero, der Grenzort zu Peru. Ein geschäftiger Ort wo viel Handel betrieben wird – Kartoffeln, Mangos, Orangen, Fernseher, Gasflaschen etc… alles wird in Handkarren und mit Velos rumgeschoben – wie man sieht kann man trotz der Ladung noch sms schreiben…

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Nach dem passieren der Grenze ging es ca. 2-3 h weiter nach Puno. Vorbei am Dorf Zepita wo eine Kirche seit Jahren nicht benutzt wird, weil gemäss einer Legende eine riesige Schlange darin lebe!!!!  Keine Ahnung wie lange eine Schlange lebt, aber die ist sicher schon tot! Etwas weiter dem Titicacasee entlang, kamen wir beim Dorf Yunguyo vorbei, welches am Fusse des Vulkanes Khapia liegt. Dieses Dorf ist bekannt dafür, dass das Volk dem Vulkan noch immer Menschen opfert. Jedes Jahr gibt es ein 10-tätiges Fest am Kraterrand, wo die Dorfbewohner ausgelassen feiern / sich betrinken und wie von Geisterhand würden jeweils ein paar Kinder verschwinden. Deren leblosen Körper werden danach irgendwo gefunden. Jedoch deren Herz nicht, denn das wird in den Vulkankrater geworfen! Tja dann lieber nix wie weg von hier.  Etwas weiter Richtung Puno hatten wir dann damit zu kämpfen, dass die Wahlzettel der Präsidentschaftswahlen auch nach 20 Tagen noch nicht endgültig ausgezählt waren. Ein paar Schlaumeier hatten deshalb leider die Strasse gesperrt, weshalb wir uns über staubige Feldwege weiterkämpfen mussten. ‘mucho polvo’ puuh Schal ums Gesicht binden war quasi unerlässlich.

Ankommen in Puno war jetzt nicht gerade der ‘burner’ die Stadt ist eine Grossbaustelle und erschlägt einem nicht mit deren Schönheit. Macht auch nix, denn wir gingen gleich weiter zu den schwimmenden Inseln Urus. Derzeit wohnen etwa 2000 Menschen auf 49 schwimmenden Inseln gemacht aus einer Art Schilf. Dasselbe Material gebrauchen sie auch um ihre Häuser und Schilfboote zu bauen sowie auch zum Essen.

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Nach den schwimmenden Inseln ging ich noch kurz weiter zu den Grabtürmen in Sillustani. In diesen Türmen, welche bis ca. 500 AC (also pre-Inka) zurückdatieren, wurden wichtige Oberhäupter / Könige sowie oft ganze Familien begraben. Leider wurden einige von Grabräubern gesprengt, andere wurden niemals fertiggebaut. Leider war es schon am eindunkeln, dafür gabs einen schönen Sonnenuntergang.

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Am Tag danach ging es schon wieder zurück nach Bolivien – das passieren dieses Grenzpostens erforderte etwas mehr Nerven als Desaguadero. Wir mussten zuerst 2 Peruanische Posten passieren und dann noch als Krönung ca. 1 1/2 h am Bolivianischen Grenzposten anstehen. Dann kommt es, der Zöllner fragte mich, wieso gingst du gestern nach Peru und heute schon wieder zurück? Ich entgegnete für Puno reiche ein Tag, worauf er meinte ‘te gusta Bolivia’ ich ‘si me gusta mucho’ und ‘päm’ der Stempel war im Pass ha ha.

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Danach war es nur noch ca 15 Minuten bis Copacabana – jawoll, das gibt es auch in Bolivien und nicht nur in Brasilien. Der Name entstand aus Kota Kahuana was in Aymara ‘Seesicht’ bedeutet. Wie es in Brasilien dazu kam, weiss ich nicht und wikipedia könnt ihr selber durchstöbern 😉

Von dort ging es sofort weiter im kleinen Motorboot zur Isla del Sol, welche für 2 Nächte mein zu Hause war.

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Die ungefähr 70 km2 grosse Insel kommt auch auf stattliche 3800m und natürlich lag mein Hotel quasi auf dem Gipfel! Die Ecolodge (warum die so hiess, wurde mir nicht ganz klar abgesehen davon, dass sie das Duschwasser mit Solarzellen erwärmten). Aber egal es war wunderschön gelegen mit einer traumhaften Aussicht auf die Isla de la Luna. Zu bemerken gilt, dass alles Wasser von Eseln über 200m vom Wasserfall unten am Ufer bis in die Dörfer hochgeschleppt werden muss. Da spart man gerne Wasser, wenn man die herzigen Eseli Wasser schleppen sieht. Der wohl meiste ‘eco-Effekt’ des Hotels war wohl der Zufall, dass wir keinen Strom hatten am ersten Abend. Weshalb das Restaurant nur mit Kerzen beleuchtet wurde – dasselbe galt für mein Häusschen – zum Glück hatte es keinen Brandmelder!

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Am Tag darauf  gings erst mit dem Boot auf die Isla de la Luna mit dem Templo de las Virgenes – dort wurden hübsche/f ähige Jungfrauen ausgebildet für die Eventualität, dass sie bei der jährlichen Frauenwahl des Inkaherschers als dessen neue Frau auserkoren würden.

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Danach zurück zur Nordseite der Isla del Sol und zu Fuss quer über die Insel bis zurück in den Süden, vorbei am Templo del Sol mit seinem Opfertisch wo angeblich Menschen den Göttern geopfert wurden – heute lädt er eher ein zu Picknicken und der Ausblick von dort oben erinnerte eher an karibische Gewässer als an einen See.

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Llama con papas y mas…

IMG_4759the typical meal in the altiplano. well after having had this for lunch – you didn’t need to eat for a while……  though really tasty!

sugus… wie früher

sogar in dem hässlichen Städtchen Uyuni wird es einem deshalb warm ums Herz.

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