Ticking Off the Bucket List

Cross the Bolivian border

By on January 28, 2013

After three weeks it was time to say adios to Peru.

That involved getting off our bus and walking by foot over the border and through immigration to Bolivia.

We didn’t encounter any issues but think we saw a shady backroom deal made involving two Columbians and an official.  The officer took the two men into the room for all of five seconds then proceeded to tell them something in Spanish with the word dinero (money) and then did a slit throat action with this hand.  It was very suss indeed but they got through and continued onto Bolivia and continued their journey on the same bus as us.

At the Peru and Bolivia border

Just across the Bolivian border we stopped in Copacabana for lunch.  I wish we had more time here, it seemed like a great little hippy town where backpackers pause for a few days or weeks on their travels to busk on the streets and meet like-minded travellers.  It was also the first time we got to experience how cheap living on the Boliviano (BOB) was.  At the time we were there AUD$1 was the equivalent of 7 BOB.

To get to La Paz from Copacabana, we had to cross Lake Titicaca at the Taquina Crossing.  This involved getting off our bus and onto a passenger ferry but then watching as our bus was ferried across on a rickety barge before we resumed our journey on the other side.  Watching it precariously positioned on that barge and a little off keel I am glad we took the passenger ferry and were not still on board the bus as it crossed the lake.

Copacabana and the Taquina Crossing

About three hours later we made it to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital and largest city.  La Paz is also the world’s highest capital at 3400 metres.  We had reached the end of our South American journey and with only 24 hours in the city we were determined to make the most of it.

La Paz, Bolivia

Having heard that Bolivia was ridiculously cheap and La Paz had some great markets the first thing we did was hit the shops.  With alpaca blankets, bags and jumpers aplenty and beanies for as cheap as AUD$1 this was our one stop shop to buy friends and family at home a little momento.  Brad also got the cheapest haircut of his life, the equivalent of AUD$2.90.

La Paz, Bolivia

The Witches’ Market is also worth a squiz for charms, potions and herbal remedies but more interestingly for dried llama foetuses which are used by indigenous peoples as a sacred offering to Pachamama or Mother Earth, worshipped in the Andes.  It’s believed making sacrifices to Pachamama will stop volcanoes from erupting.

Dried llama foetuses

If you’re struggling with the altitude and didn’t get any diomox from the travel doctor before you left home, you can also get your coca leaves here too.  The leaves, the same ones used to make cocaine, are a popular remedy among Andean locals and chewed all the time.  We’d already tried the leaves in Peru and they taste pretty awful so I would recommend modern medicine in this regard.

You probably won’t get any of this stuff through customs though so maybe stick to window shopping while you meander through the market’s laneways.

For those who have read Marching Powder, you will be familiar with La Paz for one reason, San Pedro Prison.   The book was written in 2003 and based on Australian-born traveller Rusty Young’s experience living inside the jail for a few months.  He wasn’t convicted of a crime, was just travelling through South America and heard of illegal tours being conducted by inmates, in particular English drug trafficker Thomas McFadden, inside the jail.  Intrigued he bribed the guards to stay to record the story.  At San Pedro Prison, women and children of inmates are allowed to live there, coming and going as they please.  Cells are sold as real estate with the richest inmates living the best.  Inmates run restaurants and shops inside the jail and companies like Coca-Cola provide sponsorship.  The jail is also a hub for cocaine production and violence and murder of inmates particularly against rapists and child molesters does occur.

Due to the popularity of this book and the notoriety of the jail to tourists, the Bolivian Government shut down the illegal tours.  Despite this we tried to organise a tour while we were in La Paz however were told that it would be impossible but the government may consider it in another month or two.  So if you are travelling to La Paz soon and you are interested in getting inside the jail, than it can’t hurt to ask.

Be warned though, we attempted to take photos outside the prison and were pretty much threatened by an armed guard with arrest if we did.  It was in no thanks to a lady selling goods nearby that kept screaming at us and caught the guard’s attention.  Needless to say, we just wanted to visit the jail, not become an inmate ourselves so we kept the cameras away and promptly left.

We only had such a short time in Bolivia and wish we had longer particularly to cycle Death Road and visit the Salt Flats but we will be back one day to explore this unique country a little more indepth.

Bolivian Amazon from the air


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