Visiting with Family in La Paz
We left Perú before seeing Machu Picchu so that we could meet Kate’s Aunt Indira while she was visiting La Paz. Indira has an interesting story. She’s from Kyrgyzstan. Kate’s Uncle Toby met her while mountain climbing in Central Asia. After marrying, they settled in Homer, Alaska to raise their son and daughter. Indira is an industrious woman. She bought a well known established business in Homer called A Better Sweater. It’s a rare store that sells handmade products from around the world.
We went with Indira to visit her various suppliers, our favorite of which was Artesania Sorata, owned by Diane Bellomy. Diane has been working with indigenous women for over 30 years in producing naturally died and hand woven products made of alpaca wool. We were also fortunate enough to meet Diane’s life long partner, Ron Davis, who installs water powered electrical generators throughout Bolivia. Both of these people are inspirational in what they do for others and the environment.
Relaxing in Coroico
Ron Davis suggested that we go to Coroico and stay at Sol y Luna. He said he lived there for a year many years ago. We did that and made good friends there, a German doctor and her gregarious boyfriend and a retired Argentinian filmmaker now in the specialty foods business. We enjoyed the pool and made several hikes around the property and through the town. Our favorite restaurant, Villa Bonita, specialized in homemade pasta and ice cream. We were fortunate to have eaten there twice. After five days and not knowing where our time went, we traveled back to La Paz to get an overnight bus to Cochabamba upon recommendations from Indira and Toby.
After arriving in Cochabamba, we met a German man waiting for reception to open at a hotel. He had just fallen for Bolivia’s famous fake police scam. He was befriended by a man on the bus who claimed to be a professor of mathematics. This “friend” must have sent a text to his fake cop friend who arrived in front of the hotel as the German and the fake professor arrived. The fake officer demanded the German’s identification and insisted he get in a taxi cab and have all of his belongings searched. He said he knew that he was being robbed but at this point it was too late. Everything was returned to him minus the equivalent of 200 Euros in cash.
After a Krishna lunch, we tried to walk to Patiño’s mansion but were told by a grandma and her grandson that it wasn’t safe to walk anywhere in the city. We had heard the same from the owners of the hotel where we were staying. We caught a cab to the mansion but it was closed … on Saturday. The hours of the museum were illogical. The day before, Evo Morales gave a speech in town chastising Obama’s recent designation of Venezuela as a national security threat. The cab driver lectured us about the evils of America.
Toby told us to contact his friend Hutch, an American retiree he met when Hutch was cycling across Central Asia. Hutch cycles across the world. He was living on the outskirts of Cochabamba. He wasn’t able to meet us until a few days later. Toby also suggested that we go to Torotoro, a national park with canyons, caves and dinosaur prints. If Toby suggests a place, it is probably good because he’s been traveling to remote locations throughout the world for over 40 years. Hutch told us to contact his friend Darrell because “he knows much about Tora Tora.”
We contacted Darrell about Torotoro and he wrote back saying “I don’t have information on trips with such short notice.” We felt unsafe in Cochabamba and were spending much more money than expected on the hotel. We couldn’t see Hutch until days later. The bus ride to get to Cochabamba was a long one and to get anywhere else would be the same. We felt trapped in an expensive prison. We stayed in the hotel and ordered a cheese pizza.
Adventures of Torotoro
That night, we watched some corny movie in English. One of the quotes was “If you can’t get out, go deeper in.” I made an executive decision that we would take a colectivo to Torotoro and see what happens. We met a Swiss Bolivian and a French couple on the multi hour trip through beautiful canyons to the village of Torotoro and ended up staying in the same hotel as them and doing a tour with them.
The town had a tranquil feel and was surrounded by beautiful landscapes. We picked a cook in the market and stuck with her. One night, we ate with the local doctor who trained in Germany. He was very sweet.
On a trek with the friends we made on the way to Torotoro, we saw what was considered a lost city with many interesting cave formations then went spelunking for two hours through a large cavern, rapelling down walls and crawling through tight spaces. The French woman couldn’t do it. She and her boyfriend had to turn back at the beginning. The boyfriend was desperate to know how it was when we returned. I was very proud of Kate for being able to do everything. She was a champ.
The next morning, we befriended another French couple in the market. We decided to make the extended canyon hike with them. We first walked to the El Vergel Cascade then took the long way back to town pulling ourselves over boulders and walking along a ridgeline high above the canyon floor. Again, I was completely impressed with my wife’s abilities. The Frenchman that we were hiking with had a terrible fear of heights yet did the hike anyway. I think he was an inspiration for Kate. We loved Torotoro. It was my favorite part of our travels in Bolivia.
A Brief Stop in Oruro
We stayed another night in Torotoro and left very early the next morning for Cochabamba to catch a bus to Evo’s hometown of Oruro where we would consider taking a train to Tupiza or Uyuni. We stayed in a hotel not far from the bus station and walked to the center of town, investigating trains and dining on cheese pizza, our fallback when nothing else vegetarian can be had. The train schedule would put us in Uyuni too late in the evening so we decided to go by bus the next morning. We got to witness an election rally for the first time in Bolivia. It was serious. The town was plastered in political posters.
One night in Arequipa, Perú, Kate and I decided to try chocolate from a local company called Ibérica and developed a bit of a habit. This continued through Puno. When we got to La Paz, we found a Bolivian mark called El Ceibo and started eating their white chocolate. We hadn’t seen it since La Paz and really wanted some. We walked around Oruro and found none. At one point, a lady we asked told her daughters that we were from Spain. I took that as a compliment because I spoke virtually no Spanish eight months ago. However, no El Ceibo.
We woke early and left for the terminal to take a bus to Uyuni. We found none. They were all night buses. A man selling tickets to Potosí suggested we ride with him to Challapata then catch colectivos from town to town until we reached Uyuni. We thought why not and bought tickets. Shortly after, we located El Ceibo in the station. We took it as a sign.
A Briefer Stop in Potosí
Elections and Chocolates in Sucre
In Sucre, we rented a room inside of the French Consulate. It was great. Very quiet. I got some of the best sleep I’ve had since I don’t remember. They also had a kitchen so we were able to cook numerous meals. It was the perfect place to read and write but the internet was slower than dial-up. We lost track of the days. We were going to stay eight nights but then learned that the whole country shuts down on election day so it would be better to stay two more nights until after the election.
We saw our French friends that we hiked the canyon with in Torotoro coincidentally and dined with them one night. Another night, we ate in a secret Italian restaurant with a very small sign. You had a to ring a bell to get in. Not much happened in Sucre and that was the way we liked it. I had a conversation with the owner of a very old Škoda. It made me think of my family in Prague.
Continuing our chocolate obsession, we discovered a local mark in Sucre called Para Ti. We split a bar of white chocolate every single night until we exited the country. Para Ti is the best. It just melts in your mouth. They know their way around cocoa butter.
We saw several museums. One was a museum of indigenous masks from around the country. They were very impressive. No photos allowed. Another was the textile museum where we learned that weaving is an integral part of the regional cultures’ religious beliefs. One tribe weaves images of demons. Their textiles are red with black characters. They look like scenes from hell. Another day, we took a bus to the outskirts of town to see the largest collection of dinosaur prints in the world.
We walked the empty streets on election day. No one was permitted to drive. If you don’t vote in Bolivia, you can’t access your bank account for three months. Comically, you could still rent quads and go-carts in front of the Bolivian Supreme Court to ride around the adjoining park. Can you imagine renting a go-cart in front of the US Supreme Court? After ten nights in the quaint and tranquil capital of Sucre, we boarded a bus to Uyuni to take a tour through the Bolivian southwest and cross the border into Chile.