Our last week in Bolivia was spent in La Paz and Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. La Paz is the biggest city and widely recognised as the unofficial capital, home to a million people.
La Paz (the peace)
We arrived back to La Paz on the crazy small Amazonas plane from Rurrenabaque, checking into an air bnb for a couple of days to have space to spread out all our gear after the jungle. Swamp water and sweat all through our clothes was sttttannnky. Carnival was still in full swing, unfortunately meaning a lot of eateries and shops were closed for holidays (either to escape the drunk masses or probably to join in). Now a note on Carnival, while one parade in Sucre was super fun, two weeks later and parades every day is a bit tiresome. Let alone getting covered in spray can foam every time you walk near a kid, having fire crackers thrown at your feet, or seeing multiple sloppy 50year old women squatting on the footpath peeing at 10am cause their so drunk errrryyyyday #classy. It definitely put a different spin on the common image of carnival being sexy ladies in samba outfits which only exists in Rio, and we were well and truly over it by the time we left Puno.
Unfortunately we arrived too late on Sunday to head to the Cholita wrestling. Well we might have made it… but I would have been insanely hangry the whole day which we know isn’t fun for anyone. The Choltias (traditionally dressed Bolivian woman with flared skirts, braids and tiny top hats) have started their own WWE style show famous amongst travellers, so if your heading La Paz way try ensure you get to a show on a Sunday or Thursday to catch this spectacle !
Our Air Bnb host recommended a famous restaurant for Sunday lunch, and we were not disappointed. Hidden on a dingy road off the main plaza was the old colonial Hotel Torino, where we were treated to lunch and a show for 80 bolivianos ($16NZD for 2). Our favourite performance was a local family band. The big man at the front had some huge pipes, singing Bolivian opera with great acoustics inside the old building made for a pretty awesome Sunday arvo.
On our first full day we headed along to the Red Caps walking tour, which cost 20BoB ($4NZD) each plus tips for the guides. Bolivian regulation means the walking tours here arent just tips only hence the small fee. We started in Sucre square, home to the infamous San Pedro prison from the book Marching Powder. The repurposed military barracks houses 2000 prisoners, many wives and 400 kids, is managed by 5-15 armed guards around the outside only, and produces the majority of Boliva’s cocaine from labs inside its walls. Alongside the prisoner run restaurants, hairdressers, bars and cell realestate inside, there’s an entire school next door in the plaza for the kids to head to at 8.30am !
Our tour also walked through the local produce market, where 5 blocks of road are cut off for the cholitas to sell everything from fruit and vege to grains and flower petals. This is teeny tiny in comparison to the weekend market in El Alto city above La Paz where 400 streets are covered in stalls. We meandered on to the famous witches market, where you can buy traditional love potions, or a llama foetus to sacrifice to Pachamama if building a new house. Back in the day, a human sacrifice was required for a larger building…. so witch doctors would stake out and liquor up the local homeless to kidnap and bury some unsuspecting soul alive in the building foundations to keep Mother Nature happy. Obviously rather illegal but who knows if this crazy tradition still exists !
The last stop of our tour in the central plaza covered the political history of Bolivia, with tales of the many protests in the plaza leading to presidents deaths, military and army shoot outs, and loud mouth slips ups from the current president Evo Morales. While managing to stay in power for 3 terms and attempting to stay in forever by changing constitution, all across Bolivia we have seen political signs that the indigenous president is loved and hated. Creating rights for the Cholitas, access to school and sportsgrounds for children, and kicking out the US army for having their own cocaine lab in the military base has led to Evo’s success, while banning condoms, and putting a tax on women over 18 who don’t have children has not done him any favours in the more recent years and required some hasty public apologies. Definitely more interesting politics than the pony tail pulling scandal which headlined New Zealand!
Now well worth your 10BoB tip is an eventful story telling hour with Crazy Dave. You won’t find this on trip advisor, but the ex con hailing from New York and residing in San Pedro for 15 years is best described as a colourful addict. His theatrical tale of being busted for cocaine tafficking and life on the inside of Bolivia’s most famous prison is insightful at best. While standing outside, an inmate was brought out to an ambulance who was stabbed, ladies visited and left with fuller bags than on entry, and a huge speaker system was rolled in for carnival celebrations where we could see them partying up large .
Lake Titicaca 🏝🚣🏻🐟
Bolivia and Peru share ownership of Lake Titicaca from the sleepy hippy town of Copacabana on the Bolivian side and the run down hub of Puno on the other.
We jumped on a local bus to the Bolivian lake town of Copacabana, full of hippies and stray dogs. We even managed to pick up a squad of 13 stray dogs on a 10km walk to the peninsula!
The real gem here is visiting Isla Del Sol (island of the sun) which according to Incan myth is where the bearded god summoned the sun to return to earth following the great floods, and he created the Adam and Eve version of the first two Inca’s. Sounds like pretty busy guy to me, and the alternative theory that the Incans slaughtered the prexisting inhabitants of the island to claim their land might be more plausible.
The two hour painfully slow boat is well worth the hike from one end of the island to the other, although you have to pay the locals a few fees along the way. We wandered along with an Irish and a Dutch couple we had met in La Paz who were travelling the same gringo route as us, and stayed overnight on the island. It’s definitely better to book accomodation and tickets for these kind of places when you arrive, as the Dutch guys paid like 80 euro by pre booking while we had to part with a piddly $30 NZD for a room.
On the Peruvian side of the lake, catching the bus to Puno we all headed out on a day trip to the floating Unos Islands. The locals here make the islands out of reeds, by tying together the roots and layering the air filled reeds on top for 3-4 families to live on. There are 115 islands in total, including a couple of schools and community centres. Although the building was impressive and they utilised the reeds from construction to food, we were a tad disappointed with how commercialised the island we visited was. You can also stay overnight with a family on Island Aramanti, with a population of 2000 people so isn’t too isolated. We decided not too after staying on the Bolivian side. The tour also visited Isla Taquile, which was average compared to Isla del Sol and required a slow 3 hour boat back to Puno. The famous local Sunday market here was abandoned on our day of visiting in favour for yet another carnival parade (think 30 Locals with flutes) which put another cross on carnival for us. Perhaps our experience here wasn’t the best, but worth doing if your not visiting the Bolivian side.
Now the only real highlight for us in Puno was the food. Home to a few ex pats, there are a number of fusion restaurants to choose from so we went for French at La Table del Inca. Holy schmoly it was devine. For 80 soles ($35 NZD) we had an outstanding food porn instagram worthy meal and a tasty local vino. I highly recommend the trout tartare, and chocolate foundue postre (dessert). We also got to sample alpaca and guinea pig, which was kind of like greasy chicken for those Kfry lovers out there!
Next stop 🔜 Arequipa 🏛🌋