Oh Bolivia…where do I start. Well, I spent a measly five days in this country; not really enough time to see everything that people see that endears them to Bolivia (many people rave about Bolivia, its beauty, its charms, it’s “authenticity” (whatever that means), but for me, it was enough for this trip and it was truly enlightening.
Bolivia was an intense place, full of ups and downs. I took a bus with two friends I met along the way across the border, which was already my first obstacle. Most citizens of the EU, Canada, Australia, and others can enter Bolivia for free, with just a stamp on their passport. However, Americans are lucky in that they have to apply for a visa, get together other paperwork, and pay $160. Luckily for me, the visa I receive for that $160 is good for ten years, so I can go back to Bolivia any time I want- GREAT. Apparently this is because of the current government administrations dissatisfaction that the United States won’t extradite a former Bolivian president who is wanted in Bolivia on murder charges. They also aren’t crazy about the DEA’s involvement in the destruction of their coca production during the infamous War on Drugs.
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada Sánchez de Bustamante (born July 1, 1930), familiarly known as “Goni”, was twice elected President of Bolivia. During his first term (1993–97), he initiated a series of landmark social, economic and constitutional reforms. Elected to a second term in 2002, he struggled with protests and events in October 2003 related to the Bolivian gas conflict. Official reports said that 67 protesters, soldiers and policemen died; most deaths were of protesters or bystanders in what was described as a massacre. He resigned and went into exile in the United States in October 2003.
Bolivia has unsuccessfully been seeking his extradition from the US to stand a political trial for the events of 2003. Victims’ representatives have pursued compensatory damages for extrajudicial killings in a suit against him in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
So, after scrambling to get all my stuff together over the border in Puno, Peru, we crossed over across Lake Titicaca to our first stop, Copacabana (not the town the song is about, but the original nonetheless). I have to say, Lake Titicaca took my breath away. It actually brought tears to my eyes I was so overcome with the vastness, the beauty, and the feelings I had about my compatriots on this new journey. Its spectacular and I recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing place to travel. My only regret is not having more time to spend there.
Lago Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is often called the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres (12,507 ft). Its high. Its literally higher than the clouds and its like a giant infinity pool that goes over the edge of the world.
The Lake is also sacred to the local population for a few reasons. In Inca tradition, the three most important animals are the Condor (for the space above us), the puma (for the earth) and the snake (for the underworlds). Local communities interpreted the shape of the lake to be that of a puma hunting a rabbit. The name Titicaca derives from “Titi Khar’ka” meaning Rock of the Puma; it refers to the famous feline-shaped rock formerly a point of pilgrimage on Isla del Sol. There are many sacred ruins on the islands in the lake.
After spending the day in Copacabana, our bus headed for La Paz. The ride into La Paz is not as spectacular as the ride across the Lake side. In fact it was probably the sketchiest ride that I’ve taken to date and I was glad that we were in a safe, GPS outfitted bus. To get to La Paz, one must drive through El Alto, a suburb of La Paz, and a very poor one at that. Bolivia is actually the poorest country in South America, and you could see it here. Driving through at night, you could see packs of stray dogs eating from trash piles in the streets. The streets being nothing but dirt roads most of the time. The buildings were mostly abandoned and commerce also took place on the streets. Coming into La Paz, you saw many people (families) sleeping on the streets in makeshift shanty towns under the cover of bus stops, etc. It was also sad and hard to see. I didnt take any pictures that night,but got some images when we left, during the day time.
The other thing to note is that the traffic here was even more insane than in Peru, and our bus actually got hit by a collectivo (the small white vans that are basically the form of public transportation for everyone in La Paz). People here also really love: Evo Morales, the current president (as demonstrated by the ‘Si, Evo!” signs everywhere) and, the Pope.
La Paz was a lot less depressing during the day, and if it wasn’t for the terrible smog and pollution that made it impossible to breathe, I might have actually liked it. But seriously, the black smoke that came out of every passing vehicle was abhorrent and I fell ill pretty quickly. Despite that, I was able to see much of the city and feel the atmosphere,which is also intense. Many people describe a “tension” there. La Paz’s full name is actually Nuestra Señora de La Paz (our lady of the peace) but as one local who talked to me said, the saying was “la Paz, no Paz” (Peace, but no peace).
My first full day in La Paz, I came across a fest of some sort, which seemed to be a health awareness festival, which booths set up for every disease and ailment, signs about how to get help for drug or alcohol addiction (another big problem in Bolivia) and strangely, lots of people dressed up as various organ parts. There was also a dance competition. I wasn’t sure how the two were related, but I have to say the dancing was one of the highlights for me.