As promised in the previous post, Bolivia is where I would say I peaked in my gap year in terms of realising I was 8767 km from home and that no one really knew me and that no one really gave a shit, and let me tell you I have never felt more freedom. For those of you that know me you’ll know that the prospect of being the one dancing on the bar by myself is something that is most definitely at the bottom of my list of inclinations, yet there I was singing some 2000s pop song and conducting an orchestra of hostel goers through a version of Happy birthday- to myself.
Bolivia was the first leg of my trip that was truly solo as a friend from Sixth form last minute decided to crash my Brazilian adventure (kidding Adon, thanks for keeping me company in lost Portuguese translations), yet alas I was left in the airport of Rio to travel onwards to Bolivia alone. Now, I am not a scared sort of person but to be honest I did feel a little nervous sitting on the plane on a continent where I knew no one (little did I know this would turn out to be one of the best things about the entire trip- see comment above). For all you backpackers out there potentially judging me for flying- 1. it was actually hella cheap, and 2. it was my first trip and i didn’t actually realise the bus system even though now I would rather choose it. But anyway…
I landed in La Paz at around 1 am after a quick stop over in Lima (does it count that I visited Peru or…) and this was one of the causes of my nervousness I think- landing in La Paz, the highest airport in the world where people faint and pass out (shout out to my grandmother for telling me she solidly passed out and needed oxygen when they moved to Bolivia) and I’ll be alone and omg- you can see my train of thought.
But I had absolutely nothing to worry about except maybe the temperature drop from a balmy 30 degrees in Rio to about -3 in La Paz. The hostel I had booked was Wild Rover, a chain hostel in South America and one of the bigger, more party orientated ones (being real I went cause I needed friends, sad times). Coming from Books which was like a family to a big hostel was a step up and despite my 2 am sleeping time, I was up at 9 and booking myself out onto a salt flat tour by 12. I was actually really nervous I would be alone forever, and although I grew to be so happy being by myself, the first step was a big one, so long story short I ran away from the hostel and forced myself into a group of people to like me- yay!
The tour I booked was of course, the famous salt flats, me being keen to go to see if there really was something out there supposedly saltier than myself.
They. are. amazing. Though, I still think I could rival them for salty content.
The trip takes place in a 4×4 that leaves from Uyuni, the closest town and an overnight bus ride from La Paz. The overnight bus had wifi, tv and they fed you two meals. O.R Tambo and Heathrow give you 15 minutes free wifi and there I was in the middle of one of South America’s poorest countries, with unlimited internet access. (Shout out to Western capitalist extortion here). You then drive around for 3 days, overnight-ing in hostels made of salt (I really was in my element), that are included in your trip.
On the first day you reach the salt flats and watch the sunset over these incredible pieces of land that, by the way, stretch for 11,000-sq.-km. I went in the dry season so unfortunately I didn’t get to see the incredible mirror effect that happens in the rain, but they were stunning nonetheless. I did try really hard to get a cool perspective photo which are supposed to be easy, but…
clearly I am inept.
After the salt flats, you continue on around the national park which has some of the most diverse terrain I have seen in such a small area. We saw llamas, mountains, flamingos, coloured lakes, geysers, spent the night in hot springs and explored abandoned towns- all in 2 days. There are also loads of wild alpacas which I’ll admit I did spend a lot of time chasing after for that selfie, to no avail. They also tried to spit at me so..
Snowy mountains, lakes and out of view- flamingos!
The closest I could get trying to make some new local friends
During the trip there’s also the opportunity to get off near the Chilean border and continue into Chile if that’s your vibe! For me, Chile wasn’t in the picture this time around but I’ll definitely be wanting an Atacama visit soon. Luckily though, the aim to make friends on the trip did sorta work out so I had people to talk to back at the hostel in the interim of waiting for a fellow backpacker from Brazil to arrive, and it also broke me back into just sitting down and randomly chatting to a stranger and it not being weird or holding connotations of leading to anything- who knew you could actually buy someone a drink just to have a chat and then not actually expect anything? Amazing.
In between all the little trips I took I returned to La Paz and I loved it. Lots of people I met only stayed in between the Amazon or Uyuni but actually, La Paz is fucking cool. There are great restaurants, interesting things to see and warm alpaca wool jerseys a plenty! Whilst on the trip, I read a book called Marching Powder about the San Pedro prison right in the middle of La Paz. I recommend you read it because it’s actually insane, but if you’re not a fan of literature I shall summarise:
Its a prison in the middle of the city and backpackers used to be able to go in and chill and spend the night and get off their faces on the cocaine that’s made there and then eat and shop at the restaurants that are inside. Inside a prison. With real inmates. Like what.
And on top of that, La Paz is home to Route 36, but I’ll let you guys look that one up.
Whilst in Bolivia, I celebrated my 19th birthday. Backpacking in South America, I really didn’t meet many people my age and was one of the youngest around as most gap year based travellers seem to pick SE Asia or Europe for a first time trip. But, this did not deter me!
I started off going to a Bolivian Cholita Wrestling contest which was like nothing I have seen, and probably will ever see again. It’s kind of like Mexican wrestling x WWE where women dressed in traditional puffy dresses throw themselves and each other across the ring. I actually do not have words to describe it other than utterly fantastic and absolutely bonkers, so there’s a youtube video linked above. The night then continued into, and I would like to thank Wild Rover for coincidentally holding this, a very drunk karaoke night on May 7th. Oh, and also a shout out to those that helped me into bed following my performance(?) on the bar. I mean to sum my night up, the next morning when I reappeared from my pit at about 12 pm, approximately 3-4 people whom I had never seen before congratulated me on my birthday and asked if I fell asleep okay, only for me to find out they had been the ones to run and grab a bucket and hold my hair back into the early hours of the morning- friendships blossom from the bottom up people.
On a more put together note, one of the last things I did whilst in Bolivia was mountain bike down Death Road.
Fun fact! My grandfather was actually in the construction industry and helped build this road in the ’60s which was a bit surreal whilst biking down it.
Death Road is a one-car-wide stretch of ‘road’ cut into the side of the mountain and used by trucks going up and down to deliver supplies. Yes, up and down which means sometimes when they meet, one has to reverse around blind corners whilst teetering on the edge of a cliff- why not throw yourself down it on a mountain bike, am I right? Honestly though, would recommend it to any adrenaline junkie out there. You start in the freezing mountains and end in a tropical rain forest after riding down around 80 km of cliff hanging dirt and waterfalls- and then they feed you! It is so great, and there’s only a small change you’ll fall off the edge and plummet to your death- and even if you do, they’d give you a little cross to mark it as well (you do genuinely ride past so many of these)
Overall, the two weeks I spent in Bolivia could have easily been stretched by at least another week maybe longer. Not once did I feel unwelcome, even when leaving the airport and the friendly security decided I, of all people, was a potential drug mule and proceeded to search my bags whilst I stood their mumbling Spanish about how they weren’t drugs but chewing gum and panadol. He let me go after realising I was definitely far too small and cute to be harbouring illicit substances. I really did love the city and its people, as I found the Bolivians to be some of the most welcoming, friendly and enthusastic- especially when you speak their language.
Days stayed: 15
Hours travelled: many
Injuries incurred: 2 (mountain biking down a steep cliff does end in small disasters)
Nights on the bar: 1, and it was plenty.
Friends made: A solid handful, even post birthday night!
Pairs of Alpaca jerseys bought: only 1 😦
Drugs consumed: well none caught.. kidding guys.
I’ll discuss the amazing amazon in another post because I truly believe I have rambled on and if you’re still here, holding your attention thus long is an achievement, so take a break and read about my big anaconda next time.
P.s. Apparently blog posts are picking up their popularity of expressions of (teen) angst, political commentary or travel orientated babble, so thanks for reading mine as well.