01 Oct Bolivia Pt. 1
Days 475 – 479 –
Our first stop in Bolivia was the little touristy town of Copacabana, just a few miles after the border and still on beautiful Lake Titicaca. We enjoyed our afternoon strolling through the town and along the shoreline as we bought a few things and tried to get familiar with yet another new currency. The next day was on to La Paz to stay with a couchsurfer, Benjamin, who we had previously hosted in San Diego.
Laz Paz is a gritty big city, but surrounded by beautiful mountains. After getting stuck in some serious traffic on the way there, Benjamin welcomed us into his apartment which, after helping him and his girlfriend move to the apartment upstairs, we had to ourselves. It was great staying with him. His girlfriend’s parents were also visiting and they insisted on feeding us at every meal. We were quickly introduced to some traditional Peruvian and Bolivian home cooked food, which was such a treat. We wanted to get a strange rattle in the suspension inspected before heading out into the wilderness of Bolivia, and Ben took us to his trusted mechanic. We were expecting just a quick look followed by a thumbs-up, but the mechanic took apart a lot of the car, and inspected pretty much everything underneath, which literally took an entire day. They lubricated and washed everything. Besides a few loose bolts from the rough roads, he found that there was a loose mount and hairline crack in a front brake pad. He said it wasn’t crucial to replace and could be fixed with glue, but we replaced them both anyway. While Ben wasn’t with us at the mechanic, his girlfriend’s dad insisted on waiting with us all day and chatting with the mechanics about what was going on. We felt like he was watching over us and it was so sweet. We love having these authentic couchsurfing experiences. They give us the best insight to the culture and it is something really unique to get while traveling.
Ben owns an overlanding tour company in Bolivia, so besides getting us a great deal on the mechanic, he also gave us many tips about overlanding in Bolivia, and we were able to really hammer out our route through the country with his advice. We spent hours with him asking all of our questions while staring a maps and absorbing all his advice. We really enjoyed hanging out with Ben and his girlfriend. Our last night as a thank you we took them out to dinner at one of La Paz’s only Thai fusion restaurants, and went out for a few beers afterwards. We left La Paz in route to Parque Nacional Sajama, on the Chilean border. We likely would have skipped that park if it wasn’t for Ben’s advice.
Days 480 – 482
We got a bit of a late start leaving La Paz, but still arrived at Parque Nacional Sajama in the afternoon. As advised by Ben, we took an alternative route into the park and avoided the hefty ticket price. We headed straight for the geyser field where we knew we could camp. The geysers themselves were more like hot springs, but boiling hot. Too hot to get in. There was only one other family there, a local family that was bathing in the river. The overflow from all the springs flowed into the river that went through the valley between the mountains and made for a very warm river… perfect for bathing. We let the family have their privacy, but by the time they were leaving it felt a little too cold to take all our clothes off so we opted to get in the river the next day after our hike.
We spent the cold windy night watching a movie huddled under the covers. The next morning we used one of the geyer pools to heat our water for coffee and boil eggs, which worked surprisingly well. After our geyser coffee we cleaned up and drove another mile down a dirt road to the trailhead of the Laguna Altura, a trail that Ben had told us about. It was a short but very beautiful hike that took us gradually up through the valley, over the border to Chile (but only alpacas to check our passports) and down to a beautiful alpine lake. It only took 1 hour and 20 minutes to arrive, but because of the altitude making it more difficult, it was the perfect day hike. We reached about 16,000 feet, the highest point of our trip. Coming back down was much easier and after a quick lunch at the trailhead, we headed back to the geysers. We had the whole geyser field and boiling river to ourselves, and the temperature was perfect for a warm soak. We put our swimsuits on just in case someone else arrived, as it’s not very cultural to be nude in Latin America. The skies were clear, the water a perfect temperature, and with the mountains in the background it was the perfect thing to do after our hike. Afterwards we drove a long dirt road to the trailhead of another hike that Ben told us about, the base camp to Nevado Sajama, the park’s name sake. Camping there made for a convenient start to the hike in the morning. We parked next to a small shelter with stunning views, and were able to cook on our camp stove inside the shelter, and our of the wind. We watched the sunset over the mountains, shared a bottle of wine and bundled up to enjoy another frigid night on the Altiplano, a great end to a great day.
We woke up at dawn the next morning to hike to the Sajama Base camp. There was ice inside the truck and it was very cold and hard to get excited about the hike, which was all shaded. We froze most of the way up until the sun was high enough to start to warm us. The mountain was beautiful, especially up close, but the day before was a better hike, in our opinion. On our way out of the park we stopped to say hello to some local vicuñas doing their thing, which mostly seems to entail eating grass.
After we left the park, we tried to get gas for our first time in Bolivia. Because gas is subsidized in Bolivia, there is a separate price, at about three times the local price, and complicated paperwork, for foreigners. Because of the paperwork, many stations just say no to selling to foreigners. Gas stations in the cities have a computer system where they input your ID and license plate in order to fuel up, with security cameras to keep people honest. Outside of the cities, it is possible to negotiate a price between the local and foreign price, and the attendant pockets the difference. Another tactic is to try and fill jerry cans without the car, but because of gasoline’s use in cocaine production, this also has a set of requirements involving copies of your passport and a limit of 10 liters a person. But we had bought three 5 gallon cans and strapped them to the roof for this purpose.
Our first attempt we thought was a sure thing, because the attendant was a friend of Ben’s, so we were pretty surprised when he refused to sell us gas. We left and came back half an hour later, and his coworker sold us gas into the tank at a good negotiated price. With a full tank we made our way to Oruro where we spent the night in the airport parking lot for free with access to bathrooms and wifi. The next day would be a long drive to Cochabomba.
Days 483 – 485
After a long drive, another gas denial (we were only at half a tank so not desperate), a long grocery store run and getting lost searching for a campground, we finally arrived exhausted in Cochabamba. We were happy to shower and have a kitchen to cook in, and we met some other nice overlanders. We found out we’d actually have to spend 2 days instead of the one we were planning because it was a day where no driving was allowed in the whole country – the Day of the Pedestrian. It turned out fine though, because the weather was much nicer there and we had some projects to keep us busy. Besides some cleaning and research chores, chatting with our new friends and walking in to the town to buy some water and observe the parade of pedestrians enjoying a car-free city, we just enjoyed relaxing and welcomed the surprise rest days.