Landslides, roadblocks & sickness – testing travel from La Paz to Copacabana, Bolivia

We head from Samaipata to La Paz, the highest capital of the world

By the time we left Samaipata, Bolivia there were just 16 day left before our last flight on our round the world adventure from Rio to Madrid.

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Relaxing under the clementine tree in our house in Bolivia
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Saturday market in Samaipata Bolivia, amazing fruit and vegetables
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One of many hikes in the mountains around Samaipata, eastern Bolivia
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The girls celebrating after a long hike to the top of El Fuerte, Bolivia

Our time in Samaipata Bolivia had been full of new impressions and experiences but with a weekly and daily routine not too dissimilar to life back home. Ingrid and Scott had made lots of new friends, learned more Spanish and found great confidence and independence in going off to school on their own in the mornings while Paul and I got the time we needed to look for jobs and plan the last few weeks of our trip.

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We were sad and heavy-hearted to leave our life in Bolivia but the approaching end of our trip made a new sense of urgency come over us. There was so much more we wanted to see and do!

After many long trips on busses round South America, we had opted to fly to La Paz from Santa Cruz to minimise travel time and maximise time for exploring. With the flight it was still a full days travel from Samaipata to get there. 3 hrs minibus to Santa Cruz, then 1 hr bus to the airport 2 hrs waiting and then a 2 hrs flight to la Paz followed by a long taxi ride at the other end. It’s funny how long travel days like that used to fill me with dread, whereas now they are just part of the routine and we are all pretty relaxed about it. The kids have definitely learned to relax and take things as they come while traveling.

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3 hrs in a minivan on bumpy roads is not fun for anyone
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Spot of lunch, chicken Milanese, before taking the next bus to the airport in Santa Cruz
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Waiting for the plane to La Paz at the Santa Cruz airport

What a spectacular view we had as we come in to land in La Paz. It’s a huge city cladding the walls of the entire valley with snow-capped mountains and a desert like landscape all around.

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Amazing La Paz in the evening light s we are coming in to land

We were fully prepared for the cold nights at high altitude by now and with so much time high up before, we foolishly expected no issues with altitude sickness……

The illusive bus to Corico – a lesson in kindness and flexibility

After a glamorous meal of chicken and chips on the bed we all crashed  out with exhaustion and lack of oxygen. Early the following morning we set off in a taxi across La Paz to the bus station in the eastern part of town to Villa Fatima bus station. We were all excited about going to stay in a jungle treehouse for a few days living with wild animals in Senda Verde, south east of La Paz. La Paz in vast and taxi journeys very long on narrow, steep winding roads but by the time we finally got there we were unable to locate the little bus to Corico we had read about and planned to take this morning.

I have had lots of practice over the past year in not stressing and keeping the kids happy while working out what to do and this was the right time to put all of our experience to good use.

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Villa Fatima Bus Station, La Paz

As I wondered around asking all the little offices for the bus to Corico, which was advertised on many of their doors, all I got was, “No, no hay” (there is no bus) without further explanation of promises of a later bus or a bus he next day. In these situations, food and drink is always a good distraction so Paul set up camp with the kids by the little food stalls while I unsuccessfully tried to find out what was going on.

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Our cam while at the Villa Fatima bus station in La Paz trying to work out what to do

Being the only tourists here, the locals were eying us up as we sat on our pile of bags trying to think of what to do next. A traditionally clad lady, with a bowler hat, plaits and colourful skirts walked past and reached out to touch Scott, wanting to hold his hand. With a tiny “Hola” from Scott the lady engaged in conversation with me asking where we were from, where we were going and the age of the kids.

 

 

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Bolivian ladies at the bus stop

This had happened to us many times in Bolivia and when the silent barrier between two strangers from different cultures with different languages is broken there is openness, curiosity and kindness. Throughout our time in Bolivia we have found locals to be kind, interested and helpful and this was no exception. Ahh Corico she said, no busses, the road is closed due to a land slide.it will be closed for the next few days. I could not believe after asking around for over an hour that no one told me about the landslide…suddenly the lack of busses made sense… and our exciting plans to go to Senda Verde an impossible fait.

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Fresh fruit juice stand at the bus station in Bolivia

A fresh orange juice and some warm crusty rolls and fried egg sandwiches later we had summoned up the energy to make some decisions and new plans. All our travel and accommodation for the next 2 week was already booked and too late to cancel or change but after many phone calls in rusty Spanish to the animal sanctuary Senda Verde, and to Copacabana, the town next on our list, we managed to swap the dates of the 2 hostels around. All we had to do now was travel some more and hope that the road to Corico would be open a few days later.

Final test of patience and travel experience

The bus to Copacabana was located on the other side of La Paz at the cemetery bus station. A 1 hr taxi ride later we managed to get tickets to leave for Copacabana & Lake Titicaca at midday. Ingrid and Scott were already tired by now, but still somehow able to put all their travel experience to use, not getting upset at the sudden change of plans and long travel without actually getting anywhere Once on the bus, they gave in to the simple pleasure of a snack and a film. Finally we were on our way!…..but not for long……

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Finally on the bus to Copacabana

The roads in La Paz are steep, narrow and endlessly winding trough constant traffic jams. As we hit the first very steep hill in central La Paz the bus engine roared with effort. I closed my eyes as the bus slowly made some headway up the hill. A bit higher up the traffic kept increasing until 30 min later when we came to a complete stop. With traffic at standstill for over 30 min we started seeing men, woman and children making their way with heavy loads on foot. Something was going on but what??!!

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Stuck for hours in La Paz while the locals demonstrate with a road block

This was no ordinary traffic jam. A huge tree branch had been placed across the road and 10 men with megaphones made sure it stayed there. It turns out this was a typical Bolivian demonstration that happens every few days in La Paz.  Nothing we could do but accept that we were stuck in the bus surrounded by increasing car fumes for almost 2 hrs…

Feeling ill with altitude, car sickness and frustrated by the turn of events, I was surprised by my own lack of annoyance or stress from things not working out to plan. This is something we have all had plenty of time to practice and put to good use over the past year. Nothing to do but to sit back relax and just patiently wait, get another film on and try to keep everyone chilled.

The men on the road were asking for better facilities in their neighbourhood, the area where the road block was put up, and according to the locals this was they best way for them to get their issues heard. Police were present occasionally making sure no violence broke out, but no one asked the men to move the block or let them through. Finally everyone stuck in the growing traffic simply got out of their vehicle and walked round the road block to continue on foot and that’s what we had to do in the end too.

Freezing cold & altitude sick in Copacabana

Out of the bus, get our bags walk around the block and head up the hill where there soon will be another bus to take you to Copacabana. I was felling increasingly ill at this time but trying to keep spirits up for the sake of the kids.

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Leaving the bus with our bags to find another bus on the other side of the road block

The walk dragging our bags up the hill was not long, but at 4200m altitude and with an exhausting morning it was hard work simply rewarded by the stunning views.

The bumpy road took us ever higher up from 3600m in La Paz to 3900m at Copacabana.  The views on the way there were stunning but at this point I was simply feeling too ill to enjoy it.

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Stunning views over lake Titicaca all the way to Peru
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The little boat from the main land to Coapacabana over Lake Titicaca

4hr bus ride and a boat trip later, we finally arrived at lake Titicaca to find we had been put in a freezing cold (subzero) room for 3….Feeling very ill I bedded down in the single bed while Paul and the kids huddled together in the small double bed. No time to complain just get into bed and try to sleep.

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Keeping warm under 4 llama blankets in the freezing cold

Even under 4 llama blankets, it was by far the coldest nigh on our trip so far as the subzero temperatures outside crept into our room made of simple breeze blocks.  I closed my eyes and fell asleep thinking that tomorrow would be a new and less exhausting day with no travel and lots of exploring and hopefully a hot shower..Little did I know…..

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