8. Olivia in Bolivia: Sucre, La Paz, Death Road, Copacabana

After 2 months of rapid roaming and excessive Google Translate, we decided to hunker down and “estudiar espanol”. Once the capital of Bolivia (and still the constitutional capital), Sucre is a pleasant, mild climate, mid-altitude (although we still struggled up the hills) city located in the south-central part of the country. We settled in to the genuinely delightful (although a little fascist re rules) Casa Verde hostel and with writing implements in hand, we summoned our inner students and signed up to classes at the Sucre Spanish school. 

Whilst initially confused at paying to spend our evenings doing homework, it was made worth it by the vast improvements in our Spanish and the delicious 3-course £3 lunches at vege restaurant Cafe Condor. We even found time between shopping for weirdly shaped fruits at the markets, and moaning about man-flu, to make our own gluten free bread. 

 The key tourist attraction of Sucre is the Parque Cretacico aka Dinosaur Park which is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world (over 5,000), as well as some impressive life size models of the dinosaurs themselves. It was fun stepping back in time (pun always intended!) however as the tours only run at lunchtime we could only view the actual footprints from afar. 

Armed with a new ability to almost communicate with locals, we took a nerve shattering flight from Sucre to La Paz which, unbeknown to an asleep Liv, eventually arrived at the 4,100m high airport after multiple attempts to land. La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world, is a hectic, bustling, noisy, dirty, sprawling mishmash of a city which, like marmite, divides people into love it or hate it categories. For us it was more of the latter although Friday night at chabad filled with travellers, chicken shnitzels and an incredibly drunk Rabbi was great fun. The vege food at Namas Te was also amazing and they even sold jars of tahini. I think we must be the only travellers in history to travel with two bottles of olive oil and a jar of tahini!

 One of the stand out moments of the whole trip for me was Camino de la muerte aka…Death Road! The world’s most dangerous road gains it’s name from the ~300 people killed yearly from car accidents along this narrow winding mountain road with blind corners, overhanging rocks, waterfalls and of course a 1000m sheer drop. Thankfully, a new road was built in 2006 and since then, the old one is primarily used by crazy, thrill-seeking tourists (and us) on bikes looking to descend the 64km rocky dirt road from 4,700m high to 1,200m. Whilst we were frequently reminded that several cyclists still die each year, even I (the nervy-wobbly cyclist) felt safe in the hands of our Gravity (highly recommend this company) guide Scott from Scotland. The scenery was spectacular and my nerves quickly faded away as my confidence grew. Starting to believe that I may in fact survive the day, I even started enjoying myself and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, we both arrived back injury free and elated. We thought it best to wait until this point to let our parents know what we had just done!

After an exhilarating adrenaline pumping day, we thought we’d take it easy and unwind with… a series of 50mph zip wires several hundred meters above the jungle floor. The views were incredible and, after reaching terminal velocity, the ride was strangely serine. Vast coca plantations swept across the mountainous terrain and the cool air refreshed our tired faces.   

 With our feet firmly back on the ground, we joined a walking tour of La Paz from San Pedro prison which operates like an enclosed community where convicts pay rent for cells, live with their families and run businesses. The most notable of these were the prison tours (historically one of the top attractions on lonely planet) and the finest cocaine production in South America…hmm, I wonder if they could be related?!

From inmates to insanes, the Witches Market was seriously weird. Dried llama foetuses for use in rituals, sweets made with poisonous glues and “love potions”. The stories that accompanied them were even creepier, with tales of homeless people being buried alive as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Nature) to protect their buildings.

Weird did eventually turn to wonderful when hearing about traditional Bolivian courting practices (the age old tale of men throwing stones and women revealing their calves if they’re interested) and explanations for the unique female dress code; an over order of bowler hats that were accidentally too small for the men’s heads. My personal favourite story was that one of the many protests in La Paz was actually due to The Simpsons being taken off air, and resulted in it being shown 3 times a day. 

To celebrate the independence of La Paz, the whole city was having a party and the streets were crammed full with marching bands, parades and a lot of drinking. Thankfully being about a foot taller than all the locals meant getting a good view wasn’t much of a challenge.

 After a hectic few days, we opted for simplicity and boarded a Bolivia/Peru Hop bus tour headed to Copacabana (the beach in Brazil is named after this town) which lies on the banks of Lake Titicaca; the worlds highest navigable lake. Las Olas hotel was truly spectacular, from a gigantic round bed to a wood burning fire, not to mention the incredible sunset views over the lake. 

Feeling refreshed, we said goodbye to B-Olivia and crossed into Peru only to discover that chaos awaited us. More on that next time… 

7. Re-roaming! B-olivia: San Pedro de Atacama & Uyuni

Sometimes when travelling the stars align, other times, the only way to avoid eye wateringly expensive flights is to go the road… already travelled. The re-roaming(ton) began in Iguazu Falls and arrived into San Pedro de Atacama (aka northern Chile) 4 flights and 48 hours later after: a delicious steak in Buenos Aires, a picturesque sun rise in Mendoza and a relaxing shabbat in Santiago. With just a day in the Atacama desert before touring into Bolivia, we decided to rent bikes and cycle to the Valle de la Lunar (Lunar Valley) which gains it’s name from it’s mysterious moon-like landscape. Equipped with terrible bikes but directions for a “nice flat route”, we set off in high spirits and high vis.

After an hour of steep hill-climbing whilst being battered by a sand-storm (imagine the feeling of a thousand tiny needles stabbing into any exposed skin!) we were informed that our route should have included turning left 5k earlier! 

With our skin looking radiant from a level of exfoliation that only sand-blasting can achieve, and our lungs filled with dust, we dejectedly turned around and headed back. Decision time: to continue home or to take that left turn and see the valley? 

Yep, you guessed it, we trooped on and arrived at the start of the valley… completely zonked. Facing yet another 20k worth of cycling to descend into the valley and return, Liv graduated from the Kazza school of shmoozing with first class och-nours and made friends with some Chileans with a car! I was jumping with joy at ditching our bikes… 

From squeezing through narrow salt caves that made Liv feel tall, to the beautifully vast desolate landscapes, the Lunar Valley was incredibly diverse. 

Giant sand dunes flowed down into rocky plains and salt flats stretched for miles. 

Pictures captured, we profusely thanked our impromptu drivers and achingly cycled back. 

Thanks to the worst ice-wind in 30 years closing the standard border crossing, we met our multinational group of travellers at a chilly 4am and headed north into Bolivia for a 3-day Uyuni tour. 

From the moment we stepped off the 4×4 the altitude hit us. A bizarre feeling of breathlessness that made gentle walking a challenge let alone jumping selfies. All stoked up on coca tea/sweets and with our hearts pounding, we toured the rugged landscapes and lagoons of Bolivia. 

After a day of llamas and quinoa (they even had quinoa beer) we arrived at the spectacular salt flats of Uyuni where, after overcoming the sheer amazement of the place, we managed to get a few amusing photos thanks to the vast flatness distorting perspective. 

Following a freezing night in a “hotel” made “completely out of salt” (#pedanticquotations) and with all running water frozen solid, we headed back to the salt flats for sunrise and to see the oasis of Incahuasi, some more local wildlife and a museum on… yep you guessed it, salt. 

All salted out, we finished our tour with an evening relax at the outdoor thermal pools where, after summoning the courage to de-robe in minus 8 Celsius, we were rewarded with delightfully hot water and an incredibly clear view of the stars. Southern hemisphere constellations learnt and shooting stars seen, we settled into another freezing and this time vertically challenged hostel. 

Uyuni tour completed and excessive photos taken, we bid farewell to our fellow international travellers and, in the land of seemingly extreme temperature changes, departed on the worlds hottest local bus towards central Bolivia where we’d soon learn some very valuable lessons… 

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1. Buenos Dias from Buenos Aires

Alcohol and sleeping tablets made light work of the 14 hour flight, and before we knew it we were arriving in to Buenos Aires and were ready to face our first set of challenges…money, transport and mossies.

Argentina at the moment is facing unusually warm weather leaving a swarm of mosquitos alive and hungry much to my dismay. Weirdly, after travelling to the other side of the world, we bumped into a guy from Manchester who shops at Yates and Suddell, went to the same school at Liv, and thought we were 24 (win!). We dropped our stuff at the Chillhouse youth hostel which is a quirky no frills hostel with an open courtyard in the centre of the building and a nice roof terrace at the top. As usual, food was the first thing on our minds (after overcoming the shock of a life size cutout of a girl on top of our bathroom) and so we headed into the city centre to the infamous Cafe Tortoni (which comes with it’s own frame outside for tourists to take photos of it).

To orientate ourselves, we joined a walking tour with our guide Lollie (yes that’s actually her name!), however I did zones out slightly when the political monologues went on and on. 

Planning on getting a nice early night after our long journey, we went from Peron to prime grilled steak however soon discovered that Argentinians eat late….very late! At 7.30 we turned up only to discover nowhere was even open until 8.15! Sadly (for me) we also discovered that Argentinians eat their steaks fully cooked (Liv loved it!), and that our Spanish is somewhat lacking! 

Al Galope had the feeling of being in Golders Green, and following our first Argentinian steak, we heading for our first Argentinian sleep.

The next morning we realised that we needed to have a serious planning session as we had no idea where we were going next, and so after many an hour we headed to the Japanese gardens for a bit of peace and tranquility (and weirdly found gluten free pizza). 

The gardens are a series of well tended trees, shrubs, ponds, bridges (it seems constantly used for people to pose for weird pictures) and water features. Gigantic fish swam in the waters and a number of different bird species fluttered around.

From there we attempted to go to the planetarium only to find it shut and the surrounding area contained swarms of mossies. 

We ran away and headed towards chabbad in an attempt to figure out our Shabbat plans and met the daughter of the Rabbi there who was extremely helpful and even sorted out our SIM card for us. From there we found a great coffee shop with delicious coffee and custard pastry balls and hunkered in for another planning sessions. Flights booked, plan sorted, and so all that was left was to wander the streets of Palermo towards dinner another kosher restaurant called Asian. S-take two! This time it was incredible. Perfectly cooked Argentinian steak, amazingly crispy potatoes and delicious chicken. With our bellies full, and our wallets empty, we headed back for the night and even managed to find gluten free bread along the way.

From the vastness of the ecological reserve complete with it’s own beach (and funny frummers on bikes), through to the botanical gardens and the Rosendal (Rose Garden), the next two days involved getting acquainted with the greener side of Buenos Aires.

  Whilst all good in their own way, the Rosendal with it’s arrays of brightly coloured aromatic roses, lakes, and public Zumba (so random!) was our favourite.  Buenos Aires really is the city of colours and no area represents this better than La Boca. Famed for being the birthplace of Tango, it’s now known as the shadier side of town and tourists are advised to stick to the main streets to avoid being mugged. Thanks to a misjudgement on my (David) side we failed to do this and then spent a nervous few minutes wandering the backstreets before emerging relieved at the main area to a sight of colourful buildings and live tango. 

With just an hour till Shabbat, we were surprised to find out that Uber does not operate in La Boca; instead we found the craziest taxi driver who, in a driving scene worthy of a Fast and Furious film, managed to narrowly avoid a crash per minute and got us back in half the time it should have.

From uber fail to uber frum, Liv and I became the centre of attention at a chabbad shul (being dressed somewhat different from the norm), but definitely enjoyed the Shabbat experience and dinner that followed; they even brought out their posh tea set for the occasion! After Shabbat, we were treated to dinner and Tango by Kaz and Stu (aka Karen and Stuart aka mum/dad/in-laws) who’d been to this one a few months earlier. When travelling it’s strange how often you bump into people you’ve seen previously, however being sat down right next to a couple from London who we’d met on the walking tour was bizarre. Following dinner, were impressed watching talented dancers showcase how tango has evolved through the ages. 

With our first destination complete, the only thing left to do was get a cliche mandatory selfie of us with our backpacks on, before heading to the airport.  Our next destination was Patagonia where we would see one of the most incredible views ever. More on that in the next post…