After an uncomplicated and fast border crossing into Bolivia, we drive along Lake Titicaca. Our first stop is Copacabana, a small and rather touristic town on the Andean Sea – not to be mistaken with the glamorous seaside resort in Brazil. The temperature is cool and it rains for the first time in weeks and so we don’t stay for long. But before we move on, we bless our vehicle, as it is the custom here. Right in front of the church, our home-on-wheels is quickly decorated with all kinds of kitsch and flowers and then the priest with straw hat and a bucket of holy water shows up and performs the ceremony. As we Swiss say: “If it doesn’t help, at least it won’t harm either” and the ritual is an experience anyway. Our vehicle and we are marveled at and to conclude the blessing we spray a cheap booze all over.
WORKSHOP & WITCHES
The next day we drive now blessed towards «La Paz». The huge capital is divided into two areas. The poorer part of the population lives in the upper part called “El Alto” at over 4000 meters (!) and the better situated in the valley basin where the extra oxygen is clearly noticeable. Like all overlanders with a Toyota Land Cruiser, we visit the workshop of Ernesto Hug. For three days, our vehicle is pampered in the well-organized garage, all oils and liquids get exchanged and some wear parts get replaced. Ernesto is a Bolivian with Swiss roots and the work is done accordingly accurate. We can even camp in the clean workshop and we use the time his team works on our car to explore the city.
During a walking tour with Gerd, who is of German origin, we learn a lot about La Paz. He has lived in the city, which is not exactly a beauty but has a lot to offer, for almost 40 years. He takes us to the witch market in «El Alto». There one can buy everything necessary for shamanism and ceremonies of all kinds. Dried lama embryos for safe house building, frogs with golden eyes for luck and all sorts of powder for and against problems in life.
The way of getting around La Paz is also exciting. A network of modern cable railways connects the city for almost 10 years, so you can hover from one district to the next at dizzy heights. Needless to say, that the views are much better than in a subway.
THE DEATH ROAD
After we blessed our expedition vehicle as well as brought it mechanically up to date, we venture out on the legendary “Strada de la Muerte” that connects La Paz with the Amazon. On dozens of curves, this road winds along steep abysses deeper and deeper into the green jungle of Bolivia. Today the dirt road is mostly a tourist attraction and luckily not very busy anymore. With more oncoming traffic, many a crossing would have turned into an adventurous story otherwise… And we only have the new, paved road under our wheels for about 20 seconds when we drive past an accident – the locals let us know that it was failure of the brakes that caused the big truck to fall several hundred meters into the depth…
CHANGE OF PLANS
The highlight par excellence in Bolivia is the lagoon route from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. During the planning of this part of the trip, however, the demonstrations and road blocks around the presidential election thwart our plans. ☹ Nobody knows what the days after the announcement of the result will bring. Therefore, we decide to leave the country for the time being and to explore the north of Argentina first. From there we will go to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and then take the lagoon route in the opposite direction than originally planned.
COLORED MOUNTAINS AND QUEBRADAS
Northern Argentina surprises us quite unexpectedly with great landscapes! The mountains with the fourteen colors – we did not count them – are especially appealing. But also, the many river valleys and canyons, called Quebradas, invite us again and again to take a break from our drive and do some short hikes to explore the area.
NEW FRIENDS IN ARGENTINA
We meet Marianne and Reinhold at a petrol station. The two travel for three months in their Land Rover with a pop-up roof through South America and, like us, would like to go on the lagoon route. But they too are unsettled by the political situation in Bolivia. Since it’s more fun to travel together and the roads in the Bolivian highlands are very bad, we decide to team up and drive to San Pedro de Atacama and start the tour together from there. On the day we want to cross into Chile, riots and violent protests break out in the capital Santiago. ☹ We go nevertheless… San Pedro de Atacama is a tourist town way up north and we don’t think there will be problems. Fortunately, we are right – all of this and what we saw on the lagoon route can be read in our next blog soon.