Bolivia is a country like no other. Our exploration of this highest, poorest, and least known South American nation proved to be that perfect blend of travel and adventure: some of our pre-conceptions enhanced, and others shattered.
Never ones to enjoy “down time” in an exotic locale, on our first day in La Paz we transformed our “morning at leisure” into a dawn excursion along the famous crossing to Coroico, known as “The Most Dangerous Road on Earth.” Climbing out of the high city bowl of La Paz, we were met by a rare scene on El Cumbre pass: llama herds wandering through a snowy wonderland against a dramatic backdrop of rugged peaks. Later, we explored the colorful streets of the city’s Witches’ Market, where traditional remedies of dried armadillos and llama fetuses adorned the exteriors of traders’ stores.
After a scenic journey to the remote village of Uyuni, on the salt flats of the same name, we witnessed the surface of the world’s highest, largest, and surely most spectacular expanse of salt. The dazzling whiteness, brilliant blue sky, and multi-hued volcano was the setting for lunch, with rosy-pink Andean flamingos foraging along the lake shore. Our journey deep into the heart of Potosi’s mountain of silver, Cerro Rico, gave us fascinating and sobering insights into the Colonial history of South America. And the Sunday market in Tarabuco, with its potato-tossing vegetable sellers and piles of magnificent woven fabrics, is surely one of South America’s most traditional and colorful markets.
We also flew to the Amazon lowlands where we stayed at the architecturally unique Jatauba Lodge. A canoe ride on the lake rewarded us with the spectacle of squabbling brown capuchin and Bolivian squirrel monkeys, as well as strange, hissing hoatzins. Persistence in the forest brought sightings of assorted rain forest denizens, notably a flock of noisy blue-and-yellow macaws, an impressive herd of white-lipped peccaries, and three further species of primates, including the golden palace monkey.
Our final leg took us back to the Andean highlands, to the shores of Lake Titicaca where we sailed by catamaran to the Island of the Sun, fabled birthplace of the Inca Empire. Here we found llamas and alpacas wandering along terraces of potatoes, corn, and barley, against the backdrop of the halcyon lake and jagged snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real. An Aymara shaman invoked the blessings of Pachamama (Mother Earth) herself, while endangered Titicaca flightless grebes hunted in the shallow waters below.
Excerpts from the Welcome Home Letter written by Expedition Leader Jonathan Rossouw for our May 2008 Bolivia: Andes to The Amazon