We got really high really fast in Bolivia by flying into Sucre and travelling straight up to Potosi; going from virtually sea level to over 4,000m in a matter of hours (multiply by 3ish for feet for those metrically challenged). Not surprisingly, the altitude sickness hit us with vengeance, Steve experiencing his very first head ache EVER (and not doing it very gracefully I might add!). I was able to drag myself on an unforgettable mine tour where we blew up dynamite, tried 95% proof alcohol that the miners drink, and saw the shocking conditions in which the men of Potosi work to extract silver, zinc and other metals. Makes you think twice about buying silver or complaining about a desk job!
Our headaches and inability to walk up a flight of stairs without puffing like 60 year old career smokers drove us out of Potosi pretty quick. The overnight bus to Uyuni that we rode still stands as the coldest, bumpiest and most uncomfortable bus ride yet.
Uyuni is the gateway to south-west Bolivia, a high altiplano area famous for it's salt flats, colorful lagoons and bare bleak landscape. We did a 4 day jeep tour through this Dr-Seuss landscape taking in the perception altering salt flat vistas, 10m tall cacti and staying in a salt-hotel made almost completely of salt the first night. Crazy rock formations, colorful lagoons full of pink flamingos and deserts kept us busy the second day and hot pools, geysers, mud pools, volcanoes and more dramatic scenery followed. High altitude was a constant companion which seemed to enhance fatigue and hangovers
drastically! One early morning, our hungover driver drove off the road, over the large graded shoulder of rubble, got us onto two wheels in the sand and just about rolled the jeep. What an idiot! Despite the harsh conditions, we made it back safely and on time to Uyuni for another overnight bus ride north towards Cochabamba.
After one too many uncomfortable overnight buses, we decided to travel to La Paz the easy way, and forfeited a 12hr bus ride for a 30min flight. From here we explored the city which sprawls across the flat plains up top, down into a massive canyon like a blanket falling off the edge of a table. A popular day trip from La Paz was the bike trip of the 'Death Road' which involved a staggering 3,500m vertical descent down a windy dirt road with sheer cliffs. We started the day in drizzling cloud with a dusting of snow and by the end of the day, had descended down unimaginably high hills into the humid jungle surrounded by banana plants.
Also from La Paz, we flew (again, 30min flight vs 20hr bus) into the Bolivian Amazon, Rurrenabaque. Rain on the dirt runway often delays or redirects flights here as was the case for us and we arrived late into a nearby military airstrip and had to ride a bone-jarring 45min bus into town. From here we departed on a 3 day safari tour into the pampas and spent the time eating, chilling and sight-seeing. We cruised around on a dug out canoe spotting wildlife such as monkeys, lots of birds, many many many bugs and swimming with fresh water dolphins. Feeding the habituated camp caymans was a favorite pass time of the cook. On the flight out, it was the first time that I have ever seen a chicken shoved in a backpack and taken on a plane.
Our last stop in Bolivia, heading towards Peru, was the high altitude Lake Titicaca. We arrived in Copacabana late at night on a long weekend and thankfully managed to find a hotel for the night. From here we did a day trip to Isla del Sol- an island on Lake Titicaca where the Inca creation stories begin. We walked the island from north to south in brilliant sunshine, loving the views and weather but feeling the high altitude.
We loved our time in Bolivia, noticing the incredibly varied and striking natural landscape (from snow and altitude sickness to oppressive jungle in hours), the great price differential, loving the fewer tourists and friendly people.