Sunday, August 5, 2012

Goodbye, Bolivia.

Disclosure: I wrote this the day I returned to America and took five weeks to post it. So when I refer to last week, it actually means a month and a half ago. My bad. 

Well, I have touched back down in the states. My time in Bolivia is over. When I said my goodbyes at BiblioWorks I actually started to cry– I guess that goes to show how much I enjoyed my time in Bolivia working for BiblioWorks. 

Maritza and Matt– they work so hard to make BiblioWorks function
The office had a little going away party for me, so sweet!
The cake had a candle and everything.
The past two months were the fastest of my life. As I write this I literally cannot believe that it is over. I can clearly remember when I left for Bolivia, and to be honest I wasn't 100% ready to leave home after just getting back from the Philippines. I remember when I left America I thought, okay two months isn't that long, it will fly by. And that it did! Maybe it was a mistake leaving the U.S for Bolivia so shortly after my arrival from Southeast Asia. I mean, it was good that I left so quickly because it meant I avoided, well postponed, my culture shock. Since I was only home for a mere three weeks I felt like I was on vacation and therefore didn't face many of the problems, depression, and dissatisfaction that many people who study or live in a developing country feel upon returning to the U.S. But, on the flip side, I think my first two weeks I wasn't fully committed to Bolivia. My mind was on the Philippines, the fun events happening at Bowdoin, and how much I had cherished the time I spent back home visiting my friends and family. I thought it would be an easy transition– Southeast Asia to South America, but it wasn't. I think all the factors i listed above made my initial experience in Bolivia very different than what I had expected. Don't interpret this the wrong way and think I didn't enjoy Bolivia– the moment I arrived I knew that I was in an incredible country and I liked what I was doing, but it took time for me to realize that I love Bolivia. Overtime I became more and more passionate about the country and my role at BiblioWorks. When people asked me if I liked Bolivia I always said yes, but now I say, no I don't like it– I love it!

By far the biggest contributor to my increased enthusiasm was my work at Pampa Aceituno. The first month was frustrating with the number of strikes, holidays, and also I lacked the courage to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. Lize only goes on Tuesday and Thursdays, so I only felt comfortable going on Tuesday and Thursdays. It's funny, I have absolutely no problem traveling or living by myself– I can be completely independent but when it came to working at Pampa Aceituno I was hesitant. Why? Because from the get-go I had been there with Lize, I had never had to venture on my own. I became accustomed to this, and going by myself seemed like it wouldn't be normal, I would be changing the system and pushing my comfort zone. I was nervous to be there by myself, what if I couldn't communicate my thoughts or understand. Lize doesn't speak English but if I didn't understand something I could later turn to her and ask her to explain it more slowly. I finally had that push I needed from Matt to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. And of course, once I was on my way, there was absolutely no problem. If only I had gone into the library by myself the second week I was here, I would have realize that really it was all in my head. Additionally, after the first month there were fewer strikes and holidays as well.

The past three weeks in Sucre I have been so busy! Last week I completed two grants for BiblioWorks. One was for a library in a completely new community and the other a proposal for a BiblioBus with a focus on health and wellness. On top of that I've been preparing for all my activities in Pampa Aceituno, visiting the library every other day, and upping my hours in Spanish class. I felt as though there weren't enough hours in the day! All of the sudden I was down to days left in Sucre and all I could think about was how in my first two weeks in Bolivia I didn't capitalize on all my opportunities and my situation. I would love to have 2 more weeks in Sucre!! Why can't I take those first two weeks and move them to the end? :)
One of my last days in Pampa Aceituno
My time in BiblioWorks, Pampa Aceituno, and Sucre has been unforgettable and has really got me thinking what I want to do once I graduate– The Peace Corps is now heavily on my mind, finding a permanent position at an organization like BiblioWorks, going to grad school for policy work so I can be more educated in how to make a difference, or maybe just teaching English as a second language. 

Bolivia is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by neighboring countries. Because its poverty and developing state, larger and more developed nations like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and even Peru refer to Bolivia as poor, dangerous and an unfriendly place to visit. I've met only kind people, have found myself in no dangerous situations, and yes, it is an impveorshed country but that in no way makes it a bad place. Bolivia is absolutely beautiful in every meaning of the word. I am so grateful to Bowdoin and the McKeen Center for giving me this opportunity to volunteer in such an inspiring organization with an important mission, and of course in an incredibly country. Entonces, hasta luego Bolivia. Voy a volver. 

The Amazon Jungle

Okay, so now that I have been back in the US for five weeks... it is time for me to wrap up my blog! My last weekend excursion was by far my best: I went to the Amazon Jungle! Ever since elementary school when we did a unit on the rainforest, I have always wanted to go to the Amazon, the jungle of all jungles. This is hard to believe but over half of Bolivia is Amazon basin, which is just simply amazing. I will never be able to get over the fact this this country is so diverse in its climate, geography, and terrain. Simply incredible.
Our airplane sat 18 people. Smallest and sketchiest
airplane I have ever been on!
This was the airport. There was no building.

The jungle tour I went on was called the Pampas tour, and it was based out of a boat. Basically we just floated down a river for three days. Awesome!! I was in a group with eight other people, all from different countries and then of course our tour guide, Jimmy. He was an interesting character. According to him, he grew up in the jungle, the youngest of 17 kids. His father, who is now 99, is the chief of a native tribe, which is located a 14 day walk from Rurrenabaque. His father thought Jimmy was different from his other children so he told him to go into Rurrenabaque (the bustling *read as there are three streets* town of the region) to do bigger and better things.

Getting to the junge was not very easy. It's not called the rainforest for nothing. Even though it is the dry season it rained all day Friday. The road was a mud pit. Although a dirt road, it is a main road and more than once we had to get out of the jeep and watch in awe and terror as double decker buses, huge trucks filled with cargo, and our jeeps tried to maneuver through the chewed up road. I can't believe the large, tall vehicles did't topple over. We arrived at the river and hopped aboard our boat, It was still raining and I think it is fair to say that although excited about being on a boat in the Amazon I was pretty miserable and cold after 2 hours. The river was really high meaning that the usual plethora of animals had dwindled down to a few stragglers. We saw a group of chattering monkeys and lots of birds attempting to dry out their wings. And we saw pink river dolphins. Yup, PINK dolphins. After two hours we got to our accommodations, a cluster of buildings all connected by a series of bridges suspending over the river. Of couse our beds were equipped with mosquito nets– a necessity even with my 98% deet (eek) that I finally "got" to use.

After dinner we went alligator searching. We got back into our tipsy turny boat in search of 1 plus feet long alligators. Crazy, I think so. How we found them: we shone our flashlights out into the bushes and until we saw the reflection of their eyes. Then, Jimmy would putter around, one of the alligators charged at us which I found extremely terrifying.
This guy hung out by our campsite all the time. Don't
fall in the water- otherwise Pepe will get you!

The next morning we went searching for anacondas. And believe it or not: we found one! When I say we, I mean Jimmy found one. The poison isn't lethal, Jimmy told us that if the anaconda bit us it would just really, really hurt, but we wouldn't die. His exact words. So I held the beast. All six feet of it. Now that I am writing this, I can't believe I did that.

Later that day we went fishing for dinner. The
The one that bit me.
fish: piranhas. I didn't catch any, but Jimmy decided that I was going to help gut the fish. The first fish I picked up was still alive and bit me. Typical. So I went to the Amazon and got bit by a piranhas. I think that is pretty cool. Later that night we played volleyball and watched the sun set before going back to camp and cooking our fish.
time for some volleyball!

Catch of the day. Jimmy caught 12 of the 16.

you can't see the dolphins, but they are there!
Our final day was what I had been looking forward to, and really the main reason why I went to the jungle: to swim with the pink river dolphins. I was the first one to take the leap of faith out of our boat into the very muddy river water. The same water where we have been fishing for piranhas, and spotting alligators. Yup, crazy. But the dolphins came and swam around us. Some people were able to hold onto their fins and get pulled around. It was amazing.

Later that day it was back to Rurrenabaque. The next day I flew back to La Paz, got a hotel, and spent about two hours trying to consolidate all my stuff into my backpack. It didn't work.

And now for more photos:
poor birdy trying to dry his wings out

a very big bird!

Jimmy searching for anacondas.
beautiful birds!
mud, mud, mud

Oh yeah, this happened. Here I am wrestling
the anaconda.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

El Jardin

Since I arrived in Sucre my plan was to start a school/library garden in Pampa Aceituno. I see a garden as a way for students to learn how to raise vegetables, study plant biology, understand the importance of a healthy diet, and as a plus, all the vegetables they grow will directly benefit the school. The mothers who cook for the entire student body will use the vegetables from the school garden. Consequently, a garden would not only strengthen the academics, but the school environment as well.

It is only fitting that my last week was when we finally got the garden underway, but that's Bolivia– things don't normally go according to plan or on schedule. I didn't actually get to plant seeds, but I did purchase them (onions, parsley, spinach, celery, and two more that I am drawing a blank on) for the school and I helped prepare the garden plot. The seeds should be in the ground this coming week. The fifth and sixth graders were the students responsible for the initial progress of the garden, instead of their physical education class, they prepared the soil. There were lots of rocks, trash, and other icky stuff in the area that we were converting into the garden. So although the students' physical education class was replaced with gardening– it was still a workout. The girls collected soil in huge grain sacks and lugged them up the hill to the school while the boys dug with shovels and picks. I hope that once a week during physical education class each grade will actual be working in the garden so gardening is almost a class. In addition to the students work, the garden has turned into a bit of a community project– families have been bringing bags of sheep manure and other nutrient rich compost to augment the soil before we put the seeds in the ground.
The boys working up a sweat getting the soil ready for the seeds.
Even though I don't get to see the actual fruits of our labor (pun intended) I am glad that I helped start such a sustainable project in Pampa Aceituno. I hope the garden flourishes and the students, teachers, and parents continue to tend to it for years to come. When I said my goodbyes at Pampa Aceituno the principal and physical education (gardening?) teacher promised to send me photos of the garden.
Director Jorge– the principal!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Sucre happens to be home to dinosaur footprints. On Saturday I went and checked them out. Here is the wall with over 5,000 tracks.
Pretty amazing to think dinosaurs walked right there. Even though there are so many footprints there have been no complete skeletons found in Bolivia. Paleontologists believe it is because the dinosaurs only walked across Bolivia in order to get to Argentina, they never stuck around. Purely, migration. Sucre is super proud of their dino tracks– they have lots of large plastic dinosaurs scattered across the city. Some of them double as telephone booths.

Me gusta leer porque....

Last Friday morning (yeah I am really far behind with my blogging) I returned to the library by myself for the first time. I didn't need to be at the school until 9:30 so I didn't arrive at the usual 7:45ish to catch the early morning truck that usually drives up towards Pampa Aceituno. Well, when I did arrive at the bottom of the access road, there were no cars or trucks. So I walked up. Although it was a long and dusty hike, it seemed fitting, I should have to walk up the hill to school to make my Bolivian experience complete. While walking up all I could think about was someone saying, "When I was your age we had to walk an hour uphill to school everyday." Great, now I can tell that to my grandkids, minus the everyday. 

The activity I did on Friday was for the sixth and seventh graders. Since the Pampa Aceituno library is so new, the walls are really bare– one of my goals was to make the library more aesthetically pleasing. So, I bought poster board, crepe paper, cut out big letters, and printed out images of open books for students to write on. Their job was simple enough: they had to complete the sentence, "Me gusta leer porque..." (I like to read because) When students had answered the question, I had them poise with a book while I snapped their photo, which I then printed out to pair with their response. Taking a photo of them wasn't really necessary, but it was my incentive for them to complete their project. You have to realize, most of these students have never had a photo of themselves, and having their picture taken is a rare opportunity. The poster is now hanging on the wall of the library– the kids were so excited to see their photos on display, and I was so excited to read some of their answers as to why they like to read. Here are a few of my favorite responses:

The finished product and the kids checking
it out!
A mi me gusta leer porque me enseña a hacer muchas cosas de buena. Me gusta leer porque hay cuentos para aprender que cosas hay de risa que cosas de mala. Y también por que me gusta saber de los paîs de mi Bolivia.
(I like to read because it teaches me good things. I like to read because there are stories to learn, funny things, and there are bad things. And also, I like to read because I like to learn more of my country, Bolivia.)

El libro es mi mejor amigo del mundo.
(The book is my best friend in the world.)

Porque aprendo muchas cosas y me gusta leer el libro ciencias naturales porque hay muchos animales.
(Because I learn many things and I like to read natural science books because there are lots of animals.)

Cuando mas lees, mas aprendes y enseñar a nuestros hermanos.
(When you read more, you learn more, and we teach more to our siblings.)
The best part was, when the students finished the activity they
started picking up books and free reading. It was so nice to see
the library being used!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Last week I finally completed my "Juan y los frijoles magicos" activity, what, three weeks after I started it! Blockades and holidays– blah I have had enough of you! This activity was with the second, third, and fourth graders– there are about thirty-five of them total. A refresher since I first introduced this project weeks ago: I printed off Jack and the Magic Beanstalk (in Spanish obviously) and every student received a page to illustrate. As an incentive to make the end result high quality I told the students the best illustration will win a prize– a notebook, stickers, and pencils. I wanted to make the prize something that they can use in school. The students edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos looks great– I had it bound and covered so it is in an actual book form and now a proud piece of the Pampa Aceituno library.

Besides the strikes and myriad holidays, another challenge with my work in Pampa Aceituno is working around the teacher's schedule; in order to get kids into the library we have to take them from their classroom. It is a tricky situation but hopefully in future months, years or some indefinite amount of time,  library will be an actual class where the students would learn research techniques, work on research projects, produce book reports, and simply learn to love to read. Having library as a class would be the ideal situation as it would make it so much easier for BiblioWorks to accomplish
The students on their quest for nutrient rich soil
what they set out to do– improve literacy rates so children can take advantage of more life opportunities. On Tuesday morning I was able to borrow the third and fourth graders for an hour to read their edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos and plant some of their own magic beans for a fun interactive project. The first job was filling the containers (recycled water bottles) with soil. The kids all ran down the hill in search for some decent dirt, which believe it or not is easier said than done. The whole region of Chuquisaca, especially Pampa Aceituno, is very dry and arid, so our containers have lots of twigs and other debris in them, but it is still dirt, regardless of the dirt the beans are magic so they'll grow in anything... right?

When the students returned to the library with dirty hands and dirt streaked faces, I sat them in a circle so we could read the story together aloud. Sitting cross legged in an open space is common in classrooms back home, but the students were confused when I instructed them to make a circle–  I honestly think it was the first time they had been organized in this communal and open way– maybe sharing or working together isn't a common teaching method in Bolivia. The students passed around the book, each one reading aloud the page they illustrated. Some students read clearly, confidently, and were spot on with pronunciation, while others stumbled over many words. They all could read, which is an accomplishment in itself, but they have a long way to go until they become proficient and self-assured readers– but luckily for them the library is the perfect place to gain these skills.

After the story, each student planted their own magic beans. This is my introductory piece into gardening, the plan from the getgo has been to have the younger students work with container gardening and the older students in a real garden (which great news: is finally underway!!). The containers are sitting in the library and classroom now, and students have been instructed to water them everyday. Lets hope these beans actually sprout. Wouldn't that be terrible, if my magic beans didn't grow. Yikes– everyone send positive vibes towards the seeds in Pampa Aceituno.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cloud Forest

My second day in Samaipata I went on a trek with a French couple and a German. We went into Amboro National Park to the Cloud Forest. Of course, the day that we went was only the second or third clear day of the year so the Cloud Forest wasn't too cloudy. Although we didn't get to see all the beautiful mist that usually surrounds the trees we did get an amazing panoramic view. A fair trade.

The Cloud Forest is home to the helechos gigantes– the giant ferns. These are prehistoric flora that grow only one centimeter per year. Their slow growth rate is due to their age– they were around before the dinosaurs so didn't have to grow quickly because no animals were eating them. When the dinosaurs did show up some plants adapted by growing quickly– but the giant ferns adapted by secreting poison. So the dinosaurs didn't dare eat them and in present day neither do any other animals. Some of the ferns are about seven meters tall, which makes them thousands of years old! When they do die and fall over, the head of the fern starts to grow again– so in a sense they never die.  Besides the giant ferns, the flora in the Cloud Forest was quite amazing. I felt like I was on the movie set for Jurassic Park because everything was just so big and green– I have never been in a forest like this before. There are pumas, bears, jaguars, and tree snakes that are up to two meters long in Amboro National Park– but I didn't see any of these animals (un)fortunately.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Samaipata & El Fuerte

Saimapata's views were great– a nice change of pace
from dry, dusty, red Sucre!
Eeeee– this weekend I went on my last weekend trip based from Sucre! I only have two more weekends in Bolivia– where did the time go!?!

I have a talent for choosing the sketchiest bus companies. I honestly don't know how I do it– but I never end up on a tourist bus. And I don't always necessarily buy the cheapest ticket, I just believe the vendors when they tell me the bus is nice. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Friday night I had a loooong bus ride to Samaipata, like 12 hours long. And the bus was well, it was riding the struggle bus. I am surprised it didn't break down. Twelve hours on a wheezing bus. But I wish it was longer since I arrived in Samaipata at 4:30 in the morning. And when I say I arrived, I mean my bus, which was actually a bus to Santa Cruz stopped on the side of the road, let me, and only me, off, and then took off again, leaving me stranded on the side of a Bolivian road (supposedly a highway– but don't picture an eight lane road. It was a highway because it was paved) at 4:30 in the morning. Luckily, there were streetlights and I saw two people with rolling suitcases about a block away. So, I took my chances and followed them instead of waiting under a streetlight until the sun came up. It was a good move on my part as they were two tourists looking for a hostel. One of them had been to Samaipata before so he knew where the main square was. From there, I was able to find my hostel that I had booked ahead of time because I was scared I would get to Samaipata early- as in 6. NOT 4:30. I am lucky that everything went smoothly upon my arrival in Samaipata– that could have been the start to a very bad situation.

Later that morning, I had another stroke of luck by basically being adopted by a Bolivian family and accompanying them to El Fuerte– a pre-Inca ruin. Contrary to what one may think because the
El Fuerte
Spanish translation, El Fuerte is not a fort. The Spaniards assumed it has been used for defense, and they are the ones who named it. El Fuerte actually was first inhabited in 2000 BC long before the Spaniards ever set foot in South America. In 1470 the Incas arrived and took over El Fuerte. The central focus of El Fuerte is Roca Esculpida– a huge continuos piece of sandstone 60 meters in width and 220 meters in length. The rock is covered with intricate carvings of pumas, jaguars, and serpents. There are seats, tables, troughs, niches, etc. carved into the rock as well. I found the most interesting feature to be two long parallel lines down the middle of the rock. No one knows exactly what they were used for and there are many different theories, one of the most interesting being that they were a landing strip for ancient aircraft. Unfortunately, most of the carvings have faded away over the years so except for the niches and parallel lines it is really difficult to distinguish anything.
El Fuerte
In addition to Roca Esculpida there are the foundations of Inca buildings and an amazing view of the Andes meeting with the lowlands. It was fun to be with the Bolivian family as well, they were very friendly and gregarious. At the conclusion of our El Fuerte walk one of the woman bought me a necklace– so now I will always have a reminder of that wonderful morning at El Fuerte. Later that day I went to an interesting archaeological museum (no photos allowed). Archaeologists are finding a number of new sites and artifacts at an alarmingly fast pace– Samaipata is just teeming with history! The rest of the day I sat in the sun and read and enjoyed the warm weather, I was 1000 meters lower than Sucre so it was pretty balmy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I've had enough of the strikes

At the end of my last post I mentioned that there had been strikes again– this is pretty common in Bolivia and something that I haven't really explained because I don't completely understand it myself. It seems hard to imagine that when people aren't happy with the way things are going they just completely stop doing their job– yes, we have those sorts of strikes in America, but luckily they don't go on for days and days and days. And it isn't every single working group. In Bolivia, it seems like there is a strike everyday– and there probably is, although not always here in Sucre.

Yesterday morning when I had to get off the bus and walk the last couple kilometers into Sucre it didn't seem like that big of a deal, it was in a way sort of humorous. Classic Bolivia, I thought. In that moment, I wasn't really thinking about the bigger picture, it seemed like it was just targeted at the tourist buses coming in and out of Sucre because that was the way it was effecting me. The blockade was literally a kilometer plus long, with dozens of trucks crisscrossed across the road making it impossible for anyone who wasn't on foot or bicycle to navigate their way through. I later found out that no one can get in or out of Sucre– all the major roads have been blocked with the trucks. This is what I understand about this particular strike: there are two cement trucking companies in Bolivia, and one trucks 49% of the cement, and the other 51%. The company with only 49% wants the cement loads to be split 50/50. So they are striking.

This is the bottom of the Pampa Aceituno road– the trucks make
it impossible for anyone to get in or out.
It wasn't until this morning when I realized the depth of the situation when I tried to get to Pampa Aceituno and I couldn't because the same strike was going on. In order to get to Pampa Aceituno I usually take a micro, which drops me off at a corner where I wait with the children until some sort of vehicle rambles by and we all climb into the back and start the journey up the hills. Unfortunately, the start of this dirt road is in the middle of the blockade– meaning that no vehicles can get in or out of Pampa Aceituno, meaning the kids who live in Sucre but go to school in Pampa Aceituno have no way to school besides walking an hour and a half uphill to school, only to have a few hours of classes before turning around and walking back down. It is so frustrating that these truck drivers are still protesting– by doing so they are taking away children's education; if they can't get to school how are they going to learn? Additionally, they are making it extremely difficult or impossible for people to go to work, which means they may not be able to put food on the table for their kids that night. These kids and parents who can't go to school or to their job aren't the ones that should be punished for the 49/51 cement truck divide– so why are the drivers doing this? They are doing more harm for others than good for themselves. And yes, I understand that this is there way of trying to get attention from the government or whomever controls the dispersion of cement, but I wish they would think of a better/more clever way of doing so.

This morning Lise and I tried to get into Pampa Aceituno. We took the micro like we normally do, but got off when it couldn't go any further because it reached the first tractor trailer truck parked
The empty road to Pampa Aceituno
across the road. We walked to the Pampa Aceituno turnoff– why we did this I am not really sure because we both knew that we wouldn't be able to get up to the library and school. One of my students was there with her mom and younger sister, hoping that a truck would come down the road and just turn around and go back up. Lise and I waited for a few minutes before deciding it was hopeless and walked back to where we could catch a micro back to BiblioWorks' office. On the way we passed a Pampa Aceituno teacher who asked us if there were any vehicles waiting at the bottom. We said no, and she told us that she would just have to walk again– yesterday it took her an hour and half to reach the school. I am getting really frustrated with these situations because I only have three weeks left in Bolivia– and I feel like I have barely spent any time here, especially in the Pampa Aceituno library. The first week I was here, there were strikes and I couldn't go into the library– since then there have been numerous holidays or celebrations– so there is no school. This Wednesday and Thursday are both holidays so I won't be able to go then, and Friday the teachers aren't expecting anyone– I don't think we can just turn up unannounced. This is so frustrating because I love spending time in the library and school and have so many things I want to do with the kids– but so little time. There is still plenty of work to do in the office, I am staying busy and happy, but it is hard when I have all these projects that I have started and want to finish. I had all the supplies to complete my Juan y los frijoles magicos project today, but I guess it will have to wait until next week, if the strikes are over by then.

Like I mentioned earlier, these strikes happen everyday, and we don't know when this particular strike is going to end. I guess the strikes must have some effect since upset workers or groups continue to use them, but there must be a point when they just don't even turn the government's head anymore. It is hard for me to grasp the situation– I don't understand why the police aren't there making them move their trucks– it is just such a different world here when it comes to enforcing laws, regulations, and politics. I don't understand it at all.

Lake Titicaca

Atop of Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca
This weekend I decided to "splurge" and reward myself for being over halfway through my time in Bolivia (!!!) by taking a weekend trip to Lake Titicaca. The reason why this was a splurge is because I flew. If I had taken the bus I would have left Friday night, arrived twelve hours later on Saturday morning, and still had six hours of travel ahead of me before reaching my final destination. By flying I was able to leave Friday afternoon. I flew out of Sucre to Cochabamba, ten hours by bus but get this, in preparation for takeoff our flight attendant said, "the flight duration is twenty-five minutes." From Cochabamba to La Paz was only thirty-five minutes. So my total flight time was 1 hour and 10 minutes– but it takes twelve hours by bus. Oh, Bolivian roads how we all love you. Besides saving time, flying gave me the most beautiful views of Bolivia. Since both my flights were so short we hardly gained elevation so it felt as though the plane was barely skimming the mountain tops. My first flight was over dry, dusty, red canyons and hills and the second was over the Cordillera Real Range– enormous snow capped mountains. I saw a lot of these in the next few days.
Because Lake Titicaca is at such a high elevation it looks right
onto the Cordillera Real Range– creating a stunning view. This picture
is dark because I adjusted the exposure to capture the mountain.
I arrived in La Paz, made my way to the bus station, and immediately got on a minibus to Copacabana– my first destination of my trip. Copacabana is on the shore of Lake Titicaca; however this seems more like an ocean than a lake, covering just under 8,400 square kilometers (3,230 square miles). And here comes the height bit: it is at 3,800 meters (12,480 feet) above sea level. Copacabana is really quite a tourist driven town– lots of shops and an unimaginable amount of restaurants all advertising trucha. Trout. I was so happy to have fish– I wouldn't dare eat any fish served anywhere else in Bolivia since it is a landlocked country and it would hardly be fresh. I had trout three days in a row– and loved it every time. Such a nice change of pace compared to what I've been eating. Copacabana wasn't my final destination– I was meeting my friend Charlotte at Isla del Sol, an hour and a half boat ride away. Boats only run at 8:30 a.m and 1:30 p.m and since I arrived at 6 I couldn't leave until Saturday morning. I spent my evening watching the sunset while eating my trout, sipping Bolivian wine, and journaling. It was a nice evening.

Saturday I boarded a small boat to Isla del Sol, which is supposedly the birthplace of Inti, the Andean deity of the sun. Incas believe the sun came from Isla del Sol. Many indigenous Bolivians believe their creation story to be that after the sun was in the sky it ordered the first Incas to appear on Isla del Sol. Now, the island has 2,500 inhabitants and only footpaths– there are no cars. It is relatively small, although after my adventure on Saturday I may argue that it really isn't that small. I met Charlotte on the south island where she had stayed the night before and I would be joining her for the second night. We sat and chatted for a bit before starting our "three hour" trek across the island to the north side, where we planned on getting a late lunch, checking out the Inca ruins, and then heading back. I would usually call this a big fail since that isn't at all what happened. Our plan went haywire. However, I can't really complain because we were still walking around a beautiful island with great company; the day wasn't a fail, it just didn't go according to plan. Basically the reason why we got so turned around is because we missed a hairpin turn and ended up following a sheep path to the very point of the island instead of the human path that would bring us to food. That was problematic as we left at 11, and by the time we finally got to the town where food was it was 3:30. It was maybe the best sandwich I had ever had (it was only an egg with a tomato) since by that point the only thing that I had eaten all day long was a banana and we had been walking for four and half hours. Ay, ay, ay. And we still had to make our way back, this time on a different path. We got lost again, this time not our fault at all because a little girl pointed us in the completely wrong direction.
Where are we?! Getting lost round number one.
We made lots of donkey friends.
This is right outside (and below) our hostel. I think this was
the first photo I took when I arrived. Look at the mountains
in the background!
At least it is a pretty place to get lost. Charlotte still looks happy!
By 6:00 we were both a little concerned as the temperature and sun were both dropping rapidly. By this point we were trekking through gardens, fields, and up and over mountains with only sheep, donkeys, and llamas for company. We both admitted later that we had been preparing ourselves to knock on the next hut we saw and ask if we could spend the night if we had to. Finally, someone pointed us in the right direction and we made it back at 6:30, right when the sun was going down. Seven and a half hours of nonstop walking. So folks, that is how I went to Isla del Sol and was able to miss out on most of the Inca ruins. At least I saw the natural beauty of the island. And we saw some of the ruins, so it wasn't a complete fail.

The next morning we had breakfast looking out onto this view:
It turns out the husband of the owner of the hostel/restaurant was going to Copacabana to run errands so Charlotte and I caught a ride with him; our own private boat! And he was kind enough to stop for twenty minutes while we took pictures at some ruins. In Copacabana I had my last meal of trout, said goodbye to Charlotte who is headed to Peru, and I made my way back to Sucre, semi-arriving at 6:30 this morning. Why semi-arriving... well there were blockades and strikes this morning. Dozens and dozens of tractor trailer trucks were parked perpendicular to the road so no one could get through. We had to get off the bus about two kilometers from Sucre and walk with our luggage until we were through all the blockades and could catch a micro, the local buses. Someone told me it was the Union striking, but I don't know what it was all about. There were strikes later this day– people marching through the streets and yelling. I try to avoid it all.
Boom. Inca ruins.
More Inca ruins. Look at the color of the
water behind me! It is such a bright blue. Many
people compare Isla del Sol to the Mediterranean.
I wouldn't know– but it seemed like paradise!

Inca steps.