Bolivia

Trip Start Nov 12, 2003
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Trip End Nov 11, 2004


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Sunday, August 1, 2004

Hello Friends and Family,
We are so sorry that it has been so long since you last heard from us. Access to internet has been extraordinarily difficult (either very slow and expensive or completely unavailable altogether). As a result, it has been extremely difficult for us to keep in touch. I owe so many email messages and feel very sad about how disconnected I have been. So much is happening in all of your lives (new jobs, new babies, new houses, new boyfriends/girlfriends, etc.) and I wish that I could be able to share these experiences more with all of you. But, the trip is almost over and the only good thing about that is that I am going to be able to catch-up with all of the people that I care about. I just hope that you will all forgive me for not staying in better touch!

On to the travelogue...
The last time you heard from us about Peru literally was months ago. It is now October 25th and we are FINALLY able to access internet here in Swakopmund, Namibia. Since Peru, we have been to Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, and Namibia. But, I am getting way ahead of myself. The theme of this travelogue is Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina where we spent most of the month of July. Hopefully, the other instalments should be coming soon if we can find internet on our route through Namibia.

*Copacabana, Bolivia*
From Puno (Peru) we took a bus and then a boat over the border to Copacabana (Bolivia) on the other side of Lake Titicaca. No, this is not the Copacabana beach in Rio that Barry Manilow made famous. Rather, it is a charming village where families from La Paz come to swim and picnic on the weekend. We enjoyed a, much needed, beautiful, sunny day to defrost us after the cold of Peru.

*La Paz, Bolivia*
After relaxing in the slow pace of Copacabana, we took a three hour bus ride to the capital city, La Paz. The arrival into the city was truly extraordinary as we descended into a valley surrounded by mountains at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters. The days were beautiful and sunny but it did get very cold at night. It was nice to be back in a city again where we could relax for a few days and catch-up on email and logistics. I actually went and had new lenses made for my glasses since they were so scratched up that I could barely see. So, I decided to get new lenses for $30 US. It seems like a bargain, right? Well, not really. Apparently with my broken Spanish I was not able to explain that I wanted thin lenses that would actually fit my frames. What they gave me were "coke bottle" super thick lenses. Not only did they look stupid, but one lens actually fell out a week later. Luckily, I brought a spare pair of glasses with me. That's what I get for trying to save a few bucks!

After a few days in the city, we decided to get back to nature and so we went off on a 3 day trek, the "Choro" trek, with 2 guides. In 3 days, we went from an altitude of 5,000 meters down to 2,500 meters and both the temperature and landscapes changed dramatically. We started the trek by walking through snow at the top of a mountain and finished the trek in dense, mosquito-infested forest. As the days went on, we just kept removing layers of clothing.

At the end of the trek, we arrived at a small, usually peaceful, village called Coroico where we were scheduled to take a minibus back to La Paz. However, it turned out that we were there the night before an important political oil referendum and since voting was mandatory, the buses were all filled with people going to La Paz so they could vote. We were finally able to buy bus tickets but only for the 6:00pm bus. This was less than ideal for two reasons. The first reason was that we did not really feel like walking around since there was a riot taking place at the police department in the main town square. There was not a single police officer in sight as townspeople broke the windows and removed all of the furniture from the police department and made a huge bonfire in the town square. The second reason why this late bus was less than ideal was that in order for us to get back up to La Paz, we had to drive up "the most dangerous road in the world." Apparently this road that climbs along the edge of a cliff has the most annual deaths per year of any road in the world. The Lonely Planet advises tourists to not drive up this road:
1. At night
2. In large buses
3. In the rain
4. In the fog
Well, of course, we were in a large bus, at night, driving up this road in the fog and rain. After all of our near death experiences on buses in India, I have learned to just zone out and not pay attention to anything while on buses. However, it was a different case for Arnaud. He was sitting at the window on the cliff-side and was completely freaking out the whole time as he was looking down into the vast emptiness off the edge of the cliff. Despite Arnaud almost having a heart attack, we did make it to La Paz safely.

*Jesuit Mission Circuit*
From La Paz, we went to Cochabamba and then to Santa Cruz from where we began our journey to see the Missions built by the Jesuits in 5 different small villages. For some reason, Arnaud REALLY wanted to see these churches and being the good wife that I am, I went along with it. Essentially what we did was ride buses on bumpy dusty roads for HOURS from village to village. At each village, we visited the church for about 30 minutes and then walked around the town while we waited to catch our next 5 hour bus ride to the next village. I do admit that the churches were quite interesting architecturally and it was a nice way to see small village life in Bolivia....However, I do not think that it was really worth the hours that we spent on buses. Arnaud loved it, though...especially the feeling of being at the end of the world in another century.

*Sucre / Potosi*
We then took another night bus to Sucre, a charming colonial city where we went back even farther in time and visited a cement quarry where they have found the largest and oldest track of dinosaur footprints dating back between 65 and 150 million years. It was pretty spectacular to see.

We then took another bus farther south into the mountains to visit the city of Potosi which used to be one of the wealthiest cities in the world thanks to the richness of the mines. Potosi was built by Spaniards who came to Bolivia in search for gold and built beautiful, ornate churches. Sadly, the city is much less rich today and people are still working and dying in the mines for MUCH less money. We went on a visit into the mines and were shocked to see that the working conditions have not improved at all and the life expectancy for miners still remains quite short. Temperatures rise to over 110 degrees and the air is extremely difficult to breathe as you crawl through a labyrinth of tunnels. We were only in the mines for a few hours and I have to say that I was quite happy to get out.

The funny part of our mine visit was our visit to the miners market beforehand where we went to buy gifts to give to the miners. There, at the miners market, they actually sell dynamite and coca leaves (yes, the plant that cocaine is made from. The miners chew on it to help them deal with the conditions in the mines) to anyone. (We have attached a photo of us in our miner outfits holding onto our dynamite and bag of coca leaves.)

*Salaar de Uyuni*
From Potosi, we headed off with our new French friends from the mine tour, Alex and Erica, to the city of Uyuni (even farther south). The weather is absolutely crazy there...it can be 85 degrees during the day and then drop to 10 degrees at night. The funniest sight that we saw there was a manifestation of school children between the ages of 5 and 10 in front of the mayor's office. They were there with their teachers on a Monday morning for 30 minutes holding up posters and chanting "Queremos desayuno! Queremos desayuno!" (Translation: "We want breakfast.") We found it fascinating that kids were being taught about politics from such a young age.

From Uyuni, we headed off on a 3 day 4x4 guided safari through the Salar de Uyuni (a huge salt desert of several hundred kilometres), the Laguna Verde, and the Laguna Colorado before we were dropped off in Northern Chile. In addition to Alex and Erica, we were also on this tour with a Spaniard, Jesus, and an Italian, Stefano, who were both great fun. It was a blast trying to communicate altogether in a mix of English, French, and Spanish. The scenery was truly magnificent as we passed from a salt dessert to a cactus covered island to several turquoise lagoons to geysers and hot springs.

*Chile and Argentina*
Our Salar de Uyuni tour left us in the tourist frontier town of San Pedro de Atecama, Chile. We had one week before we needed to meet up with our French friend, Sophie, in Rio de Janiero. So, we passed through Northern Chile and Argentina very quickly as we journeyed by bus to Brazil. In Chile, we just visited the Valley de la Luna and the Valley de la Muerte before we headed to Argentina. Then, in Argentina, we passed through Salta and Corrientes where we feasted on amazing steaks and Argentinean wine in fancy restaurants for unbelievably cheap prices...what luxury!. Because of the devaluation of the Argentinean money, Argentina is actually extremely affordable and is a wonderful country to visit. We are definitely planning to go back there to see more on another trip.

*Iguazu Falls*
We made it to the Iguazu falls in time to celebrate by 30th birthday in style. Thanks to a Visa gift card given to us before our trip by our group of French friends in Chicago, we splurged on a night at the Sheraton hotel overlooking the falls. It was wonderful and made turning 30 not so bad. I was not actually depressed about turning 30, but it sure felt OLD! And, there I was with no house, no job, no car, no kids, etc. travelling around with a husband, a backpack, and the same few items of clothing that I had been wearing for almost 9 months. So, the luxury definitely felt great and the falls themselves were magnificent (they make the Niagara Falls look tiny in comparison). From the Iguazu Falls, we then headed to Brazil which will be the subject of our next Travelogue.


Overall, Bolivia was a great experience. I cannot say that we really got a real feel for Chile and Argentina, but we were really able to get a great sense for Bolivia. The people were unbelievably nice and the country itself was extremely beautiful and very diverse. We highly recommend it to anyone wanting to travel in South America.

*Final Thoughts*
Well, that is it for now. We only have 3 weeks left of our trip and are enjoying our last moments of travelling here in Namibia. I am sad about the trip being over but I am also looking forward to beginning this next chapter of my life and returning back to "real life." No final decisions have been made yet but we are definitely leaning towards going back to Paris for a little while depending on how the job search goes. At this point in our lives, though, we are not planning to settle down anywhere, but rather want to stay as flexible as possible for whatever opportunities may arise. The ideal scenario would be if we could find something that would allow us to travel back and forth between the U.S. and France. But, who knows if that will be possible. Right now, we are just taking it 1 year at a time.

We miss you all and can't wait to either see you soon or to catch up over the phone.

Lots of love,
Vicki & Arnaud

PS: Due to the same technical problem we had with the Peru photos, the photos from Bolivia only start from Potosi.

*************************
Bonjour a tous,


Nous voici donc de retour sur le net apres une absence prolongee que l'on pourrait attribuer a une difficulte d'acces a internet, ou bien tout simplement par une poussee enorme de notre poil dans la main. Aujourd'hui donc au programme la Bolivie que nous avons visite du nord au sud pendant une bonne partie du mois de juillet, ainsi que le nord du chili et le nord de l'argentine que nous avons survole en une semaine.

De Puno (Perou) nous avons donc pris le bus direction de Copacabana (Bolivie) sur le lac Titicaca (beaucoup moins classe que la plage de Rio). Le passage a la frontiere a ete assez tranquille tout le monde traverse tu peux passer et repasser sans aucun controle. La ville est cool les gens viennent de La Paz pour le week-end bref un peu notre deauville national.

Puis zou direction la Paz a 3 heures de bus. L'arrivee a la Paz est assez exceptionnelle en effet la ville est encaissee dans une vallee entouree par les montagnes a presque 4,000 metres d'altitude, avec 1 million de personnes, tu te demandes vraiment pourquoi un jour quelqu'un est venu ici et a decide de creer la ville, dans le genre difficle d'acces on ne fait pas mieux. La ville nous a vraiment plu, beau ciel bleu pendant la journee, un peu gla-gla la nuit, du coup nous sommes restes quelques jours afin de recuperer du stress cause par les 3 semaines passees avec ma soeur (pour ceux qui la connaissent ils comprennent exactement ce que je veux dire, mon pauvre beau-frere le pauvre !!!!).

Puis nous sommes partis pour un trek (oh pardon Sophie une randonnee !!!) de 3 jours ou tu passes d'une altitude de 5,000 a 2,500 metres, assez cool. En gros tu commences en hautes montagne avec ton bonnet et tes gants pour finir en short et en tongue entrain de t'asperger de produit anti moustique.

De la nous sommes arrives dans une petite ville normalement tranquille appelee Coroico ou nous devions prendre un mini bus en fin de matinee pour rejoindre la Paz. Mais voila nous etions le veille d'un referendum et tous les bus etaient complets jusqu'a 18 heures. Nous voila donc bloques, mais plutot contents car cela nous a donne le temps de visiter. Tout en visitant on tombe sur une petite manifestation, intrigues nous les suivons, jusqu'au moment ou ils arrivent au commissariat de police et decident d'y mettre le feu...alors la tu te dis que si par hazard ils decident de s'en prendre aux touristes il n'y aura pas grand monde pour te proteger, du coup tu envisages un repli strategique dans le premier cafe du coin afin d'attendre tranquillement ton bus sans te faire remarquer.

Il faut savoir autre chose aussi, c'est que la route entre Coroico (la ville sans commissariat) et la Paz est consideree comme la route la plus dangereuse du monde a cause de son nombre d'accidents mortels importants et a son denivele enorme. Ils conseillent bien entendu de ne pas prendre la route la nuit, et bien nous on la prise a la tombee de la nuit, sous une pluie battante avec un brouillard a couper au couteau. Nous rentrons dans le bus, bien sur, je me retrouve du cote precipice et bien je peux vous dire que les trajets en Indes etaient de la gniotte gniotte a cote de celui la. La route est decoupee dans la montagne et du coup tu passes en dessous des chutes d'eau provoquees par la pluie. Quand les bus se croisent, il se croisent par la gauche pour que le conducteur puisse voir ou il met ses roues....la vvvaaaccccheeee je ne voyais meme pas la fin du precipice tellement il etait ennoorrrmeee...bref je n'ai jamais autant eu peur de ma vie en voiture.

Donc retour a la Paz sain et sauf, puis direction Cochabamba ou les filles dansent sur les tables (ca j'aime bien), puis bus de nuit pour Santa Cruz afin de faire le circuit des missions Jesuites de San Jose de Chiquitos. En gros c'est 4 ou 5 villages qui ont ete fondes par des missionnaires...Bon il faut aimer les eglises car il y a 8 heures de bus sur des routes defoncees (mais en meilleures etat que le bus) entre deux villages, personnellement j'ai adore (surtout le cote perdu au fin fond du monde avec une atmosphere d'un autre temps) Schoum elle a moins accroche au niveau des eglises je ne sais pas pourquoi.

Et hop re-bus de nuit pour Sucre, petite ville coloniale charmante on nous avons aussi visite une carriere dans laquelle se trouve des empreintes de dinosaures vieilles de 65 a 150 millions d'annees...forcement lorsque tu vois cela tu te sens tout petit.

Et zou on reprend le bus (avec le sourire, on est content on aime le bus) direction les montagnes de nouveau pour visiter la ville de Potosi. Parenthese historique, Potosi a financee pendant 300 ans la couronnes espagnole grace a ses mines (specialement d'argent). Elle a ete une des villes les plus riche du monde, mais pas pour tout le monde car on considere que pendant cette periode environ 7 millions de personnes sont mortes dans les mines (la population actuelle de la Bolivie est de 9 millions). Eh bien nous sommes en 2004 et les conditions de travail des mineurs de Potosi n'ont pas change.

Nous avons fait une petite visite des mines et c'etait assez hallucinant. Deja avant de visiter les mines tu vas au marche local afin de leur acheter un cadeau, tranquilement tu t'approche du vendeur et tu lui demande:

- il est a combien votre sac de feuilles de coca?
- $1
- et vos batons de dynamite, vous les vendez a l'unite?
- oui oui $1 aussi,
- Tres bien donnez moi un sac de feuille de coca et 2 batons de dynamite, Vicki on en prend un peu pour nos parents, je pense qu'il n'y a pas de probleme pour l'avion...

Incroyable ce que tu peux trouver sur les marches Boliviens, enfin bref nous voila avec notre sac de feuille de coca et nos batons de dynamite en direction de la mine. L'interieur est etouffant a cause de la chaleur (45 degre) et de la poussiere. c'est un vrai labyrinthe de tunnels, tu n'arretes pas de descendre, tu arrives a un point ou tu dois meme ramper et la dans le noir tu vois un pauvre mineur allonge avec comme seul outil une baramine et un marteau qui frappe comme un sourd pour extraire quelques kilos de pierre, et donc la tu comprends pourquoi ils passent leur journee a macher des feuilles de coca.

C'est aussi a Potosi que nous avons rencontre Alex et Erika (coucou!!) avec qui nous avons voyage une petite semaine. Nous avons donc pris la direction du Sud de la Bolivie pour rejoindre la ville d'Uyuni, ou nous avons quand meme vu une manifestation d'enfants, ils brandissaient des panneaux et scandaient des slogans: "Queremos desayuno nous voulons des petits dejeuners....hallucinant.... le Che n'a qu'a bien se tenir il a des successeurs potentiels).
La ville d'Uyuni ressemble a une ville fantome avec une amplitude thermique quotidienne enorme (+25 la journee et -20 la nuit). Le but de ce detour etait de visiter le Salar d'Uyuni qui est un enorme desert de sel de plusieurs centaines de kilometres, puis de traverser la laguna verde, la laguna colorada afin de rejoindre le nord du Chil et tout cela a bord d'un 4x4 avec un guide. En plus d'Erika et Alex nous avons eu la chance d'avoir un italien Stefano et un espagnol Jesus avec qui nous nous sommes regales. En trois jours nous avons traverse des paysages hallucinants assez difficiles a decrire avec des mots.

Nous sommes arrives au poste frontiere du Chili ou nous avons dis en revoir a Alex et Ericka pour nous diriger vers San Pedro de Atacama. Suite a cela nous avions une petite semaine pour rejoindre Rio on nous devions recuperer Sophie qui venait nous rejoindre pour passer 3 semaines au Bresil. Du coup nous avons un peu survoler le nord du Chili (vallee de la luna , vallee de la Muerte), puis direction Nord de l'Argentine Salta, puis Corrientes on nous avons mange les meilleurs steaks depuis le debut du voyage accompagnes, ma foi, par des vins argentins qui valent le detour.

Puis re-bus pour Iguazu afin d'admirer les fameuses chutes. L'arrivee a Iguazu coincidait avec le 30 eme anniversaire de Schoum donc grace a la carte bancaire cadeau de nos amis de Chicago nous sommes offert une nuit au Sheraton avec vue sur les chutes s'il vous plait. C'etait trop bien, les chutes sont vraiment belles et inutile de vous dire que de retourner ensuite dans de simples guesthouses n'a pas ete facile. C'est hallucinant comment on peut s'habituer au luxe. Suite a cela nous avons pris la direction du Bresil qui fera l'objet de notre prochain travelpod.

La Bolivie a ete une experience vraiment super interessante, je sais que je me repete mais les gens sont absolument hallucinants tellement ils sont gentils et simples. La encore les enfants etaient omni presents et les paysages sont irreels, bref la Bolivie fait partie du top des mes pays preferes, donc ne le manquez pas si vous pensez vous egarer dans cette region.

Suite au Bresil nous nous sommes envoles pour l'Afrique (Johannesburg) Après avoir passé un mois a remonter le sud de l'Afrique, Afrique du Sud, Zimbawe, Zambie, Malawie, Tanzanie et Kenya, nous avons decide de louer une voiture pour visiter la Namibie, et donc actuellement nous sommes a Swakopmund une petite ville balneaire. (mais la aussi l'Afrique fera l'objet d'un travelpod)

Voila il nous reste moins d'un mois maintenant avant de revenir a une vie plus "normale", au secours, mais bon on garde le moral et on vous embrasse tous tres fort, vous nous manquez beaucoup.

La bise a tous et normalement le Bresil devrait arrive tres vite.

Arnaud & Vicki.
PS: Du a un petit probleme technique les photos de la Bolivie commencent seulement a partir Potosi
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