A Travellerspoint blog

November 16, 2016

Border between Bolivia and Brazil


The journey to the border began with an overnight train trip. The seats on the train were comfortable, but Bolivian trains travel on narrow tracks and the ride was very bumpy. We arrived in a small town near the border and took a short taxi trip to the border.

Our guide warned us that leaving Bolivia and entering Brazil is complicated. He shared a story of waiting with a group for over nine hours on one occasion. When the taxi dropped us off, there did not appear to be many people waiting, so we were optimistic that our wait would not be too long. Once we joined the line, we walked across the street to exchange some of our American dollars for Brazilian reals. This transaction was completed in a small back room, behind a grocery counter and next to a bathroom. The man in charge of changing the money had a small safe behind him, and a desk that was covered in various papers and books. In addition to changing money, selling water, and providing a bathroom, we could also leave our luggage in a corner of his shop while we waited in line to leave Bolivia.

The opportunity to inch along the line, without dragging our packs, was great. It took approximately two hours to reach the office of the official who checked our passports, took the piece of paper we received when we entered Bolivia, and then receive permission to exit the county. We then walked back and retrieved our packs and walk across a border and promptly joined another line to enter Brazil.

Fortunately a bus was waiting for us so we could load our bags into the bus and line up without our cumbersome luggage. There were less than fifty people in the line, but it still took ninety minutes to reach the government official who stamped our passport, giving us permission to enter Brazil. For most of the time there was only one person working in office and he appeared to alternate between checking the passports of visitors and the documentation of Brazilian nationals.

As we waited in line, our group had a philosophical discussion about the differences in various cultures. Waiting almost four hours to cross a border is considered a normal experience for some people, while in other places bureaucrats would be held accountable and a lineup of four hours for fifty people would only happen once!

Posted by TKerrone 05:10 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

November 15, 2016

Santa Cruz, Bolivia


This is our last full day in Bolivia and I thought it would be an appropriate time to reflect on some of my impressions of this South American country.

Diversity. Bolivia is a country with large cities, small towns and beautiful scenery. I loved the town squares in the centre of every community, but was saddened by the abject poverty evident in every town. The salt flats, lagoons and mountains we saw were memorable for their unique beauty.

Litter. Garbage. Plastic. Unfortunately this beautiful country is marred by the trash humans leave behind. From the streets of every city we visited to the remote salt flats, people have left behind evidence of their visit.

People. The population of Bolivia is as diverse as its geography. The small children are adorable, the teenagers would fit into any country with their trendy clothes and mobile phones, and the adults range from business people to those who still wear traditional clothing.

Graffiti. I'm not sure why, but Bolivians have defaced buildings, monuments and sidewalks with pictures and comments.

Service. We were repeatedly reminded by our guide that Bolivia is a developing country and the people are still learning how to make the experience for tourists better. One example is when a meal is finished, the server brings one bill on a small plate. The patrons then pass the plate and the bill, look at the bill, tally up their total, add the amount of Bolivianos they spent and then pass the bill to the next person. The exact change is expected and if a customer does not have the right bills, the server may have to go to another business to get change. Don also observed that many people seemed to frown, smiles are rare.

Crime. Every city we visited protects their homes and businesses with bars and locks protecting doors and windows. One of our fellow travelers shared an experience from when he was in La Paz. He was sitting on a city bus and another visitor to the city was leaning out the window to take a photo. Someone on the street reached up, grabbed her phone, and took off down the sidewalk. The people on the bus were stunned, but nothing happened to the thief.

Food. Until we reached Santa Cruz, we did not see one fast food restaurant. We were told that McDonald's tried to enter Bolivia, but was unsuccessful. Santa Cruz does have a few Subway shops and we also saw Burger King. The food in the restaurants takes awhile, but apparently everything is freshly prepared, the food is not frozen and then reheated like many places in Canada. In Sucre we walked through a park and saw exhibits set up fo children. There were a variety of foods offered for sale, homemade cakes was one of the principle treats for the children.

Chaos. Traffic in the major cities of Bolivia is chaotic. Most intersections are uncontrolled and drivers appear to randomly decide when to proceed through the middle. Pedestrians need to watch carefully before proceeding to cross the street. Many cars seem unsafe and sport many dents and scrapes. Another person in our group shared her story of travel to La Paz. Their bus was hit by another car, but rather than police reports and a new bus, the passengers simply waited while the bus driver patched the broken window with tape and then sat back as the bus continued.

Despite some of the negative observations above, I enjoyed our visit to Bolivia, especially our three day experience to the salt flats and the other wilderness areas.

We are catching an overnight train Brazil later this afternoon. We then head for the Brazilian jungle, so I'm not sure when we'll have wifi again. Our guide has warned us that crossing the border may be interesting, so here's hoping the journey to Brazil in uneventful.

Posted by TKerrone 12:28 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

November 12, 2016

Sucre, Bolivia

all seasons in one day
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It has been quite a week! When we booked our trip we did not realize that we would be in a remote area of the Bolivian salt flats during one of the most interesting elections in American history. On Tuesday, November 8, we arrived at our basic hostel hoping for access to wifi, but alas, there was none. Our intrepid group finally heard the news around noon the next day, from a German tourist at a lake in the wilderness of Bolivia. Once we reached a place with limited wifi, one comment I read was that people will always remember where they were when they heard the news of Trump's victory. I guess an isolated lake in Bolivia makes an interesting memory.

In addition to trying to hear the news while in an area far removed from modern conveniences, I struggled with some sort of intestinal disorder. I have more sympathy for everyone who has been ill while traveling! My illness began shortly after we met the new members of our group and just before a day spent traveling on a public bus with no washroom and then six more hours on a train. Fortunately, we have a well equipped pharmacist from Austria with us and she gave me some drugs which helped.

Our new group consists of just eleven members, there are the five of us who started the trip together in Lima and six new people. Don and I could be parents to the remaining nine as they range in age from 38 to 19. Although we are in reasonable shape, we are definitely older. This was brought home when the pharmacist gave me some tablets. Prior to giving me a pill, she carefully read the instructions on the package. She quietly asked me my age, and when I replied, she flipped the page and read more carefully. She told me that patients who are over 60 had special instructions to follow. Ouch!

Twenty four hours after my first symptoms appeared, our group split up and climbed into three separate 4 x 4's. We spent the next three days traveling over 500 km in these vehicles. Luckily Don and I got to ride in the Lexus, the most comfortable of the three cars. Although there was no air conditioning, we had comfortable leather seats and seat belts. The three vehicles traveled together and whenever we stopped, we shared stories of the ride and our car was the best, which was fortunate as I was feeling quite nauseous for most of the three day trip.

The three day adventure to the salt flats exceeded my expectations. We left Uyuni early in the morning of the 7th and headed for the train cemetery. Uyuni is one of the ugliest towns I have ever seen. It is located on the edge of the salt flats and is dry and flat with crumbling buildings and graffiti and garbage everywhere. The train cemetery was interesting, consisting of trains abandoned by the British when they gave up on mining in Bolivia.

The next stop was an abandoned hotel on the salt flats. Apparently when tourists first started coming to visit the salt flats some entrepreneurs thought tourists would like to stay in a hotel made of salt. Hotel owners in Uyuni were upset as they were losing business, so this first hotel was eventually closed. As we discovered later in our journey, other places have since reopened.

Once we left the hotel, we continued out onto the flats. Don told me that driving across the flats is like driving across a frozen lake. The expanse of white is amazing. We stopped for an hour and experimented with taking pictures with different perspectives. I think the best was a photo of our group forming the letters to spell Bolivia.

The first night we stayed at a salt hotel. Because I was still feeling under the weather, the group let Don and me have our own room. The accommodation was fantastic. Most things in the room were made of salt, the walls, the bed frame and the furniture. The floor was even made of salt. Most importantly we had our own bathroom, with a flush toilet. When you are not feeling well, the type of bathroom you use become very important.

The next day we continued driving along the salt flats. We stopped at one place and filmed our own ubiquitous Pringle's movie, these have become well known for people visiting the salt flats. It was lots of fun and as soon as I figure out how to move it from What's App on my phone, I will share the movie.

When we completed our video, the journey changed. We left the salt flats and headed for more wilderness areas. The goal was to show us volcanoes, colourful lagoons and flamingos. The views we saw were impressive, but the bone jarring ride in the vehicles was difficult to endure. The drivers took us up and over places that could not even be described as roads. Huge rocks littered the paths and sometimes the drivers took us through rough, dry creek beds. No road markers could be seen and I had no idea how the drivers knew where to go.

The second night we stayed in a more basic hostel. This time Don and I shared a room with three other members of the group. Other than lacking wifi as we wanted to find out the results of the election, the hostel was adequate. I was happy to be feeling somewhat better as the toilet in the hostel was pretty awful!

The third day was spent seeing more incredible scenery. I was surprised by the sights we saw on our three day journey. I'm sure we visited places very few tourists get to see.

We returned to Uyuni around 8 p.m. on the third day and we all craved a hot shower and the opportunity to put on clean clothes. The dust from our journey seemed to leach into our clothes, shoes and even into our bags.

The next day we drove on a comfortable bus, along paved roads, to the city of Potosi. This town is famous for the silver mined from the local mountains. Don and I toured a local museum and learned how Bolivian coins were made from the silver. One fact we learned was during the height of the silver boom, there were more people living in Potosi than there were living in London or Paris.

Yesterday we arrived in Sucre. After checking into our hotel, we dropped off our laundry. I was so happy to leave two bags of dusty and dirty clothes with a person who assured me that I would have clean clothes tomorrow!

After dinner, we had a brief tour of the downtown area of Sucre. It is a pretty colonial city and we have two more days to learn more about this lovely town.

Posted by TKerrone 23:39 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

November 6, 2016

La Paz, Bolivia

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We are leaving La Paz in a few hours for a very long journey to Uyuni. The trip includes taking a four hour bus ride on a public bus and then a six hour train ride.

Yesterday we took a guided tour of the city of La Paz. The tour was great and one of the reasons I'm glad we did it was it gave us a different perspective on the city. Our initial reaction to the city was not positive. The sidewalks were crowded and the congestion on the streets was unbelievable.

I've tried to get the blog up-to-date as I don't know when we have wifi again.

Next stop, the salt flats

Posted by TKerrone 04:16 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

November 4, 2016

La Paz, Bolivia

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We arrived in La Paz after a very long day of travel. Our guide is very organized and had us meet at 7:00 to catch a small bus to the main bus depot. However, his plans went awry because the main square, where we were to be picked up, was closed for some sort of military gathering.

Nevertheless, we made the bus that would take us from Puno to La Paz. It two hours of driving to reach the Peruvian/Bolivian border. Everyone in our group crossed the border easily, the people who had difficulty were the Americans. USA citizens require a visa that must be obtained at the border.

Once everyone from our bus had their documents stamped, we walked across the border and got back on the bus. The first stop was the tourist town of Copacabana. After a quick walk down to the beach, we got back in on the bus and endured one of the bumpiest rides I've ever experienced. Our Bolivian guide told us that we would not arrive in La Paz until 5:30 at night because of road construction. My Canadian brain assumed we would stop and wait as the road would have single lane, alternating traffic.

Nope, in Bolivia the vehicles don't stop, instead they proceed down narrow, rocky lanes. The construction went on for miles and miles and by the time we reached La Paz I was so impressed with our bus diver!

Tomorrow we are going to tour the city of La Paz and on Sunday we leave for the famous salt flats.

Posted by TKerrone 14:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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