Cochabamba

Cochabamba is the fourth largest city in Bolivia with 600 thousand inhabitants, and is very different from La Paz. In some places it looks more like Los Angeles with wide roads and yellow fences separating them. The city center is rather rich while the suburbs are of varying standard, some very poor.

One of the main attractions is the large market called La Cancha, and this looks very much like Bolivia and not at all like Los Angeles.

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Shoes was one of the popular items sold in the market, and this is one of the districts that were focused on shoes. There are other districts like cellphones, where guys approached us wondering what phone we had, and if we were sure we did not want to sell it?

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After walking around for a few hours we stopped to have a small coke. at €0.15 for 190ml the price is not bad at all, but you cant leave the stand with the bottle as they need to bring it back to the factory.

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When we left the market we saw a truck loading parts of animals. We were unsure if the parts were leftovers or meant for human consumption but concluded that the most healthy thing for us to do if we want to continue to eat meat was to not delve too deeply into the matter.

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On a less disturbing note we saw lots of the typical Bolivian buses that are some kind of bus built upon a large and old truck that looks to be from the US. These were in La Paz as well, but around La Cancha at rush hour there were lots of them!

We spent three nights in Cochabamba, and during this time we visited the market and some different restaurants. Since this was the first step towards more normal altitudes it was much warmer, and we could now walk longer distances without needing to stop to catch our breath!

Bus from La Paz to Cochabamba

After two more nights in La Paz we looked at our travel plan which said that we had 18 hours on a bus to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Not being too sure about how much we wanted to spend such a long time on a bus after our adventure back and forth to Cusco we chose to take a few nights in Cochabamba, or CBBA as it is posted in many places the bus terminal.

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The bus tickets cost a reasonable €7 and the bus was supposed to take about 8 hours and depart at 10:30. At first we did not understand how to get the bus company to take our bags, apparently you were supposed to hand them in to the office that sells the tickets, which in turn puts them in the bus. After some running around we were on board the bus and had our luggage loaded ten minutes prior to the planned departure.

Almost one hour later the bus actually departed! But our next stop came quickly after we got moving, El Alto. Here we stopped in a street which seemed to be used as an informal bus terminal, no proper building or anything, but a lot of people who wanted to get on the bus. Everyone seemed to have hundreds of bags that they for some reason were unable to load in the back of the bus, instead they built some kind of fortress around their seat. Some of them brought food to eat during the trip. Linn asked what gave out such a stench, and I informed her that one of the ladies in the back was eating some kind of small fish that according to the smell probably had met its end date a long time ago.

After sitting in the bus for a few hours I felt a building need to use the toilet, but when I finally managed to traverse all the different fortresses of bags I felt that the toiled door was locked. When I informed the driver of this he let me know that yes, it is supposed to be locked, we will stop in a few hours for lunch though, you can use the bathroom then.

When another guy from the top floor of the bus also tried to use the bathroom the driver made the quick decision to stop the bus on the side of the highway and let us use the side of the road for our needs. And when we were not up to his standards of quickness he began driving slowly, making us hastily end the activities in order to make it back on the bus before it left.

For lunch we stopped at a place that server some kind of soup as the staple dish of the day, we opted for sandwiches with cheese instead, as we were not that hungry and felt more like getting to Cochabamba than stopping to eat. Linn used the bathroom, and even though they charged €0.15 for it, the floor was covered in something and the toilets were lacking seats.

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After the lunch stop the road started to cross the border of the Altiplano, and there were again beautiful views and the road was climbing the side of the mountain. The road here is rather good considering the Bolivian standard, and it is being expanded to a 4-lane highway.

When we finally arrived in Cochabamba it was dark, but we were only a few hours late.

La Paz revisited, Mi Teleférico and El Alto

After winning back part of our money from Vicuña Travel we had one more day to spend in La Paz before we were to continue back east towards Brazil. Some of the things we wanted to do was to buy some souvenirs from the market, and also ride the Teleférico again to get some more awesome views of the city before leaving it for this time.

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The Teleférico is the newest idea in La Paz of how to efficiently transport people from El Alto up on the hill down to La Paz and back. It is more or less a regular ski lift system built by Austrian company Doppelmayr. We started our tour from the stop close to the bus terminal and rode two stops up to El Alto, yet again amazed by the views of the city that seems to never end.

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Up in El Alto we started walking through the endless markets, slowly, as there was a lot to see, and at 4100 meters above sea level the air is severely thin. The market up in El Alto seemed to be more genuine than the one in La Paz, almost no tourists were seen, and most people were actually buying things because they needed it and not as souvenirs to remember their visit. I wanted to take a photograph of the ladies selling different religious things like llama fetuses and in-scents, but a friendly question “Puedo tomar una foto?” just resulted in a frown and two hands put up to block the shot. As i didnt want to get a curs cast upon me I put down the camera again.

After a while we arrived at the other stop for the Teleférico and rode it two stops down to La Paz again. Why does not every city have a cable car running through it? Riding it is completely quiet, the views are amazing and even though I am scared of heights, I could get used to riding these.

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We went back to the market of La Paz to find those souvenirs before they shut down for the night. I sat down to catch my breath and when Linn approached I thought that maybe I should warn her about the puddle of something unspeakable. I decided not to as I am trying not to micro manage others. Big mistake, she put her foot in it and unleashed a stench that could have awakened the dead.

Our next missing was therefore to find a shoe store, something we did after a rather long and not too well planned walk. On our way back to the market we caught some great views of the city our last night here. And yes, we did have time to buy some souvenirs.

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All in all La Paz is an amazing city. Super strange in many ways, but beautiful and always interesting!

Machu Picchu

Rise and shine!

04.00 am the alarm set off and it was time to go to Machu Picchu!

You have several options of how to get into the park. If you book well in advanced you can do a three day walking tour that ends at the Sun gate, you can do a two hour walk from the parks beginning up to the entrance or you can take a bus direct to the entrance.

Before this trip we talked about to do the three day walking tour but when we checked it out it was booked until July. So we did the last two hour walk. In retrospective it was a wise idea. You don’t need any particular balance just to be in rather good shape. We were not.

Around 06.30 am we were able to enter the park. This is with no doubt the most tourist destination in South America and even if this is the low season it was crowded. And amazing.

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We decided to do this trip without guide (if you want you can buy a guide before you enter the park). With some help of the map and Wikipedia we did fine just wandering around.

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Maybe we are a little fed up with all the amazing nature we’ve seen lately and did not appreciate this to the fullest (most me) but it was still pretty cool. And maybe I should’ve done some reading about this before to maximize the visit.

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Even if we were a little tired of all the walking we decided to visit the Sun gate. From there you can see the whole city of the Incas. It took almost an hour but the view didn’t disappoint us at all. We sat there and ate cookies before we went down again.

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Very tired I decided to take the bus back to the city. Jon took a walk down (the same 2 hours walk), I don’t know but for me it was a blessing to pay €10 for the bus back since my foot got in the way of a misplaced stone.

How to get to Machu Picchu

If you’re lazy you can go to an agency in Cusco and tell them that you want to go to Machu Picchu. They will offer you tours for around €90. We are lazy but care for comfort. And comfort they didn’t offer. As we heard you would go by mini bus and the trip would take 6-8 hours, depending on the road condition of the day. We had the last bus ride in mind and decided to go by train.

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In Cusco we bought tickets for the train (€104 round trip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes). The train is expensive but you will save lots of time (the train took 1½ hour, snack is included and the best thing: no bumpy road). You will also need entrance tickets to Machu Picchu (we bought the cheapest for adults €33, if you have a student ID you get half off). As you can see our adventure became a little more expensive than it needed to be but the comfort was worth it.

We took a collective taxi from Cusco to the train station in Ollantaytambo. It took a little less than 2 hours (plus 1 hour waiting time until the car got filled up). We decided to stay in Aguas Calientes one night before entering the park in the morning. This is little off season and we found a pretty cheap hostel.

In Aguas Calientes you can get a massage pretty cheap (and it’s recommended after your adventure). There are also some restaurants. That is pretty much it. We found a restaurant with a tumbling tower game. On the train to Aguas Calientes we met two Argentinians we started chatting with. After we had visited Machu Picchu we bumped into them again. How to pass the time? Playing games with them!

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(Photo by Agusta).

At last (19:00) the train returned to Ollantaytambo. We decided to stay one night there but if you want to there are a lot of collective taxis and mini-buses back to Cusco the same night.

Restaurant: LIMO Cocina Peruana & Pisco bar

A person in our dorm asked us for a good restaurant one of the days in Cusco. One of the better restaurants we found in Cusco is LIMO Cocina Peruana & Pisco bar.

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Maybe a little expensive but very good sushi.

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They not only offer sushi, but a lot of different dishes, all we had time to try were very good.

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The dishes start at around €10, so if you not on a very tight budget – make a visit!

Cusco

We arrived in Cusco late in the night and took a taxi to our hostel and fell asleep pretty fast. The next day we went out to explore the city. Happy to be down at just 3400 m above sea level and able to walk more than 10 m without stopping to catch our breath. Cusco was the Inca empires most important city and you will notice that they try to sell that picture to all people visit.

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Cusco is like all other cities with a big tourist attraction nearby. It’s all about doing tours and in every corner you have someone offer you tours and massage or a restaurant. You can also find clothes made of alpaca wool pretty cheap.

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We stayed here for two nights before we went to Machu Picchu and one night after coming back. Mostly we ate good food, did some shopping and went to a hostel party the night we came back (to meet our new Argentinian friends). If you are looking for a hostel in Cusco we can recommend VIP house, close to the plaza and cheap. Breakfast included and helpful staff.

Bus between La Paz and Cusco

Finding a bus company that delivers a good service from La Paz to Cusco turned out to be harder than we first thought. One of the reasons for this might be that the route is mainly a touristic one, as the main reason for traveling to Cusco is to se Machu Picchu, and as we know, people love to take advantage of tourists!

Our main concern while booking the tickets going from La Paz to Cusco was that the bus was comfortable and that it did not run in the middle of the night. This was becase we read that buses during the days have a lesser frequency of drunk drivers.

In the La Paz bus terminal there can be found four different companies offering buses to Cusco. We happened to choose the one called Vicuña Tours. Partly because the girl working there, Steph, spoke good English and informed us that the bus starts in La Paz at 07:00 and reaches Cusco at 21:00, with a quick stop to change into a nicer Semi-Cama bus in Copacabana.

Our thoughts at this moment was somewhere along the lines of “Perfect, we arrive in the evening in time for dinner, and the bus will be comfortable the second part of the trip”.

Oh, how wrong we were.

The trip started with the bus departing 20 minutes later than announced, and after a few hours it stopped at the shore of Lake Titicaca because apparently we were supposed to change to a boat while the bus took another boat to cross to the other side of the lake. Our bus driver mumbled something in Spanish and everyone got off the bus. Unsure about what we were supposed to do we got of last and followed the rest to a dock where boats costing €0.30 took us to the other side of the shore. At the other side we found us some Salteñas that we ate while waiting for the bus to arrive and get offloaded on this side.

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Nothing wrong with the experience with the boat, and watching these minimalist ferries transport the bus, but the information could have been better, especially since it was supposed to be a touristic service.

We got on the bus and continued towards Copacabana, and the road here was the type that goes around mountains, close to the edge and at high speed. We made it almost all the way to Copacabana before we were stopped by a taxi. This taxi contained a few of the girls that were on the bus before we crossed the water, and apparently the bus driver left them because they were not quick enough to find where the bus landed and got on. Finally in Copacabana the girls that were left had a long argument with the bus driver and the manager in the office of Vicuña in Copacabana.

Okay, we didnt have to take a taxi, so maybe this wont be so bad we thought. After having lunch and getting back to the office we were pointed to the bus to take for the rest of the trip. This bus was not at all the modern red one with Semi-Cama seats that Steph had shown us the day before when we bought our tickets. This was a bus from the company Panamericana that was very much a regular bus, and therfore not especially comfortable.

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We crossed the border without any mishaps and were now in Peru, heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Even though the bus was not that comfortable our driver was friendly and didnt make too many unannounced stops. At 15:00 we arrived in the city of Puno that is some 390km of questionable road from Cusco. Here our bus driver informed us that the bus will not continue any further. He got the names of those heading to Cusco and seemingly went into the station and bought us tickets for a local bus there.

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Here the trip really started to deteriorate compared to the service level we paid for and expected. The bus that finally departed somewhere around 16:30 from Puno was a urine-smelling local bus with seats that hardly accommodated anyone taller than 150 cm, had no toilet, and took detours and stopped at every possible little village in order to see if it was possible to not only fill the seats but also the aisle with people. The part with the missing toilet would not have been to bad, considering it should be possible to drive from Puno to Cusco in 5 hours. But all the detours the bus took made us arrive at 01:30 with a bladder close to exploding, hungry but without any prospects of finding any open restaurants and finally with limbs that were finally free from their folded up position inside the bus.

To sum up the trip we paid to arrive at 21:00, with only one stop on the way and the main part of the trip in Semi-Cama. We arrived 01:30, stopped everywhere and the buses were of lesser and lesser standard for each time we had to change.

On our way back we bought tickets from a travel agent in Cusco who promised semi-cama, no bus changes and more importantly, the border crossing in Desaguadero and not Copacabana. After studying a map anyone realizes that this is the better route, the road is more or less straight and does not partly turn into a boat. The only thing about this way of the trip is that it was during the night. But we figured that we had better chances on a proper bus with a company that does what it promised.

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On the day of our return we found out that our bus with Trans Salvador was not the newest bus on the block, but it had really cosy big chairs with suspension in the seat and back rest. They also reclined to 160 degrees making it possible to sleep rather well.

This bus did not make any strange stops for no reason, and went more or less directly to Desaguadero for the border crossing. This crossing was also without major complications, the only confusing part being that you had to get off the bus on the Peruvian side to get the exit stamp, then find you way to the Bolivian office on the other side of the bridge and get the entry stamp. We solved this by getting a bicycle taxi after getting the exit stamp. He dropped us off 2 meters from the man handing out immigration papers, and from there it was no more difficult than filling the paper, standing in the line and looking like you have no bad intentions to the officers giving you the stamp.

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After immigration we found our bus again, got back into our great seats and finally arrived in La Paz 14 hours after we left Cusco. A lot better than the almost 19 hours we spent with Vicuña.

After seeing how the trip could be made we wanted to let Steph at Vicuña Tours and Travel know our opinion of their service, and also see if we could get some of our money back.

This began by us informing two guys who just bought their tickets of the horrible service and made them return them and go with Trans Salvador instead. Steph responded to this by locking the office and getting a police officer that worked in the station. The police officer however found it interesting why the two tourists were so angry with the service that she spent some time to listen to our part of the story. After a while there were four people engaged in finding a solution, the police officer, a girl who worked with customer relations on behalf of the bus station, Steph, and a man who apparently also worked for Vicuña.

After some discussion back and forth the police officer suggested that they should pay us back half the money we paid. This seemed to be in motion when the boss of Vicuña stopped it after Steph made her a phone call. We told the police officer this and she suggested that we should return a few hours later to sort everything out.

At 18:00 sharp we were back at the terminal. In the small police office were now the police officer from before, a man in mustache who seemed to also work for the police, the man from Vicuña, a lady who later turned out to be the boss of Vicuña, a guy who worked for the reclaims office in the terminal, and us.

The discussion continued for a while, both in English and in Spanish. I understood that the police along with the reclaims guy told the Vicuña people that it is not reasonable to have tourists complaining all the time, and that they have offered a great solution by paying back half the money. The boss from Vicuña delivered one lie after another, “there is no direct bus from Copacabana to Cusco” “Semi-cama in Peru is very much like the local bus here” she even tried to convince me that 1 Peruvian Sol is 2.5 Bolivian Bolivianos when I said that Trans Salvador gave a much better service for the same price.

Finally they agreed to pay us back a small part of the money. At this moment we were mainly happy about them admitting their wrongs and that we would actually get something for all the work everyone put into solving our problem. The boss from Vicuña finally said that she was sorry and we were a lot happier.

The amazing thing is that so many from the terminal and the police engaged in the matter, and took our side of it. We really felt like they appreciated that someone took the time to complain when they were apparently sold something they did not receive.

To sum up the different bus companies as we did see all of them and ask them which routes they took it is as follows:

Vicuña – Takes the Copacabana route and offers a sub-par service with old uncomfortable buses.

Trans Salvador – Takes the Desaguadero route and has nice seats. The buses are old and we have read reports of them breaking down.

Titicaca – Takes the Copacabana route but has nice buses (we saw them during our trip), runs during the night.

Trans Litoral – Takes the Desaguadero route and according to online sources has nice buses.

Cholitas Wrestling

One of the weekend things to do in La Paz is to watch wrestling. And more specifically Cholitas Wrestling. On Sundays, close to La Paz in El Alto in a big basement you can enjoy the show. The easiest way to do it is to buy a tourist-ticket (you can go by yourself but it’s not that big of a difference in price and you get some snacks, VIP-seats and a pick up at your hostel/hotel).

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The bus ride from central La Paz to El Alto took almost one hour since it was carnival-time but we’re happy.

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The show started and it was a little bit crazy. We asked our self a few times: “what is this?”. But it was funny to watch and the Bolivian families seemed to enjoy it.

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In the end of the show it was some dancing from the wrestlers carnival style (and yes – including water pistols and foam).

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The bus went back to La Paz after the show but Jon read something about Mi Telerífico, a cable car between La Paz and El Alto. After a quick look at the map we asked the guide if we could take the cable car down to La Paz instead of the bus. This was no problem and the bus dropped us off close to the station. The view was amazing but Jon couldn’t fully enjoy it because he is afraid of heights.

A carnival weekend in La paz

A little later than planned we arrived to La Paz! The first “real” city in Bolivia. This was the first we saw of the city.

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It’s carnival time everywhere in South America and La Paz is no exception. First we were a little surprised of all the noise because we had just planned to go to the local witches market. But all the main streets were closed for the carnival.

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It was a little less dancing and more of a water/foam-war. Everybody seemed involved in this – not only kids, this was a whole family-thing. We thought that we were safe because we were unarmed and looked very tourist-y. Wrong.

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They screamed “Welcome to Bolivia” and threw a water balloon in Jons chest. We figured it was best to prepare ourselves the same way the locals did.

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Jon was like a little kid and he told me that he had a lot of training with all of his siblings and I believe him. Pretty good at it as well.