Bolivia – via Lake Titicaca

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The Uru people were a boat living nomadic people that roamed Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world that uniquely straddles Peru and Bolivia. They did so to avoid being herded off as slaves by the Incas. Since the last 30 or so years they have morphed into living on floating islands made entirely of reefs, and now make a living by producing handicrafts for tourists, offering homestays on these unique islands, and bartering for most of their daily needs.

Before getting to Bolivia, my next country, I chose to spend a couple of nights as a guest to an Uru family on their floating island and experienced their unique lifestyle first hand, a most memorable experience covering the beautiful sunsets and sunrises, star gazing (spectacular given no light pollution out on the lake), observing first hand the traditional process of catching and smoking fish over heated rocks, complete and multiple rainbows when sun meets rain, and what made it really special was sharing musical interests with our host, Ivan.

Titicaca life…

Stunning sunsets, rainbows and tranquility all around …

Laws covering trade descriptions seem to be non existent in Peru and Bolivia. I bought a bus ticket from a company on the basis that it was a direct single bus from Puno to La Paz with a window seat and an eta of 1pm. I chose this company because I wanted to avoid the hassle of checking out and re checking in my baggage. Thinking I had cracked the system I find that the bus I had booked was not running and that I had to go with another company that does not go direct and requires a bus change at Copacabana (Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca), without a window seat and with an eta of arrival to La Paz of 6pm!! Luckily I had been prepared for this by reading experiences by other travellers and from speaking to my family who had done this trip before, so was more tranquilo about the whole experience. On the plus side I got to see a parade of some saint or the other and the impressive iglesia in Copacabana …

The Spaniards must surely be suffering from altitude sickness when they decided to build a city at around 4000 meters above sea level and when they laid the foundations for La Paz in there 16th century. A vertigo defying city that nestles between some of the highest Andean peaks perpetually covered in snow, it makes for stunning scenery, if hard on the lungs for lack of oxygen!

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From here I booked my tour to the famous salt flats and surrounding areas of Uyuni – a 3 day 2 night tour in a 4×4 to cope with the terrain and lack of roads. A breathtaking experience with some of the best desert landscapes, multi coloured lagoons due to the presence of various minerals, smoking geisers in the early morning light, active and not so active volcanoes, spectacular colourful flamingos in several lagoons, lamas or alpacas or vicuñas grazing in remote valleys and oases, desert animals gazing on in wonder – ostriches, desert foxes, rabbits, mice, to name a few we encountered.

Uyuni landscapes …

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More landscapes, plus an uh-oh moment when the jeep had to be push started …

Flamengos, in flight and feeding …

The vast salt plains with bizarre perspectives – and a tattered union jack – a sign of the state of the union?

Variety of desert animals …

Frequent sand storms …

Grazing, and suckling lamas and alpacas …

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And the graveyard for disused railway lines and trains …

Musically Bolivia does not have much to offer other than some Andean folk, with the exception of some very talented charango maestros accompanied by a most unusual Andean guitar, a two sided string instrument called the muyu-muyu.

I stumbled upon Ernesto Cavour (on the charango) and Franz Valverde (on the muyu-muyu) along with Rolando Encinas (on the flute – la quena) performing at the Teatro del Charango on my first night here …

I decide to cut my journey in Bolivia short and head straight to Brazil to explore the huge range of music in that country, starting with São Paulo, its musical capital. More on that next …

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