Polaroid of the week: Hanging around on Bolivia’s Death Road

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polaroid of the week bolivia death road Most of the time I would consider myself a grown-up and responsible traveler. My crazy idea to book Jess and I on a mountain bike trip down the Camino de la muerte – the Death Road, in English – may not have been one of my most rational travel decisions.

The road was given the title of the most dangerous road in the world by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995, thanks to the hundreds of cars that had disappeared over the steep cliffs all along the road. This loose gravel and dirt road is often only 3m (9 ft) wide and essentially a single-lane road with two-way traffic – with almost no guard rails at all.

Even though I knew about the dangers of the road, we kept hearing such positive things about this tour and I thought that the trip from the La Cumbre at 4,670 meters (15,320 ft) to Coroico at 900 meters (2,950 ft) – that’s a drop of over 12,000 ft over a distance of 64 kilometers – seemed like a great adventure.

There is relatively little traffic on this road as a new, paved one was constructed in 2006, which left this road (almost) entirely to us thrill-seeking cyclists. The big news is that we survived the trip without any major injuries or broken bones – though not entirely accident free – and we can’t wait to tell you the whole story here soon!

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Polaroid of the week: The mystical Isla Del Sol in Lake Titicaca

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polaroid of the week bolivia isla del solOur last stop in Bolivia before crossing over into Peru was the beautiful Isla Del Sol within the massive Lake Titicaca. An easy trip from the Bolivian town of Copacabana, you could spend only a day, but we spent the night to have more time to explore the 3200 square mile island. The trip turned out to be one of our highlights in all of Bolivia!

The harsh, rocky island is inhabited by 800 families who live entirely off farming, fishing and some tourism. There are not really any roads and definitely no motorized vehicles of any kind. Even cycling would be nearly impossible along the paths up and down the steep hills. Instead, locals rely on the help of donkeys and llamas to carry the bulk of their materials. The island is covered in these furry animals, and loads more sheep everywhere you look.

Life here is hard, and it isn’t much easier on the tourists. We stepped off the ferry in Yumani on the southern side of the island and onto to solid ground, only to be forced to climb 210 stairs up to the village. Once we’ve made it, though, we were rewarded with sweeping views over Lake Titicaca, the Bolivian Cordillera and Peru across the lake.

There is a clear, well-worn path up and over to the northern side of the island, a hike that took us 5 hours to accomplish. We saw the Chincana Inca ruins, a big stone complex full of mazes on the northern tip of the Isla Del Sol. The island was regarded as the home of the supreme Inca god Inti (the sun god) and it was here that, according to the Incas, the creator god Viracocha arose from Lake Titicaca to create the world. He created the Incan version of Adam and Eve, Mallku Kapac and Mama Ocllo, who went on to populate the world from here, making Lake Titicaca the true birthplace of the Incas.

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Polaroid of the week: The great potato feast in Sucre, Bolivia

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polaroid bolivia sucre potatoesAfter months of white bread, white toast and white rolls in Chile and Argentina, it was such a relief to arrive here to potato country. Bolivia has over 400 kinds of potatoes growing within its borders, and this is the main staple of Bolivian cuisine. Walking through Sucre’s central market, it was incredible to see these different kinds close up: various shapes, sizes and colors, ranging from tiny purple nuggets to long brownish radish-like shapes.

Health-conscious North Americans are currently going crazy for Bolivia’s biggest export – quinoa, but Bolivians prefer their starchy crops. In fact, 92 kilos of potatoes are consumed per person year year here, compared to just 1kg of quinoa.

Potatoes are eaten for breakfast and for lunch, and sometimes for dinner, too, with each variety used for different local dishes. Our favorite potato dish so far has been Papas a la Huancaina, which is actually a Peruvian dish but equally as popular in Bolivia. This easy vegetarian dish is made of boiled potatoes served with quarters of boiled eggs, all topped with a yummy, creamy peanut sauce. We’ve also had spinach and potato gratin, stuffed potatoes, a fair amount of fries and warming potato soups.

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Polaroid of the week: The crumbling grandeur of Potosí, Bolivia

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polaroid bolivia potosiAlthough we made a grand entrance into Bolivia by way of the seriously amazing Salar de Uyuni salt flats, the town where the three-day tour officially ends – Uyuni – is basically just meh. So after one night of a scalding hot shower and ten hours of sleep we hopped on the bus from Uyuni to Potosí, our first official stop in the country.

And what a grand stop it was. This colonial town was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, thanks to the unmissable ‘rich hill’ or Cerro Rico, which was once filled with silver. Today the pure silver is gone, though the miners continue to go in every day under the most atrocious, dangerous and even life-threatening, conditions – breathing in silica dust and asbestos, to scrape out the remaining minerals.

The main reason for our stop here was that I wanted to visit this mine for myself – stay tuned to find out how that experience went (obviously, I survived!).

We spent our days walking up and down the breathtaking streets – literally breathtaking since Potosí sits at 4,000m (13,500ft), catching our breath in the beautiful central plaza and marveling at the colonial houses with their unique wooden balconies before climbing to the top of several churches and cathedrals. From above as well as on the ground, it is easy to see why this city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, one with such historic importance and grandeur that sits just beneath the clouds.

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Polaroid of the week: The Stone Tree in Bolivia’s Siloli Desert

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polaroid bolivia arbol de piedraOne experience we were looking most forward to in South America was a trip through the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. That’s why we traveled north through Chile back to San Pedro de Atacama, so we could hop on a three-day off-roading jeep tour from there to Uyuni, Bolivia.

We had seen pictures of the great expanse of white salt flats as far as the eye can see and were so excited to see this up close on the last day of the tour.

It turned out that the salt flats portion is just a half a day out of three, and the other two days we saw some of the most incredible scenery we’ve seen anywhere in the world: Red lagoons, green lagoons, white lagoons, volcanoes, beautiful rock formations, hot springs, geothermal geyser fields and colorful, rainbow mountain ranges.

Our stop at the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) had us all in awe – this particular rock, projecting out of the sand dunes of the Siloli Desert, has been whittled down into the shape of a tree over time by sand and 120km/h winds that whip across 4,000m high Bolivian Altiplano in the colder months. Much like looking down at the Colorado River from the rim of the Grand Canyon, it is incredible what simple elements like wind, sand, and water can sculpt out of the earth!

There will be many more pictures and stories to come about our Uyuni Salt Flats tour. For now, let’s just say that after 3.5 years of travel, it takes a lot to impress us – and Bolivia’s southwest definitely knocked our socks off!

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