These past holidays I had planned to go to Machu Picchu, I thought since I am going to be in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, why not take a bus to La Paz; and then another one to Puno, Peru, and so on. Omitting my own land I felt a bit guilty. But, suddenly my travel time had to be cut in half, and thanks to this change of plan; and itinerary, I saw the opportunity to stay in the road and visit other places in Bolivia. When this chance showed up, I thought of places I grew up seeing in books, and places I had always heard of.
It turned out to be the most gratifying experiences I had during this trip. One thing is to travel and wonder about the costumes in a new country, the new landscapes, the new faces and all those things that put you out of your element, and yet make you feel like you need to do that very thing more often. To travel. But it’s a completely new feeling to visit the familiar and find yourself just as intrigued by it. This ought to be something close to being home sick, but I never had been to any of these places. The only way I can explain it is that before, I only ‘liked’ the idea of some time visiting the ruins in Tiwanaku or walking in the salt flat, but I ‘only’ liked those ideas because I was born in Bolivia and these places were always close by. They never felt so alluring as seeing some foreign land that is far away. Today, living in another country I get to feel like an outsider and I see Bolivia with the same allure. While in Bolivia, landing in the airports and arriving in those buses terminals did not make me feel like a tourist, instead, I felt welcomed and happy to blend in. I felt home.
One city that I had longed to visit, ever since my first visit almost eight years ago, was La Paz. To my surprise the city was named days before my arrival, as one of the new seven wonder cities of the world. Who new!. I have to only think for a few to find out reasons this happened.
- La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world with 3627 meter above sea level (11,899 feet) and in parts like ‘El Alto’ up to 4150 meters (13,615 feet), the altitude sometimes welcomes the new comers with a mild headache.
- Mountains surround the city, in some parts of the city one can see the peak of the Illimani, the most recognizable landscape in the city, at eye level.
- 100 km southeast of the city, about an hour drive, one can visit Tiwanaku, an archeological site that was an important ceremonial centers for the Tiwanakan civilization, which were the predecessors of the Incans, this place was name by the UNESCO as world heritage site.
Those are few facts I know and I can back up without too much research, now, the city itself is always in a high or low slope, when walking you are either going up or down; people in La Paz have good lungs, cardio is part of their everyday life. Other interesting aspect of this city is watching the urban sprawl by the way of the cable cars, which for people in La Paz, is a transportation system more than an attraction. Looking down at this city surrounded by mountains, and specially the snowy peak of the Illimani, makes those mountains look even more monumental, they are positioned as if they were guarding the city. And I know there is more to see, because I was there only for one a day and a half before taking another bus to be back in the road.
Surreal, dazzling, endless, that was my impression of the Uyuni salt flats. When I arrived in Uyuni, Potosi; my next stop after La Paz, I was starring at the sky, half sleep half awake, amazed by the idea that I could have been dreaming, but not, I was looking at the stars from the bus's window and I couldn't believe the beauty of the night sky. Like looking at one of those pictures found in a National Geographic magazine. The view was such that stars filled the entire sky from top to bottom, the bus I was in was crossing mountains in a zic zac motion, and while in the road and among mountains the effect of seeing that sky was that stars were surrounding me, stars were at eye level; no need to look up to see them. I saw so many starts I felt as if I was looking at the entire milky way all at one glance.
Once I arrived, I checked-in in a hostel around 3 am, and next morning I head out to the salt flats. These pictures below are of that day in Uyuni.
I wish I could have stayed in the road longer, but I had to go back to Santa Cruz to attend a weeding and spend Christmas there. I can't complain, I saw my family, visited some friends, and got to travel while meeting interesting people. I absolutely loved it and recommend it. Go visit one of the seven wonder cities of the world, see some archeological sites, and meet other travelers. Bolivia is in the beginnings of a tourism's awakening is a good time to visit. Take it from an outsider and a local.