Walking, bus ride, walking, walking, bus ride, walking, walking, bus ride…

We awoke early this morning feeling much better than yesterday. We both slept fairly well, though the beds are a bit….bowed, I guess. My neck was still a bit sore from the plane ride, too.

We changed our plans for Friday because we heard about a transportation strike scheduled for Monday, the day we originally intended to leave La Paz. Travel will probably be impossible that day, so we realized we would have to leave for Oruro on Sunday night instead of Monday. That forced us to push up our excursions to the ruins of Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca. On tap for today was Tiwanaku.

Our hope was to visit Tiwanaku and get back to La Paz by the afternoon so we could meet up one more time with Carla. A noble goal, to be sure, but it went unfulfilled.

After a nice breakfast (mate de coca included), we rode a bus to the cemetery. A very nice cemetary, I should add, on the edge of the city, high up on the sides of the “bowl.” From there we caught a bus to Tiwanaku. But we had to be picky, because most of these buses are actually minivans with a lot more seats than a minivan normally has. Thus, legroom is non-existant for a tall guy.

An hour and a half or so later, we had crossed the altiplano and made our way to Tiwanaku. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t take us directly to the ruins as we thought he would. Instead he dropped us on the highway at the road that led to Tiwanaku. We walked about 1.5 miles, passed by many buses and SUVs filled with tourists. It was a nice enough walk until we went around a curve and came face-to-face with the wind. I had forgotten my wool hat (but I did remember to wear jeans), so my ears were freezing. But eventually we reached the entrance to the museum. As we walked inside, one of the tour bus operators asked me “estas cansado?” (are you tired?) But I thought he said “estas casado?” (are you married?) referring to Yoli at my side. So I answered “yes.” But I guess the “yes” worked for both questions.

The bus fee to Tiwanaku had been much less than we expected. But the fee to see the museums and ruins was much higher. They wanted to charge us 25 Bs apiece, but Yoli inquired if they had a separate price for citizens, and they did. That saved our skin, because we hadn’t brought much money.

The museums were very interesting, with a few signs in English but mostly Spanish. It would have been nice to go through it with a guide, but I think we came away from it with a bundle of knowledge anyway.

Tiwanaku is an ancient Andean culture that became an empire centered around this city. It’s amazing the food surplus they could generate (more than enough to feed 100,000 people) given that they were based in the Andes, and today the Indians living there have to work very hard to eke out an existence. With all this surplus food and wealth, they developed a stratified class system and went to work building incredible temples, pyramids, and monuments.

We saw some of the larger monuments, and they were impressive. There were several excavated temples and pyramids, but not all of them were very complete. In fact, much of the site is totally unworked. There is probably a wealth of archaelogical treasure waiting beneath the surface.

Before we went to the last site (which was some distance from the other parts of the ruins), we decided to travel into the Tiwanaku town to find a place to eat. The restaurants near the ruins and museum were tourist-oriented and high-priced. We knew would barely have enough money to get home. So we found a place called Utama Restaurant about halfway between the museum and the city plaza. The host and hostess were extremely nice and the restaurant was very nice (including the bathrooms). The food was also very good, and reasonably priced. They also gave us a shortcut for walking to the final ruins site.

After seeing the last ruins, we walked back to the city plaza, which was nice. They have a very old church built from stones recovered centuries ago from the ruins. We knew this would be the place to find a bus home. We also knew we were cutting it close on time. It turned out we were cutting it TOO close.

The driver was friendly and a Christian, but he drove fairly slowly. In fairness he didn’t have many passengers and was hoping to pick up more. Along the way, I started to notice dogs. LOTS of dogs. They were almost all on the right-hand shoulder of the road. At first I reasoned they liked the warm asphalt given the cold wind and the intermittent rain. But the driver told us that passengers coming from a place called Desaguadero like to throw bags of leftover food to the dogs from the windows of their buses. A few minutes later we witnessed this. And a few minutes after that, we saw it again. Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of dogs along the road all the way home.

We arrived in La Paz 45 minutes later than we had hoped. We then hopped on a bus to go meet our friend. But this bus was even worse… though that was mostly due to the unbelievable traffic. Imagine Interstate 270 at rush hour, with buses and cars crossing two lanes of traffic over and over to pick up and drop off passengers. Imagine hordes of pedestrians walking in the streets, taking up whole lanes. It was bad.

Our friend had understandably gone home, so we decided to walk around a bit more and explore the city. Yoli took us on a walk which passed through a very nice part of town. She brought us to the Bridge of the Americas, which spans the lowest part of the city, a ravine with trees on either side. Halfway across the bridge you get a great view of one wall of the city to one side, the high-rise buildings on the other side, and in the middle, Illimani mountain towering in the distance. Unfortunately clouds blocked us from getting the “perfect” photo I wanted. But it was still a good view.

Looking directly down from the bridge, I also spotted some strange things. At first I thought they were white and brown rats. But then I realized they were too big to be rats; they were pigs … with babies. I have no idea why they were down there, but it was amusing.

Tomorrow we hope to see some of the museums we haven’t yet visited, we also hope to get a photo of Illimani, and in the afternoon we’ll embark on an overnight visit to Lake Titicaca.

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud is married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niƱitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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