New year’s resolution: return to Bolivia

Well, there’s only two days until Yoli and I embark on our first trip to Bolivia since marrying.

Unlike my previous extended trip, this time we will pack very light because we intend to do two weeks of travelling before heading to her hometown, Santa Cruz. If all works out, we plan to visit La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Uyuni (a huge salt-covered lake/desert), Sucre (the white city), and Potosi (once the biggest city in the Americas because of its silver mine).

We’ll use this weblog to talk about our adventures, so please keep checking back every few days. Feel free to leave comments, too.

If you aren’t familiar with our story, you can also read the archives here to learn more. You’ll learn about our cross-cultural adventures in becoming engaged, getting a marriage visa, marrying, and getting Yoli’s green card. It’s been quite a ride!

Of course if you need to reach us while we’re gone, just send an email.

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.

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Leaving La Paz

On Saturday morning we hoped to have clear skies so we could get a good photo of La Paz with Illimani in the background. But the clouds foiled us again.

So we took a bus to Calle Jaen, a quiet historic street in La Paz, which is home to four municipal museums. We wanted to see these museums before we left later in the afternoon for Copacabana, where we would see Lake Titicaca.

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Copacabana and Lake Titicaca

The bus ride took longer than we thought it would. The most interesting part of the ride was when we had to disembark from the bus to cross Tiquina Strait. The bus went across on a ferry and, after paying a fee (of course), we were herded into motorboats and went across. Once on the other side, we petered around the plaza and waited for the bus to arrive. Once it did, we got back onboard. But not everyone realized the bus had come. The driver didn’t seem to care. He began driving off after honking a few times. Some passengers began yelling “Faltan! MUCHOS faltan!” (Missing, there are many missing!) So he relented and went back to pick up the stragglers, who were still unaware of their plight.

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Surprise in Oruro

After returning from Copacabana to La Paz on Sunday, we scrambled to get to the bus station and buy a ticket to Oruro. We made it in time and arrived Sunday night around 9:30 p.m. We found a comfortable hotel (Hotel Bernan) with hot water (and no “electric showerhead of death”!).

Monday morning we had nice showers and some delightful breakfast (api, a thick purple corn drink; and buñuelos, a pastry). Then we set out for the train station to buy tickets to Uyuni, a city next to a giant salt lake… One of the wonders of Bolivia, and something Yoli has never seen. We expected to leave around 11 am. Oruro was just a transportation stop-over.

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Potosi, highest city in the world

After a very late check-in, we slept in and started our first day in Potosi around 11 a.m. At first we were thinking of switching hotels since the one we were at was a bit pricey and not everything was working as it should (tv, telephone, toilet, lamp, etc). But eventually these problems were fixed and we decided to stay.

We went to the Torre de Compañia de Jesus and climbed to the top where we had a spectacular view of the city and Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”), the mountain that made Potosi wealthy and famous. You see, silver was discovered in Cerro Rico, and that led to a mining boom. The truth is that during colonial times, Potosi was the largest city in the Americas and the source of enormous wealth for the Spanish empire. This led to the construction of tons of beautiful churches and buildings across the city. But all this came at the expense of the lives of Indians from across the region forced to work as slaves in miserable conditions in the mines.

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Churches, convents, and crypts, oh my!

Saturday morning we headed over the San Francisco, an old church in Potosi. The guide was young and energetic and showed us lots of interesting things. We started by looking at paintings on the four walls surrounding a large courtyard, mostly on the subject of San Francisco de Assisi. Then we went into the main church sanctuary and he showed us the miraculous image of the Señor de la Veracruz. It’s a giant sculpture of Jesus on the cross made from one piece of cactus. It’s really quite beautiful. The “miraculous” part comes from the story of its origin. The statue showed up unexpectedly on the church’s doorstep one day, but headless. Then three guys came to town and offered to fashion a head. Not knowing these guys, they were asked to stay isolated in a room for three days, which they did. They never ate a thing. When the people went to the room to see why they weren’t eating, the dudes were gone. The statue of Jesus suddenly had a head, and it looked as if it had been part of the statue from the very beginning.

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