Sunday, July 17, 2022

Bolivia May 2022

If you are reading this, we are on our way to Bolivia. They say the third time is the charm!
All Pictures are at the bottom!

This trip will be the 70th country/territory I have visited. You may have missed my visit to Belize in April. A few friends threw a birthday party for me.

I want to thank everybody that has donated items. We will find good homes for them in Bolivia. Remember, if you get a new phone and your old phone is an iPhone 6 or newer, we are happy to find the phone a new home, even if it is not in working order. We have delivered over 100 iPhones, half a dozen iPads, and half a dozen MacBooks/Laptops to students.

This does not include all the clothes, shoes, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sports equipment you have given us and we have delivered.

For this trip, we will be giving the donated items to Friends International Bilingual Center.

Why go to Bolivia? A few fun facts: 
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s famous salt flats, is home to the largest salt deposit in the world. 
  • Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries in South America. 
  • La Paz is the highest city in the world, with a population of more than one million. 
  • Bolivia is the only place you can watch Cholita Wrestling. We hope to catch a match or two. 
  • San Pedro prison in La Paz was dubbed in the Lonely Planet as the world’s most bizarre tourist attraction. 
  • You can cycle down the World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia. 
  • Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia is Lake Titicaca, the highest and largest navigable lake in the world. 
  • There is an authentic salt hotel called Palacio de Sal (Palace of Salt) in Bolivia.
  • You can find a real-life witch market in La Paz!
If all goes well, we will be arriving in La Paz, Bolivia, at 9:00 AM on May 12th.
Bolivia - La Paz

La Paz is the highest (elevation) city in the world, with a population of over a million people. La Paz is above 10,000 feet, and some areas above 12,000. We arrived in La Paz at 9:00 AM.
We met Emma at our hotel, she runs the Friends International Bilingual Center. She took us to the center, which is in the town of Alto. Alto means tall in Spanish. Alto is at an even higher elevation than La Paz. We had a fantastic Bolivian lunch with Emma. She told us about the history of the school. She described how they dealt with educating the children during COVID. Bolivia completely shut down during the height of COVID. People were only allowed to leave their homes for a few hours each week. The military patrolled the streets to enforce the rules. This went on for just under a year.
Unfortunately, this had a big effect on the children and their education as many did not have access to the internet or internet-enabled devices.

The iPhones, IPads, and MacBooks we delivered will make a big difference as some public schools are still closed.
After we had lunch, Emma took us on a tour of Alto.

As we departed the school, we noticed human dummies hanging from several telephone poles. Emma explained that communities band together to catch criminals. Once the criminals are caught, they hang them from a telephone pole until the police arrive. These dummies are a warning to criminals thinking of committing crimes in these neighborhoods. The hanging dummies are like neighborhood watch signs.
We did the tour via the sky. Five years ago, the president of Bolivia embarked on an aggressive project to put an elevated tram system throughout the city and surrounding area. Think of a high-end enclosed ski lift. It was a great way to get around. The tram is color coated depending on what areas it takes you to.
Alto is known for its market day. Market day is on Thursdays and Sundays, and vendors and customers come from all over Bolivia to buy and sell their wares. This outdoor market covers over ten square blocks.
We could also see the snow-capped mountains in the background. Emma explained that each year there is less and less snow in the mountains. Since La Paz gets all its water from these mountains, it is a huge issue for the over one million residents. We could see some rivers were down to a trickle.
Emma dropped us back at the hotel in the late afternoon. We had dinner at Duke’s, the hotel restaurant. It was easy, and the food was OK, but I would not put it on my must-try list.

We fought to stay up until 8:00 PM. While there is no jet lag, we had flown all night, and sleeping on a plane is not the same as sleeping in a bed.

I need to mention the entry and visa requirements to enter Bolivia. The entry requirements which apply to everyone are as follows: Valid passport for at least the next six months. Yellow Fever Vaccination Card (though they did not check this). * COVID-19 proof of vaccinations or Negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before you departed. The COVID rules change as the case count change, so check before departing for Bolivia.
Visa requirements are by citizenship the following are for US citizens: Valid passport for at least the next six months. Invitation letter from a citizen of Bolivia our a licensed tour operator. Your name on the invitation letter MUST match your name on your passport exactly. Your itinerary, which MUST have your name on it and match your name on your passport exactly. A copy of your passport picture page. Proof you can afford to be in Bolivia and not be a burden. Typically, a bank statement. $160 in clean, crisp bills with absolutely NO markings on them. Exact change. They accept credit cards, but it is 50/50 that the credit card machine will be working.

You can get your visa before coming to Bolivia at one of their consulates in the US. We got ours on arrival. It may save time and stress to get your visa before departing. Also, visa requirements do change, always check before departing. A few years back, US citizens were not require to have a visas to enter Bolivia.
Today Wence our guide picked us up at 9:00. We did a walking tour of La Paz. We learned a lot about the history of La Paz and Bolivia. La Paz is a bowl surrounded by steep hillsides.
We stopped at a square where many of the government buildings are. Notice anything different about the clock over Congress Hall?
We stopped to get some salteñas at a local Salteñeria. Salteñas are similar to empanadas but a bit sweeter and juicer.
Our next stop was a museum. Here we learned the history and culture of the indigenous people of Bolivia.
Next, we visited the witch's market. Here we saw many llama fetuses and baby llamas for sale. The fetuses are not taken from the mothers but saved and dried after a miscarriage. The baby llamas are llamas that did not survive.
These items are used in witch's potions.
After lunch, we took the tram throughout La Paz getting a bird’s-eye view of the city, before walking back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we will do more touring with Wence.

We are staying at the Ritz Apart Hotel. It is in a central location all the rooms are suites with a living room and kitchen and in our case two bedrooms. The service has been outstanding. The only downside is the restaurant is just ok. This morning we met Wence at 9:00 and started our tour by taking the blue line (Tram) up to El Alto. I am still in awe of this tram system. For about one U.S. dollar, you can get around La Paz with no hazel and beautiful views.
Once in El Alto, we walked the open market where there were many fruits and vegetables for sale. This is the regular market and is open every day.
The street art was beautiful.

We continued our walk through an area known for the witch or wizard. Each witch or wizard has a little shack where you can have your soul cleansed. People will come here when they need a little extra something. Maybe some help at work with their love life or schoolwork.
We watch a wizard cleanse a student to help the student get better grades.
And you could buy llama fetuses and dead baby llamas.
In this same area was a church built by a German man. The influence was obvious.
We hopped back on the blue line and continued deeper into El Alto. Wence wanted to show us these large homes that people built. The lower levels are for parties, the upper levels are where the owners live. Each had a different theme. We toured one that had an Iron Man movie theme.
It was back on the blue line toward La Paz. We stopped and walked through the cemetery. When someone dies, their body is placed in a mausoleum for one year. After the year the body is cremated. Family and friends during that first-year visit and bring tokens of their love. Some items are as simple as flowers others are elaborate offerings.
After the cemetery, we walked through a section of La Paz where all the shops sold traditional dresses used for dances and celebrations. All the dresses are handmade.
We had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. We enjoyed a traditional Bolivian dish.
Margarite asked Wence if we could go to the wealthy section of La Paz. This is the southern part of the city. We hopped into a Minibus and were off. Because of traffic not the best way to get around La Paz. The southern area of the city looked like any other wealthy city. Thus, no pictures. We decided to take the tram back to the hotel. A much better choice for getting around.
We covered over twenty miles today.
Tonight, we are having dinner at Gustu Restaurant. The history and philosophy of the restaurant is what prompted us to try it. Plus the great reviews.
We just got back from dinner at Gustu Restaurant. The meal was fantastic, it was a ten-course tasting menu. The pictures do not do it justice.
Tomorrow is a busy day. Our pickup for our bike ride is at 8:00 AM. The bike ride that is known the world over as either “The Death Road Ride” or “The Most Dangerous Road in the World” we are going to call the ride a fun bike ride. Kat, the avid mountain biker, NOT, is excited about this ride, NOT.
After the ride, if the timing works out, we plan to watch the Cholita Wrestling. The wrestling is only on Sunday evenings. So if we don’t catch it after the bike ride, we won’t be able to see the wrestling as we leave La Paz on Monday.
Yesterday we accomplished two awesome events. The first was the Death Road Ride. A 35-mile mountain bike ride on a dirt/gravel/rocky road with drops of over one thousand feet on one side.

One of the first things you see is a memorial to eight Israeli bicyclists that died a few years back. No one knows for sure what happened. We were told the Isreali riders were too close to each other. When the first slipped on some loose gravel and rode right off the cliff. Since the other riders were so close, not knowing what happened they followed right off the cliff, all to their deaths.

Kat Riding  - 

The video and pictures only capture a fraction of the experience. I was impressed with Kat. While Margarite and I have been Mountain Biking for over twenty years and have done extreme trails on five of the seven continents, this was Kat’s second time Mountain Biking. She rode flawlessly and never once wavered as far as completing the 35 miles.
After the bike ride, we headed to El Alto to watch the Cholitas Wrestling. I have to say, I have been traveling the world for the last 17 years and have seen many unique events. But this one takes the cake. You need to watch the video to understand what I am talking about. The video is about one minute long the show was two hours long.
Cholitas Wrestling - 

Today we are heading to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.
Our first stop is the archaeological site of Tiwanaku. It said that this site built over one thousand years ago was a civilization before the Incas. There is not much none of the culture, only many theories. The stones used to build this site are not from this area, and the monoliths are thousands of pounds. When you hold a compass near the larger stones, the compass spins in a circle.
Many of the carvings are similar to the ruins of Egypt. My theory is the same aliens that built the pyramids built these temples.
The drive to Tiwanaku was an hour from La Paz. From Tiwanaku, we retraced our path almost back to La Paz before heading North to Lake Titicaca, a three-hour drive from Tiwanaku.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful restaurant right on the lake. The specialty is freshly caught rainbow trout. It was delicious.
We continued our drive, taking in the spectacular view of the snow-capped Andes Mountain Range. The lake seems to be beneath the Andes Mountains.

To get to our final destination, Copacabana, we had to cross Lake Titicaca via a very modern ferry. They would load giant tour buses on these ferries. While the ferries have small outboard motors, it seems they are mostly controlled by the captain and crew using long poles.
We would stop periodically to take pictures of the beautiful views, finally seeing Copacabana in the distance. Most people think the 1978 Barry Manilow hit Copacabana was about a singer at a nightclub in Rio. The song is actually about the town of Copacabana in Bolivia.
After checking into our hotel, Margarite could not resist the 50-degree water temperature and took a swim in Lake Titicaca. After the swim, we had cocktails at a waterfront bar and watched the beautiful sunset.
This morning, Monday, Wence took us for a walk-through Copacabana, stopping at one of the main sights of the city. The cathedral, where we got to see the famous Madonna. After learning some history and walking the church, we headed down to the lake.
Lake Titicaca is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world, over 12,000 feet in elevation. Today, Wence arranged for a boat to take us to Moon Island about an hour via boat from Copacabana. Moon Island is home to the Temple of Ina Kuyu. Wence explained the temple had three different types of architecture, built by three different cultures over the years.
After touring the temple, we boarded the boat and headed to Sun Island, where we would be spending the night. This area is beautiful. The pictures do not do the area justice.
Sun Island is larger than Moon Island, with a many people living on the island. After being dropped off at a landing. It was time to hike to lunch. Wence said our hike would take a hour and a half. Wence failed to mention we would start at 12,000 feet and climb to over 13,000 feet before descending back to 12,000 feet. We were not happy. Though once we arrived at lunch we all agreed the hike was worth it.
Lunch was fantastic with fresh fish, chicken, and veggies. Being close to the beach, Margarite has to take a swim.
After relaxing and enjoying the scenery for a few hours, it was time to hike to our hotel. Though only a mile away, the hike went from 12,000 feet to over 13,000.
This lodge is spectacular. Our view is of the Andes, Ecolodge La Estancia is luxurious.

After settling at our accommodations, we took a walk around the area. We met some of the locals while enjoying the views.
Today we depart Sun Island. We met Wence at the small church we had passed the day before. Then we hiked down to the lake where we met our boat. It was about an hour boat ride back to Copacabana.
Once back in Copacabana, we hiked to the top of the viewpoint. Every few hundred feet are Catholic Crosses. Each cross represented a different sacrifice.
The hike was only six-tenths of a mile in length. The hike's steepness got us, we went from 12,000 feet to well over 13,000 feet. The trek was worth it for the views.
After a nice lunch in Copacabana, we met our driver and host for the next few days. We drove a few hours to Chuñavi a tiny town/village between Copacabana and La Paz.
We are spending the next two nights with this family, living in their home.
This morning we visited the local grade school. For those of you that donated school supplies, the children truly appreciated the gifts.
After the school visit, we visited a tiny cheese factory. We saw the entire process from the cow eating the grass, Kat, and Margarite milking the cow, to Rebecca processing the raw milk into a wheel of cheese.
We had a nice lunch of Cuy. For those not familiar with Cuy you may know it by its common name, guinea pig.
Here is a before and after picture, very, very, very, tasty.
After lunch, we headed to Tuni. A small village about a 40-minute drive and 1,500 feet in elevation higher. From 13,000 feet to 14,500 feet.
On the way, we stopped to visit a small textile factory. The material is the wool from llama and alpaca. We were taught how to spin the wool into thread and how to use the loom to weave the final products. All products are beautiful and very soft.
There is a natural lagoon just above Tuni. The views of the snow-capped Andes were spectacular. The village of Tuni is small. It is a stop for trekkers, with minimum services.
Today, we head back to La Paz. On our way, we stopped to visit a small mattress factory and a one-man shop. The innards of the mattress are straw the outside casing is a nylon woven sack.
It took just under an hour to make one mattress, which will sell for thirty Bolivian dollars, less than $5.00 USD.
Once back in La Paz, we did laundry and relaxed before our next adventure, the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Last night, after packing for the next day’s travel, we had dinner at Mi Chola. Mi Chola is a restaurant and art museum. While we enjoyed a 7-course meal, we also enjoyed viewing beautiful artwork. The service was perfect the food was delicious. Mi Chola is a must-try while in La Paz.
Today we left La Paz for the final time. Today we have an eight-hour drive from La Paz to the Uyuni Salt Flats.

Most of the drive was around 13,000 feet, we have all seemed to acclimate well to the altitude. We made a stop at a Bolivian history museum and a stop for lunch.
We had the option to fly, about a 45-minute flight. With that option, we would have had to give up our guide Wence and get a new guide in Uyuni. That was the main reason we decided to drive. The scenery is nice, but very similar the entire drive.
Wence has a nice collection of music, which helped the trip seem shorter than it was.
We arrived at our hotel for the night at 4:45 PM. We are staying at the Luna Salada Hotel. We will be in the salt flats for three nights and had planned to stay at the Hotel Palacio de Sal all three nights.

Someone messed up our booking, and we were switched to the Luna Salada Hotel. This was disappointing when we first heard, as the reviews on the Luna Salada Hotel were only average. To our surprise, both the accommodations and service exceeded our expectations. The hotel is made of salt and most of the furnishings are made of salt. The views are of the Uyuni Salt Flats.

Dinner was just ok, but it's the middle of nowhere.

Today, Wence picked us up to explore the Uyuni Salt Flats. We hopped in the 4x4, and we were off. Our first stop was a hostel out on the salt. The hostel no longer operates. In its heyday, it would be full of backpackers. The issue is the rainy season. The hostel would become an island in the vast salt flats with no way to get in or out. Eventually, the government tired of rescuing stuck tourists and shut the hostel down. It is now a place to take a break and have lunch.
The Dakar road race in past years had gone through the flats. For this reason, there is a monument.
We continued our drive. We could see what appeared to be a small brown bump in the flats a long way off. After an hour of driving, we came upon the Isle of Incahuast. An island in the salt. The entire salt flats used to be a sea or ocean. For some reason, the water evaporated or drained (remember we are at 13,000 feet). What was left a bed of salt. In some places, the salt is over 100 meters thick. The Isle of Incahuast was a mountain under the water. It is a coral structure like you would find at the bottom of the ocean.
The island is now covered in Cactus.
After we hiked around the island, Wence served us a beautiful lunch he had prepared himself.
After our lunch, we hit the flats. While exploring, we came across another 4x4 that had a flat. We stopped to lend a hand.
Once we were out of sight of any other people. Wence stopped our 4x4, so we could goof off and take some pictures using the salt to create optical illusions. Like I said, goofy.
We even made a video. Dance video - 

 We got back in the 4x4 for another hour drive. Yes, the salt flats are vast. We came to an area that had about an inch of water. We took more pictures. Wence served us wine and snacks as we waited for the sun to set.
We returned to our new hotel, Hotel Palacio de Sal. Let’s say it was a disappointment compared to the hotel the night before.

Wence picked us up at 10:45 AM. I had told his boss we were not happy with the hotel. I showed Wence our room, and the first thing he said was, “This is like a cave.” I explained we rather not come off as prima donna’s, but we paid for suites and got caves. Wence is working on getting us a refund.

Wence has a busy day for us. Our first stop is a small salt factory. At least Wence told us it is salt. Remember, we are in Bolivia. It could be salt, though it looked a lot like another kind of powder that comes from Bolivia.
We learned how they go out and cut the salt from the salt flats. Once cut, there is a curing process before they can use the salt bricks.

This is a llama made from salt bricks.
From the salt (or cocaine) factory, we visited the town of Uyuni. At one point in history, Uyuni was the largest railroad hub in all of Bolivia. This was due to the silver mining in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Uyuni now caters to the tourist industry created by the Salt Flats.
From Uyuni, we headed to the old Silver Mine. The name Pulacayo, Wence explained the name came from a donkey falling down the hill, but we could not make the connection. The mine is more like a small town. There is a church, a school, housing, etc.. The mine is an hour from Uyuni. When the mine was operating it was easier to house the workers, and their families near the mine, than have them commute. A hundred years ago getting around was not that easy.
One of the pieces of machinery used in the mine was from Pond Machine Tool Company in New Jersey. Here is some history.
The Pond Machine Tool Co. was founded by David W. Pond in 1872. Pond bought out his father’s business, Lucius W. Pond in 1875 after it had failed and combined it with his own company calling it D. W. Pond, Successor to L. W. Pond. It was, at the time, the largest machine tool manufacturer in Worcester, MA. In 1883, the firm was incorporated as the Pond Machine Tool Co. and moved to Plainfield, NJ in 1887. He sold his interest in the company to Manning, Maxwell & Moore who subsequently merged with Niles Tool Works and Bement, Miles & Co. to form Niles-Bement-Pond Co. A historical fact, or possible fiction, is that this mine is where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid died. This picture is the wood panels of one of the trains they robbed for the silver. If you look close at the photo, you can see the bullet holes in the wood.
Next on today’s adventure was the natural hot springs. We also had a homemade lunch prepared by Wence.
Last, but not the least, on today’s tour, is the train cemetery. As the mining died off and the steam locomotives became obsolete. The old steam engines were abandoned to die a slow death. The remnants of the trains make for cool photographs. Some bands have filmed music videos here.
The tracks still operate, but with modern freight trains. There is a new silver mine operating, plus a few lithium mines. The train runs from Uyuni to Chile. From Chile, the raw materials are exported to the world.
Today was a fun-filled educational day. Tomorrow, we leave the Salt Flats for Potosi and Sucre.
Wence picked us up at 8:00 am, we drove the six hours to Sucre. We skipped Potosi as they have a COVID-19 outbreak at the moment. Sucre is the capital of Bolivia and is situated just under 10,000 feet in elevation.
We are staying at the Parador Santa Maria la Real Hotel. The hotel is fantastic the owner gave us a personal tour.

After the long drive, we took a walk around town, seeing the square and some historic sights.
Being at a lower elevation, we have warmer temperatures. We decided to celebrate by indulging in some ice cream.

Tomorrow, we have a cooking class and a city tour where I am sure we will learn more about the history of Sucre.

Bolivia - Earthquake, Earthquake, Earthquake NOT!

For those of you that have sent messages asking if we are ok after the massive Earthquake in Bolivia. We want to let you know there was not an earthquake here. Bolivia is the size of California and Texas combined. You might think, maybe we missed it. We have checked with the friends we have met on this trip, our guides have checked with their contacts, and we have looked up reports on the Bolivian national news. Nothing, nada, zilch. Now there might be an answer. I think there is a Bolivia, North Carolina, maybe that is where the earthquake was.

Sorry to digress.

Sucre is the capital of Bolivia. The only remaining government center in Sucre is the Judicial Branch which includes the Supreme Court. Elvis, our guide for the day. Yes, his real name is Elvis. Elvis explained his father was a big Elvis fan.

Today is May 25th which is the day Bolivians celebrate Independence Day. The good news was we would see the big parade. The bad news is some museums will be closed.

We started our tour with a walk through the Central Market. Sucre is known for its chorizo sausage. Elvis bought us each a chorizo sausage sandwich. This is a specialty in Sucre, and this specific shop is packed each morning. When the president is in town, he comes here for a sandwich.
The sandwich and sausage were very flavorful. We continued our tour of the market. Next we came to an open square where at least a dozen women had identical fruit juice stands. They each have all their fresh fruit displayed. We had to pick one, which was rather difficult as you knew you would be disappointing the other eleven. We settled on the lady with a very nice smile.

After our fruit drink, we continued our tour through the market. If you needed something, you would find it in the Central Market.
We left the market and ran into the Independence Day parade. The streets were crowded with both marchers and spectators. It was much like any other Independence Day parade. One exception a group of spectators dressed as zebras. Elvis gave us an explanation for the zebras, but we did not retain it, as it did not make any sense.
Once we cleared the parade route, we walked through Surce’s Central Park, which the Supreme Court faces. We passed the central theater which is where Bolivia’s constitution was written. We also saw the many churches of Sucre.
It was approaching 11:00 AM which was our cooking class start time. As we worked our way to the cooking class, we crossed one street set up with food vendors as far as you could see. Each vendor serves their own style of chorizo sausage. Elvis explained this was not normal but specific for Independence Day. After the parade both spectators and marches would come to this street for lunch.
We arrived at Boca del Sopo right at 11:00 AM. Moises, the owner, chef, and instructor introduced himself. He immediately offered us a shot of Supay. He called it an “Ice Breaker”. I think a better name might be “Ice Melter”. After our shot, Moises explained all the ingredients we would be using and how they related to the Bolivian history/culture.
It was time to wash our hands and get started.
We first prepared the items that would go into the main dish, Potatoes (they eat a LOT of potatoes in Bolivia), onions, garlic, etc... Anything extra we put into a stock Moises was preparing. No waste in this kitchen.
Next made a specialty cocktail that Moises created himself, which he used as part of his thesis at the University. This cocktail included six shots of alcohol. We would be drinking this with our meal. We assumed that this would ensure we enjoyed our meal even if we failed our cooking class. At this point, it was time to start cooking the main course. A Bolivian specialty of chicken cooked in pepper sauce.
After the chicken was browned, we put all the ingredients together and added some stock Moises had made. We then added the chicken back to the sauce and let it cook.
It was time to make dessert, a cake and fruit cream parfait.
The best part of doing a cooking class is eating what you make. Everything was delicious. The second best part, someone else cleans up!
Elvis picked us up at 2:30 for the remainder of our city tour.

We stopped at a church, which had converted its bell tower into a cafe. As you climbed the bell tower, each level had a seating area. Once at the top, you have great views of Sucre.
Next, we took a taxi to the upper hill area of Sucre and toured a convent. The convent had seven gardens and a beautiful church on its grounds.
We walked back to our hotel to end the day and tour.

As we searched for dinner, we learned that Sucre is the Capital but not the Capital of restaurants in Bolivia. Every place we looked served mostly Bar/Pub food. I recommend visiting Sucre, but don’t come for the food, except if you do the cooking class.

Fernando (our driver) and Paolo (our guide) picked us up at 8:00 am. We will be spending the next three days with Fernando and Pablo. The final leg of our trip will end in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We will be doing Ruta del Che in reverse order.
Che was a revolutionary in the late fifties and sixties, who has become a folk hero in these parts. Many tourists come to Bolivia specifically to see and learn the history of Che.
Not so much for us. We had planned to visit Bolivia’s Amazon region, unfortunately, flights are too infrequent to visit the Amazon region, so this was a great alternative.

Today we will be driving eight hours (not including stops) to a village with a population of sixty people. The town is La Higuera, which is in the middle of nowhere. The majority of the drive was on dirt roads with steep drop-offs. And misstep, and you are two thousand feet off a cliff. We stopped in a little town, Serrano, for lunch. The town’s claim to fame is having the largest Charango in the world. The guitar-like instrument is played by six people and is recognized by the Guinness World Book of Records.
We continued our drive, which started at just under ten thousand feet of elevation to a low of thirty-five hundred feet, which is when we crossed the Rio Grand River. While the roads are primitive dirt roads, the bridge crossing the river is modern, built only fifteen years ago.
The river, running at a low point, can grow to five times its current volume during the rainy season. After a few pictures, we climbed back to seven thousand feet and reached our final destination. We are staying at Posada La Casa del Telegrafista. One of the last hiding places of Che. It was the only telegraph station in the area at the time. Thus, the name Telegrafista.
We were greeted by our host Fernando. We are in the middle of nowhere, yet this lodge has all the creature comforts.
Fernando built us an open fire while serving us a wonderful dinner.
Sleep came easy after the long but beautiful drive.
Today is all things Che and the failed revolution.
Rather than get into a detailed history, I will give you the cliff notes.
1) Che helped Fidel Castro with the Cuban revolution. 
2) After they won the revolution Che became a diplomatic for the Cuban Government. 
3) Che was very idealistic and would not bend his convictions. 
4) He sent to South America, Bolivia to be specific, to bring the same ideas to the continent that he brought to Cuba. 
5) He was promised support from the Soviet Union and Cuba but received none. 
6) The US CIA supported the Bolivian Government. 
7) After 11 months, Che was captured and killed.

He is now worshiped in these parts.

One highlight is we meet a woman that dated Che. She wanted us to take a picture of her holding a picture of her and Che.
We visited the school where Che died the hospital he was taken too. His body was hidden so that his followers would not have a spot to honor him. Thirty years after his death the spot his body was hidden, was revealed. His body is now in a mausoleum in that exact spot. We visited the mausoleum too.
On Thursday we stayed in La Higuera Friday we stayed in Valle Grande which was a two-hour drive from La Higuera. Valle Grande was where Che and his comrades are buried.
Like I said, all things Che.
This morning we left Valle Grande for our first stop, a critical stop. Get a COVID-19 test. No, we were not feeling symptoms, but part of the new normal. We will be flying to the U.S. on Sunday. A pandemic requirement still in place is a negative COVID-19 test result, or you are denied boarding. In which case you must fly through Canada and then drive to the U.S. The clinic had an interesting price list, which they would not let me photograph.
100 Bolivian Dollars - *Positive Test Results 
120 Bolivian Dollars - Normal Test 
140 Bolivian Dollars - *Negative Test Results 
 * Can be done over the phone and results will be emailed.

When I went to take a picture, they pointed out that was a no, no!

I understood why someone might want a fake negative test, but why a fake positive test? What I found out if you have a positive test, you get excused from exams for university.

We opted for the 120 Bolivian Dollars, Normal test. We passed with flying colors. Though afterwards, our guide told us everyone passes. He said, “I have no idea why anyone would pay 10 Bolivian more for a guaranteed negative test, when the results are always negative!”

After the test, we headed to the Inca Ruins. We are just outside the town of Samaipata. From what historians know, this is the furthest south the Incas settled.
The Inca village was impressive as usual when the photographs do not do justice to actually seeing the real thing. I explained to our guide while it is nice effort of the historians to try to determine the history. The real truth is all these things we are seeing were built by aliens.
We had lunch in Samaipata. There was a Mountain Bike Race just ending as we arrived. I could tell Kat was jealous of the riders as they crossed the finish line.
The town square was full of street vendors and party-goers. We took a walk before getting back in our car for the remaining three-hour drive to Santa Cruz. As we descended to our final elevation of fifteen hundred feet, the air got more humid, temperatures warmer, and vegetation lusher and greener.
We are staying at the Cosmopolitano Hotel Boutique a small, very nice hotel, only a few blocks from the main square of Santa Cruz.

We found a nice restaurant for dinner, and afterward, we walked the main square. This town/city has an entirely different vibe than any other town/city we have been to during our travels in Bolivia.
Away from the main square, all the streets are dark, with many of the buildings covered in graffiti. A few times we stepped over homeless sleeping on the sidewalks. Yet, we’ve been told it is safe to walk around.
As you get closer to the main square, you hear music and see lights. The traffic builds at the main square, it is as crowded as time square on New Year’s Eve, modern cars and motorcycles cruising the square block. Young ladies in shorts on the prowl and young men trying to impress them. Couples on date night and families out enjoying the weather and carnival atmosphere. The shops surrounding the square ranged from a Starbucks to a local branded Apple store. Like I said, a different vibe.
Of course, there were nice ice cream shops.
We walked around and people watched until 9:00 pm. Then we headed back to the hotel. We were told the party would be going on well past midnight.
Today is our last day in Bolivia.
Our flight is at 11:00 PM. We are being picked up at the hotel at 8:00 PM. Most of the day we walked around Santa Cruz people watching.
We spent time in the main square, like last night there was lots of activity. One cool sight to watch are these men dressed in these formal yellow uniforms selling coffee. I urged Margarite and Kat to buy a cup, but they decided on Starbucks.
That it is from Bolivia. We hope to hit five more countries before the end of 2022. It will be up to the “Ps”, Pandemic & Putin!



All Pictures