Moving Deeper Into Bolivia

We really enjoyed our little lake side hang at Copacabana, but we had to move. The internet connectivity was killing us.

Before leaving, we went up to the cathedral to have our van blessed. We’re not religious, but this is a big thing in Bolivia. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

We parked in front of the church and proceeded to allow Sol to “abre puertas”.

The whole blessing process starts with decorating the vehicle, and the locals were more than happy to help us.

Stevie was really digging this effort. She’s into things like this. She likes rituals, and she really liked dressing the van up.

After a while the priest came out and without asking, without hesitation, he walked over and promptly blessed Soleil.

Then he huddled us in a circle and told us that he was going to bless the van so that,

“We didn’t get into a car crash, and that we didn’t kill anyone”

Then he walked around the van throwing water on it.

Below, with holy water still dripping off her forehead, Sol gives me “the look”.

Translation – “Did you really just let that guy pour water all over my head?”

Ok, officially blessed. Time to head into Bolivia proper.

About an hour down the road, we ran out of road. There was a half mile of water between us and the only way forward. When I saw the ferry that we were meant to board, I was feeling a lot better that we had taken the time to bless the van.

I’m not going to lie to you… I was more then a little nervous about this “boat”.

I’m no Nautical Engineer, but something just didn’t feel solid about this vessel.

Was it the fact that I could see water when I looked down through the gaping holes in the rotting boards? Perhaps. It’s hard to say.

I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Sol had a worried look on her face the second the van started rocking back and forth from the waves. Stevie and I decided it was best to unbuckle her from the car seat.

We agreed that if the boat sank, I would grab Sol and she would grab Kiki. I suggested she take off her boots. It’s easier to tread water when you’re not wearing high cut leather footwear. That’s a fact. You can Google it.

Stevie quickly pulled some of the “blessed” decorations off the van and put them on Kiki. Everyone who follows Sprinter Life knows that Kiki can’t swim.

And off we go.

The blessing must have worked, because we made it across without incident and continued on our way. Our plan was to drive a few more hours to the town of Sorata up in the mountains.

Along the way we took in the images of Bolivia. It’s always great to see a new country for the first time.

 Bolivian car wash

 Bolivian Auto Shop

Locals working their land

One of the reasons we wanted to go to Sorata was to get closer to the mountains that we had seen from Isla Del Sol (remember here). Given that we were already driving at around 13,000 feet, it’s obvious that these things are BIG. We climbed over this one to Sorata on the other side.

Dropping off the mountain on the back side, looking down at Sorata below.

Sorata was a nice little mountain town. We posted up at a hostel on the plaza. There was no internet to speak of, so we knew this was going to be a one night stand.

The next morning we got up early and started the drive to La Paz. More great sights on our way into the big city.

We knew La Paz was going to be cruxy since our GPS had no readable maps on it. This city is the real deal. A nightmare maze of narrow, one-way streets with NO signs anywhere. We were on the north side and needed to get all the way to the south. I was prepared for the worst.

As we approached the perimeter, Stevie rolled down her window at a red light and asked a guy how to get to the south. He shouted a couple instructions, the light turned green, and we drove on. At the next light he pulled up on my side, rolled down his window, and shouted “follow me”. Then he proceeded to lead us for nearly an hour and a half across the city to where we needed to go.

This guy is either our secret guardian angel in disguise, or he felt so incredibly sorry for us that he couldn’t stand the thought of sending us across the city alone!

Either way, thank you Mr Angel in the cruiser with the cross on it. You saved our day, and quite possibly our marriage.

Our destination was Oberlander, a Hostel that has a parking lot on the southern outskirts of La Paz. This is a refuge in a giant sea of brown buildings and concrete. The owner allows overlanders to camp in the parking lot on their way through La Paz.

We set up in the corner and said hi to the other overlanders, some of whom we’ve known for years via the internet.


Sol was pretty thrilled when I told her we’d be camping in the van. She absolutely loves it when we all sleep together.

We’ve got some things to do here, so we’ll probably hang for about a week. I’m scared to leave the compound, but Stevie really wants to go see the Fighting Cholas in La Paz.  That should be interesting. I told her I’m not driving anywhere. So, taxi it is.

-TREE

“Why yes, I’m almost always smiling!”

 

Comments

  1. Ding ding. Man you guys have one cute baby. Next time you cross on a ferry like that please don’t forget to wear your life vests. Maybe your kayak helmet too. Safety first you know.

  2. Glad you got the van blessed. Hey, good vibes never hurt! Loved the pics on this post…the always adorable Kiki and Sol but especially the local life of the people of Bolivia.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Stellar blog. witty and funny and informative. Great photos too. We can just FEEL the spirit of the people and the excitement of your traveling lifestyle! Facinating. Your writing is getting more and more compelling ! Thank you!

  4. It’s great to get my happy baby fix and adventure fix in one post ! Love the blessing photos too! Will have to look for someone to bless Ruby before we take off in December. By the way Tree, Outdoorplay ROCKS ! Just bought 2 Inflatable Advanced Elements Kayaks -what a great sale. Thank you

  5. Always a joy to read one of your posts.
    Travel safely and play nice.
    Cheers,
    John

  6. anonymous says:

    Little Sol is like an American Express Gold card. That coupled with your friendship karma you guys are molding what I think will be such a free spirit with loving qualities both inherent as well as experienced.
    You guys are well deserving of the amazing life you get to raise your daughter in.

    Safe journeys,

  7. OH! OBERLAND! I loved that place. I meant to recommend it, but you guys are traveling too fast for me. (I’m in Miami airport btw, en route to SFO!) Dang, I never got the Chevy blessed, but sigh, happy memories of Copacabana. Enjoy La Paz, and YES, taxis are the way to go!
    xxx

  8. HEY GUYS!! Tree: cuando escribes me das mucha risa!!! me he reido mucho con THE LOOK de Solei!! espero que les este yendo increíble!! les mandamos las mejores vibras desde el Valle Sagrado!! LOS EXTRAÑAMOS!!!

    ALE

  9. Nice, like the new Mods to the rig….

  10. Anonymous says:

    What a trek, the rickety boat carrying your vehicle…lucky to find the quide into the city. Thanks for sharing

  11. La vita bellisima.

  12. Dude,
    I have those same pajamas!
    : )

  13. Lindo viaje por La Paz-Bolivia, me encanta tu blog si necesitas ayuda o informacion, puedes conectarte por el tweeter @cocinayalgomas , espero seguir disfrutando de tu Blog

  14. Hola Sprinters…
    I have been following your blog for some time now. Now you are in my home city, La Paz. I live in Boulder, CO but am in Bolivia many times during the year running adventure tours, photo tours and moto tours. My friend, Walter Schmid, is the owner of Hotel Oberland. Today is Sunday and he’s likely in charge of the Parrillada for the day. He’s the swiss-looking guy with the nice uniform and red buttons with Swiss flags on them. If you need anything, walter is your man! He and I are amigos, partners and have done many adventures together in Bolivia. If you need any help with anything, he will know where to lead you, who to call or how to get it done. He’s a badass mtn biker and motorcyclist too. His wife, Yober is a great artist with clay, see her stuff in the lobby. My photos are on the wall in the lobby, so don’t miss the Salar de Uyuni on your way south! If you need help with other things, my partner is Oscar Ebert (eberttours@gmail.com), his cel is 762-00-166. He’s a mechanic, run his own tour biz and also works for Transturin, one of the largest tour operators in Bolivia (they run catamarans between Bolivia and Peru) and he knows how to deal with “issues” in Bolivia. You should talk to Walter or Oscar and get some advice since all three of us know Bolivia intimately and can suggest where to go, what to look out for, what routes are best and what to avoid. Anyways, enjoy you time in Bolivia, if you go south via Tarija, that is our wine growing region, take some time to enjoy our wines, which contrary to old beliefs is actually pretty darn good to excellent, depending on the brand and year. If you van can handle the really bad roads of Sud Lipez, you should head south via Laguna Colorada and Verde and pass into San Pedro de Atacama. The region is magical, surreal and going to be getting very cold soon. Diesel vehicles can suffer at altitude and really cold weather, so get some advice before heading down that route. Best of luck!

    Sergio Ballivian

    sergiophoto.com
    sergiophototours.com
    explorebolivia.com

    • Hey Sergio,
      Thanks for the great comment full of good info. We’ve been staying at Oberland for the last couple weeks and Walter has been very helpful! He is a great guy. Your photos in the lobby are beautiful my friend.

      One thing we are looking forward to is going to Tarija. We have been blown away by the quality of the Bolivian wine. Do you have and good recommendations for brands?

      • Buenos Dias Arbol…

        Ha, ha, couldn’t help it…!

        Campos de Solana is a great brand and they have a pretty good selection. Walter has a fantastic wine selection, as you may have already sampled, and he will guide you as to what he likes and recommends. There are some new brands that seem to be doing very well and producing some nice wines. The wineries in Tarija have joined forces with Argentinian (and possibly Chilean) wineries for a few years and are reaping the benefits of that collaboration. We used to be the butt of jokes about “swill” some years ago, but I must say, those days are long gone, as long as you pay a few extra Bolivianos, you can some very nice wines for little money.
        On another note, considering your Sprinter is not 4×4, the route down the Sud Lipez region is not recommended, the roads are harsh and often we need to use 4×4, due to poor roads and zero maintenance. But, you can, and you should (dare I say MUST) go to Uyuni and into the Salar de Uyuni. Spend a night out there, in the middle a few thousand square miles of salt, great time to use that sunset platform! Then spend one night on the Island of Incahuasi (erroneously named Isla Pescado by most people, which is another island 45 minutes west of Isla Incahuasi. The views from the top of the island, especially sunrise/sunset are like no other. I have seen some of the most amazing sunsets on the salar de Uyuni looking west towards Chile. Your Sprinter should handle it very well, no issues. After the salar trip you MUST get it washed in the town of Uyuni. Salt will destroy it, slowly. From there, head northeast to Potosi on a fantastic paved road! A night or two in Potosi is good. I HIGHLY recommend staying one night (or more) at Hacienda Cayara (much lower than Potosi in a side valley)…this could be one of the highlights of your Bolivia journey…trust me on this one, after the salar de uyuni, of course. Call Mr. Arturo Layton (he’s mi amigo and owner of Cayara with his family), 722-07-553, or try his e-mail…cayara.reservations@gmail.com This is a living museum of Bolivia’s history i an setting that is pretty magical. You can park the van or take a room, either way, I am sure he will welcome you with open arms. You will be blown away, 100% guaranteed or the next bottle of wine is on me.
        Let me know if you need some more “tips and tricks” for Bolivia…I have lots of info.
        Sucre is only 3 hours away on a paved road. NOTE: There is a lot of snatch and grab thievery in Sucre (very sorry to say) so you MUST be careful and not leave any doors, windows, etc. unlocked or un-attended., same goes for going to restaurants, etc. There are some fantastic hotels/hostels in Sucre with the classical Spanish colonial architecture and themes…which are lovely. If you in the Sucre area, the Sunday Market in Tarabuco is a great day visit, all paved road, great food, very typical open-air market.
        OK, that should be enough for now.
        Suerte
        Sergio

        • Hey Sergio,
          We are leaving La Paz tomorrow and heading to Sajama, then on to Hacienda Cayara. We are very excited! Thanks

          TREE

          • Road to Sajama is easy, paved all the way. 1.5 hours from LPZ, turn left at Patacamaya town, route heads to Arica, Chile. Great views, easy drive, will be cold, so be prepared for winter conditions (no snow, cold temps), Keep diesel motor warm at night; wrap used blanket and a tarp at night as soon as you find a place to camp, will help starting in the AM. This is easier with a Toyota LandCruiser, Nissan Patrol, etc. due to chassis/motor placement. Total drive from LPZ to Sajama town is about 5 hours at an easy pace. You will be 45 minutes from Tambo Quemado (Bolivia/Chile border) if you need to bail to Chile, you’re right there. Get diesel in Bolivia before Chile (gas prices there are going to hurt), be prepared to get a complete (really) check-out of your van by Chilean Customs and Immigration. They do not play games and are very, very thorough. Your van will get sprayed down with chemicals on the outside and any fresh fruit, meats, vegetables will be taken. Make sure you exit Bolivia properly (all docs in order, make many copies of all papers for the crossings) then your entry into Chile will be easy but may take a while. The order is probably around 15,000′ or so, so cold and windy, really beautiful though.

            If you’re headed to Cayara, 45 minutes from Potosi, then you will head back into Patacamaya, then south to Oruro (gas up!), then to Challapata then left to Potosi on a great road. Careful with the first 20kms, very tight curves, especially the sharp right at the lake! People have not survived that one due to extreme curve and blind spot. Go slow and nothing happens. While close to Potosi, you will turn right at “Estuqueria Cayara”, onto a cobble-stone road that heads into a hidden valley. You will want to climb the mesas there for sure! Take the main road down the valley and you will see an hacienda in a corner filled with trees, make a right onto a dirt road, drive between walls of rocks, cross a stone bridge, sharp left and another left into an ‘alley’ and hacienda Cayara’s orange colored walls will be there to greet you. You can camp or get a room. either way, it will be a slice of heaven for as long as you stay. You should visit Potosi, really! Especially the mines and the Casa de la Moneda and the Santa Teresa Convent. Gas up there! From there, Sucre is three hours in one direction or Uyuni is 3-4 hours in the other direction. Either way, both paved roads, especially the one to Uyuni. From there you will know what to do or send an e-mail and I can help more. Suerte!

            • Sergio, I need your help..

              We are going to Uyuni and after that we want to go to Tupiza on the border with Argentina.
              Do we have to backtrack to Potosi and then go down. Or is the direct road #21 from Uyuni to Tupiza good enough to drive. In other words, do you know if it is paved and in good condition?

              • Hola,

                The road from Uyuni to Tupiza is NOT paved and it can be rough. You would need to go through Atocha then to Tupiza. Considering your Sprinter…it could be way too tough for your rig and it’s not very well signaled and you need to drive for a while in a river bed…in your case, not recommended.

                So, you need to backtrack to Potosi and then you can high-tail it south to Tupiza on a very nice paved road. That’s the recommendation.

                • Hey Sergio. I just wanted to personally thank you for all of your help. You’ve been such a blessing!! We wouldn’t be getting nearly as much out of our time in Bolivia if it wasn’t for your detailed input. You’re the best!!! I hope I get to thank you in person someday with a bottle of wine!

  15. Hola Stevie,

    it’s my pleasure to share the correct info. I wish more people who ask for help would get the correct info. I read blogs from all sources, especially anything related to Bolivia and I’ve slapped my head so many times wondering where do these people get their information? Too bad, since many do miss out on the little jewels that Bolivia has hidden. No doubt Bolivia is rough around the edges, but the best memories don’t involve chocolate wafers on the pillow…but then again that could lead to something naughty (and nice…)

    Safe journeys and feel free to ask more questions.

    I hope our paths cross one day then we can share a nice vino…and road stories.

    Hasta la pasta!

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