Tash and I killing time while waiting for the bus.
Crossing the Peru-Bolivia border was interesting; our tour guide, who's from Cusco, told us that we had to pretend not to know him, in order to avoid complications. I don't actually know what this was about, I guess some Peruvians have trouble working in Bolivia? In any case, we made it through the border without any problems and our bags didn't get checked (again). We got off at Copacabana, where we had 45 minutes for lunch - not very much time for a group of 13. Then we were herded onto a small, rather uncomfortable bus that took us to La Paz.
I think coming into La Paz tops my list of awesome city views - it still took my breath away.
That's our bus! Crossing Lake Titicaca.
The bus dropped us off at exactly the same place I had been dropped off on my earlier trip to La Paz, and our hotel was just around the corner. We had a bit of spare time before catching cabs to Mongo's (the infamous Mongo's, I might add: the place that two Irish guys I had met earlier wanted to spend every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday of a whole month). It's a nice, big place that serves hearty kind of food (the closest to pub style food I've had in La Paz) and really great drinks. Singani and lemonade or ginger ale became my favourite drink for the next few days - singani is a local liquer of some sort.
Last day of the tour: It was really a big shamble, our last day. We were rushed, rushed through breakfast to get into a squishy black van that would take us Tihuanaco, except it was too squishy and we couldn't all fit, so we had to wait for almost an hour for a rather conspicuous yellow bus.
A view of La Paz
After the bumpy 1.5 hour ride, we weren't really in the mood to be shepherded around two museums, listening to a guide whose manner of speech was just plain irritating (he was a nice guy, but he kept saying "Now you must appreciate this..." and while I'm sure he knew a lot about the Tihuanaco culture, they could have chosen someone a little more eloquent). The museums were also incredibly cold, made of stone and with huge empty spaces so we could appreciate the big carved statues and whatnot. Lunch was a pleasant interruption although we had to wait for a very very long time to be fed. Tash ate her seventh consecutive meal of trout. Then we were given a guided tour of the Tihuanaco ruins which include a fairly impressive bath temple, a sun gate (the most famous gate in the world, apparently), and various rocks.
Part of a temple wall at Tiahuanaco
At one stage he wanted to say something about chakras, so he turned to me (the most obvious Asian-looking in the group) and said "You are what, Chinese, Japanese?", to which I replied "No, Australian. With Malaysian parents", and he sort of shrugged and said "Well anyway, chakras are very important to these cultures..." to the amusement of the group. Finally, finally, we were allowed back on the bus to go back to La Paz - except our bus stalled and wouldn't start. After several minutes of flooding the engine, our driver eventually got the bus started, much to everyone's tangible relief. And we were expected to tip both the guide and the driver! (We did, of course, but grudgingly.)
Dinner was a continuation of the day: we were rushed to make our 7.30pm booking at a restaurant down the road, but then our table wasn't ready yet so we had to sit in their tiny little cafe upstairs and sip on a drink or two while waiting for the previous group to clear.
The whole group in the temple bath, Tiahuanaco.
It was worth the wait, though, because the food was wonderful: I had the best steak outside of Argentina, red wine and chocolate mousse. Little cakes were bought for Erik, Steve and Steve as it was an appropriate day to celebrate their late July birthdays. We then caught taxis to Mongo's again, which was packed and relatively uncomfortable, so we left after an hour or so, regrouped at the hotel, and everyone followed me through the slippery, steep streets of La Paz looking for either Sol y Luna or Oliver's Travels (cafe/bars in the area).
We stumbled across Oliver's Travels which was quite empty, so we settled ourselves on couches and enjoyed the rest of the night. I had heard a lot about this place - it's advertised as an English pub and is owned and run by Oliver, who many people think is a twat.
The Sun Gate, supposedly the most famous gate in the world.
When I was in La Paz earlier, I never went to Oliver's because the people at the hostel had seen firsthand his arrogance and made a point of not patronising his pub (for example, a guy walked into Oliver's holding a half-empty bottle of water. Oliver himself approaches the guy and yells at him for bringing in the water bottle, as if he wasn't going to buy drinks at the pub - well, now he certainly won't!). Drunkness had made me less apprehensive about this notorious Oliver. But he did do something to keep up his reputation - later in the night, he walked around with a bottle of black Bacardi rum and forced everyone to down a few gulps - even Tash, who was asleep on Phil's shoulder, found herself rudely awakened with a hand behind her head and a bottle in her mouth.
A Tiahuanacan statue. Their culture predates the Incas.
But it was such a mellow gathering (apart from that) that we stayed until the place closed.
Freedom and gaol: The next morning, we hauled ourselves out of bed to say a proper goodbye to the people who had to leave that day, and to our guide Julio. We gave him a tip of US$20 each which I hoped was enough. I think we all enjoyed the tour, especially the people, but there were some things that weren't so great (I've never been on a tour before so I'm not sure what the go is, but having to tip almost everyone that did anything for us was a bit of a shock, especially coming from such a non-tipping culture). At noon, Phil, Tash and I checked into the Adventure Brew Hostel, then had lunch at an organic food cafe before meeting up with Ann, Erik and Bastiaan at the hotel.
Me and Ann at our last group dinner.
I became tour guide for the day, taking them past the witches' markets, where you can buy llama foetuses and armadillos among other strange things, then through the tourist shops, down the main street and to San Pedro prison.
San Pedro is famous because it's the only prison in the world (I think) where the amount of money you have can determine the type of cell you have. Money is worth stuff, in other words. Whole families live inside the prison, and people run shops and restaurants and everything. Until recently, a lot of cocaine was produced in the prison as well, although apparently this has (almost) stopped. You used to be able to tour the prison up until 2000, but there were problems and riots and now the only way to do it is to know someone inside the gaol and pretend you're there to visit them, bribe the right people, and wish for the best.
Phil, Tash and I (Ann and German couple, Andre and Ellen, in the background).
You might also want to wish for a safe passage out. We walked right past the front entrance, and could see the inmates peering outside from behind the big iron door, but the guards moved us on pretty quickly and forbade us to take any photos. I later met an English guy at the hostel who had managed to get inside to see a South African man - he had an interesting story to tell but I'll leave that to him.
That evening, the leftover people from the tour met at Sol y Luna where we had drinks and ate dinner and said goodbye to the Dutchies, the Americans and Ann. We were joined by some friends Phil had met in his earlier travels in Argentina - two Norwegian guys and a German. Back at the Adventure Brew hostel bar, we had a few more drinks and someone ordered two of the biggest pizzas I've ever seen.
Tash and Phil
No joke, they were about 60cm (2 feet) in diameter. This isn't even their biggest pizza size, which is 75cm. I think Philippe (the German guy) had just ordered the "really big one", and didn't think it was strange that two pizzas should cost 270 Bolivianos (around AU$50, which is super expensive for food, even pizza, in Bolivia!). I hope the photos turn out well.
Consuming... My last two days in La Paz were spent eating and shopping and drinking. (What more is there to life?) It was nice to be somewhere familiar (the Adventure Brew) and also to see its improvements from last time. The bar had a few plants and gas heaters in it, the inner central bit was blocked off at each floor so noise wouldn't carry, and there was still one free beer a day and all-you-can-eat pancakes for breakfast.
Tash and I at the last dinner, La Paz.
Unfortunately, the hand-written booking system and incompetent desk staff still remained.
On my second last day in La Paz, I bought a guitar. I had toyed with the idea earlier, and Shaun, the resident hostel bartender (from England) came and helped me choose a good one, as he had his own guitar and was giving lessons to locals. We only went to two places before picking out a nice, thin, blue steel-string that cost 530 Bs, including a soft embroidered case (that's around US$65). I spent a lot of time buying last minute presents for everyone and cheap DVDs for myself. We ate at a few different places - local joints Shaun had discovered in his two months in La Paz - but Tash's last night in La Paz wasn't exactly the raring party we had planned. We ended up having tea and cookies in the hostel instead of partying all night, as she had to get up at 3am the next morning to catch her plane.
Llama foetuses and other goodies for sale in the witches' market, La Paz
Alas, my last night in La Paz was much the same, although I managed to beat Phil at chess again, this time relatively sober and without any external help. It was, I must say, the best game of chess I've ever played (okay, so that doesn't mean a whole lot, but it makes me feel temporarily clever. He is 7 years older than me and has passed the BAR). I learnt a few new songs from Shaun and Nick, a Kiwi guy staying at the hostel - how convenient that Nick knows all the Smashing Pumpkins' songs! I managed to sleep badly in the 1.5 hours that I had left for myself, and crept around the room trying not to disturb the 7 other sleeping peeps. My taxi to the airport came on time and whizzed me up and out of La Paz, and that was it... goodbye, Bolivia and goodbye, South America.
Tourist strip, La Paz
What wonderful things I've seen and food I've eaten and people I've met. I wanted my last few hours in South America to feel a little more poignant but I was overwhelmed by fatigue. But I will never forget this trip!