Spiritual Traveling in Bolivia
Anytime is a wonderful time to visit Bolivia. It is autumn now in the southern hemisphere and the number of tourists, unlike our summer which is their winter, are not overwhelming.
If you shop around you can get a round trip ticket from Washington D.C. to La Paz, Bolivia for as low as $450. The value of the dollar is amazingly good in Bolivia. Just a few years ago, I spent six weeks traveling around Bolivia, staying at middle range hotels and hostels and spent $1200 for those six months total. More so than many countries, Bolivian people are very friendly and it is easy to meet native people, as long as you give it a bit of extra effort.
I began my trip by bus, arriving at Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. From there you can visit the Isle of the Sun and the Isle of the Moon; both are where the Inca believed the gods were born. You can also visit the Uru floating islands, where generations of native people have lived near the middle of Lake Titicaca.
From Copacabana, I went on to La Paz. La Paz is located in west-central Bolivia forty-two miles southeast of Lake Titicaca. It is set in a canyon created by the Choqueyapu River. It is located in a bowl-like depression, surrounded by the high mountains of the Altiplano. Overlooking the city is the towering, triple-peaked Illimani. It is thought to be one of the holiest apus, or mountain gods, by the native people. Its peaks are always snow covered and can be seen from many parts of the city. At an elevation of roughly 11,975 feet above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. La Paz has an unusual subtropical highland climate, with rainy summers and dry winters. I stayed by the bus station up by the high rim and to go down town had to walk down the steep streets. After exploring the city each day I had to climb back up the steep streets in that high altitude thin air. My favorite place in La Paz was the Witch’s Market. It extends for miles over many city streets. You can find whole streets of shirts, cosmetics, under wear and shoes. My favorite part is the shaman stalls where you can buy any magical supplies from potions that will improve your love life to llama fetishes, which are traditional offerings to the gods. If your Spanish is even marginal you can get the booth owners to explain how things are used in rituals and ceremonies.
My favorite trip from La Paz is to take a bus to Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. These ruins are not well known or very well visited by tourists. Yet they are ancient and more impressive than Machu Picchu in nearby Peru. There is an ancient wall of carved stone heads which have facial racial features that can be interpreted as being from every race on earth. You can also find a stone sun gate which has an ancient accurate twelve month solar calendar and a carving of an elephant on it. The first archeological finds of llamas, corn, potatoes and quinoa were also found near here. There are those who believe that these ruins were part of the sunken Lemuria.
I went on this trip, as well as other trips, by bus to the Amazon rainforest. You can take the bus down the road that is estimated to be the most dangerous road in the world – North Yungas Road (but I cannot with a good conscience recommend this). I took this road by mistake and it was breathtaking. The worst thing that happened, however, is that we got stuck in the mud for twenty-four hours. This allowed me to become friends with everyone on the bus. The road ends at the town Rurrenabaque, on the edge of the Ichilo River. Rurrenabaque is a quaint fishing town and the entry way to the Amazon. I stayed there in a fifth-floor hostel overlooking the whole village for two dollars a night. Each morning I would go to the market place and have a big bowl of great fish stew and a coffee for seventy-five cents. Near noon I would walk to the river and watch the fisher people catch fish from their boats. They would then bring them to their booths in the market place, clean them and fry them up for lunch.
From there, I went up the river and stayed for free at a big game preservation compound for almost a week, in return for helping out. You can go many places into the Amazon River basin from here. On previous trips there, I explored small villages and met authentic shamans. Up the river you can find the Mididi National Park. After a report from Conservation International in 1990, that recognized this area as Bolivia’s most diverse eco-system, the Bolivian government declared it a national park. It is recorded by National Geographic as one of the world’s most immense biologically diverse reserves on the planet. There are so far recorded about 988 species registered as well. This is truly a wonderful place to visit.
From the Amazon, I took a bus to Sucre. Sucre is also known as the “White City,” for most buildings are white. It is the Constitutional capital of the Republic of Bolivia. It is home to the Supreme Court and is the central axis of judicial power in the country. Situated on a hill top surrounded by low mountains, it’s a beautiful city. It has a great climate. Its population is estimated to be about 100,000. It has wonderful cathedrals, museums, restaurants and many old colonial buildings. I met some great local people who showed me many of the local favorite spots.
From here my trip by bus led to Cochbaamba. This city’s name originates from the Spanish sound derived from the Quechua name Kochapampa, which speaks of an area subject to flooding – literally “The Plain of Chacos.” It is in the heart of Bolivia, halfway between the large eastern flatlands and the high plateaus. It was tropical hot when I was there, but the market places and restaurants were very unique and worth sweating for. Sipping iced lime aid, while watching the local inhabitants shop, was wonderful.
From here, I was on to the city of Potosí. Founded in 1545, the city enjoyed a period of time where it thrived. Due to “Cerro Rico de Potosí,” meaning, the rich hill of Potosí, which was a mountain mostly made of silver, it is said that the Spanish shipped enough silver back to Spain to make a bridge from there all the way to Spain. At its high point, it was transformed by European architects and artists. They made the city into a symbol of riches, luxury, and splendor. Now mostly it is in a state of decay. You can imagine the ghosts of the children who died in the mines roaming the streets.
From there, it is easy to get to the Salar de Uyuni. They are the world’s largest salt flats, located in the Daniel Campos Province in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes. They extend as far as you can imagine in every direction.
Seeing huge flocks of pink flamingos on the salt flats at sunset was one of my picturesque memories before I headed back to La Paz and onto Peru.
I love Bolivia. It is so colorful. One of my favorite things about Bolivia is that a large majority of the native people still wear the traditional dress. I strongly advise a trip for anyone wanting an inexpensive but exotic holiday. This piece first appeared in The Echo World Magazine www.TheEchoWorld.com