We left Uyuni on an overnight bus to La Paz, situated at 3,650 metres above sea level making it the highest capital city in the world. Technically speaking, there’s contention between La Paz and Sucre as to which is the official capital of Bolivia: whilst all of the governmental buildings are now hosted in La Paz, officially Sucre is still the constitutional capital and holds judicial powers.
Unfortunately, both of us got quite ill while on the tour of the salt flats so our first couple of days in La Paz were spent sat on the toilet. Dave, annoyingly, seemed to be back to normal the following day. Me on the other hand seemed to only deteriorate and so began three weeks of hell! Even though we stayed in La Paz for so long, it was probably one of the places we explored the least! After a couple of days of persistent fevers and not being able to keep anything down, we decided it must be something more than food poisoning due to the severity so headed for the nearby private health clinic. The doctor diagnosed a stomach infection, injected me in the bum, gave me a course of antibiotics and a strict diet of bland foods for the next 6 days.
After the week of antibiotics it was evident that it hadn’t really made any difference as I was still bed-bound with the fever and so perhaps it was something else entirely. We headed back to the hospital and this time we were attended to by a young male doctor dressed in batman scrubs (it was Friday after all). This time the doctor seemed much more thorough and after tests, diagnosed a parasitic infection which he said was often missed with a stomach infection initially. By this point, the doctor said I had to be put on an IV drip for an hour. I also got an anti-nausea injection to help stomach the first pill in the course of extremely strong anti-parasite drugs.
By this stage we had moved into an apartment so that we were able to cook in for my specific bland diet. Whilst I was recovering, Dave decided to go on the free walking tour with HanaqPacha. The most interesting part he said was that witch doctors were still prevalent in Bolivian culture and often perform rituals. He said that whilst visiting the witches market, located behind the San Francisco Church, they were told that the Yatiri (witch doctors) commonly sell dried baby llama foetuses as they are used for ceremonial purposes. The foetuses are buried under the foundations of a house as a sacred offering to their goddess. Apparently almost all builders will refuse to work on a property until such a ritual is performed! It is also compulsory that the baby llama died from natural causes, most commonly hypothermia, in order to bring the good luck.
The tour’s other main talking point was the Mi Teleferico, or cable cars. As the city suffers notoriously from bad traffic congestion, the government enlisted the help of an Austrian company in 2014 to help create an aerial cable car transport system linking neighbouring city El Alto situated 400 metres above La Paz on the highlands. It is estimated that over 80,000 people make the journey between the two cities on the cable cars everyday. The cable cars made for an interesting landscape, sort of like an out of place/climate ski resort! The tour guide also said that a few years ago, two of the major banks declared themselves bankrupt and it later came out that they didn’t have any insurance meaning that some customers lost their entire life savings. It now made sense why nearly all transactions in Bolivia were cash only.
After multiple visits to the doctors, an IV drip, injections and 2 weeks worth of medication, I was finally feeling a little better/ fed up of La Paz and ready to move on. We decided to head for Copacabana, a small town located on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the alleged birth place of the Incas. The buses from La Paz leave from the main bus terminal between 7:30-8:00. After enquiring with several companies we were told that the only bus with a toilet on board was Titicaca so we went with them. The journey is approximately 4 hours, costing $30 BoB. As we neared the lake, it became a really beautiful and scenic drive. Crossing the lake was quite the sight. We were told to disembark and take a passenger motor boat to cross the lake whilst vehicles went separately. We watched in disbelief as our massive bus trundled on to a tiny, wooden barge with the captain moving out of the shallows using a long piece of wood against the lake bed! And not just our bus, but double decker buses and trucks laden with goods! I sent a photo to my sister who said it looked like a Top Gear stunt – very accurate!
We arrived safely (somewhat surprisingly given the boat crossing) in Copacabana. The town is located at a staggering 3,800 metres above sea level, as you can imagine, any form of physical exertion was knackering in the altitude. We had quite a nice accommodation a short walk away from all the restaurants and our room had glass windows for walls overlooking the lake. Copacabana is the main Bolivian town on the edge of Lake Titicaca and a popular stopping point for people wanting to explore Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). Lake Titicaca, is the largest lake in South America and proclaimed to be the highest navigable body of water in the world!
Unfortunately, as illness persisted I wasn’t able to do much and Dave decided against visiting Isla del Sol alone as there is currently a dispute with the northern and southern inhabitants arguing about the effects of tourism, meaning you cannot complete the north to south hike. Instead he climbed Cerro Calvario, the mountain overlooking Copacabana, and came back with beautiful photos of panoramic views of Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol and the mainland.
After only 1.5 days we decided to move 4 hours round the lake to the Peruvian town, Puno, in search of better medical facilities on my long quest to regain full health, so join us next time in Peru! Spoiler alert, I finally get better!
Sophie & Dave