Trip to Bolivia and Peru - September 2006
The Bolivia experience
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View to the mountain Huayna Potosi from El AltoInca Indians, women in colourful chola dresses and funny bowler hats, kids with snotty noses and sunburned faces, breathtaking sceneries and snow clad mountains, the world’s largest salt flats, a lake at 3800 meters above sea level, dinosaur tracks, the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, llamas, fried guinea pig for dinner, breathing problems at 5400 meter, biking the world's most dangerous road…join me in this trip to Bolivia and Peru in South America!

A short summary
The travellers having pizco sour in PeruThis trip report will focus on the trip that I took to Bolivia and Peru in the period from September 16th to October 2nd 2006. This time I went together with three friends (Olav, Torbjørn & Svein) and not my wife Nikki. We went to places like La Paz, Chacaltaya, Torotoro and Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, and the main target in Peru was Cuzco and Machu Picchu. I hope that this trip report will contain some useful information, but it will also have some inside jokes (which always appears when a group travel together), some “useless” memories, but also some amusing stories I hope. Please get in touch with me on if you have any questions or comments. Most pictures are taken by Gard with a Canon Powershot S1 IS camera but I have also “stolen” some of the photos taken of the rest of the group. Please check out this interactive Google map that I have made to see the location of some of the places that I'm referring to in this trip report.

The report is more or less chronological and it starts of in Bolivia before we take a weekend trip to Peru and then back to Bolivia again. Due to this the report is split into 2 sections: the first one about Bolivia and the second part about the trip to Peru.

I had never been to South America before, so when my friend Olav suggested that we should go and visit his brother Ben Tore, who lives and works in La Paz in Bolivia, it sounded like a nice opportunity to see a new country and a new continent. A couple of Ben Tore’s childhood friends also wanted to visit him, so we ended up being a 4 men team going to South America: my friend Olav (the IT nerd/musician), Torbjørn (the cop…codename Tobbe), Svein (minister/male nurse…codename Andrew) and I.
Map of Bolivia

Map of Bolivia. Map provided by

Planning the trip
For once I didn’t really have to do much planning before a trip. Ben Tore did most of the planning for us and he came up with a suggestion for a schedule for our two week stay in Bolivia and Peru. We also used an acquaintance to buy plane tickets. Olav and Tobbe went by business class, and Svein and myself decided to fly economy (also nicknamed “cargo” by Olav and Tobbe). The economy ticket was about 9000 kroner (1400 US $) and it was quite a route: Stavanger to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Brussels (where we would spend the night), Brussels to NYC, NYC to Miami, Miami to La Paz…phew!
The only thing I had to think about was getting the right shots that I needed, and thinking about what to bring. Due to previous travels I had all the shots that I needed but I decided to go for a “vaccine” for tourist diarea. I bought the Lonely Planet Bolivia book (from but that didn’t really put my mind at ease. The section that describes all the different illnesses that you can get while travelling to Bolivia is extensive and I have to admit that it made me a bit nervous.

The trip begins
The trip begins...I brought my Lonely Planet bookOn Saturday September 16th Olav and I went to the airport outside Stavanger to start our journey. We took the short flight to Copenhagen, and we had a few hours to kill at the airport before we met up with the third participant on this trip; Tobbe. He came in from Kristiansand in Norway and we took the flight to Brussels together. In Brussels we met up with the fourth guy in our party, Svein, and we also met Bjørn Inge who lives in Brussels with his family. He was able to show us a bit around and house us for the night. So now I can finally say that I have been to Belgium :-) On September 17th we got up early to go to the airport. Bjørn Inge assured us that it was no point in getting to the airport more than 2 hours before departure, but let me assure you, if you are going to the US you need more time than that. The line for checking in was unbelievable, and us making it in time was more or less a miracle. According to the information that we got when we came to the airport we should have been there 4 hours before departure!

Once we checked in we went straight to the gate and into our Boeing 767, and off we went with American Airlines to NYC (JFK). The flight was about 7 ½ hours, and I don’t have a problem coping with flights like that (I tend to get bored on 12-14 hour flights). The plane didn’t have any personal entertainment, and the headset (that was buried deep in the seat pocket) was not very comfortable. We had an entertaining stewardess, but I was not highly impressed by the food (there was only beef left when she came to my row) and the customs form that we had to fill out prior to landing was only available in French!

Having a few beers in the lounge in NYCWe had about 6 hours in NYC, and since two of us were flying business class, we went to the Admirals Club lounge to see if we could find a place to relax. We were all surprised to find the lounge more or less empty but at least the bar was open. And with Tobbe’s charm we were able to get quite a lot of drink vouchers. We ended up having quite a few Heineken before it was time to move on to Miami. We didn’t have much time there, and it was just a matter of finding the gate for the flight to La Paz. So in the evening of 17th we boarded the 757 that would take us to our destination for this trip: La Paz. Once again I was not that impressed with the flight…on the plane one of the two lavatories was out of order, they didn’t have any immigration forms to Bolivia in English (only in Spanish) etc.

Arriving in Bolivia
Bolivian flagLanding at a new destination is always exciting…what will it be like? Does it look like you have imagined? etc. When we started our decent to La Paz, Tobbe handed out Diamox pills (to help against altitude sickness). I more or less know my limit from my trip to Kilimanjaro so I decided to not take the pills. Olav and Tobbe, on the other hand, decided to take them, and I think it is safe to say that you should be careful taking too many of the pills :-) . It has side effects that you should read up on before you take them.

We landed at La Paz international airport early in the morning on Monday September 18th in total darkness. By the time we had gotten through immigration and custom it was starting to get light and we were met by Ben Tore (Olav’s brother) who lives in Bolivia with his family. It was cold outside, but we had been warned so we had brought along warm clothes. The first thing we did was to find an ATM at the airport in order to get some cash. In Bolivia you can use US dollars for lots of things, but their local currency is Bolivianos. Many of the ATMs provide both Bolivianos (also known as Bol) and US dollars.

The airport in La Paz is located on the plateau of El Alto, which is at about 4000 meter (13100 feet) above sea level. I guess this means that you can’t land with all types of aircrafts as the air is pretty thin at this altitude. The air strip is also longer than usual due to this reason (I think it is about 4000 meters long).

First impressions of La Paz
A neighbourhood in El Alto. This is near a school we visitedAs we drove out of the airport area, we had to go through El Alto to get down to La Paz. El Alto is a suburb of La Paz, and most of the people there live in poverty. So driving through the streets is a bit of a culture shock when you come from a richer nation: there were garbage in the streets, people (and dogs) looking through the garbage, stray rabies dogs running around in groups chasing cars and people, women in typical native outfits (chola dress and bowler hat) waiting for the bus, small streams of sewage in the streets, a guy pissing right into the street etc. But it didn’t take long before we came to the edge of the plateau and started our drive down to La Paz center. And what a view you get as you drive off the edge….all of a sudden a valley opens up and you can see a lot of downtown La Paz and the surrounding mountains….it was beautiful. We were all in awe by the amazing view of the city that hangs on to the steep slopes of this valley and the clouds that were drifting around. This must be one of the most spectacular cities in the world!

Casa Alianza – our sanctuary in La Paz
Olav used the bunk bedBen Tore (Olav’s brother) works for Misjonsalliansen in Bolivia. One of the tasks he’s got is running a sort of hostel for the volunteers that are coming to Bolivia to work. So we were lucky enough to get to stay at this place known as Casa Alianza. Olav and I shared a big room on the ground floor. I had a queen size bad while Olav had a bunk bed. The room had a wooden floor and light painted walls. We also had a separate bathroom with a bathtub and a shower. The best part of the room was the view of course. Well, I guess there are many places in La Paz that can offer stunning views :-)

I got the big bedCasa Alianza was filled with young and old volunteers. Most of these volunteers were from Norway, so if you are visiting La Paz from Scandinavia it would probably be a good bet to stay at this place as you can meet people that have stayed there for a while and that can provide useful tips about where to go and what to see (and where to party :-). The house is located in the Obrajes district, so it is not really downtown (well, actually it is down town but not the center if you know what I mean *grin*). But it is pretty cheap with taxis in La Paz, and there are also minibuses that can take you to the center (if you can figure out that system).

In the end we paid 220 dollars each for the 14 day stay at Casa Alianza, including the breakfast each morning.

Let’s check this town out
Having breakfast at Casa AlianzaAfter we had gotten installed at Casa Alianza it was still early morning. So we grabbed some breakfast to get some energy. We had breakfast at Casa Alianza each morning and it was more or less the same every day: a bit of bread, some cereal, juice, fruit, tea, yogurt etc. It was quite simple, but good. According to Ben Tore, breakfast is not really a big thing in Bolivia, and I guess we were lucky to have a western style breakfast at all :-) Olav enjoyed a bit of coca tea every morning :-)

We spent the first day taking it easy and getting used to the altitude. But we also had to organize some stuff…like the trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. So we stopped by a travel agency to get them to organize the bus transport (as there is no flight service between La Paz and Cuzco in Peru anymore), hotels, entrance fees etc.

Before we went off to Bolivia we had also discovered that it was possible to go mountain biking on “The world’s most dangerous road”. So we also stopped by the company “Gravity assisted mountain biking” to organize this trip. Ben Tore did a great job as our driver and guide. I’m not sure that I would have dared to drive in downtown La Paz but I guess you get used to the driving culture after a while.

Valle de la Luna
Gard at Valle de la LunaBut we also had to do a bit of sightseeing on the first day. So Ben Tore took us to Valle de la Luna (Moon valley). This place is located about 10 km south of the city, and is an eroded landscape which makes it fascinating. When we walked around in this landscape I tested the soil several places and it seemed like pretty loose sandstone. I can’t help thinking that this landscape must change quite a bit over the years when it rains. It was a bit surreal to walk around on the paths. Scenes from Valle de la LunaThere were not many people there and in the background we could hear the tunes of a local playing a flute on one of the canyon tops. We had to pay 15 Bolivianos (about 2 US $) to get into the area. Be careful and stay on the path, by the way. In some places there was quite a drop and with the soil being a bit loose, accidents could happen. And it is of course advisable to not fall on one of the big cacti that are found in the area. We didn't stay there that long as it started to rain. The landscape around the area also looked dry and barred and it is hard to see how anything but cacti could survive there.

After a long first day we were all ready to go to bed early. I think we handled the jetlag and altitude pretty good. I continued to stay off the Diamox, but the others stayed on it for a few days until they felt comfortable with the altitude. We also had access to oxygen tanks at Casa Alianza :-)

A drive into the wilderness – visiting Combaya
The road to start with on our way to CombayaAlready on the second day we went on an adventure that would turn out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We had been invited to come along as Missjonsalliansen were driving to a remote village by the name of Combaya to place a doctor there. Early in the morning we loaded up three cars with volunteers, tourists (us :-) ) and missionaries. As we were staying in the south zone of the city we first had to drive the steep road up to El Alto to get onto the plateau. The view of moutains were stunningIt was funny to take this drive as we were driving up and up and all of a sudden you reach a flat plateau. It didn't take us that long to drive through El Alto and it was quite a contrast to see some of the houses that were in a sad state against the landscape around. The landscape is nothing but stunning. The weather was nice and it was amazing to see the planes against the blue sky and the snow clad mountain tops in the background. Some of the views were almost unreal….like they had been constructed as a movie background. Some of the mountain tops like Chacaltaya and Potosi are 5500 to 6100 meters (18000 to 20000 feet) high, so they are really impressive.

The dirt roads leading to CombayaWe drove towards Lake Titicaca, and I think it took us about an hour to reach the lake. After a short stop in a town to get some lunch, we got off the main road and started driving towards Combaya on bumpy dirt roads with great views to deep valleys and high mountains. I'm glad that Ben Tore was equipped with a good Toyota LandCruiser, because the road was not very fact this is where BBC TopGear should go to test cars, because the car took quite a beating during the course of the day! A short break on the way to CombayaOn our way we passed llamas (or maybe it was alpacas?) and we did have to make quite a few stops to take pictures of the stunning views. We finally came to a village where we were met by some sort of parade. It seemed like there was a fiesta going on, and according to what we found out, the party had been going on for 10 days! It looked like some of the participants had had a few too many drinks :-) We stopped by a school in this village that Missjonsalliansen had helped build. Due to the fiesta some of the kids where home (to take care of parents with a headache), but we were invited for a tour of the school. Just a couple of words about drinking: it seems like Bolivians and Norwegians have something in common; when Bolivians drink beer it is not really to enjoy the is to get drunk. One time when we had dinner with Ben Tore and his family, we had brought a couple of beers for the food, but Ben Tore's maid was a bit shocked to see that we were going to drink while having dinner.

Visting a school near CombayaWell, back to the school visit. The kids were curious due to the sudden influx of lots of strangers. Some of them had fun just looking at us...and some had fun with the cars as it didn’t take them long to figure out that if they tapped the cars, they would trigger the alarms :-). To start with, the kids were shy but they seemed to warm up after a few minutes. So we did get to take some pictures of them. Many of the faces are marked by the combination of strong sun and cold winds. The school even had a room with computers, and they were planning on giving the kids lessons...the only problem was the lack of a teacher. So if you want to volunteer I think there is an open position at this school :-)

All the kids we managed to squeeze into the carIt was not a long drive down to the center of Combaya, and this is where we dropped off the doctor that would work there for a couple of weeks. But we also used the opportunity to pick up a bunch of kids (I think we managed to squeeze 13-14 people into our car) and drive them over to their little village a few miles away. It didn't take us that long to drive this route, but the kids had a 1 1/2 hour walk each way to get to school! The soccer match in high altitudeIt was not that easy to communicate with them...I don't know any Spanish, so for me it was impossible. But even for Ben Tore it was a bit hard, as many of the kids spoke Aymara (one of the Indian languages). But it is also possible to communicate in other ways...and we choose to do this by having fun playing soccer :-) We had brought a ball, and there was a small field in slightly tilting terrain where we could play. It felt like we were playing on the roof of the world, and when we kicked the ball out of bounds there was a danger that the ball would drop a few meters :-)

The kids were posing willingly when we took out the cameraIt was not that easy to play soccer at 3000 meters, as we were not really used to the altitude yet. But we did our best, and the main thing was to have fun. I did take some pictures of the kids after the match and they all wanted to see the pictures. So I was more or less ambushed by the kids and, I had to work hard to save the camera. But it was unreal to run around at this altitude...playing soccer with the local kids...looking at the amazing view.

Short stop on the way to SorataOn the road home we stopped by the town of Sorata, which seems to be popular if you are into trekking and the outdoors. We didn't really have that much time there. We just stopped to get a pizza meal and a beer before heading home. I think we paid 400 Bolivianos (about 50 $) for 5 large pizzas, beer, juice, sodas etc and Ben Tore thought it was expensive. I think it was quite acceptable as it fed about 12 people. I don't think we were home before 10 pm so it was a long day. But it is also a day that I will remember for a long time. It was quite surreal to drive around in the Bolivian mountains listening to a CD of the Norwegian artist Bjørn Eidsvåg :-)

Challenge the mountain – on wheels
If you have read this trip report carefully you will have noticed that we booked a bike trip on the day of our arrival with Gravity Assisted mountain biking. We had decided to go for the trip called “The worlds most dangerous road” and we took the full package for 75$ each.

Getting ready for unloading bikesSo already on day three we were ready to challenge the mountain – on wheels :-). We had to meet up at a coffee shop at 7.30 am! But when you have something exciting waiting for you it is not a problem getting up. All 5 of us squeezed into a taxi (we got very good at this by the way) and we got there in time. Our guide for the day was James from New Zealand (a database administrator on a break) and he organized us and stuffed us into an old American van with the bikes on the roof. We are ready to go biking!The poor van seemed to struggle in the steep roads leading out of La Paz, and the car seemed to be stuck in second gear (or was it first :-) ). After about 1 hour we had come to our starting point at 4700 meters (15400 feet) if I’m not mistaken. The weather was OK and the air was crisp. It was time to gear up. Gravity pretty much provided everything…the bike (full suspension with great hydraulic breaks), helmets, buffs, gloves, goggles, “filthy weather” jacket and pants etc. We have reached the road blockSo we spent a few minutes dressing up and testing out the bikes to get comfortable. It seemed like Gravity was pretty serious about the business, as they were explaining everything to us in detail. Before we started our ride we lined up to make a sacrifice…James had brought along some 96% spirits that we all had to taste …and then pour some on the front wheel to “bless” the bike and sacrifice to mother earth. It has been a long time since I had a taste of something like this and let me put it this way: small sip people :-). This one girl wanted to show off, so she took a large gulp and it left her breathless :-).

Getting ready for biking at start 2It was time to start the ride. We had one guide in the front going fast, and one in the back to make sure that everybody made it down. We started on asphalt and it was all downhill, which made it easy to pick up speed. We also had frequent stops to keep the group together. The Norwegian Team (meaning us) pretty much stayed in the front. But how long was Adam in paradise? Not long you say…well, our bike trip also came to a stop pretty fast. I'm coming in for a short breakAfter about ½ hour we stopped, as there was a crowd in the middle of the road. It turned out to be a demonstration and a road block and they didn’t allow any cars to pass. So there was not much to do…we had to load up the bikes and torture the old van again so that we could make it up to the top again where we had originally started. We eventually made it back to the starting point, but we continued on dirt roads even higher! In the end I think we must have been getting closer to 4800 meters (15700 feet) and the landscape looked like the moon, and it was windy and snowing. We unloaded the bikes again and it was time to finally go biking for real :-) I did get a bit wet on the bike tripI took it easy to start with as the soil was a bit loose and it was snowing and hailing. I have biked a bit in my life (yes, I still have a mountain bike that I use from time to time at home) so I figured that it was better to start slowly and come down in one piece. But there seemed to be some in our group that were biking faster than good for their own skills. It didn’t take many minutes before we had the first accident…we had made it down the main road again and were driving on slippery and wet asphalt. At the finish line...Tobbe and I came first up the hillWe came to an accident site where a car was left smashed outside of the road. I guess Olav squeezed his front break a bit too hard (hydraulic breaks are great) and the front wheel just disappeared under him. He crashed into the ground with his knee and he ripped the pants provided by Gravity, his own jeans and his warm underwear. Luckily he was able to continue the bike ride even if he was bleeding a bit and the knee was sore. We soon got of the main road and we biked on dirt roads all the way into La Paz. The weather improved gradually and by the time we came to town it was almost getting too hot with the layers we had on.

This is what it would have been like if we had gone the original routeThe scariest bit of this leg was biking through poorer areas of La Paz and getting rabid dogs after us :-) . And we also went over some small streams that seemed to be more sewage than streams. Towards the end we also had to face a couple of places where it was uphill. I biked all the way but the last one was very hard…going uphill in about 4000 meters drain you. The van picked us up again and took us back to the Gravity office. Olav got some attention to his wound. Even if we had had a pretty nice day there was growing unrest in the group. Most of the people felt that they had not really gotten what they had paid for even if the contract was quite clear about it. Olav getting medical attentionBut I guess what annoyed people was the fact that this demonstration had been announced on TV the day before so the group was of course questioning why Gravity had started the tour in the first place. And this is where it turned a bit ugly…instead of giving in a bit, the Gravity people in the store turned very arrogant and they really pissed off a few people in the group. I feel that instead of arguing, they should just have said that “We’re sorry; we’ll buy you a beer and throw in a CD with pictures from the trip for free”. But as mentioned, they went the other direction and turned very arrogant and it even came to the point where they accused Ben Tore of lying when he said he was living in La Paz. Well, we got so mad that we just left, but Ben Tore got the number of the owner of Gravity and called him. We eventually did get a 40 $ discount (for the group) in the end when Ben Tore had argued with him on the phone for an hour.

All in all….I hope that you find time to make this bike ride and that you make it to the final destination. Gravity seems like a good company and our guide did a great job under the circumstances. It is a bit sad that the good experience was spoiled by the arrogance of the people in the Gravity office. There are similar companies offering the same bicycle trips, so shop around! Olav’s knee was sore for quite some time after the accident. But luckily our “hotel” was filled with young nurses, and Olav didn’t mind getting his knee checked up from time to time :-)

Eating out at a Peña
Eating out at Casa del CorregidorWith all that fresh air during the day we had built up a bit of an appetite. Ben Tore took us up into the downtown area. We went to a place called La Casa del Corregidor which is a typical peñas. A peñas is a place where they serve food, but they also play traditional folk music. La Case del Corregidor is located in a nice colonial building and we were basically the only ones there. It didn’t take long after we had arrived before the band entered the stage. The 5 man band was very good, and the lead guy impressed Ben Tore with the flute playing. Meal at Casa del CorregidorWe talked to the lead guy after they were done, and it turned out that he actually made flutes. Svein and Tobbe ended up buying a flute each and we would hear them each morning at the Casa Alianza trying to outdo each other with their lack of skills :-). Back to La Case del Corregidor…the food was OK but some of the potatoes actually looked a bit scary. We paid 450 Bol (55 $) for the 5 of us and that included a bottle of wine at about 90 Bol (11 $) and 75 (15 each) Bol (9 $) as a tip for the entertainers. But fresh air and biking up hills in high altitude also makes you a bit tired. So we didn’t stay up long. Already at this point we felt that we had experienced quite a lot. As Tobbe expressed it “If I was to go home tomorrow I would say fine…I have been gone for two weeks haven’t I?” And I guess that is how it felt…we had activities from morning to evening, and people back at Casa Alianza seemed to be impressed with the activity level we were able to keep up with :-)

Visiting a school in El Alto
A school at El AltoAs I mentioned, Ben Tore lives in La Paz and he works for Misjonsalliansen. He doesn’t really like to be referred to as a missionary…he prefers to just call it being a helper. They assist in building schools, help the shoe polisher boys, and house the volunteers so that they can do their work etc. We got to learn a bit about this work following Ben Tore around. A young Miss winnerOne day we visited a school on El Alto where Misjonsalliansen is involved. They are involved with building a better school, educating the kids when it comes to dental hygiene etc. We visited the school El Progreso (which means “progress”) on morning. When we came to the school the school yard was all empty. It turned out that it was a day for celebration…it was both spring day and student day. So each class was in their class rooms enjoying cakes and sodas. We went from class to class and said hi. In some classes they had Miss. and Mr. class competitions….Young girl enjoying a cake at the school in El AltoI guess you have to start early if you want to become Miss Universe :-) We were taken a bit off guard when we came into one class room and the teacher started chopping up cake and jelly for us. At first we were a bit reluctant as we had a bit of fear that it might lead to stomach problems…but Ben Tore reminded us that it would be rude to decline food, so we just had to dig in. The cake was not bad at all, and you can’t really go wrong with jelly :-) It seems like the poor kids around La Paz are not suffering from a lack of nutrition…but rather from mal nutrition. They eat too much sugar and this leads to problems with the teeth etc. But I guess when there is a fiesta one must be allowed to splurge :-)

A class at the school in El AltoIt was fun to visit the school to see how Misjonsalliansen has been able to help improve it with the help of the mothers. It was fun to meet so many kids…as you can see from the pictures typically Bolivian with skin marked by the sun and cold winds and snotty noses :-). Misjonsalliansen also runs the same kind of business as the Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. They give out micro credit loans when people can’t get loans from banks. We visited a couple of people that has taken up loans. You can buy lots of knitted products in all colors in BoliviaFirst we made a stop at wood carver. He had a small shack where he made his stuff and he was chewing away on his coca leaves. We got to try some but it didn’t really taste all that great if you ask me. And from what I read, you have to keep it in your mouth for at least 15 minutes to get some effect. Bolivia is also known for their knitted products…or to be more precise: knitted products made from alpaca wool :-). I ended up buying 2 typical hats, a scarf and a sweater for an infant, and it cost me 65 Bol (8 $).

The stadium in El AltoMisjonsalliansen is also involved in getting kids active in sports. One of their projects has been participating in the building of the stadium at El Alto. The stadium was very nice, with artificial grass (as I guess grass does not grow that well at 4000 meters) and with a beautiful view. How they are able to play a full soccer match at 4000 meters is another question. I don’t think that we would last long running in this thin air. As we drove out of El Alto we saw this one building that had a funeral agency on the second floor. And on the ground floor there was a butcher with a big poster saying “Fresh meat” :-). We found this to be a bit funny.

A view of La Paz and Illimani in the backgroundOn this day the weather was beautiful, so we had to make a stop as we were going over the edge from El Alto to La Paz. Once again the view of the city was amazing with the surrounding snow clad mountains. But for a new visitor to the city, locating the center of town could be difficult. But with Ben Tore’s help we were able to find different landmarks, like the cathedral etc. I have marked one lookout point on the Google map where you can stop and take pictures like the one in this section.

The following day we took a trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu and you can read about the trip in this trip report. This report continues as we arrive back again in Bolivia.
Going to Peru




Resting day in La Paz – and off again
This report continues as we come back to La Paz after the trip to Peru.

Lift off from La Paz with a view to El AltoWe spent the day relaxing, washing clothes…general recovery again. But the following morning we where off again. The destination this time was Salar De Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat) and Torotoro national park. With little and precious time, we decided to fly instead of taking bus, train and jeep tour. Ben Tore had gotten a hold of Eugen, the Swedish missionary, to take care of the transportation (he is listed in Lonely Planet under Free Swedish Mission of Cochabamba). We teamed up with Eugen at the airport, and he took us out to his 6 seats Cessna. Soon we took off and got a great view of El Alto. Olav was in seventh heaven as he got the co-pilot seat. He was allowed to control the plane for a while…maybe that is why Ben Tore got a bit air sick :-)

Flying low over lakes to check out flamingoesAfter about 1 ½ hours we reached some wetlands, and Eugen took the plane really low. There were thousands of pink flamingoes on the lake and getting into the air when they heard the noise from the plane. For a while I felt like I was in the opening scene of a National Geographic show :-). Soon after we reached the salt flats. Salar De Uyuni is huge…about 12.000 square kilometers. It is not easy to understand how huge this is so I have compared it to the NYC area (the blue outline shows the size of it). It was quite amazing to fly over this vast area of white salt and a bit spooky to land on it. But we landed without any problems near a salt hotel.

Plane outside the salt hotelI guess the salt hotel is the equivalent of the ice hotels in Norway and Finland. At the salt hotel everything is made out of salt…beds, chairs, tables…everything. It was great to have a toilet break (even if it cost us 5 Bolivianos) and we also had some drinks. Remember to bring sunglasses. With the bright light from the sun reflecting from the white salt, the light is blinding. It was similar to being out in a landscape full of snow on a bright and sunny day.

Parking at the cactus islandAfter we had taken a few pictures, we took off again and followed the trail that numerous jeeps had left in the salt. After a few minutes we landed near Isla de los Pescadores (Isla Inca Huasi). This is a small island that sticks up of the salt, and it is filled with huge cacti. Lots of cacti on the islandI’m not sure what these cacti survive on but some of them were like 10 meters high and they claim they only grow 1 cm per year … they have been around for a while. We paid 10 Bolivianos (1.25 US $) for the entrance and followed the path around the island to get a closer look at the cacti. There were quite a lot of jeeps on the “parking lot” at the island and some people seemed very surprised when we rolled in with our plane :-) All of a sudden it seemed like that was the main attraction for the visitors. After about an hour on the island we took off again and headed towards the national park of Torotoro located northeast of Salar De Uyuni.

Torotoro – dinosaur tracks, canyons and caves
The flight from Salar De Uyuni took maybe an hour and we ran into bad weather. But Eugen was able to find the open holes that he needed to fly through. The landscape around Torotoro was spectacular…mountains, canyons, strange geology etc. Eugen dove into some of the canyons, which gave us all quite a rush! It was like riding a huge roller coaster :-) The “airport” at Torotoro was just a grassy height next to the village. When we came around for the first landing Eugene all of a sudden pulled up. A view to the village of TorotoroAt first we though he had missed on the strip, but it soon turned out that a cow was standing in the middle of the runway, and it wasn’t really willing to move. I think we had to pass the cow 5-6 times before it got scared and gave room for us to land. We had strong tail winds, which added to the excitement. Due to the bad weather Eugen didn’t stay long…we got our baggage out of the plane and started the 10 minute walk down to the village of Torotoro.

Our rooms at Las Harmanas in TorotoroWe stayed at a place called “Las Harmanas”, a small hostel run by the lovely Lilly. Ben Tore had been in touch with her before we came, so she was sort of expecting us. Olav and I shared a room. It was pretty tiny and naked…and the toilet/shower was outside. It had been a long day and it was starting to rain, so Olav, Tobbe and I went for a beer at a small restaurant. There was no one else when we came there but a small boy finally came. Finally we got to use a few of the words we know in Spanish “cerveza por favor” :-) OLav shows the difference between a small and large beerBut of course the boy had to go and ruin in it by asking us something back :-) We finally understood that he was asking what size we wanted, so we tried to communicate with finger language that we wanted three small beers. When he came back we were a bit surprised as he served 3 bottles that were 0.625 liter each (about 1.3 US pints). So we had a bit of a laugh about us not even being able to use finger language to order beer, because the bottles were not small according to our definition. After we had finished the beer we ordered one more to share, and we told the boy to bring a grande cerveza. We were shocked when he came with an even bigger bottle…this time 1 liter. So it turned out that that first bottles we got was the small ones. Anyway, it was excellent with a Taquiña.

The decent – exploring the Umajalanta cave
Sign near Umajalanta caveOne of the goals for visiting Torotoro was to visit the Umajalanta cave located a bit outside the village. We got up early in the morning and we got breakfast from Lilly. From there we went to the village administration to register and pay the entrance fee…it was only 20 bolivianos each (about 2.5 US $). We also got a hold of some cheap flashlights that we could bring along. I said that the cave is a bit outside town…well it is 8 km (about 5 miles) out of town and Olav’s knee was still sore after the biking incident in La Paz. This was a bit of a dilemma, but it turned out that a couple that we had talked to at Lily’s were going the same way in their 4X4 so we got a ride.

Walking into the Umajalanta caveThere was an administration house near the cave entrance and we got a young guy to guide us when we went into the cave. We didn’t get very far into the cave before we had to get down on our knees to get through. Olav and Svein decided that they would rather wait outside for us. Too bad for them! Tobbe, Ben Tore and myself continued and I’m really, really glad that we had a guide. Gard inside the Umajalanta cave in TorotoroFrom time to time we had to use a rope to get down steep, slippery edges and the flashlights that we had bought were absolute crap. When we came to the “bottom” of the cave we found a nice sand area and it felt just like beach sand. We turned off the lights and it was total darkness and all we could hear was the river that runs inside the cave. I thought we had reached the bottom but the guide indicated that we were going to continue. Gard and Tobbe inside the Umajalanta caveNow we had to get down and crawl in the sand and follow a narrow passage under the rocks. I’m not too fond of really narrow spaces, at least not after seeing movies like The Decent and The Cave. But luckily the narrow passages were only a few meters…and then we came into the cave where the river was running. But there were dangers here as well. At one place we had to lower ourselves from a ledge down to a board that was jammed into place…and it was several meters down. I think the tour of the cave took about 2 hours and I was pretty pleased when I saw daylight again.

If you are planning to do this cave, here’s my advice:

  • Bring a good flashlight. The cheap, Chinese flashlights we bought in Torotoro were useless.
  • Bring a hard hat and a head lamp so that you can have both hands free and protect your head
  • Put on clothes that you are not afraid of…you will get dirty!
  • Are you claustrophobic? Or are you not used to a bit of physical challenges? My recommendation is that you stay outside. This cave would possibly not be open for the general public in other parts of the world
  • Remember that the temperature in the cave is pretty constant…and it is only about 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit)
  • Remember to bring water…and that you also have to walk back to town :-)

Dinosaur track in the rock at TorotoroThe cave was an amazing experience. There were lots of stalagmite and stalactite in the cave, and it was beautiful. But there was also quite a lot of tagging and formations that were chipped off by visitors. After the tour of the cave it was a bit of an anti-climax to start the 8 km walk back to town. Olav limped next to us due to his sore knee, but we did get back to the village eventually. After all the exercise, it was great to head back to our small bar to have an ice cold Taquiña. But we also took a short walk before dinner to check out some dinosaur tracks near by.

A walk with Mario – The canyon of El Vergel
At the edge of the canyonWe asked a bit around to find a guide to take us around one day, and a guy named Mario was suggested. When we asked Lilly about him she only replied “You better watch out so he doesn’t steal your things” and from others we heard that he spent a bit too much money on drinking. Steps leading down to the bottom of the canyonBut we decided to hire him anyway and he came to meet us early in the morning. Mario was in his late 40s, not very tall but extremely light footed and he was dressed for trekking. The only problem was that he only spoke Spanish so Ben Tore had to translate. Mario took us towards the canyon El Vergel, but on the way he took us past a few dinosaur tracks. It’s amazing to see tracks made by these big animals millions of years ago. If Torotoro is hoping for mass tourism they will have to put up more signs so that the tracks are easier to find, and more information about the tracks and the dinosaurs that made them.

At the bottom of the canyonIt took us about an hour to reach the canyon and the view was great. They have built steps that lead down to the bottom of the canyon and we decided to check it out. At the bottom where the river runs you can normally take a dip but at the time there was not a lot of water in river. But there were cascades of water running out from the sides of the canyon, and Tobbe used the opportunity to take a shower (just to show off I imagine :-). Walking back up again was a bit harder than going down. Torotoro is located at 2600 meters (8500 feet) so it was a bit harder than usual to breath. Mario said to Ben Tore that he was impressed that we were able to keep up with him…hey, what can I say…we’re Norwegians :-) But we were sweating and breathing when we were walking…. Mario on the other hand was totally unaffected by the walk.

Batea Cocha rock paintingsOn the way back we also stopped by the Batea Cocha rock paintings. We had looked for them the day before but if you don’t know where to look, they can be easy to miss (at least when you are walking around at dusk :-). I’m not sure how old these paintings are but it shows that there have been people around in this area for thousands of years. The paintings are made in red “painting” and shows geometric figures and animals (if you use your imagination).

After 2 nights in Torotoro it was time to go back to La Paz again. We ate a last lunch at Lilly before we checked out. The 5 of us had 3 rooms for two nights, we had dinner/lunch/breakfast 2 times and we had gotten lots of drinking water. The total bill added up to 700 Bolivianos (about 90 US $). We walked in rain up to the landing strip again and the mud was just shoes just got heavier and heavier :-) . Luckily Eugene had no problem landing the plane (even if parts of the landing strip also got extremely muddy). Due to bad weather we flew to Cochabamba instead of La Paz and once again Eugene flew low over the terrain before we dove into deep canyons and it was an amazing thrill ride. Riding in a small plane like this gives you quite a different experience with flying compared to flying in a larger plane.

Jesus and a disco taxi – short stop in Cochabamba
Eugen's brilliant invention: the solar ovenWe landed in Cochabamba and parked at Eugen’s hangar. The flight from La Paz to Salar De Uyuni, to Torotoro and the pick up cost us 150 US $ each. In the hangar we got a demonstration of an invention of Eugen: the solar oven. Being a missionary it seemed like he had a big heart and a desire to try and help some of the poor in Bolivia. One of the challenges is making food, as you need fuel (coal, wood, gas) and this either cost money or has an effect on the environment. From this he has designed a simple solar oven that looks like a suitcase. The sun is strong in Bolivia, and the oven keeps the heat in a pressurized chamber which let you cook food for 3-4 hours. And once you bought it you can of course use it for free. I really hope that he gets to promote the idea to someone that can bring this out to the thousands that need it.

Cristo de la Concordia in CochabambaAccording to Ben Tore there is only one thing to see in Cochabamba: the Jesus statue. The only time I have heard of the city before was through the movie Scarface when Al Pacino is visiting to pick up drugs. Back to the Jesus figure: it is known as Cristo de la Concordia and it is actually bigger than the one in Rio De Janeiro. At about 34 meters it is the largest in the world. From what I understand the figure in Rio is 33 meters tall to symbolize the age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. The people in Cochabamba had a different logic…after all Jesus was not exactly 33…he was 33 and a bit and hence they could make it taller :-)

Eugen was kind to drive us to the cable car that goes up to Cristo de la Concordia. In case you wonder…Eugen drove a Volvo, of course :-) The ticket was 3 Bol each for the cable car (about 40 US cent). We didn’t stay long at the top… took some pictures and looked at the view.
After a quick meal we grabbed a taxi to go to the airport. As usual we squeezed in all 5 of us in a regular car and the driver didn’t have any problems with that. He was playing disco music and I think he was a bit surprised when we could join in on Baccara’s hit “Yes Sir, I can boogie” :-)

We got tickets back to La Paz with Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (aka LAB) for 400 Bolivianos each (50 US dollars). The flight was only 40 minutes in a 727. The weather was bad when we were landing in La Paz and it must have been one of the worse landings that I have ever experienced. The pilot slammed the plane so hard down that we practically bounced up again. Luckily the airstrip is quite long and soon we were back in our beds at Casa Alianza.

Conquering Chacaltaya
Climbing the 5400 meter ChacaltayaAt this point we were getting close to the end of our vacation. It was Friday September 29th and we had to make up our minds what we wanted to do for the last remaining days. We all agreed that we wanted to check out the peak Chacaltaya which is located right outside town. Once again it was great that Ben Tore had a Toyota LandCruiser, as it had snowed the night before. But with his 4X4 we climbed the road all the way up to the club house of Club Andino Boliviano at 5300 meter (17388 feet). Gard with a view from ChacaltayaBecause of the weather conditions we were the only ones there! According to Wikipedia the glacier on Chacaltaya is the only ski area in Bolivia, and it has the world's highest lift-served ski area as well as the most equatorial. Well, I can tell you that there is not much of a lift left at the moment. Part of our group walked up on the mountain, and on the top you are on 5421 meters above sea level (17785 feet). I was pretty much prepared for the short walk…well, apart from the fact that I didn’t have proper shoes. But for a short walk it was not a problem. There is even a service at the club house if you want to have a Coke or beer after the climb :-)

A night out on the town - Mongo’s Rock bottom café
The guys at Mongo's for a night out in La PazDuring our stay at Casa Alianza the others raved about the popular hang out spot Mongo’s Rock bottom café. So we decided to check it out on the last weekend we had in La Paz. We arrived early to get something to eat. It was a very cozy place with wooden furniture, lots of decorations, fire places etc. It seems to be a popular place for expats so they served western type food. We ended up having salads, burgers etc. After a while the place started filling up and we were also joined by some of the others from Casa Alianza. For some odd reason my memory is a bit blurry when it comes to this evening especially after Tobbe ordered a bottle of Absolute vodka :-) We just asked to have lots of ice cubes and Redbull available in order to mix our own drinks. The waitress seemed to have a blast just looking at the bunch of crazy Norwegians having a party :-)

Finally – sightseeing in La Paz
Plaza San Fransisco in La PazWe had been on a tight schedule most of the time so we never actually had time to check out the sights of La Paz on foot. Towards the end of the trip we got a chance to check it out. Olav and myself took a taxi from the Obrajes district where Casa Alianza is located to Plaza San Fransisco. The taxi ride was 12 Bolivianos (about 1.5 US $). The taxis don’t have a meter but they run on different zones in town. In general it was very cheap to take a taxi around.

Llama fetuses for saleWe started by walking to the Mercado de hechiceria (witches’ market). I guess the market got its name as they sell stuff that is used according to local folklore and beliefs. So here you can buy articles like different herbs, figures etc but I guess the most striking item is llama fetuses. Inside the coca museumIf you are opening a new business you can buy a llama fetus and bury this under the corner stone, which is supposed to bring good fortune. It was a bit weird to see all these small llamas hanging around for sale. But there was also knitted stuff for sale, instruments, wooden figures etc. We also stopped by the coca museum of La Paz which is located in the same area. The entrance fee was only 8 Bolivianos and the museum is quite small. But it does give a pretty informative picture of the coca plant, how it has been used, how it is turned into cocaine etc.

From here we went to the Mercado Negro. This is a huge market and it is crowded. Here you can buy everything from shoes and clothing to toys, food, kitchen stuff etc. I didn’t buy anything but it was fun just walking around looking at all the activity. I was even offered marijuana from a guy. He came over to me and asked me about Mary Jane and I’m like “sorry, don’t know what you are talking about”. Olav just smiled and wonder how I was able to be so naïve :-)

The cathedral in La PazWe also walked up to Plaza Pedro D Murillo to look at the cathedral and the presidential palace. We had to take it a bit easy when walking around – it’s all uphill or downhill. Figuring out what to wear is also a challenge, as the sun is strong. But once you get into the shadows it can be quite cold. We walked over to the cathedral built in 1835. The most stunning feature of the building is that it is located on a hill side (like most other buildings in La Paz) but it is very apparent on this large structure. According to the Lonely Planet book the base of the building is 12 meters lower (40 feet) than the entrance on the other side of the building! We never did get into the church as it seemed to be closed when we were there.

When we came back to Casa Alianza after a long day we met Svein and Tobbe and we summarized what we had done. We were quite surprised when it turned out that we had gone to the same places…and I mean down to the last details such as lunch at Burger King and coffee at Café Le Terraza. I guess great minds think alike…or maybe we had just spent too much time together :-)

Starter at La ComedieIn the evening we had a goodbye dinner with Ben Tore and his wife at an art café called La Comedie. We had to pay 1000 Bolivianos for the 6 of us (about 125 US dollars) and that included 2 bottles of red wine and large portions. I had a ham overload for starters and I followed the chef’s recommendation and had goat for the main meal. It was a good meal, although the chocolate fondant for dessert was not that impressive (I prefer the one that I make myself :-)

Time to go home
Early Monday morning October 2nd we got up at 3.30 AM to drive to the airport. Get there early because checking in takes forever. We also had to pay 25 US $ each as a departure tax. As the sun rose we took off from La Paz and got a lovely view of the city and the surrounding mountains. We had to make a stop in Santa Cruz…I guess the planes can’t take off with maximum load at the high altitude of La Paz. It took an hour down to Santa Cruz and after 1 hour on the ground we were off towards Miami :-) We got a great view of parts of South America on the way as well…the coast line of Venezuela, Jamaica, Cuba etc.

We spent a few hours in the Admirals Club in the Miami airport before taking the Boeing 777 from American Airlines to London. We took off in the evening and there were millions of street lights around the Miami area. Quite a contrast to what we had experienced in Bolivia and Peru.

A serious girl at a school in El AltoI have to say that this trip was amazing. When we were traveling we referred to our trip as an adventure or expedition and not a vacation. Thanks to Ben Tore I think we got to see places and experience things that would have been very difficult without a “local” contact. Coming to these countries was a bit of a culture shock for us. There were things that were very different compared to back home: traffic lights operated by traffic police, the shoe polisher boys in their ski masks, heavily armed police around the presidential palace, the poor areas in El Alto, the language etc. About the language…if you know your Spanish it will be a lot easier for you to enjoy a trip to Bolivia and Peru. Our Spanish is very limited and we had to rely on Ben Tore to translate a lot for us as there were not that many people that spoke English.

Great mountain views in BoliviaIn some ways I guess Bolivia is a bit like Norway. Both countries can offer stunning landscapes and beautiful mountains.....and not that much else. But due to a combination of luck and good management Norway has become a rich country while Bolivia is still quite poor. But when we visited the school at El Alto and the kids were laughing and eating cake we came to the conclusion that even if they don't have a lot of money, they are not poor. I guess this is a reminder that you don’t have to have lots of things and money to enjoy life.

A young couple at a school in El AltoAs usual it would have been great to have more time. If I had time and equipment I would probably have given Huayna Potosi a try. This mountain is 6088 meters high (19973 feet) and it is said to be one of the easiest 6000 meter mountains in the world. A couple at Casa Alianza did give it a try during our stay, but they had to give it up as the one girl lost her jacket when she had a pee break :-) It would also have been great if we had more time to explore the ruins around Tiahuanaco. This is a pre-Inca culture near Lake Titicaca and we only got to see it when driving by on our trip to Peru. In Peru I would also have tried to go to Nazca to check out the Nazca lines if I had the time.

The group having dinner in Cuzco in PeruBut all in all I don’t think we could have gotten a better trip. A big thank you to Ben Tore and his family for helping us out in planning the trip, showing us around in La Paz and bringing us around to places that we would never have gotten to see without him. And I would also like to send a big thank you to the others in the group that I traveled with. They all made this out to be a trip that I will remember for a long long time. Please get in touch on if you have any questions or comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Some useful tips:

  • Check out the Google map that I have made. Remember that this is interactive and you can zoom in and out, click on the markers etc

  • Would you like to print this trip report? Check out this PDF version of the trip report
  • Would you like to read a different trip report? Check out Sandy's experience from Bolivia when she went there in 2006.
  • Wondering what the weather will be like in Bolivia? Check out
  • Which forums to ask questions: Try TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, SlowTalk and Frommer’s
  • Do you wonder how far it is from one place to another in La Paz? Check out this tool Google map tool. With this you can zoom in on La Paz (or any other place) and measure distances from one attraction to another.
  • Another useful page is . On this page there are two maps...first indicate a know area on the top map (e.g. an area of NYC)...and then zoom in on Rome on the lower map. Now you will get an outline of NYC on e.g La Paz and that should give you an idea when it comes to size.
  • Be careful when you get cash in Bolivia. We got a fake 100 US $ bill at an ATM!
  • Remember that at most toilets the toilet paper goes into the bucket next to the toilet and are not meant to be flushed down.
  • If you don’t want to chew coke leaves you can also find coke tea :-)


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