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John and Mandi

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Quitting Has Never Felt So Good, Bolivia

Nov 2, 2018
by John
in: Bolivia

Our original plan was to spend a couple months in Bolivia, we left after 31 days. We had to skip a few things due to a coca strike that was happening around La Paz, nothing we were really that interested in anyway. The hyped up death road is a tourist attraction, one you can rent a mountain bike to ride down, we had decided against it before ever crossing the border. The more we looked into what there was to do in Bolivia, the more everything sounded like the death road...just hyped up for tourists. We normally don't mind doing touristy things, some are the most beautiful places in the world, the reason they are touristy. Others, unfortunately, are only popular because someone invented (or reinvented) them as an attraction. The death road gained its moniker from the bad drivers that flew off the road and plummeted to their deaths, there's not much else to it and there's a new highway making it obsolete. It's not unlike many roads we have already driven, except for the tourists on mountain bikes.

That's the problem with tourism, the idea that we need things to do. A beautiful drive is just a beautiful drive, it doesn't need to be dangerous or made dangerous by adding another activity. To add insult to injury, park fees are high in Bolivia, especially when you consider that most require you pay a guide separately for any activities. We don't need someone to take us on a 2km hike through the woods and we don't want to pay over $40 for it. If we were northbound, Bolivia would have some appeal, it's the first taste of the Latin America everyone describes. Being southbound, there's very little on offer and nothing really new. Maybe we should have just spent two weeks driving the western side and never ventured out to explore more of the country. Or maybe, we should have just entered Chile from Peru and skipped Bolivia all together. Regardless, we visited what we visited and we skipped what we skipped. Cutting our loses and crossing into Argentina much earlier than planned, looking at each other with big smiles, it was the best decision we could have ever made.

What We Did

Visas, TIP

Traveling on a US passport meant we had to receive a Bolivian visa before being allowed to enter Bolivia. The visa is good for 10 years, giving the recipient up to 90 days in Bolivia per year. It's expensive, $160 US per person, but also happens to be the exact amount the US charges Bolivians to receive a similar visa for the States...reciprocity at work. We decided to complete ours in Cusco, instead of at the border. Donna, Okan, & Indigo had already completed their visas and were kind enough to share the details, making a fairly simple process even simpler.

The steps are straightforward, the website --> http://www.rree.gob.bo/formvisas, has instructions in English. The tricky part was getting all of the documents compressed to meet the maximum size requirement while keeping them readable. Our process was to print them to JPG first, medium quality, then print the JPG to PDF. Using the built in PDF compression on the Mac results in documents that are unusable.

Documents needed: Passport Photo Page, Passport Photo (2" x 2" - we cropped the photo from our passport page), Yellow Fever Card, Itinerary for Bolivia (list of places with dates - doesn't have to be accurate), Hotel Reservation (booking.com - cancelled it once we received our visas), and Proof of Financial Solvency (credit card statement with our account numbers blocked out). Once everything is completed the website generates a Sworn Statement for Visa Application. We saved all of the required files and the sworn statements on a thumb drive, printing 2 copies of everything before visiting the Bolivian Consulate.

At the Consulate office we gave the official both sets of our copies, he gave us a slip of paper to take to the nearby BCP to pay the required $320 ($160 each). Many have mentioned difficulties they encountered due to the bank requiring perfect US $20 bills, you have to pay in US dollars. We had retrieved $400 from a BCP ATM the previous day, our thought was we could hand them the withdrawal receipts if they refused the money. The teller never batted an eye at any of our bills. We returned to the consulate with the receipt for payment, he finalized our visas, stuck them in our passports with a rather extravagant signature, gave us suggestions on places to visit, and sent us on our way.

We had also read in iOverlander that registering for a TIP made it faster at the border. Why not speed things up? We visited the Aduana website--> http://www.aduana.gob.bo/aduana7/content/viajero - Vehiculos Turisticos Form 249, completed the form, and received a number. We took a picture of the number to show the Aduana official at the border.

Insurance was our last required item, we had heard that the Bolivian police officers near the border(s) had been giving overlanders some trouble about not having proof of insurance. It isn't required for stays under 30 days, we wanted it anyway and we could get a policy that covered the rest of the countries we'd be visiting in South America (Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay). Declan & Rachel had found a great contact (gisela AT speiserseguros DOT com DOT ar) whom we emailed requesting insurance for a motor home. Our email was in Spanish and included the following details: Driver's Name, Driver's Passport Number, Make of Vehicle, Model of Vehicle, Year of Vehicle, VIN, Motor Number (we used our VIN), and Plate Number. She replied with a quote, $311 for one year, which we paid with a domestic wire transfer since they use a bank in the US. During our time in Bolivia, we were never asked for proof of insurance.

Copacabana: Peru to Bolivia Border Crossing

With all of our preparation, crossing into Bolivia was fairly quick. We were stamped out of Peru and had the van's TIP cancelled within minutes. On the Bolivian side we completed a short form, waited in line for about five minutes, then were stamped in. We handed our phone to the Aduana agent, showing him our registration number, he asked to see our title and vehicle registration to verify what we had entered into their system. A minute later we had our TIP in hand, it was so fast we obviously looked confused, he reassured us we were all good. The only delay was the Bolivian police officer at the gate, he insisted we have a copy of the TIP. We made one and returned, he then insisted we needed the copy stamped by the police station. We got our stamp, deflecting a request for money by stating we didn't have any even though we had exchanged for some from Ryan & Camille, and finally were able to enter Bolivia after showing the stupid stamp to the officer at the gate.

Tiwanaku (Puma Punku), La Paz

Our first stop was in Copacabana, where we hung out with Sandra & Thomas who crossed about an hour after we did, they didn't have to get a stupid stamp or make copies of their TIPs so they caught up to us fairly quickly. We all ended up spending two nights at Hostel Joshua, 85B for us to camp per night ($12.32), Sandra & Thomas got a room. Mostly we wandered town, ate out, had coffees, and hid in our van drinking wine each evening as it wasn't permitted at the hostel. It was a fun time.

We all planned to visit Tiwanaku after Copacabana, so we traveled together (as best as a big van and two motorcycles can), wandered the ruins (100B per person - $29.15 for the two of us), visited one of the onsite museums, and free camped in the dirt parking lot. Puma Punku is part of Tiwanaku and has been one of the places I didn't want to miss. The site was a bit underwhelming, the famous H blocks are much smaller than we all thought. We made the best of it and spent another evening all in the van having dinner.

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

Sand castle

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

Looking for relics, seriously

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

This cross is so square

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

To better see you with

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

Far stretch to think this is an alien

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

It's that hungry guy we saw in Colombia

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

It means he's inquisitive

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

Smaller than life

Tiwanaku, La Paz, Bolivia

Sand bagging it (Photo:Thomas)

Cochabamba

We parted ways with Sandra & Thomas, knowing we'd catch each other in Cochabamba, and we drove to Termas de Obrajes just outside of Oruro. Entrance to the thermal pools was 15B each, $4.37 for the both of us, our 30 minute session in a private bath was really nice. They let us free camp in the parking lot, we decided against visiting the baths again the following morning and headed to Cochabamba. We had been accepted to a Vipassana 10 day meditation course in Cochabamba, we wanted to get a few things accomplished before the course started. Our chosen camping spot, Eventos Laguna, ended up being one of the best places in Bolivia. At 80B per night ($11.66), it wasn't cheap but the frog serenade each evening was spectacular. Sandra & Thomas arrived about 30 minutes after we did. The next 4 days and nights were spent wandering town, visiting cafes, and cooking big meals in camp. Sandra treated us by making two of her favorites, Alpine Macaroni and Cordon Bleu. Mandi & I did manage to visit a great little archeology museum in town, 25B per person ($7.29 for the both of us). The night before our meditation course started, we all went out for really good pizza at Villa Esperanza which was only about a kilometer from camp... what a great segue.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Place of reflection

Cochabamba, Bolivia

One of us is a sucker

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Daisy if you do

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Wait for it

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Simply, spectacular

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Which one is the real church

Vipassana

We'd love to say we enjoyed the Vipassana 10 day meditation course, we quit after 4 full days. It is easily one of the worst experiences we have ever attempted to endure. Under better circumstances, maybe we would have stuck it out. The truth is the more we learned about the philosophy the more we knew it wasn't our path. It's possible we would have completed a few more days if we weren't being starved, deprived of sleep, and having to behave as though we were in prison. Single file here, no eye contact, meditate, a small ration of food, meditate, ignore the kittens and the tied up dogs, no talking, mediate, don't listen to the marching band that is playing all night - or the disco tech, meditate, be very alert, meditate, why is there no drinking water, meditate, don't move, meditate, don't kill the mosquitoes, focus, meditate, even smaller rations of food, be very attentive, ignore the fighting packs of dogs that sound like they are also fighting a flock of chickens, still no drinking water, meditate, starve, become a shell, meditate, be forced to be vegan even though the food is supposed to be vegetarian, lethargic, meditate, stay awake, meditate, slowly die, meditate, meditate...fucking leave.

There is so much we could say. The disorganization, complete lack of enforcement, and failed implementation is why everyone else attending wasn't doing what they were supposed to...probably the only way to complete the course given the circumstances. I had a private room, Mandi was crammed in a tiny room with 4 other women...no talking, no eye contact, supposed solitude. Her rations were smaller than mine. When Mandi signaled to me she wanted to quit, we practically cheered and were beaming with huge smiles, I fist pumped when I reached my room...that sums it up nicely.

Villa Tunari, Cochabamba

After quitting Vipassana, we drove back to Eventos Laguna for 2 more nights of bliss, visiting Villa Esperanza for more great pizza. The van was in need of some attention from the abuses it suffered in Peru, we took it to Talleres Villa Vicencio. They had our sway bar link ends rebuilt, installed a new set of rear brake pads, tightened and lubed everything, and were kind enough to let us spend a couple nights in their lot. All fixed and rattle free, we drove to Villa Tunari. Our first night was spent at Camping Fabriola, 20B per person ($5.83 for the two of us). It was raining, humid, but cool...very nice. The following morning we visited Parque Machia, 6B per person ($1.75 for the two of us). There wasn't much open in the park, we hiked to the mirador where a few Spider monkeys were hanging out. Upon our arrival we witnessed locals trying to get the monkeys to drink from water bottles while others were reaching out and touching them, there wasn't a park employee at the mirador so it was entirely unsupervised. We snapped a few photos then left, getting to see some Titi monkeys just before reaching the parking lot.

Parque Machia, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Cute 'stache

Parque Machia, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Thinking about throwing a shit

Parque Machia, Cochabamba, Bolivia

The small kid that works out a lot

Parque Machia, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Grubby knuckles

We left Parque Machia and drove to Lena Verde for the night, having to pay 15B per person for day access and 30B per person to camp ($13.12 for the two of us). Once we were settled and set up, we were informed that the river was dry so we couldn't go for a swim. Joy. We wandered around the grounds getting to meet the pet deer, seeing our first Rhea, and holding the parrot whose wings were clipped. We later walked the trail to the dry river, spooking some egrets upon our arrival. That evening a small troop of Capuchin monkeys moved through the trees next to the van, we were really missing Central America.

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Jungle dog

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Got mind control over deer-bo

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Is it a centimeter worm here?

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Figtacular

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

So hot their balls are hanging out

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Lesser is greater

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Someone's got the blues

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

One mean looking compadre

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Everything is so hospitable

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

We see why we can't swim in it

Lena Verde, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Most wild thing here

Samaipata, Santa Cruz

On our way to Santa Cruz we stopped at a great Swiss restaurant, Queseria Suiza, having a delicious lunch of Spatzel and Cordon Bleu. We asked if we could overnight in their parking lot, they said yes, we visited the restaurant a second time for a wonderful dinner. Not the cheapest, but not bad either. Lasagna, pizza, and a couple drinks each set us back about $24, everything was phenomenal. The following day we finished the drive to Santa Cruz, spending one night at La Jara Hostel (100B or $14.58 for the two of us). The hostel wasn't in the best of shape but it's close to the migration office. We walked to the office, stood in line to get assigned a number, walked up to the third floor where the appropriate official is located, made copies of our passport photo page and our Bolivian stamp at the onsite copy kiosk next to the waiting room, waited almost 2 hours, then received our 30 day extensions in 5 minutes.

Wanting to be further outside the city, we moved to Landhaus Camping, 70B for the two of us per night ($10.20). It was where we arranged to meet Rachel & Declan after their return from Europe, they were kind enough to bring back an important piece of mail for us. It was wonderful to hang with them again and the lunch at the onsite restaurant was really good, less than $8 for the two of us. After three nights we left for the ruins of Samaipata on our way to Sucre. At 50B each, $14.58 for the both of us, we're not sure the ruins are worth visiting.

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Look, walls

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

That hole is where the alien spacecraft docks

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Always wash the food first

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

It's encoded with a rock hard cypher

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Soccer field is always the second nicest thing

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

More walls, how exciting

Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Lift a leaf, and you will find me

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi

We spent three nights in Sucre at Alberto y Felicidad's property, 100B per person per night ($14.58 for the two of us). It was quite cramped with overlanders but we made some new friends. Sandra & Thomas were also in Sucre, we met up for breakfast one morning, then wandered to Metro Cafe for more coffee and lime cheesecake (best cheesecake of the trip). The drive to the town of Uyuni was a surprise, becoming one of the best things we had done in Bolivia. Our plan to overnight at the train graveyard was scrapped as soon as we saw it. Unfortunately, it is also the makeshift town dump...another addition to the growing list of disappointments we had experienced in Bolivia. We drove into town and asked the soldier posted at the entrance to the military area if we could spend the night on the street in front of them, he said it would be fine as long as we parked as far as was available from the outpost. Mandi had what we assumed to be an altitude headache. We were at 3,700 meters, over 12,000 feet, we started a pot of coca tea just as we got a knock on our door. Sandra & Thomas were on their way to the pizza restaurant we were parked in front of. We all hung out in the van while Mandi drank loads of tea, before we convinced her that pizza would make her feel better...which it did.

Potosi, Bolivia

It's not just sand

Potosi, Bolivia

Why is there never any water?

Potosi, Bolivia

Reaching nirvana

Potosi, Bolivia

We're at some kind of precipice

Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Holy rusty metal

Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

You spelt crazy nuts wrong

Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

So appealing

Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Someone put a little effort into it

Sandra & Thomas weren't sure about driving out onto the Salar, they were considering taking a tour instead of taking their motorcycles. We decided it was probably worth it, had the van washed and undercoated with diesel (60B or $8.75), then drove out onto the famous salt flats. The roads are horrible due to the high amount of tourism, we stopped at the Dakar statue, then drove out another 20 kilometers to a private spot for the rest of the day and night. It is a neat place, the best of what we experienced in Bolivia, not one we'd say is a must do. Many have raved to us about the complete silence on the Salar, something we have already experienced on several occasions. We come from the southeast, where life is abundant, give us crickets, frogs, or birds everyday. There isn't much excitement from a place almost completely devoid of life. The sunset was pretty, but we wouldn't rank it as one of the best ever.

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Coolest thing here

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

I knew the van was going to eat that cake

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

To infinity and beyond

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Blinded by the light

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Crystal death

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

The sun is doing all the work

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Just how many pictures of the van are we going to take

Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia

Gone

We setup our GoPro to capture a time lapse of the sunset.

Leaving the Salar, we stopped to have the van washed and undercoated again. We also wanted to top off our diesel for the drive to Argentina. While filling up, Sandra & Thomas pulled in. They were headed to the lagunas route, something we crossed off the list, one we are glad we did. We bid our farewells until the next time our paths crossed and we set off towards the border, spending our last night free camping at a soccer field in the little town of Tomatas.

Tarija, Bolivia

Go bury your heads deep in the sand

Tarija, Bolivia

We do like your decorations

Tarija, Bolivia

Nice contrast

Tarija, Bolivia

Rocky mountain, hi

Tarija, Bolivia

Maybe it looks better cause we're leaving

Tarija, Bolivia

Been holding out on us

Tarija, Bolivia

Best detour yet

While sitting on the Salar de Uyuni, staring at the vast nothingness, we solidified our previous decision to just leave Bolivia. Nothing we had done stood out, the Salar was the best on offer and something we could have lived without. We had grown tired of always being questioned at every police check whether we had every piece of safety equipment required by law, which we do, or how much money we were going to give them even though every local in front of us just showed their license and were allowed through. That damned copy of our TIP with the stamps always perked up the officer, it was like an approval for extortion. Eventually I just started taking my documents back from them and driving away, never receiving any kind of consequence. It's a part of travel, one we don't like, and one we don't have to subject ourselves to.


Say what? (4)
Nov 2, 2018 at 12:09 PM
Hi guys! Just catching up on some of your posts. Hope all is well and good to see your smiling faces as always.
Nov 2, 2018 at 01:55 PM
Hey Rhonda! Thanks, we're good. Recovering by drinking lots of wine and eating way too many empanadas. We see you have migrated south again, if our memory serves correct...aren't you guys going to lead some groups in Baja? We can't wait to hear about it. Missing you two!
Robin
Nov 2, 2018 at 05:03 PM
Hey guys! Sorry to hear you were not so enthusiastic about Bolivia, I think it’s changed a lot since we were there in 2002. I am delighted you got to see the southern part of the country and into Argentina (beautiful,right)?? I did want to say that we also skipped the “dangerous road” back when it really was dangerous, but what is great about it is the town at the end, Rurre. What an amazing place with jungle and pampas and all sorts of critters and cool stuff. It was one of our favorites of the trip. We also volunteered at the park in villa tunare, another highlight. Sounds like they still haven’t figured out how to deal effectively with tourists!! Anyway, just wanted to reminisce a bit. Happy trails and looking forward to your ongoing posts!! Robin
Nov 4, 2018 at 01:09 PM
Hey Robin! Can't love them all, well...we can't anyway. Thanks, we are really digging Argentina (and now Chile). Villa Tunari (Parque Machia) obviously has a lot more to it. We're not sure why only the one trail was open. We parked in front of a huge dome that houses some kind of animal(s), a park employee brought food to the enclosure, but we weren't allowed to visit it. The signs on the way in talked about all sorts of wildlife, it was bummer for sure. If we are still in SA when winter arrives, we might visit the Pantanal ; )
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