Category Archives: Bolivia

Of The Sun + Moon

We caught a tourist bus at 7AM from La Paz to Copacabana. It was freezing cold in the morning… we’ve been to La Paz a month earlier, but now the winter has gotten much colder – we were shivering in our skin! Thankfully, the bus had blankets… it was well worth the 1$ more investment! After 2 hours of traveling, we reached a part of lake Titicaca (CORNHOLIO!) that we had to cross by boat. We got off the bus, took a 15-min watertaxi ride while the bus was being transported on a larger boat.

Our bus on a sketchy looking ferry

We then rode 1 hour more and then arrived in Copacabana. The town itself really doesn’t look like anything else in Bolivia; it had some kind of deserted beach resort feel. Anyway, we ate lunch and straight away took another boat on lake Titicaca to the truly mystical Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol/Isla Titicaca, located 2 hours away from the shore). By the way, Titicaca lake is 8000 km². Its hugeness is really overwhelming! It’s the biggest navigable lake in high altitude, located at 3800 meters above sea lever.

Copacabana, from the bus window

The Copacabana port

Copacabana from the Titicaca lake

Our driver. Notice his mad driving skills!

Upon our arrival, we had to climb what it seemed to be a million stone stairs to the nearest village. We were constantly out of breath and thought it was never going to end, but the view was absolutely fantastic when we finally arrived. I mean, where else in the world can you see hilly green landscapes topped with ancient irrigations and a peaceful blue lake surrounded by a gigantic row of impressive snow-topped mountains? It was absolutely surreal. I now totally understand why the Inca revered this lake and island as being sacred. On top of it, there were no cars – only a few places had electricity (it arrived in the island 10 years ago – but it is still shunned by many).

Stairs leading to the south end of the island (Yumani community)

Two donkeys peacefully eating grass. The only animals living on this island were donkeys, pigs, sheep, dogs and a few llamas (some used for sacrifices everyyear!).

We arrived on the fourth day of an annual festival, some sort of celebration to San Antonio. In fact, it was just an excuse to dance and drink… there a battle of marching bands and tons of beer drinking (and chugging!) going on. You can see in the following photo that even women were dancing with their gigantic mugs of beer.

San Antonio party

The next day, we woke up at 6:30 to experience the magical rising of the sun on the Titicaca lake. It was truly the nicest sunrise I have ever witnessed… we stayed there watching it for one hour, in the cold (it was maybe 5 °C) and it was more than worth it! We took the following photos from our hostel’s balcony:

At 6:40 - The island of the Moon is on the right.

6:50 – Notice the sunrays. I’ve never seen real sunrays before!

6:55

7:00

7:10

7:20

7:30

The community of Yumani under the warm colors of the sunrise

The mountains of Isla del Sol in the same time

We then took a boat to the north end of the island to visit its ancient trails and pre-Columbian ruins, which were a sanctuary during the Inca period (A.D. 1400 – 1532).

The north end of the island, going on the sacred trail to the ruins

We first encountered one of the most important Inca artefacts; the sacred rock from which Viracocha (the creator of the world in Inca mythology) rose. It was strangely located in the backyard of a house, which was growing corn!

The sacred rock

We then continued on the long trail to the ruins. Among the way, we saw many beautiful sights, as well as interesting mountain irrigations:

Pre-columbian irrigation systems. They put long rows of rocks in order to seal the water in, and then plant their cultivations. Most are not used anymore, but we saw some that were still active.

Ceremonial table, probably used for making important sacrifices

Chinkana, ruins of an ancient Inca temple

Moss on the ruins

Sheep hanging out in the ruins

Chinkana. This place was like a labyrinth! There were many secret and dark passages in there...

Chikana, again. It was in a remarkably good condition for such an old construction!

After visiting those overwhelming sacred sites, we walked 3 hours back to the South side of the Island. The walk was pretty rough – we sometimes had to climb 900 meters, go down, then climb again… all on an ancient Inca trail. The views were incredible… you could feel magic in the air.

On the trail back to the South

The next day, we went back to Copacabana and spent the entire day there, hoping to find a way to reach Puno (the other side of Lake Titicaca, on the Peruvian side). We asked everywhere (agencies and tourist office) if the border was opened (there is an important protestation against the opening of a gold mine – by a Canadian company!) and how was the situation in Peru Unfortunately, we learned that it was worse than ever, and that the best way to cross the border to get into Peru was to take the water road (which meant taking a small boat on the Titicaca lake for 9 hours). Ok, it didn’t sound too bad, so we booked it. It cost us 30$ each (which is ALOT for Bolivia), and we had to be at the office at 7:30 AM.

Meanwhile, we visited Copacabana’s main tourist attraction; its Basilica, home of the Virgin of Copacabana. Considered a Black Madonna (Vierge Noire), she was sculpted by the grandson of an Inca ruler in 1582. Representing the Virgin as a Nusta or Inca princess, she was attractive and became so beloved that the Aymara indigenous people replaced their cult to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by the devotion to Holy Mary Pachamama, the Mother of the Man-God. The statue itself was located in a side-chapel of the Basilica, which was lighted with a hundred candles.

Main gates to the Basilica

François with Blackie, a friendly dog which followed us during our walks in Copacabana

The entrance of the Basilica. It's absolutely huge for a 6000-population town!

The entrance to the Chapel of Candles

Getting closer to the Mary-Pachamama

Mary-Pachamama herself!

That’s all that we did in Copacabana, beside finding a new book in exchange for an old one.

The next morning, we started one hell of an adventure. We woke up very early, and went to the office, Combitours, where we had purchased the boat ticket to Puno, at the right time (7:30). Combitours opened at 8AM, and told us to go to the office of Panamericano (another tourist office). We did, and they made us enter a van, which eventually drove to the Bolivian migration office and the Peruvian immigration office. So far so good! We got our stamp to Peru, and then they told us to walk to some field a few blocks away from the offices. We arrived there to a small dock made out of stones, row boats waiting for us to transfer us to the bigger “deluxe” boats (which, the tour company promised us, was going to be equipped with comfortable bus seats). We just had to tell them we were with Panamericano when we entered the bigger boats.

The row of poor wee tourists, getting into row boats. The bigger boats are on the right in the far distance

Backpackers getting in the row boats

Things started getting sour right about now. First of all, the row boat we got into (we were about 7) was taking in water. Second of all, the lady driving the row boat asked everyone 10 bol/3 soles (about 1.25$) for the ride. Third of all, the boat almost sunk when we reached the bigger boat. Fourth of all, the bottom of my legs were completely drenched in freezing water. Fifth of all, the boats were sold out when we arrived, and were completely reserved for ticket holders of Titicaca Tours (the only reason we didn’t get kicked out was that our row boat was sinking and we refused to go back on it).

Fortunately for us, the owners of the bigger boats were money hungry so they overpacked the boats to get a bigger revenue. We were thus packed at the back of the boat like mere cattle with everyone’s luggage, breathing the intoxicating fumes of the motor. There were people that were stuck on the boat’s roof for the whole 9 hours of traveling! The air was absolutely bone chilling!

My "cattle" friends and the luggage. Yeah, it was THIS cold!!

We were actually lucky though, as I later heard stories of protesters retaining the row boats until tourists paid them a bribe, tourists having to wait another 6 hours for new bigger boats to show up, boats running out of gas, or even tour companies not bringing tourists at the Peruvian immigration office at all! What chaos!

So we arrived in Puno at around 8:30PM. The sky was dark, and we were extremely happy to finally arrive on Peruvian ground. We then went out for a nice, greasy and comforting dinner, which turned out to be a barbecue restaurant!

The sunset on Lago Titikaka. Such beautiful colors!

Our meaty feast: Beef heart (on a stick), steak, pork, chicken and three different kinds of sausages for the price of 6.66$!

Oh yeah, we forgot to mention this earlier. We got sucked into accepting fake money! The top bill is the real one, and the bottom bill is the fake one. They are almost identical, except that the bottom one has a different texture and misses a security element. 12$ down the drain...

The next day, we decided to visit the floating islands of the Uros. Located 5 km west of the Puno port, they are 58 islands made of tried totora reeds, which floats in case of attack (useful more than 500 years ago, when the Uros were enemies of the Incas – who lived really close by). The Uros were eventually conquered by the Inca Empire, to whom they had to pay taxes and do slave work. Nowadays, only 2,000 descendants of the Uros are still alive, although only a few hundred still live on the islands themselves. They lost their language 500 years ago, and now speak Aymara.

The reeds used by the Uros to make their islands

One of the floating islands. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months. The islands themselves only last 30 years!

Much of the Uros' diet revolve around reeds. When they are pulled, the white bottom is eaten for iodine.

François and myself had the chance to taste those reeds. They were really refreshing, and tasted like bland salad!

A demonstration of how the islands work. The islands are made entirely from reeds; their dense roots develop and interweave which enventually forms a natural layer about one to two meters thick that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks, which are driven into the bottom of the lake. Everything is then covered with dried reeds.

A home and a kitchen, on a floating island. Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones.

They even have small gardens! This one has/had wheat growing. Other gardens harvest quinoa.

We then took a reed boat to the capital of the islands, Hanan Pacha:

This one had a cute lama face!

Another floating island next to the "capital"

Some local woman "welcoming" us

And the following is what felt like walking on the reeds. It’s definitely a weird experience as you will see!

In the afternoon, we went to the market in Puno to buy some food for the evening, and we stumbled upon a funny thing, a quail egg seller; auto-sufficient with the quails, their eggs and hot water to boil the eggs! How great is that?? I just hope the quails are transferred to a bigger cage at night…

Quail cart

A quail!!!

In the evening, we finally took a …14 hour bus ride to Cuzco (because there are political tensions causing the normal road to be blocked). Overall, we did 23 hours of travel to get from Copacabana to Cuzco, instead of the normal 10. Incredible, huh? Anyway, we arrived this morning, and are now in a beautiful hostel, 10 minutes walk from the center! (And they offer free pancakes for breakfast. YES!) This week will be the Sun festival, which is an Inca solstice celebration – the biggest festival of the year in Cuzco. More news soon!


Filth Hounds of Hades

Cochabamba, home to 1,000,000 Cochabambinos, is the culinary center of Bolivia. It is said that people here live to eat, and do not eat to live. It is also home to Bolivia’s best recent metal band – Bestial Holocaust, whose guitarist, Cesar, hosted us in his home for a week. We basically only slept, ate, and drank beer. It was like a sweet, sweet vacation.

Cochabamba is made like many other South American cities; it is located in some sort of valley surrounded by mountains. Its climate is very nice, as its elevation is only 2700 meters above sea. A bit like Sucre, but more up north so it’s warmer. In fact, they call it the city of “Eternal Spring”, like Medellin (Colombia!) Tons of fruits grow in trees in the street, which you could pick for free. Cesar had Lemon, Mandarin, Apples, Grenadine and Maracuya trees at his place.

This is a gigantic statue of the Cristo, which has been copied from Rio’s statue (apparently the Cochabamba one is bigger). For 22 cents, it’s possible to climb its entrails and see a really beautiful view of the city. Notice the family resemblance between François and the statue, haha

View of Cochabamba from inside the Cristo’s armpit. Notice how the city is surrounded by a chain of mountains. These can be seen from everywhere while walking in the city.

François and Cesar

There were three adorable dogs living at Cesar’s place. Negra, Chica and Ardilla greeting us day and night, and were always there to play, fight or just give us a nice lively presence.

Ardilla, relaxing on the side of the house

Negra

Chica, a beautiful sausage-style dog that got rescued from a car accident

Ardilla and Chica were always fighting. It was quite entertaining!

Ardilla, again. She was really beautiful!

In the beginning of the week, Cesar, Sonia (Bestial Holocaust vocalist), François and myself went to the best place in Bolivia to eat pastel de queso (some sort of cheese empanada) and drink api. This was definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been here – it was so delicious (and greasy!)

The grand restaurant’s sign

Api and two pasteles de queso. The api was a mix of white corn and purple corn. Just seeing this photo is making me salivate a river.

We also ate many other traditional meals:

Charque (dried llama meat) with corn, cheese, a potato and a hard-boiled egg.

Sopa de mani (peanut soup) prepared with love by Cesar’s mother. This soup was absolutely mind blowing! The broth is made by blending cooked peanuts and water, giving it a creamy taste. It doesn’t taste at all like peanuts – just yumminess.

Sillpancho, a Cochabamba specialty. It consists of rice, fried slices of potatoes, a breaded piece of beef, fried egg with yellow still soft (this one has two – a special for Cesar) and tomatoes/onions. It’s one hell of an unholy mix, but it tastes really killer.

Pique a la macho, a unholy mix of fries, chopped sausages, beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes and topped with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. This was bought in the streets.

Some really killer cookies for dessert

Our friend Cesar is a dentist, so we took advantage of it by getting our teeth cleaned. It’s was well deserved after so much junk food haha

Cesar and myself on the torture table

Everyday, when we wanted to go downtown, we were walking beside a little ghetto with colourful tents. I was wondering what the hell they were, until I asked… it’s apparently a group of gypsies that live there! One of them wanted to read my future or something. It was weird!

Cochabambino gypsies

Cochabambino gypsies

Like you see, we didn’t do too much in Cochabamba haha! Before we left, our friends organised a small departure party with a really killer bbq. It was really good, as it had many different ingredients and all:

Bolivian bbq with sausages, chicken wings and beef

A huge piece of meat. It almost took the entire barbecue!

Angela, Sonia, François and myself in Cesar’s garden, waiting for the meat to be ready

A plate of food. Notice the blue potatoes. Everything was so tasty!

Us, again hahaha

Our next destinations are Copacabana (not the Brazilian one of course!) and Isla del Sol… and then hopefully cross the border to Peru if it opens up. And here is a little gift; a recipe of the mythical Sopa de Mani!

Sopa de Mani

  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup raw peanuts without shells
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, diced OR 6 garlic cloves, sliced in two
  • Misc vegetables (2 carrots cut in small pieces, 2 celery sticks cut in small pieces, ½ cup green beans cut in small pieces… etc)
  • ½ cup green peas (frozen if possible)
  • Two raw chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • ¼ raw rice
  • 1 potato, cut in juliennes (long and thin pieces), fried in canola/sunflower or peanut oil ‘till crisp (you can replace by using potato sticks or not put any at all)
  • Parsley, minced (to taste)
  • Hot pepper flakes (optional)

Cook the raw peanuts in beef stock until soft, and then put in blender in order to get a nice cream texture. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat and stir in the onion and veggies. Cook slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the peas let cook slowly another 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Pour in the peanut cream, and the rice, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover, and cook without stirring for 20 minutes. Add chicken pieces, and then cook for another 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, season the soup with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with the crisp fried potatoes and a sprinkling of minced parsley.

And here is a Bestial Holocaust song for the cursed ones! Their new album is recorded and will be coming out on Iron Bonehead in the coming months, hopefully.


Children of the Grave

Sucre
May 18th – May 31

We arrived in Sucre to beautiful weather, which warmed up our frozen Andean limbs and soul. Here, we met with my friend France – which whom I worked with in Montreal (she was the English to French translator). She’s the one that pretty much convinced me to go to Bolivia, and now I understand why she always comes back to Sucre; it has to be one of the nicest cities we’ve been to so far!! They call it “Sucre – the White” because all of its Colonial/Baroque buildings are painted in white. When the sun shines of it, it makes the city glow… it almost seemed like it was a coastal city, as if you could find the sea right next to it, but alas Bolivia had lost its access to the sea in the late 1800’s. Anyway, we stayed there two weeks, which was almost not enough. We rested well, ate like royalty, climbed a mountain and I even saw the president!

A view from the streets

A square

A real Krusty burger!!

Funny spangrish moment

I usually don’t talk about our sleeping-facilities, but the place we resided in – La Dolce Vita guesthouse – was one of the best, most luxurious stays we’ve been in (and for 12$/night for a private!) Our room was nicely decorated and actually had lots storage space for our luggage. The gas-powered showers were super hot (a luxury in Bolivia) and we had access to a kitchen, with an OVEN! We totally took advantage of that and made a delicious Tartiflette (a French dish from the Savoie region). I know it’s not Bolivian, but we had found reblochon cheese in the supermarket, and we were extremely excited. Check out the photo, and you’ll see why:

Tartiflette

Tartiflette (A doomsday meal)
For 4:

  • 1 reblochon cheese, sliced in 4 (once horizontally, once vertically)
  •     If you can’t find reblochon – a nice soft cheese with a crust, ask your cheese merchant for a replacement
  • 1 kg potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup white wine
  • 200 g bacon
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Leaf of laurel
  1. Slice the bacon in tiny pieces and cook them in a pot which you can close with a lid.
  2. Fry the onion in the bacon fat until it turns golden. Turn oven on to 250 Celsius.
  3. Cover potatoes with white wine, salt, pepper and laurel leaf and boil, covered, for 12 minutes
  4. Take an oven safe dish, grease with olive oil, then place half of the potato mixture in the bottom. Add heavy cream and half of the reblochon cheese on it.
  5. Add remaining potatoes and cover with the rest of the reblochon cheese (crust facing upwards).
  6. Cook in oven for 30 minutes or until potatoes are done, and cheese is melted and golden.
  7. Enjoy with the remaining white wine!

We found a great metal bar called Rockerz, which served nice beer. The walls are plastered with old metal posters, shrines to bands (Iron Maiden, Kiss, etc) and they had tabled painted with metal logos. We went there twice – and on the second time, I offered them my DJ services haha. It was quite interesting as they never had that in their 9 years of opening; usually they just play music from a computer, or do small concerts. I spinned tons of stuff, but unfortunately the people at the end were getting drunk and asking for really shitty songs (think Power Metal or effeminate glam ballads!) which I had no choice but to put them (according to the bar staff as they wanted to please the crowd). I did have my limits though, and had to get angry a few times for them to understand that what they were asking was far from metall! Grrr!! And some drunk guy wanted to kiss me at the end, but I got to escape the bar just in time hahaha!! So yeah, overall it was an ok experience, and I got to discover a few new bands… among them being the 70’s prog rock band WARA:

And here is what the bar looked like inside:

François and myself at the DJ booth!

My friend France and myself

With the owner's wife, inside Rockerz. You can see Iron Maiden stuff on the right side of the photo.

A really cool hand painted Darkthrone table at Rockerz bar!

Beside that, metal-wise, there wasn’t too much happening in Sucre. They had two pseudo stores, but all they carried were usual metal shirts and CD-R bootlegs… they are therefore not worth mentioning.

May 25th is Bolivia’s independence day. They signed a treaty in Sucre, and therefore now they celebrate that day by doing many events; a military march, free concerts, and other kinds of rallies. I went to check out some parts of the military march, which featured the president and vice-president of Bolivia. Sadly, all I got was this crappy blurry photo… doesn’t he look like Elvis?

Evo, the president, and the vice-president

Army guys. Can you spot the chick?

I also saw some pretty cool looking corpse-painted motorcycle-clad army guys:

Check out the dynamite in this guy's pocket!

A bit further in the march was some traditionally-clothed women and men from Jalq’a, showing off their artisanal work:

Women from Jalq'a

These are the very rare men weavers... and the baseball caps are not traditionally part of the costume haha

This is what they use for weaving (photo taken in the ASUR shop)

And this is the result! This style of ancient weaving can take a year each to make!

I ate a salteña (Bolivian empanada) while watching the march, but little did I know that it was full of yummy but burning sauce; one bite and the juices fell all over my hands and feet. A nearby lady laughed, and told me that I had to separate it in half and then split the juices equally from one side to the other so that there is always sauce when you take a bite; and that way you don’t make a mess. Or you can just sip it like a juice, and then eat the middle part. Anyway, it was really really good; the best empanadas I’ve had so far – even better than in Salta!

The saltenas!

Inside the saltena. Check out the juices... arghhhhhh

A few days ago, we climbed the recoleta mountain, which has been transformed in some sort of holy path (via crucis). It was surprisingly high, but the view from it was fantastic! We climbed it with France and her friend Waira… and Waira told me that back when the Spanish came, they had imprisoned an Inca chef in some passageways under the mountain and had asked the locals to fill an entire room with gold as a ransom. I read about this happening in Peru, but didn’t think they did it in Bolivia as well! Apparently, the passageways are still there, but whoever entered them never came back out alive…

Bottom of the recoleta mountain

Half way to the top!

Myself and François on top of the mountain. It was a tough one hehe

We then went to a coffee place and had some nice freshly-squeezed juice. The place also had a weird tree, which upon close inspection, I found that it was a pink-pepper tree!! The locals don’t eat pink pepper, but I thought it was pretty cool to see:

Waira and France drinking juice (orange/maracuya/pineapple mix).

Pink pepper tree...

We visited a few museums, one of them being the ecclesiastic museum; which had tons of old religious artefacts. My favourite one was a death bed; check out the cool paintings on that one! (I wasn’t supposed to take photos of it hehe)

Death bed!

Another view of the mighty death bed

We also got to celebrate our birthdays in Sucre. For that, we went to the best restaurants in town. For my own 25th birthday, we went to El Huerto (the orchard) for a lunch in their lovely garden. We had the speciality, freshly made chorizo, and for our main meals, François had Titicaca trout with capers and I had bbq’ed roquefort/walnut stuffed chicken fillets smothered in mango sauce and served with gigantic fries. All of that for 24$, paid by my parents as part of my present! Merciiii!!! We were too stuffed for dessert; instead I had a cheese cake later on in the evening haha

These were really fresh, they had bits of coriander and spring onions in them. Yum!

François' trout with buttered potatoes

They turned out really good, just perfectly grilled and juicy; but perhaps not cheesy enough.

François with a mandarin juice

Oh yeah, I had two of these. The Brazilian national drink, caipirinha!

The royal ending.

Two days later was François’ birthday, and to celebrate it we went to La Taverne (the tavern), the restaurant of l’Alliance Française. I had filets mignons wrapped in bacon and topped with mushrooms, red wine sauce and bleu cheese, and François had Titicaca trout once again. For dessert I had a flan, which was a bit disappointing, but still ok. We had fresh juices (tumbo and strawberry) as well as another caipirinha for me haha. Our bill ended up being 20$ there! Incredible!

These babies were absolutely fantastic; they had just the right amount of fat, and they were grilled perfectly. I haven’t had a meal this satisfying since the Crudos in Valdivia, Chile.

The flan was a bit chunky and the fruit salad on top seemed like it came from a can... they should have included fresh berries or something.

My friend France also invited us to a Quebec-style brunch, which included some… MAPLE SYRUP! I was craving maple syrup for so long, and she made us pancakes. I swear, maple syrup never tasted so good. I missed it so much!

Sweet, sweet, maple syrup...

We didn’t even have time to visit everything we wanted in Sucre; the cemetery, the odd European-style castle… but that means only one thing; I guess we’ll have to come back one day!

Potosi
May 31 – June 2nd

Located at 4100 meters, around 3-4 hours from Sucre (depending on how many stops the bus makes!), Potosi is surrounded by rainbow-colored mountains and  was founded in 1545 after discovering silver. Its mines made it one of the wealthiest cities in the late 18th century – but unfortunately the same mines were employing indigenous people and African slaves under really, really bad conditions (millions of deaths occurred). To protect them from the hell below, they worshipped the devil (tio), drank 90%+ alcohol and chewed on coca leaves.  The mines are still active nowadays and it’s possible to visit them (miners are still working with primitive tools – most of them die 10 years after entering the mines), but we weren’t interested in a visit. Instead, we went to one of South America’s finest museums, the Casa de la Moneda. The city itself is quite a chaotic colonial mess, but it has some really nice architecture nonetheless.

An old church turned into the local touristic bureau. The engravings were probably made by indigenous people - which explains the subtle South American traits

A chaotic colonial street in Potosi

Constructed in 1753 (taking 15 years to accomplish), La Casa de la Moneda is Potosi’s biggest and oldest colonial monument, and is also home to religious art, ancient coins, wooden minting machines and tons and tons of skulls and mummies!

Inside the Casa de la Moneda walls

The exterior of the Casa de la Moneda

Check out those weird skull shapes, they were even more impressive in real life. Skulls were deformed according to ranks:

Weird deformed skull

Another weird deformed skull. Melissa? Can you hear meeee?

This little guy was found by a German archaeologist in the laguna verde and colorada areas. Two were found... they are the size of small children, but apparently they are adults! Nothing more is known from them.

These mummies were taken from a 18th century Spanish cemetery. They are small children, and still have their original clothes on:

Mummified children

A skull-less child mummy

Creepy, isn’t it?

Today we went to the Ojo del Inca lake, which are natural hot springs. I know, it’s the third time we go to hot springs, but it’s so cold around here that it’s really nice to be able to bathe in hot water, haha. But of course, what made it so special is the location… we were surrounded by beautiful mountains and puppies!

El Ojo del Inca (The eye of the Inca) - A volcanic crater filled with water!

PUPPIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So now tomorrow we will be going to Oruro for a short stop, and then we’re spending a week in Cochabamba. Talk to you all later!


Raise the Dead

Since we had enough resting time, the last few days we spent in La Paz were used for doing touristic activities… which are definitely not lacking here. Founded in 1548 by the good old Conquistadors, La Paz still shows many signs of colonial times. One of them is the Calle Jaen, the best preserved colonial street in town. Nowadays, it mostly features museums and gift shops:

Calle Jaen with a grand-ma in the foreground

We visited three museums, but our favorite one was the house of Don Pedro Domingo Murillo, a historical figure of Bolivia that once lived along this street. It was cool because the house was barely untouched from the early days, and you could still see old house decor… which was extremely religious back then! For me, it seemed creepy to surround yourself with such things:

The bedroom of Don Pedro Domingo Murillo

Don Pedro Domingo Murillo's amazing zombie Jesus statue

Religious paintings in a room of casa de Don Pedro Domingo Murillo

Not too far from the Calle Jaen, there are also numerous old buildings, like this really cool church we found (sorry, can’t recall the name of it):

Some church facade. Notice the nice carved details directly in the rock. Most of the central churches in La Paz are made this way.

We tried some new local food, one of them being humintas:

A huminta! Quite similar to the tamale or the humitas from Chile, this is some sort of sugary corn cake stuffed with cheese. It's really tasty.

And some horribly-tasting junk food, bought at a Mega Burguer (that’s how they spell the restaurant name):

Some shitty Bolivian fast food they call "Salchipapas" (sausagepotatoes). It tasted like reheated Kentucky fries topped with salty baloney.

We also passed by the funniest butcher shop ever, Bambi! A huge FAIL hahaha

Bambi slaughterhouse hahaha

Since we were in the market, I discretely tried to take some photos of local ladies, which are still fascinating to me:

A local Aymara woman carrying its kid in some kind of cloth. Here, everyone has those cloth things - which they use to carry everything.

Beside that, we went to visit the Valle de la Luna or moon valley in English. Located about 10 km from La Paz, it is an area where erosion has worn away the majority of a clay mountain creating a weird desert filled with stalagmites. Apparently, this natural work of art will dissapear in 50 years due to rain and other climate-related things. You could walk around on paths in between the “stalagmites”.

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la luna with cacti

We even saw a viscacha, a rabbit with long tail, walking around the moon valley. It was surreal to see such a creature in the wild!!

A viscacha!!! The mythical south american bunny.

A magical view of La Paz from the Valle de la Luna

The next day, we went to visit the ruins of Tiwanaku, an important Pre-Columbian archaeological site dating as early as 1500 BC. It was a very powerful center, which at one point in the 600’s to 800’s covered around 6.5 square km’s and had from 285,000 to 1,482,000 people. It is quite mysterious why the city was abandonned, but scholars suggest that a significant drop in precipitation occurred in the Titicaca lake (their main source of water), which was followed by a great drought. In 1445, the city was conquered by the Incas; the local language became Quechua and they started worshiping the sun.

An creppy Aymara mummy found in the Tiwanaku museum

Close-up of the Aymara mummy. So cool!

After the museum, we entered the sacred site:

Ruins of the temple Kalasasaya

Tiwanaku ruins of the Akapana Pyramid

The history of the place is impressive, but unfortunately the ruins were in really bad shape. Most of the ruins were pillaged and some blocks were even used to build other things, like churches! It was still really cool to see, but I had expected much more.

A standing idol in Tiwanaku

The most famous monument here is the gate of the sun, which has one of the most ancient pre-colombian gods, Viracocha, engraved on top of it:

The sun gate

A vacant grave

A puma shaman statue in Tiwanaku

The entrance to temple Kalasasaya

Carved stone tenon-head embedded in the wall of the Semi-subterranean Temple

Pumapunku complex. The remains of dismembered bodies have been found throughout the area - surely victims of religious sacrifices.

So, that’s everything for our stay in La Paz! We are now 1000 meters lower, in Sucre, and loving it. More news latör!

The incredible view of La Paz when entering or leaving the city.


Princess of the Dawn

We scheduled our trip to La Paz in time for a historical event, ACCEPT’s first time in Bolivia! It’s been a long time since we’ve been so excited for a show. For me, it kind of felt when I was young and going to my first metal gigs… It probably has to do with the fact that it was our first time seeing ACCEPT and we never thought we’d see them live one day!

We started the evening by doing some pre-drinking at a nearby bar. The promoter had told me a few days before that there was not going to be any alcohol at the venue, so of course we wanted to warm ourselves up before the gig! We found some beer called JUDAS, which seemed perfectly fitting for metal. In fact, this beer is quite the treacherous kind… it tastes like a nice bitter ale, but it’s 7% and it kicks in like hell. We had a few until we felt good, and then walked to the venue.

Judas 7% strong beer! Notice the logo, doesn't it remind you of a certain last Judas Priest album?

The pair of ACCEPT tickets. 25$ each!

We thought we were going to miss a part of the first band, but surprise! When we arrived, there was still an hour of wait. I should have known, it’s always like this in South America haha… anyway, we started talking to some people that were waiting in line, and before we knew it – cans of beers started to come out! Some girl played ACCEPT songs from her cell phone, others were headbanging. We even saw a really drunken guy wanting to start fights with everyone, including the security guards. It was like a heavy metal sidewalk! We couldn’t resist and bought some more beer… the excitement was definitely in the air.

François with a bandana that one of the Bolivian headbangers gave him. Apparently, it was sold by some woman in the streets...

An hour and a half later, the doors opened. We entered and got searched intensely by scary looking army-clad policemen, which finally let us through after looking recklessly for drugs or weapons. The venue was weird, it was a real cinema and was covered with rug. (Imagine the rug burns from falling in the pit!) I think there were maybe 700 people inside. It was a weird crowd; you saw a lot of short haired boys, men in business suits, latinas – but also many real dirty headbangers.

Bolivian headbangers!!!

To our great surprise, we were quite happy to learn that there were no opening bands, only ACCEPT. Unfortunately, they were missing their second guitarist Herman due to a bad fall that punctured one of his lungs and broke a few ribs… I’m sure it would have been better with two guitarists, but it was really good anyway!

ACCEPT!!! Is it me, or Peter, the bassist, looks alot like Dan Beehler?

The show started with Teutonic Terror, one of the best songs from their new album. Then, it went into Bucket Full of Hate, Starlight and Breaker. Mark, the new vocalist, seriously did a good job of fronting the band and replacing Udo. I think ACCEPT got really lucky by finding this guy! His vocals fitted perfectly with the old classics and he was really energetic, but thanks to the high altitude, he had to breathe in some oxygen from time to time. Crazy!

Mark, ex TT-Quick and new ACCEPT frontman!

Peter and Mark (with Wolf in the background)

Wolf and Rob in their typical Balls to the Walls pose!

Anyway, after this, they played New World Coming from the last album, Restless and Wild (I went fucking insane for this one!), Monsterman from Metal Heart, Metal Heart (with a huge guitar solo), Amamos la Vida (a power ballad), Neon Nights, Bulletproof, Losers and Winners, Aiming High, Princess of the Dawn (with really long solos), Up to the Limit, and finally No Shelter.

François and myself both agreed that there were a bit too many solos, but that’s what bands from the late 70’s/early 80’s do – and I guess, that’s what people except, so it was fine. I just didn’t want to stop banging my head!!

Mark and Stefan

Peter during a bass solo! Ok, I admit that's cool. You never see bass solos anymore!

Wolf playing fast as a shark!!

The band finished with three encores, Fast as a Shark (ARGHHH!!!!!!), Pandemic (another song from their last album), and incontestably Balls to the Wall. As you can see, they played most of their classics, as well as more obscure songs; which fitted very well with the new songs. They even did their cool Judas Priest style guitar moves (as seen in the Balls to the Wall videoclip) which left me totally starstroked!!

ARGHH! I love when they do that!!

Peter and Wolf! Such legends!

After the gig, we found the same guys we drank beer with while waiting in line, and asked them what they were doing. They said they were going to the Manzana (“Apple”, a rock bar) to have a few beers. We followed them to a dark alley that was packed with sweaty metalheads, and entered a tiny bar blasting classics from Maiden, Halloween, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and of course, ACCEPT. We drank some more beer, and then stumbled back to our hostel, very much satisfied.

The next day, we went to ACCEPT’s hotel for an interview with the band, where I met one of my heroes…

Gaby Hauke and myself! She is the band manager who originally penned such classics as "Balls to the Walls". Thanks for the photo, Gaby!

Gaby also made it possible for me to interview Mark, the new vocalist. Here is the interview we did, full of fresh news from the band! Please remember that I was extremely hungover on that morning haha. Enjoy!


Now, more about La Paz, Bolivia: We’ve been here for around 10 days, and we really enjoy this city. It’s different from everywhere we’ve been; if you need something – anything – you can find it on the streets, sold by old women in traditional costumes. You can find anything from stockings to band-aids, fossils and tv’s.

A view of La Paz from the centro district

The people here talk three languages mostly; Spanish, Aymara and Quechua. The women are kind of cold, but once you get to know them they open up a bit. Maybe they’re sick of tourists or something haha. Anyway, we saw a whole bunch of ’em at a demonstration a few days ago:

Usually these women have cute bowler hats. You can see a few of them if you look closely in the middle!!

The city itself is located extremely high, at 3660 meters above sea level. It is on a plateau, surrounded by mountains. The rich people live lower, and the poor people live in the mountains – hoping one day to reach the bottom. We had a bit of problems with the altitude; sometimes we felt like we had a body flu with big headaches and loss of appetite. I personally had to take some medicine (Diamox) which made me almost blind after a day of use! I stopped using it right away and got my vision back in three days. Scary!

The city park, with the mountains and skyscrapers

Everything is in heights around here!

Another view of the park, with Illimani - highest mountain in the Cordillera Real at 5000 mts.

We visited one of the coolest parts of La Paz, the witches market! It’s actually a bunch of stores and stalls that sell goods for Aymara rituals.

An Aymara witch and her stand

You can find tons of things; amulets, good luck charms, candles that will bring back your libido, real stuffed frogs and…. the infamous llama fetuses! Apparently, they come from miscarriages or if somebody cuts open a llama for food and finds a fetus by mistake. They are burned and buried in the foundation of homes in Bolivia to bring luck to the household. I read that a good majority of construction workers don’t even want to work on a home if there were no fetus sacrificed!

The lovely llama fetuses

We also found a metal shop, which was actually not too bad! They sold a good selection of underground and more popular metal records. They also had some patches, shirts and metal accessories:

Rock Mania - Shopping V Centenario, 2nd floor

As for food, as we were quite sensitive for a while (the water is undrinkable, and the hygiene is sketchy here), we cooked most of our meals. We did try a few things around though, of course!

Bonuelo with api. Api is one of my favorite drinks; it's hot powdered purple corn with cloves and cinnamon. So good! The bonuelo was like a beaver tail; fried dough served with honey and powdered sugar.

Bolivian oven-cooked empanadas. We ate tons of those! The dough tasted like cookies! It was good!

Quinoa-goods! You can see here quinoa flakes (kind of like oatmeal), chocolate quinoa puffs (tasted like cereals), chocolate with quinoa inside and a healthy quinoa bar. Yes, I'm obsessed by quinoa! It's so good!

Red bolivian peanuts! The shell was reddish... I think it's probably because of the dirt surrounding the peanuts. Hey, I had no idea but peanuts come from South America (Peru and Bolivia)

Tumbo or banana-passionfruit. Its acidic juice was once used for ceviches before the spanish brought lemon to South America. It tastes like a sour fruit punch... it's really good!

Ok, that’s all for now! We’re staying in La Paz for 5 more days, and then going 1000 mts lower to Sucre. Should be easier hehe. Cheers!


Snowblind

From San Salvador de Jujuy, our last stop in Argentina, we took a crappy bus to the border city of La Quiaca, and then walked to Villazón (Bolivian side). I never saw such a relaxed immigration office; you could have just walked straight through Bolivia without anyone checking your papers! We even asked them for an extended visa (Canadians only get 30 days usually) and they gave it to us on the spot, for free.

Now, entering Villazón was like stepping into another world… first of all, the altitude was way higher than anything we’ve experienced (about 3500 meters over sea level) and there was tons of street food and ladies wearing colourful skirts and funny hats. I wish I had photos of them, but most don’t want you to take them in photo – native people think that having their photo taken is like stealing their soul!

The altitude was quite hard to get used to at first. Altitude sickness is called soroche around here; it happens when the body does not obtain enough oxygen, as there is less in high altitude. Usually, problems start happening around 3000 meters and more over sea level. We had trouble breathing (the air is dryer), we were dehydrated (need more saliva to keep the mouth humid when breathing more), had some digestive trouble and we were totally out of breath most of the time. The locals told us to chew on coca leaves (they are everywhere here), which we tried – and it helped a bit to get used to the altitude! I asked a lady how to do it, and reproduced it here for you guys:

Anyway, the next day we caught the train Expresso Del Sur, the most comfortable of all rides in Bolivia, to the city of Uyuni.

The front of Expresso Del Sur

Populated with 16 000 people, and located at an altitude of 3700 mts, Uyuni serves mostly as a touristic platform for tours to the Salar of Uyuni  (Uyuni salt flats) and the coloured lagoons. We read that it was quite an ugly town, but we liked it! It was really, really cold (we slept with our clothes on), but the colourful market made it a nice experience. There was a long street full of vendors, selling everything from used snow pants to toilet paper, underwear, cooking gear and food. I saw some lady selling a weird fruit that looked like a cross between bananas and peas, so I had to buy one in order to try it. They called it “pacay” (Inga Feuillei):

The lady’s “stand”

The pacay

Inside the pacay! Everything was compartmented into fluffy bite sized lychee-tasting parts. In every parts there were a weird extra-terrestrial-like seed... I should have taken a picture of that too, but I didn’t want to bore you guys too much haha

As our stomachs were not doing so well, we decided to eat at a “gringo” (non-native) restaurant for a change. I had read about Minuteman pizza being some of the best pizza around, so we went and ordered some. The pizza itself was absolutely amazing; best pizza I’ve had in a long time, even in Canada! The wood-oven baked crust was perfect, and the toppings (llama meat, olives and tomatoes) went very well together. Apparently, the owner, a Boston-native, gets his cheese flown from Buenos Aires, and his basil/oregano delivered fresh to his door every two days. It was quite costly (16$ for a huge pizza) but damn was it satisfying! And our stomachs approved, so we were even happier!

Llama pizza at Minuteman, Uyuni

The next day, we left at 10:30 AM with Andes Salt Expeditions for a 3-day tour of the Uyuni salt flats and the mystifying desolate lands surrounding it. We were in a Jeep with 4 British people and a driver/guide/cook that only spoke Spanish. Our first stop was a really primitive salt factory in Colchani, a small town close to the salt flats. They shovel the salty rocks out of the salt flats, put it in piles, burn a fire under it to remove the water, grind them finely, add iodine and then put them in small packages for human consumption:

The salt lady preparing a package. The fire coming from the propane tank is to seal the bag.

Then we went driving to the Uyuni salt flats, the most famous touristic attraction in Bolivia – and you guys will see why:

A part of the Uyuni salt flats, under a bit of water – creating a mirror image

The piles of salt ready to be shovelled to the salt factory

The salt flats used to be old lakes up to 40 000 years old which dried out. It’s also the bigger desert of salt in the world! It really screwed up our mind, it seemed like it was snow, but it was just salt! (Although it was really cold outside).

The perspective was really strange, and just jumping a little seemed like flying!

You can see here the separation between the salt and the water on top of it

Another jeep driving around the salt flats

For lunch, we went to a hotel which was constructed out of salt blocks:

The hotel on the left, and on the right, our jeep

The hotel dining room! Notice the chairs and tables made out of salt!

Afterwards, we went back to the town of Uyuni to visit the train cemetery… but the jeep lost a wheel, and we were stranded on the side of the road for more than an hour. Luckily, the company came and switched jeeps and driver!

Our wheel-less Jeep! That was a bit scary. Haha.

We then went quickly to the train cemetery in Uyuni, which consisted of rotting carcasses of ancient trains:

All aboard the VOIVOD train!

We then drove about 4 hours to some cold hostel in the middle of nowhere. It was so cold at night. So cold! We had to sleep with tons of blankets because there was no heating inside. On top of that, the air was really dry so I slept with my mouth opened most of the night… haha. Although it was definitely worth it, as the next day we visited some really really out-of-this-world places.

Some llamas we saw along the way. Some of them had cute colourful pompons on their heads. We even saw some mating hahaha, too bad I couldn’t take photos because it was a really funny sight!

 

Some volcano with really cool half frozen salt eyes. From another angle, the frozen mud looked like waves.

A lunch we had on the side of the road. Pasta, veggie croquettes and veggies.

A beautiful colourful lagoon with a sleeping volcano in the background. Arsenic gives the water its beautiful green color.

The jeep in one of the many deserts..

The most famous of all stone formations in this area, the stone tree!

And after this, we went again to a crappy hostel in the middle of nowhere for our well-deserved sleep. This one was powered by the sun, and is located in an altitude of around 4300 mts:

Hostal San Marcelo. At least the beds were comfortable!

The next day, we left the hostel at 5:30 in the morning to visit some other things. Check out the view we had upon waking up:

So many stars

We then visited some geysers (altitude: 5000 mts), which smelled like a thousand farts. Located on the top of an active volcano, the cracks are 30 meters deep and can get up to a temperature of 100 Celcius. Apparently, when the big Japan earthquake happened, the geysers were shaken up and vomited lava…

The cracks

One of the cracks

Some mud boiling in the middle of the cracks

After this, our guide drove us to some really nice hot springs, surrounded by mountains and wildlife. They were so much better than the ones in Jujuy, and was a nice break from all this cold!!

The sun rising on ancient steaming lands

Some frost on grass around the hot springs

François in the hot springs

Another nice scenery!

Did I mention that at this altitude, I really felt like I was a 90-year-old grand-mother? Taking only 10 steps felt like walking 100.

Dead tired and cold

But what was next to be seen was the nicest of all places… The coloured lagoon!!

Yes, the water is actually red! This color is obtained by some weird algae. You can also see some flamingos in really small... there are 3 or 4 different types, and they meet here to breed. Who would have thought flamingos were turned on by cold?

After this, we spent about 5 or 6 hours getting back to Uyuni in our Jeep. The ride was long, but thankfully I was able to put some good music on the stereo… listening to stuff like Motörhead, AC/DC, Uriah Heep, Holocaust, Ulver and Girlschool in those sceneries was totally unreal.

We drove beside some Quinoa plantations also. Our guide told us the quinoa plants like high and dry places, so there was plenty on the way back home. Here are the plants for white quinoa:

Quinoa plants!

We returned to Uyuni dead tired, but really satisfied. The whole tour was absolutely amazing, and was absolutely worth it!!! We then took the 1:30 AM train to Oruro, arrived at 9:00, took the 10:00 bus to La Paz, and finally arrived in the early afternoon to the world’s highest capital – where we are right now. More about it later…


Behind the Wall of Sleep

Hails! You haven´t heard much from us in a while because we just entered Bolivia, and our hotels are lacking internet connection. Tomorrow, we shall be entering the desolate lands of the Uyuni Salar and shall stay there for three days. I suppose we´re only going to get a decent connection in La Paz, in two weeks… so expect tons of new posts then!!

Cheers,

Annick y François