bolivia Archive

Romp through Bolivia

We cross into Bolivia at such a high altitude that we have to drive downhill to reach the world’s highest capital city, La Paz. Descent becomes a running theme for our romp through Bolivia. From our point of entry at the backpacker’s oasis of Copacabana on Lake Titicaca to our official exit at the delightfully named Ibibobo military outpost in the dusty Chaco lowlands, we drop a whopping total of 12,306 feet. In between, we drive through five major ecosystems – the high Andean altiplano or puna, the woodlands and savannas of the Cerrado, Bolivian montane dry forests, the southern Yungas evergreen forests, and the hot, semi-arid Chaco thorn forests – over asphalt, cobblestone, raised gravel, dirt, and riverbed, and with veggie oil from hamburger stands, Bolivian criolla joints, pollerias, and Chinese restaurants.

Mango boards raft to cross Lake Titicaca, domain of the Bolivian Navy

The only match for Bolivia’s diversity of climate and landscape may be its people. We stay in four historic colonial cities jammed with indigenous street vendors, ancient, rainbow-colored buses, serious men in button-down suits and stout women in bright ponchos and smart bowler caps. In the highlands we visit dozens of Quechua and Aymara villages, adobe and thatch-roof huts surrounded by open fields where stoic, copper-toned Indians herd llama and sheep. In the lowlands of Bolivia’s southeast we drive past lush fields of corn and rows of peach and mango trees, and take a detour to the wine-soaked Valle de la Concepcion, which feels more like Argentina than Andean Bolivia. We get a glimpse of Bolivia’s vast forests in the southern Yungas on our way out of the mountains, before dropping into the empty, foreboding thorn forests of the Chaco.

Big sky in the alitplano

Spending so much time in descent, we find out that Mango has a fifth gear: neutral, downhill. She tops out around 53 MPH on flat ground but she’s such a tank she easily clears a heady 65 MPH on a downslope. We also discover she has shitty breaks. No mechanic seems to have a solution, so we try to replace breaking with downshifting. It’s a hair-raising combination, but we have to make up time and conserve fuel somehow. Of course, Bolivia isn’t all downhill. The Andes are too indomitable for that. From Cochabamba to Tarjia we ride the cordillera’s spine up and down like mad men, pushing our rolling tank uphill when she stalls due to lack of oxygen and screaming down mountain passes with the engine off on the other side. Mango comes out worse for the wear, and by the time we approach the lowlands she’s seen her fair share of mechanics. We camp under spectacular night skies on the side of the road and survive on crackers, tuna cans, and the last of our scotch whisky when she strands us in the middle of nowhere. On the open road we pack fist-sized wads of coca leaves into our mouths to keep up energy levels and morale. Perhaps Mango’s best trick of all comes on the way out of Tarija, when she decides to sporadically shut off her headlights as we’re driving through forested mountain passes, at night. Yes, at times we are sure Mango and the Andes are conspiring to kill us, but it’s a helluva ride.

Bolivia, land of street markets
Bolivia’s elite import Europe at Cochabamba’s Palacio de Portales

Get your cow heads here!
Delicious homemade gelato – mango and strawberry
Conquerors get no mercy in the indigenous village of Tarabuco

Coca leaves by the sack full at Potosi’s miner’s market
Andean fashion
Rockpile #3 at roadside campsite on highway to Tarija.
Andy contemplating the sunset during a Mango hissy fit
Wine-tasting at eclectic Hostería Valle D’Vino part hostel, part organic vineyard

Valle D’Vino’s treasure trove, always under lock and key.
The road out through the unforgiving Chaco

The first of many border crossings to come

In the interest of hurtling our readers forward into the present and beyond into the future, the next few posts will be a series of photo collections, short flics and anecdotes about some of the beautiful places we’ve visited over the past few months. That’s right, we haven’t been wandering the Peruvian altiplano since Carnival, but are currently motoring towards Brazil’s Pantanal and onwards to our greatest challenge yet, the unruly Amazon. We promise to go back later and recount our most transcendent travel experiences with the kind of in-depth analysis to which you’ve become accustomed.

Meanwhile, enjoy this video of the Collective kick-starting Mango on our way to the Bolivian border. She tends to faint in high altitudes.

- the Collective

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