Bolivia: Entry 2

1 December 2002: La Paz, Bolivia

Subject: Bolivia

New Plans!

We've been in La Paz for a few days and not because we greatly like it here. There is a Lan Chile office and I have been camped out there for much of the time trying to sort out my plane tickets for the next few months.

I realised there was going to be a problem when we were in Cusco. I went into the Lan Chile office there to ask about a routine date change, and in the course of the conversation it became clear that there were going to be problems with my trans-pacific flight from Santiago to Auckland. This is the only direct flight across the South Pacific that I can use with my ticket and it is booked solid until the middle of March. Not that the official "one world explorer" web site admits this: it says that there are plenty of seats. Anyway, I had the choice of staying in South America for an extra couple of months, or trying my luck with a waiting list for a cancellation, or finding an alternative route.

I've gone for the final option. Apart from the Santiago to Auckland flight the other choices are to go via Los Angeles, or to fly from Buenes Aires to Sydney, neither of which is possible with my ticket, or to island-hop, which is mostly possible. So I now have tickets for flights from Santiago to Easter island, where I'll stay for four days, and from Easter Island to Tahiti, where I'll stay for a week. Then I´ve had to buy my own ticket from Tahiti to Auckland.

So now I need to know what to do on Easter Island and Tahiti, so any suggestions are welcome. Easter Island is actually included in my Chile guidebook (it belongs to Chile) and I think I can fill my time looking at the archaeology. But I have no idea what there is to do on Tahiti (though I do still have my Mexican hammock with me, and I think that it will come in useful...). Anyone out there been there?

Patagonia for Christmas

So before all of that trans-pacific stuff starts I´ll be spending some time amongst the mountains in Chile, and with the current timetable I'll be in Patagonia for Christmas and New Year. I'll just say that again: "Hiker looking for fun stuff to do in Patagonia over Christmas and New Year!!!" So is there anyone reading this with any suggestions?

La Paz

As I said at the start most of my time in La Paz has been spent inside the Lan Chile office, but we have seen a bit of the city and a few of the museums. The traffic here is totally ghastly and crossing the road is terrifying. They really do have traffic signals where the cars and the pedestrians have green lights at the same time (and I don't just mean the standard U.S. thing of cars that are allowed to go through a red light as long as they give way). There are two sorts of buses: reasonably clean far-eastern minibuses like they have in Peru, and huge old things from the U.S. with names like FORD, DODGE and CHEVROLET across the front at eye-level. I get the feeling that these things are about fifty years old, and they belch the most enormous plumes of black smoke out behind them - as much as a steam engine. Yuk.

They have a small museum of pre-conquest gold; there's not a lot of it, certainly less than they have in Costa Rica, but at least these few scraps excaped the Conquistador's crucible. In Peru they have nothing. Mostly it is thinly-beaten gold sheets turned into chest-plates and the like.

Note for Film Buffs

In an effort to escape from the streets of La Paz for a few hours we took ourselves to the cinema: we saw Amelie, the lovely French film. Luckily we had both seen it before, as I don't think either of us could follow either the French soundtrack or Spnish subtitles quickly enough. Anyway it was in a huge old cinema which had, at some point, been upgraded to "Dolby Digital" sound. I understand that the criteria for this are quite strict and it seems that this old place had a bit of a problem with echos. So they had covered the walls and ceiling with.... six thousand two hundred egg boxes! (That's our estimate anyway.) Quite a sight.


Today we ventured out of the city to the ruins at Tihuanaco. You probably haven't heard of Tihuanaco, but they were probably as important as the Incas (and to the Bolivians they are more important!). They started out as argriculturalists on the Altiplano (high plain) on the South side of Lake Titicaca a few centuries B.C. They were smart enough to work the most efficient way to grow stuff in this fairly inhospitable terrain (nearly 4000m up) and their agricultural surplasses gave them the resources to build a large city and to expand their teritory to form a huge empire. They collapsed mysteriously about 1000 A.D., and the Incas can be thought of as the "Pheonix from the ashes of the Tihuanacanos" in the way that, perhaps, the Byzantines came out of the collapse of the Roman empire.

So having collapsed a thouasand years ago there is not as much to see of the Tihuanacan remains as there is of the Incas from only half as long ago. And, thankfully, the Bolivians have not been as obsessed with "reconstructing" the ruins as their Peruvian counterparts. So what you can see are the remains of two step pyramids, not entirely unlike the Mexican ones that I saw a few months ago, collapsed into big earth mounds. Then there are a few "temple" buildings with nicely made stone walls, in some cases with stonework of Inca or better quality. One of them has stone bosses in the walls carved in the shapes of heads; the suggestion is that this superceeded the practice of displaying real trophy heads from battles.

The nicest artifacts are some carved columns - a bit like stone totem poles - some of which are in situ in the temples and some of which have been moved to a site museum. The site museum is excellent, at least compared to what we have been seeing recently. There are actually two buildings; one contains smaller things like pots and arrowheads, and actually has labels in practically all of the cases! It even had a fairly intellectual display about the technology of bronze manufacture in the Andees! The other building has the larger bits of carved stone, and although they are very well displayed they are somewhat lacking in information, such as where in they site they were found. But generally it was a much more satisfactory experience than the Inca ruins around Cusco (though on a smaller scale). Thumbs up to the Bolivians!

So tomorrow we're heading on to Cochabamba, with is a seven hour bus trip South from here. More news soon.