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The Adventures of a Lifetime: Part 3

So, having finally reached La Paz, I realized I had completely accidentally picked out a hostel that was 3 minutes walking away from where the bus dropped me off. Convenient. The hostel itself was huge; there were four floors – the bottom floor had the reception, games area, and bar; the second and third floors had combined sleeping space for probably around 150 guests; and the fourth floor was where a free all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast was offered every morning. For a comfortable bed, the breakfast, hot showers throughout the day, and semi-functional internet: 49 bolivianos. About 7 dollars. Not too shabby, and neither was the view.

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My very first day in La Paz I spent… well, in bed, tired from having my entire day planned out for the few days that I decided to become well-acquainted with the hostel bed. I did, however, go out in the night to walk around La Paz for almost an hour, which, despite the stereotypes/warnings about how dangerous Bolivia can be, I found to be a very pleasant city to walk around in. Then again, being a male gringo might just have helped. In any case, that night I discovered that there was one street not too far away with lots of street vendors selling food that they cooked then and there and sold for around a dollar. I was beginning to realize that, as a well-off foreigner, Bolivia is a pretty damn cheap place to live. Also, a little later that night, I headed to the bar (did I mention the very low price for staying in this hostel also included a free beer) and ended up chatting for about 2 hours with this friendly French guy and a Quebecoise about a whole host of different things. This whole travelling alone thing was getting off to quite a good start.

The second day in La Paz (after, of course, taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast) I spent figuring out what I was going to do with the rest of my time in Bolivia (as a side note, it was honestly very refreshing to not travel with people anymore and to just be able to do what I wanted when I wanted to do it). A quick visit to the tour company located inside the hostel told me that they weren’t offering any tours to Lake Titicaca (the one thing that I knew I wanted to see), but they were offering bus tickets to Copacabana, from where I could take a ferry to any one of the islands located on Lake Titicaca. I decided to buy the ticket for the following morning, and then walked around a different part of La Paz in search of a restaurant for some lunch, which resulted in paying about 1.5 dollars for at a local place for some soup and a main dish including rice and grilled chicken.

After exploring the city a little more and wandering around all the little markets, I got some dinner from another street vendor and spent the night in the hostel chatting to some of the other people staying there, including this slightly crazy, slightly drunk but very friendly French lady who ended up buying me a couple of caipirinhas, and the two other people I was talking to the night before also showed up, along with a few Dutch people who, naturally, also happened to be staying at the hostel. It was.. a good night.

The following day I woke up at 7:30am and packed everything for the 2 days I would be spending at Lake Titicaca. On the bus ride over there there were some pretty impressive views of the landscape (I feel as though I’ve written this sentence about 300 times in slightly different ways when describing Bolivia):

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We had to get off the bus at this one place (I’ve forgotten the name) and had to cross part of the lake via ferry, and we got back on the bus at the other side for the last part of the journey to Copacabana. Once I reached there, I bought a ticket to the Isla del Sol, and ended up talking to a Chilean and two Colombians on the top of the boat that took us there. The view that day wasn’t really all that great, probably because it was grey and cloudy and I was tired and it all seemed a little… bleak, I guess.

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Upon reaching the Isla del Sol, I tagged along with this group who had a tour guide explaining some of the ruins and buildings and history of the Isla del Sol and of Lake Titicaca in general (he said that, according to local mythology, Lake Titicaca was once a fertile valley, where people were happy, knew neither hatred nor ambition, and lived forever. However, one day, some of the people living in the valley decided they wanted more, and tried to leave the valley and explore the nearby mountains, which were also gods. These mountain gods were so offended by what these individuals were doing – destroying paradise in a way – that they tried to cause the death of everyone in the valley. The most important god, the sun god Inti, cried because of this, and his tears filled the valley in 30 days, causing the lake to form. Only one man and one woman survived all of this: the first two Incas). We walked for an hour or so on the island, to the main part where all the accommodation was located, and stopped for a couple of pictures of the local animals on the way.

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Most people in the group had already figured out accommodation for the night, so when they all went off to their respective hotels I trampled around looking for a place to stay – not very easy considering a sizeable amount of hotels/hostels were closed. After probably an hour of looking, I found this tiny place which had rooms for 40 bolivianos a night. This room included a bed, and a chair. There was also a rock-hard pillow on the bed and the mattress was almost falling apart. At least it was a relatively cheap place to stay.

I spent most of the rest of the day indoors, not feeling particularly well and not particularly impressed by Lake Titicaca. It just seemed like this giant, reasonably pretty lake unfortunately situated in a country where the things around it were much more stunning. This feeling was only exacerbated at night, when I tried to find a place to eat dinner at about 7:15, 7:30pm and a lot of things were closed. Furthermore, the entire island seemed completely dead. I ended up being able to find this pizza place with pretty good food, and afterwards I went back to where I was staying and grumped around for the rest of the night.

The following day it was actually sunny when I woke up, and after buying some cookies and other breakfasty things at this local shop I walked around and was amazed at how the good weather changed how the lake looked.

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I walked for about 35, 40 minutes to the shores of Lake Titicaca, where I lay for an hour in the sun, enjoying the sound of the waves lapping on the beach, and for the first time thoroughly enjoying the surroundings.

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I finally left the beach, and realized I couldn’t find my way back to the path I had taken to get down; consequently, I ended up trampling on some vegetation for a good half an hour and finally found my way back to a path… only to realize that I was on the wrong part of the island. So, after taking a short break, I walked up most of the island again and got back to the main part of the island – meaning I was back at the same place I left off about 3 hours ago. I eventually found another path and, after 30 minutes of walking, finally found a place where I could buy a ticket back to Copacabana, which would be leaving in an hour or two, giving me plenty of time to find a place to eat lunch. I eventually settled on this restaurant where I ate local trout, which also had an utterly amazing view of the lake.

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On the boat back, there were these three small Bolivian children playing very amusing word games with each other, whilst I enjoyed the look of the sun glistening on the water.

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A few hours after getting back to Copacabana, I took a local bus back to La Paz, which was a little cheaper but also meant that, for the part where I got off the bus to go on the ferry on the way to Copacabana, the bus now drove onto the ferry whilst we stayed on the bus. The next 20, 25 minutes crossing a small part of the lake involved us going from side… to side… to side… to side… pretty much convinced we were all going to drown in that bus.

We survived that ordeal and eventually got back to La Paz at around 11pm, going back to the same lovely hostel and crashing there for the night.

I spent the next two days in La Paz not really doing all that much, taking my time once more to explore some other parts of the city I hadn’t yet been to and contemplating my journey so far. I decided that I had done enough that holiday, and seen enough, to reward myself with a day or so of relaxation and, well, laziness. I spent my final day in La Paz frantically trying to find transportation to the airport, because all of the main roads were blocked off due to this guy.

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The Pope was in Bolivia for three days, arriving at the same day I was leaving; as such, when I eventually did get to the airport, I was informed that my flight would be delayed by at least an hour and a half. That then turned to two hours, and two hours turned to three hours delay. I think the Bolivian authorities ordered that no planes could land or take off within an hour or so each way of the Pope’s arrival. This did, however, mean that all of the people waiting at the airport could see the Pope’s plane land, and could see all the commotion around the aircraft. Though it was quite an interesting experience being at the same airport as the Pope and seeing Bolivia go, well, completely crazy for his arrival, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the delay. It seems I’m not quite as important as the Pope.

My flight back to Chile was not to Santiago, but to Iquique, a coastal city in the north of Chile, where I would be spending a night and a day before flying on to Santiago. After finally landing in Chile, I had to wait a while at customs because some of the papers from the person in front of me weren’t in order; this gave me the chance to talk to another person waiting in the line, a German girl who, coincidentally, had made a reservation at the same hostel that I wanted to stay, and who had spent three years studying in Holland. We shared a taxi to the hostel (after being assaulted by about 7 different cab companies all claiming to offer the lowest rate), which turned out to be very close to the ocean. By the point I was checked in and found my room, it was almost midnight, so I showered and collapsed into bed.

The last day of my two-week trip had arrived! So, after sleeping in and taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi on offer, I picked up a map of Iquique at the reception of the hostel and made my way to the bus station (I had to buy a ticket to Calama, then take a taxi from there to the airport, from where I would fly back to Santiago) – this would have been a half-hour walk, but I stopped at various locations and ended up walking through this really pretty avenue that oddly reminded me of a Mediterranean city.

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I ate some ceviche and ají de gallina at a restaurant on the avenue (both Peruvian dishes, both ridiculously tasty), and eventually found the bus station a few hours after I’d set off. There was a bus going from Iquique to Calama at 23:30 that night, which would get me to the airport about 3 hours before my flight. After buying my ticket, I wandered around a lot more and came across this huge ship, and several enormous pelicans and other animals nearby.

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I eventually ate dinner outside that night on the same avenue (it was probably around 18ºC), treating myself to a couple of mojitos and enjoying the night life of Iquique, whilst a very hungry restaurant cat tried its best to eat all of the food off my plate. Sitting there at that restaurant, eating amazing food, having a cat for company and looking out on this wonderful avenue, made me realize in a way how lucky I was to have done everything that I did in those two weeks, to have seen the salt flats and the rugged, at times impossibly beautiful landscape of southern Bolivia, to explore San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings with friends and to wander around La Paz alone, walking around on impulses and whims and not having anything that I needed to do. This may sound a little cheesy, but that night in Iquique made it clear to me that I didn’t necessarily need anyone in my life right by me to make me happy, because I could live life by myself very well, and I had proved that.

I felt proud of myself, and that was a damn good way of ending my travels.

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