After a full month (10% of our total trip!, which is 10 months long and I know that because math) in Peru, the Litty Committee ( © ) decided to vamoose to Bolivia. That’s French for GTFOofPeru.
For as wonderful as Peru was, our journey getting to La Paz from Cusco could not have gone worse. Well, I suppose we could have died but…actually no, our trip could not have gone worse. First, the man at the ticket booth for our bus company in the Cusco bus station decided our very existence offended him and yelled at us whenever we asked for…our tickets…that we had already purchased….for the bus leaving in 15 minutes. We ended up not getting our tickets until 8 minutes before the bus left. Then, after what was an actually pretty smooth border crossing into Bolivia, I got into a fight with a man whose masculinity was so fragile he flipped because I offered my spot in the bathroom line to the woman in front of me (the horror! But how will men be able to assert their dominance in a world in which we all realize gender is but a performance?! GO fuck yourself.). Then (despite paying more for a direct bus), the bus company had us stop in Copacabana, Bolivia and switch buses (with a 3 hour wait in between). “But we paid for a direct bus,” protested the weary travelers. “LOL STFU,” laughed the KGB officer in charge of our Bolivian bus company.
“Ok but Tani, none of this sounds that bad,” is probably what you’re thinking right now. And you’d be wrong. Because after getting on the second bus, we drove for 30 minutes until we were told we’d have to de-bus, pay more money for a ferry ticket, then cross Lake Titicaca in a ferry, and meet our bus, which was loaded with all our belongings onto its own fairy, on the other side of the lake to journey on to La Paz. Oh, also Nick was sick throughout this whole charade. Not just of me and not just of South American tourism but like actually physically ill.
All right but once we got to La Paz things really did turn around. La Paz is a charming city that absolutely spoke to us. It reminded me of Athens a lot in that is densely populated, full of buildings with great architecture, grungy AF (which I’m all there for), full of street art and graffiti (again, there for all of it), and rife with restaurants and cafes. We settled in to our hostel, got Nick tucked into bed in the hopes he’d recover before his birthday the next day, and got to seeing the city.
After turning around because we liked La Paz, things then turned BACK around to ensure we were facing the south end of a northward facing trip to Bolivia. Our whole crew was about to be in La Paz to go hard for Nick’s birthday, but his birthday fell the day before a Bolivian election (something about democracy or a president or a judge idrk), and there’s a strictly-enforced law in Bolivia that alcohol is not to be sold or consumed within 3 days of an election (something about fair elections or integrity idrk). Needless to say our livers went into an immediate panic. No one knew how we’d skirt this whole “compliance with the law” issue AND celebrate Nick’s birthday properly all at once. Actually talking to one another or eating really good food without drinking was certainly out of the question. And then, out of the pile of shit in which we found ourselves, a lone rose petal surfaced, reminding us that there IS a God and she really DID want us to drink the night away!
Our hostel owner was perhaps the dopest man in South America, and when he saw our despondent faces he promised to be our night in shining armor. And boy did he deliver. Once it was dark out he took us to a literal speakeasy! A few streets away from our hostel, in a gorgeous mansion, behind two doors and two foyers was one of the coolest bars we went to in South America, with amazing cocktails. I actually got a decent Manhattan (the ultimate barometer against which any bar should be judged), Nick got a satisfactory margarita, and all was well.
The next morning, with everyone at their peak level of hung over, the same hostel owner took us to a hole-in-the-wall serving Mexican street tacos. While not as good as the actual street tacos we had in Mexico (nothing ever again will be), they definitely registered on the dope scale.
The rest of the weekend in La Paz was spent going out to a great variety of restaurants (sushi! Great coffee! British pub food!), watching massive street protests (apparently America’s not the only country with problems having free and fair elections), and touring the Witch’s Market. Probably our favorite actual activity in La Paz was riding the cable cars that serve as the city’s primary means of public transit after buses. I’m scared shitless of heights, so that was problematic, but in general the cars are an amazing way to see the city and riding them from one end of a line to another is less than $1 US. The survival rate is pretty high (somewhere around 20-30%) so that’s cool as well.
After the weekend, Nick and my itinerary demanded that we split from our travel buddies. A sad moment, indeed, but we knew we’d see them all again at various points across the globe. Also what happened next is sadder because look. Listen. Look and listen:
The #1 item on my to do list when we decided to visit South America was visit the salt flats in Bolivia. The pictures are dope, everything about it looks dope, people who go there say it’s dope, the Bolivian government almost changed the name to the Dope Flats last year. We hopped on a night bus from La Paz down to Uyuni where the salt flats are located, and our dreary asses were clearly not thinking straight because we made a critical error: we agreed to pay a woman to tour the salt flats before we were sufficiently caffeinated. What happens next will truly go down as one of 2017 greatest tragedy’s, right up there with our President committing treason and CATS returning to Broadway.
This Bolivian Woman (alias: Bernie Fucking Madoff) took our money and then led us over to the van where our “tour” was supposed to start. The driver (alias: I don’t care) proceeded to drive us across the salt flats without stopping. “Wow! These are amazing and I can’t wait to stop and get a real tour of them!,” we thought as the car kept driving on and on….without stopping.
Basically, this woman promised us a salt flat tour but just pegged us on to the last 2 days of another group’s 4 day salt flat tour…..a tour that had already concluded the salt flat portion of their tour.
When we realized this, we had it out with our driver (literal screaming and yelling in Spanish) who refused to take us back to town. We had no choice but to accept our fate as prisoners of the actual worst tour known to man. In addition to being lied to, the driver crammed 8 people into a bus that really only could comfortably fit 6 (no joke you guys, whoever was relegated to the back seat had the circulation cut off in their feet) and wouldn’t stop so we could shuffle around to give the political prisoners in the back a break. To make matters worse, the woman sitting in the front passenger seat (the only one in the vehicle with an amount of leg room even approaching normal) refused to take her turn in the back with everyone else. As in, an actual adult human insisted she and only she deserved the throne.
In between stop 1 and 2 the other 6 of us just kind of dealt with it but after the second stop Nick decided he had had enough. Actually what went down next was pretty funny so I present to you their interaction in script form, as it truly happened:
Nick, running, enters stage left.
Nick: Tani! Ima run and get the front seat before Regina George can get in.
Nick runs to the car, gets in front seat. Enter Regina stage right. She’s distraught and confused, as her throne has been usurped.
Regina: [in Spanish] That’s my seat!
Regina: [in Spanish] I paid more for this tour. I paid extra specifically so I could sit here.
Cue everyone else on bus screaming that that’s not true, they all paid together, and she’s a liar.
Nick: Tani what is she saying?
Tani: That she paid more for her seat but everyone is telling me that’s not true.
Regina: Reading the room, seeing her first excuse is not going to work. [in Spanish] I need that seat, I actually injured my leg and I need the extra leg room for my leg.
Entire vehicle erupts with screaming and laughter that once again, that’s not true, and she seemed to have no problem climbing tons of rocks to take 14 selfies per minute literally a minute ago, also running to the car to reclaim her seat once she saw Nick was about to take it.
Regina: Looks around, seems panicked, wondering what to do. [in Spanish] I’m pregnant! I need that seat!
All 7 billion humans on earth, in unison: "…"
Anyway, that conversation literally actually very much for real happened. We called her La Reina del Mundo for the rest of the trip.
So other than that, we spent the next day and a half trapped on a tour we didn’t want to be on. But, I will say that the tour took us to three magical lagoons where we were able to get extremely close to flamingos. Although we were still getting over not seeing salt flats, Nick and I both were able to take a minute and mentally reset once we were at the lagoon. It was good for us to be able to mentally reset, say to ourselves: “OK, yes, sure the experience of being taken for a ride and not being able to do this thing we were so looking forward to really, really sucks, but we are so lucky to be here and we still have so much breathtaking beauty ahead of us. Let’s exhale and just move on.” Then we slapped ourselves for turning into Elizabeth Gilbert’s next book but for a few seconds there we were pretty healthy.
In the end, that was Bolivia! We loved La Paz and would def recommend. We loved the bit of the salt flats we got to see and would also recommend. And despite havig two horrible experiences with particularly nasty individuals/companies, we left with a pretty positive impression of Bolivia overall. It’s cheap and has so much to offer (way, way more than we did even; we had to speed through because we had a flight to catch in Northern Chile). If you’re on this continent, get yourself to Bolivia.