Over the past few days I’ve traveled from Puno, Peru to Copacabana and La Paz in Bolivia and yesterday arrived in Arica, a coastal town in northern Chile. Although I like being in the Andes my body was having problems, so I decided it was time to come back down to sea level for a few days. What a difference 13,000 ft. and 35 degrees make!
Again I enjoyed the magnificent scenery and local people by taking the bus, knowing it would probably be chaotic. Two border crossings in as many days are enough to make you a little crazy. They aren’t like passing airport immigration.
Not sure which border was more stressful, Bolivia or Chile? The Chilean authorities definitely liked the US and while they gave some people a hard time, they sped up my visa processing. One Che Guevara looking guard even gave me thumbs up when he saw my US passport.
They made everyone pass different check points – while being watched by mean-looking military types. We had to complete a ton of paperwork. It surprised me that Chile didn’t charge any fees. I prepared myself for stress if there was no way to get Chilean Pesos at the border. During this trip I’ve learned that there is animosity and competition between many countries in South America and as with the US, certain countries are not held in high esteem.
On the bus from Puno to Copacabana I sat next to a French tourist. He said some South American countries fingerprint you if you’re from France and ask you to fill out a special questionnaire. I stopped complaining.
After crossing the Bolivian border, the bus arrived in Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca and stopped for one hour. I met two Norwegian tourists there who had travelled for about the same amount of time but in the opposite direction. They gave me some info on places in Chile and Argentina and I shared experiences in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.
I spent the night in La Paz and had a few hours to walk around. La Paz was founded in 1548 under the name of La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (The City of Our Lady of Peace). Spain’s king controlled it with a firm grip. Today La Paz is a popular, vibrant city with a population of more than a million. The most prominent mountain surrounding the city is Illimani (Aymara), the second highest peak in Bolivia. Its glaciers on the northern face are at 16,350 ft. and it has four main peaks.
Famous Iglesia de San Francisco was built a year before the founding of La Paz. In 1610 it collapsed under the weight of snow and was reconstructed in 1784. The church’s interesting façade reflects native and Catholic art including indigenous symbols like masked figures, snakes, dragons, and tropical birds.
Met a nice Bolivian woman at Café Alexander near my B&B in La Paz. She worked in Washington DC at the State Department for 12 years. Both her daughter and son are now living in the US and she plans to move to Florida to retire. It was nice having someone to chat with and interesting getting her take on South America. She cautioned me about avoiding Venezuela, something I decided months ago, and gave her opinion on what’s happening in Argentina.
Mi Teleférico is La Paz’s aerial cable car transit system. It opened in 2014 and three lines are operating with six more in the planning stage. The system is 6.2 miles long and considered the longest aerial cable car system in the world. It’s the first rapid transit network to use cable cars as the primary mode of transportation. I really wanted to ride a cable car but was too tired to make it there before the line closed at 10:00 p.m. The street traffic in La Paz is horrific.
La Paz is a cosmopolitan, late-night city. The surrounding hillside lights are gorgeous at night! Things were still buzzing when I retired at about midnight to get some rest before the next bus ride from La Paz to Arica.
On the way to Arica the bus had a flat and it took over an hour to get things sorted out. The winding Andean roads are often full of loose rocks and slides – especially after heavy rain. Parts of the remote altiplano route often described as “otherworldly”reminded me of the Peruvian coast between Mancora and Lima and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. As in Ecuador and Peru the roadside is marked with crosses where people died in accidents along the crooked mountain highway.
I was happy to arrive in Arica. It’s a pretty Chilean port 11 miles south of Peru along the coast at 7 ft. above sea level – yeah! Because of its mild weather, Arica is known as the “city of eternal spring”.
It’s a “hip” little city. It was dark when I arrived yesterday but today I explored. It’s a pleasant, laid back environment. I feel comfortable here and may stay a few more days.
Although the bus and border crossings were rough, don’t know that I would have wanted to miss seeing the extraordinarily brilliant Andes scenery!! I was able to get a few decent photos of the mountains near the Chilean border crossing. They were photogenic and beautiful.
The revised plan is to spend most of the next 3 to 4 months in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina and maybe pass back through Bolivia on the way home. Bolivian visas are a pain but they’re valid for five years and allow entrance three times in a year for a total stay of 90 days.
More rambling later….