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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Traveling Bolivia - La Paz, Oruro, CopaCobana, Lake Titicaca

La Paz

03/07/2010-03/10/2010 - I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a work service project that involved teaching 4th and 5th grade teachers how to use computers as learning tools in the classroom and then work with the students to teach them how to use the computers.

I arrived in La Paz at 6:30am with some other co-workers, and even though we were tired from the red eye flight we were excited at the opportunity to explore the city of La Paz a little bit.  The first thing that I noticed is that just by walking a block or 2 I was short of breath and already a little light headed.  The altitude sickness is a valid concern for many travelers because La Paz varies in elevation from 9,840 ft to 13,450 ft.  They suggest that you pick up some Acetazolamide (Diamox) which has been used increasingly as a preventive medicine to decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness. Also, upon arrival several hotels will offer Coca Tea which is basically boiled Coca leaves in water which the locals suggest to help acclimatize yourself and helps with the sickness.  I didn't have any severe symptoms other than shortness of breath but, several of my co-workers developed headaches and sickness.  After a couple of hours of admiring the towering triple-peaked Illimani mountain, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from several spots of the city, and getting something to eat we decided to make our way out to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).  This is just a short drive of about 30 minutes(10km) from the center of La Paz to the southern part of La Paz.  Valle de la Luna is basically where the mountain has been eroded to create some interesting stalagmite type structures that are unique.
    

We then had the taxi driver drop us off at the Plaza San Francisco which is kind of the center of La Paz.  There is the San Francisco Church and around the plaza there are plenty of places to buy some of the local handicrafts.  If you follow the streets up the sides of the church and behind it you will find all kinds of souvenirs.  Also downtown and around La Paz at various cross walks you will notice people dressed up in Zebra suits directing traffic. A local told me that the logic behind it was that there were no stripes on the streets of where cars should stop, so they have people in striped Zebra suits instead to direct traffic.

We met with several 4th grade students and teachers over the next couple of days but, I won't elaborate much on the service project because my blog is more focused on the places I have traveled and about them. 

Oruro

3/10/2010-3/13/2010 -After several days in La Paz we headed to Oruro, which is about 3-4 hours south of La Paz depending on the transportation that you take.  We opted to rent a small SUV with a driver, which was a little more expensive but, it fit our time schedule better and we didn't have to share a bus with others.  The trip was fairly flat once you get up out of the city to the "Altiplano". Along the way you can see the various beautiful mountains with their peaks covered with snow.  If you are lucky while driving you can see a similar species to the Llama which is the Vicuña.  There are some wild Vicuña up in the Altiplano and they look similar to Llamas but have a smaller head and thinner neck. 

Once we reached Oruro we found that there are several unique statues upon entering the city and the city its self is fairly plain.  You will hear great stories about how big Carnival is in Oruro and that it is the best place to be for Carnival and from all the pictures that I have seen it looks amazing during Carnival.  I am assuming that is probably one of the only times the city is really lively and since we weren't there during that time the city seemed pretty plain, tame, and a little boring.  There isn't a ton to see there and you won't find too many nice hotels.  We stayed in the Hotel Sucre which was supposedly one of the best ones in the city and you can expect to pay about $45 a room per night and they are small and really nothing special.  The funny thing about this hotel was they had plastic flowers in a planter that they watered every day & I had really never seen anyone water fake flowers?  After our short stay for a couple of days which was plenty we were back off towards La Paz.

CopaCobana - Lake Titicaca

3/13/2010-3/14/2010 - We decided to go straight to Lake Titicaca to a town called CopaCobana for the weekend before returning to La Paz for the following week.  The drive from La Paz to CopaCabana which is a city that lies right on the shores of Lake Titicaca took about 3 hours.  It is a windy road that half way through you have to put the car/bus on a ferry to cross a small piece of the lake to get to the other side.  Copa Cabana is a small little city with quite a few things to see.  We decided to go for a cruise on the lake and see a floating community.  The cruise was great but the community was pretty lame.  This one was just a small put together demonstration for tourists.  If you want to go to the real ones they are up north more and on the Peru side I heard.  Supposedly the authentic ones are quite impressive where they actually have communities that live on the water and they have almost like a small island that floats on the lake which is supported by soda bottles.  Other than that there are plenty of shops to see and buy souvenirs.  There was also a church in the town center that we stopped in and checked out.  Nothing too special but, it was your typical Catholic church.  That night after dinner we headed down to the lake to catch a beautiful sunset. The next day we decided to take a boat over to the Isla Del Sol.  This is a small island with hiking paths on it and great views.  There are even some small ruins that you can walk through and check out.  Overall it was a relaxing day on a boat to and from the island.  The hike we did was basically steps up a steep slope and then we traversed the side of the island with great views of Lake Titicaca and the other islands.  It was great activity for the day.

     
     

La Paz

3/14/2010-3/22/2010 -

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