The catamaran was modern and looked like a living room inside with lounge chairs and windows. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy. A guide filled us in on the details of Lake Titicaca–the world’s 11th largest, world’s highest navigable, very deep, trout fishing, Inca ruins, etc were the highlights. Basically, once you have seen 10 minutes of the lake you have experienced the next 5 hours of the cruise. The sun came out and we had a lovely crossing but I would definitly not do it again because it is boring and expensive ($150 per person). We still had a 2 hour drive to La Paz from Chua. It was a convenience to have an English-speaking guide to answer our question and give some meaning to what we were seeing. Our ride took us through more small farms on the Andes Antiplano.
Once again, we were arriving to a town with no lodging preferences so we followed another couple to the Gloria Hotel in downtown La Paz. The hotel was disappointing since we thought we were splurging for $65-small noisy rooms with drab outdated rooms. Scooter thought is looked like a 1970’s junior high school. In a bit we set out to find Denny’s, yes, Denny’s but after a walk in the rain, a cab ride, and more walking we settled on the Ciudad Cafe. It had a lot of people and passed the “cuteness criteria.” Cute is often misleading–I had to argue with the waiter to get a cheese sandwich. He wanted us to order a full dinner so he told me that no sandwiches were available meanwhile as I glance around, everyone in the place is eating a sandwich–I felt like I was in France. Got the sandwich!
La Paz is a very high city, 12,000 feet and is home to many of the world’s highest records. The city itself is in a large hole surrounded by hills and is quite striking. It is also safe to walk around the city day or night.
Up at 4AM out the door at 5AM to the La Paz International Airport–not a direct flight of course, but to Santa Cruz, Bolivia first. This area is very rich in farming and is attracting farmers from Japan, Canada, and US Mennonites. Our layover was approximately 5 hours so we decided to go to town in search of an Internet cafe. The wild goose chase begins–cab downtown to an address secured from someone at the local airport however, there was no long distance phone service available and IBM had no local connection in Bolivia. Next, Internet cafe was also unable to provide a long distance phone line and a Mennonite farmer suggested going to a company located directly across from the phone company–we must have taken the long way but enjoyed the city on the way. Santa Cruz seems like a great town with many universities and at least 100 school supply stores and cultural diversity. The weather was just the way we like it, sunny and humid.
Scooter stopped in one of the many barber shops on the street for a haircut. The men in South America are very well trimmed and the barber shops were always busy. The barber who cut Scooter’s hair was truly and artist and made sure it was a perfect cut–especially because we video taped him. Cost of haircut-$4. Shortly after, we came across the long distance phone line store. Scooter was very excited that someone could assist him and neglected to check on the pricing. It was a slow connection and in the time it took to download the messages and reply to three E-mails our phone bill was $40!
We seem to have to learn our travel lessons repeatedly:
Secure a taxi price before getting in the car
Look at the hotel room before paying for it
Do not believe everything your guidebook tells you
Make sure you know the price of your phone calls
Back to the airport–on to Asuncion, Paraguay. Bolivian customs is tough departing and arriving. When checking in all baggage is X-rayed, hand luggage is manually checked and everyone is taken in a small room and frisked. Then upon arrival in Paraguay, our luggage was sniffed by dogs on the floor of customs. At the baggage claim area we struck up a conversation with an American who had been traveling for 5 years off and on and two Danes that were backpacking on a similar path. They were also on their way to Iguacu Falls by bus. Scooter and realized that we are traveling differently than most backpackers–we need some lessons from them on sticking to a budget. They take a bus out of the airport to a $5 bunk bed and drink draft beer. We put our bags in a cab and start spending money. Our first stop is the bus station to purchase tickets to Iguacu Falls–a night train to save money. This was our first bus experience.
Asuncion appeared to be very pretty and prosperous with beautiful Spanish style homes, modern shopping and more than one Mercedes dealership. I had been reading my travel books repeatedly trying to make sense of the best way to see Iguacu Falls–half the falls are in Brazil and half are in Argentina. The books highly recommend seeing both sides which of course are an hour apart and in two different countries. When we finally decided on a bus company that had the right price and departure time they told us that we could not
go to Brazil without a visa that we did not have. No one at bus stations speak any English so gathering our information was a little frustrating and time-consuming. Again, we went through the motions of looking for a bus company and found one with a midnight departure, costing $9.75 and going only as far as Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Our plan was to go back to the town square and try to meet up with the 3 guys we met earlier and pass on our findings while we drank a few beers. We never ran into the guys but we drank beer anyway.
At 11 PM the bus station is busy with food vendors, souvenir shops and just people waiting for buses–it is dirty and generally not a safe environment. We got our bags out of storage–which is one of the best features of bus stations. I think we must be very exhausted by now…this will be our 4th country in 24 hours! We board the bus which seemed OK–I really just wanted to go to sleep for 6 hours. Well, as I was getting my daypack situated on the floor the chair in front of me totally reclined onto my head. In my best Spanish and some English expletives, I asked the guy to move his chair up, which he did for 30 seconds before another full recline onto my lap — pleeeease just let me go to sleep. For 5 hours we never got on one street for longer than 2 blocks without turning. We went through every neighborhood in Paraquay this night. We would seriously have to rethink the night bus rides.
MARCH 17–ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Can you believe it is 5AM again and we are in the Ciudad del Este bus station contemplating our next move (remember, no one speaks English in bus stations). I feel well off the tourist track at this point and I am unable to ask what to do next. The guidebooks are failing me. After a solid hour of trying to plot our next move, we go outside the terminal to wait for another bus that does not begin service until 7AM…its raining. We stand on a street corner asking every driver how to get to Puerto Iguacu, Argentina and received many answers. Finally moved to another corner and saw a bus with our destination on the front we get the driver’s attention, he tells us that the next bus will be the one we want, when we realize we do not have the right currency. A street vendor changes $20 at a crummy exchange rate but that is fine with us because we are pleased to be on a bus going somewhere else. The next dilemma is customs–how do we get out of Paraguay and into Argentina on public transportation? Whoops, we spent too much time thinking about that one and missed our Paraguayan exit. We did get off the bus at the Argentina border, went through customs and waited for the next bus to come by and continue our journey. Back on the bus, I am quickly studying accommodation selections in order to be prepared when we hit the bus terminal in Argentina.