S: Bolivia and Colombia
FC: Columbia | Bolivia | April 2012
1: Bolivia | Colombia | La Paz | Bogota' | Santa Marta | Cartagena | Lake Titicaca | Tayrona Park | Totumo Volcano | Rosario Islands | April 2012 | Tiwanaku
2: La Paz Bolivia | Plaza La Paz Hotel
3: We left Charlotte at 1PM, met the rest of the group in Miami and finally arrived in La Paz at 1:15AM. We no sooner exited the plane when we started having trouble with the altitude - the airport is at 13,500 feet and our hotel at 12,000 feet. We met our Trip Leader, Pedro, drove to our hotel in the center of La Paz arriving at 2:30AM. We were exhausted and went straight to bed. | The view from our 9th floor room. | We had the morning to rest and get acclimated. We managed to make it to breakfast where we had cereal, eggs, fruit and cheese. Since we weren't meeting Pedro until 2:00, we had some coca tea and took a nap. Woke up and felt a little better but still having problems with the altitude
4: El Prado | We ambled along the main street which was nicely landscaped and had monuments every block or so. People were enjoying the warm afternoon (about 60 degrees), relaxing and eating ice cream.
5: Some of the older local women were dressed ethnically in brightly colored skirts, aprons and shawls, topped off with a bowler hat. The hats were just perched on top of their heads with no pins or clips.
6: As we continued down El Prado, we saw a mixture of colonial buildings, modern skyscrapers and fast food places. | Pedro, Our Trip Leader
7: Every car had dolls or other good luck charms in the windshield. | No McDonalds but we saw lots of Burger Kings.
8: Plaza Pedro Murillo
9: We slowly walked up a long hill to this plaza which was named for an early 1800's leader who was hanged here. People were feeding the birds and eating food from the many vendors and generally enjoying themselves. | Baker
10: Presidential Palace | National Cathedral
11: National Cathedral
12: This man will type forms for a fee. | Reflections | La Paz is surrounded by mountains with houses built up into the hills. The poorer the home, the higher it was. Landslides are a constant threat.
13: Two of the many hills we climbed today. | Hidden courtyard | We had our Welcome Dinner in the penthouse restaurant at our hotel. The corn soup, pepper steak, chicken and fresh fruit were all delicious.
14: Costume Market | Today we visited several of the markets located throughout the city. Our first stop was this colorful market where costumes are made and rented out during the February Carnival. The costumes are very elaborate consisting of masks, hats, dresses, pants, shirts and boots. Each shop specializes in a particular region of the country.
16: We continued walking downhill through the furniture market, the mattress street, the shoe and clothing markets, and the appliance and electronics markets. All the electronics are smuggled into the country and are very cheap. | Market Day
17: We finally walked through the food market - several blocks of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. It all looked delicious.
18: Valley of the Moon
19: Later this morning we drove 30 minutes to see this rugged landscape featuring deep gullies, oddly shaped outcroppings and spindly stone spires. We took a short hike through the valley before stopping for lunch.
20: After lunch, we returned to La Paz and walked through this market where the indigenous people sell plants, potions and talismans used in ancient healing rituals. Witch doctors offered their fortune-telling services. | Witch's Market
21: Basilica of San Francisco | We walked several blocks passing silver and clothing shops but didn't buy anything. We visited this Basilica which was built in 1548, collapsed under a heavy snowfall around 1610 and was rebuilt in the mid-1700's. Nice blend of colonial Spanish and mestizo trends. We returned to the hotel and had dinner in a Viennese restaurant - delicious food and very inexpensive.
23: We had a 4:00 wake up call today. The bus and taxi drivers were striking for higher pay and planned to block all the roads in the city starting at 6:00. We left at 5:30 in the cold and dark and wrapped in heavy blankets. Everyone dozed while we drove over the mountains. About 8:00 we arrived at a small bay separating two parts of Lake Titicaca. We crossed by small boat and our bus went by barge. | Lake Titicaca | La Paz | Lake Titicaca
25: We drove for another 90 minutes until we reached the town of Copacabana. We stopped at this viewpoint for our first look at the town. | Copacabana
27: Apparently Copacabana is quite the resort town; however, at 10:00 in the morning, it was mostly deserted. The restaurants and bars were just starting to open; all the swan paddle boats were on shore and no one was at the beach. We walked along the water to reach our boat, saw some fishermen and this cute little girl waiting for her mother.
29: Island of the Sun | The boat ride to the island took about an hour and a half. There wasn't much to see but Pedro told us about the 180 Inca ruins on the island. We climbed this hill to see one of them. We made our way past the vendors up very steep, uneven stairs.
30: Island of the Moon | Pedro
31: After exploring the ruins, Pedro showed us a shortcut over to an Andean home where we would have lunch. We only had to climb a few steps, walk through a potato field and climb through a barbed wire fence. The alternative was to walk down to the shore and then back up using a different set of steps. Our lunch table was in a beautiful garden setting overlooking the lake. | Pilko Kaina, an Inca palace
33: Our lunch was brought out wrapped in a blanket. We had white and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, large lima beans, chicken, trout, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, small fried fish and a banana. While we ate, we watched the donkeys eat the roses and saw a reed boat sail into the small harbor.
34: After lunch, we sailed down the coast to visit an ancient Incan Fountain of Youth. Only five of us and Pedro made the climb which felt like a 1000 steps. It was really only 198 very uneven steps. We rested several times on the way up, saw the fountain and then continued up the mountain. The view was worth all the exertion. | Fountain of Youth
35: Harvesting potatoes
36: We motored back to Copacabana, walked along the beach and up a hill to our hotel. Each room had a view of the garden and lake. We were exhausted and decided to take a nap before dinner. | Rosario Del Lago Hotel | Copacabana
37: Sunset | Sunrise | Lots of new building going on.
38: Market of Wishes | The next morning we walked through the market of wishes on the way to the basilica. People would buy small models which represented their hopes - a baby, a house, a car, riches or travel. The proprietor would sprinkle the model with holy water. When the wish came true, the people would return with an offering for the church.
39: Every Saturday, new car owners would bring their vehicles to the church to be blessed for good luck. Today there were cars and a large bus. They were all gaily decorated with flowers and streamers. After the blessing, fruit juice was sprayed over the cars. It made quite a stinky mess but everyone was thrilled.
40: Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana | The church is the destination of many pilgrims - some even walk from La Paz which is over 100 miles away. Every interior surface is covered with gold leaf.
41: We walked around town and found a small shop that sells items made by the women in the area. I bought a few things to use as gifts. The town was bustling with lots of shoppers. We found a small park and did some people watching before returning to La Paz.
42: We stopped at this small market on our return to La Paz. Huge bags of popcorn in all colors and Jello in the colors of the Bolivian flag were for sale.
43: We had lunch at a small roadside restaurant where we had chicken, fries, rice and mixed vegetables for only a few dollars.
45: After lunch, we visited a Uros Indian family who construct traditional reed boats. We talked to the Grandfather and then had a short sail. A storm was brewing in the distance but luckily never came near our boat.
46: It took us four hours to drive back to La Paz. We saw street festivals, vendors everywhere, masked shoe shine boys and people just relaxing in the road.
47: The following morning we had planned to leave the hotel at 9:30 but the streets were closed due to a marathon being run downtown. We had to walk about 12 blocks, luckily down hill, to get to our bus. Hundreds of people were running - some struggling and some having no trouble at all. | The street outside our hotel
48: We drove to two small museums in the old section of town. One showcased gold items from the Incan and pre-Incan times. The other was a 300 year old house built in the Spanish style. The building must have been chilly since all the rooms were off an open central courtyard. | From there we drove about 1 1/2 hours to Tiahuanaco where archaeologists have uncovered ruins of a pre-Incan civilization going back to the fifth century B.C. | On the road to Tiahuanaco
49: We visited one of the museums at the complex where Pedro explained the history and culture of the Tiwanaku. We then walked through the site where we saw pyramids, temples, aqueducts and mysterious monoliths. The site is in various stages of excavation and restoration. | Gate of the Sun
50: Kalasasaya Temple
51: The inside walls of the temple were studded with over 300 carved stone heads. Some of the faces looked almost alien while others were very life like. No one knows what they mean.
52: La Paz | Bogota' | We left La Paz on an 8:30 AM flight and arrived in Bogata' about 2:30. Our hotel was two 200 year old buildings built around courtyards. There were stained glass windows everywhere; the rooms were a little small but full of interesting details. There was even a small chapel on the second floor. | Breakfast | Bogota' Colombia | Hotel De La Opera
53: After settling in, we explored La Candelario, the Old City of Bogata'. We stopped to chat with some students at this 500 year old school. | Plaza De Bolivar | The plaza is surrounded by the main government buildings: Congress, the Palace of Justice, City Hall and the National Cathedral. | Alex, our Trip Leader
54: As we walked by some government buildings, these guards agreed to pose with us. The guard in the ceremonial dress was so young he still had braces on his teeth! | National Cathedral
55: As we continued on to the Gold Museum, we saw street vendors everywhere. Alex stopped at one vendor selling fried banana slices, white and sweet potato chips and something that tasted like a donut but was long and thin. Everything was delicious!
57: The Gold Museum has the largest collection of pre-Columbian gold figures in the world. More than 30,000 pieces of gold are on display. The workmanship was exquisite. | The Gold Museum
58: As we continued our walk through the old town, we passed several walls of graffiti. The designs were very elaborate and were encouraged by the government. We even met one of the graffiti artists. | It started to rain so we stopped at a chicha café. Chicha is a local alcoholic drink made from corn and lulo which is a fruit that grows only in Colombia. It was very tart and strong. There was graffiti all over the walls and the tables so we added some of our own.
59: We continued our walk through the part of town built in the 1500s. There were narrow cobblestoned streets and small quaint houses.
60: The doorways were all different and some of the graffiti quite beautiful. While walking along, we met a group of students who wanted to practice their English. | This old church is now a very expensive apartment building.
62: Monserrate Hill | The next morning we set out for Monserrate Hill. There is a lovely 17th-century church at the top that is a popular site for pilgrims - many of whom ascend the winding path on their knees. Luckily, we took the funicular tram up the hill. It was a clear day so we had a good view of the sprawling city, | At the end of the ride, we had to continue to the top of the hill, past Stations of the Cross and lovely gardens. | Andreas, our local guide
64: Basilica of the Fallen Lord Christ
66: After visiting the church, we walked through the marketplace. There were many souvenir shops and I bought a small doll dressed in Colombian costume. We stopped at one shop for some coca tea and a rare delicacy - fried ants. I wasn't even tempted to try one. | Wolfgang, our photographer
67: Returning to the city below, we visited the Botero Museum. Botero is known for his artwork and sculptures of huge and fat characters and animals. | Botero Museum
68: Botero Museum | Mona Lisa?
70: We ate lunch in this pretty restaurant. The dining rooms were located around two flower filled courtyards with fountains. We had a local dish consisting of fried bananas, rice topped with a fried egg, avocado, two kinds of sausage, beans and a thick slice of bacon.
71: On the walk back to the bus, we stopped to talk to these school girls. And of course, saw more street vendors selling everything from bread to fried banana slices.
72: We drove to a coffee co-op where 20 local coffee growers bring their beans to be sorted and roasted. We donned hair coverings, face masks and aprons before being allowed to sort the beans. | Checking for insect damage
73: After trying to sort the beans, we went to the tasting room. First, we tried to identify the different aromas of the ground beans. They all smelled like plain coffee to me. Our guide then explained the different ways to brew coffee and gave us a sample. The cappuccino was delicious.
74: Our first stop today was this small neighborhood market. The people were very friendly and let us sample some of the lesser known fruits. We saw this adorable little girl playing with her cat.
75: We stopped at this technical high school in one of the small villages that we drove through. This was a 10th grade English class of about 40 students. The kids were very friendly but kind of shy. Not only did they get a chance to practice their English but they also had a break from class.
76: We stopped in the small town of La Calera for a cooking lesson. The entire block was lined with these small shops making arepas. Arepas are small round unleavened patties made of cornmeal, stuffed with cheese and then toasted. Delicious! | Each shop seemed to have its own dog begging for food. Naturally we fed them.
77: We stopped in the small town of Sopo to walk around the square and visit a craft shop. Beautiful things but didn't buy anything.
78: This salt mine has been in use since pre-Columbian times. The miners have carved symbolic Stations of the Cross in the old salt chambers. At the end of the tunnels are three naves representing Jesus' birth, life and resurrection. There are also beautiful sculptures in the different rooms. Millions of people visit every year.
79: We walked through lovely gardens to reach our restaurant which was a restored salt plant. We had a local soup, San Cocho, for lunch which was similar to a chicken stew. We also had salad and a cheese dessert.
80: Bogota' | Santa Marta | Santa Marta | After numerous traffic jams, we finally arrived at the airport for our two hour flight to Santa Marta. We were late leaving and didn't arrive at the hotel until 3:00 when we had a late lunch. | What a contrast with Bogota'! Santa Marta is tropical - temperatures in the 90's while Bogota' was in the 60's. We met our new local guide, also named Andreas, at 4:00 for a short walking tour of the town. | We stopped to talk to this lady who made beautiful woven handbags, totes and decorated flip-flops.
81: As we walked toward the main square we passed many street vendors selling fruits, coco loco a fruit drink, and of course, coffee. Alex stopped a coffee seller and let us sample several different kinds.
82: Santa Marta Cathedral
83: We walked back to the hotel passing some interesting shops and buildings. We talked to yet another group of students all of whom wanted to practice their English. | Lighthouse Rock
85: After our city walk, we drove to Taganga, a small fishing village about 45 minutes from the city The area was quite picturesque and the fishermen had a good catch that day. We walked through the village to the Blue Whale restaurant where we had fresh fish. It was very good but only 3 hours after our late lunch. We couldn't do justice to it. | Taganga
86: We left early for our trip to Tayrona National Park driving through some small villages and some pretty countryside. | In one village Alex saw a family standing by the side of the road. They were members of the Kogui Indian tribe. The father was 63, the mother 23. She was his 4th wife and he has 30 children. They were walking to Santa Marta which was a 45 minute drive away. | Local transportation | Kogui Indian family
87: Tayrona Park
88: Tayrona Park | We started our visit with a jungle walk, then climbed to the cliff top where we had wonderful views of the Caribbean. We stopped at several viewpoints and then descended to the beach. | We had about a one mile slog in the sand to reach a resort where we would have lunch. Even the damp sand was difficult to walk on. | Leaf-cutter ants
92: The resort was in a beautiful setting with flowers everywhere. We ate under one of the conical roof buildings with open sides. The breeze was delightful after the hot walk on the beach. | We had a delicious lunch of soup, fish, rice, potatoes and veggies. | Alex, our Trip Leader
93: After lunch we walked to a secluded beach. Since we had only a short time there, we didn't go swimming but just enjoyed the fresh air. | We arrived back in Santa Marta about 3:30. Alex offered to take us on another walking tour but we opted to relax at the hotel. Our dinner was at a restaurant high above the beach area. We had a nice chicken dinner.
94: We left the hotel at 8:30 for the drive to Cartagena about 90 miles away. We stopped for lunch at the Sombrero Restaurant: had two empanatas -one with egg, the other with chicken. While good, they were both fried and left us still hungry.
95: Totumo Volcano
96: The Totumo Volcano is actually a 50 foot mud hill. The bubbling pool of mud at the volcano's crater is known for its healing qualities. The climb to the top was on slippery, mud covered steps and looked really treacherous coming down when you would be covered in mud. We opted to take pictures instead of the mud bath. | Our group was actually smiling after being immersed in the mud. After getting down from the crater they had to walk barefoot on a gravel path to the lagoon where they were rinsed off and given a massage.
97: After everyone got cleaned up, we continued on to Cartagena arriving about 3:00. Our hotel was located on a narrow street in the Old Town that our bus couldn't access. We walked a few blocks to a very plain building. Inside was quite a surprise. There was a flower filled courtyard and all the rooms overlooked a small swimming pool. | Our luggage arrived on several rental carts | Santa Marta | Cartagena | Don Pedro de Heredia Hotel
98: Cartagena | After settling in, we walked to a local salsa dance hall. Colombian style salsa involves intricate dance steps with the upper body being still and relaxed. Our teacher showed us several steps and then practiced with each of us. I was able to get the first basic move and then lost it completely. Oh well, it was good exercise. | Salsa Dance Lesson | Alex showing us how it's done
99: The next morning we had breakfast on the fifth floor terrace. Good food - a made-to-order omelet, and a wonderful view of the city roof line.
100: Cartagena Old Town
101: Old Town was certainly picturesque with narrow streets, horse drawn carriages, flower filled balconies, different colored buildings, interesting shops and street vendors.
103: We got an early start for our walking tour of Old Town. We saw several churches built in the 1500's, walked on part of the old city wall and through several plazas and saw an outdoor sculpture museum. All the buildings had colorful balconies.
104: Sculpture Garden
105: Old city wall
109: School Visit | We visited this nursery school class of 2 to 4 year olds. Some were extremely shy while others wanted to sit on our laps. The children's parents were some of the street vendors that we had seen on our walk. The class sang songs and then we all had a chance to dance with the children. As we were leaving,lunch was being served.
110: La Popa Convent | Later we drove up the hill to the La Popa Convent. Great views of the city and a beautiful flower filled courtyard.
112: The La Popa Convent honors La Virgin de Candelaria, Cartagena's patron saint.
114: Chiva Bus | This evening we drove through the city in a party bus. We were joined by three musicians who played and sang for the entire ride. We stopped to get a beer to get in the party mood. Our driver tooted the horn and flashed his lights and all the locals smiled and waved to us. It was great fun. We stopped at the beach to see the sunset before dinner.
116: Rosario Islands
117: Today we sail to the coral reef archipelago of the Rosario Islands. Our 90 minute boat ride took us past two 1600s forts and several small islands before arriving at Pirate Island. There were only about 50 visitors on the island so our group had a beach area all to our selves. | Pirate Island
118: There were several small cottages for overnight guests, lots of hammocks and beach chairs, a sandy beach and the warm Caribbean Sea.
119: We had a nice lunch of fish, rice, watermelon and pineapple. After lunch we relaxed on the beach and enjoyed the water. We all dozed on the ride back to Cartagena.
120: Home Hosted Dinner | We visited a family who lived in an apartment overlooking the Caribbean. Both parents were lawyers although the mother was also a tour guide (which paid more money). They had two adorable children aged 7 and 3. We had a chicken, vegetable and rice dish with a candied guava and cheese dessert.
121: We started our day with a walk through the Getsemani neighborhood interacting with various vendors selling books, flowers, coffee, juice and cell phone minutes.
122: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas | The Castillo San Felipe took over 200 years to complete. It consists of a series of thick walls, bunkers, batteries, parapets and a maze of tunnels. The cannons protected the city by land and by sea.
124: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
125: Cartagena Harbor Tour | We were all looking forward to our harbor boat ride. Unfortunately, the boat was too small for our group and very uncomfortable. However, as we left the dock, we sailed past Bird Island which made the boat trip worthwhile. The island had many nesting egrets and a few cormorants. It was interesting trying to see the baby birds.
126: Cartagena Harbor Tour | We sailed past local fishermen in small dugout canoes and saw large sailboats and luxury yachts.
127: Statue of Our Lady at the entrance to the harbor. | Empty Shoe sculpture
129: After our harbor tour, we walked through an older section of town with lots of interesting buildings, balconies, doorways and door knockers. It rained for about 5 minutes but luckily we had our umbrella so the camera didn't get wet.
130: Alex's family | Tonight, we had a traditional carriage ride through historic Cartagena before our farewell dinner.
131: We ate at a very nice restaurant where we had a delicious meal of fresh fish. On the return walk to the hotel, we saw these local dancers perform.
133: Cartagena | McCormick | We had a wonderful time but we were glad to get back home.