In China in US I saw logistics to every beautiful landscape
In Peru in Nepal I saw roads even to the least accessible
In Bolivia I saw nothing, nothing but the infinity of heaven and earth
USA > Mexico > Peru > Bolivia - 2012
Bolivia Itinerary - La Paz > Rurrenabaque > Uyuni
Short after sunrise I sat inside Tour Peru to embark my journey to the Peruvian border. After in and out of the customs I boarded onto another tourist bus of the same company that was waiting at the Bolivian side. From there we crossed a freezing river, made hundreds of turns on hundreds of mountains, and finally by sunset we arrived in La Paz. I consider my first South American cross border trip easy and comfortable, not so much of a hassle nor worry as people sometimes described online. The thing is, a good bus company is crucial when traveling on the road in South America, a continent where claimed to be one of the most dangerous.
La Paz is a city in a valley still it has a maximum of 4100m above sea level, which explains it why it is so cold during mornings and nights. But I was lucky to had chosen Hostal Isidoros because the owner was friendly, the staffs were helpful, and my neighbour was very caring, that gave me so much warmth since the first moment I arrived. To me, the location was very convenient because it was so close to Terminal de Buses, but a bit of a walk is needed to reach the downhill central. The price of a single room with tele and bathroom costed BOB 85 (USD 12), and there was hot water from the showers and wifi in the lobby area, which think was a pretty good deal.
The two long slanted alleyways next to both sides of Plaza de San Francisco, located at the center of the city, are filled with handcraft stalls, travel agents, outdoor equipment shops and more. The price are so cheap that it attracts travelers to shop gears and outfits for their mountain or rainforest trip. However, every day from dawn to 10am, there is a street market around Calle Mariano Graneros that sells the same products with much further discounts from what they priced from the shops. There I bought my thick warm jacket for Salar de Uyuni and it costed me only BOB 70 (USD 10). Bolivia has the lowest cost of living in South America, for example a single bus fare costs BOB 2 (USD 0.3), a pack of cigarette costs BOB 8 (USD 1.1), a two course dinner costs BOB 12 (USD 1.7). Seriously, everything is so cheap here and sometimes even cheaper than you could imagine.
Although Sucre is the official capital and Santa Cruz is the financial centre, La Paz is in fact the most important city because it is the seat of government and the tourism hub. Many students from other provinces study in La Paz because most universities are located here and are provided with most choices. In particular for art and creative related subjects, only in La Paz they have available courses for higher education.
One day I walked pass Academia Nacional de Bella Artes, where I met a passionate art professor who sent me to his class. Not only he showed me around and introduced to me the situation of the school and its students; also he invited me to his house, explained to me how artists survive in third worlds, how they speak for their countries and its people, and how they bear the very important responsibility to reveal the truth of the current political power. An illustration book that he is currently working on tells the truth of cocaine, truth is coca leaves are grown in all parts of the world, and truth is they never started the drug war in South America. We were like having known each others for ages even though we only met for a few hours, already we exchanged half of our life histories and discussed every cycle and infinity. Also we agreed when I came back from the Amazon I would teach as a Guest Lecturer in another university where he worked, to share with his students everything single thing I know about this world.
Although Bolivia is the poorest and least developed country in South America, it possesses the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on earth. In this landlocked country it has Amazon Rainforest in the east and Andes Mountain in the west. Also it has all kinds of natural scenery like lagoon, desert, forest, flatland, salt flat, ice caped mountain and many more for you to see.
Heard that the road between La Paz and Rurrenabaque is really dangerous, so I decided to take the BOB 1162 (USD 168) twelve seated plane to go in and out of Amazon. After I arrived in Rurrenabaque I went to the office of Dolphin Tour, where I joined the other few tourists and boarded onto a jeep to start our 3 days 2 nights Pampas Tour that costed me BOB 900 (USD 130) (Plus BOB 150 entrance fee). Under the very hot weather our jeep was running for several hours before we arrived in the Pampas area, where we were transferred to a small boat to embark our adventure in the primitive nature. We were totally excited because we were so close to the animals as the river was really narrow. When we first saw a crocodile we couldn't stop yelling, but then we noticed this specie was ubiquitous we then no longer had any more surprises. Other than crocodiles, the mostly seen animals were sea turtles, dolphins, capybaras, squirrel monkeys and all kinds of birds. After the river tour we had dinner at our lodge, the food was delicious and abundant so we ended up having big stomachs. Late at night we went for a hike in the riverbed where we could intently listen to our Mother Nature in complete darkness. The next morning we set off again to experience the total freedom of wilderness, exploring from the forest to the flatland we saw flights of birds flying above our heads and strings of horses running in front of own eyes. By sunset we arrived in the most remote tuck shop in the world, where we had beers and played volleyball with the other tourists from the other tours. The last day on the return river ride we saw those lovely animals once again, unfortunately we had to say goodbye before we had time to say hi. Goodbye our beautiful nature, goodbye.
The next morning after I was back to La Paz, art professor came to my hostel to send me to the Graphic Design classroom inside La Universidad Católica Boliviana "San Pablo". He wanted me to explain to the students the different art and creative environments between the first and third world. I compared it using examples of my work experiences in Europe and my understanding of the South East Asian market, and how my hometown Macau survives in a standing that is sort of between the two.
Nowadays is extremely difficult to satisfy audiences from the modern countries because they are well trained of receiving media of any kind, even the most exiting excitement no long exites their eyes. On contrary many people like it a lot the fading hand painted advert or falling half torn collage that are found in every corner of the poor countries, considering they are the most unique images. After all, a world that no longer need reality actually still in love with reality. Undeniably the developed world is provided with lots of opportunities but the undeveloped world is lack of surviving spaces. But your home is always your home, you could either choose to contribute her to create opportunity, or to leave her to look for your own space of creativity. For me, I did both choices in my life, and both gave me amazing journey.
The students were very curious about this world, and as well very interested in my stories. They didn't understand why I chose to leave Europe, a place that is full of opportunities, and ran away from Macau, where everyone makes easy money. I said, because I want to learn from them, learn from every single one I met on my journey, learn to live, learn to move on, and learn to be a Traveling Artist.
My neighbor friend came from Santa Cruz, after graduated from university she moved to La Paz and work in a pharmaceutical factory. For a monthly wages of BOB 1200 (USD 173) plus breakfast and lunch she worked from sunrise to sunset, furthermore she had to pay BOB 800 (USD 115) for her rent. She didn't have much money nor much time to rest but she was very happy. Actually all the Bolivians whom I met were all very happy. Earnestly work with their hands and simply live their lives, not so much of a worry of the ugliness in the outside world.
The night before I left La Paz my friend brought me to a disco as a farewell treat. The disco there was a place with many dinning tables, where people dancing Salsa under red and blue and green flashes. She drank so much but still remained sober and I already passed out under the table after several bottles. When I woke up I saw her dancing and drinking with two other big guys who looked really wasted. May be they thought one girl was not enough so the dragged me out to the dance floor to have fun with them. Okay, I am a very polite person, of course I would dance a bit smile bit, but that's it, I had to go back to my seat. But one of the shameless guys kept dragging me outside again and again! Even I showed him a long face he pretended not seeing it but kept dragging and dragging! At the end he even held me up in the air with one hand and turned me around like merry go round on the dance floor! Of course I wasn't afraid of him, but the thing was I wasn't strong enough so I had to wait till he got bored and put me down on the floor. By that time my friend finally smelt the danger and suggested we should leave ASAP, unfortunately the guy blocked our way so we could only hide and run and push and hit and finally escape to the exit, jumped onto a taxi, closed the car door, and laughed into tears while speaking though our eyes.
Oh I forget to tell you that my friend didn't speak any English and most of the time we were communicating in body language. Strange thing was that I could only understand her Spanish but no one else, may be each time she tried it so hard with all possible ways to make me understand what she wanted to say. This warmhearted Bolivian girl made me understand that if we really wanted to communicate we have to put our hearts into the conversation. Without putting our hearts it doesn't matter whichever language we speak it is meaningless, even if we speak in a same mother tongue it is only rubbish and and nonsense.
In the evening I boarded onto a BOB 100 (USD 14.5) Panasur tourist bus and left La Paz. After a sleepless cold night I arrived in Uyuni, the closest town to Salar de Uyuni, in the early morning.
I had a short rest and then I started looking for information from the tour companies that was located opposite to the train station. Remember, extra attention has to be paid when choosing this tour because it brings you to the most isolated remote land on earth, no one can help you when there is a shortage of food or the driver is drinking toxic. At the end I chose Uyuni Tour for my 3 days 2 nights Salar de Uyuni Tour, and it costed me BOB 750 (USD 108) (Plus a total of BOB 180 entrance fee). I chose Uyuni Tour because the owner spoke Japanese to me, and I knew that a company that serves Japanese wouldn't be a crap company at all. And yes my little assumption was right, that I never had to worry of a single thing but just to enjoy the nice food and warm bed in the next few days.
Day one after a short drive we arrived in Salar de Uyuni, the highlight of this tour. When I was being inside the largest salt flat in this world I couldn't believe my eyes seeing such a vast expanse complete whiteness, which was speechlessly beautiful and surrealistically impactful. Unfortunately it wasn't a rainy season and so we couldn't see the magical mirror effect for a total surreality. But before we left the salt flat we visited a weird island that was full of gigantic cactus and that extended our conscious of surrealism a little bit. In the next two days we kept seeing unbelievably beautiful scenery that no one wants to forget. From dawn to dusk the jeep ran on sands and stones, brought us to the most remote volcanoes, deserts, geysers, lagoons, stone formations, ice capped mountains and many more places. On the way there was no road no logistic, simply just nothing, thats why it made the scenery specially stunning, that it allowed us to see a boundless world, as well to feel true infinity between heaven and earth.
Even though remote lands are really beautiful, sometimes they are really daunting too. After I finished the tour I hopped onto a transfer jeep that sent me to the Chilean border. The customs was a small hut located on a highland sitting against snow capped mountains, having less than twenty tourists and that's it, nothing else, definitely the most deserted customs I ever went. The jeep was gone after I had my stamp but I had no idea of when my next transport would be coming, it was kinda shaky and I was kinda worry. All I could do was wait and wait and wait in the freezing wind, until I saw a van that was painted with a name that I also had on my ticket, from there I felt secure again and continued my journey.