Travelling to Bolivia felt like a bit of a gamble. The country is far further off the beaten path than neighbouring Peru, and there have been plenty of warnings about terrifying buses and the mean streets of La Paz to dissuade us from the decision
However, for a family reeling from the Brexit result (Daisy’s comment, when we explained the vote to her was ‘is it like the Dark Ages now’), it proved a soothing place to lick our wounds and deal with the depleted pound. So come now, come to La Paz – just make sure you bring some oxygen and a sense of humour.
Bolivia started really well. We hopped back on the Peru Hop bus (cunningly renamed Bolivia Hop for the trip), and crossed a border complete with sheep on our way to Copacabana on the other side of the lake. As veterans at border crossings, I’d say that was the simplest yet – unlike the crossing back, but more on that later. On the bus we met another travelling family – Baby Ivy reminded us so much of Daisy and Clover (who were also travelling babies), and the girls loved playing with her.
Copacabana is backpacker central. Its main function is to serve as a jumping-off point for Bolivian islands on Lake Titicaca. The most famous are Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, apparently the birthplace of the Incans. Couldn’t miss that, so we took a tiny ferry over to the larger of the two, followed by an exceptionally steep climb up to the village.
Isla del Sol is like picture perfect Greece from 50 years ago. No cars (no roads) and plenty of donkeys and glorious sea views. The accommodation, though, is basic to say the least, and we made the poor girls hike for hours before lunch (tip: the Bolivians like to tell you what you would like to hear, which might explain why they all enthusiastically agreed there would be a restaurant around the next corner). It’s also distinctly chilly at night, so take warm clothes. Fortunately Clover takes her position as my hot water bottle very seriously when I share a bed with her – though she does insist on sleeping like a starfish.
Following our stint in Lake Titicaca we crossed the lake (on the Bolivia Hop bus) to the rest of Bolivia. That is, the bus crossed the lake on a rather rickety raft. Yes, that’s right. Bus/Lake/raft…with all our belongings on it! And we crossed the lake on a tiny tiny boat, concentrating very hard on the Milky Way in an attempt to stave off our fear. The stars were, it has to be said, amazing – the less said about the actual crossing the better.
La Paz, at 10pm, is a slightly terrifying city to approach. You approach it through El Alto – which is the second city that is tacked on to the Bolivian business capital. El Alto has an even worse reputation than La Paz itself, and at 10pm it looks like the scene from an apocalyptic movie. No-one on the street except dogs and a couple of sinister hooded figures, and hardly a light in the unfinished buildings. It’s times like that that you begin to question your travelling decisions.
It doesn’t improve when the bus – which has our Air BnB address, drops us off at the entrance to a rather unpromising shopping centre. Shutters down. World of Warcraft type stores in the basement. And Bernardo, our landlord, waiting courteously in the cold for his slightly late guests.
It got better from there. Turns out that the top of a dodgy-looking apartment block is definitely the place to be. A three-bedroom penthouse (with baths! Heaven!) gives us the most perfect views over the city imaginable, and the girls settled in fast.
Air BnB has made the hugest difference to the trip. Living in an apartment is just so much better than huddling in a hotel room. I did quite a lot of work in La Paz, as it turns out, and while I did it the girls had room to spread out. We cooked dinner for new friends (OK only pasta and sauce, but it was nice to hang out) and there was much lego, drawing and playing of games, and a little homeschooling too.
We also, as it turned out, had a few other little visitors. We’ve managed to avoid nits up til now, but somehow they found us in Bolivia. Delousing in La Paz will definitely be the name of any travel book I ever write – it sums up the glamour of travelling with children.
So, what did we actually do in La Paz? Decompressed a little, went to some lovely restaurants (do try Chez Moustache for great French food, though oddly staff who can’t speak French, and therefore can’t read their own menu). Went on the Teleferico – which takes you high, high above the city in near silence. I want one in London, as it would be such a lovely way to commute. We went to the children’s museum – which was less a museum and more the best playgroup you’ve ever been to – clay, bubbles, art and space exhibitions made of cardboard.
What didn’t we do? The Witches Market (seen enough witchy markets everywhere else, and once you’ve seen one llama foetus you’ve seen em all) and er, central La Paz. I think our tolerance for sights decreases as we travel, and we were only really prepared to put ourselves out for the two big trips we’d come to Bolivia for. Of which more in a moment. But La Paz is lovely – breathtaking in more than one way – but definitely worth a look in.