Travelling to South America has always been on my bucket list. I was supposed to go to Australia, but as the wildfires were getting progressively worse, I thought that it probably wasn’t the best idea to go. Long story short, I decided to do South America on a whim-by myself. I started looking on the internet of travel groups that did tours around South America. Chile has always been top on my list, as it has very diverse regions and climates.
I ended up finding this travel group called Tucan where they did multiple countries in South America and you could choose where you wanted to join the group and how many countries you wanted to do. It was a relatively good price and it included all the accommodations, flights, means of travel and daily activities. The only additional costs were food and free days where you could choose to do whatever you wanted to, including tours and what not.
I decided, at the time, that I was going to do Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. I really wanted to do Brazil as well, but, financially, I couldn’t fathom paying another couple grand just for a few extra days. However, moving forward, as I booked my trip on a whim, I left an extra week for myself in case I changed my mind on going to Brazil. My work was also super generous with giving me time off, so that surely helped.
I booked the trip two weeks prior to my departure date, which allotted me enough time to mentally prepare myself, along with get all the necessities. As I was going by myself, I had some reservations, but for the most part, I was just excited. I have travelled by myself before, but this was going to be my first time going to different places for an extended period of time. I had an amazing time, by the way, but we will get into that as I further explain my trip. So let’s get started.
I thought that 24 hours of travel would be a lot worse than it actually was, but turned out to be not that bad. Took about 8 hours to get to Peru, and then had a five hour layover, where I slept in the airport. That was a big surprise that I slept, since I was by myself, with all my stuff. The one barrier that I noticed right away was that no one spoke English and everything was written in Spanish. I had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out where to go, as I can only speak very broken, basic Spanish.
My last flight wasn’t too bad, and before I knew it, I was in Bolivia. As I just brought a carry-on, I was able to walk straight off the plane to where the buses were outside and hoped that somebody would understand what I was trying to say. As I am not a planner, I just figured that I could find a bus at the airport that would be bring me to my hotel. One thing I did read though, was to be careful on taking taxis in Bolivia, as some cars look like taxis, but they rip you off and can be dangerous. I decided that taking a bus would be a cheaper option anyway, so I just stuck to that.
Walked over to the buses and asked with my very broken Spanish if they were going to Hotel Sagarnaga, and they replied with yes, and then started speaking very fast in Spanish in which I could no longer understand, so I just nodded, walked to the bus and hopped in. It was a very small bus with people very tightly squeezed in. Shortly after that, we headed out. As we passed the airport gates, it was like a totally different world that I had entered. To my right hand side, passed the guard rail, I could just see the Earth that had eroded in the centre, surrounded by its remains. Formed by rocks and dirt, with little greenery. Having never seen a canyon before, it was absolutely fascinating. On the left, there were rows of houses that were built on these hills. It seemed very fitting for being at 3,500 m above sea level
Busy is the best word I would describe La Paz. Lots of people, lots of buildings, and lots of traffic. What I found to be most culturally shocking were people getting off the bus and just walking through oncoming traffic. The bus just stopped in the middle of the road and people would get off. I also had no idea where my hotel was and how long it would take. I know I know-I like to live life on the edge, what can I say. With that being said, I definitely was super anxious about if the bus was going to stop for me and how I would manage to walk through oncoming traffic on a busy street. It took about 40 minutes to get to my stop. As the bus driver stopped and let me know that this was my stop, I paid him 5 US dollars (which was much cheaper than the 60 dollar pick up that my tour group offered) and started heading up the way that he pointed for my hotel. As I could barely understand what the bus driver was saying, I was steadily just counting on the point of his finger to lead me in the right direction. Oh, and yes…I survived walking through the oncoming traffic, in case you were wondering.
The streets were packed with tons of people. There must have been a protest going on because there were copious amounts of people gathered around a government building shouting things I could not understand. As I made my way past them, I began to notice my surroundings. The streets were quite narrow, with cobble stone roads-some of which was eroding. The buildings were all tightly squeezed together, some of which looked like they had been abandoned for years, and all the buildings had different colours. It took me about ten minutes to walk up to my hotel. The hotel was compact, with glass sliding doors and a very small lobby.
I had no idea what to expect. I walked into the hotel and told the front desk that I was with Tucan and they gave me the key to my room and off I went. Bringing only a carry-on backpack was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. It would have been so difficult carrying luggage up a steep hill. Not to mention that its very convenient to just walk off a plane and not have to wait for your luggage. The most difficult thing was trying to narrow down what I could bring on my trip, but once you learn how to pack light-trust me, you’ll never pack heavy again.
As I opened the door to my room, my roommates stuff was already in the room, but she wasn’t in there. Having lived in Banff before in a shared room, sharing a room with somebody I have never met has never been an issue. I have also never had a bad experience- my roommates have always turned out to be fantastic. As I was quite exhausted from travelling, I decided to take a nap. Before I could even shut my eyes, I began to hear noises that sounded like fireworks, or maybe gun shots, which was a little alarming. I still don’t really know to this day what those noises were, but eventually I drifted off into a heavy sleep, and when I awoke, the noises were gone.
At 6 pm, I met my tour guide for the first time and some of the people in my travel group. Everyone seemed so nice and welcoming. Most of the people in the group had already been travelling together for over a week, so bonds had already been formed. It was a little awkward at first coming into a group that already knew each other, but that didn’t last very long.
As I had a bit of free time after my meeting with my tour group, I decided to take a little walk outside to explore my surroundings. There were lots of little huts of people selling fresh fruits and veggies, and little vendors selling just about anything that you needed. It was breathtaking to be able to see the mountains in the background and all the houses set on it to create lots of colours and shapes. It wasn’t too hot either, which helped with adjusting to a different climate. However, altitude sickness is a real thing and doesn’t always set in right away…but, I’m getting ahead of myself. As I kept walking up the street, looking back, I could see how steep and compact the streets were. That’s when it kicked in that I was on vacation, by myself, in a foreign country and I couldn’t have been happier.
After my walk, I met up with my tour group and we went to a local pub to grab dinner. When I say that no one spoke English-I really wasn’t exaggerating. Thank god for our tour guide that could translate everything for us, otherwise there would have been a major language barrier, especially because no one in the group could speak Spanish.
The group is well-balanced, with there being half older people and half younger people. The funny part is that most of them are Aussies (there is also a couple from the UK) and I just cant seem to get away from them. I mean that in the most sincere way, as people from Australia are amazing and really fun to be around. Banff (where I lived before in Canada) is predominantly Australian, and so again, just can’t get away from them.I also just really like their accents and hilarious humour. They’re just different breeds of people…and I totally dig it.
As we finished dinner, I just remember taking in how multicoloured all the buildings were and how there was graffiti, and paintings on buildings. To some at a first glance, it may seem run-down, but if you really take it in, the city has a lot of heart and you can see that through the colours and paintings, and historic buildings.
I would have liked to explore La Paz more than I did, however, with time being limited, I was only really able to walk nearby my hotel. The next morning we were leaving for Uyuni, and had to be up at 5 am. But it was a great start to my vacation, and somewhat culturally shocking, but I really enjoyed myself. Uyuni, on the other hand, was very, very different from La Paz, and equally just as shocking, but in a different way. The views for the next couple of days were unreal and will forever be ingrained in my brain. But, that is for my next post. So stay tuned!
To be continued….