Challenges, Inspiration

A Bookings Manager in Bolivia

January 30, 2012

Our intrepid Bookings Manager Carmel Hendry has been inspired by our new Andean Mountain Trek to come out from behind the bookings desk and reminise about the time she spent traveling across Bolivia…

“What does every traveller like doing? Talking about their travels! So when I was given the opportunity to step out from my role as Bookings Manager and write a little about my experiences in the fabulous county of Bolivia, I leapt at the chance.

We’ve added a number of new challenges to our portfolio this year – including an exciting Mexico Cycle and a rather different Snow-Shoeing Expedition in the beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees. So why not enthuse about Mexican macho men, or frogs-legs in France? Why Bolivia, the black-sheep of the Andean family?

To be honest, that was my first thought when my friends took the executive decision of outvoting me on one of our many ‘where to next?’ conversations. We had just spent the last 7 months working together in Ecuador, and were deciding whether to travel onwards to Chile, or across Peru and through to Bolivia. My preference was for the former. I mean, who’s ever heard of anything good in Bolivia? My friends outvoted me, and although I think their decision was more about money than their extensive knowledge of Bolivian culture (Bolivia makes Ecuador look outrageously expensive), I’d like to thank them and their stinginess for introducing me to the most extraordinary country I’ve ever been to.

 From our first view of Lake Titicaca on a hillside on the Peruvian border, I was hooked. We sat there in silence until sunset. The beauty was intense, and I never lost that feeling of awe in the many days we spent on and around the Lake. Although Bolivia is one of only two South American countries with no coastline, the Lake extends further than the eye can travel, creating the impression of an enormous sea stretching before you. You could almost forget that the sprawling metropolis of La Paz lies only kilometres away. I am not a spiritual person (believe me), but if you ever feel in need of tranquility then the intensity of the stars on the Isla del Sol provides the kind of extreme calm that you will never regain.

The peacefulness of the lake is the complete antithesis of the gigantic and frankly bonkers city of La Paz. Prepare to feel out of breath – the angles of the road are so steep that the tiny ‘colectivo’ minibuses feel like they are going to roll backwards each time they stop to let someone out. One such road leads up to the highest football stadium in the world – home to bizarrely-named Bolivian team ‘The Strongest’. If football isn’t really your thing, then you can take in the llama fetuses lining the shelves at the Witches Market. In La Paz you feel like there will be something interesting and exciting just around the corner. While I was there, I even managed a cycle trip down the most dangerous road in the world!

If THAT wasn’t enough to persuade the most staunch llamaphobe to visit Bolivia, the country’s biggest secret lies on the western Altiplano, a 12hr train and bus ride from La Paz. Don’t let that put you off though, what you are about to see could change your life (OK let’s not go that far, but it is awesome). The Salt Plains of Uyuni are an ethereal, other-worldly landscape where the sky and land blend into one white, disorientating mass. When the light catches the plains correctly, the reflections in the salt are so perfect that they will amaze and confuse you. This was honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; it was literally stunning – the whole place is so… weird. You not only have the everlasting white landscape of the salt plains, which looks like a bizarre sci-fi film’s idea of heaven, but you can also visit the red lake, which plays home to hundreds of bright-pink flamingos, or the explosive geysers nearby.

The Andean country of Bolivia doesn’t deserve its obscurity, but I am grateful for it. In no other country in South America can you enjoy so much tranquility, and experience so much interaction with the locals, outside of the tourist throng. And after all that, I realized I haven’t actually mentioned the trekking at all. Three words: really huge mountains.

If you would like to challenge yourself in a country that enjoys altitudes rarely experienced on any of our other treks (you will be climbing up to 6,088m on Huayna Potosí), and take in the sights and sounds of one of South America’s most interesting countries, click here to see our 2012 date and find out more.”

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