After scoping the tourism options in town under the guidance of the gregarious Marco, I opted to split the city’s main attractions: one day of exploring outdoors and another the city’s culture. After 10 months of traveling, I’m not going to lie: there is such a thing as traveler’s fatigue. Eventually all the markets, plazas, and churches in South America appear similar. But it quickly became apparent that Sucre is one of the most beautiful cities in South America.
Five minutes after sunrise we pulled in to the bus terminal in Trinidad, outpost to the Rio Mamoré, one of the strongest rivers in the Amazon. At this point we were completely removed from the trappings of the so-called “Gringo Trail” and had very little information to base our decisions off, but we had our sights set on renting a boat. In Trinidad we tried a few tourism offices but eventually hopped on motorcycle taxis and headed straight for the source of the river, where we heard better deals could be had. In Cochabamba we were quoted $611 USD; once we got to Trinidad it was down to $150 for a 3 day trip; by the time we pulled into a port and asked around until we found a boat driver, it was $40.
Once on the streets of Cochabamba, the hunt for empanadas was on. Quickly we found a few street carts and indulged ourselves, but we were also greeted by an unexpected sight: we landed right in the middle of a parade! Just as I finished my second empanada the square we were in exploded with sound, as a band right next to us heralded the start of a massive march. It turns out Monday was the anniversary of Cochabambian independence, and what followed for the next few hours was a show of local pride nothing short of magnificent.
The snow and glaciers of the mountain range came into view. Directly ahead of us lay the gorgeous Potosi and to our right was the imposing Illimani, a monolith in its own right at 6400 meters. As we approached the mountain my pulse noticeably quickened. Maybe it was the 1000 meter elevation gain between the city and base camp, but as I was staring at the massive glacier adorning the mountaintop for the first time nerves started to hit me: was I really going to try and climb that? With my own two feet?
After trying yet failing to break the land speed record, we bussed to a turnoff point for a dirt path. Here was where the real fun began. For the next two hours we bumped downhill, losing feeling in our hands and arms from the intensity of rolling over rocks at such a high velocity. On our left the entire time lay vertical drop offs, some hundreds of meters to the bottom. Despite the initial trepidation of knowing that one wrong move could be our last, we started getting more comfortable and accelerating into the steep turns. Soon we were gaining speed with reckless abandon, all the while trying to sneak glances at the mountainous scenery.
On Monday I was still cold when I woke up at 6:30 for a day trip to some of the islands that dot Lake Titicaca. Stretching 189 KM across and spanning a volume of 58,000 KM, Lake Titicaca is one of those sights that exudes magnificence simply in its sheer size. Upon disembarking from the dock, our boat drifted through the deep blue waters, touched only by groups of tall reeds sticking out of the surface. We followed these formations out into the open water; just a half hour boat ride from civilization lay the first of Los Uros, the lake’s legendary floating islands.