Following our not so emotional goodbye with the Isons we headed back to the campsite where the guy who rented our car would pick it up. Slightly worried based on prior experiences with rental cars, we were actually pleasantly surprised when he literally checked the milage, and fuel gauge and nothing else before handing us our full refund back! Probably no wonder the car has so many scratches on it…
The next morning we headed off bright and early to visit one of the tourist destinations we’d missed. Gaining more and more fame are the rainbow mountains, locally known as ‘la montana de siete colores’ (the mountain of seven colours). Whilst we’d have loved to have visited while Annie’s parents were with us, it is a 3 hour drive from Cusco to go and see them, and the tours all left at 4am. We all collectively decided not to go as a team, so we went after instead.
This turned out to be a good decision for us as well, as you can camp at the start of the trailhead for free, meaning you can get up early and hit the mountains before the tour groups arrive. The one disadvantage to this was the altitude, the trailhead started at 4,600m which would be the highest we’d ever camped. This was also the height of the highest part of our Salkantay trek, so it would be an absolutely freezing night! Still, we survived and managed to grab a coffee from the staff in the morning and started our trek.
Although the trek up to the top of the mountains wasn’t the farthest at around 3k, we took it incredibly slow. A combination of the cold, the altitude and the fact we were climbing meant it was absolutely exhausting – we’d be climbing to over 5,000m at the top! With many breaks we finally made it to the rainbow mountains. They’re quite an interesting phenomenon in that, as you’re climbing up they don’t seem that impressive. It’s only the angle from the peak covered with tourists which make them seem so impressively beautiful!
Also we had missed a key piece of information. About a year go they’d built a car park for tour groups the other side of the mountains to the way we climbed. This meant two things. Firstly, upon arriving we realised the place was completely packed with tourists! It took us a while to figure out how this had happened until we spotted the car park the buses had arrived in. The second thing it meant was that we could have hiked for half the distance, up a much shallower incline to get the same view! A little bit of a sting, but we enjoyed our time at the rainbow mountains nonetheless.
The following day we left on the hunt for Bolivia! It’s around a 10 hour drive to the border and we weren’t planning on doing it all in one go. We stopped on the way at the Tinajani valley, which was a beautiful drive in. We could camp for a donation and upon arrival there was a (definitely not optional) tour of the museum which included some morbid stuffed dead animals. We offered our donation and despite planning on staying two nights we were both keen to move on to Bolivia so the next morning headed towards the border.
The crossing followed suit with most of South America in that it was clear, easy and free! Before crossing we filled our tank right up, as getting gas in Bolivia isn’t the most straightforward thing to do as a foreigner. Following the crossing we drove 30 minutes over into our campsite in Copacabana – not the one we’d visited 14 months ago in Brazil! On the coast of lake Titicaca, a mammoth lake at 4,000m, but also a 20 minute walk outside of town our campsite turned out to be a little haven. Unbeknownst to us there was a party coming to the town.
Originally only planning to spend a few nights, we spent our first couple of days catching up on life admin, writing blogs and tidying the van. We were also just taking the opportunity to not drive, hike or sightsee but just relax! Every day we headed into the town for lunch and cooked our dinner at camp. On the Friday we headed into town for breakfast to a restaurant with Irish owners who served up some soda bread which was divine. The owner did warn us that Semana Santa was upon us, and on the weekend the town would be filled to the brim with holidaymakers from the capital La Paz. He also warned us that on this weekend there’d be a lot of drunk drivers, and with only 5 breathylizers in the whole country not much to stop them. We decided it would be foolish to ignore the warning so we stayed put for the whole weekend.
It turned out to be a fantastic choice! We got to watch the whole town transform into a scene rivalling any UK festival, every inch of space taken up with tents and campers and barbecues! They also had banana boats and jet skis on the lakes but a combination of health and safety concerns and the temperate of the water kept us on dry land. On the Saturday we came into town for a drink and met Miguel and Cecilia, a lovely couple from Santiago de Chile and spent the whole day enjoying the sun and beers and cocktails with them! It transpired that Miguel is a lawyer so would help us down the line with our legal process of selling Betty – what a brilliant coincidence!
The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, we spent most of our last day relaxing in the campsite. We ventured into town to finally try some of the sausage barbecues we’d seen of the last few days but they turned out not to be so good unfortunately. Finally, after 6 nights and 7 days it was time to leave Copacabana and head to the capital city of La Paz. We’d be staying in an airport parking lot as it was a great combination of cheap, secure and accessible! We left late so simply spent the first night there and the next morning got up early as we had some chores to do in the centre of the city.
Despite not being the prettiest city architecturally in the world, the setting of La Paz is in the middle of a stunning valley in the Andes. It very much reminded us of Medellin in Colombia, and also shared the fantastic feature of having cable cars to access the city! So bright and early we took a cab to the ‘purple line’ and took a 30p cable car into town which was a stunning experience in itself. When we got to town we had to get insurance for the van, and also withdrew some crisp 100USD notes to change for pesos in Argentina as the ATMs charge extortionate fees there. After completing the chores we needed to do we managed to track down an English Pub for lunch and a few craft beers which were surprisingly good! We both opted for the steak and ale pie, which wasn’t quite the same as being home but you had to hand it to them – it was a good try. Then we attempted to go jean shopping for Annie, but decided we’d have more luck in Argentina as the shops left quite a lot to be desired. Finally we took the telerifico back to the airport and had a chinese from inside the airport to end our very productive day! The next day we had a 7 hour drive to Uyuni, where we had one turned out to be one of our most memorable experiences so far…