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Rambling Bolivia

With a population of 9.1 million and about 60% living in poverty, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America.  Due to this country’s impoverishment, rambling Bolivia contrasts greatly to it’s neighboring countries, such as Peru, Chile, and Argentina.  In many regions of Bolivia, the landscape appears untouched, stretching for miles on either side of the highway with only the occasional llama pack and herder, dry-stacked rock wall, or mud brick hut nestled in the valleys.  Men and women in indigenous dress abound, carrying babies in brightly colored textiles while walking alongside alpaca and llamas, creating the typical South American postcard image that tour books so often highlight.

The opportunity to witness the indigenous way of life and rolling hills studded with llamas, not to mention boundless camping options due to little regulation in rural regions, are strongpoints to driving Bolivia.  In addition, food, accommodations and souvenirs are extremely cheap.  However, be prepared for a lack of modern amenities, well-stocked stores for provisioning, and terrible roads.  In fact, the drive from La Paz to the Uyuni Salt Flat primarily consists of rocky, washboard-covered dirt roads.  While Bolivia is a country that is not to be missed during your rambles, if you plan to explore the rural country, provision before-hand and make sure to fill your auxiliary gas tanks.

 

 
COROICO

Nestled in a valley at the end of what is supposedly the most dangerous road in the world, Coroico is a picturesque, flowery town surrounded by green mountains in the Yungas region of Bolivia.  That dangerous dirt road, the Yungas Road (or “death road” as many call it), now primarily serves as a route for bikers, since a paved road was built in 2006.

Since Coroico is only a 3 hour drive from La Paz, this town of only 2,361 is somewhat of a tourist trap, and most businesses cater to foreign visitors.  As a result, there are an abundance of hostels, hotels, restaurants, and hiking/exploration tours to choose from, however you will be disappointed if you are looking for an “authentic” Bolivian experience.  

What to expect from Coroico:

The views from Coroico are spectacular, but tourism websites tend to over-exaggerate Coroico’s strongpoints.  The entire town can be explored within one day, and activities are limited.  You can explore Coroico’s natural surroundings, which include hiking, swimming or rafting in nearby rivers, or visiting neighboring farms.  The town is pleasant, but not action-packed, and the tourist vibe makes it feel a bit fake.

TIPS:

  • Internet is extremely slow here, so plan to work on internet items before or after your journey to the valley.
  • We were hit with altitude sickness and amebic dysentery in Coroico.  Avoid altitude sickness by drinking plenty of water, chewing on coca leaves, and avoiding alcohol.  The amebic dysentery could have been from the water or food that was not properly washed.  Try to avoid uncooked foods (such as salads) that accompany your meals, and, as always in Bolivia, drink bottled water.

 


UYUNI SALT FLAT

The largest salt flat in the world is a site that should not be missed!  Camp on the salt-encrusted terrain and wake up to a stunningly white plain that surrounds you from all sides.  To learn more about the Uyuni Salt Flat, read the Ramble Writer article here: ramblewriter.com/ramblings/?p=433

The Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni): Bolivia



 

Sweeping over 4,085 square miles of stark-white salt crust in southwest Bolivia, the Uyuni Salt Flat is the world’s largest expanse of encrusted salt.  The landscape is so flat, in fact, that the average altitude varies only within one meter.  It’s consistent flat surface is now used to calibrate Earth observational satellite altimeters.Ramblers who travel to the Salt Flat from the north will surely encounter unmaintained, dirt roads with vast rural landscapes and limited opportunities to provision.  Southern Bolivia’s roads were some of the roughest we encountered, so prepare yourself for the bumpy road ahead!  The town of Uyuni, however, has hostels and a large food market, as well as a few shops and internet cafes.  Don’t expect to find the greatest restaurants, accommodations, and speedy internet in Uyuni, but the bare minimum is available.

Camping out in the Salt Flat is an amazing opportunity.  Since there are only faint paths along the flats, drivers can roam in any direction they please, venturing out where only the white horizon can be seen from all sides.  The weather can be a bit cold and windy at night, but sunset, which is accented with a myriad of purples, blues, and reds, is a spectacular one, to say the least.

Make sure to check out the train cemetary during your visit to Uyuni – locals will point you in the right direction.  Rusty dilapidated trains lay in a deserted field about 3 km outside of town, serving as only a memory of the mining industry that thrived in Uyuni from the late 1800s to about the 1940s. Tourists congregate here for beautiful photo opportunities, and, climbing inside of these massive metal cars and engines, can discover the small details that make these old relics so extraordinary.   

Travel and Money: Budgeting your Drive through Central and South America

I am frequently asked, “How can you afford a year-long trip?”  Our lengthy trip has remained affordable based on our accommodation and food choices.  Throughout our journey we have penny-pinched, but, as a result, we have remained abroad for a full year, which is more valuable than a few nights in sleek hotels.

In order to travel on a tight budget, you must be willing to, at times, sacrifice comfort and/or convenience, as well as possibly push your boundaries in terms of living “normally” and with modern amenities (especially in the poorer regions of Central and South American countries).

Here are a few tips for those of you who wish to travel and/or extend your ramblings, but are hesitant due to financial concerns:

ACCOMMODATION
Camp A LOT

Camping is free, and, although it may seem inconvenient at times, nights spent in your vehicle are literally equivalent to cash in your pocket.  Beaches, rural areas, congested cities, and deserts are all camping opportunities.  Camp as long as you can before you absolutely need a shower, and then treat yourself to a hostel room for a night.  This way of life requires a bit more strategy in terms of finding suitable camp sites and bathroom facilities, but it can be a lot of fun, and, if anything else, a great learning experience.

Stay with friends along the way
Nick and I traveled 10,000 miles within the United States, and most of our accommodations were provided by our friends and family.  When planning your trip, ask anyone and everyone you know if they have friends on your route, and make sure to get their contact information.

Meet folks during your journey
If you remain open to meeting new people, you may find accommodation opportunities from the graciousness of strangers.  Let others know what you are up to – a simple question such as, “We’re camping here in the city for the next few days – is there a particular spot that you would recommend?” may lead to a free place to stay, an opportunity to camp on someone’s land, or to simply use their shower.  We have also befriended backpackers who offered their hotel shower, internet, and other facilities.  Driving the Americas is a unique journey that others are interested in.  This, fortunately, will be an advantage for you, for many people are happy to help travelers on the road.

FOOD
Cook most of your meals

The cost of food in Central and South America is far less than that in the States, and opportunities to eat tropical fruits that would otherwise be expensive abound.  Take advantage of the low price of fresh fruits and vegetables, and use rice as a staple ingredient.

Buy produce from local markets, not grocery stores
You will not only save money by shopping at local markets, but are also directly contributing to a family’s source of income.  Frequenting markets will also give you new ideas on local food preparation.

Eat lunch out and cook your own dinner
Menu del dia, comida corriente, and almuerzo will soon be your favorite new words.  In many Central and South American countries, restaurants provide a lunch deal that offers generous portions of food for a fraction of it’s regular cost.  If you want to sample the local fare as much as possible, plan to eat lunch out, and fix dinner at your camp site.

Share meals
If you are traveling as a couple, sharing a large lunch deal will cut your expenses in half and provide you with plenty of food to fill your belly.

Drinks
If you need coffee in the mornings, make it yourself instead of buying it out.  If you tend to buy bottles of Coke or soda often, you may want to consider switching to water every once and a while.  Canned beer can be more expensive than the larger glass bottles, so keep this in mind as well.

All of these tips are, of course, merely choices that you may or may not consider budget-worthy.  But if you do take the miserly route, don’t let the numbers bog you down and ALWAYS remember to treat yourself every once and a while!

Concocting the Perfect Pisco Sour

The refreshingly tangy Pisco Sour, one of Peru’s favorite cocktails, is not to be missed during your rambles.  While you should sample as many different pisco sours as you can (they vary according to the bartender), here is the recipe of this foamy drink to enjoy at home:

Ingredients
2 parts Pisco
1.5 parts fresh lime juice
1 part sugar syrup
2 beaten egg whites
a dash of bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice (minus the bitters), and then pour over a tumbler filled with ice.  Sprinkle bitters over the foamy white surface of the drink.

Picture by Dtarazona

Border Crossing: Peru to Bolivia – Desaguadero

The town of Desaguadero is bustling with vendors, money changers, and indigenous women dressed in pleated skirts and small bowler hats.  It is a typical border town, which is a stark contrast from the blue waters and rocky slopes of Lake Titicaca.

LEAVING PERU

STEP 1
Go to the migracion office, located to the left of the large blue “Thanks for Your Visit” sign.  Here, officials will stamp your passport and take the small slip insert that was issued upon your entry into Peru.

STEP 2
Aduana officials will pull you over to view your Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit.

STEP 3
The police require to see your license, Peruvian vehicle insurance, and a copy of your title.

NOTE: For step 2 and 3, if an official does not pull you over to complete the processes before entering Bolivia, I suggest that you just drive into Bolivia!

ENTERING BOLIVIA

STEP 1
Drive to the migracion office, located on the far left side of the first building upon your entry.  Here, they will stamp your passport.  Entry into Bolivia for US citizens is $135 USD, so if you are a US citizen, you must pay this amount and fill out the necessary forms.  You must then get photocopies of your Bolivian visa sticker, passport photo, and Peruvian salida stamp made.  If photocopy machines (or power) are not available on the Bolivian side, you must walk back into Peru to make your copies.

STEP 2
Proceed to aduana, located (way) down the street and to the right.  You will see a sign in front of the building that reads, “DBU: Depositos Bolivianos Unidos.”  You must show your original title and passport, and turn in a copy of your title.

You can see many more pictures of border crossing at the Ramble Writer Flickr set: Border Crossings.

Off-Road Cuisine for the Rambling Camper: Pizza

Our frequent camping has provided us with ample time to experiment in the “kitchen.”  Stir-fry, beans and rice, and sauteed vegetables have become our staple meals while on the road.

Now pizza is currently our favorite dish, thanks to Kacey and Dave, who taught us how to make it while we camped together in Peru.  Kacey and Dave brought along “NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Cookery,” an excellent book of recipes for campers, which provided this delicious pizza recipe.  The measurements are only a rough estimate based on our experimenting, so feel free to alter the recipe according to your tastes.

CA M P E R ‘ S   P I Z Z A

Ingredients:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of yeast (depending on how fluffy you like your dough)
seasoning for the dough (dry oregano, pepper, salt, garlic powder)
enough water to make a stiff dough
tomato sauce
mozzarella cheese
toppings of your choice

You will need:
Ziploc plastic bags
a camp stove
a flat pan
a full cover for the pan

Instructions:

Step 1
Pour the flour, yeast, water, and seasoning into a Ziploc bag.

Step 2
Deflate the bag of any air, seal it, and place it in a warm place (under your armpit or by your torso is an easy place).  Wait several minutes for the yeast to activate, and remove the bag once the dough has become puffy and the bag is bloated with air.

Step 3
Dust a bit of flour on a flat surface, and flatten the dough into 1 medium-sized circle.

Step 4
Place the first circle on a hot, flat pan and cover it.

Step 5
Once the bottom looks cooked, flip the dough.  While the second side is cooking, spread your tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and toppings on top.  Cover the pan.

Step 6
Once the cheese is melted, uncover your pizza and take it off of the flame.

It may take a couple tries to achieve the perfect camper’s pizza, but the effort is well worth it!

TIP: Another way to utilize this dough recipe is by making CINNAMON ROLLS in the morning – just make your dough, but instead of adding savory seasonings, include sugar and cinnamon.  Once the dough has risen, roll it out.  Spread an ample amount of butter, sugar, and cinnamon on one side.  Then roll the dough into a spiral, and cut this log at every 1/2 inch.  You will then have 8-10 small spirals, which you can place on the skillet and cook on both sides.

To find more camping recipes online, check out www.free-camping-recipes.com.

Rambling Peru: The Video

Watch our journey through the vast Peruvian deserts along the Pan-American Highway:

Rambling Peru

Since Nick and I have both visited Peru in the past, we decided to primarily drive down the Pan-American Highway, which is mainly vast stretches of desert and coastal lines.  Therefore, we skipped Cusco, Machu Picchu, the small towns on Lake Titicaca, and tours of the Amazon jungle, all of which are amazing sights to explore.  Machu Picchu is above and beyond one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen, so I strongly encourage you to visit Machu Picchu during your rambles.

Due to the desolate deserts that run along the Pan-American Highway, camping opportunities are abound.  All that is required is a willingness to explore off of the roadways, and to remain observant of the highway’s view of your vehicle.  To learn more about pirate camping, and, in particular, camping Peruvian landscapes, read Nick’s article, “Pirate Camping 102: A How-To Guide,” and watch the VIDEO.

MANCORA
Mancora is a small surf town with a similar hippie vibe to that of Monanita, Ecuador.  Young surfers stroll down the streets, and beach-shack bars and restaurants accommodate the many tourists that meander the town.

If you are looking for a hearty but affordable American breakfast, check out Green Eggs & Ham, located on the beach.  The owners, who are from the south, are incredibly friendly, and their menu will be a welcome change from the regular sweet bread and jam  free breakfasts offered by most hostels.  Green Eggs & Ham serves up golden hashbrowns, omelettes, fluffy pancakes, and fresh juices.  Lunch is available as well.

CATACAOS
While you may not want to stay in Catacaos, you may want to stop by this town famous for it’s sterling silver jewelry as you head south from Mancora.  Countless shops offer a dizzying array of silver earrings, pendants, necklaces, and other jewelry.  Prices, which are a steal in comparison to American silver jewelry, are determined by the jewelry’s weight, and, as always, your bargaining skills.

TIP: An easy way to bargain is to ask, “¿Tienes un mejor precio?” (Do you have a better price?) after the initial price of the item is stated.

If you have trouble finding Catacaos on the map, look for Piura, which is the larger town located close-by.

HUANCHACO
Huanchaco, a surf spot located outside of the large city of Trujillo, is a simple, pleasant town with a beachfront that is safe to camp on.  Look for lunch deals further into town, where you can enjoy a fresh fish plate for about $3 USD.

LIMA
Lima, the capital of Peru, is a congested city that can be extremely difficult to navigate by car.  However, if you plan to stay in Lima, the barrio Miraflores, it’s richest neighborhood, is clean and pleasant, offering modern amenities, grocery stores, and high-end restaurants.

One of my all-time favorite restaurants is located in Miraflores, La Trattoria di Mambrino.  Located on Calle Bonilla, 106, it is across the street from an archeological site and park.  La Trattoria di Mambrino offers fresh pastas, delicious pastries, and great espresso drinks.  I ordered my favorite dish, the artichoke ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce, which I also enjoyed during my first visit to Peru about two years ago.

You can read reviews of La Trattoria di Mambrino and locate it on Google Maps at the Trip Advisor page: www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294316-d945355-Reviews-La_Trattoria_di_Mambrino-Lima.html.

A great hostel in Miraflores is the Albergue Miraflores House, located on Avenida Comandante Espinar.  Francis Chauvel, the owner of the hostel, is always available to give tips about your stay in Lima, offering free maps that are filled with restaurant, shopping, and tourist recommendations.  Ramble Writer would like to thank Albergue Miraflores House for contributing as one of our sponsors, and also for the wonderful pisco sours!

Albergue Miraflores House
www.alberguemirafloreshouse.com

Av. Comandante Espinar Nº 611 |  Miraflores (L18)  |  Tel: (511) 44 777 48
(between Avenue Angamos and the Avenue Comandante Espinar)

HUACACHINA
Huacachina is literally an oasis surrounded by sand dunes, offering a picturesque, palm tree-lined town that sits within a vast desert of golden sand.  The camping within the sand dunes is incredible, and driving up and down these soft hills make you appreciate having the luxury of a 4×4 vehicle.  The town itself, which is tiny, is quite touristy, but it does offer dune buggy rides, and snowboards for sandboarding, which is definitely worth the hour rental!

Border Crossing: Ecuador to Peru

Border town: Huaquillas

L E A V I N G   E C U A D O R
STEP 1
Turn into Huaquillas (do not go straight into the Frontera).  After paying $1 USD at the tollbooth, look for the building with the palm trees out front.  You will see the Migracion sign to your left.

STEP 2
Show the official your passports and slip that was given to you upon your entry into Ecuador.  Your passport will be stamped.

E N T E R I N G   P E R U
Take a right turn and then another right to get back on the highway.  You will see a “Welcome to Peru” sign and fields of banana trees.

STEP 1
Go to the police station and fill out the necessary form.  You will also need to show your passport here.

STEP 2
Bring this form to migracion and get your passport stamped.

STEP 3
Proceed to Sunat (aduana) to temporarily import your car.  You will need the vehicle owner’s passport, the original title, and a copy of your title.  After the necessary paperwork is filled out, you will receive a sticker for your windshield.

NOTE: Peruvian insurance is required to drive in Peru, but you must purchase this in a larger city.  Since this insurance costs over $100 USD, we opted not to purchase it, which brought us into a few run-ins with the cops.  We had to bribe a cop with the equivalent of $20 USD (although he asked for over $100) further south, and, since he was taken care of, he told us just to flash our lights and continue driving when flagged down by other cops.  We avoided cops and even ran through attempts to be stopped throughout Peru, which was not fun to worry about.

At the border crossing into Bolivia, we were also asked to show proof of Peruvian insurance in order to leave the country.  It was getting dark, and Nick fought with the official for a while in order to drive us into Bolivian territory.  He was finally persuaded to enter the police quarters, but by the time he agreed the police officer was so flustered that he forgot he hadn’t seen our proof of insurance.  We had a mix of luck and strategy,  so it may be worthwhile just to fork over the money for insurance.

Rambling Ecuador: The Video

Check out our rambles in lovely Ecuador: