Posts Tagged La Paz

You want to leave when?

Posted on June 12, 2011 by No Comments

Before we headed into the jungle, we were told that we needed to be flexible on returning. This is accurate advice.  The morning we were schedule to fly back to La Paz, it was raining.  Things shut down when it’s raining here.

The tiny Rurre airport has a grass taxi strip, so the rain and mud did not bode well for our departure. Once the rain finally let up, we headed to the airline office in town and waited around with the other 18 passengers who where hoping to get back to La Paz. Ahead of us was yet another planeload of people throwing a fit about their flight also being cancelled. People were actually freaking out.

It’s the jungle, people. Relax.

Long story short, the staff tried all sorts of stupid tricks to try to pacify everyone – including driving us to the airport for no good reason. This was a complete charade to clear to the office so they could deal with the next round of cancelled flights. We wouldn’t have minded a week delay if they just would have been honest with us (actually, not true, since we were running out of money. There are no ATMS in the jungle.)

Two days later, we made it back to La Paz. The highlight of the short flight is splitting two 6000 meter peaks right before landing in the city.

It didn’t take us long to be reminded that La Paz sucks. Some people think it’s a fine place. We could search for some silver lining, but we’re not going to bother.  If you ask someone about La Paz, they will probably tell you about how they got ripped off or robbed (Angela fended off a purse-snatcher). It’s just not a great destination.  There are lot’s of other places in the world to see. Moving on…

I was happy to find a shortcut out of town that’s not on any of our maps. It completely bypasses downtown from Mallesa and put us on the main highway south.

We continued to struggle getting gas – being charged double (again) for foreign plates and refusing to fill up our jerry can.  These both seem to be legitimate regulations that are only occasionally enforced. This is the Bolivian government’s attempt to eliminate the gasoline black market – it’s a problem.

We drove south all day as random pieces of the bus broke off. Nothing major, but it was one of those days. Eventually, we found a hot springs (warm springs?) north of Oruro where we took a quick dip. We debated camping there, but decided to make the short trip to Oruro for a hot shower and warm bed.

Sometimes you need a day to adjust back to bus-living.

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Filed Under: Bolivia

Up and Out

Posted on May 22, 2011 by 2 Comments

We coasted into La Paz (1 million people, 3500 meters above sea level) and found the first gas station. For some reason there was no line – gasoline no problem.

It’s worth repeating that we had absolutely no intention of coming here. We even told multiple people we would bypass the city completely. Here we are.

Needless to say, we were ready to set up camp. An hour after entering La Paz, we finally made it to a notorious hotel in town that caters to overlanders: the Swiss-run Hotel Oberlander. We were the 6th camper in the lot.

Once you’re in a place like this, all the kids become friends, there’s free wi-fi, a real supermarket is a short cab-ride away and before long you’ve been here a lot longer than you’ve planned. And, you’ve barely left the hotel grounds.

Bode and I finally went into downtown La Paz to run some errands and we ended up fending off a purse-snatcher.  Luckily, I pulled away when I felt something. They managed to unzip the pack while it was on my back, but they didn’t get an opportunity to grab anything. Still, it made me leery of the entire city.

Oddly, downtown and the “nice” part of the city is at the bottom of the canyon and the slums are at the top. Opposite of every other city in the world. The river in town has got to be record-setting in it’s pollution.

It wasn’t long, and we were desperate to get out of La Paz. We took off for what we thought would be a nice 2.5 hour drive to Coroico. At the mountain pass at 4600 meters, we saw a small lake just off the road. There were two Land Cruisers camping, so we pulled off to have lunch. Surprise, surprise – a French family. Bode made another great friend and they played like it was nothing. An altitude of 15,100 ft doesn’t seem to make much difference anymore. Maybe we’ll have super-human strength when we return to sea level.



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Filed Under: Bolivia

No Hay Gasolina

Posted on May 19, 2011 by 2 Comments

After lingering much longer than expected, we finally left the peaceful shores of Titicaca. We had no idea that these little communities would 1) be so endearing and 2) mask how difficult the rest of the country will be.

The day started easily enough. First, check the freshness of our flowers – still perfect.  Then, stop to fill up the tank. There was a line of about 20 cars at the one gas station in town. Hmmm, small town, we figured. “Should we get in line or take our chances?” Take our chances. Besides, you get charged twice as much here if you have foreign plates (Bolivian gas is 1/2 price compared to Peru, so they charge extra to discourage border-hopping fill-ups.)

We hit the road and drove up a 4300 meter pass and the views continued to be stunning. We were headed to a ferry at the end of a peninsula and on some sections we had panoramic lake views in all directions. Titicaca is BIG.

The ferry crossing was simple enough – just drive right on to a little wooden barge. Angela suggested we shouldn’t share one with a big autobus… right as we were directed onto the one with a big bus. Cozy.

It’s an impressive one-man operation. First, out come the big sticks and the barge is manually steered from shore. Then, a little outboard motor slowly pushed us across the lake. Twenty minutes later we pay the guy 30 B’s and we’re off. We ask around for gas and we’re pointed down the road.

We find a station – no line – and pull in. The attendant looks at us like we’re fools. He’s got diesel, but no gasolina. He suggests we look for someone with a sign in front of their house and buy from them. Huh?

Our gauge is on “R” (empty), so I manage to find a house with a lady washing potatoes in her front yard and ask. Yep – she’s got gas – for 10 B’s per liter (about $1.50 USD, and even steeper than Peru.) Quite a markup. We’re desperate, so I give her 50 B so we can keep searching. She pours it in from a dirty plastic can into a dirty funnel.

We make it to the next sizable town – passing multiple closed gas stations – and it’s the same story. A few people suggest we just start asking around at tiendas. We waste gas driving about town, but nobody has any gas. We covered the entire town. It seems odd asking for gas at a tienda selling chips and sodas, but you do what you gotta do.

While we’re stopped, I pour in the little bit of gas I have left in my stove and a few drops from our empty mini-jerry can. Things aren’t looking good and we decide to make a break for the capitol of La Paz instead up north to the little town of Sorata. We are a little disappointed to leave the lake – we still snicker every time we say “Titicaca” – but we’ve learned that we will eventually drive past Lake Poopo.

Later, we get to a toll booth and the guy won’t even look up from the paper to collect a toll. I get his attention and he says we can get gas in 1 km. No toll. A few kilometers later, there are more gas stations, but the same story. No gas.

The needle is way below the “R” and we assume we will sputter and stall at any minute, but have no choice but to keep driving. We slow down each time we see a station, but have learned not to stop until it’s obvious the pumps aren’t covered in plastic. Still, no gas. Almost to La Paz and amazingly, Angela spots a tiny “Hay gasolina” sign hanging from the doorway of a welding shop. It’s a relative bargain at 6 B’s per liter and I buy all 10 liters. Enough to coast down the hill into La Paz – the highest capitol in the world.


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Filed Under: Bolivia

Ferry to the Mainland

Posted on March 4, 2010 by 7 Comments

We shipped ourselves as cargo to Mazatlan. From the time we drove onto the ferry to the time we drove off was about 21 hours. Total cost to ship the three of us and the bus from La Paz to Mazatlan was $290 USD.  Three people and 5 meters / 1800 kg of vehicle.  We chose Transportation Maritima de California (TMC) over  Baja Ferries simply because of the large difference in the cost. TMC is the freight carrier and it seems some folks don’t know they exist and insist Baja Ferries is the only option. Maybe because it’s hard to find.  If you want to make the trip, here’s a quick summary.

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Drive out to Pechilingue to the shipyard and pull in through the main gate. On your left is a set of lanes you can’t enter and on your right is drive-through customs.

If you don’t have your vehicle import permit for the mainland, just park anywhere and walk through the gate on the left to the big yellow building to find the permit office. Ask for “vehicular permissio” if you can’t find it – it’s about $30 and is good for 6 months. You can’t go through customs without it. You’ll need photocopies of everything – passports, license, registration,etc.

Now, get back in the bus and drive through customs and you may or may not get inspected. Next, drive onto the scale right in front of you- “Bascula” – and get weighed. You’ll be asked for your carrier and destination (you won’t have a ticket yet.) They’ll give you a paper with your vehicle weight and length and now you can go buy your ticket.

On your right is a permanently closed TMC office and an open Baja Ferries office. If you want a cabin and a nicer boat, Baja Ferries is for you. Everyone there speaks English and they have another office outside the port as well (go past the entire terminal on the main road and turn left after the fence.) If your family is cargo (like us,) loop around the scale and park next to the other big yellow building and go find the TMC office. No one in here will speak English, so be prepared. All prices are clearly posted. We came  here a week prior to make a reservation, but no one seemed to be interested in looking it up – we just bought our tickets on the spot.

Figure out when to load (usually two hours prior to departure) and drive over to the ship and wait for someone who looks official to recognize that you want to get on the boat. He’ll go through all your papers and tickets. Before driving on, ask if you can be loaded on top. If you’re on the bottom, your car will be sealed up and you won’t be spending any time at your vehicle. On top, you have fresh air… and you get to ride a big elevator.

Officially, on both carriers, you are not allowed in your vehicle at any time during the trip. The closer you get to the boat, the more lax personnel get about this regulation (at least on TMC – Baja Ferries may be more strict.) Just keep asking. We stayed in our bus for most of the trip (16 hours on the water) and slept in it – way better than the seats in the tiny passenger cabin. Apparently, dinner is included with your ticket in the little galley, but we skipped it and had sammys in the bus.

The other passengers are almost exclusively truck drivers and most of them sneak away to sleep in their vehicles too. Everyone we encountered was very nice. Walking around the boat is not really something you want to do unless you need to. The ride was pretty wild, and the boat not exactly the safest place for a child. Angela, who has never been seasick, had to take Dramamine. There are bathrooms and showers, but you will probably want to avoid these too if you can. This is not the Love Boat and there is no one named Issac mixing drinks(“Outta sight!“)

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We arrived in Mazatlan exhausted at about 11 am (now, two consecutive nights of very little sleep) so we grabbed another cheapy hotel (about $20) right near the Old Town and took naps before wandering around. Oh yeah, driving in this town is crazy. Maybe it was because there were two cruise ships in the port and taxis everywhere, but it was total mayhem. Stop signs and individual lanes aren’t really recognized here. Multiple close calls with tour buses and plenty of loco taxi drivers later, I tried to park the bus… and backed into a tree… twice. They let the trees grow out of the street here. Pick your parallel parking  spot wisely. Fortunately, our rain gutter took all the impact.

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Shopping seems the be the primary activity here, so we got bored pretty quickly after one day. A trip to the aquarium was the highlight. For $6, it’s also the best bargain in town.

Mazatlan is a nice enough place, but we decided we were done and continued south.

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Filed Under: Baja, Sinaloa

Hell Hotel

Posted on March 3, 2010 by 6 Comments

We roll into La Paz in the late afternoon. We’re not sure how the ferry is going to be tomorrow. Seats? A place to sleep? Can we get food on-board? So, we decide to get a hotel room and try to get some good rest in.

Bode and I go into the room first and he says “I don’t like this place.” Why not? “It doesn’t have anything and it isn’t fun.” Well, that’s true, but I’m already looking forward to sleeping… there’s 2 beds!

We set Bode up to play some video games in the room and Jason goes out to the courtyard we he can get a wi-fi signal. After a while, I can’t stay in the room any longer and determine it is time to get out and walk the town, find some food and kill some time.

Bode won’t have it. The fit begins, he won’t put on his shoes and he throws his sweatshirt at me. The little demon has been unleashed. We’re all exhausted and this is just a result. There are times like these when I miss the house. There’s no way to send him to his room, there isn’t the option to just eat at home or for me to get some space. It’s a “Calgon take me away” moment, but there’s no bathtub, no Calgon, and no towels (?!)

It’s getting ugly in the room, so I go out for reinforcement – Jason. He goes in and deals with the beast while I walk out to the street and wait for him. Things get better, but we walk and walk and can’t find a restaurant.

Finally, after some food we come back to the room. There’s a bedtime struggle, but we all finally crash out around 9:30. I am dead to the world when a lover’s argument starts near our room. With my eyes closed, I think, where are we camped? Who are these people? But then I open my eyes to look at my watch (11:30) and realize where we are. The fight continues for another hour – apparently Roy spent their last $5. And, well, it seems he never listens. “It’s over this time,” she says again and again. “Say it, it’s over!”

Then, not to let any silence linger, another nearby room starts playing Pink Floyd and chain smoking (I can only smell this.)

Once I’m awake, I have a hard time falling asleep. I heard everyone else come in for the night. Every toilet flush. Every coughing fit. Three hours later, I doze off and am then awakened by a woman yelling “Chris!” It was the kind of yell that made think someone was coming into the room, but it turns out he was just snoring. I was still awake 30 minutes later when she did it again. The snoring didn’t bother me nearly as much as her shrieking.

Awake for so long, I realize my poor parenting earlier this evening was probably heard by everyone as well. I just want to get out of here. Well, I just want to see if they have more towels in the morning, take a shower and then get out of here.

I finally fall asleep again when Bode wakes with an itching fit. 30 minutes later, he’s back asleep.

Morning comes early. There’s someone vomiting. There are tourists up and leaving at 6am with their wheeled suitcases grating down the chipped cement floor outside our room.

I’m in the courtyard because I can’t even try to sleep anymore and I’m tired of laying in the bed. There is someone doing cement work outside our room. There are people singing and whistling. Jason says it isn’t the place, but the people. They are attracted to this cheap hotel, though. This place had a bad vibe the minute we walked in.

I tried again to get towels this morning, but the manager goes to the laundry line and hands me 2 wet hand towels. It doesn’t matter because there’s no hot water.

The best part of our stay? We got to park right in front.

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I guess I’m a bit worried about what to expect on our upcoming overnight ferry ride, and a bit unprepared for mainland Mexico. I haven’t even cracked the books on it. Sleep, shower and a coffee are all I care about right now.

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Filed Under: Baja

Carnaval in La Paz

Posted on February 24, 2010 by 6 Comments

Santa Cruz, CA came up in a recent conversation, and ever since Bode has been wanting to ride rides. He had a 3 stage plan to find them. He would look wherever we drove, Jason was to read the signs as he drove and I would get out and ask strangers where the closest amusement park was.

Luckily, we knew Carnaval was just starting in La Paz. We kept that information from him, so as to seem cooler when we stumbled upon it. His plan was pretty cute and all.

La Paz is the biggest city in Southern Baja, but is not a so much a tourist town – they all go to Los Cabos. That’s what’s great about it. We tried to find a recommended campground near town, but it had closed down. The thought of driving the bus from a boondocking beach outside of town (Tecolote) to the malecon at night didn’t seem too appealing, so we set out to see if we could find a motel. Easy enough, the first one we found right on the malecon was $45 – but not in line with our new Mexican fiscal sensibilities. At first we scoffed at the price, but it was getting dark and then we remembered it was Carnaval and we had the closest hotel to all the action. It’s amazing that we could just walk up and get a room, actually. It was pretty stark, but it did have some awesome owl yarn art on every floor.

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We walked around town and had the first obvious experiences with strangers touching Bode’s head. I’ve read that it is a good luck thing. You can see it in someone’s eyes when they spot him…and you know it’s going to happen. As he walks by they try their best to do a nonchalant tap. I was sure to hold his hand and be real close, but the kid was a trooper, and actually most of the time didn’t notice. I swear in one 3 block walk he was touched by 18 strangers. I know a lot of kids would be freaking out, so I’m pretty grateful. The next time we went out though, I made him wear a hat.

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It was all about the rides that evening. Bode got to ride a scaled down mechanical bull and fulfill his life-long dream of driving a bumper car. No height or age restrictions here. We were in by 9, but it was a Friday night and the party lasted til 4am.

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The hotel was booked on the next night, so we set out to the port at Pichilingue to get our vehicle permission and book our upcoming trip on the ferry. The ferry ticket offices were closed, but we did get our vehicle import permit (you don’t need one in Baja, but you do on the mainland.) I had to persuade the security office manager to make copies of all our documents (something we’ve been meaning to do,) but it all ended well.

We made a few beach stops for cervesas and tacos and we thought we’d camp at the beach this time, but Bode had so much fun at Carnaval we drove back to town. We found another motel 3 blocks from the malecon, this time even cheaper. It was a supposed to be some sort of an art gallery, but looked more like a garage sale. It was great though, and there was no noise from the all-night party when we were ready to be done for the evening. It was a bit funny to be coming in for the night with our kid as the others were just leaving – oh, how times change.

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The big parades run 3 nights and start on Sunday. It goes south the first night, then they park and go back the other direction the next night. The whole thing lasted maybe an hour, but in true Mexican fashion started 2 hours later than we were told.

Their weren’t many floats, and no Mardi Gras style beads or flashing to get them. The drinking huge amounts of alcohol part of the festivities is universally celebrated, though. Still, the whole thing was family friendly and there were kids everywhere. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on, but I think one of these gals may be the Queen of Cockfighting?

Coming from the Bay Area, we know that it’s just not a parade without drag queens and we were not disappointed. Somehow they were able to make Carnaval even more festive.

We found La Paz to be very pleasant, especially for a big city, and has a really nice malecon.

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Contrary to what we’ve been told by plenty of people on the way down, there are two ferries that run from La Paz to the mainland.

Baja Ferries is the normal passenger ferry that everyone seems to use, but they require tickets for each passenger (including children) and is more expensive. You buy a cabin if you’d like to upgrade from seats on the overnight ferry, the cars are in a cargo only area and can’t be accessed. Everyone here speaks English and there are multiple easy to find offices.

There’s a cargo carrier here too, and we actually had to go through customs at the port to find the Maritima de California ticket office. Communication for us was a huge challenge. We were able to learn that the ship was full today, but I was able to explain we wanted tickets for a week from now. She wrote down our names and the date we wanted to go on what looked like scratch paper. Then, she told us to be back at 1pm on that day and that our names on the scratch piece of paper was our reservation. From what we gathered, it would be a 16 hour trip. No ticket in hand, but no money paid yet.

Maritime de Califonia was about 40% less than Baja Ferries, and the vehicle passage includes the driver. Bode doesn’t need a ticket, so we just need 1 additional passenger fare. Aside from not being sure if we really have a reservation, we think she said we could not stay in the bus. I guess we’ll find out in a week. It could be one very long night.

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Filed Under: Baja