Monday, March 24, 2014

Sajama National Park

Our neighbours told us about this amazing national park that Bolivia shares with Chile. This park is home to wild vicunas, llamas, alpacas, pink flamingos, and holds Bolivia’s highest mountain.  At 21463 ft / 6542 m the mountain looms over flat, barren land with some of the harshest and varying temperatures I have ever experienced.

Sajama Mountain
We began our trip early in the morning and caught a bus going to Arica, Chile. We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from the Chilean border. This was apparently the gate to the national park, but there was very little to indicate that this was in fact true. We had decided to hike the rest of the way into Sajama village…a mere 12km couldn’t be that bad, right? Well it wasn’t, until after an hour we could see Sajama village and could continue to see it for the remaining 2 hours that we walked. It was like dangling a carrot in front of a hungry man, but never letting him eat it. Our 3-hour, uphill hike across Isla del Sol was easier than this flat, sandy, taunting walk in severely hot sunlight. I felt like my pants might light on fire.

Paco, at the national park "gate"

People live here

Amelia once again impressed us! I’m beginning to think she really likes adventures! During our breaks she would walk off into the fields, reveling in the freedom and the space that we lack in La Paz…and we just let her. She could have walked all the way to Sajama and we still would have been able to see her, so we weren’t worried.

Our new little buddy "baby alpaca"
Our adobe huts were there to greet these dusty travelers, and we all settled in for a bit of a rest. Do not be mistaken…resting with a toddler does not mean that we sleep. No, rather it means that we attempt to read kids’ books and keep ourselves awake while our child jumps on the bed and wants our undivided attention. After about an hour of this we decided to go outside to defeat the sleep that wanted to overtake us once and for all…it worked. It was like winter outside. I put on all of the clothes I had brought with me. I was still cold. We had killed enough time for supper to be ready and we filled our bellies with llama meat, rice and soup.

Our huts

The next morning we decided to visit the world’s highest forest. These trees are capable of growing at high altitude. They can survive as high as 5300m from what I’ve read. They aren’t like trees we are used to…they are more like a tall bush, have a blood red trunk that is super flaky, and are as hearty as anything. We climbed a decent sized hill on a perfectly straight path without any switchbacks and found ourselves at 4500m. The view was amazing and once again the temperature was hot.

One of the trees from the forest


After bouldering to the top of a ridge, she jumped right off!
That afternoon we hired a guy to drive us out to the hot springs…he dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and pointed us in the general direction of where they were. We wandered for sometime, marveling in the warm waters flowing in the river, the lizards, and the slightly more lush vegetation, and finally found where these hot springs were. It was a picturesque, natural pool fed from a spring further up, with an unobstructed view of Sajama Mountain. The water was warm and soothed our tired bodies…the air around us was cooling off as the sun dipped behind the mountain, so we were glad for the warmth.
At the hot springs

We walked back to Sajama village…about a 6km walk through arid brush, and llama poop. We had a difficult time finding a place to get food when we got back, and wandered around the dark town looking for a place to eat. We ended up at a small shop we had eaten lunch at earlier in the day…her door was closed, but the light was on so we tentatively knocked and she gladly let us in and fed us up.

Our trip home was just as eventful (although, it included much less walking). Our hostel host would not give us breakfast in the morning so we had to make due with the snacks that we had for our 5-hour journey home. We hired someone to drive us to the Chilean border so we could catch a bus heading back to La Paz. When we arrived at the border there were semi-trucks lining both sides of the road (all heading in the same direction, mind you) for about 15km. We waited for a while to see if things would clear up…they didn’t. Our driver couldn’t take us any further so we walked the rest of the way to the border where we quickly found a bus. On the last leg of our trip we came to El Alto, the city just above and attached to La Paz, where they made us get off the bus and wait for another one because they said, “something was wrong with the bus”. This was not the case…rather it has something to do with permissions and certain buses can get through without paying tolls…so after waiting 30 minutes we got on another bus that drove for only about 5 minutes when the driver stopped, came back and told us that this bus didn’t work either and we’d have to wait for another one. So…we waited and got on another bus that thankfully took us the rest of the way to La Paz.

We absolutely loved our time in Sajama! It’s so nice to take breaks from the congestion here in the city and to experience other parts of this wild country. I would strongly encourage you to visit this national park if you come to Bolivia…it was a great experience with Amelia, and I would say that it is doable with kids. One lady in the village told me that people often don’t bring kids there, and this was evident by the stares that Amelia received from the other children that lived there. It’s harsh, and challenging, but totally worth it! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Just outside of La Paz is a wildly high mountain that you can drive up. It was once touted as the world’s highest ski resort, but there remains very little of a once immense glacier. This glacier has disappeared only within the last 20 years or so. For a little day trip we all packed ourselves into our friend’s car and drove an hour and half through the flat altiplano, through herds of llamas, and finally into the mountains. We ascended almost 2000m and came to a stop at 5300m (about 17,300ft). Being acclimatized to the altitude in La Paz, I was surprised by how I felt…tingly fingers, tingly lips, and difficulty breathing. Duane said his “ears felt tight”.

What you can't see...Amelia on Duane's lap, and Lluis WAY in the back holding on to luggage.
Huana Potosi. The mountain I hope to climb in April.

The view was breathtaking (literally). We could see the vast sprawl of El Alto falling into the valley of La Paz, an amazing mountain range beyond the city, and beside us the intimidating peak of Huana Potosi. The kids played in the snow…eating it, throwing it, and sledding! So fun!

Lluis and Ely, our brilliant neighbours who have made living in La Paz a wonderful thing. 
After about an hour we noticed Amelia was acting kind of strange and decided it would be best to descend. She was suffering from a bit of altitude sickness, and fell asleep in my arms…when we had come down about 1000m she woke up and acted as if nothing had happened. That is the magic of altitude.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


We just celebrated a 4-day festival here in Bolivia called Carnaval (as it is spelled here). The biggest party takes place in Oruro, but many of the other cities ‘fiesta’ as well. The event kicked off in La Paz with a ‘more tame’ version for kids…that’s when we took part in the festivities, and I can’t even begin to imagine what the other days were like if that day was more subdued. All the people are in the street armed with ‘espuma’ (a foam-like substance that they love to spray directly in people’s eyes), and heavy-duty water guns (which they also like to spray in the eyes). Duane and I commented that the only time the streets in Canada would be as full as that, is if we won the Stanley Cup, and NEVER for 4 days! Pretty much everyone was in costume and there was kind of a parade. This was seriously like Halloween on steroids.

Our city's traffic joke
Trying my hand at the espuma 
Thankfully these little glasses were for sale everywhere. They proved to be useful.
Even in my mouth.
On ‘adults’ day, I’ve heard that things get a bit crazier and people fill water balloons with paint and they throw eggs at each other. They will toss flour at you and then douse you with water. Different cities do different things, but thankfully La Paz is known to be a bit more conservative and lots of these things are prohibited.

Baby in a cage? Why not?

That being said, it’s a super fun and wild holiday where people have the freedom to let loose…much like Songkran festival in Thailand. Amelia was a champ despite being hit in the face with a water balloon and she’s proving to not be so intimidated by large and raucous crowds anymore. She used her tiny little water gun to drizzle water in the direction of others (never quite making it there), and quite liked the espuma. She was most impressed by the costumes and dancing though…something I’m sure she will miss when we return to Canada. 

The streets were bursting with people.
With Sergio, his wife Andrea, and their daughter Natalia.
Sergio and his family.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Profesor de Protesis

I've been trying to figure out why this feels like SO much work. The obvious reasons were always apparent.... I speak a different language.... we have minimal access to helpful prosthetics technology.... I have a time limit... But not until this week did it don on me; I'm teaching two professions at once! Clinical Prosthetist and Prosthetic Technician.  Our new employee Sergio is an educated Fisioterapueta (Physiotherapist), but does not have a speck of prosthetic training. With the situation here, it is necessary for the Prosthetists to demonstrate clinical judgement and too be fully apt in the art of fabrication. This adds up to ALOT of things to learn.

Amongst the daily hands-on training I give, I've also spent many many hours [probably equal to the amount of hrs I give to Bike Polo when I'm back in Canada :( Mosquito Bike Polo ] developing my version of the Coles Notes curriculum for prosthetics.

One of my old carpentry employers used to call these types of notes chicken scratchings

This has resulted in 13 PowerPoints which are being translated into Spanish.

This is an example of one of the PPT slides in Spanish
This week I start to teach them. Esto va a ser muy interesante!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lake Titicaca

We took a much-needed holiday about 2 weeks ago to Lake Titicaca (yes, it’s a funny name…go ahead and make your best joke). It was our first time outside La Paz since November. We spent our primary night in Copacabana, which is a far cry from Brazil’s Copacabana, but it didn’t keep me from singing the song. We stayed in an amazing accommodation called Las Olas (The Waves), which was a series of cabins situated on the side of a small mountain. All the cabins had a spectacular view of the vast lake. We ate trout, drank coffee, and followed a trail for a spiritual pilgrimage called Calvario, which led to an unobstructed view of Titicaca offering a picturesque panorama of Copacabana and the wild, raw outlying areas. Magnificent.

The resident llama at Las Olas

One of the crosses on the hike up Calvario

View of the bay of Copacabana from the top of Calvario
The next day we boarded a ferry with a bunch of hippies headed to Isla del Sol (Island of the sun). Seriously, I think we were the only people on the ferry without dreads or patchouli. We rode for 2 hours to our destination on the north part of the island. We knew very little about the island, only that we had to spend one night on the north and walk to the south…the north was crazy. When we arrived, we were welcomed by pigs, sheep, donkeys, and very little visible accommodation. A boy led us to a room that Duane couldn’t even stand up in, that held two single beds pushed into two corners. We declined. We ended up staying in the matrimonial suite of a cholita’s home consisting of two double beds, thankfully situated in a quiet part of the town. Eating was another story. We went to a restaurant and ordered spaghetti…unfortunately the two girls who were there before us ate it all. I don’t think the restaurant had anything else. Now, don’t get me wrong…the north is not all bad. There is a beautiful white sand beach and the temperature was considerable warmer…warm enough that Amelia swam in the lake.
Right outside our "hostel" 
Our hostel
My little bean in all her beach loving glory

The next day we arose earlier than the hippies and were able to get some food, and then began our three-hour hike across the island. This was easily the highlight of our trip. We walked on a makeshift path that wound it’s way through the lush greenery, across sandy beaches, up steep, arid hills, through small farming towns, all with grand views of the lake. We ended our trek in a village by the name of Yumani. This village provided a much nicer stay in comparison to our experience in the north. We had a lovely hostel that overlooked the lake, took a walk through the eucalyptus trees, and ate at a rustic but delicious restaurant that sat at 4010 meters. The entire experience was amazing. The island doesn’t have a single car on it, and the noise of La Paz is only pronounced by the profound silence of Isla del Sol. Our evening ended with an impressive display of lightening.

Incredibly productive land. Every available square inch is used for farming

La Paz felt cold in comparison to the sunny, hot weekend we had at the island…must have been because we were closer to the sun. I can’t even begin to express the extreme heat one experiences when in direct sunlight…you feel like your pants just might spontaneously combust! The temperature outside will only be about 15 degrees, but that sun will char anything in its path!

Anyway, I would strongly encourage everyone to visit Bolivia. I have never been to another country with such a diverse, extreme, and vast topography. It’s absolutely breathtaking and worth a visit!