Off to Bolivia *** Now with photos!

Well, despite all the people telling me what a dangerous place Bolivia is, here we go!

I have developed a theory about "dangerous paces". They are places that the person has not really been, or does not understand. Anything which is unknown is scary. There are a few places, like war zones and places with extremely corrupt law enforcement etc which of course you should be wary of, but overall, people are simply afraid of the unknown.

Our bus left Arequipa at 1am. We were ushered into a lovely waiting area with plush furniture and a bar - like a private lounge at an airport. (The bar was closed because it was midnight.) Ciaran fell asleep on one of the nice leather sofas. I finally slept a little too. The bus was late and did not arrive until almost 2am. We have the front seats upstairs again - nice. We closed all the curtains and slept.

When I woke, Aodhan said "mommy you just missed the salt flats - they were really amazing". Maybe on the way back I will be able to get a photo -if it is daytime. I looked back and I could see the big white fields. The scenery that morning was beautiful, despite the fact that it was cloudy and rained constantly. I would rather be on the bus in the rain, than being outside.

The bus ride wasn´t too bad - 12 hours and six of that asleep - through beautiful scenery. There were many farming communities with little mud-brick houses and sheds with thatched roofs. The women wear lots of skirts over top of one another and a shawl, usually bright coloured stripes, and often with a child inside, or a heavy load of vegetables or such, and worn like a sling. The colours are all warm yellows and browns. The earth and the houses and everything blend together like a painting with a bright blue sky and little dots of bright coloured shawls and skirts.

there were 2 toilets and a payphone on the bus...??

We saw a lovely little pond near one of the little Pueblos with flamingos in it. I took a picture of some of them. As we were driving away, the sun caught the water´s surface and the pink and the reflections of the pink flamingos lit up and with the white salt at the edge of the pond it was stunning - I couldn´t get my camerea out fast enough to get a photo. The one very sad thing about the flamingos, was that their pond had a huge pile of garbage at one end. A big pile of plastic bottles and such. Garbage is such a problem. There were similar dumps all along the highway.

Lake Titicaca was pretty, bright blue with white areas of salt around. I haven´t seen the houses built on rafts though. We will try to go a different way on the way back, and we might see them. This bus took a larger road around the south end of the lake, the smaller bus takes a route where you have to cross the lake on a ferry.

We arrived at Bolivia and had to cross the border. The conductor handed us 6 pieces of paper about one minute before we arrived. I managed to get one filled out before the bus stopped and we had to get off. Some boys (about 5 of them) met us and walked us through the process - including taking the boys to the bathroom so I didn´t have to get out of a line-up. First we had to go to a building on this side of the street and get in line and fill out the rest of the paperwork, which included name, citizenship, country of residence, country of birth, date of birth & passport number at least 6 times for each person!!! Anyway, after we got our stamp in that building (to check out of Peru), we had to walk across the street and get in another line-up, but the boys took me in another door and gave me a little tap when one of the customs officers was available and I skipped the line-up. The guard made a futile attempt to inform me that I was supposed to stand in the line, but I gave him that blank stare of ¨no entiendo¨, and the kids looked at him with their sweet tired little faces, like little pet shop animals, and he gave in and processed our forms. From there we had to walk across a bridge while the bus drove across it, to another building where we lined up again and got our Bolivian visa stamp. Yea! We haven´t had to pay any money for a visa yet. Americans, apparently have to pay $100 US for a visa for Bolivia. I gave the boys some coins - somewhere between 5 & 10 soles ($2-3). It was worth it - they really did make my life easier - especially with the kids!

We had to stop a few miles further down the road and get off the bus again and walk through a laneway between two rows of buildings about half a kilometer and have our passports and visas checked again by border guards and then get back on the bus.

We got into La Paz and went into the terminal. A couple of German guys on the bus gave us the name of a recommended hotel out of their guide-book, with an indoor pool. We decided to go there. I checked all the bus routes while the boys played in an internet cafe. I found that there are buses every day to Uyuni, Salta and one that goes to Puno, and then to Cuzco or Arequipa. So we are in great shape for meeting Hilary and for getting back home after.

The taxi ride to the hotel was about half an hour and we soon left the busy streets behind, and drove into the mountains. Where the h3!! is this hotel I thought. We don´t want to have to take $10 taxi rides into the city to see it!! GAA! Well anyway, we finally drove through little tunnels on the side of the mountain and came to a little built up area, and there was our hotel. I have to admit it was lovely. Like a little Chalet in the Alps, with a big Swiss flag at the gate! Even the houses around are very European - obviously not a poor area of La Paz.

Our hotel room has two double beds with big soft duvets, and a big loft for the kids to play in! The hotel has a lovely lawn surrounded by flower gardens and a really nice playground with "big kid¨size stuff. The pool is in a glass domed building. Breakfast is included. We were exhaused and hungry, so we went down almost immediately to eat. Dinner was great. The food was quite good - not that cheap by Bolivian standards - my steak dinner cost me about $10 and Aodhan´s lasagna cost about $4. Ciaran had some lovely tomato soup (about $3) and some of my steak.

Ciaran & I went for a walk (Aodhan stayed to play with some other kids in the playground) to see if we could find something to do tomorrow and we found a place that rents 4 wheeled ATVs. and takes you throught the mountains on them. The guy said that Ciaran and Aodhan could go with an instructor and have lessons and learn to drive them - Ciaran´s eyes almost bulged completely out of his head! Soooooo much better than go-karts! Kewl! 80 Bs per hour - about $12 per hour. We´ll go for a couple hours tomorrow.

There was a live band at the hotel tonight for a private function - so we had live music - very festive and fun. There were two guys staying here - they are firefighters from New Zealand and they are motorbiking across South America and will be volunteering for a couple of weeks in Cuzco. They were really nice.

We went back to our room fairly early and the kids played throwing stuff up and down from the loft and jumping from bed to bed to catch it and laughing! When we finally got in bed under our thick warm blankets and futons, we all fell asleep in about 5 minutes we were so exhausted.