Week 14: Lata, La Paz / Hola, Cusco

The last week in La Paz flew by. Not only was it a short week after coming back from the Salt Flats, but we had also already pretty much done most Paceño things by this point. It was also oddly quiet, since about half of our group jumped ship early to spend some time in Lima, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, etc.

Personally, I was happy with how much time I spent in La Paz. (I was also one of the lucky ones who didn’t get super sick in La Paz…) It’s a nice feeling to have to be able to say you did all the things you wanted to, but didn’t overstay.

Some highlights from this week:

  • Finally trying api (a hot breakfast drink made from purple corn and seasoned to taste like Christmas) and pasteles (cheese danishes)
  • Witnessing fellow Remotes go through their “zebra skin” ceremony. I mentioned traffic zebras previously, who help keep the vehicles in La Paz at bay and give kids high-fives. We had the chance to participate in this fun project, and though I had to work during the allotted time, it was interesting to see the ceremony and how seriously it was taken. There was almost a meditative quality to it, with local zebras “giving zebra skins” to Remotes.
  • Our going away party, complete with a great view of Plaza San Francisco and the main cathedral, karaoke (incredibly hard to do well at high altitude, by the way, but I gasped through my token “Lose Yourself”), a fun hostel after-party with costumes, ping-pong, pool, and even beer pong.
  • Having a last dinner at both Luciernigas, with staple Bolivian classics, and Vinapho, our favorite Vietnamese-Thai joint.
  • Making the trek up to Killi Killi, a popular lookout point at sunset. Kelly and I huffed and puffed our way up, ran into Charles and Johnson, and took some amazing sunset/nighttime shots.

Saturday morning, it was time to wake up, say goodbye to Hotel Copacabana and La Paz, and make our way to Cusco, Peru. We took a bus to another bus, finally got our stuff loaded, and headed off into the mountains.

It’s odd leaving a place being pretty sure that you won’t return. I loved Bolivia and would be happy to go back, but it’s not the easiest vacation spot, nor do I feel any need to return to La Paz specifically… But who knows, right?

I spent a lot of the bus ride sleeping and observing the beautiful landscapes outside the window. And being too cold/too hot.

Here’s a brief 30-second look at the 15 hour bus ride from La Paz to Cusco.

We had a few stops, including one at the Bolivia/Peru border crossing. There’s something so fun about land crossings, where you have to physically walk yourself into another country. We got a huge kick out of that. The border is also right on Lake Titicaca, which was beautiful! I’m looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks.

After arriving in Cusco and getting into taxis to our various accommodations, we experienced another classic Cusqueño moment: traffic. The picturesque, colonial streets of Cusco are tiny, and our van got stuck in between oncoming traffic and cars behind us. We sat for about thirty minutes a block away from our hotel, but finally got there. My hotel, Pension Alemana, has a beautiful courtyard and heat in the rooms. Upgrade! (It’s the little pleasures of life that make me happy these days…)

After unpacking most of my stuff, I fell asleep… for four hours. Sunday, we woke up at 3am to go trek Rainbow Mountain, a colorful mineral mountain a few hours from Cusco. It was the only day I’d be able to go, so I planned a day trip for a group of 6 of us.

Our tour guide, Patricia, picked us up at 3:30, we drove down some of the bumpiest roads I’ve experienced for 3 hours in a freezing car (per Pati’s instructions, I brought a blanket from my room, which saved me on that ride), ate breakfast, and were on our way.

Rainbow mountain is at around 5,200 meters above sea level (about 17,000 feet). So, while the hike wasn’t always challenging, breathing definitely was.

The beginning portion of it was calm, flat path, with llama- and alpaca-filled hills. We got an emergency horse, which came with a walker — Maximilia, a local woman who carried her 6-month old baby, Rose, the whole way up the mountain. She was the true MVP of our group.

Five hours later, we finally made it to the point where Rainbow Mountain opens up in front of you. I had seen pictures, but man, what a sight. It’s strange to imagine that places like this exist on our planet. We ate lunch, and continued up to the summit, where we could also see Ausangate Mountain well, which is a snow-capped mountain, and one of the highest in Cusco. We took it all in, snapped some obligatory jumping pics, and started heading down.

The walk down took about 2 hours, and was much more pleasant. Rather than gasping for air, I chatted with Pati about Peruvian politics (presidential elections were happening that day), Machu Picchu recommendations, and other potential day trips from Cusco city. She goes down as the best guide we’ve had on this trip so far (and, bonus points for being a woman guide!).

We waited a while for our van, and slept most of the way back. Upon arrival back to Cusco, we went straight to our City Preview, a session where Remote Year shares highlights of our new location, workspace, accommodations, etc. I had my first Cup-O-Noodles since college, as I had no intentions on going anywhere but to my shower and bed after the event.

Twenty-four hours into Cusco, and I’m already charmed by the cobblestone streets, low buildings, beautiful churches, and surrounding mountains. Not to mention, the cleaner air.

Can’t wait to keep exploring this quaint city — especially with visitors over the next couple of weeks!

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