Bolivia Bound – Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia

Four years ago, George returned from his sabbatical in South America and Dominican Republic wide-eyed with a crazy idea to drive from Alaska to Argentina. After visiting Bolivia, he could not wait to solo drive through Bolivia’s salt flats and altiplano (high planes). Needless to say, as we left Cuzco and headed for the Bolivian border, we were pumped for the new country and new adventure.

We made the obligatory stop in Puno, Peru on Lake Titicaca to visit the floating reed islands. Someone described the tours to the  islands like visiting disney land. The inhabitants do seem ready to sing some cheery songs in any language necessary. Setting aside our obvious dislike of the tourist trap, we were able to appreciate the ingenuity of the people. You’ve got to respect anyone who can carve out a life from layers and layers of reeds floating on a lake.

After the amusement park visit, we made our way to Copacabana Bolivia and yet another tenuous ferry ride.

La Paz was next on our list. The city sits at 3,200 to 4,100 m and was built in a narrow valley which means a heart pounding climb anywhere you go. Hiking through the city, we took in the baby llamas hanging from stalls in the market, wood carvers and one of many city view points.

One of the major pulls of La Paz is the proximity to the death road, a 60 to 70 km stretch where historically hundreds of people lost their lives each year. Because of a new highway, the traffic is mostly bikers and adventurous drivers these days. We opted to bike down the road instead of driving up to save Vida from some abuse. As we prepared for the ride, I was a tad nervous until I turned around and saw one of the riders in our group holding the seat of another rider and helping him practice being on a bicycle again (a very comical dose of perspective). I quickly loosened up and was smiling ear to ear for most of the ride down.

Ometepe – an inland jail

It was an island that broke my will. In Granada Nicaragua, George had quickly cemented plans with Klaus to caravan together to Ometepe, a notoriously windy island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. Cue the kiting fantasies.


I had read that you need reservations to get on the ferry since we would be taking our trucks with us to Ometepe. We, being us, arrived with no such reservations. The scene was chaotic. George and Klaus made first contact with one of the officials who told us to pull to the side. He’d see what he could do. I got the sense that if we got on this ferry, it would be at a premium gringo who doesn’t plan price. We were the last two trucks to get on. At the time, I was grateful for the luck. In hindsight, this was just the island luring us in.

Once the ferry set off, we learned that it was necessary to pay even more money for Sonja and I. Apparently, the first price was just for the boys and the trucks. Hmph. After paying up, the rest of the ride was uneventful. We landed and soon found a place to set camp in a hotel parking lot complete with a dramatic volcano view.

There was a lot of good in the subsequent few days. Good company, free internet, lots of wildlife, hammocks with a breeze, volcano views. The bitterness slowly crept up on me though. We started to run a little low on the essentials, because we were cooking all our meals. The only stores near by were little tiendas, which stocked only basic pantry basics. Show me some vegetables people. The heat was stifling and taking care of the domestics (cooking, cleaning) was infuriating as the dry hot wind kicked up dirt. Each gust was another little backhanded slap for me.

We did manage a waterfall hike in the heat and a tour around the island. It felt good to stretch my legs and stand in the cold water of the falls. George and Klaus tried to kite a few times. The first attempt led to a standoff with a bull as George was fiddling with his big red kite and left him walking back to the camp spot barefoot along a beach used for animal watering. When they again tried, George thought the apocalypse had come as a swarm of flies enveloped them. Luckily for me, the flies didn’t move in the direction of the campsite.

Finally, we decided to get out of dodge and make a run for the border. After visiting both ferries, it became clear that a reservation was required – no ferry today, back to camp. With much hassle on the phone that afternoon, George secured us a ‘reservation’ on the afternoon ferry the following day. We were of course the first to arrive at the dock, not wanting to take any chances. This was a good call because the reservation list it seems was an arbitrarily long list of names scribbled on a sheet of paper. As the departure time approached, cars started arriving and pulling in font of us. Sometimes I miss Canadian’s respect for a queue dammit. George got his game face on and got Vida onto that blasted ferry. Klaus also managed to pull on with a lot of arm flopping from the ferry workers. Were the hands flapping in every direction meant to be helpful and guide Klaus and that big Mercedes on to the boat?

Finally, we pull away from the dock. George and I are on the clock and hoping to make the Costa Rican border crossing that day. We would be flying to Canada and DC in two days time from San Jose. Shortly there after, an official came around trying to explain some update to us. After clarifying with our fellow passengers, we learn that there is a stranded boat in play. Our ferry is now heading to the boat, which we will tow back to the dock we just left. Super duper. No border today. Just let us go Ometepe.

Eventually we dock and find a decent campsite for the night. There was little sleep to be had due to the howling wind all night though. The following morning, we hauled ass into Costa Rica. At the border, it felt like the island was still trying to hold on to us. You are required to get no less than 5 stamps and signatures on your temporary vehicle import permit just to leave Nicaragua.

Back on a boat

First off…sorry for the little hiatus.  We had a tight timeline in Mexico, so that we could surprise L.Batt. (more on that later) and then had friends and family coming for a visit.

On the 15th of January, we planned to take a ferry from La Paz, Baja to Mazatlan to avoid driving the long way round.  I was anxious about heading to the mainland.  We had read that Mazatlan wasn’t the safest, and I wasn’t sure what to expect with the ferry.  A few days earlier, we decided to skip the cabin and just sleep on deck.  I had European ferries in mind when we made this decision.  Driving up to the ferry terminal was a little disorienting, and then we learned that George had to drive the car on himself while I needed to walk on.  No cool ferry terminal officials.  I tossed our sleeping bags and mats into my backpack so we could sleep on deck.  There was a lot of waiting to board, but finally I started making my way through security and customs.

They shuttled us over to the ferry in small vans, so I had to check my bag.  I later learned that I could not pick this up until we arrived in Mazatlan in the morning.  I was so flipping frazzled by the time I met up with George.  Silly thinking about it now, but they messed with my plan, dammit.

Needless to say, the ferry was not like European ferries I’d been on.  There was a room for passengers without cabins (assigned seats), a cafeteria (blah food), and  the deck area of course.  That was it for public space.  I definitely felt a little claustrophobic, but as a consolation prize they did play a series of second rate new to dvd movies, yeah 😉  George also said that down below was utter chaos with transport trucks pushing their way in.

The ride was 17 hours in all, and thankfully went by pretty quickly.  George met a few folks to caravan with out of Mazatlan down the coast.  This was  a relief, because honestly, all we wanted to do was hightail it south before dark.  Our new friends had a chance to meet the ferry captain, and he passed on a few tidbits of info including how the banditos compel cars to stop on the road in the areas we were driving through (rope across the road).

We made it to San Blas that night and set up camp for the night in a little dead end street by the beach.

And we’re off …

After a few all-nighters of packing and preparation, we made it to our 6pm ferry on August 3rd, 2012 out of Bellingham on time.  We were both a little on edge from trying to fit our lives into our 4x12x7 storage unit, but it was worth it.  We pitched our tent, taped it to the deck and got to enjoying the ride up to Juneau.

P.S.  Thanks to Jim, Kat and George for overflow parking.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to repay you when you come to visit us 🙂