10 Things I Learnt from Travelling South America

1. In Bolivia it’s considered good luck to run over a cat. The brutal balance is restored by making it bad luck to run over a dog.

2. Sadly a ‘Ferreteria’ isn’t a shop solely devoted to ferrets, just an ordinary hardware store.

3. Paying 1 Boliviano for the toilet doesn’t necessarily mean that toilet will be better than going behind a bush. In fact it pretty much never means that.

4. Just about every single car in Bolivia and Peru has a ‘taxi’ sticker on it. This does not mean it’s an official taxi or in any way roadworthy. You can buy these stickers for nothing from the local markets!

5. There are more donkeys on the Isla del Sol than the rest of South America. This may or may not be true, but it certainly seems that way when you’re woken at the crack of dawn by the bleatings and nayings of these demented beasts. Don’t be fooled by this picture, these woolly mammals are a menace!

To South America - Donkey on the Isla del Sol

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Under the spell of Inti on the Isla del Sol

I’m going to take a step back from Peru here, because a tiny island in Bolivia where we spent just one night deserves a special mention. Situated on the shores of high-altitude lake Titicaca, the little town of Copacabana is a quiet little fishing port. With a small main square, tiny market and a handful of traveller-friendly shops, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Copacabana (one astonishingly good hotel withstanding – Las Olas). Basically, it’s as far from it’s Brazilian beachside namesake as you can get.

To South America - Copacabana

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Dicing with Death Road

Bolivia does seem to pride itself on extremes, and to some people I met, these can get a little tiring. ‘World´s highest city’, ‘World’s highest capital city’, ‘World’s highest pub pretending to be Irish’, etc, etc….

I personally don’t mind the superlatives, even if some are just hackneyed marketing gimmicks. So I was more than happy to be reeled in by el Camino de la Muerte, aka the ‘World’s most dangerous road’. The road is now barely used by traffic, as they opened a new safer section in 2006, but its still pretty damn hairy cycling down it, especially in rainy season when it turns into a deadly slip and slide!

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Monkey Business in the Bolivian Amazon

After spending three chilly weeks at high altitude, it was something of relief to land in the sweltering heat of the rainforest town of Rurrenabaque. The little 19 seater plane touched down at the smallest airport I have ever been to. Only the runway was tarmac, the plane had to taxi over grass and mud to reach the terminal building where pigs roamed freely. No such thing as airport security here.

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The Mountain that Eats Men

In the Bolivian city of Potosi lies the infamous silver mine, Cerro Rico. It looms over the town like a towering tomb, and locals say ‘we eat the mountain and the mountain eats us.’

We had our doubts before going, having heard stories of the dangerous, claustrophobic conditions, and read repeated warnings of safety (and the general lack thereof). And we were right to be worried, but, while at times shocking and frightening, the experience was one of the most eye-opening and rewarding of our trip.

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