Brunch in Sopocachi

Although it’s one of the wealthier districts in La Paz, Sopocachi’s restaurant prices aren’t too bad, especially when compared to the tourist spots around Sagarnaga. On 20 de Octubre, just by Plaza Avaroa are three places where you can satisfy your brunch fix. All of the following have indoor and outdoor seating.

Alexander’s

alexFor the best coffee in Bolivia, head to any one of the numerous Alexander’s locations, including El Alto airport. The Sopocachi branch is located directly across from Plaza Avaroa. The atmosphere can be a bit noisy and busy, with music videos on continual play on a large TV in the back. But if you can put up with the occasional 4 Non Blondes video, the menu contains creative and delicious choices, like the vegetarian Andina wrap, which contains quinoa and habas (fava beans) as well as a variety of smoothies and milkshakes. There are plenty of breakfast options such as pancakes and huevos rancheros, too.

Café La Terraza

terrazaLike Alexander’s, La Terraza is a local chain. If you’re really hungry, feast on the massive Desayuno Americano. There are breakfasts for smaller appetites (and wallets) as well. The menu also includes a host of sandwiches and paninis. The inauthentic Philly Steak is nevertheless tasty and good value for money. It comes with fries, too.

Blueberries

BlueberriesMy personal favorite brunch spot, Blueberries is cheaper than the above options and also has the most relaxing atmosphere. It gets busy in the afternoon, but before midday it’s a great place to hang out and read, work on your laptop, or pretend to work on your laptop while browsing facebook. If you’re a non-smoker, you’re in luck, because the non-smoking area is also the best place to sit, in the back with a glass roof by the garden. As for brunch, I recommend Desayuno a La Copa and Desayuno Panqueques. The former is a cheap and filling choice, which comes with eggs, juice, coffee or tea, toast and a croissant. The pancake breakfast comes with coffee or tea, juice, and pancakes topped with strawberry and banana slices.

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Decent Beer in Bolivia

Beer is fairly cheap in Bolivia. It also tastes fairly cheap too, but there are a few exceptions. Here are three that I’ve found that I can recommend if you’re looking for something to celebrate with in La Paz this year.JudasIt’s not amazing, but it’s strong (7%) and has a bit of a bite compared to your typical Bolivia lagers. It really sits in your stomach though, so don’t drink too much of it. Available almost everywhere.

sayaNamed after an Afro-Bolivian dance, Saya comes in at least three flavors: dorada (golden), ambar (amber) and negra (black). Only available in higher end restaurants and supermarkets (in Sopocachi and Zona Sur), it’s more expensive and comes in smaller bottles than regular Bolivian beer. Agencies in Sagarnaga offer tours of the brewery for 80Bs.

lipenaLipeña is made with quinoa. It’s the best beer I’ve had in Bolivia. It’s low in alcohol (3.47%), so it could have been served at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. There’s a slight tinge of honey, and, well, if you read my last beer post you’ll know I’m not very good at describing beer, but trust me, it’s really good! It comes from Potosí, but we couldn’t find it anywhere there. It’s served at the restaurant La Coca, in Sopocachi, La Paz (great food there too) and we’ve seen it in some restaurants in Sucre, as well. If you do find it, cherish it. Or just drink it.

Other: Keep your eyes out for beers from Ted’s Cervecería in Sucre, too.

Happy New Year!

Lima

Most backpackers we ran into told us they couldn’t wait to get out of Lima. True, it is sprawling and perpetually covered in a grey haze. But it also has a park full of cats, a pretty efficient transportation system, colorful street art, chaotic markets and one of the best Chinatowns in South America.

Las Pampas of the Yacuma River, Rurrenabaque

On the first day, cloudy as it was, we spotted at least one alligator, as well as a few capybara, dozens of squirrel monkeys and strange birds. At night, we went out on the boat and saw the unsettling red reflection of the gators’ eyes everywhere we looked. The next day, when the sun shone bright, hardly thirty seconds would pass without spotting an alligator or caiman. Pink dolphins occasionally flashed their rounded fins, more like humps, out from the murky water. The anaconda was harder to find, and took a whole group’s eyes, struggling through thick mud and rotted wood. If you go on a Pampas tour in Rurrenabaque, you WILL see animals.

Can you spot the alligator in this picture?

We went with Fluvial Tours, 550Bs per person for 3 days 2 nights. The price was the same as other companies providing budget tours and the standard was good for a backpacker choice.

See also our post about the journey to Rurrenabaque.

A postcard from the Salineras in Maras, Peru

The Incas receive so much praise and attention around Cusco that people often forget that they weren’t the only clever ones. A visit to the Salineras in the Sacred Valley is a good reminder of this. Long before the Incas, the people of this region diverted the flow of salty water from an underground stream into shallow pools that evaporate in the sun and leave salt behind. These pools are separated into terraces along a hill in an impressive and photogenic bit of engineering. At the site you can touch the water, even lick it if you’re so inclined. It’s salty (duh). Be careful not to fall in (Rosie almost did).

Cost: 7 soles

How to get there:

There are a few ways to get to the Salineras. The easiest, but most expensive, is to take a taxi from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. Be sure to negotiate the price beforehand. It’s a good idea to include a visit to the agricultural terraces of Moray in the same trip.

Another option is to go with a tour group (tours leave from both Ollantaytambo and Cusco). A half day tour from Cusco costs about 12 soles. There are also horseback and cycling tours available.

There is also public transport from Urubamba, but you will still have to hike from Maras, or the intersection of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.

SCAM ALERT! (or the time my bag nearly got stolen)

Where? The bus from Ica to Lima. It probably happens on the reverse route, too. But it could happen anywhere.

What happened? When we got on the bus, I put my bag on the floor at my feet. This bag contained my most valuable items. The bag I could afford to lose was stored under the bus. After picking up some more passengers outside the station, a chubby round-faced man with a buzz cut tapped me on the shoulder.

“Water,” he pointed on the floor where my bag was.

“Si, agua,” I responded.

“Water,” he touched the water with his finger and then touched my hand with the same finger as if I was an idiot.

I checked my bag to see if something was leaking, but nothing was coming out of it.

“Water,” he repeated and placed my bag on the storage above our seats.

I thought maybe he was just looking out for me, but it didn’t feel right. A couple minutes later, I decided to take my bag down and put it on my lap. When I looked for it, it wasn’t above me, but had slid down towards the center of the bus. Or so I thought. It turns out the thief had moved it closer to the exit. I kept the bag on my lap for the rest of the trip.

Later, when I got to Lima I overheard a Swedish guy who was talking about having had his bag stolen. I asked him what happened and the set-up was exactly the same. The thieves got on the bus at a stop on the street and only traveled a short distance. By the time he realized what had happened it was too late. It was the same route, but a different bus company. He lost his passport, camera and personal journal, among other items.

How to avoid this?

This is pretty easy. Just keep your bag on your lap. Don’t let anyone who doesn’t work for the bus touch your bag, and even then, make sure you have an eye on it at all times. If you’re really paranoid, go with a more expensive bus line like Cruz del Sur. They have very high security and don’t pick up passengers outside the station.

Horse-and-cart Waste Removal

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“It’s a social problem,” our homestay mother explained to us, as the horse-and-cart garbage collector picked the bags up from the curb.

I can’t speak to whether it’s a social problem or not, but it’s certainly a curiosity that in one of the most developed countries in Latin America, waste disposal is done in such an old fashioned way. I suppose it’s a reminder that outside of Montevideo and the glitzy and hippy beach towns, Uruguay is a very rural country.

Mercado Rodriguez

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Vast, winding and sloping, Mercado Rodriguez is a network of cobblestone streets where everyday items such as vegetables, spices, meat, kitchen utensils, clothes and toys can be found. There’s also quite a nice collection of health food shops, selling whole wheat bread, herbal supplements, quinoa powders, cereals and so on.

This is a real market, not a phony witches market for tourists, so keep in mind that vendors may not appreciate you getting in their face with your giant camera. Still, it’s a great place for a stroll, and a good opportunity to see the kind of things normal Bolivians buy and sell. People are usually friendly if you treat them with respect, so don’t be that gringo who haggles aggressively over every penny. Everything is cheap as it is, and in my experience, I’ve never been ripped off.

Location Mercado Rodriguez begins at the intersection of Zoilo Flores and Admirante Grau in la Zona de San Pedro, one block from the Plaza San Pedro (also sometimes called Plaza Sucre).

Opening hours The streets are closed off to cars on Saturdays and Sundays, and the market is busiest on Saturdays around mid-day. Don’t bother coming super early, as La Paz is cold in the morning and it doesn’t really get going until at least 9.

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