South America Trip.8 – Bolivia

Tihuanaco on the Bolivian altiplano
A farm near Tihuanaco, a pre-Inca site between La Paz and L. Titicaca

Sat Aug 19, 1967:

Departed Buenos Aires by train for La Quiaca. The trip to La Quiaca took, if I remember, two nights on the train, during which time we climbed to 11, 293 feet. My sheepskin coat came in handy. While I’m not sensitive to altitude, carrying my heavy bag from car to car on the train caused me some huffing and puffing. Starting out alone, I met four American Peace Corps volunteers on the train. They had, like I, just finished their two-year assignments. Theirs were done in Uruguay. There was a married couple and two single women in their group. I particularly remember a Japanese American named Jo Ann from Chicago who was either a Ph.D in Chemistry or on her way to doing one. She later visited me in Montréal. They all were fluent in Spanish and great company for me, alone since I let my companions George and Ian go ahead while I spent extra time in Rio de Janeiro.

We did make it to La Quiaca, crossed into Villazón on the Bolivian side, and took a second train up through Bolivia to La Paz. This was a further 16 hours or so and about another 1000′ of elevation.

La Paz Approach
La Paz Approach

I took the above slide as we descended on La Paz from above. My slides of La Paz are pretty washed-out looking. Age, probably, but it was so bright at 12 000′ that, using the film’s instructions for exposure value in “bright sun” instead of a pricey light meter, I probably overexposed some of them. Should have closed down a stop. Strange that the dry, dusty, bleak perspective in this part of the world hasn’t changed much in five decades. On a recent trip to Peru the city of Juliaca looked like it could have been plunked right down in 60’s Western Bolivia and no one would notice.

La Paz was depressing to me. Bolivia seemed the poorest of the places I visited in South America in 1967. I don’t remember much else.

Dining Out – On Something – In La Paz

Oh yeah, I remember one story now… My Peace Corps friends and I went out to dinner in the capital. Deferring to their command of Spanish, I let them order what they thought was “rabbit” for all of us. I seem to remember them ordering “lapiz,” but lapiz means pencil. No, we didn’t receive plates covered in roasted pencils. Must be my decades-old memory dimming… Anyway, whatever-it-was came whole and four-legged and did not have a fluffy tail – or any tail – or big ears. My companions eyed it suspiciously, having eaten “rabbit” it in Uruguay that did not resemble what was on our plates. They did not touch theirs, suspecting something ratty. I ate all of mine – with no ill effects. Don’t like wasting money, I guess. Showing off? Maybe. My mother, two years before this at home in Lachine,  in a bad mood over something I failed to do or failed not to do, told me I was so spoiled that she and the whole extended family thought I wouldn’t last two months teaching with CUSO in Trinidad, let alone two years. Mom was aware of how fussy an eater I was. She would have been shocked to watch me clean those “lapiz” bones. May have been guinea pig. In Ollantaytambo and some other parts of Peru they raise guinea pigs and eat them. They run around the house:

Guinea Pigs in a "typical" old-style Ollantaytambo dwelling
Guinea Pigs in a “typical” old-style Ollantaytambo dwelling – 2013

The above little cuties bear considerable resemblance, minus the fur, to what was on our plates in that La Paz restaurant. I remember keeping them as pets at home myself. They would squeal whenever they heard the fridge being opened. Never tried eating them – there’s a time and a place for everything.

Central La Paz
Central La Paz

Didn’t do much more than look around La Paz. We were headed for Lake Titicaca, particularly the Bolivian port of Guaqui on the south shore of the “small lake” section of Lake Titicaca. On the way I snapped this slide a farm near Tiahuanaco, a world heritage site now spelled Tiwanaku, which I sadly hadn’t time to visit.

Tihuanaco, an ancient place on the Bolivian altiplano
A farm near Tihuanaco, a pre-Inca site between La Paz and L. Titicaca

From Guaqui we planned to sail north through the narrow Estrecha de Tiquina into the larger section of the Lake. It was an overnight sail to Puno, Peru’s main port on Lake Titicaca. We slept in berths. According to this article by Toni Morrison there were three boats sailing from Guaqui to Puno in 1967. Based on my description to Carlos, our Puno guide on our 2013 trip, he thought it must have been the (2200 ton, 260 ft. long) SS Ollanta, built in England and hauled over the Andes  in portable pieces, on the backs of mules and human porters, from the port of Mollendo on the Peruvian coast. It was bolted together under the supervision of a small group of British engineers in Puno and launched in 1931 from a newly-built shipway. However, Toni Morrison’s experience and one particular photo she apparently took from the SS Inca have given me some doubts. Beginning to think it may have been the SS Inka.  There was some sleeping space available on that vessel also.

We arrived safely in Puno. Here is a photo I took from the SS Something-Or-Other on arrival in Puno ca. August 26, 1967:

Puno from the SS Ollanta in August 1967
Puno from the SS Ollanta in August 1967

Again, for reference if you haven’t been following along, is the map of my 1967 Trip. If you’re interested in more stories of my trip, just check out the category South America Trip – 1967.

My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967
My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967


Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

2 thoughts on “South America Trip.8 – Bolivia”

  1. You mean there are countries outside of the United States? Who would have thought it? Seriously though, I love reading about other cultures and peoples especially with the accompanying photography. I’d love to travel in South America one day. Thanks for sharing your memories and experiences, mightyturk.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I am enjoying this trip all over again by writing about it. There are lots of details I research anew to piece together things I didn’t record or know at the time. That adds to the ongoing experience. Whatever “permanence” we have as sentient beings lives on in the memories of others. Visiting Peru again last Aug/Sep with Anita, our daughter and grandson (and a great camera!) touched me at a deep level of appreciation for being alive, fit enough and able to share the experience with those I’ve loved for a long, long time.

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