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BOLIVIA : A DAY IN LA PAZ AND A TASTE OF EMIRATES’ BUSINESS CLASS

Following a fun-filled day tour at the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, I left Uyuni with a huge smile on my face, and took a less-than-an-hour-plane-ride to La Paz, Bolivia.

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The sleepy town of Uyuni, Bolivia.
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Salt flat with all other mineral deposits seen from my window seat.
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Clouds and snow-capped mountains. Bolivia, you’re damn pretty!
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Bolivian skyline dominated by brick houses and mountain ranges filled with snow.

Mi Teleferico La Paz-El Alto

(My Cable Car, La Paz El Alto)

August 2015. Arriving at Aeropuerto Internacional El Alto in La Paz, Bolivia from Uyuni (the highest international airport in the world, elevated at 13,325 ft), and with only few hours of layover, I immediately deposited by backpack and trolley to the left-luggage-counter at the airport. It’s worth mentioning that other than the fuss-free and spacious airport in La Paz, I also enjoyed the free and fast wifi access at the terminal, while I was taking my brunch. With nothing in mind but to maximise my transit hours, I hailed a taxi cab and requested the driver to take me to the nearest cable car station. My game plan? To experience La Paz, Bolivia’s aerial cable car urban transit system, called, Mi Teleferico (My Cable Car) that opened in 2014.

To be honest, I entertained envy (deadly, I know!) for two reasons – firstly, because La Paz has a number of modes of transportation, while Metro Manila in my country, The Philippines has otherwise; and secondly, La Paz can provide cheap and affordable fares to its commuting public (If I remember it correctly, I only paid 3 Bolivianos (0.43 USD) for my trip that covered 3 cable car stations, as per rate in August 2015).  From buses and taxi cabs in its busy, and at times, congested roads and streets, Bolivians and tourists in La Paz get to move around the city by aerial cable cars! Mi Teleferico has 3 lines at present – red, yellow and green lines and with 6 more lines that are about to be operational. Now, that’s progress defined! Can you blame me to be envious of La Paz? I wish the same would happen to my country as well.

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Iglesia de San Franciso, La Paz, Bolivia

After 1 taxi ride and 3 cable car stations, I rode another taxi that took me to one of the famous landmarks in La Paz – the Plaza San Francisco where the Iglesia de San Francisco, a basilica dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, has been frequented by tourists because it’s one of the oldest and grandest in the region, being built between 15th to 18th centuries.

Happy to see a volume of Catholic faithfuls still flocking to the church! Bravo, Bolivians!
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Breakfast in La Paz, Bolivia

If there’s one thing about Bolivia that I miss the most, it’s the Bolivian bread that they served me during breakfasts in both Uyuni and La Paz! I loved the fact that it has crunchy crust, however, tasteful and soft inside. It’s perfect sans butter or any spread!

I spotted Luna’s, a modest eatery near the junction of alleys leading to El Mercado de las Brujas or the Witches’ Market; there I had my Bolivian bread fix.

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Sarap!!! Delicious and cheap!

                                                                El Mercado de las Brujas  or

La Hechiceria (The Witches’ Market)

Its name alone caught my attention, much more to learn that most, if not all shops are manned by yatiri, or local healers among the indigenous people of Andes region, particularly of Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

So right after I went to church, indulged in a simple Bolivian breakfast at Luna’s, I found myself killing my curiosity about La Hechiceria, or also known as, El Mercado de las Brujas (The Witches’ Market) in La Paz. Strolling along its narrow and uphill cobblestoned alley, my eyes were glued to dried llama fetuses, dried frogs, talismans and amulets, stone figurines that represent Bolivian beliefs and culture, handwoven and colorful garments, fridge magnets and other souvenirs!

Except for dried llama fetuses used by Bolivians as sacred offerings to Pachamama, the goddess revered as Mother Earth, the Witches’ Market reminded me perfectly of Quiapo in Manila back home, where herbal plants, religious articles and potions for all sorts are being sold. Both places are equally fascinating and interesting to say the least.

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The Witches’ Market : bustling with tourists who are curious like me, and souvenir shoppers.

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I bought 2 vintage world maps printed on a canvass from a male vendor after I requested him to take my back-shot-photo in this one of a kind alley.

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Then, I saw these colourful stone figurines from a store, and bought something that represent their god of travelers (that bird-looking figurine). 
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If my memory serves me right, these stone figurines above are symbolic of fertility.
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And apparently, the other stones are symbolic of long-lasting relationships.
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Ugh! I’m sorry, my heart melted upon the sight of those dried llama fetuses!
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More souvenirs!
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From half-day of exploring a few places in La Paz, I went back to the airport via taxi cab from The Witches’ Market just to learn that I could not board my flight at 4PM. Why? I was not allowed to board my supposed flight out of La Paz, Bolivia and back to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil via Santiago, Chile, to catch my connecting flight to Dubai, UAE, simply because I didn’t secure a transit visa to Chile (I read from various travel fora that if passenger with connecting flight to Brasil from Chile will not pass the passport control and will just stay at the Transit Area, they do not need to secure visa, therefore I did not). LAN Airlines was courteous enough to explain my options.

  • Either I go back to La Paz to apply visa from the Chilean Embassy, then they’ll rebook my tickets for the following week (the anxious me reacted like, “What?! I cannot miss my work the next day!”).
  • or call Avianca Airlines to purchase new tickets from Bolivia to (countries that do not require Philippine passport holders like me a visa) Peru then Brasil. Upon doing so, I learned it would cost me a whopping 450 USD per ticket (I told myself, I’d rather lose my arm and leg, *kidding*!).

After dragging my trolley, 2 backpacks and a souvenir-duffel bag up and down the ground and mezzanine floors of the airport, I spoke to the manager of LAN Airlines at the counter and uttered silent prayers seriously. To cut the story short, I was lucky blessed to be granted FREE change of tickets (despite the tickets I bought originally from SkyScanner and not from the airline website were non-transferrable and non-refundable), they gave me tickets from La Paz to Lima, then Lima to Sao Paulo, and finally, Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro (where I had connecting flight back to Dubai, as mentioned earlier). But the flights for 12 hours literally was scheduled early in the morning the following day, hence they advised me to go back to the town of La Paz to sleep overnight and be at the terminal at 3AM for my 6AM flight. I thankfully obliged and checked in a cheap hotel and strolled the city for the last time.
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Finally, bye bye Bolivia! Hello again, Peru and Brasil!

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They lost my backpack in Sao Paulo!

I almost went through the day smoothly despite those multiple airport-hoppings in South America until I learned that my 50-liter-backpack was missing! I left Sao Paulo airport and boarded my second to the last flight to Rio de Janeiro without it! The airport official in Sao Paulo provided a signed form proving that my backpack was out of sight. Eight days after I arrived in Dubai, I collected the bag from Terminal 3 and found out that it wrongly went to London from Brasil then was brought back to me in UAE.

After all the inevitable hassles I experienced in one of the longest days of my life, I finally arrived at the counter of Emirates in Galeão International Airport, in Rio de Janeiro. Tired, hungry and sleepy, I could bet my last dirham on my pocket that I surely looked so messy and unpleasant that moment.

The saving grace for the entire day was the generous offer of Emirates for my ticket to be upgraded from Economy seat to Business Class.

I saw fireworks and heard cherubs singing! Hahahaha!

Of course, I was too weak to resist! It would be my first time in Business Class ever! Thank you, Emirates! Thank you, Universe for making the Economy seats in that flight full of passengers hence, I was upgraded for free! I so welcomed it as my Rio de Janeiro-Dubai was a long 14-hour-flight! Shukran, Emirates!

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Free flowing champagne, red wine, white wine – French and Californian. Hallelujah!
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Utterly comfortable Business class seats, spacious leg room and remarkable service!
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From the menu, I opted for an aubergine omelet as an appetizer.
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Then, they also served salad with smoked salmon and cheese, some bread rolls, fruits and coffee.
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More red wine, please. Californian or French?
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Oh, that plate of tastefully seasoned prawn on top of a bed of couscous salad, served with sashimi, was just heavenly!
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I opted for Rack of lamb with Ratatouille for my main. Sublime!
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And I perfectly ended my meal with a Cheese Board. Thank you so much, Emirates! Would not mind if you offer me again next time! 

Muito Obrigado, Brasil! Gracias, Bolivia and Peru!

Visiting Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Iguazu in Brasil, Lima and Cusco in Peru, Uyuni and La Paz in Bolivia for two weeks was a great introduction to me of South America! The whole traveling experience left me in awe, and made me hungry for more travels! It eventually inspired me to do better in life, so I could visit these countries again, and be in other places in Latin America in the near future. In spite of the challenges I faced throughout my journey (random airport police check for drugs twice in Cusco, delayed flights, lost backpack, broken LCD of my mobile phone as I accidentally dropped it in my hotel in Cusco, no-visa to Chile, forgot to bring jacket for the cold weather in Machu Picchu, multiple flights and more), the things I learned and the people I met made me a new person, or at least widened my appreciation of a lot of things.

This South American Travel Blog Series includes :

*All photos in this blog series were taken using Fujifilm X-A2. These posts were not sponsored.

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