Not Always a Thrill, but Always an Adventure

October 30, 2009

In the past few weeks I've had my credit card eaten by a hungry cash machine, gotten altitude sickness, had my wallet stolen, "lost" money at the worst possible time, and nearly fallen off a cliff. Yet I've also had unforgettable experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life. That is, if I manage to keep from falling off a cliff.

Copacabana, Bolivia

After crossing the Peruvian border into Bolivia, and stopping in Copacabana on Lake Titicaca for a night, I arrived in La Paz. My first order of business after arriving was to taxi to the DHL office and pick up my replacement credit card that had been eaten by an ATM machine two weeks prior in Peru. Eager to put this piece of plastic to use, I then spent three hours perusing a shopping mall to find a new jacket as well as jeans that actually fit my colossal (by Bolivian standards) frame. I was so happy to accomplish my goal that I promptly rammed my head into the nearest low-hung object.

Saturday Street Market in La Paz

Unfortunately my enthusiasm would not last long. I began to constantly feel thirsty, and wheeze upon walking up any sort of incline (impossible to avoid in hilly La Paz). Over the next three days, I lost my appetite, had difficulty sleeping, and felt completely lethargic. The world's highest capital city had gifted me with a case of altitude sickness.

 After recovering, I overheard that the most important match of the Bolivian soccer league season would be played in La Paz the next day. For the ridiculously cheap price of about $8.50, I got a gameday ticket. Although I went to the stadium alone, I never felt any imminent danger. The behavior of Bolivian fans is nothing like those crazy Mexican fanáticos from a couple of months back.

The match itself quickly degenerated into a Latin American fútbol theater of injury-feigning and time-wasting. So while the action on the field was less than stellar, I focused on soaking up the atmosphere and eccentricities of my surroundings: 1) Time remaining was, bizarrely, not shown on the scoreboard. I resorted to using my stopwatch to keep track of the match time. 2) Food served at Bolivian sporting events is even unhealthier than at American ones. I know, I can't believe it either. 3) The chants I heard in the stands were surprisingly similar to ones I hear at D.C. United matches (Vamos...Vamos Academia...esta noche...tenemos que ganar!) 4) The hundreds of green-clad Bolivian police at the stadium, supposedly there to secure the event, watched the match as intently as paying fans. Seems like a good gig to me.

The next most memorable experience from La Paz wasn't quite so positive. On a Saturday night, I was out enjoying myself and dancing at a nightclub. At one point in the evening, I reached in my pocket and realized that my wallet was gone. Someone had courteously removed it from my person. Thankfully, the only thing in my wallet of value was about $10 in cash. But it still unnerved me and ruined the rest of my night.

Two days later, I was set to make a 4 hour trip to a jungle lodge and take a three-day course on whitewater kayaking. But unfortunately, that morning the instructor told me the river was too high to learn on and we would need to delay or cancel the course. Opting for the former, I instead took a bus over to a resort town close to the lodge and resolved to wait there for a couple of days in the hopes that the river would calm down. I decided to take only the cash that I would need to live for a couple of days.

Journey to Coroico, Bolivia

My hotel in Coroico had unbelievable views over the valley below. After the cold, noise, and chaos of La Paz, this felt like paradise. That is, until I got back to my room, counted my money and realized that the 200 boliviano bill that I had brought had gone missing. Here I was, 4 hours from my valuables safely stored in La Paz, needing to survive for 48 hours on nothing more than about $20.

View from Hotel Balcony, Coroico

OK, I can do this, I thought to myself. First I talked the hotel receptionist into moving me into a cheaper room for $6 a night, which I dutifully dubbed the "El Cuarto del Gallo" because of the rooster in the yard across from me that would graciously wake me up at 5:30am every morning. That left me with $8. Two breakfasts of banana and toast: 20 cents each. Two lunches of soup, chicken, rice, and potatoes: $1.50 each. Two dinners of sausage and french fries: $1 each. 2 liters of water: 75 cents. Bus ride back to La Paz: $2. Heck, I'll have money to spare! Little did I know that I would make it back to my hotel in La Paz with exactly zero money left.

 From Coroico, there is a scenic hike to waterfalls that I decided to undertake. I had been trekking for about an hour and admiring the amazing views when I came upon the first waterfall. With my attention diverted, I stepped forward only to feel my foot plunge below into thin air. My other foot quickly followed. Reaching up in desperation, I grabbed on to a pipe that lay next to the path. With my heart stopped and my adrenaline racing, I pulled myself back onto solid ground.

The pipe that saved my life

If that pipe hadn't been there, I may have never made it back to my hotel. And the waterfalls weren't even that impressive. Certainly not worth losing my life over!

That night, I heard from the instructor that the river was higher than ever and we would not be able to do the kayaking course after all. I was dejected but thankful to be alive. The following morning, I squeezed into a minibus, sandwiched between the window, the seat in front, and a rather large cholita on my side, forfeited my remaining cash, and endured an uncomfortable ride back to La Paz. My journey may not have always been a thrill, but it certainly was an adventure.


  1. My God, dude, good catch! No more cliff-falling, k? I know you don't want to brag, tall do you think the cliff was?

    The combo of pics and text is working really well here...looks like some amazing land. Love the observation of the cops at the game...

    Cheers again,


  2. Thanks for the comment, Brett! I honestly don´t know how far down it was more of a ¨pit¨, so it was very dark. I could not see the bottom so I assume it was pretty far down.

  3. Oh man Adam, what a string of bad luck! But you still keep such a positive outlook and happy face, so that's awesome. I guess you semi-expected some of the "bumps" in the roads of your travels. Keep up the exploring, you're having a priceless experience!