After trekking in the rainforest to spend time with the gorillas, we then went to visit the Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village where we spent time learning all about the local life in the Rwanda countryside. It was a very interactive experience as we were given the opportunity to play drums, grind sorghum for banana beer, and test our archery skills. As we walked among the huts, our local guide explained to us all about daily lives of the people that have lived in this part of the country for hundreds of years.
From the moment that we entered the village, we were warmly greeted by the music of drums and the local villagers dancing in their authentic ceremony garments. The men wear dramatic blonde wigs, which they flip dramatically around as they dance making for quite the impression. We also had the opportunity to visit the king’s hut with its large bed and learned of the local traditions and rituals. Whether it was making banana beer, creating bee hives, or learning about the role of the medicine man, each hut that we visited was fascinating.
As with many villages that provide these types of cultural experiences, there is also the opportunity to buy handmade goods created by the villagers. The money goes towards the community, which is important as it encourages the local communities to embrace tourism and keeps them from poaching wildlife from the surrounding national park. Prior to tourists coming to Volcanoes National Park to trek to the gorillas, many of the villagers would trap gorillas to sell their hands as well as trap the mountain elephants and other animals to sell to people outside of the country. Rwanda has made great strides in reducing the number of poaching incidents and ensuring that the local people make enough money without needing to resort to trapping animals.
Although spending time with the gorillas is clearly the highlight of going to Volcanoes National Park, visiting the Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village was certainly still a wonderful experience. Considering we did both the trekking and the village visit on our first full day in Rwanda, we were certainly off to a tremendous start to our time in this interesting country. We definitely slept very well that evening before getting up early to move on to our next adventure within Rwanda.
There is a saying that travel is its own reward, but there are obviously other reasons for making the decision to travel to different places. Whether for vacation, adventure, a change of scenery, or a trip of a lifetime, people travel to a variety of places every day. For the most part, people are hoping to gain something from their travels, after all it is often quite expensive. We aren’t any different, we also get something in return for traveling to all of the places that we visit. For us, it is learning about the culture, meeting the people, and experimenting with local flavors that are our rewards. We aren’t cultural anthropologists, but we do use many of those concepts when we are on a trip to a foreign country.
We certainly understand the adventure travelers who travel the world looking for different thrills. Whether diving off a reef in the Caribbean, climbing to the top of some of the worlds largest mountains, or trekking through dense forests, there are many different pulse pounding ways to spend your time when traveling. We have definitely had our share of adventures from staying in the Amazon, going down Death Road in Bolivia, climbing to the top of Colorado mountains, white-water rafting, skiing, and ziplining in different jungles. However, for us, it was visiting the indigenous villages and meeting the people that call these places home that have made the most lasting memories.
No one can blame people who choose to travel for relaxation. There is nothing like sitting on a beach or a mountain resort and not doing much of anything. We take several trips throughout the year and at least one of those is usually just to unwind and let the day-to-day stresses melt away. Just because we are relaxing, though, doesn’t mean that we don’t take time to meet the locals and taste the local foods. Whether in Mexico or on the Spanish Riviera, we like to learn about the people who live near the resorts and make their living by pampering all of the tourists who come to their locations. Often times, many of them have moved from their home towns to earn money and send it back to their families.
Whether traveling to a country where the citizens look similar to yourself or traveling to a place where you stand out amongst the crowds, there is so much to learn from the places that you visit. As much as the world has become smaller with the internet, television, and social media, there is no substitute for spending time in a culture that is different than your own and taking time to understand the people that live there. One of the things that constantly amazes us is when we see tourists in a different country that don’t take time to actually talk to the people who live there, but just wander through taking pictures and acting like it is an exhibit for them to see. In our opinion, those people are missing out on the best part of traveling, absorbing as much about the culture as possible. What is it that drives you to take the time and spend the money to travel to places that are foreign to you?
Just going to the unofficial highest capital in the world, La Paz, is a wonderful experience on its own, but there are several things that we recommend in addition to just touring the city. We spent a couple of weeks in Bolivia starting in the central part of the country and then ending our trip by spending several days in La Paz and taking tours outside of La Paz. It was definitely one of the most memorable trips that we’ve taken and part of the reason is the diversity of things that we were able to see in the high altitudes of the Andes mountains. Here are some of our recommendations of places to see when spending time in La Paz.
Valle de Luna – In addition to being the highest capital in the world, La Paz also has a very unique topography. Buildings cover almost every inch of the mountainous hillsides and the heart of the city sits down in a valley. On the outskirts of La Paz is a very interesting place called the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) with an almost other-worldly landscape. Erosion of the clay in the mountain has resulted in huge spires that cover the area, creating a rugged and stark environment. If the scenery wasn’t surreal enough, there was a flute player that climbed to the top of one of the jagged peaks playing very haunting, traditional music. The sounds of the music echoed throughout the valley, creating a very haunting atmosphere. There were very few people there on the day that we visited, which also added to the overall experience.
Death Road – We went back and forth on whether we would do “Death Road” while we were in Bolivia. Part of it was due to how much time we had while we were in La Paz and part of it was due to the reputation of how dangerous of an adventure it could be. In the end, we decided that we didn’t want to miss out on the experience, so we chose to be another couple who survived this treacherous experience. As we look back, it was definitely a worthwhile, but not without incident. It is a gravel road that is extremely narrow with blind turns and 1,000 meter (3,000 foot) cliffs all along the edge, which is why so many vehicles have plummeted into the jungle killing all of those inside. It certainly isn’t to be taken lightly, but it isn’t as bad these days as it was in the past.
Mi Teleferico (The Cable Cars) – Public transportation using cable cars in the highest capital in the world, La Paz, is certainly quite interesting. When you consider the fact that city is literally built on the sides of a mountain as well as a dense population, getting around the city wasn’t easy until the cable car system was built. Now, instead of winding through narrow streets with steep inclines, people soar over the rooftops to one of the different destinations. There are 3 interconnected lines, just like most transit systems, with red, yellow, and green lines. Although it is a method of transportation that allows citizens to move throughout the city, it is also an incredible way for tourists to truly see this amazing city from a different standpoint.
Copacabana and Lake Titicaca – Much of what we saw during our time in Bolivia was harsh, wild, and rugged. The exception to trekking the Amazon rainforest or scaling the heights of the Andes mountains was our trip to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is a resort destination for tourists and locals alike. Having seen the relatively poor living conditions for most of the citizens of Bolivia, seeing the upscale, boutique hotels on the shore with the boats in the water was quite a juxtaposition to the rest of our experience in Bolivia. The main street of Copacabana is lined with tourist stores and small, family-owned restaurants. We watched as ferries arrived from Peru dropping tourists off to start their journey into the heart of Bolivia. One look at that unpaved main street and there was no mistaking that we were still in Bolivia, despite the relative luxury of the hotel where we were staying.
Mysterious Tiwanaku – Walking through the ruins of Tiwanaku brings both a sense of fascination and yearning for more. This once great capital fills you with a sense of mystery, both because of the seemingly impossible building methods used by the inhabitants over two-thousand years ago as well as the lack of knowledge that we’ll ever have because of the condition of the ruins. Unfortunately, many of the stones that originally made up Tiwanaku are now used in the walls of the homes in the surrounding villages. It has also suffered from a lack of preservation by the Bolivian government, which doesn’t seem to have the same sense of history, despite the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Waterfall in Coroico – Located in a rainforest in a valley of the Andes mountains is the town of Coroico, Bolivia. We went to the town after driving down “death road” and hiked to a beautiful waterfall and then enjoyed lunch at local restaurant. Considering how tense the drive down the side of the mountain, with its narrow road, thousand foot cliffs, and no guard rails, it was definitely relaxing to go to Coroico. The town square featured a whimsical fountain with a parrot and a colorful church. The highlight of visiting Coroico was definitely the waterfall, which was extremely dramatic and beautiful.
Sun and Moon Islands – Taking a boat out to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is truly fascinating. The islands have many interesting ruins that pre-date the Inca empire and have been dated back to as far as 300 BC. The ruins are mostly of temples, but people lived on the islands as well. Island of the Sun is the larger of the two islands and there are even hotels where you can spend the night if you would like. If you just want to tour the islands and return to the town of Copacabana on the same day, it will take you about four to six hours.
As you can tell, there is certainly a wide variety of opportunities to see when visiting La Paz. Although it certainly isn’t necessary to do everything that we did during our time in La Paz, we certainly recommend doing as many of them as possible. Also, don’t forget to visit the art district and enjoy food at one of the many wonderful restaurants serving local dishes.