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Whatever I was expecting from LaPaz, it wasn’t the brilliant blue sky capping the overflowing natural bowl that encompasses the city. From our window in the Hotel Stannum we see the snow-covered peak of Illimani southwest of the city center and the houses under construction farther and farther from the center, rising like the foam on a pot about to boil over.

Our trip started with two goals, as archaeologists we must visit Tiwanaku, and after that we wanted visit the last place where red-fronted macaws can be seen in the wild. We have a pet red-fronted macaw currently living with our very generous daughter Amanda. Simon was bred in Florida from birds probably exported from Bolivia in the 1970s. Once we found he was from a critically endangered species, we decided that if the opportunity ever came up, we’d go see his extended family. This is another of the many reasons that no one should have these birds as pets. Too much work, too much guilt. Simon may live to be forty and he’s only about fifteen now.

We found we could round out our visit to Bolivia by stopping in at the Uyuni salt flats. It’s possible to take a tour that lasts four to ten days around the Uyuni area but we are just going to have a look.

I’ll confess to a lapse in planning in that I didn’t realize we needed visas to visit Bolivia until the day before we were leaving. In a panic I called the consulate and found that if you have your paperwork in order and crisp bills to pay the fee of $160 per person fee, you are able to get a visa upon entry, especially at larger crossings like the El Alto airport in La Paz. I hustled around and printed the online-only form, copies of our passports, itinerary, hotel reservations and yellow fever vaccination just for good luck. When we arrived with all this information neatly clipped together, we were rapidly given our visas. The line was short at 12:30 am. Legally in the country, we headed for the hotel, where the full extent of the next cruel lesson hit me. Eat lightly if you are going from sea level to 12,000 feet in two hours. We had dinner in the Lima airport before our 10 pm flight and I did also eat a morsel on the plane. It was a big mistake because my salad in the Lima airport gave me food poisoning. The worst didn’t start until we were at the hotel, so perhaps I have something to be grateful for. Sparing you the details, I spent the next day lying around waiting to feel better. This is why we booked four nights in La Paz at the start of the trip, to acclimatize. I really needed it.

The Stannum Hotel occupies the upper floors of a multiplex/mall/office building. The staff are helpful and their English is very clear, which we appreciate even though we speak Spanish. The kitchen staff even sorted through their cutlery to find the travel teaspoon they inadvertently collected with other dishes. It was easy to find, it’s stamped SWISSAIR.  The decor is contemporary and a bit nightclubby, though I enjoy trying out all the unusual shaped chairs. There is a comfortable couch and chair in a small “library” of coffee table books about Bolivia. There’s also a small internet pod on our floor where I can slide the doors shut and make a skype call without awakening my napping husband. Room service was handy when all I could get down was chicken soup. It’s the perfect starting point for us.