Getting Off Track in Bolivia 2

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It seems to be an increasingly popular mentality among travelers to “do” as many countries as possible.

Get in, see the main sights, do the main activities, get out, and get on to the next place.

While it definitely makes sense to budget your time wisely, especially on a short trip, I’ve never found simply ticking places off a tourist trail list to provide the most satisfying travel experience.

In fact, the times when my travel plans went totally off-course have ended up being the most fulfilling. An extremely last-minute cancellation of a writer’s workshop led to meeting one of my best friends in Costa Rica. My laptop mysteriously going kaput forced me to focus on the experience at hand rather than catching up on blog projects.

More recently, a spur-of-the-moment decision to chase down seemingly too-good-to-be true stargazing rooms [spoiler alert: things that sound too good to be true usually are, including in this case] led me unexpectedly out of Bolivia and into Chile and Argentina with the aforementioned best friend.

Stephanie and Lavi Chile

Lavi and I in Chile

This well-enjoyed detour from my travel plans brought me back into Bolivia on its lesser explored central southern side, as I had to work my way back up to La Paz to catch my flight out of the country in a week.

Without enough time to visit the jungles of Rurrenbaque, and with enough claustrophobia to prevent a visit to the mines of Potosi, I decided to check out Tupiza. While guidebooks provided consistent cliches portraying it as the Wild West of Bolivia (due in part to its close proximity to the final shootout location of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), I found Tupiza to be more than some one-horse town.

Tupiza Bolivia

While definitely home to more than a few dusty roads and mountainous vistas, it also offered a few pleasant surprises.

Tupiza Bolivia

a bit of that Wild West look

The wifi was surprisingly strong (especially compared to the rest of Bolivia), and several small homey restaurants offered up a vegetable filled vegetarian option, a welcome change in pace from the standard bread or pasta and cheese I’d be getting in Argentina.

The main square of Tupiza, though not touted in any guidebook I came across, was absolutely beautiful and more than worth an afternoon stroll (and more than a few photos).

Tupiza Bolivia

Main Square

After a day of wandering and eating, I needed to go full Kristin Newman and do “the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it”, so I couldn’t leave Tupiza without going out on a 2 day horse riding trek into the wild, wild west.

The first few hours were amazing. I saw some of the most beautifully deserted scenery of my life.

Tupiza Bolivia Tupiza Bolivia Tupiza Bolivia

But by hour 3 of the first day’s 7 hour horse ride, I’d had enough. My butt hurt SO bad, I was sweating like crazy, and I seriously regretted my choice to get off the beaten track. There’s a tourist trail for a reason. It’s fun. And comfortable.

Hour by hour, my seriously sore behind get increasingly more painful, I got sweatier and stinkier, and the minutes seemed to creep by.

Tupiza Bolivia

this smile says: My butt hurts SO bad

It was about to get unimaginably worse.

After getting to the homestay and passing out hard by about 7pm, the wakeup call came early. I could barely drag my aching behind down the stairs to have a breakfast of cookies and tea (cookies for breakfast is a special South American phenomenon I haven’t run into anywhere else)

No, eating cookies for breakfast was not the worst part.

Tupiza Bolivia

After getting geared up to ride, even applying a bit of makeup for some especially spectacular selfies – my horse had other plans.

As I held his reins and waited for the guide, he freaked out and stomped square on my foot – smashing it into a bloodied hamburger-looking mess. I screamed obscenities at the top of my lungs (later thankful that 0 people within 100 miles could understand my swears) and collapsed to the floor while the homestay mom and my guide tried to do their best with some iodine and a tube of antibiotic. I maintained consciousness in order to thwart the homestay son from stabbing me with a hypodermic horse syringe, and to smile a welcome at the elderly man who came to watch from the next home over.

Unfortunately, being so off-the-beaten-track (like I wanted to be), there wasn’t even a road. Or a car. Anywhere within miles.

I had to ride back, a full 7 hours, with one foot in the stirrup and the other, squashed foot hanging uselessly free.

Sometimes, it is absolutely awesome and fulfilling to get off the tourist trail. I love seeing unique places, getting to actually talk to locals rather than other hostelers, and weirder fun things happen.

Other times, you’re working your way through the Bolivian desert at a snail’s pace while trying not to cry from the pain in your foot and fear in your mind that maybe you’ll never be able to run again.

Tupiza Bolivia

but seriously: their feet are very big and they are very heavy


It took more than two months for the complete swelling to go down, and to be able to wear most of my shoes again.

I CAN run – I choose not to because I’m lazy.

Other than two seriously ugly toenails my foot is pretty much back to normal.

I’ll still get off the beaten track, I just won’t do it on a horse.

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About Stephanie Kempker

Steph is a freelance writer, travel blogger, volunteer, and serial expat living in Mexico City (prior: Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro). She is addicted to slow travel, cultural insights, and fresh veggie eats.

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