Last week Dan, Ted, my cousins, and I set off for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I say this for two reasons. One, I think we can all agree that traveling in Bolivia is not for sissies. You’re faced with dizzying heights in some of the highest altitude cities in the world, extreme temperature and UV radiation, frightening “highways,” malodorous and uncomfortable sanitation facilities, and bare-minimum accommodations. However, we also witnessed such stark natural beauty that we (even Cayi) were left speechless. Vale la pena!

Our trip itinerary started in La Paz (the seat of the Bolivian government), where we warded off soroche with mate de coca. From there, we traveled 3 hours north to the ancient ruins of Tiwanaku. Most archeologists agree that Tiwanaku originated around 1600 BC. However, mystery surrounds the disappearance of this ancient civilization. The basalt and sandstone slabs used in the consturction weight as much as 25 tons each, and the nearest quarries that would have produced such slabs are at at least 5km away. In fact, when the Incas came across the ruins during their conquest of South America, the local indigenous people told them the city had been built by giants.

While most of the city is still submerged (and most of the valuables have been looted and scattered to the four corners of the world), what has been found sheds light on the people’s mastery of stone work, system of aqueducts, and impressive agricultural techniques, which allowed them to grow potatoes the size of footballs.