Bolivia, no there are no bandits!
It's been some time since I uploaded a post, apologies for the radio silence but between Bolivian Beli (I think it was the chicken curry, 'The Man' insists it was the nuts & dried fruit), and limited Internet it has been difficult to write about our Bolivian and Peruvian travels. Travelling with no real agenda has also made maintaining the blog difficult, yes people I lack discipline. Hopefully I can keep it up. We have now reached Ecuador, and are in the little town of Vilcabamba. For those who are seeking a long life this may be the place for you, as allegedly people live a long healthy life here.
When I started writing this post we were in a small, leaking boat to Isla del Sol near Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water in the world. It's about 3,870m above sea level, and walking up to our hotel with my pack on my back, I could definitely feel the altitude. Thankfully the locals also feel it. However I get ahead of myself, and let us go back to the beginning of March when we entered Bolivia from the Chilean border into the national park that contained wonders such as Laguna Colorado, a completely pink lake covered with three different types of Flamingos, Dali's desert, volcano Ollague, geysers, lamas, vicunas, and at the end of the trip the ethereal Salar de Uyuni.
Bolivia is a diverse country not just in the people (there are no bandits!!) but also geographically, from moutainous regions to colonial cities down to the jungles and pampas at the edge of the amazon basin. Indigenous people seemingly live in harmony side by side with the Spanish descendants of those who conquered and raped this land (Potosi is where the effect of the Spanish rule is still evident, with the silver mine towering over the town like el diablo). This mine that is still mined today and where thousands died to provide wealth for the old world). The old traditions of the indigenous people also seem to mix or at least exist side by side the more modern Bolivians who have adopted the more western dress. Kids look like they're auditioning for a Justin Beiber / One Direction / Katy Perry / Selena Gomez / Fall Out Boy video. The people are initially reticent and seem suspicious of you but once you greet them they are more likely to smile, and you realise that they are actually shy. Though the staring is a bit much, and my red braids seem to be a source of fascination, as well as my colouring. Thankfully 'The Man' due to his height was also pointed and stared at, though at least little kids don't run away from him in fear. Sigh... As mentioned, we started our trip in the National park on the border of Chile and Bolivia. The aim of the trip is to get to Salar de Uyuni, which is a salt flat. The largest in the world. This is a three day trip, and one night you actually stay in a hotel made entirely of salt, the bed too. There is only one shower in the entire hotel to cater for over 40 people, let's just say bathtime is not a walk in the park, but everyone was very British with our 7 minutes (the time you have in the shower). Another night, you just freeze and pray for the night to be over as the accommodation is very basic - as in no shower and a barrel of water that you have to use to flush. The highight of the trip is the Salar de Uyuni, and our driver was adamant that we saw sunrise over the salar from the island of cactus (Isla de Pescados), so at 4.30am the headlights of his jeep lit up our room accompanied by his music. Obviously a pleasant way to wake up. :-( Then the drive itself through the salt flats and across or into the river that floods the area when it rains. All well and good but when done in the dark with no lights there were a few expletives. For those on Facebook, you may have seen this picture, but I love it. It captures the true essence and mystiqye of Salar de Uyuni (not the llama, the one of me). (For those looking for a tour company we used Lithium, I cannot rave enough about them).
Then onto Potosi. This city tops 4,000m above sea level, and where I had a full on strop. We arrived in the morning and with no map or real indication where we were going, 'Ribs' (this is nomiker I gave 'The Man' after our illness as he lost so much weight) decided that we should walk. At 4,000m with almost 30 kilos on my back, and front, walking blindly is not an option. I stopped a collectivo and we drove to our hostel, well round the corner from it. Those last few steps nearly did me in. Altitude and I are not friends, and when combined with fumes from the many collectivos its a combination for me ending up in bed unable to breathe, with no chance of a beer. Anyway, so Potosi...people go there to go to the mines and see the workers. Uh no thanks - crawling through mines where people died is not my idea of fun, but each to his own. We rather went to the convent to hear about the practices of the Carmelite nuns, at Santa Teresa. Self-flagellation, no contact with family or the outside world and an amazing guide. (Lydia we are still raving about your tour - your knowledge and enthusiasm made Potosi for us). It is a great town to chill in and the musuems and streets are fun to wander around.
Tarija was next. You know that we love our wine, and this is where Bolivia grows its grapes, and we arrived just in time for the festival of the grape. Another wine tour!!! The people dress up and this lady was our sommelier at Casa Viejo, the oldest winery in Bolivia. Wine tasting Bolivian style, where you share a glass with 12 other people, and when it's empty she tops it up! (Maybe this is why we were ill...).
The wine is sweet, and sorry Bolivia, but not that great. Tarija is very Argentinian so the streets don't smell of urine (most of Bolivia seems to have the eau de urine on the streets, probably because everywhere is seen as a potential bathroom) and the weather is warm and the people love their ice-cream. Many local tourists and I even ended up having my picture taken with a father and son next to the dead pigs, waiting to be splayed on the parridilla (barbecue). I'm famous you know. ;-0) Alas no picture, but here is how they BBQ in most of South America - WARNING not for the faint hearted or animal lovers.
Note: check the blue arrow out. They are not sleeping. :-(
Sucre was our next stop on our Bolivian adventure and the most painful. 2 days in bed, no real activity and just generally wanting to die. [Still no idea what it was but there is now hope for 'Ribs' getting into skinny jeans - not my silver lining but maybe his]. I love Sucre and the market is great as you can eat local food (comida typica) upstairs, though there was very little eating done here. 11 years ago Sucre was a very different city compared to today in that it was still the beautiful city it is today, but there was such poverty. Children were begging and many children had been abandoned by their parents and were begging on the streets or working as shoe shine boys and keeping warm by sniffing aerosols. Today it is an affluent city where the kids all look like they shop in Abercrombie and Fitch and have the latest technology. A cool place to kick back but we would have loved to do some hikes or just move from our beds.
The next stop was La Paz. What an amazing city! in the bowl and with numerous collectivos. Houses onto of eachother and streets that go up, and up...
Note: people have built their houses up the side of the bowl (the crater), which is very unstable but as with all big cities people want to live there regardless of the cost.
Next the jungle, but I feel that in itself deserves a separate post. In the meantime, here is a teaser...
I promise that I'll catch up on our journey soon, with highlights in Peru and our entry into Ecuador.
Until Rurrenabaque with giant piranha, canoe rides, cayman, monkeys and bugs... :-)