Archive for the 'Bolivia' Category

Published by Linda on 08 Apr 2009

La Paz: Prison Break (in!) & Death Row – Sorry I mean ROAD!

Warning – Mum and Dad…. don’t read this next blog – trust me!!

And so on to La Paz, capital of Bolivia (according to some!!) Loads to do in La Paz but after weeks of talking and debate, our first stop was San Pedro prison. This is a functioning real prison which apparently is more like a little town, with restaurants, shoe shines, stalls, even hairdressers, situated right in the heart of La Paz.

Doesn’t look like a prison, does it?? It’s a biggie on the backpacker list as it’s just a case of bribing the guards and paying a prisoner some protection money to have a look around inside there. I know, I know, it’s sounds soooooo strange and stupid AND completely tempting fate to pay to get INTO a south american prison but many the traveller has been in and out of there unscathed. Believe it or not, people have paid a little extra to stay the night – now that would be a bit much for me!!!

Anyway myself and Phil decided to head to the plaza right outside the prison. Supposedly you only had to hang around there for a few minutes before being approached and in you go. Unfortunately for us, the governer of the prison changed a few days before we arrived and it was complete lock down. No go.

We furtively hung around and tried to look a bit dodgy yet approachable but nothing was happening. Then we tried the direct approach, went to the gate and attempted to charm the guard a little but other than a quick photo, he was having none of it. 

Nobody got in for the few days we were there. Sooooooooo disappointing. Boo to it :-( Cocaine is allegedly produced in the prison too which might also explain the lock out. If anyone is interested in more info on San Pedro, check out the book Marching Powder which will be a good insight into the workings of this prison.

Decided I couldn’t visit La Paz without cycling down the most dangerous road in the world, thus known due to the cars, bikes, trucks and buses which have gone off the steep cliffs of this narrow meandering road…….

……..hence the name, Death Road. These days there is a new road so there isn’t as much traffic to contend with when you’re plummeting down on a mountain bike. We headed off early in the morning and climbed to just under 5000 metres above sea level into the snow…..

 

Spectacular or what – it almost looks fake!! We got our bikes and started the 4000+ metre BUMPY journey downhill to the jungle. I can honestly say I’ve never been so scared in my entire life!!! That includes the bungee jump, sky dive, etc. This was petrifying!!! My teeth were chattering in my mouth – probably should have clamped them shut but I was too flipping scared!! The road was mainly covered in really rough gravel and was totally uneven so you basically hung on for dear life (literally) and hoped you didn’t end up going over the edge……..

 

SCARED OUT OF MY MIND. I must be mad. This is not for the faint-hearted!! The scenery was amazing on the way down – when I was brave enough to look!

 

By the way I wore leggings which came down to here…..

 

….that’s me on the right. The four inches or so of skin between the leggings and my runners was exposed and I got 80 mossie bites within 5 minutes!!! 80!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sooooooo unfair!! Didn’t even feel it happen. Bloody mossie bast*rds! The war is on and I’m dreading the Amazon next week. Boo :-(

But as always, I digress. I’m really glad I did the bike ride but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much adrenaline pump through my body!!!! Felt I was well within my rights to wear this cheesy tee-shirt with pride………

Totally knackered after, so much so I couldn’t face the long awaited Indian food we had talked about for weeks. Neither could I accept the vindeloo challenge – damn it!! So would have kicked ass.

Next day I strolled around La Paz, had to buy some girlie things which you couldn’t get for love nor money anywhere else in Bolivia. La Paz isn’t the prettiest of cities, especially if you stay right in the centre, but it does have the odd nice building like this Cathedral…….

……still looks, ahem! Nuff said. That said there are some great views of La Paz as you are coming into the city. Checked out the Witches Market, which was a lot smaller than I had imagined but yes they hadpotions, miracle cures and the shrivelled foetuses of Llamas, etc.

The guide books say that the witches are pretty scary and in fact they kinda were. You wouldn’t be messing with these ladies!! Happened across this great shop/fortune-tellers and asked if I could take a photos of these masks……

……she firmly said ONE PICTURE only, which is all I intended to take, but still I have to admit I gulped, took a quick snap and pretty much legged it!!

Had a couple of folks join the group so we celebrated that night, our last night in La Paz and in Bolivia……

Next stop Peru and the Inca Trek is creeping up very quickly now……. which is possibly more scary than the bike ride!!!!

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616429169828/

Published by Linda on 06 Apr 2009

Silver & Salt

Next stop was Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4060 metres above sea level. Again the altitude nausea set in so we all chewed on coca leaves like there was no tomorrow. Potosi has a strange feel to it. The city itself is quite pretty in parts…..

 

…..but is shadowed by Cerro Rico, a stripey mountain where silver was mined for many years. These days miners still work long, long days to extract minerals. I think there is an underlying feeling of hard work and sadness due to the incredible 8 million miners whose lives have been snatched by Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) since 1545. We got a chance to don our wellies…….

……..and check out the mine itself but first stopped at the miners market along the way……..

 

……….to buy coca leaves (they mush up the coca leaves, put them to side of their mouth and by the time they dissolve they know their working shift is over – neat!!), 97% alcohol (to be explained later), cigarettes and biscuits for the miners families. We also got to buy dynamite to give to the first class minors. Our guide kindly let us blow up a stick of it before we went into the mines!!!! Excellent!! Who in the right mind would give me dynamite????

 

The mines themselves are a death trap…..

 

….. so hard to believe that they are not mapped and it seems that no one knows what going on in different parts of the mine at any one time so it is a catastrophe waiting to happen. We didn’t go that far down, maybe 10 or 15 metres deep but we went a few kilometres in and got to live the experience, for a little while anyway. Such a tough life though, even in the present day the life expectancy for a miner is 35!!

The miners also worship, Tio, the devil, who is said to protect them. Every week they offer coca leaves, cigarettes and 97% alcohol (pure alcohol in exchange for pure minerals) at the shrines of Tio.

 

We did the same and of course the paddy here had to drink some of the alcohol – shudder!! Thankfully the rest I left at the shrine. This mine is only one example of the sadness that exists in Bolivia and of the huge divide between rich and poor.

Had a little explore around Potosi that afternoon and that night we surprised Simon (spent days whispering and convincing him to celebrate his birthday later on in the trip!!) for his big 3-0!!!

Had a great night……..

……..ending with Lindy’s extreme uncontrollable giggles – on the way to the pub, all the way home, brushing my teeth, getting into bed, etc, etc, etc. Not sure why I’ve started with the giggling….hmmmmm.

 

Anyhoo the next stop was Uyuni and the Salt Flats. The Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca are the remains of a sea that existed in this area of Bolivia. I can honestly say I’ve never been somewhere so striking in my life! My day started kinda weirdly with requesting a spin on a unicycle but I had to get up on this guy’s shoulders first…..

 

…….scary or what?! Managed to pedal a little by myself but I think I’m not coordinated enough and felt much safer with my feet back on terra firma!!

Headed off to the Salt Flats after that but first stopped at a train cemetery where we played around for a while……

…….. then it was off to a market and museum. Of course EVERYTHING is made of salt. The buildings, tables, chairs, beds, sculptures, souvenirs, etc, etc. 

Salar de Uyuni are about 12,000 square miles and are the remains of a sea which went all the way up to Lake Titicaca. The flats, Lake Titicaca and Lake Poopo are the remains of this sea. Of course it looks more like snow fields today which makes the scenery spectacular but also makes lots of fun trick shots possible……

……come on Lindy, don’t lag behind :-) Now I have to subject you to some of my favourite photos from here, such as this……

and this…….

and this……. 

AND this……

When we got bored of doing trick shots, we generally just jumped around like kids in the snow….

Such a fun day……

and if you’re not bored to bits already, there are so many more great photos on my flickr site. 

So we finished our day crunchy with salt and recovered in the Salt hotel where we took in a nice sunset…….

…..and also celebrated Ali’s birthday over a nice traditional Bolivian meal…….

After a night in the hotel (with no electricity) I had expected that I’d be itching to get back to civilisation but I was surprisingly calm. We headed off to Fish Island, which is an island in the salt flats shaped like a fish but is in fact covered in enormous cacti……

Climbed to the top of the island and took in the great views of Salar de Uyuni.

Of all I’ve seen so far on my travels, this was one of my highlights.

The landscape here is just amazing and completely mesmerising.

Had a stroll across the flats with some atmospheric Massive Attack on my ipod and found that I was pretty relaxed for the second time in as many weeks.

You know you’ve found somewhere really special when you try to burn the image into your brain and when you don’t want to leave. Had a blast for the two days on the Salt Flats and remained completely impressed with Bolivia as we prepared to leave for Peru.

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157615907763869/    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616188432796/

Published by Linda on 27 Mar 2009

Santa Cruz, Strippers(!) & Flying High in Sucre

And so after a couple of boarder crossings (still think those town are so so strange) we moved into Bolivia by way of taxis circa 1980!

 

I’m not quite sure what I expected from Bolivia, in fact I don’t think I had any expectations at all. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America but let me tell you this, it has been fan-feckin-tastic so far!!!!

Our first stop was Santa Cruz and after me forcing Susie to drink tap water, ha, ha, ha…… (hasn´t killed me since I arrived in Asia!!)

……..and dinner in an Irish pub (the old reliable, but damn it they had run out of Irish stew!! Boo), a few of these innocent girlies (including me!)……

…..decided to head off to a (male) strip club!! Kinda a spur of the moment thing and not really my scene but it turned out to be really funny!! One of the strippers, Tony, was talking to me about his kids before the show started. So I did find it a little surreal when he was gyrating in front of me an hour later!!

Eeeeeeuuuuuukkkkkk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the first time since I can remember I felt embarrassed, cringe….. Very funny night though, followed by a horribly early start. Took a flight to Sucre and got to see some amazing scenery as we flew in…..

…….just beautiful :-) Sucre lies about 2800 metres above sea level so altitude sickness is kinda common. Altitude sickness and a hangover is particularly disorientating, especially when you get hum-dingers like I´ve developed this year – must be old age :-) Anyhoo Sucre is just lovely, the only problem is there is too much to do there!!! You can go motor-cross biking, mountain biking, trekking and heaps more. Headed to Tarabuco market, which was about 70km outta town. Yet more great scenery on the way……

 

…….It was fiesta time there so there was a real buzz about the place and packs of people everywhere. It´s a really old style village where the people still wear traditional clothing……

…….and of course there were locals dressed up for the fiesta also.

We strolled around the market and there were loadsa stalls with nice knits and jewellery………

……….so I got to so a bit of bargaining with the locals which I just love!! Difficult though as my spanish is quite limited but they speak a different language anyway!! I maintain that 95% of a conversation can be carried out with body language and a calculator!! (oh dear, that sounds really bad doesn’t it??! I mean it with total innocence I assure you! :-) ) It was a pretty long and hot day, the altitude is weird, you get tired and out of breath from doing the tiniest of tasks! Makes you feel really weak and unfit, not good omens for the upcoming trek in Peru!!!!

Headed back to Sucre as the following day was set to be a big one!! Myself, Julie (after some persuasion) Lyn and Phil decided to go paragliding. I was interested in this to see how it would compare to bungee jumping and sky diving. I also was thinking the scenery would be spectacular as we are so high up travelling through Bolivia. So we set off early the following morning…..

……Julie was dead nervous but I knew she’d love it. Lyn was a little nervous too but retaining her composure nicely. Phil had done handgliding before so was all good and I was trying to stop myself falling asleep (as I mentioned before I think I fall asleep when I get nervous!?) I wanted to get myself nice and nervous because I reckon you get a better adrenaline kick afterwards. We trucked up a big mountain for about an hour, enjoying the views along the way….

We also met this lady……

…….and gave her a lift to save her wallking the miles and miles (and miles) she does every day!!! Finally we reached our spot and Julie was up first to get it over with and she ended up loving it. She was expecting a bit drop off the mountain but you really just run off the mountain and glide away. Lyn had a bit of a rough take off so I did get a little nervous by the time my turn was up which was all good. All went great though, just run a couple of strides and away you go……… 

It is kinda freaky though as you literally run off a mountain so you do need to lose the nerve a little and just go with it. I’m getting better at that too, don’t know whether it’s bravery or stupidity :-) 

 

 (Have a video of my paraglide but having a few technical difficulties so will paste the link in at a later date)

Paragliding is amazing though because you keep getting these rushes from it as the thermals catch and drop you. The thermals were particularly good for my jump and I ended up going really high…..

…..resulting in loads of stomach flips. Excellent, I likey :-) Amazing rush and I think I’d rate it second to a sky dive but better than a bungee in the way that you keep getting rushes over and over.

The scenery was amazing too, honestly Bolivia, and indeed South America in general, is just amazing in that respect. The landscape is so dramatic and the sky here is just different somehow – my obsession with the sky here continues….

 

Great day had by the four of us……

……..and we headed back down the mountain enjoying the views….

 

……and the curious glances from the locals. Headed out for a few drinks on our last night in Sucre and a good old night……….

……..The following morning I had a pedicure – what a treat!!! Headed over to see Casa de la Liberdad……

……a beautifully preserved house whose furniture, strangely, is kept in a museum in the city centre. Hmmm weird?! Still though a really beautiful castle with many different types of architecture but it still blends together somehow…..

 

Headed back into the city for a wander…….(check out my very fashionable sunglasses marks!!!)

 

……and a browse around the markets, the potato is big here in Bolivia…..

 

………which pleases me as it reminds me of home and it’s real potato as opposed to the powdered crap in Brazil – bleugh!

That ended our time and Sucre and we headed off to Potosi that afternoon but as I sat on the bus, I kept thinking just how impressed I am with Bolivia :-)

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157615528947216/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157615521002131/