A Travellerspoint blog

La Paz pt 1.

Sanjay's drunken lies

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We arrived in La Paz for my and Sanjay's first time and Helen's third. Helen was less than enthusiastic about returning to the place she'd gotten ill at on the previous two visits. After a nap we had a stroll about town checking out the dried llama foetuses at the witches market before going for a spot of ten-pin bowling. The bowling in La Paz is pretty old-school with the lanes looking well worn and the 10 bolivianos (1 pound) we paid for a game including our very own man who sat at the end of the lane and stood the pins back up and rolled the balls back to us. Naturally I showed Helen and Sanjay how bowling should be done and then we went for something to eat. Sat alone in a cold, village hall-feeling restaurant we looked forward to the night ahead getting slaughtered.

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The night itself didn't quite live up to expectations as La Paz, and in fact all of Bolivia, seems to be quite quiet at the moment. But Sanjay managed to get sufficiently drunk to collapse under a table. When we took him home and left him in the room for a few moments to sort himself out he managed to vom all over the floor. Hearing the whole thing, me and Helen decided to quiz him on what had just happened only for Sanjay to respond with the ridiculous lie that some stranger had walked into the room, inexplicably vommed everywhere and left. We left Sanjay to sleep. Me and Helen headed out again only to find a town practically deserted, so we called it a day.

Early (too early) next morning Chris arrived after flying from London and we spent the day recovering from hangovers and sorting out our salt flats tour for which we set out that evening. A lovely 12 hour bus journey to the largest salt flat in the world.

edit: Here's a bonus picture of La Paz and a dancing Zebra to help you cross the road
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Posted by Monsk 17:49 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Cochabamba & Torotoro

Canyons, caves and dinosaurs

sunny 25 °C

Leaving Sucre behind me and Helen got a night bus to a town called Cochabamba where we would meet Sanjay, a mate from university. That night I slept for practically zero hours and when we eventually arrived in Cochabamba I felt dog rough. After meeting with Sanjay we wandered around the town, all the while I felt like I was slowly dieing. The town itself was nice enough with the standard mix of colonial architecture and half built concrete monstrosities. Upon trying to find a laundry we happened across a parade that was snaking its way sporadically through town. Parades in south America are great beacause the costumes are just absurd. After a ham and cheese toasty we headed up to the hill that looms over the city, atop it a huge statue of Christ. At just over 33m high it is actually larger than the one overlooking Rio. The one in Rio is exactly 33m high, accounting for every year of his life. The Bolivians argue that Jesus actually lived for 33 and a bit years so have just pipped Rio´s effort for this reason.

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Up early the next day we got a taxi driver to take us to the stop for buses to the mountain village of Torotoro where we would be able to see, among other things, dinosaur footprints. Unfortunately we were lucky enough to find the worst taxi driver in Bolivia who proceeded to drive around in circles, stop to ask the advice of locals, and then ignore it. The only reason we got the bus in the end was because it was nearly 2 hours late. When we eventually set off we figured we´d catch a few z´s. Upon waking up, parked at a market, me and Helen decided to leave Sanjay asleep and scavenge some breakfast. After buying some bread and a bunch of bananas we returned to the bus only to find it had left. Helen frantically asked some locals where the bus had gone without making much progress before we saw it pull out of a junction down the road. Haring after it we managed to get back on to find the locals laughing their heads off with Sanjay still asleep. Sanjay proceeded to wake up oblivious to the fact that he was nearly headed to the mountains on his own.

The village of Torotoro itself, beside the addition of electricity pylons and a large concrete hotel, looked like it had hardly changed in several centuries. Waking up reasonably early the next day we hired a guide, Pablo, and headed off into the nearby national park. It became quickly apparent that Pablo was no real expert in geology or paleantology after explaining that a green layer of sedimentary rock was so coloured due to it being formed from plants, which were green. We carried on until we reached a canyon into which we descended and found some waterfalls. Spouting from underground springs, the waterfalls provided a lush spit of vegetation in an otherwise dry canyon. We played in the water here for a while, jumping in the various pools and climbing behind the waterfalls like we were 13 again. After our fun we headed back to town for a spot of lunch.

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In the afternoon we met again to go up and do some caving. This was Pablo´s second moment of brilliance. While we were waiting for a car to take us up to the caves it became apparent that Pablo had missed out a fairly vital part of the trip that morning; the dinosaur footprints, aka the real reason why anyone came to the national park at all. Reluctantly he agreed to show them to us on the way to the caves. When we eventually did see them they were actually quite impressive, not only the condition of them but also the variety. There were prints almost a meter across made from huge herbivores and smaller prints left by dinosaurs such as veloceraptors.

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When we got to the cave Pablo told us that he didn´t have any helmets and he wasn´tgoing to get any either so we either had to go down with nothing to protect our melons or go home. Left with little choice we chose the first option. The cave itself while nothing too breathtaking was incredible fun. We had to traverse different caverns and passages holding on to ropes, absailing down boulders and squeezing though the tiniest gaps. If you weigh over 80kg, you would simply not have been able to do it. One thing Pablo did which impressed us though was show us how to ´play´a cave. Certain stalegtites are hollow and ring like a bell when struck. I found this immense fun and spent the next five minutes making underground beats with stalegtites of different lengths. Having managed to avoid injury we returned to the surface pretty exhilerated. Pablo maybe a pretty useless guide above ground but in a cave the lad came into his own.

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Posted by Monsk 15:47 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sucre and Baxter

A story about the middle of nowhere and a faithful dog

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Leaving Potósi we headed north to the (constitutional) capital of Bolivia; Sucre. This was a lovely chilled out, colonial style city that unlike Potósi showed no sign of falling apart. After a day relaxing, me and Helen decided it was time for bit more of an adventure.

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We had heard (via Helen´s not so secret source; the Lonely Planet guide) that there was some nice trekking to be had not far out of Sucre. We rose at 6, walked to a bus stop and got on a bus. After initially lying to us about where the bus was going the bus driver then told us to get off a good couple of miles out of town, a good couple of miles from where we wanted to be. So we got another bus in the opposite direction and a little kid told us where to get off. Cheers lad. This was where we were due to get another bus to take us to a village in the hills where we would start out walk. Initially told the bus was at 10 we found it didn´t leave ´til 12 so I took it upon myself to buy me and Helen a couple of slingshots to pass the time. Helen didn´t seem overly grateful.

We eventually got to our destination and starting point, the village of Chaunaca. Expecting to find some basic restaurant or shop all we came across was a lady with some biscuits, a goat and a couple of bottles of Coke. We bought the biscuits and coke (though later I would regret not trying to get the goat as well) and sat down to lunch of chocolate and biscuits. While we were eating a dog turned up. After eating we headed off. The scenery was stunning, in some parts almost Mediterranean. The dog followed. Two hours later we came across a farm and a farm dog. The farm dog didn´t like our dog and a stand-off ensued. Believing that would be the last we saw of our tag-along we continued walking, but as we started climing the hill opposite the farm I glanced back to see our adopted dog running at full speed across a field above, and out of sight of, the farm dog. Jumping back down to the round behind the farm dog, leaving it oblivious, our dog ran and caught us up. The dog was christened Baxter.

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As the sun began to set and with Baxter still in tow we came across a little village where according to Helen´s guidebook we would find food and somewhere to sleep. All we found was an 'Alojamiento' with broken windows, a few adobe buildings, spanish pop music playing to a yard of chickens and not a person in sight. After worrying that we would have to resort to sleeping in the barn of some crazy old widow we met up the road who just wanted us to sit down all the time a couple of fellow tourists and a guide turned up and we eventually managed to get a bed and have dinner served to us by a local woman. There was even a couple of potatoes spare for Baxter.

The next day we walked with our new Belgian friends and Baxter (who had slept outside that night, waiting for us) to a village where a truck would be passing through to take us back to Sucre. In the village was a shop, with beer, and donkeys. After a few casual pints at half 10 in the morning and a bit of banter with the local donkeys the truck turned up. It was rammed with Bolivians and I mean rammed. I will never moan about the London tube again. For 2 and a half hours I had to essentially hold myself up, as I was unable to put my feet down, while dust was incessantly blown in my face. Back in Sucre I had never felt so grateful for a good shower and good food in all my life.

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Posted by Monsk 11:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Mining in Potosi

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Getting into Bolivia turned out to be quite an ordeal. Two buses and a sleep in a shit town later I arrived at the Chilean border with a bus-load of smelly old women and a dutch couple. I had no idea what was going on and neither did the dutch couple. We managed to get through this first stage with little trouble, however we were then dumped at the other side of the Chilean border at some makeshift market set up by Chileans and Bolivians wanting to do a bit of dodgy dealing. Two hours later a bus then took us to the Bolivian border where we had to cross over some railway and climb through a disused train to get to the office where they stamped my passport. Back on the bus we headed off averaging (I later worked out) about 20 mph. Supposed to be meeting Helen at 4pm in a town called Uyuni I eventually rolled up at half 7. Thankfully though my faithful girlfriend was there and we headed off to de-stress over pizza and beer.

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The next day we headed off once again to a town further north called Potosi. This was a town built solely on the back of the enormous wealth of silver extracted from the enormous mountain (the cerro rico) that looms over the city. The Spanish, who put to work and essentially killed 8 million Bolivian and African slaves in the mines, left Potosi with numerous grand colonial buildings. Now rather decaying, the town, as well as the mining industry, seems rather down on its luck and in fact less than a week before we arrived there had been violent protests by locals over various political issues.

Up early on out second day in Potosi, me and Helen headed off on one of the legendary mine tours. These tours involving scrambling down the mines to discover the terrible conditions in which hundreds if not thousands of miners still work, but first we headed to the miners market. The custom here was to buy the miners gifts to supplement thier 20 Bolivianos (2 pounds) a day wage (not considered bad by bolivian standards). We bought them some fags, some Coca Cola, some dynamite and a bag of Coca leaves. Coca leaves are chewed all over south america and especially by the miners to fight against problems with altitude (Potosi is over 4000m above sea level) and to stave off hunger when working long shifts. Coca leaves are also the raw ingredient of cocaine.

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After buying our gifts and getting all kitted out in the height of miner fashion we headed up to the mountain. The mines thenselves were extremely dusty, very tight in places and often looked like the were about to collapse. The workers were ridiculous; never seeming to tire they would steam past us while we dived out of the way of them pushing carts piled high with rocks. Some miners worked alone, some in groups, but all incessant and determined. They say in the worst parts of the mine after 15 years of work your lungs are all but useless. A strange custom in the mines is the worship of a devil named Tío. Above ground the miners worship God but below ground they believe they are in the devil´s territory and so make statues of and offer gifts to Tío to ask him to provide them with minerals and protect against injury.

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The mine tour was pretty hard work with the lack of oxygen and dust everywhere but these guys work in that place almost every day sometimes doing over 24 hour shifts without seeing daylight. As we left we found out 2 dutch tourists had volunteered to work down there for 2 weeks to see what it was really like. Crazy dutch.

Posted by Monsk 09:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

San Pedro de Atacama

Geysers, Lagoons and sunsets

After leaving Valparaiso I took the bus 7 hours up the coast to a small town called La Serena, from here I took a bus up the valley for the day to another small village called Vicunya which was nice but pretty non-descript. Anyway that night I headed off again on a 17 hour bus ride to a small town in the middle of the Atacama.

The town, San Pedro de Atacama, is built pretty much entirely around tourism with absolutely nothing to do except go on tours. While the sheer volume of tourists is pretty annoying the sights around the town are stunning. I arrived at about half 8 in the morning and met a couple of dutch guys in the hostel I was staying in. That afternoon we headed out to a spot the called the Valley of the Moon (named so because if you imagine budget 50's sci-fi movies set on the moon that's kind of how it looks). We stayed there for sunset where the setting sun turns the distant mountains purple and red. It was pretty sweet but best check the pictures.

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The next day me and team Holland got up at half 3 to get a minibus up to El Tatio geysers; at 4500m the highest geothermal field in the world. Watching the sun rise as geysers were blowing off around us was pretty special and would probably have been even better if it wasn't about -10. The cure for the cold however was to strip off and dive in a hot geothermal pool which was amazing while I was in it but getting out again afterwards, less so. We then headed back checking out some volcanoes and llama on the way.

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The afternoon we went out again to a few lagoons dotted around the San Pedro basin. The first was massive and so salty you can 'stand up' in the water. It was generally pretty shallow except for this dark bit in the middle which apparently plunged several hundred meters down into the earth. The next couple of lagoons were just random holes in the rock, filled with water. I don't know how they came to be but these too are several hundred meters deep. The final lagoon was the backdrop for another sunset. This one was amazing but see the photos.

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That night we met up with a few other people from the hostel and got well pissed on red wine and pisco. This morning we decided to stay in bed instead of going on a tour we'd already booked to try and alleviate the pain in our respective heads. And today I have been feeling so rough, which isn't helped by being in the middle of a desert. Pisco is the work of the devil.

Anyway tonight I leave San Pedro for a rather ramshackle journey to Bolivia. At 4pm tomorrow I'm supposed to be meeting Helen at a bus stop in a Bolivian town called Uyuni. Will I get there tomorrow? Stay tuned for the next installment of my shit blog........

Posted by Monsk 13:42 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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