Monthly Archives: June 2013

Chilling at Estancia, return to BA

A long drive, with of course the extra 80km shortfall from yesterday, and the last 70km on a dirt drive barely big enough for Ithaca. We did manage to scrape one post which did some minor damage to the truck corner trim but we think it was the camels straw from the repeated thumps that particular corner had received. When we finally arrived at the Estancia the accommodation was in shared rooms – ours had a double bed and 3 singles so sharing with Kirsten, Jeanne and Francois. Lovely and comfortable the only issue being the incredibly noisy toilet door making it impossible to make a quiet trip to the loo in the night!

Our dinner that evening, was barbecued beef ribs from the farm, absolutely melt in the mouth and cooked to perfection. Accompanied by a bottle of local Malbec – for us carnivores it’s good to be back in Argentina!The next day was Karen’s birthday which was greeted by balloons on the door but as we were in a shared room we thought it best we postpone our normal birthday celebrations for another time………..

Setting Off

Congratulations over breakfast from the entire group and a gift of chocolate & wine from Tony and Geoff. Jeanne wanted to do some washing and the advice was to go to the river so Karen joined her and had a fun time doing so. Suggestions that she shouldn’t be doing washing on her birthday let alone in the river and that perhaps I should do it were given short shrift.

Later that day Karen and I wandered back down to the river, a truly lovely spot, a pleasant couple of hours scrambling over the rocks and playing grown up “pooh sticks” with 2m tree trunks caught in the rocks. Back for lunch, another pasta / tomato non-starter for me but a convivial gathering nonetheless. Dinner a much more satisfying beef casserole accompanied by the bottle of Syrah from Geoff & Tony. Kirsten had found some gluten free cookies in lieu of a cake. All in all a great day for Karen apart from not being able to pick up the messages from the family as we are in a very remote spot without wi-fi.

After breakfast, the next day, we had another pleasant walk around the farm and down to the river, meeting up with Tony & Vanessa who had also spent the morning scrambling over rocks too. Karen had horse riding booked for the afternoon along with Francois & Lisa and accompanied by Daniel, the gaucho, a very pleasant 2 hour ride around the farm in the sunshine. A number of the group anticipating overfull bags home donated their ferry hammocks to the staff at the Estancia which were very welcome.

L to R, Kare, Francois, Lisa and Guide

When the horse riders were back we played Perudo – a great dice bluff game which is helped by drinking in fact is very similar to an old drinking game of my knowledge called spoof. Appearing at a family gathering near you soon. Dinner was barbecued steak, excellent quality and beautifully prepared followed by homemade tiramisu & fruit salad for Karen. It was a very relaxing few days enabling us to recharge our batteries after a very debilitating week of being ill.

Next morning we were all ready for the 500km drive to Rosario after our few days of R&R. It was slow going until we hit the tarmac at around 10.45, and a pleasure to be back in a land of well stocked and clean service stations. Rosario is the birth place of Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary and Lionel Messi – world footballer of the year since 2010 and now alleged tax dodger. We stayed at the municipal campsite as it was getting dark. Kirsten and I made a beer run – kindly getting a lift from one of the staff to an ATM and a taxi back from the supermarket with copious amounts of beer, wine and nibbles for our last night camping. Greeted with loud cheers from the thirsty crowd who promptly set to in demolishing the newly acquired stock and a fine job they did too. Dinner was an excellent chicken curry followed by toasted marshmallows around the fire.

It was an early start, after a welcome porridge breakfast, and a final inventory and clean of the tents as we packed them up for the last time. Then a relatively easy 250km run to Buenos Aries and back to the Bohemia hotel. We settled the bar with most of the group en-route, after 6 months it was around $220 in profit which we gave back to people based on the amount they had spent. We were joint highest spenders as a couple, Ken easily the highest individual spend.

Of course being the end of the trip we had to unload everything from the truck – thankfully being Sunday we were able to park outside the hotel for an hour or so before it was moved to a truck park – this included both our main bags, tripod, camera case, laptop and associated cables, our hammocks and other souvenirs. We had packed a collapsible bag in our luggage as we are allowed a generous 32kg luggage in 2 bags each with our TAM flights. Their policy of 23kg out and 32kg on the return journey made a great deal of sense for tourists. A brutal clearout of worn out t- and unwanted bits such a extra tent blanket meant we were comfortably under the weight limit with only 3 bags to check in, Karen taking the laptop and myself the camera as carry on luggage.

As it was Sunday there is a major craft / antiques street market close to the hotel so we went for a mooch with Colin and Jane, after coffees we went our separate ways as we wanted to do some shopping including a mate cup and supplies of mate for Michael. That just left us to concentrate on our final group dinner and a terrific night it was too at the excellent “Gran Parilla Del Plato” restaurant otherwise known by the group as Butchers Shop as it is in a former butcher shop. Complete with tiled walls and meat hanging racks, however also great food, wine and service.

A fun night topped off with a glass of bubbly courtesy of the restaurant, we had asked for separate bills for basically 3 tables, what we got was the bill randomly split into three, this took some sorting but eventually we got there thanks to the maths skills of the relatively sober Lisa. Stressed by the effort involved we then found Lisa & Heather in the Gibraltar pub, next door to the hotel, ordering chocolate brownies and cake at well past mid-night. After more chatting and general hilarity we finally got to bed well after 2 am. A great last night.

There were emotional goodbyes next morning as a couple of the group were leaving for the airport and home – Mikkel heading for work the day after he lands in Denmark – and then the rest of the group leaving for their Uruguay extension. Having seen them off we had a few jobs to do including checking in for our flights the following day. A shock to see our connecting flight had been changed to 6am meaning a 15 hour stopover in Sao Paulo waiting for our transatlantic flight. No thanks, so we decided to go the TAM offices and were rewarded with a no quibble change to a 7pm flight meaning a mere 1 hour stopover in Sao Paulo and then on to London. Result.

Karen and I had a good 2 hour walk to the TAM office, lunch in an excellent Italian bistro and then a wander around the Floralis Genérica – a famous huge flower sculpture. Then the bus back to the hotel where we had an example of the friendly locals, as we had insufficient change a stranger paid our fare and made sure we got off at the right stop.

The changed flight meant we effectively had an extra day in Buenos Aries and after saying goodbye to Terry, Leslie, Jeanne and Neale who were leaving for the airport at 10am for their 1pm flights, we had another walk around the city and then a final lazy lunch. We treated ourselves to a fantastic steak, red wine and champagne ice cream lunch at the Butchers Restaurant before leaving for the airport – slightly squiffy! It was a great farewell to Argentina and South America.

Arrived at the airport at 4.29pm checked in and bags gone by 4.37pm fastest check in ever, irritatingly I left my “I love boobies” Galapagos cap in the taxi but hopefully Tony can retrieve it. I bought some skull candy headphones for the flight home, uneventful flights, brilliant welcome home from Steph and Graham – banners, hugs and kisses and that’s it we are done.

I will think about a final word.

 

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Tupiza and back to Argentina

Valley Scenery

Departure at 8.30am for a longish drive, in time but not distance, to Tupiza, (Photos here.) I was back at 8.15am from my visit to the train cemetery but Karen wasn’t where we had agreed to meet – at the restaurant where we had our breakfast the day before. Turned out she had gone on a mission to find bread and tomatoes for lunch with Geoff we were just about to send out a search party when they appeared with said supplies.

We had a choice of routes – 400km of boring motorway or 200km of scenic dirt road – we opted for the dirt road for the truly spectacular scenery but talk about shake rattle and roll, no dozing on the truck today!  After 4 ½ hours we had only gone 100km so slow going but worth it for the views. With about an hour to go and the light fading we came across a Bolivian bus that had broken down – multiple punctures. Stuck ! Two hours later having not just changed the wheels but the tyres as well due to the odd assortment of rims on the bus (and borrowing Ithaca’s tools to do it) they were eventually able to move the bus enough for us to get past. Now pitch black, the already challenging drive was now serious, with headlights on plus the roof mounted rally lights Rogan did a sterling job of getting us down the winding mountain route and together with Kirsten navigating the incomprehensible route into town. We grabbed a quick bite of chicken & chips at a tiny cafe that was closing around us for the princely sum of 80p each and headed to bed after a long and tiring day.

Us plus Sue

There are lots of tours and activities in and around Tupiza but most opted to chill after our fairly hectic program of the previous week. Some were going walking but we opted for a more sedate Jeep tour, joined at the last minute by Sue, and once I solved the issue of cash. The ATM wouldn’t play ball the previous night (the only other ATM in town being out of order) and then inspiration struck and I used the Spanish rather than English menus and money popped out. Confirmation it wasn’t a fluke when Sue tried the same thing – no cash when using the English menu no problem in Spanish.

We had a great day – firstly seeing some of the valley we had missed in the dark the previous night – absolutely stunning and then visiting some of the other gems including “Valley Los Machos” where the rock formations look like a certain part of male anatomy and where we met Francois, Heather, Lisa and Jean walking, also “Canon del Duende” a hidden valley that you enter literally via a hole in the wall. It was very Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.

Hole in the Wall

Incidentally Tupiza is where the famous robbers made their last robbery – the payroll of the Aramayo Mining Company on Nov 3rd 1908. This resulted in the standoff with their pursuers about 120km from Tupiza, not as romantic as the film supposedly Sundance was fatally injured and realising there was no escape Butch shot Sundance and then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. However there are endless conspiracy theories that they did actually escape and the bodies never found……………

Sure it’s all good for the tourist industry J Lunch was a hit with Karen as we had explained the gluten free issue and the tour company had gone overboard to compensate, fruit, yogurt and Tameles – corn dough stuffed with Llama meat – proved much more popular than the stand ham and cheese sandwiches for the rest of us. On the way back we passed a local lady carrying a heavy load in the middle of nowhere and Sue suggested we offer her a lift which she gratefully accepted for the 5 or so miles to town and the market, where we think she was headed. to sell whatever it was she was carrying.

Back about 4pm and did some blog preparation before heading out to El Alamo for a drink with about half the group. El Alamo is a strange place with multiple rooms – one a disco and the decor a sort of 50’s diner meets soft porn set with some fairly suggestive posters of Marilyn Monroe, Wonder Woman and bikini clad girls with cars.

How the valley Los Machos
got its name ……………

We went for dinner with Geoff, Tony and Vanessa for more chicken. After a couple of us ordered a ½ chicken and chips plus rice they wouldn’t let us order any more as said it was too much as they expected us to share and indeed the portions were huge. Tony and I went back to El Alamo for a night cap and spent a pleasant hour putting the world to rights. Early start next morning with a 6am departure as although only 3 hours to the border but with a total drive to next stop of about 8 hours and because you simply never know how long a border crossing will take. As it happened it was probably our fastest crossing of the trip with all of us plus truck and formalities completed in an hour!

One odd thing about the border was the sheer number of porters ferrying goods across to Bolivia. It’s obviously cheaper / faster to employ the porters than take the trucks across. Slight

Porters at work

chaos ensued when one of the porters spilled her load of apples, Bolivia imports apples from Chile as they don’t grow well in Bolivia and hence they are by far the most expensive fruit, causing a traffic jam on the narrow, fenced path reserved for the porters to the displeasure of those behind. Time is clearly money as the porters push the heavy loads one way and then run back the other for the next pick up.

We were heading for a campsite that was also a rafting and zip lining centre, it was a bit of a detour but it had been arranged for them to provide a “surprise bbq”  this plus the location next to the river justifying the detour. The surprise turned out to be no bbq as despite Kirsten having a confirmation email from their office the people on site had no knowledge of our booking and certainly no food for 25.

Plan B was a quick emergency pasta dinner off the truck however as it was basically pasta with tomato sauce I made do with a chocolate bar and to bed in our tent as no upgrade available, still an excellent location and good facilities including a nice hot shower.

Next day no one went zip lining which was just as well as drive was longer than expected due to slow roads, en route we stopped at Calyate a pleasant place but we only had 30 mins and Karen and I needed to get drinks for the bar – we were slightly late back but to loud cheers when they realised we had some drinks.

We ended up 80km short of our intended camp-site but found a reasonable alternative in Rio Horno. A beef stir fry for dinner which was our last cook group – a bit of a result as we only did breakfast and a relatively simple dinner. We stayed up late with most of the group which decimated the bar supplies meaning we will have to do another stop for our last night camping in order to avoid a riot ! Tupiza Photos Here

Onward next day towards Cordoba and a 3 night stop at a working Estancia (farm).

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Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia

A relatively short run to Uyuni (Photos here.) which is on the edge of the world’s largest – over 4,000 square miles – and highest – 3,656 metres above sea level – salt flats. We arrived at the  Tonito Hotel – allegedly home of the best pizzas in Bolivia – some claim as there must be 50 pizza restaurants in tiny Uyuni alone.

British Influence

Train Graveyard

A complete contrast to the mine this was Bolivia under bright blue skies and a truly fantastic experience. Starting with a visit to the train cemetery just outside town which has trains abandoned when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940’s a truly spectacular location for photography. In fact so good I didn’t think we had long enough there so sneaked back on my own the next morning for a brilliant 45 minutes with the place to myself. I had agreed $15 soles (£1,50) with the taxi driver for the ride out, waiting the hour and the ride back – I was so pleased with the visit gave him $20 to make his day too !

Then onward onto the salt flats a truly amazing place, first to the area where the salt is dug by hand for processing we were given a demonstration of the process and bought a small bag of the salt for the princely sum of $1 or 10p. The guide explained they can produce as much salt as they want, the issue is distribution and marketing is so limited. The salt “factory” was in a building behind the street market which also advertised a public toilet – there was a dispute as to wether we had paid to use the facility or not (we had) and Tony and Heather ended up locked in the toilet block for ten minutes until we found the guide we had paid to let them out. Bizarre.

This was followed by a visit to the market and we started our collection of hats for the family finding the perfect multi-coloured sun hat for Jim to go with his eccentric choice of shirts.

Map of the Isla Incahauasi

Then an hour long drive out in Land Cruisers at 80 km per hour to the Isla Incahuasi a rocky outcrop that pokes through the 27 metres deep salt bed and supports the only vegetation for hundreds of Km in the form of giant cactus which grow to 10-12m high all over the island. It looks featureless but clearly the drivers know their way, at one point we passed two small crosses in the otherwise empty desert our driver crossed himself and explained it was the scene of an accident when two land cruisers had crashed head on resulting in a number deaths.

Quite unbelievable considering the absolutely vast open space and difficult to conceive how the collision had occurred even if one of the drivers was asleep at the wheel. Shortly after this our driver was definitely a bit sleepy ( it’s hard to concentrate across miles of featureless salt plain) so we kept up a running stream of questions in Spanglish to keep him awake !

The island is well worth a visit although there is a slight surprise to find there is an additional entry fee for the island which includes the otherwise not accessible toilet. Although in reality people did use it as like a lot of things in Bolivia control is extremely random and its luck of the draw whether tickets will be inspected. It’s not the amount as a mere £3 it just should be included in the tour price and no-one would have blinked. There a couple of shops and a restaurant selling basic snacks – this is the middle of truly nowhere.  Lunch was a mini feast of chicken with pasta and vegetables conjured out of the back of the Toyota, whilst the ceoliac’s got steak and potatoes – we are still not sure why Bolivian chicken wasn’t considered gluten free! Probably something lost in translation………….

After lunch and a great walk around the island we drove back towards Uyuni and stopped en-route to take advantage of the natural infinity effect of the salt plain to take some optical illusion photographs – some with greater success than others. I got a couple that are OK – or will be with some editing, Tony had some better results and there are some fun ones at his blog http://tonyhays50.blogspot.co.uk. For me the funniest moment was when Anthony did a streak right past Karen, Jane and Colin busy taking photos and none of them noticed…………………evidence on the odyssey bl0g post “Breathtaking Bolivia” http://odysseyexplorer2012.blogspot.co.uk/

A last stop at the salt hotel (yes built from salt blocks) but otherwise have no idea why you would stay there and a view of the spectacular sunset behind us coupled with an equally impressive moon rise in front of us.

All in all another brilliant day topped off by dinner with Vanessa and Heather as most of the group were trying the Pizza’s in the hotel at a birthday celebration for Leslie but the Pizza only menu no good for Karen or Vanessa. We toasted Leslie in absentia! One thing the Bolivians can do is brew and serve ice cold beer. Lots of Photo’s here.

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The Mountain that eats men.

Potosi and Cerro Rico Photos Here

Mon 20th May. An early start at 6.15am – this to avoid the road blocks which were expected to be in place for normal working hours. Our strategy worked as far as getting out of La Paz but by midday we were stuck in the town Oruru with multiple road blocks set by protesting taxi drivers who had gridlocked the town. We were stuck for around 6 hours and as a result didn’t make our intended destination Potosi instead bush camping in a quarry – not the greatest site but we were tired and slightly fed up plus Rogan discovered the truck had a fuel leak so more work for him before bed. It turned out to be a damaged fuel filter but he had plenty of spares.

Churchillian Pose …. with Dynamite!

Arrving in Potosi a day late wasn’t a problem – one of the advantages of such long trips is flexibility, when away for a few short weeks a days delay would be a major problem in 6 months it can be accommodated comfortably. We were staying at the La Casona Hostel which advertised itself as being “Newly restored 18th century colonial house” this was partly true apart from the ongoing building and the lack of hot water in the shared facilities – solved by those with en-suite rooms (luck of the draw) kindly sharing the facilities. It will be gorgeous if ever finished having several linked courtyards with the rooms overlooking them, the finished rooms being to a good standard but apparently it has been a work in progress for years, another quirk being the room numbering with the higher room numbers on the ground floor. Still a great location minutes from the main attractions and comfortable beds.

Cerro Rico

Potosi is at the base of the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) which has been mined for some 400 years and at the time of the Spanish occupation this single mine funded the spendthrift Spanish monarchy (effectively Spain) for some 200+ plus years. The cost in human terms was staggering with estimates of up to 8 million deaths of those that laboured here.  Both the local indigenous Quencha Indians forced into slavery by the Spanish and the majority of African slaves brought here to make up the numbers. It is estimated that for every African slave that went to North America 12 went to South America.

During the time of the Spanish empire, Potosi was one of the richest cities in the world. It was said that a bridge could have been built with the silver from Cerro Rico all the way to Madrid. But now Potosi, with its stunning colonial haciendas, churches and royal mint, is struggling as the entire economy is dependent on the declining mining –   now a shadow of its heyday glory. If ever the annual treasure fleet – due to weather or piracy – didn’t reach Spain it was a national disaster.

Today the mountain is managed by descendants of the Quenchua Indians and around 15,000 miners in small co-operatives continue to eke a living in brutal conditions that tend towards a short career and an early grave as those that survive the hard work and accidents succumb to almost inevitable silicosis. The risks are known however there is simply no alternative work to feed a family, e.g. miners can get a pension of about $20 a month when they have lost 50% of their lung capacity, an appalling disability when you already live at 4,000 meters.

It is little wonder the miners call it “The Mountain that eats men” as generation after generation of Potosi male inhabitants are consumed by the mine. Women are considered unlucky underground. Nowadays you can visit of the mine but its definitely not a cosy tourist experience and not for the faint hearted, the claustrophobic spaces, the ever present fine dust and the apparent complete absence of any semblance of a health and safety regime making it a dangerous place for anybody let alone working down there for 12 hours a day 6 days a week.

Doing some subsequent research I learned there are 600 mines, many abandoned and consisting of about 60 miles of shafts that have left it with more holes than a swiss cheese, and the whole mountain is considered in danger of collapse – the summit is already doing so and mining in that area is officially banned but apparently still happens illicitly. I am not surprised, it is clear when you arrive that this is not the normal tourist attraction and the piles of slag, discarded equipment and piles of scrap metal do not give the impression of a safe workplace.

It was a fascinating insight into the miners life, the tour began with donning our overalls, helmets and wellingtons so we at least looked the part. En-route we make a stop at the miners market as its traditional to buy the miners gifts. Gifts consist of alcohol, and not branded drinks but raw alcohol diluted 50/50 with soft drinks, coca leaves which are chewed incessantly or dynamite.

Looking the Part

Yes in Potosi you can buy dynamite on the street, to the utter amazement of Tony the former security police specialist, for about £2.20 you get a stick of dynamite, detonator cord, detonator and a small quantity of ammonium nitrate more of which later.

In we go …..

Suitably armed (no pun intended) with a selection of all the gifts, you then go to the mine entrance, literally a hole in the side of the mountain with small tracks coming out for the hand pushed trucks that bring the ore out. The tours are led by ex-miners – it seemed to me the smarter ones who realise that the mine is not a healthy life – and following him in you are immediately wading in ankle deep water, ducking under low and frequently broken pit props and stepping over holes big enough to fall through into the gallery below. Which was an indication of the lack of any overall co-ordination of mining activity and lack of maintenance or safety.

Climbing up a steep and narrow gallery, I needed a hand up from the guide as couldn’t get a grip on the steep slope, we met a group of miners. The mining technology is primitive the most advanced tool being the drill to place the explosives otherwise it’s just hard manual labour to dig the ore out.

Their working space was the size of a small bedroom and was also home to a shrine to Tio Jorge — “Uncle George” — the devilish deity who oversees this subterranean universe. These figures are ¾ life size mannequins who all feature a monstrously out of scale erect penis – for virility and power – and who is the recipient of many gifts which are considered essential for successful and accident free mining. There is much ritual associated with mining and for example on the first Friday of the month a llama will be sacrificed to Pachamama (Mother Earth) at the mine entrance and the blood spread on the mine entrance – I guess in preference to  anyone else’s blood being spilt.

There then followed a lengthy discussion via the guide on our respective lives and careers, freely populated with samples of the alcohol mix. I had 2 small shots and I was feeling the effect, drinking it all day coupled with coca leaves would require practice! which the miners and our guide certainly got plenty of. There is ritual to the drinking, drinks must be taken in the right hand and a few drops sprinkled on Uncle, the head, shoulders and of course penis. A drop for the miners, tourists and Pachamama must not be forgotten either.

Uncle

As the atmosphere became more convivial we were treated to a rant from the guide about all of Bolivia neighbours, “arrogant” Argentines, worthless Peruvians, Chileans and Paraguayans he didn’t have a good word for anyone. He didn’t even approve of the way Chileans and Pervuians chewed cocoa leaves – apparently they have no idea !

This dislike of the neighbours could be traced to a series of wars Bolivia fought in the last century disastrously losing all of them and losing about 50% of the country’s geographical area including vital access to the sea which is now part of Chile. As a result the Bolivian navy exists only on Lake Titikaka.

So having had sufficient cocoa leaves and alcohol one miner then built what can only be described as a small bomb using the empty plastic bottle of alcohol packed with ammonium nitrate and a quarter of dynamite. He crimped the detonator with his teeth – a highly dangerous method as if it was to go off he would be a head shorter. This all to the astonishment of Tony who at least added to his rogue’s gallery of photos for his security lectures.

We were then backed up into a side tunnel when it was detonated to demonstrate the concussive force – you certainly felt the shock wave and that was only a quarter the normal force.  This was purely for us – the normal proceedings are to drill a hole in a strategic place and then detonate a full charge leaving the rock fall (and dust!) to settle overnight for the next day’s digging.

The group then moved on to another area and group of miners up another gallery, however 3 of us including me had had enough of the mine and opted to wait outside in the sunshine – a blessed relief. Pleased to have had the experience but the thought of having to it every day makes you understand the need for the cocoa and alcohol to get you through the day.

Karen had sensibly (because she would have hated it) had opted to stay behind and  accompanied by a few of the other girls took Kirsten for a birthday lunch. At £1.50 for a bowl of soup and 60p for a water Karen reckons she is a cheap date 🙂 Pete probably thinks otherwise and has the bills to prove it 🙂  We all surprised her in the afternoon when returning from  the mine by hiding in the kitchen downstairs while Tony went and fetched her with a tale of the traffic police wanting to move Icatha, she appeared with her serious face on and then we all came out singing happy birthday.  Done up like a kipper!  Its that authoritative presence of Tony  – you would believe anything he said.

An interesting and fun day capped off with a group birthday dinner at Pub4060 – about the only place we ever found in Bolivia that could serve more than 2 meals at the same time and the food (and beer) was excellent. A great end to a fascinating day. More Photos Here.

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La Paz, Bolivia

Las Paz Photos Here.

The next few days a bit of a blur as neither of us well, taking it in turns to relapse. We crossed the border into Bolivia, probably one of the easier crossing of the trip all of us and Icatha in about 1.5 hours, we were staying two nights in Copacabana but barely stepped out of the room. We did see enough to realise that whilst it may share a name with the famous beach in Rio it has none of the glitz or glamour. Its all about the lake.

Karen did manage to lose a pair of my trousers which fell off the window ledge after being washed. I hope some Bolivian is happy with his find, as clearly it’s a country that needs all the help it can get, the grinding poverty for large numbers of the population pretty obvious to all. Feeling very sorry for myself holed up in the room watching the exceedingly limited English TV channels I did catch Chelsea’s victory over Benfica whilst Karen went out with Vanessa, Heather, Robin and Geoff. On the 17th May we moved on to La Paz and as we were only marginally improving I bought a course of antibiotics for both of us and this eventually seemed to do the trick although Karen was not really well for a good week.

La Paz Panorama

Going into La Paz we did have to abandon the truck under a bridge on the ring road due to protests over pay & pensions and associated road closures which, we were to learn, are a standard form of protest in Bolivia. Kirsten and Rogan had to go back after 6pm when the protests ended to move the truck to a safer parking area. The Milton Hotel was truly funky in that the decoration could best be described as bizarre, clashing colours and sticky backed plastic wallpaper. Apparently is been like it for years, however lovely comfy bed but no heating in rooms meant for frosty mornings as La Paz is at 4,000 meters plus.

Having not eaten well, or at all, for a couple of days we went to Cafe del Mundo for a late lunch of eggs and bacon on toast for me and porridge for Karen. We then headed back to the hotel and bed for Karen as still not feeling too good. Saturday we took a guided walking tour of La Paz including the famous witches market where such delicacies as whole llama foetuses re for sale. tempting as this might sound we preferred to stick to modern medicine………..

No thanks.

Karen had a nice chicken broth lunch which we had with Colin & Jane at the beautiful Cafe Luna and then Karen went back to bed for the afternoon to watch a film as her temperature had returned, feeling much better I went out for dinner with Colin, Jane, Terry and Lesley to a steak restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed my first proper meal in 5 days.

On Sunday finally feeling better Karen joined the gang for breakfast, our first choice Cafe del Mundo not open but found a perfectly acceptable alternative a few doors down. We split up for a mooch around but first booked to go and see the Cholita Wrestling in the evening, Chola are the women who wear the traditional dress and the addition of “lita” means girl, frankly a somewhat optimistic description of some competitors.

This was the day about 10 of the group had signed up to do the Death Road cycle trip, 70Km downhill on some of the most twisty and dangerous gravel road in the world. Most motorized traffic now uses the new road and the Death Road is very much a tourist attraction but still needs to be treated with the utmost respect as accidents do occasionally occur and if you do go over the, unfenced, edge that’s it – you are toast.

The group all seemed to enjoy it – particularly the party bus back complete with copious quantities of alcohol and a stripper pole. Sadly the only topless “stripping” was done by the men, so I didn’t feel too bad about not going :-).You will need  to Go look at the blogs of  Odyssey, Tony Hays or Lisa Shinwick for the details and photographic evidence.

Karen and I had a light lunch in the most amazing cafe, Angelo Colonial, inside a courtyard on the first floor and stuffed with interesting objects and furniture, collections of old locks, keys, cameras and irons being just a small selection. Bolivia are celebrating the year of Quinoa but it was proving very difficult to find a restaurant that had any – success this time as Karen had Quinoa con Leche, ideal for a recovering tummy.

We had a wander in the main shopping area but everything seemed shut on Sunday so we headed over to the electronics area which we were told was a 7 day a week operation. Primarily to replace Karen’s camera which we believe was left in the back of a taxi during one the transfers and when neither of us was fully compis mentis.

On your marks

We never made it, as we encountered marching bands and dancers en-route. Turned out it was the “La Festividad de Nuestro Senor Jesus del Gran Poder” and groups from all over the city were taking part. Drinking is a big part of Bolivian festivals and beer stalls were everywhere. There were thousands taking part and it turned out this was only a rehearsal as the actual

Our Guide

event takes place the following week.

We spent a very pleasant, if slightly chilly, couple of hours watching the parade and taking photos – definitely a few camera club contenders amongst the photos.

Then back to the hotel to be picked up for the wrestling, met by a beautifully dressed Chola girl who turned out to be one of the competitors. The wrestling was so staged and badly performed it was hilarious. It really took me back to those afternoons as a child when dad was an avid watcher of the Saturday afternoon wrestling. Men versus women bouts were peculiar to watch but once it became clear nobody was in any real danger of being hurt it was alright. The women invariably won, having been apparently wracked in pain mere seconds earlier. The ref was a villain and there were dubious decisions, illegal moves and the inevitable crowd favourites.

There were a few idiot tourists in the crowd – German students I think – who threw eggs to the complete displeasure of the locals but otherwise it all went OK. Our “VIP” tickets included a snack and a drink; we passed on the extremely dubious looking hot dogs – mindful of our still delicate tums – and opted for tea and popcorn instead. All good fun but the semi open arena was paralysing cold so Karen and I skipped the last bout and retired to the relative warmth of the bus. A bonus on the way back to La Paz was an

Dancing Shoes

interesting commentary in excellent English from the guide.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and headed straight for The Steak House which was deserted when we arrived but heaving half an hour later which helped to warm us up. Great timing on our part as service and availability of food and wine seems extremely variable in Bolivian restaurants. Menus apparently being more of an expression of ambition than actually what is available thus the later arrivals being limited to burgers and bin ends rather than the glorious steaks and drinks we had. More Photos Here.

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Silustani Rings and Uros Islands

More Photos Here

First thing, 7.30am, we piled into taxis back to Ithaca for a longish drive south for our first glimpse of Lake Titikaka, a truly vast body of water that has to be seen to appreciate the scale. However our first stop was Silustani, which is famous for its curious burial towers. The towers are in a beautiful setting overlooking a lake with glorious panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Lake Backdrop

We were camping in the grounds / car park of the museum which is open 6am to dusk, the curator of the museum said we could camp inside the museum, for 15 soles a person (about £1,50) which a number did, which meant sleeping with some of the preserved mummies from the site.

Not for us we were quite happy to sleep outside and just have access to the toilet facilities! Those that did said they were amazed at the lack of security as there was irreplaceable objects such as ancient ceramics in the museum literally just stuffed in cupboards. I guess ancient history is a long way down the list of priorities for a country like Peru still trying to recover from a damaging civil war.

Early start to visit the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titikaka, en-route we crossed a narrow part of the lake to avoid a long detour. Ithaca was loaded separately onto a “barge”, powered by a small outboard motor and made what looked a fairly precarious crossing rocking and rolling all the way.

We followed in small ferry boats and it was a choppy and very cold 10 minutes with a fierce cross wind that was whipping up the waves on the lake. Anyway we all made it safely across and continued south to Puno where we were picked up after checking into hotel, and taken to the lake for our visit. The Uros Islands give a glimpse of a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing, mainly as the children have the opportunity for a proper education on the mainland and invariably choose to stay on the mainland rather than the islands.

The islands are completely artificial being cut out of blocks of reed as a base and then constantly refreshed by new layers of reeds that are placed on top several times a year. Once moved into position they are then anchored with ropes and stones to stop them just drifting off into the lake.

Uros Islander

The island we visited has about 60 inhabitants, all interrelated families, living in simple reed huts. We were greeted by the “president” and the ladies of the island in their colourful indigenous dress and given a talk,  on how to build an island and then a description of life including typical foods and lifestyles, which originally was a subsistence existence, you ate  only what you caught mainly fish, ducks and eggs.

Vegetables have to be brought in from the mainland and are still sometimes paid for on a barter basis although money is increasingly required and the islanders generate income by catering to the tourists and selling their handicrafts. They drive a hard bargain and although all related are very competitive with each other but considering the time and effort required to produce some of the work it’s still an absolute bargain.

We crossed to another island for some refreshments in a reed catamaran, these are based on the traditional style of reed boat but the catamarans are purely for the tourists. It was a truly excellent experience and a glimpse into a fast disappearing culture. Back in Puno we had lunch and I started to feel unwell and retired to bed about 4.30 skipping dinner and feeling very sorry for myself.

Next day Karen developed similar symptoms – a few others had had a bug too – and so we stayed in the hotel and did some blogging / photo preparation. As a result we missed the trip out to the Sun & Moon islands as neither of us was up to it.

View Photos Here.

 

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