Archive for February, 2008

Pottering around Palenque – Mexico

February 20, 2008

Palenque ruins from the Temple of the CrossHola from Mexico

My bus for Palenque left at 11.20am, it should be a 5 hour journey. I had eaten so much the night before that I could only manage coffee. I said goodbye and caught a taxi to the bus station. Half way through we stop for a break. The local food on offer looks a bit dodgy so I opt for some snacks but the shop has no change (am I back in Argentina ?). I leave with nothing. About 20 minutes after we resume our journey we stop. It takes a while for everyone to realise that we have stopped and aren’t moving. There’s been an accident ahead. A huge lorry has started to take the side of a small pick up truck on a narrow bend and both drivers are blaming each other. Bus policy means that we can’t move on until the police give the ok. Actually, where are the police ? Oh, they’ve taken the drivers away to town to discuss the incident. Normal traffic is snaking it’s way around but we have to wait. The driver puts on a film – “Premonition” (what a load of rubbish) in Spanish so I watch that. Then I realise I’ve watched the whole film and we still haven’t moved. I go outside to sit in the sun and it’s like a mother’s meeting. Tourists are taking pictures and everyone is just waiting. I so wished I’d had some change, I’m starving, at least I have water. Apparently we are now waiting for the police to come back to the scene to take photos. Hey, there’s enough tourists taking them we could use email !! Another bus is behind ours it’s the 12.30pm one. Everyone though is in very good spirits, we all just sit there and say well, it is Mexico !! The police are back, photographs are taken now it’s time to reverse the tow truck in to position. The big truck will be able to drive off but the small one can’t. A bit more discussion and 4 hours after the accident happened we resume our journey. I may never complain about English motorways closing again !!

I get to Palenque at 8.30pm. I was tempted to stay in El Panchan a lovely countryside oasis near the ruins but it’s late and I may only be here for one night so I walk to Posada Nacha’n Ka’an. I hate arriving at night, towns feel dodgy when they are probably perfectly ok. It’s cheap and the dorm is actually the whole of the top floor with no door. It feels a bit exposed but they’d have to walk a long way up to get me. Bonus, I have the whole 10 beds to myself. I’m starving so head out for food and then come back for a nice sleep.

I wake up at 7am, the light is bursting through the dorm. Actually I originally woke at 5am with the start of traffic by tried to force myself to sleep a bit longer. There´s actually no windows in the top of the roof so no wonder it’s so noisy. Oh well time for breakfast and then I’ll head to the ruins. This is extremely easy to do as you just jump on a little collectivo bus and it takes you straight there. You can also walk but the one person I found who’d done this on their own was actually stopped by the police and asked to pay 20 pesos (UKP 1.25) to use the road, at least the bribery isn’t wallet crippling then !! You pay a park entrance fee and a fee to enter the ruins. I’m going to be doing ruins for the next 3 days and I decided that I didn’t want a guide as I find they make you stand around in exposed areas in the sunshine for hours. After a little wander I head to the museum. You can do Palenque comfortably in 3 hours. In the museum you get to see King Palak’s tomb, which I have to admit is huge, how on earth they transported it I don’t know (maybe a guide could have told me haha !!). There are also lots of other artifacts and jewellery and jade masks, it’s good but queue to get in to the tomb as that’s the best bit.

Right, time to head back outside. I learned my lesson from Angkor Wat and now try and keep the best bits until last.So I initially make my way to the former living areas called Group I and II. Then I have to cross a stream on a very dodgy looking wooden rope bridge. Some kids are jumping up at down on it, well that is until a warden starts whistling for them to stop (ah, memories of the Blue Pools in NZ). Palenque was inhabited around 250-750 AD. At it’s height around 8000 people lived here. After some more smaller structures I head to what I think my favourite bits were. The main plaza and the temples of the sun and the cross. Climbing up to the top of the pyramid like structures is no mean feat in this heat. Although the altars seemed to be closed, so I didn’t get to see the really good carvings. At the top you got a great view of some of the main parts of the ruins as you can see in the above picture. There are lots of local souvenirs to buy but all the stalls seem to have the same stuff and I’m not really tempted.

I go back to town for a Burrito and then have a major blog catch up. I really need to get up to date before Cuba as I won’t be on line for a couple of weeks, they don’t have the best connection and it’s expensive. I decide to head to my next destination Tulum that night. There’s a bus at 9.30pm and I can go overnight (I sleep 8 hours). I also bump into my Chilean and Mexican dorm mates from San Cristobal, they’ve come straight through. We catch up whilst being stopped en route by a very rigorous police check, this happens a lot. Oh well, by morning I’ll be in Tulum, more ruins and then the beach, can’t wait.

Transport count:

Plane = 21, Bus = 84, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Stumbling across San Cristobal de las Casas – Mexico

February 20, 2008

Templo de Santa DomingoTypical village Mayan clothing

Hola from Mexico

After breakfast a rather unfortunate incident occured. Aaron´s dog eats it´s own pooh. Apparently it goes back to when she first had pups. I nearly threw up but managed to stop myself. The taxi arrived at 11am and deposited me at the shuttle service. Then we went to the airport. I flew with Interjet. Very, very impressive. Clean leather seats and a free drink, Ryan Air could learn a thing or two. At Tuxtla I had to get another taxi to get to further transport for San Cristobal. The woman at the airport had told me to get a collectivo but my taxi driver told me to get the microbus. This turned out to be a great option as unlike the collectivo it had room for my bag. I arrived in San Cristobal around 7pm and grabbed another taxi to “Backpackers” hostal. I arrived as the free salsa lessons were in full swing. This is a great hostal. It´s really new and clean and has a great courtyard. I went out in to town and it looks gorgeous although very touristy. It´s really colonial. San Cristobal is in the Chiapas area of Mexico which is one of the more political hot potato regions. In the 90´s it was actually taken over by the Zapistas. They seem to leave tourists alone nowadays although apparently they don´t like it if you go too far in to the jungle on an eco type trip. The main square is called the zocalo and there are lots of restaurants and bars just off it. It has a completely different vibe to where I’ve just come from.

I slept really well and got up early the next morning for my 9amish tour. I´m only staying 2 nights and I wished in hindsight I´d done 3 because I´d liked to have done the canyon trip here but another time perhaps. I´m just very glad I made the effort to fit this place in, it´s been some people´s favourite place in Mexico. My tour is to San Juan Chamala a local Mayan village. First stop the weaving shop. The colours are incredibly bright but I decide to wait before buying, maybe I´ll shop on my return trip. A couple of fellow tourists get to try on some local dress. Then we get to sample food from a Mayan kitchen. The food is cooked over coals and they have an interesting wooden appliance to flatten the tortillas. We get to try one and then we also get given cheese quesidillas. All very tasty.

Next stop is the cemetery. They have different colour crosses depending on the age of the person. It´s white for children, green for young people and black for adults. The crosses are wooden and the graves are quite high earth mounds (no gravestones), it all looks a bit fresh, I wouldn´t want to be there at night !! Then we drive to the centre of town and are taken in to the church. The floor is covered with pine needles and people are chanting in Mayan and burning candles. Different coloured candles are burned depending on what they ask for. There´s also both live and dead hens being offered. After the church we got to walk around the market for a while. I managed to take some further discreet pictures of the locals like the man in the traditional goats fur waistcoat above. The market was very lively and the stall holders all displayed their produce in neat little piles. The women dress in lots of dark blue, purples and greens. After the market it was time to go back to San Cristobal.

When I got back I decided to head to the Mayan medicine museum. This was on the outskirts of town and I got a chance to walk through the more local areas rather than the touristy ones. They have various sectors of medical beliefs including the spiritualist, the bone healer and the midwife. You got to see a Mayan woman giving birth (by video). She kneels up facing her husband with her arms around his neck and has her clothes on. She didn’t make very much noise and the husband digs a hole in the floor of the house to bury the placenta. He buries it a depending on whether they’d like a boy or a girl for their next child !! They also have a shop there which sells medicines for various ailments. You can even buy a shampoo for baldness, maybe the whole of South America uses it as they all seem to have hair !!

After the museum I walked back in to town to take a look at the Templo de Santo Domingo (pictured above), the outer carvings are so ornate. Then after a spot of browsing in the tourist market I went to the Na Bolom museum as they hold a 2 hour guided tour in English at 4.30pm every day. The museum is set in a very beautiful yellow hacienda, you can even stay there. It was started by a Danish guy Frans Blom and his Swiss wife Trudy. They actually met on seperate expeditions to the Mayan jungle in the1940´s. The Mayan people worship jaguars as think of them as having an almost godly like status. When they first met Frans they got his name a bit confused as it’s so similar to Bolom (the Mayan word for jaguar) and so thought this blonde haired blue eyed creature was some kind of God. It takes around 2 years for Mayans to trust you and accept you as a friend and this couple devoted their lives to working with them. Trudy only died 6 years ago and her work in helping preserve the jungle here was recognised by the UN. In fact the Queen of Denmark is visiting next week. Without them more of the jungle would have been destroyed. She took 55,000 photos of the Mayans and many people use the museum as a research point for the culture. Mexico has 12 Mayan languages and Guatemala has 29, Trudy spoke 2. She was also great friends with the previous King who died at over 100. There’s a great shot of a 19 year old with his 4 wives that she took. He’s now 87 and has 10 wives so something about their lifestyle does endure them to live a long time. The museum also offers 6-12 month volunteer projects where you can learn more about the culture and help and in return you can teach them English. It’s a good way to work with the museum first and become fluent in Spanish.

After the museum I went for dinner. It’s Valentine’s day so I went for a lovely romantic candlelit dinner for one. This town is beautiful if a little touristy but fit it in if you can. Time now to get accustomed to ruins, my next stop is Palenque.

Transport count:

Plane = 21, Bus = 83, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Doing a “Speedy Gonzalez” through Mexico City!! – That’s Mexico of course

February 18, 2008

Mexican Indians DancingPalace - Mexico City

Hola from Mexico

Well my taxi deposited me at the airport and I got to Lima without a hitch. I now have a 12 hour wait for my next flight along with the two Bolivians who had been sitting next to me. Time for a blog catch up – oh no….to get to the internet means going into departures and paying departure tax, so instead I bought a black belt sudoku book (I think I completed 3 but I live in hope), beers and food. Yes money far better spent !! At least the airport seemed to have undergone a facelift since the last time I was there. The next flight thank goodness was on time and as I had two seats to myself I tried to sleep. No joy, I skipped the meal and then they announced turbulence, so I decided to sit up.

According to my book Mexico Cty is extremely dodgy, so I inserted my usual brand of paranoia. Actually there are no go areas where a lot of the locals won’t go but there are some pretty safe areas which are much better than they were 10 years ago. ATM´s with swipe facilities for cards seem to hate mine but luckily I found another bank where I could enter my pin and got some cash. I´m now on Mexican Pesos and there´s 20 to the pound. Pretty easy for a conversion. I got an official taxi and got dropped off at Hostal Montejo in a safe area. I´m early but he lets me check in. Aaron is the owner and he is Mr Very Helpful Indeed. He has a chat about my plans and immediately suggests I change the to include another town. I’m all for local advice. Then he checks the bus and plane tickets so I decide to leave the following day by plane as it’s virtually the same price as the bus. I have a lie down but I can’t sleep. There are two down sides to the hostal. They have a lock out between 12-4pm, that’s a new one on me, but  guess it does encourage people to go and do something with their day. And the kitchen is kept locked due to an incident at New Year apart from at breakfast. I´m finding Mexico isn’t cheap but it’s not too badly priced considering how near to the USA it is. Flight booked I decide to venture out and do a city bus tour. I don´t think I’ve done one of those since I’ve been away.

I walk to a statue called “El Angel” to join the bus. The city seems to have statues everywhere.You can get a 1 day bus pass with English commentary and go around as much as you want. The conductor is a little surly and tells me I mustn´t lose any of it or I will have to pay for everything again. Ok, ok. The first thing I’ve noticed is people and traffic. This is definitely going to be the largest city of my trip in terms of population. There are 20m people here and they have the cars to show it. For some reason the old style VW Beetle seems the most popular. Even the safe taxi´s are Beetles and the are green and white in Mexico’s colours. I get off at the main square and as I’m starving get some food. There´s an unlimited lunch buffet in a restaurant called “Old Mexico”. Oh my god….the food….there´s spice, it’s been a while. I choose anything where as usual I haven’t got a clue what it s. I really like something called “Chile de Arbol”, it´s like a thick leaf from a tree but it’s gorgeous.  After 2 salad buffets, 1 soup, 1 main and 1 pudding, I’m done. Time to explore.

I really am pleasantly surprised. The city feels very old world and majestic. There´s a huge square and lots of gold shops. I head to the cathedral first. It’s the largest in Latin America apparently. All of the bishops are buried there. Then I come across Mexican Indians blessing people with some kind of incense. Later on they are dancing in the square as you can see from the above picture. Next after a walk I want to go to the Palace but it´s closed for a while so I pop to the cartoon museum first. They have some great ones of Castro. Then I head to the palace. It´s pictured above and is huge and houses some lovely gardens. I´d left my passport at the hostel but after hearing me say I was English they let me in any way. Inside were some great murals and a parlament museum.  In fact this city has tons of museums.

Time to get back on the bus, it’s the same crew. We pass some kind of political demonstration about to kick off (oh the Americas !!). Then, I’m just about to get off at the next stop when the bus pulls off before I have a chance. The cow won’t let me get off so I have to wait another half an hour. No one would have been able to get off that bus in that short space of time. She shouldn´t be working in a service industry. When I do get off I have to walk back but it’s along a road with loads of designer shops. There seems to be lots of beggars here and people trying to earn some money by playing music or doing the Covent Garden thing (i.e be a silver statue), so there´s obviously poverty but in this area the offices are plush and the shops are even grander. I go to buy my shuttle bus ticket for the airport the next day, I have to go to the domestic one which seems a bit far out.

It´s starting to get dark so I decide armed with map to walk back to the hostal. On the way I see Radioshack (some of the American elements are quite handy) so I grab an adaptor. I’ll have a great collection by the time I get home. Shame the plugs are different so far in the rest of the country I ‘ve been to. I start walking and all is well until I come to an underpass. I follow some people under it. I’m slightly concerned but they do seem like normal people going home from work. At the other side I can see one road on the map but not the other. I ask the man at the flower stall but he doesn’t know. He asks the windscreen wiper boys but they can only point out the road I already know. I go back but I’m sure I’m near the hostal and haven´t gone wrong. For some reason I keep walking under the underpass. Then I decide on a taxi but where am I going to get a safe one here ?? As if someone was listening a green and white Beetle stopped exactly where I was standing and the passenger gets out. I felt like it was a miracle as mild hysteria had begun to set in. After various wrong turns we finally get to the hostal. As I got out he said “Lucky”, I thought he meant I really had been, but no this sems to be something everyone says here at the end of a journey.

I´m knackered. It’s been a very exciting day but as I had no sleep last night I’m going to have a great one tonight as tomorrow I head out to the Chiapas area. I shall be back here in June as it’s my final stop before heading home…..          

Transport count:

Plane = 20, Bus = 82, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

“Lady La Paz” – Bolivia´s Capital

February 17, 2008

Llama foetuses - Witches Market - La PazBolivian local attire in La Paz

Hola from Bolivia

I caught a very strange shared taxi back to La Paz. The taxi driver had something wrong with his voice box. It’s bad enough trying to understand a foreign language let alone adding further complications. I was crammed into the middle of the back seat. I felt like we had too much luggage but he did stop to put extra air into the tyres before we left.       2 1/2 hours later we reach Santa Cruz and one of the male passengers hailed me a taxi on a busy road so I could get to the bus terminal (I love chivalry !!). It’s boiling and I look all flustered when I get to the station. I manage to get a bus for La Paz leaving in a hour, result, I’ll be there a day ahead of schedule. I´m on Cama, there still isn’t a TV but at least there’s more leg room than usual. I sleep really well and again I arrive earlier than I expected at 10am.

I catch a taxi (I think I was overcharged, it came to 60p) to Arthy’s guest house which I’ve booked for the next 3 nights. It had rave reviews on Trip Advisor and if I’ve got a few nights in one place I try to go to something decent. On arrival they say – oh you’re early and let me straight in to a room. It’s a twin and big and I have a balcony. This is one of the cleanest hostels I’ve stayed in and it feels more like a hotel. You can even rent a DVD player for your room and they have the best selection of any hostel I’ve seen yet. The only downer is you have to be back by 12 midnight so I guess if you want to stay out you’ll just have to make it an all nighter. I’m planning to have a couple of full on days and then relax totally for a couple as after this stop I have a hectic visit to Mexico before entertaining the parents in Cuba. I drop my laundry in before the 11am deadline, it’s been a while. I think this has to be the cheapest country of my trip so far !!

So time to get aquainted with the capital. This is the first place I’ve been to in Bolivia which has a dangers and annoyances section in the Lonely Planet. More on that later… I walk down the hill to the San Francisco cathedral one of the main city landmarks. La Paz isn’t that big despite a population of around 1.3M, you can do it comfortably in 2 days I’d say. I stop for a coffee in the cathedral cafe then head out. First new sighting – the shoe shine boys. They are all in a row outside the cathedral and also scattered around the town but for some reason they are wearing balaclavas over their faces. This actually makes them look a little bit threatening. I secretly took a pic although I think they saw me at the last minute, but I got away with it. In fact I am on sneaky photo mission today. I want to capture the look and the faces of the locals (as you can see I managed one above). The other thing I’ve been really curious about is the women’s hair. It’s obviously very black and they tend to wear it in two long plaits tied together at the back, but then they add on a black woollen plait accessory which makes it look even longer. I’ve never seen anything like it before and I haven’t seen any for sale but there must be a special shop somewhere.

Time to walk up the hill into the more cobbled street area. Now I can see all the touristy items. First stop the essential travellers venue – The Museum of Coca. This actually gives an objective view of the use of Coca since it was discovered. Interestingly it was a main ingredient in the no.1 drink Coca-Cola. It also discusses the banning of it and the use of it in South American society today. I can’t see how the miners in Potosi would have coped without it. Definitely worth a visit. Then, there is an area here called “Witches Market” (for some reason I feel right at home). Here you can buy special items and sometimes they’ll even do special rituals for you. Above is a picture of the dried llama foetuses they sell. Locals believe that if you put them under the door step of your house it will bring you good luck. I wonder if I can send one home !! Further up the hill I come to another local market. This area is for locals and is absolutely bustling. In fact, I’m surprised I quite like La Paz (I’d heard very mixed reviews). This bit reminds me of the really busy Kowloon side of Hong Kong, everyone is just going about their business as quickly as possible. There’s the fruit man, the light bulb man, the no use items to anyone stall man and the essential for every Bolivian lady the rara skirt shop. Silky and below the knee a must. I’m really enjoying myself…

Next I walk back down the hill and avoid what my book calls a dodgy area. I head to the pedestrian footbridge which crosses one of the main roads so I can get to the square where the Presidential Palace is. One building is supposed to be littered with bullet holes but I can’t see any. I bump into the Argentinian guy who was in the next bed to me in Potosi. He’d been here for carnival and escaped as soon as possible and then came back. “Water issues” I said, “yes” he replied. After a few chores I went up to the oldest colonial street called Calle Jaen. Wow, it’s beautiful and so different to everywhere else in the city. It also contains 4 museums. You buy one ticket for all of them. I went to the precious metals museum and then the literary one, then to a third before grabbing some food. It’s still hard walking up and down the hills here as at 3650m, I’m still at high altitude and in the highest capital city in the world. I keep forgetting !!

The next day I decide to do a spot of shopping. I’ve been wanting to replace a bag that got stolen and buy some tablecloths and scarves and a new hippy jumper. There’s a great  secret post office for backpackers (or in my case I prefer the term “Flashpackers”) across the road with no queue (unlike the main post office). The lady packed everything and even sewed the parcel together – now that’s what I call service !! Mind you then she tried to sell me some gold rings that were in a draw !! Let’s hope it all gets home.

After a spot of lunch I went back to the main square to meet Yasna (and I forgot to get a photo !!). Yasna is the niece of my old friend and colleague Roger. She’s working out here in an orphanage for 6 months and I really admire what she’s doing. On the day I met her there was no running water and they’d had to go to a well and lug it back up the hill. Most of the children they look after are street children. A lot still have parents and some visit regularly whilst others only come once a year. Most have alcohol problems (well it’s as cheap as soft drinks here). The excellent thing is that they look after the children until they are old enough to work and then they help find them employment. The hardest thing is understanding the level of abuse a lot of these children have already suffered. I do wish her luck with it. We went for a walk up to the Mirador. This is a great view point for the whole city. First, we passed through the New Years market and looked at all the minature items that you could buy for good luck. Yasna thinks La Paz reminds her a lot of Iran where some of her family is from. A future destination for me perhaps ?? Then, unbelievably I found a belly button ring. I’d lost half of mine – who’d of thought Bolivia would be the place for one of those. The view from the Mirador was great and worth the admission fee. You start in the centre of the city as in the business area and then move outwards. The higher and further out you go the poorer you get. This area is called the Alto. Although having seen some of the countryside it doesn’t look as bad or as poor, but I have to admit there are a lot of beggars in the streets, although to be fair I’ve encountered that in every country. After our walk the weather was looking a little suspect so we went for a coffee and a chat. It was great to meet here and hopefully she has a very fulfilling time ahead.

Now it’s chill out time and rugby !! They have an English pub here called Olivers Travels. As we are 4 hours behind I decided to go for breakfast and watch the games. Actually, the food was great, it was nice and it’s been so long since I’ve had proper English grub. I got chatting to a guy who’s been teaching English out here and then a few Irish arrived for their game. It got quite close at the end and although they had the hangovers from hell it did get a bit raucous.

After the games I went back to the hostel and had a blog catch up. Then went to hang out with a few of my fellow travellers. Then shock…sometimes you hear of scams and you never know how often or if they really happen. This page is named “Lady La Paz” in honour of my friend Jane who came to see me in Argentina. I named her that due to unfortunate spitting incident one evening when I made her laugh whilst drinking some water. It was a joke as I’d heard that in La Paz before they try to rob you they spit on you first. Today it happened. They picked on another girl in my hostel. I wouldn’t mind but her boyfriend was just ahead of her. She wears glasses and I don’t know if they thought she’d be easier to rob as maybe her eyesight wasn’t as good. The guy reached in and put a hand full of spit in her eye behind her glasses. Disgusting !!! You don’t know what they might have !! The worst thing is there was obviously other people in on the act as they were all trying to block her in so she couldn’t escape. In the end she had to push the old lady (who was in on it for sure) in front of her to one side and run so they couldn’t rob her. In fact, I had wondered what would happen if you spat back but running does seem the best option for a getaway. However, running up hill at over 3000m does leave one a little exhausted, but the main thing is they didn’t get anything from her. Although she of course got a shock and burst into tears. It’s no good going to the police here as some of them are pretty corrupt. So she just came back to the hostel and stayed in the shower for a very long time. Thank goodness we have hot water !! It happened outside the cathedral I mentioned earlier so I shall be even more careful around there next time.       

My last day here and back to Olivers for the rugby. Disaster, they aren’t showing it until 7pm tonight – I’ll have to stay and watch Man City vs Man Utd over breakfast instead. What a result !! After breakfast I decide to take a walk down to the prison. In Bangkok you can go to the prison there and it’s nicknamed the “Bangkok Hilton”. This is supposed to be La Paz’s equivalent. It was quite near and although there are supposed to be tours I couldn’t really see anything as I got near the gate. The people who were going in were searched very thoroughly and suddenly I just didn’t want to go anyway. I could see people in the courtyard inside standing in the sunshine. It’s ok to go and look at old places but where the building is still being used for it’s intended purpose it seemed a bit cruel. A bit like a zoo or something. So instead I had a walk around the outside. I spent the rest of the day relaxing, watching DVDs and chatting, it was great. I’m off to Mexico tomorrow and there’s a lot of travelling to be done.

Bolivia is a fabulous destination. It’s extremely poor but 99% of the people are wonderful. They do not rip you off and they are really good fun. I hope things don’t get too political here any time soon as you feel that a lot of their problems are caused by so many changes in government. However, when you ask them about the opposition parties then apparently they are no better. You can also go to the Amazon here but it’s too wet at the moment and a lot of the flights were cancelled. I think I’m going to save that for Ecuador and another trip. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here, everywhere has been so different. Let’s hope they sort out all their difficulties and maybe get some coastline back off Chile. Whoops !! Another contentious issue. They really have lost a lot of land to their neighbours over the years. If you want a flavour of the real South America then Bolivia is the place to go !!

Time for me to head to Latin America for a bit, well after my 12 hour wait in Lima. 

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 82, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Sleepy Saimanpata – Bolivia !!

February 16, 2008

El Fuerte Ruins - SaimanpataSaimanpata town

Hola from Bolivia

I leave at 1pm for Santa Cruz after a pleasant local lunch in the bus terminal. It was one of those where you haven’t got a clue what it is but you order it and see what turns up. I was lucky, it was a type of stew. I’m sitting next to Carlos a Bolivian from Sucre who is going to Santa Cruz on business as he works in agriculture and rural studies. He speaks no English but we mange to get on. Just as well as it’s an overnight journey. Bless, he’s teaching me animal names as we go by. I’ve learnt donkey, bull and goat !! Carlos really thinks that Sucre should be the capital not La Paz, well I suppose as he’s from there he would. But his argument is that the city was announced as the capital by the original president Simon Bolivar (he wasn’t modest !!) and named after the 2nd president – Mr Sucre.  In an effort to build bridges I suggest they go the Australian route and use the city in the middle of the two contenders as the capital, which now means the capital of Bolivia is Cochabamba (yes that’s much better), he does find this funny. Then we get talking about the current president Mr Morales. He is the country’s first indigenous president and has been in power for about 2 years. Carlos isn’t keen. Actually I think a few of the people aren’t as they seem to think he’s trying to be too Mr International and not enough Mr Help your own people. Maybe given the fact that this is the poorest country in South America he should focus more on that. He’s also friends with Mr Castro and Mr Chaves so the Bolivians do not want to become another Cuba although this is the present danger. No doubt at some point in the near future their political history will take another turbulent turn. But hopefully they can wait until I leave first !!

We have some interestingly rural road stops on this journey. The first is the type of crumbling old town where the pigs and piglets are walking down the street. A huge truck stops to pick up locals and take them to the carnival. They are armed with huge water guns (no surprises there). It’s pretty bumpy and sleep is proving difficult. As it turns out I have a couple of Cubans sitting behind me so I check with them on the locations I’ve chosen for my parents visit. They think they are great choices – let’s hope so !! It’s getting dark. The road once again is dirt, oh and at some point we cross 3 small rivers. This is a little worrying as there’s so much steam coming out of the tyres, but some how slowly we edge across and reach the other side. At about 9.30pm the driver announces it’s our last toilet stop until we get to Santa Cruz. Everyone gets off only there are no toilets. Yes, this is just a good old fashioned everyone (man, woman and child) has to go beside the side of the road. Luckily it’s dark, and to be honest I prefer alfresco to the Bolivian bogs so I head furthest away and squat like a lady !! Shame there’s nowhere to wash hands. It’s very bumpy and I manage to get a little sleep and we arrive in Santa Cruz at around 7am (earlier than I thought, which seems to keep happening). My plan is to go and find a route to Saimanpata. Apparently the bus may have passed through there at 4am but 1) I was asleep and 2) I really didn’t want to arrive at that time of night. I wander around the bus terminal but can’t seem to find a bus so I take a taxi to where the shared taxis should be. Success !! There’s an official shared taxi office. I wait for around half an hour. The idea is that they leave when they have 4 passengers. In the end myself and a Brazilian guy decide to split the fare. It’s so cheap anyway and it means we’ll be on our way. I sit in front and due to lack of sleep and the sunshine I manage to sleep for the first hour. When I awake the scenery has really changed. It’s a bit like Iguazu, only the earth is a pink colour, but I’ve suddenly arrived in to a tropical wilderness – lovely !! Another hour and a half later we arrive. It’s an incredibly small town with a lovely old plaza. It’s carnival here but on a much more subdued scale. I check in to my unbelievably cheap “Residential Kim” hostal and then head out for food.

There are no ATM’s in town so you have to come with cash but it does feel incredibly safe. In fact so far the whole of Bolivia has. I head to Latino cafe and have a curry. I can’t believe they do them I’ve been craving one for the past couple of days. It’s gorgeous and tastes just how the Philippino curries do. I felt slightly smug as a girl has missed me with a water bomb both on the way there and back – only by inches. I explore the town which doesn’t take long (there’s a shot of one of the streets above) and disappointingly there were no tours going out to Vallegrande in my timescale which was one of the reasons for coming here. Vallegrande is the site of Che Guevara’s last stand and as I’d done his childhood home and birthplace in Argentina, I was going for the full hat trick. I also wanted to go to the Amboro park but again no tours available. Oh well, may as well just enjoy my second carnival instead.

There is said to be a baby boom 9 months after carnival throughout the whole of South America and judging by the antics of my neighbours last night there could well be another little mouth to feed. I keep my room to store my bags and head out for breakfast. I eat outside despite the tons of flies around. I thought I’d added milk to my coffee but it turned out to be a banana flavoured drink so although unusual it was still nice. I hired a taxi to take me to the local ruins “El Fuerte”. The fortress dates back to 800-1300AD and I am the first visitor of the day and have the place to myself. You get given a map which describes where you are as you go around the ruins (a picture above is of the main living quarters). The scenery is stunning and there’s a great point for making echoes. It takes about an hour to get around relatively quickly and I jump back in to the taxi, picked up my bags and get dropped off to catch a shared taxi back to Santa Cruz. Lonely Planet says this is a place to come before it gets over run by tourists and I agree, oh well if all goes to plan I may reach La Paz by morning.         

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 81, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Sugary Sucre !! – Bolivia

February 16, 2008

It’s a wet carnival in Sucre

Hola from Bolivia

My bus for Sucre leaves at 10.30am. It´s another dodgy looking vehicle but at least the roads are tarmaced this time. I arrived in Sucre just after 1pm and I had been told that if there was any political problems in Bolivia this is where I would see them. Sucre was the original capital of Bolivia, it´s now the judicial capital. The people´s capital is now La Paz and the people of Sucre obviously have an issue with that. I guess you can understand why. At least all seems calm on the Western front. The Lonely Planet describes Sucre as the South American Florence. I´ve never been to Florence but I would guess they may be right. The city is stunning. It´s awash with dazzling white buildings and the view from my Copacabana Hotel window is how I would imagine Florence to be. See the picture below. I’m hungry so I wander to the plaza for a pizza but I’m also still ill so afterwards I go back to bed to try and get rid of this damn flu. The next day I’m still really bad and the city has gone mad. I can hear lots of noise so go outside to investigate, it’s almost carnival time. The main carnival in Bolivia is in Oruro but given how I feel at the moment it’s just aswell I didn’t go as I really wouldn’t have been up for it. The streets are full of brass bands, sensible people are wearing waterproof coats (as you an see above), I am wearing mine too. Carnival in Bolivia involves water, tons and tons of water. The men appear to get really drunk and just dance behind the bands, while the women work hard sitting along the streets selling water balloons. The men, children and young people just spend the whole time dancing and throwing water. The most annoying thing is they only seem to play the one song. The song will live with me always as I’ve heard it for 4 days non stop, I wish they’d learn another. Even my Dad could hear it down the phone and he sympathised. I’m still too ill for this so I’m off to bed to watch films.

The other problem with coming here during carnival is that nothing else is open, understandably so !! I wanted to see the dinosaur prints !! It’s another day and the same song, it’s just as well I think this city is really beautiful to wander around in or I’d be really bored now, although I’m not feeling much better. Hardly surprising really when every time you go outside you get or are attempted to be water bombed. Carnival is getting into full swing now and today along with the bands we even have some costumes. Today there’s a new game in town as it’s now the official day 1 of carnival. What have they been doing for the past 3 days ?? The game is called “Get the Gringa”, oh yes my friends not only have I been well and truly water bombed but some little brat got me in a full frontal foam in the face. Actually it was really funny, especially seeing me running down the street away from a 7 year old. Men are so drunk it’s untrue. I thought the Brits could drink but to be honest I think the Bolivians out do us easily. If the old boys aren’t trying to grope you as they walk down the street drunk then they are just passed out in shop doorways. There’s another 2 days to go and it’s still the same damn song. I’ve loved my carnival experience and am feeling better but I think it’s time to leave. Now that I have been to both I really do have to put Sucre way and above La Paz in terms of beauty. A reborn capital city maybe, now that would cause a riot !!  

Rooftops of Sucre - Florence like ?   

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 80, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Eye Popping Potosi – Bolivia !!

February 15, 2008

Potosi Mines - Has Pedro lit the dynamite2 tons of rock to move in the mines

Hola from Bolivia

Well after sleeping like a log it was time to go to Potosi. Oh now I really know I´m in Bolivia, where are the lovely buses? I picked Diana tours for the bus and left at 10am. The journey was around 6 hours. The road was just brown hardened dirt, no tarmac and every now and again the bus really jolted on something on the road which even caused the Bolivian women to shout at the driver. We passed people washing their clothes in the river, directly beside a sign which said no washing of clothes or cars. I really think they just do what they want here. At one stop the driver filled up water bottles and a high powered water gun, is this a new way to wash the windscreen ? The funniest part of the journey was definitely when we stopped and one guy went off to go to the toilet. Only there was no toilet so he went behind a sign. This involved jumping over the river to get to the sign and after washing his hands he missed his footing on his jump back and fell in to the river. Very embarassing but hilarious !!

Well I have arrived in Potosi, the bus hasn´t stopped at the terminal and I have no idea where I am bus as a taxi is 30p I get one to the hostel I want to stay in called the Koala Inn. It is fab !! It´s got a great indoor courtyard and I´m in a 4 bed dorm (no bunks)  with a couple of Argentinians. I decide to go out and have a look around. Potosi is officially at 4060m, the highest city in the world. Back in the 16th century it was also one of the richest….not any more !! The streets are paved with the same hexagon slabs as seen in Uyuni and the salt flats, but don´t walk up hills too quickly if you want to be able to breathe. The town itself is set up in the hills. There seems to be a band playing in the street and I´m hungry so I pop in to the Taiwanese (very Bolivian – NOT !!) for a huge dinner.  

The next day after an early breakfast I set off on the main reason for coming here, a mining tour. That is what Potosi is famous for. During the Spanish occupation the silver that was taken from the mines here basically financed the Spanish colonies. I went with Koala Tours, I have to say they are brilliant. Some tours are a bit too touristy, this tour is run by ex miners and goes in to a working mine. However, before we can go in we are given (as usual) some rather delightful clothes to wear. I have gone from looking like the genie coming out of a bottle (Bolivia part 1 photo on “Facebook”) to Aladdin with some delightful orange coloured trousers, a black bandana, black jacket, wellies and of course the essential hard hat with detachable torch. Next stop the market…..we had to stock up on the miners staple diet of coca leaves and fags. Coca leaves help them cope with the altitude and increases their capacity to work longer. They actually spend 13% of their salary on coca leaves. Then it was time to go and buy them some dynamite (and some for ourselves), potato alcohol (at 96% proof it certainly warmed my stomach), soft drinks and a few other odds and sods. We had the choice of Bolivian, Peruvian or Argentinian dynamite. Of course Pedro our guide said Bolivian was best. Time to go to the mines.

Initially we went to the processing plant. This is where a lot of the rocks and substances discovered in the mines are brought so the miners can see how much they have made. The room was a mass of machines with churning wheels and liquids dripping. Then it was time to enter the mines. The miners can decide on whether they work for a private company where they get a guaranteed set wage or a cooperative , where there is a group of them and they earn money depending on what they discover. Most choose to work for a cooperative as they feel it´s more flexible. For example if you work for the private company you have to work Mon-Fri 8am-4pm and they don´t want to be restricted, if they need time off then they take it when they want it. Yes, the idea of set working hours is a no no here!! However, being in a cooperative means that you are very dependant on what the mineral market is doing. At the moment it´s quite good but when it was bad these guys were only earning $50 per month. On the plus side if you´re the man who is now the richest man in Potosi when you discovered a very lucrative silver seam, you could earn $40,000 a month. He then started up his own company and now has 600 people working for him. Once you are working on a seam noone else is allowed to touch it. It´s yours !!

On entering the mines you suddenly understand why they are so shocking. There are millions of what feels like dust particles in the air. In fact these particles can cause silicosis. In the past miners had a life expectancy of around 10 years. The Spanish used a lot of indigenous and African slaves. They would keep them working under ground for 6 months at a time. Breathing in the air, (despite wearing the bandana) I can´t see how they can bear it for a whole day. In fact, it´s estimated around 8 million, yes…. 8 million people have died working in them…and that is why they are so shocking !! When we first went in we came across a small museum. We have walked along the ground level and there are rails on the ground where the miners bring out their rocks in metal containers. Each container weighs around 2 tons (here´s one on it´s way out above). It takes 4 of them to struggle keeping it on the rails and on the ground. At the moment we can walk quite freely although the hissing noise of air is quite off putting, and we have to avoid coming in to contact with any of the power cables.

In the museum it explains the history from the slavery to tales of Francis Drake “the English pirate”, who stole what would be the equivalent of millions of pounds worth of silver today from Spanish ships. There´s also Tio (uncle) – he is the devil figure respected by all the miners. They also respect “Mother Earth” and will quite often bless an area they are about to blow dynamite through with alcohol for her and then drink some themselves. Time to leave the museum and head further in to the mine. At this point one of the British girls has to leave, she can´t breathe and feels claustrophobic. We then head down to the next level. At first look, it does look a little dodgy. There are no steps, it´s basically just scrambling down using your boots to balance in various foot holds and grabbing on to rocks that are jutting out. At this point the other English girl and their Peruvian guide also bailed out. Time for me to keep the British end up (Pedro, our guide says he expects the South Americans to back out but not the Brits, well I shall just have to go on!!). Actually I can understand why they left, it felt horrendous trying to breathe (the bandana makes the air feel even more suffocating) but you just had to try and understand what these guys go through on a daily basis. We ended up going down 4 levels. At some points we were literally crawling on our stomachs. I had to put my camera away as one the pictures just contained dust and I was worried it was going to get damaged. We met some miners who were just about to blow a whole in the rock face so gave them the alcohol and they blessed the walls and we left them to it. A miner seems to live each day as it comes, if he makes money he closes the bar and buys everyone drinks. They really do live for today, forget about saving, they may not be here tomorrow.

What goes down must go back up. Scrambling up mine shafts when you´re 4000m up is no mean feat, but we all made it. Now after the horrors it was time for some fun. Pedro asked me to roll up the stick of dynamite into a ball. Hope I don´t get tested for explosives at the airport !! After I did that he inserted the fuse and the ingredients to make it go with a bang and lit the fuse. At this point the lit dynamite was located precariously in between his delicate parts and he was playing around with it as you can see in the above photo. Apparently you have about two minutes before she blows. He then legged it across the field and set it down and ran off. The explosion was pretty impressive and there was a lot of smoke and a crater in the ground. One of the guys dropped his in some water, indicating the explosion finale. Time to go back and have a shower, the dust gets everywhere.

I decided to chill out for the rest of the afternoon and changed my original plan to stay in Potosi for one more day. I arranged to meet up with a few of the Aussies and Swedes from the tour for dinner which was a laugh. The next day I felt awful. I think I picked up a cold from the salt plains. I had planned to go to the museum as it´s supposed to be one of the best in Bolivia but I really didn´t think I could stand up for very long. I forced myself to walk to the bus station and get a ticket for the following day to Sucre, then I went back to bed. I must have been ill as I fell asleep when the maid was cleaning the dorm. I spent the afternoon reading until my Argentinian dorm mate came back and had to go straight to bed (he´d been on the mine tour). I left at 6 to meet up with the gang from last night. I finally get to fulfil another ambition and  go to a South American football match. I got lost (easy to do here) on the way to the meeting point and it started to rain but just found them in time and all 7 of us managed to cram in to a taxi. Little ones (me) in the very back of course !! We bought our tickets for 1 UKP and went into the game. Mind you we had to buy some local merchandise to support our team first. Tonight is Real Potosi vs Universitario. Apparently it´s two of the top sides. Pedro told me the game started at 7pm but it didn´t kick off until 8. At least the rain had stopped so we bought cushions and settled in on the concrete steps. The floodlights slowly came on one by one and bulb by bulb, that took about 20 minutes on it´s own. Pedro had also said that the “Lady Boys” of Brazil were too scared to come and play them here. I´m not really surprised, I can barely walk the two flights of stairs up to my dorm let alone running around a football pitch for 90 minutes. The home team seemed to be the only supporters and their drummers were starting to get the whole crowd involved. The game was a bit disappointing though. It was a bit like watching Leyton Orient vs Southend (the last really bad game I went to). Mind you I´d have to give a ten out of ten effort for diving ability, glad to see that some traditions are alive and well. Half time came and went with a free prize draw on our ticket stubs for a trip to Spain. We didn´t win. Then in the second half the unthinkable happened. The opposition team scored, there was silence. At full time we went to leave as quickly as possible but noone else was moving. A steward then explained to us that this was the second leg, it´s now 1-1 and as it´s a quarter final round of the cup, there´s no extra time we go straight to a penalty shoot out. How exciting !! There was quite a bit of whistling when the opposition took their penalties. It´s nailbiting stuff and it´s 4-4. The opposition miss and Real Potosi score, the crowd go wild and we cheer and then get the hell out, it´s freezing. We walk back to town to warm up a bit. Time to say goodbye to everyone and head to my hostel. I sit up for a while chatting and then it´s time for bed. Tomorrow is another day and it´s time to head to Sucre.       

   

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 79, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 18 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Skidding across the “Salar de Uyuni”…Bolivia

February 10, 2008

Standing on the Salar de UyuniLake Honoa - Salar de Uyuni

Hola from Bolivia

WARNING :- I apologise for the toilet talk in advance, but this is Bolivia so if you are disturbed by that kind of language then wait for the next page.

Well in order to get to Bolivia I had decided one of the quickest routes was to get a bus from Salta back to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and then do a 3 day tour across the salts flats as some of the previous people had done when I met them here 2 months ago (where has the time gone ??). The bus left at 7am and by 5pm I was at the Chilean immigration having my bag searched and they then let me in. I noticed a huge pile of papers so is there really any way to check which country I´m in ?? Any people not carrying on to other Chilean destinations were then left to walk in to town. Luckily I knew the way. I tried to email my old Hostal La Ruca but the email had bounced and sure enough it was full. Now that I have been travelling around a bit San Pedro and Chile seems really expensive for South America. I paid too much for a room but knew it would be my last night for a few days where I would have the opportunity to have a hot shower so sometimes needs must. I then went to Estrella del Sur to book my 3 day trip. There was one place left for the next day leaving at 8am so I booked on. Time to grab some food, water, Bolivianos and have an early night. I managed to get left with only 5 Chilean pesos which I have since given away…so not a bad day at all !!

I awoke the next morning and went to the tour office. There were 12 of us and we were led straight to a minibus. Ummmm… I thought 4wds were the order of the day. Especially as in Salta there had been a piece on the TV about an Orange flood alert for Bolivia. Relief, these were only to take us to the border, once there and having paid some money to the officials we transferred to 2 x 4wd. The first truck consisted of 3 couples, Brazilian, Chilean and Czech. Our truck contained an Aussie couple Sue and Jeff, an Austrian Alex and 2 German girls Franziska and Jenny and of course little old me. Straight after we were allowed in the country we were given breakfast, always a good way to welcome you. Everyone apart from myself, Jeff and Sue were doing 4 days and driving back to Chile, the girls especially were worried about the political situation in Bolivia, more on that later. After breakfast first stop was at Lago Blanco (white lake). Yes the water really was very white and it also had some flamingos on it. We were hoping for a viewing of their mating dance but no such luck !! Around the corner was Lago Verde (Green Lake, although it looked more aquamarine to me). This was indeed even more  spectacular and not only was there a huge build up of salt crusts at the edges it was also foaming away. Next it was time for a stop at some thermal pools. I have to say I have been a little bit spoiled since New Zealand and these just didn´t do it for me so I watched most of the people go in instead. There were some other groups there as well so we got some good bum flashes from a group of Brazilian lads.

The next thing I have realised is I am back in the world of stinky toilets. I´m not sure how I´m going to cope when I get home. I just hope I remember that I can put the paper in the toilet and not the bin next to it for a change. Yes first long drop in a while was undertaken before lunch, actually it was quite clean but you have to pay for every toilet here whether they are clean or not. Let´s just say there´s been a couple of times when “al fresco” is the recommended way to go.  After lunch we headed to Sol de Manaña, it´s a 4950m high geyser basin with boiling mud pots and sulfurous fumaroles. Then at around 4ish we reached our first nights accomodation. Someone told me that a lot of the buildings in Bolivia are unfinished because if they finish them then they have to pay some kind of completion tax. This one didn´t look like it owed any money to the government. Our jeep shared a dorm and it was a lot better than I´d been expecting. I was the only one not to have a sleeping bag but there were so many covers on that bed there was no way I was going to be cold. The bathroom consisted of 2 toilets (1 sort of flushed), a whole in the ground and a sink. We were given a warming cup of tea before heading out to see our final stop of the day Laguna Colorada. This lake was a red colour due to the minerals, it had huge amounts of flamingos on it and salt crusts. We spent about an hour walking around and admiring the views. Sometimes when you´ve been travelling for a bit you get a bit “oh another lake”, but this was truly stunning.

Time to go back to our accomodation and have dinner. Impressively we were given soup, followed by pasta and a bottle of wine per jeep. You are not supposed to drink at altitude but I figured it would help me to sleep. It had got extremely cold outside and torches at the ready we were in bed by 9ish as the generators were due to be switched off so we wouldn´t have any light. As I got in to bed I made the fatal mistake of saying “Ooh, I don´t usually sleep very well at altitude”. I got under the blankets and felt like a fish gasping for breath due to the lack of oxygen. That soon subsided and I waited for sleep to come…and I waited….and I waited !! Altitude does affect people different ways on different occasions. After over 3 hours my bladder (which has been really good on this trip) felt like it was about to explode. At that moment Sue and one of the other girls got up to go to the toilet. I waited for them to come back swapped torches and then went myself. In fact we cannot stop going, we want to go all of the time and for ages. Has there been a secret liquid store our bodies have been carrying around that we weren´t aware of ? Back in bed my bladder discomfort has now been replaced with what feels like air. Oh god, this really is uncomfortable. I feel like I could win the olympic gold medal in farting. But I´ve got to be discreet (blankets muffle), I know some people are asleep but there are too many people moving around for everyone to be asleep. That´s it. I will just have to lie here until day break. If only I had known Sue was going through exactly the same thought process in the opposite bed.

Next morning I eagerly consume my pancakes (yes, they have Dulce du Leche in Bolivia !!) before we hit the road at 8am. We head first to Arbol de Piedra a rock that the wind has blown in to a tree like shape. It´s warmer than I thought it would be so that´s good. We spend maybe 30 minutes or so looking at the various rocks and the bonnet of the jeep is up (not a good sign). The morning is spent driving through canyons filled with rabbits and then we stopped at Lake Honoa for lunch. This has a gorgeous snow capped peak (see above) and we were lucky to have a lot of llamas there. Lunch was gorgeous tuna fishcakes in the ecolodge. As the builders only laid one brick whilst we were there I think saw it may be finished some time near the 22nd century. They were far to busy dancing around to music to build a hotel.

After lunch we broke down more or less straight away. However, as everyone can fix cars here the jeep was back on the road in no time at all. We then stopped at a smoking volcano. The drivers told us to take some photos, which translated meant we need to fix the jeep again. After this we start seeing salt everywhere. The road is flat and I´m happy to say that our driver is slower than the one in front. Then….ahhh!!!!!!! We skid……it´s quite a good skid, in fact we feel like we are rolling on to one side and then thank god it stops (do they have anti roll bars in Bolivia ?). Great skid mark in the salt though and finally the butterflies in my stomach subside. Our driver then goes slightly slower.  We stop at a military checkpoint (I think I´ve now been to the toilet 20 times today) and both jeeps have their tyres changed. That´s the spares all gone. The soldiers seem to have nothing to do so just look on. The base looks like it´s really the teletubbies house, or am I just a bit La La !! Must be the rounded walls to protect them from the wind. Tyres changed we stop in a village called San Juan. We think we´ve arrived but no it´s time for a few more engine tweaks. The drivers swap jeeps and we have Carlos. He is a maniac, it´s getting dark, he finally puts the headlights on and then we are on a bumpy dirt track and being told we´ll be there in half an hour. We were told that an hour ago….then whack !! We go over a bump so hard that I hit my head on the roof. It hurt but it didn´t bleed and thank goodness it didn´t break my sunglasses (which were in the travellers position of always on the top of the head, of course), I´ve lost enough of those already and let´s face it what damage could one more little bump do to me. (It did hurt for about 5 days afterwards though). Finally, 12 hours after we set off we arrive at tonights location – a salt hotel. The floor is salt, the walls are made out of salt breeze blocks, I even have a salt bed. There´s a salt bar and a salt dining room too. As we wait for dinner we are entertained by 2 local boys dressed in sequinned ponchos. One played the pan pipes and the other very young one just does the same dance to every song. We all chip in with some coins for their efforts. Dinner is served after 10 and I just have a little bit and some more wine. It´s Pique Macho a Bolivian dish which contains meat, sausages, chips, eggs and anything else that´s left. We decide on a 5am start so we really need to get to bed so we can get up again. Hurray…I fall asleep straight away, maybe a salt bed is the way to go.

I´m up at 4.30am and we all set off. It´s freezing cold and dark. We literally drive on to a road in the middle of some water. Sue doesn´t look too pleased. Probably because we don´t know how deep it is. Suddenly we stop, it´s sunrise time. It was ok as sunrises go but not that great a one, at least now it´s time for coffee and cake. I am so cold. After coffee we drive off the path and slowly through the water (it´s not coming in the car so that´s a good sign). Gradually the water becomes shallower and underneath we can see hexagon shapes of salt. In fact it stretches for miles. After another hour or so we stop, put on our flip flops and get out. It is amazing and I´m so glad I´ve gone from Chile to Bolivia and not the other way. Otherwise you´d see this first and the rest of the trip would not be as good a build up. The mountains are reflected in the water, in fact everything is reflected. After various photos we try do make a few optical illusions. I have a good one looking like I´m coming out of a bottle of water. Sue looks like she´s eating the jeeps. I would loved to have seen the salar with no water on it aswell but as the world´s largest salt plains they are pretty amazing !! The salt looks like huge square crystals, or in my dreams diamonds. Time to get back in the car (but of course not before we had to pee !!). It must have taken us 3 to 4 hours to drive across it in total so that gives you some kind of idea of how large it is.

After that we stopped at another salt hotel but I liked ours better. Then one final lunch of spam (I´m amazed it was quite nice) in a local village. Considering they live near such a huge tourist attraction the village was extremely basic, I now feel like I am really in Bolivia. Last stop of the day is Uyuni. Again extremely basic around the outskirts of town. We were taken to the railway cemetery, lots of rusty old engines with funny spanish graffiti written on them and the girls took it in turns to play damsel in distress across the railway lines. We said brief goodbyes to the rest of the group and then Sue and Jeff decided to come with me to Hotel Avenida. First shower in 3 days…yippee !! Hot water !! We went out to sort out our next journeys. I´m off to Potosi and they are heading straight to La Paz. My bus was leaving at 10am the next morning so I went to relax for a while before meeting up with them again before dinner. The cash machines aren´t working so I changed up my emergency dollars. Wow, I want to photograph everyone. It´s like walking around Mrs Ben town. All the women are wearing bowlers hats with two long plaits and the children are sooo cute. Unlike Asia they don´t really like having their photo taken so I´ll just have to be very discreet. No I can´t pluck up the courage to do it just yet….

I met up with Jeff and Sue later and we went for dinner at the Cactus restaurant and ate llama. I know I´ve had alpaca before but think that could be my first llama. I have to say it was delicious. Well, sadly it is time to say goodbye to Sue and Jeff, hopefully we´ll catch up in the UK later this year. The Salar is definitely a Bolivian highlight and definitely do it from Chile to Bolivia to save the best until last.        

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 78, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 17 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Salta´s not sweet enough !! – North West Argentina

February 5, 2008

Convent - SaltaDrinking Salta beer with Alvaro and Ariel

Hola from Argentina

This page is dedicated to my cousin Henry Cattini who unfortunately passed away yesterday. He will be greatly remembered and dearly missed by all of the family……….I hope I can make this page a little bit amusing as he was extremely funny and had a great zest for life. There are unsurprisingly few such good natured people around, I hope you now go join my Nan and Grandad and have fun xx

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Well I intended to go to Cachi from Cafayate but the only way to do this is to go back to Salta first. I caught the little minibus rather than the big bus to beat the hoards and get there quicker. Unfortunately it was quite a windy road and I heard the 1 year old behind me retch then throw up. Luckily he missed me but I knew the child was at an age where it wouldn´t just smell like baby sick…and I was right. It stunk the minibus out. Then caused a domino effect on the two people sitting across the aisle next to me, at least they had plastic bags at the ready then the child did it again. I managed to half hang my head out the window and then decided that in order to distract my attention fully I should listen to some Spanish lessons on my MP3 player. This worked really well I was asleep within 10 minutes and woke up just as we were entering Salta. I hope somewhere in my subconscious I took it all in. Upon arrival in Salta the bus to Cachi was sold out…the office had been closed before, me thinks it may be a good idea to have more than one bus per day.

Oh well I went to the hostel I´d booked for the following evening and they had a bed available. Oh , it´s so much cleaner than that disgusting Terra Oculta annex I was in before here. Having saved money on the bus fare I decided to head to the main plaza and treat myself to a slap up lunch of rabbit (I must add up how many different types of animal I´ve eaten on this trip). Then it started to rain, actually it´s rained every day I´ve been here so I decided to go back to the hostel and read. I had some nice female room mates so I spent most of the afternoon chatting with them.

The next day after a lie in I decided to make the most of my final day in this wonderful country. I met some Argentinian guys last night and one of them was called Alvaro. His friend was still asleep having got in at 5am so he said he´d come to the museums with me (my own translator and tour guide – yippee !!). It seemed appropriate to spend my last day in Argentina with an Argentinian so I said yes.  We headed to the paleontology museum where they house some Mummies found in the Inca areas outside of Salta. Now I´ve seen a Mummy in Arequipa in Peru before that was around 500 years old and was well preserved but nothing could have prepared me for this. The girl was about 15. Her black hair was covered in very fine plaits. She was crouched in a sitting position, asleep and with her original clothing, toys and shoes. She really did look like any young girl that could have been walking in the street outside that day, it was truly remarkable. There were a couple of others aswell (a younger girl and boy) although they weren´t as well preserved. Apparently the Inca´s would select only the children who were most beautiful as offerings. They had to be free from physical defects. Then they would get them drunk and bury them in the mountain side. It´s a bit of a contentious issue as to whether they should have been brought to the museum but generally it´s thought to be mostly okay. The second girl looked a bit burnt. Ok, so firstly you´re offered to the Gods and then once buried you get hit by lightening, hence the charred look, her name obviously wasn´t LUCKY !!

After that we tried to go to the cathedral but it was closed so we went to the other museum which had some more historical local articles. It´s lunch time and Alvaro suggested we cook lunch. Fine by me I´ve missed cooking. We went to the supermarket and he suggested pasta (the staple of the travellers diet). I asked if he liked it spicy and he said yes so I said I´d do an Amatricana sauce. Back at the hostel we met up with his friend Ariel ( he must have cursed the little mermaid film) and I started cooking. Alvaro was in charge of chopping the chilli and garlic whilst I did the onions and pancetta. He passed over the ingredients and my first thought was “wow, he does like it spicy”, there were at least 10 chopped chillis. I carried on and served up. Now for me the sauce was just the right temperature. They book took one mouthful and nearly choked. Coca cola was being drunk in vast amounts. The American girl sharing my dorm tried some and said “yes, lovely, just right !!”. They passed it to some other Argentinians and they too nearly choked. I have to say the boys did try really hard to eat it but couldn´t, although they both did have some more. I´m happy to say I managed to sweat any machismo out of those two Argentinian men that afternoon. Quite a feat, oh yes quite a feat !! Hey and more pasta for me !!

In the afternoon after watching a film we went back outside despite the rain to see the Mummies again I couldn´t help myself. They were fascinating. The cathedral had opened so we had a quick look in there aswell. It was then beer o´clock so we went to a local bar for “Salta” beer (what else ?) There´s a picture of us above, I´ve also included one of the convent. Not sure where the time had gone but it was 9pm. I´m still full from the pasta and the boys decide to make pizza. I then got introduced to the programme Celebrity Fight Club, it was a particularly good episode with Charlie Sheen and Colin Farrell, must find some more of those.

Well time to say goodbye, the boys are from Buenos Aires. It was good fun meeting them and speaking Spanglish all day. They´ve told me that next time I´m over I must look them up. Don´t worry I will but I´ll put a hold on the chilli !!

Salta was disappointing in the sense that I´d met loads of people who´d spent a week here. Some of the architecture is nice but most of the things to do seem to be hours outside of the city in a place where you may as well go and stay anyway. However, it was a very good last day in Argentina, it´s time to go to Bolivia. Argentina has been amazing, it´s safe easy to get around and just so diverse…….I´ve really enjoyed it !! 

Transport count:

Plane = 18, Bus = 77, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 17 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally