A Travellerspoint blog

Southern Bolivia

sunny 28 °C

The last thing I remember I was sitting in the Cross Keys pub in Cusco with Anton and Becky sampling their (justly renowned) Pisco Sours, Anton twisting my arm, saying 'shall we have the other half of this then?', and now I'm about a 1,533.4 km`s as crow flies, south in Tarija, which is in the S E of the country, not too far (8 hrs coach) from the borders with Paraguay and Argentina. Well Peru may seems recent but its a while in time and distance. I said goodbye to Anton and Becky on 10 Jan as they headed NZwards via gastronomic tour of Lima, and LA. Anton had kindly uncomplaingly stepped in as chancellor of the exchequer for me for the last 10 days in Peru after Nat West made the helpful unilateral executive customer focused decision that I couldn't have accesss to any of the money that I'd spent the last year saving. I presume that, as part of that world class outfit RBS, they had found a better use for my money such as investing in importing ice to the Antarctic, sand to Arabia or giving the chief exec a huge pay rise and buying him a sold gold electric arse sratcher. Anyway all was well eventually but their complete indifference and unhelpfulness was amazing. The phrase ´henceforth I would not p*** on them if they were on fire´ comes to mind.

The route from Cusco to here was generally heading gradually south: Puno, which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca, then on to La Paz then on to Cochabamba, then Sucre then here. Bolivian coach stations are quite an experience and although I always try to stay calm usually end up in some degree of stress by the time get on bus. This is fairly typical: I have a ticket for the coach going to wherever, i had 7 hours to wait so had left bag in left luggage (was bit dubious about this but wanted to go into town and really didn`t want to carry heavy bag round), on return to station I have 30 minutes to coach leaving, the station is in turmoil a chaos of coming going shouting, huge parcels etc, the left luggage is obviously now 6 or 7 deep and a free for all, there is no system to storing the luggage its simply chucked randomly whereever there is space. Luckily I had seen where they put it and got it retrieved quite quickly with some sharp elbows. There is no central information display telling you where the coach leaves from. You need to find out. I find out, try and go through the entry to coach parking lot but the guy won`t let me through as I need to check in my bag separately, I do this and return, now the guy tells me I need a separate ticket that costs 1p to leave the station in addition to my coach ticket. I run across crowded station get ticket return and guy lets me through. I then try and locate bus, again there is no information system, your tocket will tell you which bay the bus leaves from but you have to work out from the ten million buses parked several deep in general area of that bay which one is yours. I see a bus in my bay from the right company with the right time written on a sign and get on. I start to calm down and settle when lady gets on a tells me that I`m in her seat, discussion in my broken Spanish ensues from which it emerges that this is a different bus. Its now 7.30 and scramble to get off bus and repeat process convinced bus has now left with my bag on it without me. In fact my bus is running late and hasn`t arrived yet. Its not a total nightmare but´interesting´ and v different for me. I realise most people did this when they were 18-21, which is probably much more sensible..

I only spent a night each in Puno and La Paz to change coaches but spent a week in Cochabamba and 5 days in Sucre and will be here for 3 nights. I wasn`t sure about going to Cochabamba but am v glad I did go. It was a sizeable provincial town with nice squares and plazas, Spring like climate, quietly prosperous and not a lot seemed to happen there which was great. It is known for having good restaurants so my idea of heaven would be after morning coffees a good 3 hour lunch at a really good Italian or steak restaurant, with wine and brandy and pudding and coffee, while reading a book, preferably on a terrace in the sun and the cost would probably be about the same as a day´s congestion charge. In the town they also had a couple of shops selling v nice woolens. Generally about every third shop in Bolivia is selling some sort of textiles and apparently Alpaca wool products, but often not that impressive (this pusuit for perfection is the cross you have to bear as a connosiur). There were a couple of shops run by the local artisan co operatives with really lovely stuff that I got a bit addicted to and kept going back to, so now have too many Alpaca wool presents which I am carrying about with me in hot countries. I imagine I will resolve this practical problem by losing all the things I`ve carefully collected, leaving in bar, coach etc. As fashion cognoscienti you will all of course be aware that cashmere is now extremely passe and Alpaca is the only acceptable wool to be seen in this winter.

In Sucre which is another nice colonial town I took some more Spanish lessons which I had been meaning to do for a while. I did 4 hours a morning for 4 days and really enjoyed it. The company used profits to teach local children English and had a v positive feel to it. I found the classes really useful as a good teacher will be able to identify pretty quickly your weaknessses (obviously not easy for them in my case) and focus on these. As well as the more practical side of teaching as lessons were one to one with a Bolivian in later 20`s early thirties (as it happens a charming and v presentable Senjorita) had many fascinating conversations about UK and Bolivia respectively which might encompass the rise of consumer culture, corruption, the role of turkey in our respective societies, Eva Morales, during which the teacher would gently correct any errors in my speech. These chats were a real highlight of recent travels and really useful.

Tarija where I am now is the centre of the wine producing area which I have to say from v limited tastings is not bad. Again its a nice provincial town with central plaza, pavement cafes etc. I am staying here tonight then planning to head east to Paraguay. I want to catch a boat that goes up the Rio Paraguay into the Paraguayan panatal wetlands north to border with Brazil. Its a 3.5 days boat trip each way and has reputation for being v chaotic and not particularly comfortable but fascinating. However its a bit of a pain in the arse practically to sort so after I`ve writtten this am going to the coach station to try and book the first leg to leave tomorrow. Basically it seems like 8 hours to Paraguay border, dick about there for a bit probably in middle of the night crossing border getting necessary stamps etc catch coach that leaves at unknown time onto Asuncion, capital of Paraguay which takes 16 hours or so then catch coach north to Conception which takes 6 hours, from where the boat leaves. The boat leaves on Tuseday morning apparently but this is all a bit flexible, but seems that you need to be there a couple of days before to sort ticket as there are 20 million people trying to get on. So rssrntiallñy I think I need to get to Conception for Sundayish. Will see how it goes.

By the way its really hot here. I was sitting by the pool this morning (seriously) and had to move into the shade and that was at 9.30 a.m.

Pip pip. X

Posted by Stockwelljonny 08:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Peru and Bolivia

sunny

I liked Lima, it was quite grubby. I was only there for two nights but had a bit of a wander round and rather enjoyed it, found it quite atmospheric, pretty dirty and rough and ready but striking mix of v impressive old colonial buildings and lots of art deco/ more modern buildings. I was v pleased to be walking down the streets that are named in one of my favourite books, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa and could picture the goings on, helped by where I stayed. Most hostels are in Miraflores which is several km from the centre but I stayed right in the centre of town and am glad I did, at the Familiglia Rodriguez which was a B & B in a town house listed in the trusty South American Handbook. I do like the sort of places that the handbook tends to recommend which are rather tired but safe and comfortable b & Bs and small hotels locally owned, rather than hostels full of 20 year olds owned by Australasians or Europeans, and I would guess that many of them have been on the handboooks books for decades and in the same ownership. and I`ve stayed in some fascinating, idiosyncratic places. I sent an email to the Famiglia Rodriguez but when I rang the bell at 10.30 pm they hadn´t received it but let me in and gave me a room. The house looked as the though it could be the home of a charater from Aunt Julia, and as if the family had been there for many years decorated in the Peruvian style, which I understand to be dark wood, so wooden parquet flooring with faded rugs, wooden panelling, big wooden sideboards, wooden chairs, overstuffed faded armchairs. Lots of ancient Christmas decorations. Mr and Mrs Rodriguez were in their late 60's I would say and there were various younger family members around. So I made a good impression by turning up late unannounced which I added to the next morning when I managed to unscrew the hot water tap from the communal bathroom basin resulting in a spout of hot water which I couldn´t stop. All the fittings were a bit tired and the tap literally came off in my hand. I had just had a shower and didn´t have any clothes on and had left my towel in Medellin so was having a shave to pass the time while I drip dried. The water was coming out at quite a rate and I had terrible thoughts of flooding the downstairs flat, I couldn`t get the tap back on (it screwed on contra wise) and so thought well I`ll have to tell Mrs Rodriguez. Mrs Rodriguez was serving breakfast to the other 4 or 5 guests. I rush to put my jeans on, fall over on the wet bathroom floor, run into the dining room dripping with just a pair or wet jeans on saying perdon perdon una problema. Mrs Rodriguez isn`t v impressed with this English halfwit although eventually I did manage to get the tap back on but it could not be used and thereafter had gaffer tape on with Out of order written on it.

The Plaza San Martin features in Aunt Julia and I was sitting in the Plaza when my musings were interrupted by two young boys who asked me if I liked hombres. This threw me slightly, and I established that the Plaza is a gay pick up spot. This doesn´t feature in Aunt Julia.

I had flown from Bogota to Lima and then caught the coach from Lima to La Paz which took 27 hours. This was to save a bit of money. I had blanched at the cost of a flight from Bogota to La Paz, which was $600, but the price then went up to $900 by the time I had to leave or $600 to Lima and $70 for the coach leg. I didn`t mind itthe coach too much, although air con didnt work a lot of the time, and I was glad to get off. I had two seats and the view was fascinating, along the Pacific coast for several hours through desert then gradually becoming more mountaneous. The Pacific didnt look v inviting, often shrouded in mist. Periodically along the barren desert coast there would be a huge sign advertising an amazing new resort in glowing terms and often extravagant entrance gates and a road that led to nothing or some abandoned foundations. There was an enormous sign advising that HSBC had provided project finance for one development and I was interested to see what this was in this strange location but impressed that HSBC might be funding some industry in this out of the way place, as we drove on I could see that the scheme was a golf course, half built on a desolate foggy stretch of desert in Peru, how could it fail?! Eventually a seemingly endless line of snow capped mountains stretching across the horizon then past lake titicaca and eventually turning a bend and La Paz is stretched out below you in the ravine between mountains, an extraordinary sights. I was glad to hook up with Anton and Becky again in La Paz, indeed bumping into them in the street as I was looking for an internet cafe to send them an email to arrange a meet.

We were in La Paz for 5 days I think, including Christmas and took an apartment for a few nights which was great, a bit of luxury and the first bath in 3 months. We fitted in a ride down what they call the worlds most dangerous road and trip to Lake Titicaca. As Anton said the bike ride should be called the world´s most beautiful road not the most dangerous. Apparently it used to be the most dangerous for cars but since a new road has been built it now gets v little traffic. It was a stunning ride though along this road that is unpaved and is just a cutting out of the side of a thickly forested mountain, down the valley starting at 4,000m and dropping down to 1,500m, through forest with waterfalls at several points on the road. There werent any barriers on the road which was sometimes quite narrow, perhaps 8 feet with a sheer drop sometimes perhaps a few hundred metres. Luckily the bikes were excellent with v good brakes and suspension. We had a great trip o the Isla del sol which is on Lake Titicaca. I was a bit dubious thinking that it would be v touristy and spoilt but like most places it wasnt what I expected. The lake was stunning, bright sunshine, clear clean water and snow capped mountains in the background. The island felt like it could have been in Europe with roses around the door and a little brick church.

We then spent 3 days in the Sale de Uyuni and the lakes in the south of Bolivia which was spectacular, I haven`t seen scenery like it, epic salt flats, mountains, lakes, hot springs. It felt like a huge geography lesson with a lanscape that has been weathered for however many thousand years, amazing combinations of colours. I`ve put some photos up on Facebook. We`re now heading north from here in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, to Peru.

Posted by Stockwelljonny 09:43 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Chile

KERFUFFLE

sunny 31 °C

Just a quick one to say am still alive. I´m not sure how this happened (I think it must be Antons fault) but have ended up in the Atacama desert. I wasnt planning to go to Chile but having been here for 24 hours it seems like a v nice place. Its quite hot here. Apparently its the driest place in the world. I sat down on a stone bench in the square just now to toast the new year, with a Pisco Sour and and scorched my batty. The people seem v nice and quite tolerant. They were quite patient when due to some misunderstanding, having been told that they were full but yet (presumably due to some petty rascism, about the Falkland Islands which I hadn´t even mentioned), still letting other peeps in, ended up on the roof of a nightclub last night, I put it down to the language barrier. My almost perfect Spanish sometimes lets me down when it comes to technical Health and Safety Reguations such as¨Go way. No you cant come in and don¨t climb on the roof¨. The roof was made of straw and due to non compliance with Building reguations was starting to collapse. Pero todo bien. ( PS I know that´s Argentina).

We´ve been in the high empty uplands of Bolivia for the last 3 days, like an idiot child I always thought a bar was better than a view but I´ve been amazed, I´ve never seen anything like the landscapes, staggering desolate beauty. I hope some people are at the legendary Kerfuffle party today, would almost swap the sunshine for that. Pip pip & bigs luvs for 2013.

Posted by Stockwelljonny 10:03 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Some photos

Medellin

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Posted by Stockwelljonny 08:21 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Medellin, Colombia

semi-overcast -25 °C

I´m still in Colombia and in the last week have travelled from Taganga on the coast back to Cartagena for a few days and then flew up to Medellin, which is where I am now. Last Wednesday I caught the 4 hour bus from Taganga on the coast to Cartgena and then spent 3 days in Cartagena with Anton and Becky. It was great to have a proper look around and you can see why it is a bit of tourist hot spot. The old town is set within 12km of ramparts which are often 12 m wide with tunnels and rooms inside them and cannons on top. As the guidebook says the centro is a labyrinth of colourful squares, churches, mansions of former nobles and pastel coloured houses along narrow cobbled streets. Caragena is where the Spanish stored their treasure before they shipped it back to Spain and it did have the feel of a something out of pirates of the Caribbean the houses all had huge beautiful old weathered wooden doors with courtyards behind them anf lots of coloured climbing plants and palm trees. Combined with the terrific heat its very atmosperic. Was v good to see Anton and Becky and share some nice fruit punches and Mojitos.

I had a good week in Taganga doing the diving course. The diving was great, heading straight down a sheer face into the blue for the first time was a real thrill. It was slightly scary being a far way under water and you feel v conscious that you would be in trouble if you ran out of air and I obviously ran out of air. I don´t think it necessary to go into the details, to go into the whys and wherefores of apportioning blame per a Jimmy Saville/BBC enquiry. Its definitely a good idea that everyone has two air supplies for this eventuality. My instructor seemed to think I was in someway at fault when I gave him the out of air signal, but I think we should both just move on. They had two small clubs in Taganga that were both mainly open air overlooking the sea. As I was only aged 6 or so in the summer of love back in 1986, I missed the open air raving back then so I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with some open air club action, v good fun atmosphere with people from all over there in the warm breeze. Was nice to be in once place for a week as got to know a few people a bit including some of the lot who live there which made a nice change.

I´m now in Medellin having arrived on Saturday which the tourist board tell me is now renowned for fresh cut flowers and textile manufaturing and one of the safest cities in Latin America. I was going to catch the coach from Cartagena but it was 15 hours and only and hour by plane and about the same price $70, so I flew in the end. It seems that the road network is often not that developed and there aren´t good direct roads between the main cities. I gather that for many years during the horrors of the violence that large areas were effectively out of bounds and many Colombians didn´t travel widely.

I´ve been finding it difficult to get a grip of Medellin, perhaps because it has such connotations and history, and because its pretty big and there and very different parts. I´ve travelled around a fair bit by Metro and by bike in the last two days. Its quite an impressive setting running in a valley between two sets of mountains. They call it the city of eternal spring and it does feel like that, fairly warm during the day but cool at night. There is a river running through the city but it doesn´t add much, as its a concrete trough with a fast flowing brown current. I stayed for the first 2 nights in a hotel in an area called El Prolado which has become the upmarket commercial and residential area and it was full of smart restaurants and bars and cafes, felt a bit like Chiswick, and is also the new bar area with dozens and dozens of bars within half a mile or so. It seemed a bit detached though as the hostel was a 15 minute walk to the Metro. The Metro is an overground railway that has two lines from north to South and East to West. Part of the metro is a cable car which gives a stunning view of the town and takes you high up over the town to the peaks of the surrounding mountain so that you can see for several miles across the valley and the whole of the city with a backdrop of the mountains. The cable cars are small seating 8 people or so and skim the top of the buildings below so you rise up and can hear snatches of conversation and dogs barking and see people going about their business just below, then the roads peter out and its a shanty town perched on the hills then the shanty town peters out and its a few crops and then eventually trees below.

At the moment I am in a nice old charaterful hostel near the centre of town. Its near the old downtown area, and also the now popular central Carerra 70 area which feels safe and prosperous. They have a couple of bikes here which you can use, which are pretty rubbish but was great to have a ride about. I´ve really struggled with the lay out of the city as all the streets are named by number, either a Carrera or a Calle, and they will have a,b,c of the same number for each. Basically I´ve spent a couple of days getting lost. I spent an afternoon thinking north was south wondering where the Cathedral was. I´m sure there is a system but I haven´t been able to work it out, plus most of the streets are one way so on a bike you end up being swept along to somewhere you didn´t mean to go to. Plus there are lots of 3 and 4 lane roads and flyovers that caused me some stress on a wonky bike. Todo bien though. It was a good way of getting about the downtown which is fascinating area, this is the old part beaten up part that feels a million miles from Problado, a proper bustling, chaotic old area of dilapidated buildings full of colour and life, it seems like this is where the heavy dirty work is done, streets full of saw yards, truck repair shops, markets, metal bashing. I took some photos but they take forever to upload here, so will try and put them up in a bit. It often felt like being in a scene from a Shaft film, especially when you turn a corner and it isn´t full of bustling street life but suddenly all a bit derelict with smashed up cars and smashed up houses and interesting looking charaters, you wouldn´t want be wandering around the wrong part of downtown Medellin at night asking for directions. You could get in a bit of a pickle. But then 2 miles away, night time and its fine, after work crowd, salsa bars, nice Latin restaurants and people walking their labradors. I´m planning to be here til Thursday or Friday and then go to Bogota.

Cartagena door

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Medellin

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Posted by Stockwelljonny 05:20 Archived in Colombia Comments (3)

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