30.01.2013 - 30.01.2013 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