A Travellerspoint blog

Don't Cry For Me....

Buenos Aires – September 26th – October 1st

A brief respite from slumming it, and a few glasses of champagne in the VIP Lounge later, I boarded my plane to a new country and another iconic city, Buenos Aires. A very kind Argentinean lady on the plane gave me the lowdown on what to do and where to go, and I was beginning to look forward to an extended stay in what looked like one of South America's most European capitals.

I never thought I would be relieved to be speaking Spanish again, which for me is still very stilted, but heaps better than my Portuguese. At least I managed to negotiate the shuttle bus to my hostel, which was close to the Obelisco, as the name suggests, a huge and rather phallic landmark close to the theatre district. Strong similarities to London made me feel as if I was in Shaftesbury Avenue, which felt strangely comforting. Cosy in my little attic room, I planned an early start the next day to catch the famous market in San Telmo.

Awoke to a fabulous sunny and warm morning, I strolled down the cobbled streets of the antique district towards Plaza Dorrego where I’d hoped to catch an open-air tango show. The market was a cross between Portobello and Camden, and I spent a contented couple of hours wandering in and out of the old mansions full of antique stalls (most of which were a combination of boot sale and museum).

There seemed to be musicians on every corner, but the only tango dancers I could find were a couple very much past their prime (which I think was in 1925!). I managed to find a club where the show was free if you ate there and decided to return later. Grabbed lunch at a great little cafe and was relieved to find prices a lot better here AND reasonable veggie food. Walking back to the hostel, I passed the Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace (apparently they used bull’s blood to tint the paint – ew!) and stood on the very balcony where Evita appeared before her adoring public. The tango show was fun, albeit a bit cheesy, and I finished the day soaking in the atmosphere of night time BA.

I booked a "historic and cultural" walking tour the following morning, which started with a brief video of Argentina’s turbulent history. I was amused to find it omitted the little war over the Falklands, and teased our guide Nacho over how much the British had helped them out on several occasions in their history by invading or going to war with them! And they repay us with Maradona`s hand of God!

We visited the Plaza de Mayo, where every Thursday there is a very moving march by the mothers of those who “disappeared” during the harsh military regimes in the 70’s. We were also taken to one of the detention centres that had been uncovered whilst they were building the motorway to the airport. Very distressing but interesting as I remembered having watched a documentary on the subject a few years back. We headed off to the union headquarters where Evita’s body had been on view, before it was hidden by the junta, and visited the small museum dedicated to the Perons. Had a pleasant lunch outside in Plaza Dorrego and watched the female Tango champion strut her stuff – Simply Come Dancing, eat your heart out.

Had a very enjoyable evening getting quite merry with a couple of Aussies back at the hostel that evening, and picked up few tips for my trip to Oz (amongst other things!). One of the best days of my trip!

My good mood was dampened by the pouring rain I woke up to the following day. Ventured out to buy my bus ticket to my next stop in Patagonia, and had a quick glimpse of the Retiro district (where all the wealthy residents moved out to, once San Telmo became home to European immigrants and brought with them all sorts of nasty diseases). Walking around in the drizzle, it felt just like home and what with all the big old buildings and expensive shops, I could have been in Kensington!

As the weather brightened a little, I found La Recoleta Cemetery, bizarrely one of BA’s biggest tourist attractions, and Eva Peron’s final resting place after her body had been retrieved from Spain. A huge area full of enormous marble tombs and sarcophagi, it was morbid but impressive.

The next day I negotiated the city’s underground system to get over to Palermo, another fairly wealthy and trendy part of the city. I think they named it “Subte” for “subterfuge” rather than subway as it was one of the most un-user-friendly systems I’ve ever been on. Not only are there no maps (apart from one well hidden one inside each station), the stops are called different names depending on which line you’re on, with no indication of which direction you are going until you’re actually through the gate and on the platform. It does have the oldest subway trains in the world – they’re actually made of wood!

After walking around in the cold and rain I had the urge to cheer myself up with a beer and a curry. I managed to find one of the few Indian restaurants in BA, which was quite expensive, but did the job. In another life I’ve decided to come back here and open a decent Indian Restaurant called “The Argie Bhaji”!

I spent my last day shopping for a cheap pair of jeans – I finally gave in to the cold weather – and I felt I was going to need them as I headed south. I joined up with Nacho once again for another walking tour – this time exploring the different barrios of San Telmo, La Boca and the upmarket docklands area of Puerto Madero. La Boca is home to the famous football team Boca Juniors and where the first immigrants made houses out of tin, wood and whatever else was at hand and then painted them bright colours. It was now a bit of a tourist trap, with tango dancers and Maradona lookalikes plying their trade, but lively nonetheless.

The following afternoon I set off on my 21 hour bus journey down to Bariloche in the North of Patagonia. I’d treated myself to a “super cama” bus which provides a completely flat bed with a little curtain you can pull around, seat back DVDs, plus meals and wine (OK, so it was the wine that sold it to me). Plus it looked better than most of the hostels I’d stayed in! I really enjoyed Buenos Aires and would like to return one day. It could easily have passed for Madrid or Barcelona, and was an interesting contrast from the other South American cities I had visited.

San Telmo Antique Market

San Telmo Antique Market


The Pink House!

The Pink House!


Last Tango in Buenos Aires

Last Tango in Buenos Aires


La Recoleta

La Recoleta


La Boca

La Boca


San Telmo Market

San Telmo Market


Barbie Heaven!

Barbie Heaven!


Viva Che! San Telmo

Viva Che! San Telmo


San Telmo Grafitti

San Telmo Grafitti


Inside the Casa Rosada

Inside the Casa Rosada


Inside the Pink House

Inside the Pink House


Plaza de Mayo

Plaza de Mayo


San Telmo

San Telmo


Maradona Grafitti La Boca

Maradona Grafitti La Boca


Get Your Drugs Here...

Get Your Drugs Here...


La Boca

La Boca


La Boca Rules OK

La Boca Rules OK


La Recoleta

La Recoleta


Evita's Grave La Recoleta

Evita's Grave La Recoleta


Madres of Plaza De Mayo

Madres of Plaza De Mayo


La Boca Houses

La Boca Houses


Puerto Madero Skyline

Puerto Madero Skyline

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The Girl From Ipanema...

Paraty, Ilha Grande and RIO!!! – 15th – 25th September

The epic day-long bus journey to Paraty wasn`t nearly as bad as I'd expected. We were booked on a "cama" bus, which means the seats are huge and recline almost all the way back. I managed a fair bit of sleep until we reached Sao Paulo, our changeover point. The next bus wasn’t quite so comfortable, but I managed to keep myself awake until we reached our destination late that afternoon.

Apparently there was a photographic exhibition taking place in the town and I was followed down the road from the bus station (unbeknown to me) by a woman taking photos as I wearily dragged my backpack down the road (maybe for the worst-dressed, most shattered looking tourist photo display??). It was wonderful to have a hot shower and reasonable bed for a couple of nights.

We’d planned to go visit the wonderful beaches and islands that the area is famous for the next day. However the weather decided otherwise, but only having one day, we braved the drizzle anyway and set off for a fairly miserable boat trip. The rain did stop for most of the day, but tropical islands don`t really look their best with grey skies in the background (I’ll have to Photoshop my photos!). We were treated to “live music” all day on the boat, and were also treated to a bill for the live music at the end of the day – both of which I could have done without – maybe it was just the mood I was in... Cheered up considerably after a night in bed with a bottle of wine, a bag of peanuts and a DVD for company – simple pleasures!

The following day was more promising, and I spent a happy morning wandering around the picturesque cobbled streets admiring the photo displays and the pretty harbour, before we caught our next bus to Ilha Grande, one of Brazil`s largest islands.

I began to wonder if the bus driver had learnt to drive at the Michael Shumacher School of Driving as we swerved wildly at high speed along the winding coastal to catch the ferry to Ilha Grande. I made a mental note to let Dan know he has a promising career ahead of him as a Brazilian bus driver if he flunks his degree! Amazingly we made it to the ferry and an hour or so later and disembarked at the beautiful port of Abraao. There are no cars on the island and after being warned our hostel was a 15 minute hike uphill, we opted to pay for our bags to be dragged up the hill by a man with a cart – good move. The hostel was charming – build around the natural boulders that make up the island, and with a waterfall at the bottom of the garden. Each room had a small deck with hammock and sun chairs – if only we had seen the sun during our stay – it would have been wonderful!

After one extremely boring day when it tipped it down all day (the DVDs and alcohol came to the rescue once again), the following day we decided to brave a boat trip to what is billed as one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches – Lopes Mendes. A trek through some dense rainforest led to a stunning white sand beach, but again, the leaden skies didn`t really do it justice - not to mention the odd sight of dozens of dead penguins lying around surrounded by vultures and a weird looking giant tiled sculpture stuck in the middle of the sand – I was beginning to feel like I was on the set of “Lost”. But the sun did come out, albeit briefly, and Mark, Kezia and I enjoyed a romantic stroll the length of the bay!

Couldn`t you just guarantee that the sun would be blazing the next day, when we caught the early boat back to the mainland. But we were all feeling quite excited to finally be on our way to one of the world`s most vibrant and sexy destinations – Rio de Janeiro.

Our hotel was a volleyball`s throw away from Copacabana Beach and it was thrilling to be walking along the world famous promenade soaking in the sights. And what sights they were! It’s a great place to people watch. This place should really win the award for “most inappropriate use of shorts” – bottoms of all shapes and sizes are squeezed into some of the tiniest shorts I have ever seen! And not just on the beach... If this wasn`t enough, there are gym frames every few yards where young men were either limbering up or simply posing. Not that I really noticed, of course.

While we were there the “Homeless World Cup” was taking place along the beach. If only I had brought my footie kit, I could have represented England (I think I qualify!). Strangely enough, only Scotland were there from the UK!

The next day, I said my goodbyes to the group – we all agreed that the past few weeks had flown by – but I felt quite happy to be back on my own again, and began to plan my itinerary for the next few days. I made myself at home at to my hostel, which was close by and again a short walk to the beach. It was one of the best I`ve stayed in – scrupulously clean and with great facilities – although I probably increased the average age by a decade or two!

The way everyone was talking about “going to see Christ”, I felt like I was at a religious retreat, but was relieved when I realised they meant the huge statue which overlooks the entire city. So my first day of freedom began with a trip up the mountain on the cog train to see Christ the Redeemer, and I must say he looked pretty good, and the views from up there were incredible too. It was an ideal way of seeing all the sights in one go! I decided to hit the heights again later that day and planned a trip up to the city`s other iconic viewpoint, Sugar Loaf Mountain, to watch the sunset.

I`d forgotten that the cable car to reach the summit was where James Bond fights off Jaws in the film “Moonraker”. Fortunately, I only had to fight off hoards of Japanese pensioners and the lift up to top offered again some incredible views of the city. Watching the sun go down with a cocktail in hand (had to be done) was one of the highlights of my trip, and a moment I`ll always remember. Made a mental note to come back someday and share it with someone (preferably someone with lots of money!)

Back down to earth, I went on a fruitless (and vegetable-less) quest to find a reasonably priced meal that didn`t contain meat. The best option seemed to be the buffet restaurants that offered food by the kilo. Debating whether a slice of tomato weighed more than a piece of bread was challenging, but I managed a half decent portion of salad and a bit of quiche, which was the best meal I`d had since I left Mexico.

I had started to pick up a few words of Portuguese. The word for hello is “Oi”, which is most disconcerting, as every time I heard anyone call it out, I instantly felt like I`d been caught doing something wrong and it feels quite rude addressing people with it! I must have started looking like a local too, as I didn`t get too much hassle from the beach vendors and was even asked directions.

I felt confident enough to try out the metro, and set off to see a Samba show the following evening. The area with the best clubs was reputedly slightly dodgy, and I had been told not to carry a bag, so I had money secreted all over my person. I employed the tactic of walking along looking like I`d just had a row with someone – which seemed to keep the muggers away! The show was great and the club packed with locals dancing – I didn`t feel brave enough to join in (I was also worried I’d shower the dance floor with my loose change!).

My last day was spent visiting the hilltop suburb of Santa Teresa with it`s cobbled streets and bohemian cafes and old houses. The rickety old tram up the hill was an experience not to be missed as was the return journey back down the hill which takes in the amazing tiled staircase by eccentric Chilean artist Selaron, who repeatedly covers the 215 steps with thousands of different tiles from around the world on a regular basis.

After lunch I caught the bus down to Leblon – the far end of Ipanema and walked the length of both Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, watching the locals play volleyball and surf as the clouds rolled in and the sun set on my last day in Rio.

Off next to a completely different, but equally as exciting city – Buenos Aires.

Paraty

Paraty


Welcome to Ilha Grande

Welcome to Ilha Grande


The Hotest Place South of Havana...

The Hotest Place South of Havana...


Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ!


How Flash Am I????

How Flash Am I????


There's a storm a Brewin'

There's a storm a Brewin'


All Aboard

All Aboard


Where's Sawyer???

Where's Sawyer???


Hello Boys

Hello Boys


Paraty's Steptoe

Paraty's Steptoe


Paraty Harbour

Paraty Harbour


Paraty Sidestreet

Paraty Sidestreet


Wonder what this chemist specialises in?

Wonder what this chemist specialises in?


Ilha Grande Harbour

Ilha Grande Harbour


Ilha Grande Rush Hour

Ilha Grande Rush Hour


Hostel Garden Ilha Grande

Hostel Garden Ilha Grande


Hostel Ilha Grande

Hostel Ilha Grande


Lopes Mendes Beach

Lopes Mendes Beach


Art Installation Lopes Mendes

Art Installation Lopes Mendes


Turtle Lopes Mendes

Turtle Lopes Mendes


Lopes Mendes

Lopes Mendes


Where's Sawyer???

Where's Sawyer???


The Big Bamboo

The Big Bamboo


At the Copa...

At the Copa...


Ipanema Sunset

Ipanema Sunset


Christ's View of Rio

Christ's View of Rio


Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf


View of Botofango from Sugar Loaf

View of Botofango from Sugar Loaf


High Altitude Monkey

High Altitude Monkey


Sugar Loaf Cable Car

Sugar Loaf Cable Car


Tram to Santa Teresa

Tram to Santa Teresa


Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer


Seleron's Night on the Tiles

Seleron's Night on the Tiles


Escalier de Seleron

Escalier de Seleron


Lapa Aquaduct

Lapa Aquaduct


Cool Grafitti Ipanema

Cool Grafitti Ipanema

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Wet and Wild in the Pantanal (Not!)

The Pantanal & Igucu Falls, Brazil 8th – 14th September

The crossing into Brazil was fairly straight-forward – but we came to a police check point within a few miles, where several plain clothed cops steamed down the bus demanding to see passports and identification papers and searching people`s bags. This all seemed a bit over the top and a huge imposition, until I remembered what our cops had done to an innocent Brazilian in London a few years ago, and I didn`t feel quite so violated!

Several hours later we arrived at our pick up point for the last leg of our journey into the vast tropical wetlands that cover a large part of Brazil, The Pantanal. Not sure what to expect, we were loaded along with our luggage into the back of a truck, which trundled down the 145km long Transpantaneira Highway which dissects the area.

When I say "highway", think dust track – you could see another vehicle coming towards you from miles away and had to suffer the cloud of dust as it passed you. At least this partly obliterated the very rickety bridges build over the wetlands at strategic points – like swamps full of caimans! In fact one of the first bridges we came to had partially collapsed tipping a lorry on it`s side into the water. Sadly the truck was full of livestock and one of the first things I saw was a cow`s head sticking out of the water – minus the body! Several other bits of cow were floating around in the swamp, but I had a feeling they wouldn`t be there too long judging by the interest shown by the surrounding vultures and caiman. Welcome to the Pantanal!

After an uncomfortable and very nerve-wracking journey along the track we finally arrived at our camp – the Pousada Santa Clara, where we were shown to our hammocks in a shared room at the top of a wooden hut. It was better than it sounds – the room was screened, and they even had a hot shower – and most importantly – a bar! The wine list was not up to much, but they did a wicked Caipirinha.

We had the rest of the day to relax and watch the caiman sunning themselves on the bank of the adjacent river. We were assured that it was perfectly safe to swim as "they are more scared of us than we are of them"- hmmmm.... The vultures were obviously not of the same opinion and I decided not to put it to the test. The natural air conditioning seemed to work that night, and I had a relatively good night`s sleep apart from the thin mattress I chose over the hammock, and one irritating bird that sounded like a car alarm going off all night. Bloody nature!

The following day featured a boat trip down the river, where we spotted storks, kingfishers, macaws, butterflies and capybaras amongst other creatures. It was very peaceful, apart from the obligatory piranha fishing, which I again opted out of. We did find a set of jaguar tracks, which was the closest we ever got to seeing this elusive big cat. After lunch we were offered a horse ride across the plains, which again was a slow but enjoyable way to watch the sun setting over the Panatanal.

During the bumpy and dusty (and rather scary as we were travelling over the same dodgy bridges but this time in the dark!) Night Safari, we discovered that we really should have been there during the wet season when we might have stood a chance of actually seeing some wildlife! The poor guide desperately tried to find something... anything, and we had to settle for a couple of deer and a fox (both of which were the average night`s roadkill back home in Essex!).

After another rather futile trek in the morning, we bade a fond farewell to our hosts at the Pousada and set off down the dusty road again for the last time. Our 4 hour journey became 7 hours once the bus finally arrived to pick us up and made a detour to drop others off at another town. We arrived exhausted in the very touristy town of Bonito, on the edge of the Pantanal, and had our first taste of how expensive Brazil was going to be.

My grasp of Portuguese is not great, and I decided to adopt the strategy that the English use in Spain, by speaking to them very loudly and slowly in my bad Spanish and hoped they understood. The results were variable and it always seemed to take us an eternity to order a meal. I soon came to the conclusion that there was no word (or concept) of “vegetarian” in Brazilian. I could see myself embarking on a budgetary imposed diet for the next few weeks.

It was good to be back in a comfortable bed with air-con for a couple of nights, and we set off refreshed the following morning for a cycle to the local river which had been turned into natural swimming pool along with fishes, where you could hire snorkels and deckchairs for the day. Very relaxing, and just what the doctor ordered, as we had another 20 hours on a bus to look forward to the following day for our journey to Iguacu Falls.

We survived the bus journey and arrived in Iguacu around lunchtime. We`d arranged a visit to the Brazilian side of the falls and were under-impressed by the Welcome Centre, whose exhibits seemed to have been translated into English by a dyslexic Mongolian. Things improved when we set out on the trail to the falls and the views became more and more spectacular. The falls advertise themselves as higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria Falls and separates three countries - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The Devils Throat is the highlight of the falls and churns out water at an amazing rate with mist rising over 150 metres above it. We were sceptical that the Argentinean side would provide any better views.

After a quick dinner in a rain swept and stormy city, we awoke to a slightly cloudy day to visit the Argentinean side of the falls. Convincing them of my strong feelings about Maggie and the war, I was allowed into Argentina with no problems and we commenced our visit. The Argentian side of the falls allowed a much more close-up view of the many different falls and I was again wow-ed by the area covered by the falls and the volume of water gushing out. It truly seemed one of the main wonders of the world - a stunning insight into the force of nature. I felt humbled!

We tumbled back into Brazil for our epic 25 hour bus journey towards the coast and it`s celebrated beaches.

Welcome to the Pantanal

Welcome to the Pantanal


Our Lodgings

Our Lodgings


Guiness, Our friendly toucan

Guiness, Our friendly toucan


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Monkeys in the Pantanal

Monkeys in the Pantanal


Stork Nest Pantanal

Stork Nest Pantanal


Jaguar Tracks Pantanal

Jaguar Tracks Pantanal


Capybara Pantanal

Capybara Pantanal


Sunset Horseride Pantanal

Sunset Horseride Pantanal


Blue Tailed Mackaws Pantanal

Blue Tailed Mackaws Pantanal


Horses at Sunset Pantanal

Horses at Sunset Pantanal


Panatanal Sunset

Panatanal Sunset


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


88 Butterfly Iguacu

88 Butterfly Iguacu


Toucan Iguacu

Toucan Iguacu


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Coati Mundi

Coati Mundi


Iguacu Devil`s Throat

Iguacu Devil`s Throat


Iguacu Devil`s Throat

Iguacu Devil`s Throat


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Rainbow Iguazu Argentina

Rainbow Iguazu Argentina


Iguazu Argentian Side

Iguazu Argentian Side


Iguazu Argentian Side

Iguazu Argentian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

The Dizzy Highs and Lows of Bolivia: Pt 2

Potosí, Sucre and Santa Cruz - 2nd - 7th September

Woke up to a light dusting of snow in Uyuni for our freezing cold 6 hour journey to Potosi by local bus, along a very long, winding and icy road that I think (judging by the dozens of JCBs and lorries we passed coming the other way) they were actually laying as we went along it. I kept thinking it would suddenly end and we would hurl down a precipice.

At 4070m Potosi lays claim to being the world`s highest city, and it certainly felt it. Overshadowed in more ways than one by the additional 800m high backdrop of the Cerro Rico Mountain, the town's ongoing mining history is both tragic and fascinating.

The silver and mineral deposits discovered within the mountainside allegedly kept the Spanish economy booming for the best part of 200 years. However, this was at the expense of the lives of millions of indigenous workers, followed by slaves brought over from Africa to work the mines. Working conditions today, as I was to discover, sadly are not much better.

The co-operatives that own the mines employ workers on a freelance basis, and I was shocked to find out that children as young as 11 years old found the appalling conditions in the mine an acceptable and reliable way to earn a living (as we saw that evening in the award winning 2005 film "The Devil`s Miner").

Many operators offered tours of the mines, and we were warned that these were not for the faint- hearted – they were working mines, with lots of dangers. Interest took the better of me, and we set off the next morning kitted out like fire-fighters in our wellies, waterproofs, helmets and torches. We were encouraged to buy small gifts for the miners (such as “alcohol, cigarettes and dynamite” – which I thought was the new Pogues CD??). These all sounded quite dangerous at first until we learnt that the average life expectancy in the mine was only 40 years, so I guess health wasn`t a priority.

The locals were conned into working the mines by the Spanish who convinced them that they would be protected within the mine by Tio (The Devil) and there were ghoulish effigies all around the mines which the miners left offerings for. We entered the mine following tiny tracks and soon found ourselves quickly jumping out of the way of the trolleys containing the minerals which were pushed at breakneck speed past us.

We were eventually led along smaller and smaller tunnels and down tiny holes in the ground, down rickety wooden ladders. A few dropped out and it took all my guts (and regular stops to catch my breath) to continue down four levels into the heart of the mountain. The working conditions were hot, dusty and incredibly claustrophobic, with no light apart from the miner’s gas-lit helmets and no fresh air. Most miners had huge balls of coca leaves in the mouths, as chewing these was supposed to give them strength and suppress hunger. We sat and chatted to a gang of miners who were sorting piles of rocks into those containing silver and those containing other minerals and gave us each one to keep. The miners worked shifts of up to 20 hours a day – incredible! They were happy to receive our gifts and we spent some time drinking toasts to their livelihood, the health and families – and to Tio, before we could stand it no longer and made our way back out to fresh air and daylight, with the worrying sound of nearby explosions ringing in our ears.

Glad to be back in the relative safety of the town itself (although I felt like hanging on to my face mask to protect myself from the awful pollution created by the traffic fumes), I found myself a nice little internet cafe for the afternoon. Other than the coin museum, which I decided to give a miss, there was nothing much else of interest to see.

We moved on the following day to Sucre, another pretty colonial town – the highlight of which for me was a proper supermarket at last! It also boasted several nice pubs and cafes, and as it was the weekend, and the weather was much warmer at this altitude, I spent a happy couple of hours sitting in a cafe up at the viewpoint overlooking the town. This town loves it`s parades and wherever we went that weekend, we could hear a band marching through town – from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. The groups that formed the parade ranged from schoolchildren to what looked like a group of Mafia Dons and they were giving it their all! It was so funny and entertaining to watch.

I managed to fit in a visit to a local orphanage before leaving – there were several organisations in town that asked for donations and volunteers, and it was very moving, but gratifying to see the little ones being well cared for. I felt tempted to smuggle one cute little fella called Nigel back home with me! However, judging by the number of small children that we saw begging around the town, I feared they were fighting a losing battle.

We flew out that next afternoon to Santa Cruz, Bolivia`s biggest city and home to most of it`s industry as far as I could see. The short flight saved us a 16 hour bus journey which we were grateful for. The city centre was laid out around a grid system, and I have upgraded Bolivian drivers to joint No. 1 Worst in the World (at least there aren`t so many cars in Saigon), due the fact that they seem to have no rules at junctions other than “every man for himself”. I have come to the conclusion that the Bolivian Highway Code can be written on the back of a postcard, that wing mirrors here are nothing more than status symbols, the sole use of rear view mirrors is to hang crucifixes on, and that the safest way to cross the road is in a tank!

We escaped out of this melee the next day to visit a waterpark, whose owner was proud to show us the “Indiana Jones” pools – that were still in the process of being built! We managed to find a pool that was freezing cold, but nevertheless was finished and spent a welcome few hours chilling out in the sunshine.

We had all voted to pay extra to upgrade our overnight train trip from the “Train of Death”. I can`t begin to imagine what that would have been like, as our “luxury” train rattled along the tracks like it had square wheels for a painful 14 hours. After a sleepless night, we reached our final destination Quijarro, on the Brazilian border – tired but excited to be embarking on a new adventure in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Miss Slagheap - September

Miss Slagheap - September


Should you really be smoking down here???

Should you really be smoking down here???


The Dancing Queens

The Dancing Queens


(Not) The Train of Death

(Not) The Train of Death


Down in the mine

Down in the mine


Get your lovely dynamite here!

Get your lovely dynamite here!


Going...

Going...


Going...

Going...


Gone

Gone


Arsenic down the mine

Arsenic down the mine


Going down t`pit

Going down t`pit


Tio

Tio


Trolley Duty

Trolley Duty


Pieces of Silver

Pieces of Silver


Potosi`s Statue of Liberty

Potosi`s Statue of Liberty


Potisi`s Homage to the Guitar

Potisi`s Homage to the Guitar


Potosi

Potosi


Potosi

Potosi


The Mine

The Mine


Sucre Church

Sucre Church


View over Sucre

View over Sucre


Sucre - climbing the hill

Sucre - climbing the hill


Sucre Parade

Sucre Parade


Sucre Parade

Sucre Parade


The Don`s March

The Don`s March

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Dizzy Highs and Lows of Bolivia

Part 1: La Paz and the Uyuni Salt Plains - 27th August – 2nd September

From the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, I continue my ascent to La Paz, the highest (governmental) Capital City in the world at 3660m.

The bus journey was quite scenic – we followed the shoreline of Lake Titicaca. At one point, we all had to get off the bus, while it was ferried on a separate barge across a narrow part of the lake. Us passengers all then jumped on another boat and met up with it on the other side!

La Paz is a sight to see, thousands of houses and shops spilling down the mountainside surrounded by snow capped mountains. The centre of town is a bit like Marrakech or Istanbul – lots of little side streets full of stalls, people, cars, dogs, you name it – all life is here! I quite like it – probably the most lively city I`ve been to since Havana. The drivers here however, have made my No. 2 spot in the league of the World`s Worse.

A welcome return to relative civilisation – my hostel here has all mod cons, like wifi, two beds with blankets, a tv (no remote though), a scary balcony, a scarier wall mural, a phone, and even a heater (although it didn`t feel quite so cold here). My room is on the fourth floor, and there was no lift, so what with the altitude, I could have done with some oxygen by the time I got up to my room. There`s also no fire escape, but I`m trying not to think about that. I`m so high up here, that if I do perish in a fire, at least I hopefully won`t have too far to go to reach the pearly gates!

Ventured out to find the hotel that I was to meet the group at tomorrow. I also tracked down “The Star of India” (a recommended restaurant in Lonely Planet) in my quest to find a decent curry outside of the UK. Was disappointed – the service wasn`t very good, and I had found better Indian food in Mexico and Guatemala. They did have “Llama Korma” on the menu though!

I was looking forward to exploring the town in the daylight. I found myself a bit lost returning back to the hotel – I remembered that my street had an old lady selling potatoes on the corner. However, when I got back, EVERY street seemed to have old ladies selling potatoes on the corner. I found it eventually, more by luck than judgment. My hostel seems to be in the “fabric (and potato)” district – there seems to be whole streets that sell the same thing, be it sanitary ware, or electrical goods, or stuff for Fiestas or hats, or very sweet and sickly looking cakes. It`s very odd, but strangely endearing, and the place certainly has lots of character, along with everything else.

If having the roads cluttered with market stalls, people, dogs and cars etc. wasn`t enough, the street my next hotel was in, also was being dug up and re-surfaced! I therefore had to stagger down it`s very steep gradient on foot, with my rucksack. I wandered around a little more as I had a few hours to kill before I met the rest of the group. I found the going quite tough as this town has more ups and downs than San Francisco and every step took major effort with the altitude. Discovered the Witches Market, a tiny alleyway full of craft stalls containing everything you could possibly make with alpaca wool, plus some very macabre Bolivian white magic charms such as dried llama fetuses – yuk.

I finally met up with the rest of the group later that evening, after they had returned from a high adrenaline bike ride down the “Road of Death” - a 64km incredibly steep road where numerous people have lost their lives over the past 20 years. Feeling quite grateful to be far too old and sensible to do such a thing, I made acquaintance with my mad but intrepid companions for the next month; Kezia and Mark, a couple in their 30`s from New Zealand and 22 year old Kayleigh from Canada. Lupe – our young Peruvian tour leader went through the formalities, and we went out together for a Thai meal to get to know each other. The other three had been travelling through Equador and Peru together, so I had a lot of catching up and “bonding” to do.

My last day in La Paz was spent on a short walking tour with Lupe, being shown the main sights, but also discussing life in Bolivia compared to her home in Lima, which was fascinating.

The following morning we set off for the bus station for our 3 hour journey to Oruro, where we were taking the overnight train to Uyuni, the gateway to the vast salt plains of the Salar de Uyuni. We had been warned that the train journey might be cold, but we were issued with pillows, blankets and even an inedible meal and a very sweet cup of tea, so it wasn`t too bad. Arriving at a freezing cold station at 2am wasn`t so good though, but at least our hostel had warmed the room up for us and we were able to have a hot shower the following morning. Our trip across the world`s largest salt flat was going to take three days and we would be crossing the Atacama desert and travelling down to the Southernmost tip of Bolivia, climbing to an altitude of 4,700m.

Joining us in our all terrain vehicle were a really nice, but completely bonkers, couple from Italy (Romano) and Austria (Eva), plus our guide/driver and a local cook. After a quick visit to the frankly quite unimpressive “train cemetery” (lots of rusting old ex-mining trains) we hit the salt (or rather, it hit us – see below). The completely flat, white and treeless landscape is utterly surreal – I had never seen anything like it before – in fact it features in several Salvador Dali paintings (“The Stone Tree” )and parts of the desert are even named after the legendary artist. It also lends itself perfectly to taking odd “perspective” photographs, where you can make things look bigger than they really are. Romano and Eva easily won the “most silly photos taken on any one trip” prize and each stop comprised of the rest of us taking shelter in the car while they took photos of each other jumping, pretending to be running, lying on the ground, on top of, under, looking through an adjacent rock/cactus/piece of wood (you get the picture).

We hit the salt “flat” literally and had plenty of time to take photos when one of the tyres blew on our jeep after only a couple of hours into the journey. Thankfully we didn`t have to rely on the Bolivian AA (they`d have probably turned up on a llama!) and our driver, with the aid of various other passing tour vehicles, managed to change it and fix the buckled wheel.

We had lunch at Fish Island (because of it`s shape rather than any sea-life there) but which sported an impressive collection of cacti. The sun was at it`s hottest and felt even more intense reflecting off the white surface. A few more perspective pictures later, we set off for our overnight stop in a hostel made of salt. Even the beds were made of salt (I had visions of having dreams about kippers and giant pepper pots). We had one last foray into the desert to see the sun set and visit Galaxy Cavern, which thousands of years ago was an underwater cave containing interesting coral formations.

There were no hot showers and the power was turned off at 9.30pm so we had no choice but to have an early night and managed to stay relatively warm under several blankets and a sleeping bag. But we`d been warned that it was going to get harsher and colder....

The next morning we set off south into the desert – an amazing terrain of volcanoes and multicoloured lagoons filled with pink flamingos. By now we were close to the borders with Argentina and Chile and our guide explained that Pinochet had planted landmines along the border with Bolivia in the 80`s and most of them were still there (a worrying notion when we set off along the pitch black tracks the following morning).

The weather had turned distinctly chilly and very windy, so it was becoming a bit of an ordeal actually getting out to take photos (and even more of an ordeal waiting for Romano and Eva to finish taking their obligatory “silly” shots). Our “home” that evening was a remote outpost in the middle of the desert, which although offering little in the way of home comforts, did surprisingly have a small store which sold exceptionally bad red Bolivian wine. We started chatting to English group who were staying there (including an ex-squaddie who used to bring the British troops out here each year for training!). Needless to say, several bottles later we were all feeling a lot better prepared for another freezing night in our 6-berth dorms. I comforted myself by thinking that this would be good practice for Glastonbury next year.

Up before sunrise for a drive out to visit the impressive geysers and hot springs of Sol de Manana. Since it was still absolutely perishing, and blowing a gale, I decided to opt for breakfast inside, rather than brave a dip. The incredible landscape continued and we drove through scenery straight out of a sci-fi movie. The temperature seemed to be dipping further, and it was trying to snow by the time we returned to Uyuni. A pizza, a hot shower and warm room had never been so welcoming!

Scary Balcony La Paz

Scary Balcony La Paz


La Paz Market Scene

La Paz Market Scene


La Paz

La Paz


Fish Island

Fish Island


Altiplano Volcanic Landscape

Altiplano Volcanic Landscape


Geyser - Altiplano

Geyser - Altiplano


Che Made of Dominoes

Che Made of Dominoes


Train Graveyard

Train Graveyard


Has Anyone Seen the Salt???

Has Anyone Seen the Salt???


Our Luxury 4WD!

Our Luxury 4WD!


I Only Had the One.....

I Only Had the One.....


Attack of the Giant Spider!!!

Attack of the Giant Spider!!!


Kayleigh Blows Us Off...

Kayleigh Blows Us Off...


Fish Island Coral Cave

Fish Island Coral Cave


Our Salt House

Our Salt House


Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert


View from the Galaxy Cavern

View from the Galaxy Cavern


Flamingos on the Lagoon

Flamingos on the Lagoon


Everyone Do The Flamingo

Everyone Do The Flamingo


Salvador Dali Desert - Stone Tree

Salvador Dali Desert - Stone Tree


Volcanic Landscape

Volcanic Landscape


Hot Springs

Hot Springs


The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon


Fish Island Cacti

Fish Island Cacti

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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