Where I have been...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bolivia

You can´t make this stuff up!!! Well I thought (at least I was hoping) that in Bolivia I would have fewer problems, but no!! (Sorry people, but this is a long, long blog!)


THE PLAN

Arrive in Copacabana from Puno, go on a tour of the Isle del Sol. Then catch a bus to La Paz, stay a couple of days, sort a few things out, before catching the night bus to Uyuni. Do a 3 day tour of the Salt Plains etc. Then catch a bus to Potosi, then onto Sucre, stay a couple of days to rest and then catch a bus to Santa Cruz in time for my flight to Santiago.

Sounds easy doesn´t it - well it wasn´t!!

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

Obviously you know that getting to Copacabana wasn´t easy, but once there I found a nice hotel to put my feet up and relax in. They had hammocks which was great so I spent my first afternoon, lying in one of these reading my book - wonderful, although later I discovered I had acquired a little sunburn - the price to pay for relaxing too much!! The next day I caught the boat to Isle del Sol. The boat had two motors and a good thing to. Only one was working at any one time and on a few occasions they both decided to stop. We got there though so that was ok. I walked around the Island, saw some more Inca ruins, and had a very nice time.

The next day I hoped on a bus to La Paz (the tourist bus). Everyone on board was a backpacker so at least I didn´t feel bad about taking my Ipod out of my bag and having everyone on the bus staring at me!! We arrived in La Paz (2 hours late, but that's expected in this country!) and I got a taxi to my hostel. The hostel was really nice and the staff all spoke English (makes a change) so I was able to find out what there was to do and also the best way to get my errands done. So I decided that I would in fact try and send home all that shopping I had done in Cusco. My bag is very heavy and I didn´t fancy dragging it around with me. So I made my way to the post office and found out that if I did send the stuff home it would not arrive until January and would cost me GBP50. Well that wasn´t any good, I will be back in December so there was no point in doing that. So unfortunately I am still carrying all that shopping! I also got to find out how much more desperate people are here. In Peru, I thought it was pretty bad. The shoe shine boys kept asking to shine my trainers, but in Bolivia, they keep asking to shine my shoes when I am wearing flip flops!! I mean seriously, my feet aren´t that dirty!! The other thing I noticed here is that a lot of the women are wearing eye patches over their left eye. Seriously on my first day in La Paz I saw something like 10 women like this. What is going on here???

Anyway, I left La Paz on the night bus to Uyuni which is in the very south of Bolivia. Surprisingly enough we arrived early despite the tire blowing and we having to spend an hour by the roadside while the driver and his mate fixed it (this obviously happens a lot). I did not get any sleep on this trip (and I don´t think anyone else did either), most of the journey was on a very very bumpy dirt track (They don´t seem to have very many sealed roads in this country!).

So on arriving in Uyuni, (again women with eye patches!) I picked a tour company that I thought would be nice for me to do the 3 day tour around the area. They specifically said that they had an English speaking guide (there are very few, if any guiding these tours), and that on the first night we would be staying at the Salt hotel and there would be hot water - excellent! So at 11am I jumped in the range rover and off we went. On this tour there were 6 tourists (3 french boys who spoke no English, an Australian couple and me), and the driver and cook - so 8 in total.

We quickly discovered that the guide did not in fact speak any English whatsoever! Problem number 1. This meant for the entire tour we had no idea what was going on. We never knew what we were stopping for, plus as we couldn´t communicate with the guide we never found out any history about the area! Despite that the first day went ok. The scenery was amazing, the Salt Plains was huge, it just seemed to go on forever. It was also nice to drive on as it was flat. But the minute we hit the dirt track, we quickly discovered our car had limited suspension - yeah!! Also the dust seemed to come in to the car despite every door and window being shut (I don´t think my lungs have recovered yet!!). Well near the end of the day our car broke down (the first time). The fuel filter (I think that is what it was called) had blocked up because of all the dust. At least this is what the Australian guy thought was the problem. The driver managed to unblock it and off we went. As we were driving along I noticed that we were leaving all the other tour groups behind and thought this was very unusual. I was right. We rocked up to where we were spending our first night and guess what, it was not the Salt Hotel as we were told, but in fact someone´s home in a tiny village called San Juan in the middle of the desert. We complained, but there was little we could do as we were stuck there and the driver was not going anywhere. So the 6 of us went for a walk around the village, which turned out to be tiny, we did manage to find a building which had beer written on the outside so we took our chances and knocked on the door. A man answered and we managed to find out that he would serve us some alcohol - yeah!! So we drowned ourselves in beer and wine - everything seemed a lot better after that!!

That night was freezing, and then the next morning when I had my shower I discovered there was no hot water at all, just very very very cold water!! They must have piped it up from the Antarctic!! Anyway, we set off for our second day, only to stop after only one hour as the exhaust had fallen off!! (Second breakdown) So the driver jumped out and tied the exhaust to the roof and we carried on. Then a few hours after that the fuel filter blocked again so he had to clean that out (Third breakdown). We then set off again. The scenery as usual was stunning and we got to see flamingos which were awesome. We arrived at our home for the second night, which again turned out to be in the middle of nowhere, but this time with no alcohol! As we were in the middle of the desert it was absolutely freezing, but hey nothing like the present to start getting used to the condition it will be in the UK when I get back!!

The next morning they had issues starting the car (it was 5am when we left, so not too early!), but we managed to set off. As it was very cold, frost had formed on the windows so the driver drove along with his door open and his head peering out of it so he could see where he was going (why he didn´t just wind down the window I don´t know) - anyway we all felt very safe (although I was surprised to discover that our headlights actually worked, so that was a bonus!). So after 2 hours driving, guess what the car´s muzzler fell off! (Fourth breakdown). Our driver, having somehow missed it falling off (god knows how as its huge and the noise the car was now making was ridiculous!), so he dropped us all off and then drove off back the way we came to find it. He (thank God) did return 20 minutes later with the offending item tied, along with the exhaust, to the roof. We then set off again. This time we were heading to the Chile/Bolivian boarder as we were dropping off the 3 French boys who were heading on into Chile. They seemed very relieved to be finally getting off the car and away from all the problems (lucky them!!).

So now we had to drive 8 hours back to Uyuni. The driver had decided to pick up a Bolivian girl (to earn a bit extra money on the side) so we got the enjoy her company for 6 hours (as well as her constant farting, which I have to say were very smelly, and I couldn´t open the window as otherwise a ton of dust would come in). We eventually dropped her off and then continued to Uyuni, but guess what, we were not on the road long before the tire blew (Fifth breakdown). So the driver changed the tire and tied the old one onto the roof along with the rest of the car parts that seem to be dropping off left, right and centre!! We managed to arrive back in Uyuni with no further problems. The Australian couple were very pissed off with the whole trip and so decided to complain. I told them I didn´t think it would be worth it as from past experience the South American´s don´t refund money and it all gets nasty. Guess what.... It got nasty. The secretary of the company managed to recruit about 5 of her friends into the argument to back her up, at one point she went to the police (they obviously thought the situation ridiculous as they never turned up!). So in the end we walked away with nothing. I found it all quite funny as they tried to blame us for everything that went wrong and as the French boys weren´t there to defend themselves they said that it was their fault why everything was dusty - yeah right!!

So the next day I caught the bus to Potosi as there isn´t much to be done in Uyuni and I wanted to get out of town. As I was now in a bit of a rush I only spent the night in Potosi and then caught the 7am bus to Sucre the following morning. This journey was supposed to be the easiest journey I was to take in Bolivia. It was supposed to be 3 hours and therefore I was hoping I could get settled into Sucre by 10.30am and have some breakfast. No such luck!! During the journey, we stopped an awful lot, which I found strange for such a short trip. Then when I thought we were finally getting into Sucre we pulled up behind another coach. People started getting off with their things. I thought surely this can´t be the bus terminal as we are in the middle of a road! I got off the bus with my stuff and took a look down the road to see a mass of cars filling the road ahead of us. My first thought was ´Oh my God, there has been a huge car crash´, but on a closer look, it turned out they were just blocking the road. Due to my lack of Spanish I could not understand what people were saying and therefore did not know what the problem was and how I was supposed to get to Sucre. I spoke to the driver and found out that we were at least 10km away from Sucre and that the walk was mostly uphill (God I wish I had sent home my stuff now!!). He then turned the bus around and said that he was heading back to Potosi and not bothering to go any further to Sucre. I was therefore left stranded in the middle of the road (by the way, I was the only backpacker there, everyone else was Bolivian) to fend for myself. A couple men drove up and said they would drive me to Sucre (for more than it had cost me to come from Potosi), I had little choice so I said yes. There was a Bolivian girl who also had a few bags as well who decided to come as well. Now I know what all the books say - don´t get into a car that isn´t clearly labelled a taxi and don´t get in taxis with other people as it might be a scam! Well I did think this through but I had very little choice as I had no idea where I was or how I was otherwise going to get to Sucre, let alone why the road was blocked! I was thinking there was some kind or huge protest and that if I ever got into Sucre I would discover a hellish scene!

So off we went. It turned out that we had to go the very back route, along a dirt track which was covered in huge stones and clearly only for 4wd, not a taxi! So after 15 mins driving the driver stopped and asked us to get out (the bottom of his car was getting scratch a lot). Again, I did think this does not sound good. Being told to get out of someone´s car, in the middle of nowhere, leave your backpack in the car while he drives on ahead. But I had little choice. He continued to drive while me and the girl walked behind. I did think that this might be a scam between the both of them, but the look on her face clearly stated that she wasn´t happy either! He soon disappeared, which I was not happy about and I thought, right this is truly it. I am now stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing - great!! After 15 minutes walking we turned a corner and surprisingly enough he was there waiting for us - few!! We jumped back in the car and continued driving. 3 minutes later, we stopped and had to get out again. This went on for over an hour as he struggled to get his car over all the rocks (I bet now he regretted trying to make a bit of dosh on the side out of tourists because of the road block!!). It also turned out that he actually didn´t know the way so whenever we saw a local we had to stop and ask for direction. So after 2 hours of this we eventually made it to the outskirts of Sucre - much to my relief. We drove along the road and then he stopped behind a tanker which was clearly blocking the road. He said we had to get out and walk now as he could go no further due to the roads being blocked. He pointed in the general direction of the centre of Sucre and then drove off - great!!

As I have discovered in South America, places of significance tend to be situated at the top of hills and mountains. Well Sucre is no different to them, the centre just so happened to be at the top of the hill, and a steep one at that!! I tried to see if I could catch a taxi, but it appeared that no traffic was running at all on the roads today???? So I put on my backpack (why oh why did I have to do shopping in Cusco!!), I figure I was carrying about 35kg and set off. The Bolivian girl came with me but she decided to carry her bags in stages. She only had 2 so I didn´t see why she couldn´t carry one in each hand. After a few minutes I got a little annoyed with her running back and forth so I just picked up her bag (I was now carrying 4 to her 1) and set off. Her bag was a lot lighter than any of mine!! Eventually she was met by a friend so I gave her the bag and continued by myself - uphill for half an hour!! It was hard work, it was hot and sunny and I had very little water left. I practically crawled into the first hostel I found. It was overpriced, but I didn´t care as all I wanted to do was stop and lie down!! The room was decent and it had a TV with cable - yeah I made it!! I was so happy to finally be somewhere safe, especially considering at one point I thought I had been had and would never find my way back into civilisation again!!

Although, at least now I can say that I have been to a part of Bolivia that no other backpacker or tourist has ever been to. As we were driving along in the middle of nowhere, the few locals we met all stared at me as they clearly don´t come across tourists very often!!

So I asked at the hostel why there was all the blockades and they lady told me it was a holiday and that no one would work today (so I guess to make sure that no one can, then they just block the roads!!). After I recovered I asked the lady where I could find some food and water. Her response was that that would not be possible today as everything was shut - great I was now going to die of dehydration!! Well I decided to try my luck and after walking around for an hour I eventually found someone who was selling water - yeah liquid! After another half hour I found someone selling a KitKat - yeah some food!! Well that was going to have to do me for the rest of the day as everything was shut. I really didn´t mind, I was just glad to be safe and sound :-)

The following day was completely different. Sucre was a different city altogether. There were cars driving around the roads, shops and restaurants were open and everything seemed to be right again!! I spent the next couple of days chilling out in Sucre, not doing an awful lot - mostly because I felt that if I got in another bus I would never come out the other side alive!! But I still had the issue of how I was going to get to Santa Cruz in time for my flight to Santiago, Chile. As far as I was aware there was only one option and that was a night bus which was 15 hours. Now usually I don´t have a problem with buses or night ones at that. But after recent events and the fact that not one of my trips in Bolivia has gone smoothly I really did not fancy taking another bus let alone at night. But thanks to the Australian couple on the tour who mentioned that I could indeed fly from Sucre to Santa Cruz and the flight was only 25 minutes - excellent!! So I found the AeroSur office and enquired about flights. It turns out it is 3 times the price of the bus ticket but to be honest at this point in time I really didn´t care as I really really really didn´t want to get on another bus in Bolivia again!

So I made my way to the airport, everything for once went smoothly. I checked in, completely expecting to pay excess on my baggage as the lady I had bought the ticket from had said I would need to . My bag was 5kg over but nothing was said, so I got away with that - yeah!! Because it was such a short flight they gave us our food before we boarded the plane!! Anyway, I got on the plane and off we went. It was a pretty rocky take-off. We kind of took off but then hit the ground again before we finally got up into the air. Due to air pressure (at least that was what the pilot said (he was the first pilot I have flown with in South America that I could actually understand when he spoke English!)) we had a lot of bumping around before we finally settled down. So pretty much as soon as we had hit our maximum height, it was time to land again (this has to be the shortest commercial flight in history!). I didn't even get time to eat the minute processed ham and cheese sandwich they had given me :-( So we landed in Santa Cruz, my bag was there and off I went to the hotel. For once everything worked out well. Although I felt like I had arrived right in the middle of an Australian summer. When I left Sucre it was 25 degrees Celsius. Santa Cruz is 38! I seriously thought I was going to melt, its like being back in Broome!! But it is very very nice to be in hot weather again, and I had better make the most of it before I head back to the UK. The other noticeable difference is that Sucre is something like 4000 meters above sea level where Santa Cruz is only about 400m. I have to say I am really appreciating it as it doesn't feel like I am gasping for air anymore, plus for once I didn't wake up in the middle of the night because I had stopped breathing (this is common after you have spent some time at high altitude, and believe me it is not nice!).

Tomorrow I fly to Santiago, Chile. I am really looking forward to getting back down to sea level - mostly for the reasons stated above! Bolivia has been very interesting. It is an absolutely stunning country, the scenery is breathtaking, but it is a very very hard country to travel around which is to be expected I guess! I only have 3 days in Santiago before I fly to Brasil which I am looking forward to - more sun :-)

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Thank you for the laughs - miss your company! Hope the rest of your trip is as entertaining for the rest of us and enjoyable for you!