Saturday, 19 April 2014

Cochabamba: A Yellow Palace for the Tin Man

I had a huge break from my blog since last week, mainly because we were in the amazon jungle which was absolutely great! Back in civilisation now and trying to catch up.

The roads in Bolivia are so long and windy and bumpy that we decided to break up the mammoth trip between Santa Cruz and La Paz by taking a rest in Cochabamba.

We decided to stay at the Las Lilas Hostel. It was a little out of the way, every taxi driver had serious trouble finding it, which drove us a little crazy, BUT the garden was amazing! It was so big, and the weather was really bright, it reminded me of being sat in a garden at home on a Summer's day. Not to mention they had a pretty impressive dog, although he was incredibly stupid and would shake whenever he got excited!
Unfortunately. it was still the tail end of Carnaval, and people were prowling around in pick up trucks, with plenty of passengers in the back, laden with water balloons. Because of the problem with the taxis I mentioned above, it was easier to catch a local trufis, which is kind of like a people carrier which pick people up on the way to their destination. These trufis were few and far between, leaving us stranded on the pavement side, waiting for the trufis and also waiting to be pelted by water balloons!

Trying to keep it cheap, we spent a long time wandering the streets. Although every plan we made seemed to fail us somehow. The teleferico to the San Cristobel monument was under construction, the lake we planned to walk around felt pretty dodgy, and lots of shops were closed because of carnaval.
The highlight of our time here was definitely relaxing in the garden of The Tin Baron, Simon PatiƱo's, house. The Tin Baron decided to try and make it rich by buying a mine and digging for silver. Sadly he didn't find anything and was almost broke when he hit gold, or more literally tin. This was back in the WW1 days when tin was in big demand. He used his money to buy lots more mines and became one of the wealthiest men alive. To show his status he built this yellow mansion. Sadly, he never got to enjoy his palace as he had a heart attack before it was finished and was told not to return to Bolivia as he was in Paris at the time. I'm just happy that at least the public get to enjoy it now a days.
After an afternoon of reading in his gardens, we popped next door to the Turksish restaurant and had some delicous kebabs for dinner.
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Friday, 11 April 2014

The Liebster Award


When it rains, it pours. Last week my little blog was nominated for The Liebster Award by two blogs. First, thanks to Alison and Kenny from A + K Wanderlusts, and secondly to Jessica from The Bohemian Diaries. So big thanks to both! The reason behind the award is to introduce smaller blogs and to give the writers behind them a chance to share a bit more about themselves. So, here goes!
Mum's Mexican Fake Birthday
1. If you could travel back in time to one particular moment, what would it be? that One of my favourite moments travelling on this trip is when we were at the Salar De Uyuni Salt Flats. We'd just watched the sun come up, the guide had encouraged us to sit on the roof of the jeep as he drove. Then we saw a flock of flamingoes in the sky, every now and then you would see a bright flash of pink. We followed them for a while, and it really felt like it was only us and them around for miles!
2. If you had to fast forward to a point in your future for 10 minutes, what would it be? At the moment the thing that is playing most on my mind is whether or not I will get accepted onto the course I'm applying to do when I get back to the UK. So prolly that date in January, just to see if I should get lots of experience to help me with my application, or whether I should spend that time doing something else entirely!
3. You find $1,000 lying on the street. What’s the first thing you would do? Find the nicest hotel in our area and spend the day luxuriating!
4. Beach or mountains? (And you can’t say a mountain overlooking a beach, which is my go-to answer for this one). Definitely beach for me. I love the sun, and I've been hiking up lots of mountains recently and my achey legs need some bronzing time!
5. What is one trait that you are constantly improving upon? Patience, trying to learn that some things aren't immediately acheivable, and no matter what I do, I still have to wait sometimes!
6. What food could you simply not live without? My heart says cake but my head says bread!
7. What is your most embarrassing moment? (Well, the most embarrassing moment you’re willing to share). Recently, Nick and I met a really nice, well to do South African couple. They obviously had a bit of money and were a little older and retired. As there weren't many tables free, they asked if they could join us to eat breakfast. We were happily chatting away, when I had a little problem cutting my toast, so I got bit forceful. The toast split, and the momentum sent my scrambled eggs flying into this poor lady{s lap. She was very nice about it, but for the rest of the breakfast I could see her wiping her lap and secretly trying to clean herself up more. Ooops.
8. How would your best friend describe you in one sentence? It feels like I haven't seen any of my best friends in months, and absence makes the heart grow fonder, so hopefully they would describe me incredibly lovingly.
9. What destination is on the top of your travel list? Next would have to be New Zealand. I've heard it's really beautiful and it would be nice to travel somewhere English speaking for a while to give my whirring brain a rest from Spanish!
10. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? It has to be when Nick did an impression of how I walk. First off, I have terrible balance so I am always stumbling even on flat ground, and secondly he says I waddle more than walk. His impression of me walking always ends with a big crescendo of him laying with his face flat on the floor and lots of confused bystanders looking at him.
11. Describe your perfect day Wake up to see that the sun is shining. Have a nice long breakfast knowing I have nowhere to be. Read a little before going to meet friends at the beach or the park. Exploring a new place, before having a drink in a coffee shop. A nice dinner and drinks.

11 facts about me

1. When I was a waitress, I once served The Journey.

2. I am a bit of a giant, just under 6 feet tall. It makes me very easy to find in places like Korea and Bolivia.

3. If I could live in any city it would either be Koln in Germany or Montpellier in France.

4. On my first driving lesson, a pheasant flew out onto the road and I ducked. Oops.

5. My dissertation was about the Genre of Magical Realism and South America. As I travel, I realise how much of the history I was missing out on and cringe a bit at how I could have over looked it!

6. One year at school, when I was maybe 7, I had forgotten that it was photo day. My hair was in its usual unruly tangle, so I quickly tried to style it before I was snapped. The result was, it looked like I had a pile of dog poo on top of my head.

7. Monkeys and pigs freak me out. I really think that if they get the chance they might take over the world. Thanks to Planet of the Apes and Animal Farm.

8. Until I lived in Korea, I hated Ketchup with a passion and never ate it. It was only when they didn't have BBQ sauce or Brown sauce that I resorted to it, and realised that actually, it's pretty good!

9. I was one of the first members of the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls, and 1.5 years in I tore my ACL ligament meaning I couldn't play for a whole year.

10. I have written off one car, been involved in bumps with 3 other people, and about 20 grazes with walls and plant pots, but I still think I'm a good driver.

11. If I was on death row, my last meal would be battered sausage, chips and gravy from the chip shop. You can take the girl out of the North...

I nominate
1. Natasha from Oblio and Arrow.
2. Nova from A Blog About A Nova
3. Tiara from .Little Tiara.
4. Kandy from Knit and Destroy
5. Luke from Needle in the Hay
6. Abigail from Abigail and The Future
7. Naomi From Starry Eyes and Coffee Cups
8. Lucy from The New Northerner
9. Jessica from Todat was Meaningful
10. Juni from Hej Juni
11. Jennifer from Magic Cat Jenny

A Few Rules To Follow...Don't be Naughty!
1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
2. Answer the 11 questions given by the person who nominated you.
3. Post 11 random facts about yourself.
4. Pick 11 nominees with under 200 followers to answer your 11 questions.
5. Can’t nominate the person who nominated you!
6. Tell your 11 nominees you have nominated them.

Here are your questions
1. Which cartoon character do you secretly find attractive?
2. What's your zombie invasion plan?
3. Uh oh! The zombies annihilated your country. Which country would you like to live in?
4. Who would you pick as your celebrity grandad?
5. What's the most shocking country or place you've ever visited?
6. Musical guilty pleasure?
7. Too hot or too cold?
8. What were you doing when you discovered Michael Jackson died?
9. What was your childhood holiday destination? Have you, or would you go back?
10. You can only take one thing in your suitcase on holiday, what would it be?
11. What did you want to be when you were little?

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Carnaval Time in Santa Cruz

San Pedro De Atacama Carnival

To leave Samaipata we had to take a 3 hour minibus to the big city of Santa Cruz. Just in time for Carnaval celebrations!

We were staying at Jodanga Hostel. When we walked in I was amazed at how huge and clean and bright it was. It had a big swimming pool with areas to relax. A nice bar that served good cocktails at Happy Hour. The dorms were big and spacious, and had a separate space to store bags, and hang clothes, and a big ensuite bathroom. The breakfast was also amazing with eggs cooked to your liking, fruit and cheese available. The only problem we found with the hostel was that it was so big and echoey that it didn't have much of an atmosphere and we didn't meet too many people. It was also tucked in the Southern corner of the city, so was far away from most things, and the maps they gave out were so terribly marked and photocopied that we ended up lost a couple of times!

Despite this, the staff were really friendly, and warned us about Carnaval time. Not only did they throw water bombs at each other like in Sucre, but they also sprayed each other with ink and foam. They recommended to not go out wearing nice clothes or with anything electrical you wouldn't want to be ruined. Hence the reason why I didn't get any photos of Santa Cruz!

In the evening, fuelled by a few of the happy hour cocktails, we decided to hit the parade with a group of the other guests. Nick prepared by filling up a bag of water balloons and off we went. The streets were absolutely packed with Bolivians wearing special clothing for the Carnaval. They would wear long, knee length colourful smocks. Each group, or church had their own design, and would walk around in big packs. The girls all had their hair braided and lots of them wore cowboy hats.

There were hundreds of street vendors, trying to sell cans of foam, bottles of ink, beer and food. A good combination! We found a spot where we could watch the parade. There were lots of women dressed in sparkly costumes with feathers, but sadly people from the crowd were spraying foam at them and they were completely white by the time they walked past us. They all looked so angry!

Every now and then people would walk past and spray us with foam. One boy did it in Nick's face, so he launched a water bomb at the boy. The boy, with ninja like reflexes, managed to dodge, and the balloon hit a police officer straight in the face. The water dripped off his nose and soaked his shirt. Ooops he was one very unhappy bunny. He stormed upto Nick and started demanding payment. It's the first time I actually thought we might have some trouble with the police, but fortunately one of the girls in our group was Brasillian and could speak Spanish well enough to smooth out the situation. It's thanks to her that I'm pretty sure Nick still has all of his money!

The next day in the hostel there were so many people who were stained blue and purple from the ink. Hair that used to be blonde was now indigo!

We spent one more night in Santa Cruz, avoiding the torrent of water and ink that was being thrown around, and spent it at the pool and watching films.

I feel bad that we didn't get to see what Santa Cruz had to offer, but we definitely got a good taste of Carnaval.

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Negative Nancy, a good old moan about travelling

Natural mardy faces

Disclaimer: I know I'm incredibly lucky to have the chance to travel South America. Nothing makes me realise it more than talking to some of the locals we meet on our travels. Those who are selling anything they can muster together at the side of the road just to get enough money to eat. Then there're other travellers who can't believe we have so much time on our hands. Even with this knowledge, it doesn't mean that there aren't a few things that can really rile me up on our way. It's funny to look back on them and laugh as it doesn't seem such a big deal in hindsight, but after a sleepless night, they can really tip you over the edge!

Maybe that it's just that I'm really ill today, and balancing on a top bunk with no edges, right next to a glass window is making me feel edgy. Or the fact that every time I dare to peer in the mirror a frizzy haired banshee who is long due the comfort of a hair cut and dye is looking back at me, but let's just say at the moment I'm not feeling my chirpiest.

It could be the sleepless night from the 9 hour bus ride the night before, driving on a steep, windy mountain path, and the driver obviously thinks he's driving night rider on a Top Gear challenge, leaving me praying we get to the next hair pin bend, never mind the city that's still hours away. Or the fact I misjudged the seating plan of the bus and picked the seats right next to the toilets. Which start to suspiciously smell like urine as the drive goes on and the flush stops working, and no matter how many times the driver warns NOT to do a number 2, there's a suspiciously solid, brown looking wee lurking in the hut of doom. To add to that is the baby that was so cute when we embarked at 6pm, but at 1am is a red faced screaming demon from hell.

Maybe it's just the fact that the taxi drivers never know where they're going when we arrive in a city, and we end up having to direct them through their own city, bleary eyed, shouting the directions from the Lonely Planet map over the reggaeton song that sounds like every other. Only to finally arrive at our hostel for the driver to explain that I obviously don't understand Spanish that well because the price he quoted originally is actually per person.

Whatever, we've arrived, the sun's rising on another blissful day of doing whatever you want, we ring the bell of the hostel, to be answered by a droopy eyed guy In a beanie that gives me a look like I just spat on his nan, he's that unhappy about us arriving when he was taking a little nap on the graveyard shift.

A shower helps everything, so I jump in, trying to ignore the electrical tape covering the shower, the loose wires and the black charred spots just above it. But stupidly I forgot that some showers only have two settings, scalding or off.

Maybe I'm just being irrational and it's my stanger that's making me unbearable, so I go to breakfast. A nice crusty roll and some jam will do it, but the crust has come from several days of drying up, the butters not been put in the fridge, and I don't know how much more mate or herbal tea I can take.

Nope, surprisingly, eating hasn't lifted the grey cloud above my head, so I go and unpack and go on the hunt for a socket to charge my ipad and see what's going on in the world, except there's only one charger in a room for 10 people, and by the time it's my turn and I have a bit of charge, I realise where I am, and the wifi is so slow I swear I can hear the dial up tone of my teenage internet using days ringing in my ears.

Eugh, it's time to get outside and explore this new and exciting place. If only map designers would mark the hotspots of desperate painting and jewellery sellers, and the shoe shiner guys who ask if you want your shoes shining, even when we point out That we're wearing flip flops, he'll still happily give it a go and making them shine. No thanks! Avoid the strange old folk who come across all gentle old dear and trying to help, so we exchange one of their avocados for the banana we were really looking forward to, only to have them try and charge us for it! No thanks!

But soon the sights start to alleviate the rage and the dark cloud goes away. Nothing can wind me up. Not even the Lonely Planet top choice travellers who walk really slow, from side to side on the pavement, leafing through their guide to make sure they don't miss any of the recommended sights. Nor when we pick up our laundry and half of our socks are missing, that always happens at home anyways.

I come home feeling 100% better, and decide to skype a few people from home, who remind me of the grey English weather and the monotony of working a 9-5 job, and nothing can make me feel luckier, even when the internet ends every one of the skype calls prematurely!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Samaipata: The Resting Place for Rebels

When I mentioned to Sister Clementine from the orphanage that our next stop was Samaipata, she looked terrified and told us that the road between Sucre and Samaipata was so dangerous that we really should just go somewhere else. When I got home I started researching this and lots of people were advising to fly to Santa Cruz, which is a short bus ride from Samaipata. We couldn't afford this so we decided to just face the scary bus ride. We were recommended two companies, Flota Bolivia and Copacabana, we ended up going with Copacabana and I have to say it was fine. The bus ride is long, and bumpy, but with a careful driver it was absolutely fine.

Samaipata really proved to me how different Bolivia is. We´d passed through dry desert, the green and grassy flat lands and icy mountains. We arrived in this tiny town incredibly early in the morning. Without having a map of the town or a phone to call the hostel we were staying at, we had no choice but to sit on our luggage at the corner of the road and watch the sun come up. It was only when the sun fully rose that we could take in the muddy main roads and the huge green leaves that seemed to hang over the perimeter of the town, as if the jungle was trying to swallow up the town.
Slowly but surely, the town started to wake up. We soon learnt that the pace of life here was incredibly sleepy. only a couple of trucks drove past and one lady swept the pavement. We eventually hailed a car who stopped and agreed to take us to our hostel La Posada Del Sol.

The American owned hostel turned out to be a huge treat for us. They had unfortunately double booked, so upgraded us to a lovely room which had a view of the rolling hills which surrounded the town. Better still, there was a huge garden with lots of hammocks, the perfect place to laze away an afternoon with a book and a glass of red wine. Furthermore, they offered us a cocktail each night to apologise too, proving to us that Bolivian customer service has a lot of catching up to do with the American´s.
We set our things down and went in search of El Fuerte, a group of ruins that had been built before the pesky Incas took over the continent. It was a really nice change to the city. We seemed to have the whole place to ourselves on top of the hill, and it was a really nice place to nosy around and stretch our legs after the long bus ride. We saw some menacing looking caterpillars, almost as scary as the punishment hole. Eeeek!
Our second day, the sun was shining brightly, so we decided to take a dip in the three waterfalls, or cascadas de cuevas, maybe an hours drive out of the town. It was an amazing walk down to the waterfalls, and I got a little envious as it appears to be someone´s back garden. It was so green and hundreds of butterflies wafted around on the breeze. The water itself was chilly, but I managed to brave it to the rock in the center before Nick showed me there was a shallow path hidden in the pool meaning you could walk there! Oh well! The rest of the morning we laid on the sand and dried off.
One of the major pulls of Samaipata is the fact that it is in the hills surrounding the peaceful little town that Che Guevara was captured and executed. Many tour agencies in the town offer tours of all of the spots that played a part in Che´s last few days. Nick and I decided not to do this as it turned out to be a little more than we wanted to pay. Whatever you decide to do in Bolivia, it's worth rebelling against the advice to relax in the resting place of rebels.

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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sucre: Sugar, spice and all things nice

Sucre definitely left a sweet after taste. Filled with tasty fresh food from the market and spending lots of time with cute children. I was excited to arrive in Sucre as we had planned to stay there for a bit longer than we usually stay in one place. Lots of people do this in Sucre as there are lots of language schools to take some Spanish lessons, and lots of opportunities to volunteer. This was something Nick really wanted to do, so our first day we went in search of someone who needed our help.

We stayed at the hostel Takubamba or Casarte, which was one of my favourite hostels we've stayed in. It was very big and had lots of white washed walls that were decorated with art by the guys who ran the hostel. The kitchen was outside, covered by a thatched roof, the rooms were big and clean and the people were really nice there. We had a few nights spent cooking huge meals for 15 people, which all proved to be really tasty.
Our first morning, once we were unpacked, we asked the guys at the hostel if they had any ideas about us volunteering. I really don't like the companies that charge tourists to offer help, and we first of all browsed some of the oppoiƧrtunities on this site, although we didn´t really have months to offer so many were out of the question.

The guy in the hostel told us to go to Amsterdam Cafe. It´s a cafe run by Linda, a dutch lady, and most of the profits go to helping charities around the city. She sat with us and talked us through all of the programmes in the city who would need our help. We eventually decided on an orphanage called Tata Juan de Dios which was for children under 5.
We took the walk across town, up into the hills where the colonial buildings faded out and were overtaken by half finished brick buildings, with lots of street dogs hanging around in the doors. As we approached the orphange, we could hear screams and shouts inside, but before I had chance to think, a lady was calling for us to come inside.

We met the sister who runs the orphanage, she explained that it was divided into two. Babies and toddlers were put into one section, and children from about 2 and a half to 5 were in the other. Our first task was to help the other volunteers take four of the young boys for a walk around the block. This is the only time they really leave the orphanage, and the only time they get to see things in the outside world. It was really nice to see how excited they got over simple things like a dog or an aeroplane.

Many of the children there still have parents who just cannot afford to give them the care they need, but the orphanage allows the parents to come and spend as much time as they can with their children. If it is possible in the future, they may be reunited.

Other children, if they are very lucky can be sponsored by local people, who can come and visit them regularly and buy them gifts. A pair of twins were lucky enough to have a sponsor father who came to see them every weekend and were were treated to some llama ponchos while we were there.

The next 7 days were a blur of children, happy children, sad children and sometimes naughty children. Tasks like hanging out their clothes to dry in the sun, playing with them in the playground, feeding them, putting them to bed and giving out lots of cuddles. It was nice to spend a bit of time focusing on someone else, as sometimes travelling can seem very self indulgent, doing whatever you want, whenever you want.

It was interesting to note that in the older children, there were only 4 boys and about 20 girls in the group. All of the kids were incredibly cute and desperate for a bit of attention. The orphanage definitely gives them all they need in terms of food, shelter, health care and clothing, but it's just the extra touch of attention they need. It was very hard putting them to bed on the last day and saying goodbye to them.

We worked in the orphanage every morning, and would spend the afternoon exploring Sucre. My two favourite places were the markets an the Recoleta view point. It seemed like you could buy anything you needed in the markets. In the centre are the fruit juice ladies. As soon as you walk past they start calling to you, Nick and I decided to stop one day and enjoyed one of the fruit salads. A mountain of fruit, cream and cereal. I also couldn't resist one of the hundreds of rainbow jellies that appear to be a delicacy here. The reason why I look so nervous in the picture with the jelly is that a beggar chose that moment to This is the perfect place to eat lunch if you are on a budget.
We were in Sucre at the start of the carnival period, which means one things for Bolivians...water fights! Having finished at the orphanage one Sunday afternoon, Nick and some of the other guests at the hostel armed themselves with water balloons and went to the square. Finding they were a little out numbered, they recruited the shoe shine children into their army. Giving them water balloons, and pointing out targets the boys would then pepper the poor, unsuspecting victims. It was a lot of fun as a spectator, especially while enjoying an ice cream from Abi´s.

The other place that was really nice was the Recoleta look out point. You can watch the teracotta rooves of the whole city from between the white arches, and sit in a deck chair enjoying the sun. A perfect way to get away from the madness of carnival in the centre.

If you do find yourself wanting to volunteer in Sucre, I would definitely recommend getting in touch with Amsterdam Cafe, and perhaps treating yourself to a hot chocolate while you're there. Guilt free, knowing that it's helping someone else too!

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