Sunday, 27 April 2014

Snow in La Paz

Before we came to Bolivia, I'd heard stories that anything could happen here. It was the place where the police and government were so corrupt that enough money can make anyone turn a blind eye to anything. The rest of Bolivia had seemed pretty safe, and I was expecting the noisy, dirty city sat in a bowl of mountains to be a proper glimpse at what can happen.

The first thing that hit me about La Paz when we got off the bus early in the morning was how chilly it was. Not surprising as it's just over 3,500m high. Not just does it mean that it's cold. but it also leaves you breathless having to walk up hills! Next, was the amount of cars and traffic, always impatiently honking their horns!
La Paz
La Paz
We planned to stay at two different hostels in La Paz. We stayed at Bacoo our first night to recollect our energy, and then The Wild Rover for the last 3 nights, which is known as the party hostel of the town. Bacoo was ok, the room felt like we were staying in a garden shed, but the staff were incredibly friendly. The Wild Rover is an Irish themed hostel, centered around the bar which gives free shots and there's guaranteed dancing on the tables whatever night of the week it was. Undoubtedly, we left feeling a lot more tired than when we started! We asked for a room at the back, away from the bar, which I would recommend if you want to try and get a bit of sleep. The food in the bar was also pretty good and cheap - my first jacket potato in 3 months!
La Paz
La Paz
Unfortunately, Bacoo was fully booked and couldn't let us into our room until the afternoon, so we had a lots of time to fill. We started by getting breakfast at Alexander's coffee. It was a nice dose of breakfast that wasnt just a bread roll and jam. I had fruit pancakes and Nick had an omelette.
La Paz
Feeling like we had a little energy to face the day, we walked up the first of our many hills in La Paz to the San Pedro square to do the free walking tour with Red Cap. The first place we visited was probably the most interesting. The guide pointed to one of the buildings that faced onto the square and explained that it was San Pedro Prison, one of Bolivia's strangest prisons. There are about a million reasons that make this prison so different to those in England, and to get a better idea I'd recommend reading the book Marching Powder by Rusty Young. It tells the story of an English man who was imprisoned there maybe 10 years ago and what happened to him. It's not the most well written book, but it's interesting. The guide spoke about families living together in the prison, as often the women and children wouldn't be able to survive on their own. Every morning the wives and children leave to go to school and work, and return in the evening. The prisoners are made to buy their own cell when they enter the prison, depending on your budget there are simple cells where lots of people sleep together, to private 5 star aparments with wifi. Inside the prison walls the prisoners ran their own businesses so there are lots of shops and restaurants, and many of them still continue in the line of business they were locked up for, making drugs. Very strange indeed!

Next we headed through the market and saw just of the view of the 400 varities of potatoes they have in Bolivia. Next was the witch market. I expected a dark, covered place with boiling pots and pickled jars of things that used to be alive, but the market was actually a row of shops. The strangest thing they had on sale were the llama fetus'. The guide explained that because the people still believe in the old gods of Pachamama, they still sometimes do rituals and offerings. They could buy wine, sweets and herbs for their Mother Earth. There was a man sat on the floor in the corner of the street who was the chief witch doctor and could communicate with Pachamama. I couldn't take any photos as the ladies at these markets don't take kindly to their photos being taken and often throw things at tourists who do!

Next, we walked to the modern part of town and the guide explained the troubled past of Bolivia and it's presidents. I couldn't help but notice that the amount of names of presidents who had been hung, or the guide would like to hang was incredibly long!

That evening we treated ourselves to an Indian meal, which I find I always have a taste for. We went to The Star of India, which is owned by a British cook. The food was really good and it made me feel even happier that they had Irn Bru, a sugary Scottish drink that tastes so good!

The following day we were up super early as we had booked with Altitude to do a tour of the Death Road, one of the most dangerous roads in Bolivia, by bike. We sat in reception for what felt like an incredibly long time before I asked the lady at the hostel if it was normal for the pick up to be over an hour late. She called the office and it turned out that they had forgotten about us. At first we were a little annoyed as it could have potentially meant we had to reschedule other tours, but the company were so sorry that they came to pick us up, asked what they could do to say sorry, and so paid for us to go on another tour to the ruins of Tiwanaku and rescheduled our bike trip. It actually worked out really well as it saved us a lot of money!

Tiwanaku was a really fun day. Our guide was pretty funny and it was a good chance to practise our Spanish. He made us take his contact details as he told us that he was after an English girlfriend, so if there're any ladies out there, Victor is single and ready to mingle! The saddest thing about these ruins was the fact that the temple had been completely in tact until the Spanish came along and decided to build a church in the village using the stone of the temple.
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
Our last couple of days in La Paz were spent having lots of fun in the bar at the Wild Rover, trying the local food in the markets, doing souvenir shopping and cycling the Death Road.
La Paz
La Paz
This was one of my favourite experiences in Bolivia, except for the Salar De Uyuni Tour. We had a great group of people and all managed to finish in one piece. The road used to be the main road from La Paz to the jungle, but as there were so many accidents, it was closed and a safer road built, leaving it free for cyclists to zoom down. There were tight bends, riding through water falls and it all finished with a meal and a cold beer by the pool before heading back into town.
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride alt="Death Road Bike Ride">
We left the next day for Lake Titicaca and as we drove high into the mountain, we could look back into the city. It was so high that snow covered the road! Despite the cold, the altitude and the darker side of the city, I really enjoyed our stay here and felt like we learnt alot more about Bolivia.

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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!