Goodbye GAP,hello broken Spanish and hand gestures

Trip Start Jun 09, 2009
Trip End Jun 22, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

La Paz is our first introduction to South American travel on our own (Donīt think you can count half a day in Lima finding a coffee and taxi!?).  Itīs a busy, bustling place full of other westerners (gringos), which made us feel slightly more at ease, or at least the place looks better in the day light than at night.  We have endured the 3-4 hour boarder crossing, the brown water showers and the lack of heating absolutely anywhere (Ali has the phrase īcan I have some extra blankets because I am coldī down to a T), and now we are left to our own devices and a choice of places to go.  Well, as it happens we are finding that although there are certainly many places of interest, the roads and transport around the place are pretty rubbish, so a 200km trip may take 12 hours and the busses only go on a Tuesday - somewhat limiting our travels as we have to be in Santiago in late July.
That said, we successfully book a bus to Cochabamba (although we think we were scammed at the station as a ticket officer said our bus was īmalī and we needed to change companies - but we got there in the end).  Before leaving for the night bus we spent an extra day in La Paz, along with a few of our friends from the GAP tour.  We wandered the Witches Market (full of llama foetuses, herbs, lotions and potions to ward off evil spirits...), posted another parcel back home (the most frantic packing and garbled Spanish we have experienced to date with not a lot of understanding on our behalf, apart from we understand it may take 3 months to reach home... hopefully!) and scared ourselves silly by just escaping a demonstration on the streets with the sound of gunfire and fireworks.  It is worth pointing out that there appears to be demonstrations and parades going on all the time, just so as not to worry you all.
From the busiest of bus terminals and a little lost wandering, and a keen eye that our bags got on the same bus as us, we head for Cochabamba with what turns out to be a relatively good, all beit cold, road on a semi-cama bus (half sleeper, although Jon didnīt fit into the seat and spent most of the night with his knees around his ears).
Cochabamba is known as one of the biggest market towns in Bolivia, and with good reason.  Litterally everywhere you turn there is a market, and about forty thousand people crowded round each stall! In the end you have to just make like the locals and push your way about - take no prisoners; the phrase of choice seems to be īpardonī, although it gets a bit, īpardon...Pardon...PAAARDON!!ī.  The place is choked up with people, taxis and flotas all jostling for position, all good fun.  From here we decided to take ourselves out to Toro Toro national park, for a bit of hiking and gazing at pristine dinosour tracks... easier said than done.  Firstly the tourist info place was not where it was shown on the map, so took some finding, only to discover (of course) very little English is spoken and we were directed to a spot on the city map and told to ask the locals around where the buses for Toro Toro leave from.  So into a taxi we jump and find our way to said map spot and the taxi driver pointed vaguely in the direction of one street.  With a little effort we got lead by a local down some back street (cue slightly worried looks) to a house - it turns out that this was the family who ran the bus to Toro Toro village, and with a little more effort we successfully booked ourselves a return bus ticket for the next morning (6am!) and a couple of nights in a hostel; our Spanish must be coming on a bit.
6am comes and goes (remember this is Bolivian time) and the bus sets off at about 7am crammed full of locals filling all the seats, aisle and roof - luckily we got seats, it was to be a 5 hour ride over unsealed rough īroadsī.  A stop en route for brekkie and we arrive just after lunch time in a middle of know where, dusty, cobbled and mud street, 20 house village.  Sounds dismal but the folk on the bus were friendly, dished us out some local treats to try and pointed us in the right direction for booking a guide (mandatory for the park).  Now admittedly our Spanish is improving, but sitting in the guide office while you are told about the various routes, things to bring, places to see and negociating a price all in rapid fire Spanish... well we were lost! Fortunately four other guys had come to the office for the same reason and spoke Spanish, saw our lost looks and asked if we wanted to join them for the next day - hurah saved!!  So thatīs what we did, we joined Xavier, Raffa, Alexandra and Elisa for a full days trek through the mountains and canyons, swimming in spring water waterfalls (well Ali dipped her toes as it was a might bloody cold!) and of course marvelled at the dinosour footprints the area is known for.  Apparently there are two theories for the prints (either earthquake or meteorite) each ending in a volcanic type erruption that immediately baked the soft mud in the area solid as the dinosours fled.  It was really good fun and we added a little extra to the trek by going off the beaten trail for the afternoon and scrambling our way back to the village.
Another night in ToroToro and we board the bus back to Cochabamba.  Back in the city it is a tough decision where to go next, especially with Ali desparate to get in to the jungle a little.  Unfortunately the connections to the area only run on certain days of the week and would drop us in the jungle at 2am and not be able to get back for a further 3-4 days.  Time we couldnīt really afford with Santiago beckoning, made all the worse knowing the area is home to the Jesuit missions of Bolivia (for those of you up on your history or who have seen the film the īMissionī you will know what we missed).  But there you go, we canīt do everything - as we keep saying, for every place we go to, at least 4 more get added to the wish list; the Amazon will just have to wait for another time...
Night bus booked in the familiarly busy bus depots and we are headed for Sucre.
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