Peace Out

Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
Trip End Apr 29, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, March 4, 2011

You don´t see La Paz until you´re almost in the city. Our bus drove in through the anti-plano (flat bit), where a good proportion of La Paz´s population subsist: a brief glimpse of the places that tourists don´t go. We´d been told or read population estimates of between 1 and 2 million- whoever´s right, La Paz looks vast as you come round the corner and get a faceful of the view for the first time.  One of the only cities where the poorest live at the top and the richest at the bottom.

Bolivia has tonnes of natural resources, but no technology to extract or process most of them. Therefore most people are poor - 50% live below the poverty line. I´m sure the foreign oil companies are doing alright though. 

Our first few days in La Paz were mainly spent resting and avoiding minor assuault from teenagers. We´d arrived the weekend of Carnivale/Mardi Gras, but the atmosphere was quite strange and unlike what we were seeing of carnivale in other places on TV.  We later learned that there had been huge mudslides in another part of La Paz, injuring many and leaving thousands homeless.  The majority of the city centre partied on, but there were no official carnivale activities- and in their absence, the unofficial activities of heavy daytime drinking and being randomly attacked by youth with firecrackers and aerosol foam on the street or from cars left us a bit cold (and wet).  Each to their own - but the kids wearing rain ponchos and then chucking stuff were definitely cheating.

That (and the tendency of restaurants to play ´best of´ (sic) Phil Collins on repeat) aside, we had a fun few days, highlights including the musical instrument museum where you could play the instruments (Pete in his element - an armadillo skin charrango now on the list alongside the boat, cars etc etc);  eating Llama Tikka Masala and massive chocolate pancakes (not at the same time); and a very enjoyable evening with Mr Ben Lynch who has been doing South America the more traditional gap year way (cheap and dangerous), as befits his youth and nationality.  We also had a look round the contemporary art museum, good selection of indigenous Andean paintings and multiple pictures of Che Guvara, who died in Bolivia (Helen´s favourite made entirely of dominoes).

Having decided to leave the Uruyni Salt Flats for another time, we decided to get out of La Paz for a bit and head into the forest- Coroico is a small town in the Cloud Forest.  So 20 minutes in a Collectivo (a 16 seater bus with 21 people in) and another 2 hours in a minivan (Bolivian driving is an extreme sport in itself: overtaking another bus on a blind bend in the rain next to a sheer drop? No problem), and then 15 minutes on the back of a truck after the minivan broke down halfway up a hill, and we were there.

Our jungle cabin had gorgeous views over the cloud forest and our own little outside kitchen.  We spent the next two days walking to and around the town and in the surrounding forest. One of the forest walking trails had a colony of ants collecting leaves, sticks and other things far bigger than themselves and carrying them along the footpath for unfeasibly long distances (ignoring the seemingly identical leaves etc closer to their nest).

Really lovely, chilled out place. Helen even did a yoga class (with the loudest-breathing instructor in the world). The only creatures who aren´t relaxed are the insects, vicious little green things, like stealth sandflies.  We were also very brave about the MASSIVE SPIDERS. Honest.

Our dining options at the hostel were restricted on the second evening due to the arrival of 17 German motorcyclists doing some kind of Ewan McGregor inspired trip and monopolising the restaurant.  We still managed a a double-carb sandwich and pasta combo though. And a bottle of wine.

Then it was back to La Paz for a night before heading off to Ecuador for our Galapagos adventure..

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