Bolivia to Peru

Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Dec 15, 2006

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Monday, September 4, 2006

To all and sundry

Hello and welcome back to another tale of travel adventures. Things have definitely improved since last time I wrote which poses the following dilema: No-one wants to hear about someone having a great time when they are stuck at work.

Anyway - last time I wrote I had just arrived in Sucre, a lovely historic (blah, blah) city in Bolivia. The claim to fame of Sucre is the terrifying DINOSAUR (tracks). There is a huge cement quarry nearby which has the largest collection of fossilised footprints in the world. The only problem is that the quarry is still being actively mined (or, technically, large amounts of dynamite explode there regularly). I remember the guide (with a proud-as-punch grin) telling us they keep finding tracks 'all the time' because of all the 'excavation'. Mining is expected to destroy the site within 8 years.

Louise and I had our first experience of a Bolivian hospital in Sucre as well. Summary: great place unless you're sick. Louise was unfortunately gripped with a severe abdominal 'condition' at around 3am one night requiring a visit to the emergency room. the doctor, an hair-lipped teenager with both a speech impediment and no English, put us instantly at ease. I then discovered that I would have many jobs that night - doctor (suggesting, then demanding, certain tests), nurse (ummm.... shouldn?t we take the temperature?), orderly (running urine to the lab), pharmacist (locating all the drugs at a pharmacy a block away) and finance guy ($$$$). Best night of my life.

Anyway, from there we hobbled onto the town of Potosi (highest city in the world - 4000 and something meters above who cares). Claim to fame are the silver/tin mines and sub-human conditions for the workers. As most people know, there is nothing I like better than watching a semi-naked man whipped so Louise and I took a tour into the belly of the mines. Very hot, very small, very dark, lots of wonderful whipping. Everyone got the chance to make homemade explosions aftewards (Louise having a particular talent with the blaster caps) and blow things up in dubious safety. Everyone had sticks of dynamite lit and given the ominous instruction 'run'. I believe for a small additional fee we could have attached the dynamite to a semi-naked miner but unfortunately all additional funds had been spent at the hospital.

We then saw the salt flats of Uyuni (imagine a huge saltwater lake that had all the water evaporate - SALT!!!) which are very beautiful and ridiculously cold. The tour was three days long and, aside from some padding (look - a rock that looks like a tree!), was really great. The most amazing time was when we arrived in the Saltflats at 4am to see sunrise. Amazing arcs and rays of light ripped across the sky whilst we stood in a pure-white dessert. Incredible! We travelled with two Israelis and two Germans. Did James mention the war? Yes.

The last big thing we visited was the Amazon (for a second time) but in Bolivia rather than Brazil. We flew from La Paz (the Bolivian Capital) into the jungle town of Rurrenabaque. There are actually 2 different ways to see the Amazon in Rurrenabaque - one is referred to as the Selva (meaning Jungle) and the other is the wetlands. The wetlands offer far more animals but far less of that claustrophibic 'I'm in the jungle' feel. We decided to do both and spend a little more money to try and get a better experience than in Brazil. We went to the Wetlands first with a company called Bala and had a really magical time. We met 2 British girls in the boat who were both, as is sometimes said in Australia, fresh 'off the boat'. They were incredibly sweet and everything amazed them (having been out of the UK about 2 days). It was really fun to travel with such enthusiastic people - every tree became an adventure. The company was brilliant, the food delicious and the animals far easier to spot than Brazil. I managed to see Pink river dolphins (which unfortunately look a little retarded but have a mythical status here - they are almost completely blind, have almost no dorsal fin and can be very difficult to see), an Anaconda (which wasn't really very big and I reckon I probably could have taken) and 3 sloths (who really don't do much).

After visiting the plains we decided to go into THE JUNGLE. There is an incredible (though expensive) company called Mapajo tours who have an incredible indiginous lodge. Although it was expensive the experience was also equally incredible. We were taken on a long motor boat to the edge of a river then hiked about 500 meters into the folliage. We discovered that Louise and I were the ONLY two people who were staying in the lodge. We were assigned our own private guide (who spoke an odd spanish-indiginous creole) and who took us through the trees explaining something (I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about). The food was absolutely magnificent - Louise and I ate like royalty for 3 days completely alone. Everyone was at our beck and call. The real highlight was visiting the local community that ran the lodge and getting to know them. We got to practice firing bows and arrows, pounding millet and even try and operate some sort of sewing-system that required a spindle of yarn held between ones toes. Great exeprience.

From there we left Bolivia and headed into Peru and magical lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca straddles the bridge between Peru and Bolivia and is supposedly the highest naviagable lake in the world. It has quite a few islands and Louise and I took a 3 day tour to explore them. First we went to visit the 'floating reed islands'. There is a community of people who live on a kind of artificial-raft made of reeds that they pull from the water. Traditionally everything was made from the reeds - the beds, houses, floor etc. If you didn't like your neighbours you could just cut there little raft free and they would float away in the middle of the night. They actually managed to survive the Incan conquest because the Incan warriors couldn't find them (as they lived on the water). Unfortunately, times have changed. The reed islands are far closer to floating shops than anything else and the inhabitants have the jaded-from-too-many-tourists look in there eyes. It's a real shame as the place is quite special.

After leaving those islands our little boat that sat 25 but carried 38 went visited 2 more islands - Taquille and Amanti. We spent the night in a little homestay on one of the islands and hiked up to the top to view sunset across the lake. Really special. We then got dressed-up in traditional clothing and went to a `spontaneous party` that seems to happen every night. Despite the incredible cheesiness of it, I had a great time dancing with a 70 year old indiginous woman who could obviously move better than me.

The men who live on these islands have a special tradition as well, and it involves the manly pursuit of knitting. All the men spend all day knitting hats (seriously) - a different hat means a differnent place in society - there is a married-hat, a single-hat, a village-elder hat and even a showy-offy-hat for those that just love to darn. They say that when a man asks a woman to marry him he gives her his hat which she subsequently fills with water. If any water leaks out (these hats are made with wool, remember) it means he isn't a good enough match for her and she rejects him. This is a pretty tough ask for the men which may explain why 1) not that many people live here and 2) they are all REALLY focussed on their knitting.

OK - must go and speak to you all soon

Anyway, am now in Peru and having a great time so keep up the messages and hope everyone is well.

See you soon

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