Outside the prison... but wanting to be inside....

Trip Start Apr 03, 2003
Trip End Oct 01, 2003

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, July 10, 2003

I have finally managed to drag myself away from Peru after thoroughly exhausting myself and giving my poor unfit body a proper battering and am now in Bolivia. We left Cusco and arrived in Arequipa, a town famous for the nearby Colca Canyon which is supposedly the deepest in the world. Well, it felt like it when I walked back up the damn thing at 4am in the morning! We did a 2 day hike which consisted of walking in a zig zag fashion down the side of the canyon, a total of 1200m down in only 3 hours. Sheesh, if I hadn't completely buggered my knees on the Inca Trail then I most certainly did here......

Anyway, we spent the night in the oasis at the bottom of the canyon (complete with palm trees and warm springs!) and were woken up at 3.30am in the morning to climb the 1200m hike back to the top. It was dark, it was cold, it was f**king hard and I can honestly say I really dislike climbing up steep hills in the dark, especially when a stumble over the edge would result in certain death. But we did it and it felt bloody good to know we had climbed up and down the worlds deepest canyon in less than 24 hours.

So onto Bolivia. By this stage I think I had worn out my body and was well and truly full up with a cold by the time we got to Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable lake at around 3800m. The lake was absolutely stunning, but due to us finding a great bar and having a few very late nights fueled by salsa dancing and drinking Cuba Libre cocktails with the locals we didn't manage to do any hiking. However we did catch a boat over to an island in the lake and enjoy the gorgeous scenery from the shore.

So Im now in La Paz. A very cool, but very poor city high up in the mountains at around 3600m. The weather is gorgeous but its bloody freezing. I have done the usual tourist things, walking around town, checking out the markets (including the witches market where the stalls sell dried llama foetuses!) and partaking in the odd cocktail or 2 (ok, a few more than that).

But the highlight has been finally getting to see San Pedro prison, the place I mentioned in my first entry from Colombia (a quick recap - I met a guy who had been inside the prison after first reading about him in a manuscript of a book soon to be published). The prison has since been closed to tourists due to someone being killed inside, however due to my new found friends Rusty (the author of the book) and Thomas (the cocaine smuggler) we very nearly managed to get inside by claiming to be a friend of a crazy Canadian man who is currently inside for drug smuggling offences.

Yesterday we arrived at the prison only to be told that no tourists were allowed inside. However as we knew Georges name we were able to shout through to the many inmates hanging around at the front gate waiting for people to come and visit them. One quickly ran to fetch George who came to the front gate and we managed to convince the guards that we were long lost friends of Georges and they allowed us to go into the interview room. This was after a thorough searching by several guards, although strangely they confiscated Amys switchblade knife but failed to find the syringe in her pocket, shes a diabetic!

It was at this point that we found ourselves in a dingy corridor where the visitors were separated from us by a metal mesh screen. And then we met George. Now Rusty had told me that he was slightly crazy, so I was expecting someone a little odd, but George turned out to be a mad French Canadian who muttered and made constant furtive glances from side to side as if expecting to be knifed in the back at any moment. We handed over the fruit and food we had brought and arranged with George to come back the following day as he was to arrange with the governor that we could come inside the prison and hang out for a few hours. So off we went, but not before handing over 5 Bolivianos to a shady looking character who hissed at us and demanded money. George told us we had to hand over some money and it appeared to be some sort of protection money. Given that George suspiciously had no front teeth we handed it over pretty quickly....

So, back the following day and we once again found George jumping around like a mad terrier at the front gates. However this time there appeared to be one of the chief guards there and he was not letting us get anywhere near him. We needed to get an order from the Governor we were told, and that could be obtained at the gate around the corner. So off we went, only to find a horrible little short main claiming that there was no one by the name of George Redcloud in the prison and that we had to leave. After protesting for about 5 mins another very important looking man came along and shouted at us so we had to leave. So back to the front gate where George told us he would get the paper we needed, and sure enough after 20mins there he was, jumping up and down waving a piece of paper for us. After making its was through the hands of several guards we finally got it only to be told we needed the Governors signature. Back to the side gate. Another 20 min wait. Then finally another guard came out with a big smile and told us that of course it would be possible to see George. In a weeks time. ARSE!

So reluctantly we handed our goodie bag of soap, flannels, toothpaste, other toiletries and cigarettes to the guard who gave them to George and we waved him goodbye. So Im currently sitting in an internet cafe across the road from the prison. I can see the huge walls and whilst Im scared shitless of all the shady dealings going on inside I really want to be on the other side of those walls. Ah well.....

So anyway, tomorrow Im off to mountain bike down the worlds most dangerous road (and hope that I don't go hurtling off the edge) and after that into the Bolivian jungle where Im finally going to get to be a monkey keeper for 2 weeks in an animal refuge.

Watch this space for tales of monkey madness!!!!
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