Adios Peru...Hola Bolivia 4-11 Nov

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed
Arthy's Guest House La Paz

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday 4th November

POD is refunding me 360 from the cost of the volunteering programme because I will not be spending my last 4 weeks in Peru. This is great news as it will be a great help towards my living expenses whilst I 'm travelling in Argentina, which I hear is a bit pricey. Katharina had a nightmare bus experience travelling from Arequipa to the Salt Plains at Uyuni. She had to take 3 buses and a boat just to get to La Paz, she had been told the bus went direct to she is now back at Arthy's Guesthouse where she stayed a few weeks ago and I am going to head there too on my way to meet her.

It’s strange though isn’t it, now I am leaving Cusco, I actually feel more settled here than ever, it now feels more like home. Having done a couple of long distance trips to the jungle, Lake Titicaca etc I have always looked forward to coming back to Cusco, but then I suppose having lived here for 2 months now things have become more familiar, I’ve got to know a few more people and well I like it. But it does still feel like the right time to move on and discover more of South America.

Today is my last lesson with the children at Chinchero. I have decided to do it on emotions. Jess came with me to Chinchero and Coco; the new POD volunteer coordinator joined us. I actually met Coco briefly in SAE a few days earlier but didn’t realise who she was. I had a full house of students Lizabeth, Marissa, Desyi, Nayda, Nisett and Alfredo. It was good fun, we spent time drawing faces to explain emotions, then blew up balloons and drew faces on them and played a game for a while, shouting emotions and hitting the balloon to each other. We sang ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’. They are not great at singing and neither am I, so not really sure songs are a good idea at this level but it’s a laugh. And finally we made faces out of paper plates, tissue paper, straws – they came out really well. I think it was my best lesson.

Jess went through the copy for the weaving leaflet with Roxana, only a few changes to make. This is good because now I can get it to Roy so he can do his magic and come up with a lovely looking leaflet. Jess also spoke to Roxana to get honest feedback from her and the children about my lessons. Apparently the kids really enjoyed my lessons and Roxana thought they were pitched at the right level, that really made my day, maybe I’m not such a crap teacher as I thought? Marissa made me a woven bracelet as a gift; I gave them each an English flag label.... After all the ups and downs I’ll actually really miss the kids and the teaching. To know they enjoyed it was all the better.

Friday 5th November 2010

Bonfire Night and my last full day at SAE. All geared up for the bonfire event only to be told by Mary that it was being cancelled. To be honest wasn’t that bothered. The event hadn’t made it into the E-newsletter and as there would only be me and Doris running the event, in the end we felt it was too much work for probably no reward. Michelle the English girl I met a few weeks ago came back to Cusco from Lima. We arranged to go out that night for a drink...always the way my last few days in Cusco and my first proper night out....Better late than never I suppose. Before we went out I went into town and had a lovely pedicure. If you visit Cusco you will be constantly hassled by young Peurvian women asking you for a massage or pedicure. As my feet are totally disgusting and as a treat before I head off into the wilds, I decide to take up this lady’s offer and manage to barter her down to 15 soles. This woman took me into a hairdressers and I had the pedicure there in front of the clients. She spent well over an hour and worked wonders on my feet they looked lovely and all for just over 4.

Went for dinner with Michelle we went to a restaurant just up from Real McCoy’s and had a tourist menu for 15 soles. We then found this interesting place where all the locals were drinking, it was on a street off the main plaza. We walked through a door into a passageway into a courtyard which was surrounded by bars. We then went into one very darkly lit bar and sat in a balcony area where we had to crouch down to get to our seats. Rather strange but good to mix with the locals, most of the other bars are just full of tourists and travellers, we were the only westerns there! We then went to a couple of bars on the main plaza, which were offering free entrance and a free drink. We met a couple of Peruvians Alfredo from Lima and Edwardo from Cusco and spent the night dancing away... me in my flip-flops, no-one wears high heels over here – till 4am. I had a fun night.

Saturday 6th November

I met Michelle at the Cathedral at 11am. We had arranged to meet Alfredo and Edwardo for a potentially ‘free’ rock climbing trip. Alfredo was down from Lima with a group of tourists and we could join them, I wasn’t sure that I would take part, as rock climbing is not my kind of thing...but thought I could go and watch. Alfredo was half an hour late, but in Peruvian time he was on time! We met up with this guy Ruben and his young daughter. As it turned out it wasn’t for free it was about $15. We then got a taxi and bus to just outside Cusco near Saywaymann and walked for a while before we came to this rock face and that’s where they prepared their decent. I decided not to do it, I’m not scared of heights but just didn’t really fancy it. Alfredo jumped off and abseiled down, made it look so easy. Then Michelle went next she’s a really action girl...likes trekking and all that kind of stuff. It took her a while to get the confidence to do it but then she did – and she did it really well. Edwardo did it too. We made it back just before it started to rain.

We arranged to meet with them again for dinner that night. We went to a Chinese buffet style restaurant. All going well until it came to pay for the bill. Michelle and I thought we’d pay a bit more towards the cost, but then Rubens started going on about owing him more money for the rock climbing. He said he’d miscalcuated and even though I didn’t do it, as he had bought the equipment I should still pay. I was not amused. In the end me, Edwardo and Michelle all paid quite a lot for the meal - way more than we should have, it actually spoilt what had been a nice day. We then went to a few more bars before heading back up to San Blas. Found a really nice bar just up from KM0, why do you always find the best restaurants and bars when you are about to leave – sods law eh!!!

Sunday 7th November

Katharina has decided not to go to Uyuni afterall. She has been feeling under the weather and instead she will stay in La Paz and we will meet up at Arthy's. Did a bit of shopping in San Pedro market, much cheaper than in the town centre, then had my final roast dinner in Real McCoy and said goodbye to Jess. Skyped Dad and Jay. Went back to the hostal to pack, there is no water, the plumber has been here for hours, but he manages to finish it by the time I need to leave. I hail a taxi from Plaza San Blas and get it to take me to Tanda Pata and then I get my backpack and other day’s all so heavy but the plumber helps me carry them to the car, I’d better get used to it though as for the next month will have to carry my bags myself! Bus arrived just gone 10pm and we are off by 10.45. Didn’t sleep too well but then I never do.

Monday 8th November

We arrived at the Bolivian border around 6.15am and had to queue for hours in the cold morning. Why not put on a later bus and then no queue as it didn’t open until 8am...we then went quickly through immigration and didn’t have to get our luggage out. But we did break down shortly afterwards...I thought it was all going so fact I think it was just low on fuel as we managed to get going again and headed for a fuel station just yards away.

We got to La Paz a couple of hours later around midday. An English couple on the bus scared me off using a taxi, some horror story about someone getting when we arrive instead of getting a taxi to take me directly to Arthy’s as I would normally I headed off down the road with another girl with my backpack not knowing where to go. Thing about La Paz is it’s the highest capital city in the world, it was hot and I didn’t exactly know where I was going. I knew it was near the bus station and I had my map but I couldn’t find it. Went into an office block and some guy took me back up the hill towards the station and then I went up this other street huffing and puffing from the altitude and heaviness of the bag. Had to go into another shop and a guy took me to the door of Arthy’s. It is just a doorway on the main road, hidden away and so very easy to miss. Anyway very relieved to have found it.

Katharina is out with Rodrigo, the son of the owner of Arthy’s who she is friends with since she first stayed there a couple of weeks ago. Not knowing when she would be coming back I decide to go and discover La Paz myself and book myself onto a city tour, always a good way of orienteering oneself with new surroundings. I also found the Witches’ Market which is just behind St Francisco Cathedral, which is famous for the many stalls which sell offerings for the patcha mama ceremonies including dead llama feotuses...a bit different to the colourful ponchos and bags you can buy in Cusco. La Paz is a busy, dusty and noisy city. The traffic is very heavy with lots of taxis and mini buses clogging the roads. The tour shows us the main central areas and takes us to a great viewing point with a panoramic view of the city below and the mountains in the distance. All I can say it is very South American...the images you see of the indigenous Indian women and men with their hardy dark weathered faces is here in can hardly mistake being in Europe...unlike, I imagine, some of the more cosmopolitan cities in the continent. This is what I think travelling is all about. Anyone can book to do a two week trip to Buenos Aires and Rio and say they have been to South America, but have they really seen it for all it has to offer, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor.  Somehow I manage to lose the keys to my room, never done that before and have no idea where or how but they were gone. Katharina eventually returned around 8pm. We go out to eat.

Tuesday 9th November

We go to the bus station and check out all the operators that are going to Argentina. We can get a bus to Salta for 350 Boliviano 35 – that’s a bargain but it will take over 30 hours and we will travel almost the full length of Bolivia. It’s a shame that I will not get to see anymore of Bolivia, than La Paz. Bolivia is even poorer than Peru, therefore it is very cheap to live here, you can get a meal for 1, people seem to work hard, they are out on the streets early in the day and until late at night living their lives, in many different ways. The country is land locked and has had many wars with neighbouring countries over the years, which has resulted in it losing most or all of its valuable assets such as land with any kind of natural resources including its coastline to Chile. I feel totally safe here and although there are not too many foreigners (by that I mean white people) I never feel threatened or scared at all. The locals don’t seem to notice us and we don’t get hassled as much as in Peru.  What I love about visiting countries that are so different to home is the traditional clothes of the local people, the women in particular wear very full skirts with layers similar to those worn in the Andes in Peru, but they also wear brown or black bowler style hats...not sure how this fashion items has evolved and it’s not very flattering but they definitely stand out from the crowd and reminds you are in South America and not just some other town.

Wednesday 10th November

It would have been mum’s 64th birthday today. I post a remembrance message on facebook for friends and family that knew and miss her. I then visited the Coca Museum it was really interesting. It charts the history of the plant which until westerners invaders got hold of it was pretty harmless and mainly used by the local population to alleviate altitude sickness. An ancient poem foresaw that when the foreigners used it, it would only harm them. Interesting that Coca Cola still uses it in its secret recipe and that age old tradition of chewing coca leaves was also banned until recently. Definitely worth a visit especially for the entrance fee alone at just 10 bolivianos or 1. We get the bus to Salta at 5.45pm. We are the only westerners on the bus.  It was empty then about half an hour outside of La Paz it stopped and all the locals go it was full. The buses in Bolivia are renowned for being amongst the worst in South America...(in terms of comfort, facilities and general maintenance) well we are about to find out, this could be an interesting experience. A couple of hours into our is now night...the bus came to a halt. The driver came into the back of the coach and warbled on in spanish....of course we couldn’t understand him, but Katharina picked up that there seemed to be some discussion about money and the mention of 30 bolivianos...3. The reason we had stopped was because there was a road blockade, some kind of protest and we would have to pay to get through. The majority said no, so the  next thing we know is that one of the guys in the seat in front of us who had only just got on the bus is now sitting with the driver directing him through the back streets of the town we are passing through. All fine and dandy until we start heading up a mountain in the pitch back.

We are the only vehicle (and definitely the only bus) taking this mountain side route....The road was in very bad condition, just a dirt track and very rough and bumpy and very narrow with nothing between us and a gaping chasm below. I’m not sure how Katharina slept through all of this but as one point I honestly thought the bus was going to topple over. It came to a standstill at what felt like the top of the mountain. People started getting off the bus. I didn’t know what to do, but I woke Katharina and suggested we get out too to see what was going on. She got up and I followed her, but as she stepped outside so the door of the bus closed...shutting me inside.  I crotch by the driver and all I could see was people throwing stones from the road...they were obviously blocking our way. We then began to slowly forward around the bend again I felt like we might just topple over...not a pleasant experience.

But thankfully the driver managed to manoeuvre the bus skillfully and we drove on up the mountain road. I expected him to stop a few yards away to let all the people back on the bus, but he kept on driving. Eventually he stopped and all I heard when the doors opened was ‘Are you Crazy!!!’ being shouted. It was Katharina. We were in high altitude and she was really panicked as when the bus went out of sight they were all left in total darkness and it was freezing, she believed he was going to drive off without them, well we are in Bolivia so who knows.  Anyway thankfully we get on our way again and eventually we rejoin the normal road about 2 hours later. But not before we had to pay the driver 10 Bolivianos for driving the extra hours and over the mountain...Katharina and I disagreed, we think we should have just paid 30 Bolivianos and driven straight through the blockade – now we are quite a few hours behind schedule and may not get our connecting bus in Argentina.....

Thursday 11th November

The journey to Villazon the dusty border town with Argentina is long and tiring. We arrive around 2.30pm. But we then have to queue for over 2 hours just to get through immigration, the Bolivian side is very quick, but there is only one person in the office the Argentine side stamping passports. This kind of thing drives me mad...and never a very good first impression of a country. We eventually get through and get a taxi to the bus station to find we have missed our connecting bus by 5 minutes....we forgot that the clocks go forward one hour, so we thought we had plenty of time to get the 6pm bus....alas we were wrong. So we now have about 5 hours to kill before the next bus leaves for Salta at 11pm and there really is nothing to do in this town. But we go and have some food, we find an internet cafe and then spend half an hour trying to unsuccessfully log into hotmail, before giving up.  This is the not so good part of travelling sitting around waiting for buses it is soooooooooooo boring, but we have no choice. Another night on a bus – can’t wait!
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