Tupiza es mi Pizza

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Nov 04, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hola All!

We know you are all waiting to know how our experience on the Bolivian night train was! It was simply great...a total surprise.

We went second class (41 Bolivarianos = 3.5 euros) and were told buy local guide that it was "neither bad nor good". We were also told to avoid third class, so expected to find a terrible train.

The truth is, the train was much better than many European services. It was actually very similar to the Spanish Talgo train. Comfortable and reclining seats with lots of leg space and even television with fun movies.

So we started at 11.20 pm (only 40 mins of delay) and arrived at Tupiza at 4.30 am as expected. It was a pitty that the ride was at night as some of the sceneries we saw (with nearly full moon) were impressive.

There was only one stop in between Uyuni and Tupiza, which is Atocha. As Spaniards will know that is the name of the main train station in Madrid, and where the 11th of March bombings took place 4 years ago.
We had a long chat with a newspaper salesman at Tupiza today. He really wanted to show us how much he knew about Spain, France and Germany...and he really had a wealth of general knowledge. He told us that when the bombings happened at Atocha, the local bolivians heard about it on the radio. They were all in shock as they initially thought it refered to their train station of Atocha, but it didnt make sense as the victims were a number much higher than their local population!

Anyway, we had a priceless experience when we arrived at Tupiza. As commented it was late at night (4.30 am) and although we had slept about 4 hours we were tired and looking for our Hostel. We managed to find it pretty quickly but outside it were a bunch of....yes you guessed it...noisy Israelis. They were talking loud and probably waking up the whole hotel given the late time.

The receptionist arrived and asked "anyone have a reservation", and we blurted that we had done one. He said "great, as that is the only one we have available. No more rooms amigos" (all in Spanish). Watching the face of this group trying to barge themselves in without a reservation was (as the publicity of the credit card goes) "priceless". They still tried to get a room although they were told there wasnt one. They even said "we can all sleep in 2 beds" (6 people!).

Within all this rush to get to our room before someone else tried to take our reservation (we actually had to fight to get the second room for Valerie as they tried to get 2 people in her room to get more money given the rooms are priced per person), there was a lot of singing in the streets. It seems that the Bolivian Army go out marching in many towns around 5am singing G.I. Joe style. It happened in Uyuni also.

We have now booked a 2 day horse ride which will take us along a few of the towns and sights in Southern Bolivia. We are looking forward to it as the pictures we have seen from other people are impressive. We will stay overnight at a family farming house which should also be interesting.

We are getting the feeling that tour guides and agencies (as well as hotels) actually like us when we arrive as we speak Spanish. They immediately relax as they have 90% foreign speakers with very low level of Spanish. At least that was the experience in the Uyuni Salar were the guide really appreciated our conversation during 4 days and kept supplying more information, jokes, etc. It must be quite frustrating to no be able to explain things when you are a guide.

Anyway, talking about language, we mentioned above that we spoke about 30 minutes with a newspaper seller. The reason he started talking to us is that Marcos asked for 2 newspapers (El Diario Boliviano and Extra) to check on local news, strikes, etc. However when he asked for them he said "voy a coger los dos".

"Coger" in Spain is "to get". However in most Latin American countries it means "to fornicate", so he immediately asked "Are you Spanish?". It will take a few times to get used to it....

So, apart from booking the horse trip, we basically just had lunch and a huge siesta to recover sleep from last night. Lunch was at a place called "El Escorial" which serves fixed lunches for 12 Bolivarianos (1.2 euros), including a salad, soup, a large main course of meat with rice and banana, plus fruit. Excellent value and the taste was great.

Having said that the breakfast at the hotel was 2 fried eggs, buns with marmelade, fresh orange juice and coffee for only 12 Bolivarianos (1 euro). We are really saving some money within our daily Budget of 60 euros for both of us in Bolivia. It will be good for when we get to touristy Machu Picchu and the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands...

Talking about money, today was the first time that we arrived at a town that has not ATM machine so we had to take money out directly at the bank. They charge a fee of 40 Bolivianos (3.5 euros) and most cards dont work. We actually had to use our French bank card to get cash out and avoid using the Visa Credit card which would add an additional commission.

Most places here dont accept credit cards so its all cash. This is due to the 13% commission the businesses have to suffer each time if they do (5% from the credit card company, 5% from the government tax and additional 3% from paperwork, etc).

Finally, we just came back from the Easter Juvenile Via Crucis (the 12 stages of the Crucifixion of Christ done by school children). We will upload a few pictures when we get to Potosi. As with Uyuni the broadband does not exactly exist yet in Tupiza.

So to keep you entertained, a few pieces of local news:

- Paraguay seems to have moved the border with Bolivia 7 kms at the region of    . The guard at the Bolivian post claims that they Paraguayans moved the "hito" (the block which marks the frontier) 7 kms into Bolivia, so Bolivia has sent a few people with GPS to check it out. Sounds like a drunken prank from the Paraguayan border guard as it must get lonely there on weekends in the middle of nowhere with no TV or radio!

Bolivia has obviously taken the issue very seriously as they have lost most of their territory in the last 150 years due to wars with neighbours:
- Chile took their path to the sea in the Pacific War of 1897. Bolivian and Peru both lost versus Chile in that conflict with both of them losing quite an amount of land which they are still trying to recover. The loss of the Bolivian port has been the toughest test for Bolivia and has left their economy crippled and underdeveloped since then.
- Paraguay took a third of their territory in the Chaco War of 1932-5. Luckily for the economy there is litte in the Chaco (although at the time everyone thought it had loads of minerals in it...)
- Argentina and Brasil have also taken their pieces of Bolivia during history...

Due to that most Bolivians do not like Chileans. Pinochet was quite tough on them during his reign, placing quite a lot of mines along the northern border which are still active and killing quite a few animals (llamas mainly). But Argentina and Peru also covered their frontiers with mines...so Chile is not the only bad one, it just hurts more due to the sea exit issue.

Bolivia actually refuses to sell gas to Chile due to their hates, and get very angry when Argentina sells part of the gas production they receive from Bolivia to Chile. But that might not last very long. As mentioned in a previous comment Argentina, Brazil and Chile are in desparate need of gas for the coming winter, and most of it comes from Bolivia...but Bolivia just does not have the capacity to produce more gas (or even worse as they are starting to think...there is no more gas left in Bolivia to exploit).

News today was the agreement that Bolivia has reached with Gazprom (Russian). The Russians will do all the search for gas for free as long as they can exploit it if the do find it. The Bolivian company YPFB will keep a 51 percent share of any profit if they do find it...

So not good news for the region, and we doubt USA will be happy to learn that Gazprom is working in Bolivia. Investments have gone down in the last 2 years in Bolivia. Spain is the main investor with 36% and then USA with 20% and Argentina with 18%.

Political turmoil is also not far from Bolivia. There are several regions which want to be declared autonomous and there is a political paralysis with the new constitution which Evo Morales is trying to get passed.

Cheerio for the time being. More information on Easter Saturday.
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