Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Day 2, One stitch later...

So I woke up again this morning all ready to take on the day ahead. My fears of animals had been decreased after a day of affection from the lovely Capuchins and Spiders, and when it came to delivering breakfast to the monkeys I was straight in. I took a bucket of bananas and carried it up to the monkey park! I was a little nervy that I might get monkey mobbed for my ´nanas but I was lucky and it didn´t happen.

When we reached the Monkey Park we had a conflab with the Spider Monkey Girls about the shared chores of the day. Once the conflab was over we had to start putting the bananas in the monkey trays. As I lifted my bucket along came Salim. Salim is the alpha male of the Capuchins and the only monkey in Monkey Park that comes with a warning. He had jumped on me yesterday and was fine with me, so I thought I had made a friend. He´s the biggest Capuchin and is a heavy bugger too.

So there I was, bucket of bananas strung on my shoulder and Salim perching on me. As I tried to walk away to distribute the bananas Salñim decided he was coming with me too. Fair enough I figured. Fair enough until I started to move. As I moved off the bucket started to fall quickly from my shoulder. At this point Salim thought I was trying to take the bananas off him. Obviusly this wasnt the case. I mean who messes with a monkey when he wants bananas. It was bloody gravity, curse it. So with Salim on my shoulders getting cross that the Bananas were being taken away from him he reacts in the only way possible... BITE! Teeth sink directly into my left jaw and chomp! ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

My initial reaction is to scream and I toss away the stupid monkey with all my might. I can´t remember what happened to the bucket of bananas, it must have fallen, but the monkey was off me.

I put my hand to my face and pull it away. I have blood on my hand.

At this point James looks over and sees me. ´Go to the vets!´

I didn´t stop to pick up by bananas and legged it away from Salim and all the other monkeys just hoping that I wouldn´t get jumped on by another sneaky monkey on my walk back.

I daren´t tocuh my face, I don´t want to get dirt in my wound. I have no idea how much blood there is, I just keep walking.

I reach the cafe and there is a group sat around eating breakfast. I appear in tears and Bec and Bondy jump up to take me thorugh to the vets.

I´m shaking and in shock and I am sat down on the same table which they use to operate on the Pumas, monkeys and birds.

Neneh the park manager appears with a bottle of coke and the vets come over straight away.

Bec (volunteer coordinator and cat handler) was an absolute hero and held my hand the whole time. She told me stories of people who had to have mutliple stitches on their faces. I was only going to need one!

A stitch! I´ve never had a stitch before! Arghhh!

I´m cleaned up by the vets and then anesthetised. Luckily the vets get a lot of practice at stitching people up and within 15 minutes I´m all fixed up and patched up. Althouhg, I am still drippin with tears. I am given the morning off to recover and I go sit in the cafe.

Recounting the story to the other volunteers turns me to a teary mess, reliving it is awful. It´s kind of ironic that the one who is scared on animals gets bitten on her second day. Everyone is really nice though, and I hear more stories and see more scratches from cats, monkeys and tejons. And people wonder why I am scared of animals!

I knit to calm myslef, thank god i brought my knitting down iin my bag this morning. I eat chocolate to stay calm.

I get bored, sitting on your own is not fun. BY lunch time I am ready to go back and with my heart pounding like somethihng that pounds realyl fast I walk back up to the monkey park. The first monkey i see is Salim sitting on the bridge. I eye him, and dodge as far as I can. He was just chilling. I sit down and look at the monkeys. None come particuarly close and I am half relieved half annoyed. I want to be smothered in monkeys so that I can overcome the terror that is racing through me, but of course, the fear is scaring them away from me. None of the spider nmonkeys want cuddles today. Damn them, i need a cuddle.

I eventualyl get a capuchin on my shoulder and he immediately goes to pick off my dressing. NOPE! Not happening mate. The monkey is off me. I am monkey free and allowed to chill and sit with the monkeys (work free) juyst so I can get used to them again.

I had done so well the previous day and now I was a mess again. As we went to prepare monkey dinner I got another Capuchin on my neck and he insisted on hanging on me all the way back to the main centre. Grrr you Capuchin.

I helped make dinner, but was too petrified to take it up to the monkeys with the others. I cleaned the kitchen instead and then went to eat popcorn with some other Volunteers.

Today has made me remember why I I don´t like animals. Dont get me wrong I LOVE animals, I just can´t cope with dealing with them. Loads of volunteers came up to the monkey park on the breaks today and were playing and swinging, completely fearless. I want to be like that. I want them to jump on me as I walk along and be totally unbothered. I want to play and not squeal and react when they come to me. I want to be able to feed them and not get scared. I´m going to go and do breakfast tomorrow morning but I am going to feed them their milk, a little less intense than the bananas. Hopefully after tomorrow morning I will be alittle more confident and will be able to move forward with the monkeys, i really want to, but this is a mind over matter experience worse than anything I have done so far.

I bet you can´t wait for the antics of tomorrow´s post.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Day 1 in the Monkey Parque! 29 September 2009

Woke up at 6.30am. Pulled out the grottiest clothes in my bag and walked to the cafe for breakfast. At 7.25am I am told we don´t have to start till 8! We were supposed to start at 7.30am. The weather is drizzly so the monkeys don´t want to go out in the rain.

8am we walk up to the monkeys. The other monkey volunteers know that I am scared of monkeys and so I dont have to carry any food buckets up. Even without food bucket in tow I still get attacked by a Capuchin monkey. I was taken off guard and I scream. Everyone laughs and giggles. This was going to be a long day.

James and Nicholas my co-workers show me the ropes for serving breakfast and I get to grips with the routines. There are a few monkeys around but none are really bothering me, they are more concerned with food.

My first job is to clean the SPider MOnkey cages. The Spider Monkeys are caged at night because they have had to be rehabilitated into the wild, and there are worries that if they were left out at nihgt the really wild spider monkeys in the jungle would get them! I was instantly up to my knees in monkey poo as I had to get read of every little bit of poo by using a squeezy, a hose and a broom. I was glad that I had bought a piar of wellies for 50pence before starting work.

After an hour cleaning I was back up with the monkeys and getting used to them. The Monkey Park is the tourist area of the Park and so all the monkeys that hang out there are used to tourists and the volunteers and so like cuddles.

Today was particularly wet so i spent a lot of time cuddling spider monkeys to warm them up. 2 of them weed on me while cuddling which wasnñý particulalrly pleasant, but it did warm me up a bit as i got a bit cold.

There are two capuchin monkeys that we have on cords and runners, these two are slowly being introduced to the wild and to the social groups and are kept on cords and runners for their safety. They are called Abram and Felicida, they are lovley and by the end of the day I was used to having them crawl over me, into my jacket, inside my hood.

At one point in the day I had a Capuchin checking me for nits. Can´t say this was pleasant, she was definitely a bit rough, and I had BAD hair after, but I guess htat means they have accepted me.

I was dismissed for Dinner distribution duties today, they wanted to ease in the one who is scared of animals slowly, but instead I had to move Abram and Felicida, all very well, excpet there were 30 Russian toursits watching me intently as I did so. There i was, still a little nervy trying to coax down two capuchins to my shoulder so that I could move them. I had arms, legs and tails all over my head, and they were wet as well from the rain. URghhh!

So, in all, my first day has been fabulous. Getting weed on by a monkey is not particularly glam, but I loved it anyway. The monkeys are great and have so much character and personality. I am still not used to the jumpiness of the monkeys as you walk through the jungle they do like to jump on you from all angles, and this is definitely the scariest bit. Give me a few more days and the fear will be gone I hope and I will be talking monkey too!

La Paz - Cochabamba - Villa Tunari, 28 September 2009

So after a bit of hassle with lots of rude Bolivianos, Bestie Rhiannon and I finally made it on to a bus bound to the city of Cochabomba, Cochabomba, Cochabomba! The night bus was actually quite reasonable, and apart from the slow part of the journey getting out of the city it was a good, smooth ride for Bolivian standards! We arrived at Cochabamba at abuot 6am and then grabbed a cab to the street where we caught our transport to Villa Tunari. We would be taking a Micro to Villa Tunari, a small town 175km from Cochabomba. The micro wasn´t setting off till it was full so it was 7 before we hit the road. Although we slept on the bus we were still happy to get some shut eye as we drove through the Central Highlands of Bolivia. That was until we were abruptly awoken. From my sleep I was suddenly awake, a shot went through my whole body, I had been jolted forward and I could feel air behind me. I heard a scream, i think I heard a scream. I looked to Bestie and she looked at me, ´Are you ok´ we both said still not realising what had happened. I turned behind and saw the back window was shattered and behind a Dodge Ram covered in shattered glass. We had just been in a car accident. It took a while for it all to sink in. Both cars stopped and everyone was a little confused. We had been driving slowly along the road and we could only assume that the Dodge behind us hit the accelerator a little too hard and shunted in to us. Thankfully we were both 100% fine, as was everyone else in both cars. We were shaken obviously, but fine. We hoppped out of the car and ran up the road to rescue Rhiannon´s sleeping bag and day pack that had fallen out the window in the smash. Then the damage was assessed. The car couldn´t be driven onwards , the Bolivianos in the micro quickly flagged a car and all 5 of them piled into an estate car that already contained 4 people. Me and Rhiannon were not going to join them and so we insisted that our driver should flag a car down for us. Luckily he obliged, and while we spent the next hour keeping out of the wet, he spent the nex thour flagging down other micros to take us onward to VIlla TUanri. We sat relivng the moment and checking with each other that we were both ok. We were in shock, but pulled out a carton of Ades that helped the situation. Eventually a bus stopped and let us aboard. Except, there were no seats on the bus so we had to pile into the aisle big bags and all and sit and suffer. It wasn´t the most comforatblke bus expertience, but it was only for 75km so we didnt mind. After a couple of minutes we reached a police check point and at this point we were allowed to put our bags under the bus, and seats appeared for us. This drive itself was also pretty hairy as we drove through thick, thick, thick cloud! Nice! We didn´t really know where we were going, but we knew that Villa TUnari was a town with lots of hostels, and that we had to get off just before a bridge. We watched out of the windows alert, ´Does this look like a big enough kind of place?´ ´Do you reckon this is it?´ ´Will the driver remember to stop for us?´All the questions, and then we crossed a bridge and the driver called out for the two Gringoes aboard. We had arrived.

So, where am I and what am I doing here?

Well, the reason I have come to Villa Tunari is to face my fears and volunteer at an Animal Refuge Centre! Here´s the web details so check it out if you fancy it, I am at the Parque Machia and here we have monkeys, pumas, ocelots, tejons, birds and lots and lots more.

We arrived at noon, but had to wait until 5 to be officially guided round the park, so we spent the afternoon chilling. At 5, we had our introduction to the park. We learnt all about how and why the park exists, why the animals are here, and why the Bolivian government is totally rubbish. Afterwards we were allocated rooms and jobs. Rhiannon was stationed in the Clinic with all the sick animals and I was thrown in at the Monkey Park with the Capuchins and the Spider Monkeys. FOr the next 15 days, I am responsible for cleaning, feeding, playing with and looking after a boat load of monkeys.

Incidentally it is worth pointing out why I am here. After my hungle experience, I decided it was time to face my fears and get used to animals. I am sick of being scared by them and figured what better place than this to face up to my ridiculous fears. YEp, that´s right, I am scared of animals. The terror comes as a result of being harrassed by boys who think it funny to put hamsters in my face, and scare me with skitzy dogs. I have never had a pet other than a fish, and at the grand old age of nearly 24 i decided it was time to put a stop to it. The volunteers at the aprk have all laughed at my fear, and Im already known as the one that is scared of animals! It is going to be an interesting two weeks.

Right here, right now!

So, I´m gunna take a skip from catching up on this blog and let you know what I am up to right now at this moment in my life! Get ready for it it´s going be good!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Amazon, 16 - 22 September

I know, I know, I haven´t told you all about the wonderful city of La Paz yet, but I´m still buzzing from my Amazon experience and I want to tell you all about it now. It really is going to be a long one, but I will try to be as entertaining as possible.

So let´s begin...

Amy, 23, British, Profesional Backpacker
Rhiannon, 23, Australian, Professional Bestie
Scott, 24, Australian, Professional Bestie
Catherine, 23, Welsh, Professional Backpacker
Gustavo, 30, Argentine, Professional Weirdo
Assi, 37, Profession guide

16 September, 3.30pm

Catherine meets Scott, Rhiannon and I at our hostel and we flag a cab to take us to El Alto International airport. Oh yes, we are heading to the Amazon on a plane.

There are essentially two ways to reach the jungle, by a bus that takes between 16 and 30 hours (weather dependent) or by plane that takes less that an hour. The plane ride was the more expensive option (about 50 pounds one way), but we decided it would be worth it and it would be better to arrive in the jungle feeling fresh after a flight than feeling rough after a LOOOOONG bus journey.

We wonder what the airport will be like? We arrive and I am suitably unimpressed, it´s tiny, International Airport my foot! And as the airport motions are carried out I continue to be unimpressed.

I am the first to check my bag onto the plane. My big pack is weighed, 20 kilos. First reaction, phew, just touching the weight limit. Second reaction, how is my bag that heavy, it´s half empty since Laura took home some stuff for me. Once my bag is weighed my small back pack is noticed by the check in man. The check in lady informs me that hand luggage is limited to 3kilos per person. I said, ´Yes, that´s fine´, whilst knowing FULL WELL that my small back pack weighed nearer to ten kilos, and I tried to brush it off. The check in lady makes me weigh my bag. It weighs 9 kilos. Dammit. Busted. Scott offers me a duffle bag that I can check in and I take out 4 kilos worth of books from my small backpack to check on to the plane in the duffle bag. No one does the maths, but they slap me with an excess baggage charge. A whole 2 pounds more! Honestly cheek of it. After the palava I am made to go pay another 1 pound and forty pence as a departure tax! Seriously unimpressed.

Everyone checks in, no one has the problems that I have with weight. I seriously don´t know what is weighing my bag down.

We head to Burger King in the teeny tiny airport. It is closed. Now Scott is in the unimpressed boat.

We take soem seats and admire the stunning Huyana Potosi (mountain) that can be viewed from the airport lounge. We ponder what the plane will be like, eat Pringles, sweets, Swiss Chocolate and try to obtain bottles of Coke from a vending machine.

After much waiting the plane is ready for us. Because of angles and obstructions I couldn´t see the plane on the tarmac, so when I left the departure lounge and stepped onto the runway I was not impressed with what I saw.

This plane was small. I remember the terror I had going up to my sky dive, at least on that plane I knew I had a parachute to get me back to earth if the plane didn´t make it. I couldn´t see any flight staff handing out parachutes as the people in front of my boarded.

Inside the plane I was even more shocked. There were 18 seats. I had realised that there weren´t many people sat in the departure lounge, but I had assumed that the plane was not going to be filled. No, the plane was almost full. 16 people in 18 seats. I bent my head and crept through the tiny cabin and took a seat at the rear of the plane. BEstie Scott offers me some words of reassurance... ´Great idea to sit at the back Bestie, planes never reverse into mountains.´

I was a jibbering wreck. Take off was horrendous, I could feel every bump of every bit of wind. But as terrified as I was, the views were stunning and I couldn´t help but snap away. We flew right up next to Huyana Potosi, we could almost touch it. It was particualrly cool to see this mountain as Scott had climbed it a few days previous. ´Why take a 4 day hike when you could have flown to the top Bestie?´

I knitted. Knitting took my mind off the fact that a stray pigeon could probably wipe this teeny tiny plane from the sky.

Then we hit turbulence. My heart was in my mouth and I have never concentrated on knitting so hard in all my life!

After 50 minutes of hell, the descent began and we landed at Rurrenabaque airport. If you can call it an airport.

The landing strip was grass. The terminal a tiny building. There wasn´t even a baggage reclaim, you literaaly took your bag from the trailer that took the bags off the plane. But I was not in a place to be judging airports any more, I had survived the plane ride.


We were met off the plane by a guy from the tour agency (who turend out to be our guide, Assi) we had booked through. It was hot in the jungle (durr) and it was so nice as we drove through the dirt roads to be warm again. We felt like we were in Asia, most definitely not Bolivia, the people seemed more relaxed, the buildings were straw huts, it was a whole different world away from La Paz. We were taken to the tour office and explained what we would need for the next few days. We listened attentively while staring at the swollen gloved hand of Assis. Any questions? No one dared ask about the hand. We headed to find a hostel and started the fun game of pakcing for the jungle.

Within seconds the four of us had turned our room into a bombsite, everything came out of the big bags, the small bags and Scott´s spare duffle bag (well, that was just my stuff) and everything was redistributed for the next three days in the Jungle.

I should probably point out at this point that we had signed up to two tours, firstly a three day jungle tour, followed by a three day pampas tour. Most people do one or the other, but we had all been wanting to see both sides of this part of the Amazon.

Conversation flitted between excitement ´We´re going to the JUNGLE!´, bewilderment ´What do you think happened to his hand?` and stressed pakcing ´Should I take tea lights/three pairs of trousers in case two pairs get wet/sarong or towel/dinosaur/first aid kit?´ After two hours of frantic packing it was time to hunt down a long sleeve white shirt for Rhiannon and myself. It was one of the recommended items to take and neither Rhiannon or I had anything appropriate.

´Why does it have to be white? White´s gunna get dirty?´ Amy
´Because nothing in nature is white, therefore no bugs or animals will be attracted to it.´ Scott
´Claro! But, give me ten minutes in the jungle and it´ll be dirt coloured anyway.´ Amy

Suprisingly, it was not difficult to come by a white shirt in this place, all the shops sold them, in act, i´ve never seen so many shirts in my life! As I handed over the Bolivianos I decided to myself that the white shirt thing was jsut a ploy to get people to buy stuff in the village.

Two shops later we found hats. Now a hat is something that has been on my ´to get´ list since I left home. I´m not a big fan of sun hats, they just don´t suit me, and some how I have managed without one up until now, up until I spied a gorgeous ´I´m a celebrity get me out of here´ cow boy hat. Sold. Scott and Rhiannon both bought hats as well. I thought about the consequences of this hat after the purchase. This is not going to pack into my rucksack! Grrr!

We were all fading from hunger and found a restaurant and quickly ordered some sustenance. Our guide came past on a motor bike and said hello. We were eating at his brother´s restaurant. Typical!

After dinner we were all pretty exhausted and fell straight asleep to dreams/nightmares of jungle, snakes, tarantulas.

Day 1

Breakfast came and I wasn´t in any mood for eating. Even when a genuine french man wearing Chef´s whites, flip flops and board shorts came over with a tray of fresh French Pastries, I still could not bare the thought of eating. It was 7.30am and it was too hot for eating.

As we girls faffed over the last little things, Scott moaned that we should hurry so that we could get to the jungle. We were ten minutes later than we were supposed to be and Scott was in a mood with three faffy girls. We then continued to hang around for another half hour or so in the Tour Office. We don´t really know why, we just were. We met our fifth group member, Gustavo. He didn´t speak a lot of English, but we introduced ourselves politley to him. Catherine taught me how to plait my hair and with my cow boy hat on, I was ready and waiting for the jungle. Then from nowhere came the command: ´Vamos chicos´.

We were on our feet in an instant, bags on backs (which were not only full on the inside, but also dripping on the outside with various essentials strapped and tied on that couldn´t be crammed in). We were off to the jungle.

We walked from the office to the river, spying plenty more white shirts on the way. On the river bank the boat was waiting for us. Oooo, this was going to be a rickety ride.

We all carefully got on, trying our best not to capsize the shallow hulled boat. The boat was laden with stuff, three days worth of food, a giant gas can, 12 litres of water, not to mention all of our bags and bits. The duffle bag also came with us to carry our excess baggage. We were weighed down with all of our stuff and we were off.

We had a four hour journey to our camp so we all sat back and relaxed as we made our journey. On both sides of the river was lush green jungle. It was lovely. We watched birds dive for fish, we saw parrots fly by. With our feet resting on the side of the boat it was lovely as the water splashed us. The day was on e with beautiful blue skies and sun. We were all in love with the jungle.

At about 12 I started to get peckish and delved into my bag for a honey nut bar to give me some energy. Yumm.

After about 3 hours the journey started to get a bit tricksy. The water was shallow, so one of the guys on the boat had to go up front and pull us through the shallows with a long pole, a bit like a punt. Hmmm, interesting. It was dry season and so the rivers were low.

About 30 minutes later we had hit a really shallow bit, and there was only one thing for it ´Get out and push!´ shouted Assi. Thoughts of piranhas and parasites flashed through my mind, I don´t wanna get out into this river. ´There are no piranhas.´ Oh ok I thought and I clambered over the edge of the boat and attempted to push. I say attempted, the floor of the river was full of slippy stones and I couldn´t get my grip on the ground to push the boat. Rhiannon and I were in hysterics at our sheer inability to contrubite any strength to this massive task in hand. Catherine sat on the boat, she didn´t have flip flops on, and was in no hurry to swap her boots for her flip flops. I ended up drifting to the back of the boat and at that point the driver ushered me to get back on, I was no help. Thankfully Scott and Gustavo had a bit more strength about them and helped Assi, Carmen our cook and our driver push the boat trhough.

´That was hard work´ announced myself and Rhiannon once we were through the hard part. Because we had offered so much.

Not long after thi spoint we ground to a halt and pulled into the shore. There were a few mixed messages about pushing and walking. Eventually it all came to light. We were stopping boat ride here. We were taking all the equipment off the boat here. We were walking from here. We were walking from here carrying all the stuff with us. Say whaaat? ´It is only 800m, not too far´ said our guide. We were all starving, it was 2pm already and we hadn´t had lunch yet. After a few questions, we were assured that this was the closest we were going to get by boat. There water was just too shallow.

We distributed our supply of food into the nooks and crannies of our backpacks and the duffle bags. I had jars of jam and dulce de leche stored inside my boots that were hanging from our bags. In some ways I somehow managed to get the easy ride... my bag, plus the duffle bag, plus a tray of eggs! I was feeling very I´m a Celebrity at this point. Maybe if I managed to get all the eggs in one piece to camp I would get a special star or something. Rhiannon and Catherine copped for most of the water which was not jsut heavy but awkward to carry. And Gustavo certainly got the short straw... the gas cannister.

We were now in the jungle, trekking in the jungle, but it cerainly wasn´t the best way to start a jungle trek. Laden with heavy gear we trampled through, over logs, long vines, thousands of ants. We were all hot, bothered and very unprepared for this. Two minutes before we had been enjoying a leaisurely river cruise. The bubble had burst. It was the longest 800m I have ever walked in my life. We were constatnly stopping and readjusting our loads. In the process of which I picked up 3 ant bites! Ocuh!

After a hard slog we arrived at our camp.

I still don´t know if this camp, was the camp we were supposed to be at. It was clear that no one had been here for a while and Assi confimred that no one had been here for a bout 2 years. Great!

The camp cosnisted of two shacks on stilts. One filled with beds, bats and bat poo, the other with a bug infested table and chairs, and a bit of a kitchen. There was also a toilet block with showers, but this had become a hiding hole for frogs, the water tank was all battered, and it was clear that we woudl be having no showers or flsuhing toilets for the next three days.

It was rough, but it wasn´t too bad. It was all very rustic, but it was going to be fun in the jungle. At least it would be fun if food was provided before I passed out from starvation.

Assi suggest we go for a swim while carmen prepared some lunch. Alhtough I ddint have the energy to swim, i figured it would be nice to cool down, so we all ran down to the river and dived in.

Straight away I started to get bitten. ´Arghhhh Piranhas!!!´ I was assured that these were Sardines not piranhas. But I thought sardines just came in tins. I venrutred further out into the river away from the shore loving sardines. It was bliss. It was so refresshing and lovely. We splashed around and messed a bout. Some fluffy stuff passed us in the river. ´What is that?´shouted Catherine. ´Flesh eating fuzz´ i poronounced matter of factly. I then followed this with a caution ´Remember not to wee in the river, because parasites can travel through your urine and in side you!´

Assi decided that lunch would probably be ready now so we headed back. To my utter dismay, there was still no food on the table, but we were given some squash. Better than nothing I guess. After anouther hour food was finally brought out. Lunch at 4pm!

Energised from food I donned my white shirt and cowboy hat and headed into the jungle with Assi.

We walked and walked and walked pointing out various trees and plants, spiders, caterpillars. It was an awesome walk, and it was great to be able to enjoy it without having to carry a tray of eggs (which incidentally all made it to camp intact).

The noises of the jungle were amazing. Actually amazing. It was awesome to hear all the bugs and the birds. After an hour I started to flail. I was hungry again. Even hought I had eaten loads of lunch, it had not been enough to drag me back up to normal energy. I started to slink to the back and drink lots of water. Darkness was setting in and Assi told us it was time to get back. There was no food ready for us when we got back so Assi proposed a fishing expedition. We went to the river bank with fishing and assi tried to catch a fish. With no success we returned back int he darkness to camp.

We sat around the table anticipating dinner, but sitting upright at a tbale was too much for me. I was totally drained and decided to go to the hut and have a lie down. I felt so feeble. I got into bed and to my horror, my bed was swarming with ants. i had been so careful at tucking in my mosi net I just couldnt understant how they had got in. I started squashing ants, but the more I killed, the more appeared. I burst into tears. All i wanted was to lie down in peace. I decided that the ants were in my backpack as every time i moved my back pack a new swarm of ant appeared next to it. I was too weary to care. These were only little ants, not like the big uns that had bit me earlier. I put ear plugs in and lay down and sobbed. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I was hungry. My bed was uncomfortable. My bed was full of ants. I couldn´t console myself. And the more I tried to stop, the more i got annoyed myself that here i was in the jungle crying, hardly making the most of the situation was i. Eventually I recieved a call for dinner. I tried to compose myself, but I couldn´t quite do it. I snivelled my way thorugh a plate of pasta and may avoiding eye contact with the others in some vain sort of hope that they would´t notice my red eyes, tears and snotty face.

After dinner I excused myself to go back to bed. The thought of going back to bed was not a great one, I had loads of ants to deal with first. I hadn´t said a word at dinner and so hadn´t mentioned the ants. I climbed into my net and started killing and swearing at the ants.

After a few minutes I heard the door of the hut open and Scott came into see if I was ok. ´I´ve got all the f*****g ants, from the whole of the f*****g Amazon in my bed´ I snivelled. I always laughed at the cry babies on I´m a Celebrity but in the space of a few hours I had already learnt for myself how the tiniest thing can flip you over the edge in the jungle. I´m going to watch I´m a celebrity in such a different light from now on. Scott lifted up a bit of my net and started to brush the ants out of the net. I told him I thought the infestation was in my bag so he took that and shook it out. I continued to bat out ants. As Scott sat on the outside of my net and I was on the insde loads of ciccadas were attracted to his head torch, and as they batted from the light into my mosi net I got even more upset. I hated the jungle. Once the bed was free from ants I lay down in bed and didnt even bother to change into pjs. Scott left the hut saying he was going to close the door and if i needed anything I just had to shout. I was happier now, my bed was ant free. I fell to sleep pretty much straight away.

Day 2

I think I woke up before the others. Too right, i had had the most sleep. I hadn´t heard anyone come to bed. I tilted my head back and saw blue sky out the sides of the hut. Lush. I was determined that I wasn´t going to have a crying day today. I was in the jungle for two more days, and I Was determined to make the most of it. BRING IT ON! i thought to myslf. I wasn´t particularly scared by the jungle, spiders don´t bother me too much, I was back to being excited about exploring. So when breakfast was called I was the first to hot foot it over to the dining room and start piling up the pancakes.

After a big hearty breakfast came the first of the bowel movements. The toilet block was unusable and we all wondered how we would go to the toilet that morning. ´Bush bog´. None of us were too bothered at the prospect, we had all already had to wee in random spots around the camp. But going for a poo was different. Rhiannon was the first to brave the jungle toilet. She announced the direction in which she was heading and took two steps and then screamed a horrific scream! We all started and turned to look at her. She hadn´t taken two steps. She had walked into a cobweb and was terrified. After Rhiannon had calmed herself she employed Scott to walk in front and batt aside all of the cobwebs. We all wet ourselves.

After all this performance we were off into the jungle for a 4/5 hour trek. It was an awesome trek. We cut vines and drank water from the insides, we ate termites, we tried different things inside the jungle and were shown all the medicinal plant. Assi suggested we chew this one piece of bark that he took from a tree for us. Excited I began to chew enthusiasitcally and then my mouth began to burn and tingle. Istarted spitting straight away. My mouth was on fire. We use this to take out teeth, it´s a natural anesthetic. Too right it was, my mouth was numb as anything. We wandered onwards and he made up some paint from the plants and we painted our faces all tribal like. We looked scray, but the beads of sweat meant that our faces ran into big puddles of purple dye. Sexy!

Assi ralyl made us listen to the jungle and at one point we could hear snorting noises. ´Pigs´ he said. Poomba, i thought. (We had been singing Hakuna Matata and In the Jungle a lot). We stopped in our trackes, squatted and listened to the pigs. ´Can you smell that?´said Assi. YEs we could. It was disgusting. A few mintues later the sound and the smell became sight and we could see about seven pigs forraging in the mud. It was cool to watch them. We stayed there until one of them saw us and then the whole group darted.

We continued our walk onwards. We were on the hunt for a cinnamon tree. However, it was hot and by midday we were all starting to struggle and we didn´t have enough water with us. Assi suggested we stopped while he went off to find the cinnamon. We were happy for a rest. We were dripping with sweat and in need of a break. Gustavo insisted that he would accompany assi to t he cinnamon tree which was two hills away. Now that there were only 4 of us i cracked out the 4 lollipops that i had been carrying in my bag. Much needed sugar revitalised us.

After about 30 minutes Assi and GUstavo returned with cinnamon, we all smelled it. It smelled good.

We then started our way back. After 5 hours of walking through the jungle we were all in serious need of food and more water. We were given the most refreshing grapefrfuit juice adn an awesome lunch. Amazing.

After lunch we took another swim in the river. This was followed by an afternoon of jewllery making. This involved some serious hard work drilling holes by hand with srcrew drivers into seeds. But the final results were awesome. We drank cinamon tea and ate popcorn as we worked. Serious sweat shop business.

When the sun went down we chilled and prepared oursleves for our night time walk. Rhiannon was all ready to face her spider fears, and we were all excited at what we might see. Gustavo, however, was a little scared and didn´t come with us. It was pitch black in the jugle, and the light of the torch was all we had to see with. I quickly realised that by wearing my head torch on my head i was attracting all the ciccadas and bugs to my eyes, so i decided I would carry my torch. On the walk we came a cross a teeny tiny snake, it was reaññy small byt really angry. It didnt like us. We also found tarantulas, mummies and babies. They were really cool. At one point Assi told us to take a seat on a fallen log while he hunted down some other animals. The fours of us sat holiding hands in the pitch dark listening out for animals. In so many ways we all wanted to see a flash of cat eyes through the darkness, but at the same time that prospect was a little scary. We didn´t see anything else and Assi didn´t bring anythihg back to us. It was awesome to listen to the jungle at night. It was a little scary yes, but really awesome.

After a two hour walk we made our way back to dinner. I was in a much better mood tonight and dinner was most enjoyable. After dinner we all wnet to bed. We had had a long day and were all ready to drop. Thankfully that night there were no ants in my bed.

Not quite Day 2, not quite Day 3

Now, if you have read this post carefully you will have noted Gustavo´s profession. Oh yes, professional weirdo, and this is wear the evidence for this ocmes to light. The jungle is never silent, there is always some insect or bird making a noise, but in the middle of the night a new noise emanated. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I woke with a start. In the bed next to me it sounded as though Gustavo was being murdered. Another scream came. It was a scream of pure terror. Assi (who was sleeping in a tent he had put up inside the hut) asked out if Gustavo was ok. Gustave told him in Spanish that animals were coming at him and grabbing his feet. Assi told him to shut up and go to sleep. No sympathy.

Day 3

Gustavo was late for breakfast, lucky really as it gave us channce to whisper about the previous night{s screaming! We were all laughing our heads off. Gustavo came to breakfast and bluffed over the occurences! Very funny.

We had agreed that Assi take us on a walk to go Parrot Watching for our final morning. We could have gone for another jungle walk, but we figured that Parrots would be fun and we had seen a lot of the jungle. Assi warned us that to reach the parrots we would have to wade across one river and trek through some jungle. River wading sounded fun and we were all up for it.

We set off, I had my boots and flip flops with me. Flip flops for rivers, boots for jungle. We walked about 200m and I was already having to switch my boots for my flip flops. Grrr! Scott and Assi entered the water first while Rhiannon, Gustavo, Catherin e and I followed. We were at a different part of the river to where we would often go and swim, and this part was very pebbly under foot. In addition the pebbles were very slippy as they were covered in algae. I stepped tentaively into the river as everyone else powered on. I got in to my waist and got stuck. Do you remember the blow out that Chris inflicted on my flip flop after his failed attempt to crowd surf me at the Jean Luis Guerra gig? Well, it came to haunt me again. The river was strong and the undercurrent had ripped apart my flip flop! Noooo! I held my boots as high as I possibly could out of the water and reached under, as i reached my flip flop I lost it. It went sailing down the river. My face must have been a picture! What now? Assi had been the hero and had gone down river to rescue my broken flip flop and when he returned my broken flip flop, he traded me for my boots. i started walking across the river bed in one flip flop and one bare foot carrying a borken flip flop. Now, I was in agony, every step i took was a step on a painful slippy rock and my feet were disintegrating. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. Scott and Rhiannon were on the other side already wetting themselves as i took the smallest steps and made the biggest ouch noises in the SOuthern Hemisphere. I got to the middle of the river and I was laughing at myself, the river took me offguard and I was swept off my feet and drenched. Laughing even harder I let myself go with current before I got a grip and swam the rest of the way. This is why you are taught how to swim in pajamas at swimming schools! I eventually reached the other side about fifteen minutes after everyone else! Everyone was in hysterics. Catherine had also had a tricky crossing. The Ozzies laughed and commented how they had been wading through rivers since they were toddlers! Good for you!

The group walked onwards and Catherine and I tramped along behind the group. I was drenched, but in the heat it was really, really nice and refreshing. We marched and marched and then all of a sudden I see Assi up ahead turn around and head back toward us. "The path trhough the jungel is overgrown (I havent been here for 4 years)so we are going to have to go another way." Oh he was a clever one, thinking that a path that went throught hte middle of the jungle 4 years ago would still be there. HEre{s a lesson for you buddy, trees grow. Catherine was less than impressed that we had to double back the way we came. I was less impressed when I was told that we would have to walk trhough another river.

We reached the next river and Scott and Rhiannon marched on. I carried both my flip flops and continued to ouch with every footstep. Once i crossed quarter of the river Assi came over and gave me his trainers. I put them on with difficulty in the water bt iwas sorted and i skipped merrily across the river, well ish!

I didn{t hate the river crossing, it was fun, but by the time i reached the bank of this river, 15 minutes after everyone else, everyone was ready to move onwards and didn{t want to wait to let me catch my breath. I through a mini paddy and said i was having a break and I would catch up. I sat down. Soemone said something that made me laugh. I laughed, but the laughter quickly turned to tears. Rahhhhh jungle!

Then came another river. ANd i got a bloody stone in the bloopdy trainer. Again every step was a pain. Scott and Rhiannon continued to march onwards and kept laughing at me as I crossed. I actaully spent more time in up to my shoulders when really it was only necessary to submerge up to the waist.

When the next river came there was hilarity for everyone, everyone except Rhiannon. Half way across a really wide and really deep river Catherine lost it. She was struggling to keep her camera in her dry bag above her head and battling with the current when her shoe got stuck on a rock and then she threw the ulitmate paddy and stamped her feet saying "That{s it. I am not going any further! Arghhh!" She looked around and realised she was slap bang in the middle of the river, she had just as far to go back as she had to go forawrd. When she saw this she started to slap her shoes on the water in an ultimate tantrum moment. The next thing, her shoe was away with the current. Scott stopped his hysteria enough to run down the river bank to try and rescue the shoe. Rhiannon borken down on the floor in giggles and I was fell over in hysterics in fits of giggles and was rolling around on my back! Assi, stifling laughter went out to Catherine and helped her in. Her little Welsh prtoests were hilarious. As she was adament that this was it. When Scott couldnt find her shoe it got worse/funnier.

We were assured there was one more river to cross and that we could go with the current. At this point I ended up leaving my boots behind, there was no point taking htem and we were going to have to come back this way anyway. I went with the river and when I came out at the other side i really felt like Colin Firth inPride and Prejudice in my sopping white shirt. I think the cowboy hat set it off.

Incidentally as we waded I kept getting flshbacks of Kevin And Perry Go Large as Rhiannon waded trhough in a shirt and trekking pants whilst wearing a Perry-esque bucket hat! I laughed, and it cheered Catherine up a bit too when we saw it.

We had waded trhough 6 rivers and had finally reached the parrot watch point. We alls at and marvelled at the parakeets, lorakeets and red and blue macaws! It was awesome as they dpped in and out of their nests and zipped around. After and hour watching in awe it was time for the return journey!

It was just as hilarious as the outward joureny, minus the tantrums. I enlisted the help of Scott to help keep my shoes dry, he was walking through the water like it was a large puddle. I on the otherhand was fully submerged for most of the way back. I certainly wouldn{t be needing a swim today!

When we finally got back we were all in giggles. It had been a hilarious morning. We sat and recounted the hilarity t hat Catherine and Myself had provided the group with our very british inability to wade trhough rivers with sophistication. Sophistication I may have lacked, but I had style! I let out a sudden giggle, since I first met Scott in BA he had been spurting out quotes from Austin Powers in a mockney accent and this time seemed the most appropriate time to repeat Austin{s question "Honestly, who throws a shoe?" Laughter ensued as the answer was clear... Catherine throws a shoe.

After lunch it was time to pack up camp and head back to where the boat picked us up. Incidentally, when we got off the boat when we arrived, the boat had left us at the camp and was due to pick us up again at an agreed point. Scott pointed out as we were leaving that this was indeed a very safe practice. If something had happened to one of us, we would have been screwed with no boat back! We were totally stranded out in the camp. We hadn{t even seen any boats pass us by! Eek!

We carried all of our gear and walked out to where the boat was due to collect us. We sat on a dry river bed and got eaten alive by sand flies. We could hear the engine of a boat pass approaching, but it didn{t sound like a boat big enough to be ours, it came round the corner, and there it was, the smallest, shallowest boat you ever did see. Turns out the actual boat had broken down on the way, and that the boat man had to trade for another boat so that he could pick us up! This is all we could get! I ended up sitting on a very broken slat with my knees up to my chin. Somehow everyone else got proper seats, but i{m not moaning. We sat on the river and sailed back down the river carried by the river. This boat, being shallower, crossed the shallow parts with ease! There were a few hairy moments on the way back though as the boat nearly toppled in the water! Capsize! Now, seriosuly, I don{t think I over react too much, but my reaction to the near capsization turned the others to absolute disdain.

Three days in the jungle had been both incredible and terrible! We had cried and laughed in equal measures. All of use were drained from the experience. It had been rough, that{s no lie, and we had been exhausted by it all. Wehn we got back to rurrenabaque we saw a few other travellers who had done the pampas tour, they were lively, happy and smiley, we were drained! We shut ourselves in our rooms.

Back in Rurranabaque

We all took our time back at the hostel and napped, we girls went to get snickers and coke. We needed them now more than ever. When we came back Scott ventured back out in search of more snacks. And, I only say this, because it is funny, and if you know me you will laugh out loud... but as Scott left to go on a chocolate hunt I stopped him, "Scott... be careful" He looked at me "It{s a jungle out there". Oh my goodness I can be hilarious at times can{t i. It doesn{t happen very often, but when I crack a good one, I crack a good one. Scott, who was currently suffering from Jungle Belly did look impressed, he didn{t even laugh, he just left in disdain. I was hysterical, delirously hysterical, and it took a while for me to realise that not even the girls were laughing with me! I was on my own here!

We all were in need of an early night, so after we repacked our stuff, takin out the stuff we never used in the Jungle and adding things we wished we had we went to sleep. Except, we couldn{t sleep, the room had no windows, only nets and the building across the street was a church, with a PA system, and there was a very active service going on! We kept hearing words like hallelujah. Eventually I cracked out my ear plugs and gave in. I needed sleep!

SO, I know I said i would wrtite about all of this in one go, but I think I will stop here so yuo can laugh your little socks off at the antics of the jungle! The next installment you will get the rundown of the Pampas tour!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Salt Flats, Tupiza to Uyuni, 8-11 September 2009

Oh, the Salt Flats! 4 days of absolute brilliance. 4 days of sub zero temperatures. 4 days of giggles and laughter. 4 days of incredible and diverse landscapes. 4 days of planning Salt Flat photos. 4 days wihout a shower. 4 fantastic days.

The itinerary
(courtesy of Tupiza Tours)

1st Day: The tour visits; Quebrada de Palala with spectavular red formations that resemble needles reaching 4200m high. El SIllar or VAlley of the Moon, where, as a product of erosion, landscape presents shapes like a moon landscape showing peaks and craters. Going up we arrive at Nazarenito, a gold mining village and Chilcobja, the deepest anitmony mine of the world. Landscape in this area is dry where you can usually see Condors flying. We spend the first night in San Antonio de Lipez 4269m above sea level. 250 inhabitants.

2nd Day: It´s the longest day (Almost 10 hours). LEaving early we visit the old colonial and abandoned town of San Antonio distinguished for Gold Exploitation. THe Torreon, an erroded area with volcanic rocks. Small towns as Quetena Chico and Quetena Grande, Kollpa Laguna where you can take a bath in Rio Amargo (hot springs), and Sala de Chalviri up to >Laguna Verde. HEre you can see two slopes of water separated only by a very narrow channel, the surface is 17km2. The strange colour of this lagoon is for the high content of arsenic and magnesium, near the lagoon is locaetd the majestic Volcan Licancabur (5818m). THe trip continues to Desierto de Dali showing a fantastic landscape, forsets of stone formations of ignimbritas and lava.
Towards the North we go to a geothermic land called Sol de Manana with an approxiamte extension of 1km2 and 5000m of height, this place represents an area of intense volcanic activity with craters of lava and mud in constant boiling. Many geysers are a formidable attraction too. Very near we can appreciate the Laguna COlorado, whihc is located in the foot of a black mountain. The lagoon is slightly deep, but it has interior islands of ice and borax. This one presents a brilliant red colour due to pigments of algae clorofitas and this sediments deposited at the bottom of the lagoon. THere we can find many kinds of flamingos.

3rd Day: LEaving towards Desierto de Siloli with lava formations where you can see the famous ´stone tree´ we continue to the North wehre a seies of small lagoons gradually appear. The most important are Laguna Hedionda, Chiarcota, Ramaditas, Honda and Canapa. Then we continre to the small Salar de Chiguana. Most of these rests of salt pleistocenicos lagoons are located in the small depressions. ANother fantastic attraction is Ollague VOlcano.

4th Day:The last day we cross he biggest salt flat of the world: Salar de Uyuni (10,500km2). Here Tunupa volcano hangs over impressively. The Salt Flat is considered the biggest in the world. It is formed by 11 layers with a thickness that ranges from 2 to 20m. It is the biggest reserve of energetic minerals in the world as lithium, magnesium, potasium, nitorgen, phosphorus, borax and others. It has 14 small islands. the main one is Fish island, (1km2) formed by calcerous rocks, rest of corals and marine shells. You can see the amaxing Ojos de Agua they are spring sources which could be considered as the pores of the exterior coat. Finally leaving the Salt Flat we visit Colchani, the village where they run the process of salt., Fianly we arrive at Uyuni, the most imprtant railway center in the last years, the ´train cemetry´is located there.

The characters

Amy, English, professional backpacker and writer (well, blogger of sorts)
Tim, English, commercial property developer
Laura, Irish, newly qualified accountant
Ciara, Irish, primary school teacher
Marco, Bolivian, driver (or personal chauffeur as I prefer)
Sonia, Bolivian, cook (oh yes, personal cook!)

Day 1

Wow this is beautiful. We can´t be more than 2km from Tupiza and already we are seeing stunning landspace. Red rock pinnacles weathered by the wind and rain. Wow.

A herd of goats just passed us by. First animals on the wildlife hunt! Booyah!

We drive further and chat between ourselves getting to know each other.

LLAMAS!!!! Wooo! I know I´ve seen lots of Llamas before but there are hundreds here! They are soooo cool. They all have their necks down grazing. ´Please put your heads up for a nice photo llamas, por favor!´ I bleat. No such luck. We carry on.

Wow, valley of the moon. Incredible. We demand that Marco stop so we can take pictures. Marco obliges. We travel a further 500m and Marco stops and encourages to take more photos from the better viewpoint. Marco knows the good spots!

Note to self, i have already used the word ´Wow´ several times. It´s going to be one of those posts!

Lunch. AVACADO! YUM! Sandwiches, and Talmes, and Pop! Love it!

Pass an old abandoned Gold Mine. My goodness life must have been bleak up here. We have been travelling for 5 hours and this is our first sight of any human activity. It´s not too cold up here, but it is chilly with the wind. It´s roasting in the car. Tim and I are in the main part of the car and Ciara and Laura are cramped in the back two seats. We all keep stripping on and off as we get out and in the car. There´s no air con in the car. Dammit. We can only have a little bit of the window open as we dont want to be suffocated by sand and dust.

The journey is not too bumpy. The 4 wheel drive doesnt seem to be working. There are some bumps in the road - can i even call it a road? But it´s all good. We´ve been given Lollipops with bubblegum in the middle (no one wants to have a bubble blowing competition with me - wish you were here Miss Wells!)

Marco and Sonia only speak Spanish, but we are doing very well at understanding what they tell us. We juut past a mountain that is a great resource for Tin. You can even see the minerals sparkling on the outside.

I´ve just slapped myself. The scenery that we continue to drive through is stunning, but i´m already starting to get blase! Dammit. I´m forcing myself to absorb as much of it as possible, but it really is mountain, after mountain, after mountian. It is stunning though. It is so dry up here, there are just scrubby bushes and cacti. Apparently in the wet season this area is lush with greenery. Hmm, sounds nice but I would rather be dry and see the golden and red barreness that I can see now, than be wet and seeing a few green bushes.

Interesting selection of tunes on the CD player ´Hey Mickey, your so fine, your so fine you blow my mind Hey Mickey.´ Shudder, these are going to be a long 4 days!

Stuck! Oh yes, we´ve got stuck in the sand. All out. All push. Oh that was hell. The wheels were spinning all the sand up into our faces as we pushed with all our might. SO we were pushing with all our might with eyes closed and holding our breath tightly. After a few failed attempts we finally free the 4x4. Go team!

We pass through some tiny towns. They are so basic. There is no suggestion that there are any shops in the town. Each town has a church though. Very rustic. There are hardly any signs of life. But Marco tells us people live here. I guess they are out in the wild shepherding the llamas. ´Imagine if we end up sleeping in a town like this tonight´ i joke. Everyone laughs ´Imagine´.

We arrive at San Antoni de Lipez and laugh. It is maybe a tiny bit bigger than the towns we had passed through earlier, and just as basic.

We pull into a hostel. No room at the inn. Marco looks as though everything is under control. ´SUrely we have reservations?´ ponder the 4 gringos.

Into what we assume is another hostel. No answer. Marco looks worried.

´We could try the church´ suggests Laura half joking, half serious. We discuss who would have the altar and who would be left on the pews. At least we could have a wash in the font.

We approachj a third buliding. Is this a hostel? Apparently so, and it has room for us.

We are all spitting feathers! How could we not have had a reservation? Surely there are agreements in place even if they can´t make telephone communication to make official reservations. It has become apparent that accomodation is on a first come, first serve basis. Fastest driver equals best hostel.

There are six beds in our room. Every bed has a differen flouro blanket. It´s tasteful. It´´s not too cold yet, but the walls are bare brick, and you can guarantee that it is going to get cold soon. We all ´rug up´ with thermals, jumpers, hats and gloves in anticipation of the cold. Tim burns a cd from his lap top so we can have music in the car tomoorrow. No one liked ´Hey Mickey´. I guess it was a good job I didn´t start singing outloud to it.

Tea time. TEA! Hot tea! Hot! (it´s getting colder). Soup! Veg soup! Sonia we love you. Meat, is it beef? is it llama? I don´t care what it is it tastes good. We think about the cute little llamas running around. Oh well, if i am eating llama it tastes good!

Marco meets us after dinner and tells us there is a problem with the car. He is going to drive it somewhere tonight to try and fix it, but just in case a new car and new driver will be arriving in the morning in case our jeep is rendered useless. As an after note he mentions we will be woken at 5am tomorrow. 5am! Our faces must have been a picture!

Anyone for cards? A lesson in the rules of Shithead begins. The tournament commences. It is hard to play cards whilst wearing gloves.

After an hour or so we head to bed. We walk from the dining area to the bedroom. BRRRRR!

I decide to sleep on the premise that if you wear ALL your clothes to bed you defeat the purpose f a sleeping bag. So lying in my thermals I shiver myself to sleep. My toes are like ice. And take ages to wake up.

I don´t sleep very well. Cold and altitude. I am glad at 5am when we are woken up. Please let there be a cuppa tea on offer for brekkie!

Day 2

I have never been so cold. It is still pitch black. Tea. Bread. DULCE DE LECHE! Made.

There is no jeep inside. If we have got up at 5am and we have no Jeep we are not going to be happy. We discover that Marco and the dodgy Jeep are outside the walls of the hostel. Oh, panic over. We jump in the jeep and drive off as the sun starts to rise.

There can´t be a better time in the world to explore a ghost town than now. WIth the sun creeping up steadily the light is eerie. It´s also very cold so I spend just a little time exploring and photographing. Back in the car. Tim and i are in the back seats today.

My toes are cold. Really cold.

We put on our new cd. Tim´s music taste is pretty good. we have soem good music on the go. Marco and SOnia hate it already. We all like it though. The morning continues. ´Who sings this one Tim?´ and Tim recounts the musical history of each artist on the mix tape.

My toes are so cold.

We stop several times at several stunning vistas. It is beautiufl, but it is bloody cold. Much colder than yesterday. In fact the sheer intensity of the cold is apparent when we reach an river.

There are three other jeeps on the same itinerary as us. We didn´t really see much of them yesterday, but we are all pretty much together today. The two jeeps stop ahead of us, indicating that Marco takes the lead. Then we see it, the river we have to cross through, a frozen river. Did i mention our 4 wheel drive was dead? We are forced to go first. Marco drives through. And we hit ice. (Titanic flash backs!) We can´t budge the ice. Marco pushes and pushes against the ice. Our faces are filled with terror. The river is deep, it must be at least up to the car door handles. There is no way I am getting out to push. The other jeeps take photos from the track. I want to stick my fingers up at them. Marco keeps revving. Surely the engine is going to get flooded. Laura and Ciara gather up their bags. Water is coming in. My toes are still freezing and the prospect of froxzen river water is not a warming one. Marco keeps revving and we keep moving inches at a time. We stop and take pictures from the middle of the frozzen river. Quite nice picture actually. I really need a wee. Push, push, push. Everyone on the track are laughing. Err excuse me, you lot were all too chicken to break the ice! A few more revs and some how we are through the ice berg and we blast through on to the banking. Stop i need a wee. No trees so i create privacy by opening car doors and demanding htat nobody looks. No one does look, they all watch the other jeeps cross the river. A feat which is much easier now that the path has been made by Marco.

Pass by a gorgous lake and enjoy the stunning views. Watchign the world go by through the window of a car has never been so stunning.

Hot Springs. But, it´s bloody freezing. The wind is bitter. Bitter. There is no way í´m stripping down to a bikini, imagine how cod it would be when you hvae to get out. I sit with my feet in though and after 30 minutes my toes finally warm through.

Lunch time! Pasta and veg ! Yum! We all love Sonia.

We travel onwards and meet the stunning Desert of Dali. It is stunning ad just like that painitng with the melted clocks, excpet there are no melting clocks here. Stunning. We practice for the Salar with some star jump photos. Practice was needed!

Pass by the Grrn and White Lakes. Stunning, stunning stunning.

Reach the geysers, but it is freezingly cold so we jump straight back in the car and admire through the windows.

We reach our little hostel which is much nicer than the previous nights. Ciara realises that there are only 2 blankets on the beds. She liberates blankets from an empty room so that we all have the 3 blankets that we paid for. There is a wood burner in this place. We demand that it be lit and we sit around it to get warm. Thankfully there is no one else in the hostel so we are greedy and have it to ourselves. We eat and play shit head again. We dont have to be up till 6.30 the next day, it feels like such a lie in. We enquire after the health of the car which Marco assures us is ok. Really? How comes? It was drowned today, surely it must be suffering in some way. Apparently not.

It doesnt feel quite so cold tonight, although i did abandon the idead of just wearing thermals in the sleeping bag. I add a hoodie, pj bottoms, socks and gloves. My feet are not quite so cold, but I still don´t sleep soundly.

day 3

Drive to Laguna Colorado, the red lake, we would have preferred to have seen it the evening before, the light was better as we drove past it at dusk, it´s a bit brown at dawn. Saw a few flamingoes, and I curse my inadequate zoom and then curse the flamingos for perching themselves so far away. I leave the lake disappointed. I love flamingoes and this was not up to par. Marco assures the disheartened Flamingo lover that we will see more later. Hmmmm.. we better or you get no tip matey.

We drive on to the first of five lakes. Wow. Pretty. (I promise that photos will rise to the surface at some point).

Between the second and third lake we have a problem... We grind to a halt. Marco looks to Sonia. Marco climbs out, walks around the jeep and then goes to collect a rock. I lean out my window.

Flat tire.

To be helpful i pull out my camera and take some piccies! Tim gets out and acts manly and stands and supervises the wheel change. Lots of Jeeps pass us by and none f them stop to help. This makes us all a bit cross, but the crossness doesn´t last for long.

Laura, Ciara and I laugh lots. The track playing at the time of puncture was BEth Rowley´s ´Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground´. Laura and I change the words, ´Tyre driving too close to the Ground´. After rewording the entire song to our amusement about having a flat tyre (i´m sure if Marco had understood English he wouldn´t have appreciated it) We flicked through our mix tape CD and play track 1, Ray Le Montagne´s Trouble! Oh yes, perfect. ´Trouble, trouble, trouble´. This should be our anthem we thought. If only we knew what lay ahead!

With the tyre fixed we carried on and by the 4th lake all of our flamingo dreams were satisfied.

I love flamingos. Purely because I used to think that Flamingo Land Theme Park was the best place in the world. My love of Flamingoes extended to me spending 20th Birthday birthday money on a pink neon light in the shape of a Flamingo from HyperValue. I cried when I knocked it off my shelf and smashed it into a million pieces last year.

But none of this mattered now. Here i was stood before a million trillion pink flamingoes. I walked along the edge of the lake and was in almost touching distance with these beautiful birds. The cold didn´t matter any more. Watching them take off into flight was incredible, as was watching them land. Like the llamas they all had their heads down as they picked for food in the lake. But one or two obliged when I asked them politely to raise their heads for the camera. i was in my element. I was surrounded by hte flamingoes. I just couldnt cope with the excitement. Then the time came when we had to move on. I was upset, but when I saw the next stop, another lake, with even more flamingoes I was excited again. I love flamingoes. With the blue sky, blue lake, yellow and red mountains, and pink flamingoes this was the most incredible place in the world. Forget Flamingo Land, this was my paradise. We ate lunch in the car (it was windy outside, god only knows how the flamingoes don´t get blown over!) and it was one of those perfect picnic spots that i have loved in South America. I think I will have to make a top ten of the best picnic spots in South America at some point. this spot would be a high one.

We carry on our drive thourhg lots of Volcanoes and through the vast area barren wilderness. It was stunning. Marco took off our CD and plugged in his mp3 player (sadly the car stereo was incompatible with ipods) and we endured panpipes. Laura and I moaned. It just went on and on. SO after 25 very long panpipe tracks we requested a different CD. Marco obliged on the condition that it was one of his CDs. Ok, we conceded. He inserted a new CD and pressed play. The opening notes sounded and Laura and I looked to eah other with pained expressions. More Panpipes!!! And then, before we could demand a change of CD again the voice of Nelly Furtado began and we were saved from a death by panpipes with the Whoa Nelly album. We cross a small Salt Flat and are very disappointed, this is rubbish and grey. Knowing that we would be seeing a bigger and better salt flat tomorrow we all restrained from takng photos.

About 40 minutes from our bed for the night Marco stops again. He turns to Sonia and Sonia gets out. She places her head in her hands and walks off to get a stone. Laura leans out of her door. Another flat!

We are all cursing and wandering what happens next. We had already used our spare. Some other jeep better stop for us this time, but moments later another jeep sped past. rahhh! Tim gets out of the car again and does the manly thing of watching and we girls listen to the tunes that play out again. At the moment of the second puncture the song playing out was ´Good times, we, all, have, Good times´ (no idea who sings this, but it was probably on a Harvester advert once upon a time). We laughed at the irony and contemplated putting on a bit of Ray Le Montagne again to increase the irony. But when the next track fired up as ´Girls just wanna have fun´ we decided to sing along at the top of our voices. Obviously we were very good at easing the situation. As we sung Marco did his magic and produced a new inner tube for the tyre which would apparently be sufficient to fix the second flat. i had a momment of terror as i was flicking through tracks on the cd player. every time i pressed the skip button the engine revved. I scremed. I was only touching the cdplayer, how could i be operating the engine. it tunrs out that the new inner tube was being reinflated from the engine which Marco was somehow reviing.

Ten minutes later and we were back on the road. and soon enough we arrived at our final salt flat hostel. this time a real salt hotel.

Built on the same principle as an igloo, this hotel made of blocks of salt was toasty, even without a woodburner. We fell in love with the hostel immediately. The walls were filled with gorgeous weavings and stuffed ducks. The floor was made up of salt bits, thus making shoes invaluable.

We had to delay the shit head tournament final this evening as we had more urgent matters to attend to. Salt Flat photos. I was so ecstatic when I met Laura and Ciara and they told me that they too had brought props for Salt FLat photos. I had bought an orange dinosaur and had several other things lurking in the depths of my bag that would be useful for the photo opportunity which we were now very close to.

We designated a plastic bag as a props bag and filled it with all our goodies. Tim watched on with pained expressions as we grew more and more excited. With the prop bag full we began to write a list of the photos we would take on the Salt Flats. Tim was in total dispair. The list went as follows;
Star jumps
Walking a la the Beatles on Abbey Road
Queen´s CHair
Human Pyramid
Pringles, Push Pop, Percy Pig and Fried Egg sweet
Sppon, knife, fork manouvers
Camera button
Car, pushing, and dinosaur cartoon sketch
Straws, people being sucked up through straws
Lonely Planet
Amy Knitting
Nail Varnish
Matches - wind dependent
cup - climbing out of
Cards - each of us with a card relating to the results of the shithead tournament

Epic! To those of you confused by the prospect of all this let me explain. The slat flats are flat, very falt and very open, and as such make a perfect spot for taking photos and playing with perspective, thus making a toy dinosaur appear bigger that real life human people. I will promise to put photos on faceboko soon, so that it is less of a bewilderment.

So with the list down we tried to work out how far apart we would need to pace ourselves to get the perspective to work. We gave up quite quickly thinking that Marco would be in the know and that he could help us tomorrow. It looks easy in photos we had all already seen, so we wouldn´t have any problems.

The final of shithead took place. And in reverse order the results were as follow, Ciara, Amy, Laura and Tim. We were all a bit gutted that Tim had won, we had spent pretty much the whole tournament trying to get him to lose. With jest of course!

We climbed into bed and it was far from cold. Salt bricks really kept the warmth in. We tucked up early ready to get up for sunrise on the salt flats the next morning.

Day 4

There was a little bit of tension getting ready this morning. Of course we all wanted to make the sunrise on the salt flat, but Laura and Ciara were keen that, ahead of the impending photoshoot, make up was called for. Tensions rose and we bombed acorss the salt flats trying to race the sun. To be honest, the salt flat looked the same everywhere, so i suggested we stop anywhere in an attempt to decrease the rising tension. MArco didn´t want to stop, he pushed the pedal to the floor and we added to the tyre tracks that are deep set on the Salt Flat. All of a sudden Marco stoopped at his spot and we got out the car just in time.


Simply Spectacular.

All tensions dissolved as we all stood together in awe of the rising sun, the white never ending salt flat, and the surrounding mountains. WOW!

Once the sun was up we were all in a better mood, and headed to Fish Island. The Island was full of Cacti and was so incredibly photogenic that i not only killed my battery but i maxed out my memory card too. Thank god for spares!

We wandered round and fell inlove wihth this island made from coral, the only living thing in the vast salt plain.

After brekkie which was served at fish island we made our way to a perfect spot for salt flat photos. We grabbed the bag of props and the list and started our way through the list.

We got the easy human pyramids, beatle walking and star jump shots. ALthough the star jump shots were unexpectedly tricky given Laura´s inability to jump on the count of 3. Then we came to the perspective piccies. Oh dear. Marco hadn´t proffered any help and a cold Tim had got back in the car as two Irish girls and I tried to fathom the tricksy concept of perspective. We tried all the different props. SOme were too small, but we soldiered on through the list to the best we could. All i can say, thank goodness for digital! After an hour TIm came over to tell us that Marco wanted to move on. But we´ve only been going an hour and we´ve still got more to do we whined. We begged Tim to help us, ´if we had your help we would be quicker´. Tim helped for abit and we scored some perfect dino shots. Then Marco came to help and we realised he was completely incompetent at this type of photography - not that we could talk! After 90 minutes we figured it was time to pack it in. Thankfully it wasn´t too cold on the flat. Or maybe we were just too excited that we didn´t feel the cold. In the car we examined the photos. After all the faffing, and all the photos we did actually have some good ones. We girls were happy.

The car drove on trhough a salt mining factory and we eventually arrived at Uyuni. After a lunch by the train cemetry where we took some cool piccies our trip was over. Laura and Ciara were heading back to Tupiza so Tim and i said farewell to the girls and were left abandoned in Uyuni. A joyous wonderous place. not.

So that was that, the salt flats. WoW!

It was an incredible experience. I just can´t impress how beautiful the 4 days were. it was such a unique experience. I have sinced found out that the salt flats will soon be closing to tourists, under the flats is a significant amount of Lithium which could seriosuly improve Bolivia´s economy by mining the lithium for use in batteries. An industry that will be more profitable than tourism. So, if what you´ve read makes you want to check it out for yourself, you better get a wriggle on and get yourself out here.

Sorry, this was an epicly long post and it did actually take over two hours to write!

here is a link to Tim´s blog which is complete with some STUNNING photos (but none of the Dinosaur or any other silly pics)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tupiza by Horse, 7 September 2009

Salt flat tours typically begin in Uyuni, but after hearing many reports that Uyuni is a bit of a dive I decided I would head to Tupiza to start my salt flat tour and enjoy the land of Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid.

After sorting out my Salt Flat tour I grabbed a horse and galloped off into the craggy gorges that surround Tupiza.

Well, at any rate, I booked to hire a horse for a few hours and was taken with a guide for a walk out to the stunning Tupiza scenery.

As it happened I was spending the afternoon riding with a guy called Tim who was going to be on the same Salt Flat tour as me for the next four days.

The ride was lovely and the landscape was gorge! Blue sky, red rock, craggy landscape weathered by the wind and rain. Amazing.

My horse was called Negra, and she was lovely. That was until she picked up a gallop! Eek! We had Tim´s horse´s foal come along with us for the ride, and one point the foal bolted off and our two horses followed. I clung on for dear life, clutching my helmet that didn´t really fit properly and clambering on to the reins. ARGGHHHH! Then the horse calmed down and everything was ok again. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, and seeing the surrounding countryside made me very excited for the days ahead exploring the Bolivian wilderness in a 4 by 4.

Someone is Voodooing me, 6 September 2009

I´ve been meaning to write this post for some time, but since I left Paraty and landed in Sao Paulo I have had a sneaking suspicion that I have been the victim of Voodoo. Here´s the evidence:

Leaving Paraty I go to close the zipper compartment on the bottom of my bag and catch a plastic bag in the zip. This snags my zip beyond recognition and thus has broken the zip. I have had to reorganise my bag so that i do not cause further damage to this part of my bag. To date my gaffer tape fixings are holding out.

The frame on my backpack is pushing through the bottom of my bag. This problem actually began some time ago, but I hacve fixed it. However, the frame has wiggled its way mysteriously into a new position and is causing another bigger hole in my bag. To date my denim patch sewn on with double thickness thread is holding out. Bestie Scott is going to have a look at it for me. He works in an outdoor shop.

My combination lock. This lock is pretty substantial, it has survived some brutal bashing about, but the other day my bag fell off the bed and my combination lock smashed with it. Smashed into a million pieces. I tried to fix it, but failed and had to buy a new one. Only problem is that the new one comes with Portugues instructions, so altho the receptionist girl in Sao Paulo set it for me I have no idea how it actually works.

Wash bag. My wash bag is fraying everywhere and is full of holes.

Sunnies. These literally just snapped. No reason, they just snapped on my head.

So to whoever is voodooing me could you please stop it por favor.

My boots stink! 5 September 2009

Oh, these few posts are all over the shot. Sorry for that.

On Saturday night as we were all getting ready for bed in our dorm, Ryan turns to myself and Sharon and enquires about a smell. I sniffed the air. I couldn´t smell anything. And then it hit me, a double dose of feral hiking boot pong and sheer humiliation. ´Err, i think it might be my boots.´ My boots were immediately marched out of the room and left outside the dorm.

Maybe I am just ussed to the smell, but I really didnt think they were that bad.

As I write this now on the bus to Tupiza I am actually wearing my boots and can smell a faint whiff of the offending odour. uRGHH!

And onwards to Tupiza, 6/7 September 2009

It had seemed to me like a good idea to go back to Sucre from Potosi with my Besties and then onwards with them for some Bolivian Adventures. But as we sat in our Gringo Cafe on our Lazy Sunday i realised that it would work out better for me to head towards Tupiza and do a Salt Flat tour and then meet up with Scott and Rhiannon in La Paz in a few days. As much as it broke the hearts of my two Besties when I broke this to them, they both new deep down that it made sense. I´d already checked out of my hostel with the intention of moving to Scott and Rhiannon´s hostel, so with no bed booked for the night I decided that I would take the nightbus to Tupiza. (Oh, i love the spontaneity of travelling solo). In a flash I had changed my mind again and I was on my way to Tupiza. The bus left at 8pm and was due to arrive at 6am. I was not impressed when the bus stopped at 3.30am and the lady next to me confirmed that the bus had arrived at Tupiza. Dammit! I was trying to save a night on accomodation. So at 3.30am I cracked out my compass, got my bearings and woke up the receptionist at the nearest hostel to the bus station. I slept until 10am.

Easy like sunday Morning, and afternoon, 6 September 2009

Potosi is not a particularly happening place on a Sunday, so today was a lazy day. Myself, Ryan and Sharon went to the Mint Museum, taking advantage of the only tour of the day at 9am! It was a cool museum to pay a visit to and we saw some cool mummies.

After the tour finished it was time for elevenses. Cake o´clock! Yum.

We found cake and my besties in one of the Gringo Cafes in the town. Incidentally the Gringo cafe was once of the few places open on a Sunday and as such we spent the whole day there.

It was a very chilled day of chatting, coca tea and quineoa soup. Lovely.

BESTIES!!!! 5 September 2009

Well, I guess the last post gave the game away, but yes, after many facebook posts and text messages, me and me besties managed to meet up in Potosi!

I arrived at their hostel and poked my head in the front door to find Scott on ´Bestie Watch´ sitting on a bench facing the hostel´s entrance. Then I saw Rhiannon prancing around. Chaos ensued.

Jumping, squealing, hugging, shouting `Bestie´ at full blast.

I had found my Besties again. Turns out they had spent their entire afternoon running round Potosi shouting ´Bestie, where are you?´ much to the bemusement of the locals.

With Ryan, Sharon and another guy from out hostel we all went to dinne. Rhiannon and I spent the whole evening recounting every minutae of our travels since we last saw each other. Non-stop chat!

TANKLES! 4 September 2009

This is the post I forgot to write the other day.

Once we had found a hostel in Sucre to stay for the night I quickly got changed before we headed out in search of breakfast. I decided the mild weather required that today be a day for leggings! Wooo! However, the Wooo feeling was short lived. I loooked down at my feet as I pulled on my leggings and let out a scream. Where were my ankles? ARGHHHHH! The mixture of 15 hours on a bus at altitude had inflated my ankles to the size of tree trunks. I averted my eyes from the monstrosity that was my tankles. Once i had got used to the idea I looked again. I shuddered with disgust. This was disgusting! I spent the whole day eyeing my angles in the reflections of windows and car doors. Urghhhh! I hate altitude!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

An afternoon down the mines, 5 September 2009

Potosi used to be the richest city in the whole world. It´s hard to believe now, given that the average monthly wage is the equivalent of 120 pounds. The thing that brought wealth to the city back then and that now attracts tourists in droves is the mountain that looms over the city: Cerro Rico.

The story goes that when the Incas came to Potosi they discovered Cerro Rico and when they began to mine the mountain in search of minerals a god appeared and told the Incas that the wealth of the mountain did not belong to them, instead the wealth belonged to people who had not yet arrived on Bolivian soil. Hmmm.. the Spanish!

So, when the Spanish came they found Cerro Rico and began to mine for silver.

Visiting the mines is one of those experiences which leaves you feeling uneasy. By visiting the mines for two hours or so are you simply treating the miners who work incredibly hard in ridiculously atrocious codnitions like animals in a zoo?

It was strange, but I was kind of excited to go and visit the mines. Even though I had to sign my life away before I joined the tour, I think I was ignorantly caught up in a happy little world where I would get to dress up in dirty clothes with a miners hat and head torch. So when we arrived the shock was even more brutal.

It was a Saturday, but there were still a few miners around. Our guide told us that it was not unlikely that some of the miners we would see would have been working for around 20 hours or more in the innards of Cerro Rico.

Before we entered the mountain we went to a laboratory where the minerals were chemically tested and separated from the scum. I say labroartory, it was four bare brick walls full of machinery. Machinery that rattled round at 100mph and was held together with bolts and screws that looked like they would fly off at any moment. I feared for my life, death by stray bolt, as i wandered around the ´lab´.

It was a real eye opener. Health and Safety was clearly not a done thing out here. Our guide said to us ´In Bolivia anything is possible´ and from wandering round you really could see this was the truth.

After carefully walking through the lab I was out again in safe territory looking up at the mountain. I was sickened with myself taht just half an hour before I was excited at the prospect of an afternoon down the mines. Now, I was terrified at what I might find.

It´s a bit sick to say I was excited, but I had heard so much about the mine at Potosi before I got there that I was excited to see what i had heard so much about.

We donned swine flu masks as we entered, the miners who worked inside would have no such luxury. I was glad of the luxury. My nose was instantly filled with dust and I struggled through trying not to touch the live electric cables running to my right, watching where I put my feet so I didn´t trip over any cobbles, and keeping an eye out for any low points in the ceiling which were waiting for me to crack my head on.

We can´t have been inside for more than two minutes before i cracked my hard hat on a protuding beam and sent it flying on the floor. This was the first of many. Damn being tall.

I´m not a claustrophobic person, but I hated being inside. I was the last of our group, with just the assistant behind me, and I would have so liked to have gone back out again straight away. But I couldn´t, I was this far and I wanted to hear the stories of the miners who worked in these close and uncomfortable confines. To turn back less than 500 hundred meters in would just be isnulting.

The group sat in a clearing and our guide(who was also a miner himself)began to explain how the mining cooperatives work, how that mining in Potosi is an occupation passed on through the family, how the miners will work for 12-24 hours without food, just drink and coca leaves. As he reeled off the facts we listened intently. He was a very intuitive guide and despite our swine flu masks that concealed half of our faces he knew that we were depressed as we listened to his accounts of mining life.

´Why are you all so sad? We have a great time in the mines. The first rule of being a miner is to have a good sense of humour. We all have nick names, like llama-f****r, that´s my nick name. We have fun down here, it isn´t a sad place. And when we hit silver it is great.´

All very well, but the last time a significant amount of sivler was found on the mine was in 1992. It seemed pretty futile. But of course the miners mine for other minerals than silver.

Our guide then led us further in the mountain. It was quiet because it was Saturday but eventually we found two mniners.We gave them dynamite, soft drinks and coca leaves. Seeing the conditions, it had been worth it to spare a couple of quid to make this gesture.

We asked questions and watched them pot out the holes which they would soon pack with dynamite.

The most prying question on my mind was how do the miners feel about toruists coming to watch them at work. The response was a positive one. ¨It breaks the monotony to see people, and we appreciate the gifts they bring, it is great to see pretty western women too.´

After around 3 hours we were back out in the open air and breathing easily.

I didn´t know how to feel. I had seen horrific conditions and hard work. But I had heard stories filled with hope, optimism and humour. It was torn.

The guide refused to tell us the death toll when we were inside the mine, but when we were out he told us that only 8 people died a year. Yes, it was a dengerous job, but miners were in the mines from the age of 14 or so and were trained by their fathers so that they knew how to work the mountains.

I left incredibly unsettled by the experience and with a nose that felt completely caked in dust.

That evening I met up with Scott and Rhiannon who had done the mine tour in the morning (my tour had been in the afternoon). They had an altogether different experience.

They had met a miner with 70% balck lung who was working in the mine untill his last breath so that his children would not have to work in such a harsh environment.

They had been told that the mountain was close to collapse because the network of tunnels and passageways were so intertwined and making the mountain fragile.

Scott and Rhiannon´s stories of the mines were shocking. It was strange. I guess my guide was an optomistic guide. One who coudln´t bare to dwell on the reality of life in the mine because such dwellings are counterproductive.

As I write this blog now I still feel uncomfortable about the experience. It was hard hitting. Even without the horror stories that Rhiannon and Scott had heard first hand, what I had seen was pretty brutal. But the humoour and jest that our guide presented the facts with just left me unsettled.

Potosi, 5 September 2009

When I arrived in Potosi I was instanly glad that I had left Sucre. The town was lovely. Lots of Pedestrian street, lots of cobbles and pretty little buildings and houses. And, a million gorgeous churches, well, actually, I think there was about 84. Myself, Ryan and Sharon (an American we had met on the bus) wandered round the streets of Potosi with fingers constantly pressing the shoot button on our cameras. It was lovely and had a much more Bolivian feel to it than Sucre. It was great to wander round and see all the beautiful Bolivian mamas in their big skirts and bowler hats. So picturesque but impossible to pry and take photographs. As I wandered round I kept my eyes peeled for a sighting of my Besties but they were no wehre to be seen. After lunch Ryan, Sharon and I decided to head to the mines.

Fun Fact... Potosi is the highest city in the world (note that La Paz is the highest CAPITAL city in the world). It was quite nice and mild in the day but got cold at night.

Route Planning, 4 September 2009

I have been having a bit of a nightmare with my route planning. In fact, in the space of time between Santa Cruz and Sucre I probably changed my plans nigh on 72 times. The reason for the dilemma in my planning... trying to meet up with Bestie Rhiannon and Bestie Scott. SO when I got back after dinner in Sucre and found a text message from Rhiannon saying they would be in Potosi tomorrow I decided that I too would be in Potosi tomorrow for some Bestie time. Ryan had already bought a ticket for Potosi the next morning at 7am so I made a snap decision to leave Sucre after just one day and head to Potosi with him.

Sucre, 4th September 2009

Sucre is a cool city in Bolivia. It reminds me a bit of Salta in Argentina because it has some pretty buildings and is very colonial in style. I had a good wander round the place but didn´t really feel anything special for the place. Sucre is one of those places where backpackers spend loads of time just bumming around, but for me I didn´t quite feel anything keeping me in Sucre. I had dinner with the 3 others I met in Santa Cruz and I ate a really good Chilli Con Carne. I stayed in a really crap hostel that had a hole in the floor and crap beds. I don´t think I particularly rate Sucre.

Chasing Dinosaurs, 4 September 2009

So after finding a hostel and taking breakfast in Sucre myself and Ryan (one of the guys who was on my bus) headed in search of Dinosaurs!!!

We jumped on a strange Disney Land-esque automobile that is known simply as THE DINO TRUCK! Oh yes!

Five minutes into our journey on the DINO TRUCK my excitement was gone. This machine was an eyesore. And all the locals laughed, pointed and jeered as the DINO TRUCK passed by. It was very, very, very embarassing. And discreet it was not.

After thirty minutes of sheer humiliation the DINO TRUCK pulled in to a cement works and we were ushered in to a Dinosaur Museum. As Dinosaur Museums go, and I will add that I am a bit of a Dinosaur fan, this one was pretty average. It had some cool life size dinosaurs that looked pretty cool, but this museum was not about the bones and model dinosaurs. Oh no, this place was about the footprints.

The guide led us to an outdoor viewing platform where we came face to face with a wall of Dinosaur Footprints. The site is the largest collextion of Dinosaur footprints in the world. It was amazing. One of the tracks was the longest dinosaur track in the world. It wa was soo increidbly cool.

After an hour in the museum it was all aboard the Dino Truck and back to Sucre city centre.

Friday, 11 September 2009

That{s all for now...{

So next up you will hear all about Sucre, Potosi, Tupiza, The Salt Flats and my incredible ability to change my route 50 times in 24 hours!

I{m heading to La Paz this evening on a night bus, and will be there over the weekend. So until next time. Ciao, ciao! x

p.s. here is a silly picture of me courtesy of Bestie Rhiannon on San Telmo market in Buenos Aires, jsut in case you have forgotten what i look like!

My first Bolivian bus, 3 September 2009

I don{t like to have expectations when I travel, but before I arrived I did have low expectations of the Bolivian bus service.

Just before I left the hostel and headed to the bus station to make my way to Sucre a Dutch couple told me that they had flown from Sucre to Santa Cruz because it is such a notoriously bad road. Dammit!

Oh well, it was booked, and let{s face it, I wouldnt be having a true Bolivian experience if I didnt risk my life on the buses.

I made my way to the bus station with three others from the hostel who were also on the same bus as me to Sucre. I have to say I was glad to have them there when it came to putting bags on the bus.

We arrived at the bus company office where we had to leave our bags. But of course none of us wanted to leave our bags unattended in a frantic Bolivian bus station. We stood together and didn{t take our eyes of the bags. When the first bag was picked up one of the guys ran to see where it was taken and to ensure it was actaully installed on the bus. It was all pretty crazy and I had no faith that my bag would still be there when I arrived in Sucre. Out of pure fear for losing my bag I physically locked my bag to the insides of the bus and hoped that no one would take bolt croppers to remove my bag.

Out of all the buses in the bus station this was actually the crappest bus going! It looked like it would fall to pieces... and there was no toilet! 17 hour journey!

I was quite impressed when I boarded to discover the seats had Koala Ears (you know the hard bits you get on airplane seats that are really handy to sleep on), however when I tested the seat recline and was not impressed. Thankfully i was sitting next to a skinny little lady and not one of the Big Bolivianos that were all over the rest of the bus. As I got comfy in my seat and looke dup to notice a tv at the front of the bus. Hmmm, not bad... but then I looked closely and noticed that the case for the tv was actually filled with bags... extra storage space!

As we set off a guy got on with a Doctors bag. Oh great I thought, just in case there are any fatalities on a dodgy Bolivian bus they give you a doctor. But this was not a doctor. This was a travelling salesman who spent 30minutes trying to convince his captive audience to buy Laxatives. It was hilarious. And after he had sold the Laxatives he produced Deep Heat-type stuff from his Doctors bag and started to flog that! Brilliant!

4 hours into the journey we made a toilet stop. It was pretty special. There were three toilets in the ladies, but only 2 were being used. That was until a big Boliviano mumma pushed her way forward and used the third cubicle. From then on the 3rd cubicle was in use. And when it came to my turn I had to use the third cubicle. This was when I discovered the third cubilce was not a toilet but a shower. I was in, and there was no going back, I couldn{t be the gringo who couldn{t do as the locals did. So there I was, weeing a shower cubicle. The floor was drenched so I closed my eyes and thought of England as I relieved my bursting bladder. I would have been grossed out by the damp floor of the shower, but the reality was that there was urine over all the floor, even in the cubicles with real toilets.

I got back on the bus and didnt drink another drop of liquid until I reached Sucre.

The bus arrived at about 9am in Sucre and the last few hours of the journey were beautiful. The mountainous scenery and blue sky was gorgeous.

In all, it hadn{t been the smoothest of journeys, but it hadent been as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to get about 7 hours sleep on the bus, on and off of course. And, as a bonus my bag was still there when I got off the bus!