Sunday, 13 March 2011
Bolivia pt I: Copacabana, La Paz, Cochabamba 11-21/11/10
What a difference a lake makes. We left dreary Puno and followed the perimeter of lovely lake titicaca for quite some time before reaching the Peru / Bolivia border.
With beautiful blue skies and baking hot temperatures we had to disembark and walk the last one hundred metres to the border control. and queue, hot and stinky with many other people from many other buses. thirty minutes later we got to the front and handed over one piece of paper, then told we had to queue again next door to hand over another. whatever, after an hour we had passports stamped and were allowed to step across the border to try to find our bus.
a short dusty ride later we had arrived at copacabana. i don't know the backstory to mr manilow's famous song but i can't imagine Lola did many shows here!
So, our first taste of bolivia was not massively different to our last taste of Peru, hot dusty and largely undeveloped but we were used to this and quickly felt at home. The town had a sea-side feel (well, the lake is huge) and 'selling tat to tourists' was clearly top of the agenda, but it did it in a nice way and the hard sell was softened by the many cafes / restaurants lining the main street which leads down to the lake. Away from the main tourist-strip the streets and houses deteriorate considerably except for the local church which was fairly magnificent and from what we could see immaculate. But with not much else to do, the following day we took the usual tourist route of visiting the Isla del Sol (is translation really needed?).
Behind our new abode was yet another hill - Cerro Calvario (Calvary Hill), atop which was a series of fourteen memorials with crosses (hence the name Stations of the Cross). It was an exhausting climb (for me at least) up huge stone-carved steps. So, how bad did i feel arriving huffing and puffing at the top sipping my chilled water to find a virtual mini village of old ladys, most of whom had hauled massive sacks full of cooking equipment and food... I made it immediately apparent that i was suffering with my achilles by hobbling everywhere but i don't think i was fooling anyone... i felt ashamed. After taking in the gorgeous views, we headed back down to find Letty and soemthing to eat.
I wouldn't normally go into detail about our meals, but we thought it was quite funny when we went for food that night, we found a nice looking (but empty) place. Quick, easy and cheap the three of us ordered different pasta dishes. they took forever to arrive and when they did we all ended up with exactly the same thing which didn't match what any of us had ordered! Tasty though and 'no desmasiado caro'! Katy decided that she needed to run, so got up and out early to run along the lake, only to feel as if some one was wringing her lungs out, which isn't nice. The high altitude taking it's tool, with breathing and running not being easy...apparently. I wasn't go to find out.
the following day, our next event saw us in a minivan heading out of town with ten others and a dozen mountain-bikes strapped to the roof. we had signed ourselves up for a 64km trip along the quaintly named 'Death Road'.
the track was rutted by vehicles and eroded by water but not too bad and you soon forgot how certain the death would be if you fell off the edge. So we flew down sweeping bends trying to keep up with the guide, whooping and screaming... then the mist rolled in... then the rain started. this considerably upped the odds. couldn't see, slippy roads, massive puddles, wet gloves, dodgy brakes. still. too. fast. but what a laugh. by the end most body parts were either numb or aching, including our smiling mouths.
More scary was the journey back, as our driver was constantly stuffing coca leaves into his increasingly hamster-like mouth. I've never had the patience to try them myself (minimum forty minutes chewing required apparently), but they should act as a stimulant. All i can say is he either had a dodgy batch or he's been awake for three weeks straight... I've never seen such bloodshot eyes in charge of a motor vehicle. That said, we all made it back safe, sound, tired and very happy.
On our return we had decided to celebrate surving Death Road with a curry, we had heard on the back-packers grape vine of the best curry in the whole of Bolivia, and luckily for us it was just down the road. And it was so very good, not up there with Ruislips finests or Pundits (a must if you're ever in Upton on Severn!), but it was still jolly good.
perusing the markets took a long time, and the fruit and veg looked very nice but we weren't really in a position to buy much (trusting the hostel's kitchen about as far as the cockroaches could throw it); however on most occasions the market is where we would eat (using the time honoured tradition of seeing where the locals go and following them). And it worked. the food was either really cheap or really nice... sometimes even both. most of the time the not knowing what you were eating was best.
we got off to an inauspicious start. having had hostels thrust at us everywhere we've been so far, we didn't give it a second thought here but - with darkness rapidly approaching - we quickly became unstuck, with places being either too expensive or full. or both. the place we eventually happened on was both available and cheap, but... what's that word for the complete opposite of luxurious? Still, in the words of Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad, so we called it home for now... and anyway these places have a way of growing on you (though in this instance that might have been literal).
we took it all in and then took our - now obligatory - comedy photos (hoping that he can take a joke), before returning to town; this time via a much more sensible taxi.
Katy feels i should share with you the "abuse" she has had during her time running through South America with Cochabamba being her worst. Here they don't just wolf-whistle at you from moving cars and honk thier horns; which is some what anoying, especially as you can't plug into an ipod for fear of being mugged. no. here, as well as the yelling and honking she got slapped on the arse. twice. So for all of you who want to run in South America, my advice; don't! Unless you want to be followed, verbally and - sometimes if you're lucky - physically abused. Public Notice over.
Time to leave Cochamaba, with another over night bus adventure, this time we had two drunk Bolivian football players (apparently they're really good!) firing questions at us. They'd just been to a christening or something. What we got for our money this time was a 10 hour journey with stops evey hour or so that then becomes a 12 hour journey. and as bonus the more drunk of the two Bolvians will be throwing-up down the bus walkway, himself and his girlfriend. Ah the delights of bus travel. retribution came in the form of the bus driver ordering the now slightly more sober offender to clean up his mess. this he chose to do by wiping it up with his designer, snow-washed denim jacket.
And on that note we say a farewell to bileous Cochabamba and hello to sugary Sucre.
* to be buried at the threshold to your home for good luck (yours, not the llamas).