Santa Cruz | Cursed or Blessed | July 18, 2004
Last time I updated we were in Corumba on the border of Brazil and Bolivia. Upon arriving to the city we were quickly informed that there were no trains or busses or anything into Bolivia. Supposedly there was a referendum or election or something and all transportation was shut down (as well as all shops and everything). This was really disappointing because this meant we were stuck in Corumba over the weekend. But we weren’t going to let this not prevent us from trying. We got to our hostel and were told the same information.The next morning we went to an office to get our Brazil exit stamps in our passports. Kevin and I got through fine but when Ryan’s turn came, he didn’t have an important paper needed for the stamp. They told him to come back monday (in 2 days) and pay for a new paper – another hit. Before walking away, I told Ryan to go again and beg and pay or do whatever it takes. The second time there was a different person at the window and after a little confusion, we were on our way with the required stamps.
We were feeling an extra dose of faith that Saturday morning so we took a bus to the border. We met some people coming back from the bus and train stations – no trains, no busses. We kept going anyway – took a taxi to the bus station. When we got there, a bus was waiting and was heading to bolivia. We tried to buy a ticket but the all the seats were filled. We asked to go into the aisles but again, no possible way. We were almost defeated but decided to wait until the bus left – to secure our failure. Just before the bus was going to leave, we just walked on and sat in the aisles. No one really cared and so we were off!
So that was the miraculous part of the story. I’m not sure the miracle was worth the bus ride – we had no seats, the aisles were narrow, the distance was 18 hours (supposedly), there were 10 more people in the aisles, the bus smelt like barf, and the roads were dirt. We stood up and took turns crouching in the aisle for the rest of the day. When night came, a few people on the aisle found somewhere to lean. Then the bus broke down at 1 am. Something was wrong with the steering column but after an hour or so, they gummed or tied something in place and we were off. Kevin and Ryan found some way to sleep in the aisle but I didn’t even have room to put both feet flat on the ground.
This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I balanced standing up on one foot and a half from 2am to 5am. I was a basket case and I just felt like screaming cause there was no room. Remember I said the bus smelled like barf? Well it was near the end of these 3 agonizing hours that it really started to get to me. Finally I had to hurl. I had a ziplock bag in my pocket with some candy in it. While everyone was sleeping, I emptied it out and quietly puked it full trying not to splash the people at my feet too much. I think only one kid noticed me and gave me the worst look ever. I had nowhere to throw the bag so I just put it in the pouch of my hoodie. So I kept standing there feeling like crap with a bag of barf in my hoodie pouch. Finally after 3 hours I got a chance to sit down after some people reshuffled (they eventually noticed that I was a mess). I crouched down and slept for a while, not realizing that my barf bag was seeping out into my clothes. I woke up just before it soiled them too much and chucked it out the open door. Stuff like this went on for a total of 28 hours !!! ! (not 18). But we are finally in Bolivia 2 days earlier then everyone said was possible. A miracle bus or a cursed bus… I am not sure?
Sucre | Cheapest Country Ever | July 22, 2004
We are really enjoying Bolivia! It is by far the cheapest and poorest country we have come across this summer but it has lots to see and learn about. We just finished staying with a missionary family in Santa Cruz. They have been here for 28 years doing church planting and now radio ministy. The later peaked my curiosity and I asked questions about that and Bolivia life and culture until our heads were spinning. The Fehr’s fed us well and when you see corn flakes or cinnamon buns for the first time all summer, it is something to talk about! Other memorable events in Santa Cruz were bus hopping and sitting around drinking fruit shakes. Ok so not that eventful but we did play a game one day where we split up to see who could get the best pictures of the local people. A police man got mad at kevin for trying to pay people to take their photos. It was pretty funny.Today we were in the nice city of Sucre. The altitude is getting pretty high and most of the day we were gasping for air. The cities around this area of the country are 3000-4000 meters above sea level. We stumbled upon some new fruit shake flavors like avacado and plantane. What a find!
Potosi | Coca Leaves Please! | July 24, 2004
We spent the day in the mining town of Potasi. A proper experience in Potosi involves a tour of the mines which are in use all the time. First of all, it is custom to go to the miners market and buy presents for the miners. So we bought all the essentials – Coca leaves, cigarettes, and dynamite! I have a million things to say about Coca leaves now but I’ll save it for later. Basically it is tradition for these miners not to eat all day and only suck on coca leaves which supposedly replaces the need for food, rest and a bunch of other things. It is eventually disasterous to their health (even if not refined into Cocaine) but the average lifespan of a miner here is 35 years anyway so they don’t care.
We got all suited up in our mining garb including bright yellow clothes and helmet with light. The miners used every primitive method in the book – pickaxes, shovels, wheelbarrows etc… They mine tin, silver, and zinc ore to name a few. We crawled through tunnels for a few hours talking with miners (they really only wanted the coca leaves though to add to their cheek wad). We had a good talk with our guide after noticing a huge Satan statue in one corridor of the mine. 95% of the miners live an interesting life. When above ground they are Catholic (nominally) and when they are down underground (devil’s domain) they worship Satan and offer him coca and alcohol in exchange for good finds in the mine (they occasionally participate in llama or child sacrifice too). There are many examples of syncratism around these countries, stemming from colonial times. Probably the highlight of our visit was exploding some dynamite. We piled rocks on top of this and ran far enough away to see the explosion. It was way bigger than we expected and I got hit in the chest with a huge rock fragment projectile!
Well after we went to the mine we head off to the hot spring we heard were near by. We caught a bus about 10 km outside of Potosi and asked the driver to drop us off at the Hot Springs. He then proceeded to drop us off at the side of the road and pointed up this mountain and told us to hike the rest of the way. Excited that we would get to work for this reward of a hot bath we headed up to the top. When we reached the top we saw this big pool of water that had all sorts of floaties in it and it was luke warm at best. After agreeing that it wouldn’t be worth the enjoyment we continued on. We found some smaller pools but they were not deep at all but no floaties just bubbles coming up from the mud. We were about to dig ourselves each a hole and get in when a guy told us that the real Hot Springs were up the hill more. Wow! I am glad we met him because it would have been sad to miss out. At the top was a small lake with the most amazing scenery around it. It was really warm so we bargained down the prices to get in and then grabbed the complimentary tire tubes and jumped in.
After 45 minutes of the amazing experience we were off to catch a bus back to Potosi. We were in a rush because we knew there were only one or two more buses that would leave to Potosi that night and we had a bus to catch in Potosi that would take us to Uyuni. After waiting for about 1hr hour on the road trying to catch a bus and then it being full we thought all hope of us making it to catch our bus was lost. The big guy came through though, just in time too. We caught a bus packed it right full and made it into Potosi. Our bus left at 7.30 pm and we got to the city at that time. We made a mad dash running as fast as we could in this oxygen poor altitude. Somewhere along the way we lost Kevin and I lost my underwear that I was trying to dry from the Hot Springs. I took of in the lead and found the place our bags were stored and our tickets were purchased and grabbed our bags and head to the bus that was very anxious to leave. Steve followed and then we realized that Kevin was gone so I took off back tracking to find Kevin. In the process I took a short cut through a grass area and was tripped by a strategically place barb wire fence that for some reason they put around there grass areas. After checking the wounds on my leg, making sure they weren’t that bad I continued in pursuit of Kevin with my sandals in hand. I found him and we raced back to the bus just in time because the bus was going to leave without us but Steve was pleading with them to wait. We got to the bus and Kevin just dropped to the floor in the bus and the locals started laughing. We sat down and caught our breath and then Steve pulled out supper which he some how managed to buy on the way.
Uyuni | Bolivian Desert and Salt Flats | July 26, 2004
We made it to Uyuni 3 am and thought we had to wait the next morning to book our 3-4 day tour of the salt flats but people were hounding us the minute we got off the bus. I love it. We bargained till we got the best deal and got a free nights stay and breakfast the next morning. Sweet action! The tour guys said that we would be leaving by 10:00 am but it ended that we left at 11:30 am…stupid Bolivian time. We first headed to the Salt Flats, the largest and highest in the world. There we took some sweet N-man pics and other creative ones as well…so fun! We had two English guys in our group to help us out – Simon and Hugo who participated in the fiasco. The whole ride we were listening to Cachaka music, Bryan Adams(Please forgive me) like 20 times, and some good oldies. Our tour guide Epi(I called him Epi-center) was cool. He has been a tour guide for 8 yrs but hardly spoke a word of English. We taught him “How are you” and “good” but by the end he got them pretty mumbled. Throughout the whole trip he didn´t remember anybody´s name but mine. “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin”. He probably thought all the white people look the same and was interested in a little Japanese guy from Canada. They all call me “Japon” over here. Everyone. They all look at me weird here.The Salt Flats and the surrounding areas were just breath-taking. The only thing bad is that it gets super cold at night. The 3 of us were in the “cheap” room(while all the other Gringos paid $5 US to stay in a Hotel made of salt) and we had to take all the other blankets from the other beds just to keep warm. We had like 7-8 blankets on us. The bums score again. The Salt Flat tour was good, lots of hours riding in a jeep through the bumpy desert, lots of Bryan Adams – but we managed to get good eats and excellent pics.
La Paz | Lazing Around La Paz | July 28, 2004
We have spent 2 days so far in the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. This city is absolutely beautiful. The whole city is in a bowl shaped valley with snowcapped mountians in the background. You can’t get lost in the city cause you just walk downhill to the center but it is easy to get winded at an altitude of 4000 meters (highest capital in the world). Anyway, we have become quite lazy after being on too many busses. We found a place where you can get a huge bowl of 10 kinds of chopped fruit topped with yogurt and granola for 30 cents US. We have made good friends with the lady at the shop and we even have a running tab with her cause we have been there so many times. La Paz has some unique things which can’t be missed. There are guys everywhere on the street wearing ski masks (terrorist style) and instead of carrying guns like you’d think, they are carrying shoe polish equiptment. We thought they were wearing their army garb and masks cause of the cold but it got really hot today and now we realise it is just fashion. It is great for the 95% of people who are wearing black shoes. For us and our constant sandal wearing, they give us an odd and then disappointed look. The other really noticible (annoying) thing about La Paz is every 2 seconds a minivan will drive by with someone hassling you to get in. You see, they use them as busses in the city cause busses couldn’t handle the tight corners and the steep roads.Our hostel is in the middle of the Witches Market. Here, all the witchy items you ever wanted like llama fetuses, idols, and various herbs. They said they would cast a spell on us if we took pictures of their llama fetuses. Kevin somehow managed to get one and avoid the curse (he is really agile).
We finally broke down from our “lightest ever” mentality and went shopping crazy. Every peruvian item of clothing that you want is available and cheap. With our hats and alpaca jackets, we can sneak around in the culture unnoticed. This is quite useful because people here have a violent objection to gringos wanting to take pictures of them.
La Paz | San Pedro Prison | July 29, 2004
We heard today that the craziest thing you could do in La Paz and possibly ever, is try and get a tour of San Pedro prison. We had some time this morning so we went to check it out. We walked past the main door and gate and there was lots of commotion from people shouting out to people on the outside because it was visitors day (how convenient). Just then the guards (always with sawed off machine guns) grabbed us and directed our attention to a poster that read ‘it is strictly forbidden now for any tourists to go into the prison merely for touring purposes’. That was enough for us and we turned to walk away. But just then a scrawney guy crawled to the front of the people on the other side of the gate and started yelling things to us. Kevin, Ryan, and I were with 2 English girls at the time and I went closer to the bars to talk to him (acting all tough when I was freaked out of my mind). He told me to slip him a few dollars and said come back at 3:00 and he would guide us around the prison. I went closer to the gate with the money and I was like ‘give it to you now infront of everyone?’. Luis said ‘wait…ok NOW!’. I slipped him the money. He was like ‘go now, see you at 3’. With this money I think he bribed the guards to keep quiet.Our minds went crazy for the next hours thinking about the pros and cons of what we may have got ourselves into. The 2 English girls talked to some people and heard some nasty rumors so they decided they were out. So the 3 of us go back at 3:00 carrying nothing but the required cash (10 $US each) just like we were told. Luis told me to put the rest of the money (excluding the deposit) into a piece of paper and pass it to him. Then Luis left for a few minutes and we thought he had taken off with the money. He appeared again and said this was not a good time. Come back at 5:30. We were like ‘can we trust you man?’ He responded ‘I give you my word!’. He mentioned that there would be 4 Australian girls at that time as well who were interested. We walked away with adrenaline pumping as the guards gave us one final disgusted look. Luis shouted from the gate ‘Sorry for the inconvience, I’ll throw in 2 grams for you each for the trouble. Bring some cash cause you are going to want to buy some of the toys that the boys are making in here’. Well, it’s quarter to 5 now (I just said to Kevin and Ryan beside me). Lets get moving…
Isla Del Sol | Lake Titicaca & Isla Del Sol | August 1, 2004
So about our jail experience… well to make a long, agonizing story short, we actually never got in San Pedro jail. We heard of lots of people who did and the great stories that went along with it. After our disappointing last day in La Paz, we headed over to Lake Titicaca where we found you could hike along the shore for a few hours and then get a boat to this island Isla De Sol (Island of the Sun). We got up early for the hike after a very light breakfast. I decided I wanted to go up into the mountains more so I left Ryan and Kevin and ventured off. Now, hiking on a nearly empty stomach for 5 hours is hard enough but when at altitudes higher than 4000 meters like everywhere around these Bolivian highlands it is insane! So I hiked until I was almost falling over but I wasn’t at the end of the peninsula yet where I was planning on meeting the other two and heading to the island. I stumbled down into a small little village in the mountains and started banging on doors to see if anyone had any food. Finally I got to one door that looked like a little shop. Some local guy opened the door and I think I scared him partly from my lack of sustenance and partly from my lack of hygene. I looked around the shop half falling over from hunger. Good, they had water… but all they had to eat was baking chocolate. So I grabbed a few blocks of chocolate and a 2 liter water and left the shop. I collapsed outside and downed the whole 2 liters in one sitting and started gnawing on the baking chocolate. By this time I think the shopkeeper was really freaked out. He ran to his nearby house and got his wife to cook some quick food. I am not sure if this was advantageous because he brought me a plate full of potatoes dipped in grease (charred on the outside and raw on the inside). I ate everything super fast cause I was starving (even though it was disgusting). After this the shopkeeper had this great big proud smile like he revived me to life or something. He quickly snapped out of it and said “5 bolivianos please”, holding out his hand. I handed him the money despite the food (which made me sick later that night by the way). Just to make sure he didn’t win completely, I went back to the shop and bought some more chunks of baker’s chocolate, saying that I was still starving.
So finally I met up with Ryan and Kevin and we payed a guy to row us to the island. After a few strokes, he pointed to the paddles and told us to start rowing (then he slacked off). Now, Isla De Sol is supposed to be the creation site of the sun and the first Inca people. It definitely was sunny, that’s for sure. It may have been pure coincidence or maybe just ironic, but by the end of the day both Koop and I were severly burnt on our arms and face. We hiked all over the island and stayed in a cheap little place with little sheep running everwhere. Kevin had lots of fun trying to mount the various island animals.