A Travellerspoint blog

Estamos en Argentina!

Hasta luego, Bolivia...

sunny 30 °C

So, it’s been a week. Er, maybe over a week. Not entirely sure.

Regrettably, that means you’ve missed out on half of our time in Bolivia. Disappointed? I don’t blame you. Well, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s sort of my fault.

Actually, Bolivia itself is more to blame. (I don’t like to accept blame for things, ask Warren...it - as in everything wrong in the world - is usually his fault.)

The internet connections in Bolivia weren’t ideal. We were just about able to check emails; and that’s if there wasn’t a bloody toucan bullying us.

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I’ll try to begin where I left off...which I believe was in Cochabamba staying with the lovely family at Hostal Las Lilas. They continued to be lovely, and even treated us to lunch on our final day. It was a traditional meal called pique macho, best known for its fiery ‘sauce’ or salsa llajwa. We both tried all of the different parts of the dish: fresh onions and tomatoes, beef, a type of chorizo, chips/steak fries, and (our least favourite) tripe.

Maria (I now know her name!) served this with fresh lemonade, and also shared a watermelon with us for dessert. Maria and Alex’s three little girls also joined us for lunch, but as we’re rubbish at Spanish, and they were too shy to speak the bit of English they knew, they soon abandoned the table for play time in the garden.

We had a nice chat with Maria and Alex, all four of us struggling with the language barrier – but laughing about it. Warren and I genuinely liked the pair and sincerely hope that they and their hostel succeed. The place has so much potential; I wish I’d taken some photographs of it.

We did absolutely nothing for the rest of the afternoon, but let our food digest and mentally prepared for the journey from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz. Maria booked us a taxi to the terminal, and as we approached the common areas (which had only been used by us for the entirety of our stay), we were surprised to see a strange man sat on the floor.

He had shown up on the doorstep hoping to book a room for himself and his friends who were due to arrive later. He soon filled us in on his life story. He was very entertaining, but a bit full-on. He was quite confrontational, and without sounding too much of a snob, I’m glad we were moving on.

He asked us what there was to do at the hostel other than relax. We stared at him blankly.

He asked us where he could buy some weed. We stared at him blankly.

He asked us if the owners would know where he could buy some weed. I tried to explain that they were very family orientated and er..might be caught off guard. He stared at me blankly.

He also made a point to brag about how he’d ripped the family off (by quite a lot) by telling Alex he’d seen a different price advertised than what they were asking for the room. He had also asked Maical (a young lad that worked for Alex + Maria) for some whiskey; Maical, who usually did construction work in the developing brewery, filled an entire glass with whiskey and didn’t charge a penny.

Warren and I, on the other hand, had decided to pay a little more than what the family had charged us. They’d provided us with good food for very little (if any) money, collected us from the bus terminal for free, and upgraded our room without charging us. This cocky Israeli lad made us even surer of our decision.

Buying tickets to Santa Cruz was a bit trickier than our other tickets; we’d decided to wait until the evening with the hope our tickets would be cheaper. The terminal was absolutely mad. It was packed full of people and people grabbers shouting destinations at the top of their lungs.

We secured our tickets and were soon on an El Dorado bus to Santa Cruz. It was a semi-cama bus, but we’d booked seats downstairs where there are half as many people. It was certainly the best sleep we’d had on an overnight bus so far.

Santa Cruz was hot. We’d come down the mountains into the altiplano where it was sticky and well over 30*C. We found Residencial Bolivar (this time, booked via email rather than Hostelworld). Warren picked it primarily for its unique pull: the toucan.

Santa Cruz was much more expensive than Cochabamba, and the hostels all seemed to cost about the same. Our room was fine and breakfast was included – however, Simón the aggressive toucan, not only perched right next to you and ate off of your plate, he’d also have a little (huge) shit on every chair in the dining area. There was nothing that could be done about this. If you put your arm in front of him to move him, he’d bite it with his MonsterBeak.

Warren and I did our best to steer clear of this hollow-boned/minded little turd, but he wouldn’t have it. While making ourselves lunch, he appeared in the kitchen, biting our toes. We cut up a bit of tomato and put it in another room to try to distract him, but he’d soon return.

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uno dos tres

The novelty had worn off.

The major injury occurred the night before we left. He was snapping away at insects drawn to the light in the open courtyard area, and we were trying to get a better internet connection closer to reception’s router. He scared Warren out of his seat (see above), but refusing to be bullied by the BirdBrain, I resisted and carried on using the computer.

I’m not sure what really set him off, but he flapped over to my chair quick as lightning and had a good pinch on my upper arm fat.
I was close to tears, but had to pull it together because another long-term resident of the hostel was watching (and laughing, the bastard). Warren thought it had scared me more than anything, but I showed him the bruise the next day.

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We avoided all common areas after that, and were even forced to have breakfast in our room instead of the dining area.

Toucans do not belong in hotels.

Enough about Simón.

Woz thought Santa Cruz was a very presentable place, and would call it his favourite city in Bolivia. I thought it was a bit up its own ass, but it was a decent place to stay for a couple nights.

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Everyone in Santa Cruz wears Hollister and American Eagle – genuine and knockoffs both. It’s a bit weird.

Because we’ve missed out on Brazil and the Pantanal, we ventured into Samaipata (north-ish of Santa Cruz) to see a bit of la selva. This is about two and a half hours from Santa Cruz, unless you’re in this taxi:

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Then it’s over three. (Have a close look.)

The scenery is fantastic en route to Samaipata, but the shoddy taxi left my feet on fire, my clothes drenched in sweat, my legs like jelly, and my teeth grinded down to nothing it was that juddery.

Is that a word? Juddery. Well, whatever, it describes the journey perfectly.

Samaipata is the mecca of hippies. We stayed in El Jardin, a hostel and campground that featured cupulas made from adobe, really lovely flower gardens, and a load of tanned, dreadlocked Europeans with acoustic guitars.

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The cupulas were all booked, but our adobe room with bunk beds was more than sufficient.

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From Samaipata, it’s possible to visit Vallegrande (where Che made his last stand), Parque Nacional Amboro, Las Cuevas (a group of cascadas with pools you can swim in), El Fuerte (pre-Incan ruins), and other touristic draws. We booked a tour to see both El Fuerte and Las Cuevas in one day. It was fantastic. (We highly recommend Samaipata Tours on the corner of Calle Warnes and some other street)

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After two nights in the tranquil Samaipata, we travelled the two and a half hour journey back to Santa Cruz, booked a bus for the night, killed several hours in a shopping mall and cinema, then got a 9pm bus (left at 10pm) to Yacuiba on the border of Bolivia and Argentina, a nine hour journey. From Yacuiba, we booked another bus to Salta, were taxied around by the senora of the gentlemen who sold us the tickets, taken through immigration, taxied to a tiny terminal in Argentina, waited two hours, and boarded the bus. Yacuiba to Salta would take around six hours, said the kindly old man who sold us the tickets.

Alas, it’s been some time since he’s taken the journey.

Eight hours later we arrived in Salta. We needed pesos urgently (to pee, eat, buy water, and book a taxi), but none of the cajeros were functioning. A taxi driver agreed to find us a cash point. We tried about 10 banks (no word of a lie) before we finally found one that had an ATM that was giving out cash. Unsurprisingly, it had a 20+ minute queue.

Cash in hand, we were able to pay for our taxi, check into our hostel, pee (dios mioooooooo), shower, and eat.

Our feet had doubled in size from travelling without rest over 20 hours, but today they’re almost normal again. It’s amazing what a shower and good night of sleep can do for you. Oh, and water.

Water is also important, Dad. :)

Woz and I have been thinking about all of you (unless you’re a stranger; I’m afraid we’ve not met).

We have just two weeks left of our travels, which is a bittersweet thought. We occasionally have days where we’re homesick (although, it’s complicated to say where home is exactly). We miss our kettle and our wash machine primarily.

Well, friends and family a bit as well. I guess.

I suppose two months was a healthy amount of time to travel for us; we have so much unfinished business back in the States. We’re keen to crack on with things on our return.

Argentina, I’m sure, will allow us to check in with you all more regularly. Hope you’re keeping well! xxx

Posted by alexis.johnson 17:15 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Cochabamba

...more than just a fun word to say

sunny 22 °C
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We got up at a decent time this morning to bring in our dry laundry and sort ourselves out ready for Cochabamba proper today.

Alex’s wife prepared our breakfast for us, and took us part way into the city. I like Alex’s wife. We haven’t actually caught her name yet, and now it’s too late/awkward to ask. She speaks really quickly and loudly, and says my name ALEXIIIIIIIIS, like when farmers are hog calling SUEEEEEEEEY.

She’s super friendly, and also knows a bit of English. Yesterday, she spoke really quickly and my blank face and fake laugh must have told her something, because then I heard her say, “Oh, no Ud. entiende espanol, no?” You don’t know Spanish, do you?

SHIT, she’s on to me!

I must be a bit better today, after a full night’s rest, because I think she complimented some aspect of my Spanish. Probably not speaking...maybe comprehension (funny that, as I didn’t really comprehend what she said).

Oh, balls.

I *hear* what they’re saying, but I have no idea how to respond to it. Just like I told Warren today, yes, I could ask for directions to a place where they sell cigars, but then she’ll respond, and where will we be then?!

At any rate, we got a taxi to El Cristo de la Concordia and got the teleferico (a cable car) up the top for a few HappySnappys.

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Here, we also bought some ice cream/popsicles. I tried this one:

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It tasted good, but I was disappointed once I’d finished and discovered I didn’t look anything like the cartoon implied I might.

Apparently, there are a lot of muggings on the stairs down from El Cristo. Looking mental would have come in handy. We took the teleferico back down again. Better safe than sorry.

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We got a taxi from El Cristo to La Concha, South America’s largest open air market. An old taxi driver tried to swindle us into paying BOB 25, but we said no gracias, and cleverly walked a few blocks away from the tourist trap to pay just BOB 10.

It’s difficult to negotiate here. BOB 10 is less than $2 – you’re supposed to say, “What?! Ten bolivianos?! You’re crazy! It’s just down the road. I’ll pay five.” Bolivia has just seen Warren and I smiling sweetly and saying, muy bien.

At the market, we bought:

• two blanket/tablecloths for our next bus journey. They’re tablecloths, but now they’re dual purpose. The locals will think we’re genius. Or mental.
• deodorant for Warren who had been suspiciously smelling of mine for the last week.
• world’s largest onion
• world’s largest green pepper
• 9 eggs (asked for 6)

Posted by alexis.johnson 13:04 Archived in Bolivia Tagged spanish Comments (0)

La Paz to Cochabamba

Peace at last.

sunny 21 °C
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I’m glad we’re leaving La Paz tonight.

It’s good and all, but it’s a big city and there’s lots of people and cars and pollution...and hills.

Everywhere is uphill. Everywhere.

We did all the good stuff yesterday really, which meant Woz has put his thinking cap on and come up with the brilliant idea of walking to the Estadium de Hernando Siles. If you’re interested, it’s the highest football stadium in the world. Apparently, FIFA tried to get Bolivia’s national team to play elsewhere as competitors struggle in the thin air here.

Not interested? No, me neither.

If any of you have ever questioned whether or not I love my husband: today, I walked over six miles. Every inch of every mile was uphill. It was the hottest time of day. And it was to see a blinking football stadium.

I won’t say that I was easy to get along with during this time. If you do know me, you’ll know how little I care for walking and sweating.

Once Warren and I were...er, talking again, we returned to the reliable Toby’s Burgers + Fries to have a small orange Fanta. This was Warren’s peace offering. Sugar usually buys my happiness. Here, we cooled off (in every sense of the word).

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We had booked tickets to Cochabamba earlier (another overnight bus*), so had all day again to kill checked out of our hostel room. I took a nap in the common area, and satisfied that my sweat had mostly dried, we went back out in the evening for some street food and a few more small souvenirs.

Did you know that the bus terminal in La Paz was built by the same senor that built the Eiffel tower? Well, it was. Also, the terminal is bright yellow. It’s sort of pretty from a distance.

We used the bus company Bolivar this time. Tickets for a semi cama were BOB 60 each (about $8), what a steal.

Found our bus outside. We’d chosen the panoramico seats; these are the seats right at the front of the bus. Probably the most unsafe, but as we discussed with Armando, the mental German, back in Cusco, at least it’d be quick.

No seatbelts to speak of on this one, and the panoramico window was shattered. Still there, but broken. Great.

These bus rides seem to be getting more and more shit. Our neighbours to every side talked all through the night. And opened windows. And chased their Coke Zeros with something that came in a flask and smelled like whiskey.

The family behind us laid a couple blankets down in the aisle. How curious! Why would they put blankets down in the aisle? Oh, for their two small children.

I was a bit of a wreck for the first hour of the journey. Concerned first for myself (obvs), then for the small children sleeping next to me on the floor.

I believe I was too cold for the rest of the journey to be worried about anyone’s safety.

To be honest, I was now less concerned about the two kids' safety, and more concerned about whether or not they'd notice a blanket going missing.

We arrived to Cochabamba early, and soon met Alex. He’s the dude that owns this sweet little hostel outside of the city called Cabana Las Lilas.

He seems a very friendly guy, and speaks a bit of English. This is for everyone’s benefit. It turns out my Spanish comprehension is even worse at 6 am after an overnight bus from La Paz.

Alex asked something about Uyuni, we told Alex about our occupations...because I thought he’d asked if we went to uni. Alex asked something about where we travelled to before La Paz, and we told him the location of our last hostel...in La Paz.

He was very polite, and everyone went along with the conversations I created. *sigh*

We were immediately upgraded to the cuarto matrimonial despite having booked two single beds in the 8-bed dorm. No one else has booked, which means we get the whole place to ourselves.

Breakfast here is bread and jam, but also with coffee (with milk!), and lots of friendly smiles from Alex and his wife.

We showered, had a four hour nap, washed our laundry (independently, this time), spent the afternoon chilling out in hammocks with a beer provided by Alex’s microbrewery (until Warren’s hammock came untied and he landed on the ground, bahahahaha), caught a few more episodes of Arrested Development, reorganised our rucksacks, and tried catching up with the blog. :)

  • Photo here is not of the bus we actually took to Cochabamba, but a micro for shorter distances. Having said that, it looks slightly more reliable.

Posted by alexis.johnson 12:56 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Searching for a cure in La Paz

sunny 23 °C
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Today we walked to Calle Jaen, a colonial street that has several museums and some artisan shops. It was nice, but a lot shorter than I expected.

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At the bottom of the street was an old peoples’ home. Loads of them were sat outside the building on benches in their slippers. It was probably my favourite part of Calle Jaen.

We headed back to Calle Ingavi where we found the folk art museum. We didn’t pay the extra bit to take photos, but apart from more tapestries, pottery and some traditional feathery headgear, there wasn’t much to take pictures of.

Wait.

Except for the darkened room lined with freaky masks!

From what I could tell (by attempting to translate the Spanish interpretive boards accompanying each and every mask), the majority were fairly modern and used in festivals and Carnival celebrations. Most had religious connotations (ie angel or demon), and quite a few represented the ancestry of different tribes.

The freakiest one was the last mask in the room, and very much resembled the face we associate with the Saw films. It was terrifying.

Woz was keen to leave this area quickly.

After the museum, we walked to Plaza Murillo (the main square surrounded by government buildings), had a lunch of a saltena each, followed by an empanada con queso, followed by a small ice cream cone from a vendor at yet another plaza.

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Continuing on our merry way in the heat of the afternoon, we arrived to the Witch’s Market where one can buy all sorts of vials and potions, get your palm read, or gawk at the neatly piled shrivelled up baby llamas located in every storefront. (Google it.)

I asked what they were for...and a lady (witch?) told me they were offerings to pachamama (Mother Earth).

They look real, right. But how on earth does one find that many baby llamas of a similar size and shape and dried-up-ness?

I kept that question to myself. I don’t even want to know.

We settled on a few trinkets/charms that will look after us.

I picked out a condor which is meant to be good for safe travels. Woz picked up a turtle because he likes turtles. And it’s meant to bring you good health.

We also bought a slightly larger pachamama trinket for our shelves that has all the goodies on (frog for money, snake for long life, and a heart for love). I reckon we’re sorted.

I'll be honest, this bit was the highlight of La Paz for me, and I kept trying to come up with reasons to head back there and look for more healing.

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We chilled out for a bit in a cafe called Pepe’s waiting for it to cool down, but eventually decided to brave the heat and walk back to the hostel. We watched several episodes of Arrested Development on the computer, and went back out in the evening for a hearty meal of burgers and fries from Toby’s Burgers + Fries.

We walked back to the Plaza Murillo and found the dessert we’d both been keen to try: jello/jelly with a weird cheesy creamy topping.

The topping was weird and cheesy. Warren said it tasted like cheesecake, but he’s full of shit. I mixed it in with the jelly so it wasn’t so noticeable.

I think Cool Whip would do well here.

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Posted by alexis.johnson 12:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sailing across Titicaca

en route to La Paz

storm 16 °C
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As you can imagine, sleep came easy after yesterday’s itinerary.

We both felt shitty this morning. I’m now putting it down to our anti-malaria tablets. We’ve been having them before breakfast, and I reckon they’re wreaking havoc on our already shaky tumtums.

Regrettably, both of us struggled to finish our lovely breakfast, and had a little lie down back in our room. We sorted ourselves out best we could in order to pack up and check out by 10:30.

We went to the market to buy a few bits and pieces for our journey to La Paz.

The gentleman in the first shop tried charging us over BOB 435 (over $60) for a couple candy bars, crisps and some water. He showed it to us on the calculator and everything.

“Would you like a bag?”

We put everything back and went to the next shop. She charged us a more respectable BOB 40. I can’t help but wonder if the first guy just forgot a decimal point or something.

Kids, math is important. Or at the very least, decimal points are important. The rest past 5th grade is rubbish. Unless you turn into my friend, Stu. God help you if that happens.

At any rate, we got our bus to La Paz in the afternoon (snacks in tow).

It was about a three hour journey, so we were able to see plenty of countryside with indigenas working the land manually.

At one point, we had to get a “ferry” across Lake Titicaca. I was quite excited initially, until I saw the method of transport.

Everyone deboarded the bus, paid an unexpected BOB 1.50 each for a ticket, and stood in a queue to board one of the rickety ass boats that would ferry us across.

The bus was on its own EspeciallyMadeForBigBuses ferry/raft with speedboat engine.

I was glad when that bit was over.

The journey was otherwise pretty uneventful. Oh, we were stopped at roadblocks once or twice. At the final one, a few police officers boarded the bus and asked to speak to any Bolivianos on board. This was a bit frightening, but the locals didn’t appear to be alarmed. Nothing really happened. Not entirely sure what that was about.

Woz and I aren’t entirely sure about a lot of things that have happened here in the last month. I think it’s doing our egos a world of good.

It was evening by the time we arrived here to La Paz. The walk to our hostel was uphill. The air seems thinner here than in Copacabana and is chocka with petrol fumes.

The hostel looked a bit of a hole on arrival. The entrance looked shady, and despite the bright red signs saying PIRWA HOSTELS, BIENVENIDOS, we weren’t entirely sure we were in the right place.

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Our room, however, is huge and quite nice. We’ve got an ensuite as well, because that’s how we roll. The electric shower is about the same as every other electric shower we’ve had in every other hostel/hotel on the continent: not ideal, but functional.

We had another meal in a restaurant this evening and even ordered a beer! Beer, how I’ve missed you. I don’t even like you, but even still. I missed you.

Posted by alexis.johnson 12:39 Archived in Bolivia Tagged la_paz lake_titicaca Comments (0)

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