A Travellerspoint blog

Potosi and Sucre

Mines, fruit markets, cheap whisky and escaping Bolivia!

We arrived in Potosi at midnight after the differnet bus from Uyuni, the different part being that there was homeless man thrown of the bus halfway through the journey. We had tried to pre book a hostel but after seeing how many there were online we decided it would be easy to find one. However, this turned out not to be the case, as the bus drops you nowhere near anywhere central. We ended up getting a taxi to a hostel in the guidebook, only to there was no room at the Inn. So we donned our bags, and set of in the rain and dark to find a hostel or pub... We ended up at a hostel called Vicuna, which coincidently was the same hostel the people we had met on the bus were at, we revelled in the fact that once we had actually got a cheaper deal by not pre-booking.

The next day, I wasn't feeling too good, well, grumpy and tired if that counts for not feeling too good, so spent the morning in bed. We spent the afternoon exploring Potosi. It turns out there isn't much to see or do here. The markets are pretty cool, especially if you can find the indoor/outdoor bit of everything market at the top end of town. In the market, we found cheap whiskey at £5 a litre, cocca leaves and real crisps! The view point is also worth walking up to as you can see some of the mines and all of the town. We also found a place we thought was McDonalds, but turned out to be McEmpandas! We also spent the afternoon looking for cheap mine tours. Its worth shopping round as there are a few places that offer the tours. I ended up go with a company called Silver Tours, as it's run by ex-miners, and they don't take you to the private mines, so you get a better experience.

The mines tours are something else. Lucy decided not to come, as she is a little claustraphobic and went shopping insted. You meet at the tour agency at around 8am and then as with everything in Bolivia, they are half an hour late. They then kit you out with an attractive 'onesy', plastic bags for you feet with matching wellies and a helmet. They then take you down to the miners shops. At the shops, you can buy everything from breakfast to dynamite... Needless to say, I went for the dynamite option. It is also traditon when you go into the mines to take gifts for the miners, I went for the 98% alcohol, orange cordial and a packet of local cigarettes. You then get driven to the mines and are told about how the minerals are sorted and about the shifts the miners do. It's disgusting how they are actually treated, especially in the non-privatised mines. They are looking at £8 - £15 a day depending on what they bring out of the mines, and some days they work as long as 18 hour shifts because they haven't bought enough minerals out yet. On top of this, they have to buy their own equiptment, tools and oxygen for use in the mines. If they don't pay for the oxygen to be pumped into the mines, some companies will just shut the pumps down, with no warning!!! When they take you into the mines it's a real eye opener to what a shitty job is. The weird thing is, they all seem quite happy to be down there. We spoke to a guy who had been working for 14 hours, he stopped to have a drink with us, and to talk about the mines. He had been working there since he was 15 years old, as his father had got ill from working in the mines and couldn't go down anymore, so he had to take his place to support the family. There is no insurance for these guys, no fall back or safety net. If they don't work enough, it's not just them that suffers, it's their families. At they very bottom of the mine, we got to talk to some 'dynamiters'. Now bearing in mind each stick of dynamite costs 11B's (£1.10) and they have to buy it themselves, it takes 12 sticks to gain 15-20cm further into the mine and they might not get any minerals from that. However, seeing as I donated 4 sticks to them, they allowed me to light the fuse and run! In hindsight, not the smartest thing I've ever done... But an adrenaline rush all the less! On the way out, they stopped us at one of the 'Diablo' shrines. The shrines were put there by the Spanish when the mines first opened to make the miners work harder. The Spanish told them that if they didn't work hard enough, the devil would punish them and their families, so they worked. Obviously this is not believed so much anymore, but they still give offerings of cocca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes to it for a good haul. They don't only face the possibilities of being poisoned by dust and gases, possiblity of collapse, runaway carts, but also being punished by the devil. I spent two and a half hours down there and was relieved to see the daylight! All in all, it was worth going to see, I'll never curse my job again... well, try not to!!! But it didn't half leave me feeling sombre for the rest of the day and the 4 hour bus ride to Sucre...

When we arrived in Sucre, we jumped a taxi straight to Wasi Masi hostel, where our friend Dom was staying. However, the hostel was fully booked... Gutted, it's really nice. One of the guys there knew of another hostel down the road which turned out to be just as nice and cheaper called San Marcus. To our total suprise, Nico and Claudia, who we had met in La Paz, were also there. We didn't really get up to much in Sucre as there's not much tourism or stuff to see. The main plaza is stunning, with amazing architecture. The food markets are really impressive, with the best fresh fruit we've had in Bolivia. We spent the next three days drinking with Dom, Nico, Claudia and others. There's a really good nightlife there and some pretty good places to eat too. There was one club on top of a shopping mall which is almost Vanilla Sky-esque, if you get what I mean!?! It's also a really good place to pick up cheap pirate DVD's, whisky, chocolate and street pizzas, you have to see them to believe them!

Realising to our dismay, well more mine than Lucys, that our 30 day visa was nearly out, we hopped on our last Bolivian death bus overnight to Villazon to cross the border into Argentina... Woop!
Loz xxx

Posted by Lulu-Bug 16:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Uyuni and The Salt Flat Tour

Jeeps, lagoons and lots of white stuff

sunny

We arrived in Uyuni after a sleepness night on the road. The road was so bumby and everyones stuff got thrown around the bus. We had to have a game of 'find the shoes' before everyone could get off! We bumped into Sophie on the bus, who we had met at the steak resturant in La Paz. Turned out she was there for the salt flat tour too, so we tagged along with her and her friend Ido to see if there were spaces at their agency. We weren't expecting to get on a tour that day, but we were in luck as there were two seats left. After a little bargining on the price, we booked the trip and headed off for some brekkie and supplies for the trip.
Mid-morning we set off on our 3 day tour. The group was to be me, Loz, Sophie, Ido and a couple from Argentina, Mara and Walter. We all sqeezed into the Jeep and were on our way. The first site we stopped at was an old train graveyard. It was interesting, but we got stuck there for over an hour, as our driver disappeared with all our stuff (and the jeep!). He eventually turned up, claiming he had maintenance to do?! We all checked our belongings.... After, we drove to the huge salt flats. These are huge underground lakes that have so much salt it all crystalizes on the surface, to around a meter thick and you can drive around on it. It stretches as far as the eye can see, its incredible. We stopped here for the usual tourist pics and some lunch, which was served out the back of the jeep! This was our first taste of how bad the food would be over the next three days... Note to self, everything in Bolivia tastes edible with ketchup and lots of it! After the salt flats, we started the long drive to the hostel. We were lucky, as we had an AUX cable in the jeep, so there was a lot of sing alongs and music on the trip! We stopped at some beautiful lagoons on the way, where again, there are so many minerals it starts to crystalise around the edges and magnifys the colours. We got to the first hostel in the late afternoon. Needless to say, some peole in the group were not to thrilled! It was very basic, with only two rooms for the six of us. Luckily Loz and I shot gunned the double! We were joined in the hostel for the night by another group, and made the most of the strange situation, with lots of wine, beer, drinking games and dancing! Around 2am, the other groups driver knocked on our door, drunk as a skunk, looking for 'Chicas'. It was creepy, as there were no locks on the doors and we were in the middle of nowhere!
The next morning, we all awoke to two very bleery eyed drivers, one nearly fell off the Jeep when he was packing it! We were all a bit concerned about them driving us around all day! We had an OK breakfast at the hostel, then packed up and bundeled into the jeep for another day of lagoons, giesers, swimming in hot springs, catching flamingoes, singing and trying to keep the driver from falling asleep! I thought sitting in a jeep for 8 hours would get a bit boring, but I was so wrong. I could watch the senery go by for hours, who knew the landscape in Bolivia was so vast and mesmerising! Its so weird to look up at the snowy peaks surrounded by desert. We had stopped at the second hostel earlier in the day for lunch, and got back quite late for dinner. The hostel was packed out with a group of middle aged russians, who had bought us some wine for our table for dinner!! The hostel was around 5000m above sea level, it was so damn cold and hard to breathe, but as it was so isolated, the stars were the clearest I think I have ever seen them. We had a much earlier night, as the russians had drank all the wine, and we were all zipped up in our sleeping bags early to try to keep warm! We shared a dorm but didn't get much sleep, and we all woke up short of breath a few times due to the altitude!
Day three started around 8am, when the sun had rose and warmed the day up a little. After what was surpringly quite a nice breakfast (although there were no bowls, so we had to eat the cereal out the box!), we headed back towards Uyuni. It was another mesmerising 7 hours of stunning landscapes, lagoons, driving through mini canyons and more singing! I was really glad we had bumped into Soph on the first day, as we got on like a house on fire. We stopped in another deserted village for lunch. Its so bizarre, its all locked up shops and empty buildings, very eerie! We also stopped at the first hostel we stayed in, to find the washing line covered in huge slabs of red, dripping meat! There was also a hack saw on the floor, a bathroom 'out of bounds' and a missing child! A very strange and a little scary end to the trip! But hey, its Bolivia! We arrived back in Uyuni around 5pm, hoping to book a bus that night as there was little to do in town. We lucked out and got the last two seats on a bus leaving at 6pm. We grabbed some food quickly, said our goodbyes to everyone and jumped on the bus. Yet another Bolvian bus treat, spent sitting next to a homeless guy, who it turned out was not supposed to be there and was luckily evicted from his seat an hour into the journey!! This was an hour too long, he stank and kept eyeing up my pringles...

Lucy xxx

Posted by Lulu-Bug 12:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rurrenabaque and the return to La Paz

Jungles, Mosquitoes and escaping La Paz

We had got a really good deal on our jungle trip, £160 for two flights and a three day tour, including accom and food. The plane from La Paz was insane! A little 18 seater, a bit like a test tube, were the pilot just sits at the front! It was a 40 minute flight, and I don't think I relaxed until we were off it! The heat when you arrive in Rurrenabaque is like a slap in the face. Its such a contrast to the cold and altitude we had been used to. We grabbed a local taxi (a dodgy motorbike) and found a cheap hostal. It was getting late already, so we had a quick dinner and packed a small bag for our Jungle trip.
The next morning, we arrived at the tour office, only to find it was next door to the yummiset French patissere, of all the places in the world?! We had a good group for the trip, us four, two Germans the Aussies knew from Chile, a couple from Chile and an Italian (who turned out to be a dousch). The tour we picked was called 'The Pampas Tour' and meant we would be seeing more wildlife. We jumped into the very uncomfortable jeep and were off. It's a three hour drive to the river, and my ass felt every second of it! I also made the error of wearing a white t-shirt... it was orange with dust when we arrived! We stopped for lunch before taking the boat. It was spag bol, so I asked for vegetarian... I got cold chips, plain pasta and pain rice... mmm, triple carbs! The boats that take you down the river are so cool, you sit in twos on little garden chairs and just cruise for two hours through all the vegetation. We arrived at the lodge late afternoon. The lodge was super cool too, all on stilts above the water. There are little walkways between all the huts, and even a bar with hammocks! There are two residents Crocodiles that lurk under the walkways, a little scary when it is so easy to fall in... they looked pretty hungry to me! We had a few beers and dinner, then when it was dark, we went crocdile hunting! This consists of getting back in the boat and driving through the small rivers with torches. You know you've seen a croc as their eyes flash when caught by the torchlight! Back at the lodge, everyone had a very restless night in the heat, as you have to have a big moissy net around your bed and its all big dorms!
The next day we started with some Anaconda hunting! They give you wellies and advise you to wear long, NOT black trousers. All I had were black leggings, good start! You drive up the river, and then literaly wander through the Amazon, waist deep, for 2 hours looking for snakes! Its super scary as you can't see anything in the water, and the guide kept talking about leeches! We found two snakes (neither Anaconds). I was glad to get back in the boat! No leeches, but my black leggings had attracted the entire Bolivian population of Mosquitoes to feast on me, and they are big ass Mosquitoes out here! My legs looked like I had chicken pox, over a hundred bites per leg/ass cheek/soles of feet... On the upside, the Mossies loved me so much, no-one else got bitten! We headed back to camp for a siesta in the hammocks and lunch. In the afternoon, we went Pirhana fishing. You have to put bits of raw beef on hooks and they go wild for it. They were too quick for me though, I half caught one but it got away. Between the 9 of us, we caught 5 (and the guide got 3 of them!). We ate them for dinner and they were actually quite tasty. We went to a 'local' bar for sunset. This was essentially a few planks of wood and a shed above the river... but they sold pringles, which was both wierd and amazing!
The next morning, Loz, Jess, Dom and I got up for sunrise. The tour guide drove us to the prettiest spot, it was worth the early wake up. I think the rest of the group were gutted when they saw our pictures! There were loads of monkeys playing near our boat too, which was fun. After this, we went swimming with pink dolphins. They take you to a spot, where they live in the wild, and just tell you to jump in! Not everyone did, but i'm glad I did. No-one had touched one, and then one just swam over and started head butting my bum! It was a little scray, but I was glad it picked me! After a qucik shower, we jumped back in the boats and headed back. Our guide was crazy but knew the river and all the short cuts so well. He would drive to what looked like a dead end, then it would just open up into another river. Another three hours on the bus of pain, (plus an hour for a busted tyre change) and we were back in Rurrenabaque. We were all gagging for an ice cold beer after the jeep ride, only to find out that because it was the day before Good Friday, it was illegal to sell alcohol?! But our pesistence paid off, when we found a little Lebenese place serving Falafel and beers!
Our flight wasn't until the afternoon the next day, so we paid £2 each to hang out at a plush hotel that overlooks the jungle and has a pool! It was worth every penny and was so nice to have a sunbathe. The flight back to La Paz was rough as we flew through a storm. You can really feel the turbulance in those little planes! But the views of the snowy mountains nearly made it worth it! Back in La Paz, we decided to head back to 'Hostal Senoral', as it was cheap and we missed Winnie! We went out and watched the easter parade (lots of Jesus eferegees and men in KKK hoods?!), but my bites were so itchy by this stage, I went back to bed, whilst the boys headed out to Loki for food and drinks.
The next day was spent present shopping (I now own two llama jumpers), posting things home and organising were to go next. The time had come for us and the boys to part ways (Jess is off to the UK to meet his lady, Dom is off to Sucre, then Columbia). We all went to a Steak House for dinner. They were trialing new staff so the service was shocking (we had to send the food back as it was cold), but when it came out the second time, it was lush. I had a rack of BBQ pork ribs that were amazing. Loz and Dom shared the set menu; Two tequila shots, nachos, a meat platter (llama steak, pork ribs, steak, chicken, burgers and black pudding) with chips, dessert and coffees, all washed down with a bottle of red and a cocktail for £15 each! I have never seen two boys with worse meat sweats in my life!! It was a great dinner, made better because of the new staff, they forgot to charge us for half the drinks! We met a really nice English girl called Sophie too, who was going to be on the same bus as us the next day. After dinner, we headed to Loki, for the 'Bucket Party'. This is kinda like the parties they have in Thailand. A beach bucket, filled with rum, red bull and coke! We somehow ended up with free drinks again (new bar staff), so it ended up being a super cheap evening!
The next day we had 9 hours to kill til our bus, so shopped a bit then spent 5 hours in Burger King on the Interent! Its shameful, but they have the best wi-fi in La Paz and the chicken burger was yummy!! In the evening, we said our goodbyes and headed off on yet another interesting bus trip, to Uyuni. The seats were slightly better than the last bus, the road there was not! I don't think they've heard of tarmac in this country.... Oh well, only 11 hours of bus fun I guess!

Lu xxx

Posted by Lulu-Bug 08:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz and The Death Road

The city that never sleeps

Where to start with La Paz! It is a crazy place, a little bit like a bizarre, mini London! We arrived having not really researched it all, and spent a good two hours searching for a cheap, decent Hostal. We eventually found one called 'Hostal Senoral'. It is run by a crazy woman who only owns one jumper, a very fetching red number with a huge Winnie the Pooh on the front! We got the impression she had embraced the local culture, and was permantley on some sort of speed/coke mixture which made her gurn and run around the Hostal like a crazy person! After a quick dinner with the boys, we had an early night (only to realise our window was next to a church, god damn those church bells every hour!).
We explored the 'Witches Markets' on the next day, bizarre to say the least! They sell all sorts of potions and charms from herbal viagra to a powder claiming to cure cancer! Although, I think the strangest thing they sell has to be the dried up baby Llama feutuses! It is supposed to be good luck to bury one under the foundations of new houses, i'd be scared of a little baby Llama ghost running around my new house! There are also tonnes of shops selling the usual tourist stuff, so we had a good shop that day. In the evening, we headed over to Wild Rover, which is renowed as a 'party hostal'. Had a fun night, playing lots of pool and enjoying the cheap beer, but vowed to not go back, as it was filled with 18 year olds travelling on Daddy's money.

The next day was spent much the same as the first, exploring the markets and local culture. We did stuble upon San Pedro Prison too. It's the prison out of a book I had read years ago, called 'Marching Powder'. Its renowed as being one of the world's poorest and roughest prisons, as the government give the prisoners nothing. It's up to relatives to bring food and clothes in, and if not, prisoners have to make their own money by cooking food fors others etc. We met one of the inmates, Gerry from NY, outside the prison. He was in for 14 years for being caught with 2kg of Cocaine, he had 2 weeks left on his sentence! They send the Foreign prisoners outside sometimes to get tourists in for a tour. We decided against this, as we had heard stories of people getting trapped inside until they paid a huge bribe to get out. It also turns out, you can no longer go into general population anyway, so it really is just a tourist thing. Gerry was saying the prison will be closing in 6 months, as it has such bad reputation. He was a good old boy and we bought him lunch... looked like he needed it! In the evening we went to a Swiss fondue restaurant with the people from the bus. It was sooooooooooo good, as I have been missing proper cheese!

We decided to just spend three nights in the crazy hostal! Checked out the next morning and went on 'The Death Road' cycle trip. Its split into two halves, 31km on a 'normal' road and then 34km on a dirt track with a very high drop! You get all the gear, so full face helmets, knee pads etc and full suspension bikes. The first section is really fun as you can go whizzy quick down the road, slowing only to avoid vechicles! Its crazy as you start so high, so its freezing (-something degrees), then it getsd warmer as you desend. The second section made me want to cry! The drop off the side is about 900m vertical and at some points the road is only 3m wide. I couldn't believe the mini bus followed us down! You also have to cycle through waterfalls and rivers! The shrines to peope that have gone off the edge are a little off putting to say the least! The last tourist to die was last year (a Japenese woman taking photos as she cycled, ironic I know!) It's so hard to descibe it all really, check it out on You Tube! When you finally get to the bottom (5 hrs of ass pain later), you are rewarded with tropical temperatures, an ice cold 'Judas' beer, a pool and buffet lunch... Lush!

Back in La Paz, the four of us moved to 'Loki Hostel', a well known party hostel for mid twenty somethings! The next few days we spent partying. Needless to say there was plenty of free flowing vodka, pool compitions and very suspicious clubs (Route 36 is worth a visit!), kept fuelled by English pub food (a nice change from the bland Bolivian alternative!). It was nice to go out and have a dance, as most of our nights have been quite tame since we started travelling.

After three days and nights of little sleep, the four of us checked out of Loki and embarked on our Bolivian Jungle adventure...

Lu xxx

Posted by Lulu-Bug 08:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Copacabana and The Isla Del Sol

Getting to know Bolivia

semi-overcast

Copacabana is the first town you come to once you cross the border, takes about an hour. The bus drivers all seemed to know someone with a hostel because they all stopped outside different ones and then drop you in the main square if you don't want to stay there. One of the guys we had met on the bus told us he had a cheap hostel, turns out the price was in dollars and not bolivianos..... needless to say we shopped around. We found one in the square called 'San Jose Hostel' for 20 bollies a night, £2!! Beats the $20 at the other one!!! We ended up staying with Dom and Jess, the boys form the bus and booking the boat to the Island of the Sun, on the Bolivian side of Lake Titticaca, with them too. You get better deals if there are more of you. There are loads of restuarants around town, all super cheap. Think we paid about £4 for a main course and 2 beers!! 80p a beer, needless to say how the rest of the night went! Oh and the cash machines also talk you in Bolivia, strange. The hostel had a pool table, just not for gringos apparently so as soon as the locals finished they locked it... We had an early night!

The next morning we awoke to a monsoon but somehow managed to blag changing the boat to the Island for later in the day. Turns out if it's raining the tour agents don't get up anyway!! You can either go to the south side or the north. It's cheaper to get the boat to the north side and walk to the south, that is if you want to walk the island. The Inca ruins are on the North side but most the hostels are on the south. We opted to go to the North and walk to the south. There's a path that runs the whole way along the top of the island but be aware, more tourist tax awaits you if you chose to use it. We snook out along the bottom, left of the village on a donkey track and then cut up to the main path to avoid the tax, i'm saying this like we did it purposley ....... we didn't, we were just lost! The walk is amazing, once you're on the path you can see nearly the whole island and out across Lake Titticaca to Boliva, Peru and snow topped mountains. Worth the walk just for the view!!!! We found out about the tax when we got to the South side, when a man cam out of what can only be described as a sheep shed and demanded 5 bolllies to pass his wall??!!!? Tourist tax strikes again. We ended up arguing with him at first as he wouldn't show us any reason for paying, it was only when we went to walk off he uncovered the tickets on the table, conviniently hidden by his jacket. Turns out they try to make you pay and not give you a ticket so they can pocket the money and charge you again at the other end, cheeky bastards. It's 15 bollies to walk from south to north and then 5 at the other end and vice versa so if you can skip a gate you save the 15! There's about 3 or 4 hostels and resturants to pick from on the south end, ranging from 80 bollies to 20, so shop around! You can also barter for the beer, we settled for buy three get one free. The sunset from the top of the south side is stunning, we just chilled up there and got food then went back to the hostel to drink, and play cards... that bottle of Jack came in most handy.

The boat back tho the main land is at 9.00am, don't miss it as there isn't another til 4.00pm and then its too late to get buses out of Copacabana. Once back, we picked up our bags and got the bus to La Paz. The buses are only local ones, leaky roofs and seats that aren't bolted to the floor, wooop. Half way there you have to get off the bus and onto a boat, they also put the bus on a boat/raft and take it across the river, they look like they are going capsize! It's literaly a plank of wood with an outboard. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, apart form meeting a sweedish couple, Nico and Claudia, who happend to have been in Chile with the Ausies we were with, haven't laughed so hard in years. The woman next to me was huge, kept on creeping onto my seat so i swiftly put the arm rest down, which was quickly absorbed by her side not making much difference!! In protest she then persisted to cock her leg up and fart in my general direction and when i say general direction she was sat next to me! Nico's answer to this was to cock my leg and fart back at her..... nothing came, viva La Paz.

loz x x x x

Posted by Lulu-Bug 08:30 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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