A return to Peru

After flying back from Argentina, I spent three days back in La Paz, Bolivia, not doing a whole lot, before getting a night bus back to Cusco, Peru. There I again stayed at the orphanage (or casa de mi padre) that I had been volunteering at for a little less than 2 months before I left to go travelling.

Cusco, and that place, will always have a special place in my heart. I had some amazing times there, and the work that is done on kids who were drug addicts, lived on the streets, were members of gangs and often were abused, is amazing. When I arrived back I was given a really warm welcome, and immediately asked where my tablet was. I didn’t see it for the next two days. Apart from going out to watch the Champions League Final at our old favorite hang-out, Paddy’s Pub, I mostly spent my two days in Cusco at the orphanage hanging out with the kids. It was strange because when I had left there were about 20 volunteers, a large tight-knit group of friends. When I arrived I was the only volunteer at the boys’ house, and there were just three (English) girls working at the girls’ house.

On the Saturday evening, it was a girl’s birthday, so everyone came to the boys’ house to have a party. I’d attended plenty of these in my previous stint, but this was nice because I was given an official ‘thank you’ by Jeremy, the founder, and a round of applause. We had cake, the kids did some (choreographed) dances and then I led a Macarena, not particularly well, but I still did it.

The next day, we did a World Cup sweepstake, where each boy took a piece of paper out of a hat that had the name of a team on it, and that would be their team for the World Cup. The one that had the winner would get a prize. Watching the most cocky of them, Steven, getting Japan (Japan won’t win it), and the quietest, Lucio, get Brazil, was pretty sweet.

In the evening we continued a Sunday tradition of going to a local pitch to play football, which was a great way to say goodbye. In La Paz, I had got them a sticker book and each boy a pack of Panini World Cup stickers each, so I gave them this, said my goodbyes, and headed for a bus to Ica.

My final post on Facebook about the orphanage: “My final day in Cusco with the boys of Elim, an organisation that takes in children from the street, broken homes, and orphans. It is hard to put into words the job that Jeremy and Nilda are doing, with the help of people like Yeicob, but the effect is evident as soon as you step through the door. These are some of the most happy, thoughtful, and inspiring children you can find, and it´s safe to say the effect they’ve had on me has been far greater than any material gift or entertainment I could bring to them in my 6 weeks. I would recommend anyone visiting Cusco to spend some time there if possible.”

While the bus from La Paz to Cusco wasn’t so bad for a Bolivian bus, it was a welcome return to be back with a good bus company in Cruz Del Sur, which effectively had the ‘cama’ treatment. Pretty much business class.

Map for reference. Ica is south of Lima

When I arrived in Ica I met my American friend Rick, who’d I’d actually met the last time I was in Cusco through two guys I met on my trek to Machu Picchu, and then had met again in La Paz. We took a 15 minute taxi to the town of Huacachina, effectively an ‘oasis’ build in some sand dunes just outside of Ica that has become a tourist trap. It’s a pretty cool place, but don’t stay there more than a day or two. Huacachina, being in a desert, has become the prime location for trying out sandboarding and dune-buggying in Peru. For about 35 soles, or around 15 pounds, you can have a 4 hour experience doing both these activities, although my hostel, Banana hostel (very nice), gave me a room and included activities for 55.

The dune buggy ride is seriously awesome. The buggy can do pretty much anything without flipping over, so the driver tests this principle to the limit, taking you up and down pretty tall and steep dunes at speed. Really fun.

You get about 6 or 7 tries at sandboarding, but after my first, shocking attempt, I decided to do what pretty much everyone else in my group was doing: stomach boarding. As the name suggests, this is where you lay on your stomach and rocket down the dunes until you fall off or come to a halt. Definitely do this if you can, although if you see other people bumping up and down near the bottom, you’re probably going to wake up with some bruises the next day, but it’s so worth it.

While I was in Huacachina I actually managed to meet up with one of my best friends from Utila, Honduras, the first place I did volunteering on this trip, which was cool.

That evening Rick (the American) and I boarded a bus to Nazca, the location of mysterious line patterns carved into the earth by ancient Peruvian people. I opted not to take a flight over the lines, as it was about $75, and gave my camera to Rick instead.

The day after this (don’t spend more than a day there if you wish to do it), we headed back up north to the town of Pisco, where you can get a taxi to nearby Paracas. Here is a national park and also, just off the coast, the islands that are named the ‘Little Galapagos’, due to similar geography, flora and fauna. I took the boat ride and saw a variety of sea birds, penguins, and sea lions, which was cool, although if you’re short on time you can skip this stop off.

While the hostel I stayed in was really cool (Kokopelli), I booked a flight for Cali in Colombia for two days from then, and decided to head back to Pisco and on to Lima to catch the flight. I said goodbye to Rick, and set off for Pisco.

There I decided to take a cheaper bus (National Peru or something), as it was only a 4 hour journey. This would be my downfall. I’d been on cheap buses before, but usually with friends, or at least other gringos on board. This bus had neither. About 15 minutes into the journey, with my bag next to me, I was beginning to drift off, listening to music, when a guy sat next to me, putting my bag in the overhead storage. I stood up and took it from him and put it between my legs, thinking that would quell his attempts to take it. It didn’t. While I was again looking out the window, he must have got his water bottle, uncapped it and soaked the bottom of my bag with it, as he suddenly tapped me, exclaiming “mojado!!!“, ‘wet’. Bewildered, I allowed him to pick it up and dry it off with a towel he’d produced. Watching him the whole time to prevent him from running off with it, he managed to remove both my passport bag and camera from inside and place them in his bag. About 5 minutes later he got off the bus, and that was the last I saw of him. I checked my bag, tried to run after him, and was blocked off by people trying to get on. Not knowing what to do, or if I could trust anyone (no one apart from the ticket inspector was making any kind of attempt to help, especially not the driver), I got him to take me to the nearest station, where I got off with my remaining things, left them at the ticket office (a risk in itself) and headed to the police station.

Using a bit of Google translate, I managed to explain what had happened and describe the guy who did it, but I was informed there was no hope. I was staying calm, but when I remembered that I hadn’t backed up all my recent stuff as my back-up USB had become corrupted, I began to grow more and more despondent. At last I got on a bus up to Lima, in which another man attempted to take my ticket for my larger bag in the bus’s lower hold, and arrived late at night. Much to my chagrin, the idiotic hostel worker who greeted me asked me for my passport after I had just told him it had been stolen, then claimed he couldn’t check me in without it, or my immigration proof. I gave him the photocopy and managed to convince him it would be enough.

A trip to the Embassy the next day revealed the fact that I would be missing my flight on that Saturday as my passport wouldn’t be ready, so I would be staying in Lima at least until the following Monday.

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Sucre and a return to La Paz

After a 4 hour bus ride to Sucre, I booked into a hotel of European design near the centre of town and spent the evening walking around and getting dinner. The first thing you notice about Sucre is the altitude. It´s much lower than most other places in Bolivia, and so is hotter and less tiring to walk around. It´s also far prettier to look at than Potosi, or even La Paz, due to a UNESCO declaration that its architecture cannot be altered, and building is strictly regulated nearer the centre. The result of this is that the colonial houses, hotels, restaurants, plazas and churches all remain, meaning Sucre is just a pleasant place to be. Its got large palm trees around the main plaza, and all the restaurants and cafes feel kind of like they´re designed for tourists without there being a tourist feel.

Despite my hotel having some cool architecture, it was a bit antique and my room tiny, so I decided to move to a hostel for the rest of my 3 day stay there. The best one I could find on HostelWorld (great website/app) was The Celtic Cross, one run by an Irish guy. It´s a really well run place. They emphasise space over quantity of people, so there are 2 large bathrooms and 2 kitchens and an open courtyard in the middle where people chill out and work on their Spanish homework. Incidentally pretty much everyone there was in the process of doing a Spanish course, and I quickly learnt that this was because there was little to do in Sucre unless you wanted to leave the city and do some adventure activities (expensive and time consuming for me) or learn Spanish.

Starting to think about the time I had left on my trip, I began to feel I´d already prolonged my stay away from La Paz and Argentina for long enough, so booked a flight back to La Paz the following day for $80. To put it in perspective, the plane takes 50 minutes, the bus takes 18 hours (although is a lot cheaper). Such is a decision you have to make when travelling through a country like Bolivia.

While I visited some cool restaurants in Sucre (they do really good crepes there, really cheaply), my favourite place to go, and probably the place where most tourists there go, is Florins, a gastro bar a block away from the main square. It was there I headed on my last day to get one of their famous burgers and watch some of the Champions League that was on with the two French guys from Potosi. I stayed there for a couple of hours before heading back to the Hostel to pack up my things and head to the airport.

If I ever return to Sucre I´d be surprised, but I can see why some Bolivians use it for Romantic escapades, as it´s just a nice place, if a little boring.

 

When I arrived back in La Paz at about 6pm, I was met with a really great view of the sun going down on the city, as well as a previously unseen perspective on the size difference between El Alto and La Paz. While the latter is confined in a gorge (although it can stretch out downtown), the former spreads out for miles around the edge of the cliff overlooking La Paz, a sea of tiny houses, occasional churches and weirdly what look like mosques, and large open spaces, presumably for weekend markets. When I´d picked up my bag, I returned to the Ortega-Mendoza´s house by taxi to pick up my other bag and try to find a room for the night. When I arrived it was such a relief to be in an actual house again. For so long I´d been in sometimes uncomfortable beds, occasionally lonely (an unavoidable truth about travelling alone) and without some of the general home comforts you get when you´re in an owned house! For example, when I got there only Mariana was home, so we ordered food and watched TV, then the movie Magnolia (good film). By the time it had finished, it was midnight, the others in the family had come home and gone to bed, and there was no chance of getting a hostel, so they kindly allowed me to stay in their spare room until I´d found space.

Somehow that managed to turn into a week´s stay (although I won´t talk too much about this to respect their privacy, it was a lot of fun)! This enabled me to see La Paz the way Bolivians see it, and with Mariana as my guide also managed to see some more of the city. On my first day back I went to University with her, in her design and film classes, and although I didn´t learn much (the classes were in Spanish), it was cool, if a little surreal, being back at University! Over the next few days we also got through a lot of Netflix episodes of Orange is the New Black and Weeds, as well as trips into the city. On Thursday evening I went to see a friend who was working at Oliver´s English Tavern in the centre of La Paz, and the next day did the Death Road. As you can tell, I survived, but despite this it was cool.

I chose the company ´Gravity´, known to be the most expensive, but also have the best safety record and the best bikes. You meet at Oliver´s pub for a 7:30am kick off, and load into a bus with two guides. My primary one was called Marcus, an Aussie who had come here for a few months off from work, and stayed. In the bus we were briefed on what we would be doing, how to use the bikes etc. and then told to introduce ourselves and give the rest of the group an embarrasing story. As is to be expected when put on the spot in front of a group of strangers, pretty much everyone couldn´t think of one, so I stepped up with the great comedic tale of my disasterous bus ride to Uyuni. At the starting point, high in some mountains about an hour from La Paz, we tested out our bikes and kitted up in some baggy red and black overalls and helmets, then set off. When you have Israelis in your group doing some kind of extreme activity (and this isn´t a generalisation, it´s the truth), they will attempt to be the fastest and do the most stunts. The Death Road was no exception. However their speed was checked at points when we would stop to be given information on the road. At one point, a great vista overlooking a valley, we were told to look directly downwards, and saw the wreckage of a bus smashed by the rocks below. The drop was at least 200ft, and so inevitably there had been no survivors. It is estimated that around 200 to 300 travellers are killed every year on the road, although only 19 riders have been killed in about 25 years (12 Israeli). However I think that total figure must be less now, as regular traffic has been diverted onto a better, newer road since 2006, and the last death I´d heard of had been 2 months ago, a motorcyclist backing up against the edge to pose for a picture.

It´s called the Death Road for a reason, but it isn´t a particularly hard ride if you´re sensible. Most accidents results in broken or fractured bones, not deaths, and it´s more just a thrill to speed down a bumpy mountain bike track, knowing that if you wanted to, you could kill yourself. Of course, I´m not trying to belittle those who have died. I heard of one British guy, my age, who passed out due to altitude sickness and careered off the edge. Half of the charm of the road is to get the T-shirt, say you´ve done it, and big it up to those who have yet to complete it. As you can see from the picture below, our visibility at the top was also pretty poor, so unfortunately we missed most of the great views which may have made it more scary. But if you´re in La Paz for a few days, it´s a great day out and when conducted with Gravity, you end in a cool monkey rehabilitation centre with an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet, which I took advantage of.

On the weekend I was taken out for some steak, which included large appetisers of bread and traditional sauce, salad, empanadas, and cheese melts. Then came a huge Argentinian Bife de Chorizo (medium-rare) steak, which was incredible, with a side of chips. Then Mariana didn´t eat much of hers, so I ended up eating that as well. Then we had kind of creme caramel desert. I think it´s fair to say it was the most I´ve ever eaten, and we all stumbled slowly out of the restaurant, clutching our stomachs, but satisfied.

I had eaten so much I´d almost forgotten that we were supposed to be going out that night, so shortly the meal Mariana got a call that her friends were at a local bar, with requests that she and I join them. We met her friends at a kind of English themed bar (as in the music was all English, usually what it means), who are all really cool people with varying levels of English, although my Spanish was good enough to communicate with them, and soon afterwards headed off for the main event of the evening, a dub-rave party hosted by more of her DJ friends. Although I won´t go through the entire rest of the evening, it was a really really fun night, by the end of which I didn´t feel too bad, probably because the sheer amount of food inside me had absorbed all of the alcohol.

The next day was my last day in La Paz before my flight out to Buenos Aires (I was very excited) on Monday, so we got up at the ungodly out of 12pm to go get some lunch at a really fancy, but great restaurant nearby, and had some great pork stew, which is apparently a speciality here. The deserts were also recommended, but there was no way I could handle that. No way. Well I tried some of Mariana´s brother´s tart and it was really good, but I physically couldn´t eat anymore. Afterwards, for the second time in 24 hours, we stumbled out of a restaurant holding our stomachs and vowing that we wouldn´t eat that much ever again. Instead of driving straight back we decided to take a walk around downtown La Paz, partly because it was a nice day, partly to walk off the food. However the pace was slow, mainly because Mariana´s brother continually had to sit down anywhere he could find to avoid a stomach explosion. I deducted that he had eaten too much.

That evening we went out to the movies and saw Spiderman 2, paying a little extra (it´s Bolivia so emphasise the little) to get reclining seats and food brought to us (we opted against this as apparently the portions were too small. Seriously). I actually really enjoyed the movie, and Mariana and her brother are huge comic fans so they of course enjoyed it.

Basically it was a really relaxing and fun week. Their maid made some really good meals and even a milkshake for me early in the morning before doing the Death Road, which I really appreciated, and I was made to feel incredibly welcome by the whole family, despite such a tenuous link between us! So if you´re reading this Viviana, thank you again so much!

The next morning I said my goodbyes and got to the airport ready for a 15 hour journey and 4 flights, but on my way to Argentina´s colourful and flamboyant capital, Buenos Aires!

 

Church in Sucre. Even the cars are antique!

I love these people so much. I´ve only seen them in La Paz and Sucre, but I´m sure they´re in every major Bolivian city. Effectively they´re there to escort people across the road, kind of like lolli pop ladies for everyone. They´ll walk in the middle of the road when a red light shows and basically dance about, joke with people, high five, wave, shake kids´ hands, basically cheer everyones´ days up. They´re obviously just cool people. I asked Mariana about this afterwards and she said you can actually sign up to be one of these people for the day, although the waiting list is about 5 months long, and everyone wants to do it. What makes it even better is they also get street kids involved (in the suits) to give them some money and get them off some of the more shady activities that must go on. Just a brilliant scheme that could be applied back home as well!

Little courtyard in Sucre.

Easter day in Sucre. People are making palm leave crosses for others to take in.

20 boliviano ($2) pancakes for breakfast one day.

My favourite cocktail in South America, the Caiprinha

Back at University in La Paz!

Bit of Fifa at the Mendoza-Ortega´s. Beat Argentina with Bolivia on Penalties after a great game. If that doesn´t mean much to you, Argentina have one of the best teams in the world, and the best/second best player. Bolivia just don´t. They suck. Although teams never come to play them as the altitude makes it almost impossible! Argentina lost 6-1 the last time they came here, and both teams from La Paz are in the quarter finals of the Copa Liberdatores (the South American equivalent of the Champions League) because of this!

A minion maid adorned on the wall of a street in downtown La Paz. Perhaps a tribute to the maid who do such good work here? Perhaps a subtle social commentary? Either way it´s cute.

 

Potosi

After leaving the salt flats it was a 1 hour drive to Uyuni, where we discovered there was a bus leaving for a city Id been wondering about visiting as a way of avoiding the bus from Uyuni back to La Paz. In the end only Carol and I took that bus, so made quick goodbyes to the others and set off on a 4 hour journey to the mining city of Potosi.

I slept about an hour of the journey due to an unnaturally smooth road for Bolivia, but it‘s incredibly hard to sleep with so much great scenery to admire, so I dozed the rest of the way. We made it in at about 5:30 and checked into a pretty nice hostel, but much to my dismay were given a double room. I sucked it up and decided I‘d been sleeping in the same room as her for the past three nights so it wasn’t so bad, if a little weird. While Carol went off to do something I chilled out at the hostel, eventually getting chatting to a guy who had been in Utila, Honduras, where I had done my first bit of volunteering all that time ago. It was a strange coincidence, and I only noticed because he was wearing one of the tank tops you get from doing drinking challenges at the Utilian bars. It turns out he was a bit of a hardcore traveller, having completed 10 months of an 11 month trip, and was now on the final leg. Generally the people you meet will either be doing 2 or 3 week trips, 4 to 6 month ones, or epic worldwide year adventures. Basically if they’re over 28 or so, and are pretty clean cut, still in work mode, they’re probably just on holiday. If they’re younger than that then they’re more likely to be doing the mid-range trip, and if they’re any age but have a big beard, are pretty tanned, have tonnes of bracelets and have stopped caring about their appearance, they’re more hardcore people. This is obviously a general statement, and doesn’t apply to everyone, and obviously you’d hope most of the hardcore women don’t have big beards. Plus in South America it’s also mostly an older crowd, so it varys, but the rules still apply I think.

Anyway after this Carol returned and we went out to eat. The choice near our hostel was pretty limited, there being two pizza joints, probably owned by the same people, with the same name and same advertising outside. We picked one and by coincidence inside were two of the French girls from the other car in the Salt Flats tour. As their food took longer to arrive (our pasta took half an hour, their pizza an hour and a half) the other French girl and Kelly, the Dutch girl from our tour, arrived. We chatted to them and I tested out some French for a bit, but as there isn‘t really much going on in Potosi at the best of times, we decided to turn in and get some sleep after what had been a long day.

The next morning Carol went off while I went off and sorted through some of my phone photos of the trip, and after she‘d left for Sucre in the afternoon, I went to take a tour of the mines. Potosi, actually a UNESCO World Heritage City, was founded by the Spanish in 1545, although the hill under which the town was based (Cerro de Potosi) had been known about for many years by the Incans. When the Spanish arrived however, they realized its potential in and quickly began exploiting its seemingly never ending Silver reserves. As a testament to this, mining still goes on in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) extensively today, only now, after a turmoiled history with the government, the miners run things. This doesn’t mean it’s a good life. The average miner is lucky if he makes it past 45, as the air, injuries and cramped conditions make life hard. However, as our guide, a funny bilingual ex-miner called Pedro, told us, the miners accept their lives, and are actually happy with it. They seem to have a strange guide of gallows humor, as well as the obvious comradeship involved (although they are meant to start at 18, most start from between 8 to 14, so will have worked with their friends almost their entire lives in there). If someone complains about being tired, they‘ll say, “Tired? You’re tired? I’m not tired. I could work for the rest of the week in here and still not be tired,” or, “you’re hot? Boy I could really do with putting on some more clothes, I’m freezing!” I guess it’s a way of keeping spirits high and remaining optimistic about your work. They generally arrive between 8 and 10, and leave when they feel like it, as some of them may have other jobs, or have a target of an amount of money they want to make in a month. The way he described it made it feel like they did enjoy their work, and maybe many of them accepted it it as a neccessary evil, but it’s most definitely not the kind of work conditions you’d say would be ideal for working such a strenuous job. Firstly it’s at a very high altitude. Potosi is the second highest city in the world with over 100,000 inhabitants at 4,050m (El Alto, the barrio/city beside La Paz is number 1), and Cerro Rico towers above it. I don’t know how much it affects the miners, but we were huffing doing very minimal exercise up there, and they pack coca leaves in their mouths throughout their whole work session. Coca leaves may taste bad, but they are pretty incredible, and help so much whether you’re doing Machu Picchu or just on a coach going through the mountains. They also eradicate feelings of hunger or thirst, so the miners don’t need to eat while working. Probably therefore a good way to diet as well.

Before we were taken to the mine entrance, our group, mostly made up of Argentinians, but with one other Brit, who had actually also been to Utila, and two French guys who had been on one of the other Tupiza to Uyuni tours, was taken to a shop. There we were told to buy a small gift for the miners and were given a choice between coca leaves, Coca Cola (used to be made from coca leaves, now it‘s synthetic) and dynamite. For some reason everyone else chose to buy the two coca products, but of course I was always going to buy the dynamite. When you have an opportunity to buy dynamite, you should always take it, is what I’ll say to my grandkids.

Once we were kitted up, we were taken inside the mines. They‘ve got pretty low ceilings (most Bolivians are pretty small people), and a vast network of tunnels of varying sizes and widths that without light would probably end up like the film The DescentAll I was thinking about when I was in there.

Eventually, after squeezing through holes and climbing ladders, we reached an enclave where a strange statue greeted us. It was a large man who seemed to be Spanish origin, with wild hair matted with streamers and two horns poking from his head. One hand was resting on his knee, open for coca leaves, the other clasped round his giant fallus, meant to represent masculinity, apparently. His mouth was open in a kind of a snarl, but the miners used it to place cigarettes in as an offering. See below for a picture. Apparently some miners have said that, while working late, or lost deep in the mines, El Tio (the devil) has visited them and guided them out. Although they‘re catholic there, and very devout, some elements of the old religions can never be lost when it comes to superstition, and El Tio, a God that will protect you if you give him fags, booze and coca, is one of those elements, and seems to be a pretty cool guy.

As it was the day before Easter there were no miners working, so I couldn‘t give away my dynamite. However once I got back to my hostel room I realized that trying to get dynamite on an eventual plane journey home wasn‘t going to be easy, so when Kristian the Norwegian arrived, I gave them to him. It would come to good use after all.

That evening I went for dinner with Kristian and the two French guys are we reminisced about the tour, then of course the conversation came to football, as it almost always does when guys get together.

The next day I made my way by bus to Sucre, Bolivia‘s official capital, and one of its most beautiful cities.

Potosi and Cerro Rico in a rare moment of sunshine. Ominously there always seem to be storms there.

Pedro, our guide, leading us through the mines.

A tight fit through one of the smaller tunnels.

And here you are. What you’ve been waiting for. El Tio:

 

And of course the dynamite.

La Paz

From Puno I took a 5 hour bus to the Bolivian border, which took about an hour to get through, and then I was in! Copacabana, the town from where Bolivian tours of Lake Titicaca begin, is a far nicer, tourist friendly place than Puno, and is also covered in restaurants, which was perfect for my 1 hour stop. After a quick sandwich (my first experience of Bolivian tardiness) which ended up taking up the full hour, we set off again and by about 5pm were in La Paz. I’d quickly looked up a hostel to stay in for the night, so after some discussions with the taxi driver, ended up at Muzungu’s B&B backpacker hostel. Muzungu’s, I later learnt, means white man’s or effectively gringo’s hostel, in Swahili.

However I literally just dumped my bags before heading out to meet Mariana, the Godchild of my aunt Rachel, who’s family moved to Sheffield about 20 years ago, and then moved back to La Paz when Mariana was 6 months old. We went for dinner at a cool Thai restaurant, and then went to an art gallery to check out one of her friends’ recent installments. So this was my first experience of La Paz. Probably different to most people, but still pretty fun.

When I got back there were some Isralies in the room (they’re all around South America doing some post National Service partying) and a couple, the girl from Norway and guy from Australia, although they’d lived just outside Oslo for the past 2 and a half years. The next morning I went out with them to wonder around the city. We went to a market to get some fruit juice, to a square known for the pigeons that will climb all over you if you give them food (I’ve got loads of photos of this for Facebook or here at some point) and then on a 3 hour free walking tour around the city (obviously you then have to tip) which was really good. That evening I’d arranged to meet Mariana, but kind of bailed on her (sorry!) and met up with the Canadians I’d met on Machu Picchu, Travis and Steven, because they’d just got down from Huayna Potosi, a giant 6,000m mountain that tours above La Paz, and is probably one of the toughest climbs in South America, maybe even America in general. Plus it was Steven’s 28th Birthday. We went to an Indian restaurant, the highest in the world (there’s a lot of ”the highest in the world” when you get to the Andes), which also has a Vindaloo challenge which only 2 people have ever completed. Due to a fragile stomach, as usual, I decided against the challenge and got soup. The Canadians were also joined by some of their fellow climbers, 2 Germans, a Norwegian, and an English guy from West London who was also a Fulham fan. The evening was actually really fun, as we ended up going to an English pub afterwards and chatting and playing pool. The game was me and the Norwegian vs. Steven and Travis, and with an incredible final shot from the Kristian, my partner, we won. This is relevant later.

In the end I went and hung out at their hostel afterwards. It’s kind of sad when you’re traveling because sometimes you’ll meet really cool people like those two, who you’d feel would be perfect travel companions, and then they leave or head off somewhere else and you’re back on your own. But I’ve got a home in Edmonton, Alberta, if I ever want it. I guess that’s an advantage of meeting them.

 

La Paz is probably my favourite city I’ve been to, and that includes Cusco. It’s pretty vast, but is also nestled in a valley where in the north is sided by sheer cliffs, and in the south by strange craggy alien rocks, which look really cool. On top of the north side is another city, which used to be a district of La Paz, called El Alto. It’s about twice the size of it’s parent city, but much poorer and effectively filled with all the people who come to La Paz from other parts of Bolivia and find there aren’t the work opportunities they expected (this is obviously symplified). La Paz is basically a grander, more bustling, urban, important and importantly, Bolivian version of Cusco. The sight of Huayna Potosi right behind the city is also something to behold, although its peak is usually covered in cloud.

 

A strange thing happened when I was walking back from the Canadians’ hostel. On the walking tour we’d learnt about this prison that was home to various non-dangerous criminals. Politicians, foreigners, drug dealers etc. At about 2am I was walking back to my hostel and met this American guy who looked pretty rough and worn. He smiled at me and asked me how I was doing. As I’d been drinking, I didn’t consider this too weird a thing, and how sounded friendly, so I said I was doing fine, and how was he. He replied that he’d just been released from that prison after 7 years inside for drug smuggling, and could I give him 6bs, as he was trying to find a place to stay while he sorted stuff out. 6bs is about 50p, so I obliged and bid him on his way.

The next day I went to the Ortega’s/Mendoza’s beautiful suburban house for lunch, where we were joined by their Belgian friend and his Bolivian wife. It was a really nice lunch cooked up by their cook/maid. They told me about their time in England, football, and we talked about Rachel, Mike and their children Aiden and Logan, who they hadn’t really seen pictures of. They also agreed to take my bigger bag while I took the Salt Flats tour for a week, which was great of them. So I went back to my hostel, hastily packed up my things and rushed back to their house in a cab, dropped it off, and then got stuck in a La Paz Friday evening traffic jam for an hour. My night bus to Uyuni was scheduled for 7:00, so I was sure I’d missed it. However TIB (This Is Bolivia, my version of TIA, This Is Africa) and of course it was late. I made it in time to get some bread and bananas, and boarded the coach to Uyuni, with an agreement in place to meet the Aussie and Norwegian couple there the next day to start a tour with them. However it was to go terribly wrong…

 

Addition:

Brilliant music video and a great song based in La Paz and I believe the Potosi mines, both where I’ve been. It’s also directed by a really talented Brit called Ian Pons Jewell.

Enjoy

Would say spread it around but it already has 300 million views!