Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mi casa, su casa

Sucre, BOLIVIA: 14 - 24 Jan. 2010

Back in Sucre, I signed up for a few weeks of Spanish classes. While I have enough Spanish to get around (order in restaurants, buy bus tickets etc.), it has been far too easy when staying in hostels and travelling with other backpackers to speak English most of the the time. I decided to go for the full Spanish immersion experience by opting for one-on-one classes and by choosing to stay with a Bolivian family. So I moved in with the Hurtado Canseco family - Antonio, Jassel, their three daughters aged 12 to 17 and Toto the dog.

After four months of not needing to know what day of the week it was, I suddenly had some sense of normality (I have my own room where I fully unpacked my rucksack for the first time) and a schedule: breakfast at 7:45am with my bean an ti and some "playing" with Toto; school from 8:15am to 12:15pm; back home for dinner with the whole family; then off to the library to do my homework.

After a studious week (albeit one that included a couple of nights out and a game of poker), I needed a break from the books on the weekend so I went on a two-day trek in the mountains surrounding Sucre. We (two Americans, two Australians, and one English girl) camped in the beautiful Maragua Crater and hiked through some lush and remote areas. To get back to Sucre we took the local transport, i.e. an open-top cattle truck jammed with people of all ages carrying all sorts of bundles. The experience of standing for three hours while bumping up and down on steep dirt roads in a truck while being pinned in on all sides by people (including the old man who was sitting on my feet) is one I won´t forget.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fun Lakes and Dangerous Roads

Copacabana, Sorata, La Paz, BOLIVIA: 2 -13 Jan. 2010

Back in La Paz, we said goodbye to Sinead and Gavin who were on their way to Lima to catch a flight to Los Angeles. With the three remaining Kiwis, I headed for Lake Titicaca - one of the highest navigable lakes in the world at 3820m. After a nice day strolling around Copacabana (the beach in Rio de Janeiro is named after this Bolivian pilgrimage town),

the next day we did a four hour walk along the lake and through rural villages before catching a boat to Isla del Sol - the views from this island made it a great place to chill out with a beer.From the lake we headed into the mountains to the pretty hillside village of Sorata. We spent four full days here as it is a great base for trekking (and because the German guesthouse owner made a savage breakfast of pancakes with banana and chocolate sauce!). While some of our day treks were harder than others, one was especially memorable. The walk, which was through a stunning valley, ended at San Pedro´s Cave. The place looked like it doesn´t get many tourists and things didn´t look promising as we were sent into the cave by ourselves with just two tiny torches. But then hardhats were provided and the lights in the cave were turned on to reveal a lake with a pedal-boat - the four of us on our own in a pedal-boat in a huge cave is one of the most random experiences I´ve ever had!

From Sorata it was back (again) to La Paz, where I said goodbye to Anna, Sarah and Bevan who were off to do the Salt Flat tour that I did before Christmas. So after nearly a month of travelling with friends, I was back to be a solo traveller.

One of the big backpacker things to do in La Paz is to cycle down the "World´s Most Dangerous Road" - its a 64km cycle where you descend 3800m and where at times the narrow, muddy road runs along a very high cliff. It was great fun and when the mist cleared (and when I got a chance to look up) the lush scenery was very impressive - certainly more enjoyable than cycling in Dublin to work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Feliz Navidad

Sucre, Potosí, Oruro, BOLIVIA: 23 Dec. 2009 - 1 Jan. 2010

We arrived in Sucre, the judicial capital of Bolivia, on 23 December. There we met up with Sinead´s sister Sarah, her boyfriend Bevan and her two friends Rachel and Hester. On Christmas Eve we went out for a traditional Bolivian meal before joining the ¨Baby Jesus¨procession around the town (where many people, and not just children, carried slightly freaky dolls dressed in white lace) that culminated in Midnight Mass.

On Christmas Day, where strangely for us many shops and restaurants were open, Sinead´s other sister Anna arrived just in time for our Christmas dinner - amazingly Anna´s five flights that took her from London to Sucre were all on time. Everyone in the hostel pitched in with making a fine Christmas feast, which included the food I´m used to (turkey, potatoes, carrots etc.) as well as some local fare (quinoa salad, guacamole etc.). After dinner myself and the seven Kiwis exchanged our Secret Santa presents - I got a great colletion of Bolivian finger puppets. While certainly different, it was a great Christmas Day. On St. Stephen´s Day I decided to shave for the first time since being in Las Vegas in September - afterwards it was strange seeing my small-looking face in the mirror, but I was glad to be more streamlined again. After saying goodbye to Rachel and Hester, myself and the remaining five New Zealanders spent a couple more days relaxing in Sucre - a highlight of which was our trip on the ¨Dino Truck¨to see hundreds of preserved dinosaur tracks.

We then headed to Potosí, the highest city in the world at 4060m. It was previously one of the richest cities in the world due to the silver that was mined in the nearby Cerro Rico mountain. Although there isn´t much left in the mines, they are still operational. We were brought into one of the mines by a former miner - the tour was at times shocking (seeing workers including children work in Victorian conditions), scary (being deep inside the mine as explosions were detinated), and fun (setting off our own dynamite when we got back outside) - only in Bolivia!

From the dust and mud of the mines, we headed for a dip in a crater lake whose water comes from natural hot springs - another memorable experience.

Unfortunately, Sarah and Bevan will remember Potosí for another resaon - they were scammed by some fake policemen and lost their camera, ipod and some money. Still it could have been worse and no one was hurt.

For New Years we went to the city of Oruro. As that city doesn´t have much going for it, we had to make our own fun - which was easily done with some cheap alcohol (all alcohol here is so cheap) and a deck of cards. We welcomed in the new decade in a club where we were the most lively revellers - I´m sure the locals were impressed with our performance of Fallai Luimni. It was a very random but very enjoyable New Years.