Published: April 21st 2008April 21st 2008
Santa Cruz, Samaipata and Cochabamba topped off with a stint in La Paz
I apologise for the delay in the latest edition of the blog. I put this largely down to the illness I picked up upon my arrival in La Paz, which knocked me for six! Nonetheless, much has happened since Perilous Potosi; we have visited four cities/towns, I have aged another year, and most importantly, Villa managed to crush Blues 5-1!
Onwards and upwards, from Potosi we visited Santa Cruz, the largest of Bolivia´s 9 Departments nearing the Brazilian border with a repuation for an element of Brazilian party spirit. We couldn´t help but notice that things seemed a little different around the town, there were less people in traditional dress, it was far more built up and seemed richer, we were later told that there is an earnestful movement towards independence for the department which cannot stand Evo Morales, its wealth comes from its natural gas and it wants policies to protect this.
Ignoring political tensions, we decided we would try the nightlife in Santa Cruz, and this, alongside the Irish Bar, were the two lasting features of Santa Cruz.
The Keen Howler Monkey
Yeah, Yeah, which one is the chimp
Jumping in a taxi we asked to be taken to the party central, apparently a road or two in the north of the city. Our expectations were rightfully fairly low after Potosi, however we were pleasantly surprised to see on the horizon a mass of light, which turned out to be a strip of bars akin to Broad St at its peak, cracking stuff. We partied at a place called Coolores, where entrance fee was 2 English pounds and drink was free, lethal. We enjoyed it so much, that despite our sufferings we managed two nights on the trot, the second with a few people we met in the hostel, one of which was a Villa fan from Tamworth. Good Times.
I will say one other thing about Santa Cruz. On one of our hangovers we decided that the home comfort of Burger King would set us on our way for another day of travelling. However this was no ordinary Burger King, it appeared that high society dined here, everyone was glammed up to the night and stuffing their face with Whoppers. A bizarre experience but enjoyable nonetheless.
From Santa Cruz we took a slight de-tour to Samaipata,
a small village a couple of hours away from Santa Cruz, and a popular holiday spot for Santa Cruzians due to its cooler climate and colonial feel. Again we stayed at another nice hostel which housed plenty of pets, Sam particularly enjoyed playing with the kittens, think he misses his visits to Joe the Cat. On our first day in Samaipata we hired bikes and took a trip to the zoo. We were told that this was no ordinary zoo, as some of the animals roam free and interact with the guests. We parked our bikes up at the gate and had a walk around but could find nobody. We went to what we soon learned was a neighbouring farm and asked the owner if the zoo was here. She was fairly adamant that she owned the zoo however in fact the lady was just looking after a load of kids who were playing with a sheep. We gave our thanks, said our farewells and eventually found the zoo. The monkies were by far and away the most keen of the inhabitants, one of which was a Howler Monkey who enjoys affection, and shows it by wrapping himself around your
head and moaning slightly, all very lovely. We played with another monkey for a while who was obsessed with checking my pockets and doing up my zip, and then we went back to the town to eat at a pasta place we uncovered which was superb.
Samaipata is also home to a set of Pre Inca ruins, a religious site known as El Fuerte. As most of those pesky Inca´s did their work at high altitudes, the site is not easily accessible, however we were feeling uncharacteristically brave and decided we would get a taxi up, but jog down, around a 10km jog in all, easy pickings we wrongfully thought. The ruins themselves were pleasant, and it is impressive to see architecture dating back so far, however they were a far cry from the undoubtedly spectacular Maccu Piccu we will be trekking to in a couple of weeks. To the attempted jog, it was horrific, and we suffered for days afterwards, testimony to our appalling fitness levels which have plummeted since starting travelling. Lets hope the legs bear up to the Inca Trail in Peru.
After Samaipata (I believe we are now up to around the 10th April)
we got a coach up to Cochabamba, the third largest city in Bolivia with a population nearing a million. We were told time and time again that there was nothing to do in Cochabamba, however we wanted to find this out ourselves. We did. Though it has a repuatation for protests, and in fact we nearly had to walk 10km into the city as the day before we got there the locals had all the roads blocked, there isn´t a great deal else to do in the city which was fairly ugly and at times appeared a little dangerous. It does have a Christ the Redeemer statue pretty much identical to the one in Rio but a little larger, the biggest in the world in fact, but once you´ve seen one you´ve seen them all, and we have already seen several. That was Cochabamba, unfortunately there were no protests to document, however we were only there for one day, as it was destination La Paz next, where it all went a little pear shaped for my poor self.
La Paz is the de facto capital of Bolivia, and generally known as the highest capital city in the world, standing
Sam and Some Views
A rest from the jogging
at almost 12,000 feet. It also has the highest golf course in the world, and for those perfecting the John Daly long drive, get yourselves over here to add a few metres to the distance due to the thinness of the air. The thinness and height was something I was all too aware of as I became almost instantly sick from the altitude, which lasted almost a week, a little strange as I had been in Potosi, the highest city in the world without problems. Annoying all the same and during these few days it was a struggle to negotiate the winding steep hills of the city where all the hustle and bustle is. We stayed in the Adventure Brew Hostel for the first few days of our stint (it brews its own beer, I was too ill to taste it), which was a great hostel which even had Mario Kart, hours of fun.
On my first day of recovery we took a walk around the city, stopping at various places of interest. The first of these was the San Fransisco Church, which has a history of Fransiscan monks who amongst various other roles made some apparently fine wine.
The place still houses a few monks today from all over South America, and it was an impressive church, with great views of the city from the ancient rooftop. From here we climbed the hills of La Paz, sampling fresh street orange juice on the way which as always was fantastic and eventually came to the Witches market. The market itself in La Paz is one of the biggest in the world and as always in South America contained everything you could think of, including swimming trunks and other necessary inflatables for our beach party on the forthcoming weekend. I also bought a replica shirt of a team called "The Strongest", great name for no doubt a great team. Some stalls are more strange than others however, with some full solely of dead animal carcasses, dead armadillos, stuffed animals, llama feet and so on.
La Paz has been notable for many quirks. It has been hard to get away from the people dressed up in full animal outfits directing traffic around the busiest parts of the city. Im not sure whether or not people are more scared of these 6 foot zebras or traffic wardens, order does seem to
be maintained on the roads however. Also unavoidable are the men and women who hang out of the public car type things shouting the destinations and practically grabbing people off the street into them. As you can imagine the roads in La Paz are fairly frantic with such action. More strange dress comes from the shoe shiners in the city who all wear balaclava´s and look fairly intimidating, I´m sure there is some logical reasoning behind their techniques but to date we aren´t sure, though they do hassle the locals, most of whom have shiny shoes beyond belief as it is.
La Paz is another protest hub in Bolivia and we have had to avoid a couple tactfully, one of which appeared to be the indigenous people protesting against something or other up against the gates of the High Court, more fireworks were to be heard, however one does assume that the UTOP police, clad all around the centre in heavy armour, would be fairly effective at suppressing anything that got out of hand. Many people have commented that the police are fairly corrupt at all levels, on the bright side that means a tourist can buy a photo
How to chew coca
with one of their shotguns for around 60 Bolivianos. Reassuring.
Though illness plagued my birthday on the 17th, we have enjoyed a couple of nights out since at local haunts RamJam and Traffic, the former has a flavoured oxygen bar which Sam slammed as useless, and the latter was visited in swimwear with a load of (mainly Irish) people we ment in the hostel. Sam´s trunks were accepted only after mild bantering with the bouncer who after pointing at his bare legs and laughing, reluctantly accepted us.
So, to date that has been La Paz. Unfortunately it has been tainted slightly with illness but hopefully I´ve still given a good impression. Tomorrow we head to the Amazon Basin from Rurrenabaque in the north of Bolivia where we are apparently going to see Pink Dolphins and maybe with a bit of luck a rather large anaconda.
There are more photos below