Published: May 11th 2011May 9th 2011
Having rode high on the salt flats where evening temperatures left us frozen, it felt good to drop down to the barmy valley city of Cochabamba. Of course, this involved an overnight bus journey and a 3am connection in a cold Oruro but at least this time we did not have to rough it on the floor. In fact, we arrived into a sunny Cochabamba and found Hostal Jardin, a pleasent guesthouse around a flowery but manic garden. The owners were friendly, and their dog even more so, and thus we set about relaxing for a while.
Cochabamba, like many South American city's, has a statue of Christ looming over it. Although not as impressive as Rio, this Cristo is a damn sight cheaper to get to and interestingly taller too. The gondola ride up the steep hill was actually more fun than the statue, which, despite it's grandeur, was less intricate than it's Rio namesake. The views, however, were stunning. The sprawling city of Cochabamba spread throughout the valley, it's surrounding hills a lush green. The panorama gave perspective on this new place that we intended to get to know.
Food, never far from our mind, is
always one of the best ways to integrate into a new place or country. Bolivia had brought us back to our street food roots and thus, a day could involve not three but possibly five or six meals of varying sizes. We ate Papa Relllenas (mash potato balls stuffed with meat, egg and spices) for breakfast, Tucumanas for second course, a three course Almuerzo (set meal) for lunch followed by a quarter kilo of artesanal ice cream, then maybe a fruit juice later on before dinner of potato and barbecued meat. This food tourism we so enjoy was fuelled by the fact that it wouldn't break £5 for us both. Magic!
Our full stomachs' did allow us to visit a few museums, displaying a range of archeological artifacts before we dove into a buzzing cafe for a coffee pick up. It was like living the high life on a low budget. Cochabamba had enough to keep you interested by not too much, so that chilling in a cafe seemed the thing to do. The patrons of Cafe Paris did not know what had hit them when I watched the scores tick in on Norwich's 5-1 win over Ipswich. Coffee
quickly turned to beer. This could be our year!
Our languid lifestyle and celebratory mood made the simplest of tasks tricky. Having booked the night bus to La Paz earlier that day, it only became apparent to us at 8pm that evening that we had failed to collect our laundry. Oh dear! We rushed to the laundrette only to find the shutters firmly closed. Cochabamba did not want us to leave and so we checked back in to Hostal Jardin.
This funny turn of events happened to be a blessing in disguise. It was easter weekend, the laundrette was closed for another two days and so we were able to join in the widely observed christian festivities. Throngs of people congregated in the central plazas, food stalls blocked off roads and churches sang with the striking of bells. Whilst some somberly went to church, others happily ate and drank with friends or bought their children candy floss. No prizes for guessing what Han wanted that evening.
The family atmopshere continued on Friday night as the full spectrum of generations followed the procession, depicting all aspects of the cruxifiction, through the streets. Silence prevailed as the life size
cross, crown of thorns , nails and coffin were carried through the streets atop the shoulders of the swaying bearers. A band completed the dramatic scene, blasting out a dark but emphatic tune that set the marching pace. Three hours later the procession reached the central plaza again where the mood was lightened by the many streets artists on show. Only a few blocks away a street fair was in full swing and later in the evening, down a small alley, we mingled with the large student population drinking mulled wine and listening to Bob Marley. This was an Easter to suit all tastes.
With our laundry firmly in our grasp we left on a sleeper bus bound for La Paz on Saturday night. Arriving at 5:30am, we had to wait before we could check in anywhere, and so cuddled up with the hordes wrapped in their colourful fabrics. We were now amongst the clouds at 3660m and, by the time we had checked in to a peaceful Hotel La Valle, they had parted to show the mighty Illimani mountain. It boldly sat there with snow covering its jagged peaks, enticing our eyes to glimpse it through the busy
streets and skyscrapers. This was high mountain country, the Cordillera Real in fact, and our dreams were set. We wanted to climb a 6000m mountain.
The steep cobbled streets of La Paz were a joy to explore. We popped in and out of colourful shops and around places of interest such as the Coca Museum which displayed (in English) a complete overview of the sacred plant. Despite it's infamous reputation as the key ingredient for the production of cocaine, coca is a traditional substance used to help with the effects of altitude sickness, the cold, and digestion. I had, indeed, chewed it when we were in the high Salar de Uyini but with only a numb mouth to show for it. The museum inpired me to chew on.
The governmental capital of Bolivia displayed a vibrancy matched by its people who filled the many pretty plazas and buzzed with trade in the central markets. The streets moved with a reciprocal nature, poor and rich helping each other. Tiny stalls sold hot Tucumanas to those that bought, and balaclavar clad shoe shiners worked on those who ought. The whole city is a market, DVD sellers jostle for position with
Llama foetus' while socks quietly sell next door. Frantic street scenes are frozen against the backdrop of La Paz that clings to the sides of the canyon, the houses spilling dramatically downwards. Life here can be high drama.
Food had been cheap up until now but here in La Paz it was even more so. We enjoyed spreading our money around the various fruit juice stands, sandwhich stalls and the numerous eateries. A three course lunch set us back 63p whilst a two course Cena (dinner), including a drink, cost us all of 36p. Incredible and also hard to fathom. We took comfort in the fact that our change, which we often gave to old or disabled people on the street, would get somebody a large lunch or dinner.
Walking through Mercado Lanza one day we bumped into Jason and Charlie our Aussie friends we had done the Salar trip with. That evening we went for some drinks and a catch up on our travels since then. We chatted over a few cervezas before trying to find where the party was, which, unfortunately was nowhere. You either spend big money in a western bar or dance with a
crowd of drunken men in a dark, upstairs bar. We fancied neither. The next day, however, we found the party to be at Fratton Park where Norwich City clinched promotion back to the Premier League. It was a magical moment that we watched streamed on our computer. The second straight promotion in two years and an incredible feat since we were bottom of League One when I left.
Norwich had reached the heady heights of the Premier League and with Han and I in ecstasy we too had something higher in our sights...
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