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June 4th 2013
Published: June 5th 2013
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Cuiaba to La Paz, via Santa Cruz

So what do you do on a chilly Sunday afternoon in La Paz, go watch Bolivian women wrestle of course! No joke. We were told about this by some fellow travellers a month or two back, so we thought we would give it a go. It sounded like it could be a bit of a backpacker tourist trap, but we were pleasantly surprised. Yes there are a few bus loads of backpackers there, but there is a lot more locals who really get into it. It looked like some of the crowd really lived in anticipation all week waiting for Sunday to roll around, when they could yell abuse at the wrestlers and referees and throw all sorts of food into the ring. It was straight out of Nacho Libre, and good fun, considering it was wrestling after all!

There were 6 fights/wrestles (what do you call them?), some between tag teams of men, some between women, and some between men and women. We had been advised that unless you really want to get into the action to not sit in the ringside seats, and i am glad we didn't. At various stages a wrestler would be picked up and thrown over the fence into the crowd, other times they would grab someone's water bottle and spray everyone with it, either from the bottle or their mouth! We sat with the locals in the bleachers and had a good laugh with them. Another bonus was that the colosseum (as the locals called it, more of a converted school basketball auditorium) was up in the high parts of La Paz, in the burbs. Around 40 min up the hill (and another 500m in altitude) from the centre of the city, it provided great views over the valley that La Paz sits in, surrounded by glacial covered mountains topping out at over 6000m. It also provided an insight as to how the majority of the people in La Paz live, i.e. in a mixmash of brick houses stuck precariously to the side of steep valley walls with bumpy and uneven cobblestone streets weaving in and out like streams. The whole city of La Paz is one big market, with stalls everywhere selling anything you can think of, from llama foetuses to underpants. The city has a bit of a reputation as being a bit dangerous for gringos, but we have not seen that side. Nor have walked around with a camera strapped around our necks making ourselves obvious targets. It is cold here now, with nightly temps below zero, and daytime temps in the low teens, but it is cold in the shade. It took us a few days to acclimatise to the altitude and climate after coming from the lowlands near the Pantanal.

Speaking of which that was one cold bus ride from Santa Cruz to La Paz. We left at 7pm, and after a few hours driving we were climbing up super steep roads that went on for ages, until gradually we were again on the altiplano some 3000m above where we started. It was now why we realised that each seat on the bus had been provided with a thick alpaca blanket, it was freezing. Stopping at a truck stop of a town in the wee hours just before the sun rose it must have been minus 5, and i encountered the smelliest and most disgusting toilet of our trip. Barely managing to not throw up, i relieved myself at one the 'urinals', only to find that instead of my efforts going down the pipe it burst through the u-bend and all over my shoes. Awesome, frozen wee on me!

To get back to Santa Cruz from Cuiaba in Brazil, we took a different route, not wanting a repeat of the 70 hours it took us to get there originally. We went through Caceres, and then onto San Matias on the Bolivian side of the border. Our Brazilian bus dropped us at the customs control point on the Brazilian side, where there are heavily armed police with bullet proof vests inspecting all vehicles entering and leaving for drugs, as San Matias is renowned for being a cocaine smuggling town. They were greatly amused with our lack of Portuguese and we had a god laugh with them as we waited for a taxi from Bolivia to come pick us up. We teamed up with two Brazilian women, one of whom was going to Santa Cruz for a boob job. They had 3 times the amount of luggage that we did, even though they were only going for a week or two. They were happy to have a man and a strong mojo to help them lug their shit, and we were happy to have someone to travel with, even if they did not know a word of English, and we sfa Portuguese. Thanks god a taxi did turn up in the end, as it was well dark by now, and a bit unnerving, as well as the bugs out in full force (Mojo was still recovering from the mosquito bites/welts from the Pantanal).

The drive into San Matias was once again a complete contrast. We left paved roads immediately, and were riding along bumpy pot holed red dirt roads through jungle. After 10 minutes of this we popped out into the town of San Matias, and after driving around to a few hotels found one that could take all of us. But even that had its drama's, with the Brazilian girls given a key to a room that when opened up revealed no light, and when we shone a torch in there revealed two beds smashed up and with no mattresses! A bit of a shock for the two princesses, but this was soon rectified with two decent rooms provided and we settled in for the night. Daylight revealed a nicer looking town then what was presented to us on our arrival, and within 30minutes we had our second Bolivian passport stamp, a far cry from the 6 hours it took us at our last border control!

The bus trip from San Matias to Santa Cruz was 20hrs on dirt roads linking the cities that were mainly formed by the Jesuits. It was a bumpy ride, but through very beautiful scenery, as we crossed over a hundred or so wooden bridges piecing together the raised road that was bordered by swamp and marsh land at the beginning, and then jungle towards the end as we moved out of the Pantanal area. Unsurprisingly we had a flat tyre at one stage, which was quickly replaced, as it must be a very common occurrence.

It took 20 hours to do 700km's, and we arrived in Santa Cruz at 3am. Where we left the Brazilians and tried our luck at getting a room at the hostel we stayed in our previous visit.

We are staying in La Paz in the Adventure Brew House Hostal, which has two buildings with two bars and microbrewery. Needless to say, I have had some of the worst hangovers imaginable from not so many beers, heavily compounded by the altitude and long nights playing poker. We have also had not great guts, so have postponed doing the death road until we get back from Rurrenabaque, which we leave for tomorrow to visit our first part of the Amazon.

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8th June 2013

La Paz
We love to go to sporting event when we travel so we would have enjoyed seeing this wrestling match. Some of those bridges you crossed sound questionable. Happy travels.

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