Bolivia - A nice surprise (part 1)

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South America » Bolivia
April 6th 2016
Published: April 6th 2016
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Before I get to a new country, I try to think what I’ll expect and usually I’ve been a little bit correct except for Mongolia and now Bolivia. You hear all the stories of the Cocaine drug barons living in the forest and the drug mules that they con and I jut had a vision of a run down country that would rob you as soon as they saw you were from Europe. How wrong I was. I got the bus into La Pas, the highest capital in the world, from Arica in Chile. The border was organised and surprisingly quick and straight forward, but seeing how many backpackers were around, I guess they were used to the western foreigners coming through. Getting back on the bus I realised we were going higher and for some reason I was getting dizzy spells and shortness of breath, I had heard of this before and knew I was getting a touch of altitude sickness. I have been to some high places before and never suffered so far so a new experience that I really didn’t want.

After 8 hours of travelling I arrived in La Paz and seeing it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon you could see that rush hour traffic was in full force, so when I showed the hostel address to a couple of taxis they both shook their heads and in Spanish told me what I assumed was “quicker to walk mate”. So off I went, with my 2 backpacks heading in a direction that was pointed out by one of the drivers. I was quite lucky that the streets were full of policemen for some reason and every now and again I would grab one to confirm that I was going the right way as I had no map or idea which was the direction I should be heading for. I did find out why there was so much police when a load of cars with flashing lights came whizzing past and I can only assume that it was the president on his way back from shopping or what ever they do on a Wednesday night. I eventually found the hostel and the altitude sickness had kicked in properly and I was not feeling all that clever. Once I had checked in and got my bed, I just laid down as I felt so dizzy and I was coughing while trying to catch my breath, not a good combination. So with the added bonus of being stuck on a bus all day, I just wanted to sleep and get it out my system.

The hostel was recommended by someone from a previous hostel and looking on the reviews it stated it was a party place. I have been to many hostels that have said the same for me to get there and find that theres 4 people who would spend more time on their phones then talking to other people around them. The Wild Rover was a different kettle of fish. It was an Irish hostel and with St Patricks Day coming up on the second day of being there then I was surprised that it was just about fully booked out and there was a lot of beds. So the morning after arriving, I woke upland felt a little bit better and headed for breakfast. There were people still at the bar at 9 in the morning, drinking from the night before! Thats when you know you are in a party place. Without getting much sense out of them, I finished breakfast and headed off tor a free walking tour around the city. La Paz is quite an interesting place, obviously the Spanish came in and started La Paz off but it was fascinating to find out the drugs trade in the prison, the President and how he has lasted so long, how Bolivia was one of very few countries that came through the Worldwide economic crash, the various traditions that are still carried out by the Bolivians and it made me think that maybe I didn't quite know Bolivia as I should. The tour lasted 3 hours and even though I did have altitude sickness coming back every now and again, I could have carried on for a couple more hours with the guides. Thoroughly enjoyable and then I got back to the hostel. It was Paddys Day and it was already going strong and it was 3 in the afternoon. The bar was absolutely packed and any spare space in the courtyards around the hostel was taken up with people drinking dressed in green. I was not really in the mood and thought that a lie down would help, but with the celebrations going on it was hard to close my eyes. So what does a man do in this situation? The man joins in and I did! I intended to have only a couple of beers but with everyone in such a good mood it was hard not to carry on. The hostel did have a nasty trick in that they gave everyone in the hostel on arrival a wristband which contained their bedspace number and their name, so when it came to ordering from the bar, instead of taking cash, they would grab your arm and write down your drinks along with your details and you would pay on leaving the hostel. Obviously when you start drinking its easy to say, just one more beer but when no money is actually changing hands then you go with the flow until you fall over! I dreaded my bar bill on check out but that was still 2 days away.

The night was long and so many people to talk to and I eventually got to bed for about 1 and i think I was the first one to leave the bar. The next day I felt a little refreshed but not so much but a lot better then the majority of the hostel. Fresh air was needed so I took myself away into the centre and into the Cocoa Leaf museum. It was something that I had read about and was curious to see how this little leaf could start a worldwide cocaine addiction. The museum itself was in a small building and took less then 20 minutes to walk around looking at everything, but it was definitely against the West as you read through the various paperworks. Seems the cocoa leaf has been used by the Bolivians for centuries even before the Spanish turned up. It helps with lots of stuff, like altitude sickness, helping workers work a bit more and its still used today. It is used still in Coca Cola but the Westerners found out how to take the ingredient in it that helps people work harder and made it into a powder and Cocaine was born. It is a bit more then that but its a shortened version. The museum was a bit outdated in that the models were falling apart and the literature was fading on the walls, so a bit more cash could be spent to update it but still a fascinating place to go to.

I got back to the hostel to find more people just waking up, looking like zombies and although I felt sorry for them, I’m just glad I went to bed earlier then they did. I managed to grab my laptop and worked a bit on emails and watched a film before heading to bed a lot earlier then the day before. The bar was a lot quieter as well. Next day I decided to head into the bus terminal to book my bus out of La Paz. I knew I was to start making move as I was chasing time to get to Rio before the end of the month to grab a cheap flight back to UK. So I booked a ticket for Santa Cruz, knowing it was a 20 hour bus ride, but it was closer to the border. Once I had the ticket for the next day in my hand, i thought I would have a wonder up to the top of the city. Basically la Paz in in a valley surrounded by mountains and on the bottom is the main city where the rich people live and as you move up the valley, is where the poorer people live, even though there are houses. I took a cable car to one side of the valley and from the top, looked down. There were houses and buildings and roads from where ever you looked. It was a pretty amazing sight to see and I just couldn't believe that some of the steep slopes had people living on them. The population around me were poor, you could tell by the clothes they wore and the buildings around me. Although I had not heard of any bad stories, I wasn’t going to stay around for long as a gringo, plus going a bit higher had sent off my altitude sickness off again, so grabbed the cable car back to the bottom and headed back to the hostel. I have no idea how these people do it, but most of the hangovers had gone so a lot of the guys were back in the bar, I knew I was on a serious budget so didn’t want to upset the bar bill any more so took myself to the room and caught up with my blog.

The next morning due I checked out at 11 but as my bus wasn't until 3, then I was going to hang around then hostel courtyard in the sun with my laptop and finish off my blog. I handed my bags into the baggage area and chilled. I had a big dinner so to help me travel and went down to grab my bags. Panic set in when I realised they weren’t in the area that i had put them in, especially as my passport and life was in the smaller of the 2. After spending 10 minutes lifting bag after bag I located them and realising I was in a rush for the taxi I grabbed the bag, said goodbye to the reception and headed out. I got to the terminal with 10 minutes to spare which is bad for me as Iike to tuen up with plenty of time before getting on the bus. Half way to Santa Cruz, I decided to grab my laptop to help charge my phone and thats when I realised that I had stupidly left it behind in the hostel. In my rush to get my bags, I had placed the laptop on the side of the reception and then left it there while running out! I could have cried….

Arriving in Santa Cruz, I grabbed the first taxi and shoved my phone with the address of the hostel, in his face. He didn’t really have a choice and drove me directly there. The receptionist was all smiling when I came to the counter and once I told her I had a reservation and showed her my passport, I thin proceed to talk very northern, very fast and told her all about my laptop left behind. The smile dropped as the language barrier had been broken and she sort of stared at me, probably thinking ‘I can speak English but what is this language?’ I just wanted to know if I could use her phone and with a bit of mime, I still didn’t get through, so I calmed her down and said that I was okay and what was the wifi code. It was English she understood and had heard so many times, so gave me the code and I then sent an email to the Wild Rover while the girl was trying to explain the delights of breakfast and what time it was going to be served!

10 minutes later I got a reply from the email I sent and the laptop was safe and being kept in their office, however they were reluctant to send it onto Santa Cruz and the best way to get it back was to come to La Paz again! 20 hours on a bus? For a laptop? Looks like I was returning then. I guess in the long run that if it had been a cheap nasty laptop then I would have forgotten about it, but this was an Apple Mac which had cost me a fortune and no way could I leave it behind! So a new plan was formulated within 5 minutes and I was going to stay in Santa Cruz for 2 nights and then head back across the country for a computer.

Santa Cruz is the centre of the Bolivian government although the president stays in La Paz. After calming down and having a free cup of coffee, I thought I would investigate the place by going directly into the centre. I had seen a map at reception showing the way. I spent an hour in the park opposite the parliament taking in the views, the people and took plenty of photos. I find that where ever I walk around in Bolivia I feel totally safe, although I am told where the rough areas are and to stay away from them. Most cities around the world are exactly the same whether they be in Europe or anywhere. However I have dressed down where ever I have been, in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops without the usual tourist trap of carrying a backpack and expensive camera around my neck. After watching the world go by in the centre I thought I’d head back to the hostel and I was actually tired after a long bus ride, and I thought I’d be used to them by now. I did check online to find out what else there was to see in the city, but unfortunately I had without realising it seen everything. Seems that Santa Cruz is not the tourist place and certainly not for backpackers!

Early night and up early the next morning to catch something on the news about a bomb going off in Brussels. Already watching were 2 Dutch people and I shifted myself onto the sofa to find out what was happening. As the news unfolded, it was 3 shocked Europeans watching something so terrible that was happening in our continent while we were all on the other side of the world. The News of course was CNN and very american based but still the feeling of what had happened was there and still raw after the Paris attacks. We must have watched it for about 2 hours before Margaret asked if we wanted to go out for a coffee to get fresh air and clear our brains. Me and Gerit agreed and it was something like that that brought us together for the rest of our time there together. Although we didn’t speak much about the attacks it was something there in our brains and it was soothing we shared. Looking back its hard to describe our feelings and I’m sure it was difficult for them being closer to Belgium then I was from England. It did take us about an hour and a half to find the Starbucks that she wanted to go to, and afterwards we had a wander into the centre bypassing a supermarket to grab some food that Margaret said would cook, if the boys did the washing up. It was a strange day that went so quick even though we didn’t really do a lot. That night was spent watching films and drinking wine after a pasta meal, although Margaret didn’t drink a lot as she was overloaded with a cold that she had had for a few days. More for me then!!!

I had a lie in the next day and once up and I had breakfast, it was time to sort myself out for heading back to La Paz and retrieving the laptop. I spent the morning in the garden playing stupid games on my phone and then grabbed a taxi to the bis terminal. I got the same firm that brought me into Santa Cruz as they were the cheapest and headed off on a long trip back to The Wild Rover


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