Bolivia - A nice surprise (Part 2)

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South America » Bolivia
April 9th 2016
Published: April 9th 2016
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Going back to La Paz was a longer journey from Santa Cruz, due to the fact the bus broke down twice to the delight of the older females on the bus. This is because buses in Bolivia do not have toilets especially the Semi Cama vehicles as they try to use as much the bus as storage, and the toilets are perfect for shoving excess bags into. So when travelling you will hear the murmurs starting after a couple of hours of ‘Bonitas’ and this will start to get louder until the driver gets the hint and will stop the bus in the middle of nowhere. So for the bus to break down, it was a relief for the passengers to uncross their legs.

Going through the Bolivian countryside and seeing how the local population lives is like going back in time from about a hundred years. They still do most of the farming by hand, with the help of a few animals and it looks like the whole family gets involved. What gets me is that they all look happy and content. The have no major worries apart from getting food on the table and thats it? The small towns all look like they were constructed for a film set which sounds strange but when you look at the main streets when driving through, the shops and houses at the front on the main roads are all tall and imposing but behind there doesn’t seem to be a lot, maybe a few houses scattered around to make it look busier. it just looks like someone has said ‘Right in the film we need a quick set built for a gunfight, make sure it looks like its an old wild west town, and shove a few things behind in case the camera gets too high’.

Anyways I got into La Paz and getting to the hostel, i was reunited with the laptop that I had returned to get. I was given a little bit of a lecture by the receptionist that I shouldn’t have left it behind, which was a bit obvious, not sure if she was feeling maternal towards me and giving me a motherly talking to? One thing I had noticed about my body in the 22 hours of travelling to La Paz was that I was getting a cold or some sort of infection, which I had caught from Margaret the dutch girl from the previous hostel. She had been really bad with it, including spending 24 hours in bed when I had first arrived. So now she had passed the disease onto me and i was in a party hostel. No better excuse to die then hitting a hammock in the courtyard and getting some of the sunshine while I caught up with messages on my phone. I usually feel a bit guilty if I’m doing nothing in a city but seeing as I had already been here a few days ago, i was guilt free.

Sneezing and coughing was a new thing for me as I hadn’t been this ill for a long time on the travels but it was quiet in the Wild Rover when I got there as everyone was out and about on excursions so i could relax in peace and quiet. I had planned for staying for only one night and getting back on the road as quickly as possible but I knew with the onslaught of the cold coming on, I wasn’t going to be moving for a couple of days. This was putting my journey back to UK further back and I wasn’t happy as money was getting tighter but manageable and i still hadn't booked a flight yet. I was thankful that during the first 2 days I was there, the bar was closed.It was Easter and with Bolivia being a very religious country, I discovered that all the bars in La Paz were closed for the Thursday and Good Friday, with no alcohol being sold in the city at all. I did ask one of the locals in the hostel if it was like that all over the country and yes it was. I went to the bar on the Thursday night to grab some food and it was weirdly quiet with people drinking coke or water! Even the staff who were the biggest party animals of all were looking a bit down and more importantly, sober for a change.

The next morning after a very deep sleep I awoke to more sunshine and more coughing and sneezing. The cold was not budging and I couldn’t be bothered to do anything. The day was spent coughing up phlegm, lying in a hammock or walking around the hostel trying to get fresh air and move my legs! The whole hostel was up and about early anyways with the lack of alcohol the previous night. It wasn’t until early evening that I actually left the hostel and that was because I heard the evidence of what sounded like a Jazz band playing in the street. So off I went to investigate to find out who was having fun with no alcohol. What i saw was astounding, the streets were full of people and i can only assume at the time they were spectators. In the distance I could here the sound of a new Jazz band and as they got closer, it was a strange sight to behold. Along with the band, there was a good amount of people who were carrying a huge effigy of what looked like Jesus being arrested by Romans and i am guessing here because what made them standout was their costumes they were all wearing. It was a dark purple and can only be described as Ku Klux Klan attire with robes covering their whole bodies and finishing off with pointed hood with 2 small slits for eyeholes. I had heard rumours years ago that the KKK had copied their style from Latin American religious ceremonies, in fact I think it came from the film Da Vinci Code. The band had passed me with their covered up friends and entered the near church still carrying Jesus. The crowds had not dispersed so I assumed that there was more to come and I was not disappointed. The next lot that came down with their Jazz band was another lot of KKK like clothing, except this time they had black robes with white hoods carrying a huge effigy of Jesus sat crossed legged looking serious as if he was in court! Maybe thats what it was. You sort of get the Easter story in effigy form being carried on the shoulders of guys thought the street of La Paz. The next lot to come past, and there was about 5 to 10 minute gaps in between each spectacle, was dressed in dark red robes carry an effigy of Jesus on the Cross. I say these effigies are huge, they were all being carried by 16 to 20 guys and it looked heavy and there was a hell of a lot of detail on them all. It wasn’t the sort of thing that had been put together in half an hour, these had taken weeks to build. This time Jesus was carrying his cross. I need to add that once the guys in their ‘religious’ robes went passed they were followed by a congregation of people in their Sunday best, with some singing, others waving handkerchiefs and always of a crowd in their hundreds of all ages. The next lot had the greatest number of people in their ‘gang’ and this was the crucification sight when Jesus was reborn on the effigy, but their robes is what stated me. They were all in white and looked exactly like they were KKK. I know the american religious nuts have stolen their costumes designs from the proper religious nuts but its what they are famous for. At this stage, I think my coughing and sneezing was annoying people and I had seen enough to shock me, though very interesting.

An early night was taken but I was woken up during the night by the sound of a massive crowd doing a countdown from 5 through to 1 and a massive cheer. Checking the time I saw it was midnight and I could only guess that it was the bar and that they were allowed to serve alcohol once more, now that Good Friday was officially over. The next morning i went actress for breakfast and the evidence of a party was evident, mainly because there were people still drinking at the bar! Still feeling like death warmed up, I had another crazy lazy day doing nothing, however it was a International friendly football match between Germany and England and they were showing it on a big screen. I thought as I had been sensible for the last few days I would watch the match with a couple of beers. England won and the bar went absolutely crazy, which shows how many Brits were around. I didn’t last long as my bed was calling me, and I stayed there till Monday morning.

I woke up having spend the whole Sunday wondering when I was going to actually leave La Paz. Booking out the hostel I knew that I had to pay my bill from my wristband and I was lucky that it wasn’t as big as the previous bill I had gotten which when I look back on it for 4 days and some crazy nights with the accommodation was roughly £90, this time it was a lot smaller, hurray for a cold!. Leaving the Wild Rover i knew there was no way i could handle being on a bus for 20 hours to go back to Santa Cruz and i wanted a shorter trip. Recommendation had been given by Gerritt, the Dutch guy from Santa Cruz, who was now in Cochabamba, an 8 hour journey south of La Paz and sounded perfect. Getting a bus just after lunch time I got into my new place in the evening to find that Gerritt was somewhere on the drink and I wasn’t in the mood. A quick chat with a couple of backpackers and it was an early night.

The idea of going to Cochabamba was just to break the long journey up and was only going to stay for 2 nights, 1 day. Throughout my travels I have gone to places in the same sort of situation and found that I wanted to stay longer. Cochabamba was exactly the same, it was interesting, it had a different feel from both Santa Cruz and La Paz, there was so much historic sites and buildings around, loads of markets and it felt more easy to walk around and I liked it. More importantly was the statue of ‘Christ the Redeamer’ which is a copy of the one in Rio and I had seen them dotted all over the place in some of the towns I had been to but this one was a little bit special in that it was bigger then the Brazilian one, only by a few feet but still bigger, but obviously not as famous though! In fact I got told that this was only the second largest one with the tallest being in Poland for some reason. Yep, I’ve never heard of it either! I had a day of seeing everything before leaving that night and I was lucky that there were people from the hostel who had just arrived the previous day as well so after I had done my own thing of looking around the nearest sights then a few of us went up to see JC on top of the hill. We discovered that the cable car was not working so had to take a taxi, which was a shame as the views going up would have been spectacular but still we got to the top and thats when I found out exactly how tall the statue was. It was enormous and even taking a quick selfie I couldn’t get it all in, even standing a few metres away. I was with people who had already visited the one on Rio and was gobsmacked to find there were hardly anyone there as the Rio one has literally hundred of people at any one time and here we were with a bigger version happily taking snaps with no one else to spoil the pictures. I have no idea of the size but put it this way, standing next to him, the middle of his toes just about was on the same level as my head!

In my head I wanted to stay in Cochabamba, especially as I was feeling a hell of a lot better but I knew I had wasted time in going back for my laptop in La Paz and catching a cold hadn’t been on my list of things to do. My reckoning was I would have been somewhere in Brazil by now getting a flight and I had promised my parents I would be back by the end of the month and it was already coming up to the start of April!. If I wanted to make a head start for Rio for a cheap flight then I would have to get the overnight bus to Santa Cruz and then grab the ‘Death’ train to the Bolivian/Brazilian border. I didn’t have any plans for anything after that. The over night bus I decided to push the boat out and go from Semi Cama to full Cama, which is going up to business class on a plane. the difference in cost was about £1 so I was going totally wild. Getting on board the ‘posh’ bus, I found that the only major change was the seats were a little bit bigger with an extra bit of leg room and the people on board were a bit richer and it had a toilet! The journey was uneventful as I slept all the way, waking up as we got into Santa Cruz bus terminal. Grabbing my bags, I went straight up to the train department which shared the same building as the bus depot and ordered my ticket and confirmed that the leaving time was at 3 o’clock that afternoon. With time to kill and a hungry stomach I spent a couple hours walking around trying to find anywhere that was open and would serve me food. Bolivians are more of an afternoon and evening eating country and to find somewhere open was proving difficult. It didn’t help that I was carrying my small backpack with me, having left my large one in a secure area at the depot. After 14 months it had got heavier and heavier as it was the one I had put all the reminders of the places I had been to, from maps and brochures to keepsakes of everything and my important stuff like my laptop. I was getting more annoyed with myself that in the end I just stopped a taxi and said ‘Burger King’. With 4 hours left to go I based myself for the next 3 hours with a slow eating meal and using the free wifi and power to charge phone and laptop.

The ‘Death’ train is so called as it was the mode of transport to take Yellow Fever victims to the border to die early in the 20th century. There are only 2 train lines in Bolivia and the one I was about to use only ran once a day from Monday to Saturday. There were two types being the slow version which ran Monday, Wednesday and Friday and it was the cheaper one and the remainder of the days was the faster one. I wanted the slower one as I was informed that you could walk around and there was a buffet wagon as well. The carriage I was in was half full and some of them seemed to be backpackers as well but everyone was quiet and no one looked at each other! The seats were just like on the buses, in that they reclined so given you a better chance of falling asleep but there was the dreaded entertainment that I had encountered so many times. A TV screen with a hollywood blockbuster dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles and this time with the volume turned up to very loud, so any chances of failing asleep was going to be slim.So in went the headphones and instead I watched the world go by as the train went at a maximum of 30 miles an hour. The journey took me through the wilderness of the countryside and would stop at small towns where you saw the real Bolivia. It was fascinating to see how a small community would survive on so little but all the children would be out in small football fields smiling away, the women looking haggard would be doing laundry in the open fields, it was a world away from my life but as the night came and the volume on the tv came down, I fell asleep. The next morning I arrived at the Brazilian border and my last and final country was about to be explored.


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