28 January – 18 March 2011
School girl errors to me are those annoying decisions that make you want to stamp on the spot while screaming and tearing a few hairs out until someone tells you to grow up. This has happened a little too often in Bolivia for my liking. When I was a kid it was different; I used to have a quiet little tantrum in my mind. I remember once when my eldest sister got a nice new shiny pair of shoes for school from a proper shop and I got the pikey pair that mum had picked up from the market where one was discoloured from the sun and also a big on the saggy side as it was the display shoe. ´Your sister is costing me way too much money´, mum would tell me. ´It´s nice to know you´re willing to spend GBP1.99 on me mum´. I’m not sure if the shoes quite beat the pea green flammable shell suit I received from Makro that I used to wear with my hi tec trainers also from Makro. My sister would freak if she was given shoes from the market but I gratefully accepted them. This has completely backfired as my sister always get the nicer gifts whereas my mum reckons she can still palm anything off on me as I never complain. Well times are a changing, I´m having real tantrums now.
I felt like I was in La Paz forever and not good when you only have 30 days allowance in the country. It´s one of those places where you can easily get stuck, not because people fall in love with the city or that there is an overwhelming amount to do, but because it´s the place to go out and party till the… afternoon. Why did I have that extra drink (well those few several drinks more like) AND that dirty burger off the street before going out AND leave my cardigan and scarf in the bar and then have a multitude of different liquids of a variety of viscosity’s fly out of every orifice for the next 24 hours, have to fester in them for the whole day in the most vile hotel room EVER, AND then not be able to get up and book my tour to the Amazon for the following day meaning I would have to stay in the most vile hotel room EVER for yet another night? I barely even had the energy to drag myself down to the reception to say ´one more night´ (because I love it here so much). Upon finally checking out after four nights, which was supposed to be one night, (the night before I stayed at a vile place also which was expensive, for Bolivia, but as this place was only GBP4.50 including breakfast I thought I´d put up with it for one night) the pervert on reception asks when I´m coming back to, ´never´, although he knows I´m telling porkies as I´ve already told him I´m going to the Amazon where the flights return to La Paz.
After leaving the amazing and peaceful Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, arriving in La Paz was a bit of a shock to the system but sometimes a city is where you just need to ´sort shit´. I tried to buy tampons on Isla del Sol, no chance, inch thick towels were all that was on offer. ´They´re very good´, the man in the pharmacy/mud hut tells me. ´Errm have you used these before?´I ask him. ´Hehe, my wife uses them´. If you fancy a bite (of one of the only four dishes available in all the restaurants) after 8.30pm, no chance either. Trying to withdraw money or pay for something on a card and you just get laughed at. So I sorted out my shite in La Paz. This included running around the city trying to find out if my scalf and cardigan were still at my friends hostel which all my friends had vacated. I never knew how attached I was to my scalf but after deciding to send my alpaca poncho home, (if an item isn´t used at least once every two weeks it has to go) my scarf was now my blanket on overnight buses, and ask any girl, they can´t live without a black cardigan. With a stroke of luck I finally got both items back though it took hours.
I spent another day trying to find a box, wrapping paper, cards, marker pen, scissors and sellotape to send some stuff home and succeeded after half a day by finding all the items in different shops. Back home you´d just go to the post office. I sent home about a quarter of the clothes I´d bought with me. Carrying around four bags was just getting ridiculous. My none practical (can´t wear them for longer than a week without turning grey/beige) white tops got the chop and then I received the ´what to bring´ list for the Amazon, light, preferably white coloured tops. Bollocks. I´d also got this idea in my head that I´d buy a bigger day pack as mine is pretty small and not big enough for two/three day trips and send my small back pack home with all my clothes inside but after been given wrong directions to travel shops I gave up on that idea. (Locals here would prefer to give you the wrong information rather than just accept that they don´t know). My parcel was all packed up and at the post office by the following morning. Late afternoon I stumble across a million travel shops with hundreds of day packs. Grrrr, how annoying and then I go to the witches market and buy two cute leather bags. So after attempting to send a bag home and offloading I suddenly had an extra three bags to add to my already four bags. About as comical as my library of 10 books. I ran back to the post office just to see if my parcel had gone and it was sat there looking am me all hand stitched beautifully like a work of art in a rice sack by the sweetest woman ever. I walked out and had a tantrum. Sending two bags home was nearly as much as the 4.5kg original parcel.
All ready with my dark clothes (100% more likely to get eaten by mosquitoes) for the Amazon I headed off on the smallest plane ever. You could even see the pilots it was that small though not so much fun when we went through turbulence and the pilots start panicking and randomly flicking numerous buttons. I´d reluctantly booked a Pampa tour (you get to see more animals) rather than go into the jungle (where you don´t see that many animals – this was literally all the information I got) in La Paz, (I was promised it was more expensive booking the tours in the departure town I was flying to) though nearly paid hundreds just to go and stay with a local family in the Amazon because it would be more interesting and all the agencies offer exactly the same package. As it was hundreds more I couldn’t justify it.
On arrival in Rurrenabaque I bump into a guy who I´ve seen along my travels who´s holding out to get a group together for a 5/6 day trip into the jungle (so it´s cheaper) and decides to go with the guys I´ve met on my flight who wisely haven´t booked a tour yet. Hiking with your backpack every day to head deep into the jungle, no showers, sleeping rough under a bit of tarpaulin, fishing and hunting for food and even having to build a raft on the final day to sail down stream and back towards Rurrenabaque sounded amazing. I´m going to sit on my ass on a wooden canoe for three days and hope to spot a monkey, great. As one of the lucky guys rightly put it, ´Taking a Pampa tour is like getting the train to Machu Picchu´. This is seriously the biggest school girl error I´ve made during my trip. Tantrum time. I considered cancelling my tour but I´d left the majority of my stuff in La Paz and it just would have been too uncomfortable without everything. It would have been uncomfortable enough with everything. I say farewell at breakfast and head off for my pansy Pampa tour while the others head into the jungle.
Other travellers assured me that because I was expecting the tour to be crap it would actually be good. It was crap. Things started to go wrong right from the start. I was the only person out of 15 from the tour who was on time at the agency. I had to wait for over two hours in the sweltering heat (in my black long sleeve top) because Amaszonas (the airline) cancelled the early flight as there were only two passengers even though the plane was still 10% full, some girls nearly died on the horrific overnight bus so were severely delayed, others didn’t even turn up, (I now know why) and I didn’t get offered a drink whilst waiting. We got bundled into a jeep and endured a rough three hour ride, the tour operators didn’t introduce themselves, I nearly died of starvation after only a crusty roll with butter and jam (again) at 7am then waddled into a wooden canoe where again no-one introduced themselves and occasionally there would be shouts from the back of ‘monkey’ and to top it all off there was a twat in the group.
Over the next two days we head out in the canoe a few times, barely see any animals, don’t get fed enough food and it doesn’t help that there are a couple of pigs in the group, the poor vegetarians don’t get replacement dishes, basically they get the same as the carnivores minus the meat dishes but in desperation they eat chicken and powdered milk rather than waste away, we do a horrendous mosquito infested hour trek to find anacondas but only see one yellow butterfly, listen to the twat harp on about how she knows everything in the world and to be honest I find it immensely boring. Knowing it was the wet season there is always less chance of seeing animals, the only thing you’re guaranteed of is downpour and millions of mosquitoes. I have repellent with almost 100% deet though nothing will fend them off the sweet tasty treat that I am. In three days I got near to 200 mosquito bites but then I was due some fresh ones as my bites from three months ago have almost healed. If you’re thinking of doing a Pampa tour definitely don’t opt for Indigena Tours. They’re very impersonal, if you don’t know any Spanish you’re fucked, you can’t swim with pink dolphins, if you jump into the the brown water they swim off, the piranha fishing is a joke and basically there is not enough to do and see in three days. There was a lot of chill out time with the mosquitoes/a lot of beer drinking with the mosquitoes. The mosquito nets hung over the beds have a million holes in them and the bedding and mattress were that mouldy that I had to sleep on my back to lessen the intensity so I didn’t choke from my own vomit during the night. The shower was ridiculous, there were easily about 100 of the buggers flying around and all you could hear was clapping from the cubicals as the little bastards were getting squished between palms. There was no chance of not showering as the heat was just unbearable. The best site was a bit of eye candy on another tour but unfortunately his tour came to an end during my first day. Definitely head deep into the jungle. I was completely knackered from sitting on my arse in a canoe for three days; I need action.
I got action on the World’s Most Dangerous Road outside of La Paz. After shitting my pants on the bike ride down the Coto Paxi volcano in Ecuador I vowed that there was no way that I’d do the Death Road though with everyone raving about it and being highly embarrassed when other travellers asked what I’d done in my 8 days in La Paz, ‘errrrm I sent some pants home’, I decided to do it. It turned out to be really good fun, apart from when we all nearly got flattened by a house falling down that we were stood next to when we had our break, ‘es muy peligroso’ (it’s very dangerous), ‘you could have told us that before the house fell down’. It rained for most of the day and we all got sprayed in shit, (I now know what I would look like if I had freckles), and just as we were all really getting into it, it was over. I thought the three hour ride down would take forever but upon finishing everyone was a little upset that it was over but more relieved that they were still alive. The next section of the day, ‘chilling at the hotel pool with a beer’ wasn’t quite as glamorous as it made out on the brochure. Anyone fancy a dip in this freezing brown murk that resembles the Amazon?
I made two school girl errors that day, wearing my Converse trainers on Death Road, it was either those or huge hiking boots, but not being able to feel my feet on the pedals would have freaked me out. My wrecked Converse went straight in the bin when I got back. I lent a girl my shorts as she´d failed to bring any dry clothes with her and after freezing down the death road the last thing you want to do after a shower is put on wet cotton. The bitch flew back to NY the day after, goodbye shorts. The chances of finding a Gap in South America to replace them is pretty slim.
What else did I do in La Paz? I spend about a day trying to get into the prison with some friends and was so near yet so far but then on the plus side I´m glad we never handed over B$450 x5 to a prisoners wife (she´ll be wearing a red trousers and a brown jumper) in a different square to where the prison was and wait for her to pick us up from our hostel. ´Does my wife look like a criminal?´ her criminal husband asks me over the phone after I refuse to hand over any money until we are in the prison. I examined her, her hair was almost glued to her cheeks she was sweating that much. We were all gutted we never got in but we all knew it was a scam. I hear they have opened up the prison to the public again, booo!
Hurrah, I finally escape La Paz and head to Potosi, the mining town where just about all it´s silver has been extracted in appalling conditions. This is also the place where some 8 million men and children have died. I was in two minds about paying a visit where you can chat to the miners and ease their pain by offering them rum and cigarettes but I got some mud from the Death Road lodged under my contact lens so my mind was made up for me; I couldn’t risk getting it even more infected. The town is really pretty and I got chatting to a local lawyer in the plaza who was on his lunch break and he ended up giving me a guided tour of the town. The Spanish lessons are finally paying off. On the way up to a mine entrance we nearly knock over a blathered miner who just collapses on the road. I think if I was stuck down there I´d become an alcoholic too.
Wanting to learn more Spanish I head to the pretty city of Sucre where I also planned to do some volunteer work in an orphanage for a week although it’s not very well organised. Firstly I arrive at my home stay and the family aren’t even aware that I’m turning up. I purposely chose a home stay where there were other students (there’s space for at least 7 students) though I’m the only person there. I don’t want to make the same mistake as last time where I have to be home by 6pm, get fed rice and chicken every day and am not allowed to go out. Luckily a cool South African turns up a few days later so I’m not on my own. The home stay is a really good set up with amazing views of the South of Sucre, huge balcony, upper floor to ourselves (thank god I was the first to arrive so I didn’t have to sleep in the dingy dungeon) and most exciting of all there is a kitchen so I can cook for myself.
The next two weeks or so consist of me conducting a human experiment on myself where I barely eat any chicken, rice, bread, butter and jam but mainly fruit and vegetables. My body is so not used to it but I’m now aware more than ever that fruit and vegetables make you fart like a trooper. This isn’t so good when you have constant diarrhea which I seemed to obtain as soon as I stepped over the border. Everyone did warn me although I thought I’d built up a stomach of steel from four months of travelling. Even so it was so good to cook and eat healthily for a bit even though it was cheaper to eat out for every meal.
I was excited about my lessons as I can converse in a bit of Spanish unlike when I first studied though I have an interesting experience.
Day 1 – Monday
8.45am – Supposed to meet my teacher.
9.30am – I get told that she’s called the school to say there are complications with her daughter and would I return at 10.30am.
10.30am – Return and she’s still not there.
11.00am – She turns up. She says she’s going to show me around Sucre though we’re actually just walking to her house where she’ll conduct the lessons as the classrooms in the school always get filled up it the morning. (Note to teacher, how about we start in the morning so we can get into the school?)
11.45am – We arrive at her house and she announces that she has to pay for her daughters private education and that she needs picking up from school.
12.00pm – We pick up her daughter and walk back to her house.
12.30pm – She tells me that she’s arranged to meet her friends for lunch and invites me along. I figure I can practice my Spanish but they pretty much ignore me. I chat to the waiter more.
1.30am – On the way back to the house she has to do something important at the internet cafe so I escort her daughter back to the house.
2.00pm – She returns and we commence lessons even though they were supposed to finish an hour ago.
3.00pm – After an hour she asks me to leave claiming she has documents to sort for a university but promises that the next day I’ll have four hours of lessons in the morning and that we can start at 8.30am.
3.30pm – I sit in the park and do my homework. The volunteer work hasn’t been sorted so I check out Sucre and meet some friends for dinner.
Day 2 – Tuesday
8.30am – I arrive at school but CBA (can’t be arsed) is not there.
9.15am – CBA turns up (I’ve learnt that Bolivian time is always at least half an hour behind). CBA says she’ll show me around Sucre where I can practice conversational Spanish and shows me the University where she studied.
9.45am – I wait around in the University where I realised that CBA is actually applying for a job and that this is the final day for applications. CBA hasn’t even filled in her form and we have to go to another building where she receives help. She hasn’t even got a pen, I have to lend her mine. During this time she’s too busy catching up with fellow teachers who are all applying for the same job so I don’t have any conversational Spanish. She’s told to return in the afternoon.
11.30am – CBA asks if I’d like to go the Mercardo Campesino where many of the Indiginous people in Sucre work and live, she’ll show me traditional materials that they have on sale there. CBA show me some wooden spoons.
12.00pm – CBA is upset to find that a man who owns a store is not there and is frantically enquiring about when he’ll be back. We walk around and inspect the various dried corpses including llamas that locals bury under their houses to bring them luck and the medicinal offerings that are tailored to solve your problems/worries that need to be burnt.
12.20pm – CBA is excited to see that the man who resembles an Indiginous BA Barrackers (gold is dripping off him) has returned and sits down with him and picks up some sort of medicine. Ah I get it CBA, this guy is some sort of Witch Doctor and you’re not interested in showing me that market at all, you’re basically just doing your chores.
12.45pm – We head back to the centre on the bus where I shove my homework under CBA’s nose. I’ve only got through marking about a quarter of it (I have to mark it myself too) when we reach our stop and CBA tells me that she has to apply for this job so there’ll be no lessons in the afternoon but promises that I’ll get my full four hours the following day. I tell CBA that I’ll go direct to her house for 8.30am in the morning to save time.
1.00pm – I sit in the park slightly peeved off, look at my unmarked homework and wonder if it’s right. I still don’t know to this day. My volunteer work still hasn’t been organised either as the Director hasn’t replied to my email, grrrr.
Day 3 – Wednesday
8.30am – Early start as CBA’s house is a good half hour walk way. CBA’s neighbour let’s me in and surprise surprise CBA isn’t there. I chat to CBA’s neighbour for about an hour – it’s the most Spanish I’ve used in the last three days of lessons.
9.30am – CBA calls her neighbour saying that she’s going to be busy all morning and will I return at 2pm for lessons. Errm I don’t think so CBA you stupid cow. I believe CBA might just be taking the piss a little. I have a little tantrum then head to the Language Academy and complain about her and demand a different teacher and state that I want to do voluntary work. With only a 30 day stamp on my passport and hmmm spending a little more time than anticipated in La Paz and with most of Bolivia to see I was running out of time and couldn’t afford to spend another week studying. I managed to change my teacher and get volunteer work in the orphanage organised for that afternoon.
3.00pm – Go to the Orphanage where introductions are few and far between and I just have to get involved. The Orphanage is made up of 80 boys ranging from about 10 to 18, some of which don’t have family though some do which is probably harder. A few of the kids clothes are so old that they’re about to fall off them but this doesn’t bother them. They all seem really united. Some appear that they’re trying to kill each other but I just laugh it off and believe that they’re simply play fighting. I help them out with their homework (in some cases I´m no help, many of the boys are really bright) though figure I need to brush up on my long division skills.
Day 4 – Thursday
8.45am – My new teacher turns up at Bolivian time. We walk to her house and have almost four hours of lessons. Hurrah! I finally learn something though it’s more of a refresher course.
3.00pm – The kids at the Orphanage ask if Bruce Lee is my dad, I tell them that he isn’t and no I don’t personally know Jackie Chan. Have loads of fun with them and help them out with their homework. There are some that I would seriously like to kidnap, although some are smelly they are soooooo cute.
Day 5 – Friday
9.30am – Lessons were supposed to start at 9am but there is a bus strike and my teachers flat is really far away. I apologise for turning up at Bolivian time. Have another good lesson though my new teacher puts me in a really awkward position and asks me to claim that I only had three hours of lessons with her rather than seven over the past couple of days so that I can pay her some of the money directly and pay her more per hour rather than paying the school a fixed fee. She claims that it’s better for me as I need the money when I do the Salt Flat tour but she’s thinking about herself. She comes up with lots of possible excuses as to why I only had three hours like, ‘you had a stomach ache and decided that you had to go to the Plaza and sit and have coffee for two hours.’ ‘I think that’s a rubbish and unconvincing lie, the last thing I would want with a stomach ache is to drink coffee for two hours’. I tell her I’m just going to say that she was busy, I can’t lie to save my life. And all this just so she can earn 70p an hour extra.
1.00pm – Head to a lunch for all the students at the Academy which is nice so I get to meet some other peeps.
So after a whole week of studying and supposedly getting 20 hours I end up having just 10 hours. It has completely felt like a refresher course too and ideally I’d like to study for another week. I manage to extend my allowance in Bolivia by another 30 days a lot easier than I though and I didn’t get charged anything. I decide to stay for another week and ask to change teachers again (I don’t want to keep on having to lie) and this time I finally get a really cool teacher who I get on with really well.
At the orphanage I’m sick of telling that kids every day that Bruce Lee isn’t my dad so I pretend that he is (such a school girl error), and I’m suddenly like a minor celebrity in there with all the smelly little kids glued to me and fighting for pole position to cling onto mS. They ask me about a million questions about how he died and who my mother was. ‘I don’t know who my mother was, I never met her.’ They all stop in silence with their heads down. Later they want proof and demand that I bring in photos the next day. I dig myself into such hole that I promise that I’ll bring in photos. ‘We want to see you do kung fu’. ‘Errrm not every Chinese person is a black belt.’ ‘OK, well show us your muscles then.’ I then proceed to have arm wrestles with about 25 of the kids (I beat all of them bar one but then they are small boys), and my forearm feels like it’s about to snap. The muscle is literally rock hard. The boys seem impressed by it though.
The next day after school I have to borrow a students Mac and frantically search the web for pictures of Bruce Lee and drag pictures of myself off Facebook and merge some images together. It’s actually really stressful as I have so little time after my class but it’s actually quite fun to be working in Photoshop again, gah dare I say that I miss designing?! We actually look more like a couple in one of the pictures but hey it’s not like I’ve changed much over the past 15 years. I email the two photos to myself and then have to go to an internet cafe to get them printed off. I think they´re completely unconvincing but it´ll be fun to wind the kids up.
Upon entering the orphanage the kids run over demanding to see the photos while I´m brushing up on the lies that I´ve told them. I pull the images out and they stare in silence. I think I’ve fooled most of them bar the older kids who say that I’ve merged two picture together (three actually), and one kid says that he’s googled Bruce Lee and that he actually died years ago, not 15 years ago as I had stated. I tell him that the internet is full of crap and that he shouldn’t believe everything that he reads. I get the staff to play along though I’m not sure how impressed they are when all the kids want photocopies of the images (waste of paper and all). Some of them cut the images out, make me sign them and stick them to their exercise books next to Justin Bieber.
As it’s my last day there I bring in 100’s of pencils colouring pens and erasers to dish out. I’ve never seen kids get so excited over a pencil. They literally fight over them. I escape before I get the pencils jabbed in my eyes and so that they can´t ask me more questions about my dad.
Sucre turns out to be loads of fun and it’s so nice to get into a routine…. of going out just about every night and getting to school hungover and being told I look like crap by my teacher. She finds it highly amusing though. It’s a lovely Colonial city and perfect for studying Spanish which is what many travellers do so it was nice to have friends around and the chances of bumping into someone you knew in one of the two Gringo bars was always 100%, dangerous.
On the second weekend I manage to get out of Sucre and check out some of the lovely surroundings where there are rock painting. Unfortunately it pissed it down all day but it’s still good do some exercise. Stupidly I wear my glasses, not good when it´s raining and I´m really hot so I can’t see anything for the whole day. Silly girl. It’s Saturday night and there seems to be loads going on in town leading up to carnival. We head out and end up paying to get into Joyride (one of the Gringo bars) where we see that Plan B are playing. Whooop, I don’t even like him, but how exciting! Upon arrival we find out that it’s not ‘the’ Plan B but Plan B who are Bolivia’s answer to NSYNC. Basically a rigaton covers band with dodgy backing dancers who repeat the same routine every 30 seconds. The singer has spiky highlights and shit shades and for some reason girls are dripping off him. Oh well, at least it’s drink all the beer that you can even if you do have to drink them out of stupid glasses. The band turn out to be that horrific that they are actually amazing and we end up getting pictures with the band pretending that we’re their biggest fans. And then we end up at Mitos, again. I dance with a Russian oligarch who is flying to Buenos Aires in his private jet in the morning and casually tell him that I’m making my way to BA soon (he doesn’t know that I know that he’s a Russian oligarch who is flying to Buenos Aires in his private yet in the morning). I spot a friend and go over to say hello but in the 10 seconds or so the Russian oligarch bastard is dancing with someone else, damn, should have tried harder, I have a little tantrum.
It’s sad leaving Sucre but I needed to get my skates on before winter hits in Patagonia. I decided on Samaipata as it sounds remote, not built up at all and there is loads of hiking to be done in the surrounding area. I meet a couple of Germans who take me under their wing and my god they can drink and it doesn’t help that it’s cocktails, beer, wine, spirits, digestives and more beer and cocktails every night. This is not so good when we have a five hour hike to do the following morning in the National Park. They pay for my dinner and drinks for the next four days and claim they’re struggling to spend money in Bolivia it’s so cheap. I accept happily. The town is full of Germans and Dutchies, I hang out with Germans, stay at a hostel which is German owned, even the Spanish guide speaks German and we go to German/Dutch owned restaurants and bars every night. So much for using my Spanish. I end up getting stuck there for Carnival as there are no buses anywhere and I wonder how fun it’s going to be when it’s like a ghost town where there are more stray dogs than people and it’s so the type of place where tumble weed rolls by. Carnival turns out to be loads of fun though and it’s hilarious acting like a kid again armed with cans of shaving foam, well fun until I get it´s sprayed in my left eyeball and I can barely see. And so ridiculous that I decided to put mascara on for the first time in about three weeks. School girl error.
Athough Samaipata is lovely, the people are lovely, (I even get invited to a locals house along with the barmaid for an amazing lunch in the cutest house ever that this guy has built for himself), I have to get out of the place as there is literally nothing to do and risk waiting five hours for three passing buses back to Sucre that might have space but might not. Luckily there were two spaces on the second stinky bus that costs twice as much as getting there. Me and a French girl arrive in Sucre the following morning and we walk around for about 2 hours trying to find the cheapest accommodation possible. The French girl wants to settle on a shared dingy windowless box that stinks because it’s only BS25 (about GBP2.50) but after La Paz there is no-way that I’m going to stay anywhere remotely similar. We finally decide on the BS35 hostel including breakfast and all this hiking around just to save GBP1. I’m not fussed about the breakfast as it’s ALWAYS bread, butter and jam. I get shit faced that night with the boys and miss breakfast the next day anyway.
Whenever I arrive anywhere new I always make sure I have a booking and just head straight there. I hate walking around with my backpack, one because it’s fecking heavy, two I hate being a target and three, it’s saves so much time. I assume this is why a plain clothed guy whips out a card and tells us he works for the police. Then asks to see our passports, we obviously have them on us. We show him our passports then he says we need to go to the police station for further checks and opens the door of a random car with two other plain clothed guys in there. We demand out passports back and I say that we will walk to the police station if we need to with our passports. The French girls says she’s going to ask the guy in the hostel about the situation and the con men speed off.
The French girl goes in the morning while I’m pretending to be asleep and nursing my hangover which is a relief so I don’t have to spend more time with her saving pennies and wasting time. Festivities are still taking place in Sucre but there are a hell of lot more water bombs than friendly foam. After meeting a friend in the afternoon for lunch I attempt to walk back to my hostel which is only two blocks away but I can hear the crazy bands getting nearer with every corner I turn and kids are armed all the way down the street with water bombs. I attempt to go down quieter streets, bad as you end up being the sole target and in the end it took me about an hour to walk back and I was completely drenched by the time I did. I even had a bucket of water thrown over my head. I guess it could have been worse. Flour and eggs always come out to play back home.
After a delicious Italian meal with the boys and not so delicious jug of red wine that tasted and smelt of nail varnish remover that gnored away at our organs, I headed to Tupiza. I was really excited about the Salt Flats tour though a little disappointed when I found out that I was with an English couple and an Irish guy all around 50. There has been some ageism towards me (because everyone thinks I´m 22) and I guess I was doing the same. I swapped the bottle of rum in my hands for some chocolate biscuits and Twinings tea. The fellow Northern monkies turned out to be a laugh, the Irish guy was surprisingly very annoying and another one of those ‘I know everything’ travellers. ‘Give me your opinion after you’ve been there, you twat’. Being the only one who spoke any Spanish, I ended up translating for the rest of the group. ‘Mountain to your right, lagoon coming up, dog sniffing another dogs ass, man with his cock out pissing on the plaza’.
The company wasn’t so important. My face was glued to the jeep window, mouth drooling in awe at site after site after site. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such amazing scenery in all my life and the fact that we were so high up meant that there were numerous mountains and volcanos with untouched snow gleaming on the top. There’s always something about snow on a mountain top that makes people want to weep.
Day two and we´ve stopped to admire the scenery and I hear the voice of the devil. ´So are you like having an amazing time?´I raise my eyes from the mind blowing scenery to the socks and sandals, not good, then to the face, not good. It´s only the annoying in-ya-face douchebag who hung around like a bad smell one night in Sucre. Damn, he hangs around like a bad smell for the rest of the four day tour.
The accommodation on the tour is basic but the third nights accommodation is something else. An unfinished hotel with a wall upstairs missing, initially no running water, later running cold water, not ideal when everyone was promised a hot shower on the third night. It´s run by a right old hag too. After dinner I chat to the driver/guide, Abna, he and the other driver from the same company, David, need to find a garage for the jeeps and can´t risk leaving them on the streets in Uyuni as all the equipment will go missing, even the wheels. Apparently the scallies in Uyuni will take anything. (It´s a pretty minging place and was quite amusing to see how horrified everyone in the group was when we arrived there. I was warned that it was minging, choosing to return to Tupiza after the tour while everyone else got dropped off in Uyuni. Everyone’s first task upon entering Uyuni, book a ticket out of the shithole). They confess that there are no actual garages and that they are going to have to sleep in the vehicles to be on the safe side. I donate my sleeping bag to Abna after we try and smuggle sheets and blankets down from the hotel to the drivers but the hag bag spots us and we get a bollocking. ´And these sheets are dirty´. ´Errm well we haven´t actually used them yet.´ The French girls in the other group pretend that they don´t understand Spanish although they´ve been complaining about the no hot water situation all day. Hag bag is not impressed.
After all the amazing scenery I know that the Salt Flats themselves are going to be a little disappointing, especially as they´re under water right now. It was a little like arriving at Machu Picchu, the whole build up was the exciting thing, and then there were 10,000 tourists there. Everyone had said, just get there for sunrise, it´ll be amazing.
We never made it for sunrise. Abna got our group up at 4.30am, we loaded the roof with all the ´stuff´, got in the jeep and were about to set off when one of the Northerners says, ´ah I see the local drunk is here.´ ´That´s David´, I say with disgust as I get a waft of the 15 pints that he´s sunk. He´s not been to sleep or sobered up but in full pissed mode. More dramas were to follow. He´s too shitfaced to get on top of his jeep to load it, he ends up throwing barrels of petrol and backpacks onto the roof, he´s failed to wake his group up, hag bag finally did though and demanded that everyone had to get out immediately, David claims that he is OK to drive and at one points tries to demonstrate this by trying to start our jeep, we freak out, the Irish shouting, c***, David stalls, we get out of the jeep, I demand that someone from the other group has to drive which luckily a guy agrees to, we have to wait for them as he wants to follow us, David is in tears saying we are going to report him and that he´s going to lose his job, and during all this time the sun is slowly rising.
Although the Flats are under water and we aren’t able to visit one of the islands, the reflections of the volcanos in the water provide spectacular views and the vastness of the Flats is incredible. We get involved and take some comical shots.
More amazing views on the drive back to Tupiza. The following day I go for a five hour hike for some more amazing view, cause I didn’t get enough. This is slightly ruined by the not so amazing views of garbage stroon on the mountainside. But then I get more amazing views upon leaving Tupiza and these make up for it some what.
Next stop, Argentina for steak, red wine and hot men. Lock your doors Argentinean mothers…