Archive for July, 2011


Sucre “Charcas” – Bolivia

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Bolivia

Proud, genteel Sucre is Bolivia’s most beautiful city, and the symbolic heart of the nation. It was here that independence was proclaimed, and while La Paz is now the seat of government and treasury, Sucre is still Bolivia’s judicial capital. A glorious ensemble of whitewashed buildings sheltering pretty patios, it’s a spruce place that preserves a wealth of colonial architecture.

Getting here was rather a different story as there has been torrential rain for 48 hours, turning the normally already rugged and treacherous mountain pass into an exercise in “vehicluar water ski-ing.”

Our ONE comfort break for stretching legs, toileting and sustenance was at a small town in the middle of nowhere, providing what can only be described as the MOST BASIC TOILET FACILITIES I have ever seen… oooow yes and the stunk! I washed my hands twice with the soap I carry with me at all times. Didn´t fill me with confidence to try their food so plumped for a bottle of coke!

I am pretty sure the bus driver was in complete control of the bus at all times, but I will be honest in saying that the two major skids under breaking, taking us to the edge of a sheer cliff did get my heart racing a bit. After that, the two lorries that lost traction and slid backwards downhill nearly colliding with us meant I barely raised an eye brow! Factor in several rock/mud slides completely blocking the road meant detours down steep goat trails, narrow (just wider than the bus) pot holed chicken lanes, crossing bolders and rivers at great pace (I assume the driver was unsure if we could make it) and it all made for an interesting 17 hours.

Thursday sight seeing/urban hiking, details from my visitors guide to the city:

  1. Cementerio Municipal, the enthusiasm surrounding Sucre’s Cementerio Municipal seems disproportionate to what’s there. There are some arches carved from poplar trees, as well as picturesque palm trees and the mausoleums of wealthy colonial families, but it’s a mystery why it should inspire such local fervor. To enliven the experience, visit on a weekend when it’s jam-packed with families, or hire one of the enthusiastic child guides for a few bolivianos
  2. Cathedral Church, it is the largest religious monument of Charcas. It erected canonically as the Cathedral Church of Charcas or La Plata on June 27, 1552 by “Super Bull speculates Mantis Ecclesiae”, issued by S. Julio III. Its construction concluded completely in 1712. The Renaissance style of the original design was later enriched aggregates mestizo baroque and baroque.
  3. La Recoleta, a historic site where it founded the Villa de Plata. It is currently surrounded by the lookout built in 1979. One of the most important public spaces and urban tourism in the city, its location in the foothills Churuquella allows a full view of the city center and its surroundings, as well as preserve the image features available to it a few centuries ago. There is peace, tranquility and also serves as a study. On one front is the convent of La Recoleta, you can also watch the sundial and the center of the plaza Pedro Anzures, the source called “La Peregrina” makes by Martin de Oviedo in 1630 – I found a REALLY cool cafe here where I had a sandwich and salami/cheese sandwich for lunch before climbing the hills to the south-east.
  4. The Hills Sica-Sica and Churuquella, located southeast of the city at the foot of them founded the Villa de Plata, etymologically derived from two Quechua voices: worm of red hair and snail loose, according to folklores Antonio Paredes Candia. They are the hills that custodians of the city and mountain also known as male and female mountain due to present the same structure- Quite a walk considering the the altitude, a climb from 2,380 to 3292 metres above sea level

Lots of miles covered today!


Jessiut Missions – Bolivia

Posted: July 13, 2011 in Bolivia

San Jose de Chiqutios

The Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos are in the Santa Cruz district of easter Bolivia. Six of the missions have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The missions are distinguished by the fusion of European and American Indian cultural influences. The missions were founded as reductions or reducciones de indios by Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries to convert the Indians to Christianity. Jesuits explored and founded eleven settlements over 70 years in the Chiquitos region of Spanish America. They built churches in a unique and distinct style that combined elements of Indian and European architecture. The indigenous inhabitants of the missions were taught European music as a means of conversion. The missions were self-sufficient, with thriving economies, and virtually autonomous from the Spanish crown.

Leaving Santa Cruz in a mini bus for San Jose de Chiquitos I was sharing with 8 other passengers, which is the usual starting point for the Jesuit Mission circuit working around it anti-clockwise. There are seven missions that make up the circuit, San Jose de Chiquitos, San Rafael, San Ana, San Miguel, San Ignacio, Conception, San Javier. I had not yet decided on whether I would do them all, but would arrive in San Jose and decide later.

The fare was 70 Boliviano or just under 6 GBP in REAL money! The mini bus pulled out of the informal bus depot, which I can only describe as a chaotic, dirty back street; filled with old fat Bolivian woman carrying HUGE red/blue and white check bags filled to bursting point with clothes, blankets, vegetables, oil, rice and such like clambering into old 1990´s battered white Nissan vans (that would not pass an MOT test in the UK.) Although each person is officially allowed one bag each, which I stuck to, most ignored it and one woman bought 4 bags the size of large suit cases. Needless to say there was limited space for fee paying passengers and I had a large box accompany me, on my lap as it happens for the 5 hour trip.

The first 3 hours on the main road was really smooth and quite relaxing, the second 2 hours crosses what can only be described as the bad lands! In fact this section of road will soon join the motorway in the east with its counterpart in the west, this is essence will link Santa Cruz with the Brazilian border. As of yet the road has been marked out, cut through, bridged and leveled out but has not been surfaced. The chicken lane that is currently used along this stretch is hellish, as driving conditions are either sandy, dusty and hot or muddy, pot holed and treacherous when raining.

I arrived safe and found myself a hotel which charges 30 Boliviano a night (3 GBP) and had chicken, rice and chips dinner 10 Boliviano, time for bed.

The infamous “Death Train” that takes people to or from Quijarro has become a legend on the traveler’s circuit in Bolivia. No one is sure where the “Death Train” got its name, but there are several commonly held  beliefs. Some say that it is because the ride is so long and bumpy a traveler wants to kill themselves. Another theory is that the mosquitoes are so bad during the rainy season, you’ll get “eaten alive” throughout the entire long trip, or contract malaria and die later. Yet another theory is that people riding on top of the train (not uncommon) fall asleep and fall to their deaths (quite uncommon). Although the two most credible options would be either because many workers died while building this railroad or the  “Death Train” got its name from the time when the train used to transport bodies after a Yellow Fever epidemic.

There are actually three trains that travel on this route

The official “Death Train” which is a cheapet most rickety option, limited toilet facillities and has no food so it is important to bring your own food and water… It takes around 21 hours!!

The second the “Oriental Express“ (seriously!!) which is the option I went for. It is better than the “Death Train,” much quicker and has more comfortable serving basic food in a dining car.

The third oprion the “FerroBus“ is the traveler’s best bet though it is the most expensive of the trains. The FerroBus is the most comfortable of the options. There is one sleeper car and one car with reclining seats. Both are air-conditioned and both serve lunch and a small breakfast.

With time against me and a project in Peru beckoning it is time to get moving again, this time I am heading north to Corumba where I will cross the border into Bolivia. I am not terribly excited about the 24 hour bus journey but have been assured that the company I am booked in with are one of the more professional and comfortable carriers.

I will miss the staff in the Hostel I have been staying in, they are a great bunch.

By the way, some of you have asked how my portuguese is coming along… well here are a few choice phrases I seemed to have picked since landing in Brazil a month ago!

1. Olá meu nome é Benjamin e eu vivo em Falmouth, na Cornualha, que é na Inglaterra

2. Eu sou voluntário no Brasil

3. Eu trabalho com crianças e adolescentes

4. Eu gosto da academia, praia, sol, viagens de ônibus, cerveja e Santa Maria

Well  I got to the Rodoviária or bus station as the sun was setting and boarded what seemed to be a very smart looking bus, that still had that ´new car´smell as I sat down in the VERY comfortable seat. Immediately I started pushing buttons and pulling levers to see how far the seat reclined and it almost went horizontal! There was a seperate section to put your feet and legs on.

We departed at 6pm on the proverbial dot and off we went. I got chatting to a German girl who was heading to Campo Grande too and we discussed a bus change that we needed to make at 7.40pm as the bus we were currently on went somewhere else… or so we thought.

In Brazil it seems nothing is quite that straight forward! Our bus, the ´Foz do Iguacu to Alta Floresta´ on the ticket connected with the ´Porto Alegre to Alta Floresta´bus? So far nothing suggesting we would actually end up in Campo Grande. Further down on one of the tickets under Origim (origin) I found Foz do Iguacu and under Destino (destination) I found Navirai. On the second ticket the Origim was Cascavel and the  Destino was Campo Grande… hurrah success! I was  now comforted to know that at least Foz do Iguacu and Campo Grande were at least mentioned on the ticket. Problem solved I thought… NO… this was before I had considered times off changes!

The tickets clearly stated that the bus left at 18.00 from Foz and we changed onto the next bus at 19.40 at Cascavel however when we checked this with the driver he said ´non.´Instead he kept saying amanhã which means tomorrow, which got us thinking that the change was at 07.40 and not 19.40 and the ticket was wrong. We pointed out the difference between 19.40 and 07.40 to him and explained that we had got on the bus at 18.00 as the ticket indicated further up. He wagged his finger, and sensing we were making little progress sat back down and agreed to be very alert at 19.30 in case we needed to make a quick exit.

We pulled into a bus station at 19.45 and got off the bus to clarify with the friendly (Portuguese speaking) driver whether this was indeed our stop. He looked bemused and said ´non.´We  once again pointed out the obvious issues we had with the times printed on the tickets, although I started to feel foolish for trusting blatantly clear information! He motioned beyond my head and them over m shoulder and once again said amanhã. He pointed at his bus and shrugged, I shrugged, German girl sighed and we got on the bus to DESTINO unknown.

We looked again at the ticket and something dawned on me. The driver had gestured toward his bus when German girl had pointed at the clear contradiction between 18.00-18.00 and 19.40-7.40. That made me think the side of the bus (or bus in general was relevant here.) What if the Bus/service number had something to do with the confusion?  The 18.00 and 19.40 printed were perhaps departure times that the had started their journey, e.g. we had boarded the 18.00 Foz do Iguacu to Alta Florestaat at 18.00 hours, as the service started in Foz. I quickly scanned the ticket and saw 18.00 writen in large print (which I had worked out to be the sevice number) and a smaller 18.00 (which I assume was boarding time.) On the second ticket I see that the connection is with the 19.40 (in large print) Porto Alegre to Alta Floresta and 07.40 (in small print.) Ok so our connection was the with the 19.40 out of Porto Alegre at 7.40 amanhã! RESULT, all was now clear. Our bus would take us to an hour outside Campo Grande, we would change, and that bus would continue to Alta Floresta!?

With the comforting thought the incredibly complicated bus ticket conumdrum had been sorted we both settled down for some sleep 🙂

NO NO NO at 21.0o we pulled in Cascavel and everyone got off, except German girl and myself. Being a bit stubborn and thinking we had it sussed I assumed it was a refreshment/cigarette stop. HOWEVER Mr Driver had other ideas and walked up the isle and smiled in an `all knowing´way and motioned to us to get off. I was adamant I didn´t want a break but German girl was hungry so I escorted her off the bus, proving to her that English men were gentleman.

At this stage we see bags getting unloaded, no problem I thought, a big bus depot like this people will clearly be ending their journey  here. Hmmm then I see my bag getting unloaded… I walked up to the `bag unloader man´and said we were in fact going to Campo Grande and to stop unloading my bag. He obviously understood the word `Campo Grande´ and agreed pointing at my bag…

Seeing as all the bags had been unloaded I didn´t sense arguing was going to resolve the situation to I found an English speaking station employee who informed me that a new bus would be leaving at 22.10 to Campo Grande? The subsequently arrived at the correct time, I saw my bag be loaded on board and I climbed wearily up the steps and took my seat (same seat) as before. This bus was older and colder (heating didn´t seem to work) than its predecessor but I was determined to try and get some sleep.

Looked at the time and it was now 23.47, next time I checked it was 5.39, did I need to change, I neither new on cared, more sleep!

I watched the sun rise which was absolutely stunning.

Bus pulled into Campo Grande at 9.30 an hour late and my next bus was due at 10.30, loads of time, but wait we had crossed a time zone so I had actually arrived at 8.30, so may be I was not an hour late after all! Spent the two hours waiting for the bus chatting more to German girl and French boy (a chap I recognised from a neighbouring hostel in Foz do Iguacu.)

Broom broom off we go to Corumba!

This section of the trip we would cross the sothern area of the PANTANAL..

The Pantanal is a tropical wetland and the world’s largest wetland of any kind (size of France.) It lies mostly within the Brazillian state of Mato Grosso do Sol but extends into Mato Grosso as well as into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay… Various sub-regional ecosystems exist, each with distinct hydrological, geological and ecological characteristics… the name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland, bog, swamp or marsh.


Association of Parents and Friends of Exceptional Children: charity operating as a social movement, giving priority to education and seeks to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities

Two weeks working in a special needs school, focussing on education and socialisation skills for children with mild to severe learning needs and/or physical disability (e.g. downs syndrome, autism, cerebal palsy.)  The class sizes are small, no more than 6 children dependent on their age and need, right through to one to one support where necessary.

I was moved around each of the classes and had fantastic fun with the children and teachers, only one of which spoke english. Most my communication was through actions or pictures, which was of no hinderance while playing JENGA for much of the time 🙂 I also found that my rudimentary knowlege of German meant that I could communicate on a basic level with a few others.

Smiles and giggles made up for the lack of learning, but I am having a lovely time working with these exceptional children!

I also like the idea the school provides hot meals which I feel obligated to try, not wanting to offend the cooks who prepare the food on side in a large kitchen. They seem to offer me several portions each time, obviously they are concerned I am either under weight, hungry or still growing!