Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category

48 hour bus to Buenos Aires

Posted: August 29, 2011 in Argentina, Bolivia

Hmmm half way through this epic 48 hour bus ride, managed to get about 6 hours sleep last night which was an unexpected bonus! I think other than my 18 hour scooter ride from Falmouth to London and back, this is the most stupid trip I have embarked on!

Lovely short lay swapped seats with me as I was sat against the windscreen for the first 3 hours. Her seat had lots of leg room, which was not being utilised, so a swap made sense.

I got to Buenos Aires safe and sound, in much better condition than I thought I would be! Checked into my hostel, played some pool, drank two beers and had an early night.


La Paz – a city in the mountains

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Bolivia

The city sits in a “bowl,” up in the clouds, surrounded by the snow peaked mountains of the altiplano at 3,650 m above sea level, the highest capital city in the world! On paper the city sounds incredible,  I had heard many travellers rave about La Paz so I was really excited about spending a few days before my long (48 hour) bus trip to Buenos Aires. However my high expectation for the place was somewhat shattered when I arrived… I found myself uninspired and unmoved.

Other than the stench of urine in many public places, streets and door ways the city is dilapidated, polluted and dirty. I imagine that in her glory days the city would have been beautiful, as stunning as any european capital. I met a young girl working as a street vendor selling black and white stills from around the city from 1880 to 1945, I stare at images and ponder what some TLC wouldn´t do for the place. However investment, maintainance and conservation to preserve cities does not come cheap, and for the large part it is not being done. So beautiful old buildings fall into a state of disrepair, ornate facades erode and crumble and once beautiful streets become blackened and pot holed.

I leave La Paz thinking “what if…”

From Cusco I caught a 6 hour bus ride to Puno, to visit Lake Titicaca, which sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The lake is 3,811 m above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America by volume, Lake Maracaibo is larger in surface area.

The journey was quite uneventful other than the normal swerving to miss stray dogs, overloaded minibuses and herd of sheep/cows. En route we stopped for dinner, which was soup, chicken/rice/chips and a cup of tea for 75p!

Arriving pretty late I caught a tut tut to the hostel for an early night, as the Uros floating island tour started at 7.00am the following morning.

The Uros “floating islands” a group of 40 + artificial islands made of floating totora reeds, which grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. Their original purpose was defensive, and they could be moved if a threat arose. Many of the islands contain watchtowers largely constructed of reeds. Each Island has 2/3 family units, fishing, boat building and weaving fabrics are the main trade of Islanders, which is topped up VERY nicely with visiting camera happy tourists.

The following day I visited Isla del Sol from Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the border, is one of the lake’s largest islands. It is a dry place and the terrain is difficult; rocky and hilly. There are no cars/buses or paved roads on the island, so transport is by foot or ferry boat. The main income for the 800 odd families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy.

The main visitor attraction is the 180 ruins on the island. most  dating to the Inca period circa the 15th century AD. Among the ruins on the island are the Sacred Rock, a labyrinth-like building called Chicana, Kasa Pata, and Pilco Kaima. In the religion of the Incans it was believed that the Sun God was born here, hence “Island of the Sun.”

I booked into a hostel with magnificent view of the lake and sun rise over Isla de la Luna, which is situated to the east. According to legends that refer to Inca mythology again, Isla de la Luna (“Island of the Moon”) is where Viracocha commanded the rising of the moon.

So reading about the history or Arica I learn,

The city was founded by Spanish captain Lucas Martinez de Begazo in 1541, and in 1570 was entitled as “La Muy Ilustre y Real Ciudad San Marcos de Arica” (the very illustrious and royal city of San Marcos of Arica).

This city was, from 1545, the port for exporting the silver of Potosi, Bolivia. The Potosi silver mine was the largest such mine in world history, making Arica a crucial port for the Spainish Empire.

Known as the “city of the eternal spring”, it was originally a part of Peru.

Arica was occupied by Bolivia, once from 1836–1839, then again from 1841-1842 after the Battle of Ingavi (Augustin Gamarra, President of Peru made the controversial decision to invade Bolivia! His armies were repelled)

War of the Pacific (1879 – 1883) was fought between Chile and the joints forces of Bolivia and Peru (who had now made friends again.) Chile successfully took over Arica and Tarapacá (after the Treaty of Ancon) which left Bolivia as a landlocked country and Peru lost the rich nitrate territories.

And to view some of this history on my daily walk I head up El Morro de Arica, 110m over the city. It was a great place to get my bearings, with views of the city, port and Pacific Ocean. However, this headland has a far greater significance to Chileans, for this was the site of a crucial battle in 1880, a year into the War of the Pacific. The Chilean army assaulted and took El Morro from Peruvian forces in under an hour... Hoorah for the Chileans! Boo hoo for the Peruvians!

Leaving Uyuni on an very cold, bouncy, uncomfortable over night bus I head south to the Tupiza, then onto Villazon which is the last town on the Bolivian side of the border. After no sleep whatsoever I cross into La Quiaca on the Argentinian side, enjoy a quick coffee and sandwich before heading off on another bus this time to Tilcara, an ¨alternatives¨ mountain haven, with a variety of washed out artists, musicians, stoners, travellers and white middle class wannabe dread-sters.  Or an official tourist guide summerised,

popular among the hippies and artist community and often has an open art market selling stuff the hippies make.

All in all quite a relaxed place you may say, I stayed for three nights in the end. It was only supposed to be an over night stop!

I also took full advantage of the location and did some rambling while I was there.  Pucará, a pre-Columbian fortification who´s ruins date from the 11th to 15th centuries.

Garganta del Diablo (Giant´s throat), a  10 mile round trip, to a sheer caynon formed by techtonic plate shift which ripped the ground in two. I enjoed the walk but felt slightly overwhelmed when I saw a local jog up and RUN down again, hmmm all done at altitude… Mega fit I tell you!

I also did a day trip to Humahuaca, the next village/town up (1 hour bus trip) which was slightly less tourist orientated and developed, there is a cool monument there by a ´well known´sculptor?

…with atmospheric cobblestoned streets, adobe houses and quaint plaza. You can feel the nearby puna here, with chilly nights, sparse air and a quiet Quechua population. Humahuaca feels less affected by tourism than the towns further south, and is the better for it.

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.