A Travellerspoint blog

Un-Bolivia-Able Part 1

Words couldn't possible express how awesome this tour was.

sunny

P1100072.jpg

Here’s just a taste of what we saw on our 4 day jeep tour from Tupiza to Uyuni in southern Bolivia. Probably THE best landscapes in the world and without doubt the highlight of our entire trip (so far). Landscapes so incredible they don’t look real or perhaps could be from another planet. Mike is going to write this blog, but until he does here is just one of countless photos we love from the tour. I’m already working on the next blog: fun times in La Paz, but watch this space. “Un-Bolivia-Able” coming soon to “The Adventures of Mike and Keely”!

Posted by Mike.Keely 14:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

Cactuses, Canyons, and Caballos

5 hours of horse-back riding in Tupiza, Bolivia

sunny 28 °C

Caballo is Spanish for horse. It took me just over 6 months to convince Mike that horse riding would be fun and all things considered, Tupiza in Bolivia is probably THE place to do it for the first time. Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance kid are legendary here. Strictly speaking we’ve both been horse riding before but I can’t remember when, and Mike has bad recollections of being thrown off when he was like 10 years old. Never mind: we knew how to say “a nice calm horse please” and “stop” in Spanish so what could go wrong?

Baiyo seemed like a nice horse for me; certainly her tan and black colouring was appealing, as was her awesome side parting hair style (see photo below). She looked small but capable, calm and most importantly slow. Mike was given Taleda a solid and sturdy looking brown horse. So far so good!

There aren’t as many photos as the spectacular scenery deserves. Normally I would have taken several hundred photos on a 5 hour tour of such beautiful countryside. There were certainly plenty of photo worthy shots: giant cactuses, red rocks and massive rock canyons. But I needed both hands to hold on as my (seemingly tranquil) horse trotted and galloped all over the place jostling and bumping me up and down in the saddle making it impossible to hold the camera at the same time. Did I mention that I can’t actually horse ride?

The first twenty or so times my horse galloped off into the distance I found ridiculously funny. Back pack thumping up and down on my back, sombrero sliding down so I couldn’t actually see where I was going, Mike’s laughter drifting towards me while I tried to hold onto the saddle or reigns for dear life. Who knew horse riding was so much fun? After a few hours of that though the agony set in as muscles I didn’t even know I had started to ache and ache and ache. I managed to portray to our guide I wanted to take it nice and easy on the way back to town, pretending I wanted to take photos but really I couldn’t handle any more cantering off into the sunset stuff.

In hindsight the shorter 3 hour tour would have been perfect for our first time horse riding in 2 decades. Walking back to our hostel was rather slow and painful but the experience and scenery were incredible and more than worth the body aches. I haven’t laughed so much or so hard in ages. Needless to say my horse-riding desire has well and truly been met and I won’t be asking Mike to go again for a very long time.

Ironically Mike was feeling fine the next day, no aches and pains at all.

Keely

1. Check out my hair style

1. Check out my hair style

2. Muy tranquillo, este es Baiyo me caballo por un dia

2. Muy tranquillo, este es Baiyo me caballo por un dia

3. Entering one of many canyons

3. Entering one of many canyons

4. Gaint cactuses

4. Gaint cactuses

5. Red canyons

5. Red canyons

6. More cactuses

6. More cactuses

7. Mike the cowboy

7. Mike the cowboy

8. One of only a few tranquil moments to enjoy the scenery

8. One of only a few tranquil moments to enjoy the scenery

9. My horse liked to be in the lead

9. My horse liked to be in the lead

Posted by Mike.Keely 08:27 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

Off the beaten track in Bolivia

A 2 day hike with downpours, daises and dinosaurs

all seasons in one day

Condor Trekking, the organisation we choose for our 3 day tour of the Bolivian ‘Inca Trail’ and Managua crater, is a non-profit company started a few years back by a keen (and slightly crazy) Australian. He employs some great local guides but also relies on foreign volunteers to help prepare and run 1-4 day trips in and around Sucre. It is the only non-profit organisation running such tours, and as the guide book recommends taking a guide to a) avoid getting lost and b) avoid paths with bandits we thought we may as well use a company that gives something back to the community. Thus we found ourselves in the hands of Elvis and David (our trusty local guides) and Travis (our American volunteer).

Day 1 started at 5am at the Condor Trekking office. Overnight two other people had become 10 other people, so departure was rather chaotic while everybody got sorted with equipment, sleeping mats, foam rolls, payments and introductions.

After a drive of about an hour and a half we arrived at Chataquila; Sucre’s highest church. Any chance of getting a bit more much needed shut eye was unfortunately impossible due to the horrendously bumpy roads. This is Bolivia after all.

Breakfast consisted of a mountain of home-made chocolate and banana bread and a local hot drink made from red corn, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Both were delicious. Then it was time to distribute the food! A ridiculous number of plastic containers were laid out along with individual fruit bags containing three apples and three oranges each. One thing was certain; we were in no danger of starving. I had Mike’s little day pack which filled up quickly with a sleeping bag, a few spare clothes (not enough it would turn out), the camera and a raincoat. I didn’t have a lot of extra space, nor did I want to carry tons of heavy food (enough for 15 people). Selection of my plastic containers was therefore crucial, but I’m no dummy: I choose one medium sized one with lettuce in it. So super light. Result. Mike on the other hand chose not one but three enormous containers, one with two chucks of cheese in, another with about 7 blocks of chocolate and dozens of soup packets and the final one had 4 avocados in it. So super heavy. Muppet! But a very lovely Muppet for obviously carrying my share as well as his own.

Luckily the walking was mostly downhill the first morning and we ate some of Mike’s chocolate and cheese at the first stop on day 1. A couple of German lads carried more cheese and a ton of bananas until the third day, the bananas slightly the worse for wear for being in the bottom of their bags for three days.

The scenery was spectacular. Everywhere one looked green fields could be seen, farmers tending livestock, donkeys grazing and thousands of wild yellow daises. But what really caught my attention was the colour of the soil. Purple, red, orange, silver, brown; I have never seen such multi-coloured soil before. It was incredibly beautiful. That is until the heavens decided to open and change the previously beautiful red and purple soil to rivers of mud. I no longer cared what colour it was. The only upside of the thunderstorm was the lightening. Thunder would boom in one place, and then zigzagging lightening would flash across the sky in another. Grey cloud was rolling in from somewhere but the lightening was so bright the path was illuminated for several seconds afterwards. By this stage the camera was safely tucked away in a nice dry-bag but unfortunately the rest of our clothes were not so lucky. We normally use plastic bags to keep everything dry but didn’t bring any this time (brain melt). Luckily the accommodation was more than decent – real beds with linen – so having a slightly damp sleeping bag was no big deal. Having no dry trousers to wear once we reached the crater was also no big deal: no-one seemed to care I wore my pyjama bottoms to dinner!

After dinner we braved the chilly temperatures for a fine visual display. In one part of the sky we had lightening, in another a red glow across the horizon after the sun had set, and straight up a million stars. Some saw a shooting star but I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Seeing the ‘southern cross’ always makes me think of home and when I’m far away miss it just a little bit.

The crater itself was nothing like what I was expecting; a steep sided and totally isolated barren depression for instance. But no: a whole community lives down there, tending crops and keeping livestock inside its gently sloping sides. It’s fertile and it’s green. There’s accommodation for travellers (although we had the place to ourselves), a school, several houses and a church. No shops though, and no-where to buy beer. Interestingly beer is about the only thing that is expensive in Bolivia.

Day 2 was much the same as day 1, with the exception of some rather cool dinosaur prints. One minute we were lugging our bags up a small hill, huffing and puffing and sweating in the midday sunshine, and the next we were enthusiastically climbing all over the hill looking at the indentations. The most impressive set belonged to a T-Rex (4 legged) with flat feet but I also liked the 3-toed 2 legged dinosaur impressions. The prints, estimated at 65-69 million years old are in exceptionally good condition; especially considering the complete lack of protection either from the elements or from people touching them. This is Bolivia after all. With a little bit of imagination the inner kid was unleashed in us all and I think our guide Travis had the right of it in simply declaring: “dinosaurs are cool”. Well said! (Jurassic park is not surprisingly one of his favourite movies).

Over the three days our path crossed that of several locals; here a few of my favourite situations:
•On walking out of the crater on day 2, we encountered quite a few children running down into it. Their journey to school takes three hours each way so not surprisingly they were pretty pleased when our guide gave them some crackers. They only just remembered to shout “gracias” over their shoulders as they raced on by.
•We came across a woman who looked about 100 judging by her skin and lack of teeth but who was probably more like 50 years old. I’m not entirely sure what happened (as I’m not fluent in Spanish) but we traded her 5 Bolivianos and a huge handful of Coco leaves for some of her home-made bread. Only trouble was she had no-where to put the Coco leaves, so what does she do? Take off her hat, put them in and then plonk the hat back on her head. Simple yet effective – but that’s the way of the Bolivians.
•While waiting for the local bus to take us back to Sucre on the last day, most of us realised we still had quite a lot of fruit left in our individual bags. Mike, like a few others, still had all 6 pieces. You would have thought we were giving the kids candy or Christmas presents based on the expressions and shy smiles we got.
•Bolivian women use strips of brightly coloured fabric to carry things on their back; anything from firewood to small children. According to our guide David, the locals find us back-pack wearing hikers a strange sight; so unused are they to seeing foreigners.
•Most Bolivians don’t have nice sheep-dogs to help herd goats or whatever. Some have a shaggy skinny sorry excuse for a farm dog but these tend to be rather ineffectual. Solution? Throw rocks at your sheep/goats/donkeys. Simple but brutal, seems to work every time though.

After getting back to Sucre for a much needed shower and a sort out of the bags (with still slightly damp clothes) we had just enough time for some lunch and a bit of football watching at the pub before yet another over-night bus loomed: this time to Tupiza.

Overall we were thrilled with our Condor Tour, especially knowing our money would benefit the local community: they certainly need a helping hand. After a week of hanging out in Sucre it was also good to get out and about and see a glimpse of rural Bolivia, away from the main tourist route. The people at ‘Condor’ are in the process of opening a non-profit café in Sucre where tourists can meet and sample traditional food with locally grown produce. At the moment the project has been buried in Bolivian red tape but we wish them all the best when (not if) the café opens.

Keely.

1. The Inca Trail

1. The Inca Trail

2. Green pastures, day 1 scenary near Ravelo river

2. Green pastures, day 1 scenary near Ravelo river

3. Don't look down.  Spot the trekkers on the ledge, left hand side

3. Don't look down. Spot the trekkers on the ledge, left hand side

4. One of thousands of yellow daises

4. One of thousands of yellow daises

5. Maragua crater, local farmer

5. Maragua crater, local farmer

6. Herding sheep, donkeys, goats and pigs in the evening

6. Herding sheep, donkeys, goats and pigs in the evening

7. Walking out of the crater, day 2

7. Walking out of the crater, day 2

8. Local woman chewing coca leaves, just chilling

8. Local woman chewing coca leaves, just chilling

9. Unleashing the inner kid in us all, Dinosaur Time

9. Unleashing the inner kid in us all, Dinosaur Time

10. Potolo valley, way home 1

10. Potolo valley, way home 1

11. Potolo valley, way home 2

11. Potolo valley, way home 2

12. Do you want my fruit...

12. Do you want my fruit...

13. The road home

13. The road home

Posted by Mike.Keely 08:14 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Stowaways, Semana Santa, Saltenas and Spanish

A week in Sucre

sunny 27 °C

The road from Santa Cruz to Sucre is pretty shocking. The unpaved road twists and turns ascending from around 500 meters to 2800 meters above sea level. It’s only a short distance on the map but the bus journey takes just under 15 hours. We were congratulating ourselves on our $60 boliviano (£5.50) bus ticket purchase until we saw the quality of the actual bus we would be taking. Then we started to cry. Until we saw the condition of some of the other buses which made our bus seem not so bad after all. Long gone are the cama suites a la Argentina style. Ten minutes after leaving the bus station the bus had broken down. In the time it took to decide if we should cut our loses, taxi back to the terminal and catch a better quality bus the driver has miraculously managed to get the thing going again, so we sat back and tried to enjoy the ride. There’s no air conditioning so everyone has the windows rolled down and I have to admit it was rather pleasant to have the wind on our faces while watching the scenery roll on by. We were the only ‘gringos’ on the bus but that’s not totally unusual in this part of the world; we did get quite a few curious looks though. Every so often the bus would slow down to allow a horde of local people to jump aboard selling food stuffs. We had brought our own but needn’t have bothered. From the relative comfort of our seats we could have purchased hot dogs, corn on the cob, chicken with rice, mandarins and all manner of sweets. We were keeping a beady eye on all these people and an even firmer grasp on all our stuff as apparently some double as professional thieves. (I’m onto that scam; no-one’s stealing MY stuff). The truly perplexing thing about the bus trip though was the stowaway hiding in the luggage compartment. Was there a stowaway, or was there a second driving hanging out in-between shifts? Well we’ll probably never know but it did cause us to worry about the security of our backpacks what with the luggage door half open all night? Pleased to report nothing untoward happened to any of our stuff, other than our backpacks getting a very generous covering of dirt and grime. And I got a ton of insect bites. You get what you pay for right?

Sucre though is a great little town; a mass of white washed walls and orange roofs. Decorative archways, countless churches and pretty courtyards. Miles of power line cables scale buildings and cross streets. Village women with food carts set up at intersections while shoe shine chaps line the main square. It’s pretty laid back, the food is cheap as chips and there’s not a whole lot to do. Somehow we managed to stay for a week though while we re-charged the batteries and planned our path for the next couple of weeks. Mike was good and even listened to our Spanish tapes: at least one of us is learning! Lol. We had been hoping to run into some fellow travellers returning to civilisation from the same jungle park we intend to visit. So far though, although people are familiar with the park, we haven’t met any who have actually been there themselves.

Sucre is also as good a place as any to be in for Easter/Semana Santa where almost everything closes down for a few days; our hostel terrace becoming THE PLACE to be, and the only place in town to have a few drinks it seems. All the locals attend church so the streets are deserted save for us foreigners. One of the guys from our hostel got a few hostile stares from the locals when passing a full church on Food Friday and innocently exclaiming “Jesus this is where everybody is!” Classic line!

Sucre has a great food market where any variety/combination of fresh juice can be ordered. We bought a huge bag of vegetables (a few carrots, peppers, tomatoes etc.) all for just $10 Bolivianos (£1) and got half a kilo of steak for 18 Bolivianos (£1.70). One of the many things I love about Bolivia is how the local people regard foreigners; you just don’t get hassled here. At the market a lady selling bananas for example asks if we want any and when we reply “no gracias” that is the end of the conversation. Compare that to the likes of Egypt or Turkey or Thailand where it’s impossible to leisurely browse the market stalls. And while it is certainly an experience to soak up a lively market atmosphere haggling for that “best price” bargain, here it is refreshing not to constantly wonder “did we just get ripped off”? I’m absolutely positive the steak lady didn’t charge us a single cent more than the set price.

Another thing I love about Bolivia is what the women wear: long skirt, thick socks with sandals, apron over woollen cardigan (often of a maroon colour), black hat, hair in two very long braids. So distinctive, so authentic, so traditional. Tomorrow we are hoping to visit a village 65km from Sucre for the Sunday market. The locals all wear traditional and colourful Yampara dress to help preserve their culture so we’re hoping to get a few photos. Or maybe just a bargain or two. Watch this space.

Sucre is also a great place simply to walk around. Slightly at altitude but not a cloud in the sky means the temperature is often just right: not too hot, not too cold. Perfect sightseeing weather really. And blessedly no humidity, finally. A short walk up the mountain side to the Recoleta area provides some stunning views of the town and surrounding countryside. And a few good saltenerias (think empanada café houses) in town provide the perfect place for morning tea: even the locals go early as they sell out fast. Saltenas are good hot or cold but you can’t beat straight from the oven. It’s become a daily ritual for us.

This week in Sucre has also provided plenty of time to research and select the best hiking tour to the stunning cordillera de los Frailes mountain range. I found a great 4 day hiking tour which looked like a goer until Mike announced he was still a bit ‘over’ lots of intense walking. Seriously? Well we have come to a compromise (not sure how I did it) booking a 3 day tour leaving Monday with a great non-profit local organisation. The original Inca trail, craters, local villages and dinosaur prints! Stay tuned for the blog about that, coming soon.

Keely

1. Yum, ham and cheese and curry chicken saltenas

1. Yum, ham and cheese and curry chicken saltenas

2. White walls, orange roofs

2. White walls, orange roofs

3. View from Recoleta square

3. View from Recoleta square

4. Typical power line arrangment

4. Typical power line arrangment

5. Sucre

5. Sucre

6. The woman in black

6. The woman in black

7. Umm, what kind of juice to have...

7. Umm, what kind of juice to have...

Posted by Mike.Keely 13:40 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Seymour in Santa Cruz

Award for best hostel goes to……Residencial Bolivar: Santa Cruz, Bolivia

sunny 25 °C

As far as hostels go: we’ve stayed in lots of great ones, some just good ones, a few average ones and I’m pleased to say only a couple of ‘ho hum’ ones. We’ve had snorers, party animals, middle of the night light flickers, locker hoarders and bed bugs. We’ve also met some awesome people, picked up some great travel tips and saved ourselves a fortune! Every now and then we stay at an awesome hostel, but this one deserves special mention …….. and not for any of the usual reasons you may be thinking of ……. like security, or the water pressure, or the quality of the breakfast (all these things were 10/10 also). Aside from pineapple, pawpaw, banana, orange and watermelon they served up scrambled eggs and had sliced avocado!!!!! Anyone’s who’s been to Bolivia will know just how amazing that is. It also has nothing to do with all the hammocks available, or the lush gardens surrounding the internal courtyard……

But I digress. What made this hostel: Residencial Bolivia, so awesome?

Seymour, the house Toucan: The coolest bird ever! Seymour likes sliding around on lino, cheese, biting camera buttons, posing for photos and sitting atop chair backs (where he can poo onto the cushions below, naughty bird). He’s had his wings pinned so can’t go far, but seems happy enough with the situation. I would even say he loves the attention lavished upon him.

We were a bit gutted way back in Foz Do Iguaçu that we didn’t have enough time to visit the bird park (another night bus beckoned) which denied us the opportunity of a photo with a Toucan. We had countless photo opportunities in Africa with Lions and Cheetahs, and had become fixated on getting a Toucan photo in South America. Well that turned out to be easier than expected when we met Seymour. We’re even trying to hatch a plan to go back to that hostel on our way up to the Jungle, cos we liked it so much.

1, Welcoming every guest on arival

1, Welcoming every guest on arival

2. Even the Toucan eats his vegatables

2. Even the Toucan eats his vegatables

3. Posing for the camera me thinks......

3. Posing for the camera me thinks......

4. Pucker up Mike

4. Pucker up Mike

5. Time for a rest, hammock time

5. Time for a rest, hammock time

When we weren’t playing with Seymour, or more precisely when Seymour wasn’t trying to steal food from our plates or bite us, we had a few days to check out Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz isn’t really on the main tourist circuit; I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t going into the jungle north, or heading to the Brazilian border east visiting at all.

Saturday saw us doing our usual activity when in a new town: a walking tour of the centre to see what’s about. Santa Cruz being quite small this didn’t take very long, so we visited the Zoo followed by the local markets where we concluded that Santa Cruz is THE place to buy underwear. Strange but true! We then conducted a very thorough street food eating tour of the city. A meat, chicken or cheese filled pastry costing anywhere between 1.5 and 6 bolivianos (£0.13p - £0.55p). So for a couple of quid each we were stuffed.

Sunday was interesting for a whole different reason. Not just a normal Sunday but Palm Sunday, (which is the Sunday before Easter Sunday) in a very religious town. Absolutely everything was closed. Every man women and child was at church, then every second woman and child was busy making every variety of flax decorations imaginable: crosses, flower baskets, flower arrangements, bags, necklaces; you name it and someone was making it out of flax. The number of people making flax things grossly out-numbered the number of people present to buy them though. What do they do with all the decorations come Monday?

6. Strange but true

6. Strange but true


7a. Not so original street naming, Santa Cruz

7a. Not so original street naming, Santa Cruz


8. Every single person in town is in the main square

8. Every single person in town is in the main square

9. Local girl arranges her baskets

9. Local girl arranges her baskets

10. Mmmm, street food

10. Mmmm, street food

Keely

Posted by Mike.Keely 10:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

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