A Travellerspoint blog

Time to smell the garlic, fruits, baked bread, meat & more..

Markets of Bolivia - huelos galore!

sunny

Without accurately calculating, I can confidently estimate I´ve spent the equivalent of at least 4 solid days just wandering in and out and through the tiny alleys and isles that make up the enchanting markets at the centre of every Bolivian town. A browser´s heaven - these colourful mazes are a wonder to visit, a delight to taste and a fascination to just observe. Ladies dressed in layers upon layers of robes, rags and aprons (I still don´t know why they need so many layers - though it´s amazing what they pull out of hidden pockets - change, notes, paper, produce, and more often than not - babies) set up stalls at dawn´s crack every day and holler at any potential customer tempting them with bites to try, taste, smell or sample. Pyramids of bananas, pillars of watermelons, piles of apples and mandarins stand on ceremony next to fresh tomatoes, greens and every other vegetable in the rainbow creating a visual work of art to appreciate - before you even buy anything.
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Freshly squeezed coconut juice (con leche) has been my daily tipple for the past month (the only hardship is choosing which seller to park at each day), closely followed by fresh avocado (heavy bargaining needed for these - worth their weight in gold it seems), and then freshly baked ´pan´ to accompany the market soup (for less than a dollar I´ve become accustomed to a huge bowl of spiced broth with a lucky dip of maybe chicken or pasta or rice or another bit of meat carcass - best not to ask).

My favourite market lady sees me coming a mile off, "Hola mama-cita, que linda mama-cita, que quieres mama-linda....?´she coaxes in a high pitched almost baby-like voice. Pleasantries and ´good days´ are exchanged before any business is done yet we both know the important bit is to come - the daily haggle over half a cent of carrots or one Bolivianos´s worth of spinach which could sway her profit/loss balance for the day quite severely.
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I´ve deliberately avoided the meat isles which still haunt my dreams (think beheaded creatures with fur attached and even teeth on show - it´s like dead horse Cruffs - no joke!).

Sticking to the spice isles, flowers stands, cake stands, potato harvest piles and heaps of different grains as tall as me... it´s been a pleasure to be part of this colourful community and be on the receiving end of beautiful food, fresh produce, smiles, greetings and local language exchange - and without being ripped off. Just watch out for the cow intestines - ooooffff!
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Posted by namirem 16:28 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

...ooooo.... spoke too soon...

Getting to know Bolivian toilet basin brands pretty well

Note to self: find out it´s cow intestines BEFORE eating off the street!

Been AWOL in the bathroom for a few days (urgh) but back in action now... next update to follow soon from beautiful Copacobana and the Isla del Sol

Posted by namirem 09:10 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Waking up sweating on cold tiles!

Camping, Bolivian style!

all seasons in one day 2 °C

Four amigos setting off from Sucre for a night on the rio of Las Palmas countryside village sounded idyllic - sleeping bag, tent, fruitas, grill for the fire, hammock, blankets and music all loaded on to an already crowded local ´mirco´ bus (you know, the ones with 4 tonnes of sugar cane on the roof, bundles of crops and market produce under the seats, babies slung over shoulders, bottoms squidged into space where there really isn´t any, broken windscreens...and all for about 20p - don´t think I need to paint anymore of a picture, I love this mode of transport). One and a half hours later we encounted our first hiccup - doh, "Who left the parilla (grill) on the street back in Sucre!?" Having just negotiated a reasonable bargain (approx 6 dollars) for 2.5 kilos of dead chicken guts (head and all) pulled from a luke warm freezer and 1 kilo of carne (apparently chicken isn´t considered meat in Bolivia... er...?) chopped up on an old dirty rag next to an odd looking less than healthy cat, we weren´t prepared to NOT cook it! After knocking on doors of the 10 little family huts in Las Palmas village we eventually found a family who were mid-chicken culling in their backyard and who were happy to lend us their parilla for the night in return for some cooked meat, ´Si señor, claro....´ the lady of the house grinned, blood spurting from her tight grip round the poor blighter´s neck.

Having purchased other supplies - veggies, potatoes, local tipple of Bolivian Sangani (bit like pretend vodka) and Chaki (what the real locals drink - literally maize plus alcohol) we trudged barefoot into the rio (which was actually more like a spread out collection of shallow streams running along a river bed) and set up camp. What could have, once upon a time, been a picturesque spot was somewhat spoiled by the unruly litter everywhere and it´s clear previous life as a toilet! Not wanting to argue with our Bolivian amigos (and really there was no where else to go, we were committed) we embraced the absurdity and cracked on with collecting wood scraps for the fogata (camp fire). Suddenly out of the bushes appeared ´Sergio´ who, though we didn´t know it at the time, was going to frequent our evening numerous times (each time a little more worse for wear). For the moment though he was incredibly helpful offering up a few tree trunks (yes they were) in return for a good swig of potent Sangani, which he smartly knocked back in one and followed with a toothy grin and a gleam in his old earthy wrinkled eyes.
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On to the fire went the rancid chicken and meat combo, potatoes were tucked into the embers and we set up bar on the sandy rubbish dump. To be fair the meat actually tasted pretty good - don´t doubt what a Bolivian can do with a dead carcus, fire, salt and lemon. Of course we had no plates, cutlery or other civilised implements which definitely brought a whole new meaning to ´dining alfresco´.

The Sangani then started to flow, mixed with a funny concoction of water and sprite, then the red wine, then the Chaki (purchased, by the way, from a little lady, about as tall as a 5 yr old, who had no teeth and could only see out of one eye, which was cloudy and bloodshot, and who peered out of a closed doorway which smelt like the back end of a pig... mmm delicious!)

The stars came out and the night was ours - squatting round our fire taking turns to lounge in the hammock sharing conversations in a mix of Spanglish and Bolivian Quecha whenever Sergio emerged from his bushes with yet more offerings of fruit or wood for his quick fix of the strong stuff. As he slurred more and more of his words, which were never coherent in the first place through his coca leaf stained lips and strong local dialect, it became clear he was past his point of no return. We watched him stumble into the night swaying left and right and singing his way into the river out of our torchlight. He appeared 20 mins later wet from the knees down and grinning even wider with even more to say about ´god knows what..´
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Meanwhile, some stray dogs had decided to set up camp with us; it became harder to find a place to squat in the darkness avoiding all the litter, and the booze was getting slurped straight from the bottles as supplies diminished. However, Sergio to the rescue once more trotted off to the village (completely in the opposite direction to where we thought it was) and subsequently returned pretty successfully with some rather potently sweet liquid resembling something almost close to red wine, and yet more Sangani.

After a lot more gesture lead conversations, hand shaking, grinning, fire poking and knowing smiles, language didn´t seem to matter between us and our spindly-formed, barely-clothed elderly Bolivian gent, with his battered old satchel. We were prepared to overlook the fact he´d pretty much drunk us dry, the entertainment was enough repayment, and we sat back to relish the milkyway and southern cross spread out above us (perhaps for my last time) before crawling into our tents somewhere near one in the morning.

The next day brought fresh sunshine but slightly fuzzy heads after on-off sleep (Sergio had apparently fallen down and slept outside after not being able to locate his house 10m away - he then woke up and realised he´d hurled his satchel into the nearest bush!). After dissecting the night, shewing away yet more stray dogs and an hour or so exploration around the rio and it´s other near by villages we settled on a breakfast of typical Bolivian ´false meat picante´ so called because it´s name is something to do with rabbits but it´s actually beef! (only in Bolivia... I didn´t even bother asking why).

Back across the river we carried all our wordly wealth above our heads again and awaited another passing micro to take us back to Sucre.

Now, it could have been a number of things - the picturesque camp spot; the dirty old grill borrowed from the chicken killing lady; Sergio and his handshakes; the yellow pig smelling Chaki; the false rabbit cow spicy breakfast, or perhaps the homemade milk flavoured ice-cream bought off the street which we slurped down tastily in the mid morning sun while sitting in the gutter waiting for the bus - but there was no mistaking the result... waking up sweating on cold tiles!

I needed a few minutes for the blood to come back into my head and realise where I was (back in my lovely Sucre guesthouse in the middle of the night - thank god)... after a few moments of rapid heart beating, panic and confusion, I felt colour rushing back into my very pale face and I started to realise why my head was so close to the floor and why I could see the bottom side of a toilet basin... yep, middle of the night desperateness had led me successfully to the bathroom but I´d clearly passed out before any damage could be done. What followed could only be described politely as ´How to loose your body weight in 10 hours?´ .. the rest is history, or rather in Sucre´s sewage system by now I hope. A first for South America and thankfully an episode short lived as I had a ticket booked for a 12 hour night bus the following day. Thank you Las Palmas and your milkyway... nothing like a bit of grounding every now and then.

Posted by namirem 19:15 Archived in Bolivia Tagged meat Comments (0)

Sucre - mi amor...

Eso es por todos mis etudiantes del Latina America y España del ELC, Sydney! (Disculpame por los errores!)

sunny 25 °C

He estado viviendo en Sucre, una ciudad muy bonita y especial en Bolivia, por las ultimas tres semanas. Hasta ahora ha sido demasiado deficíl salir. Disfruté toda la vida aquí - el clima muy lindo, las montañas espectaculares y la gente muy simpatica. Me setí en casa! La ciudad me recuerda al Sur de Europa con muchas edifícios coloniales y blancos, con techos naranjas, calles agostas y plantas de todos los colores y muchas plazas donde se puede descansar, oler la comida del mercado, or sentarse por toda la tarde buscando la vida local.
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Fui a un trek por tres dias para ver los alredadores de Sucre y discubrir la historia de los Incas en Bolivia y la vida antigua del Quechua. Fue maravilloso! Fuimos solamente seis y caminamos cuarenta y tres kilometres sobre los montañas y a través de puebleicitas pequeños. Fue bueno hacer algun ejercisio también.

Regresé a Sucre y empecé clases de Español por dos semanas. He aprendido mucho y me siento satisfecha, sin embargo me encantaría quedarme y aprender por mucho mas tiempo. Durante las ultimas dos semanas viví en un hospedaje al lado de mi escuela y mi cuarto daba al parque - me lavantaba cada día a ver una vista hermosa de los techas y el sol de Sucre.

Casi cada día visitaba el mercardo y almorzaba sopa, veduras, jugos y mucho mas; también disfruitaba clases de tango y salsa por la noche... me acostumbré la vida Latina con siestas y fiestas. Ahora, practicalmente yo soy de Bolivia! haha... La vida en Sucre me ha distrajido pero no cambiaría las ultimas semanas por nada. Muchas personas me dijieron que me encantaría esta ciudad y sabía que sería interesante y actractivo, pero no imaginé cuanto me encantaría, y tampoco no pensé que sería tan marvariloso.
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Me pone triste írme de Sucre y mas de Bolivia. Bolivia es un páis increible. Podría vivir aquí; sería una vida linda y tranquila; aprendería mucho mas Español, visitaría las montañas cuanda quisiera, concería mas lugares bonitos y creo que encontraría un trabajo que me gustaria. Sin embargo, me doy cuenta que debo volver a Inglaterra y ver a mi familia y amigos. ¡Pienso que mis padres sienten que les falta una hija al momento!

Saldré de Sucre con memorias estupendas y ojalá vuelva un día. Me alegró mi experencia aquí y sentiría no haber estado este tiempo aquí. ¿Quién habría pensado que interrumpiría mi viaje por tanto tiempo? Además por suerte, tengo tiempo sufficiente (tres semanas) para ir a Lima. Por lo menos, he disfruitado una experiencia differente de la vida viajando en America del Sur.

Ahora, estoy emocionada por la proxima adventura en Peru. Después, por supuesto, no puedo esperar para ver a mi familia desde hace un ano y media, pero estoy segura que voy a estrañar mi vida Latina. Gracias a Sucre y muchas gracias a Bolivia!
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Posted by namirem 16:22 Archived in Bolivia Tagged churches buildings people parties Comments (0)

Strapping on a pair

Hiking the Bolivian Andes

sunny

It´s 5am and I´m kidding myself into napping on an awkward head rest riding down a bumpy track in the dark and cold....mmmm??

However, a cup of Api (Bolivian hot maize drink with a deep red mystery about it) and some homemade banana bread seemed to sort me out as the sun peeped into daybreak and we set off, back pack, boots and bananas and ´mucho mas´ in to the wilderness for 3 days to discover ´el paisaje´ surrounding Sucre and it´s neighbouring ancient countryside villages.

Mario, our 5ft2, light as a feather, fit as a mule, wide-smiling Bolivian guide (carrying a rucksack big enough for him to crawl into, stretch out and get lost in) was quick to strike up conversation and share his extensive knowldege of Inca culture, past and present, local history and Quechua heritage. This was clearly going to be a challenging and educational test of my recently polished Spanish skills.

Miles of Adean countryside, mountainous horizons, farming land and local life spread out infront of us 6 amigos as we descended down what was once a part of the Bolivian Inca trail into local village lands, fields of corn, barley, maize and other staple crops.

Beautiful sunshine showed off the vibrancy of local farm life - washing out to dry, grazing cows, prospering crops - but also encouraged copious sweat and strain under our 3-day loads.

Not a well trodden path, our only company came in the form of infrequent shoeless locals (on the way to who knows where on the side of a mountain!) usually laden with bundles strapped on their back and tied up in iconic colourful Bolivian mateiral, or the elderly ´hombre´ trotting by chewing his coca leaves donning a wolley hat and a big toothless smile. Grateful for the offering of more coca leaves from somewhere inside Mario´s bottomless sack there were grins all around, greetings in sketchy broken dialects somewhere inbetween Quechua and Spanish and generally a respectful wishing of safe journeys. Iliterate children (with not enough ´plata´ to attend school) gauped at us passing troops but eagerly accepted an orange or apple as gringo peace offering from the tall strange striding white people.

Women, strapped up with everything they owned or could find that moning tied up and swung onto their upper backs (usually including a baby buried in there somewhere) stopped to chat, uwrap their worldly wealth and offer a handful of corn or peas or already cooked potatoes (of which there are apparently 3000 types in Bolivia - yellow, white, black, red...) in exchange for a chat, a pìece of fruit or more stenchy coca leaves which they´d then chew and chew and store in their upper lips probably for the rest of the afternoon until their blood and brain was flooded with the potency and drug-like europhoria which results from this hugely important national pastime.

I like the unspoken agreement between strangers in this simple mountain life - no need for Bobs (Boliviano currency), just "you scratch my back and I´ll scratch yours, I´ll take some choco (local veg) and here´s some ´manis´ (peanuts) - nice doing business with you...bon día".
Hiking up and over hills and thickets and into more mountainous landscape we felt the remoteness and sheer fortune of being surrounded by this unique untouched Bolivian beauty. We could see for miles yet it was hard to take in what was just footsteps in front.
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Our almuerzo (bolivian cooked lunch) of fresh veg, avocardo, queso, corn, bread and fruits on top of a mountain ledge with a vista all the way down the Inca valley set the tone for the days to come. Living off, walking on and learning about the land felt like a priviledge in this stunning pocket of Bolivian mountain life.
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Mario pulled out all the stops leading us (8 dusty, sweaty, toilet-squatting hours later) to our first hospedaje in the setting sun, right in the middle of the famous Marawa crator (apparently the jury is still out on how the crator came to be - meteriorite, volcano or other mysterious happening...). Whatever the case it has left behind an equisite lush traquil bowl of idyllic village life at precious altitude where traditional culture and acestory continues to be passed on to future generations.
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No running water, long drop baño, torch light and minus degrees celcius, we settled in for the night. Amazing what some hot soup, wetwipes, sleeping bad and a few biscuits can do!

All in good humour after a surprisingly comfy and warm night, a breakfast of oatmeal and an introduction to the day by some noisy passing donkeys, we set off climbing up and out of the crator, stopping to observe local young girls practicing the traditonal art of red and black hand weaving, steering to avoid a few fierce looking bulls and resting a while with a local farming lady who displayed such a contageous gappy smile as large as her bundle of crops on her back which morphed into an energetic cackle at the end of each garbled Quechua sentence (still no idea what was funny). With added weight thanks to my present of 5 squashy potatoes (snack for later apparently) strapped into my rucksack pocket we bid goodbye and faced the gradient once more in the blazing sun and harsh altitude.
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Fields and crops turned into rock layers and colourful erosion patterns. Blues, pùrples, yellows, greens and oranges again sang from each mountain face - I take it back Argentina, Bolivia is seering ahead of you now in the race for ´rainbow nation´ acolade. The abundant erosion and loose ground resulted in quite a few slips and slides and hairy moments in the absence of any health and safety (thank goodness) but it is clearly thanks to this extreme erosion that such stunning views across and down the valleys of the Bolivian Andes are the norm here.

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Odd villages and quaint mud hut houses cropped up along our way with giggling, shy, barefooted children running out to stare at the funny passers by. What a place to grow up, perched on the side of one of the Andes, surrounded by vast vistas of fresh green, brown and yellow countryside - the simple life. 8 hours more and were had certainly earnt our chocolate and nut break - extremely satisfied with having covered 43km in 2 days we more than salivated over our rest on the edge of a dusk lit valley looking out over our conquest in the magic early evening light. A donkey ee-ored in the distance and an eagle glided down the mountain face spying on potential prey, but otherwise the world was still and we we on top of it - again.

Walking boots can take you were other conveniences can not. How better to see these precious pockets of the world?!

Strap on a pair, find yourself a Mario and be thankful for all your teeth. Bolivia que linda!

(don´t forget your toilet paper!)
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Posted by namirem 12:18 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains people children volcano Comments (1)

Wheels no longer turning...

Something to add to the bucket list

sunny

Who ever heard of a train cemetery?

Well travel to a small corner of wide open Bolivia and you´ll find one. We were tired, sweaty and freezing at the same time (yes weird I know, but a result of wearing everything you own for 3 days straight just to survive below freezing temps with no means of washing), and felt more than hesitant; what really could this be? Well, as with anything in South America, it´s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin ... a few hundred square meters of rusting train carriages, engines, wheels, freight containers and odd parts just where they were left after being destroyed by fire over a hundred years ago.
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These immediately intriguing metal art pieces, which were once part of Bolivia´s first train service, now sit slumped and deserted in the middle of nowhere, yet have some compelling draw to the passing traveller against the iconic Andean backdrop.

Drivers cab, engine, wheels in tact, it´s an iron playground slash grave site, which becomes more and more fascinating the more you explore it. Left for no good with bits of rubbish and plastic blowing through the blown out cabins and litter crushed beneath the decaying structures, these shells of real working trains are full of character and Bolivian history. Someone sat in here, someone drove this, someone rang this bell and steered this carriage. I can imagine firing up coal in here and can almost hear the wheels chugging along and humming each circle along the lonely track laid out across this empty piece of the country.
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The swing hanging from one of the iron shafts between carriages is the only indication of human intervention and a reminder of the present yet leaves a very eerie and real taste of morbidity.

A crazy, unexpected site but truly worth a visit and a photographer´s dream ... move over Great Barrier Reef, train cemeteries are on your tail!
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Posted by namirem 15:26 Archived in Bolivia Tagged trains Comments (0)

Whiteout!

The icing on the cake

sunny -6 °C

After four bumpy days in a jeep driving through southern Bolivia´s treasure chest of barren landscapes, towering snow-tipped volcanoes and glistening multicoloured lakes home to several flocks of flamingos, I was just about getting used to this country´s intense relationship with altitude. I´ve discovered it´s a bit like old age - it creeps up on you (suddenly I turned 30 when I still thought I was 17) ... and .. oh.. what´s that... were at 4500m - woah - now I think about it my head does feel like it´s in a winch and about to explode!
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My numbing but increasingly intense brain squeeze suddenly creeps into consciousness. We are literally starving ourselves of normal oxygen requirements at heights hostile to most other animals and vegetation (aside from the numerous herds of lamas, donkeys and alpacas that roam the Andes). Getting out of the jeep is an effort, bending down feels like running a marathon and trotting off to find a place to relieve oneself will leave you gasping for air (note to future travellers - baños are not so readily available on the Altiplano, take your own papel!).

It takes some understanding and realisation of our current vertical distance from the sea to convince myself that it´s not just me being a weaner after however many months of travelling, eating street food and sitting on my arse on long distance 24hr buses, but that the air is literally thinner and our human bodies are working several times harder to do everyday things.

Second to that - it´s bloody BALTIC! After what feels like 100 laps of an Olympic pool I find a slightly secluded spot (about 10m from our jeep) behind what is pretty much just a small pebble, and brace myself to squat and expose my fleshy behind to almost immediate frostbite from the gusting wind and chilling temperatures - fresh!

Kitted out with hats, gloves, thermals, boots and whatever else we can find .... we wait in the freezing darkness at 6am on our last day of this Altiplano adventure, standing on what we can´t yet appreciate but what is slowing coming into focus with the soft glow of the rising sun. The thin orange line on the horizon morphs more into an orange-pink glow behind the distant hills. Blue sky starts to emerge from the blackness of night and we turn around to get our first glimpse of one of the most impressive expanses of space on the planet... El Salar de Uyuni (the earth´s largest salt lake).

Still grey-blue with pink shadows creeping up from the horizon it´s impossible to take in until the sun fully bursts into full power, immediately bringing warmth and daylight to one of the most spectacular surroundings I´ve truly ever seen.
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Miles and miles and more miles of flat shimmering, glistening white patterns ... this really is the icing on the cake! Delia couldn´t have iced Bolivia better.

As the warmth of day reaches my fingers and breakfast is served out of the back of the jeep (thermos flask and freshly made Bolivian cakes) I am standing in awe of every direction I turn. I don´t know whether I want to strap on my snowboard, lay down and sun bathe, or run for miles into no-man´s land.
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El Salar feels like the middle of the Alps after a huge snow dump but with a distinct lack of gradient, at the same time, however, it offers a desert like enchantment with nobody and nothing around.
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Our confusion and excitement at this enormity and extremity results in several hours of giddiness, juvenile playtime on our never ending salt blanket. Yes we took the funny photos, ran until our hearts couldn´t function, lay on the ground making funny shapes and generally enjoyed the sun trap white playground that puts Bolivia on the tourist map.

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What´s easy to forget is that for the local population salt is their life and livelihood - freezing mornings, collecting piles and piles of it to be transported across the world and carving it into endless shapes and souvenirs for the passing traveller. Next time you season your chips think of the Bolivians who shoveled tonnes of the white stuff it into the back of a lorry from this fairytale place.

Nature at it´s best once more.... mmmmmmmm..... yes I know I´m gushing but it´s truly intense here and I think I´m drunk on never never land (I blame it on the altitude!)
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Posted by namirem 12:14 Archived in Bolivia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises snow Comments (0)

Bienvenidos a Bolivia!

´the Africa of South America´

sunny

Volcano vistas, salt lake wonder, rainbow coloured mineral lakes at 5000m, 4x4 wonderland drive over the altiplano, indigenous culture, respect and friendliness, coca chewing, smiles and vegetables (finally)...

I´m not sorry to leave behind the bread and steak diet of Argentina and embrace what is already in my eyes ´the Africa of South America´. Green fields have replaced hard rock, market smells and local produce spill over the streets, ladies in traditional dress populate plazas and buses and filter through crowds of people offering freshly squeezed orange or a bag of manis (peanuts). I´m already feeling more at home in this generous colourful culture, now off for market lunch of sopa and milanesa chicken for 50p. P1010378.jpgP1010336.jpg90_P1010184.jpgP1010297.jpg

Posted by namirem 12:10 Archived in Bolivia Tagged people Comments (0)

Luck really does come in threes (or fours)!

Geological genuis off the gringo trail.

sunny

Think swirls of orange, pink, yellow and white cake mixture, or those kids rainbow toys with all the colours twirling into each other - the last few days road tripping through north west Argentina have made me think that the creation of the rainbow was actually inspired by the geological greatness of the low lying Andes.

It´s not called the ´seven colours´ for nothing. Jutting peaks compete with each other in the ´hue´ steaks - greens and blues stand out among the orange glow. Yellow and cream rock layers separate years of evolution making nature look like a graphic design cartoon. If Mandela hadn´t got in first, this little pocket of Agrentina would have gotten my vote for the ´rainbow nation´!
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Two days of freedom to explore and drive off the gringo trail ´oo-ing´and ´arr-ing´ at the monstrous formations, eroded shapes, holes, canyons and statues that have been created over centuries in this orange landscape is a real travellers´ pleasure and could have been a 5 star finale to a colourful few weeks this diverse and vast country, but oh no... a few life lessons obviously still needed to be learnt...

No.1 - if you hire a car don´t expect it to be intact in the morning, consider lock picked, spare wheel nicked out of the boot and left for good-for-nothing part of the service - and of course rental insurance doesn´t cover robbery, awesome!

No. 2 - (and yes you´d think I´d had my quota of ´bus station´ adventures but no...) however nice Argentines seem in the beginining they will hunt you down for a fast buck! 15 mins before departing on a night bus to the Bolivian border our hostel manager appeared at the bus station with two policeman and a police chief demanding 40 pesos ($10) for the night we WEREN´T spending at his lovely residence...er... what...??!! Threats of a police chase, barocades at the border and halting passports meant that despite 10 minutes of arguing, resistance and farfetched attempts at rational discussion, yes they won... AGAIN! 40 pesos changed hands just in time for the bus driver to get the ok from the self important police figure to allow our rucksacks on the bus, leaving yet another (yep, four times now) bitter taste in my mouth from this crooked bureaucratic swindling stinker of a country.

Sleep time now on a half reclined, condensation filled, dark top deck of my last Argentine night journey. Not so much a rainbow nation now... adios Argentina, bring on Bolivia!

Posted by namirem 08:28 Archived in Argentina Tagged landscapes mountains robbed Comments (4)

The writing on the wall

´Muy linda Salta´

sunny

Three night buses later I´ve had to flex the parameters of my love affair with BA now I´ve discovered how impossible it is to resist the art, architecture and lifestyle of the more traditional and colonial north west of Argentina.
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From street signs to tiled floors this country knows how to do ´decor´. Blue and white tiled patters provide a fundamental base layer to which lettering, colour and style are added with a touch of authentic inaccuracy and lack of geometric exactness. Positioned strategically on street corners, white washed archways, covered walkways, first floor verandas or pink painted catherdrals, each unique plaque or tile pattern could claim to be works of art themselves. Even the banos (toilets) welcome visitors with a touch of tiled class.
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This is no place for Warhol or contemporary try-hardness; such simple and elegant designs fulfill an understated but significant and beautiful role across the whole of inland Argentina.
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Not taking away from the more obvious elaborate and ornate main attractions (the impressive iglesias, museos and monumentos) these little touches are the veins running through Argentine life and the little gems that make city discoveries all the more exciting and inviting to the lowly, tired traveller. P1000740.jpgP1000730.jpgP1000679.jpgP1000701.jpg

Posted by namirem 18:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged churches buildings Comments (0)

Someone said to me "It´s a waterfall, what of it?"

IGUAZU...

sunny 29 °C

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Words can not explain.so I won´t even try! Not sure the pictures can even come close to showing the scale and force of this constant torrent of running water. What a fabulous sight and marvel of nature... if it´s not on your bucket list, I´d reach for the nearest pen now...
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Posted by namirem 14:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls Comments (1)

Seriously...?!

The Paris of South America

sunny

More over Argentina, I´m crying for you Buenos Aires. For the last few days I´ve been lost in my own love affair with this city. BA really is ´the Paris of South America´ (not my quote).

Leafy Palermo with its sleepy streets allowed some much needed rest, recuperation and administration (yes we travellers do have things to sort and organise); houses oozing grandeur and class hide behind tumbling vines and thick iron railings; impressive doorways clearly protect elaborate insides where the upper class BA crowd entertain. Far from snobbery though, the sporadic street art that punctures alleyways, cars, doors and house walls makes this less of a yup feast and more of a St Germain haven of coolness. P1000360.jpg
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Venturing out of the stylish neighbourhoods and into big ass BA is addictive and no journey is complete without running for your life across the 9 lane Avenida 9 de Julio (we literally did, flip flops flopping about, clinging on and burning rubber), or criss-crossing your way to the other side of the iconic Plaza de Mayo with its presidential Pink Palace standing guard opposite the elegant white washed old Iglesia, which is snuggled next to the grand cathedral, across from the monument to Independence which shines white and blue at night and is a suntrap for daytime tourists. Even the pigeons strut around with an air of class and mingle with bird feeders and strollers like a moving painting.
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Hitting the Tango hotspots we befriended ´Angel´, a true Poteno (BA resident) at age approx 65, he´s been waiting the tables of one of BA´s most famous and sophisticated establishments, Cafe Tortoni, for 35 years. With a cheeky smile and knowing observation Angel is not short of the irresistible Argentine machismo - he laughs as he shows us the wear and tear marks on the tiled floor where the pattern has worn away and claims it´s all a result of his own two feet walking back and forth from the same tables to the bar for three and a half decades!

Piano, accordion and guitar strike up and in swishes ´the dress´ followed by the suit, and the show begins. Feet intertwine, thighs rub in and out to the music, legs kick high as subtle back steps are followed by elaborate hip hugging and dramatic head turns. The Tango... Tantalizing. It makes me tremble.

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Only a day later the antique markets of San Telmo invite the same tension between light-footed´man´and ´woman´on cobbled streets where sun shines through the high trees and ornate upper floors of this colonial neighbourhood. I will never get tired of being entertained by this dance - addictive, sexy, vibrant with all the hot bloodedness of of a rare Argentine steak!

You could literally spend weeks visiting the Parillas (steak houses), sampling the asado (bbq) cuts, dipping bread, sipping coffee, watching the Molinga (alternative dance to the Tango), snacking on empanadas, practicing colloquial BA spanish lingo and gazing skyward at the world of rooftops which decorate this city. I have loved every minute.... feeling at home in a strange city, feeling part of this Spanish world, getting around on the fairground-like buses, strolling past the blue-white flags proudly erected on street corners and high buildings and peering through cracks, railings or doorways imagining the real lives of the portenos of BA.
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As I take my last ride past the Teatro Colon and the Congresso I´m trying to savour the taste of this continuous street side splendor while ignoring the diminished comfort of the ride compared to previous days, strapped up with backpack, boots and all. Adios BA, you have touched me significantly.
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...but... wait... something is touching me rather more significantly. As I trudge (slowly, with the extra 20kg) down the metro steps I feel something sticky and wet splatter into my left side, on my clothes, in my hair... I turn around and to notice some sort of yellow slime and come face to face with some shabby looking locals who point at my apparent misfortune as if it fell from the sky (do birds shit yellow?), and offer some rather too handy tissues.

Hang on... I know this trick, apparently it´s a known tourist trap, they deliberately spray you with shit (yes sometimes it actually is) then offer to help clean you up and meanwhile nab off with something from your person while they´re at it.... seriously?!

Well not this time ´chicos´! You can keep your tissues and you´ve just wasted your yellow slime cause this chica is walking away hugging her front bags (cause that´s what you have nowadays, travellers are not satisfied with just the back bit) even tighter. They try again tapping me on my arm to make me have a look at what a mess I am (it actually looks like I´ve vomited out of my side ribs) - I just scowl and pretend I´m above their game although I´m actually trembling inside. ´FUCK OFF´I scream inside my head. If only they knew they´re one job too late, there´s nothing left to rob from this white girl!

Eventually I am left alone, standing on the platform, flying solo, yellow bird poo and all... tears start to well (prob just a reaction) and suddenly I do actually feel ´solo´ for the first time in a long time.

Thanks for your beauty and hospitality BA but you can keep your criminals! And I´m not paying for a piece of loo paper to clean this up, toilet lady.

Phew... never have I ever been so glad to land in my night bus designated seat no.36 which offers safety and some form of comfort knowing I´m locked up in here for the next 18 and a half hours... and ... what´s this... wait for it... ´Whisky or champagne senorita´...eh..... seriously?! :)

Posted by namirem 09:06 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Beirut, Peckham or Montivideo...?

sunny 19 °C

After tranquility and candle-lit strolling through the beautiful, winding, cobbled 'cuidad' of Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguays's answer to Sardinia), the barren pavements, high rise poverty, deserted streets covered in dog shit (though no sign of any actual dogs - weird), and the barred windows of downtown Montivideo came as a bit of a shock.
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Just 24 hours before we'd been cycling along the water's edge of the Rio del Plato (2 hours east of Montivideo) watching kite surfers making the most of this wind rich playground that is the east coast of South America. In the town, stepping into La Basilica the oldest iglesia in the country felt like we were travelling back in time and were being invited to soak up the raw catholocism that binds much of this continent together. The simple, understated but elegant music, seating and light seemed only to emphasise the complexity of life outside - if I ever felt close to a definition of sanctity, this was it - a refreshing (and rather religious) half hour in the busy life of a backpacker. Colonia's narrow walkways, colourful, quaint doorways, decorative and individual architecture made me feel as if I was exploring the more familiar streets and traditional villages of mainland Espana. This little gem of a town is truly a special traveller's destination and a little haven across the pond from the eclectic chaos of Buenos Aires.

However, while very much enjoying our blue and white painted courtyard accommodation lined with green creepeers and avocado trees, we felt the river crossing wouldn't have really been justified without a trip to Uruguay's capital...
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So here we are in Montivideo... dog poo, bullet holes and all! Plazas, beach walkways, coffee shops, banks - usual establishments the lonely traveller can pretty much rely on for fundamental necessities (toilets, cash, food and entertainment - in that order) just turned their backs on us... nada, nothing, not possible! Even the Casino (yes we did seek it out in desparate need of 'cambio') was deserted. What do all the Uruguayan's do at the weekend? and where are they all?... in the council housing look-a-like flats standing high above the murky sea or behind the bolted doors of shabby grafitied uninviting housing blocks in the 'cuidad viejo' where a granny type gipsy woman told us to put our cameras away and 'be careful chicas'!
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But hang on... hold that thought; I fear this is slightly misleading and may be doing Montivideo some injustice as in hindsight it's clear that (annoyingly) we'd arrived on probably the most unsociable, uncommercial day of the entire year - Easter Sunday!

...back track... back track....

While Easter Monday didn't bring with it road sweepers or environmental sanitation policies (I'm starting to have more of an appreciation of our current Coalition), it did unleash a Montividean society out of their dark dwellings and onto the streets of this eastern European-esque city. The roads started humming with cars, the plazas attracted passers by, the supermarkets actually had queues, and buses streemed round corners - it's amazing how erie in comparison the same city felt just a day earlier.

I felt a wave of relief at being part of a functioning society, rather than a stranger in a derelict and forgotten urban landscape - funny how a few moving bodies can make static bricks and stone appear so much more alive and inviting.
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Taking a busy bus, for 19 pesos (approx 1 US$), to the city's white sandy beach (yes indeed!) confimed how wrong first impressions can be. This city is alive - running it's own local businesses, with a little help from HSBC, Lloyds, Ford, Radisson (and a few more big boys of course). Historic monuments are given pride of place, there is the obligatory Avenida de Independencia '18 Julio' and other major 'cajas' named after various heads of state, historical masterminds and cultural leaders, as per every other city in Sur America.

A couple of hours snooze on the sand and a long walk along the promenade couldn't be further from the perception I first had of Montivideo just hours before - blue ocean, palm trees, runners, dogs (I knew turds couldn't make themselves), golf courses, fishermen silhouetting in the evening sun and traffic... it's surprising how comforting moving vehicles can be.

Montivideo, ´forgive me´, you do have a little treasure to offer - all be it slightly grundgy and with a distinct edge of hostility (hombres still stop and stare and ask to take a photo with your camera... er.. hell no, not again!). You are well worth a visit and the LP was right, the sand is definitely white (just with a few piles of broken glass and poo mixed in.)

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p.s. did I mention the coches? Think 'Trotters Traders' crossed with the movie 'Greace' and 1980's Poland - the high import duty on automobiles has prevented any advance in car models and instead the roads are full of rusty relics - Ladas, Volkswagens and Bealtes - all adding to the excentricity and obscurity surrounding this mismatched but now quite intriguing sunny city.
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Posted by namirem 06:38 Archived in Uruguay Tagged beaches churches buildings Comments (0)

Steak - Argentinian style

Rib eye, tenderloin, fillet, rump or medallion...?

sunny

Detrimental to my own decision making, my ignorance of cow body parts was, at first, clearly disappointing to Juan and Javier, our two firery Argentinian senors.

4 hours, half a bottle of Pategonian red, 2 Limoncello´s and 2 steaks later. Juan and Javier were teaching us the secret to the nation´s favourite tipple, Yerba Mate, an honour to be invited to share the ritual.

Time, day, nationality, language - nothing mattered but simple pleasentries in broken Spanish over a red and while checked table cloth (it actually was) in the humble brightly-lit but full of character little grill room of this buzzing street side local establishment.

What better way to spend a first night a part of the great Buenos Aires... and a part of it we felt from the warmth of local people, good food and great wine, even a tango couple kicking out the night on the cobbled street outside.

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

Posted by namirem 05:07 Archived in Argentina Tagged meat Comments (0)

Flying over the Andes

Adios Santiago

sunny

A priviledged view 10,000 feet above the backbone of America but it´s still impossible to take in the enormity of the world´s longest mountain range stretched out beneath me. Peaks roll into one another for miles, valleys run around each contour, snow decorates each hilly family while shadows grip different mountain faces. It looks so inviting from my comfy LAN airline seat but each mountain exudes and breathes it´s own individual inhospitality. Doesn´t take much to remind you of your own insignificance, hey?! Healthy perspective today..^.P1000049.jpgP1000045.jpgP1000033.jpg

Posted by namirem 05:18 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains Comments (0)

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