It’s been a curious, beautiful, saddening, interesting and uplifting few weeks. I’ve seen why Bolivia is called the Tibet of the Andes, met some strange, strange people (see end) and be treated to friendship and sights that make me sad to leave. I’ve been at over 3500m now for four weeks and have become acclimatise to the mountains. the salt lakes of the south, lake Titicaca of the north, the Spanish colonial town of Sucre and the mines of Potosi have all graced me. there are places that seem so wonderful that they don’t seem real. if the Big Man did decide to get his paint brush out and grace us, then Bolivia was his canvas.
There is one thing about South America. it seems very racial harmonious. they don’t have the problems of western countries or the racial restrictions. maybe that it part of it. there would never be a Steve Montoya moment. climbing over the fence into Texas in the 1980s, wearing an open blue checked shirt and tight jeans. landing on US soil, Montoya checks his ass, pulls out a comb and smooths those irrepressible locks, gives the world the grin and moves on to make a fantastic life in a foreign land. people have migration here as part of their lives. it may work in racial harmony terms. only the Indians suffer that humiliation here. they were unable to move on.
I left Peru travelling with two girls. they were a pair. Christ. one, a young sweet American, thought that Bangkok was in Brazil, talked about Inca culture being so amazing as its 1200 years old (try 600) and compared to the states which was only 600 years old she said (try 220). that pushed my tongue to top of my mouth in anticipation of a rant but I let the air brush over me and relaxed. but then she told me that she left American when her parents were arguing and it all happened at the same time as “my country went to war”. that made my fingers curl into a ball. but compared to Jess, a cynical boring Australian girl who complained about everything, “you’re not in a western country now love” came to mind, the yank was a sweet pleasure. Jess actually thought I was a serious person. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she bored me senseless.
But we arrived at the Isle de la Sol and I talked with an Italian girl who had more energy than was possible. (stop it). the island, the birth place of the Incas was stunning, surrounded by azul blue, crested with mountains. I could see why people didn’t leave here. we found accommodation ate dinner and went to bed where I resolved to sleep until the girls had left. that they did and I went walking. five minutes later I met Christian who looked much better than last time and we set off round the isle.
We glided over the crown of the isle at 4200m, puffing and panting and watched a boat arrive at the small dock, greeted by a band that had less tune than sex pistols on a bad day, with men playing the recorder and men banging a drum. we followed it and it turned out to be the opening of a museum, funded by UNESCO. we were the first tourists in and did so free and were given free food and watched the various, curious, repetitive dances accompanied by the sex pistols of the Andes. one of the dancers wore a mask and seemed to be carrying a rabbit. on closer inspection it was a gutted cat without ears or eyes. named George apparently. we chatted to the women from UNESCO who had flown in from Paris and spoke the most diplomatic English spoken, the head of the Bolivian (landlocked) navy and were then treated to a speech by the local politician. this was something to behold. a rant, he spoke to the TV cameras, not the electorate, mentioning how these voters were the descendants of the first Inca, the greatest Inca, the man who had beaten Genghis khan in a fistfight, scored the winning penalty in the 1446 world cup final and made hulk Hogan beg for mercy in a little known steel cage fight in the 1980s. this politician had little in common with these indigenous people, a man who talked in exaggerations, open promises, talked about money and their past while having little to do with their lives. having UNESCO here was a propaganda coup and he milked it. the Indians didn’t really know where to look.
We continued our walk and finished at about 8pm after 12km and receiving burnt face. the next day we returned to the mainland and by chance walked into the internet cafe where Luke sat. that put afternoon beer on the menu and as u will know I’ve never been one to spoil my beer appetite with too much food so there was a hangover the next day. what made it worse was saying goodbye to Luke, maybe for a while though maybe not. I wish him and Serena the happiness they deserve in oz.
I returned to La Paz and looked to book a tour to the salt lakes. we walked into a travel agency to be met by a German which hilarious English and ferocious energy. we booked. had no choice. the next day we headed south to the largest salt lakes in the world. this proved a real highlight. on the way, the bus crawled along weaving road which tilted up and down. the driver who was wearing an orange bobble hat that reached the ceiling (this was a bus remember), grew restless and put his foot down. the tyre blew a few seconds later and we sat in the freezing cold as they tried to imagine a way to fix it. the hobbling bus passed through sleeping police vehicle inspections finally made to the Uyuni by morning.
Our 4×4 tour driver presented himself. his name was Don El Doro. wearing Sly Stallone glasses from Cobra, he cruised the salt plains, informing us of the facts and turning his llama siren into a wolf whistle when we passed a woman. genius. his careless driving made my nerves bleed. the car was five people. Jason and Dina who were returning to oz after a few torturous years working in the NHS in England, Christian the German who took the role of translating with El Doro. speaking Spanish was a strength unfortunately his English was appalling. so Christian the Austrian and Christian the German spoke in English for the rest of us. made u proud to be English.
The salt lakes were stunningly beautiful (I’ll post the photos later). blindingly white, shorn flat with vast grey misty mountains in the backdrop. but as has become a constant here in Bolivia the landscape continually changed from red rock desert to steep mountain valleys. on the second night it snowed and we woke up to a post breakfast snowball battle. our jeep managed to pin one team back in the home and proceeded to beat up the rest. hugely enjoyable. the snow also made the lagunas come alive. the pictures from the third day are just stunning. volcanoes overlooking lagunas, red rock outcrops which provided great free climbing. it’s not something I’m particularly good at but I like it and am getting better. the team broke up and we meet Al and Sibella, honey-mooning couple and Mike and June, a Canadian couple, he looking remarkably like a young Dan Ackroyd.
After the salt lakes we headed north to Potosi, formerly the largest city in south America based on the mining trade. up to 8 million Incas and Africans died in these mines. Christian and I went down one, scrambling and climbing. It was really great and scary. the safety procedures and negligible. miners die within 15 years of entering the mines due to silicon inhalation. Our guide Helen was informative and funny though at 4ft 5 inches I was convinced she should be still in school but she argued that she was 23.
The next day we moved on to Sucre, a beautiful town, seemingly transported from southern Spain to Bolivia. It’s a rich town, decorated with parks, white houses and pretty people. the Spanish must have left some genes here. it’s a university city so lively and interesting. I am hoping to go back to study some Spanish there next week. that will be a challenge but next week I will face a greater challenge. I hope I make it. I will be back sooner than I previously thought as I’ve made some plans which need doing now not later. but I’ll inform when I know.
Lastly, two days ago three guys moved into the room next door in Sucre. wearing matching navy dungarees, two with baseball caps, one with a cowboy hat, they placed their small bags in the room and then headed out. I was sitting on the patio and said hello. the younger one looked at the older ones who looked at each other and the walked on without saying anything. the Christian brotherhood had arrived in Bolivia. there is a lot I could say but I just hope the Bolivians remember the tolerance that has stood them in good stead. I will sort out the photos later, soon.