A Travellerspoint blog

La Paz

We arrived in La Paz, after a rough bus trip at 7am. We made our way to Loki Hostel which was full, so we left the people who could not be far from appropriate facilities and went in search of another hostel.

The first morning consisted of a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves. When we finally checked into our room that afternoon and locked in a siesta, I was feeling pretty pleased that I had dodged the bug, but alas, my self back patting was premature and I woke up feeling pretty rough.

Thankfully, the bug was only a short term one and by the next day, we were all feeling a lot better. We walked around the markets and made some purchases. I picked up a pretty nice 3/4 size guitar with a soft case for just under NZD60 which I was pretty pleased with.

That night we introduced ourselves to the La Paz nightlife, which, despite being a Wednesday was a great night had by all.

The following day, the girls sifted round the markets, Nato did an advanced mountain biking track which he said was fantastic and James, Emma and I went just out of town and hired some dirt bikes. James got a 600cc with Emma on the back and I got a 250cc. The mum and dad who owned the shop gave us the safety run down and sent us on our way with their 15 year old son as a guide. He obviously was going through a teenage phase of not listening to his parents and we took off. The ride was mostly on gravel roads and was heaps of fun. It included a bit of river crossing and we even got to stop at a motorcross track and have a hoon around on that. Besides the scooter in Bariloche, which doesnt really count, it was first proper go on a motorbike since the crash and it was heaps of fun.

That night we had a quiet night, as we were up early the next morning to do mountain biking on the world's most dangerous road. This is one of the main tourist attractions in La Paz. It is the old highway which is essentially a dirt/gravel road cut into the side of a cliff. For most of the ride you are on a 4 metre wide road, so it is not technically difficult, but on one side you have a sheer drop down into a valley which is a very long way down. There are always heresay reports of how many people die on the road a year, and whether that is mountain bikers or road users, but we were assured that if you ride within your ability and dont be a cowboy, you should be fine.

The good news is our group made it through incident free. We would ride for 10 minutes then stop at a lookout, wait for everyone and then take photos and move on. The views were pretty amazing and we were lucky to have some good visibility. When we got to the bottom we visited a monkey sanctuary which was fun and then got the bus back to town.

That night we met up with Lucy's cousin who is traveling through La Paz and a few of his mates and had a good night out.

The next day consisted largely of sleeping and Burger King, but because it was Saturday night, we ventured out again and checked out some more of the nightlife. Despite the pub we were at running out of beer (a bit like when we turned up to a Mexican restaurant to be told they had run out of food) a good night was had by all.

For our last day in La Paz, we did a guided bus tour around the Southern end of the city, which is called "Valley of the Moon" because of the cool rock formations. The others did a guided tour of the city as well, but Lucy and I decided to flag that and instead walked past San Pedro prison and had a look at that. San Pedro is a prison made famous by a book called Marching Powder, which is so corrupt, tourists used to be able to bribe guards and inmates for a tour of the prison. Prisoners can bribe guards for pretty much anything and the book is all about an English guy who ran the tours of the prison and talked about prison life. The tours have been largely cracked down on after the book was released, not that I was hugely keen to go inside anyway. It was cool though to see the entrance and recognise the pictures from the book. The front gate was full of family bribing their way in to see people inside (the book talks about familiies happily living in the prison with husbands/fathers). Apparantly there was a raid recently and tourists inside had to make large bribes to get out. We were pretty sure we were being cased by an undercover cop who was on the lookout for gringos trying to get in - either that, or he just liked the cut of our gib and was having a good gander, but im leaning towards the former. We saw people getting snuck in and out a side door too which was interesting. It was a fairly non descript building, and if you didn't know what it was, you could probably walk right past and not give it too much attention, but after reading the book and knowing exactly what we were looking at and knowing what kind of stuff goes on in there, it was quite cool to see it in real life.

For our last night here, the others have gone out to dinner. I am hanging round the hostel, bringing the blog to the people, playing my new gat and taking it easy. We have a 8am bus to Cuzco tomorrow. We have to be in Cuzco 48 hours before starting Inca trail but thought we would give it a day's grace and get there a day before that since there are often strikes that block the roads and cause delays.

Overall, La Paz is a pretty nice city, considering it is in the poorest country in South America. the main town is in a valley and the "suburbs" are build on a huge cliff face that overlooks the city. From a distance, it looks like the houses are stacked on top of one another. It is mainly known as a party spot on the gringo circuit and we can leave knowing that we gave it a good go.

Posted by Braddock 16:27 Comments (0)

Uyuni - Salt Flats

Our flight from Sau Paulo arrived in Santa Cruz around 2am. By the time we went through customs etc we got to our hostel at about 3am.

That day we met up with Misha, who is a girl Emma and I worked with at McVeagh. She is travelling with us for a bit and is doing Inca with us.

First impressions of Bolivia is that it is a massive contrast in terms of wealth, especially coming from places like Flori, Ilha Grande and Rio. The people are very different too - so different that Emma and Misha are almost of average height. It is also good to be back in Spanish speaking territory as the Portugese was tough work! The best thing is however, that Bolivia is CHEAP! Instead of converting back to NZD and cringing, we laugh that we just had a massive lunch at a restaurant for NZ$4!

We had the day in Santa Cruz and got on a 15 hour bus to Sucre that evening. Although the busses are a lot cheaper, they are also a lot rougher. Also, not many of the roads are paved so the overnight busses are tough going. Our bus was going on ¨roads¨ that looked more like farm tracks, including forwarding small streams. Sometimes the driver would fishtail up dirt hills and one time, even started slipping backwards down a road! Needless to say we arrived in Sucre unrested.

We then took the afternoon bus down to Potosi where we stayed the night. Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world, so we were battling with a bit of altitude sickness. We all woke up the next morning with what felt like a massive hangover. Also, your mouth dries up and you have zero energy! Even walking around or pulling the blankets up leaves us short of breath!

We got on another rough bus the next day to Uyuni. We arrived covered in dirt and tired after 8 hours of tough dirt roads with the windows open. It is good to be a male on these bus trips, as there is no toilet on the bus, so the driver just stops somewhere and everyone goes for gold, women included. The girls were a bit shocked when the local women go right next to the bus, squat down and just do their thing! Despite encouragement, the girls opted for holding on! Not very intrepid at all.

We finally got to Uyuni, which isnt much to look at, and doesnt have a lot to offer besides tours to the salt flats. We booked a tour with the woman in our hostel for the next day and went to bed.

The next morning was Emma´s birthday so we went out to breakfast and gave her a birthday pinata which she smashed open on our first night on the salt flats.

The first day of the tour we visited this train cemetary, which is just a whole lot of rusting trains and carriages. It was then onto the salt flats, which are cool, because it is so different. We stopped and checked out the salt hotel (a hotel made of salt blocks, and with all the furnature etc made of salt, took the obligitory salt flats photos of people standing on other people´s hands etc (because the background is just white, there is no sense of distance, so you can take photos where people look tiny etc.

We also stopped in at a village which was selling the standard Bolivian fare of bags, hats, clothes etc. It was pretty touristy and the main reason we stopped for so long is because we got a flat tyre.

We stopped for the night on this ïsland¨ on the salt flats. That night we had a few drinks for Emma´s birthday and hung out with the other people staying at our hostel. Our hostel was also made out of salt blocks which was quite cool.

The next morning, we got up to go. Unfortunately, one of the other tour guides turned up to take his group but was drunk. Apparently this is quite a problem on these tours and, while we felt sorry for the group as they were cool people, it was quite funny seeing a bunch of yanks going off at this tour guide who could hardly stand up, but still couldnt see what the problem was!

There was nothing we could do, so we went off with our sober operator and went up this hill on our island. We then went for a walk to the top which was tough going with the altitude. We also had this old man as a guide who unlocked this small metal door in a cliff to reveal a set of skeletons in some form of Bolivian burial. It was a relatively spacious cave with a few adult bodies, sittng in the foetal position on stone seats, and some baby skeletons lying next to what we guessed was a parent. Our spanish wasnt really good enough to get the full story, but it was quite weird seeing skeletons just sitting there.

We continued up the mountain and got some amazing views of the flats. Panoramic photos were taken by all and sundry and we took a bit of time to recover before heading back down. Special mention to Bridgette, who, with a combination of altitude sickness, being up close with human remains and a few wines from the night before, donated her breakfast 4 times to mother nature, but showed immense graft to dominate the hill. It was a sharp reminder that Salkantae is not going to be a cakewalk!

We then went to another island which had a lot of cactae and again, walked to the top and got an amazing view. From a vantage point, the flats just look like a white lake, as far as the eye can see, in every direction. We took some more perception photos, some of which were better than others, and then headed back to Uyuni.

We got back to the hostel, showered, had dinner and then got on the bus to La Paz. The salt flats were pretty amazing, firstly because they are so big, but secondly, because they are so different to anything else I have seen. Generally, most places have a somewhat familiar feel, i.e. Bariloche was similar to Queenstown, Ihla Grande like Bay of Islands, and there is a certain sameness about all big cities. However, I have seen nothing like the salt flats before so it was a good experience. That said, I am glad we did the 2 day tour, as the four day tour would have been too long. There is only so much flat salt you can look at i suppose...

Unfortuntely, the bus to La Paz was comfortably our worst experience yet. The first 3 hours were on such coarse gravel, the windows were moving about 3 inches. You had to yell to people instead of talking, and I had to have my ipod cranked to pretty much max volume to even hear the music.

Then it started...Misha was happily bantering to Nato and just launched into a large vomit. Others were quick to follow. It seems we picked up a bug somewhere and just gave it to everyone else. Luckily, I avoided being sick on the bus (although I did pick it up in La Paz), but others werent so lucky. I have it on good authority from Nato that is not a pleasant experience trying to use a toilet on a Bolivian bus, going over what feels like a road made of boulders, with both ends going full steam.

Needless to say we got into La Paz at 7am feeling well worse for wear! However, I suppse this is all part of the Bolivian experience and if you wanted a holiday of 5 star busses on comfortable roads, you wouldnt be here in the first place!

Posted by Braddock 16:16 Comments (0)

Ilha Grande

We left Rio in the morning for Ilha Grande, and, thank God, the sun was out! we got a shuttle about 2 hours down the coast and team morale was through the roof with the old vitamin D back in the system.

We got the ferry across to Ilha Grande and checked into our hostel. Ilha Grande was really nice. The beach reminds me of Bay of Islands, but once you get beyond the beach, you have thick rain forest.

That afternoon/evening, we sat at a restaurant on the beach, where waves would come up under the table, and ate some pretty sweet seafood. We drank some beers and agreed that life was good.

The next day we got a boat to another bay and did a walk over a hill to a beach whose name i cant remember. Had a day of swimming and laying in the sun, which we kind of imagined our Rio leg would be like. The beach was awesome with white sand, warm, clear water and good waves.

We did an all day snorkelling tour of the blue and green lagoons which again was heaps of fun. The water was warm and clear and there were heaps of fish to look at.

Not much else to report from Ilha Grande. It was so good to be at a beach with nice weather, just chilling out and doing nothing.

We then had to leave Ilha Grande and have a night in Paraty. This is because we had flights from Sau Paulo the next day and because of the ferry timetable, we couldnt get there in a day from Ilha Grande.

Paraty was ok - apparently all the good beaches are a bit out of town, but because we got in during the afternoon and were leaving the next morning, we decided to just have a sift around town instead. We checked into a hostel where they did all you can eat pizzas and all you can drink capriangas. A large night was had by all, with the owner of the hostel leading the way. He was a unique individual.

The next day we got on the bus to Sau Paulo and then headed to the airport. I managed to pick up a reasonably priced camera at duty free which was good. Electrical goods are taxed to buggery over here for some reason so the prices we see in electronic shops are just piss takes. Thankfully, the duty free prices made things a bit more reasonable. I will be watching this camera closely.

Overall impression of Brazil is that we were a bit robbed by the weather. Places like Flori and Rio I can tell would be simply amazing in good weather. We still really enjoyed them despite the drizzle but obviously not to the same extent. Brazil is such a beach dominated country that weather is key.

Next stop is flights from Sau Paulo to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. I am looking forward to it and my wallet is looking forward to it even more. Chile, Argentina and Brazil are the most expensive countries in SA and I know we have all been chewing though the cash more than we would like.

Posted by Braddock 08:30 Comments (0)

Rio

After a long bus trip from Iguazu, we arrived in Rio. We were staying at a place called Impanema which is the beach one along from Copacabana.

Unfortunately, the rain continued to follow us, so for our time in Rio, we were not able to see the beaches in full swing which was pretty disappointing but there was not a lot we could do.

In short, highlights from our time in Rio were:

Flavela tour: we got a guided tour of a flavela, which is essentially a Brazilian ghetto. In Rio, the city itself is surrounded by cliffs and mountains and the main city is on the flat, but when you get up high, you can see these flavelas going up the valleys up the back of the city.

The flavela we went to took up a valley that would have been maybe 2k long and 1k wide, and had 300,000 people. from a distance, the houses look like match boxes stacked on top of one another. The tour we went with sponsored some projects in the flavela so we were told that it is relatively safe, however, there were still areas that we were not allowed to take photos in. It was also hearing about how the flavelas are run (by the drug business) and the social heirarchy (i.e. because of open sewerage systems, rich people live up the top and poorer people down the bottom). We saw the lookout kids at the bottom who have fireworks and let them off when they see police coming.

Also, to get to the top of the flavela to start our tour, we got on some motorbike taxis. People generally drive like maniacs in South America, no more so than people on motorbikes and no more so than motorbike taxis. Admittedly, they were really good riders and have spent their life weaving through traffic, but when we were tearing up the hill, in the rain, peeling between traffic on blind corners etc, it was pretty scary, but all is well that ends well, and we got to the top ok, did the tour and walked out in one piece.

Sugarloaf: we had planned to do an all day tour of Rio, which would include going to see Christ the Redeemer and some of the other sights. Unfortuntately, JC has been pretty much closed since the floods because of large landslides. This meant that our tour was cancelled so we jumped in the bus and went to sugar loaf. Sugar loaf is really just two really large rock formations that come up from the beach that has cable cars running up it.

The view from the top was amazing. We could see JC in the distance, with his scaffolding still on, and the entire city. Obviously, it was overcast/drizzling, but we tried not to be deterred. Panoramic photos were taken by all and we finished the day by going for a walk around the city.

Lapa Street party: This is a street party that happens once a week on Friday. We had heard that it was for both tourists and locals, but when we arrived, we quickly realised tourists were in the large minority. Thankfully, we befriended a guy on the bus (somehow, since we spoke no portugese and he spoke no english), who was a 20 year old kid on his way to the party as well. We had heard a few things about street vendors spiking drinks etc, so we were all pretty careful. We did a lap of the side street parallel to the main street, with our new friend, but this was definitely the local hang out and we stuck out like anything.

Overall though, it was a good night and something a bit different.

Besides this, we had a few nights out and walked along the beach etc, but nothing of note. The dominating feature was the weather which was starting to get the team down, however, we could see on the forecast that things were due to improve for our next stop at Ilha Grande.

Posted by Braddock 08:08 Comments (0)

Iguazu

After an overnight bus, we got into Foz Do Iguazu in the morning and were keen to get it done in 2 days and move on. The general idea is that you have a day from the Argentina side, which is at the top of the falls and a day at the Brazilian side which is a bit further away from the falls themselves but with good views.

We signed up to a tour at the train station with some character that just approached us and offered a hostel and tour combo. We dropped our stuff off the hostel and headed for the Argentinian side.

It was here we actually got some upside from the last 5 days of rain because the falls were pumping! There is a walkway across the top of the falls so you walk right above where the water goes over, as well as a track down the bottom. Even though the water was brown with all the mud, it was a pretty spectacular sight. At the risk of stating the obvious, a lot of water!

We also did a boat trip in a large Scarab type boat which took us right up the river and under the falls - this was a trip highlight and great to see the falls right there.

The next day it was still raining so Emma and James went to check out the Brazilian side but the others decided we had given it a fair crack so traded it in for a day of admin and buffets.

Overall though, the falls were a trip highlight and it was great to see them going full bore with all the rain we had been having.

With that, we were on a 24 hour bus to Rio with high hopes of beach action and party times.

Posted by Braddock 06:49 Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 27) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 »