Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Death, Wrestling and the Jungle.

So, quite a lot has happened since i last wrote. one thing you should know is that the internet in bolivia is not very good, to say the least. that and i was in the jungle for like a week, but enough of that later.

So i cycled the worlds most dangerous road the other week, aka the death road. it actually wasnt that bad, as the road is quite wide a lot of the time, but when you get onto the old road, its just dust and rocks, which is the scariest part. the beginning is on the new road, all tarmac and stuff, but its with the traffic so thats really scary. and it was so so so cold at the beginning that my guide had to put his gloves on over mine, as i couldnt feel the brakes. the rest of my group were so super fast, i was a total beginner. i have cycled, but never done proper mountain biking type stuff, so i was pretty slow, taking it at my own pace!

the death road is basically 64km all downhill, so your hand ache from holding the brakes for like 4 hours non stop. but you dont have a choice, otherwise you´ll go over the edge. the last person to go over was an israeli girl who was wearing safety goggles that got steamed up, so she couldnt see...otherwise its not actually that common that people die, as the traffic uses the new road, so its mainly cyclists. although if you skid then the road can cut you up pretty badly, or you can always brake a limb, that kinda stuff.

there was one point that i skidded and nearly fell, but i was ok. that shook me up enough! the cycle itself is pretty spectacular, as you get to the old road and further down, its a more tropical climate, so it rained a bit. theres luscious green trees and jungle all over the hills, all covered in mist. its a shame that you  have to concentrate so hard on the road, as its really beautiful definately worthwhile. i was lucky as 2 days after i did it, the roads at corico have been blocked off by protesters, and its still going, so people cant do the death road until its over.

and that night, i went back to loki to party! i actually couldnt drink much, as the drinks are so strong and the altitude makes it hard to drink. but we ended up dancing on the bar, on the tables, pretty much everywhere! and people were crowdsurfing onto the pool tabe, much to the annoyance of those actually playing pool.

the next day me isla and ellie had out stuff to do day, as we were planning on getting the bus to rurrenabaque the next day and we had the cholitas wrestling to watch! the wrestling is basically a local WWF style wrestling with lots of crazy costumes. but the main allure is that they have women dressed in traditional bolivian dress (which is normal for a lot of women still) wrestling each other and the other male characters. was pretty entertaining and the locals loved it!

the next day, we set off to get the bus to rurrenabaque, in the amazon jungle. but we got there and were told of the blockades at corico, which is on the way, so no buses can get through. which is super annoying as the bus is really cheap at like 8 pounds but it is like 18-24 hours. so i decided to fly later that day instead, as theres no limit on the protests, theyƩ still going on now, so it could be forever! the girls decided to go onto copacabana instead, which was a shame.

the flight was a tiny plane, which was a little scary during turbulence and only 15 passengers. but it was only 35 minutes, and you went from cold la paz, to average 32 degress rurre! incredible! i stayed at el curchial hostal, which was basic but nice and at less than 3 pounds a night, you cant complain! and theey have a hammock area, perfect! i decided to go with mashaquipe for my jungle tour, as i emailed them from home and i like their ethics. they have a different view on the tours, wo you are ever only in a group of 4 people per guide, and you visit families that live in the madidi national park and get the chance to stay with one.

it was perfect for me, as your money helps the communities you visit, and they are interested in telling you about their way of life, which is much more interesting than a mass group tour hunting for animals. the eco lodge was 3 hours away by a little long boat, which seemed unsteady and unsafe at first, but you get used to it quickly! we stopped off on the way to visit a community, and we helped out others by taking them by the boat to where they wanted dropping off. this meant that on the boat we spent a few hours with the few children on board. nicole gave them little notepads and pens and then they started drawing all of us! mine was the best though, as i had the jungle behind me as well! they were so cute, and paid so much attention to detail!

we walked across a plain of shrubs and massive rocks - like jurrasic park or something! to get to a small river, where we had to stand on a little raft to be punted across. you definately need a sense of balance for this! the family we visited made natural sugar to sell at the market in rurre. they grew many things but the sugar cane was for export. we cut some down and if you suck it, it is a really sweet juice. they take this juice and boil it for hours before putting it into moulds to set. its incredible! we drank the juice from coconut shells and if you add lemon juice, its the best thing i have ever drank! so sweet and delicious!

after lunch at the lodge - which was amazing as Alsira is an amazing cook! we went for our first jungle walk. we took the boat an hour upstream and walked through the primary jungle which is really tangled up and crazy. you need a machete to get through it! the secondary jungle, ie the main part, is a little bit more open. the trees are massive and have huge wandering roots. i kept imagining all the giant spiders that live there, but found out later that tarantulas are rare. having said that, we saw some pretty massive spiders and their crazy webs! but you do kinda get used to it.weirdly.

we learnt about different plants and what medical use they have or for flavour, as ovidio, our guide, was brought up in the national park, before it became one, and was taught everything by his father. theres one tree that smells really strongly of garlic! it was really interesting, but super hot as well. our transport back to the lodge was a piece of bolsa log. it super light and fun to float with! i was with ishmael another guide of ours, and we just swam and floated with the log all the way back. it was amazing! i never thought id be swimming in the jungle! and the sun was setting as well, it was so beautiful.

the next day we got up at 4.30am to start out 5am jungle walk. it was still dark and the fear of walking into a giant web was quite real. but it was better to go so early as it was cooler and we got to hear, and see the howler monkies. its like a terrible roar - like something out of harry potter - and in the dark, quite ominous and terrifying. but as it got light, we could see them at the top of the trees, like a bright orange colour. they only move around at night, in the day they are super lazy.  ovidio also showed us how to make a natural paint. ot was just normal looking green leaves, but with water, they make a red paint! incredible. and we saw leaves bigger than people, all over the place! super crazy!

we were supposed to walk 3 hours that afternoon with all our equipment to the jungle camp, so we could sleep in the actual jungle, instead of at the lodge by the river. but it was 40 degrees and ovidio had hurt hid leg in a motorbike accident, so we tooke the boat and walked a little of the way. when we got there, we walked to the macaws clay lick, a massive clay cliff face where the macaw parrotts live. they always travel in pairs and they are such a bright and beautiful bird.

we had another early start to walk to the top of the clay lick to view the jungle from the top. it was impressive, the trees roots acted as natural steps all the way up. and the view was great, you could see the river and so much jungle, you can never comprehend how big it is! it was quite misty as it was around 6am, but we could get another view of the macaws from above. although there was a gravestone for a young israeli guy who fell over the edge a few years ago, which was quite eerie.

we also managed to see some wild pigs, you have to approach them from behind and be super quiet as they are really fast, but you can smell them before you see them. really stinky. to get back to the lodge, we made a raft, which we all sat on and ishamel punted us down the river all the way back. but there was a storm, you could hear the thunder all day and then it rained like a monsoon. so we were all sitting on the this raft in our swimwear, all a little bit cold and still being bitten by bugs. a tourist boat went past and we just cracked up our unique situation, as looked such a sorry sight!

that afternoon, we learnt traditional handicrafts - as all the people that work for our tour company are indigenous people of the madidi park. i made a ring out of a seed and its super shiney and cool! it was really interesting to learn, and we saw how they made the roofs for the camp and their housees out of palm leaves. later on, we went to the family who we were going to stay the night with. it was incredible, they have absolutely no material possessions, its considered lucky if you have more than one pair of trousers and their clothes were so dirty and torn. but they have so much in the way of nature. their farm is beautiful. they export maize, but grow watermelons, papayas, pumpkins, yuca roots, bananas, pineapples (which look hilarious on the bush) and they have chickens and a turtle. the turtle is good for eating in 30 years when its bigger apparently.

the children are so beautiful! so funny and curious about us. the family cut down a yuca tree, as it is the root that you eat, like a potato with a chestnutty taste. and they killed a chicken for the soup. they picked up 2 and decided which one to kill. the other had a very lucky escape! we helped Alsira prepare for dinner, which was the nice part about our tour, we got along with our guide and cook really well, so it was not like a hierarchy like in a lot of other tours. although i think our group was unique in helping to prepare the meals everyday. it was fun though, and you learn alot! after dinner with the family, ovidio told us a true story about a friend of his who went missing in the jungle and has never been found. scary.

we slept under the family, as they have like a raised barn, where the top was the family and underneath was all open and where we hung out mosquito nets to sleep. it was so hot though! but the jungle was well lit by the moon, as there is no electricity, no running water, no bathroom etc. we called it a natural bathroom as you go wherever you like. they use the river for their water and for washing. just a super simple way of life. incredible to us who are so used to our gadgets, or even basic things like toilet paper. they have nothing here, but they seem happy with their lot.

in the morning Alsira taught us how to make cheese empanadeas, absolutely delicious cheese filled, fried pasties. i shall make them when i get home! and then it was pretty much back to rurre, where i had to book a flight back as i had run out of money and theres no atms there. so i had an early morning flight, which i woke up late for and had to run for the bus! and back to la paz. la paz is cold. and i had seen it all already, so me and the rest of my group from the jungle met at the same hostel near the bust station so we could all make our next move.

for some reason, my move was oruro. i was the only foreigner there, and it took me forever to navigate the place as theres no road signs and i had no map. i also found out that you cant get the train to sucre, which was my main reason for going there. it was an experience, i realised that i can just about get by in an all spanish situation, but it was difficult trying to arrange my room as i think they were confused by my passport as they didnt know where i was from and i could make them understand that british citizen is the same as english. but i think i was the only english person theyd ever had there! so i spent the night and the afternoon there, after a giant ice cream sundae for breakdfast and walking 2 hours to find the place.

so yesterday i jumped on a bus to potosi, the highest city in the world. and i dont actually feel it, i think after cusco and la paz, my body is used to stupidly high altitudes. which is cool in a weird way. i think we´re just over 4000 metres above sea level. so i walked around the city today, which has beautiful architecture and bright colours. but i dont think i´ll visit the mines. apparently the miners dont really like it and its an experience im not sure ill really like, especially if we´re not welcome. so i shall probably hang around tomorrow and then head to sucre, as my visa for bolivia is running out, so i need to start heading south, pretty quick!

anyways, theres the update you were all looking for! if i can get the internet to keep working, i´ll try to upload some pics!

much love everyone! xxxxx

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Leaving Cusco for Copacabana, lads on tour and La Paz.

It was sad leaving cusco, as i met some amazing people there and despite being ill, i loved the city and had a great time. But at least i wasnt travelling the buses alone, as me and Pocket (who worked at the hostel) were getting the same buses, which was useful as without her, i would have struggled to understand that we need to pay taxes at the bus station, and to find out that my seat had been double booked, a common problem apparently. and we had a 3 hour wait at 5am at the freezing puno bus station, after being told when booking that it was only an hour. and the bus we took had the biggest cracks in the windscreen. supersafe.

the border crossing was an interesting and unneccesarily long process. we had to get off and queue at the police station to have our passports checked and then queue at immigration to get stamped out of peru. there were like 3 coaches full so it took like an hour, and it was sooo boring, especially as we had been travelling all  night. then we realised that pocket had overstayed her visa by 2 days so we had to find some dollars for the fee. then you have to walk over the border and get stamped into bolivia. they all seemed amused that i had a british passport. im not sure why. its annoying as the visa is only 30 days, i wanted to spend a while here as it is sooo incredibly cheap!!

then it was just a 10 min ride to copacabana where i got off and left pocket, as she is making her way to work in brazil. copacabana itself is pretty small and not much is going on really. its on lake titicaca, the largest navigable lake in the world. and you only go there to visit isla del sol (sun island) which is sacred for the inca time.

i got the boat over to the island the next morning (after sleeping 12 hours and paying like 1 pound for my room), and realised i was sitting next to cathi who i did the inca trail with. the gringo trail is very small!! i was feeling pretty bad that day, as i was so weak from not being able to eat from being ill. and the altitude doesnt help, we keep getting higher and higher! even though the inca trail was tough, i found the walk over the sun island harder as i was iller. i coughed so much i was nearly sick all over the sacred island. a walk that should have taken 3 hours, took me 5. just as well as i was planning to stay the night as i would have missed the last boat anyway. but i found a nice room and rested a lot. the island is really beautiful. deep blue seas with the snow topped mountains in the background. incredible. and at night, you can see sooo many stars as theres no light pollution, so rare in the uk!

the next day i left around midday to get the boat, not realising that theres only 2 from the south part and the next was in a few hours, so i just sunbathed on the island, as it was soo hot. in the afternoon, a large group of mainly english guys arrived on the island, beer in hand and one of them actually wearing an england shirt covered in tats. they literally got off the boat, bought more beers, played card drinking games and got back on the boat to copacabana the same time as me. i think they missed the point of visiting the island.

so imagine my delight when they got on the same bust as me in the evening for la paz, with a litre of vodka on a bus with no toilet. they also had they´re own music system. you can imagine what the next 4 hours was like. i could hear them over my ipod. funnily enough though, when the made the bus stop so they could all wee (and everyone else tried to make the bus driver leave them behind) one of the girls lost her shoe down a manhole. which was pretty funny and the rest of the bus loved that! really, if you´re going to do a drinking tour, just do it in spain. i dont wana hang around with english idiots.

and of course they were horribly drunk when we arrived in la paz around 9.30pm , which i thought was stupid as it leaves them more vulnerable, and bolivia has a high robbery rate. and they are in the same hostel. luckily, not the same room, that was my worry!

so anyways, now im in la paz, and i dont think theres much to do here but party! everyone loves to party here and im hoping that very soon ill be well enough to join in! i walked around the city yesterday with a couple of guys and the walk is a killer. so many steep roads and of course the altitude here is even worse than ever, but it doesnt feel too bad, maybe im finally getting used to it.

or of course theres the infamous san pedro prison. my best friend fran went and told me how scary it was! you have to bribe your way in, and its not that cheap, and you get shown around all the cells with the prisoners. but your bodyguards are murderers, so im not sure theres much comfort in that. and families live in there as they cant support themselves if the husband is inside. i also here that there are parts where people fights so theres blood on the walls and teeth on the floor. its also a place to buy drugs, should you want to. although it seems ridiculous to buy drugs inside a prison, as your already inside! and you have to bribe your way out. i think if you go in a big group its safe, but ive heard stories of people being robbed and raped inside, as its all so corrupt and poor. so maybe not for me!

anyways, im obviously still alive, for those that heard about the plane crash at the nasca lines, i have already done it, so no worries there. although im not surprised that it crashed, they´re a bit dodge.

muchos love xxx

Friday, 1 October 2010

The birthday Inca Trail and other adventures....

Wow! The inca trail was absolutely incredible! Despite still feeling a bit ill an not being very fit, I managed the 28 miles in 4 days over mountains and through the Amazon pretty well. Theres nothing like a hardcore trek to make you sweat it out and get you fit!

The first day we started early, aroun 6.30am pick up and then we went to pick up the rest of my inca trail group. We had crystal and andrew from the states, bianca and milko from germany, cathi and maureen from oz and christine an mikey from the uk. a mixe group. some of them ere on a large tour group together, spending 79 days in each others company. makes me glad im going it alone!

the first day was pretty tough as we were just getting used to it, and it was pretty hot as well, much hotter than in cusco. i wasnt prepared for that in my jeans! it was beautiful though, we walked along the river at first, before heading up into the mountains.

the porters are amazing, incredibly superhuman. they carry around 20-22 kilos each of our bags, camping and cooking equipment etc and they start walking after we have left, they overtake us on the mountains and set up camp and start cooking for when we arrive. all in sandals as well, as they cannot afford proper walking shoes. it was kin of tragic and elitist, which we didnt really like, especially as it seemed a bit excessive to have tables, chairs, table cloths etc when it comes at someone elses expense. but they were lovely and would go out of their way to help you if you needed it. absolutely amazing people.

when we got to camp, i opened my bday card from fran, who insisted i take it with me! and i did, and thats when everyone found out it was my birthday. an to the credit of the chefs, they managed to make me a bday cake, without warning, or without and oven! insane! but it was delicious. a very good and different birthday.

the second day as definately the toughest, especially as due to maureens snoring, i hardly slept at all. it as 5 hours uphill and 4 hours onhill, in the burning heat. i can tell u now that my arms are quite tanned! yay! the walk as a bit of a killer, but me and christine kept the same pace. it was beautiful though, with the jungle for shade and fresh streams for washing you face and keeping cool. I have also never seen so many beautiful and massive butterflies! they are huge!!

i was so glad to get to camp, my feet were killing as the blisters set in. we also learnt a ne dice game that night, wih smithy our guide, which was pretty fun, although i didnt really get it as i started feeling ill again, but slept well that night. when we oke up, we were high up in the mountains and you could see the clouds below us. crazy!

that days walk was my favourite, as we got to see many more inca ruins along the way and started alking through the amazon in the mountains. it was so beautiful, seeing the mountains all covered in jungle , so many different plants, flowers, trees and wildlife. the path was a bit scary at times, as its very uneven and you have to tread carefully, as its so close to the edge of the mountain, you could easily slip and fall. that and being scared of heights, it was even more of a challenge.

it was so worth it though. the final campsite was extremely precarious as it was also right on the ege of a large drop, so getting out of the tent had to be done super carefully! there was an actual bar at this campsite too, which as a treat after our 3 days of treking. we had to get up at 3am as well on the final day, to make sure we were first at the checkpoint to get to the sungate on time for sunrise. we had to wait there an hour and a half in the dark and cold before it opened. as soon as it did, we were practically ran the 5km to the sungate, which was a way to wake up! hen we got there, it as quite foggy for a while, so u couldnt see much. when it cleared, it was incredible. we had finally made it!

its such a great view and made it all worthwhile, much more satisfactory than getting the bus there. the city is amazing and mostly intact. im so glad that the spanish never found it as the tried to destroy the incas. it was only found 99 years ago as well, and was buried deep in the jungle. now it is overrun ith cute llamas and tourists. we took tons of pics and smithy gave us a 2 hour tour of the site, and after that, i took a nap on one of the terraces, as i was exhausted! 

in the evening we took the train back from aguas calientes to ollayentambo and then got driven back to cusco, where i am now, still recovering from the trek an still trying to shift the last of my cold!

the plan for now is, tonite, party! we are having a themed party, the gringos
(foreigners) have to dress like the local girls. they dress very provocatively and target foreigners for free drinks and money and whatever else they can get. should be  laugh and i think its gonna get messy! hen im hoping to get a bus over to copacabana in bolivia and start exploring all over again!

i cant seem to ad pics on here at the mo, so check them out on fb:

muchos love and thanks for all the bday messages! xxx