Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘La Paz’

American Pride

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Figured I would bust out one more post before I leave the cheap internet behind. Well… , lets see… , what to talk about:

I encountered an American beggar the other day while roaming the streets. He approached me asking if I spoke English, and proceeded to tell me a story. He pursued a career as a drug runner after his divorce, but got busted at the La Paz airport with liquid cocaine in a beer bottle. Thus he spent some time in jail and just got out. He said he had to meet his case worker at the embassy in the morning and needed money for a place to spend the night. Offering to sell me his jacket, cassette tapes, or just tell me stories about jail life for a few Bolivianos. I declined the merchandise and after some thought, decided to toss him 4 coins  (about 55 cents).

I ran into the man from New York again today. He was in a different part of town and this time wanted change to buy a soda. He said the morning meeting went well and that he was signing paperwork for a loan later this afternoon. Asking for only 1 Boliviano this time, I begrudgingly gave. Though, now I question his story even more. I believe that he is just a full-time American beggar, who has an advantage over the many locals who can’t build a rapport with the tourists. It worked on me and I have only given to one other person my whole trip. To each his own.

After doing my good deed for the day, I ventured out to see the site called “Valle de la Luna”, or Moon Valley. It is an eroded maze of rock formations about 10 km south of town. I have attempted to go there 3 times before, but failed each time. Mostly due to festival distractions, but yesterday I just wasn’t man enough to catch the local transport. So, today was more a matter of pride than tourism. I walked confidently and told myself that the first micro with the correct destination, was mine. It took about 10 mintues of waiting at the corner before I spotted one. Then I pounced. The van dropped me right in front of the entrance and I wandered the site for a while, chewing more coca leaves and snapping pictures. From the location, I saw my 2nd golf course of the trip. A green oasis on the other side of the river. No time or money to play, but always a welcome sight.

Local transport took me back into town where I tackled my shopping list and stumbled upon yet another parade. More elaborate costumes, a band, and red crates of beer. They work hard and they play hard. When I strolled by the same plaza a few hours later, traditionally dressed women were doing drunken dances and groups of men belligerently conversed with each other. This was at 7 pm. I am going to miss this city.

During my last couple nights here, I have also discovered the $.55 set dinners in restaurants. I don’t know how I missed them before. You get a bowl of soup, your choice of 3 mains, and a cup of mate tea. The portions are small but satisfying. Amazing value. You can easily live in La Paz for less than $5/day.

Tomorrow, I will most likely catch a bus up north to Sorata. A couple days there, then a quick stop in Copacabana where I will jump back into Peru and beyond. But now I travel with a new $7 bag in tow, full of liquified cocaine in beer bottles. He oído que es la mejor manera de pasar de contrabando.

E = 168

Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

After ¨Salar de Uyuni¨, everything else in my life had the volume turned down. There is still cool stuff to see, but I was just looking for a place to hangout for a while. Thus, I parted ways with Luc and headed to Bolivia’s judicial capital. The following is a description of the events leading up to and during my time in the city of Sucre.

Luc’s next city was a stopover on the way to mine, so we boarded a bus at 10am and headed east. There were a few interesting events on the way:

  • A bus ahead of us broke an axle and when we arrived on the scene, the back left tires were noticeably unattached. We got off our bus while the driver skirted the edge of the cliff to get by the breakdown.
  • A little kid in the row ahead of us, decided to come back and play. He was very interested in my camera and I had to to keep removing his fingers from the screen. He pointed at random things for me to take pictures of, and loved the video function. A good form of entertainment for him and me, during the long haul.
  • fun with pictures

    fun with pictures

  • Dropped Luc and others off in Potosi, then they took the remaining 6 of us to the main terminal. I thought this bus would take me the whole way, but they ushered us in to buy onward tickets to Sucre. A little annoying, especially since they paid 10 Bolivianos less than I paid for the extra leg. I joked with the driver a little about, but just had to accept my fate. More frustrating for me, was the fact that I had a hunch they were overcharging for the run.
  • 2 Aussie couples on the Sucre trip with me were obviously used to cleaner traveling. One guy complained too much and they were all excited when our bus used a semi-dry river bed for part of the journey. Hearing them talk about their trip, leads me to believe that they will spend the same amount of money in 5 weeks as I will spend in 7 months.

In Sucre: Yet again I wandered the streets of a large city for over an hour, eventually finding the centro and a cheap hostal. A warmer city with a nice plaza and the best overall market I have seen on my trip. It had lots of everything, including a jello section just around the corner from the chorizo district. I was offered a sample of one of the sausages in the frying pan and immediately ordered the sandwich. The best chorizo I have ever eaten.

I checked out a few museums but spent most of my time studying Spanish in the main plaza. While there, I crossed paths with Zed (of “Canyonero” blog fame) and enjoyed swapping stories. The similarities of our travel methods is frightening. We both feel a little bored in big cities and both struggle with the need to be social and fiscally responsible. Our dirt cheap dirty accommodations are gringo free, but half the price of the backpacker hangouts. All of our meals are eaten in gringo free market kitchens and street sweets cripple our budgets. Also, we both have beards.

On Friday, I boarded a night bus for La Paz and Zed headed farther East, looking for a jungle adventure. After warm Sucre, the night bus was freezing cold. I sat up in the very front of the 2nd floor and had panoramic views but little leg room. It was a long 13 hours though the smooth sounds coming from my Ipod helped.

In La Paz: It feels good to be back in a familiar city. Today they had yet another festival, complete with tents, food, bands, and a parade. It rained a little, but I cruised between concerts and dance performances, especially enjoying the rock band with a very charismatic leader. I only wish I knew what he was saying because it was all apparently very funny. They did “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Roadhouse Blues” in English and rocked’em both.

Turn it up! Turn! It! Up!

Turn it up! Turn! It! Up!

When the music ended, a parade took over the main drag and I found a seat. I loved the fact that the participants had a pit-crew walking with them, carrying beer and large bottles of whiskey.

nourishment

nourishment

Tomorrow (Monday), I take a trip down the “Worlds Most Dangerous Road” and try to get some hiking in before the long bus rides. Me gustaría tener mi propio pit-crew.

E = 157

Piece O’ Peace

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

It has been a while since my last post, but I will try to do a quick recap of the last week and a half. Beginning in Bolivia’s capital:

La Paz: The city seems more real than any other large city I have been to. Sure it has a tourist street or 2, but mostly you are surrounded by stalls selling everyday home products and locals doing normal things. I think it helps that Bolivia has the largest indigenous population of any South American country (60%). You arrive via the flat altiplano (high plain) and then drop into the valley, an amazing setting 3,500 meters above sea level. Though the combination of steep streets and elevation wore me out, I was energized by the new sights and smells.

It is every bit as cheap as I thought it would be. I found a nice dirty hostal for 20 bolivianos ($2.85) per night, a carne empanada (with an amazing assortment of sauces and coleslaw like toppings to choose from) is only 1.5 bs ($.21), set lunches for 7 bs ($1), and internet is a wonderful 2 bs ($.29) per hour. I made longer lasting purchases as well: a new beanie and some water purification pills. (I should have bought pills at the beginning of my trip but didn’t really think about it until I met Zed who uses them. I could have saved a lot of money. Now I have way more than I will use, so if anyone needs any, i’ve got some.) There also seems to be a festival everyday and I have become immune to the sound of marching bands.

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

But, as with all big cities, 4 days was enough and I had to get out of town. The constant weaving through traffic (human and motorized) gets to me, as well as the temptation of casinos. So, last Tuesday I headed north to Lake Titicaca, searching for some peace.

Copacabana: On the southern shore of the lake, the city is the main jump-off point for trips to Isla del Sol. Filled with travel agencies and trendy cafes that are easy to avoid, plus hostals are everywhere and cheap, I had found a place to rest. This time my $2.84/night accommodations were very clean and included a rooftop terrace with great views. The market served lake trout and some delightful carne variations, plus there were street stalls providing dinner and snacks. I spent 2 nights there, studying Spanish and taking pictures of sunsets, before loading up 2 days worth of stuff into a day pack and catching a boat to “Sun Island”.

Cha’llapampa: On the northern part of the island, Cha is the traditional starting spot for day hikes along the spine. I chose to book a cheap hostal in the village, drop some things off, and then hiked around trying to avoid the tour groups. I explored the northern section only all day (due to an odd ticket system), under perfectly clear skies that burn your skin and make your ears cold at the same time. I love the freedom to sit at the top of a vista and just stare at the water. The area has a few important Inca ruins as well, as it is considered the birthplace of the Sun.

hiking

hiking

I found some reasonably priced sandwiches in town for dinner and the next day woke up early to check out the southern sector.

Yumani: After hiking along the coast and purchasing another ticket, I arrived in the biggest village on the Isla. Set on a ridge and containing more than 1 road, I was happy to find yet another room for $2.85/night. The views were amazing and I wonder if there is any place in the world with better scenery for the price.

getting my $2.85 worth

getting my $2.85 worth

That day I hit the southern trails (or at least I thought) and checked out a ridge on the western side that gets very few visitors. Then made my way straight down some agricultural terracing, along a quiet bay, en-route back to town. I did, unfortunately, let my camera drop a few times while setting up self portraits. It still works fine, it is just missing a small unimportant piece. That is why I don’t own nice things.

Heading back into town, the only bad part of Isla del Sol came to the surface. They have a confusing and somewhat corrupt ticket system. When I passed under the sign saying “5 bs to enter” before, there was no one there and I freely walked. This time, a man asked for my ticket to enter the southern sector, I showed him the ticket I had bought earlier in the day, but it was no good.

Let me try to quickly explain: Apparently they have 3 tickets; one for the far north (I bought that the day before for 10 bs), one for the grande north (about 2/3 of the island, which it turns out I purchased this day for 15bs), and one for the south (5 bs). The ticket takers who sold me the grande, tried not to give me any change or a ticket but I requested both nicely. They probably thought they were making me pay for the north as I was entering the south, thus I was stupid and wouldn’t need any paper. But I returned and fully utilized the space. Later, I was even warned by a Spanish guy I had met the day before, who said that he was going to call the tourist police on the same gate keepers because they tried to make him pay extra.

With that all said, back in the present, I am confronted with a man wanting money to enter the village where I already had a hostal. I decided to lie and say that all of my money was in my room and that I had already passed this gate 2 times today without issue. After some time of looking lost and confused, I considered hiking back a ways and then around the gate, but the man finally let me pass. Do I feel bad about lying to an old man just to get out of paying $.71? … Nope. I feel that I already overpaid with 2 north tickets and that their system has flaws. I am fine with paying to hike around their paradise to see ruins, the trail is very well maintained, I just feel they should have a 1 or even 2 ticket system and explain it better to tourists. The current system forces the more common day trippers pay 3 times for a total of 30 bs ($4.29). Sorry for going off on a rant.

The day ended with a cool sunset and some lake trout for dinner. Early in the morning, I saw the sun rise over the mountains from my hostal and caught a boat back to Copacabana, where I could finally change clothes.

Copacabana: Two more nights were spent there, drinking coca tea and getting my fill from the market. Notably the peanut soup, that I wish was a little more nutty, and a malt and meringue foam shake that was surprisingly delicious. I spent 71 cents more a night to upgrade to a room with TV for possible football watching, with the only game shown being the Sunday night game. It was good to do nothing for a while in comfort and catch a few sitcoms and movies. Also, I got a chance to play a keyboard they had in the lobby and satisfy an itch. The only negative of the city is that internet is 8-10 bs/hr, or else I would move here and make a home. Monday morning I caught a kids parade before hopping on a bus heading south.

La Paz: Back in the big city, my internet needs are being met I am checking out a few museums I missed before. Tomorrow, I head farther south, feeling the need to keep rolling and to fulfill the last of my tourist duties.

I feel the end is near and that planning is more important than ever. The only real goal I have left is to fully explore “Salar de Uyuni”, the largest salt flat in the world. Then it will most likely be a series of buses taking me back to Bogota (Flights are $490 and bus tickets would total about $150). Each day I think more and more about my return, but hope I haven’t mentally reached my end. I like to believe I could travel longer, like many I have met, but also think that maybe they aren’t as close to their family and friends as I. Or maybe they are just more social on the road and that satisfies their need for companionship. Either way, in a little over 7 weeks, I will be home. Hasta pronto!

E = 133

The Facts of Life

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

(Please note the new page link on the right. I finally got around to posting the poem my nephew wrote for me back in April. Gracias)

I believe it was Socrates who said, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have; the facts of life, the facts of life.” So, I have decided to heed his words and accept my mistakes and the troubles I had in Chile, believing that for every chute there is a ladder.

The Good:

  • The Train ride to Arica, Chile was smooth (my first time riding the rails all trip).
  • The food was different with their specialty being the Completo (a big hot dog covered in guacamole and tomatoes and other fixin’s.)
  • I ate a delightful shrimp and cheese empanada.
  • They had some new chocolate treats for me to try.
  • The beach was fairly clean and had a cool old dock with many missing boards and railings.
  • The hunk of rock south of town called “El Morro” had great views of the city and was an easy walk.
  • The main commercial walking street through town was clean and had lively entertainment.
  • Parque National Lauca was stunning, with high altitude plains, lakes, and snow capped volcanos. The hiking around Putre was wide open and dog free.
  • The weather was perfect for Lauca and comfortable in the city.

The Bad:

  • Too expensive, the cheapest hostal was $10 per night.
  • Only one bus direct to Putre (in Parque Nat. Lauca) that left early in the morning and from an office far from the center of town.
  • Accurate information was difficult to obtain: My hostal told me the bus to Putre left at 6 – 6:30 am and that I could take a city bus there. Turns out the bus left at 7 am.
  • Drug dealers roaming the streets: Initially, I was going to walk to the station and prepared to head out at 5:30am (still very dark). The lady opened the front door for me and pointed out the drug dealers on the corner. After talking with her husband, they agreed that I should take a taxi a couple blocks to the main drag and try and catch a city bus. When the taxi driver drove me to where they said, it was obvious that nothing was running. We agreed on a price to the office where my bus to Putre would leave from. Upon arrival there at 5:45 am, it was closed with an unknown open time, and in a dangerous neighborhood. The driver kept doing a slashing-the-throat motion. We hung out for a few minutes, talked to a newspaper guy sitting in his van, until I just decided that it wouldn’t be long till they opened and exited the cab.
  • They have a mixture of worn old bills and nice new ones: As I departed the taxi, worried about the possibility of having to defend myself by swinging my bag around, the driver requested the original price he quoted due to his waiting with me. I agreed (though I shouldn’t have) and pulled bills from my pouch. In the dark of 5:50 am, I made a stupid mistake. Attempting to pay the man 3K pesos, I handed him what I thought was a 2k bill and a 1k bill. Later on I realized that I gave him a 2k and a 10k (One of the old 10k’s, which are faded and in my current light, looked similar to the 1k. The new 10ks are completely different and unique.) The result, I gave him $18 more than I should have. The timing made it even worse, due to the fact that now my supply of Chilean pesos was running low and I was about to enter a national park. I had to cut my time short.
  • The transportation around the national park was scarce and pricey: The day after hiking around Putre, I shouldered my pack and hiked the 5km up to the main hwy. Waited about 90 minutes with some locals and later on a nice German couple, for any bus. The only buses that roll through the park are on their way to La Paz, Bolivia. Luckily, one of them had a seat, but charged me $6 for the 1.5 hour ride to Lago Chungará. I was dropped off at the border control station there, only to be told that there were no hostals or rooms for tourists at this location (My guide book told me there was). I walked around the lake and took many pictures, not wanting to waste the stop and just hop back on a bus. When I returned to the place I was dropped, assuming that a bus would pass sometime in the near future, an officer told me that the next buses were in about 5 hours (7pm).
  • It was extremely cold at 4,500 meters above sea level: Many thoughts rolled through my head, I could try and hike the road to the border and find transport there, I could hitch a ride with one of the few passing trucks, or I could wait and hope that the next buses have available seats. I scouted the area, considering my overnight options and if I could survive the night or if someone would take pity and let me crash in one of their offices. But as the sun went down, and my many layers did little to keep me warm, I knew that all my hope now rested in the few buses that were coming. I enjoyed that scene, trying to help direct truck drivers running around with paperwork and drinking mate de coca and eating fried bread to stay warm. Finally, just as my hands were going numb, a bus rolled up at 7pm with seats available and a reasonable price.
  • The Chilean salida stamp guy was a little upset: One of the bus attendants talked to the guy at the window, trying to explain that they picked me up and that I was not on the passenger list. I tried to explain my day and that I just stopped there to take pictures, but for some reason he wasn’t happy. He called the bus guy around into the office and they argued for a while. Finally, another guy who has the authority to use the rubber stamp, checked me out of Chile.
  • The post-border stuff was a little confusing: After paying for my Bolivian visa and having my pack inspected, I exited the building but was unable to find my bus (I never paid them anything). I took shelter from the wind against a wall until a guy said that I needed to walk down about 100 meters, through the dark, and that the buses park there. I rolled up, just as my bus was pulling away. I tried to yell and wave, but to no avail. Luckily, there was another bus loading and they had seats available, so I climbed aboard. While my feet stuck to the floor and I watched a terrible movie about an American kickboxer who goes to Thailand but ends up using heavy firearms in Cambodia to free his kidnapped girlfriend, I felt relieved that a bed in La Paz was only a few hours away.

¨When the world never seems to be livin up to your dreams, And suddenly you’re finding out the Facts of Life are all about you, yoooouuuu.¨ I am not really sure what that last part means, but I do know that I learned a lot from my mistakes. I will do more internet research on transport when my guide book is vague, and check my bills carefully when paying for things. All I wanted was another stamp in my passport, but I got the good and bad of Chile in just 3 days. Now I get to relax and enjoy 2 months of cheap living in Bolivia. Si pudiera volver el tiempo atrás

E = 125