San Pedro and The Uyuni Trail Bolivia

Part 4 of 7

8th November 2000

The Last 4 Days

Right where / how do I start. The last 4 days have been absolutely awesome. If only I'd been better at English at school then I'd be able to come up with some better words then awesome ........ but quite frankly Mr Shankly it has been simply awesome !!!

Before I start, in my last e-mail I forgot to give you my quote of the century : a quick back track ...... 26 hour bus journey from Santiago to San Pedro ...... 4 of us (me, Dermot, Alison & Sarah) travelling up together ........ Dermot's birthday bash ........ well when we were booking our seats we could only get 3 seats together and the other was a few row higher up the bus.

So we decided to politely ask the whoever was sat in the 4th seat to swap ........ then came my classic bit of Spanish vocabulary ........ "Senior, por favor f**k off" ...... great diplomacy !!!

Back on track

A few weeks back I said that I was bye-passing Bolivia due to the riots etc well there's been a 30 day amnesty (ends on the 15th Nov). I only found out about it on the 1st, so I'm doing a quick 15 day tour.

San Pedro

After the 26th hour bus journey, we ...... complete with mega altitude headaches, not hangovers, we did a couple of trips. One, to the geysers (volcanic stem erupting out of the ground), and the other, to Moon Valley.

The geysers trip was the one that sent me "doo-lally" the other day. They were over 4500m above se level and altitude sickness affects you in many ways ....... verbal diarrhoea in my case !!!

I wasn't that impressed with the geysers at first ....... from a distance the looked like a load of steam factories, but when you realise that you were stood on a bubbling volcano lid you change your mind !

The moon valley stuff was bizarre, sand dunes, rock formations, loads of photos ....... wow factor very high. There was even a flying saucer there for us at sunset !!!!

But the wow factor was about to be blown away ....... some of you may recall me saying the most amazing thing / place I'd seen was the sun rise over Mt Bromo in Indonesia, well that has been relegated to a poor 2nd place now.

Uyuni Trail

I entered Bolivia via what is known as the Uyuni trail ..... a 3 day, 4-wheel drive journey.

I'm not even going to try to describe it, I couldn't do it justice ...... the shed loads of photos I took - even the craps ones - will do it proud ! I will use one of the lads' comments on the tour "I need a w*nk" after seeing the lava flows !! - fame at last Max.

Basically we saw flamingos, lamas, mineral lakes, more geysers (this time mud spitting ones), 65km long lava flows, salt lakes - including a hotel made from salt, multi-coloured rock formations - one section described as the Salvador Dali rocks. Plus altitude sickness ...... we were between 3500m - 5200m above sea level most of the time ...... my head was blown away by it all.

Post Heaven Bumps

After the stunning journey I was treated to a more typical Bolivian bus journey to a place called Sucre ...... a bumpy ride which was a mere 4 hours late with only 2 burst tyres ..... never mind it was all good fun.

The highlight of Sucre was that it is coca leaf country .... basically raw cocaine !!

Yes, I have got a bag ...... but it's for medicinal purposes ....... if you chew it with a chalk type rock it helps clear your head from the altitude sickness ...... it also makes your mouth go numb !!!

All the locals are at it ........ when in Rome etc !!!

La Paz

I'm in La Paz at the moment - only a mere 4000m above sea level, a bit short of breath but no sickness ..... the leaves must be working !!

I have got a couple of hair raising activities lined up for the next few days. Tomorrow I'm doing a gravity assisted mountain bike ride ..... basically 40km down a mountain - a near vertical drop ..... apparently it is the most dangerous road in the world - around 60 deaths a year !!

Then on Thursday I'm off to the local prison to do the guided tour by the inmates ...... shed loads of bribes to police and prison mafia ..... apparently the cheapest and safest place in South America to buy narcotics !!!

Quote of the day from our Sarah : Bolivian Beer's Bollocks !!

14th November 2000.

Near Death Experience .. And it wasn't the Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking

Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking

I said the other day that I was going biking, well I did it. Bearing in mind that today was the worst I'd felt from the altitude sickness all trip ...... big shits, massive headaches etc ... not a bad feet.

We drove out of La Paz up a mountain .... 4870m above sea level ie in the f*cking clouds and then got on a bike aimed downhill and hoped for the best !!

But what a buzz though heading head first into a hairpin bends with vertical drops into the abyss ...... I could have died especially as I had a bit of a "spinny head-on".

But that wasn't my Near Death Experience .... this was

Sucre to La Paz : I heard the other day that a bus travelling from Sucre to La Paz went over the edge of cliff and fifty + people died ..... that bus was the same journey that Sarah & me took and it was the same bleedin night !!!!

There were a couple of sharp turns and screeching brakes !!!

La Paz "High Security" Prison.

After the biking I went on a tour of the local prison - yes tour !!!

I got to the prison gate, handed my passport to a prison guard, gave him 20 Bolivian sobs (2 quid), and walked into the prison.

I was then escorted to the Chaplin by a little mafia guard bloke, told to wait for the head poncho, then taken into his cell (a 1 up 1 down palace, complete with FIFA 2000 sega stuff), where I handed over another 50 sobs (5 quid) and was shown round the place !!

The place is full of murders, rapists, thieves and drug dealers. But having paid me dues I had my own tour guide and private security guard ..... bizarre, bizarre, bizarre !!

There are different sections to the prison : the poor, people with a bit of cash, and mega bucks inmates ..... you have to buy your cell and sell it on to a new convict when you are released. The posh bit was well smart !

This is the best bit ... Coca Cola sponsor the prison football team to the tune of $10,000 a year .... and surprise surprise guess what my guide offered me ...... some coke !!! ..... I wasn't thirsty bearing in mind that my passport was with prison guards !!!

Lake Titicaca.

My next stop was to Lake Titicaca for a couple of days. What a chilled out place this is. Granted it's just a lake with a couple of island on it, but it was well relaxing.

Bit of a lie that really, 'cos we went hiking on the Isla de la Sol (the island of the sun), Inca legend has it that it is the birthplace of the sun. ... so apart from the walking it was well relaxing !

I've found the walk tougher then walking around Petra on the hottest day in Jordan for 70 years ...... but this was the Island of the Sun so what more should I have expected !!

But it was all worthwhile, 'cos at the end of walk we found some people waiting for the sun to set ........ 8 bottles of wine latter the sun rose ....... how and when I have no idea ....... but I do know I had a f*ck off hangover !!!

Not that that stopped the drinking on the mainland, Copacabana. We promptly hit the ale, wine, cocktails and liquor coffees ...... a great way to say goodbye to 15 brilliant days in Bolivia !!!

Bolivia fact file : the 30 day amnesty ends today (I've just arrived in Cusco) and we heard the government have sent 12,000 troops into the jungle to quell the forthcoming protests !!!

The protests are for fuel price increases and coca leaf destruction. The American government wants to spray the whole of the South America's coca leaf crops with insecticide; just because they cannot control cocaine addiction in the States .... the coca leaf is used for numerous herbal remedies; of which cocaine is 1 of 14 different uses (there is a museum in La Paz, dedicated to The History of The Leaf).

Typical of the Americans; destroy a whole eco-system just to stop a problem in their county ........ it's like destroying wheat (if one of it's properties could be used for illegal substances) ........ what would the world do without bread and corn flakes !!!