A train ride where nothing happens

I sit next to a weathered old man in a flat cap. He’s drinking from a big bottle of Fanta and talking vaguely to the room, indifferent to if anyone’s listening in that manner typical of the elderly. My Spanish doesn’t stretch to this so, just smile and say “Sí”. He spends most of his time staring intently out the window, muttering. It’s like he’s inspecting the land to make sure everything’s just where he left it, but anticipating some young hoodlums building something vulgar without his permission. 

The train rumbles over Lago Poopo (heehee), there must be a good 10,000 flamingos here. They go on forever… Two German girls a few rows behind seem to giggle each time I look back for spare seats. Assumably this is because everything I do is really weird and embarrassing or because I’m so ruggedly attractive in my unshowered state that they are reduced to flustered schoolgirls at the site of me. Definitely one of those two.

The woman across the aisle demands my attention, asking me turn down the TV. It’s Bolivian pop which seems to have frighteningly specific rules for music videos. All are of groups of average looking, slightly chubby men between about 28-65. They wear black shirts with the top three buttons undone, black trousers and aviators. The song starts with an extended intro from the Andean flautist who is invariably the cool/ sexy one of the group. They stand on a mountain or by a church or in a bull ring and close their eyes and bite their lips in expressions of pure passion while a group of young cholitas do a traditional dance behind them. Cut along side this a beautiful woman in peasant garb collects hay as a bumbling young man vies for her attention, mostly by picking up the same bit of hay, stroking her arm and looking at her intensely. Three shots of the bassist walking up a mountain, an elderly man yelling at the couple for no reason, a sexy tractor ride and the singer punching the air and pulling back his fist with a pained expression and we’re done. That covers all forty or so videos I saw. 

The woman across the aisle doesn’t need my analysis. She needs the TV down. Unfortunately for her she picked a British person for the task. How could I possibly be so bold as to decide the music level for the whole carriage? If I do it the people who want it loud will scorn me, heckle and probably throw me off the train. War will break out between the ‘quieters’ and the ‘louders’. Blood will be shed. I mean can I even do it? Will it just not work and I’ll look like an idiot in front of all my new train friends? Is it even legal? 

Feared as I am I know that somehow saying no to her will be even worse so I get up and put it down from 26 to 21 inquiring to her if it’s enough. I don’t understand her response so sit down quickly resigning myself to at least having made the effort. The music doesn’t sound any quieter. 

Through the window Rhea’s do that crazy ostrich dance and Vicunas watch us with bemusement. The sunset would be amongst the most vibrant and glorious I’ve seen but the woman across the aisle shuts her blind as it starts and I only get glimpses. 

Next up Kim and Uyuni…
 

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Parque Nacional Sajama

I’m advised that the bus back from Rurrenabaque to La Paz isn’t that bad. It isn’t to be fair. It’s late, bumpy, takes four hours longer than the twelve I was suggested but it’s fine. I’m covered in mosquito bites and still not entirely past my diarrhoea. My skin and nails are a rusty green after the Amazon swim and some mystery nasty has stung my ear which​ is swollen and throbbing. All my clothes are filthy with the humid sweat. So bring on the cool, lifeless Altiplano climate I think as I’m borderline spooning with the stout cholita sat next to me. Bring it on.

16 hour bus from Rurrenabaque to La Paz.

90 minutes stuck in a taxi in La Paz (some protest has bought the streets to a standstill).

2 hours bus to Patacamaya.

And I’m 40 minutes late for the one micro a day that goes to Sajama. Sigh

There are micros going to a village halfway between​ so I figure that must be better than the ugly, dusty pit stop that is Patacamaya. I make eye contact with a driver which is a pretty serious commitment around here so I’m obliged to him and knowing micros can take a while to fill I ask if I can get lunch, ‘si’ and I’m ushered into a café. Two minutes after getting my soup, he’s back, ‘Listo?’. No, I’m not ready funnily enough. This happens about three more times before I decide to abandon my meal. At least I’m not left behind.

Carahuara de Carangas

‘Toto, I don’t think I’m on the gringo trail anymore’. Kids stare at me like I’m an exotic creature, an alien. This pale giant, hermit cangrejo with his home on his back. Wrapped in bright green straps, wicking t-shirt and ginger tinted beard (yes I admit it). All alien. The hostal I’d read of does exist! They have a penchant for bad taxidermy and I think they put Gokku on my bath mat.

It’s high time I have my first hike so I head for the nearest hill.

Monterani I’m later told, it’s of local religious significance

Scrambling through the rippling fronds of hillside on the way over is a mess of crumbling dirt and cactus. Every plant here clearly relies on having a ‘stabby’ quality. I startle a hare and keep low to avoid curiosity from the local youths. Sometimes when you travel every stranger is a saviour and sometimes every stranger is a danger. It’s not really up to them, more down to how tired I am and what’s in my pockets.

The walk is hard for the unadjusted but not so far and the views are vast. It’s also my first real moment of solitude so I sing and dance to Big Star amongst the broken glass, crisp packets and stones that mark the sacred sight.

Next day I take in the sights.

Chullpas, ancient funerary mounds that dot the land. Packed with the mummified dead and their valuables, all looted now of course.

The Sistine chapel of the Altiplano, it was closed unfortunately. The inside is conspicuously opulent for a small, poor mountain village, it apparently has such quirks as depictions of the three wise men riding in on Llamas.

The golden Llama reigns supreme

The hostel owner says my bus comes to the village but the ice cream vendor says I have to go to the crossroads 5km away. Always trust ice cream, I wait at the cruces, watching the lorries and llamma hearders for two hours then, onwards!

Parque Nacional Sajama

(Sa-hha-ma)

The national park is a broad Altiplano valley at about 4250m, full of llama and hardy plants. Flanking this are rows of snow capped 6000m+ volcanoes. The views are open and impressive from just about anywhere.

Kim says I’ve found a push me- pull you

I link up with two Swiss (Lukas and Claudia) and two French (Laetitia and Joffrey, yes that Joffrey. There’s never enough pigeon pie…) and we check out the hostels. They’re all pretty much the same so we settle on the one that has a nicer breakfast area with a heater prominently placed in the centre (It doesn’t work and there is clearly no intention for it to work; it’s a spiderweb to draw us in). There is no heating anywhere making Sajama the coldest place I’ve ever been indoors. It’s very cold, bearable when fully wrapped, but very cold. We negotiate a price with the twelve year old boy who is on duty; it’s clearly beyond his station so he goes upstairs for the boss. A fourteen year old girl emerges and becomes our main port of call while there. I sympathise, it’s a bloody remote and tiny place to be a teenager, she does her schoolwork when she gets a minute between working.

I develop a strained relationship with my shower who in a moment of tourettes madness I call Terrence. He takes three minutes to heat, during which time you’re being faintly sprayed and blasted with cold air in the tiny room. Then about 45 seconds heat, then cold. Then repeat. It’s cold enough when not naked and wet, my body shakes quite violently as I bargain with him in the interim. But when he’s on hot; pure bliss and all is briefly forgiven.

The French couple have big mountain ambitions so we all go on a couple of acclimatising hikes.

First, up a spur on the massif of Nevado Sajama (6,542m), Bolivia’s highest mountain. We go just over 5000m, and it’s a real struggle for breath when we hit the steep volcanic dust and subsequent scramble. I have moments of empathy for the mountaineers who sack in the struggle, lay on the mountainside and let it be. But I do make it and with no real altitude sickness. The views are stupendous.

Lovely Parañicota (6300m+) on the left with a tornado

At the top with Sajama

The highest forest in the world, little trees

Apparantly the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, played a game of football on Sajamas glaciated summit. It was a stunt to prove that the country’s altitude wasn’t too great for a kickabout in their failed bid to host a major tournament. Legend/ propoganda says he scored the deciding goal. Hard to imagine Dave Cameron or Theresa May going to the same lengths…

Second, we go on perhaps the parks premier hike (as opposed to climb) past three high altitude lagoons.

And suddenly…geysers!!!

Pretty frigid

The hike pops over to Chile for a couple hours

Laguna No. 2

Loads of Viscachas about, we could get quite close and watch them frolic

And oh how they pose

Laguna No.3

Muchos Llamma

Rhea

We had much excitement over the prospect of the hot springs at the end, it had spurred us on during the days harder moments. They weren’t quite the wonderland we’d hoped for. There are two pools, one’s not warm enough to combat the frigid air. The other was about five/ six inches deep, dirty and full of beetles that had some disconcerting motivation to crawl all over us. In the right spot, without breathing deeply you could just about submerge, which was necessary as it was below freezing out. In this state of stasis it was almost pleasant. The promised hot showers were cold so drying and dressing was done at record pace; I awaited the pas de deux with Terrence to remove all the grit. It was about a five minute walk to our pickup and our swimming costumes froze solid on the way.

So Sajama is quiet and well off the main track, few other travellers I’d talked to have heard of it. That being said we all had this feeling that it was just a few years away from becoming a prominent notch in the gringo rut. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the road out is good and it offers highly rewarding high altitude climbing/ hiking that is accessible to beginners. We could picture a big party hostel (‘Get drunk at the world’s highest bar!’), quad bikes charging towards the hot springs and jet skis on the Lagunas. Hopefully it remains a quiet haven, but if development means heating, that would be pretty nice.

Pampas Tours- Sun, sloth and suffering (or how I got bit by a dolphin)

Like most people I came to Rurrenabaque for a Pampas Tour (The other common option is a jungle tour which goes into the rainforest proper, but these are a tad more expensive and it’s harder to see wildlife so more people, like myself go Pampas). 

Bolivian Pampas

There are a host of agencies all offering pretty much the same thing: three days, basic lodge accommodation, food, a guide, wildlife spotting jaunts, piranha fishing and dolphin swimming. Encouragingly, there is a minimum price to ensure certain standards are met and there are efforts to enforce it, though some still get away with cheaper and worse. There has been a problem on these tours with guides harassing, catching, holding animals at the behest of ignorant tourists. Fortunately I didn’t encounter any animal interactions that seemed harmful on my trip.

So my experience? Something like this.

This is from ‘Rejected’ by Don Hertzfeld, a little surrealist cartoon classic.

Please kids, if you simply must get diarrhoea, save it for anywhere but the Amazon. It only came upon me the morning of the tour but for some idiot reason I chose to go despite. Yet while there was an ample dose of suffering, most of the time I had some bully good fun. 

I was joined by three others: Ellena and Nina, two German girls, and Stuart the Dutchman. Ellena had an endearing enthusiasm for playing pool despite a, shall we say, lack of inherent proficiency and would say “Hola amigo!” in an awe filled yet coddling tone to any creature we passed. Nina liked to laugh at everything and had a skill for finding Hammocks and ceaselessly sprawling and rolling about in them like a cosy bear cub. Stuart was actually called Suart (probably spelt wrong), which I only realised after 4 days with him and was the kind of Renaissance man who can talk European politics and global history as well as dolphin sexuality and bowel movements. His tanning regime is impeccable. Finally our guide, Juan Carlos, his English was pretty good and his knowledge supreme. He would be fairly quiet most of the time, scanning the trees for movement, but would break the general stoicism with occasional booms of laughter, usually at our expense, or by jamming the canoe swiftly through tiny gaps, forcing us to keep focused lest we get a branch to the face. We liked him very much.

Three hours by jeep and we’re at the launch point for the canoes we’ll spend most of our time on. There are about forty of us gringos to maybe ten boats (but definitely 9) and we watch a frolicking mob of Pink Dolphins as they load. I attach my buff to the back of my cap to keep pace with all the wide brimmed, neck flapped hats about. We all look pretty damn sexy. When we are in the boat a local kid of about ten jumps out of the water from his swim, unties our mooring and tries to push us out to water. He struggles for about twenty seconds as we watch, awkwardly, unsure what to do. A man eventually saunters over and gives us the necessary push and we all look at each other agreeing we’ve never felt more like a shitty tourist.

Most of our time is spent on the river, we see many birds: vultures, caracao, macaws, parakeets, hoaxin (punk looking weirdos), storks, herons and much more than I can recall. 

Macaws of some kind

Caracao of some kind

Also Caymans here and there, innumerable turtles that the girls always coo at, a python on the drive, another snake gliding over the water and a tree frog in our bathroom. 

Then monkeys. The dawn chorus is the howlers with their smokers cough howl, and we are accosted by a group of ruddy adorable squirrel monkeys who bounce about the boat and come within arms reach to investigate us.

Sneaky, sleepy Howler

Black Howler Monkey

Squirrel Monkeys

Also we saw a sloth, it took about ten minutes between Juan Carlos seeing it and us figuring out where he was pointing but it was great to watch when we did spot it. 

Camouflage game is pretty on point.

With the breeze on the boat, sitting back and trailing a hand in the river, the days are bliss…the nights are a horror. The moment the sun slips off mosquitoes descend by the million. My DEET largely keeps them off but there are just a too many captain! Somehow the humidity seems to intensify after dark and sleep is elusive. The diarrhoea doesn’t help. The first night involves pained trips to the bathroom, which thank the high heavens has a flushing toilet. There is no seat or light though and the mossies take this opportunity to set upon every possible intimate area. But the camp was nice, food was good, it has a bar and a house Cayman which is cool. 

We take a couple walks, the first during the horrid night and we see a possum and a mouse. The second on a little island where we get a good look at some Capybara.

Big Capybara

The babies hide while the adults swim

This guy snuck on the boat and had the ride of his life!

Juan Carlos called him Manti

Nina with Manti

Next we try our hand at Piranha fishing and our boat manages to catch 10! I mean they were all Juan Carlos but we willed him on to greatness. It isn’t easy for a fishing noob, they bite plenty but tend to nom the bait away before we can yank em in. I am the one other person who lands a catch, a mighty 3 inch something or other that I hook through the temple. The sorry specimen bleeds everywhere so we kill it for bait, much to the vegetarian girls dismay. One of the piranhas is big enough to keep and gives us a forkful each of pleasant, non-descript white fish.

Juan Carlos with piranha

On the final morning we find some Pink River Dolphins to swim with. We jump in and​ attempt to follow them but they repeatedly disappear and pop up in the distance, we swim over to where they were and they appear where we started. This goes on for about 45 minutes and our enthusiasm and energy is flagging. 

Now this isn’t Orlando or some pristine beach. The water is a browny, black and visibility is inches. When my arms are down I can’t see my elbows. As a result everything underwater is entirely invisible and mysterious. Juan Carlos assures us it’s safe, the innumerable piranhas and Caymans aren’t interested in people but, disconcertingly, he later adds that we shouldn’t follow the dolphins into the reeds: “Cayman”. There are reeds everywhere and every time your leg touches one there’s a moment of panic where you think it’s a croc who would draw the line at being stepped on and snap. So it’s fear of the dark but excitement of the dolphins.

Eventually as we’re giving up hope a new group arrive, three babies and a few adults and these are much less shy. They swim around us, disappearing into the murk and then popping up with a puff of breath that makes me jump everytime. They are often just beyond arms reach and it’s an awesome feeling, much more than I expected (I’ve never had ‘swimming with dolphins’ on my bucket list). All a little scary though. One takes to splashing me and Suart for a while, it’s hard to fight back, stealthy fiends. 

I start to notice my feet periodically rubbing on something big, soft and slimy and realise the dolphins are swimming beneath me. The softness turns into something harder, at first I thought a branch but as I keep paddling and kicking it the branch slowly clamps it’s teeth around my big toe. So what to do now? Juan Carlos hadn’t​ mentioned this possibility​. It’s probably fine…but maybe the dolphins’ annoyed with me for kicking it in the face. Maybe he thinks chomping is a game. Maybe he’s got a hunger that only human toes can satisfy. Maybe he’s actually a soft, tiny mouth Cayman. I ponder this for a couple of seconds as the creature and I are locked together, mouth to foot. 

And then I do the natural reaction; yanking my foot away, scrapping against his teeth and screaming a little scream. I’m a bit more scared now, he might want more, or piranhas might sense the blood and swarm me so I hurriedly paddle back to the safety of Juan Carlos and the canoe. He laughs and tells me that they latch on gently as play and it’s a sign that you can give them a stroke. A little late for that Juan. It’s also a sign of good luck apparently soooo…good. Bitten by a dolphin, off the bucket list. 

Pretty gnarly injury

Of all the things in the bloody Amazon: a dolphin.

I don’t have dolphin photos because I was, well, swimming with them. I might be able to get some from the girls down the line, they got one the moment I was bitten.

Rurrenabaque- It’s a jungle out there!

It’s about 30°, blue skies, mid-afternoon. I’m lying on a hammock in the shade by a swimming pool, no one is here. A row of palm trees partially obscure the wide, brown jungle river just beyond. The occasional motorised canoe and strange songs from various colourful passerines are all that break the silence. I’ve not long woken from a siesta and am now absorbed in a good book, Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’s. 

But all is not well in paradise. I farted about 20 minutes ago and​ the air is so thick and still that the odour lingers about me unchanged, noxious as the moment of inception. There is nowhere for it to go, dissipation es imposiblé. Problem is, I’m so drained of energy from the heat and my nap that the thought of moving away is a heinous proposition in perfect equilibrium with the detestability of staying in this fetid cloud. Fortunately after another ten minutes my lungs have adjusted to this atmosphere, forgetting what clean air tastes like and accepting the new state as a permanent reality. When I eventually get up I trip over the hammock and crack my phone.

That’s Rurrenabaque in a nutshell. Well maybe there’s a few other things going on I guess…

Flights leave from La Paz in a rusty little 20 seater, going from the cool mountains to the stifling rainforest in less than an hour. The airport is cute, about the size of a McDonald’s.

I had the impression this was a sleepy village mostly full of tourists but wrong I was. It certainly isn’t very big but is very lively. My first two nights I walk along the river and the shore is full of locals eating at stalls and restaurants, hocking various wares or just sitting on the benches chatting. Everyone here seems to have a 50cc motorbike and the most obvious hobby seems to be whizzing round town in a cyclical procession. Per Bolivian fashion the riders wear shorts and flip flops, maybe a t-shirt if you’re a bit of a wet blanket, and crowd on 3 to a bike. Not a helmet to be seen of course. A large crowd is gathered in the attractive little square, it looks like a cross between a protest and a motorbike​ rally. Who knows here. Another evening school kids play a game where they link arms and block an intersection, letting  some of the bikes through and making it difficult for others. I can’t quite figure out the system but curiously the motorists seem more amused than annoyed. Who knows here. 

    Both nights I have some absolutely delicious spicy empañadas, fresh tropical juice, watermelon and Popcorn (£1.50 all up) and watch the deep, red sunset swiftly fall. While I’m cosied up on the bench with some friends of hers, the cook tells me it’s B$8 for the food. The friend starts talking to me and I figure out that she’s saying I should pay B$10 by virtue of being a rich gringo. It’s a difference of about 30p that I’m happy to pay, the cook seems a little embarrassed by her friends demands. They talk more to me and I have no idea what’s being said, eventually just raising my arms in confusion and they laugh as I depart. 

    I​ stayed at El Lobo Hostel for a couple days before my Pampas Tour (the reason I’m here). It looks pretty nice, muy tranquillo, right by the lovely river but it is dead quiet. The pool table is almost unusably bad. There seem to be three house dogs, including a nice Golden Retriever, who earn their keep by enthusiastically barking at any new arrivals for 5-15 seconds and then returning to their perpetual nap. There is also a house child. I mean, like everywhere in Bolivia people bring their kids to work. The kid, at a guess he’s between 2 and 13 (I’m not very good at guessing), likes attention. At breakfast he points at everything on the buffet saying

    “Es mio!”

    and feigning upset whenever I eat something. Without my consent he trades his half eaten sandwich for my juice, giggling, tauntingly at me. He makes up for it by helping me stuff my charger into my mug where I neatly, and with much satisfaction, store my wires. 

    The view from El Lobo, featuring the ubiquitous bike and boat

    There is an inevitable night out. I have the most interesting conversation with an electrician from Hull and an Essex cook who looks like a young, ginger Dumbledore. They work on our research station in Antarctica and hearing the handyman’s​ and chef’s perspective on that world is fascinating. I own the pub quiz then two dutch lads have the pantless walk of shame at the tourist bar for getting seven balled at pool. We slap them on the back as they pass, Game of Thrones styles, “Shame. Shame. Shame.” I end up “chatting” with some locals; an eager business man and the local drunk who tries his English and shows me pictures of the daughter he’s not allowed to see, then speak with two girls using Google translate and they give me a fun ride on their bike, passing my hostel about five times before they understand I’m staying there. 

    The last night I talk with a 6″7′ pale, moustachioed​, kiwi with a basketball vest and a backwards cap. He volunteers at the hostel and does a mean BBQ. He tells me a 17 year old died in a bike accident this morning. No surprise, unfortunately. He goes on that a few days ago two cops were drunk driving and ran someone over, killing them. A crowd got together and dragged one of them to the square for some mob justice, details are unknown but he assumes they couldn’t get away with killing him, anything else is probable. We figure out that this was probably the commotion I saw in the square on my first day. Who knows here.*

    *- Who knows here? Local people obviously. It’s just me who doesn’t. 

    La Paz- Good, bad, ugly, yet oddly satisfying

    (Disclaimer: I did this on my phone so don’t know what it looks like really, could be messy

    Sooo La Paz…an analogy…

    When I was working in housing support in Edinburgh we got the file for the new woman moving in to the bloc. It described paranoid schizophrenia, violence, a long list of police incidents and how she’d turn on those employed to help her, weaving them into a vast conspiracy. A fairly intimidating character to integrate with the other frail, demented (as in dementia) old biddies. So it was hard to believe the soft spoken, dottering old Jamaican woman I met was the same. A woman who offered me daily gifts of chocolate bars and ginger stems and entreated me, with much glee, to glimpse her treasured silver spoons and peacock ornaments.

    Likewise, I’ve seen La Paz’s file and peacock ornaments. 

    The impression I had before I came was of a crime ridden, ugly city with deadly traffic and much poverty. They’re not exactly wrong, as in the woman’s file it’s not being made up. There is a fair amount of crime, everyone drives like a maniac so there’s​ lots of accidents and it’s a city of greys and browns. Concrete and dirt. And this is the poorest country in South America, quite visibly living here is tough. Having had a few days here though it’s clear these issues are only a part of the experience. I feel safe walking the streets, during the day. I cross the road without fear, siddling between bumpers and running through gaps. Snow capped mountains, colourful churches, blue skies and finely dressed cholitas* brighten the palette incessantly. I really like it here.

    Forgot to take the date stamp off on the first day, otherwise we could all really appreciate that crying child.

    The traditional La Paz cocktail of: pretty, ugly and pigeons.

    Calle Jaen, the one preserved colonial street in town. 

    Walking around is an orgy of sensory stimulus, a city lived on its streets. It delivers on all the Bolivian cliches but also offers unexpected curiosities and all manners of action. After conjuring the energy to move out of the dead springed hostel chair I slouched into after my taxi dropoff, I stroll down the main Street. Heavily armed police with a confiscated hodge-podge of shotguns and old rifles idly watch as thousands of protesters flood the highway. Loud firework sticks have me jumping embarrassingly as the other bystanders pay it no mind. I’m lured by a dancing bear into a restaurant, only realising after I’ve ordered that the place is definitely for kids, and eat an awkward empanada. ‘Brossoland©’. The bear dances on gamely through the protest smoke.

    Further wanderings show the city to be an endless marketplace of repeat goods. Stout bowler hatted women pedal SD cards, ice cream and llamma fetus’. 

    The llamma are a gift to Pachamama, ‘mother earth’, to be placed under the foundations of new houses to compensate the pain caused by digging into her soily flesh

    A common site is jugglers performing during red lights, then hassling the drivers for money while they try and drive away.

    Shrek?

    A shop with a thousand baseball caps has me stroking my budding travellers beard for an hour. They have every NFL team but mine so…

    The lesser of all evils. #gopackgo #legitnew£2ray.ban #beautifulsmile

    A good two course lunch with a drink can be had for £1.27, an ice cream for 11p (up to 40p if you’re a real fancy bastard). It’s pretty damn nice for food here, especially as the next vendor is never more than a few steps away. 

    These little places were cute, considering they were in the multistorey, concrete Mercado Lanza. About 30 of em, all the same food but good, cheap and super cosy. 

    I came across a little fiesta and had to feel for the cars who couldn’t sneak through and were trapped behind the festivities, crawling along for goodness knows how long.

    That bear/ kid danced along like a trooper but his heart clearly wasn’t in it. He had that stone cold expression throughout.

    I have my own festivities one night with a young Dutchman called Sven. First drink is in a cafeteria with ham and egg sandwiches and a crowd of middle aged Bolivianos. Second, after much searching, is at a tiny absinthe bar in a colonial alley with hummingbirds on the ceiling and fat naked men on the table. Sven lights the candles and tells me of Colombia. Third is in an empty restaurant, the over gracious owner makes pains to get the WiFi working for us although we don’t need it. Fourth is cocktails out on a rooftop bar overlooking the lights of the city, soaring up the mountainsides in all directions as they do. It seems like Pearl Jam are still pretty big here if bar music is anything to go by. We return to our hostel for karoake, outraged at being denied a slot due to tardiness we stage invade for a Spanish song we don’t know the words to. It doesn’t go well. After this we find comrades and the rest of the night brings the kind of mischief that I couldn’t repeat in polite company. 

    And I know what you’re thinking;

    “Yes, yes this is all very well Jon but we came here for the ancient erotic artefacts and have yet to see a single one!” 

    Let me oblige you…

    You’re welcome. 

    Also art and history is weird.

    Also La Paz is kind of weird, bad files and peacock ornaments…

    Shut up the analogy works! 

    I’ll leave you with some sunset pictures from the top of the city, reached by the fun and absurdly cheap cable cars.

    *- Cholitas are the hardy looking Aymara women that wear bowler hats and layered dresses. Look em up. Interestingly if her hat is straight she is married but if it’s at a jaunty angle then she’s single and ready to mingle. 

    *- Also, on an unrelated but cute note, the local football team is simply called: The Strongest. I wish I was the strongest at football…

    A most auspicious start…

    I don’t think it was auspicious really. To be honest I don’t really know what auspicious means but it’s Josh’s favourite word so that title’s for him. (He probably won’t even read this now, *sigh*, the things i do for love). 

    Anyhoo I arrived in La Paz dead tired on a black and foggy May 1st having just smashed through Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde during my various flights. The sinister, hazy atmosphere was a match but the brown, dusty sheen and chest constricting altitude were far removed from Hyde’s London/ Edinburgh that I’d just left behind.

    The info ladies in the airport say the taxi line outside is legit so I take my chances. Headhunted on arrival the cab I’m taken too looks genuine, as in, ‘won’t drive you out into the middle of nowhere and demand all my money’ or ‘pop round the corner, pick up his boys and mug me’. Nonetheless I have my concerns as the driver is pushy and coy on details. After a haggle and a walk away he seduces me back with compromise and gentle persistence. To be fair, only one of the windows was cling film and the taxi driver endured my lengthy inspection and broken Spanish so off we go, down, down, down on cobbled roads. At each slowdown I brace for an impending mugging but each time it’s only a speed bump or a pothole. 

    I lost count of the stray dogs at 50, they are every few meters.

    “There’s way too many stray dogs. Why are there so many stray dogs? The brochure said there were only going to be a few stray dogs. This is a terrible vacation.”

    Surprisingly they all look glossy and in good health as they embrace each other in the pre-dawn twilight, rejoicing in their trash heap bounties. I saw what looked like a Saint Bernard and a westie trotting around like old pals, ‘shooting the breeze’. Insamity i tells ya!  My chit chat with the taxi driver establishes that strays are friendly and owned dogs are the yobs. (Although this may be my limited understanding of Spanish, or maybe he plays practical jokes on tourists that end in rabies). 

    The taxi stops suddenly. I brace for a duel. 

    “Es 1982 Ecuadoro, si?”

    “Si…”

    With that he skips out and rings the doorbell politely announcing my arrival to the hostel before helping me out with my bag and giving me a big, ‘told you so’ smile at my misgiven suspicions. 

    I’ve just looked up ‘auspicious’. Apparantly it means “conducive to success, favourable”.

    Yeah, sounds about right.