Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Rurrenabaque 11.11.09

From Coroico I wanted to go to Rurrenabaque, which looks obvious on the map. But in practice one has to take a transport 8km down to the dusty transport junction Yolosita (not to be confused with the nearby Yolosa) and then wait until the bus passes by at some ill defined moment after 2pm and run for it! There were three other foreigners waiting, 2 Germans and a Canadian girl but when the bus finally showed up there was no space! They had no record of our reservations and furthermore, I had not been issued a proper ticket and had to argue heatedly with the lady-conductor who was disinclined to let me on the bus. Eventually I convinced her to call the agent to try to confirm that they had sold it to me. The driver came too but no-one was answering the phone. Eventually they let me on anyway and found two seats, two others sat up the front with the driver and everything was fine. 15 hours later, after a long, excruciatingly bumpy bus ride I ended up at the same hostal as Jessie, the Canadian girl, by chance and convinced her to come to Serere – the rainforest eco-lodge which Andre recommended.

The next morning we went to the Madidi Travel office, where the back garden gate leads directly to the river and we took a boat two hours up the Rio Beni. They gave us a ´box lunch´! along the way.
When wee arrived we went to our cabins and unpacked and then went to the Casa Grande for a drink and a rest in the hammocks before our first trip at 4pm. The cabins are far from the Casa Grande and the lake, in the middle of the rainforest and are floor to ceiling walled only by insect netting. So it is protected but at the same time open to the forest. There are two pet Macaws, one red and one blue one, and a spider monkey with a baby which it carries all the time on her back.
Our first trip was a canoe ride on the lake by the Casa Grande where we saw a lot of different birds, squirrel monkeys and far off in the middle of the lake, a Caiman´s head.
After dinner we went for a night walk, but didn’t find much, one nocturnal monkey up in the trees. We just saw its eyes, glinting in the reflection of the torch light. We also found a lot of huge spiders, out hunting, with their massive, elaborate webs.

In the morning we started out early on an interesting walk in which our guide, Nilo, pointed out various medicinal plants, and one highly toxic tree which they used to make the poison darts from. We saw a colony of tiny fruit bats, just big enough to fit in the cup of your hand, nestled amongst the folds of the huge buttress roots of a fig tree, chattering and squeaking away. We visited a nesting caiman (like an alligator) who stays in the water submerged, by the side of the nest, a huge mound of sticks and grass and mud in which there are about 80 eggs. As soon as we approached, her head came up, eyeing us suspiciously. A little bit closer and she shoots up out of the water onto the nest, looking rather aggressive. After a while we decided not to push our luck and to leave.

to be ctd...

Coroico 6.11.9

I came to Coroico and holed up in a beautiful retreat, Hostal Sol y Luna, a long walk out of town, but well worth it. It is set in the midst of a colourful, lush tropical garden. There is a pool and a restaurant, the rooms are lovely and the whole atmosphere is sheltering, comfortable and relaxing.

The road to Coroico is a little hairy - according to the histrionic Lonely Planet writer, it is ´the most dangerous road in the world´. I went in a combi full of locals, which is cost me a bit of time to find, as they leave from a fairly obscure location in Villa Fatima, a suburb up the hill from the centre, and the taxi driver left me in the wrong place (next time, ask for Transportes Yungueña I think it was called). I got the usual curious stares and questions and was then mostly ignored. The road is extremely narrow, rough dirt and with a 1km drop off the side down into the canyon. In places it was barely wide enough for the mini-van to pass. I only felt nervous when we had to pass other vehicles - once a larger bus and we were just a hairs breadth away from the side of the cliff. A couple of times we passed beneath waterfalls spilling over the side of the road. The Yungas - a transitional region between the Andes and the Amazona - are beautifulk. Still a dramatic mountain-scape but covered in lush sub-tropical vegetation, ferns and tall trees carpeted in furry mosses and lichens and others adorned with pink tree orchids.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Valle del Colca 17.9.9 - 18.9.9

I am back in Chivay. This time I was able to have a good wander around the village and spent a lot of time in the local market. I am particularly fascinated by the women in their beautiful traditional dresses. I had a cup of something warm and herbal - limonillo I think they called it, it had lemon, chamomile flowers, mit and lots of other unrecognisable herbs boiling up in a pot of water on a little cart. On the side she had lots of bottles of crazy looking liquids, red and yello and pink and noxious green, which she squirted at random into the drink. Apparently they are also made of various herbs.
I asked in the information office and apparently tomorrow not many ´carros´go to Sibayo, but if I am lucky I should be able to catch one at 9am in the morning. Since it is dark, freezing cold and there is not much to do, I will be in bed very early!

Well that was an adventure, albeit a succesful one, I think. The combi didn´t leave until about 10am so I had plenty of time to observe the market being set up, drink some more crazy herbal stuff and buy a few of the impossible "models" of crochet pieces that one of the ladies makes. The combi was mad, everyone got in and it filled up. Eventually we left, a mini-van full o 12 people, max capacity, or so I mistakenly thought. We made a tour of the village, stopped outside a house where they poured a jerry can of petrol into the tank, stopped at the petrol station to put air in the tires "so they will bounce" grinned one teenaged boy, and returned to a block from where we had started, in the meantime cramming 3 more people in along the way, including two French tourists who came frantically running along behind for 2 blocks chasing the van until the driver finally relented and pulled over . Did another block, arriving back where we started!
Finally, with much ceremony and horn tooting, we made our way slowly out of the village, grinding up a hill so slowly I tought that at any point we may start to roll backwards! A couple of kilomtres out of town the driver pulls over to cram three more people in! Luckily they weren´t goping far, only 15min down the road. The road turned ito a rocky dirt road half way there and the ride became jarring, although by then the van had half emptied out so it wasn´t too bad. We we got to Sibayo my heart sank - a dusty, crumbling, sleeping village in a corner at the end of the world. Not for the first time I felt sure I had come on a wild goose chase. I began to walk, slowly, notonmg a hostal and restaurant and a few small local grocery shops. 5minlater the village ends, strange that there is no plaza I thought. I retrace my steps, bidding goodbye to the two teenage lovebirds who continue ahead. I find a restaurant, desperate for the bathroom and as a pretext order a Sprite, which is warm and I manage to drink only half of it before summoning up the courage to question the taciturn girl behind the counter. She passes the buck by sending me next door. There a woman gives me directions to the church, in the plaza, next to which there is apparently an artesania shop. I keep walking, this time taking a mistaken left diversion up a hill. Halfway up a small lorry passes and I stop it to ask directions, whereupon three laughing boys are happy to set me straight. Eventually I arrive at the end of the very long village to find a beautiful plaza, old and crumbling, and the church even more so, but breathtakingly beautiful set against the backdrop of the mountains beyond. Unfortunately the artesania shop is closed - apparently the woman had ´just´gone to lunch. I am suggested to wait about an hour but 10 min later a little man pulls up breathless, on a bicycle. He lets me in and we talk for a while about the weavings - they have none left. There is one new one, without properly finished edges and one small one, which he goes off again on the bicycle to fetch, returning 10 min later empty handed. They didn´t want to sell it. I am prevaricating but finally decide to take a risk and order 3 of them, leaving a deposit of 300 soles, and get a handwritten note on a scrap of paper as a receipt, with lots of names and id numbers and signatures to make it more official! So I have to find a way back there in January to pick them up - the weaving take several months to make.

The return journey was no less novel, a differenty combi, this time with a couple of dead sheep on the back seat, wrapped in plastic hessian ready to go to market, we cram three of us into the remaining space and then , miraculously, one more! Of we go,. not very fast but with all the rocks and bumps it feels like we are flying along. A few kilometres out a man in a knitted pattern jumper and cowboy hat waves us down and argues for a while with the driver to let him in, there is not a scrap of space left, the drivers offers the roof. The man is unconvinced and keepsbeckoning to the passenger seat, which already had 2 people in it. Eventually he agrees and climbs up on the roof, off we go again.

Arequipa 14.9.9

Breakfast on the roof again, fresh fruit - papaya, pineapple, mango and banana with yoghurt and popped quinoa. This time sitting on a broken chair at a plastic table on a funny little terrace housig the water tank. In the morning I went to visit Juanita - a frozen mummy foud in a nearby volcano. She was an Inca girl who was sacrificed in the volcano Ampata in a desperate plea to the gods to stop the eruption of the volcano next to it. There were three other bodies of children foud nearby and a 5th tomb. Now she is kept in a freezer simulating the conditions she was preserved in, and in almost darkness.

Arequipa 13.9.9

This morning we went to the Santa Catalina monastery- a whole village of nun´s houses inside the walls of the monastery. Complete with individual kitchens where they used to bake pastries and cakes. The monastery - Dominican - was clearly very rich and powerful. The little streets and houses were very chamring and fun to explore. The nun´s had a lot of space, I feel almost deprived in my small, dark, single roomed cell, with only a bed, wooden table, chair and closet...

Oh dear... confessing... this might take a while....

Nice comfy loo....

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Colca Valley 13.9.9

The Colca Valley is spectacular, with charming little villages and the whole valley filled with terraces for agriculture - since the pre-Inca people. Unfortunately tourists arrive in hordes, by the busloads and all along the route are women dressed in brightly coloured and elaborately embroidered traditional dresses and hats, selling knit wear and souvenirs. We stopped in all the same tourist places as the other buses, lunch in c hivay at a place where we had a buffet, then to Yanque for a short walk and finally to some termas, again very touristy but the water was exquisite. Dinner in another tourist trap , mediocre food, bad pisco sours (watered down?)

and local traditional dancing, which was fun to see. Up the next morning at 5am and we stopped in yanque where there was an artesania market in the plaza and children dancing. We then con tinued to the Colca Canyon to see condors. There is a particular lookout there were they circle on the air currents - they are enormous and were soaring oveerhead, about 5metres above us!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Lago Chungara 10.9.9

Yesterday afternoon we took a yellow shared taxi to Azapa, where there is a small archaeological museum whose main attraction is the presence of Incan mummies.
They were shrunken and tiny, covered with mud and feathers and a kind of woven cloth like jute, or hessian. A man, a woman and a child. There were another two in a different display, in a seated position, wrapped in layers of woven clothes and with face masks. The museum itself is a striking oasis in the middle of pure dusty desert - with many trees and tropical flowers.

In the evening we went to the casino for a while, with a friend of Rita´s and his mate. It was the first time I have played in a casino. We decided on a limit of 3000 pesos each to bet. I found out pretty quickly that Roulette is not the way to go, losing 2 /3 of my stake in two meagre spins of the wheel. I then turned my attention to the black jack table, having to up the stake though, as minimum bet is 2000 pesos. This was a good move andI came out on top, winning 13000 out of my initial 2000. That was enough to cover my stake, the $2750 entrance fee and a small profit. I retired hastily.

Today we have been on a guided tour to Lago Chungara in the altiplano nearby to Arica. We saw a lot of wildlife - llamas, alpacas, vicuñas. The vicuñas are shy and run away if youb try to get close, but the alpacas and llamas are domesticated and are curious, in one one village in which we stopped along the way they came crowding around the bus, clearly accustomed to tourists feeding them biscuits which we promptly did. We also saw a small lake with flamigos, but only from a distance. Lake Chungara is very beautiful - but at 4800m you lose your breath easily!

My favourite part of the day was the later stop in an Aymara village called Parinacota. Only a small handful of families live there, maintaining the traditional culture. We were admitted to the church, which is tiny but very charming, with frescos and many small statues. A painting of the Virgen was uncovered, for one of only two days in the year. There is a tablewith a figurine of San Sebastian on top. This wooden table, which appears unremarkable, is very old and one leg is discretely tied by a long rope to the wall around the corner in the vestry, and also to a rope hanging from the roof. Legend has it that long, long ago, the table escaped and ran away from the church and stopped outside the door to a house, announcing a certain death. The inhabitant promptly died the following day and so from then until this day the villagers keep the table tied up inside the church so that it cannot repeat the performace! We spoke a while with the guardian of the church and chief of the village, with dark leathery skin and wise eyes and he recounted various other anecdotes. For example, no-one is permitted to ring the church bell except for the priest when he gives the call to Mass. If anyone else dares to touch it they shall fall victim to the following curse. If they are single they shall never marry, and if they are married their partner will leave them.

In an alcove in the wall inside a small chamber off to the side are some ancient skulls crowned with paper decorations. Apparently they belong to some once very important people of the village and they are now honoured and respected in this way.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Arica 8.9.2009

Another adventure has begun. It was hard to leave Santiago but i said all my goodbyes and the pain was lessened a bit knowing I would meet Rita here in the North and have good company for the initial stage of my trip. A transfer picked me up at 1:40am and I somehow managed to stay awake to get on the 4am flight! Now I am waiting in the bus terminal - it is just as well I am meeting Rita because after a largely sleepless night, aliens could touch down and ask for directions and it wouldn´t seem odd. Most of the interactions I have had this morning involve me staring incomprehensively as if they are speaking a foreign language.... Of course, the size of the backpack i am lugging makes them think I´m just another dumb gringo tourist who doesn´t speak spanish and their impatience is tinged with that condescending contempt especially and universally reserved for such species. My backpack. In spite of my firm intention not to fill the spacious 60litres, I somehow managed to make it weigh 17 kilos, and with enough junk left over to fill my small daypack. It´s a mystery how - there´s not much in there, a few clothes, both winter and summer, my sleeping bag ad a pair of old sheets, a small hospital and a small pharmacy (involving a first aid kit chocked with evereything I could think of needing , large quantities of vitamins, garlic pills, and anti-malarials, vitamins, and more vitamins...am I paranoid about my health?) Going into the Amazon jungle, I sure am paranoid about mosquitos! I have thus obtained every method I can find including this with obscure and random anecdotal evidence, to avoid being bitten. The strategy involves swallowing large quantities of garlic and vitamin B1 tablets to make my sweat smell bad and scare the critters off. There are two potential alternative disadvantages to this. One is I usually don´t sweat much and therefore it won´t work (but lets see what happens in the steamy tropical jungle) and two is that if it does ork, it will also scare off my fellow travellers! As Plan B I have a small stock of essential oils, - basil, geranium, lime, which odours are said to be repugnant to mozzies. But i can just imagine the little wrigglers wrinkling their nose in disgust and then biting me anyway! Then I have two pots of ´mentholatum´, which the Chileans swear by, which is a moxious mixture of menthol and camphor. In case none of the above work I have good ol´Tropical Strength Aerograd from Australia (but I´m desperately hoping that stuff doesn´t go out of date!!) A more serious biological weapon ( we are talking DEET at industrial waste levels) turned out to be impossible to fin in Santiago in the half day allocated to the mission and I am (probably futilely) hoping to find some en route to Mozzie-land.

To blog or not to blog?

It seems I have finally succumbed to the 21st century, self-centred, narcissistic habit of hanging your dirty literary laundry out to dry in the full view of the internet surfing public. That is to say, blurting out my random thoughts onto a Blog. Well, my random travel thoughts. The intent being not to have to repeat myself 10 times every time I check email and am required to respond to various requests like - Are you alive? Where are you? or Manda fotos! (send photos)
There are those who may compain about the choice of language, to which I say, tough bikkies! I am not going to spend all my days laboriously translating into Spanish. If you are lucky, I may generously provide photo captions in Spanish. This policy shall be revised according to the number of hate mail received from any potetial adoring Chilean public.
So I say no more, other than, read on Dear reader....