Stable Manager: This is Enjei, he´s gonna be your guide for today.
Me: You serious? How old are you son?
Enjei: 10 (altho I´d have guessed 6 or 7)
Me: Do you not go to school?
Enjei: Yeah, I work from 9 to 5 and then go to school from 6 to 8.
Welcome to the wonderful and crazy country that is Bolivia. After a v
pleasant day horseriding, Enjeis horse bolted for no reason and he fell off
pretty badly and seemed to be quite hurt. I had to gallop to the nearest
village to get some help for him but thankfully it turned out to be nothing
worse than just shock but I still felt pretty responsible for him even tho
he was the guide!
Yep Bolivia really is a crazy country, I entered it via the Uyuni salt flats
which were just incredible (see photos) they're the biggest salt flats in
the world and at times u can see nothing but white for as far as the eye can
see. We were camping at 4,200m and its fair to say it was a bit cold (about
-10). Bolivia is the self styled "highest country in the world" as most of
the population live well above 3000m a.s.l. Amongst others Ive been to the
worlds highest forest, lake, city and the pub quiz favorite the highest
capital. Being at such high altitude all the time really does affect your
body in odd ways. The first thing I did in Bolivia was to quit smoking (tho
Ive now relapsed) as my lungs just couldn't take it at the altitude. You wake
up every morning very thirsty and even walking on the flat is really quite
tiring, although thankfully Ive avoided any altitude sickness as yet.
After I left the salt flats I went to the area where Butch & Sundance spent
their last days which was awesome as I went horseriding and cycling with
condors flying overhead in beautifully rugged mountainous terrain. Having
said that the film was kinda ruined for me as I found out quite a lot of the
plot didn't really happen to them. It really is yet another country in
South America which is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Due to its altitude youre
never too far from awesome snow capped peaks and the incredible vistas of
the altiplano (high plain).
The people however Ive found to be really mixed; the population is the most
pure Amerindian in the Americas and the culture really is worlds away from
anywhere else Ive been to on the continent. In some ways this is really
interesting as all aspects (clothes, music, language etc) are very different
from elsewhere but the flip side is that they are very protective of their
way of life and as a gringo its very difficult to form relationships with
the people. Whilst Ive found them to be perhaps amongst the most polite
people on the continent at other times they can be extremely aloof and
difficult to get even basic information out of. They're quite odd looking
too, short but really quite broad and have very strange aging genes. 14 yr
olds look about 10 and 18 yr olds look about 14, at which point
(particularly the women) they start aging ridiculously quickly and Ive met
people my age who I would have guessed were nearer 40. Still they´re
interesting to be around after the much more European like peoples of
Argentina, Chile etc
After going to Potosi the highest city in the world at over 4000m a.s.l I
went to the highest capital La Paz which has got surely one of the most
spectacular natural settings of any capital. It starts at over 4000m b4
descending 400m into the valley below. It was a bitch to walk around as its
all on the valley slopes but I found it a really cool city that was just
buzzing with energy and street life all day. It´s also flanked by 3
mountains gorgeous snow capped peaks over 6000m, one of which called Huayna
Potosi I climbed. It was the first time I´d ever topped 6000m and was
really pretty hard. On the last day I had to get up at 1am and after putting
on 18 bits of clothing ascended 600m on the snow for 4 hrs until the last
200m. Unfortunately this was at a 55 degree angle and took around an hr
using a snow pick and crampons. Seriously exhausted when I finally made it I
actually shed a couple of tears on the top. Whilst I initially thought this was
relief or even a sense of catharsis I realized it probably had more to do
with not getting any sleep the night b4 so was pretty damn tired. Still was
greeted to an incredible experience of climbing it by a full moon and then
being on the summit for an unforgettable sunrise over the Andes. For the 1st
time in my life I had to abseil down the cliff with just a bit of adrenaline
kicking through me.
However, I got an adrenalin rush 2 days later that was almost as good by
cycling down "The world´s most dangerous road". You descend around 70km and
3600m in just 4 hours and was an incredible journey starting in the Andes
and finishing in the jungle. In hindsight I probably shouldn't have done it
(as anyone who´s seen me cycle especially downhill will testify) and as the
guide told me a story of how an Israeli in his group died a few weeks ago with a
smile on his face I perhaps wasn't feeling too confident. However, I managed
to make it out alright but then continued the journey by bus and for 6 hrs
was looking out over a 300m drop with the left wheels never more than 6-8ft
away from the edge, as you see the countless crosses and car wrecks below
you can´t help but feel very scared. It was pretty relieving afterwards to
go on a 4 day jungle trek and be back amongst the trees for a while although
saw disappointingly saw v little wildlife.
My final stop in Bolivia was on the famous Lake Titicaca, its where the
Incas believed the Sun and Moon were born and you can visit a couple of
islands where life hasn't changed for centuries amongst the ancient ruins.
It´s incredible to think a lake this size exists at this altitude (3800m)
and the whole area is an invigorating place to be.
Bolivia is a gt place to visit as its not too touristy (unlike Peru as I'm
discovering) and is really spectacularly cheap so found myself replacing my
now breaking luggage and many other unnecessaries like CDs. Whilst at times
is not so easy traveling here (buses not turning up etc) its unique culture
makes it worthwhile.
I´m now in Peru where I'm recovering from a 3 day bender and yet another
piercing (sorry Mum) b4 tomorrow I walk the Inca trail. After some more time
in the Andes I will def be looking for the beach and some decent
temperatures, which I'm sure you´re all enjoying right now.
Keep well, from Cuzco