A Travellerspoint blog

The English Caribbean

Greetings from beautiful Santo Domingo after a month spent visiting many a cricket ground and rum shop in the English Caribbean, although Im slightly depressed at how quickly Ive lost my Spanish :(.

The most obvious thing I noticed getting off the boat in Trinidad from Venezuela was how much taller the population was.
After a year spent being the tallest person around in 80% of situations suddenly I found myself about average height amongst the
self styled "most cosmopolitan people in the world". Trinidad is definitely the closest I came to visiting a "proper" country with developed
manufacturing and financial industries and the many different communities (Black, Indian, Chinese, Syrian etc.) adding to the interesting cultural mix.
I didn't find the people overly friendly but my God the food was good after so long without curry. I much preferred Tobago where the people were some of the friendliest Ive ever met, always chatty and friendly and I never even had to take a bus as someone would always pick me up.
I then moved on and had some very active days in Grenada doing a 2 day hike and then cycling round the entire island in a day before some much lazier days on St Vincent where I drank many Hairouns, one of the best beers Ive ever had with some Aussie pilots I stayed with and getting to know the bonkers locals in the rum shops when I wasn't visiting the Pirates of the Caribbean set.

The main worries I had before starting to travel in the Caribbean was the possible costs and the difficulties of getting around but I
managed to drastically cut costs by staying with Peacecorps volunteers (kind of like Team America but in a peaceful way) in a few places and
also doing a lot of hitching which was in some places much easier than trying to get public transport. The region generally isn't cheap but predictably if you avoid taxis and other tourist related services it is just about manageable.

Somewhat surprisingly I found the islands I enjoyed the least were the most famous ones for going on holiday to. Whilst the people in both Barbados and Antigua were very friendly and the beaches were great, culturally you almost didn't feel you were in the Caribbean. Surrounded by English and American tourists, apart from the beach there was little to do in comparison to their less famous neighbors like Dominica and St Kitts which were studded with natural
sights and good hikes.

Culturally St Lucia and Dominica were much richer as not only do they speak another language (French Creole, though English is official) but because they've been less touched by tourism people are still pretty curious and don't know what to make of you, e.g. Ive been called "Redman", "Yellowman" and even "colored" on those islands! On the more touristy islands at times I also felt embarrassed to be white at the way people would spend money. To see people preferring to spend $80 on a private taxi than take a $2 bus and sit with the locals was pretty shameful and doesn't exactly help to ease some remaining racial tensions that exist in the region.

Perhaps the most memorable part of traveling in the region was observing the way that relationships are conducted amongst the people.
The promiscuity levels are in some places unbelievable and the whole nature of how people interact with each other I found very alien.
Its completely normal to have children by many different partners and marriage varies from being the exception to the norm (St Kitts, St Lucia etc) to being very rare indeed somewhere like Dominica for all but the very religious minority. People don't have any problem with potential partners who already have kids and you'll see couples cohabiting with kids of multiple different partners. e.g. on St Lucia I stayed with a lady whos Father had 22 kids by 9 different women and on Dominica with a woman whos mother had 9 different kids by 7 different fathers. The promiscuity is so accepted and just normal to the locals that I ended up not feeling able to make any moral judgements on it. Some put this culture down to the slavery legacy where the slavemasters aimed to keep families separated to keep their morale down; but having seen a similar culture in (admittedly heavily colonized)Africa the difference in cultures I think might go deeper into history. Predictably HIV/Aids is starting to become a major problem but as with Africa, despite being bombarded with education and information on the subject I felt the communities reluctance to change their way of life means that at least some of the responsibility for the crisis needs to rest with the people themselves.

I also found the politics of the region surprisingly interesting for such small countries, as a legacy to both the slave trade and the normal route to independence from the British through the trade union movement, in all the countries there is no right wing to speak of. Normally the dominant party is the Labour party and the main opposition is the workers party or similarly named and it creates different sounding debates to what you'll hear in the US or even the UK. The most extreme example of this is Grenada which in the late 70s became surely the strangest place communism was tried. It would have been interesting to see what Marx, Engels et al would have made of
their theories being applied in such a sleepy, laidback place. America had perhaps their finest moment of the Cold War where worried about the rise of Cuban and Soviet influence in the country they sent in the marines who stormed the beaches and sorted things out. I hear that those who went in the "first wave" still don't have to buy a drink in the US....

There is still a lot of poverty in the region and some areas like education levels are extremely lacking but I found it very interesting comparing it to the French colonies or modern deportements in the region. All the colonial powers came to the region to make a quick buck in agriculture or however they could and whilst England lost all but the very smallest islands they controlled (Bermuda, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos etc are still part of the UK) the French held on to theirs but its costing them a fortune.
Citizens of French Guyana, Martinique and Guadeloupe have a similar quality of living to mainland France (at huge cost to the French taxpayer) and has prompted some in the English Caribbean to wonder whether they should have stayed with England. However, whilst there are undoubted problems in the region the sheer happiness of the people, ease of the climate and lack of material stresses means things are really not all that bad. Like Argentina, Brazil and Colombia in South America before, the Caribbean is definitely a region whereby a top of the range DVD player just doesn't matter so much to the people so much when they have so many other positives aspects of life around them.

I finally ended up in the beautiful and tiny St Kitts which despite well off the tourist map was just great for things to do and a peaceful few days there was a great way to spend my last days in the Caribbean after a rewarding though obviously very different months traveling. Despite being on the road for over 13 months the tiredness and desensitisation that's supposed to occur just hasn't happened. I still find myself full of energy and constantly looking forward to what I'm doing in the 2 months I have left.
I now have 2 weeks on Hispanola loving being back in the Latin world before I go to Mexico and meet a Bavarian friend of mine Bar von Lunkenheimer for a couple of weeks jetting around there.

I do hope everyone is well and so for the ante-penultimate time,

From Santo Domingo,
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:50 Archived in Grenada Comments (0)

Colombia and Elsewhere in Venezuela

Greetings all from my final day in South America (NOOOOOOOOOOO!!) after
spending the last month in the beautiful Colombia and a last week here in
Venezuela.

In the last email I wrote a bit about how I´d found the people in the Andean
countries (Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador) in comparison to earlier on in the
trip. Pretty much everyone who´s traveled in this part of the world wrote
back echoing those thoughts and once I stepped over the border to Colombia
my word you notice the difference in the way you´re treated. There can´t be
many countries in the world which have a less deserved negative reputation;
whilst it´s true there are problems with drugs and paramilitaries, the main
thing everyone who goes there takes away is the warmth of the people. As
soon as I stepped over the border from Ecuador everyone was friendly and
wanting to help you, even bus drivers and cabbies.
For the previous couple of months most of my activities have been things like
hiking and sightseeing and have ltd interactions with the local people; as
an indication of how different I found Colombians I did very little
sightseeing and spent most of my time partying with my one regret being I
just wish I had more time than 3 weeks there.

After visiting a couple of beautiful colonial cities in the South I went to
the brilliant capital Bogota. Colombia has actually got one of the biggest
middle classes on the continent and I found the cultural life better than
everywhere barring Argentina. It´s produced the continents best known author
(Marquez) and artist (Botero) and by day I really enjoyed seeing the museums
and walking the Bohemian streets. But Bogota will best be remembered for its
nights. I planned to stay 3 days but ended up staying a week as I just
couldn't resist the nightlife, I was out every night til daylight partying
with the supremely happy and friendly people. It will have to be put down as
one of the best weeks of the yr in South America and was gutted due to time
restraints to have to tear myself away. Having said that as an indication
that Colombia is still a fairly dangerous country I witnessed a bombing
whilst in a club there. Whilst the party was in full swing all of a sudden
there was a massive blast and the entire club stopped moving. The police
came in and evacuated everyone a few minutes later and it turned out a bus
stop was blown up about 20m away from the club. It was something to do with
the mayoral elections that were going on at the time but no-one was hurt
thankfully. Still a pretty vivid memory.
After Bogota I went to Pable Escobar´s home town of Medellin b4 heading on
up to the Caribbean coast, the centre of black Colombia. My God it was hot,
after being in the Andes for so long to suddenly hit 35 degrees in Cartagena
was a shock. Cartagena is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in
the Spanish speaking world due to its incredible colonial centre but
nowadays is perhaps better known for being the main jumping off point for
Cocaine from South to North America. Unfortunately in practice this means
there is lots of shady characters, homeless and more hookers than I've ever
seen populating the city but the nightlife was again just great.
By this stage I was really feeling gutted I only had 3 weeks in Colombia, I
know that might sound ridiculous if 2 weeks is August is the maximum you can
take off but I just wanted to spend more time in more places.
It was then time to head to Venezuela and was reminded that's its quite a
strange country, there are no supermarkets and there´s a dual currency
system on the $ which means it´s either very expensive or very cheap
according to whether you get the official or black market rate for your
money. It´s somewhat like Ecuador in that it seems to be no-one´s favorite
country in South America although it does have beautiful sights. The people I
found to be pretty unfriendly to start off with but if you can speak to them
for a couple of minutes they really start to open up, particularly when
they've had a few.

It might shock a few people but I´m actually very good at not getting that
drunk when I´m traveling but as a sort or goodbye to South America I drunk
a litre of rum 2 nights in a row with dreadful consequences. On Saturday
night I blacked out for a couple of hours and my first memory is being in
some sort of a favella (slum) getting kicked in the face by 2 black guys. I
somehow managed to scramble away but as I tried to ring a house for some
help they thought I was a burglar and called the police. The coppers showed
and gave me another mini beating including most memorably macing me. I
managed to look away at the right moment so didn't get it in my eyes but it
seriously hurt the skin on my neck and face for about 24 hours, they took
the money I had on me but gave me a lift back to my hotel. Nice. As I woke
up the next morning and checked my wounds I found I had nothing worse than a
bust lip and a few minor cuts and bruises. I was counting my lucky stars all
the time it was nothing worse on the 35 hr way up to the coast, which is the
end of South America for me.

It really has been an incredible year, I've found South America so rewarding
to travel in for a number of reasons. The ease of travel, ease of language
and friendliness of the people means you don´t have to put up with many of
the negative sides of traveling and the sheer diversity of the landscape
and available activities (in comparison to say Africa) means you just can´t
get bored.
I really am gonna find certain things difficult to live without, the music,
politics football and even speaking Spanish every day will be difficult to
leave behind. I´m sure it will surprise no-one to hear I´ve got another
tattoo done as a bit of a memento of what has been a year with virtually no
downsides.

But it´s not quite the end of the trip, this afternoon I take a ferry to
Trinidad and will spend the next 5 weeks or so island hopping in the English
Caribbean as far north as St Kitts (anyone been there?). I´m worried it will
be a little quick and it will definitely hit me hard in the wallet but am
still very much looking forward to it.
Hope you can still be bothered to read these emails....

From Guiria
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:47 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Ecuador

Peter: What do you do back in England?
Me: I'm a Geography teacher
Peter: Oh that's good cos if you said you were a copper or worked for the
prison service Id have smacked ya.

He was joking but so went part of a very interesting conversation I had in a Quito prison
with a guy named Peter Trutton, a super drug dealer wanted in 7 countries from Gloucestershire of
all places! He was inside for another 10 years but was a really likeable
bloke. I went to visit him in the prison in Quito and spent a very
interesting afternoon chatting to him and other gringos about their lives
there. It was really shocking in some ways just how different it was from
prisons in England. He had a phone, great TV, as much drugs as he could
possibly want but the thing that me and the other guy I went with will most
remember was the prostitutes there. They cost $5 and were just amazing
looking, kind of hard to see how badly he was being punished.
Nonetheless the deaththreats and none too pleasant characters around him
didn't exactly make me wanna join him there.

Its been an interesting month in Ecuador having climbed the highest active
volcano in the world, had some gt nites out and most memorably going to the
Galapagos. Ecuador is the most densely populated country in South America
and its really noticeable just how much more developed the land is and how
much bigger "small towns" seem to be. Culturally its the most Americanized
country in South America which at times is bad (strip malls, horrible
freeways etc) but can also be good as it meant things like decent
(vegetarian) food after Bolivia and Peru.

After just travelling too slowly for most of my travels Ive had to really
ration my time left and found myself traveling pretty quickly through
Ecuador spending only about 2.5 weeks on the mainland.
I did a short trek in a moorlike national park that felt the North of
England but then quickly shot off to a great place called Banos which was
kind of between the mountains and the jungle. I did some great stuff there
including rafting, an incredible 60km bicycle descent onto the jungle known
as the route of the waterfalls but was perhaps most memorable for staying in
a hot spring for so long I passed out when I left the water. I had nothing
worse than a few marks but just felt terrible for a couple days. Crazy, I
then left to climb Cotopaxi the beautiful 5900m snow capped peak which is
visible over much of central Ecuador. I had to get up at 11pm to climb it
and as you cant walk in Zigzags because of the risk of avalanches its
probably the steepest mountain Ive ever climbed. With no parts where it
flattened it was 6 hrs of hard walking in the snow but was rewarded with an
incredible view over a huge area and a welcome cigarette at the top.
I then went onto the very attractive capital Quito, it has a beautiful old
colonial centre with great churches and a great sort of travelers ghetto in
the new town where the nightlife was wicked going out til the small hours
every nite I was there.

But the real highlight of Ecuador was the Galapagos. It really didn't go to
plan to start off with, I wanted to do an 8 day cruise but these were only
available in 1st class which I obviously couldn't afford and the 5 day option
was dreadful value for money (essentially 3 days) so ended up spending the
first few days just partying. Instead of staring at iguanas and sea lions I
found myself staring at pool tables and beer bottles with a Puerto Rican guy
I was traveling with. Eventually I got myself together and took a few day
trips which were just great. You really can go so close to the animals, got
to see the colorful birds, the crazy iguanas and the ridiculous giant
tortoises within touching distance. However, the undoubted highlight was the
snorkeling, I got to swim with turtles, white tipped and hammerhead sharks
and my fave the sealions. They come right up to you and sometimes touch you
in their curiosity. Really cute. For the last few days I went to the biggest
island Isabela and had a really relaxing couple of days there, first
climbing a volcano which has a ginormous 10km crater at the top and then
just going to the beach and chilling out. I almost missed my flight back to
the mainland and had a 35 hr journey to make it up to Colombia so am feeling
pretty tired but Colombia is just great so far.

As you can probably tell from the tone of the email I didn't have
particularly strong feelings about Ecuadorians or the culture. I found the
people very disinterested and not very happy which was a marked change from
Brazil, Argentina etc where the people were smiling so much more.
Ive always thought the conventional wisdom that people in poor countries are
friendlier than in rich countries is nonsense and I think in South America
that's been definitely true. The people have been much friendlier in the
developed Brazil, Chile and most surprisingly French Guiana and harder to
interact with in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, despite the fact my Spanish has
improved a lot.

As I said earlier I'm having to really ration my time left in South America
(boo hoo) so have only 1 month for Colombia and Western Venezuela which I
don't think will be enough. Am now trying to take nite buses in South West
Colombia, not exactly the most stable part of the world (so wish me luck I
don't get robbed) b4 I make my way up to the Caribbean coast and return to
Venezuela.

Am having trouble sending the photos off but will try again in a few days.
Until then from Popayan,
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:35 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Peru

Greetings from my 1st day in Ecuador having spent the last 6 weeks in Peru,
a country which I have very mixed feelings about. Whilst it is another
beautiful country with lots of great activities to do I reckon over 60% of
my dealings with Peruvians were negative unfortunately.

I spent the 1st 2 weeks in Peru in the city of Cuzco which I´m sure you´ll
all know as the centre of the Inca empire and also the nearest town of note
to Macchu Picchu. With the exception of the Iguazu Falls and to some extent
Rio its the the one place in South America that I would describe as a real
tourist honeypot, and my God the locals know it. Its the 1st place Ive been
to since Rio where most of the foreigners don't speak a word of the local
lingo and it creates a situation where you are just seen as a walking $
sign. Unfortunately I found I got into many arguments with people over money
and it was like being back in prison as there seemed to be some unwritten
rule where thou shalt not tell the truth. I could give many examples of
this, from being ripped off by the 1st Peruvian I met, to being ripped off
over the price of apples in markets but perhaps 2 stand out. 1 was after
paying some $120 or so in entrance fees to get into Macchu Picchu they then
asked you to pay $0.50 cents to use the toilet inside. Scandalous. The other
one was when a couple of kids asked me if I wanted to play football with
them, which I obviously did. After we finished the game they said now you
have to pay us $2. It´s not nice REALLY wanting to tell an 8 yr old to go
f%*k themselves but that was kind of the way you were treated by too many
Peruvians. As another traveler put it "Not that many Peruvians can speak
English but they all seem to have enough to try and fleece you".
Its the first country Ive been to in a while where you just don't feel safe
walking around and you constantly feel like you're being´sighted up as a
potential robbery victim. I did have my wallet picked when at a bus station
(tho that was mainly carelessness on my part) and the feel of every city
with the possible exception of Arequipa was just horrible. A world away from
Argentina a few months ago.

But then there are some awesome sides to Peru; as I said earlier it is a
truly beautiful country with the 3 diverse environments of the coastal
desert, the Andes and the jungle. Outside of Arequipa I climbed an awesome
sentinel like volcano called El Misti which hangs 5800m above the city. Even
tho its so high because its an active volcano it melts away all the snow so
you can climb it without equipment. Therefore I decided to do it by myself
which was in hindsight just kamikaziesque. I did eventually make it to the
summit but I didn't know the route up and so found myself scrambling up
volcanic scree for 7 hours which let me tell you at 5500m up is not fun. I
could only move for about 5-10 seconds then have to stop for a minute as the
scree was so punishing. It was great at the top seeing the active crater
although I passed out for about an hour out of sheer tiredness on the crater
edge! I also did a 3 day hike in the worlds deepest canyon (well not
technically but more or less) which perhaps wasn't quite as good as it sounds
but did manage to do one of the most famous treks in the world: the Inca Trail. It
was just awesome, I found it surprisingly easy and the scenery you see en
route is genuinely world class passing awesome ruins, cloud forest and of
course the huge Andes which rise up to over 6000m on the trail. I did it
with a great group of people, no-one above the age of 32 and jackpotted by
getting absolutely 0 Israelis.

But then when we arrived at Macchu Picchu it was something of an
anti-climax, a lad who I walked the trail with summed it up perfectly for me
when he said "From a distance it looks great but up close (and particularly
when you know a bit about it) it´s just not all that".
Macchu Picchu it's overpriced but also very overhyped too. Aside from the astronomical entrance fees
its absolutely crawling with the worst type of tourists i.e. big
Yankee and Japanese tour groups getting shepherded round.
Over 60% of the site has been rebuilt and that that hasn't is mainly just
terracing which you can see all over Peru. They don´t know what the
significance of the site was, was home to just 500 people
and they don´t even know its name (Macchu Picchu was a made up one given
by its rediscoverer Hiram Bingham). As to
quite why the Incas are so famous it really beats me. Despite being around
as late as the 16th century they didn't have the wheel, vast areas of
mathematics and the sciences and didn't even have writing! Maybe its´an
indication that I've done too much traveling but after having seen much
more impressive and more significant archaeological stuff in China, Egypt
and Central America, Macchu Picchu just seemed a bit lame in comparison to the million city of
Tikal in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. One theory is that Yale
University where Hiram Bingham was an academic spent a fortune on
publicizing the find and therefore themselves giving it an inflated level of
importance in the archaeological world.
The Peruvian government has also
spent an absolute fortune on advertising campaigns to get people to vote for
Macchu Picchu in the 7newwonders campaign. I don´t really understand how its
a wonder as they even had a quarry on site which they didn't at Stonehenge
for example. The campaign was successful (and apparently the same thing
happened in China for the Great Wall) and in the same way that Eurovision
been ruined since they opened it up to a public vote it just goes to show
Kent Brockman was right when he said "Democracy simply doesn't work".

Rant about Macchu Picchu over what was much more ´wonderful´ were the crazy
lines over Nazca. After bizarrely watching a documentary about it presented
by one of my lecturers (Piers Vitebsky for those who know) we took a plane
up for about $40 and got to fly over them. They really are incredible as you
can only see them from the air and whilst some of the patterns are of
conventional designs such as animals others are of creatures which look
alien like and with no real explanation that sticks it really is a strange
phenomenon to behold on the desert floor below you.

After visiting an Oasis and being very hedonistic in the sand dunes for a
few days I went to an area called the Cordillera Blanca which must be one of
the most amazing mountainous areas in the world. Its got the highest
concentration of peaks above 5500m anywhere in the world (nearly 200 in a
100km x 20km area) and wherever you are you are constantly surrounded by
gorgeous snow capped mountains. I think perhaps my favorite point was where
at one stage on your right was Alpamayo which is UNESCOs official ´Most
beautiful mountain in the world´, however you can judge that and on your left
was Artiesonraju which you would all recognize as its the mountain in the
Paramount logo. Just beautiful.

When I got out the cordillera things took a turn for the worse as there was a huge national
strike in Peru which I noticed made world headlines on the BBC website. I got stuck for a few days in the middle
of nowhere and witnessed one of the most unpleasant things I've seen on my
trip where I took a Moto-taxi (like a rickshaw) to the start of the
roadblock to try and walk to the next town. After getting out and paying the
driver ´the workers´then started talking quite openly about robbing me, I
carried on walking and thankfully they let me go but when I turned round 50
yards later saw them hustle the moto taxi driver out of the vehicle and then
about 15 of them pushed it over for absolutely no reason. The driver was not
exactly the Peruvian Bill Gates and seeing all this it made me realize why
Labour didn't get back into power for so long after the 70´s. Talking to
some of the workers was interesting, the older ones seemed to have genuine
grievances about various things but the younger ones acted exactly like
groups Cardiff or Hull fans might. They were getting really pissed by 10am
and just using the strike as an excuse to harass people. Not pleasant.
Being around drunk Peruvians was often a real chore and I didn't tend to
enjoy my nights out as much as I should have done. Like Mongolians and
Maoris they just don´t seem to be able to drink, they´re alright for the 1st
couple of drinks but then seemed to be very drunk very soon after and I
watched 5 bar room fights in Peru, always over nothing.

Rereading the email I do realize it is generally pretty negative stuff and I
think the first few weeks in Peru I really wasn't too happy with the place
but it really wasn't all bad. In some places such as the famous floating
islands on Lake Titicaca the people were extremely friendly and as I said
there is a lot to do with impressive scenery. I think it would have been a
fantastic place to visit 20 or 30 years ago before tourism really took off
as it now unfortunately receives just too much and I think the people have
consequently changed in a negative way due to it, but I´m still very happy.
For the next couple of weeks I shall be in Ecuador and hopefully assuming I can
get a tour booked will be off to the Galapagos which should be incredible.

I hope you're all well, from Ecuadors lovely 3rd city of Cuenca
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:25 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Bolivia

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
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:13 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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