Month: July 2007

La Paz

Highest capital city IN THE WORLD!

Well, sort of.  Sucre still kinda is the capital in theory, with La Paz in practice.  After a civil war which La Paz won, but left ceremonious capital rights to Sucre.  All very odd, and reminds one that in this region, it wasn’t very long ago at all that there were civil wars, coups, and straight out wars.  At this moment, there is talk of moving the capital ‘back’ to Sucre – and 2 million people turned out in La Paz to protest.  That’s a lot.  Apparently the location of Bolivia’s capital is twice as important as racial rights were in the United States of Seppo.

Anyway – I arrived in this highest ‘capital’ city IN THE WORLD! on 25 July, a couple of hours earlier than anticipated.  Not sure what to do, walked into bus station.  (Bus had stopped a block over from bus station, in very small dark side street.)  Looked around, didn’t really find much to help my befuddled mind figure out what to do.  Put on some more layers of clothing, then took first taxi driver to yell at me.  He grins at his mates as I say ’sure’.  I tell him to take me to the central plaza (my usual tactic when I have no idea what to do), and then pay him what I think was actually a fair rate, and walk around looking for accommodation.  Everywhere has bolted down corrugated iron gates.  Find a doorbell though, and press it.  Answered, try to apologise for early hour, but get bed.  Sleep, sweet.  Then, up & about in La Paz.  Am in the centre of the tourist district, one block away from the street known as “Gringo Alley”.  So, not too hard to buy my quota of souvenirs.  Then, find the Witches Market.  Stalls with miniature statues, cigarettes, dandelions, and dried llama foetuses.  Then, try to find the Coca Musuem.  Fail, instead have afternoon lunch at small restaurant.  Watch shoe-shine chaps do their job.  Wearing balaclavas.  Apparently a lot of them are uni students, trying to pay their way.  And it wouldn’t do for somebody to turn up to their doctor and recognise that last year this doctor was shining their shoes.  So – wear black balaclavas, in stinking hot sun, to protect their identity.  For those who complain about the student loan system – try that for a day.

After a few cervezas (wanted to have enough so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about paying with a 100Bs bill), I return to the hostel.  Chat to some french (a lot of french here, a LOT), then a german girl who is very keen on sharing my maté with me.  A little too keen, but my general disinterest is enough without bringing out the girlfriend card.  Bloody tall hot german girl – begone.  Or maybe it was the fact that I’m leaving lipstick marks on my glasses and maté ’straw’.  Lipstick marks OF BLOOD!  Lips are extremely cracked, and bleeding ensues at any movement of the mouth.  Anyway, then spent the night on the internet, trying to figure out what’s going to happen once Pen arrives, and then Ben.  Ben, of course, was the difficult one.  But once we figured out a scenario where neither of us has to make a decision in the immediate future, it was all sweet.  But, it’s looking like I’ll be staying in this rather cheap continent for maybe a month longer than originally intended.  Instead of spending a month in the most expensive continent in the world.  Possibly a good choice, will depend on our success at finding coverage of that kiwi religion – the Rugby World Cup.  I suspect that with my & Ben’s recently discovered disdain of the worth of cash, we’ll probably end up staying in some stupidly expensive hotel on the nights of each important game.

But, babbling.  Onto 26 July.   Woken up by the hostel workers doing their job.  Although I’m not too sure on the rational behind cleaning the shower at 8am.  I get up, book a nice touristy tourist tour to Tiahuanaco.  (Tiwanaku for those who call Beijing ‘Peking’, etc).  Then, buy a token purchase from a stall at the Witches Market, then ask if I can take a photo.  She seems stoked, even poses for me, waits while I realise my batteries are flat, then demands to see the photo, giggles, and recommends 2pm as a better time for the sun position.  Onwards, today I find the Coca Museum.  Very very small/cramped (whole thing in the size of one double bedroom in an old NZ house), but well executed.  Exhibits have explanations in spanish, but they have booklets in various languages with translations.  The museum seems torn between explaining that there is nothing wrong with the coca plant, and heaps right with it – and with toeing the government line (which is in turn toeing the seppo government line for money – which I always thought was actual gifted money, but is in reality loans.  Thanks, America.)  Of course, they have to what they have to do to get funding – both the Bolivian government, and the museum itself.  Explains the history of coca before colonisation, and since.  Before colonisation – a beautiful thing.  Effective anaesthetic for Incans doing brain surgery.  Effective nutrition for workers.  All good.  Colonisation.  Effective nutrition and “at least I have coca” for slaves under spanish/catholic rule.  Catholics figure that something this miraculous must be the work of the devil.  (Alanis would call that ironic.  She´d be wrong, but…)    Catholic church condemns the coca leaf.  Makes it a sin.  Spanish royalty figure out that their slaves work much harder and longer hours when chewing it.  ‘Ask’ the catholic church to reconsider, which it does, and imposes a tax on it instead.  To this day, the miners in Potosi spend 15% of their income on coca leaves – as it is proven to make it easier for people working hard labour to do so for longer periods.  Oops, am in danger of ranting.  A very little more of the stuff I found interesting though.  I think it said every anaesthetic, or something like that, is cocaine-based.  Sigmund Freud was the first casual cocaine user.  Got himself nasal cancer.  Coca Cola really did originally contain cocaine.  And was a copy-cat product after a french wine.  Which was awarded medals and accolades by seppo presidents & christian popes.  Cocaine used much in medicine & other products.  Acclaimed by scientists.  Then, one scientist says that it causes mental retardation and poverty in South America.  Just when south american countries producing it were booming.  United Nation condemns it.  South american countries slide into poverty.  Seppos stay the most powerful country IN THE WORLD!  36 countries now have an annual quota of cocaine they’re allowed to produce.  New Zealand is one – can produce 17kg, from memory.  Not one south american country is in that list.  America, of course, has the biggest quota.  And I think the company given most of that quota is a subsidiary of CocaCola.

After the museum, went to the adjacent restaurant.  Set meal for 20Bs/NZ$3.50.  (I’ve read one other person’s travel website where they keep saying how cheap stuff is in their native currency, and I didn’t like it.  But, Bolivia is awesome, and I can’t help myself.)  Set meal – soup, main, desert.  Soup – garlic soup.  Only heard that garlic soup existed about a year ago, and have been dying to try it since.  Lived up to expectations.  Llama steak, filling.  Chocolate mousse – long missed.  Waddle out door, and use a couple of blocks downhill to gather momentum for uphill.  Unfortunately main road is in the valley, so momentum lost.  Up the other hill then, in high altitude (highest ‘capital’ city IN THE WORLD!), rather puffed after one block.  A few blocks later, find another plaza.  Again, only in Bolivia, immaculately maintained.  This one with hundreds of pigeons, and vendors selling birdfood.  Kinda like Zhongwei in China, but the pigeons weren’t quite so friendly.  Possibly due to the kids here enjoying chasing/scaring them, rather than being tranquil Zen babies in China.  Heaps of colonial government buildings surrounding square, and a few oversized flags.  Nothing I would call “giant” though – so a little disappointed.  Soldiers guarding one building wearing uniforms from the war of independence.  Including weapons & bedrolls on back.  Apparently there are very modern & heavily guards backing them up subtly.  Also, sitting on steps was Ben.  Seriously, it was Ben.  If he wasn’t sitting with a girl I didn’t recognise, I would have stormed over to confront him.  Instead onwards to artisan market.  One stall with stuff made from salt – cut from salt flats I assume.  Tempted, but not sure of the longevity.  Back to hostel, heaps of barber shops nearby – all yell at me wanting to shave me.  Decline, but store possibility in mind for later.  Book mountain bikle ride down the most dangerous road IN THE WORLD for day after tomorrow.  Death Road.  Tourist died doing it very recently.  Same company, I hear rumours of later.  Then, nothing to do.  Try to play music through TV in common area.  Fail.  Walk, eat at dodgy little fish ‘restaurant’.  Awful looking ‘potato’ with it, which I skip.  Therefore small dinner.  Back to hostel, buying bottle of wine on the way.  Get to chatting with an australian guy & girl.  Start playing cards with them and frenchman.  Start winning, so can’t leave, even after finishing wine.  Open bottle of coca liqor (spelt that way – I figure I got the liquor and not the liquer I wanted), and drink that with cocacola.  First time I’ve drunk that in ages, but – as mentioned last update, wanted to try and replicate the original product.  Turn down invitation to go into town with australians, as have early start for Tiahuanaco tomorrow.  Australian girl talks in very loud voice about how they were asked to leave the common room last night.  Soon after, we’re asked to leave.  She doesn’t seem to understand why.  Guy australian gets rather het up about John Howard.  Then, they leave for town, and I go for my early night.  2am.

27 July – wake up on time.   Which is lucky, because another way Bolivia outshines other south american countries thus far is it’s actual adherence to times/schedules.  Guide arrives, suggests I need warmer clothing.  I climb the two flights of stairs to my room.  High altitude, rather puffed.  Back down.  Guide suggests jacket, as may be windy.  Back up, puffed again.  Highest ‘capital’ city IN THE WORLD.  Back down.  Guide suggests sunglasses.  You get the picture.  Then, we walk to another tour agency, to whom I assume the hostel’s tour agency had fobbed me off to, being the only one who’d booked the tour.  Wait, then get on minibus.  Pick up a few others around town – then head out of town.  Guide counts heads, checks lists.  Looks worried.  Then, seems to figure it’s too late.  Gives some fairly informative talk.  Hills planted with eucalyptus, because they grow fast.  Informative, but boring.  A few obviously well-used jokes thrown in.  Artificial forest.  But trees aren’t plastic.  Eucalyptus, but no koalas.  Etc.  Stop at the highest point of road on way to Tiahuanaco, nice enough view – but nothing special.  Just the Andes in the distance.  Onwards, Tiahuanaco.  Very hungry, buy chocolate bars for breakfast.  Museum – some cool stuff, but no photos allowed.  Dozens of skulls – most deformed.  Children of priests were destined to become priests, so immediately after birth, planks of wood were strapped to their skulls, to force their skulls to grow into a certain shape.  Tall and thin.  Also, a display of a Tiahuanacon mummy.  In a flax-type bag, with only face showing.  Some other stuff.  Proud of the state of the technology, etc.  Pottery showing faces which seem to signify contact with civilizations from other continents.

Then – the actual ruins.  Main pyramid is still being dug up.  Luckily not as much to dig up as there should be, as the spaniards dismantled the top two levels in order to use the bricks for building a nearby town.  Nice work, europeans.  But, kinda cool to see an archeological site in the midst of work.  A couple of points reminded one very much of Indiana Jones, just before he tricked a chap into being dismantled by an aeroplane propeller.  Guide explains how the gate & a statue were used as a calendar.  Some of it I believe, other bits I’m not sure on.  Her credibility was a little damaged after she explained that her grandfather founded the 1 million population city just above La Paz.  And lived to 150.  A lot of guides seem to be related to very important people.  Have lunch at nearby restaurant, then – instead of going to 2nd part of the site – bus heads back to La Paz.  Oh well, main bit was kind of interesting, I gather the other part was just houses.  I’ve been meaning to ask if there is a good spot to see the city of La Paz, and it’s setting.  On the way back, the bus stops at just such a spot.  Awesome.  City of 1 million in a hole.  And it is referred to as just that… “The Hole” – for the main city.  With big mountains surrounding it.  Highest ‘capital’ city IN THE WORLD!  Back to hostel, buy a thimble, then use some internet.  Wrote the last update, then read The Onion for a while.  Perhaps a little too long, as I left the internet cafe, and for a moment after getting onto the street – was actually surprised to find myself in La Paz.  Highest ‘capital’ city … you know.  Try to find a store to sell me a bottle of wine.  Fail.  Instead, go to very overpriced restaurant.  NZ$10 for a main.  Salmon trout.  Back to hostel, just in time to go to bed at a reasonable hour, ready for a descent down the most dangerous road IN THE WORLD tomorrow.

28 July –  Up at 7.  Drink coca maté while waiting for other byklists to turn up.  Eventually – one frenchman, three irish guys, one english girl turn up.  We have breakfast, and one irish guy pulls out.  Sick, he reckons.  Sick to the stomach of fear, I reckon.  Try on our bykling gear, then into minibus.  Pick up a woman & two kids – turn out to be family of guide.  Little girl is shy, but with my winning way I eventually win her over.  She’s poking her tongue out at me with gusto by the end of the day.  Drive up to the top of the range.  Altitude 4,700 metres.  Onto bikes, and down the road.  First bit is tarseal, and the guide figures us out.  We promise we can go faster.  Some of us do.  Eventually we get to the turn-off for the actual Death Road.  All gravel and dirt from here, at times very thing, very bumpy, and very slippery.  And the road rules change – on Death Road people drive on the left side.  So drivers can see the edge easier.  Which means we have to ride close to the edge.  And if a car/truck comes up, we have to get off, and hold bikes out over cliff to give them room.  Sweet.  After a couple of stops, the others realise that I’m the fastest (most foolhardy) of the tourists, and there is no more of the subtle jostling for the first position behind the guide.  Make it to the bottom.  We’re warned about a couple of speed bumps at the bottom.  Unfortunately, I’m following the guide so closely, and quickly, that the first I notice of the speed bump is when the guide and his bike are flying.  I don’t have any time to slow down, as recommended – so I try the flying approach also.  Land just in time for the second speed bump, and stay with the tried and proven method.  Skid into a halt, and order a cerveza.  Others arrive a while later, and after we’ve all had a cerveza, into the bus for a ride up the hill to a township.  Go to a hotel where we’re promised showers and lunch.  Then we discover the showers aren’t working.  Others lie around pool, without actually getting in – while I go to inspect the drinks list.  A bottle of chilled cold wine.  Others eventually join me, and we have our lunch.  A buffet lunch – buffet consisting of one meat option, and one vegetarian option.  Couple of hours later, back onto bus.  We’re expecting a nice smooth ride up the new road – but soon discover we’re going back up Death Road.  Maybe the new road is a toll road?  So – I stay awake until we get to the top, and we’re back on relatively safe ground.  Back to the hostel – and I go find a bottle of wine.  Break the hostel’s corkscrew trying to open it.  Eventually find another, and sit on the couch to enjoy some vino.  Then stand up immediately, and borrow a cushion from another chair – as double padding is certainly needed.  Drink my wine, get my free t-shirt (opted against the design with a skull on the front), and CD with photos taken by guide/bus-driver.  Arse is bruised.  Hands are bruised.  Cracked lips certainly aren’t getting any better.

29 July – don’t sleep in as much as I’d hoped.  But, not as tired as I expected either.  Bykling is easy.  Walk to bus station, past armed guards who’ve blocked the road.  Was waiting to be yelled at, or shot – but no such luck.  Ask around for buses to Chile.  All either leave early morning, or lunchtime – arriving fairly late at night.  Decide to postpone decision until last possible moment.  Walk back to hostel, via restaurant for lunch, and markets.  Lots of markets in La Paz, including, I believe, the largest market IN THE WORLD!  30 city blocks, or some such.  Arsetralian girl I met the other day had been there, and bought 7 pairs of shoes/boots.  For not very much at all.

Back at hostel, brew up a yerba/coca maté combination – and sit in common area researching options for the two weeks between Pen arriving, and Ben arriving.  Then, decide to go for a shave.  But, nobody yells at me to come into their store, so keep walking.  Instead, go to a cuban restaurant.  Is gringo-priced, but I’m willing to pay the extra tonight.  Then, figure out the prices in NZ$, and feel guilty at thinking it’s overpriced.  Take the waiter’s suggestions for food & drink – both excellent.  Then, walk back to hostel.  This time, a barber spots me, and beckons me in.  Sweet.  Sit down, and get myself shaved.  Have to hold myself back from smirking the entire time – both to be polite, and because there is a very sharp razor blade on my face – and staying perfectly still seems a good idea.  Back to hostel, bottle of wine, listen to french jibber-jabber, and try to finish off all my coca leaves & yerba mate – as coca definitely isn’t allowed into Chile, and I believe yerba won’t be either (no fruits or vegetables at all).  Succeed in finishing yerba, but have to leave half a bag of coca leaves behind.


21 July – Got up, a couple saw my All Blacks top, and asked if I knew the result of that mornings NZ vs Aus test.  Nope, but gave them my knowledge of usual replay times on Latin America ESPN+.  Checked out, then found internet cafe, and discovered the replay was actually 8pm that night.  Went back to hostel, but didn’t see them.  If they’re kiwis, they´ll probably look it up themselves.  If aussies, I guess they won’t think of it.  Anyway, went to central market, and got myself another breakfast of saltenas and grapefruit juice.  Then, waited for minibus to bus station.  None arrives, I eventually ask somebody.  Next block over, apparently.  Go there, wait again.  Nada.  Walk to bus station, getting a little lost along the way.  But, get there, and book next ticket to Potosi.  I know the fare is 15Bs, but she doesn’t write the price on my ticket, and accepts my 20 note without a hint of giving change.  Less than 1 NZ$, I decide to forget about it.  Go down to platforms, and have to pay a 2Bs tax.  Odd, but legitimate.  Watch as teenage boy ties luggage onto roof, including tables, chairs, all sorts.  Then, give my pack to chap to stow in actual luggage section under bus.  Get onboard, and as bus leaves, listen to yet another hawker give her spiel on what she’s selling.  Not sure what it is, some kind of sachet.  Army chap gets on and sits next to me, then gets off in the middle of nowhere.  Little girl moves from her seat further back to come and sit next to me.  Asks why my skin is white, and chats about other things.  Falls asleep with her head on my shoulder, which ends up preventing me taking a photo of the ridiculous amount of litter (plastic bags) covering the hillsides and valley just before Potosi.  One tall chicken-netting fence could be mistaken as being a solid fence, except for the multi-coloured paint rustling in the wind, giving away that it is actually just covered in plastic bags.  Get to Potosi, and get off bus.  Start walking, and a local yells out “Hey!”.  I turn around, preparing to tell him I don’t need a taxi.  But, instead of offering taxi, he just shows me one finger.  And he wasn’t giving directions.  Angry, angry man – and I figure it’s better to ignore.  Keep walking towards centre of town.  After quite some time, a ute pulls over, and asks where I’m heading.  “Centro”.  “Centro is the other direction, you’re heading towards Oruro.”  Oruro is a town a long way away.  So, I turn around, and get the first taxi I see.  3.50 Bs – just over 50 NZ cents.  Sweet.  Get him to drop me off at the central square, then walk around looking for a hostel.  First place, wants to charge me in US$.  Bad sign – plus, the price would have been good in Bolivianos.  Not in seppo money.  Keep walking around, go to a place called The Koala Den.  Hoping that this mornings result will be favorable for me, not the australian (I assume) owners.  But, after half an hour at reception, nobody wants to take my money.  So, use their Lonely Planet to research some more places, then keep walking.  Next couple of places are booked out, then finally discover a place willing to put me up.  Thankfully drop off my stuff, then prepare to walk back into town.

(Did I mention that Potosi is the highest city IN THE WORLD!?  And that it is rather hilly? (Not steep hills generally, but with the high altitude, rather tiring to walk around.)

Anyway, walk around a little bit, trying to get my bearings.  I fail – my initial mistake of heading in the wrong direction stays with me, and my sense of direction is completely screwed for the rest of my time in Potosi.  Highest city in the world.  Go back to hostel, and have a siesta.  Then, get up, and ask guy at hostel where in town is likely to have a TV with sports on it – specifically ESPN+.  He seems surprised, and says everywhere.  Sweet.  Off I go, looking forward to food, cerveza, & rugby.  A dozen restaurants and bars later, finally find a place with a television.  They reckon they have ESPN.  Flick it over for me – but it is only ESPN they have, not ESPN+.  Continue, and many more failures.  Another place, with an english speaker, assures me they have EPSN+.  However, currently a large drunk guy is watching the PanAmerican games – but is willing to switch over about 8 or 8:30.  Sweet – order food and cerveza.  Watch womans beach volleyball, then some kind of japanese wrestling – possibly sumo for skinny people.  Eventually, switch channels.  And they don´t have ESPN+.  Dumb.  Have some more cerveza, then back to hostel for some sleep.

22 July –  walk down to tourist agencies, and book a trip to the silver mine.  Sunday, most other touristy places are closed – so do not much.  Have breakfast, find a spot with a good view of the mountain (at one time the richest source of silver IN THE WORLD!), then catch a taxi to a tower on a hill.  Get there, go up – decent view of the city and the mountain.  Mountain is a mix of red and orange – would be scenic if you didn’t know that it´s not naturally that colour, but is so because of all the mining.  Turns out to be a little cafe type thing in the top of the tower – so I buy a cerveza and sit down.  As it nears lunchtime, and more people arrive, my fears are realised.  It’s a revolving restaurant.  I wasn’t too keen on the standard of the structure beforehand, but once it starts moving – my worries increase.  Still, haven’t finished the cerveza, so can’t run away scared.  Eventually finish, and descend to ground.  Was hoping that my relatively expensive taxi here was so because it was a return trip.  No such luck.  Walk down hill, then try to flag down a taxi to avoid the rather steep long walk uphill to the centre.  Taxis ignore me – so I walk.  Up lots of stairs.  In the highest city IN THE WORLD!  Very tiring, but persevere.  And get lost.  I have a map, but in my entire time in Potosi, I only ever saw one sign telling one what street you were on.  Eventually I stumble across a restaurant which is listed on the map, and get my bearings.  Then, another siesta, I think.  Am writing from memory, still at high altitude, and my brain isn’t getting much oxygen.  Anyway, in the evening – went to a touristy cafe place, and ate some llama steak, and used the internet until closing.

I got up on the 23 July in enough time to get to the tour agency for my silver mine tour, but not early enough for breakfast.   Instead, had a cup of coca tea, then into a minibus for the tour.  Taken to a little house in town, where we’re fitted out with trousers, a jacket, gumboots, helmet, and the strongest looking lads with a battery pack and helmet lamp.  I was the first to be given a lamp – the guy’s eyes lit up when he saw me.  This entire continent mistakes too much cerveza for being fit and strong.  Anyway, got fitted out, and told that it is hot in the mines.  I’d meant to ask the guy when booking, but forgot.  Am wearing thermals all over, with another layer over top, and then the stuff provided.  Can’t be bothered changing.  How hot can it be?  Back into vehicles – this time I’ve been allocated a group, and our group has got a van to ourselves.  The van would have been much happier without a group at all – and indeed, we all had to get out so that it could make it up the first hill attempted.  But, we made it to the Miner’s Market.  This is where we are to buy gifts for the miners.  Guide talks us through the equipment that miners use, and how the miners here are essentially self-employed, and have to provide their own equipment.  So usually don’t.  Recommends buying lots of soft drink & coca leaves for them, as well as a few cigarettes, dynamite, etc if we want.  I’m the first to put my hand up for buying dynamite.  Comes in a little plastic bag.  A dynamite kit.  One stick of dynamite, a fuse/detonator, and a little bag of ammonium nitrate (or something, whatever the oirish use to make bombs – and makes dynamite heaps more powerful when packed around it).  I buy two bags, intending one for the miners, and one for myself.  Only place IN THE WORLD one can buy dynamite without all that annoying legal nonsense.  Also buy some soft drink, cigarettes, coca leaves (again – some for myself), and a bottle of the miners’ choice of booze.  96% alcohol which I tried.  Tasty.  They use it to toast the devil every Friday.  (Christianity didn’t think of that.  Teach the heathens that the devil lives underground.  Then make the heathens into slaves in the mines.  Heathens figure it out… “we’re underground, the devil is the lord of the underground, ergo – we’d better worship HIM, and not the invisible guy in the sky”)

I have breakfast with some of the guides at a stall in the market.  One guide tells me the name/nickname of the food, and informs me that the name translates to “Shit”.  Asks if I still want some.  Sure.   Haven’t had breakfast, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.  Just.  Then – back into van, which struggles up the hill/mountain.  Girls are issued with new expensive ultralight helmet lamps.  I get photo taken of me pretending to smoke stick of dynamite as a cigar.  Ha!  Then – into mine.  Very dusty mine.  Built for the short bolivians.  After a little while, arrive at a ‘museum’.  Has a few examples of equipment, and the statue of the devil which the miners worship.  Good statue.  Also statues of pirates – who the miners liked, because they stole the silver from the hated Spanish.  Also, a very interesting piece on the tax system.  Took a photo of that for some of you people who complain about my photos.  Then – onwards into mine. Hands and knees for quite a lot of the time.  Very claustrophobic, and hearing trolleys rattling along behind you, above you, all around you.  Above is prettyscary, because it becomes rather obvious that tunnels are rather close to each other – making cave-ins a very real prospect.  Stopped in one little open area to learn about some history.  Stories about inter-mine wars, and miners versus the police.  “The police have guns.  We don’t.  But we have dynamite, so we use dynamite.”  Sweet.  More crawling, and see a few miners at work.  Hand out presents, etc.  Very very nasty environment to work in.  Most miners die after 15 years of working in mines.  Very interesting trip, but was pretty happy to get out.  Especially as my second bag of dynamite, and one bought by the oirish couple (surprise, surprise) had been set aside to make ‘bombas’.  So – back to sunlight, then watch the guide making dynamite bombs.  Not like on the A-Team.  Don’t just stick the detonator into the top of the stick, light it, then throw it out of the helicopter – resulting in bad-man’s jeep to roll.  Unwrap dynamite, knead it into a ball (is just like playdoh), rewrap it, stick the detonator/fuse in it – then place it in a plastic bag, and pour the fertiliser into the bag.  Tie the bag up, leaving fuse coming out.  Tie your bomb to a barbie doll, thread the fuse through the barbie doll’s mouth – then light it.  Wait as people ask how long the fuse burns for, then finally run down hill, place bomb, run back, and wait.  And boom.  Big BOOM.  Felt the shockwaves in my body – and was (not by choice) a considerable distance from the explosion.  Cool.

Back in van, drop off equipment.  Then, others head straight for showers, while my priority is cerveza.  Cerveza, then to hostel for shower, and possibly another siesta.  (High altitude plus exercise = many siestas).  Then, found a nice restaurant for some good food and red wine.

Woke up on 24 July very very sore.   But, packed stuff, and checked out.  Left luggage in the hostel, and headed to town.  Just in time to join a tour of the mint.  Rather interesting, although nothing in particular I can think of which would be worthy of your time.  Old methods of making coins.  Machines to flatten silver ingots.  Story of the treasure ship which was sunk – and only discovered fairly recently by american treasure hunters.  Who generously gave two coins back to Potosi.  Out of $400 million worth of silver.  At the end, had option to buy a ‘blank’, then use the old coin stamping method to stamp one’s own coin.  One couple did it, with cheapest blank.  Sledgehammer onto top of vice type thing, coin stamped.  I decide to do it too, but insist on pure silver.  The most expensive one.  And told I have to hit it very hard for it to work with silver.  Sweet – can do.  Couple take photo for me – bang, coin stamped.  Then, discover couple are kiwi.  We chat, then go for lunch/breakfast together.  I mention I’d heard the nunnery museum is interesting.  So, we walk markets together, then off to the nunnery with us.

Have to pay extra to be allowed to take photos.  Tour of nunnery.  A little interesting, but most of place has been ‘restored’, which in this case means turned into a museum – leaving very little of how it originally was.  Did get to see their flagellation tools though.  And a particularly brutal portrayal of Jeebers on the cross.  But, after two and a half hours, I think everybody was rather happy when the tour ended.  And I was very cold.  Sun had gone down, and I had only one layer on – with rest of clothing back at hostel.  Hurried back to hostel, put on more clothes, then headed towards bus station.  Stopped twice for hot food and cold cerveza.  The second time accompanied by Jean-Claude Van Damme (twice – cleverly playing two characters).  Then, suddenly noticed the time, and got a taxi the rest of the way.  In bus station, first office had no tickets for La Paz.  Then, heard guy yelling “La Paz, La Paz”.  Rushed over, bought a ticket off him.  Already printed, with somebody else’s name on it.  Sweet.  A local woman does the same, and I follow her to findout what platform my bus is at.  Get there, and find gringo carefully watching bags being lowered by rope from window of ticket office upstairs.  She tells story, similar to one I’d heard before, about luggage being stolen from bus luggage compartment.  Sure, fair enough, but realise that maybe my pack is supposed to be given to the folks upstairs.  Ask the guy packing the luggage, and sure enough.  It is now the scheduled time for bus to leave, so I run upstairs, hand my pack over, and run back downstairs to make sure it is loaded onto correct bus.  Get back down just in time to see it land on the ground, and packed away.  Onto bus (normal class, not cama.  Which means no legrest, and just a normal seat that reclines very little.  For an 11 hour trip.), and am sitting next to woman with small boy on her lap.  Fellow comes down calling out names, apparently the names of people who’ve bought tickets.  Woman next to me tries to explain that she just bought a ticket, with name preprinted.  Doesn’t seem happy at the response.  Perhaps that if the real person turns up, she’s out of luck?  I just show my ticket.  A few more people get on, and sit/stand in the aisle.   And we’re off.  Am careful of stuff in my pocket closest to aisle, as guy is sitting just behind my eyelevel in the aisle.  But soon I’m absorbed by the movie.  Blood In, Blood Out.  The title intrigues me, but I’m completely drawn in when the dialogue switches randomly between spanish and english.  Excellent.  Movie finishes, people in aisle get off somewhere, child on lap next to me throws up, we stop at a little ‘cafe’ in the middle of nowhere.  People use the side of the road as a toilet (men & women), and a few of us have a nice cup of tea in the ‘cafe’.
Then, stand around a small fire on the roadside outside.  A couple of drunk locals (not sure local to where.  Really seemed to be just one building in middle of nowhere) walk past, and seem to be trying to pick a fight with me.  Not sure, and if so – subtly.  May have just been very very drunk.  One guy fell into me a couple of times, possibly wanting me to push him away.  Eventually walk off, then the drunker one turned around, and started to rush back towards me.  His amigo stopped him though, and they disappeared into the darkness.  I’m really not keen to get into a fight with locals, as even if I act in self-defence, it may be 50-50 as to who other locals side with.  But, nothing happened this time, and I got back onto bus in time for us to drive off again.  With a new person getting onboard to sleep in the aisle right next to me.  I manage to get a few periods of sleep.

Next update, La Paz.  By then, I will have done some bycicling (yes, that’s how it’s spelt) done the world’s most dangerous road.  Also – to the Publican from Col-bin-a-bin (yes, that’s how it’s pronounced), I did get your little message – but it has since disappeared when my computer nerds moved my website for me.  In answer to your queries, I haven’t had too much dealings with Latin American constabularies.  Neither, to my memory, have I had any uncontrollable waves of nausea.  Although last night was close, after drinking a quantity of coca liquor.  I believe it was the cocacola which made me feel ill.  Haven’t drunk that crap in a long long time, but thought I’d make an exception for using it as a mixer with coca liquor, and therefore recreating (nearly) the original cocacola recipe containing cocaine.

Samaipata, Sucre

Woke up early enough on 16 July to discover that the hostel provides breakfast.  Free, I think.  Scoff down some fruit – solid & liquid – then pack my stuff and check out.  As I’m leaving, a canadian is coming back.  He’d been to bus station, but road to Cochabamba is blocked by coca-growers protesting.  I check with lady at hostel, and she assures me road to Samaipata is fine.  So – I walk to where the colectivo taxis for Samaipata leave.  (Taxis that do a certain route, and wait until they’re full before leaving).  I was the fourth person to arrive wanting to go, so was immediately pushed into the dodgy old stationwagon, and off we went.  Dirt road as soon as we left the city, with quite a few landslides.  And awesome tiny villages with thatched huts – I really wanted to stop the taxi and just get out to stay a night in one of these places, but wasn’t too sure about the practicality of it, and didn’t want to waste the couple of NZ$ I’d paid for a 2 or 3 hour taxi ride.  Got to Samaipata, and decided to use the hostel with whose pamphlet I had figured out how to get here.  A hostel which provides useful info deserves my money.  Get there, and it’s rather busy.  But – room available once other people check out.  So – leave my bags there, and go look for food.  Turns out to be rather difficult, but eventually find very cheap place, with very bad food.  Then, decide to walk the 9km to El Fuerte – the largest stone carving IN THE WORLD!  First 4km, easy – fairly flat along the main ‘road’.  Then, a dirt track up a hill.  Was expecting this, and not too bad.  Then, down the other side.  Then, up a hill again.  A bloody long hill which got steeper and steeper.  Absolutely buggered by the time I got to the top.  Chopped back a quick lemonade, then did some more walking up and down hills around this big rock with carvings all over it, and some Inca ruins.  (Pen & Ben – we can probably cancel Macchu Picchu.  I’ve seen Inca ruins now, and they aren’t that great.)  The carved rock was pretty impressive, but you couldn’t get the bird’s-eye view that is really needed to fully appreciate it.  I was pretty disappointed, especially after that awful walk here.  Which I could have avoided with a NZ$8 taxi ride (for ride up, driver to wait for up to two hours, then drive back).  I really need to remember how stupidly cheap taxis are in this country.  But, walked around the big stone, saw some ruins, and started the walk back.  Wasn’t too upset about having to walk back, as knew the only uphill bit wasn’t too bad. Then, on the final downhill, a minibus stopped and offered me a ride.  Full of schoolgirls.  Giggling schoolgirls, as soon as I got onboard.  A couple of them found the courage to ask for photos with me, and I of course obliged.  Didn’t have time to get my own photos with them before we arrived at the main road, and I had to get off, as they were going in another direction.  A local fellow who’d also been offered a ride got off too, and we strolled back to town together.  He started chatting rugby as soon as he knew I was from NZ.  Thought I was a professional player.  Everybody on this continent confuses my size as to being strong, rather than just too much cerveza.  Anyway, he explained that rugby is growing quite quickly in Bolivia, and a lot of his friends are playing it.  Look out All Blacks.

Got back to hostel eventually, and met an australian couple.  Very nice, the guy had just shaved a beard comparable to my China beard off – leaving the moustache.  A rather fine moustache.  They informed me that they’d been travelling with two kiwis they’d met, and who’d just left yesterday.  Also, there was a group of 4 other kiwis in the hostel.  Later in the evening, I met the group of 4 – immediately doubling the number of New Zealanders I’ve met on this trip.   Went to bed very tired, and was woken up by the English girl in another bed – asking me to roll onto my side, as I was snoring rather loudly.

17 July – Woke up too late for breakfast at the hostel, and then wandered up to an organic restaurant – where I came across the aussie couple and the Kiwi4.  Sat around chatting, watching hummingbirds fly around (hummingbirds are cool), drinking fresh juice and eating fresh food.  Then, walked up the hill at the back of the cafe/garden – where the owners had set up a ‘throne’ with a rather good view of the town and surrounding hills.  Back to the hostel, and I drank some cerveza while the aussies and english girl packed, then caught the night bus to Sucre.  Two kiwi girls arrived, and soon there was a group of 7 kiwis, and one canadian (the guy from Santa Cruz who couldn’t make it to Cochabamba – instead arrived here today) playing cards, and drinking.  One kiwi girl was rather drunk rather quickly, and became the perfect example of the embarassing kiwi traveller.  When asked to go downstairs to the lounge, not many people understood why (rather sensitive neighbour).  But, I managed to convince everybody, then cleaned up after them.  Unfortunately, a girl who is working at the hostel voluntarily (well – free board I assume) sleeps in a room adjoining the lounge.  While I was upstairs cleaning, I gather she hinted that it would be nice if people were fairly quiet.  And that smoking wasn’t allowed inside.  When I got down there, it was rather obvious that this was being ignored.  And when I tried to convince them that it was a good idea to be quiet, it turned into an argument which was even louder.  Eventually, at 1am, everybody went to bed.

So, I wake up on 18 July, feeling rather seedy, and intending to apologise to the volunteer.  Apparently, though, she’s already left for ‘The City’ – and won’t be back until tomorrow.  I do find, however, a note in the kitchen from her to the owner, complaining about last night.  Dumb.  I get the hostel owner to book me a ticket on tonights bus to Sucre, and ask him to apologise to the volunteer for me.  Then, walk up to the organic cafe with the Kiwi4, where they get some packed lunches for a walk up a hill, and I settle in with a jug of juice, a book, and the menu.  Soon hear a thump, and look around to see a hummingbird fall to the ground after flying into a window.  Pick it up, and place it on a table so that the dogs won’t hassle it – and hopefully it can recover.  An hour or two later it’s gone – so hopefully did it on it’s own steam.  I’ve said it before, but hummingbirds are cool.  Eventually finish the book, and return to hostel.  Buy a cerveza, and hostel owner confirms that I have a ticket.  Luckily, as the buses were booked out, but there was a cancellation.  Kiwi4 were also hoping to leave, but only one cancellation.  I ask what time the bus is (have heard that they are usually around 9pm) – and the hostel owner suddenly remembers that this one is much earlier, and that I should head down immediately.  Leave my cerveza with an elderly lady who had asked me earlier if they sell cerveza at the hostel – and catch taxi with owner who has to restock the cerveza.  Get to a roadblock where all vehicles have to pay a toll, and wait.  And wait.  Buses come through, but I can’t remember the company name I’m supposed to be on.  And apparently the driver has my ticket.  I know my seat number though, so ask the guys jumping off the buses to pay the toll, and sneaking a look at their passenger lists.  Nope, nope, nope.  Three hours later, in very very cold night, the guys at the tollbooth (after doublechecking all the passenger lists several times earlier for me), tell me there won’t be any more buses coming through.  I walk back to hostel – where luckily there is one bed free.  It happens to be mine, which they haven’t stripped or remade since I left.  Drop off my stuff, check the thermostat which is bang on zero, buy a bottle of wine, and head down to the lounge where a few people are watching a movie.  They head off, I watch an awful action movie while I finish the wine.

Get up on 19 July, and come out to breakfast – to the surprise of the owner, of course.   He asks what happened, and I explain.  He books me another ticket, this time with the company they usually use.  Doesn’t want me to pay for the second one, but we settle on me paying for half the second.  Then, I head to the museum about El Fuerte, which I’d forgotten to visit earlier.  Not too interesting, but had scale model of the big rock, so could see the full extent of the carvings.  Don’t do too much else.  Back to hostel, and have a few cervezas.  Kiwi4 are also booked on this bus, so we wait together.  I ignore the warning of the hostel owner that there is no toilet on the bus.  Several cervezas.  Volunteer has returned from The City, so I apologise in person.  Not sure if it goes down well while also buying more cerveza.  Eventually walk down to main road (different place from last night – has a little shop and seats to sit on while waiting).  Bus arrives on time, and we get on board.  Much better than last night.  Kiwi4 get on and laugh and complain about the lack of legroom.  I, the older and wizened traveller, get on, sit down, and prepare for an umcomfortable sleep.  Would have been much less uncomfortable if I’d heeded the warning about no toilets.  Wake up in the middle of the night, and try to tie my internals into a knot.  Succeed, I think, as when the bus finally stops, and I jump off for some quick relief, the pain in my gut continues until well into the next morning.

20 July – Arrive in Sucre.   Theoretically still the capital of Bolivia, although it now has only the Supreme Court, and everything else is in La Paz.  Civil war you see, which La Paz won, but to appease Sucre – allowed it to remain the capital, kind of.  Kiwi4 get off with me, and one offers to share a taxi.  I watch them load their packs into the boot of a taxi (boot is open, packs standing up on end poking out of it), and tell them I might see them in town.  They take the taxi, and I take a walk.  A fairly easy twenty minutes, and I reach the street with multiple hostels on it.  Ask at a couple which are full, then discover one with space.  Get myself a room, and drop my stuff off in it.  On the wall, written in biro, is “WARNING: this place is a shithole.”  Charming.  I’m not sure if the author is referring to the hostel, or the city.  So – go for a walk in the city to see if I can figure it out.  A market is across the road, where I buy a couple of saltenas.  Bolivian specialty (espcially in Sucre, with the reputation for the best saltenas in the country) – pretty much a pastry filled with chicken or beef, diced potato, and a sweet sultana sauce.  Pretty tasty, and very cheap.  Also, freshly squeezed juice – I opt for grapefruit.  Two large glasses for less thatn 50 NZ cents.  Sweet.  Walk around town – another immaculately maintained central plaza.  Discover an old train sitting by itself in a compound, and can’t remember if I read that the last train ever robbed by Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid was in Sucre, or somewhere else in the area.  Anyway, an army-type chap stops me from entering.  So, walk back to hostel for a siesta.

Get up in time for lunch.  Another bolivian specialty, this time not so good.  Greasy sausages served on a hamburger bun.  Then, check out a museum.  Not bad – housed in the house where Bolivian Independence was signed up.  See the treaty of independence, and other stuff dedicated to the War of Independence, among the several other wars Bolivia has fought.  (I think Independence was the only one they’ve won.)

Then, find a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the plaza, and have a couple of cervezas.  Starts to get very cold as the sun drops, so head back to hostel, put on some more clothing, and return to the restaurant with balcony.  This time, order yet another bolivian specialty.  This time, delicious.   Diced chicken, beef, and maybe llama, with vegetables, in a spicy onion sauce.  I order the half-plate, and eat maybe half of that.

Santa Cruz (translated: Saint Kruse)

12 July

Did I mention my hotel room here has no blankets?  Lots of places in the far north didn’t – but that was where it was warm, and they provided a topsheet instead, which was enough.  Here – nothing.  And cold.  So – use my sleeping bag for the first time.  Turns out to be stupidly warm – just used as a blanket.  Get out from underneath it, and it’s freezing.  Anyway – today checked out museum.  Not too interesting.  But they had caught one of every creature in the area, and stuffed it.  Hundreds of birds, weird mammals, frogs, snakes, insects, etc.  Then – go to tourist office type place to ask about bus to Bolivia.  200 Guaranis.  Luckily, they also mention a bank next door (disguised as a non-bank), where I change all my seppo & brasilian currency.  Now have enough for the bus, and some extra.  As long as I can pay for hotel with Visa.

13 July

Get up early for my 6am bus.  Wait for bus, next to tourism-type shop.  About 7am, the lady who’d given me information arrives.  Looks confused at seeing me.  After a while, I figure out she meant 6pm last night.  Not 6am this morning.  Dumb.  But – she reckons there’s another one at 10am.  So – hang around, meet three seppo girls – give them some advice on the town.  Then, I sit at ‘bus-stop’.  (Side of road next to tourism shop & my ‘local’ ‘bar’.  Wait, and wait.  At noon I decide I’ve earnt some food and cerveza.  Chap talks to me, doesn’t like it when I don’t understand spanish very well.  I think he tells me I should leave Parguay ‘rapido’ in that case.  Lucky I didn’t say I didn’t understand drunk mumbling spanish very well.  But, after a while of him talking to others, I overhear “aleman”.  I jut in, and say I am NOT German.  Everybody becomes a lot friendlier.  I don’t think the local population is too happy with the german mennonites.  We talk about money, which I’m never too comfortable with.  In Uruguay, when I was forced to tell my annual wage in US$, the guy thought I was getting my zeros mixed up – thought I’d put two too many on the number.  I reassured him I was right, much later I realised I’d admitted to being a double-millionaire by his standards.  Here – I’m a half-billionaire.

Old man starts talking to me.  All friendly-like, a little creepy.  Says there’s definitely a bus at 4, and until then – he knows a cheaper place to drink.  So – we go.  He offers to take my small bag as we walk in the narrow doorway.  Fair enough.  Puts it down beside him, under the table opposite me.  I feel a little uneasy.  We chat.  I notice his hand under the table, obviously moving, as if itching his ankle.  Uneasiness grows.  He asks me to see the brasilian & uruguayan coins I’d shown some guys earlier.  Mistake on his part – as they’re in my small bag.  As soon as I make a move for it, he realises, and pulls it out for me.  In the process, I distinctly hear the zip being done back up.  Shit.  I get the coins out – put them on table for him to look at.  While he’s doing that, I check my stuff.  Obviously has been gone through.  Only thing missing I can identify is my Leatherman.  Not happy.  I ask him if he has something, about ‘this size’.  He reckons ‘no’.  I tell him goodbye, and storm out.  Soon regret it, and think I should have forced him to give me it back, but by now he (if smart) would have stashed the swag.  Go back to my local, get a cerveza, and fume.  One guy I’d talked to the last two days turns up, and we chat.  I don’t mention anything, but somehow have remembered the thief’s name.  Ask my friend about him – and he says he’s ‘no good’.  After a while, the thief sheepishly comes back, and sidles onto the bench seat next to me.  He’s holding one side of his face, and hands me back the Leatherman.  Tells me a Paraguayan hit him?  I’m a little confused, as I hadn’t told anybody.  Maybe the bargirl at the other bar had guessed what had happened?  Anyway – I get it back, and he asks for a beer.  Cheek deserves a beer, I guessed – so pour him half a glass, and tell him that’s the last one.  My more trustworthy friend, not knowing what has happened, cautions me to move all my bags away from the thief.  Later, the thief asks me for money as well.  No chance.  Tries the sympathy vote because he’s been hit.  For thieving from me.  Demonstrates by hitting me.  Very softly, but still – bad strategy.

Chat to some more locals, including a ladies man.  Getting a little antsy about the bus by this point, but my new amigos notice – and reassure me.  Eventually a bus arrives.  My amigos say it’s not my one, but I rush over to check.  It turns out it is.  So – hurried goodbyes, and I get on a bus where the aisle is too thin for me to carry my small backpack down.  Bus eventually gets to Mariscal E-something, the military settlement.  I get off near the edge of town – where I see a hotel sign.  Is now fairly late at night – so figure I’m going to have to catch the bus to Bolivia tomorrow.  Go to hotel, get a room.  Have to pay in advance – not usual.  Then – go to local bar.  Largest man I’ve ever seen in real life – large enough that I am genuinely surprised when he gets out of his seat to get me a burger/beer.  I actually expected him to ring a bell, and for somebody else to come out and do his bidding.  But, we watch some Jean Claude Van Damme together, and I discover that the only bus to Bolivia passes through at 3am each morning, and is 240 Guaranis.  I now have approximately 265 – luckily have already paid for burger/cerveza and hotel.  I go back to hotel, and hòpe I can wake up at 2am.  Am very very tired, but am stuck here for a full day with no money, and no way of getting money, if I don’t.

14 July

Hooray – managed to get up.  Leave my key in my door, in case I miss the bus and need more sleep.  Walk to the migration station, and arrive there just as a bus arrives.  Busman (guy not driving, but kind of sidekick) – very keen to get me onboard.  Sure.  250 Guaranis.  Hand him my pack, and he rushes me towards the queue for exit stamps.  Where there’s a dozen people in front of me, and I wait for some time in cold, making friends with the police dogs.  Get stamped out, then get on bus.  Very very little legroom.  Fall asleep for several hours, and then woken at 8am for the Bolivian migration checkpoint.  Awesome – Bolivia.  As soon as I get off the bus, it strikes me as being everything one expects and wants from South America.  Tiny village on a dirt road, wooden huts, roaming chickens and pigs, army base.  Get my entry form, and change my Guaranis into Bolivianos.  Buy an orange juice.  Fill out my form, then remember seeing a poster on the wall in the migration ’shack’ that looked to be a list of prices for various nationalities.  Lowest price was 15Bs, I now have 12.50.  And I can’t go back to Paraguay.  Dumb.  But, get to the front, a bit of delay when he can’t find my Paraguay exit stamp, and won’t let me find it for him – but doesn’t ask for money.  Sweet.  Back on bus, where I give my seat to the wife of an army guy, with two kids.  BusMan not happy, and insists I sit down – finds a seat for me further up the front.  Breakfast is served – biscuits and chocolate milk.  Any liquid is appreciated by now, dry biscuits are not.  But I force them down.  Several hours later – lunch is served.  A choice – the better of which (according to guy sitting opposite me, whose taste I respect after he booed the BusMan for putting Rambo II on the TV) – is the cold piece of chicken with a chunk of mandioca.  And a bottle of soft drink.  I eat as much of the food as I can before soft drink is gone.  Impossible to swallow without liquid to wash it down.

Eventually get to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Bolivia is cool.  On way in, drive past a grass airstrip.  Complete with abandoned fuselage of an aircraft.  Didn’t get close enough to see the bulletholes, but I assume they’re there.  The traces of the last shipment of cocaine is bound to be long gone though.  Bus doesn’t go to terminal, so I have no idea of where I am.  Except in a small walled compound with barbed wire.  BusMan is keen to get me a taxi (rather eager to please overall, the BusMan) – and does so.  Insists on an address – so I pick first hostel from guide book.  Get there, and hostel is full – so original plan of walking around looking for somewhere is not ruined after all.  Original plan turns out to be bad though – as next three hotels are all full also.  Find a restaurant, and order a jug of lemon juice, and food.  Lemon juice fills me up, so can’t finish my food.  Much food, for little money though.  I do manage to finish my cerveza.

Decide to head towards bus terminal.  There are several hostels there, and worst case – can get on the next bus to somewhere.  Pass one last hostel in central city – listed in the guidebook as being very popular, and bookings much recommended.  Not much hope – but they have room.  Sweet.  Joy fades as I walk into the courtyard, and hear very american accents.  Having a very seppo conversation.  Decide very quickly I won’t be joining in their conversation.  Ever.  Drop my stuff off, and leave to look for small local bar.  Can’t find one – end up settling for a bar in a shopping mall where some locals are playing backgammon.  Looks to be the best I can expect in the central city.  Back to hotel, and wait for seppo and canidiot in my dormroom to finish talking about seppo sports before I can go to sleep.  In my book-o-notes I actually wrote that the bus journey was 36 hours.  That’s how long this day has seemed.

15 July

Woken up by loud seppos having an early breakfast, just as I’d overheard them promise last night.  But – get back to sleep.  Other people in dorm slip out quietly.  Then, seppo below me gets up.  Turns on light, packs loudly and lengthily, and then leaves – leaving light on.  So I get up also – but too late to explain certain things to Uncle Sam.  I go for a walk.  Town is dead, as it is Sunday.  Another country where they still hold Sunday as a family day type deal.  The central plaza, however, is fairly busy.  And pretty cool.  Perfectly maintained gardens, trees, etc.  Most other south american plazas – more concrete.  Here – beautiful.  Still, of course, containing the statue of some fellow – almost always a military chap.  Apparently there are some sloths living in the trees here, but I don’t see any.  Don’t look too hard either though – rather hungry.  Eventually find a place for food.  Interpret one menu entry as being something-of-duck soup.  Very cheap.  Sweet – order that.  Get some soup and bread.  Has offal in it – I think I eat the heart, but can’t manage the kidney.  Seems to be far too large for duck-bits.  Still a little hungry, considering a sandwich or burger from a street stall.  Then – the second course arrives.  Menu item was actually the soup of the day, and then fried rice with shredded duck.  Far far too much for me to eat, for a little over NZ$2.  Sweet.

Back to the hostel.  See a toucan on the roof.  Sweet – take a photo.  Then, it flies down onto table in the courtyard.  Sweet – photo.  Then, jumps onto arm of chair.  Photo.  Then, it starts eating my shirt.  Okay – photo, then run away, as it has a very long beak, and dangerously close to the groin.  Then, it jumps onto ground, and chases me.  While I’m wearing jandals.  I think it got annoyed when I tried to give it a jandal to eat.  And has short-man syndrome.

Go for another walk.  Don’t get very far before a local asks me the time.  Then uses that as an opening for a chat.  I understand very little, but manage to bluff my way through.  Much talk about how cold it is.  He seems interested in how many layers of clothing I’m wearing.  I show him my Icebreaker is made of wool – so warm, and he grabs it to see what’s underneath.  Odd.  Then, after finding I’m from New Zealand, I think he starts talking about New Zealanders having large penises.  Odd.  Goes on and on about it.  Then, about nudist beaches, I think?  About being naked anyway – pretty sure I got that bit right.  And goes on about that.  And then a cycle of those two topics, with it being cold thrown in occasionally.  When he pauses for breath after a while, I use my perfect knowledge of how to say “I have to go now, goodbye” to great effect.  Find a cuban cafe, and order a bottle of wine.  Sit there for a while, reading the graffiti all over the walls.  Notice one piece on the ceiling.  A map of New Zealand with “New Zealand    Aotearoa    Viva la revolucion   Bro”.   Awesome.  Am most pleased.  Then I notice the date on it – only two days ago.  Sweet.

Back to hostel – and drink some yerba mate while watching the Copa America final.  Then, am forced into going to “Irish Pub” for dinner.  No Guinness.  But, order irish stew & a bottle of red wine, and watch cars driving around the plaza with brasilian flags.  Rather happy, and loud, brasilians.  Back to hostel, and drink some more mate.

Filadelfia – yep, that’s it’s name

Meant to get up on 09 July to watch OZ vs SA at the rugby thing.  Set my watch for 6am, when I thought it was on ESPN+.  But, changed my mind at 6am, funnily enough.  Found out later on that it actually ended at 6am – so good sleepyhead judgement.  Anyway – eventually got up.  Walked around town searching for my list of souvenirs I, at sometime, decided I would get from each country.  Also, asking in every sportswear store for a Paraguay national team rugby shirt.  Found an Adidas outlet store, with All Blacks stuff.  Lots of All Blacks stuff.  Posters of Lomu on the wall.  Staff wearing All Blacks.  Security, not part of uniform, wearing All Blacks scarves.  Customers, wearing All Blacks jackets, looking at All Blacks jerseys.  Later, in the update, I will flash my New Zealand badge around as much as possible in this shop, and buy an offical All Blacks jersey for NZ$55.

Walked towards shopping centre where shop assistant thought I might find Paraguay rugby jersey.  Stopped for internet.  Researched.  Shopping centre is actually many many miles away.  Paraguay rugby jersey made by a company called “Flash”, which as any computer nerd will know – makes it very difficult for internet searches.  Back to central city.  Very good steak to make up for my failure.  Finally manage to follow through with my idea of getting a plain piece of paper/card laminated, and buying a whiteboard pen – to use as a very portable whiteboard.  Ben knows how useful this is.  Imagine language difficulties, both parties raise their eyes to the heavens wishing they could write or draw something… and BANG!  Kruse produces a handy pocket-size whiteboard with appropriate marker.  Situation solved.   Later, in the update, I will have my invention stolen by a small child.   Not happy about that part – because you can’t imagine how difficult it is to convince a shop-worker that all you want is a plain piece of white paper laminated.

But – at this point I’m happy.  So, go back to my local Asuncion bar.  Meet some Chileans & Argys.  One Argy wearing a NZ Rugby shirt.  End up going back to this chap’s apartment, as he works here – the rest of the crowd are visiting him.  Lives 50 metres around the corner.  Cervezas.

10 July – leave my residencial.  Walk around town with full pack – and buy an official (and yes, I think it actually is official, although from an outlet store) All Blacks jersey for NZ$well – you already know.   Back to my ‘local’.  Guys I met up with last night turn up.  After I missed my date with their local friends.  One cerveza, then they leave, and I catch bus to long-distance bus terminal.  Then catch bus to Pozo Colorado.  Guide book describes it as a “small crossroads town”.  I get there in the late evening, and first impression is “two large service stations”.  But, have a quick cerveza to get my head right, and try to explore town.  Find a shed selling food.  Buy food.  Kruse very hungry.  Then cerveza, as an attempt to find out who works there and who doesn’t, and to ask where there is any accommodation in ‘town’.  The answer is “here’s your cerveza, there is no accommodation in town”.  Well, that was my understanding.  But then, he followed up with something that sounded like he didn’t understand what I was saying.  I thought hopefully.  Finished cerveza (if there’s no place to stay, I might as well be drunk – I thought) – and then returned to service station.  Seemed like a place where people wore uniforms, rather than a place with a dozen kids running around – and half of them seemingly running the joint, might give me better advice on where to stay.  But the lady there agreed.  Nowhere.  No beds to hire in Pozo Colorado.  Nada.  Night time now.  Not cool.  And cold.  So very very cold.  News article on the telly entitled “FRIO EXTREMO EN PARAGUAY!”  Frio means cold.  I spend night in service station / truck stop.   Sporadically sleeping, resting my head on the table using the bits of my scarf I can spare as a pillow.   Chatting to drunken truck driver once when I wake up at 1am.  I think he was trying to hint he could give me a ride.  I had impression from guidebook that I had to get my Paraguay exit stamp in my passport here.  And he had three empty (small) whiskey bottles on the table.  And was swaying when he stood up.  We chatted, and waved goodbye.

11 July – woke up several times more, until I woke up with many more customers in the truck stop.  The TV breakfast shows are all about the newspaper headlines.  People dying from the extreme cold.  Polilce picking up homeless people, to take them to jail, to protect them from the cold.  Good timing for me staying in a truck stop with no heating.  But… survived.  Went and asked a lawman about getting a migration exit stamp.  He reckons I can get one at the border.  My guide book reckons ‘nah’.  And also reckons that if it is right, and the copper is just bullshitting me, it’s a very long and dodgy trip back to rectify the situation.  Sweet.

Eventually paid my tab for spending about 14 hours in the service station.  Could have lied about everything from previous night – due to new crew, but I’m a nice guy.  I am.  Went to wait for bus.  At bus station.  Bus station is a very old, very broken-down bus – with tarpaulin forming a verandah.  Waited a long time.  On the bus – played the smiling game with a small girl.  Rather stricken by the strange blonde-haired man.

– side note.  Have now been mistaken for russian, finnish, and german.  Always, always for german in Paraguay.  To the point where I had actually taken down a note in my mind that “alèman” must be another word for “country”.  It was only this morning that I checked, and it means “german”.  And, Nathan please note especially, as I am constantly terrified that you may grow an uncontrollable crush on me…   all of these countries’ stereotypes have one thing in common, and it is not oranges.

But – am now in Filadelfia.
Half the population are german.  Half native indian Guarani.  Supposedly the hostility has died down between them, but I’m pretty sure I was hissed at by a group of Guaranis earlier.  Luckily, have made friends with some of the older ones rather quickly.  A bit of the old drinking will do that.  Turns out that to get to Bolivia, there is no direct bus from here.  Have to get a bus to some military town (some of you will know how well I get along with army types), at 5:30 am on Fridays or Mondays.  So… Kruse, turning up to a military town at 6:30 in the morning, with very little sleep, in a country with a rather paranoid military – which were, until only recently, in entire control of the country.  And on the border with their most recent war enemy.  Good idea.  Still, got to be done.  And – not entirely sure if there is actually going to be a bus from this military town (named after a war hero, including General, and four names), to Bolivia or not.  And when it rains, everything gets stuck.  In Colonia del Sacramento, the young English bloke asked me if I’d got “off the beaten track” at all.  I didn’t much like the hackneyed phrase, and especially didn’t like the fact that I had to say no.  But, when I started telling him some of the anecdotes, his eyes opened in awe, and I wondered if perhaps I had.  Or if he was just a young kid with a suitcase with wheels.  And now, I reckon he’d probably think I was TRAVEL GOD.  I, of course, know otherwise.  When there’s an american accent on your bus here, you’re not too far off the tourist path.

Babbling. Anyway… hopefully will upload photos soon.  Haven’t done so in a while, and I always get a little antsy about my camera when I haven’t backed up photos.  However, may not be able to access internet for a while.  Looking at map, and reading description – between here and Bolivia is rather hard terrain.  In fact, the “toughest rally IN THE WORLD”.  Or some such.  And I’ll be catching a bus across it.  A 1970’s Mercedes bus, most likely.


Well – I didn´t make it to Paraguay.  Not the day after last update, anyway.  Tried.  Didn´t succeed.  Will tell the story while listening to Ace Of Base.

05 July

Got up – sent a package home.  Some very very small souvenirs home.  A lucky few will get tiny souvenirs from my trips.  As small as they were, it was still a relief to get them out of the backpack.  Anyway – spent ages getting the postage thing sorted.  Cost me twice as much in postage as the value of the contents.  Had one last (I thought) brasilian churrascaria for lunch.  Then – convinced a very drunk man that I didn´t want him to give me a ride across the border, and that the bus was fine.  Took a long time.  Then – caught the bus.  Bus went to the border, and kept going.  We got on the bridge between Brasil & Paraguay, and I realised that this was another border where migration formalities aren´t so formal.  Got off the bus in Paraguay, walked back past Paraguay migration, across the bridge – and ´checked out´of Brasil.  Back across bridge to Paraguay migration.  Remembered, well – was reminded, that I need a visa.  Walked back, and re-entered Brasil.  According to my passport – for the fifth time.

So – back to Foz Do Iguacu.  Back to the hostel – where there was a pair of scandinavian girls giving each other back-rubs.  Ignored this.  Chose a different bed, and then walked up and down the street which was supposed to contain the Paraguayan consulate.  Didn´t see anything.  Was evening by now, so bought some dodgy DVDs off the street, and some beer, and returned to hostel.

06 July – asked hostel owner where the consulate was, and actually took notice of the number of the address in the guide book.  Her thoughts and the guide book matched.  Reality did not.  Asked dairy owner (who didn´t even flinch at my portuguese/spanish – sweet) – and he reckoned two blocks up, then two blocks to the right.  Not too sure how much to trust a brasilian with numbers – but he turned out to be nearly spot-on.  Girl at consulate gave me list of requirements.  Involving photocopies of tickets into and out of Paraguay.  Tried to convince her that seeing as I could, and would, walk across a bridge there – I didn´t have or need tickets.  Wasn´t convinced.  So – found photocopy place, copied my credit card, and two copies of the ´ticket´stub given to me by bus driver yesterday.  Quite pleased with my cheek, I was.  But – girl was not.  Tried to convince me to go buy a prepaid taxi chit from down the road, and when I hesitated for a while (just trying to confirm exactly what I needed), called somebody with a bit more initiative.  Who must have told her to chill out, and it was all good.  Then – waited for an hour or so, chatting to another consulate worker about the All Blacks.  And was then asked for US$50.  Had to be US$.  The seppos have got a lot to answer for.  So – left, went back to hostel, and got my backup funds which are US$.  Back to consulate.  Person who can stamp the visa to make it official is at lunch.  For two hours.  So I go to lunch.  Expensive seafood restaurant.  Order white wine and alligator stew.  Out of alligator, they reckon.  Dumb – I was looking forward to that.  Have boring crab stew instead.  Eventually, back to consulate, and get my passport with visa.  After a long day, I buy more dodgy DVDs, a bottle of wine, and some beers.  Spend evening utilising them, and chatting to the scandinavian girls (turn out to be danish), and a norwegian couple.

07 July – walk to bus station, and have a beer at street side stall.  Catch a bus, and this time get off before Brasil migration.  Get stamped out, and walk across bridge.  This time, Paraguay lets me in.  But, my visa – for which I had asked two weeks – seems to be ten days.  Oh well – it doesn´t sound like there´s much to do here anyway.  Except for enjoying the lack of tourists – due to lack of stuff to do.  To the point where, apparently, when I head north to Bolivia – my ´mere presence will arouse suspicion´from the military.  Sweet.

But – back from the future.  Ciudad Del Este… walked up from the border bridge, past continuous dodgy electronic stalls.  ´The Supermarket Of South America´, they reckon it´s called.  And seeing the huge lines of people on the Brasilian side waiting to go through customs with larg bags full of electronics, blankets, and everything else – yeah.  But, I´ve left my consumerism behind – so strolled past, stopping briefly to change my Reais into Guaranis off an old man sitting on the sidewalk.  Then – kept walking, until I found a small cafe/bar.  Stopped for a beer, and to check the guidebook, and figure out what I was actually going to do.  Discovered I´d been walking away from accommodation, and towards the bus station.  Using my normal method of decision making – I figured I might as well continue on this path.  So – kept walking, past a park with a statue of some Chinese president, as well as a chinese junk make of concrete in a dry pond.  Probably just as well the pond was dry, I guess.  Also, next to this park, a sports ground.  With a scrum machine.  And rugby posts.  I´m sure the young kids loitering there weren´t too sure as to why I would take a photo of an empty sportsfield.  Continued on, and found bus station, and took first hawkers offer of a bus to Asuncion.  I got a seat number (not the seat next to remarkably attractive girl which I originally took, (by the way – I took the seat before she was there) but another).  Then, after bus was full, people kept getting on board.  About a dozen people standing in the aisle for most of the 5 hour trip.  I think Paraguay is going to be a nice gentle introduction to such things before getting to Ecuador & Peru.  Got to Asuncion in the middle of a thunderstorm.  Paid the money for a taxi to a pousada, and then went out for food and beer.  Bad food, adequate beer.

08 July – Woken by more thunder.  Went for a walk… Asuncion supposed to be fairly nice just because of the parks and trees and such.  First park I find is filled with makeshift tents.  Protest or homeless, I´m not sure.  Walk on to Plaza Indepencia.  Home of the Pantheon de Los Heroes.  A monument towards heroes.  Outside – sure, nice.  Inside – pretty cool.  Big churchy bit, bit of a shame, but a pit in the middle with the coffins and urns of several Paraguayan historical figures – as well as two ´Unknown Soldiers´ – one a child I believe.  Also, heaps of plaques.  Either for or from heaps of people/groups.  Including the Lions Club of Leblon, Rio de Janeiro.  And the President of Taiwan.  Odd.  I happened to see the changing of the guard, which was rather simple and to the point.  Also – being a Sunday – they then held a church service inside.  I didn´t stick around.  However, being a Sunday, there was absolutely nothing else to do.  Everything closed.  These south americans still cling to that quaint old thing ´family values´- especially on Sundays.  Still raining rather heavily, so I found an open bar with red wine.  Then, checked out the Governers Mansion.  Apparently, at some point, the law was that anybody caught looking at it would be ´shot in the act´.  So I was a little worried when a soldier started yelling at me – but he just wanted me to get off the big bit of grass out the front.

Oh – and did I mention that the flag of Paraguay is slightly different on each side?  The only such national flag IN THE WORLD!  Also, by some reports, Paraguay is supposed to be the cheapest country IN THE WORLD!  And now, back across the road to one of the few bars open in town, to see if I´m too late to watch the end of Paraguay getting thrashed by Mexico.  If I ever lower myself enough to buy a soccer shirt – it´s going to be Paraguay.  I had actually decided on the bus to get one, then figured that rugby seems to be more popular here than I thought, and maybe I´ll spend tomorrow trying to get a Paraguayan national rugby team shirt.