Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Copacabana Bed Bound Ben

La Paz to Copacabana, Bolivia was our next bus journey. There was a kid sitting behind me puking for the whole journey and so there was a horrid smell of carrots. Although we got a great apartment in this town on the shore of Lake Titicaka, I couldnt wholly enjoy it because I was sick and was destroying our jacks every few hours.

We stayed only one night here. But not too short to witness people getting their cars blessed. It was hilarious. Some of them had toy cars taped to their bonnets and they would get holy water poured on the toy car. Religion can be fantastically comical. When its not causing wars.

On our way to Copacabana we had to get a little boat, and our bus also had to get a little boat. I dont know how it did not sink.

You may notice there are not many apostrophes in this blog. I cant find them on these keyboards, my apologies. I will add photos when there is a sounder internet cafe in my life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

San Pedro Prison, Bolivia

Since the dawn of our travels deep in South America .... (like that intro to the post? pretty good eh? yehhh.) Anyway since we started in South America we had been hearing stories of travellers who visit prisoners in a prison in La Paz, Bolivia. We laughed it off saying we´d never have the guts to step inside a real active Bolivian prison.

There are no guards inside this prison. Just at the gate. The prison is run by the prisoners inside. You can read a detailed non-fiction book about it named "Marching Powder" by Rusty Young. It is a great book I am told. I´m starting it after the book I´m reading about the demise of the American native Indians at the hands of the unsound white men.

Anyway, we had a group of five so we just decided... what the hey... Let´s go to the San Pedro prison. It is completely illegal for backpackers to enter the prison and your embassy cannot help you if there is a lockdown or if you get stuck in there or held hostage. But we said sher we´re not getting any younger. haha.

Once you get into this prison you can do cocaine or marajuana or whiskey, or probably other stuff they have floating around aswell.

So we phoned Stuart, one of the Zimbabwean prisoners (he has a cell phone in his cell of course), and we arranged to come along to the prison at 2pm that day.

When we entered, there was a prisoner waiting at the gates off his head on coke shouting at us and welcoming us. It really spooked us and Elaine was absolutely terrified. haha. The usual old Elaine. The guards stamped our hands and we declared we had no camera equipment on us. We were led into the courtyard inside the prison walls by a peaceful friendly prisoner. All the while Jaques the crazy man was shouting and really freaking us out.

To our horror, we were left in a room with Jaques for a few minutes and he picked up a pen and remarked that he could stick it through a mans neck faster than anyone else in the prison. If I had been younger or more naive, I would have been scared. But I have met idiots even in Navan who make comments like that. So I didnt give a shite, but this comment only scared Elaine even more.

We made it up to the 3rd floor of Stuarts prison cell, the kitchen area. Yes, you read that correctly. Elaine wanted to leave because she was really scared. But we stayed, and got a tour of the rich gringo side of the prison. We did not go near the poor side because we would stand out like a sore thumb and would risk being stabbed or worse. Sabastian, a convicted drug trafficker gave us the tour. He probably saw Elaines ghostly white face and, in a rather smooth and assuring fashion, he said "You look scared, don´t worry, no one is going to stab or rape you." So that was grand anyway.

The prison was really just like a shabby hostel. Stuart said it was the nicest prison he had ever stayed in. He said his least favourite prison was the Zimbabwe prison where he spent 8 years solid with shackles on his feet. I said it must have taken a while to be able to walk in long strides when he was released, and he agreed that it had been difficult. John, Elaine and I drank whiskey with old Stuart while the other backpackers did coke in Jaques room (with his children present).

Some children live in the prison because their parents are inmates there. But they go out to public school every day and all that.

I hear Stuart got released a few days later. If you are reading this Stuart, come to Ireland (if Interpol let you), and I will buy you a whiskey to make up for the stuff I drank in your cell.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

La Paz - it´s dynamite.

We arrived very early in the morning in La Paz. There was an all day parade on so I started drinking at 10:30am. Which is fine. The parade had all sorts of deadly music and dancing. La Paz is class. Even though the hygiene is horrific and people have a piss wherever they want. It's still one of the best places we've been to down here.

One mad place was called the witches market, where they sell all kinds of weird potions and healing things. In old Coke bottles. I didn't buy a potion there. Another thing I didn't buy was a llama fetus. They sell little llama fetuses to people so they can bury the fetus under their house. Apparently putting a llama baby carcus under your house is good luck. I wonder what kind of cruel mental bollocks made up THAT superstition. There were boxes and boxes of fetuses for sale. It was mingin. Tilt your head right and you will see the fetuses in this photo.

In the streets there were many political protests while we were there. There were gunshot sounds and people detonating dynamite in the streets. How responsible!

We saw The Dark Knight one of the nights. Great acting in that movie. Savage portayal of The Joker.

One night we stayed out for hours and hours. Went to a normalish nightclub. Bad idea to go on the vodka redbulls though. Probably old Johns idea. Then we hit Club 36, when we went in the door and ordered our first round, we were offered a gram of coke. Now there´s something you won´t get in The Foggy Dew. It was a great night.

We found out a few days later that Elaine and I had been doing magic card tricks for an ex-con called Kenneth who had been incarcerated for the last coupla years for drug trafficking. He was baffled at the card tricks but he tried to pretend we wasn´t. He looked like Mr T.

White Water Rafting

We could not do white water rafting in B.C., Canada, because of time and money and some of the others weren´t able to swim.

And I promised old Elaine we would definitely do it in South America. And we did so just outside Cusco. Our Brazilian raft guide was an absolute mentaller and he had us doing all sorts of mental stunts! It was a great one. There was a bit of rowing involved. They were Class 3 rapids which is just right for someone who has never done it.

There was a girl at the back of our boat who was probably about 6 stone and she was thrusted from the boat on more than one occasion. We had to pull her back into the boat quickly. Action. Then she learned how to hold on using her feet. Funny enough. Me and Lainzer were safe though. We are pros, in fact.

After the rafting I saw 2 American guys and one was sitting on a bench posing for a photo. He was not looking at the camera but looking onward in a pensive state. I think it´s really REALLY funny when I see Americans doing that kind of thing for a photo.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lollipop lady

On the way to La Paz on a long bus journey I encountered something very infuriating. The bus took a break at a shop so the passengers could buy snacks and go to the jacks. I was queuing to buy a bottle of water when this ABsolute SPA was in front of me. She spent about 4 minutes haggling over lollipops. I was outraged. There were people with genuine purchasing needs and here was this woman haggling over the price of 4 lollipops. You can imagine the irritation.

Then when she had the 4 lollipops she decided they were the wrong flavor so out with the whole fucking box of lollipops while Brendan waits behind to buy a bottle of water.

I wanted to get a giant contraption that would catapult her into the sun. With her lollipops.

End of angry rant. Back to happy travel blog.

The mad photos from the Salt Flats

We got to see the sunrise on the salt flats. Although freezing, it was a great thing. These Salt Plains in Bolivia are the largest in the world. There have been recent jeep accidents on the salt flats from busted tyres and careless speeding. There was a large cross in the middle of them with flowers all around and evidence of burst and exploded fuel tanks. It was a morbid feeling to think that those travellers were having the same great time that we were, but were gone from the world minutes later.

Here are some of the photos we made using the salt flats great illusion-making landscape....

Monday, August 4, 2008

Salt flats, Coldsville, Bolivia.

In Bolivia we learned that Bolivians will tell you the most ridiculous lies in order to get you to buy their product.

We bought a 4 day expedition across the Salt Plains of Bolivia from 'Torres'. They said we would have an English guide, and 2 litres of water each per day. Bastards. When we got into our jeep on the morning we left, the English tour guide was outside the jeep and he said 'No room for me, sorry!' and he waved us off with a driver and cook who had not an ounce of English. Also the people who were on the tour with us were told that Elaine and I had superb English and Spanish and would be able to translate everything for them. Moral of the story, never trust anyone. We never knew what the driver was telling us so we always had to get 1 of the Germans to translate. Our little Spanish phrase book wasn't too helpful.

It was a good ould adventure though. It was cold and arduous. On the first day we stopped for lunch in a plain that was full of llama crap and llamas. We were given a peculiar lunch that day. Cold llama meat, a boiled egg, and some bean type stuff. Oh and Fanta. It was funny to eat llama meat while looking at llamas.

There was the driver, the cook (a round little woman who laughed at EVERYTHING), and three Germans; Sabastian, Philip and Meischa. They were grand. They spoke English sometimes and when they did they were sound. They could translate Rammstein lyrics for me.

All 3 nights of the trip were freezing. The drinking water froze in the bottles at night and in the morning. Temperatures went as low as -20oC and it made sleep alot harder. We slept on concrete/salt beds that had a fairly harmless mattress over them. Elaine and I had been forewarned about how cold it would be at night when we tried to sleep so we had bought 3 blankets for about 5 euro. Deal. We also had a hot water bottle. We know what -30 is like from living in Toronto so we knew -20 is not a laughing matter!

We reached altitudes of up to 5000 metres. If I remember correctly, it is 13 miles from sea level to the beginning of the ozone layer. Therefore on this trip we were one quarter of the way to the exit towards outer space. The air was awfully thin and our hearts pounded rapidly any time we did anything even as strenuous as climbing a staircase. Everyone felt it, it made one or two people a bit panicky at night because they would wake up feeling like they were suffocating.

At night we could see the Milky Way more vividly than ever before, due to the lack of lights pollution from nearby towns or cities, and also because we were closer to space. The blue streak across the sky was a brilliant sight. It was a pity it was much too cold to watch it for more than five minutes. And the camera could not take a good photo either.

I think we are a bit used to looking at tonnes of mountains from being on the Rocky mountains road trip, so the mountains on this excursion didn´t dazzle us that much. Spoiled brats we are. What was great though was that we saw loads of different coloured lagoons. Red, green, brown, purple. It was like the hue of the whole landscape had been adjusted. They were created from all the volcanic eruptions that had happened between the last few decades and the last few millenia. There were natural hot springs we could bathe in and natural craters bursting with steam. It felt like we were on Mars sometimes. The gases in places was very toxic so we were warned about that too.

We drove past an active volcano aswell. Sher not a bother to us!

At night I tried a few times to play the guitar at the drivers request. At least I think that was what he was asking for! But it's very hard to play the guitar with mittens on or when you cannot feel your fingers. Poor cold neglected guitar.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Coke guy

There is nothing worse than to arrive in a town where you expect to spend a lot of money only to be told there is no ATM in the town. Tupiza is such a town.

After Iguazu we spent a few days making our way west in Argentina to get to a place where we could begin a Salt Flats tour.

We had to cross the border from Argentina to Bolivia early one morning. Freezing of course. We had a sandwich each in our bag and we were terrified of being stopped and having the lettuce from our sandwiches confiscated!

When we had crossed the border, one of our gringo aquaintances asked Elaine to mind his bag while he bought a bus ticket to Uyuni. So that was grand. Old Elaine was there minding his bag, and he came back and was putting the bag in luggage storage and Elaine was helping him. Then he said ´wait I just have to get something´ and he opened his bag and took out a giant bag of coke in the middle of a public bus station - right in front of Elaine. She was horrified that she had been minding his bag with cocaine in it in a public place with soldiers and police around!

The funny thing about that was that we were sweating over bringing sandwiches over the border in our rucksacks when this lad cruised over the border with cocaine at the top of his school bag!!!