A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

Dorm Wars: Return of the Tosser

Day 246 to 269 Asuncion to Cusco via Bolivia

sunny 15 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Height of the second largest Christ statue in the world (Cochabamba, Bolivia) =40.4m
No. of hours on spent on Bolivian buses prior to Uyuni = 65
No. of hours in Bolivia in total prior to Uyuni = 240
Height of 'second' highest city in the world (Potosi, Bolivia - Lonely planet claimed it was the highest but apparently there's one higher in China) = 4692m
Height of highest capital city in the world (La Paz, Bolivia - finally a first!) = 3760m

So, just to tie up loose ends. The 'chop' that I was heading for in Asuncion is the local brew and a really smooth tasting lager. We had a chilled out time in Asuncion and it was well worth popping into Paraguay if only for a short time. Next stop Bolivia and the first of 5 night buses in the space of 10 days. In all likelyhood I'll need a reconstruction of my tail bone when we return! Pauline says she has more 'cushioning'! Obviously, I'm keeping quiet on the subject.

After a 24 hour journey we arrived in Santa Cruz. The next day after generally doing nothing touristy (going to the cinema and eating ice cream) we eagerly awaited another night bus to Cochabamba. After getting all excited at our luxury seats due to shelling out for Bus Cama (nearly fully reclining seats) we were left scratching our heads when turfed of the bus by the police due to protesters barricading the road out of the city. Weirdly, after plenty of gesturing from the other traveller locals, they decided a smaller bus (with cardboard walls and breeze block seats) would be allowed through the blocade. Unsurprisingly we were stopped at the blocade. Only after bribing the protesters and having to pay extra for petrol (apparently) were we taken on a route around (dirt track, potholes and no street lighting hence further bum pain!).

The highlight of Cochabamba was mainly the cheap pizza restaurant we found, oh and the statue of Christ towering above the city that's bigger than Rio's and only second to one in Poland!
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We did get chatting to professional gambler, Rui, in the restaurant but no worries Pauline didn´t get dragged along into his world. The next day we took another night bus to Sucre which was no more comfortable. The city however, was a pleasant suprise. Cracking colonial architecture and great food made our stay all the more pleasant.

Moving on to Potosi was less of a mission, only a 3 hour day bus this time. The difference there though was the altitude. Just for punishment we chose a fourth floor dorm room and we were in heart attack territory by the time we got to the top. The hostel was a friendly place with a great brekkie but ruined by a group of intruding gallic blokes who arrived in the middle of the night and checked into our dorm. All eight of them seemed to have a cold and a 'tos' (cough in spanish, hence the title) and kept us up half the night. This might not have been so bad had it not reminded us of an aussie 'tosser' who kept us up in Puerto Iguazu with the worst cough i´ve ever heard.

Our arrival in Tupiza was a little startling. We are more than accustomed to the odd delay, especially on nocturnal transport, so when we were turfed off the bus at 4am (3 hours earlier than thought), we were a little dazed and confused. Luckily for us, a wisened hostel owner had his door open and lights a blaze to attract us from the deserted main (only) street and after brief negotiations and greetings we were tucked up in bed in no time. Tupiza was an inspired stop off and soon became on of our most memorable destinations. The main reason was our Wild West horse riding experience which is now firmly in our top 10. The pictures just about do the scenery justice and we felt like Butch cassidy and the Sundance kid for sure. This area is allegedly where they met their makers in the end.
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Discovering train tracks and a real life train station was a delight as we couldn´t face another night bus. Change of transport secured we headed off for Uyuni on board the Expreso del Sur. Another late night arrival and this time not such a welcoming hotel, FREEZING! Enough of an excuse for Pauline to stay in bed all day under the covers while I wandered the streets in search of snacks! The next day we joined forces with a Spanish couple and two Uruguashos and toured the amazing Bolivian Salt flats. Our compadres were great company and further helped us with our growing spanish vocabulary.
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More clichéd 'perspective' photos in the gallery. We had a great couple of days and the scenery was unforgettable. Shame about the plastic rubbish creeping in to such a precious area though.

Back on our preffered method of transport we railed onto La Paz via Oruro. Hassle free journey and we were glad to have spent time acclimatising first as La Paz truly is breathtaking. Unfortunatley, or fortunatley depending on your view, we misunderstood directions to the best viewpoint in town and ended up taking the local bus way past it. We like to think we found a better photo op though, what do you reckon?
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We are now in Cusco having crossed the border in a bit of a rush to keep our appointment with the Incas. We loved Bolivia despite travelling a bit fast through it and it making our skin drier than a Llama's fart. We plan to pop back after Machu Picchu and explore Lake Titicaca and surrounds. We are so excited about the Inca trail which starts tomorrow. Our backpacks are full of coca leaves so we'll be fine!

Posted by millfred 21:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

¡Somos Celestes!

Day 222 to 245 Chile Chico to Asuncion via Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Uruguay

sunny 12 °C

No of countries in view from the river bank in Puerto Iguazu= 3 (Argentina, Paraguay & Brazil)
No of Argentina stamps in our passports = 6
No. of photos taken at Perito Moreno Glacier = over 300
No .of times Pauline fell over on the ski slopes = 0
No. of times Pauline fell over on the street returning her ski's = 1
No .of people crammed into the Centenario stadium in Montevideo for the Copa America victory parade = nearly 100,000

So we exchanged pleasantries with the military border staff to venture into Argentina for the first time. To our disgust, however, they confiscated half a garlic bulb and an onion even though we´d declared them. Gutter. Our first major destination was the town of El Calafate and its nearby tourist attraction of the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of only a few in the World not to be receding, apparently.
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It has to rank as one of the top sites on our trip so far and we spent a few hours standing in the same spot just staring at it. Eventually, in classic global warming Antarctica style, a bit did fall off and made a racket echoing around the valley. Our stay in the area was made all the better by getting 3 nights for the price of 2 at the hostel. (loving the deals again eh Pat!)

Next we returned to Chile and Puerto Natales but this time missed out the major tourist draw of the Torres del Paine national park due to too much snow and Pauline´s tonsils. We then bussed it onwards to Punto arenas and Ushuaia – or the end of the World as the signs remind you of at every turn! This is as far south as we got and may ever get to be honest. We had a great time here and even managed to fit in a days skiing. We would have felt less like backpackers had we not been wearing the same naff bodywarmers we´ve had all year instead of even slighty trendy ski gear! Pauline was delighted though as it was Richard who stacked it all day long. His own fault for being a snob about the quality of the skiis and boots and opting to snowboard instead. Although Pauline still managed to steal the limelight with the most spectacular fall of the day. 6pm, on concrete, wearing shoes while rushing back to the ski shop carrying all our gear, stupid pavement!
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After much deliberation and discussion with the locals we found out that flying from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires was our only credible option taking into account the extreme weather conditions, money and time. A bit of a shame since we had planned to visit a small Welsh town on the Atlantic coast heading north, we could already taste the Welsh cakes and Bara Brith but it wasn´t meant to be. Still, 3 hours in the air was a lot more comfortable than 3 days by bus. Landing in BS AS was oh so exciting for me and I couldn´t physically restrain myself from a quick burst of "What´s new Buenos Aires?" in the arrivals lounge. Again, still surprised Richard hasn´t done a runner yet.

A freak reunion with our Mexican amigos on the 45 bus enroute to our hostel was a welcome surprise. We dined out on a meat feast Asado (just the boys) and an amazing pizza for me and caught up on the Copa America latest. We spent 3 days in the capital and managed to fit in a fair bit of sightseeing in between napping. The essential 'Evita' hotspots were taken in including the recoleta cemetary where she was finally laid to rest, the Casa Rosada from where the Peron's addressed the Nation and the museum documenting her life and controversies. If anyone is interested, the tomb next to the Duarte family is empty and for sale, no idea how much for but I would be interested to find out. We saw lots of imressive French style architecture and marvelled at the amount of art on show everywhere and took full advantage of the many parks to chill out in. Pauline even found time for a brief tango in La Boca. Classy shoes!
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Overall we enjoyed being tourists in a bustling South American city again, feeling more like we were on a weekend break somewhere in Europe.

Apologies to the very proud Porteños though, I think we preffered the buzz in Montevideo. That was largely thanks to our good freind and original Spanish teacher Diego and his very welcomming and interesting house mates Rasa & John. It was so good to catch up with Diego after nearly 4 years (I think) and we can´t thank him enough for his hospitality, generosity and tireless enthusiasm for showing us around the city. Our visit coincided with the final of the Copa America and we watched the final between Uruguay and Paraguay in the Esplanada de la Intendencia along with what certainly felt like the entire population. It was amazing (if a little scary! - flares and fireworks all over the place) and after The sky blues won convincingly we joined the masses and crammed in to the Centenario stadium (which hosted the first ever world cup in 1930) to welcome the team home from the final in BS AS.
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We waited for the champions to return until midnight and entertained ourselves by joining in the Mexican wave and chants. But after our beer ran out and rival fans of the city´s two teams started belting each other, Diego and his friends decided we should bail. A good decision we discovered the next day as the team didn´t arrive until 3am.

After the capital we wanted to experience a bit more of Uruguay before moving on. We spent a day in the port town of Colonia de Sacramento which was a bit posh for our budget but very lovely non the less, beautiful lighthouse, cute cobbled streets and a nice beachy coastal walk. Oh and a really good pie shop! Then we bussed up to Salto and spent an afternoon soothing our aching backs in the hot springs there. Lovely but with one major pit fall, it´s winter in Uruguay and although not cold by English standards, way to cold to get out of a hot pool and have to walk about 400 metres to the changing rooms!

Quick summary of the last week then. Iguazu falls, unbelievable. Heavy rainfall had forced the closure of the main draw, Garganta del diablo, but what we could see was immense and kept our jaws thoroughly ajar all morning. The water was a rich browny red colour in parts due to the loose soil caused by extreme logging, which only seemed to add to the other worldly look of the series of gigantic falls.
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Not to mention the volume of water rushing through, far higher than usual again because of the rain. A bus ride through Brazil (20 mins) dropped us in Cuidad del Este in Paraguay which immediatley felt very different to the other SA countries so far visited. To Pauline´s delight, it turned out to be Cuidad del Pringles due to the tax free contraband on sale everywhere. No time for shopping though, we headed out of town to visit the worlds second largest dam. A joint project between Paraguay and Brazil, the Itaipu Dam is still clouded in controversy since its creation in the 70´s flooded a series of waterfalls apparently more impressive than Iguazu and caused all manor of environmental issues. This info wasn´t freely available on the tour we ventured which had only postive press for the impressive structure. A sight worth seeing despite the problems, not least because of the stats it provided us with!

We are now in the capital, Asuncion, and having witnessed the world's funniest food fight, we´re now heading out on the town where Richard's going to get the 'chop'. Full explanation next time!

Posted by Po Gallon 17:27 Archived in Uruguay Comments (2)

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