Saturday, 28 January 2012

Jesus, Monkeys, Mosquitoes and Che


I was glad to leave La Paz's weather behind but I was going to miss the chips in Oliver's Travels (the English pub).

The bus to Cochabamba took several hours and a hotel in the centre of town was a short 10 block walk from the bus station.

As it was Saturday night I hit the town but the sudden and heavy downpour dampened more than my clothes and I ended up having a reasonably early night.

The next day I met Jesus, well it's actually a statue of him on top of a hill on the edge of town. It's similar to the one in Rio but slightly bigger thus making it the largest statue in South America! There are a couple of ways to get to the top and I chose the cable car over the steps, which will come as no surprise to anyone. A return ticket costs 80p and it was worth the money...there were lots of steps.

Once at the top, for some reason the statue didn't seem as big as I thought it would be! However you can go inside and climb up several dodgy metal spiral staircases till you end up just below the head of Jesus. As with all large non habitable concrete structures there was the faint whiff of urine in the air but the views through the little peep holes more than made up for it.

The next day I decided to go on a day trip to the “colonial” village of Torata. I walked down past the biggest market in South America to where the minibuses were. Dammed if I could find one! So instead I went to the bus station to book a seat on the next morning's bus to Santa Cruz. It's a 10 hour journey and not one of the bus companies had a “fat boy seat”....sod that!!! Instead I went back to my hotel and did some research on what was along the road to Santa Cruz. Turns out it was a place called Villa Tunari.

On Wednesday morning I got a bus for the slow and uncomfortable 4 hour ride to Villa Tunari. The road snaked its way along and over the mountains before entering the lowlands of Bolivia. Getting off the bus at the side of the highway I lit a fag and let the beads of sweat form into droplets and slowly roll down my face.

Yep! It's hot and humid in the lowlands...

I scored a great little hostel on the main square and had a walk around the town. Ten minutes later I was back in the really is a small town.

In the afternoon I was having a coffee in a roadside shack when the heavens opened. For the 1st time in months the rain was warm!

The following morning I walked to the edge of town across the bridge to Inti Wara Yassi. Its a rescue centre for various animals caught up in the illegal exotic pet trade. You can volunteer here for 15 days or more but I just came for a visit.

Once you pay the entrance fee its a walk uphill through the jungle to the mirador (or viewpoint). Small groups of monkeys were swinging in the trees and following you along the route. At the viewpoint there are great views and monkeys to stroke (if you want fleas...)

The next day was Friday and after some confusion on my part I got the 9am shared taxi to Santa Cruz, five hours away. The window was open and my arm didn't have any sunblock on it...doh!!

Santa Cruz is a big city of 1.5 million people and being dropped off at a roundabout somewhere in the city made me stick my arm out and waggle my finger. One pound and 12 minutes later I was at the main square getting out of the taxi.

I got a hotel room half a block from the main square. It was more than I had wanted to pay but the bed was big and the cable tv had ESPN and Fox's the 1st weekend of the 6 nations, Chelsea are playing Man Utd and its the Super Bowl on Sunday.

In the evening I headed to the “Irish pub” on the main square. It turned out to be a huge disappointment (there should be a U.N mandate that states you can only call yourself an Irish pub if the guy behind the bar is in fact Irish, otherwise just call it a pub!) I walked out without even having a drink. Instead I walked around the corner to another bar, the beer was a third cheaper and the bottles twice as big!

The next day....the 6 nations were on! Well done England!!!!!

In the evening I left my hotel and headed to the main square only to find the road was lined with people. For the next three hours one dance group after another went past. It was the practise run for the main carnival in two weeks time. It's not just Rio that has them, every large city, small town and village holds one!

The next day was a Sunday and there's not much to do in a Latin American I went to the zoo.

Monday came along and the only thing I had to do was get a visa extension. A quick taxi ride to the immigration office was followed by an amazing experience. The visa extension took me FOUR MINUTES!!! I’m in shock over how quick it was!

On Tuesday I got a taxi to where another taxi was parked and then travelled to the small village of Samaipata three hours up the road (its about 1200m higher than Santa Cruz and therefore cooler).

Samaipata is a small beautiful village (with people from at least 24 countries living here) surrounded by lush green hills on the edge of the Amboro National Park. It also has caves, waterfalls and a very ancient fort nearby.

It's a great place to chill out in and that's what I did for three days in a row.

On Friday morning I got back onto 2 wheels. A Dutch guy living here has a couple of dirt bikes for rent, so that is what I did.

Now, I’ve never ridden a dirt bike before and the main reason why is because the seat height on most dirt bikes are based on having a 32 inch leg, mine are only 29 inches long. However once I was sitting astride the Chinese made 150cc beast my toes could touch the ground, so as long as I didn't stop next to a pothole I would be alright.

And then I was off...!!

I was heading to a place called La Higuera and it was only 170kms away. The 1st 120kms to the town of Valle Grande took about 3 hours along quite good tarmac roads, 1st along a valley and then up into the hills.

By the time I reached the main square I had gotten used to the bike (and its general lack of being able to take corners at speed...or it could have been my lack of talent) well apart from my arse! After a fag and a wiggle it was back on board the beast for the last 50kms, all of it along dirt roads. The night before in Samaipata it had pissed down turning the road outside the bar into a fast flowing river. So I was expecting the road to be a little muddy!

After several km's of flat dry road I turned a corner and headed uphill. As I climbed up and into the clouds the road got wetter and more muddy but the views were great. On the high point of the road the low clouds reduced the visibility down to less than 50m. The road was just ribbons of mud and water and my back wheel was moving around a lot, which was fun but not when the front wheel joined in as well.

Then it started to rain, heavily! There was no shelter so I got very wet from the waist down. My forward speed reduced down to about 10kph because I couldn’t see to well with the rain in my eyes, my hands were numb from the freezing cold weather and even though I thought the road conditions couldn’t get any worse they did!

Forty minutes later the rain stopped and I could see patches of blue sky around the corner...but I still had over 20kms to go!

At about 4pm I arrived in La Higuera with wet boots, damp jeans and a big smile on my face. The hamlet of La Higuera has about 15 to 20 houses nestled two thirds the way up a mountain ridge, overlooking the Rio Grande in the valley far below.

La Higuera is infamous because this small village is the place where Che Guevara was killed (or assassinated depending on your view point). In the village are a couple of statues and a small museum and that's about it!

I got a room at Los Amigo's run by a French couple (who are a little bit on the bohemian hippy side) so the food was great but of course they refused to speak English :)

The place was quiet.....with birdsong the only sound.

In the evening after great food and watching “the motorcycle diaries” I was in bed asleep by 9pm. A few hours later the 3rd weirdest thing in my life happened. I could write about it but you'd never believe me!

The next day I just wandered around...

On Sunday it was time to go. As it hadn't rained since I got here the road had dried out and the cars had compacted the mud in most places. Therefore along the flat sections I could hit 60kph but most of the time I was going around corners, admiring the views and stopping to take photographs.

I arrived back in Samaipata in the middle of the afternoon, dropped of the bike and had a long hot shower. In the evening I had several cold beers!

On Tuesday I was planning on taking the 12 hour night bus to Sucre. Then I found out that it was the carnival on the weekend (which I had completely forgotten about). Looking online it became obvious that a room would be very hard to get! So I decided to stay in Samaipata, getting a room here was proving difficult as well! I was in the bar ( chatting to David and Kirsty, the Aussie couple who own it (along with their gay dog Charlie) about my plight. One phone call later I had somewhere to stay.

Turns out a German bloke called Frank (who owns Roadrunners tour company) who I had shared a few beers with the night before had a little cabin at the bottom of his garden for rent. He was more than happy to rent it to someone that wasn't from Santa Cruz! So for 600 bolivianos I had a place to stay for a week. It had a kitchenette and a living room with a covered patio and 3 dogs who liked belly rubs!

On Saturday evening the carnival started!

...Right now it's Monday afternoon and the bands are still playing, people are still drinking and water balloons and spray foam are STILL filling the air but I think they call it quits on Wednesday!!!

...It's now Thursday 23rd and I was going to be leaving Samaipata this morning. however when it came to packing the bag last night I realised that I didn't want to leave just yet....but I will be definitely catching a bus on Sunday morning (maybe).

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