Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Bus floating across Lake Titicaca

Death Road' between La Paz and the jungle

Bolivian pop video at Tiwanaku

Plaza San Francisco / typical La Paz

Looking down from the witches market, typical tourist La Paz

La Paz shoe shine boys...waiting for the revolution

Stalls in the Witches Market

Shame to leave Copocabana, but new horizons are calling. It is the kind of chilled and attractive place where weeks would go by without you really noticing. Most hippies I have seen so far too. Perhaps the two are connected.

Turned out I was on a crappy local bus, though it also turned out to be quite an exciting journey. For most of it we drove around the Lake, which was great for views, but the best bit was where we had to do a short crossing of the lake. By now there was a fierce wind blowing, the kind where kids were amusing themselves by jumping into the air with their arms out and seeing where they landed. I could see these really shallow dodgy looking platforms by the lakeside that couldnt really justify being called boats. Out on the lake various buses and lorries, etc were pitching about in a very alarming way on these platforms. Fortunately it was acknowledged that it was too risky to put passengers inside such a death trap, so we all got off and went across by normal boat, which was exciting in itself, probably the roughest water I have ever been on in a boat, and our bus ended up being blown halfway down the lake but at least didnt sink with my luggage.

So into La Paz in the pouring rain, the highest capital city in the world at over 3,600 ms. Amazing looking city, crammed into this large space between huge mountains, and very hilly as a result. I think that why La Paz and Quito in Ecuador look so much like Sim City creations is that we are not really used to being able to look over our cities from above. I can tell I am in a real city because it is full of beggars, addicts and mad people. Also extremely crowded, and like one huge street market, a shoppers paradise. There is even more coca here than Peru, huge sacks of it, usually sold - suprisingly - by huge fat Aymara women. They are even bigger than the women in the rest of the Andes, and their bowler hats seem even smaller as a result. Actually it was all a bit of a culture shock at first after mellow Titicaca. And the shoeshine boys wear balaclavas and gloves all the time, like they are about to start a revolution. My only real purpose in coming here is to get flights and a trip into the pampas, but I am enjoying it nonetheless.

Anyway, I am now booked for Friday to fly to Rurrenabeque in the Bolivian Amazon. However, I am not going there to do the jungle thing again, but to visit the pampas. This is not your dry plain savannah home to lazing lions, but tropical wetlands full of beasties, essentially the jungle without the trees but with even more bugs. And the rainy season is now in full swing, so expect tales of heroic suffering. We will be 'hunting' anacondas though, so fingers crossed we find some. I am flying as it is quite cheap here, and as I am unwilling to spend 17 hours on the notorious 'Death Road' from La Paz to the Amazon. I have provided a copy of a postcard for you to give an idea of what it might be like to be in a bus trying to squeeze past a lorry on a bend. I am an old hand at scary mountain roads, but Bolivians are very proud of how many people die on this, especially during the rainy season in the dark, which is when I would be doing it. First hand reports have only strengthened my resolve to avoid it if possible, though it is worth noting that the worst part is popular with mountain bikers. I spoke to one today who said that whilst he had enjoyed the experience on a bike, he wouldnt do it in a bus.

Roaming around this evening I found the aesthetic part of town (not very big, but old and pretty). This is also where the Witches Market is, where scattered amongst the usual shops and stalls are stranger one selling charms, herbs, dried llama foetuses, etc. Place your orders before I leave town. I would move to a hotel there, but too late now. Had a lovely meal in this great old place on a balcony round a colonial courtyard, common in old South America.

20th Oct: Its the anniversary of the founding of La Paz today, but celebrations are suprisingly low key. So off I go to visit a place called Tiwinaku, home to a pre-Inca civilisation that lasted 27 centuries and was something round here at its peak. Basically Tiwinaku is a couple of museums and some ruins that are part of an active archeological site, the latter I always think is fascinating. It was all very interesting, and I could see where the Incas got a lot of their stuff from. Slightly bizarrely, there was what I think was a Bolivian pop group shooting a video right in front of the best bit for photos. It was all stirring and anthemic stuff along the lines of Feed the World, and quite interesting to watch too.

In a bid to improve my Spanish, I thought I should try and read a book in Spanish, so yesterday I bought the latest Harry Potter book, on the basis that a kids book might be easier to understand. On second thoughts, a smaller book might be easier, thats for sure. Fact is it is slow progress, though easier if I dont try and get all the words, perhaps a more practical approach. After my outing, I did a bit of shopping in the witches market - for mother, appropriately enough - bought yet more DVDs and Dungeon Seige II, and had another traditional Bolivian meal, which had a diferent name than last nights, but was still a big mixed pile of chips, boiled eggs, olives, meat, sausages, and some salad. Yum.

21st Oct: A morning to kill before my flight, so I loitered around the Witches Market, my favourite area, and a lot nicer than it might sound, probably becuase it feels more like a small Andean town than a huge mad city. Saying that, I am getting increasingly fond of La Paz. Was chatting to this Gambian guy in my cafe, who reckoned he was friends with the presidents of Gambia and Senegal. The conversation was in French, which I did find confusing, as I can barely cope with two languages as it is.

I have also been trying to plan my travels in more detail, how to get max into limited time left. First decision is how to get to the magnificent Iguazu falls on the Argentine/Brazil/Paraguay border? My original plan was to go through Chile, but Argentina is probably quickest, and going through Paraguay gives me a chance to visit that country? And it is hard to find out exactly what transport is avaiable. Decisions, decisions. I thnk the original plan is out though, so when I get to Sucre I will check out whether any of my alternatives are actually better.

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