2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

Bolivian Mining

Thursday June 24th I was in Potosi and went on a tour to the mines there. It was a gringo tour so I once again figured it would be an easy enough venture, but was once again wrong. The tour group met at the tour office in the morning and we headed off to get ready for our tour. The tour company gave everyone a pair of waterproof pants and a coat and a hardhat with a lamp. Then we went to the Miners Market where we bought some presents for the miners we would see on our tour. I bought a stick of dynamite with a detonator and five minute fuse and a bag of some chemicals (ammonium nitrate?) that magnify the explosion for 16 Bolivianos (US$2) and a liter of 96% Alcohol for my presents. Others bought some coca leaves and sodas and waters for presents. After our shopping venture we drove up to the mountain where the mine is that looms over the town of Potosi. The mine was first started by the Spanish in the 16th century and then silver was the main mineral, however nowadays it is mostly zinc they mine because all of the high grade silver is gone or still hidden deep in the mountain.

So we arrived at the mine and started our tour inside. During the first bit I only had to duck a little but the shaft was very narrow. It was ok and there were no worries yet. We visited the museum which was near the entrance and saw a effigy of the devil (El Tio or The Uncle) as the miners call him. The miners offer the statues of the devil coca leaves and cigarettes so that they will have good luck and find silver during their workday. So we finished up in the museum and started the real bit of the tour. The mine we were in (there are loads of different ones) had six levels to it. We entered through the top level and after walking for a bit we came out to a bit of a open area in the shaft. We stopped there and divided up into two groups, my group had six gringos the other five. Our guide Pedro told us about the mine and we rested up before heading down to the second level. To get to the second level I had to crawl on my stomach to fit through this little passageway and then crawl on my hands and knees downwards before sliding down the rest of the way. It was about this time I realized that there I was way in the middle of this huge mountain in a little tiny passage with no easy way out. So I tried to block that out of my mind. We walked through the second level for a while, it is here that it started to get warm and I could really notice how dusty and sticky the air was. We were soon at the passageway to the third level which was much easy to negotiate then the first to second floor passage.

Upon arriving on the third level we met a group of miners working hard. Basically one group of guys would work together in one section of the mine that was theirs and would share all the profits made by the group between them. Some of the miners whacked the walls with picks to break off the minerals and then would dump the minerals into a big wagon which was on railroad tracks. Once the wagon was full, two men would push it and two would pull it with ropes as hard as they could and it would barley move because it was so heavy. They would then have to take it to the end of the mine shaft and then come back for more.

We gave the miners some of the presents we had brought and then moved down the shaft to see the miners in action. After watching them work for a bit we reached the passageway to the fourth floor. I started down but after getting a good look at the passageway backed out. It was a narrow hole that one had to kind of slide through and then grab onto a ladder and then cross over to another ladder below. I thought there was no way I wanted to be down there. I was terrified enough in the “roomy” shafts we had been through already and had no desire to battle my fears. So I hung out at the top of the passage and waited until the group came back up ten minutes later fully covered with sweat and relived to feel the “clean & fresh” air of the third level. I was very glad I did not go down.

We had been in the mines for about two hours at that point and then started back up. I was not looking forward to the small passages I would have to go through but did not have much of a choice. We took a different way back up to the second floor which kind of turned into the passage up to the top. First there was a wooden ladder with shaky wobbly steps which got us up to the second floor then the same passage back up to the top. It sucked so bad. I had to crawl up this incline not knowing what was in front of me because I had to look where I was crawling and kept hitting my back and head into the rocks above me. Towards the top I started getting really out of breath but had no place to stop and had to keep crawling upwards. Finally it started to even out a bit and up ahead the rest of my group had stopped to rest. When I got there I plunked down next to Pedro to try to catch my breath. He started to blow on me to cool me down and after a few minutes I was good to go. We started off again but luckily while scrambling up to the top floor I had navigated all the worst parts in a frenzy and during the rest of the way did not have to crawl again. Just a lot of ducking. Most of the mine looked the same to me so I had no clue how much further it was until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It was at that point when I could see the sunlight pouring in and feel the fresh cold air from outside that I realized what that phrase really means.

I stumbled outside covered in mud, dust and sweat and very happy. After resting up for a couple minutes it was time for our dynamite demonstration. Our guides showed us how to prepare it and then lit the fuses. After lighting the fuses they passed around the bags of dynamite to hold and then went and tossed them in a nearby field. After a couple minutes of waiting they blew up. I was prepared for a loud bang but even so the explosion made me jump. Really, really loud. Then they drove us back to town and that was that. I will be happy if I never go in another mine ever again.

2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

Sucre Update

I have been in Sucre for the last few days. It is pretty nice here. All the buildings are painted white. I have just been talking it easy getting ready for the next spurt of travel west to the desert and to finish off my Bolivian tour.

2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

Amigos De El Che

This week I had one of the best experiences of my entire journey so far. I visited the village of La Higuera where Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his fellow troops were hunted down, captured and murdered by the Bolivian Army and the CIA in October of 1967. I guess I should start my tale from the beginning.

I started my journey in Santa Cruz de la Sierra which is a huge city in Eastern Bolivia. My guidebook did not have much to say about my upcoming journey to La Higuera. It said to take a bus to Vallegrande where there are Several pleasant, basic places to stay on or around the plaza. It gave a few details about taking a bus from Vallegrande to the village of Pucara from where there is transport to La Higuera. It also mentioned some Che tours and said if considering a tour, book locally, not from La Paz. Fair enough I thought. So while I was in Santa Cruz I walked around and looked for a tour operator but did not see anything of the like. Oh, well I figured. Once I get to Vallegrande there will be all kinds of people trying to get me to go on their Che tour.

My journey started on Tuesday (June 15th) and the only one bus I could find that went from Santa Cruz to Vallegrande left at 6:30pm and arrived at 1am they said. I was not wild about arriving in a new city that I knew nothing about at 1am but I figured how bad could it be. So I got on the bus and it started out with only myself and one other passenger on it. Interesting considering how full the other buses I had been on so far in Bolivia had been. Kids laying in the aisle and people standing for hours and hours because there were no seats. But the bus plodded along for a while and soon we stopped to pick up some more passengers. But only a few people got on board. So 1 am came and went and I could only see blackness out of my bus window. Finally about 1:30 am we rolled into town. I asked the bus usher kid where there was a hotel and he pointed and said towards the plaza. So I walked up to the plaza which was only a block away and looked around. No hotels or anything. So I picked a street to walk up and didn´t see anything that direction either. I went back to the plaza and picked a different road and started heading up it. The whole time I didn´t see a soul around. All of the people who were on the bus with me had promptly hopped into taxis and disappeared. As I was walking along a couple blocks I spied another plaza and figured this must be the plaza the kid and my guidebook were talking about. There was a residencia right on the corner so I rang their bell a few times and waited but no signs of life. Moving on I found a couple more residencias but no one was home at those either. Shit I thought. What am I to do now. So I picked another street and walked up it. I came to a residencia with some lights on and could hear some people talking and a tv going. I rang their bell and knocked and waited and waited but no one came to the door. So I went back to the plaza. There was a place that I thought might be a hotel but had a weird word on their sign. I knocked and the door creaked open. I poked my head in and shouted “Hola.” But didn´t hear anyone. So I crept in slowly and looked around. I found myself in a courtyard with possible bedrooms all along the upper level of the courtyard. So I walked up the stairs hoping I would find an empty room I could crash in and figure things out in the morning. But all the rooms where under construction and there were no beds anywhere. So I quickly made my way back out to the plaza and closed the door. I was considering sleeping on one of the many park benches, but was not wild about the idea. I decided to go give one more knock at some of the places I had already tried. I was walking across the plaza when I saw a taxi creeping along the street. I hailed him and asked him if he knew of a hotel that was open. He said sure so I hopped in and off we went. Two blocks down the street and he pulled up to a building that was still being built. He said it was a new hotel. It was 2 am and I did not really care too much as long as I was not on the park bench. So he knocked at the door for a bit then I heard a woman say she was coming. Whew! She opened up and was super friendly and took me up to a room. I drifted off into a deep slumber and was awoken at 10:30 the next morning by someone knocking on my door. I answered and there was a different lady who started spouting all this stuff off and the only words I could pick out were man, work, key and room. I told here I didn´t understand and then she just walked away. Not quite sure what to make of it I decided it was probably time to get up and try to track down a Che tour. So I got up and hit the streets of Vallegrande. Things looked much better when it was not the middle of the night and I walked up along the main street and over to the first plaza that I had seen but did not see any tour places. So I decided to eat and then deal with it. I popped into a place and had their lunch which was soup followed by chicken and rice. I admit that I don´t really like to try new weird foods but I was really hungry so I was going to eat whatever they brought me. The soup had some very odd mystery meat in it. At first I thought the small round meat tubes were ham but after trying some of them I am still stumped as to what they were. Anyways, I ate most of the food and then set out of figure out how to get to La Higuera. I stopped to talk to a taxi driver and he reconfirmed my guidebook´s bus story. But I wanted to go then, I did not want to have to wait until the next morning and try to hassle with all kinds of crazy buses. The feeling that I was in the middle of nowhere was starting to sink in. So I took the kid up on his taxi offer of 150 BS (US$20) to drive me to La Higuera. First we headed over to my hotel to grab my pack. He dropped me off and went to go get some gas. So I go to walk into the door to find a big fat lock on the door. Great I thought. I tried fiddling with it and tried my room key even though I knew it would not work. I stood there calling out “¡Hola!” hoping someone was inside even though I knew no one was. So I stood back and surveyed the situation. I knew I didn´t want to stand here all day waiting for the owners to come home. There were no windows yet and on the part of the hotel that was going to be the foyer they had two large windows that were covered up by a big piece of metal. I pushed the metal and it gave way, it was just held up by a board from the inside of the hotel. So I removed the metal and was about to try to climb in through the window when I heard some lady shouting behind me. The lady who had woken me up this morning. She disappeared for a second and then came back waving a key. Then our conversation from this morning made sense to me. The owners were going to work and left the key with her. So I apologized for the window and put the piece of metal back. She let me in and I paid her then ran up to my room to grab my stuff. My taxi driver, Jamie, showed back up and we were off I thought. But apparently Jamie was worried about driving so far away (60km) and he kept asking me how long I was going to stay in La Higuera. One hour? Two? I told him I was going to stay a couple days and he didn´t seem to like that idea so he tried to find another taxi driver to take me. But apparently no one was up for the trip. So we went off to go and get gas which he had apparently not done before. Then stop by his house so he could grab a quick lunch and then we were off. It took a good two and a half hours to get to Pucara and along the way Jamie and I talked about a bunch of different stuff. He asked me why I was going to La Higuera and I told him to visit Che. He said “oh, is he still there?” I said well no they took his body to Cuba in 1997. Then Jamie asked “oh, is he living in Cuba then?” So I had to give Jamie a brief history lesson about Che. Jamie was more concerned about what kind of food we had and how big people were in the USA though. In Pucara Jamie had to ask directions on how to get to La Higuera. I asked him “Haven´t you been there before?” “Once, but it was night and I wasn´t driving.” Alright then. So we got some directions and kept driving along for the last bit of the drive. We finally made it to La Higuera. Jamie pulled the taxi up next to the big bust statue of Che and tossed my bad out and got out of there in a flash.

So I am standing in this remote Bolivian village next to the Che statue with my backpack and no clue what to do next. There were some buildings around mostly houses but two little stores. The statue of che and a little plaza with another statue of Che. And that is La Higuera. A lady peeked her head out from the store and beckoned me over so I headed over and said hi and asked if there was anyplace to stay here. She said yeah, just wait a minute. Apparently the gringo alarm had gone off the second my taxi pulled up and the call went out because shortly after an older guy with hardly any teeth strolled up to me and asked if I needed a place to stay. Yep I said so he told me to follow him and we went down the street to the old school house where Che was held prisoner before he was murdered. After that he took me to the new school house where they have a dormitory with four bunk beds. So I tossed down my pack in the empty room and went to see the next item on the agenda, the schools library. My new buddy, Manuel started asking where I was from and he was amazed when I told him I was American. He said that Americans did not come to La Higuera very often. He told me he had some dollars that he wanted me to look at. So I went back to his house with him and while he was searching for his dollars inside a little old lady, Manuel´s 110 year old grandmother, came hobbling over the wood and rock fence from the corn field. She could barely walk and had a constant shake going. Manuel came back with a $100 bill and said that someone had given it to him in 1998. In La Higuera it is hard enough to get change for a 100 BS (About US$13) much less a $100. Manuel asked me to change it for him so I did, giving him the four twenties I had and then the rest in Bolivianos. After that Manuel hopped up to grab his Che book that he had. But Manuel dosen´t read so he flipped through the whole book showing me all the photos in it and telling me about the Cubanos. He said he would come and get me in the morning to take me to the El Churo valley where Che was captured. So I left Manuel´s house and headed back towards the school, stopping to buy some snacks at the shop. There were a couple little kids following me around so I invited them to play cards with me. So we played war for a while and then their mom called them home. So I just relaxed and went to bed early that night.

Thursday morning Manuel comes in to collect me a bit before 8am. I had just woken up and was still laying in bed so he said something about having a coffee then we will go to El Churo. So I got ready and headed out front to street but did not seen Manuel anywhere. The lady from the “other” store beckoned me over and fixed me a coffee. The town drunk was already hard at work finishing a beer at 8:30am in the store. I finished my coffee and headed off to find Manuel. I went to his house but he was not there so I went back to the plaza and hung out there for a while. He showed up just before 9 am with a small machete and asked if I was ready to go. We started off walking on the road for a bit and then set out onto a dirt path going uphill. Manuel was wildly swinging around his machete clearing the path for us as we went. There were some pretty steep parts so I got to breathing pretty hard and that led Manuel to enquire about my weight. I told him that I was 140 Kilos and that just blew him away. He said that I needed to live with him and eat what he eats for a month and then I would be 100 Kilos, which was as he figured it as much as anyone ever needed to weigh. I agreed with him. So we kept walking along with Manuel turning around every now and then to say “140 Kilos, keep walking.” We made it to the top of the ravine and then started going down a very steep incline. That part was easy enough but I knew that I would be dying on the trek back up. All along the way Manuel would point out where the Army soldiers had been positioned, which was pretty much all over the place as they had 1,800 soldiers in the area to capture Che´s small group of twenty or so revolutionaries. Che had been trekking along the river near there and after a few encounters with the Army had become trapped in the valley. As Manuel and I walked down to the valley floor Manuel pointed out where Che and his troops had been chased and finally we reached the spot where Che had been captured. He had been shot several times in the leg and his rifle had been shot and he was taking cover behind a large rock with one of his soldiers when the Army troops surrounded him. Che told the Army troops “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” So they captured him and took him back to the school house in La Higuera. Manuel and I stayed there for a bit while I took in the area around me. It was pretty erie being there and I could imagine the gun shots being fired and the soldiers running around through the bushes and trees. After a few photos Manuel and I started the long trek back to La Higuera. It had taken just under two hours to reach the end of our hike and took a tad bit longer to get back to town. Along the steep climb back up I had to stop and rest quite a few times and as we sat and rested Manuel would tell me about Che and his troops. How they had visited nearby villages and talked to the villagers and when they collected food from the villagers they always paid for everything that they took. Manuel told me that the day after Che was captured the troops there received the order to kill him. So two soldiers went walking down the street with a beer in both hands and arguing over who would shot Che. The soldier entered the school house drunk with is gun ready to shoot Che who was bound and laying on the floor. As the solder hesitated before he shot Che told him “Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man!” And then gun shoots echoed throughout the village as the villagers were hiding away in their houses. After a bit more sweating and grunting I made it back to the top of the valley and to the road. We were pleasantly strolling back to town on the road when Manuel suddenly jumped back as a meter long snake slithered in front of us. Manual swiftly chopped it right in half with his machete and then pried open the snakes mouth with a stick to show me the fangs. After that excitement we made it back to town and had some lunch and a few beers. Then I went off to take a nap and rest up.

About 7 pm Manuel came into the bunkhouse to get me and we went next door to the store for some beers. We had a couple beers then I went down to the other store to have dinner. There were a couple of guys just totally drunk there and the Señora made me some dinner which was unfortunately the same thing I had for lunch. Rice, carrots and potatoes which was good when it was warm at lunchtime. But the second time around it was cold and not quite as tasty. But I munched down as much as I could stomach and headed back to the first store to have a few more beers with Manuel. There was another lively villager in the store and the younger Señora who owned the store. I kept buying the beers and the four of us were drinking and having a good time. While I was gone at dinner two boom boxes were produced and the music was flowing. The folks there took a keen interest in me and kept asking me about the USA and how far away it was. When I told them that I had been to Chile, Argentina and Peru first they didn´t know what to make of that. Santa Cruz de la Sierra was as far as most of them had ever been. They all wanted me to come back and buy a house in La Higuera. They said for a $1,000 I could buy a real nice house with two rooms. I think around midnight or so we learned that there was no more beer. So the Señora mixed up some sort of concoction that we drank for a bit. Then I said my goodnights and stumbled back to my bed. I was just about to crawl into bed when Manuel came in and we ended up staying up for an hour or so having a drunken conversation. Then he took off and I went to sleep.

I was sleeping away when I heard the door open and Manuel came in and sat down on my bed. It was 9am. He said that there was a car in town that was going to leave later that afternoon and would take me back to Vallegrande. Good I thought. So I went back to sleep for a bit. Manuel came back a while later and told me that the car had left already. Manuel asked the driver to wait but apparently they didn´t want to. But Manuel assured me that on Fridays there was lots of traffic through the town so it shouldn´t be a problem. So I started to get up and get ready. I had just come back from brushing my teeth in the very deluxe bathroom (seriously!) and Manuel came in with the two little kids in tow to tell me there was another car in town and the driver was waiting for me. So I packed up really quit and headed out. But when I got outside the car had left! So I set up camp on the side of the road to ensure that I did not miss another opportunity. I only had to wait about half and hour before a taxi came driving into town in the direction of Vallegrande. So I ran down to the taxi and the guy asked where I wanted to go, I said Vallegrande and he said get on in. I was set. So I grabbed my pack and hopped in the back seat. We drove down the road a bit and the guy in the passenger seat got out to go have a jaw flap with one of the locals. There was a little old guy all dressed up with his slacks, sweater and top hat in the back seat with me and the young taxi driver. I shortly figured out that the guy in the passenger seat had hired the taxi and was driving around visiting his friends and looking for cows to buy. So after a bit he was ready to go and I said goodbye to Manuel who had sauntered over to the taxi. He said “Bye, I shall see you when you return.” and we drove off. After a bit we arrived in Pucara and stopped there while the guy went around for about two hours to talk to people. It was nice day out and they have a nice plaza there so I hung out and there was a group of locals who were taking a mid day siesta and invited me to share some beer with them. Eventually the guy came walking down the street with this huge bull and as he stopped to talk to his buddies who were hanging out in the plaza the bull started to ram a small van that was parked on the street. So the guy ran the cow down the street and told the taxi to follow him. So I climbed in and we were off. The guy put the cow in a fenced in pasture on the edge of the village and we started the drive towards Vallegrande. We got to town and it looked a lot nicer then my first trip there. Maybe because I knew I could find a hotel because it was still daylight! So I headed back down to the plaza and and went to the Hotel Copacabana. I rested up for a bit and had a shower to cleanse off the dust and headed off to try to figure out the bus scene and find some dinner. I went to the bus office which had a sign saying they had buses to Sucre, which is where I wanted to go, and asked what time they left. The lady started in on this confusing deal saying that I would have to switch buses in a town called Mataral but that the bus left at one pm. So I said ok and I paid for a ticket. Then I reconfirmed that the bus was leaving from the office at one tomorrow. She said, no you have to go to Mataral on another bus down the street and then wait for your bus in Mataral which will come at 7pm. Ok, I thought. Easy enough. I went and found a place to eat and had a great hamburger and a ice cold Coca-Cola for 5 BS (70 cents) and went back to my hotel room.

Saturday morning and I was going to try to escape from Vallegrande. I got all packed and walked around to get some photos. I figured out where my bus left from and had a great lunch at the same little restaurant. As I was walking over to the bus I noticed the strap on my red daypack was about to come unsown. It had come undone a month or two ago but I had sewn it up then. But this time it looked a lot worse. I passed a shoe repair shop so I popped in to see if they could fix it up for me. The kid at the sewing machine said he could certainly fix it and while he was working on it a really drunk guy came into the shop and started talking to me. I was talking to him and asked him, “Are you fixing your shoes here?” The kid fixing my backpack and his buddy both looked and me and rolled their eyes and told me he was the owner of the store. Herman was a very friendly guy and invited me to sleep in his store if I wanted. But I politely refused and told him I had to catch the bus in a bit. After the kid was done repairing my daypack I had some time to kill so I bought a couple beers for us to drink and then headed out to get on the bus. On the bus ride I discovered that my CD Player and only source of entertainment had gone tits up. The radio still works but for some reason it won´t spin the disc around or after starting it and stopping it a bunch will but makes a horrible sound and will only play about half a song before stopping. I also discovered that I had lost my sunglasses at some point in the recent past. We reached Mataral after only and hour and I got off the bus, almost forgetting all my cds, but a lady handed them to me out the window. I asked the bus helper guy where to wait for the bus and he pointed across the street. He asked if I was going to Sucre and I replied that I was. He said “Oh, your gonna have to wait a long time. The bus does not pass until 8 or 9 at night.” Not much I could do I thought and I started my waiting by the side of the road. Mataral is basically a few little shops and restaurants and a fork in the road where truckers stop to have a snack and check their tires ( quite a past time for Bolivian drivers! ) It was 2 pm. Around 4 I went across the street to have a Fanta and kill some more time. But after nursing my Fanta for two hours I went back to my waiting spot. I had no music, no book to read other then my guidebook and nothing to do. So I sat there. Seven o´clock came and went and no sign of any bus. Eight o´clock came and went and still no bus. An old guy who was waiting for a different bus asked me where I was going and when I told him Sucre said “Oh, that bus does not pass until late. Until 10 or 10:30.” Well there was not much I could do but wait. After it got dark it was hard to tell which of the approaching vehicles were trucks or buses so at every approaching headlight I ran out to the side to the side of the road to hope that it would be my bus. There were some smaller buses that passed and stopped but they were all going to local towns near there. Nine came and went and then a few buses started to come. I was pretty sure that the bus company that I had a ticket for was named Bolivar. But I didn´t care and was ready to hop on any bus going to Sucre even if I had to buy another 40 BS ($5) ticket. Four big buses blew right past me without even thinking about stopping and I was hoping that my bus would be kind enough to stop. I figured that they knew they were supposed to pick me up because the lady at the Vallegrande office had called the Santa Cruz office to book my ticket for me. But I didn´t put too much faith in that. So I waited a bit more. Finally I saw my Bolivar bus approaching and the glowing “Sucre” sign in the window beckoning to me. So I started waving my arms like a madman and it stopped for me. I tossed my backpack below and hoped on board. My receipt that I had said seat number eleven. But I knew that there was little chance of my seat being empty, but I did not care. I would have sat on the floor. I hoped and and went back to try to find a seat. The driver turned the inside light on and there were kids lining the aisle and everyone in the totally packed bus was soundly asleep. The bus helper kid asked for my ticket and I gave him the receipt deal I had been given. He said “No, where’s your ticket?” and I told him that I had already paid for it and this was all I was given. So he tells me to wait a second and goes back up front. Then all the lights go out and I am standing in the isle with a bunch of kids behind me and unsure of where any empty seats were. So I waited a few minutes for the kid to come back but he never did. Luckily a friendly passenger told me there was an empty seat towards the front so I hobbled my way up there and sat down relaxed and damn happy to be on the bus. We drove all through the night and finally made it to Sucre about 7:30 am.

Eating pizza for lunch today while listening to The Beatles and watching a steady stream of gringos walk past the restaurant I was a bit sad that I had left the peacefulness and beauty of La Higuera. But I sure will not miss trying to get there or away again!

2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

Bolivian Boredom

After La Paz I took the bus to Cochabamba. Stayed there a few days and then took the bus Saturday to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It was long twelve hour bus ride through the jungle. I have been hanging out in Santa Cruz the last couple days and going to leave tomorrow night for Vallegrande. Not much exciting to report as there is not much exciting going on.

2004 Journey Bolivia Erik's Travels

In La Paz.

Yesterday morning (Sunday June 6th) I took a bus from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. At the border we all had to unload and walk across. However it was a big fiesta weekend and when we arrived at the Bolivian side of the border everyone was at the church marching around and signing the national anthem and other songs. So all the gringos from the several buses were all lined up outside of the closed immigration office waiting for the parade to get over. It finally did and we loaded back onto the bus and were on our way.

But here is my favorite part…

We drove 8 KMs down the road to the town of Copacabana, Bolivia where we had an our to get lunch and afterwards change buses. When we first arrived into town a guy hoped on board to collect the city tax for entering Copacabana. It was a one Boliviano tax so about 14 cents American. And all of the sudden all these tourist start freaking out and bitching to the poor tax collector guy. “We were not told about this.” “Were going to La Paz, we just won´t get out of the bus!” “We refuse to pay!” And they did. At least two girls flat our refused to pay. Other people were bitching about it and eventually paid. But it just pissed me off that these fucking tourists have no respect for the places they visit and can be such ignorant cheap assholes. I really hate other tourists a lot of the time. Oh yeah, and of course these people did not even attempt to speak spanish but blather about in english like everyone should understand them.

But that ugly part out of the way. Copacabana is a really cool town, even though I only saw a little bit of it. It is right on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. I am definitely going to stop back there a couple days on my way back west.

The bus rolled into La Paz around 5pm and parked at a hotel and hostel somewhat near the center of town. I had a hostel picked out of my book near the center of town and figured that it was only about five blocks away or so from where I was. Right away a taxi driver asked me where I wanted to go and I told him and he quoted me two Bolivianos (about 25 cents), but I figured it was not very far and wanted to stretch my legs after being in the bus all day so I told him no thanks. I asked him which direction it was towards the Plaza San Francisco which was near where I wanted to go. He pointed me in the right direction and off I went. I was having a hard time figuring out where exactly I was on my map so I kept walking and asked a few more people where the Plaza de San Francisco was. They kept on pointing me all the same general directions. While I was walking I got to witness the end of the fiesta, Which meant lots of drunk people passed out on the sidewalks and even more drunk people all dressed up in nice clothes staggering around. It reminded me of one end of the night at one of the fraternity parties we used to have. But I kept walking and walking and tried to find myself on my map but when I did it never made sense because it looked like I was walking in the wrong direction. But I figured the local people must know where one of their own central plazas is, right? But apparently not. Eventually I ended up at the Plaza Sucre which I was able to easily locate on my map and figured out that instead of heading the four blocks north that I needed to go originally I had walked about 1 K east. So I had my bearings down at least and started the trek back towards the center of town. It was at about this point I had wished I had taken the taxi guy´s offer, but at this point I figured I set out on foot and I was sure as hell not going to give in a take a taxi now. I made it with little difficulty after that and made it to the hostel fine.

After resting up a bit I set out to wander the streets some more. It was pretty weird because I saw some people that were on the bus from Salta, Argentina to San Pedro, Chile with me walking around as well as some people that ate in the same restaurant as me the night before in Puno. They have lots of cool stuff for sale here though. Like basically any American CD you could want, all for only 10 Bolivianos (about $1.25) as well as any number of DVDs including movies that are still in the theaters now.

There are lots of hills here, the whole city is in one big canyon. It is hard work to just walk around too because La Paz is 4,000 meters high (13,123 feet). I am going to stay here a couple more days and then head east.

2004 Journey Erik's Travels Peru

The Colca Canyon and More…

Wednesday morning (June 2nd) Thomas and I crammed ourselves into a van and headed out on our two day Colca Canyon tour. We left Arequipa about 9am and started driving north towards the village of Chivay. We finally arrived around 2pm after making a few stops at random barren locations where women had set up souvenir stands. Once in Chivay we had our lunch then got carted off to our hotel. A bit later that afternoon I went with the rest of the group to a hot springs near town for an hour long soak. It was very relaxing and had some super hot water in the pool. At night we went with the group for our dinner and were treated to a traditional folk show, which included some guys playing traditional instruments (guitar, flute thingies and drums) and a couple dancing all over the place.

Thursday morning we got up nice and early at 5:30am to drive two hours to see the canyon and watch condors (really big birds). We got picked up last so I had to sit in the jump seat that folded down in the isle way. A couple minutes after getting in the van I leaned back to reach into my back pocket for a tissue and (SNAP) the seat broke. I put too much pressure on the seat back and it broke the little bolt holding it up. We were going to spend all day in the van as we were headed back to Arequipa that night and the seat was bad enough in working condition and without the seat back it just totally sucked. So at the first stop I talked to my buddy the driver and he monkied around for a bit and ended up taking a bolt out of a different seat to fix it. Whew!

We got to the Colca Canyon around 8am and hung out for about an hour watching the condors fly around. It was absolutely amazing scenery and a very big canyon. I think it was 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) from the top of the mountains to the river flowing through the bottom of the canyon. After our hour was up we went on a little walk to another viewpoint a bit away and were treated to some more great views. Afterwards we loaded back into the van and started back towards Chivay. Along the way we stopped at a lookout where the canyon turned into a big valley full of farms and terraces. Amazing stuff! Once back in Chivay we were treated to another substandard lunch and eventually made it back to Arequipa around 5pm.

Thursday night Thomas and I had our final supper at La Italia and Friday morning Thomas left to make his way towards Santiago, Chile for his flight home on Monday night.

Friday I also departed Arequipa and made my way towards Puno. I got on the noon bus and was cruising along until we reached a town about an hour north of Puno. There all but eleven passengers got off the bus so the bus company sent us the rest of the way in a colectivo van. Most of the ladies on the bus with me got really mad about this but I just went with the flow. We got in the van and started going with no problems. About half way there though there was a pick up spot on the highway and we pulled over and a few more people got in. We ended up with nineteen people in a regular sized van. It was a little crowded and the ladies from the bus with me got all riled up. But we only had like 20 mins to go so it was no big deal. Once in Puno I hoped out at a point I figured was somewhat close to the center of town and the hostel I was planning on going to. The ladies in the van with me were overflowing me with information on how to get to the center of town and where it was so I ended up not really sure where I was. But a friendly bike taxi guy made the fatal mistake of approaching me and asking me if I wanted a ride. So I told him the hostel I wanted to go to he said “Cicno Soles.” (About US$1.40). So I hopped on board and we headed towards the center of town with the poor guy pushing me most of the way. He really earned his dinero on that trip so I gave him a bit of a tip which he seamed very happy about.

Today I am going to visit some Inca ruins near here and then in the morning head off for La Paz, Bolivia.

2004 Journey Erik's Travels Peru

¡Arequipa, Arequipa!

Thomas and I arrived in Arequipa, Peru on Saturday (May 29th) night. We left Arica in the early afternoon to head to the bus station only to find out that to get across the Chile – Peru border ment transport in a Colectivo. So we wandered over to the colectivo area and hired one of the many people with huge old shitty cars to drive us across the border for C$2,000 (US$3.30) each. We ended up having to wait almost an hour for our driver to secure three other passengers and we finally set out for the hour drive to Arica´s sister city of Tacna. Once we got to Tacna we found bus tickets for Arequipa with no problem but had a couple hours to kill. So we sat down at a little lunch counter in the bus station and I tried to order a Inca Kola but got a chicken sandwich instead. Which wasn´t bad as soon as I got my Inca Kola to wash it down with. On the bus to Arequipa we watched one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. It was an American gang/robber movie that was so poorly made and acted that Thomas and I just could not figure out how it possibly made it´s way to a bus in Peru. But at least it was in English.

We made it into Arequipa about 9pm and hired a taxi to take us to our hostel. The taxi driver told us that the hostel we wanted to go to was closed but he knew of a much better one. So I told him to take us there anyways and of course it was open and welcoming. Poor Thomas contracted my illness of last week on Saturday and came down with it way worse then I had it. So the last few days Thomas has been recuperating himself and today is doing much better. Luckally the hostel had a wide range of movies for us to watch (including Star Wars!) but when I asked if we could watch them the hostel worker said “The VCR is in my flat.” And that was that. No movies.

So we have been hanging out in the “White City” of Arequipa the last few days just resting up and playing lots of Yatzee and War. We have dined at the Italian restaurant of legend (from our previous visit to Arequipa two years ago) a couple times and last night listened to the blind accordian player who played for us two years ago! It is very interesting making a second visit here. It seems like there are way more gringos here then before though. Which is kind of a shock after being in Chile and Argentina where there was a significantly less amount of gringos.

Tomorrow we are going to head to the Colca Canyon for a couple days and then Friday Thomas starts his journey back to Santiago, Chile to head home on Tuesday and I am going to go to Puno and then to La Paz, Bolivia.