Hard to breathe

Thursday 31 May

Once again we could potentially go to visit the mines.  Once again we decide we can’t be bothered.  Apparently it’s been due to collapse “any day now” for a good number of years.  I’m happy to sit in a crap cafe all morning and eat rubber eggs.  Our bus out of this interesting part of the world isn’t until 9pm.  This means that once again we can spend a productive day doing absolutely nothing.  Potosi is the highest city in the world, and at 13,420ft, the lack of oxygen makes you tired.  That’s our excuse anyway.

At around 9 bells we’re standing in the cold outside the most ridiculous bus station you could ever imagine.  It’s like a flying saucer, which echos with the haunting calls of women trying to sell you seats on coaches.  Their wails are totally indiscernible, so what the point is I don’t really know.  It literally sounds like women howling over their dead lovers on a battlefield.  I pay to go to the toilet, then I pay to exit the bus station.  Finally we’re standing waiting for our ride that should leave at nine, but instead doesn’t depart for another half an hour, just to make us freeze all the more.

You either have the choice of Cama, Semi-Cama or normal.  That basically means you’re either lying down, half lying down, or sitting straight up.  Our only option for this 6 hour journey is a semi, which is once again a total sham of a seat.  It’s impossible to get comfortable and warm, and I’m sure these buses have been constructed solely for the use of small Inca people with blankets.  I stir myself awake to notice my head trying to locate Paddy’s shoulder in the seat next to mine.  I wish I’d managed it, just so I could have drooled on his new Alpaca wool top.

Some time later we’re stirred for a toilet stop in the freezing cold blackness.  Be warned, most of these buses don’t have loos, which is insane if you’re on the road for hours at a time.  I’m forced to stumble off the carriage and into the proverbial waiting pack of street dogs, icy temperatures and shady lavatories.  Hygiene takes a back seat here, and ‘creature comforts’ are words that Bolivians know nothing of.  Hold your nose and get out as quickly as possible.

I feel drunk by the time we reach a closed hostel in Tupiza.  After leaning on the bell for an eternity, a speccy unimpressed youth opens the door and we fall in.  It’s 2,45am, and we’ve (not) slept on a bus.  Anything will do as we crash out in reasonable beds, the covers charged with the job of keeping the layer of bitter air at bay.

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Miners

Wednesday 30 May

Potosi is famous for pretty much one thing and one thing only.  The Mines.  They’ve been here for hundreds of years and at one time made Bolivia the richest nation in South America (or actually Spain who were exploiting the millions of people who worked and died digging underground). The silver deposits have significantly dwindled since those times, but miners still work as part of a co-operative.  What they find they are at liberty to sell on to make a tiny profit, and they still work in horrible conditions.  All of this you can experience with tours of the mines, including dynamite demonstrations (you buy it from a market yourself) and crawling through sub human conditions.  It looks an eye opening and fascinating day out, which we don’t do because Paddy is hungover and I’m claustrophobic.  We also flipped a coin for it.  It landed for the mine, to which Paddy replied “fuck that” and we spend the day faffing in the hostel.

A failed attempted to get another debaucherous karaoke session going results in me dancing like a lunatic with the locals having no idea what the hell I’m doing.  We beat a hasty retreat and wander the streets looking for gringas.  I’m disappointed to be returning to the hostel at the very early time of 1am, and even more gutted to discover the internet has been turned off so I can’t even stalk anyone or watch porn.  I fall asleep in a huff.

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Karaoke classics

Tuesday 29 May

So some 15 hours on a crap bus comes to an end and we’re pulling into Sucre terminal.  I have no idea where Paddy is, and I’m not convinced I want to stay here a night at all.  I jump a cab into town and set up shop in a gringo cafe.  It’s not long before the Irish head is learing in through the door and we’re discussing options.  It’s even shorter before we’ve decided to move on tonight.

Sucre is a pleasant town with that typical colonial feel to it, whitewashed buildings and sunny plazas.  It’s a Bolivian Popyan.  We’ve seen it, done it and got the hangover.  After dumping the bags at Paddy’s hostel, we book a bus to Potasi and then for some reason end up in a Dinosaur foot print park.  It’s going down as Paddy’s idea as we take a short taxi ride outside the city to see a plastic T-Rex.

An oil refinery close to the site discovered over 5000 Dino tracks cut across a huge slice of rock.  It’s actually pretty impressive to see where these creatures walked millions of years ago, but it’s definitely one for the kids only.  That is unless you’ve packed two wrestling masks to take stupid photo’s with.  We’re desperately trying to get a snap of us trying to body slam a Diplodocus, but the guards pacing the museum are on their toes.  We just have to settle for looking like idiots beneath a Brachiosaur.  Jurassic Park it ain’t, but it’s still a laugh so long as you have Nacho Libre homosexual gimp face attire.

Time for a couple of coffees overlooking the sunny Plaza Del Mayo in Sucre.  It’s a lovely spot, and one that you would want to spend a little more time in if you could.  Indeed one advertisement is seeking a flatmate for 450 Bolivianos a month.  That’s around £45.  £45 a month for a flat.  The question is, what are you all still doing in Europe/America etc, etc?  Then again we’d probably miss solid faeces and hot showers.

It’s only three hours to Potosi, which means Paddy is on a mission to get sauced by the time we arrive at just after ten.  This is a Miners town, but having said that there doesn’t appear to be your usual amount of boozers compared to it’s Irish counterpart.  We find one semi-decent eatery, then wind up in a terrible Karaoke bar.  As usual the selection is limited to classics such as “Sing Gin in the rain”, ” Withou You”  and “Summer of 64.”  I attempt a poor version of “Loosing my Religon”, while Paddy and myself team up to murder Unchained Melody.  After chatting with a Bolivian by the name of ‘Ivan’ who has spent much time in Russia, supports Osama Bin Laden and would happily kill an American, we’ve drank enough to know better.  If we don’t get a taxi home we’re likely to be ‘knifed’, which I’m up for because I’m swinging our empty bottle of Singani over my head and challenging all comers.   Somewhere in between Paddy has nearly flown for a young English kid who sang the wrong Irish national anthem, and keeps chanting “you can shove your fucking thistle up your arse.”  The last thing I remember is being told to be quiet by the Dutchman underneath my bunk because I was belting out the ‘freedom’ speech from Braveheart.  It was a memorable evening.  

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Freezing bus nasty

Monday 28 May

I’ve managed to get my boots back with spectacular success.  I went to the office, they sent me to the warehouse, my boots were there.  I was back in the hostel within the hour, packed and ready to go, which meant only one thing for the rest of the day: faff.

All these hostels I’ve been staying in recently have tourist information and travel centres.  You can book pretty much anything you want through the hostel itself, which means you hardly have to leave the comfort of your room.  Of course each hostel claims that they don’t take a cut, but that’s a little dubious.  Anyway I was pestering the English speaking attendant about buses out of the city.  Apparently all I had to do was rock up to the station around 6pm and I’d board something no problem.

The hour approaches and I stuff things into my bags with no real care for order.  My new boots are posing a problem, being the bulkiest footwear I now own.  It takes me twenty minutes of huffing and puffing before I realise I should just wear them.  My tennis trainers are now dangling on the outside of the ruck sack.  I’m coming to the conclusion this may well be the most boring entry I’ve ever written.

I waddle my way up the road and foolishly book the first bus I see that serves Sucre.  It’s only 60 Bolivianos and it departs immediately.  I was thinking this was a bonus as I would be there earlier than expected.  In actual fact I’d bought a seat on the nightmare bus from hell which would ensure not only was I to starve, I was also going to nearly wet my pants, contract hypothermia and sit in an upright seat for 15 hours.  This is what happens when I’m not with Spanish speakers.  I nearly said with Paddy, but he’d get a big head.

Bus stations are heaving with options.  There are that many companies you wonder how any of them get any business.  In each station there are always ‘pushers’ who sing destinations at you, desperately trying to get you on board their service.  It’s like an out of tune choir.  With so much choice you would expect to be able to locate the right one for you, at the right price, with a secure, comfortable company.  Of course I’m an idiot when it comes to this kind of thing, and I was swayed by the first one I approached.  It has got to go down as the worst bus journey I’ve ever undertaken.  Do your research.

At around 11pm the temperature really dropped.  I’m sitting in a broken chair needing the toilet, but of course there isn’t one on an all night bus.  Why would there be?  My feet are falling off in my boots as I look around and see every other passenger snugly asleep under a blanket.  | remove my guitar from the soft wool case, throw off my icy footwear, and shove both feet down the fret board end.  It’s surprisingly warm.  Placing my day bag on my thighs to keep the cold at bay, I then remove my arms from my hoodie sleeves and fold them under my T-shirt.  I look extremely special, but at least I was warming up.  There was little to do but lean against the window and stare into the blackness.

Driving back from Christmas late night shopping sprees in York with mum we would pass by a large warehouse which always seemed to have it’s lights on with some kind of clandestine activity.  Being an inquisitive sort and avid reader of the Famous Five and Secret Seven novels, I always used to assume something unsavory was underway and was desperate to investigate.  It was actually a Yellow Pages distribution centre.  I was bitterly disappointed.  It never put a stop to my curiosity though, and as I gaze out into the Bolivian night, I wonder what’s going on behind closed doors.  Tiny lights in far off dwellings intrigue, and I sit and imagine what could be taking place.  They sweep past like war time tracer fire, and I have to be content in knowing I will never know what goes on out there, never seeing it again, never being privileged enough to witness another world.  Imagination runs riot as sleep overtakes, but I find myself thinking something in particular as the dreams begin.

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Smack my bitch up

Sunday 27 May

Paddy has decided to move on as he’s already been in La Paz a few days longer than myself.  he’s booked a night bus to Sucre, which was my original plan, if I hadn’t left my new boots on the damn bus.  The office is closed, so I have to wait another day to see if there are still honest people in the world.  In the meantime I shall be attending one of Bolivia’s more unusual tourist attractions.  Cholita Wrestling.

Certain women in Bolivia have a very unique style.  They are usually of very heavy build, wearing long (and wide) pleated skirts, with a shawl, two long braided plats of black hair and a type of bowler hat which seems to magically sit on top of their heads.  I have yet to find the opportune moment to request a picture, but rest assured dear readers, you will be the first to hear of it when I do.  Now imagine, if you will, these big mamas fighting it out in a wrestling ring, WWF style.  What could possible be more entertaining than that, other than a man eating his own head?  It costs about 7 quid for a ticket for three hours of girl on girl action.  I can’t honestly think of a better way to spend a Sunday night.

Nor can the rest of the hostel crowd, who have taken to the ring side in force, and once again little Israel has monopolised all the best seats.  I genuinely can’t believe how many of them are traveling.  There must be nobody left in their home country!  We’ve been told not to throw anything at the fighters, but this doesn’t stop them pelting the entertainment with anything they can get their hands on, bottles, plastic cups, popcorn, cigarettes.  It almost spoils an enjoyable evening.  Ignorance personified.

As luck would have it my camera battery runs dry after taking a couple of early snaps.  I’m pretty pissed off about this, as it’s the second time it’s happened with my small compact, especially as the action starts getting crazy.  It’s utterly hilarious, complete with appalling acting, terrible stage fighting and horrendous consumes.  I’m sure there’s only about four ‘wrestlers’ doing it, rotating new outfits.  The main event however, is when the women take to the ring.  Hell hath no fury like a women scorned.  It’s about to get messy.  The shit got real.

And so they tear at it, throwing each other all over the ring.  One fighter is launched into the crowd, dress and braided hair flying.  It’s all very tongue in cheek, as is the case with this terrible ‘sport’, but it certainly is an entertaining way to pass the time.  I’ve bought a couple of camp wrestling masks for some stupid pictures during my travels.  I’d imagine they’re going to get some decent use at the salt flats.  Either that or when I rob a bank.

As I get back on the bus to a jittering excited crowd, I realise I’m falling into a people hating phase.  I go through them every so often on this journey, primarily because there is some total planks out there who I just have no time for.  I’m seething in my seat back to town as I listen to the utter shite being spouted around the vehicle, the same ol’ same ol’ drivel I hear every day.  It usually involves guys chatting up girls, where are you from, how long have you been traveling, let’s take lots of coke, it’s time to get really pissed, where are you going next, oh my friend is doing that, I’ve done that already, oh that was really good (when it wasn’t) and other such mind numbing tedium.  I’d happily exit the bus and toss in a grenade.

I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone by the time I get back to the hostel and I sink into faffing mode with ease and comfort.  Save watching fat women pretend to beat the crap out of each other it’s been a dull sort of day.  I’m looking forward to leaving La Paz and it’s pissed up coke fiend hostel dwellers.  Memories of Machu Picchu still fresh, I yearn for another life-affirming trek into the wilderness.  It’s time to move on.

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