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Ace's Adventure A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles

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NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 20 June 2010 | Views [699]

We arrived from combapata to Puno on the shores of lake titicaca the highest lake in the world. With the hagglers providing their usual help we found ourselves in a hostel  for the night with a tour to the floating reed islands sheduled for the the next day. These floating reed islands house a whole comunity and were the way of life for the natives of the area. They are formed by cutting into the root structure of the reeds carving huge chunks of boyant floatable soil and roots, usuallly 10m x 10m. They then tie several of these together as the foundation for the island, placing thousands of reeds on top, the result was impressive seeing this whole town 6 km from shore, I half expected to see kevin cosner from waterworld in his catamaran. It was a clear crisp day and we spent 3 hours visiting these families and learning of their way of life. Buying some local gimics on our way as they rely heavily on tourism to sustain their way of life. They also have trout farms on some of the islands which was cool, and they tasted good that night too. Felt a little like home in whitianga to be honest especially when we met the leader of the island, he was somewhat like the mayor of Arawa lane.
 
After the tour back in Puno we found a bus to take us to Copacabana our first stop in Bolivia. Also on lake titicaca the 3 hour bus trip was broken up by a short boat ride across the lake with the passengers on one boat we watches our bus sail by on a very dodgy looking barge. In Copacabana we met up with our friends the canadian lesbians and had a few vinos planning to hit isla de sol (island of the sun the next day for a hike seeing ruins and views of the lake. However our laziness was aided in the morning by the bank only opening at 830 at the same time as the ferry so we scrapped the idea and climbed the hill next to the town for a spectacular view of the island and the lake in the clouds. The walk up and down was rougher than we thought too due to the altitude we were definately gasing. That afternoon we jumped on a bus to La Paz 3 hours away. On arrival to this monster city in the mountains we checked into the irish party hostel the wild rover, the home of good food and beer. The first night, friday we met 3 young english lads Freddie, Rich and Joe. After a few drinking games (press ups and tell her) we were well on our way and found that apart from their haircuts these guys were full of life and laughs, we would go on travelling with them for the remainder of our trip and become good mates. This first night however we rinsed ourselves in beers, shots, bars and then the fairtytale of la paz route 36. Day two was chore day and organising our next two weeks we laid down a very busy schedule including a prison, the death road, a pampas tour and the salt flats. Saturday night was then given a nudge as saturdays deserve.
 
The next day we were in San Pedro prison.....
Some of you maybe familiar with the place, for those that arent I recommend reading ´Marching Powder´. In a nutshellit is a prison that through corruption and lack of regulation has managed to a normal societal structure with self governance and heirarchy. The wealth of the prisoner determines their living condition, with the ritzy aparments to buy and on the other side the slums. Children and wives are free to come and go free to roam the prison.There are bar and restaurant set ups, but for the majority, overcrowding and squaller plauge their lives of these poor souls and gangs, fights and muder are normal. Tours of the prison started when english speaking prisoners seized the opportunity to make life more bearable and easier with a new income stream, apart from the cocaine business. The prison is a big player in the cocaine manufacture and distribution in bolivia., Often with the help of gaurds and police tonnes escape the prison walls per year, money definately talks in La Paz. The prison tours arent legal and have been on and off recently due to too much publicity and internal conflic about who should profit from them. Numbers of ´guides´ (eng speaking prisoners) are passed from backpacker to backpacker, word of mouth ensuring a steady stream of visitors pass through the gates. We co-ordinated our tour with an aussie couple and the lads. Soon we found ourselves being ushered through the gates past the gaurds who get their cut from the operation. We had our visitor stamp (make sure that doesnt rub off) and were wandering the yard...shitting ourselves. However after meeting 4 or so of the prisoners and entering one of the richer prisoners cell (with 3 rooms, kitchen, wives, kids, flat screen the lot) we felt fairly safe. It was very sureal and didnt at all feel like a prison. The first prison we sat with was a dip shit South African who got caught smuggling 14 kilos of coke at the bolivian airport. He was serving 8 years, and is a former crack addict (most prisoners are or have been), a pretty sad story. In the next room when we joined our other friendswe met the big dogs. From a mexican drug cartel and a notorious gang they were drug traffickers and murderers amoung other things. They run the show and were incredibly open in talking about life in and outside the walls of the prison. I was in awe of some of the stories and their friendly approach, they had a head on their shoulders and were all business. To keep the conversation rolling and perhaps the main income earner for them, they have a ready supply of fake prisoner cards, dvds, Johnny walker whiskey ,, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine and even key rings for the visitors. The 3 hours of chat is followed by a short tour of the wealthy area. I could go on and on about the stories and what it was like, however that is probably best suited over a cold beer. But needless to say it was a very unique life experience and one that wont be forgotten for a while.
 
As if we hadnt had enough danger entering a prison illegally the next day we had the death road. Zead and the 3 lads joined us to mountain bike the road with a tour group. Around 25 people have died on the road as part of the bike tours alone. A narrow dirt and stone road flanked by cliffs on either side, you have a wall on one side and a 200m drop on the other. Starting high in the alps you work your way down to the lower jungle terrain. It is an amazing ride, but truth be told unless you are stupid, narcoleptic or israeli (first and last tourists to die were) you arent at too much risk. It was an awesome day in the clouds andmist, with most the danger coming when boys being boys we pushed eachother to go faster and faster, racing in a pack. With Freddie and JK taking the wipe out awards for the day, sorry JK.
 
Right back in La Paz the next thing on the list was the 3 day pampas tour, the wetlands in the amazon basin. It was a perfect chance to perfect my david attenborough impresonation, but in the excitment it was more irwinesque. Against advice we caught an 18 hour bus to Rurrenbaque as opposed to flying, with the wallet in mind. Bad call. The road was horrendous and fucking dangerous with the wheel of the bus often on 30cm away from a huge cliff drop. And to top it off our bus broke down in the night, with 4 stops to fix it we eventually had to wait 4 hours for another in a small remote town. the trip took 24 hours and we missed our tour the next day. However with chins up a night was spent with Pizza and wine, and we were off the next day. Sam, Zead and I also booked a flight in 4 days after the tour. We learnt our lesson. After a 3 hour jeep ride into the jungle, with 2 flat tyres....what luck...we arrive to the river and jumped into a long boat. We all got excited at the sight of our first turtle. However after an hour we relised turtle sightings are shithouse. Over the three days we saw over 1000s of black cayman crocs (4-5m) and alligators. We swam up to some, chased some and tried to poke some with a stick. We went on a hunt for annocondas in the swamp, our wellys (gumboots) filling with mud and water, success came in the form of a 2.5 m anaconda for the photo. We swam with pink dolphins, went fishing for and became member of the pirahna club (exception of Zead who couldnt catch a cold). I started slow but ended up with 3 pirahna to my name. We spent nights at a cool lodge set up on the river with good sunsets, expensive beers and an occasional game of bums. I loved the experience and it was so cool to see such an abundance of wild life in such a concentrated area. We headed back to Rurrenbaque, for more pizza and wine, before our plane in the morning. At 11am we had already arrived in la paz before the 3 lads got on the bus. I felt for them for about 5 mins. Then enjoyed the flight ;). That night we let La Paz get us as it always does. Starting with the Cholitas wrestling where we saw women fight women, men fight woman (felt like once were warriors), and a midget fight a giant. The last of which was so funny but slightly disturbing at the same time. to see such a little man being kicked and thrown. It was crazy and the local kids and families were loving it. After the night 18 hours later the lads arrived from the bus, and then we got home from our night out. We had a kip then it was time for a night bus to Uyni to do our salt flats tour. We arrived at 6am and it was freezing, our jandals and shorts not enough. So it was a quick trip to the market to get leggings and trackies, hats and socks. At midday we were off in the land cruiser to the salt flats via the train graveyard. The flat white surface of the plains stretch to the horizon, remnants of a former lake or sea...couldnt tell you as our guide spoke no english. Anyway driving along the white surface to me it felt like I was in a boat on a white sea, as islands pop up here and there and it is flat like a calm day on the gulf. We visited an island for an amazing pnoramic view, whick if it was water looked like the bay of islands. Then it was onto the salt to take the cringe photos. The flat white plain and the horizon allows some interesting and funny perspective shots. Sam, I and the lads having a good laugh in the process. That night we spent in a hostel made of salt. The temperature plummeted and we froze our ass off. Either side of dinner we were fairly anti social as we huddled in bed listening to music to keep warm, well if you can call the shit freddie and rich like music.
 
The next day we drove and drove, over mountains, through valleys into desert. It had the feel of middle earth, we came to a series of lagoons, some ice covered, they were thermal and had sulphur and mineral island, where the flamingos rested. It got a litlle repetitive, seen one lagoon you have seen them all, but some good music and winning the throwing comp made it bareable.That night we froze again especially after a few wines when we wanted to star gaze. It was freezing but it was also the brightest sky I have ever seen, thought prevoking and entrepreneurial I felt pretty small standing in the middle of the cold bolivian desert. Next morning it was up at 5am for another bread breakfast, froze, then it was of to a Rotorua like thermal area,geysers, mud pools, steam and that smell. But in true bolivian fashion there were no regulations or roped of areas so we were free to explore and give in to the life long desire othat men have to chuck rocks in stuff. Next stop at 9am we stripped off and hit the thermal pool, some entering more gracefully than others with JK slipping and fall in slicing his toe in the process. After wetting my hair in 3-4 mins my hair (and maybe a bit of my kick ass beard) were friozen solid with the water turning to ice. It weas cold. Ah back to when we booked, we had two options to loop round and end up back u in Uyni or, get dropped in chillie at the bottom of the loop. After counsel with the 5 chiefs (no indians, you should see us order a feed) we chose the former and BOOM another country was added to the itinerary. a short while later we found ourselves in a hostel in a warmer San Pedro, Chile. It was goodbye to the rediculously cheap accom and food of Bolivia and hello to the inflated chilean prices. San Pedro was a more touristy town the gateway to the desert and san boarding from the chilean side. We stayed here three nights, watched the lads  squirm when Eng drew to the US. We also went sandboarding. Equiped with snowboards and our soon tired legs and lungs(it was the altitude I swear).we Boarded down and hiked up that dune several timmes. There were some spectacular bails that ensured sand remained in the nether regions of the body for days. It was great fun and topped off nicely with a pisco while watching the sunset at Luna valley. Also in san perdro the peer pressure and infectious enthuisiasm of the boys got the best of me and I found myself with a rediculous haircut (cleanly shaven also).after a session with the clippers. There was a touch up trim the next days and it was acceptable (to me anyway, sorry dad). Chile was ticked off the list and we got on a 10 daqy bus to salta, Argentina, arriving late on a Sunday. We hunted for a hostel that didnt exist but found somewhere, then failed to ignite a night out. The next day we took the gondola up the hill to over look the city. That afternoon in the beautiful square, one heiniken turned into 6 bottles of Argentinian red and followed by a mix up with argentinas finest, the biggest steak of my life, 670 grams, a porky´s like stripo club(average though)(and a helping hand from the hostel staff. Iguazu argentina is the next stop. 22 hours by but, but it is cama (business class) so should be bareable. well it is actually very nice thats where I am writing this now. I even got motivated to go for a run before  we embarcked to cleanse myself and blow of the cobwebs, i lasted about 25 minutes and cant blame the altitude this time. Looks like Nick can keep the Quins number 10 jersey till i get fit again. After iguazu 2 weeks surfing ain brazil should help. Cant wait to be at the beach. Till I am there and you get the next update, before london, keep safe.
 
Love Ace x
 
 ps didnt have time or energy to edit...was ave computer so i know there are a few mistakes.

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