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SPEEDING THROUGH LATIN AMERICA

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 1 April 2009 | Views [1619]

Uyuni Salt flats

Uyuni Salt flats

I took a bus finally back to Sao Paulo to get my passport. I stayed only two
days with a friend Carlos and then took a bus for $142 Reais to Foz de
Iguazu (huge waterfalls on the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil)
where I spent the day. I then took a bus to Corriented in the evening for
$55 Pesos. In Corrientes I stayed with a guy named Diego who is studying
psycology. We and his friend Lea went to river and drank Terere which is a
typical drink in the north of Argentina. It was made with the chopped leaf
of a plant called yerba mate and was mixed orange juice.

Diego ended up becoming a really good friend... even only after three days
of staying with him. He took me a few hours away to a town called Formosa,
close to Paraguay, where I stayed with his family for a night. Their house
is also joined to an English school which they own.  

In the evening I went with Diego and his boyfriend Daniel to their friends
house. There were about seven girls, all wearing black, all with black hair,
and they all study economics. They were all really friendly and we had a
good laugh through the night.

The next day, Diego´s family took me to his grandmothers house where there
was a bbq, and I met many more of his family members. They were all very
interested in Australian culture, animals, and what food I normally eat. I
liked one type of savoury cake they gave me, which is typical in Paraguay,
and thought the sausages were tasty until Diego told me that they were made
only from cooked cows blood and then he told me exactly how they were made.

I left that afternoon to Salta. The bus (La Nueva Estrella) cost me around
$80 pesos and took about 15 hours.

Martin Picked me up from the Salta bus terminal at 6:30am, then I went and
left my bags at his house. He showed me around the town with one of his old
friends Ramon (who he hadn´t seen in two years, and happen to find him
sleeping in a bus at the terminal!). They showed me some nice churches,
architecture, and a park with a view of the mountains. After Ramon left for
another city we went for lunch. I then went back to pick up my bags, said a
quick hello and goodbye to Martiun´s family, and took a bus for $18 pesos
(Flecha bus) to San Pedro de Jujuy.
 
 A nutritionist named Mariana met me at the bus stop and drove me to her
house where her mother, father, and Grandmother live. Mariana and I got
along extremely well  but unfortunately I could only spend about three hours
getting to know her as she had to leave for Mendoza (a city in the south of
Argentina) to begin another university course about how to make clothes etc.
It was the strangest feeling waving goodbye to her as she left on the bus,
standing beside her parents... it was like child swap! And for the next two
days, they really did look after me like I was their own daughter. They fed
me, washed my clothes, and took me around the town to different houses to
visit their other family members. In one house where I was fed dinner, there
were 12 animals; A huge dog, six cats, and five birds! The dog was so jealous
that he would block my path when I went to go and pat the cats!
 
On the last night in the house I didn´t get much sleep... I cant believe
people here get up at 4am to sweep the streets with huge noisy brooms! In
the morning my new Argentinian parents drove me to San Salvador de Jujuy to
meet my next host, Guillermo (Christian). He´s a 34 year old politician,
quiet and very helpful. He has two houses and so gave me the keys to one
that I could stay in by myself for a few days! Although the light switch
immediately electrocuted me, the comfortable bed and clamness of the place
was wonderful.

I cooked dinneer for Christian, his pregnant girlfriend and his mother in
law that night, and we sat talking about everything from how I cooked the
potatoes to soap operas to travelling. They told me while I was in Jujuy I
must go and see the mountains close by, so the next day I went to Purmaraca,
Maimara and Tilcara. All of the towns were beautiful, especially Purmaraca,
which was filled with rocky mountains of all different colours and spotted
with cactus. I spent half of the day walking around with Ester, a German
girl who is on a break from studying sociology at university.

I arrived back in Jujuy in the evening, and while I was trying to find a
cheap bus ticket to Santa Cruz- Bolivia, I met a guy Lee at the information
desk. He seemed to be having alot of difficulty communicating, so I
translated for him. The man at the  info. desk was really no help at all
anyway, so I also told Lee more or less how to get to the salt flats (which
is where he was headed). When he found out I was going to Bolivia that
night, he immediately wanted to come with me because he hadn´t run into
anyone else who spoke English. I had wanted to go to the salt flats of
Bolivia for many years, and so with another spurt of spontaneity, changed my
route around Bolivia. I knew that it would also make my first part of the
journey alot safer.

Christian came and picked us both up at the bus terminal, took us for
hamburgers. It was funny watching Christian and Lee, as they could really
only smile and nod due to the language barrier. Christian knew it would be
freezing at Quiaca (the border). and with great generosity... yes even more,
gave me one of his warm jumpers.

And it was freezing!! To make matters worse, Lee and I, and another French
traveller we met on the way, had to wait for 2 1/2 hours on the border...
from 5am for immigration to open. We all then took a dodgy, very dodgy,
falling to pieces, $10 Bolivianos, 3 hour bus to Tupiza. Then Lee and I took
another dodgy, 7 hour bus ride to Uyuni that cost $40 Bolivianos. But all of
the scenery was incredible and changed dramatically after each one of my
short naps.

Lee was awesome and ended up paying for my accommodation that night as I had
made his travels a bit easier with my Spanish. He also mentioned that
because he was with me, it had been the cheapest couple of days for him over
the past five months of travel throughout South America.

I took a tour the next day to the salt flats. (my first tour in ten months
of travel). I bargained the agent from $150 Bolivianos down to $110... she
was a lovely lady. I never normally take tours when travelling because I
cant stand so many people crammed into beautiful places, but this was one of
the best places I have seen in my life, and I was so close to not even
going!!

I especially loved the way the snow peaked mountains and clouds reflected on
the wet salt (from the rain two days previously). I cant even begin to
describe how wonderful it was... it felt like I was in another world...
another far off distant universe. It still amazes me how places like this
actually exist, but then it amazes me even more to know that so many people
dont care about places like this, places completely filled with nature;
people who litter, people who suck up oceans of oil from the ground, people
who blow up land with bombs!! Perhaps if they were to see, even just for a
moment, such breathtaking natural beauty, they would re-consider their
destructive actions and begin to protect and enjoy the earth, not kill it.

I only just made it back to Uyuni about 5 minutes before my bus (6 de
Octubre) left to Sucre. It cost me $50 Bolivianos and took me 12 hours.
There wasn´t a bus to Santa Cruz until 4pm and so I spent the day walking
around downtown. The city was quite nice. I went to get my hair cut (finally
after such a long time), for $10 Bolivianos. Unfortunately at one stage I
had to take the cutting process into my own hands until the owner walked in
and saw me styling my own fringe with the scissors. She fortunately fixed
what damage the new hairdresser (and now probably me) had done.

At 4pm I took another 6 de Octubre bus to Santa Cruz, which cost me $40
Bolivianos and took me 14hrs. On the bus I met a local guy named Nitzu. It
so happened that we are nearly exactly the same age (only three months
apart). We
had also pretty much travelled the same journey by bus before meeting. When
I arrived at the terminal, I went to get my bags and Nitzu had
disappeared... probably because I was talking so much and because I had
accidentally elbowed him in the head, on the bus, while I was half asleep.

I went to an Internet cafe and was having trouble deciding whether to stay in
Santa Cruz, or to go and meet a couchsurfer in Okinawa (about 1 1/2 hours
away). I decided on Okinawa and hopped onto a local bus that would take me
part of the way. As I was sitting on the bus, after about 10 minutes of
travel, the most random thing happened... Nitzu got on the bus!!! We were
both so shocked that we had run into each other again, and in a city of about
one and a half million people. He had gone home, changed clothes, and was on
his way to work. This time we exchanged emails.

It cost me about $15-$20 Bolivianos to get to Okinawa. It surprised me a bit
because there was Japanese written everywhere. I met with Eugene, a
couchsurfer that I had spoken with months before hand over the net, who has
very similar interests to me.

Eugene was born in Nigeria, Africa, and grew up in America. He is a writer,
is into making documentaries, and volunteers for an NGO where he teaches
English to Bolivian and Japanese immigrant children. Just about all of the
kids at the school can speak Japanese, and all can speak Spanish. Eugene was
a very nice host and helped me to wash my disgustingly dirty clothes, and
even gave up his bed for me and slept on the floor! He told me that he first
really wanted to begin helping people after he had volunteered in a Mother
Teresa house in America. There, he said, he learnt alot about life... he
would wash old men who couldn´t make it to the bathroom on time, and help
the mentally disabled people who would walk in off the street as they
weren´t able to get in top a facility. Eugene´s housemate (Brian) was also
really cool... he is also volunteering in the town, teaching English.

Eugene took me to a Japanese restaurant and then we went and visited one of
the first immigrants, a woman who was born in Okinawa (Japan). She helped us
both learn more Japanese language and gave us some delicious fruits.

The next day I went with Eugene to a couple of his English classes. He
taught the class with a Bolivian man named Romer. Because the principal and
directors of the school are very adamant about keeping a strict Japanese
study system, the classes were extremely boring. I mentioned this to Eugene
and Romer and then they asked me to run the class for a bit. I played some
English learning games and suddenly the kids woke up and stopped yawning. I
also made them play Chinese whispers... yes in a Japanese- English school in
Bolivia. I was asked to teach part of another class later also.

Eugene taught me so many cool things about travel as he has been to over 40
countries. We both now really want to meet up and work helping the
environment  in Antarctica at the end of the year.

As I didn´t really have a p`lace to sleep that night, Romer invited me to
stay in his house in Montero (a town on the way back to Santa Cruz). Romer
told me that he first began learning English so that he could get out of
Bolivia. He also said that one night while he was riding his dad´s motor
bike, someone on another bike behind him, holding a gun, told him to stop!
He stopped, and to his amazement (and also the robbers), it was one of his
17 year old English students!! Romer was lucky. He now plans to volunteer in
Canada in August this year with an exchange program.  

Romer took me out for a typical Bolivian meal, where we had at least five
different people, over the span of only 1/2 an hour, ask for money. Romer
bought food for at least two or three of the people. He then drove me around
the town and introduced me to a few of his friends.

The next morning when we were watching the news, I was shocked! It showed a
guy getting bashed on the street by his neighbours. He was getting kicked in
the stomach on the ground and had blood pouring from his body. Then it
showed him getting kicked in the face... again and again, in slow motion! He
was getting hit because he was addicted to sniffing petrol. It really made
me feel sick to see how people treat others who have problems. Yes, he may
have done some bad things, but this violent behaviour shown on the news is
certainly no good influence for young people... for anyone!!

One of Romers friends Denisse, went with me the next day to Santa Cruz to
help me buy a violin (since I have always wanted to learn how to play, since
I was a kid). I bought a cute, cheap one with some of the birthday money my
parents had recently sent to me.

I hugged Denisse goodbye and went to the bus terminal, yet again, and bought
a $25 Boliviano ticket to Cochabamba, which took me about 11 hours. But
before I left, I had a few hours to spare, so I went to a park and played my
violin for the first time... well tried to. A young soccer player stopped by
and started chatting to me. He must have heard the beautiful music hahahaha,
not!! We had a nice conversation about work, life, love, religion and food
as he walked me back to the terminal. I hopped on the bus, surrounded by
babies, and left with the thought of the painfully sleepless night ahead of
me.

It didn´t end up being so bad though- I slept for about 6 hours. I reached
Cochabamba and about 1/2 and hour later got on another bus to Oruro (bus
company Danubio 2) which cost $15 Bolivianos (although there is always a
separate terminal tax to pay of about $1-$3 Bolivianos) and took 4 hours.
Then I took one more bus to Llallagua, which cost $13 Bolivianos.

I arrived in Llallagua, which is a cute little town full of donkeys and
lamas. I called my next host Marco and he came and got me from the terminal.
He showed me my room and gave me a key to the house... a large house. He
lives there with his friend Michele from Italy (which is where they were both born).

They both work with an NGO and help the locals here with things such as
agriculture and sanitation. They took me to their friends house for dinner
that night and we ate Falafels. There were about four other people there who
either volunteer or work to help people. There was a woman working in social
projects with women, and others helping to teach in schools.

I finally went to sleep and enjoyed dreaming in a bed for once. The next day
while the boys were working, I went to catch up on some writing in an
Internet. I met a nice man and I showed him how to download and use Skype,
along with many other programs. He ended up bringing me food, tea, and then
let me use his computer for about 6 hours!   

That evening I was quite sick with stomach problems and a slight fever. I cooked dinner for Marco, Michele, another two of their local Boliviano friends, and another Italian couchsurfer who is on a motorcycle journey around the world. But I only ate about two bites of the meal before I went to lie down and pass out.

I woke up the next morning at 5am to the abrupt sound of a group of men from the military running and chanting all together down the street. I thought twice before not calling out the window ¨Excuse me, do you mind? I´m trying to sleep here!¨ But then it hit me that I was feeling ok! I was actually expecting to be sick for at least three days like last time I was in Bolivia.

My bus to Oruro was going to leave at 7:15, so I wrote the guys a goodbye note (instead of waking them) and headed off. The bus cost $13 Bolivianos and took three hours. A nice Bolivian woman, who is studying social work, sat beside me and we spoke for about two hours. She helped me find a bus to La Paz for only $10 Bolivianos... which ended up taking about 6 hours instead of 4 to five as the tire popped on the way.

I reached La Paz and travelled for about another hour by Trufis and radio taxis to get to a part of the city called Los Pinos. The directions I had been given by my next host (Miguel), took me right up to one of the very last houses on top of a multi-coloured mountain. And it was a HUGE house with a view of the entire city! A guy from Germany opened the gate and welcomed me. Then I met a guy from Belgium, a girl from Poland, two French people, two people from Urganda, and then finally I met Miguel and his boyfriend Juan Carlos. 

We all ate a meal together for dinner and I couldn´t stop asking Miguel questions as he works as a politician in La Paz. He told me many interesting stories, including the fact that there is a protest in La Paz about once per day. I also mentioned what I saw on the news the other night about the petrol sniffer who was getting bashed on television news. He then told me that they showed also on the news him getting dowsed with petrol and then burned to death!!! He also thinks it is a terrible influence on young people to be showing this... on everyone. He is really truing to help with human rights and the environment. Also with animals, which is obvious as he has about four or five cats. 

It was only the next morning, when I went upstairs to the disco tech area (no joke, there are twirling coloured lights, a record player, and even a spa in a huge room with a door leading to a roof where there´s a view of the entire city), that I noticed a large aviary with birds flying around!!

The next day I hung out with the two people from Urganda (Martin and Paula). Martin milks cows and Paula is a social worker who helps young people including drug addicted teenagers. Two guys from Turkey also arrived in the morning and so we all went to a town a few hours away (Tiwanaku) to see some ruins (from the outside of the fence as we all didn´t want to pay to get in).

At the restaurant I went to I ended up having  a bit of a fight with the kitchen lady... she was blatantly trying to rip me off. This is one reason I didn´t like Bolivia the first time I came. I found that on the East side people are friendlier, but still, it seems to me many of the locals just hate tourists or anyone who is foreign!! I have felt so many times like I was a piece of dirt and that it is my fault that they don´t have much money! Most people will tell locals one price and then tripple it for foreigners. Even as I was leaving at the bus terminal, the woman selling the bus ticket lied to me about five times.... right to my face!

The bus was $100 Bolivianos and took about 12 or 13 hours with Litoral (but beware this company lies to you about what type of bus you will get).

As the bus headed off towards Peru I spoke to a man and his wife about how happy I was to be leaving Bolivia again.... they were Peruvian and knew exactly what I meant. They said they missed their country because the people were alot warmer there.

I met a doctor on the bus also... he helped me sort out a few medical concerns I have about my throat, which was handy. It was perfect actually because he was specialising in the oesophagus and some other part of the throat!

When I arrived in Arequipa for the second time, I went straight to my friend Yvans house! It was so good to see him again. I went down the street to bye some food to cook a lunch (as Yvan made me breakfast) and was delighted to again be greeted with a smile and a hello in the shop. (so unlike the dreary faces and arrogance I was faced with so many times in and around La Paz and in other nearby parts of Bolivia). I don´t mean to bag this country so hard, but I have honestly have never witnessed so much racism against foreigners in pretty much the whole of South America. I´m glad to have at least met a few fantastic, nice, and friendly Bolivians who were welcoming and warm.

But I´m happy... I´m in Peru again... my favourite country in South America so far!

 

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