Thursday, February 9, 2012

Help! I've lost my spouse in Bolivia! Part II

I stayed on the bus until I had the vague sense that perhaps we were somewhere near the center then sought out the first Internet cafe available. I had remembered reading in the book that if you get lost in La Paz the best thing to do is walk downhill which, lacking a map in hand, is exactly what I did, stopping every now and then to reference something at another Internet cafe and check for emails from my esposo. When I finally arrived at the hotel I found that it was closed for the holidays, it was the 23rd of December after all. I retreated to the Internet cafe I had already solicited 20 minutes prior and resolved to stay there until I heard from Gow. It had now been about 2 hours and I hadn't heard a word despite the handful of emails and even Facebook messages.

Fifteen minutes later I returned to the hotel, El Consulado, to join Gow who had single-handedly managed to convince the caretaker of the big beautiful colonial house turned hotel to let us stay there despite being closed for the holidays. Turned out that Gow had spent almost 2 hours at the depot asking people if they had seen his esposa - some of whom said they had and pointed him in the opposite direction - before finally giving up and taking a taxi to the hotel, where he accessed the Internet and received my messages. We spent two nights at the Consulado, a gorgeous house with enormous rooms, high ceilings and windows, claw foot tubs and the best breakfast in all of Bolivia.  I highly recommend it to anyone headed to La Paz who wants to splurge for a night or two! 

Help! I've lost my spouse in Bolivia!

On December 23rd we arrived in La Paz, Bolivia's second largest city, after a 4 hour bus ride preceded by a seriously cramped overnight train from Uyuni to Oruro. We got off the bus at the first stop in the city, announced as "La Paz, El Alto", and soon discovered it was at least one stop too early and that we were near the airport. The driver of the taxi we hailed explained that, due to restrictions on vehicles entering the city, he could only take us to a depot where we could get a combi to where we wanted to go.  He dropped us in a chaotic landscape filled to capacity with street vendors and mini-buses and eventually we reached semi-consensus that all of the buses were going into the city and we just needed to head to the front of the line. 

The second bus from the front was full but the back seat of the one in the very front was open so I called to Gow and proceeded to wrestle my luggage to the back.  When I turned around, my backpack taking up a full seat next to me, three women were filing in behind me. Then three men, none of them Gow. Just before the door slammed shut and the van roared off I saw him on the sidewalk looking intent and decidedly in the opposite direction.

Now I suppose some people would have yelled to stop the bus, but I was so bewildered it didn't even occur to  me at the time.  It was as if I thought that someone would just know that my husband wasn't on the bus and that it would stop without me saying anything.  When I realized that this was not the case, and that we were heading into the city "sin frenos" I consoled myself with thoughts that he would probably figure out what happened pretty quickly and would simply get on the next bus. Anyway, I knew that I would be fine, I had enough money to at least pay for the bus ride and go to an internet cafe. Plus I remembered the name of the hotel we had discussed going to. And I knew that he would be fine too, he had most of the money and his persistence would make up for what he lacked in Spanish skills. He also had the travel book. I really only became slightly concerned when the bus pulled onto the highway revealing a canyon of casas, piled one upon the other as far as the eye could see. All of a sudden I realized that the situation could be more difficult than I imagined, like a real-life "Where's Waldo" episode. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How to view some pics.

So needless to say I´ve had some difficulty sharing pictures due to various mobile device and connectivity limitations. I have however been able to upload forty pics to a flickr account that I will try to share now. Here´s a link to the first pic: Folks should be able to view the others on the account as well since they´re set to public.  Let me know if you view them with success! Thanks!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bolivia's Southern Altiplano

Bolivia is truly an extraordinary place. Despite reading about the extremes of the country in our Lonely Planet guide, I really didn't get the extent of those extremes until touring the country's southern altiplano. The entire area sits above 3,500 meters and during the trip we reached heights of over 5,000 meters. Our guide was an affable Quechuan with a beautiful smile who very naturally produced the name of every volcano and mountain range and pointed out various flora and fauna while navigating the challenging terrain.  In addition to Mathilde, our friend from Sucre, we traveled with an Australian couple and a South Korean college student on break from studying abroad in Mississippi. The first day we visited the 'train cemetery' where abandoned trains from the 19th century sit slowly sinking and rusting in the desert environs. We then spent the rest of the day driving through the very impressive Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, stopping for lunch at an 'island', Isla Inkahuasi. That night we stayed in a hotel made of salt. The next day we entered the national reserve where we got to observe three of the world's five species of flamingos dining non-stop on algae, the Laguna Colorado (a lagoon colored red by a kind of algae which also happens to be where the flamingos get their color from), and curious petrified lava formations. The second night we stayed in a rustic camp at 4,700 meters but only until 4:30am the next morning when we proceeded to a field of steaming geysers and holes of bubbling sulphuric mud. By 6:30 we were having breakfast and bathing in hot springs. Finally we visited the Laguna Verde colored not by micro-organisms but by a toxic mix of lead, sulphur, arsenic and calcium deposits.  We then proceeded to the Chilean border, passing desert hills dotted with smooth rocks that are said to have inspired certain works by Salvador Dali. We dropped off three of our traveling companions at the border before heading back to Uyuni, a 7 hour stretch. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunny Sucre

Today is election day in Sucre and everything is shut down. No cars on the street and no alcohol for sale on this day. Muy tranquilo. We´ve been staying in this homey city in southern Bolivia for almost two weeks at Santa Cecilia; a comfortable B&B that has wireless (occasionally) and hot water in our baƱo privado. Our accomplishments include: a full 7 days of Spanish classes at the friendly Sucre Spanish School, mild food poisoning (or was it the altitude?), and a day trip to a nearby market pueblo Tarabuco where tourists and locals alike purchase handmade indiginous textiles alongside mass-produced made-all-over-the-world items. Things we are enjoying include the fresh fruit drinks (jugos naturales and zumo), impressive vistas, and the abundant chocolate that Sucre is known for as well as the charm of the locals and many fellow travelers we´ve encountered.

Tomorrow at 7am we head to Uyuni, a mining town to the west that is the jumping off point for what is known as the "southwest circuit" . We´ll be traveling with our new friend Malthilde, a quirky but endearing tour guide from France. From Uyuni we will sign up with a guide company to take us for a three-day tour through the salt flats of southwestern Bolivia. We expect high altitudes, cold weather and a striking pure-white landscape along with gysers, a red lake, flamingos, and multi-colored lagunas.