It has taken me almost six months to be able to write this, partly because I cannot physically put into words what the trip meant to me and in a way writing this officially ends the best year of my life (I am also guilty of being v lazy). But here I want to reflect on what I learnt from travelling solo for one year and a few of my favourite photographic memories and maybe even inspire one or two of you to book that scary one way flight into the unknown!
Trying to settle back into ‘normal life’ after 12 months on the road has been challenging to say the least. Living in a travel bubble for one year completely separated from reality changes your priorities and your entire perspective on life. This bubble is both uncomfortable, scary, exciting and dangerously addictive. Travelling solo as a female around Latin America is definitely a challenge but is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things I have ever done. Anyone nervous especially girls just do it. I think everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life.
I have gotten better at embracing the here and now even if it is a two hour commute on a bicycle to Tallaght. I am a sucker for a challenge. This commute often feels like backpacking (or cycling Bolivia’s death road aka the Greenhills road in Walksintown)!
Since starting I have had 4 punctures, been hit by a car (luckily I was okay the woman thought I was a wheely bin), ended up hitch hiking to a presentation (that’s a v long story), cried for an entire hour en route home pretty convinced I had frost bite (I did not!!), almost got blown away during multiple storms. Admittedly it is usually quite bleak but there is the rare day where the wind is behind my back, sun is shining and I am listening to the Beach Boys and I feel invincible. The quick morale of the story, cycling in Dublin is a joke but better than public transport!! Our bodies can do so much more than we give them credit for.
During my trip someone once told me I was a magnet for problems and disasters. Maybe that is true these disasters have subsequently followed me to Dublin and most likely will follow me wherever I end up next. Only last week I set my hair on fire in a restaurant in Berlin while roller blading a Half Marathon!!!!! Sometimes you might feel like crying and whenever you do try your best to laugh! No joke, literally everyday of the trip there was some kind of a disaster in store both major and minor. I look back now and can honestly smile about them all.
I find it difficult to describe how I feel after the year away but it is without a doubt an emotional roller coaster consisting of indescribable joy, loneliness, guilt, sadness, isolation and fear. A year of camping, hitchhiking, sleeping on mountains, caves and couchsurfing went by in the flash of an eye. I was broke, homeless, lost, robbed, held up at knife point and violently sick (on numerous occasions). You do stupid things and all rationale goes out the window. A perfect example of this is me buying a motorbike in Brazil with the plan of biking through the Amazon into Colombia?! In my defense I had been on a bus for almost 3 days so I was little delirious (as opposed to normal!). It is still there in case anyone reading this in headed to Brazil!?
Just a few of my photographic highlights
Some parting advice;
Don’t always take the easy option get on that bike, book that flight, step into the unknown and who knows what might happen you may even be lucky enough to pick up a hot German in the airport. Life can pass us by in the blink of an eye so speak to that stranger, be open-minded and curious. Everyone has an untold story waiting to be heard.
I completely get that hitchhiking, couch surfing and sleeping in tents isn’t everyone’s gig but it’s always good to put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again (no need to be as extreme as me aka 8 weeks straight in a tent). The experiences you will have will be authentic, exciting and unforgettable. You think you can’t do it but you absolutely can!
Money seriously comes and goes and ultimately can be replaced. Some of my happiest memories are when I didn’t have any. Material things are so un-important but memories will last forever. I know its v cheesy but it’s true. I became so much better at accpeting at dealing with things that got lost, broken and robbed and believe me there were a record amount of things.
The best thing I did on the trip? becoming fluent in Spanish. I will never forget Christmas was spent with a group of Chilanos who hadn’t a word of English and after everyone pissing themselves at my Spanish attempts I persevered and months later I landed myself a job in a hostel in Cusco and was able to lap away to every randomer who came through the doors in Spanish. Progress!! It’s hard work at the beginning but just power through it is so so worth it. The whole point about travelling is obviously seeing amazing places but for me it is more about connecting with the people. Doing both is a glorious combo.
Life is a series of peaks and valleys and just like traveling it is not always going to be Instagram perfect but wherever you are living learn to live in the moment is the best thing we can do. No matter how grim, how cold, how tired or how fed up you are there is always a solution, put a smile on your face and power through. Even a 25 hour bus can have its up sides! Some of my most challenging moments of the trip are now my best stories and fondest memories but at the time I clearly remember thinking I had hit rock bottom (sleeping in a cave alone is perfect example of this).
A final thank you to all of the amazing people I met on the trip, the strangers who took me in, fed me, the couch surfing community and those who picked me up off the sides of the street. I am also so grateful to everyone who spared the time to read about some of my trip.Your comments and messages meant the world to me.
This quote perfectly summarises what travelling means to me
”Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain
I still have to pinch myself when I wake up in huge double bed in a hotel. I haven’t gotten used to the luxury of it all and have no idea how I am going to back to my tent life.
The week started off with me trying to convince Una to cycle death road which is one of the biggest attractions in La Paz. It used to be known as the words most dangerous road (a new road has since been constructed). It is estimated that 200 to 300 drivers were killed yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks. Still, today about 9 tourists die per year doing the tour and its easy to see why. Una settled on going in the support van while the rest of us took to the bikes and in hindsight this was the best decision. It was comforting to know that there were a few others in the group also violently sick from the altitude. The bumpy bike ride definitely didn’t help. You have to concentrate so hard not to fall off cliff that you forget about being sick.
You drive to the highest point at 4,800m where we all had breakie before setting off. Physcially it’s not too difficult *except for altitude sickness as it’s all basically free-falling down the mountain not an uphill in sight. I loved it from the minute we started. I kept wanting to go faster. I tried to stay to stay behind the guide so you wouldn’t get stuck behind a slowie. Una played a blinder on photo duty. Death road day happened to fall on mother’s day. World’s worst daughter dragging Una along valley de la muerte in a support vehicle. Being the saint that she is didn’t complain and seemed to enjoy herself.
All was redeemed at the end of the day when we reached beautiful Coirico. We all had lunch and dip in the pool and soaked up the afternoon rays. Everyone in the group was getting the mouldy bus back to La Paz that evening but myself and Una were booked into a beautiful ecolodge in the mountains for 4 days (Hostal Sol y Luna). How the other half live!Cycling valley de la meurte was spectacular I would do it again in a heart beat. A memorable day!
My generous mother’s day gift to Una consisted of a $3 piece of trout and a cup of tea (don’t worry Mam you’ll get a double whammy pressie next year when I’m home).
The climate in Coirico is amazing for most of the year it remains about 20-25 degrees. It is a little jungle town set in mountains. Our little apartment was perfect and had a kitchen and the most amazing views of the valley. We were surrounded by banana, avocado, orange and lemon trees and beautiful exotic flowers. The wildlife was also amazing with regular appearances from the humming-bird. This is the perfect place to chill in a hammock or by the pool and do absolutely nothing which I am becoming quite good at.
One of the mornings we to an animal rescue centre 8km outside the town. Sende Verde is an amazing organization that save animals from being sold on the black market especially monkeys. All of the staff are volunteers and all proceeds go back into the centre. The tour we did was top class and we saw some of the most amazing animals’ toucans, exotic birds, lots of monkeys, capibara and turtles. Some of the cases are quite sad there was one monkey who was paralysed because his mother was shot and her body fell on the baby monkey causing paralysis. The refugee is set in the heart of the jungle so the animals have lots of freedom. We were warned beforehand that the monkeys are extremely clever and lots of them had been previously trained on the black market to rob tourists so we were told to have nothing in our pockets. True to the guides word we were greeted by the most adorable monkey who took a shining to Una and essentially gave her a head massage for the duration of the tour. There was an extremely rude Italian girl in our group. She had a big face on her for the entire tour. At the end she starting going mad and complaining that the tour was in English not Spanish. To my secret satisfaction she realized at the end that the monkey had robbed one of her earrings that she had kept in her pocket! She had booked to stay in the refugee but after seeing two spiders in her room refused and left the refugee in a huff. Imagine seeing spiders in a jungle! Would you be well….
We ended up bumping into the Italian later that night in a gorgeous little pizzeria run solo handed by the cutest bolivian woman. She is the chef, cleaner, manager and waitress and doing an excellent job. She even makes all of her own pasta from scratch (major brownie points in my book). I made the mistake of asking the Italian girl did she enjoy her pizza and she went off on a rant…. Needless to say she didn’t enjoy it and it wasn’t up to her Napoli pizza standards. Welcome to Bolivia you big moan bag. Me and Una on the other hand were delighted with our feed.
The next day we booked to go on a tour of a coffee plantation. This was absolutely amazing. Maurizio the guide took the two of us to his mates house who grows a few coffee plants and just makes coffee for himself and his family. The tour was in Spanish so I was on translation duty. He wanted to take to us through the whole process of making coffee from plant to cup. So me and Una picked our own coffee beans, skinned them, roasted the beans and more importantly spent the afternoon drinking the most delicious coffee. Bolivia also makes a special tea out of the skins of the coffee which is v fruity. Lunch was sourced from the garden. We had bananas, avocados (both freshly picked), a local bolivian fruit called tuna (this are everywhere and v v nice). The beans we roasted were packed up and given to us to take home. The coffee plantations in Bolivia are 100% natural and instead of using chemicals to protect the plants they plant trees/ fruit bushes and their branches and leaves are also used to protect the precious coffee bean. In this coffee plantation we also saw lots of coca plants which are seen all over Bolivia.
En route back to Coirico we stopped off at one of the waterfalls which is set in the most stunning part of the valley. I was buzzing for the rest of the day I forgot how good coffee tasted and after 4 cups I was set for the day. I reluctantly drew the line after the 4th cup (Una after the 1st). It brought me back to that one time I drank 13 cups of coffee and 8 teas at a coffee festival in Dublin. The entry fee covered all you can drink; a dangerous concept. I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours and was nauseated by coffee for over 3 weeks. Never again!
We had a gorgeous dinner that night in the restaurant; Carla’s garden. For the first time I was feeling well enough to have some vino (having with drawl symptoms at this stage). I let my guard down when I almost let the waitress take away some delicious fresh Chorizo. Una suggested packing them up for the eggs in the am! So with chorizo and cheese stuffed into pockets we crawled home with happy heads and full bellies.
I am now the proud owner of a phone with a microphone, screen and light. An early birthday pressie from Una. I splashed the boat and went with a Cherry (I’ve no doubt a trusted, reputable bolivian brand). Fingers crossed this phone makes it through the next few months without any lake, coffee or robbery incidents. We got the bus back from Coirico to La Paz. For our last night together we decided to splash out on a nice restaurant (well Una was splashing out). We both agreed that Coroico was one of our favourite places it really was paradise. I had been researching this restaurant for weeks and before my card was blocked I had planned on treating myself and Una. Poor Una had to foot the bill once again. Gusto was voted as one of South America’s best restaurants and is owned by Copppenhagon native who owns Noma (world famous restaurant). I love eating in the local markets and on the streets but on this occasion I was dying for a bit of fancy.
So when we arrived to the chick restaurant it was hard to believe we were in La Paz any more. Getting ready for our fancy outing I realized the fanciest pair of shoes I own are a pair of asics currently with holes in them and covered in mud. The only other alternative was Una’s new pair of chunky plastic flipflops. They were the chosen ones on the night. A few glasses in and the chucky sandels were the least of our concerns.We had a choice of an 8 course tasting menu or a 20 course tasting menu (obviously we went for the 20) and I treated myself on Una’s behalf to the matching wines. We were 4 hours going through the meal and it was an incredible experience . The tasting menu was based around all of the local and traditional foods of Bolivia . Some of the exotic dishes we tasted was cow’s heart with peanut sauce which we cooked ourselves on a volcano rock, alligator with ginger/lime and melon and strawberry salad (also v good), marinated ants taco (this species of ant can only be caught in December and is extremely raw). My standout dishes were a quinoa salad (using 4 different types of quinoa), seared duck with roasted pineapple and citrus butter sauce with cocoa and the dessert of brunt white chocolate, locals fruits and a white chocolate ganache was amazing. The wine pairing was excellent and thankfully the waitress made a mistake so we got a free glass of bubbly. 3 cocktails were also included; one really unusual one was gin, carrot juice and bolivian equivalent to the herb mint (this was v fresh). There were all sorts of shots included at the end. I loved every second of the experience.
I hit the mam lottery with Una and she treated me like an absolute queen during our 2 weeks together. She came equipped with mitchem (worlds best deodorant), knickers, socks, towels , sewing kit (to repair all my ripped clothes) and most importantly my favourite chocolate!!! A special thanks also to Fiona and Marian who sent chocolate over. I’ve already put a big a dent in the supplies. Una is joining a tour group to travel around the rest of Bolivia where she’ll see Sucre, Potosi and Uyuni. She’s then travelling to San Pedro in Chile and flying home from Buenes Aires in Argentina. Thanks Mam for coming to visit and for the endless amount of treats. The show must go on so back to the backpacking! I am dying to get out of La Paz and am praying the altitude in Peru is a little more forgiving on my stomach!
The night bus from Cochabamaba to La Paz was amazing leather seats, recling chairs and most importantly a loo. I have started to dehydrate myself before all Bolivian buses because it really is torture and peeing into lunch boxes obviously isn’t something I want to make a habit of. Things started to decline fairly swiftly when I got my fairly routine car sickness. The chap next to me was fast asleep so I didn’t want to wake him. After a few hours his Mam came over with fleece blankies to tuck him (he was my age v jel!) so this was my escape point. Luckily I just made it to the loo on time where I was violently sick. When we eventually arrived at La paz terminal I realized my laptop had been robbed. Obviously I had invested in a high tech one before my trip. I was raging with myself as usually I don’t leave the bag out of my sight. I’m almost 100% sure it was the chap next to me. I am just so lucky he didn’t take anything else. I had $1000 dollars right beside the laptop, my camera, phone and passport. I have been storing my money in a first aid kid lately because I lost my purse so maybe that saved me. Naturally I was upset initially because of loosing lots of photos but looking on the bright side at least I wasn’t attacked…I’d love to give the culprit a going over with my pepper spray!!!
Things started to get worse from this point on wards. When I arrived at the fabulous Hotel Rosario Una booked for us (she didn’t arrive until the following day). I could barely walk and was violently sick en route to the hotel. The fancy hotel staff didn’t really know how to react to me. I looked homeless, dirty, sick and my backpack was covered in muck post camping expedition. It felt so strange to be in a hotel and the timing couldn’t have been better. I definitely wasn’t their typical clientele. I rang Ulster bank to try and unblock my card which has been out of action for almost 2 weeks. They started to ask me had I spend thousands of euro on washing machines, hoovers, flights to America, hotels and of course hundreds on pizza. The money situation was not looking the healthiest at this stage. They think someone may have cloned my card so it was blocked immediately. A new one is being sent to Dublin so Brian will be on the case to try and get it sent over to Bolivia.
Later in the day for good measure my phone decided it also had enough also enough and packed it in (I can’t say I blame him). My screen gradually turned completely black (even though the phone is still working ‘perfectly’). I spent the afternoon guessing where my spotify app might be and when I eventually found it obviously landed onto my Christmas playlist so that was the afternoons agenda along with regular trips to the bathroom to be sick. Reliable google was telling me my sickness was down to the altitude. La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world and you can definitely feel it. So laptopless, phoneless and moneyless all in the space of one day even for me I think that’s impressive.
Una’s visit couldn’t have come at a better time! The hotel breakfast was amazing and needless to say I got overwhelmed by the buffet element and overdid it. This is what happens when you’ve been severely slumming it for the last 4 months.
Una’s first day of holidays was spent on operation laptop. The thing in Bolivia they have themed streets so they have camping street, hairdresser street, stationary street etc…. You name it they have it. Electronic street is like a dodgier version of Moore street. It was hell trying to find a laptop. Most of the sales people would just play candy crush as you’d be asking questions. They also tried to insist that dell doesn’t have a model it’s just dell. One shop for the same laptop there was $400 in the difference. We abandoned ship that day and went back the next morning where I settled for a cheap model-less DELL. When I got back to the hotel it said the laptop was completely out of storage despite not even using it. So all and all operation laptop a massive success.
Later that day we did a city walking tour of La Paz which was amazing. La Paz is one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. One of the interesting things is Mc Donald’s opened a couple of years ago and was forced to shut down because no one wanted it. The bolivians really value fresh quality food and virtually everything is bought from the cholitas (traditional women) on the streets. There’s are no supermarkets and more importantly no Starbucks (thank god).
Another interesting fact is Bolivia’s is one of the few countries in the world with 2 different national flags (one for the indigenous people). We also visited the witches market where they sell all sorts of useful items like dead lamas, chalks, dried flowers and of course potions. The only way to become a witch is by getting struck by lightening. Only in Bolivia! The amazing thing is people actually buy this stuff. One of the most interesting places in La Paz is San Pedro prison which is situated in one of the main plazas. It is the only prison in the world where there are no guards and the prisoners manage the prison it’s like a small village. In the past tourists could do tours of the prison with a prisoner guide. I can’t recommend the book ‘Marching Powder’ enough a true story of a British drug trafficker who spend 5 years in San Pedro prison and shares all the inside stories of this crazy place.
The tour finished in a party hostel in a sky bar with fab views of the city. We each got to make our own singani sour (Bolivian’s equivalent of the piso sour and equally delish).
Una was treated to dinner in Lanze market a real eye opener to Bolivia’s rustic cuisine. $1.50 for sopa de mani and the popular Milanese. Really splashing the boat.
One of the days we took a bus to Copacabana to see Lake Titicacka the worlds largest lake. My stomach was still in ribbons from the altitude despite lashing the coca tea into me. On Una’s first Bolivian bus there was almost world war 3 as she had taken one of the senoritas seats. A perfect introduction to the Bolivias’s transport system. After a rough but beautiful road we arrived into Copacabana and dinner was their famous fried trout ( a famous delicacy in Titicaka).
We checked into our hotel at the top of the hill which was beautiful. During breakie we had the most amazing view of the lake, the lamas eating breakie and to top it off the cores were playing. Copacabana is a bit scrubby and not the nicest of places but a perfect stop over point to some of the surrounding Islands.
Una booked us into an eco lodge on Isla del Sol where we had our own little caban. We took a two hour boat to get to the island. It was absolutely stunning. The only traffic system is donkeys. The lodge was a 45 minute trek across the island but the donkeys carried our luggage. We were treated to the most incredible views and the lodge itself is probably one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed in. It’s entirely run on solar energy and everything is biodegradable. We ate dinner and breakie here and both nights we had the most amazing trout dinners (probably some of the nicest food of the trip so far). Breakie was a different level and once again I got overwhelmed. There was amazing cheeses and breads. I seized the opportunity to suss us out with sambos for lunch. It reminded me of the time me Sinead and Orla were in Greece and took robbing the buffet to a whole new level. Our daily challenge was making jumbo seized sambos at dinner. One night I got screwed by trying to wrap my sambo in the white linen table cloth! Never again! Anyway on this occasion Una’s influence made the operation more seamless.
It’s a shame you can’t visit the north of the island as of a year ago. There’s some archaeological site in the north where tourist paid to see . After a while the middle of the island got wind that there was money to be made and build a lodge also charging tourist to pass the route towards the north. Once the north heard about it they got dynamite and blew up the lodge. Since then both the centre and the north are completely closed off until they can solve their differences. Another interesting fact about Bolivia is you can legally buy dynamite! It’s such a shame and the locals depend so much on tourism for their livelihood so everyone is really a looser! We spend our days exploring Yumani (the south) there are amazing view points, eating trout, reading and soaking up the fresh air. A welcomed change from the chaos of La Paz.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way of ending the roughest start to the week. La Paz is such an interesting place and so nice to see their unique culture still alive. Unfortunately, the altitude had me in ribbons and I was sick as a dog. Delira Una got off scot free we’re milling coca tee like there’s no tomorrow. It’s so nice catching up with Una, god love here though she is having to foot the bill for absolutely until my finances get sorted.
After Uyuni I decided to make my way to Potosi. This is a really special place with an amazing history. It is mainly famous for it’s mines containing silver. Located at 4,090 m high it is one of the highest cities in the word and you can definitely feel it. In its height it was one of America’s wealthiest cities. The city went into decline once all the silver in the mines was gone. There are still miners working in the mines today in the most abysmal conditions you can imagine.
The only way to visit the mines is to go with a tour. I went with one where the guide was an ex miner and knew the miners well. Sadly the average life expectancy is around 40-45 years because of the intoxicating fumes.The first thing you do is go visit the miners market where you buy gifts for the miners for example cocoa leaves, alcohol, dynamite and ammunition (they expect these and really rely on tourists). I opted to buy dynamite and juice for them. Without coca leaves the miners wouldn’t survive, they chew the leaves for hours and leave them in their mouth so when you see the miners they all have a big protruding balls in their mouths. Coca leaves give energy and help with the altitude sickness.
The fumes are so bad in the mine you are warned to wear a mask. Some of the miners start working in the mines as young 12 years old and work up to 18 hours straight in the mine. They can’t eat in the mine as it’s so intoxicated they would get sick so there only source of fuel is coco leaves, alcohol and juice. The miners all work for themselves and have to buy all of their own dynamite and equipment. Most of the them don’t like the work but with very poor prospects in Potosi most don’t have any other choice. Today there are around 15,000 miners working in Cerro Rico.
When you first get into the mine it is extremely claustrophobic and difficult to breath because of the extremely high altitude, fumes and dust. It can also get really really hot. It was so interesting to talk to the miners and see them going about their day. They all work for themselves and its all based on luck whether or not they find minerals. Some can go weeks without finding anything. I got chatting to one of the miners who was in the middle of drilling holes for dynamite so he could blow up part of the mine to try and discover some new minerals (they do this daily). He started working in the mine when we was 12 and is now 33!
8 million people have died in the mines in Potosi in last 400 years it was a very sad history and they don’t know for how much longer there will be work in the Cerro Rico mines. During our tour a few people had to drop out as they couldn’t stand the small spaces and heat. It’s 4 floors and we crawled to the bottom floor where your on your hands and knees. Every now and again we would hear a scream saying watch the hole ( as in massive drop). At one point we were descending down into the mine on this dodgy ladder which had a load of steps missing (definitely on its last legs). This kind of a set up definitely wouldn’t be a runner in Éire. Helmets are a must, I lost count the amount of times of whacked my head against the rocks.
On our way out of the mine our guide was screaming at us to start sprinting to get out of the way as a group of miners running behind us carrying tons of minerals in these steel barrels. The whole experience was intense, sad and unforgettable.
Another interesting thing in Potosi is the Casa de la Moneda. Potosi was the first city in the world to start producing coins given its location to the Cerro Rico mine. I’m not usually one for museums but this was fascinating. En route back to the hostel a man was chasing after with my debit card saying I’d left in the bank (this is the third time this week! and also ironic I had just left the money museum). Blessed to have met such decent people in the banks here. The bank card has been having a rough time lately as have my clothes. Another one of my clothes bags has bitten the dust and has vanished so I’m really down to the dregs.
My first impression of the people in Bolivia were they were a bit cross. Every corner of the street there are native women selling absolutely everything you can imagine. I have found these women to be particular cross and they are definitely not fans of my spanish small talk. Lots of travelers complain about the food in Bolivia but I have been pleasantly surprised and so far have had some delicious street food for absolutely nothing. Lunch set menus are generally 2$ for really good 3 course meals. You can find a lot cheaper food on the streets or at the central markets. It’s actually cheaper for me to eat out then to cook for myself a welcomed change from Argentina. Dinner was 50c for the most delicious spicy chicken soup. I’ve become addicted to Bolivia’s cinnamon ice cream. It’s made on the streets by hand its more like a sorbet and made using only fruit, cinnamon, ice and sugar.
Not surprisingly, the bus from Potosi to Sucre was rough. The bus man was adamant that I paid 2 bus fares because my backpack was so huge. I refused and instead was forced to sit on the backpack for the 4 hour journey. The gal next to me was less than impressed when she got whacked with one of my runners as I was leaving. It was worth once I arrived in the beautiful town of Sucre.
Sucre is a gorgeous. Lots of tourists come here to chill, explore and take spanish classes in the colonial town. I stayed in the most amazing hostel (Claval Blanco). Really nice family atmosphere with the comfiest beds. Everybody was v cool in the hostel and most of them played guitar, sang and made crafts in the plaza to earn some money.
I spend 4 nights here and spent my time exploring lots of the local food markets (my absolute favourite thing to do), trying all the delicious street food and pottering about the colonial town. One day I went to mercado campasino 30 minutes outside the city. It was incredible and each street was dedicated to something for example there was a banana street, apricots, meat, cheese, shoes, electrics, nuts, beans etc etc. It was absolutely massive.
One of the nights a gang of Chilains and Argentinians hosted a cooking class on making homemade empanadas absolutely delish albeit a bit time consuming (we ate them 5 hours later). The hostel organised private spanish classes for me. It was €4/hour for the class bargain. My prof Slyvia had her hands full with me. It was v ideal I was able to do the classes in the courtyard of the hostel in my pj’s! Word war 2 broke out one of the days with Slyvia and one of the Chilains as Slyvia claimed that Chile stole Bolivia’s dance and music culture. Needless to say I hasn’t a breeze what was going on but a full blown argument broke out for a sold half hour. I was delira for the break! 2 hours of spanish can be a bit intense and there’s no opportunity for shut eye when your flying solo!
So the bus from Sucre to Cochabamba is renowned for being the most horrific in all of Bolivia. It is advised that ‘if you value your sanity do not take the bus’. It is also described as ‘hellish’. Most people I met in the hostel were taking cheap flights (40 minutes) to Cochabamba. Obviously I was intrigued and am a glutton for punishment so opted for the bus. I figured how bad could it be. The main reason it’s bad is the road is pretty horrific and Bolivian buses wouldn’t be the may west on the best of days. Also, the buses don’t have toilets so that combined with the bumpy ride is fairly rough on the bladder. The ride is around 8-10 hours long.
V unorganized I had no snacks so a gal was selling sponge cakes on the bus. They’re everywhere and look v light, fluffy and actually tasty. I bought one because I was starving and after one bite I could barely swallow the stuff (absolute muck) so it was donated to the chap on front of me. As per usual I was v unlucky with my bus partner. On this occasion it was an old Bolivian man with gold teeth (gold teeth are the norm in Bolivia). He was extremely smelly and the close proximity to him was chronic. The minute we set off I started to feel extremely sick and my small backpack was emptied as a precautionary sick bag. On a previous trip to Cambodia I ended up pucking into my backpack and breaking my camera and phone so I wasn’t taking any chances this time ! The ride was windy and bumpy. Not after long the chap on front of me got diorrhoea so we had to make an emergency stop for him ( It was probably the dodgy cake I gave him). After a while the chap with the gold teeth started to puck out the window as the bus was driving. At this stage I was tempted to join the gold toothed man pucking out the window. Luckily, the bus eventually stopped.
We had 20 minutes at this stop so I bought some soup. Bus ended up leaving after 5 minutes so I inhaled the soup and sprinted after the bus. I was feeling progressively worse on the bus out of no where a man ended up lying on the floor next to me. It looked like he was having a heart attack but no one seemed too concerned. It turned out he too had car sickness but felt he fared better on the floor. So I was literally enclosed by vomiting and diorrhoea men and was seconds from joining them. I distracted myself by blaring Eminem for hours and at 4.30am we eventually pulled into the terminal somehow 4 hours ahead of schedule god only knows how. I camped out in the terminal for a few hours in my sleeping bag waiting for a reasonable to text my friends.
Day 3 of Carnival and feeling worse for wear myself and Mati shared a kg of grapes and a beer for breakie and went for mosie around the gorgeous markets selling fresh fruit/veg and local crafts.
Lunch back in the hostel was sopa de mani (peanut soup). It’s amazing and really traditional in Northern Argentina and more so in Bolivia. It’s blended peanuts that are boiled in water for 3 hours (apparently this is important otherwise you explode) , fried potatoes, boiled chicken and parsley. It’s absolutely delish and a perfect hangover cure. After lunch we packed up and headed to Purmamarca. It is a tiny village based in a valley. It has a backdrop of the most amazing mountains and is home to the famous rainbow mountain. When we arrived the weather was pretty mouldy. We were freezing from the motor bike ride so cracked open a bottle of red and camped under a tree listening to the amazing local live music. We hit up some of the local bars afterwards for more live music.
I was telling Mati a story about Lourenso a guy I was travelling with and how his valuables bag got robbed on a bus in Guatemala with camera, money, laptop, passport the complete works as he was sleeping. As I finished telling the story I realized my bag containing all of the above was missing in action. I quickly retraced my steps and ran back to a bar we had been in before and amazingly the bag was just sitting there in the middle of a group of Argentinian men singing their hearts out. A momentary manic.
We decided to call it a night grab some dinner and one last bottle of Argentinian wine as I had to catch my bus to San Pedro in Chile at 3.40am! My last meal was Churri Pan (chorizo bread) and alfajores (chocolate and dulce the leche cake). This are yummy and absolutely everywhere in Argentina. We ended up pitching our tent at the ‘bus stop’. The bus woman told me just to stand on the side of the road outside a hotel (seemed a bit odd but Mati assured me it was completely normal). We even managed to get some shut-eye before the bus. Obviously I forget to set an alarm but luckily naturally woke up at about 3.15 am. There was no need to worry as there was no sign of the bus or people (expect a few drunks) for hours. So with it almost hitting 6 am I was loosing all hope of seeing a bus. It was a little bit like waiting for Godo (that horrific play I did for the LC which Una somehow loves). It’s basically two men just waiting for nothing. We took it in turns to keep an eye out for the bus while the other slept. I left my humungous backpack on the road to give the bus man a heads up I was here.
After 3 long hours of waiting we saw the bus!!! I thought I was seeing things but I immediately ran onto the road waving my mattress in the air! And just like that the bus flew past me. I actually started laughing because I couldn’t believe it had actually come, let alone left. I was so in shock and had to confirm that a bus actually passed. I thought I was loosing my mind. Obviously we copped on eventually and Mati quickly loaded me onto his bike and we sped after the bus it was actually v exciting (albeit baltic) speeding up the mountains in the middle of the night. When we eventually caught up with the bus we drove beside it screaming, honking the horn and me waving my arms until it stopped. The bus man was actually cross with me!! I didn’t even get into it and just scrambled onto the bus and took the last seat beside a thundering snoring man! Just what the doctor ordered about 4 sleepless nights. For €120 a fairly shocking service and without the luxury of a motorbike I would have missed it.
So in total I spend 6 weeks in Argentina and absolutely loved it. It’s absolutely huge and I definitely underestimated the distances. Everywhere is basically at least a 1000 km away, a 20 hour bus ride or a lot longer if hitch hiking. I had the most amazing last week with Mati and the north of Argentina was definitely one of my highlights. Coach surfing has really opened my eyes and seeing these places through the eyes of the locals is the best (also helped along by ridely around on a BMW motorbike). Argentina’s food was a step up from Chile that’s for sure. My highlight still remains the Cordero I tasted on new year’s day in Ushuaia, a taste I will never forget. The people have been absolutely amazing and have gotten me out of more than one sticky situations. I have also never met a nation more obsessed with crocs. Even the most glam are wearing them (O you’d be in your ellers!).
I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama (Northern Chile) after a turbulent exit from Argentina. San Pedro is the worlds driest desert and the town itself is v cute and is based around a dirt road. It mainly evolves around tourism with an abundance of tourist offices all selling the same thing which is a bit over the top. I successfully found a really nice camp site near the town. My tent has been successfully repaired (for now) thanks Mati. I had my first night’s proper sleep in the last 5 days absolute bliss.
The next morning, I decided to rent a bike to visit some of the nearby deserts. I set off early to avoid the insanely hot temperatures. My first stop was Valley de la Meurte. I managed to lose my water bottle en route to the desert so really was in bits… the heat here is really next level. The view points were sensational (including my pee stop). I always prefer a nice view when peeing as opposed to a smelly urinal. It was incredible my pee dried up insanely from the heat! Not a trace of evidence left behind ideal.
Afterwards I cycled to Valley de la Luna which is the most famous place in San Pedro to watch the sun set. When I arrived the park warden said that the park was closed to all cyclists because the weather conditions were too severe (even know the sun was belting ?). The only people allowed in were tour buses or cars. I had already booked my trip to Bolivia the following day was v v disappointed. I saw one lad standing on his own with a car and asked him if he minded if I tagged along. V reluctant he consulted with his girlfriend and amazingly they let me come. Sun set was one of the nicest I have every seen. When returning to the bike shop I realised I had lost the bike lock somewhere between the valley and the shop. There was a hefty fine involved if I didn’t find it. I figured it might be in the Brazilians boot I vaguely remembered them saying what hotel they were staying in. I eventually found the jeep and miraculously was able to climb into the boot and lock and key were there. I had a few funny looks from passer bys who thought I was trying to rob the jeep.
I was up at 6am the next morning for the 3 day trip through the Bolivian wilderness. 6 of us were packed into a 4 x 4 jeep and I was bundled into the back with the grumpiest Chinese guy, Will. There was 3 other Chilanos and a hilarious Japanese guy so I was happy out. I was essentially was sitting on Will for the entire 3 days as the jeep was packed to the brim. Shame he wasn’t a looker!
Scenery was spectacular and the jeep stopped regularly for photo opportunities. I was on the cusp of pucking for the entire bumpy journey but thankfully managed to hold it in. One of our stops was to a geyser which is a hot spring with boiling water which sends columns of steam upwards. Pretty cool as I’d never seen one before but they smell of farts because of all the sulfur. This was a short and smelly visit.
Bolivian wine hasn’t a patch on Chile or Argentina but I’m not one to refuse wine so myself and Now (the Japanese chap) were the only takers on our first night. Happy days. Our jeep all shared a dorm. Will, the grumpy Chinese guy snored the roof down all night (up there with the top 3 snorers I have ever encountered). One of the Chilano guys wasn’t far behind him and they eloquently synchronized their snoring for the entire night. In fairness to the Chilano is had some useless contraption on his noise to try and help the situation. One of the Chilain women started screaming at Will in the middle of the night to shut him up but hilariously this made him snore even louder. I had my music playing so loud to try to drown him out which caused the most horrific migraine (could have been the vino +/- the altitude either or a combo). Desperate for some sleep I sleep on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night in my sleeping bag as far away from Will as possible.
About an hour later I woke up violently ill. I recognized it from Everest as altitude sickness. We were at 4,300 m high without acclimatizing and it was really difficult to catch your breath. Now gave me some diamox (for altitude sickness), a few painkillers and a dioralyate and I was right as rain! At this stage my eyes were in a bad way from the infection from Carnival. The skin around them got really hard which made it painful to blink with the left eye severely infected. Once back in civilization they will need an NCT. Trying to make small talk with Will at breakie I asked him if he slept well and hilariously he said he didn’t sleep a wink! Would you be able for it…….
Day 2 and world war 2 erupted in the car. I was hating on Will at this stage and the close proximity to him was rough. The heat really was unbearable ( Lucie you were right). The angry Chilain woman was going ninty because she was ‘cold’ and wouldn’t let me or Will open our windows. As a very reasonable alternative I offered her my ‘questionably clean jacket’. She looked at me in disgust and refused. Anyway the minor issues in the car were all forgotten about with the amazing views of the day. On our second night I asked to pitch my tent in the back in an attempt to get away from Will but they found a room for me and angry Chilain woman to share so we both slept like babas.
Our final day of the trip was incredible and finished in Uyuni, famous for the Salt Flats (the largest in the world). It started off with a 4.30 am wake up call. We all crawled into the jeep in the freezing cold. At this time of the year its wet season so the entire salt flats are covered in water which creates amazing reflections. For most of the year it’s completely dry. The jeep ended up driving through the really deep water for sunrise. It was incredible albeit freezing at some points we were almost knee-deep in water. After taking some photos we drove to the salt hotel for a much-needed breakie stop.
The day finished off nicely with me catching some much-needed shut eye on an abandoned train. A perfect finish to a fab few days. The trip was spectacular and scenery was stunning. I’ve even been offered accommodation in China so who knows maybe me and Will could hook up down the line despite our rough start. Excited for what Bolivia has in store.