A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Sambosonic

At the Copa..Copacabana... Hospital

"The Bolivian Diary" continued.

sunny 23 °C

Well where to start... probably with the bit where we had to get off our minibus to cross Lake Titicaca as it all went downhill from there. Apparently the minibus was too heavy to cross with passengers in it, so we had to get off, cross in a separate boat and get back on the other side (I'm not surprised - the boat was only marginally bigger than the bus and it looked like it was struggling to stay afloat). Whilst waiting to get back on the bus Naomi spied some sweets on a street stall she had not seen in years - "Nerds"! Unable to contain her excitement and wait to open them on the bus, she began the careful process of opening the cardboard tabs in a certain way, so as not to mix the two flavours. So engrossed in her Nerds she failed to notice the unfortunate kerb and pothole combination in front of her, and duly fell in a hole, tearing a ligament in her ankle.

Meanwhile, I was visiting Bolivia's most disgusting toilet (the most disgusting I have EVER been in anywhere), so only became aware of the Nerd drama when I got back on the bus to look for Sophie and Naomi, to find someone pointing out of the window at Naomi being half-carried, in agony, onto the bus.

Poor Naomi was in so much pain (and at this stage did not know what she had done) so our first priority after arriving in Copacabana, finding our hostel and checking in to dump the luggage, was to find the hospital. We had an insight into just how unhelpful our host would prove to be, when we explained (in Spanish) about Naomi's foot: he refused to call us a taxi to the hospital, wouldn't tell us where we could make an international phone call to notify Naomi's travel insurance, and - this takes the biscuit - charged us 5 Bolivianos for ice to put on Naomi's ankle! Capitalism is alive and well in South America. We have nick-named him 'The Real 3pm' in reference to the tight moody host we had expected in Kyoto ("3pm") who turned out to be fine.

The Bolivian Hospital experience was an interesting one. Our taxi pulled up to find all the hospital staff (about 10) playing volleyball out the front, and the hospital was closed according to the opening times displayed. Thankfully they let us in to assess Naomi anyway, so we can't fault them for helpfulness. They took Naomi straight into X-Ray, where Sophie and I probably also received a dose of radiation as they didn't even bother to shut the door. They seemed to be X-raying the wrong bit of her foot, so from the corridor we helpfully called out words from my Spanish phrasebook that we thought would assist the diagnosis. One of the volleyball-playing men took time-out from the game to brandish a huge needle destined for Naomi's bottom (the seventh bottom injection of her trip, due to receiving 6 already in India!). All three of us felt the need to halt the proceedings at this point to at least ascertain what it was (apparently an anti-inflammatory and pain killer) and ensure that the door to the 'volleyball court' was closed. I insisted repeatedly in my best Spanish that a woman should do it, to which he replied 'Si, si, si' and proceeded to jab it in anyway.

Muchos confusion later we left with several x-rays, paperwork for the insurance claim and some primitive looking wooden crutches. There was apparently no way of calling a taxi and walking was impossible for Naomi as the hospital was on top of a hill with only a steep dirt track leading down. We had to pay the ambulance to drive us back to our hostel and Naomi had to ride up front so Sophie and I were indulged with a trip in a Bolivian ambulance and reclined in comfort amongst the oxygen masks and neck braces as we bounced down the road. I hope "The Real 3pm" saw us and felt guilty as Naomi limped feebly out of the ambulance with her wooden crutches. Probably not as he also wouldn't lend us any towels or even provide any loo roll. What a tight bastard. We managed to trick some loo roll out of a child he'd left manning reception later that night - a new low, exploiting children, but needs must (and after the day we'd had some toilet paper wasn't much to ask for!).

We were only here for a couple of nights so not much else to report except a colourful festival of traditional dancing, music and costumes, which I was thrilled to stumble across, and less thrilled to accidentally become part of (trapped walking amidst the brass band element). N & S went on a boat trip to Isla Del Sol but I didn't fancied the 4 hours of seasickness it would have required, so I stayed ashore and watched the festival instead. Good food here thank goodness! A really nice Mexican restaurant and I even found scrambled eggs on toast. Woohoo! Should keep me going through a few more sparse days. At the hostel the dodgy-looking water heating system was broken so cold showers to add to the list, plus paint peeling off the wall in our cold bedroom. We took the hard-won toilet roll with us to teach "The Real 3pm" a lesson. Hardly a victory. Don't ever stay at 'Brisas Titicaca' in Copacabana, Lake Titicaca!

Onward to Cuzco and Machu Picchu...

Posted by Sambosonic 17:28 Archived in Bolivia Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

"The Bolivian Diary": La Paz

(No blog for a while as fallen behind due to Salmonella interference and numerous hospital visits along our way - all will be revealed in due course!...)

semi-overcast 21 °C

We arrived in La Paz after a gruelling day-long bus journey, which involved repeated exposure to Pitbull's sleazy music videos and the Latino equivalent of Chucklevision (except not as funny). M15 should look into this as a form of torture. The hostel had double-booked the room we had confirmed. Reception tried to emotionally blackmail us into not being annoyed with them, by informing us with a pitying look, that the girl whose stuff was in our room had 'gone on a trip to Death Road and not come back'. They would not move her belongings despite hostel rules stating that they would, so much hassle ensued. The girl eventually turned up (alive and well) and we found out Reception had completely lied to us all and just double-booked - she hadn't been anywhere near Death Road and she wasn't expecting to find us in 'her' room.

Thankfully the room situation was resolved, as all we wanted to do was lie down - all three of us felt pretty ill here for various reasons. It's impossible to separate whether it's altitude sickness (very common here), antimalarial drugs, dodgy food, travel sickness or something else that's causing it. Probably a combination of everything.

La Paz is huge and very high up, a sprawling city set on a mountain side, but attractive. Unfortunately also not very safe, renowned for tourist muggings, luggage thefts and scams, and we had been warned about bogus taxis that actually just kidnap you and drive you to cash machines at gun point. It was sort of reassuring that there were armed Police guarding the tourists arriving at the bus station and seeing us into taxis, but we had also been warned about bogus Police as well so their presence wasn't as reassuring as you might think.

As well as not trusting the taxi drivers or the Police I didn't trust the food either, so I ended up eating in our hostel (Loki) most of the time as it seemed the safest bet... It also minimised the need to go out, which was a good thing as I struggled with my anxiety here anyway, not helped by all the crime warnings. Apparently a popular trick is for someone to spit on you to distract you and someone else pretends to help wipe it off whilst nicking your valuables. You have to be on constant guard re bag slashings or pick-pocketing so we took the usual precautions of wearing our rucksacks on our fronts, padlocked shut, with cards and passports in a money belt hidden under our clothes. Banks and cash machines are guarded by army men with massive guns. Scary.

We went to the Witches Market - a craft market with an array of llama wool knitted items, textiles, pottery - all the usual souvenirs - plus a few more gruesome additions unique to this area: shrivelled (mummified) llama foetuses! Apparently they are susperstitious talismans you are supposed to hang in your home for good luck. No gracias. Truly gross.

I also booked myself onto a horse riding tour, which was very brave of me seeing as I was scared of going out on my own and Naomi and Sophie didn't want to go. As I'm also scared of heights (are you getting the gist that I was pretty much scared of everything here?!) I was concerned La Paz would be a stupid place to go horseriding - lots of cliff edges, plummeting views etc. However the tour desk assured me it was in a wide valley with no dramatic edges, even showing me online video footage, so I booked. They lied. It was exactly as I feared, with my horse picking its way up the mountainside on a single dirt track with crumbling cliff edges. There was also a traumatic start to the tour as I´d been suspicious of the taxi driver who'd been sent to collect me and refused to go with him, thinking it seemed dodgy. I'd been waiting in reception to be collected by 'The tour' when a middle-aged, plain-clothed Bolivian man walked in a said something in Spanish to the room in general. When no one else came forward I asked him if he was here about the horseriding and despite looking blankly at me and my booking paperwork, he took my form and gestured for me to follow as he left the relative safety of the hostel and walked off down the road. The childhood warnings of 'not going off with strange men' and Lonely Planet warnings about bogus-taxi-driver-kidnappers kicked in, so I made him come back into the hostel to find a member of staff who spoke English who could translate to check if he was legitimate. Apparently he was, so I went, but it was still disconcerting to find I was the only person being driven up into the Bolivian mountains, and even more so on arriving at the stables, to discover that I was the only person on the tour. The leaflet promised an 'English-speaking guide' and 'head and leg protection' which translated into Bolivian terms as: no one at the stables spoke any English and I only got a helmet when i asked for one. Despite this I needn't have worried as the Cuban guy who took me out was really nice (we attempted conversation in a broken mix of Anglo-Espanol), the views were amazing, the rain held off and we ate a picnic lunch at 3700m above sea level, overlooking Muelo Del Diablo ("Devil's Tooth" Rock) and all of La Paz. Literally breathtaking (no seriously - the altitude was that high).

On the way back down we passed a remote village school (so remote I'm surprised it had any pupils), where the children came running out to wave at the horses as we rode by. I also noted the Bolivian equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch - a stuffed scarecrow with blood stains hanging from a lamp post with a sign saying "Thieves are killed by this community".

I spent the rest of my time in La Paz in internet cafes searching and applying for jobs for when I get back :-(

Posted by Sambosonic 16:22 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chilly in Chile

Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar, Caldera, Arica.

semi-overcast 21 °C

I wish I could say we made the most of Santiago's nightlife but we were too tired to go out here as we made the most of the days instead, fitting in a lot of sightseeing. A famous sight here is the Virgin Mary statue on top of a hill at San Cristobal. To my relief the cable cars that once serviced it are now permanently out of action (I was planning on waiting at the bottom for the others), but the steep, rickety train carriages up the hillside were only marginally less scary. Great views of the city from the top though. I had a really nice dinner after (pasta with mushroom sauce) which I think is worth a mention as I didn't do well in Mendoza for food, so it was nice to feel full after a good meal.

From our base in SANTIAGO (Hostelling International Hostel) we also did day trips to VALPARAISO and VINA DEL MAR, both nice towns on the coast. Valparaiso has seals living in the bay and we went out on a boat trip to see them (getting too close actually - Sophie almost ended up with a huge seal in her lap as it could have jumped into our boat if it had wanted to). A quaint, attractive city set on a hillside but difficult to tell what was generally shabby and what was earthquake damage from the recent quake.

Vina Del Mar has one of the ancient stone heads from Easter Island so we went to be 'cultured' at the museum but it was closed so we took a photo of the head (outside) and left. Job done. We then spent the afternoon wandering round the town and sitting on the rocks looking out to sea eating ice lollies and watching out for pickpockets trying to steal our valuables from underneath the rocks. Not exactly hot enough to sunbathe but sunny enough to be nice.

One of our main objectives whilst in Santiago was to track down some verruca cream for what the three of us had self-diagnosed to be a potential verruca on Naomi's foot. This turned into a far bigger mission than you might expect when hardly any pharmacy staff spoke any English and my limited Spanish phrasebook didn't include anything useful like 'verruca', 'wart', 'virus' 'from swimming pool', etc. We tried several different pharmacies armed with our scrappy drawings of what we thought they should recognise as a verrucca, but only succeeded in obtaining a selection of corn plasters and athlete's foot remedies. Several customers got involved to try and help so much of Santiago ended up knowing about Naomi's manky foot, to no avail. There appeared to be a conspiracy to deny the existence of verrucaes in Chile. Eventually another customer was able to fluently interpret and get us the required gel. Result. (In the end we decided it wasn't even a verruca anyway, so all a bit of a pointless exercise, although quite funny.)

Another mundane mission which took up much time and energy was for me to continue trying to obtain some cash from a cash machine, on my so-far-useless debit card, making me feel like an international criminal, being repeatedly denied access to my own money. Many cash machines and expensive international phone calls to my bank later, I eventually ascertained that Co-Op had been deliberately blocking foreign transactions on my card 'for security reasons'. This was quite ridiculous seeing as I had now informed them on at least four separate occasions (including a desperate phone call from Argentina) NOT to block it in specific South American countries, as they could be assured it was me trying to get my own money out. Luckily Sophie and Naomi had been able to cover me for food and accommodation but otherwise Co-Op would have completely stranded me due to their administrative incompetence. Thankfully this is now sorted and I can now get cash out of ATMs.

On the 22nd we got an overnight bus to CALDERA (16hrs) - as we are all on tight budgets this is a good way of saving on a night's accommodation. The buses are actually pretty comfy if you pay a little extra for fully reclining seats. You do get onboard meals but they don't understand / cater for vegetarianism, so everthing I was offered had some form of dead animal in it. Crisps and chocolate are the staples of my bus journeys. We stayed in Caldera for just one night as it's a small port town with not much to see and do, but a nice little place for a stopover (even if the beach was pretty grotty and sea infested with jellyfish). "Residencial Milleray" was the little house we stayed in - a bit shabby with cold showers but very friendly, nice owners, who let us leave our backpacks there the next day until our next overnight bus. It was here we encountered "Mike 2" (see Nagasaki entry) - it seems not uncommon for hostel owners to have a pesky pet dog whose favourite hobby is to terrorise backpackers. Mike 2 woke us up howling and woofing persistently outside our door during the night. There were also many stray dogs roaming the town scavenging for food, possibly the worst town so far for dog presence.

On the 24th we got another overnight bus (14hrs) to ARICA, a coastal town in the north of Chile, bordered by the Atacama desert (so sand very much the theme). We stayed in a funky little HI hostel run by a crazy character called Roberto whose hyper enthusiasm was infectious (if a little hard to cope with after not sleeping all night!). Cockroach caught in room. Cold shower. Washing not returned as promptly as promised and still damp for packing. However Roberto went out of his way to be helpful, informative and friendly which compensated for these things so I probably would stay here again. Pelicans sighted on the beach! Quite impressive watching them fly in formation along the water's edge, fishing. Technically I could say we 'got lost in the desert' trying to find our way back from the beach, but perhaps that is a little dramatic when in the end it was quite easy to flag down a taxi, when we gave up trying to locate the hostel ourselves. Again not much to do here so we spent a day relaxing and reading on the beach (first opportunity to get bikini out!).

On the 27th April we left Chile for Bolivia, again by bus, as this is the main form of public transport in South America. And yes, apart from the sunbathing in Arica, it was chilly in Chile!

Posted by Sambosonic 11:22 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Mendoza, Argentina

Wine bike tour highly recommended!

sunny 22 °C

The second place we visited in Argentina, Mendoza was quieter and prettier than Buenos Aires, in a well-established wine region, surrounded by vineyards and countryside. We stayed in HI (Hostelling International) Hostel Mendoza, which was clean and secure with helpful staff (and one very fit one, who we nicknamed Dave - real name 'Nacho'? - making lack of hair straighteners even more embarrassing).

We spent our first day in a large park with a lake, relaxing, sunbathing and trying to avoid making friends with the local wild cats and dogs (who seem to want to make friends with us). There are quite a lot of stray dogs around, which is not very nice for Sophie, who's scared of dogs at the best of times, least not when rabies is potentially an issue. They are pretty friendly though and often follow you down the street or come to sit with you in the park, so are difficult to avoid.

We signed up for a cycling wine tour of local vineyards as we'd heard this was THE thing to do in Mendoza. We were a little uncertain if our fitness levels and mountain-biking abilities were up to the job, but finding out more information was a good excuse to speak to ´Dave`as he had tour-booking responsibilities. He reassured us that the minibus that collected us would continue to follow behind the last cyclist for safety, shielding us from Argentinian traffic and picking up anyone that became too inebriated to pedal, so we eagerly signed up.

On the morning of the bike ride I felt really ill and was actually sick when I tried to eat breakfast. I considered it may be stupid to persevere with wine-tasting in this state but couldn't bear the thought of missing out on my only opportunity to do this tour as I'd looked forward to it so much. So I packed some sick bags and some diarrhoea tablets and pressed on regardless. Unfortunately we were the first pick-up so it didn't help that I also had to stave off travel sickness on the minibus, trawling round in traffic picking up other 'wine enthusiasts', before a half an hour drive to the first vineyard. Still feeling green around the gills I did my best to appear interested in fermentation processes whilst trying not to be sick from the smell of the yeast and the wine.

Somehow, the first glass of wine, on a verandah looking out over beautiful scenery, chatting to the rest of the group perked me up. By the time I'd pedalled precariously to the next vineyard I felt so much better and really glad I'd come.

We spent the day visiting 3 vineyards, learning about wine making and tasting local produce. We had a lovely lunch in the middle of a vineyard in the sun (vegetarians catered for!). It was such a nice way to spend the day, with a good mix of people who were a laugh, including three boys who were 'working on a naked calendar for charity' (basically a legitimate excuse for getting naked in public for photos at any opportunity).

I would definitely recommend this as an activity in Mendoza - it is one of the highlights of my trip. It was very well organised and safer than I perhaps anticipated. The tour guides looked after us all very well and the hospitality at each of the vineyards was outstanding.

When we arrived back to the hostel we were all in good spirits and considering going to a BBQ party the `Calendar Boys´ had insisted we come to at their hostel. In the end we decided against it as they had been up for two nights straight (having gone straight on the wine tour after arriving in their hostel that morning), and having got pretty wasted on the tour we thought (a) they'd be passed out in a deep sleep in their rooms and (b) the hostel wouldn't let us in anyway as we weren't staying there. After her Absinthe-sampling, Naomi thinks she embarrassed herself in front of ´Dave´ by accidentally calling him it to his face (several times) when he asked if she had a nice time on the wine tour, ha ha.

All in all, Mendoza was great :-)

Posted by Sambosonic 09:41 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Bienvenida a Argentina

Tango and Pickpockets in Buenos Aires

semi-overcast 20 °C

Well we managed to get robbed virtually as soon as we set foot on South American soil - Sophie's wallet got pickpocketed between getting out of our taxi from the airport and into our hostel (about 10 metres down the road). Unfortunately we would have looked like easy targets, distracted by struggling with all our luggage and looking for the hostel, as well as disorientated and hideously jetlagged from having not slept or eaten properly for two 12 hour flights back to back. (The airline food was absolutely disgusting - don't choose United Airlines - bad luck we had them for both flights). Bit of a culture shock to go from a country where you can leave your laptop lying around in public and have it returned to you, to somewhere you get you wallet taken out of your bag as soon as you arrive, but this has been a wake up call to us to switch on 'streetwise mode'.

Also, our second flight was delayed (with us sat in the plane on the runway) for two hours, due to an electrical fault which needed engineers to come on board and see whether it was fixable (not v reassuring for any of us, especially Naomi, who's scared of flying). Then the transport we had booked to meet us in Buenos Aires was nowhere to be found by the time we arrived. I found my conditioner had exploded all over the contents of my wash bag, and also that I had a top bunk with no sides on it, so had to strap myself to the mattress by tucking the blanket tightly under it to avoid rolling out...

Further Buenos Aires negativity was caused by a hair-straightener disaster of epic proportions (girls reading this will understand): Sophie brought a brand new pair of GHDs with her which all 3 of us have been using on a daily basis to ensure we hang onto at least some dignity in our personal appearance (if we haven't got clean clothes on or any make-up, at least our hair looks presentable). Well the beloved hair-straighteners had a smoking and crackling incident before totally, irrepairably dying!! Shit! Well it must be said that Sophie found this more distressing a loss than her wallet and all it's contents, which she coped very well with. Naomi is coming to terms with the fact that she will now be accompanied by 2 'poodles' (me and Sophie with fluffy, au naturel hair) until we either find a fixing place or buy a new pair (harder than it sounds). Devastating news.

I must balance this by saying we had some good experiences in BA, including a lovely evening at a tango show - we had a delicious 3 course meal whilst watching a tango dance performance by several couples, with live music and gaucho lassoo demonstration in the middle (bit random).

We also visited the Eva Peron (Evita) Museum, which proved a lot more interesting than I anticipated and was really glad I went. I hardly knew anything about her before so it was very educational. And joy of joys! - I stumbled across some Che Guevara sellotape (of all things) in the Evita gift shop! I couldn't resist buying it, although I'm not sure what I'll tape up with that iconic picture of his face. Pretty chuffed with my Che find, we had a delicious lunch and then got very wet on the way back to the hostel (heavy downpour = Matty-Mac's first outing in Argentina).

Posted by Sambosonic 09:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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