Back to World Tour Page or Bolivia 1: Salar De Uyuni.
Sat 11th Mar. La Paz, Bolivia.
La Paz may have looked amazing from high on the canyon rim at night, and it may be a genuinely exotic capital, but down at street level it doesn't feel like my kind of place - it's just too edgy, and all my instincts are jangling. With all the eyes on me, I don't want to wear my watch on my wrist, much less get my camera out. The general uneasy feeling isn't helped by the numerous messages in my hostel along the lines of 'Due to the recent increase in thefts and assaults, blah blah, please report if you are followed, etc etc.'.
Worse, I seem to be surrounded by ridiculously competent more-lonely-planet-than-thou types with flawless Spanish, who seem to give off an attitude of 'well, you need to spend at least a year here to even BEGIN to get a feel for the place.' (Man.)
And it rains constantly.
Maybe I'm being too hard on my Spanish - this trip has been a bit like learning English by spending a fortnight in Liverpool and a fortnight in Glasgow, and then wondering why you can't understand a word in Newcastle. And I do manage to eat in a cafe with some kind of seminal Bolivian triptych on the wall - a large garish painting of the holy family, flanked on both sides by glossy posters of topless blondes holding bottles of beer.
Sun 12th Mar. La Paz to Copacabana, Bolivia.
Get up early, and head out for Lake Titicaca. In the chaotic Cemetary district bus station (again! - South American buses make great pick-up joints!) get talking to Sharon from Connecticut, with six months in Bolivia under her belt (but no ubertraveller attitude!) and her fluent local Spanish makes the chaos, mud and rubbish a little less daunting, and we share a jug of maize 'beer' before the bus leaves.
On the way to Copacabana, the bus passes a Bolivian Navy base. Which in a landlocked country is always worth a chuckle... The Navy allegedly consists of a half-a-dozen speedboats.
It's carnival tonight in Copacabana - the town square is packed. Several competing brass bands pump out Bolivian tunes, the men are dressed in rather sinister glittering outfits like fantasy masked cowboys, while the women's full skirts twirl and they hold on to their bowler hats. After a while jigging away on the sidelines, Sharon and I get whirled into the dancing crowd by a couple of rhinestone cowpokes.
Mon 13th Mar. Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.
I've decided to walk from the south to the north of Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun), which according to legend was the birthplace of both the sun and the Inca nation.
It's a glorious day, and I'm walking along old Inca terracing with groves of eucalyptus, fir trees, heather and cacti all growing happily side by side. Waves lap white sand beaches between steep green headlands, and stretching away to the horison, the deep blue waters of Titicaca may as well be the sea. All the children I pass give a friendly ¡hola!, though admittedly their smiles disappear pretty quickly when they realise I'm not going to pay to take their picture. It's all I can do to stop myself skipping along and whistling a cheery tune. Adventure, kids! This is what it's all about!
It's dusk by the time I get to the small village in the north of the island. I'm ravenous, but I've resisted the urge to buy packets of enormously overpriced biscuits on the way, fantasising about a hot meal in the village restaurant. An old woman offers me a room, which turns out to be just about that - a bare - once rather grand - room with some matresses on the floor, crumbling paintwork with just a hint of a mural remaining under the ceiling, no light or running water, but that's fine - all I want is a hot meal and a place to lay my head. Not much to ask, but this is where it all starts going wrong...
Because of carnival, the (only) restaurant is closed. 'Is it going to open tonight?' No, Señor. 'I'm very hungry, is there any food I can buy?' Certainly, Señor, how about these lovely biscuits?
I buy a packet of biscuits and go hungrily to my mattress.
Tues 14th Mar. Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.
It's drizzling steadily, I'm smelly, tired and dizzy with hunger, but I can't face any more of those damn biscuits. I'm not impressed with the alledgedly Inca ruins, which look like nothing more than a group of tumbledown dry stone sheep pens. As a final straw, the midday boat to take me back to Copacabana is four hours late, and by the time it arrives, I'm in no fit mood to talk to anybody. Adventure, kids. This is what it's all about...
The boat gets in at six, by seven I've got belly full of lake-caught Pejerrey, I've had a hot shower and a change of clothes, and everything seems much rosier.
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