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Bolivia

buy bundles of Bolivian Pesos


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Wednesday 20th November 1985

Bone shattering night on a bus from Cuzco on unsurfaced mountain roads. Arrive in Juliaca at dawn and the road surface improves, a little.

Border stop at Desquarrdes. Change Soles - Pesos, 100,000-7.5 million. 1.3 million to the dollar as I arrive. It will be 1.4 million a week later. Routine passport stamp. No hassle. Lake Titicaca bathed in sunshine. The alluvial shores are intensely cultivated. Reed boats paddle about the reedy shore line. Small flocks of llamas, sheep and cows are supervised by pear shaped women. Pear shaped in their bowler hats and multilayered voluminous knee length skirts.

Then we head south across the moor like altiplano. On the horizon the snow capped rim of the Andes. The shanty outskirts of La Paz sprawl up onto the altiplano, but there is no sign of la Paz's skyscrapers unti we reach the rim of the giant bowl that La Paz sits in 350 m below. It is a dramatic sight.

No messages from Jessica at Hotel Rosario, which is full. Eventually check into the Turino near Plaza Murnillo for 2.5 million P. Dickensian.

After chicken dinner I walk the streets and bump into Jessica and Barbara who have only just arrived themselves. They have been to Puno, an island on the lake and Copacabana.

Posted by 1985 trip 10:14 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Money changers


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Thursday 21st November 1985

Change money. La Paz's central streets have more money changers than pedestrians, and the old man in restaurant Marilyn will change travellers cheques. Changing money involves counting bundles of pesos, too many to count individually, just count the bundles. Inflation has done terrible things to the Bolivian Peso. While we were in Marilyn's yankee Stephen turned up so we all move to Hotel Rosario and share a room, its very nice at 3 mill pesos each.

Just off plaza Murillo at 3,600 m is a beautiful porticoed old colonial house with an alabaster fountain and its room filled with the works of local artists. See the mummies some with trephined skulls, and impressive stone work at the Tiwanaku museum.

six months ago Bolivia was astoundingly cheap, travelling would just cost pennies. But they have stopped devaluing to try and counteract inflation, so it is more expensive now, but still cheap. Veggie dinner, i million pesos.

Posted by 1985 trip 08:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

visit San Pedro prison, La Paz

meet some cocaine smugglers


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Friday 22nd November 1985

Visit the local jail with Jessica and talk to an Englishman and a Canadian who have both done 8 years for cocaine smuggling. It took them about four years to get sentenced and the Englishman's sentence finished a week ago. We talked through the iron bars just like an old fashioned zoo. They can obtain anything they want in prison with cash, steaks, cocaine, pornography. The two we were visiting grabbed everything we had brought as presents, bread, bananas and avocados. They were rough characters, they talked fast, bummed some money, and their eyes were everywhere, afraid to miss something. The Canadian had a hangover. He sculpted little tortoises from stone.

That night went to a 'Jazz Club'. Expensive little place with more waiters than customers, like a revamped mayfair pub. Music on a synthesiser, and disappointing. Spent 5 mill each on a shared Chilean red wine. It was good. Tasted better the next night when we bought three bottles on the market for 6 mill the lot.

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try to go skiing, but my pesos not accepted on mountain top


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Saturday 23rd November 1985

Jessica up early to catch the ferrobus to Potosi.

I go to Club Andino for a minibus up mountian Chacaltaya for 10 million. Superb journey across the altiplano and then start ascent up a narrow rocky road aiming for 5,300m. Unfortunately the ski shop at the top did not like my money - 'falso' and I couldn't ski. Visibility was very poor anyway.

Back in town meet Jessica and Stephen again, the ferrobus was full. So we all have a meal in a bar, pass off my falsoes and drink the chilean wine. Stephen and Jessica plan to catch the sunday morning train, I will try to go skiing again and follow on the night bus.

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skiing at 17,785 ft

snow
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Sunday 24th November 1985

La Paz is pretty in its dramatic super bowl location. Clean and quiet. The streets are filled with indian ladies sitting on a pile of skirts with their produce spread around them on the pavement, fruit, meat, herbs, coca leaves, toiletries, jumpers, medicines, magic ingredients.

In the centre of town old cafes serve capuchin, cafe con leche, mate de coca/manzanilla/herbia/anis and cake. Set meal usually 1 mill or less, a la carte 3 mill or more. Catch Club Andino bus again. Half way up Chacaltaya it is obvious more snow has fallen in the night. Trying to round a sharp bend the bus slides backwards and stops with its back wheels on the edge of doom and the rear seats sticking well out over the drop. The bus driver is wearing a crash helmet. We all get out and start walking. Driver puts snow chains on the wheels, drives slowly on the snow, cautiously negotiating the hair pin bends. We get back on, lots of nervous laughter. We are now in the clouds with a foot of snow on the rocky road. We cannot go on. We walk again in small groups, the air is thin and walking is slow. Visibility is poor. Hard work. My alpaca wooly hat crackles and writhes on my scalp with static from the clouds.

Refreshed by mate de coca and a lay down. Breathing has an abnormal rhythm. There is a fire in the grate but the building is unfinished. Hire skis for 10$ and set off into the white. The is one run on the glacier, which opened in 1930. (The 17000 year old glacier has since melted). A long cable rattles round the mountain on car wheel pulleys. It goes in and out of a large wooden house, the original lodge, perched on a bluff above the glacier, powered by a car engine. The cable is moving quite fast and you have to hook on it with a bent piece of iron attached to a rope round your waist. There is no level land so you stand with one ski at right angles and the other pointing up the slope in readiness. A violent jerk and away you go for a long steep pull. Have to avoid hooking onto the cable at a splice. At each car wheel pulley I derail the cable, lots of Spanish from the man behind who skilfully hooks it back again as he goes past.

No moguls, not piste, plenty of snow, few skiers and stunning views of lake Titicaca miles below when the clouds break. Meet a 'blanco boliviano' is third generation Bolivian of irish descent, came over the build the railway. On one run a meet Pete a medical student from the Radcliffe Oxford on his elective. He tells me Bolivians have a high incidence of gall bladder cancer. Pete and companion came up by taxi. They built and photographed what they claimed was the world's highest snowman. His friend has been in Bolivia for nine months painting.

Noone seems to know how many are expected on the bus down. Some ski part of the way. In the event we leave without the cook and her family who only catch the bus by sending the boy after the bus on skis. The locals are bare legged from the knees with only thin shoes. No hope of the 6pm coach to
Potosi as I am still up the mountain. Back to the Turino and a noisy night. The rooms have canvas ceilings.

Posted by 1985 trip 09:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

tres por cien


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Monday 25th November 1985

The steamer across lake Titicaca is no longer steaming.

Try to change travellers cheques to cash with the old man in the restaurant at Marilyns but he is not very accurate with his time keeping and I miss him. If you make an appointment in latin america you have to specify whether it is local time or english time, ie on time or 2 hours later.

Market prices: mangoes, sweet limes, apples, advocates, pears all about 4 -6 million pesos a kilo. Bread rolls ' tres por cien' according to the cries of the street vendors.

Get the 6pm bus to Potosi 13 mill leaves at 7 (local time) An old snub nosed mercedes bus bedecked with colourful lights and crosses. Take a sleeping pill to try and numb out the hifi.

Posted by 1985 trip 01:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

travellers plans for Christmas


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Tuesday 26th November 1985

Beautiful high mountain scenery at dawn, wondrous, all sorts of colours in the landscape, blues, reds, purples, greys and browns. Occasional cluster of adobe brick huts, with a cluster of adobe coloured people waiting for a passing truck and a lift. We must have been very high because it is a long descent down to Potosi which is at 4000m. Arrive 9am after all night drive. The roads were part surfaced part gravelled. More comfortable than the bus trip out of Cusco, which was like sitting on a pneumatic drill all night. Muddy suburbs.

Check into Alojamato Ferrocarril, single 2.5 mill. Also book return journey to La Paz for friday morning, 10 mill. There is a daily afternoon flight for 32 mill. Breathless walk up to the plaza major. Plenty of voluminous skirted indian women in bowler hats, men wear knitted woollen hats with ear flaps and faded ponchos. Feet bare and grubby in car tyre sandals. Some of the women also wear pilgrim father type stove top hats, and some are dressed mostly in black. It is cold. Bump into Stephen and Jessica in the street. Cook up some tasty veggies on Steve's benzene stove. Pass on the bottle of local hooch which tastes like benzene and runs the risk of blindness. They plan to go to Sucre tomorrow. Might see Jessica again in Lima. I have to get back to Lima by 6th December for flight home. She wants to borrow my hammock and go down the amazon and get to Columbia for flight home at christmas. Steve is aiming for Salvador then Brazil for christmas.

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poor Potosi, once so rich


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Wednesday 27th November 1985

Fail to make the 7.30 start for the tour of the state tin mine, so take a stroll round the old mint instead. beautiful mediaeval building with stone staircases, flying buttress, and arched brick ceilings. Some fine furniture and interesting massive wooden cog wheels used for machining the silver. The silver mines of Potosi made Spain fabulously rich, and fuelled the wars in europe for 100 years.

Persuaded to take the train back to La Paz, Pullman class with snooty waiters!!

Steph and Jess' tren to Sucre leaves 6 hours late. See them off in the evening, a long process. There is an ordinary class on the train and freight class. The cargo in freight is all human though.

Book a hot shower with the caretaker, once the little boiler has got the water hot you have to shout ready, and terminale to turn it off.

have a tasty soup followed by large juicy steak chips and trimmings with a pint of beer fro 4 million. Feels like a real indulgence. Chat with a Bolivian civil engineer who builds access roads for the petroleum fields. He remarks at the disparity between his countries natural wealth and the poverty of its peoples. Three things to blame if I understand him correctly, inept government, corruption and uneducated population.

Victor Paz is the current incumbent in government. In the 60s he was the leader of the new socialist miners party. He got elected and started a few rearms, nationalised the mines, gave the campesinoes some tenure of their land. But the powerful few felt the pinch and a military coup intervened. He has recently got back in power, but things are different now. The miners have been on strike against Victor Paz's government for months, ironically. They are starving but exist on coca leaves to control the hunger and handouts of bread. They live in tied houses, and their children go to government schools. But the international tin cartel has stopped functioning, unable to maintain prices in the face of global over supply. Tin was Bolivia's main source of revenue. Its grim.

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visit the mine, miners on strike


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Thursday 28th November 1985

To the tin mine. Catch a bus from the plaza major up the hill. Grumpy reception from the official guide. He waits along time, but still there are only two of us. He is a middle aged miner. His mood changes once we are down the mine, and he gives good tour, concerned that we understand. Actually I understand little, but the mines are an extraordinary experience. This whole mountain has been mined for 500 years, first for the silver and now the tin. This is the state mine, the private mines are too dangerous to visit. They use compressed air titanium headed drills and electric trains. The tine bearing seams run vertically, so 30m vertical columns are dug out with a series of dantesque little wooden platforms and ladders. Wooden staves now blocked with rocks pop out of the tunnels at head height. It is warm and sulfurous. Brilliant blue stalactites drip sulphuric acid that burns our rubber jackets. Six fatalities a year in this mine, and many more injuries, private mines are worse. No pay at present just coca leaves to chew and some bread. Hyponatraemic cramps. Seven levels in this mine, we explore only the top worked out one. The rocky tunnels, with shored up rock falls, the drips and blackness combine to form for me a great mood of human labour and cooperation. They say miners walk to work in the morning in silence, they star to whisper once underground. Get a positive sense of camaraderie amidst all this toil and suffering.

Have a glass of hot thick api in the market to warm me up. Then buy tomorrows ticket for the tren to La Paz, Pullman 10 million pesos in bundles.

Hang around Plaza de Armas getting wet and loosing hope that someone would want to sell me an old poncho for a youthful price. They don't but Jessica bought one that way. The old man fires up his boiler and I have a hot shower and retire under a greta pile of blankets.

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by train over the andes to lake Poopoo


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Friday 29th November 1985

Woken by the pig. It has just acquired a piece of corrugated iron to roof its adobe hovel, and wants to let everyone know. A campesino has been hired (for the price of his dinner) to dig the potato patch. I have an old hard bread roll which he bums off me, it disappears very quickly.

Tried to arrange a quick visit to a private mine, but don't make the right contacts and spend the morning on light domestic duties and enjoying the sights at the market.

The Ferrobus is like a bus on iron wheels on railway tracks. Two bow-tied and grubby waiters clatter about in a galley kitchen next to the toilet at the rear of the coach. Two coaches, the front one is the engine. Very scenic 11 hour journey to La Paz. For the first 2 hours we climb constantly, endless bends, the only straight bits of track are the lengths of rail standing on end holding the telegraph wires. We loop around the steep valleys, along one side and then back up the other, Lots of barren rock with dead grasses and cacti. Little adobe hovels and a few llamas where ever a stream gives a bit of green. The llamas have fluorescent pink ear tassels. In between the crests broad flat plains of puna, tussocky grassland. At intervals along the track, roughly where the old steam engines would need watering, are groups of railway bungalows. people peak round corners alarmed at this sudden intrusion in the emptiness. The railway reaches 15,000 feet. I experience no discomfort other than embarrassing flatulence. Well acclimatised by now.

We chug along side Poopoo lake, about 90 km long, salt lake with 3 species of flamingoes. They look stunning, all flapping at once but seemingly tethered to the surface by two black cords with a knot in. The lake perfectly reflects the snowy peaks behind.

The legacy of galloping inflation is more bank notes than you can handle. The restaurant change comes in uncountable wads of millions. The street kids can thumb through these wads with practiced dexterity toting up the different denominations as they flash before their eyes.

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business in la Paz


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Saturday 30th November 1985

Back in La Pa. Hang around in restaurant Marilyn for hours hoping to by dollars from the old man but he must have taken the day off. Try to buy an old poncho but cant make a deal. Shop around for ticket to Puno. 16 mill for collectivo tomorrow morning. Disappointed lake Titicaca steamer is no longer running. Write postcards.

Feel the journey home has started, and cant wait to get home now after a year away with my little 10kg backpack.

Posted by 1985 trip 03:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

barge on Lake Titicaca

rain
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Sunday 1st December 1985

Meet english David on the minibus to Puno. A government sponsored cocoa farmer in southern Belize. He has been to Santa Cruz on business, and is taking a week to look around Bolivia while he is here. Previously travelled in India. Comes form Norfolk like me. Weird how people earn their living.

Crazy wooden barge ferries the minibus across the lake to Copacabana. The lake is a deep azure in the brilliant sunshine. marvellous. Uneventful border crossings and arrive in Puno 5.30pm. Know my way about and catch the 6pm bus to Juliaca, stroke of luck as can now do Christmas shopping in Juliaca's Monday market.

Rainstorm on arrival. Hotel Yazun 30,000S

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