Wednesday, November 22, 2006
´Part One´ because I´m sure we may find ourselves back in the Jungle at some stage..
However our first dabble with the Amazon Basin found us in the jungle frontier town of Rurrunabaque about to embar on a 3 day trip into the Pampas of the Madidi National Park, a mixture of Savannah and wetland renowned for it´s wildlife (in fact 10% of the worlds known bird species are found in the Park)
Our guide looked like he had just left the Bolivian special forces dressed in combat fatigues, wrap around shades and crew cut. We weren´t sure whether we felt safer as a result!
A 3 hour trip up the Yumani (which feeds into the Amazon) in an outboard driven dugout canoe gave us our first taste of the fauna and by the days end we had spotted pink dolphins turtles, caiman, alligator, vultures, capybara, ibises, pelicans, toucans, howler monkeys and capuchins which we fed by hand with bananas - remember the monkey that Ross on ´Friends´ had? Well they are much cuter in the flesh and sans dopey New Yorker!
A few welcome cold beers at the ´Sunset Bar´ (more a rough hewn lodge overlooking the river than a bar) were followed by spotlighting for Alligator and Caiman eyes from the canoe on the way back.
Rounding a bend in the river we spotted what we thought were two alligator eyes but they looked far too high off the ground on the river bank and when they started moving up and down in a very feline manner we had spotted one of the very reclusive Jaguar of the park. It defies explanation to describe the energy when you see something like that and you really do feel blessed to have been able to see (from the relative safety of a boat!) one of natures most amazing creatures.
We searched for Anacondas without luck on day two but in the arvo I´m stoked to say that I leapt from a dugout canoe into a river in the Amazon to swim with Pink Dolphins! To be in the same water that Piranhas infest, that Caiman and Alligators hunt in, with the shy and timid Pink dolphins was one of the memories I will cherish forever.
MOSQUITOS. I have never in my life experianced mosquitos quite so voracious as in the wetlands of the Amazon Pampas. They rise in swarms and feast on any exposed or unexposed part of your body.
DEET becomes the cologne of choice and everyone wears long, loose, light coloured shirts and trousers to dissuade the ravenous hordes...Everyone except me of course. Not being overly bothered by mozzies and not generally getting too itchy or showing bite marks I was happy to wander around in only boardies....The first, second and third days were fine...coming out of the Jungle however I suddenly developed bite marks all over the place and have been itching myself all the way from Rurre bck to La Paz and to Lake Titicaca...nect time I will make DEET my friend!
Well Lonely Planet was right about one more thing...Uyuni is very hard to get out of! It is also dirty, hot, dusty and without all that much to do and so hanging around waiting for the soon to be cancelled, changed and reschudeled buses had many backpackers getting even hotter under the collar than the desert justified!
BUT eventually after a 12 hour ride along gravel roads in a bus better known as a ´dust catcher´ we arrived in Sucre. The heart sinks as you enter the surrounds of the city, where the vista provides the m,ost graphic picture of abject poverty we have seen yet. It is mind boggling to see rubbish knee to waist deep coating the slopes, dotted with shacks and with sheepand pigs, as well as the human inhabitants picking through the piles for a meal.
Sucre city however is beautiful and provides a real colonial contrast to the Bolivia we had seen. With stunning hwite colonial buildings dating from the 16th century and monuments to the heroes of independance, not to mention great food, markets and CHOCOLATE it provides a welcome respite to put the heels up.
La Paz surprised me. Having usurped all the capital responsibilities barring those constitutional and judicial, I expected a bustling modern metropolis. It is this to a certain extent but there are buildings, plazas and monuments to rival Sucre and with all the cities there is colonial history that stretches back to the 1400´s.
Friday, November 10, 2006
The worlds largest salt flat (at nearly 12000 square Km!) sits at over 4000m above sea level...and the highest we have been so far is higher than base camp on Everest...I digress...!
We stayed at a hotel made entirely of salt bricks and with salt for flooring, salt bed bases and tables and chairs! A good intro to an early morning start to see the sunrise over the plains. As you can see it is eerie...that is salt not snow and it stretches as far as the eye can see, and only punctuated by a solutary island where marooned Vizcvachas (a type of chinchilla) live amongst giant cactus up t 12m tall and 1200 yrs old!
Lagunas (heavily mineralled lakes) punctuate the desert like precious stones with snow white salt beaches. The Lagunas provide sanctuary for sea birds and flamingos marooned long ago by retreating seas. Now where desert was sea these birds cling precariously to life, scooping the brine shrimp that colours their plumes from sulphorous waters and warming themselves in anticipatin of freezing to the water of night (luckily they ahve no predators!). Check out Em at the Laguna Verde (sorry our Flamingo pics were not great!)
They say in Auckland we get 4 seasons in one day...well in Bolivia you cab get 4 deserts (and more) in as many hours!
This is a land of contradiction and contrast. You freeze in an icy breeze under a burning sun. Days are cold...except when they are hot...and nights are bitterly cold.
As you climb into the altiplano you pass through miles of rust. Iron seeping from rock to form great hard and brittle sheets, looking like the vestige of a long forgotten maching graveyard.
Moss clings precariously to cliffs and Llamas roam and match the surroundings. From large shagy beasts in the more lush valleys to small antelope like ctreatures in the sandy desert.
Rolling into the dusty old town near where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid met their maker was a breathe of fresh air. Bolivians we have met thus far seem to be warm open and friendly. There is certainly less hustle and bustle than Argentina and of course it si much more basic - not surprising in the continent´s poorest nation.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
We still haven´t managed to find any Salsa but we did find a tour with more desert...The far north of Argentina has the highest concentration of Argentina´s inidgenous population. The scenery going North through Pumamarca (see pic.) and it´s ´seven coloured mountain´, Tilcara and Humuhuaca is as per usual for the trip, amazing. We are running out of wows!. Also unfortunately we seem to be coming up against Argies in a hurry, a bit uptight and always keen to get that extra peso out of you! (Propinas - tips are expected and demanded everywhere!)
I managed to get ripped off by a Wichi Indian for a ´handmade´ knife that I saw in the next village for twenty pesos less...always the way and all part of the Sth American experience! Looking forward to a new country, new people and new sites in Bolivia!
Salta is what happens when a place like Tucuman gets it´s act together. Or perhaps Tucuman is like ´´when good Salta´s go bad...´´ Either way it´s a relaxing stop on the way North with wide esplanades and a beautiful Plaza, monuments and an Iglesia that is variously described as tacky, gaudy or stunning...we chose the later! (Check out the pic at night!)
The city is geared towards tourists which is good and bad. There are plenty of great places to eat and chill and plenty of handicrafts and works by local artisans...but of course they are priced for the tourist dollar. Getting stuck here waiting for a tour north through Injun country (sorry un-P.C. but had to do it!) meant a few afternoons sipping Licuados in the shade in the plaza Argie watching!
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A night of a few wines, a few beers and a few more with an Aussie couple, a former Nuclear Reactor Engineer and an Israeli ex soldier had us a little worse for wear for our shared taxi ride (cheaper than bus) North to Salta.
The scenery was again beautiful through the desert. I love it, and you always feel purified after leaving the town and venturing into a place where people just don´t do well - the heat certainly puts paid to any feelings of superiority!
Outside of Cafayate and it´s wineries is desert, desert and more desert. Huge ravines and mountains are in view every way you turn. Cacti, brush and red sand cover the landscape with a backdrop of multicoluored cliff faces. A trek around several of the sites around Cafayate was found to be pretty much a sunday trot for a couple of kiwis used to the outdoors, so harder trials were in order.
Now most of you know that in my practice I work with a lot of cyclists and adventure racers...and in spite of that I probably hadn´t been on a bike for near on 20 years!..until Cafayate...
Uphill in the desert heat and overthinking the workings of gear ratios had me complaining like a little girl to Em, I think she was about to led me off a cliff but thankfully we reached our detsination - the mouth of a canyon, where we left our bikes cahined to a tree and strode off up the Rio Colorado in search of a 10m waterfalll and swimming hole.
2 hours of hard slog later, and thoroughly deserving a swim we reached the hole and plunged in, quickly realising that it was pretty fresh snow melt from the Andes...and bloody cold! So plunging and then re-heating were more the order of the day than swimming!
The downhill trek and downhill ride were much easier too, Em´s sanity was thankful of that and finally getting used to the bike we even had a few jumps on the way back. Over a few beers they´ll grown into 10m airs and I think I´ll just leave it at that...