Friday, September 30, 2011

lago titcaca paradise

and paradise it certainly is! After being welcomed by the glinting deep blue azure water of the world's highest navigatable lake at 3800m, I was further treated to bright sunny days, amazing cloud formations, pre-inca terraces and temples, tasty trucha (trout) and some of my most tranquil days for a long time.

Isla del Sol

Copacabana sits just 8kms from the Peru/Bolivia border and although I had outstayed my visa, I couldn't resist enjoying the town with it's colourful car blessings, church services that were broadcast on loudspeaker, trout and kingfish on every market stand and restaurant, and gorgeous bay setting.

Cars lining up outside the cathedral in Copa to be blessed

Cerro Santa Barbara in Copa - with offerings to Pachamama

Even more luring was the Isla del Sol, the island which the Incas and local indigenous believed was the birthplace of the sun and first Incas. I ended up on the Isla for 3 days; hiking north to south and around the bays, getting up pre sunrise to be treated to a magical morning, having quiet candlelit dinners after a glorious sunset, getting taken back to Australia with the scent of eucalyptus and learning about the local Aymara people and traditions. I also had loads of time to think, ponder where my travels were taking me and finally start reading a book in Spanish (Paulo Coelho's Once Minutos).

I don't think I can quite describe the wonderful experiences I had, so I'm going to revert to some pictures to relay the gloriousness of it all.

Northern part of Isla del Sol
Ruins of Chincana
Pre inca terraces - still used today

Before sunrise...
The quality of light just before sunrise was stunning - looking back to the mainland

Ending with this glorious sunrise

Let's go fly a kite... up to the ...
I left Copa this morning, sad to leave the enigmatic owner of the hostal Mery - who I had great chats about Bolivian politics with, learnt about local remedies and mused about travelling. Crossing the border was surprisingly pain free - the Bolivian officials actually reduced! the overstaying visa fine and kindly ignored that I had actually overstayed my visa much more because I had previously been in Bolivia. The Peruvian officals were not quite as simpatico - but after trying to get a bribe for the fact I didn't have an international drivers licence (not that I need one!) shooed me out the door.

So now I'm in Puno - and had the BEST shower in 3 months... NO electric shower head meaning LOADS of hot hot water, decent pressure and.... da dah! a shower curtain! It was divine. Off to perhaps try the local speciality of guinea pig?? or perhpas not... but. Lago Titicaca, thank you! a most idyllic end to a wonderful 3 (ahem 3.5) months in Bolivia.

Hello Peru!

Romantic dinner of trucha for one
Looking towards the township of Yumani
Sooo cute! This little donkey hadn't quite got the hang of it's long legs yet

Monday, September 26, 2011

if only i could have captured all that I saw

i take copious amounts of pictures, and yet still manage to miss so many wonderful sights. the last couple of days I've been riding the world's most dangerous road - half of it in fog and rain, and have now made it to the glorious shores of lake titicaca on my way out of Bolivia. technically my 3 month visa expired yesterday, but I think i'll just have to get a couple of days on the isla del sol before i say goodbye to this country of extremes, beauty, wonderful people and good memories.

The road between Caranavi and Coroico - thankfully quiet as the construction blockade meant that there was no traffic. Don't want to think about being overtaken by a bus with an oncoming truck bearing down on me.
so here's some of the things i missed:
  • an old man piled up with firewood strung to his back climbing up out of the dense trees into a cloud of dust left by trucks
  • grandmothers, mothers and daughters pushing wheelbarrows with the remains of cold drinks and snacks after the daily construction 'blockade' was opened (they close this main road for roadworks from 7am to 12pm, then 2pm to 6pm. as a result there's an impatient line of trucks, buses, taxis and cars waiting tocharge through when it opens)
  • chilling out and being transported off to the future of idiocracy - watching a movie at a roadside restuarant while waiting for the road to open
  • impatient beeping by cars literally when I was 1 second late from following the trucks moving in front
  • seeing the eye of a cow peep through the slats of wood of the truck waiting in front of me
  • going dangerously close to the edge of a gravel road - to see a drop of about 200m
  • working out which side to drive on - for safety reasons you swap sides, so that means the driver is on the cliff edge to make sure he doesn't fall off. rather confusing as it doesn't always hold true.
  • driving downhill on dusty, muddy road with a 12V headlight after sunset (literially about a 3m throw of light - on high beam!)
  • twisting my way up a hand laid cobblestone road in the dark and mist
  • the 200m of beautiful, flat, grippy asphalt that I zoomed along before heading up the cobblestone mountain
  • driving in fog and mist at about 4deg with -2 windchill in a 1 lane highway with oncoming traffic without their lights on
  • 3 little boys squashed against the back window of a minibus waving back at me as I curved my way around lake titicaca

Beautiful Yungas driving
2 lanes down to 1, no visbility and some cars didn't even have their headlights on

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

out of the jungle i go

i've been a bad tourist. I've just spent 5 days in rurrenabaque, and not seen aligators, anacondas, monkeys or pink dolphins, ate coconut tasting insects and learnt what's toxic and not, or wielded a machete. and now i've left. well there's various reasons that I didn't go on a single pampa or jungle tour. I've - still not any useful hiking/walking because of my sprained foot, i seem to be running out of $US to change into Bolivianos (there's no ATM here) and well, i'm being lazy. Yes I may regret this, but i think i'm ok with it. oddly enough, I like animals and happy to hang out with them, but for me mountains and long vista landscapes are more my thing rather than getting close to the furries.

but there are a couple of memories of rurre to stay with me...
  • watching every morning and evening, an old couple walking hand in hand into the centre of town. you don't see much hand holding going on here, so it was very sweet to see.
  • listening ALL night (to about 5am) to some music down the road - a sort of military drumming crossed with folklore.
  • meeting a baby big cat - called tigre, resident of a local mechanic
  • having a chilled out chat with laura - a dutch girl who fell in love with a local Bolivian, and is getting married in 2 weeks. There was a lot of discussion about cultural differences and her experiences living in Rurre.
  • lazing about on the hammock and watching school kids wander their way home from school
  • hitting the sunday market on the way out of rurre. People here work 6 days a week, and on sunday's they really do relax, hang out with families, have big lunches and usually enjoy a beer or well 10.
yesterday we left rurre, and after 20kms philipe discovered that his shock absorber for his side car tyre, had snapped at the top and was clanging around on his bike frame. 30kms down the road we found an open motorbike workshop with soldering equipment. (this guy was working at 6pm on a Sunday!) He managed to forge a solution, and meanwhile I went search of somewhere to stay. it was a dustry road stop town of probably 40 families, and definitely no sort of hostal. but the couple in the local 'pension'/restaurant kindly invited us in (no less with a cold beer!) and we soon were yelling over the mexican music dvd's playing and telling our stories. we found out that they were the parents of the mechanic - he was just 20, but with a 3 month old baby with a 19 year old girl from a couple of towns up.  as the beers kept getting topped up, i sort of got the impression they (the parents) were not too keen on her, but now with a baby there was not much they could do.

A very welcoming family who let us camp in their restaurant - and welcomed us in with beer, loud mexican telemovie music and lots of good times
I've noticed that there are many unmarried parents and also single mothers here - often under 20 years old. you often meet young children being taken care of by grandparents, while the parents/mother live in a bigger city to work. birth control? well the relative cost of it here is expensive so I guess not used.

His wife Leondi and grandaughter Eva - doing some washing next to the  shower in the orange tree:)

With Antonio who kindly let us camp in his courtyard

tonight we have also been lucky enough to have been allowed to camp in the courtyard of a family's house - antonio, leondi and little eva. Antonio and leondi are the grandparents, little eva is 2 1/2 years old. Her mother left 2 years ago to work in La Paz, and so she lives here with them. It's perched up above the main road, but a simple concrete construction (we're out of the wetter areas where they tend to build in wood, and with thatched roofs) around a well tended courtyard. out back is a small orange plantation - and smack bang in the middle of one tree is the shower. it is a very tranquil place compared to the noisy busy family house last night (where there was a chorus of barking dogs and hens squaking), and again I'm very touched by the kindness of people here.

This little boy was sitting with his mother who was selling watermelons by the roadside - 1 bol/kilo - so for a 5kg melon, 50c (Photo by Philipe)

we're on our way towards La Paz, where I will say good bye to Philipe. He's heading up to Ecuador to see friends, and I'm going ot Cusco to see mum and dad. It's time to get out of Bolivia as my 3 month visa expires on the 24th, and I'll be sad to leave a country so filled with extreme landscapes, tasty produce and food, and some very authentic and kind people. But Peru is next, and i'm off to trek my heart out!

Just down from the roadside camp in between 2 blockades, these little boys were playing and really acting up for the camera. (Photo by Philipe)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

christianity in the bolivian jungle

it's an odd sort of thing - in the last week we've separately met two
very kind and very passionate Americans - both Christians, working and
living in Bolivia over the past 15 years or so. Stewart and his Bolivian
wife, Naide stopped and spoke to us on the road from Trinidad, and
subsequently invited us to stay with them; and Ronnie approached us when
we arrived in Rurrenabaque and helped us find a bike friendly hotel.
We've also seen quite a few Mormons and also Mennonites (close to the
Amish) walking around in their hats, overalls, women in long skirts and
matching striped shopping bags.

I've not yet worked out the appeal - or the reason why in the previous 8
months I've not met anyone like this - yet bang, since being near the
old Jesuit Missions and into the tropics of the jungle, meeting and
seeing so many. It has definitely been interesting listening to the many
stories, theories and religious ideas and experiences, but somehow
tiring as well (usually there's hours of listening involved). It's
interesting to see the different degrees of integration; for instance
Stewart doesn't speak much Spanish - despite Naide not speaking any
English, or the types of food eaten - from eating a typical amuerzo
(lunch) with Ronnie, to the hotcakes with syrup and bacon for a dinner
snack cooked by Naide.

1 200cc bike, 5 people, 50kms of muddy road. RESPECt

Road had turned to mud on the way back

Road there - driving at night not so fun

Stewart and Naide's place was a bit of a ways from the town we planned
on staying in - try 7 hours riding sand (which turned to mud on the way
back after rains) to get about 130kms. (thankfully i rode 2 up on the
sidecar) They don't see too many foreigners; apart from family who
visited we were the only English speakers that had come by in the past
year. The community near their house consisted about 20 families; no
electricity, a clean water tank was just being installed, every dirt
house was shared by the greater family, oxen pulling around carts,
cattle and pigs roaming around - and during rainy season it becomes
completely cut off and inaccessible by car. A very different way of life.

Stewart getting comfortable watching for hochi's

Listening intently - he also played the mandolin quite well

Stewart definitely had a luxurious house by comparison - his own water
tank/well/pump with a good pressure outdoor cold shower, 2 generators,
fridge and... air conditioners for 3 rooms. I can relate to this -
things we take as important - ie. clean drinking water, having a
sanitation tank for human waste etc are a bit out of the norm here.

A noisy friend 

We spent 5 days with them - Stewart was definitely a very strong
character; from Florida but with a strong southern accent, so his
stories about slow trail deer hunting, fishing using airboats, the frog
leg trade, stories of his brother, when he arrived in Bolivia, the
conversations he has with the Lord and miracles he has witnessed, were
told in an expressive slow drawl and with whole body passion. There were
some rather very strong views that came out but he was very welcoming,
and I learnt many new things about how people live out their beliefs.

Dancing in San Ignacio de Moxos

Blocking the blockade

Imagine this after 4 months of rainy season.....

After 5 days we headed back to San Ignacio de Moxos, then to San Borja,
and yesterday a long day of riding to Rurrenabaque. On the way we
stopped for 2 hours at a road blockade that was in protest of a new road
being built through some protected areas to facilitate transport between
Chile and Brazil. A bit baking in the midday sun and I'm not sure if
there are more effective ways to find a solution. From there we went
through some muddy patches and road under construction to reach Rurre -
I cannot imagine how these roads are in the rainy season - we are now at
the end of the dry season and it's already difficult now.

Rurre for a couple of days, perhaps a venture out to Rio Tuichi to
hopefully see some animals, then got to work out how exactly I'm going
to get to Cusco to see mum and dad... there's a road on the map - but
apparently it doesn't exist... hmm....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

to boat into the amazon or not to boat

We've been in Trinidad in northern bolivia looking for a barge to take us up to the border with Brasil, and then the plan had been to bike through some pretty isolated communities (and yes known drug trafficking routes) and enter Peru. The day after arriving here we went down to the port on Rio Mamore where the barges moor into, and after the first futile visit on Saturday, yesterday morning we went back to find ourselves and the bikes some transport. Barges seem to fall into 2 categories - those that carry gas bottles, and the big tankers, and the others are smaller with stacks and stacks of coke/sprite/fanta bottles and other consumables. We had been hoping to find the latter, but unforuntately the only barge leaving within the next week with space was a fuel tanker.

This somewhat rickety barge was carrying gas in bottles - to  the right is  one of the tanks - probably on which the bikes might sit?
After milling around chatting to the guys loading the fuel, and then finally the captain, he agreed to take us both for 1000 Bolivanoes (about US $140) for hammock space, a steady diet of beans and rice, and the bikes. The thing is though that because it's the end of dry season, the river is very low and the trip that normally takes 5 days would take anywhere between 10 and 20. Also, as it was a fuel tanker, they only travelled during the day which means that there's no air movement to deter the swarming mosquitoes at night.

Somehow taking a fuel tanker into the amazon rubs me up the wrong way (and feels sort of dangerous - although perhaps safer than the gas boat in the pic), and when we considered the longer time spent on the river and uncertain roads north we decided to ditch the boat idea (yes it would have been pretty awesome) and instead drive to Rurrenabaque (a more touristy place but in the amazon too) and then drive up to the same border but by the south road.

Girls usually only ride with their boyfriends (if they have one), but often you see 'packs' of all girls riding  as well
     So this morning we say goodbye to Trini - a city teeming with motorbikes, motortaxis, cars that mysteriously find their way from Brasil (and which Bolivia registers - but gives them green number plates instead of the normal white and blue), open stormwater drains, some decent hamburger joints, dusty roads and sweltering heat. We also got to spend some time with Jen - a Canadian who we met in southern Bolivia who has been living in Trini since May working on clean water and sanitation projects in indigenous communities. Challenging work that I really admire.

Bummed somehow that the barge/boat is not going to happen, but I'm also sort of keen to get back into the mountains (and out of my sweatbox riding gear) so can look towrads that as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

sweatbox riding through jesuit mission country

first i should say that I'm very glad I have new kick ass motorcross boots, new jacket with shoulder/elbow/back protection, and a new beefed up helmet, but man, riding through 32 degree heat on the edge of the Amazon, really sucks. when you're going fast enough into some warm blasts of oncoming wind, it's ok, but as soon as you stop - bam, the sweat starts trickling down and creating a mini portable steamroom.

In full kit - trying to smile. stopping is worse as there's NO wind to at least dry some of the beading sweat

Blown palm trees in the rolling landscape

The bell tower (entirely out of wood) outside the church in Concepcion

for 3 days we've been riding through rolling agruictulral lands graced with windswept palmtrees, dry, dusty towns teeming with motorbikes (that frequenty run out of fuel) and visiting two old Jesuit Mission towns - Concepcion and San Javier. It's an interesting combination, the Jesuits (according to my Lonely Planet) had quite a good go at integrating and combing the western and indigenous cultures; they taught a lot of woodworking skills which is very evident in the beautiful carved mission churches, streching collandes and courtyard design for houses. music was also very important, and addition to setting up instrument making workshops they instilled music education (admittedly a western one) which is still evident today with children learning violins and other string instruments. In Ascension I walked past a school with a group of early teen boys practicing violins! Every 5 mins or so groups of girls would stop and walk in interupting and joking around with them - I wonder whether it is 'cool' to play an instrument here? I also got to play :) and makes me realise how much I wish I had my violin around to strum out some tunes on.

This is HALF of the motorbike line waiting for fuel ... most are carrying 10L gallons after 3 days without fuel

we've been trying to get a bit of a routiine of leaving early and stopping in the mid afternoon to explore the town and relax. it's tempting to have a relaxing morning; breakfast, sleeping in, but thankfully it's actually too hot to sleep past about 7am. Riding between 8-12pm is infinitely more comfortable than 12=4pm, and It's also nce to feel that you've got somewhere by 11am. lunch is usually snacking, and once arriving, de-peeling and jumping in the shower, it's either time to cook or seek out some delicious fried meat, fried vegetables, fried rice or fried something to fill the tummy.
I'm very small but resting after trying to climb up the frame.
actually on the way here we passed through a town called Okinawa - yes the same as the Japanese island - after WW2 some Japanese families came and settled north of Santa Cruz, creating Okinawa I, Okinawa II and Okinawa III. Inventive huh! They are still a very Japanese culture today as well - and the best thing for me? we came across a store with japanese and koren foods, including wakame (dried seaweed), somen (silky noodles), an pan (bread with red bean paste - my mother loves this for breakfast), yokan (sweet red bean paste), kare-gohan (curry rice), okaki (rice crackers) and well all sorts of delights. Pretty damn fine, and what this means is that tonight, instead of the usual local or camping fare, we had somen noodles with vegetables. Total treat - not just for the different flavours, but for me, something that reminded me of home.
Tucking into somen (japanese noodles)
we're averaging about 230kms a day, and yesterday we did about 250kms to Trinidad. Once a year they do quite a lot of burning off to clear/renew agricultural lands, and so we ended up riding through a lot of smoke. We also had some nice stops and side visits - one to a swamp/lake, and other we happened to pass one of the animal refuge parks of Inti Wari Yasi - and got to see some toucans! (and lots of foreginer volunteers).
Typical house on the way to Trinidad - with thatched palm tree women roof

Laguna Corazon - now we're getting into the jungle!

Riding through haze of the smoke from the yearly burning off
The route yesterday is starting to feel more lush and jungle-like - we're now in Trinidad looking for a boat to take us upstream into the jungle proper - and also meeting up with Jennifer - a girl who we met at the Arbole de Piedra who is working for an aid organisation for clean water installation and education. It's definitely hot and stifling here - am I going to survive the jungle I wonder?