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Bolivia

Bussing through town to town

sunny 15 °C

Because of my tight schedule, my journey had prompted me to torture myself with long distance buses from one town to another within the last two weeks. Below is an account of my 95 hours of bus adventure:

Salta to Puerto Igauzu (Argentina) - 25 comfortable hours with cool movies and bingo

Puerto Igauzu to Tucuman (Argentina) - 21 semi-comfortable hours

Tucuman to Salta (Argentina) - 4 night hours with drunk thief next to me trying to strike conversation

Salta to La Quinica (Argentina) - 7 freezing overnight hours

Villazon to Potosi (Bolivia) - 10 torturing, bumpy, smelly hours with 30 other locals and indigenous women crapped in a local bus. Temperature rose at least 15 degree in a few hours.

Potosi to Sucre (Bolivia) - 2.5 hours in taxi with a great American guy, finally someone who can have great conversations with.

Sucre to Potosi (Bolivia) - 2.5 early hours in taxi with 2 women with babies and one local taking up half the back. After bombarded by a bee-like crowd of women at the taxi terminal grapping and snatching to get me into their company taxi.

Sucre to La Paz (Bolivia) - another 10 freezing hours next to an overweight man snoring non-stop like a personal orchestra performing for the head of states.

La Paz to Copacabana (Bolivia) - 4 hours sitting in the very back of the bus with 20 other israelis talking loud and laughing non-stop throughout the journey.

Capacabana to Puno (Peru) - 3 hours of finally normal bus ride, only the annoying guide trying to persuade everyone to stay in the hostel so he can get the commission.

Puno to Arequipa (Peru) - 6 unconscious hours with way too many people trying to sell you food at the stops.

Posted by shinenyc 18:58 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Colonialism and the Devil's Mine

sunny 10 °C

AWARD-WINNING DOCUMENTARY: THE DEVIL'S MINER (see trailer here)

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TO HELP REDUCE ILLEGAL CHILD LABOR IN POTOSI, PLEASE REFER TO THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE:
kindernothilfe | CARE | PBS

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'Have you encountered any anti-colonialism attitude when you are traveling in South America?' I asked my fellow Spanish groupmate during the mine tour in Potosi, Peru. 'Not particularly.' he said, 'It was generations ago. At least we didn't kill all the indians or indengious people like what the other Europeans did in Northern America and other parts of the world.'

It is true that when the Spanish conquistadors came to South America in 1532, they did not carry a killing spree. However, the reason behind this is not necessary a humane one either. The vast mineral resources in this part of the world is valuable enough to make the conquered race, in this case, the indengious people, to work in extremely poor conditions in the mines. I visited one of them called the Rosario mines in Potosi, the highest city in the world (over 15000 ft.)

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With over 8000 men currently still working at Rosario, and an unknown number of children, the condition remained unchanged. 'Tio', the underworld god, still worshipped by all the miners once they entered this dark and suffocating world, although they are mostly Catholics.

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Before entering the mines, we stopped by the local market to purchase dynamites and coca leaves which I had some myself to elevate the lack of oxygen effect. We first visited a processing factory with some miners resting outside and greeting us with their cheeks filled with coca leaves. The sign at the entrance says 'Prohibido Ingresco Barracho al Trabajo' (Do not enter workplace drunk).

Afterward, we drove uphill. Since all explosions are done after 6pm, our guide put a small bomb together with explosives from the market, positioned it about 100m away, then lit and ran off. The sound was quite deafening and some of us were really excited by the ease of getting explosives and actually trying it out.

Finally, we entered the mines with our gears and gifts with a tremendous curiosity which soon turned into nothing but respect for all the miners (whom we call 'maestros') who spend the entire day digging and transportating rocks underground in suffocating condition without any protective gears. Naturally, we had to pay our due to a 'bisexual' statue called 'Tio', hoping that he/she could give his/her blessing to the miners.

Although we did not encounter any child miner during this tour, our tour guide used to be one. Thanks to contributions by foreign organizations such as the ones mentioned above, he had the chance to learn English and now, at 21, making a living with tourism. I only hope that this trend will continue for their future generations. Many children was forced to work as early as age 10 when their fathers pass away (usually around 35-50) to support their families fully aware of the fact that the dust is extremely detrimental to their health.

Another heartbreaking experience witnessing the working and living condition of the unprivileged, in this case, most indigenous people in this once rich city and considered to be 'the town that made Europe rich' - Potosi.

Afterthought: Who are we to complain about our working condition? Or anything at all?

Posted by shinenyc 19:31 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A Visit to Outerspace

sunny 0 °C

From La Paz, a 10-hr bus ride on the unpaved Bolivian 'highway' took me to Uyuni, a southern highland town famous for its surreal landscape namely the Salt Flats and its surrounding lagunas.

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True to the claims, I felt more like an astronaut than a tourist in this journey into the 'unknown' during this three-day Jeep ride (if only my behind stop complaining about the grand massage it had to endure in the Toyota Landcruise.) I truly believe that Uyuni is the final resting place for all the rejected Toyota 4x4 from the western world. And nowhere else but southern Bolivia would a 'retired' 4x4 vehicle can be more appropriately used.

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Our young driver, Miguel, first took us to the train cemetery right outside town. These rusty 'corpse' was from some British train abandoned in this highland dessert decades ago. Afterwards, we visited the Chachina, where salt is actually extracted by workers, and the famous 'Salt Hotel' which is built entirely out of salt except the roof and is actually functional. Because of the limited space and resulted higher price, most tour operators choose not to provide this options to their customers.

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We moved on from the 'Salt Hotel' to the first outerspace sighting - the 'Fish Island'(Isla de Pescado) in the middle of the Salt Flats. We had a simple lunch next to hundreds of giant cactus on this island which has the shape of a fish. Imagination exploded after lunch when groups of young tourists tried to strike the most original poses for photos on the Salt Flat, with literally a line separating the cloudless sky and the snow white salt. We kept driving to part of this area with thin layer of water, allowing a perfect reflection of the sky. Yet among the beauty of this area, a tragic story was behind it, explaining the simple grave stood in the middle. A local Bolivian family was stranded and died right here at one time because of the extreme and unforgiving winter weather.

Scenery changed after leaving the Salt Flat. We drove up and down and around mountains of rocks next to volcanoes. Our jeep got bumpier with the increase ruggedness of the landscape and finally stopped in front of a motel-like settlement in a remote village called San Juan, the 'Neocropolis', according to the sign next to it. If this doesn't make me feel like Mars, then probably nothing would come close to it.

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Our room has six twin-sized beds lined up long one wall and one next to the door, and so I appropriately named it the 'seven dwarf dorm', only Snow White would not withstand the poor condition. Our group, however, consisted of two young British couples, one South African and an Indian-American, had great conversations over dinner and braved the night with our true backpacking spirit. I sneaked out after dinner to look for outerspace species in the sky but all I managed to find is the 'Southern Cross' before the cold conquered my curiosity.

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On the second day, we visited a few magnificent lagunas(lakes) with different characteristics. Laguna Colorado - famous for its red or rusty color, because of the algaes and plunkons in the water. And Laguna Verde - with its aqua color. Both attract different species of flamingoes all year long. I don't think Van Gogh can even come close to the perfect blending of colors that nature here create.

The condition of our 'dormitory' on the second night was even worse than the first night. With temperature dropping to below 0 C at over 4000m altitude, none of us had a decent sleep, fighting for the last bit of oxygen in the closed room while shivering in our sleeping bags on the concaved box-springed beds and one-inch thick pillows. Even the bad Bolivian wine does not help. The worse had yet to come.

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Getting up at 5 am in the morning with -10C outside with an absolutely disgusting shared bathroom is more than torturing. My nose was running like River Nile even with a million layers of clothes on from head to toe. We finally crawled into our Jeep with Miguel laughing at our spoiled tourist behavior. Obviously he is the only one that found frozen tourists in his jeep funny and drove in complete darkness to the geysers. None of us even attempted to move our facial muscle.

The geysers and the moon-like landscape, although more than impressive, did not wake us up. We were longing for the hot springs that came afterward. The brave souls bared off with nothing but their swimming suits in the subzero wind chill and jumped into the natural the springs. I managed to bare half and soak my feets to recirculate my blood stream before breakfast. What a heavenly feeling!

I said farewell to my group after seeing heaven and experiencing hell with them in the last few days. Miguel dropped me off close to the border between Bolivia and Chile with others awaiting. I would be taken across the border to a small Chilean border town called San Pedro de Atacama.

Check back for some amazing photos in a few days!!!!!

Posted by shinenyc 08:42 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Sacrifice my ass at the pampas

sunny 27 °C

MANY MORE PICTURES HERE https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/shinenyc/

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The original Amazonoa flight a week ago from La Paz to Rurrenabaque was cancelled because of bad weather. The flight on subsequent day was also cancelled. This time because of a condor stuck in the engine and had crash landed on a field. After two days of endless waiting at the airport, me and eight other people from American Tour decided to suffer a 18-hour minibus ride on the 'Most dangerous road in the world' to get to Rurrenabaque. The bus ride was torturing not only because of the unpaved, bumpy roads but also because our driver had managed to drive incredibly slow even for Bolivian standard. Since I had the 'luxury' seat up front next to him, there is a constant urge to threaten him to hand over the wheels so I can taste the excitement of driving on this road. Instead, I spent the entire night making sure that our driver was not sleeping at the wheels by providing him with water and cookies while trying to stay awake myself.

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Once we got to town, me and another British family took a 5-hour boat ride along River Beni to Chalalan Ecolodge, a small rustic resort famous for its ecotourism effort, located within the Madidi National Park and is one of the best place to see wildlife in South America. 15 years ago, the entire San Jose village in the Tacana communities, who lived another 3 hour upstream in the jungle, helped to build this ecolodge hoping to generate income for the village. Before that, the abundance of mahogany trees in this area were suffered from lodging by foreign companies. Nowaday, after the Madidi National Park was declared in 1998, the lodging had stopped and all the proceeds from tourism goes to this village, the only example in the area.

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Over the next few days, our guides, Sandro and Ivideo, who spoke decent english, took us into the jungle to observe birds and chase after wildlife. Little that I know that wild Macaws such as the Red & Green Macaws and Blue & Yellow Macaws always fly with their 'partners' in pairs. Around our lodges, we also witnessed large groups of wild pigs bathing in the mud, tucans and howler monkeys screaming at the top of their lungs, cappucin and squirrel monkeys with babies swinging from one tree to another tree looking for fruits. During our night walk, we managed to see a black mama spider with four babies crawling nervously under our headlights.

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The last morning of the ecolodge tour began with a 3-hour visit to the local San Jose village who was having a week long fiesta to celebrate their anniversary. We woke up around 5am, walked about 30 min in the dark jungle to the river and watched sunrise on the boat. With chickens and other animals running around freely on the unpaved roads, groups of villagers, who dressed up in colorful but really weird costumes, marched into the poorly-built church. Local musicians followed with traditional instruments. Local musicians followed with their traditional pipe instruments. A few drunk men who had been drinking from the night before, paraded within the crowds with bottles in their hands.

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The only cacausian man in town, a missionary or priest handed out candies to children after the mass. I only hoped that this is not his way of converting kids to Christianity, especially given the fact that dental hygiene and care is not among the top priorty for these people. The one hospital in town looked more like an abandoned building than a functional one. Of course, as tourists, we also have to make a fool of ourselves by learning how to play their instrument and dance with the locals.

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After the visit to the San Jose village, we went back to Rurrenabaque, before heading to the pampas the following day. The town centre is almost completely filled with backpackers from Israel and England. Restaurants, tour companies, call centers and pubs with karaokes sprouted up in every corners to accomodate their needs. Local people around still live in extreme poverty. One good thing does come out of this picture: no Starbucks or any foreign fastfood places. Macdonald actually closed down because of bad business in Bolivia!
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The next day, a 3-hour bumpy and dusty jeep ride took me and two other british girls to a very simple lodge next to the massive marshland area in river Yucama. Diter, our guide from Bala Tour, who spoke very limited english took us up and down the river for the next couple days. Birds in South America is to animals in Africa. We saw countless varieties of large birds such as herons, egrets, southern screamer, snail kite, caracara up close etc. That night, we braved ourselves to the army of 'hardcore' mosquitoes in the river and went for a cayman (alligator) search. A baby cayman was spotted and we blinded him with our head torches and flashlight. Needless to say, within 10 minutes, we were all cover with mosquitoes bites. Some had miraculously bitten through my clothings and layers of repellent in my ass!

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Highlight of the pampas tour had to be the feeding of squirrel monkeys. Only the size of a football, these little creatures jumped on our boat even before it parked and started grapping banana off my palm. Some do line up politely showing off their cuteness but others just care less. I only hope that my camera battery had not run out. On the last morning, we went for a 4-hour stroll along the marshland looking for anacondal but returned with no luck, only their shredded skin. After lunch, we were taken back to town on a grandpa jeep and had ourselves covered with nothing but sand from head to toe by the time we arrived. I must have hit my head numerous time at the window bar while dozing off on this bumpy road.

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Abnormality rules in terms of transportation here in Bolivia. There are so many excuses for delays and cancellations, ranging from strikes to broken engines etc. While waiting for the Amazonoa flight to return to La Paz, I encountered an American man, in his 60s with white hair, who had been living in Rurrenabaque for 11 years and making a living by selling pastry on a golf cart every morning to backpackers and locals. What make me start a great conversation with him was the banner on top of his cart, stating that 'The Da Vinci code is ridiculous'. Originally from New York City, he moved to Rurrenbaque because he was tired of the modern governments trying to create a 'New World Order' using religions, virus causing worldwide diseases and technology and disregarding human life in the process. I have to admit that these conspiracy theories do make sense sometimes if it is placed in the proper context.

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Posted by shinenyc 16:55 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The two extremes: Isle de Sol and La Paz

sunny 10 °C

DSCF0145_sml.JPGFrom Copacabana, I took a boat to Isle de Sol (Island of the Sun) legendary where the sun was borned. The boat ride took longer than expected but once we stepped on the island, our impaticence was immediately replaced by the serenity and view of the long stone steps with an equally high inca water fountain leading up to Yumani, where the hostels are.

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I managed to share a triple room with Jena, the girl from Norway and Christopher from Qecbec for 20 boliviano ($2.5) each with a lake view at a hostel with the two cutest puppies which cannot be stay apart from each other. We spent the next hours trekking to an inca ruin called Pilko Kaina which is thought to be constructed by an inca emperor. We then headed back to our hostel and being a sunset addict, I decided to walk to the other side of the island for this daily miracle.
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With a hot cup of coca tea in hand, I used my broken spanish to bargain with the local girls for a bracelet while trying to enjoy the sun setting behind the mountains in the far end. However, with altitude over 4000m, the freezing temperature did not allow me to stay long. The night is best to be spent with a trout dinner, famous from Lake Titicaca. We met another couple from Paris and one of them is a physicist/astrologist. My immediate instinct was to ask him to identify the endless number of stars in the sky. Saturn and the Southern Cross were distinctly visible with a bright cloudy strait similar to the milky way. We could not help but admire the universe in unison despite of the freezing cold for a good half hour before heading to bed.

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The next morning, I woke up just in time for sunrise, something not to be missed especially on this island 'where the sun was borned'. The stone path leading down to the lake already had heavy donkey traffic. The ray slowly emerged from behind the snow mountain and suddenly I saw an extremely bright circle almost blinded me.

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After breakfast, I took the morning boat back to Copacabana and another bus to La Paz, the highest city in the world. La Paz shaped like a bowl, with downtown in the valley and surrounded by suburbs on the mountain. For a second, I thought I was in New York with rush hour traffic, students, office workers in suits and indengious women passing me by on the busy street. After stopping by my tour agent office for the jungle trip to Rurrenabaque, I stopped at the '100% Natural' for dinner, sipping a mixed fruit juice with milk and watching a soccer game between Argentina and Brazil over a delicious and ridiculously cheap chicken salad.

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The flight to Rurrenabaque was cancelled due to bad weather. So I spent the day visiting Valle de la Luna which is an area about 30 min from La Paz with very special rock formation. Afterwards, I strolled through the famous Witches Market.

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Posted by shinenyc 11:08 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sunset over Lake Titicaca

sunny 10 °C

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I took a night bus from Cusco, stopped at Puno and arrived at Copacobana, Bolivia on Sunday morning. Crossing the border was relatively easy. Lining up at the Pervian immigration office to get an exit stamp, then walking across the border and getting the entrance stamp from the Bolivian immigration.

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About 8km from the border, Copacabana is a nice beachfront tourist village around Lake Titicaca at 3800m high. The water is so cold that swimming is impossible. On sunday, the beach is filled up kayaks and water bicycles for local and tourists. The village itself is very touristy with restaurants, cafes, and jewelery street vendors lined up on the main street with local market and churches surrounding the main plaza. Since the majority of tourists are backpackers here, the village seems to have numerous reggae lounges to accomodate the freestyle and nomadic theme.

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Bolivia's living standard is the lowest in the entire south america. You can get a complete 5-course dinner here with free wine for under US$3. What a bargain! I met and shared a room with a girl from Netherland. For only 40 bolivian ($5) each, we had a room with private bath facing the lake.

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To complete the day, we hiked up Cerro Calvario to watch the famous sunset of Lake Titicaca. The hike was quite tough but the reward was well worth it. The clouds stretched out endlessly on the horizon creating the most beautiful watercolor painting. Only if I can just frame it and take it home with me.

Posted by shinenyc 08:48 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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