Archive for the 'bolivia' Category

bolivian riot

Saturday, September 9th, 2006

bolivia is such a riot of colours.

there’s the traditional dress worn by the older women with their lined brown faces and their bright bundles slung across their backs. the corner stands full of fresh oranges waiting to be made into juice. the surreal landscapes of the altiplano and the white steeples of sucre painted against the sky. the wide plazas full of sweet carts and balloon stands and sunlight and palm trees. the flags of festivals and impromptu parades in the street. the bustle of markets filled with fragrant pastries and shiny silver earrings and woolen hats. the high dark mountain backdrop and thin blue air.

it’s a lot to take in. there is so much to see. there is also an incredible amount of poverty. i won’t get into the politics of the “war on drugs”, but it is on the streets of bolivia that you see much of the fallout. babies begging. little boys trying to earn money as shoepolishers when they should be in school. it’s a heartwrenching thing to witness again and again, and even more horrible to have to turn away from it over and over.

we spent a few days in sucre, a laid back little city with a chilled vibe, just relaxing and replenishing after all the activity and experiences of the previous few days. now we’re in la paz, idyosyncratically charming with it’s frenetic markets and hustle, yet nestled high in the mountains. it feels like a buzzing little bumblebee of a city. we’ve shopped and drank and danced. we had scrummy little sidewalk salteƱas and a gut-busting brunch buffet. it’s been a fun few days, and it’s “felt” more south american than anyplace we’ve been yet.

i’m not quite sure how to describe that (what makes it so?), but there you go. it’s really satisfied that expectation of a vibrant, unique, and colourful cuture. the stereotypical pan flute music and woven handicrafts, the street food and aromas, the energetic people and religious iconery, the age-old customs and indigenous roots.

it’s all here in bolivia. in abundance.

we’re off for copacabana tomorrow, which has been blockaded for the past few days (for various reasons, depending on which of the differing accounts you believe), but is now open.

ciao ciao,

(more photos here and here)

finally photos

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

more photos are finally up.

from the uyuni trip (more here):

and from san pedro de atacama (more here):

friends on the fly

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

one of the great things about traveling is the opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with. who live far away, or come from different backgrounds, who’re older or younger or speak a different language.

and one of the difficult things about traveling is meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with, and knowing there is a good chance you won’t see these people again. when you meet, share experiences, develop a rapport… and then part ways. where if circumstances were different, you’d hope to become good friends, but because they live far away, have other plans, etc., the chance for relationships is over even before it begins.

that’s life, i know. but it still sucks.

we’ve spent the past week with a group of people we met through random chance. we were all on the same trip to uyuni, all happened to have similar post-uyuni itineraries, all shared in witnessing the same horrible accident and comforting each other after. in a word, we bonded. and it’s felt really good to be in good company. to talk, to laugh. you miss the companionship of friends when you’re on the road.

and now they go their way and we go ours. they left this morning while we stay behind. there are tentative plans to meet up in la paz or cuzco… but even well intentioned plans have a way of changing when you travel. i’d be lying if i said i wasn’t a little sad today because of that.

but that’s the nature of the adventure we’re all a part of. so you tuck the memories into the photo album, exchange email addresses, and hope for the best.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that if we don’t see you again, it’s been really good to share this small corner of the world with you. wishing you safe travels, adventures big and small, and “bon voyage” – good seeing good. whenever we think of bolivia, we’ll think of you.

con abrazos,
jen and jonno

vida y muerte

Monday, September 4th, 2006

(i need to preface this post by reassuring everyone that jonno and i are fine – what follows is pretty distressing, but we’re absolutely okay.)

we left uyuni by bus this morning, on the way to sucre, via potosi. uyuni is pretty much a podunk town, so after shopping around at the different transportation companies (which were all much of a muchness) we and several of our companions from the uyuni trip decided to go with the company with the nicest bus. it was pretty modern looking in comparison with the rest of the vehicles on offer, and we wanted to be comfortable. as we wound our way up and down the steep mountain roads, we read and dozed. we stopped for lunch. shortly after lunch, however, our tranquil little world was rocked. as we came around a curve into a wide plain area, we were confronted with a horrific scene of devastation.

a smaller bus lay overturned on its roof, crushed like a tin can. what at first glance appeared to be bundles of clothing strewn about, were in fact people thrown like limp rag dolls. adrenaline started pumping and my cpr courses started flashing through my head as we rushed to the scene. wailing and blood everywhere. jonno ran to the bus to see if there was anyone trapped inside, and i tried to see if there was anyone i could help.

it quickly became very clear that they were beyond my paltry knowledge of first aid.

there were people crumpled in heaps, people with brains coming out of their head, people crying out desperately for help amidst the scattered metal and luggage.

i couldn’t help the ones who were dead and i couldn’t help the ones who were alive. the ones who were dead had been killed instantly. the ones who were alive were broken to bits.

i’ve never felt so helpless in my entire life. in the end, i am ashamed to say i was no help at all to anyone. and all i could think was that i wish my dad was here, he would know what to do. i stood like a lump and cried.

and at that point our friend recognised the bus as one we’d almost taken from uyuni that morning. that’s when i lost it.

there was confusion as to what to do. we were two hours from the nearest hospital. cell phones were useless. finally some of the men began carrying the injured towards the bus on blankets. survivors in shock began picking through the wreckage for their belongings and climbing aboard the bus with their bundles and bags. the four most critically injured were hoisted and dragged into the aisles, where they had to be stepped over. a little girl of about 10 stared wide-eyed, blood streaked across her face.

and two dead were left behind, covered with blankets, watched over only by a herd of llamas who continued to munch placidly beside the carnage. what else could we do?

with every bump of the road, the injured cried out in pain. moaning, asking for water, pleading for help. the rest of us sat in deathly silence.

so i prayed – not for my beliefs, but for theirs. i prayed the “our father” and the “23rd psalm”. i said “hail marys”. i prayed every catholic prayer i could recall.

the sign said 55 kms to potosi. as the distance dragged on, the bus grew progressively quieter.

a passing jeep was asked to send ahead for help, and an hour later we were met by an ambulance and a doctor. but he could do nothing more than administer morphine. one of the four was already gone.

we continued on towards the hospital. i became fixated on the woman in the aisle nearest me, who was twisting and moaning in spite of the morphine. her skirt was akimbo and all i could do was stare at her stockinged leg. the nylon had a tear in it and small droplets of blood were seeping through. she’d lost her shoes in the impact.

eventually her leg stopped moving, and her stockinged foot became still. i turned away.

we all sat on that bus, willing the distance to pass faster, studiously avoiding acknowledgement that we were now carrying two corpses.

after two torturous hours, we drew up to the hospital. there was more confusion, as the bus couldn’t fit through the gates. eventually stretchers were sent for, and the four carefully unloaded. the little girl was lead away after she tried to wake the woman whose foot had stopped moving.

the bloody fingerprints of a dying woman were dried on the side of the seat.

for a distance of 55 km, two more lives were lost.

and then we were left at the bus station. left to grieve for the tragedy we’d witnessed and the people who never made it to potosi. left to ponder why we were alive, and they were not. left to wonder at our incredible luck at having access to mediflight choppers, and the best medical care in the world only minutes away from our houses. left to suffer the guilt at taking that for granted. left shaken, drained, confused.

what do you do after something like that?

in the end, we simply continued on – because we could. we took comfort in friends and familiarity. we ate and drank and stuck together, drawing strength from each other in the face of the somber reality. life is precious. and although it wasn’t us, it could have been.

there but for the grace of god, go i. or you. or any of us.

so if you’re spiritual, please say a little prayer. and if you’re not, please think a good thought.

for the dead – and for the living.

altiplano adventure

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

along this trip, we’ve done several things which fall into the “once in a lifetime” category. but even amongst those incredible experiences, our four day trip from chile to bolivia was unforgettably unique.

the trip began inauspiciously with a half day wasted at the chilean border, waiting for the officials to decide whether or not to open the mountain pass (previously closed due to snow). after much “will they/won’t they” we finally got underway, the group climbing high into the mountains to the one-room hut which served as the bolivian immigration department. after the formalities, we crowded all 13 of us into 4×4 landcruisers, strapped our bags and food to the top, and the expedition began in earnest.

the landscape is indescribably intense. startling colours which appear out of nowhere – green white and red lagoons. barren stretches of rocky plains give way to bright yellow scrub and white snow dotted hills. violent grey and lemon sulfured fumaroels hiss and spit. neon pink flamingoes are incongruous at 4500 meters, wading serenly against blood red waters and white islands in the shadow of ancient violet volcanoes.

we clamber around in the cold, taking photos with wind chapped cheeks and gloved fingers. there is a welcome respite in thermal hot springs, only to be followed by the bitter sting of biting winds hitting warm wet skin. the nights are colder, warmed only by wine, energetic card games and layer upon layer of blankets.

there are altititude headaches and multiple cups of coca leaf tea (the locals remedy). accomodation is spartan. we are cold and uncomfortable much of the time.

yet every morning we awake to brilliant clear sun and crystal skies. there is comraderie and a sense of adventure which carries us through. we are privy to visions most people see only in dreams. and we know it.

on the third day we roll through more multicoloured lagoons and eerie windscaped stone forests. there are llamas and foxes sxattered through the hillls, eeeking out their meagre existence amongst the dry grasses and parched earth. more flocks of seagulls, theor rosy shapes awkwardly graceful in flight. we descend to the empty lake bottoms, the long dried beds dusted with salt crystals. we spend the evening in a hotel made wholly from solid salt, like a rough-hewn crystal palace.

and then on day four, we’re up before dawn to catch the rosy hues of first sun rising over the salt plains. as the sun climbs higher in the sky, the endless salt pans change personality – from the cold pebbly white of opaque ice, to the hallucinogenic glare of dizzying white-on-white like a blinding snowfield from the antarctic. holographic effects, mirages and infinity illusions create a surreal scene right out of a dali painting. it is vast and pure and stretches out to meet the cerulean sky in a perfect horizon. spectacular constrasts dazzle the eye, incomprehensible tricks of the light. it’s unreal, unlike any other earthly landscape. we’re like children, playing with photos, dancing, lying down to make salt angels.

and then, finally, we arrive in uyuni, where the altiplano adventure ends. it’s a bleak return to civilisation after days spent wandering in the wilderness. some friends leave, some travel on with us to our next stop. but even if we never meet again, we’ve shared the unique wonderment of an experience that will never leave us.

not all the photos are up yet, but here’s a few

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