Adiós Bolivia, ¡fue bien!

Sucre, Bolivia’s white city, was lovely to explore at a ‘slower’ pace with fours days there. Even though a lower altitude than Potosi, I really noticed the pollution from cars and found myself wheezing walking the streets, laced with exhaust smoke.

While there, the country celebrated St Juan – the coldest and shortest day of the year. Gaël and I ate out at a local street party with bands, firecrackers and a hair-raising twist on mulled wine. We’d installed ourselves on benches at a local lady BBQing, and were salivating over the delicious meat piled high. Just before ordering, we were encouraged to enjoy the “corazon” – nodding away, we were poised to order when a guy translated that it was heart, and that it was great for lovers 😂 We both baulked at eating heart, and happily ordered meat skewers with salad and potatoes instead, which we ate with our hands which the BBQ spat fat over us!

I studied Spanish in Sucre for three days – unfortunately all i could fit in. Bolivians have a neutral accent, which makes it perfect to learn and private lessons were cheap at 58Bs an hour (£6.35). And mine were expensive compared to others. I felt I made good progress with Claudia and was fiercely proud of having been able to write up a recipe in Spanish for pavlova, in the simple past ☺️

Despite swearing off early mornings after the Uyni tour and 8:30am Spanish lessons, I was convinced to get up early to head out to Tarabuco Markets, an 1.5hr bus ride. We breakfasted on brown quinoa with potato stew – slightly horsey 🐴 tasting! – and explored the stalls. I loved the Bolivian accordion pleat traditional skirts and tried on a few, much to the amusement of the locals. One size fits all, and needs an underskirt and an apron to cover the pop button closure. I decided instead to buy two bright rugs, to become the bane of my backpack until I could post them back to Australia cheaply – ie not from Bolivia!

The travel route I had initially planned was Buenos Aires up to Rio, then work it out overland to Bogota to meet Beth. The more I researched from London, the more I realised there weren’t that many options and that I was massively underestimating the size of Brazil. Even with two months to cover this.

It turned out that flights from Nairobi to BA all stopped in Brazil (either SP or Rio) or were a triple jump with long waits. Plus they were double the price to fly into Brazil. I decided to take the cheaper option to Rio and work out the change on the fly. Having enjoyed years of cheap intra-Europe flights, I was stunned at the prices to fly with South America, and how much cris-crossing was involved. I spent a good fortnight tabulating every departure option to get me to Bogota, settling on the cheapest from Santa Cruz – an eye watering £370!

Up early to get to the airport for 6am, I spent some of my remaining Bolivianos on breakfast only to realise I was meant to be at the gate in 5minutes and hadn’t yet gone through security etc. Security were surprisingly relaxed about me going through w a coffee and pastry. I was ready for my flight. Nope! Next stop – a desk to complete an exit form, show my passport and check what I was taking out of the country. I couldn’t give the form there but had to keep hold of it. I then waited to be checked by the special drug squad – they wanted to know where I had been, how long, what I was doing, who I was travelling with, and so on. I was then directed to a lady who emptied my bag, and checked each and every single item to see if I had hidden anything anywhere.

My mind went back to a conversation from the previous night with a French girl also flying to Colombia who wanted to know if she could bring her coca leaves. Another girl suggested hiding them well in her bag. I did mention X-rays would show them up and dogs being able to smell them… I had left mine in Sucre, and said that I wasn’t sure but just didn’t think it was worth trying to bring them. So when I saw this same girl heading back to the first desk, I was on high alert. I found her later at the gates – she had overstayed her visa and had to pay a fine. Phew!

I really enjoyed Bolivia and highly recommend it! Amazing landscapes, great people plus the prices made it more enjoyable than Argentina which was sometimes a bit stressful with two tiered prices with foreigners paying more. Most things in ARG were billed in USD due to inflation (45% last year!), so it was a pleasure travelling in Bolivia where the local currency was it, there no (exorbitant) ATM withdrawal or exchange fees, or black market cambio touts to bargain with (different x/ch to the govt one, as well as depending on the value of your greenback – $100 bills get best rate, then decrease). Plus although it’s been cold – like super cold at times: -10C stargazing on the Uyni salt flats- I’ve had more sun here in two weeks than the month in Brazil and Argentina!

¡Vamos a Colombia 🇨🇴 !

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