A Travellerspoint blog


This is were it all gets interesting, and I start to feel like a real traveller !!!

View Sparksters Big Adventure on Sparkster's travel map.

Friday 5th December

Okay, up and out of the hotel in La Paz no problem ; everything going smoothly - got checked in at the Airport and my 2 bags safely through without any hassles. Then when my hand luggage was scanned the woman on duty decied to go through it with a fine toothcomb. Id stupidly put all my pills and tablets in a carrier bag and she went through each one looking at them as if they were illegal contraband. Mental Note - always pack medicine in luggage from now on !!!

Me and the remaining 6 Aussies were all getting the plane from La Paz to Iquique in Chile before we went our seperate ways. I was heading by bus ( hopefully) to Calama whilst everyone else was going on various planes down to Santiago. Jan, Chris, Yvonne and John were all supposed to be stuck at Iquique for a few hours so I thought I had company for a bit. But as we were queuing up for passport control, they were all offered the option of changing their tickets for an earlier flight - and they were wheeked out of the queue and rushed through.

I was left like a numpty, then the customs guy started asking me in Spanish for some form that I hadnt filled out. I kept saying I didnt understand - which fell on total deaf ears until out of sheer frustration he got one of his colleagues to fill it out for me.

Then I had to try and negotiate getting into Iquique town centre ( its 40 km from the airport). Jan was waiting to give me a quick goodbye so I didnt feel totally abandoned but I didnt really get a chance to say bye to any of the rest of them. NO ONE spoke english - really dont think I had expected this, and the airport was very basic.

Finally got someone who would take me to the TUR bus depot in town for US$20 - to be honest Id have paid 5 times that !!

Iquique is a strange town/city - as we drove in I kept thinking if you squinted your eyes a little it could almost be California ; beautiful beach, promenade and lots of locals in board shorts and flip flops. Oh yeah, and it was scarey hot !!! Amazing that just a 45 min flight between countries and it felt like I was in a different continent. Very much a Western european feel to the town -well, what I saw of it anyway. The TUR bus station was at the far end of Iquique, quite a nice building - but suprise suprise no-one spoke English and I had to rely on Angus's little phrase book to get over the hurdle of ordering a ticket to Calama. I thought Id done reasonably well and gotten a ticket for a bus, only it was the wrong time and when I tried to change it I was told briskly to hand over yet more money. Ridiculous, especially when I'd had so much hassle trying to book online or with help from both Enrique and Allessandro on the phone at different points of the trip. Not impressed !!

Anyway, with the job completed I decided to put my bags into left luggage ( another job and a half explaining how long I wanted them to be kept for) and go for a wander along the beach front which Id seen on the way in ( I had 2 hours to kill ). Had a really nice walk - no-one blinked an eyelid as I strolled along looking like a total tourist - didnt see another European at all. Got back to the station without getting lost but started to realise that my little stroll had managed to get me totally and utterely sunburnt on my face and neck. I looked a total sight !! Mad with myself as Id been so careful with sunblock all the way through Bolivia and Peru.

The bus journey between Iquique and Calama takes around 7 hours, so I bought what snacks I could find at the bus kiosk ( very expensive !!) and boarded the bus. Very comfy and although it was a bit hot I thought things were looking up.

Wrong wrong wrong !!! Got hotter and hotter as we drove slowly out of town, then the videos went on - a shocking Latino gangster film called 'Daddy Yankee' ( nothing but gratutious violence and lots of spanish screaming!!!), and it played at full volume so I could even hear it over my Ipod.

[ Oh, and just incase anyone is inetrested the 3 most played things on my Ipod so far this trip are as follows ;
1- Dance Floor Whore - The Dance Floor Whores , 2 - God Only Knows -El Perro del Mar and 3 - James Morrison's newest album. That album in particular will always remind me of the bus journey to Calama as I was blasting it to drown out everythinge else !!]

That was followed by the most ridiculous Chilean comedy act called Cementario Pal Pito ( think it means grave yard palpitations if you translate it literally !!). I swear, it was anything but funny - stupid, dated humour and two idiots dressed up. Of course, the rest of the bus ( I was the only foreigner on the coach) loved it. And joy of joys ...we got 4 volumes of the stuff as we travelled along the coast to Tocopilla. I was almost going insane.

Earlier, Id drifted off to sleep only to be rudely awakened by the bus conductor shouting at me ; everyone else was off the bus with their bags getting their stuff checked at a border patrol. Apparently they check buses and cars regularly as they move between regions in Chile because the zone where Iquiue is hosts a huge duty free shopping zone ( Zofri). No-one told me !!!! More to the point no-one told me what was happening so I felt like we were being stopped by the Gestapo !!

By this stage all my snacks were finished ( including the freebie ones from the bus conductor) and I was starving - although I didnt want to risk eating the empanada's that local women kept coming onto the bus to sell everytime we stopped somewhere. The smell became quite intoxicating actually.

After Tocopilla the scenery became non existent ; we stopped at Maria Elena ( a small nitrate mining town, but it was too dark to see anything).

Finally arrived in Calama around 10.20pm, and a woamna called Mol from the hotel was waiting for me in a jeep with a lovely placard. Never been so glad to see anyone in my life LOL !! We had a 70 minute drive from Calama to San Pedro, during which Mol stressed how stupid she thought I was for busing it. Probably agree with that one to be honest. Couldnt see much but enjoyed the conversation.

Finally arrived at San Pedro de Atacama around 11.30pm with Rodrigo, the hotel manager, waiting for us in the street. He was lovely and showed me to my room, even making sure I had a sandwich and something to drink. very classy service !!!

Well, I may have been shattered and desperate for my bed but the minute I saw my room I came to life ...just amazing. Wont go on and on about it here ( cause it will make me seem sad !!) but lets just say that it knocked spots of anything else Ive ever stayed in, and that was before I saw the outside shower.

For those who havent seen the hotel libk here it is www.awasi.cl - and believe me, its ten times better in real life !!

Certainly made the journey worth it !!!!

Posted by Sparkster 14:30 Archived in Chile Comments (1)


Back to the dizzy heights of La Paz !!

sunny 23 °C
View Sparksters Big Adventure on Sparkster's travel map.

Thursday 4th December

Left Sucre this morning ( plane delayed by an hour and a bit - and I killed myself getting ready this morning !!) ; pleasant flight; in a novel twist to airline travel we had our hand luggage nominally 'hand checked' by a very disinterested young boy on the way into the dpearture lounge ( no electronic scanner in sight), then we collected our in flight meal as we walked out to board the plane !!

Got a room that didnt smell of sewage drains this time in Hotel Gloria and after a quick snack at our favourite coffee shop round from the hotel ( Alexanders - definitely a plus point for staying in La Paz) , we headed off to try and get my replacement mobile phone from the infamous 'thieves market'.

What a fiasco .......cheap phones my backside; everything was extortionate !!! US$800 for a Nokia96 - what a joke !! Got dissillusioned very quickly and stomach still grumbling a bit, so didnt hang about too long. Alessandro eventually found a shop that would sell me a battery charger for my Nokia and a replacement battery for the grand sum of £10. A total bargain - well, wouldve been if it worked. New battery worked long enough for me to send 3 texts, and the old one wont charge at all using this nifty little contraption with flashing christams lights on it. Think they saw me coming !!!

To compensate Jan and I went browsing through the more reputable end of the market, buying tourist tat at a rate of noughts (well, Id been ill and unable to buy anything for days !!!!) Besides, we found some really nice shops as oppose to the usual market stalls selling woven pictures, hats and bags. Im going to miss Jan, she's a lovely person - think I got on better with her and her husband Chris than anyone else, a really nice couple who were always looking out for me. Chris was the one who gave me the Stemitil which stopped me feeling sick - an absolute blessing. I dont think Id have survived the past few days without them !!

Managed to find a CD shop - but I didnt recognise any of the artists they were selling, although I did get a Zulma Yugar DVD/CD box set - didnt think just listening to her would be any fun, would have to see her as well. Umm, maybe that could be someone's present eh ??????? Any interest ??

We had our last tea with Alessandro at the Hotel opposite ours - the supposed 5 * Presidente Hotel ( yeah, and pigs might fly !!) Much better than the first meal I had there though, but nothing earth shattering ( my meat kebab was served up with a bizarre cheesy flavoured rice - still, at least my appetite is coming back !!). Alessandro seemed sad to be leaving us, and pleased with the collection/tip we gave him ( he deserved it I guess, although I still remember being with him in the 4WD in Uyuni when he didnt open his mouth for about 3 hours !!)

I also bought a new bag to carry all the tourist tat ( discovered from reading my itinerary that Im allowed 2 x bags up to 23kg EACH on all my flights !!!! Classic !!!! Finished repacking fairly early, quite pleased with myself really - finally getting into the way of living out of bags and constantly changing accomodation. And theres plenty more space for more Tat !!

Posted by Sparkster 13:58 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)


Still not feeling the best !!!

sunny 22 °C

Wed 3rd December

Well, the dodgey stomach isnt much better Im afraid - starting to get a bit worried that Im losing too much fluid as everything's going straight through me.

On the plus side though, I've hardly eaten for two days so the weight has to be coming off.

I did the visit to the Casa de la Libertad (House of Liberty) this morning ; a museum celebrating Bolivia's hard won independence in the 1820's, but felt quite sick through most of it. Alessandro stood in for the guide we shouldve gotten and did a half decent job - although I thought he didnt know as much as he was trying to make on. Funniest moment - when Chris noticed that the portrait of the main woman who fought for Bolivia's independence in the early 1800's bore a striking resemblance to Catherine Zeta Jones during her "Zorro" phase - quiet uncanny !!!

Went into the Cathedral after this to see a jewel encrusted painting of the Virgin Guadalupe, painted in 1601 (actually I thought it was very tacky - and copies of it are everywhere in Bolivia. There were far better paintings by Bernardo Bitto in the little museum next door - although they were a bit creepy,and had some very dubious subject matter ( one depicted a poor boy being circumcised !!) Right next door were the remains of a shroud , which if it was real was pretty amazing - could see the whole outline of a body on it, though I couldnt figure out who's it was and everything in Spanish. Obviously someone important though LOL !!!!

Joined the group for a coffee in a very trendy bar called Joyride ( definitely a cool place to hang out in Sucre) before retiring to bed feeling sorry for myself around lunchtime.

Went out for dinner to a very good French Restaurant, which I cant remember the name of and managed to eat okay, although I had a pretty sleepless night as a result of it - running to the toilet every hour on the hour. Also wasnt helped by the fact that the person or persons who moved in next door to me insisted on playing James Blunt's"You're Beautiful" repeatedly til way late !!! Came closer to knocking on their door I tell you.

This hotel is definitely the best we've stayed in so far though - so not looking forward to returning to the altitude and the noise of La Paz tomorrow.

Posted by Sparkster 12:19 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)


Everything from Silver Mines to Convents, and dodgey stomachs !!!!

semi-overcast 20 °C

Monday 1st December/Tuesday 2nd December 2008

Managed ( as usual) to cram quite a lot into these few days ; all started with our tour of the silver mines on Monday morning.

Juan Carlos was the latest guide to get lumbered with us, and he was fantastic - spoke the best English so far out of any of the guides, really knew his stuff and had a brilliant sense of humour.

Now, Yvonne had started abit of a revolt amongst the group by quoting her guide book which ( like all of the guide books) stated that a trip down the mines was extremely dangerous and not for those of a nervous disposition. Everyone felt a bit anxious about what was going to happen but it turned out to be fairly straight forward - and in the end only Yvonne and Chris opted out of doing it ( Chris at least started it and then turned back when it got too dark). I nearly gave up a few times too but persevered thankfully - quiet proud of myself I am LOL !!!)

We went 500m deep into the mine and saw the tip of the iceberg in terms of the conditions the miners work under. As well as being donned in lovely unflattering gear ( I couldnt get a helmet to fit me properly so looked extra stupid !!!) we had all bought 'presents' for the miners from the local miners market. This basically amounted to a survival day pack for the miners ; cocoa leaves(they chew on them) , alcohol ( 96% proof stuff - definitely not the sort of stuff Wilma and I crack open on our Saturday night sessions in Aberdeen !!!) and some explosives . The miners buy their explosives every day - really fascinating to see how its all done. Of course some of the Aussies had to have photos taken with the bloody dynamite in the mouths - and I thought me in my helmet was a stupid sight !!

Okay, so yeah - we went deep into the mines ( well I thought it was deep, but we didnt get past the first of 15 levels) and have to say it was brilliant - definitely recommend it to anyone. Juan C was a great guide ; we stopped half way down at the museum made by the miners where they all give offerings to the Devil ("Tio") of the mine as a way of gaining protection from accident/injury. We all did it - and at last I got a chance to taste the alcohol, very sweet and very very strong. Reckon the miners take it to keep themselves numb !!!!

Theres no doubting that mining here is a difficult and harsh occupation - and although conditions have improved since Spanish colonial times ( when miners rarely lasted for more than 6 months in the conditions and an estimated 8 million workers died) they are still grim, almost medieval infact. Its hard to believe men and boys work in such conditions day in and day out.

Think if we'd been with the younger and fitter backpackers we'd have gone down further - which would have incolved crawling through shafts and down rickety ladders. Im more than happy with what I experienced and glad I came out of it in one piece.

Bought mineral stones from a young boy selling them outside the mine - apparently the government are trying to persuade the locals to earn money from tourism etc rather than sending young boys down teh mines so I kind of felt liek I couldnt say No. Pretty grubby looking assortment of rocks too - but sure my mum can add them to her crystal collection LOL !!

Absolutely no laughing at the photos - although even I was saying its the most macho Ive ever looked !!!

We had Saltena's for lunch again ( Bolivia's version of the cornish pasty) and then during our free afternoon we all arranged to visit the Convento de Santa Teresa - a convent in Potosi which is home to a Carmelite order of nuns (who until recently had no contact with the outside world). The tour was great, but still found it hard to accept that girls as young as 15 ended up there, most being the daughters of spanish nobility. Life in the convent - not seeing anyone from outside EVER - was proably just as harsh as that of the miners. Thankfully admission to the order is now voluntary and the nuns have had contact with the outisde world since 1965.

I really found this quite a moving visit - and to be honest I wasnt even that keen to go in the first place. Seeing the room where girls would say goodbye to their parents for the last time really hit home. The guide we had, Clara was hilarious ( kept calling me "Mister Whisky" - why does everyone associate the Scots with alcohol ???) so she managed to keep as much of the tour as possible light and cheerful.

By the time we went for tea I was starting to suffer a bit with a dodgey stomach - to be honest Im suprised it hadnt happened sooner, so I was a bit miserable. We had a good meal at a restaurant that used to be a refining plant for minerals - although I struggled with the eating bit and even my Singaki sour ( Bolivian version of Pisco Sour) didnt help cheer me up.

Things were even worse on Tuesday morning ( 2nd December) as Id had hardly any sleep and constant diaorrohea all night. Dragged myself up to go and visit the Royal Mint in Potosi with everyone else, but hardly paid any attention during the guided tour ( felt so bad !!!). Then it was a two and a half hour journey to Sucre by road , thankfully much smoother than our last trip - as soon as I got to the Hotel all I could do was collapse in my room. Missed out on the city tour and slept most of the afternoon drinking the Bolivian version of Diaoralyte to try and keep me rehydrated.

Definitely convinced its the Saltena's I had for lunch, but guess in reality I could have picked this up from almost anywhere.

Went for tea with everyone but didnt drink ( yeah, I know - I mustve been ill !!) and I stuck to the most basic thing on the menu ;grilled chicken in a garlic sauce. Havent even seen Sucre yet - and all I can think about is sleeping !!

Hopefully things will ease up a little tomorrow. Everyones been really nice to me though - amazing how I mange to get mothered wherever I go eh ??LOL.

By the way, thanks for all the comments - glad folk back home are actually reading this, and glad everyone's fine and well !!! Mx.

Posted by Sparkster 20:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)


Bus journey to sort out the men from the boys !!

all seasons in one day

Sunday 30th November

Spent most of today travelling - in a beat up old bus with no suspension, from Uyuni to Potosi. Left at 8am. Dust and bumnps were the order of the day, magnified even more by teh fact that we had a bus driver who looked about 12 and seemed totally carefree.

Have to say I didnt really mind it too much ( I'd been clever enough to buy snacks, water and had my Ipod to while away the hours) - but some of the others really struggled with it. Journey took us just short of 7 hours on dirt tracks that really didnt deserve to be called roads.

The driver and his companion ( even younger looking) stopped about 4 times to check tyres and engines etc as the road slowly took its toll on our ageing bus. apparently we lost about 3 bolts from one of the tyres !!!

Stopped briefly at Pesca where I again bought handmade 'tourist tat' from a sad looking girl outside their 'Museum of Weaving'. Really wasnt much more than a hut with a weaving loom and a few donkeys outside of it.

About an hour or so out of Potosi we hit a really wild thunder storm with some of the most fantastic lightning Ive ever seen - and some really heavy rain, although by that stage no-one was bothered about how treacherous the roads were becoming because we didnt think it could get much worse.

At long last I actually felt like a real backpacker, really roughing it. The Aussies decided that they werent tipping the driver or his sidekick so when we finally arrived in Potosi they dropped us off a good 200 yards from our hotel rather than directly outside it, which meant we all had to lug in our bags. When it turned out that the rain had been leaking into the back of the bus and all our bags were soaked, it all became too much for one of the group ( who shall remain nameless !!) who proceeded to lose it big time in the reception of the hotel - talk about throwing your toys out of the pram. Quite a scene !!

Hotel is passable - Hostal Colonial, old colonial style with two courtyards and a TV in the bedroom ( cant remember when I last watched TV actually !!!). All the single rooms are hidden away at the back of the hotel, but bed was comfy so I wasnt complaining.

Potosi is a very traditional old fashioned town so everything was shut on a Sunday - we had to make do with dodgey hamburgers from a kind of fast food place for a belated lunch and then pizza from a local spit and sawdust restaurant later at night. Both really crap !!

At 4060m Potosi is officially the highest city in the world (I think city is stretching it a bit - town would be far more realistic, not really got much of a city vibe). Its really juts a shadow of the town it once was - during the 16th century after the Spanish invaded it was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, due to its silver mines. The silver from these mines kept the Spanish monarchy afloat for well over a hunded and fifty years until Bolivia finally got its independence in 1825 ( Potosi was the last town the Spanish fought to hold onto - given its obvious wealth).

The mines are still operational and we're planning to tour one of them tomorrow.

Managed to find a Farmacia that was open and bought it out in terms of pills, tablets and anything else that would help me breathe easier at night. Starting to really hate being this high up !!

Posted by Sparkster 19:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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