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Bolivia
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999

"Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies
In motion of no less celerity
Than that of thought" (W. Shakespeare)

Thought that rather appropriate as our last correspondence dealt with Equador & Peru - and now we’re in Bolivia & heading for Chile. (That and we are currently watching Loves' Labour's Lost.) Maybe the simple truth of it is that it’s simply been a long time since we last wrote.

Bolivia doesn’t have the beauty of scenery that Peru had (though from what we hear, that will change when we cross the Salar de Uyuni & head for the Laguna’s Colorado & Verde) but the people are lovely. We met plenty of wonderful people in Peru (too numerous to list here) but to be honest to majority were rude, sullen & definitely anti-gringo. On crossing the border at Kasani, immediately the cries of "Gringo" & "Mister" ceased. People started greeting us with "Buenas dias" (or buen dia as the campensinos say here) - a very rare occurrence in Peru. Our feeling about the people of Peru is that the people with an education are wonderful & generous but the majority of the campensinos just saw us as stupid rich foreigners to be ripped off at every opportunity. Of course once you stopped & got chatting with them they were normally just as nice as anyone else but the attitude we were exposed to as we cycled through sometimes was brutal. This is the opposite to most other countries where the people in the countryside were always far nicer than those in the cities. Perhaps it’s to be expected - Peru has had tourism for a long time & when we see the arrogance of some tourists we don’t wonder the locals treat us with such distaste. Saying that Peru is the only country we have sworn we have to return to as there are so many places we wished we’d visited but we ran out of time even though we used our full 3 months that we were allowed.

Our route through Bolivia took us from Kasani to Copacabana on a lousy dirt road (though not as bad as we’d feared from reports from other cyclists). The road itself wasn’t so bad - just every time a Kombi or car went past we spent 2 minutes choking on dust. Copacabana itself wasn’t particularly special but has a famous mudejar (Moorish style) cathedral built to commemorate La Virgen Morena del Lago. The virgin was carved in 1582 & after her instalment in the sanctuary miracles began to be attributed to her & Copacabana became a pilgrimage site - famed for its festivals. I felt it was artificial & tacky & of no comparison to the Moorish Alhambra in Granada. But what we liked was the cha´llas. They adorn the trucks, buses & cars with flowers & banderas, have confetti flung everywhere & the alcohol is poured over the vehicles´ wheels & then they are then sprinkled with holy water. This blessing is to protect them on the highways but I suspect driving lessons might be more beneficial. We wanted to have our bikes blessed but the ceremony was in the afternoon & we were leaving in the morning.

Whilst in Copacabana we visited the Isla de Sol - considered to be the birthplace of not only Manco Kapa & Mama Ocllo (the 1st Incas) but the sun itself! The island itself was gorgeous but our guidebook misled us again referring to the Templo de Sol as "the only Bolivian example of expert Inca stonework comparable with that of Cusco". What? That pile of stones that we completely missed & had to be re-directed to as we thought it was a natural pile of stones just like any other? Did the authors actually ever go to Cusco? We immediately decided not to visit any ruins in Bolivia if that was the best the country could provide.

But luckily we did. On arriving in La Paz we realised lo & behold - for a change we were in the right place at the right time & visited Tiahuanaco for the Aymara New Year (yep the computers are still functioning in this millennium!). The new year is celebrated by basically partying all night (drinking, smoking, chewing coca leaves & dancing) & desperately waiting for the sun to rise & shine though the Puerto del Sol (gateway of the sun). We totally understand why the Incas, Aymaras etc worshipped the sun. At an altitude of 4000m at 6 in the morning we were freezing & definitely worshipping the heat of the sun when it finally rose! But apart from that the site itself was amazing - the sculptures superb & to think that some of the basalt sculptures weigh 175,000kg each. Apparently the nearest quarry was Copacabana 40km away - some feat.

On to La Paz where we met some cyclists we’d met previously in Trujillo - lucky for us as they’d received lots of parcels of Swiss chocolates and as Richard’s hadn’t arrived they generously shared with us. Incredibly we actually found Leonidas Belgium handmade chocolates in Cochabamba though my parents had to go & spoil it. As I was gloating on the phone they informed me of the Belgium food scare.

On the route to Cochabamba Richard was delighted by the number of dogs hanging out on the roadside that didn’t chase us. We found out that the truck drivers believed it was good luck to feed the strays on the side of the road & accordingly the dogs just looked quizzically at us - either wondering what kind of trucks were we or why we weren’t stopping to feed them.

From Cochabamba we headed for Sucre but no we couldn’t take the normal route but went via Tarata & Mizque. The road was beautiful AND paved as far as Arani. But as we headed for the zigzag up the hill we found the road was COBBLED! Arghhhhhhhhh! All the way to Alquile! Alquile had suffered from an earthquake last year and many of the people are still living in tents. Apparently it used to be a beautiful colonial town but now its just piles of rubble - many of the streets haven’t yet been cleared. The biggest & best tent was in the main plaza under the arches of what used to be the church - no surprise to find out it belonged to the vicar.

We’ve spent a week in Sucre & are reluctant to move. Our host has cable TV & you know what that means - TOUR DE FRANCE!! Miffed at Armstrong’s showing is not the word!

Stani is now sporting a cross between the Shirley Temple (frizzy rings) & Bob Geldolf in The Wall (shaved eyebrows) look. Whilst cooking lunch Stani had put some tomatoes into the oven to cook. We had used the gas-rings on top of the stove, not realising the gas bottle was almost finished consequently, the gas-rings diverted all the gas from the oven, & the fire went out in the oven. When we switched the gas-rings off the oven started to fill with unlit gas. After an hour or Stani pressed the electric ignition spark switch - relighting the oven at which point the oven exploded with a bang - the door flying open as the ignited gas looked for an outlet & frazzled all the hair on her head & arms & burnt off all her eyebrows & eyelashes! Luckily the next day the Backpack oven we’d been chasing after for so long arrived (though the BASTARDS sent it DHL instead of by regular post as we requested so it cost us an extra US$25 in taxes) so we don’t have to rely on these high tech machines again! Just in time for Richard to practise his cake baking skills for my birthday!

In Oruro Richard entered a bike race (though he didn’t really stand a chance being on a mountain bike when everyone else was on racers & it was a flat circuit!) But he got loads of radio coverage & Stani got the local crowd shouting "Allez" in support. Ice-cream sellers throughout Latin America have these honking horns that they honk as they go by - Richard has one on his bike & he honked cheerfully on each circuit - the crowd loved it & were cheering him on every round.

Okay that’s all for Bolivia for the mo. -

PS it WAS a bad idea to move on from Sucre - there’s no cable TV in Potasi so we'll miss the end of the tour de France!

Ciao for Now

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Stani & Richard

Next newsletter: Bolivia Part II 26 Oct 1999

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