Its a jungle out there
Trip Start Jan 08, 2003
15Trip End Mar 26, 2003
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BaAs is currently the travelers favorite city due to the collapsed pesos and incredible night life. I had planned to grab a quick nights sleep here but on arriving in the hostel at 10:30 i found everyone just getting up and showering.
"I,ll just come to the bar till 2am" I pleaded, at least I was sure that is what i had said as I watched the sun rise over the river i had once sailed upon from a nightclub just getting going.
I slept on the plane which took me to Iguazu, a town situated at the confluence of three countries, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina
It was the tropics in a way that smothered all my previous concepts.
Green, lush, 105C at 2pm. Moisture evacuated my body like rats from a ship.
Despondent indeginous Indians forlornly begged from the side of the road covered in the rich red earth that seems to cover every surface, Amazon dust, jungle dust.
I travelled in 2-3 countries everyday and always went back to my hotel in Argentina. Cuidad del este in Paraguay was an hour on the bus and so I accompayned Noam and Savish who i ran into at the bus station. Cuidad del Este is black market central and people come from hundreds of miles to shop for cheap electronic goods. The city is a smugglers paradise as well as a place that many intelligence agencies contend is a center for Muslim Fundamentalism due to the large Arab Population and easy access to the porous frontiers. I was asked to show my passport only upon entering and leaving Argentina despite crossing at least one other frontier each day. Europe without the civility.
We spent a few hours here, i to buy a ticket to Bolivia and my friends to score cheap cameras
The real reason i had come here was the dramatic and huge Igauzu Falls which straddle Brazil and Argentina. Wider and taller than Niagara, President Roosevelt's wife was heard to comment on visiting
"Oh poor Niagara".
Here i wandered for a few days viewing both sides, each offering different views, though on the Argentinian side they had built catwalks over the lips of some of the falls providing stupendous views of the flow tumbling over the precipe, as parrots and butterfly's the size of sparrows dodged the spume in a brilliant display of color.
I had to pass through Paraguay to get to Bolivia. Nobody goes to Paraguay except peace corps volunteers, smugglers and very old Germans with vague accounts of what they did during World War 2
It is a country in the very middle of the continent and like most of its neighbors, it has only emerged from a repressive and dictatorial government in the last decade or so. Still an atmosphere of fear and corruption permeate even walking through the city of Asuncion as i did. Outside of the judicial buildings and the presidents palace, large groups of lethargic paramilitary police laze under the trees, not there to protect the people but to protect the government from the people. In the square are banners with harrowing pleas for the whereabouts of the "Disappeared".
Most of the country to the east is farming ,the famous Chaco to the west and the north turns into the Pantanal then the Amazon jungle
I entered Bolivia with the same feeling of trepidation that i had arrived in India last year,that whole clenched cheeks thing not knowing how it is going to turn out compared to the inevitable preconceptions as supplied from wary guidebooks and burned out travelers.
I was glad to discover that it was as always selective memory and by 10pm , i found my self in a street side cafe being hand fed coca leaves by a old man with a sparkling yellow grin in the city of Santa Cruz, my first stop.
Now don't get me wrong, this is not a case of
Johnny cubano and his buddy AK47 getting it down in a nightclub and table full of white powder with a murderous glint in his eye. Coca is bought in the market by the bag in leaf form, having been present in Bolivian society for a thousand years or more and is especially popular among the elders. It is chewed and stuffed into the gums, not unlike chewing tobacco and to be honest, after 3 beers i am not sure what was supposed to happen but i was more buzzed on 2 cups of coffee the next day. Against common preconception in the west, the vast minority of production is consumed in this manner especially in the towns over 3000 meters where it alleviates altitude sickness and allows the miners to continue working in their medevial conditions in the silver and tin mines i was to see a few days later.
I was on the move though, heading away from the frenzied and crowded carnival in Rio and towards the Salar De Uyuni on the far side of Bolivia, this was the scenic route i had elected to take, an edited view of a future trip.
I had underestimated the fact that it was carnival everywhere and that in Santa Cruz, instead of water balloons being flung at anything that moves, as is traditional every where else in Bolivia here it was water pistols filled with paint. I had 3 days here and gave one over to letting myself sacrifice a tee shirt and shorts in order to participate in the revelry. I was with a couple of German nurses who took great pleasure in squirting anyone who looked too clean- very few - especially old women on benches in the plaza. It was fun, though it took over a week to remove all the paint and whilst i hid for the rest of my stay there, i felt very sorry for three toed sloths who live in the trees above the square.
I made my escape, the revellries got more intense each day and i continued to Sucre by plane though was stuck in Cochabamba for a night when my connection failed to materielise.
Sucre is a beautiful city whose center is surrounded by white washed buildings built over 200-300 years ago. I was now in a part of south America that was colonised by the Spaniards as they Plundered the continent beginning in the late 1500s. I did little here, my ultimet goal still lay a few days to the east and so i continued after a few days here to acclimatise at 8000ft.
My next stop was the breathless city of Potosi at a gasping 12000ft, the highest city in the world and it took some serious effort to climb my hotel stairs with my pack. This city is famous for the contents of the hill above it where silver has been mined for over 500 years. I noticed sitting the square that there were more physical and mental deformities than i had seen before, i suspect due to the isolation of this region and the unhealthy conditions the miners have been exposed to over so many generations, eventually poisoning their blood, from father to son and the environment around them
One more leg to my goal and i took the 6 hour bus through the most incredible landscape i had encountered since Patagonia as we traversed canyons littered with huge cactus. Lamas grazing in huge herds, sheep and donkies chewing the sparse grass and the requisite old croon sheltered by a plastic sheet, huddled against a wall, a speck on the vast landscape guarding the flock. We passed more remote mines as we covered the 300kms of unpaved road, the run off scarring the landscape, grey streams, a poison glint. And soon we came out of the hills and entered the dessert, the mirage of the Salar de Uyuni wavering under an incredible sunset across the horizon and all of a sudden i felt the weight of the last week of traveling in Bolivia lift from my shoulders and i knew.. I dont like cities...
So i am here in Uyunu, a small town that is in the south west corner of the largest salt lake in the world. I can smell Chile which is close and i know that whilst a week ago i wanted only my bed, my couch, my tunes, as soon as i have finished the 3 day exbidition into the Salar, everything will rush to a close at frightening speed. On every long trip, every traveler gets the "get me on a plane days, when the realisation of distance covered, of different beds every 2-3 nights, just gets too much. But with this incredible place before, i am over that and so will enjoy