Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Back to La Paz and in to Peru!

We've heard the road from Cochabamba to La Paz can be treacherous, and very cold. One of the guys we met on the death road bike ride bumped into us again as we were leaving Sucre, and told us how on the way from La Paz to Cocha his bus had been involved in a crash with another coach, and 4 people had died. That, plus the -5C temperatures do not make for a happy story, and contributed to our decision to fly, along with the avoidance of another overnight bus and comparatively quick travel times.

We avoid the taxis at the airport and jump on a public mini bus straight into town, saving us a fortune. The taxi drivers clearly just wait there for tourists as they get to charge more than 10 times as much as the bus, and we had a laugh with a few of them as they realised that we would not be needing their services after all. The bus drops us off somewhere in the vicinity of where we need to be, sort of. [CP - However the walk means we get to stop off at not one but two salteƱa shops for breakfast...Oh yeah!]

We manage to complete our tasks efficiently today:

1. Find hostel. We could not find the one we were looking for (walking up and down the steep streets of La Paz with our big backpacks is not easy back in La Paz at 3,600m) but instead found one for about $10 a night, double room, pretty basic, cold shower (who's showering anyway?), no windows, but safe and central. Done.

2. Book a bus for the next day to Arequipa, Peru. After asking in about 5 agencies, we settled for the agency that offered a bus that left the next morning at about 8am, only had one change, was full cama for the first half, and who gave us a 10 boliviano discount each...saving us a whopping £2! Done.

3. Book tickets to Cholita wrestling. This was easy. First agency, tickets issued immediately. 70 bolivianos each, which included transport there & back, two snacks or drinks (we will be getting popcorn, of course), and a special gift (which turned out to be a key ring). Done.

4. Hit the Coca museum. It was interesting to learn all about the coca industry, it's history, it's uses (medicinal, indigenous, as cocaine etc) and how to make cocaine. It is a shame that because of a little white powder known as cocaine, the coca growing industry in Bolivia (and other south American countries) has such a bad rep. Coca has been a staple of the indigenous population for centuries and it was only when when someone started mixing one of the alkaloids found in coca leaves with a lot of chemicals to produce cocaine that it started to become a concern for governments. Over the years, governments have tried to ban the production of coca (whilst some would quietly bankroll the production and export of cocaine - a couple of former South American leaders are rumoured to have been caught transporting it in vast quantities on board their presidential jets), which was a massive issue not only for the farmers, but for the population because the traditional and fundamental use of coca by the indigenous population as both a medicine and as food substitute made that ban impossible to maintain for any length of time. Not least because at the time of the conquests, the Spanish found that when a person chewed coca leaves, they could work for longer and harder and without food or water, making slave labour much more efficient! Anyways, we learnt that it was true that coca cola did originally contain cocaine, but since 1918 it has been replaced by an artificial supplement.

And so on to the Cholitas wrestling... Oh. My. God. What follows next is so incredible that I don't have the words to describe it, my vocabulary isn't sufficient. It falls into the "so bad, it's good" category. In the first match, the referee is in cahoots with one of the combatants, and takes great pleasure in delivering a few cheeky kicks to the opponent himself, must to the crowds dismay. Invariably the fighter being beaten for 90% of the match will win after connecting without one kick/punch/other. The crowd gets in on the act by throwing all sorts of food and trash at the ring.

This was the format of the first bout... and pretty much every one that followed. At one point someone goes under the ring to grab... a steel chair? No, an old plastic bucket, which is then thrown at his opponents head. I'm reminded of the old school WWF commentary: "Bah gawd King, he'll never get up from that... HE JUST DID!"

The pictures just don't do it justice.

We realise that today marks our 5 year anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than a ropey wrestling show in La Paz... we do at least manage a pretty decent Moroccan meal before retiring to our $5 a night hostel room (CP is really being spoilt today!), in advance of an early morning bus to take us across the border into Peru, through Puno, and then straight to Arequipa.

For the last 3 weeks my daily morning routine has involved waking up, gingerly toughing the outside of my nose to test the condition of whatever resides within, followed by a gentle nose blow, or a sneeze if I'm unlucky. Either way the next 5 minutes are spent attempting to stem the flow of blood. What comes out looks like it could be lumps of brain. Suffice to say, it hasn't been that enjoyable, and has no doubt hindered some of the fun times that we might otherwise have been experiencing.

I'm convinced this is due in part to an allergic reaction to Bolivia, and so when we finally get to the border I am genuinely excited. No extra "service fee" paid to the customs officers pocket on this occasion, and yes, we're in to Peru!

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