Ginette in Bolivia

13th July

Bus journey from Asuncion to Santa Cruz

This was a bus journey like no other long distance bus journey I have been on. We got on the bus at 7.30pm and did not get back off again until the border control at 07.00am. There was a toilet on board, but not one you would want to use, fortunately I had no desperate need to use it.

border control

at 7.00am we arrived at the Bolivian border control, j was oblivious to what was going on, people were disembarking with their bags but we clearly were not in Santa Cruz (my end destination). I quickly caught on and followed suit, I then had to take all my panniers across the road for inspection. Passport control was fairly straightforward if not a little protracted, first we had to queue to have our passports stamped for leaving Paraquay, then we had to complete a registeration form and enter a separate room for another photo and forms to be cleared, this was rewarded with a Bolivian stamp in the book. As I waited to go into the room I could clearly see the passenger in front of me approach one of the officers, shake his hand and give him some money (enclosed within his handshake) the officer didn’t say anything, he simply stamped the man’s documents and left the room. Once back outside we waited 10 mins with a lot of stray dogs before being asked to load all our bags on a static table and were given another form to complete about our luggage, this was then duly inspected by one of the officers. The whole procedure took about 1 hour – 1 hour and half (this was for a bus of about 30 people). As I stood there I took time to look at my surroundings, I was the only westerner, the landscape was flat (I’d expected huge mountains) and the ground was scattered with rubbish and looked very baron, I really hoped Bolivia was going to get better, because I was totally underwhelmed by what I could see and the immigration officers had hardly been friendly or welcoming. It is very strange crossing into a new country and not being able to understand a word that is spoken to me.

When I got back on the bus I realised my food bag had disappeared, I asked the driver and his mate but both looked confused, I can only imagine they thought the bag contained rubbish and it was cleared away with the other rubbish left on the bus. I didn’t initially worry because i knew breakfast would be served soon, I didn’t realise at this point that it was going to consist of a packet of biscuits and a carton of chocolate milk!

I bit my tongue, I had some nuts hidden away in my other bag, I could survive until lunchtime with what little I had, fortunately I hadn’t drunk my lemon juice from the night before so I knew I wasn’t going to waste away.

Before we set off some local Bolivian ladies got on the bus, dressed in the local attire of pleated skirt, pinafore and hats, they wandered up the aisle of the bus waving wads of Bolivian money, I imagine they were offering to exchange our currency from paraguay, but I was too tired to engage with them. They were on and off the bus very quickly so I don’t think anyone else took them up on their offer either.

The road down from the border was in a really bad state, I’m not sure where Gary will be crossing into Bolivia but I don’t envy anyone cycling along that road, it was full of rubble and made for a very bumpy ride. On a brighter note I was quite excited to see lots of small green parrot type birds in the trees, I am not sure what they were but they were very colourful and just the boost I needed.

The landscape changed later in the morning and I got quite excited when I spotted mountains in the distance, however they remained in the distance and when the bus entered Santa Cruz at 6.30pm (1 and 1/2 hours later than scheduled) I was surprised to find we were only at 400 meters above sea level.

Lunch arrived at about 1.00pm, I was starving, the drivers mate handed me a box containing rice and chicken, I explained again, I was a vegetarian and he grunted and asked if I wanted fruit (“fruitas?”). I could see the stall that was suppling the rice and chicken and asked if I could go out to speak to her. The drivers mate didn’t understand me but happily let me get off the bus (this was a treat because we hadn’t been invited to disembark, it was great to stretch my legs). I could see the lady had salad and rice so I asked for these to be put in a carton/tray for me, she pointed to some potatoes and I gladly accepted. Hooray and relieve I wasn’t looking forward to eating the two small boys who were sat next to me throughout the journey. The boys were a delight and had been exceptionally well behaved only playing up during some of the more violent scenes on the loud TV screen (acting out fighting scenes). I couldn’t believe they were showing certificate 18 films when there were young children on board. Not long after the bus set off one of the parents knocked on the drivers door, I thought he was complaining about the violence but instead he’d asked for the volume to be turned up – unbelievable.

The bus arrived at Santa Cruz bus station at 6.30 (an hour and half later than scheduled). The terminal is huge and a hive of activity, I quickly unloaded my bike and made my way to the exit. It was dark and there were thousands of people hustling around. I decided for my own sanity I would pass on getting my next bus (my original plan) and wait until the morning. I could spot several hotels opposite the bus terminal and I made my way throw the masses of people to check into one of them.

Day Santa Cruz

Not surprisingly I slept well, I was exhausted.

Woke did the blog and feeling stronger and more confident I ventured back to the bus station to order my ticket for the next stage of my journey. I was pleasantly surprised to see the terminal was much calmer than the previous evening and I was able to procure my ticket without any issues.

With a full 7 hours to kill, I decided to venture out and see the city. I used Maps.me to guide me to several monuments and to the Cathedral. My timing was perfect and I was able to stand at the back of the cathedral while the Sunday service was held. I have no idea what they were saying or doing but I was memorised and felt very serene and privileged to be part of the service.

I spent an hour simply sitting and watching people in one of the main squares, there is a real difference between the older and younger generation. The older ladies were mainly dressed in the pleated skirt and pinafores that I had seen the ladies on the bus wearing. Some ladies had donned the very traditional outfits for photo opportunities and to make some money. I saw a number of older men chewing what I can only image is coca leaves, their cheeks were bulging not very attractive.

There were a number of small fruit sellars but most of the shops were shut, which was a shame as I fancied a mooch around. Instead I found a bar and sat back and enjoyed a beer in the sun. There seem to be more bars in Bolivia than in Paraguay, where there were mainly restaurants/cafes that sold beer along with food.

When I arrived at the bus terminal the lady who had sold me my ticket was outside touting for more passengers, she instantly recognised me, I’m not sure whether the bike gave it away or my white hair which stood out amongst the throng of other passengers. She escorted me through the terminal and allowed me to park my park in safety while I went to get some dinner.

The bus was an improvement on the previous one but it had one huge fault the reclining seats, reclined all the way back on to the passenger behind, leaving no leg room at all. To make this situation worse the man in front of me could not decide if he wanted to be upright or horizontal and on several occasions came crashing down on my lap. My legs are both bruised as a result.

It was impossible to sleep on this bus as the road conditions were horrendous, with large craters in the road. The luggage in the over head compartments fell down several times, windows opened and closed with the jolt of the bus, the ride should have come with a health warning for anyone who was pregnant or had a bad back.

We did stop just before midnight it was great to get out and stretch before the next stretch of road. I looked out of the window a lot during the evening and I was surprised at what we were driving through. There had been several land slides with huge rocks dangerously laying on the road and hanging from the mountain side. After a while I decided it was probably best to close my eyes and try and sleep.

We arrived in Sucre earlier than expected, it was cold and not as busy as Santa Cruz. I could see in the distance that we were much closer to the mountains and I felt we were much higher (2810 meters above sea level) as my ears had popped several times during the night due to the change in altitude. I used maps.me to make my way to my hostel, which I had arranged to access early. I had not anticipated struggling with the altitude and when I came to a steep hill, I struggled to push the bike up it, fortunately a local man saw me struggling and helped me push the bike up it. I thanked him and apologised that I could not speak spanish, he laughed and indicated there were lots of hills in Sucre, later that day I was to realise how true this statement was. Within 15 minutes of arriving at my hostel, I was in bed fast asleep, I couldn’t even be bothered to shower or eat, I was exhausted.

Sucre

I woke at about 9.30am and helped myself to a very basic breakfast of cereal, bread and jam. I had a full schedule for the day including showering, booking Spanish lessons, laundry (my clothes stink), shopping for food and looking round Sucre. All of which I achieved although the launderette was closed. I couldn’t find a self service one but found one that I could leave my clothes with the following day. As I navigated my way round the white washed colonial buildings, I found every time I encountered a hill, I would struggle to catch my breath, a sure sign that I was at a higher altitude than previously. The sun was out but the temperature was in the late teens, I need to purchase another jumper and maybe a new pair of lungs.

Sucre is located in the southern part of Bolivia’s Central Highlands, it is in a valley surrounded by low mountains. As I walked around the city I could appreciate why it has been described as the prettiest city in Bolivia. It is much cleaner than other South American cities we have visited on our travels and there are a lot of museums, bell towers and plaza like squares for me to explore during my stay.

In the evening I chatted with an older French couple who had arrived that morning to commence a tour of South America,  unfortunately the airline had lost part of their luggage which meant they’d spent the day trying to replace jumpers, trousers etc. This would not have been an easy task, firstly because the people here are shorter than us westerners, the man was at least 6 foot tall and secondly they did not speak a word of Spanish. I had looked round the shops earlier in the day and nothing was marked with a price and when I asked in my best Spanish how much an item was, I struggled to understand the response and then to convert the currency into English. I left empty handed. Unlike the French couple I did not have deep pockets. They’d apparently accepted the price given and simply handed over their credit card. I know there is scope to haggle (which I despise) when I have walked away from sale assistant I have asked me to enter the price I would like to pay on a calculator. I also know from experience that South Americans will try and charge gringos a higher price, therefore it is always wise to go harmed with the local price so that you can query the price offered and if you like haggle.

I spent a very quiet night in my room watching a Spanish film, I’d hoped staying in a hostel I would meet others learning Spanish but so far I have met the french couple, a German couple and a lady from Italy. None of which are in Sucre to learn Spanish.

I will be moving accommodation on Wednesday, hopefully there will be others that are learning the language and we can practice together. The idea of coming to Sucre was so that I can immerse myself in the language and culture.

Sucre day 2

I awoke early and practiced some Spanish before breakfast. My first stop was to drop off the laundry and then to attend my first Spanish lesson. I had a three hour individual lesson that went really well, I have booked for three weeks and I think it will take that long before I can spontaneously and confidently speak a sentence in Spanish. My old brain recognises the words but when it comes to speaking it, it withholds all the information and provides it in a jumbled state.

In the afternoon I went to back to the main plaza and went into the Casa de La Liberated this is considered to be the birthplace of Bolivia because the Declaration of Independence was signed in the building in 1825. I arrived during an English tour I think I missed the first 10-15 minutes, however it was very interesting listening to the guide describe the turbulent history of Bolivia. I also had a quick look round the cathedral before heading off to the market and shops for a browse around.

Sucre day 3

Again I woke early, which is not a bad thing as my Spanish lessons start at 08.30 and I have a 30 minute walk to access them. I packed up all my panniers and loaded my bike as I had booked another hostel for the following 3 nights. The one I was staying in was OK but they did not have any rooms left. I was also a little disappointed that I had not had an opportunity to practice any of my Spanish and I had to wait for kitchen to open before I could make myself a coffee in the morning. My Spanish lesson included a trip to the market and to a shop that sells xxxx my tutor helped me to order a vegetarian option which went well, we also took a look around the market and she provided me with the Spanish words for fruit and veg. It was good to walk around with my tutor as I could ask her lots of questions about Sucre and the way the city works. I am a little concerned our lessons are focused on verb formations which would be great if I had months here but as I only have a couple of weeks I will have to redirect the lessons tomorrow. I am also aware that we speak more English than Spanish as my tutor is very interested in England and I often have to help her find the English word she is looking for. She is lovely but my pace of learning is slow. I shouldn’t complain too much the lessons are only £4 an hour and I am sure they will adapt them to meet my needs.

In the afternoon I checked into my new hostel, the host was lovely but the accommodation was hard to find, run down and very noisy. A family have the room opposite to mine and they are very noisy, in addition my room is next to the main corrodor leading to the garage and exit which means I hear everyone coming and going. The internal noises are competing against the traffic and barking dogs. I’m glad I have my ear plugs. One of the first tasks I did when I checked in was book an apartment, I don’t know what it is going to be like but at least I will have all the space to myself instead of sharing bathrooms and kitchens. I will try and stay put for the period I have paid for but I may move sooner.

Fortunately the wifi is good which meant I had a brief conversation with Gary on line, we tried to face time each other and we briefly made contact but it was like being in a time machine his face flickered in front of me and he sounded 5 million miles away instead of 500. It made me quite emotional, although I’m enjoying my time in Sucre, it is not the same without him.

Thursday and Friday

More spanish lessons and more sight seeing. I am loving Sucre and being back in the classroom.

There were several protests in Sucre today by the indiginous people, I asked several people what they were protesting about but it would appear they protest often against the governement. They blocked the entrance to the main square which caused havoc with the traffic. There were a lot of guns being shot throughout the day, the locals seemed oblivious to but like the birds I didn’t like it. It did not feel threatening at all, if anything it felt like a caraval atmosphere, everynow and then they’d break into song and bang drums. Mainly it was a sit down protest with a large group of people wandering the town with banners.

I think it was a planned protest because usually in and around the square there are traffic mascots (men and women dressed in zebra, dinosuaur costumes) that help children cross the road and they were absent today. There was also a high level of police presence.

I have booked into an apartment across town and will be moving tomorrow. It is an AirbnB and surprisingly it will cost the same as the hostal.  The downside is it is slightly out of the city but within walking distance. On the upside no more sharing the toilet and kitchen.

Spoke to Gary last night, we used face time, he looks so unkept, very hairy yuk. He had just had a shower, the first since i left him last week.  I am so glad I chose not to continue in Paraguay, I would have hated it and this would have spoilt it for Gary. He seems to be enjoying the long roads, bugs, wildlife and camping. It will be interesting to see how the next year goes, we may be spending more weeks apart because reading his adventure does not appeal to me. It has been great to be around people, getting to know a city, rather than passing through it and doing something constructive.

 

 

 

 

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