Well, so, I was leaving Sucre to go to La Paz when that damn bus broke down. The nine hours by the side of the road were pretty painful but fortunately the grandmother sitting beside me saved me a seat on each of the subsequent buses we had to catch. Bolivia was looking fairly grim but I must admit that this probably had more to do with my mood than anything else. Plus we seemed to be safely out of llama country which was a shame.
We passed through one town which had a queue about 30 vehicles long waiting at the petrol station. The queue included everything from motorbikes, cars, buses, mini buses and a large proportion of tractors. It was then that I realised that a few seats ahead of me were some English people. Later, as we pulled into La Paz I ran over to them and asked if I could follow them to whichever hostel they were staying in.
Thank goodness they said yes.
Tom and Katie (no, for real) were lovely and seemed to know so many people. I had a great weekend with them, again fortunately since we were stuck in La Paz because of the referendum, whch meant that for at least two days the buses were going nowhere. It was also a dry weekend- no alkholl!
Well the first day we headed out in the morning and there was something a little special going on, minatures of EVERYTHING were being sold. We bought some fake money and later worked out that we had to get it blessed before midday and we would have good luck for the year. People were buying all kinds of things, mini houses, cars, suitcases stuffed with cash, mini lap tops, shops, offices... it was only after 12 that we realised we should have invested in a bus!
And things got only more surreal as a group of nine of us went to San Pedro prison in the afternoon. Yes, we paid good money to enter a South American prison. Now, I have never been in a prison before but i have watched enough 'Porridge' and 'Prisoner Cell Block H' to feel that I know how it works. And I have certainly never seen one where the prisoners have to rent or buy their cells or where they have the keys and the guards dont.
We went approached by some guy on the street who told us that he was a prisoner and he would take us in, for a fee of course. Turns out that he was on the verge of being released so was allowed out during the day, with his wife and kids, who live with him in the prison. And things didnt get any less odd after that.
We were taken to meet a Colombian guy who claimed to have worked with Pablo Escobar (though I cant find any reference to him on the interweb) and spent most of the afternoon sat in his cell with another guy who had been caught trying to smuggle coke to Amsterdam.
It was a very strange day to say the least, coke was readily available but no beer- it is a prison after all! There are loads of wives and kids also living in the prison and half the people there seemed to be ex cons coming to visit their mates. The guy showing us around was unlikeable at first but we grew fond of him throughout the day and it was hard to go to the gates and walk out knowing that he wouldnt be doing the same for another 2 years or more.
The next day was the referendum and La Paz was like a ghost town, no cars anywhere. A group of us walked up to a look out point and, well, looked out. Later we descended on one of the fe restaurants open that day- a British Indian curry house! Hooray! Complete with Turkish waiter and fifteen of us gringo backpacker types. Those in the hostel that didnt go to the restaurant seemed to get take out- made for some pretty nasty bathroom visits the next day in a hostel where nearly 180 people had eaten curry the night before.....phew.
Of course all the bars were closed but the one in the hostel stayed open, on the condition that we were all quiet. All 180 of us. We managed it and didnt get closed down and in fact had one of my best nights in a long time.
The next day a group of us wandered around the Witches' Market and then yesterday I got on a bus to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the highest, biggest lakes in the world. The bus was pretty small and made to Bolivian size, which meant that the headrest was firmly cloaking my shoulders. I didnt feel so good, I am sure that this was in no way related to the Ausie Day celebrations in the hostel the night before!
After a couple of hours the bus stopped, I didnt know why, and everyone got off. I followed them and bought a ticket for something. Hum, then followed them onto a small boat. At the same time our bus was being driven onto a slightly bigger boat and we took a shortcut across one of the narrower parts of Lake Titicaca. Now I understood why the buses were so small.
An hour later I arrived in Copacabana and coped out by just going into the nearest hotel without looking around. Today I paid an extra couple of quid ot move to a room with a bathroom and a view over the lake. Bargain.
I was going to take a boat ride out to Isla del Sol but it has been raining and hailing all day so I feel OK about not doing much.
Catching the bus to Peru tomorrow- wish me luck!