So when I eventually reached the town of Uyuni it did feel like I’d changed country, but it also felt like I’d changed decade. Over the previous three days of driving I’d been wondering whether to stay the night there, but on arrival it took three seconds to decide that that was going to be a massive no. If you’ve been regularly reading this blog, it’s probably easy to guess the word I’d use to describe it. Yeah, shithole. Rather like San Pedro, it was a case of getting in and getting out as fast as possible. I was tired and I hadn’t had a proper shower for five days, but I had to leave. I decided I’d take the night bus to Sucre, and just feel sorry for the person sat next to me.
It was a horrendous journey. Bumpy, cold, sleepless, I repeatedly burned my leg on a hot pipe running along the side of the lump of metal they called a bus, and the little Bolivian woman sat next to me clearly didn’t mind the smell, she kept trying to sleep on my arm. There were so many little people in Bolivia. I’d been expecting it but it still surprised me. I’m not even that tall and I towered over so many people. It reminded me of the time Peter Crouch came on as a sub for England alongside Shaun Wright-Phillips.
I got to Sucre in the early hours of the morning and finally there I could shower. It didn’t really work, but it was one of the greatest showers I’ve ever had. A shower to rival any I’ve had in the aftermath of a festival back home. It reminded me of the time in my teens, returning from Leeds Fest, when I managed to fall asleep at the beginning of the journey home and some patchy moments later seemed to wake up in the shower in my bathroom. I really wished I could have somehow skipped remembering this journey – the bumps, the burns, the Bolivian. I could at least have a good sleep now. It was nice to be back in ‘normal’ circumstances.
Those quotation marks were there on purpose. Bolivia is weird. In Sucre I was woken up every morning by car alarms. Alarms, from one car. I found it strange that the same car seemed to go off like clockwork at 7 in the morning, every morning. I also have no idea why every car here seems to have the same five or six different alarm settings on a loop, taking it in turns to annoy you. It’s so noticeable because they go off so regularly, and it’s so hard to understand why, it happens with nobody nearby. Why? I’ve managed to talk an awful lot about car alarms, and it’s made me realise I’ve probably got too much time on my hands at the moment. Anyway early into my time in Bolivia when this first happened, I just brushed this one off. Moderately strange.
Sucre is actually very nice. On a ratio of value to shithousery, it’s probably the best I’ve been to in South America. Everything is so cheap, while the place isn’t that minging. The market is great for street food while there are a number of good cafes that can see to the first world problem that is a demand for working wifi. I didn’t expect to be able to enjoy walking around a city in Bolivia, so now I’d imagine Sucre is the only place where this is possible.
While I was there I heard many whispers of a festival taking place at the weekend, so I decided to stay an extra few days to be able to go. In a village around 65km outside Sucre called Tarabuco, the annual Pujllay festival always takes place on the third Sunday of March. I went along with pretty much the whole of the hostel I was at. It’s a chance for people from the local surrounding villages to celebrate their national heritage, many of whom speak the ancient language Quechua and dress in traditional Bolivian styled clothing.
To me it was just a bunch of nutters dressed up in bright colours, dancing through the streets, with the oddly placed cymbals attached to the backs of their feet clinking with every step. There were also lots of panpipes. I’m still a bit unsure what it was I attended. Even the President of Bolivia was there, and to my knowledge delivered a speech about the importance of keeping these traditions. Nothing too political. I found it difficult to understand. The next bloke who spoke seemed to be the leader of all the local natives, and I found it much harder to translate his Spanish. It was only afterwards I was informed he had for the whole time been speaking in Quechua.
The weirdness did not stop. My next destination was La Paz, a 12-hour journey on the bus, where obviously the Bolivian bus company had both me and a French man with tickets for seat number 26. Of course they wrote the wrong number on my ticket. The air in La Paz is truly atrocious. As I first walked through the city I just got hit in the face by the pollution. I was also nearly hit by something a little heavier, a taxi, the roads are more chaotic than attitudes to apples on the Chilean border. I don’t think as a traveller La Paz is a city you want to spend much time in, and I was happy to make mine a brief stay. It’s still a crazy sight to see the thousands of houses stacked away in the mountains, a whole city touching the clouds almost.
I found walking around La Paz far more difficult than walking should be. For a start I’m not used to the altitude and therefore every so often I found it easy to lose my breath. There’s the pollution from the car fumes, so I tended to only breath through the nose, so breathing became even harder, but then that causes its own problems, much of La Paz smells like a toilet. You’re lucky to make it down a side road without having to sidestep the piss stream of a man in full flow, and the smell everywhere reminded me of walking round Rio. It was no win. I’m probably being a drama queen here, but it did make me change how I would normally see a new place. Rather than the usual aimless wondering with little end product, I decided to be a lot more direct to get to places, like replacing Roberto Martinez as your manager with Sam Allardyce.
I stayed in the infamous Irish-themed Wild Rover hostel in La Paz. I’d heard so much about it from various people along the way, and even though I wasn’t really bothered about non-stop partying I was simply curious. Shipping up to Boston by The Dropkick Murphys every five minutes, and all a bit we like to drink with Michael and down it traveller for my liking, it was like an international Ricky Road. By this point I was already looking forward to getting to Peru, surely life makes sense there?
Even the pigeons in Bolivia managed to piss me off. I understand there are far more important things to think about in life, but it’s an observation I somehow keep making that the pigeons in South America are far more fearless than back home, and in Bolivia they took it to a new level. They flap so much closer to your head. Why are there so many as well? The biggest dickhead in the world isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the man who dropped the crumbs of his crisps a meter from my foot to give me a pigeon shower. Despite all that, the fact I have managed a full paragraph on pigeons has further made me realise I’ve probably got too much time on my hands at the moment. I think leaving Bolivia would the best way to stop me fully losing my mind.
In an earlier post I slated Paraguay and called it the most bizarre country I’ve been to. Bolivia takes that position now, but it’s been different. I hated Paraguay because it was weird and there was nothing interesting about it. Bolivia has also been weird, but it’s been strangely enjoyable, there’s a certain charm about the place and its people. Even the men who hiss at you for being a gringo aren’t intimidating like they can be in Brazil, they’re just funny and small, bless. Everything’s so much more fun when it’s mini. There have been so many strange little occurrences I couldn’t imagine happening at home. A man tried to sell me a stone he’d just picked up off the floor. I could see a snow capped mountain from a pub window. A street performing clown absolutely rinsed me, the gringo, in front of a 200-strong Bolivian crowd. I watched an old woman waddle up a hill hitting her llama with a stick.
At this point my Bolivian experience wasn’t over just yet, I had Lake Titicaca to come. Though as I’ll reveal next time I had difficulties in posting this while there, as I tried to get by in some rather uncertain circumstances. One thing I am certain about however, is that it’s no longer worth the time and effort attempting to make sense of anything that happens in this country. Bolivia is undeniably, quite hilariously, inconsiderably mental.