March 2006

Me, Isla del SolI’ve been in Bolivia for about two weeks now; it’s become my favourite country in South America. There’s good weather, friendly people and it’s cheap – less than £1 for a room or a meal. I spent two days on Isla del Sol, an island on Lake Titicaca, 3800m above sea level. It feels isolated from the rest of the world – it’s without roads or flushing toilets, and there’s no electricty for 18 hours a day. There’s only mountains, Incan ruins, cobbled paths, and lots of donkeys, llamas and sheep, hanging out in the sun.

La Paz

I left the island with an Australian girl I met there and we headed to La Paz, the world’s highest capital (except that it’s not quite the capital). It couldn’t have been more different than Isla del Sol. People are everywhere, pushing past each other, and traffic is a constant standstill with people shouting out their windows and using their horns constantly. The hundreds of shoe-shine boys in the streets of La Paz all wear balaclavas and look like terrorists (it looks very intimidating, but apparently it’s shameful to be a shoe-shine boy in La Paz). Frequent protests paraded down the streets, with riot police on standby; I saw a police truck speeding past, the back of which was full with army soldiers with and their huge guns, like a scene out of a war film. Despite the appeance, I had no problems, and visited the coca museum, a musical instruments museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Bolivian jungle

In a canoe, BoliviaAfter 3 days in La Paz I travelled 16 hours north by bus, down the world’s most dangerous road (it descends 3000m in 80km on edge-of-the-mountain roads), to a village called Rurre, and went on a 3 day tour of the jungle. I saw sloths and parrots, fed bananas to monkeys, meat to aligators (I almost lost an arm), and swam in the river with pink dolphins. They swam around us and played with our football. On the way back to Rurre, there was terrential rain and our jeep got stuck in the mud, so we all had to strip down to our shorts, get out of the jeep and into the mud and push!

Off to Brazil… 

I’m now in Santa Cruz, 28 hours by bus south-east of Rurre. We stopped off twice along the way, in little towns where people still use cattle and horse & cart to get around and dress like cowboys. The buses were like school buses and the roads unpaved, which made an interesting (and uncomfortable!) journey here. I’m waiting for a train to Brazil now. It’s called the “death train” for some reason and is another 21 hour journey; it’ll be my third consecutive night without a bed, so I’ll be glad to finally arrive in Brazil and not take any buses for a while! I met a 69 year old guy in Rurre who spent his whole life travelling, and he said there’s a place called Bonito in Brazil near the Bolivian border that has the clearest rivers he’s ever seen. So I’m heading there with a German guy I met in Rurre who liked the sound of the place too.

Yesterday, after 18 hours on a bus and shortly before getting on another overnight bus, we were desperate for a shower. We ordered a meal in a cheap local restaurant and when the owner asked if we wanted anything else, I said, “And a shower, too,” as a joke, and she said yes and let us use her shower while she cooked our meal!

A giant cactusI’ve just left the Galápagos islands after spending a week there, and arrived back in Guayaquil. I spent four days on a boat with 10 other people, spending each day on a different island and travelling to the next at night. It was a last minute decision, and was incredible. Each day we went snorkeling from the boat, and I swam with sea lions, sharks, and many colourful and weird coral fish. Snorkeling with sharks isn’t scary as they mind their own business, but the sea lions come right up to people inquisitively and look huge in the water! Most beaches were full of hundreds of sea lions sun-bathing and making strange noises, as well as crabs, iguanas, and cactii. I saw flamingos, sea turtles, one penguin, blue-footed boobies, and of course, giant tortoises.

It was almost surreal to see the fearlessness of the animals. None of the animals are afraid of people. Birds, crabs, sea lions and iguanas will come right up to a group of tourists on the beach to see what’s going on. The islands themselves are a paradise. The sea is transparent and the beaches have the finest, whitest sand I have ever seen. It was amazing to be there even before we saw any animals!

I have many photos of the Galápagos islands, which I hope to upload as soon as I can. Now though, I am back on the mainland, and tonight I’m finally leaving Ecuador after two months and heading to Bolivia by bus.