A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Tracy Chap

Incredible peaks and familiar troughs

One of my favourite Buddhist poems is called An Autobiography in Five Chapters. It describes someone who walks down a street and continues to fall in the same hole in the sidewalk. It is an analogy of the human tendency to make the same mistake over and over until eventually managing to avoid it. Eventually, the person sees the hole in the sidewalk and walks around it, and in the last chapter they walk down a different street. It’s funny how sometimes, just when you feel like you are growing wiser and more enlightened, something happens which brings you back down to earth and makes you realise how far you still have to go.

Since leaving the animal park, where I spent nearly 3 months volunteering in Bolivia, I have taken every opportunity to have some down time and recharge. As fun as my time there was, I felt pretty burnt out and out of balance when I left. When I arrived in Cusco I purposely chose a quiet hostel, booked myself into a private room, and made a conscious effort not to meet people (which probably sounds strange, but to me it was absolute bliss and just what I needed). I returned to eating lunch everyday in the central market and interacting with the locals there, catching up on my much missed fruit shakes, and devouring the rest of my book. I tried to do yoga and meditation most mornings and could feel myself coming back to more of a zen state.

One of the things I was also keen to do was to get back into trekking in the wilderness. So I organized to do the 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu (prounouced ‘machu piKCHu’, meaning ‘old peak’, as appose to ‘machu piCHu’, meaning ‘old penis’). The trek was fantastic. We hiked about 8 hours per day, climbed 4600mts above sea level to see the enormous, snow covered Salkantay mountain, and then headed into the jungle. We visited Machu Picchu on the last day and it completely exceeded my expectations. Its huge size and large degree of preservation make it so impressive and fascinating, and the mountains and valleys that surround it are incredibly beautiful. The fact that the city is perched right on the peak of a huge mountain, feels like you’re hovering above the earth with your head in the clouds.

Despite enjoying every minute of the trek, it was long and hard and by the end of it I felt tired. After waking up at 3am in the morning on the last day to hike up the 1800 steps to the entrance of Machu Picchu, and only arriving back into Cusco at midnight that night, I was spent. I had no energy left for sentimental goodbyes to the group and just headed for the closest taxi and straight to bed. The next morning I woke feeling pretty worn. But I did some yoga and meditation, and finished off with my usual mantras of ‘wishing myself to be calm and free from anger’. After a glimpse of inner serenity, I felt psychologically armoured to tackle the day and do the things I needed to do.

First on my to-do-list was returning the rental gear to the rental shop, with my Austrian friend, Miguel, who I had hired the gear with. We were feeling a bit nervous about going back because one of Miguel’s rented hiking boots had fallen apart during Day 2 of the trek, and we were not sure how the owner, an overweight, hot blooded, Eastern European man, whose shady character was obvious from the beginning, was going to take it. Things proceeded rather well until, as we had anticipated, Miguel brought up the issue with the boot. The owner refused to take any responsibility over the faulty shoe and started demanding that Miguel pay to get it fixed, refusing to give him back his deposit until he did. Things escalated quickly from there with the owner refusing to listen to a word Miguel was saying, but rather shouting to his face “fix my shoe” at the top of his voice. Suddenly I felt my patience run out and I started yelling too, telling him that he was so obviously in the wrong by renting a faulty product and how could he not recognise that. Somehow the boot ended up in my hands and with the tension and fighting having reached epic levels I decided I would show him what I thought of his shoe and threw it out onto the street. The act certainly worked in terms of shock value as he didn’t really know what to do then. After that he refused to give us any of our deposits back for any of the gear we rented off him, so I explained that if he was going to act that way, we were entitled to keep the gear we rented (which was two sleeping bags). I then proceeded to rip out his copy of our invoice from his book (“remove anything he could use as potentially incriminating evidence”, was what was running through my mind). Seconds later, Miguel and I stormed out of the shop still grasping our sleeping bags, with both parties exchanging mutual threats to call the police. In the end, we decided to head straight back to the hostel, rather than to the police station, and just leave the whole situation. He had made a decent sale on some sleeping bags and we were happy with the exchange.

On the way back were still both pumped with adrenaline but couldn’t help entering into a fit of laughter. Both of us continued to laugh out loud when we thought about it for the rest of the day. “Who throws a shoe?” was my friend’s response when I retold the story that night at dinner. But although I could laugh about it instantly and forget about it within a day or two, I was certainly reminded of how unfree from anger, and unenlightened I still am.

Apart from this crazy incident, I really enjoyed my time in Cusco. As well as some much needed solitude, I also ended up meeting some very nice people there, and enjoyed a couple of good dinners and drinks with them. The trek was great and Machu Picchu was a definite highlight of my trip. I found the best hot chocolates in all of South America in Jack’s café, loved the local food that I tried – especially the cerviche, and pisco sours became my new favourite cocktail.

And though I momentarily found myself in a familiar hole in the sidewalk, I managed to get out quickly, and can reassure myself that I often manage to walk around it. Hopefully one day, I’ll walk down a different street.

Starting off on the trek

Starting off on the trek


At the highest point

At the highest point


Just a casual 4600 metres

Just a casual 4600 metres


The beast itself, Salkantay

The beast itself, Salkantay


Some of the scenery

Some of the scenery


salk_trek_general.jpg

Posted by Tracy Chap 19:04 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Diary of a cat walker - Pt 2

Day 27
The drama was in full swing at Ambue Ari this morning. After walking Wayra, we were in the comedor having breakfast when someone shouted out that Wara had been spotted near the Pios (big emu like birds). Apparently, Wara had jumped into the pios’ cage and three out of the four pios jumped out and escaped into the jungle. People came very close to catching Wara and were only inches away from her, but she got away again, and the Wara hunt continues.

After breakfast we went off searching for the escaped pios. Along the way, I got to meet a very handsome male puma called Tupac and got to see his amazing lagoon. Talk about 5 star accommodation. We didn’t find any of the pios but one of them was tracked down by another volunteer and returned to its cage. The two other escaped Pios are still wandering around the jungle, hope it not high for them surviving.

Day 31:
Had the best day ever with Katie today! I was tired and still recovering from a big weekend and she was hot and had a sore paw. We have discovered recently that she loves water poured on her and usually falls asleep when we do this. Today as I was pouring water on her and she was resting, she let me get very physically close to her and I was able to pat her for ages. At one point I was almost resting my head against her. I felt in complete love with her today and can’t believe how close we have been getting in this last week. Ever since I had the confidence to put my fist in her jaw, I feel like I have gained more respect from her and have lost a lot of fear. I no longer flinch when she jumps or plays with me and I think this has helped us to bond.

The sad thing is that, due to an increase in volunteer numbers, Katie is now going onto full days and, since I am still looking after Leo and Wayra, I will be coming off her. I am happy for her but sad to be leaving. I wonder how much closer we would get if we stayed together for another month. She is definitely a cat worth coming back for and I look forward to seeing her again down the track. I might even sneak in a few visits over the rest of my time here if I can.

Katie and I on that special day

Katie and I on that special day

Day 33:
Went swimming for the first time in Wayra’s lagoon today. It was a stinking hot day and at 7am in the morning we were already sweating. It was only my second swim in any form of water since I was in Brazil (almost 6 months ago). Despite my initial fear of being bitten by a cayman or a snake, the swim was fantastic. We couldn’t entice Wayra to come in though, despite her being known to love swimming. She did decide she wanted to leave the minute I came out, however, which meant for some very quick drying off and dressing.

Had my last day with Katie today. She was beautiful as always and it was heart breaking to leave her.

Chris, my lovely partner, finished up his time here and is on his way back to London. I am very sad not to be working with him anymore.

Didn’t walk Leo today so had the afternoon to chill, which was much needed after several long, extremely hot days and wild nights.

Wara is still not back. The overnight camping by her cage continues.

Day 41:
Extended my stay for another rmonth. Just loving it here too much to leave yet.

Wara the missing puma is still not back. She has been spotted a few times but hasn’t yet been caught. Everyone is still hopeful that she will return but she has broken the record for the amount of time a cat has been missing, with 18 days and coutning.

I am not walking Katie anymore but the her volunteers tell me that things are a little strange with her at the moment. Apparently she is on heat and has a wild male jaguar (who people have nicknamed Edward) visiting her. They were spotted walking together along one side of her cage, separated only by the cage wall itself. This has meant that she hasn’t been interested in the volunteers and doesn’t want to walk at all.

Leo is doing well and is as beautiful as ever to work with but we did have an incident yesterday. He is well known for his postential to become aggressive at times when you go to rope him or unrope him in his double doors. However, this had never happended to me before… until yesterday. I headed into his double doors to attach his rope (a small 1 metre x 1 metre space) and as I leant down to put his carabina on he went to bite me. After my second attempt he turned around and jumped me with his jaw open ready to bite, with an expression that suggested he wasn’t just wanting to play. After mastering it with Katie, my instinct was to put my fist in his jaw. Scary as it was it worked and though he didn’t give up straight away, there was nothing he could do. He tried a few more times but each time was blocked by my hand. Meanwhile, I was completely stuck in the small cage, as we couldn’t open the door for us to come out unless he was attached to the rope. Eventually my partner opened the door to his big cage and he went in. I was quite shaken up and full of adrenaline afterwards, but felt happy that I hadn’t been injured and that I had managed to deal with the event so well.

It’s hard to know what could have triggered the incident for Leo, whether it was Chris leaving, the presence of two females (he does seem to love males), the change in volunteers in general, the weather, or something else.

Funnily enough, the worst injuries I have incurred in the park so far have come from the dancefloor. Last Friday, another volunteer and I organized a Vegas party in the usual Santa Maria haunt. Everyone dressed up Vegas style and looked great. I went as a bride and my co-organiser went as my groom. We had blackjack, poker and roulette and gave homemade chips to everyone to play with. (My co-organiser made the roulette wheel out of an old bike wheel!)

The following day was a Saturday and in the afternoon we headed down to the river in Santa Maria for a swim. Surrounded by lots of local children, I enjoyed swimming off my Vegas hangover and playing games with them. A wee trip up the river in a Bolivian man’s boat that a few of us borrowed, made it, all in all, a splendid weekend.

Vegas night

Vegas night


The happy couple

The happy couple


By the river in Santa Maria

By the river in Santa Maria

Day 42:
Wara the escaped puma came back yesterday. She was spotted a few times in the morning trying to hunt the pigs and pios, and eventually walked into a trap that they had set for her. Everyone felt instantly relieved. Amazingly, she arrived back just one hour before her volunteer, Monica, who’d spent every night over the past 3 weeks sleeping outside her cage, left the park to head home.

Wayra, my female puma, is going great guns. She is still as funny and complex as ever to work with but now she meows hello to me in the mornings, which we repeat back and forth to each other for a few seconds before her meowing turns into hissing and growling about going on a walk. But lately once she is out on her trails, she has been very happy and chilled out and quite a delight to work with. My goal at the moment is to try and get her swimming with me in her lagoon. This is something that she apparently loves and something that I would love to experience. She didn’t come in today but I will keep trying.

This morning when I headed back to camp I saw a tortoise wondering outside the dining room. It was beautiful. I got to pat its skin and shell, and feed it a banana. There are also some baby parrots that were brought to the park by locals and who now sit perched on a branch in the main part of the camp. They are constantly chirping and head bobbing in unison and are very cute to watch. It is such a reminder of what an incredible place this is and why there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back here one day.

Wayra resting after a walk

Wayra resting after a walk

Day 48:
Wow, time is passing fast! It is such an insulated microcosm of a place here that my perception of time is all over the place. A day can feel like a week, but a week can pass by in the blink of an eye.Yesterday, at the internet café in Guarayas, I saw some photos that an ex-volunteer posted up on facebook. It made me remember just how much fun I have had here.

The last week I have been going through a bit of a down patch though unfortunately. Things with Leo have changed a lot. We tried just having two girl volunteers working with him, but he was acting out too much. I got attacked again in the double doors and this time couldn’t get my fist in his jaw in time. He was much quicker this time clenching his teeth around my forearm while jumping me with his claws out. Again, due to the double doors, I had no opportunity to back away or get him off. I wasn’t badly injured, but I did get a range of scratches and a few tiny bite marks. I don’t think he was wanting to badly hurt me, he was just letting me know that he wasn’t happy and wasn’t feeling secure.
As a result we have brought on a new male and there are now three of us working with him until I leave in a week. It is a very different dynamic and Leo has continued to act out again every other day. We put it down to a rapid change of volunteers and think he will settle down again soon, but three people feels like a crowd with one puma. It ‘s hard to maintain as close attachment with him as I used to have, because we now have to, for want of a better word, share him a lot more. Unfortunately, I have gone from having my walks with him as being my favourite part of the day, to not looking forward to them much at all. I miss Chris who I worked with for one month with Leo and I now realize how magical our time together was.

But despite these changes, I also realise how fortunate I am to have had that time and to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing cats. Not everyone gets that chance here, so I have been truly blessed in that respect.

I am definitely starting to feel ready to move on from the park now. I pushed my leaving date early by half a week and am now heading off mid next week. The idea of travelling and having some solo time again feels very appealing so in some ways the timing could not be more perfect.

Day 68:
Well it’s been a long time since I wrote in this diary. Just as I was about to leave two weeks ago I ended up extending my stay another two weeks. I just wasn’t quite ready to leave and we are planning a big Halloween party for some of the guys’ birthdays, which I didn’t want to miss. So here I am, still enjoying my time here but also feeling ready to move on in a week.

Wayra is still going well. I have been on full days with her for a while now and enjoying them. She has continued to be very relaxed most of the time on her walks, sniffing and exploring her surroundings. She now has both morning and afternoons out of her cage and it has made a big difference to her mood. I still haven’t caught a glimpse of the Wayra who used to be one of the most dangerous cats in the park. She must be a changed cat. Sometimes she jumps me when I am running ahead of her and she catches up with me, but they are the softest, cutest little jumps. I secretly wish she would do them more often.

Lately she has also been giving me more love, which is nice (although it always depends on her mood). She even licked my face one day. And sometimes when she is asleep and really relaxed, I can sit cross legged behind her and stroke her in between pulling out her ticks - it’s amazing how accumstomed I have become to that! Other days when she is not in the mood, like today, she can hiss at me if I go to pat her. It all depends on her and the weather, which is why she is known as “the princess” of the park.

Speaking of weather, the rainy season has started here. We are getting a lot more rain which means a lot more mud and insects as well. There has been a migration of enormous bull ants that cover the ground like a blanket at night. The mosquitioes haven’t hit full force yet but are on their way. I am glad to be leaving before it really hits. From what I hear it gets pretty crazy here during the peak of the wet season. People can’t ever stay dry, they wade in knee deep water when walking their cats, have constant fungus, and need to wear rubber gloves due to the amount of mossies.

Around camp there has been a few changes. There are now 2 birds that are allowed out of their cages during the day. Lorenzo is a friendly but mishevous macaw who likes to swoop volunteers’ heads, eat buttons off shirts and try to get indoors. The second bird, Gordon, is the complete opposite. He is adorable and sweet. He can’t fly so he is very happy just to chill in one spot. He loves to laugh and chat and spead his wings to get people’s reactions. They and the two little baby parrots have created a great atmosphere around camp. Of course as well as Lucas, who makes regular visits (and who we are a bit concerned might try and eat the baby parrots), and the old tortoise who regularly escapes from quarantine.

I hear from the others that Leo is still a bit unsettled and is still jumping and biting on a regularly basis. It makes me sad to think he is not yet back to his relaxed, happy self yet. I miss him a lot, especially his beautiful purrs and affectionate ways. It is something you have to work very hard for with Wayra.

We have continued to have great parties in Santa Maria on the weekends, to the point where I will definitely be needing some serious respite when I leave. But a lot of the great friends I made here have moved on and there are so many new people arriving everyday that it doesn’t quite feel the same, and I haven’t got the energy to keep investing in getting to know each of them that well. It definitely feels like the right time to move on but I also have mixed feelings about doing so. I have been living so communally here for what feels like a long time, that to head off solo again is going to be strange and take some adjusting to. But I am also in desperate need of some solitude and a more balanced lifestyle… so I am sure it will be fine.

Day 80 (5 days after leaving camp):
Well I finally made the break and headed off 5 days ago with a few other volunteers that were also leaving on the same day. I found it very emotional to leave. It hit me when I started packing my bags the day before and the tears just started flowing. I realised how attached I had become to the place and knew I was going to miss everything about it. Particularly hard was saying goodbye to the Bolivian friends I had made there, especially my gorgeous little 4 year old pal, Gabby, who I had grown to love. Luckily, I am going to meet up with some of the close friends I made there in Colombia, which made saying those goodbyes much easier.

My little pal, Gabby and I

My little pal, Gabby and I

Saying goodbye to Wayra was sad but not as hard it was to say goodbye to Leo and Katie before. She was extra hissy on my last day, which only made me laugh. I will actually miss her angry moods, which over time I grew quite fond of.

I never did get Wayra swimming in the lagoon, despite my numerous attempts, and was jealous to hear that she went in immediately with her recently returned long-term volunteer.

One of the tiny parrots died a week before I left. No one really knows how but it may have been attacked by another animal or just fallen out of the tree. Everytime I walked past the cage afterwards I felt so sad to hear the squeaks of just one little lonely bird.

Gordon continued to be an absolute delight around camp. He even started coming into the dining room for meals and entertaining everyone with his giggles and wing spreads.

Halloween was a blast. I got very involved in organising it and making decorations for it. I spent the whole day painting a massive Halloween poster (well, when I say I painted it what I really mean is that I supervised a very talented young Bolivian female artist called Monica paint it – though I take credit for the creative concept). We cut out ghosts and pumpkins and stuck them around the pub and my ripped up mosquitoe nets looked incredible as spider webs. We had pumpkin carving and apple bobbing competitions, which were both great, and everyone went all out with their costumes.

It has now been five days since I left the park. I spent 2 nights in Santa Cruz with some other volunteers just relaxing by the pool, eating good food and catching up on sleep, and one night in La Paz with them as well.

Today is my second day of solo travel and I am sitting in a rustic café overlooking Lago Titicaca (“a lake with lots of titties and cacas”, as one guys described it on wikipedia before the entry got edited). Seeing water again is great and feeling like I am on vacation again is blissful. I met an Argentine girl last night who I have hooked up with again today. She is nice and interesting and best of all we speak completely in Spanish. After not using my Spanish very much for the last 3 months, it is wonderful to be speaking it again and reassuring to know it is not lost.

I have been in total detox mode since leaving the park and almost feel back to my normal self, which feels amazing and overdue. Even though the park was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, it was also extremely intense. Not having one day off for 10 weeks and not having a real moment of solitude or personal space, plus the rather large amount of partying we did, became incredibly exhausting and by the end I felt pretty burnt out.

But despite this, when I think back to the beautiful moments that I shared with the three incredible cats that I worked with, it feels completely worth it. Not ever really having been an animal person before, I feel like the park got me in touch with a side of myself that I had never really known, and now love. Also living in the jungle, amoung all the beautiful plants and wildlife, was such a different and amazing experience, that I think has also changed me in some way. It brings me back to a realisation that I've had before on this trip, that the things you least expect from your travels are often the most rewarding and life changing. And though I don’t know when I will return to Ambue Ari, I am certain that I will return at some point in the future, and that for a part of me, working with those amazing cats again will feel like coming home!

Dedicated to Katie, Leoncio and Wayra. May they continue to have happy, healthy and safe lives at the Ambue Ari Park, with much continued love and care from Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and current and future volunteers.

Monica working her magic

Monica working her magic


Halloween

Halloween


Halloween II - Note the effective spider web decorations in the background

Halloween II - Note the effective spider web decorations in the background

Posted by Tracy Chap 18:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Diary of a cat walker - Pt 1

Day 1
Arrived at Ambue Ari, Inti Wara Yassi’s main big cat refuge in the North East of Bolivia, after a 6 hour bus ride from Santa Cruz. Everyone in the nearest big town refers to the place as ‘El Parque’ pronounced ‘El Parkie’.

I was informed that the timing of my arrival was spot on because they had just finished fighting 4 days of fires and were in desperate need of more volunteers.

After a communal dinner, I caught the bus to the nearest small town, called Santa Maria, about 15 minutes away, for a drink with other volunteers who were letting off some steam (excuse the pun) after their week of fire fighting.

Had my first night sleeping on a hay mattress – actually not too bad, although was kept awake for 2 hours by snoring. He must have turned over eventually.

Pleasantly surprised by the lack of mosquitoes!

Day 2
Woke at 6.30am. Work starts at 7am here. I had my orientation and was assigned to two cats: Katie, a female Jaguar, and Leoncio, a male puma. Both are well-liked and supposedly great cats to work with. Spent the morning sitting in the hammock reading cat files.

After lunch I helped cut up food for the house animals and fed the birds. I squeaked louder than they did as big macaws flapped around me. I also watched a tiny monkey, who I later learnt was called Lucas, eat a banana in a tree. Lucas was a monkey who used to live in the park but was released. His integration into other monkey communities hasn’t gone great, however, so he returns to the park on a daily basis for food and company.

Got bitten by my first big bull ant. Ouch!

Still haven’t been bitten by a mosquito, but have noticed there are loads of flies, tiny ones that fly straight into your eye balls and are very annoying.

The weather is perfect, not too hot and not too cold, and lovely singlet temperature in the evenings. The sun goes fire orange when it sets in the afternoons. Probably still due to the fires.

There is a very established tight-knit group of volunteers here. The place has a school camp feel, which I think will be both good and bad. Definitely feel like the new kid on the block, but people seem nice enough. Lots of Aussies!

Day 5:
Started my weekly morning task of feeding Herbie, a big Tapir, and Ruldolpho and Bambi, two deers. Herbie is apparently a harmless thing but I kept my distance on the first day. He is probably the ugliest animal I have ever seen but also one of the cutest in the true meaning of the word (‘ugly but interesting’). Ruldopho has a reputation for charging at people with his horns, but they were much more interested in the food than they were in me.

Had my first day of walking Katie with an experienced volunteer, Matt. He is studying to be a vet and has been to the park several times so I felt like I was in good hands. It felt very surreal following a jaguar along a jungle trail connected by a rope. Katie seems a very calm and composed cat. She will stop to smell or observe things on her walks for short bursts of time, but she doesn’t frequently hunt, pounce or run(unless it is raining, as I discovered later…). She does like to sleep though and has a favourtie sleeping spot on her fire trail, which she is known to stay at for long periods of time.

When we arrived at “the spot” today, Katie consumed some grass and then proceeded to vomit it up. Apparently she does this every day and it’s quite normal. After that she slept for a good couple of hours. When Katie is sleeping it is almost impossoible to get her moving again. She is very intelligent and stubburn and doesn’t fall for any common tricks like walking on ahead. She will sleep until she is ready to move. There is one technique, though, that does work, but it is not a good idea to use it very often. It’s holding out a water bottle or a backpack. Katie loves them and will immediately pounce at one if you hold it infront of her. We used it today because due to the low number of volunteers, we had to get back in time to also walk Leo in the afternoon. It worked like a charm but is not the best or safest asociation to encrouage so we try to keep its use to a minimum.

Unfortuantely, we still got back too late in the day to walk Leo, so we just fed him. This was my second meeting of Leo and the first time I had seen him out of his cage. He is very different to Katie, not only looks wise, but in personality as well. Upon arriving to his cage every day, Leo has a routine of being pat through the wire for 5 mins or so before doing anything else. During this time, he is adorable, pushing his head into our hands and purring loudly the whole time. He also has the cutest comfort behaviour with his special blanket, which has been with him since he arrived in the park. Either before or after walking, he will decide to go to his blanket, which gets laid out on the ground for him, and proceed to lie down and suck it for an extended period of time, while simultaneously stretching his claws and purring. When he is on his blanket, we don’t interrupt him. He is in his own blanket trance. It is the cutest thing to watch!

Everything we do with Leo is part of a very set routine that we stick to like glue. This is because Leo was a very aggressive cat when he arrived in the park, due to his history of being abused by his owners. They used to beat him, hard enough to break his back legs. This is why Leo is such a special and complex cat to work with. But he has been extremely lucky to have some long term volunteers who have worked with getting him settled again, and largely by getting him into a regular, fixed routine in which he feels safe and calm.

Leo also has thing for boys and I am told not to take it personally if he is more affectionate with them. He especially likes their hairy sweaty arms and beards, and goes crazy licking their faces on a hot day. But he is also affectionate with girls and licks them too. His tongue is rough as sand paper and takes off a few layers of skin, but it is lovely to have a lick from Leo. He purrs loudly when he does it, which makes it all the nicer.

But Leo can also be quite temperamental and his mood can change quickly. He is known for becoming fiesty and aggressive at times. Today, he decided to demonstarte this. When Matt tried to put him back in his cage after coming off his blanket, he was very jumpy and tried biting him. Matt handled it well and it was good for me to see both how to handle it, and how Leo can suddenly switch.

Katie

Katie


Look at the face! Leoncio.

Look at the face! Leoncio.


Leo on his blanket

Leo on his blanket

Day 9
This morning we fed Katie, she was cool and calm as usual. In the afternoon we took Leo on a walk. He really is a cat after my own heart. I love how affectionate he is and how much he loves the jungle. I know he’s a big, grown up, adult puma but he looks so adorable when he is stalking along his trails, which he loves to do often.

Today we came across a racoon looking animal. It was behind us, and since we don’t let Leo go backwards on his path, I tried to stop him chasing for it. I failed miserably, but successfully managed to get some nasty rope burns. He also bolted ahead a few times and I had to run fast to keep up, once heading straight through a big branch. My only injury was a bite from a fire ant behind my ear, but god did it sting.

Leo was mainly calm and affectionate today but did get a little bity and jumpy when we didn’t allow him to go down one of his paths. He bit Ellie’s (another volunteer’s) boob, which is unlike him. I still feel nervous around Leo when he gets in these moods, but I am slowly becoming more confident about how to handle them.

In the evening we went into Santa Maria for a trivia night. It was also a costume party and the theme of the night was “trashy”. I had a lot of fun earlier in the day running around and making costumes for some of the boys out of what ever clothes were lying around camp. I was very impressed that they all willingly wore what I offered them. I then proceeded to get, shall we say, more than a bit tipsy on Bolivia’s 95% alcoholic drink, known as `portable´, the cheapest alcohol you can find here. I did a great interpretive dance with a very funny boy called Martin, then felt dizzy and passed out. All in all a typical “trashy” night.

Day 10
Still sticking to lastnight's theme, I woke up feeling still more than a little tipsy from the night before and went to breakfast still wearing my costume.

On Saturdays we have the afternoons off. It is our only break from work during the week. Me and few other girls headed into the nearest bigish town, called Guarayas, a 45 min bus ride away, to do some second hand shopping for formal dresses in the markets there, as there is a “ball” next Friday night. I had dinner with some of the girls in there and had an early night.

Day 11
Walked Katie today in the rain. Just as we set off with her it started to pour and didn’t stop for the next 2 hours. Katie is a completely different cat in the rain. Our usual one loop of her trails turned into about 4 circuits. She walked fast and without stopping once. We got completely drenched, but Katie loved it.

In the afternoon we walked Leo. It had stopped raining by then. He was beautiful and affectionate but also quite vague. I am slowly getting to know his numerous different moods.

In the evening we went into Santa Maria. The power cut out just after I put 5 songs on the jukebox (the only source of music that exists in thispart of the world), so we hitched a ride home.

My initial impression of a lack of mosquitoes has been altered due a lot of physical evidence of their existence… very itchy indeed!

A regular night at Santa Maria pub

A regular night at Santa Maria pub

Day 12
Fed Katie this morning. She seemed to have lots of energy so we did some running around her cage with her. She hid in the bushes and peered out at me. I peered back at her through the branches and she would eventually pounce out at me and start chasing me around the cage. We both enjoyed it and I think it helped us to bond more too. Hopefully she won’t see me as a toy the next time we go walking though.

Walked Leo in the afternoon. He was in a lazy, vague mood again, being more interested in sitting than hunting. I put his carabina on for the first time, in his double doors - a small cage with two doors attached to his big cage (like a little foyer). If Leo is going to act up, he often does it in the double doors, so I was a bit nervous. But he was absolutely fine.

At night me and some of the others chilled out in the comedor (the one and only communal space in the park). We played homemade scattegries and uno. I experienced a mini, personal uno renaissance after learning a new version of the game called “nazi uno”. Good laughs with the other volunteers.

Day 13
Chris (a new volunteer) and I walked Katie for the first time alone without our trainers: Ellie or Matt. Katie was great and walked a lot, although she still fell asleep in her favourite spot for a couple of hours. It took us a while to get her moving again (we are still on 2x cats per day so it is important for us to get back for Leo). We tried numerous things that didn’t work, like waving a branch in front of her. Unfortunately this only frustrated her and resulted in her trying to bite me. Lesson learnt with that one! I still get nervous when I see Katie’s big jaw coming toward me but she never hurts. Despite this, I feel like my bond with her is growing and she lets me give her more affection now on her trails. Chris and I both felt very proud to have done it by ourselves.

In the afternoon we walked Leo on our own too. Leo was calm, purring and affectionate today, but also very active on his walk. It is amazing that an animal with such killer instincts looks so adorable when he hunts. His stalking is my favourite part. I love following behind him trying to be as quiet and still as posible, wondering what he has seen or heard ,and waiting for the moment that he will pounce. He is much more of a hunter than Katie, and walks with him are always an adventure. He was very focussed on hunting today, constantly ducking in and out of the bushes and doing lots of running. But he always makes time to stop for a little pat and a purr along the way.

I had my first fall runnining behind him today. Unfortuanely I didn’t fit under the branches like he did and went tumbling. But I didn’t hurt myself, and actually I loved trying to keep up with him.

Both Katie and Leo, along with myself, have warmed quickly to Chris. He is a real natural with the cats and is very calm around them, even when they are jumping and biting him. He also has a great personality and I think we’re going to get along well, so I don’t mind spending all my days with him.

A lovely lick from Leo

A lovely lick from Leo

Katie and Chris

Katie and Chris

Day 14
It was rainy and windy today. We were warned at breakfast that our cats may be a bit more fiesty than usual. Such was the case with Katie this morning. She attacked me for the first time just after I put her carabina on. I managed to put it on her fine, but since Chris wasn’t there to meet us at the door just yet, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I stayed in the cage with her. Katie got restless and started to try and bite me. I was too nervous to put my fist in her mouth (a recommended technique to deal with biting, apparently this is uncomfortable for them and makes them stop) and just tried to pull her off, without much success, until Chris got there and grabbed the rope. Although I knew she wasn’t really going to hurt me, I still felt quite scared and was nervous walking her after that. After reflecting on it, I think she got bity because she was keen to leave her cage and the thing to have done would have been to have left her cage straight away and just start walking. I know that for next time.

Once we got walking, Katie was great. Because of the rain she ran a lot and even climbed a few trees. You always have to be careful with Katie of your body position or else she will jump you. Such as if you have your back turned (especially if you’re wearing a backpack!), or if you’re lying down and she has the upper ground. The latter happended to me today but she didn’t have her claws out and jumped off straight away. I am getting much less afraid of her jumping me now, and almost find it fun when she does.

My goal by the end of my time with Katie is to overcome my fear of putting my fist in her jaw and to feel confident to stop her from biting me.
There were tonnes of monkeys out in the jungle today. They made quite a racket swinging across branches and yapping to each other. The howler monkeys are the weirdest. They sound just like ghosts and can be really loud if they are close. There were also loads of birds, which all had totally different calls. It’s amazing to be able to observe the wildlife happening around us everyday.

Katie on a cold day

Katie on a cold day

Day 16
Chris and I got trained to play with Katie in her cage today. We basically take in some big toys and throw them around her cage and she chases them. It was amazing to see her running and jumping so freely without a rope. We had to be careful to always have a toy in our hands to throw to her or else she will see us as toys and come for us. But it worked great and she loved it, playing non-stop for 45 mins.

Day 18
My birthday!

I was woken this morning with birthday wishes from my lovely dorm mate, Suzy, who offered that I wear her tiara for the day (she bought it for the ball but never got to wear it because she was stuck out in the jungle until midnight with a cat who didn’t want to come home). She also gave me some beautiful fresh grapes – a real treat in these parts. I received a happy birthday from everyone in `announcios´, which was followed by the Bolivian tradition of having eggs and flour smashed on my head.

After a shower and shampoo, I headed off to do my morning tasks. Lucas the monkey jumped on my shoulders to try and steal the fruit I was grabbing for the other animals. I think he just wanted to say happy birthday as well.

Chris and I walked lovely Katie in the morning. Chris hid a present for me near her cage that I found as we were packing up. It was a nicely wrapped pack of museli bars, which was a very poignant gift since I complain of being hungry every day as we head back to camp. He is a real sweet heart!

In the afternoon I got to do something really special for my birthday… construction! I carried big heavy bags of sand through a long, half cut jungle trail, tipping over bamboo stumps and vines along the way. Probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life, let alone on my birthday.

I had a quiet night in camp to save myself for my and another guy’s combined birthday dinner in Guarayas tomorrow night. But Suzy cooked 2 birthday cakes for me, which were both delicious and devoured instantly. We then played one of the most intense uno games of my life, a genuine case of nazi uno! Overall, a very pleasant birthday.

Me wearing my tiara and chewing coca leaves to get through contruction on my birthday

Me wearing my tiara and chewing coca leaves to get through contruction on my birthday


Either us devouring Suzie's cakes on my birthday or a house for people with special needs. Hard to tell.

Either us devouring Suzie's cakes on my birthday or a house for people with special needs. Hard to tell.

Day 19
My birthday celebrations continued today. Etta, the Bolivian park director’s wife, cooked another cake for me and brought it out with a candle at breakfast. That night a group of us went to dinner in Guarayas and had a deliscious triple Milanesa - a steak with ham and chicken on top, covered by a parmagiana type sauce (much yummier than it sounds!). The night was a lot of fun.

Day 24
I walked a new cat today. Her name is Wayra and she’s a female puma. We have to head out at 7am in the morning because she walks much better at that time of day. She is a funny old thing, being quite relaxed in her cage, but very nervous and cranky on her trails. She growls and hisses a lot and needs someone to walk infront of her to feel safe. But once she reaches her lagoon, her favourite rest spot, she completely relaxes and enjoys a bit of a pat and a lick.

From my understanding, Wayra was plucked out of the jungle by hunters who then sold her to the circus. She must have been too wild for the circus though because they brought her to the park. We don’t know exactly how she was treated there, but by her current state, I would predict it wasn’t great. She has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cats in the park, or at least this is her history, but over the past few years she has had some great long term volunteers work with her, which I think has allowed her to become much more settled. She still needs to be walked on two ropes though incase she starts to act up. My insitial imporession is that she is really just a big softy who gets scared of the jungle. I guess I will find out if this is true or not over the coming weeks. She’s not quite like Leo or Katie to work with, but she is a cutie and in need of a lot of love and care.

Wayra - what a stunner!

Wayra - what a stunner!

Day 25
One of the cats escaped from the park yesterday. She’s a puma called Wara and is one of three sisters that all live together in the park. Somehow she escaped when the volunteers were putting her carabina on. Suzie and some others slept in the jungle last night but she didn’t return.

Tonight we went to Santa Maria to watch a David Lynch film called Wild at Heart. His movies are always very surreal but watching it in a pub with people playing pool right infront of us, and loud latino music blasting from the speakers, and a whole lot of locals standing outside peeking in and chatting amoungst themselves, made the film even more absurd. Great to relive some 80’s fashion though.

Day 26
It was a windy and cool day today, so we didn’t walk Wayra. We did walk Katie though, and like the last time the weather was bad, she started jumping and biting another volunteer, when she was trying to put her carabina on. I gave the volunteer a few mintues to handle it but then my fight/flight instinct kicked in and I went inside the cage to help. She had the volunteer’s t-shirt by the teeth. I tried pulling the rope to get her off, but then she turned on me. I can proudly say that, for the first time, I put my fist in her jaw and it worked like a charm. She stopped biting straight away. That won’t be the last time I use that. Once we got out of her cage and onto her trails she returned to her darling self.

In the afternoon we walked Leo and what an adventure we had. The wind had dropped down by then, but the temperature was still cool and Leo was more active than usual. A branch of a tree had fallen across his trail which must have brought new scents with it. Leo followed the scents to the base of another tree and then paused and looked up. “He’s going to climb it!”, Chris and I mutually thought. We braced ourselves and he went up… and up… and up, until finally stopping on the third level, on a thin branch. The three of us suddently realised that getting down may be a bit trickier than we realised, especially since he was attached to the rope. As Leo was trying to find a way down, he managed to wrap the rope around another branch 3 times. It was at this point that Chris and I both panicked. If he jumped off at that point and didn’t have enough rope, he could be strangled. But if I let go of the rope on my side and he jumped down, then he could run off and become the second escaped puma in the park. We had to think fast. Luckily I had a safety rope in my backpack so I pulled that out and clicked it onto the carabina at my end, creating a much longer rope that allowed Leo enough length to get down. After he was down all three of us went into rest mode to recover for a while. Everyday truly is an adventure with Leo!

Back at camp there still had been no sight of Wara, the missing puma.

Posted by Tracy Chap 18:32 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Organised Chaos

Bolivia is full of surprises. Whatever one’s perceptions before travelling here, chances are things will happen that you don’t expect. Being the most underdeveloped and predominantly Indigenous South American country I have visited so far, this has been even more the case for me. Here I have seen, heard, smelt, and felt things that have totally shocked me, and since it is also a place full of seeming contradictions and ironies, Bolivia is a challenging place to surmise in words.

I arrived in Sucre at 5am in the morning. After passing some time at the terminal, I went in search for accommodation. I shopped around as much as my sleep deprived brain could handle and then checked into a small hotel. After realising that they didn’t provide toilet paper and the showers were cold, I checked out again and moved to the local youth hostel.

Dying to start some proper Spanish lessons, I immediately set about finding a Spanish school. I had been reccommended Fox Language Academy by another traveller so tried there first, and was happy with the atmosphere and the price. I organised to start the following Monday for 3 hours of one-to-one classes every morning.

Sucre is a beautiful city. It is the original capital of Bolivia and is still the juridicial one. It has lovely white colonial architecture, beautiful historic streets and is surrounded by mountainous countryside. It is filled with charming flower-filled plazas where people gather to enjoy the delicious daily sunshine and mild winter nights. It has a fabulous central mercado, which sells a huge amount of fresh produce and has delicious almuerzos (2 course lunches) for around $1. It is not too big or too small, and its vibe is muy tranquilla. There are rarely traffic jams and everywhere is a short walk or a 50 cent cab fare away.

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After a week in the hostel, I moved in with a local Bolivian woman, who was a friend of the receptionist at the language school. I liked Yuany instantly. Even before agreeing to stay with her, she picked me up in her funky red VW beetle from town and showed me her place, and invited me out for drinks with her friends. She was immediately warm and friendly and definitely the coolest dentist I have ever met. She lives in a comfortable house just outside of the city centre, which among other things allowed me to experience a different part of Sucre.

For the first week and a half, I had my own room and could come and go as I pleased. I can’t express how excited I was to be staying in an actual house where I could cook, watch TV, not have to line up for the shower, and have the whole place to myself for most of the day. Even before moving into her house, Yuany and I had become firends. We had been out salsa dancing and drinking, I had been to her Italian brother in law’s restaurant, we had been out to dinner with people from the school, and we had boogied our hearts out at one of the popular discotecs in town. So we totally hit it off living together.

Yuany invited me out to every social event she had planned and by god that was a lot. Unfortunately, days after moving in I fell ill and was out of action for a couple of days. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be sick though. I had a comfy abode to relax in and a caring friend looking out for me. Yuany ended up taking me to see the Doctor at the clinic where she worked who saw me free of charge. As he predicted, I recovered within a few days.

Yuany and I quickly fell into a rhythm at home. She would come home for lunch around midday, the time I would generally be getting out of bed, and we would have lunch together at home. The she would go back to work and we’d meet up during the night to do something. We did a fair amount of salsa dancing, which was religiously followed by happy hour cocktails at Florin (the dutch pub there), and ususally some late night dancing or karaoke. We played raquetball with her work colleagues, attended BBQs together, went to see Toy Story III at the movies, and regulalry sat up in bed watchng movies and old Sex and the City episodes. We even had a dinner party at her house where we made gnocchi from scratch. I could not believe how sociable Yuany was. She was ready to party every night of the week and was still able to get up every morning for work (though she didn’t drink much which I am sure helped). But then I realised that her 6 year old daughter, Valeria, who I thought was living at Yuany’s mother’s house permanently, was only away on vacation and was coming back to stay with Yuany the following week. I then understood why Yuany was making so much of the time she had to go out with me when she could.

I was keen to meet Valeria and was delighted to have the opportunity to on my last day there. Valeria is an absolute cutie. She greeted me with a big unprompted hug and kiss upon being introduced to me and we were mates from then on.

Yuany and I and our homemade lasagna

Yuany and I and our homemade lasagna

I got to make other local friends in Sucre too, some were Yuany’s friends, others worked at the school and one was my Spanish teacher, Roberta. She was another highlight of Sucre for me. She was lovely company and our lessons together were very enjoyable. She had a delightful 2 year old son and a nice husband who I got to meet on a few occasions. In our classes, we found out all about each other’s lives and got to share some intimate secrets. We even cut classes short one day and snuck to the pub to watch Brazil play against Germany in the World Cup. I was glad she could make it round to Yuany’s for homemade gnocchi with her family as it was a nice way to end our time together.

As well as hanging out with locals, I eventually got around to doing most of the touristy things and seeing some of the surrounding villages and countryside. I went to Tarabuco, a village one and a half hours from Sucre famous for it’s traditional weavings and tapestries and it's big Sunday market. I also visited the Indigenous textiles museum and sat in wonder behind the women who were weaving tapestries live in the museum.

And though up to this point I have described a pretty typical experience of sight seeing and hanging out with locals, everyday I spent in Sucre was filled with witnessing something completely foreign and being shocked at least once. This is because life in Bolivia happens on the streets and is constantly occuring all around you. In the markets people sell ancient medicines and llama fetuses that the traditional people buy to offer to Pachamama. Women with long plaited hair and wide brimmed hats carry their babies on their backs wrapped in big pieces of brightly coloured fabric. Families slump beside their food stalls eating, relaxing and chatting. Small children carry packets of bubblegum on and off buses trying to help make a living. Campesinos ordained in traditional colourful honchos sell artesan’s works on the streets, while middle class Bolivians go about their business.

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It is a mix of antique and modern, traditional and new, old and young – and therefore a melting pot of all types of things that often seem to stand in contradiction with each other. For instance, many women dress in traditional costumes involving pettycoated, pleated skirts with stockings, heeled shoes, blouses, and hats. This makes them appear elegant and feminine. Yet, many of these wopmen also pee publically in the streets, hitching up their skirts over a street drain.

Bolivians themselves are some of the friendliest and some of the rudest people I have ever met. Some shout at you for taking a photo of them or ignore you when you ask a question, but others will delight in your presence and offer you as much generosity and advice as they can. Bolivia is often dirty and unhygenic, yet in their own homes Bolivians are very clean people. And despite having wifi and all other modern amneties, many hostels don’t see it as necessary to supply toilet paper. Further, in one of the country’s most sophisticated cities, the post office only had a used pizza box to wrap my parcels in. It has city centres that are so aesthetically beautiful and historical that you forget where you are, yet only streets away lie unpaved dirt roads with chaotically positioned buildings and street vendors, and traffic going in all directions. And though it is now one of the poorest countries in the world, Bolivia was once one of the richest in terms of natural resources, supplying the world with the majority of its silver and gold.

It is these paradoxical differences which exist both within Bolivian culture itself, and between Bolivia and the West, that make it fascinating, constantly stimulating, and a complex culture to understand and describe. In some ways, Bolivia is like a well developed fictional character whose personality is so complex and multidimensional that it constantly surprises you. Once you think you understand it, it switches on you and reveals another side to it that goes against your original opinion. Or like a beautiful painting that you could stare at for hours continuoously seeing something new or different in it, depending on the distance or angle from which you view it from.

And this is the best I can do at describing Bolivia. It is a place that is both rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, friendly and reserved, exciting and boring, and which I both love and hate. And while I am still geting to know this complex place and people, one thing I am sure that it is not, is black and white!

Posted by Tracy Chap 13:45 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

More than a pinch of salt

The differences between Bolivia and Argentina were immediately apparent upon crossing the border at La Quica/Villazon, even at the border itself. Leaving Argentina involved the standard procedures of beng directed by the guard to get our passports stamped in the immigration office before leaving the country. On the Bolivian side, it wasn’ t even apparent we were at a border. No guard was there to direct us, and the view ahead was that of a normal street with shops, markets, and people going about their day. I happended to cross the border with two Argentine girls who didn’t need to get their passports stamped, as they were only in Boliviua for a day, and as a result I completely forgot I had to do this and just walked straight on through. Unfortunately, the immigration officals, who I tried explaining this to days later, did not see my act as harmless as I did, and hit me with a whopping fine. The fact that it took me 12 days to present to them didn’t help convince them of my innocence either, nor did my explanation that I was too busy to come sooner because I was organising my Spanish course, since, as they informed me, it is illegal to study in Bolivia on a tourist visa. And although I know I should have presented to immigration earlier, I am not exaggerating when I say that basic things take a long time to get done in Bolivia. The fact that it took the immigration office three days, one trip to the bank involving a half hour wait, three trips to the photocopiers, and twice being told to come back the next day, to process my fine is a prime example.

My first stop in Bolivia was Tupiza, a small town surrounded by beautiful mountainous countryside. Though scenic in itself, my main reason for going there was to do a tour of the salt lakes, something I had heard was amazing and a real highlight of travelling in Bolivia. The tour I did went for 4 days and 3 nights. In the group was myself, 3 Irish girls, a Dutch girl, our male Bolivian guide and a female Bolivian cook. We set off early in the morning in a 4 wheel drive jeep. Before departing we stopped at the markets to pick up a bag of coca leaves that the driver ensured us was very important for the trip. He then proceeded to start chewing them one by one, and didn’t stop chewing them the entire length of the trip. I was surprised that one bag was sufficient but it seemed to last the distance.

The first day of the tour was spent doing a lot of driving through quite barren countryside. We stopped for lunch to view some llamas and use the ‘natural bathroom’ as it was referred to throughout the trip. For lunch, I got to try a tradtional Bolivian food called ‘tomales’, which was meat encased in maize flour with spices, wrapped in corn leaves. It was delicious. In the afternoon we passed through a small village and got to walk around and play with the children there. They were adorable. We passed through many villages on the tour that were incredibly remote, hours and hours from any major city or town. Some villages had electricty and running water and others didn’t. Our guide explained that often the mothers went off to work in the cities for days on end, and the children often stayed in the villages with their fathers. They lived off llamas, maize and potatoes.

One of the villages we passed through

One of the villages we passed through

The first night of the tour we spent in one of these villages. The accommodation was very basic but we were comfortable enough. We had heard horror stories of how cold it was on the tour at night, and how people had found it impossible to sleep, even with several sleeping bags and all their clothes on. So I was delighted to find that once in bed, I was warm and managed to have a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we set off at 5am. But since we had gone to sleep at 9pm the night before, this was not as hard as I thought it was going to be. We drove for hours without stopping, with the scenery becoming increasingly interesting as we went along. We entered a national park and suddently found ourselves in the desert. In the afternoon we stopped at a hot spring and braved the freezing cold wind to jump in and out. We had a delicious lunch with what we had now started to refer to as ‘the family’, and we bragged about how our chef was the best and how the other groups were surely not getting the same quality of food that we were. I later realised that all the tours do things exactly the same, even down to the type of table cloth they use, however, we still prefered to think that ours was the best.

The family

The family

After lunch we went to see some sort of thermal mini-blowholes things (I believe that was their official title), that spluttered out some sulphur-like mineral and lots of misty white steam. They created a very surreal looking landscape, which almost felt like we were on a film set of a movie about life on another planet. That night we stayed in another village in a slightly bigger and more comfortable house that accommodated several other groups as well. After another delicious meal and lots of spying on the other groups’ food, we ended the night with a glass of wine by the small fire place. Expecting this night to be the coldest of all, we again found that we were warm in bed and slept well.

On the thrid day we vistited several beautiful lagoons and this time got to do a bit more walking around. The scenery was beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen before. One of the deserts was called ‘Dali’s Desert’ and I could clearly see why. It felt exactly like we were driving through one of his paintings. We saw small pink flamingos, colourful mountains, randomly situated rocks, and miles and miles of sandy desert. Since we were travelling such massive distances and there was very little of anything in the forground, it was impossble to maintain an accurate sense of depth percecption, which resulted in a sensation of driving toward the horizon, but not feeling like we were going anywhere.

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By the third day, we had really started feeling like a proper family, with our parents in the front of the jeep and all us 5 daughters in the back, going on one long family vacation. We even started referring to our guides as Mum and Dad. Along the way, Mum would pass us back little snacks like chocolate milk and lolly pops, and Dad controlled when we stopped the car, the music, and the opening and closing of windows. This surreal vision seemed only to match the surreal scenery that we were passing, making the whole experience feel like a fun, absurd, dream.

Our final night was spent near the salt flats in a hostel made of... wait for it... salt! Hard to imagaine, I know, but literally everything including the walls, floor, tables, and chairs were made of salt. It was comfy and warm, and after a hot shower, so was I. That night I enjoyed another good sleep, even overheating through the night.

One of the Salt Hotels

One of the Salt Hotels

We woke early again the next morning in order to have enough time to see the sunrise over the salt lakes. Making it there just in time, we witnessed this magical part of the day and saw for the first time the endless, flat, salt covered lakes. Originally, the area of the salt lakes was covered with sea water. But thousands of years ago, the area somehow became landlocked and over time the water evaporated and left behind 100’s of metres of salt covering the earth.

Driving across the salt lakes was again a bizzare experience. It felt like we were in a film studio pretending to be driving in the wilderness, but really not moving at all and surrounded by big white screens, with the landscape to be implanted into the movie at a later date. We drove for miles and miles, for what felt like an eternity, with just flat, white earth all around us. Somewhere in the middle of the lakes was an island covered in cactuses. The earth of the island was poorous, like coral, providing proof that the ocean had once surrounded it. We wandered around the island, while Mum and Dad prepared breakfast. Mum had baked a cake the night before, so we all had a delicious slice of sponge and a warm tea to enjoy in the sunshine of the early morning.

We then set off to do some of the much awaited ‘trick’ photography. Losing all perception of depth due to the endless white surrounds, it was possible to take photos that looked like people were jumping out of pringle boxes and standing on each other’s hands. Having witnessed this time and again I’m sure, Dad made use of the time by having a shave in the car, and Mum leant elegantly against the car enjoying the sunshine and our silly antics. After a final lunch and a spot of shopping at the local tourist markets, we arrived into Hyuni just in time to catch the Chile vs Spain World Cup match on TV.

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All in all, the tour had been great. The girls had been good company and our guides were fantastic. It had been a good introduction to Bolivia and I felt ready for more. That night, I left the family behind and caught an overnight bus to Sucre. The journey didn’t feel as safe and cosy as our time with Mum and Dad had been, and the reality of travelling in Bolivia started to set in. After witnessing some heated arguments over seats on the bus that had been double booked, and then having the woman beside me place her legs diagonally across me and lean her body onto mine as she slept, and then having my ipod run out of battery, I sat uncomfortably and wide awake staring desperately at the full moon, as if in some strange way it may be able to help salvage my situation, which got worse after I realised the bus wasn’t heading directly to Sucre, but was stopping in another town where in the middle of the freezing cold night we would have to wait 2 hours for another connection.

Yes, I soon realised that travelling in Bolivia was going to be very different to travelling in Argentina, and I prepared myself for a rough and bumpy ride.

Posted by Tracy Chap 13:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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