Monday, 12 January 2009

New Year's Eve In Tupiza

So we can’t get to Sucre from Villazon without spending New Year’s Eve on a Bolivian coach. The map in our possession bears no relation to the travel time involved, presumable owing to the quality of the road. The up-shot of this is we take the train to Tupiza instead. The ride is beautiful and remarkably comfortable. There is even an old sixties telly somehow attached to the wall playing, appropriately enough (though utterly incongruously at the same time) 60’s pop telly – The Mamas and The Papas, Righteous Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles.

Upon arriving in Tupiza we discover that this small town actually closes all it’s bars and restaurants at midnight for family’s to celebrate together. So my three friends and I are ousted from a restaurant at 11.45 into a monsoon the likes of which I have never seen. The road we walked up to reach the centre is a now a river with an authentic looking current. It is the kind of rain in which you are soaked within seconds. The few cars roll by like boats. We wade knee deep through the village back to our only refuge. Upon arriving dripping wet, we attempt a toast on the hour with a single half full luke warm bottle of mineral water in an empty hostel foyer. Funny.

Bus Trip To Iruya

On the map Irunya looks as if it is a half hour ride out of town. It is in fact a three hour ride that hits 4000 feet above sea level about three quarters of the way in. I was however prepared for this fact, thanks to a nice Norwegian a chap who was on his way to the village before Christmas. We were not (my Catalunian travelling friend and I) prepared for the fact that a large portion of the ‘road’ on this trip was in fact a river gorge. As such we were somewhat surprised to see the ticket conductor doubling as a road worker and literally constructing parts of our passage towards the village that had been disrupted by rain. Rivers, naturally enough, are always rather affected by rain. At numerous points it was necessary for us to get out to alleviate the weight of the coach or at one point to actually push the coach out of a particularly deep spot of river.

In short we arrived, four and half hours later about two kilometres outside Iruya – the river here had reclaimed its place over the ‘road’. There was undoubtably a sense of collective relief as we all got off the bus and I for one didn’t mind the walk to the village. Jordi strode out first from the bus onto the path to the village. Before I knew it he was knee deep in what looked like fresh concrete arms flailing around for something solid to grab hold of…I have to confess, upon realising his life was not in any immediate danger, to being utterly incapable of a straight face for some time afterwards. It’s fair to say, considering his trousers weighed three times there normal weight for the remainder of the day, he took it in very good humour.

Eventually we had only about an hour in Iruya before we had to get the bus back. Enough time for some lunch and the briefest stroll around the village. Apparently there is only one road into the village so I have no idea how they were getting provisions in and out. On the walk back past the high altitude football pitch and the dead dog the weather turned worse. I had a vision of a white knuckle bus ride back to Humahuaca double the time of the outward journey….but the ticket conductor on the outwad route had clearly done a good job and the river-roads held out.

A Tour

I’m not really a tour person. I had decided this before I had ever taken one. In the first instance (Iguazu) curiousity got the better of me (ultimately the boat trip was good but I felt ripped off all the same); here in Salta it seems the only way, save hiring a car, that I can get out and see the surrounding area (and I don’t hold a licence). I may well have enjoyed it more if I had gone to sleep the night before. As it was the artists of Salta decreed come five am that it would be useless for me to sleep for two hours and so I rolled onto a minibus for Cachi half cut after an all-night session.

It was pouring with rain as I got on. As soon as we reached a certain altitude the clouds were such that nobody could see anything of the allegedly amazing views. I was sat next to a German man in his seventies who didn’t cease talking for the whole three-hour outward journey and smelt of plastercine. (A polite following question such as, ‘what did you do before you retired?’ quickly escalated into a 25 minute monologue on the mores of the German economy in the eighties). Eventually the fog cleared and, as we came down from the highest peaks some of the views were indeed spectacular….desert, mountain ranges, long curling roads.

Cachi itself looked to me like a slightly artificial lush green platform placed in a valley surrounded by dusty cactus strewn mountains. It had a good ice cream outlet in the square. The walk to the cemetery was taxing in the altitude and explained why all the flowers in the cemetery were made of plastic. (It looked like a party of children had (over) decorated the whole place). We made hard work of the descent by trying to take a shortcut down a ridiculously sleep slope full of cactus….I had a strong word with myself at the bottom that ran along the lines of not being twenty anymore and reminded myself I hadn’t slept.

On the return journey we got a flat tyre in the desert and later, ascending again,  could see even less than before, dangerously so given the mountain road we were traversing. These numerous obstacles however had little effect on my  German friends capacity for speech - no matter how strong the indication of the peak of my cap.[1] If anything I think it may have made it worse. Even his sister who was travelling with him lost her patience with him at one point. I think he was really a bit jealous of the guide, who often had to wait for him to finish whatever play-doe spewing story he was currently engaged in order to shoehorn her well practiced spanglish sound bites.[2]

[1] I dislike wearing a cap but aside from the obvious protection from the sun it does usually have its advantages for blotting out the world for sleep.

[2] I am being unfair to the old chap for comic effect, but I sense he might be just as taxing even if I had had a good nights sleep.


Memory of Iguazu

After the boat trip I lost everyone and wandered around a portion of the lower walk on my own. I am pleased to say, despite sending the odd post card to myself, the sheer scale and power of Iguazu transcended a) my own cynicism b) its obvious tourist trappings. It is simply stunning and I feel to say any more would be to diminish it.

 Later, on route to the ‘Garganta Del Diablo’ (The Devils Throat) I run into two chemically assisted Mexican’s and an English man who I had met at the hostel the night before. The four of us pass a fantastic day…I am not sure what this says about me (or them for that matter)…Later Will (the English guy) and I cook up a Bolognase for everyone in the well provided but ultimately soulless environs of the Hostel Inn. Maybe it tastes better than it is out of our extreme hunger and the collective sense of enterprise…Owing to their ‘enhanced energy levels’ we calculate that we have walked about 18k in the day. I am inclined to note the story regarding a triangle in case I am to forget it, though I realise I leave it hanging stupidly at the end of a paragraph.

Tourist (2)

Today, wandering around Colonia, I got the ‘Paris effect’ again, the one I wrote about earlier. As pretty as this place is I soon wander out of the old town and ask a guy on the street selling jewellery where I can get some lunch at a less exorbitant price. He tips me off very well. I get a decent salad in an arcade for a quarter of the price offered in the old town. I enjoy the banter of the locals as if I am back stage at a play entitled ‘The Art of Tourism’. The engine room that feeds the troops and feel the quiet sense of exuberance only a bargain can give me.

I do however defer my post lunch coffee for a location that befits my status and wander back to the old town. There are a few well situated places close to La Plata that are really quite ‘nice’, but mysteriously empty. Another place close to a main road and from what I can tell, has nothing in particular to commend it, is full. I’m struck for a moment at tourists’ strange gravitation to particular places. As if a collective sense of being ripped off somehow alleviated its individual instance. Everyone discreetly acknowledging their ‘stranger-ness’ in a unanimous display of geographical ignorance. As if to say ‘yes I don’t know my way around either’. I don’t know, maybe the food was exceptional and they know something I don’t but, as I hesitate outside thinking this stuff, the street seller who had given me directions passes by and he’s wagging his finger at me vigorously.