Sunday, September 10, 2006

Report # 16

Well, greetings again,

I am now in Argentina top north west a city called Salta which on first glance looks like a normal western city, and my district is full of fashion shops and a zillion people were strolling the streets on Saturday evening.. Again it is Sunday - I don”t plan to do all my reports on Sundays but seems many are done then.

Feeling good as am now out of the mtns and deserts and in normal scenery. In fact I feel like I spent 40 days in the desert and the devil came along and said "do you want to get out of here?" and I said "YES" . So this may be my second last report as I will be home in 10 days - about 20th Sept. Was planning on return early Oct but there were no flights from 19 Sep to mid-Oct so only flight available was 18th Sept. So I said yes. Means I cannot do Chile or most of Argentina. Will go from here direct to Buenos Aires Monday - 24 hr trip - and spend 5-6 days there.

Well, you last saw me in Cusco, Peru. Not only did Yovana help me but the guy on duty when I went to get my Mochila said to stay and rest till my bus left at 10.00pm - another wonderful and thoughtful person! Eventually got bus for Puno on Lake Titicaca (pronounced by locals as Titi caha). Did not realise bus was economy version with no heating and rusting windows with air seeping in. Met a nice guy Edvaldo and son Pepe also ging to La Paz (Bolivia). The bitch had told me it was luxury but did not even have footrests! No stops for toilets so about Juliaca while more passengers start or finish I used the street (!). About 3.30 am I went to wipe the moisture off windows and it was solid ice - on the inside!! Apparently we crosed a very high mtn where temp was below zero and I felt it - bloody cold!!. Arrive Puno 05.00 Drab mudbrick place right on edge of lake. Told there is transport strike in Cocacabana (Bolivia) so can only get to border and no further ( if want to see lake from that side). SO decide to see lake from Puno. Local tout offers $3 trip of 3 hrs to floating islands so accept after Ed tells me he is ok. We have coffee and Ed has business in Puno for 3-4 hrs so agree to meet at busstop for Border bus. Do the island trip - amazing man-made things where the local indians live. Thye fish, hunt and depend on tourism for income - pity! Each island is a tourist bazaar but I had run out of local currency so did not buy stuff. There are reeds which grow wild all around the lake (160x65klms) and they dive and cut the roots of reeds which are solid but float, they tie pieces 3x2 mts together till have island, then cover a meter or two deep with reeds and so they have an island which is then anchored with poles thru to bottom. Only about 4-5 mts deep there but is 270 mts deep in centre. Used be salt water millions of yrs ago but now only tiny percent of salt so locals use it but boil first..

Got back at 12.45 and no Ed/Pepe, so changed dollars to Bolivian stuff and took next bus to Desaguadero on border. Use every last cent of local money on fare, toilet and a few lollies. Walk to immig get exit, walk across bridge to Bol immig and get entry, walk 500 mts and get Combi to La Paz, 1.5 hrs to city edge but 30 mins more to centre. Strikingly beautiful city at night in bowl of volcano so high rims and city going all way down to central area. Lovely local couple ensure I get a reliable taxi to centre. Was then about 8.00 pm. At 3500 mts so tough stuff to move around. Found out by walking that the whole of city looks flat from rim but is in fact very hilly and really tiring to walk. Cheapest country by far I have visited - full hamburger with egg etc is $0.40-$0.50 - hotels are $4-5 per single. Had to change my hotel next day as first choice turned out to be just too scungy and dirty. Next day bought coca leaves - fresher this time, plus got some artesan stuff - there are about 8-10 city blocks of shops selling it. First day I had to stop every 3-4 streets to breathe, but by seconfd day had improved a bit but still hard work - need to suck in deep breaths a lot. Even at night trying to sleep. Enjoyed the city but did not do any tourist thing. Good place but you need to visit other high places first to get used to altitude.

Thurs depart for Uyuni where the highest salt lake in world. COnfirm that bus is heated beforehand, but dont trust so take lots of extra clothes with me on to bus. Notice that all the locals also have blankets, and bus is heated but only just, and the trip is over dirt road most of way so very dusty and I ned every item of extra clothes - six layers of clothes and scarf and beanie (gorra)!!! We arrive at 03.30 and two thirds of people get off but rest of stay and driver says we can all sleep till 6-7.00 am - amazing, he sleeeps too!! The some lady wants to get off at 6.20 so we all get up and a tout comes on board and offers tour of 1 or 3 days. I accpet 1 day and she takes me to agency office. Uyuni is dry dirty small, dusty as hell, and colder than ice. Tour is not till 10.30am so leave mochila and go get stuff and wander the 4x10 streets. Come back on time but no girl so ask cop and he says don”t worry she will arrive (! - SthAmerica!) She does and we set out in 4x4, 7 of us incl 2 other Aussies surprisingly. Phenomenal place - 12,000 sq klms probably 120x100 klms. We drove 70 kms straight out on salt visited salt hotel, place where the harvest salt, water springs in salt, plus an island of volcanic rock with tall single stem cacti (They grow at 1 cm per year and there was one there at 12.3 mts which makes it 1200 yrs old!!!) where we had lunch of llama chops - very tasty. Have flat tyre so driver changes it during lunch. Drive back and stop at dump of place on edge of salt about 20 mins from Uyuni and notice we have second flat. Now 5.00pm and cold as hell with stiff wind of wind-chill probably below zero. Driver hopes another vehicle will come along and lend us a spare, but none comes so by sunset we are all pretty alarmed - temps drop to 10 or more bleow zero out here at night!! Driver keeps disappearing and we presume trying to find someone with a spare, finds one and puts it on only to find it is flat too!!! we eventually find another 4x4 and ask if they can take us to town says yes but try another guy who has just returned down the track. Driver goes over and knows the guy and borrows the spare and it fits and we get back to town frozen 2 hrs late!!!

I had already found out that a train runs from Uyuni to Arg border - Villazon/Quiaca which keaves at 10.40pm. So have to wait. I had some great luck - success/universe intervention? - from Uyuni. ( I now have another cold and losing voice). First when I went back to the agency the girl said I could stay there till time to leave if I locked up!! They had a small gas heater and all I had to do was turn off gas and light and close roller door and put padlock in place. So I was able to take my time changing into wram clothes took some panadol, and started a 5-day course of antibiotics especially for chest, throat, nose. Relaxed and got warm and left just before 10.00. Got my ticket and had a coffee in cafetereia, and got on train in ejecutivo and was only passenger in my car!! But later the guard brought 3 French guys to join in. He gave us blankets and pillow. I arrived dressed for the Antartic and the temp in train was about 35C (!!!) so I stripped to just the shirt, But later it cooled a lot as we travelled thru the mtns so got back to Jumper then before leaving train I put back on several more layers. A great trip but I didnt really sleep much as recliner seats are not necesarily comfy and the noise of the whistle and train etc ..... But 10 times better than a bus - also had a great toilet with hand basin and paper-towels and toilet paper!!.

Arrived 7.30”ish and a girl tout asked if I wanted Salta, I sort of said yes but didnt need help. But she persisted and dropped from B40 to B35 so I said I would inspect and decide . She wanted me to take a taxi to office but I said we can walk . we did, 4 blocks or so. Bought ticket she said we have to hurry as bus leaves at 8.45 which I thought gave me plenty of time but that was Arg time and from across the border (one hour ahead!). So we went to Bol immig and got thru quickly then walk the bridge to Arg immig and there was a queue of 50 plus people but she said go up the front so I did and pushed in about 5 from front and got one lady complaining. I was looking at my passport and a Policmand/immig official asked where I was from and had a look at my passport and said wait a minute and went inside and got it stamped as I was still in my original 90 day period. So I was thru in 2 mins and the girl had another taxi waiting and said to hurry. SO I tipped her all my remaining Bol coins and we went to bus terminal and bus was just about to pull out!!! I checked my mochila and got on and it left. SO I arrived here (Salta) at 4.00pm rather than wait till the midday bus!!! (and get in at 20.00). Wasn”t that providence!! Many Thanks to that cop!

Went to a very good hotel at $17.50 per day and talked him into $15 so have very comfy room private bath hot water, soap towels, and b/fast included!! I decided I needed a splurge to make up for some of the tough times! I had not seen a bed since Wednesday night nor had a shower nor cleaned my teeth. Yuk!!!. (all day thurs, frid and Sat)

Have bought my ticket for luxury bus cama-seat to Buenos Aires for Monday, takes 24 hrs. Will see friends there and relax and see sights depart for home on Monday but lose a day over the Int Dateline. See you all soon!!!! Have to admit the thought of home is wonderful and am looking forward to it. Will have to do Chile and Argentina next time(!?).

Cheers for now. Nobby