Day 202: A Fascist Culture

Day 202, (continued). I had to walk around the decaying buildings and wait for about an hour while our bus came through. Then although there was a shiny new smooth road from the border, we had to follow the old dusty, bumpy, cobble stoned one, bizarre. After a short time we arrived in the border town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca where this first bus dropped us off. The town is bit of a dust bowl with many half finished concrete buildings and roads which are nothing more than dirt tracks. It also appeared to be full of spaced out backpackers with dreadlocks and rainbow coloured jumpers. After an hour of walking around and taking in the sights a second bus picked me up for the journey on to La Paz. The bus headed to the Tiquina Strait which is a particularly narrow part of Lake Titicaca that we had to cross to continue our journey to La Paz. At the lake we had to take a separate foot passenger boat and pay 1 boliviano to some dodgy looking guys in Bolivian navy uniform for the pleasure while our minibus was driven onto something which was nothing more than a little wooden raft barely big enough to take its weight. The raft was then pushed across the lake with a big stick, or punted as you might say if you’re posh.

For the rest of the journey an oldish Italian bloke on the bus started talking to me followed by an old Austrian ‘gentleman’. As I was the only British person on the bus they found this the perfect opportunity to have a go at all things British and took great pleasure in chastising me over the fact that Britain had no culture. This was constant, and the Austrian would not let up, I don’t think he liked the British much. He came out with some quite racist comments arguing that the reason Britain had lost its culture was because we “had allowed immigrants to take over the country.” I was quite shocked at this as the UK has a clear cultural identity, and part of it is the mix and diversity of cultures which adds positively to it. I argued this but he just replied “too many ‘other’ people.” I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised with his attitude, Austria keeps voting in fascist politicians and governments and has relatively few non European immigrants outside of Vienna. Culturally, two men clutching each other, one upside-down with thighs wrapped around the others waist smacking each other’s arses, while I may say, clad in tightly fitting leather Lederhosen, is not my idea of culture! It’s a couple of middle aged gay swingers!

Eventually we entered La Paz and I have to admit I was feeling very vulnerable at this point. It just seemed to be one massive shanty town going on for miles and miles. But then after twenty minutes we cleared this area of extreme poverty called ‘El Alto’ and came to the edge of a huge valley. The view was stunning and a must see on any journey here, as the guidebooks all say, the first view is unforgettable. It seemed as if the centre of La Paz was a mile below us, stood there like a city built in the bottom of a massive crater. I was mesmerised at the view, but happy that La Paz, 400 metres below, was not as scary as I first thought.

Because I was unsure where the bus had dropped me off I grabbed a taxi from the bus office to the hostel I wanted to go to. The hostel is an unusual place which seems to be run by two old ladies who clearly enjoy their jobs. They dress in a way which wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960’s Spanish fashion show. Taking a little walk around town I saw a bizarre mix of people such as South American Indian women dressed in the traditional dress with their strange mini bowler hats selling extremely untraditional goods such as CD’s, stereos and TVs; next to them women in business suits would be walking home from their city jobs. This contrast between old and new ways of life seems a little unusual although it’s clear that there’s a racial divide between the business lady and the street seller with the former looking very much of Spanish origin. I think this would keep the Austrian guy happy, none of that diluting of cultures!
At night the expanse of the city surrounding the old centre can clearly be seen with houses all the way up the hill sides lit up. These go up so high above the centre that the lights from the windows almost look like stars in the night sky with which they actually eventually merge, an amazing manmade, but still captivating sight. In the hostel there’s a Danish boy in the room, he seems a bit weird which is made even worse by the fact he has an extremely lazy eye. He told me that he’s come over here to get married to his Bolivian Fiancée, although his story makes it sound more like he’s stalking her rather than dating. Why is he in the hostel and not with her, weird!

Bolivia: …. And Other Eating Disorders!

I have absolutely no preconceptions about Bolivia mainly because I know nothing about it other than that it was named after a guy who helped liberate it from the Spanish and that it has the highest capital city in the world, although La Paz shares its capital status with Sucre. Historically my guidebook says that the region the country was part of was doing quite well under the Inca, well apart from the odd bit of fighting and sacrifice, but then the Spanish came along and spoilt it all. The Inca rather naively assumed that the arriving white Spanish were the emissaries of the sun god and were duly beaten. The Spanish quickly consolidated their power in Peru and Alto Peru as Bolivia was named by the Spanish. As with the majority of South America, Spanish authority weakened due to the Napoleonic wars and people saw this as an opportunity for independence. Independence was proclaimed in 1809 but sixteen years of war followed before Alto Peru was liberated with the help of Simón Bolívar Palacio and Antonio José de Sucre. I’m not saying that these guys were a bit narcissus but the country was named after one and the constitutional capital the other! Actually Bolívar was also the first president of Bolivia (Sucre was the second) but not only that he was also the 1st President of Greater Colombia, 1st President of Colombia, 2nd & 3rd President of Venezuela and 9th President of Peru, a bit of a power freak if you ask me!

Sadly, Bolivia has suffered quite a lot since this time like a poor fat kid at school being bullied by the rich sporty kids. Chile wanted to develop the old coastal region of Bolivia to mine nitrates but also wanted to keep all of the money from it so it occupied the area. This forced Bolivia and Peru to declare war which became the ‘War of the Pacific’ which they duly lost and Chile took Bolivia’s land and access to the sea. In fact the ghost town Humberstone lies in this region. Then the Brazilians took a huge chuck of the north as it wanted the rubber plantations. Finally a massive chunk of the south east, the Chaco region, was taken by Paraguay after a war over land which was believed to have oil. Bizarrely, such is the world of capitalism, Shell Oil supported Paraguay and Standard Oil (ESSO) supported Bolivia. This troubled history leads to the interesting fact that in the first 167 years of independence there were 188 different governments partly due to many, many military coups! Bolivia has been a democracy since 1982 and is the poorest country in South America, a bit of me hopes it still is as I need to save a bit of cash!

Day 202: For A Good Night’s Sleep, ‘Choke The Chicken!

Day 202. Got woken up by the fookin’ ‘orrible chickens again at 4:30am and couldn’t sleep much after that as they just kept clucking and crowing. When I mentioned it to John last night he suggested that to get a good night’s sleep I should consider “choking the chicken” before I went to bed. I didn’t know how to take that really but said, “How’s doing that going to shut the chicken up, will it be embarrassed?” He slowly realised the ‘significance’ of what he’d said. I got picked up at 7:45am and taken to the bus station for my journey to La Paz. Both the Israeli couple and the really annoying “I got it cheaper than you” Aussie girl from yesterday’s boat trip were on the bus. Soon after leaving the road turned to nothing more than a rocky, dusty track. On reaching the border a kid tried to get some Peruvian sols out of me in exchange for an alleged pound coin which was clearly an Australian dollar coin. I went along with it but gave him some Chilean coins in return, he looked mad when he realised I’d ‘double’ duped him! The border was a ramshackle kind of place with what looked like a decaying mansion with its bent and twisted driveway gates the entrance and exit to Bolivia.