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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Beautiful bolivia

Being in Cusco for more than a week, having awesome yoga lessons and always running into familiar faces made it pretty damn hard to leave Peru behind, but I was in desperate need of a change of scenery. (Sorry for the long rant in advance)

 I pretty spontaneously decided to just book a bus to La Paz (and don't worry mom, I compared several companies - which by the way, they're all shit - and made sure there's actually more than one driver manouvering us to a new country) and soon enough I found myself at a pretty sketchy bus terminal with creepy dudes lingering in every corner. Yeah, I've been warned off taking night buses, but sometimes that's the only thing available and just oh so convenient. However, when it was time to 'board' and I saw the bus that was to safely bring my precious self to Bolivia I wasn't quite sure if I'd survive that trip. Next to my gate stood a wonderful, shiny double-decker bus with seats that looked unbelievably comfortable and it just made the bus I was about to board appear even worse than it actually was. Oh well, I didn't really have another choice so I threw myself in my pretty big seat right by the window and tried to prepare myself for a looong night. At first it wasn't too bad though. As the bus left quite late I was able to admire the stars while we drove threw some kind of valley, it was really stunning. I then tried to sleep but after a couple of hours my stomach wasn't having it any more, seemingly not agreeing with whatever I ate the day before. (Now, my stomach acting out whenever I'm about to embark on a long journey to a new location is about to become a thing) There was a bit of a problem, as the filthy toilet in the bus clearly stated 'solo urinario'. Yep, I was in a horrible situation, but let's just move on from that to the part where I was about to cross the border.

Some guys on the bus seemed to have missed their stop, which would have been BEFORE the bolivian border, so now they had to cross anyway, although that wasn't really where they had planned to go. The whole border-crossing situation was quite amusing. We all had to leave the bus to find the peruvian office to get stamped out of Peru. (it was all VERY confusing) Then we had to wait, along the huste and bustle of the Peruvians trying to sell their goods and they themselves waiting behind the gate with their wagons full of goods, whatever they might've been, to get to the bolivian side. It wasn't just our side however, that wanted to get to new soil, but the Bolivians aswell. So when the gates finally opened, you can probably imagine what happened. I literally felt as if I was in a war scene of a hollywood film. The people just threw themselves into the street, trying to cross as fast as possible without losing the content of their precious bags and wagons. It was pretty hilarious, the two countries appearing like war enemies going for each other. But in the end, everyone was somehow able to go their one path without more or less knocking eachother over. At that point, I still wasn't feeling a 100% yet, but it was pretty damn cool to see the 'Bienvenidos a Bolivia' sign.

Now I was to get stamped into another country, as on paper, I wasn't really anywhere, and continue the journey to La Paz. I didn't really know what to expect of the highest capital in the world. I read it was dangerous, not many people liked it and basically just worth to book tours from. However, the mix of everything you get there, views of even higher mountains, indigenous people next to the business kind - just the strange vibe I guess, kind of appealed to me. Although I have to say walking around the city was a workout in itself. 4000 meters above sea level and the hills in the city left me breathless a couple of times. Plus add creepy dudes in to the mix: (they're everywhere!) apparently when you wear dresses here unlike in Cuba where they try to get your attentiom like there's nothing more important in the world, here they just stare at you and if they're feeling extremely brave they try to touch your behind.
So not cool.

 In La Paz I stayed in a party party party hostel, it was pretty crazy. I'm not one to say no to a drink out but the people there basically just lived for that. I don't know how they did it though as hangovers at this altitude are just no fun, they kill you! However, sitting in the bar is just the best way to meet people and I've made some pretty great friends to be honest.

 The walking tour through the city was definitely one of the very best I've ever had. We were a huuuge group, some guys from the same hostel as I was and the guides were just freaking amazing. Showing us the prison, which in actual fact resembles a little town itself as the prisoners were allowed to have their family live with them, their own business and basically a life with nothing to complain about (police and staff in there is close to none-existant). Oh, and apparently during the day but mostly the nights, as the roof isn't really covered, you might get hit by dirty diapers or small packages containing drugs, nicely brewed inside the prison. And the police doesn't really care.

 As La Paz or Bolivia in general are unbelievably cheap and I was missing music soooo much, I decided to just go and by myself a Ukulele (already considered that in Cusco, but knew La Paz was the place for instruments!) Success! Although I didn't really get to play it right away ;)

The highlight in La Paz was most definitely the World's Most Dangerous Road, also known as Death Road (people actually still die on there today...) Wasn't sure at first if I should do it, but I mean when can you get to wear a full on Motorbike outfit for mountainbiking, swim in the jungle AND get a t-shirt solely as a proof that you survived the WMDR? Yeah, I wasn't going to miss out on that. So with the guys I met on the tour we went on a company hunt, based on cheap bikes and cool t-shirts (; in the end my german friend Nicole and I found one late at night and after a great conversation and dinner made our way back to the hostel to prep for the coming day.

 I have to admit, the Death Road wasn't as scary as I expected. We met up with our group, two great Aussi girls (who after the trip managed to convince me to go out although I had a deathly early flight to catch) and an Israeli guy, I swear they're everywhere! We got served breakfast on our highest starting point, somewhere between 4000-45000msl where our descent would begin. Put on our bad-ass gear, mounted the bikes and off we went down the highway to reach the Death Road. It was crazy how you went from freezing cold, with snow in the distance and in a matter of hours land in the humidity of the jungle. That's where the Death Road finally began. I could understand how people could die there as the side of the road basically just goes down into nothingness, but if you drive somewhat carefully there's nothing really to worry about. To be honest, I was kind of preoccupied with driving my bike and making sure a huge stone wouldn't cause me to fall than to see what was going on next to me. With muddy faces and a ton of pictures later we finally arrived, still alive (!) and were led to a beautiful hotel to rest, eat and jump into a swimming pool. It was pretty damn cool. And that same night of course, after I had packed I might add, I once again found myself ar the bar with the Aussi girls learning some strange Australian slang and drinking games, oh and met a swiss girl for the first time!

Sucre, the white city, was my next stop. A beautiful city where I stayed a lot longer than expected and kind of fell in love with. On arrival in a pretty fantastic hostel (they served pancakes for breakfast. That says it all) I even bumped into some guys I knew from Peru, which was pretty nice as they then showed me around town. The atmosphere there was just great, food pretty damn delicious (pretty much just ate papas rellenas every day) and I got to play my ukulele in the park where some street boys came up to me and cheekily asked if they could play or keep the ukulele to themselves. Well that wasn't happening.

In Sucre I met some great people. First of all, my roomie from Cuba happened to be there at the same time, my Spanish teacher was AMAZING, (lessons here are damn cheap) met a girl from La Paz again, great conversations and food discoveries with a Swedish girl (I had serious journal-envy - her traveljournal, although chaotic, was just so fun to read and her name was Agnes!) and great talks with a german couple, especially the girl named Lilia from Berlin, on my last night, who could have been my soulmate.

Oh yeah, and there was also the thing that happened with my hair. Cutting all my hair off had been playing in my mind for a couple of months now, but after traveling and the maintenance my hair requires, I just had enough of it. Imagine, getting up in the morning and not having to bother about your hair or waiting hours for it to dry in the freezing cold after a shower? Yep, it definitely had to go. Also, I feel like hair, long hair to be exact, has become such a superficial thing, defining me and other women and short hair not being feminine enough. Again, had some deep conversations about that, which made me even more sure of it. I just wanted to get rid of it, freeing myself of the burden and letting me define myself without my afro being in the picture. And I mean, it's just hair, hair that will grow again at some stage.

So I soon enough found myself a hairdresser and somehow managed to let her know in spanish to chop it all off. All the girls in the salon just gaped at me and kept telling me that, 'oh, your hair's so beautiful, it's a shame'. But that's exactly why it had to be done. When she did cut off my ponytail and I was left with a bob, I did however consider leaving it like that as it didn't look that bad. After 10 minutes though I changed my mind again and told the poor lady to chop it all off anyway. She didn't really do a good job of it though so after paying less than 5$, walking around for 30 minutes and repeatedly asking myself what the actual f**k I've done, I decided to head into a real Barberia with a big, round, bolivian Señora nicely shaping a men's hair. In that authorital way she just looked at me, told me to sit down and in a matter of minutes fixed me up nicely. Although old and using questionably ancient devices this lady definitely knew what she was doing. And here I know am, with a boy's haircut. Delightful.

Soon enough it was time for a change again. (Oh, also visited a huuuuge market in a tiny village on Sunday. Was great and got some souvenirs, you're very welcome, friends.) And the next stop would be Potosi, the highest city in the world. Yeah, at first I didn't feel a thing about said altitude, but at night whilst I was trying to find a place to eat I suddenly couldn't feel my right hand at all, same for my bottom lip and my vision started to get fuzzy. No fun at all. It was pretty scary so I decided to just sleep it off as in the morning I would be entering the silver mines. The mines were something else. After we put on our sexy gear it was time to buy the miners dynamite, coca leaves, juice and alcohol. 90% alcohol to be exact of which we all took a shot of before we went inside, that shit freaking buuurns! The mines weren't as scary as expected, yes, you can tell that if the slightest thing went wrong the whole construction would must collapss but I simply didn't think about that fact. At some times we were able to walk straight, but most of the time was spent hunched over, on our knees or crawling through small tunnels. Pretty adventurous experience, but I was glad to finally see sunlight after the last tunnel. To think that men, like the one who gave me some stones, illegally work there from the age of five or seven is insane. Once again so glad to have grown up in Switzerland, really can't complain!

Potosí itself was beautiful aswell, had a nice charm and even booked museum tours in Spanish (which I actually understood). Plus, I managed to have full on conversations with some guys in my dorm that were from Argentina, and those guys don't talk nice. The Spanish is finally coming along, muy bien (:

The last day in Potosí before I was off to Uyuni I just wandered around the city and found a deserted pizzeria to have some lunch before the ride. This guy enters, seemingly looking for a place to sit. I've got my wi-fi and food, so I'm not really up for conversation, trying to keep my head down, avoiding eye contact with the guy - just trying my best to not have to converse with another human being, as I am. That didn't last long though, because when I finally looked up he caught my eye and OF COURSE asked me if he could sit with me. Turned out to not be that bad though. After some cringy attempts in Spanish we changed to German as yet again, he turned out to be one those. And like myself he'd been traveling for several months, from South to North though. Something that really fascinated me was that he was a magician and he told me that by doing shows in hostels, they usually let him stay there for free. He somehow gathered that I liked my music myself (I have no idea how he did that) and encouraged me to try it. Apparently there's lots of musicians outthere that manage to travel that way. He even offered to just go out on the streets and start playing with me. I kind of chickened ot and realized my bus left soon, so hastily said my goodbyes. But it was definitely interesting, and something worth considering.

When traveling you meet people from all over the world, with different mindsets, cultures and ideas and it's freaking amazing to talk with them, share your experience and discuss different subjects. It's just great and so inspirational to meet and talk with like-minded people. Loving life (:

 Last part of the incredible bolivian adventure will follow soon, and until then

 Hasta luegoooo

Monday, 20 June 2016 Cusco, Perú

rainbow mountains, coca leaves and yoga

Finally back in Cusco, a beautiful town I fell for only a week ago I was able to just relax for once and not have a schedule for every single day. It was great to do whatever I wanted and I basically just roamed around the streets every single day I was there (ended up finding a Starbucks and bought a bigger daypack (; ) A friend of mine from Switzerland ended up being in Cusco at the same time as I was so we both knew we definitely had to meet up. I had heard of this great trek to Rainbow Mountain, which funnily, not a lot of people had heard of. Marlo seemed interested as well so I pretty spontaneously booked us a tour for the next day, which meant I had to get up at 3.00am. Here we go again. Prepared as I was, the night before I laid out everything for the following day and made sure I somehow got to bed at about 10pm. Set my alarm, as you do, and prepared myself for a short night.

3.20am, the lights suddenly on and someones hammering at our dorm door. All I hear is 'Joelle, Joellee!' and 'They're waiting for you!'
I can tell you, that is the absolute worst way to be woken up. You're happily snoring away and out of nowhere someone abruptly pulls you out of your dreams and reminds you that you're late. I was totally stressed out, my heart hammering in my chest as if I ran a marathon and never got ready as quickly as I did that morning. After hastily sending off a desperate text to Marlo stating I slept in as I stupidly set my alarm for 3pm instead of 3am (FACEPALM!), five minutes later I was out the door, running to our little van and sank into my seat, an absolute mess. Waking up that way just messes with your whole mind and body, you know you're late, everybody's waiting for you and all that happened at the most ungodly hour in the morning. At least I got in some hours of sleep (with a certain someone's head falling on my shoulder every so often) although the roads ended up getting bumpier and bumpier as we left civilization and our drivers felt the need to blast loud, obnoxious music the whole way. Breakfast was served by a local family in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. We were led in to this backyard where you found an open toilet, sheep stable and living space for some evil geese. After climbing up a ladder we found ourselves in a small dining room and for the first time saw the faces of our fellow men joining us on this trek. Wasn't really sure what we were served as it was undefinable, but this Australian guy spilled half his portion down my leg, so that's that. At least I felt warm for a couple of seconds before I started shivering again.

A baño stop and geese-evading later the van was ready to go again and we tackled the last part until we finally continued by foot. When we got there the view first of all was absolutely stunning. The sun hadn't completely risen yet so there was this great vibe going on and in the distance you could see some huuuuge snow covered mountain tops. About a hundred meters in front of us stood a herd of Lamas (or maybe Alpacas) led by beautifully clothed indigenous people wearing sandals made out of car wheels. It was absolutely freeeezing so I was stunned how those people wheathered this cold practically barefoot and then there was me wearing about three pairs of socks and five layers of clothing.

After getting set up and one guy buying a horse for his equipment and drone we began our ascent. Now, at first it was pretty managable (one british dude didn't seem to cope well with the altitude though - after huffing and puffing his way up for the first 100m he decided to get himself a sturdy horse as well), but our guide was practically running up that mountain, hardly making any stops and even nagging us to go faster and telling us that we had to move on. It was a bit disturbing especially as I'd been told that at this altitude you shouldn't overexert yourself and take it as slow as necessary. The asthma kicked in about halfway through and having to constantly change clothes when getting into the sun or shade didn't help either. It really did get pretty hard and I must say the Inca trail definitely was nothing compared to that. Maybe it was just me, or the altitude but I couldn't wait until I reached the top.

It was also quite a bit frustrating as one of the horses was led by a small boy who couldn't have been older than nine or ten and he was just striding up there as if he was walking at sea level and sometimes even had to pull or push the horse, without looking a tad exhausted. I did end up giving him one of my bananas at a small stop though, as up there it's pretty damn hard and expensive to get a hold of fruit. (got over my jealousy I guess)

The guide kept telling us, oh, it's right up there, only 30 more minutes. He ended up sayingt that about five times, so those minutes just kept adding up. Oh well, I was doing pretty okay when we walked a couple of kilometers on a more or less flat plane but the last part, which was just steep as hell, definitely took it out of me. Finally I saw some sort of rainbowy structures on the ground, which meant, it couldn't be that far anymore. And soon enough, we reached the base of Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) and tried to catch our breaths.

The last and final part still was to reach the actual summit to see Vinicunca in its full glory and that's when my wellfare kind of went downhill. We were at about 5000meters above sea level and paired with wind as cold as ice constantly smacking you in your face you're bound to feel a tad wonky on your feet. So coca leaves it was again, and I think, they might've actually helped a lot! Got our signature photos in front of the mountain and the guy with the drone even took some sick shots of us from above and filmed chasing sheep up a hill. Pretty fantastic and I'll try to find his footage!

After a quick and well-deserved break we began our descent (of course took us a lot longer than what the guide told us) and finally got to eat lunch. The long bus drive back was basically us just passed out in the back and sitting in the traffic. At last we arrived back in Cusco where Marlo and I decided to get some delicious pizza as a reward for our strenuous but pretty damn cool trek.

I stayed in Cusco a lot longer than expected, trying to figure out wheather or not to head up north again to check out a few places or to just continue on to Bolivia. Next to planning I also explored the city some more and found some lovely little hidden alleyways, beautiful shops (spent way too much money), got a well-needed pedicure and found a great yoga studio! Probably was one of the best classes I ever took and the atmosphere there was just great. Although holding a pose at ca. 3000m above sea level is quite a bit more challenging than expected.

Found some great reastaurants, serving vegetarian/vegan food and even came across a delicious creperie, getting hungry as I'm typing this. Whilst exploring the enchanting San Blas area I also found myself at a tiny coca museum, which looked pretty interesting. Upon entering I was given a quick summary of coca history and what I could find in the museum and soon began my own tour. It was pretty damn interesting what this green, small leave of a coca can do and how far back in history it actually goes. What amazed me the most was the fact that it was (in some parts even still is) used in the production of Coca Cola - yep, that's where the name comes from. Lightbulb.

Thursday, 16 June 2016 Puerto Maldonado, Perú

hakuna matata

The peruvian adventure continues after some wild nights out and sadly seeing off some peeps in our group. Next stop: Puerto Maldonado. Hello 30º Celsius and 100% humidity (+ every imaginable insect creature..)

Yep. From Cuscos miniature airport a ca. 1h flight took us into a completely different world. Instead of seeing mountain ranges out of our cabin windows, soon enough we were left speechless by the vast greenness and of course the Amazon river. It was absolutely stunning! When we stepped off the plane after our short ride we were immediately hit by the heatwave and sadly had to take off our statement aplaca jumpers. As after the jungle I wouldn't be flying back to Lima but stop off in Cusco again I had to leave all my luggage there and only travelled with a small duffle. So when that was picked up I was immediately hussled outside as the time has, once again, come to get my second to last rabies shot. Yay. Not sure if I mentioned the one in Puno (was a bit of a nightmare to get that one), but that was about a week back, and kindly our rainforest guide snatched up a taxi for me and together went on a hunt for a hospital willing to give me my really quite necessary shot. We were in a bit of a rush as we had to get back to the group in order to catch a boat taking us to our lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Stepping foot in to a jungle hospital is not something you get to see everyday. The term hygiene doesn't seem to exist over there, or at least has a different definition to how I interpret it. The nurse there was amazing and took me in to the childrens area where I got my lovely injection (it was pretty damn painful, even hours after).

In the end we managed to catch up with our group that in the meantime furiously rubbed themselves up with creams and deet, ready for some mosquitos. And of we went into the jungle. At first we had to drive in a little van for about 45min to reach the river and this was one of the worst roads I had ever experienced. We were jolted around and with every hole in the road (to be honest, can't even really call it a road) nearly fell out of our seats. However, when we finally did reach the river we were able to change into a more accommodation way of transport. The boat, which had to be kept in balance to prevent it from tipping over took us for another hour or so and we even got served delicious rice and veggies all wrapped up nicely in banana leaves.

Soon enough we made it to some stairs and a narrow, winded pathway that would eventually lead us to our lodge. And the lodge was freaking fantastic. It was pretty luxurious especially compared to where I slept at in Tena, Ecuador. Again, we had hammocks, but this time there was also a lounge, bar area (with wifi that worked, although they informed us it wouldnt (; ) and last but not least our amazing rooms with eco friendly soaps and shampoos. Oh yeah, and forgot to mention thefact that there were no windows, so right in front of our beds we basically saw monkeys swining from one tree to the other. Paradise.

After some delicious, fruity refreshments we were off to explore. Our rainforest guide was ever the pro and pointed out so many spiders, insects, plants and tarantulas our blind tourist eye wasn't really able to spot. We reached a lookout tower (can't remember how high it really was) that didn't seem too safe but still somehow managed to hold most of us. The sunset from up there was phenomenal and although I didn't really like how the tower started to sway, it was a lot safer up there due to the fact that the mosquitos prefered to eat up the ones closer to the ground.

Dinner was served and I have to say, in the jungle I ate some of the most amazing food. The same actually goes for the food in the jungle in Ecuador. I guess that's just the place to be to stuff your face with deliciousness. With full bellies we were off again to attempt to spot some nocturnal wildlife. We were pretty damn lucky. We took the boat again and saw some alligators but what I enjoyed the most were simply the stars. I couldn't get enough of how clear you were able to see the milky way, probably some planets, and all this was reflected in the amazon river. The night couldn't have gotten any better.

But it did. We stepped foot on the shore again and whilst I was busy trying not to trip over stones whilst looking up at the sky or the other way round looking at the ground  to keep myself from falling over and as a result hitting my head on lowhanging branches I nearly missed out on seeing spiders the size of my head (!!!), oppossuns and monkeys hiding away in the trees. And last but not least, the absolute highlight, we got to see a rare sight - a freaking sloth. Saying I was excited would be an understatement. I was simply over the moon.

The next day we were off to an early start and this time I wasn't complaining as I slept like a baby AND the sky was doing things that lightened up my tired soul (look at the first picture again). Boarded the boat once again before we started a short hike on which our fantastic guide pointed out interesting creatures and plants before we reached a small lake. Now this lake was beautiful, especially with the sun, the mist and overall great things nature those at dawn. We used some sort of wooden katamaran to navigate around the lake, used plants to draw tattoos on ourselves that ended up staying for more than a week and wait for it: we got to see otters. Overall, the jungle here blew all my expectations out the window. It was incredible .

Caught some evil piranhas and had a leg of a dead tarantula on my hand. Goals.
We returned at about 8am, which was insane as we've been on the go for four hours already. Some of us did kayaking, others climbed some trees but I decided to just grab myself a hammock and chillout for a bit and enjoy the last hours in the jungle. I also have to say the mosquitos here were a bit more aggressive than in Ecuador but still, I never got eaten alive which was pretty surprising... Not complaining though.

Later that day we sadly left the jungle, could've definitely stayed there for a couple days more, and explored Puerto Maldonado, its markets and the great foods (talking 'bout roasted nuts, coconut balls and a looot more). Our hotel also happened to have a pool, so must of us jumped into that one whilst enjoying cheap and disgusting cocktails. I also think that was our last night all together so we went out for a delicious dinner and believe it or not found a karaoke bar where things kind of got out of hand.

The next day it was not only time to say goodbye to Puerto, but also to some dear friends. The plane stopped over in Cusco before continuing on to Lima so it was quite and emotional, even teary-eyed goodbye to some great travel buddies. Luckily two fellow friends from the UK would be staying in Cusco aswell (and I'd be meeting them at a later stage again), so not all by myself after all.

Excited though to spend some more time in Peru, meet up with Marlo and do some yoga :)

Check to another jungle adventure and hakuna matataaaaaa

J x

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