A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia - born to be wild!

Eco-farms, mines, markets and poverty

sunny 30 °C

Hola Amigos!

And Hola Bolivia!

Coma Estas? Bien? Bien! Bueno! Moy Bueno!

Te gusta Australianos? Si si!

As you can tell by now I'm practically fluent in Spanish, though I try hard not to flaunt it like I did above.

This blog is about Bolivia though, so without further ado it is focus Ben, focus.

As you readers may know, one Miss Michelle England hijacked our blog to bring you Peru, reportedly due to my ostinato procrastination. If procrastination is the codeword for perfection these days then so be it! But before I start this blog on Bolivia context might be in order: before the land of Peru we were in Bolivia, and before Bolivia came the Pantanal in Brazil.

From the Pantanal we caught an increasingly familiar 6am bus along 6 hours of bumpy dirt road to the Bolivia/Brazil border. Getting across the Brazil part was fine, but on the Bolivian side we had the immigration officer ask Michelle and I to produce a certain amount of cash (which we didn’t have) or a credit card; somewhat bizzare having Bolivia, the 3rd poorest country in Latin America questioning us about our financial viability to visit it! Michelle had her CC on her but mine had been in my wallet - that got stolen in Mendoza. We tried to explain this but we could tell it wasn't going anywhere (and someone in front was in the same predicament and failed to convince Mr Serious), so it was time for plan B: the "we are married" card.

I had a ring I'd bought in Argentina, and casually slipped it on the left finger - stealth-like. Chelle explained we were married and shared the same card. A few suspicious looks later - whoolah, we were in! I think that makes it our first official married moment?

Once you cross the border, to get to Bolivia's first major town, Santa Cruz, you need to catch a train affectionately known as the "death train". We'd done our research on exactly why such a friendly label applied and from what we discerned it was mostly to do with the self-inflicted pain people wish upon themselves after putting up with a rickety train that stops every 5-10 minutes and is as uncomfortable as hell. That's the cheapest and nastiest train though which costs about $3-5 for 12 hours. Fortunately us super-rich-credit-card-owning tourists had another option - the ferrobus - for about $40 with seats more like an airplane cabin with air conditioning. Death train it is not, unless it is death by eating the snacks they serve at the station before you get on.

When we woke up on our train from Brazil ... we knew we were in Bolivia

When we woke up on our train from Brazil ... we knew we were in Bolivia


Crossing into Bolivian waters

Crossing into Bolivian waters

Bolivia Death Train - Survived

Bolivia Death Train - Survived

Extreme conditions!

Extreme conditions!

SANTA CRUZ

Santa Cruz had a bad rap from some travellers we had met but we quite enjoyed the city. Firstly – it has Yogun Fruz, quite possibly the best frozen yoghurt the world has yet invented. It also has a beautiful plaza that forms the heart of the central district, and is a plethora of shops, markets and food stalls surrounding it - definitely good for a day of meandering, eating and artwork and shopping. It is beginning to get a pollution problem and has too much traffic already, and will be dealing with some serious environmental and health issues in the near future. But that was nothing compared to the Bolivian capital La Paz - more on that later.

Santa Cruz time was spent mostly chillin and getting up to date on blogs, etc (those were the days), but we were to return to it a week later and visit a village just out of town called Porongo that maintained a more traditional Santa Cruz lifestyle in architecture, transport, food and general day-to-day life. To get there you had to get in a truck/collectivo at one of the markets, wait till the truck filled up with people and then off you go! Half the trip off-road through dirt, mud and overflowing rivers - a very authentic outback Bolivian experience. In the town itself there's plenty of local delicacies to feast on, none of which are remotely healthy, but why let health get in the way of good taste right? Right!

Hop aboard a collectivo and trust the locals get you there - this time to a town called Porongo!

Hop aboard a collectivo and trust the locals get you there - this time to a town called Porongo!


Porongo, a town holding strong to Santa Cruz tradition

Porongo, a town holding strong to Santa Cruz tradition

Tasty friend snacks from a Porongo local

Tasty friend snacks from a Porongo local

GINGERS PARADISE

At our hostel we had read about a place called Gingers Paradise that was a eco/organic farm where you could go and work to pay off some of your board - well, you saved about $1/day so it was basically volunteering.

It sounded interesting and we felt like doing something different than following lonely planet trails, so - off we went!

Getting to gingers was an adventure in itself, again it required catching a collectivo where we squashed in with about 8 people and backpacks into a Toyota Hiace, telling them to drop us off at "KM 72" and hoping they knew what that meant – or more like that they could understand our Spanglish. That's the quintessential travel though right, vague directions of how to get from A to B with you to have the fun of filling in the dots.

Once we arrived at Gingers we were greeted by two Israeli guys in their underwear (an interesting welcoming party!) and as they proceeded to change in front of us they told us to drop our bags at the cabin, get some farm friendly gear on, and head off to the field to start doing some work. Alrighty then - straight into it then I guess!

There we met the owners of Gingers, Chris and Sol, and their cute kids Ginger and Dzi (pronounced "Dizzy"), along with 5 other people who were staying there. An eclectic bunch we were - there was an American girl who'd been staying there in a tent for 3 weeks now, a Dutch guy having some time-out from travelling with his partner, the two Israeli guys and "crazy George" a retired ex-Vietnam green beret. Oh yea – and some nutbag Australians thrown in too.

After a brief hello it was time to get the hoes out and start digging weeds. Nothing like getting those hands dirty after months of avoiding work!

At Gingers all meals are made from organic produce on the farm, and everyone eats together. It's part of the beauty of the place, everyone gets to know each other and within a day you all feel like family. It also helps that the food is so delicious, you truly realise how crap the stuff you usually get from supermarkets is. A typical days’ meal might be fresh baked bread with pesto, home-made jam, avocado and garlic for breakfast. A huge lunch with fried Tapioca and salt, beans and rice, a giant vegetable patty, salad and desert of fresh fruit and dinner is the lightest meal of the day often just fruit and a small sandwhich. Damn it’s making me hungry talking about it! No matter how much you work at gingers, you are ALWAYS full! Oh yea – a little organic chocolate and red wine at dinner doesn’t go astray either.

Gingers Paradise - here we come!

Gingers Paradise - here we come!


Fried Tapioca with local Gingers sauces - mmmmm

Fried Tapioca with local Gingers sauces - mmmmm

Our home at Gingers for the week

Our home at Gingers for the week


Art to be found in every corner - mosaic floor in our cabin

Art to be found in every corner - mosaic floor in our cabin

Favourite time of day - lunch time!

Favourite time of day - lunch time!

Packing in the loft at Gingers Paradise

Packing in the loft at Gingers Paradise

Staying at a place like this is really important as it connects you closely again with your own sustenance. When you shop at a city supermarket you don't think about where the tomato you eat is grown and how it's grown and what it takes to grow it. When you take a dump in the toilet you don't think about the impact that might make, sans those that enter the toilet after you. Gingers had nothing but a can and some sawdust for a dunny, albeit with some of the best nature views one might want while doing their business (that white bread clogging never felt so enjoyable). The toilet was as clean and non-smelling as any you'd want and all waste got recycled and put back into the earth. All electricity for the farm comes from a combination of solar power and a hydro-electric generator driven from a tiny waterfall about 1km from the main house. That’s the type of place Gingers is.

Checking out a problem with the hydro-electric system that powers the farm - fortunately I was there to fix it

Checking out a problem with the hydro-electric system that powers the farm - fortunately I was there to fix it


Now this is how you do a natural cooking stove

Now this is how you do a natural cooking stove

Bean podding and jewellery classes

Bean podding and jewellery classes

Chris the owner of Gingers Paradise is a talented musician and many nights on Gingers involve dinner followed by your own personal concert on the guitar. And if your girlfriend dobs you in as playing guitar as well (not to mention names!) you'll be handed the guitar and in front of everyone there asked to play your own originals or make some up! And then Chris might ask you to record them for his "infamous hits" tape that he is compiling from people that have stayed at Gingers. I did this on the last night and the songs I recorded will stay with Chelle I'm afraid, but if you come and visit us in the future then after a few beers I may be persuaded to bring them out again :-))

Chris playing some nightly originals for the gringos

Chris playing some nightly originals for the gringos


Listening and chilling to the music - with my dawg

Listening and chilling to the music - with my dawg


Playing for the Gingers infamous hits collection

Playing for the Gingers infamous hits collection

Chris is looking to raise money for a musical performance he wants to take around Bolivia to educate people about the environment – badly needed I must say. I helped him while I was there with applying for some funding, doing budgets etc, but if anyone knows an organisation he should consider applying for let us know and I'll tell him.

Chelle and I both left Gingers Paradise changed from the experience, determined to have a backyard as soon as possible when we get home, start growing some herbs and vegies, and generally learning to be more conscious of our day-to-day impacts. Yes - we are turning into tree-hugging hippies. Make sure you all hold us to it OK!

Some misc photos of Gingers including some walks to nearby waterfalls.

Chelle and Sol playing chess - go babe crush em! :-)

Chelle and Sol playing chess - go babe crush em! :-)

Natural remedies galore!

Natural remedies galore!

Dzi and Ginger captivated by the wonders of technology

Dzi and Ginger captivated by the wonders of technology

Doing my bit to fertilise the farm, no-one will find out

Doing my bit to fertilise the farm, no-one will find out

Caught!

Caught!


50m waterfall at Gingers

50m waterfall at Gingers

Dzi the 11 year old tour guide

Dzi the 11 year old tour guide

200 metre waterfall about 4 hours walk from Gingers - shame it's too cloudy to show up properly

200 metre waterfall about 4 hours walk from Gingers - shame it's too cloudy to show up properly


The three amigos, walking and crawling through the jungle after we got lost for 2 hours in the dark - true story

The three amigos, walking and crawling through the jungle after we got lost for 2 hours in the dark - true story


Chris holds watch with the machete while the boys clean off

Chris holds watch with the machete while the boys clean off


Chelle the Speech Therapist and George the ex-Vietnam Green Beret - coming to a screen near you!

Chelle the Speech Therapist and George the ex-Vietnam Green Beret - coming to a screen near you!

COCHABAMBA

At Gingers Paradise I had my first experience playing a Charango, a 10 stringed guitar with 5 pairs of strings tuned to the same note (like a 12 string guitar, just 2 less string). The tuning is totally different than guitar though and gives an open chord tuning which sounds beautiful just strumming it. After playing with it I HAD to get one and Christopher recommended a friend of his, Fernando, who was a great Charango player in Cochabamba, about 6 hours rickety bus away - so off to Cochbamba we went!

Cochabamba is one big-ass market town, with literally every street lined with vendors spruiking their stuff, a lot of it really quite kitsch or trinket and often very random. It's a little in your face and a little polluted and chaotic but still made for some fascinating street roaming, and, mostly importantly, was the place I will remember as where I got my first Charango (cue tears). It is named Coche (many marketing team meetings later), and having a local there to know what to get made all the difference - and saved me some good $'s. Fresh in my hands Fernando, Chelle and I went to the top of a hill for my first - and so far only - Charango lesson. These guitar-battled fingers of mine struggled to learn new skills - you play it more ukelele style than guitar - but fun was had by all, at least the locals nearby didn't go running for the hills when I played!!

Cocha also contained the lesser known of the "Christos" of South America, and given Rio's one was closed we decided to pay a visit - still a spectacular sight and view.

One giant Paddy's market!

One giant Paddy's market!

Funky Cochabamba buses

Funky Cochabamba buses

Shopping for a Charango in the markets of Cochabamba - only 1000 to choose from!

Shopping for a Charango in the markets of Cochabamba - only 1000 to choose from!


Fresh squeezed OJ in Cochabamba

Fresh squeezed OJ in Cochabamba


Avoid buying your shirts from these guys

Avoid buying your shirts from these guys


Christos of Cochabamba (yes it's not just in Rio)

Christos of Cochabamba (yes it's not just in Rio)


View of Cochabamba from the Christos

View of Cochabamba from the Christos

Namaste to the Christos of Cochabamba

Namaste to the Christos of Cochabamba

Looking out onto Cochabamba

Looking out onto Cochabamba

SUCRE

From Cochabamba we headed it was off to one of the most beautiful towns in Bolivia - the colonial town of Sucre. Sucre is one of those places that many a person intends to spend only a day or two in but ends up staying for weeks. It's a perfect place to learn Spanish too – for anyone hitting Bolivia in the near future.

The town itself has been immaculately maintained, with its’ streets, churches and buildings in prime condition and the Sucre central area has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. There is a fantastic energy about the place, with great food at great prices to be found everywhere, fresh markets if you want to cook on your own, and plenty of beautiful architecture to take in, especially at night. Sucre was also the town where the Bolivian Declaration of Independence was signed so it has important historical significance to the Bolivians.

Sucre by dusk

Sucre by dusk


Sucre at night

Sucre at night


Sucre Church

Sucre Church


Watching the world of Sucre go by

Watching the world of Sucre go by


Sucre fruit and veg market goodies

Sucre fruit and veg market goodies

We were lucky to be in Sucre just in time for one of their yearly festivals, where people hit the streets in numbers dressed up and ready to dance and sing. It's colourful and vibrant and reminded us of the festival in Valdivia all those months ago (time is flying fast here!!). Chelle and I also tried a bit of dancing, helping to integrate Sydney and Sucre dance techniques into a new avante garde fusion of human movement. OK – I made that up.

Bowler hat ladies showing how its done at the Sucre festival

Bowler hat ladies showing how its done at the Sucre festival

Sucre festival dancers

Sucre festival dancers

Nearby Sucre, about an hour away is the Tarabuco markets, the biggest in the area. They are held on Sunday and are dominated by the local textile artists who spend up to a month creating beautiful clothes and artwork. As colourful as it was we must say it was a bit of a depressive place, with few smiles on the faces of the locals and no music going on around us. It doesn’t make for really enjoyable shopping, and in a strange way you feel like you are being used for your gringo dollar.

One bright spot in the market was a girl - excitable and contagiously friendly - we met who had just started an organic cafe and arts shop, way out the back of town. We decided to visit and boy did it turn out to be interesting! The food was great and the small gallery there interesting (it had only about 10 or so paintings as it was in start-up mode), but somehow we found ourselves an hour later still inside being held slightly hostage by our overly enthusiastic host!

We had a bus that was leaving at either 4 or 4:30pm (I was sure it was the later; Chelle the former), and it was approaching 4 so we tried to wrap things. We had shown interest in one of the paintings but probably not enough to buy one, but then the idea was suggested last minute that we might want to GET OUR OWN PORTRAIT! Our host was keen for a sale, and her brother was one of the gallery artists and – we were told - he could do it for us within 24 hours! We thought why not? This was actually the first portrait he had ever done and there were none other in the gallery – this was one of those random travel things you have to say yes to!

I had decided I wanted a portrait with a Charango in it (people who know me know that I go through times of brief obsession with new things) and that sparked a series of phone calls and frenzied conversations around town whereby we discovered an uncle SOMEWHERE had a Charango! It was like a challenge in the Great Race to get it to us in time. We waited, waited and waited, and a few minutes before 4pm up turned the Charango – not just a Charango either but a full local costume for Chelle and I, complete with the Spanish style helmet! Chelle was certain by now that the bus was at 4pm and we were going to miss it but I was equally as certain that it was 4:30pm and all was good. Ben’s never wrong, right?

The helmut made us look a little touristy tragic/daggy as you can see the portrait photo below, and the end result you'll have to come and see in our house sometime. It’s pretty damn funny! They did a good job of me, but it does make Michelle look a little bit like she has a black eye! By the time all our costume changes and photo taking were done we raced back to the bus just in time to find out that, shock horror the bus WAS actually 4pm. The pain for me was double-fold: 1) We missed the bus; 2) I had to admit to Michelle she was right. The first pain turned out to be no drama as there were local buses available. The second pain I am still feeling to this day!

Chelle striking a bargain! Got them down 25 cents

Chelle striking a bargain! Got them down 25 cents

Tarabuco markets from the eyes of a local

Tarabuco markets from the eyes of a local


Traditional Bolivian textile piece, hand-made with amazing detail. We are regretting not buying one!

Traditional Bolivian textile piece, hand-made with amazing detail. We are regretting not buying one!


Bolivian textile weaving - meticulous and labour intensive. The women who master it are amazing

Bolivian textile weaving - meticulous and labour intensive. The women who master it are amazing


Tarbucos running of the bulls

Tarbucos running of the bulls

Our hosts/hostage-holders at Tarabuco markets

Our hosts/hostage-holders at Tarabuco markets

Posing for our portrait - totally passing as locals

Posing for our portrait - totally passing as locals

And with that I shall leave part one of Bolivia. Next to come are the Potosi Mines, Uyuni Salt Flats, Death Road and the Amazon**. Geeez you realise you get around a bit when you do this round-the-world thing. Stay tuned!!!

Hasta luego!!!
Ben and Chelle

  • *At this rate current ETA is 2015

Posted by CBAdv2010 15:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia potosí santa_cruz sucre world_trip gingers_paradise

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Comments

It looks, feels and sounds amazing!!!!! I'm bummed you didn't buy a traditional Bolivian textile piece as well!!!!!! See you soon!!!!!!

Fi

by Fiona

Great Blog Mr.Ben~So you did or did
NOT do the "death train"? I see both options, I think. :-O Good for you guys for experiencing Ginger Paradise! I'd have chosen the opportunity, also! Very cool. I cannot believe you didn't buy the Bolivian textile, tho'. Buy the textiles! They make great wall tapesties, table clothes, etc. I speak from experience...they're awesome to have after the travels. xo

by Joan Turner

Ben!! Brilliant blog honey..... and it only took 4 MONTHS to write :)

by CBAdv2010

Ben and Chele

Treasure that pricelesss moment Chelle where Ben admits that he just might possibiy have gotten it wrong with the bus departure time!

The portrait is a classic that it makes it all worthwhile. You both could easily pass for local yokels.Wish you'd bought up a heap of gorgeous textiles for Mother's Day!(That's a subtle hint Ben Im so into subtle as you know)

Loved the "Don't panic it's organic" Gingers and this is truly your future calling so bye bye baby to the big business world! Hello to organic gardens and guitar playing all night

So relieved that you survived death train, (another hint- please avoid anything with the name death in it as we really want you (cue Bee Gess)Ah Ah Ah Ah Stayin Alive! Malaysia awaits!

Love reading about your great adventures and living the dream through your blog. Love Mumma

by Bronwyn Reidi

Wow, how will you ever be settled in down town Sydney again! Great blogs guys love them x Louisa

by Louisa

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