La Paz: Cable Cars and Cholita Wrestling

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Riding the “teleferico” (cable car)

The cable cars rode up, up, up, but finally stopped as we reached the station in El Alto. I could have easily renamed it “El Altura”, because even without doing anything, we were all panting hard. Dad asked if we wanted to walk around town, but because of the altitude, we didn’t want anything to do except get back down. We ended up taking the line all the way down, then had a snack at the bottom, then took it to up to the station we’d gotten on at. It was amazing! The views were astounding! Also, it wasn’t a cheesy tourist thing. Most people riding it were locals, getting to their workplaces. Awesome!

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Cheering on Margarita!

In La Paz, we also saw Bolivian Cholita wrestling, where traditionally-dressed women get in a ring together and beat each other up. My favorite match was when Margarita, a small, 17-year-old girl, who we had met on the bus to the stadium, faced a big woman, and won multiple times. It was obvious that they were fighting their hardest. Oh, how wonderful! I’d never had a better time in my life.

Jungle-and-Pampas Tour

On a raft

Quicksand
Stuck in quicksand!

We got out of the boat, and I started walking around the sandbar. Soon I steeped into some mud, and started sinking. I tried to escape. However, I only sunk faster. I had fallen into quicksand! I wiggled my legs, gave them a good yank, and finally they came free. But where were my sandals? I reached down with my hands and pulled them out. They were covered in mud, but not damaged, so they were fine. I put them on. After giving myself a much-needed rinse, we headed into the little settlement. Whew, I though, that was a close one. Gotta be more careful in the jungle, James!

Sugar Juice...YUM!
Sugar Juice…YUM!

The settlement was full of pitifully scrawny dogs. We looked at the crops, and squeezed sugar cane into a delicious juice. Then we were off toward our lodge again.

When we got there, we had lunch, then took a hike. When we got back, we rested, then had dinner, then I, discovering Mom had brought her nook, read for a little while before going to bed.

The next morning, we got up bright and early (you can imagine how grumpy I was), hiked to the campsite, and the sky opened up. It was rain like you’d never seen before. It was as if the oceans had overturned, like someone grabbed the whole river and threw it all on us. This is what it must feel like being an ant when the lawn sprinkler points your way, I thought.

Finally we got to the campsite, and I read. Soon I was pulled off my book to do arts and crafts (not the best thing when you’re reading a good book), but one of the guides made a caiman-tooth necklace for me. I read until dinnertime, then we took a night hike through the jungle. We saw lots of bugs, including some ants that were a little more than an inch long. They were called 24-hour ants, because if one bit you at twelve o’clock noon, the pain didn’t go away until twelve o’clock noon the next day. Basically, the pain didn’t subside for 24 hours. Ow! Also, hearing the strange sounds spooked me a bit.

Jumping into the water
Jumping into the water

The next day, when we got back to the lodge after a combination of swimming and floating down the river on a raft, which we’d had to build from scratch using tree trunks, we rested for a couple of hours. Then, us and our group mates headed off to a stream that fed to the river to fish.

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Fishing

First, Trent, the Australian man, pulled up a silvery two-and-a-half footer. It flapped so hard it escaped the hook, and was sent flying through air. It landed with a wham! on the ground halfway up the hill. Trent tried to hold the slippery fish in place with his foot, but it slid right down into the pond. It must have told its friends, because we didn’t catch anything else in that water. Although, in another pond, we managed to catch two tiger fish, which were about a foot and a quarter each, and one catfish, which couldn’t have been bigger than a foot. We ate well, and slept well, too.

Sloth
Sloth!

We woke up, and found ourselves heading to town for our short break before the Pampas tour. We took a long drive (stopping on the side of the road to admire a sloth), saw a massive bird, and suddenly, the road was filled with water. We got out of the car, boarded a tiny motorboat, and rode the rest of the way to the lodge via the river. At one point, we came to a spot where two rivers met, forming a large pond. As we sped by, dolphins jumped up out of the water and fell back in again. I’m not kidding! Though, unfortunately, we were so fast that we only had a few moments to cherish the beauty of the memory. After we reached the lodge, we ate and rested before going on a “short” tour.

We swam with the dolphins, which was pretty cool, then went around looking for monkeys and birds. At first, I didn’t want to get in the water. I was in the pond already, though, wishing I could be in the boat. Then Mom jumped in, and called a dolphin over. It came right up to us and made a big splash. After what seemed like ages, I headed for the boat, but stopped when I heard a dolphin heading after me. I tucked my feet below my legs, but I still felt the dolphin nosing me playfully. It was quite an experience.

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Watching the sunset

Finally we ended up floating in a flooded field watching the sunset. At about that time, we saw a caimans in a couple of different places. We were thoroughly spooked, though amazed, and went straight for the lodge. We had dinner and got a relatively ‘good’ night’s sleep.

The next morning, we had breakfast, toured around, and finally ended up in a horse ranch that had a kind of bus stop attached to it. Finally we rode off to Rurrenabaque, ending our tour of the Pampas and the Jungle.

 

Salt Tour

Dinosaur attack! HELP!
Dinosaur attack! HELP!
Climbing on the trains
Climbing on the trains

I got on top of the old, useless train. Mom wanted me to get even higher, but I didn’t because it looked too dangerous. We got some awesome pictures, and soon we rode back to town to buy things like sunglasses and pick up lunch. As we drove across the salt flats, we stopped at places like the salt triangles, big piles of salt, before eating lunch.

I love the salt flats!
I love the salt flats!

Afterwards, we took our silly photos, messing with the perspective. We continued on to Fish Island, a small area of land in the middle of the salt flats with dirt, rock, and strangely enough, coral. Millions of years ago, the Pacific Ocean had reached even the salt flats, and the whole island had underwater, but when mountains had risen far into the ocean, gigantic, salty lakes were created. These lakes eventually dried up, creating salt flats. We explored around for a little while.

Cool, inspiring coral caves
Cool, inspiring coral caves

I found a cool cave and a small but awesome pit safely guarded by steep rock walls and spiky plants on almost every direction. After about an hour of driving, we escaped the salt flats and after about another hour of driving, we arrived at the salt hotel, a hostel made of entirely of salt bricks. While it was chilly outside, the salt kept us very warm.

The next day, we saw a bunch of lagoons with flamingos in them. One was even red! Our guide said it was because of the microorganisms that the flamingos ate, but one of our companions joked that it was red from blood. Human blood…

Freezing sunrise with warming geysers
Freezing sunrise with warming geysers

The sun just peeked over the mountains as the geysers continued their endless spraying of mist. It smelled eggy. Even though it was warm, it had a way of getting us away. Next we went to green lake. It earned its name, but because we were too early, it was not green at the time. Then we relaxed in the hot springs. By the time we ended our tour, we were ready for the next place.

 

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Fell asleep at the performance.

The theater darkened. The performance was about to start. I ate the cookies we had bought. The performance, apparently, was just different bits an pieces of different symphonies by Handel. I only lasted a few clips before nodding off. I woke up to the loudest ‘Alleluia’ ever. When we got home, I went straight back to bed.

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Playing games with my new friend Carla.

More fun I had was when I played with the daughter of the owners of our guest house, Carla. We would play Plants vs. Zombies, and with our Uno cards and toys. One day, we both had school holiday, and we played with several toys. With the Uno cards, not only did we play classic Uno, but I also made up some games, like Wild Match, Uno War, and Uno War 2.

_DSC6887Something we did almost every day that I enjoyed was feeding the birds in the main plaza. It was very relaxing – less exhausting then chasing them. It gave me lots of pleasure. Sometimes, we would eat ice cream while watching people breakdance in the middle of the square. The zebra crossing guards were cool, too, and one day, on our way to the main plaza, we encountered a parade.

Viewing the Bolivian Declaration of Independence.
Viewing the Bolivian Declaration of Independence.

Across the street from the main park was the liberty house, which used to be a Jesuit chapel, but had been turned into a meeting place, were the original declaration of Bolivian independence was signed and kept.

We also saw the cemetery, which was beautiful but sad at the same time.

Whether it was the theater, the plaza, the cemetery, the liberty house, or home, there is always something to do in Sucre.

A Hike and A Party

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Prehispanic Trail
Prehispanic Trail

The pre-colonial road was made of rocks put together, and was very steep. Towards the beginning of the hike, I saw something strange in the rocks, which looked like Thomas Jefferson’s head put on the sphinx’s body, with the Hawa Mahal from Jaipur, India, in the background. Not long afterward, I got hungry and took out one of the sandwiches that we had packed. I devoured it in a few hungry bites. Then we continued on.  We passed a place that used to be a rest stop for travelers and their animals. I thought we would eat there, but we didn’t.

My toes really started to hurt. Soon we reached the modern, dirt road. That was much better for my feet. A short time later, we reached a small ledge behind a rock wall. I thought we would eat there, but we didn’t.

Next, we went down steep, sandy terrain. Beforehand, mom tied my shoes tighter, so they wouldn’t hurt my feet as much. I still got my feet hurt, and a while later, our guide, Jorge, put some muscle cream on my toe, under a tree. I thought we would eat there, but we didn’t.

Sheep crossing during the hike.
Sheep crossing during the hike.

After another long while, I ended up switching bags with mom, and immediately my pace quickened. Soon, mom pulled out a sandwich, saying that she had had it, and that she was starving. She gobbled her sandwich in a few quick gulps. Jorge said that our lunch place was just around the corner. It saw a tall evergreen, assuming he meant that. We just passed by the place. Soon he pointed at an evergreen grove that appeared far, but was in fact pretty close. We got there, and finally ate. Upon learning we would be there for an hour, I asked if I could read, but the permission wasn’t granted, because I had been complaining too much. After a while, we got up to go. A flock of sheep crossed the river. I approached a black lamb, but a white sheep chased me off.  We soon crossed the bridge, too, and things got real.

A very scary crossing!
A very scary crossing!

We hiked along the trail, not the road. We went uphill, and it was steep. Most plants we passed were spiky, due to low amounts of rain. We got very low on water. A little time of hiking passed, and we reached a precipice that was too thin to normally walk on. We had to be strategic to cross. Tiny shards of rock came off and stuck to my hand like burrs and hurt like splinters. Afterwards, mom and I got some chocolate. That was a mistake! It made us very thirsty. By the time we got to town, we had no water, and were thirstier than you can imagine. When we passed a hostel, our guide told us that that was the place we were staying. The man running the hostel gave us three big water bottles. At the end of the day, we had drunk around 2 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water!

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Player “Joker” with some travelers from Israel and one from Germany.

The next day wasn’t as long or hard. In the middle of the afternoon, we arrived at the town where we were supposed to catch the bus, and met up with some backpackers from a few different countries we’d met earlier in the trip. We eventually got on the back of a truck, which had clumps of dirt and pebbles in the corners. This was a very bumpy and dusty ride. We passed the bus that we should have been on, which rejected us because it was too full, and it was apparently pulled over because the driver felt like having a lunch break. We ended up getting kicked off at a construction site. We were about to get on a truck that was more sheltered, but they had to unload some cement. Finally we were off toward Sucre again.

Statue in the plaza in Tarabuco
Statue in the plaza in Tarabuco

The next day, we went to a festival at a Tarabuco. It crowded and boring. Although, at the center of town, there was a beautiful plaza, and on the side of it, the president was giving a speech. On the outskirts of the park in the middle, there was an animated statue of the indigenous man who had led the rebellion in the area, standing over a Spanish soldier who literally had a whole where he should have had a heart. The indigenous man had a horn in one hand… and the soldier’s heart in the other. Last, we watched an assortment of dances while eating lunch in a beautiful courtyard with lots of grass.

Lastly, we spent the weekend running around and chilling out to wrap up our time in Sucre.

Soccer: The Heart of Latin America

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My teammate was trapped on every side possible from the front. He passed it back to me and I ran to the goalpost. I took a shot and scored! Goooooooooooooooooooooooooal! I was playing soccer with some kids at a kids fair. The daughter of the owners of our guesthouse was going to the kids fair, too. They invited us, so we came.We had a pretty exciting match.

We also saw a pretty exciting match. It was Universitario, Sucre’s team, playing at home, against Bolivar, La Paz’s team. Bolivar scored in the middle of the first half. In the middle of the second half, one Universitario player stomped on the foot of a Bolivar player and was thrown out of the game. Once, Universitario had a corner kick. I had the feeling that this would be a goal. We’d had so many near-misses so far. The ball was kicked and bounced on someone’s head into the net. Goooooooooooooooooal! The crowd went nuts! Everyone yelled and cheered on Universitario.