Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-

Travel Tip # 172….. NEVER, NEVER EVER…..

2007-12-20 to 2007-12-25

….. take two diuretics and then board a toilet-less bus for three hours at altitude… but I am getting ahead of myself!

Apologies for the delay in updating my stories but I have been breathless, literally! I am currently in La Paz, Bolivia, nearly 4km up above sea level but let me tell you how I got here.

I spent two days in the nice town of Salta after arriving from Buenos Aires on yet another bus. It was full of Christmas hustle and bustle and it was nice to get swept up in it, if only temporarily. I then set off with Barry, a mate I have met all over South America to La Quiaca, the border town on the Argentinian side and then we walked over to Villazon in Bolivia.

Well we did eventually, after a brief hiccup where the Argentinian customs guy had given us an entry stamp instead of the obligatory exit one. But this issue sufficiently smiled through we arrived into my 6th South America country to date. The things that struck initially was the distinctive indigenous look of the people, their diminutive size, their large smiles and their overindulgence in colourful wear!

The other thing that seemed to attack us almost immediately was the lack of oxygen which was oppressive! Short gasps of air was all you could do, even while stationary. Which, in fact we were for most of the morning as we waited to buy tickets for that afternoon´s train. Barry started to nosebleed which gave us yet another indicator of our exalted status.

I met my mate Matt randomly again, whom I hadn´t seen since my boat trip to Uruguay weeks before which reminded me again how small the world is. We were the only three eating in an out of the way ´restaurant´and catching up on our respective adventures whiled away the hours before the train ride.

It was truly a beautiful, if albeit, frustratingly slow one but I think it put me in touch with the Bolivian pace of things. We trundled along so slowly in fact that my empty Pringles box didn´t fall over all night! At one point, I woke and while looking out at the bleak countryside I came across a huge hill that was a cemetery with large headstones, eerily miles away from any town. I felt really blessed for some reason for having woke at that moment.

The next morning after countless miles of barren land, a truly magical apparition happened as the train tracks divided a huge lake, the far sides of which I couldn´t see on either side and which were populated with a mass of birds, particularly thousands of flamingos. All of us gringos in the carriage looked at each other as if to verify that we could believe what we were seeing. I think that Bolivia was revealing itself to me…

I met Kat, Amanda and Amy, friends of mine from Brazil at Oruru, the train destination, and they started to warn me about altitude sickness and the horror stories that they had endured. They knew the way to the bus station so with Marie from Ireland, we organised a trip to La Paz. Now backpackers are generally a generous lot, unwritten universal traveller rules apply and if you can help a fellow roamer, then it is incumbent on you to do so. So the girls generously gave me two diuretics which they assured me would help me with my anticipated altitude sickness.

Well, I can tell you one thing, the very real threat of an exploding bladder is just the tonic when you are trying to take your mind of the supposed threat of altitude sickness! I applied all of my mind deflective techniques as we arrived up to La Paz and to be honest, just seeing it, took my mind of my discomfort (temporarily!)

I knew this was a ´Consi´ kind of place, whatever that means exactly! But I knew that this was to be home for some time. Once settled into The Wild Rover, owned by the irrepressible Davie from Tipp, Ireland, I set out for a walk but that was to prove a bridge too far. I was woozy, tired and I had a dry cough. This altitude malarky is for real!

The next day was Christmas Eve and I loved walking around the huge markets that at all times maintained a great calmness and dignity despite the fervoured business. I bought 11 toys for the local kids which was to be my Christmas present to myself. Ok, who I am I kidding, I also indulged in a few drinks that night at the bar where I firmly impressed myself on all and sundry! I spent as much time behind the bar serving drinks as I did on the other side receiving them!

I was in my element! The next day I went to mass said my a Ghandi look-a-like with Jasna from Croatia and then I went to an Internet Cafe to call home! Technology is a wonderful thing when it works and frustratingly my family couldn´t see me on Skype but it was so much fun telling my Mam exactly what she was wearing and the colour of her Christmas Cracker Hat!!

We had a wonderful Christmas dinner and my Mam received hostel wide laudits for sending me a text wishing Davie and his family the very best Christmas wishes because he was looking after her son for Christmas dinner! I am not sure what she would have thought about the fact that Davie then offered her son a real job….

Next :- Just a foot too close to dying for comfort

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