We were originally going to go to Copacabana, but ended up going to Villa Tunari instead. We had a local travel agent offer to help us plan our trip. On Thursday he told me to make sure I'm home on Friday at 12pm so that he could call me with our itinerary...I was thinking, "I'll believe it when I see it"...he called Sunday afternoon...hours before we should have been leaving on a bus and then was surprised that we planned the trip on our own, without his help. Weird. He did let us know, however, that he plans on stopping by the house to visit us when we return (Juana thinks we owe him money for how he "helped" us plan our trip). Of course.
Traveling through the mountains in Bolivia is not my favorite...actually I really don't like it at all. Never have. Dirt roads, no guardrails and plummets over 1,000 feet!!! I almost didn't want to go on the trip because of the mountains, but the only way out of our valley is over the mountains. Juana kept telling me that we would take a BIG BUS, which is safer...she kept saying that the small trufis (think mini-van) are super dangerous because they go so fast and pass everyone in the mountains...she kept saying that they wreck all of the time, but not to worry because we were going on the safer, bigger buses...I finally agreed that we could go IF we go on a BIG BUS and Juana said we will be fine because God is with us. When people say that, I always think, "That's true, but that doesn't mean nothing bad will happen!".
So, Monday morning we woke up early and went to catch our bus. I thought that we were going to the bus terminal, but we ended up in the freakiest parts of town (I was sure that we were going to be mugged in broad daylight)!!! Yes, I have seen these parts of the city, but always chosen to stay in the safe car. Juana started walking around and asking where to buy our tickets just as a BIG BUS was pulling out. She came and said that we were going to have to take one of the little trufis...."Um, you mean the trufis that YOU said are very dangerous because they go so fast through the mountains and pass people on the corners!!!???"....Juana said, "Yes, but they are safe". At this point, I felt upset because I was scared of where we were standing and I was scared of where we were going. Juana and I talked back and forth trying to decide what to do. I didn't like that she was now saying that the trufis were safe since that was our only option and she wanted to convince me that it was fine. I finally gave up and decided either I'll have to get over it or we will have to go home and forget the trip. Juana walked back over to a trufi to get our tickets, only to find out they were now all sold out. I was secretly thanking God and turned around just in time to see a BIG BUS pull up!!! We ran with a dozen other people and crowded around a little wooden table and an old notebook to get our tickets. See the ticket booth below???
|Ticket booth under the overhang.|
Other people start to get on the bus and, of course, the only child having a meltdown sat right next to us. Yay. The little vendors take their turns coming down the aisle to sell things that I HAVE NEVER AND WILL NEVER eat. As soon as the bus starts going, Nick leans over and holds my hand and prays with me that we will get to the jungle safely.
Honestly, the drive wasn't as bad as I anticipated. The roads were paved almost all of the way, there were guardrails in some places, the bus driver USUALLY drove carefully...I haven't been on this road in ten years, so a lot has changed. Don't get me wrong...the mountains are still freaky!
|The landscape starts to change...|
|The closer we get to the jungle, the more green everything is...|
|One of the many landslides that we saw on the way!!!|
|Welcome to the Jungle!!!|
We finally made it (alive) to Villa Tunari. Immediately we found a public bathroom since the bus didn't have one...Nick and I had been about to burst for over three hours!!! Public bathrooms around here are 20 times worse than the grossest gas station bathroom you've ever seen in the USA and you have to pay 1Bs to use them and get a few squares of toilet paper.
|Public Bathroom is through the red brick door :)|
The rest of the afternoon, we just relaxed. We walked around some, ate some dinner at "San Silvestre", swam and then read our books until we fell asleep.
|Plancha de Surubi|
Here is the beautiful pool that we were told we could use if we chose our Hostal...it looked like a lot that had, at one time, had a house...then maybe they decided to tear down the house and keep the pool??? The entire lot was sand and rocks and trucks like a construction zone and of course, stray dogs. But, once you got down to the trees at the end of the sidewalk, the pool area was truly very nice!!!
Tuesday morning, Juana wanted to get up and have our breakfast at 6am so that we had plenty of time to go to site-see. We talked her up to 7am.
By 8:30am, we had walked through town, crossed a bridge on foot that wasn't built for pedestrians (I knew we were going to die) and arrived at Parque Machia one hour before it opened.
We sat around, made friends with two stray dogs (they are everywhere) and prayed that the monkey in the tree didn't come any closer...eventually our new friends barked and chased it away and then came to sit in front of us like they were our guards. At 9:30am, when the park should open, it didn't...surprise surprise. The girl selling the tickets said that there was too much mud so they can't open until 10am. I turned to Nick and said, "Yea, because the mud should be totally dry in just 30 more minutes." Sorry for all the sarcasm, but seriously?!?!?!
So, at 10am, we got in line and got our tickets. I was so surprised because everything we do now needs documents/IDs. Remember all the trouble I had with my Visa? Then at the Hostal Habana, they asked for our Passport numbers and Juana and Sandra's Carnets (Bolivian ID cards)...they asked for the same at the park. Why do they need our ID numbers to go into a park?!?!!
When I was in high school, I visited this park and just remembered some flat area with freaky monkeys. I remember them climbing on me as I was holding Lizzie. They climbed on Lizzie, got on her head, wrapped their tail around her neck and swung from her like she was a jungle gym. I was terrified and held onto her for dear life. Then, when I returned to school after vacation, I found out that two of my friends had been bitten by the monkeys and had TONS of stitches...they were there the same week as us with the same monkeys. I was so glad that it hadnt been me and Lizzie. Anyway...I don't remember ever climbing to a lookout point but that's what we did this time. If you read my blog, you know I don't like hiking...I LOVE walking...hiking, no thank you. Plus, I haven't exercised in over half a year, it's 90 degrees in the jungle and the altitude is killing me.
About half way up the mountain, I heard a bunch of screaming and excited, fast talking. I round the corner and see a...A BEAR...on a leash. Yep. No lie. A HUGE, LIVE BEAR. On a leash. No fence. Just a small clearing, 20 Bolivians, Nick and me, a bear on a leash and a trainer (at least that's what I told myself he was...ignorance is bliss sometimes). I was SO glad that the park obviously puts safety first at all times:
1. made us wait for 30 minutes for the mud to dry
2. made us leave our bags in a locker so the monkeys didn't steal our possessions
3. put the BEAR on a leash.
1. made us wait for 30 minutes for the mud to dry
2. made us leave our bags in a locker so the monkeys didn't steal our possessions
3. put the BEAR on a leash.
|Let's play FIND THE BIG STRONG TRAINER who is holding back the ENORMOUS BEAR so it doesn't eat us...|
Everyone was gathered around, taking photos, laughing, letting their kids get as close as they wanted and all of them screaming. The bear was obviously getting aggravated so the trainer told everyone to get back and keep moving. You know how many people followed directions?!?!..ME. The bear hopped down off of his bench and tried to get closer to some children that looked like 3-5 years old. While Sandra was standing next to me taking THIS photo of the bear, I was trying to figure out how to get out of the crowd. The trainer was yelling and holding back the bear. No one was worried. Course not. Did these children have parents?...apparently someone brought them to the park, so I am assuming yes??? So the trainer, as he is struggling to hold the bear back with the leash, keeps telling people to get back and keep walking. Do they go? No. Nick is standing there, staring at all of this happening like he can't believe what he is seeing. I shoved him and said, "Go!!!". No one was moving...even Nick wasn't moving fast enough for me. I started pushing past people just as a volunteer came up and starting pushing the crowd to move on. I kept going as fast as I could. All I heard was laughing in the background...everyone was so excited (I thought I was going to die). I hiked as fast as I could to get away from the crowd...I didn't want to be running from a bear with a bunch of lunatics.
Nick finally caught up with me. It was quiet until we were nearing the top. I kept wondering where were all of the monkeys that I remember. And then I heard it. More wild laughter, excited talking and terrified screaming. MONKEYS!!! Everywhere I looked there were people and monkeys and we were all crammed into a 20 by 20 clearing at the top of the mountain. The view was beautiful but we didn't get a photo because we would have had to walk past the monkeys to do so. More and more people kept coming and filling the tiny space. It was all of the insane people from our live bear show.
The excitement and noise of the group kept growing. Some people started patting the monkeys roughly on the head and purposefully aggravating and teasing them. Smart move, people. I told Nick that I was ready to go and then chaos broke loose. The monkeys starting gabbing people, climbing on them and showing their inch and a half long fangs (I thought I was going to die). People starting running and screaming and children starting acting histerical...the more people acted insane, the more the monkeys did too. It was going downhill fast. Nick and I were trying to get back down the path, passing all of the screaming adults and histerical children and the ONE monkey who blocked our way. The closer we got to the monkey, the more I was afraid...but it was the only way down. We pulled out hands up, didn't make eye contact and walked "calmly" by the monkey. As soon as we were past him, I felt relieved and descended the mountain as fast as I could. Again, if the monkeys were going to attack, I didn't want to be in a group of lunatics. If there is anything that I know, it is that people in crowds are stupid. When we got to the bottom and checked our time, I couldn't believe how fast we made it. The hike should have taken at least an hour and a half...we did it in less than one hour. I guess when you are afraid for your life, you move faster.
Once Juana and Sandra made it to the bottom (yes, I confess I deserted them and left them to defend themselves against the monkeys), we decided that next we would go to an orchard that we heard about, have lunch at the restaurant and sight see there. So, we walked across the bridge of death again and found a taxi who said that he would take us there.
We pulled into the orchard and immediately saw it was closed and the jungle all grown up around it. The Taxi driver parked the car and then said, "Oh yea, this place isn't open anymore, but I can take you to the caves, wait two hours on you and bring you back for only 100Bs". I realized that we had just been taken. Juana was considering it, but there was no way I was going to trust this guy now. I told him to take us back to the Main Street. He dropped us off and then had the nerve to charge us double for taking us to a place that he knew no longer existed. Typical.
We were hungry and tired so we found a place to eat...I don't even know the name or if it had one.
They took our order for food, but never came back to see if we wanted drinks, check on us or even get their money.
We had to get up and do all that ourselves because they were busy watching a soap opera!!! Even bad service in the USA is good service compared to here! However, I will take the bad service if I get to eat like this!!!
And there was the cutest dog...yes, stray dogs not only roam the streets, but often restaurants, churches and other buildings. Since there is no heating and air here, doors are always left open so anyone (inlcuding) animals can just walk right in.
We waited in the restaurant for the rain to stop before walking back to the Hostal, then spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping and reading. We came out for a walk after dusk and the city had come to life. Adults were sitting all over corners and sidewalks, just talking and laughing. Children were playing futbol (soccer) in the streets. Animals were EVERYWHERE. Nick and I guessed that since it's so hot, people wait for the cooler nights to come out and socialize. We walked around the Plaza Central (the main park in the city center) and got some ice cream. I went to sleep happy, knowing that we were returning to Cochabamba in the morning.
So, this morning we woke up, packed, had breakfast and then were ready to leave when it started to pour rain. We sat in the Hostal and waited for it to slow down before walking to catch a BIG BUS. The owner came over and, when we asked about the bus schedule, said that the BIG BUS only comes once a day and that we will have to take a trufi (mini-van of death). Great. When we finally left, it was only drizzling, but I guess that because of how far we had to walk, we still ended up soaked.
The bus stop smelled like wet dog and there was a young, nasty looking guy that wouldn't stop staring at me. When I went to buy the tickets, I handed the girl 200Bs. She said that she didn't have change and would pay me back and that she would give me a receipt later...meaning that she wanted me to leave my money and walk away with no proof that I ever gave it to her???...Yea right!!! Juana, Nick and I dug through our pockets until we found the correct change and got our receipt. The girl was so rude and did not want to take the correct change or give us a receipt. Juana wanted to trust her and wait on our change and receipt, but I was so sure that she was planning to take advantage of us. Call me paranoid, but better safe than sorry. When the next trufi comes up, it is a young guy. I am already freaked out because Juana had gone on and on about how the trufis are so dangerous in the mountains. So, I prayed that we wouldn't ride with the young guy because he might not be as experienced in driving and that we would not ride with the nasty guy who was still staring at me. Bet you can't guess who we rode with...Yep, both of them.
|Riding back in the mini-van of DEATH.|
In only three days time, I have been afraid of being mugged, of crashing into another vehicle in the mountains and going over the edge, of being in a landslide when it was pouring rain on our bus, of being eaten by a bear, bitten by a monkey, taken advantage of by a taxi driver...it has been an adventure, but I can't wait to be back home in our apartment in Cochabamba!!!!! I like doing exciting things, but it's not really truly fun when you are scared the entire time. But you know what?!!?!?? Even though all of that freaky stuff happened, I didn't see one adult, child or animal get hurt or die...so, I am naming this post SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST...However, it really isn't about how "fit" we are...it is AMAZING how much stupid stuff we can do and unwise choices we can make and we stay alive...it is ONLY by God's Grace that we are each here!!!!!!!!!!!
If you are reading this, you know that we made it back to our apartment, connected to wifi and published this post...you know that we are alive!!!!!!!
PS...I JUST REALIZED THAT WE KNOCKED ANOTHER ITEM OFF OF OUR BUCKET LIST...
"TAKE NICK TO THE JUNGLE"!!!!!!!!!!!