Monday, June 27, 2005

The journey back to La paz: tropical sceneries, monkeys, good meals and friends in La paz


Back in Santa Cruz, me and Tim met with old friends and traveled to Villa Tunari, a tropical heaven set 160 km east of Cochabamba. After spending a couple days there and in the neighboring park, we moved on to the city Cochabamba, where we feast our self with good food and some shopping. Two days more, and we were back again in La paz, meeting old friends and participating in yet another celebration, the San Juan holiday.

Meeting old friends
Driving all night from San Ignacio, I and Tim arrived to cloudy and rainy Santa Cruz at 5 am, and by the time the clock showed 6 am, Tim was already in deep sleep and I was in deep and very good hot shower in our beloved hostel Boliviar. While I was working my way through breakfast, I have met Beth, who I have met in Sorata (where she trekked with Tim). It was very nice to meet here again after all this time, when she was traveling south in Bolivia, and in Argentina. Tim joined us also and we were also joined by Tim Bragg, an American fire fighter who was volunteering in Santa Cruz, helping the local fire fighters organize a much more efficient station. I have left the hostel to do some shopping and to start write my traveling experiences in Noel-Kempff and by the time it was 7 pm, Tim and Beth told me they are thinking about hopping and visiting Tim Bragg, who finally managed to rent a nice apartment in Santa Cruz. We bought some beers and Nachos, and went looking for his apartment. After a little tour in town (the cab driver didn't know where Tim`s apartment was located, how typical) we came into his apartment, which was located at the fifth floor and overlooked the city and the little swimming pool downstairs. Two Americans, which also volunteer similarly to Tim, were there also and we had a nice time. Later, we had a dinner at Tex-Mex, a Mexican restaurant and quite a lot of laughs. We all parted, as the following day we planned already visiting Villa Tunari, on our way back to La paz.

Monkeys in the middle of the tropical forest
The next morning we packed our stuff and headed for the central station, where we climbed a five hours bus to Villa Tunari.
We found Villa Tunari to be a very relaxing place, with heavy clouds hanging above all day and all night, which gave it a bit feel of depression. We found a nice place to stay (Mirador) with nice rooms and well equipped kitchen, and quickly went out to look for something to eat. Beth suggested we can go see the Orchid garden, west of town, and we agreed. It took us some time to find the place and to actually get there, and by the time we entered the garden, it was already getting dark (and the hanging clouds didn't helped). We paid an entrance fee, and a guy there offered his explanation, in quick Spanish, of course. We toured it a little while when this guy told us, that it is getting dark and we might as well get back the next day, when there will be lighter to see the flowers and trees. We agreed and made our way back to town on the main highway, talking and planning what we gonna do. While Beth passed on dinner, I and Tim went to eat a cena in town, and afterwards met with Beth in the hostel, on the tree-top balcony (real neat!). We had good conversation over three bottles of wine (damn, im drinking more wine in the past three months more than I did in all my past life!) and some laughs also…
The next morning we decided to visit first the Park Machia, which is famous for harboring a wild life refugee named Inti Wara Yassi. Lots of people volunteer there, aiding with recovering abused wild animals rescued from circus, private homes and animal dealers. We decided we want only to visit the place (Hey, im already doing enough time in the reserve force!) and to check out the different wildlife. Turns out, that we didn't saw too much variety, even though that was also a nice experience…
Entering the refugee, monkeys were all around us in the trees, jumping from one branch to another and making a hell of noise. We continued on the path till we got to the refugee itself, where numerous monkeys were playing, jumping over all the visitors and the volunteers. We had some pictures with them and continued to check out the rest of the park. We knew there is a refugee also for Pumas in the park, but eventually, after walking all over the refugee and even up the nice mirador, we could not find the refugee. We had a nice little lunch in a close restaurant and then we crossed Villa Tunari back to the Orchid garden. We checked out the different trees, flowers and the three motionless caimans that were submerged in their little obscure pool. Going back to the hostal, we decided to prepare a nice meal: I will make Tortilla Espana and Beth will prepare a grand salad while Tim will work out his hand (Tim had numerous thorns stuck up in his palm after banging it into the wrong tree…). We had a good dinner and conversation, and with the wine still running like water, we went to bed quite early.

Cochabamba – a city of feasts and markets!
We arrived to Cochabamba on Sunday noon, after a short drive. On the way we stopped at a drug enforcement check point, and as I sat the end of the bus, I was the last one to be checked (and the one with so many stuff in it´s little muchila). So, eventually I had to take a piss, and walked to a highly vegetated area beside the road. I saw that everyone were on the bus already, and Tim yelled at me to hurry because the bus was on the verge of moving. I took a photograph of the lovely place and a piss. As I was half way to finish my needs (or sort of..), I have heard the roar of the diesel engine and turned my head, only to see the bus moving on, while Tim heads popped out of the bus window, looking for me desperately. I knew Tim will stop the bus, so I continued doing my thing, hoping he will succeed. Even If he wouldn't make it (which I doubt it) I figures I could hitch hike (everyone stops at that checkpoint). Turns out, that when I went out of the bush, I saw the bus parked 200 meters away from where he was parking before, and Tim running looking for me. I waved at him and he waved back horridly. Going back on the bus, a French guy called out at me "Vamos, vamos!" and I replied him, when you have to go, you have to go! He translated it in Spanish and all the bus roared with laughter…Oh, well..
We found a nice place in Cochabamba called Florida Hostel, and after getting a nice room we went out to find some food. Cochabamba, similar to Santa Cruz, was made of square blocks of streets, and it was quite easy to loose your sense of direction. We found a nice place to hang out (vegetarian all-you-can-eat) and strolled around in town.
As Cochabamba is regarded as the heaven of quisines in all Bolivia, we went out looking for a Persian restaurant for dinner called Kebab. After some wandering around, we found the place and went inside for a nice Shishkabab with yogurt on top and a nice thin Lafa. It was a very good dinner and also a good conversation (yeah, all conversation with Tim are good ones!).
The day after was a day of shopping in the market (Tim and Beth) and of writing (for me). We decided that before we part from Cochabamba, we should eat really nice in the evening, and the choice fell on a good restaurant at the northern part of town, called Rodisio Buffalo, and is a Brazilian all-you-can-eat style restaurant. Although we thought spending 60 bolivians over dinner is a bit too much of a splurge, we made our way to the restaurant with a taxi (another splurge!). We went up to the second floor in this modern office building, and once we got out of the elevator, the smell almost knocked us out of place..Once inside, we were in another world, another Bolivia. Clean and tidy, this restaurant looks like taken from any western country cuisine restaurant book. We were even more surprised to find out that out dinner will cost half than we expected, and Tim must have remember my comment on our way to the bathroom to wash our hands, saying that it is already worth the price, that great feeling of anticipation and joy! Well, I can say that for the first time in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, I was lucky to feast my belly in that restaurant. The veggie Buffet was amazing, including chopped veggies, deep-fried bananas, all kind of sophisticated salads and numerous sauces and vinegars. Arriving to our table, we were just starting to chaw down on the veggies, when the first smelly beef arrived, staked down and looking promising. And that was actually the ceremony: we were chewing down, and the people were still coming up with different, well grilled (if too salty, on my part) pieces cow, pig etc. It was funny, when Tim commented that while he was just starting to work on his single piece of meet, I already waited for the next one, after finishing two pieces already. I wonder if it is just me, chewing down faster than the speed of light, or is it common also among other Israelis…you might comment on this interesting question.
In any case, after two hours and two bottles of wine, we crawled our way out of the place, trying to walk straight with all this food in our stomachs…Even Beth, which kept solely chewing salads and Broccoli, was full for the next day. And the next day was a bit of a long one, so it was nicely timed!

La paz, good to see ya again!!
Yeah, it might be surprising, but I missed this old, smoky and bustling city, with its vendors, markets, yelling micro`s people, CD stands and of course, the lovely tourists and workers of the hostel Austria…A month I have been wandering around in eastern Bolivia, and I missed all of them.
We came into town around 4 pm, and after walking down town from the bus station, we splitted to our hostels, Tim and Beth to the Turino and me, to the Austria, not forgetting to fix a meeting and eating later on!
Entering the Hostel, I was just hearing Hanna voice talking and asking about me, exactly when I said "Hola!" to one of the workers. I heard a cry, and there she was, all smiling and full of energy, as she always was. Ha, it was so good to meet her again, after a month, when she and elegant Gigi went into the mountain-surrounded Sorata. We manage to exchange some comments, when behind her, smiling broadly was no other than Nir, that just came a day before to La paz, and checked into this hostel. It seemed that she was just sitting beside Nir and was about to ask him whether he knew an Israeli guy name Chen…well, it was quite funny, and also a bit emotional. I got into the same room as Nir´s and quickly ran out of the hostel, making my way through the commercio to the Murillo plaza, were my glasses were still waiting for me for a month!
Funny and surprising, the lady working there actually remembered me and ten minutes latter I was even happier than I was before, wearing my old glasses, feeling again at home. I made my way also to the film developing shop and threw couple of rolls from the Noel-Kempff adventure. I came back to the hostel and chatted with Hanna.
Seemed that their adventure in Sorata was excellent, even so, they had to find their way back to La paz, with all the blockades and so. They also participated in the solcite-fiestathat was held in Tiwanaku (you are more than welcome to check out her blog at: for more information about her adventures). She told me she is planning a party the next day evening, for their upcoming departure from Bolivia and also for Gigi`s birthday (MAZAL TOV, MAN!), already a big-big 36 man! It seems that my Shakshuka was getting a reputation, as she asked me to prepare it that evening. I asked if I can invite couple of good friends of mine, Tim and Beth, and she said, of course, what is the question?! Together we went to the market to buy some stuff for their dinner (I knew im taking Tim and Beth for the El Cubano restaurant) and she told me of all their adventures in the city while all the mess was going on, all full of laughs and joy…that is Hanna, full of energy and optimism!
On our way back, right before our turn left into the hostel street, I met Tim. It seemed that Beth couldn't meet us, so we made our way to the El Cubano walking on the Prado and talking. We had a good dinner and the next day I was already occupied by my own arrangements. That evening quite a lot people gathered and celebrated Gigi`s birthday, and we had a really good time. At that event I have also met Itai, an Israeli that arrived a couple of days before to La paz, and which I would travel with into the Inca country, Peru.
Thursday night was a big event in La paz and El Alto, when the people celebrated San Juan holiday, by drinking a strong Bolivian rum with hot milk and lighting fires and fire crackers in the streets. Also, this was the last night of Tim in La paz, as he had to catch a flight early in the next morning. I had a nice surprise for him: a framed butterfly I found on the jungle bed when we had our early morning walk in Noel-Kempff. Tim was touched and he hoped he could take this souvenir down to Antarctica, so he could remember his days in Bolivia. Afterward we joined Gigi, Itay, Arik (French guy I met also) and another Brazilian girl to the streets of La paz, which were already full of peoples and lots of BBQ vendors. After a dinner in the market, I parted from Tim, hoping we gonna meet some day for more adventures in other parts of the world.
Itay joined Tim while they wandered La paz, while the rest of us climbed a bus (after not finding any available micro) and took off (more likely, scrwled up) to El Alto, where Hanna and her school friends were already making a fire on the street (It was prohibited to make any fire in La paz, but in El Alto nobody gives a fuck about any regulation or law). It was darn cold up there, and the Brazilian girl quickly catched a micro back to La paz, after feeling tired (she landed at the same day!). The rest of us joined Hanna and the kids (15-16 YO) and bought some liquor and firecrackers, and then headed to the fire place. It was very nice, to sit in the middle of the street, eat chorizos cooked over the fire, talk a bit with the kids and lighting numerous firecrackers. It reminded me of Lag Baomer, but somehow, it was different.
We left the place around 1:30 am and after dozing off in the micro back to La paz, I headed straight to bed while the rest continue to survey the San Fransisco Plaza, where live shows were conducted there.
In the passing days I was waiting for the finishing of different works I have ordered, and in the mean time I have joined Itay, which was also waiting for his orders to be ready. Friday evening we saw the movie "Million Dollar Baby", which I already saw in Israel but didn't mind to see again. It was such a good movie, that I was happy actually to see it again. It combines so many aspects in life: Ambition, stubbornness and self confidence, fulfillment of your dreams, even if it means it is gonna be hard to get them, and also about human relationships.
While we were surveying the city, Itai offered me to join him in his travels in Peru. At first, I declined politely, as I wanted to visit Rurrenabque and tour the Pampas there. But, after realizing that the air fare is more expensive than I thought originally and also because I had my share of Bolivia, I decided that it´s time to move on. Itay is certainly a good companion for the historical adventures we were expected to have in Peru, even though he is pressed in time, and will only do several attractions in Peru, before taking a river boat to Manaos, in Brazil. He offered me also to join him on this amazing river boat adventure, but I have more to do in Peru (and I have also more plans for Columbia), thus for now I don't think I will join him for that adventure.
So, for now im waiting that Itai will finish his arrangements, and then we gonna take a bus to Copacabana and from there to Puno, and to the Inca capital, Cuzco.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Noel-Kempff Mercado National Park (NKMNP)


Far away from the politically and physically blockaded La paz, the NKMNP was a good choice to escape the almost upcoming Bolivian civil war. There our party found out that at the end of the day we were only humans, a mere flesh and blood to suck and bite on. While trying to evade numerous biting insects of any kind possible to imagine, we explored the wild and virgin jungles on the edge of the Brazilian frontier. We have seen magnificent waterfall, isolated lagoons and an immense plateau projecting 980 m straight into the humid tropical skies. It was a life-time experience.
See the sights:

La paz, a month and a half ago...
The first time I have heard about NKMNP, was a month and half ago, when in far isolated Sorata Tim Kramer told me about his idea to visit a very wild and isolated park on the border with Brazil. It will demand a lot of effort and money, he said, but it is possible, and it seems it is well worth it all. I read about this park in the Lonely Planet and it did sounded very special. Even though I would liked to do it with him, we were already parting the next day, as he took off for a seven day trek in the mountains sorrounding Sorata. I have put the idea to do this park at the back of my head, hoping to find partners for such an adventure. I would have never thought, we will cross one another again only three weeks later, while I was looking for buying a tent in La paz. We talked and shared some traveleres stories, and then again NKMNP came up. Im planning on doing it after i´ll finish with the Salar de Uyuni, he told me, would you like to join me? I answered him that it is possible, as I had to spend ten days in La paz due to my accident and the subsuquent stiching of my face (this conversation was taking place only one day after the rock incident). We exchanged emails and agreed that we will stay in contact and see how things will progress. La paz was already starting to warm up for the grand mess that will shake the country for two weeks..

At the end, after crossing all Bolivia from west to east by airoplane, we succeeded in meeting each other here in Santa Cruz...the adventure has just began!

Santa Cruz, a week ago
Full of motivation, Tim and me finished packing our gear and with Yaki at our side we took a taxi to the bus terminal, where Avi, Yair and Nir where already waiting for us. We quickly handed our backpacks (after dividing the precious food between us) and were about to board the bus. Only that things were not going smoothly as expected: while performing routine search for drugs, a policemen dropped Yaki`s bag to the floor, breaking two bottles of wine and making a mess of his backpack. We were furious about the indifference way the officer acted (he continued without even saying sorry, of course..) but we couldn`t do anything. He is the law around here, and you wouldn`t want to mess with the law in Bolivia. We hoped that in San ignacio, a little town up north, we gonna find some Lavanderia that will clean his clothes. We found out, that due to the blockades all around Bolivia, the bus will take a bypass route, and thus a ride that usually takes 9 and half hours will take 12 (actually, it took 14 hours).

Tranquil San Ignacio
Heading toward north east, we were running away from the political problems of civilized Bolivia straight into the wilderness. The bus drive was not the easiest I have been through, and sleep was beyond me for several hours.
Around 9 am we entered the reddish little town of San Ignacio, tranquile and full of motorcycles criss-crossing it. We found a hostel to crash in and made our way toward the FAN office, which is the organization that is responsible for the maintenance of NKMNP. After disscussing some bearocits (and leaving the place less couple of tens of dollars), we were able to hire a 4X4 jeep. Nir accompanied a local guy that took him on a motorcycle to see the Jeep. Once he returned, we understood from him that it is an old jeep, but he thinks it will survive the tour. We agreed on a price (360 USD for seven day tour) and quickly looked for a place to eat. We found a nice resturant, sitting at one corner of the main plazza, with nice yammi food and a nice owner, named David (and no, he is not jewish). We have met with the owner of the truck, an old subburben from the seventies which saw some good days back then, and now was no more than compiled pieces of metal painted with green. It looked as its gonna colapse any minute (and we didnt know if to laugh or to cry). We paid the owner one third of the rent, and promised that we gonna give the rest once the trip is over. Later this evening we purchased more food in the evening and also checked our emails and the news. We found out that everybody was worried where the hell are we, and that the country was on the brink of civil war! We hoped we could get back to Santa Cruz, and planned already that we might escape the country through the Brazilian border. We hoped for the best, and tried to calm everybody. How can you explain everybody that raging La paz is so far from tranquile San Ignacio, which music played all day in the main plaza and everybody where so laid back? In the evening we dined again in the resturant, this time, our dinner was accompanied by the stories of Eduardo Merrino, almost 70 year old man. With a big ranch at the edge of San Ignacio, Eduardo is a figure in the little San Ignacio and everybody knows him. But aside from that, Eduardo was also part of the Cinco Los Amigos band, which performed in the 60`s in many parts of the world, including Israel (1964, to be exact, in Jaffa). In Israel he met with his first wife, Auva, a beautiful and bright Israeli and together they lived in Spain and later on, in the United States. The six of us agreed that once we will return from the tour we gonna visit him in his mansion, El Espana.

Finally, we are on our way!
The next day (Wedensday) we woke up early (Tim and me, the rest needed more time, a trend that was repeating itself) and while we were having breakfast, the owner approach us and told us that there is no fuel and that we will have to wait till there will be fuel, around noon. Great. We hang around in town untill around 14:00 the car was ready, where a driver and assitence were patiently waiting for us. We all loaded our gear on the car and Tim and me hopped into the jeep. We were waiting for the rest of the guys to come, but for some reason no one showed in the front door of the hostal. What`s up with them? We asked ourselves...Turns out that they were "chilling-out" up there in their room for bloody 15 mintues (and you can guess what is the meaning of chilling-out) while me and Tim were eager to set off, and to start our tour. Finally they showed up and we started our drive, a 13 hour drive north on red dirt path, passing little villages and farms, getting more and more closer to the park edge with tropical vegetation on either side of the road. The sun sank fast, and apart from a stop in Santa Rosa de la Roca, we drove and drove till almost midnight, where we had a stop to eat something (Tuna and bread pasted with mustard). Deeper into the jungle one of the drivers had to chop a tree that blocked the path. At last, close to 3:30 in the morning we came to La florida, a little settelment situated at the edge of the park and is the location of FAN office outpost. We manage to get a room and we crashed quickly while fruit bats are shitting all over the room and making a hell of a noise...
Me and Tim woke up to the voice of an engine roar, and we both tought the same thing: are those guys run away from the deal?? Too tired to get up out of bed, we assesed that they must have gone to look for a local guide that will accompany us while in the park. And that indeed what actually happened. After five mintues the car returned, and the driver told us that there is no guide currently in La florida, and we might as well look for him in Los Feirros, a camp outpost located in the deep of NKMNP, and serves as a base for excursions in the south part of the park. We arrange ourselves, and took off to another part of La florida, where the main office in the park was located. There we found out that currently there are no more guides and we would need to wait till the next day. With no other choice, we continue in our drive toward Los Feirros. We crossed the river Paragua on a wood-metal raft and after additional hour we made it to Los Feirros, butterfly and bees infected camp, deep in the jungle. There we organized our stuff, ate a very nice lunch that Yaki cooked for us and took a cold shower that helped to get rid of the sweat from high humidity. In the evening we met with our guide, Pastero, a seasoned guide in the park and together we planned our tour in the park. It took us time to find the optimal combination of both time and attractions which suited all of us, and following a nice dinner we pitched our tents and went to sleep.

The waterfall (Catarata El Encanto)
The coming morning (Friday) me and Tim woke up early (around 6 am) and went on the main road to explore the waking jungle. After 30 min of walking we suddenly heard some noise in the trees and we were alert and quiet to see what is the origin for the movement. After couple of minutes a long nose peeped out of the vegetation and sniffed the air. Once it´s head poped also, it gave an amazing leap and within less than a second it was already rushing on the other side of the path. Ant eater! It was almost as the size of a pig, but it moved with speed! We kept advancing and finally we reached the edge of the Savanna, which cut through the Jungle and separated it into several parts. The air was chill and damped, and we took some nice shots. We returned to the camp and organized our stuff for the coming day: visiting the waterfall, El Encanto (Catarata El Encanto).
Instead of getting early as possible, our Israeli partners took their time and we found ourselves (me and Tim) waiting for them for more than an hour till they got ready. At 10:30 we finally set out and headed toward the camp which is near the waterfall. Surprises are part of every adventure, and we sure as hell had a couple! The first one had downed on us while we crossed the wide Savanna on our way to the waterfall camp. Following some problematic gear shifting, our drivers stop the car and both were quickly leaning under the vehicle, starting to fix some sort of a problem. Quickly we realized that the gear shift lever (Klatch) was broken. Being stuck in the middle of the Savanna without any trees in radius of couple of miles while the temperatures were rising was a real treat... After they have dismantled several bolts from another part of the vehicle (with the kind help of Tim), they managed to elaborate a solution (and I still dont understand what they did there...), and after one hour and a half at that place, we started to move on. But not for long. We drove one kilometer when the Klatch broke again. This time they lost one of the parts, and we started to think what to do: whether we should walk back to Los Feirros or to the camp near the waterfall (six hours walk from our current place). Tim and me were willing to walk all the way, but the others didn`t want to due to the heat and humidity (which I also gripped that it would make our walk a total nightmare). At the end, the driver found a solution: we gonna push and he will start the car at the second gear. It worked nicely on the flat dirt road, and we managed to continue driving till we entered the jungle again, where the car was stopped every couple of hundered meteres due to an obstacle, hole in the road or a curve. Then, we all went off the jeep and push again...this procedure repeated itself several times, till we reached finally the camp, a small patch of land without trees and with a wooden Pergula. It was 2 pm already, and we had additional hour and half of walking through the jungle till we reach the waterfall. We arrange our gear and moved into the narrow path walking fast, my first walk into jungle.
Even though the path was visible and well beaten, the vegetation slowed our pace and numerous trunks blocked the pathway and it was necessary to pass over them or to bypass them. Numerous vines tripped our feet every couple of minutes and I found my self more concern where I step than to look up and absorb the amazing flora. Even so, we could see sky as there was no complete tree canopy and there was more light. We could observe monkeys moving from one tree top to another, some 30 meters above our head. But generally, except those monkeys, we didn`t observed other animals (except numerous insects such as termites, ants and butterflies). This was a bit of a dissapointment, as one of the unique attraction in this park is the fact that there are less tourists that visit this park, and as a consequence there is more wildlife that can be see.
After hour and a hlaf of walk, we finally came to one of the plateau (Caparú) edge and to the waterfall El Encanto that fell 120 m straight down into a little pool. The sight was an amazing one, and we were all awe struck. The height of the waterfall, combined with the narrow path that was created by the cliffs and the thick vegetation create a constant wind that blow from the base of the waterfall outward, splashing spray of water 50 meter across the pool toward the rocky shores. Even though it was already 4:30 pm, we quickly droped our clothes and jumped into the cold waters, swimming toward the base of the waterfall. Quickly, however, I realized two things: first, with all the comotion I forgot my glasses on my eyes and swam with them (very smart, especially that they were my only glass pair I had at that moment) and second, it was very hard to breath. I can only explain the last phenomenon by the strong wind that blew against our face and the cold water. Getting near the waterfall base was very hard due to the wind and the current created by it, so I took a stand some ten meters from the base (which was not easy as well, as the wind with the slippery rock I was standing on were not so helpfull). We returned back to the shores and had a small lunch, looking around and absorbing the magnificent little paradise that nature created who knows how many years ago, and how much time it took to generate it...
We started moving back to the camp, as darkness became more and more dominant. We had to cross to streams, one close to the waterfall and the other one is close to the camp. The first one I managed to fall and dip my leg knee-deep into the cold water. The other one was even trickier, as we had to cross it in total darkness (and it was a good thing to have my head-lamp!) Of course, with shoes still wet from my former dipping, I dipped the same leg, again. I was quite upset about it, as leather boots are quite hard to ventilate and dry, especially in the jungles, where the relative humidity is over 80%!
The camp fire was already ablaze as our drivers were already eating the last chunks of their dinner, and we quickly joined them, propping three stoves (two gas stoves and one MSR omnifuel stove, which, took us quite a lot of time to understand how to preheat it
When using diesel. Tim was especially frustrated, as he used to work his MSR with white fuel and he found it much harder to fire start the damn little cooker...
In any case, at the end we succeeded in turning it on and eventually Yaki was like a cheff with 3 flames at his disposal and couple of people to work with. At the end, we had a nice dinner (pasta, if you ask) and we went quickly to sleep.
The following day, Saturday, we decided we gonna go back to the waterfall for some chilling out and afterward we gonna move toward the plateau camp. This time before crossing each stream I changed to sandals and only then crossed. Needless to say that I didn´t dipped any feet, especially because the thin rubber sole of the sandal had more hold on the slippery rock then the stiff boot sole. We came to the waterfall around noon and waited for the sun to appear between the clouds but we kept on waiting and waiting. Finally, Tim (a.k.a Iceman, from now on) took off his clothes and went in, im following him right behind him. The water were cold as before, but now I swam in legs, from one rock to another so I wasn't tired too fast. I have noticed that Tim was already climbing the left rock mound, all white in contrast to the black-brown rock of the cliff. I plunge into the ever-lasting water spray and swam slowly but firmly toward the rock mound. It was hard seeing where actually I was swimming and I have stumbled over some submerged rocks while trying to close the distance with the rocky mound, which was directly under the waterfall blazing water. From this moment till we swam back to the lake shore, I felt a feeling never felt before, so unique, almost spiritual..
There, while I made effort to climb on the slippery rocks, all naked and dripping with water like under the biggest shower in the whole world, there I felt in unisom with nature, as the first humanoids were like over 5000 years ago when they first explored nature. Awe struck both dripping with cold water, Tim and I where looking all around us, amazed by that feeling that I described just now we, and by the unique scene we were just seeing. Random splashes of water, falling like arrow heads straight on our heads and backs, were constantly keeping us aware of our fragileness in face of all-powerful nature, reminding us once again, that in the jungle we were the same as all other animals, and we better watch our backs if we want to get out from this jungle in one piece. At one time, I was crawling on all four from one slippery stone to another when a tremendous splash of water landed on my back, almost throwing me off balance straight down the rock mound toward the lake water. Luckily, I managed to hold my self, only for another huge splash to break on my back a second later like a storm wave crashing against a rocky shore. I could feel how every pointy drop of water was like penetrating my flesh and inflicting pain where it lands. Till I dragged my self from that waterfall center I was already being hit by another two successive water splashes. Luckily, I was not thrown off balance on either cases, and finally, all shivering from the cold, I made it to the water of the lagoon. Looking up, I could see the splashes going down, part of them disintegrating while in air, dispersing spray of water 50 meters away into mid air. It was a divine experience, once in a lifetime, and I knew it when I had just climbed the rocks and felt nature hand on my whole existence, and I kept on feeling it even when I was back in safe water. Swimming back to shore, I found the gang sitting and watching the waterfall and the both of us climbing up and down the waterfall base.
I was speechless and powerless when I came back to shore, and it took me sometime to really grasp what a unique feeling me and Tim have just experienced. That feeling was still fresh, even when we camped several hours later near the plateau base.
We had some lunch and promptly afterwards we made our way back to camp so we could start our camp near the base of the plateau.

Pushing low to high, jungle to the plateau!
Driving back we crossed back into the Savanna, where we change course and drove due north toward the plateau and the jungle at it´s base. This jungle was a bit different from what we saw in the waterfall surrounding jungle, with lots of palm trees and more thick vegetation. We reached our camp an hour before sundown (which in the jungle is even darker than in the open space) and quickly pitched tents. It appeared that the original camp was actually an hour and half walk from where we pitched our tents, the farthest place a jeep can actually drive to, as a stream blocked any further 4X4 advancement. In any case, we felt that we were deep in the jungle, with not a single soul in radius of a several kilometers. Only the sound of the awakening night life and the swarming bugs approaching our headlamps and hot blood. We still had some problems igniting Tim´s stove, and due to the fact that we hadn't more gas, we were almost forced to use camp fire. The thing is, that no one actually wanted to use it, as camp fire blackened the pots and pans, and none of us was ready to spoil his equipment…finally, Tim have succeeded in putting some life into his MSR and we managed to prepare another meal.
Later, while I was spreading my mattress and sleeping bag, I noticed a huge commotion right underneath the tents nylon floor, suddenly was amazed to see something biting the nylon! Quickly I called Tim and our driver and we lifted the tent, only to see a colony of swarming ants passing straight trough the tent location. We moved the tent to a better location and went to sleep, as we knew we have to get up early the following morning. My sleep was sometime abrupt by the sound of wildlife and the constant buzz of the bugs outside the tent.
Early in the morning (Sunday), around 7 am, me and Tim woke up in order to have some breakfast and arrange our equipment as all of us were planning to ascend the 1000 meter plateau and make camp on it. We wanted to set out early as possible, as our guide have warned us that it will be very hot and very humid, and we should set out as early as possible. He also warned us to take as much as possible water, as we gonna loose quite a lot of water. We planned on setting at 8 am, but finally we set out only around 8:30 am or so, again, due to the tranquil atmosphere of our Israeli comrades. Tim was irritated but didn't say anything to none of them. We started off, full packs on our backs straight into the thick jungle. This time, the path was narrower and numerous vines were all around us, tripping us and making our progress slow and difficult. As the morning grew older, the heat was starting to get on us, and so is the humidity and sweat. We little by little started to feel the path going up and finally reached the original camp around 10 am, and rested a bit near a nice stream that poured from the plateau. After 30 min we continue on, getting out of the jungle canopy straight into the remorseless sun, beating on our head constantly. No more than five minutes later we reached the head of the staircase that lead up-up toward the cliffs of the plateau. Least to say, it was a very difficult climb. The combination of burning sun rays (around 35 degrees Celsius!), over 80% humidity and the burdening weigh of the packs on our back was a challenge. Even though we manage to climb the cliff in less than 4 hours, which is a good pace, everyone were puffing and sweating their life away (even our guide had a hard time). I must admit that I was already pissed off half way up. We stopped somewhere in the middle of the cliff height so we could drink water and rest a bit, when Nir asked Tim to give him the bottle so he could drink also. Tim`s bottle was already half empty, and Nir nearly emptied it by another quarter. The approaching gang (Yair, Avi and Yaki) drank also, leaving poor Tim with only scarce. When I asked Nir if he had any water on him, he told me he didn't take because it was too heavy for him and he hadn´t the power to take it with him. I was so shocked by that answer that I was on the verge of saying something nasty back. Didn't had the power to carry water?? On a crazy climb under a blazing sun with terryfing humidity?!
It was pure lack of responsibility and I was amazed that this guy, coming from an army background, was so reckless.
Even so, the view from the Messeta was an amazing one and cleared my thoughts about my companions. Like a sea of green, the forest ocean was obsolute and dominated the whole horizon, from one end to another. It was hard to grasp the beauty and immense forest that lay only 1000 meters below us, filled with unique wildlife and vegetation. Among the immense green, the Savanna had it`s share of space, and was encircled by the vast forest. I felt totally immersed in this pool of nature, strong and dominant and yet tranquil and pastoralist. This is one of those times, like the feeling only a day before, that you feel your presence is solemn like a grain of sand on the shores of a vast ocean.
After we tried to absorb this amazing scenery, we moved on inward on the Meseta toward our camp, which was hidden in a forest two hours walk from the edge of the Meseta. At first we crossed a vast area of flat Savanna with palms growing here and there, and mostly, wild wheat growing all around us. Even so, quickly the Meseta plain was characterized with several hills, continuing into the unending horizon. At a certain point, we saw a forest forming in the horizon and our guide commented that in this forest was our camp.
Entering the forest was a relieve after two hours of walking under the sun, and no more than two minutes after we entered the green canopy coolness, we arrived to our camp.
Located near a stream, I could only imagine this camp as being part of the Garden of Eve, with trees surround it from all directions, and numerous butterflies and bees, hovering all over the grassy compound. We quickly opened couple of Tuna cans and some crackers and started munching on them frantically. While I was savoring on the Crackers completes (cracker, Tuna and a thin spread of Dijon mustard), I felt a painful sting in my middle finger of my left hand (the F finger, how appropriate). Quickly I ran to the cool stream to mend my pain (not before finishing my cracker, as I was so hungry) and after 30 min the pain dimmed a bit. At that time, we already started setting our pace toward a nice little lagoon, an hour and half walk from our camp. We walked out of the narrow forest back into the rolling hilled Savanna, and on our way our guide commented that deep-deep in the same forest we were camping drug barons settled a cocaine production camp, and that part of the flat Savanna we were walking through at that moment was actually a landing strip for light aircraft. Ten minutes after his comment, and we saw a proof: a wreck of what was used to be a Cessna 172, lying on the grassy earth, all rusty and burned to nothingness. It was quite a surreal moment, looking at wreckage and seeing our guide standing there indifferent with a Machete in his hand…Not more than five minutes more and we reached the little lagoon that a stream spilled into it. We jumped into the water and swam a bit (the water were cold, but we could manage them, at the end). While walking back, I have noticed that my finger was getting swollen and reddish, but I of course didn't pay to much attention to it.
Reaching the camp at night fall, we arranged our tents (trying not be to be stung by any passing bees, as there where more bees than trees in that camp) and started to prepare dinner. While eating hungrily on the rice, we planned that the next day we will do our way down the Meseta, hopefully reaching Los Fierros by nightfall. Sleep was away from me that night, as my finger was very swollen and I have started to feel a pain in my armpit, which I first regarded as another biting insect trying to suck blood from me. But, suddenly my past 2 and half years of Immunological research info came into my consciousness and I gripped that I have developed a serious inflammation reaction. When morning came I took some anti-histamine pills, hoping the swelling of my armpit lymph node will decrease, as well my finger swelling (now, think how nice it can be to finger someone with double the normal size of a finger, all red and all…amusing!).
We arranged our stuff, and while Tim and I were waiting patiently for the rest of the gang, our guide asked us if we want to have walking sticks. Yeah, sure! After 15 min he came back with three long branches, that were pilled off and their white-shiny bark was visible and glistening in the morning sun. Those walking sticks were found to be VERY helpful when we descended the Meseta! The walking back was quicker this time, and after an hour or so we reached the Meseta edge again. Going down was hard, but thanks to our sticks, it was less difficult than it might have been. Finally, we made it to the base of the Meseta, were the forest have greeted us back again. This way back to our camp seemed to take for ages, and I already felt the weariness of this journey, and also felt my belly wants food, and fast! I have started to suspect we took the wrong path, as our guide was walking at the end of the group, and Yaki, Tim and I were walking at the front. Reaching the vehicle was a great moment of relief for me and after rearranging our stuff, we went into the vehicle for an additional one hour drive till we reached Los Feirros. All the way to Los Feirros I was dead tired from not sleeping at the night before and from the exhausting walk we had that day, and all I wanted to do when we reached Los Feirros was to get a good sleep. On our way we planned to take a canoe ride at night, as we had an additional day to reach San Ignacio. However, things and plan changed quite dramatically.

Arguments and Movie scenes in the middle of the jungle
I heard my name said aloud when I got closer to the dinning room, where apart from Yaki and Tim all the gang sat and talked. It seems that Nir, Avi and Yair decided that they would prefer to leave at the same day to San Ignacio, a 14 hour drive. The time was around five PM, and the sun have started to make it`s way down toward earth. I told them that I am not in a big rush, and that I had no sleep in the previous night, and I prefer to wait till morning and only then move toward San Igancio. It`s a long drive, and sleeping in the vehicle would be impossible, I told them. They answered back that they all, from different reasons, were eager to leave as soon as possible, and that Yaki also wants to leave now. Great! I was too tired and too dirty for this shift in plans, and they asked what I think Tim wants to do. I told them that we both want to stay another night at Los Fierros, and that we were not in any hurry. We put in a lot of effort coming all the way up here, I told them, and now we gonna split out of here so fast?
Tim came in couple of minutes and Avi told him what there plans were, and what did he want to do next. Tim answered bluntly he wants to spend another night here in the park. They said that they are the majority, and that its not fair to stuck all of them here just because the minority wants to (an argument I agreed too, even though later I grasped that it is not a fair argument in any case). Tim blown his top, and in a quiet manner, told them that he have done enough sacrifices this trip, and he is not gonna make another one. That was a mistake, I gripped as he said that word, but it was too late. Avi and the rest were surprised by his comment and wanted him to explain himself. And Tim started to explain them how nice it was to wait for them every morning till they got they shit arranged. Luckily, he didn't talk about other stuff, such as the water issue up at the Meseta or the "helpful hand" Yair and Nir gave every time we made dinner. Avi was irritated by this attack and wanted to dwell into it, but I made an effort to push the conversation toward a solution, not toward accusation battle. As Yaki came back, Tim said he is going to take a shower and left us all, thinking what to do. Even though I knew Tim was irritated from our journey company, I didn't saw that hedgehog argument coming up, deep piercing the tension the two parties. Avi tried to plow more into Tim accusations but I managed to push it aside and to handle the problem at hand. Finally, we decided that I will talk with Tim and see what sacrifices we can make in order that everyone will be content. I found Tim putting his clothes after his shower and beckoned him to join me in a little stroll. He took a cigarette and we started walking out of the compound. Turned out, that we happen to walk on the airstrip at Los Fierros and we just walked all along that airstrip, talking about the situation, about the differences between them and us, and what we should do in order to solve this problem. It was good conversation, held in one of the most remote places, when the sun set down in front of us while we were walking, painting the skies in red, orange and pink. The jungle all around us was oblivious to our philosophical chat and to the different comprehension we reached in that hour and half walk. Both of us rejoiced from that walk and for me this event is strong as the waterfall event or the view over the jungle from the top of the Meseta.
When we came back from the talk, calmer and settled than before, we were surprised to hear from the gang that their original plan was not possible, as we needed to cross the river to La Florida, and this can be managed only in the morning. One would say this was an obvious thing to do, BEFORE bringing this idea up as a matter a fact issue, but I would say that that argument, and the talk that came afterwards were a good event, and we actually gained out of it more than we would even expect. All in all, everybody apologized and things returned to normal. We prepared our last meal together and went to have our last rest in the jungle.

Long, Long ride back to civilization & the La Espana mansion
The following morning, Wednesday, we prepared breakfast from our last crumbs of our food and made our way back on the road to La Florida (where we crossed the river to La Florida), and there we parted from our guide. We continued on our ride, and for a long time we saw the jungle on both of our sides, passing quickly as we made our way out of it. Somewhere on the way we heard a tremendous BANG noise from the back of the jeep, and we felt that our adventure is far from ending. The driver stopped the car and bent under the left rear side of the jeep to evaluate what broke now…It seems that the rear-left suspension broke away from it´s hinge. The amazing thing was, that those two drivers were so calm and indifferent to a serious mechanical problem, we couldn't but laugh and take picture of them when they hoisted the jeep on a Jack, and amazingly, sticking a log of wood between the vehicle skeleton and the suspension, tying it up with some steel cord they found in the back of the car…
After one hour fighting all sort of bugs (full of butterflies, bees and all the kind of bugs anyone can actually imagine living on the face of the earth), we moved finally and reached San Ignacio around six pm.
We had a nice dinner at our favorite place on the plaza (we called it David`s place, for the name of the owner). We found Eduardo there, sipping his whisky-coke cocktail and full of stories. We fixed up a meeting in his mansion the day after and Tim and I left for our beds, totally tired.
Just before noon the next day we all met again in San Ignacio and bought some wine for the lunch Eduardo was preparing for us in his mansion (actually he has a cook). Each of us then hired a motor taxi (motorcycle) and we had a five minute ride on the back of the motorcycles, no helmets or anything protecting us. Pure fun!
Eduardo greeted us in his beautiful mansion, only five minutes outside town, and showed us his Macaw (which says in Espanola, "Hello Pussi!") and his great mansion. We sat down and talked about almost everything, but especially, about his interesting life and his experience. At first he served us Tortilla Espanol, which is a kind of an omelet, filled with potatoes and onions and later also cheese, fresh bread and a paste of Mayonnaise with TONS of garlic (YAM-YAMI!). The main course also came at a certain point, and as I finished serving everybody the meat broth, Eduardo shed tears and got very-very excited, saying how happy he was we came to visit him and understand him and what he was through. It was a very intense moment, when everybody where silent, hearing him so excited thanking us. Later, when Tim and I wondered that evening in San Ignacio before our departure for Santa Cruz, we grasped that this man, almost 70 years old, was spilling his guts out because he felt he is on the verge of the end of his life (I do hope we were wrong!). And the most interesting thing about all his stories and countries he visited in his life, one thing stands out very clearly: he misses his love of his life, and nothing can compare to that love. Thinking about it that night with Tim, we grasped that he was a lucky man, even though it looks like he felt a miss in his life. He was lucky to have such a love, that nothing could actually compare to it. Later that evening Tim and I left tranquil San Ignacio back to Santa Cruz, and our next adventures.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Banana family and the Volcanes Lagoon


Having to spend a weekend till we can move into the jungles, me and Tim joined Roi and Noa to visit the Banana family, an Israeli couple living in the wilderness with their 2 year old son, named Nem. After spending two days in the farm and touring the lovely Volcane lagoon, me and Tim returned to Santa Cruz and leaving today to San Ignacio, a little town up north on our way into the jungles.

The days here in tropical Santa Cruz are very nice and cozy. The climate is comfortable (even though a bit humid) and I find my self more relaxing in this town. On Friday, me and Tim joined Roi and Noa and took a bus to Bermejo, a little village two hours ride from Santa Cruz. Well, actually we wanted to take the bus but there were road blocks, so we found out that there is a bus that goes to Santa Martha (which lies on the same road to Bermejo) and from there take another one to Bermejo. We climbed on the bus and after a lovely ride to the south tropical area, we came to a stop in front of the blockade: some burned down tires, huge rocks and people standing looking bored. We took our muchilas and headed toward the other side of the blockade. I snapped a shot of this moment, which was not so smart, when you think about it. In any case, everybody looked indifferent and I went on walking quickly. We found some taxis on the other side (no bus came yet) and finally we managed to grab one that took us an additional one hour ride to Bermejo. There, amid tropical scenery and red rocks rising 200 meter up into the semi cloudy skies, laid the tranquil little village of Bermejo: couple of houses, chickens and nothing more! We took our stuff, and after talking with couple of kids that were playing near the main road, we managed to follow them to a narrow path leading up one of the mountains on the side of the town. Turned out, that the way to the farm was not as easy as we was a very long and steep climb which took out of our of lives us a lot of energy, sweat and 40 mintues. But, it was well worth it!
Lying on the ridge slope, among tropical vegetation and looking toward another mountain, with a valley in between, the little farm consisted of two houses and all the mountain slope. AMAZING! After five minutes of taking some breaths following this climb, we were given some water and we started to get the grip of the people.
Dana and Tal, bth in their mid-late twenty years of their life, have decided to built their home among the tropic mountains in south-middle Bolivia. Self sufficiency, modest living and vegetarian diet are their main goals, and there is not a single man or woman who is not impressed with their effort, ambition and way of life. Nem, their little son, is running around like most children of nature, very curious and very smart. Outside of us four, there were already 8 people in the farm (!), all Israelis, of course. Tim, a very intelligent man, was starting to learn Hebrew in those two days, even though I had to translate for him some of the major derbates over dinner or breakfast (well, he is not superman, after all...). The Israeli people there were very friendly, and i actually met some guy that was learning with me in high school in Petah was very amusing!
The next day we hiked to Lagoon Volcan, a very nice place and a very beatifull lagoon. We hang out there for a couple of hours and then headed back to the farm, enjoying the sun, the tropic climate and the beautifully scenery all over the place.
The next day (Sunday) me and Tim had to do our way back to Santa Cruz, in order to have enough time to reorganize and meet with Avi and Yair, that were waiting for us in Santa Cruz. Going back was a little much more easier. We were joined by two Israeli nice girls named Mika and Inbal, which stayed two nights in the farm, and together we took a bus back to Santa Martha. On the way, as seen in all Bolivia, people were climbing the bus while a down-pour was hitting everybody outside on their head ferociously. That bus was SO stuffed, people were hanging out of the open bus door in the cold air. The road block was still there, with a long line of trucks with merchandise waiting for eternity while people passed by from and to Santa Cruz. We found a cab driver willing to take us back to Santa Cruz for 5 Bolivians each, but as we got into the cab I heard him saying out loud "Una mas, Una mas!"..what the fuck?! He wants to shove additional people into this already filled cab? (usually, only 5 passengers have space in a private car, including the driver. We were already five.) Me and Tim started to argue with him but no way. So we took our stuff and left his miserable cab, only to find a better option: an empty bus just waiting for people to fill in (which cost even less). The drive back was fast and by the time it was 14:30, we were at the hostel.
We saw the third episode of Star Wars (which was nice) and this morning (Monday) we met with Yair, Avi and Yaki (Yakov). Together, and with another Israeli named Nir, we gonna take this night bus to San Ignacio, a 10 hour drive. Long. We bought so much food I guess we wont be hungry for the next week...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bolivia, an adventure full of surprises: the flight from Cuzco and Santa Cruz


Time was running out of my hands, and combined with Bolivian social fight and inefficiency I could see how I miss Tim in our quest to explore the fabulous Noel-Kempff Mercado national park (NKMP for short, see also
Not taking any chances, I have bought a flight to Santa Cruz (where Tim awaited for me) and on the way landed in La paz (El Alto airport), looking forward for the chance to get into La paz and take my stuff (and my glasses) and get the hell out of there. Things were not as planned, as it is in Bolivia!

Tim finally sent me an email. He had some troubles connecting to his email server, and finally he managed to send me an email. Time was pressing, Tim said, and I had to be in Santa Cruz by Thursday afternoon so i could take a bus to San Ignacio, and from there take a one a week bus to La Macheta, a hut in the wilderness, on the way to the park. So, as things were really getting pressy, there was a need for speed! And, what can be more faster than a Boeing 727-200 airplane jet?
The next day, Monday, I went first thing on the morning to the travel agency in order to change my flight plans I have booked on Saturday morning: Instead of flying only to La paz, im gonna take another flight to Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, two towns east of La paz. That way, I could be in Santa Cruz at the same day, Tuesday, and have enough time to prepare to the upcoming excursion into the jungle.
At the office sat another agent, that one didn't know a single word in English, but luckily I have managed to squeeze some Spanish words and explain her that i need a ticket to Santa Cruz, ASAP!
Together we hopped on a taxi and drove to the center, were the Bolivian national airline company was staying (called LAB). In the airline office I managed to book a flight from Cuzco to La paz and following a waiting for seven hours, gonna take another flight to Santa Cruz with a landing in Cochabamba on the way. PERFECTO! That way, I could go to La paz and retrieve my stuff. I paid and was on my way to meet Chen in plaza Aramas and to have some lunch and hang around.
The following day, I took my already packed backpack and walked briskly to Aramas plaza to have a nice breakfast and then returned to the hostel, took y stuff and climbed a cab to the airport. There, I have checked in around 8:30 am and waited till boarding time. The ticket displayed a two hours time table, but in effect the steward announced that the flight time will be around 51 minutes. Puzzled, I leaned my head against the head rest while the plane rushed down the runway at 150 knot per hour. Quickly, the plane had leveled at the cruising flight altitude, and at that certain point I gripped that this is the best way to go go: Not only fast, this way you can enjoy the beauty of the Lake Titicaca entire region. Far off mountains snowy peaks peeked over the horizon at the southern western part of Peru (Arequipa area?), and all Sacred valley which is located at the Cuzco area was spread and laid out in green and yellow color criss-cross. The flight was short, thus the plane flew at a moderate flight level, and it was possible to enjoy the view which is usually constricted to mountain top panoramas. Not more than 35 min after take off, and I could see already the northern part of the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca and the floating Islands area. I have enjoyed this backward voyage, which I traveled through only half a week before on a bus! Seeing Puno, Isla del sol and Copacabana was an amazing experience, and enabled me to take some pictures, which hopefully will be updated on the site and would enable you all to enjoy this wonderful flight view. Quickly we passed Tiwanaku (which I didn´t see) and landed at the Bolivian international airport at the raging city of El Alto. After passing immigration and my passport being stamped, again, with a Bolivian stamp I went through the custom area, where I had my first surprise that day.
An official representative of the airport, which I didn`t know what was his job, asked me with his good English what are my intentions, and I replied non-nonchalantly that im going to La paz.
Oh no, he replied, you can not go to La paz. All roads are blocked. For your safety, I suggest that you stay here in the airport till your next flight leaves to Cochabamaba.
But I have to go back to La paz, i replied in a desperate voice, my stuff is there and I need them ASAP!
OK, he answered calmly, sit here and we will see what can we do.

Turns out, that Marcus, a 50 year old man, is in charge of all lost luggage. At the start we talked with the few taxi drivers that were at the airport entrance, but we understood that it is impossible to get in: the road to La paz is blocked, and it is necessary to pass the blockade on foot (more than a km walk) and then to take a taxi which waits with a bunch of others taxis on the other side of the blockade. I was willing to do that, only that there were protesters from all the Altiplano that were throwing stones at people trying to pass the blockade. I have got hitted by one stone already, there is no need to get hit by another one. Marcus offered that we call the hostel and ask them to bring the package to the airport. Good idea, as the protesters might be more violent toward tourists than to locals. And also, my package was small in comparison to my 15 kg backpack, and thus running with it at 4000 m was out of the question!
We went to his office and first called a hotel in La paz in order to have the number of the hostel. After that, he called and talked with one of the hostel workers, a woman called marta, a lovely nice woman. Turns out that La paz was in a mess, in it was hard to find a taxi that will take the ride to the airport. Damn! But, they will check later if they can catch a cab. The time was already 2 pm and the last time I could board my luggage was 6 pm, half an hour before departure. While waiting for their call, Marcus suggested an alternative plan: He will pick up the package early in the morning and will bring it to his office, before the protesters will block the road (as he done every day for the past month). Then he will board my package on the proximate flight to Santa Cruz as out of the over all cargo and all I will need to do is to retrieve it from the airport. I was amazed to hear such an offer, as it was of course unacceptable to do such a thing, from the company point of view (but it was a very humanitary to do, of course!).
I thanked him so much for his kindness several times, and finally invited him to lunch. Before that, we gave another ring to the hostel in order to inform them Marcus is coming to the hostel and that the package should be ready. Marta told me that she is ready to go to the airport right now, so I gave her the green light. Now, we should have wait and hope she will pass the blockades without any harm. After inspecting another flight landing in the airport, Marcus joined me and we ate at the Burger King post in the main terminal. Turns out, this was his second time to eat there, as this place was too expensive for him (around 3 USD for a burger, fries and coke). The first time was when it was Christmas, when all places were closed. We talked for over an hour about many things and issues, mainly, the Bolivia overall situation and the situation in Israel, comparing prices and life styles. He also felt that many Bolivians are acting foolishly and are not investing enough in their next generation, while preferring investing hundreds of USD on the grand poder event. Around 4 and half he had to go down to the office in the La paz, and we parted hugging and hoping Marta will arrive all well and with the package. If there will be any problem, he told me before leaving the terminal, I will take the package and ship it to Santa Cruz. I hugged him again hoping I will have the chance to invite him to another burger.
Around 5 and half, while I was reading a Dan Brown novel (a kind gift from Chen), I have noticed a familiar face standing at the entrance to the terminal. MARTA! I jumped off and left all my belongings at that bench and ran to the entrance. We hugged warmly and asked her if all is OK. She was excited to see me and told me all was fine. I paid for all expenses and left her a little tip. I also gave her at that moment the key of room number 8, as I mistakenly forgot in my pocket (which was a week and half when I left La paz to Copacabana). We hugged again and I promised that I will return to La paz. While I was packing my stuff later I decided that when I will be back at La paz (and I will, as my glasses are still in the optic shop) I would by her a little present or chocolate, as she really made something she didn´t had to do.
We boarded the plane at 6 pm and the plane took off well after the sunset, but the sight was amazing in any case. All El Alto was like a square puddle of gold mixed with Ezmeralda, spilling over the black cliffs into the La paz valley, which was like a stream of gold coming down from the deep blue-black mountains. Passing by Illamani was another moment of amazement, as we cruised approximately at the same height of the peak (around 20,000 feet), and even though darkness have already started surrounding us, the triple white peaks shined on and attracted the eyes of all passengers on the left wing. This flight went smoothly, stopping only for refueling and passengers exchange at Cochabamba, and after 30 min we took off, again, landing one hour later at the Viru-Viru airport at the tropical Santa Cruz. I took a bus to down town and from there walked for 20 min to the hostel Tim was staying, the Residencial Bolivar hostel.
At first, he wrote me that this is a bit expensive hostel (a bit? 60 Bolivians a night!!!) but it is worth it. As the night was progressing, I had not the time, patience and will to start to look for an alternative. I trusted Tim (and it was a right decision!) and finally buzzed the front door bell. Tim was not at the hostel but left me a note what room he stays. I left my baggage in the room ("we went to eat at Tex-mex – join us!" was the writing) but decided to skip dinner, as i had some cramps in my stomach). After seeing Men In Black, and taking a good shower, and I headed to the bed to sleep a bit. The double Tim (double meaning, of course) entered the room, followed by Roi, an Israeli that came from Brazil. We hugged and exchanged some of the things we were passing in the last week in the atmospheric courtyard. Tim was waiting for me in Santa Cruz in this place, and had only compliments about this hostel (and there was just behind them!). Tim Bragg, with dread-locks in his hair, is a very symphatic American guy that works as a fireman in the US and was on a voluntary work in Santa Cruz, helping the fire department of the city to be more efficient. Roi Shurnik was waiting for his girlfriend, Noa, that was in Tarija and tried to join him in Santa Cruz, but the road blocks couldn`t enable her to get to Santa Cruz. Finally, she decided to come by flight.
The following day, Wednesday, we woke up late and had together all of us had our breakfast, planning what to do before we take leave of civilization. With the bright sunlight it was possible to appreciate this nice hostel, full of tropic plantation, three independent Toucans ("Any of various tropical American birds of the family Ramphastidae, having brightly colored plumage and a very large bill and feeding mainly on small fruits", one green parrot and one duck. In short, a very cute bird, a very photogenic one. Im gonna post my pictures ones I develop them, so you can appreciate this bird beauty. There is no need to understand that these wildlife is the trademark and the attraction of this hostel, apart from the eat-as-much-as-you-can breakfast which includes fresh tropical fruits, juices, omelets, coffee and house-made jam. It is a fantastic breakfast!
After filling our bellies with these delicacies, me and Tim took off to the organization that is responsible for the national park, for a last minute debriefing. This organization, called Fundacion Amigos De La Naturaleza, or in short FAN, is located in the outskirts of Santa Cruz, behind a high white wall. Even though Tim was already here, it was hard to find this place, with not a single sign on the main road of it´s existence. As a lot of things in Bolivia, things are kept under the table.
In the office were one of FAN representatives and Christian Roth, a Swiss-Bolivian tour guide which is also an architect. Talking with them for one and half hour, we gripped that we can not enter the park this weekend as all the park rangers are fixing a bridge over one of the rivers (and why the hell you didn`t tell that to ole Tim that talked with you two days ago??). We tried all kind of arguments and plans, but finally, we had to give up as they were fierce. Come next week, they said. On our way back we met with Christian on his Yamaha motorbike and we had a long talk on the highway, waiting for the bus. Turns out, that Christian is the son of Hans Roth, a famous architect that was responsible for the restoration of the Jesuit circuit churches (see also: and while talking we had some ideas about the "real" Santa Cruz (which I will not dispense here) and also about other countries...It was an interesting chat, and while we went back on the bus, I and Tim started to think what are we gonna do for an additional week, while agreeing that Bolivia is indeed the country of adventures and surprises. We suddenly gripped that this is the main reason why we are so enjoying this country, even when things are going wrong or that shit happens all the time. It´s a no-boring land, we concluded with a smile. WE WERE HAPPY WITH IT!
Coming back to the hostel, we talked with Roi and tried to think what we gonna do, when two Israelis entered the court yard and asked bluntly if there is anyone who plans to explore the Noel-Kempff Mercado. We raised hour heads in silence, surprised and also happy. Sure thing, people. What`s on your mind? We asked them, and after two hours we (I, Tim, Avi and Yair) already had a plan how to explore this park and a time line for the following morning. Excellent!
We took off to a nice Cuban restaurant in town and after delighting over some real good Cuban dishes (Pork, Pork and Pork) we have stamped our presence on the well written walls and ceiling, as part of the tradition in the restaurant.
The following morning was opened with a lot of optimism, as we were hoping that Noa and Roi will also join us on our tour, as Noa heared about this park only the night she landed in the Hostel and wanted to sleep over it. Avi came to visit us and together we sat for an additional hour, figuring out the supplies and the equipment that we need for this excursion. We agreed to meet in the main plaza around 1:30 pm after we talk with FAN and check that we can actually do it that weekend (the FAN people pressed us to do it with a jeep, as we planned with Avi and Yair and not by our feet, as me and Tim planned originally). We hoped that the Jeep will help us convince them that we could do this with no park ranger available. Well, surprises. By the time we got the FAN people on the phone, we were already packed and ready to go. No, you can not go this weekend, and that´s final, they answered our questions politely, but sternly. No way around this blockade. Damn. We had to find Yair and Avi, as both of them must have already checked out of their hostel. We didn`t find them till we came to the square at 1:30, and told the news. What are we gonna do? They were still in a dilemma whether to go to Sucre and risk not coming back on time (Monday morning) or to hang around Santa Cruz. Me and Tim have decided to join Roi and Noa on their tour to Banana family, a self sufficient family that lives in the wilderness among the jungle trees and wild mountains in the Volcanes area. We plan to spend sometime there, hopefully going back to Santa Cruz on Monday and start our departure toward San Ignacio, and following final arrangements of a 4X4 Jeep, we will move further into the jungle, into the real adventure.