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.

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