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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 08 Nov 2006

Location: La Paz and Sucre, Bolivia

MapArrived back in La Paz on Halloween. Not really an event in Bolivia but we did watch "Shaun of the Dead" on TV. All Souls and All Saints Days (1 and 2 November) are celebrated with special breads in the shape of people and animals with icing faces and ceremonies at the cemetery. Our hotel had its own little shrine with breads, cakes, a candle and flowers. Like so much here, the ceremonies are a mixture of indigenous Aymara tradition (Day of the Dead) with Catholicism.

We did some more sightseeing including an open top bus ride - not quite like Southport and if you stood up during the ride, there was every chance that you would be garotted by the cables running across the roads. As it was, we were hit by the odd branches of trees. But being hit on the head is usual - everything at street level is designed for small Bolivian people, the covers on market stalls are particularly lethal. The bus went out to the "Valley of the Moon" a sandstone landscape sculpted by wind and rain which was very impressive.

2 November was a public holiday and much like the UK, everything was shut - so we ended up watching more TV (including Animal Hospital!) and we managed to update the blog.

Unfortunately, Sue felt ill as soon as we got back to La Paz and thinking that it could be the altitude combined with the heavy pollution, we decided to miss a couple of things and get a flight down to Sucre. Sucre is much nicer, a small, relaxed city with lots of whitewashed, colonial buildings, parks and squares. It also has incredibly persistent shoeshine boys - even wearing sandals is no defence.

More sightseeing - including a trip to the Parque Cretanico. The biggest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world was found in the wall of a quarry where they extract material for cement. To cash in on this, the cement factory owners have built a park with lifesize replicas of the dinosaurs whose footprints are on the wall (eat your heart out Crystal Palace Park - these boys are big). Unfortunately, the wall is quite a long way away from the park so even viewing through binoculars, it´s difficult to get an impression of scale. We also visited the main market nearby in Tarabuco and actually bought a local weaving - we watched the weavers in a local museum and it´s incredibly intricate work. All the villages have their own traditions - we bought a Candelaria weaving.

Three days into Sucre and Sue was feeling no better so we decided to visit a doctor who was recommended in our guide book and who spoke English. We turned up at 9.30am at which time he was just out of the shower wearing only a towel. Anyway, he diagnosed enterocolitis caused by salmonella or e-coli and recommended 3 days of visits to a clinic for intravenous antibiotics on the basis that the intestine was too inflamed to absorb tablets. This seemed a bit over the top so we spoke to our medical insurance people who not only agreed but thought some blood etc tests should be done as well. This was getting worse and worse with the thought of all these Bolivian needles and so on.

The upshot of all this is that the tests confirmed that it was a Salmonella bug and so far, Sue has had 2 lots of infusions. The doctor keeps assuring us that the needles are new and the drugs are genuine ("It´s not Africa" he says). The strangest thing has been negotiating on price - even though the insurers pay in the end. It´s one thing negotiating on weavings or even hotel rooms, but haggling over the price of the lab tests was bizarre. The original price was $100 which seemed a random amount for wealthy tourists - we queried it and ended up paying $60. The problem is that we have no idea what would be a fair price or even a fair price for tourists as opposed to locals. The price of the drugs was odd as well, increasing from $40 to $52 to $64 in the space of a couple of hours and then the owner of the clinic tried to rip us off on the dollar - boliviano exchange rate much to the doctor´s embarassment. The doctor is OK although he tells us everything over and over again, and calls Colin, Mister Clinton. Hopefully, it´s beginning to work and we hope to move on to Potosi tomorrow armed to the teeth with more drugs (and no alcohol for 10 days!). Colin is not stopping drinking in sympathy - no surprise there.

Fortunately we´ve been in a nice hotel all this time, with a spacious room and for once decent lights so you can read in bed and see during the day. But the service is Bolivian - the beds were changed but they didn´t replace one of the pillowcases. We queried this and were told that all the pillowcases were in the wash, the hotel isn´t very busy but the suggestion of getting a pillowcase from another room seemed pretty radical although it happened eventually. Today, we´ve been out all day, got back just after 5pm just as the guy was about to clean the room. The staff seem to spend most of the day sitting in reception watching TV.

We´ve got a TV too and Colin watched his first whole Premiership game (Tottenham beating Chelsea) - the goal celebrations are fantastic "Goooooooooaaaaaaaal" followed by the commentators breaking into song about the goal scorers and the team. The "Goooooooooaaaaaaaal" thing gets pretty tedious when it´s just the highlights.

Generally the choice of TV channels is dire and as we´ve spent quite a bit of time in the room, we´ve watched lots of English TV rubbish - more Animal Hospital, Changing Rooms (Su Casa Mi Casa as it is here) and What not to Wear - Col is disappointed by the lack of Wheel of Fortune.