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Friday, 24 October 2008

Don´t cry for us

We have now entered the final phase - 3 weeks to go! We´ve left Bolivia behind and now in Argentina. Spending a lot of time together... some might say too much judging from the photo below.

Dave spent a day in the working silver mines of Potosi. We were taken first to the miners market where we bought kits containing a stick of dynamite, plastic explosive and a fuse for 1.80 euro, some as presents for the miners and some for ourselves to blow up for the fun of it. We also bought presents of drink, cigarettes and coca leaves.

We spent about 2 hours walking around the cramped dusty mines as the working miners hurryed past with cart loads of ore in the dusty rarified air (we were at 4800m). We wore dust masks but the miners didn´t because they said it impeded their breathing! It´s a co-operative mine where the miners work for themselves in small groups. We met one family group who worked with just a hammer and chisel to make holes to insert the dynamite and then carry out the ore by hand just like they have been doing for the last 400 years.

Down one passageway we made a ball with 2 sticks of dinimite, the plastic explosive and lit the fuse and ran..... 2 minutes later we heard the bang and the rush of air - real safe!

We continued our journey south through Bolivia to Uyuni and the Salt Flats. An amazing pre-historic salt lake that has dried up and left behind 10,582 square km of dead flat salt. At 3,600m above sea level its a realy striking place. The pratical upshot of having miles of plain landscape is it allows you to take some interesting perspective photos. We spent an hour taking photos, but we could have spent 5 hours, with all the props we could gather; rubix cube, toy soldiers, beer bottles, bananas etc. It was a 3 day trip with an insane amount of driving that took in sights from one of the dryest place on earth; rocks etched into interesting shapes by the sandy wind, volcanoes and geysers, bright blue skies over lakes filled with pink flamingos (I am informed by the David Attenborough watching Chris Dowley that they are pink because of their diet of pink shrimp).

We slept on beds of salt in a house constructed out of salt blocks. Swam in balmy thermal water, after which my hair promptly froze! (Sian took the lazy option and stayed dressed on the sidelines in her ski gear). Looked at blue lakes, red lakes and green lakes. All and all a great trip but far too many miles of drving in a Land Cruiser to see all these sights.

Hi Ho Silver. We did a days cowboying (and cowgirling) in Tupiza. "Will there be riding helmets provided?" "Yes, yes, there´ll be hats", turned out to be cowboy hats, looked better and luckily their crash protection wasn´t put to the test. We walked, trotted, cantered and even galloped our way through wild west country - rugged red hills, cacti, the works. Running along the railway ahead of trains and trotting through rivers. Great fun, but we were very stiff and sore afterwards.

We´re now in Salta, Argentina, and loving it. They´ve got all that we were missing in Bolivia, shopping centers with multi screen cinemas and McDonalds, good comfortable buses, low altitude easy to breathe air and people who don´t reply to all requests with a surly "No".

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Cat Whisperers

What a month! We ran pumas through the jungle for 5 hours a day, cuddled ocelots, played with monkeys, got bitten by birds, built cages, took down cages, danced at the fancy dress parties til 5am then got up at 7.30 and cleaned VAST amounts of shite.

All the animals of Inti Wara Yassi have been rescued by the charity from circuses, private homes (some people think that a puma is nice to have around the house), black markets and general bad circumstances. The main aim of its work is to give the animals as much freedom and dignity as possible. Some of the birds and monkeys can be released after rehabilitation but unfortunately the cats lose their instincts when removed from their natural environment for too long and would only come looking to people for food if released.
Roy Little baby Luna

Civility went out the window. Same clothes for days on end. A monkey pee´d on Sian and she didn´t wash her cardigan (why bother when they´re just going to pee on you again tomorrow). Socks were banned from the bedroom. The days were long starting at 8am and finishing at 5pm if you´re lucky... Dave pulled an 11 hour day once when his puma Roy wouldn´t get back in the cage for the night. Then there was the day an escaped parrot called Lolita came for dinner... (tasty)

You´re next on the block bird spider monkey family with baby Vladi
A day with Millie the ocelot was a little more sedate for Sian. Climbing the half hour hill to her house was the most challenging part of it. Then a pleasant few hours of sleeping, thumb sucking and the occasional scramble down a vertical cliff when she decided to go "off trail" in pursuit of lizards and snakes. She also found nests of birds and ate the eggs and babies like cat popcorn. Sian also got a day with Luna the 8 month old baby puma when her walker was sick. A far more energetic day´s work!

Millie she loves the thumb Luna
Dave walked 2 mountain pumas (the biggest cats in the park) Roy who LOVED to run for 2 hours non-stop through dense jungle and Lishou who has a more relaxed attitude to life. his favourite thing was to wrestle with palm tree branches and hide behind trees to ambush his volunteers (all in the name of fun). Its an impressive sight when you see 90kg of puma 7 metres up a tree.

Lishou Hiding for an ambush

Chris walked his "beautiful baby girl" the murderous Tigre. She was Millies evil twin, a proper predatory ocelot who liked to run at high speed, never on a trail for 6 hours or more a day. Every day was a bloodbath of baby birds and large snakes which she dispatched of with ease. She has a healthy disrespect for her volunteers but Chris soon sorted her out with a good dose of discipline.

Some mornings and evenings were spent helping understaffed areas finish their work but other times we just went to play with the monkeys :) We also had a brilliant group of people to hang out with for the month and will miss all of them now we´re back to just the 3 of us.

All in all, hard HARD work. Great GREAT fun. We reccomend it to anyone who has a month to spare and wants an unusal holiday.

Now we sit in our luxurious 3 star hotel Monserrat (it has carpets!) planning our journey south to Uyuni and into Argentina. Home in just over a month...

X Sian, Dave and Chris