Things I hate about Workaway

A lot has been written about the amazing possibilities and upsides of workaway: you get to see the world almost without spending any money, can learn a lot of new skills, share your knowledge and meet the locals and their culture. But there are a lot of things about workaway that most travellers, blogs and of course workaway itself fail to mention. After I left my last workaway host early following a very mixed experience I decided to write about exactly these downsides. The things I hate about workaway. After five hosts in four countries I might not be the most experienced workawayer, but I think I have seen enough to speak my mind about a few things.

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A lovely workaway place in Bolivia where I had lots of fun – but did’t find the community I was looking for

Firstly the profiles rarely draw an accurate picture of the place, people and work that await you. I was told I would work and live in a hostel with a restaurant when really neither my accommodation nor work were in that hostel. An eco-community turned out to only have one member and the eco farm I was expecting was neither eco, nor a real farm. A lot of these inaccuracies came down to outdated profiles and of course it is always difficult to describe a place you are attached to, but it is annoying to find out that something you particularly liked about a profile is not true. For example I picked one of my hosts because I was looking to experience communal living. In another occasion I was hoping to learn more about sustainable farming in Namibia and ended up with hosts that not only worked in a lodge, not a farm, but thought it was fine to pour old paint into the nature where noone could see it.

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Playing soccer in front of the restaurant (not hostel) where I volunteered in Peru

Not seldom the basic premises of workaway are violated, sometimes without any mention on the profile or in the e-mails before arrival. So free food and board for 25h of volunteering per week is not always guaranteed with workaway. Two of my hosts told me beforehand that they could not provide food and as both of them were beautiful non-profit community projects I was fine with that – but when my last hosts told me upon arrival  that they really expected me to work a 50h week and had many rules they didn’t mention in several e-mails we exchanged beforehand I was very disappointed to say the least. I would have liked to know this before my arrival to make a decision if it was ok for me. In the end it was not the work or the amount of hours that made me leave, but the aggressive communication and stressful environment, but it lead to an unfortunate first impression.

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Painting a roof in the hot sun at my first Namibian workaway

It is especially important to know the details of each workaway agreement, because spontaneously leaving is not always easy. Depending on many circumstances you might be very dependent on your host. If your host lives very rural you might rely on them to get to the next village, bus stop, or even road. In a country like Namibia many farmers  own thousands of hectares of land far away from main roads – so hitchhiking is not an option everywhere. In cheap countries with lots of hosts it might be easy to come up with a plan B and I am lucky to travel with enough savings so I can leave everywhere if I feel I am being  mistreated – but I have met at least a handful of travellers who could’t afford to leave before they found a new host and this is not a situation I wish upon anyone.

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I found my host in the Bolivian Amazon by just asking around – and a boat was the only way to reach the amazing jungle camp

Of course some people will argue that you can avoid bad experiences simply by reading the feedback other travellers have left, but the truth is that workaways feedback system is very flawed. It has been written about before, but I am not sure most people realise that in the rare case that feedback has been left, it could have been left by anyone. There are no reminders or double-blind system in place and even worse, negative feedback won’t be posted by workaway. Yes you have read right – if you have an experience you’d like to tell future volunteers about don’t select the negative smiley because it will be posted without your written feedback. Not only does this system actively withhold important information from other workawayers, it also makes every host look good.

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Painting stones at a childrens summercamp – my second Namibian workaway

So will I stop using workaway and advise others to do the same? Definitely not! A lot of hosts are amazing and there is a reason travellers rave about this page, but there are a few measures I will be taking from now on, even if I am looking for a host last minute and I would advise others to do the same. Firstly and most importantly ask many questions before your arrival (even if the profile seems to answer them) and also get across what is important to you! If there is feedback which raises questions there is sometimes the possibility to contact former volunteers who left that feedback and I think it’s great chance to get more information. It also helps to get information on the exact location of your host and the surroundings like nearby hostels and alternative hosts, just in case. And lastly I would personally never do workaway without the funds to at least pay for transport and a few nights of cheap accommodation. I really don’t want to scare anyone away from volunteering or travelling and think it is great to arrive everywhere with a an open heart and mind,  but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared…

Just in case anyone was wondering: I have never used helpx or other similar sites and this is the only reason this post focusses on workaway. I have no clue is the other pages work better, worse or the same and therefore they are not mentioned. 

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My Southamerica trip in numbers

I have a confession to make: I kind of like statistics. Not to the extend that I spend my free time calculating structural equation models for fun, but looking at numbers and visualising them in pretty charts is weirdly satisfying to me. Of course I know that most things can’t be measured in numbers and that is great – but I still thought it would be interesting to show what my time in Peru and Bolivia looks like in numbers and facts. So where and how did I spend my time? What story do the numbers tell?

First of all I would like to show you where I’ve been on an interactive map. All places I spent a night at (excluding hikes) have been marked and you can also see when I went from A to B:

As I have mentioned before the initial plan was to spend most of my time in Peru – that didn’t work out so well. Out of my five months (or 154 days) 85 days were spent in Bolivia and only 69 in Peru. Bolivia is amazing though and I don’t regret a single day I spent there. Ok maybe I do, the three days spent in Santa Cruz to extend my visa were pretty annoying and I lost my credit card not once but twice (!) in the exact same cash machine there, but that is another story.

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Figure 1: Where did I spend my time?

I also had some favourite places I spent a lot of time at. Here are my top three cities and villages measured by the time I spent there (I only included days if I spent the night in said place). Unsurprisingly I have written blogposts about three of the four places so I didn’t get stuck there by accident…

  1. La Paz (Bolivia), 14 days
  2. Samaipata (Bolivia), 13 days
  3. Pisac (Peru) & Cuzco (Peru), 11 days

Now you know where I spent my time. But what did I do with it? How did I spend my days?  I didn’t actually volunteer or couchsurf all that much as you can see – but my days hiking (including dayhikes) almost add up to a full month which I think is pretty impressive.

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Figure 2: How did I spend my time?

 I also thought quite a lot about if I should bring a sleeping bag and tent and ended up only bringing the sleeping bag. I used it quite a lot (couchsurfing, hiking, workaway…) and next time I’ll defnitely be bringing my tent too!

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Figure 3: Where did I sleep?

Lastly I would like to take a look at the people I met. I had a lot of brief encounters that were amazing. People I connected with a lot although we might have only spent a day or two together. But some people I ended up spending quite a lot of time with and that was great! Who were the people I spent most time with (in absolute days and percentage of my trip spent with them)? Last but not least, let me introduce you to:

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Melina at the train graveyard

  1. Melina – 32 days, 20.8%: I met Melina in Samaipata and we instantly bonded over having the same hiking guidebook. She tured out to be the most caring person, a great Macrame teacher and (like me) a bit of a planner. We ended up travelling together for 25 days filled with some of the most adventurous dayhikes and amazing guided tours through a salar, pampas and even the amazon djungle where we supported each other like a perfect team and had the most amazing personal conversations. At the end of my trip we met up again in Samaipata for a week and it was like meeting up with an old friend again. She also wrote a guestpost about our greatest challenge together and I am shure we will meet again as soon as we are both back in Germany.
  2. Marie – 25 days, 16.2%: I met Marie while volunteering near Samaipata. She lit up the days with her beautiful guitar music, made my infamous braid and was the start of a more hippe travelling style for me. Though my time in and around Samaipata involved many more wonderfull people, she was the person who intoduced me to the ‘hostal jardin’ and an everchanging group of amazing people that became like a temporal family. Samaipata was probably my favourite place on this trip and Marie was a big part of that.
  3. Camille, Daniel (& Thomas) – 22 days, 14.3%: I had already gone on a lot of dayhikes with Melina, but this international group of solo travellers took it to a whole other level. And even though Thomas left earlier the list would not be complete without him. The four of us hiked around Cuzco on the Salkantay and Ausangate treks and while doing so planned the amazing meals we would cook together when getting back (I kid you not). On our way to Machu Picchu Thomas (from Italy) and Daniel (from Germany) came up with the idea of making Rouladen (a typical german roast) with spinach dumplings and red cabbage. We spent about 5 hours in the hostel kitchen and Camille (from Canada) topped the meal off with a great salad. Let’s just say that we shared some of the best meals of my journey and I even convinced Daniel and Camille to stay in Cuzco a bit longer to go to the most insane pilgimage that is Quyllurit’i together. I didn’t think staying together with a group of people for that long would work well bit it did and it was great!
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Pedro teaching Marie how to make bread from scratch

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Daniel, Camille & Thomas (front to back) on our way to Machu Picchu

Things I loved about travelling in Bolivia

I crossed the border near Puno because it made sense to go into Bolivia after getting to the Titicacalake. The idea was to do a quick round in Bolivia without too much volunteering and getting back to Peru soon. I had so many ideas what to do and where to go in Peru, but hardly knew a thing about Bolivia. In the end my “quick visit” to the country turned into almost three months of travelling! I regularly get puzzled looks from gringo-trail backpackers when I tell them how much time I spent in Bolivia, but the fact is that in addition to being a slow traveller I really liked the country and think it is quite underrated by lots of travellers.When I left Bolivia I got kind of sad and realized that if I had infinite time and visa I easily could have spent at last a month more. So what do I think is so fantastic about travelling Bolivia?

  1. The incredible nature. When people think about Bolivia they mostly picture the Andes and it is true that they are incredible, but Bolivia has so much more to offer! From the saltflats and colourful lagunes in the southwest to the amazon djungle, from cloudforests to the Titicacalake this country is unbelievably diverse. Trekkers will find a paradise and I certainly didn’t expect to see so many different animals. A bus drive of only a few hours can chnge the climate so drastically you might have to change from summerdress to thermo leggins and lamawool socks. But wherever I went, the nature was spectacular.
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    The Amazing ‘Isla Incahuasi’ in Uyuni desert

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    ‘Cementerio de las tortugas’ in Torotoro near Cochabamba

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    More amazing nature: ‘Laguna Blanca’

  2. The adventure factor. Forget about biking “deathroad” near La Paz – if you spend enough time in Bolivia you will get your thrills just by riding a bus. When I went to Rurrenabaque the bus companies slogan was “Your adventure starts here!” and they were not lying. Narrow bumpy roads, road blocks, getting stuck in the mudd – nothing ever goes according to plan. I had a mouse eat a hole into my backpack, stayed in hostels with no water and survived several days in Tupiza with no electricity in the whole village. If you are on a tight scedule orstress out about things going “wrong” Bolivia might not be for you – but if you learn to embrace the craziness it’s actually a lot of fun. Each day offers a new surprise and in the end everything turns out fine.

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    This time at least it wasn’t the car I was sitting in that got stuck!

  3. The other travellers. This might also have to do with my choice of hostels or just be a coincidence, but the moment I entered Bolivia I was surrounded by amazing people. Don’t get me wrong – I met great people in my first month in Peru too, but everyone seemed to be on such a tight scedule so I would mostly just spend a day or two with them. There are also less travellers in a lot of places in Bolivia compared to south Peru, but it seemed easier to get to know them and everyone seemed so relaxed. I went from one great travel companion to another and really got to know them in the weeks (sometimes months) we spent together. I made real friends while travelling that I would love to see again and catch up with.
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    Diego, Melina, Sofia and Marlene using natural purple dye

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    Holding a lemon with the amazing Marie for no particular reason

  4. The respect for personal space. Don’t expect random people to invite you into their house, offering to show you aroundor just strike up a conversation out of nowhere in Bolivia. Building connections takes a while here, small talk is not always welcome and most people will just ignore you except for a quick greeting. Compared to other latinos Bolivians might seem cold and distanced at first sight, but at the same time they respect your space. In the three months I did not have one uncomfortable situation- no whistling, no weird sexual comments, no men I had to try to get rid of. Unfortunately this is not the norm in a lot of southamerican countries. Still I had lots of interesting conversations and met great people everywhere: couchsurfing, volunteering or simply taking a taxi. Because if you take a bit of time it is very possible to get to know Bolivians.

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    I have hardly taken any pictures of people and that has a reason: they don’t like it!

  5.  The diverse cultures. Although Bolivia is one country, it really consists of very different cultures. Peoples mentality, customs and traditional clothes are very different from place to place. Going from La Paz into the djungle I felt like entering a whole different country because everyone looked and behaved so different. After all this time in the country I still only got a superficial impression of Bolivias different cultures and this really makes me want to go back to learn and explore more.

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    Carnival at the Titicaca lake

  6. The prices. I am not going to lie – Bolivia is dead cheap and it is great! Of course it is not India, but I lived very comfortably without much volunteering and only spent 400 to 600 Euros per month despite various multi day tours which felt like a big luxury. I got so used to the prices that I would walk away from any street seller trying to charge more than 5 Bolivianos (0,65 Euro) for two papayas. If you get out of what I call “the tourist bubble”, eating overprized Pizza and staying at places that tell you their prices in US Dollars, Bolivia is a backpackers dream come true. Unfortunately beer and chocolate are quite pricy but I can live with that if I can have a huge fruit salad every day for under 1 Euro.

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    One of the cheapest vegetables to buy.As a german this makes me very happy!

Another day in the djungle

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The only way to our camp: a three hour boat ride

I wake up to the buzzing noise of the amazon djungle. Birds are singing, howler monkeys screaming in the distance and millions of diffenent insects humming in the woods surrounding me.  Although the bed is is only protected by a simple wooden structure and palm leaf roof I am safe from any bloodsuckers under my green moskito net. It’s been unusually cold in the last few days, so I am wraped up in two sleeping bags  and wearing my favourite lama wool socks.

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My temporary home in the djungle

I have no clue what time it is and haven’t looked at a clock for days, but as the first light of the day is shinging through thick green leafs I figure it is time to get up. I make my way to the kitchen and prepare a coffe – that is powdered milk, choclate powder and Nescafe with hot water. Jani, our cook and only other woman in the camp has already been up for hours  frying empanadas, pancakes and other delicious things for the tour groups. I hope the tourists aren’t too hungy today so I can steal some fruits from their buffet, because our breakfast is more typical for Bolivia and consists of meat and rice.

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“Dining room” and hammocks – the heart of the camp

Slowly the kitchen is filling up with tour guides and other people from the Max team. Though my spanish has become quite good by now it is difficult to follow all the inside jokes and people takling at the same time. Still I feel welcome and have learned most peoples names by now. After helping with the dishes and chilling in the hammocks for a bit I am told to work with Krieter. We start painting wooden chairs, but hardly 10 minutes later he grinns and proclaims that we are going fishing. The work can wait. We walk through the dense djungle with its immense mahogany trees – thick lianas hanging from their branches. Crossing coutless antroads we make our way to the river and look for a nice sunny place to comfortably sit down and wait for the fishes to bite.

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Krieter preparing the hook

The hooks are big and the pieces of meat seem exaggerated to me, but Krieter tells me the story of how he once caught a 25kg fish and he is determined to repeat the story today. I on the other hand don’t think that I’ll catch something, but it is nice to enjoy the sun and listen to Krieters tales. Despite being only 23 and a school education of less than two years he has seen and done a lot in his life. After growing up in a Tacana community in the djungel he left his family at only nine years of age to work on a farm and make some money. Like the other indigenous guides he knows his way well around the djungel and has an incredible gift of finding animals. We talk about travelling, other german volunteers he has met, relationships and obviously that time he saw a jaguar. In Rurrenabaque amongst travellers and guides alike this is the ultimate goal and popular topic of conversations. At this point in the conversation my attention for fishing is almost nonexistant, so I casually pull my string out of the water. To my surprise it is quite difficult and suddenly I realize that there is something pulling back. Something big! Krieter takes over and tells me to get my camera ready. I pull one last time and out comes – a turtle.

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My accidental catch

Krieter thinks this is hillarious while I start to feel sorry for the poor animal. The hook is deep in its throuat and turtles can bite fingers off so it takes Krieter quite a while to free the creature with a kitchen knife. After about 10 minutes it is finally free and we send the little fellow (he is “only” about 10 years old) back into the river.

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Krieter freeing the turtle with a kitchen knife and lots of patience

 I am done with fishing for now and we decide to head back for lunch. With the food another nice surprise awaits us: Lennard, another german volunteer has arrived. We instantly get along well, but sadly he steals the best job of the afternoon from me: clearing paths with a machete. Nevermind. I help Alvero make the beds in the beautiful tree houses and again most of our time is spent taking breaks and chatting. When it takes us 30 minutes to make four beds Alvero is convinced we are working too hard.

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The treehouse my tourgroup stayed in when I arrived

Although Alvero has been working is both the Pampas and the Selva (djungel) for years, he is still crazy about taking pictures. If I wouldn’t know better I would think he is the tourist! So I help take pictures of him in the djungle, in fron of a tree house, making the beds… After a while I get tired of being his personal photographer, but dinnertime comes and he helps me look for seeds to make jewelery.

We join up with Krieter and Lennard and despite my earlier fishing-fail the two convince me to try my luck again. And night fishing turns out to be a lot of fun! It already stars when Krieter stops a baby-boa hanging from a branch. Of course I don’t have my camera with me, but the little snake hangs still so we can observe it from all angles. At the beach we have a great view of the night sky while the river is flowing in front of us – aligator eyes reflecting the light of our headlamps. While fishing Lennard and me get to the topic of festivals (he has a Boom ticket too) and Krieter jokingly complains that we are turning into Israelis. Our chatter is interrupted though when Lennard pulls his string out of the water. He has caught a big fish with jaguar-like skin. This will stay the yield for today.

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The only picture I was able to take of Lennards fish before it got taken apart

Krieter says that the fish is delicious and that we’ll prepare it for breakfast – and I think how strange it is that we will be eating this beautiful fish that could be the hilight of any zoo aquarium in Germany. I have to admit though that I am curious how it will taste (spoiler: very good and non-fishy) and so we leave the big catch in the kitchen and happily head back to our beds where each of us crawls under their moskito net.

The amazon truly is amazing and there are new things to discover and animals to spot each day. We will see what the next day brings…

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A turtle I didn’t catch, but found on the ground another day

The Pampas – safari for lazy people

Djungle or pampas? This is the question most travellers ask when arriving in Rurrenabaque. Fortunately I am bad at making decisions, so when Melina and me arrived in the village we just went for both tours.

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This is how we spent three days: relaxing on a boat

While I totally fell in love with the amazon djungle and even returned to volunteer for a week (more about that in my next blog post), I have to admit that it takes patience and luck to see animals up closer there. In the pampas on the other hand you will even see tons of animals if you contantly scream or stupidly try to touch them as the israelis in our tourgroup proved.

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Pedro our aligator friend chilling by the boat

There were many activities like (unsucessfull) piranha fishing and anaconda searching, but the real attraction were the many animals everywhere. Most of our time was spent on a boat – watching animals, watching the sunset, watching the sunrise… We saw aligators, turtles, parrots and countless other beautiful birds, monkeys, carpinchos and even pink dolphins! I had to learn the hard way that swimming with dolphins is not as romantic as I thought when they bit my toe, but still it was amazing to have them accompany our boat and just float through this animal paradise.

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We got really close to some of the birds

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Proud eagle on a tree

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There were also some smaller animals – unfortunately including moskitos

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The many different monkeys were my personal hilight

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Yet another cute monkey

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The standard comment of our guide was: and this bird likes to eat fish

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The biggest bird we saw – it was easily as tall as a small human

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Crazy bird in the afternoon sun

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Sunrise over the pampas

Licancabur, wir kommen! [guest post by Melina]

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Blick auf den Licancabur hinter der smaragdgrünen Laguna Verde

Es klopft sacht an unsere Tür. Unser verschlafenes Gemurmel scheint nicht zu überzeugen, es klopft lauter. Es ist 2 Uhr nachts. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass wir gerade einmal  5 Stunden vorher schlafen gegangen sind frage ich mich, wer zur Hölle die Idee hatte auf diesen bescheuerten Vulkan zu klettern und wer zur Hölle beschlossen hat, dass das um 3 Uhr nachts passieren soll. Im ersten Fall gibt es 4 Verdächtige: Lea, Adrian, Ivan und mich! Zweiteres haben unsere beiden Guides Alvaro und Luis uns nahe gelegt….

Also gut, raus aus den Federn – im warsten Sinne des Wortes! Bei -10 Grad Aussentemperatur macht sich mein Daunenschlafsack im unbeheizten Hotel echt bezahlt. Unsere Köchin ist ein Schatz: Pfannkuchen mit Caramelcreme (Dulce de Leche) gehen selbst um 2.30 Uhr runter. Wasser und Obst stehen auch für alle bereit, ausserdem ein spezieller Kräutertee und Koka-Blätter gegen die Höhenkrankheit.

Das Objekt unserer Begierde, der Licancabur, misst stolze 5.920 Meter (in der Höhe, versteht sich). Ergänzt wird unsere Reisegruppe dann noch von zwei netten Schweizern, die aus Mangel an anderen Guides (die sie dann eh nicht gebraucht hätten) bei uns aufgenommen werden. Los geht`s!!! Ich finde es ganz schön kalt, habe ja keine Ahnung was uns noch erwartet…. Im Auto laufen die grössten Hits der 90er: Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys und Blink 182 sorgen für gute Laune, Vorfreude und Aufregung liegen in der Luft. Nach kurzer Fahrt erreichen wir den Fuss des Vulkanes auf ca. 4.300m Höhe.

Ausser einem spektakulären Sternenhimmel ist noch nicht viel zu sehen, alles liegt im Dunkeln. Das macht aber nix, dann können wir wenigstens nicht daran verzweifeln wie weit es noch ist, sondern uns schön auf die nächsten Schritte konzentrieren. Wie ein leuchtender Wurm schrauben wir uns Stück fuer Stück den Berg hinauf – das muss lustig aussehen aus der Ferne. Anfangs verläuft der Weg noch recht angenehm, dann wird er steiler, die Serpentinen enger. Noch sind wir optimistisch den Gipfel in den vorgesehenen 6 Stunden zu erreichen. Dann spaltet sich unsere Gruppe. Ivan fühlt sich der Höhe und der körperlichen Anstrengung nicht gewachsen und beschliesst mit einem unserer Guides abzusteigen. Unser zweiter Guide stapft weiter mit kleinen Schritten voran, verlässlich wie ein Uhrwerk!

Je höher wir kommen und je näher der Sonnenaufgang rückt, desto kälter wird es. Leas Trinkwassersystem gefriert und ich kriege trotz dicker Handschuhe, die mir die nette Schweizerin geliehen hat, dermassen kalte und steife Finger, dass ich meine Wasserflasche weder auf- noch zudrehen kann. Das Naseputzen habe ich mittlerweile mangels Taschentücher und motorischer Fähigkeiten auch aufgegeben…. Einfach laufen lassen! Gefriert eh sofort alles zu Eis!

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Nach dem Sonnenaufgang ein erster spektakulärer Ausblick

Lea und ich trotten schnaufend hinter den anderen her. Adrian, der gestern noch Magen-Darm hatte tippelt scheinbar leichtfüssig bergauf. Wie zur Hölle macht der das?!? Die Schweizer haben sich mittlerweile vom Guide die Erlaubnis geholt alleine weiter zu laufen. Bei unserem “Tempo” und der Anzahl benötigter Pausen, frieren die zwei sich halb zu tode. Ich dachte mal ich wäre sportlich… Naja, auf dem Gipfel werden wir sie wiedertreffen. Mittlerweile stellen wir fest, dass zwischen den fast 5.000m auf denen wir schon mal waren und fast 6.000m, denen wir Schritt für Schritt näher rücken, doch beachtliche Unterschiede zu verzeichnen sind. Nein, der Licancabur wird es uns nicht leichter machen, als wir anfangs frohlockt hatten!

Die letzten 200 Hoehenmeter werden zu Qual: unser Pfad verwandelt sich in ein sehr steiles Geröllfeld mit riesigen Brocken, die wir nur noch mit Hilfe unserer Hände überwinden können. Ausserdem beschliessen unsere Körper trotz Kräutertee und gekauten Koka-Blättern in den Wangen, dass es jetzt auch mal reicht. Kopfschmerzen, Schwindel und Atemlosigkeit zwingen uns alle 10m anzuhalten und nach Luft zu schnappen. Die Sonne scheint zwar mittlerweile, aber gegen den eisigen Wind, der uns um die gefühlt halb erfrorenen Nasen weht, kommen ihre Strahlen leider nicht an. Die Kälte zwingt uns also leider immer wieder viel zu schnell, die nächsten 10m in Angriff zu nehmen…

Kurz darauf ist mein persönlicher Tiefpunkt erreicht. Mehr als erreicht! Warum auch immer beschliesst meine linke Hand wieder aufzutauen. Und das auf so unangenehme Weise, dass ich vor Schmerzen nur noch heulen könnte! Mit Erschöpfung hatte ich gerechnet, damit kann ich irgendwie umgehen. Aber die Schmerzen in der Hand rauben mir die letzten Nerven und jegliches fitzelchen Durchhaltevermögen, dass bis dahin noch vorhanden war. Ich überlege ernsthaft, ob das der Punkt ist, an dem ich mir eingestehen sollte, dass die Tour einfach zu krass für mich ist. Sollte ich absteigen und der Sache ein Ende bereiten?

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Melina – nicht mehr ganz so frisch

Massage und Anpusten sei Dank beruhigt sich die Hand irgendwann wieder. Der Guide ist so nett und tauscht seine vorgewaermten Handschuhe gegen meine Eisklötze, mein  genetisch veranlagter Dickkopf taut auch auf…. Und… eigentlich ist es auch gar nicht mehr sooo weit… Also: Auf geht’s! Allez! Und veeeeenga!

Lea stapft voran, ich versuche Schritt zu halten. Und wenigstens sieht unser Guide auch nicht mehr ganz frisch aus. Das beruhigt mich etwas. Die letzen 30m bis zum Gipfel schaffen wir dann sogar ohne Pause – zwar mehr torkelnd als laufend, aber egal! Oben angekommen sind dann alle Mühen kurz vergessen. Wir stehen auf dem Rand eines riesigen Kraters, in dessen Mitte uns ein grüner, halb zugefrorener See entgegenblinzelt. Der höchste See der Welt, angeblich.

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Der Krater (und irgendwo im Bild hat sich Lea versteckt)

Die Schweizer empfangen uns mit Applaus, alle liegen sich kurz in den Armen. Das beste an der Sache: der 360Grad-Rundum-Panoramablick auf die bolivianisch-chilenische Grenzregion. Dutzende von Vulkanen, manche weiss/orange/rot gefärbt, andere Schneebedeckt, erweisen uns die Ehre. Die blaue und die weisse Lagune glitzern in der Sonne. Wow! Wir haben es tatsächlich geschafft! (Zwar in 8, statt in 6 Stunden, aber wen interessiert das schon). Der Versuch uns ins Gipfelbuch einzutragen scheitert daran, dass es gefroren ist und sich nicht öffnen lässt. Naja, macht nix!

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Gruppenfoto auf dem Gipfel: die Schweizer, Adrian, Lea, unser Guide Luis und Melina

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Statt Gipfelkreuz ein Gipfgelaltar – der Licancabur war den Inkas heilig

Allzu lange hält die Euphorie nicht an, uns steht ja schliesslich noch der Abstieg bevor und auch der eisige Wind lädt wirklich nicht zum Verweilen ein. Schnell noch ein paar Erinnerungsfotos geschossen und weiter geht`s, mal wieder… Statt den geplanten 2 Stunden brauchen wir 4. Unser armer Guide! Innerhalb dieser 4 Stunden verliere ich jegliche Angst vor rutschigem Untergrund und Sand-/Geroellfeldern. Wir surfen an der gefühlt steilsten Stelle den Berg hinunter! Einfach rutschen lassen und weiter laufen. Und Gleichgewicht halten. Und falls das nicht klappt, dann landet man halt auf dem Po und stoppt ein kurzes Stück später, also auch kein Problem! Lea wirkt nicht ganz so begeistert… sondern eher so, als ob sie gerade gegen ihren absoluten Tiefpunkt des Tages ankaempft…

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Lea hat nicht mehr ganz so viel Spass, denn jetzt sieht man wie steil es tatsächlich ist

Die Erleichterung, als dann irgendwann unser Jeep in Sichtweite gerät, lässt sich wohl kaum in Worte fassen. Jetzt ist es also wirklich ganz geschafft, alle heile, alle völlig erschöpft, auch Adrian. Licancabur, du bist besiegt!!!!!! Also bezwungen!

Meine Bilanz des Tages:

  1. Es gibt gute Gründe warum man normalerweise nicht in Höhen von 6.000m unterwegs ist… Alles ab 5.000 ist echt ungemütlich!
  2. Ich bin wohl eher das, was man einen “Genusswanderer” nennen wuerde
  3. Das Glücksgefühl einen so hohen Gipfel mit den eigenen 2 Beinen erklommen zu haben ist einfach unbeschreiblich!!!

 

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Trotz aller Anstrengung: der Ausblick war unglaublich!

 

Cerro Kari Kari

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View from the peak, complete with lakes, Cerro Rico and the city in the background

Cerro Kari Kari is 4965 meters high and overlooks the fascinating city of Potosi, once the largest and richest city in the Americas because of its silver. Of course this richness only helped the Spanish while millions of indigenous people died in the mines. It is said that all the silver extracted from the mines could have built a bridge to Spain, but that another bridge could have been built from the bones of the slaves who died in the process of extracting it. If you would like to see how colonialism fucked up Latin-America Potosi is the place to go. To this day many people, including children, are working in the mines under horrible conditions earning hardly enough money to survive.

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Potosi with its many churches and colonial buildings

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Entrance to the mines of Cerro Rico

Despite Potosis dark history however, the city is surrounded by beautiful nature and untouched mountains. So after visiting the Casa de la Moneda Museum and learning about the cities history, Melina and I decided to climb our first real mountain. We had met in Samaipata where we instantly bonded over having the same (unreliable) trekking book and shared plans to discover the Bolivian mountains without a guide. So after meeting up again in Sucre and starting with an easy trek to the seven waterfalls nearby, we decided to take on Cerro Kari Kari.

On our way to the peak we passed countless lama flocks and went a little crazy chasing them for the ideal picture.

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Lama looking surprised at two german travellers 

We walked along several artificial lakes build by 20 000 slaves to provide water for the city and passed green valleys and small streams. Incredible views of the exploited Cerro Rico with its hundreds of mines accompanied us along the way.

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Laguna San Sebastian with Cerro Rico in the background

When the path ended we searched our own way up the steep mountain, stuffing our cheeks full of coca leaves to help with altitude and exhaustion. When we were almost at the top and taking a little break enjoying the incredible view, a single hiker appeared out of nowhere and passed us at an incredible speed. As we finally reached the top he had already continued to other, higher mountains although it was already afternoon and he only carried a tiny backpack. We never saw him again but really hope he made it back home safely!

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Yeah – I made it to 4965 meters

As to us, we slowly made our way to the city again, going down to yet another green valley and passing even more lamas, streams and lakes in the warm afternoon sun.

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Melina was crazy about the little river

Finally we watched the sun set behind the Cerro Rico before we walked the last 200 meters to take a bus back into the city full of history and run-down colonial buildings. Crazy how such beautiful nature can be found side by side to the evidence of horrible crimes and the exploitation of a whole continent.

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Sunset at the end of our hike

 

Bolivian Street Art

If you think about Bolivia, street art is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind. However, in my two months here I have come a cross some works I really liked and as they don’t really fit my other posts I have decided to give them their own space. Unfortunately I missed the “bike art tour” in Cochabamba, but if you ever come to this vibrant city full of colourful graffiti I really recommend discovering its art (be it on a bycicle or by foot).

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Mystic andenean symbols near the witches market  (La Paz)

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Coca leaves impact culture, art and everyday life (Cochabamba)

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Colourful mexican influences (Cochabamba)

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A space lama (Cochabamba)

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Don’t forget that the strengh of Bolivia are its women (Uyuni)

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Faded sticker art of a traditionally dressed bolivian woman (Potosi)

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Hooded person – a shoe cleaner? (La Paz)

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Monster and yet another Cholita (La Paz)

Samaipata the beautiful hippie trap

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Wild mountains near Samaipata

If I had to split my journey up to this point into chapters I would probably devide it into the time before and after Samaipata. Both chapters would be amazing and full or experiences, but Samaipata was somewhat of a turning point. Not only did I spend some of my best days in Bolivia here, I also formed amazing connections with people I would now call friends and slowly my way of travelling changed as well.

It all started with my workaway in Paredones, just 20 minutes from Samaipata, where I met Marie. I instantly liked her and once I left the ‘espiral de luz’ joined her in the Hostal Jardin. This now favourite hostel of mine reflects pretty well what makes people stay for much longer than initially planned in Samaipata. The dorms are little artsy eco-construction houses framing a huge green garden used for camping.

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The garden with fireplace and kitchen in the middle

Heart of the hostel is a central fireplace and big open kitchen. There you will always find travellers playing music, teaching each other handicrafts or cooking delicious meals. With children running around on the lawn, people chilling in hammocks and everyone sharing their food the place felt more like a shared home than a hostel from the first day. No wonder some travellers stay there for months. Or years. Or forever.

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Rare sight of the kitchen being empty

In fact, Samaipata is full of expats who mostly started as travellers and found their new home in the small village at the edge of Amboro National Park. So while Samaipata is definitely a Bolivian village with its typical market, many loud mototaxis and central chilled plaza it also offers almost any product one could possibly miss while travelling: wholegrain bread, good yogurt, natural cosmetics, organic honey… Many of these things are sold by people who lead a simple life somewhere in the surrounding mountains, living in self-built huts and happily inviting volunteers into their houses.

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Local women at the market sorting potatoes

Life is slow and relaxed and although most people (both travelling through and permanently living there) don’t have a lot of money, there is always something fun to do and certainly many great people to meet. Often my days would consist of little more than cooking or going to the river to swim, but still I was never bored.

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Chilling by the river – I wonder what Marie was talking about…

One day we felt especially adventurous and hitchhiked to some nearby waterfalls, but mostly my days were spent in the village and hostel walking around to buy food, chilling and talking to people.

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Hitchhiking into the afternoon sun on top of a big truck

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Bathing in the waterfalls

After a couple of days I got invited to a hut in the mountains with a few friends where we built a dry toilet in a day, learned to sing Manu Chao songs and cooked the most delicious empanadas from scratch. I met people travelling with literally no money, was inspired to try to live in a bus and really started cooking again – something I had not done much in the last month. I also almost entirely spoke Spanish as there were many latino travellers and learned a bit about the Maya calendar.

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Our compost toilet – you have to climb on top to do your business

It is difficult to sum up my experiences in Samaipata because what stuck with me most were the people I met. After a little more than two weeks it was weird to leave this wonderful hippie trap of a village behind. Luckily I left Samaipata to go to a Goa / Trance festival accompanied by a bunch of friends from the jardin, so I was a lot more excited than sad, but since then I had to say goodbye to many lovely people.

Still, a lot of Samaipata and its people are still with me in that they influenced me and my travel style. I am even slower, more relaxed and staying a lot at artesano* hostels, ditching tours almost entirely. I have also found Milena, my new travel companion who is just as excited as I am about hiking – so I am sure there are many great things to come and am thankful that I found this village. So if you ever go to Bolivia don’t miss out on this place, but beware! You might get stuck there, possibly forever…

* Artesanos are travellers who make their living by selling handmade goods (like macramé bracelets) or playing music / juggling in the streets. They are also incredible at finding the cheapest hostel in town with a kitchen.

 

Things I learned at my second workaway

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Looking at my second workaway

A community in the nature – no electricity, no running water, campfires and yoga. For my second workaway I wanted the full on hippie experience and in a way I got it. But as always, imagination and reality turned out to be a little different. I defnitely did not imagine myself making ballon animals by candlelight in the middle of a forest, but let me start at the beginning. The “community” I found turned out to only consist of Pedro Pajarito, a positively crazy belgium clown with a big heart who makes his living by selling homemade german bread in the nearby village. The place he had created in the middle of rich green trees and close to the river was gorgeous. I loved so many aspects of the simple life that he was leading: the constant smell of fire, washing dishes in the river, being outside all day…

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The communal kitchen and only “building”

Also Pedro was always thankfull of my help and company and an interesting person to talk to. I didn’t mind sharing a big dusty tent, the lack of decent tools or how my clothes got dirtyer in one day there than in the previous two months of travelling together, but when the two other volunteers Marie and Remi left just a day after my arrival I soon realized I needed more people around me. At the end I only stayed five days, but I a still thankfull for the time. I learned a lot of new skills such as making a ballon poodle, turning an old can into a stove, making natural insect repellant from scratch and starting a fire (I am still bad at this but I got a lot better).

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One of the most important constructions: the stove

I also learned a bit about myself and so here is another list of random insights:

  • A heartfelt thank you makes a huge difference and shows so much appreciation.
  • I need some security. I probably couldn’t live without health insurance or only start making money for food when I completely run out of it.
  • Living in a tent permanently (as Pedro does) wouldn’t be an option for me.
  • Sharing skills is a lot of fun and I should attempt to do this more often. Even with things I am not an expert at myself.
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Sharing my crochet skills and creating recycleart

  • I appreciate a little crazyness.
  • When it comes to vending stuff I am such a capitalist, always trying to optimize processes or save money.
  • I really enjoy and should practice more yoga. The best way to do this for me might be to share it with other people as I am a bit lazy when by myself.
  • Weirdly I expect people that are much older than me to “have their life together” or “figured out” more than I do. This is a really stupid expectation at my age plus everyone is probably a little clueless at times.
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The river – a place to wash dishes, clothes and myself