Looking back at five months of travel…

I never noticed I had missed the singing sparrows until I walked up to my parents house. Springtime and the changing of the seasons is so magical and something you don’t really have in Southamerica. But except for the birds everything was so quiet! No honking, no music, no screaming, no chatter – it was as if someone had turned off the volume.

Not one week back in Germany and I already miss the crazyness and chaos of Peru and Bolivia. Although my trip was different from what I expected it was defnitely just as amazing as I had hoped. If you have been reading my blog from the start you might remember my first post where I tried to come up with some personal goals for the journey. Today I would like to have a look at them again and let you know what became of them:

  • Being aware of my needs and taking good care of myself: I defnitely did a good job at taking care of myself physically and mentally – and it was a lot easier than expected! Fortunately I didn’t really get into many uncomfortable, let alone dangerous situations and the longer I travelled the less challenging situations I got into. I felt comfortable and confident so quickly that the hardest situations for me were saying goodbye to some friends I made on the road. I I guess that just shows I had a great time with them.
  • Learn peruvian embroidery and / or weaving: Sadly, the workaway host that was going to teach me this cancelled on me and then my priorities gradually changed. I would still love to learn peruvian handicrafts, but other plans came up whenever I could have made time to learn it. I did however learn macrame from Melina and went totally overboard with buying supplies! You will find me in the streets trying to sell my braceletts to other hippies…
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Some examples of my new skills

  • Going on a multiday hike in the Andes: If I over-accomplished one goal it must have been this one. My love for trekking grew so much during this journey and each hike excelled the previous one in some way. In addition to some other day hikes I walked with luggage for the first time, went up an incredibly high volcano, made my way to Macchu Piccu by foot and spent six days hiking and camping at over 4500m (including a hailstorm and several passes). Unsurprisingly my legs got really strong and my hiking boots fell apart completely.
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Ausangate Trail – so far the most amazing hike of my life!

  • Asking people more questions about their passions, views and inspirations (instead of e.g. their jobs or which sites they visited): Ok, I didn’t completely skip the small talk, but sometimes I got more creative with my questions. I also spent a lot of time with some people which allowed us to naturally end up having more meaningfull conversations. Also I noticed that as a rule of thumb the longer people travel and the less tight their scedule the more interesting the conversations usually are.
  • Explore the Amazon: The Amazon was defnitely a personal highlight. My granddad always dreamt of seeing the Amazon djungle (he never did) and I get why. It is amazing!
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Melina swimming in what later on becomes the Amazon river

  • Do some yoga: I’ll be honest – of all of my goals I defnitely failed on this one the most. I can count the times I practiced yoga with my fingers and I have no good excuse because each time I actually did yoga it felt amazing! So this is a goal that will stay on my list to hopefully become more of a routine in the future.
  • Write a diary to hold on to beautiful memories and new ideas: In five months I filled more than 150 pages with memories, notes, tickets and occasionally even convinced other people to contribute to my journal. I also bought pencils to add a little colour and soon my journal became my most valuable posession. Yes it was difficult to catch up with all the stuff that happened, but I am so gald I managed to write a little bit about each day to prevent forgetting about all the little precious moments and many people I met.
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One of the beautiful contributions to my diary

  • Approach new people openly: Not that I was ever really bad at this, but I guess I got better. I stopped even thinking about it and just talked to people when I felt like it. Yes there was the awkward moment when I couldn’t come up with any good questions, but it happens to the best of us.
  • Regularly share photos and blog about experiences: You judge if I did an ok job on this – but honestly, I enjoyed sharing things on this blog and will continue to both travel and occasionally share stuff with you!
  • Take the time to mindfully enjoy new places: I spent three months just in Bolivia so I was relatively slow. Of course being slow doesn’t guarantee mindfullness, but it defnitely helps! And I did improve over the months really looking with my eyes and feeling a place with my senses and not just snapping pictures without stopping to actually enjoy it. Occasionally I had to remind myself to take my time to lok and forget about my camera but all in all I did improve.
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Enjoying the sunrise and changing colours at rainbow mountain (not pictured)

As you can see my evaluation is pretty positive so my plan to plan less and enjoy more worked out! Of course this was really just the start of my journey as I plan to continue exploring parts of Europe and even Africa until spring 2017 so we will see how my goal evolve from here…

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Pisac is the new Samaipata

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Souvenir shop in Pisac

Every once in a while when travelling you find a new home. Not just a comfy hostel, but a place you become part of so much that the urge to explore almost vanishes. When I first knocked on the door of “El Parche Rutero” Alvero opened and greeted me with a hug, Lucho instantlyt offered me some cold beer and not five minutes later I was helping to make pancakes. It was already then that I realized I would probably stay longer than the two or three planned nights. To be honest I would still be at this great hostel if my flight back to Europe wasn’t in three days…

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El Parche aka the psytrance hostel

El Parche is owned by Felix, an Artesano who travels a lot to festivals in Europe to sell his stuff there. He also organizes monthly goa full moon parties in the sacred valley together with Lucho and the psytrance influence defnitely shows. Everythiung from the spacious kitchen to the chill-out area and the sunny patio is decorated with artesania, posters of past festivals and beautiful murals.

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Hanging out in the sunny patio

On my first night we went to a psytrance party in the village and I got to know some great people. Beer was passed around, there was fire, good music and lots of dancing. And this nice atmosphere stayed, although the hostel was a little more relaxed. During my two weeks in Pisac I went to the ruins twice (at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to avoid the hefty entrance fee), enjoyed the thermal baths in Lares and visited the inca salt terraces in Maras, but mostly I just chilled at the hostel.

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Salt terraces near Maras

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Pisac ruins at sunsise

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Landscapes of the sacred valley

Each day someone would cook for almost the entire hostel and in the evenings there were fire shows and cuddly movie nights. It felt like hanging out with friends I had known for years and when Melina arrived things got even better! Her first two days were spent exchanging stories about what happened after we went our seperate ways and later we took lots of time to improve my macrame skills.

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Melina, Lucho, Nicola, Cynthia and me enjoying one of the great communal meals

But I didn’t just see Melina again, I also ran into more than a handfull of friends I had met in Bolivia: Lennard who I volunteered with in the djungel, Alan in whose house I stayed for a while in Samaipata, the argentinian family with their three children… It was great to catch up again and and I defnitely made lots of new friends too: Kent from Southafrica who shared his Ayahuasca experiences and always knew a fitting quote, Christine the fellow psycologist who taught me about logotherapy, Nicola who made the most delicious wraps from scratch and was always great to talk to, Sam the Canadian with  excellent german skills and of course Alvero and Lucho who basically ran the hostel while producing incredible artesania and designing flyers for the next party and still managed to spent lots of time with us.

I could go on about the many other amazing people I met but you get the picture. I had a great time and my two weeks in Pisac were the best end of this trip I could imagine. As we say in Germany: Wenns am schönsten ist sollte man gehen (if it can’t get any better one should leave)!

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On our way to the thermal baths

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!

Walking to Machu Picchu

It has been a while since my last blog post and there is a good reason for it: lots and lots of trekking. Though I have been in the Cuzco area for more than two weeks it feels like I only ever spend a day or two in the city to organize the next trek. My first trek in the area was the Salkantay and I started just one day after my arrival. In the hostel kitchen I met Thomas, Daniel and Camille who were preparing a delicous looking meal and when they told me about their plans to do both the Salkantay (on a dead cheap tour) and the Ausangate trail by themselves right after I instantly decided to join them.

The Salkantay turned out to be a nice and easy warm up for our further trekking plans and we ended up in a wonderfull group of people. The first two days were amazing with spectacular landscapes and despite hords of tourists with selfie sticks I see the reason why Machu Picchu is so popular. However, there were long parts walking on dirt roads to get there and I would not say that Machu Picchu was “the cherry on top of my journey”. I also realized that I much prefer trekking without a tour, although it was nice to only carry a daypack and not have to worry about food.

If you would like to get an impression of the Salkantay I recommend Isabels blog post. She was part of our group and writes about sustainable travel. Though she might have experienced a few things different than me she takes incredible pictures and you’ll get an impression of the trail in general.

 

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.