Sunday, March 8, 2009

Once bitten, twice bitten.

So there I was, pootling along the deserted Bolivian highways, heading further and further away from the big cities, and closer and closer to the unknown, when a thought drifted into my head. They do that, thoughts, as you ride along by yourself, ipod-less due to previously encountered thieves etc. This particular thought was roughly along the lines of: "aren't the remotest areas of Bolivia supposed to be teeming with drug barons and unscrupulous muggers and stuff? At least there's two of us travelling together, we'll be safe as houses as long as we stic....hang on, Rich is back in Cusco....." I cut that thought off about there, and tried to think of more pleasant things. Like the fact that, thanks to the bus drivers in Copacobana who laughed at me when I asked them whether I could ride my bike along the road to Trinidad, I decided to give "death road" a miss and stick to the tarmac. This was a great decision out of Copacobana, especially when I saw the horrendously black storm clouds ahead and somehow managed to skirt round them on about 3 sides, avoiding a drenching.

Once I turned off the alti plano road and started along the route for Cochabamba, the road turned spectacular, with twists, curves, ups downs and all the good stuff bikers love. I had a night in Cochabamba, then headed on to the sanctuary, or so I hoped. It was going to be a big day if I made it, and it started well, with another great road out of town. Things went well until about 3pm, when the road marked as a main one on the map turned into gravel. Not so bad I thought, but then it ran out altogether, and I had to ask some local villagers who lived in the swamp in which I found myself if I was still on the right road. With difficulty, I understood that I was. I say "with difficulty" because, having boasted to various people that I now understood about 70% of Spanish spoken to me, these locals in the back end of Bolivia spoke the laziest, worst Spanish ever, dropping letters, slurring words, mumbling and mixing in local dialect, I suspect, so I struggled.

Anyhow, on I went, until I got stuck in a deep mud puddle. Luckily a local bloke with no shoes came along and helped pull me out. It was during this stage that I wondered again if it was possible to grow cocaine in the swamps, or not, and whether I'd stumbled upon something best left un-stumbled on. But he was a helpful chap, waved me on, and about 1/2km further on, I was lost in the bushes. I found the river bank (river bank? what river bank?) but the river was way to big and fast to cross - we're talking 400m or so and very muddy and deep looking. I left the bike and went a-wandering, as I had seen what looked like a bridge up river a ways, then heard a bike heading to where I'd left my bike, and tried to rush back, only to find I was nearly lost. Luckily, I stumbled across my bike, and also a bloke keen to lead me to the river crossing.

So, I followed him into the bushes a bit further, with a little voice in my head suggesting following strange Bolivians deeper into marshy bushes might not be the wisest thing to do. Sure enough, though, he led me to the "ferries" that would take me across, and rather nervously I drove up the rickety ramp onto the tiny boat and was taken across. To be met by about 10 other men. Who wanted paying. I think they were honest chaps though, and even though they asked for 50 bolivianos for the ride, the loading and unloading, and holding the bike while I relaoded the boxes, which seemed a bit high, I paid up. And realised I rather foolishly had all my cash in my wallet. No probs, though, and they even had change for a 100! And helped me up when I dropped the bike in the mud on the way off the river bank! Despite their honest dispositions, I have to admit I high-tailed it out of there along the gravel road, watching my mirror carefully for signs of pursuit, in case they had changed their minds, but they were just friendly blokes making a living. Given a choice, however, I'll find a different route back, if only for the mud avoidance!

That night, I never made it to Santa Maria and the animal park, it got dark too early, and I was exhausted, hot, hungry and dehydrated. I stopped in a small town, and noticed my box frame was broken again, so I got that welded, and in the process got more badly bitten by mosquitos, on my shoulders, through my thin top, than I had ever been in my life before. Unfortunately, this was to be a sign of things to come. It was such a small town as well, that I was unable to buy food, so went to bed hungry. In the morning at crack of sparrow's, I was off, and the rest of the way was a breeze, all be it a warm, humid breeze. I rolled into the the sanctuary at about 10am, and was mozzie bitten all over my head by 10.15. And it hasn't gotten any better. At the risk of being a whinging pom, its too hot, too humid, everything is wet, the beds are too hard, there are too many mozzies (like millions too many) and even a mozzie net is not up to the job. If I was to shake hands with a blind man right now, his braille skills would tell a very bizarre story as he felt the bumps on my hands, and if he ran his fingers over my neck or hairline, he would have almost enough words to write War and Peace (or some other lenghty book)! I have to be honest, I'm not gonna lie to you, I'm not sure I can stand a month of this. I'm 4 days in and have nearly been driven insane. Its only the fact that I am walking a real live jaguar through the jungle every day that is keeping me there. And not because its fascinating either, because its not. He just sleeps a lot, usually in areas of maximum mozzie concentration, but its a committment to the animal, and I want to do the right thing by him (Ru, the Jaguar). I will see how the rest of the week goes, and maybe reduce my time to the minimum fortnight, which is still jipping a bit, as I should do a month if I'm with a big cat. But I don't know if I can. We'll see. On the up side - because there is always an up side - we have spider and howler monkeys in the compound, the food is great, and the jungle is an interesting place to go for a walk. It could work, possibly. We'll see.

Until then, I have to go buy meat for a BBQ tonight, and food to supplement my breakfast, and have a cold beer. and maybe some more long sleeved/legged clothes to fight off the bugs. Wish me luck. More than ever I think I'm going to need it for this part of the trip.

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