Tag Archives: Guayaramerín

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round (and Round and Round) and Sometimes Stop.

Nick Says:  Guayaramerín turned out to be quite a lovely little town on the border. After setting foot on Bolivian soil, we were told by the soldiers that immigration had closed and we would have to report there tomorrow. So instead we walked around a bit, asking directions to the two hotels I had researched. We ended up at the Hotel Santa Ana, a really nice place even if the price did magically double when we checked out…  Guayaramerín is totally set up to cater for tourists from Brazil, with the national colours everywhere and prices in Reals. We spent a few days zooming about on tuk-tuks ($1 to get anywhere in town) and eating a lot of ice-cream. In fact, so far I’ve eaten more ice-cream on this trip than I have in the last year. It’s been tough on the road… If it wasn’t an Oreo sundae then it was a chocolate vanilla mix in a cone. Delicious.

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Anyway, I digress. It was odd to be back on land again, and even odder to have a choice over what we ate. Stepping out on the first night, we walked to the main plaza into what seemed to be the only place serving food. To descibe it as a unique experience would be an understatement. Our travelling companion Mark, a man who had spent 9 months on the road, as well as living a very interesting life, described it as the weirdest restaurant he had ever been in. Presided over by a heavily made up middle aged lady, it was a mix between someone’s house, a showcase for weird trinkets and statues, a shop which sold bedding, and a giant and fully stocked kitchen at the back which seemed totally pointless as in the middle of the room they had a microwave proudly on display. The tourists seemed to flock here for the speciality, which was frozen lasagne.This should have tipped us off as to what type of food to expect, and we were duly served frozen re-formed chicken in breadcrumbs and carboard chips. It was essentially inedible. I missed the boat food. However, it certainly had beer – as we asked the hostess, who was definitely one of a kind, if she served cerveza, we got a long, drawn-out and theatrical ‘siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’. Later we asked if the soft-focus prom-style picture of a girl obviously in the her younger years was her. IN reply we got ‘yoooooooooooooooooooooooooo’ (it’s me) as if she was saying, ‘that old thing’. It was proudly on display next to the microwave. By Bolivian standards, the food was also very expensive, adding up to a truly bizarre experience. Contrast that to the next night where we found a more local place to eat and had huge plates of delicous broasted chicken and rice for around a quarter of the price!

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After a few days there, it was time to be on the move again. We had hoped to catch another river boat, this time down the Mamore. Going down to the port we were confronted with the amazing sight of the Bolivian Navy. Being a land-locked country, I hadn’t expected there to be one, but here they were, super professional and looking the part in the sailors whites. It turned out that they didn’t know when the next boat would be, and it would also take 7 days to get where we wanted. We then had to make a tough decision, to take 7 days out of our trip for what would be quite an adventure, or to press on. Sadly we had to press on – even with 6 months this would be too much time to take. It was the first thing we had to turn down, but it was the right decision – I would have hated to miss out on an amazing experience down the line because I spent another 7 days on a boat! Mark however pressed on, and signed up to the Bolivian navy. As you read this he’s currently somewhere on the river – the only passenger of a cargo ship. For us however, it meant the bus out of town.

Bee Says: And what a bus it was. Ahhh the Vaca Diez. The bus from Guayaramerín to Trinidad that would become our new home for 30 HOURS. Imagine taking a bus for 30 hours in the UK (you’d have to lap it a few times I guess). Now imagine that firstly, the bus looks like its just been dragged off a junkyard (the photo doesnt show the taped up windows!). Secondly, that the air con doesn’t work… so you are basically in an oven on wheels as the tropics temperatures spike at 34 degrees. Also, there are no toilets on the bus, leading to a constant chicken-game of needing to hydrate with water but also requiring a camel bladder to last hours with no breaks. And finally? The fact that your 30 hours won’t be spent travelling on a road. You will be travelling on a dirt track, that then turns into off-roading over dusty plains SO bumpy you spend more time with your bum in the air, than on the seat.

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Our bus, despite the naked ladies on the driver seat, was lot more tasteful than the beast next to us that was heading to La Paz… which was covered in questionable scenes of women clad in thongs, frolicking together in a river on both sides and the back! I much preferred our moon howling wolf and little running cherub girl.

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So the grand 30 hour bus journey was… an experience! In some ways it actually one of the highlights of the trip so far (I know!) because we saw the most incredible wildlife, it was like one long safari. We saw crocodiles sunbathing, neon pink flamingos, ostrich, pelicans, eagles, a big ginger owl and FINALLY… my beloved capybara! TONS of them! We peaked early with the number one spot, which happened less than an hour in to the journey. The driver would toot his horn constantly, and it took a while for me to realise he didn’t have road (non-road?) rage, but in fact was warning straying animals to move out of the way. After a particularly ferocious blast on the horn we smushed our faces up to the glass (plastic) and saw a gigantic black wild boar, who upon running out of the way of the bus, was now baring its teeth and snarling up at us!!! This led to us entertaining ourselves by doing impressions of the wild boar every few minutes, for 30 hours, and it never got old.

We both think we were lucky enough on this leg to travel through one of the remotest places in the world. Mile after mile after long mile passed with no electricity pylons or wire, no roads, no settlements, no wildlife even… just un-inhabitable dry dusty terrain! Sometimes the dust clouded into the bus so much that you could barely see your own hand in front of you. We are both still blowing orange dust out of nose days later.

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At mealtimes (and err, the two times the bus broke) we got to stop in some really rural settlements with tiny populations who gazed at our muy blanco faces (and sometimes asked in Spanish WHAT on earth are you doing here). As you can guess, we were so far off the beaten track. Even the Lonely Planet says very few backpackers dare to tread here, since more people with a brain would opt for the 1 hour TAM flight over days of bussing. At one point we had long enough to grab a bowl of chicken broth, complete with feet, which cost just under a pound!, which we slurped under the stars before dashing back on when the bus revved its engine. There were also the occasional bathroom breaks… and usually there were toilets that cost 1B to us but sometimes there was nothing. This was fine for the blokes onboard who can just go against a wall, but for me I had to clamber around wasteland until I found an old shack, surrounded by animal skulls!, and then crouch most undiginifiedly behind it. Upon finishing, a pig appeared from nowhere and sniffed my bum. It was a low point… But I was cheered out of my trauma by the fish phone box in the next big town.

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I just want to mention that bus travel everywhere we have been has felt incredibly safe. Amazing drivers and every time at least half the passengers onboard are women or families, which has really helped me feel at ease as I slumber away alongside them in our tin can on wheels! You get to know your fellow passengers quite well due to the cosy confines and every trip we’ve made at least one friend using my Spanish. On this trip we became babysitters to an 8 year old girl at some points, as her mum also had an 8 month year old to tend to. They were travelling to visit her mother who was dying, and it felt special to be able to communicate enough with them to make the journey a little easier.  We stayed in good spirits, playing memory games and listening to our iPods, and at the end we were rewarded to a crazy moment where we got off the bus… we thought for another standard snack stop. However suddenly the bus zoomed away from us! And onto a big wooden barge on the river. Having no idea what to do, we followed the other passangers and climbed onto the barge, precariously squidged on next to the bus and we were all pulled over the River Mamore! NOT what we were expecting and we also saw more dolphins, just to cap off a truly unique trip.

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We got into Trinidad exhausted and stinky, but opted to get a night bus straight out that night (ARE WE MAD! MORE BUSES!) as we were keen to get on to Santa Cruz. We left our luggage at the bus terminal so we could explore Trinidad which was very quaint and pretty, with a nice plaza to sit and fester in. We got back to the bus for 945pm and we chatted to a few locals as we waited, I seem to be especially popular with little girls who like to tell me I am muy bonital! Which after by this stage 40+ hours on the road, I certainly didnt feel! On our Bolivian travels we have aquired the beloved and majestic… CLOUD BEAR. Every night bus we take all passengers have these blankets because the air con makes for a chilly journey. I decided I wanted to be like them, so picked up this beauty for about 2quid at a market stall. However, since aquiring Cloud Bear every bus since has had broken air con…. So he has just become a rather large, decadent pillow.

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Now to explore Santa Cruz, before heading to Samaipata where we can spend a couple of days and do the Che Guevara trail. From there it´s on to Cochabamba for a couple of days, then finally on to UYUNI! Where we explore the salt flats for three days. We are both SO excited to do this part. It feels like lately the ratio of “travel” to “seeing stuff” has been waaaaaaay too bus heavy so we cant wait for a proper tour again and to see something so amazing.

Rollin´, Rollin´, Rollin on the (Amazon) River

Nick Says: So last time you heard from us, we were just about to set off on our 4 day river-boat up the Amazon, and across to almost the Bolivian border. We were packed and raring to go, but I had forgotten one important thing – things never go to plan when you`re travelling. After heading down to the busy port in Manaus, we asked around for our boat. After several attempts by the sellers to send us to Belem (several hundred kilometres the other direction) we finally got our tickets, only to find out the boat was delayed by a day. Ok, no problem – we just settled in for another night and spent the day at a nature park. Rather fortuitously we met another backpacker there, who came up to us to ask us bus directions. He turned out to be a British guy named Mark (I always need one to travel with) who after turning 50 had decided to jack in his old life in London and go and travel the world. So far he had been in South America for 9 months, visiting almost every country bar Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Amazingly, he also turned out to be getting the exact same boat as us, which was really unusual as we were doing the non-backpacker route and fully expected to be the only westerners aboard. He was a very chilled out guy and easy to get along with, and being older it meant we all got treated with a bit more respect by the locals. Several times he was asked if he was our Dad! Although most of the time people thought he was Brazilian as he was super tanned. A proper ex-pat look going on!

So with our new travel buddy we arranged to meet the next morning at the dock. We waved goodbye to our hostel friends, and set off on one of the sweatiest walks of our lives. Manaus has been described as a pressure cooker, and with our bags on our backs we certainly felt the heat. By the time we finally reached the port we´d probably lost about 1 stone in weight. The only trouble was, we´d gone to the wrong port – our boat was sailing from one 10 mins walk away. So we set off again, sweating all the way there. We found our ticket seller, who put us on the phone to the captain of the boat, who spoke a very poshly accented English and apologised for the delay. He said the boat was just about to arrive and we could put our bags on and string our hammocks up ready for a 6pm departure. However, once down at the docks there was no sign of the Dois Irmaos (our boat to be) and instead a sailor miming that it was still on the river. We were hot, and had no idea what to do next. Setting our bags down, Bee decided to go back up to the agent and get hold of the captain. I would wait by the bags surrounded by sweaty sailors. Ages seemed to go past before Bee returned – and I must admit I was starting to get a bit worried! But she came back with news – the boat had broken down, missed its slot at the dock and wouldn´t be setting off until the next day at the earliest. Declining an invitation to spend the night on a different boat at the dock, we returned defeated to the hostel. Our reward for another night in Manaus? Going to the main plaza in the evening and getting to listen to what was claimed as a Beatles tribute band, but actually only played Paul McCartney compositions – including a mighty rendition of Live and Let Die.

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The next day broke with a promise of Amazonian adventure. We met back up with Mark, arranged a new meeting time, and told ourselves we would leave today. Another sweaty walk to the docks, but this time when we arrived about a hundred agents and dock workers rushed to greet Bee and shake her hand, and exclaim loudly at her in Portuguese. It turned out she had made a lot of friends in her stubborn quest to find out what had happened to the boat the day before. So if you ever need to sort out a boat from Manaus in the future, take Bee Barker with you. This time luck was with us, the boat was there! We boarded, put our hammocks up and waited to set sail. A mere two days behind schedule it did, and the three of us cracked open a beer on the top deck as we cruised down the Rio Amazonas and watched Manaus disappear into the distance.

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Bee Says: I had no idea what to expect from 4 days on a boat on the Amazon, but the most important thing was that I was armed with a leopard print hammock so was by far the snazziest on board! We were lucky enough to bag a spot on the second deck (of three) as the bottom deck had the scorchingly hot and noisy engine, and the top deck had a soundsystem playing Brazilian pop all hours of the day. As we left in the dark there wasn´t too much to see but we could just make out the moment we crossed the “meeting of the waters” where the white Rio Solimoes meets the Rio Negro, google images here! Lots of the artwork and tiling of the pavements in Manaus, and wider Brazil, is inspired by black and white waves because of this. We strung our hammocks up, with me in between Mark and Nick. The swaying of the boat kept knocking our hammocks into each other like those executive desk toys from the nineties. But soon the waves lulled us to sleep and we woke excited for our first day on deck. Every day basically followed the same routine: Wake up at sunrise (5am) to eat cream crackers & drink piping hot coffee for breakfast. Head to the top deck before the sun gets too hot, to wildlife spot. Ive never seen so many amazing creatures! We saw the famed pink river dolphins (as magical as they sound!) that played and splashed “escorting” our boat along the whole 4 days, giant otter (again, as if regular otters aren´t cute enough?), monkey fish that hurtle up to a metre in the air from the water to gobble insects, fireflies that glowed orange, yellow and green, toucans and parrots in every colour possible. Ocassionally I´d see a few red leaves on an otherwise green tree and think back to how autumn must be setting in back home… then the “leaves” would suddenly fly away, and I´d realise they were red ibis birds.

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Lunch was always chicken, rice, beans, salad and noodles. Post-lunch was siesta time for everyone, as the stifling tropical heat made it impossible to do anything else. By 3pm it was back up top for more gazing around, watching the little communities on the riverbanks as they use the Amazon for everything – food, washing, working and travelling. Dinner was… IDENTICAL to lunch but with beef! We had read a top tip before taking this trip which was to buy pimiento hot sauce, firstly to flavour the food and secondly to befriend your neighbours… and this definitely came in very handy. After dinner we were treated every night to the most dramatic, incredible thunder and lightning storms that lasted hours. Luckily… no rain accompanied them, so we could huddle on the deck and watch lightening forks set the sky ablaze and thunder rattle through our bones. Words can´t really do justice to those nights, they were a pinch-yourself  memory I’ll always treasure.

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Even the toilets and showers weren’t that bad. The best shower by far was the ladies on bottom deck, which had a hole for a window at the exact right eye level so I could watch the Amazon float past as I washed my hair! You had to share your shower with a few spiders too, but they kept to themseves mostly. The toilets were similar to what you would expect from a music fetival after a similar amount of days/quantity of people using it. All in all the Amazon was a perfect serene experience and one I would recommend to everyone! Compared to official organised tours over here which can cost a fortune, this is public transport so we paid a tiny amount for such an incredible experience. The only bad side, which  am loath to mention but I have to be honest, was there were a few young lads our age on board. One morning, a guy sidled up to me and asked me to take a shower (and you can imagine what else) with his friend. I was so gobsmacked that I could barely respond other than saying NO loudly and many times. It really rattled me, as up until this point I have barely had a sleazy second glance and mostly men have been overly chivalrous towards me everywhere we have been. Also it was so obvious Nick and I were together, so he had some nerve waiting until I was on my own to ask. The experience did upset me, as the boys would keep staring at me (although to be fair the views are boring to them, as they’ve lived there forever!) but I didn’t feel threatened – just irritated as you cant really escape anyone on a small boat! I was extra careful after this though for peace of mind, Nick accompanied me everytime I went to the showers and toilets, waiting outside like a bodyguard. I felt like Cheryl Cole! But being with Nick and Mark I never felt worried about it and it was easy to forget about them. I only mention it because up until this point there isn’t a single thing we’ve done that I think would be unsafe for a woman travelling alone – however with the Amazon I would recommend (if you dont speak Portuguese) going with at least another person, or a group. This also makes sense from a security perspective, as it means you can always have one person bag-watching.

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Nick Says: Apart from the sleazy boys, who left us well alone after a chat (which weirdly involved Disney and barbequeing a bear, so maybe not the intimidating talk I wanted), everyone else on the boat was great company. Little communities soon formed between everyone, and your neighbours soon became friends. Despite our obvious lack of Portuguese language skills, it didn’t stop anybody from chatting to us constantly. The were several memorable people on the boat. First was Boss-Lady, who made the meals, served them to us (we were always last!) and basically ran the domestic side of the ship. There was no way you’d mess with her, even if she alternated between wearing beautiful dresses and Justin Bieber vests. Every morning she would wake us up for breakfast, a gentle nudge for Bee, a stinging slap on my feet for me. Smiles for Bee, scowls for me. However, she took a real shine to Mark, giving him extra coffee when she wasn’t supposed too! The charming devil. Next came the Argentine bikers, two middle-aged guys who had rented the cabin at the front. They were divorced three times each, and were motorbiking around South America on giant BMW bikes similar to those used in Long Way Round/Down, and which were stored in the hold. They didn’t have any maps though, so often borrowed my guidebook to plan their route! We were able to talk to them a bit more in Spanish, although Argentine Spanish is quite different apparently. Then there was distinguished chap. He had a neat little beard and always looked immaculate, no matter the hour. He also seemed quite stern at first. However, 4 days on a river-boat worked their magic on him and by the last day he was bare-chested, swigging beer at 8am in the morning, and beardless. He was also constantly chatting to us, and offering us things, pointing out animals on the bank, and generally saluting everyone. Finally there was crazy old guy who of course was in the hammock next to me. He became obsessed with Bee’s mosquito net (put up as a territory defender, as there was a real lack of mozzies) and convinced it would fly away, so was constantly instructing me to wrap it up. Or just pointing at it. Or stroking it. He also liked to shout at me in Portuguese while standing very close to me and occasionally slap my bum.

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Bee Says: We made a stop en route to drop off some frozen fish from the cargo, which was THE entertainment of the trip. Our boat neighbours, who hadnt seemed fussed by majestic river dolphins, swarmed on deck watching for an hour as the various huge fish were unpacked, weighed and rejected or accepted. There were so many types, zebra stripes and one that looked like a mini Moby Dick.

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Next it was straight on to Porto Velho where we arrived at an eye watering 4am. We could sit about onboard until 6am, when we had ONE mission. Get to Bolivia… in a DAY! We did this by getting straight on a bus, a melty 5 hours to Guajara Mirim (the Brazilian border town) with no air con. There was time for a quick look around this quaint little place and to get our exit stamp for Brazil (after our Venezuela mishap we were determined to get it right this time). Then it was on to a passenger launch which crossed over the River Mamore as the sun set, and in five minutes we were in Guayaramerín… HOLA BOLIVIA!