The Witches Market of La Paz

El Mercado de las Brujas… the name just rolls off the tongue and straight into the cauldron. For some,¬†it conjures up images of elderly ladies with sun-withered skin and charms strung around their neck¬†who beckon you into their small, gritty stall¬†decorated with shriveled animal parts for fortunes told.

la paz bolivia witches market 4Alas, it’s a little more touristy but fortunately, there’s still plenty of interesting sights to see at Bolivia’s Witches Market in La Paz.

You’ll know you’re in the right area when you spot the tiny herds of dried, llama fetuses hanging out the front that are sure to startle a few wide-eyed tourists.

While you might cry, Whyyy, what did those lil unfortunates do to deserve that?!’ keep in mind that llamas have a high natural abort rate due to genetically fragile wombs and with the animal being common livestock in Bolivia, the desiccated carcasses in varying stages of development, aren’t exactly hard to come by.¬† Continue reading

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The Day Machu Picchu Was Mine

In a mountain jungle high above the clouds, I can look down upon a sprawling puzzle of stone, combined ¬†like an ancient God’s lego stash. Most pieces resemble the walls of houses or terraces with loose stones lying in the emerald green grass waiting to find their place in the rocky mosaic. The only sound floating in the breeze is the fossicking of llamas keeping the lawns trim, the scurry of furry chinchillas enjoying an evening dust bath and my mate yelling from a ledge above, “This is fucking awesome! I can’t believe we have the whole place to ourselves!”

Machu Picchu…for most young, modern explorers, it is the epitome of any South American backpacking trip, but the majority will have to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with about 500 other tourists. This¬†can remove¬†some of the majestic vibe of the ancient Incan ruins, which only had its first set of foreign eyes look upon it just over 100 years ago. But imagine having the whole place to yourself! Not even a park employee looking over your shoulder! See, while most people train in and out on the same day, thus ensuring they have to leave the mountain in the late afternoon to get the last train back to Cusco, not many people stay overnight.
This is how we came to have one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World…all..to..ourselves. Continue reading

Bolivia’s Death Road

Nearly five kilometres above sea level, travelling 60 kmh+ down a highway in the Bolivian Andes, on a mountain bike competing with trucks, buses and cars, a solid rock cliff-face to my left and a 600m drop to certain death on my right, racing around hairpin turns and surrounded by the most beautiful scenery when I take the risk to look… I have never felt more exhilarated or had so much fun in all my life!
This is mind-blowing excitement at its best and I haven’t even hit the really dangerous section yet!

The Camino de las Yungas or going by its infamous name of Camino de la Muerte (Death Road) or The Worlds Most Dangerous Road, runs from La Paz through the mountains to the town of Coroico, 70kms away and drops from a cold and often snowy 4650m above sea level to a steamy, rainforest at 1200m.
Prior to building the newly paved highway, the North Yungas road served as the main road between the two towns, with high amounts of two-way traffic travelling its narrow, muddy and often unstable path.
Many cars, trucks, buses and cyclists have plunged to their death over the side of the cliffs with the worst tragedy occurring in 1983 when a bus travelling with 100 people aboard succumbed to gravity, everyone perished. Continue reading

How to Reduce your Crime Target Rating

So I had this pre-misconception about South America. Before leaving I told my mother not to worry when she gets the phone call or email saying that I had been mugged… it was inevitable, it would happen, she had to expect it… I was!

Well, it never happened and from my own personal experience after travelling for 2 months through Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Chile I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Of course people are mugged and pickpocketed all the time in South America, tourists are targeted, and there is the odd occasion of taxi drivers colluding with others to kidnap you, take you to an ATM and demand all your money.
Now the fact I had no problem doesn’t mean you won’t, but perhaps the simple precautions I took made a big difference to being targeted by thieves. Most criminals will do a quick risk calculation to see if they’re likely to get away with their crime before committing, so make it hard for them! Continue reading