Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Bolivia 2


It has been a little while since I last wrote and so I have decided to keep you posted of my goings on, since I last wrote. This is almost certainly my penultimate newsletter for this trip as I go home in just a few weeks. The collective sigh of relief is almost audible from here.

On my last night in Mendoza, Argentina I went to an absolutely excellent restaurant that deserves a mention, it was an eat as much as you like affair and the quality and range of the food was extraordinary. All this for about four and a half US Dollars or three quid. My last night in Mendoza turned out to be quite a long one, I got in at about six in the morning and had to be up for my bus to Santiago, Chile at nine. I made it, although exhausted. The scenery as one crosses the Andes into Chile is very beautiful with snow capped peaks flanking the route. This was nice except that it meant that I was unable to catch up on my much needed sleep.

I was only in Santiago for a couple of nights to catch up with some friends of mine. Of course the night I arrived we went out and so I was absolutely shattered by the end of it. The reason I did not spend more time in Santiago was that I had to meet my friend Micha. He is a Dutch bloke I originally met whilst buying beer on the Chinese – Mongolian border, who naively trusts my recommendations to see places and travel together from time to time. So he was meeting me in the north of Chile. The prices in Chile have increased quite a lot since I was last there and so I was getting the bus north as opposed to flying. The bus journey was supposed to be about 22hrs, not too much, however the normally reliable Chilean buses decided to run late so I arrived after a journey time of just under 24hrs. Micha was flying in and I was supposed to meet him at the bus terminal, however I found that the town of Calama does not have one bus terminal but several, one for each company. So I got there and went straight to the airport in a taxi to find my linguistically limited friend. He wasn’t there but he had definitely arrived as I got someone to check the passenger manifest. So back in the taxi and we went around all the different bus offices several times looking for my elusive amigo. After two hours of this I realised that we were going in circles – because we had after all been driving in circles. I then decided that the best bet would be to go and sit on the internet for a while until he came online, hopefully with the same idea. I paid the exorbitant although not entirely unfair taxi fair and then thankfully had only been online for about half an hour when I got a message from Micha in San Pedro. We had agreed to meet in Calama and go on to San Pedro together (just a couple of hours away). He had decided to shoot off prematurely (rumour has it this has been an enduring problem of his) and so I had been going around in circles for no reason. I then got on another bus. After 24hrs on one bus two hours in a taxi and half an hour on a hard internet café chair, I will leave to your imagination how my backside was feeling, the last bus did not make it feel better. Anyway I got the name and address of the place we were apparently staying and made my way to San Pedro. Found Micha sipping beer in the communal courtyard and tolerated his presence as he had spares which I duly helped to demolish.

I had been to San Pedro de Atacama previously, about two years ago and so knew the place quite well. That doesn’t take a lot as there are only about four streets and they are conveniently in a grid. In the area is a nice bit of scenery called the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), as some confused Chileans obviously thought it looked like the moon. It is probably appropriate that I mention at this point that the San Pedro cactus is apparently a powerful hallucinogenic. Anyway, we decided to do the tour which takes one through some dramatic, mostly red-rock scenery, culminating in a sunset over the valley of death. So called because there is no living thing there. The Atacama desert is apparently one of the driest parts of the planet, it hasn’t rained for centuries. On our tour we were lucky to be accompanied by Spider-man, no neither of us had dabbled in the cactus and we have photos to prove that we were accompanied by some bloke in a red and blue costume, claiming to be some kind of human/arachnid.

In the evening we decided to do a bit of astronomy. This was a more recent addition to the things on offer in San Pedro. A very amiable Frenchman called Alain and his several telescopes are used as part of a tour of the night sky. As there are rarely any proper clouds and due to the altitude (2,300 metres above sea level – about 7,000 feet) the clarity in the atmosphere is impressive and one can see the stars quite clearly with the naked eye. Alain then set about explaining what we were looking at and then went on with the use of a laser pointer to illustrate the constellations and point out salient stars and bright spots, fusing in an enjoyable way a little bit of astrology with astronomy. Then we used the telescopes to look at galaxies, clusters and stars as well as being able to see Jupiter quite clearly, even as much as the clouds on its surface. This was rounded off with an enjoyable hot chocolate and a slide explanation of some of what we had seen, with pictures from the Hubble and other telescopes to clarify everything. It was actually very good, informative, enjoyable and at times amusing too.

From San Pedro we ten left on a tour through the south of Bolivia to the Salar of Uyuni. As I had previously done a similar tour and seen almost everything previously when I was last in Bolivia and wrote about it a bit then, mostly saying it was indescribable. I am not going to repeat anything here or try to do what could not be done previously. I only mention that the tour from Tupiza as I did it previously was better for what we saw and how, the driver and the slower ascent rate. On the first night everyone in the group suffered to some greater or lesser degree from the altitude. We had after all gone from 2,300 metres to 4,500 in one day, sleeping at 4,200. That is a lot. Micha and Oliver were the most ill in the group, which made sense as they were the tallest. That extra bit of altitude seems to have affected them quite dramatically.

From Uyuni Micha and I went on by night train to Oruro and thence with a bus straight to La Paz. There we did a bit of shopping and relaxing and a bit of site-seeing. Once again I had previously been to La Paz and have described it in the newsletter of that time so won’t do so again.

Just a short distance from La Paz is Lake Titicaca, apparently the highest navigable lake in the world. This is another one of those tenuous claims in my opinion as I have seen higher lakes and there are higher ones that I have not seen. Many of these are presumably navigable. Anyway, back to the story. Titicaca which is as large as an inland sea is at 3,958 metres above sea level which is certainly high up. It also has fantastic views around it. At times one can see mountains more than a hundred kilometres away. This is due to the flatness of the water and the thinness of the atmosphere that one gets at this elevation. In comparison stood on the sea-shore back home you can probably see about twenty kilometres to the horizon, much of the time we could clearly see Mount Illimani which we worked out to be between one hundred and one hundred and fifty kilometres away from our position. This makes judging distances very difficult. We got a boat from the port of Copacabana to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), the largest island in the lake.

When we arrived at the beach we then saw the staircase that we were expected to climb to the village of Yumani above. With backpacks. At this altitude. Where was the cable car? Then we spotted the llama. The original idea was to strap our bags to the llama and send him up the stairs with us following. I went to negotiate this with someone who we presumed to be the llamas owner. It turned out though that he only had donkeys though, the llama was not his. So after explaining what was wanted from him I then re-explained it with the help of his friend. It was not a language problem, the hurdle was the fact that it would seem most travellers are not quite as lazy (or energy efficient as I prefer to call it) as the two of us. This was an entirely new concept to him and after some convincing that we really wanted him to take our bags up the stairs with his donkey we finally loaded them up and headed up the trail. I don’t know for sure if a donkey can express things facially, however, if they can this one was obviously thinking four-letter words at us, given the look on his face. We then scaled not the stairs but the donkey track which was much easier going. It turns out the stairs are only for the tourists anyway, the locals all use the switchbacks and more gradual (although sufficiently steep) donkey trail. At the top we found a hotel with a fantastic view and the bags arrived shortly after actually now on the backs of the two lads I had been negotiating with at the bottom. I don’t think the donkey died, just that there was only so far they were going to push this afflicted beast of burden.

The sunset over the lake and mountains was very lovely and worth going just for that. The following morning we took our bags down to the beach, stored them safely in a shop and got a boat to the village of Challabamba. There we happened upon a couple of costume makers for the Oruro carnival. They were very friendly and forthcoming with information about what they were doing. I was at the Oruro carnival earlier this year, it is usually about mid-February, work on the costumes for the next year commences almost as soon as the carnival is over. Each costume takes on average one month to make and the masks are made elsewhere. In Challabamba we also visited the museum which although small had a few nice pieces. We then went on a walk around the island, we got some great views and were also visiting the archaeological sites. These included pre-Colombian sacrificial (or possibly card) tables and the shell of a village and complex. At times the walking was quite hard and when we got to the village of Challa, Micha was looking unwell. Frank (another Dutch bloke, we had met at our hotel, whom incidentally had walked up the stairs with his bag and apparently part way up thought he was in dire straits with burning lungs etc. – who were the smart ones now, hey?), Micha and I were then offered to pay to hitch a ride in a rowboat around to Yumani, where we were ultimately heading. The boat was already well laden with three bowler hated and big skirted Chollas, the local Bolivian women who are rarely slim and these were far from an exception about three hundred kilos of abas (a type of bean) and the man who had propositioned us. The three of us boarded and as the two oldest Chollas began to row the boat began to sink. Almost instantly it was inundated as we all leapt ashore, accompanied by the screaming of the Chollas (the sound something akin to dragging metal claws over a blackboard). We tried to help get some of the abas out of the boat but realised we were not particularly welcome in no time. It had not been our idea in the first place, for some reason everyone blamed Micha for what had happened and Frank and I went along with it, basically because it suited us. We were then accosted by Pablo a very affable fellow who offered to row us round to where we were going for the same money. We checked that there were no Chollas or abas involved and duly accepted. So for about half an hour we had one of those post-colonial moments where one of the natives is working like a dog for a pittance and we get to chill out. We had nothing to feel guilty about, they had set the price and proposed the idea in the first place. I actually had a go at rowing, considering the oars and the altitude, perhaps we had a little bit to feel guilty about, but Pablo was of course used to it and smiled and joked the whole way. When we arrived we had the good fortune to meet a guy who was heading to Copacabana in a few minutes and we could have passage with him, in effect having a big motor boat to ourselves. We got our bags, said goodbye to Franks and cruised over to Copacabana.

Copacabana is a small town and there we were able to relax a bit more that evening, have some nice food and then go for a wander. Which is when we came across the Cholla football. This is certainly one of the oddest deviations from the normal sport of football I have witnessed, or want to. To be more precise it was actually five-a-side. I am going to presume that you know the basic concepts of football. It is strange how different it can be though when played by such full-figured buxom women. What they lacked in skill they made up for enthusiasm and petticoats. There was more than an ample supply of both, we were just pleased that they had taken the bowler hats off, other wise they would have been destroyed by the occasional headers that occurred, generally it seemed because the player was unfortunately positioned under the ball than any great desire to use their heads in a strategic manner. As the players speedily waddled up and down the pitch, to great applause from the capacity crowd (no joke, when we got there, there was standing room only and even that was a squeeze), dodging between the opposition, an occasional dog and perhaps a small child the atmosphere would crescendo as an extremely large leg punted the ball, usually in completely the wrong direction or sometimes towards the goal. This is when the goalkeepers skills and bulbous skirt would come into play in what I call the incubator manoeuvre. Basically the defender or goalkeeper squats on the ball in such a manner and with so many petticoats involved that it most resembles a chicken incubating an egg. Then several minutes are spent looking for the ball amongst the plentiful undergarments and it is re-entered into play. We had a fantastic time watching this frolicking and were impressed by the enthusiasm if nothing more. The potential of the incubator manoeuvre I think is as yet unrealised and on my return to the UK plan on speaking with Sven Goran Ericcson over possibly using it for our European cup matches.

The following morning we left Copacabana and Bolivia to go to Peru, but not before revising the lyrics to the legendary Barry Manilow track Copacabana. Herewith a sample, to fully appreciate it, it must be sung to the tune of the original though:

She is a Cholla
She is a big girl
With plaits in her hair
And bulbous skirts right down to there

She raises children
And brings in harvest
She is out to work at four
Selling Salteñas door to door

She does not take a break
Even if she aches
She is there to serve her husband
Whenever he’s awake

At the Copa.. Copacabana

I am sure that is enough, you get the gist and it is unlikely you were even wanting to do that. Anyway, over the border to Peru we went, where the famous bear Paddington originates from. Although on questioning the locals seem to have no idea about this notorious marmalade eater. The border crossing was easy and uneventful. We went to Puno a town on the Peruvian shore of Titicaca, one of the least attractive places I have had the displeasure to visit. Before boarding our afternoon bus we decided to take a short trip to the floating islands. These are exactly what they sound like. They are floating islands made from Tortora reeds where people live and these days try to sell unpleasant craftworks to naïve tourists. After the first one you have seen enough, on the second you are overflowing and at the third I didn’t even disembark. The group of us on the boat unanimously decided that there was no reason for us even to go near the fourth one unless they were going to burn it, or else we would. The captain of our craft was a native of these islands and I asked him to explain why they decided to live on floating chunks of Tortora reeds. Apparently it is because they did not want to work, an understandable sentiment. The story so he claimed is that people found that they could build these things sit on their arses all day catching fish occasionally for food and if the mood really took them they would shoot down an over flying bird and that was the limit of their industry and that is how they liked it. Not necessarily the most laudable way to raise a family, but at least they are unlikely to start fights or anything, far to lazy for that. The odd thing is that living on what is basically a reed raft they do not know how to swim, probably a good thing they didn’t have a little brewery on their islands. After all this excitement we got a bus to Cuzco the old Inca capital, arriving there in the late evening.



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