Tag Archives: history

The secrets of Amersfoort

I’m standing inside a room, if you can even call it that. It measures maybe two by three metres. My shoulders are hunched, my head lowered, and I’m listening to the house owner tell me how an entire, extended family used to live in this room.

In geographical context: the historic, medieval city of Amersfoort

In geographical context: the historic, medieval city of Amersfoort

Just a few days earlier I was gliding along the canals of Amersfoort, onboard a boat, huddled on wooden benches with my aunt, uncle and a handful of strangers. A burst of budding leaves and flowering trees lined the waterways as the sun shone down on cobbled walkways and historic buildings.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to explore this ancient Dutch city.

Listening to the tour guide, I tried to pick out words but often referred to the English cheat sheet, noting dates that aged Amersfoort back to the late 1200s.

Seeing Amersfoort, Netherlands from the water

Setting off by boat

The western boat route took us by houses built into the first city walls and provided glimpses of Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren, a 98m high tower that not only provides a visual reference point within the city but houses the middle point of the Dutch grid reference system. We slipped under bridges and floated alongside water gates and the birthplace of the famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian.

Houses that make up the city walls, Amersfoort, Netherlands

Houses that make up the city walls

Sturdy water gate entrances, Amersfoort, Netherlands

Sturdy water gate entrances

Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren,  Amersfoort, Netherlands

Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren

Drinking in the age of this little city, it was apparent that she had been well looked after. Despite her years, she was neatly presented, breathing out secrets of a long, knowing life.

Now, some days later I find myself as a guest inside the tall windowed grandeur of one of Amersfoort’s oldest houses, peeking in through secret doors and into the more recent history of the Second World War. A Jewish family hid away inside this little, little room.

It’s this kind of history, the human component, which really resonates with me. I stay for a short while, hunched and imagining how one lives a confined life, and a life full of fear.

And then the owner pulls away some wood to reveal a tiny window with views directly over to the synagogue. There, within those views, I realise, must have lain some comfort.

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Wordless Wednesday #3: Love all the way

#3 incredible-grave-plaque-Whitby

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Because everyone likes talking on a dinosaur phone

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Hello…? Anyone home?

Sucre might be a Unesco site full of colonial architecture and little pockets of beautiful surprises, but it is also known as the home of the ‘world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints‘ in the fairly new site of El Parque Cretácico (Dinosaur Park). Here you can see over 5,000 ‘authentic dinosaur tracks‘ as well as lots of dinosaur replicas. Big ones.

If however, like me, rather than make the 40 minute trip out of the Sucre you decide to stick inside the town itself, there are still plenty of paleontological hints in the form of various dinosaur models that are scattered around the place, including down the steps at the Black Market.

And of course, there is the odd dinosaur phone box, which after a few drinks out in the town becomes everyone’s favourite toy. And friend. Pretend conversations? Really?! A load of nonsense! And a load of copycatting.

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5 ways to be Bolivian

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Dress code

TRAVELLING TO BOLIVIA AND WANT to blend in with the country folk? Here are a few tips on how to be less of a gringo, more of a local.

  1. Women, wear your hair in two plaits and dress in colourful, full skirts that reach a little past your knee, swish as you walk and leave people wondering whether you’re a little chunky or just layered up. Men, wear a wide brimmed hat.
  2. Hang out of bus windows whenever you stop or slow down to check out what’s going on.
  3. Believe in God. 82% of Bolivians are Catholics and when they question you on your faith, it’s often easier to say that you’re Christian (or any other religious denomination) rather than agnostic or atheist. Cross yourself any time you pass by a church or shrine or holy statue, whatever your age. Don’t, however, forget about Pacha Mama. Throw the odd bit of food or dribble some drink on the ground before you indulge, and every now and then sacrifice a llama or llama foetus in her honour.
  4. If travelling with a child, sling them on your back in a swaddling of bright coloured material that completely conceals them. Actually, carry any large bulks in this way and confuse people as to whether you have a child or vegetables or just a mass of material on your back. Keep chickens and other livestock separate but still covered so that if one of your hens decides to poke her head out and start pecking at a gringo’s shoes in the aisle of a crowded bus, it gives them a sufficient fright to behave on public transport. It may even raise a smile. Talking of which, don’t give out smiles too easily. Be a bit reserved, restrained. You don’t know who you’re dealing with, especially when it comes to bushy-tailed travellers, so err on the side of caution and observe these strange creatures from a bit of a distance.
  5. Guys, to deal with working at high altitude stuff your cheeks with coca leaves, so full that it lumps out and could be mistaken for a growth. Make sure you use a catalyst with the coca leaves so that your lips go a little numb.

There are of course lots of other things you should do to blend in. Unlike other South American countries, llama hats and woolly jumpers aren’t the exclusive outfit of gringos (although pick carefully). It’s cold here so everyone needs some llama love.

What else? Erm… eat meals that consist of double carbs, always something potato based alongside rice. Don’t understand vegetarianism and feel completely confident that taking out the main hunks of meat in a soup before dishing up will suffice for those fussy eaters.

And more seriously? Survive on a salary of 20Bs.-30Bs. per day (that’s US$2.87-US$4.30). Send your kids out to beg or shoe shine at known tourist spots or set them to work down the mines because although they are sacrificing their education, you need the money to survive.

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Bus travel in Bolivia that I’d really recommend

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Leaving Pucara

MAYBE I WAS JUST GLAD to be getting out of Pucara and away from the prospect of a marriage of convenience that would have seen me living small, Bolivian village life, running three rental houses and caring for an old husband who would surely be well on his way to incontinence. Maybe my favourable account of the bus journey from Pucara to Villa Serrano and then on to Sucre was therefore skewed.

But hang on. The landscape was beautiful and the variation in terrain as we descended from high altitudes to the warmer climate of Villa Serrano was well worth noting.

Steep, winding mountain roads wound down past cacti the size of trees along rubbly ground where a sparse covering of shrubs with exposed roots clung on to dry, stony earth.

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Rocky landscapes on the way from Pucara to Villa Serrano

Cacti bushes and trees along the way to Villa Serrano

The crowded bus continued on through dusty canyons and alongside wide, dry rivers. Dust swirled through the bus, coating everything. The teenager in the seat in front of me sat hugging an old school ghetto blaster whilst he puked out and down the side of the bus, the warm, sweet fumes filtering back in through my open window.

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Herding by the river

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Dry river at dusk

At parts, the road was really terrible, huge chunks missing. The bus momentarily crawled alongside browny-orange landslides and inched across and around gaping cavities whilst I held my breath. We always made it. Skilled drivers, aided by the sign up front that stated seguir a Cristo. As on most South American public transport, we were being looked after by the total trust in religious iconography. All good.

As dusk set in, mountains silhouetted against a clear sky. The guy next to me got off the bus, no houses in sight, the middle of a dark nothingness. I wondered how far he had to walk still. It was gone 20:00pm.

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Night arrives on the way from Pucara to Villa Serrano

A little boy jumped into his seat. I dozed a little, waking only when he started to blow raspberries at his friend and screech and clamber over me to look at the moon. ‘¡La luna es aqui!’ he babbled, and his friend joined him by the window, which was also my seat and my lap. Two unknown three year old kids with knees and elbows digging into me? At least I had somewhere to sit.

A little later, having reclaimed some space, I woke up to my hair being stroked. The little boy next to me was now singing gently and playing with my hair, no inhibitions.

Within another hour we arrived into Villa Serrano and I wandered through dark streets with my head torch trying to find somewhere to stay.

Electricity in the town was down. My little venture away from the modern, English speaking world with all its comforts and trappings was set to continue for at least another day, and I certainly wasn’t about to complain.

After a short night’s sleep and a chilly shower, I was back on a bus headed from Villa Serrano to Sucre through a landscape of hills covered in grasses and trees.

It was an early morning start. Wisps of mist hung in the valleys and mountain peaks stayed hidden in the clouds, shadows streaking across their green, grey bodies. The sun shone out gentle, light rays onto little mud brick buildings with grass roofs and red tiles, waking up the folk in the farmsteads that we passed.

It was flatter and greener in the valleys, dry rockiness visible every now and then alongside corn fields. Yellow sunburst flowers on long, leafy stalks sat next to short, fluffy tufts of plants, delicately blowing in the fresh morning breeze.

On board, women sporting plaits and wearing warm, woolly hats carried small children bundled up in blankets. I played peek-a-boo with a little girl in front of me whilst a young boy looked on shyly, smiling when I caught his eye. Again, the only gringo on board. The elders were politer but the children were curious. I tried to remember being that young, but all I could really recall were my mum’s stories about how I chatted away to everyone.

The rest of this journey took us past more cacti; some small and spindly, others still the size of trees. Amazing towers of red rock rose up on the roadside just over an hour into the trip before we finally arrived at flatter farm land and paved, concrete roads. The bus sped up, onwards to Sucre.

So what was so special about this journey?

Predominantly, this was about the amazing, varied scenery but also the experience of being in amongst the locals with not a tourist in sight. It was also a much more interesting way to get to Sucre, and a cheap way to cover some substantial ground.

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Pucara to Villa Serrano cost 30Bs. (£2.70/US$4.34) for a six hour journey and Villa Serrano to Sucre cost 25Bs. (£2.25/US$3.62) for a four and a half hour journey. Villa Serrano to Sucre was a much smoother journey with better roads and a comfier bus, although the scenery wasn’t quite as impressive. Apologies for lack of photos for the second day – my camera battery died! Disappointed. From Villa Serrano to Sucre I travelled with Trans Turismo Señor “La Mision”. Buy tickets in the office on the square, which opens at 06:30am. The bus leaves 07:00am.

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Shall I stay? Finding love in Pucara

HOW CAN I GET TO Pucara?’ I asked a guy sitting outside his shop after I’d hidden my room payment under the candlestick in the alojamiento. I didn’t know what else to do. ‘Ten minutes’, he said, along with some other stuff that I just didn’t understand. I sat down with my backpack and waited.

I looked around. The village of La Higuera was deserted and I wasn’t sure whether I’d get a ride, whether there were buses from Pucara to Villa Serrano, whether I’d be stuck in these tiny villages for weeks and weeks. It certainly wasn’t the worst prospect. I’d had such a pleasant, peaceful and welcoming stay in La Higuera that a few days longer actually seemed quite appealing.

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Morning in La Higuera, Bolivia, and barely a soul in sight

But the car did turn up and an hour and a half later I arrived into the little mud hut maze of Pucara having done an hour detour through Villa Victoria and by the taxi driver’s house. Things to pick up there, stuff to do. You don’t mind, do you? he asked.

Of course not: the beauty of not being in a rush for once in my life. And the bonus? A sightseeing tour that took me really high into the mountains on the most precarious roads I’d seen yet in Bolivia.

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High up in the mountains near La Higuera

In Pucara, the village drunk took a shine to me. Okay, that’s probably unfair, but he was definitely on the wrong side of tipsy and it was barely gone 10:30am. He gripped my arm and started pressuring me to drink some beer that he’d just poured whilst his team of merry men laughed on.

It’s not too early’, he protested when I tried to make my excuses, ‘and it’s not too much’. I realised what I had to do. After a polite sip I removed myself from the party, bought some snacks and started the long wait for the mid-afternoon bus.

The plaza in Pucara is an odd little place, a mix of stone pillars, mini metal railings, a water fountain that doesn’t work and some yellow concrete archways.

Men in wide brimmed hats sat around in doorways surrounding the plaza, and the chatter and laughter of children playing lassoo chase filled the air.

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Kids playing in the plaza in Pucara

It was a couple of hours before what appeared to be the only restaurant in town opened but finally I heard some singing, a grace I guessed, and I made my way over to join a family for al muerzo. I’d already met Dolly outside, a girl in her late teens with a somewhat stern nature.

Whilst Dolly stared and ate silently, her family chatted away to me, and it really was mostly to me, although I did manage to tell them a little about my travels. They were curious about me travelling alone, about what I did back home. We talked about the Channel tunnel, about the economy in the UK and Europe compared to Bolivia. A random mix of conversation, part of an educated and better-to-do Bolivian family reunion.

Before I left and paid for my 15Bs. soup and chicken, potato and rice main, I made a quick visit to the loo, into the back of the house, dodging a huge hunk of meat hanging from the ceiling outside the bathroom door. The chewy contents of my soup, I assumed. My stomach had already threatened to go all South American on me and I hoped all would be well for my bus journey.

I passed the rest of the afternoon in Pucara sitting in the plaza, taking some photos of the town, writing and chatting to locals.

Two small boys noticed my camera and started to pose, falling over themselves with laughter when they saw their faces on the screen. ‘Again’, they said, giggling, ‘again’.

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A serious pose before the silly ones

People dressed in Sunday best were gathering at the church with plaited palm leaves and flowers. I asked an old woman what was being celebrated. ‘La Misa del Señora’, she told me, ‘a religious festival’. The church bells chimed. Two men stood waiting with a donkey on which was mounted what looked like a male doll dressed up as a woman. I was a little confused, but then I hadn’t really managed to grasp the concept of the festival.

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Donkeys and dressed up dolls

Gradually, the crowds gathered in the shade of the plaza. Three girls in flowing white gowns joined the group. There was a sense that something was about to happen.

You want to come along?’ asked the old woman, before muttering something about Santana when a guy drove past on a motorbike. I declined. I didn’t want to go off on a procession and miss the bus.

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The procession in Pucara sets off

And the last hour wait was maybe the most significant in that it could have changed my entire life, had I been a little more open minded and more attracted to older guys.

Germán, a relaxed, somewhat rounded man in his late 70s came and sat next to me. We chatted a bit. In previous lives we’d both been teachers. He loved that we had some similarities.

It wasn’t long before he told me that he wanted to come and travel with me to Villa Serrano and on to Sucre. He took my hand and held it for a while. He playfully nicked my pen lid, then my pen. He gave my leg a cheeky stroke.

I looked out for the bus. Surely it must be on its way? And if the bus didn’t show? The alternative was for me to stay here and marry Germán and inherit a donkey and his three houses. He’d made a point of telling me about the houses, sure that they would seal the deal. If only I didn’t believe in true love.

A little girl with whom I’d been engaged in a face pulling contest for a few minutes left to find her mum who ran the village shop, leaving me fully alone with my would-be suitor. I started to write.

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My new friend in Pucara before the face pulling and hand hiding started

Germán was fascinated by my pen. ‘How much did it cost?’ he asked. I told him 8Bs, embarrassingly expensive, I realised, for most Bolivians. I told him that a good pen for me was more important than a good meal. He laughed and asked if he could write something. He moved in closer. He wrote me a note in my book, a love letter of sorts.

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A love letter of sorts

And then he tried to stroke my bum. ‘Pare, por favour’, I said. Enough was enough. I stood up. ‘We could get a room together in Villa Serrano’, he said quickly. ‘No. It wouldn’t be nice to mi novio’, I said, trying to think of excuses and a gentle let-down. Germán put his fingers to his mouth. ‘Sssshhhh.

No’, I told him, ‘I’m going to Villa Serrano alone’.

A strong handshake, a strange little finger stroke on my palm and he left. Love affair over.

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Maybe I should I have waited for an English speaking guide

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Let sleeping dogs lie outside of my room in La Higuera, Bolivia

IT SOUNDED AS THOUGH THE entire village had gathered outside of my window for an early morning chat. I checked my watch. 6:25am. Surely it couldn’t be morning already? I was having such a delicious night’s sleep after a few days on La Ruta del Che that had thus far led me to La Higuera, a hamlet five hours from Samaipata, Bolivia.

I dozed a little while longer, laughter and chatter mixed in with half-cooked dreams.

By the time I got up, the old school house was deserted save for a few stray dogs who wondered around Che’s room and sat guard in front of his mural.

I spent an hour walking back and forth through La Higuera looking for my alojamiento hostess and the woman with the key to the museum, but both were elusive. I guessed that, like the trip to Che’s execution site, this was another of those things that wasn’t meant to be.

Maybe I should have waited around a few days in Vallegrande for an English speaking guide to be available? Maybe I would have actually got to experience something a little less hit and miss?

But no, this was actually far more fun, more random, more adventurous. The experience of being in places and close to places where Che and his men had hidden and hung out was good enough to get me into a reflective headspace.

I still felt close enough to the story.

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Inspired and protected by the man himself

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Views from on the road to La Higuera

I think it would be better for you to return here’, said an Argentinian I met in Casa la Cultura in Vallegrande. He’d just got back from La Higuera, which he said was well worth the two and a half hour journey but where he could not recommend spending the night.

It’s very, very basic’, he told me. ‘Are there places to sleep? Somewhere to eat?’ I asked. ‘Sure’, he said. ‘Then I’m all good with it’, I said. I guess I didn’t fully anticipate just how rustic things would be.

There wasn’t a guide available for my trip from Vallegrande to La Higuera but Gonzalo at the Casa la Cultura sorted me out a taxi and assured me that the driver would take me to all the places on the Che Guevara trail, most importantly the school house where Che was held captive for a couple of days, and the execution site to where he was marched off, hands tied, to face his shotgun death.

Would organising it independently work out for me? In a way, yes.

The journey over to La Higuera took me along pitted mud roads, making for a bumpy ride. Dust swirled around inside the car, coating my teeth and skin and drying my eyes. Upfront, the woman covered her babies face. Once again I had a driver with a partner in tow.

We climbed higher and higher, winding up into the mountains, driving close to a steep drop edge. Painting views stretched out into the far distance, a vast, green mountainous vista that my little compact camera failed to capture with any conviction.

I realised that had I wanted to trek this stretch of trail, as I’d initially hoped to do, it would have actually been pretty straightforward due to the regular signposting for La Ruta del Che. But at a distance of 58km it would have required at least one camp out. I had no gear (and very little idea) so maybe the recommended way of the taxi was the best way after all.

At around 2,500m the road flattened out to a rocky, tough shrub landscape peppered with little yellow flowers and dead trees. Cows paused in our path, skinny donkeys munched on foliage and the occasional pig ambled along the roadside.

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Dead trees on the road to La Higuera

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On the road to La Higuera

We stopped by some guys carrying farm tools heading home after a day’s work on the land. The driver and his wife started a shout conversation with a guy belted on to an electricity pylon, doing some repairs I guessed. Or just hanging out. Who knows. Smile sounded speech got the driver’s eyebrows twitching before they all exchanged goodbyes and we continued.

Just before La Higuera, the driver stopped at a little shrine with three plaques. Our first stop-off. It was a little underwhelming, predominantly because I didn’t really understand what I was looking at. An English speaking guide at this point would have been great.

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A random little memorial outside of La Higuera

And then we were in La Higuera, a little cluster of fifteen houses, nearly all bearing homemade signs offering beds for 20Bs. but few showing any sign of being open for business.

The driver turned off the engine at the top of the village close to the statues of Che Guevara and buildings grafittied with quotes and stencilled images. He went on the hunt for the key to the museum.

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Statue at top of village of La Higuera, Che’s place of capture and death

Two young girls approached me about a place to stay. Their mother came out. ‘Tomorrow is better for the museum’ she said, ‘Do you want a bed?It was in the old schoolhouse, right in amongst history.

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Che´s room on the left and my room on the right

After an impossible attempt at trying to ask where Che’s assassination site was and trying to ascertain whether the driver would take me as intended, I gave up and the taxi driver, his wife and their three month baby set off.

Dusk was falling and I was hungry. ‘Is there somewhere I can get some food?’ I asked my hostess. ‘Si’, she said, ‘come with me’. I followed her through the village to her friend’s kitchen and sat down to a candlelit meal of rice, eggs, chips and sliced tomatoes – a tasty, plain dinner that more than satisfied my unintentional day of fasting. All was silent save for the chatter of insects, the sound of me eating and the occasional clanking of cutlery as the owner pottered around the kitchen. Her husband sat close by, watching, occasionally talking quietly.

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Waiting for dinner as dusk sets in

I was glad that I’d replaced the batteries in my head torch back in Samaipata because the walk back was country dark and unfamiliar. The warm glow of candlelight shone out of some houses and a small generator disturbed the peace in one place. Along my way I passed a few villagers. ‘Buenos noches’ was repeatedly exchanged.

Just before I got back to my private six bed dorm, I saw a little shop sign. Craving some sweetness, I stepped inside to see someone’s living space and a few shelves to the side stocked with basics and biscuits. Dessert came in the form of some coconut wafers which I sat and munched sitting on the step between my room and the open fronted school house room where Che spent his last couple of days.

Bed time came early. I blew out my candle and lay wrapped up cosy in the dark, imagining how not that long ago, in 1967, Che must have been lying next door in his cold, concrete room with an undoubtedable awareness that he was about to die. I wondered if he was ready for death; whether he was scared; whether he felt he’d made his mark or whether he felt that he’d  failed.

Sometimes I’m scared of the dark and quiet, but not this night. In a room full of Che pictures, with a doorway by which is painted a rainbow representation of Che, I knew that if any ghost haunted this place then I’d be able to learn even more and count myself privileged for having the experience. I almost wanted to believe in ghosts.

And that night I felt calm, centred and open to life. I slept heavily, dreamt lots and my mind was filled with great ideas about where my future could lead and what little bit of good I might be able to offer the world. One day.

This place had some power. Che might have been killed but somehow his energy lives on in the walls and in the earth of La Higuera, and I was lucky enough to tap into it for a split second in time.

So, another random day filled with precious moments. And you know what? The complete lack of tourists, of electricity, of warm showers, of English ability; it was all wonderful.

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The taxi ride through the Casa la Cultura in Vallegrande cost 300Bs. but I had been approached by another street taxi driver who said he’d do it for nearly half of that. Under the promise that I was going to be shown ALL of the sites, including the execution site, I did feel a bit short-changed when it was pretty much a pick-up and drop-off situation.300Bs. covers a return, although I decided to continue on a different route to Sucre. Food in La Higuera cost me 10Bs, and the alojamiento 20Bs. Had I been able to access the museum, it would have also cost 10Bs.

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Where Che lay rotting, lost in a shallow grave

I WAS PARTLY FOLLOWING La Ruta del Che, the trail within Bolivia that Che Guevara is said to have taken shortly before his capture and execution at the age of 39. Che and his men were in Bolivia to try and win support from Bolivians and the surrounding countries, but overall reports suggest that his efforts weren’t wholly successful.

After Che was killed, his body was moved from La Higuera to Vallegrande where it was laid out across the hard, concrete basins of the hospital laundry, the lavanderia. He was half naked, his eyes were forced open, his body mutilated. A warning to other wannabe political rebels.

I stood for a while in front of the open fronted room and took in this scene. Graffiti covered every inch of the walls, messages of appreciation amongst modern day fighting talk. The simplest scribble states Gracias Che.

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The hospital lavanderia in Vallegrande where Che lay for a couple of days on display

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Painted on the outside of existing hospital buildings

A small group of us headed to the next part, the memorial. Why we needed three guides with us, who knows. Maybe they just wanted to visit the site again themselves?

The memorial, under lock and key, is a well preserved little place only accessible through booking with the Casa de la Cultura. Inside the light building are carefully framed photos from throughout Che’s life and newspaper clippings from various events connected to Bolivia.

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World class sign for Che Guevara’s memorial, Vallegrande

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Che and his crew’s well-maintained memorial, Vallegrande

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Che photos in the memorial building

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The guides tried to convince me that this was Che shortly before he died.                         He sure looks old for 39!

The centre piece is the shallow grave where Che and six of his men were hidden for thirty years before being discovered and sent back to their respective home countries. In 1997, Che’s body was exhumed and repatriated back to Cuba.

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The shallow grave

Not really the place for big smile or thumbs up photos, one of the guides was insistent to photograph me in front of absolutely everything. ‘Now here’, he’d say, grabbing my hand and dragging me to the next part of the room to stand awkwardly in front of yet another a photo display whilst he took ownership of my camera. ‘And now here, he said physically positioning me in front of the grave, ‘now outside’.

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Me and a load of revolutionaries. Oh yeah.

I felt that this little part of the trip was partly being hijacked by a snap happy helpful, so I turned the camera on him, and he loved it.

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Drama and more with the additional guide

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The Casa de la Cultura is located on the main plaza, Plaza 26 de Enero, and is full of Che cuttings and information. Here they can provide you with a wealth of information and help to organise onward trips to La Higuera (the place of Che’s capture and execution). Entrance the memorial and the lavanderia costs 30Bs. It is possible to book tours that take in the two Vallegrande sights and then explore the other places en route and within La Higuera, but costs are high and it can be worth organising your own transport, as I did.

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What a day to arrive! Vallegrande celebrates

Vallegrande is a town with about 6,000 inhabitants situated 118km from where I’d been staying in Samaipata. I’d taken a two and a half hour bus journey cramped in the aisle amongst sleeping babies and bulky bags. As the only gringa on board, I had stuck out like a sore thumb and had been the centre of attention and the butt of teenage jokes that I couldn’t understand. But I’d arrived, sorted out some lovely accommodation and life was sweet.

I was only spending one day in the town and coincidentally, it was a party weekend. Once I’d dropped my bags in Hotel Plaza Pueblo and eaten some cake with the family who ran the place, I decided to get out there and explore a little.

I wandered down a cobbled street to Plaza Rubén Terrezas where, on the taxi driver’s recommendation, I bought some bread which I nibbled as I ventured over to the main plaza.

Plaza 26 de Enero was heaving with people and stalls, the weekend fiesta to celebrate ‘400 years of the foundation of the city of Montes Claros Jesus and the Knights of Vallegrande’ (now there’s a mouthful) kicking off with toffee apples and drinking and dancing to a live band.

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Early evening at the fiesta in the plaza, Vallegrande

A guy started to talk to me as I went looking for a warm drink. ‘You were in the collectivo from Santa Cruz?’ he asked. He looked familiar but not. I wasn’t sure. He bought me a drink, a base shot of Singani topped with hot, frothy milk. Warming and tasty. Perfect for the chilly night air.

You want another?’ he asked having downed his pretty quickly. I decided not. Tipsy, alone and disoriented wouldn’t be the smartest move.

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Singani liquor used for cocktails, and alcoholic milk drinks, apparently

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One local guy get a refill of the alcoholic milk

Whilst I supped my milky drink, an old woman with twinkling eyes started to talk to me, curious about where I was from. And then she told me how she’d known Che Guavara, how he was a good man, agradable, and that she was glad I was following his journey, his route.

I went to watch the dancing. A young guy started to bounce around in front of me, animated, a little drunk. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was one of the lads from the back of the bus, bottle of liqueur in hand. He insisted he was 26.

You must try some’ said Daniel pouring red viscous liquid into a plastic tumbler. I had a small shot. A little sickly, sweet and fruity, it’s what I’d seen a lot of people sipping on around the square.

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Arocco, Daniel’s friend, turned up. More shots were dealt and soon the two of them were swigging from the bottle. They rattled away in fast Spanish. I nodded, said yes, said no, told them I didn’t understand. I picked up the odd word but more often than not lost the context of what was being said.

Later, Arocco insisted that he was the great-great-nephew of Che, but unfortunately that was all the information I could glean from his extended, passionate soliloquy. Evidently, he rated the guy (a stark contrast to both boys’ response to the Bolivian president Evo Morales).

I didn’t know what to believe. There seemed to be plenty of people with a connection to Che, real or imagined. I guess it didn’t really matter. The sentiment was loud and clear.

In the plaza the musicians packed up, hefty speakers were bussed away and the crowds started to dissipate. I found my way back through poorly lit streets to Hotel Plaza Pueblo, said goodnight to the family and crashed out in my massive twin room, wondering what other unplanned adventures lay ahead.
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In Vallegrande I stayed in Hotel Restaurante “Plaza Pueblo” on Calle Virrey Mendoza no. 132, Vallegrande and paid 70Bs. (£6.35/US$10.20) for solo occupation in a twin room with shared bathroom. Breakfast was included but was basic. The hotel is a short walk from the market, and the main plaza, Plaza 26 de Enero, is only a little further along.

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Filed under bolivia, culture, dancing, festivals, food & drink, south america