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Being silly on the salar

Check out the hexagons on the salar… amazing

I’d heard briefly about the salt flats – Salar de Uyuni – in Bolivia but had done no research into what they were really about. I wanted to go there and have an experience without expectation. It was, at least, a good pretext for lack of planning.

After the trip to the Train Graveyard, me and my fun lovin’ tour buddies jumped back in our jeep and headed onwards towards the infamous, eerie beauty of the salt flats.We stopped off at a little village a few kilometres shy of the actual salar. ‘You can buy hats and scarves here’, said Gonzalo, ‘or some salt’. Tables covered in woollens and salt crystals and touristy trinkets lured in the shoppers. Big bed socks? Absolutely. A cosy cardigan? If you don’t already have one, yes, it is recommended.

Carl sports a fox hat, one of the few non-woollen warmers on offer

Salt crystals on sale

In a series of little rooms and back alleys, we observed the process of salt refining from the cutting out of bricks through to the packaging up of smooth salt, ready for the market and the table. We had a go at lifting a heavy pick axe, the tool used in bygone times to hack up the salar into manageable chunks, replaced now in most instances by circular saws.

And we learnt about the solar evaporation system and the use of solar energy to extract lithium and uranium from the 120m deep flats (unsurprisingly, it’s not a Bolivian company that is funding this project and one can only hope that since President Morales announced measures to ensure Bolivia’s natural wealth wasn’t sold for pennies to other countries who would reap the profits, Bolivia actually benefits from this arrangement).

Gonzalo gives a demonstration of salt extraction stage 1

Sifted and packaged and sealed, Uyuni salt

And then we got back in the car and finally, finally, there she was: 12,000km2 of white, salty landscape stretching off to a flat horizon, Volcan Thunupa to the side. The driver sped on into the whiteness. ‘You using GPS?’ I asked Gonzalo. ‘No, we’re just using the distant landmarks’, he said, ‘the driver knows where to go’. I didn’t doubt it but it was still a little difficult to understand just how he knew where to go as we left behind any recognisable geography. Regardless, over the next few days I realised that salt flats or desert dust, drivers have it figured.

Salt piles, Salar de Uyuni

And then we stopped and got silly on the salar. Devoid of any natural life, we, like many tourists before us, brought the idiocy of humanity to the salt flats.

Team briefing and history lesson before the games start

Toys came out of their boxes and we played; with dinosaur dummies and cocktail umbrellas, with beer bottles and banana skins, with our imaginations.

Playing games at the Salar de Uyuni

Carl stamps down on Blair

I survived… don’t worry

Kicking back to soak up the sunshine

Jumping out of a banana skin because… erm… someone thought it up

A mistimed jump over the car

The search for reflections begins

On the way headed out of the salar, we stopped off at the Salt Hotel where some of the guys had been raving a day or two earlier. One tall, dreadlocked Swede was still hanging around and the boys went over for a comrade catch-up.

The Salt Hotel a few days after the rave

Salt Hotel, Salar de Uyuni

The ground around the hotel was yellowed and dirty. ‘Some locals don’t like these parties’, commented Gonzalo, and I totally got it. Predominantly put on for the tourists and accepted by the police as something to turn a blind eye to, a rave gathering in such a beauty spot could only ever lead to a bit of spoilage. But I also saw it from the other side. To be able to party in this place: wow.

What, I wondered, was driving the decision to run the parties out here, though? Was the money raised sufficient enough for locals not to cause too much opposition? Did any of it feed back into their communities? How was the salar being maintained and looked after subsequent to the partying?

Contemplative thoughts in amongst further merriment on board the jeep as we headed towards our first night’s destination of Villa Mar.

Heading away from the flats and on towards rocks, deserts and lagunas

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Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, natural wonders, nature, south america, tours

Is this the most bizarre tourist attraction in the world?

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It sounded like the most boring place to visit. When another traveller had told me a few weeks back that they really hoped to visit the train graveyard in Uyuni, I looked at them as though they were crazy.

“Really?” I asked, “You’re not joking?” They weren’t joking. What strange times we live in.

So why the enthusiasm? Didn’t they have better things to do, places to see? And what the hell was a train graveyard in any case?

The tour I’d booked the day before through Andes Salt Expeditions started with a morning trip out to Cementerio de Trenes, the train cemetery or train graveyard.

I stepped out of the jeep after a 2km drive and gathered around with my new tour buddies. It was quiet, a little awkward; people were in ‘I’ve-just-met-you-friendly’ mode, polite but a little standoffish. I stuck with my friend Carl.

It was fresh and clear. Little fluffy clouds dotted a sunny blue sky and a slight, chilly breeze whispered to me: Keep an open your mind! Go and enjoy this strange place!

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The Train Graveyard, Nr. Uyuni, Bolivia

Our guide, Gonzalo, gave a brief overview and history of the place. While Uyuni had been a central hub in transporting goods between South American countries from the 1880s onwards, things started to slow down – a result of the closure of a number of mines? – and the railway was decommissioned. Everything just stopped. Like that.

Now the trains stand there gradually decomposing. Why not, then, make the place into a spectacle?! As one report suggests, this is ‘a trainspotter’s sick dream’. I’d have probably chosen a different word in there, but you get the gist.

Post-history lesson we went and played. If nothing else, the Cementerio de Trenes was a big playground with swings and seesaws and things to climb on and not a hint of health and safety in place to spoil the fun.

We jumped and ran about. Creativity and big kid syndrome kicked in. Oh happy, carefree day.

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Schwiiiiiiiiiiiiiing….! Playtime at the Train Graveyard

What can I do next?!

What can I do next?! Carl on a mission

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Erm… improvisation

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See-saw fun

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Chill out time

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What is everyone else doing?

Some other guys playing train-top chase

Within an hour we were back in the car, had picked up our bags from the agency and were headed for the salt flats themselves. Some of the others had partied at the rave a few days earlier so were less enthusiastic about seeing the place, but me, well, this was the whole point of being here, right?

I was excited.

And then the chaos started to unleash as the boys each cracked open a can of beer and switched Gonzalo’s music for their own, cranking up the volume.

Did I get lucky or unlucky, bunched in with five guys, Gonzalo and the driver? The other car drove along in silence: four well-mannered girls, one guy and the driver.

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Party boys. Party car.

Back in our jeep, Gonzalo nodded along to the tunes and we all threw in a few restricted dance moves and adopted alter egos. While the Social Club Co-Ordinator set to work, the Rock Star put on a pair of shades, and some collaborative whoops were thrown into the music mix.

The party reputation of our car started to build. I would either grow to love or hate these boys, I realised.

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Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, culture, south america

Uyuni is kinda okay, really

Salar de Uyuni map (image from www.2wonders.com)

I’VE HEARD DEPRESSING ACCOUNTS OF Uyuni from a fair few travellers, things that could easily put you off ever visiting the place. ‘Get there and book a tour straight away’, one girl told me, ‘don’t stop. There’s nothing to do, it’s dusty and cold and boring’. Harsh.

I did, however, want to visit the town for the same reason most backpackers head there: to access the unusual landscape of the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, something so intriguing and alien to a small town British girl like me.

Nine hours after leaving Sucre I arrived into Uyuni having passed through Potosi, the highest city in the world. Altitude was being kind to me on this day. After wandering through the town for a few minutes, I bumped into a friend from Sucre at a juice stall. He was trying to rejuvenate after the rave on the salt flats. ‘Our hostel is great, but full’, he said.

Plan B. I hunted down another friend and checked into a big, empty hostel on the outskirts of the town before heading out to book a tour of the salar and the surrounding lagunas, mountains and rock trees, an overall experience that Lonely Planet states as ‘must-do’ (LP haters, don’t let their endorsement put you off).

With so many tour operators in town, who to book with? Red Alert had been suggested to me, but they were expensive, nearly double that of others. ‘Worth it, though’, a backpacker had told me in Sucre, ‘great food, attention to detail and they really look after you.’ I couldn’t justify the cost.

It turned out that, having left things until late in the day, we didn’t have as broad a choice in any case. Out of those remaining open, Andes Salt Expeditions came highly recommended.

We checked the list of people already booked on to the tour. Similar ages, a predominantly English speaking mix. We got a run-down of the itinerary and costs. We would have a guide (one that spoke English), a well-maintained vehicle and a sober driver. I paid up my 700Bs. (£62.99/$101.30) for the three day, two night tour that would set off the following morning. A quick, easy arrangement.

Following the example of the person who’d written Rock Star as their profession on the details sheet, I went for Explorer, my friend chose Social Club Co-ordinator. I hope that the Rock Star wasn’t really a rock star. It could otherwise all get a bit embarrassing.

We were just about set. Time to repack bags, stock up on snacks and get a good night’s sleep.

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Included with Andes Salt Expeditions packages is daily jeep transport, an English speaking tour guide, three meals per day (not breakfast on first day or supper on last), basic accommodation and optional drop-off to cross the border over to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Although you do make a stop at a small village near the salar where you can stock up with warm woollens at pretty standard prices, for the rest of the trip it’s difficult to buy what you want, crave or need. I’d suggest bringing: warm clothes (including hat and gloves, and if like me you’re cold hearted or blooded, fat woolly socks); 150Bs. (£/US$) for National Park entry; snacks (and smokes, if you need); water; coca leaves and coca catalyst. The other guys also brought beer and wine for evenings sat around chatting in isolated hostels (I was on antibiotics, none of that for me). Hot showers cost an additional 10Bs. (£0.90/US$1.45).

I also hired a sleeping bag from the tour operator for 40Bs. (£3.60/US$5.80), which was the best decision I made. The hostels are BASIC and COLD, particularly on the second night at over 4,000m in elevation.

And the problem of drunk drivers needs to be taken seriously, something that has been highlighted by many doing the tour out of Uyuni. The best advice is to talk to other travellers before you book, and get their recommendations for a tour operator.

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Filed under bolivia, natural wonders, nature, south america

I should be at a trance party, so what am I doing here?

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Some day time revellers keep going at the rave (photo: Carl Maybry©)

IT’S FRIDAY AND I SHOULD be in Uyuni with new friends partying at a windpowered goa-trance festival on the Salt Flats outside of Uyuni in Bolivia, but I’m ill. Another bout of food poisoning has crippled me.

I let my friends know that I can’t come. A day on the bus followed by a weekend of all-nighter hedonism when I’m spinning out and have only just stopped puking? Not a great idea. But I’m gutted.

My day comprises of sleeping and Skype chats. It’s taking me ages to do anything. My eyes are heavy so after my lunchtime snack of cough medicine and probiotics, I end up snoozing some more.

One of my friends drops me a message to say that a local told him ‘the raves out on the Salar de Uyuni aren’t all that great anyway’. Momentarily I feel better but then I look at pictures of the salt flats, imagine 180° of starry sky and I’m back to frustrated envy.

I venture out of the hostel for the first time in a couple of days. Destination: pharmacy.  I need to stock up on potent cough syrup. Two more bottles, the doctor reckons, that’s at least another week of codeine stupor. I walk slowly with consideration; I am spinning out and not totally sure that I won’t faint.

The doctor has banned me from eating out, despite it often being cheaper, so I make myself a package soup and tart it up with some vegetables. Hopefully this time the food will stay down. It doesn’t.

I don’t have the energy to be my social self and initiate conversation with all the new people in the hostel, but I chat a little with the owner’s son. Spanish practise. He’s not feeling well either, although it’s definitely something different. His Bolivian belly is resistant to the food and water bugs. Tourists, he says, always get sick at some point.

I watch a movie but I can’t focus. I keep imagining a mass of bodies bouncing to a beat. I’ve never been to a trance party. Travelling for me is about trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. This would have been perfect. I’ve never liked trance music. I don’t think.

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Another whack of medication. Doped out.

I wake up on Saturday feeling pretty good considering that if you shook me, I’d rattle. I take a shower. I’m so spaced out from all the medication that I get stuck into a stare. I wonder if the way I’m feeling is anything similar to how it feels to be on ketamine. Why ketamine, I’m not sure. It must have cropped up in conversation recently. I’m tingly and dizzy and a bit numb. I’m trying to flip this on its head, trying to enjoy the feeling. I’m listening to Salmonella Dub and I wonder what genre Salmonella Dub is. I’ve never been good at classifying music. Whatever, it’s my own zone out party.  I’m sure I’m in the shower for far too long. Zombiefied.

The rain arrives. ‘I’ve never seen rain in Bolivia’, says a guy I meet in the kitchen over a cup of tea. Talking about the weather. I could do this in England. I do do this in England. Actually, I do this everywhere. My one bit of Englishness comes with me.

And the day continues pretty uneventfully. I manage to get out to buy a bus ticket to Uyuni for the following day. The rain makes me a bit soggy, which isn’t clever when I’m still sick. Bare feet weren’t the smartest move. I buy some shoes. Retail therapy, not my thing at all, but it works. If I’d gone to the rave I wouldn’t have been able to buy these lovely shoes. I’m momentarily consoled.

For the first time in a while I can focus on a screen so I watch a movie but fall asleep half way through. It’s isn’t a bad film at all, just sometimes something happens when I’m in bed watching a film, particularly when I’m drugged up to my eyeballs. I try to fight it but my body wins out.

Early Sunday morning I pay my bill and get a goodbye cuddle from my hostel hostess. She’s been worrying about me. Thinks I should stay longer. I think I need to get out of Sucre before I become yet another one of the travellers stuck here longer term. I don’t think the place is healthy for me.

Maybe Uyuni will be better? Somehow I doubt it. Sitting at an altitude of 3,669m, I know my pain isn’t over. But I’m on the bus and heading to my friends who will surely be buzzing with incredible stories of all-nighters and special connections and amazing skies and scenery.

And, probably because I’ve been so damn unwell, actually I’m not really jealous. Yet.

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Filed under bolivia, culture, festivals, south america

What’s in my backpack?

www.travelola.orgPEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME ABOUT a post that I wrote a little while back where I downsized my backpack from an 80 litre to a 45 litre bundle of joy.

How did I do it? What am I carrying?

I wasn’t totally sure so one day in Sucre I laid it all out and took stock. I had bought a couple of extra things, but it still surprised me: it looked like a lot.

  1. Wash bag. This tough bag by North Face is waterproof but although it holds things in snugly, I find it a bit awkward to use on a daily basis.
  2. First aid kit. Everything from antibiotics to anti-malarials and antiseptics. Anti-everything, then. Oh, and some vitamins, plasters/band-aids and a thermometer.
  3. Second wash bag. Yes. Two washbags. Excessive. This one contains items that I don’t use often, such as anti-mosquito spray, make-up for nights out, spare razor blades, that kind of stuff.
  4. Electronics pouch containing chargers and cables. And a converter that works EVERYWHERE.
  5. Sun hat. My third one in the last year. The Inca Jungle Trail claimed one, a bus in Ecuador another. I get sunstroke and sunburnt fairly easily so head protection is a must.
  6. Merino buff®. This works out to be a scarf, hat, muff or whatever you want it to be. I barely used this but it is small, light and has been a blessing during some chilly moments, like in Cuenca.
  7. Zip up tops x3. One hooded fleece, one lightweight base layer and one heavier, lined hoodie.
  8. A RAB down jacket that folds down into its own pocket, and a raincoat. The raincoat was used fairly regularly, and although it took a month and half before I needed some extra warmth, the down jacket was a beautiful cuddle when I visited the glacier in Peru.
  9. Travel towel.  A little bigger than I needed; smaller would have been fine.
  10. Pants/undies/bra x10. There is no point skimping on underwear, I realised, so I stocked up in New Zealand.
  11. Legwarmers x2. Some Bolivian additions that are well loved in the chilly climate.
  12. Socks x4. One thicker pair for walking, the rest cotton. Other than when I went on hikes or travelled in Bolivia, for most of my travels my socks stay have stayed buried at the bottom of my bag.
  13. Eye-mask. Nothing exotic, just a freebie from the airplane but I wouldn’t travel without. Totally useful in hostels or when on overnight public transport.
  14. Shorts x 3. One longer pair, one roll-up, and one short. Two pairs would suffice.
  15. Jeans, combats and zip-off synthetic walking trousers. People say not to travel with jeans. Well I like them, so tough (and I have to carry my bag so I only have to face myself on that one really). I did downsize from proper jeans to skinny legs to save on a bit of space, but actually these are less versatile and only worn in cities or on nights out.
  16. Silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve used this less than I expected but the moments when I need some extra warmth or an extra layer between me and the bed bugs, it is great.
  17. Skirts x 2 and one dress. My skirts are all casual but absolutely adaptable for when I need to glam up a little.
  18. Black leggings and PJs. When I got to Oz I downsized my PJs to a shorty set to save on space. The leggings are great worn under trousers or with a skirt when it is cold.
  19. T-shirts x4: black, blue, yellow and white patterned. Versatile. Nothing fancy.
  20. Belt. Not always needed but was still worth having, either to hold my trousers up when I lost weight after my parasite incident back in Ecuador, or to open bottles with the built in opener (something I only discovered en route).
  21. Bikini. I did start my trip with two bikinis but my favourite set got left behind on a washing line in Raglan, New Zealand. One bikini, realistically, was enough.
  22. Long sleeved t-shirts x5. Mostly in plain, light cotton ideal for layering, these are adaptable to smart or casual situations. One of my favourites for that extra snug hug is my Howies’ merino top (although it has been so well worn that it is now pretty holey. Want to send me a new one, guys?!).
  23. Vest tops x 7. It may sound like too many, but I do use them all. Pretty much. And they don’t take up much space at all. Two of the seven were more going out style tops.
  24. Teva hiking sandals. Brown leather, these can come across fairly smart when I need them to whilst still being totally practical and cushioned comfortable.
  25. Salomon hiking shoes. Dark brown colour is perfect for making these not stand out too much or show the dirt too obviously. These are my go-everywhere shoes that are comfy, have good grip and are Goretex® waterproofed. The only downside is that in some countries I’ve found them to be a little too hot.
  26. Converse casual shoes. I didn’t have a pair of ‘hang-out’ shoes and didn’t intend to get any either as my trainers had doubled up fine for this purpose… but then in Bolivia I decided to buy myself a cheap pair of Converses. Probably fake but they fit and do the job.
  27. Flat, strappy sandals. Super light, these barely take up any space at all. After a backpacker in New Zealand lent me some sandals for a night out, I decided to go girly and get in on the action. And these sandals have actually been well used.
  28. Flip flops. I travelled for six months with just one pair but when I got to Brazil, home of the Havaianas, I couldn’t leave without another! Totally useful, including when using communal showers.
  29. Head torch. Most used item in my backpack, maybe? I keep this close at night and pack it at the top of my bag so that when arriving, for example, into a power cut Villa Serrano late at night, I can still find my way.

It is a lot, yet somehow it all fits into my 45 litre Berghaus backpack. Sure, it’s a bit of a squash but it weighs in at 15kg and is a doddle to carry around. I guess I should mention that I use some roll down vacuum bags. They’re great for packing things down small and keeping similar things together.

And! – I carry a little day pack with my sunglasses, wallet, water, pen, paper, and other valuables that I want close by, including a fake wallet with some old cards and a bit of cash so that if I get mugged, I can hand over something without losing everything. I always carry a photocopy of my passport (in each wallet) and I’ve found laminating them to be really helpful (compared to other travellers’ tatty bits of paper that means they often have to still produce real identification, my copied ID often  gets me past official  check points without any bother).

Looking at the above picture, I realise that I could quite easily prune my luggage a lot further but there does come a point where it’s quite nice having SOME choice.

So, if YOU’RE heading off soon and thinking of throwing in hair straighteners and high heels, just stop for a moment and think about the kind of travelling that you’ll be doing. A weekend in Paris? Maybe. A month trekking and roughing it? Nah. The tousled, flip flopped look will work just fine. Trust me.

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Dinner with someone else’s boyfriend

WHILST ANNA* LAY SICK IN bed, I went to dinner with her boyfriend. Before you judge me as some thieving little hussy, read on. She knew. She gave us her blessing.

Maybe she had a hunch that I wasn’t that type of girl. Maybe it was because me and Anna got on really well. Maybe she’s just not the jealous type and she trusted that her man wouldn’t stray. Or maybe, just because she was sick didn’t mean that she expected her boyfriend to stay home fawning over her. She wanted and expected him to go get on with things. And not necessarily alone.

Whatever the reason, I found her trust admirable. Because life and love whilst travelling, I’ve come to learn, are out to test every relationship going.

I’m sure there are people who it does work for, that there are people who are able to feel free from ties and really experience their travels without the constant reference to home or the other but still feel connected enough when they return, and that there are people who are faithful to each other across vast distances and despite having had such different experiences they’ll never be able to fully share.

But I’ve met many a person who has decided to leave their relationship back home or put it on hold in order to allow them to truly be free whilst travelling.

Freedom, they argue, has little to do with sleeping with someone else but rather it’s about following whatever adventure presents itself without consultation or compromise. And if, by chance, those adventures lead to the bedroom (or a beach or another hidey spot) then they want to feel free to go with the moment, not hold back.

And leaving a relationship back home is surely fairer than the behaviour of some travellers I’ve met who claim to have a partner back home, profess to missing them terribly, and then that very night share a bed and part of themselves with a stranger.

It has really made me think about relationships on the road. If you’re travelling together, that’s a challenge in itself, but something that can strengthen your connection with new, shared experiences and adventures. But, if your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse isn’t with you on a longer stint of travel time, it seems almost an impossibility that you’ll last.

Of course we all need moments of freedom and independence from our close relationships, but planning on being away from your boyfriend for two years, as one girl I met had decided, just seemed a little silly to me, particularly since she seemed to be unconsciously searching for a substitute only two months in.

Anna was right about me, and I liked her a lot. She was a good, honest, fun girl. Her and her boyfriend were a fantastic couple who I’m sure I’ll see again in my life. Of course I had no intention of chasing him, of hurting her. Despite what people might think about solo travelling girls, we’re not all single and we’re not all on the prowl. Some of us, believe it or not, just want to travel and meet lots of different people without any added complications.

So I went out for food with Anna’s boyfriend. We ate at a place where we bumped into other travel friends and it wasn’t intimate or awkward or anything like that because, like Anna, he was a good person too. No funny business.

There are a fair few good ‘uns out there.

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*names have been changed

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Sucre markets make me happy

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Fruit and veg at the Mercado Central, Sucre

Dinosaurs and karaoke aside, Sucre has a more worthy sight worth visiting: the central market. Over and over I lost myself in a wander through mazes of stalls, feasting my eyes on colourful stacks of fruit and vegetables, cakes and candies, spices and sauces.

I chatted to a couple of Dutch travellers who said that back home they rarely go to the market but here in South America they can’t stay away, and I thought, yep, it’s the same for me. So what’s that all about?

The alternative to the markets are the supermarkets, of which there are two close to the centre of town. Compared to European standards, these supermarkets are teeny and they are fairly well hidden and under populated. The one time that I visited the ‘big’ one I was surprised to find a somewhat under stocked ghost shop. A total contrast to the usual supermarket experience.

The rich people shop in the supermarket’, my Spanish teacher told me, ‘they don’t tend to buy at the actual market.’ ‘But the food is so good there’, I argued. I didn’t get it.

Realistically, though, I did get it: it is about convenience and excuses.

Back in my old existence, life was full. Independent sellers had closed by the time I wound up working for the day. Fruit and veg, meat and fish, all the things that are better fresh from a proper, local source, I bought these in the supermarket on my way home. Weekends would have been the time to go to the markets and to visit these specialist shops but those two precious days off? – I couldn’t bear to give them – or a single moment of them – over to shopping. So it was a choice. Possibly, a pretty bad choice.

Because since travelling in South America, I have discovered the joys of the markets: the bustle, the colour, the fusion of smells, the scurry of crowds, the sale songs. Hacked up animal parts and snouts might not do much for me, but the fresh fruit juices and simple, cheap meals quickly became favourites of mine.

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One of many entrances to Mercado Central

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Behind the scenes

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Best place to stock up on veggies

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Chamomile and aloe vera amongt other things at Mercado Central, Sucre

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Cow snout and tongue, anyone?

It became a habit, then, that each time I arrived into a new town I had to go check out the main market. And quickly.

After my friend Max introduced me to buñelos, trojori and api, I made it a habit to breakfast upstairs in the market during my three week stay in Sucre, building rapport with the vendor and introducing other backpackers to the magic and busyness of the local way to start the day.

I quickly discovered that I preferred to drink trojori (or api blanco) over api morado, it’s thick, sweet, yellow warmth with chunks of softened corn giving me energy for the day. I heard that trojori is loaded full of nutrients and is often given to breastfeeding infants when their mothers can’t produce enough milk. Having been through the mill with continuous illness where my diet consisted predominantly of antibiotics, it felt good to give my body something wholesome and rich and warming.

And buñelos! Ah! What can I say? An indulgent doughnut style pastry over which you could choose to either sprinkle icing sugar powder or drizzle syrup. Granted, a little greasy and not particularly healthy but everyone, from businessmen having a quick bite before work to street children looking for a hand out, joined in the enjoyment of these treats.

Overall, a cheap, rich breakfast that is probably far too high in sugar and fat, but it definitely helps start the day nicely in such a chilly climate. Expect to pay 1Bs. (£0.09/US$0.14) for two buñelos, or together with a trojori or mixto drink Bs.3.50 (£0.32/US$0.50).

So… if you’re ever over South America way, don’t get scared off by the worry of chaos and hygiene in the marketplace. Instead, wind your way through the colourful stalls, sit yourself down in amongst locals and order up a home-cooked dish. You may well not know what you’re actually eating but that’s all part of the fun, right?!

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Sign up now: quest for blog success

Personalizando WordPress 1.5

No, it’s not me. I haven’t changed so much on my travels. It’s not even my photo. (www.flickr.com)

How do you measure a blog’s success? By the hits? The comments? The headlines? By the quality of prose? Or something else?

Visitors to your site give you instant statistics to work with and platforms such as WordPress easily allow you to track your visitor count. It’s quite addictive trying to beat your previous day’s figures and I love the new addition of being able to see where in the world your visitors are signing in from.

But I see blogs with high hits where the quality of language is poor. How do they do it? And I’ve read posts that are elegant, succinct and proofread but only draw in a niche audience. This game is far too confusing and unfair for me!

Whilst I’m not very marketing savvy, I find it interesting how a headline can really affect statistics. Bring in numbers or sex or sensationalism and it’s a relative hit.

Topping my hit list is Why won’t you give me a Maori moko? I don’t know who’s reading it. A fair few people are clearly interested in Maori art. I hope I haven’t pissed anyone off here. Following on is 9 Reasons why solo travel is great. Clearly this either resonates with people or draws on their curiosity. Next up is Just how sexy is Ipanema Beach? It’s not a favourite post of mine at all. I wasn’t happy with it. But it has sex in the title, and sex sells. The next two posts contain numbers again: 10 things I loved and hated about New Zealand, and 21 things travelling has taught me.

But what about my personal preferences? I do like the 9 Reasons why solo travel is great and 21 things travelling has taught me posts, but I also enjoyed the creative process of My, oh my Manly! and The Bicycle Thieves of Byron and even Crashing a white water date, but what do I know? They didn’t score highly at all.

For me, a successful post is based on quality, integrity and consideration. And a sprinkle of humour where appropriate. I’m writing about other people and places from a subjective viewpoint and I don’t want to screw over those people and places for my own gain. It’s not my game.

Sure, like all writers, I’ll cherry pick what points I choose to include and omit, but not in a way that distorts the truth of my personal experience. I partially base success on how I feel once I’ve pushed the publish button.

With the statistics stuff, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I try to understand it but the truth is I’m far more interested in writing and being creative.

So that’s what I’ll keep doing and if I manage to raise a smile or make you think or plant a seed of wanderlust in your mind, that’s success for me.

But of course I’d love you to sign up. Do it now. Why not?!

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World Nomad’s Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

To link in with the previous post on travelling by bus from Brazil to Bolivia through Paraguay, here is a short piece that I submitted to the World Nomad’s Travel Writing Scholarship 2012 competition:

On buses and food, and food on buses

It’s not my finest moment but it’s done now. Submitted. End of.

The biggest challenge was keeping it within the 2,000 character limit (and that included spaces) whilst still capturing enough detail.

I don’t know if it makes any difference how many people read and comment on the piece or not… some competitions seem to work like that… but of course, as ever, I’d love feedback from you (and if it’s really bad or super constructive, maybe do it on here instead!).

Not to self: never do things in a hurry.

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Filed under blogging, culture, food & drink, random, travel, writing