Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bolivia: Tupiza

Heading eight hours south on a bus ride that had us alternating between photo snapping and Hail Mary`s, we made our way to the stunning red cliffs and lush desert scenery of Tupiza. The environs are the former stomping grounds of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and you can easily imagine the two outlaws hiding in dry box canyons whistling Hollywood theme songs. It`s an undeniably beautiful landscape with an American Wild West feel to it. We have all sorts of screenplay ideas based on it that will undoubtedly make us our millions. But more on that later.

We signed up for the impressively-named Triathalon, an athletic smorgasborg of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The day began with pedaling past sunflowers, pueblos, green gardens, and red rock fin formations. Trading our iron steeds for the real deal, we saddled up and rode up a dry wash toward the Valle des Machos (can you spot the macho in the picture?), where phallic formations give the valley its name. It was like riding into a film set, trotting past cactus (mostly of the hallucinogenic San Pedro variety) and stark desert scenery. For lunch, we had the Tupiza speciality, tamales made with llama meat. Tasty! The day ended with a white-knuckle (at least for Kathleen) descent of close to 1,500 meters in the late-afternoon sun. Eric weathered a loose brake, then a missing brake, then 2 flat tires, but still managed to beat Kathleen to the bottom. Doh!

Traveling to and from Tupiza, we also had a sobering look at Bolivia`s striking poverty. We knew from reading that more than half the country went without electricity, heat, or running water---a real tragedy in a land of cold, harsh climates. From the local bus window, we saw evidence of this everywhere. People eking out a living where they could, taking care of hygiene wherever they could (no wonder you can`t drink the water), and working long hard hours regardless of age (young and old). At the same time, we found everyone to be incredibly helpful and kind. We hope that Presidente Evo Morales is able to turn the economic situation around to everyone`s benefit, and we have been trying to interview locals about their views on him and politics in general.

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