Corioco, Bolivia

I arrived safely at Sol y Luna, a 20-minute walk from Corioco town.  Big jolly Maria arrived to check me in 15 minutes later, and I killed time waiting for her by chatting to an Italian couple who were now living in Sucre in Bolivia.  Originally, he was from Avellino, where my mum is from, and knows of mum’s town Leone! He also knows the surname DiConza!  Small, small world.

My room was a massive room right at the back of the steep jungle property.  It was a work out just to get to my room!  But once I got there, I thought it was worth it and I was happy to have shelled out an extra $3 per night to get a bigger place with a private bathroom.  Attached next door to the meditation room, I had a two story rustic place with two single beds, a fridge and shelves downstairs, and upstairs was a double bed with a mosquito net.    Outside I had two hammocks to myself, an old and rough looking outdoor kitchen, a shower and separate toilet, and a little area where I could build a fire. Surrounding me was jungle-like forest, heaps of birds and some squirrel looking tree rat things.  The gardens were natural, not manicured, yet gorgeous.  It was so lush, peaceful, and relaxing. Yeah, this place would do nicely for a couple of days.

After settling into mi casa, I took my camera and went for wander. I found both pools, the children’s play area, the look out, the group campfire area, and loads of gorgeous plants and flowers.  It was so so so peaceful and the property was big. While I was walking around I bumped into two older Swiss chaps who had also done the world’s most dangerous bike ride today, but with a different company.  They asked if I was on my own, which I replied yet, and they very kindly invited me to join them for dinner at Sol y Luna’s restaurant.  Great!  It was a date.

Before dinner I lay in a hammock and  was reading my great book, The Lovely Bones.  The food at Sol y Luna was nothing really special. I ordered safely and went for chicken milanese – crumbed chicken.  However, the company was great.  The guys, whose names went in one ear and out the other, have been friends since school and were in Bolivia to climb a mountain, something they love to do. This was their 50th birthday present to themselves.  Their wives and children were at home – and both families were great friends.  It sounds like they have a nice life in Switzerland.

They guys kindly walked me back to my remote uphill temporary Corioco home. I tucked myself into bed, started to read and then just dozed off, sleeping like an absolute log.

I woke up feeling rested and headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. I found my Swiss dinner companions and had breakfast with them.  They were leaving Corioco today and were planning on a short hike after breakfast before heading back to La Paz. They did give me a good hotel recommendation in La Paz, The Rosario Hotel, commenting on the hotel’s comfortable rooms, great showers and really good restaurant.  A step up from my previous La Paz hotel –which had a central location, but a CRAP shower and it was quite noisy at night.

After breakfast I walked into town and decided to make the rest of my solo travel plans.  I needed to change my reservation at Altai Oasis in Sorata, change my flight to take me to Arequipa, book Hotel Rosario in La Paz, and find then book a hotel in Arequipa.  With a list of things to do, I headed to an internet / call centre place and got to work, after checking it was ok to ring the USA.  The phone calls to Expedia in the USA, the website I used to book my flight, were expensive – half way through my call when I was about to change my flight – the line goes dead.  It just cuts off.  GRRRR.  The silly girl behind the counter said that the line ran out of credit.  In my best broken Spanish I curtly told her that i checked with her first that it was ok to call the USA and she said yes. Now I have to call again and start the whole process again.

The second time I called Expedia, the operator had such a thick Mexican accent that it was difficult to understand her, and then she couldn’t change my flight because the previous operator had my details open which meant she could not access it.  I asked her to message her colleague to tell her I was on the line again – no, she couldn’t do that. I asked her to put me through to her colleague, no she couldn’t do that either.  I asked her for a solution, and there appeared that there weren’t any. So I was paying for this call for nothing. So I asked for the manager, dammit. I was put on hold for ages, and when the cost of the call reached US$10, I hung up, totally frustrated.

I then asked the girl working there, who by now had finished filing her nails and was starting to polish them, if these phones could accept calls coming in and what the number was. Her vague response, pointing to a scratched number side the cubicle did not instil me with confidence, so I asked her again, reading the number out.  Yes yes she said.

Third time lucky. I again called Expedia, I went through the ‘please hold your call is important to us’, and the operator’s security questions.  The operator did ask me for a number in which she could call me back on in case this call was cut off.  Cool, I gave her the number in my booth.  Easy.   Just as she was about to change my flights, again, the line went dead and I was cut off.  GRR GRR GRR!  Oh well, at least she had my number, so I thought.

The silly girl behind the counter then added credit to the line, and dialled the scratched number in my booth from her mobile.  It didn’t work. I could hear the operator’s Spanish voice say that the number didn’t exist, and the girl’s body language shrink like a dog with it’s tail tucked in between its legs.  I almost lost it at that point and told the girl that I HAD ASKED her for the number!  TWICE! I also added that i was not going to pay the 170 Bolivianos cost (US$23) for the three phone calls – that it was totally unfair and I was not paying it.  Bear in mind that this was more expensive than one night in my two story Corioco home at Sol y Luna – so in Bolivian terms, it was really expensive.  She said she would call the police, to which I replied, please, please call the police I want to explain to them why I am not paying.

She rang her boss instead and started crying down the phone.  Ohhh pul-lease!  I was not falling for those crocodile tears for one second.   Just before her boss arrive, my booth rang.  It was the travel agent in the USA. She said that tried to call me on the number I gave her and failed and then started trying different end digits – 1, 2, 3, etc until she got the right one.  So we finished changing my flight and I thanked her profusely for going the extra mile to try to get in touch with me.

By the time I was off the phone, the boss had arrived.  In Spanish, I said it was not fair for me that because their lines ran out of credit that I should pay for all those calls. I never would have had to make all those calls had their lines been functioning. He seemed to nod, understanding my point, and again asked for the full amount to be paid.  Meanwhile, he turned to a lady customer and started serving her.  Fed up, I slammed 100 Bolivianos on the counter and said I was not paying a cent more and stormed out, past the silly girl who was now crying hard and sitting on the steps outside the shop.  Whatever kid, do your job properly and you won’t have upset customers – sympathy level zero.

Crapping myself a little bit, thinking the Bolivian mafia might come after me, I headed to the bus station, just out of the main area of town, to arrange a bus back to La Paz the next day.  I then went to a different calling centre / internet place and finished all my other tasks.  I had a delicious lunch of soup with fresh pasta, and found a gourmet shop run by a quietly spoken British woman, called The Pine Farm.  She had a nice selection of cheeses, crackers, chocolate, and wine among other things.  I bought supplies and planned a night by my very own fire at Sol y Luna.   Too tired to walk up the hill back to my hotel, I caught a cab and arranged for him to pick me up the next morning and take me to the terminal.  Easy!  The Bolivian mafia never caught up with me :).

I got home, and started collecting fire wood and building my fire for later on.  I must admit, I did a stirling job.  At 4.30pm, I settled into one of my two hammocks and started getting lost in my great book, The Lovely Bones.  An hour later, getting peckish and a bit cold,  went inside, grabbed a blanket, my wine, and some crackers with vegemite and settled back into my hammock reading.   The Italian from Avellino came past and invited me to join him and his girlfriend for dinner.  My response was positive but non committal – if I was starving, I could find myself back at the restaurant, but I had my heart set on a night in front of my very own fire.

The red wine, a syrah from Mendoza in Argentina (cost US$5) was delicious and smooth. A gorgeous red wine in fact. Mmm-mmm!  At 6.30pm I had 30 minutes before it was pitch black and dark, so I built my fire.  It was roaring and I was so pleased!  Grabbing the cheese and more crackers, I lay back in the hammock and had 100 per cent thoroughly enjoyed my night in.  I was in heaven!  Great wine, yummy cheese, crunchy crackers, a warm roaring fire, a great book I could hardly put down, and I was all cosy under a blanket with no one around to disturb me. There was no way I was making it to the restaurant to join the Italians.  I was having too much fun on my own!  Every so often I had to pry myself out of the hammock to add wood to the fire, but other than that, I stayed there for three hours or so, finishing the wine, finishing the cheese, and feeling totally content.

The next day I was up early, ready to get to La Paz, catch a taxi across town to the other bus station (a term I use loosely – more like buses parked on the side of the road), and head to Sorata.

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