Well we´ve had funny couple day. On Monday we got a smelly cama (lots of space and comfy this time!) local bus, 12 hours, to the city of Tarija - Bolivia´s wine region, 1866m above sea level. The journey itself was fine, the bus had the usual screaming baby and people standing in the aisles. At 6am Tuesday, about half an hour from Tarija the bus stopped behind a line of a couple of other buses and some trucks. We got out to see what was happening, only to discover that the road was blocked by police. We knew there have been political problems in Bolivia and that the cities of Sucre and Santa Cruz had road blocks but no-one had said anything about Tarija so this was a bit of shock to us. After about ten minutes the locals started walking, with all their many bags and bundles. We waited a bit longer and when it was obvious that nothing was happening we got our rucksacks and headed along the dusty road to Tarija (not knowing how long the walk would take!). The sun was just starting to shine so after about half an hour walking, and passing through another road block piled high with mud & dirt, I was very pleased when a taxi stopped to see if we wanted a lift - YES there is a god! We checked into Residencial El Rosario and went to get some brekkie at Cafe Mokka, Plaza Sucre.
The wealthy city (rich from gas) has a very mediterranean feel, palm trees line the beautiful plaza, and there are lots of colonial houses and a bustling market filled with fresh fruit and veg, meat and cakes. Chapacos (people from Tarija) are more Spanish or Argentine than Bolivian and I think because of this, the food is much nicer so we were happy!
Straight away we decided to find out how we could leave the city and get to Tupiza in a day or so. The tourist information told us that no buses were leaving the city for Tupiza or La Paz and that we´d just have to wait and see what happened! Due to time restraints this was not an option for us so we decided to miss Tupiza and get a flight to La Paz for a couple days later.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying the sun (it was 34oC) and checking out the city. We visited the Cathedral, a beautiful church called Basilica de San Francisco & Casa Dorada (cultural house) which was left by the wealthy 19th-century merchant Moises Navajas.
The following day we went on a wine tour (cost 12 pounds each) with a lovely guide called Mirtha. During the four hours we visited three different Bodegas including the regions most famous winery La Concepcion/Rujero which has the world´s highest vineyard (wine is called Cepas de Altura) and also produces Singani, a powerful spirit obtained by distilling grape skins and other by-products. Bolivians usually drink Singani in a cocktail called Chuflay - singani, sprite, ice and lemon which I found very refreshing! On the tour of La Concepcion winery we got told off for talking photos (top secret!), met the 60yr old winemaker and got to taste a really disgusting glass of oxidised wine (it had apparently been open for 4 days!), which the girl knew smelt wrong but she couldn´t go and get a new bottle to open herself as one of the more senior members of staff had to do it but weren´t around!!! Very strange!
We also visited a beautiful 16th-century house with a winery called Casa Vieja (old house) were we tasted a typical Bolivian drink called Chica which is a fermented corn brew. Last stop was an organic winery were the winemaker stores the wine in big glass bottles in a little underground cellar instead of steel vats and where we had to perform a special ceremony before we drank the wine which basically entailed getting a bit drunk! We also found the tour brilliant because we got to see the surrounding countryside and all the vineyards. We ended the night with a lovely meal at Taverna Gattopardo on the main square. It has also been good because our room has cable TV so we can keep up-to-date with the American elections and rest of the worlds news.
Now we are just about to go to Tarija airport to catch the morning flight to La Paz. Speak to you in a couple of days xxxxx