A Travellerspoint blog

The highest golf course in the world

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia is breathtaking for several reasons. First, the view on entering the canyon, which spans 5 kms and drops to 4,100 meters at its lowest point, is spectacular. Second, the city’s altitude is 3660m and walking anywhere especially uphill (which is a given if you’re staying in the city centre) is a physical challenge. Third, Mount Illamani makes an imposing backdrop for the city and great photo opportunities at sunset.

One of La Paz’s many attractions is its golf course which is the highest in the world. Now at an altitude where walking 20 steps uphill has one gasping for breath and heading for the nearest coffee shop, completing this course without being admitted into hospital would be a real achievement for golf enthusiasts. So of course we decided to play it. After checking out the internet we obtained information on days and times the public were allowed to play and after a little searching, the location and address of the La Paz Golf Association. Hailing a taxi we gave the address, asked a price, hailed another taxi, negotiated a better price and jumped in. Ten minutes into the journey it was clear from the questions that our driver was asking us that: -

- he thought we were heading to a hotel
- had never heard of golf
- did not know where he was going.

Showing him the written address again, demonstrating golf moves (I have no idea why we thought this would help) and talking in halting Spanish we seemed to resolve the problem and sped off into the suburbs. There followed a hair-raising drive involving emergency stops, last minute turns, screeching tyres and trips up unmade and pot holed roads. Directions from locals turned out to be useless as they had never heard of golf either. Concerned about the car’s suspension and an almost empty fuel tank, we stopped in a landscape reminiscent of the moon and flagged down passing vehicles to ask for directions. No one had a clue until a biker knew of the course and gave us accurate directions. By this time we had bonded with the driver and all of us were finding the whole situation hilarious.

One hour after we set off we found the entrance to the club - high fives all around. Unfortunately, they had recently changed the days that the general public could play and had not updated the website. So we had arrived on a day that was advertised as open to the general public but was in fact now a member’s only day. Dejected we turned the car around and headed back to the city. Another traumatic ride followed. Stopping the car on a road we had driven down earlier the driver asked us if we thought it was one way (despite the fact there were cars following us). Being low on petrol he floored the accelerator in order to get to a town before we ran out. Nearing our hotel we told him to stop and let us out but he ignored us and within minutes had driven into the side of a land rover in front of a policeman. Not wishing to get involved we threw his money on the front seat, wished him luck and legged it. From his response I’m pretty sure he will never pick up another gringo again!

Posted by travelhappiness 00:59 Archived in Bolivia Tagged people travel golf la humour paz taxis Comments (0)

What to do on a bad hair day abroad?

“Does anyone know of a good hairdresser in Lima?” Someone had typed in on the Lonely Planet community web site. The request was followed up with “I’m really sorry for asking such a trivial question.”

I felt for her as I was in the same situation and didn’t think it was an inane question at all. I’d been travelling for over three months in Ecuador and Peru and my hair was beginning to look like an out of control shrub that needed a good clipping. The areas that I’d visited so far were known for their beauty in terms of scenery rather than salons and I too was getting a bit desperate for a cut and colour. Had she posted the plea a few weeks later I could have given her the name of a hairdresser in Lima who’d struck up a conversation with me on a bus. After exchanging pleasantries he gave me his card and proceeded to reel a list of things off that needed doing to my hair to restore it to its former blonde sleek state. He named a very reasonable price and declared that he would throw in a hair treatment for free. It was a bargain but unfortunately I had already booked my bus out of the city for the next day and had to pass. However, it did reinforce the fact that my hair was a mess. It must have been if a local hairdresser was so horrified by it that he had to pick me up on a bus and offer a haircut and free products. I needed to take action.

I’m sure the ladies reading this will understand when I say that going to a new hairdresser is always a trauma. I’ve had some shocking haircuts in the past including one that made me look like a boy. I was playing in a cricket sixes tournament at the time and the first sign that the haircut wasn’t working for me was when the barman called me “young man”. The second sign was when our win was reported in the local paper (my bowling confounded the batsmen so much that often they went LBW) and listed me as a Mr under the team picture. My partner had a similar thing happen to him many many years ago, has never been to a hairdresser since and cuts his own hair. Definitely an over-reaction but I decided rather than risk going to a hairdresser in a country that doesn’t understand the needs of a mousy blond, I would follow his example and do it myself. I bought some hair dye and borrowed his scissors. The dye worked a treat and the cut looked amazing – for a day then settled into a style reminiscent of a scarecrow. After that I decided just to touch up my hair colour every couple of months and leave the scissors alone.

Three months later when we were staying in Buenos Aires in Argentina I decided the time had come get a proper cut. I figured that if there was any where in South America that may be able to cope with my hair it was there. We were also heading for Thailand and some serious partying so I needed to look a little more presentable. I psyched myself up and booked myself in at a random hair salon. The owner was delightful and between my shocking Spanish, a lot of hand waving and pointing at pictures we reached an understanding of what was required. The day arrived, and after a couple of sedatives to keep me calm during the ordeal I set off for the appointment. The owner took it upon herself to cut my hair, I think the novelty of a foreigner in her salon was too hard to resist, and luckily for me one of the other customers spoke English and was happy to translate. Despite my fears she did a great job. Well the fringe took a little getting used to ……… and it was a little short, but then I always get a shock when I see my face after a cut!

Arriving back in Australia the first thing I did was to book an appointment with my usual hairdresser. Having warned him about abuse I had subjected my hair to over the last 13 months, he was, surprisingly, calm as I walked through the door. So now I’m am back to my blond, slightly messy style that is versatile for work and play. But you know what, on reflection I think I prefer my wild woman of the hills look – it was a lot less boring

Posted by travelhappiness 18:49 Archived in Argentina Tagged people travel humour hair dressers Comments (0)

What is a girl to do with only 20kg luggage allowance?

What to take on holiday – it’s a dilemma. With flight weight and baggage regulations’ tightening up it’s no longer possible to load yourself down with large amounts of hand luggage containing your heavy items or wear 6 layers of clothing to avoid airline penalties for going over the 20kg luggage allowance.

Asia doesn’t tend to be a problem as most of the time a bikini, sarong, shorts and few tee shirts is all you’re going to need. Hot weather helps of course as clothes dry within a day thus reducing the need to take multiples of different clothing. This means that there’ll be plenty of space left for packing presents and all the cheap clothing you bought (and which you’ll never wear once back your own country) for the return flight.
Because I’m a seven stone weakling, I can’t actually lift my backpack off the ground let alone carry it if it weighs more than 16kg. Therefore, I’ve become an expert at minimalist packing. Here’s a general idea of what I pack for hot countries.-

Trousers that can be converted into 3/4 lengths or shorts; clothes made out of silk – lightweight and durable; a long sleeved shirt (keeps the sun and mossies at bay); two sarongs - one for the beach and one for the bed; usual assortment of underwear – have considered going Commando but haven’t been that desperate yet; one pair of shorts and a few tee shirts; one bikini; a skirt – useful for temples (as is the long sleeved shirt); a little evening number – just in case; 1 dress; one warm top; one pacamac – in case of monsoon weather; 1 scarf/hat – prevent sunstroke; 1 pair of flip flops and sandals.

However, I’m still working on how to reduce the weight of the mossie net, travel books, contents of a beauty salon and the plethora of electrical gadgets such as computer, iPod, phone, camera, kindle, speakers, hairdryer and their respective chargers.
My enthusiasm for minimalism went awry when, after an extended period in Greece, I travelled to Quito in Ecuador where I discovered that apart from my thermal underwear I‘d only packed one tee shirt and a fleece. Not good, especially as it was about minus 1 at the time. Putting clothes on instead of taking them off to go to bed, I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and spent a very miserable cold first night in the capital.

As a consequence of not packing any appropriate clothing for South America, by the end of my travels I had an eclectic range of clothing from the different countries I’d passed through. Alpaca jumpers from Ecuador, tee shirts and tops from Galapagos Islands, wool hats and gloves from Peru, trousers from Bolivia, hot pink shorts and bikinis from Brazil, a dress and sandals from Argentina. I travelled onto Asia afterwards and added to the collection. Silk dresses/tops/trousers from Vietnam. Sarongs/ shorts/sun dresses and cotton tops from Thailand.
I’m now the proud owner of an internationally designed wardrobe that fits into a rucksack weighing no more than 16kg including mosquito net, toiletries and large a medical kit. Well actually I did chuck the sleeping bag away in favour of a made to measure pair of silk knee length boots.

The total cost for this packing oversight? I’m not telling because you’ll all be using the “I forgot to pack my clothes” line as an excuse to go shopping – and it’s mine!

Posted by travelhappiness 18:48 Archived in Argentina Tagged travel shopping humour luggage allowance Comments (0)

The Vietnam Taxi Scam

As a Londoner my experience of the black cabs that operate in the capital has been consistently good. Drivers are polite, chatty, sympathetic, amusing, helpful, trustworthy and have a brain that has memorised the a- z book of London street maps. They therefore rarely get lost. You do however, pay for the service. On the other hand, taxi services in other parts of the world can be extremely trying.

Travel books offering advice on transport in other countries, more often than not. will have advisory warnings about taxi services being in cahoots with bag snatchers/muggers/mafia. They may kidnap you, drive you to a hotel where they get commission, badger you about tours, ask for an extortionate fare on arrival then try to charge extra for luggage. From experience I can add:-

a) they get lost - if a driver looks even slightly vague when you mention the address don't get in. In Australia I often end up reading out of a Melways (street maps of Melbourne) and directing the driver to my destination.
b) they will take you to a tour agency when you ask for the bus station ("no more buses today") - insist on going to the bus station and don't pay until you are sure you are in the right place.
c) they try to charge extra for 4 people sharing - negotiate the price before you get in and stick to it.
d) If you are on a meter the driver will often take the longest route in order to bump up the price - do some research on the route to your destination.

One piece of advice books do give is to insist on a taxi meter as an effective way of preventing overcharging. I have in the past also found this to be effective. However, recently in Hanoi I discovered a new scam. Taking a taxi, on the meter, to the bus station to book a ticket to Ha Long Bay cost 50,000 dong (the long way around). On the way back I shared a taxi with three other people, on the meter again. Cost 254,000 dong for the same journey. The driver insisted that the meter was right but knowing that we had been scammed we refused to pay the full amount. After a protracted argument we ended up paying 90,000 dong.

The next day I caught another taxi to the same station to leave Hanoi. It was early and there was little traffic on the road. In the city one of the main noises you will hear 24 hours a day is horns blasting out. They will beep to let you know they are behind/driving towards/passing/about to hit you. They toot to say hello/goodbye/I'm here/I'm waiting/I'm fed up/move your ass. The length of the sound and amount of times they hit the hom depends on the message they wish to convey. So it was no surprise when my taxi driver blasted away at the traffic, human and automated, all the way to the station. What was odd though was that he hit the horn over and over on empty stretches of road. I put it down to over-enthusiasm. On reaching my destination the meter showed 84,000 dong. Another argument ensued. I still had no idea how the meter was being fixed but later fell into conversation with other travellers and was enlightened. The meter is connected to the horn and every time it is sounded more money gets added.

Today, I arrived back in Hanoi from Ha Long Bay. Taxi drivers were swarming around me as I collected my luggage. "How much to the lake" I asked. "120,000 dong" they replied. "Too much, 50,000 dong" I said. "We go on taxi meter, no problem" they promptly responded. "No taxi meter, beep beep" I retorted. They left me alone. I caught a motorbike taxi for 20,000 dong and still probably paid too much.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:46 Archived in Vietnam Tagged people travel humour scams Comments (0)

The Bus Brokedown and so did the Frenchman

The important question of the day was where to go once we had crossed over the Cambodian border. The beach at Sianoukville was an 8-9 hour bus and hydrofoil ride away and Phnom Phen a 7 hour bus ride. The tour company told us there was a new road to the capital which would cut down our travelling time and visions of a smooth black asphalt thoroughfare clinched it for us. We opted for Phnom Phen. What the company failed to tell us was that we had to traverse five rivers on wooden ferries, inch over a large amount of rickety wood and stone bridges and ride along a deeply pot holed dirt road to get to it.

Blissfully unaware we all piled into the two mini-buses and set out. About two hours and a couple of rivers later the bus in front broke down. Obviously we couldn’t leave them there so we stopped to offer help. The drivers and male passengers gathered around the open bonnet, looked thoughtfully down into it and scratched their heads – even the ones who didn’t have a clue about car engines. Being female I have no such macho tendencies and an ability to recognise my own limitations in the event of a breakdown i.e telephone for help or leave it to the experts. Being pretty sure that the RACV would not respond to a call for roadside assistance from Cambodia – no matter how valued a customer I was, I headed for the shade.

The boys gradually drifted back as they realised that they were just getting in the way of the driver who had by now pulled out half the engine. We settled in for a long wait and got to know each other. My travelling companions turned out to be a mixed bunch. There was Frenchman (who wore a very bad syrup and fig), some English (too polite to complain about anything) , an Italian (life of the party and dopehead), some Australians (they had the beer) and a German (who didn’t find anything funny at all) . About an hour and a half later the bus was fixed and we all set off. As we lurched across the road to avoid goats, craters, pigs, chickens and human traffic, the Frenchman remonstrated with the driver. “We should ave left zemmm ere and carried on, I zink eett izz reediculous”. As he warmed to the subject, he grew red in the face and gesticulated with his hands to emphasis his point totally unaware that his wig was trying to take flight as the bus bounced up and down. Taking the silence in the bus as agreement with his sentiments he continued to rant whilst the bus occupants watched with fascination as the combined movements of his body and the bus lifted the wig off his head time and time again.
The bus in front broke down again. “Leave zemm, leave zemm” the Frenchman shouted. We stopped and all piled out again. The Frenchman had a tantrum, stamped his feet and looked absurd as his wig listed to one side of his head. Once again men gathered around the open bonnet but discussions seemed a lot more heated.

The Italian drifted back grinning. “Ah belle” he sighed in mock tragedy “the Frenchman he say fuck them and leave them to die of thirst, the German try to organise us into a working team, the Australian say no drama and hand beers out, the English sit back and politely wait, and I the Italian take the piss out of the situation – I find this funny, we all conform to stereotypes no?”

After sending out for a spare part, we lounged by an empty road in the middle of nowhere (or so we thought) to wait. The blonde little poppet in the other bus woke up and her parents brought her out to join us. Suddenly we were surrounded by Cambodians who materialised out of the bush. It seems that blonde children are a real crowd puller and when travelling everyone should carry a spare in the event of emergencies. Two hours later we were on the move again with the ever complaining Frenchman. By the time we reached the new road it was twilight. Here the buses were going to go different ways one to PP and one to the beach. Not fancying arriving in the capital at night we stayed on the bus that was heading for Sianoukville. Anyway, the Frenchman was going to Phnom Phen. It was a no brainer really.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel bus travellers humour journeys Comments (0)

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