Bolivia, Riberalta : 12th January 2003

I know it's been a while since you all have heard from us and Tusa, Miss M and I want to apologise for the silence but things really have been quite hectic since our last diary entry. Miss M however wants me to thank everybody on her behalf who continues to be in touch with us even though there hasn't been much news from our neck of the woods recently.

Miss M never though that getting Tusa and I into Peru would prove to be so difficult and in fact almost impossible. When Miss Tracy left after her visit in La Paz (from what we've heard they had a lovely time together and we were all sad to see her go), Miss M started in full earnest to arrange for our entry into the next country (Peru) but the bureocracy and red tape were just unbelievable! And when they spoke of an at least 15-day quarantine period at the border Desagaudera (with no proper facilities for us horses), Miss M realised that we had to look at other options. She also found out that it wasn't be possible to ship Tusa and I from either Peru or Ecuador and as she had made the decision long ago not to go through Colombia, it would have meant getting us on a plane from Quito in Ecuador, which would have been far too costly.

Then a friend suggested that we continue through the north of Bolivia, through a part that is called Beni and cross into Brazil at Guayaramerin. So a decision was made. This change of plan and route involved a new shopping list as well and Miss M went out to get lots of insect repellent, sunblock, injectable Vit B1 (to keep the mossies away) and she also had to go for the obligatory Yellow Fever injection.

Now, we knew the tropics are hot and humid but we never thought that it would be that difficult and it's been a tough and rough ride since we left the city of La Paz.

Before I continue with our news, the three of us just want to say a big big heartfelt thanks to the following people for their wonderful generosity and for making our stay in La Paz truly comfortable and unforgettable. So thank you very much Chacho Gonzalez, Fernando Prado. Luis Iturralde, Gabriel Vidakovich, Luis Vasques, Miguel Reznicek and Edwin. Also to Peter O'Toole from the honoury Irish Consulate for his help, his friend Peter Elsner who arranged for us to see his farm Espiritu in Beni and last but not least to David Horgan, a friendly Irish lad who took back Miss M's excess belongings to Ireland, knowing that he will probably have to explain (redfaced!) the women's clothes in his bags when searched at the airport in Miami!

But back to our news…

We got into our journey with a BANG when we went with two Gaucho's (cowboys) through farms from San Borga to Espiritu, doing about 120km in two days. Miss M learned a lot from these fellas and once she got over her tiredness, aches and pains, she was actually glad to have done this as it meant not having gone on the main road, making for a more interesting (and harder) ride. I won't start whining now about all the swamps and mud we had to go through with our shod feet, not to mention being chewed by insects on a continuous basis as one whining woman in our company is more than enough!

We also spotted our first yellow Cobra going down a narrow road through grasslands and it happened so quickly that we had no time to jump. The snake swished in front of us with great speed and agressive attitude, right in front of Tusa's legs into the long grass. Tusa told me afterwards hat he could feel the snake's tail going over his hoof. Yeah right! This comment from good ole' Tusa just added him to the long list of some men we all know who simply have to add on tails to look all macho and brave! I just gave him a patronizing look and turned my head away so that he didn't see the grin on my face!

We also crossed quite a deep river and all our equipment was taken to the other side on a little canoe. I swam quite well if I can say so myself but I feared for my pal Tusa when he struggled to find his feet at the edge of the steep bank. It was a nice cool-down though, just a pity it was over so quickly.

Miss M started to use her tent in full swing from Las Petas but then disaster struck when it got stolen the next day. We were left behind at a small settlement called Casa Blanca and Miss M had to travel all the way to Riberalta in a truck, which took about 7 hours, to buy a new one. Transport not that great in this part of the world and with it being Christmas and all, it meant we saw her again, only 5 days later. The tent that Miss M found was not nearly as good as the one she had but it has to do until she can get a better one. A good friend in Ireland who knows that we have very limited funds, offered to pay for a better one and we are very happy at this gesture to help us out!

Conditions from Casa Blanca to Riberalta were basic and quite primitive. Although we had grass to eat in most places. Miss M wasn't always so lucky. In some places, even after she had offered to pay for food, some women were simply to lazy to get out of their hammocks to prepare something. I must just add that these are not towns we stopped at but little settlements with a few houses and surely no shops or café's. In other places again we were pleasantly surprised when people offered food without Miss M asking and who simply refused payment with big smiles.

We entered the New Year whilst resting for a day in a small village called Australia where women wash their clothes on big wooden boards in the river (Miss M joined them enthusiastically and after a while found out that it is quite hard work!) and cows and horses graze freely going from spot to spot through the village. I quite fancied a young black stallion but he showed no interest in my special fancy walk, apart from pulling back his ears when I came close. So I imagined he was already spoken for. My attempts for attention resulted in a lot of teasing from Tusa who looks like a war veteran these days. All scars, scratches and little gashes over his body but he loves it and can't even seem to be bothered by my recent little affectionate bites which ended up causing more damage than intended.

Miss M wants to tell about how we had to go in the pitch dark on two different nights recently, for quite a few hours and we won't spoil her story by saying anything more. I just want to add that Tusa and I both found this rather a scary experience and would prefer not to do it again. Enough said.

Our last 50km to Riberalta was probably the worst we have done so far. Miss M slept only 2 hours the night before and we didn't have the most comfortable spot ourselves for the night, so it was an exhausted trio that left the little settlement that morning. Fierce heat and a long long road ahead of us, didn't help matters much. On top of things, Tusa's back shoe came loose and I pulled a muscle in my back leg. Miss M got off me and walked with us for about 25 km until we could see the outskirts of the city in front of us and the green slopes of the farm where we hoped to be spending the night. I don't think any one of us would have been able to do another kilometre and it was relief all around when Miss M opened the big wooden gate and we wearily walked down to the house to ask permission to rest our tired bones.

Tusa will tell you more in our next diary entry about our stay for a few days in Riberalta and about arriving in Guayaramerin, the Bolivian border town with Brazil. He is also very keen to tell you the story of our encounter with eight (!) Aligators on the way in a place we never expected them to be but I imagine this is a story for Miss M to be told another day.

Until then amigos!

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