Get off the beaten path » Seeing the world from a different point of view

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  • Get off the beaten path

    It's so easy to stick to the tourist trail, stay in hotels the Lonely Planet recommends, eat where everyone else eats and visit all the famous sights you've seen on telly and in magazines. While these experiences can be nice, you'll have the best adventures if you wander off the trail. Who's to say that just because a sight is famous, that it's actually any good? In fact, as soon as you discover what else the world has to offer that is not in the guide book, you'll realise that most famous sights are astonishingly underwhelming - if you can get through the crowds to see them.

    As well as the fact that the greatest sights you'll see, people you'll meet and experiences you'll have are off the beaten path, it's also much cheaper to get off the tourist trail than to stay on it.

    I realise that as soon as you find a place that’s genuinely off the tourist trail you want to keep it to yourself, but if you share, then others will share, and the world will open up around you. I’m not talking about taking three flights, two boat rides and a lift on the back of a donkey cart just to find an empty beach, I’m interested in the gems that are simply hidden away from the regular tourist areas, be it a lesser-known Thai island, a unique area of a big city, an unusual hotel or just a sight that no one seems to have noticed.

    If you've ever come across anything like this, let me know and I'll share it on this site!

    That's me, by the way, jumping in the air at a sand dune in Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point in Colombia.

La Paz, Bolivia – no me gusta…

The days following Death Road I spent wandering around La Paz. I’m not taken by the city. It’s busy, fumey from the buses, smells of wee and the altitude is so high I can’t breathe. Plus it’s all uphill, which doesn’t help with the inability to breathe. I have a flight to Sucre, Bolivia’s capital, on Sunday, so until then I’m just killing time.

It is here that my observation that all travellers do drugs has been confirmed. There’s not a single person here who doesn’t do cocaine. Call me naïve, but to me cocaine has always been a big deal and something I would never even consider doing, so seeing how much it’s used is quite a culture shock for me. Comments like “I’ve spent all my money this week on coke” kinda shock me a bit. Considering what it has done to people – put them in jail, and worse, got them killed, I’m just surprised it’s used with such a blasé attitude here.

It’s also a very strange place. This made it interesting though, if a little creepy. One of the first things I did was check out the witches’ market. A street lined with stalls all selling the same things: good luck trinkets, stuffed toads covered in glitter with gold balls in their eye sockets, and llama fetuses.

After being convinced to buy a necklace with good fortune, good health and love ornaments hanging from it, I checked out the coca museum with a couple of girls I’d met in Peru, who happened to be in La Paz at the same time. It was thoroughly boring, so I sat upstairs eating a coca cookie and drinking coca tea while Catherine, Malin, Hannah and Maurizio wandered around the tiny museum so slowly you’d think they were actually interested in all the boring reams of text that were printed on the cardboard panels.

I soon gave up waiting and went off to a tourist café to write some postcards. Anything to avoid going back to my hostel, which had no internet, bedroom windows that didn’t lock looking in on the communal areas and a clientele that thought staying in all day watching TV and staying in all night getting hammered was fun.

Everything I eat in La Paz is giving me the trots. I am spending too much of my time running back to the hostel.

Anyway, I don’t love La Paz. I’m looking forward to Sucre, where it’s clean, quiet and pretty – the opposite of La Paz. I only have just under five weeks left of my trip now, so I’ve planned out what I’m gonna do and where I’m gonna go – something I didn’t do before, but it’s quite exciting looking forward to things. I’m also ready to go home. I’ve heard the same thing from people who have been travelling for four months. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed, drink out of the tap, not live out of a backpack and have friendships that last longer than three hours. I’m sick of asking and being asked “how long have you been travelling for?” and hearing hundreds of travel itineraries that I’ll forget five minutes later. I’m also tired – not the kind of tired that a good night’s sleep cures, I’m exhausted and lacking enthusiasm for things in a way that wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of the trip. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing the Bolivian salt flats, Chile’s northern desert, northwest Argentina’s red rocks, Iguazu Falls and all the rest, but will be glad to be home I think. Bring on the flappy blanket.

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November 18, 2011 - 12:33 am

Anna Downing - What’s the problem, Curt?

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