Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category

Movin’ On Up

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

The plan seemed simple; ride for as long as I could, and just get to the next relaxing city near a large body of water. I thought about bailing twice during my marathon of bus journeys, but stuck it out. All I had to do was sit in a seat, how hard could it be? Of course it did hurt, there was never really enough leg room, the seats weren’t quite soft enough, and the roads were a bit too curvy. But, I made it and it actually worked out very well.

Leg #1: Copacabana to Cusco = 11.5 hrs, 80 bs ($11.33);

There was a brief stop in Puno, where another company took us the rest of the way. (I feel the need to mention that again I could have saved money if I would have just booked the Puno leg and bought my own onward ticket to Cusco, or even Lima. I knew that we had to change buses there, but the price seemed very reasonable. I could have saved about $2 though eventually saved $20 by stopping in Cusco and purchasing my own Lima, instead of direct from Bolivia, like I figured. In summation: If you ever have a journey that needs to change buses, just buy the first leg and make your own connections. That is all.)

I got into Cusco at 5 am and flirted with the idea crashing for a day, but toughened up. Next bus didn’t leave till 10 am, so I had some time to walk around the city and enjoy the wee hours of the morning. It was prettier than I remembered, with some tight, quiet, cobblestone streets. At that time of day, the tourists were few and the benches in the plaza were empty. I sat in on a service in the cathedral, before getting a cheap, real food breakfast at the market. The market was big and diverse, making me wish I had more time to explore the gelatina section. But, I had to move on.

Leg #2: Cusco to Lima = 21 hrs, 60 ps ($21.80);

I enjoyed the daytime travel, going along rivers and up and down hills, before finally reaching the Pan-American Hwy. I slept a little after the sun went down, but felt very weary upon our arrival into the capital city. The city was as ugly as I remembered, with the ever-present smog and early morning drizzle. My thoughts of staying were only in reaction to feeling a little lost and walking by a hostal. The price was too high though, and I pulled out my map and found the the way to the bus offices. My next bus left at 1 pm, thus giving me 4 hrs to try and find some love for Lima.

I must say, I grew to not hate it. Within a few blocks, I stumbled upon a religious parade, complete with confetti and streamers raining down from the buildings. I enjoyed a large churro and strolled the car-free main drag filled with venders. Then cruised past the plaza on my way to the market for another cheap meal. Too much lunch meat and cheese were then purchased for the ride.

Leg #3: Lima to Mancora = 20.5 hrs, 50 ps ($18.18);

Warmer travel conditions. The man in front of me decided to take off his shirt and make-out with his girlfriend for a while. A little uncomfortable. I had my own row for a few hours, which greatly aided my physical condition. To help me mentally prepare for the battle of my 3rd night in a row on a bus, they showed “Transporter 2” and “Crank”.

I slept more that night than any of the others, probably due to pure exhaustion. Near the end, the pain in my neck was stronger and my left knee was sore. I got into Máncora at 9:30 am and was happy to see the sun.

Total: 63 hrs real-time, 53 hrs on 4 buses, $51.31, about 2,500 kms

The city is larger and the main beach is smaller than I thought. Despite the size, the tourist stuff is all along the one street down to the water or the Pan-American. My hostal is rundown but cheap, and the rooms are full of all that I desire. Many restaurants sell meals for less than $2 and the internet is only $.55/hr. Even with the cool windy weather today, I will stay 4 more nights before jumping into Ecuador. Then, after a few nights in Otavalo, back into Colombia.

The end is very near and the thoughts in my head are either about trip memories or what I want to do back home. The budget is less of a concern, partly helped by cheaper buses than expected for the return and Apple Inc’s nice market performance (my last source of income). My only concern now is the difficult Empanada goal I have set for myself. The land of cheap and plenty (La Paz) is behind me. My biggest complaint about Peru is it’s lack of fried meat-pie pastries. Some bakeries sell a dry expensive version of the culinary wonder, but it doesn’t feel right. Do I sacrifice my pride in pursuit of a statistic? I think about all those times at the end of basketball games, when players have gone out of their way to complete a triple-double or sub-in injured to get a scoring mark. I don’t want to have an asterisk by my number in the record books. If I reach 200, it will be because they were the cheapest and tastiest form of satisfying my hunger. Lo debo eso a ustedes, mis lectores

E = 168

Eazy Duz It

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Quickly, time is money.

Sorata: Green, Warm. Deep mountain valleys, snow-capped peaks seen only in morning. 1 hike/walk to a cave, down one-lane dirt road with great views back to town. Hostal had amazing terrace. Mountain bike competition going on, I did not participate.

Trip from Sorata to Copacabana: Mini-van dropped me at junction town. Waiting for correct transportation north. Waved over by 3 locals sitting and drinking on crates. 2 older, 1 proper looking young teacher. Beer glass refilled numerous times by the drunkest of the older gents. He kept saying “tranguilo, tranguilito” and at one point put his arm around me and sang a song. Of the sung and spoken words, little was understood. Large beer bottles emptied, hugs all around, I returned to the side of the road. Help from stationed Police to catch right bus. Shotgun seat to shores of Lake Titicaca.

Copacabana: Resting, relaxing, viewing sunsets. Watched Sunday night football. Ticket purchased to Cusco, where I will immediately look for an onward journey to Lima or farther. Should be cheaper this way. Adios

E = 168

American Pride

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Figured I would bust out one more post before I leave the cheap internet behind. Well… , lets see… , what to talk about:

I encountered an American beggar the other day while roaming the streets. He approached me asking if I spoke English, and proceeded to tell me a story. He pursued a career as a drug runner after his divorce, but got busted at the La Paz airport with liquid cocaine in a beer bottle. Thus he spent some time in jail and just got out. He said he had to meet his case worker at the embassy in the morning and needed money for a place to spend the night. Offering to sell me his jacket, cassette tapes, or just tell me stories about jail life for a few Bolivianos. I declined the merchandise and after some thought, decided to toss him 4 coins  (about 55 cents).

I ran into the man from New York again today. He was in a different part of town and this time wanted change to buy a soda. He said the morning meeting went well and that he was signing paperwork for a loan later this afternoon. Asking for only 1 Boliviano this time, I begrudgingly gave. Though, now I question his story even more. I believe that he is just a full-time American beggar, who has an advantage over the many locals who can’t build a rapport with the tourists. It worked on me and I have only given to one other person my whole trip. To each his own.

After doing my good deed for the day, I ventured out to see the site called “Valle de la Luna”, or Moon Valley. It is an eroded maze of rock formations about 10 km south of town. I have attempted to go there 3 times before, but failed each time. Mostly due to festival distractions, but yesterday I just wasn’t man enough to catch the local transport. So, today was more a matter of pride than tourism. I walked confidently and told myself that the first micro with the correct destination, was mine. It took about 10 mintues of waiting at the corner before I spotted one. Then I pounced. The van dropped me right in front of the entrance and I wandered the site for a while, chewing more coca leaves and snapping pictures. From the location, I saw my 2nd golf course of the trip. A green oasis on the other side of the river. No time or money to play, but always a welcome sight.

Local transport took me back into town where I tackled my shopping list and stumbled upon yet another parade. More elaborate costumes, a band, and red crates of beer. They work hard and they play hard. When I strolled by the same plaza a few hours later, traditionally dressed women were doing drunken dances and groups of men belligerently conversed with each other. This was at 7 pm. I am going to miss this city.

During my last couple nights here, I have also discovered the $.55 set dinners in restaurants. I don’t know how I missed them before. You get a bowl of soup, your choice of 3 mains, and a cup of mate tea. The portions are small but satisfying. Amazing value. You can easily live in La Paz for less than $5/day.

Tomorrow, I will most likely catch a bus up north to Sorata. A couple days there, then a quick stop in Copacabana where I will jump back into Peru and beyond. But now I travel with a new $7 bag in tow, full of liquified cocaine in beer bottles. He oído que es la mejor manera de pasar de contrabando.

E = 168

Every Little Step I Take

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Change of plans. Apparently the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” is currently a little too dangerous. After catching local transport out to the bus offices that service NE Bolivia, I was surprised to see all of the ones that go to Coroico with closed doors. Some men at another office informed me that it would not be possible to go there. I assume it has something to do with road conditions after heavy rains last night. Or, it could be a more long term problem. I’m not sure, either way I need a new exit strategy.

Still with a desire to get closer to the mountains and do some hiking, I may head up to the peaceful mountain town of Sorata. But since it lies in a northern direction from here, I will spend a couple more days in La Paz and hit it on my way to Peru. That is the current plan. Though, I could stop by tourist info offices daily to check on the Coroico road condition, but that sounds like a lot of effort.

Now that you are caught up, I got a little more typing to do to meet my desired word count. I think this is a good opportunity for me to just talk at you. So, here are 3 random events that slipped through the cracks of my blog making machine.

  1. In my post titled “Turn”, I briefly mentioned the construction delay on the way to Villazon. Well, I was one of the few who stayed outside the bus to watch the machine throw rocks around. It was a long wait but fun to view amongst the beautiful scenery. When I saw that the front-loader was finally smoothing out the road, I decided to get back on the bus. Since I was the first of the full-time watchers to climb back aboard, all eyes were on me. The passengers began firing off questions, eagerly awaiting some good news. I didn’t know what they said, but I knew what they wanted. I announced to the entire bus “Cinco o diez minutos“. It was fun to see people turn toward their friends and probably say “Did you hear that? Well be going in 5 or 10 minutes!”  As I strutted to my backseat, a man used hand motions to ask what they were currently doing. I replied with the hand motion for smoothing it out, and it translated. He patted me on the back, as I continued my triumphant stride to the rear. I sat there a little nervous that my guess was way off and wondered if they still stone people, but 4 mintues later, the bus started up and we were off. I think if you have successfully made and announcement to a bus full of Bolivians, technically you can claim to be bilingual.
  2. I have this bag of Coca leaves that I picked up in Tupiza, complete with the stimulus powder. I did the customary thing and took some with me on the “Salar” tour, breaking them out on the second day. As soon as I pulled the bag out of my pack, the quiet driver’s eyes lit up and he said “Amigoooo, where are you from?” I knew what he wanted and offered in kind. The bag passed around the jeep and most stuck a few leaves in their cheeks. I felt an initial numbness on my tongue from the powder, but no real lasting affects. You mostly just swallow the juice from the leaves and hope to receive their medicinal magic. I kind of like it, keeps me from constantly eating cookies and tastes alright. Since they are illegal in the US, I will have to get my fill while I am down here. Though, if I get hooked, I think I might be able to find them in some other form back home.
  3. In Uyuni, I raved to Luc about the delicious beer shakes in Bolivia. Walking a market street, I spotted a vendor and ordered. As I was enjoying my glass, Luc inspected the bottle a little closer and inquired to the woman if it was in fact cerveza. Well, the answer was “No”. The brown tall boys are actually called “Maltin” and are non-alcoholic. They still taste good, but for some reason, my desire to drink them has completely vanished. Here is the edited Wikipedia entry for you to enjoy:

Malta, young beer, or wheat soda is a type of soft drink. It is a carbonated malt beverage, meaning it is brewed from barley, hops, and water much like beer; corn and caramel color may also be added. However, Malta is non-alcoholic, and is consumed in the same way as soda or cola in its original carbonated form. In other words, Malta is actually a beer that has not been fermented. Most scholars and historians believe that Malta is the direct ancestor of all soft drinks. It is similar in color to stout (dark brown) but is very sweet, generally described as tasting like molasses. A popular way Latin Americans sometimes drink Malta is by mixing it with condensed or evaporated milk.”  –If you want to read more, they go on to talk about it’s roots in meine mutterland, Germany.

So, I don’t feel completely stupid. Though I do need to apologize to ya’ll for my inaccurate blogging. Especially if any of you tried to make a beer version at home.

I may talk at you again before I leave this city, otherwise you may not hear from me until next week, when I will be lying on a beach in Northern Peru. Buena charla

E = 159 (p.s. My goal is 200)

Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

After ¨Salar de Uyuni¨, everything else in my life had the volume turned down. There is still cool stuff to see, but I was just looking for a place to hangout for a while. Thus, I parted ways with Luc and headed to Bolivia’s judicial capital. The following is a description of the events leading up to and during my time in the city of Sucre.

Luc’s next city was a stopover on the way to mine, so we boarded a bus at 10am and headed east. There were a few interesting events on the way:

  • A bus ahead of us broke an axle and when we arrived on the scene, the back left tires were noticeably unattached. We got off our bus while the driver skirted the edge of the cliff to get by the breakdown.
  • A little kid in the row ahead of us, decided to come back and play. He was very interested in my camera and I had to to keep removing his fingers from the screen. He pointed at random things for me to take pictures of, and loved the video function. A good form of entertainment for him and me, during the long haul.
  • fun with pictures

    fun with pictures

  • Dropped Luc and others off in Potosi, then they took the remaining 6 of us to the main terminal. I thought this bus would take me the whole way, but they ushered us in to buy onward tickets to Sucre. A little annoying, especially since they paid 10 Bolivianos less than I paid for the extra leg. I joked with the driver a little about, but just had to accept my fate. More frustrating for me, was the fact that I had a hunch they were overcharging for the run.
  • 2 Aussie couples on the Sucre trip with me were obviously used to cleaner traveling. One guy complained too much and they were all excited when our bus used a semi-dry river bed for part of the journey. Hearing them talk about their trip, leads me to believe that they will spend the same amount of money in 5 weeks as I will spend in 7 months.

In Sucre: Yet again I wandered the streets of a large city for over an hour, eventually finding the centro and a cheap hostal. A warmer city with a nice plaza and the best overall market I have seen on my trip. It had lots of everything, including a jello section just around the corner from the chorizo district. I was offered a sample of one of the sausages in the frying pan and immediately ordered the sandwich. The best chorizo I have ever eaten.

I checked out a few museums but spent most of my time studying Spanish in the main plaza. While there, I crossed paths with Zed (of “Canyonero” blog fame) and enjoyed swapping stories. The similarities of our travel methods is frightening. We both feel a little bored in big cities and both struggle with the need to be social and fiscally responsible. Our dirt cheap dirty accommodations are gringo free, but half the price of the backpacker hangouts. All of our meals are eaten in gringo free market kitchens and street sweets cripple our budgets. Also, we both have beards.

On Friday, I boarded a night bus for La Paz and Zed headed farther East, looking for a jungle adventure. After warm Sucre, the night bus was freezing cold. I sat up in the very front of the 2nd floor and had panoramic views but little leg room. It was a long 13 hours though the smooth sounds coming from my Ipod helped.

In La Paz: It feels good to be back in a familiar city. Today they had yet another festival, complete with tents, food, bands, and a parade. It rained a little, but I cruised between concerts and dance performances, especially enjoying the rock band with a very charismatic leader. I only wish I knew what he was saying because it was all apparently very funny. They did “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Roadhouse Blues” in English and rocked’em both.

Turn it up! Turn! It! Up!

Turn it up! Turn! It! Up!

When the music ended, a parade took over the main drag and I found a seat. I loved the fact that the participants had a pit-crew walking with them, carrying beer and large bottles of whiskey.

nourishment

nourishment

Tomorrow (Monday), I take a trip down the “Worlds Most Dangerous Road” and try to get some hiking in before the long bus rides. Me gustaría tener mi propio pit-crew.

E = 157

Life on Mars?

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

After three days and 771 pictures, my tour of Salar de Uyuni and far SW Bolivia has ended. It was the most surreal landscape I have seen in my life. Sitting 3,500 – 6,000 meters above sea level: There are zero trees, a few shrubs, a million rocks, mountains and lakes of all colors, geysers, unique wildlife, salt flats, and jeeps shuttling tourists around. To answer my question from last post: I made the right choice.

Day #1: I hopped into an old Toyota Land Cruiser with Luc, a British couple, and a pair of French sisters. It started with a train graveyard just outside of town before we headed north to enter ¨Salar de Uyuni¨. Impossibly flat and vast, hills in the distance appear close but are hours of driving away. We stopped at piles of salt for photo opps, saw the museum made of salt blocks, and drove straight for over an hour to reach ¨Isla de Pescado¨. A small raised chunk of earth covered in cactus and rocks, providing panoramic views. Here, people attempt the popular depth-of-field trick photos. Making it look like they are riding a toy dinosaur or holding a friend in their hand. I tried some with a beer can, but failed.

We sped off and stopped for a sunset view before arriving at our nights accommodations made of salt, just south of the Salar. Eating off a salt table and sitting on blocks of the white stuff. Our group of 6 was joined by a French group, and we drank tea until they shut the power off. The night sky was impressive but the air was bitterly cold.

Day #2: Up at 5:50 am, we drove south, through smaller salt flats and towns, before climbing up into higher landscape. The road got rougher and became more of a choose your own path. Passing multi-colored mountains and cool rock formations, en-route to the first of 6 lagunas (or small lakes).  Laguna Cañapa appeared before us, surrounded by peaks and filled with Pink Flamingos. The number of birds in that small body of water was amazing and our shutters fired away.

The next lake had Vicuñas (the wild cousin of the Llama) and more flamingos. It was at this point in the trip that I realized there is more to see than just the Salar and that the 3 day tour was necessary. Each lake was stunning, every rock formation unusual, and we hadn’t even entered the National Reserve yet.

We paid our 150 Boliviano ($21.45) entry fee to ¨Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve¨ and tossed our bags into our dorm room at a hostal on Laguna Colorada. Our driver told us we could hike out to a viewpoint for the sunset, but should put on every piece of clothing we brought. At 4,260 meters with strong winds, it is freezing cold. The lake had posters all around, saying we should vote for it as one of the “New 7 Wonders”. It is amazing, but that may be a bit of a stretch. The water has a rustic red color, flamingos are mingling about, chunks of salt lie around the shore, and it is bordered by mountains. I viewed the sunset from the mirador, but my camera batteries died. I had bought a pack of 4 from the street market back in town, but apparently they aren’t strong enough to use in cameras. A little worried, I paid 5 bs to plug my battery charger in for 2.5 hours at the hostal, and luckily that was enough to get me through the trip. That night, we played some “Uno” and drank more tea.

Day #3: After a near sleepless, very cold night under 6 blankets, we awoke at 4:15 am and hit the road. Rising up even further, we stopped at some geysers as the sun was cresting the horizon. Warm sulfurous air blowing out of the ground is always cool, my only problem was the fact that they stuck a tube in one of them to make it shoot higher and straighter. Making it more of a tourist sight. Most of my travel companions were too cold to leave the only semi-cold jeep.

We then descended to ¨Termas Challviri¨, a thermal bath that felt great at 6:30 am. The nearby lake and rising steam made for an impressive sight. My only problem with this place is the fact they boarded up the changing rooms and charge $.45 to use the bathroom. The pool is free, which is nice, but I just feel that when you pay over $20 to enter a park, you should be allowed free access to the facilities. I hope all of the money we pay is going to good projects and a future visitor center.

The last real sight on the tour was Laguna Verde, a green lake backed by a volcano. From there, we dropped one of the sisters off to catch a ride to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and began the long haul back to Uyuni. Backtracking to Laguna Colorada and then heading east. We exited the park and rolled through small towns. The old jeep had some issues on the way back, requiring multiple stops and assistance from a passing local. I tried to help by turning a fan belt, but failed. A long day in a vehicle on rough roads, but the scenery was still cool. We arrived in Uyuni about 2 hours late. Warm shower and soft bed.

My mind feels a bit lighter now. There are a few more sights to see in Bolivia but none of them are all that important. The only thing I really have to do is buy souvenirs and ride northbound buses. The next place I am looking forward to is Mancora, Peru. Located about halfway to Bogota, I hope to find a strong sun and nice beaches. Es casi terminado

(photos can be seen here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=94107&id=1408574607&l=6b459da51c )

E = 154

Turn

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

My direction has changed and I will be heading north for the next 5 weeks, until I reach home. I have one last really big thing to see, which has  been tearing me apart inside, but let me first give you the weekly highlights:

  • The road from Tarija to Villazon was rough and fun, including a 1 hour delay while watching a backhoe knock pieces off a rock wall and then dump them down into the river below.
  • Villazon was near freezing at night but a bride and groom still danced outside in front of a statue, and groomsmen set off fireworks in the plaza.
  • 2 hours to get into Argentina
  • Buses were 3 times more expensive than I thought, chose to stay the night in the border town of La Qiuaca, which resembled a ghost town on that Sunday afternoon.
  • Watched the loose border rules; people backed cars up across the unfenced border stream, to transfer goods.
  • 1 hour to get back into Bolivia, met Aussie/English girl in line, ¨Luc¨.
  • ¨Luc¨ taught English in Bogota for past 3 years and is now my travel partner.
  • Smooth 3 hr train ride to Tupiza
  • Tupiza; rugged colored mountains and valleys. Hiked around one steep red canyon. Watched ¨Butch Cassidy …¨ since just north is actual site of their demise.
  • Amazing Tamales near the market. A line formed while the lady setup her pot and then the rush was on. They were filled with Llama meat that had been marinated for a while, great flavor. I had 4 during the 2 days.
  • Also found a new snack; green beans from the market eaten raw, just like back home when Mother would make a roast for dinner. Which, by the way, may be my requested meal upon my return.
  • 7 hr Jeep ride up to Uyuni, 1 flat tire, ever-changing scenery. Into pure desert with blowing sand looking like fog.
  • Now in a tourist hub, filled with tour agencies.

This is it. Ever since I saw a photography show on OPB about ¨Salar de Uyuni¨, the worlds largest salt flat has been on my mind. In my dreams, I hike out into the vast openness with a tent and some food, and spend a week taking pictures. But that may have to remain a dream. I don’t really have the equipment to handle the below freezing temps at an unprotected 3,700 meters above sea level. Let alone trying to find water and get around the impossibly huge area. Tents down here run $15/day, and a bike would be $35/day.

Luc has been a fun friend to travel with and right now we are checking out tour companies and their 3 days packages, all about $30/day. But the battle still goes on inside my head. Will I mess this up, the one place I have looked forward to most? A failure at this point in my trip could sour all my memories. Sintonizar siguiente entrada de blog para saber

E = 152

Silver Lining

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Lets get right to it:

I checked out the silver mines on Monday. There were 5 of us on the English tour; 2 Aussie girls, a Canadian guy, and an Italian male. We suited up in yellow jumpsuits while the guides joked that we were going to a disco. Rubber boots, hard hat, and a headlamp rounded out the gear and we felt cool. Mandatory gifts for the miners were purchased (like coca leaves, soda, and dynamite) and we headed up the hill. I tossed a few leaves in my mouth to feel like a local, but didn’t have any of the chemical that releases their magic. So, I will have to try it again and hope to feel the positive effects: Reduction of hunger, resistance to temperature fluctuations, cures altitude sickness, and numbing of the tongue and cheek.

We ventured deep into the mountain, often ducking and crawling to get through passages. Miners were doing what they do and we took pictures. Many interesting characters in there, all with big bulges in their cheeks. Walking the tracks became a scary task, as heavy trolleys were pushed around. When the guides yelled “trolley!”, we had to run to the closest gap in the wall to get out of the way. At the conclusion, our guide gave us a dynamite demonstration outside on the hill. I even got to hold the lit explosive due to a patient 3 minute fuse.

That night I saw an amazing sunset from a viewpoint in town and had an even more amazing bowl of soup. I was feeling defeated by my dinner choices the past couple nights, opting for the very accessible blue fast food booths that magically appear at night in every Bolivian town. Eating cheap hamburgers, hot dogs, and Salchipapas. But that night was different, I stumbled upon a mobile kitchen in a plaza. They were filling bowls and I asked for one. “Aji de Fideo”; 3 potato halves were placed into a bowl and then covered with noodles and a red broth. The spice was perfect and the noodles plentiful. There were small pieces of meat but they weren’t really needed. The broth is what made it and I was a happy man for only 75 cents.

That 1 magical bowl of soup seemed to change me with each bite. I felt like I had got my mojo back and I was ready to tackle the rest of this intriguing country. Though, I must also give some credit to another food. “Ensalada de Fruta”, multiple counters in the market offer fruit smoothies and salads. My eyes immediately locked on to the towering glasses with a fruit and yogurt base, a jell-o middle layer, and topped with the ever present whipped cream/meringue white stuff. At less than 60 cents a piece, I could not turn them down.

Tuesday: I saw a cathedral/museum, ate yet another fruit salad, and studied Spanish in the plaza, before catching a night bus down to Tarija. Another sleepless journey, partly due to the old lady who couldn’t keep her hands to herself. Her right arm would conveniently slip off the armrest and onto my leg. Each time, I would politely grab her sleeve and place her arm out of my personal space. It was a long trip.

Wednesday: My planning failed me yet again. The night bus journey took 3 hours less than I thought, and resulted in a 4 am arrival. The hostals near the terminal were either full or too expensive. So, I decided to wait around the busy station until the sun came up, in order to walk into town and find reasonable accommodations. That plan actually worked out, the station was an interesting scene and my hostal in town is clean and next to the centro mercado.

Tarija is a warmer city, 2,000 meters lower than Potosi, in a semi-fertile valley. A few hours north of Argentina, beautiful people and new treats are all around, plus this is the first town I have seen in Bolivia without any blue fast food booths. My first nights dinner was the following for $2.50: 3 pieces of street pizza, 1 pork sandwich, 1 plate of chicharron (small pieces of fried pork fat) choclo and potatoes, and finished with a banana smoothie. Oh, I also had some coconut sweets for desert. As you see, I am eating a lot more.

Thursday: Strolled to the big local market and found a fruit salad. This time it was a tall glass filled with multiple fruits in an orange colored juice. And, in keeping with the local tradition, when your glass is empty, they give you an extra helping that almost equals the first. Again, for the low price of 45 cents.

On the way back to the center, I stopped at a hilltop viewpoint to enjoy the sun and study some more words. While there, a female gringo came up to enjoy the same view and (as I was the only other white person she had seen) approached me to chat. She is French and on a 3 week vacation trip. I enjoyed being able to impress someone with my length of stay and we decided to go check out a nearby lake. Though not very scenic, it was good to get out of the city.

She left to meet up with a new local friend who was learning French and we made plans for another side trip outside of town on Friday. I returned to the Chicharron lady for dinner and enjoyed standing in the corner, surrounded by locals, eating with my hands, and getting a double-take from the handful of passing tourists.

Friday: Met up with Frenchie at 10 am, sampled some street crepes and salteñas, before searching for the micro to Coimata around the local market. After we asked 5 people for directions and I showed her the fruit salads, we finally boarded a van. Disembarked, and hiked about 30 minutes to some waterfalls. Set in an arid canyon, she showed off her rock climbing ability and I showed my fearlessness in trekking through thorn bushes off the beaten track. Women always worry when they see blood, but I assured her I was okay. I soaked my wounds in one of the many pools and felt alive again. Too much time in cities really gets to me.

It was great to hangout with Frenchie for a few days and her Spanish came in very handy. Back in town, she left to catch her 6 pm bus heading north and I cruised by the sports complex to watch some soccer and little girls who desperately need to learn some basketball fundamentals. Double dribbling should not be tolerated and I don’t believe it is legal to stand on the bleachers in order to throw the ball in over the girl who is probably a little to big for her age.

Well, that catches you up. Tomorrow morning, I will hop a bus to the border town of Villazon. Sunday, I plan to cross into Argentina with a yet to be determined itinerary. I could just spend a few hours there, or I could venture further south and make it a few days. This will mark the end of my southern path and then it will be 6 weeks of north to Bogota. Creo que va a ir muy rápido. >

E = 149

Hoelter Skelter

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

My mind has been all over the place the past couple days. Every decision has been tough and second guessed. The route isn’t as clear as I thought and I haven’t really seen much, but I am further south.

I headed to Cochabamaba, the first step in my master plan. There, I found my cheapest room yet ($2.15) and a great Chinese food cart. Night #1, I had the beef stir-fry with noodles, eaten with chopsticks. Night #2, I had to go back for the Pollo Agridulce (sweet-n-sour chicken). I have been craving small pieces of breaded chicken covered in a tangy sauce the whole trip, and finally found them. The highlight of my 2 days there.

I did make one attempt at seeing a museum, but the price was higher than I thought and you needed to take a tour later in the day. So, I walked out. The rest of my time there was spent sampling the new street food and shopping for things I kinda need. There was also an interesting display in the main plaza, filled with highlighted newspaper clippings apparently telling a tale of political corruption. Small groups had lively conversations and the cops let them be.

public notice

public notice

Thursday morning I walked to the bus station: My next destination was going to be Santa Cruz, a large city on the edge of the jungle, but I wavered. I try to plan my routes in a logical manner to avoid backtracking, and to take in some great scenery with day bus trips. Upon further reading, Santa Cruz didn’t seem all that interesting and getting away would have required a 14 hr night bus ride. I changed my destination to Sucre, a beautiful city in a logical southern direction. But, all buses turned out to be night routes and I proceeded to plan C.

Arriving in the palindrome mining town of Oruro, 4 hrs in the western direction, figured to set me on the right path. Based on the maps in my guidebook, the main road looked to take me right into Sucre. The town is surrounded by barren landscape and heavily mined hills, but is primarily known for being the beginning (or end) of the railroad line. It sees tourists, but very few stick around. I chose a cheap place by the bus terminal and spent the afternoon strolling the market streets, happy to find another cart serving “malt shakes”. The next morning, I once more wandered into a bus station with an open mind. My first option was Sucre, but again the only transport there traveled at night and was relatively expensive. So, I proceeded to plan D.

the landscape

the landscape

The highest city in the world, Potosi, sits at 4,060 meters above sea level and is not flat. Deeper in the heart of mining country, hills filled with silver required slaves and brought wealth. I figured it would be a good place to pause for a few days and contemplate my last 7 weeks. My stay began with another instance of an outdated guidebook book. I figured I could walk the 1.5k to the hostals, but with a brand new terminal farther outside of town, the walk became an hour long trek uphill, navigating the highest city streets in the world. Old ladies tried to warn me saying “muy lejos”, but I ignored them because I actually enjoyed it.

In the heart of town, I struggled to find accommodations in the price range I had grown accustomed to. The cheapest Lonely Planet place is now 10 times more expensive and the local cheapies were full due to yet another festival. I regressed to an LP place for just over $4 a night mostly because of the weakening of my legs. One benefit of the more expensive digs; I could take my first shower in 4 days.

Remember last blog where I said that I am now immune to marching bands? Well, that has changed, I am now partly annoyed by them. Playing a block away from my digs until at least 1 am, they did not allow me to get the deep sleep I so greatly desired. Earlier though, it was fun to walk the trash and people filled main drag, most of them just sitting around waiting for the next pass by the brass.

Current: I bargained my room price down for 2 more nights and feel a little better about my current traveling status. Passing through the “aimless wanderer” phase to hopefully now a “man with a plan”. I found a nice vista with views of the barren countryside and booked a mine tour for Monday. I think it will help get me back into tourist mode, it will plug me into an English speaking group for a day, the price really isn’t that bad, and it could be dangerous. All things I need.

Bolivia continues to be different and cheap. Just the other day I snapped my string of 9 straight days spending under $10. A 6 hr bus ride cost me less than $3 when in Colombia it would have been $18. Though during my last few days of boredom, I have turned to food for entertainment. Deciding that now is the time to try everything that catches my fancy no matter what the cost. Nothing really of note to describe, just some random snacks, peas, and types of bread. I am also continuing my 2-3 pack-a-day habit that I have tried to quit. I know what the doctors say, that it is bad for me and will shorten my life, but the stuff is so cheap down here I can’t help myself. Something about a different hemisphere makes you feel like you can do things that you don’t normally do at home. I still get my exercise to help counter balance the effects, but it will be tough to kick when I am back in the states. For now, I will continue to look for convenient stands after dinner, open a pack, and enjoy the taste of chocolate cookies. Una vez que golpea sus labios, es tan buena!

E = 143

Piece O’ Peace

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

It has been a while since my last post, but I will try to do a quick recap of the last week and a half. Beginning in Bolivia’s capital:

La Paz: The city seems more real than any other large city I have been to. Sure it has a tourist street or 2, but mostly you are surrounded by stalls selling everyday home products and locals doing normal things. I think it helps that Bolivia has the largest indigenous population of any South American country (60%). You arrive via the flat altiplano (high plain) and then drop into the valley, an amazing setting 3,500 meters above sea level. Though the combination of steep streets and elevation wore me out, I was energized by the new sights and smells.

It is every bit as cheap as I thought it would be. I found a nice dirty hostal for 20 bolivianos ($2.85) per night, a carne empanada (with an amazing assortment of sauces and coleslaw like toppings to choose from) is only 1.5 bs ($.21), set lunches for 7 bs ($1), and internet is a wonderful 2 bs ($.29) per hour. I made longer lasting purchases as well: a new beanie and some water purification pills. (I should have bought pills at the beginning of my trip but didn’t really think about it until I met Zed who uses them. I could have saved a lot of money. Now I have way more than I will use, so if anyone needs any, i’ve got some.) There also seems to be a festival everyday and I have become immune to the sound of marching bands.

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

But, as with all big cities, 4 days was enough and I had to get out of town. The constant weaving through traffic (human and motorized) gets to me, as well as the temptation of casinos. So, last Tuesday I headed north to Lake Titicaca, searching for some peace.

Copacabana: On the southern shore of the lake, the city is the main jump-off point for trips to Isla del Sol. Filled with travel agencies and trendy cafes that are easy to avoid, plus hostals are everywhere and cheap, I had found a place to rest. This time my $2.84/night accommodations were very clean and included a rooftop terrace with great views. The market served lake trout and some delightful carne variations, plus there were street stalls providing dinner and snacks. I spent 2 nights there, studying Spanish and taking pictures of sunsets, before loading up 2 days worth of stuff into a day pack and catching a boat to “Sun Island”.

Cha’llapampa: On the northern part of the island, Cha is the traditional starting spot for day hikes along the spine. I chose to book a cheap hostal in the village, drop some things off, and then hiked around trying to avoid the tour groups. I explored the northern section only all day (due to an odd ticket system), under perfectly clear skies that burn your skin and make your ears cold at the same time. I love the freedom to sit at the top of a vista and just stare at the water. The area has a few important Inca ruins as well, as it is considered the birthplace of the Sun.

hiking

hiking

I found some reasonably priced sandwiches in town for dinner and the next day woke up early to check out the southern sector.

Yumani: After hiking along the coast and purchasing another ticket, I arrived in the biggest village on the Isla. Set on a ridge and containing more than 1 road, I was happy to find yet another room for $2.85/night. The views were amazing and I wonder if there is any place in the world with better scenery for the price.

getting my $2.85 worth

getting my $2.85 worth

That day I hit the southern trails (or at least I thought) and checked out a ridge on the western side that gets very few visitors. Then made my way straight down some agricultural terracing, along a quiet bay, en-route back to town. I did, unfortunately, let my camera drop a few times while setting up self portraits. It still works fine, it is just missing a small unimportant piece. That is why I don’t own nice things.

Heading back into town, the only bad part of Isla del Sol came to the surface. They have a confusing and somewhat corrupt ticket system. When I passed under the sign saying “5 bs to enter” before, there was no one there and I freely walked. This time, a man asked for my ticket to enter the southern sector, I showed him the ticket I had bought earlier in the day, but it was no good.

Let me try to quickly explain: Apparently they have 3 tickets; one for the far north (I bought that the day before for 10 bs), one for the grande north (about 2/3 of the island, which it turns out I purchased this day for 15bs), and one for the south (5 bs). The ticket takers who sold me the grande, tried not to give me any change or a ticket but I requested both nicely. They probably thought they were making me pay for the north as I was entering the south, thus I was stupid and wouldn’t need any paper. But I returned and fully utilized the space. Later, I was even warned by a Spanish guy I had met the day before, who said that he was going to call the tourist police on the same gate keepers because they tried to make him pay extra.

With that all said, back in the present, I am confronted with a man wanting money to enter the village where I already had a hostal. I decided to lie and say that all of my money was in my room and that I had already passed this gate 2 times today without issue. After some time of looking lost and confused, I considered hiking back a ways and then around the gate, but the man finally let me pass. Do I feel bad about lying to an old man just to get out of paying $.71? … Nope. I feel that I already overpaid with 2 north tickets and that their system has flaws. I am fine with paying to hike around their paradise to see ruins, the trail is very well maintained, I just feel they should have a 1 or even 2 ticket system and explain it better to tourists. The current system forces the more common day trippers pay 3 times for a total of 30 bs ($4.29). Sorry for going off on a rant.

The day ended with a cool sunset and some lake trout for dinner. Early in the morning, I saw the sun rise over the mountains from my hostal and caught a boat back to Copacabana, where I could finally change clothes.

Copacabana: Two more nights were spent there, drinking coca tea and getting my fill from the market. Notably the peanut soup, that I wish was a little more nutty, and a malt and meringue foam shake that was surprisingly delicious. I spent 71 cents more a night to upgrade to a room with TV for possible football watching, with the only game shown being the Sunday night game. It was good to do nothing for a while in comfort and catch a few sitcoms and movies. Also, I got a chance to play a keyboard they had in the lobby and satisfy an itch. The only negative of the city is that internet is 8-10 bs/hr, or else I would move here and make a home. Monday morning I caught a kids parade before hopping on a bus heading south.

La Paz: Back in the big city, my internet needs are being met I am checking out a few museums I missed before. Tomorrow, I head farther south, feeling the need to keep rolling and to fulfill the last of my tourist duties.

I feel the end is near and that planning is more important than ever. The only real goal I have left is to fully explore “Salar de Uyuni”, the largest salt flat in the world. Then it will most likely be a series of buses taking me back to Bogota (Flights are $490 and bus tickets would total about $150). Each day I think more and more about my return, but hope I haven’t mentally reached my end. I like to believe I could travel longer, like many I have met, but also think that maybe they aren’t as close to their family and friends as I. Or maybe they are just more social on the road and that satisfies their need for companionship. Either way, in a little over 7 weeks, I will be home. Hasta pronto!

E = 133