Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

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

The Facts of Life

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

(Please note the new page link on the right. I finally got around to posting the poem my nephew wrote for me back in April. Gracias)

I believe it was Socrates who said, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have; the facts of life, the facts of life.” So, I have decided to heed his words and accept my mistakes and the troubles I had in Chile, believing that for every chute there is a ladder.

The Good:

  • The Train ride to Arica, Chile was smooth (my first time riding the rails all trip).
  • The food was different with their specialty being the Completo (a big hot dog covered in guacamole and tomatoes and other fixin’s.)
  • I ate a delightful shrimp and cheese empanada.
  • They had some new chocolate treats for me to try.
  • The beach was fairly clean and had a cool old dock with many missing boards and railings.
  • The hunk of rock south of town called “El Morro” had great views of the city and was an easy walk.
  • The main commercial walking street through town was clean and had lively entertainment.
  • Parque National Lauca was stunning, with high altitude plains, lakes, and snow capped volcanos. The hiking around Putre was wide open and dog free.
  • The weather was perfect for Lauca and comfortable in the city.

The Bad:

  • Too expensive, the cheapest hostal was $10 per night.
  • Only one bus direct to Putre (in Parque Nat. Lauca) that left early in the morning and from an office far from the center of town.
  • Accurate information was difficult to obtain: My hostal told me the bus to Putre left at 6 – 6:30 am and that I could take a city bus there. Turns out the bus left at 7 am.
  • Drug dealers roaming the streets: Initially, I was going to walk to the station and prepared to head out at 5:30am (still very dark). The lady opened the front door for me and pointed out the drug dealers on the corner. After talking with her husband, they agreed that I should take a taxi a couple blocks to the main drag and try and catch a city bus. When the taxi driver drove me to where they said, it was obvious that nothing was running. We agreed on a price to the office where my bus to Putre would leave from. Upon arrival there at 5:45 am, it was closed with an unknown open time, and in a dangerous neighborhood. The driver kept doing a slashing-the-throat motion. We hung out for a few minutes, talked to a newspaper guy sitting in his van, until I just decided that it wouldn’t be long till they opened and exited the cab.
  • They have a mixture of worn old bills and nice new ones: As I departed the taxi, worried about the possibility of having to defend myself by swinging my bag around, the driver requested the original price he quoted due to his waiting with me. I agreed (though I shouldn’t have) and pulled bills from my pouch. In the dark of 5:50 am, I made a stupid mistake. Attempting to pay the man 3K pesos, I handed him what I thought was a 2k bill and a 1k bill. Later on I realized that I gave him a 2k and a 10k (One of the old 10k’s, which are faded and in my current light, looked similar to the 1k. The new 10ks are completely different and unique.) The result, I gave him $18 more than I should have. The timing made it even worse, due to the fact that now my supply of Chilean pesos was running low and I was about to enter a national park. I had to cut my time short.
  • The transportation around the national park was scarce and pricey: The day after hiking around Putre, I shouldered my pack and hiked the 5km up to the main hwy. Waited about 90 minutes with some locals and later on a nice German couple, for any bus. The only buses that roll through the park are on their way to La Paz, Bolivia. Luckily, one of them had a seat, but charged me $6 for the 1.5 hour ride to Lago Chungará. I was dropped off at the border control station there, only to be told that there were no hostals or rooms for tourists at this location (My guide book told me there was). I walked around the lake and took many pictures, not wanting to waste the stop and just hop back on a bus. When I returned to the place I was dropped, assuming that a bus would pass sometime in the near future, an officer told me that the next buses were in about 5 hours (7pm).
  • It was extremely cold at 4,500 meters above sea level: Many thoughts rolled through my head, I could try and hike the road to the border and find transport there, I could hitch a ride with one of the few passing trucks, or I could wait and hope that the next buses have available seats. I scouted the area, considering my overnight options and if I could survive the night or if someone would take pity and let me crash in one of their offices. But as the sun went down, and my many layers did little to keep me warm, I knew that all my hope now rested in the few buses that were coming. I enjoyed that scene, trying to help direct truck drivers running around with paperwork and drinking mate de coca and eating fried bread to stay warm. Finally, just as my hands were going numb, a bus rolled up at 7pm with seats available and a reasonable price.
  • The Chilean salida stamp guy was a little upset: One of the bus attendants talked to the guy at the window, trying to explain that they picked me up and that I was not on the passenger list. I tried to explain my day and that I just stopped there to take pictures, but for some reason he wasn’t happy. He called the bus guy around into the office and they argued for a while. Finally, another guy who has the authority to use the rubber stamp, checked me out of Chile.
  • The post-border stuff was a little confusing: After paying for my Bolivian visa and having my pack inspected, I exited the building but was unable to find my bus (I never paid them anything). I took shelter from the wind against a wall until a guy said that I needed to walk down about 100 meters, through the dark, and that the buses park there. I rolled up, just as my bus was pulling away. I tried to yell and wave, but to no avail. Luckily, there was another bus loading and they had seats available, so I climbed aboard. While my feet stuck to the floor and I watched a terrible movie about an American kickboxer who goes to Thailand but ends up using heavy firearms in Cambodia to free his kidnapped girlfriend, I felt relieved that a bed in La Paz was only a few hours away.

¨When the world never seems to be livin up to your dreams, And suddenly you’re finding out the Facts of Life are all about you, yoooouuuu.¨ I am not really sure what that last part means, but I do know that I learned a lot from my mistakes. I will do more internet research on transport when my guide book is vague, and check my bills carefully when paying for things. All I wanted was another stamp in my passport, but I got the good and bad of Chile in just 3 days. Now I get to relax and enjoy 2 months of cheap living in Bolivia. Si pudiera volver el tiempo atrás

E = 125

Canyonero

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The Setting: Colca Canyon, Peru

The Time: Beginning of September, 2010

The Cast: 1 American (Micah), 1 Brit (Zed), and a brief appearance by 3 guys who speak German (Johann, Sebastian, and Bach)

It begins in Chivay; It’s morning, the skies are cloudy, a little rain, a little hail, a lone white alpaca sits in the hostal courtyard. Zed suggests walking to the next town, Micah agrees. Rain coats are worn, Inca terracing is seen covering the valley that soon will become canyon, Colca Canyon. The 2nd deepest in the world, measuring 3,136 meters from peaks to floor. Zed spots a prickly pear fruit, they shall fend off starvation for another day. Straws will not have to be drawn to see who lives and who dies.

walking

walking

They arrive in Achoma after the 3 hr, 14 km walk, but they cannot rest. The only hostal in town is closed for renovation, the journey must continue by bus into the heart of the beast, (pause for dramatic effect) to Cabanaconde. Upon arrival, they are in high demand by hostals, and go with the young man offering a room and breakfast for $3.75 per person. Now on the rim of the canyon, information is obtained and the trek is planned.

Nighttime; The gents are sitting in a local dinner spot. Enter Johann, met previously on the top of a sanddune, followed by 2 new friends. Hands are shook and tales are told. Relatively expensive beers are purchased back at the hostal.

Thursday morning; The sky is half blue and half white. 1 hunk of cheese, 8 rolls of bread, 4 mandarin oranges, and 2 packets of chocolate cookies are loaded into small day bags. Micah and Zed embark on a 2 day trip, Johann and Sebastian are on a 4 day adventure, Bach is a daytripper. They all start on the same path. Vistas are spectacular, many photos are taken, at the bottom there is a bridge. A traditionally dressed woman sells snacks and offers cheap accommodations. The 2 day’ers like the room, dinner, breakfast and tea for $7.50 and a quick end to the hiking day. The group splits. The canyon floor is peaceful, the dinner is illuminated by candles, and taking photos of candlelight is entertainment until an 8 pm bedtime.

.... and on the door handle was a hook!

.... and on the door handle was a hook!

Morning of Friday the 3rd; Clear, crisp, and cool, two pancakes are eaten before the long hike begins. Micah and Zed prepare themselves mentally for the ascent back up the canyon wall. The side of the canyon is traversed, passing through small villages before reaching ¨The Oasis¨ and a bridge. They are tempted by the lodges with crystal blue swimming pools, but must stay focused. Uphill awaits, 3 hrs of uphill. Donkeys are descending with goods, the midday sun drains energy, legs begin to wobble, water supply is running low. Finally the top is reached.

The day after: Bus ride back to Arequipa. Left side window seats allow photo extravaganza. 50 taken, 23 saved.

agricultural terracing in valley

agricultural terracing in valley

Back in the big city, before following the OSU football game on his Ipod, Micah shows Zed the joys of casino gaming. Free pisco sours upon entry, fruit buffet, ladies offering tortilla crisps with guacamole, and walking out with 8 soles more than you enter. Though he will feel bad if Zed becomes addicted and can’t afford a flight home.

The Future: Zed heads to Cusco. Micah heads south to Tacna. Johann, Sebastian, and Bach? Unknown, but all their paths may cross again in Bolivia. Micah sólo necesite que recordar para ver los partidos de fútbol Beaver en vivo por Internet.

E = 115

Crossroads

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Life is short, things die. Sand is soft and fun to play around in, but not if you are an electronic item with multiple moving parts. Your short life was an exciting one, up until the day of August 28th, 2010.

You are setup on top of a dune, ready to take an amazing shot of your owner holding his sandboard, and the next thing you know you are nose down in the small light brown stuff. You refuse to close but a hand forces your lense to retract. Thus, from now on you will refuse to open. Hands now use tools to remove your shell, despite failing with the last 2 computers, and your delicate innards are exposed. Something goes wrong. Shell is put back on but you show no signs of life. Nine and a half good months. You should feel honored that he still carries your carcass around, just in case, someday, a cure is found. See you at the crossroads.

Welcome new camera, Fujifilm FinePix AV100, the color Jayhawk blue. You do some things better but lack a few key abilities.

camera

camera

Pros: 12 megapixels, HD video, thinner, fewer moving parts, more efficient battery use, came with a 2gb memory card, and a cool photo viewer that displays 100 photos like a mosaic.

Cons: Fewer modes, only 2 timer settings, can’t lengthen your shutter, can’t adjust exposure in set modes, only 3x zoom, and you think you are smarter than your master.

The sanddune city spawned not only a new photo taker, but a new travel partner. Along with “Fuji”, Micah’s other new companion is “Zed” from Wee Britain. Having the destination of Arequipa in common, hostals were shared and sightseeing was done. Both love market lunches and badminton. Both despise tours and expensive touristy cities. Both began traveling south through South America in April.

The exciting adventures of Micah and Zed though, will have to wait until next post. But at least now you know 2 new characters in this epic tale known as “Micah: Unmitigated”.