Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘South America’

Add It Up

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The Numbers:

Days in South America = 206

Days spent traveling with another person = 35

Countries visited = 6

Overnight bus rides taken = 13

Longest bus ride (in hours) = 21

Different hostals slept in = 76

Average price per hostal = $6.17

… in Colombia = $7.52

… in Ecuador = $6.64

… in Peru = $5.66

… in Chile = $10

… in Bolivia = $3.62

… in Argentina = $10.03

Total hours (paid for) on Internet = 194.2

Average Internet price per hour = 60¢

… in Colombia = 70¢

… in Ecuador = 84¢

… in Peru = 41¢

… in Chile = 80¢

… in Bolivia = 39¢

Total money spent on water = $78.80

Total “Cremositas” (Oreo like cookies) consumed in Bolivia = 508

… thus, average per day consumption = 11

Money spent on food per day = $4.85

… in Colombia = $5.98

… in Ecuador = $4.95

… in Peru = $4.42

… in Chile = $7.40

… in Bolivia = $3.38

… in Argentina = $3.30

Empanadas eaten = 200

Feet above sea level, at my highest point = 15,600

Pairs of Sunglasses broken = 3

Beaches visited = 17

Total push-ups done in preparation for said beaches = 5,600

Pictures taken during trip = 11,480

… thus, average number taken per day = 55.7

Pictures that were kept = 5,938

Shirts taken on trip but never worn = 1

Number of times I was called “Gringo” = 55

Total spent on money management (foreign transaction and ATM fees) = $166

Cost per day = $19.77*

(*excludes unordinary expenses, like those listed below)

Total Cost = $5,262.99*

(*includes everything: pre-trip vaccinations, flights, Spanish classes, Christmas gifts, a new camera, …)

Places In My Past

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

I want to try and milk this trip for as much content as I can, so the following is a list of the “Top Ten Places I Visited in South America”. They will be in order from #10 to #1 for dramatic effect, and some words may be repeated from previous posts. I hope you enjoy:

10. Volcán Puracé, Colombia

directions

directions

The scenery was stunning, but it is on here more for the climb. My most strenuous day, it took over 4 hrs to get to the top and the weather was unfriendly. Accomplishing something like that feels amazing and the Colombian hiking group that celebrated with me at the rim, made it even more memorable. The skies cleared for the descent and I strolled through an active sulfur mine. All things considered, one of my favorite days.

9. Puerto López – Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

The Isla was just OK and the town is not worth writing home about, but the stretch of ocean between the two seasonally contains some exciting mammals. The tour was expensive, but watching the whales jump in the air and splash around was one of the coolest things I have seen in my life.

8. Colca Canyon, Peru

canyon

canyon

The 2nd deepest canyon in the world. Basically just a great, strenuous hike with cool things to look at. On clear days, you can see the tops of the snowy peaks down 3,140 meters to the canyon floor. The Inca agricultural terracing and friendly locals make Colca my choice for #8.

7. Baños, Ecuador

A tourist ready town at the base of the active Volcán Tungurahua. The area has lots of hiking opportunities and even more extreme sport options, that I decided not to pay for. I just walked in search of eruption views. Occasionally, smoke would billow from the top and rumbles could be heard all over town. I found out later that the eruptions were rare, as not many other travelers reported seeing the impressive sight. As with a few other places I visited, I was there at the right time.

6. Isla del Sol, Bolivia

A high altitude island on Lake Titicaca. I could hike around all day and then rest my head for less than $3 per night. The ticket takers, with their greedy little hands, were annoying, but the weather was perfect and the wandering was boundary free.

5. Kuelap, Peru

good views

good views

An Inca fortress set on a hilltop, with great views of the surrounding valleys. I loved the site, but the fact that you can reach the place via a 3 hr hike from the town of Tingo, pushes it up my list.

4. Huaraz – Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Towering snow capped peaks, colorful mountain lakes, numerous hiking trails, this place is amazing. Just staring at the extreme heights of the place, containing 33 hunks of rock over 6,000 meters high, was cool. With more money and time, I could have explored the space better, but I was happy with my budget touring.

3. Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

I wasn’t expecting much when I walked to the edge of the crater, but that first view made me say “Wow!”. Staying in a hostal, steps from the rim and at an elevation of over 4,000 meters, I enjoyed it all. A spectacular hike circles around the crater lake and the bus rides between nearby towns are guaranteed to be memorable. The freezing cold temps at night can easily be fought off with an open fire.

2. Salar de Uyuni – Far SW Bolivia

My love for this place has been well documented, with it’s unreal scenery and unique wildlife. Why is it not at the top of my list? Because – I had to use a tour and memories of being painfully cold are still fresh in my head.

1. Cabo de la Vela, Colombia

Sunset

Sunset

Why it’s #1: If I had to choose one place to go back to and spend a week, this would be it. Multiple quiet beaches, warm weather, hammocks, climbing hills, a salt flat, unbelievable sunsets, and very few tourists. I was able to wake up everyday and decide between just laying on the beach, hiking a rugged coastline, or doing both. Put this place on your list, but only if you can handle the 2 hr ride out in the back of a truck and live without a shower for a few days.

Back To Life

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Friday: My alarm sounded at 6 am, some roommates were just going to bed, I finished up my packing and walked out to the morning Bogota streets. Busy with business people and kids finding their way to school, I found my way to the local busses. I worried a little about fitting, but was able to flag down an empty bus and get on despite nearly losing a sandal. For 70¢ instead of a $10 cab ride, I got to the airport.

I began to relax a little. Not much left to do. My bags, along with a couple others, got pulled from the plane and fully inspected before I could board. A bit of a hassle, especially after I had meticulously packed them to prevent damage to delicate items. All went smooth, no contraband on me this trip. (Coming back from Thailand a year ago, I worried about the many bootleg Wii games and DVDs that I was smuggling.)

I sat in my seat, compared it to the many bus seats I suffered in over the past 206 days, stared out the window, and tried to let it sink in that I was leaving South America. An American businessman next to me asked me my first post-trip questions and I came up with my first answers.

Just 5 hrs later, I was back in the USA and it has felt weird ever since. I did my usual stroll past my food options in the Atlanta airport, slowly adjusting the price I was willing to pay to feed myself. Finally, I decided to not care, and spent over $7 on a mini-hamburger combo that included a hefty portion of chili-cheese fries. A very satisfying meal and the beginning of a week straight of binge eating.

From Atlanta: A near empty flight to LA on which I could watch the Blazer basketball game due to in-flight ESPN, a painful hour of sleep in LAX, leaving my book sitting on a chair, and watching the sunrise as I embarked on the final leg to PDX. Arriving just before 9 am, 24 hrs after leaving Bogota, I was home.

My triumphant strut and hugs were recorded and posted on Facebook. I ate mass amounts of breakfast food and drank a flavorful beer. I sat on the couch and watched college football. I have met friends for more flavorful drinks at bars and watched more football and basketball. Almost like I had never left.

Now I begin the process of getting back to reality. After 5 days of stuffing myself with delicious food, I am slowing down. I say I don’t want to gain back the 25 pounds I lost on the trip, but that is easier said than done. Food will always be my weakness, I just need to stay active while I no longer walk everywhere. More important than my physical appearance, is my future employment. I have briefly searched for jobs but don’t really know what to look for. I do have time and wont seriously tackle the problem until after Christmas.

For the time being, I just try to keep hold of my adventure. I plan to maintain a slender figure and long hair. I plan to look at pictures regularly and try to remember little stories I can share. I already want to travel again, but have no money. I want to keep hearing and talking Spanish, but have no motivation. I want to go back and work in South America, but have few skills. And I kind of want to be a different person now that I am home. Maybe wiser, funnier, more confident, more interesting, more socially active, more socially responsible, more energetic, or just a better poker player. But I have only been back for a week and I was only gone 29 weeks. Maybe the only real changes will be fleeting and physical, with a sprinkling of useless knowledge that pops up at random times, like when watching “Romancing the Stone”.

I will continue to enjoy spending time with family and friends that I so greatly missed. I know I will travel internationally again, but the most attainable current goal for myself while home, is to just be more active. There are lots of hikes around and a lot to do and see here in Portland.

End Of The Road

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

My last night bus ride in South America, was the most comfortable. With my own row and no stops, I got some sleep and overall just felt relaxed.

Arriving at 8 am, my next goal was catching a local bus to the center and avoid paying $7 for a cab. I knew that rush hour would be busy and patiently waited. 2 packed centro buses just rolled by, ignoring the running and waving locals. 2 more stopped and I just sat and watched the mob squeeze in. The 5th bus, after over an hour of waiting, was the one. With enough space for me and my bags, I felt the thrill of victory. Though, I did upset the driver by accidentally leaning my pack against the door, preventing it from fully opening.

In central Bogota, I went through with my plan to stay at the “Party” hostal and do some socializing. I have stayed at very few of these types of accommodations, opting for cheaper quieter local spots. Honestly, this isn’t really my scene.

There is a another type of international backpacker, whose only goal is to find “The Party”. That is fine, I understand it’s more interesting than drinking at home and the alcohol is cheaper. Also, maybe they take in some culture and respect for their host country. But I have my doubts. These traveler’s stories tend to be more about how much they drank and getting mugged while stumbling home at 3 am.

Maybe I am getting old, but my goals for international travel are: Experiencing what life is like in a foreign country. Learning the language and enjoying the food. Seeing amazing scenery. Finding adventure. Challenging myself. And getting a tan.

Yes, I want to meet interesting people and share a drink, but my need is not quite as strong as others. Maybe that’s good, maybe bad. Antisocial? Not necessarily. Lonely? Sometimes. I like to think I am more confident, adventurous, and less dependent on others. Looking back on the trip as a whole, I should have been more social but I am glad I didn’t get caught up in the main flow, or “Gringo Trail”.

Back to my current residence; “Musicology Party Hostal” has large dorm rooms with names like Reggae and Jazz, a bar, hammocks, TV lounge with massive hard-drive full of shows, free breakfast and dinner, free Internet and Wifi, and an overly friendly backpacker staff. Most visitors sleep in till noon, rarely venture out, get comfortable, and stay for weeks. It really hurts my Spanish and my wallet. But, I felt the need stay here and get one more last taste of the other lifestyle.

In town; Christmas decorations are in full bloom, a large tree structure sits in the main plaza, and the marching bands now mix in some festive tunes. The weather has been terrible, with constant downpours and chilly air. But, I do feel that I have done the city a little more justice. Wandering down new streets, finding markets and new snacks. There is just something about walking and eating pieces of fried pork fat, that makes a person happy. I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow, I have one last goal of catching a city bus to the Airport, then I can relax. My journal is running out of pages, my wallet is running out of bills, my last camera memory card is running out of space, my empanada goal has been met, and my bags are full of souvenir ponchos and Andean pan flutes. Yo creo que puede ser el momento de volver a casa.

E = 200

(ps: This should be my last post from South America. I will continue to write and breakdown my trip and post trip life. Also, the plan is to do a blog of strickly numbers, laying out the total cost and other somewhat interesting stats. Thanks for reading.)

Same Old Song And Dance

Monday, November 8th, 2010

In Otavalo: I shopped, caught a bit of a cold, and ate market lunches. I had one interesting night amongst locals while eating dessert Empanadas and drinking a warm berry beverage. Two giggly young woman to my right, seemed to be making fun of the fact I was dunking my emps. The young man with them and an older lady to my left, asked me some simple questions and I gave them very simple answers. Mostly just smiling and nodding, while they said “gringo” a lot and laughed. The man somewhat jokingly said that I should pay for all of their food. I showed him my near empty coin purse. Then,when I handed the server money to pay for my snack, I pointed at myself and said “Solo para me”. They all laughed healthily and I departed with a bang.

Feeling better Sunday morning, despite no medicine and little sleep, I began my journey toward Bogota. 2 buses and 2 mini-vans later, I was at the border. The skies opened up, rain poured down, lightning strikes could be seen in the distance. I should have known what was coming. My passport was handed to the man in uniform behind the window, he looked at passport, looked at screen, shook his head, showed me screen, I just nodded and said “Entiendo” (I understand), trying to explain what I went through 4 days ago. Apparently, nothing had been updated yet in the computer. I still had only an entry into Ecuador back in June listed, no exit and reentry.

I was told many things: You wont be able to enter Colombia, you will miss your flight, you need to return to Peru, wait over there, go make 2 copies of each of these 3 pages, Amigo! make sure you come back (at this point I was a flight risk, hinting to him that I may go on without an exit stamp), wait, now you need to pay money for stamp, my boss is back in town and gas is not cheap (I said I don’t want to pay), wait, maybe tomorrow. Man then takes my passport again and heads out the door with 2 other officers, they hop into a small red car and go. I wait and watch as the now undermanned station gets busy. Tourists come and go with no problems. I feel somewhat special, but also am very worried. Again, thoughts of alternative methods of getting to Bogota/Home, run through my mind: I really don’t need a stamp, do I? Would it do any good if I jumped the unattended counter and messed around on the computer? What if I physically attacked one of the officers and held him hostage, as I crossed the border? Nah, probably would have an issue later at the airport. Do they run illegal immigrants over on boats to Florida?

Just as I was about to execute one of the above plans, the 3 men return. I am waved over to the counter and handed my passport. He shows me the stamp and says go to Colombia. 3 hours after I enter the office, I can now legally leave. I still doubt the computer system is accurate, and wonder if I will ever be able to enter Ecuador again. There may be a manhunt for me in a year or so, when they look in the system and think that I am still there. If any of you are ever questioned by the authorities concerning my whereabouts, please say that I took a trip to South America and you haven’t seen me since. Thanks

Colombia was easier. After a brief 10 minute wait and being told the system was down, my passport was stamped. I again had to sort through lies from taxi drivers to get my cheap public transport. From the closest town of Ipiales, I booked my passage for the city of Cali (11 hrs north, halfway to the capital) because it is cheaper than going direct. Suffered through a muggy night bus ride, worried about bandits, but got to watch “Jaws”.

Arrived at 5 am: rain is falling, booked a night bus to Bogota, oddly combined my 2 large bags into 1 to avoid paying double for storage, killed time in casinos and walking streets. I found a cheap Blackjack table but had one of the weirdest experiences. They don’t believe in luck, and preferred to blame all of their defeats on the white guy. Whether I took 1 card too many or too few, I made an error and affected the whole table. One man lost a big hand to my left and really wanted the 10 I took, which busted me. He was visibly angry toward me. I am just glad I don’t fully understand what they said, though I do know a few of the curse words they used. They don’t like to gamble, and take advantage of the “surrender” rule frequently. I don’t agree and rarely did. That rule is not common back home and I admit that I don’t know how to properly use it. But I don’t feel I made any stupid moves. I just sat there quietly as my stack dwindled. It was fun but also very uncomfortable.

Safe to say, I am on a run of bad days. Hopefully I can get some sleep on the ride tonight and smoothly get into a hostal in central Bogota. I am looking forward to doing the city a little better these last 3 days, than I did with the first 3. ¿Dónde está el mercado central?

E = 193

Mr. November

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Even though my trip is entering it’s last week, I am not going to just set the cruise control, there is more adventure to be had.

My time in Mancora was spent laying on the beach, watching the World Series, and eating fruit. Only my last day there provided clear sunny skies and sunburn, otherwise it was a little too cold to swim and a little too windy to read. One positive was the beach roaming Empanada guy who was willing to cut his price in half, allowing me to pad my count. I also seemed to be there over a holiday weekend, with more Peruvians than Gringos on the sand and souvenir shops in full bloom everyday.

Now to the adventurous part: The prices for direct buses north into Ecuador were all very high. Thus I opted to cross the border with local transport and buy my long distance ticket in-country. The first leg was easy enough, a mini-van 2 hrs up to Tumbes for half the price of a bus. Upon arrival, a man poked his head in and promised a $5 bus ride up to Guayaquil. I ignorantly jumped at the chance and ignored the mild warning from a friendly local in my van. He said it was “dangerous”, and that word would become a common theme from strangers. Partly because this main border crossing on the Panamericana has been deemed the worst in South America.

So, I hopped into an unmarked car with the seller and a driver. Light conversation is shared and he tells me that there will be a strike this afternoon at the border, shutting buses down, and that I needed to get one right away. We roll by a bus office and he yells out the window to a guy, asking if buses are running, and the man apparently says no. They continue to drive me through town, telling me that now my best option is for them to drive me across the border and arrange transport there, for $35. I laugh, tell them I only have 20 soles on me ($7), and flex the fact that I know more about the Ecuadorian bus system than they do. I ask them to stop and let me out, but again the words “muy peligroso” (very dangerous) are uttered as we are now a few kms outside of the center. They drive me back to the main plaza and I reluctantly pay them 5 soles. Mostly just glad to be out of the car and consider it a stupidity tax on myself. I should know better than to jump into an unmarked vehicle based on false promises, when I could have easily strolled the bus offices myself and gotten the same “deal”. I figure the whole thing was a scam, reading web forums, people have often had to pay in excess of $30 just to get out of those situations, I feel somewhat lucky. Plus, it was fun to have an argument in Spanish.

After the brief ordeal, I walked across the street from where the guys dropped me and immediately was waved over by a mini-van loading up people for the last 30 minute stretch to the border. The public transport I should have looked for in the beginning and the type the shyster said didn’t exist. The van dropped me at the Peruvian migration office, where I was immediately met by a mototaxi driver asking for my passport and holding forms. I used my supreme intellect to decipher that he was not official and that exit stamp formalities normally aren’t handled by a man wearing Jordache jeans.

A simple stamp in my passport by a man in uniform, and now the mototaxi guys wanted to drive me the last 1.5 kms to the actual line in the sand. I said I preferred a mini-van, and again heard the words “muy peligroso”, which caused me to chuckle. I ended up walking the remainder, feeling very safe at mid-day. It felt good to get into a bustling market area at the border, and to be back in Ecuador. I found the bus stations in Huaquillas and joyfully saw a direct bus to my next destination, Otavalo (15 hrs north and 3 hrs south of Colombia). I purchased passage for 4 pm, figuring that 3 hrs would be plenty of time to walk to the Ecuadorian immigration office and take care of business.

For some reason, passport formalities are handled 3 km north of town, and I walked. A brief wait for buses to handle their business, and then I handed the man my documents. He looked over them, said some things, let his stamp sit idle, handed them back, and then waved me to some other place. I didn’t understand, and went over and asked another guy to look at my stuff. The problem was then presented to me: When I left Ecuador back on August 11th, at the remote border crossing in La Bolsa, they didn’t put my exit in the system. Plus, the stamp mark was blurred and date hand written. Apparently this was a problem. Now 1.4 hrs until my bus leaves town, I approached a 3rd man who told me 20 minutes.

Sitting, waiting, nervous. After the time elapsed, I again presented my case. They got another man, who went in search of a 5th man to help. This man seemed to be “The Man”. Listening to him talk to the others leads me to believe that this wasn’t really that serious of an issue and that the others just wanted to pout. Probably upset with the other offices error and now wondering why they had to clean it up. Either that, or they were waiting for me to bribe them.

The 5th man had me make copies of my passport and then I waited some more, while the man drafted a letter or stared at a computer for another 30 min. Time was running out. I checked my clock often, the time to pickup my stored bag had come and gone and departure was now 5 minutes away. This was the first time all trip that I had reverted to work mode, operating on little sleep and food, my stress level rose. I quickly went over my options: Could I make it through the country without any stamps? Are there checkpoints on my way to Colombia? Could I just get off in Quito and go to the Embassy for help? How bad could Ecuadorian prison be?

With little time to get back to Bogota, I called the bus company, somehow communicated in Spanish, requested that they throw my “grande azul mochila” on the bus, and pick me up on their way north. It worked. Five minutes later I got my completed passport back, and 5 minutes after that the bus rolls up and I jump in. My window seat was double booked, but I didn’t really care. On the ride, I had a prime view of the widescreen TV and they showed a relatively entertaining movie with Robert DeNiro, Stephen Seagal, and Lindsay Lohan. A dynamic trio that aroused the most emotion from a bus I have seen all trip.

Now in Otavalo, I plan to take it easy for another 4 days, before 1 more long bus ride to Bogota. I hope this last leg is a little less adventurous, but you never know. That stretch of highway in southern Colombia is known for frequent bus hijackings at night. Podría ser una buena manera de obtener una descarga de adrenalina.

E = 180

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

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

Information

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

I apologize for the vagueness of my last post, while hiking around the hills my mind thinks of weird things to write. So, here is a clearer recap of some things I have done over the past week.

Five nights near the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. Many peaks over 6,000 meters, capped with glaciers and flanked by turquoise lakes. Most of my time there was spent debating how to do the area justice. The popular 4 day trek known as Santa Cruz was the main option, but many small factors led me to decline. Cost, time, and energy were the main reasons, plus a fear that with so many tour groups on the trail, the tranquility would be diminished. I do hope to do some sort of trekking requiring a tent and sleeping bag before my trip is done, but that may have to wait till Bolivia.

I opted for day trips to the lakes and hiking around the hills for better views of the massive chunks of rock. Basing myself in the smaller towns of Caraz and Yungay, I found cheap accommodations and food. Though, walking farmland presents challenges in the form of barking dogs and unmapped routes. Sticks and rocks can only do so much in keeping them at a distance, I required the help of local women and children to hold back their pets. No bites, but a growing paranoia about walking past any home outside of the city. I am considering carrying dog food, but think that by the end of my hikes I would have about 30 new friends following me.

The weather was absolutely perfect until the day I left. On Friday, satisfied with the sights I saw and how I saw them, I headed south. A night bus ride from Huaraz to Lima, immediately followed by a 5 hr journey further down the coast to Ica. From there, a quick taxi ride to Huacachina.

A lagoon surrounded my towering sand dunes and expensive services. I attempted to sandboard but failed, though I blame the equipment and not my ability to ride sanded down pieces of wood. The views from the tops of the dunes were so amazing they broke my camera. Or it could be from all of the sand that is now in the lens retraction mechanism. Either way, I was unable to capture the stunning sunset view into a digital image. Some things I will just have to remember without the aid of technology.

One tired/pricey day/night there, eating and drinking with some new friends,  was all I needed.  Tonight, another night bus ride taking me 12 hours closer to Chile. I should arrive in Arequipa around 6am, and hopefully rest a few days. My last real stop before a new country, the area has more towering peaks but with the added bonus of the world’s deepest canyons. Should be very cool, I just hope I can fix my camera in time. No sé cuánto más puedo almacenar en esa cosa bajo mi cabello grueso.

E = 110