Tag Archives: Bolivia

8 months in review….

13 May

8 months in review…..

Best Meal:

This is such a hard one…. I have had so much amazing food….  but here are a few of my favorites:

  1. grilled chicken from a street vendor in peru – plate with beet salad, maize and amazing chicken – though this was quickly overtaking by the roasted pig fresh out of the huge oven bought on the street a few days later.  Oh man, I could have had 3 plates worth!
  2. masala dosas in Southern Indian, eaten with my hands
  3. vietnamese soup from a street stall
  4. fresh fruit from the street vendors in bangkok
  5. not quite a meal but…. chai on the trains in india first thing in the morning

drying fish

Strangest food:

Oh man, SE Asia is the place for … different… food.  I wasn’t always terribly explorative but….

There is this sandwich that is really common in Vietnam.  It is combination of the French influence (a baguette) but truly Vietnamese – on one side is a pate-like substance, on the other there is butter.  Then you can choose between pork or a fried egg (or both). Then the condiments and extras include cucumber, tomato, chilies, fish sauce and other unknown stuff.  It is actually quite good – as long as you don’t think about the ‘pate’.

I had some meals in Thailand from the street carts that I have no idea what they were.  Some were strange, for sure.

And if I HAD tried it, baby bird still in the shell would make the top of the list!

Best Book

I have probably read close to 40 books this year.  I am a bit of a voracious reader, which was great because I read a lot, but not good because it meant that I finished books super fast.  So – I cannot remember them all – but one of my favorites was White Tiger by an Indian author.  It is super funny and reflective of life and people in India – I read it while there and I could not stop laughing.

things lost

2 pairs of underwear (but one was not my fault – the laundry service lost them!)

1 pair of socks (damn laundry service)

umbrella  – uh, no idea where I left that…..

my SA cell phone – also no clue….

Best Guesthouse

I have stayed in many many crappy places.  But I have also stayed in some really nice places – whether it was a guesthouse in Vietnam that over looked the beach, or a simple room in a family’s home in Nepal, or a clean room with my own bathroom in Huaraz – the  things that started to matter to me was quietness, cleanliness and bathrooms.  Funny how your needs start to get boiled down to simplicity….

sunrise on the ganges

Coolest Wildlife Sighting

Seeing mama and ‘baby’ rhino from the back of an elephant!  I mean, it was a rhino!  And they look just like the pictures….  (which I know sounds ridiculous but that was totally my reaction….)

going for an elephant ride (not comfortable!)

Most beautiful scenery

How could I possibly pick just one?  I have spent time in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the world – Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia.  I have visited Machu Picchu and temples of Bangkok.  I cannot possibly pick one place that was more beautiful than another. But the diversity of Bolivia, the mountains of Huaraz, the raw beauty of Patagonia and the grandeur of the Himalayas definitely stole my heart.

crossing the glacier

Toughest moment

There were definitely times in the fall when I had a crisis of faith what am I doing here?  What am I doing with my life?!  I remember one day in particular.  It was a rainy day in India, I was in Kochi, a city in Southern India.  At that point, I had been traveling for close to 3 weeks or so in India, by myself.  I was enjoying India, at times.  But was also finding it difficult – the constant staring, the constant feeling of being a spectacle, of being uncomfortable.  I was at a coffee shop and just spent the afternoon staring out in space, trying to figure out my purpose….  it was a rough period.

Biggest scam

When I arrived in Mumbai, I had to take a taxi from one train station to another.  It was quite early in the morning, still dark, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do.  Taxis are always tough because they are really metered, you don’t know how much they should be charging you and how much you should bargain.  I found a driver and thought we had a deal.  When we got there, I paid him with a large bill (I can’t remember what it was, but I was almost positive it was enough to cover the fare).  For the sake of the story, let’s say it was a 100.  But, he told me, no, that is 20.  You need to give me more.  Confused, I handed over another 100.  Again, he told me that it was a 20.

Now, you have to remember that it was still dark out.  There is a chance that he was telling the truth.

But, I am pretty sure that I handed over a whole lot more than I should have.  My theory is that he dropped the money on the front seat and had a 20 there to show me.  Or, maybe I really was just overtired…..  Want to give him the benefit of the doubt but….. I think that I lost out on at least a few 100 rupees that day!

demon

meeting the locals….

I found the people in India to be incredibly funny and want to talk to me.  Of course, at first they stared, but if I smiled at them, chances were they would smile back.  I remember being in the train station in Varanasi and I had accidentally arrived early.  So, I joined everyone else in sitting on the floor.  There was a large group of women who were staring intensely at me.  I tried to smile, but it was hard to crack their stares.  Eventually, I got one of the little girls to smile at me – which in turn got the whole family to smile and giggle at me.  They waved me over and we spent 30 minutes of them staring at me, holding my hand, speaking to me in Hindu and me just smiling.  As they left, they all wanted to shake my hand.

Getting sick

I am not sure how I pulled this off, but I had it 8 months without getting sick – except for a few times that were pretty minor.  My body had a day or two adjustment from being a vegetarian for 4 months to jumping back on the meat-train (with no easing in).  Then in Bolivia, I got sick a few times, but mostly just for 24 hours or so. And one cold in Peru that lasted 48 hours or so.  Moral of the story? Traveling is really healthy for me.  Oh – and I lost my hand sani early on and never replaced it……  🙂

Craziest public transportation

This one is tough, as I took a lot of sketchy transportation this year.  I have been on auto-rickshaws and bike-rickshaws, motorcycles, buses, trans, cars, elephants.  And, as my brother can attest, I can be a nervous passenger.  But, for some reason, the sketchiness never really bothered me this year.  Maybe it is because people do not drive super fast, maybe it is because the lack of rules in so many places means that everyone understands that and works within those parameters (a lack of rules almost means that you are always expecting the unexpected).  And then there is the simple consolation for myself – well, I am sure the driver doesn’t want to die, so…. he’ll be careful., right?

But the craziest?  It was probably a rickety bus that had to be push started and had 4 out of 5 gears working and I could see the ground through the gear shaft.  And I was on it for 13 hours.  And the driver had to avoid dogs and monkeys and people and motorcycles.

worst food

This is hands down Argentina.  I mean, could the food get any more bland?  Yes, yes, I know – this is the land of steaks and good wine.  And I bet that if you have a lot of money to spend, you can have a really good steak. But, I never had a lot of money to blow.  So, I had some good steaks. And I had some good wine.  But on a whole, the food there is boring and bland.

worst guesthouse moment

This one is easy….  I was in Potosi, Bolivia and had gone to bed early, as I am prone to doing.  The other people in my room got back late – around 2 in the morning.  I was already annoyed with them, as it was a group of 3 and the couple of the group was staying in one bed above me (get your own room, please).  In any case, they were clearly a bit drunk, stumbling around, knocking things over. Eventually, they got into bed, when I heard the guy say to the girl above me ‘uh-oh, I think I am going to puke”.  And though I heard him clearly, his girlfriend seemed confused by what he was saying. In my head, I am screaming at her – get him out of the f’ing bed. But she is slow to respond.  Too slow, in fact.  And he pukes down the wall.  You know, down the hall onto the bed I am in.

Yeah, definitely a low point….

friendliest stranger encounter

There have been so many positive and helpful. Encounters with strangers – people have been kind of helpful to me all along the way.  But one memory, in particular was when I was in India trying to figure out how to get to this festival and I had to take a bus.  I could not find the street that I needed to take the bus on, so I got directions there.  When I approached the street, I saw that there were many buses to choose from – all written in a different language.  How would I ever know?  I asked a woman who was walking towards me – and she brought me over to the street, helped me find the bus and told the driver where I was headed.  When I thanked her, she said, “no problem.  You would do the same for me if I needed help in your country”.  Good reminder of what goes around, comes around….

3-faced buddha

Number of high passes (over 4500m) crossed (by foot)

  • 3 in Nepal (2 in the Everest region, 1 in the Annapurna region)
  • 3 in Argentina (2 in Patagonia, 1 on Aconcagua)
  • 4 in Peru (3 on the Ausungate circuit, 1 on the Lares trek)
  • and of course, 1 high summit in Bolivia!

how much rice eaten

let’s see….  I have been traveling for about 240 days.  Most of the countries I was in eat rice with their meals.  Let’s low-ball that I had about a ½ cup of rice with each meal.  And then let’s low-ball that 175 dinners were rice dishes, which means that I had approximately 87.5 cups of rice this year.  Which I would say is definitely a low-ball estimate…. which means that is a lot of rice.

Best luck (and worst luck)

I combined these too – because it was really hard to think of a time when I had bad luck.  Because even when things did not work out the way I had planned them, something always good happened to me. There was the time I had a day layover in Bengalore, but I ended up getting to sit poolside drinking gin and tonics.  And then there was that other time that I was delayed in getting to Huaraz, but my timing meant that I met my mountain guide.

poolside! always good to say yes!

how many miles/km walked

Ha.  Try and figure that one out – not only did I trek in Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.  But I also walked pretty much everywhere.  Like the day in Bolivia where I tried to walk to a school in La Paz – and it ended up taking me 3 hours.  Or all the times I was a cheap-ass and refused to take the bus or the taxi.  I mean, it has got to be 1000s and 1000s of kms….

biggest fear

Rickety buses?  no.

Muggings?  Nope.

Being abducted by a rogue taxi driver?  Hardly.

But being attached by animals?  Yep!  Top of the list.  And not just dogs (though they are definitely scary in South America), but my biggest fears are being attacked – no, that is not the right word – being charged by farm animals – you know, the cows, horses and yaks that are frequently in the areas where I trek.  I know that a cow is not likely to charge me, but surely it has happened before, no?  And the yaks are so damn big.  And donkeys are total spazzes, hard to predict what they will do!

And, just for the record, I was trekking through a meadow last week and a horse did try to charge me (swear to god!) and the dogs that were following me (I might have fed them…) charged the horse and barked at it and scared it off.

So, I think that my fear is justified.  Ok?!

fishing on the China Sea

Best ‘just say yes’ moment….

there have been a few….

  1. Getting invited to a fancy hotel and getting treated to lunch, G&Ts and dinner while sitting poolside in Bangalore
  2. Getting to visit a Peruvian school with a local teacher and meet and talk with her students
  3. Going to review maps with a mountain guide and then spending the next two weeks together!

rule of life — just say yes!

  1. Getting to try delicious food from all over the world when I let the ‘salesperson’ talk me into it!

Gettin’ my climb on

21 Mar

As I have told you all, Bolivia is the land of amazing geography — from salt flats, to one of the highest plateaus in the world to amazing mountain ranges, Bolivia seems to have it all.  Among mountaineers, Bolivia is well known for the Cordillera Real (the Royal Range) – home of some of the highest mountains in Bolivia, many of them over 6,000m.

the view up the glacier and the mountain

[side note for all my American readers — I know that we are still stuck in the world of feet and inches and pounds and gallons, alone in the world, sticking to our guns… er, measurements.  But, as you probably also know — the rest of the world has agreed to all use the same measurements, making it easy for everyone else to understand meters and celsius without needing to do quick math in their heads.  My tactic?  Just go with the crowd….]

 

In any case, if you know me, you know that I have a thing for mountains.  Especially the big snow covered variety.  And since every tour agency in La Paz offers a climb to Huayna Potosi, I decided to investigate.  Turns out that I could take a guided climb for 3 days and try for the summit, 6,088m.  I spent a while talking to one tour agency run by a Bolivian doctor who is also a climber (and starting some studies on high altitude health).  We had some fun talks about mountains and though he was quirky (to put it mildly), I felt pretty good about the agency and decided to sign on.  It took a few days for their to be a group for the day(s) I wanted, but finally it looked like it was a go as one other person signed up for the day I wanted to go!

Now, I have never done a guided climb before, being the guide myself or going with friends.  But, not having any firends here to go with, it makes it a whole lot harder to go climbing.  I tend to not love guided trips – as I do not like people waiting on me and I always want to help – which makes them uncomfortable (as that is not how it is done).  But, as one friend pointed out, how nice would it be to show up and have all the food already taken care of?  Good point.

on the way up the mountain (which is behind me in the clouds)

In any case, our group of 3 — Feliciano — our guide, Elad — an Israeli navy lieutenant traveling in South America for 4 months after his 7 years of service, and myself, headed up to the mountain.  Feliciano, who is 40, has been spending time in the mountains since he was 14 and has been a guide for 16 years.  He has climbed all the mountains in Bolivia, and most major peaks in Peru, Argentina and some in Ecuador.  We had fun talking about Aconcagua (he has climbed all the routes there — which is super impressive!)

Feliciano, Elad and I on the way down

The refugio we were staying at the first night was pretty close to La Paz — just 14 or so km from the city boundary.  After arriving and eating lunch, we headed up to the glacier for snow school — which was pretty much just learning how to use an ice axe, walk with crampons and play on the snow.  Technically, I probably did not need this day as walking in crampons is something I feel pretty confident with — but at the same time, it was nice to go out their with the guide and feel confident about their skills and their method of teaching.  And, I will always take a day to go play in the snow!

Elad and I after climbing school — don’t mind the krusty the clown look…..

In any case, before I bore you non-mountaineering-types with stories of snow and ice, the schedule was to get as much sleep as possible the first day and then to head up to the high camp the next day (which can take our guide close to 40-50 minutes, but took us about 3 hours – but more on that later), eat dinner there and then try and get a few hours of sleep before waking at midnight to head up to the summit (anywhere from 4-8 hours).

The walk to high camp was beautiful — though cloudy.  But we got some great views of the glacier, distant peaks and the valley below.  Plus Huayna Potosi is a beautiful mountain (see for yourself).

the summit is the peak on the right

I would not say that I am in the best shape of my life — exercise has been intermittent, coffee and brownies are indulged in on a regular basis (‘oh, just a little treat for myself’), Bolivia hasn’t been super kind to my digestive system and every hostel I stay in seems to have a gazillion smokers.  But, I tend to do well at altitude and my strength has always been in my ability to walk up hills for hours, albeit slowly.  This trip proved to be the same, and though I don’t feel like I am in the best shape ever, I am definitely more in shape in comparison to other tourists.  And when you are in a group, you know who’s speed you walk at……

front pointing…. up a very small hill. fun none-the-less

The high camp refugio was small, basically a shack with a kitchen — an upper and lower bunk where at least 12-18 could sleep (if you were really crowded in).  Us 3 showed up early, but then a group of 5 Israelis, 1 Dutch girl (the only other girl around), and their 3 guides showed up — making it a home for 12.  After an early dinner of ramen noodles and hot dogs ((I know you are jealous), we tried to go to sleep at 6:30 for our midnight wake-up call.  Between nerves (I am always nervous before a climb — just ask my climbing partner how I did the afternoon we spent staring at the west face of shasta before we climbed it!), listening to a roomful of snoring boys, and how hot a tiny shack can get with 12 bodies crammed into it — all I could do was rest my body as my watch registered the hours (and yes — I heard them all from 7 until 11, at which point I resigned myself to pulling an all-nighter – which of course lead me to try and remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter… but I digress).

Alpine starts are one of my favorite things about mountaineering.  I don’t know why, there is just something so cool about waking up before everyone else and heading up the mountain.  I love climbing in the dark – seeing the stars, faint outlines of the mountain before me and the sight of headlamps making their way up the mountain.  And the reward for that?  Seeing the sunrise from high up on the mountain.

sunrise on Huayna Potosi

This time was no different.    We started off at 1:40 (following a cluster in the refugio as tired folks struggled to put on harnesses, plastic boots, and crampons — new for most of them) with Feliciano leading us up the mountain, followed by Elad  and then myself.  Though the climb was really hard for Elad, I was really impressed with his ability to steadily keep moving.  Others (the other climbing party) were struggling — frequently throwing themselves to the ground desperately needing a break.  But Elad really pushed himself and kept moving.  Though we started at least half an hour after the other climbing teams (each rope team had two clients and one guide), we quickly caught up with them and leap-frogged with them for the rest of the climb.

It was a beautiful night, not a cloud in sight, fairly warm and no winds.  In other words, a perfect climbing night.  The snow was crisp, if just a bit sugary, and the climb was fairly straight forward.  We snaked past some gaping crevasses and climbed a pretty awesome 45 degree slope over a crevasse (front pointing is ALWAYS fun!).  The approach to the summit was steep and exposed, with the finally approach along the ridge to the small summit (that dropped off to the extremely steep west face).  It was probably one of the more exposed climbs I have done, which was fine on the ascent, a bit spookier on the descent (requiring full attention which is why I unfortunately do not have any pictures of it).

Cheesy grin after summitting

We arrived at the summit just in time for the sunrise, which did not fail to impress.  Mountains in all directions glowing from the rising sun and the pink clouds below us.  But, in mountaineering, the summit is just a small part of the journey, so we took some pictures (weak shots as there was not enough light) and then headed down in increasing day light.  I was astounded as we descended at how beautiful it was — Bolivia at that moment owning my heart (sorry Patagonia, India and Nepal).

horrible shot, but that is us on the summit

Our descent was fairly quick and involved some fun ‘skiing’ down some slopes (once we were past the glaciers) and we arrived back at the lower refugio in time for an early lunch and our ride back to La Paz.  My second highlight of the day?  Playing with the concinera (cook’s) daughter.  She was adorable, I only understood about a third of what she said (ok, make that 1/8th, so I just said ‘no se’ a lot), but we had so much fun playing outside!

was the summit the highlight of my day or playing with senorita?!

Feliciano, seeing my skills and knowing that I had climbed before, offered to guide me up other mountains if I wished.  We spoke last night (my first spanish conversation on the phone!) and then texted today and I decided to try for Illimani later this week.  It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision as he texted me saying I needed to decide quickly as he was headed back up the mountain with another group today.  There were plenty of reasons to say no (money, spending more time in La Paz since we cannot go until Friday, money and more money), but then again  — when will I get a chance to climb the second highest peak in Bolivia with a private guide?!

I’m a little nervous (when am I not?) as this peak is higher, a bit more technical and potentially longer.  But, I guess that is why I have a guide!  And, I’ll tell you what, it felt damn good to be up on a mountain again.   I remembered that my goal on this adventure was to climb and trek as much as possible — and so this seems to be a good way to achieve my goals!  So now, I am going to try and figure out how to entertain myself and not spend a lot of money for the next few days!

I took this picture 3 times trying to get myself pointing at the summit….

City Livin’

17 Mar
i love the pepsi sign in the background....

i love the pepsi sign in the background…. new and old 

La Paz is a city of contradictions.

Peaceful protests, police in riot gear

Women in traditional dress, men dressed in handsome tailored suits

Young mothers working at street stalls nursing babies, business women conducting meetings on the phone as they rush by in their high heels

“Some people here call me a gringo, but i love country” – said the Bolivian doctor.

“Evo [morales, the first indigenous president here] showed us anyone could be president” — said the college student

Cobble steone streets, high rises, street stalls with traditional medicine

People for cocoa, people against it.  Farmers fighting for their rights, kids listening to hip-hop.

San Fransisco, the main cathedral and plaza in town

San Fransisco, the main cathedral and plaza in town

La Paz is liveable, diverse, and an interesting mix of new and old, indigenous and ‘gringo’.  There is an intensity here that I have not felt in other South American cities.  Maybe it has to do with being tabouthe capital city or maybe it has to do with the fact that Bolivians seem anything but apathetic.  Every morning, when I am out walking around, I see people lined up at the news paper stalls, reading the daily headlines.  Every day that I have been here, I have seen some sort of protest, some sort of street blockade.  One seemed to be against violence, another was in support of farmers, another was in support of cocoa growers (from what I understand an extremely powerful lobby).

one of many very cool cobblestone streets in La Paz

one of many very cool cobblestone streets in La Paz

It is a pretty great city though — music, art, and other cultural events happening daily.  My ritual this week was to get a paper, sit in the Plaza San Fransisco (along with tons of other people and pigeons) and ‘read’ (as much as I could) the paper and people watch.  Oh, and I am now hooked on Suduko (well if you count buying 4 papers hooked).  Though i pretty much suck at it.  I have yet to finish one!  Dammit.

I drank too much coffee (and some really good coffee at that), ate too much street food, walked around a lot, saw enough art to fulfill my cultural needs for awhile and people watched a lot.  I met up with some CS’ers, went to a yoga class (yahoo!), and got lost in the back streets.  I went to dinner with the doctor who runs the climbing company that I am hiring for my climb (Huanya Potosi — see link below!) – who entertained me with stories of Che and living Bolivia in the 70s and mountaineering in Bolivia.

view from the San Fransisco mirador

view from the San Fransisco mirador

And though I find La Paz interesting and liveable and fun to walk around, I am ready to get out of the city.  It is way too easy to spend too much money here and am ready for a new adventure.  So – I am headed out to climb Huayna Potosi, a peak just over 6,000m. that is close to La Paz (http://huayna-potosi.com/mountaineering.html#huayna).

I look forward to telling you all about it.  take care friends.

Potosi and Sucre

12 Mar

i haven’t posted in awhile about my travels….

after the salar de uyuni tour, I was so toured out — all I wanted to do was sit and read and wander and drink coffee and NOT ride in a jeep, going from sight to sight.  So — that is pretty much what I have done for the past week.  I spent four days each in Potosi and Sucre, two cities in SW Bolivia.

Potosi is an old mining town — they have been mining the main mountain, Cerro Rico, for about 500 years — mostly silver.  The city sits at close to 4000m and has a working town feel to it.  Sucre is a university town, much lower in elevation (I think around 2600m), and feels young and vibrant.  It was definitely a contrasting experience being in both places.  My friend Stephanie said that Potosi is like the old man who has fallen from wealth, but still dresses the part and Sucre is the young, new money.

Here are my highlights (and lowlights):

Potosi

statue in Potosi - go mine that way

statue in Potosi – go mine that way

  • eating ranga  stew in the market with the locals, which was mostly good other than texture.  We looked it up later, only to find out that ranga is intestine…
view up to Cerro Rico, the mountain they have been mining for 500 years

view up to Cerro Rico, the mountain they have been mining for 500 years

  • heading out for a hike up Cerro Rico but instead finding a futbol game with the mining cooperative teams.  we were the only gringas in the crowd, solicited a lot of stares and were invited to drink beers with some very drunk miners.  This was on a sunday, their one day off a week
futbol in high potosi

futbol in high potosi

  • buying wine at one of the convents in town — in which you ring a bell, put your money on the lazy susan, and around comes your wine (which was pretty much overly sweet grape juice)
  • Drinking said wine on a church mirador (look out) overlooking the city
not a great picture, but Benjamin, Stephanie and I drinking wine on the church roof

not a great picture, but Benjamin, Stephanie and I drinking wine on the church roof

  • being stuck in town for a city-wide protest — no transportation in/out — which pretty much felt like a party in town with people walking the streets
  • staying in a gross, gross hostel and getting thrown-up on (well, being on the lower bunk when dude threw up on the upper bunk) — definitely the lowest-of-the-low of my hostel experiences….. (and no, it did not get on me but still…… I feel REALLY over 20-somethings and their partying)

Sucre

  • Sucre is a beautiful, very livable city, full of white-washed churches, buildings and houses
style of many of the buildings in sucre

style of many of the buildings in sucre

  • Students of all ages everywhere!  Young, trendy, hip vibe to the city
  • Visiting an indigenous art museum – highlighting the textiles made by all the different indigenous groups in Bolivia (if you are like me, you did not realize there are some many different indigenous groups living in Bolivia still)
view over sucre

view over sucre

  • the faux-hawk is alive and well in Bolivia
  • Running in the park — always my favorite thing to do in a city/country.  Running with (ok, having them run by me) futbol players, college and high school students, moms, and seeing other folks exercising in the early morning
plaza

plaza

  • staying in yet another gross, dirty hostel (though I opted for my own room in said gross hostel) and being woken up at 3 in the morning (and again at 4 or later) by drunk 20-somethings partying on a friday night
  • Visiting the park in the afternoon – it is THE place to be for families and teenagers.  Fooz-ball tables, popcorn, ice-cream, bikes you can rent, little motorized cars for kids to ride in, a guy in his car pulling a train around the park for the little kids, bouncy-houses.  you name it – it was there.
  • eating avocados for days  (seriously, can you get sick if you eat that many avocados?)  The ladies in the market had so many, and so good, and so affordable (if that is all you are eating).
one of the churches in sucre

one of the churches in sucre

It was a good week – and I accomplished what I wanted (no set agenda, coffee shop time, reading, sitting, wandering, running).  Last night I took a 11 hour overnight bus to La Paz, where I am now, and treated myself to a fancy hostel (they have a midnight curfew!  that means no drunk brits shouting at the top of their lungs as they flirt with each other.  no offense to my british friends) that is clean and nice and the bathrooms aren’t scary and the kitchen is clean and useable and I have my own room – and, of course, a bit more expensive.  But, I will write more about La Paz as I get to know it.

For now, sending my love from 3660m!  🙂

Southwest Bolivia – Land of the Incredible

4 Mar

Southwest Bolivia – volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, salt flats, cactus, geysers.  It is hard to believe that it is all here.

I have spent the past week or so exploring SW Bolivia – including taking a 4 day jeep tour that allowed us to get into the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.  It also took us past geysers, volcanoes, flamingos and lots and lots of open countryside.

yoga in the salar

sunrise yoga on the salar

Before the tour, I first spent a few days exploring Tupiza with its red rocks, cactus and high desert mountains.  It was great to get out and explore the landscape – I went for a few hikes, walked around town, bought the paper and tried to translate stories, went to the market for breakfast (cafe con leche and pasteles – basically fried dough) and ate saltenas (like empanadas but better — filled with meat, eggs, olives and other goodies!).

one of the canyons near tupiza

flowering cactus near tupiza

one of many cactus i took pictures of

cross at a mirador in tupiza

cross on top of a mirador overlooking Tupiza, we climbed up there for the sunset (which was not epic)

The tour, though very expensive, allowed me to see parts of the southwest that would have been difficult to see otherwise.  I was in a group with 2 Italians, 1 French and myself.  Plus our driver and our cook.  It ended up being great.  The four of us got along great and the views were extraordinary, even with not great weather.

our group in the salar - me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevinour group – me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevin

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Basically, we spent  the better part of 4 days in the jeep and we would get out and look at the ‘main’ sites.  Ed Abbey would hate it.  But, as I mentioned, it would be hard to get into these areas on my own unless I had own vehicle (note to self, next time I visit South America, it should be by bike or by vehicle!).   But, the sites are tourist sites because of how beautiful they are!

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

Our day would start with breakfast (mate or coffee and bread) and then we would pile into the jeep and head off.  Half way through the morning, Clemencia would pass back a snack (yogurt in a plastic sleeve or oreos), we would stop at various sites until it was time for lunch.  Then Clemencia would prepare lunch on the back of the jeep and we would eat more, pile into the jeep and head off for more sites.  We saw many many lagunas, llamas, flamingos and mountains.

llamas!

llamas!

Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

During the afternoon, our jeep was pretty funny.  Chewing cocoa leaves is very common in Bolivia (in fact the president wants to export it).  Our driver and cook chewed it like it was going out of style – popping leaves into their mouths at a constant rate.  We all (Elisa, Tommy, Kevin and I) also had a bag and would ‘chew’ it as well.  Basically, you take a wad of leaves – chew them just slightly and then stuff them into your cheek.  So, there were times when none of us spoke and we all had big wads of coca in our mouths.  The cocoa leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are used medicinally here – good for altitude.  But they are used in teas and for chewing and you can buy them at every market.  The real connoisseurs  (which is every Bolivian) take something alkaline with it to enhance the effects.  Clemencia shared some with us and you can tell a difference.

Besides never seeing cactus and llamas and flamingos in the wild before, I had never seen geysers.  They weren’t epic like I have heard they are in Yellowstone, but they were still pretty amazing.  We got out of the jeep and were able to walk around — some were shooting steam into the air, others were piles of bubbling mud.  It was all pretty amazing!

geysers

geysers and bubbling mud

But the part that we were all waiting for was the salar — one of the largest and highest salt flats in the world.  I was pretty excited because we were there during the rainy season – which meant that the water on the salt flat would reflect the sky.  The pictures I had seen were pretty epic.  We went out there early in the morning hoping to see the sun rise, though it was a cloudy morning – though, I am not sure there is a bad day on the salar.

sunrise on the salar

sunrise on the salar

salar de uyuni

salar de uyuni

Following the tour, I took a bus to Potosi – a town that sits at just under 4000m (close to 13,000 feet) and is well known for the silver mining operations.  One of the big tourist things to do here is to take a tour of the mines (and you can bring the miners gifts like dynamite, cigarettes, beer and cocoa leaves).  I am not sure if I will do it, but the town is quite beautiful (stay tuned for another titillating post!)

Take care friends — hope you enjoy the pictures!

Iraq, Nigeria, Chad and… USA

25 Feb

I crossed over the border to Bolivia today.

I was behind a few other tourists in line, but they were part of the list of countries that is able to get into Bolivia easily.

I, on the other hand, come from a country that is listed in a secondary group — along with Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and other similar countries.  And the good ol´US of A.  So, I had lots of fun paperwork to fill out and a hefty entrance fee (though good for 5 years) in order to get my visa.

But, here I am – in Bolivia.

I left the border town and headed for Tupiza where I am now.  It is the SW of Bolivia….  so think SW…  supposedly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their demise here.

There are all sorts of tourist options around here – including day trips by horse, jeep trips, etc.  This is also a possible jumping off point for a 4 day trip to Salar de Uyuni — the one tour I definitely want to spend the money on (anyone have suggestions?).

I have some great pictures from the past few days, but wifi might be hard to come by in the next few days….  I will post when I get a chance.

I´m off to walk around, buy food at the market (always an exciting adventure when you can´t really understand what they are saying to you), and enjoy the sun.

hope you are all well.