Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category


People have asked us over and over again what our favorite part of our trip has been.  I’ll give you the answer, unanimously agreed-upon, without a shadow of a doubt: Parque Ambue Ari.  That lovely animal refuge in the middle of nowhere Bolivia, that we didn’t even plan on going to, weren’t even sure we wanted to go, where we ended up spending seven weeks and where we’d go back to in a heartbeat.  I can’t express to anyone how much that place means for us, which is why we keep bringing up numerous stories, silly, disgusting, and serious, that start with the phrase: “in the jungle…”.  So many of the thoughts I’ve post today and I my previous post were cemented at that park.  In fact, I’d say every single one of them stems from living there: learning to live simply, to be productive in the morning, that friendships are life, to create balance, especially with nature, to have patience, to have trust, understanding, to be selfless.  If the job search really turns up nil, we just might go back to the Amazon Basin to take over the treehouse and be back with our friends, both human and fuzzy, escape the reality of this life, and immerse ourselves in another.

Now, in terms of other favorites, I think I can say that the city we’d most likely try to live in is Santiago, Chile, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we turn up there in a few years, future job pending.  The city is beautiful, close to the mountains and the beach, the food is great, and the people are ridiculously friendly, if hard to understand. They have great wine, there’s a rock climbing gym, fantastic public transportation, and active politics.  It’s also close to Argentina, which maybe wasn’t my favorite place, but I did like it quite a bit, I do miss the rock-climbing community there, as well as its beautiful outdoors and wine, so it’d be nice to hop over for a visit every now and then.

santiago, chile, from cerro santa lucia

And people ask what the most beautiful place we went to was, and that is a really difficult question.  I realized not long after we started backpacking that we were drawn to the beauty in nature.  That’s where we and everyone we met wanted to go.  I think we are drawn to nature’s beauty because even the rocks and the hills and the mountains cry out to God’s glory, and often in nature we can find peace, serenity;  balance in simplicity.  So, we went a lot of great places.  But highlights off the top of my head include incredible beauty of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, the overwhelming power sensed at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia, the Fitz Roy range nearby, the Bolivian highlands, the Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu in Peru, and the beaches in northern Peru.

iguazu falls

And people ask: would we go back?  Where would we go?  The answer is, YES – if any opportunities present themselves I would leap on them.  However, I would like to take care of some things at home first (school, work experience) so that if we do go back it’d be in a sustainable way (i.e. permanent).   So, while we’re not exactly planning to go back (just the opposite, we’re planning on settling down and growing roots in Portland), its remaining an open possibility that I’ll work to keep that way, through school, work, and language skills.

As to where we would go, that depends on why we’re going.  I could work in Santiago and love it, but I could move to Bolivia or somewhere else as well, maybe focusing more on community development, and love that too.  I could own a vineyard and live in Argentina or Chile. 😉  But, we also really want to go to Central America sometime, starting in Columbia and working our way northward, ending with a long stint in Mexico – basically the second half of this trip we couldn’t accomplish this time around.   So, I guess our answer is, we’ll probably travel again sometime to any number of places, even ones we haven’t thought of yet, and in the meantime, we have a lot of great ideas for vacations. 🙂

So, I hope that helps to answer some of your questions.  Feel free to ask more, and we’d be happy to respond.


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Happy 4th of July!!

Just a quick post to link up some pictures we took around Riobamba and of the “Devil’s Nose” train ride HERE.

As I’m waiting for my shower to heat up (it’s already been at least 30 minutes, I’m starting to loose hope. Sad.), I thought I might as well share a few more thoughts on Riobamba.

Mainly,  a warning for anyone who cares: don’t bother coming here!  It’s an alright city, but overall it’s boring and uninteresting.  If you are really dead-set on the train, like I was, you can avoid coming here for more than to change a bus as well.  Here’s what I wish we had done: gone from Peru to Cuenca, a colonial city a few hours south of here. From Cuenca, we could have taken a bus directly to Alausi, stayed there (maybe not as nice as some options in Riobamba, but I bet you’d have about the same experience), and rode the train.  After the train ride (the whole thing takes only a few hours), we could have taken a bus to Riobamba, and transferred to a different bus on to Baños. Conversely, we could have stayed at the wonderful beach in Máncora one more day, to arrive in Riobamba on Saturday, ridden the train Sunday, and been on our way (the train only runs on Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays I believe).  That’s my advice.

Meanwhile, in Riobamba, we’ve done a lot of sleeping and movie watching.  Tyler’s been sick and can’t stray too far from a bathroom, and frankly, there’s not much else to do.  I wanted to go to Chimborazo (a nearby volcano) but the weather hasn’t been that great and its a bit pricy even just for transportation out there to hike around. Plus, well, I was so sunburned I was hobbling along, and again, Tyler and the bathroom. We did find a really good pizza place, and several nice plazas and churches and things like that. But, that just makes for a nice walk for a few hours.  We were excited to see that Chinese food is popular here, but then, it was not nearly as good as in Lima.  The noodles were, and this is not a joke, spaghetti noodles. And the people running the restaurant were Chinese (we could here them speaking), and there’s real noodles in Peru, so how hard can it possibly be to get them? Strange. And then there’s Ecuadorian food…why can’t we find anything good?  All we’ve seen is tons of pig face/various parts of roasted pork, and unappetizing looking starches.  Over, my impression is just sort of “blah.” Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed ourselves, it was just mainly in ways we could have enjoyed ourselves in any town anywhere; it’s just not a great travel destination, or even stop-over.  But, as a side-note, our second hotel, El Tren Dorado,was totally awesome and has an amazing breakfast!  I’m hoping, really hoping, it’s just this place and when we move on to the more popular town of Baños, and then to Quito, all things will improve.

And, there’s the business of trying to figure out the cultural differences here.  People have been generally quite friendly to us.  It’s been rare that anyone speaks English (which I love). But, from our bus ride experiences, people are also quite impatient, and extremely vocal.  I mean, we watched a lady yell at a guy on the bus for ‘overcharging’ her (long story), block his way, had him call his manager where she snatched up the phone and yelled at him, meanwhile another passenger started filming the whole thing with a professional looking camera and when the lady noticed, started talking to the camera about how she’s being overcharged and it’s an abuse, blah blah blah. All over $1. And that’s just the worst example, but people always seem to be yelling at the bus drivers to hurry up and to leave already. It’s been very entertaining.

Also, things seem somewhat more developed here, and also more westernized in a way I can’t quite articulate.  It’s almost like, in Bolivia, the people didn’t expect anything. They didn’t expect the bus to be clean, or on time, or to get good service. But they were honest, and shy, and fiercely held onto their traditions. Because of that, I always felt extremely safe in Bolivia, and like I could easily trust the people; they might try to overcharge you a bit if you’re a tourist, but they’re not going to completely take advantage of you, and they’re more likely to stare at you in confusion than think to rob you.  In Peru, things were more divided. Since Cusco was still part of the strong Andean culture, it was much the same, except a few people had figured out that tourists don’t just look funny, they have money and expensive things you can take from them. In Lima, people were snobbier, more likely to be rude to waiters and taxi drivers, and more likely to complain about bad services (because they had come to expect things to be a certain way).  Here, you can still see that the indigenous culture is strong, but it doesn’t have the same vibrancy as in Peru or Bolivia.  People seem care more about image, and you can see a greater Western influence, but not in the same ways we’ve seen elsewhere.  Basically, what it comes down to is first impressions, and we still haven’t ‘figured it out’ yet. So, more on that later.

On that note, I’ve given up on my shower and it’s time to back and get ready to go to Baños! More to come later.


Sharon and Tyler

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la paz and mt. illimani from el alto
Hi Everyone!

Has it really been over two weeks since we last updated the blog?! Oops! This always seems to happen!

For those interested in the thrills first, there are yet more pictures from La Paz HERE.

Quick highlights of La Paz: it’s big, it’s crowded, it’s hectic, it’s a little dirty, there’s not enough oxygen in the air, and frankly, it’s shocking after being in the jungle for 2 months.  Yet somehow, we found ourselves hanging around for 2 weeks! What?! We had planned on going to the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, but holed up in La Paz instead, thanks largely to a nice enough, cheap room with wifi, a stream of friends from the park showing up, and my decision to try to climb some real mountains (the Andes!).

We spent many nights drinking pints of Judas beer (the only realish beer that exists in Bolivia – 7%) at Oliver’s Pub, an “English” bar with fantastic food.  We watched the final Champion’s League game with friends from the park and had a crazy night out in La Paz, which included a friend eating 11 street burgers (amazing)!  I went on a few hikes to acclimatize: La Muela del Diablo and a few around La Cumbre. Both involved adventurous use of public transportation, as well as some private-car hiring and hitchhiking with my good friend Grant from the park, and both were amazing: we were essentially the only ones there!  At La Muela we even got to do some bouldering and spotting some sport climbing routes I’d have loved to have done. We had pizza and ice cream a few times at Napoli in Plaza Murrilo, and spent plenty of time buying souvenirs in Gringo Alley (Tyler even caved and bought Israeli pants); even venturing into the beginning of the witch’s market.  We found the best empananads tucumanas ever, a plethora cheap, fresh squeezed orange, mandarin, and grapefruit juice, a favorite papa relleno stand and even a Mexican restaurant. Tyler also found the best coca leaves yet from an apparently very obese, yet very generous women which has started quite the obsession.

What didn’t we do? Go to San Pedro prison or bike the Death Rode – two of the most popular things in La Paz.  We also didn’t go to a single museum (not even the Museo de Coca! We kept wanting do, but didn’t have the energy), and only walked past a few churches and important buildings.  We did eat an awful lot of street food and spend a lot of time sleeping in, recovering from the jungle, and downloading new movies (the Hangover 2 – yeah!).

Now, for those that want to hear about the climbs.  First, I was semi-talked into climbing Huayna Potosi, a 6088 meter (that’s over 19,000 feet!) mountain outside La Paz.  Crazy, huh? It’s known as one of the most accessible mountains over 6,000 feet and dozens of people with no experience whatsoever climb it each day.  I originally wanted to climb something smaller, but thought, what the heck, it’s cheap enough, I have a friend that wants to go, why not give it a shot? (Keep in mind that La Paz is already at 3500 meters.)

Day One: We headed to base camp, which was around 4200 meters high.  It was nice, we got to stay in a refugio, sleep on mattresses, have food cooked for us, and have a couple of very brief hours teaching us how to walk with crampons on the glacier and do a bit of ice climbing.  It wasn’t nearly enough training in my opinion, but a nice way to sort of ease into the climb I guess and get to know the group.

Day Two: We hiked in the morning to high camp, 5200 meters.  The hike took about 2.5 hours and I was the last one up.  Not a good sign.  While thankfully we didn’t have to carry things like tents, sleeping pads, food or stoves up, we did have to carry an awful lot of other gear: crampons, ice axe, helmet, boots, and a lot of warm clothes! I felt fine at the top; it just took me longer than the rest. Once there we had some tea and cookies, lunch, took a nap, took some pictures, had an early dinner, and tried to go to sleep by 6 p.m. So early! And no one could sleep!

Day Three: We’re supposed to get up at 12:30 a.m. to get ready, have some tea and cookies, and set out for the mountain by 1:30 a.m. at the latest.  Actually, on the brochure we were supposed to leave by 1 a.m. In reality we didn’t set off for the summit until about 2 a.m., for whatever reason my team was the last to leave and were immediately ages behind the rest of the group.  The first hour was fine: climbing, climbing, climbing on the glacier, across and up, too dark to see how far down and how steep it was, trying to hard to breathe to think about falling when we had to scramble over narrow rocks.  After and hour and a half I was nauseated and exhausted.  Not good.  I pushed on but the pace was slow.  I was told I would have 6-7 hours to summit; that we would stop every 20 minutes; that I could keep going up even if I was puking and falling over.  So I wasn’t worried; I thought, well, we’ve taken 2 or 3 tiny breaks in 2 hours, so I must be doing alright. At 3:30 our guide, Carlos, started calculating time to the top, saying we needed to be there by 6; not 7 or so like they told us before.  My partner, Grant, was more experienced with high climbs and perfectly fine to keep going.  I tried to go a little further, constantly on the verge of vomiting, then eventually decided to stop being selfish and not let Grant miss his chance for the summit.  I thought that maybe after they caught him up to the next group, Carlos and I could continue on at my slower pace and see how far we got.   They raced off to catch the next group, which was much further along than expected. I waited alone on the mountainside for 45 at 5500 meters elevation. I looked close to the summit; in reality I was only a third of the walking distance up.  Carlos told me to go down, saying if I didn’t have much energy now I wouldn’t have enough to go all the way up and back.  I wanted to take soroche (altitude) pills and chew coca, but it was too cold to do either.  Reluctantly I stumbled back and crawled into bed.  Needless to say I was disappointed and upset with my guide, but what can you do? That’s the politics of climbing, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the top anyway (especially safely) and I can come back and do it another day.  I still had a good experience, got to see what I was getting myself into, got a great workout, and met some cool people, and saw some interesting scenery.  The rest is for another day.

But, I couldn’t give up; I said I would summit something, and I damn well better.  I have goals; I have plans.  I want to join the Mazama’s, I have to climb a glaciated peak.  So after a couple days of rest, I made plans to climb the peak I originally wanted, Pequeno Alpamayo. I wish I had just done that in the first place! The hike in is beautiful, the camp is beautiful, there’s less people, and the scenery is absolutely stunning.  I convinced Grant to come along; he was going on to climb something more difficult afterwards in the same valley (Cabeza del Condor).  We arrived at the village of Tuni, mules took everything but our daypacks, and we hiked in about 3 hours to base camp, next to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. After an early dinner we went to bed, this time got up early at my request, and we heading off to the mountain by around 2 a.m. (if I remember correctly).  After about an hour’s walk on relatively flat ground, we reached the glacier, put on our gear, and started up.  It’s here that I realized I dropped my coca leaves (but I had taken soroche pills just to be sure) and wanted to cry.  But, up the glacier we went.  Up, and up, and up.  It always looked like we were almost there.  The first two hours I was energetic, hopeful, and great.  Then I started to decline, just like on Huayna Potosi.  At sunrise we finally made it to the top of the glacier, but still had to traverse it, climb Pico Tarija, descend that peak, and go up Pequeno Alpamayo. Our guide, Felix, was amazing.  He encouraged me just keep going, and before I knew it we were climbing the ridge of Pico Tarija.  It helped that there was extremely cold, strong winds, practically blowing me up (and off!) the mountain.  I loved the rush I got climbing the ridge; trying to stand, being blown over, my right leg falling through the soft snow off the steep edge, have to essentially crawl on all fours with my ice axe.  But, it was amazing to finally be on top of something; to know I had pushed through; to reach another personal life-long goal.  At the top of Pico Tarija we were exhausted, Grant was spooked by the summit ridge, and we noticed my crampon was broken which took ages to fix.  With Pequeno Alpamayo and it’s beautiful summit right in front of us, we decided to leave it for another day and go back to camp. After a very short nap and some lunch, I hiked out in 2 hours to make it back to La Paz, back to eat at Oliver’s, and collapsed into bed.

Finally after recovering from that, we left for Copacabana.  Unfortunately, the mayor of La Paz decided not to fufill some promises he made, and there were protests in El Alto, essentially the only way out of the city. Luckily, we found one bus that was sure he could get around this.  This let to some back road driving through country roads, with protesters literally putting stones to block the roads as we tried to go down them.  Our bus driver was literally asking people where what road went, but a faithful cholita was sure we could get through, and she was right!  What a funny adventure.  Then, it turns out we had to get off the bus and take a boat to keep going to Copacabana.  Except, the bus went on one boat, and we had to leave all our stuff and take a different boat!  Then the first boat was full, and the bus barely waited for the few of us on the second boat!  How scary to see all our stuff literally floating on without us!  But, it all worked out, as usual, and we’re here in beautiful Lago Titicaca, just spent the day hiking and exploring Incan ruins on the Isla del Sol, where the Incan god is believed to have created the sun and the moon, and we’re getting ready to head for Cusco, Peru tomorrow morning!

Keep us in mind, as Peru just went through some rather difficult elections and the Peruvian-Bolivian border has been closed for the past few weeks, and now is only open sporadically.  Apparently the old president of Peru decided to sell what were protected indigenous lands to a Canadian mining company and that didn’t go over so well, hence protests and the closing of borders.  But, word on the street is that the borders have been open, especially in the mornings, so we’re going to give it a go! Hopefully so, because we only have 3 more days left on our Bolivian visa!  If not, we just pay some small fines and spend more time relaxing on the beautiful (though slightly cold) lake!

Pics from Copacabana to come!

We love and miss you all, and are excited to get moving on with our trip again, so we can come home soon!


Sharon and Tyler

Hug the kitten for us. ❤


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This will be the briefest of posts just to let all our non-Facebook friends and family know that we’ve made it back safe from the park and are back once again in Santa Cruz.  We’ll be here for a few days while we get cleaned up and organized, before heading over to La Paz for a bit.  I would like to write more about our experiences in the park, but I need time to process and it’s just to soon, except to say that it was wonderful, beautiful, and rewarding. Pictures are HERE and HERE (new photos at the end of the second one), comments explain some of the details of what we did.

“The Plan”

I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and read the travel book while we take turns using the internet, so I’ll briefly share our rough plan of where we’re going next.  It’ll probably all change very quickly, but hey, why not?  Sorry there isn’t a map, but I’m sure you can Google all of these places if you’d like.

Around La Paz we hope to do some hiking and mountain-y type things (Huayni Potosi maybe), then hopefully we’ll got up to Rurrenabaque to get a better taste of  the Amazon rainforest, then back to La Paz, on to Copacabana and Lago Titicaca, then cross over to Cusco. Then we’ll be super tourists at Machu Picchu, head over to Lima, up the coast to Trujillo and some beaches, cross into southern Ecuador for some hiking and volcanoes and whatnot, check out Quito and the equator, head to some more beaches in the north, and think about how to cross into Columbia, what we want to do there, and how much further we’ll keep going.  There’s been talk of taking a coconut boat from Columbia to Panama and going home from there, but we shall see.  We miss the kitten dearly and are getting tired of spending our savings.  That said, we’re told to be home for a certain someone’s wedding in late August, which I think we can manage, hopefully with time to spare.

We feel like we’ve been missing a lot back home (babies being born, weddings, people getting engaged, etc.) and its started to feel like we’ve been away a long time (it’ll be 9 months on the 29th).  We miss and love everyone dearly, and thanks for all the support for making this trip possibly for us.  It’s been an amazing experience.

Hopefully more to come later!


Sharon and Tyler

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Alright, we’ve made it 2 whole weeks without electricity, hot water, internet and ATMs!  And we’re still alive! Not surprisingly, we ran out of cash and had to take our day off a little early to sort things out before we start working with our cats later this week.  We’re currently in Trinidad, a town about 4 hours away from the park, near the Amazon basin.  Anyway, its not an interesting town, but we have bug-free beds, hot water, a fan, lights, plugs, and WIFI!  What more could we need?

To catch everyone up, when we last posted we were on our way to Ambue Ari, a nature reserve and animal sanctuary in the rural Bolivian jungle.  At first we planned to stay for a month, but then were told we had to wait a five or six days for cat as a huge group of volunteers had arrived just before us, which turned into waiting 2 weeks for a cat after several people decided to stay longer.  So, I believe we’ll officially be here through May 15th, which means, no regular communication until after then. There is a town about an hour away with internet, and we still have another full day off before our time is up, but I wouldn’t expect much as we’d usually rather be catching up on sleep, doing laundry, and finding real food with our spare time then waiting for 30 minutes for Gmail to load.

There’s a lot we could write about Ambue Ari, but as its late I think I’ll leave this short for now.  Daily life is a challenge – both physically and mentally. We get up at 6:30, work from 7-8, breakfast from 8-9, then work from 9:30-12/12:30, lunch/break from 12:30-2, then work from 2-5/6, with dinner at 6:30, and we’re usually in bed by 10:30 or 11 most nights.

Tyler has been doing a lot of construction, and I have worked with just about every animal in the park except the cats, which as you can imagine, is torturous for me. But it turns out monkeys and birds do exist that I actually like, who knew?! There’s between 70-75 volunteers and staff here (a full camp!) so we’re always around people, nice people and incredibly irritating ones.  The food is so-so, meager breakfasts, fantastic huge lunches, and a carbohydrate packed slop for dinner.  Saturdays we have half days which means we’re free to take naps, do laundry, and go to either the nearby town of Santa Maria, or further into Guarayos for food and internet.  And then, there’s the weather, either hot and humid, pouring rain, or pleasantly warm and breezy, but completely unpredictable.  And, the multitudes of mosquitoes, tarantulas (one lives in our room), other spiders, tiny bugs in the bed, straw mattresses, more bugs in general, cockroaches, muddy, wet trails, having to wear damp boots, dirty crazy looking clothes, and always itching and generally feeling dirty.  And cold showers.

But, there’s also the animals, the joy of working with the few people that have honest intentions to serve at the camp, and the reward of working hard a good cause.  Plus, the jungle, despite the fact that its always trying to kill you, is amazing and beautiful! It also feels nice to be settled for awhile, and be a part of something. We also have other nice little things, like a shop nearby that sells beer and candy among other things (enough to make an horrible day better), a generator we can use to charge electronics,and Friday-night party-night in Santa Maria.  It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it, especially once we start working with our cats on Thursday!

That being said, there’s photos of the first 2 weeks HERE, and more updates to come later as we have all day tomorrow to laze about our hotel room and relax, woohoo!!



p.s. Happy Easter to everyone, I hear its coming up soon!  We’ll be missing everyone! ❤

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Hello All!

This will be just a quick update of what we’ve been up to for the past week or so (I can’t believe it’s been that long already!)

There’s a few pictures we’ve taken HERE (http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=344267&l=8404891dc0&id=683619282).

We arrived in Santa Cruz, in the southeast of Bolivia a few days ago.  It’s hot, humid, and generally uninteresting here.  Our first night we stayed at a nice hostel (Residencial Bolivar, I think) – it had a beautiful leafy patio, complete with resident toucan.  Yes, toucan – we didn’t even have to go to the rainforest to see one!  The downside was that it was the most expensive place we’ve stayed yet in Bolivia, and while it did have wifi, it was too slow to do much.  But, on the bright side, it had lots of sparkling clean bathrooms with hot water.  The rest of the day was uneventful – Tyler had a cold, we ate pizza, watched a movie, had some fruit in the market…oh, and I found a new skirt at a thrift store!

We left Santa Cruz after just one night for Samaipata, three hours away.  Samaipata is a tiny little town, but it has beautiful surroundings (Incan ruins, waterfalls, rainforest, etc.).  We decided to play it cheap and ended up camping at a place called “El Jardin” (the garden) which turned out to be fantastically nice.   Beautiful, serene, lots of fun people, really coolly designed buildings (adobe and recycled colored glass).  The unfortunate thing was that after one nice day it decided to rain for two, making it impossible to do anything but huddle under the kitchen porch with new friends.

We made an attempt to see some Che Guevera sights in the nearby town of Vallegrande, but it mostly ended up being too expensive and time consuming, not to mention obsessive.   Plus, it didn’t help that ALL the information in the guidebooks is pretty much, well, shit. As in not true.  Completely inaccurate.  We did manage to see where he used to be buried and hear some amazing stories from people in the town, but that’s about it.  (For those that don’t know, Che was assassinated outside Vallegrande in 1967; that’s why there’s a bunch of “Che stuff” around there, usually referred to as “the Che route” or “the last steps of Che.”)  That night we survived the craziest thunder and lightening storm of my life – the ground was literally shaking, and I actually started to think maybe the world was ending outside.  But, out cheap tent held up with one one wet spot, due to my laziness when setting up the rain-fly (it really didn’t seem like it would rain at the time!).  After that, we were basically trapped in Samaipata for a few days due to the rain, waiting for it to clear up so we could go out and see some of the sights, but instead we spent our time cooking, getting arepas (corn pancake things) at the market, making amazing hot chocolate, and hanging out trying not to be bored to death.  After three nights we decided it was finally time to move on…back to Santa Cruz.

And here we are again, this time staying in an extremely cheap place.  We did, however, find a very nice coffee shop place (Alexander Coffee, near the main square) that has fast wifi, so all is well.  We’re trying to take care of a few online chores (bills, cat supplies, bank accounts) and organize our next steps.  Hopefully tomorrow we’re going to try to volunteer at the Ambue Ari animal refuge, about 6 hours northeast of Santa Cruz.  In order to volunteer, we need to gather a lot of money, as there’s no ATM in town, procure malaria medication as even Santa Cruz is in the dreaded “red zone” of malaria on the maps, not to mention basically take care of anything important involving the internet, as the refuge has, get this, no electricity.  However, since we’re going to make a one month commitment (hopefully) we will get to work with felines…as in…jaguars, pumas, etc.  If that turns out to be true, it will be all worth it.  If not, we’ll become very fit doing construction and maintenance at the park I’m sure.  Once we’re there, there is a town nearby that has an internet cafe, so we should be able to update once a week or so.  If you want to check out information about this place, check it out HERE (http://www.intiwarayassi.org/articles/volunteer_animal_refuge/volunteer_at_ambue.html)!

Until next time, we love you all!

Sharon and Tyler

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Finally, I’ll post my entries from our week in Sucre, Bolivia.  Pictures can be found HERE.  Enjoy!

Sucre, March 17th – March 23rd

Day One: We arrived in Sucre with our new little family of friends in the afternoon, and took a taxi to the center of town, Plaza 25 de Mayo.  The funny thing was that the taxi…well…didn’t run so well and we spent a good chunk of time waiting on the side of the road for the car to start, which the driver assured us was normal and that it would fine in just a minute.  Eventually it worked and we arrived safely at Hostal Charcas, right across from the Mercado Central.  After checking out a room for 4, we decided it was good enough and set down our packs.  While the hostel didn’t have much to offer (no wifi, no breakfast, no kitchen) the price was right at about 33 pesos each (less than US$5), they had a rooftop terrace and lots of bathrooms with lots of hot water.  We walked around the city a bit, through the bustling Mercado Central, and settled on having a beer and a snack on the terrace before we decide what to do for dinner.  Seeing as it was St. Patrick’s Day, and our friends were from England and Germany and had never celebrated, we decided we might as well try to show them how it’s done…sort of.

We started out by eating at a German restaurant (Kafe Kulture), and passed a strange dance party in the street on the way.  Isabel was quick to point out that the owner was Austrian – and the food took an eternity to come out.  Luckily (or not) we were occupied trying to pour our ½ liter of dark hefeweizen beer into the tall, skinny glass without spilling foam everywhere.  It’s a special talent I apparently don’t have. When the food did come, it wasn’t the cuts of meat advertised on the menu, and the waitress was genuinely confused above which plate was what (strange, since she also spoke German).  But, seeing as we didn’t really know what we were missing (authenticity) I thought it was pretty delicious.

Next we head for the Joy Ride Café, where we had seen an advertisement for a St. Patty’s day party.  We made our friends order a liter of green beer each (on special 2×1) and spent a long time chatting over what we’d be doing at home.  We run into a friend of Isabel’s, who is going to a non-profit language school that sounded interesting, and also had some funny run-ins with your typical, drunk-to-a-stupor expats. After finally finishing our green beer, we stop for snacks, drinks, and bon-bons (which Will has to climb up a ladder in the store to get…hilarious), hang out in the room for awhile, and finally go to bed around 3 a.m.  Not a bad St. Patrick’s Day, but still not the same as home.

Day Two:  On our second day we sleep in until 11 or so, and everyone slowly gets up, showers, has coffee and gets ready for the day.  We don’t leave until around 1 p.m., and head across the street to search for the famous juices and fruit salads at the Mercado Central. I think I can easily say it’s the best fruit salad I’ve ever had, for only about US$1 – with every type of fruit, including local varieties like chirimoya, yogurt, oats, nuts, whipped cream…simply amazing.

After that we went off in search of information: we’re trying to look into hiking, mountain-biking, and/or climbing, and/or going to Sunday market in a nearby town, which is also having a festival this weekend.  We went around town getting different information and eventually book our bus tickets for Sunday and book a hike on Saturday, and we’re left with plenty of ideas of what else to do here in Sucre.  There’s a language school, Fox Academy, that is a non-profit and all of its proceeds go towards teaching English to low-income families.  It sounds like a fantastic school, they also offer classes in Quechua, the local indigenous language, as well as cooking classes, and you can volunteer to teach English.  Also, the company we’re going hiking with is a non-profit that invests its proceeds into the local community, and they’re looking for volunteers. It seems like there’s a lot of really interesting things going on in Sucre to get involved in!

Later Tyler and I head back to the Mercado in search of snacks: Tyler gets this amazing chorizo and rice dish from the second floor of the market for only US$2, and I try humitas, which are basically like triangle tamales, but sweeter, and mine had only cheese and could have used some flavor and some type of sauce.  After our “snacks” we head over to Fox Language School for a dinner fundraiser they’re putting on that Isabel’s friend Fiona invited us to.   It was a great way to try some traditional Bolivian food and get a feel for the school (lots of nice families and kids).  After that we went out for early drinks at the Amsterdam Café, a non-profit restaurant/pub that works with Bolivian street kids, and quickly became one of our favorite places to hang out (why not, it’s for a good cause?!). We talk about planning a possible two day hike through some villages outside Sucre that we heard about through the extremely helpful local tourist office, that would include walking along part on an old Incan trail, and seeing volcanoes, craters, and tiny indigenous villages.  But, for now, it’s off to bed so we can get up early for our hike tomorrow!

Day Three: We get up early and head back to the market for another great fruit salad.  It makes us late, but hey, it’s Latin America, and it doesn’t really matter anyway.  Our guide is Yao, a recent volunteer from Vancouver, BC.  First we go to Parque Cretácico – a dinosaur park on the outskirts of Sucre.  It seems that a cement company accidently uncovered hundreds of dinosaur footprints in the hillside, and so they built a park around it.  Due to the shifting of tectonic plates, the footprints are on a vertical wall that you can see from the park. The park is filled with dinosaur bones and models, as well as an AV room showing BBC documentaries.  It’s a pretty interesting, if cheesy, place.

Next we take a walk through a poor, working class part of town to find the “trailhead” to the waterfalls we’re supposed to walk to.  Yao has only been there once before, and he’s asking locals the best way to get down to the river.  We take some narrow trails down the ravine until we’re at the river.  The idea is that we follow the river, which is mostly dry, a few hours and have lunch at the falls.  We have a good time talking and walking, even if it does start to drizzle, then rain, then really rain. We’re from the PNW, after all, right? We stop and have a great lunch of grilled veggies, avocado, tomato, spinach, hard-boiled eggs, etc on great bread rolls. Then we continue walking, and after some amount of time Yao tells us the surrounding landscape doesn’t really look familiar.  At first think he’s joking because we had been teasing him that he would get us lost.  He’s not joking; he doesn’t know where we are and wants to walk back.  It was supposed to be a one-way hike and we’re not really looking forward to walking all the way back.  We tell him we should keep going to some nearby houses and ask people if we can hike out of the river valley to a main road, from where we can catch a taxi or hail a truck back to Sucre.  Eventually we find a family that has a huge truck and is actually heading back to Sucre later that day and is willing to take us as well.  So, it’s all going to work out – phew.

We walk around the river some more, then Yao manages to get us lost again trying to find the road out of the valley to where the truck his.  What a great guide. The truck ride back is pretty fun – it’s an open truck and we got some great views of the “super moon”, although I was really about to pee my pants.  Finally we make it back, find a pee spot, and get a taxi back to our hostel.  Yao wants to make our failed day up to us and invites us to his place for drinks and snacks.  He mostly wants to bribe us out of telling his boss he got us lost.  Not wanting to turn down a free offer, we agree to meet him and he points us in the direction of his apartment and we agree to meet him in about an hour.  Within that hour I fall asleep, and the others go out to meet Yao.  It turns out he actually told them the wrong directions (AGAIN!) and they couldn’t find their house.  They went to the Amsterdam Café for dinner, and ran into him there, where he said “hey guys, what happened? I waited for you for like fifteen minutes.”  Fifteen minutes?! That’s it?!!  Then, he apparently wanted them to go to a party with him and everyone was like, ‘no I’m pretty tired…’ and our idiot guide Yao had to audacity to tell them ‘hey, I did the same hike as you and I’m still going out, why are you so tired?’ Wow, just wow.  Then he tried to friend us on Facebook. What a completely incompetent guy.  I mean, I feel bad for him; it sucks to make a big mistake on the job, but c’mon, take some responsibility. We didn’t want him to get in trouble, but we thought the company should know what happened so they can maybe take some precautions in the future – like give guides maps, only let experienced guides lead hikes alone, and to learn to say ‘no’ when there’s not enough staff to lead a hike.  The idea of the organization is great, so I want them to do well – it just looks like they have a few lessons to learn!

Day Four: While Saturday turned out to be sort of a draw, Sunday pretty much made up for it.  Well, it was off to rough start…when just as we were leaving (already late) for the bus, I said my usual line to Tyler “do you have the key?” expecting his usual answer “yeah, it’s in the door, c’mon.”  But this day, it was different.  This day, the key couldn’t be found anywhere, to the point that we were about to miss the bus.  I tried to send Will and Isabel on ahead so they wouldn’t miss out on the day, and I would stay back in the room to look for the key and guard our things.  I had already looked everywhere.  People are freaking out, and it’s my fault.  We try to store our most important stuff (computers) with the hostel reception, but the poor old man is too consumed trying to get everything ready for their bus leaving for the market.  We decide to just have him lock the door with the spare key and leave him a note in case he forgets, which seems highly likely because he’s old and easily confused.  The worry, however, is that someone took our key and will go into our room while we’re gone.  I was the last one with the key the night before, so I would be responsible for anything that goes wrong.  We tried to have faith in humanity and enjoy the day in Tarabuco, a town a few hours away that has a huge Sunday market, and today was having a huge festival.

The day turns out to be great – there are tons of people lining up for a parade through the town in fancy, colorful indigenous costumes.  We find out the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is going to be there – crazy!  We walked around trying to politely take pictures of people’s colorful dress and make our way through town.  Eventually we decide to eat something since we missed breakfast thanks to my great key fiasco.  A women taking surveys points us in the right direction of food and lets us know the procession doesn’t start until noon so we have plenty of time.  We make our way up the hill and eventually a guy randomly calls out to us, something like “mister, mister!” in English, and end up talking to him.  He’s completely drunk at 11 a.m., but harmless.  He’s eating at a typical Bolivian food stand – a women on the side of the road with a few large pots wrapped in colorful blankets, and a some plastic chairs and a table. We look inside the pots and see a fantastic looking potato soup. At five pesos for a giant plate of food, we decide to risk it.  She loads up a huge serving of pasta, soup, and salad and we sit down to enjoy our gigantic meal, which turned out to be pretty delicious with few aftereffects.

Next we try to stake out our places for the parade – Will and Isabel opt to go further up into town to photograph the parade, while Tyler and I try to get a good spot for seeing the president.  Around noon more and more people are gathering and things start to get a little crazy; people are climbing trees and fences to see the procession.  Evo dances a traditional dance in full on traditional garb. The processions pass through, each one being announced and making some kind of offering to the president: a bag, a garland, at one point they actually threw popcorn at him and he picked it up and ate it, at another they gave him armfuls of bread and baskets of food, at another they were throwing confetti and ribbon at him, fireworks were going off that sounded like gunshots…it was totally unreal, unlike anything a president in any of our respective counties would ever do. The funny thing was that when asked for applause, the people hardly responded, yet they were dangling off trees to see him and shouting out his name.  At one point, I swear, he looked right at us and gave a sort-of fist salute, which Tyler, he obviously stands out, repeated back to him, and he actually laughed and waived!  It doesn’t get much more surreal than that.

After the festivities we went around town shopping for llama everything – llama socks, llama sweaters, a hat, traditional weavings, traditional ponchos (which Isabel plans to make into a rug – great idea!), pillowcases from traditional fabrics, llama gloves, and normal things like a flashlight and batteries.  I even got to pet a really friendly cat for awhile, which the people around me joked that they would sell it to me. It was fun to just walk around the market, which not only had all the traditional touristy type things, but normal things like kitchen supplies, cocoa leaves, spices, clothes, etc.  It was truly interesting to see, and we were so lucky to be there on the festival they have once a year.

Day Five: On Monday, myself, Tyler, and Isabel set off for our two-day hike to some villages outside Sucre.  Sadly, Will was back at the hostel, sick. L We had made all the preparations the day before – we got food and water at the supermarket, packed our bags, put the rest of our stuff in storage, found a taxi to take us to the first village (the micros are currently on strike).  It was drizzling as we left….not good.  After about 20 minutes we turn off the paved road onto what used to be a dirt road, but by know is mostly a mud pit.  We’re afraid that we’re about to get scammed and robbed, and we’re not looking forward to hiking and camping in the rain.  It only looks worse on the horizon in the direction we’re trying to go.  After some admirable attempts by our driver to navigate the muddy roads, we decide to admit defeat and head back. A lazy day might not be so bad anyway, and maybe Isabel can leave earlier to La Paz.  We come back to the hostel and find a slightly better Will so Tyler gets us a double room for the night, and Isabel and Will are going to try to head to La Paz that night.  Before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye to our dear new friends and readjust to travelling as just the two of us!  It feels so lonely now – who will help us make all the decisions and lead the way around town?!

Day Six:  Today starts with a beautiful sunny day.  Our new room is much nicer than the old one – right up by the terrace, with lots of windows and sunlight, and storage.  And it doesn’t smell like an old shoe, all for just a total of US$2 more per night!  We enjoy finally being able to sleep in and have a lazy start to the day, my favorite.  Since it’s sunny out, we walk around town taking pictures, and walk up to the Recoleta Mirador, which has great views of the city and the surrounding valley.  It’s beautiful; Bolivia is so green and beautiful!   After some much needed time interneting at Café Amsterdam, which turns out to have the fastest wifi of any of the places around our hostel, we head off for one last sightseeing stop: La Casa de Libertad, where Bolivia’s Declaration of Independence was signed, and where the first Congress of Bolivia convened before the political capital was moved to La Paz (Sucre is the “constitutional capital and houses the Supreme Court).  I can’t believe I’ve seen the Bolivian declaration of independence, and also the first Argentine flag, but none of the historical relics of my own country.  A trip to DC is a must!

After that we walk around some more, trying to plan what to do next.  We settle on a 5 p.m. bus leaving for Santa Cruz the following day, where we’re hopefully do some camping, see Che Guevara’s grave, and maybe even volunteer in an animal refuge where I’ll actually be allowed to hang out with big kittens like pumas and such.  We basically spend the rest of the day trying to eat all the food we were left with from our failed camping attempt and napping.  But, we went out to dinner at Locot’s and had some delicious Bolivian food that I can’t remember the names of now.

Day Seven: I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we arrived in Sucre!  Today we don’t have many plans.  We sleep in, pack, get ready, and try to finish off the last of the food we were left with after our failed camping attempt.  I pack our favorite cookies for the bus and make some sandwiches, leave a can of tuna for the hostel kitten, drink the last of our instant coffee, and give the rest of our fruits and veggies to a man on the street.  Our main goal of the day is to finish updating photos and the blog, and mail a package home.  It’s so funny to mail something here – first you have a find a box, which is usually just in the street or you can ask for one in a store.  Then you have to find packing tape at the market.  Then we took it to the post office and they say we have to wrap it in paper.  To buy the paper we have to find a libreria.  Then the post office lady wraps our box for us. So many steps just for a package!  At home I’m so used to buying everything in one stop!  But, we got it done, and now it’s just a few hours until our bus leaves for Santa Cruz.  Depending on the road conditions due to rain, it’ll either be 15-25 hours long, so until next time….

Love you all!



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