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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

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!

Love,

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!!

Love,

Sharon

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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Sucre!

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!

Sharon

 

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Once in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, we decide it’s time to cross into Bolivia.  We decide to book a 3 day, 4-wheel trek across the desert to Uyuni, Boliva.  Below are the tails from what has essentially become my e-diary, sorry most of it was written in notes and in a hurry, so its not that great.

Also, pictures can be found HERE and HERE!

Trip to Uyuni, March 12th – March 14th

Day One: We get up painfully early before the sun rises to get ready and pack our bags.  Tyler wanders the town to find an ATM so we have money to exchange into Bolivanos, as well as buy last minute snacks and bread for breakfast.  We wait around outside the office for awhile until finally a van picks us up and we set off for the border.  We’re stamped out of Chile easily enough, and continue on to the Laguna Verde border crossing into Bolivia: remote, in the middle of the desert altiplano.  From there we’re told we can temporarily enter Bolivia, but as soon as we get to Uyuni we have to each pay $US 135 to obtain our visas.  Not too bad…the only problem so far is that we specifically went to the ATM in Chile to get pesos to exchange in Bolivia to pay entrance fees and have some cash when we get to town because the ATM is supposed to be spotty, but we never get a chance to stop.  So frustrating! But the scenery and company makes up for everything…

We drive through the desert in our trusty Land Rover with our fantastic Bolivian guide Neftali. After a few hours through the incredibly high and remote desert, we come across a lake, known as the white lagoon.  Who would expect water out here?!  The more impressive sight is the Green Lagoon, which, when the wind and sun are just right, goes from watery brown to bright turquoise!  It was amazing to watch it slowly transform – well worth the wait!  Next sight was the Dali rock fields, which apparently inspired the famous Spanish artist (or they just look like his work, I can’t remember now…).  As we keep driving all day long, we have good conversations with our new friends and trip-mates: Will and Isabel.  By the time we reach the Polque Hot Springs we’re already sharing towels along with stories.  The hot springs were great (with a fantastic view), but maybe a little much with the altitude (close to 5,000 meters – which is about 16,404 feet of elevation!).  Next stop: Morning Sun Geyser Basin, where we walk around active, bubbling, muddy, sulfuric geysers. They’re not like Old Faithful; they’re more like some kind of swamp-land from your imagination when you’re reading Lord of the Rings.  Still interesting to see though!  Finally, a few hours later we arrive at the refugio by the Red Lagoon.  Like the Green Lagoon, when the sun and wind are just right the lagoon turns an amazing shade of rust-red in the late afternoon, and is home to thousands of pink flamingos.  That night we sleep out in rustic accommodations in the desert; our guide makes us the best dinner of all the groups (lasagna!), including wine, and we even get afternoon tea and pancakes for breakfast.  Incredible!

The only downside to the trip was that the other 2 girls in our car (“the frenchies”) wanted to be in another car, and to make a long story short, basically insisted that we plan our entire trip around following this other car’s schedule, which ended up making us miss some sights in the desert and have a really, really long second day and an extra night in the crappy little town of Uyuni, all so they could see some boy they liked and see the last day of Carnival in Uyuni (which is just a bunch of people drinking in a square).  Ah, the joys of group travel! At least we made some good friends out of the whole thing, and had some great discussions with Neftali about who his least favorite travelers are…

Day Two:  After a great breakfast in the refugio, we head out to cross the rest of the desert.  We get up early, intending to leave early, but the French girls hold everyone up and we end up leaving 2 hours later than planned so they can try to follow the other car…

No worries though – we focus on the awesome sights we’re getting to see.  First stop is the Stone Tree, a cool rock formation in the middle of the desert.  In addition to the “tree” there are volcanic rocks around that I swear were just made for bouldering…so perfect I couldn’t resist playing around on them.  Later I found out someone else had the same great idea and broke their arm, so you’re actually not supposed to climb on the boulders…what a shame.

After the tree and boulders, we made a few more stops in the desert for photos on mountains and lakes in the altiplano, then made a looooong trip to Uyuni, in Bolivia. Before heading into town we stopped at the “train cemetery” where old trains from over 100 years ago are just sitting around rusting in a field. You can play all over the them…it’s kind of a neat, but weird, sight.

Once we get into town, Neftali tells us that there’ s really nothing to do in Uyuni other than party for Carnival, which none of us are really interested in after our 2 days in the high desert.  He can’t cook us dinner because the place we’re staying doesn’t have a kitchen, and there’s not many restaurants open because of Carnival.  We end up having to eat pizza for dinner, which the French girls didn’t even show up for.  Oh, and that was after they took the first showers and used the last of the water at the hotel so no one else could shower until the next day…in the afternoon. Lovely. But, at least we have a room to ourselves, and we can breathe a little easier at last!

Third Day:  On our last day of the tour, we finally get to see what we’ve been waiting for: the salt flats of Uyuni, the largest in the world.  Right now since it’s the end of the rainy season in Bolivia, the flats are covered in about a foot of water so we don’t get that endless white field effect, but we do get amazing crystal clear reflections.  Before we get to see the flats, we stop at a “salt museum” to see the traditional way of how salt is processed.  Basically when the flats are wet it’s shoveled into triangular piles, which are hauled into town by truck, where they’re dried in the sun for a few days.  Then the salt is heated in an oven to clean it, ground, and packed into plastic bags, and sealed by melting the plastic.  When there’s no water on the flats, they use knives to cut blocks out of the salt which they use to make houses and tourist hotels.

Next we drive out the start of the flats, a few miles outside of town, and have breakfast on the back of the Land Rover.  Side-note: strawberry yogurt with chocolate corn-flakish cereal is surprisingly good. The goal of today: avoid sunburns (Tyler, of course, fails at this), and take a million pictures. We drive through the water, stopping in the middle to get out and take pictures. We walk for about an hour through the water…exfoliating our feet on the crunchy, surprisingly sharp sand. Apparently there’s nothing for traveler’s foot like walking around these flats for a day! And isn’t that a nice image to have in your mind when you’re using salt?!  The scenery is intense: the watery reflections and cloudy skies blend into oblivion; it’s exactly what I imagined when I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Seriously, it looks like you can just walk into nothingness and heaven.  There are islands on the flats that look like they’re floating in the sky because of the reflections, like some trippy Myzumi anime.  After we spend a long time trying to take it all in and capture it, we meet Neftali and the others at the Hotel de Sal, where Neftali is making us a traditional Bolivian lunch of llama and the best quinoa I’ve ever had.

After that we head to an artisanal market in the village near the flats, where I buy my first llama sweater and get my first taste of beautiful, vibrant, and cheap Bolivian handicrafts.  Waiting for months before we buy anything has finally paid off!  Once we get back to Uyuni our tour official ends, and Tyler and I set off on our next challenge: getting our visa straightened out.

The Longest Hour: the tour is over, and we have an hour before we meet Will and Isabel to figure out where we’re staying and get our Bolivian visa.  We passed though the border crossing at Laguna Verde on the condition that we would pay to get our official visas as soon as we arrived in Uyuni.  After the end of the tour, we walked around town looking for the Migración Office, covered in our salt-splattered clothes.  We find the office, expecting to pay the $US 135 visa fee.  However, we can’t pay by debit card, and the ATM only dispenses 150 Bolivanos (about $US 21) at a time.  We are pretty sure we can’t just make 10 withdrawals in day, even between our two bank accounts.  We go to the only ATM in town anyway.  It doesn’t open until 5 p.m. It’s now about 4:15.  We’re supposed to meet our friends, Will and Isabel, at 5 in the main square.  We have nothing to do for an hour.  We walk.  We look vainly for another ATM.  We ask around for hotel and hostel prices, as we also have to find a place to stay that night.  We walk more.  Finally, I decide to just use an internet café, at least let the most important people know we’re alive and well in Bolivia, even if we don’t have our visas yet.  It takes 22 minutes to send one email, delete my junk mail, check one bank account, and update my Facebook status.  Frustratingly slow, but at least I can finally write home.  Tyler goes to get in line for the ATM.  At 5:05 a women is painstakingly slowly sweeping bank receipts out of the ATM booths.  No one can go in until she’s finished. She doesn’t know it’s after 5, that people had already been using the ATM. Tyler and I are now first in line.  Some pushy tourists try to tell the girl to hurry up, people are waiting.  Strange thing to see in Latin America.  We patiently wait; we’re used to it by now.  I spot our friends, wave in the direction of the ATM and get back in line. We finally get to go in; we each try to withdrawal the maximum amount on the screen from our bank accounts – 1400 Bolivanos, about US$200, hoping with every fiber of our being that it works.  It does!  Our friends are trying to get a Bolivian phone card to work; it’s complicated.  We tell them we still have to get our visa. They’ve decided to stay in the same hotel as with the tour; they’ve already showered and have a room.  That’s what we wanted to do, but we were waiting for them.  We decide to go get our visa before the office closes and meet them at the hotel later. We go, but we don’t have all the required paperwork. That’s easy; just pay a 50 peso fine each.  Our passports already have the visas and 90 day stamp in them; we just have to fill out the paperwork. The dates are fudged to match the day we were stamped out of Chile.  But we’re officially in Bolivia!

We go back towards the hotel; I’m impatient as Tyler insists on buying another 5 liters of water before the big bottles sell out.  I want to shower before the water runs out again.  We get back, check in hurriedly, get to the room, and take our bags from storage to the room.  Tyler runs to meet our friends at the “bus terminal” to buy our tickets to Potosí for tomorrow. I scramble for a shower before the water is out.  I try to use as little water as possible and be as fast as possible so Tyler can have a shower.  I want to wash my salty pants but I don’t.  Tyler gets back, and for the second time there’s no more water for him.  Oh no! He washes using bought water, again, but he amazingly only uses less than a liter of water.  We spend some time reading our guidebook, playing computer games, organizing photos.  We go to eat dinner with our friends, end up at a “Mexican place” which turns out to be alright. Off to bed early, we’re still used to Chilean time, an hour ahead.  The next day we find a place serving breakfast, bread on the verge of mold, with margarine and jam, coffee.  Then we’re off on the very bumpy dirt road to Potosí…

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San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, March 10th to March 12th

First, there’s photos from this part of our trip HERE!

Our bus ride goes up Valparaiso through the coast and desert 25 hours until we arrive at the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the far north of Chile.  The bus ride turns out to actually be one of the best, Sharon sleeps well (though Tyler struggles), the bus food is pretty good for riding semi-cama, and the movies are also better than usual.  We arrive late at night and as we’re getting our bags and trying to orient ourselves, some folks ask us if we’re looking for a place to stay and offer us a room for CHP 5,000 each (a good price, though it doesn’t include breakfast or internet), and we agree and they take us to Casa del Sol Naciente in their pick-up truck.  We’re the only 2 in our room, but the beds are warm, there’s hot water before 10 p.m., a kitchen with loads of free items, a hangout patio with a fire place, camping options, a lurking kitten, and really nice people. It’s a bit “rustic” but it has great views of the surrounding volcanoes and desert.  The second night they offer us a private room for a $1000 pesos more, which we take and enjoy.  Both prices were lower than anything we’d seen online.

Day Two: We finally get to sleep in – late – until 11 a.m.!  Tyler for some crazy reason gets up early, showers, buys bread for breakfast and makes coffee, making for a nice, relaxing morning.   Then we walk around town a bit – it’s tiny, all the buildings are one-story adobe, and most of the roads are unpaved and look exactly the same, with complicated street names, when there are street signs.  We compare prices at different tourist agencies for the trip across the desert to Uyuni, Bolivia.  The agencies aren’t budging on the prices, so while we mull over whether or not it’s worth it, we book a trip to go to Valle de la Luna that night.   After asking a few more questions, we book the cheapest trip that leaves the next day.

Once all the planning is done, we seek out a cheap lunch at food stalls on the outskirts of town, and find a little place that serves ceviche with boiled potatoes and salad that turns out to be quite good.  Afterwards we walk around town taking a few photos and collecting 5 liter bottles of water and sugary snacks for a trip across the desert.  By the time we come back to our room, it’s basically time to get ready to head to Valle de la Luna.  We rush to get ready but end up waiting around quite a long time for the tour bus to pick us up (it’s very late), but by now we’re getting used to the “hurry up and wait” mentality, and we’re excited to be the only North Americans, as it increases our chances of getting to practice Spanish.

Once we finally get to the tour, it’s great!  We stop at a mirador that overlooks the desert, mountains, and town, and then go for a downhill walk through the Valle de Muerte – a beautiful desert canyon.  Next we stop to pay the park entrance free (our student discount works again!) and take a very rushes walk through some crystal salt caves, then quickly walk up to the mirador to just in time to catch the sunset over the Valle de la Luna. Who knew the desert could be so beautiful, and have so many different shades of orange, red, pink, and rose?! It was truly out of this world, and we felt blessed to once again get to experience such unique and beautiful scenery.

Once back into town, we decide to have chorilliana one last time, and this time we make sure to ask that it comes with a fried egg (instead of scrambled) before our plate arrives at the table, a mistake we’d made twice before.  For some reason (maybe the altitude) we’re still hungry and ask for another plate of fries, as we watch the news of the tsunami in Japan and warnings all along the Chilean coast.  Then we finally go back to the hostel to pack and organize for our trip through the desert early the next morning.

Next time from the desert crossing to Uyuni, Bolivia!

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Tyler-baby in Puerto Montt, Chile

¡Hola a todos!

We are writing from the so-so town of Temuco, in central Chile.  It’s been awhile since our last update, so I’ll fill everyone in on some of the details of what we’ve been up.  Tyler might write later in a more interesting manner if he feels like it.

But first, for those interested, pictures can be found HERE.

Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt was the first town we went to from Punta Arenas.  The bus ride was shorter than we were told – a pleasant surprise when it lasted only about 31 hours or so.  It was also a pleasantly quiet and clean bus ride; no noisy obnoxious tourists this time!  The disappointing thing was that they took a route through Argentina, which meant more border crossings using more pages in our passports, and driving through a lot of scenery we had already seen.  But, we got to spend the last of our Argentine monedas (coins) that we couldn’t exchange in Chile at one of the stops. (Until, of course, Tyler found a bunch of Argentine pesos in his clothes when we did laundry in Chile).  And, we still got to see some new scenery!

In Puerto Montt we hopped off the bus, got a list of accommodations and a map, got pointed in the ride direction, and ended up in one of the best and most affordable places we’ve found yet.  Plus they had a cat, and there were baby kittens at the little kiosco on the street.  We ended up getting a sort of accidental deal on a private room, with a good breakfast, wifi that worked in our room, and really friendly people running the place.  We went off in search that day of seafood empanadas after I saw a Chilean family making some at the hostel we were stuck at in Punta Arenas.  Once again we were pointed in the right direction, found a little place, and they told us there were no empanadas.  We were sad.  All made sad faces.  Then she offered to make empanadas for us if we waited.  And it was awesome – we made conversation with the folks in the shop, watched some soccer, and finally got to have some great, fresh made empanadas, filled with delicious mussels and green onions.

 

craziest, best hot dog (salchicha completo) ever in puerto montt, chile

We spent the next day traipsing around town trying to make our next plans.  We decided to do just one side trip in the area (our original plan was to do none and save money, but it was too beautiful to resist).  We were recommended to go to the island of Chiloé; transportation there seemed the easiest, so we bought our tickets to leave the next day.  In the meantime, we made a goal to try every street food available in the town – two varieties of crazy hot dogs, giant gumdrops, chocolate, mote (a very strange beverage of sugary juice, grains, and a pickled plum), stick meat, and corn-cake things with wonderfully spicy salsa (perhaps called sopadillas but I’m not sure).  Then we meandered over the fish market, where we had actually tried to go the first day but didn’t make it as it was really cold and raining.  This day was sunny and nice, so we found the place – it was no Pike’s Place but it was pretty neat.  Plus they have lots of razor clams around apparently.  But, we ate dinner near the market the same night and it was suuuuper disappointing.  Oh well.  I did get to see four kittens in one day, and hold two of them so…

 

Chiloé

Next stop was Chiloé, a beautiful nearby island.  The best story of this side-trip was when we got off the bus in Chonchi, a tiny town in the center of the island.  We get off the bus, go to the tourist information booth, and they tell us there’s four places to stay in town, and our very upfront with which one is the cheapest.  We go there, it’s a family home, and get a great room with a view, for only slightly more than we paid in Puerto Montt (no breakfast though).  As soon as we get there, Tyler realizes he left his shorts and towel on the bus.  They were damp so he had taken them out of his backpack and put them in the overhead storage on the bus and left them there.  It was our only towel.  We had just bought those pants in December – they’re the fancy outdoor kind that wick and zip off into shorts.  We were upset, and to try to think of something to do, I said, well, why not just ask the bus company?  It couldn’t hurt.  The same buses probably run through here every day. We didn’t have much hope, but sure enough, we went to the bus office, the guy called the driver on the bus, they found our stuff, and said it’d be back by 7:30 that same night.  Craziness; and, it worked!  We came back, and they had transferred his clothes to a different bus and brought back to us, all, for free!  Latin America isn’t really known for its customer service, but I really think that beats any lost luggage treatment you’d get in the U.S.

 

Pacific Coast, Chiloé

So, we got Tyler’s stuff back, we were in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with almost no tourists, had a great room…all was well.  We decided to go camp on the beach at the national park the next day, another thing we were recommended to do from the tourist office in Puerto Montt. Our hospedaje agreed to store our extra luggage until we came back.  We take the bus to the “national park” thinking it’s a 6 hour walk from there, as indicated on the map.  We go the national park, and mention we’re trying

 

beachy fun in Chile!

to go camping at Cole Cole.  He then gives us a strange look, gives us our money back, and then says we h

ave to take the bus further up, and then walk on the beach to the park, then pay the entrance fee, and then pay to camp.  We didn’t have enough money for all that, and there certainly wasn’t a

n ATM nearby.  So, we start walking down the road.  We hope to get picked up by someone, but so does everyone else and every truck that passes us is full.  So we walk to the end of the paved road, to a gravel road.  We keep walking, and I see a path through a field to the beach.  Why not just look for a place to camp on the beach?  Isn’t that all we wanted anyway?  If we conserve the water we have, we should be fine.  And, it turned out to be the best place we’ve stayed yet – we

found a great campsite (probably a fisherman’s), right on the water, walked up to the national park where we could have camped, and enjoyed a great, people-free day. Fantastic. The only slightly bad part was that it started drizzling the next day so we had to pack out early with damp things, but, all was dried off back in Chonchi in our same great room.  Good times to be able to relax on our own for a bit, and it ended up saving us quite a bit of money.

 

Temuco

This is my least favorite place I’ve been to so far.  We wanted to stop somewhere to break up the 15-18 hour bus ride from Chonchi to Santiago.  Central Chile is supposed to be beautiful, so why not stop over and spend a day somewhere a little less touristy.  We were recommended to go to Valdivia or Temuco.  Temuco was further north, so we bought tickets to go there.  We arrived at about 9 p.m. last night.  I don’t really like arriving at night, not only is it dark and potentially less safe, most lodgings are getting full or are full by then.  But, we had no other choice, except to continue directly on to Santiago – there were buses that apparently left as late as 12:30. But we were tired, and hungry, so we looked for a place to stay.  There was no information place.  There were 3 hospedajes nearby.  We were all told to go the bigger one.  It was a crap-hole. And it was more expensive than anything else we’ve ever paid in Chile.  For a dirty shared bathroom, no wifi, and no breakfast. I looked doubtful and the lady started going on and on about how all the other places were full and this was all that was left.  Not a good sign.  But we took it and went out to find food and our tickets to Santiago.  I hated this place.  Hated.  The people there were loud and drinking, and it seemed like the kind of place you’d find strung out heroine addicts in.  Maybe that’s because we just stayed on the beach.   So we go back to the bus station and find out there’s 2 spots left on a bus that night to Santiago.  I think sleeping a crappy bus is better than staying at this place, so we go back to try to leave.  We well the lady we’re really sorry, but we just found a bus that leaves tonight and we want our money back so we can go.  Its literally been 10 minutes, at the most, since we paid.  She tries to tell us there’s no room on any buses going back to today. Lies! We just asked and found them.  I tell her that.  She says if we paid, we paid, we can’t get our money back.  I point out its been minutes, and there’s buses full of people coming in every 5 minutes (true) –  she’ll find someone to take our place.  She says she had to turn away a group of 5 people while we gone because we had already taken the room. Lies. More lies.  And I knew she was lying, but there was nothing we could do about it.  We asked again, said we were sorry, asked why she was being so serious.  All to no avail.  So we go to our room – and the place is, at most, half-full.  My ass there’s no more room.  And, two guys came in after us – two guys that could have taken OUR ROOM!  Impressive that she’d let people that are obviously pissed at her stay in her place.  She’s lucky we didn’t trash it (peanut butter and jelly on blankets did cross our minds…).  But, I managed to calm down, watch a movie, get lots and lots of sleep, talked to a nice Canadian family staying at the place, and got the heck out.

 

The only good thing in Temuco: ice cream that looks like a garden gnome

We leave for Santiago tonight at 10:30, which will get us into town at about 7 a.m. Not the best situation, but sleeping on the bus saves us some money, and we’ll have all day to find a place to stay! Until then we have about 7 hours to kill in the city, which, is mostly just uninteresting.  I mean really uninteresting, as in, I don’t know why people would come here.  But, we found a restaurant with wifi, I ate a turkey sandwich with avocado, something I’ve been missing – a poultry sandwich option instead of beef or ham – we’re about to get ice cream, and we’re about to wear out our welcome here I think.  So, with that, I sign off.  Next time from the Santiago area!

 

Love,

Sharon

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