Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Our little run in with the Ecuadorian border patrol

We left Quito this morning with the very basic hope of entering Colombia tonight. This did not seem much of a feat as Colombia’s border is only 5 hours north of Quito. So we woke up not early and not late, had some breakfast and caught a bus to Otavala (2 hrs north of Quito) to do some sightseeing and shopping. After a brief stint in Otavalo and an amazing cheeseburger, we headed to the corner of the street where we were assured a bus would come by for Ibarra (the next large town to the north of us). We sat in the rain on the corner of this street for a few minutes when sure enough a bus drove up with a man hanging out of the doorway screaming “Ibarra, Ibarra, Ibarra”.  We got on and about an hour later the bus pulled up and parked at the main terminal in Ibarra. Again waking through the rain we asked and looked for a bus to the border, to a town called Tulcan. So this town is spelled Tulcan but pronounced “Toocaan” and so it took us a while to find anyone who knew of a town by this name. Once we established the correct pronunciation of our destination we were told that the bus for that location leaves outside of the terminal. Actually what we understood was that we should ride a bus headed in that direction and then get off on a road where the Tulcan bus drove by. We hesitantly and surprisingly agreed to this plan and hopped onto the bus. About ten minutes later we found ourselves, sure enough, on the side of the road waiting for a bus we were not sure would come. We waited for about a half hour in the rian when the Tulcan bus pulled up and about 30 people appeared out of nowhere and clambered onto it. Unfortunately we did not clamor hard enough (you would not believe the elbows little old ladies and very young children can throw!) and so we returned to our rainy street side. With this, I (Jynene) decided I was unwilling to wait in the rain for a moment longer and begin hailing a cab so we could return to the bus terminal and see what our other options might be. Truthfully, I had been skeptical that waiting on the street would work anyway and thought the bus terminal was probably better.  But, the cab driver explained to us that the bus terminal was not the place to catch the bus to Tulcan and encouraged us to return to the street but he said he knew a better place to wait. The moment he pulled into this spot on the street, the Tulcan bus pulled up and he got us on with a quick yell to the bus assistant (the guy who manages fares and yells out the door yelling the bus route so the driver can focus on driving).  At this stop, we were the only ones headed to Tulcan, so we didn’t have to throw elbows.  We did later pass the place we had been waiting before and saw the ensuing elbow-throwing event from inside the bus. Two and a half hours later we were finally on the border with Colombia. In Ecuador- it is important to remember-the sun rises at six and sets at six all year and so it was very dark when we arrived. The one thing our travel book says about the border crossing with Colombia is; “don’t do it at night.” So we were a little concerned about our late (well, more dark than late) arrival.
On the border of Colombia, we walked into the Ecuadorian immigration office and a very nice young man flipped through our passports and told us he couldn’t stamp us out of the country because we had never been stamped in. Why had we not been stamped in? Because the stupid border official at the southern end of Ecuador, coming up from Peru, did not stamp our passports two weeks earlier. We explained to our current border patrol officer in very broken Spanish (suddenly the stress of the situation made us completely forget how to speak even our very basic Spanish) that we asked the border guard on the Peruvian border to stamp us in but he told us he didn’t have the stamper. The current agent told us that this was a big problem. He said it was illegal to enter the country like that and that we should have known better.  He said that because it was illegal, he could arrest us (not that we know the words for arrest, but he held his hands out like they were handcuffed)!  We told him that we tried but there was nothing to do (also, we have been to many counties where a stamp in a passport is completely unnecessary…really just so the tourist has something to show off. We actually travelled through four countries in non-EU Europe where Buffy received no stamps at all while I received many. We figured is wasn’t that important) We showed him our entrance stamps for Peru proving we had not been in Ecuador for more than the legal 90 days but he was not happy. He told us to sit and left the room for a few minutes.  When he returned, he told us to follow him and he led us to a hallway away from other travelers and asked us if we spoke Spanish. We said that we could speak some Spanish and so he started to talk but very fast. (I think it is important to explain here that we actually speak Spanish reasonably well at this point but for some reason neither of us could speak any Spanish at that moment). We asked him to slow down and when we couldn’t understand a single word he said we asked a French girl in the other room to translate. She said that he said they would stamp our passports and everything would be fine (which, I should point out, did not seem to be what the officer had been saying to us.  We thought he was telling us something less official, like we should try and get Columbia to stamp us out of Columbia so Ecuador could stamp us in.  Or something equally confusing and un-official) Then the French girl left and the officer left and another, older-looking and higher ranking-looking agent came over. This agent told us we were in big trouble but that they would stamp us in.  Then, with our passports in his right hand, he stuck his left hand out and started to talk very fast. Here our Spanish failed us again-nothing he said made any sense and we said we didn’t understand. So he walked over to a sign that said $200 dollars payable at the central bank for all travelers who stayed over 90 days. He said we would have to wait until the morning until the bank opened to pay the money.  It was very clear at this moment that we could either sleep in the immigration office and wait to pay the fine at the bank in the morning or we could put something into his left hand and have our stamps. However, because we were slow on the uptake (and apparently speak no Spanish) he walked away frustrated and told us to wait again. He came back a few minutes later and again we showed him our paperwork showing when we were in Peru proving our stay in Ecuador was less than three weeks and so again he said “wait”. About an hour later we had two stamps in each of our passports.  He had placed our into Ecuador stamp one over another previous stamp making it impossible to read, and the other stamp he placed nice and clear on one of the last fresh pages of our passports.  So, thanks to our nerves, we forgot Spanish, and because we didn’t understand Spanish, the border agent decided it was too much work to extract bribes from us.  Who knew it could pay to be mono-lingual?
This was sort of just the beginning of our night… After we got stamped in we were hounded by many taxi drivers offering to drive us across the border but it looked like a short hike so we decided to hoof it. We asked the security patrol at the border (two very young looking guys) if we were able to walk across the border and they said yes (by this time our Spanish had returned a little). We walked across a very dark bridge for about a hundred yards to Colombia. This was probably the creepiest bridge on the planet. As we walked across it a few trucks drove super fast over it without stopping on either side of the border. On the Colombian side, the border got even shadier than it had been on the Ecuadorian side. Here, men were waving wads of American dollars (massive wads) to trade for pesos and there were absolutely no Columbian police guarding the border.  Off to one side was the poorly-lit immigration office.  But, the Columbian border agent was completely professional and it took a quick few moments to get stamped in to the country.  Luckily, there was a Colombian couple who we met on the Ecuadorian side who offered to share a cab to the Columbian border town a few kilometers away (they also seemed a bit worried about the border situation). This was good because there were no properly marked taxies there. So the Columbians negotiated with a driver and got us a ride in a very shady appearing black Soviet-bloc looking car. The driver showed us a few hotels and dropped us off on the side of the road near these hotels (another few minutes for us to spend in the rain) in the middle of Ipiales- our first Colombian city. Everything worked out and we are now sitting in a pretty nice hotel planning our next bus ride that should get us half way across the country over the next two days. I personally blame our problems on the fact that we are back on the Northern hemisphere and therefore our summer is officially over.
This was by far the creepiest border we have crossed, but it is also our last border before we get to the United States.  All in all we have been to 16 countries in the last 7 months for a total of 32 stamps, three of which we received in one hour. Actually, Buffy only has about 20 from this trip…border guards always seem to skip over her. J

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our week with Shane

We made only a few friends while in Colorado Springs, but the few we did make are of high quality. Shane is one of those really good friends of ours from Colorado Springs. Back in the Springs he is a manager at the chemistry lab at the city hospital. We met him originally through a game group our friend Julia is part of. This game group was made up of some super interesting characters from C.Springs and a large number of our friends were made there. So anyways Shane is this super interesting friend who we invited to join us Ecuador like a year ago when this trip was still in the planning phase. Surprisingly, he agreed to join us and met us in Quito last Saturday night. We stayed in Quito Sunday and Monday and were able to do quite a bit of sightseeing in those two days. This was good because Buffy was still recovering from a severe Ecuadorian Illness, and needed some time to rest while Shane and I explored Quito.  All three of us climbed up to the roof of a beautiful church in the old down town.  We got to see how the metal roof was attached to the cement structure of the building, and walk in between the external roof and the internal ceiling.  At the end of this gang-plank type structure was a beautiful overlook of the city from one of the church spires.  Then Buffy went back to the hotel to rest, and Shane and I walked around the Sunday artisans’ Mercado and went to an awesome Cuban food restaurant.  Monday morning we went to the Amazon Basin. We took a thirty minute flight from Quito to Lago Agrio and then a two hour bus and three hour boat ride to some cabins in Cuyubeno reserve near the border of Colombia. The boat ride was pretty spectacular we saw tons of birds along the way and were able to really see the jungle for the first time. That night it was raining quite a bit but the guide took us on another boat ride to see caiman. Caiman are a type of fresh water alligator that live in the Amazon River and its tributaries.  We saw quite a few of the alligators and got frighteningly close to a very large and angry looking one, but returned to the cabins without incident. Our boat mates were made up of two Danes, Two Australians, one German and two Slovenians. Everyone with the exception of the Slovenians turned out to be super cool. The Slovenians gave the rest of us a common cause to rally around: the Slovenians were extremely serious and didn’t want any talking at all, because it might scare the animals away, while everyone else preferred a balance between quite and socializing.  What was interesting is that the way the Slovenians handled the dispute was by insulting everyone else in the boat….which everyone else in the boat took in good humor.  Anyway, this was an ongoing interaction during the four day trip, so on to day two: we went trekking through the jungle to see trees and plants of medicinal and nutritional purposes. We also went trekking through a swamp that is part of the river in the rainy season but is only mud in the dry season (now). This was supper fun! Everyone was slipping and falling and sinking into the mud. We all got soooo dirty and wet and smelly. Veronica (the German) had really bad balance and showed us all what not to do when crossing from tree to tree but we all fell anyways. Michael the Australian (and largest of our group) kept slipping out of his boots and so would get stuck every few feet. When he would finally get himself unstuck he would have to continue floundering in the mud trying to get his boot back on. Shane served as part of the rescue crew throwing branches on the mud to provide some traction and going in after Veronica, Buffy and myself when all of us were stuck or sinking. It was actually quite hilarious. It was kind of like one of those team building exercises, like “ropes” or something…we all (except the Slovenians) struggled through the mud and we all helped each other get across, bucket-brigading backpacks, taking turns going first, forming human chains, pulling each other out of the mud. In the mud lagoon we were able to see a few toucans, parrots, cranes, frogs, caiman, and looked longingly for anacondas but found none.
 On the way back to the cabins we saw loads of birds and monkeys. That evening we went Piranha fishing.  Piranhas are carnivorous fish with a reputation that precedes them, but seems a bit outsized compared to their danger.  The Piranhas didn’t jump out of the water bearing their teeth and nipping at boat occupants…they didn’t seem so vicious.  To fish for them, we dropped fishing lines baited with little cubes of beef.  It was probably 45 minutes before Shane caught the first fish for the boat.  I caught one and two or three other folks also caught fish.  Overall, we definitely gave more meat away to the nipping Piranhas than we gained in fish caught (which, but the way, were subsequently thrown back into the river once the requisite pictures had been taken). We didn’t eat the piranha because they are reputed to have high levels of parasites; even the locals don’t eat them because they are small and bony.  Ironically, at dusk, we were in the boat headed back to camp and all sorts of fish started flying through the air trying to catch mosquitoes, and one fish landed right in the boat!  After spending almost an hour fishing and not getting a bite, this stupid thing jumps right in!  On the third day, we went to a local village. The villagers showed us how to cultivate yucca (not the same as in the south western US) and we made traditional bread.   They make their bread out of yucca.  First they shread the root up, then they dry out the shredded pieces by twisting them up in a two-sided reed-mat, then they cook them on an iron pan.  They’re pretty tasty.  We also got to play with a very nice but flea-ridden monkey. While we were in the village, a woman walked by with a monkey on her head.  She stopped and let us hold and pet the monkey.  Turns out it’s one of the smallest monkeys in the world.  After visiting the village, we went to another spot on the river where a medicine man, or Shaman, lived.  He was dressed up in his traditional Shaman robes, complete with ornate necklaces and beautiful parrot-feather head-dress.  He showed us all sorts of plants that he uses to diagnose and treat diseases.  How do you use a plant to diagnose a disease?  Well, the plant used for this purpose is a hallucinogen.  The Shaman imbibes a tea made from the leaf and concentrates on the sick person while he hallucinates.  The hallucination helps him to see the sick person’s problem and helps him to figure out the best way to treat it.  It was a pretty interesting visit and we ran into a few tourists who planned to stay the night with the shaman to try these hallucinogens.
 On the last day, we headed back to Quito, repeating our original trip but in reverse, but this time the river was very shallow and so Buffy and Shane had to get out and push the boats.  Actually, Buffy and I ended up on a boat by ourselves with the luggage and boat driver, while Shane was on another boat with a bunch of other tourists.  Shane again served as the rescue team because he was the only able bodied person on his boat, so he helped push the boat through the dry spot. Buffy served as rescue on our boat as I took pictures of her. J
Here is the animal count of our trip:
5 types of monkeys, dozens of birds including four types of Toucans, Three types of frogs, one anole (lizard), tons of spiders including three tarantulas in the dining “room”, two types of caiman, one pink river dolphin (which was grey because it was a baby), one manatee, one millipede, lemon ants (which we ate), and dozens of other types of insects including massive cockroaches in our hut that really liked our toiletry kit.
Back in Quito, we spent one day hitting the major museums and monasteries in Quito, and one day going to the equator.  The equator trip was interesting, because there were a bunch of experiments to demonstrate the oddness of the equator.  First, there was a demonstration of the Coriolis effect: a sink filled with water that had a plug in the bottom was unplugged with the plug directly over the equator, and there was no spin.  One meter to the south, the water spun clockwise, and one meter to the north, the water spun counterclockwise.  The second experiment was balancing an egg on a nail….apparently this is easier on the equator than anywhere else because gravity pulls the egg straight down onto the nail head instead of off to the side a bit, as it does if you are anywhere else, since the earth is a bit warped.  Finally, and most dubiously, we experimented with the diminished strength of people standing on the equator.  We paired up and stood to one side of the Equator.  One person interlocked their hands and held them up over head, while the other person pushed their hands down.  Repeating this experiment while standing on the Equator, the person with interlocked hands were very weak in holding their hands above their heads….it was easier for the other partner to push their hands down.  If I had just seen the experiment demonstrated, I would not believe it, but I felt it, as did Buffy and Shane. So, are any or all of these experiments valid, or good showmanship?  I need some more time with Google to find out.  In those last two days before Shane (sadly) left Ecuador, he tried Cuy (Guinea Pig) and Ceviche (fish cooked chemically rather than with heat).It was an amazing week and one of the most interesting adventures of our trip.
Our Amazon Crew

Little tiny wear on your head monkey

Shane trekking in the mud

What to take and not to take in the Jungle

Buffy pulling our boat along

Yucca bread

Friday, January 28, 2011

Our summer in Peru

January 27, 2011
January 11th was the last time either of us wrote on the blog and at the facebook request of Claire I am trying to correct our two week absence. What have we been doing for the last two weeks? - Everything. We took a bus from Lake Titicaca to the amazing city of Cusco. Cusco cannot actually be described very easily. It is a city of contrasts, its streets cobbled with myth and conquests and at one time gold. The city sits in a valley and the surrounding hillsides are terraced, as is much of Peru, for planting thousands of different types of potatoes and one type of corn. These terraces are not new: they were there when the Spanish entered the city in 1533 and they were there when the 1st Incan, Capac, found the “navel of the world” and claimed the area as the capital of his empire. These green terraces starkly contrast the grey stones that were chiseled to sit perfectly, one on top of the other, by the Quechua people for the Incans. (Incan means king and so only the kings were Incans everyone else was Quechua, which is the name of the language many still speak) In the city you can walk down narrow streets that the Incans once walked down.  These are also the same streets that Pizarro and his men marched on. Every building you enter is an archeological site. Sitting in a pizzeria one day I noticed that the wall was obviously Incan because it too had perfectly cut stone and these stones were marked with numbers that the owner had left after the archeologist marked them. Also, in this ancient capital city, you can watch women and little girls walk around leading Llamas behind them...animals very out of place in the urban landscape. This can all be seen while sitting on the steps of Cusco’s cathedral which was built on top of an Incan palace. So Cusco is pretty much amazing and it’s not even the primary attraction.
Machu Picchu…. “Discovered” in 1911 by a professor from Yale, Machu Picchu is one of the most spectacular sites on this continent. I would argue that it is more amazing than the Acropolis in Athens. I guess Athens is never hard to beat however, since it smells like urine. Anyways, Machu Picchu is frakin’ cool. Buffy and I didn’t have time to actually hike the Incan trail and we had heard that we wouldn’t want to anyways so we took a train from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes.  Aguas Calientes really only exists to support the tourism of Machu Picchu. It sits at the base of four VERY large mountains, the top of which you can only see on the sunniest of days. This town is also flanked by a rushing brown river that is part of the end of the Amazon. We stayed one night there and then took a bus up the winding trail to the “lost city of the Incans”. This drive is splendid. From the bus you can see waterfalls, forests and mountain tops and as you get closer to the ruins you start to see the marks of a lost empire. Once we actually got to the site its size and grandeur were immediately visible.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham, the archeologist credited with the discovery, was apparently pissed off about the discovery of Machu Picchu (as he was looking for someplace else entirely). But in following years he began to excavate and quickly recognized the significance of this site.  It is literally a city on top of a mountain. The Incan priest or king who built the site took great pains to build it here. It is linked by an Incan road (just a sliver of an immense highway that stretched from present day Chile to Ecuador) and by bridges that were built along cliffs. There are many impressive buildings on this site as well as astronomical carvings and niches for worship (maybe for mummies). We spent about eight hours just walking around and being truly amazed. Also at Machu Picchu you can look at Llamas and we were extremely lucky because the night before we arrived, a sacred black Llama was born, and three days earlier a tri-colored one. They were both pretty cute and frolicking like baby Llamas do.
After Cusco and Machu Picchu, Buffy and I took another 21 hour bus ride to Lima. We had heard from fellow travelers that Lima was barely worth a stop and not to stay for more than a day, but we found it to be pretty cool and interesting. Lima is now the capital city of Peru and has been since 1535 when Pizarro made it so. But the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the mid 18th century and so all of the colonial architecture is less than three hundred years old-yawn. Just kidding. The city has some cool museums and we went to the most fascinating one yet- Museo Larco may be the most fascinating because of its large collection of ancient erotic pottery. J We spent a few days in Lima recuperating from travelers fatigue and enjoying the oxygen (we’d been at over 14,000 feet for weeks by that point) and then we headed north towards Ecuador.
On our way to Ecuador we stopped in a little town called Trujillo, which is not so little. Named after Pizarro’s hometown in Espana, Trujillo has colonial architecture dating back to the 1500’s. Trujillo is also surrounded by the remains of civilizations predating the Incans. The Moche and the Chimu were two cultures that built great pyramids and palaces using adobe. When we first arrived in Trujillo I was not too interested in these adobe ruins, having played in my fair share back home, but these sites proved to be remarkable-and a must see for any of you planning a trip to Peru. These ancient ruins made up the largest adobe city in the world back in 1300 c.e. And the sand and adobe served to preserve paintings and other important archeological artifacts that a visitor can see and take photos of. It is really difficult to describe the awesomeness of a 14 story building made of adobe. I really cannot do it justice.
Hanging out around Huanchaco, the fishing/surfing village we stayed in north of Trujillo, I discovered Papas rellenas! So… these things are amazing!!!! What they do is take a potato and mash it and then stuff it with meat or a hardboiled egg or veggies or all three and then they fry it! Now this process can be done entirely by a little old lady with a baby strapped to her back at a stand attached to a bicycle. And I love it! But I also pay for it each time since my puny American stomach flora can’t handle street food. But I’m working on that by eating as much as I can and spending everyday sick!

Anyways we left Peru after only a few weeks but what feels like a lifetime and rode three more buses for a total of 26 hours to Cuenca! We spent most of our three days in Cuenca sick in bed so not a lot to report there but now we are in Quito! I also don’t have a lot to say about Quito since we just got here about 15 hours ago but will report more in the future. What I can say is that you can buy a three course vegetarian meal including a drink for $2 and so I’m a bit in love.
Eating street food in Peru!
Street vendor express!

Terraces and fields around Cusco

Black Baby Llama chillin in Machu Picchu

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

11 Jan 11-Lake Titicaca

These last few days we’ve been exploring the fabled Lake Titicaca, the mythical origin of the Incan people and, at about 13,000 ft above sea level, the highest lake in the world.  We went on a 2 day tour that explored several islands in the Peruvian side of the lake (the lake sits on the Peru/Bolivia border). 
First, we visited Islas Flotantes, one of over 60 floating islands.  These floating islands are man-made from reeds that grow in the lake.  Legend has it that locals constructed the islands and set out to sea in order to isolate themselves from aggressive Incas, who spent 100 years violently conquering and subjugating western South America.  These islands are trippy!  They are constructed of several layers of reeds that float on the lake’s surface.  The islands last about 30 years each.  They are constantly decomposing, so they smell a bit and they are squishy!  Walking on the island is kind of like walking on top of a mattress...a little unstable.  The houses are also made out of reeds and last about 10 years, and their boats are made out of reeds and last about 5 years.  There are little garden plots in some sections, and they place their stoves on top of rocks so that they don’t set fire to the island.  Smoking on the islands is strictly prohibited for the same reason!  Honestly, this part of the tour was over touristy….a little short on interesting information and a little long on efforts to squeeze a few more bucks out of visitors, but still good.  Also, I really liked seeing all of the solar panels outside the houses…technology at work!  Jynene and I got to hear a few of the local boys speak Quechua, which is the pre-Columbian Andean language.  The boys were going out on a trip in their canoe to hunt flamingos with these crazy looking hunting rifles.
Then, we visited the real earth island Amantani.  This island is very rocky and hilly, and is inhabited by 4,000 people split among 10 villages.  There are no cars or hotels on the island, and the people mostly speak Quechua and wear traditional clothing (seen in pictures below!).  Also, there is no church on the island because they were never converted to Christianity!  They still worship their ancestral deities.  This is really cool to me because I have never visited a community that maintained its original non-major religion.  First, all of us gringos climbed up to the top of one of the peaks on the island.  This was extremely difficult because of the altitude: we climbed from about 13,000 feet to 13,700 feet.  It was tough!  But the view was worth the effort.  Jynene played a game of soccer before the climb, because she is un poco loco en la cabeza.  From the peak we could look over the entire island, which is all hills, but the local community has cut terraces into the entire island to create farm land.  It’s really amazing looking and must have taken hundreds of years to terrace the entire island.  Also, the two peaks of the island correspond to the two places of worship, Pachatata and Pachamama (Father and Mother Earth).  So we got to visit the temple of Pachatata at the end of our climb.  We learned a little bit about the way of life on the island: There are 10 villages, and each village is responsible for growing one or two types of crops.  For example, a few villages will grow potatoes, a few will grow quinoa, a few will grow oca, a few will grow coca (although the source plant of cocain, coca is locally grown for use in tea/medicine and religious ceremonies and is not a narcotic here).  I don’t mean that it’s just not considered a narcotic, I mean it’s actually not a narcotic but is just like any other tea leaf and is good for treating altitude sickness and other ailments.  The 10 villages pool their produce and rotate crops.  Inside the 10 villages, the fields are communally owned and farmed.  Once a year each year, everyone on the island journey’s to the top of one of the two peaks, Pachatata or Pachamama, 5 villages to each peak, for a day of worship and prayer and communion with the heavens.  All of us tourists got to stay with a local family and share meals with them.  We ate quinoa soup and rice and eggs and potato and pasta.  The islander’s aren’t very well off and so can’t provide meat.  They did, however, dress us up in their traditional garb and bring us to a local dance.  See pictures for more on that!
The next day, we went to our last destination, the island Taquile.  Here is where the trip fell apart- a bit.  Our tour guide had partied that night before on the island and was still intoxicated in the morning.  He gave us curt instructions about what to do on the island in garbled Spanish/English/Quechua that none of the 30 of us tourists understood.  But we made our way from the port to the main square, had lunch, and walked to the other port on the other side of the island where the boat picked us up.  As the boat pulled up to the docks on the mainland and the tour was about to end, this tour guide suddenly woke up and started telling us about the island of Taquile, about 4 hours too late.  A few of the folks on the tour called the company and complained, and Jynene and I got a call at our hostel asking us to confirm the complaints about the tour guide. And apparently that guide no longer works for the company.  As annoying as it was that our guide didn’t do his job, it was good for a laugh.
So here we are, sitting in our hostel in the mainland, reflecting on our fun and interesting exploration of Lake Titicaca.  Tomorrow, we head to Cuzco, the heart of the Incan Empire!

The reeds that make Islands


Friday, January 7, 2011

Chasing Dakar-Or rather being chased by Dakar!

January 7, 2011
Today we are in Arica, Chile and I am sick. Damn. Buffy had a super cold for the last five days and so now I fear I will have to suffer as she did over the next few days. I have to say I was quite happy with my immune system as I watched her cough and sneeze. But now I know I was premature in my thinking and believe I will endure more suffering as a result of my pride. L On the bright side Dakar (an international race through Argentina and Chile) finally caught up with us, after trailing us through two countries and five cities. So today we will hang out, in this border town, long enough to see the racers pass by and snap a few photos to make my uncle’s, back in the states, happy. Our goal is to see Dakar, get lunch, hop across the border, get a bus and arrive in Arequipa, Peru by nightfall. Is it possible –likely not since we’ve had absolutely no success with border crossings up to this point.
Last week we camped out in La Quica, Argentina for five days hoping that the crisis sparked by a 70% hike in gasoline prices would quell in time for us to go to La Paz, Bolivia. In the end we didn’t go to Bolivia because there was no public transportation, $130 visa, and a chance that we would have to turn around and dart back to Argentina. It was sad as both of us have been dreaming of Bolivia since we started this trip.
Because of the Dakar race getting back to Salta, Argentina from the Bolivian border (south of La Quica) was difficult as was getting out of Salta and across to Chile. We travelled for many hours in a cramped SUV to cross the desolate border of Chile/Argentina in the west and arrived in San Pedro de Atacama on January 4th.
San Pedro, Chile was a pretty cool little tourist destination with a beautiful adobe/cactus church and an archeological museum founded by the town’s priest in the 1940’s. We had vegetables for the first time in many weeks (Argentina is famed for their steaks) and a nice, albeit expensive sleep. The town is overlooked by an impressive volcano and we were able to see quite a few of the pit crews for the Dakar teams.
We arrived in Arica, a surfer’s paradise, on the 6th after another daunting overnight bus through the desert. However, Arica (a town bordering Peru) has turned out to be very nice. In the 1880’s a famous architect for Paris by the name of Eiffel stopped here long enough to build a beautiful church.And again we get to see the crew pits for the Dakar team’s storm though the city. We stayed at Tres Soles Hostel where the owner’s family has taken very good care of us and we FINALLY had a proper breakfast. So now I am sitting at that hostel waiting for breakfast number two!!!! Buffy is doing math and I am angry that now it’s my turn to be sick but looking forward to breakfast, Dakar, Peru and the next six weeks of our trip!
Office of Priest/Anthropologist of S.P de Atacama
Border of Argentina and Chile

Dakar Dudes
Church in Atacama

Eiffel's Chrurch

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Driving (again) in Agentina

December 28, 2010
Only a few more days of the year left and we are living it up “Pura Vida” style in Argentina. We met some lovely Germans on a bus between Mendoza and Salta and decided to tempt fate once more and embarked upon a five day car journey in northern Argentina. The trip ended well after a few wrong turns and lots of empanadas. We ended the trip tonight with a little too much wine and cheap beer and a ton of laughter. Over all Buffy and I ended up with three new friends- all German, all Biologists and all super fun. So the recap on the last five days- Salta, Parque Nacional Los Cardones, Pierda del Molina, Cafayate  Parque  Nacional Calilegua, and  Humahuaca. It was a whirlwind of amazing and dramatic landscapes and more than our fair share of mosquito bites. Last night we stayed in Humahuaca a sweet little village on the border of Bolivia where everyone speaks a strange sort of Spanish and chews Coca leaves. Tomorrow we will board a bus (yet another bus!) to Bolivia and enter upon the most adventurous part of our journey- or so we have heard and hope.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20, 2010

The View From Our Hostel In Bariloche
We arrived in Bariloche on the 16th and stayed there until yesterday (19th) enjoying a much needed rest and hanging with friends. Louise ended up staying in the same hostels as we did and so we were able to enjoy actually having a friend for a few days. Yesterday we woke up late and made Pancakes, Danish style, and enjoyed a plethora of food, American style. Then we walked for an hour with our bags down the windswept streets of Bariloche to the bus station. There we boarded another bus to start our fifth overnight journey to a novel destination.
The bus ride from Bariloche to Mendoza was surprisingly comfortable but nothing can be comfortable for 17 hours. And so we awoke this morning and disembarked from our bus stretching and yawning and a little smelly. Now I am sitting in our home for the next 48 hours, Hostel Suites Mendoza, watching “The Big Bang Theory” and “Friends” and enjoying the language- English.
This week is Christmas and so we are planning on ‘camping-out’ in a hostel in Salta, Argentina for four days- our longest stay since El Calafate. Salta is supposed to be pretty interesting for adventure seekers as you can kayak, raft, hike, camp and horse bike ride at will. However, due to the holidays and the deterioration of funds we will be reading, snoozing, drinking lots of coffee and enjoying a break from tourism.
From Salta we will tread slowly to La Paz hopefully arriving by New Years Eve. Argentina has been, for us, a large, safe and familiar country and so, car problems aside, it has been relatively easy to travel. Over the next four weeks we will spend the majority of our time in Bolivia- South America’s poorest and most indigenous country. The warnings and stories we have heard from fellow travelers have been daunting but both of us want to experience the wonders and perils of Bolivia for ourselves.
Bolivia and Ecuador (and possibly Peru) will likely be the last countries we travel to on this trip, so it’s a little strange to think about. The last few weeks of this trip have been surprising in many ways…. Way One: We discovered we will be out of money in mid February instead of early May as we had originally expected. Way Two: we are not saddened/disappointed by this. Way Three: Both of us are extremely tired of living in hostels (not actually all that surprising). And so I write this blog not only to update and share with you our story but also because the story is going to come to a close sooner rather than later.
We have started to plan our exodus out of South America, which means we have also started to plan the next eight weeks. This is a sorta strange departure from our current and past lack of planning, which may explain our early exit. We think we will be headed back to the states in mid to late February leaving us about 9 weeks to travel and spend all of our money, a fairly easy feat. We could stay in South America longer if we both got jobs. However we have decided against this hoping to return in the next few years not as travelers but as contributors to the local economy, in a bigger and more sustainable way then we are currently.

Danish Pancakes