Monday, February 27, 2017

Bolivia thoughts

Couple quick thoughts on the amazing country of Bolivia. I've had a great couple of weeks here, traveling from the south to the north. People have been really friendly and the landscapes have been amazing. Super high altitudes, deserts, lakes, jungles and mountains. I've been in small towns, large cities and tiny villages. Sure the wifi normally doesn't work,and the streets are full of potholes, but hey, the country goes on.

Houses in Bolivia are mainly made from brick or adobe. Most are left like that, without a stucco finish or paint. Some appear half built, although lived in. Top or bottom layers await work to finish them. They're efficient and normally are just 1 or 2 levels. In the countryside, you see more adobe and some that appear to have been built numerous years ago. After seeing some Inca ruins, it almost appears that some farmers still use walls built by the Incas.

Eating in the markets is always an adventure. The sights are amazing, as anything and everything is for sale. That is, not a lot of packaged food, but everything else such as meat and veggies abound, with piles of pastas and grains. The smell of the meat can be overpowering with it sitting out, unrefrigerated,but if you get over that, it is feasting time. A normal set lunch entails a soup and then a main, for around $2.  The peanut or quinoa soups are the best, quite filing with potatoes and veg. The mains vary from chicken or beef along with potatoes, rice and a salad mix. At Lake Titicaca, the main was trout. Been good times feasting for cheap!   Works out cheaper than cooking for myself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lake Titicaca

At over 3800m, Lake Titicaca is impressive right there. Then with the scenery, color of the water and the friendly people in Bolivia, it is a darn outright stunning spot to visit. It's my last stop in Bolivia, and a good one to finish on.

Unlike the more popular Cocacabana, the small town which is the main place of entry to the Bolivian side, is not all sand and party. Surrounded by mountains, and full of hotels, this town pumps tourists from the world out onto the lake and to the Isla del Sol, the place where Incan mythology began.

Along with my two traveling companions,  Barak and Dan from Israel, we set off on a very full, slow ferry out to the island. Took 2.5 hours to the north part of the island where the Templo del Sol is. Quite the long, windy ride stuck on top of the boat. We hiked to the Sacred Rock, saw the sacrificial table  (was there a red hint?) and explored the awesome ruins of the temple. Those Incans were good builders!

The other two had to head back to catch the boat back, while I hiked to the highest point on the end of the island. Great views all around, with Peru in sight as well as the snow covered royal mountains of Bolivia. Very peaceful up there. Then it was time to head across the island to the south.

A steep, long path goes across the island, often looking like the Great Wall of China in its length and ability to see it from afar. Great sights on both sides, and I had a good chat with a local youngster while overlooking the middle village. I learned that quinoa and corn are the main two crops, and also learned those and potatoes are the only crops I understood in Spanish.

Reaching the southern end, I worked my way through a few hostels til I got a great price of $4.50 for a private room. Right outside was a cafe with a rocking chair at the table overlooking the lake. Needless to say, I stayed there the whole night, watching the sun set and eating a huge plate of trout. And that was day 1 on the island.

Day 2 entailed hiking to the southernmost end for more ruins, relaxing, chatting up some English girls and eating more trout. Then another show ride back, to stay 1 more night in Cocacabana. I tried camping, but 15 minutes after my tent was up, it began raining. So I'm at a vegetarian hostel, and falafel is on the menu tonight. Well done Bolivia, well done. Tomorrow Peru.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Salar de Uyuni

There is now another amazing highlight from my world travels. The Salar de Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia,  is one of the most breathtaking sights out there, from the flamingos and lamas, to the multi colored lagoons, to the brightly colored mountains. This place is a paradise of nature, from the lush green wetlands, to the dry deserts. Words cannot describe this place, from your feeling of awe,to the feeling of being just a speck in this universe. Always something amazing to look at out the window of the 4x4.

We started the 4 day tour from the quiet, friendly city of Tupiza and worked our way north to the touristic town of Uyuni. Each day was different, with amazing food along the way, provided by the awesome cook,  Augustina.  We had a good variety of food, from the usual chicken and beef dishes, to prickly pear cactus fruit as the main protein source. Feasting and exploring took up the days, and with the high altitude, we hit the sack early. The average altitude of our 3 nights was 4000m. During the days, we would climb mountains, go down into deserts and chill by lagoons full of wildlife.

I've hiked in high altitudes before, but this was defintely the highest I'd been, and fire the longest time. We passed 5000m on our 3rd day and didn't we notice a major difference. Just keep drinking that water and also we tried out the coca leaf,which our driver was quite fond of.

I was blown away by the colors. Shimmering orange and red mountains above a golden desert that has rock shapes just like in Dali's imagination. Orange, green and black lagoons. Pink and white flamingos with black tipped wings that could fly. Wet, green, spiky grass filled with life in the middle of a dry part of the country. Just pure epicness.

Here are a few pictures of the amazing nature. Much more coming.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Basketball at 3800 meters

Played basketball in the Andes in southwest Bolivia. I've still got game, but man, that altitude...

Basketball at 3800 meters

Played basketball in the Andes in southwest Bolivia. I've still got game, but man, that altitude...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Hitching in Northern Argentina

You never know what you're going to get with hitchhiking. Normally it will be a good story. This past experience was the longest trip yet for me, as it lasted more than one day and had me sleeping inside the semi truck on top of hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. More than 6 pallets of packages for me to sleep on, covered by the canvas tarp. Definitely a first for me. I normally couch surf, and this was similar in that it was provided by a stranger turned friend, and yet oh so different in that there was no couch. That had been replaced by the aforementioned toilet paper.

I'd been trying to travel from Córdoba Argentina to the northern city of Salta. After waiting just 12 minutes by the highway on ramp,  I was offered a ride north to Tucuman, some 8 hours north and a good option to go a long distance,even though it was a few hours shy of Salta. Ramon was the truck driver who picked me up for company along the long drive. Nice guy at a similar age who talked fast in Castellano Spanish with a tricky accent. I had to focus hard and attempt to use the Spanish I learned in high school to keep up with the conversation. Beer and movies were the highlights of the conversation. Pretty much when your hitching with a trucker who loves Rambo, you know you've hit the jackpot.

The journey took about the same time as a bus would've as trucks are limited to only 80km/hr and Ramon stuck by it. Each time we passed through a new province there was a police checkpoint. And only 1 time did Ramon get made to pay a bribe. Still lots of corruption in this country and the police are on top of it.

Turns out hitching with truckers doesn't leave you in the center of town. Not the best options for places to stay and the highway area was pretty shady. So I had the option to sleep on top of the merchandise,  which was the safer and more entertaining option by far.

In the morning, after the trucks were unloaded,  I scored a ride north with an awesome 70 year old man. More comfortable and a lot faster than the truck. We made good time and I got an inside look at how some argentinans are biased against people of darker skin and from the north. Me looking like a foreigner defintely helped me get the ride. 

Up north in Córdoba, Argentina

Córdoba has been amazing to me. Feeling at home in Argentina's second largest city, which is full odd friendly people and surrounded by hills and forests to explore. From another excellent couch surfing experience to a great walking tour this city kept me busy. The pace is slower than in Buenos Aires, and it is more manageable to walk around the city center. Plus the city was one of the first to have running water and free wifi in Latin America. Which one of those is the cooler fact?

Maximilliano,my host had good tips for the city as well as a great connection out in the countryside. I love cities, but it was time to get back to mother nature. The regional train cost $.30 and took me to Casa Bamba, one hour away and into the middle of hills, rivers and waterfalls. Perfect!

I stayed at what they call a refugio, which is a place you can camp, cook in a kitchen and relax with some shelter. Dario has been running the refugio for 12 years and it is a super laid back venture on the property of a 160 year old tavern. Needless to say, beer is still a popular item these days. There were 2 hammocks to relax in and trails to explore. I stayed 2.5 days, finished a 500 page book, swam in waterfalls and hung out with Pacha,the dog as well as practiced my Spanish with the guests and Dario. Good times!

The main trail goes along the train tracks and offered great views along the way. 2 trains each way per day, so it turns into the main walkway. I loved the view of the tracks and the mountains, as well as the isolated spots along the river only accessible by the tracks. Quite relaxing to stay there, although there was massive rain the second night and I was awoken at 1:30 am and we moved all my stuff intoa large room so my tent wouldn't get soaked. Good people helping out. So really 1.5 nights camping in my tent.

On to Argentina

After almost one month in Chile, it was time to switch countries and fly to Buenos Aires to visit Nadia, my foreignexchange sister. Can't believe it's been almost 20 years now. Since the late 90s my Spanish has improved, and yet the Argentinan accent is a tricky one.

Staying with Nadia and her daughter Olivia was a blast. Apart from her not having normal breakfast foods. Great location, great people and a fun balconyto hang out on and watch the city life below. We kept busy with exploring the city and eating. For two days we were just outside the city at a rented house by her boyfriends family. Awesomelocation with a pool and large barbecue and perfect to beat the heat in the big city.

Cooking asado, the Argentinan barbecue is a huge thing here, and Martin, Nadias boyfriend is un maestro. Literally they barbecue everything from the intestines to the liver to ribs. Quite the feast from 3 types of animals. They bring the food out one at a time to savor the flavor and not have too much out at a time. Delicious!   Especially the blood sausage with nuts and raisins inside.

Buenos Aires is huge and fun to explore, although I'd recommend not in the heat of summer when temperatures reach 100 daily. San Telmo was my favorite neighborhood with an epic Sunday street market. Great vibes there with some fun old buildings to explore and wonder how life used to be.

We walked through Palermo, filled with hipster cafes and shops and tree lined streets. Super chill and I found a spot with bacon and eggs. Later I came back to meet an old friend from college who is in the middle of a trip as well. This city attracts all the good people. La Boca is another highlight for its colorful buildings, street art, extremely filthy river, excellent pizza and dangerous streets. And off course the old cemetery in Recoleta was on the last to see famous graves and amazing masonry.

Good times in the federal city!

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Argentinans can be quite blunt and use nicknames that we wouldn't use in the US. For example, several people are called gordo as a nickname,  meaning fat(ty).  Totally acceptable here compared to my native country where you don't mention someone's size as yiu don't want to hurt their feelings. I just called called flaco in the street to attract my attention. I can't recall strangers calling me skinny to talk to me. And this guy just wanted to tell me that there was a better cafe to go to than where I was headed. And now I'm at said cafe eating breakfast and using wifi. Skinny is winning the day!

The Argentinan breakfast is not my favorite. Super sweet, with not much for protein or nutrition. It does not set me up for a long day of walking and exploring. I'm a big advocate of breakfast being the most important meal of the day, and the tastiest. In the US, I cook breakfast several times a week and eat like a king. Here I'm all sugared up and hungry an hour later.

The standard some small sweet pastries, normally medialunas, little sweet croissants, of which you get butter and either jam or dulce de leche to put on them. This is your filler. Then it's a coffee, with our without milk, a small OJ and some mineral water. And that's it. Set for the day, my ass.

Needless to say, the few times I've found a "desayuno americano", that has eggs, I jump on it. When staying at someone's house, I've been offered crackers with jam,  cookies or bread. Not much there either. But I've got cereal and milk in my backpack right now as I head off to camp for 2 days. Time to get back to basics and start the day off feasting.