Bowl

La Paz, Bolivia

That’s what the city’s shaped like, from altitudes ranging from 3100 m to 4058 m.¬† And maybe that’s why all the cholitas (indigenous women) here wear bowler hats instead of the ones you see in other Bolivian cities.¬† (Ba-dum-shhhh.)

All the good stuff is downhill in the center.  The poorer you are, the further uphill you live.  And these hills are bruuuutal.  At least there are micros that run super-frequently everywhere and every which way, costing only 2 Bs. Continue reading

R&R

Sucre, Bolivia

“Quick, go go go!”

There was a strike in Potos√≠, preventing me from the normal option of leaving town by bus. Strikes of any sort are extremely common here, and bus routes to major cities are often blocked for hours or days. Antonio beckoned me into a taxi at 7 am, after I had woken up early (begrudgingly, as I was fighting a cold from walking around Potos√≠ in the rain the previous day) due to his warning the previous night. “Maybe you can get around el bloqueado.”

I was lucky, and I did – after detouring around one protestor-made roadblock, immediately upon arriving BEHIND the bus station, the taxi driver pointed out to me a private car heading to Sucre. Unfortunately, it would cost me 6 times the normal cost – 60 Bs ($9) instead of 10. Ah well, worth the price of an extra day. Continue reading

Risk, reward?

Potosí, Bolivia

Due to lack of time, I did something I normally wouldn’t do – take a night bus arriving in the middle of the night. I bought a bus ticket from Uyuni to Potos√≠, leaving 7:30 and arriving past 1 am for 35 bolivanos ($5, 3 hours)…but was jittery enough that I bought another one for 6 pm, arriving at midnight, for another 30 Bs. Tried to get a refund on that 35, but was unsuccessful. Was told to go sell my ticket on the street…I just gave my ticket back to the woman and told her (in bad Spanish) to sell it again without paying me. She was confused, but after much hemming and hawing, accepted. Seriously though, hesitating over free money?

The bus was an experience. Bumpy bumpy bumpy. Also, despite being seated, there were plenty of people standing in the aisles for at least an hour – turns out we were making local stops. After arriving in Potos√≠ at midnight, I caught a taxi for my hostel. I was really quite paranoid at this point – I’ve heard too many stories about people getting taken to random places and having money stolen. But that taxi had a radio, and the lighty thing on top – I was alright. We randomly picked up another woman though.

I took a taxi, my first since Buenos Aires almost 7 weeks ago, since I didn’t want to walk 20 minutes to my hostel late at night. But that ride took over 30 minutes…since the driver and the woman weren’t able to find my hostel! That was a bit of a headache… I’m glad I can communicate relatively okay now in Spanish though, or I would have been freaking out. After many circles, we found my hostel… a block away. Oops. Continue reading

Beyond nature

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

This is one of those things best left to pictures than to descriptions…so I’ll keep it short.

Jess, Sam, Shasha, and I departed Tupiza (altitude 2950 m) at 8 am, for the far southwest circuit to Uyuni.¬† We had a lovely driver/guide, Carmelo – the most enthusiastic person ever, though he only spoke Spanish.¬† (Every so often: “YAAAAY!” or “Llamaaaa!” whenever we saw a flock.)¬† As is required, we traveled in a convoy – two other trucks (four Americans, four Australians), as well as a few trucks (mainly rowdy Israelis) from other tour groups.

Our first day, we visited Quebrada de Palala, an area full of red pointy, needly geological formations; El Sillar, another valley of the moon; Valle del Diablo, an area impassible in winter due to heavy winds and blowing sand (of which we still got plenty, in summer); and the village of San Pablo de L√≠pez, a village of 150…except we maybe saw three people and a bunch of abandoned-looking houses with broken windows.¬† Turns out they’re tending to their llama flocks.¬† Oh yeah, llamas – we saw pleeeeeenty of them.¬† And ate some llama tamales for lunch too. Continue reading

Fast forward

Tupiza, Bolivia

We left Salta at midnight to catch the bus to La Quiaca, the border city to Bolivia. ¬†Arriving at 7 am (meaning 6 am Bolivia time), we still had to cross the border on foot. ¬†Wowwwww inefficient – at least we crossed in 2 hours. ¬†Going the other way, the line looked at least 5 hours long! ¬†The customs agent would stamp a few people through, disappear for maybe half an hour, then come back and do that all over again…

Bolivia feels different. ¬†It’s more…Asia-like in some ways. ¬†A few more stray dogs on the street, a bit more chaos, less developed, and everything is cheap. ¬†Our two hour bus ride from Villaz√≥n (just across La Quiaca) to Tupiza cost only $2.

Now that bus ride was strange. ¬†First off, we were walking toward the terminal, when the bus – already running – approached us, and some guy leaning out the door was yelling “Tupiza, Tupiza!” at us. ¬†If you’re carrying backpacks and in Villaz√≥n, where else do you go? ¬†We hopped in. Continue reading

Music

Salta, Argentina

I had a wonderful final night in San Pedro just chatting away. ¬†Making friends while travelling is very different – despite spending such a short time together, friendships become strong quickly. ¬†People tend to be more open, and often talk frankly and honestly about topics usually never broached or cautiously sidestepped back home – dreams, faith, philosophy… ¬†(Also, I learn interesting things, like that tiny owl hiding in the corner of the US $1 bill! ¬†Never knew.) ¬†But alas, I had to leave early the next morning for my 9:30 bus, and I said my goodbyes to Beto, Jimbo, Pamela, and Sofi.

Or so I thought. ¬†My hostel was just outside of customs, and we were stuck at customs for a whole 3 hours. ¬†Frustrated with that, I ran back to my hostel and hung out with them one last time while waiting for the several hundred people to pass. ¬†More hugs, but also more goodbyes – those are always tough. ¬†Well, at least I know now I definitely want to return to Chile someday, not just to see the places I’ve missed, but at the very least to visit some great friends! Continue reading

Irony

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

I’ve had minimal problems with weather in the last few weeks – I’ve been lucky.¬† You’d think that I’d be fine in the driest desert in the world.¬† Well, turns out that there’ve been record-breaking rains and floods here.¬† (In the meantime, southern Chile, which usually has a lot of rain, is suffering from drought.)

The floods have subsided a little, but there are now new rivers and new bridges must be built.  Also, some attractions are not viable in rain, and it still rains here occasionally Рodd for a city that usually never sees a single cloud.  As a result, many attractions here are inaccessible for tours Рincluding Laguna Cejar, which I wanted to see: a lake like the Dead Sea in that you float because of the salinity.  When the attractions do open, the tours fill up almost immediately. Continue reading

Cama

Route 5, Chile

Spending 24 hours bussing isn’t very pleasant.¬† But at least it’s much cheaper than flying.¬† Normally, I’d go for the semi-cama class of seats (cama means bed), which is comfortable enough…if you’re going for like 12 hours.¬† But if you need to sleep?¬† Full cama is where it’s at.¬† After all, it’s AtaCAMA I’m going to, not Ata-semi-cama.

Well, sort of.  My first bus was 17 hours to Antofagasta, and that was full cama.  I slept for a lot of that.  But how do you kill the rest of the time? Continue reading

Sprawl

Santiago, Chile

Immediately upon arriving in Santiago, I booked my passage out again. ¬†Second time in a row (Valpara√≠so was the first) – bad, I know, for a city I haven’t even seen yet, but necessary during peak season! ¬†My next destination is San Pedro de Atacama, a 23 hour bus ride away. ¬†Unfortunately, all direct buses were booked until Tuesday, and same for buses connecting in Calama. ¬†Fortunately, my Amazing Race fandom came in handy, as I knew I could connect in Antofagasta. ¬†Unfortunately again, my extremely lacking Spanish made this a very large ordeal to book. ¬†Fortunately again, the guy at the bus company was super nice, made sure everything was clear (despite the speedy Chilean Spanish), and even walked me to the other terminal where my bus is to depart. ¬†The whole peak season thing factors in again though – I had to settle for a higher class seating than I intended, which means paying a lot more, but hey, for a full day on a bus, it’ll be nice.

I arrived at the hostel Lihuén recommended, and then managed to meet up with Amanda (Sweden), whom I met waaaay back on my very first day in Buenos Aires!  Santiago is her home base, so she became my guide for the day.

But first – lunch. ¬†Hadn’t eaten anything since the giant dinner in Valpo the night before at 8:30pm, and it was now 2:30pm. ¬†Oops. ¬†Amanda and I wandered in to Barrio Bellavista and quickly found a restaurant. ¬†Upon her suggestion (and the kitchen running out of my first choice), I ended up with pastel de choclo, which is mashed corn, chicken, ground beef, onions, and a couple olives and raisins, all baked in a clay pot. ¬†Delicious beyond imagination, but extremely filling – I couldn’t finish more than three quarters! Continue reading

Colour, contrast, clines

Valparaíso, Chile

Back in the big city – and this one could very well be my favourite of all time.


Valpara√≠so is a study in contrasts – upon arriving, it seemed gritty and run down. ¬†El Plan, the only section of town that isn’t hilly, clearly bears the signs of decline. ¬†I was even told explicitly to avoid some areas. ¬†But after taking my first of many ascensor¬†(funicular) rides to my hostel in Cerro Alegre, there is a dramatic change in scenery – and the fact alone that I had to take a funicular obviously sticks out. Continue reading