Archive for December, 2010

Merry Christmas from Botswana!

Hello friends,

As you read this, we’ll be deep in the bush looking for all those crazy animals people visit Africa to see.   No pictures to show yet, but lots to come soon!  Though you may have to wait a while as we’re a few countries behind on our posts…

We wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas from an exotic destination – the Okavango Delta in Botswana!  We’re out of touch on safari until the New Year – see you in 2011!

Hugs from Sarah and Ted

Picture of the Week

Tupiza – the hidden gem of Bolivia.  Feels like Sedona, AZ.

The Silver Rush

Potosi is all about superlatives. It was once the largest and wealthiest town in Latin America and to this day is the world’s highest city at 13,041 feet. Its largest and wealthiest status is due to the fact that it is surrounded by mountains that once contained so much silver, Potosi alone funded the Spanish colonization of the continent for over 200 years. Though nearly all of the silver is now gone, mining for minerals still occurs in conditions that have shockingly changed very little throughout the centuries. Miners regularly die within 10-15 years of their first day in the mine due to poor air quality that eventually pollutes their lungs and kills them. Throughout the history of the mines, literally millions of miners have died (a disproportionate amount of indigenous people and slaves brought over from Africa to work the mines) because of the danger and demands of the job.

This being said, one of the most popular things for tourists to do is visit the mines. This isn’t a formal organized tour about the history with some museum displays of old mining relics, this is a down-and-dirty tour of an active, working mine. I chose not to go because I wasn’t interested in being hot, dirty and uncomfortable, but Ted went and had quite an experience that he’ll write about in a future post.

One of the best outcomes of the mine tour, in my opinion, is that Ted met a great couple from South Africa that was heading in the same direction as us. As we both wanted to do the same tour of Bolivia’s popular salt flats, we traveled together onto our next stop.


This is an alpaca fetus. They are sold along the streets of La Paz in the Mercado de Brujas, or the witches market. Supposedly, you bury one of these under the porch when you buy a house and it brings you good luck.  Personally, I prefer a 4-leaf clover…

Picture of the Week

High-altitude flamingos (~13,000 ft) in Bolivia’s southwest circuit

Bolivia at its Cleanest

A lot of people, as well as the guidebooks, call Sucre Bolivia’s most beautiful city. As it was on our way south through the country, we thought it certainly deserved a stop. The city itself is quite lovely with beautiful architecture, including the supreme court of Bolivia (Sucre is the judicial capital). There are some narrow, cobblestone, hilly streets reminiscent of small European towns and there is a mirador (a view point) at the top of a hill where you can look out over the red-roofed buildings and the surrounding rolling hills. It is also noticeably cleaner than some of the other places we had visited in Bolivia, as in the trash was actually put in the trash cans as opposed to anywhere along the side of the road. Everyone from taxi drivers to bar tenders remarked with pride about the cleanliness of their city.

Sucre has a very similar vibe to Cuenca, Ecuador and Arequipa, Peru being that they are all good-sized, attractive, well-kept cities with beautiful buildings, walkable streets and lots of great places to eat and drink (not to mention each is our favorite city in their respective countries).

Though there are a lot of day and multi-day trips that you can do around the area from hiking to horseback riding, we stuck to the city center because we have lots of trekking and outdoorsy time in our future as we heads toward Argentina and Chile.


What a fun word to say. Cochabamba was our next stop after La Paz, reached by a 13+ hour overnight bus. This was one of those trips that you are glad your parents don’t know you are doing because they would certainly worry. The roads in Bolivia, for the most part, are unpaved and as the area is mountainous and the buses are old, it makes for a long, bumpy, loud, cliff-hugging ride. We made it in one piece.

Cochabamba is a university town with a great buzz and lots of young people around. The town is also known for the HUGE Jesus statue that watches over residents from a nearby hill.  We enjoyed wandering around the campus and also the main prado with lots of different restaurants and shops.  And of course, we visited the statue.

As I’ve been browsing and acquiring small gifts for myself and others throughout our travels, Ted had remained purchase-less, until Cochabamba. Before we even left the US he had considered the possibility of acquiring a charango while traveling in the northern Andean countries. A charango is small, stringed instrument similar to a ukelele that is featured in a lot of traditional music in this region. A good friend of ours, Dave Griffith, actually studied abroad in Cochabamba, Bolivia in his undergrad days and came home with a charango that Ted has admired for a long time. With Dave’s help via email, Ted was able to return to the same shop where Dave had bought his charango over 10 years earlier and get one from the same guy. Craziness!

So now Ted is quite entertained as he teaches himself how to play with his new toy. And as it turns out, it has become quite a conversation starter among local folks who are intrigued by the gringo who is interested in learning to play, and they have happily taught him a few things. Perfecto!


On one of our first bus rides in Bolivia, we encountered a river with no bridge. The Bolivian solution – float the buses across! Cars, trucks, motorcycles too.

The Highest Capital in the World

La Paz is intense – in a good way. You can’t help but be blown away before even getting off the bus because you enter the city from above and wind your way down into the massive valley where the heart of the city is located, underneath the shadow of the 21,122 ft. Illimani Volcano.

Before you arrive, the guidebooks and a few travelers scare you with stories of complex scams (fake tourist police demanding to see/steal your passport), nasty distractions (someone spilling ketchup or spitting on you and then relieving you of your wallet as you clean yourself up), and corrupt taxi drivers (picking up additional passengers and then “kidnapping” you to an ATM and demanding you remove money). Needless to say, we were a little cautious when we arrived into the craziness that is La Paz.

I’m convinced that no one from La Paz would be overwhelmed by downtown Manhattan because the semi-organized chaos of La Paz’s streets and sidewalks would have them more than prepared. You constantly have to watch where you are going so as not to run down an old woman or get hit by a car or step in a hole in the sidewalk. But at the same time you want to look anywhere and everywhere all at once. There are people on the side of the streets selling anything from spices, to children’s bath toys, to toilet seats (which are pathetically underused in this country). There are markets that take up blocks and blocks that include practical items such a clothes as well as a witch’s market where you can buy an alpaca fetus, among other items to bring you luck or others harm.

Not only is the city a buzzing and fascinating place, it is surprisingly walkable. We spent several days exploring on foot and could have easily wandered more. We were also looking forward to doing some day trips and trekking in the nearby mountains, but our plans were foiled! One of the most popular day trips to do out of La Paz is to mountain bike the “world’s most dangerous road”. However, when we inquired about the trip in a travel office on our first day in the city, we learn that the access road to both the bike trip and other popular trekking was currently blocked by protesting coca farmers. The government had made an unpopular decision and the result was a road block for an interminable amount of time. Well then!

As it turns out, we had several contacts and friends of friends to look up in La Paz. Estefania is our friend who lives in Denver and as she is Bolivian, she has lots of friends and family that live here. She put us in touch with her cousin Ale who was an amazing and generous host. Ted and I got to explore parts of the city that folks don’t always venture off to see and we were even invited to brunch with Ale (and Estefania’s) extended family and friends to celebrate her younger sister’s first communion.

Ale and Estafania’s mom (via helpful emails!) also recommended we go see a pena in the city. Penas feature traditional dances and music from local Andean culture. The performance was vibrant and interactive, with the dancers pulling us up on stage, and musicians playing songs from the home country of each visitor (we got an Elvis tune sung for us). Though there were definitely other tourists there, I was surprised that nearly half was room was people from La Paz who had come to see the show.

A huge thanks to Estefania for the introduction, to Ale for taking the time to show us around La Paz and to her family for making us feel welcome!

Picture of the Week

Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon. Just outside the borders of the Bolivian capital, La Paz.  Crazy landscape!

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