Safaris Go Like This

  • 5:00 a.m. – You are woken up in your luxury tent by a personal wake-up knock from your guide.  A pot of hot water is provided to you, in case you need coffee upon rolling out of bed
  • 5:30 a.m. – You are provided with way too much food for 5 in the morning, but you eat it and love it
  • Leopard

    6:00 a.m. – Morning game drive!  You bounce around in the back of an open-air converted Land Cruiser and look for animals.  Sometimes you don’t see a whole lot, sometimes you round a corner and see zebra, giraffe and wildebeest all hanging out together.  Sometimes your guide identifies an impossible to see leopard and you are in awe.

  • 9:00 a.m. – Morning tea in the bush.  Coffee, tea and biscuits (cookies) are served en route.  If you need to use the bathroom, the guide has to go check to make sure that your desired location is free from wild animals.
  • 11:00 a.m. – Return from game drive and time for morning brunch.  Even more delicious food is provided and once again you eat more than you mean to.
  • Noon – 3:30 p.m. – Downtime.  The animals are most active in the morning and evening and kind of lay low during the hottest time of the day.  So we do too.  Ted and I spent most of our downtime napping but we also motivated to do some exercises (push-ups and sit-ups) because safari-ing requires a lot of eating and sitting!
  • 3:30 p.m. – Afternoon tea.  No, I’m not kidding – they feed you again.  Afternoon “tea” would be anything from mini pizzas, to samosas, to cupcakes.  Too much good food.
  • 4:00 p.m. – Afternoon game drive.  More driving around and more animal encounters.  Always exciting to come across something new.
  • Botho, our guide, preparing the sundowners

    6:30 p.m. – Sundowners.  We love this term as it essentially means cocktail time while the sun goes down.  We would park in some incredibly scenic spot sipping on gin and tonics and munching on snacks if your stomach had any room for them.

  • 8:00 p.m. – Return from game drive and time for dinner and more drinks.  Dinner was always delicious and it was fun to meet other groups on safari from all over the world and to chat up the staff at the lodges.  Everyone has a story.
  • 9:30 p.m. – Bedtime for us wild and crazy kids.  Five in the morning comes way to early!

In summary – Eat-drive-eat-sleep-eat-drive-eat-sleep.  And that doesn’t include snacks on the drives!

One of the 7 Wonders of the World

Before we officially went off into the bush on our first safari, Ted and I had the opportunity to visit Victoria Falls with our NatHab group.  Vic Falls is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and it is one of the most visited attractions in Africa, so we were excited to take a look.

The falls did not disappoint.  Just a few miles down the road from Livingstone, Zambia and you are greeted with the sound of rushing water and the mist in the air from millions of gallons of water from the Zambezi River falling over the edge of a cliff.  In fact the local name for the falls, Mosi-o-Tunya, means the smoke that thunders.  It is quite impressive to say the least.  There is a great set of pathways that allow you to walk along the edge of a cliff looking directly at the falls on the other side of the narrow canyon and you can entertain yourself by watching the white-water rafters go by below.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves but in summary the falls are truly awesome.

Victoria Falls, from Zambia

Vic Falls

More falls

We were visiting at a time of the year when the water was running low so though we saw dozens of individual waterfalls, we saw pictures of the falls during wet season when the view is just one giant wall of water.

How we saw it

Vic Falls

And for you close readers of the blog, you may have noticed that prior to coming to Africa the last thing we did in South America was visit Iguazu Falls.  We realize that not too many folks get the chance to visit the two most amazing waterfalls on the planet within one week of each other so we were excited to compare and contrast.  And because we’ve already been asked this exact question, though Vic Falls is incredible and has already earned the distinction as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, we would actually have to give our vote to Iguazu in a head-to-head comparison of spectacular-ness.  But no worries Africa, South America has got nothing on you when it comes to animals!

People Are Fascinating

Want to hear a cool story? Ted and I got to stay at this great little spot just a couple hours down the road from Puerto Varas, Chile, that is run by an amazing couple named Kurt and Armin. Kurt is from California’s Bay Area and Armin is originally from India (though she’s spent a big chunk of her life in the US).  Together they moved to South Africa where they lived and worked for nearly 10 years – Kurt for the Boston Globe as their South African correspondent and Armin in the NGO world. They also have two sons that were born in South Africa.

One day they decided they wanted to do something completely different.  Like COMPLETELY different. They started researching places that they could buy and operate as a B&B or some kind of tourist operation. After a bit of searching and one site visit each, they found themselves with an amazingly beautiful plot of land along the Cochamo River AND another fabulous spot up in the Cochamo Valley. They are now the owners and operators of Campo Aventura which provides accommodation, meals, and horseback riding trips between their two properties and beyond.

View from the lower property

They have been in Chile for 3 years now and have never looked back. Though neither of them were ‘horse’ people or had experience in the tourism industry, you’d never know it. Every family member does a bit everything, including the little guys (who are 11 and 13, I believe) who help with the horses and assist the gauchos (Chilean cowboys) as needed. Though no one spoke Spanish when they arrived, Armin and Kurt have now mastered it enough to engage the local community and mend some broken bridges left from the previous owners. Their boys are fluent in Chilean cowboy slang.

Gringos on horses

Ted and I had the amazing opportunity to stay with Kurt and Armin in the Cochamo Valley and highly recommend that others do the same (Adventures Within Reach sends trips here)! We spent our first night on the property near the river and loved everything from exploring the area to eating a delicious home-cooked meal with other travelers.

The next day we headed up into the valley with Kurt leading the way on horseback. The trail was intense – lots of mud, rock, narrow passages, low branches and stream crossings. The horses were incredible. We rode for over 5 hours to a clearing surrounded by the most immense and impressive granite walls. In fact, the area is known as the Yosemite of Chile. Their other property is nestled against the big walls, and is a pretty idyllic place to spend time.

Riding up the Cochamo Valley

Cochamo Valley

Big Granite Walls

I could go on and on about how much we loved this place and our time here. We are so happy to have met Kurt and Armin and we can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity. It is inspirational to know people who had a wild and crazy dream and just went for it. We told them that if they ever need someone to run the place for bit, to be sure to give us a call!

Heading West to Chile

From Bariloche, Argentina we headed west to Puerto Varas, Chile. The Chilean border crossing was quite intense and not recommended for drug smugglers. Checking out of Argentina was pretty routine, but getting into Chile is a pain. Everyone had to get off the bus and everyone’s luggage had to be sniffed by dogs AND put through an X-ray machine. They are very strict about all the normal stuff, but ridiculously strict about any food or beverage item. Ted and I had made some sandwiches for lunch to be cost-conscious but there was no way those sandwiches were going to be allowed over the border so we had to eat them on the spot at 10:30 a.m.!

Puerto Varas was luckily worth the hassle. As Bariloche is part of the Argentine Lake District, Puerto Varas is in Chile’s Lake District. However, while Bariloche is surrounded by mountain ranges, Puerto Varas is surrounded by volcanoes. Big ones.

Osorno Volcano

For a day trip we headed out to the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park for some walking around. We met a large group of Americans on the bus ride out there who were living in the area and volunteering at schools by helping the local English teachers with their classes. They invited us to hike with them and we happily accepted. While hiking you could look to your left at a beautiful, cone-shaped, snow-covered volcano or to your right at the fjords and the lake. It’s nice to have options!

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

On the ride back to town we stopped to see some incredibly powerful waterfalls just down the road from the National Park – the Saltos de Petrohue. Though not impressive in height, the quantity and strength of them certainly was.

Saltos de Petrohue

Saltos de Petrohue

Thanks to our good friends at Adventures Within Reach (AWR), we were able to sit down and have drinks with a local and learn a bit about both Chile and tourism in the region. We met with a wonderfully great guy named Gerardo who owns a sea kayaking and rafting company called AlSur Expeditions. AWR uses AlSur for their trips in the Lake District, so naturally we had to test them out!

Rafting the Petrohue

Rafting the Petrohue

We celebrated Ted’s birthday in Puerto Varas, starting the day on one of Gerardo’s half-day rafting trips which was a blast. The weather didn’t invite too much more outdoor activity that day, but we managed to entertain ourselves with wine and a delicious seafood dinner. We later met Gerardo out for another round of drinks and then onto another bar where we met up with the Americans that we hiked with earlier that week. Considering we didn’t know anyone in the area when we arrived a couple days earlier, Ted was properly celebrated as he rang in the big 3-1.


This is a hotel, made almost entirely of salt.  Aside from tourist tours of the Uyuni Salt Flats, the region is also a major producer of…SALT!  From the bricks, to the chairs, to the flooring, to the beds – it’s all pure NaCl.

And here is a photos of Sarah ensuring that the bricks really are salty.  This is what happens when you lose a game of euchre in Bolivia…

Crazy Salt Flat Pictures

We took so many ridiculous, fun pictures at the Uyuni Salar that they just didn’t fit into the previous post. The Atacama desert in Bolivia and neighboring Chile and Argentina is gigantic and the salt flats are the remains of an ancient ocean that was once there. They are the largest salt flats in the world and due to the immense size and expanse of nothingness, the photographer and subjects can play around with the viewer’s perspective, resulting in some surreal-looking shots. Archie, our guide, has plenty of experience with the funky picture taking and did a great job directing most of these. Some of our favorites are below:

Bolivia’s Southwest Circuit

Nearly all international travelers to Bolivia have a visit to the Uyuni Salar (salt flats) in their plans. Though there are day trips to the area, we chose to pile into an 8-person 4×4 Land Cruiser and bounce around the “Southwest Circuit” for a 4 day/3 night outing. Beyond Ted and me, our car included our South African friends (Jeff and Romy) as well as our driver, Hugo, and our English-speaking guide, Archie. We were a great group and we were all thankful that there weren’t actually 2 more passengers in our car, as we saw many other groups cramped and it didn’t look comfortable.

We didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into at the outset, but the southwest circuit of Bolivia is some of the highest, driest, windiest, most barren and unique landscape that we have ever visited. Beyond the salt flats, the area is a hotbed of geothermal activity and rich in a variety of minerals that have a crazy effect on the colors of the lakes. Highlights include:

  • The highest we’ve ever been! We were so proud of ourselves when we hiked the 15,000 foot pass on our trek to Machu Picchu and sure enough, we were just sitting in the jeep as we drove over a road with an even greater elevation.
  • Lakes with the craziest colors. Emerald green, tropical blue – even red!
  • Flamingos! There are three different species in the area and for some reason they love the harsh climate.
  • Huge volcanoes all around – topping 6000m in altitude (near 20,000ft)!
  • Having South Africans help us plan our trip to South Africa. We already had our guidebook for our upcoming visit and they went through it and told us what to do while we’re there.
  • Having a drama-free trip. We passed other groups of travelers that were in cars that broke down multiple times, had crap food, or were with an unfriendly, unhelpful guide which is no fun at all.
  • Hot springs in the middle of nowhere.
  • Staying in a hotel made entirely of salt!
  • Photo shoot at the Uyuni Salar (pictures coming up soon).

The trip was a complete blast and we wouldn’t change a thing. A huge thanks to Tupiza Tours for taking care of us and to Jeff and Romy for making it an unforgettable experience.

Smokin’ Dynamite

This is our buddy, Jeff. He’s much more intelligent than he looks in this photo, where he has lit a piece of dynamite on fire and is pretending to smoke it. In reality, there is no danger of this dynamite blowing up, as it requires a few other ignition components to explode. So, our guide told anybody who wanted to smoke some dynamite to go ahead and do so. Jeff was our guinea pig.

Jeff, his girlfriend Romy, and I are on Potosi’s most popular activity – a tour of the mines that have made the city famous. For over 500 years, the big mountain looming over the city has housed some of South America’s most valuable minerals, including the largest deposit of silver on the continent. The silver is now long gone, but mining continues to be a mainstay of the local economy, and former miners are now running tours into the working mines.

I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to check it out (so was Sarah – she chose not to go). The mine tours are a bit controversial – portrayed by some as a voyeuristic opportunity to see how bad people have it. And, it’s not the safest tour ever – it’s a working mine and accidents do happen (in fact, millions of people have died in these mines over the past 500 years, but largely due to the slave labor and inhumane conditions of years past). But in the end, I heard enough positive endorsements to give it a try.

After getting outfitted in all the appropriate gear (boots, jackets, pants, hard hats, lamps), we first stopped at the miners market. The only place on the continent where you can buy dynamite and coca leaves with no questions asked, the miners market is where miners go to get supplies, and tourists go to smoke dynamite.

Entering the mine feels like a passageway into middle earth. Twenty yards in, it’s already dark, damp, dirty, and hot. The deeper you go, the hotter it gets. There is no ventilation within (hence the very early death of nearly everyone who puts in more than a few years working here), but air pipes do hang from the ceiling to power the drills far below. We did our best to avoid touching the walls, as asbestos dripped from the ceiling in colorful but toxic stalactites. After basically rock climbing up to the 2nd level, we met some miners who showed us the process of preparing dynamite for a blast, and the minerals that they recovered to pay their wages. We also got to meet the Tio, the devil statue that exists within each mine who receives prayers and offerings from miners in search of safety from day to day.

In the end, I was happy to see it, but I didn’t feel good about it. While miners do reap well-deserved benefits from tourist visits, the voyeuristic nature of the tour was unsettling. But the miners are very proud of their work and their profession, and there is no shame in the work or the conditions they endure. In fact, they are proud to show it off, and happy to make an extra buck as well.

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.

Isla Suasi

Through a connection that we made on the Mountain Lodges of Peru trip to Machu Picchu, Ted was able to arrange a fabulous 3 day/2 night stay on the private island of Isla Suasi.

Isla Suasi is an incredibly small, yet spectacularly beautiful island on the northeast end of Lake Titicaca. The hotel is the only building on the island besides the island owner’s private residence. It is exclusive, it is luxurious, and it was a treat!

Upon arriving by boat, we were served an amazing Andean barbeque lunch overlooking the beautiful blue water. That afternoon, and in fact throughout the stay, you could do as much or as little as you wanted. Activities options included: walking to the highest point of the island to watch the sunset, visiting the eucalyptus steam room, drinking wine and reading a book, kayaking around the island, taking a tour of the island’s owner’s home/museum, star-gazing, etc.

Ted and I took the opportunity to kayak around the island and we had such a great time doing it that we decided to do it again the next day! In general we relaxed, enjoyed the incredibly delicious food and the wonderfully helpful staff, and slept well in a our fantastic room.

The contrast between our homestay on the island of Amantani(where Ted had to show me how to “flush” a toilet with a bucket of water), and the five-star treatment and facilities that we experienced on Isla Suasi was certainly striking. However, as both types experiences are exceptions to our normal way of traveling, it reminds us to be thankful for what we normally may take for granted as well as to appreciate good fortune when we have the opportunity!

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