Slideshow #3 of our Best of albums. This time, jumping back to the amazing few weeks we spent in Bolivia. Check out some of the highlights:
Tag: South America
Ok, so it’s been a while since we’ve left the South American continent, but here are some interesting numbers to tell the story of our time there.
- 4 – Months we spent in South America
- 68 – Number of beds we slept in
- 5 – Countries Visited
- 12 – Number of friends and family visited (Two of them in two different locations!)
- 24 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
- $6460 – Value of comp’d tourism industry activities through Ted’s tourism connections
- 6 – Number of overnight buses (2 in Bolivia, 4 in Argentina)
- 182.5 – Number of hours on a bus (that’s 7.6 full days on a bus)
- 1 – Number of computers stolen
- 2783 – Number of photos taken (and kept)
- 7 – Number of flights
- 1 – Number of big ships
South America well exceeded our expectations, and we’re on the hunt for ways we can get back for an extended period of time down the road. Check out our Best Of pics from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile for some highlights.
Leaving South America was more of a bummer than I expected. We knew that 4 months on the continent was hardly enough time to explore it, but we attempted to bite off a manageable itinerary, and overall I was very pleased with our speed and coverage of the chosen destinations. What we didn’t know was how much we were going to enjoy it – from the language, to the people, to the cities, and the landscapes. History, culture, architecture, diversity, food, mountains, coast, desert, etc, we found it all, and we loved it. No doubt, we will be back (and hopefully for an extended period of time).
The other bummer about leaving South America was that phase 1, continent 1, was coming to a close. At 4 months, this was the single largest chunk of our trip, and it’s scary to think about how quickly it went. We battled this apprehension though nostalgia of all we saw, and excitement about what was to come. Afterall, we still have 2/3 of the trip ahead of us.
Excitement for Africa is high. South Africa has been one of my top 3 places to visit for years now. Our chunk of time on this new continent is the big unknown for us. While we don’t really “know” any of the places we’re going on this trip, previous travels have provided insight into Latin American and Asian travels, preparing us a bit for continents 1 and 3. However, Africa is a wild card – we don’t know many people who have been, and even fewer who have been on a backpacking budget. We’re a bit apprehensive about the costs – budget travel is a challenge we’re told (save a few popular tourist routes). But we’ve got some amazing plans coming together quickly, including a work-related luxury safari in Botswana, and visits from both sets of parents. Africa is going to be good, I can feel it.
Wow, Argentina is a bit of a show-off – this will not be easy. We’ll do our best to narrow down our Top 10, come up with a bottom 5 and limit ourselves from going on and on about all the great food. Okay, here we go.
Lotsa Boulder friends – Getting to see Courtney and Jed in a different South American country, overlapping with Steph in Bariloche AND El Chalten, as well as connecting with Bern and having an amazing few days in Patagonia – we were feeling the Boulder love.
- New fun friends – We met Dave and Jesse, a hilarious couple, doing their own ’round the world thing; We connected with Estefania’s little sis in Buenos Aires and we got to meet and hike with other fun folks from Mexico to the Netherlands to Michigan!
- Salta road trip – After a lot of public transportation it’s quite fun to have your own car and get to be on your own schedule for a change.
- Luxurious bus rides – Nicest buses we have ever been on. Double-decker, super reclining seats, meal service, air-conditioning, movies, the works.
- Watching a giant chunk of the Perito Moreno glacier hit the sea – Yup. Would have loved to get a picture of it but you’ll just have to take our word for it.
- Unfair proportion of Patagonia blue sky days – We’d been warned about the regions notoriously unstable bad weather, but lucky for us it was (mostly) for naught.
Super-Trekking – Though one of the longest hikes Ted has ever done – the scenery, the weather, the hiking companions and the accomplishment made it oh-so worthwhile.
- Most amazing waterfalls on the planet – Iguazu is a sight to see. You can’t visit that place and leave feeling disappointed. Mother Nature at her best.
- Refugio sunset – You’re in the middle of nowhere at a backcountry hut and the sun is setting over ridiculously jagged, snow-covered peaks. Life is good.
- Biking the Circuito Chico – Northern Patagonia is a gem and this not-so ‘chico’ bike loop shows her off quite nicely.
- 18+ hour bus rides x 4! – Yes, the buses are luxurious but 18+ hours is a really long time to be in transit.
- Cost of transportation – Yes, the buses are luxurious but you should not have to pay nearly as much as a plane ticket when the travel time is six times longer than a flight.
Getting ourselves from our fancy hotel to the glacier – We’re really stretching here but our fancy hotel made it quite a hassle (and an expense) to get us to and from the Perito Moreno glacier. As we were trying to meet up with our friends, we were a little bitter that our transit involved hitching to get there and walking 7km to get home.
- Expensive dorm beds (yes, we slept in a lot of dorm beds) – Just like in Chile, we had to do the dorm bed thing to save some money. However, when dorm beds are still expensive it’s a bit depressing.
- Leaving Argentina, meant leaving South America – And we weren’t ready to go yet! We heart South America and can’t wait to return one day…
Food and Drink
- Steak – Argentina is known for their beef and for good reason. We rarely go out at home and order a steak off the menu. In Argentina we did it quite a few times and were never disappointed. A special shout-out to our first Argentine steak in Cachi, to Disnevel Parilla in San Telmo (where we went twice, including our last night on the continent) and to the steak dinner we had with Ninon and her friend.
Wine – Like Europeans, Argentines drink wine like water. It’s cheap, it’s prolific and it’s delicious. We drank a lot of it.
- Family night – For our last night with our new friends in Patagonia we decided to whip up a dinner at the hostel family-style. Wine drinking, game playing and tango dancing ensued.
- Dona Salta’s empanadas – We asked several people in Salta where we could find the best empanadas in town and they all said the same place. Mmmm.
- Bariloche’s famous ice cream – So good we had to have it. Every day.
If you really want to see how amazing this country is, check out our “Best of Argentina” photo album, and then go see it for yourself. Trip highlight for sure.
Argentines (and Chileans to a lesser extent) are obsessed with matte tea. There is an entire culture surrounding the consumption of matte. The most important part of drinking matte? Looking cool while you do it.
Here’s how it works. First, you have to get a cup and straw. The cup, made out of wood or a dried pumpkin or other type of gourd, is actually called the “matte”. The straw, generally made out of metal, is known as the bombilla, has a filter on the cup end to keep small tea leaves out of your mouth. Next, you need a portable thermos full of pretty hot water (but not boiling hot, as it will burn the tea). Finally, you need the yerba, or tea. You fill the matte cup with dry yerba about 2/3 full (no tea bag), and then soak the yerba with hot water from the thermos, filling the matte to the top. Then, you’re ready to imbibe, enjoying your tea through the straw.
Drinking matte is a social affair, with up to 4 people sharing the same cup. The yerba stays fresh for a good dozen refills. Each person drinks all of the liquid out of the cup for their turn, finishing up with a loud and proud sucking noise as the water runs out of the straw. Refill the matte cup from the thermos, and pass it along to your friend.
What did we think of matte? Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.
To be honest, the only reason we stopped in Salta was to break up the long journey from the Bolivian border to our next stop in Mendoza. However, Salta and the surrounding area proved to be one of our favorite spots so far.
The downtown plaza area is just beautiful and extremely reminiscent of Europe – sidewalk cafes, museums, theaters, fountains – it has it all. Not only is the architecture of European influence, so is the gene pool. We were now in a country with other people with blond hair and fair skin where it was not immediately obvious who was a local and who was an international visitor. Definitely a difference from the Northern Andean countries that we had visited so far where our height and hair color gave us away.
Through Ted’s tourism connections, we met up with a lovely local Argentine woman who gave us a great overview of the country, from the current governmental and political situation, to the state of the nation’s tourism industry, as well as some great recommendations for what to do around the area. Not only did we learn that you say ‘Argentine’ (as opposed to Argentinian) when talking about people or things, we were told that we should rent a car to cruise a popular driving loop and over night in a nearby wine region.
So, that’s what we did. It was our first time driving on our trip and we had a blast getting to move at our own pace. We stopped when we wanted to – to take pictures, to have lunch, or just because. We had our first of many steaks, which Argentina is famous for, and we were blown away by the ever-changing scenery and historic villages out our window.
The nearby wine region, Cafayate, is the most famous in Argentina (after Menoza) and we drove ourselves to a couple of the recommended wineries in and just outside of town as well as to a creamery where they do goat cheese tastings. Mmm!
The drive back to the city was on a section called Quebrada de Cafayate. The red rocks, the rock formations and the vistas for the first 50km of the return are said to be some of Argentina’s most beautiful landscapes – which is saying quite a bit.
We are happy we gave this area the time it deserved and we got ourselves back to Salta in plenty of time for our overnight bus trip to Mendoza where the wine drinking and delicious eating would continue!
We loved our time in Bolivia – even more than we anticipated. Our total stay was about 3 weeks and there is certainly plenty to do there to keep you entertained for longer. Here is a snap-shot, in no particular order, of our favorite parts, the things we could have done without and of course, the food. Be sure to check out our Best-of-Bolivia Photos too.
- Sunrise at the Uyuni Salt Flats – The perfect finale to an incredible couple of days.
- The hike across Isla del Sol – Lake Titicaca’s island gem on the Bolivian side did not disappoint.
- Arizona deja vu – Horseback riding through the desert outside of Tupiza
- Charango purchase – Ted was pretty excited about getting his hands on a stringed instrument and teaching himself how to play it.
- Devil’s Thumb – Our new friend Alejandra (a Colorado friend’s cousin) took us up to a sweet spot near her home with an amazing view of all of La Paz.
- Playing euchre and drinking wine with our friends from South Africa on our Salt Flats tour.
- Beautiful weather everyday – Literally. It might have been a little cold or a little windy, but the weather was dry and sunny the whole time and that was a treat.
- Road trip – Bouncing around in the back of a Land Cruiser, listening to our Bolivian guide’s entertaining musical selections, learning to chew coca (to combat elevation sickness) and sucking on lollipops while watching the wild landscape go by.
- Making dynamite – Ted learned how dynamite is made and used in the mines (to this day) on the Potosi mine tour.
- Flamingos –Seeing them in the wild was quite a treat. I’m still not quite sure why they are pink, but I know I like it.
- Protesting coca farmers – Unfortunately some political decisions and the resulting aftermath interrupted our plans for mountain biking and hiking outside of La Paz while we were there.
- The negative buildup – We’d heard several scary warning stories about the crime against travelers in Bolivia that we entered on a bit of a defensive. We never felt any less safe there than anywhere else on our travels and I wish we had never been warned.
- Paying to use the public rest room – To be fair, this also happened in Ecuador and Peru. I understand that it is someone’s job and I’m willing to go along with that, however, when I pay I expect a certainly level of cleanliness and some toilet paper to be provided. Oh, and a toilet seat would be nice too…
- Bolivia’s uncertain future. Right now there is huge political conflict between the wealthy and powerful upper class and the country’s first indigenous President, Evo Morales. Though the President’s support of indigenous rights is commendable in theory, he is alienating a huge segment of his population and the future is uncertain.
- Expensive visa fee – As Americans, we were required to purchase a US$135 visa per person to enter Bolivia. That is a LOT – especially in Bolivia where your lunch costs less than $2 and your hostel less than $10.
- Saltenas, saltenas, saltenas – Think empanadas but then think again. These little pockets of baked goodness are filled with a thick stew-like concoction of meat and some combination of potatoes, olives and eggs. The shell is nearly sweet, which sounds weird, but they are oh-so good. They are served for breakfast so if you don’t get one before early afternoon, you will be saltena-less for the day. Not only are they delicious, they are cheap. We had one (or more!) nearly everyday.
- Almuerzos – Similar to the inexpensive set-menu lunches that we had in Ecuador and Peru, Bolivia did the same, but even cheaper. We could not get over how much food we were served for the equivalent of US$1.50. Needless to say, lunch was often the big meal of the day.
- Indian food – In Bolivia? Yes. In fact, it is the best (though only) Indian food that we’ve had on our trip so far. We were craving it, a restaurant in the tourist area of La Paz was serving it, and we were not disappointed.
- Family brunch – well, not our family. Through an introduction from a Colorado friend, we found ourselves invited to a Sunday brunch to celebrate a family member’s first communion. There Ted and I were in our fanciest travel clothes (clean jeans and a t-shirt) as we dined on delicious roast beef, drank sangria and dipped repeatedly in the chocolate fountain for dessert. Yum.
- Fresh caught Lake Titicaca trout – Yep. That was good.
The coca plant is a highly utilized and hotly debated substance in Peru and Bolivia (and I’m sure Colombia as well). Of course, it is the raw product that is the basis for cocaine production, a problem that plagues these countries nationally and internationally. However, the coca plant in raw form has many legitimate and legal uses for the indigenous Andean cultures. In addition to being used in religious and cultural ceremonies, it is chewed by many workers as a way to sustain energy and keep awake. It is also known to help curb the effects of altitude sickness. We were often offered coca tea for breakfast which is essentially a couple leaves and some hot water.
The effects of chewing raw coca are nothing like those of taking the highly processed drug. Chewing coca leaves is like drinking coffee or coca-cola, only the effects are sustained for a much longer period of time. It also helps to curb hunger. Miners, for instance, are known to rely on coca leaves to endure the 24+ hour shifts they often work.
The problem surrounding coca is that it’s hard for the government to distinguish what coca is produced for legal purposes, and what coca is produced for illegal purposes. The Bolivian government is currently run by Evo Morales, a former coca farmer himself, and his policies for regulating coca production are much leaner than, say, the US Drug Enforcement Agency would prefer. But, even under his lenient policies, there are conflicts within the country about the right to produce the plant. During our time in La Paz, we were unable to reach a few of our desired activities because the local coca farmers were protesting and blocking major roadways in response to Morales’ recent ban of low-quality coca production (coca that would have gone to produce cocaine).
There is no doubt that Bolivia (and Peru to a lesser extent) needs to improve their fight against the cocaine production and exportation problem. But somehow, they need to do so without eliminating access to the legal and legitimate forms of the coca plant. When we’re on overnight buses going too fast along unmaintained roads that border steep cliffs, I want that bus driver chewing coca.
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…
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: