Unbelievable Bolivia

We just got back from our 4 day tour of the southwest mountains, desert and salt flats of Bolivia. What a trip! Amongst the amazing sights we were fortunate enough to witness, there were geysers spewing muddy lava, natural hot springs from the crevices of the mountains, Salvador Dali´s desert, a green lagoon, three different types of flamingos, llamas, vicuñas, a red lagoon, several volcanos and a hostage situation. The latter of which is a story I will save for a later date. The sights were out of this world. I often felt as though we were on the moon, a sensation I won´t soon forget. We were the only Americans in our group amongst nine Israelis which provided an unexpected opportunity to learn more about the Jewish homeland and life for people in their twenties in Israel. To think that all of these people my age had already served years in the army is still difficult to wrap my mind around. Who knew the most Israelis I have ever met would be found in Bolivia of all places! The pictures really speak for themselves so I will post a few here. Seeing sights like these enabled me to have the unique opportunity to understand how small humans are on this giant, beautiful earth and to perceive how long life has been here before us and how long it will continue long after we are gone. What a wonderful, complicated, confusing, spectacular and humbling world.

In our Jeep in Salvador Dali´s desert

Flamingos in the morning light

Laguna Colorada
At the largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni

Flamingos at Laguna Cañapa

Pueblo Fantasma, ruins of an old mining village

Zen at Salar de Uyuni


A letter home from Bolivia

Staying in a loud hostel ful of rowdy Israelis that don´t appear to need sleep and horseback riding for 5 hours has left me quite exhausted! I wrote this letter to my family and I decided it said everything I had the energy to express so I´m posting it here. Forgive my laziness, the Bolivian altitude must be getting to me!

Hola chicos!

We arrived in Bolivia yesterday after crossing the border from La Quica, AR to Villazon, Bolivia. Customs and crossing the border was easy for everyone we are traveling with (Irish, English, Australian, Canadian, Uruguayan, Polish...), but not for us! Bolivia does not like Americans very much so we had to pay a hefty $130 USD and show tons of paperwork, give them photos of ourselves, etc. It was quite the adventure into Bolivian bureaucracy! We succesfully crossed the border and quickly got out of Villazon, a very unattractive border town. The bus ride was quite bumpy as only 5% of Bolivia´s roads are paved. We arrived in Tupiza, an old western kind of town with lots of horses and red rocks. Everything is much, much cheaper here which is quite a relief after the inflated prices in Argentina. We went on a five hour horseback tour today for about $15 USD each and we got to wear real leather gaucho hats! my horse was quite possibly the slowest horse in Bolivia, making the ride quite relaxing. It is possible that my horse, Callablanca, only spoke Spanish, which might explain why my commands were heard in vain. Although I´m pretty sure a kick in the sides means go universally! We have decided to break off from our travel group as groups are much more complicated to travel with and we are moving fairly quickly in order to reach Colombia by June. We haggled (en español!) to get a low price on a 4 day tour to the salt flats in Uyuni. They are the highest in the world. Along the way we will see flamingos, red and green lagoons, geysers, two volcanos, a hotel made entirely of salt (yum!), and llamas! I am very excited!! I have eaten one llama empanada, however, I decided based upon my favorite childhood book, "Llama, Are You my Mama", that I will not indulge in any more llama products with the exception of sweaters and other knit goods. I did however drink a licauado witrh my dinner tonight, a mix of milk and fruit that is very popular here and very delicious! Our route from Uyuni will be to Sucre then Potosi then to La Paz only to catch the bus to Cococabana where we will stay on Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca before crossing into Peru and climbing Machu Picchu! Sorry for the long rambling e-mail, I am missing speaking English after only speaking Spanish to everyone but Ben! We are having a wonderful time and I am learning a lot about life in these countries and about myself. Some days are hard but I already have such a different perspective and I learn so much everyday, it is incredible. You would hardly recognize me!



Gorgeous Quebrada de Humuhuaca

It took many, many hours on buses but it was well worthwhile to skip ahead on our jouney to the Quebrada of northwest Argentina. Tiny mountain villages dance between the massive Andes with gorgeous local crafts, multichromatic mountainscapes, adobe homes, and cobble stone streets. Our first stop was Purmamarca where we camped with the most spectacular view of the Cerro de los Siete Colores, a truly mesmerizing site. We hiked around, bought llama clothes from the ongoing local crafts fair around the town square and listened to pan flute music play Simon and Garfunkel. Yes, it was a little slice of mountain heaven. It was with an understandably heavy heart that I got back on the bus to head up to the next village on our path to Bolivia. We arrived quickly in Tilcara, another amazing village. This one has a livelier vibe with an artisan colony and lots of down to earth, chill people just enjoying the natural beauty at every turn. We took a four hour hike today to the Garganta del Diablo, or Devil´s Throat to see a waterfall in the midst of the mountain desert. At night we have been cooking fresh chorizo from the carniceria over the fire with fresh bread. My Spanish is slowly improving and my interractions have become significantly less awkard which is definitely a plus. Upon our arrival to Tilcara, in search of a homestay we followed around a drunk local carrying our packs for about 25 minutes while he rambled, we stared blankly and wondered whether we were going on a hike or to a house. Just one of many lost in trabslation moments that have left me laughing so hard I have to put my backpack down. I still have a highly limited vocabulary and get a lot of blank looks but I can order food well and that is an improvement in my mind! Tomorrow we will head out to a precolonial fortress and then on to Humuhuaca, a Quechuan village where no amount of Spanish will help us! Tonight we will dine in town in our llama sweaters and sleep under the stars. Buenas noches chicos!


A Brief Stay in Wine Country

After an overnight bus to Mendoza, I was overwhelmed by the arrival in another city. Longing for verdant hills and the quaint colonialism I had imagined, I choked on the heavy fumes and looked unhappily upon the rows of ugly commercialism that seemed inescapable and were only compounded by Santa Fe and Florida Boulevards in Buenos Aires. Confused as to why we chose Mendoza over Iguazu, we began to look into wine tours to assuage our doubts. We did learn some valuable lessons, the most important of which I think is that expectations can truly shape your perception of a place and that can affect your entire experience in that locale.

The next day a jolly Argentinian named Mr. Hugo picked us up along with two lovely British ladies and we drove away from the hustle and bustle to quiet Maipu. We rented bikes, planned our route of vineyards to visit and took off on the bumpy road. You may be thinking, bikes and wines, this is a terrible idea! And you my friend, would be quite right! After a perilous ride along a bumpy road with no sidewalk, bikepath or shoulder to turn onto, I became quite used to sharing the road with buses, trucks, crazy motorcycles and the like. Add this to about 4 wines per tasting and you have a recipe for distaster! Luckily, we are still intact and much more knowledgeable about the succulent, bright, fruity Malbecs that the Mendoza region has to offer. We stopped at two amazing vineyards worth mentioning. The first was the Familia di Tommaso where we had our own private tour of the facilities, stood in giant wine vats and touched crystals of lactic acid remaining from the old brick and concrete fermentation barrels. We tasted two Malbecs, one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Rose, all delicious. The young wines were undoubtedly harsher and more intense, while those aged for a year or more in oak barrels were smooth, creamy and sweeter with hints of berry, particularly plum and strawberry. After that we wandered through the vineyards picking Malbec and Cabernet grapes, filling our mouths with the sweet juice of post harvest season sun drenched fruit. The second vineyard had a much larger operation and was a less personal experience. After a self guided tour we sampled 6 different wines on the roof of a building overlooking their vineyard. Their wines were tasty but lacking the individuality of the previous vineyards. We tasted a Merlot which was unexpected and a light, fruity Malbec Rose which stood out. There we ate a delicious lunch of brie, chicken and pesto sandwiches and lamb burger. Then it was back on the bikes, many glasses of wine deeper and a ways from Mr. Hugo´s. I have never biked so fast in my life. My rationale was that the less time on the road, the lower the probablility of swerving into a bus, yes this may have been a wine infused delision, but I´m still intact so maybe I was right!

That night, a lingering headache in tow, we boarded the bus for San Salvadore de Juyjuy (pronounced hu-huy) which has a river running through it called the Xibi xibi, your guess is as good as mine on that pronunciation. Twenty three hours later we arrived. Let me tell you a few things I have learned so far after this experience. Everything I said about "chic travel", well, forget it. Not changing clothes for three days or more at a time is completely acceptable, showers are a privilege and hand washing my unmentionables in the sink is the norm. Mirrors are for making sure there is nothing in my teeth, hence why I was shocked to find a giant mosquito bite on my face yesterday that has probably been there for several days. After arriving here we hopped in a cab and headed to a hostel that thankfully had rooms! We have definitely left central Argentina, you can tell by the faces of the people, the popularity of the llama (llama empanadas, llama treks, llama paintings, llama sweaters...), the proximity of dense cloud forest and small villages with archaelogical remains of indigenous cultures. I am excited to be far from the city life and looking forward to trekking and camping in the beautiful scenery. Today we are heading to some verdant, cloud forest Andes and then we will be going north toward Purmamarca. Humuhuaca and Iruya as we make our way to the Bolivian border. That´s all for now, pictures of the vineyards and wine to come!


Buenos Aires, Cities Within a City

After several nights of mucho bife de chorizo - the equivalent to a New York Strip, bottles of malbec and countless picadas - antipasto platters, I am feeling like the ultimate carnivore. We have strolled barrios for days, admiring the variety of faces this Italian Spanish hybrid city wears and decided this is a particularly livable city. San Telmo is still my favorite barrio for its treasure box antique shops, old time tango vibe, pensive cafes, and cobblestone streets, even if it is a little dangerous after dark. Palermo (Soho, Viejo, and Hollywood) are where the hip young things like to sip arnet and cokes, look stylishly casual in sneakers and tight jeans and shop at fancy boutiques. I will be heading there tomorrow for my last dose of shopping before heading into the wilderness abyss. La Boca is the most colorful barrio by far with painted houses in every shade, tango music blasting from the store fronts and too many tourists for my taste. Any time I feel like a herd of sheep my intinct is to run ther other direction, as was such in this case as well. Porto Madero is the newest barrio and reminded me a lot of Navy Pier in Chicago. Very high end restaurants on the river and overly manicured park were a little too nouveau for my taste but made for a very pleasant stroll.

I´ve realized that what I love about cities is their history, but I don´t enjoy the ubiquity of certain aspects that make you feel like you could be in any city anywhere. While Buenos Aires can´t be mistaken for anywhere else in certain areas, in others I have felt like I was in Rome, Paris, New York, and Chicago. They say this is the Paris of South America, I would say it is more an amalgam of all cities, in one city, in the last country at the end of the continent and that makes it truly a surprise and a delight. After my European city tour, I am still craving mountains, jungles and the desert. Next stop is wine country in Mendoza as we make our way up the Andes.


The journey begins...

Hola chicos! I am currently in a hostel in San Telmo, an amazing barrio in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After some serious rest and relaxation in Jiquilillo, Nicaragua we took an overnight plane here and have been here for a few days now. Nicaragua was a truly eye opening experience. Going into it, I was unaware that it is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere after Haiti. I was quickly made aware of this fact as we drove through the dimly lit city streets of Managua on the evening we arrived. The journey to the beach felt surreal as we boarded various buses into Chinandega and then out to the beach. Jiquilillo is a fishing village that was destroved by a hurricane in 1998. The infrastructure in Nicaragua is nearly nonexistent and the remnants of a village now destroyed were evident by the large pieces of brick and concrete dotting the otherwise idyllic shores.

The people live humbly in grass huts with palm thatched roofs very close to the water. Small fishing boats set out at night returning in the early hours of the morning filled to the brim with red snapper, mackeral and the occassional tuna. A vegetable truck came by sporadically with a selection of melons and other produce and a woman with a basket and a little bell sold fresh, warm tortillas in the mornings. We cooked fresh fish everyday and delicious buttery yellow potatoes. Some days food was more scarce and we ventured out for meals. Rancho Tranquilo is run by an amazing woman named Tina who served up thick, pulpy juices like pear, pineapple and apple at her laid back bar and hammock area. We also enjoyed some vegetarian fare for about $3 a meal. The local pulperia in town served fried fish with rice and fried plaintains while overlooking the water in an incredibly modest tented area run by a few gorgeous Nicaraguan women in aprons. The experience was truly unique, and the gringos were scarce which made it a very different type of beach vacation. Buenos Aires is a story for another time, I am off to get some steak at a parilla and drink some malbec, maybe I´ll catch a tango show, who knows!