BootsnAll Travel Network


October 23rd, 2013

As explained in the previous entry, our primary purpose in visiting Munich was to visit Michael, Carmen and Melinda. But there were other benefits too. We’d been to visit Munich three times before, and while we enjoyed the state’s most famous beverage (beer) each and every time, we’d yet to time a visit to coincide with it’s most famous festival (Oktoberfest.) This was remedied with this visit.

Oktoberfest actually started on September 21, while we were away in Chemnitz. But never mind, we got a great preview of the good things to come with two superb beer trips in the days preceding.

One of these was close to home at the Paulaner/Hacker-Pschorr brewery in central Munich. This was a fun tour for me. I’ve been on a fair number of brewery tours, and have often observed that, the odd quirky individuality aside, they’re all pretty much the same. That said, Paulaner was different because I’ve actually never been on a tour at such a HUGE facility. The scale of the place was just ridiculous. For example the bottling line took up about twice as much space as the biggest brewery I’ve visited previously.

It also featured samples of their two main beers (Paulaner Helles and Hacker-Pschorr Weisse) which, though they weren’t my absolute favourites of their styles, proved that very large scale production needn’t equal bland, uninspiring beer.

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Saxing it Up in Saxony

October 9th, 2013

The primary reason for our visit to Munich was, of course, to visit Sarah’s family. Her brother Michael, his wife Carmen and their six-month old daughter Melinda (Sarah’s first niece) live there.

We got to check out their lovely new house in a suburb of Munich (Michael lamented the fact that having moved out of town before registering a car, he’d be stuck with a “country bumpkin” license plate… The first 1-3 letters in a German plate indicate where the car was registered.)

And country bumpkins though they may now be, access to the city centre is still quite easy. A ten minute walk down to the S-Bahn (suburban train) station, then half an hour or so on the train and you’re in the centre of Munich. Either that or you can zip into town on the Autobahn and be there quicker still. Of course other problems come with this… Little did we know that the Sunday we headed into town was both the day of the Munich “Street Life” festival AND the monthly free museum day. All of which meant that we spent ages looking for a car park and had a good long walk to our destination afterwards. On the positive side, this also meant that the two museums we were headed for were free. Melinda made loads of friends in the galleries (one of the security ladies, having seen lots of people frustrated with the business and crowds on free day saw her smiling and commented “at least someone’s having fun today!”)

Melinda the kunst-fan

Of course, a visit to Michael and Carmen also invariably means visit to Carmen’s family. Which is invariably most welcome. Carmen’s immediate family are all lovely folks, as was roundly demonstrated on our second night in Munich when we went over to their place for dinner. Full Bavarian style on this occaision: beer and weisswurst (veal sausages, traditionally served with weissbier and sweet grainy mustard… yum!

And this time the family trip went well beyond the close relatives and immediate environs of Munich… We were all invited to Carmen’s cousin Moni’s brithday party in the city of Chemnitz. Carmen’s family originally hails from the eastern part of the country, and many of them still call the area home. We made the four hour trip up the autobahn to Carmen’s aunt and uncle’s home in Chemnitz. When we arrived we got a welcome so warm it almost felt silly… A huge dinner was waiting for us, complete with the local specialty, Thuringer sausages, and a large selection of east German beers. When dinner was at last done we went back to the apartment they’d arranged for us, complete with a parking spot right out front… Uncle Misha had gone and parked their car their earlier to ensure that there’d be a spot waiting for us when we arrived. Inside there were platters of fruit, several more beers, juices, chocolates… we were utterly spoiled.

This sort of thing continued through the whole weekend and when breakfast came I inevitably found myself still stuffed from the previous dinner. Likewise dinner and lunch, lunch and breakfast.

Misha, Sarah and I with glasses of “Medicine,” as Carmen’s family call the Saxon digestive herbal liqeur. Note Sarah and I’s XL sized glasses!

The hospitality went beyond filling our bellies and extended to Misha driving us to the next large city down the road, Dresden, and giving us a personal tour.

As many readers will know, Dresden was a city long recognized for its beautiful architecture and cultural institutions (and clearly NOT recognized for any military, industrial or strategic importance.) Then it was firebombed by the allies towards the end of WW2, destroying pretty much the entire city centre and much of the outlying areas to boot. I’m going to leave aside discussion of whether this was a legitimate military decision, and just say that we were delighted to find that the city centre has been largely rebuilt and Dresden has returned to its place as the jewel of eastern Germany. This has ensured that central Dresden has turned into something of a tourist hotbed. Certainly more than just about anywhere else we’d seen in Germany (Neuschwanstein is pretty solid competition) and I’ve no doubt moreso than anywhere in the eastern half of the country. The area around the central square was just packed with souvenir shops and tourist restaurants with signs in English and Russian outside (including one that advertised itself as being a “Canadian restaurant.” I certainly believe that there is such a thing as a Canadian national identity, but Canadian cuisine? Unless they’re serving nothing but poutine, bannock and maple syrup, I don’t think so…)

This is part of a huge (perhaps 150m long?) mosaic documenting the lords (kings of Saxony and Prince Electors of the Holy Roman Empire) of Dresden

Carvings above the gate to one of the Royal Palaces (it could also have been one of the Imperial Electoral palaces. I never quite got when the transition took place)

Further carving on the other side of the gate. Are those BABIES strangling and being strangled!?

Melinda and I at a former palace of the Kings of Saxony. Given the number of photos of me with Melinda here you might think she was MY niece. But given that Sarah changed a diaper and I didn’t gives a clearer picture of who the ACTUAL blood relative is :)

All that said, tourist restaurants or not, they’ve done a fabulous job of the reconstruction… Most of the buildings are indistinguishable from how I imagine they probably looked pre-war. Except for the fact that a number of them had pieces that were irretrievably damaged or lost and had to be replaced. These are the ones NOT coloured entirely black from the fires that followed the bombing.

The Frauenkirche at the centre of Dresden’s main square. The reconstruction of the church (almost entirely according to the original plans) was only completed in 2005. As you can see from this view, despite every block having its position in the rubble precisely marked to help figure out where it should go, there was an awful lot of it that had to be rebuilt with new stones.

Not everything in central Dresden was a re-construction. This large communist-era building occupies a central location as well. There has recently been much debate as to whether it should be kept as a memorial to that period in the city’s history or torn down as an ugly eyesore. Leaving aside any memorial valueAmpelmann, I actually rather like some socialist classical/realist art and architecture, so I’d vote for keeping it.

Speaking of the communist era, Ampelmann makes his second appearance in the ‘blog. As explained last time, this distinctive fellow was featured in the pedestrian traffic signals in East Germany. When plans were made to standardize all the signals to use the western “man” after re-unification public outcry ensued and Ampelmann was spared.

We spent the better part of the day strolling around and soaking up the architecture and atmosphere before heading back towards Chemnitz for (surprise!) another big and yummy dinner.

As great as the trip to Dresden was, the best was saved for last. Moni’s birthday party was a smash hit. It began with a visit to the Chemnitz tram museum. An odd place to start out a birthday party? Yes. But not when it continues with a city tour for all the guests aboard a vintage tram, complete with guide and crates of soft drinks and beer. We were a bit worried about spending a long weekend in Chemnitz and not really seeing any of the city. Problem solved!

Our chariot stopped in the middle of a large communist-era housing development. I wish I’d taken more photos of the old precast concrete apartment buildings. A few were still grey, grim and soulless in finest communist tradition. But most had actually been renovated and turned into colourful, pleasant, almost CHEERFUL places to live.

Me on the tram sporting a bier-stache.

The brithday party party riding the rails.

The coolness continued when we headed to the restaurant outside of town where the party was actually being held. It looked like a farmhouse from the outside and inside had a rustic German feel belied by the dozens of single malt scotch bottles lining the walls near ceiling level. Not to mention the spectacular array of cakes, tarts, meringues and other sweet delights on the table in our party room.

Between filling up on cafe und kochen all of the guests took a tour of the 18th century vintage mine next door (yes, you did read that right. But it really was fun, even though we grasped only the very broadest idea of what was going on as the tour was entirely in German.)

The general theme of eating a lot reached its climax with dinner that night, which left us barely capable of participating in the dancing that followed. Eventually I was coaxed off my rapidly expanding butt and onto the dancefloor, where I actually managed to have a fun time. A lot of the other dancers were doing dances with set steps, a la “La Macarena.” In keeping with this I thought I ought to do something similar and made one of my own up on the spot. It was called Der Fischer, and its steps/motions went something like this: Overhand Cast. Overhand Cast. Sidearm Cast. Sidearm Cast. Wait wait wait wait. Got a bite! Got a Bite! Reel it in. Reel it in. Grill the fish. Grill the fish. Now eat the fish. Eat the fish. (Sarah contributed the last couple of steps, but has kind of reconsidered her fondness for Der Fischer and refuses to help me produce a demonstration video to put up on Youtube…)

All of the places at the party dinner had their own slate place cards. They’d even gone to the trouble of writing ours in English (the only ones, of course!)

Going underground for some hard work in the mines, thus to earn our dinner!

Though no record exists of Der Fischer I can still provide a photo of Melinda and I doing “The Strompel.” A wonderful German word, Strompel describes the motion of an otherwise imobile baby kicking his or her legs in the air in a joyful kind of jig. I reckon it’s the next big dance craze. Everybody to the Strompel!

Spending time with Michael, Carmen and their family (especially Melinda) was absolutely wonderful. Genuniely the number one highlight of our time in Germany. Though not the ONLY one, as we’ll see in the next entry.

On the one day we DIDN’T have a massive breakfast at Misha and Vena’s place we went to buy some food and discovered this weird and wonderful store that specialized in goods from the former Soviet union. They had a whole shelf devoted to kvass, and we bought some of the Korean via central Asian carrot salad that we’d so enjoyed in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The whole crew looking lovely and smiling big.

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Welcome Back

October 1st, 2013

You’d be forgiven for A. having given up on ever finding a new entry here and/or B. wondering how on earth we ended up in Luxembourg. After all, the last entry posted here was about five months ago and had us in Bolivia.

The short answer to our dash through space-time is laziness. When we got back to Canada at the end of April we spent a good lot of our time doing not much of anything and this general spirit of lackadaisicalness extended to me not writing any new ‘blog entries for several months.

Not to worry though. Now that we’re on the road again I plan to keep up with the entries, and even post (abbreviated) accounts of what we got up to in the Americas during the five months you’ve missed out on.

So. To Luxembourg.
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Leaving the Gringo Trail

May 31st, 2013

As far as our South American destinations go, Bolivia was out in the backwoods, well off the usual itinerary of most tourists. But as illustrated already, its a haven for budget backpackers on the Gringo Trail, and they very much have
their own “standard route” through the country. So far all of our destinations had been firmly on this route but, partly according to plan, partly not, we were taking a diversion way off the usual tourist path.

The part that was NOT according to plan was our visit to the town of Oruru. The fact that we’d stopped there at all was due to a transport strike, which had closed the roads both through and in the town. We arrived late in the afternoon and, given that we needed to change buses out on the road, decided to spend the evening in Oruru rather than take our chances standing on the side of the highway in the middle of the night.

This guy got on our bus as it was preparing to leave Potosi. He played his small stringed instrument (kind of like a cross between a ukelele and a mandolin) and then (as expected) made a plea for some money from the passengers. I was kind of annoyed by his guilt-tripping his captive audience like that, but looking back on it I don’t mind so much and am happy to have contributed something.

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The Mountain That Eats Men

May 13th, 2013

After a long break from writing, we finally continue the ‘blog with more travels in Bolivia.
Just as after a long break from travel in Sucre, off we went bound for Potosi.

Potosi is a fascinating place. By some measures it’s the highest city in the world, at 4100m above sea level. And it’s really kind of in the middle of nowhere. No lakes, rivers or good agricultural lands anywhere nearby. The reason for building a city in such a forbidding place was Cerro Rico “the Rich Mountain,” which sits behind the city and contains one of the richest silver veins ever found. In the 16th and 17th century the Spanish conquistadors exploited the mountain to its fullest using thousands upon thousands of indigenous and African slaves. Thousands upon thousands of these slaves died in the process while the colonials took the riches of the mountain and in addition to enriching their home country, turned Potosi into one of the largest and richest cities in the world at the time.

The legacy of the colonial mines lives on in the rich ornamentation of the city, which sits scattered amongst the more modern but much less glamorous recent constructions. Meanwhile the mining of Cerro Rico continues.

A altiplano pueblito (village-ette) on the way to Potosi

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Time for a Rest in Bolivia’s White City

April 26th, 2013

The trip to Sucre was one of the nicest overnight bus trips I’ve ever taken. We both slept like babies! Having woken up at 04:30 that morning and taken a dramamine before departing doubtless had something to do with it.

We arrived in Sucre at around 04:30 but, though I thought I’d been mistaken when the ticket lady told me so in Spanish, we were permitted to stay in the bus resting for a couple more hours after we arrived (indeed, after the few people who wanted to venture out into the city before sunrise were let out, we were pretty much locked IN the bus.)

When the sun came up we were turfed out of the bus and left to find our way into town. People were happy to point us in the right direction, and in about 20 minutes we were at the hostel where we’d booked a single night, just because we didn’t want to have to deal with finding any place to sleep that early in the morning when we would (presumably) already be very tired. It took about 15 minutes for someone to answer the door, but we eventually found our way in.

As mentioned in the last entry, Bolivia loves a marching band

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Muchos Llamas! (or, Llama-rama)

April 23rd, 2013

I’ll do things a bit differently for this entry. First because there’s not THAT much to say beyond what’s in the photos themselves, and second because there are just SO many pictures. So as we’ve done at times before, I’ll just abandon the narrative and let the photo captions do the talking for this entry.

The “Southwest Circuit” 4WD trip came very highly recommended to us so we were excited to get on our way. First the loading of our jeeps had to be finished. As did the loading of the three other jeeps that the same tour company had leaving the same day. Leaving aside the constant tourist jeep traffic, the area we’d be traversing was quite remote, and very arid, so it’s not really the kind of place you want to break down with no help nearby. As such the tours always leave in pairs.

As we left, one last look at the fabulous badlands around Tupiza

There were four of us in the jeep, plus our driver and cook. This meant that everyone always had a window seat, all the better to admire the landscape unfolding ahead (or in this case below.)

The first of the many (many!) llama pictures

Like yaks, llamas really only start to appear above 3000m. Since this trip was spent entirely above that altitude, we saw LOTS of them

Such majestic creatures!
Cria! (Cria is the name for a baby llama [or alpaca, or any of the other South American camelids.])

Day one was mostly driving up, up, up onto the heights of the altiplano. Though Tupiza was already at 3000m ASL, we went as high as 4855, just before our lunch stop pictured here. Soon after we descended back down to 4000 or so, which was where most of the four day trip was spent.

South America: it’s not just llamas! We saw a number of rheas, kind of emu-like large flightless birds over the course of our trip.

Like yaks, llamas really only start to appear above 3000m. Since this trip was spent entirely above that altitude, we saw LOTS of them

Our first night’s resting spot was probably my favourite: a small village whose residents got by on llama farming and work at a small mine 20km or so away. Almost every building was built of mud brick (the church is the focal point of pretty much every South American village, so it IT is mud brick, you can count that pretty much everything else will be) except for the school. Which, of course, had a marching band practicing inside when we arrived.

The lamb of God. This sheep was just sitting happily under the cross above the town when I climbed up to have a look. It didn’t seem at all bothered by my being there

The view out over the mountains from the cross. If I’m not mistaken the big snow capped one is Uturncu. This 6008m volcano is one of the easiest 6000m peaks in the world, and an ascent can be included as part of the 4WD trip. Unfortunately, despite several days of looking in Tupiza we couldn’t find 2 others who were interested in tacking on the extra day that it would take to their trip, so we only got to see it from afar.

The next morning we started out very early. I thought the driver was joking when he said we’d be waking up at 04:30! Our first stop was a Spanish colonial mining settlement. About 250 years old, it was long abandoned. I can certainly understand why… It was one of the most inhospitable sites for a village I’d ever seen.

It wasn’t, however, entirely uninhabited. The nooks and crannies amongst the rough stone buildings provided a perfect habitat for Vizcachas. They’re relatives of chinchillas, but to us they looked like nothing if not long-tailed bunny rabbits.

Even 250 years old and decaying, as always, the church was the most elaborate building in town.

Day two took us through the Eduardo Avaroa Andean national fauna reserve. After the twin villages near the park entrance, we said goodbye to towns and villages for a day while we traversed it.

In one of those twin villages we saw a cria chasing a herd of sheep. Was it training to be a sheep-llama?

In the other we saw probably the greatest concentration of llamas ever, inside a pen made of un-mortared stone there were probably close to one hundred of them!

Hope you like llamas… There are a bunch more of them to come!

Interesting note: the owners of the various llamas were identified by the coloured tassels on their ears, just like the yaks in Tajikistan

Enough llamas for ya?

Just before lunch we descended into a valley surrounded by colourful mountains and with a wide, flat floor covered in borax, which had formerly been mined and then processed nearby

At lunchtime we stopped at a hot spring. Lovely warm water (especially as there was no shower and no hot water at any of the places we stopped.

Gringo soup! Here we were in a remote corner of a fairly remote country, and they couldn’t find a way to avoid having 19 jeeps full of tourists (over 100 people!) showing up in the same place at the same time? This put me in a rather sour mood for most of the rest of the day.

Not llamas! Vicunas, their smaller, un-domesticated cousin (kind of like the high altitude version of the guanacos we’d seen in Chile.)

The Dali Desert, so called because the landscape was similar to (very similar actually) to that in many of the surrealist painter’s works

The “geyers” at Sol de MaƱana, the world’s highest “geyser basin.” The quotes are because there actually weren’t any geysers there, just fumeroles and mudpots. Apparently fumerole is translated into Spanish as “geyser.” Though if you’re going to be using an Icelandic loan word, why on earth wouldn’t you use it to mean the same thing it means in Icelandic? This was strike two on the day, and I was very grumpy indeed by the time we were done (not helped by the fierce wind and chilly temperatures while we were up there.

And then things took a wonderful turn for the better. We raced off to our evening’s lodgings (a large group of stone, mud brick and concrete buildings in the middle of the desert) dropped our stuff off and then headed out to the Red Lake, Laguna Colorado. You can’t really see it in this photo, but the lake really is quite a bright rusty red colour. This is due to the algae which are then eaten by tiny shrimplike creatures and others which are then eaten by the flamingos, thus giving them their pink colour. Laguna Colorado, with its thousands of flamingos and volcano in the background was just so wonderful I couldn’t help but be cheered by it.

And then that night our driver ensured that ours was one of five camera batteries that actually got charged by the solar powered storage batteries in the lodge. Things definitely were looking up (except perhaps for our prospects of sleeping in… we woke up even earlier on day two, at 04:15!)

First stop next morning, another “Dali-esque” desert area, with wonderfully coloured mountains off in the background

A particularly famous resident of the desert, the stone tree (and me trying to imitate it. A thoroughly ridiculous photo, but as soon as I’d done it, everyone else seemed to want to get a photo in the pose as well :) )

A pee stop at the foot of a volcano. Once again, as soon as we’d done this photo, the other two couples in our pair of jeeps wanted to give it a shot as well :)

There was VERY little vegetation in this desert. Miniscule amounts of rainfall, salt and borax blowing around on the wind and chilly 4000m ASL nights will do that. But in this tiny narrow quebrada we drove through these “vegetable sheep” (I love that name!) were thriving

Not llamas! Vicunas, their smaller, un-domesticated cousin (kind of like the high altitude version of the guanacos we’d seen in Chile.)

Heading out of the national park we passed a series of six smaller lakes, all complete with volcanic backdrops and flamingos feeding.

This particular lake featured a restaurant and hotel on the edge, with toilets it charged 5 Bolivianos (about $0.75 for the use of.) I was particularly galled by this sign as a result. By all means, ask people not to pee on the lakeshore. But using your eco-friendly gesture to force people into paying an outrageous price for your services takes away from the warm fuzzy feeling a bit

Back on an actual road, we caught sight of this volcano blowing off some steam in the distance behind us. As far as I know, no significant eruption followed.

The cooks did a fabulous job given the isolated environment and lack of facilities (even at dinner, each jeep’s cook got a small section of tile bench and a basin to collect water from the common tap, and that was about it.)

Our lunch stop on day three was at the Black Lake, Laguna Negra. There were lakes of just about every colour along our route. Interestingly, the green lake is presently coloured light brown. An earthquake a few weeks before we visited had stirred up sedmient, or perhaps altered the flow in/out of the lake, changing its colour. No one seemed entirely sure if it would return to its original colour or not.

Around lunchtime the sky started to look ominous. Perhaps I’ve inherited my parents gift of making it rain when they visit deserts?

We saw several of these inverted-rainbow-sundog things over the course of our trip

After lunch we got on an honest to goodness paved road, headed north. During the dry season tours usually continue their off-road journey north, but there was flooding in some areas so we had to skirt around them as we headed towards the town of Uyuni.

The lovely church at Avaroa, the first real settlement we’d seen in a couple of days.

Unsurprisingly, given the altitude and the fact that we were in the tropics, the sun was fiercely powerful. This is some of the coolest hot-ground caused refraction I’ve seen

The outskirts of Uyuni were a dump. Both figuratively and literally. Garbage was strewn all over the ground for about 5km around town as we approached. I suppose the locomotive graveyard on the edge of town was a rubbish disposal site of a sort as well, but it had a lot of character, especially in the dramatic afternoon, when the sky couldn’t quite seem if it wanted to bake the ground or drench it with rain

The locomotive graveyard was actually really fun to play around in. There were swings hanging from some of the old engines, and you were free to clamber around, over and in any of the “exhibits.”

Most of the engines were manufactured in England in the mid 19th century. Must’ve been quite a task to get them to the high plateau in Bolivia… Either ’round the horn and over the Andes, or a long overland journey from the Atlantic in areas where tracks hadn’t been laid yet.

Around lunchtime the sky started to look ominous. Perhaps I’ve inherited my parents gift of making it rain when they visit deserts?

Don’t let the photo fool you. The dumpiness of Uyuni didn’t end at the outskirts. There was a tiny, tourist focussed area near the centre that was pleasant (like this.) Surrounding that were dusty commercial streets filled with slightly grubby tour agencies (most of the southwest circuit trips actually leave from Uyuni, not Tupiza.) And around that were some of the grimmest suburbs I’ve ever seen. Our lodging for the evening was out in this area.

Pets? Food? Future zoo exhibits? No idea what these baby rheas were doing in someone’s back yard.

Final morning, final day of getting up ridiculously early. We woke at 04:30 again, planning to be out on the Salar De Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, for sunrise. Unfortunately one of our jeeps was having mechanical trouble (at least that’s what the drivers told us… I’m still not completely convinced that they hadn’t just slept in.) So we had another morning of feeling irritable, only slightly improved when we arrived out on the flats JUST in time to catch the sun as it came over the mountains on the horizon.

Breakfast stop was at the “salt hotel” on the edge of the flats, whose walls were constructed entirely of “bricks” of salt cut out of the surrounding flats.

After breakfast it was time to take some of the silly-fun photos you can do with a uniform white background that stretches off into the distance almost forever and thoroughly messes with perspective. Apparently the salt sits in layers about 1m thick, alternating with layers of saturated salt water. In some places you could actually whack through the thin surface crust and find small “vents” of water near the surface. Growing inside these were fabulous big sodium chloride crystals (that gave me a series of spectacularly fine cuts on my fingetips when I pulled at them… painful in conjunction with the salt water!)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was chosen to represent one of the least evolved states…

Back in Uyuni we had lunch with our fellow tourists, as well as all the others who were staying in the same guesthouse as us. We said farewell to our driver and cook, who were headed back to Tupiza. Then we waited, waited and waited some more. Our bus out of town didn’t leave until 19:30 at night. This gave us plenty of time to explore the nice parts of Uyuni (tourist area, train station and immediate surroundings, which is where we found this cool piece of sculpture.) Also had time to sit and play cards, drink a high altitude beer, and even have dinner with some others we’d met at lunchtime who were waiting for the same bus.

Thankfully we did manage to get out of Uyuni having only spent one night there. Our bus to the city of Sucre left after dark, but we were on it. Having woken up at 04:30, it wasn’t very hard to get to sleep :)

Looking back on it, this trip was a very cool one. We saw tons of fascinating and beautiful stuff. But I can’t help but thinking it suffered a bit, both from the crowdedness of some sites, as well as from high expectations. So many people we’d talked to had done the trip and raved about it so much that we were expecting it to be the best thing ever. And while it was good it was almost impossible to live up to our hopes. For all that, I’d still highly recommend the journey to anyone who’s in the area, especially if you can leave from Tupiza and minimize your time in the hole that is Uyuni.

Up next: a lazy week(!) in Bolivia’s white city and constitutional capital, Sucre.

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Bolivian First Impressions and My Canyoning Adventure

April 21st, 2013

Sorry it’s been so long between entries… First our laptop needed a repair (everything was fine except the power switch, meaning that you just couldn’t turn it on!) and then we stayed three nights in a place without electricity, so obviously no writing got done then either! Anyhow, onward into Bolivia…

We were amongst a large queue of people waiting for the border post at La Quiaca, Argentina to open. About half were foreign tourists and half Argentinians or Bolivians. Once the post opened up things moved quickly enough and we had soon been stamped out of Argentina and welcomed to Bolivia (I still as a British citizen… Unlike at the Armenia-Georgia border, the Bolivians insisted that my entry stamp had to be in the same passport that contained my Argentinian exit stamp.)

Our very first quick look at Bolivia was Villazon, the town on the other side of the border from La Quiaca. It was pretty much typical border town, albeit with a friendlier face than many. Dozens of currency exchange shops lined the main street, which was itself packed full of porters carrying goods down to the bridge or up from it (vehicle transit between the two countries isn’t particularly easy, so most goods were offloaded on one side of the short international bridge, then carried across on foot or in wheelbarrows or dollies to the other.)

We took a short walk up the main street to find an ATM which, delightfully after Argentina, not only dispensed Bolivianos (the official name of the currency is the Peso Boliviano, but everyone calls it the Boliviano) at a decent exchange rate, but even gave out US dollar cash if you wanted it.

From there it was only across the central square and up the street to the busy bus station where we were hurried aboard an almost empty and (genuinely!) soon to depart bus to the town of Tupiza, a couple of hours to the north which would be our first real stop in the country.

Again, one chronologically appropriate entry (the main street of Villazon, Bolivia) and one that’s just a nice attractive intro to the entry (a view out over Tupiza from a big rocky hill in the middle of town)

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Cheese and Wine

April 5th, 2013

Somehow or other it’s easy to forget how big a country Argentina is. When we’d arrived in Mendoza I sort of thought, “okay we’re up north now,” even if just on the edge of the north. But from Mendoza we took a 16 hour bus ride to San Miguel de Tucuman and still weren’t anywhere near the northern borders of the country. There was lots more travel (33 hours on buses!) and exploration to do before we arrived there.

Tucuman was just a transit point for us. We spent a couple of hours in the bus station before departing. As far as bus stations go it was actually kind of interesting: open air because of the low latitude and altitude of San Miguel and had coin operated TVs in the waiting areas.

Our next destination was NOT low altitude. The 3 hour bus ride to Tafi del Valle spent pretty much all of its time climbing up endless hills and swtichbacks into the Andes. Though unlike many visions of that range, the hills and mountains around Tafi (2000m ASL) were verdant and fertile. It’s a major dairy farming area and is noted for its cheese production (which is actually kind of what drew us there… we’re pretty easy to entice, aren’t we?)

The wild (north) west of Argentina

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March 30th, 2013

As if we didn’t do enough lazing about and drinking local beverages in Santiago, we did plenty more of it in Mendoza. This wasn’t my first time in Mendoza. A good thing, since with all the laziness, we really didn’t get around to seeing all that much of it. We didn’t even make it to a winery for goodness sakes! (No worries though, we did cover the wine touring aspect by a sneaky, convenient method that was much easier than heading out into the wops to the wineries themselves…)

A fabulously decorated wine barrel preparing to serve as a table at a Mendoza street festival

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