BootsnAll Travel Network


June 8th, 2006

It was a great decision to go to Iguazu falls, a 17 hour bus ride well worth it.

On the border between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, is a bizarre urban agglomeration composed of the cities of Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, and Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Also at this site is one of the mightiest waterfalls on the planet, the region’s principal tourist attraction.

Also in Iguazu is the world’s largest powerplant, a hydroelectric dam providing 25% of Brazil’s electricity, as well as 90% of Paraguay’s. Impressive statistics, and the structure itself is no less impressive. Not beautiful… the incredible thing is looking at this massive hunk of concrete, and contemplating the magnitude of work, energy, manpower, and raw materials that went into creating it and that continue to operate it.

I visited only the Argentine side of the falls, my second day in Iguazu. On the way to the bus station, I ran into a friend from England I had met in Medellin, Colombia. We went together to the falls, and were utterly stunned by the spectacle.

The following evening I took another bus back to Buenos Aires. I spend Sunday wandering around the city, mentally preparing for my flight home. At 8:20 the plane took off, arriving in New York at 6 AM. I got to Boston at 9:35…

My parents and siblings were waiting for me, and I rushed over to hug them. Farid was there as well. It was good to see him.

That evening, I saw some friends, and the next day my granparents arrived from Florida. The following day my other grandparents drove down to visit from Amesbury.

It was a bit of a shock… I’m home. And EVERYTHING, more or less, is the same. Its as though i never left. I’m not too sad about being back, but not too happy about it either. I dont know what to think yet.

Security. It feels empty here, a bit boring, but secure. That is my impression until the moment. Here I have friends, I have family, I have a house. I can use a car, and I have a kitchen with food in it.

There isn’t so much adventure, except in re-learning a city I knew by heart. I used to feel that these streets were MY streets, and now I’m almost a visitor, almost a foreigner.

Speaking English isnt difficult, but I still speak it like a Latino. I’m proud of that, though.

I can’t stop thinking of my trip. It has been my existence, my life for the last 8 months. There was nothing else. I was always meeting people, getting on buses, learning new cities, partying, seeking adventure, planning, thinking.

And its all over… bizarre. I almost thought it would go on forever.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to something like this again? I sure hope so.


El Rock De Mi Pueblo

May 30th, 2006

Buenos Aires.

A different world, perhaps?

But today, Horacio translated an Argentine saying for me: Argentina is composed of many different worlds.

Latin America is a million worlds, a great collection of places so completely different from one another and yet somehow similar, and all sharing this same identity.

What is Latin America? Americans countries where Spanish or Portuguese is the national language. Is there anything else? Perhaps Colombia shares some traits with Ecuador, which is a similar country to Peru, which in turn is very much like Bolivia… but in what ways is Bolivia like Argentina? And in what ways is Argentina like Colombia, or Ecuador?

They are different worlds.

On Monday, at 6:30 in the evening, I took a taxi to the La Paz bus terminal. I booked the next ticket towards the south of the country, a 9 hour trip to the city of Potosi. It was an early morning change of buses, and I was soon on another bus to the border with Argentina at the city of Villazon. From there, I purchased a ticket which would take me to Buenos Aires. I left La Quiaca, on the Argentinian side of the border, at 9:30 at night, and arrived in Jujuy at 1:30 am. The bus was to leave at 5:30 from Jujuy, so I had 4 hours to sleep on the bus before departure. On Thursday morning, at 6:30 am, I arrived in Buenos Aires.

It was a trip of three nights and two days.

The first day, in Bolivia, was a trip through some spectacular but decidedly empty scenery: huge, copper-colored mountains and winding valleys, all devoid of any signs of life. The road was bad, but it gave a cool sense to the journey. This bus trip showed Bolivia to be a country that perhaps looks a bit like the American West did as it was settled for the first time, a land of tiny frontier towns and cowboys and broken dreams. We stopped to eat in a dusty little village that looked like the most isolated place on the planet, seemingly sustained purely by this daily flow of buses down the one highway.

The following day in Argentina was a bit different. We had entered a fertile land of green, of fields and forests and modern-style rest stops. The was good, and we could drive at 100 kilometers per hour for one of the first times since I left the United States. It`s a long way to Buenos Aires, but it seemed like we were flying.

It was a weird twist of fate that I spent a total of 60 hours in transit from La Paz to Buenos Aires. My trip both began and ended with a 60 hour bus journey. I`ve come full circle. The adventure has, more or less, come to an end.

Buenos Aires is famous for being the “Paris of South America,” the cultural capital of the continent, the most European city in Latin America. Perhaps its true. Almost everyone here is of purely European descent, and there is almost no black or indigenous inhabitants. The city`s dance, the tango, is a European art. People here speak differently than anywhere else, and they act differently as well. I don`t know if its true that they are so arrogant, though they are famous for thinking highly of themselves. I do know, however, that many residents of Buenos Aires have no idea how to dance latin music.

There are things I like about the city. I like its architecture, its parks, its wide boulevards, its incredible food. I like the convience it offers. Here, they have big walk-in pharmacies and extensive book stores absent in other countries.

And there are things I don`t like so much, as well. The streets seem calmer and emptier than in other Latin American capitals. People here stroll in the streets, the drive around, they meet their friends on street corners, but they dont LIVE on the streets like they do elsewhere. Everyone is more civilized, but sometimes too much. It doesnt seem quite chaotic enough. Finally, discoteques dont get crowded until 3 am, and stay open until 7. Its fine if the party goes late, but what the hell do you do from 9 pm until 3 am? Sleep?

I am living at the moment with Horacio, a family friend who lived with my grandparents as part of an exchange program AGES ago, and his family. I`m sharing a room with a hyper 9 year old, Franco. Everything is going excellently.

I have some very touristy final plans for my trip… I would like to take a boat to Colonia, in Uruguay, on Wednesday, and spend the evening there, returning to Buenos Aires the following day. It is only a three-hour journey. Then on Friday, If I can find a cheap flight, I`ll fly to the Argentine border with Brazil and Paraguay to visit Iguazu falls on Saturday. On Sunday I`ll fly back to Buenos Aires to catch my evening flight to Boston. I arrive home at about 9 am on Sunday.

It will be a hectic end to the trip, but I think it will be lots of fun as well.

I hope to see everybody soon.




May 21st, 2006

Rock On!

The last week has been GREAT. I love Bolivia, just for being more different, more anything-goes, than almost any country I`ve visited.

An Isreali traveler commented to me that he hated La Paz, that it was filthy and basically just an enormous market. It`s true. La Paz is not a clean place, and it is basically a giant, 7-day market. It`s wonderful. And though its full of tourists, it is also extremely easy to find places without any foreigners at all.

The location of La Paz is ridiculous. It is located in the bottom of a huge valley at an absurd elevation in the dry, empty mountains of the andean altiplano desert. Perched above La Paz, on a plateau at 4,000 m above sea level, is El Alto, Bolivia`s new largest city. Originally a slum neighborhood on the hillside slopes of La Paz, El Alto is now South America`s fastest growing city with over 1 million inhabitants. Check out this picture:
El Alto is the flat part, La Paz is in the valley below.

Backing up a bit…

From Cusco I went to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The following day I took a tour of the lake, to the floating islands of Uros and to the island of Taquile. The lake is gorgeous, and the tour was really great. We stopped first at the floating islands, which are constructed of reeds that grow in the lake. Only several families live on each island, and they travel between the islands, to school or to visit friends or whatever, on reed boats. It is a crazy existence. The fact is, however, that these islands would not exist today if it wasn`t for tourism. Because of a constant flow of tourists the islands`s inhabitants are fairly well-off, but literally everything is catered to the arrival of the tourists boats, and the place doesn`t feel very genuine at all. Far more genuine was Taquile Island, where the inhabitants are mostly farmers, and they have developed their own society more or less unaffected by tourism. The island was beautiful, not only with views of the lake but also of snow-capped mountains in nearby Bolivia.

On the boat trip I met a Japanese couple, and I stayed with them for most of the day. They told me that they would be going to La Paz the following day early in the morning. After the boat trip I decided that I would head to La Paz as well, and we ended up on the same bus. It was a fine, easy-enough trip into Bolivia. On the way, we stopped in Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and had a nice lunch on the lakefront. We arrived in La Paz in the evening, and as we left the bus we began to search for a hotel along with a Mexican guy we met upon arrival. I ended up sharing a room with the Mexican in hotel “Las Brujas,” which is down the street from the crazy witches market where indigenous women sell all varieties of herbal medicines.

On thursday, the four of us began to explore the city a bit, and we made a trip to the outskirts of La Paz to a park called “Valle de la Luna.” It was a truly lunar landscape, a crazy maze composed of towering pillars of sand above deep crevasses. We spent an hour exploring, and then wandered a bit further to the La Paz zoo. The zoo wasn`t great, but we enjoyed it nevertheless.

That evening the Japanese couple left. The Mexican guy and I had signed up for a bicycle tour down the “Death Road,” from La Paz to Coroica in the nearby jungle, the following day. We had been told to meet at 7:30 at the travel agency, but we slept until 7:50. Literally jumping out of bed, we raced to the agency, but were told that the bus had already left. We had to go with a travel agent in a taxi to catch the bus at the exit of La Paz. Freezing cold, we arrived at the beginning of our bike route, at some 4,600 meters above sea level. That is very, very high. There were icicles on the side of the road as we set off on our bikes.

The trip began with a steep downhill, paved section, and we cruised effortlessley quite a ways. After this was an uphill section, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It was nice to work a little bit after so much effortless biking. Following the uphill began the real “death road,” a long, unpaved section of road with vast cliffs on the side. It was dusty, rocky, and fun.

I had gone with perhaps the cheapest tour company, not really thinking much about the quality of the tour I would be receiving. Throughout the trip, there were problems with our bikes. My mexican friend fell near the beginning when his tire actually fell off. Someone else had his seat fall off, and another group member had a wheel pop. At one point my back break stopped working, and I had to switch bikes. When things were looking particularly bad in terms of our bike situation, another group lined up behind us on the side of the road. We talked a bit with them; they were with the guides “gravity assisted biking,” apparently the best quality guides of the trip. Next to one another, we looked like a group of absolute misfits. We were all men, wearing unmatching jackets, with different, all seemingly disfunctional bikes, and no guide in sight. The gravity group cruised in with matching uniforms, shiny, new bikes, and a guide who would inform everyone about the upcoming terrain and any interesting sights. It was unanymous opinion among my group that we were cheap bastards and that we recieved what we had payed for. Nevertheless, we had lots of fun. The people in our group were great. Upon arrival at the end of the route, I must say that I had no regrets.

That evening I went with my mexican friend to a concert by Vicentico, the lead singer of the Fabulosos Cadillacs. The Cadillacs are one of the giants of Spanish Rock, an argentine band famous throughout latin america. It seemed that nearly all of La Paz was present in the open-air theater for the concert, and it was a true spectacle. Vicentico is a great singer, and everyone in his band is very professional, all excellent musicians. There was the sense at the end of a slight disappointment, because the band didnt play some of the Cadillacs biggest hits. I didnt particularly care, and enjoyed myself tremendously.

On Saturday morning the Mexican left, and I met Freddy, and member of the hospitality club from La Paz. We went together to a nice viewpoint of the city, and talked for a while. In the evening I walked up from La Paz to El Alto. The climb took me about an hour and a half, having climbed up over 400 meters in elevation. I walked through crazy hillside markets, around winding roads offering spectacular views, and up dizzying staircases on the edge of slums. I arrived on the plateau in an empty, barren field with several train-tracks cut across it, and some tents set up marking the beginning of yet another market. This market is probably one of the cheapest in the world, with ridiculously low prices, but I merely wandered through. At sunset, I took a bus back into the valley. This was certainly one of my favorite walks of the entire trip.

After getting back from going out, I had a big problem in my hotel. The guy at the door gave me my key, but to open the door to my room required quite a bit of effort. As I was working at it, the key snapped in half, stranding the end in the door´s lock. I got the guy at the door to come up and take a look, and we worked together to remove the key-part. We had no luck. He told me I could sleep in another room that minutes before had been abandoned, and I did so. I slept poorly, though, and couldn´t feel rested until I was able to access my possessions once again. At 9 am, the hotel staff told me that the door had not yet been fixed. Finally, at 11, I was told that I would again be able to enter my room. It was a frightening evening, being trapped without money and contact lens solution.

Today I will meet some friends (my own age!) in a short time. I met them yesterday evening in a great disco. And tomorrow, I head to Argentina. It will be a long trip, but I`m looking forward to it…

There is still some adventure to come!


AND BY THE WAY…. It looks damn far from La Paz to Buenos Aires on the map, but it isnt so bad. I started this trip with a 60 hour bus ride, and its 50 hours to Buenos Aires. Ì´ll be in Argentina´s capital in no time at all.


Si El Norte Fuera Al Sur

May 14th, 2006

I shouldn`t have to do this…

Basically, I can`t tell anybody not to read this journal. If you have found it and want to read it, go ahead. However, you have to REALIZE what you are reading. This is a journal intended for my friends. For anybody who reads this journal to find out all of the “bad” things I`ve been up to this year, FINE. But I find it fairly offensive to read this journal and then inform my parents, relatives, or other people in town about your findings. This journal exists largely because there are things that I would prefer not everybody knows, so please don`t make this into some ridiculous scandal or a fount of information to gossip about. Keep what you read to yourself!

At the moment I`m still in Cusco, but this evening I will be leaving for the city of Puno, located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It should be an interesting place… The only unfortunate thing, from what I`ve heard, is that it is even colder there than Cusco. I will be going alone. Tanael, my Swiss friend, will be flying to Colombia later this week, so he has decided to stay in Cusco for the days leading up to the flight.

I`ve had a lot of fun in Cusco. We met loads of people, and we would run into different friends every day. Amoung our friends were hippies selling handicrafts, promotion guys working to bring people into restaurants around the main square, and people from Lima, as well as local Cuzquenos.

It quickly became easy to become comfortable in Cusco because of the friends, as well as a daily routine that began to develop. We would spend the mornings wandering around the city, eat a big, late lunch, then spend the early evening in the main plaza talking with friends. We then went to the hotel to relax and watch a movie, before going out dancing.

I ended up wandering around some interesting parts of city, including a huge indigenous market filled with natural medicines, local foods, and some handicrafts. As we walked through, a man entered carrying two cow heads in his hands. It was a very, colorful, interesting place, and completely empty of tourists. Another day I went with some friends to a Go-Kart park well away from the center, and this was lots of fun. It seemed like some sort of community gathering place for young people, and I was told that on weekends it can get very crowded.

One day, I was sitting in the plaza with Tanael, when we saw the most ridiculous situation begin to develop. The were two dogs, who started fucking wildly on some steps in front of one of the city`s main churches. They were jumping up and down, and barking franticly. Everyone who passed couldn`t help but stare and laugh, and these dogs were clearly having a great time, completely oblivious to being the center of attention. However, at some point the fucking got a bit two wild, and they tumbled down the stairs. They landed in an unfortunte position; they were stuck together, each facing a different direction. Some old women came by and tried to separate them, but it couldn`t be done. The dogs looked extremely sheepish, and now rather than laughing, those who passed looked genuinely disturbed. This is something that shouldn`t happen in nature, it seems. The dogs hobbled across the street, and through the plaza, stuck together still 10 minutes after the fall. It was not until a police officer through a watchstick at them quite hard that they finally pulled apart. It isn`t cool to laugh at animals in pain, but through the entire ordeal we couldn`t stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

Though Cuzco is full of tourists, it seems that almost all of them stay in the historic center. Granted, this is the most interesting part of the city historically and architecturally, but it has become very artificial. On every corner is a handicrafts shop, and venders line the streets selling “traditional” goods. Outside of the center, however, is a very different, and surprisingly REAL city.

On Tuesday, I went to Machu Picchu. At about 6:30 a bus left Cuzco to the town of Ollantaytambo, where I borded a train to Aguas Calientes, and then a bus to the ruins themselves. Upon arrival, I was exhausted but utterly stunned by the spectacular mountain scenery and the ridiculously precarious location of the ruins. I left with a (spanish speaking) tour group, but after a half hour of the tour, the guide announced that anyone interested in climbing the mountain Wayna Picchu should leave immediately, as only 400 people are permitted on the mountain per day, and only before 1 pm. Only three of us among a group of 25 left for the mountain. Two spanish guys and I decided it was worth it, so we hurried to the entrance and began a quick ascent. Though they told us it would take about an hour and a half to reach the top, it took me only 25 minutes, despite long waits for the descending crowds. The climb was great, and the views from the top unbelievable. After a short time atop the mountain, we had to descend for a shortage of time. We spent a while afterwards wandering around the ruins before the descent once again to Aguas Calientes. With the Spaniards I ate a nice, big lunch, and then began the return trip to Cusco. It was a LONG day, but a really wonderful one.

I arrived in Cusco with bad cold, and it took several days before it went away. At first I felt incapable of doing almost anything besides chilling out much of the day. By the time I went to Machu Picchu, however, I was left with nothing more than a runny nose. This has persisted, but it no longer bothers me so much.

Until next time…
Lots of love,

P.S. Happy Mother`s Day to all of the mothers out there!


Mi Primer Millon

May 5th, 2006

Since the last entry, I`ve spent a lot of time in Bus.

From Quito to Lima, it was 36 hours: we left Quito at midnight, and arrived in Lima at noon two days later. Most of this journey was through the coastal desert of Peru. If you`ve never been to Peru, you may not realize that the entire coast of the country is a dusty, rocky desert where the majority of the country`s population lives. As you arrive in Lima, the desert becomes filled with vast slums of people living out of nothing at all, which gradually give way to the city itself.

I was told many times to avoid Lima, that it is ugly, dangerous, and has little to offer. It is an interesting city, however. The center is packed with gorgeous architecture, and the southern suburbs hang on cliffs above the ocean. The rich parts of Lima look, feel, and sound like the average American city.

We spent several days in Lima recovering from the bus trip and doing some necessary errands. One day we went shopping, and I bought a new shirt, new jeans, new shoes, and I got a haircut. We also spent some time with two friends who Tanael had contacted before our arrival. They acted as our city guides, and took us to eat traditional Peruvian food and to see some of the cities sights.

We had planned to leave Lima for Cusco on Monday, but as it was labor day, there were no buses leaving the city. Instead on Tuesday we embarked on another long bus ride, which amounted to 22 hours in total. The last part of the ride was incredibly scenic and a bit frightening, as we were winding along narrow roads above huge cliffs and through gorgeous valleys. We arrived exhausted, and I spent the evening relaxing.

Cusco is a beautiful city. It is perhaps the gringo capital of South America, and with reason. The architecture and the city`s crazy layout make it a wonderful place to explore, and the prominent indigenous culture keeps it colorful, and the surrounding mountains make for endless adventure opportunities. Unfortunately, being the gringo capital means that is full of gringos, and at times it can feel far too touristy.

I am feeling a bit sick at the moment, probably because of the rapid change in altitude as well as the cold weather. I have a runny nose and a headache, and I certainly dont feel capable of going on any exciting excursions at the moment.

Thats about all for now,


De Musica Ligera

April 27th, 2006

I´m coming home on June 4 from Buenos Aires.

This trip has been incredible. I could never properly convey how much I have enjoyed this great adventure. When I come home, I may be a mess, if only because things THERE aren´t the same as they are down HERE. I have no regrets, though.

It has been a great dream, and I don´t want to wake up. The trip has been an experiment in different lifestyles, in what it means to be a tourist, in making friends, in being outgoing and easygoing, in ridiculous excesses, in avoiding and dealing with stress, in being responsible for myself, in planning and lack of planning, in who I want to be and how I want to live. I´ve seen some of the most beautiful places and some of the most ugly places, and met some truly wonderful people as well as some real jerks.

It hasn´t given me any answers, but it has given me lots to think about.

Have I gone about this trip in the best way possible? Certainly not. In the end, I don´t think it matters so much.

Ive got a little while left, but in some ways I feel that my trip is already over.




April 25th, 2006

I am still in Quito, believe it or not.

The original plan was to stop one more time in Atacames for a crazy Saturday night, before heading south to Peru. Our idea was that further south, places like the Ecuadorian coast just dont exist anymore. Upon reaching Peru, we would be leaving the tropics for good. We bought bus tickets for 12:30 am on Friday night.

On Friday night at 8:00, we took a taxi to the Plaza de Toros for the salsa concert by Maelo Ruiz. It was an incredible concert. The first group to perform played traditional “son” music, but with a very upbeat and exciting style, and from the first song the entire audience was dancing. The second group was a surprise. They began with a merengue song, but then switched to reggaeton, playing the super-hits “Agarrala” and “Ven Bailalo.” Tanael and I were ecstatic, as we had only minutes before been joking about a reggaeton performance. The next song was “Por Una Gota de Tu Voz,” a new favorite which we had only become acquainted with one week before. From this point on, nothing could undermine our enthusiasm for the concert. Finally, Maelo Ruiz came on, and his hit “Te Va a Doler” was recieved with a great roar from the audience. Everyone sang along (except me- I dont know the words), and the concert hit a grand climax.

A short while before Maelo Ruiz came on to perform, we had burned our bus tickets. The concert lasted until about 1:30, and it was well worth staying until the end.

The whole thing was given a cool, surreal air because of the Plaza de Toros`s location right next to the Quito Airport. Throughout the show, airplanes would cruise directly overhead, always seemingly on a collision course for the other side of the stadium.

After such an exciting show, we couldn`t dream of going to bed. Instead, we danced until 7 am, for a grand total of 11 hours of dancing. We went first to one club, then to an after-hours disco. In the second place, Tanael and i both met girls. Jenny, the girl I met, invited me to go with her to the town of Banos the next day, but I still planned to go to Atacames. Unfortunately, as we left the disco disoriented and exhausted, this trip to Atacames didnt end up happening. I crashed for several hours, and waking up in the early afternoon, decided to go with Jenny to Banos for the night.

It was a four-hour trip to Banos, but well worth it for the spectacular natural setting. We went in Jenny`s cary, which was a nice change from the bus routine. We went out Saturday night, to a disco packed with Guayaquil folks. It kinda sucked, though, because the fucking disco never played our request of “Por una gota de tu voz.”

On Sunday morning we visited a viewpoint high on a surrounding mountain, and stopped by several waterfalls. Banos seems to be the tourist capital of Ecuador, and its appeal is all in its location. The city itself isnt so special, but it would be a great place to spend some time hiking, rock climbing, river rafting, and mountian biking.

We headed back to Quito, however, planning to leave for Peru on Monday. On Monday morning Tanael was feeling a bit sick, so we delayed our journey until today. So that the border crossing goes smoothly, we plan to leave this evening, arriving in Lima on Thursday morning. From there, it will be another bus journey to Cuzco on Sunday.

The rest of our time in Quito has been fairly relaxed. We ended up staying in a house of volunteers, one of whom Tanael had met on an earlier visit to Quito. It is very comfortable there, as there is a kitchen, television, and cd-player. Staying in the house are a French girl, Regina, a German guy, Christopher, and a Swiss guy with whom I was sharing a room.

I went out to explore several days, and had some wonderful walks. I visited the historic center one day, and another day found a huge, beautiful park atop a hill which surely does not appear in any guidebook. I also began a CD collection to catalogue the many sounds of my trip. It is difficult to acquire everything I`ve heard and enjoyed, but i am certainly making progress.

Quito has grown on me. I like the look of the city, and its crazy location in a mountain valley. It also has some good parties, especially on Thursday night in a place called “El Centro.” I still like Guayaquil better, maybe just for being louder and crazier, but I think the two form a nice balance for the country.

Wish me luck on the two-night bus trip….




April 18th, 2006

I´ts been a while, and fucking wild time since I last wrote.

From Guayaquil, I took a bus to the border with Peru in order to meet my friend Tanael the following day. I ended up having a bizarre evening in the city of Tumbes, one hour from the border in Peru.

Tumbes had a beetle problem. Some type of enormous insect was virtually raining down upon the city. While waiting for a hamburger from a street stand, I had to knock at least two off of my back. These beetles apparently bite as well. In front of this hamburger stand I met several guys from the countryside near Tumbes, and I ended up wandering around with them after eating. I went with them to a rally for a political campaign in a nearby park. That weekend were the national elections in Peru, so it was getting a bit crazy with the campaigning. The politicians in Peru have some interesting tacticts for attracting votes. There was an enormous game of bingo going on, and everyone was extremely invested in winning. Some women had up to five bingo cards in front of them, filling them all in at once. There was also some music, popular reggaeton songs with the lyrics changed to support the presidential candidate. The whole spectacle was bizarre and exhausting, but lots of fun.

In the morning I continued on to Mancora, a beach where I was meeting Tanael and his sister Taina. They had come all of the way from Santiago de Chile by bus, so they arrived exhausted, and we spent the next several days relaxing by the beach.

Mancora was a small, tranquil place, and perhaps even more so because of the weekend´s elections. The streets were deserted, and there was never anything to do. It was a pretty beach, surrounded by dry desert and with fairly chilly water. It is famous for its surf, and there were a fair number of foreign surfers in town. One day, a bit bored, we took a motor-taxi to a hot spring about an hour away. We had to push the taxi through sand on the way there, and when we arrived we all covered ourselves in mud and took photos.

Tanael and I decided that it would be better to head north to Atacames, Ecuador, rather than hang around Mancora until Easter, which had been our original plan. Tanael had already visited Atacames, and told me that it was a crazy place to party. Taina decided not to return to Ecuador, and instead headed straight for southern Peru.

When we arrived in Tumbes, my favorite city ever, there was a man waiting outside of the bus with a jacket for the Ecuadorian bus company CIFA. I had already taken CIFA buses before, so I went to talk with him. He told us that CIFA had suspended service over the border because of some protests, and that he would escort us to the office of the bus company on the other side free of charge. Tanael and I got in a car with him and another man, and they drove us to the border town of Huaquillas. When we arrived, they drove us into a rough neighborhood and then told us that we hadn´t gotten proper permission to cross the border and would have to pay the police. It was a hoax, but we had no choice but to pay at this point. Refusal could have been dangerous. They demanded $60 among the two of us for the “police,” and $20 more for the driver. We arrived on the Ecuadorian side of the border very angry, but luckily having lost nothing but money.

The rest of the day, and following night, was spent in buses as we made our way to Atacames on Ecuador`s green northern coast.

Atacames is a small, poor city with a nice beach. It is a diverse place, and its people are comparable to the inhabitants of the Colombian cost. They are friendly, animated, noisy, and fun. The malecon, or beachfront, in Atacames is the only place of interest to tourists, and it is lined with hotels, restaurants, artesan shops, and beachside open-air discos constructed of bamboo. The whole place quickly filled up with vacationing families from Quito, Guayaquil, and southern Colombia, all coming for the Easter “Semana Santa” celebrations. It got noisier and rowdier as the week went on. Already by Wednesday the discos were blaring reggaeton music beginning late in the morning, and remain full-blast until around 2 or 3 am.

It was a strange party because it was really a family party. Everyone was in Atacames with their brothers and sisters, cousins, parents, and even grandparents. In the discos you would see parents dancing with their babies in their arms, 12 year old princesses, and old men dancing on the stage in front of everyone. Imagine Spring Break, family style.

It was an unbelievably wild time there. I made tons of friends, both locals and visitors. Some nights I could go from disco to disco, and meet a friend in almost every place. We felt like heroes, because the people in our hotel loved us, and we easily made loads of friends.

The first night, we met two girls from Quito. We spent the evening with them by our hotel pool, and went out dancing together. They left the following day, and we ended up meeting a Colombian girl from Popayan, Monica. After the club closed, we hung around a campfire until late. The following day we met three girls who had just arrived from Cali, Colombia. Tanael and I each went for different girls, and everything was looking good. The girl I liked was called Lady. At one point the next evening, however, Lady stopped talking to me and never really acknowledged me again. I never found out why.

Sunday, after most visitors had left, ended up being the craziest night, and one of the most fun.

When we left yesterday, Tanael and I were a bit sad. We had really grown attached to Atacames, to its easygoing atmosphere and nonstop music. We are in Quito now, and in some ways it is a relief, and in others it feels far too subdued here.

We will probably remain in Quito about a week. There should be some intesting events going on. Thursday is the one-year anniversary of a massive, chaotic protest in the city, and on Friday there is a concert by Maelo Ruiz, one of the most famous salsa artists.

We have a bit of a problem, which is that we have several girls we met in Atacames who we would rather not meet during our short stay here. It is a big city, but weird coincidences happen and there is the possibility of a chance meeting. We`ll see how it goes.



Adios Te Pido

April 3rd, 2006

Somebody made a mistake. I don`t think Guayaquil belongs in Ecuador.

Before I came to Ecuador, I had a certain image of the country: a mountainous place, with a large Indian population, big markets, artesans, small villages, etc. Of course, I was only imagining the Andean region of Ecuador. Guayaquil, the country´s largest city, is another world.

Before coming, I was told that Guayaquil is like Miami. I´ve never been to Miami, but I could imagine that it would be similar. Once my bus pulled into the old terminal, which is a giant collapsing hunk of concrete, everyone immediately rushed off through a big, empty hall to a maelstrom of taxis and buses rushing by. It felt like an arrival in a new country.

The city is hot, sweaty, noisy, and chaotic. Unlike the people of the interior, Guayaquil`s population is warm and open. Though there are few Indians in the city, there seems to be a mix of all colors in the population. Young people dress like young latinos in the United States, with baggy clothing, sunglasses, and baseball caps turned to the side. After dark, the streets become crowded with pedestrians… I could imagine that on weekends, it must be a wild place.

I´ve heard that Guayaquil underwent a dramatic transformation in the last 15 years, or so. In “The Old Patagonian Express,” Paul Theroux described the city as a sweaty, dirty port with little of interest. Today, it is a vibrant, exciting place. The biggest factor in city´s transformation has been a number of extremely ambitious projects involving the many potential sites of interest. The most significant and impressive of these projects is the Malecon 2000, which turned the old malecon into a gorgeous park with playgrounds, exercise structures, refreshment stands, restaurants, bars, lookouts, museums, beautiful gardens, and even an IMAX theater. It is full of pedestrians during the day, and is safe at night.

Another brilliant restoration has been around the neighborhood of Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana. Cerro Santa Ana is a historic neighborhood that had degenerated into a hillside slum, but a large part of the hill is now a beautiful neighborhood and one of the city`s principal tourist attractions. Outside of the tourist streets the hill remains a slum, but the restored areas have many police and provide a safe environment for both the tourists and residents of the neighborhood.

Guayaquil is easily one of my favorite big cities of the entire trip. I like cities on the water… Guayaquil has a better waterfront than Panama City, and doesn`t feel so flashy… its less touristy than Cartagena… really, if feels like Barranquilla, but I like it much better. Maybe its only because I´ve been here such a short time, but thats OK. I´ve got one more day here, then I´m off for Peru.

I enjoyed Quito a lot. The family who I was staying with, Lisa and Agustin, were incredibly helpful and friendly. It was fun being in a house with young children, as I havent been around little kids in my entire trip. Their dog took a liking to my legs, and would never leave me alone.

I spent the first day in Quito chilling out, recovering from my long bus ride and acclimitizing. That evening I went out with the family for a drive around the city center, and some traditional food in a nice restaurant. The next day I met a nephew and niece of Agustin, and we went to gether in a cable car to an incredible vantage point over the city, at 4100 meters above sea level. turned in early, to prepare for my trip to Cuenca the next day.

I was a bit disappointed by Cuenca. I arrived after a 10 hour bus ride on Saturday, and found a hotel. I set off immediately to look for some hint of the Aventura concert, but found nothing. There were no posters up in the city, and nothing on the internet. People I asked told me to check out the discos in the center later in the evening. After a nap, I headed to the center, but there were few discos, and all were completely empty. I was told that one would fill up, so I went in, and hung out. It was still virtually empty around 1 am, so I headed back to the hotel. It isn`t the end of the world, but I would really have liked to see the concert.

After having wandered around the city so much the night before, I was quite tired of the place. There were few young people around, and though parts of the center are pretty, it really isn´t as good as Popayan or Cartagena, in Colombia. I decided to come to Guayaquil, and here I am.



La Casa en el Aire

March 30th, 2006

I left Bogota on Tuesday. Before leaving, I had a funny little experience…

So I`ve had a bit of a problem dealing with Traveler`s Checks. The issue was that I signed the checks under “Pay This Check To The Order Of,” though apparently the bank is supposed to sign there. During my entire trip up until this point, I had cashed only 3 of the checks, though it took approximately an hour of arguing with the people at the bank each time. I decided to have this all sorted out in Bogota, so I took a trip to the city´s American Express office. From there, I was told to go to a bank called BBVA to change the checks.

I arrived at the BBVA, and after a short time of waiting, they did actually change the checks. The unfortunate thing is that, rather than recieving new, corrected checks, I recieved all of the money in Colombian pesos. My $1,350 was converted into just over $3,000,000 pesos, and I recieved this money in 100 bills of $10,000 and 100 of $20,000. I left the bank with this enormous stack of money, which wouldnt even fit in my backpack. I feel generally safe in Bogota, but I didn`t feel safe carrying around such an absurd amount of money. I went to a place that changes pesos and dollars, and exchanged the money for $1,350 US. It is the same amount of money, but at least it takes up less space. Since then, I have been carrying $1,300 in a pouch I wear on my lower leg. At least nobody who robs me is going to go for my legs.

I went from Bogota to Manizales, a city in the principal coffee growing region of the country. I thought it was a beautiful place, and it was a real shame that I didn´t have more time to spend there. It is a city located on a number of steep hills in the mountains, all surrounded by coffee plantations.

In the hostel in Manizales, I met a German guy, Simon, who was also planning to go to Cali for the weekend. As it turns out, he is a hospitality club member, and had already contacted somebody for accomodation in Cali. I ended up staying with him in the apartment of Gustavo, which worked out wonderfully. There were several other friends living in the apartment, and others would stop by periodically throughout the day, so we quickly met lots of people.

We spent our days in Cali in gridlock. At the moment, the city is in the process of constructing a mass-transportation bus system, and as a result the main streets have become narrower and ridiculously crowded. Just to get from the house of Gustavo to the city center took about an hour and a half during the day.

On friday night we went to a nearby university, where there were two parties going on. One was an open air dance party, with way too much salsa music, and another was a hip hop concert. The hip hop was good but repetitive. The best part of the concert was a very impressive freestyle session. The groups were good, but far too political… It isnt bad to be fighting the man, but you really can´t make EVERY song about how much you hate imperialism and capitalism. The dance party was perhaps more fun, but it was quickly extinguished by a heavy rain shower.

On saturday we went to a great disco. When it closed we spent several hours on a street corner and in a park with some girls we met, drinking aguardiente (strong, cheap alcohol). The next day was spent doing absolutely nothing. We watched some movies and recovered from the previous night.

I had a fun time in Cali, but I must say, it doesn`t live up to its reputation. It may be one of the party capitals of colombia, but it is certainly not the city with the best woman. Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena are far better in that respect.

On Monday, Simon and I headed to the beautiful city of Popayan, arriving at night. The next day was great. We woke up a bit late, and then went to the center to hang out. The girls who passed us were being rather ridiculously flirtatious, and as one bus passed the girls were even whistling and yelling at us. Feminists would hate it. There was a protest going on against president Uribe, and we decided to join in and talk with the protesters. After some people began to chant “fuera gringos, hijos de puta,” (get out gringos, you son`s of bitches) while looking directly at us, I decided to tell people I was German. I let Simon do the talking.

A bit later we met a girl, who basically fell in love with us and invited us to her house and gave us coffee and food, and hung around with us for the evening. She was nice, but unfortunately boring as well. Later in the evening, Simon and I passed a bread shop that was closed, and i went to the door and yelled that I wanted bread. Two guys came outside and gave us a huge bag of free bread, and then they accompanied us in our walk for a bit.

Yesterday we left Popayan, for an incredibly scenic bus journey to the city of Pasto. Simon got off there, but I continued to the border, and on to Quito.

As I crossed the border were two crazy Rastafarian guys from brazil. They unfortunately couldn`t enter Ecuador because they didn`t have a visa. They seemed like cool guys, but in terms of being Rastas, in their dress, their attitude, their hairstyle, they really went all-out. It was funny to see here. In Bogota there are lots of rastas, but most are young, and they don`t look so genuine.

I didn´t arrive in Quito until 1:30 AM, so I headed straight for a nearby hotel. Today I arrived at the house of Lisa Balaban, a friend of my uncle. Quito seems like a cool city. Unfortuntely, at the moment I have very little time here, but I think I`d like to come back.

On Saturday, there is a concert of the bachata band Aventura in Cuenca, to the south. I would like to go, if possible. 

Peace, my friends.