Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fun Times In Bolivia

Alright, so it´s the 4th of September already and it has been awhile since our last blog. Sophie and I have successfully survived the Inca Trail and we are now back in Cusco. Before I divulge about our experience on the trek and the crazy weather we endured first things first, Bolivia.

We decided to fly into La Paz from the boarder town Guaramerim, swapping a 3 day bus journey for about a 1 hour plane ride, one of the best decisions we made. Good life choices we like to say. We hopped on a small plane and proceeded to ascend for about an hour, the plane never straightened out due to the cities high position above sea level. La Paz sits around 12,000 ft ASL. As we stepped off the plane we were hit with a cold blast of air, it was definitely much colder than the warm Amazonian climate we were in a couple of hours ago. We grabbed our bags and ran into the bathroom to start piling on the layers, changing out the flip flops for sneakers.

As we drove from the airport to central La Paz I looked out the window at all the locals with their nice warm scarves, jackets, and boots. We both agreed that some serious shopping was in order. Luckily as we found out the next day all the streets are lined with textile products, hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, all for amazing prices. Buying then can become very addicting; Sophie and I are in recovery right now, fighting our addiction, resisting the urge to buy every warm cozy product we walk by.

The night we arrived in La Paz we ended up staying at a random hostel. After we settled in I went to jump in the shower (freezing cold to my surprise). When I came back in the room Sophie said, “I just received the strangest phone call. A woman by the name of Ninfa called and wants to show us around the city tomorrow.” Apparently Ninfa´s friend was the receptionist of the hostel and told her that two Americans checked into the place. Ninfa is studying English and wants to practice her English any chance she gets, so what a better opportunity than hanging out with two native English speakers. Our “blind date” with Ninfa was set up for noon the next day.
Ninfa took us all around the city of La Paz, showing us the main plaza, special churches, hiking up and down the very hilling streets getting winded with the high altitude and steep climbs. None the less it was a great day, we walked down “Witches Market” which is a street filled local healers that make natural medicine, some even containing mescaline, hmmm. In the urban streets of La Paz there are still loads of Cholitas, which are women who are usually on the chubby side, in traditional dress with bowler hats, layers of sweaters and skirts, with their hair in long braids. Some have their babies tied to their backs with a blanket or our selling their goods on the side of the street. After spending all day with Ninfa we felt that we had a great feel of the city. We also notice that there were so many Gringos, loads of tourist, something that we were not used to living in Guyana and all.

Our original plan was to take a tour down to the Salt Flats, which is in the Southern part of the country. Unfortunately due to a dispute with the locals living in that region and the government the roads were blocked, no food, fuel, and water were making it into the area. So instead we spent the first week taking it easy getting acclimated, eating good food, meeting other travelers, and shopping of course.

The second week we decided to take it up a notch, first on the list horse back riding. There were four of us in our group, Soph and myself and an Italian couple. We arrived to the ranch and all got acquainted with our horses and or “bilingual guide,” who I later found out only know a few words of English two of them being “fast” and “picture”. We had our tour outside of La Paz in the Muela del Diablo and Valle de Las Animas, it was nice to get out of the city and into nature. The views were breathtaking we went from riding in canyons to reaching the tops of mountains. Our horses names were Mulatta and Muneca, and they were the best of friends always standing by each other they could it was pretty funny. My horse Mulatta did not like to be in the back she stayed close to our guide even when he decided to go “muy rapido” full speed ahead. I am talking full on galloping, I felt like a cowgirl. This was not some horseback riding tour like in the States where you walk the whole time and at the most trot for two minutes. When there were open spaces our guide would take off and all our horses would follow, there we were flying at full speed and hoping we didn´t bounce off. It was an amazing experience! With some soreness lingering after to remind us of all the fun we had.

Next tour up was an easy day hike, or so we thought. We went to the mountain of Chacaltaya. To reach the mountain we drove along cliffs in our little mini bus. We were literally on the edge of these small roads with our bus. As we climbed and climbed it seemed that the road became narrower and narrower, luckily we made it there in one piece and we ready to climb Chacaltaya. This mountain sits at 16,000 ft ASL which makes it very cold and a little hard to catch your breath but we you reach the top the views are all worth it.

So to add to our mountain climbing and horseback riding we decided to do a little mountain bike riding. There is this road called the “Death Road” which is a huge tourist attraction in La Paz there are over 20 companies that offer day tours along this notorious road. We weren´t to into participating in it in the very beginning of stay in La Paz but after being persuaded by many other Gringos saying how amazing it was we decided to sign ourselves up. I´m so glad we did! We went with company called Luna Tours who took amazing care of us, our guide´s name was Marco and he was great. Soph and I ended up being the only people in the group making it a private tour which was kind of funny but Marco took video and pictures of us the whole time which later he put on a souvenir CD and it´s only us on it which is kind of nice.
Starting off in the morning they drove us about two hours up into La Cumbre which sits about 15,000 ft ASL. There you get fitted with all your gear making you look like a “Bad Ass” even if you can´t even ride a bike, luckily we both can. We had special pants and a matching top, knee pads, elbow pads, goggles, and to top it off a motorcycle helmet. So if the unfortunate did happen and you did crash you were set. We started of on our 4 hour excursion which is mostly all downhill the ending point is 4,000 ft ASL; the first section was paved so we were flying down the hill and freezing, with amazing views. When reached the “Death Road” you are riding on dirt and rocks and there is also this huge cliff on the side of you the whole time so you definitely need to have your full attention on your riding. The whole experience was incredible, will worth our time and I highly suggested it anyone who travels to La Paz.

We also witnessed “Cholitas Wrestling” which was extremely bizarre and hopefully the pictures can help describe. Think WWE in a developing country, with lots of Cholitas, a “little person” wearing a mask holding a knife (not sure if it was real or not) lots of Gringos and Bolivians, and a wrestling ring.

I also celebrated my 27th in La Paz with Soph and a group of friends we had met during our time in Boliva. Very fun times!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Boat

The boat… Elizabeth and I arrived at the Port at 5:00pm in Manaus to board our boat that would take us to Porto Velho. As soon as we arrived we realized that maybe an hour early wasn´t early enough because when we went up onto deck to sling our hammocks, where we would sleep for the next 4 days, there were already about a hundred hammocks slung up. With a little finagling we managed to squeeze in between a lady with a baby and a young guy.

The boat was a huge cargo boat with three decks. The first deck is where all of the cargo is held along with the engine and a few unlucky suckers who were later than us had to stay down below. The next deck is where most everyone slept and also where we had our meals. The top deck was completely open with a little snackette and benches and tables where people would hang out to get some sun or have a beer.
The first night was very hot and we didn´t end up departing till almost 9pm but once we were on our way and got some breeze it was quite nice.

The next morning at 6:05am with the sun barely over the horizon the lights to our deck area are turned on and we are awoken by a whistle to alarm us for breakfast. Surprisingly everyone very quickly gets out of there hammocks to go line up for what is waiting. ¨Ooo breakfast… will it be?´´ I climb out of my hammock to find… hotdog buns with butter and coffee so sweet you can feel your teeth rotting, but it´s early and tastes pretty good. Now back in my hammock for my early morning nap.

I read a little, hang out, sleep some more, then… ¨WISTLE!!´´ that must be lunch. Lunch and dinner are a little more serious than breakfast. Everyone lines up outside the eating area because only 12 people can eat at a time. Once the eating area is completely cleared off and the people before you are gone you are allowed to enter the eating room where family style plates of food are set down in front of you and everyone chows down. Meal time sometimes felt like a family dinner where everyone was angry with each other because no one talked they just looked and their food and ate. Breakfast was always a hotdog bun with butter and coffee until the last day when I guess they ran out of hot dog buns because we got crackers and butter instead. Lunch and dinner were the same except for lunch we would get stewed beef and dinner we got stewed chicken. Both meals came with plain spaghetti, rice, beans, some kind of potatoes and a salad of onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumber. The food was really good and flavorful but by the third day some variety would have been nice.
(enjoying the view)

And that is pretty much what our days were like, up early, hotdog bun with butter, sleep, read, eat, read, relax, eat, sleep, repeat. With all our down time we did manage to make some fiends. The lady with the baby next to us was super sweet and deemed me her unofficial nanny. I got to watch her baby from time to time or pick her up if she started crying if mom was eating or bathing. We also met a young guy traveling from Columbia and an older gentleman from Italy, and a family from Bolivia. Everyone was super friendly and made the four days fun.
(lots of beautiful sun rises)
(and sun sets)
(this is kind of what our boat looked like)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dois Passagem Para Manaus

So the adventue has begun. Elizabeth and I left Guyana on a flight from Chedi Jagen International airport on wednesday, July 28th. With a last wave goodbye to the country that has taught us so much and been our home for the past two years we boarded the plane and arrived in Boa Vista. With a little help from a friendly Brazilian we checked into our "quaint" hotel room. After some much needed rest Wednesday, Thursday morning we went out to explore.

(Eliz enjoying our room)

Using our Lonley Planit Guide book we managed to ask in very bad Portugese "Onde fica onibus qual que Manaus" Where is the bus that goes to Manaus? We got sent on a walk with the belief that the bus station would be right up the road. After a ten minute walk and no bus station in sight we asked for directions. The people we asked spoke no English and told us to come with them, luckily he was a taxi driver and gave us a free ride to the very far away bus station. I am so glad we didn't walk all that way in the Brazilian heat.
(stopped for a beer along the way)

(on our way)

Once we got to the bus station again with the bad Portugese " Dois Passagem Para Manaua" "Two tickets to Manaus" but good enough, we got our tickets and later that night we boarded the bus and right ontime at 6:00pm the bus left. The bus ride was scheduled to last about 12 hours. Everything was going quite well untill around 8:00am alredy 14 hours on the bus but an easy 14 hours if that is possible. The bus stopped and with some confusion because everyone was speaking very quickly in Portugese we realize that the bus has broken down. Everyone got out of the bus and all our luggage was taken off the bus and set on the side of the we wait and surprisingly enough another bus comes along but only has room for 4, a third bus stops "Women with children first" they say, well since we don´t have children we didn´t make it on that one, and then ten minutes later another bus.... no spots available... but sure enough not much more than an hour after we stopped a bus came by and had room for everyone and once again we were on our way.


On the bus that picked us up there was a someone who spoke very good English and he helped us to get a taxi to the hotel we wanted. Manaus is a very big city with a population the size of the entire country of Guyana. This is a town for me (Elizabeth) sandwiches everywhere, any kind you can imagine and in every restarant. The people here are incredibly nice, and let us practice our very limited and probably poorly pronounced Portuguese on them. They smile and sometimes laugh in response but luckily we always managed to get through. Sophie turned 27 while we were here, we went out on Saturday night, the night before her Birthday and had a blast. The club scene in Brazil is definitely something to experience. We ran into a few Project Trust Volunteers who had been here for about 3 weeks and also met some fun locals. The Brazilians here love to dance and have a good time. We are getting ready to board our ship to Puerto Velho later this afternoon, and we are excited for the next adventure but going to miss this city. Good memories. Til next time. Ciao!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Adventure (Almost) Begins

Our adventure begins and we are still in Georgetown. Elizabeth arrived back in Guyana on the 21st and we had our farewell and said goodbye to all of our Peace Corps friends with a crazy night of 80s music and dancing. Now we are Left behind in Georgetown to take care of our last errands before we set out on Sunday the 26th. Before we can leave Guyana we need to send home all our stuff that won’t fit in our bags so first off to the post office.

Oh the post office… After packing my bags I realized I had a lot more stuff than I had anticipated and had to find a HUGE box to send it all home. I have heard about the Georgetown Post office but have only had one experience that was quite pleasant so I figured everyone else was just in a bad mood when they went. I was wrong… it really is that bad! Elizabeth and I arrived at 8:00am shortly after they opened and the place seemed to be abandoned. I thought this will be a breeze there is no line. We walked up to the counter me with my monster box and Elizabeth with her reasonably sized box. The Post Mistress working there might have been the meanest person I have ever encountered. First she yells,

“You can’t send that box it is way too big! We don’t have bags big enough for a box like that”

I stay calm “ok well how big can the box be”

“I don’t know half that size… Do you even have proof of address?”

“Yes I do”

“Well let me see it then”

“Will that work?” She hands it back to me

“Yes its fine I just wanted to see if you actually had it… what about her,” points to Elizabeth

“I will be sending the package for her… fine” She hands us some forms to fill out

“Move! You can’t full it up here go stand behind that white line…GO!” We move behind the white line which is about two feet away. After we’re done filling out Elizabeth’s form we go back to the window


“No I thought I had to send the package for her”

“Why did you fill out this part you can’t forward a package you have so say ‘return to sender’… cross it out!... The man isn’t here yet you have to do it all at once… go get a box!” We do as we are told and go to the grocery store next door. The people there are very nice and I find three small boxes that my stuff should fit in just fine, all except a very large Cassava sifter. We go back to the post office and proceed to unpack my box and repack it into the three small boxes. Now we need more forms because we have three boxes.

“Why does she have THREE boxes, we don’t have enough forms for that!” but she still gives us the forms.

As I am unpacking and repacking my boxes a nice man sees that I am upset that my Cassava sifter won’t fit in any of my boxes and comes to help. He has a knife and cuts my big box down and constructs a new box just the right size for my cassava sifter and tapes it all together. This is great except now I need more forms. Now the lady is yelling at the man who is helping me to hurry and she doesn’t have time to wait for him. Keep in mind that the post office is empty except for about 5 other people. He goes up to the window and I finish with taping my boxes up.
And back to the window with the mean lady. Elizabeth has been saving my spot in line and when I get up there the lady says “Who is sending these packages?

“I am”

“Well then YOU need to stand in front of the window not her.” Elizabeth and I switch spots in line

“There is no return address on this box!”

“Ok where on the box would you like it?”

“Anywhere just write it…. We don’t have time for you to write all those addresses… NEXT!”

“Wait it will just take a second…”

“NEXT PERSON! You’re in the way move from there” I quickly put the return addresses on all the boxes and again up to the window

“Open the box!” I open the boxes one by one and pass them through the window. There are two more people behind the window now and one of them sees I have five boxes

“Who is sending all these boxes!”

“I am I’ve been living here for two years and have to send it all home because I’m going to be traveling”

Now as they unpack Elizabeth’s box they see her Peace Corps Certificate of Completion. They pass it around the office for everyone to see. From this point they get slightly nicer… but only slightly. Now I have to go around in the back to where they are unpacking my boxes one by one. This takes a long time because they go through everything. They cut holes in my box, rip my cards open; they even cut a hole in a wooden bird to make sure it wasn’t made out of cocaine. After all that I paid my money and finally two hours later got to leave.

Later that day we received a phone call that our bus ride down to Lethem has been canceled. The rain has been so bad that the roads are now washed out and they don’t know when the buses will be up and running again. (Lethem is that town that you cross the broader to get into Brazil.) All right we say to ourselves small bump in the road no problem we’ll fly. I call the airlines to book a reservation for us. “Sorry no flights till next Sunday” they tell me. Hmmm what to do now?… well it looks like we might be stuck here for a while so we might as well enjoy ourselves.

We head off to a friend’s house for some cosmos and soon the day turns into night and we find ourselves at a Drag Queen beauty pageant. The place is packed and the crowd there is very passionate about their favorite competitors and who they think should win. Lots of screaming, heckling, and cheering from the crowd. I decided to call it a night after a two hour intermission and the crowd is getting restless. Music is blaring and girls literally are climbing on the window grates hanging off and shaking their booties enjoying the music. Definitely a sight I’ve never seen before. Soph stays till the end of the competition, were she witnessed some amazing and dramatic talent pieces, and some splendid dress ware, and an almost riot because the right girl didn’t win.
Yes all of that happened in one day.

The next morning we were driving back from lunch heading to turn in our bus tickets and get a refund. When we passed, Meta a Brazilian airline, Sophie grabs the number I make the call. “Yes we have flights to Brazil leaving as soon as Wednesday and yes there is space,” they tell me. Wohoo we yell to celebrate looks like we won’t be stuck here after all! That’s the randomness of lives right now and I think we’re kinda loving it.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Hey all! Thanks for following our journey. This is Soph. And I'm real excited.