Jul 13 2009

I heart Incas

Monica

We arrived in Cuzco, Peru on Saturday night (11th) after a few beautiful and sunny days on Lake Titicaca. Cuzco holds a special place in my heart as I was here last year with great people and to now share it with Bodhi makes it that much more special. We arrived in time for dinner and really I think it was one of my favorite nights of the trip. We found a gem of a hostel in the San Blas area of Cuzco with a view overlooking the entire city. We sat in the window seal for a long time just amazed at how things just fall into place. We are going to spend a few days exploring Cuzco and the Sacred Valley before starting our four day trek/bike to Manchu Pichu on Wed.

I´m bringing leg warmers back.

I´m bringing leg warmers back.

Capturing a sunset over Lake Ticicaca

Capturing a sunset over Lake Ticicaca


Jul 6 2009

Sick Day

Bodhi

Monica and I had our first (and hopefully last) case of food poisoning.  The really surprising thing was that this was from a proper restaurant, not a street vendor!  The food tasted delicious, there were other people in there (all tourists though), and it all seemed fine.  We went to bed, and things went bad.  We suffered through the night before last (night of the 4th) spending time paying penance to the porcelain god and feeling miserable, barely able to sleep.  For a while, I really thought it was the meat Monica had in her dish, but then I got hit as well and there’s no good explanation other than that their kitchen surfaces aren’t clean and something bad was in there.  The whole of yesterday we lay in bed, sleeping for hours at a time, then waking, then sleeping.  All we could muster was leaving the room to buy some juice and water.  After a fairly solid sleep last night, we’re pretty much over it today, though we are still really weak.

We knew this was part of the package, and it was to be expected in not-so-industrialized Bolivia - the Bolivians themselves don’t even drink their tap water!  We were just a little shocked that it went down like this.

It’s just a reminder of how fragile we really are.  A few million bad bacteria and we’re down for the count.

Needless to say, no pictures were taken yesterday…


Jul 4 2009

Surviving the Death Road

Bodhi

Today we rode the infamous Death Road near La Paz, Bolivia.  We rode down it on high quality downhill mountain bikes as part of an organized tour by the company called Downhill Madness.  They’re based just next door to our hostel, so of course it was easy to arrange.  The Death Road is famous (infamous) for being perhaps the longest and steepest downhill stretch of road in the world.  Until not too long ago, it was actually an important road used by cars, making it all the more deadly for adventurous downhill mountain bikers.  Now there is a more modern road, leaving this dirt one primarily to the bikers.

People come from all over the world to ride this road.  Over about 64 km of distance, you descend 3345 meters!! That’s about 2 miles folks! And you hardly ever have to pedal, but you damn well better keep your hands on the brakes. It’s not just called the Death Road for fun. At the edge of the very narrow road (maybe 15 feet, less in some places) there’s a steep cliff dropoff to far below. And many a rider has actually slipped off that edge to their doom.  But the real danger in the past was oncoming vehicle traffic.

With enough caution and some words of warning from the helpful guides, we did fine.  It gets a bit sketchy at times when your back tire is slipping toward the edge of the cliff on the dusty and rocky dirt road as you come out of a turn and you get a gorgeous view of rainforest covered valley below.  One of the coolest parts of the adventure is the climates you move through in just a few hours.  You start the day at high alpine climate, literally seeing snow on the peaks and losing feeling in your fingers from the windchill through the gloves.  Then it’s high altitude rainforest in the 3000 m altitude range.  Green everywhere, little waterfalls, lots of plants.  Then it starts to get warm and even more dusty.  At the end of the descent, you’re at about 1000 m and it is proper rainforest, and warm even though it’s “winter” here now.  We were literally sitting by a pool and tanning ourselves after the ride, while we started at the top wearing almost all the clothes we’ve got!

At the start of the day, before we began riding

At the start of the day, before we began riding

Me with some of the route in the background

Me with some of the route in the background

Death Road, greenery, and clouds

Death Road, greenery, and clouds

Monica with bike and road - bring it on!

Monica with bike and road - bring it on!

Moni with her Coke and sammich at a stop

Moni with her Coke and sammich at a stop

More of the view into the valley

More of the view into the valley

Together at one of the stops

Together at one of the stops

Me holding my bike up in triumph at the bottom

Me holding my bike up in triumph at the bottom


Jul 4 2009

3 days, 2 nights, Chile to Bolivia, 2 minds blown

Monica

We’re now in La Paz, Bolivia.  We arrived before dawn yesterday after a night bus from the town of Uyuni.  Our 3 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama ended in Uyuni on Thursday.

The three day tour through the Andes and altiplano was amazing.  It’s rather hard to describe in words here….Beatiful landscapes, deserts, volcanos, lakes in every brilliant color, flamingos, salt hostels….the list goes on.  I’ll try to hit some highlights of the trip that truly blew my mind.

Day 1

Sitting pretty in our Toyota Land Cruiser with new friends Alex, Laura and Tobi and our wonderful guide Alberto, we crossed the Bolivian border and made our way into the National Park. Our first stop was the ¨Wicked¨ green Laguna Verde. This is a salt lake in the southwest and it´s vivid green color is caused by sediments, containing copper minerals. It is elevated some 4,300 m (14,000 ft) above sea level….and we get much higher than this as the day goes on.

As we climb in altitude we see lagoons of every color, take hundreds of pictures and brave the chill to relax in the natural hot springs. We reach our highest point of 5,000m, which is the highest I´ve EVER been, to see boiling, stinky, pre-historic geysers.  The air is so thin at this point that I´m having to take it a little slower than normal.

We stayed at a COLD hostel that night and I had to fight through some serious altitude sickness but was up early the next morning feeling good and ready for more.

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Laguna Verde (note the color)

Day 2

We started the day fresh from the cold hostel, eager to greet the sun.  We were tooling across the desert (altiplano) to our first stop, catching glimpses of now-familiar llamas and vicuñas.  The first stop of the day was the Arbol de Piedra, which means “tree of rock”.  And it’s just that - it looks like a tree but it’s actually rock.  Because of erosion and all, this rock sticks up and hardly looks like it should be able to stand at all.  Apparently this was a favorite site of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali as well as the surrounding area which now bears his name as the Desierto del Dali.

We saw green stuff growing on the boulders!  Our guide explained that it is a hardy little natural plant that can live with very little water and lives for a very long time.  It was weird to see it amidst the lifeless desert.

We saw a few more lagunas, each different colored and with different character, but of relatively similar concept.  And flamingos!  Yes, flamingos!  There they were, just hanging out in the ice cold water doing their flamingo thing.

After more driving and seeing the Spanish-built railroad that used to ferry passengers and freight to the boundary of Chile and Bolivia, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night - the Hotel of Salt!  The walls were made of salt bricks extracted from the Salar de Uyuni!  The floor was covered in salt rocks (we have a picture of Bodhi and me licking it together).  Even the platform for the mattress was made entirely of salt.  What a crazy place!

Day 3

This day we finally hit the Salar de Uyuni.  This is the world’s largest salt flat, and sits at an altitude of 3653 m and covers 12,000 sq km.  It is part of the remnants of a prehistoric salt lake, which left salt meters deep for as far as the eye can see.  It is blindingly white.  Our mind thinks “snow” when it sees such a sight, so it is flipped a bit when it’s not snow, nor even water.  When we stepped out of the truck onto it, expecting to slip on ice, we started to grin hugely and laugh and giggle and began to take tons and tons of pictures.  Think teenage girls at a New Kids on the Block concert.  Here are some of the shots we took:

I believe I can fly

I believe I can fly

ñasdklfjfklñasdj

cute

Im so little

Im so little

My great thinker

My great thinker

Perspective is completely warped.  Things look absurdly far away when they’re no more than 50 paces.  The mountains in the distance look like they’re floating.  It’s one of those things that is hard to imagine that it even really exists until you see it for yourself.  Even when we were cruising along at a healthy pace of 60 mph in the Land Cruiser and it felt like a perfectly smooth freeway, we stared out the window and felt like we were actually not moving at all.  You look ahead and the mountains in the distance look the same.  There are no near-distance landmarks to judge speed by.  It’s truly a perspective-warping experience.

As if the Salar itself is not crazy enough, there was an ISLAND!  This big piece of land that rises up out of the Salar floor and is an island surrounded by salt plain.  The island has cacti on it!  They look a lot like saguaro cacti in Arizona, said Bodhi.  So we hiked up it and gawked at the view of white plain off into the distance in all directions.  So cool.  The description can go on and on, but this is plenty for now!

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

One sad note… Bodhi´s camera was lifted from his pocket yesterday and while most of his pics were stored elsewhere through the day prior to the salt falt….pics from the day at the salt flats were lost.  I have some posted here and many more to upload from my Canon at some point soon.


Jun 29 2009

San Pedro de Atacama

Bodhi

Other post titles we considered were “The highest and the coldest” and “Valle de la Luna”.

We are coming to the end of our second full day in San Pedro de Atacama, and here are some brief thoughts. This is a little pueblo in the north of Chile, in the Atacama desert (as the name implies). The population, including tourists, is somewhere around 5000. I think the continuous population is only 2000 though. The streets are hardened dirt, there is basically one main road, and it’s very dusty. Walking 5 minutes takes you anywhere in town. It’s pleasant during the day, and quite cold at night. All the storefronts look basically the same - adobe walls and chalkboard signs telling you what they offer. Inside, however, the various businesses are quite different and interesting and nice and full of character.

We haven’t wasted a minute in this town. Yesterday we rented bikes (4th time on the journey so far) and rode the 30 km (there and back) to Valle de la Luna. This is a national park nearby, with moon-like landscapes, hence the name. The highlight is a giant sand dune that everyone gathers at to watch the sun set. Annoying to have 50 other tourists there with you, but it was still beautiful. We even met a retired couple from the US, with the husband being an astronomer (Caltech PhD back in the day) who’s working on a telescope near here. So we sat and enjoyed our bottle of wine we bought from a bodega in Mendoza back in Argentina and have been schlepping around til now. It was delicious, even straight from the bottle sans cups, or “sin copas”.

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Today we took the Geysers del Taito tour, leaving at 4 am with 8 others in a Hyundai van. The driver (our second named “Sergio” so far) was friendly and spoke no english. Guess that’s why it was cheaper than the other tours. We arrived in bitter cold (4 F, -14 C) temperatures before sunrise, and we could only handle a few minutes outside the van at a time. There was a field of geysers amidst salt crystal covered ground. And ice because it was damn cold. I learned that these are the highest elevation geysers in the world, while of course Yellowstone in the US has the highest shooting geyser. We sipped our Nescafe and ate our pan (bread). After shivering there a while, we moved on to another field, which had a pool collected from one of the geysers. I, of course, had to jump in and swim with the rest of the idiots. It looked so warm because of all the steam coming off it, but it was still a tepid 75 F at best! And oh baby was it cold getting out. Totally worth it though!

Sunrise and geysers way up high

Sunrise and geysers way up high

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

More geysers and salt and ice

More geysers and salt and ice

Not as warm as I'd hoped

Not as warm as I'd hoped!

More driving, sightings of wild vicuñas and domesticated llamas, ice covered streams with weird Andean birds, and a stop in a little pueblo where Monica ate her first llama meat (to her knowledge), and absolutely loved it, going as far as to say it was the best meat she’d ever had!

With some llamas in the background

With some llamas in the background

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Now we’re ready to leave Chile and head out into the more rugged (and cheaper) Bolivia. We’re doing a 3 day, 2 night jeep tour through the altiplano and the world’s largest salt flat. The Lonely Planet book describes it as having “mind-altering vistas”. No drugs required.


Jun 26 2009

A day to see Valparaiso

Bodhi

We’re having breakfast in our “hospedaje” (subtly different than hostels) in Valparaiso. Today we get to go out and see the very picturesque city set against the hills and the port. Our neighborhood is right in the center of the best looking part. The tiny streets are lined with houses of many different colors, and it’s quite the bohemian arts area as well. The couple of restaurants we poked our heads in last night were very artsy and cool, and we had delicious food at Alegretto.

This day is about seeing the town, taking pictures, and maybe a harbor tour. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is here, too, so we might see that. Then it’s off to Santiago and a night bus all the way to San Pedro de Atacama way up north. The driest place on earth.

I’ve decided in the short time I’ve been in Valpo that I love it, and I would certainly come here on sabbatical to write my book, make my album, paint my masterpieces, etc


Jun 25 2009

Santiago graffiti and stencils

Bodhi

I had the unexpected opportunity to walk through Barrio Bellavista in Santiago and the graffiti there blew my mind!  This stuff was so much better and in such greater quantity than anything I’d seen in Buenos Aires.  Most of it was just huge, filling the entire wall.  And it seems that the authorities really didn’t seem to mind so much as the streets were filled with it.  Either that or the artists were very skilled at getting their work done quickly in the cover of night.

Some stencils, some giant freehand pieces here.  Some that make use of other art or the surroundings daftly in a Banksy-esque way.  I am told there are many more other brilliant pieces that await me in Valparaiso.  And there are so many more other shots on my camera that I can’t post right now.  ::drool::

Banksy?

In the style of Banksy..if only the "perder" one didn't conflict with it

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The rose is a nice touch

Doubly cute

Doubly cute

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Back to basics

Back to basics

small and good

small and good

Weird and artsy..I love it

Weird and artsy..I love it


Jun 24 2009

Birthday skiing/snowboarding south of the equator!

Monica

My 32nd will be a memorable one for sure! I skiied the Andes on opening day of the ski season in Chile…the sun was shining, the air crisp, the snow was unique to me but wonderful, I was with my love and I only fell one time!  Here are some pics from the day…

At the top of Valle Nevado in the Andes outside Santiago, Chile

At the top of Valle Nevado in the Andes outside Santiago, Chile

View from the top

View from the top

View to the top of the top

View to the top of the top

On the lift

On the lift, with rental goggles

It was lovely and memorable and made me sore in all the right ways (except my neck).  What fun, and what luck to have the opportunity!  A happy birthday to me from Mother Nature?


Jun 22 2009

A Snowcapped Pass

Monica

We made it to Chile! The border had been closed for many days due to the first seasonal storm. We were delayed in Mendoza two days longer than expected and we had just about given up on the border opening….but really…how could I give up on the chance to ski the Andes on my birthday! The 6 hour bus ride to Santiago was the most beautiful drive with snow capped mountains, a running river, and an amazing sky. The border crossing process was a bit of a learning experience…I almost was left behind with two other Americans. It’s a complicated story since most of it was in Spanish and Chilean Spanish is very difficult to understand BUT I made it with a stamp to prove it.

What luck that the first official day of the ski season is tomorrow…my birthday! I can’t think of a better way to spend my 32nd…skiing in the Southern hemisphere.

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Jun 20 2009

San Telmo Stencil Art

Bodhi
San Telmo is the district of Buenos Aires we stayed in and it has a very rich history as one of the oldest barrios in the city.  It is particularly famous in the history of tango, the national music and dance of Argentina.  We felt it is very similar to the area of Silver Lake in Los Angeles, which we are very familiar with.  There are couture clothing stores, design shops, many restaurants and cafes, and street art and performances.  There is a weekly Sunday “feria” (open air market) at Plaza Dorrego just across from our hostel.  I spotted many a good piece of stencil art there as well.  Here are some.  The character and style in the 2nd one below was a recurring figure in San Telmo, and I think it must be because the artist is based there.  I have his website written down in my notes (he put it on a piece on the wall).

Really more like in Monserrat, but close enough..spotted on Av De Mayo

Really more like in Monserrat, but close enough..spotted on Av De Mayo

Neat style, especially against a heavily used and dirty wall

Neat style, especially against a heavily used and dirty wall

A Tango look in a graffiti style

A Tango look in a graffiti style

Art Style, kinda psycho, is this a known figure?

Art Style, kinda psycho, is this a known figure?