« January 2010 | Main | March 2010 »

February 28, 2010

Photos From Tour Of Salar de Uyuni

Here are some of the pictures I took in the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding area during our four day tour. Pretty special place, nothing else like it on Earth.

Valley Upon Leaving Tupiza

Cactus & Valley, Outside Tupiza

Llamas In Valley

Guanacas Grazing

Mountain On First Day

Odd Rodent Common In High Bolivia

Ruins Of Mining Town

Village Passed On Second Day

Surprise Green Valley

Colorful But Barren Land

Jess & Aaron At Salt Lagoon

Gorgeous Volcano, Day Two

Laguna Verde, Near Chilean Border

Fumaroles Of Hissing Sulfur Gas

Gas Clouds At Geysers

Boiling Mud Pits

Desperately Empty Land

Flamingos Taking Flight

Laguna Honda

Llama Peering At Camera

Laguna Colorada

Hut Near Laguna Colorada

Jess In Middle Of Nothing

Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree)

Don´t Smoke!

Andean Flamingos Grazing

Reflection Of Salt Lagoon

Chilean Flamingo Reflected

Rocks At Mirador Volcan Ollague

Rocks & Distant Volcan Ollague

Carnaval In Podunk Village

Jess & Aaron, Sunrise, Salar de Uyuni

Jess & Our Land Cruiser

Sunrise From Isla del Pescado

Jess & Aaron, Isla del Pescado

Cactus, Isla del Pescado

Group Shot, Isla del Pescado

More Cactus, Isla del Pescado

Nandu On Salar

Aaron Driving On Salt Flat

Our Whole Group On The Salar

Jess On The Salar

Optical Illusion 1

Optical Illusion 2

Optical Illusion 3

Optical Illusion 4

Optical Illusion 5

Aaron On The Salar de Uyuni

Until next time, be safe.


February 23, 2010

Peru: The Final Country

We have arrived this afternoon in Puno, Peru, a city of about 100K citizens that sits on the western shore of Lake Titicaca. We have reached the final country of our world tour, and now only have about a week and a half of this trip left. One of my common habits is to write out a little calendar of the next couple of weeks on the backside of a piece of paper, as we are pretty much just making this all up as we go. It was incredible this afternoon to make a calendar with three weeks on it, and to see that it won´t be filled up; we´ll be home before the end of the second week.

Let´s go back about a week. As of my last post, we´d landed in the crap town of Uyuni. I don´t want to complain, but I can´t illustrate what Uyuni is like without being negative. Basically, it is a town that exists for two reasons: for the harvest of salt from the nearby Salar, and for tourists who come to join the type of tour that we took out into the Salar. There was little evidence of the salt industry, though I didn´t go looking. As for the tourist industry, it is apparent in the restaurants, tour agencies and accomodation around the town´s center, but what I couldn´t understand was how rude people were to travelers. We had our share of rude people, but apparently it is worse if you are Spanish speaking, because then they can be really rude. We were lucky enough to arrive on the last day of Carnaval; this means that not only did we get to witness the shameless inebriation of the townsfolk, there was also a desperate surge of travelers (especially foreigners who would give a big toe to get out of town) trying to buy one of the limited tickets out of Uyuni. We fought our way into the fray, and managed to get a night bus after wasting a full day and a half in that place.

It was against our judgment to take the night bus, because of rough road conditions, but we did what was necessary to get up to La Paz. Actually, the trip was really quite good, except for maybe the first four hours, which had us on a dirt road heading north out of Uyuni towards Oruro; it was incredibly bumpy, imagine four continuous hours on a washboarded road. Arriving in La Paz was really great, though; I really think that La Paz is one of my favorite cities, and certainly my favorite city in South America. We had made reservations at a hotel, so once we arrived in the very orderly bus station, we made our way down the hill towards the center (La Paz is in a valley, ringed at the top by the slum/suburb El Alto, and everything leads down from there to the center. The view from El Alto is wicked, but we didn´t have any desire to stroll around there, or even get out of the bus). We soon found the hotel, it wasn´t expensive, but it was certainly nicer than any accomodation we´d had for awhile, since we figured we would need a quiet place to rest after the trip to La Paz.

Exploring La Paz was a real joy; it is a truly vibrant city, a mix of traditional and modern, of the classic icon of the ladies in their petticoats and bowler hats, of busy and loud traffic and a witch market selling the fetuses of llamas among other charms and potions. It is a city of stellar views, of steep and cobblestoned streets, of beautiful plazas and churches, and yet a city with an enough of an edge that it keeps you interested. You can´t feel part of a city without taking its public transport, so we boarded a couple of the camiones, which are minivans that follow routes and pick up people along the way. In Kenya, they are matatus, and they have many other names in other countries, but what doesn´t change about them is that riding inside, you certainly feel immersed in the culture. Speaking of which, the city is intoxicating in its culture; the people watchin is superb, we managed to visit at least to the outside of the infamous San Pedro Prison (tours are no longer possible), and wandering through the streets in a vague walking tour that would culminate with ice cream presented endless scenes that seemed right out of the photos of our Lonely Planet, or maybe a National Geographic. (Noted: the locals don´t like having their pictures taken.) Visiting the multiblock outdoor market that sold literally everything one might want was almost overwhelming, while on the other hand La Paz is one massive market; most streets have vendors set up, and some streets are so clogged with stands it is difficult to walk along. For being a Third World Country, there is an amazing amount of stuff you can buy.

Bolivian food isn´t anything to write home about, so we ended up enjoying the multitude of international cuisine present in La Paz (something I found remarkable). We ate at Turkish and Moroccan restaurants, to see how well these styles would be represented in Bolivia. We had the choice of eating sushi, but I don´t think I´d ever be hungry enough to eat sushi in the landlocked and less than sanitary Bolivia. Of course there are the European style restaurants, to cater to the tourist masses. I was still pretty stunned on the variety that we could choose from. 

We visited the Coca Museum, which I thought presented the coca plant in a relatively calm manner. This plant, though the source for cocaine, has a pretty remarkable history, and has far greater uses than most people understand. For example, there is a stunning number of medicines that I use as a nurse on a frequent basis that is derived from coca (Novacaine? Bupivicaine?). Most people would not believe how much coca is imported into the US for legal use; I think CocaCola alone imports something like 240 tons annually, as the leaves are used to flavor the drink (cocaine itself is no longer an ingredient). Besides that, coca is heavily engrained in the culture of the people of the Andes, who chew it because it increases oxygenation, suppresses appetite (important for the very poor), and has other properties, none of which are to get high. I can certainly attest that as we wheezed our way up the 45 degree streets of La Paz, I was wishing I was chewing on a big, green, soggy mass of coca leaves.

We stayed three nights in La Paz, and were reluctant to leave. Looking up that last evening at the valley walls, lined with the glittering lights in a way that made it seem like you were flying and looking down at a city, the air clear from the huge rainstorm (including hail) we´d received late in the afternoon, I felt quite at home in the city. Sure, I didn´t feel comfortable walking around with my camera after dark, but then again, I wouldn´t feel so comfortable in NYC in the same situation. At any rate, we were sad to board a bus our last morning and head on for a three hour trip to Copacabana, right on the Peruvian border and the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Peruvians apparently are fond of saying that they received the Titi and Peru got the Caca. Despite the fact that the LP guide describes Copacabana as South America´s Greek island, I´m thinking that Bolivia got a bit of the Caca itself, with this ugly little city. Copacabana is surrounded by swelling green hills, terraced maybe as far back as the Incas, by idyllic farms and the wide open horizon of the massive Lake Titicaca, but somehow all this glory has escaped the townspeople of the Copa. They have strewn trash all over the city in heaps, along the gutters, and covering the mediocre beach; walking out into the countryside, you have to go about a mile or so before the trash along the roads and clogging the streams under the bridges begins to taper off. It was incredible. Also, again we had the misfortune of arriving during their final days of Carnaval, which presented scenes of old ladies falling down in the streets drunk, of men in clown costumes urinating on every corner (and facing into the street), of loud brass bands blasting away at songs they probably played 80 times a day and yet couldn´t stay together on. Everyone was in costume, so the picture opportunities were good, but the noise, the urine, the massive consumption of alcohol (Bolivians, to add to their many woes, drink something called puro, which is rubbing alcohol, 96% strong; they don´t drink for pleasure, only for intoxication and unconsciousness), and the huge inconveniences (shops don´t open, buses are full, even the banks are closed, on Mondays), was just too much. I can say that I hope that we don´t encounter another rural Carnaval celebration on this trip.

Fortunately, we were able to escape and walk out into the countryside, taking a six hour, 20-22 km hike along a rural road. This hike was immensely pleasurable; there were no other tourists, the scenery of hills and farms and lakeshore was terrific, and it all seemed nearly deserted, as apparently most folks were getting fall-down drunk in town. Most Bolivians don´t seem to have much esteem for outsiders (understandable given their sad history), and most of the time they won´t greet you or look you in the face. So we made an effort as we walked to greet everyone that we passed, and to our delight, we received a return greeting from most everybody, and even a couple of enthusiastic and fun conversations with curious old men. The weather was beautiful, and we walked further than we had expected. We were quite tired by the time we stumbled back to our hostel, especially as we were above 3850 meters for the entire hike and had steep climbs to boot, but we were very happy.

Today, we´d planned on visiting the nearby Isla del Sol, a short boat trip away, but we woke up this morning to a heavy rain. Isla del Sol is famous for its Inca ruins, but there are no vehicles on the island, and all of the road are dirt, so even if the weather improved (which it did by noon), trekking on the island would have been a soggy, muddy, miserable experience. So, we checked out of the hostel, bought tickets for Peru, and here we are now.

A good thing, too, because once we had filled in that calendar with our destinations, it became quite clear (given the large distances between them) that our final eleven days of this trip are going to be very, very busy.

Until next time, be safe.


February 18, 2010

Visiting Salar de Uyuni

We just returned from a four day excursion to visit the Salar de Uyuni. It was an incredible trip, one of the best that we have had one our trip so far.

We started from Tupiza, which turned out to be a better town than the hellhole of Villazon, Bolivia. That little town wasn´t much of an introduction to Bolivia; thankfully Tupiza was better or we wouldn´t have much of an opinion of Bolivia. Honestly, though, it is a different kind of experience backpacking here versus a country like Chile or Argentina. It is much more difficult place to travel through; road conditions are subpar, transportation much slower and inconvenient, and everything here seems to take a much longer time. For example, when we found that there was no ATM in Tupiza and none likely in the next destination, Uyuni, we got a cash advance from the bank, but it literally took over two hours and two visits to the bank. Efficiency is an unknown here.

On the other hand, the tour went quite well. We paid more than we would have if we had started in Uyuni, but we got an extra day of touring in, we didn´t have to go to Uyuni first (it doesn´t have much to offer), and there was only another couple in the vehicle with us, which was really great. Even better, we had a cook with us, whereas a lot of tours starting in Uyuni double the driver as the cook, which can lead to some seriously bad food. So, we had a good setup from the beginning, and despite the many horror stories on the internet about tours gone bad, our tour only got better.

We set out in the morning, our bags stacked on the top of our Toyota Land Cruiser, heading out of Tupiza into the cactus covered hills, through the red and orange valleys of eroded stone and steep hillsides that reminded us a lot of Arizona. We climbed well up over 4000 meters, where we remained for the rest of the tour until we dropped back down to 3700m (about 12,000 ft) in Uyuni. Actually, we were up over 5000m (16,500 ft) for quite a bit of the tour; our driver had us chew some coca leaves when we became dizzy and disoriented just getting out of the truck to look at some ruins of a mining town.

In comparison to the route that we would have taken from Uyuni, we started first by heading into the southwest circuit, which had our route travel over absolutely stunning mountain vistas. Vegetation in such a high, dry environment was sparse, and so the hills were vibrant in ochre and orange colors. The weather was very cooperative, we only had a few hours of cloudy weather as we crossed over a pass on the first day. That day we headed south for the border of Chile, crossing over some incredible mountain passes. We stopped in the ghost town of an old mining village dating back to the 1600s. The next day we went nearly as south as the border, visiting some beautiful lagoons of various colors (due to the high mineral contents). We had lunch on the shore of one such lagoon, where we enjoyed the warm waters of a natural hot springs; getting out was tricky, because of both the altitude and how dehydrated the water seemed to make us. That afternoon, we stopped by an area of open fumaroles and boiling mud pools; we were able to walk out among them, to see the furiously boiling mud and hissing steam coming from cones up close. They´d never let you get so close in the States. Then we visited the famous Laguna Colorada before finishing for the day.

The third day was spent visiting various lagoons with lots of flamingos and other birdlife. That day we also saw a lot of rock formations, created by erosion. Our first stop of the day was to visit the much photographed Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree), which was among many other great formations. We had lunch at the Mirador Volcan Ollague, which is the lookout of the Ollague Volcano, which is semi-active. The mirador is set among an area of amazing gullies and sheets of rock that have been carved into many shapes by the elements. We spent a lot of time driving through this area, eventually arriving into the Salar Chiguana, which is a salt plain that isn´t as famous or as extensive as the Salar de Uyuni; it was still impressive, driving on the flat, white surface. That night we stayed in an excellent salt hotel, a structure that had walls made entirely of salt blocks, a beautiful building.

Our final day started at 5 am, as we set out to cross the Salar de Uyuni. We headed straight across the flats, a massive area of more than 1200 square meters. We were able to get to a little island called Isla de Pescado, which was covered with beautiful cacti, for the sunrise. We spent the morning driving along on the salt flat, which became brilliantly white as the sunlight became more bright. We stopped to take pictures, using the optical illusions of the endless white horizon, before heading to Uyuni to conclude our tour. 

It was really a great trip, one of our favorites. We had heaps of great food, the driver and the cook were terrific, and the other couple, from Holland were very fun to talk with and play numerous games of Rummy500 with. The hostels that we stayed in were very, very basic, but that was certainly part of the adventure, and wasn´t nearly the nightmare that many stories online would have us believe. Of course, the landscapes were spectacular, I´ve never been to such a place. It was worth the trouble entering Bolivia, as well as the money we spent on the visas. It was certainly worth every penny.

Until next time, be safe.

February 17, 2010

Pictures From North Argentina

I finally managed to get up some pictures from the northern villages of Argentina that we visited: Cachi, Purmamarca, Humahuaca, and Iruya.

Mountains Over Cachi

Cachi Graveyard

Colorful Gravesite, Cachi

Gate To Cachi Graveyard

Sunset Over Cachi

Jess In Cachi

Chapel En Route From Cachi

Valley Leaving Cachi

Valley On Road From Cachi

Jess & Aaron, Purmamarca

Gully Outside Purmamarca

Ranch On Rock, Purmamarca

Street In Purmamarca

Adobe Building, Purmamarca

Colored Hills Above Purmamarca

Red Ridge Above Purmamarca

Near Market, Humahuaca

Stalls Near Church, Humahuaca

Adobe Chapel & Jess, Humahuaca

Chapel Tower, Humahuaca

Adobe Homes En Route To Iruya

Village Of Iruya

Basic Adobe Homes Near Iruya

Red Hill, Iruya

Heavily Eroded Hills, Iruya

Another View Of Iruya

Burro Overlooking Iruya

Craziest Goat In Iruya

Folks Walking In Iruya

Changing Tire Returning From Iruya

Until next time, be safe.


February 12, 2010

North Argentina Into Bolivia

Though we have finally (and reluctantly) crossed into Bolivia, for the past week we have been wandering around northern Argentina and loving it. This part of Argentina has been quite spectacular, and we found ourselves amazed at the variety of landscapes and environments that Argentina puts up. We´ve gone from the deep south Patagonia to the most northern parts, up to the border crossing of La Quiaza, which is over 5000 km away from Ushuaia in the south.

We ended up in Salta after leaving from Puerto Iguazu. Being that Argentina is an enormous country (8th in the world, I think), Argentinians have really developed a wonderful bus system that is known for its comfort. We didn't get a good representation of that on our 23 hour bus ride to Salta; the crew was surly and unpleasant, there were no movies shown, the food most likely led to a week of GI upsets, and during the night, something happened to the toilet, so the bus soon smelled strongly of urine. We weren't so impressed with the trip. Salta, though, was quite interesting. It is a pretty big city, but the hostel that we stayed in became a refuge, as we were quite exhausted from our trip. The people there were incredibly nice, which was very welcome. We explored Salta itself, checking out its colonial style center, its many parks, and even a museum. Usually we avoid those, as they suck the fun out of a good day, but this one had Incan mummies found on nearby peaks. Only one was on display, but it was incredible to see how well preserved it was, especially considering that it was a natural mummification (the body was found over 6000 meters, or 19,000 feet).

From there we stuck to little villages. Our first destination was the little town of Cachi. It was a very peaceful place of whitewashed buildings and cobblestoned streets. The bus ride there took us through an amazing valley west of Salta, a four hour trip that started in a deciduous forests and ended in alpine desert, with towering snowcapped mountains behind Cachi. En route we were treated to huge views across the valley, which made Jess nervous, as well as the lonely, sparse land that is known here as the Altiplano, the high desert. We stayed a night, which was great, because once the tour buses from Salta headed back, we had the village to ourselves, and strolled around town, dining on Argentinian steak that was even better than what we'd had in BA. The next day we headed back towards Salta, arriving late enough that we stayed another night before continuing north up to another village called Purmamarca.

This little village was quite amazing. It is surrounded by heavily eroded hills that reveal all sorts of colors of soil and stone. There is a hike there that circles through a valley of red hillsides, riven with gullies; the sun makes the red seem almost painted on. Above the village itself is a large hill known as Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven Coloured Mountain), which truly does have seven shades of color in its soil. The town itself is quite scenic, lots of adobe buildings that make cities like Santa Fe, AZ, look like Dollywood. We'd noticed Argentinian backpackers starting in Salta, but here there were hordes of them, young Argentinos who put a lot of effort into looking a little grubby with tents strapped to their backpacks and dreadullets (mullets made into dreads--horrible). They are apparently on holidays, for the northern highlands are crawling with them.

Our next destination was the slightly larger town of Humahuaca, which wasn't terribly impressive. There was the required plaza, the dusty streets and adobe buildings, but what we enjoyed best was the hostel we found. It had a great view looking out over the town and on to the mountains beyond. It was a very cozy little place. Beyond that, Humahuaca sits in a nice location in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which is a scenic valley of high hills, deep colors like red and orange, and cardón cacti standing like sentinels; these huge cacti closely resemble saquero cactus in Arizona. From Humahuaca we made a little side trip up to a village that rests in another time, perhaps another world, called Iruya. We had to struggle through the hordes of Argentinian backpackers, and to our horror, there ended up being three buses leaving at the same time to the town, which resulted in us getting onto a different bus than our bags. That made for an uncomfortable ride to the town; a real pity, because this was another amazing trip. The unpaved road went over a 4000m pass before dropping down into a deep valley. The single lane dirt road carved its way down steep hillsides, turning back and forth, and of course we were in a rickety old bus, our bags strapped to the top. It was a great ride, and our bags were just fine. The central part of the village was fairly modern, though steeply placed along a hill; further away, the painted plaster disappeared and the adobe buildings and locals in garb that has changed little since the Incan times became the norm. It was a really nice place, and we hiked all around the village; another village, this one even more remote and less advanced, lay up the valley a couple of hours, but as our time is running short now, we couldn't stay another night. The next day, we left the village and returned to the comparatively urban Humahuaca, where we found a bus heading north to the border town of La Quiaca (elevation 11,358.6 feet). There we spent a night before attempting to cross the border into Bolivia, a process I'd imagined would be quite simple, based on other experiences crossing borders in South America. I was wrong about that.

Though we are just three hours up the road from the border, it wasn't until about 9 last night when we arrived in Tupiza, Bolivia. Getting here was a very difficult ordeal, a truly epic traveling day, and certainly one of the most difficult border crossings we have had yet. La Quiaca was a nice enough little town, and we had a leisurely breakfast, expecting a quick crossing. The day just didn't go very easily, though. To start, we needed a fair amount of cash for our Bolivian visas, so after checking out of our hospedaje, we went to the ATM. There was a line there and it took an hour to get money (apparently there were loads of illiterate people who couldn't use the ATM). Anyhow, we took a taxi to the border, where we stood in line in the sun to get stamped out of Argentina for 2.5 hours. Finally we managed to get across the bridge to Bolivia, where another line lasted a half hour before we were told they didn´t have the visas, we would have return to the consulate on the AR side to get them. So back across the border we went, paid the $135 each for visas, then back to the Bolivian place, where I just pushed my way to the front and avoided that huge line. Once we were officially cleared for Bolivia, we went into the town, to find that the only ATM in town was broken, and the is no ATM in our next destination (Tupiza). So back across the border I went again, to the ATM we were at earlier. Fortunately there wasn't a line this time, and I got out enough cash for awhile. I crossed back into Bolivia and found a money changer, and got Bolivian pesos. We paid for the bus and found a restaurant (we hadn't eaten since breakfast at 8, and it was now 5 pm, Bolivian time, which is an hour behind Argentina). Our bus was late leaving, and the only road leading from the border town of Villazon, which is a major border crossing with Argentina, was this bumpy, hilly, dusty dirt road, probably worse than the road that led out of Mombasa, Kenya, when we were there, which up to this point was what I considered to be one to the worst highways I've encountered. There wasn't anything dangerous about the road, it was only that my butt became quite sore after a couple hours of the bus slowly thumping its way though the potholes and washboards. We were quite happy to arrive in Tupiza, and fortunately, we found an HI hostel next to the bus station; finally the day came to an end.

Anyhow, Tupiza is much more relaxing; we are spending a couple of nights here since we haven't stayed in the same beds for more than a night since Salta. The plan had been to head north to Uyuni, to visit the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, which is supposed to be spectacular. However, it turns out we can just leave from Tupiza for a four-day tour. We will still end up in Uyuni in the end, where we will take a bus north towards La Paz; whether we stop along the way is undetermined. We have to be economical at this point with our time; we leave for the US in three weeks from today.

Until next time, be safe.


February 03, 2010

Photos Of Iguazu Falls

Capturing a place like Iguazu Falls on film is nearly impossible, and any sort of verbal description is simply cliche. I´d like to hope that everyone will one day have a chance to see this place, but here are a few shots that maybe captured a bit of the magic of Iguazu for those who won´t be so lucky.

Looking Into Garganta del Diablo

The Maw Of Garganta del Diablo

Wide Angle Of Garganta

Jess Over La Garganta

Looking At Falls, Superior Circuit

Looking Down Into Cascades

View From Superior Circuit

More Water Than You Can Imagine

Pounded Island

Series Of Falls, From Superior Circuit

Palm Trees Along Superior Circuit

Some Of Falls From Lower Circuit

Another Shot From Lower Circuit

Until next time, be safe.


Photos From Carnaval In Corrientes

Here are some of the many pictures I took at the Carnaval Parade in Corrientes, Argentina. Believe me, there were loads more.












Until next time, be safe.


February 01, 2010

A Shirt Falls

Today, we mourn the loss of a faithful comrade on this journey of ours. Despite, and likely because of, five months of frequent use, a shirt of Jess´s has become a casualty of its own light material, which made it comfortable, and its versatility. This shirt has reached a point that regardless of the fact that most probably already view Jess and I as hobos, it cannot continue to be a part of our wardrobe.

It leaves behind three other shirts, two pairs of underwear, and two pairs of pants, a clothing list that mirrors that of Aaron. It is the first article of clothing to succumb to the rigors of the trip, though one of Aaron´s pairs of skivvies was stolen in Europe, and an ill-fitting Northface shirt was replaced by a BeerLao shirt purchased in Bangkok, which despite its poor quality has stood up remarkably well. 

R.I.P, noble shirt.

Until next time, be safe.


Uruguay & Carnaval

Since Jess has written about our experiences in Iguazu Falls, I guess that I need to get caught up and write about the week in between the Falls and being in Buenos Aires.

From Buenos Aires, we did indeed head over to Colonia, Uruguay, on a ferry ride across the huge Rio de la Plata, that took about an hour. Arriving in Colonia, we expected to quickly find a hostel, since it is a relatively small town and there are several hostels. To our dismay, it wasn´t so easy to find a hostel with beds, and we had to stagger around the town in this wicked heat and humidity. Apparently, the more north that you go in Argentina, towards Brazil, the hotter and more humid it becomes; that is the marvel of Argentina, that you can go from the subartic weather of Patagonia to the subtropical forests along the Paraguayan and Brazilian borders, with plenty of various landscapes in between.

At any rate, we eventually found a hostel, and we set out to explore Colonia. Uruguay doesn´t get much news; it seems few people seem to have even heard of it, but the country is quite pleasant. There is a lot of history there, being that the country was right between the colonies of Spain and Portugal with all of their colonial interests. Today the place seems is advanced and well off, at least in comparison to nearby countries like Peru and Bolivia. Colonia itself is a quaint town, filled with historic buildings, sycamore lined streets, and cobblestoned alleys that probably date back to the 1600s. There is a nice riverwalk, where we watched the sunset over the Rio de la Plata. Back at the hostel, we had a long chat with a Dutch couple. They were the ones who suggested the next day, as we stood in the Montevideo bus station, that instead of taking a night bus to Salto, which would have had us in the town at 6 am, we should take a immediate bus to Mercedes, which is also on the border of Argentina. Of course, that had us going back east almost into Colonia, but at least we found ourselves in a nice hotel in Mercedes, relaxing in this pleasant town for the evening, instead of taking a long bus ride.

We really struggled with our travel plans in Uruguay, for some reason, starting with our three hour bus ride to Montevideo. We should have gone directly to Mercedes, where we could have crossed over into Argentina, but that didn´t really occur to us until we were already in Montevideo. That meant getting into Mercedes too late to get much further, and also finding that the border crossing near Mercedes was closed, a fact that we could have used before traveling there. That had us going north to the town of Paysandu, to cross over into Colon, Argentina, where we found a night bus leaving for Corrientes. That day involved a lot of waiting, as well as long bus rides; perhaps a bit of planning and further information would have spared some of the time involved. We do like traveling in a flexible fashion, where we make up our plans as we go, but sometimes we end up having unnecessarily long travel days and delays. 

At any rate, we were quite happy to be in Corrientes by 8 the next morning. This city is certainly not touristy, there isn´t some impressive natural formation or phenomenon to attract foreignors, so we felt that we were getting a real taste of Argentina. Of course, Corrientes is also an industrial town, so it has a bit of an edgy feel to it; we still liked the city quite a lot. We found a hostel there that could be one of the most beautiful hostels we have encountered on this trip, in a restored house that had once been the residence of some members of the city´s upper crust. We had to sleep half the day to recover from two full days of bus rides, but then we set out to see the city, which despite its rough appearance has a lot of dignity and rugged attraction. The Rio Parana runs along Corrientes, so there is an excellent riverwalk, and we walked through neighborhoods of old Argentinian style homes and buildings. Our first night (which originally was supposed to be our only night), we went to a Carnaval show, which took place in an arena style setting. Dancing troupes put up a big show where the dancing was less important than the extravagant costumes. It was a strange show to be sure, but it whetted our appetite for Carnaval related events, and back at the hostel we learned that Corrientes was having its yearly celebrations on the weekends for a month. This meant that we could go to a Carnaval street show the following night, though we needed to change our tickets to Puerto Iguazu, which we´d already purchased.

So we were up early the next morning, first standing in a long line to buy the Carnaval tickets, then heading out to the bus terminal to change our tickets. For only having been in the city for a day, I thought we were getting around pretty well. We then spent the rest of the day relaxing around town, trying not to melt in the heat, and taking a midafternoon nap so that we could stand being up all night. That night, we took a taxi with a Swiss couple that was staying at the hostel to the Carnaval, which was set up a couple kilometers away. I´d always thought of Carnaval as the kind of party they have in Rio, a huge, sweaty, weeklong street party of dancing and drinking. This Carnaval had a different focus, and was much better behaved than the Rio version. They had stands set up along a street, with flood lights all along for great views. There were several troupes of dancers who paraded down the street, a procession that went on for about seven or eight hours (we lasted from 9:30 until 3:30). Each troupe was a long line of dancers in vaguely related costumes, followed by a crashing band of drummers and the live band standing on a huge pile of speakers being powered by impressively large generators. The bands were judged by a group of jurists in the middle, so they lingered there the longest; we were past the middle, so there was usually a delay of 20 minutes or so in between the groups. The audience took advantage of the lull to hose each other down with foam spray that was being sold by some of South America´s roughest looking carnies. Seriously, these folks could teach American carnies a thing or two. I wasn´t terribly fond of having foam sprayed at my camera, but at least they weren´t getting drunk and vomiting on my head (ask me about that sometime).

The costumes were really great; they were extremely extravagant, with feathers and wings and all sorts of decorations somehow perched onto the dancers backs. Each must have cost a lot of money to make; by the end, I was thinking that the owner of some sequin factory must be making a killing on Carnavals across South America. As with the stage show, the dancing was fairly mediocre, for it is hard to dance with 75 pounds of metal and cloth on their backs, all the while wearing spiked heals. The real focus was on the costumes. Each troupe seemed to have a theme to which the costumes followed for the most part; what most costumes in the entire procession seemed to have in common was that they tended to reveal a lot of skin. In fact, thongs seemed to be a required item, regardless of the size of the dancers. I can certainly confirm that these troupes are equal opportunists; few of the dancers were the tiny sorts that most pictures of Carnaval usually depict. Good for them, I say, for everyone should have the chance to dance to samba music in high heels while making a thong disappear. Good for them. Good for me, too, because I can´t think of another venue where Jess would allow me to be a spectator to such a procession. Fortunately, she was having a grand old time herself, and there were beefcakes for the women to oogle over as well.

At any rate, it was quite a show. Sure, it was very orderly and brightly lit, which eliminated the risk of the kind of muggings that most likely happen during Carnaval in Rio. That doesn´t mean it wasn´t entertaining, and we found ourselves getting caught up in the incredible samba music and dancing ourselves. One thing about Argentina and South America in general, they know how to have fun, and they aren´t afraid of having fun all night long. That might be rough for a couple of americanos del norte who usually are in bed by midnight such as Jess and I, but when we can bring ourselves to stay up for the show, we are not let down.

Then came the 7:30 alarm to get us up for our 9 am bus ride to Puerto Iguazu...

Until next time, be safe.


Iguazu Falls

We are currently in the town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina.  Over the past couple of weeks we had a difficult time trying to decide whether or not to make it to this area.  According to our LP guide, the Iguazu Falls, located about 20 minutes from town, are a must-see attraction.  It is kind of a sacrifice to make it up to this area though with many long and tedious bus rides.  Fortunately the Argentinians know how to provide stellar bus service offering meals (sometimes actually hot), champagne and pirated movies.  A far better busing situation than the Greyhound offers at home, where if you don´t get beheaded, it is considered a successful ride.  

 So, we arrived to town two nights ago and found our hostel without any problems.  It is a lovely little place on the outskirts of town with a restaurant and bar attached, so there is good food and drinks provided.  The receptionist was very helpful in telling us all about getting to and from the falls.  So, we set out the next morning after a carbohydrate loaded breakfast, and we arrived to the park around 10 am.  The tourists were most certainly out and about by this time, so Aaron and I made our way through the ticket booth and onto the train as quickly as possible.  The train takes visitors to all the hotspots in the park to cut down on car traffic, which works out rather well.  There is also the option of walking the entire park, which is what we decided to do after our first crowded train ride. 

 The first falls we visited were Garganta del Diablo (Devil`s Throat).  Wow, this is where the day turned quite magical for both of us.  After disembarking from the train, we walked along a metal platform for about a km over the river.  The waters were flowing at a very fast pace below us and there were lovely islands of subtropical forest along the way.  Butterflies of every color you can imagine, beautiful birds, and lush plant life surrounded us.  At the end of the walkway, we came to the massive Garganta del Diablo, which was a semi-circular area of waterfalls.  I don´t think I have ever seen so much water falling from cliffs in my life.  The sound of the pounding cascades overpowered the conversations of tourists, so that even though there were plenty of people around us the falls had our undivided attention.  Due to the clouds of mist rising from below, you couldn´t see the bottom of the falls.  It was astonishing, but just the beginning of a wonderful day!

After this and refueling ourselves with solar heated salomi and cheese sandwiches (yummmmmm), we walked to the next area of trails called the superior and inferior circuits.  We took the superior trail first and continued to walk through jungle-like forests that brought us to another viewing point.  This point provided us with an even better view allowing us to see just how huge the area of falls was.  There was a series of falls one after another that went several kilometers back to the Garganta del Diablo.  This is when Aaron started to ridicule Niagara, so he has been titled a "Waterfall Snob."  The sight was just so incredible that we had to keep stopping to have another look and take more pictures.  It was so magical, that if a unicorn had popped out of the bush, I wouldn´t have blinked.  Amazing!

The inferior trail took us down where we could get into the water.  We took turns walking up to the falls and getting saturated from the overflowing cascade.  After this we walked some more and found a lovely nature trail.  The forest was thick with lizards of all shapes and sizes, spiders of only one gigantic and scary shape, the largest ants we have ever seen, and some colorful birds.  This led us to a lovely waterfall and swimming hole, so of course we had to get in.  Aaron had to stand under the falls and get pounded by the water.  The heat and humidity in this area make the NC summers feel rather cool and mild, so the water felt terribly refreshing.  It was a perfect way to wind down the day.

 Normally we don´t enjoy tourist destinations, but the large crowds here didn´t bother us in the slightest.  Actually it was really good to see people out and about in nature.  There were folks from a variety of nationalities, all kinds of shapes and sizes, and a wide range of ages here to see this amazing place.  Our time here ranked with some of our favorite places that we have been during this trip.  There are falls and then there are falls.  And then there is Iguazu!



Hosting by Yahoo!