Bolivia

Oh Bolivia…where do I start.  Well, I spent a measly five days in this country; not really enough time to see everything that people see that endears them to Bolivia (many people rave about Bolivia, its beauty, its charms, it’s “authenticity” (whatever that means), but for me, it was enough for this trip and it was truly enlightening.

Bolivia was an intense place, full of ups and downs.  I took a bus with two friends I met along the way across the border, which was already my first obstacle.  Most citizens of the EU, Canada, Australia, and others can enter Bolivia for free, with just a stamp on their passport.  However, Americans are lucky in that they have to apply for a visa, get together other paperwork, and pay $160.  Luckily for me, the visa I receive for that $160 is good for ten years, so I can go back to Bolivia any time I want- GREAT.  Apparently this is because of the current government administrations dissatisfaction that the United States won’t extradite a former Bolivian president who is wanted in Bolivia on murder charges.  They also aren’t crazy about the DEA’s involvement in the destruction of their coca production during the infamous War on Drugs.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada Sánchez de Bustamante (born July 1, 1930), familiarly known as “Goni”, was twice elected President of Bolivia. During his first term (1993–97), he initiated a series of landmark social, economic and constitutional reforms. Elected to a second term in 2002, he struggled with protests and events in October 2003 related to the Bolivian gas conflict. Official reports said that 67 protesters, soldiers and policemen died; most deaths were of protesters or bystanders in what was described as a massacre. He resigned and went into exile in the United States in October 2003. 

Bolivia has unsuccessfully been seeking his extradition from the US to stand a political trial for the events of 2003. Victims’ representatives have pursued compensatory damages for extrajudicial killings in a suit against him in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

Wikipedia

So, after scrambling to get all my stuff together over the border in Puno, Peru, we crossed over across Lake Titicaca to our first stop, Copacabana (not the town the song is about, but the original nonetheless).  I have to say, Lake Titicaca took my breath away.  It actually brought tears to my eyes I was so overcome with the vastness, the beauty, and the feelings I had about my compatriots on this new journey.  Its spectacular and I recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing place to travel.  My only regret is not having more time to spend there.

Lago Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is often called the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres (12,507 ft).  Its high.  Its literally higher than the clouds and its like a giant infinity pool that goes over the edge of the world.

The Lake is also sacred to the local population for a few reasons.  In Inca tradition, the three most important animals are the Condor (for the space above us), the puma (for the earth) and the snake (for the underworlds).  Local communities interpreted the shape of the lake to be that of a puma hunting a rabbit. The name Titicaca derives from “Titi Khar’ka” meaning Rock of the Puma; it refers to the famous feline-shaped rock formerly a point of pilgrimage on Isla del Sol.  There are many sacred ruins on the islands in the lake.

After spending the day in Copacabana,  our bus headed for La Paz.  The ride into La Paz is not as spectacular as the ride across the Lake side.  In fact it was probably the sketchiest ride that I’ve taken to date and I was glad that we were in a safe, GPS outfitted bus.  To get to La Paz, one must drive through El Alto, a suburb of La Paz, and a very poor one at that.  Bolivia is actually the poorest country in South America, and you could see it here.  Driving through at night, you could see packs of stray dogs eating from trash piles in the streets.  The streets being nothing but dirt roads most of the time. The buildings were mostly abandoned and commerce also took place on the streets.  Coming into La Paz, you saw many people (families) sleeping on the streets in makeshift shanty towns under the cover of bus stops, etc.  It was also sad and hard to see.  I didnt take any pictures that night,but got some images when we left, during the day time.

The other thing to note is that the traffic here was even more insane than in Peru, and our bus actually got hit by a collectivo (the small white vans that are basically the form of public transportation for everyone in La Paz).  People here also really love:  Evo Morales, the current president (as demonstrated by the ‘Si, Evo!” signs everywhere) and, the Pope.

La Paz

La Paz was a lot less depressing during the day, and if it wasn’t for the terrible smog and pollution that made it impossible to breathe, I might have actually liked it.  But seriously, the black smoke that came out of every passing vehicle was abhorrent and I fell ill pretty quickly.  Despite that, I was able to see much of the city and feel the atmosphere,which is also intense.  Many people describe a “tension” there. La Paz’s full name is actually Nuestra Señora de La Paz (our lady of the peace) but as one local who talked to me said, the saying was “la Paz, no Paz” (Peace, but no peace).

My first full day in La Paz, I came across a fest of some sort, which seemed to be a health awareness festival, which booths set up for every disease and ailment, signs about how to get help for drug or alcohol addiction (another big problem in Bolivia) and strangely, lots of people dressed up as various organ parts.  There was also a dance competition.  I wasn’t sure how the two were related, but I have to say the dancing was one of the highlights for me.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paracas-Nazca

One (of the many) things I didnt know about Peru before I left Lima was that theres a huge desert here.  And people have lived in it for hundreds if not thousands of years.  The Atacama Desert is the dryest non-polar desert in the world and some say, the oldest desert on earth.

*In a region about 100 km (60 mi) south of Antofagasta, which averages 3,000 m (10,000 ft) in elevation, the soil has been compared to that of Mars. Owing to its otherworldly appearance, the Atacama has been used as a location for filming Mars scenes, most notably in the television series Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets.

The ride down the coast from Lima was fascinating and unexpected and I learned so much about this country that I didnt know before.

 

Paracas

First stop after Lima was a small seaside town called Paracas, which is the main tourist hub to see the Ballestas Islands (below), to take a wine and pisco tour in the nearby town of Pisco, where Pisco sours come from, and adventure sports like dunebuggying and sandboarding.  I really liked Paracas and it was more the kind of mellow and cheap beach town with amazing seafood that I could have spent more time in.

Since Ive been in Peru, I havent met as many other travelers, but I did meet a Danish couple in Lima and saw them again in Paracas and we had a really interesting and fun night together.

Ballestas Islands (or, sea lions!)

Apparently there are more than one Pool Mans Galapagos, as Im learning.  But this time, I paid about $15 and saw the cutest sea lions and penguins ever!  I highly recommend this tour to anyone coming through Paracas.

 

Nazca

 

So, to be honest, the only reason that I had any idea what the Nazca lines were is because I remember reading about when members of Greenpeace ruined some of the ancient mystical lines in protest of some other environmental grievance, like idiots: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/10/peru-press-charges-greenpeace-nazca-lines-stunt

But, they are actually important and historical markings left for what scientists think is thousands of years by the Nazca people. They are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert.

The designs are shallow lines made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphicdesigns of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, monkeys, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 m (660 ft) across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general, they ascribe religious significance to them.

Due to its isolation and to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau, the lines have mostly been naturally preserved. Extremely rare changes in weather may temporarily alter the general designs. As of recent years, the lines are said to have been deteriorating due to an influx of squatters inhabiting the lands

(wikipedia)

I wasnt planning on seeing the Nazca lines (theres so much to see and do here, you have to choose) but the way my bus schedule worked out, I had some time to kill in Nazca and so booked a stomach-churning flight to see the lines.

I honestly had a hard time at first figuring out which were the lines and which were just regular geological features and at first I was taking pictures of all the wrong things!! Luckily I saw after that the real things were also in the pictures.  You can see below the Whale (to the left of the middle, white structure) and the hummingbird (on top of the big desert plateau).

There isnt really much else to do in Nazca and I spent a few hours walking around a kind of dodgy downtown and then hanging out with other travellers in the bus station waiting for my overnight ride to Arequipa.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Peru, so far.

Even though Ive been in Peru less then a week, it feels like Ive been here forever.  I feel like Ive already seen and done more than I did my entire time in Ecuador…or maybe, they just blended together.  But, what I do know is that I am really enjoying Peru so far.

After a semi traumatizing experience in the Guayaquil airport (which I will post about in a later post), I left Ecuador ready to move on.  When I got to Lima, I discovered a whole new world, of tv, air conditioning and fans and western food, and I was ready to just lay low for a while after weeks of socializing in Ecuador.

Lima is a huge city and I hadnt heard great things about it (dirty, smoggy, dangerus, not much to see, etc).  Skip it they said.  But, once I got to my air conditioned room, I was sucked in.  However, I came for the AC but stayed for the city.  I ended up finding Lima to be a safe, friendly place with a ton to see and do.  Its a regular city like anywhere else, be careful with your stuff on public transportation, dont walk alone at night, etc.  But otherwise I had no problems and look forward to going back on my flight home.

Initial impressions of Lima are:

The traffic.  Its the craziest Ive ever seen.  Stop signs, lane dividers, blinkers, one way signs- all just suggestions.  Horns, however, are mandatory1  It was a type of insanity I hadnt even seen in Morocco but after a while, it became kinda fun.  Good thing were used to jay walking in Boston!

 

Food.  Lima is quickly becoming a food loves paradise.  Three of Limas restaurants were recently voted into the top 50 in the world by the prestigious Worlds Best (http://www.theworlds50best.com/) by San Pelligrino and Aequa Panna.  To give you an idea, this list also features Per Se and Le Bournadin in New York and Noma in Copenhagen.

Not only that, but there are myraid Chifa restaurants and Lima has a Chinatown as well. The history of Asian immigration in Peru is long and at this point Chifa (the name of Peruvian Chinese fusion) is as traditional here as rice and potatoes.

On a Sunday, I wondered into Astrid y Gaston, one of Limas best and longest running restaurants.  I didnt have a reservation but it ended up being no problem.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vilcabamba

I’ve put off writing about Vilcabamba for a while because I simply don’t know how to describe it.  It’s a gorgeous little town about four hours bus ride south of Cuenca.  It’s known for being the “Valley of Longevity,”where residents routinely live healthfully well into their 100’s.

“The etymology of the name “Vilcabamba” apparently derives from the Quichua “huilco pamba.” Huilco denotes the sacred trees, Anadenanthera colubrina, that inhabit the region; pamba (cognate with pampa) is a word meaning “a plain”. The area has been referred to as the “Playground of the Inca” which refers to its historic use as a retreat for Incan royalty. The valley is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters.”- Wikipedia

Because of the perceived mystical elements of Vilcabamba and the key to a long life, many tourists and expats come here in search of a higher meaning.  This means there’s a plethora of yoga and meditation studios that have popped up, shamans conducting San Pedro ceremonies, reiki and other healing arts available, and in general, this place attracts a certain type of person.  For example, my typical day there could be wake up, eat breakfast, do yoga in the outdoor yoga shala, update my blog or check e-mail while wait for my friend to enter herself in the lottery for discount Burning Man tickets for unemployed people,  eat lunch, and then fast and medidate in preparation for my Shamanic ceremony in the evening.

The next day at dinner, I met the “Wildgrass Messiah,” a German who has lived in Vilcabamba for over 30 years and has eaten nothing but raw foods that he forages himself since then.  During dinner, I ran into my Shaman, as well as another traveler I met on the bus to Vilcabamba, who was visiting his friend who lived there. His friend moved from Sweden over 11 years ago to live on top of a hill and make goat cheese for the village.  Unfortunately, the goat recently hung itself accidentally so there’s no goat cheese in Vilcabamba right now.  However, the local restaurant has a goat special!

This is just the way things work there.  Weird stories of people seeking a different and unique life, and generally, my days there were unlike days I’ve had anywhere else, as I normally tend to avoid hippies in America.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cuenca and the Mountains

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I was happy to leave Montanita. I wanted to be by the beach, and that part was awesome. But the rest of Montanita, just wasnt for me. So, I headed to the mountains first to the city of Cuenca.

I arrived on a Saturday, cleaned and ate and slept. I never thought I’d be so happy to put on pants (Montanita was too hot to ever wear pants). As luck would have it, the next day as I was wondering around, I ran into three acquaintances (soon to become friends) from Montanita! I ended up spending the rest of my time exploring Cuenca with Christine, from Canada, Dominique from Germany and Karol, from the NetherlAnds.

I really enjoyed Cuenca and I hope to return.

UPDATE, March 18th:  As many things in Cuenca are closed Sunday-Tuesday, I really wanted to come back on a weekend.  I did return to Cuenca and stayed for 8 days until my flight to Peru, so that I could see everything I didnt see before.  Cuenca really is a laid back, friendly place that Im enjoying.  And while I would like to see more places in Ecuador, I also wanted to spend more time in less places to get to know them better.  I will just have to make a return trip some day!

This time in Cuenca, I was able to go hiking in the Cajas National Park, took a trip to the Mirador Turi, a viewpoint overlooking the city from 9000 feet in the mountains, took a salsa class, saw some live music, went to the Pumapungo Museum, which has many indigenous artifacts and an outdoor archeological site.  Additionally, there was of course a traditional Belgian Waffle stand in the natural park below the museum.  Naturally, we went there and ate Belgian Waffles, which were REALLY good!  I also met a lot of really cool people who I hope to see again soon! 🙂

Vamos a Peru!

Cuenca

 

Cajas National Park

Pumapungo Museum and Archeological Park

 

Los Mercados

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Isla de la Plata

Isla de la Plata is, as they call it, the “poor mans Galapogos” since it costs thousands of dollars to go to the Galapagos, and for the mere cost of only $50, I got a shuttle, boat, tour, snorkeling opportunity and lunch and snack, oh and also the opportunity to see a lot of blue footed boobies, which apparently only exist on this island and in the Galapagos and have something to do with evolution.

As with most of the coast, this day was also EXTREMELY hot and miserable, despite the happy pictures. We hiked for two hours in the open sun and I got burned in places that I dont even think were exposed, despite my reapplication of SPF 45 the entire time.

However, seeing the turtles, and the little crab, as well as swimming in the ocean were the highlights for me. Though, I guess the boobies were okay too.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Montañita

So I’ve been in Ecuador about two weeks now and am just now getting to a computer for the first time. I have to admit, I was in a bit of withdrawal, just because its so tedious typing from my phone and I had so many thoughts building up that I wanted to get out.

Montanita

Montanita is a funny place to begin ones journey here.  Montanita is not like the rest of Ecuador.  Montanita used to be a very small fishing village, which then became popular with die hard surfers who would set up tents on the beach.  Over the past few decades, Montanita has continued to rise in popularity with surfers, and following the surfers, the girls, the drinks, the food and everything else.  Apparently in the last few years Montanita has really exploded and is now full with tourists, mostly from South America.  Its beautiful, but not without its drawbacks.

First, it’s hot.  Very, very hot.  I know I’m not supposed to complain about that, but its really freaking hot and that also means: sweaty, buggy and smelly. Also, Montanita smells.  There is a stagnant river that runs right through it, and this river can be a source of a disgusting, pungent odor if the wind blows the wrong way.  Additionally, because of the nonstop party scene, if you’re out in the early morning, its disgusting.

Even though Montanita isnt the “real” Ecuador, I have already learned more than I probably give myself credit for. Things are definitely different here, but so much is the same that you don’t notice the differences at first. But in the past two weeks, Ive somehow managed to do the following in some semblance of another language:

  • Buy bus tickets
  • Do laundry
  • Buy gauze, tape and scissors for the burn I got before I left Miami
  • Order food and drinks
  • And much more…

All in all, I had fun in Montanita and in a way it was a good place to ease into what it will be like to be here.  To get used to the Spanish, the culture and the systems here without throwing myself head first into a place where no one speaks English, where I cant communicate and other shocks that  I have to get used to.  But it was also easy to lose sight of why I came here.  It could have been easy and comfortable to stay in that place, using English-Spanglish, making new friends only with fellow European backpackers and just hang out doing mostly nothing because its so hot. But this not why I quit my job and came to explore another continent. I was happy to move on after my two weeks at school were up.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments