Saturday, March 31, 2012

Floating Islands, and Computer Trouble

Hi all,

  Today was a travel day, and I spent a good portion of it being somewhat uncomfortable on a bus.  I went from Copacabana,  Bolivia,  to Puna,  Peru.  Much of the trip was fine,  the border crossing was fairly easy,  even if our bus driver did lie to us about where we could and could not exchange money.  (I have no doubt he was getting kickbacks from the single exchange place we were all funneled to).  In Puna I signed up for a tour of the floating islands,  but by that time was cranky from not having had enough food.  I found myself pretty angry that while on the tour one of the guides tried to hit us all up for an additional 10 Peruvian Soles,  having already paid 20 Soles to go on the trip,  and refused to pay.  The rest of the trip was a tiny bit about education about the islands (conducted almost entirely in Spanish),  and a lot of opportunities for us to buy handmade crafts and food while there at inflated prices.  Cranky.

  I made it to my hostel ok,  and booked a bus for tomorrow to Cuzco,  which will be an even longer trip,  and I have to get up at 5:30am to meet my driver at 6:30am.  Not looking forward to that either.

  The highlight of my day was having dinner with a great couple from England.  We went to a restaurant that they'd been meaning to go to for a while in order to eat the Guinea Pig dish.  He ordered it,  it was heavily cooked in garlic,  and quite stringy,  but I tried some,  and it was not too bad to eat. 

  Ok.  Last thing,  I am having a lot of problems with my computer,  the hard drive seems to be slowly failing,  probably due to the altitude.  I don't think I'll be able to post any more photos for the rest of the trip,  but will do my best to add them in as separate blog posts later once I'm back in Seattle,  sometime after Apr 7.  Blog posts themselves will probably be a bit sparse until then as well. 

  Until next time!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Exploration in Copacabana, Bolivia

Today was a short travel day from La Paz to Copacabana,  both of which are in Bolivia.  Apparently this copacabana is the original one,  the beach in Rio de Janiero was named later. 

Today was one of those days that starts out chaotic and uncertain,  and then gets better.  I left La Paz,  which I continue to struggle to describe.  I've said that it's a jumble of colors and shapes,  and I've also said that the city borders on being slightly insane.  I'm not sure either of these really describes the city though.  Perhaps the best way to think of it is the feeling that you have when you have a fever,  and your perceptions of the world are slightly crazed,  overheated,  and too full of color and sharp points of light.  La Paz does make sense in its own way,  but being there is kind of like pressing on the sides of you eyeballs until you start to see oddly hallucinogenic shapes swimming through your field of vision. 

In leaving La Paz,  I was planning on listening to some nice soothing music,  but when I hit play on my iPod,  it was in the middle of an equally chaotic piece of electronic music.  It fit the mood perfectly,  and provided a perfect soundtrack to the ongoing chaos that I was seeing as we were moving up and out of the valley that the city sits in.  This path is a lengthy circular path,  given that the valley walls are too steep to drive straight up,  so you get plenty of opportunity to see your surroundings as you slowly ascend out.

Beyond La Paz proper I traveled through a great deal of sprawling neighborhoods.  The further from the city center you got,  the poorer these neighborhoods became,  and it was somewhat heartwrenching to see miles and miles of poverty.  More so than any other place I've traveled so far.

Eventually though we got out into the countryside,  then had scenes of traditionally dressed Bolivian women,  with their high bowler hats,  pleated skirts,  and colorful bags slung behind their back,  herding groups of sheep and cows.  It wasn't much longer when we reached Lake Titicaca,  and then I was in for a treat.  Part of our route took us on a ferry.  In order to cross this narrow part of the lake,  we all disembarked from the bus and took small passenger boats.  Meanwhile the bus was loaded onto a pretty rickety looking barge.  We more or less all beat the bus across the lake,  which meant we could stand around and watch the barge come in at a slow speed,  all the while hoping the silly thing wouldn't tip and dump its contents (including all of our backpacks) into the cold waters of the lake.  Fortunately we all made it safely, and so did the bus,  so soon we were on our way.  All of this gave me enough time to try my first bites of trucha,  or lake trout.  I typically don't write about the food I eat because it's difficult to describe,  and poorly described food experiences are pretty boring reading.  This fish though,  was amazing.  And I just had to giggle a litte bit in glee as I was standing on the shores of one of the largest, highest lake in the world,  eating freshly caught trout,  and watching my big tour bus slowly make its way towards us all.  It was a fantastic experience.

Soon after this we arrived in Copacabana,  a small town near the Peruvian border on the lake.  I spent the day exploring,  which mostly meant looking through Bolivian handicraft shops,  and eating at a lakeside restaurant while lounging in a beach chair.  I am at about 3800 meters of elevation,  which today meant that I was a little chilly,  but getting sunburnt at the same time.  Again.  :)

In the evening I hiked up to the top of a tall hill and managed to capture some of my favorite evening photography so far this trip.  The sunset was amazing for a very brief few minutes,  and the blue sky mixed with the yellow of the streetlights after the sun set makes me very happy.

After very slowly making my way down the cobblestone path (I had remembered to bring a flashlight),  I ate dinner at a tiny little street food vendor,  serving up more of that wonderful trout.  The street was full of people,  there was a guy carrying giant sides of raw beef past the whole time (just,  you know,  slung over his shoulder),  and small pickup trucks were backing up slowly down the street a foot from where I was sitting.  The tiny bench I shared with two Bolivians.  When I had finished my meal one of them spoke to me,  and I apologized that I spoke little Spanish.  At this point the food vendor leaned over towards me and spoke to me.  Everyone else chuckled,  and it took me a minute to realize he had spoken to me in a native language that was not Spanish.  I said,  "uh...,.that's not Spanish."  and they all chuckled some more.  I thought this was pretty entertaining,  and at any rate,  I was still enjoying the trout too much to do anything other than smile and enjoy whatever subtle joke they were having at my expense.  :)  It was a pretty great night that I finished up with by trying some more street food,  in this case some kind of hot drink made from Quinoa and water,  with a nice lemon flavor.  Yummy!

Okay then!  Photos galore!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

La Paz Exploration

Today was a long day of exploration,  which is what it should be.  I am feeling better, but it's too late to write full stories about the day.  Here instead are a few anecdotes:

- I ate lunch in a restaurant that had a version of "The Scream"  but with Homer Simpson instead.
- Lots of protests in this city,  several today,  several yesterday.  They have fireworks that sound like gunfire,  but it's not gunfire,  or so I was told.
- Crossing the street in La Paz is far,  far more dangerous than it ever was in Brazil.  Sometimes just walking down the sidewalk is dangerous,  as they are frequently not wide enough for one person,  and when two people meet,  someone has to step into the street.  At one point today I was approaching a corner and a minivan came around from the other side and nearly drove up on the sidewalk,  which was only a foot and a half wide at that point.  It is not at all unusual that I could easily reach out and touch passing vehicles.  Another time today I made it half way across a street,  then was trapped for several minutes with traffic zooming past in opposite directions in front of me and behind me.  Unnerving. 

Ok.  My favorite photos of La Paz from today,  with a section in the middle from the museum of the Iglesia de San Francicso.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ok, one photo

I made it out later in the evening for dinner,  which was a lot of fun,  someone I met in Buenos Aires happens to be traveling through La Paz right now,  and we connected on facebook,  so I had dinner with him tonight.  Awesome!

Ok.  one pic. 

Down day in La Paz

I haven't been feeling well ever since I got into La Paz,  Bolivia,  yesterday,  so today was a down day.  I slept for most of the morning,  and have been trying to take it as easy as I can. So,  no photos today.  :)  Perhaps tomorrow.  I booked an extra day to stay here to recover.  This means I'm cancelling my plan to bicycle down the Most Dangerous Road in the World,  which I'm sure will make some of my relatives happy.  :)  It's not really the most dangerous anymore,  since they don't allow vehicle traffic on it any longer.  Just a nice long downhill coast through some spectacular scenery. 

Next time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salar de Uyuni Trip Report Part 3

The last day of the trip had fewer things to see,  and by that time I was a little worn out in seeing more rocks.  We stopped at a lovely place with some lovely rocks,  but I couldn't bring myself to try to find anything to photograph.  Probably it would have been a good place for kite aerial photography,  but I made the decision to leave my kite rig at home a long time ago.

However!  We did see some very interesting other things.  The town of Uyuni (which is where the tour ended) has a train graveyard.  There are quite a few old rusting hulks of antique trains sitting out there.  It is one of the few attractions of Uyuni,  and is the sort of thing I could spend hours photographing.  Unfortunately I only had 20 minutes,  but I stretched it to 30 by walking fairly far away from our Landrover.  It wasn't the only time my fellow travelers had to come find me when I was pretty occupied looking for photographic opportunities.

The other thing we saw that day was the salt flats.  Near Uyuni is a giant desert of salt.  This is the major reason people to go Uyuni,  and was a good end to the 3 days of touring the desert.  The salt flats were blindingly white,  and sunglasses were pretty much a requirement to go out on the flats.  There is a hotel made entirely out of blocks of salt dug up from the ground,  it is possible to stay there,  although my tour did not.  There is also an active salt mining activity,  which involves scooping the salt into large heaps,  which are then hauled out and processed (mostly this involves drying the salt).  These large heaps can be seen in many places near where we were,  although at one point we drove fairly far out into the plain and then it felt like there was nothing else around at all,  mostly because there was nothing else around at all.

The final images in this set are of the town of Uyuni, which is where my last story takes place.

You may recall that I spent many days in Buenos Aires trying to obtain all the necessary documentation to get a visa for Bolivia.  Especially painful was trying to get US dollars,  which are nearly impossible to get in Argentina,  due to regulations which mostly prevent Argentinian currency to be converted into other currencies inside Argentina.  I kept that documentation all the way through the 3 days of traveling through Bolivia on this tour,  and when we finally got to Uyuni,  I reminded my driver that we had to get me through immigration.  He passed me off to the secretary at the tour company we were with,  and she instructed me to come back at 3pm when the immigration office opened.  No problem,  I checked into my hostel,  came back in plenty of time,  and then she escorted me to the small office,  located only a few store fronts down the street.  We got there,  and I was very friendly,  having learned the importance of this from reading about Bolivian culture.  I handed in my visa application,  I handed in all my documentation,  the form I filled out when I crossed the Bolivian border,  my passport photos,  proof of financial solvency,  proof of a hotel in the country,  and proof of a flight out of the country (the flight from Lima to Seattle was sufficient).  Everything was in perfect order,  when the friendly immigration official said,  "ok,  now you pay,"  and directed me to the distinctly less-friendly looking immigration official.  No problem,  I walk over to him,  proudly pull out my near flawless US bills,  smile,  and hand them to him.

He frowns.

Then he says,  "En Bolivianos?"   Uh oh.  I had read in many places online that the immigration office only wanted US dollars,  that US dollars were highly prized,  that as a US citizen I should be prepared with US dollars.  And this guy wanted Bolivian money.  Great.  I don't have that much Bolivian currency.  I say no,  I don't have enough Bolivianos,  and he directs me to a currency exchange as well as an ATM.  I go to the ATM,  which fortunately worked perfectly.  I got my money,  headed back to the office,  and handed him some 1000 Bolivianos.  He smiled,  directed me back to the first guy,  who had already put the visa in my passport.  He then stamped it,  and handed it back to me,  saying it was good for 5 years. 

I was so happy that at long last the arduous task of trying to get my Bolivian visa was finally done.  I thanked them both profusely,  and exited the office with a giant smile on my face.  Throughout the evening I took the passport out several times just to look at it and the Bolivian entry stamp. 

This concludes my 3 days in the (very) high desert of Bolivia.  I hope you enjoy these last photos.

The ghosts of dead trains.

Large hexagon patterns in the drying salt.

This one is for my brother in law.  :)