A Travellerspoint blog

Rio's War Cry

Brazilian football at the Olympic stadium

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Call it luck: the very evening of our arrival in Rio de Janeiro, the biggest showdown in Brazilian football was taking place at the Olympic stadium. Vasco vs. Flamengo, 6pm, over 20.000 die-hard fans in attendance. Not an event to be missed.

We took our seats about an hour before kickoff amongst hoards of Flamengo supporters decked out in red and black. Every ten minutes or so, someone would start a chant. The crowd joined in, fists pumping, screaming in unison what I imagine to be vulgar declarations of war. 20 meter flags tied to bamboo rods soared above the crowd, soldiers in their own right occupying every bit of open air, occasionally grazing spectators drunk with excitment. Half of the stadium sung our same song. The other half, the Vasco supporters, were an equally roudy sea of white on the other side of the pitch.

Out of no where, people vacated their seats, running at full speed up the stairs to the balconies of the stadium, apparently looking at something in the streets. The team buses had pulled up. Heros entering the stadium. When the fans resumed their places, chants got louder than before. Fans from the upper deck launched heaps of streamers down below, glitter filled the air, coating the field in sparkly goodness. Whole sections periodically brandished balloons, and the flags resumed their waving. It was a full-on parade.

After another half hour of mayhem, the teams finally took to the field for the national anthem. I looked up at the stands just in time to see the Vasco flag, on the opposite side of the stadium, cover around 2.000 spectators. The Vasco blanket with fans underneath, caused a sort of ripple effect of the team crest. Then Flamengo responded, dropping their flag on heaps of eager fans. A tribal war declaration, both sides brandishing their team symbols. The referees blew the whistles and the game was on. Now it was up to the football players to uphold their fans' enthusiasm.

The historic rivalry was apparent in the way these teams played: typical Brazilian technical football, but with a hint of extra competition. Lots of penalties, slide tackles, but the moment a player was knocked down he was back up again. This wasn't Italian football. No theater productions. Just plain intensity. About 30 minutes into the first half, Vasco knocked a header off a free kick into the back right corner of the net. Our side of the stadium went quiet. Fans put their heads in their hands, shocked at what had just happened, but resumed chanting within minutes even louder than before. Their team needed their support more than ever, and they responded accordingly.

The second half came around and Flamengo was still down 1-0. And then a coup de grace: the ref dished out a red card to a Vasco forward. Flamengo fans went nuts, realizing this was their time to shine and take down the opposition. To me this seemed a bit unfair--before these teams were about evenly matched, but now every time Flamengo attacked Vasco was at a severe disadvantage. It was no surprise when our team evened out the score. I would have been shocked if they had lost one man up. In any case, when Flamengo tied it up the crowd went wild. People screamed, hugged, kissed, jumped... and all us gringos just kind of smiled at the scene, happy not to be on the losing side anymore.

I didn't even hear the whistle. Suddently the players froze mid-step, took of their shirts, jogged off the field, and the fans filed out the stands quietly. I looked around, confused, and realized that the 90 minutes were up. It was super anti-climactic, almost disorienting how such a spectacle could just.... stop.

Posted by pack_it_in 14:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)


Iguazu: the magical meeting of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina

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The warm weather is back and so is my tan. I'm at the tail-end of my detour to Foz de Iguazu, the 4th largest collection of waterfalls in the world and two overnight buses out of my way. Luckily the Argentine bus system bares absolutely no resemblence to the Bolivian one: these buses are full cama, the doorman (yes, there's a doorman), serves you meals every 5 hours, and offers you more dulce de leche than anyone with a normal tastebuds can handle. If you've never had dulce de leche, it's a caramel-wannabe spread that Argentinians and Uruguayan put on EVERYTHING. Bread, cookies, ice cream, and for the really hard-core fanatics, straight up with a spoon. I'm not a fan. It makes me feel like my teeth might decinigrate.

Anyway, 18 hours after departure, the bus dropped off in Puerto Iguazu, the Argentinian border town closest to the falls. It's a quiet town and everything is in walking distance. Our hostel happened to be 50 meters from the exit of the bus station. We locked up our stuff (although I doubt theft is a problem here) and went out for a walk immediately to stretch our legs. Destination: the aquatic triborder between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, on the Rio Iguazu. It's pretty neat to see all three countries at once, and Ciudad del Este in the distance, the paraguayan consumer capital of the area. Why? Everything is heaps cheaper in Paraguay so residents hop the border, buy electronics, matresses, furniture, and then return home cars packed to the rim.

There were too many tourists at the viewpoint, namely hoards of Argentine middle school students, so we cut our visit short, headed back to the hostel, and had Hawaiian pizza for dinner. Amazing how close you can feel to home even when you're thousands of miles away. Some rounds of Shithead and a couple Brahmas later (a popular card game and Brazilian beer, respectively) we decided to rest up in anticipation of the big day ahead of us: in the morning, we'd tackle the Parque Nacional de Iguazu.

We would have liked to be alone in that park, a sprawling well-kept jungle reserve filled with wildlife and electric green flora. But its beauty is widely known, so naturally it's crawling with tourists. Mostly German tourists over the age of 50, which is a pain when you're trying to walk at a 20-some-year-old pace. We dodged canes, wheelchairs, and crowds of balding old ladies in tour group uniforms pretty much all day. If the waterfalls weren't so mesmerizing, I wouldn't have bothered. But the power of that water, crashing down violently and endlessly, could put you in a trance for hours. You wonder what it would be like to ride the soft river current, inching closer and closer to the edge, until whoosh, it drags you into a 75-meter free-fall, and you fall and fall and fall, drenched in crystal water. Except you'd die instantly, either drowned by the power of nature or hitting your head on a rock at the bottom of the river. Either way, La Garganta del Diablo, however spectacular, would be the last thing you'd ever see. You rule out giving in to curiousity, but can't help but wonder.

We all stood on the edge of the falls in silence, watching, listening, imagining. We were drenched by mist sprinking like rain from the depths of the waterfall, but we didn't care. It was surreal, and totally worth the 18 hour ride.

Posted by pack_it_in 10:32 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Malbec and Cacti

Estancia Colome, Salta, Argentina

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It's four hours door-to-door from Salta to Colome. There are five of us in the jeep: Alejandra, the massage therapist; Luli, who works at the foundation leading excursion for kids and setting up workshops for adults; the driver, me, and an anonymous salteño who would sleep the whole ride with his mouth open. Everyone insists that I take the front seat (since they see the scenery every time they go up to work!), so I sit back with my camcorder on standby to enjoy the ride. This is the second time in the last month that I had been in a car. The last was coming back from Uyuni, nauseous from altitude. An hour outside of Salta, the highway vanishes and the driver weaves down dirt roads, rounding cacti, low-hanging trees and boulders. Skillfully and deliberately, the jeep climbs and climbs and climbs. We would clear a mountain top momentarily, then dive back down into the valley, only to ascend once more minutes later. Driving through Molinos, the first town since the outskirts of Salta, I see a sign for Colome: 19 kilometers.

'This is the only road to Colome?', I ask the driver hesitantly.
'Si, señorita', he replies with a smile. I try to imagine a container stacked with pallets making the same journey in the opposite direction. A container must be twice the width of our jeep, at least four times as long, and infinitely heavier. With this multiplier, you'd need considerably more patience to haul a vehicle of that size from Colome to Salta.

Several employees of Colome make this 19 kilometer journey daily. It's again, a quiet dirt road etched around red-sand badlands, where the speed limit can't be more than 50 kilometers per hour. 'Look', says Luli, 'this is the village of Colome. That's the foundation, where I work,' she says, pointing to a small adobe structure on the side of the road, 'and opposite the foundation is the school, and next to the school the clinic, and...' her voice trails off. The town is already in the distance before she can finish her brief oral tour. 'Well I'll have to come back tomorrow,' I grin.

The lonely remaining kilometer between the town and the hotel, the morning commute for the majority of the workers at Colome, felt like nothing after the 4 hours of road behind us. Luli, Alejandra, and the napper disappear the second the driver yanks the emergency break. A man in a Colome jumpsuit, the uniform I would soon find out, hoists my pack from the trunk of the jeep and shows me to my room. Informed of a 6:30 tour of the on-site James Turrell museum, I rush to gather my camera and a light jacket, don't bother to lock the door, and brave the 200 meters to the museum entrance.

'So,' you ask, 'what the hell is a James Turrell museum doing at a winery 4 hours from a small city in Argentina?'. 'Damn good question,' I'd reply. No, but seriously. Donald Hess, Swiss owner of Colome, calls himself an art addict. He started his collection when he accidently bought a Picasso. Now he buys as much as he can from artists around the globe, but always stops collecting when the artist passes away. Turrell, a modern artist and Renaissance man, is alive and well in Flagstaff, Arizona. His pieces always focus, as the guide told us, on light, color, space, and perception. I'm tempted to try to explain a piece, but I could never do it justice. First off, because Turrell doesn't divulge the engineering of his pieces, so you never really know what you are looking at. Second, because this kind of art is about 90% emotional and 10% mathematical. Go see an exhibit for yourself if you are curious. He has pieces in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Napa, Houston... and travelling exhibitions all around the world.

After the surreal experience of a semi-private tour of a world-class exhibit, I walk back to my room to wash up before dinner. Fifteen minutes later, I stroll down the path between the vines, illuminated by an electric crescent moon towards the hotel library. There I meet Pierre, the quebequois irrigation master here at Colome, Rafael, the salteño-tucuman vineyard expert, and David, an American chef visiting the bodega.
We each take seats in firm, coffee-leather chairs, surrounded by rounded bookcases overflowing with books. Not a bad place to try my first class of Colome wine, a white 'Vino Misterio' only available here at the winery. Besides the fact that hectars of Malbec surround the hotel and museum, the glass in my hand is the first indication that I was sent to Colome for the bodega.

'It's a misterio,' explains Pierre, 'because when Donald Hess first bought Colome, there were a few hectars of whites scattered around the property, but we didn't know what varieties they were. We decided to harvest them all and make a single wine. We estimate there must be about 7 different varieties in your glass right now. Sure, we did lots of tests, even DNA tests, but some remain unidentified,' he says. Salud, chin-chin, cheers. Besides the Malbec Reserve we uncork for the main course, the rest of dinner is free of wine-speak. We mostly explain our backgrounds, light-hearted life-philosophies, and enjoy the remarkable presentation of our dishes materializing from the kitchen. After a verbena ice cream and drop of cognac we are all ready for a good night's sleep.

First thing Friday morning, sun shining (as it does every day at Colome), I go back to the hotel to snap some photos of the rooms, the pool, the spa, the massage tables, and the restaurant. Then Pierre, David and I get in a 4x4 to the stables, where Colome keeps its 32 horses. We have a gaucho ride scheduled so that I might try out a Peruviano, the rumored most comfortable horses, see the mountains in their organic splendor, and have some fun with the lasso tied to my saddle. Unfortunately I don't know how to use a lasso, so it mainly serves as the butt of every joke whenever we spotted wild donkies in the distance. This was, in all the riding I've done in my life (which is quite a bit), by far the most wild, lighthearted and fun experience, although according to Pierre I become very serious the second I sit in a saddle. These horses balance perfectly the thrill of excitable horses and the relaxation of a tame ride. They know the road well, they sometimes ask you gently to give them more rein, but they always respond to strict instruction. At first I keep my dark bay on a tight rein, having been warned that he can be jumpy, but ten minutes down the path I give up my English riding education and let him loose. We (the horse and I) trot though arid brush, up hills producing clouds of smoke for the unlucky horse-gaucho pair behind us, and then launched into a rhythmic gallop whenever a valley comes into sight. An hour of this mayhem and the horse's once dry flanks drip sweat. I can hear his nostrils expanding, inhaling in more air at once than I could in 400 meters at a sprint. Sensing exhaustion, I scratch his mane, pat his neck, and whisper, 'Tranquilo, tranquilo.' He stutters his stride, comes down from the canter, trots a bit, and stops under a tree to wait for our friends. A bit more light trotting later, we're back at the stables, and dismount. 'So,' I think, 'when do we get to talk about wine?'

In retrospect, the order of operations of my visit to Colome was quite fitting. The most important aspects and contributors of what goes on at Colome (the road from Salta, the town of Molinos, the town of Colome, the foundation, the museum, the hotel, and the stables) must be seen, experienced, and understood before the grand finale: the viñedos. The wine can't exist without the villages, because most people who work at Colome are locals. The foundation is a strong pressence in the town, providing workshops, activities, and employment for the citizens. The Turrell museum represents Hess' passion for art collections, and attracts many visitors for that aspect of Colome alone. Then there's the hotel, another source of employment and a European tourist haven. Its 9 rooms are full most of the year. Finally, the horses, keeping the Gaucho tradition alive. Most incredibly of all, everything mentioned is self-sustained and organic. All the power in Colome is either hydroelectric, or solar; the vegetable garden and farm produce the vast majority of the food consumed; and finally, the vineyard is biodynamic.

My limited exposure to biodynamics in the past, besides a general knowledge of the art, comes from a short experience in Alsace-Lorraine at Domaine Barmes-Buecher. From what I learned informally at that small-town Alsacian vineyard, it's a complicated methodology where one farms in accordance with cosmic and terrestrial forces, nursing the plant with organic preparados at times of the month determined by the lunar calendar. I had never seen any of this done live, unless you want to count walking through overgrown vineyards. Go figure that out of my two days at Colome, the workers would be performing a twice annual dynamization.

Excited by such a rare opportunity, soon after returning to the stables, David, Pierre and I walk over to the vegetable garden to witness the preparation of the vine treatment. The porteño biodynamics expert gives us a detailed explanation: there are two main preparados (which look like soil to the untrained eye), one for the fall and one for the spring. This is the spring treatment, applied in October when the annual life cycle is on the rise. The ground starts to breath, the sun is stronger, flowers bud. It's at this time that you nourish the earth, choosing moments of maximum absorbsion. They picked this particular day because the crescent moon (strangely bright at this time of the month, as I noticed walking back to my hotel room the previous night) is shrinking, and the workers treat the plants in the evening, as the sun goes down. Think of the soil as retreating inwards, taking everything the cosmos has to offer to feed itself and grow stronger the following day.

To make this preparado, the workers churn this dirt-like substance into barrels filled with 150 liters of water. They stir clockwise first, then once they've created a strong whirlpool that almost mixes itself, they interrupt the flow and start stirring in the opposite direction. This goes on for 20 minutes. Then they pour the solution into a machine that will chug through the vines, spritzing out solution like rain. Having witnessed their secret weapon, human harnessing of cosmic and terrenal power to feed the vines, I can't wait any longer to see the heavily anticipated bodega.

'There's nothing secret about what we do down here. The key is in the land, in the vines, the biodynamics. Once it gets to the cellar, it's typical winemaking,' Pierre warns. He's right, the cellar is similiar to most that I've seen in my lifetime. It's clean, well kept, organized. I take a few photos of the barrels, some cases, some presses, but the remarkable part of Colome lies outside the bodega. It's the 150-plus people who contribute to the project. It's the town, the foundation, the 70 families that live here. The cacti, the mountains, the Inca ruins hidden in the hills. The fact that these vines somehow grow in a place that looks fit for snakes, wild donkeys, gauchos and their lassos is puzzling when your mental image of wine country resembles Bordeaux and Sonoma. But suspend your judgment here, because this oasis' Turrell pieces, Peruvian horses, and Malbecs are worldclass. Retrace your Colome bottles' journey back to northern Argentina if you don't believe me.

Posted by pack_it_in 07:09 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

¿Cuanto cuesta la Salta?

An introduction to Argentina

sunny 24 °C
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Just south of the Argentine-Bolivian border lies Salta, a modest city by Argentinian standards that is organizationally, technologically, and hygienically lightyears ahead of everything I've seen... well... since Bogota. That was almost two months ago. Here in Salta, traffic lights are not just for better nighttime vision. You take hot showers at any hour you please. The bus will leave on time, fill your water bottle with tap water, and save yourself the embarrassment of bargining at the supermarket. In short, after the Amazon, the chaos in Bolivia, and the altitude sickness, Salta is heaven on earth.

The Dutchman and I met up with a couple more anglophone friends at the hostel and went out immediately for empanadas. Legend has it that empanadas salteñas are the best of the continent. Unlike Amazonian legends, I can confirm this one. These savery pasteries are baked (as opposed to deep fried empanadas in Bolivia and Colombia), then lightly oil kissed, and served hot with salsa picante. Three dozen cost us less than $3 per person, leaving enough pesos to justify at least one beer to quench the inevitable post-empanada thirst. The million peso question: "¿Cuanto cuesta una cerveza?"

"¿Heinken?", our waitress asks.

We shake our heads, because what kind of traveler orders imported beer in a country with local breweries? "No, la local por favor," I respond, accent still dripping month-old-Colombian.

"4 pesos la Salta."

"??!!??"-- translation-- "Less than a dollar a pint? Is that a joke? That's less than Paceñas in Bolivia!"

This discovery, of the cheapest (decent) beer on the contient, was likely the most revolutionary of the day. Not only do Saltas accompany empanadas as though they were created for the sole purpose of being consumed simultaneously, but even if you were to drink them all day long you would still have enough cash to treat yourself to a rare Argentinian steak. So that's exactly what we did.

As you've probably gathered at this point, my stay in Argentina has largely revolved around dining. Cut me a break, though. A good steak, enough for two people, costs less than 10 dollars. Also, having arrived from Bolivia, a country notorious for the dearth of edible food, potable water, and vegetables, I'm like a food snob in Paris.

Life on the road for me is about to change dramatically, however. Tomorrow I'll be whisked off to Estancia Colome, a winery about 4 hours from Salta. I've decided to dedicate a good portion of my remaining month down here to visiting wineries for WineAccess. The idea to voluntarily do what I unvolutarily used to do as a kid in France with my parents sprouted most unexpectedly from this very blog. Often times, while enduring seemingly-eternal bus rides, I find myself composing stories in my head for amusement. Blame it on my chronically dead iPod or the fact the I've chosen to read Tolstoy, but the truth is that every silent moment now produces a narrative. If I'm lucky, I remember them when I get to the next computer and spit them out before they disappear. Most of the time, though, these stories are just ephemeral entertainment to pass the time. So instead of cruising through wine country here in Argentina without doing what seems to be the obvious (sending WineAccess live footage, photos, or narratives about wines they might sell), I'm setting up appointments along the way. These picturesque spots and family-owned operations are stories waiting to be written.

My backpack has a few new additions now: a camcorder, a microphone, an external hard drive, and a blank notepad. The only downside is that I have to carry marginally more kilos.

Posted by pack_it_in 18:48 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Toll at 3600 meters

Salar de Uyuni and altitude sickness

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When you sign up for a 3-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni, it`s hard to take your guide`s advice and turn back less than 24 hours down the road. But when your coin toss lands on the wrong side of the boliviano and you end up with serious altitude sickness in the middle of the largest salt flat in Bolivia, you have to play it safe.

I got into Uyuni Tuesday evening and bunked with a couple of new friends (two Canadians and a Dutchman) at a local hotel. We scouted out a couple of tour agencies, picked what we thought was the best one, paid our dues, and got some soup and french fries before turning in. By the time we left the restaurant the temperature had dropped below zero with windchill. Desert weather. We layered on socks, long underwear, and crawled under our 7 layers of blankets (yes, we counted). Surprisingly we slept quite well, waking up ready to buy some provisions, grab breakfast and board the jeep to head into the Salar. We bought candies for the altitude, some rum for the cold--and for rural entertainment--, and some water. At 10:30 we were in the jeep, ready to go.

The first stop was the Cementerio de Trenes, a graveyard of abandoned trains from the mid-1800s. Bolivia used to have a lot of silver and other minerals, so the trains were imported in order to move these natural resources out of the landlocked country. Unfortunately, as the guide explained, Bolivia didnt have the carbon to keep the trains running. Hence the graveyard. Once we had our fill of picture taking and climbing these rusted structures, we went back to Uyuni to pick up the driver/guide`s wife: the cook. About two hours later, we entered the Salar, the largest expanse of blindly white, perfectly flat landscape I`ve ever seen. It looks more like a snow covered desert, or perhaps a bleeched ocean, but if nobody told you, you would never guess it were salt. I tasted it to check. Salty.

Later that afternoon we stopped for lunch at the Hotel de Sal, and took some time to snap the typical `salt flat pictures`. It`s a perspective game: you and your friends set yourselves up so it looks like one person is holding the other in the palm of their hand, or bring a toy dinosaur (in our case) to create the illusion of the dinosaur eating someone. It`s silly, repetitive, but also super amusing. When I get a fast enough conenction to load photos, I`ll share the goofy shots we came up with. Once we finished with our photos and our lunch (quinoa, alpaca meat, and a cucumber salad--horray for vegetables!) we got back in the jeep via the Isla del Pescado. The Isla del Pescado is a relatively small desert island (island in the sense that it`s hilly and dirty in the middle of the surreal salt flat) covered in 10 meter cacti. We had two hours to explore, so our group went hiking, weaving through the cacti and trying to find the highest viewpoint to check out the panoramic view of the Salar. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since we had been sitting in a jeep for most of the day and wouldn`t have much exercise for the next couple days. Wrong. When I got back to the car, I could feel the altitute taking a toll on my body: I was short of breath, my vision was a little hazzy, and I was super dehydrated but didn`t want to drink water. And it only got worse. Back in the jeep, the nausea set in. The most comfortable position being with my head between my knees, I missed the famed Salar sunset. When we got to the hotel an hour later, I had vomited my lunch and had developed a fever.

Things didn`t improve that night. I spent the next 12 hours with chills, sweating, dizzy, nauseous, short of breath... the whole nine yards if you will. My friends told the guide I was ill, and after coming to check on me, advised that I turn back to Uyuni. Day 2 involved another 1000 meter climb. Terrible idea when you already have altitude sickness. So we started brainstorming ways to get me back to Uyuni. The most compelling option involved driving to the next town to get an ambulence, a quick transfer with oxygen on board. On the way to the town the following morning, the guide flagged down an unmarked Chilean SUV (many Bolivians go to Chile to buy their cars because it`s cheaper, and then drive them back to Bolivia unregistered) heading towards Uyuni to ask if I could hitch a ride with them. They loaded my stuff and helped me on board for 30 bolivianos. Much cheaper than the would-be-400-boliviano-ambulance. An hour and a half of discomfort later, we were back in Uyuni, gracias a dios. I went back to the travel agency as the guide had instructed me to do, where there was a car ready to take me to the clinic. I can`t tell you the relief I felt getting into that car: I was out of the Salar, still sick, but going to a doctor whos patients are probably suffering from the altitude 50% of the time.

After a short examination, the doctor perscribed me a combination of rehydration salts, altitude pills, headache relief, and energy powder. The driver from the agency paid the bill (since I had absent-mindedly forgotten my wallet inside my pack at the agency), picked up some honey from the market to put in my giant water bottle, and drove me to a hotel. He even carried my stuff to my room, which was lucky because it was on the 4th floor of the building and I could hardly walk up the stairs myself. I slept for the rest of the day, woke up for 2 hours to take some of the medication, and went back to sleep for the night. This morning was a godsend. I had a hot shower, took more medication, and ate some bread and jam (!!!), and saw the doctor again to make sure I was on the route to recovery. All clear.

Tonight my friends return from the tour. Assuming I feel up to traveling tonight (which I should after sleeping some more today), the Dutchman and I will get on a night train to Villazon, the Bolivian town on the Argentinian border. Luckily we booked 1st class tickets ($10 USD upgrade!) so it should be a restful journey. Also, Villazon is 300 meters lower than Uyuni. I think my lungs will thank me for this one.

Posted by pack_it_in 06:54 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Surviving the Southwest

A rough week in Bolivia

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I know theres been a bit of a blog drought--its not as though I havent wanted to write, its more that I havent found a subject in the last week really worthy of a post. Perhaps Im getting used to life in Bolivia and things that previously seemed noteworthy are now banal. Its also possible that Ive been exhausted from city-hopping and havent seen things with the same enthusiasm as before. Just to give you a taste of what I mean, after my adventures in the Pampas I went to La Paz, then to Sucre, then to Potosi, and I am now in Uyuni.
La Paz was crazy as usual. A lot of friends I have met in Bolivia hate it: its dirty, theres tons of traffic, and its very easy to get lost. I have to admit, though, that I really like the chaos for some reason. The women in bowler hats, street stands selling anything from leather jackets to witches potions, the daily parades, and the cheap alpaca hats... I find it tough to complain. Plus, I got outfitted for the cold weather for less than $40 at the Black Market. All in all, only one bad thing happened to me in La Paz: I lost my Lonely Planet. And let me emphasize that this is no small potatoes.

My next stop after La Paz, the lovely capital of Sucre, caused me quite the headache after having lost the guide book. I didnt know what time the buses left, what time I would pull into the bus station, what hostel to go to, where the Mercado Central was, or where to grab a morning coffee. I was at once ashamed of my dependence on the LP, and annoyed at my lack of orientation in such a small, rumored manageable city. Urgh. I ended up picking the first Alojamiento I could find, a subpar but cheap option right in front of the Mercado Central. In the end, Sucre was a very enjoyable pit stop. Its a colonial city decked out with blindingly white buildings. The center of town is small and walkable, and it boasts the most beautiful cemetary in all of Bolivia. Even though I decided to take a 4 hour nap mid-day, I managed to see enough to feel comfortable catching a bus to Potosi the following morning.

Potosi claims to be the highest city in the world (in altitude!), and I definitely felt it even before getting off the bus. That feeling I had gotten used to in La Paz, the dizziness when walking up hill, lack of apetite, etc., was back. It hit me pretty hard while trekking up to the market from the bus station, but it was all worth it when I got my first Southwestern Bolivian empanada. Having decided that I didnt want to do a mine tour in Potosi, the main attraction in the city, I ran back down to the bus station to get on the next bus to Uyuni, home of the famous salt flats. Luckily one was leaving 30 minutes later, so I bought a ticket, hauled my mochila on to the roof of the bus, and grabbed a banana and fresh orange juice from the corner stand. My stay in Potosi was very short, perhaps rushed, but I had been dreaming of the salt flats since my last trip to Bolivia (over a year ago) and couldnt be bothered to stay the night.

What an eventful bus ride. First, there was a woman sitting in the aisle of the bus... no seats, I guess. A man from Sucre got angry at her for not having a seat, accusing her of putting the rest of the passengers in danger and of not respecting everyones rights to safe travel. Ironic, considering all the other buses I have been on in Bolivia have been short of seats and no one has said anything to date. Also, this particular bus had terrible breaks. You could tell because every time we went downhill or tried to stop, we could all hear horrible screeching through the Bolivian local music playing over the intercom system. To make matters worse, as usual in Bolivia, the road was a mess. Most of it was under construction to the point where the bus had to veer off the road on to a side path for a kilometer or so before steering back on the road. Basically, if something was going to kill us en route to Uyuni, it wasnt going to be the woman in the aisle.

Besides the quarrel between the locals, the landscape was the second most exciting part of the trip. About every hour, it would change drastically. First we were leaving Potosi, a city perched on the side of one of many grey mountains in the area. The city melted from view, leaving a broad expanse of arid mountain ranges ahead of us. Then the soil started changing colors, until the mountains were a vibrant iron-red, not unlike northern Arizona. Then cactuses appeared. Then the herds of alpaca. And then the mountains shrunk little by little until everything was flat. And white. Welcome to Uyuni, the driver said.

Posted by pack_it_in 18:04 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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