Friday, October 30, 2009

Goodbye Bolivia!

Buckle in for a long one kids! Starting with when we left Sucre...

We had a fabulous send off by our Ñanta friends who threw us a going away BBQ. I ate more at that BBQ then I have since leaving Canada! It was a fabulous time but hard to say goodbye. Or, not goodbye...but until we meet again...

Took us awhile to pack properly - how is it that nothing ever fits back into bags like they used to? We have purchased very minimal items, but our bags seemed infinitely heavier! Could not sleep well at all that night with all of the excitement of our next journey upon us (except for Pete, who was of course asleep in 5 seconds as per usual).

A curve ball was tossed our way the next morning. We were meant to only have a short trip on Monday to Potosi in order to be able to explore the historic town as well as break up the longer trip to Uyuni set for the following day. Thankfully, our French friend Guillemmette (who, from now on will only be known as G, saves a lot of typing!) had gone to Potosi a couple of days ahead of us and called back to the hostal to let us know that bus drivers were due to go on strike the following day and thus we needed to leave that night! The strike was apparently due to the upcoming election. While Potosi supports the current president Evo Morales, they wanted to be sure that they are not forgotten and thus decided to take dramatic steps in order to secure his support (money!) for the region. Luckily, we were able to get our hostal plans changed accordinly and G secured seats for us on a bus from Potosi to Uyuni.

Another sad goodbye to our gracious hosts at the hostal and we were on our way. We opted out of taking a bus to Potosi and chose to take a private taxi instead for the 2 1/2 hour drive. Only $15 CDN and totally worth it! An uneventful ride save for the constant honking to warn the goats, cows, dogs, people, etc. that we were coming.

Got into Potosi (towering at 4,000 mts elevation) without issue, thank goodness! Took some preventative measures regarding altitude sickness and so only suffered from shortness of breath. Was able to explore the town center only somewaht - given all the hilly roads, the fact that we were short of breath and that our packs weigh a tonne, there is only so far we could go! The one museum we wanted to see was closed for the day. We met up with G in the town center, had a quick bite to eat and then took a taxi to the edge of town to catch our 6:30pm bus.

No bus at 6:30...7:00...7:30...finally at 8:00pm we were loaded to the rafters (with many people standing) and on our way. A mix of toursits and locals, all being anxious to get out of town before the strike the following day.

We had only about 1 hour of paved roads and then we were on washboard/sand for the rest of the way. Only one bathroom break along the way - without bathroom! Squatting at the side of a road in the middle of the night is a little more difficult when there are cacti to worry about! Pete slept some, I slept little. The bus driver seemed to believe that playing the Bolivian version of the Spice Girls into the wee hours was a good idea.

What was promised to be a 6 hour trip took 8 hours, thus with the start delay we arrived in Uyuni at 4am. We stumbled around the dark streets until finally finding our hotel. We crashed into our beds at 4:30am. Wanna know how I knew it was 4:30am? The damn neighbourhood rooster, thats how. We can never seem to get away from them. I need a gun!!

There is not much to see in Uyuni - a quiet, dusty town that did have about 30 tour agencies crammed around a small plaza. Thus, the following day was a very lazy one as we caught up on our sleep. Our crazy French friend, G, was up early and did all the homework for us to help choose from the multiple tour agencies to take us across the salt flats and into Chile. We checked out a couple of more when we met up with her and then made our decision.

Up and on the road the following day at 10am, our tour group was made up of a local guide/driver and cook, us, G, a Peruvian, an American, and a Brit. We first drove a short distance from town to the train cemetary. When Bolivia did have access to the coast (many years ago!), they would ship many minerals (mostly silver) to the port city of Antofagasta (which is now part of Chile). Since Bolivia lost their land on the coast, the trains were left here to die!

Our next stop was a small demonstration center where we learned how they dried and bagged the salt. The salt flats in Bolivia are the largest in the world, left over from a large lake that dried a million years ago. Here is Pete trying to land a job...

Shortly afterwards, we were driving on a desert of white - the salt flats! The effect of the salt is truly unbelievable. We made several stops along the way - searching for salt crystals in small open water pits and to start taking a few of our numerous pictures that can only be done in the persepective of vast nothingness!! Here are some samples, more to be on our FB album soon!

Onto Fish Island, where we stopped for lunch. We toured the island while our cook prepared a feast of llama, quinoa and fresh veggie (yes, I tried llama! Not bad!) The island had hundreds of cacti and many beautiful view points.

After lunch we were back in the car for a short while before stopping for more crazy pictures. We took too much time doing that apparently, because we missed some caves, but we were having way too much fun with that anyways!

We drove on until we reached the small town of Aguaquiza - about the size of Brownvale! At first I thought they were joking when they said this was where we were staying - they were not. In the middle of the town we bunked in a salt hotel where the walls and floor were actually made of salt! (Of course, I also have the requisite picture of Pete trying to lick the walls).

Climbed a small hill to watch the sunset, then returned for dinner of vegetable soup (complete with french fries!) and lasagna. After dinner, some local kids came dressed in traditional wear to entertain us with a dance. Their dance was more of an unorganized shuffle and many of the kids were too shy to do anything. They were still damn cute though, and toured the tables afterwards for tips.

Up at 6am, breakfast of pancakes and fruit and on the road at 7. First stop was at a small museum of preserved caves dated before the Incas. Incredibly beautiful, yet terribly creepy.

Next was a petrified algae forest. And then a field of just really cool rocks (maybe volcanic? Missed that part)

We climbed steadily, breath getting shorter as we went. We then came across a series of lagunas with brilliant colors and thousands of pink flamingos! Each vista was more magnificent then the last, all the while shrouded by incredibly changing mountains. By each change in angle or light the colors changed - reds, blues, oranges, greens, pinks, purples and every shade in between! And all the while looking velvety soft - I wish the pictures could do it justice...

As the day neared its end, clouds and wind arrived. Our last stop before the hostal was Laguna Colorada - 60 hectares of many colors! If the sun was out we would have seen brilliant red, instead we just had to settle with bright red. =)

Arrived at our hostal at 5pm, we were told it would be basic accommodations, but had no idea it would be like this:

Turned out it was clean and comfortable comfortable in fact that I crawled into bed at 7pm and did not get out, missing dinner. I missed out on many bottles of wine and beer had by the others, but I was definitely thankful for that the next morning when the wake up call was 4:30am!!

We got up early so as to see some volcanic geisers in the morning light. What an amazing sight - and sound! Took a video of the bubbling volcanic clay just so that I could hear it again. The smouldering pools and rocks had to be some of the coolest things we have ever seen.

The stop at the geisers was our highest point on the trip (just over 4,800mts, which I believe is higher then the highest mountain in Canada).

On to more amazing sights as we continued our way across the desert - stopping at the
Salvador Dali Desert for more pictures!

Me and G in the Salvador Dali Desert!

More lagunas followed, finally stopping at a hot springs for a breakfast of buñuelo (fried bread dough - just like schmooshgeedles! I do not know how to spell that, Mom). One last, massive laguna before we said goodbye to our tour friends and started making our way to the Chilean border.

Overall, we could not have asked for a better experience with better people - traveling together in a 4X4 for 10 hours a day can be trying - we were glad to be with the friendly people we were! We all had similar tastes in music and took turns DJing, which perhaps our Bolivian guides might not have appreciated when we got into the Rage Against The Machine! We were sad to leave our group, but come away with new good friends, which we are always grateful for.

And now we are in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - where it is a sweltering 36 degrees and we both just enjoyed our first showers in 3 days! It feels like an entirely different planet being on this side of the border. Blessed tarmac! Street signs! Fast internet! All kinds of crazy modern things!! We plan to be in San Pedro for 3 nights before making our way to Arica for 7 days of lazy BEACH know, we are due for a holiday from our holiday... =)

P.S. as you can tell, we went a little picture happy and with faster internet, it is so much easier to show them!! I will be adding a bunch of pics to our FB album soon, and will let you know when they are!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Moving on...

Today is our last day in Sucre! Early tomorrow morning we leave for Potosi (about three hours from here) - it is the highest city in the world and is famous for the silver and other mineral mines that once made Bolivia an extremely rich country. One night there and then we are on a 7 hour bus ride to Uyuni, which is the starting part for a tour of the salt flats that will end for us in Chile. Internet availabilty will be sketchy past Potosi, so this will be the last update for a few days.

It is very bittersweet for us to be leaving tomorrow. We have been extremely overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of our new friends in Sucre! In the last few weeks we have been treated to home cooked meals, biking and hiking tours, extensive travel advice, CDs of new music, and today we are even being given a going-away bbq! While we will be sad to say goodbye, we are looking forward to when our paths will cross again!



What a tremendous feeling it was for Pete and I to deliver such a large sum of cash to Ñanta on Friday. Thanks to our generous family and friends, we were able to give $1,100 US! We will soon be getting a specific breakdown of where the funds are going (that we will pass along to the donors), but we know that this money will help with birth certificates, nutrition and allowing 100 kids to enjoy something special at Christmas.

As usual, we are in awe of the generosity from the dearest people in our lives. The people at Ñanta were very excited as well, and each of the donors will be shortly getting a special gift in the mail made by the kids!
We had a very busy last week getting ready for the next leg of our journey - replenishing some of our supplies while they are still cheap! I was very disappointed that I could not enjoy my last few days swimming with the kids (problems with the pool, it will be closed for awhile), but Pete and I had some really great English classes at the center. Most of the swimming kids joined in on the fun seeing as the pool was closed, which meant that we were overwhelmed with people and both days ran out of exercises and bingo cards. On Friday we bought some special prizes for the kids as it was our last day (yo yo´s!) and the kids went NUTS for those! We are very sad to see it all come to an end, but are super happy that another couple has started at Ñanta and will take over the classes. The director has told us that many people have attempted English classes before with the kids, but none have seen the success that we have! We really hope this success continues.

With a few of our English class regulars! Pete´s ¨gaggle of girls¨ were fighting over who got to stand closest to him for the picture!

Last night we had quite the experience. All week we had heard many people talking about ¨Bolivia´s Best Band!¨ coming to town so we did decide to go and see what it was about. For $5 CDN, how can you go wrong?
Kjarkas are a 14 piece ensemble band that apparently have been around Bolivia for something like 40 years. They played all the traditional instruments - a bunch of different guitar type things that I can´t name, pan flutes, and drums.
Wow. Not ¨wow¨ because of the music...I mean, one minute they sounded absolutely brilliant, and then the very next minute it sounded like they waltzed out of the cheesiest cruise ship bar ever. ¨Wow¨ because of the reaction they got from the crowd! I have never seen anything like it - fans of all ages (4 - 80!) belting out all the words and dancing for two hours straight, until 1am! Most of the time, the 14 band members would just sing and play their instruments in one place, but as soon as one of them would do any slight movement resembling a dance move, everyone went nuts!
It was UNBOLIVIABLE. No, I didn´t just make that word up - some people actually use it here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bolivian Politics

Last night after a late dinner out, Pete and I happened upon a campaign rally! Bolivia´s presidential election is scheduled for December, and the current President (Evo Morales) is predicted to win for his second term. His political rival in this election (Manfred) has been in Sucre since this weekend to try and gain support.

A couple of the main streets in Sucre were shut down to accommodate the large stage adorned with hundreds of red and yellow balloons. After a traditional Bolivian band entertained the crowd, the ¨proximo Presidente of Boliviaaaaaa...!¨ took the stage. Manfred and his entourage wore Formula One style jackets (symbolic of their extreme right-wing platform??) with the word ¨convergencia¨ emblazoned on the front and back. The usual display of fireworks lit the stage, and we had to endure the cheesy campaign song over and over and over.

Noticeably absent was his Vice Presidential running mate Leopoldo, who is doing his share of campaigning from jail! He is currently awaiting trail for charges related to a mass slaughter of opposition in his home departmento (province) of Pando. And we thought Sarah Palin was a bad choice!

The best part of the whole display was the fact that the rally was ill timed, it seems. How dare Manfred schedule a rally when an important soccer game was on TV? Not to worry, loyal fans. A projector stationed near the stage and pointed at a large building next to it ensured that supporters could watch both shows. Now THAT´S a good campaign strategy.

I think I´d be tempted to vote for this dude based on his super stylin´ molestache alone!

Monday, October 19, 2009

All I Want For Christmas...Part II!

Thanks to everyone that has pledged to help!

Here is some more information on what is needed, or some examples of what your donations can do...

- Birth certificates cost 37 Bs (about $6) each - unless there are issues which require further investigation, then they can cost up to 400 Bs. There are currently about 40-50 kids that are in need of birth certificates. Some kids have no idea what their birthday is or even how old they are - can you even imagine??
- Ñanta tries to provide milk for the kids twice a week with their afternoon tea. This costs roughly 80 Bs ($13) a week
- Each Christmas, Ñanta tries to provide a clothing allowance of 100 Bs for each kid. There are currently about 250 kids supported by Ñanta

All of these projects are essential and in need of funds. If everyone reading this blog even gave just $20, imagine the good we could all do together!

There is one other option for anyone who wants to take it a step further - you can support an individual child for $50 a month. This money will cover everything required for school (books, bus tickets, etc) plus food, clothing and other essentials. Hmmm...I believe our ¨favourite¨kid Rene (pictured below) may have found a sponsor in us!!

THANK YOU!! Please remember to make your pledge by Friday! Contact either Pete or I for more details.

And in other news...

- GRRRR!! We have encountered our first major issue with our travels - our laptop has died. Gone is our entertainment system, our iPod charger, my writing tableau and our photo storage (luckily, we backed up our pictures last week! Phew!) After some rough diagnostics and research we have discovered that our hard drive has failed. Given our remote location, we will be forced to go without until we at least get to Santiago, Chile, where we can find a Mac service center. Looks like we will have to resort to some more primitive forms of entertainment - like reading books! How are we going to survive??

So, unfortunately, until such time as our laptop can be fixed, updates may be less frequent and probably shorter (at least Uncle Ken will be happy). Mass uploads of pictures may not happen at all. Skype sessions may resume when we are in Chile as we expect internet cafe´s should have much faster connections.

- That really ruined our Saturday. And our weekend had been off to such a good start thanks to an awesome dinner Friday night in the home of a fellow Canucklehead! Brendan is from Ontario and currently working down here on a water project for the University of Calgary. We had an awesome evening of good food, good wine and conversation!

- Sunday was an equally awesome day, which we needed after Saturday´s crapfest. While Pete took to the bike with Albert again (Pete is apparently a masochist!), I went on a 15km hike with Albert´s wife Randi from Sucre to a small town named Yotala. It wasn´t too difficult a hike, but provided for some amazing changing scenery as well as a view into some small villages along the way. When we got to Yotala, we met up with the boys and their bikes for a late lunch before hopping onto a bus to take us back into Sucre.

Randi entering ¨main street¨of a small village!

- Our last week in Sucre is here! It is very hard to believe that 2 months has flown by this fast, and we are preparing to leave for a new destination. Our subsequent hostels have been booked, and we will just spend this week in our last volunteering sessions, stocking up on supplies (while they are still cheap!) and saying goodbye to the many friends we have made. Pete and I have both commented that it feels like we are leaving home again - we have gotten so comfortable here. It is a scary prospect to once again be on the road to unknown destinations, but we are also very excited to do it!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Technical difficulties

I had a blog update already to go...and then this morning our Macbook started acting up so I can´t get to it - grr!

Hopefully we get it resolved very soon and I can update...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We hope that you all had a fabulous Canadian Thanksgiving! We have seen nary a turkey in any stores, restaurants or in the market, so Pete made his best attempt at a complete dinner for us on Friday night – teriyaki chicken, mashed potatoes and various vegetables. One of his best meals yet!

After dinner on Friday we went to Musef Sucre, a museum that served as the location for a Ñanta fundraiser. The reception included live music by a director of Ñanta and many boys who frequent there, as well as a photographic display of various kids in their work environment in Sucre – everything from shoe shiners to car washers to venders (selling chicklets, newspapers, etc.) A very moving display for a very good cause (as we have seen first hand)!

After the reception Pete and I wandered around central Sucre, taking in a local benefit rock concert in the main plaza (bad, baaaad music) and then met up with our friends for a send-off – in the last week many of the good friends that we have made in Sucre now are off on other travels. We feel quite deserted and abandoned – being left to take on Little Hollandia (or the Dutch mafia, as we affectionately call them) all on our own!

It was a late night for us, but Pete and I were still up bright and early on Saturday to help again with the swim club at 8am. We drug our tired, sorry asses downtown after that in order to indulge in what Pete believes to be the best hangover food yet – salteñas! Salteñas are essentially empenadas made with beef or chicken swimming in a sweet/sour gravy. ¡Son muy ricas! They are very delicious! (But I am still dreaming of Tim Hortons breakfast sandwiches).

After our hangovers were cured with the salteñas and a nice long nap, Pete and I ventured on a long walk across town to visit the cemetery. I know, it’s not a place where we would normally go to “hang” at home, but it is heralded as a tourist spot in Sucre (you can even get a guided tour). And as soon as we crossed the massive arched threshold, we could see why!

It was enormous, but shaded throughout with large evergreens and palms. The noise of the city could not be heard – many benches lined the sidewalks and it was easy to just sit and admire the meticulously manicured surroundings. It did not even feel creepy, as we both thought it would. It was just a very peaceful place to relax (apparently University students go there to study).

The “class” system still very much exists even in death, with the poorer residents occupying the large, communal mausoleums all along the outside, and the richer families in their own private mausoleums inside the grounds.

Our Saturday evening was a quiet one, still catching up on sleep and enjoying some TV on our laptop. (Thank you Kylee, for loading us up with episodes of The Office. I can’t believe we didn’t bring any of our own!)
Pete needed a good night’s rest for Sunday morning. He was up and at ‘em early – to meet with Albert (one of the main supporters of Ñanta and organizer of swimming) for a bike ride through the mountains.

I waited anxiously all day Sunday. Pete is in pretty good shape, but Albert is one of those crazy athletes who does this sort of thing as often as we watch The Office. While I had a leisurely start to my day – slept in late, sauntered over to our favourite café for lunch and my regularly scheduled Skype session - Pete endured a 60km bike ride in the Andes. I was very glad to finally see his face at about 2:30 in the afternoon, to know that he survived it.

Pete will readily admit that he got his ass kicked by a 63 year old man (Albert), but he loved every minute of it. I joined Pete, Albert and Randi (Albert’s wife) at another restaurant for the post-ride drinks. Pete put on a brave face while we chatted for a few hours – but as soon as they left, his first words to me were: “My God, I’m in so much pain! I need food! I need a shower! I need to LAY DOWN!” Needless to say, Sunday night was another VERY quiet one for us!

Monday is now officially our errand day seeing as we are done with Spanish classes and have volunteering activities every other day. Laundry, grocery shopping, etc. I had even finally worked up enough nerve to head into one of the beauty salons near our hostel (I need a haircut!), but it was closed. Tried it again this morning, and...success!! So glad. I made sure that I had all the key Spanish words in my arsenal in order to prevent a perm or head shaving. I think the cut is okay, although I sure had a Farrah Fawcett thing going on after she styled it.

At least I have a ¨style¨for a change! Especially as we go out tonight to celebrate....


If you told me on our wedding day, 8 years ago TODAY, what I thought I would be doing in 8 years, let me tell you what I would NOT have said…

I would never have guessed that we would be sitting in the middle of an obscure city in the middle of South America. I would never have guessed that we would be homeless vagabonds – having only months before sold most of our worldly possessions and peaced out of the North American lifestyle that we had grown so accustomed to.

I could never have imagined any of it.

But now, right at this moment, I don’t think that either of us can imagine doing anything BUT this!

Somehow the stars aligned and we both developed the right mix of crazy in order to make this happen. Perhaps our only regret in the 8 years that we have been together is that we didn’t start this journey much earlier!

Whenever we meet new people and tell them that we have been married for 8 years, the typical reaction is “Holy shit, really?” While I am sure this reaction is largely because they don’t peg me for being a day over 25 (ha!), we do also get the odd person asking: “How have you managed to stay so in love?”

Each day is a new adventure - on this journey, and in our marriage. And I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All we want for Christmas...

Is a few Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiches!! Made with sausage, please (they are too cheap on the bacon!!)

It may be a little early for us to declare what we want for Christmas, but we’re doing it anyway. And until someone can figure out how to ship us some Timmy-Ho’s-goodness that won’t be moldy on arrival, then there is only one other thing that we are asking for.

Peter and I are going to make a donation to Ñanta before we leave, and we’d be thrilled if our beloved friends and family would consider doing the same!

Bolivia is the most impoverished nation on the continent and a few Canadian dollars can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be much – you’ve read how inexpensive most things are here.

There are a couple of options that we want to consider designating funds for. Ñanta feeds up to 250 kids a day, and often are not able to offer them more than a bowl of simple soup for lunch. We would like to consider designating the funds to making sure that there is more nutrition in their diets, for as long as possible. Alternatively, there is a great need for funds to help these kids get their birth certificates. Many of them have no idea of when their birthday is, or even what their legal names are. This prohibits them from being able to do many things – participate in sports, etc. We are currently pulling together the costs for both in order to share with you and make a decision based on the funds we can raise!

Last week we were at a pub with many of our friends and a young girl entered just after 10pm. We recognized her face from Ñanta (I would guess that she is no more than 10 years old), and she was trying to sell some chicklets. When she saw our faces, she smiled and immediately came over. We bought 3 packs of gum from her and let her keep the change. It is a sad reality for so many kids in Bolivia – there are estimated to be over 800,000 that are forced to work on the streets in order to help support their families. A place like Ñanta is so important in order to give meals, provide medical and social support services, help them keep up with their homework, as well as to just let kids be kids!

We’ve met some pretty terrific youngsters that have made a big impact in our lives. We want to do the same in return. We hope you’ll join us…

(Please email us for more information or to donate!! or We need to make our donation by Friday, Oct 23rd, and so we are looking for money before then!)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Glorious Friday!

It is Friday morning, just after 11am, and I am still sitting in my pj’s, enjoying the cool breeze coming through our window. We are both glad that we are NOT in Spanish class, but are instead just studying at our leisure whilst taking pleasure from the beautiful day! The sun is shining, birds are singing….the rooster is crowing!

Almost perfect. Effin’ rooster.

I am also glad to be done my two afternoons in the pool for the week. Near disasters, again. The Bolivian instructor failed to show both days, leaving me alone in the pool with 15 kids, all wound up with boundless energy. There are also several newbies in the swim club, which means about 5 that can’t even float, while the other 10 have varying degrees of skill.

After about 20 minutes on Wednesday, I was finally given some help. A new volunteer that started only Monday in order to take over the organization of the entire swimming program (as a part of his University program in Holland) was thrown into the deep end, literally. He had no Spanish at all, and had never instructed swimming before. I taught him a few words and left him with the yet-to-be-floaters, as I expected this to be easier for him then organizing and yelling at the other 10 kids.

Apparently, he didn’t think it was so easy, as he seemed quite traumatized by the whole experience when we got out of the pool. He quit the entire program the following day. Glad he gave it a real chance.

Back to the pool on Thursday afternoon and I was initially alone again. This time, help came in the form of an older kid from the swim club that the organizers pulled away from his regular training. Again, I left him to help with the young niños. I had almost an entirely different group of kids that included 2 boys who I had to pull apart from a fight several times. The group was a little tougher to keep organized, and one of the other trainers did come over to help me with the yelling at one point.

Oy vey. While I still think Pete and I both stumbled on some of the sweetest volunteering gigs in town, it has it’s trying moments, to be sure!

This afternoon we are back at Ñanta for Pete’s infamous Juegos de Inglés (English games)! He is quite a hit with the kids, being attacked with hugs by a few of the regular girls whenever he shows up. I am the lowly help delegated to help the kids in the back, but I love every minute of it! The kids are so excited for the classes – some solely for the fact that there are chocolate prizes with each game, but others are very enthusiastic to learn new words. We are averaging at least 15 kids per class, which is a big deal according to one of the co-ordinators at Ñanta. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to put together a few extra lesson plans to hand over when we leave, hopefully someone can continue the momentum of the games once we have moved on!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Next steps...

It’s hard to believe that we have been gone from Canada for almost 6 weeks - this is easily the longest that either of us have ever been away from home! While we have each had some bouts of homesickness (mine being a little more severe!), we are still as excited as ever to be doing this. It also helps that our family and friends have not forgotten about us entirely and we get to speak often with many of you (including the odd video conference with our beloved cat Oscar)!

While we had originally planned to stay in Bolivia for three months in total, we are both itching to see something new. Every time that we meet fellow travelers and hear new tales of where they have been, we become anxious to see more ourselves. So, in three weeks, we plan to have everything stuffed into our backpacks and be on our way again.

We are wrapping up our Spanish classes this week, a little earlier then planned. It has gotten to the point where we are both overwhelmed with the language, and we have decided to take a break and let it all “sink in”. Our priority now is to practice, practice, practice what we know and then pick up more classes later in our travels if we feel it is necessary. Our professor has said that we have learned all the “basics” that we need.

This will also free up some time for us to actually relax and enjoy more sights in Sucre as well as focus on the volunteer work we are committed to for the rest of our stay. I will be scaling back on the swimming somewhat (more help has arrived and thus I am only needed a couple of afternoons a week), which is good because then I can also help Pete with his English classes.

So, now that we have entered the final days of our stay in Sucre, the big question is, where to next?? We have heard many tempting ideas from our friends here – everyone consistently raves about Columbia and Argentina. We need to consider the items on our “must do list”, and the weather this time of year in each part of the continent. A lot to think about!

This decision was too hard to make on our own. Thus, we went to a higher power.

Yes folks. We consulted The Magic 8 Ball (via iPod application).

We went through every country. For Peru, 8 Ball told us it was “very doubtful”. For Brazil, the response was “reply hazy, try again later.” Others were equally pessimistic. And then we came to Chile. Our 8 Ball friend gave us this answer:

So, Chile it is!!

We have picked up a Lonely Planet book on Chile and have started mapping our route. We will enter the country in the north-ish, after spending a few days traveling through one of the must-see spots in Bolivia (more about that later!). We will continue to head north, spending some time in the numerous national parks and various small towns along the way, but heading specifically to the city of Arica, which is about 30 kms below the Peruvian border. We are in need of some beach time, and Arica has many to choose from! It is also one of the only places in Chile where the coastal water is warm enough to swim in, thus we hope to spend a couple of weeks there learning to surf! From there we will either bus or fly down to Santiago and spend some time exploring the city and area (and perhaps over to Easter Island?) before escaping to Patagonia and visiting the southern-most tip of the continent.

That is our rough plan so far, which is always subject to change at our whim - or the whim of our good friend, 8 Ball.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In the middle of nowhere...

We have been anxious for a day out of the city and we finally got one! With some coercion, our school organized a trip to a remote area a couple of hours out of the city. The trip included a hike along an Inca trail and visiting a small village situated in the center of a dormant volcanic crater. One of the hardest parts of the day was actually getting OUT of the city. 14 tourists, 2 guides and 3 drivers crammed into three vehicles. For the first hour we visited every corner of the city in search of gas…no Shell or Esso on every corner here! Finally, we found one with functioning pumps (electrical problems at others), and we were on our way.

After we left the city we had to brave the unpaved and unbarricaded mountain roads. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful, but it was hard to enjoy while we whipped around hairpin turns, with wheels spinning in the road that sometimes was only made of sand. Several times we had to stop to let random pigs, donkeys, or kids cross the road! I employed the imaginary passenger side brake several times, to no avail (reminded me of driving with Nicole!) Somehow, even though there was a risk yesterday of actually skidding off the side of a mountain, I think it still might have been less scary then driving with Nicole… =)

Finally, after about 40 minutes of driving, we arrived at our first destination. A small church and statue marked the beginning of our descent down an Inca Trail. A 500 meter descent over about 5kms took us 2 hours. Our walk was marked by a rugged stone path and was constantly downhill. We had to make frequent stops to enjoy the amazing scenery and for pictures as the rest of the time we were just focused on making sure we stepped in the right place.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, we enjoyed a quick snack provided by our tour guides and were back in the vehicles to head off to our next destination. Now, I thought the previous drive was bad. This was waaay worse. The roads were increasingly rocky, and the hairpin turns up the mountain were a little tighter. This time I gave up my front seat to sit in the back which helped make me a little less nervous as I was less focused on what the driver was doing right beside me. Sometimes, ignorance is best! Several times we had to stop so that the driver could pour water over the radiator – the uphill climb was causing his vehicle to overheat. We even had to cross a river, which we thankfully handled easily.

We drove through a couple of little remote towns, causing quite a stir as we went. Kids were running after the vehicles, anxious to peak inside and try to sell us whatever they had on them. We finally arrived at the small village of Maragua, which is situated in the middle of either a volcanic crater or meteor landing site – apparently the truth is not out there! I can honestly say that I have felt like I was more in the “middle of nowhere” then I did for the time we were there (and I grew up in Brownvale! Ha!) Some of the villagers swarmed around us like we were the attraction. No vehicles, domestic animals (pigs, etc.) roaming the streets. We tried speaking to a couple of the kids, but they couldn’t understand our Spanish – we were in one of the areas where they spoke only an indigenous language (only 60% of Bolivians speak Spanish).

We took off on another hike along the side of the mountain to explore some cliff overhang that had a little cave as well as a little waterfall. We had to be particularly careful on this part of the hike as the path was not well tread and was right on the side of a cliff. The danger was worth the views we saw (Hi Mom!)

After that trek, we headed up a steep field to get to the top of a peak that gave us an overlook of the rugged Andes on one side and the volcanic crater/meteor site on the other side. A friend commented on how it felt like we were hiking on Mars with the red, iron rich soil and desolate landscape and she was absolutely right.

By this point we were all starving (it was after 2pm) – our tour guides fed us a chocolate bar and then we headed down the mountainside to the vehicles where the rest of our lunch was waiting. We scarfed down our sandwiches while the locals watched, often approaching people to try selling their textiles. Many of us offered our accompanying chocolate cookies to the children who greedily snatched them out of our hands and quickly stuffed them in their pockets.

We loaded back into our vehicles and started the trip back to town. Pete and I dramatically professed our love to each other, fearing for our lives as we got into our separate vehicles and began the drive home!
My vehicle was the last of the three to leave, and not long after we left Maragua we stopped to poor more water on the radiator as well as check the state of the back tire. Every time we stopped, our driver was determined to catch up to the other vehicles in front of us, speeding around the tight corners even faster. At one point, our back end threatened to slip right off the road (the back driver’s tire WAS off the road) before he corrected the vehicle and brought us back. Thank goodness it was on the mountain side and not the cliff, but regardless, it was enough to make us all catch our breath. The rest of the ride I was entirely white knuckled with a tight grip on the seat in front of me.

Thankfully, we arrived safely. When we got out of the vehicle though, we then understood why he was so concerned with his back tire. It had lost a lot of air, and we could hear more air pouring out of it. Fantastic condition to be driving on mountain roads. Seriously.

Back to our hostel for a refreshing shower and then out for some dinner and drinks with our friends – Oktoberfest! I didn’t last all that long, heading to bed after 1am, falling asleep before my head even hit the pillow. Pete was drinking with friends at the hostel until almost 4. Hence why I am sitting in the café to finish this blog, while he has head back to the hostel for a nap…. =)

For non-Facebookers, don't forget to follow this link for pictures!! We saw some amazing scenery...

Friday, October 2, 2009

I had aspired to write the next blog post in Spanish but, well, I’m super lazy (as well, Spanish and I are not getting along today). I’m so lazy in fact, that you are getting this update via point form! Nothing overly exciting in our world these last few days, but here it is…

- With no pool duty for me this week, I am becoming a master at the afternoon siesta. This has been an incredibly lazy week for me, and I loved every minute of it!
- Pete, on the other hand, has managed to add another item to his list of duties at Nanta – he is now also helping with the tennis program on Thursday mornings! Yesterday was his first day, and he loved it! It’s also a big bonus because it keeps him out of the bakery.
- Thursday night we had an incredible dinner out with some friends from our hostel and school. The owner of our hostel recommended an exclusive Italian restaurants – so exclusive, in fact, that there was no sign adorning the front, and we had to ring the front door bell to get in! Seven of us dined on a three course meal of bruschetta, our choice of pasta and delicious tiramisu – throw in a couple of bottles of wine and beer, and we paid about $70 CDN for all of us. I had to be rolled into bed.
- We have the potential for a jam packed weekend, which makes my lazy week seem a little more justified (maybe?) Pete and I are going to head out to see a movie at the local cinema – District 9 has just arrived! Saturday we have a day long hike scheduled through some Inca trails and into a dormant volcanic crater, as well as Oktoberfest afterwards at a local gringo pub (if we make it after the long day hiking). Sunday we hope to take in our first game of South American “futbol”. Interesting fact - alcohol is not allowed at the games in fear of things getting too out of control (I guess the fans are crazy enough as it is)! Can you imagine if booze wasn’t allowed at hockey games? I think only THEN would it get out of control in mass protest!!