To South America and Back

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mine Tour in Potosi

After travelling to Potosi, Bolivia (with our favorite Brits of course) we decided to do the famous mine tour. The life of a miner was never conveyed as being easy but after seeing it first hand, we all love our jobs (or in my case, the jobs I once had). Here we go...

First Stop: Buy Coca leaves, cigarettes,
and 90 proof alcohol in the market to give to the miners.

Second Stop: Buy dynamite and other assorted chemicals in order to create a bomb.

Third Stop: Suit up. (there was a kung fu theme that day)
Presenting the famous Barny & Caroline.......

Fourth Stop: Blow stuff up.

Fifth Stop: Meet miners resting outside of the mines.
Proceed to drink the vicious alcohol that they consume.
Pour one splash on the ground for Pachi Mama,
another splash for the mine spirit (see pic below)
and then take a chug...mmm rubbing alcohol!

Sixth Stop: Enter the mine..."what's that smell"...Santo simply replies "arsenic"... mmm arsenic!

Seventh Stop: A visit to the colorfully decorated
and well endowed mine god. It is at this spot that twice
a year they drag a llama down to sacrifice to the god. There
are companies that also sacrifice fetus' as well but once you
make the sacrifice you must come back and make the same
sacrifice every year in order to maintain your luck in the mines.

S.A.L.T. Capacity

So, the Tupiza tour was terrible but after days of arguing and two nights free lodging, we filled our bellies with Immodium to endure one more day of Milton's cooking and headed to the Salt Flats...finally. It was absolutely amazing! Milton also tried his hardest to make the best of it and luckily we had a new cook as well as a new truck....this one actually was "muuuy bien"...

We got to reennact the pushing
and beat up Milton too.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tupiza Terror Tours....Continued From Below.

When we arrived at the little gathering of huts we were to stay in everyone in the jeep was a little nervous for the health of Chris. We found a spare bed and some blankets for him while we were sorting out leaving that night...Boy were we in for a big surprise.

We spent a little time with J. Milton trying to figure out what we should do, and he agreed that we should all just get right back into the Jeep and head toward Uyuni where there would be the proper medical attention for Chris.

-All Hell breaks loose right here.-

Now, some guy showed up, claiming that he was the "boss" and that Chris would be better in the morning provided he take a few asprin and sleep a little. This is when we pulled back the covers to show him that a deeply sleeping Chris was "muy azul" and it would be better if we just rushed him down to the hospital. At this point a conference was needed...all the drivers got together outside Chris´ room to...I could only understand some of it, but what I got from the conversation was something to the effect of making us wait until morning, a kind of stall tactic, and then, when we could see that Chris was better, we could continue our tour.

J. Milton looked genuinely like he didn´t know what to do. So, he did the only thing he knew to do, and offered to make us dinner. This took approxomately 2 hours. Two hours to fry us some chicken and chips. To his credit this was the best meal that he made on the whole trip.

It didn´t make anything better though, and we especially Vickie were all getting a little nervous by hour 3 at the accomidations. We presented this prospect to J. this time a little more forcefully, and stressing the fact that we were worried about our friend. Barny and I politely (while backing him up against the wall) suggested that he get the driver and we get going.

J. Milton wasn´t seen again for 45 minutes.

Barney and I went looking for him and found him conversing behind the shed with a rowdy drunk bunch of the drivers; I knew it was time for action. I wrenched open the passenger side of our jeep which was sitting near our door, applied my hand forcefully to the horn, and left it there. At close to Midnight this got the desired effect as J. Milton, our wirely little guide, came sprinting around the corner.

Vickie erupted a quick mix of insults and swear words in his direction. I pulled him into the light, hoping to confront him on what the hell was going on, only to find blood spouting out of his nose and lip. Apparantly the other drivers didn´t like the fact that J. Milton was taking orders from the Gringos.
"I can not find driver."
This was the only thing he could say, but lucky for him the driver, looking a little bleary eyed, appeared from a darkened corner of the building. Barny informed him that yes, in fact, we would be leaving tonight. But when he questioned whether or not Chris was better I really thought that maybe Barny was going to rip his head off and was thankful when J. and Rodrigo said they were going into the back to get ready to leave.
After about another 20 minutes of waiting I was ready to rip both of their heads off. Barny and I burst into their little kitchen to find J. Milton, Rodrigo and another man sitting around a small stove talking.
J. looked like he had been crying and was holding something over his swollen lip.
I let him have it. Now, normally I don´t get that worked up with people, but I was a little sick of being jerked around at this point.
This is what I said:
"J. we need to get going our friend is really sick and I realize that your friends here are trying to teach a lesson to the silly gringos..." I put an emphasis on the word for the benefit of the other two, knowing full well that they didn´t speak any English. Their eyes lit up. Rodrigo stopped fingering the sausage he had ripped open and threw it into the fire.
"...we need to all get in the jeep and start driving down to Uyuni, or Barny and I are going to be really mad...¿tu entiende?"
It only took us about 45 minutes from this point to get them into the jeep and ready to go. Barny and I had to escort Rodgrigo to find more gas and help him pour it, via homemade funnels, into the vehicle.
Then we were off.
Everyone was more than a little worried about the well being of Chris since he hadn´t moved since we placed him in the vehicle an hour earlier. None of our rumaging around, or yelling, or shaking the gas down into the tank had stirred him.
The only good thing, was that he was now sitting upright, and his sloggy sounding lungs seemed to be doing a little better with this new position.

We left at 12:30 am... five whole hours after our arrival.

We made it about an hour and a half before the jeep died.

Then we (everyone without blue lips and ears) started pushing the jeep, every once in a while getting a good start. When we did get a good start Rodrigo would roar off down the road. I think to charge up the battery a little, as the alternator was very obviously done for. This was pointed out very eloquently by Caroline as we sat and watched the three men (we had picked up another, as our two didn´t know the way back). However this roaring off wasn´t working since everytime he got to a hill the vehicle died. We would be stuck walking the half mile to catch up to him.

This continued until 5:30 am. The engine had been taken apart a few times, sparkplugs cleaned numerous, and we pushed until we were numb with cold and no longer talking to each other just swearing at Tupiza Tours.

At 5:45 we stopped pushing and asked for our warm clothes as we would be spending the night and waiting for a jeep to pass by in the morning. Rodrigo said "No" flat out. He wasn´t going to climb on top of the jeep where our bags were stashed.
I thought I was going to cry as my legs went numb from the cold and my chest burned from the altitude. We were stuck somewhere between 4000-5000 meters. Chris was babbling aimlessly throughout the night, a kind of haunting thing that everyone pretended wasn´t happening. He´s just dreaming I kept telling myself.

Dawn-Day 3:

The next couple days went by in a blur. I just kind of sat back in awe that these two characters really had no idea what was going on. Another jeep drove up that morning. We were blocking their way and we all had to yell at Rodrigo from the back to roll down his window and speak with the man knocking there. He did, and the man gave our jeep a jump. Rodrigo started it up, pulled off to the side, turned the key to off, and went back to sleep. I laughed. A sick insane laugh and then covered my head with a blanket. Barny, Caroline and then, in another explosive stunt, Vickie told them what they really thought of their little operation here.

We did get to Uyuni.

The five hour drive took 17 hours.

Chris made it though the ordeal. He spent a night in the hospital swatting flies and getting treatments for extreme altitude sickness. Oxygen, respirators, the whole nine yards. We saw him a couple of days later at the hostel, a little blue, where he told us he would wait a few days before heading out to Machu Picchu (ie really high altitudes)

...the consensus was that we all liked him better when he was sleeping.
He thanked no one for helping him get to a hospital.

Thanks Tupiza Tours, Thanks.
I´ll leave you with this "el coche es muuuuy bien."

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I miss peanut butter...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Los Angeles of South America

The two of us and our lovely English traveling companions hopped on a plane to La Paz, Bolivia in order to avoid the most uncomfortable busses that South America has to offer and the unpaved roads that Bolivia is known for. It was absolutely marvelous! I never thought I would like flying so much in my life...but to watch all those mountains and dirt roads just fly by below I felt wonderfully at peace.

As we flew over La Paz it was quite a spectacle! It looked like either a pile of garbage or as if all the rooftops connected as they floated over the hills and valleys that make up this incredibly large city. La Paz is very different from the other cities we've visted in Bolivia. Tupiza was very poor and smelled of coca and rancid meat. Uyuni was slightly more advanced with wide streets, slightly more showy buildings, and a smattering of tourists (especially in the pizza place owned by a guy from Western Mass!). Potosi is the highest city in the world (at 4000 and some odd meters) and once the richest because of it's mines. The slender streets had a colonial feel, proper businesses were easier to come by and taxis nearly took you down at ever corner. Sucre, our last stop, is the actual capital but La Paz has taken over as de facto. Sucre has a very Spanish feel to it with huge white churches, amazing architecture, and giant squares of palm trees. We actually came across a supermarket here and civilization seemed to be creeping back up on us. Now back to La Paz.... as we flew through the crowded streets on our microbus Jeremy and I both agreed that if L.A. got rid of all the white people and if the Scientologists shined shoes instead of giving stress tests then it would look like La Paz. The streets are bustling with people, the traffic is nonstop, the medians are lined with palmtrees, prices are higher, and in the distance all you see are hillsides lined with houses. Don't get me wrong, L.A. has more money that La Paz will ever see, but the feel is somewhat the same. Oh what I would give for some chicken and waffles and some Californian-Mexican food right now!!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Another Adventure in Patagonia

Since taking our first three day trek in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapí, Jeremy and I have been itching to do another. Once we made it safetly out of Chile, we embarked on our second three day adventure to Refugio Hielo Azul. We had a great time and luckily no toenails were lost. Our main obstacles were a three hour uphill climb, a long suspension bridge, some fairly easy boulder climbing, and a palm-sized spider that we spent the night hiding from and it ended up on my head. The highlights of this adventure being the incredible setup of the refugio (the US really needs more of these places), yoga each morning with the sound of the stream and view of the mountains, cooking for ourselves over an open fire, and playing Shithead in the dirt. The very best part of the trip though was on the second day when we came to an enormous glacier that ended in the most aweinspiring glacial lake surrounded by mountians. Jeremy and I had this day all to ourselves, without not another soul in sight. We spent hours watching it and listening to it's eerie cracking noises from within. These pictures don't even do it justice...
hmmm...for some reason the rest of the pics won't load...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Did we land in Buenos Aires or Jerusalem?

We have moved on from Argentina (sadly) but, looking back, we have realized that we learned almost as much about Israeli culture as Argentinean! On the road we met more Israelis than any other nationality (including all the thousands of Argentineans roaming the country enjoying their summer holiday). So what the hell are they all doing down here? And how the hell can a country that small produce so many 20 to 25 year olds?? Well, after serving their mandatory time in the Israeli Army (males for three years and females for two) they embrace their freedom by venturing off to either Southeast Asia or South America (the latter being the more "dangerous adventure" according to one traveler). This time is used for reflection and to figure out what to pursue at University. It's not as though these travelers are really branching out though because you see them in hoards! It's as if they are attempting to travel together as an entire nation! You are not allowed to penetrate these tight-knit groups either. They trade goods amongst eachother, stay at specific Israeli-friendly hotels (they are even specified in the Lonely Planet), and all head towards the "Israeli farm" outside of El Bolson where they all chat, watch Israeli movies, play Shithead, and smoke pot. I must stop myself though, we met many wonderful Israelis so I don't mean this to reflect poorly on all Israelis. One particular traveler stood out for us. He traveled by himself and was willing to share his time with which ever nationality came about. He was an Arab Israeli (most you run into being Euro-Israeli) and he had a lot to teach us about the the differences between the two and some general characteristics that they share. Ah, who knew we had so much to learn...and that we'd learn it in Argentina.

Besides our traveling Israeli teachers, we also noticed that the only three times we went to the cinema we saw the following movies...

-Everything is Illuminated- a film about a boy who goes to Poland to find out about his Jewish ancestors

-Munich- a film about the Israeli kidnappings at the Winter Olympics in Germany and the life of an Israeli assassin.

-The Producers- a film about Broadway producers attempting to fail miserably with a show abot Hitler but all the while including Jewish humor.

We've now moved on to Bolivia, have left our Israeli teachings behind, and are gaining knowledge of entertaining British phrases...more to come

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tupiza (Terror) Tour

Anything that went wrong on our trip was my fault, and I accept full responsibility, beause right before we signed up for this little "adventure" I was sitting in our room thinking, "man, I would really like something interesting to happen."
And it did.

First however, I should start with a list of things that we were promised when we signed up for our not-that-cheap tour.

-bars of chocolate each... I don´t know why, but whatever.
-2 Liters of water per day
-a stop at the burial grounds of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
-an English speaking guide
-that the "professional" guides would be carrying all the necessary medical equipment for any problems, especially "soroche" or altitude sickness.
-a very "professional" tour, this was being stressed over and over.
*keep all these things in mind when reading below*

Day 1:

First things first we had to clear up the fact that no one in our truck, as far as the guides went spoke any sort of English. We went back to the tour company headquarters, and all they had to offer was some free postcards, and a "Oops, sorry, your guide has a bad stomach." Miraculously he showed up and got in the truck, and upon questioning about the stomach ailments mumbled something about Carnival being a good time last night. In other words...J. Milton our illustrious guide, was hungover. Great way to start a four day trip.

The Players: Or, those who went on the trip together.
-One junked up 4x4
-Two Bolivians; Rodrigo the driver and one Juan Milton Luna Vargas (J. Milton) an English speaking guide come cook.
-One couple from South Africa; Vicki and her thick necked rugby playing husband Chris who spent most of the time.....well, you´ll see.
-A hilarious couple from Stafford, England, Barnaby and Caroline who, aside from teaching us loads of English slang, and becoming the best of friends seem to have "lost the plot" or "gone completely mental" if you prefer. They did also introduce us to the coolest t-shirt site ever. Threadless

The actual trip started off a little on the bumpy side, but as we traveled through dry riverbeds we had some great views of the surrounding mountains. I never had any idea that Bolivia could be so huge. You glance at the country on a map, and compared to Argentina and Brazil, it looks like nothing. Yet, here we were, traveling for about 8 hours through barren valleys with their hillsides dotted with wild llamas and donkeys.

We started to make friends with our compatriots, the six of us being stuck in the back of a jeep together. There was a running competition between Barny and I as to which country, the U.S. or England has better bands. We lost points for Bon Jovi and someone else whom I can´t remember, but gained them all back at the mention of Phil Collins...
Nothing really strange happened this day except that we went so high into the mountains that Chris´lips turned blue from lack of oxygen. I pointed this out to our austere guide J. Milton, but he just shrugged. The incident was soon forgotten as we descended to a lower altitude for the night and the "donkey" stew was brought out. We played cards for a while into the night, getting to know each other a little more. Chris started to get a headache and I....which I attribute fully to J.Milton´s cooking...and as Barny and Caroline have been so adept at saying "had a little problem with my bum."
We saw no chocolate. Drank loads of coca tea (you know, the stuff they make cocaine from) and were given a two litre bottle of water... to share.

Day 2: Terror Begins
My bum was a little better by the time we departed at 6:00am. Just enough to walk around, and get into the jeep. Chris was faring a little on the worse side. It seems that he did not get any sleep at all the previous night and this was confirmed, because I saw him up both (ok, all three) times I was running to the toilet to jettison my donkey. Not good.
Our itinerary took us past some local ruins, a kind of ghost town, which was pretty cool. There was still a huge stone structure that used to be the church in the middle of the town. Apparantly sometime right before the town died the local priest ran off with all the gold in the church.
Chris stayed in the car and slept.

The day was however pretty interesting. The landscape in Bolivia is completely insane. As you travel over hills and through valleys every little tract of land is different from the last. Desert, green hillsides, granite, shale, blue lakes, green lakes, rivers, is always changing.
The weird thing is that every time we got out of the jeep Chris stayed in to sleep...I mean, this guy was sleeping all friggin day. His wife didn´t seem that concerned though, so we pretended that we weren´t.
We did start to notice that Sr. J. Milton Esquire did have the slightest clue as to what was going on...and his vocabulary was limited to names of cities and their current populations including llama. Don´t get me wrong this is great, and his English was obviously better than my Spanish. The problem was that he seemed pleasantly oblivious to the condition of Chris.
He was starting to look a little bleak when after about 9 hours of sleeping, the guy still wanted to sleep more, and his face and hands were starting to really turn blue and his breath was getting a little ragged and liquid sounding. Now, I don´t claim to be any sort of expert, but from the stuff that I have read about Altitude Sickness...well, this seemed to be it.
It was discussed around the car that maybe we should skip the geysers our last stop of the day and try to get Chris to the next area where we were going to stay, get another jeep and get down to Uyuni where there was a proper hospital. The other problem was that our accomidations for the night were at 4300 meters, which is about 14000 feet, and definitely not good for someone with some fluid building up in their lungs.
Our jeep was a little slower than all the rest. The exhaust was having a few problems. Starting the jeep was also becoming a predicament, as Rodrigo had to clean off the spark plugs every time we stopped. That wasn´t bad though, compared to the fact that the jeep was obviously stuck in four wheel drive. Now, I don´t know if you have ever ridden in four wheel drive when it is completely unnecessary, but it is really slow, in fact it feels like you are crawling. You know when you are driving on the highway, cruising along, and you pull into some little po-dunk town and have to slow down, it feels like you´re crawling...well, driving in four wheel drive the whole time is worse than this. End note.

When we arrived at the little gathering of huts we were to stay in everyone in the jeep was a little nervous for the health of Chris. We found a spare bed and some blankets for him while we were sorting out leaving that night...
Boy were we in for a big surprise.

To Be Continued....