Posted by: Jayme | June 11, 2010

Mancora – unexpected beach vacation

After arriving in Lima on an overnight bus from Cusco, we had planned on spending one night in the city before flying to Guatemala the next day. After trekking through the Andes for the past week we had not heard about the recent volcanic eruption that closed the airport in Guatemala city. Thanks to our friend Maria who sent us an email stating her concern for our safety, we called the airlines only to find out our flight had been canceled. At that time no one was sure when the airport would reopen and since we had limited time in Guatemala to begin with, we made the decision to cut out that portion of the trip. Instead, we booked an overnight bus to the beachfront town of Mancora in northern Peru.
 
 Our friend Jill had been working at Loki del Mar, which is a fancy hostel with a huge pool right next to the ocean. We worked with Jill at Opah in Australia and she had left for South America a few weeks before us and had remained just a step ahead of us the whole time. We thought we had finally caught up with her only to find out that she had left two days before we arrived. We didn’t get to hang out with her, but we got the next best thing…her friends who quickly became our friends too. The hostel felt more like a resort and all the backpackers were there to have a good time creating a really fun atmosphere. The managers planned daily activities for all of us while we made use of the bar in the evenings resulting in 24 hours of fun. Every morning we would claim our lounge chairs around the pool and then spend the day relaxing and playing in the sun. To break up the day, we participated in pool volleyball and a full day of Loki Olympics. We joined up with a group of girls from Canada and England, named ourselves “The Bitches”, and did our best to compete against the other teams full of guys. Every day a group of us would leave the comfort of the Loki walls and venture for lunch or dinner in town. The restaurants were amazing compared to what we’ve been eating and the Mexican restaurant and Sushi restaurant fulfilled what we’ve been craving for months. At night everyone would gather around the bar for happy hour and competitive games of beer pong. People gradually arrived throughout the week and as we all got to know each other we looked forward to the theme party on Saturday night.
 

Loki throws a different theme party each week and we took part in the “P-party”. Everyone had to come dressed as something that starts with the letter P and as backpackers with limited items available, we had to be extra creative. People came as parrots, pirates, periods, presents, princesses, plastic bags, peanut butter, pandas, players, polygamists, prostitutes, priests, ponchos, peligroso (danger in Spanish), panthers, and party poopers – no costume at all! But the winners of the costume contest were the Globalizers dressed as preschoolers along with our friend dressed as a pedophile. We wore kiddy stickers on our shirts, pigtails with barrettes, and toted miniature Barbie backpacks. The pedophile tempted us along the bar swinging candy on a string while we crawled behind. The competition earned us free beers but cost us our dignity! As with the other nights, once the Loki bar closed everyone headed to the beach where the party continued at one of the dance clubs facing the ocean. On one of our last nights of the trip we found it ironic to be dressed the same way we were when we met over 20 years ago!

We enjoyed a couple more days in the sun before catching our last overnight bus of the trip that took us to Lima. We met back up with Rich and Chris who we traveled with in Bolivia for a night full of laughs. We came up with the idea but never got around to it so when Rich mentioned buying a cake for dinner, we all jumped at the opportunity. These boys love their cake and we bought a large chocolate cake which we devoured with spoons. What little cake was not eaten was smeared on Chris’s face after Rich forced his head onto the platter. Feeling kind of sick we positioned ourselves in front of the TV and watched movies while trying to digest the obscene amount of chocolate. We had a goodbye lunch with the boys the following day before they left for the airport to fly back to England. We spent the last few days shopping, walking around the city, and catching up with friends from Mancora. We have shared nearly everything for the last year and it was a sad moment as we divided up our belongings into our separate bags in preparation to go home. We celebrated our last night of the trip with dinner, cocktails, and Sex and the City 2.

We are currently waiting for our taxi to the airport where we will fly to Miami and then on towards Denver. Home sweet home!

Posted by: Jayme | June 10, 2010

The highlight of Peru – Cusco and Machu Picchu

Cusco
It only took us a few moments in Cusco to realize what an interesting city it is. Set in a valley, the mud-colored buildings cling to the hills while beautiful architecture fills the plazas. Cusco is the jumping off point for tours to Machu Picchu, and while we have met many other backpackers along the way, we were surprised at the amount of vacationers filling the streets. For the first time we saw a lot of families traveling together and there was the constant buzz of the American accent in our ears (something we haven’t heard much of in many months). There are as many tourist agencies as there are alpaca sweaters being sold on the streets offering a variety of treks and tours to the lost city of the Incas. Initially we had hoped to hike the Inca Trail but postponed booking anything due to the February mudslides and our ever-changing itinerary. By the time we had pinpointed the dates we would be in town it was too late to join so we began looking into alternative treks. We chose to do the 5-day/4-night Salkantay Trek which would end at Machu Picchu.

Salkantay Trek
A preview to the intensity of the next four days, we joined our group at 4 am and set off towards Mollepata, which marked the beginning of our long hike. We quickly became friends with the six other members of our group; Mark from Oregon, Pete and Louise from Australia, Gwen and Jonas from Belgium, and Felix from Germany, as well as our Peruvian tour guide, Ed. The first day we enjoyed clear skies as we hiked through forests leading up the mountains. We arrived at the top of a mountain where our porters and cook had already begun cooking lunch, a routine we would become familiar with over the next few days. After we finished eating and had taken a quick nap, we all resumed the strenuous hike to our high altitude camp. We knew the first night would be the coldest and wearing every layer we brought, we all sat down to enjoy hot chocolate and celebrate the 22km we walked on day 1. The group barely stayed awake for dinner and everyone was asleep by 8 pm.

Warm coca leaf tea and Ed’s friendly wake up call at 5 am was the start of what we knew would be the most difficult day of the trek. After a hearty breakfast, we packed up and set off towards the summit of Mount Salkantay. Due to the terrain and weather conditions, we had been convinced to rent hiking boots rather than wear our trusty hiking sandals that have taken us around the world so far. With blisters already accumulating, Chelsea opted to wrap her feet in plastic bags and take her chances with the hiking sandals. It began raining almost immediately and we trudged up the steep trail in our colorful ponchos. Even with the head start we gave ourselves each day, the porters wearing minimal clothing and slip on sandals would catch up to us in no time and quickly vanish as we slowly ascended the mountain. The high altitude began to take its toll and Chelsea fell to the back of the group as she struggled with headaches and nausea. We all finally reached the highest point the trail leads to and at 4,600 meters (over 15,000 ft) Ed began his lecture which we were all too cold to pay attention to. Hail pelted us in the face while the strong winds threatened to blow us off the side of the mountain. On a clear day from this location the glacial peaks of Salkantay (meaning “Savage Mountain” in quechua) should have been visible. Unfortunately, the storm clouds blocked our view of the 20,574 ft mountain. Tired and freezing, we raced down the mountain towards lunch where the porters had warm food and tea waiting for us. Lucky for us, the second half of our day was downhill through a rainforest. It felt like we had experienced all seasons and scenery by the time we arrived at our cute campsite set along a creek. Once again exhausted from the physically draining 17km day, we ate dinner and went to sleep early.

“Buenos dias mi amigos” greeted us as Ed unzipped our tents and handed us coca leaf tea to help us slowly wake up. We were served pancakes with dolce de leche smiley faces for breakfast before we set off on our 18km day. We have both been hikers our entire lives and never had any trouble with our knees, but our downhill hike was excruciating as we slowly limped along. On our third day we walked through forests, across rivers and streams, sampled native fruit, and passed through hillside villages. We practically crawled to our lunch site where we threw off and cursed our shoes before changing into flip flops. We were all excited to have the afternoon off and we took a bus to our camp which was located an hour away. As soon as we arrived the rain started full force and our porters debated where to set up camp. They ended up clearing out a room at a nearby building and setting up all of our tents inside on the stone ground. A crazy little monkey named Poncho was our entertainment for the evening and we all took turns playing with him. Right before dinner we were all shocked and fascinated at the butchering of an entire cow across the street. We watched as it was skinned, hollowed out, and chopped up. Having more energy than the other nights, we played card games while waiting for dinner and even stayed up after the meal to enjoy beers and a chat with our new friends.

After three early mornings, an 8 am wake up call felt amazing. We had a leisurely breakfast before taking off towards Machu Picchu. This was the easiest off all the days as we walked along the train tracks leading to the town of Aguas Calientes. As we rounded one corner we spotted the backside of the familiar and overly photographed Waynapicchu. From the base of the mountain we could even see small pieces of the ruins, which added to the excitement we were all feeling. We walked along the raging river and saw some of the aftermath of the recent mudslides. Even though this was an easy day, our bodies were very tired from the previous hikes, that we were still exhausted when we finally arrived in the town. Our hostel located on the river felt like paradise after four full days without showers, three nights in cold tents, and over 30 hours of hiking! A nice dinner in a real restaurant marked our final night with Ed as we all prepared for the monumental day ahead of us.

Machu Picchu
We silently set out in the light of the full moon in hopes of being amongst the first 400 people in line which would allow us to hike to the top of Waynapicchu. It was a very powerful experience as hundreds of people climbed the narrow stone steps winding for 45 minutes to the entrance of Machu Picchu. As the sun began to rise, we stood anxiously waiting to see if the sky would offer us a clear day. The weather had been rainy and cloudy and we felt very lucky to be able to enjoy the day with the sun shining on us. After climbing another series of steps, we rounded the corner and stopped in our tracks as the breathtaking image of Machu Picchu came to life in front of us. We have seen so many magnificent sites this year, but this was the first one to bring tears to our eyes.

We were assigned a local guide and joined a few other trekking groups for our two hour tour of Machu Picchu. The guide was a very interesting character and while we didn’t learn anything from him, he unintentionally kept us entertained. No matter how close we were to him, he would still shout, “GROUP, GROUP” and wave at us over and over again until we had formed a circle around him. He answered his phone multiple times during the tour and would shout in Spanish to the person at the other end of the line, “Speak, speak, speak, speaking, speak, speaking, speak,” before finally letting them speak. After every one of his nonsense stories and theories, he would try to confirm our understanding by asking, “clear the idea?” We would jokingly say that the idea was cleared because we never got it in the first place. He also took a fond liking to us and would always make sure the “Spice” girls were present before talking. As if his quotes weren’t enough to keep us laughing, his fly came undone towards the end of the tour exposing his bright red boxers. We could barely contain our laughter and quickly dispersed once the tour was over.

Waynapicchu is the mountain looming above Machu Picchu and we all set off at 10 am to hike to the top for an alternate view of the ruins. It was another hour of steep stairs and while we’re usually the first ones to finish a hike, we were seriously struggling because of our knees trying to get to the top. The staircase is extremely narrow and hand ropes have been installed for safety which we took full advantage of. Once at the top we soaked in the fabulous 360 degree views of the Andes and napped in the sun waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. We were surprised at how small Machu Picchu looked from above and marveled at its location set up in the high mountains. Descending Waynapicchu was twice as difficult as the climb due to the narrow width of each step and the near vertical slope. We spent a couple more hours walking around the ancient stone city and enjoying every moment.

The eight of us soaked our sore bodies in the thermal baths in Aguas Calientes and reflected on the last few days. We were nervous about the seemingly unorganized trip back to Cusco that consisted of a train ride, two bus rides, and a taxi. We were given one ticket each and hoped it would take us all the way there. Surprisingly, everything went extremely smoothly and we were in bed by 2 am after being awake for nearly 24 hours. As always we meet people and share memorable experiences together only to have to say goodbye in hopes that we may see them again somewhere in the world. After enjoying well deserved full body massages and exploring more of the city, we met up with the rest of our group for a final goodbye. Our adventure to Machu Picchu was everything and more than we could have hoped for and it was the cherry on top of what has been a year full of memorable experiences.

Posted by: Jayme | June 10, 2010

Lake Titicaca

Driving from La Paz to Lake Titicaca was beautiful and gave us a better understanding of how large the lake actually is. It felt more like an ocean and the crystal clear water against the blue sky was picture perfect. We were confused when the locals on our bus began to get off at a port, which was not our final destination. We followed along and were herded onto a small taxi boat, which took us across the lake. From the far side, we all watched as our bus drove onto a large platform and slowly made its way towards us on the water. We stayed one night in Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake in the cheapest room we have had all year. For a little more than $1.00 we fell asleep listening to the sounds coming from the main street below. We awoke early the next morning and began our 17km hike to Yampaputa.

The trail wound us through small villages and past many local farms. It was nice to be out of a tourist area and we enjoyed seeing how the locals live away from what we considered civilization. The path hovered above the lake and offered countless panoramic views of the lake. We ate a picnic lunch in a little forest while sitting on a fallen tree looking out over the water and the snowcapped mountains. As we continued north we watched as Copacabana faded away and Isla del Sol appeared in the distance. We met up with two fellow Americans on the trail and the four of us hired a small boat that took us across the water from Yampaputa Isla del Sol – our final destination.

Isla del Sol played a major role in Inca history and it was a perfect first stop on our journey ending in Machu Picchu. The Incas believed the sun god was born here and there a number of ruins scattered around the island. We arrived at the south side of the island where we climbed the steep Inca stairway that lead us to a cute village set high on the cliffs above the lake. There are footpaths connecting the different areas of the island, which pedestrians share with countless donkeys. Terraces cut into the hillside where local farmers can be spotted working in their colorful clothing. We stayed one night in a hostel overlooking the lake and enjoyed watching the sunset with well deserved beers after our long hike. The four of us went to dinner together and fell asleep early exhausted from our adventure. The next morning we took a ferry back to Copacabana and spent the day wandering around the small town. A night bus shuttled us to the border of Peru and then on towards Cusco.

Posted by: Jayme | May 21, 2010

Bolivia… La Paz and Pampas Tour

La Paz
We arrived in La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, after an overnight bus from Uyuni. We booked into Loki Hostel, which is one of the most popular hostels in the city. It is one of the nicest we have stayed in and offers a lot to its guests, it’s easy to see how people get sucked in. Rich and Chris, who we met on our salt flat tour, also stayed at the hostel and the four of us spent every day with one another. We played countless games of pool, watched movies in the movie room, toured the city, and shared many laughs together. La Paz is a beautiful city set in a valley with adobe buildings clinging to the cliffs. A nearby lookout point offered 360 degree panoramic views of the city, which took our breath away… in more ways than one. The city is located at 12,000 ft above sea level and we were completely winded after walking up the steep cobblestone streets to the mirador. We looked down on the football stadium and many plazas while looking across at a snow covered peak and jagged gray mountains. We have visited many markets during our travels and while the Witches Market of La Paz is well known, we felt it was very similar to others around the world. The cobblestone street is lined with shops selling everything from jewelry and clothing to dead/dried/baby llamas (meant to bring good luck if buried under the porch of a newly built home). Tourists are drawn to La Paz for its unique nightlife scene. After a night of pre-gaming in the hostel, a few of us joined the crowds at a nearby dance club before heading to the popular and shocking Route 36. The club has double padded garage doors, which lead into a completely black upholstered club. We sat in a corner and watched as everyone around us did lines of cocaine, which is easily accessible and sold at this particular club. It was interesting, but after watching in awe for a short amount of time we headed home. The four of us went out for a nice dinner and a movie the next night, wanting to enjoy what might have been the last night of our lives!

The World’s Most Dangerous “Death Road”
One of the main tourist draws of La Paz is to cycle down Death Road- 64 km stretch of continuous downhill riding. The road is extremely narrow in places, never wider than a single lane and with 2,000ft dropoffs without guardrails we were both excited and nervous to take on this challenge. We booked with Vertigo, one of the recommended companies and were given top of the line mountain bikes, head to toe protective gear, and experienced guides. They checked our bikes multiple times throughout the day and we felt as safe as we could given the dangerous road we were cycling down. The first section of the road is paved and gave us the chance to admire the scenery as we became comfortable with our bikes. The second part was a rocky dirt road with steep cliffs that have sadly taken many lives over the years. The guides split themselves between our group; one was always at the front setting the pace, one was at the back (with Chelsea), and the other alternated between the front and back while taking pictures and videos of us. We stopped for snacks and lunch along the way and were sad that after 3 ½ hours our adrenaline rush came to an end. We went to a hotel for swimming, dinner, and of course a game of pool before driving the 3 hours back to La Paz. We felt accomplished at the end and would highly recommend this experience to others, despite it’s scary reputation.

Pampas Tour
The road leading to Rurrenbaque was closed due to protests, so we sucked it up and splurged on a flight into the Amazon. Sonja, from Ireland who met the boys earlier in their trip, joined the four of us as we all set off. The tiny plane looked more like a toy as we approached it on the tarmac and we were nervous as the small propellers began to spin and we left the comfort of the ground. There were less than twenty seats running the short length of the plane, one on each side separated by a narrow aisle, and we could see straight into the cockpit. Forty minutes later our plane touched down on the grass runway in the middle of the Amazon. We booked a three day Pampas tour leaving the next day and enjoyed a night in civilization playing pool and eating pizza at Luna Café.

Eight of us were piled into the back of a rundown jeep as we drove three hours down a dusty dirt road to the start of the Yucuma River. We boarded our boat, which was a small canoe with plastic chairs attached to the side and started off down the river. Within ten minutes, we had already seen alligators, caiman, turtles, capybaras (the largest rodents in the world), monkeys, and a variety of large birds. Later in the afternoon, we arrived at our riverside lodge where we spent the next two nights sleeping under serious mosquito nets and sharing our space with hundreds of insects and toads. We set back off down the river to view the sunset over the vast grasslands making up the Pampas. On our way back to the lodge, we used flashlights to illuminate the eyes of the many alligators and caimans lining the riverbank. The generator turned off at 9:00 pm and with nothing else to do, we joined the many insects in our beds, and attempted to fall asleep.

After breakfast on our second day, we put on our long pants and knee high rubber boots and went in search of anacondas in the swampy wetlands. Our feet stuck in the mud with every step and our eyes darted back and forth trying to spot a creature that we were all apprehensive about seeing in the wild. We staggered ourselves and slowly trudged along until Jayme called out, “I found him!” before screaming and pointing at the anaconda wrapped around a branch at her feet. The guides rushed over and unraveled it as a group of us gathered around cameras in hand. We found it admirable that our guide urged us to move along quickly because he didn’t want to scare the snake any more than necessary. However many groups stuck around for far too long shouting, posing, and taking up-close pictures with the mentally stressed animal. After lunch and a two hour siesta (it was too hot and humid to do anything other than lay around) we set back out on the river for an afternoon of fishing… fishing for piranhas. We were given twigs with fishing line attached and baited the rusty hooks with small chunks of beef in hopes of catching some piranhas for dinner. Every time we cast the lines into the river, we could immediately feel fish nibbling away. We didn’t really hook the piranhas, instead we flung them into the boat as their little teeth were still attached to the bait. We caught salmon, sardines, catfish, and piranhas and cooked up a small amount of them for dinner. Our tour group joined a number of the others in a field for football and volleyball games as we all watched the sun set. After dinner the five of us played card games and listened/sang along to classic Disney songs on Rich’s ipod, before going to sleep at 9:00 pm when the generator turned off.

We woke up early on our final morning to watch the sunrise and enjoyed a nice breakfast together. One highlight of the Pampas tours is swimming with the pink river dolphins (males are blue) which was our activity on the final day. Apparently it is safe to swim in the alligator and piranha infested waters as long as there are multiple dolphins present. We aren’t ones to turn down once in a lifetime opportunities, but we were relieved when we only spotted one dolphin and our guide told us it was unsafe to swim. We spent the rest of the morning, stalking alligators in hopes that the circle of life would unfold before our eyes. We came close a few times and booed when the prey felt its predator approaching and escaped. Our group was stranded at the take out waiting for our jeep for nearly two hours, but we found an interesting way to entertain ourselves. Rich and Chris were determined to purchase one of the many chickens wondering the area and after bargaining the price, we all settled and pitched in to buy “Steve.” The locals rounded him up and tied a string to his leg, but in order to successfully transfer him back to La Paz we needed a bag, which they couldn’t provide and we sadly said our goodbyes to what could have been our new travel companion. We have never been so close to buying livestock in our lives and were a bit disappointed that our ingenious plan didn’t work out.

We stayed another night in Rurrenbaque and bid Sonja a farewell as the four of us boarded one of the most dangerous bus rides in South America back to La Paz. The first half of the trip was on a bumpy dirt road, but did offer beautiful views of the rainforest. We stopped for a dinner break where we enjoyed a traditional Bolivian meal for just over $1 US. The bus company sells regular priced tickets for seats as well as discounted tickets for the aisle and stairwell. This resulted in us sharing our leg room and arm rests with locals for the duration of the night. Exhausted and cold, we arrived in La Paz and checked back into the comfortable and familiar Loki Hostel. We spent two more nights in La Paz playing pool (we are getting pretty good thanks to the boys constant tutoring) and enjoying everything that the city has to offer. After having so much fun traveling with the boys the last couple weeks, it was hard to say goodbye as we left them in La Paz and set off for Lake Titicaca.

Posted by: Jayme | May 14, 2010

Bolivia…Sucre, Potosi, and the Salt Flats

Sucre
After being apart for two weeks, we reunited at the airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and boarded a flight to Sucre. Sucre, “the white city“, is set in the mountains and has beautiful white buildings with adobe roofs. It was our first city in Bolivia and it didn’t take us long to realize how much we would love this country. The city is centered around a large and crowded main square surrounded by government buildings and churches. We hiked to the top of a nearby hill which offered stunning views of Sucre. For the first time since we arrived in South America we were surrounded by buildings and people that fit the description we were expecting. Bolivia is less developed than the other countries we’ve been in and the traditional native dress contrasts against western apparel. The women wear pleated skirts, stockings, woven alpaca sweaters, and blankets holding goods strapped to their backs. They have two long braids running down their backs and a wide variety of hats top off the look. Sucre is a beautiful city to walk around and its main attraction is the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world. When the plates shifted and the Andean mountain range was formed, the limestone face housing the impressions was forced into a vertical angle. Over 250 types of dinosaur footprints are found on the 1.5 kilometer sheet of rock which we viewed from a distance. We enjoyed the few days we spent in Sucre but were anxious to explore more of the country.

Potosi
Potosi is the world’s highest city located at 13,420 feet above sea level. The colonial town has colorful buildings and incredibly narrow streets. Looming over the city is Mount Potosi which is home to more than 200 mines that have been in operation since the 1500’s. Boys can begin mining at the age of twelve and while they can continue working into their late sixties, many die prematurely due to the hazardous conditions inside the mines. Miners make between sixty to eighty bolivianos a day which is roughly $10 US. An average of 30-200 people die in the mines each year and after spending three hours inside, we were surprised the number wasn’t higher. We were outfitted in full miners gear including pants, jacket, boots, and a hard hat with a light. We crawled through tunnels, climbed up and down wobbly ladders, and watched the miners at work. Almost everything is done manually and we had to constantly jump out of the way as large carts full of minerals were pushed down the tracks/path. The miners work a full day collecting lead, zinc, silver, and fools gold. Inside each of the mines is a shrine of Tio (the god of the mines), where miners place offerings and either ask for good luck or thank him for recent good fortune. As we came upon each group of miners, we gave them juice, coca leaves, cigarettes, and dynamite that we purchased at the miners market. We experienced the full force of the homemade dynamite when five separate deafening blasts shook the mountain and forced a massive gust of wind down the corridor. We were relieved when we saw the light at the end of tunnel, which in this case meant the exit. It was a very memorable experience and opened our eyes to the rough work environment that the miners endure every day.

Salt Flats
Uyuni is the jumping off point for jeep tours to the magnificent landscape of the nearby Salt Flats. We joined a couple from Paris along with Steve and Naomi from Australia for a two night, three day tour. The six of us packed into a jeep along with Valerio, our Spanish speaking driver and tour guide, and our cook nicknamed Cookie. All the tours follow a similar route, meaning that every stop was packed with travelers and their accompanying jeeps. There was rarely a proper road to follow, instead the drivers chose their own paths and the desert was scattered with our cute little jeeps making their way to their next destinations. On our first day we set off and visited a train cemetery and the expansive Salar de Uyuni also known as the Salt Flats. It is the largest in the world, stretching over 4,000 square feet.We stopped at Fish Island, which pops out of nowhere in the middle of the vast ‘saltness.’ The island is covered with cacti and we hiked to the top for 360 degree views of the surrounding ‘whiteness.’ We followed the traveling theme of taking pictures with random toys creating an illusion of being much smaller than the props. After playing on the rough surface of the salt flats, we returned to the jeep with scraped hands and sore backs from attempting gymnastic skills that proved we are no longer seventeen. On the way to our salt hotel, we stopped at an area where the salt is cultivated into large blocks that were used to build our hotel. The walls, beds, chairs, and tables were made of these salt blocks and the ground was covered in large salt grains creating a unique atmosphere. The majority of the tour groups joined together and we spent the night eating, drinking, and playing games with fellow travelers in the common living room area. We met Rich and Chris from England, who are on a similar trip and we made plans to continue traveling together. The generator turned off at 10:00 pm, which was nice because we had a long day ahead of us.

Our second day of the tour was spent driving through the high altitude desert towards Chile. We stopped along the way to take panoramic pictures of the colorful landscape and snow covered mountains. For the first time in our lives we saw flamingos in the wild and were shocked to find them living in such dry surroundings. By following summer for eleven months, we were devastated to come across snow, but took advantage in an Australia vs. America snowball fight in the middle of the desert. We clearly won, although the opposing team may beg to differ! Valerio had an interesting assortment of music on his mp3 player and we spent most of the ride singing along to both English and Spanish 80’s love songs. There were amazing rock formations scattered throughout the desert and the strong winds cause them to erode into a number of interesting shapes. We paid an additional fee to enter the Madidi National Park where many lagoons, geysers, and volcanoes are located. Lago Colorada (the red lagoon) gets its color from an algae growing below the surface. Flamingos feed off this algae, but sadly the water is level has dropped significantly in recent years due to climate change. Scientists are concerned and have started tracking the migration of the flamingos, the same ones have been found in South Africa. We noticed three different types of flamingos and were surprised to learn that they are born brown and get their pinkish color later in life. Compared with our first night of accommodations, our second night was a hell hole and we nearly froze to death. It’s hot during the day, but at night it is very very cold! In order to stay warm we wore socks, tights, pants, multiple shirts, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves inside our rented sleeping bags topped by three wool blankets inside a room with the rest of our tour group.

We set off before sunrise on our last morning to experience the changes in color as the desert came to life. The sun cast a warm glow upon the sand and steam coming off the sulfuric geysers. We hadn’t showered in a few days and took advantage of the natural hot springs as a way to freshen up. We drove through the park to Lago Verde (the green lagoon) and dropped our other four jeep-mates off at the Chilean border before we set off on a seven hour drive back to Uyuni. We stopped at a picturesque pueblo village for lunch. A crystal clear creek ran the length of the red rock canyon with llamas feeding on the green grass, while locals washed their clothes in the water. We grabbed a quick dinner back in Uyuni and boarded an overnight bus to La Paz to continue our Bolivian adventure.

Posted by: Jayme | May 6, 2010

Buenos Aires and going our separate ways

Buenos Aires
It didn’t take us long to get sucked in to everything that is “BA”.  The combination of the architecture, sights, people, and night life added to our overall experience in this modern city.  For being the largest city in South America, it was cleaner and more developed than we had expected.  The buildings had a European feel with wrought-iron balconies, detailed exteriors, and oversized doorways.  Large billboards and TV screens projected advertisements, while the graffiti looked more like artwork than vandalism.  There are many unique areas around the city including our favorites; Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo, and La Boca.  Recoleta is known for its impressive cemetery that reminded us of a miniature city.  Elaborate rows of mausoleums created pathways for us to walk along as we went in search of the cemetery’s most popular “resident”, Eva Perón.  Palermo is the one of the wealthier parts of the city and is a lovely place to spend the day enjoying the beautiful parks.  We on the other hand mostly experienced Palermo at night joining the crowds at the bars located in Plaza de Serrano.  San Telmo is a picturesque neighborhood with cobblestone streets, cafes, old mansions, and a famous Sunday market selling antiques.  Avenida 9 de Julio is one of the main avenues running through the city.  Each side is 6 lanes wide and it takes two sets of lights to cross on foot.  The center point of the avenue is a large obelisk which we always used as a land mark to make it back to our hostel.  The colorful buildings of La Boca are a must-see in BA and draw many tourists despite the dangerous reputation the area holds.  La Boca is also home to the very popular Boca Juniors fútbol team.

We couldn’t have left Buenos Aires without witnessing the craziness that takes place inside of a fútbol stadium.  We purchased tickets through our hostel to attend the Boca vs. Arsenal match.  To complete the experience, we bought jerseys at one of the many sports shops located on Florida, the busy pedestrian shopping street.  We joined a group of people from the hostel and took a bus to a house near the stadium to tailgate Argentinean style.  Our friend, Maria, from Germany, brought a water bottle filled with vodka which we diluted with water and choked down before the game.  Alcohol is not served inside the stadium (which is a good thing because people would probably kill each other), so all of us tourists chugged beer after beer not sure how to enjoy a sporting event without a bit of a buzz!  Inside the stadium we were surrounded by locals and experienced first-hand the passion and tradition that follows the game. People stood, chanted, yelled, and jumped for the duration of the game.  Boca scored goal after goal which intensified the crowd’s energy and even we got excited at the final score of 4-0. 

We stayed at Milhouse, which is the most popular hostel in Buenos Aires.  Five floors in the beautiful building housed travelers that came to the hostel to party and it was easy to find friends and activities on any night of the week.  We joined back up with Steve who is always the life of the party and just as in the first three cities we’ve hung out with him in, there was never a dull moment whether we were touring the city or drinking at the bars.  Within the first two hours at the hostel we met and became instant friends with Maria from Germany.  She fit in with us, not only because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, but also her love of traveling, positive attitude, and great sense of humor.  She extended her stay in BA three time which gave us plenty of time to get to know one another.  Buenos Aires is known for its impressive tango shows and the three of us attended one of the best in town to get a feel for the local culture.  The show was better than we expected and we couldn´t stop raving about the performance the entire walk back to our hostel.  There are two Milhouse hostels (we stayed at the original) and they take turns hosting pre-parties before everyone heads to the bars around 2:00 am. We enjoyed dancing and getting to know the locals and tried our best to keep up with them, but we usually called it quits once the sun was coming up.  On our third night, Jayme met Juan from BA, who coincidentally went to college in St. Louis, Missouri, just an hour and a half away from Jayme’s college.  They hit it off and as always, meeting and hanging out with a local added to the experience. The nightlife in BA was insane and while we don’t understand how the locals do it, we feel and fear that we represented fairly well!

Iguazu Falls
One of Argentina’s most popular attractions is the collection of 275 waterfalls that make up the stunning Iguazu Falls.  An eighteen hour bus ride from Buenos Aires lands you in Puerto Iguazu which has little to offer other than its close proximity to the park.  Once inside, there are a number of different trails each giving a different view of the falls.  Palm trees, rainbows, butterflies, and the rhythmic flow of the waterfalls make for an unforgettable day.  From the lower circuit, visitors have the chance to get up close and personal while the upper circuit gives more of a birds-eye view.  The water level is always changing as well as the color due to the additional sediment picked up after heavy rains.  Devil’s Throat is most people’s final destination and the amount of water flowing over the edge in a semi-circle formation was spectacular.  The falls can also be viewed from the Brazilian side offering panoramic views of the falls from a distance.  Due to an unforeseen circumstance, the two of us separated and viewed the falls independently.

Globalizing Separately

Jayme:
The last thought on my mind when setting off for this adventure nearly eleven months ago was what I would do if a situation arose that would require me to interrupt or cancel the trip.  When I left in June, my 87-year old grandma was happy and healthy and there was no doubt in my mind that she would still be around when I finished the trip.  It came as a shock to everyone in the family when her health took a serious turn for the worse in mid-April. We had been in Buenos Aires for a few days when I heard the news and booked an immediate flight back to Colorado for the weekend to spend time with my grandma.  It was a bitter-sweet homecoming because it was so good to see my family, but the circumstances left everyone in a somber mood.  My grandma used to read all of our blog posts and she told me how much she enjoyed following the trip.  My grandma’s health progressively deteriorated as the weekend wore on and having to say goodbye to her before leaving for the airport was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Upon arrival back in Buenos Aires, I learned that my grandma had passed away just a few hours after I had left.  Roslyn Glassman died on April 18, 2010 at the age of 88.  She was an amazing person and will be greatly missed.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend one final weekend with her.

Chelsea had moved on towards Brazil by the time I arrived back in Buenos Aires and I took advantage of every chance to stay as busy as possible.  I quickly became friends with Jenn from San Diego on the flight to BA and we made plans to travel to Iguazu together later that week.  At the hostel, I enjoyed getting to know Mya from France, Oystein from Norway, and Saya and Lizzie from England.  I traveled to the beautiful colonial town of Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay with Oystein and Lizzie where we stayed the night and rode bikes around the cobblestone streets.  I spent the rest of my time in BA touring different parts of the city, spending time with Juan, and hanging out with my new friends.  My temporary passport (which replaced my passport that had been stolen in Australia) was full and I spent an entire morning at the US Embassy getting an emergency passport issued so I could continue traveling.  Jenn and I traveled to Iguazu together and had a great time exploring the falls.  Our hostel had a lovely pool and we spent the next day lounging around in the sun with our fellow travelers.  From there, we caught a 22-hour bus to Tucuman, Argentina where we went out for one last dinner before I bid my new friend farewell and caught another 24-hour bus to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Chelsea:
After saying goodbye to Jayme, I stayed in Buenos Aires for another four days before heading north on an overnight bus towards Iguazu Falls. The falls were better than I had imagined and I had the chance to visit them on both the Argentina and Brazil side. I took another overnight bus to Sao Paulo, Brazil where my next adventure began. I met Norman six months ago in Cambodia where we also traveled to Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore together. A few months ago he booked a flight from his home country of Germany to Brazil so we could spend another week together. I stayed one night in Sao Paulo before meeting him at the airport, which can only be explained as a “movie worthy” reunion! We had an amazing week together and after five countries and two continents, none of which have been our own, I am ready to see what lies ahead.

We stayed two nights in Sao Paulo, exploring the city and catching up on lost time. From there we took a six hour bus to the colonial town of Paraty. The weather was gorgeous and we took full advantage of the sun on a full day schooner trip to some of  the nearby beaches. The day was full of swimming, jumping off the boat, dressing up in pirate outfits, eating fresh fruit, and enjoying the sun and ocean. We took another bus followed by a very cold and wet ferry to Ilha Grande for two days of ‘island fun’. Unfortunately, it rained almost the whole time and while we didn’t have the chance to see the 102 beaches around the island, we did explore the island during a six hour hike in the pouring rain. Our final destination was the cidade marvavilhosa (marvelous city) of Rio de Janeiro. During the day we walked along  Copacabana and Ipanema beach admiring the lingering mountains and the beautiful cobblestone pedestrian path. One night, we stumbled upon a samba concert in the street and joined the crowds for a night of dancing and drinks in a crowded bar near the Arcos do Lapa. We had beautiful weather on our final day together and spent many hours looking down on the beautiful city from Sugar Loaf. I had the best time with him and it was by far the sweetest most romantic gesture for him to fly halfway around the world, just so we could be together again.

Posted by: Jayme | May 3, 2010

Córdoba – a stop along the way

After a sleepless overnight bus ride from Mendoza, we arrived in the University town of Có rdoba , Argentina. We were allowed to check into our hostel early and spent the morning catching up on sleep. Our hostel was located on the pedestrian Independencia St. which was quiet when we arrived, but came to life as the day wore on. Blankets were set out on the street and covered with merchandise including fake watches, socks, sunglasses, used shoes, toys, and peanuts. We ate lunch at the country’s largest tenedor libre restaurant, which is a big buffet offering Argentinean cuisine as well as food from around the world. We toured the city center and noticed the thousands of students from the seven different universities in town walking the streets. Plaza San Martin was a lovely South American Plaza complete with churches, benches, statues, and street vendors. While we did enjoy the city, the highlight of our time spent in this part of the country was a day trip we took to the small town of La Cumbrecita.
 
 
 
La Cumbrecita is located roughly three hours away from Có rdoba . Situated in the Sierra Grandes and mostly populated by central European immigrants, the pedestrian town now caters to eco-tourism. We arrived and began the full circuit hike around the mountain. Our first stop was Cascada Grande, a very large and cold waterfall set back into the cliff. From there, we hiked to smaller waterfalls and lakes, but none were as impressive as our first stop. While eating a Bavarian lunch, we met three Americans, which was unusual because we rarely meet people from our own country. The first couple heard our accents and practically ran over to seek refuge with other English speakers. They were traveling for one week in Argentina and were full of questions that we tried our best to answer. We were impressed that they decided to travel all the way to South America for their one week holiday, because so many Americans tend to keep their trips closer to home. It solidified our fear of returning home and working in the states because how are we going to continue traveling the world with so little vacation time?!?!? Our next fellow American was a little more like us and had been on the road for a few months. Sarah is also twenty-six and quit her job as a nurse to travel. We got along really well with her and shared stories over coffee and dessert before heading back to Có rdoba . As always, we wished we would have had more time to spend the night in one of the quaint guesthouses and explore even more of the nearby trails.

 

Asados (BBQ’s) are very popular in Argentina and we enjoyed an authentic meal on the hostel’s rooftop terrace. The staff cooked a feast consisting of salad, rice, bread, Chelsea’s vegetarian substitute – stuffed peppers, and platters and platters full of meat! Beer and wine were included and we spent the evening practicing our Spanish with Hector from Spain. We also had the chance to try maté , which is South America’s traditional tea served out of an interesting cup. The leaves are piled in and then hot water is poured on top and a special a filtered straw is used to drink the tea. Có rdoba was a nice city, but we were very excited to get to our next destination. From the moment we entered South America, everyone we met talked about their favorite city and we were anxious to see if Buenos Aires would live up to the expectations that our fellow backpackers had given it.

Posted by: Jayme | April 9, 2010

Wine tasting in Mendoza

We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina on the Saturday of Easter weekend. We were unable to find any hostels with availability ahead of time, so we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best upon arrival. The six hour trip from Santiago took us through the barren and rocky Andes mountain range. The road was steep and narrow with a very small or nonexistent guard rail. Our double decker bus wound around the curves and struggled up the pass and we were glad it was not our driver first time attempting this route. The border crossing between Chile and Argentina was easy and we passed though in under fifteen minutes. We met a Canadian couple in their sixties on our bus who have been traveling for two years with no end in sight. They gave us some great tips, wished us luck, and said they admired us for taking on the world at such a young age. Meeting them made us realize that we never want to stop traveling and we can only hope that by the time we are their age we have added significant others to our globalizing adventures! If not, our future website will be “Two old hags around the world… 2059-2060”

Just as we had hoped, a woman was recruiting backpackers for her hostel and we took two of the last three beds available. After talking with other travelers during our stay in Mendoza, we realized just how lucky we were to have found room. On Friday and Saturday night, people we knew were forced to sleep on couches, floors, under stairs, and/or share twin bunk beds… and they still had to pay full price. Around 9:00 pm, we went in search of dinner and successfully ordered take away pizzas from a nearby restaurant. Many businesses are closed on Sundays and being that this Sunday was Easter Sunday, we didn’t know if anything would be open, so we bought two large pizzas to hold us over until Monday. Apparently all pizzas, including plain cheese, are topped with whole-pitted-green olives. We ate part of one pizza while enjoying free wine from the hostels wine barrel and stashed the rest inside the common refrigerator for our future meals.

At breakfast the next morning we met a group of people from the states who are teaching English at Universities around Santiago. We joined Laura, from Virginia, and Angela, from Texas, on their planned bike around the winery tour. This is a popular way to see the many local wineries. They both speak fluent Spanish, which helped our day run incredibly smoothly and we had a fantastic time together. There are over forty-five wineries, which produce over 70% of the countries wine, but lucky for us only a small handful were open on Easter Sunday, because you would get stuck for weeks if you tried to visit them all. The first winery we visited gave us a free vineyard tour and we sampled four of their best wines. We are definitely not wine connoisseurs, but we pretended we knew what we were doing. Our second stop was at a beer garden where we tasted three different beers and their fresh homemade empanadas. Our final stop was at a very small winery, which served free Malbec with their delicious dinners. We took identical photos after each stop, trying to gage our progress and lack of balance as they day wore on. We created an interesting pose that we all struggled with during each picture and laughed because our final photo was the best of the series. We rode our bikes back to Maipu bike rental and enjoyed yet another free glass of wine. The whole day including bike rental, beer, wine, and food cost a little less than $25.00, but the memories we made were priceless.

We have stayed in some dodgy hostels, but our belongings have always remained untouched, so we were shocked when two items went missing from this decent hostel. We were going to share our pizza with the girls for dinner before they went back to Chile, but someone got to the pizza before we did. Nearly the whole pizza was gone and the only remaining pieces had bite marks missing. After talking with other guests, we figured out that the owners son was known for digging in the fridge and eating anything and everything. The owner felt bad, so he reimbursed us, which was very generous of him. As we were getting ready for bed, Jayme realized that her towel had been stolen from the back side of our bunk bed where it had been laid out to dry. We can’t understand why other travelers steal from one another, don’t they realize how awful it is to try and replace lost possessions while traveling? Jayme is now using her sarong as her towel, which works surprisingly well. We checked out of that hostel the following morning, to stay at a different one in the center of town.

An earthquake in the late 1800’s completely leveled the city and it was rebuilt in an appealing way. The streets are very wide with the idea that should another earthquake take place, there will be room for the rubble to fall. Like most South American cities, Mendoza comes to life at night and our hostel was located on one of the busiest streets. We walked across town to meet up with Steve (our friend from Valparaiso and Pucon) for some tacos, cervezas, and a night full of laughs. He was there with two girls from Canada and the five of us spent the evening giving ourselves an ab workout… the giggles never stopped! Plaza Independencia is in the center of town and was a great place to hang out during both the night and day. At night, street vendors line the sidewalks selling their one of a kind creations. We bought jewelry from a really sweet woman, with items that stood out to us due to their immaculate quality and unique style. Chelsea bought a silver ring and Jayme purchased silver hoop earrings with the national gemstone (a pink stone – Rhodochrosite). During the day, we lounged around the benches surrounding the fountain as we read and studied Spanish. The plaza was filled with locals and it was a prime location for people watching. The busses in South America have been great so far and we have been spoiled with blankets, pillows, food, drinks, and movies and we were looking forward to our overnight trip to Cordoba.

Posted by: Jayme | April 5, 2010

Chillin in Chile

Santiago
Saturday, March 20th was officially the longest day in Globalizing history. We boarded a plane at 4:40 pm in Auckland, New Zealand and after an eleven hour flight which crossed the international dateline, we arrived in Santiago, Chile at 11:00 am the same day. Our friend, Bridget, from Colorado was coming to meet us on the 24th, at which time the three of us would begin traveling around Chile together. While awaiting her arrival, we spent the first three nights in the capital city at Hostal Forestal where we recovered from our jet lag and began planning the South America portion of our trip. An elderly American couple we met at a café gave us free tickets for a historical bus tour around the city. The tickets cost US$36 and it is something we never would have purchased on our own. The double decker bus drove us past the main sights while an audio recording told us about the city’s history .

Our first hostel was located in a quiet area and we enjoyed cooking dinners, watching movies, and playing pool. It was nice to have large lockers in our room where we could secure our backpacks, unfortunately the lock we purchased in India broke and our bags were stuck inside. We had to wait overnight until the sweet old lady in charge of maintenance and cleaning came in the morning. Using a file, she attempted to saw the lock off, which did not work, so she broke the hinges using a hammer. After a few relaxing nights at the hostel, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the trendy warehouse-turned-café plaza in the Barrio Bellavista neighborhood. With the help of a few friendly Chileans on the way home, we successfully purchased a bottle of white wine and went back to the hostel to challenge one another at a few games of pool. After one of the longest games in the history of pool, Jayme won just as seven Danish guys waltzed into the common room. We each paired up with one guy and began yet another long drawn out game of pool. The game lasted even longer than necessary due to the horrific rum/whiskey shots we were all consuming. Along side our new group of friends we headed to a nearby bar where we learned Danish folk songs and created quite the scene while we ordered rounds of Brahma beer. They sang us each Happy Birthday in Danish which consists of the birthday boy/girl picking three musical instruments (ex. drums, trumpet, and piano) that are then acted out and incorporated into the song. Our night ended by learning an interactive song where we stood on chairs, swung tables back and forth with one hand, drank a beer with the other, and sang obnoxiously loud. Surprisingly we weren’t kicked out and only left because our wallets were empty.
 
While the first hostel we stayed in was nice, we wanted something better for when Bridget joined us. Casa Roja was a 19th-century mansion-turned-hostel complete with free internet, spacious rooms, two courtyards, huge guest kitchen, ping pong table, outdoor bar, and a pool with a swim-up bar. Bridget’s plane arrived an hour early, but with no way to get in touch with us, she had to wait at the airport until we arrived. We spent the day lounging around the pool and catching up on the last 9 ½ months. She came bearing many gifts including Jayme’s replacement credit and debit cards (originals were stolen in Australia and the new ones were shipped to her parents in Colorado), leggings, winter hats, and gossip magazines. Flipping through the magazines was a reminder we have been gone a long time because we didn’t know many of the headline stars. The three of us shared a double room to save money, but spent most of the night hours socializing with other travelers in the large backyard. We made a lot of friends during our stay at Casa Roja and had a fun time on self-guided walking tours, cooking dinners, eating out, and hanging around the hostel with them.
 
Allen and Johnny from Ireland were getting ready to head to New Zealand after spending six months in South America, so we exchanged travel tips and enjoyed their quirky sense of humor. Our friend, Jenn, from home put us in contact with Francisco and Maurice who are from Santiago. They introduced us to Pisco, the local liquor and shared their accounts of the recent earthquake. Wickie and Marie from Denmark were stuck in Santiago because Marie’s passport and exit paper were stolen and they were waiting on the embassy for replacements. Lucky for us, their extra time in the city meant we got to spend that much more time with them and hope to meet up with them again. Peter, Eric, and Steve from Canada were at the end of their two week trip and we fear we might be responsible for the end of their careers if they choose to follow our “quit your job and travel the world” path. Casa Roja had a very friendly staff made up of fellow travelers who put on a number of activities for all of us. We spent time getting to know Bianca, from Arizona, and Matt, from France. Junior, from Brazil, spoke very little English and really liked having Jayme as his own personal teacher. We took part in a movie night, barbeques, a ping pong tournament, and our self-made flip cup tournament. People from as many as nine countries, including the USA, England, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Chile, Brazil, New Zealand, and France, surrounded the perimeter of the ping pong table in what turned into the sloppiest game of flip cup we have ever played. After five fun and sleepless nights at Casa Roja, we left our favorite hostel to see what else Chile had to offer.
 
Valparaiso
Just an hour and a half north of Santiago lies the poor but colorful town of Valparaiso stacked on the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This Unesco World Heritage site is famous for its gondola-like elevators which are an alternative to walking up and down the steep footpaths. After checking into YoYo Hostel and reluctantly leaving our bags in the already broken locker, we set out in search of lunch. Many people warned Chelsea that she will have a hard time finding vegetarian meals in South America, so she was excited when she saw a “hot cheese sandwich” on the menu. Never again will she order a hot cheese sandwich. It looked more like a bread bowl with cheese fondue gooing from the center. From there, we set off to explore the city on foot. We rode one of the elevators to the top of the hill which offered nice views of the city and the bay. We all purchased items made of blue lapiz stone which are only native to Chile and Afghanistan. Without knowing where we were headed, we ventured along a road that turned out to lead straight into one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. As we walked along, photographing the many colorful buildings, two local women from opposite directions frantically ran up to us waving their arms and asking us to stop. Between their broken English and our broken Spanish, we learned we were in a very dangerous area where daily robberies take place. The women stayed with us until a taxi drove by and they explained to the driver that we needed to get back to the center of town. We felt lucky that we were warned before anything happened.
 
While we do enjoy our nights out, we were hoping for a relaxing night spent at the hostel. We were all a little freaked out after the situation earlier and headed back to YoYo where we watched a movie before going to dinner. One of the exciting parts about traveling in countries where the people do not speak much English is ordering food without knowing exactly what will turn up on the plate. Empanadas are very popular and we ordered choclo and aceituna empanadas hoping they wouldn’t be filled with chocolate and tuna! Our corn and olive empanadas were delicious as we sipped tea and planned for an early night. Back at the hostel we noticed a couple familiar faces and figured out that the girls sitting next to us on the couch had been our roommates at our hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand a few weeks ago. Their friend Steve was traveling the same route we were and we planned to meet up with him when we arrived at our next destination. As we were preparing for bed, we were informed that a circus performance would be starting in the hostel common area shortly. One of the hostel managers performed a number of tricks including rope acrobatics for his friend’s birthday. The show was impressive but unfortunately the birthday party continued outside our room until 6:00 am. It started with music blaring out of the computer which sounds obnoxious, but was nothing compared to the marching band that arrived a few hours later. Party-goers joined in the noise by banging on anything and everything. Between the pots and pans, drum, and trumpet we got very little sleep and were happy when the police finally shut the party down. We only got about two hours of sleep before the alarm went off and it was time to explore the neighboring Viñ a del Mar before heading south to the Lake District.
 
 Pucon
Evidence of the recent disaster became more apparent as our bus passed Concepcion which was the epicenter of the earthquake. Bridges had collapsed, buildings were crumbling, and large cracks in the road made it a slow journey to Pucon. Pucon is a lovely town located at the base of Volcan Villarica and is the starting off point to many outdoor activities in the area. While hiking the volcano is the most popular adventure and we were initially planning to take part, the weather and the steep price changed our plans. For the same amount of money we could enjoy a 3-day Amazon trek, go on a 2-day jeep tour of the salt flats in Bolivia, or pay for 5 nights accommodation in Argentina… we just couldn’t justify the one day hike. Instead, we took a public bus to the nearby Huerquehue National Park. We layered our clothing and put on our jackets, hats, and gloves for what turned out to be a very wet hike. The rain started as a simple drizzle, but turned into a solid downpour by the time we reached the waterfall. We weren’t far from our final destination, but had to turn around before seeing the lakes because the trail had become a muddy, slippery stream. Once we reached the small ranger station at the entrance we realized we still had two hours until the bus would be back to pick us up. We took off our wet layers and snuggled together to stay warm on the front porch. At first we thought the ranger station was deserted, but once we smelled a wood stove we knew someone must be inside and we were desperate to find a way in. We knocked on the door and asked the ranger if we could sit inside. We slowly dried off, warmed up, and practiced our Spanish with the rangers that continued arriving and filling up the small room. We met up with Steve from the hostel in Valparaiso for dinner later that night and he couldn’t help but say, “I told you so”, since he had decided to stay in bed instead of hike with us.
 
 
 
It had been at least three weeks since we had done laundry so we bagged up nearly everything we own and set off for the local and recommended lavenderia. The clothes would be ready that evening, but we had a full day ahead of us and tried to explain that we would pick them up the next morning. We booked a cultural tour through Serena, a friendly German girl, at her bakery/travel agency. We spent an afternoon visiting the native Mapuche Indians. The kind old woman taught us how to spin sheep’s wool, dressed us in the typical clothing, and fed us a traditional meal. Lamb roasted on the open fire, potatoes, salad, fried bread, and medicinal tea filled us up as we listened to her and her husband play their handmade instruments. Our guides took us to some nearby waterfalls. Four waterfalls fed into one lake, three of which came from above ground while the other one came from an underground stream. From there we visited the local thermal baths which were especially warm due to the recent earthquake that had disturbed the nearby volcano. We soaked in the pools for a few hours while enjoying the beautiful surroundings. 

The following day was Good Friday and we were disappointed to find the lavenderia closed. We stopped by periodically throughout the morning but realized we needed assistance in tracking down the shop owner before our bus left later that evening. Serena from the travel agency speaks fluent Spanish and was excited to take on the task of getting our laundry back. After two phone calls, a note on the door, and the help of the gas station attendants next door, we felt we were making some progress. The owners were out of town for the holiday weekend, but they called someone in to open the store and by late afternoon we were reunited with our clean and nicely folded clothes. The three of us boarded an overnight bus back to Santiago where we spent a final morning hanging out with Bridget before saying goodbye and see you in two months! Bridget set off for the airport while we boarded yet another bus bound for Mendoza, Argentina.

Posted by: Jayme | March 20, 2010

Kiwi Kindness

Auckland
After a short flight from Sydney, we arrived in Auckland – “The City of Sails.” We only had eight days to travel around the country and were lucky enough to have our own personal tour guide waiting at the airport for us when we arrived. Dan is an Auckland native who we met six months ago at our hostel in Bangkok. He eagerly drove us to different scenic points around the city and showed us a side of the city that most tourists don’t have the opportunity to experience. Dan works as a stuntman on films and some of the places we visited were sites from movies he worked on. A beautiful waterfall we walked to just happened to be where many Power Rangers episodes were filmed. He has also worked on Lord of the Rings, Zoro 2, and Xena the Warrior Princess. He told us stories and we looked through pictures of him working with stars including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Viggo Mortensen, and Ryan Gosling. He took us to Piha Beach, which is the most popular and dangerous surfing beach in New Zealand.
 
Dan’s parents have opened their west Auckland home to backpackers for the past decade and were more than happy to set us up for the night. The majority of the travelers they get are from Israel and they were excited to have a couple Americans in the mix. We happened to be staying at their home on a Friday night and some of the Israeli travelers prepared a delicious Shabbat dinner for everyone. There were twelve of us squished around the dining room table and it felt like a big family dinner amongst strangers. Dan’s friend, Adrian, who we also met in Bangkok came over and we all stayed up drinking wine and talking about how funny it was to be hanging out together in New Zealand after meeting in Thailand many months ago.
 
Queenstown
Dan’s mom drove us to the airport the next morning and we set off for the South Island. We flew into Queenstown which immediately reminded us of our many ski resorts in Colorado. Mountain peaks loom over the quaint town which is set on the banks of a large lake. We had to continuously remind ourselves that we were on the other side of the world because it felt so much like home. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and while most people come for the extreme activities, we chose to relax and go hiking instead. Over the past nine months we have gone paragliding and canyoning in Switzerland, white water rafting in India, scuba diving in Thailand, and skydiving in Australia. We decided to save money and the thrill of bungee jumping for another time as we want to have some type of adrenaline rush to look forward to in the future. We thought hiking would be fun since it’s one of our favorite hobbies back home, but we didn’t realize how out-of-shape we had become over the past few months. We barely made it to the summit and a week later our calves are still sore!
 
Queenstown is a very popular backpacker destination and our hostel was full of travelers from all over the world. Each night was designated towards a different social activity and we were lucky enough to be there on St. Patrick’s Day. A small shop in town stocked a selection of green apparel and the majority of our hostel had purchased their costumes there resulting in many identical outfits. Everyone gathered in the common room to play drinking games, however we were quickly asked by the staff to leave by 6:00 pm because it was getting too rowdy. The party moved to one of the dorms where 25 of us crammed into a room full of bunk beds to finish our pre-party. While there were a few stops along the way, most of the evening was spent at the popular World Bar known for serving mixed cocktails out of tea pots. The night ended with everyone moving to Fergburger to wait in line in order to try their famous hamburgers. It was another holiday that we’ve spent somewhere else in the world and St. Patrick’s Day will forever remind us of New Zealand.
 
Road Trip
One of the best ways to explore the South Island is to rent a car and drive around at your own pace. Jayme did all the driving in Australia as Chelsea had decided to boycott driving for the entire year. Unfortunately, since Jayme’s driver’s license was stolen in Cairns, Chelsea had to not only drive, but also learn to drive on the left side of the road. She did a great job but kept Jayme on her toes as co-pilot making sure she didn’t go off the edge. As we do, we saw everything as quickly possible to ensure we had an overall understanding of New Zealand life. Driving around the South Island is beautiful with the varying terrain and along the way we stopped at many different sights. Jayme’s mom told us we needed to see the Moeraki Boulders which ended up being one of our favorite stops. There are roughly a dozen large, perfectly round boulders scattered along the beach. The boulders began forming over 400 million years when calcium started to build up around a small particle such as bone or wood. While these are not the only boulders like this in the world, they are especially well known because they are some of the largest.
 
We drove along the scenic ocean highway which offered spectacular views of the rocky coastline. Sea lions, penguins, dolphins, and whales can all be spotted along the shore. Being mountain girls, we are used to seeing wildlife on the side of the road, but we were thrown off guard when we turned the corner inside a park and saw a huge sea lion waddling between cars and signs. “Leon” as we named him was far from the beach below and we have no idea how he managed to maneuver his large body up the cliffs. Either way, it was an image we will remember. Not quite as shocking but equally as entertaining were the millions of sheep we passed along the way. No matter what time of day the sheep were always doing the same thing…all they do is eat! Jayme eventually asked what we had both been pondering all along, “What do you think they did with all the sheep while filming Lord of the Rings?” We don’t know the answer to that question.

 

In order to save a few bucks we decided to follow the campervan trend that is popular in New Zealand and sleep in our car. To save a few more bucks, we opted out of paying for a campsite in the many car parks and instead found our own locations to sleep the night away. It’s easy to find public toilets in town which catered to the living-out-of-a-car lifestyle. Our first night we parked in a school parking lot and made sure to leave before the students and teachers arrived in the morning. The first speck of daylight assured us that we did in fact survive through the night and we did not freeze to death like we thought we might. We were not prepared for the cold weather and woke up to frost on the inside of the windows. One would guess that we had learned our lesson the first night and buckle down for a room the second, but that was not the case. Instead we added more layers and found ourselves a cozy spot in the back of a hotel parking lot. Once again we were happy to be alive in the morning and our 6:00 am wake up call brought smiles to our frozen faces as we started the car, blasted the heat, and headed to Milford Sound. We arrived at the park entrance early and took advantage of a power nap with the sun shining through the windows. Milford Sound, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is on the top of most travelers’ to do lists when they come to New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fjord running 15 kilometers inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by rocky peaks and stunning waterfalls. We took a 90 minute cruise and marveled at the beauty around us.

Auckland (Round 2)
We spent our final night on the South Island in Christchurch before catching a plane back to Auckland. We once again had someone waiting for us at the airport. Chelsea’s college friend’s mother moved to New Zealand 5 years ago and we had the chance to stay at her beautiful home. Mindy Anne spoiled the heck out of us and took on the role of “mom” for a quick 24 hours. She took us out for lunch and a bottle of fine New Zealand wine at a restaurant overlooking Mission Bay, which was the start to an eventful day. After lunch she introduced us to her friends that have been traveling the world on their sail boats and are docked in Auckland until hurricane season is over. We spent some time on Lauren and Aaron’s boat sharing traveling stories with the couple from Seattle. After a few nights of sleeping in a cold car we took advantage of the bed that was offered to us and enjoyed a long nap before waking up to the smells of our home cooked dinner. Mindy and her partner, John, took us out on the town and we joined back up with Lauren and Aaron, as well as another sailing couple from Aspen, Colorado. Talking to everyone really inspired us and we think what they are doing is really great, but it was interesting because they felt the same way about us. Thanks to John our glasses remained full and a group of us ranging in age from 25-67 headed to a dance club where we partied the night away. The night would not have been complete without 4:00 am kebabs and after saying goodbye to our new friends, Mindy took the three of us home in a cab. Our final day with our New Zealand mother started later than planned due to the previous night’s festivities, but we still got to see what Mindy had planned for us. She drove us to her favorite beaches and we visited her friend, aka “The Bird Lady”. Silvia has dedicated her life to rescuing injured birds and bird sitting for people while they are away. We had the chance to get up close and personal with a parrot, owl, swan, penguin, pigeon, and seagull. It was a great experience and we felt like children learning about and holding the different birds. Mindy drove us to the airport and we left knowing that we will see her either in Colorado or New Zealand soon enough. We then boarded an 11-hour flight to Santiago, Chile which marks the beginning of the end of our trip.

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