A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Friday, May 30, 2008

In The Jungle

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sucre - 199 Yrs and Counting

Got to Sucre just in time for 3 things:

1 - The celebration of 199yrs since their Independence from Spain.

2 - The Chocolate Festival - highlighted by chocolate fairs, movies based on chocolate, and restaurants all themed on the substance.

3 - To get sick.

Clearly, the first two were the better choice. Anyway, I am healthy now and got to enjoy some kickin Ska/Punk bands, some tasty chocolate, a ridiculous amount of marching bands for 3 days straight, and some fiery, explosive demonstrations. (I don´t want to worry anyone, but when dynamite goes off in a Plaza, it´s really, really loud)

The demonstrations were in protest of several things, but mostly a combination of their disapproval of the president and because Sucre used to be the capital of the country, but has been moved to La Paz. The Sucre people, naturally, are mad about this. I can´t blame them either because Sucre is the cleanest, most beautiful city I´ve seen in Bolivia. When I get some photos uploaded, you´ll see what I mean. Further - Sucre has some amazing food. Part of my quest in Latin America is to find the best food there is to offer and Sucre has the best of its country. (I spent quite some time trying to suss out the recipe for the stunning chili-tandoori chicken I had one evening. The waiter and cook tried their best to explain how it was prepared and now I think I have a good handle on it.)

At the end of the day I would recommend Sucre for anyone who wishes for a wonderful little city with great food and friendly people. I´m glad I stopped here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Highest City In The World

Don´t have any photos handy to post, but this city isn´t what I expected. I had read of a crumby little town at the peak of the Andes where there´s nothing to do and better avoided. What people forgot to say is that because Potosi was once one of the richest cities in the world (yes - the world - there was a time when it was more populated and richer than either Paris or London), the remnants of a beatuful city remain. Wonderful architecture and statues crown buildings. Narrow, quaint cobbled streets line the way between plazas.

Yet the riches are gone and the people remain - poor, destitute, yet not without hope. They understand that the silver mines that had made the city what it was are almost completely depleted (hauled away by the Spaniards) and educate themselves for other lines of work.

Yet the mining continues. The mines, which have operated for over 400 years, are said to have claimed over 8 million lives. So there is a sense of sadness that hangs over Potosi like that of the great Cerro Rico. That, mixed with the frigid air at 4,200 feet, make the city seem inhospitable.

Not too far away, a 20 minute collectivo ride, I visited a hot spring formed from the mouth of a volcano. Indeed, bubbles still erupt on the surface from deep in the volcano. And, to date, no one has ever measured its depths. Swimming in the hot water was a strange experience, primal even.

I´ve moved on, but certainly Potosi has left its mark.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Salaar de Uyuni

To begin the journey that I´ve looked forward to for so long, I had to take a bus from Tupiza to Uyuni. This turned out to be the shakiest, dodgiest ride ever, but not only because of the rickity bus. For a good portion of the trip, the bus driver decided to drive down a river. To save time or because there was no other road, I have no idea why, but we sloshed down the mud, rock, and water, heedless of any logic that would say this was a bad idea.

In the end, we arrived in Uyuni fine, though shaken, literally. To the left is a pic out of the window of the river we were driving down.

For several years I´ve wanted to go on a trek through Bolivia´s Salaar de Uyuni and a few days ago I got the chance. I joined up with the ever-easy travelling trio of Steve and Ester (New Zealand) and Laura (England) to catch a jeep for a 1,000-mile journey over what could easily be considered one of the most amazing expanses of wilderness on the planet.

We started off in the small, freezing town of Uyuni, met our driver, loaded up the jeep, and off we went. First up was the stunning Salaar, a 4,000 square mile expanse of pure white salt. The slat flats provide a serious amount of revenue for the region, despite it being harvested with old fashion methods. The stunning whiteness combined with the cloudless blue sky made it incredibly difficult to look at.

That night we stayed in a hotel made entirely of salt - the walls, tables, chairs, and beds. This would be the first of two ridiculously cold nights. Cold like South Dakotans could understand.

The next day we toured a series of lakes and lagoons, each more spectacular than the last. Of the notables, were Laguna Verde (the green lake), Laguna Blanco (white), Laguna Azul (blue), and Laguna Colorado (an intense lake of blood red). With the intense sky, the mountains, splashed with green, pink, yellow, and white, shone down on the lakes in perfect reflections. Along the lakes were flamingos, llamas, alpacas, foxes, and any number of kinds of wildfowl I could not identify. Each time, moving on was difficult.

That day we took a break at a small pueblo where I spent 30 minutes in an impromptu pickup soccer game with 2 future futbol stars. but let me tell you - futbol at 12,000 feet is no joke on the lungs.

(me and my opponents taking time for a photo-op)

Further on we encountered stones scattered across the landscape in bizarre shapes like a Salvatore Dali painting come to life.

The second night we camped at 15,000 ft (in height: over halfway up Mt. Everest) which was so cold that everyone had to wear 6-7 layers, jump in sleeping bags, cover themselves in 4-5 llama blankets, and pray they saw the morning. We did, and were treated with the sunrise sight of geysers pouring out steam from a nearby volcano.

At the end of the day the only mishap was a blown tire which set us back a bit, but nothing that our fearless driver couldn´t make up with some considerable reckless driving.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Demise of Butch and Sundance

The first impression of Tupiza (and the middle and last ones) is of a quaint, sleepy town where little happens day to day that wouldn´t have happened any other day. People hang out in the streets doing a little selling in their kiosks and stores, kids go to school, and dogs wander the streets.

Yet my Kiwi friends, Ester and Steve, and Laura the Brit, and I were there to enjoy what we could of the town as we figured out where the next stage of each of our respective journeys would lead. The three days in Tupiza were quiet, but full of outdoor activity.

Tupiza is best known (if it can be said to be known for anything) for being the last place that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ever robbed before their infamous shootout and subsequent death about 20 k from the town.

I spent the majority of my time wandering the surrounding area, which is a maze of red-rock canyons and gorgeous mountains. On one ambitious day I made a 23k trek through the canyons that ribboned back and forth, studded with towering monoliths. I wound my way to Cerro Elephante, a massive mountain covered in cactus and thorny bushes, capped with a gigantic rock shaped by nature into the likeness of an elephant.

For now, I move on to the next adventure - in a place I´ve wanted to go for years. It shall be a huge journey, but worthwhile...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Initial Thoughts on Bolivia

There are any number of things that come to mind when considering Bolivia. Some of the most popular are:

- llamas and alpacas

- dangerous roads

- butch and sundance

- mountains

- siestas

- political imbalance

Yet what you see when you´re here is something more like this:

- roads that define hairpin turns

- stunning night starscapes

- constantly changing geographic formations

- women in wide, starched skirts with bowler hats and long braided hair

- vast stretches of untamed land - rugged, arid, dusty, and frigid (at night)

- friendly people who speak easier to understand Spanish than the Argentinians

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Crossing Into Bolivia

A midnight bus journey from Salta took me to the Bolivian border. I traveled with a handful of other backpackers from Salta and we arrived at the border in the dark hour of 6 am and proceded to backpack-it a mile to the border where we quickly learned that on sundays the Argentinian border doesn´t open until 7. An hour of waiting and shivering ensued.

When the border finally opened, I received my exit stamp and tramped over the bridge to the Bolivian border town of Villizon. Here waited a new discovery - Bolivia is an hour behind Argentina. Despite being directly north of Argentina. The waiting commenced again, but this time, my toes were beginning to freeze.

8am arrived, or 7am really, but another surprise happened - the electricity didn´t come on in the border official´s office. Another wait. But by this point, my feet were sliding toward frostbite, so I did what I had to do - I approached the military guarding the border. After a few minutes, I managed to talk my way into entering Bolivia in order to buy thermal socks, with the promise I would return the line when I had found them.

So, illegally, I wandered into the bordertown of Villazon and began a freeze-induced scramble to find warm socks at 7am before the military got wise and came to find me. I managed to find a pair of thermal socks and some warm bread within a halfhour and, true to my word, returned back to the bridge in noman´s land between Argentina and Bolivia.

Soon enough, customs opened and the official began processing the passports by hand and by 8am I was free and clear in Bolivia.

Friday, May 09, 2008


When I first arrived in Salta, in northwestern Argentina, I didn´t intend to stay long. I had the wandering bug. But like all things when you´re backpacking - situations will and do change often. Having to wait around for my Bolivian visa forced me to find things to do in the sleepy city and, in time, I was glad I stuck around for a few days. After the whirlwind of Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, it was nice to relax for a few days. And anyone who´s spent any time in either place knows what i mean.

A few days in I had some of the best deserts I´ve ever had (and most everyone knows how scant my sweettooth is) in a castle on the side of a mountain in San Lorenzo. Brilliant. Also managed to climb Mt. San Bernardo and be sufficiently reminded how out of shape I am.

Salta also has a beautiful selection of cathedrals, monasteries, and churches. One of the best I´ve included here.

Also on display is an exhibit of 3 ice mummies, found amazingly preserved at the highest point a mummy has ever been found. The display features the children who were sacrificed on the mountain top some 500 years ago. It was a stark reminder of how far we´ve come as a people.

But i´ll be moving on soon enough. I have my visa in hand and a lot of great ideas of where i´ll go. I´ve caught wind of some adventures and am ready to see where that leads...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Some Pics

I thought I´d post a few more pictures taken in the rain forest. I had some time to kill while waiting around trying to get all the ridiculous paperwork for my Bolivian VISA. Which, by the way, is an incredible hassle and rather expensive. The last time I traveled there, there were no VISA requirements, but in retaliation for the US´s treatment of Bolivia, they added a VISA requirement for US citizens only.

This leads into a deep discussion of US foreign policy, which I don´t feel like getting into. So, in leu of that, here are some more pics:

(This was a gorgeous woodpecker of some kind. It was about a foot long)

(There were trees covered in these lacy mushrooms.)

(I went on a 10K hike through the rainforest, but towards the end the path dissolved into vegitation and so I stopped.)

(just a side note: blogging on ´blogger or blogspot´is incredibly frustrating - it constantly deletes things, doesn´t format the way its supposed to, and is endlessly irritating to a traveler who is on the clock in every internet cafe he goes to. Don´t be surprised, therefore, if I change to a different blog address sometime in the future. cheers. - C)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iguazu Falls

Having grown up so close to Niagra Falls, I approached Iguazu Falls with a touch of skepticism. Billed as the biggest waterfall, or series of waterfalls, on the planet, Iguazu had a monster reputation to uphold. But did it ever.

The sheer magnitude of the falls can´t be understood until you´re standing next to them and only then do you realize their enormity.

I didn´t have a flyer that explained how many waterfalls there are, but I´d guess there are hundreds. The big daddy of them all is called Devil´s Throat. I took some pictures, but its simply too massive to capture effectively, unless you´re on a helicopter shooting for National Geographic. But standing next to the billions of tons of water fall, it´s absolutely awing.

Other parts of Iguazu are more panoramic and display the wonder more honestly. I´ve added these photos.

Also at the park there are a variety of nature trails. At the end of the day, I took a trail which brought me in contact with monkeys, coatis, strange beautiful birds, ants the size of my finger, and all the lush vegetation you´d expect to find in the rain forest.

All in all, the 18 hour, 1,000-mile plus trip to get to the falls was worth the effort. It´s not a place that should be overlooked. In a continent packed full of so many ancient and natural wonders, Iguazu Falls is yet another reason to explore this amazing place.

(to the left is a Coati, a three-foot long creature like the combination of an opossum and a raccoon. funny looking fellas, but can give a sharp bite)