Monthly Archives: February 2013

Rurrenabaque Pt. II: Redemption from the Hotness

Day 2 in the Pampas: Long clothing, hot days, and swimming with the dolphins

Our first adventure for the day was “to search for anaconda”, but our guide Bismark warned us that there would be a lot more mosquitoes there. Was I down? At first I was hesitant, but then I gave in. I was here in the Pampas, wasn’t I? When would I ever have this opportunity again?

The smart Japanese kids on my trip who covered themselves from head to toe

The smart Japanese kids on my trip who covered themselves from head to toe

The morning was luckily much cooler and windier than the day before, which meant that wearing head to toe clothing/pants/shoes wasn’t as bad as the day before (I had thought it was silly that the Japanese tourists covered themselves head to foot in clothing, but now I realize it’s both sun protection AND mosquito protection – somewhat). We had to wear wet rubber boots up to our knees, because we were about to go on land in search of the Pampas’ local snakes.

Went anaconda hunting and all we found was this crab

Went anaconda hunting and all we found was this crab

Despite wearing boots, we were up to our knees in dirty muddy grassy (and sometimes poopy) Pampas waters. The boots we wore did little except help us stay mud free as the water seeped into our shoes and socks. The whole area smelled like sulphur (AKA “doo doo”) and we were up to our heads in grass – it was a bit intense. We fanned out and were told to look around for anaconda – and that if we found them, we should stay at least 3-5 meters away from them. Kinda hard when visibility is about 3-5 feet of grass away!

sloshing around

Up to our thighs in muddy waters

After about an hour or more of incredibly slow sloshing through the grassy swamp, we started to head down towards the river. They asked us if we wanted to keep going, but we said no – we were tired and had had enough. Bismark then told us that the probability of seeing a snake was about 10% due to the high waters of the rainy season. Wish I had known that before I had decided to go on the trip! It was a long mosquito-filled walk back to the boat with our dirty wet boots.

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After lunch, we had a little bit of time to rest. I took a nap for an hour or so until I awoke to the sound of Bismark’s call. It was time for us to go up the river to “swim with the dolphins” before we headed up to the Sunset shack to chill.

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Rurrenabaque, I Love You

My trip to Rurrenabaque started of with a short 45 min ride on a 30 passenger plane (very necessary during the rainy season, where bus rides are over 24 hours long and incredibly dangerous). I had heard great things about the town, but didn’t realize just how beautiful it would be until I started to see the lush, green jungle below from the plane.

As we landed, I thought to myself, “Why the hell wasn’t I here for the rest of my trip.” I had been suffering through high altitude and coldish weather for the past 3 or so weeks!

Except Rurre - I could stay here all week long and just chill in this warm jungle town!

I love this jungle town

After getting into town, I found a (very friendly) motorbike taxi driver and went to Hostal Santa Ana, where I was given a gorgeous little room (outside bathroom) for $40 bolivianos. The hostel also had a hammock garden, many patios, and lush trees and palms covering the grounds. Despite no free breakfast and a lack of wifi, this place was pretty awesome.

Hostel Santa Ana

Hostel Santa Ana

My lunch that day was also pretty great – soup and a second course of beef at a small restaurant up the street. All the almuerzos in town are $10 bolivianos and HELLA tasty.

almuerzo

* * * * *

Day 1 in the Pampas: Animals, Bucked-nekked Hotness, and Mosquitos

The next day was the beginning of my trip into the Pampas of Beni. The first person I met was an English guy named Kevin – he was cool and friendly but his accent was so strong that there were times when I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The other folks were a group of Japanese tourists, an older somewhat hippie woman from Germany, two Dutch girls, a pair of French boys and three Chilean guys. The latter group of people were in my truck as we rolled out for three hours on a muddy and potholed dirt road to our destination up north. I spent the latter part of those three hours getting to know the driver of my car who was getting sleepy at the wheel – we had a great conversation about his life, his family, life in Rurre, and Bolivian politics.

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The South America Travel Diaries: The Top 10 Lessons Learned (so far)

So thanks to this lovely thing called the interwebs, I’ve cyber-met a handful of other good people that are also planning on doing a trip through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, etc. I have a few lessons learned to share, and I’ll try to keep it short. Bear in mind this mostly applies to Peru and Bolivia, the only two countries I sorta know through my travels…

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1) You gotta know a decent amount of Spanish – Or travel with someone who does

I honestly can’t even imagine traveling through South America without knowing Spanish. I’ve heard that it’s easier in Argentina (more English-speakers), but whenever I did ANYTHING in Peru or Bolivia (went to the bank, made hostel reservations, crossed the border, went on a tour) – it was mostly or all in Spanish. Some bilingual tours are great (the Pampas), while others give a 5 minute speech in Spanish with a 30 second description in English (Puno). Avoid feeling helpless and having a strange blank look on your face when you’re at the border by working on your Spanish – or befriending other bilingual tourists.

I used Livemocha.com a few months before I left to study up and really liked it – you can chat with other people from all over the world while going through formal lessons and learning regional vocabulary.

And of course, many cities in Bolivia and Peru offer Spanish (and Quechua!) language programs too, so check those out!

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2) Don’t travel during the rainy season

Well, at the very least I wouldn’t recommend it. As much as I’ve enjoyed my travels, I’ve never realized how dangerous and sucktastic rain could make things: more car and bus accidents, rainy or snowy treks/tours, mudslides, a thousand times more mosquitos, HAIL… quick-dry panties that are still wet because you forgot to take them inside to dry. More plane or bus delays (well, that happens anyway). And cancelled or ruined tours (The Salar de Uyuni tour was almost un-doable due to the heavy rains that have escalated jeep accidents, mud being dragged into the Salar, and floods that cancel 50% of the trip’s activities for a few weeks).

If you do choose to go during the rainy season (because of the low season), just go early – the later it gets, the more chances the rain will ruin the activities you’ve always wanted to do.

That said, pack and prepare for ALL types of weather! From the cold high altitude cities like La Paz, to the hot and humid low altitude areas like Rurrenabaque, you’ll need a variety of clothing options.

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3) It doesn’t matter how buff you are. Accept the fact that you’ll probably get altitude sickness

Altitude sickness has nothing to do with fitness, actually – I think it has more to do with genetics. I, like some people, thought that I would be fine hiking Machu PIcchu because I go camping and backpacking (with a full backpack) through Tahoe and other places in California every year. Well, California is not Cusco. Get to your destination at least a few early (to acclimate), get lots of soroche (altitude sickness) pills and take them before you get to a high altitude area, have a good first aid kit with a variety of meds on hand, and have people around that can take care of you if things go bad (thank god for Raina and the rest of the homies on the M.P. trek!).

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La Paz and The Valley of the Moon

A girl tapped me on the shoulder and said to me in English, “Can you look at my bag for me for a second?”

“Sure, I’ll watch your bag, no problem.”

While she was gone, I noticed the button on her bag that said “Berkeley”. “Did you go to UC Berkeley?” I asked her when she returned.

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On the way to La Paz

 Angelica was a fellow solo traveler (originally from Colombia) who had parted from her  friends back in Lima after realizing the benefits of solo traveling (“I’m not so rigid that I have to stick to a fixed itinerary”, she told me). We talked for hours about working on progressive social issues, and the life and times of solo traveling in South America. “I love solo traveling, I’ve made friends everywhere!” she told me.

When we arrived to La Paz, I was amazed at how beautiful it was. Houses lined the hills of the valley on all sides, while white capped mountains bordered the city in the distance. It’s such a gorgeous city!

 la paz

Since Angelica was going to Sucre to meet up with her friends and do some volunteer work, we wished each other well and parted ways after our bus arrived at the terminal terrestre.

My hostal, Hostal Maya, is a fairly nice hotel in the heart of the tourist district of La Paz on la calle Sagarnaga. Since I crashed it, I only had access to a single room with a private bathroom – a bit expensive for my taste, but it was worth it. I was still sick, and needed to recover from my lack of sleep the night before.

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Catedral San Francisco

The heart of tourist town La Paz – an area called Las Brujas – is covered in brightly colored street vendors hawking amazing looking jewelry, tour companies bragging about mountain bike trips to “the World’s Most Dangerous Road”, and bad tourist food restaurants. I ate dinner at a Middle Eastern food spot up the street (despite the Lonely Planet recommendation, it was just ok) and bought three jackets for $700 bolivianos (about $33 bucks each) at a store selling adventure and climbing gear up on Illampu. I don’t know if they’re real or knock-offs, but if the gear holds up, it will be the best bargain ever!

las brujas

Later that evening, I got an email from Angelica, saying that “something crazy happened to her” and that she wanted to see if I would be interested in hanging out in La Paz the next day.

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Welcome to Bolivia: 24 Hours in Copacabana

Border crossing into Bolivia

Border crossing into Bolivia

The trip to Copacabana, Bolivia was a bit of a journey. Rain, a stuffy bus ride, and not completely remembering the directions I heard in Spanish complicated my trip across the border. By the time I had gotten my paperwork in order and hopped back on the bus, I was glad to make it to the other side.

Copa was sunnier, calmer, and much more touristy at first. I walked down the road past the jewelry vendors, internet cafes and tour operators to the edge of the lake, where I found families playing foosball and dozens of swan boats for rent.

P1000576I settled in a hotel by the lake called Hostal Brisas Del Titicaca – the only mistake on my hostel adventures thus far. My room was so small that I could barely fit myself past the soft and sunken twin bed that consumed almost all of the space in my room.

P1000606 I spent most of the day just exploring the town, which turned out to be really nice. I enjoyed the homey and old fashioned feel of the squares and the big Catedral up the street. Vendors on all sides – hippie tourists and Bolivians alike – sold bracelets, great earrings (I got 4 pairs), and all sorts of items (clothing, purses, bags, books – you name it) in brightly stripped colors. I bought a grip of gifts for my friends and fam, as well as some jewelry and things for myself.

Up the street, locals decorated their cars in flowers for the weekly blessing of the automobiles in front of the Cathedral. Near the church vendors sold Catholic items and bright jewelry with the faces of saints decorated in fake flowers, fake gold and silver. I saw a few people going up to the church with candles and bought some of my own so that I could say a prayer for my journey and for the people I’ve met along the way.

Sending thoughts and prayers out

Sending thoughts and prayers out

On the side of the church was a small and dark stone room where families lit bunches of candles together to say a prayer and wish for good things in the coming months. Some people even made pictures out of the melted wax and wrote things like “salud”, “educacion”, and more on the walls to make their prayers more concrete. I said a prayer for the girl who fell during the hike to Machu Picchu  and wished all travelers a safe and healthy journey.

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