Friday, July 31, 2015

7/31/15: Humberstone Saltpeter

I woke up a little late today because I went to sleep late last night, so it ended up being almost noon by the time I was on a bus to Humberstone. It's a location about 45 minutes to an hour away from Iquique, an abandoned town now named a UNESCO World Heritage Site that used to be the center of saltpeter (gunpowder) production, a huge industry for Chile in the decades before and after 1900.

The trip there was tricky with public transportation because it's almost a completely touristy site - there are very few locals getting on and off there, and instead of having a bus stop, the buses just sort of pause at the edge of the road, let you walk off, and continue on. I did not know this (all I knew was from an incomplete review on Trip Advisor), so my minibus passed the stop before I even knew what was going on. Luckily, there was a little tiny town nearby where the driver directed me to a bus in the opposite direction to let me to the site.

When I got dropped off, I walked about 5 minutes to the site and paid to get in (yay for student discounts!). The site is incredible! It's an entire city - a small one - that has everything, from living quarters to a hospital to a waste dump to the mining/processing plant to a main square with a market, clock tower, theater, and hotel. It took me about 3 hours to get through the whole thing, and all the buildings are rusted and beginning to fall apart. One of the biggest risks of this place is that the sun (really hot with lots of radiation) and the other elements will damage it beyond repair. The UNESCO designation helps fund some refurbishing, but a good amount of the site is still in disrepair, which is quite unfortunate.

It was a privilege to learn about the life of these workers, which consisted of a lot of hard work. It's kind of incredible that the whole town is still standing and much of the buildings and equipment is still intact. The idea was that saltpeter was a really valuable material and one that transformed the city of Iquique into a city and a crucial port in Chile. At its peak, 65% of worldwide saltpeter was Chilean. In the late 1930s, though, Germans invented artificial gunpowder that put thousands of Chileans out of business. Unfortunate for them.

To get back to Iquique was a lot more tricky than getting to Humberstone because there's no real bus stop. Basically, you walk back to the highway where you got off (about 5-10 minutes away from the Humberstone site) and wait until there's a bus that is headed in the direction of Iquique. When one finally came (maybe after 5 minutes of waiting - there are actually lots of buses and minibuses), I saw a couple of people get off. That meant there would definitely be room for me, so I asked to get on and the driver agreed! Whew. I was really nervous about it, but thankfully it all worked out!

For dinner, I stopped at a chicken place - I got 1/4 of a chicken with a plate of fries, a drink, and a side salad for about $6. Bless South America!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

7/30/15: Day 1 in Iquique

We arrived to the outskirts of Iquique around 3:45, when I woke up because the bus was stopped. I panicked a little because I saw that a good chunk of the bus had already left, and I thought that it was time to get off. I quickly gathered my stuff to get off, but the bus door closed before I was able to get out. That was actually a good thing, though, since we weren't in the actual city yet. Instead, I got to sit up front with the driver and his assistant until we got down into the city. Since the area we arrived to is apparently quite dangerous at night, they allowed anyone who wanted to stay in the bus (and sleep) until the sunrise at about 7:30. I'm incredibly thankful for that, since they found out early that I had a ridiculously difficult time understanding them (Chilean Spanish is incomprehensible, I swear).

I spent the morning literally walking around until I could find a place to stay - all the places I stopped by first didn't have singles/hostel-style rooms or were really expensive. I finally found a place with good wifi and the cheapest price (8000 CP, or about $12). I spent a couple hours working and doing research about what to do today before heading out. I must have asked at least 5 hostels about prices, and none of them, including the one I decided on, had maps of Iquique. What? If I had my phone it would not be a problem, but since I don't, it definitely is.

I made my way towards the city center, going to the free Regional Museum at first. I've been called "valiente" or brave by many people throughout my trip, and was called that again by the woman employee for traveling alone! The museum itself was quite nice - it had a section on animals, mummification (practiced quite widely in the Atacama Desert area), tools, technology, and textiles. Their English translations were quite sparse, making it very difficult to read/understand anything, but at least their artifacts were clear and interesting!

The main plaza is small, and it was under construction (as is much of the rest of the main city). I tried to find other museums - the Naval, the History (not real name), etc. - but they were all closed even though I found a pamphlet showing they would be open at the times I visited. Hmm.

I stopped by a church since I had some time to, and its style was a lot like the one I saw yesterday in Calama - and very different from the ones that I had seen in Peru and Bolivia. How interesting! At least I know that the one in Calama was not just a fluke, then!

I sat down for some lunch as well - the first time in about 5 days that I actually bought a meal. What I like a lot about South America is that restaurants all tend to have something called a "menu" - not a list of the food choices they offer, but a sort of daily special that usually includes an appetizer (soup, typically) and a main dish, occasionally with a dessert as well. I had chicken noodle soup with chicken and rice - I would not have eaten that much chicken had I known what the waitress was saying, dang it - but it was good nonetheless.

I also walked through a little part of the market and along the touristy shopping center in the afternoon. It had all sorts of souvenirs, and there was one lady making earrings and other jewelry by hand! They looked awesome but I'm sure they would have been very expensive and I don't wear them very often, so I kept moving and bought myself an ice cream - best idea ever!

My last stop for the day was another museum. Since Iquique is a coastal port (like almost all the other cities in Chile), it has a museum called the Museo Corbeta Esmeralda of a replica of a warship from the 1800s. The boat was only accessible with a tour guide, and this tour guide only spoke ridiculously fast Chilean Spanish, so I basically understood nothing. Unfortunate. Still, the boat was worth the $4.50 that I paid, so I'm not going to complain. I also finally saw the bus terminal (the real one!) of Iquique, so when I need to leave, I'll be going from there!

7/29/15: Salar de Tara and trip to Iquique

Today was another long day! I woke up for an 8 am day tour to Salar de Tara, and was not disappointed. We were able to see a good amount, and the views were incredible! One of our first stops was a frozen river with a mountain range behind it. We had a simple breakfast there before moving on to another, wider part of the river that looked more like a lake. It was so cold that the whole area had frozen over - our tour guide said the lake was between 2-6 meters deep! It was solid enough to be able to stand on, and it was awesome!

Along the rest of the way, we saw some breathtaking sights - from the mountain that marks the intersection of the borders of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile; to a rock that looks like a native shaman; to write rock formations. 

Our last stop was the Salt Flat itself. Much different from the one in Uyuni because this was a lot smaller and was not completely dry. It actually had a good amount of wildlife surrounding it, and had a cool rock formation right next to it!

I also felt a little better on this tour because I was not the only one who preferred English translations - there was another girl who was traveling alone at the time who preferred them as well! 

I'm really bummed that I didn't have the best camera, but the views really were great! I'm really happy I went - even if I was pretty tired during the times when we were on the bus. 

I wasn't sure how I was going to get to my next city because I'd never taken a bus in Chile - it looks like it works very similarly to Peru and Bolivia, though, which is definitely good news. I bought a bus ticket to the city of Calama (there are no direct buses out of SPdA) about 1.5 hours away. The buses reminded me of the ones in Peru - a lot more modern, comfortable, and designed to be higher-class. The buses in Bolivia are a lot older and typically have more broken seat tilters or things like that. This one not only had air conditioning, padded seats, and a bathroom, the seats also had USB chargers! Bless.

I arrived in Calama at around 6:40, and the only bus to Iquique left for the night left at 11:00 pm because the bus ride is only 5 hours. I passed the time by walking around the city a little bit - it's nice! They don't have much since it's a small town, but the main plaza was alive and full of foliage. The adjoining church was another sight to see, and I'm beginning to see a trend in the churches in Chile. Unlike the ones in Peru or Bolivia, Chilean churches aren't that extravagant - they tend to be one room, with paintings or statues on the sides instead of the full displays of saints that are the norm in Peru and Bolivia. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

7/28/15: Valle Arcoiris and Termas de Puritama

I had another long day ahead of me today - but luckily it started at 8 and not 5! My first stop was Valle Arcoiris, or Rainbow Valley. Even though the two sites that I visited yesterday are the ones that are much more popular and touristy, I absolutely think that Valle Arcoiris is better! It was as expensive as the two from yesterday combined - I think it has to do with the fact that there aren't as many people interested in it, as our group saw maybe 2 other vans compared to the dozens at both the Geysers of Tatio and Valle de la Luna - but I'm so, so glad I came here!

The colors of the rocks here are apparently formed not only by some different minerals, but also by differences in the temperatures of the magma/lava that make them up. Over time, minerals attract other minerals of the same kind, so the white bands in the rock represent many sulfur, for example.

The view there was truly incredible. I have no regrets about going at all. Wow, and I'm glad I insisted on it! There was also a little river in the area that made the mountain/valley that much better looking. I think I have some obsession with color, because it's what makes a landscape the most beautiful for me.

Our second stop on the way was a series of petroglyphs - pictures carved into stone. These were apparently made by obsidian due to its abundance in the area from volcanoes. There were ones that had been around for thousands of years - many depicting forms of various animals, especially llamas that were crucial in transporting materials and people - and there were ones that were "replicas" that visitors had created. The petroglyphs were awesome! They looked a lot like cave paintings that you would expect from long ago, and it's a shame that more weren't preserved. There are apparently a lot more, but they are very far away and no formal tours go there, unfortunately.

I had wanted to go to the Salar de Atacama - one of the largest salt flats ever - in the afternoon, but there are very little tours that go there. The ones that do usually go in the morning, and the one I found that went in the afternoon didn't have one today. As an alternative, I decided to go to the Termas de Puritama - a series of hot springs! This was the only "tour" I had been on without an English guide, and my struggles understanding not only Spanish but Chilean Spanish (they speak very fast and don't pronounce many S's, especially those at the end of a word) really showed. Fortunately there wasn't so much a tour as just a series of connected pools that we could swim in. I took advantage of it - the water was definitely not that warm, and moving from pool to pool was excessively cold - but the scenery was amazing as well! The pools (8 in total) were connected with many waterfalls and areas were the water was moving quite fast. I met a nice lady who had a son my age studying in Japan right now - awesome!

The area around the pools - red/clay stones - was pretty as well! I got back to SPDA at around 6:30, pretty exhausted. Tomorrow I've got Salar de Tara - a salt flat apparently very different from Salar de Uyuni - starting at 8 am, and then hopefully a night bus towards Iquique. We'll see how it goes - hopefully as well as today!

7/26-27/15: Geysers de Tatio & Valle de la Luna

Yesterday, I had reserved two tours for Sunday, the Geysers de Tatio in the morning and Valle de la Luna in the afternoon. I was really excited because I was actually going to be doing something again, and traveling on my own!

I was worried because my phone is still not working - I think it's a problem with my battery, not the charger or something else, which is a huge problem - and I went and bought a plastic alarm clock yesterday. However, I tested it and the alarm doesn't seem to work, so I set my alarm on my laptop and hoped that everything would go well. I was supposed to wake up at 4:40 or so to be ready at 5, but nothing woke me up - the clock alarm didn't work, and somehow my laptop had remained on but the internet browser had closed. Still, I woke up around 5:15 and rushed to get ready, hoping that the car still had yet to come. By the time it got to 6, I gave up and went back to sleep.

I woke up again in time for breakfast, then failed to take a nap. I went to the city center to ask about the tour, and was lucky to speak enough Spanish that the employee (he might have been the boss?) allowed me to sign up for the tour the next day instead. I spent the afternoon in the local museum, which was full of information about the Atacama region - it's one of the only stops between Argentina, when much of the food needed for people living in the Atacama Desert was imported, and the coast. It had many great explanations in both Spanish and English, so I spent the afternoon copying down some key vocabulary words while enjoying the exhibit!

I had a tour for Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) scheduled as well, but didn't realize that Bolivian time and Chilean time don't match up. As it turns out, My tour that was supposed to start at 3 pm started at 2 pm Bolivian time - the time to which everything I have was still set to. Well, that would explain a lot. I had a lot harder time getting this tour rescheduled for the next day, but I was so lucky I could. Whew, because I was not about to spend a ton more money on them.

The next day started at the actual right time of 5 am, and I headed with the group to the Geysers of Tatio. It was about -10 Celcius and ridiculously cold - I was not happy about being so cold, and I regret not bringing a pair of warmer pants! Still, the geyser field was incredible and absolutely beautiful! I felt a little bad about being the only one who needed English translations (lots of Chileans travel to San Pedro de Atacama for vacation, apparently) but the tour guide, Felipe, was nice enough and didn't make a big deal of it at all.

We also went to some hot springs - even though it was freezing cold outside, I thought it would be like the hot springs from Uyuni (really warm and worth it) and decided to get in. Unfortunately for me, these hot springs were not nearly as warm, and I ended up feeling more lukewarm than anything. At least I got some great pictures of the geysers next to them! Geysers are apparently formed only over rock that is hard enough not to erode with the passage of water through it, because otherwise, you get hot springs or something similar.

On our way back, we stopped by a pond and saw several different animals - from ducks to birds to vicugnas - and plants. The scenery is absolutely amazing because SPDA is surrounded by 5 different mountain ranges, 3 of which are in sight in the areas near the city. They make for gorgeous photos, breathtaking landscapes, and impossible colors against in sky.

We got back near noon, and I had some time to kill before my second tour of the day. I got some work done, and then headed out for the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) tour! The area is also quite awesome, but again I felt bad because I was the only one to ask for English translations. Oh well, I'll get over it. I'm paying the same amount as everyone else (maybe even more, who knows?) so I'm going to get my money's worth.

The area is gorgeous. It kind of does look like the surface of the moon, which is what the area is supposedly named after. Places that were extremely far away looked a lot closer because the air is so dry - not because there's no rain (there's apparently quite a lot) but because its relative humidity is extremely low. Either way, it made for some great pictures - thanks again to the series of mountain ranges.

We also visited a little cave area!

Plus the"Tres Marias" - three rock formations that look like mother and child!

Our tour guide (Philip? Something like that), seeing as we were a group of young and relatively fit people, proposed that we go to a more unusual spot in the area to watch the sunset. I was all for it, as was everyone else! I could absolutely see why he chose this spot, because the other was filled with other tour groups and didn't have the same gorgeous view of nearby rock formations. The sunset was incredible - and what made it even better was the color palate of the mountains on the other side. The sunset is apparently a "fake" one, meaning that we see the sun set over the mountains but the sun hasn't actually set yet due to the height of the mountains. We still have light, and the reflection/refraction of it is what makes the mountains on the opposite side have purples and pinks and blues. Wow.

Overall, though I was supposed to have this day on Sunday instead of Monday, I had a great time!

Monday, July 27, 2015

7/25/15: Salar de Uyuni, Day 3 and arrival in Chile

Last night, we only had 4 beds, so I had to use the same one as Daniel, putting our sleeping bags next to each other. This normally would not have been a problem, but he pulls the sheets. Since it was negative degrees outside with no heating inside, even with the sleeping bags I woke up several times throughout the night from the cold. Ugh. Waking up at 3:40am freezing cold is not fun.

Nevertheless, we had breakfast and headed out. We stopped by some geysers, but it was still bright and early with barely any light other than the car headlights, and freezing cold. Ugh. 

We then arrived at the hot springs. I was skeptical of them because it was below zero outside, but the alternative was to stay ashore and freeze, so I decided to change into my bathing suit (for the first time this trip!) and get in the hot springs. Turns out that was absolutely the right choice, because the water was warm and totally worth it! It felt amazing, but before long I was called by the other tour group, who would be my ride to the Bolivian/Chilean border. With them, I visited some other lagoons before the end of the tour.

The line at immigration on the Bolivian side was a lot longer than I expected, and I was nervous because I did not want to pay the 20 Bs per day over the 30 I had been given by my visa. It was made worse by other travelers behind me speaking in Spanish about how gringos have to pay an extraordinary amount for a visa because the Bolivian government is skeptical of us or something. Luckily, when I got in, the guy didn't even look at my entry stamp. He just found the page where my visa was, stamped it, and charged me 15 Bs like he did for everyone else. I later found out that the sum was actually a bribe of sorts, which explained why he told me it was okay when I was only able to produce 14 Bs before he shooed me away. Other people were pissed, calling Bolivia corrupt, but I honestly was just glad that I didn't have to pay something like 400 Bs for staying so long. 

The bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama was uneventful as a whole, and I passed migration with no problems on the Chilean side. When I arrived into town, I could not for the life of me find any hostels that had people staffing them for maybe 10 minutes of walking around, which was extremely bizarre. I eventually found one with reliable internet and a really nice lady as the staff, even though it was a bit expensive. However, I basically have my own room, so I'm not going to complain too much. 

I made my way to the city center later, and now understand what people mean that SPDA is ridiculously touristy. Basically everyone in the area, except for the restaurant, small market, souvenir shop, or tour agency staff, is a tourist here. The town is just a couple of blocks in the main area, and every single stall is targeted at tourists. Everyone is basically offering the same tour for different prices, and I spent more time than expected asking around. I only went to maybe 4 tour companies out of at least 20, but I decided to just go with what I have. I should have gone to the center earlier to have time for a tour this afternoon, but I found a great little tour company that offered me prices that were significantly lower than the others I got! Woohoo!

7/24/15: Salar de Uyuni, Day 2

We got up to leave at 6 am – way too early, in my opinion. On the bright side, the sunrise was incredible – all kinds of colors over the horizon. Wow. This day was mainly full of visits to lagoons – gorgeous waters, and many of them with a unique sort of twist! The colors, the flamingos, all made for incredibly picturesque views.

The Arbol de Piedra, which was one of our main stops, was also awesome! They were basically a huge pile of large rocks, one of which had been made to look like a tree.

By the time that we left, it was getting really cold (mainly from the wind). A little bit before we arrived at our next accommodation for the night, the car had a major mishap. The steering rod – I’m not sure the actual name, but the rod that allows you to control the direction of the wheels – detached from the bottom of the car on the right side. Our driver had to run to the hotel (thankfully within sight) and borrow another vehicle to bring us there. He went back to try to fix it while we ate a snack and dinner and just hung out.

I think the two Brazilians wanted to repeat last night, but this new group that we came with was not up for drinking, since many of them were experiencing some problems adjusting to the altitude. It was also a lot colder in this hotel than the one before (along with no water even in the bathrooms?!), which made a lot of them go to sleep early. There was a Portuguese girl who had a really, really terrible lisp-sounding accent when speaking Spanish, and I couldn’t tell if her lisp was natural or if it came from Portuguese, which is spoken with that sound a lot. It annoyed me, almost as much as the other Portuguese guy bothering me about why Daniel and I aren’t dating, or relying on a million stereotypes to describe everyone he sees. Oh well.

Our driver came back and shared the news with us about the car situation – they called Uyuni for a replacement car, but there had been no contact for a while and we were going to operate on the assumption that we would have no car the next day. We would borrow the car from another group (and have to leave at 4am rather than the original 5) and then split up the group later, when they would need that car again. Well, the alternative, which was to stay at the hotel for another full day, would have been worse. 

7/23/15: Salar de Uyuni, Day 1

We arrived in Uyuni earlier than expected, and the city was freezing. I had expected it to be cold, but I now understood what other people were talking about with the temperature before. Also, it was way early, and I didn’t know how to even begin to find a tour company to do the Salt Flats tour with. Luckily, there was a small agency right outside of the bus stop, so we walked in and booked a tour right there! From what I had heard about the prices, what we got was pretty decent, so I then took some time to walk around the city.

Uyuni is very small and very touristy. There is maybe one museum, but dozens of hotels and hostels lining the central plaza. There was a significant market right in the center of town when it started to get later, and I stopped to get some yummy breakfast from the street stands – fried potato filled with egg, and this rice/chicken combo. Delicious!

The tour started at 10:30, and though we had only a Spanish-speaking driver/guide for the 7 of us, it turned out to be pretty good. The group was 2 Brazilian friends who had lived in Bolivia for years and a mother with her 20+ year old son and daughter. One of the Brazilians and the son and daughter spoke English, and they were happy to translate for us if there were things we didn’t understand.

Our first stop was the train cemetery. It was almost like an adult playground – lots of old trains that you could walk around and climb!

The scenery was gorgeous – when we got to the actual salt flat, I understood what people were talking about with the beauty. In the winter, there’s no water and therefore no reflections, but it was still incredible!

We stopped at a little artisan area to buy whatever we needed, and I was over the moon that I could get two pairs of cute mittens to go with my hats for 30 Bs – or less than $2.50 total!

We had some lunch before heading to the “island” of volcanic rock (Isla Incahuasi) that was randomly in the middle of the salt flats. It was filled with cacti, and had a beautiful view at the top!

We then got to see the sunset across the mountains, and moved on to our accommodation for the night. It was this hotel, with the ground covered in salt, and made of salt blocks for the structure and furniture – very interesting! There was a little museum next door with mummies/skeletons of the dead, which we toured. There was nothing special about the bones compared to other skeletons I had seen in other museums, though.

At night, the two Brazilians brought out the alcohol and basically got the party started. I was skeptical at first and didn’t want to drink, but I decided to just go for it when everyone else (except the mother and daughter, who went to sleep early) and the other tour group started drinking. I remembered how fun it can be to drink – the other group, made of French people who had varying degrees of Spanish ability, started teaching us some games.

The first was like Taboo – we all write names of famous people and split into teams, trying to get teammates to guess the people. For the second round you could only say one word; for the third, charades; for the last, a single post. We played for a while – in Spanish, no less – and then split into two groups.

Eventually, we combined groups and started playing a “pass the ball” sort of game, where you could choose to pass the ball, skip the person next to you, or reverse the direction of the ball. For each one, you have a specific word you have to use. When people are drunk, this becomes incredibly fun – people start messing up and making up words, among other things!

The last game we played was this drinking game, where everyone is an animal and you basically call each other out until someone messes up and has to take a drink. The phrase, which is “El caballo no bebe, quien bebe es la mariposa” where you substitute animals, is great for non-native Spanish speakers, because it’s really hard to get and speak quickly. Needless to say, it was quite fun. Also, one of the French girls was so impressed with my English, Chinese, Spanish, and French. I kept trying to convince her that it wasn’t that special because my Spanish and French are pretty terrible and I struggle a lot with Chinese in some respects, but she was not having it. At least it made me feel good.

Eventually, we headed outside when we stopped having as much fun with the games and drinking. The stars were amazing – you could see so, so many! It was freezing but worth it to just take a look. 

7/21-22/15: Rest and Travel

I woke up rather late today with a phone that was dead, and chargers that no longer worked. I don’t know why this has been such a big problem, but my phone is so crucial to my travels – it’s my entertainment, my clock, my camera, my communication device, my map, my GPS, my note-taking device, everything. I might be able to live without it but life with it is so, so much easier. Hopefully this is a temporary problem that I can solve soon.

I wandered out into the city for a bit, but I realized that without knowing the time, it was hard for me to ensure that I would have enough time to see things, since most attractions are closed between noon and 2 for a siesta. I ended up walking to the public library and then going to sit at the main plaza because I was suddenly exhausted. Since I wasn’t able to get any sleep, I headed back to the hostel earlier than I expected to take a nap on the couch before heading to the bus terminal. For some reason, the terminal in Sucre is very different from that of other cities, and it was a challenge to find a bus company that had tickets to Cochabamba still available for tonight. Eventually, I found one (for rather expensive in Bolivian terms) but it was quite comfortable.

I arrived at 5 am in Cochabamba but was able to wait in the bus terminal for Daniel at 9, when we had agreed to leave. We spent the day in Oruro – a nice but empty city when Carnival is not happening – and went to a “café” at the top of a hotel in the center of the city to work during the rest of the day. We had to pay for wifi, and only had access to it for an hour, but I guess it’s better than nothing. I was able to buy an iPhone charger for about $40 from a store that looked to be certified Apple – they had Apple products, laptops, chargers, headphones – but I’m still having trouble with my phone battery. I don’t know if the problem is with my phone itself or with the cords that I’ve been using to charge it. I really hope this will not be a problem going forward – it’s so important to me to have my phone! – but I guess it will be a lesson for me if I have to learn to live without it. At least I still have my laptop, otherwise I would go insane. 

7/20/15: Sucre and the Dinosaurs!

It was a good day today! I felt like I did a lot, but don’t have very many pictures to show for it, unfortunately. I started off the day relatively late for my traveling days – I left the hostel around 10am. I wanted to get in as much sleep as pleased me, and then headed out into town! My first stop was a small little place called Centro Cultural Masis – I had written down its information without really knowing what it was. No regrets, though!

It turns out the center is a place of music – of preserving traditional music of a group called La Masis. They have an extensive collection of all kinds of instruments of Bolivian tradition, as well as many gifts from others in the musical world, from other parts of South America. They also had a room with dozens of masks, many used for traditional dances and Carnival – a huge 3-month celebration in all of Bolivia. It is partially funded by the proceeds of Masis, the group, that travels the world and apparently was in Texas last year! They have classes for kids to keep them off the streets and provide them a great place to stay. As I was the only one there at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was able to take pictures or not, so I don’t have any, but the instruments were beautiful!

At that time, I wanted to leave for the Cretaceous Park and dinosaur footprints there, and after some wandering around and asking several people, I finally figured out how! The park entrance was very cute – they have life-size replicas of all sorts of dinosaurs, and I arrived just in time to go see the footprints on the first tour.

The dinosaur footprints were a lot cooler than the ones in Toro Toro – simply because there were a lot more and you could see them much more clearly. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to capture them very well in my pictures, but in person they were definitely worth the trip there.
The Park itself is located on a pretty high mountain, so it gave a great view of Sucre as well!
When I got back, I decided to make my way to the Museum of Indigenous Art that I passed by but was closed yesterday. It was pretty extensive, and they had books of translations of all the signs around the museum – it turned out to be a ton of information. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, but the content was similar to the poncho museum that I visited in Copacabana.

What I thought was most interesting was the difference between cloths woven by women and those woven by men – the women’s tapestries had more intricate detail while the men’s had larger, more crude shapes that resembled that I would expect from a child. I had originally planned on spending no more than about an hour in the museum, but with all the information and different rooms, as well as the complete English translations, I ended up staying closer to 2-3 hours. It was worth it, though!

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped by two tourist information spots to ask about the 7 Waterfalls attraction. It sounded interesting, but both ladies told me that it probably wasn’t worth going, especially independently. The area is apparently a little dangerous and not worth going to during the winter. In addition, because there is a blockade/barricade in Potosi right now, I would not be able to go directly to it or go from Sucre to Uyuni. My best option would be to go from Sucre back to Cochabamba, to Oruro, to Uyuni. Well, at least I can meet up with Daniel in Cochabamba and ensure that we get on the same bus and tour and everything.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

7/18-19/15: Real last day in Cochabamba, First in Sucre!

Since I unexpectedly had to stay another day in Cochabamba, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. I woke up way earlier than I wanted to, so I boiled some water, washed some clothes, organized some of my stuff, etc. I also started to tackle the monster that is all the irregular verbs and verb tenses that I briefly went over. There’s so much that it feels overwhelming.

Eventually, I decided to head to a café so I could work with some wifi. Daniel met me there and we actually started talking about what happened on my trip to Toro Toro and what our plans were going forward until he leaves. I basically ended up getting very little done, but that’s fine.

I headed to the bus station to try to get there around 7, but ended up arriving much closer to 7:30 because of all the traffic in the area. The terminal was hectic as always, but I was able to buy a ticket from someone standing in front of one of the ticket offices trying to resell his ticket because there was a problem. The guy manning the office verified it and I got the ticket for 5 Bs less than its sell value – yay!

I’m still getting used to being on the road, moving from place to place – and the fact that I arrived at 5:30 the morning after to Sucre did not help one bit. The night bus to Sucre was a lot shorter than I would have wanted – about 9 hours – meaning that it was still pitch black in a city that I had no idea where I would stay. I would wake up intermittently, so I also didn’t get the greatest night’s sleep. I’m thankful that I had the foresight yesterday to ensure I had the address and information for the cheapest/most valued hostel, though, because the two people that were potential Couchsurfs never really confirmed. One gave me an address but apparently was in an accident recently. He said I could still stay at his place but didn’t say that he would be there or that I could find the key in a certain place, didn’t call me back, and hasn’t texted me, so I’m just going to operate as if they are no-goes. The other guy said he might be able to host me but ended up traveling this weekend for his sister’s birthday. That disappointed me the most because he has the cutest little daughter and I was looking forward to working with kids again. Oh well.

I arrived really early, and the city was very asleep still. It took me maybe 15 minutes of ringing the doorbell to get someone to come open the hostel door and let me in. When I got in, the lady who answered told me they might not have a bed, but it was still completely dark outside so she let me stay in the lobby area. Turns out there was a bed open, so I got to take care of that and head out to the city by about 8 am!

The thing to note about Sucre is that it's the de facto capital of Bolivia. People usually know more about La Paz and other cities, but this is still officially the capital. The buildings and feel of the city is extraordinarily uniform - one of its nicknames is the "White City" because all the buildings are white. When you walk down any street, you just see a bunch of white on all sides, and you feel a sort of peace that isn't present in La Paz or Cochabamba. In fact, the feel is way closer to Santa Cruz, a city that I absolutely loved. I definitely like Sucre - even after just one day - and I'm pretty sure that will just be confirmed tomorrow and the next day. 

I headed to the main Plaza 25 de Mayo. It was very, very quiet on a Sunday morning, but it's quite nice. At 9, the Casa de la Liberdad opened up. I had seen some really great reviews about it on Trip Advisor, so I was excited to see the fuss. It cost a little over $2 to get in, but I was really disappointed to see that everything was in Spanish. Although my Spanish is certainly improving, that in no way means that I can read and understand yet. It felt similar to what it was like to be around so much Spanish when I first traveled - I couldn't understand anything and could maybe pick out a few words here and there to be able to make a guess that was a little structured. It was sad, but they still had some cool displays of older art, weaponry, portraits of previous Bolivian presidents, etc. 

I wandered around the area a little after that, including into the church off the main square. It had service going on so I wasn't free to really walk around and explore, but it was cool to see the church in action. That was not very exciting and looked a lot like service in the church that I used to go to. I continued to wander and stumbled on another church, and it was much the same. 

The sad thing about Sucre on Sunday is that there are so, so many things that are closed. The Liberty Museum seemed to be the only thing that wasn't, and I got through that in an hour because I couldn't really read what was written. That made it really terrible, but I got over it and headed towards a lookout point over the city that is similar to what I remember in Cusco. Since Sucre is so uniform, the view has quite the order to it. I decided to take a seat at the cafe there and ordered this delicious chicken salad, tomato, and cucumber sandwich. I have missed chicken salad like heck, wow. 

The funniest thing that happened there was that there were 3 Australians that came. They just did not care about anything, it seems, because they were speaking rather loudly and knew almost no Spanish (for example, the word for thirty). What they did speak was heavily, heavily accented. It got to the point where I was embarrassed to show any indication that I could speak English but was simultaneously laughing at the terrible accents they had, but they just didn't care, it seems. It was such a different mindset that they had compared to mine. When I can't speak the language I keep my mouth shut, and I listen extremely closely to try to mimic the local accent as much as possible. Wow. 

After that I headed to the cemetery. I'm sure they exist in other cities (La Paz, for example, has one that I saw from the cable car) but this one in Sucre has some special significance and is huge and quite nice. I didn't know why there were so many ladies outside selling flowers until I entered the cemetery and remembered. 

It was really important/great for me to go and visit the cemetery. I've been thinking about some stuff that I'm having a hard time with, and being around so many plaques/displays of dead people reminded me of my mortality. What kind of world do I leave behind, and what am I going to be thinking about in my final moments? What kind of things - though hopefully none - will I regret? I saw two funeral processions walk down the aisles of the area while I was there. I have very little pictures because it felt wrong to take pictures there. Either way, it was a very interesting place, peaceful and with an underlying appreciation for life and its pleasures. 

I stopped by a tour agency to ask about tours to Salar de Uyuni, and I was really excited to have the whole conversation in Spanish! Unfortunately, the lady told me that (1) my original plan to visit the city of Potosi probably is a no go because they have protests that are preventing buses from going, and (2) the tour she offered cost over 1000 Bs. On the bright side, it doesn't cost more to go directly to San Pedro de Atacama afterwards, which is a small relief. But still, I'm hoping I can visit Potosi. 

The last two things I wanted to see were the city "central market" and a church in that area. Sucre is filled with churches and hostels, actually. Both seemed to be legitimately at every corner. I went to the market first - it was really, really sad. This might be due to the fact that it's Sunday early evening, but there weren't many stalls and the sellers lined maybe two blocks on the street. Huge departure from La Concha in Cochabamba. The church was also very average. On the way I saw a lot more tourists, and I always don't know how to respond to the ones that carry a huge backpack with their water bottle off to the side, the tourist hat and shoes, and a huge Lonely Planet guidebook in their hands. I just. Why? 

Right before going back to the hostel, I stopped at the park in front. In a stark contrast to most other things in the city, like the relatively empty streets, the park was full of people and life. I will be able to tell tomorrow if it's a routine or special occasion, but the park had blow-up bouncy houses, rental horse-riding, rental cars for kids to drive, peddleboats on the little river, tons of people selling food, and some street performer-like people working with dogs. It was nice. 

The wifi at night at this hostel is terrible - I can barely load web pages. #Struggle For tomorrow, I'm hoping to go to some of the museums that weren't open for today, as well as the dinosaur footprints! It'll be an exciting day!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

7/17/15: Toro Toro's Ciudad de Itas y Cavernas

It was hilarious this morning because the ladies that I had taken the tour with the day before all arrived a little after our agreed time, 7:30, and we all were worried we would be late. What I thought was hilarious was that all four of us were ready before the office even opened. That’s the difference between the culture of countries like the United States and France, and that of Bolivia – the office clearly said that they would open at 7:30, but in reality didn’t open until about 10 minutes later.
The day today was longer than I had expected, but it was still a great one! We went on a tour with Timateo again to the Ciudad de Itas and Canvernas – both were basically really large natural structures that had been carved out over long periods of time by water.

The Ciudad de Itas was basically an area that was kept from the conquerors of the area, kept as a secret area for the original people who lived there.  The above-ground caves looked amazing – not to mention that everything was on the sides of mountains and at pretty high altitude, making for great pictures. The mountains of the foreground almost reminded me of Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca in Copacabana, and the mountains in the background, which had a blue-ish tint, reminded me of the Lake itself. Great views.

Our second stop, the caverns/caves were just as impressive. I have been in caves before – a long time ago, but we have caves that are in the Austin area. This one we visited was a little different because it required a lot more physical activity. The entrance to the cave was really large, but there were parts of the cave that were extremely narrow – we had to crawl in several of them – or extremely steep – we had to use ropes to help us go down.

Apparently, the condition of the cave wasn’t that great because there are so many tourists. According to an evaluation by some Italian scientists recently, the cave can take about 20 tourists a day to avoid pollution. However, there are way more people than that and tourists used to take off parts of the stalactites and stalagmites as souvenirs. I see why, because the stalactites and the stalagmites are truly incredible – but it’s such a shame.

When I got back, it was easy to get all my stuff ready to return to Cochabamba. The views on the way back were incredible! The sunset made it even better. I got back to the city too late to go to Sucre so I’m staying one more day in Cochabamba. I’m considering going to the ruins or just chilling. I regretted not trying that chocolate mousse in the café I spent so much time in, so I might try to go there. We’ll see.

Monday, July 20, 2015

7/16/15: First day in Toro Toro: the Canyon

Yesterday was [maybe] my last day in Cochabamba (I might stay to see the Ruins), and today I woke up around 4:30am to catch a bus to Toro Toro National Park. I was a little hesitant about it, but I decided just to go for it. I took all my stuff and walked out towards the main street, and hailed a taxi. I just had to ask about the “estation para ir a Toro Toro” and he understood.

The taxi ride was actually pretty cool because, now that I understand a lot more Spanish, I was actually able to have a conversation with him! We talked about traveling to Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, public health (the number of times I have had to explain what it is has been both amusing and enlightening), La Cancha (the market, which already had people setting up. Apparently it’s really dangerous – I’ve been told this multiple times, had someone try to steal my phone from my hands, had my charger pickpocked, and seen Daniel’s phone be sketchily taken from his pockets – and I believe it) and some other random things. I was pleasantly surprised at what I could say, and even though there was still a good amount of guessing at some words, it was nice! At the very least, a huge departure from some of my first taxi rides, even in Bolivia. Yay!

I got to the minibus stop (I would have been fine with the bus since it’s cheaper, but to be honest I didn’t know where it was) and paid about $5 for a front seat – the price was the same for all seats, I just lucked out with the front one. I hadn’t realized how much more you can see, because I was able to take a million pictures of the gorgeous landscape outside the window for the next 4 hours or so. Wow.

The national park itself doesn’t disappoint either. It’s connected to the town of Toro Toro, which is way bigger and nicer than Sajama was. I got there earlier than expected, around 11am, so I walked around for a place to stay. I met this nice couple that ran a hostel/hotel – a bit more expensive, but they were so nice and it’s a private room. For one day, I have no qualms. As I started to explore the city a little, I ran into the three other backpackers that were staying with Kathy in Cochabamba and had come to Toro Toro last night. We went to buy tickets (what were they doing last night?) and ask about tours. We decided to then walk around the city a bit, and started walking on a road, stopping along the way to climb the base of the mountain a little. We just talked a little, mostly exchanging language and enjoying the view. It was quite nice, actually!

I had been told that there was a tour at 2. They had more time than I do and wanted to continue with the mountain, so I headed back towards the town myself. I got back a lot faster than we had taken to go, so I waited at the Plaza Principal for a bit. It reminded me a little of the one in Ollantaytambo – the feel of it as well as the town itself. Near 2, when the office reopened (they take 12-2 for lunch), I went back in to ask about a tour. I waited a little until some people came in for a tour as well, and we formed a group of 7. We were made of two Americans (me and another lady who had an MPH and was working with an organization in Cochabamba), two French backpackers (just finished medical school), and a Bolivian father with his son and daughter.

Our tour guide was a 23-year-old guy named Timateo (aka Timothy) that did a great job! We stopped by the dinosaur footprints – they were way less exciting than I had expected, but the first set seemed to be a mother/parent and child herbivore, with evidence of a velociraptor type seeming to come creeping up to pounce on and eat the baby. Oh. They were cool though! Timateo explained all about the different time periods and the fact that the movement of tectonic plates meant that the prints we see probably were made when the rock was in the place that we see it today. Interesting.

I walked past a place that is supposed to be a river in the summer here, along with a natural bridge. The other place was a natural auditorium – with a place to perform and a place for the audience. The view the whole time was really great. A good amount of the time, I was actually talking to Timateo about his life and what he knows. It felt so, so cool to be talking in Spanish, having a conversation and just use everything that I’ve been working so hard on for the past however long. There were, of course, times when I had to guess what he was saying/meant, but for the most part it was good! Apparently he is a student who started studying tourism for a little bit but decided to change, and used to work a lot but now works usually on weekends to go to school during the week. University costs 50 Bs with all expenses paid for public schools, apparently. WHAT.

We saw the canyon from a lookout point – similar to the Grand Canyon! It’s one of few canyons that are made from the movement of tectonic plates and not water, which is shown by the fact that it has a zigzag pattern and the walls are more or less straight with what look like steps along the lower levels. This indicates that the canyon was made in steps, and not all at once. And certainly not with water, which would have made more of a triangular than rectangular shape. It’s home to some endangered species as well!

We then made our way into the canyon where we went to our real prize – the waterfalls. Just look.
The road back up the canyon made me want to just go to sleep, but I made it! I was able to converse a little with one of the French girls about medical school in France – it’s 6 years of combined university and medical school equivalents in the US. School costs maybe 350 Euros per year, and they just have to pay for housing and food and stuff. Wow. If only.

The four backpackers ended up going to dinner with Timateo – and at this point, even though my Spanish was second-best, I had spoken to him the most. We ate (nice plate of chicken with rice and vegetables for $1.50!!), and then the others girls left while I taught Timateo some English. We exchanged Facebook information and will hopefully stay in touch! In Spanish, Facebook is actually pronounced the same, but Google is pronounced phonetically. Goog-lé: LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL
It’s kind of incredible how far I’ve come with Spanish in the last several weeks – considering I had a really tough time speaking even when I went to Oruro about 3 weeks ago. I’m not trying to brag – I’m just saying that practicing and dedicating myself to thinking in Spanish when I can (and not translating but simply thinking in Spanish only) has helped me make some really incredible progress. More technical conversations are too tough for me now still, but everyday casual conversation I can do. Wow. It certainly helps that Bolivians speak clearly and more or less slowly. I’m worried about Chile, but we’ll see. Maybe it’ll just push me to improve even more, even faster. But first, great day! I’m extremely glad I came – despite my initial doubts. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

7/14-15/15: Goodbye, Cochabamba!

Honestly, Cochabamba is a very nice city. I wish there was more tourist infrastructure, but overall it's comfortable and walkable. You can live here for pretty cheap and the weather is good during this time of year - no rain, not too hot, not too cold. Even though I'm leaving a little bit earlier than I had originally intended, it's no big deal. I will have done what I wanted and needed to do here, and understood how to live in a city in another country - even if it was just for a month and a half.

Undoubtedly, I'm a little sad that I am leaving, since I've gotten comfortable here, but I am also excited to get back to the backpacking and seeing tourist sites and being on my feet for long periods of time and having to figure things out again.

For Tuesday, though, I'm just chilling in a cafe. I have some work I need to take care of, Spanish lessons, and planning for the rest of my trip. I walked by a nice little place on my way to the Immigration office from yesterday that has great wifi and though the cinnamon roll that I ordered could be better, I have no complaints.

The last day I planned to spend in Cochabamba kind of crept up on me. I realized that there was something I had yet done, so in the morning I walk to Palacio Portales in hopes of visiting it. Apparently it opens at 3 pm only, but there was a person at the front desk already – it was weird, but I think it’s to let the people who work there get some things done before they have tourists getting all up in their grills and stuff. I was told there would be an English tour at both 4 and 5pm, so I should come back then if I want to take it.

On the way to the café as a result, I stopped to buy a samosa-like thing from the street food cart along the adjacent road (SO GOOD). When I arrived, I ordered a caramel macchiato, which is delicious. Ugh. I took advantage of the time and wifi to get a good amount of work done.

My Spanish lesson was moved up so I could go to the tour, so I was there from 12-3 more or less. I learned almost all the rest of the verb tenses (I don’t know if this exists in Spanish, but I still don’t know how to use “would”, like “I would like to” or “It would be great”, etc. I’ve encountered it in songs so I’m pretty sure it’s a whole different tense. I forgot to ask, dang it). It was an overwhelming amount of information, but I think I can handle it. Maybe. It will probably take me a while to get comfortable using all the tenses, considering I still have some trouble with the simple present sometimes. Lol.

After that, I stayed at the café for a while, planning on going to the tour at 4pm. However, I left a little too late (or underestimated the time it would take to get from the café to Palacio Portales) and basically had an hour to kill. I used it to walk around more, go to the ATM, and sit and read. I was also able to explore the part of the city near the area, and it was actually the most US/Europe-like area! I can’t believe I hadn’t been there before.

The Palacio was incredible. It was built by a guy that was born in Cochabamba and was able to profit a lot from the mines near Sucre and Potosi. The grounds were not that large, but there was a huge garden in the courtyard area with this guy’s house in the background. The tour guide (a woman, yay!) took me and another guy – a Canadian living in DC – inside to see it. No pictures were allowed unfortunately, but we had a chance to see the extravagance of it. This owner was seriously loaded as heck because the entire place was modeled after European architecture, complete with imported materials from marble to wood. Everything was about showing off his wealth and love for European culture, it seemed. He had statues that looked a little Greek, paintings of many places in Rome, a room full of Arabic style arches, and much of foreign-inspired culture, including French silk. I was able to take some pictures of the outside, and these are the doors – the large and former main entrance into the house that gave the house its name. Because they were about 5 meters high, they almost resembled portals – or portales in plural in Spanish.

In the basement, the organization had changed the cellar into an art gallery – and this month they were displaying comics. Some of favorite below!

During the tour, it turned out that the other guy, some banker who travels to Latin America about 2-3 times a year for work, had a lot of questions. Afterwards, we exchanged some contact information because I think he will be in Sucre when I will (at least for a day or so) so I might have someone to meet! Woohoo at my making friends!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

7/11-13/15: [Probably] Last Day at Proyecto

After having obligations/traveling the last two weekends, I decided to take the weekend off. On Saturday, I took my laptop to a cafe for the majority of the day, and on Sunday, I just chilled at the house. I was able to read a lot (I finished Outliers, Freakonomics, and got through most of Super Freakonomics) and get some work done! Not having wifi is actually a pretty good thing because it prevents me from being distracted, even if I have to spend some extra money to pay for internet access through my phone's wifi hotspot.

I went to Proyecto on Monday, and didn't do much out of the ordinary! The organization asked me for a $150 donation that I completely did not know about or expect. When I explained this to them, the current volunteer coordinator told me that I was notified about it in an email and helped dig it up for me. When I looked over the text, it was there. However, it's only mentioned once in over 30 emails that I exchanged with the organization. It's in the very first email that is really lengthy and includes an additional volunteer FAQ document - about 3/4 of the way down the email in two sentences or so. I received this email last November - a lot has happened since. It doesn't even say it is necessary - the email says "There is no fee to volunteer with us" followed by saying that short-term volunteers are "asked" to raise a minimum of $150. The most curious thing is that this "donation" is not mentioned on the volunteering page on the website, was not brought up when I confirmed my arrival, was not talked about when I arrived, and I was never asked for it until now - over a month into my stay.

I had been considering leaving this week. My original plan was to leave around Wednesday of next week, but it didn't make sense to me to travel this weekend and pay for a bus ticket back to Cochabamba for the couple of extra days  of volunteering when it would be more economical for me to just stay in Sucre and move on to Potosi from there. I also haven't been to Toro Toro National Park near Cochabamba, so I think Monday was my last day. I didn't intend for it to be this way - I genuinely like working with the kids and $150 is not a huge sum - but it is significant when that is rent for a month here. The organization should have been much more transparent with the fee. If I had known about it, I probably would have tried to find another organization. If I had stayed with Proyecto, I would at least know to expect it.

If it is my last day (I may go one more day) - I'm not sure because I'm staying in the city for a couple more days to take advantage of the Couchsurf I have set up and to get my last Spanish lessons in - then I have to say that it was a great situation overall for me to volunteer with Proyecto. Even though the commute was usually about one hour there and about 30 minutes in public transportation/30-45 minutes walking back, it helped me learn to use Couchsurfing, get used to a city in Bolivia, and slow down my travels a bit. I was fed breakfast each day if I arrived early enough, a snack, and a sizable lunch without fail - healthy options, and clean since I never got sick from it or had diarrhea as a result. I have saved a lot of money and have had time to read, keep my blog, take Spanish lessons, etc. There are some things that I could have taken more advantage of, but overall, it's been good! I'm excited to move on and get back on the road though.

When I left, I went with Daniel to the market again. I think my phone charger was pickpocketed on Friday since I know I left volunteering with it, but could find it nowhere when I got back. I had a sort of backup charger that I bought with the power bank last weekend, but for some reason it was really terrible at charging - my phone kept saying it wasn't a verified Apple product and "may not work reliably" - I was worried, especially since people don't have many Apple products here. I got a new one for about $6.50, though, and it seems to work fine! Thank goodness. On the other hand, Daniel had his phone pickpocketed - we tried to retrace our steps and everything, but found nothing. It's quite unfortunate and reminds me to make sure I don't make the same mistake of not paying attention during the rest of my time traveling. On the bright side, I bought one of those samosa-looking things for a snack again! Delicious.

I also had forgotten until Saturday that my visa was about to expire. I arrived in Bolivia on 6/7, and was given 30 days. However, I completely forgot to go to Immigration to renew it until Monday. I went to the office after volunteering, but when I got there I was told that I could either apply for a year-long visa for a TON of money (about $200) which I would not need at all, or pay a fine of 20 Bs each day I stay over. There really was no other option. Well, okay, I guess I'm paying just about $3 per day to stay in the country.

Friday, July 10, 2015

7/8-10/15: I guess I'm not invincible


I went to sleep last night feeling fine, and woke up at an ungodly hour today with an excruciating pain in my stomach and the urge to throw up. It was weird because I felt very full, even though the last thing I had eaten was lunch. I was able to fall back asleep but not for long, as I woke up shortly after and had my first bout of diarrhea. By the time I needed to leave for Proyecto to get there at a respectable time, I thought I felt better so I headed there. The whole way, I was uncomfortable but I managed to arrive without a hitch.

During the day there, the way back, and my Spanish lesson, I felt bad but manageable. As long as I stopped by the bathroom regularly it wasn’t a problem. When I made it back to my Couchsurfing host’s place, though, it felt like my body had been holding back during the day and now let everything out. It was only about 6:30 but I was exhausted, and promptly threw up everything and got rid of everything in my stomach/digestive tract over the course of an hour. Every time I thought I was starting to feel better, I started to feel terrible again, and trying to sleep was an effort I put forth to no avail. Eventually, after my body got rid of literally everything in it, I fell asleep. My host offered to buy me some medicine and woke me up when she did. That was fine, but the other Couchsurfers (3 that apparently came in after I fell asleep the first night) have a guitar and were singing late into the night. Argh.

Waking up on Thursday morning was thankfully uneventful. I felt a lot better – not 100% but definitely getting there. The day went smoothly overall, which was very good. When I got back to the house, I found out that the wifi hotspot that my phone can make actually works really well – better than a lot of wifi that I’ve tried, actually. Unfortunately, it uses up my phone credit pretty quickly. I guess I’ll have to stick with only the essentials.

The other three Couchsurfers from last night were there already, even though it was early afternoon. They were making lunch and invited me to join, so I had to go with them. I have no idea how they found/know each other, but one is German, the other is Spanish, and the last is Argentinian. The German’s Spanish is a lot better than mine and the Spaniard and Argentinian speak very little English, so I basically understood none of the conversation. I have forgotten how difficult it is to not understand and be physically tired (I think from the illness from yesterday), and just kind of felt bad. It’s okay, though. I have just realized that travelers tend to be a very different kind of person than I am – at least people who backpack around the way that I’m doing. They like to drink and smoke and don't care much about recording their experiences. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I haven’t quite found the kind of vibe that really fits me. It might be the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and feel that progress learning is slow, and not understanding the language is extraordinarily tough, but I’m not sure. I just know that I’m really tired and wouldn’t mind being able to sleep and read and just rest for a while.

At night, my host Katherine started to teach them some sort of traditional dance. I forgot the name, but it included a good amount of hopping around and spinning in circles. I wanted to be as good a sport as possible, but it was hard for me to keep up with everything because (1) I usually don't do that well trying to remember things that I don't write down and study and (2) the motions were making me feel sick again. I had started to feel better, but the motions and being on my feet for so long were not good. It was like 6 pm and I was already starting to feel tired. I didn't want to seem like a party pooper, but I just could not sustain being up for so long. I just hope they don't think I'm some extreme weirdo for it!

Friday was a good day! I went to work as normal, and even though my stomach pains and tiredness weren't completely solved, I was feeling a lot better. I had Spanish lessons in the afternoon (I seriously feel overwhelmed with the information now - there is so, so much to learn) in a cafe. It was nice because I was able to bring my laptop and finally have some wifi afterwards, which I have not had the privilege of for the last week. I have to say, it's extremely nice. Not having wifi isn't terrible, but I'm glad I at least have something now.

7/7/15: New Couchsurfing Host!

I arrived at the bus station with all my stuff, and I decided just to carry it all with me to Proyecto. Luckily, the trufi there was relatively empty and my large backpack wasn’t a problem, but when I walked into the room the two teachers looked at me like they had never seen a traveler before. I set my stuff down and one of them took my neck pillow to play with it a little – I guess those are uncommon enough here for that to be warranted, and the day proceeded like normal. There was only about ½-2/3 of the normal number of kids, which I think is due to the “winter vacation” that the school is having right now.

All the kids went to sleep at lunch, and the one teacher who has always been a little aggressive and willing to say whatever she wants told me that my boyfriend in the United States probably has found a new girl. What? Where did that even come from, and why would you tell someone that? Along similar lines, relationships are built on mutual trust. Anyways.

She then started asking me about Chinese words. I’m always happy to share, but I was a little disappointed that she sounded like she was making fun of the language a little – emphasizing the slight nasal sound, drawing things like a triangle with a line through it and asking me if that was a Chinese word, etc. I can only control how I react to things and not what things I have to deal with, but that just made me sad. I wish it was easier to learn multiple languages at the same time, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that bad to try Chinese and Spanish at the same time since I’m mostly familiar with Chinese and the two are very different, right? I might try that when I get back to the States, and focus all my efforts on just Spanish when I can use it.

When I met my new Couchsurfing host, I was a little nervous, but she’s really nice! Her name is Katherine, and she lives a little further from Proyecto and the city center but her house is very nice. There is no wifi, which is a major struggle, and I don’t have a key, but other than that it’s a nice situation. She gave me some tea and bread with jam and told me all about Carnival in Bolivia. She’s from La Paz, but apparently the whole country stops for three months in January to March to party. It’s crazy, apparently – the party moves from city to city during the three months and they all have a distinct way of celebrating and honoring Mother Earth. If I ever come back, it’ll have to be to see that. The Carnival in Oruro is the most famous because it’s so large and the city is so bland otherwise (that I understood). Our conversation was a good start to the new host relationship!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

7/6/15: Immigration Troubles

I’m writing this a day later, but it’s been a 24 hours that is simultaneously eventful and uneventful all at the same time. I had originally planned to go to Samaipata for Monday – it’s apparently another place filled with nature, including a national park and some ruins – but the Israeli girl and Daniel promptly went back to sleep after breakfast (the arepas that Alejandro made are below!) and then when Daniel woke up, he said that he was going to chill in the city today instead. Since both of my travel companions had bailed and it was around 10 am, I decided that take 2.5 hours there and another 2.5 hours back from the site probably wasn’t going to be worth it, so I relented and started reading The Kill Order, the prequel to James Daschner’s Maze Runner trilogy instead. The wifi wasn’t working, so I basically spent the day reading and studying Spanish. It really was not a bad way to spend a day, and it was nice to have some rest and a day of absolutely nothing.

When it came close to the end of the day, Daniel and I headed to the bus station once again. We found a pretty good price for a bus to Cochabamba (we haggled it down to 60 Bs per person from 70 originally – other options were closer to 120) and went to sit outside. This bus station in particular had a lot of vendors selling all kinds of foods for dinner and snacks, and some of it was incredibly tempting.

What made the night turn from boring into interesting was the approach of two police officers. They worked for immigration, and as predicted, they asked us for our documents. I had mine and showed my passport with no problems, but Daniel did not. It was clear that trying to pretend that we spoke no Spanish was going to get us nowhere, so eventually we tried to explain that we were living in Cochabamba and he had just forgotten his passport there, but it got our argument nowhere. The men asked us to step into their office where they explained that Daniel should stay the night and they could take him to immigration tomorrow morning, but that would be a terrible idea. We had already bought our tickets and we had legal documents, just not on hand at the moment. One guy actually asked if we were dating (LOL NO) and the other asked us to break a 100 Bolivianos bill (what?!).

Eventually it got to the point where I was getting nervous about making the bus myself, and Daniel told me to go catch it. On my way some vendor guy was looking and saying things at me but it sounded like he was hitting on me, so I was creeped out. Luckily, I got to the bus and everything was fine and dandy except for the Daniel situation. I was Facebook messaging Baneen and Jacob the whole time, which was good in that it gave me something to do and focus on.

The bus ride back was actually relatively nice. The extra seat next to me was a place that I could lie down instead of having to lean my seat back a little and pray that I fall asleep soon. In the middle of the night (around 1:30am) the bus stopped presumably to allow people to use the restroom or something. This rude guy came to my seat and put his blanket on my face so that I would wake up, and when I moved my pillow off the seat, he immediately sat down and pushed my backpack under my seat more. I was pissed and tired as heck, but I didn’t know what this guy was doing. I finally got the nerve to show him that both the seats were mine, but he kept sitting there. It wasn’t until I asked what the problem was that he said he would leave when the bus started to back out of the parking lot. I had no idea about the details of what he said, but I’m just glad he finally left. The bus ride, though colder than the one from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, wasn’t bad though.