A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: totidokevn

Death Road

La Paz is notorious for its party presence on the South American backpacker track. I have met many a person who in passing of the place ended up being engulfed by the scene of festivities and not escaping for weeks...or months. This was not the case for Jameson and myself, we opted to take the high road, avoiding the Irish hostels and touristy cocaine bar (Ruta 36) where your less focused travelers flock. Our only goal for the visit was to partake in the wholesome activity of biking down the worlds deadliest road, ¨Camino de la Muertë," so named because in the 90´s it was averaging about 300 kills a year. This is due to a combo of its lack of guardrails, straight drops off cliffs, narrow curves, and crazed Bolivian bus drivers.
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The actual bike ride is the ultimate in Bolivian enjoyment. They load you up with all the pads and helmetry one could desire and then you just speed downhill for three hours. It begins with a segment of super smooth asphalt and then a second part on a gravel road. It was on this latter section of the ride when, in a pursuit of getting sick air off of little rocks that Jamey utilized all of his downhill momentum to flip his bike and slam himself on the ground. I unfortunately missed the wreckage, but waiting at a river crossing a few hundred yards down the road an Aussie road up and told me; "Man, your mate just ate it hard....I found him blacked out in a bush and his bike was nowhere to be seen." In the end, ´twas only a mild blackout and he made it out with just some badass looking scrapes on his cheeks and chin. He rode in the company van the rest of the trip down the road.
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Posted by totidokevn 15:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rurrenabaque

Voyage to the Amazon Basin

We gave Jamey´s stomach infection from the Lake Titicaca trout a couple of days to work itself out in the Bolivian canyon capital that is La Paz. While he lounged around the bathroom area getting the devil out of him, I scoured the streets for cheap plane tickets to Rurrenabaque, gateway to the Amazon Basin. The third morning we woke up early, took a taxi to the world´s highest airport, loaded the plane, listened as the engines cranked up and began to roll down the runway. We made it not far down the runway before they stopped the plane and told everybody to get off and wait inside the terminal. We watched from the glass walls of the waiting lounge as they drove the one plane off the runway and rolled a different one in its place, which also looked like a secondhand plane from the States during the 70´s, ashtrays still with the seats. We proceeded to load, unload, and load this plane due to claims of foul weather at our destination. We eventually took off about five hours after departure time.
Once we arrived in Rurrenabaque ´twas evident their claims of bad weather were justified, the town was experiencing its worst flood for twenty years. We happy to be out of the city and asked the lady at the hotel if it was safe to swim in the river and she responded with the week´s statistics of twelve dead from the might of the river. We settled for swimming in the weaker area where the river´s flow had consumed main street and local children were taking full advantage by bringing out all their best floatables.
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We had to stay around town a few days longer than planned because the roads to the pampas, where the tour was to be had, were too soggy and boggy for driving. But it was pleasant wait, probably my favorite town visited in Bolivia, we mostly passed the time in hammocks and the market playing Rummy for rice dishes. When the tour finally came to fruition it was pretty awesome. Just three days of cruising around swamps in a boat full of Israelis and our jungle man guide, Elvis. It was really just a constant search for the critters: pink river dolphins, monkeys, alligators, caymen, snakes, ostrices, turtles, rat-pigs, and a myriad of birds. We failed in the task of finding Andocandas & Jaguars.
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Posted by totidokevn 15:19 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Among the Incan Gods

by Jamey Pulsifer

There i was, standing in iquique, but not for long...
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Much has transpired through my travels of the previous days and weeks, and apart from one incident where my wallet was stolen, all has been good, and morale remains high. After a brief and mostly uneventful stint in lima, where i met up with my current traveling partner and did some casual surfing, the time had come to venture onward to bigger and better adventures. Thus, we headed to cusco, where we formulated the plans for what would be an epic journey to Machu Picchu. Now, several things are worth mentioning as far as the caliber of this arguable mecca that we embarked on. For starters it is important to know that there are several possible routes that can be taken to reach the final destination of Machu Picchu, depending not only on ones desired level of comfort and ambition, but as well upon the amount of money one so desires to invest in said endevour. This being said, after considering all possible options, we decided it was in our best interests to choose the most daring and ambitious of treks for our particular adventure. The salkantay trail, which leads over 40 miles from the small town of Mollepata upwards then down again to the tourist trap that is Aquas Calientes, and closest town to Machu Picchu, is considered difficult during the best of conditions. Most people who take this route are accompanied with several advantages that alleviate some of the hardships along the way. First, the trail is generally done in a group setting, with guides who not only lead the way but provide pack donkeys to cart gear, as well as set up camp and do the cooking. Also, the trail is almost always hiked during the dry season, which, it should go without saying, makes the overall experience a little more pleasant to say the least. Our trek included neither of these luxuries. Choosing to carry our own supplies, and blaze the trail ourselves, all during the Peruvian wet season, we nevertheless managed to complete our journey on schedule, and arrived in Aquas Calientes four days after our departure, albeit considerably weary and rather damp. Not to say the effort wasnt more than worth it, however. The scenery was incredible the entire trip, and apart from several helpful farmers and herders, we were the ONLY people on the trail. Another very interesting fact to note about this hike is the change in altitude. Mollepata is located between nine and ten thousand feet, and at the highest point of the trail, we reached a height of over fifteen hundred feet, an elevation change that was achieved over the course of only a day and a half. As if this weren't enough, the following day and a half led us back down to less than eight thousand feet. In case anyone was wondering how steep the trail was, find your witty math friend and have him go figure. This hike was no joke. Anyways, all poor humor and extensive loquaciousness aside, Machu Picchu is without doubt an awe inspiring place. Even with persistent rain on the day we finally arrived we managed to spend six hours walking and exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu before boarding the bus and heading out. Its hard to really describe just how amazing these ruins are without actually witnessing them, but it can certainly be said that the Incans who built this place were definitely a very intelligent group of people who were not fooling around. A once in a lifetime experience.
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After leaving Machu Picchu we rounded up the remainder of our gear in Cusco then headed to Bolivia, and Lake Titicaca. Our base camp for our Titicaca adventures would be the small town of Copacobana, from which we took a 3 hour boat ride to the largest of the lakes forty-some islands, la Isla del Sol. Although the Incan ruins that exist on Isla del Sol didnt quite measure up to the ones wed seen previously at Machu Picchu, the scenery of the lake and islands was definitely of equal proportions. We spent two days hiking from the southern tip of the island to the north, rowing boats to the setting of the sun, and appeasing our appetites with fresh caught trucha (and a bit of cheap rum). The fun was cut slightly short, however, when my companion caught a pretty severe case of what we think was altitude sickness, and we were forced to head back to Copacobana to regroup.
Since Copacobana, the travels have again returned to a slightly more relaxed, slower paced time here in La Paz. The last two days have mainly been spent relaxing in our hostal, catching up a bit on sleep, and doing some souvenier shopping in the cities many stands and shops, and although I think we both might like the lazy days to continue, atleast slightly longer, tomorrow we head to the amazon! Our plans for the jungle arent entirely set in stone yet, however, i think if we can manage the old salkantay during the wet season, we ought to be able to find SOME way or fashion to get into a little trouble out there with the anacondas and pink river dolphins. Oh yea, and pirhanas too. Anyways, upon my return i will be sure to make another verbose update to satiate those masses of you who im sure have simply fallen right out of your chairs throughout the previous paragraphs. Wish us luck...we probably need it. Hasta luego!

Due to my current busy schedule, this edition of Austin's blog has been brought to you by Jameson Pulsifer.

Posted by totidokevn 13:23 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Truckin` ...

Por Ruta 5

My time to depart from the Viña finally arrived, and after one last visit to my peanut vender for a fat sack of road nuts and a tear-jerking despedida, I lugged my bags to Ave Libertad and hopped on a micro bound for the outskirts of the city. I unloaded on Ruta 5, Chile´s longest highway running from Puerto Montt all the way to the Peruvian frontier, and looked for a strategic standing location on the North-bound side of the road. photo1.jpg
There was a prime spot a few meters before this trucker cafe with a easy pulloff; I assumed the standing position, and erected my thumb, staring intensely at every passing driver. In no more than ten minutes, a big rig carrying construction supplies to a northern mine pulled over and waved me towards his truck. Seconds after climbing into the truck, it became clear the man´s motive for picking me up....the baby guitar accompanying me. The problem is that I don´t actually play the guitar and only travel with it for a lack of being able to sell it in Valparaiso.....although it served as some excellent trucker bait, it killed me to have to crush the man´s spirits with my lack of shredding ability. He was the son of a Huaso (Chilean Cowboy) and a big fan of western films, he told me he had been hoping for some North American cowboy tunes. After a few minutes of serenading the man with my few known riffs, trying to override the of roar of the engine, he told me to put the guitar on his little bed in the back of the cab; we spent about the next 16 night hours making small talk. His cat´s name was Juan Pablo and he was pissed about the Bolivians and Peruvians immigrating to Chile and stealing Chilean jobs. We made a couple stops at these divey trucker stop trailer cafes to keep us through the night with coffee, empanadas, and churrasco sandwiches. At one point in the trip he started swerving and shaking his legs a lot; we weren´t really talking at this point so my mind just wandered to frightful places; I was sure he was one of those methed out truckers coming down from his high, about to freak out and crash or something.....But, in the end he was just tired, we made it to a city called La Serena, a little past there was a giant parking lot type deal where the trucks could park in safety and a security guard would wake them up at a specified time. Our stop was from 2am to 4am; he crawled into his bed in the back of the cab and I jumped down to the lot with hammock in hand in search of a couple trees. I found a perfect pair of palm trees at a gas station across the street and posted up for a couple sweet, sweet hours of sleep. I woke up to my cellphone alarm and arrived at the truck about ten minutes before the 4am departure time, just like a good little hitch hiker should. With a little sleep behind him, the dude was on his driving game and the rest of the trip passed swimmingly. Ruta 5 varied between following along the coast and passing through the desert; after La Serena there weren´t any more big cities, only the occasional mining pueblo. In the last couple hours of the trip, we passed a stretch with a few donkeys crossing the road which inspired the man to launch into conversation about burros, and burros puros, until we reached Calama. From Calama I took a bus to this super touristy beach town called Bahia Inglesia. It was a nice beach town but pretty uneventful.

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Renato
After just one afternoon, I was no longer keen on hanging around the beach; it was more of family and honeymoon crowds than other travellers and vacation towns are fairly lame without some accompanying compañeros. I took the bus a few miles out of town to get back to my beloved Ruta 5 and upon arrival was disappointed to see five other hitchhikers already waiting for a ride. I walked a little up the road to be the first that the drivers see but there wasn´t a good pull off and I feared I might be practicing poor hitch hiking etiquette by preying on the cars upstream, so I quickly abandoned the post in exchange for a couple hours in the gas station cafe. I ate a little empanada and drank some bubbly water before returning to the competetive hitch hiking scene below the desert sun. It had dwindled down to one other couple awaiting but I had the edge because they were two, and I was one. Eventually a man by the name of Renato, driving a LipiGas truck stopped and beckoned me to his cab. I think he picked me up just to have some company for lunch because we stopped about five miles down the road for chicken and rice. This ride was a few hours shorter than the previous and the conversation flowed more smoothly so it was a pretty enjoyable ride. He had been in the Chilean Armada and lived in many countries, including the US, and thus had some killer travel stories. The desert became more extreme the further North we went (entering the Norte Grande), there was one stretch of the road that lasted four hours through the desert without seeing a single building, person, or animal. His destination was a tiny mining town called Baquedano, where he said they had filmed part of the latest James Bond film; there was nothing but a short main street, a train station, and a truck stop/Control Station. We arrived at midnight and on his advice I went to the Control Station to ask one of the Carabineros if I could leave my bags for the night while I was sleeping in the hammock. They said that there weren´t any quality trees in town and offered me the sofa in their kitchen/lounge area to pass the night. I slept alright and was woken up at seven the next morning to an officer Gomez boiling water for his coffee. I brushed my teeth in their locker room, grabbed my bags, and returned to Ruta 5. tr.jpg
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Air Conditioning Man

I was fairly stoked because I was only a mere five hours from my coastal destination of Iquique and was getting an early start on the day; not too fond of the graveyard trucker shifts. A comfortable little pickup stopped on my behalf. The guy was an Air Conditioning technician and was heading deeper into the desert for some business reasons. He could only take me about an hour towards Iquique before the road forked and he had to drive further inland. During this hour, however, he swayed me to detour from the Iquique arrival and visit San Pedro de Atacama. Even still, he took me only as far as Calama, a city about two hours from San Pedro. Calama is home to Chiquicamata, one of the world´s largest copper mines, and the town is relatively big due to its presence. I went to an ATM in the town center to fund my coming stay in San Pedro and walked to a roundabout on the cusp of the city where drivers had the option to continue in the San Pedro direction. I waited near this roundabout for nearly an hour in the harsh sunshine, smothering sunscreen upon my fragile honky skin. Eventually a man driving a cement truck stopped for me and I was on my way.

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The cement truck driver was pretty pleasant. All I really remember is that he was super fond of Transformers and had a pretty wife. He also gave me some good tips on how to pass my time in the Desert and educated me on some history and what not of the region.

San Pedro

San Pedro is one of the most touristy towns I have ever visited, but not really in a bad way. It´s definitely distinct from any other Chilean towns. For one, it´s in the middle of the desert which is excellent, but also the town is cooly designed with that adobe mud brick style construction. Practically every business in is either a tour agent, restaurant, or hostel. I found a hostel a ten minute walk out of the downtown called Iquisa. It was booked for the night but the owner, Roberto, was really cool and we struck a deal where I could sleep in my hammock in the courtyardish area, use the facilities (Kitchen, shower, internet, etc), and pay a small fraction of the price. San Pedro earns its fame due to the surrounding awe-inspiring landscapes that vary from other-worldly terrain to the worlds highest geysers to observatories to salt lakes, flats, and flamingos. I stayed only two full days myself and partook in some canyon bicycling, sandboarding and moon valley sunset action. There was heaps more to see around the town but the tours were fairly pricey and I had already satisfied my sight-seeing needs, ready to keep things moving. Roberto gave me a ride to the edge of town in his badass van and I again stood in my pose and gave the thumbs up.
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Argentenians
´Twas one of my shortest waits to date when a nice little SUV braked to a halt and offered me a lift as far as Calama. The SUV was quite luxurious in comparison to the Freight trucks I had become accustomed to, mostly due to the quality air conditioning. The only slight discomfort came from sitting in the back seat next to the mother breast feeding her four month old; I was a little surprised they would pick up a hitchiker with exposed boobies and babies in the car, but I guess they were maybe just bored of each other´s company and trusting of the gringo traveller. So while I tried to make conversation with the mother, the baby unrelentlessly suckled at her teet, the older daughter sat in the front seat watching Beyonce music videos on the dash´s DVD player, and the driving father would just yell the occasional sentence back to us to stay in the conversation. They were really friendly the whole trip and dropped me off at a gas station near Calama where all Iquique-bound vehicles would pass.

The Lone Argentenian
I walked further down the highway past where another road merges in order to up my chances of passing vehicles and waited. I just stood for over an hour in the baking sun, trying to lure a passing car with my bobbing thumb. There was no luck and I decided to pass the rest of the hot day somewhere in town and return at night when the sun is weaker and more truckers would be passing thru. On the way back to town, I stopped to take a picture of this random graffiti wall and I heard someone from the road yell, ¨Oye, gringö.¨ I turned around and it was this one strange Argentenian guy I had met the night before.
The night before, at around midnight, I had been walking through San Pedro with a couple people from my moon valley tour and this fellow had asked us if we knew where the hospital was, we said no and he drove past. About an hour later when I was walking back to my hostel, I saw the same guy parked in a dirt lot and he yelled out that the hospital was closed. Being the valiant man I am, I inquired as to why he needed a hospital and he said he just felt terrible. I offered him an Ibuprofein, a bottle of water, and some advice on where to park his car for the night since it was where he planned to sleep. I had never seen a grown man so grateful, he hugged me and grabbed me hand and kissed it, and thanked me a lot. The touchyness creeped me out a slight so I quickly exited the scene moseyed on back to the hostel.
Anyways, it was this same strange Argentenian guy now offering to give me a ride to Iquique and I felt a bit hesitant but it was pretty perfect timing so I just went with it. I´m still not too sure what to make of the guy, he was definitely unique to most of the people I have met, and the conversation was more interesting and personal than with most of the other drivers. He told me about his past, present, and aspirations. He came from a farm and worked his ass off in the country until he was twenty years old and illiterate. In this year he met some lady who inspired him to get a high school degree and turned him into a street vendor at the same time. He graduated and advanced his street vending game into owning a couple stores, vehicles, and his own house; he was really proud to be self-made man. Having succeeded in Argentina, his goal was to move to Australia and build a new life for himself. I gave some encouraging words from my own experience in Australia and he became all grateful again and started thanking me profusely. He was sort of a lame driver though, he went about thirty clicks below the speed limit and had us lost a couple of times. I easily swayed him into giving me a brief stint behind the wheel because he seemed a little behind on his sleep having driven all the way from Buenos Aires solo. It was pretty awesome driving through the desert but short lived because there was a license check not too long after we switched and we had to pretend to be broken down for a minute to change seats again. We finally arrived in Iquique at midnight about two hours after we should have; I don´t know why but it was a fairly exciting moment for the both of us to arrive. He parked in a gas station to sleep in the back of his car-van vehicle for the night and I found a taxi to drop me in the city center in search of a hostel bed to lay my head.
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Posted by totidokevn 13:25 Archived in Chile Tagged hiking san valley iquique moon de ruta pedro 5 atacama hitch breastfeeding Comments (0)

Navidad and Año Nuevo

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Susan flew out Christmas eve and I had planned on returing to Viña for the actual day of Navidad to be infused with that holiday spirit by passing the time with my host family....However, my hostel in Santiago was this super sweet old mansion with a good crowd of people and I ended up checking in and out on three occasions due to a lack of motivation to do any more traveling. I passed most of the time playing pool with this Costa Rican-Argentenian med student filled with superb travel stories and then just kicking it in the courtyard reading and making plans and what not. We went out with a few people to the club district on Xmas night and after some time in the bars, meandered to a nearby salsa club. Being the only gringo, the dances came easily....but also being the only one not raised on this kind of dance, my moves were at the bottom of the heap and I was quickly abandoned by all of the señoritas, gorditas included....it was crushing to mi confidencia. The buses were running no more when the club closed and we had to walk back about an hour to the hostel. Some dudes smacked my friend in the face in the process but nothing ensued.
After a couple more days in the capital city, I eventually made it back to Viña del Mar before the world famous New Years celebration. It is claimed to be the second most epic firework show of the year next to Sydney, Australia; and for it backpackers and vacationers from neighboring countries alike flock to Valparaiso, more than tripling the regular population. I reunited with the old host family to watch the fireworks from their uncle´s apartment which was strategically located on a hill over-looking the ocean, where they launch the fuego artificiales from multiple sites. Being that the host mom comes from nine brothers and sisters, there was a good crowd in the apartment from around Chile and Argentina. The Argentenians brought a bottle of Fernet, which is this pretty strong, earthy, nearly medicinal tasting alcohol hailing from Italy that apparently now reins supreme over the Argentenian drinking class; we mixed it with coke. So we sipped drank and ate finger sandwiches until blastoff, then they cut cake, popped champagne and we walked around hugging one another wishing everyone a feliz año. I must say it was probably my favorite firework exhibition of all times, I´m really not usually a big fan of the sky fire but these ones had me thoroughly enthralled for the full 25 minute duration.
After some parting words to the elders of the family, us younger folk journeyed into the city central to partake in the festivities of a couple of the clubs....inebriation ensued and parts of the night became a bit ambiguous but it was enjoyable and in the end we all made it back to the lodgings around 8am. I had had plans of heading North directly after the New Year as to make it into Bolivia or Peru quickly preserve my ducketts by travelling in a country with living costs a fraction of those in Chile. However, a romance sparked between myself and a chica I had met earlier in the school year and I extended the time in Viña another week.
But alas, I have said my final farewells and my journey begins in the morning. I have about 2000km (1,300 miles) and 40 hours to make it to Peru and have chosen to partake in the hitch-hiking method of transportation, just to put myself at the mercy of the Chilean driving class and see what happens. It should also be a good way to get to know the country, people, and practice the spanish. I´m also planning on hoarding even more of my cash by sleeping in my hammock, but I´m still a little skeptical because of my luggage protecting needs. Anyways, stoked to commence; I shall keep posted.

Posted by totidokevn 16:08 Archived in Chile Tagged santiago navidad valparaiso ano nuevo Comments (0)

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