Taking a Day Off in Helena, Montana

Kristen and I are out on a 4 week tour to the Pacific Northwest. We are out for 31 days on the road with 3 days off from shows. Fun!  One of those days off we were in Montana and we had a great time in and around Helena, MT- the state capital!  Helena was very briefly the largest town in Montana at just the right time to become the capital, before Butte far surpassed it in population. Helena is an old gold mining town and is surrounded by natural beauty. We spent our night off camping at a MT State Park on Canyon Ferry Reservoir, which is about 20 miles west of Helena. After checking out all the campgrounds in the area, we picked Chinamen Campground: $10 a night, swimming and boating launch, mule deer friendly, and with no showers. Who needs showers!? (We found some down the road at a Kim’s Marina, though.)

Lady Van loves a nice flat camping spot with a view of a lake.
Lady Van loves a nice flat camping spot with a view of a lake. Well, this is actually a reservoir, but still… 🙂
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Kristen on a little hike around at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
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Can you smell the sagebrush?
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OMG, you guys, I love the water! It was a Monday in early June, so we practically had the place to ourselves. The water was beautiful, a little bit of algae but I was more concerned about the huge fish. Yes, I know they are more scared of me, but still! The water temperature was refreshing in the 85 degree sunshine. 
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We called this the gay beach since it was just us on this stretch. There three guys on Sea-doos going back and forth, back and forth across the reservoir all day, also some water skiers. Zoom!
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We saw so many mule deer at the Chinamen Campground. I love seeing wildlife, especially cute and friendly wildlife. In the morning, a mule deer munched on yellow flowers while I wrote my morning pages.
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There was amazingly a good deal of firewood in our fire pit when when we showed up at the campsite. We took advantage and grilled sausages and veggies over the fire. Nom nom nom!
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Sunset around 10pm 🙂
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Skipping stones! The reservoir was totally surrounded by smooth flat little stones. I even managed to skip them.
A beautiful historic building in downtown Helena.
A beautiful historic building in downtown Helena.
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Blackfoot Brewing in downtown Helena is where we played a show and where we drank delicious beers. Montana state law only allows 48 oz of beer per customer at a brewery and they have to close at 8pm!
A statue of the Bullwacker in downtown Helena, MT.
A statue of the Bullwacker in downtown Helena, MT.
Look at this crazy elaborate church they have in Helena!
Look at this crazy elaborate church they have in Helena!
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Kristen having fun on a historic trolley in downtown Helena, MT.
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There I am at the top of  Mount Helena, which is a great hike that starts right in the city. It climbs up the peak so you can gaze down onto Helena. At the summit we found a toy sword stuck into a hole in the rock and took some fun shots.
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Kristen’s turn with the sword at the top of Mount Helena.
There are tons of wildflowers in bloom in Montana right now. Gorgeous!
There are tons of wildflowers in bloom in Montana right now. Gorgeous!
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Thanks for the good times on our day off, Helena!

We are currently having our last day off of the tour.  Unfortunately, not quite as fun this time as we are broken down in Hot Springs, SD. We spent the day waiting for a part for the Lady Van which will hopefully get her fixed up and rolling tomorrow. I guess it’s good luck that we are off today since that means no shows canceled because of the van, but still might have been nice to go to the Badlands National Park as planned. Hot Springs, SD is a fun historic town though!

Loving Misery at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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This is THE SPOT to take a picture of Smith Rock State Park. There is a bench here and a ton of hikers vying for a spot to snap a photo. I am sure you can see why this the spot- PRETTY!

Last week, Kristen and I were in Oregon, playing shows and exploring some great outdoors. We played a show in Bend, OR on a Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend. What a great little town, with tons of unique shops, restaurants and parks around. The day after the show we drove a half hour north of Bend to the town of Terrebonne where Smith Rock State Park is located. This is a gem of a park.  Look at it!  We did a loop hike through the park that was about 5 miles long and took us around 3 hours to hike with lots of stops and picture breaks.

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Kristen on the bridge over the Crooked River.
The old timer shot! I actually got out my Lumix camera for this hike instead of using just my iPhone like I generally do day-to-day.
The old timer shot worked out! I actually got out my Lumix Panasonic camera for this hike instead of using just my iPhone like I generally do day-to-day. What do you know, it takes better pictures 🙂

We took the Misery Ridge loop trail through the park. You can pick up a handy dandy park map at the pay station which shows all the trails in the park. It costs $5 for a day pass to the park which is so worth it. Bargain price for a whole car full of hikers or picnickers or rock climbers. This park is known for rock clicking, which makes sense when you see all the amazing rock walls in the park. The Misery Ridge loop is anything but miserable. It is a 3.7 mile loop but we added on another mile section to the loop along the Crooked River. There are some steeps climbs and stairs involved in this hike but it’s moderate difficulty overall.

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A crazy rock formation. Can you see the little climber right where the color of the rock changes? Rock climbing is too intense for me!
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Acting really strong when I got up to Misery Ridge. It was a steep hike but not to0 long to the summit. I was proud of myself for not being overtaken by a group of 50 kids tramping up like a caterpillar behind us.
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Kristen winding along the Crooked River. There were lots of ducklings in the water!

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Your obligatory sexy shot of Lady Van taking us to amazing places for fun adventures!
Your obligatory sexy shot of Lady Van taking us to amazing places for fun adventures!

Thanks for the good times Smith Rock!  We are already looking forward to our return to Oregon!

 

CATvsOWL 2016 SXSW showcase lineup at Cherrywood Coffeehouse 3/17/16

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Listen to the playlist!

Join us Thursday, March 17th from 12pm to 10pm at Cherrywood Coffeehouse 1400 E 38 1/2 St Austin, TX. All ages and No Cover. Here’s our 2016 lineup of 19 amazing artists!

12:00-12:50 Stood with Ghosts/Joey James/Shani Rose 

Stood with Ghosts indie- Portland OR

http://stoodwithghostsmusic.bandcamp.com/releases

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Joey James– Country- Ashland OR\
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Shani Rose– pop- Los Angeles
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12:55-2:00 Bose Troubadors in the round Jeff Campbell, Jamie Kent, Megan Slankard, Matthew Szlachetka
Jeff Campbell– San Francisco- singer songwriter
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Megan Slankard– San Francisco- singer songwriter
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Jamie Kent– Nashville- singer songwriter
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Matthew Szlachetka– Los Angeles- singer songwriter
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2:15-2:45  Future Kings 
 Future Kings– Kansas City- indie rock
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3:00-4:00 Hip Hop afternoon featuring Genesis Blu, Neak, High Strung, Feezarelli

Genesis Blu– Houston TX- hip hop
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Neak– Chicago IL- hip hop
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High Strung– San Antonio-hip hop
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Feezarelli– Flint MI- Hip hop
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4:15-4:45  BAST 
Bast– rock- Atlanta GA
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 5-5:35  The Head 
The Head– rock- atlanta GA
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5:50-6:25 Rachel Mallin and the Wild Type
Rachel Mallin & The Wild Type- indie rock  Kansas City, MO
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 6:40-7:20 Kristen Ford 
Kristen Ford– indie rock-Nashville, TN

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7:35-8:15 Violet and the Undercurrents 
Violet and the Undercurrents– Indie rock- Columbia, MO
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 8:30-9:10  Remanon
Remanon Prog Rock San Antonio TX
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9:25-10:00  Kwame Binea Shakedown
 Kwame Binea Shakedown– New York City
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12:00-12:50 Stood with Ghosts/Joey James/Shani Rose 

10 min change

12:55-2:00 Bose Troubadors in the round Jeff Campbell, Jamie Kent, Megan Slankard, Matthew Szlachetka

15 min change

2:15-2:45  Future Kings 

15 min change

3:00-4:00 Hip Hop afternoon featuring Genesis Blu, Neak, High Strung, Feezarelli

15 min change

4:15-4:45  BAST 

15 min change

5-5:35  The Head 

15 min change

5:50-6:25 Rachel Mallin and the Wild Type

15 min change

6:40-7:20 Kristen Ford 

15 min change

7:35-8:15 Violet and the Undercurrents 

15 min change

8:30-9:10  Remanon

15 min change

9:25-10:00  Kwame Binea Shakedown

To RSVP visit http://tinyurl.com/catvsowl2016

http://do512.com/events/2016/3/17/2nd-annual-catvsowl-showcase-during-sxsw

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/catvsowl-2016-showcase-tickets-22244324373?aff=efbnreg

For Sponsorship, Media Requests and High Fives, email Promoter Kristenfordmusic@gmail.com

Thoughts on Bolivia Part II: It´s a Wonderful, Magical Place

Well, we have had some time to reflect about our 6 weeks in Bolivia and write some blog posts of our impressions. First, I had to get off my chest what annoyed the crap about of me about Bolivia. Now it is time to write the happy post about all the things I really enjoyed about Bolivia. It is a very interesting country. You can decide for yourself whether or not you want to travel there, I´m not going to recommend it or discourage you 😉

#1. DOGS!  Everywhere You Look!
This might not be everyone´s cup of tea, but it was one of my favorite things about Bolivia. There are dogs everywhere! And they are, for the most part, friendly. The ones that don´t approach you for love or meat, will just ignore you. We didn´t have any dogs bark at us or growl, unless we approached them, which we probably shouldn´t have done 🙂

The thing about street dogs in Bolivia is that a lot of them actually have homes. The Bolivian method of dog ownership being somewhat different than the American way, it is normal to leave your dog outside all day while you go to work. The dog then strolls the neighborhood, or just sits on your doorstep, waiting for you to come home and feed him at the end of the day. In this way, most of the street dogs are well fed and happy, albeit totally dirty. Lots of Bolivians have purebreed dogs as well, and these ones you will not see on the street wandering, especially the girl dogs. Of course, with all these dogs wandering around, there is a lot of poop everywhere as well, so watch your step.

Sometimes extremely friendly dogs will appear in the altiplano for snuggles and food. These ones live at a nearby army outpost, but hang out at the tourist overlook being cute.
Sometimes extremely friendly dogs will appear in the altiplano for snuggles and food. These ones live at a nearby army outpost, but hang out at the tourist overlook being cute.
Kristen was especially susceptible to their cuteness.
Kristen was especially susceptible to their cuteness.
Sometimes there are adorable street puppies with busted legs that you really want to take home and it´s heartbreaking.
Sometimes there are adorable street puppies with busted legs that you really want to take home and it´s heartbreaking. Why isn´t it easier to bring dogs back the USA?
There are a lot of really big dogs in Bolivia, and when they look at you like this, you probably shouldn´t pet them.
There are a lot of really big dogs in Bolivia, and when they look at you like this, you probably shouldn´t pet them.
This puppy found us out on a hike! We almost brought her home, but then her owner saw her downtown following us and took her home ;/
This puppy found us out on a hike! We almost brought her home, but then her owner saw her downtown following us and took her home ;/ Chao She-ra!
It´s a little hard on the heart seeing all these dogs on the streets, but they seem to have an ok life of it.
It´s a little hard on the heart seeing all these dogs on the streets, but they seem to have an ok life of it.

#2. The Price is Right
Bolivia is cheap. You can go out for all your meals and take Spanish classes and rent a nice room for very little money. It´s fun to be traveling and not have to worry about money. Of course, there aren´t a lot of nice things to buy so sometimes you just want to pay for a fancy hotel room and you can´t find one anywhere, but whatever, you can save your money for another country.

#3. So Much Sugar to Eat 🙂 and Potatoes
There are some really delicious things to eat in Bolivia, although I might have tried to convince you otherwise in my last post. Most of the extremely yummy things in Bolivia are made of sugar. These people are crazy about sugar. There are candy and snacks everywhere and everyone is eating them. There are also a lot of dentist offices….

There were three fabulous ice cream and cake shops in a row on the main drag in La Paz. We hit up Brosso and I got this amazing chocolate cake.
There were three fabulous ice cream and cake shops in a row on the main drag in La Paz. We hit up Brosso and I got this amazing chocolate cake.
On the main plaza in Sucre, we were enchanted by the artesenal ice cream place numerous times.
On the main plaza in Sucre, we were enchanted by the artesenal ice cream place numerous times.
Ahhhhhhhh!  Weird fried dough things abound in Bolivia. Yippee!
Ahhhhhhhh! Weird fried dough things abound in Bolivia. Yippee!
Empanadas and api. Api is a drink made of corn and it is warm and super sweet!
Empanadas and api. Api is a drink made of corn and it is warm and super sweet!

They do also make some tasty things about of potatoes. My favorite is the papa rellena, or stuffed potato. It´s more a less mashed potatoes that are formed in a ball around some filling. The filling could be meat and veggies, hardboiled egges, cheese, or platains. Then the ball is dipped in batter and deep-fried. Yum! The lady across the street from our house sold these covered in a delicious stewed onion salsa and accompanied by cole slaw. So good. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was too busy eating.

Another typical Bolivia dish is called Pique Machado. It consists of 3 or 4 different kinds of meats, mine had beef, chorizo, and hot dogs. The meat is piled onto a dish of french fries (never forget the potatoes) and covered in fresh tomatoes and onions. Oh, and there is hardboiled eggs and fresh cheese surrounding it. Yes, and the whole thing is covered in delicious gravy. Yum!

Pique Machado. I didn´t take this picture, but it is from the same restaurant we went to in Potosi (4060) and looked just like this, beer included. So good!
Pique Machado. I didn´t take this picture, but it is from the same restaurant we went to in Potosi (4060) and looked just like this, beer included. So good!

#4. Oh, the Wonderfully Genuine People You Will Meet
If you get past the tourist rabble, offering you questionable tours of things they think you want to see and hear, you will meet some amazing people in Bolivia. The staff at Biblioworks where we volunteered was the nicest group of ladies around. The kids we met at the school were incredibly sweet and kind little beings, adding beauty and light to the world.

We met Oke at a bar in La Paz. He went all the way home to get his guitar so he could hear Kristen play.
We met Oke at a bar in La Paz. He went all the way home to get his guitar so he could hear Kristen play.
One little sweetheart, making our time in Pampa Aceituno more inviting.
One little sweetheart, making our time in Pampa Aceituno more inviting.
All  the kids loved playing the guitar, it was amazing to see their little faces light up for the music.
All the kids loved playing the guitar. It was amazing to see their  faces light up for the music.

#5 Sucre is a Kick Ass City
Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, and while I´m not sure what that means exactly, it is an amazing city. They really have everything you could need in a little city and it´s beautiful, clean, relaxed, and normal there. It isn´t overrun with tourists, but tourists are a part of the city. It has a vibe of people just living their lives. It has a university and lots of young people. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so it has lots of history and charm. There are great grocery stores, a movie theater, fun bars from all cultures, and amazing natural beauty all around.

Overlooking the city of Sucre from a cafe.
Overlooking the city of Sucre from a cute cafe.
The main plaza in Sucre. They have people dressed up as zebras helping kids cross the street (and adults too).
The main plaza in Sucre. They have people dressed up as zebras helping kids cross the street (and adults too).

#6. There is a Ton of Dinosaur Stuff in Bolivia
The dinosaurs were here! The area that is currently Bolivia used to be covered in dinosaurs and there is lots of evidence of that still in the area. Plus, they love dinosaurs so there are lots of parks and fun dino themed things around.  Kristen is a little obsessed with dinosaurs so this was a big plus for Bolivia.

This vertical surface is covered with hundreds of fossilized dinosaur tracks. It used to be the shore of a lake where dinos walked to get water. Now it is a museum discovered by a concrete factory in Sucre.
This vertical surface is covered with hundreds of fossilized dinosaur tracks. It used to be the shore of a lake where dinos walked to get water. Now it is a museum discovered by a concrete factory in Sucre.
Dino statues of South American dinosaurs. Kristen was impressed.
Dino statues of South American dinosaurs. Kristen was impressed.
Hanging out with all the kids at the dinosaur park near our house.
Hanging out with all the kids at the dinosaur park near our house.

#7. Bolivia has Amazing Natural Beauty
There are a ton of beautiful natural places to see in Bolivia. We didn´t even make it to the Amazon part of Bolivia and we were blown away by it´s natural splendor. Here are some shots of what we thought was a pretty amazing country to see, even out the window of a dangerous busride along a windy road.

Ancient ruins on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca-
Ancient ruins on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sheep grazing on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sheep grazing on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca.
Sunset over the mountains driving south to Tarija.
Sunset over the mountains driving south to Tarija.
Just another view out the window of the bus, driving to Potosi.
Just another view out the window of the bus, driving to Potosi.
The Cerro Rico silver mine behind the beautiful city of Potosi.
The Cerro Rico silver mine behind the beautiful city of Potosi.
The train graveyard outside of the Salar de Uyuni.
The train graveyard outside of the Salar de Uyuni.
Playing with perspective in the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.
Playing with perspective in the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.

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Cactus island, Incahuasi, in the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Cactus island, Incahuasi, in the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Flamingo lagoons in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
Flamingo lagoon!
Look at this adorable animal called a viscacha!
Look at this adorable animal called a viscacha!
Interesting rock formations in Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Interesting rock formations in Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Laguna Colorada, one interesting lagoon in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
Laguna Colorada, one more beautiful lagoon in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
A long way from anywhere.
Greetings from Bolivia! A long way from anywhere.

It might be hard to get to Bolivia, and kind of annoying once you do finally reach Bolivia, but still, it is quite a beautiful country. We have moved on to Chile and are now in Peru. It´s hard to believe that 3 months have already gone by on the road on our South American adventure. We will be back in the USA next week!

 

Thoughts on Bolivia Part 1: It´s Kind of Annoying Here

After traveling in Bolivia for 6 weeks, Kristen and I have experienced a wide range of emotions and accompanying thoughts, that we are still trying to process. It’s a complex country. Due to our obvious status as strangers in a strange land here, we can´t help but question and wonder about the cultural differences we see in Bolivia. Are things ¨better¨in the USA? Hard to say, but we are used to some things back home that we really don´t want to give up. Here is a list of some things that really annoy us about Bolivia, sorry in advance for the complaining.  There will be an entire post soon on everything we love about Bolivia to balance this out 🙂

# 1. The Food is Less Than Delcious, and Often Dangerous:
One of the best things to do as a tourist is try out the local cuisine. What is the best thing to eat around here? Well, in Bolivia it turns out to be potatoes, and that´s about it. Keep your fingers crossed for some hot sauce to put on those potatoes because the flavor profile is pretty bland. To be fair, there often is hot sauce, but why not just make the food taste like something in the first place instead of making me search for salt and pepper?

I´m not particularly fond of taking photos of food that I don´t like, but I did find this one of Kristen with some gelatin. Bolivians seem to love gelatin as it is sold everywhere, all the time.
I´m not particularly fond of taking photos of food that I don´t like, but I did find this one of Kristen with some gelatin. Bolivians seem to love gelatin as it is sold everywhere, all the time. I´m like, no thanks even if it´s topped with magnificent swirls of white stuff that may or may not be whipped cream….

After giving up on traditional Bolivian food, either because it tastes like not much or you have been poisoned one too many times, maybe you want to try the Bolivian take on ethnic food. Well, that would extend to trying the local pizza or Chinese food, which is not something I would actually advise you to do. It´s utterly boring and kinda gross. The pizza has thin and soft crust, sauce will be more of hint than a full idea, and the cheese will be pale and slightly sour. Maybe your pizza will be graced with one or two slices of deli ham or canned mushrooms.

If you decide for Chinese food it will be overcooked rice, barely seasoned, with a smattering of vegetables and some pork shavings or chewy chicken. If you opt for noodles instead, rest assured they will be spaghetti noodles. Always spaghetti noodles around here. Most Bolivians seem to enjoy fried chicken with their Chinese food. I say you are better off just going to one of the million fried chicken places where they specialize in chicken dinners. Watch out for Friday or Saturday nights though, because the fried chicken place will be insanity. Someone told me a sausage dish called modongo is the national dish, but I think they might have unofficially changed it to fried chicken through popular vote.

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I did find this solar oven cooking potatoes to be kind of amazing. It was just boiling away full of purple potatoes!

So you tried some Bolivian food, maybe even found something delicious (next post I’ll fill you in on all that I find scrumptious but elusive in Bolivia), unfortunately the next step is that you’re going to be sick. Food safety in Bolivia is not a thing, so any meat you ate was most certainly not refrigerated at a constant temperature or handled with any rules of hygiene. If you went for a salad, there is a good chance the dirt was washed off the leaves with unfiltered tap water and then not dried. There is a large surface area on lettuce, lots of water, lots of microbs, lots of stomach issues. Bring some antibiotics to Bolivia and hope they work. Also, if you are into Pepto Bismal, bring that too because they do not sell it here.

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A wheelbarrow full of some kind of puffed up corn stuff. It tastes like corn. I prefer this to the same stuff dyed magnificient hues of unnatural pinks and greens, but it’s still not my fav snack.

Let´s not even talk about the coffee in the Bolivia. Why in a country where they grow coffee, does everyone drink instant Nescafe? It´s just frustrating. And they don´t seem to want to give you milk when you order a coffee. If you try getting it on the side it has to be all steamed up for some reason, and cost you extra. Just give me a splash of cold milk! I have no idea how to say that in Spanish, but it wouldn´t matter if I did. No one would get it.


#2. Garbage, Garbage, Literbugs
Bolivians throw their garbage on the ground. I’m not saying its every single Bolivian who doesn’t notice littering, but I have seen people of every social class and type throwing their garbage on the ground. The garbage is EVERYWHERE. It will probably always be there too, because who is going to come pick it up if there is always more? Sure, some parks and city streets have uniformed people sweeping up the garbage and putting in the bins (which are actually pretty plentiful in most cities). Then there is the vast countryside of garbage. It´s all along the highways and falling down the cliffs behind people’s houses. Do they not see it? Do they not care?

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This is not an exaggeration! It is not uncommon to see this level of trash on the roadside. It’s not everywhere but it’s around and it’s definitely disturbing to see livestock grazing in it. Usually it´s packs of dogs.
This is a more normal level of trash, which is plenty.
This is a more normal level of trash, which is plenty. I could not get used to it.

One taxi van we got into had a sign in it that said: ¨Please help keep the van clean and throw your trash out the window.¨ I´m not kidding. If I was suddenly Bolivian, I think this would be my cause, yelling at people that I will take their trash when I see them about to throw it out the window of a moving vehicle.

#3. Getting from A to B is Usually an Uncomfortable Mystery
Yay! It’s time to hit the road! So, you go to the bus station to buy a ticket. First off, don’t try and plan too far ahead. One day in advance could be fine, but same day is often best. The schedule may change overnight or better yet, the bus might not make it. It can be a ¨wait and see¨ if the bus survived it’s last journey before committing to another trip. How confidence inspiring!

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One time we decided to get a private minivan since it was the same price as the bus. The minivan could go at breakneck speeds down terrifying dirt roads, which saved us time, but might have shaved days off my life from the terror.

Anyway, the bus station is confusing enough that you end up going in advance anyway. You have to go to each company counter to see if they have a bus to your destination. Hopefully, they have a handwritten sign with times but often those times are wrong anyway, so you may end up going to each bus company counter and asking if they are going to a certain city, at what time, and with what kind of bus. So just go for a good wander, looking a bit lost and perplexed. To add to the fun there will be people yelling destinations at you in a kind of creepy, sing song, persistent manner.

Likely, there is more than one company going to your destination so you will have to randomly pick one of these people shouting at you to go talk to. Then when you get to the counter there will be no one there to sell the tickets. Maybe they are in the bathroom, or at lunch, or who knows where. Hopefully, they will come back soon but there is no way of knowing.

Another good way to pick can be looking at the buses outside before entering the terminal to see which one you might dare to board if you had to choose. Of course, that company probably has some crappy buses too, but maybe not? maybe this bus with the tread on the tires indicates that this company has acceptable buses? You can also try asking if the bus has a bathroom or fully reclining seats but you will not be told the truth (see #5).  As far as I have experienced, or heard from any other travelers, there are no buses in Bolivia with (open) bathrooms or fully reclining seats.

Ok, whatever, you crossed your fingers and bought a ticket. Now, it´s time to board the bus. Somehow you need to get your bag underneath. Maybe you need to leave it at the company counter inside, maybe you need to find a young boy who will load it for you, maybe you just need to wait and see. When you do get your bag underneath, it´s unlikely you will be given a ticket or any other proof that you ever had a bag. The door to the luggage compartment will probably remain open and unattended so maybe you should wait to jump on the bus until the last minute, just to make sure your bag comes along for the ride. Or you could just press your face against the window from inside the bus, scanning for anyone walking away with your bag.

Did you pay the bus terminal use fee? What´s that you ask? There will be a small fee for the privilege of using the terminal. Good luck figuring out where to pay this fee. Sometimes there is a booth in the bus station and sometimes you will pay it on the bus. Hopefully, you also paid to use the bathroom in the terminal because otherwise you have a very long wait till you can pee again (see #6). But yay! you´re on your way! Suddenly, the bus will stop right outside the bus station and many more people will get onto the bus. Hmmm, is this to avoid the bus terminal use fee? Or maybe they just couldn´t get to the terminal on time?

Now that you have located your seat, which will inevitably have something crusted onto it, you can enjoy the ride. The road will be twisty and involved going up and up and then down and down. Winding, winding, winding. The bus driver will drive on both sides of the road indiscriminately and pass when there is definitely not a passing lane. Pray that you got a seat by a window, because you will want to open it. There will be lots of smells on the bus, but one of the dominant ones will be coca leaves, and it´s kind of any overwhelming smell. There will also be lots of food smells and human odors.

Three different people will probably be playing music really loud on their phones so you can hear a great mishmash of pan pipes. Winding winding winding. The bus will randomly stop to pick up or drop off people in the middle of nowhere. You will wonder when and if the bus is ever going to stop for a bathroom break, but the answer is never, unless you ask to pee on the side of the road. This is allowed, but everyone will see you pee. No Bolivian woman will ever ask the bus to stop for a pee. It will always be a gringa. There are many tolls and security checkpoints and women will appear at your window, ready to toss you a bag of roasted chicken and corn, or a soda, or candy, or whatever you need. Be prepared with exact change because no one in Bolivia has any change.

You can also take minibuses around the countryside on routes that large buses don´t cover. The process for them is largely the same, except that you will need to find where they stop (somewhere incomprehensible), barter for the price (or just accept whatever because you will probably be laughed at for trying), know where you need to jump out in the countryside (the driver will conveniently forget you are even in the taxi), and you will have far less leg room. Most of these little VW buses would have two rows of seats in the US, but the Bolivians manage to cram 4 rows in and won´t take off until all the rows are full. Gringa legs will not fit, especially if you are under 5 foot 2 inches.

The likelihood of having a window that opens will go down dramatically from a tour bus and you might suffocate. You will roast alive while the Bolivians around you snuggle down into leather jackets and wool hats, inexplicably cold in the 80 degree heat of the coca leaf reeking van. More and more people will be crammed into the bus, in places you didn´t imagine would be a seat. Children will be strewn on top of everyone. Anyway, it´s nice that there is public transportation since most everyone doesn´t have a car. Don´t expect to hitchhike. You can hail basically anyone for a ride but they will charge the same as a minivan for picking you up.

Catching a ride in the back of a truck. Same price as a taxi van but more legroom.
Catching a ride in the back of a truck. Same price as a taxi van but more legroom and much better air quality, even when it starts to rain.

 

#4. It´s Hard to Breathe and Getting Harder
Even as I sit here in an internet cafe, I’ve resorted to covering my mouth and nose with my scarf because the air pollution from traffic is that bad. I read a rumor on the internet that the public buses are decommissioned local transport from China that had to be sold because they don’t meet Chinese emission standards. I believe it. All the buses and trucks in Bolivia are belching clouds of gray or black gas. I’m not very knowledgable about emissions from vehicles but I’m pretty sure all colors of smoke coming from them are bad. To back up this urban legend, buses do have characters on the side from some Asian language that I’m not smart enough to identify (probably because my brain cells have been killed off by the pollution).

Add to all this pollution some extreme altitudes. La Paz lies at 12,000 feet above sea level and Potosi is considered one of the highest cities in the world at 13,500 feet. There isn´t much oyygen up here in the first place so good luck walking up and down the cities streets. When you do pause to inhale deeply, take a good look around first to avoid choking down a big lungful of bus smog. It can’t really be avoided in La Paz, but Sunday when most things are closed can be a good day for taking in the architecture.

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This is the view literally right outside of the internet spot. The traffic is only buses going by on the street and all of them are emitting these kinds of smoke clouds out the back. YUMMY! Hack!


#5. The Telling You What You Want to Hear Game
Another cultural quirk we want to complain about is the Bolivian custom of telling you what you want to hear. Often, this turns out to be a blatant lie. But hey, they were just trying to be nice! So, if you ask for directions, you will always recieve directions, whether that person has any idea where you are going or not. The solution here is to ask everyone you see for directions. Maybe it´s the law of averages, but you will eventually get there. I know this isn´t just a fun game they play with gringos because even Bolivians ask everyone for directions. I was once walking to a waterfall with a Bolivian in an unknown town. She literally asked every person we came across where the waterfalls were. You just keep asking.

Sometimes these lies seem spiteful though. Like, if you ask if there is hot water in the showers at a hotel. They ALWAYS say yes, but there probably is only hot water every once in a while and they won´t tell you that. There might not be hot water at all. The same is often true for wifi. Maybe they have wifi sometimes, but not all the time and it is never going to be a fast connection. As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as fast internet in Bolivia. Interestly, the lady at this internet cafe told us the connection was slow before we sat down. Confused, I asked her if there was somewhere in town with a fast connection?  No, she said.

Waiting outside of the hostel in Tarabuco. The person working there was at his other job, so we passed the time on the street. This hostel advertised an internet cafe, but it had neither internet nor a cafe. It didn´t even have a kitchen so it was a tough place for a meal. We settled for buns and a tub of margarine. Yum!
Waiting outside of the hostel in Tarabuco. The person working there was at his other job, so we passed the time on the street. This hostel advertised an internet cafe, but it had neither internet nor a cafe. It didn´t even have a kitchen so it was a tough place for a meal. We settled for buns and a tub of margarine. Yum!

One of my favorite lies is 2 for 1 drink special. They must do these specials for gringos, which is nice, but the price is not actually 2 drinks for the price of one. Usually it is just a small discount off getting two. For example if a mojito is Bs 22, you can get two for Bs 30 or something like that. Do they not know what 2 for 1 means in English? I would say the translation for 2×1 from Spanish into English is simply Happy Hour. On a tangent, there are lots of these in Peru as well for tourists except they may even offer 4 for 1, which turns out to be four small drinks in cups half the size of 2×1. Ok….

Oh, and like I mentioned before, they will often tell you there is a bathroom on the overnight buses. This is marginally true, because often there is a bathroom physically on the bus. The door to said bathroom will be locked though, thus rendering the bathroom unavailable to you. I´m pretty sure they know what you mean when you ask if there is a bathroom on the bus, so I count this another fun lie.

#6 Bathrooms, Try and Hold It
Speaking of bathrooms, Bolivian ones are hard to get down with if you are used to running water. Often, when you are done using the bathroom, you must exit the stall, put your hand into a barrel of questionable water, fill a bucket up, and then dump that water in the toilet to flush it. Outside of one of the libraries we volunteered at, the water barrels were marked with hazardous waste stickers. Ok, it´s great to reduce, reuse, recycle, but I draw the line at hazardous waste barrels. I´m not putting my hand in there, especially if I can see insect larvae hatching in the waiting water. One of the schools we went to didn´t even offer water for flushing, so I´m not sure if those toilets ever got flushed…I wonder if a composting toilet or a latrine wouldn´t be better?

Forget about toilet paper, toilet seats, stall doors, sinks with running water, soap, paper towels or washing your hands. Bring you own toilet paper every time you enter the bathroom and hand sanitizer for when you leave. Always travel with your own towel and do not expect hot water in the showers, or shower curtains. Expect that everything you bring into the shower will get wet. If you´re in a hostel, expect a line because the person to bathroom ratio will be high. Peeing in the street in broad daylight seems to be reserved for the very young or the very old. For everyone else, you have to at least try to take cover, but it´s pretty much a free for all if you cannot find a bathroom. That being said, I´m glad they do have bathrooms at all.

Ok, enough complaining. This post took me forever to write and doesn´t have that great of photos because I didn´t want to spend all my time taking horrible photos of Bolivia since I really like it. Some challenges do exist though 🙂 Next post I will write about what I did love about Bolivia.

A Wine Weekend in Bolivia

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Proudly Bolivian. This dog is definitely giving off that vibe.

 

Bolivia may not have a coastline, but that doesn’t mean it lacks for geological diversity, stunning landscapes, or fun places to go swimming.  Last week we took a jaunt to Villa Abecia in southern Bolivia for a new library inauguration with Biblioworks and tacked on a tourist weekend in Tarija.  Both towns are in Bolivian wine country, so we did our best to taste the local vintages! This is high altitude wine country, with some award winning wines that allegedly have higher antioxidant levels than wines grown at lower altitudes.  Drink up!

We started out the trip with a six hour ride south. There were seven of us from Biblioworks going so we rented a minivan taxi just for us.  The road, like most in Bolivia was extremely windy and involved unpaved “shortcuts”. Our driver, like most in Bolivia, drove like a maniac who felt no need to stay on either side of the road, obey any speed limit signs, or pull over when our ten year old passenger got carsick and vomited into a plastic bag…numerous times. Thank goodness for headphones and podcasts!

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The first thing we did when we arrived in Villa Abecia is hit up this bodega to taste the wines. We ended up buying a bottle of sweet port, bringing it back to our bed and breakfast and drinking the whole thing. Don’t worry, there were four of us so it wasn’t too much! Yummy port from Don Tomás that is available for sale in Sucre, if you don’t make it to this tiny town. The B&B we stayed at was right behind this building and is called Cepas de Mi Abuelo. I definitely recommend it. It’s a beautiful place with vineyards and lots of cute pets, including a friendly horse named Sargente..
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Here is a view of Villa Abecia from the balcony of the municipal building. Its really a beautiful little town.
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Here I am in a giant wine barrel in the town square. We had to blow up tons of balloons for the library inauguration to give out to all of the children who came. Guess how long they lasted? Pop!
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Kristen brought the guitar to lend some musical ambiance to the festivities. Then this guy with an accordion turned up to MC the event and a jam session ensued. He also played a men guitar 🙂 In front is the dog from our hotel who we named Sigue and saved much meat from our meat heavy lunch. Our new best friend, but he needs a bath!
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The inauguration of the new library in Villa Abecia. Everyone was pumped!

Biblioworks is a non-profit organization based in Sucre, Bolivia and Asheville, NC, USA. They help fund, set up, and train librarians for small rural communities. Some of their libraries are in schools and some, like this one in Villa Abecia, are run by the municipality. The town chooses the librarian and runs the library with Biblioworks as their adviser. Eventually, the libraries are meant to become self-sustaining without the aid of Biblioworks.

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The library inauguration involved much speech giving and some poetry recitals by the children. Bolivian poetry recitals involve many choreographed movements it turns out.
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We found some waterfalls to swim in with the local children. It was a hot day and luckily there was water in these potholes as it is the dry season still.  Not the cleanest water but so refreshing.

 

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The crew from Biblioworks: Megan, the volunteer coordinator, Maritza the director, and Kristen the guitar teacher.

 

After Villa Abecia we took a cab south to the city of Tarija. Lonely Planet guidebook calls the town “laid back”, and I’d have to say that I agree. Unfortunately, we got there after dark with no hotel reservation, so after our cab driver dumped us unceremoniously on the side of the road no where near downtown, we did our best to find a room for the night. Since we are cheap, I mean, on a tight budget, we ended up at not the nicest place in town, the Gran Hotel Londres. It seemed like it had lot of potential since the lobby looked like this:

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Jesus crucified in a skirt and an alter to San Roque? Sweet!
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I mean, doesn’t this place look like it might be in a Wes Anderson movie? Just a little bit?

 

Well, we ended up packing up and finding a new hotel in the morning, mostly because the mattresses where like tiny gym mats that couldnt’ have been more uncomfortable. Oh, and there were buzzing mosquitos around all of our ears all night. Somehow I escaped without any bites but Kristen was covered. Rough night, not worth the $7 a night even with the cool decor. Check out Hotel Miraflores instead. Same price but slightly better mattresses and less bugs.

After getting set up with our new hotel, we booked a wine tasting tour for the afternoon. We went with Viva Tours, which was priced the same as all the others but came recommended. For some reason they told us to show up at 1:30, I guess so we could wait on the deserted street corner for half an hour, but otherwise the tour was fine. They say you will swing by a cool canyon for a scenic overlook/photo opp but this was no the case on our tour.

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Our first stop was Campos de Solana, which is one of the most widely available wines in Bolivia. We are fans 🙂 They started up in 2000 but already have won many awards and have some $3 table wines that are perfect everyday wines. And yes, we usually have wine everyday since the beer is so atrocious.
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Kristen and Megan waiting for our winery tour.
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Inside the Campos de Solana winery, perhaps the cleanest place we have been in Bolivia, and it smelled good too!
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Kristen, me, and Megan, ready to drink some wine. Unfortunately, their idea of a wine tasting at this winery is to make your whole tour group come to a consensus on one type of wine to share, and then you open a half bottle together. Someone needs to tell them about pouring lots of little shots of wine and then pushing the hard sell. I mean, no one even suggested we buy some wine… which is really too bad. Maybe we didn’t look thirsty?
Next we hit up Casa Real to see how singani is distilled. Singani is made of grapes kind of like cognac or pisco, but is distinctly Bolivian. The tasting here consisted of cocktails at the end. Ok, yum, but could we just try singani straight? The Casa Real black is delicious and apparently they export it to the USA!
Next we hit up Casa Real to see how singani is distilled. Singani is made of grapes kind of like cognac or pisco, but is distinctly Bolivian. The tasting here consisted of cocktails at the end. Ok, yum, but could we just try singani straight? The Casa Real black is delicious and apparently they export it to the USA! The traditional drink is singani and ginger ale, called a chuflay. The distillry equipment here is from France and really cool looking but no photos please!

 

Our last stop was at Casa Vieja, which is a small winery in a 400 hundre year old house. This place was nuts, mostly because it was over run by Bolivian teenagers who were in town for a soccer tournament
Our last stop was at Casa Vieja, which is a small winery in a 400 hundre year old house. This place was nuts, mostly because it was over run by Bolivian teenagers who were in town for a soccer tournament. The tasting here was pretty crazy. About 40 teenagers and us in a circle, 9 glasses of wine poured and then passed around the circle in rapid succession. So all 40 of us drank out of the same cup and tried a bunch of different wines all within about 3 minutes while the winery owner told us to hurry up. Kristen was horrified and wouldn’t participate which wasn’t much of a loss because the wine was pretty much terrible!
We decided to hit the town in Tarija because it was Halloween. We meant some very friendly Bolivians at a fun bar called La Bifuracda. This guy Alejandro got us passed some tight security at a nightclub called The Blue Parrot. Fun times dancing on Halloween.
We decided to hit the town in Tarija because it was Halloween. We met some very friendly Bolivians at a fun bar called La Bifuracda. This guy Alejandro got us passed some tight security at a nightclub called The Blue Parrot. Fun times dancing!

The next morning was a little slow due to Halloween shenanigans. We hit up our favorite breakfast spot, Gatto Pardo for the third time since they had real coffee. Then we tried to see some more waterfalls in the nearby village of Coimata. We took a bus headed to Tomatitos then caught a trufi from the bridge there. At the bridge were many ladies selling congrejos, which are tiny freshwater crabs. We tried one but hangover belly wasn’t having more than that.

The van ride from the bridge was very entertaining, with many local woman getting on and off with bottles of strange substances and bags of brown liquids and terrible smells.  a teenage girl wanted to question us about our origins, hair and eye colors and what languages we could speak. Finally, we reached the waterfalls, and although it was too chilly to swim, but had a nice time hanging out.
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Well, that was our trip to Tarija more or less. We took an overnight bus back to Sucre that night. I think we went with the bus line Expresso or something like that, with reclining seats for 140 Bolivianos. The driver was a mad man, blasting tunes all night long, passing other buses on curves, and causing the woman behind us to panic. At one point she tried to get us to yell at him since she already had. I declined, knowing it was pointless. Luckily, we survived and made it back to Sucre in about 10 freezing, terrifying hours. The bus left us near, but not at, the bus terminal? and we went back to Casa de Javiers for a long nap.